31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt. Hon. Sir Billy Snedden) took the chair at 2. 1 5 p.m., and read prayers.
-Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives 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 Lionel Bowen, Mr Graham and Mr Uren.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of the Australian Parliament in Canberra assembled.
The petition of certain citizens respectfully showeth-
That the right to work without discrimination on any ground including, inter alia, discrimination on grounds of race, ethnic origin, marital status and/or sex is a fundamental human right;
That it is both the duty and the responsibility of society to fully support those denied work and therefore those who are unemployed as a result of society’s inability to provide full paid employment should be guaranteed an adequate income without discrimination on any ground, including inter alia discrimination on grounds of race, ethnic origin, marital status and/or sex.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray-
That appropriate and adequate laws be formulated and passed to outlaw discrimination in Commonwealth employment, in employment of persons by statutory bodies and quasi-governmental organisations, in employment of individuals under federal awards, and in employment of all persons in areas over which Commonwealth and Australian Capital Territory equal opportunity legislation should have jurisdiction; and
That appropriate laws be formulated and passed to outlaw discrimination in the provision of unemployment benefits to all persons without regard to race, ethnic origin, marital status and/or sex.
And your petitioners as in d uty bound will ever pray. by Mr Kevin Cairns and Mr Uren.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of the Australian Parliament in Canberra assembled
The petition of certain citizens respectfully showeth-
That currently discrimination in the provision of work, in appointment to jobs and in promotion exists in Australia on particular grounds including, inter alia, grounds of race, ethnic origin, marital status, pregnancy and /or sex;
That currently discrimination in the provision of unemployment benefits is exercised against particular groups of individuals- in particular, against married women.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
That appropriate laws be formulated and passed to outlaw discrimination in Commonwealth employment, in employment of individuals under federal awards, in employment of persons by statutory bodies and quasigovernmental organisations, and in employment of all persons in areas over which Commonwealth and Australian Capital Territory equal opportunity legislation should have jurisdiction; and
That appropriate laws be formulated and passed to outlaw discrimination in the provision of unemployment benefits to all persons without regard to sex and/or marital status.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Ruddock.
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 Howe and Mr Peter Johnson.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the proportion of pensionable people within our community is increasing at a significant rate. The number of people over 65 years old will rise from approximately 8.5 per cent of the population as it was in1970 to over 10 per cent by1990 and about16 per cent by the year 2020.
That technological change is accelerating the trend towards earlier retirement from the workforce.
That the above factors make incentives for selfprovision in retirement years a matter of great urgency if future generations of Australians are to be spared the crippling taxation which would be necessary to fund such provisions from social welfare.
That Australia is in urgent need of locally raised Investment capital for national development and that life insurance and superannuation funds are important mobilisers of such capital.
Your petitioners therefore most humbly pray that the Government will forthwith take the steps necessary to:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Burns.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Burr.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia
Respectfully sheweth that in areas where homes are not connected to the Main Sewerage system and residents have to rely on pump-out septic tanks, these home-owners are increasingly burdened with the costs involved with the collection of the effluent.
Your petitioners therefore pray that consideration will be given to allowing these charges to be tax deductable.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Edwards.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that:
Whereas before Europeans settled in Australia, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia had lived on their traditional lands from time immemorial and had in Aboriginal law and customs a clear title to those lands; and
Whereas Europeans and other non-Aboriginal people have occupied and used most of the traditional lands of the Aboriginal peoples against their will and without negotiation, compensation or treaty; and
Whereas it has been the practice of nations established in territories previously occupied by indigenous inhabitants to reach a negotiated settlement with those inhabitants; and
Whereas that occupation has seriously damaged the traditional way of life of Aboriginal Australians and has caused poverty and hardship to be the fate of the great majority of their surviving descendants; and whereas the surviving descendants of the Aboriginal peoples have expressed a wish to have their rights to land acknowledged, to preserve their link with their Aboriginal ancestors and to maintain their distinctive identity with its own cultural heritage; and whereas the people of Australia in1967 voted overwhelmingly that the Commonwealth Parliament should have responsibility for laws relating to Aboriginal Australians; and whereas it is accepted internationally by the United Nations organisation, that each country should work to establish the rights of indigenous peoples to selfdetermination, non-discrimination and the enjoyment of their own culture; and whereas the Woodward Commission in 1974 established principles by which Aboriginal rights to land should be acknowledged and realised; and whereas the Senate of the Commonwealth Parliament in February1975 resolved that Aboriginal Australians should be compensated for the loss of their traditional lands and for the damage to their way of life; and whereas the National Aboriginal Conference unanimously resolved in April 1 979 in Canberra to ask the Commonwealth Government to negotiate a Treaty with Aboriginal Australians.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government should invite the Aboriginal people of Australia to negotiate a Treaty with the Commonwealth of
Australia, and any Treaty should contain provisions relating to the following matters:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Fry.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully sheweth that equal opportunity regarding Human Rights and fundamental freedoms is not enjoyed by all Australians irrespective of the race, colour, or ethnic origin of certain groups, particularly Aboriginal and Islander groups.
That the Human Rights Bill and the Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill do not advance the causes of Australia’s oppressed Aboriginal and Islanders.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that Parliament affirms:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les Johnson.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
THAT there is an urgent need to ensure that the living standard of pensioners will not decline, as indeed, the present level of cash benefits in real terms requires upward adjustment beyond indexation related to the movement of the Consumer Price Index, by this and other means your petitioners urge that action be taken to:
Taxation relief for pensioners and others on low incomes by:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Uren.
To the Honourable Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled in Canberra 1 980.
The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Chinchilla, Queensland, and its district respectfully showeth in the strongest possible terms their concern at the severe restrictions which have been placed on the Australian Broadcasting Commission Sporting television coverage, caused solely by the sale of exclusive television rights of a number of sporting fixtures, mainly Sheffield and test cricket, to commercial interests.
In effect, this has blotted out television coverage of these sporting fixtures to a huge slice of rural Australia and seriously affected the quality of life of the vast majority of country people who, in truth, produce so much of Australia ‘s wealth.
We the undersigned petitioners, consider that any Federal government, irrespective of political colour, has an inherent duty to see that living conditions for all rural dwellers are enhanced, rather than eroded, if these people are to enjoy some quality of life with the metropolitan and Provincial city-based population.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that this curtailment of television Sporting broadcasts, the continuation of which we believe is against the fundamental rights of rural people, be subject to immediate Federal government intervention to ensure that ABC sporting television programmes be re-introduced to the standard expected by we petitioners (who are also tax-payers) even if it necessitates the introduction of special legislation.
We ask that this matter be treated as extremely urgent.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Corbett.
To the Right Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
This humble petition of the sportsmen and women and citizens of Australia respectively showeth that:
Valuing the Olympic movements as an historic expression of all that is worthwhile in human endeavour and conscious of the important role competitive sport plays in maintaining health and the spirit of achievement in everyday life.
Honouring the high principles consistently pursued by the International Games Administration of keeping the movement free from religious, racial and political considerations.
Realising that the Olympic movement owes its resilience and very existence to the citizens of the nations from whom spring the participants in the contests and that the survival of this movement is the cherished hope of all communities.
We the undersigned sportsmen and women and citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia by this humble petition respectively pray that the Australian government do all in its power to ensure the participation of a full Australian contingent in the XXII Olympic Games to be held in Moscow, USSR, from 1 9th July to 3rd August, 1980.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Innes.
– I inform the House that the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Macphee) left Australia yesterday to visit Honolulu to lead the Australian delegation at the Conference on Development the Pacific Way. The Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Ellicott) will act as Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs until Mr Macphee ‘s return.
– I inform the House that we have present in the Gallery this afternoon a delegation from the Association of South East Asian Nations Inter-Parliamentary Organisation led by Air Chief Marshal Harin Hongskula, Speaker of the National Assembly of Thailand and President of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Organisation. On behalf of the House, I extend a warm welcome to our distinguished visitors.
Honourable members- Hear, hear!
-The Minister for Administrative Services will be aware of the very strong criticism directed at the former Narcotics Bureau in the Williams report and more specifically in the findings of the Australian Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drugs which were not published. I ask: Is it a fact that all Narcotics Bureau agents except the director and four others, who are the subject of charges, have been transferred to similar work in the Australian Federal Police? Is it a fact that although the Williams report suggests that these officers should be retained in the new police force, their allocation to narcotics investigations is completely at variance with the strong criticism by the Royal Commission report? Was one of the most serious charges levelled at the former Bureau the penetration of its members by illicit drug operators, and does not this danger still apply? Have State police forces, most notably the Queensland Police Commissioner, expressed lack of confidence and an unwillingness to co-operate with the Australian Federal Police on drug matters because of the high profile given to the members of the former Narcotics Bureau? Is there not widespread uneasiness among members of the Australian Federal Police who have little confidence in the competence or probity of former Narcotics Bureau agents? Finally, does the Minister not agree that the transfer, virtually intact, of the old Narcotics Bureau and the brief given to its agents to work in their accustomed ways is a total rejection of the recommendations for an administrative shake-up of drug investigation and enforcement made by the Williams Royal Commission?
– The Leader of the Opposition raises an enormous number of matters in his question. I think that 84 of the former Narcotics Bureau personnel have been transferred to the Federal Police as police and the figure on the civil side is something like 20 or 30. I am informed -
– We are talking about agents as distinct from administrative officers now.
– I think that the figure is 84.I am informed by the Commissioner of Federal Police that he is very satisfied with the quality of the people who have been transferred to that police force. He has personally interviewed and selected them all. It is true that at the moment they are only special constables but before this sitting of the Parliament is finished they will all become police in the various rank structures. I think that the fears the Leader of the Opposition is expressing will prove to be not well founded.
-I ask whether the Minister for Primary Industry is aware of the statement by the Prime Minister, when in New Zealand, that:
Between New Zealand and Australia-
I also ask whether he is further aware that an annexure to the communique issued by the Prime Ministers sets out a basis for further study and future consultation agreed to by the respective Prime Ministers and makes reference to the following:
In respect of import restrictions, the possible techniques for achieving the objective of a gradual and progressive elimination of import licensing and tariff quotas between Australia and New Zealand, in reasonable time, would be studied.
Does the Minister believe that dairy farmers in Australia will thereby be prejudiced? Do the manufacturers of dairy products and the dairy farmers themselves have any reason to fear the consequences of these discussions?
-I do not believe that the dairy farmers of Australia have anything to fear from the discussions that have taken place, firstly, at the official level and, secondly, between the two Prime Ministers during the last weekend. The Government is fully aware of the fact that the Australian dairy industry has gone through a period of readjustment and restructuring over past years and is as efficient as any dairy industry in the world. That in itself will be of consolation to the dairy farmers of Australia. The reality is that the two Prime Ministers realised that the New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement has gone as far as it can go. Recognition of that fact was required at the highest political level, as well as a decision as to how, if there were to be closer economic co-operation, that might be achieved. The purpose of the Prime Minister’s visit to New Zealand at the weekend was to put that in train, and he was successful.
It is fair to say that this Government would not put the Australian dairy industry at risk or at an economic disadvantage under any program that might be worked through from that co-operation with New Zealand. Therefore, I do not think that the dairy farmers have anything to be concerned about. One thing that has been of concern to them has been the high level of cheese imports from New Zealand. This matter has been the subject of correspondence between my colleague the Minister for Trade and Resources and his New Zealand counterpart and further action is being taken. Certainly the levels of cheese that are coming into the country at the moment are way beyond what was expected from NAFTA. This is a matter of closest consultation to try to find a solution with the two dairy corporations, the two governments and the two industries.
– I ask the Minister for Defence whether agent orange and /or any other toxic herbicide or pesticide was used by any Australian serviceman during the period of the Vietnam war. If so, in what way, with what frequency and by how many servicemen?
– It was on 20 February last year that I replied to a series of questions asked by my honourable friend relating to agent orange. I repeat that it was agent orange about which his questions were asked and not toxic herbicides. I answered the honourable gentleman on that occasion that there was no evidence at all that agent orange was used by any Australian serviceman serving in Vietnam. As a consequence of allegations made last evening and again this morning, I requested a further examination of the records concerned. I assure my honourable friend and the House that the information I gave to the honourable gentleman on 20 February last year cannot, on the evidence before me, be disturbed in any shape or form. I would say to any person in this House or outside the House who may have any information which would be to the contrary to place that information before me. 1 would regard it as the very proper thing to do. I know that one gentleman was on the airwaves this morning making claims. If he has what he believes to be evidence, it will be received by the Government and treated appropriately by the Government and a full disclosure made to the House?
With respect to toxic herbicides, yes, toxic herbicides were used in Vietnam. I could not answer by how many people or give detail of the circumstances. But they were used in firing zones and they were used to keep grass away from perimeter fences and the like. I repeat what I said to the honourable gentleman: I am not aware of any evidence which would lead to the conclusion that agent orange was used. If the honourable gentleman has in his possession any information, I assure him that I would be happy to receive it and for it to be considered.
– Will the Minister for Primary Industry indicate, on the basis of research materials gained through the fishing activities on the Great Barrier Reef under the present Japan-Australia agreement, whether the present one-year agreement will be changed or extended or whether in any new agreement longline fishing will be allowed?
-The first point I would like to make is that I am satisfied that the advice the Government is receiving through the monitoring system will enable judgments to be made in regard to Japanese fishing activities once that is evaluated. In addition, of course, there is the Game Fish Working Committee’s report. The recommendations of that Committee are due to be finalised, as I understand it, on 10 April and will be available for Government consideration after that date. The first round of preliminary talks between the Japanese and Australians is due to take place later in April. This will lead to the first round of negotiations some weeks after that. With the information that will come out of the monitoring and the Game Fish Working Committee ‘s report, the Government will be better placed to face up to the negotiations that are due during the course of this year on a continuation of the long-lining activity.
– I refer the Minister for Defence to his answer to the honourable member for Werriwa on 20 February 1979 wherein he stated categorically:
The Australian Defence Force did not use Agent Orange in Vietnam . . .
I ask the Minister: Was that answer based on information supplied by his Department? Has he, before or since, asked for or received any other information from his Department that would contradict his answer in any way? Was this information in writing? If so, will the Minister table it? Will the Minister also table all other departmental documents relating to any aerial or ground spraying of any kind by Australian troops in Vietnam? If some of those documents are still classified as confidential security material will the Minister make them available to the Leader of the Opposition on a background basis? If the Minister has been misled by his Department and as a result has misled this Parliament, what course of action does he propose to take?
– Really, the honourable gentleman has some very curious ideas as to how a department of state is run. If there is any information which is classified and which could be properly received by the Leader of the Opposition, of course I would make it available to him. The honourable gentleman is briefed on far more sensitive fields than this. I have disclosed information to the House on the basis of the records held by the Department. I cannot say whether the material placed before me was in writing or was typed. Does anything turn on that point? I will examine the records. I have no reason to disbelieve the advice given to me or the officers who put the advice before me. I say this to the honourable gentleman: I am not in the habit of disbelieving people who place information before me. I would have thought that he, as a lawyer, would have acknowledged the existence of the maxim that everything is assumed to be proper and done regularly. That is the basis on which I proceed. I have every reason to trust completely the officers who placed the information before me. If it would be of any comfort to the honourable gentleman, I will personally examine the documents to see whether they were in writing or were typed. The last thing I would say to the honourable gentleman- I am surprised that he made the slightest suggestion of it- is that in the period of nearly a quarter of a century that I have been a member of this House I have never consciously misled the House. I do not propose to start now.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Home Affairs, is asked out of goodwill and curiosity and is by no means to be seen as a form of complaint. Is the Minister aware of the latest ‘Life. Be In It’ campaign, which comes under his direct control, against those who fall within the description of workaholics? Is the Minister aware that staff serving Ministers, including his own, would constantly work 70-hour weeks? Is the Minister aware that private members of this Parliament would work on average at least 80 hours a week? Does the Minister work the average of 100 hours a week worked by his ministerial colleagues, or more, as required of the Prime Minister? Was the Minister present when the House rose at 12.40 this morning? How does the Minister propose to influence the nation when he is such a part of setting an example which is a complete opposite to what he is preaching?
– The ‘Life. Be In It’ program has found great merit. Last week when I was in Athens I found that the Greek Olympic Committee was very interested in the ‘Life. Be In It’ campaign. The National Recreation and Parks Association in the United States is very interested in the ‘Life. Be In It’ campaign. I am very interested to hear that the honourable member for Fadden, who has a capacity in karate, I understand, is trying to indulge his activity in a verbal assault on me! However, I can only plead that, due to the fact that I was affected somewhat by jetlag, I was not able to be here at 12.40 this morning. If the honourable member is referring to that fact and wishes to bring it to public notice, I have no difficulty in confessing to him and to the nation that I was not here at 12.40 this morning to witness that event. So far as members of my staff are concerned, I do my best to encourage them to get away from the television set and to engage in recreation, and my Department does likewise.
I say to honourable members only that they might find more time for leisure and recreation. I think members of Parliament work ridiculous hours, and I believe that there is a great need for the public to realise that that is so. I am not appealing for sympathy because I know that old woolly whiskers and others up top will not give us any sympathy. They will deliver us a blow and say that we are not in that respect entitled to sympathy. I will say that in all the things we do whilst taking our activities seriously, we ought to be concerned with the need to engage in healthy recreation when we are able to do so. I was glad to see that my colleague the Minister for Industrial Relations was so engaged this week. I do not blame him for being so engaged.
-I direct my question to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and refer to the report on Channel 9 last Sunday by reporter George Negus which linked birth abnormalities with the wartime use of defoliant agents in Vietnam. I make the point that those film reports accord with information I received in Vietnam earlier this year. I ask the Minister whether he has noted specifically the dramatic rise in birth abnormalities in Vietnam, according to that report, from less than one per cent in 1952 to the present 15 per cent. I refer the Minister to the statement he made in Canberra on 18 December last:
For several years the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has been seeking all available information on the effects of herbicides including Agent Orange.
What direct inquiries has his Department made of the Vietnamese Government on its investigations into agent orange? Does the Minister acknowledge that any serious independent study into the effect of agent orange would be badly deficient if it did not include an on-the-spot study of the detailed investigations made by doctors in Vietnam?
– I did see the program referred to in the honourable gentleman’s question. Both before the program was screened and since then, I have been in touch with the team that did the investigation. Team members offered to make available any information, any reports, anything further they may have so that it could be considered. I accepted that offer. A senior member of the Repatriation Commission has just returned from America and he has some information on the report that was quoted on the program. I have also asked the team whether it has anything additional to that report, or whether it is referring to the same report, which is in my hands and which is being studied.
In the next two or three days a full report will be received from Mr Medbury as to what investigations have been carried out in America and what has been proposed. We have a submission from the Vietnam Veterans’ Action Association relating to the inquiry of which I spoke previously in this House, and that submission is being considered. I also have a submission from the Returned Services League which talks about some variation of the type of study we mentioned, and that is being studied with urgency.
All of these things show that the Government has been extremely active and quite conscientious in relation to the statement made early in the peace that if there is any link- that link has not been established conclusively- between human health, human disability, and genetic disability that is associated with these sorts of things we do not want to hide it, we want to find it. I think the question that the honourable gentleman asked can be better answered when I have all those reports together and I can assess them. We will not hide the decision that the Government makes. We are after information; we are not seeking to avoid finding it.
– Has the Minister for Foreign Affairs seen reports that Mrs Hove, the wife of the Minister for the Public Service in the new Government of Zimbabwe, left Australia abruptly as a result of threats and other harassments? What action will the Government take on this matter?
-I have seen the reports to which the honourable member refers. They are generally correct. I say by way of giving a short background that Mrs Hove, who is the wife of the Minister for the Public Service in the new Zimbabwe Government, arrived in Sydney earlier this month- I think it was on 9 Marchafter being awarded a scholarship under the Australian aid program to undertake a bachelor of business studies course at the Kuring-gai College of Advanced Education. During her period here, after settling in well, I regret that on a frequent number of occasions she received threatening telephone calls. I understand that on more than one occasion- this has not yet been confirmed- her children were harassed. She naturally sought advice from the Government and in particular from Australian Development Assistance Bureau officials. All aspects of the situation were examined. The Bureau offered to inform the police, to move her to a college in another State and to provide any other protection which could be arranged. Mrs Hove stated, however, that she did not want to involve the police and reiterated that she had decided to return to Zimbabwe on the day following the day of the last conversation that she had with my officials, which was Monday of this week. She duly returned on Tuesday, 25 March, which was yesterday.
I have to say that during her discussions with my officials she stated that she wished the matter to be treated confidentially and that she did not want publicity to arise over the circumstances of her departure. She also made it clear that she did not regard what had happened to her as a demonstration of racial prejudice on the part of the overwhelming majority of the Australian people. She specifically said that she was most grateful to the Government for all the assistance it was rendering. That statement was contained in one of the reports that was published this morning. It rests with me only to say that naturally the Government and, I would think, every member of this Parliament would deplore the fact that in these circumstances elements in the community would resort to such techniques against not merely the wife of a minister of a government but against any person and that person’s children on racial grounds. I reiterate that we absolutely deplore the unfortunate circumstances which led to Mrs Hove’s departure. As a consequence of the matter I directed yesterday that a message be sent to Salisbury to convey to the Hoves and to the authorities our sincere regret about these circumstances.
-I direct a question to the Minister for Home Affairs. Has the Government requested members of the Australian Olympic Federation not to make public statements in opposition to the Government’s Olympic boycott proposals? Has the Government requested commercial sponsors of the Australian Olympic team not to publicly oppose the Government’s boycott proposals? Can the Minister give an assurance that no members of the Australian Olympic team will be discriminated against by the Government if they publicly express their opposition to the boycott? Finally, is it the Government’s policy to intimidate sporting officials and competitors in order to stifle public debate on this issue?
-I have become aware of certain allegations that the honourable member has made already in the Press. They disturbed me somewhat because they were out of line with his usual moderate attitude. I can assure the honourable member that no such threats and no such requests have been made. I will be holding talks with the Australian Olympic Federation to continue discussions that have already been held. Those discussions will be designed to inform the Federation of the types of matters I informed the Parliament about yesterday. They will be designed to explain the Government’s attitude and to seek some response in the resolution that the Federation will pass on 1 9 April.
If the Federation decides in its wisdom to send a team to Moscow, it should indicate at the same time in that resolution that it is prepared to review the matter in the light of subsequent events. I believe that those subsequent events could well change the minds of members of the Federation. That is as far as I would propose to go with the Australian Olympic Federation. I can assure the honourable member and other honourable members that it is not the Government’s intention- I have said this before and the Prime Minister has said it- to coerce our athletes or sporting bodies in any way whatsoever. Australia is a democracy and we are not going to use the methods of those whom we so strongly oppose.
-Has the attention of the Minister for Industrial Relations been drawn to a speech which was made in the Parliament last week which included quotes from a document on industrial relations policies and which was allegedly signed by a named officer of his Department? Can the Minister say whether the officer named was in any way connected with the document from which the Leader of the Opposition quoted?
-Yes, my attention has been drawn to a speech made by the Leader of the Opposition on 20 March. On pages 1051 and 1052 of Hansard he referred to a document which he said was signed by an officer of my Department whom he identified as Mr Holdorf. The document from which the Leader of the Opposition quoted was an anonymous one. I understand that the Director of the Industrial Relations Bureau has since informed the Leader of the Opposition that Mr Holdorf is an officer of the Bureau and not of the Department of Industrial Relations. He has further informed the Leader of the Opposition that at no time has Mr Holdorf signed any document containing the quotation given by the Leader of the Opposition. As I said, the document quoted from was unsigned. I understand that it was widely distributed to employer and employee organisations some months ago.
I find it appalling that the Leader of the Opposition should use the name of a Commonwealth Government employee without checking the facts. The mistake of identifying Mr Holdorf as an officer of my Department may be just an example of slipshod speech preparation, but what is unforgivable is the Leader of the Opposition’s totally false allegation that Mr Holdorf was in some way connected with that document. The Leader of the Opposition has deliberately created a cloud of suspicion around this officer without any evidence whatsoever. I do not know what the motives of the Leader of the Opposition were in this matter, but the result does him no credit. He has now had six days in which to put the matter right. To the best of my knowledge, he has so far said nothing. I would expect that the very least he could do would be to make a public apology to Mr Holdorf.
– So that the Prime Minister will not feel ignored, I have a question for him. Has the Prime Minister noted the decisions of the Australian Swimming Union and the Australian Amateur Athletics Association in support of an Australian team participating in the Moscow Olympics? Does the Government now accept that a substantial team of Australian athletes will take part in the Olympic Games in Moscow? Will he assure the House that the Government will not seek to deny these athletes full status as the national team representing Australia.
– In my answer to an earlier question asked by the honourable member for Fraser I indicated the Government’s attitude. We do not propose to use the methods of those whom we oppose, that is, the Soviets. We will not be depriving our athletes of the capacity to move from this country and go to Moscow if that is their desire and their decision. On the other hand, may I indicate quite clearly that I propose to put to them, in as strong a way as I can, the attitude of the Government and the seriousness with which the Government regards the position in relation to Afghanistan. I will continue to put that attitude with as much sincerity and strength as I can. That is a view that is shared by many nations. I indicated to the House yesterday that it is still my belief that come May there will emerge an effective boycott of the Olympic Games by other athletes around the world. I believe that the result will be that our athletes will want to join in that boycott. Therefore, notwithstanding the fact that our athletic union or swimming union has now decided, as has been suggested by the honourable member, those groups are capable in the public interest of changing their minds at a subsequent date. I will urge them to that end.
-The Minister for Education will be aware of complaints by country parents and students of what they claim is discrimination against them in the criteria for the Tertiary Education Assistance scheme in that there is no distinction between city students who choose to live away from home and country students who are forced to live away from home. I ask: What can be done to overcome the greater costs of necessity borne by country students?
– I am aware of the matter that has been raised by the honourable member for Murray. Indeed, a number of people have spoken to me about this concern. The honourable member himself had made representations, as indeed he does when any matter of interest to country people is brought to his attention. The honourable member refers to the criteria which are used and which probably are the reason for the concern in the minds of many country people. There is a misunderstanding in the minds of some people about the criteria that are used in relation to the living away from home allowance under the Tertiary Education Assistance scheme. Students whose homes are within a reasonable travelling distance of educational institutions that they are attending do not automatically qualify for living away from home allowances under TEAS even if they do live away from home. These students qualify only if they are over 2 1 years of age, if they have to meet compulsory residence requirements for their courses, or if their home conditions are detrimental to their study.
The Government in administering the living away from home allowance under the TEAS scheme is acting in an even-handed way. I am sure that the concern that has been alluded to by the honourable member results from a misunderstanding of the criteria. The Government is very sympathetic to the needs of country students who have to live away from home to undertake their courses. The concern that the honourable member has expressed, not specifically in relation to the criteria but generally in relation to country people, will be borne in mind by me and the Government when the allowances are being reviewed. I might add that these allowances and student assistance schemes generally are reviewed annually in the Budget context. That is happening right at this moment, not only in the Budget context but also as part of the Government ‘s response to the Williams inquiry.
-I direct my question to the Prime Minister. Has the Government taken any action to prevent the Australian Olympic Federation from using the Commonwealth grant of $500,000 towards the cost of an Australian team participating in the Moscow Olympics? If not, will the Prime Minister give an undertaking that the Government will not withdraw the grant or attempt in any way to prevent the funds being used to send an Australian team to the Olympic Games?
– I should have thought that the honourable gentleman would have seen the remarks made about this matter some time ago. The Government has indicated that it would not want to withdraw the grant of $500,000. In fact, the support for our athletes in a financial sense in relation to the Olympic Games has been much more substantial, indicating our interest and concern in these areas, than that on any previous occasion. But, in the light of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Australian Olympic Federation has also been advised that that amount of $500,000 should not be spent in Moscow or on the way to Moscow.
-Order! It has just been brought to my attention that a very distinguished former member of this House, Dame Enid Lyons, is in the chamber. On behalf of the House, I extend a warm welcome to her.
– Hear, hear! QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
– I ask the Minister for Transport: Is Trans-Australia Airlines bankrupt or bordering on bankruptcy?
– I am aware of the reports of the so-called bankruptcy of Trans-Australia Airlines.
I must say that I regard the reports as being irresponsible. Indeed, TAA will pay a healthy dividend for the financial year 1 978-79, which is not consistent with the actions of a bankrupt organisation. There are some outstanding matters relating to the superannuation arrangements of the company. The Chairman of TAA discussed this matter with the Minister for Finance and me yesterday. We will be proceeding to give consideration to the problem that TAA has had in that regard. But it is quite wrong to suggest that TAA is bankrupt or anywhere near bankrupt.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the United States has, for some time, restricted exports to the Soviet Union of metals made from Australian rutile and ilmenite, despite the assurance given to this House that the United States did not regard such materials as being of strategic value and, in fact, imported them from the Soviet Union? Is it a fact that the Soviet Union has not exported titanium for more than a year and has diverted its entire resources to the construction of its new Alfa-class, submarine? Does the Australian Government still maintain that exports of rutile and ilmenite to the Soviet Union have no strategic significance?
-The Australian Government has been in close touch with the United States Government over the so-called COCOM list- the list of the Co-ordinating Committee on Exports of Technology to Communist Countries- of high technology and strategic items which, in the view of the United States and Western Europe, ought not to be traded with the Soviet Union. We have also said that basically we support the same position and will support the same list of forbidden exports, that we will not participate in trade on matters which Western Europe and North America are in agreement should be excluded from trade with the Soviet Union.
On the advice available to me, no proposal has been made that rutile should be placed on the list of forbidden exports. I am not aware of any proposal, on information that has been put in front of me in the last few hours, that raw materials would be included in this COCOM list. As a result of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan the United States has been revising what it believes ought to be on the COCOM list. I understand that there are now to be discussions with Europe about that matter. Australia will be closely involved in those discussions. If matters are included on the list, we will abide by that, as has been indicated. But there would be no point in Australia’s taking a view in relation to a particular commodity that was not on the list and that was going to continue to be freely traded by other countries.
I imagine that the honourable member’s question was prompted by a report in the newspapers a couple of days ago. The information I give the honourable member has been put in my hands following inquiries that were made as a result of that report because I wanted to make quite sure that the Australian Government was fully informed of the latest moves and suggestions. As I have indicated, we have kept very closely in touch. If raw materials are included on the COCOM list, we will abide by it. They have not been and I know of no proposal to do so. But an expanded United States list is now being discussed with Europe and we will be very closely associated with that.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. What action is the Government taking to review section 45D of the Trade Practices Act? If such a review is being undertaken, will he assure the House that individual citizens and private businessmen will continue to be given protection under the law against the overbearing and monopolistic actions of big business and big unions?
-Events in recent times have shown that small businesses and individuals are very much in need of the protection of the law and it is very much a responsibility of government to uphold that law. If the law does not provide a protection for small businesses, as has been revealed, there are occasions when large and powerful corporations can combine or take parallel decisions with large and powerful unions very much to the detriment of small businesses in Australia. It is as a result of those moves that section 45D is being reviewed. The Government’s consideration of that matter is well advanced. I think it ought to be noted that whilst a refusal to supply by a particular company is not at present against the provisions of the Trade Practices Act, agreement by two or more companies to refuse to supply another party is against the provisions of that Act. What we are involved in here of course is whether an explicit or implied agreement between a major company and a trade union which results in a refusal to supply also ought to be outlawed by the provisions of the Trade Practices Act. I hope that the Government will be able to bring this matter to a conclusion in its consideration early next week and a decision can be announced about it. But we have been advised on ways in which the Government ‘s objective can in fact be achieved.
– I ask the Prime Minister a supplementary question. Once again he has proclaimed his stern defence of the rights of small businessmen. I therefore ask: Why did he refuse to meet small businessman Mr Carl Breen when he waited for almost three weeks, unsuccessfully, for an audience with the Prime Minister last October and November? Why is the Prime Minister not concerned to prevent exploitation of this small businessman and his colleagues in the road transport industry by the major transport corporations? Why has the Prime Minister endorsed policies that have caused a 145 per cent increase in the bankruptcy rate of small businessmen in road transport who are being bankrupted at an average rate of nine a week? In the interests of fairness and consistency, will he now extend to these thousands of small businessmen the same preferential treatment he has extended to Mr Laidely?
-My colleague the then Minister for Transport did see the gentleman concerned and discussed the matter with him. I have not seen Mr Laidely either. My colleagues have seen Mr Laidely and discussed the matter with him because I have Ministers on this side of the House who can do their business well and properly and who operate as part of a team.
-Can the Minister for Foreign Affairs advise the House whether Australia will be participating in any bilateral or multilateral aid programs for Zimbabwe, in view of the extremely useful role adopted by the Prime Minister and the Government in facilitating a peaceful settlement in that country?
-The short answer is: Yes, we will be participating. That will be our intention. But it will not be our intention to participate in aid programs of a multilateral or bilateral nature simply because we involved ourselves earlier and we may be privately pleased with the role that we adopted. There is a vigorous need for aid programs in Zimbabwe, particularly in the field of reconstruction, aid posts, schools, hospitals and the like. This is where the very real need lies. That will be the motivation for aid. It will not be simply the record of the Government, good and all as it is.
For the information of honourable members I present the annual report of the Australian Industrial Research and Development Incentives Board for 1978-79.
-I call the Leader of the Opposition who wishes to make a personal explanation.
– The Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Street) claimed in the course of Question Time that last week I had quoted from a document and had wrongly attributed the source thereof. I received a letter, but not six days ago. In fact, although it is dated 24 March, I believe that I received it yesterday morning. I apologise for my remissiveness in not raising the matter yesterday. I intended to do so but it slipped my mind.
Government members- Ha, ha!
– I know that the company honourable members opposite keep generates justifiable cynicism but I can assure them that it is not appropriate on this occasion.
-Order! The honourable gentleman should continue with his explanation. I ask honourable gentlemen on my right to remain silent.
-Last week I quoted from a document which is a justifiably devastating criticism of the Industrial Relations Bureau. Clearly, it must have been compiled either by someone within the Bureau or someone who had a very close contact within the Bureau. Very firmly attached to it was a copy of a covering letter or minute signed by Mr Holdorf, First Assistant Director, Legislation Division of the Industrial Relations Bureau. The circumstances of its presentation to and receipt by me left me with the impression that the two documents went together. The Minister now says that this is not so. A letter from the Industrial Relations Bureau claims that that is not so. I accept that and apologise for the conclusion that I reached which, although apparently justified, was wrong. The fact is that the document from which I quoted has a ring of authenticity about it. It is a searing and justifiable indictment of incompetence at the top of the Industrial Relations Bureauincompetence that is well known, well established and widely acknowledged outside. Those statements I do not withdraw.
-Order! The honourable gentleman is now arguing the issue.
– by leave- Mr Speaker, I am glad that leave has been granted to me to make a statement on Australia’s relations with the Third World. This follows requests made to me by a number of members of Parliament following the tabling of the Harries report. On 18 September of last year I tabled in the Parliament the report of the Committee on Australia’s Relations with the Third World. I commended it to the attention of all honourable members and the Australian public. I stressed that it warranted their serious consideration and discussion.
In the six months since the report was tabled honourable members have emphasised to me its continued relevance. They have confirmed my view that interest in it should not be allowed to wane- that the issues it raises are important enough to be subject to continued discussion. There have also been a number of inquiries about implementation by the Government of the recommendations of the report. Its value has been widely recognised.
The Government established the Committee on Australia’s Relations with the Third World because it recognised that the rise of the Third World constituted a change in the international environment which had many implications of critical significance for Australia. The subsequent appearance of the Brandt Commission’s report testifies to the prescience of this step.
The thoroughness and quality of the Third World report itself, and the keen interest it has generated in the media and in informed circles generally in Australia has been especially gratifying. The report has stimulated discussion of issues that are of great concern, and it has created a climate in which that discussion will proceed in clearer and better informed focus. The report has already become a basic text for use in universities.
The report has also created considerable interest and received favourable notice abroadfrom other governments and international agencies. Indeed, former Chancellor Willy Brandt has specifically advised us that the study was of particular benefit to his Commission. This overseas interest is in itself to be welcomed as a desirable stimulus to discussion of Australia and our region. But it is also to be welcomed because, and I am sure all honourable members will agree, it is to Australia’s credit that a document of this quality, on matters of high national importance, should attract serious and sympathetic attention in important centres overseas. Therefore, I believe the report has already achieved an important result in prompting consideration and discussion about a range of issues of great importance to this country which are directly relevant to our future.
But equally important, Mr Speaker, the report was intended as a review of issues and policies to be taken into account in the formulation of the Government’s own responses to the problems and opportunities presented by the emergence of the Third World. Accordingly, the Government has had the report under close study and already it has been influential in relation to the position we have taken on a number of issues under international discussion; for example, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Lusaka last year, before we actually tabled the report in the Parliament, it was of great assistance to us, as well as in other contexts. The thoroughness of the report and the very wide range of issues covered by it required that it be put to careful study by a committee of permanent heads of relevant government departments. The Government has now considered the advice of the Committee of Permanent Heads and I wish to inform the House in broad terms of the result.
The Third World report lists a total of 13 general conclusions about the Third World and advances 92 recommendations. These recommendations have been considered in terms of three broad categories:
First, those key recommendations which propose a broad policy framework for Australia to adopt in approaching the Third World. The Government accepts that those general precepts which recommend the broad approach Australia should adopt on Third World issues, should guide and inform the conduct of our regional relations; our activities in the United Nations and other forums of multilateral diplomacy; our stance on the North-South dialogue and questions of the international economic system; as well as our aid policy. In doing so, it should also provide a single lens through which to focus our view on a multiplicity of issues affecting the Third World that should be seen as interconnected and not as separate or discrete. In this way we may expect to have a consistent basis for approaching problems of the Third World and to co-ordinate more effectively our efforts in dealing with them.
Second, other key recommendations on individual issues; and
Third, other specific recommendations.
The latter two categories naturally further subdivide into those recommendations which are broadly consistent with government policy and those which require further consideration.
The Government has no difficulty in endorsing a number of key recommendations in the Third World report concerning defence, our regional relationships, voting rights in international financial and development institutions, immigration issues and international trade and protection policy which are broadly consistent with Government policy. The Government considers that two key recommendations in the Third World report- those concerning tariff reductions and structural adjustment and the setting of a target date for the achievement of 0.7 per cent of gross national product in official development assistance- and a number of other specific recommendations have far reaching implications and require consideration in the future formulation of policies.
The Government has decided to adopt two measures in order to ensure that the issues raised and recommendations made in the Third World report are not lost sight of in the formulation of government policies. This is not a report which will be pigeonholed. First, Ministers and their departments will give consideration to those issues and recommendations which fall within their responsibility and take follow-up actions as appropriate. Secondly, I will report periodically to the Cabinet on developments in Australia ‘s relations with the Third World and on the implementation of the Government’s response to the Third World report. I will make my first such report within three months. I have also instructed my Department to convene an interdepartmental committee, comprising senior officials of the departments represented in the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, and other departments as required, in order to assist in the preparation of such reports.
As will have emerged from what I have said, the Third World report is a document which will provide a framework and foundation for future assessments of policy towards Third World issues- on economic, political, social and strategic questions. I would go farther and say that the wisdom of the report’s comments have already been borne out by events. For example, when I tabled the Third World report, I made two general observations which I should like to recall now. I observed then: ‘The Third World is an object of strategic attention and competition on the part of the superpowers’. The report itself spells this out at some length. I will quote one paragraph, written, it should be remembered, in the early part of 1979:
Recent events in Afghanistan, South Yemen and Ethiopia have extended Soviet influence in the Middle East- West Asia area significantly, while developments in Iran (and, to a lesser extent, Turkey) have created considerable uncertainty about the stability of the whole region. Given the geographical sensitivity of the region, the Soviet Union can be expected to proceed with great caution. But, by the same token, the magnitude of the potential gains to be made there, if combined with the existence of increasingly exploitable opportunities, make it unlikely that it will equate caution with inaction. This, taken together with the West’s ultimate stake in the region, makes the Middle East the most likely area in which miscalculations on either side could lead to a major superpower crisis.
Such a miscalculation, in the form of the naked assertion of Soviet power against Afghanistan, has in fact brought about such a crisis. In view of some of the reactions to that crisis I would particularly draw attention to the point made in that paragraph that caution should not be equated with inaction. To be rationally cautious, in the sense of weighing risks and opportunities carefully, is as compatible with an expansionist policy as it is with a defensive policy: It all depends on how the balance of risks and opportunities comes out.
In the present situation the countries of the Third World have demonstrated by their opposition to and denunciation of the Soviet invasion- as at the Islamic Conference, for example- that capacity to unite in the pursuit of a common cause which by joint action has enabled them in the past, as I observed in September last, to ‘cause countries individually more powerful and wealthy than them to alter their stance on central issues’. Unfortunately the unequivocal expression of revulsion by the vast majority of countries of the Third World, as expressed in particular in their massive vote in the United Nations General Assembly in condemnation of the Soviet Union, has not yet led that superpower to remove its invading forces from Afghanistan. But no-one can doubt that the point has been registered in Moscow, that it has increased the political cost of the invasion greatly, and that if the countries of the Third World maintain their demand for an independent and non-aligned Afghanistan, which we support, even the Soviet Union may at least ultimately rue the damage to its reputation and standing in the Third World.
The second general point I made six months ago in tabling the report was that ‘our strategic environment is a Third World Environment’, intimating that events in Third World countries might exercise a profound influence on the environment in which we live. Again, what has happened in Afghanistan has underscored the point. Afghanistan was a member of the nonaligned movement. Whatever the degree of influence the Soviet Union had over its affairs, that membership signified its aspiration to be independent. It has now been effectively taken over by force by a superpower in circumstances where the other superpower could not take blocking action. Of course the primary strategic responsibility for the response must lie with the other superpower- the United States- and its associates, including Australia. That is the basic strategic requirement.
But in the long run a critical political factor is likely to be what happens in the Third World. Will the Third World maintain its stand against Soviet expansionist policies as evinced in the General Assembly vote on Afghanistan? Will Third World countries see that the danger is not just to a specific, isolated country, subverted and then invaded by a massive and predatory neighbour? Will they see clearly that, far from conflicting with their non-alignment, opposition to Soviet expansionism is a necessary condition for its preservation? It was partly because of these considerations that after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the Government felt it essential that Australia consult in our region with a number of non-aligned countries.
In concluding, I have referred in particular to strategic questions. These are after all topical issues. However, it is absolutely imperative that the importance of all the other areas covered in the report should not be underestimated. The document, after all, embraced many themes and many issues. Indeed, its comprehensiveness and balance are among its outstanding features. It is not a document which, having been read, will be shelved. It will be kept under continuing review. In this context, I believe it both proper and useful that the report should be further discussed in this House. I present the following paper:
Australia’s Relations with the Third World- Ministerial Statement, 26 March 1980.
Motion (by Mr Viner) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
-The Opposition welcomes the fact that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) has again brought the report of the Committee on Australia’s Relations with the Third World before this House. The report was first mentioned in September of last year and was then spoken of by leave. It will now be the subject of debate, and I commend the Minister for that. I think it is also important that all members of Parliament have an opportunity to engage in debate on matters of this importance. Having said that, let me make some observations as to what I think are the problems of this report. First of all, the crux of the problem with the Harries report derives from the fact that it sees Australia as a Western country with Western interests. It fails to acknowledge that we are first and foremost Australians. I am in accord with the dissenting views of Mr J. T. Smith, who was one of the members of that Committee of Inquiry. He makes this point about our being a Western country:
What the proposition denies, in a sense, is that we are essentially Australians. In effect, the Committee recommends that the Government approach our relations with the Third World not on the basis that first we are Australians but first that we are Western: and an odd kind of Western at that- ‘Western with a difference’.
I could not agree more. He went on to make this point:
How much more perplexing it would be to the Third World, and especially to Asia, to discover that we regard ourselves as Western and are basing our policy towards them on that, just when (after 30 years effort on our part) they were beginning to believe that we really are Australians and not Europeans or British.
The Minister quoted with approval a paragraph from the report which he says is a test of its quality. The paragraph was written in early 1 979 and the Minister said that it represented and foreshadowed the types of developments we have witnessed in West Asia. He said that the wisdom of the report has been borne out. But I would like to quote a paragraph which follows from the one that the Minister quoted. It states: we also share with other members of the Western Alliance wider strategic interests in the Third World as a whole. Our stake in the continuing capacity of the United States and its major allies to counter the ideological and military challenge of the Soviet Union generates a strong interest in avoiding situations in the Third World which allow the Soviet Union to secure strategic gains of lasting significance against the West. Such undesirable situations would include, for example, any serious extension of Soviet influence in the Gulf or Red Sea areas.
In view of that comment, is it any wonder that the United States thought that Australia would be prepared to contribute Australian troops to a rapid deployment force under United States command? Is it any wonder that the Americans made a request of Australia that was made of no other country? The rapid deployment force was an idea that had its genesis in the contingency plans of Henry Kissinger to safeguard American interests in the oilfields of the Middle East.
As a general comment on the Harries report, it is striking that Australia is credited with such little capacity for independent action. The framework of expectations of Australia’s scope for initiative and independent thought starts from an extremely low base. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the report ‘s treatment of our region in general and Indo-China in particular. With regard to Indo-China, I point out that Appendix C of the report, which gives a list of Third World countries, does not mention the country of Cambodia, but the regime of Kampuchea. The country is left out. That says much for the thoroughness and quality of the report.
The report provides no basis for a constructive approach to the problems of Indo-China, least of all to any suggestion that Australia may have an important and useful role to play on its own, distinct from that of the United States or the countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations.
It is totally forgotten that Australia has the capacity to lead opinion as well as to follow it.
With regard to our South East Asian neighbours in the ASEAN group, who I should point out are here today in the Parliament, the report recommends- rightly- that a valid and sustained Australian posture must be derived from a sound appreciation of Australian interests. It makes the point that full account must be taken of the range of interests and goals involved in any policy, or the answer might come out wrongly. The importance of co-ordination of policy is emphasised, but the report does not say how that will be achieved. In our view, the Government is a long way from achieving it.
Only yesterday the Australian Financial Review reported that the air fare arrangements with ASEAN countries were last Friday placed in jeopardy when the Department of Transport tried to announce increased international air fares without first informing the ASEAN countries. That followed the disastrous diplomatic incident last year over the whole ASEAN air fare issue. We thought that the Government would have learned from that disaster.
While on the subject of South East Asia, it is also worth recalling that the Harries report spoke with approval of what it described as ‘the increased internal political stability’ of ASEAN. Let us have a look at the facts. We have just seen a change of Prime Ministers in Thailand. On its border, Thailand has about one million refugees and a continuing war just over its border. Surely no one believes that that situation contributes to the stability of Thailand. On the contrary, Unless we take some new initiative, particularly in respect of the situation in Kampuchea, we might have very serious doubts about the stability of Thailand. Again, we cannot have any great confidence in the political stability of the Philippines. That is no secret. The problem there relates to the workings of an autocratic regime. But the Harries report was very indulgent. It used the phrase to the effect that democracy was something whose time had not yet come, although the report was somewhat equivocal and did admit of the potential for instability caused by autocratic rule.
We learned yesterday of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, a country where the regime is determined to keep labour cheap, the rulers rich, and the workers denied of any rights to organise. It is a prescription for political upheaval. The Minister mentioned Afghanistan. He might also have mentioned Pakistan, where an unpopular ruler is now being flooded with offers of aid because of what has happened in Afghanistan. Because of the internal regime that operates in Pakistan, and the background to it, it must be considered to be a very inadequate bulwark against the Soviet Union.
Let me talk about some of the matters that concern us. The Minister is reverting almost to cold war rhetoric when he says:
Will Third World countries see the danger is not just to a specific isolated country subverted and then invaded by a massive and predatory neighbour? Will they see clearly that far from conflicting with their non-alignment, opposition to Soviet expansion is a necessary condition for its preservation?
I can say to the Minister only that I doubt whether Third World countries, and particularly the non-aligned countries, will see their interests served by the kind of simple anti-Sovietism and associated rhetoric in which the Australian Prime Minister indulges. And I am certain India is a case in point. I note with some surprise that in the space of a single sentence the Minister informed us that the Government had no difficulty in endorsing a number of recommendations in the Harries report. I refer the Minister to his comment about the international trade and protection policy recommended in the report, which apparently the Government has now endorsed. We are well aware of what happened at a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development when it was said that we were going to lower our trade barriers. We came back and, as a tariff measure, promptly increased taxation on oil imports.
Mr Graham Fair cf crack of the whip.
-That is a fair crack of the whip. I thank the honourable member for his help. The international trade and protection policy is one that the Harries report recommends, but to those who want to be simple minded, it is taken straight from the Treasury line on economic issues. No consideration has been given to the consequences for Australian industry or for Australian jobs. The Minister says that the recommendations on tariff reductions and structural adjustment require consideration in the future formulation of policy, but it is inconsistent to support the trade and protection policies of the Harries report on the one hand and to suspend judgment on tariff reductions and structural adjustment on the other hand. I think we need considerably more from the Minister -
-Listen. I think we need considerably more from the Minister on precisely what the Government’s attitude is on these matters. It is unsatisfactory to leave things as unclear as he leaves them. I go further and say that by allowing the Government’s attitude to the Treasury line on trade and Australian industry to remain so vague, the Government has made a rod for its own back. I recently visited the ASEAN countries, and it was made very plain to me that our ASEAN neighbours felt that the recommendations in the Harries report lent enormous weight to their demands for free access to the Australian markets, particularly in the areas of footwear and textiles. When it was said to these people: ‘Is it not a fact that Australia allows a greater import penetration than countries such as Japan and the United States?’ they said: ‘Yes, but that is because you do it differently’. When they are asked: ‘Is it not a fact that the Government allows 60 per cent import penetration of the textile market, while the United States allows 10 per cent and Japan allows 12 per cent?’, they say: ‘Yes, but that is because you do it differently’. The point is that it is about time we did it properly. It does nothing for our industries to have our Ministers and the Foreign Affairs Department saying we are to blame. As I mentioned yesterday, Mr Muldoon, the New Zealand Prime Minister, was in Manila berating Australians for being too protectionist. What does this do for our influence in the area?
When I talked to the ASEAN people I found that they can understand our problems. They can understand that we are one of the few countries that take migrants. No migrants are taken by any ASEAN countries. We have to have some method of employment for these people. In my local area there are 35 different nationalities in a primary school. Many of the parents have never had a chance to learn English. Where are they going to get employment unless the Government starts talking about basic industries? It is about time the people in the ivory towers of the Foreign Affairs Department woke up to how Australians are trying to live in this difficult time, instead of creating the sort of situation which has occurred in the Philippines and other places where the socalled economic zones make Asian millionaires and paupers of millions. That is the fundamental weakness in this report.
The Harries report has served as another obstacle to industries, which employ over 100,000 people. Whether or not that was intended by the Government, I do not know, but it has happened. In ASEAN countries it is said: ‘This is a marvellous report; we could have written it ourselves’. The cynics say: ‘Perhaps they did’. I hope that the Government does not try to utilise the Harries report and place too much reliance on it. Its weaknesses are well known, particularly in relation to the problems of our region. Frankly, it is not sufficiently soundly based in its assumptions or coherent enough in its conclusions to provide what the Minister said he hoped would be ‘a single lens through which to focus our view on a multiplicity of issues affecting the Third World ‘. It is inadequate for that purpose. If we attempt to use it in that way our policies will remain reactive and conservative. I may mention one factor. One gap in this report relates to the energy crisis in the world and the theory that the Third World developing countries can overcome that by nuclear energy.
– You have just made the most reactive speech of any Labor politician.
-Could I have some silence please? The Government is anxious to sell uranium because the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) says: ‘Get a quid for it somehow.’ It does not matter what is done with it. I am trying to tell the Government about the instability in these areas, and the Minister knows very well- I think he is more aware of it than others- that we should be talking about these matters. When one talks about energy in the world, one is talking about the life blood of people. Do not give them the wrong type of energy. That is the great weakness in the Harries Report. It did not even address its mind to the energy crisis in the world. I make the point that reference has been made to the Willy Brandt report. I think it would be a useful exercise to compare the Brandt report with the Minister’s statement. Although one might not agree with everything in the Brandt report, particularly, for instance, on the question of industry and its relationship to trade, at least what the report stands for can be stated shortly and succinctly.
The basis of the Brandt report is that the large gap between the north and the south, the rich and the poor nations, should not be allowed to widen but should be closed to the greatest extent possible. Brandt argues that the existing disparity between rich and poor represents a nsk to the peoples of the world. Brandt recommends proposals which are designed to transfer resources to the south from the north. The proposals are imaginative. They include, for example, a proposal to make automatic transfers through world taxation. Whatever we may think of it- I am not expressing a view at this stage- the Brandt report represents a thoughtful strategy towards a solution of some of the most pressing problems the world faces. At best, the Harries report represents a series of tactics. It lacks a coherent political foundation. Nevertheless, we thank the Minister for allowing the report to be opened to debate. I hope that the debate will also allow some examination of some of the proposals put forward in the Brandt report and even in the Senate’s report on the new international economic order.
Let me refer finally to the Minister. I think he ought to be able to exercise his influence in relation to aid in the South Pacific region generally more than he has done in the past. I notice from the table which I have before me that Australia’s aid contribution has dropped substantially. As a proportion of gross national product in 1974 it was 0.55 per cent. In 1977 it had dropped to 0.45 per cent and it has dropped further since then. I am reminded that there has been a drop in real terms of some $200m. As I mentioned yesterday or the day before, it is very important, when talking about our relations with the ASEAN group that we talk about aid in intelligent terms. Australia has the best record. We can do a lot more. The aid has to be given in the agroeconomic area. We have to give the people in this region the capacity to grow their own food. We have to keep them in areas where they can improve their standard of living. We must be very careful of the suggestion that wc can do something for them by putting them to work on a factory floor for a wage of $1 a day. That will not help their stability. I predict that most of the leaders in the ASEAN region will change in one way or another within the next five years.
Debate (on motion by Mr Graham) adjourned.
-Mr Speaker has received a letter from the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The failure of the Government to exercise its constitutional powers to establish and protect Aboriginal civil and land rights in Western Australia and South Australia.
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 placesMr WEST (Cunningham) (3.38)- Aboriginals have inhabited Australia for some 30,000 years- from at least the period of the last ice age- but 200 years of dispossession and repression by a white settler state has long reduced them to the status of a disadvantaged minority. Attitudes have passed through periods of outright genocide, repression, paternalism and, more recently, belated attempts by Federal governments to make mild restitutions. The national referendum of 1 967 gave the Commonwealth full power over the States to pass laws for the benefit of the Aboriginal people. With the Commonwealth’s Aboriginal Land Rights Northern Territory Act of 1976 it seemed that a start might be made to provide universal land rights and human rights to Aborigines. Unfortunately, we are now in a period of regression rather than progression concerning Aboriginal rights.
The Fraser Government has now, under a series of lack-lustre and ineffectual Ministers, completely abdicated its powers derived from the 1967 referendum. The anticipated second great resources boom has caused multinational and national minerals and energy development and processing companies, aided by this Government, to predict an uncontrolled and unrationalised surge in exploration development and exporting. This Government is now convinced that a halt must be called to Aboriginal human rights, land rights and self determination. In the basic conflict between uncontrolled exploitation of nature’s resources for profit and the 30,000 year old culture of the Aborigines, conservative Federal and State governments, when it comes to the crunch, will always side with the mining companies and will use the force of the state to repress Aboriginals. The relationship of Aboriginal communities to land is not one of private ownership and exploitation. It is one of spiritual, cultural and material sustenance. In effect, the Aborigines reach far back into their own pre-history to sustain them against the adversities of twentieth century Australia.
This Government refuses to implement its powers over the recalcitrant, reactionary Tories in control of Aboriginal affairs, especially in Queensland and Western Australia and, one might now add, even South Australia. The false dawn of Aboriginal hope in 1976 has faded abruptly in the wake of proposed Federal legislation such as the paternalistic Aboriginal Development Commission Act where, under Ministerial control, appointed persons, rather than elected Aboriginals, will be commissioners. The Northern Territory struggles against uranium mining has caused this Government to talk of amending the 1976 land rights legislation to weaken the power of Aboriginals to oppose mining agreements on the basis of lack of information and understanding of mining and proposed developments. No State has yet passed an Aboriginal land rights Act. The recent South Australian Labor Government attempted to pass a Bill which, amongst other things, gave freehold title to traditional communities in north west South Australia, prevented sale of property and allowed the Pitjantjatjara people the right of veto over mining. The Tonkin Liberal Government in South Australia has reneged on assurances given to the Pitjantjatjara people. After failing to oppose the original legislation when in Opposition, the Tonkin Government is now -
– I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I ask the honourable member to withdraw the words ‘the South Australian Government has reneged ‘. That remark is not only untrue but is also unparliamentary.
-There is no point of order. The right honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
– After failing to oppose the original legislation when in Opposition, the Tonkin Government is now not only substantially amending the Bill but has already approved mineral exploration licences over non-nucleus Pitjantjatjara land. The Pitjantjatjara people are shocked and appalled that they have been betrayed once again by the white man. I wish now to move on to events in Western Australia, mainly at Noonkanbah in the north-west. Not far from the Fitzroy Crossing three years ago the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission acquired a pastoral lease to aid Aborigines in that area. It is now administered by the West Australian Aboriginal Lands Trust for the Yungngora people. Some 200 to 300 people who used to be fringe dwellers in the Fitzroy Crossing area are now working that pastoral lease. I shall quote from the Kimberley Land Council newsletter to illustrate the plight of these people before they were set up at Noonkanbah. The newsletter stated: 8 years ago the Yungngora had walked off Noonkanbah, due to appalling conditions, and camped in Fitzroy Crossing. There they faced the social problems of fringe dwellingexcess drinking, fighting, and social fragmentation. After a long struggle, they moved back to Noonkanbah . . . Now I am told that a school exists on the property, that the fences have been repaired, that the bores have been re-equipped and that these people are in the business of raising cattle on their own pastoral lease. But Noonkanbah is more than just a cattle raising property. The Aboriginals believe much of the area to be sacred. Amax Exploration (Australia) Inc. believes that it may also contain oil. I shall explain quickly how the Aboriginal heritage legislation of Western Australia is supposed to protect the Aboriginals’ sacred sites. The trustees of the Western Australian museum have power to identify sacred sites for the Aborigines in Western Australia, but the relevant Western Australian Minister also has the power to override the trustees’ opinion. Further, the Western Australian Minister for Resources Development, Mines and Fuel and Energy has the power to grant entry to the reserves to anyone he sees fit. Since 1978 there has been a legal wrangle under the Western Australian Mining Act and the Western Australian heritage legislation involving Amax and 30 other drilling companies which wish to clarify the position about drilling at Noonkanbah. Last year the Western Australian Museum recommended that areas around No. 1 and No. 2 drill sites be protected. The Government directed the Museum to declare open an area around the No. 1 drill site to allow Amax to drill. Despite a court injunction which was granted last Friday, the Government of Western Australia has directed the Museum to declare open the second area around No. 2 site. To my knowledge, to date the Museum trustees have not reacted to this direction. This is clearly an example of the Government overriding a law, that is, the Western Australian Aboriginal Heritage Act.
I dwell now for a short time on the events of Tuesday, 18 March. That was the day when Amax got sick of what was going on and decided to move with the” support of the Western Australian police. Thirty-four police officers from all over the north-west- from Port Hedland, Broome and Fitzroy Crossing- were mustered about 70 kilometres from Noonkanbah. They moved into the pastoral lease and onto the sacred sites where the company wishes to drill. The police were accompanied by representatives of Amax Exploration (Australia) Inc. and the Mines Department of Western Australia. When asked what the police were doing there, the Amax representative said: ‘They are here for the protection of the mining company. They are here for our protection. What’s more, we are going to give you two sites and you have five minutes to select one site. If you don’t select one, we are going to drill anyway under police protection’. That is what happened on Tuesday, 1 8 March at Noonkanbah.
Premier Court of Western Australia now says that drilling has proceeded with the consent of the Aboriginal people. What a sham! What hypocrisy! Sir Charles- I hesitate to call him Sir’- is now exposed, in my opinion as a vassal of mining companies rather than as the Premier of a sovereign State. This disgraceful incident is a prime example of a State Government, a police force and a mining company ganging up against the Aboriginal people. I also question the role of the Police Commissioner in this unsavoury affair. He appears to have the view that he can act independently of Government aboriginal policy in Western Australia. A telex to this Parliament stated:
Police Commissioner Leach said 34 policemen had been on standby at Noonkanbah Station yesterday in case of trouble with the Aborigines.
He said there were also contingency plans to fly policemen from Port Hedland and Perth to Noonkanbah if necessary.
What is the Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) doing about all this? Let me tell honourable members. He said that one of his representatives, a Mr T. Long, had been on the site and that he was expecting a full report. Let us hope that he received a full report from Mr Long because he has emerged from this affair with a air of complete gullibility and his credibility threatened. Just as the incidents at Aurukun and Mornington Island destroyed the reputation of the previous Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the present Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner), who is sitting opposite, I expect that these affairs in Western Australia and South Australia will destroy the present Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the Senate. Such is the gullibility of Senator Chaney that on 1 1 March he said:
The Premier’s statement in Perth today, committing his Government to the protection of sacred sites, consultation with the community and the undertaking that no right to drill would be given without strict conditions to protect their way of life, will be welcomed by the Aboriginal people.
The rumour that the company would enter the propertywithout notice and with police protection-
It is said that this is a rumourcaused great consternation. It is good that the Premier has put that rumour to rest.
Well, I’ll say no more! When honourable members look at what subsequently happened, they will see how gullible Senator Chaney is. It is time for the Federal Government to draft legislation as a matter of urgency to bring Noonkanbah Station and the Aboriginal community there firmly under Federal control.
I wish to raise another matter in the few minutes remaining to me. I expect that the seconder of my motion will take this matter up because I obviously will not have time to deal with it adequately. I want to dwell on the police harassment and interrogation of Aborigines who applied for postal votes in the recent State election in the Kimberleys. It is a fact that two detectives went up there and hauled in, in the socalled cockey cages for interrogation in Wyndham, Aborigines who had the audacity to apply for postal votes and to use them. I quote the legal aid officer in the area, Peter Downing, M.L.C. He said:
Following that, three people were arrested apparently under the Western Australian Electoral Act. What was the role of the Police Commissioner in this case? He again seems to think that he can again act independently of the Government. In yesterday’s West Australian he is quoted as stating that there was a possibility that another election for the seat of Kimberley would be necessary. I am amazed. The Police Commissioner is now telling the Premier and the electoral administration of Western Australia that it is time for another election. There are some serious questions that we should ask of Sir Charles on his police State in Western Australia with regard to the Aborigines. The first is: Was the Police Commissioner acting on behalf of the Western Australian Government or the defeated candidate, Mr Ridge? What was the motive for the forced interrogation of Aboriginal postal voters? Was it to discourage them from voting in the future? Have the Western Australian police ever investigated the soliciting of postal votes in white urban electorates? That is a favourite caper of the Liberal Party. There is no question about that. One of the Liberal Party’s prime capers is to go around nursing homes, cart some of the old people from the nursing homes along to vote and also to arrange their postal votes for them. Has that sort of thing been investigated in New South Wales or Western Australia?
Finally, why has not this Government and the police in Western Australia taken action against the fellow whom I saw on television, Mr Steve Widdell? On his own admission, he took 44 gallons of wine to Turkey Creek and had the audacity to say on national television, ‘I took it there to get the Aborigines drunk so they could not vote for Labor candidates’. The Third World exists here in Australia. The standard of living for the majority of Aborigines is decades behind contemporary Australia. In its cynical pruning of expenditure of Aboriginal programs, in its reversion to paternalism and repression, in its support of the mining companies which place profits before people, and in its failure to confront reactionary State governments, this Federal Government is condemned in the eyes of all Aborigines and white Australians too.
– I acknowledge the fact that the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) has just taken over the responsibility of Opposition shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. When he learns something of the history of Aboriginal affairs under the Fraser Government and when he moves amongst Aboriginal people, he will find that the achievements of this Government are very highly regarded by Aboriginal communities and individual Aboriginals right around Australia. He will also learn and understand the role of the Commonwealth in Aboriginal affairs within the Federal political structure of Australia. This Commonwealth has to operate within the framework of the Constitution and in accordance with the powers given to it under the Constitution. The particular powers in this area are those which were inserted in the Constitution by a referendum in the middle 1960s giving the Commonwealth power to make laws in respect of the people of any race where previously there was an expressed exclusion of Aboriginal people. That is not an exclusive power in the hands of the Commonwealth because the States still have the power to make laws with respect to the people of any race within Australia.
This Government does not ignore the realities of the Constitution, which is- really what the Opposition is asking the Commonwealth to do, but works within the framework of the Constitution. I give two examples of that. The first, is land rights within the Northern Territory, a great achievement, a great milestone in the history of the emancipation of the Aboriginal people. The Commonwealth Government did that and was able to do that because it had power in the Northern Territory as one of the Territories of the Commonwealth. I mention also the achievements of this Government in Queensland particularly with regard to the Aurukun and Mornington Island communities. For the first time in the history of Queensland land rights were achieved for communities through the efforts of this Government and this Government alone. Let there be no mistake that land rights were achieved for the communities of Aurukun and Mornington Island. The Aboriginal people did not obtain the same form of land title -
– You can say that again.
– As the communities in the Northern Territory. Let me inform the honourable member for Fremantle that the people of Aurukun and Mornington Island have a much better title to their land than the Gurindji people in the Northern Territory. The Gurindji people have their title under the form of a pastoral lease. As far as I am aware they have not yet taken advantage of their right to apply for a freehold title under the land rights legislation operating in the Northern Territory. The Labor Party, in the Whitlam days, and the Opposition under Mr Hayden today, operate in exactly the same way. The Labor Party makes threats. It seeks to cajole the present Government. When the Labor Party was in Government it made threats that it would move into Queensland; that it would take over the reserves of Queensland; and that it would acquire the reserves in Queensland. We know from the Labor Party’s record that it was not prepared to back up its threats or statements with any action of that kind. It was not prepared to use the legislation which has been on the Commonwealth statute books ever since Federation and, that is, the power in the Commonwealth to acquire land under the Lands Acquisition Act. I suggest to the honourable member for Cunningham that he should look carefully at the history of his own party before he comes into this House and seeks to condemn or accuse this Government.
The Labor Government of the day doubted its constitutional power and was not prepared to move, either under the Lands Acquisition Act or any separate and new legislation, to back up what it was saying ought to be done to
Queensland. I turn to South Australia for a moment or two and to the situation concerning the Pitjantjatjara people and the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. It is the desire of the Pitjantjatjara people to obtain land rights for what is their tribal country in the north-west corner of South Australia. I was Minister for Aboriginal Affairs at the time when the South Australian Labor Government of the day started looking at land rights for these people. I suggested to the South Australian Government that it should work in co-operation with the Commonwealth to seek co-ordinated land rights legislation across the borders between South Australia and the Northern Territory, so that any -
– And Western Australia.
-And Western Australia. In that regard I am on public record for so doing because the Pitjantjatjara land crosses the boundaries of South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. In so doing, I suggested to the South Australian Government that if land rights were to be given to those people it would be better for them, as their land crosses the borders, that their land rights legislation be the same as the Commonwealth land rights legislation in the Northern Territory. Much to my regret and much to the dismay and disadvantage of the Pitjantjatjara people, the South Australian Dunstan Labor Government sought and, in fact, did go its own way. The South Australian Government thought that it would play smart politics by showing the Australian people that it could do something better than the Commonwealth did in the Northern Territory. Of course, what happened to the South Australian Government was that it fell flat on its face to the great disadvantage of the Pitjantjatjara people. Had the South Australian Government been sensible, had it worked constructively with the Commonwealth, land rights may well have been achieved on the Northern Territory model. I venture to suggest that the action of the Dunstan Labor Government of the day has put back for a long time land rights for those people. Quite properly the incoming Liberal Government wishes to examine the legislation of the former Government. The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill, of course, had not passed through the South Australian Parliament. Quite clearly, an incoming Government has the right to do that.
My colleague, the present Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator Chaney, has been in close consultation with the South Australian Government and the Pitjantjatjara Council, including its legal adviser and the president and secretary of that Council; that is, the all Aboriginal Pitjantjatjara Council. Talks were held in Adelaide on 13 March between representatives of that Council and the State Government. Whilst the outcome of those discussions has not been made public I understand there will be further talks between the Council and the State Government on some remaining technicalities. Discussions are to be held between lawyers for the Pitjantjatjara Council and the State Government Crown Law Office.
For our part the Commonwealth Government is hopeful that any remaining differences will be resolved and a form of land rights legislation for these people- which I understand the South Australian Government wishes to put on the statute books- will be achieved. In the land rights legislation there is great advantage for both the Aboriginal people and the Government. Land rights legislation can be a realistic vehicle for balancing basic public interests. First are the social and cultural interests of a minority indigenous group of Australian citizens living by their traditional culture which, in the case of Aboriginals, is linked essentially and directly to land, mythology and the sacredness to them of that land.
Second are the mining interests. I do not speak of any self-interest of the exploiting corporations but of the overriding interest of society as a whole in seeing that minerals are mined. It is that particular point, the overriding social interest of the community as a whole, which caused Mr Justice Woodward in his celebrated report on land rights in the Northern Territory to say that the Parliament of the Commonwealth must always retain to itself the right in the national interest to override the withholding of consent by Aboriginal groups to mining on Aboriginal land. If that is what the South Australian Government is seeking to achieve, it is seeking to achieve the same thing as was recommended by Mr Justice Woodward and put into operation by the Commonwealth through its land rights legislation.
The third point I make about land rights legislation is that it can be a bridge between government and Aboriginal communities. It can be a vehicle in which both parties can travel to bring about a realistic, sensible and acceptable balancing of those vital interests. It is vital also that that kind of bridge be established in the field of intercultural relations. Through the efforts of my colleague, Senator Chaney, I am quite sure that there will be a realistic, sensible and acceptable balancing of interests through the South Australian land rights legislation.
Let me turn to the situation in Western Australia and first to the matter concerning the electoral laws. The new shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs should not misunderstand the Commonwealth’s position. I will explain to him something of the background of the Commonwealth’s involvement in the electoral problems of the Kimberley area of the Northern Territory. When there was a challenge to the election about three years ago and a new election was called by the Court of Disputed Returns under Western Australia law, I got in touch immediately with the Western Australian Minister for Education and advised him that I was prepared to put up the money for an electoral educational program to be instituted immediately and to be staffed by officers of the State Aboriginal Education Branch. That was a highly successful operation and a highly successful exercise in co-operation between the Commonwealth and the State working within the constitutional framework as the electoral laws dealing with State parliaments are the responsibility of State parliaments. That was aimed at doing one very simple thing, that is, at putting Aboriginals in the position in which they could go into a polling booth and cast a secret vote in the same way as any other Australian citizen. I know from speaking to Aboriginal leaders from the Kimberleys area that the education program was very effective and of great benefit to the Aboriginal people. The Commonwealth has two simple objectives: To see that Aboriginals can accept their right to enrol, to vote and to see that when they vote they can cast a secret vote free from intervention or interference by any other people.
I refer finally to the situation on Noonkanbah. Noonkanbah is a pastoral property. It is not a freehold property owned by the Aboriginal community; it is a pastoral property owned by the Aboriginal Lands Trust of Western Australia on behalf of the Aboriginal communities living on that property. It is a pastoral lease issued under the land laws of Western Australia. It was purchased under my authority when I was the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs by the Commonwealth Aboriginal Land Fund Commission for the purpose of putting the members of that community in a situation in which they could work and act for themselves close to their own traditional country. The problem now is again one of balancing interests- of balancing the interests of this community of people who still live a tribal lifestyle with regard to their cultural background and the interests of the community of Western Australia in ensuring that exploration for oil proceeds. Those interests have to be balanced against the background of ensuring that there is genuine protection of the sacred sites which are so important to that community. My colleague Senator Chaney has been in close consultation with the Noonkanbah community and the State Government. There have been clear public statements on this subject by the Western Australian Premier. He said:
Our sole purpose at the moment is to establish in a sensible way the areas on Noonkanbah which can be genuinely classed as sacred sites and which the Aboriginal community want protected.
I know that my colleague Senator Chaney, through the Western Australian Museum and his other advisers, is making every effort to ensure that those sacred sites are properly protected to the benefit of the Aboriginal community. I have no doubt that with the continuing efforts of my colleague there will be an acceptable balancing of those interests. I know from having spoken to Aboriginal leaders from that area that they believe that if the parties directly involved can sit down and talk sensibly there will be an acceptable solution.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
-The Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) spoke about the balancing of interests. The Opposition’s committee dealing with Aboriginal affairs met today with one of the Aboriginal leaders from the Kimberleys and it was told about the balancing of interest of the Court Government about the Aboriginal people at Noonkanbah. It involved one police paddy wagon, 30 or 40 policemen and a direction to Aboriginal community leaders at Noonkanbah to make up their minds within five minutes which of two sites, both of them being held by the local community as sacred sites, they would prefer Amax Exploration (Australia) Inc. to drill on. Does the Minister, who is a former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and who hails from Western Australia, tell this House seriously, as he has just purported to do, that that constitutes a proper balancing of interests? The Court Government moved with all of the coercive power of the State. We are continually told by the Premier of Western Australia that somehow the Aboriginal community at Noonkanbah is being difficult in negotiations. The fact of the matter is that the Noonkanbah people have now officially called for Federal intervention to protect their rights. They have asked for a three-year moratorium on exploration of their land so that thorough mapping and official declaration of their sacred sites may be carried out. I would like to know what is the view of the Minister on that. We have heard nothing.
Thirty separate companies and individuals currently hold exploration licences for areas on Noonkanbah station. The Aboriginal people rightly feel that once one company gets away with disregarding their rights it will be open slather for the other 29 vested interests. To suggest that the Aboriginal people have been absolutely unresponsive in this matter is completely false. Last year the Noonkanbah people came to an amicable agreement with Conzinc Riotinto of Australia in respect of exploration on their land. CRA was, according to them, considerate. It respected sacred areas and employed Aboriginal people from the station. In the words of their leaders, CRA did not seek to deceive or trick the people, as Amax has done. Let the Minister be perfectly candid. Do the Minister and his Federal colleague in another place, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney), assert that the Aboriginal people of Noonkanbah and the Pitjantjatjara people have been treated honourably and fairly by either the Government of Western Australia or the Government of South Australia? The answer is, of course, no.
I was interested to hear the Minister talk about his efforts to protect Aboriginal voting rights. It seems to me that one of the problems of this Parliament is that Liberal Ministers of the Crown will say one thing in this Parliament while their colleagues in another State perform quite differently. When examining Aboriginal voting rights, any judgment of the events that are currently taking place at Noonkanbah must be looked at in an historic context. In that context, in the 1977 elections, the Kitja people at Turkey Creek had to wade waist deep across a flooded creek holding how-to-vote cards in their hands for presentation to the presiding officers in an endeavour to obtain assistance in casting a vote. Were they assisted? Instead of receiving assistance they met with obstruction. As part of a clearly admitted plan conceived by the Liberal Party of Western Australia, solicitors were flown in from Perth and placed in what were regarded as strategic polling booths in the Kimberleys for the purposes of raising obtuse points of law and questioning Aboriginals who came to vote in order to deprive them of their vote. Does the Minister say that is not a fact?
Is it not a fact that 45 of the 62 electors who braved the swollen and flooding Turkey Creek to cast a vote had their votes declared informal. What did the Court of Disputed Returns find in respect of this exercise in Liberal Party democracy? It found that the Australian Labor Party candidate had been improperly deprived of at least 97 Aboriginal votes, including 25 at Turkey Creek. It found that the Liberal candidate- a Minister of the Crown, Alan Ridge- had set out to stultify the use by illiterate Aboriginals of how-to-vote cards. That is not an allegation by me; that is a finding of a court. Ridge resigned from the ministry, but he did not abandon his attempt to deprive Aboriginals of a vote. Let me quote from a letter subsequently tabled in court. This is what Mr Ridge urged in wanting amendments made to the electoral laws in Western Australia. Pointing out what could occur if that did not happen, he said:
If this is not done, I would anticipate that by the next election there could be in the order of 3,000 to 4,000 Aborigines on the roll, and under such circumstances, the Liberal Party would be doomed to failure. I agree with you that it is going to be difficult to get through any legislation which smacks of discrimination, but 1 believe we have an obligation to try.
Let those words sink into the minds of honourable members opposite. They are the words of a former Minister of the Crown, a colleague of Sir Charles Court and of the Minister who has just spoken. What did he say? He said:
I agree with you that it is going to be difficult to get through any legislation which smacks of discrimination but I believe we have an obligation to try.
The Western Australian Government tried. Does the Minister deny that amendments were made to electoral laws in Western Australia which made it more difficult for Aboriginals to cast a vote? Who was the Liberal Party trustee at Turkey Creek who endeavoured to deprive Aborigines of their vote, and succeeded as was found by a Court of Disputed Returns? It was John Chaney, the brother of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Oh, we have an exercise in cosy complicity here. I ask honourable members to think about it. Yet the Minister stands at the table in this place and says, ‘Oh, you can rely on my colleague in the Senate, he is in constant touch with the Premier of Western Australia’, while the brother of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs was acting as a lackey for the Liberal Party in an endeavour to deprive Aboriginals of their vote.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I ask for the imputations to be withdrawn. If the honourable member wishes to proceed with imputations of that kind he must do so by way of substantive motion. He cannot do so in the course of debate, in the way in which he is proceeding. It is quite irregular and he knows it is improper.
-The honourable member for Melbourne Ports will be alert to the fact that he must not reflect on a member of either House unless by substantive motion.
– What I said was that the Minister was in constant touch with the Premier of Western Australia and I did not have any doubt about it.
-Order! The honourable member was coming close to a reflection. I require him to be more careful.
-Well, if the Minister says there was some imputation I withdraw it because I want to get on with making the point that there is irrefutable evidence of what occurred in Western Australia. Then there was the most recent exercise involving Mr Widdell, a charming character, who publicly admitted on television -he is proud of the fact- that he went back to Turkey Creek with 40 gallons of grog to get the Aborigines drunk so that they could not cast a vote. He made no secret about it. When he was questioned on a television program he admitted it. Let me quote from the interview on Nationwide. This question was asked of him:
You admitted to the Police, that you deliberately . . . set out to stop these people from voting?
Mr Widdell said:
To stop the vote, that’s right.
He was asked:
What did the Police say?
The answer is interesting. It reads:
They didn’t seem much concerned, the Police aren’t too much concerned here. I think everyone’s making a big story over it. I think the main man is behind me, I could mention names but I won’t bother, but I think they’re behind me.
Despite that admission it is reported in today’s Age that Mr Widdell has not been charged; there is insufficient evidence. Who is the main man? Is it the Premier, is it the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs or is it the Police Commissioner? Double standards are operating in Western Australia to the advantage and hindrance of the Aboriginal people. If this Federal Government had any sense of honour about protecting the civil rights of the Aboriginal people its supporters would be standing up and condemning those sorts of actions, but they have not done so.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-This is a discussion on what has been paged by the Opposition as a matter of public importance but I do not think members of the Opposition have spoken about the subject of this matter of public importance. They have concentrated on muckraking and delving into matters by all sons of devious means, but they have not spoken about the matter that is now before the House. The fact is that the Noonkanbah Aboriginal community purchased, through the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission, the pastoral lease and since the purchase members of the community have been residing on the lease. The purchase of the lease was funded by the Commonwealth Government at a cost of approximately $540,000. The title was transferred to the Western Australian Aboriginal Lands Trust when the Trust purchased the two operating companies with ALFC funds. The legal title is a pastoral lease, and that is a fairly important fact to remember. It is not a mining lease. It is not any other type of lease. It is not freehold land. It is a pastoral lease. It is interesting that the Australian Labor Party has proposed for discussion this matter condemning the Government for not interfering in the matter of land rights in South Australia and in Western Australia, bearing in mind that the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) and the Labor Party itself over four years ago recognised that the constitutional responsibility for the administration of land within States rested with the State governments and not with the Commonwealth. When the Labor Party was in power it recognised the limitations on the Commonwealth in its dealing with State lands and it did not at any time exercise the powers available to it under the Lands Acquisition Act to acquire land in States, to establish land rights for Aboriginal groups. When the Labor Party was in power it had the opportunity but it did nothing about it.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. The statement just made by the honourable member for Kalgoorlie about the position taken by Labor on land in Western Australia in 1972 to 1975 in relation to Aborigines is quite incorrect and he ought not be allowed to continue.
-There is no point of order.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is not incorrect. It is a fact that the Labor Party did nothing about granting land rights to Aboriginals during its term of office. Members of the Labor Party are now hypocritically criticising this Government for the actions that we have taken in granting land rights in the various areas under our jurisdiction. Commonwealth acquisition in itself will not ensure that the mining companies will be denied access to Noonkanbah as the Governor of Western Australia has the power under State legislation to constitute any part of the State to be a mineral field. Commonwealth overriding legislation, even if it is constitutionally possible, would only provoke conflict and would not in the long term serve the interests of the Aboriginals. It seems rather strange that the people who sit opposite have not taken the trouble to consult with the Aboriginals concerned. Honourable members opposite claim that we ought to be moving in and using our constitutional powers to take over the land and give freehold land rights to Aboriginals at Noonkanbah. To my knowledge the Aboriginals have not to this day formally requested the Federal Government for Federal intervention in this matter. So it is quite hollow for Opposition members to make such hypocritical suggestions about the Aboriginals’ own thoughts on this matter.
I quite firmly believe that if governments particularly, and outside influences were to withdraw from the conflict and leave negotiations to the mining company and the Aboriginals concerned, then a way would be found which would satisfy the Aboriginals and which would allow some development to take place in that area. Unfortunately that situation now seems unlikely to be reached. Because the situation has become a political football in this House and in the Press it makes it very hard for sensible negotiations to continue. But I firmly believe that if the Aboriginals were allowed to sit down and talk with the company involved a solution could be found to the problem.
Much was made of the voting trends in elections and by-elections for the Kimberley seat over the last two or three years. One of the most important things that I believe should be pursued in this area is a continuation of the educational program which was implemented by the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner), who is sitting at the table, under which the Aboriginal people were to be taught about their rights, how to vote and physically how to cast a valid vote. That had a remarkable effect in this last election for the seat of Kimberley where the number of informal votes cast was amongst the lowest in the State. The number of informal votes which was cast in the last Kimberley election was below a national average. That demonstrates several things. To me that quite clearly demonstrates the success of that educational program. It demonstrates quite clearly the ability of the Aboriginal people to sit down and think through the political questions which are before them. It also demonstrates quite clearly that they are able to cast a valid vote unassisted. The most desirable result that we could achieve would be to allow the Aboriginal people to express their personal opinion, their own vote, by way of a secret ballot and so control their own destinies to a larger extent than they have been able to in the past- without the outside influences and without the evil operations that we have witnessed at various stages during the last two or three State elections.
I deplore totally the actions of the individual who took wine to Turkey Creek and tried to perform an obliterating operation there, just as I deplore totally the operations of an individual who has been called a Press officer for the Noonkanbah community. In fact, he is very close to an Australian Labor Party endorsed candidate for the seat of Wills in this House at the next Federal election. I deplore the actions of such people as much as I deplore those of the person who took wine to Turkey Creek to try to influence the voting. Those people are trying to exert an evil influence on the Aboriginals in that area. If the Aboriginals are left alone, if they are given time to think their opportunities through, to cast their own valid votes and make their own decisions, I believe that we can overcome the problem that we now have at Noonkanbah.
A classic example is provided by the Ranger situation and the Commonwealth Government’s role in the negotiations there with the Aboriginal community and the mining company concerned. In that instance, some of the most significant sacred sites in the Northern Territory were very close to the Ranger ore bodies. The Aboriginals said, ‘No mining will take place’. The companies were determined that some mining would take place in that area and, following careful and protracted negotiations, the Aboriginals were able to point out to the mining company and to the Government an area in which they would allow mining to take place. It has been conceded that a major ore body is to be left in the ground, but the sacred sites delineated by the Aboriginals and the areas of influence around them, are to be preserved for all time. In fact, in co-operation with the Aboriginals, those sites have been marked off- in some places physically and in others by way of agreement- and are being entered by no one. They will not be damaged. That is a classic example of what can be done by careful and patient negotiation. A similar situation could arise if the Aboriginal people of the Noonkanbah community were left to sort out their own affairs and negotiate directly with the mining company without the influence of these evil people who have been trying to influence the polls in the Kimberley by-election and who are now the subject of quite serious charges under the Electoral Act of Western Australia. It is also significant that those same people have very strong ties with the Australian Labor Party.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The discussion is concluded.
-Mr Speaker has received advice from the Leader of the Opposition that he has nominated Dr Everingham to be a member of the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory in place of Mr Innes.
Debate resumed from 3 April 1979, on motion by Mr Fife:
That the House take note of the paper.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have your indulgence to suggest that the House has a general debate covering this motion and the motion to take note of the Government response to the report on Parliament and Public Expenditure by the Standing Committee on Expenditure, as they are related measures. Separate questions will, of course, be put on each of the motions 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.
-This is the most important report that the Standing Committee on Expenditure has brought forward and we welcome the opportunity to debate it. We appreciate at least the decision of the Government to make time available for this important debate, although the time for it will be restricted. Many honourable members who would like to say something about this important matter of scrutiny of the Budget will not have an opportunity to do so. The broad object of the report is to analyse the relationship between the Parliament and public expenditure and to suggest ways of giving some reality to the myth that Parliament does exercise a significant influence over such expenditure. Of course, if the Government had put all of the Committee’s recommendations into effect that would go some way towards improving the degree of scrutiny by Parliament of public expenditure, but apparently the recommendations, although I thought them rather mild, were too radical for this Government and for the
Treasury and Finance Department pundits who basically control our Budget.
The recommendations, if accepted, would have permitted Parliament an earlier look at the Budget plans, as a result of forward Estimates having been made available for debate during the Autumn session. That is the main thrust of the report and, indeed, its main recommendation. Although the Government has made some concessions in relation to the recommendations, the main recommendation >has been rejected. I find that most disappointing. Recommendation 2 is that Parliament give special consideration to the need for further development of forward Estimates to enable a shift to occur from annual Budgets to integrated expenditure plans. Recommendation 3 is that the Government should make an early statement setting out its decisions on the Coombs task force report and on the role of forward Estimates.
In commenting on these recommendations, the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) claimed that the Government is sympathetic to the ideas behind the views expressed in the report. He pays some lip service to the report but in practical terms does very little about it. He claims that the Government accepts the view of the Committee concerning the need for longer term considerations to be taken into account in framing the Budget. He supports the view that there is a need for more detailed economic debates in the House, to focus more upon expenditure patterns and priorities, and for improvements in the availability of expenditure information to the Parliament generally. He does not question the need for this but that is as far as he goes. His comments on the recommendations show quite clearly that he is not prepared to offer any real solutions to the problems that we have raised and which he acknowledges.
As I have said, the main recommendations related to forward Estimates. My colleague, the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford), has already commented on the need for forward planning. I endorse his remarks pointing out that in private enterprise, with which the Government is so closely identified, forward budgeting is of course the norm. There was nothing unusual about that. Future estimates are the normal requirement of good management. Of course, in private enterprise management is expected to adhere closely to such estimates of expenditure and to reduce them if possible. There is no suggestion that private enterprise approaches these matters in the same rather haphazard way in which the Government does.
We set about debating a Budget in August. The Budget is not passed until November, by which time five-twelfths of the Budget allocation is spent. Such a procedure would be completely unacceptable to private enterprise. It is not the way in which to run good business and I suggest that it is not the way to run good government. Apparently the Government, which is a far larger enterprise than most private companies, does not accept this principle. When it accepts the need for more information but does not accept the recommendation for a debate on forward Estimates in the autumn, the Government is denying that forward budgeting is either possible or desirable.
I find the Minister’s response to this particular recommendation, that is, the need for forward planning and debates on forward estimates in the autumn session, particularly disappointing. He speaks of ‘significant and often unpredictable changes in circumstances’ inevitably occurring and ‘consequent changes in priorities’, which together will constrain the use of forward estimates for planning government expenditure as a whole and in detail. We concede that these are difficulties. We concede, too, that on the revenue side governments cannot telegraph their intentions. But certainly on the expenditure side, there is no excuse whatever for not approaching the estimates early, getting the Parliament to have a look at them to give some indication of the direction in which the Government is going or in which it intends to go and allowing some debate on those very significant directions as they affect the various departments. All that the Government is saying is: ‘Yes, we need it. It would be good, but it is too hard. It is a well established, entrenched convention that we don’t do it that way and we are not prepared to make the changes that would make it possible for it to happen that way’. I do not accept that as a reason for not making any changes. Planning does not have to be dogmatic or inflexible. This is the old Treasury-Finance line: ‘That is the way we do it. Sorry, we cannot change it. ‘
The Minister says that Ministers can now assess expenditure priorities and pursue control measures in a reasonably orderly fashion, whatever that means, and that there is now much greater ministerial involvement in forward estimate processes. We do not know precisely what the Minister means by that. We just have to take his word for it. I do not think that the responses to the Coombs report and the Expenditure Committee reports regarding forward estimate proposals- and we were only endorsing what the Coombs report recommended and spelled out those recommendations a bit more closely- are good enough. They indicate that the Executive Government is not in full control, that in fact the Treasury-Finance line is still dominant, still prevails, and that those departments have an inbred aversion to forward planning. It would be interesting to know whether in fact the big spending departments were consulted in any detail in the preparation of this Government’s response to our report and if they were consulted, at what level that departmental consultation took place.
I turn now to recommendations 4 and 5. Recommendation 4 reads:
Time be set aside early in the Autumn sittings of the House for a debate on expenditure patterns and priorities.
We are grateful that that has happened. We congratulate the Government for at least accepting that recommendation, even though the time for debate is limited. Recommendation 5 reads:
In the absence of fully developed and published forward estimates of expenditure the Government table, prior to the proposed debates on expenditure patterns and priorities, the following:
1 ) The most recent estimates (on a detailed functional basis) of expected expenditure out-turn for the current year;
projections, based on existing policies and commitments, of these expenditures, for two future years; and
the major assumptions on which the projections are made.
Recommendation 4, of course, is the most important proposal which relates to increasing generally the scrutiny by Parliament over the Budget preparation process. If the Government had agreed to this process of debate in the autumn forward estimates, it would have been a significant breakthrough, but apparently we were expecting too much from a conservative government to depart substantially from this very strongly entrenched attitude that the Budget is debated in spring, in the August session, and by the time the Budget is finished being debated the money is already five-twelfths spent and really the Parliament has had no influence on the ~ Budget whatsoever. I think that is the main lesson we have learnt from this report- that it is a complete myth to think that the Parliament has very much effect at all on the whole Budget procedure. The Minister agrees that ‘it would be desirable if more attention were devoted in parliamentary debates on public spending to overall expenditure patterns and priorities’. But what he then goes on to say is rather meaningless. He questions whether the autumn sittings are the most appropriate time for such a debate. If this is not an appropriate time, when would be the appropriate time? The Minister does not give an alternative; he just says that this is not the appropriate time. He just says: ‘It’s too hard. Therefore we can’t do it’. As I said, by the time the Budget is presented in the spring and is passed, it is fivetwelfths spent. The Minister goes on to say that the Government believes 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, but this is as far as he goes in describing what restructuring might mean. I do not know what he means by those words. They are just words which have no real meaning and do not in any way attempt to come to grips with the real problem of debating the Budget after it becomes a reality. We believe that an autumn session debate could usefully be used to formalise or to play down scare stories about what the Budget might contain. We think it would help to involve the Parliament in taking part in unpalatable decisions, unpalatable considerations, which any government has to face up to. Parliament should not just be a place where we debate the good news; where we have to make tough decisions. The Parliament, as such, should be involved and the whole Parliament should be a part of facing up to those problems.
I believe that a debate on forward estimates in the autumn would also act as a moderating influence on extravagant first bids which many departments indulge in. I think that most people would be aware that the time for the first bids closed a couple of weeks ago. I think the process actually starts in February when departments put in their first bids. I suggest that if we were to debate those forward estimates in the autumn, those first bids would be much more responsible and would not be bids which departments expect to be cut back substantially. So we are taking a responsible attitude and it is disappointing that the Government has not accepted it.
Recommendations 7 and 8 have been broadly accepted by the Minister. They concern the provision of more information concerning program statements by all departments. In principle this is a welcome commitment by the Government, but there is not much indication about the timing of these program statements- when we are to see them- and how long it will take to develop them. The Government’s record in this area is rather deplorable, especially where finance and Treasury have been involved. When will Finance produce its guidelines on development of program statements? There is no indication when those guidelines will be available to the
Parliament. There is also a need for a development schedule for the statements which are to be prepared by the departments. We might well ask: Why cannot there be an agreement, perhaps an annual agreement, drawn up between the Parliament, including the relevant committees, and the departments as to what program statements will be first developed and when we will be able to examine them. I think there is a strong need for a more detailed commitment here that is not as open-ended as the present proposal which the Minister for Finance has put forward. I think there should be a much more positive approach to it.
I think the response to the report does mean that some tentative steps have been taken along the way to a more effective scrutiny. It is a marginal gain. I am disappointed with the total response, but we are grateful for those minor elements of positive response that the Government has made. I hope that the response as such will lead the Expenditure Committee to move further along the line, to put further pressure on the Government. I see it as only a first step in the whole process of scrutiny of the Budget, that we will have an opportunity to look at it again and possibly come up with more radical proposals for change. Indeed, the Treasurer (Mr Howard) himself said that he is not necessarily committed to the existing practice.
The terms of reference in the inquiry did not raise the important question of the passing of a single Budget which I have spoken about before. Many of the countries we do business with do adopt a single Budget- a Budget which is approved before the expenditure commences. I think that this is something that the Expenditure Committee should look at. It does not mean a complete change of how the Budget is prepared. The Budget could still be prepared in the same time. It could still be debated in the autumn, but on the first occasion it could be an 18-month Budget which we would start to spend on 1 January. By that means the general procedure would be followed but we would move to a calendar year instead of a financial year. I suggest that this is something that should be looked at seriously. It is not such a radical step, although it is in terms of our Treasury and Finance people. But many people in government and in government departments think that this would be a much more satisfactory arrangement. As I say, many modern Western economies have adopted this sort of system.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I shall speak for only 10 minutes because quite a number of other honourable members want to say a few words in relation to the report of the Standing Committee on Expenditure on Parliament and Public Expenditure. I do not share the pessimism of other honourable members in relation to the report or the Government’s response to it. Quite frankly, the Government’s response has been fairly satisfactory. We will continue to follow up a number of areas, but in some ways the Government’s response has been a little better than I thought it would be. I certainly do not share the pessimism concerning, for example, public expenditure nominated by Eric Risstrom of the Taxpayers Association- he is certainly no friend of the Government- when he expressed a worry some time ago that government spending was almost out of control. I shall quote a couple of statements he made in an address to the Royal Institute of Public Administration in Canberra on 24 March of this year. He said:
Government spending is not necessarily bad but the waste of money, people and resources must be condemned.
He then made reference to President Carter and said:
However brilliant a concept -
That is, zero budgeting-
It just will not work because the system is too big. Once programs get under way they are like a big ship. They take a lot of time and effort to stop.
The Expenditure Committee has been set up precisely to chart what is happening to that ship and to examine whether there should be a different direction; and it has taken very wide terms of reference- any area in which there is government expenditure or intended expenditure. As part of this process the Committee, quite a long time ago now, set about investigating the Budget process itself. That inquiry developed into one of looking at the information systems that parliaments require and of determining whether different information systems ought to be able to inform parliament in another way. This is precisely what the Committee has done.
Because the very nature of the inquiry is conceptual- it deals with ideas and not with a specific expenditure program- it can be fairly difficult to comprehend and to grab hold of. I make reference to a couple of points. This inquiry is probably unique, not because of each matter that it inquired into but because of the totality of matters which came before it for consideration. The very diagram on the front page of the report, I think, indicates that we were dealing with new concepts of watching the flow of funds and of resources and the programs for which those funds were proposed to be utilised. So we are concerned with the Budget formulation process, with a public expenditure information process and with the role of Parliament in both those processes, bearing in mind that we are working within the system of government within which we have to work.
In ten minutes it is very difficult to deal with each of the responses of the Government. The Committee, by hard work and by a long process of conciliation, came to a number of conclusions. All members of the Committee contributed significantly to the process of coming to those conclusions. The members of the Committee came together in a genuine spirit of compromise. They attempted to open their minds to one another. We believe that we came forward with a number of reasonable propositions. I will deal quickly with the eight recommendations that the Committee put forward and with the response of the Government to those recommendations. I suggest that basically the Government has accepted between six and six-and-a-half of those recommendations. That is not bad.
I hope that the response to the recommendation concerning program statements is only an oversight. On page 22 of the report we published an example of a program statement. We did this in four sectors. We included four ingredients of such a statement- the program objectives, the program activities, the costs and revenues appropriate to that program and the output and effectiveness measures of the program. With the greatest of goodwill, I presume that it has been merely an oversight on the part of the Government that, in accepting the program statements with all that they mean, it did not mention the output and effectiveness measures. I presume that is an oversight. The Committee will follow it up to see that these measures are continued. For example, in the Committee’s report on defence service homes we produced a number of output and effectiveness measures which were responsible for rationalising staff and labour in the various State branches of the relevant department. They enabled quite significant improvements in efficiency to be implemented.
I turn now specifically to the Government’s responses to our recommendations. I would say that the Government has accepted recommendation No. 1. The Government has accepted recommendation No. 2 concerning the nature of the debate which would occur in Parliament. In respect of recommendations Nos 3 and 8, which concern the Government’s making a response to the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration and the role of forward estimates as now seen by the Government and plans for their development, there has been a slight misunderstanding by the Government. We did not recommend that they be published. We recommended that the Government should indicate the role that it saw for those forward estimates. In looking at the forward estimates we never had in mind that they should be merely a recitation of the first bids. For example, in the formulation of the Budget the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen), who is sitting in front of me, would make a first bid of about $ 10,000m a year which would then have to be cut back very slightly. We are not interested in those inflated first bids. We are interested in the forward estimates themselves, and I think there will be some progress over the years.
The great and obvious difficulty for the Government is to integrate this view of forward estimates with what are known as the integrated expenditure plans. At times there will be problems in a government ‘s seeking to maintain some flexibility for its operations and at the same time projecting forward estimates. It has been indicated to us that Estimates will be published on a base which is expanded from those which are currently available. It is the assumptions in the Estimates which are important, but it is quite significant that that has been agreed to by the Government.
I will suggest one or two points in relation to those forward estimates and especially in relation to recommendation No. 5. The Committee will want to continue to keep two matters under review. Recommendation No. 5 states that, in the absence of fully developed and published forward estimates of expenditure, the Government should table a series of data prior to the proposed debates. I do not want to refer to that data in the two minutes left to me, but I would suggest that the Committee, in its analysis of what happens, look at two matters. It would be useful if the relevant Budget statements collated all the relevant information, including a guide or index to the most recent ministerial statements relating to forward expenditure plans.
We would also try to see that the Parliament is urged to keep a watchful eye on this information to enable future judgments to be formed on its adequacy as a basis for effective parliamentary scrutiny and debate. The Committee will indicate a willingness or an intention to return to that matter in future inquiries. I believe that the members of the Committee are possessed of that willingness and will do that in good faith. The
Committee will continue to look at this. The Government has given a response which has been better than the responses we have had to some other committee reports. That needs to be acknowledged. We will want to go further, but the extent to which we can go further depends a great deal on the performance of the Parliament. For example, if the Parliament were to politicise everything that is published or were not to allow a government flexibility as to its future arrangements or if a parliament were to make a government’s Budget or its total fiscal program a hostage to some expenditure projection here a government would of necessity pull back. A deal of balance and commonsense is required on both sides.
Finally, 1 pay tribute to all members of the Committee. The honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards), the honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean), the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown), the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry), and the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) are all here. Of course, that is not to exclude other members of the Committee who are not here now. We came together into this inquiry. It is a unique inquiry, a difficult one. It is conceptual. I do not share any pessimism as to its ultimate result. In fact, I am quite optimistic as to its result. If the Parliament shows that it wants this kind of thing, and if the Committee indicates that it intends to keep on with this kind of work, I believe that this will be the first step towards a very radically reorganised pattern of presentation of expenditure and of the information needs of the Parliament.
-I should like at the outset to point out that as a member of the Expenditure Committee- in fact, the Vice-Chairman behind the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns)- I am very proud of the report we have issued. I reiterate the Chairman’s remarks about the members of the Committee, the effort they put into the inquiry, and the fact that we have produced a report which to a great extent is conceptual. I agree with his comments that, if the Committee keeps on the Government’s back, it might be prepared to go further along the line of accepting the recommendations we have made. I do not altogether share the optimism of the Chairman about the Government’s response but, by the same token, I must exhibit some degree of compliance with what he said. The Government has accepted, to a great degree, some of our recommendations but unfortunately, to my way of thinking, not the most important one. However, we are a very happy bipartisan committee, and in some way that is a tribute to our Chairman, who keeps us that way. I saw a necessity, after our last report, to criticise the statements the Chairman had made regarding the report. In this case I will not be doing that. As a member of the Opposition, I pay tribute to him for the way in which our views are accepted and, in many ways, adopted by the Committee as a whole.
There is a habit, and quite a natural habit, amongst committees and committee chairmen, of measuring the success of a report by counting the number of recommendations that are accepted or can be construed as being accepted. In that sense, a percentage of acceptance is all important. If one uses that measuring technique, it can be said that the Committee has done pretty well out of this report. I am quite uncertain, however, as to whether that is a good way of assessing the success of a committee report. I am fearful that if the Expenditure Committee adopts such an approach it could, like some management consultants, look for the lowest common denominator solution in its inquiries. That would not be a good thing for the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny of public expenditure.
The report we have produced is a very fundamental one, and perhaps is the most important report produced by a committee of the Parliament on public expenditure. The title of the report could very well have been ‘The Role of the Parliament in the Public Expenditure Process’. As the Government has said, the report raises fundamental questions about the relationship between the Parliament and the Executive, and it is not surprising that the Government ‘s response has taken more than the mandatory six months. By and large, the response is a well considered one, and I thank the Government for the dme and effort it has put into that response. In some ways, I regret that the response is a bit weak and in some cases disappointing. What will please the Committee, however, is that the Government has accepted, in principle, the Committee’s recommendations dealing with program statements. All those who have read the report, and I recommend that all members of Parliament should read it, will realise that this is a recognition of the role of the Parliament in one of the more important areas of public expenditurescrutiny and surveillance. I can appreciate that progress in this area will be slow, and I hope that over time one will be able to differentiate between slow development and no development.
If I could summarise in a short and simple way the importance of the Committee’s report and the contribution made by the Government’s response, that summary would be something like this: That adequate information given to the Parliament and adequate processes for debate legitimise the process of democracy. At about the same time as the Committee presented its report to this Parliament, the Canadian Royal Commission of Inquiry, known as the Lambert Commission, presented a report on financial management and accountability. Its words on the need for Parliament to have better information and more influence are worth repeating in full:
The process of scrutiny, surveillance, public exposure, and debate helps to legitimise the actions of government to the public. The current widespread hostility to ‘big government’ can be partially explained in terms of a breakdown in the public’s belief in the appropriateness of government spending. This, in turn, can be ascribed to the failure of existing arrangements to permit Parliament, on an informed basis, to undertake an open and comprehensible review of government expenditure and a comparison of results against stated goals. This failure on the part of Parliament to ‘legitimise’ government exacts a price in public trust, which both Parliament and other governmental institutions are called upon to pay, and which ultimately we all pay.
When we decided upon this inquiry, we planned in the first place upon a two-stage process. The first stage was to be a fact-finding exercise designed to obtain a clear picture of the Budget formulation processes and of the roles of various participants in that process. To a great extent, I think we did discover a great deal of information in that area. The second stage was to be directed towards examination of possible reforms in the process, although it was never very clearly established just what sorts of issues might be tackled. Eventually, the Committee settled on two issues: The role of Parliament in the expenditure process; and the information needs of Parliament in relation to its scrutiny review functions. Increasingly, however, attention focused on Parliament ‘s limited influence on Budget formulation, and from this emerged the suggestion that a debate on expenditure patterns and priorities was needed and that early in the autumn sittings would be an ideal time for that debate. I do not think anybody would argue with that. Unfortunately, that has not come about.
The framers of the Government’s response to our report are not, as strong supporters of Parliament as I would like them to have been. I think that they have revealed themselves as people who are prepared to prop up the view that the government or the Executive government should have a cosy existence without too much review by the Parliament, and that is the part I deplore most about the response. The Expenditure Committee, as has been pointed out earlier, is an allparty committee, although the majority of members represent the coalition parties, which control the Government. However, because of our real three-party constitution I thought that the Government would have been prepared to accept some of our recommendations more freely than it did. In that case, it is rather surprising that the rigidity of the Government’s response in not wishing to take up the suggestion is as obvious as it is.
In 1977 this Government was elected on the theory that it was an efficient management team. I suggest, with respect, that later events have proved that to be a theory which was shot through with holes. If the Government is so obsessed with efficiency management, I cannot understand why it would not accept the recommendations of our Committee when they were especially designed to improve the efficiency of Budget formulation, particularly with regard to forward planning. I do not think anybody would dispute that forward planning is an integral part of every facet of life, be it business or government. Business, of course, requires forward planning in whatever it decides to do. If it decides to spend a great deal of money on a future project, a great deal of future planning is required. I thought that the Government would have demanded this sort of future planning if it was to provide in the most efficient way, the sort of things that government provide, be they housing programs, health services, social security or even defence. If the Government is going to act in the most efficient method it should be looking with greater emphasis towards forward planning, planning years ahead, not just using the ad hoc approach we are getting as of this moment with the formulation of the Budget. It is not only our Committee that has recommended forward planning to this Government, the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration also has demanded that there should be more forward planning. I am surprised that the Government has rejected that approach. I think rejected’ is a reasonable term; it certainly has not encouraged us to suggest any more in this area. To that extent, I am a little bit disappointed with the Government’s response.
To put it bluntly, the Government seems willing to insist that the bureaucracy should use modern management methods to secure internal efficiency but is unwilling to impose on itself an essential prerequisite for securing efficiency, namely, a disciplined system of provisional planning of expenditure patterns and priorities over a small number of future years. I hope that fellow Committee members on the Government side will not be too disappointed with my approach to the Government’s response. I think it is an honest assessment of how the Government has viewed the Committee’s report.
– As far as I am concerned you should be on the front bench.
-I thank the Minister very much. He should tell Tom that. I accept the Minister’s remarks as flattery. All that apart, I should not like to pour cold water on the Government ‘s response. It is at least encouraging in some areas. I am pleased to see the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) sitting with the honourable member for Lilley on the other side of the House. Perhaps the honourable member for Reid might be encouraging the honourable member for Lilley to go further along the track. I do not think we have wasted our time in producing this report. I am sure that it has importance in terms not only of contemporary measures but also of the Government’s future thinking in these areas. Perhaps I should not be too critical of the Government’s response.
Summing up, I should like to repeat the criticisms I made at the commencement of my speech. It is inherent in the response of the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) 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 members of parliament on both sides of the House will become more dynamic, more critical and, in fact, more radical in their approaches to government to see that some form of future planning can be implemented by this Government. I hope that such an approach will reveal itself in some really authentic future forward Estimates before the Budget is formulated. In conclusion, I reiterate my confidence in the ability of the Standing Committee on Expenditure to produce reports of the high quality of this one. I am sure that we will go forward with confidence and optimism that the Government, while accepting only part of the recommendations contained in this report, might be prepared to look further at them and perhaps, in future times, accept them more fully.
-Unlike the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford), who was the first honourable member to speak in this debate some time ago, I think the Government’s response to the report of the Standing Committee on Expenditure has been generous and very well considered. Although I cannot accede to the request of the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown) that I become more radical, I do share his concern that perhaps a few more of the Committee’s recommendations were not accepted by the Government. The Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) said on the first page of his response to the Committee’s report that the Government supported the basic thrust of many of the Committee’s views regarding such things as the need for longer term considerations to be taken into account in the framing of the Budget, the need for the House to focus more on expenditure patterns and priorities and the need to improve the availability of expenditure information to the Parliament.
Given this support and given the fact that some major recommendations have been accepted and that others have not been rejected out of hand by the Government, I think the honourable member for Adelaide was a little harsh in his criticism of the Government. For him and even for the honourable member for Parramatta to suggest that the Government is an enemy of the Parliament, or is not constructive in its attitude to the Parliament, I think is unfair in view of the Government’s record over the past four years. It was during the life of this Government that the Expenditure Committee commenced operations. Through this report it has been able to force the Government to consider seriously the role of Parliament in the public expenditure process. It was this Government which decided that there should always be a government response to the reports of the committees of this Parliament. Finally, it was this Government which introduced both legislation committees and Estimates committees to the House of Representatives. No matter what the teething problems of the committees may have been, I think they have been and will be significant parliamentary reforms. I think the honourable member for Adelaide was certainly rather too strong in his criticism of the Government’s relationship to the Parliament.
A number of the Committee’s recommendations have been accepted by the Government. They include the recommendation to adopt program statements. In my view this is one of the most important recommendations of the report. I think its acceptance by the Government can be interpreted as implying that the Government has accepted a more important role for Parliament in elevating the degree of financial scrutiny which the Parliament will be able to undertake. The Government, through this Parliament, raises billions of dollars from the taxpayers of this country and spends billions of dollars for the citizens it represents. But until now, the Parliament has been denied the machinery with which to investigate whether these massive amounts of money have been spent efficiently or effectively. We have not been able to account properly to those whom we represent for the funds that we raise from them and for the funds that we spend on their behalf. I think the specific inquiries which have been undertaken by this Committee in recent years highlight that point. I refer particularly to the inquiry by this Committee into the Northern Territory forestry program. We saw in the course of that inquiry that the absence of program evaluation had led to an enormous waste of taxpayers ‘ funds.
Through existing departmental structures, we may well have a capacity to adopt first class accounting, auditing and management procedures which may protect the taxpayers from fraudulent expenditure, but we do not have the capacity, in the absence of program statements, readily to evaluate the wastage of public expenditure. I think that is a very important distinction to raise. Given that the nature of Government activity has changed considerably over time, with Government departments generally moving from what historically was once a purely administrative role to a situation in which individuals and oganisationS are now assisted through programs administered by such departments as the Department of Social Security, the Department of Health and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, it is of paramount importance that the Parliament be informed of program objectives, the total costs of the programs and the output effectiveness of those programs.
The Committee acknowledges that there are difficulties in the allocation of overheads and the distribution of inputs between various departments which might subscribe to the cost of any one program. The Committee has also found in previous inquiries that by concentrating only on cost inputs and separate departmental accounts, massive waste can occur in programs requiring funds from several departments. The way in which expenditure items are presented to Estimates committees at present prevents any examination of program effectiveness. It is my hope that the move towards program statements will prevent the kind of incremental budgeting which seems to occur at present whereby an input for one year is the basis for automatically calculating expenditure on the same item, together with an increase to cater for cost increases, in the following year, with no proper evaluation or questioning of that expenditure ever taking place. I sometimes think that that point is very applicable to the kind of expenditure which takes place in this
Parliament. When Parliament resumes after each recess period we find that various moneys have been expended. The programs under which such expenditure has taken place have not been asked for and would not have been considered by many to be of a very high priority. Nevertheless they have taken place. Of course, no detailed information has been made available to honourable members of that kind of expenditure, no priority listings have been asked for and no proper evaluation has been made of that expenditure. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard recommendations 2 and 5 of the Committee. Honourable members on the Opposition front bench have granted my request for this incorporation.
The recommendations read as follows-
In the absence of fully developed and published forward estimates of expenditure the Government table, prior to the proposed debates on expenditure patterns and priorities, the following:
– I think the Government’s reluctance to adopt the major components of recommendations 2 and 5 is based on an unfounded fear that such projections of future expenditure plans would in some way lead to unrealistic expectations of future Government policies or would imply specific and unchangeable Government endorsement of future expenditure programs. In that context I should mention that in paragraph 29 of the Committee ‘s report it is stated:
The broad objectives of financial scrutiny are to safeguard expenditure of taxpayers money, to promote and encourage efficiency in administration and to influence priorities and policies. The end purpose of this work of scrutiny is influence, not direct power: advice, not command: criticism, not obstruction ‘ . . .
I would argue in fact that the preparation of the kind of long term expenditure plans and projections which are referred to in recommendations 2 and 5 would work to the advantage of government by having a more informed Parliament and by signalling to Australian taxpayers some of the difficulties which may be encountered in the future if today’s policies, which are correct for today’s circumstances, are implemented effectively over a longer term period. For example, with the present ongoing defence expenditure policy and the oil parity pricing policy, revenues will fall and expenditure will increase in each of these areas if the policies are successfully implemented.
At present, the Budget aggregates reflecting the immediate impact of these policies seem to represent a healthy fiscal position with the Budget deficit under control and, in fact, falling. What is not shown, of course, is the fact that these two items are set on a course which will produce great budgetary difficulties in the future if all other things remain equal. The deficit would almost certainly blow out. In other words, we have programs established for the various elements of the budgetary package, some of which are of a medium to long term nature. The present Budget figures detail these. What is not known, however, is the future course of the Budget aggregates given these existing elements and given that all elements will remain unchanged. I think that the Government would benefit if the Parliament had an indication of the future movements in those aggregates.
If the present policies on oil revenue and defence expenditure are correct, as I believe them to be, other things will not be able to stay equal if future deficits are to be controlled. If the Parliament was aware of the magnitude of these future aggregates, it may well be better placed to accommodate future necessary adjustments to the other elements of the Budget package. All in all, I think that the Government has been quite generous in its response to this report and in accepting certain of our key recommendations. I think that it has accepted an enhanced role for the Parliament in the overall expenditure process. I do not think that we can expect the Government at this stage to adopt all of the Committee’s recommendations. Parliamentary reform probably is a slow and ongoing process. As someone else has said, reform is usually a matter of demanding more than you expect to get, getting a little less than you hoped for and making use of what you are given to secure more of what you want. Basically I think that that applies to a lot of things, particularly to parliamentary reform.
I would like to congratulate all those who were associated with the Committee in bringing this report to the Parliament, particularly the Chairman and Vice-chairman of the Committee and the other members. I would also like to make special mention of Mr Ives and Mr Walsh who played key advisory roles in assisting the Committee to do its work and produce what I consider to be a very responsible report.
– I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate, having looked at the budgetary process going on or being developed in some ivory tower of deep secrecy for a long while and wishing that I could contribute in some way along the line. I take it that in the logic of history, slow moving as it may well be, this is a step towards a wider participation by the Parliament in the budgetary process. We all have to recognise that the budgetary process is a continuing one. All year round people employed in Government departments put down their thoughts and aspirations on paper and in documents. They flow through the system and are sent further up the line. Sometimes those documents are pigeon-holed, sent back or torn up, but it is a continuing process. When a new government is elected and comes into office there is already a great commitment under way, much of which is difficult to change. That is the first point I wish to make.
The other point I wish to make relates to the strange concept associated with budgetary processes which one might call the ‘traditional secrecy’. What ought to be so secret about the objectives of the people of Australia being put into operation by the people they have elected? Why should it carry out in such a way -
-i thought for a moment that you were Bob Hawke.
-As a matter of fact, no. I think that the country will be well served by a successor of such distinction. I only hope that the people of the electorate of Wills are as well served by him as they have been for the last 24 years or so. There is a sort of feudal overhang about this point of secrecy. My colleague, the honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean), mentioned the government as if it was something different from the rest of us. The Minister for Home Affairs (Mr Ellicott), who is sitting at the table, as a member of this Parliament is a part of us. He might try to keep away from us as much as possible while he is a Minister, but he will be back in the ranks just as we all return at some stage. Somehow we have to look upon the Ministry as our special functioning committee in control of the administrative and financial systems on our behalf. For instance, a provision in the Constitution states that we shall embark upon expenditure only upon receipt of a message from the Governor-General. That is a relatively feudal system- like the King asking for something to be done and the troops slipping out smartly to get on with it.
I think that it is time we examined all these processes of the Parliament and see where we can fit them together. It is interesting to note that the secrecy that prevails in respect of the preparation of Budgets is secrecy from some but not secrecy from all. In the Public Service, an enormous number of people contribute to the construction of the Budget. The staff of some Ministers contributes. On our side, all shadow Ministers contribute. Obviously some Ministers on the other side actually make a contribution, although it is not apparent from any creative result. Outside the Parliament various people are lobbying for different groups. I would like to examine the budgetary processes. Why cannot we participate at an earlier stage?
As honourable members will be aware, I represent them on the National Library of Australia Council. The Library is a statutory authority. It has a staff of 620 or thereabouts and a budget of about $15m. The Council itself is the executive authority. It makes the decisions about the direction of expenditure, authorises the actual preparation of the estimates and then refers them to the Minister who, I understand, gives them his blessing and sends them on their way to Cabinet and so on for the final so-called imprimatur of government. Amongst the members of this Parliament there are a number of people who contribute in this area. There is the Ministry itself and the handful of people who happen to represent the Parliament on authorities of some sort such as the Australian National University Council and the National Library Council.
– We have recommended the earlier consideration of those things.
– Yes. I am trying to make sure that the matter gets a further hearing here and that other honourable members who may be listening will wake up to this point. The parliamentary membership is the part of the system and the community which is almost totally excluded. I suggest that the structure be changed. We should have the Estimates before the Estimates committees when Budgets are being prepared. The people who are interested ought to be able to suggest to the committees that such a thing should be done in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, that such a thing should be done in the Department of Health and so on. I cannot see any great difficulty in this at all. I am pleased to know, from my discussions with members of the
Standing Committee on Expenditure, that they are anxious to see that take place. I will be interested to see whether one of the Ministers one day embarks upon an experiment.
Let us presume that the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr Ellicott), who is at the table, decided that one of the statutory authorities would like to carry out a function on our behalf. Its officers would come before a parliamentary committee and take on board some of the things that we wanted to carry out. In the preparation of the 1 973 Budget, I know that the Treasury presented me, as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, with a Budget based more upon the rather limited aspirations of my predecessors than upon the objectives on which the Australian Labor Party had been elected. I examined it and recognising my own limitations in that field- I will be modest about this- I did not know exactly what ought to be done in Kalgoorlie or somewhere like that-
– You did all right out of the Budget though.
-That is right, but I took it to the Labor Party’s Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. I do not care how good a department is in a situation such as that. The membership of the Labor Party’s Committee on Aboriginal Affairs included people such as the then honourable members for Kalgoorlie, Grey and Darling Downs- representatives from the north of Queensland and Brisbane including the chairman, Senator Keeffe. They knew something about nearly every part of Australia. The first thing they said, for instance, in relation to Aboriginal housing was ‘that is not enough’. They all knew more about the direction which we should give to policies of that sort than any departmental officer possibly could. That was how that Budget was drafted and was finally accepted by the Cabinet. We embarked upon a great number of activities which were to the advantage of the country and were more expansionist than they otherwise would have been. In the broad scale I see no difficulty in doing that and in putting that matter before the Parliament. If we get people accustomed to the idea that all honourable members are elected as potential Ministers and even Prime Ministers, I suppose that we all ought to be able to participate.
Before I sit down there are one or two small points of interest that I want to make. One matter that has intrigued me is the extraordinarily oldfashioned almost archaic way in which we face up to the costing of government services. During the course of our inquiries in the defence subcommittee of the Joint Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee we examined the ammunition factories. These factories, in tooling up for the production of ammunition, have to expend a great deal on the production of the first run. By the time that, say, 105 millimetre shells have been produced- and they produce 50,000 of these shells- they are probably costed out on the total cost necessary to meet the original commitment of design and so on. The following 50,000 shells could be costed out only to the actual raw materials that are in them, the manpower that has gone into their making and whatever loadings are necessary in operating a commercial enterprise. But of course the Government does not do that. The Government charges the Army the same price for the 100,000 shells as it would for the first 10,000 shells. The result is that instead of the material being able to be used it lies around idle and the Army goes without its shells.
My understanding of most commercial operations is that when they get to the stage where a good deal of their actual expenses has been recouped they will do such things as are done by the airlines when the airlines have standby fares. A plane is about to depart and the airlines have as many people as they can get on board for the full fare. The airlines use the opportunity to take whatever they can from the happy traveller. They get these travellers aboard and get maximum use of the equipment. This happens also in the printing industry. A firm has a set of all the necessary printing apparatus which may lie idle on Friday mornings. Those are the mornings that one will get a cheaper quote. The same thing applies to the cars used by parliamentarians. These cars sit around unused down in the garage- hundeds of thousands of dollars worthbut because they have been costed out at $15 an hour, or whatever it is, we get taxis instead. To amend this is a common sense matter.
Many of my colleagues opposite have had much more experience in business than most of the honourable members on this side of the House. If honourable members opposite were running their own businesses they would not run them in that way. The honourable member for Moore (Mr Hyde) has sold his first two million bushels of wheat and he has another half a million bushels available. If somebody comes along and says, ‘You can leave them there to feed the rats or I will give you only $ 1 a bushel for them’, he would say, ‘You can have them at that price’. That is standard commercial practice. I am always intrigued at the way in which committees -
– No wonder you don’t make much money.
-The honourable member for North Sydney is as aware as I am that commercial enterprises do not operate on the same sort of accountancy procedures that prevent the Australian Government from getting the maximum out of the materials that it has at its disposal. I offered to speak briefly on this matter. In accordance with my normal practice of abiding by the given word I propose to sit down. I hope that what I have had to say has fallen on receptive ears. Even if I have to say it another 222 times or whatever it is during the rest of the year so that some of the honourable members present who are not that bright in these matters get the message I will continue to do so.
– I am not a member of the Standing Committee on Expenditure. I wish, therefore, to congratulate the Committee on a report that has made a very useful contribution to the process of parliamentary reform, a matter that interests me greatly. I, along with many other honourable members, am concerned about the relevance of Parliament to the process of government and the fact that over the years it has become less relevant. I am worried about fiscal management and about the fact that Budgets appear to have acquired a momentum of their own that places them largely out of the control of the Government and the Parliament. One of the traditional roles of Parliament is that of watchdog of the public purse. The Standing Committee on Expenditure has advocated procedures that will help the Parliament to fulfil that watchdog role. I congratulate also the Government on its response to this report. In my view the Government has been distinctly helpful.
I wish to discuss two matters, program statements and long term budgeting. Firstly, I would like to make the point that the Governmentperhaps all governments- has an excellent system of fiscal control if its purpose is to prevent fraud and ensure propriety. If its purpose is to ensure an efficient use of the taxpayers’ money it is a very poor system of control. Program statements are statements which define the purpose for which money is expended and make it possible to test the expenditure of that money against the aims perceived when the money was first voted and the program was first started. In that way we can get some measure of the efficiency of the use of the public dollar. Hopefully, we might avoid the sort of nonsense that was allowed to continue for years in the Northern Territory softwoods programs which did not -
-Which cost $30m.
-Which cost $30m and did not even come near either of the two -
– Let’s have a turtle.
– Turtle farms also if that is what the honourable member for Wills would like to discuss. Neither of those programs came anywhere near the intended aims. Neither of those programs provided employment for Aboriginals or produced softwood or turtles. We might also look at the bigger items of expenditure such as the family allowance and pensions and ask whether they are fulfilling the intended aims. If the intention is to improve the cohesion and survival of families should we be spending so much of that money upon the more well-to-do, or should we be concentrating that money on the less well-to-do? Those are the sorts of questions that must be asked in the face of a program statement.
I wish to say something about long term evaluation of government expenditure. There are rolling programs for education; aged persons homes; defence capital equipment expenditure detailed for some years ahead; health expenditure detailed in agreement with the States; and debt service detailed by studying statements concerning public sector debt.
However, in spite of the fact that the Government has these on-going commitments we have no overall program that draws all these things together in order to show what effect they will have on future Budgets. That is downright dangerous. We run the risk of over-committing future Budgets. I have requested the Parliamentary Library to do some work for me. I have no complaint with the Library. I just say that its resources are not adequate to this difficult task. I have asked the Library to look at oil revenues given the present law that collects money from the wellhead levy. I have asked it to look at defence expenditure. I might have added also the on-going commitment in the social security area. I have not done so yet. Looking at those two items we see that by 1983 we will have a situation where oil revenues fall off to a very small proportion of what they are now and in the same years defence expenditure peaks. We will have very serious Budget problems in 1 983-84 unless something is done about these matters.
If Parliament is the watchdog of the public’s money, it ought to have the sort of resources before it that enable it to take those wider economic and budgetary considerations into account and enable it to make the most important decisions of the lot, the control of the Budget itself. This is the traditional role of the Parliament. I congratulate the Committee and the Government for taking the first steps in tackling this problem.
-Like the honourable member for Moore (Mr Hyde), I am not a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure, but I want to congratulate the members of the Committee for their report entitled ‘Parliament and Public Expenditure’. I note that the report is dated February 1979 and was tabled in April 1979. I congratulate the Government for having made at least a mildly favourable response to the report in just less than 12 months. However, I am disappointed that the Committee’s report, valuable though it is, does not touch on the implications of the declining share of overall government outlays which is authorised by the Budget itself- that is, the Appropriation Acts (No. 1 ) and (No. 2) for each relevant year- and it does not touch on the increasing share which is covered by permanent and special appropriations.
Most voters have some idea of what a Budget is all about and they do understand that there are very serious implications for political stability if Budgets are rejected in one chamber of the Parliament or another, but I doubt whether one voter in every thousand would have any idea about the nature and extent of permanent and special appropriations or what they are. Many of the longer serving members of this House- even some of the lifers- have only a very sketchy idea about what permanent and special appropriations are. I understand- this is not intended as criticism- that a comparatively recent Treasurer was not aware of their existence until he became Treasurer or some little time after. I draw the attention of the House to an answer to a question on notice which appeared on 19 February 1980.
– I don’t think Dr Cairns ever found out.
-I named nobody. It appears between pages 83 and 88 of Hansard. The question, which was asked on 23 August 1979 and which took over five months to answer, states:
I must say that I was staggered when the answer was supplied and duly printed in Hansard. I would have thought that at least the financial pages of the Melbourne Age, the Australian Financial Review, the Australian or any of the journals which purport to take a serious interest in public events would have publicised the answer because I thought the answer was quite startling in its implications, but no one picked it up at all. On the next day the Melbourne Age ran a short response to an answer I had received some months earlier from the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr Ellicott) about the Christmas Island stamps, which it apparently thought was more significant than the question about permanent or special appropriations. I will read to the House the critical part of the answer, which appears on page 83 of Hansard of 19 February 1980. The answer states:
The answer goes on to state:
The Appropriation Acts (Nos 1 and 2) 1979-80 contained appropriations aggregating in all $10,7 12m. After adjustment has been made for -
Five variations are then set out- . . estimated expenditure in 1 979-80 from annual Appropriations forming part of total Commonwealth sector outlays amounts to $10,3 12m or 31.1 per cent of total Commonwealth outlays ($33,1 92m).
The answer then continues:
Estimated expenditure from special appropriations in 1979-80, by way of appropriation of the CRF and Loan Fund, amounts to $2 1,975m. After the making of appropriate adjustments, expenditure from special appropriations in 1979-80 is estimated to amount to $22,488m, or 67.8 per cent of total Commonwealth outlays . . .
As I said, I doubt whether there is one voter in a thousand who is aware of the fact that what we are really dealing with in the Budget is slightly less than a third of the overall outlay. It is true that some details of the larger figure are printed in the Budget documents, in the four or five volumes that we receive, but the special appropriations are not written up in the newspapers and they are not considered as part of the overall procedure. Most importantly, they are not really subject to very rigorous scrutiny. They may be subject to some scrutiny here when a permanent appropriation comes up by way of a variation of some sort to an Act. When there is a variation, for example, of what a pension rate is to be it comes before Parliament and we have the opportunity to discuss it.
When we go through the Appropriation Bills themselves or when we go through the whole procedure of referring matters to Estimates committees, we put our little heads down and burrow through the great piles of documents that are given to us, but those piles of documents refer exclusively to the material that is provided about the sums that are appropriated in the Appropriation Bills. We go for an hour considering these sums and we all agree to some hundreds of millions of dollars of appropriation and think that that is splendid, that we have covered that area pretty well, but when we walk away from the Estimates committees the public servants are inclined to say: That was terrific. We got away without any questions whatsoever having been asked about the permanent and special appropriations!
I understand there has been some sort of agreement as to how long honourable members will speak and I have gone for about two minutes longer than expected, but I should mention that in the list provided by the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) in his answer to my question- as I say it took five months for the answer to come out- there is a list of Bills which cover permanent appropriations and the Bills total 148. No honourable member- even very assiduous ones like the honourable member for Moore, who is very concerned about parliamentary expenditure- would be able to rattle off the title of more than a handful of those Bills. In other words, we have only the sketchiest idea about what is really going on in our names. It is true that in other countries there are permanent and special appropriations, But my understanding is that, compared to the situation in Great Britain, for example, our permanent and special appropriations account for twice as much of the total expenditure as they do in the United Kingdom and considerably more than they do in Canada. I think this is a serious matter. I hope that the Expenditure Committee will give further consideration as to how it is possible, given the constraints of parliamentary time and the fact that we seem to be really stretched to our limits already, to expand the amount of time we devote not just to the 31 per cent of expenditure that is covered by the Appropriation Bills, but to the 67.8 per cent that is not.
-In the circumstances I will not detain the House for long. I would like only to say that the Standing Committee on Expenditure, which drew up the report entitled ‘Parliament and Public Expenditure’ now before the House, is rightly proud of its work. It would represent the first occasion in many years that the subject- essentially the participation of the Parliament in the public expenditure process- has been analysed by parliamentarians for the Parliament. It is a very realistic and down-to-earth report. In advocating an enhanced role for the Parliament in the public expenditure process, the central message is that increased participation requires new parliamentary procedures and better information. Our recommendations do in fact relate to those matters. As I said, it is a realistic report. It recognises that the Executive governs, not the Parliament. It recognises that so-called parliamentary control of expenditure is a myth and the committee’s whole purpose is to discern the form, the possible shape, of a greater role for the Parliament to influence- I put it only at that level- expenditure decisions. It is a report to be taken seriously and the Government has responded seriously. There was an attempt by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) to politicise this discussion by making reference to the Government’s response as ‘shockingly weak and disappointing’. But in fact there has been a positive and helpful response from the Government. In respect of the report the Government has said it:
The Government does accept a number of the general views expressed by the Committee and it has in fact accepted in principle recommendation No. 7 which in my view can be said to be the central recommendation of the Committee. I think it was the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown) who referred earlier in the debate to taking a score on these eight recommendations; I put it at 5 plus out of 8. In order that my hasty remarks can be intelligible to readers of Hansard, I ask permission to incorporate in Hansard the recommendations as set out in the report.
The recommendations read as follows-
This report advocates an enhanced role for the Parliament in the public expenditure process. The report therefore deals with the interrelated questions of procedures and information needs.
The Committee has concluded that parliamentary scrutiny and influence is limited because of:
the lack of specific procedures to influence Executive thinking prior to the formulation of the Budget;
the absence of appropriate information for Parliament to: increase its contribution to the formulation of public expenditure policy; and improve its reviews of efficiency and effectiveness of public expenditure.
In view of these shortcomings the Committee recommends that:
Its Report, Parliament and Public Expenditure, be debated in the House during the 1 979 Autumn sittings. (paragraph 4)
In the debate referred to in Recommendation 1, the 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 and projections as the main framework for expenditure decision making. (paragraph 43)
The Government make an early statement setting out:
its decisions on the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration recommendations concerning forward estimates; and
b ) the role of the forward estimates as now seen by the Government and plans for their development. (paragraph 44)
Time be set aside early in the Autumn sittings of the House for a debate on expenditure patterns and priorities. (paragraph 48)
In the absence of fully developed and published forward estimates of expenditure the Government table, prior to the proposed debates on expenditure patterns and priorities, the following:
the most recent estimates (on a detailed functional basis) of expected expenditure out-turn for the current year;
projections, based on existing policies and commitments, of these expenditures for two future years: and
the major assumptions on which the projections are made. (paragraph 50)
Specific measures which enable the House lo influence the estimates of its own expenditure be considered by the House in the debate of the Committee Report referred to in Recommendation I. (paragraph 5 1 ) 7. (a) The Government encourage the development of program statements by all departments;
before preparing such statements departments consult with the Department of Finance, which should have a co-ordinating role;
the Department of Finance should confer with the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure; and
the Government require departments which have prepared such statements (for all or some of the programs they administer) to publish these statements soon after the Budget is presented to the House. (paragraph 77)
The Government provide Parliament with a paper that outlines the advantages and disadvantages of changing the annual Appropriation Bills from their present form to one which records the estimates in a program format. ( paragraph 8 1 )
– I thank the House. If one looks closely at the response of the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) it will be evidence that he has in effect accepted general recommendations Nos 1, 2, 3, 6 and 8: No. 8 is subject to follow-up; the Government is to prepare a paper. That leaves recommendation No. 7- as I said, I believe it is the central recommendation, relating to encouraging the development of program statements- and recommendations Nos 4 and 5 which relate more to procedure for the Parliament’s influencing the Budget formulation process.
In respect of the program statements let me say that much of the information Parliament currently receives is related to expenditure on inputs such as salaries, office requisites and data processing. This information increasingly is less relevant today because of the increased scope of public expenditure which nowadays is directed at assisting groups of individuals and organisations in, for example, health, education and manufacturing industry. Current information allows for scrutiny by Parliament at only a relatively low level, examining matters of compliance and efficiency. It is clearly much more important for it to look at how well the Government’s policies and priorities are being met, that is, the effectiveness of Government programs. The Committee concluded that for the Parliament, or for that matter the Executive itself, to assess the value of programs involving public expenditure, information is required as to the purposes or objectives, as to how much is being spent on the effort and how well the objectives are being achieved. It is this sort of information which is in effect what a program statement provides. The Chairman of the Committee pointed out that in the Committee’s report at page 22 there is an example of a program statement.
As the production of program statements can be achieved only at a considerable cost in time and effort the Government is to be commended for its favourable reaction to the recommendation on program statements. The Minister has said that work is to be commenced on them while admitting that the process can be expected to be gradual. He also announced the Government’s belief that program information might appropriately be published in departmental annual reports and tabled where possible in time for the debate on the Budget Estimates. The point is that this better program information will provide Parliament with the opportunity to debate public expenditure and priorities in a more meaningful way than at present and hence provide the Parliament with the opportunity to influence those priorities.
I refer to recommendations Nos 4 and 5. 1 believe the Government has misconstrued the thrust of what the Committee sought in respect of seeking a debate in the autumn session. The Government does make a helpful suggestion in relation to procedures in the Budget session but in fact from the point of view of what the Committee was aiming for, that is in one sense too late- the Budget for that year has been set and the Parliament is engaged in the matter of assessing what has been done- and it is too early from the point of view of debate at the critical stage of decisions for the next Budget.
The final point I would like to make is in relation to forward estimates. Admittedly when members of the Opposition get the scent of planning in their noses they want to go hell for leather, and talk about forward estimates raises their expectations. I think in some respects that explains the nature of the response from honourable members on the other side. I point out that the Committee itself did not in fact make any recommendations at this stage. A point in these matters is to proceed slowly and as I think someone has said, reform is usually a matter of demanding more than you expect to get, getting a little less than you hoped for and making use of what you are given to secure more of what you want. That is the process on which we are engaged.
Recommendation No. 5 (b) did ask for certain information to be provided by the Government. I think it could possibly be said in retrospect that the Committee erred in what it asked for. It had in mind what might be referred to as a straight projection of spending under existing policies and commitments. There is no such thing as a straight projection. The only thing that would be available at that time would be first bids, and the reality of these is that they are not straightforward projections of existing policies. So eventually we have to set our sights on the fully fledged forward estimates that are referred to elsewhere in the report, and that can come in due time..
– I thank the honourable members on both sides of the House who I might say comprise the more intelligent members of the Parliament. They have given considerable attention and serious concern to the report that is before the House. I will pass on to the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) the very valuable contributions that have been made. They can rest assured that their comments will be taken into account by the Government in considering the report.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Consideration resumed from 4 March, on the following paper presented by Mr Eric Robinson:
Expenditure- Standing Committee- Report on Parliament and Public Expenditure- Government responseMinisterial Statement, 4 March 1980- and on motion by Mr Groom:
That the House take note of the paper.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 6 March, on motion by Mr Street:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-As it is very close to the suspension of the sitting for dinner, I indicate at the outset that the Opposition will be moving an amendment to the Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill. I will elaborate on that later on in my speech. On the face of it, the average person would say from a reading of the short second reading speech of the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Street) that there is nothing in this Bill that could be opposed. In the words of the Minister, the Bill proposes amendements to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act designed to achieve more effective opera- on of the accounting and audit provisions in respect of organisations registered under the Act, that is, the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Therefore, the provisions of the Bill will apply to organisations of employers as well as of employees. The Opposition is well aware that the National Labour Consultative Council did look at these proposals. We would not be persuaded by any argument that they are all right because the NLCC had a look at them.
I would like to state briefly the position of the Opposition on this matter. We are under no illusions that the trade unions, like any other organisations, ought to be responsible to their members in the accountability both for financial affairs and for policy positions. But that is already the case. Under the existing provisions of the Act, trade unions are bound each year to make out financial reports and lodge them with the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.
In regard to the accountability of unions in regard to policy making- I concede that the Bill does not touch upon this as such but it is the only aspect of accountability that comes to mind- it must be remembered that, once again, under the provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act unions are bound to conduct regular elections of their members. Indeed, the practice now is for most such elections to be conducted by the Australian Electoral Office. So there can be no suggestion that union elections are other than fair. To my mind, the greatest degree of accountability that any organisation can give to its members is to submit its senior officers and organisers- indeed, everyone it employs- to the ballot. Usually, as is the case with the staff” of the President of the United States, such persons are there because elected officials employ them. The trade unions are quite happy to comply with the provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, as they always have done, and have their officers face the membership periodically for election to office. I repeat that in my opinion there can be no greater degree of accountability.
Briefly, the Opposition believes that the present provisions are adequate and that the proposed provisions are draconian and cumbersome and will be costly and difficult to administer. It is known- I think the Minister confirmed this-that this package was put together by a firm of chartered accountants. That is quite obvious from a reading of the regulations that accompany the Bill. Nobody but a chartered accountant could put together such a cumbersome, unworkable set of regulations which must be followed by hard-working trade unionists whose main function in life is not to keep books of accounts- although they do so, of course- but on behalf of their members to administer their organisation and what they are elected to do. I refer to the protection of working conditions, social conditions and other aspects that affect their members.
The provisions of the Bill will make it necessary for every union to have a very large clerical staff just to look after the bookkeeping side and satisfy these rather draconian provisions which do not find favour with either the Australian Council of Trade Unions or the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations, CAGEO. Both organisations have examined the provisions and made their point of view known. I believe that they would have made it known to the Government. They have certainly made it known to the Opposition. They oppose these provisions of the Bill on the grounds that I have already mentioned- that they are draconian, cumbersome and unwieldy, and that some of them are not really specific. For example, the Bill is not very specific when it refers to branches and might well cause confusion if an organisation has branches other than State branches. An organisation may be a Federal body with Victorian, New South Wales, Tasmanian or other branches. In turn, each of those branches may be broken down into sub-branches. Therefore, when an organisation is as large as the Amalgamated Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union and has 250 officers and employees, one can appreciate how voluminous will be its annual report if all of the requirements set out in the Bill are to be met.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
-Prior to the suspension of the sitting for dinner, I was explaining that the purpose of this Bill is ostensibly, in the words of the Minister, to bring about the financial responsibility of trade unions. I was explaining to the House that already there is accountability by trade unions to their members. It does not require this sort of legislation. That accountability is brought about by the fact that under other provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act trade unions are required to hold regular elections for the election of their officials. I was saying further that perhaps the greatest sanction that can be offered against any person who wishes to misuse a trade union is the fact that if his actions do not please those people who are the union- the members- then he will not last very long.
The Labor Party does not oppose the proposition that trade unions ought to be accountable to their members; neither does the Australian Council of Trade Unions nor the Council of Australian Government Employees Organisations. But what we do say about this matter- and I am repeating myself here but the point bears repeating- is that these measures are too draconian and too cumbersome and they will be costly to the unions which will be forced to carry them out. I would like to recite to the House ACTU policy as adopted at the 1979 ACTU Congress. By the adoption of this policy, the Congress recognises the obligation of trade unions to their members in respect of financial management. But it also indicates that the ACTU is highly critical of the legislation proposed by this Liberal-National Country Party Government. The policy reads:
Unions bear the responsibility for adopting proper accounting and audit procedures in respect of their financial affairs. The Union Movement rejects the proposed amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and Regulations emanating from the Sweeney Report on Alleged Payments to Maritime Unions as being based on an inadequate knowledge and understanding of union accounting procedures and as representing an unwarranted bureaucratic intrusion into the internal affairs of unions.
That, to me, rather epitomises the opposition now being expressed to this Bill. The Minister in his second reading speech relied heavily on the report commonly known as the Sweeney report and more properly known as the report of the Royal Commission into Alleged Payments to Maritime Unions. That report was finally presented in 1976. Mr Justice Sweeney was charged with certain terms of reference. I think it is well worth reading those terms of reference to the House because the Minister has relied on the Sweeney report as his reason for introducing the legislation. His Honour Mr Justice Sweeney was charged with the following responsibility:
. To inquire into and report on:
To recommend in the light of findings:
It is clear from those terms of reference that Mr Justice Sweeney was asked to inquire into a particular matter. At that time, allegations were made against the Seamen ‘s Union of Australia in particular that certain payments, which were improper, had been made to that union. The facts are that that union insisted that seamen who worked ships around the Australian coast be paid the Australian seamen’s rate of pay. Foreign ships were paying foreign crews at foreign rates of pay. The unions said that that was not good enough and collected sums of money from the masters of the ships. Because, on occasions, they did not trust the masters they did not give the money back to them. So there was a royal commission into the matter. Arising out of that report, Mr Justice Sweeney, with the greatest respect to him, got himself sidetracked and started to look into the general accounting procedures of unions. He was never asked to do that. He was asked to inquire into a particular matter -whether there was any irregularity in regard to payments to maritime unions by masters of ships or others. That was the nub of his inquiry. But he then started to talk about general accounting procedures in unions. Up until that time nobody had demurred about the procedure that had been adopted. It was laid down in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and unions were abiding by it. They were registering their annual reports. They were registering their financial statements and there had been no demur.
– Are you sure they were registering them?
-The Minister asks me whether I am sure that they were registering them. There was an obligation on them to register them.
-But did they?
-They are not secret documents. There is a requirement in the Act that they be registered. There is nothing secret about them. If the Minister, without relying on his position as Minister- a very important position- were to leave this chamber now and walk some 25 paces into the Library, he would find in the Library almost every financial statement of every union in Australia.
– Are you sure?
-The Minister asks me whether I am sure. Of course I am sure. I would not have said it if I was not sure. The Minister is free to leave the chamber now to go to check out whether I am right or wrong. These documents are available now to any interested member of the Australian community. Any member of the Australian community can go to the registrar of the conciliation and arbitration court- I think a small fee is payable and that is understandable- and obtain a statement of the financial affairs of any union in Australia. But they do not even need to do that. All they need to do is to read the journals of the unions. In the journals of the unions they will find these things.
The Minister, by his interjection at an earlier time, indicated to me and I think to the House that he is not very au fait with what occurs within the trade union movement. He has been fed a line by somebody that this is not happening. I do not know whether he has ever been a member of a trade union and I rather doubt that he has, but if he had been, he would have known that what he is seeking in this Bill is already practised except in degree of detail, and it is that degree of detail that the Labor Party opposes. I do not want it ever to be said that the Labor Party opposes trade unions having to be responsible to their members, having to keep proper accounts and having to report to their members. We support that proposition.
What we oppose is the clumsy way in which the Minister asks for this to be done. There has not been full discussion with the unions on this matter. I said earlier in my speech that the Minister would stand up and defend this by saying, Ha, ha, there has been consultation with the NLCC. I do not deny that, but I am advised by members of the NLCC that that consultation has not been full, it has not been rewarding. I am also advised that the trade unions have made it quite clear that they think that these measures are draconian and are out of step with what happens in the community generally with like organisations. I suppose that we can liken a trade union to a commercial enterprise, but the Companies Act neither requires so much detail nor, as I understand it, provides penalties to the extent of $1,000. All of these penalties flow through the legislation for non-compliance with the regulations. That again raises a suspicion in our minds as to why the penalties must be so high when in fact most of these things are being done now. If the Government is satisfied that they are being done, why is it making the penalties so high? I rather suspect that it is another attempt by the Government to side-track the whole issue and to try to convince the community that there is something wrong in the trade union movement- that something smells in Denmark. The Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations had this to say about the legislation:
Amounts to draconian overkill; unreasonably goes beyond any obligations imposed upon bodies under any other legislation; will create needless expense and industrial difficulties, e.g. the costs to ACOA to meet the requirements have been calculated at $30,000 per year; and will achieve nothing.
That is a not insignificant financial burden to place on any organisation. It will have to be met by the end user, the trade unionist, out of his salary as part of his contribution to the union. I repeat the amount because I think it bears repetition- $30,000 a year. That is only for the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association. I suppose one could say that it would cost the Amalgamated Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union the same amount. It would seem to me that that sort of money would be better spent by the union on improving the working conditions of its members rather than on complying with some hotch-potch, pulled-out-of-the-sky proposition put forward by a bunch of accountants who have never been practically involved in a union in their lives, just to satisfy the wishes of the Government to place the unions at the greatest inconvenience possible.
At the conclusion of the discussions of the NLCC committee the Australian Council of Trade Unions expressed its general attitude and that of its affiliates to the accounting provisions of the legislation for the purpose of having its views form a part of the proceedings of the committee. I would like to have those proceedings also made a part of the record of this House. The ACTU representative stated that the legislation:
In its extensiveness and detail enforced upon organisations unnecessary and unrealistic requirements; imposes upon organisations obligations involving considerable additional financial requirements; will involve structural arrangements and internal functions not presently undertaken, e.g. the requirement for publishing separate branch accounts will involve the creation of new journals at great expense.
The Minister did not think about that. He has spoken of national organisations which have national journals, but the State branches also put out journals. If a State branch does not put out a journal but relies on the national journal, it will now have to put out a journal, or the national journal will have to be increased in size to accommodate all of this useless information. The ACTU representative continued:
Will affect the structural operation of organisation who will have to hold additional meetings of the committees of management to meet the requirements to present reports within specified times;
I do not think that one holds a lot of water. I do not think there is any problem in calling extra meetings of committees of management, but if they are tied to a timetable problems may be raised. To continue:
Raises the question of whether financial assistance will be made available to organisations to meet the requirements and the urgent need to provide training for officials as recommended by the Royal Commission;
I will come to that presently. To continue:
Emphasises the need to facilitate amalgamations as a means of coping with the obligations imposed by the legislation; and is objectionable with respect to the degree and extent of penalties provided for failure to meet the requirements.
Let us take two of those points. The Minister relied heavily on the recommendations of the Sweeney report, as I will continue to call it and as we understand it to be. However, we have indicated already that the gentleman who prepared that report went way outside his terms of reference. His report is not outside the terms of reference but those matters which the Minister has chosen to extract from it for his own purposes were never matters that Mr Justice Sweeney was asked to inquire into in the first place. In all honesty, I should read the recommendations that he made. They appear on page 2 1 7 of the report at paragraph 16.8. Recommendation No. 1 states:
That the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and the regulations thereunder be amended in accordance with the above findings to prescribe for organisations of employers and employees registered under the Act:
the financial records to be maintained by organisations-
Goodness gracious me! What a revelation! To continue:
That recommendation has to be read in conjunction with his terms of reference, which was alleged payments to maritime unions. That was his first recommendation, a note to which states:
These provisions should not apply to organisations or branches falling within Regulation 1 38F, i.e. those whose receipts in the preceding twelve months do not exceed $2,000.
This is the one. His second recommendation states:
That the Government sponsor courses of training for officers of organisations responsible for financial matters and more elementary courses in bookkeeping Tor other officers and employees.
I suppose that later tonight the Minister will excuse himself for not doing that at the time, but in his second reading speech he gave no indication that it is even in the mind of the Government. It is quite prepared to impose these regulations on the unions. The Minister is quite prepared to use the Sweeney report to justify bringing in these regulations, but does not talk about the other half of the Sweeney report and says nothing about the Government’s attitude to meeting the cost of training trade union officials to do these sorts of things or to ameliorating in any way the very high annual cost to the unions of having to comply with them.
– The training courses have already been done.
-I suppose that the Minister is talking about the Trade Union Training Authority. I do not know what he is thinking about.
– Of course I am.
-It is another of the inane interjections for which he is quite famous.
– Of course I am.
-Of course the Minister is famous for them.
– The TUTA was founded by your Government and maintained by us.
-I do not like to digress, but when people misrepresent a position I will digress. The whole purpose of TUTA was not to train people to be qualified accountants but to train them to be better trade union officials. The Minister wants them to be bookkeepers and accountants, which is not their role; and they will not accept it.
I move on to another area to emphasise the need to facilitate amalgamations as a means of coping with the obligations imposed by the legislation. We know the attitude of this Government towards amalgamation of trade unions in Australia. It has opposed them bitterly. It brought in the legislation which required that in an amalgamation vote half the members must return a ballot paper and that, of the half who did return a ballot paper, half of those must have voted in favour of the amalgamation. Once again, that sounds very plausible. Why do not the Minister and the Government be fair dinkum? Why do they not say that they are going to have compulsory voting in union elections, as the waterside workers have? Why do they not say that? Then they can talk about 50 per cent of the ballot papers coming back. If they are going to talk about optional voting, they have to put up with the fact that people will choose whether or not they will vote and will not feel under any compulsion to return their ballot papers. The Minister has to talk about either compulsory voting or optional voting. He cannot have two bob each way for the rest of his life. I remember a comment being made the other day when the Minister talked in the community about deregistration of the Federated Storemen and Packers Union of Australia.
– Hear, hear!
-The honourable member for Wilmot says ‘Hear, hear! ‘. The Minister talked about that in the community. The next day I read a report in the newspaper which shut the Minister up in fine style. The Storemen and Packers Union said: ‘I hope the Government goes ahead with this because if it does go ahead with it we can amalgamate with the Transport
Workers Union tomorrow, just like that’. The Minister had never thought of that, had he?
There is a need for the Government to give serious consideration to the continued amalgamation of trade unions in Australia. If there is a problem with trade unions, and I am not one who concedes that there is, it is because there are too many of them. There are in excess of 300 trade unions in Australia for a work force of about five million, of which some 55 to 60 per cent is unionised. Of course it is inequitable, and it is not economical. If the Government wants to make this sort of proposition operative and have it accepted by the unions, then it must relax its attitude towards the amalgamation of trade unions. It is all part and parcel of the same thing. I am not straying away from the point on which I started.
-The Minister may giggle. He is quite famous throughout Australia for his little giggles every now and then. He may giggle on this occasion, but the real facts are that this matter is of some importance to the trade union movement. A number of people in this House probably see it as just another bookkeeping exercise, something that has been dreamed up by accountants and is loved by the conservatives on the other side of the chamber, who hate the trade union movement, another effort to bash the unions. I indicated earlier that I intended to move an amendment to the Bill. On behalf of the Opposition, I therefore move:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: the House is of the opinion that the Bill should not be proceeded with until further consultations are held between the Government and the trade union movement ‘.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
-The Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill is part of the Government’s ongoing policy to ensure that the rights of members of industrial organisations, both employer and employee organisations, are protected and enhanced and that the power of organisations is not allowed to undermine the liberty of the individual. Time and again, the Government has committed itself to legislation for the protection of individual rights in all areas, including the industrial area. This Bill to amend the Conciliation and Arbitration Act makes detailed provision for accounting practices and financial reporting in the employer and employee organisations registered under the Act. In the main, the provisions are in line with the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Alleged Payments to Maritime Unions, undertaken by Mr Justice Sweeney. The honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) has just said that he does not like the results of that royal commission. It ought to be remembered that it was his Government which appointed that royal commission and appointed Mr Justice Sweeney.
The subject matter of the Bill has been scrutinised by a National Labour Consultative Council Committee and is largely a result of the combined input of government, the unions and employer organisations. It will be recalled that the royal commission into the maritime unions revealed that money paid to the unions had been disbursed by way of testimonials, on payments for picnics, and as allowances to union officials. I well remember in May 1976 asking the then Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, the present Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Street), who is at the table, whether the Government would implement legislation to ensure that members of organisations were protected from such rackets in the future. Legislation was introduced in 1977, and this amendment further provides regulations in line with the Commissioner’s report. The Bill itself ensures that individual members of organisations and the public are able to find out what the funds paid to union and employer organisations have been used for and where the funds have gone.
Before dealing in detail with the clauses of the Bill, I want to outline some of the problems which have necessitated the Government’s action in legislating in an endeavour to overcome industrial lawlessness and to provide rights for the individual in the work place. The Government is criticised continually by the unions and by the Opposition for introducing legislation which attempts to provide a basis for the individual and the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to overcome industrial anarchy. It is quite clear that the Opposition believes that we ought to vacate the field, that we should leave industrial relations problems to be solved by the employer and the employee. The Opposition seems to have no concern for the general public. They seem to have no concern for the relative strength of the employer or the employee. In these days, when a small number of men can hold the country to ransom, the Opposition seems to believe that wages should reflect industrial power or industrial might rather than be reflective of productivity or skill. Unfortunately, industrial disputation in this country has reached a level where governments, if they are to carry out responsibly their role of legislating for the benefit of all Australians, must act in the industrial relations area.
I wish to refer now to a table which relates to the number of working days lost due to industrial disputes in the period from 1966 to 1979 and to working days lost per thousand employees over that period. I seek leave of the House to have the table incorporated in Hansard.
The table read as follows-
-I thank the House. The table shows, in round figures, that in 1967, 705,000 working days were lost, that is, 181 working days per thousand employees. In 1968, that figure increased to over a million working days lost. In 1 97 1 , over three million working days were lost due to industrial disputes. In 1972, the number fell to just over two million working days lost. Under the Labor Government, in 1974 it went up to over six million working days lost.
– It was disastrous. That was 1,320 working days lost per thousand employees in 1974. It will be recalled that that was in the mad days of the Labor Government. That Government which professed to be so close to the unions and to be able to co-operate with the unions, lost complete control in Australia. After the election of the Liberal Government, the number of working days lost fell. In 1977, it fell to just over one and a half million working days. That is a drop from six million working days lost in 1974.
– A better record.
-That is a better record. In 1978 2.1 million working days were lost. Unfortunately, in 1979 just under four million working days were lost through industrial disputation. That is estimated to be just under 800 working days lost per 1,000 employees. In other words, after this Government was first elected to office the number of working days lost through industrial disputes fell. However, that number is starting to rise again. Clearly, the figures provided in the table show that any responsible government is bound to take action to endeavour to overcome this serious problem which threatens to wreck the economic recovery in this country. The Labor Opposition says that we should not act. The wool dispute had gone on since Christmas. People in my electorate and throughout the country had lost millions of dollars because of the action of the Federated Storemen and Packers Union of Australia in refusing to handle wool. The dispute had gone on for over two months when the Government acted last Monday week. The Opposition and the unions said that our action in endeavouring to force the unions to negotiate and in forcing the dispute to a settlement was antagonistic. The results of the Government’s intervention speak for themselves.
In these troubled economic times this country cannot afford to have the high level of industrial disputation which is currently apparent. Whilst it is clear that the number of working days lost initially declined after this Government came to office, the level of strikes is now starting to increase again. While Australia is on the verge of climbing out of an economic recession, industrial disputes threaten to jeopardise this recovery. The hard-earned gains for which we have all worked over the last four years cannot be allowed to be lost through industrial disputation. The figures I have given on the number of working days lost are very disturbing. They do not auger well for our future economic recovery. The Government must not heed the Labor Party’s call for government to vacate the field of industrial relations and leave it to the law of the jungle. The events of 1974 show that such action does not work. The Government must act to endeavour to protect the rights and standard of living of every Australian citizen against the effects of industrial chaos.
As I stated earlier, this Bill sets out to provide in more specific detail than is provided at present that an organisation must provide full accounts of the financial affairs of the branches and the federal body of an organisation if they are registered under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. As the Royal Commission into Alleged Payments to Maritime Unions stated in its report:
It is essential in the interests of democratic control that the financial dealings of an organisation are presented in sufficient detail to allow those members interested to establish the state of the organisation’s finances, evaluate its financial administration and satisfy themselves that the financial transactions are in accordance with the rules and the decisions of the membership.
The honourable member for Burke in moving his amendment suggested that that should not be the case. He suggested that this Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill ought not to be passed. How can he question the statement of Mr Justice Sweeney? The aim of the regulations, which have been discussed by the National Labour Consultative Council committee, is to prescribe minimum contents for accounts which should be prepared and supplied to all members of an employer organisation or union and, further, that additional information relating to those accounts should be available to the members on request.
I should like especially to refer to clause 9 of the Bill, which amends section 158 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. That section extends the rights of a member of an organisation to request information from the organisation. It also allows a member to request the Industrial Registrar to obtain the information from the organisation on behalf of the member. I believe that this is a particularly important section as it allows a unionist to obtain details of his organisation without having to go to the union organisation or executive. He may feel that in the latter case he would be subject to intimidation of some sort, or harrassment or retaliatory action. The sort of information which is available to members of an organisation on request is, for example, the gross salary or other remuneration paid or payable in respect of the holder of each office in the organisation; the purpose and amount of each donation paid in excess of $ 1 ,000; and the source and purpose, where it is known, and the amount of each donation or grant received in excess of $ 1 ,000.
The Bill also provides for the appointment of a properly qualified auditor. It also requires that a statement by the committee of management of the organisation must be made certifying the accounts of the organisation. These regulations are similar to company law regulations.
– You have got to be joking!
– Well, they are. It is a pity that the honourable member who has just interjected knows about only one side of the industrial law. The regulations are similar in purpose to the statements which are appended to company accounts. Finally, the Bill allows the Industrial Registrar to request the Industrial Relations Bureau to inquire into the finances of an organisation if it believes that there have been any irregularities and to undertake appropriate action. The Bill’s aim, therefore, is to ensure that the rights of the individual member of an employer or employee organisation are properly safeguarded and that the affairs of such an organisation are properly conducted, with members getting a full account of the running of their organisation and having access to more detailed information at their request.
-The speech that we have just heard from the honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter)- I wonder whether that expression aptly describes himshows a clear lack of understanding of the history of the trade union movement and the acknowledgement of its responsibility to present proper and adequate facilities to ensure that the members of organisations are clearly and properly informed. The whole issue is not just one of updating legislation which has apparently been sloppily prepared. If amendments are required to the legislation why were the provisions not included in the legislation in the first place? That is not the issue at all. The honourable member for Barker is not kidding anybody. Members of the community from both sides of the political fence are sitting in the gallery tonight. They would almost fall off their seats from laughing after hearing the contribution of the honourable member for Barker. Probably the only good purpose his head serves is to keep his ears apart. The whole issue of acknowledgement of responsibility has always been such that any member of an organisation, if he cannot get the information he requires from his union, can go to the Industrial Registrar and demand and get the required information. That is not what this debate is all about. The honourable member for Barker is now carrying on some other conversation. He is probably better equipped to do that than to enter into this debate. The fact is that unions have subscribed to that principle. They have not sidestepped their responsibilities in these matters. What the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the unions collectively are saying is that there has not been sufficient consultation in reaching a formula under which there can be agreement. That is what the Government is all about. The honourable member for Barker has been refering to the settlement of disputes. The Government cannot help itself. Every time industrial legislation is considered in this place it is directed only to one area.
The Government operates on the philosophy that in every industrial dispute which occurs the employer is 100 per cent right and the union is 100 per cent wrong. All the huffing and puffing that has gone on in this place since 1 975 and all the legislation which the Government has produced to head off industrial disputes have failed. The Industrial Relations Bureau is a joke. We have heard what has been said by the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Street). His remarks about industrial matters are about as relevant as his presence at the table at the moment. He just is not there. Section 45D of the Trade Practices Act which deals with the penal provisions in the various awards and all actions which lead to confrontation with the organisations are aimed at fulfilling one desire. It is the desire of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to try to build this up over a period as a back drop to an election campaign. It has failed. The Afghanistan situation and the possibility of a khaki election have now drifted out of the scene; so he resurrects another operation, but on what basis?
Let us look at the Sweeney report. The terms of reference were never relevant. They were as irrelevant to the issues that are involved in this matter as the address of the honourable member for Barker to this House this evening. The terms of reference were investigated on an entirely different basis. The payments which were made to members of the maritime industry did not deal necessarily with the balance sheets of organisations. I happen to know something about it. I was a member and national president of the Electrical Trades Union of Australia for many years. The Government is not dealing with peanuts. The people in control of unions are not peanuts. For instance, the Electrical Trade Union had a $6m -
– How much did you get?
– The honourable member should say that outside the Parliament and see how he gets on. The Electrical Trades Union had a turnover of $6m and not one challenge was ever made in regard to the financial accounting of that organisation. The Royal Australian Nursing Federation- one of its officers is sitting in the gallery this evening- has a turnover of $2.5m. That was never challenged. I ask honourable members to run through the list and see how far they can justify the action they are taking this evening as a government. They are running headlong into a position that they cannot justify. They cannot justify it on a number of accounts because all they do is apply their venom in one direction. That is all the Bill is designed to do. All the huffing and puffing of our Charlie McCarthy Minister will not alter that. He was relegated to the ranks; where he is at the moment is a far cry from where he was before. There is one thing that he will do very plausibly. To the nth degree he will carry out the wishes of the Prime Minister. That is what this Bill is all about.
Many people who sat on the Tripartite Committee are very prominent in employers’ organisations. I have strong grounds for believing that if they were asked privately whether this was justified they would not support the Government’s proposition in this matter. They ought to be asked at some time or another whether they do or do not support the proposition. The fact is that there has not been sufficient discussion on the whole question. The honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson), in moving the amendment, pointed out that there has been insufficient attention drawn to the practicality of giving effect to this issue. The IRB, which I referred to a few moments ago, is a sick joke. It has never done anything, other than on two occasions, but fall miserably to the ground when it has interfered with industrial relations. What has section 45D of the Trade Practices Act done to solve industrial disputes? Even the newspaper editorials have moved right away from the Government’s position on the, matter. The Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, have finished up with egg on their faces because they cannot justify their actions. The Government is just wholly and solely a facade. This legislation is a further episode in that facade. All it is designed to do is to make it more difficult for organisations to carry out their work. Nobody has explained the real reasons behind this legislation in relation to the issue of union branches and how they will be defined. All we have heard is a heap of drivel from the honourable member for Barker. Apparently that is all he is capable of doing. The Government is putting up lightweights from the back bench to speak on this Bill. The honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr) is about to follow me in the debate. Neither the honourable member for Barker nor the honourable member for Wilmot has seen the inside of a union office in his life, let alone been able to understand what is relevant in terms of running an organisation of the magnitude of the trade union movement.
I unequivocally support the amendment because it calls for a rational approach to a very serious and complex issue. What is being spelled out here is that the organisations concerned have been duping their members for years and years. Members of the Government should be game enough to say that outside the Parliament. But they are not. They do not have enough guts to say it outside the Parliament. They will say it in here, in the cowards’ castle, for the purpose of pure propaganda and in an endeavour to develop this background of fear about trade unions’ activities. Nothing is further from the truth. The organisations that produce balance sheets -
– Read this book.
– Another clown from Parramatta waves the Sweeney report in front of us. I ask him to read the terms of reference. How can he read into them what has emerged as being relevant in this legislation? One would have thought that it would be obligatory for the Government to have proper consultations with the trade union movement and other centres of industrial authority before introducing legislation of this nature. That has not been done. In his second reading speech, the Minister spoke of the Tripartite Committee of the National Labour Consultative Council. That is fine as far as it goes, but it certainly does not represent consultation with the trade union movement. I wonder whether the representative of the employers, Mr Polites, who is in the chamber this evening, would agree that this is nothing other than a facade and a hastily made decision that will cause more trouble than it will solve.
The Minister also spoke of representations from the Australian Society of Accountants and the Institute of Chartered Accountants. Those bodies, whilst having some expertise in broad questions of financial accounting, are not representative in the industrial relations sense. It is regrettable that consultation on a proper basis has not taken place with the trade union movement because I say without equivocation that the basic philosophy behind this Bill is commendable. Nobody is denying that. Every individual who properly represents a trade union movement would agree to it. The philosophy is that organisations should be financially responsible to their members. That is a basic democratic principle in relation to organisations such as trade unions and the trade union congress. They uphold that philosophy and principle. Members of unions are entitled to know how their money is being spent. Accounting standards and audit provisions should ensure that that information is available to union members.
The difference between this Bill and the Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Act (No. 3) 1977 which arose out of the 1976 Royal Commission into Alleged Payments to Maritime Unions is that this Bill is to provide by regulation for the accounting and reporting of provisions to be adopted by trade unions and other organisations registered under the Act. Those are commendable aims. We support them. I also expect that they would be supported by trade unions and trade unionists. In my long history with the trade union movement, they have been supported and I am sure that this is still the case. It is regrettable that the Government did not properly consult with trade unions about the actual detail of the legislation. Even at this late stage I would ask the Minister to consider withdrawing the Bill so that a detailed evaluation would take place.
Financial accountability ought to be a basic democratic principle. Unfortunately, trade unions seem to be asked to have higher standards- which the Opposition concedes are proper standards- than any other part of the community. For example, I draw the attention of the Minister to the amendment moved by the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi) on 23 October 1 979 to the National Companies and Securities Commission Bill. This particular amendment was to establish an accounting standards review committee to set adequate standards so that the true and fair position of the company is reflected in its accounts. It is well known that company accounts often fall far short of the standards that one would expect. One can instance such cases as Cambridge Credit Corporation Ltd, Gollin Holdings Ltd, Associated Securities Ltd, Mainline Investments Pty Ltd and Computicket Australia Pty Ltd as some of the more spectacular examples of improper accounting practices. However, most people in industry know that the practice is much more widespread than that.
I would urge the Minister to impress upon his colleague the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Garland) that this discrepancy in the standards required on the one hand by trade unions, and on the other hand by companies, is something that should not be tolerated. Honourable members should try to get some information about Bankcard accounting from the banks. This information is not available. Has the Government done anything about that matter? Not on your dear sweet life. The accounting of companies involves the workers time and time again. Who are the losers when these companies go bankrupt? The losers are the workers who have been led up the garden path. They have been employed and, as a consequence of the company’s bankruptcy, the workers involved in the industry are the sufferers. Where is the even-handed approach so far as the Government is concerned?
– The people are back in business three weeks later.
-That is right. The Government puts them back into business. It allows them to operate so that they can do exactly the same thing again. The little tinpot crook from Parramatta who is a lawyer in that sort of jurisdiction would know what it is all about.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I withdraw.
-The honourable member has withdrawn. It was really unparliamentary language.
– Under this legislation, among the matters which must be included in the accounts are affiliated fees and donations. It is fairly well known that trade unions are a substantial contributor to the Australian Labor Party. This legislation will ensure that donations by the trade unions to the Australian Labor Party can become public knowledge. No one has ever worried about that. We do not have any objection to it. However, company donations to political parties nearly always mean that the Liberal Party or the National Country Party are hidden away in the accounts in such a way that they cannot be located by the shareholders or anybody else. When the Labor Party was in government on two occasions it put forward legislation to require the public disclosure of the sources of funds made available to political parties and candidates. On both occasions the legislation was rejected. On 8 April 1976 the honourable member for Port Adelaide ( Mr Young) moved a private member’s motion to require financial disclosure. The Liberal and Country parties rejected this legislation out of hand on all occasions. What about the double standards now? Surely one must conclude that the Government is not fair dinkum. The arguments raised against the legislation were quite spurious.
The position of the Government is that it is in the public interest for trade unions to be financially accountable. The Opposition agrees with this. The Government says further that political parties should not be financially accountable. The Opposition does not agree with this at all. It is contrary to basic democratic practice. Yet unions can be required to disclose their political donations. In itself that proposition is perfectly acceptable, but when it is only unions which must disclose political donations the situation is quite unfair and hypocritical. The Opposition could also refer to the question of members of Parliament. There is no provision for financial disclosure by members of parliament. The Bowen Committee of Inquiry concerning Public Duty and Private Interest has recommended against such a register, quite wrongly in the view of the Opposition. Clearly, this Government will not introduce such a register yet the basis of financial disclosure by trade unions is that members are entitled to know the financial position of their union. Surely the electors of Australia are entitled to know whether their members of parliament have any financial interests which could conflict with their duty.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. The honourable member is straying a little from the context of the Bill.
-I rule that the Minister has taken the point correctly. I would ask the honourable member for Melbourne to come back to the main part of the Bill.
– The truth might hurt the Minister. The truth hurts when it strikes home. I do not believe that I am straying from the principle behind this legislation. There are double standards. The accountability of the unions has never been denied. If one looks at the history of the unions, not at the farcical situation that is contained out of context in the terms of reference of the Sweeney report, if one looks at the accountability of the unions generally it will be seen that the unions have been obligated to provide balance sheets to the registrar. These balance sheets have been produced and questions have been answered. Members at annual meetings of unions will now be placed at a disadvantage when compared with supporters of the Liberal and National Country parties. That is what is all about. So far as the unions are concerned they have never been adequately consulted.
All the issues that have been raised in the second reading speech of the Minister go to the point of showing his bias. It is clear that he is groping at straws when he is endeavouring once again to kick the unions about. It is all done on the basis of a union bashing exercise which has been going on ever since honourable members opposite have come into government. It is a joke to believe that this is an even-handed proposition in terms of the legislation before us. Obviously it was fouled up in the first instance and now has to be amended. There is some excuse, some outside irrational reason to bring an accountability to the unions, to apply pressure on their funds and resources without adequate recourse to proper consultation, without having thought the Bill through, and without a proper understanding of the practicality of giving effect to such legislation. The simple reason is that nobody wants to understand.
All that honourable members opposite want to do is to get in there, kick the hell out of the unions, create an atmosphere of law and order which they will go to the people about. But they will fail. They will fail as they have done in the Industrial Relations Bureau. Section 45 d of the proposed legislation is to bring the unions to heel. I hope to God that if the Government tries to enforce it the unions will stand up and beat the Government about the ears. The Government ought to accept the amendment to the Bill by facing up to reality.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I am delighted that the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) has finally finished his speech. At a midway point in his speech he accused honourable members on this side of the House of having no knowledge of trade unions or any employer organisations. If the honourable member for Melbourne would stay in the House long enough it would be worth while reminding him that for eight years I was a member of the Australian Workers Union and for a further four years I was a member of the Printing and Kindred Industries Union. After I qualified as an accountant I worked for a number of years as the executive director of an employer organisation. I worked also for a number of years as a company accountant. Perhaps that has given me the knowledge with which to be able to talk from both sides of the political and industrial spectrum as far as accounting procedures are concerned. The honourable member for Melbourne made great play, with a lot of rhetoric and a lot of hypocrisy- if I could use that term- about the provisions and requirements of the trade unions.
-Order! There are some points beyond which I should not allow the debate to stray. I was fairly tolerant when the honourable member for Melbourne spoke. Allegations were made from the Government side that the honourable member for Melbourne had been taking money. At that stage I did not intervene because this is a purely emotional debate. I suggest that honourable members try to keep the emotional level of the debate down.
– I found a number of the points made by the honourable member for Melbourne difficult to understand. He made a number of emotional comments about the requirements that will be placed on the union movement and the union organisations under this legislation. I did not hear him say that these requirements will apply with equal force to employer organisations. It must be remembered that, while provisions are being brought down for the accounting and reporting responsibilities of employee organisations, these provisions will apply with equal force to employer organisations. Honourable members should not lose sight of that fact. Employer organisations are probably equally extensive and, in many cases, handle similar amounts of money as employee organisations. There is no reason for the House to assume that they should not be equally accountable under this legislation to report to their members as the employee organisations are to account to their members.
One fact which both the honourable member for Melbourne and the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) failed to bring to light in the course of their speeches and which needs to be remembered by the House is the fundamental fact that this legislation requires an organisation to account to its members for the way in which the money that is contributed by those members is being spent. That is the fundamental point of this legislation. Who in this House and who in the community would dispute the fact that any organisation which receives a contribution should, in all respects, be required to account for the way in which that money is spent and do so to the person who made that contribution?
– It is money held in trust.
– As my colleague the honourable member for Denison has said, it is money held in trust on behalf of those contributors. This legislation is designed to do precisely that, that is, to make organisations accountable to their members for the way in which the money that is contributed by the members is in fact used. But it needs also to be remembered that these measures have not been embarked upon lightly by the Government. First of all, the recommendations came originally from the report of the Royal Commission into Alleged Payments to
Maritime Unions. Mr Justice Sweeney’s report has been referred to by other members. I think that it is worthwhile to remind the House, as did the honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter), of the recommendation that was in fact made by Mr Justice Sweeney in his report. He said:
It is essential in the interest of democratic control that the financial dealings of an organization are presented in sufficient detail to allow those members interested to establish the state of the organization’s finances, evaluate its financial administration and satisfy themselves that the financial transactions are in accordance with the rules and the decisions of the membership.
Which members of this House would dispute the contention that that procedure should be followed, that administrative committees of organisations should report back to their members on the way in which that money is spent? The honourable member for Melbourne, quite wrongly if I might say, made the claim that the recommendations made by the Royal Commission were in fact outside its terms of reference.
– What rubbish!
-That is utter rubbish, as the honourable member for Denison said. I remind the honourable member for Melbourne of the terms of reference of the Royal Commission. The terms of reference state, in part:
To recommend in the light of the findings-
I emphasise the words ‘what legislative or administrative changes are required’. After Mr Justice Sweeney had conducted a most exhaustive inquiry through this Royal Commission he made recommendations about changes that were required. Those recommendations were subsequently sent by the Government to the National Labour Consultative Council which, I remind the honourable member for Melbourne, debated this matter for two years before it eventually reported back to the Government on the legislative changes that were necessary. We are now seeing the pinnacle of that procedure taking place. The honourable member for Melbourne laughs. I wonder why he laughs. It might be that instead of seeing rational debate coming from the opposite side of the House we are seeing political rhetoric.
It might be worthwhile to remind the House of the origins of that political rhetoric. If we cast our minds back to the Australian Labor Party conference which was held in Adelaide last year we will recall that one of the resolutions that came from that ALP conference states:
An ALP Government would recognise ‘the rights of unions to regulate their own affairs in a democratic way free from Government and judicial interference . . .’
Here we see the root cause of why opposition to this legislation is coming from the Opposition. In all fairness to my friends opposite, it is not that they dispute the fact that organisations should account to their members for the way in which their funds are used and it is not that they dispute the fact that equity is embodied in the legislation; their opposition comes from the resolution passed at the ALP conference last year that unions should be above and beyond the law. That is where the opposition is coming from.
I return to the matters relating to the National Labour Consultative Council. I mentioned in passing that these matters began from the Royal Commission report of Mr Justice Sweeney and were subsequently debated by a committee of the National Labour Consultative Council for a period of two years. The recommendations were not considered lightly; they were debated in full. On behalf of the Government and of the members of this House, I would like to pay tribute to the members of that committee who served so diligently for two years and who put in endless hours of work to put forward these recommendations to the Government.
– Courageous men.
– As my colleague the honourable member for Denison said, they were courageous men. They considered the matter fully. They took into account the recommendations made by Mr Justice Sweeney. The recommendations made to the Government were considered, balanced and, above all, designed to bring equity to the accounting procedures of both employee and employer organisations. I believe it is justifiable to pay tribute on behalf of honourable members to the committee of the National Labour Consultative Council for the work done.
We have to remember that these procedures are not being considered lightly. They do not impose some draconian legislation on organisations, as the honourable member for Burke suggested. All they require the unions and employer organisations to do is to maintain proper accounting procedures and at the end of a financial period to draw up a proper accounting report for the members of that organisation as to what has happened to their funds. That is what this legislation is all about. Built into this legislation and built into the procedures are requirements that normal business and commercial practices would consider quite normal. In other words, the reports and all other accounting matters have to be properly scrutinised by competent and qualified auditors before they can be endorsed by the auditors and sent out to the members. What is wrong with that? Why should the auditors not go through the books of an organisation. Why should a qualified auditor not put his name to a report to guarantee the authenticity and genuineness of that report? Who could dispute that? I would be surprised if my friends on the opposite side of the chamber were to dispute the following of these procedures. This, to all intents and purposes, is what they are disputing because what they are now saying, according to the amendment that has been proposed -
– I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I ask the honourable member for Wilmot to tell me which trade unions do not have auditors and which trade unions do not provide annual balance sheets for their members to examine.
Order! It is not a point of order. It is a point for debate.
– Could the honourable member please tell us which trade unions don’t have the things that he is alleging they don’t have?
-Order! It is not a point of order. It is really a point for debate.
– I remind the honourable member for Port Adelaide that whilst requirements may be built into the present legislation those requirements are treated with contempt by organisations. If he inquires of the Industrial Registrar he will find that very few organisations in fact comply with the requirements at the moment. The Government is putting into legislation requirements that will in fact be policed and organisations will be required to comply with them. It is of no use having legislation on the books if -
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a further point of order. In view of the allegations made by the honourable member for Wilmot, will he tell me how the Bank of New South Wales would apply its political donations?
-Order! It is not a valid point of order. It is still a point for debate.
– I return to the point I was making before the honourable member for Port Adelaide interjected. The amendment moved by the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) states that this House is of the opinion that the Bill should not be proceeded with until further consultation has been held between the Government and the trade union movement. Being a rational thinking person I am afraid I cannot understand the purport of that amendment because as I pointed out, this matter has been considered for two years by the National Labour Consultative Council. That Council, as honourable members opposite would know is made up of representatives from government, from the trade union movement and from employer organisations. This matter has been considered by that body for two years. Yet the honourable member for Burke has the audacity to put forward an amendment that the whole matter go back for further consultation. I am sorry but I cannot understand the rationale behind the proposal that has been put forward by the honourable member for Burke.
– They were held in the Minister’s office on a Sunday afternoon.
-Order! The honourable member for Corio will have an opportunity to speak if he wishes.
– In my opinion the amendment moved by the honourable member for Burke is nothing more than a delaying tactic to allow the organisations, both the unions and the employer organisations, sufficient time to put their accounts in order so that any proper audit procedures that may in fact be adopted as a result of this legislation will not unearth practices that have traditionally gone on within those organisations.
– You are a cur. Why don’t you go outside and say it.
-Order! The honourable member for Melbourne will withdraw.
– Withdraw what?
-He will withdraw those words. He said that the honourable member was a cur. The honourable member will withdraw. It is unparliamentary.
– With due respect to the curs, I will withdraw it.
– Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. As I was saying, I cannot understand the purport of the amendment that has been moved by the honourable member for Burke. I strongly suggest to all members of this House that it should be rejected and treated in the way that I think honourable members will treat it.
– It is a cover-up.
– I will not repeat the words of my colleague the honourable member for Denison. They are his words and he is entitled to use them. Let me return to the basic fundamentals of what this legislation is all about. The basic fundamentals are that organisations that receive subscriptions from members should ultimately report to its members the way in which those funds are used. It may well be that honourable members on the opposite side may treat with some sensitivity the question of contributions that are made by organisations to the Australian Labor Party. It may well be a matter of some sensitivity if those contributions were made public.
– But you won’t disclose what happens to the Liberal Party.
-I remind the House that the legislation requires that accounting reports will be properly prepared and properly audited and also, quite properly, that they will be made available through the Industrial Registrar for public scrutiny. That is now a requirement in the commercial world. Any registered company must prepare accounts and make them available for public scrutiny. In the same way, both unions and employer organisations will now follow the same procedure. In addition to that the members of an organisation will be able to go either directly to the union organisation or through the Registrar and require a much more detailed account of where funds have been applied. Why should not members of an organisation have such a procedure available to them? Why should not individual members of a union organisation know in considerable detail where their funds are being applied?
– Why shouldn’t insurance policy holders have the same information?
– Why should there be a cover-up? Why should unions or employer organisations not properly account to their members? I invite honourable members to consider- as the Government recognises- that particularly within organisations in many cases funds are held not by the Federal bodies but in fact by the State branches. Perhaps among the people who oppose this Bill there are some elements who are somewhat embarrassed about having to disclose what funds are being held within State branches of organisations. Perhaps that might be a matter of political sensitivity.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MartinOrder! The honourable member will resume his seat. As I said previously, this is a very emotional debate. The honourable member for Corio is not helping by his persistent interjections. The honourable member for Denison is not helping by flourishing money which obviously is provoking the honourable member for Corio. Let us all settle down and have an ordinary debate.
– The Government recognises that details on all of the funds that are held on behalf of members, whether the funds be within the Federal body or a State branch of the organisation, should be made available for scrutiny by the members who have made the contributions. The Government recognises that fundamental point and is prepared to enact appropriate legislation. The Government has not acted lightly. These matters have been considered by a royal commission. Recommendations have been made and further consideration has been given over two years by the National Labour Consultative Council. These matters are now being considered by the Parliament. It is not a light move. It is a responsible move made by a responsible government. I commend the legislation to the House.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, insurance companies -
Motion ( by Mr Hodges) put:
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Mr V. J. Martin)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Keith Johnson’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Mr V. J. Martin)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I am rising to speak to the second reading, which I am entitled to do. The Government is pursuing a policy of requiring disclosure of union funds while its supporters have made it clear in their remarks that that is because it wants disclosure of political donations on a limited basis, when in fact the Government has consistently refused to disclose donations in its own area and Government members have voted in this Parliament against that disclosure.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Order! I cannot hear the honourable member for Bendigo.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I did try, amongst the shouting, to move that the question be now put. The honourable member for Corio was shouting unnecessarily loudly. I move:
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Mr V. J. Martin)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question put:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Mr V. J. Martin)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 4- by leave- taken together.
– It is unfortunate that I was not in the House a little earlier to speak on this Bill. As the Leader of the House and Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) pointed out that I was not here to speak, I make the point that I was invited to speak in Sydney in reply to people who support the Liberal Party of Australia and who have said that there is no unemployment in Australia. I had to be out of the House to speak on a program in Sydney and I have just returned. There should be no disagreement about a Bill which calls for proper accounting by any organisation which is responsible to the laws of this Parliament. There is no opposition from the Labor Party to that, but there is a lot of opposition to the allegations that have been made in a very wild form by people who have spoken about the way in which the accounts, the books or the annual reports of trade unions may be manipulated. Let me say right here and now that no one from the Government has put one skerrick of evidence to show that any of the books of any trade union have been cooked in any way that would warrant this legislation. There has been no denial of information -
– What did Sweeney say?
-My little ruddy-faced friend from Dundas says: ‘What did Sweeney say?’.
– Who is ruddy faced?
– The honourable member for Dundas. He said: ‘What did Sweeney say?’ I think it ought to be made clear, because Sweeney has been referred to a lot. Mr Justice Sweeney’s Royal Commission was asked to report on alleged payments to maritime unions, and the terms of reference can be read on page 219 of his report. Those terms of reference never ever included a total look at the way in which the books of trade unions were kept. It may be that people opposite, people from the Government such as our neo-fascist friend from Denison (Mr Hodgman), would say that perhaps we are overreacting. We are not over-reacting at all. We do not deny that people who are running trade unions should be answerable for the way in which they run their organisations.
– I rise on a point of order. I ask the honourable member for Port Adelaide to withdraw the comment he made about my colleague from Denison.
– The honourable member for Denison did not indicate to the Chair that he found it offensive, nor did the Chair feel competent, particularly in the circumstances, to assess the degree of offence.
– I thank my friend, but the honourable member for Port Adelaide is only a gollywog, so I do not ask him to withdraw any remark.
– I described someone as a neofascist and he did not object. I think it ought to be taken for granted -
– Order! The honourable member for Port Adelaide will not strain the situation.
– Although the honourable member for Perth objected to the term, it will be noticed that the honourable member for Denison did not object to the way in which I described him. The Sweeney report referred to the relationship between the maritime unions and the pressure they exerted on foreign shipping companies which came into this country using cheap labour, and carrying cargoes between ports on the Australian coast. That is why the Sweeney report was initiated and it was initiated by a Labor government. It was not initiated by a conservative government. It is true that when one looks at the trade union movement in this country, because we go from unions of the size of the Amalgamated Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union or the Australia Workers Union, with 150,000 or 160,000 members, to unions with perhaps 1,000 members, the accounting of those unions will be very different. But the accusations that have been made against unions by people who have spoken on behalf of the Government just do not stand up. The Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Street) knows that in consultations that have been held at the National Labour Consultative Council between the Government, the employers and the trade unions, there has been a fair amount of common ground about the way in which we should reach a final conclusion on this effort. The first draft of the legislation that was brought in as a result of the Sweeney report to cover all trade unions has been proved to be inadequate by the introduction of this Bill. The unions were quite correct.
– I rise on a point of order. I would like to know to which clause of the Bill the honourable member for Port Adelaide is speaking and what relevance his remarks have to that clause.
– Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. The Chair put the question that clauses 1 to 4 be agreed to.
– As I said, there is a fair amount of common ground between all the parties at the NLCC about these measures, but the Government is in a sort of pathological mood of hatred of the trade union movement. It has to rush these provisions into legislation, but they cannot become law until the regulations are set down, and there will be a meeting in a month ‘s time about the way in which the regulations are drawn up. So we cannot really deal with the way in which the trade unions have to meet this legislation until we lay down and stipulate exactly and specifically the way in which it has to be done.
The Bill is being used by the Government to make accusations against the trade union movement which do not stand up, and I instance the terms of the auditor, what he does, and what information is available to the members of a trade union about their political donations, about which the members of the Government seem to be making fairly general accusations. They cannot make an accusation against a union in terms of the information that is available that we could not make from this side of the House against any organisation in the private sector. The honourable member for Denison, who clawed his way through a law degree, would know that some legal firms in this country have lent themselves to laundering money through their trust accounts into political parties, not the least of which have been the Liberal and National Country parties. The honourable member for Denison knows a fair bit about that. He knows about the way in which money is laundered from companies into the Liberal Party.
– I know about covering up for the Communist Party.
– I rise on a point of order. I can find no reference in clauses 1 to 4 of the present Bill which has any relevance to what the honourable member is talking about.
– The point of order is upheld. I require the honourable member for Port Adelaide to restrict himself to the clauses. More particularly, the honourable member for Denison is not to provoke the honourable member who has the call by his incessant interjections.
– Referring to clause 4, why would this section have to be amended so quickly after it was amended in 1977? The only reason that can be given for this is that after the Sweeney report the Government, jumped on the bandwagon, with its anti-union mentality in spite of the common ground at the NLCC and said: Look, we will throw the blanket over all trade union organisations, irrespective of the fact that we cannot point a finger at any of them, irrespective of the fact that there is no evidence. ‘ We are not talking here about the way in which annual reports are presented. The Sweeney report referred to specific maritime payments. That is what the Sweeney inquiry was all about, not about the annual reports and the amount of information that was available to individual trade union members. Because the Government wants to flex its muscles about the trade union movement and show that it has hair on its chest, we have this Bill on top of the Bill that was brought in in 1977.
The other interesting feature of this is that members of the Government cannot get a copy of the Act. We do not know what we are amending because the Government is not efficient enough even to produce a copy of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. No honourable member opposite has a copy of the Act we are amending. All they can do is take on face value the Bill that has been presented tonight to the
Parliament and hope that it reaches the explanations that have been given in the party room by their Minister. I say that there should be no great argument about the objective of a Bill such as this. Members of Parliament on both sides of the House should be able to reach agreement. The trade union movement has laid valid argument against the way this legislation is being rushed. We asked in our amendment to the motion for the second reading that this matter go back to the NLCC for further discussion if agreement cannot be reached, and there is nothing in the Minister’s second reading speech to say that agreement cannot be reached.
– Order! The honourable member will have to come back to the question before the Committee, which relates to clauses 1 to 4.
– There is nothing in the Minister’s second reading speech to say that agreement cannot be reached.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Clauses agreed to.
Clause 5 (Application of Part with respect to organizations divided into branches).
-This is a very important part of the legislation. When the 1977 legislation was introduced the Government did not seem to understand the way in which the trade union movement was formed in this country. It understood that the unions operated under a federal system and that perhaps there were State branches, but it did not seem to understand that the trade union movement was broken up into far more branches than there were States in this country. Now the Government has asked that greater explanation be given to the members of trade unions than has apparently been given in what the Government thought was the annual report of the federal organisation. The Opposition has no great disagreement with that proposition, but it again shows up the inadequacy of and the haste with which the Government is moving on this legislation.
– Rubbish! This report is four years old.
-My chubby-faced friend from Dundas -
– Order! The honourable member will not personalise his remarks. He will address the Committee through the Chair.
– You are chubby yourself, actually.
-I am chubby, I know, but I do not have those nice rosy cheeks like the honourable member for Dundas. He seems to keep referring to the fact that Mr Justice Sweeney referred to branches. I ask the honourable member for Dundas to please read the report.
– I have.
– If the honourable member has read it will he get someone to explain it to him? That would be the next step. Obviously he is a very dull person. He does not seem to understand. I do not blame him for not being a member of a trade union. He has had a very privileged occupation in life. He has never belonged to a branch or federal organisation that could be registered as a trade union under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. We do not expect him to really understand what this debate is all about. What I am trying to tell the honourable member for Dundas is that there is no relationship between this report and the issue before us. The report stemmed from the fact that the maritime unions were telling ship owners or companies that they could not trade on the Australian coast with cheap labour. There was an accusation that payments were being made to trade unions.
– They were taking money and not accounting to their members.
– That is right. In some cases -
– We want a book that would show it.
-AU right. Let me just explain the situation. In some cases the union was taking money. In some cases it was making the shipowners pay Australian rates of pay. To clarify exactly what was happening on the Australian coast, the Sweeney Commission was initiated by the Labor Government. The Labor Government was not running away.
– Order! The honourable member for Dundas will remain silent or I will be required to deal with him.
– I do not really mind his interjections, Mr Chairman. I think he is learning. He is starting to smile. I think he is learning. There is no relationship. If the honourable member for Dundas walked 20 yards from here to the Library and asked the Legislative Research Service for the annual reports, including the balance sheets and perhaps some of the journals, of the major trade unions in this country, he would understand the difference between the matter on which Mr Justice Sweeney was reporting and the way in which the trade union movement presents the information to its members. As I am a member of the Australian Workers Union and have been since I was 15 years of age, I know that every year I can read the annual report in the Australian Worker, which is the journal of my union. There may be some argument as to the way in which that report is presented. Some people, like honourable members opposite, would say: ‘It is not good enough that Mick Young, as an organiser of the Australian Workers Union, should have his salary included in a mass of 10 people who are working for that union ‘. Perhaps each salary should be stipulated quite specifically so that everybody who is working for the union -
– We are not asking for that.
-Well, let me tell the honourable member something else.
– If a member wants information he has to go and ask for it specially.
– The honourable member for Dundas says that that is not what the Government is asking for, but I tell him that that is exactly what the Government asked for at the meeting of the National Labour Consultative Council. Not only did the Government ask for that but also it asked that every item valued at over S 1 00 that was purchased by any trade union be itemised specifically in the balance sheet of that trade union. We are talking about the federal office. Many unions in this country are quite different from others. My colleague the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi) was the secretary of the Australian Government Workers Association. The Australian Government Workers Association, in spite of its name, operates only in South Australia. Many unions- in fact most unions- operate throughout Australia. Many unions publish their annual balance sheet in the journal of the federal union.
The Government is now asking, because it did not seem to understand the situation a couple of years ago, that all the branches do likewise. But we have to relate the information which is available to the branches to the rights that are given to the Industrial Relations Bureau and to each individual member. Like the honourable member for Dundas I read in the financial pages of the newspapers about the sort of trouble that people run into when they go to annual meetings of companies and start asking questions. We read about how they are put down and how the chairman says: ‘We are not going to tell you all of those sorts of things’. All the information relating to the operations of a trade union is available.
There may be an argument about the breakdown, but if we ask, ‘Does the South Australian branch of the Australian Workers Union make political donations?’ we find from the balance sheet of the Australian Workers Union in South Australia that that branch has made a donation of $2,000 or $3,000 at the time of a State or Federal election. It is easily identifiable in the balance sheet. There can be absolutely no argument about it.
– How much did you get from the communist unions?
-The honourable member for St George, who hid behind the conscripts in Vietnam to save his life -
– How much did you get from the communist unions?
-The honourable member for St George, who hid behind the conscripts in Vietnam with a big yellow streak down his back, has interjected. We know about him.
– Order! The honourable member for Port Adelaide will withdraw.
-I withdraw, but he should just ask -
– Order! The honourable member for Port Adelaide will continue his remarks.
– I am asking honourable members on the Government side to tell us during the Committee stage of this debate what information they require from a branch of a trade union- whether it be a State branch as in the case of the Australian Workers Union, or whether it be a geographical branch as is the case in some other areas such as the Barrier industrial unions or the unions of Geelong, Ballarat, Dubbo, Rockhampton or whatever area it may be- that they cannot already obtain by going to the Parliamentary Library and asking the Library staff to give them the information. If there is information that cannot readily be given by the Library, then they should tell us in the debate on this Bill. They should not stand up and tell us that they are passing this Bill in order to obtain information which is already available. They are merely using this Bill as a vehicle for another attack on the trade union movement. I ask the honourable member for Dundas what information he requires about trade union books that he cannot receive already.
– How much did you get from the communist unions? That is what we want to know.
-The honourable member for St George has asked what donations may be made by the Communist Party.
– You said you would tell us.
– I am asking the honourable member whether he has gone through the books of the trade union movement.
– You said you would tell us what we wanted to know.
– Is the honourable member able to suggest -
– How much did you get from the Communist Party unions?
-I will tell the honourable member this: Every donation to a political party from a trade union is entered in the annual report of the union, but the donations that are laundered through the lawyers like the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) and the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) to the Liberal Party cannot be found. The neofascist element of the Liberal Party, like the honourable member for Denison and the honourable member for St George, can receive money -
- Mr Chairman, I raise a point of order.
– Order! The honourable member for Port Adelaide will withdraw the reflection on the honourable member for Denison.
- Mr Chairman, I raise a point of order.
– The honourable member for Denison will resume his seat. The honourable member for Port Adelaide will withdraw that reflection on the honourable member for Denison.
-He did not ask for a withdrawal the first time I made that reference.
– The Chair has requested the honourable member to withdraw.
-He is a character. Twenty minutes ago he did not mind being called a neo-fascist.
– The honourable member will withdraw.
– I will withdraw, but I am just astounded.
- Mr Chairman, I raise two points of order. Firstly, I object to the honourable member’s remarks in relation to trust accounts. Barristers do not have trust accounts.
Secondly, I object to the fact that for the second time the honourable member, a communist, has referred to me as a neo-fascist. I ask that the honourable member withdraw.
– The honourable member for Port Adelaide has withdrawn the remark to which the honourable member for Denison refers, at the request of the Chair. If he had not been so vociferous in his insistence to claim the Chair’s attention when taking a point of order, he would have heard that action take place. The honourable member for Port Adelaide’s time has expired.
-I raise a point of order, Mr Chairman. The honourable member for Denison called the honourable member for Port Adelaide a communist. Surely he has to withdraw in exactly the same way.
– The Chair, in the first instance, does not necessarily see that as an offensive expression. If it is an offence to the honourable member, the Chair will require him to withdraw.
- Mr Chairman, do you mean that the word ‘neo-fascist’ is offensive and the word ‘communist’ is not? Do you prefer the word communist’ to the word ‘neo-fascist’? I thought that you would have preferred the opposite.
– If the expression is offensive to the honourable member certainly the Chair will require a withdrawal.
- Mr Chairman, I did not raise the matter because the honourable member for Denison was speaking on a point of order. But you, Mr Chairman, would have heard the remark quite clearly. I would have thought that that accusation against anybody in this Parliament would have been objectionable. I would think that you, Mr Chairman, would have asked for the remark to be withdrawn without anybody saying it was personally objectionable. Of course, it is objectionable. I do not ask for it to be withdrawn. We just take the honourable member for Denison for granted.
– The honourable member has indicated that he finds the term offensive. I call on the honourable member for Denison to withdraw.
– I withdraw, Mr Chairman, and request the honourable member to withdraw the expression ‘neo-fascist’ which I find objectionable.
– The honourable member for Port Adelaide has withdrawn the expression at the request of the Chair.
– Thank you, sir.
– Clause 5 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill seeks to insert a new section 158AAA in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act to provide that where an organisation is divided into branches Part VIIIAA will apply to the organisation if the financial affairs of a branch do not form part of it and will apply also to each branch. The term ‘branch’ will cover members, employees and journals. I would like to speak about journals in relation to this clause. All trade unions have journals. The Australian Workers Union, the Postal Overseers Union of Australia, the Federal and State plumbers unions and all unions that come under the Australian Council of Trade Unions have journals. From those journals they receive information on their balance sheets and on what is happening in both the State and federal spheres. Under this clause, will the employer organisations receive the same amount of information? They have all aspects of the media at their disposal. All the unions have is the money they collect from union dues. That is audited and it goes to the proper Government department. The employer organisations and multinationals have the money and that is the only way they get their message across. At the first reading stage of the Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill I was gagged by the Government when I rose to speak. I was prepared to speak for 20 minutes and to give the House the information I had. I was a union official and I know -
– What union was that?
-I was an official of the New South Wales branch of the Plumbers and Gasfitters Employees Union of Australia. I know what it is like to attend meetings at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. and to speak to the unionists. Members of the Government would not understand from journals the feeling of union members who have been on strike. They want information. But now we are changing the Act and it will not be implemented. I know that a rule is a rule and a law is a law. But if trade union members are upset with a rule they will just denounce it because their idea is to have fair play. All they are after is fair play. They want a fair go. The only time they can receive information is from their union journal. They can talk on it all day and night. It is like the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) when he wants an election to be held after 19 July 1980. The election is going to be held on the basis of industrial peace, industrial harmony or industrial agitation.
– They are trying their best to stir it up.
– That is right. The honourable member has stated that members of the Government are trying their best to stir up trouble. The main part of Clause 5 has to be explained to the rank and file members. There is one point that I would have made in my speech had I not been gagged. What about the insurance companies? What about the employers in 1975 and 1977 when they harassed their workers to vote for the Liberal Party? Will they get caught up in this change of the legislation? Will the employers be able to say to their employees: ‘If you don’t vote the right way in the elections, don’t return to your job’? Millions of trade unionists elect their officials. They elect them rightly or wrongly. They can go to the union meeting or vote by postal ballot. We are now seeking to change the legislation. Many of the Government members would not know what the trade union movement is about. They would not know the feeling. I heard the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr) say that he was a member of a union, that he discussed matters with the union. He would not know what unions are about. I get very worried and upset because people from Tasmania are not too bad. Why is the Government using these members from Tasmania to be scapegoats and to be against the trade union movement? The hate vibrates over to me every time they speak. This does not occur with other members of the National Country Party and the Liberal Party. It just occurs with these three or four members from Tasmania. They attack over and over again. Their extremism will be evident to the members of many unions of Australia that come under the ACTU. That is the point that we have to take cognizance of tonight. The trade union movement has given a decision and has discussed these clauses of the Bill over the last two years and has said: ‘We have discussed it and it is not working. In other words, we just cannot tolerate it’. Are we going to enforce the legislation and say that this information has to be published in the journals? The members have been told this and they will not accept it. This is the injustice of what is going on. It is the rule that the Government is forcing through. As I said, I had a speech prepared to give more information. I know that honourable members would have taken copies of the speech to their constituents in all States. The point is that I was gagged when I tried to make my original speech. I know that many honourable members would like to speak on the Bill. I hope that Government members speak on it because there is no use in pushing this legislation through without them saying too much. Proposed new section 158aaa deals with a reference to the members of an organisation in relation to the corporate body which is a reference to the members of all the branches of the corporate body. It did not cover the situation of some unions whose members belong to a federal body, but who are not members of any branch. Proposed section 158AAA ( 1 ) (b) (iti) did not cover the situation of any employer who may be employed in connection with more than one branch- that is, a federal and State organiser. With regard to the other sections, decisions have to be made. The Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Street) might help me on this point by explaining to me what would happen if that person is an organiser of a State branch and an organiser of the Federal branch? How will that work out in respect of accounts and supplying information to both bodies? The Minister might be able to help me on that clause concerning Federal and State bodies. It is important because how are we going to convince the millions of rank and file members of the union? We pass legislation–
– Show them the Sweeney report.
– The honourable member said ‘Show them the Sweeney report’. I have a copy of the Sweeney report here. Certain issues were made in the report. The Government has latched on to it. The report was not produced as a basis for this legislation. Will the worker, the average unionist inside an organisation, be given any chance to find out how much money is spent by his own employer? There is not one word about worker participation and the accounts.
– Not true.
– It is true. We have the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill before us. How will we tell the rank and file what that Bill is about? Have honourable members opposite ever been to a meeting and tried to explain to 200, 300 or 1,000 men who are on strike what the clause is all about, that it is infringing on their democratic rights? Honourable members opposite would lose them. This is the trouble right through this legislation. Legislation is made by politicians.
– And they don’t understand it.
– And they do not understand it. Then those politicians have to go to a meeting and explain it to the workers. How would those men know about section 158aaa? How would they know about any section when they are out on strike? All that they know is they want wage justice. The Opposition wants rules and regulations so that it can understand and communicate. This is the trouble with whatever the Government is doing in any legislation that is coming through. Certainly the Government has the numbers and it will win. The day is coming when the Minister, members of the Liberal and National Country parties, and the employers might have to go and speak to their employees.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Clause 5 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill is a very important clause. It goes to the crux of this legislation in some respects in that it does require Federal organisations that are divided into branches to account for each of the branches in the same way as they will be required to account for their members generally under the legislation. The question has been raised by honourable members opposite as to why legislation of this sort containing a clause of this type is required. Clearly, the reason is that in 1 974 a number of demands were made by some unions- I am not saying all unions- upon shipping companies to pay to those unions moneys ibr which they were not accounting to their members and of which their members were unaware. In September 1 974 by Letters Patent the Royal Commission into Alleged Payments to Maritime Unions was established by the previous Government. That commission was established under a member of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, Mr J. B. Sweeney. Mr Justice Sweeney was appointed by the previous Government and is a man of considerable repute.
– Order! I remind the honourable member that the Committee is considering clause 5. I request the honourable member to address himself more specifically to the question.
-Certainly I will endeavour to do that. I was endeavouring to rebut specifically comments that have been raised in relation to clause 5 by honourable members opposite and in particular the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) and the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Les McMahon). I will endeavour to constrain myself in that regard as much as I can. If we go to page 1 99 of Commissioner Sweeney’s report we will notice that he deals with the obligation to report demands and payments. If we go to page 2 10 we notice that he deals with the adequacy of existing legislation. These were the comments that he directed specifically in relation to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and as to why we need to amend it in this form and amend it particularly with the addition of the new section 158AAA. Commissioner Sweeney had this to say of the existing legislation:
In view of the findings of this Commission in the course of its investigations and the report of the consultants, it is obvious that the current legislative and regulatory provisions do not meet the objectives of protecting the interests of members and the public where the financial affairs of registered organisations are concerned.
Honourable members should note that he said that the scheme of the legislation did not meet the objective of protecting the interests of members.
– At what page?
– Page 210. It did not meet the interests of members and the public where the financial affairs of registered organisations are concerned. He then went on to describe section 152 (4) of the Act which provides: for the filing of financial records with the Industrial Registrar and . . . inspection of these records at the Registrar’s Office.
He went on to say:
The obligation imposed by this section is couched in very vague and imprecise terms and it is difficult to determine just what the obligation entails. What is ‘an account in proper form’?
That was the question that Mr Justice Sweeney was posing. He went on to say:
I think the section remains unsatisfactory and should not continue in its present form. It just does not specify the requirements in sufficient detail to ensure that financial records present a full and accurate picture of the financial activities of the body.
He was saying that this Act of Parliament needed to be amended in this way by requiring branches and unions to account fully to their members. That is what this legislation is about. It is intended to flesh that out, to give it the meaning that is necessary so that the members know what is really going on in their organisation. I do not think that any honourable member opposite could be heard to complain about that. It was in the National Labour Advisory Council of the Minister that these matters were pursued and in which substantial agreement was reached as to the nature of the provisions that would be satisfactory to the trade union movement and to employer bodies. Of course, it is a requirement of this legislation, unlike similar United States legislation, that both employer and employee bodies have to comply with the legislation. That is a very important point.
I will cut my remarks short having due respect to the time, but it is important that we recognise that this legislation is to protect members of trade unions and to ensure that they have adequate information about their organisation. I do not think anybody could be heard to complain about the reasonableness of that proposition.
– I intervene in this debate only in respect to the insertion of what will become section 158AAA largely as a result of great provocation with respect to the arguments put forward by the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young). It does seem to flow from a basic misapprehension on the part of the honourable member for Port Adelaide that the only people interested in trade unions in this Parliament sit on his side of the House. I just want to say very frankly that over 80 per cent of the trade unionists of Australia are compelled to contribute funds to the Australian Labor Party. Some 40 per cent of those trade unionists consistently vote for our Liberal party. What is . the objection of the Opposition to this legislation if it is not to cover up and to prevent the light of day being given to payments which are unauthorised and in breach of the union rules? What possible objection is there to a system of auditing? What possible objection is there to a clause which provides that in respect to an organisation each branch shall be deemed- I am referring specifically now to new section 158AAA- to be a branch itself of the organisation and journals published by the organisation shall be deemed to be journals published by the branch? This is specific machinery legislation.
I ask the question: Is it because this legislation is too efficient? Is it because it might flush out things that honourable members opposite do not want to see flushed out? Is it because the honourable member opposite leading for the Opposition is ashamed to commit to the public gaze the books of certain trade unions, the money that has come and from where it has come, and the money that has been paid and where it has gone? It is one thing to object to a system which is unfair and unjust. But what is the objection of the Opposition to a proper system of auditing? When the Sweeney report came out did any honourable member opposite stand up and say that this legislation would be too detailed? Did anybody say, ‘We should not have it’? The last thing that I want to say to the honourable member for Port Adelaide and to his colleague the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Les McMahon) is a valid comment in view of the assertions that were made. The honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr) in his absence was accused of not being involved in the unions because he had been a member of the Australian Workers Union for eight years. I have been made a life member of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia. In the past I have been paid money to give advice to trade unions.
The honourable member for Port Adelaide has the gall to claim that we do not understand the union movement. He is so far out of touch that he has gone out on a limb to protect and to cover up particularly in respect of payments to and from the Communist Party. I do not believe that his objection to this clause is bona fide. I go further: If it is not to cover up for illegal payments what is his objection to this clause? I invite the honourable member for Port Adelaide to say why there should not be full and complete scrutiny. He should go out into the streets and talk to the trade unionists. If they told him that the books were all right, and asked what was the problem, what would be the honourable member’s answer?
Last year- I use this as a classic example because I was approached by members of the Federated Ironworkers Union in Tasmania- a claim was made that the books of that union, a very large union, were not in order. The former State President of the Australian Labor Party, a man who sat on the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Mr R. W. Wood, well known to the honourable member for Port Adelaide and one of the most honourable and decent trade unionists that this country has ever known, was blackguarded -
– Order! It being 10.30 p.m. I shall report progress.
-I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I require that the question be put forthwith without debate.
Question resolved in the negative.
– I was just saying that Mr R. W. Wood, one of Australia’s most respected trade unionist and a former senior member of the Australian Labor Party, was blackguarded-I use this example to prove the point of this legislation- last year by certain pro-Communist left wing members of the Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia who alleged that the books were not in order. Those books were in fact in perfect order. An investigator from the union was sent from Sydney. He investigated the books and found that they were completely in order. However, that took several weeks. Had this legislation been in force, had the provision which we are discussing been in force, the whole question could have been settled in a number of days. Every member of the union would have known that the books were in order.
The Opposition, in opposing this legislation, is not only covering up for the pro-Communist Left and the criminal payments which otherwise would be revealed on the books but also bring about a situation in which decent trade union leaders like Mr Bill Wood can be unjustly persecuted. If this provision had been in existence his innocence would have been established immediately and he might not have suffered a breakdown of his health and it might not have been necessary for him to resign from both the union and the ALP. I ask the members of the Opposition to come out in the open. For what reason are they covering up?
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to move a motion to suspend Standing Order 103, which is the 1 1 o’clock rule, for this sitting.
Leave not granted.
– As leave is not granted, I move:
-There is absolutely-
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) put:
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr G.O’H Giles)
-The House is voting on the motion that the question be now put.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
That the motion (Mr Street’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. ( Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr G. O ‘H. Giles )
Question so resolved in the affirmative with an absolute majority.
-Mr Chairman, I did not intend speaking on this clause until I heard the attitude expressed by Government supporters. I am sure that their attitude is indicative not only of the rather iniquitous provisions in the Bill now before the Committee but also of their contempt for this discussion. Earlier I heard a rather incredible suggestion from the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) who said that he had been made a life member of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia. Obviously the waterside workers have made a very drastic error of judgment. I have never heard of a union in Australia making such an anti-trade union person a life member.
In this amending legislation the Government once again has shown its preoccupation with attempts to muzzle the trade union movement with various legal strategies. In the past those strategies have always failed. As people from employer organisations and people from industry always say, a government cannot legalise its way out of industrial disputes nor can it legalise its way out of labour problems. Mr Chairman, unfortunately it is rather difficult to make oneself heard over the level of noise coming from the rabble on the other side of the chamber.
- Mr Chairman, I raise a point of order. The rabble that he refers to happens to be on that side of the chamber. They have not ceased making noise all night. Mr Chairman, you will ask him to direct his comments to the Bill and through you or we will gag him right out.
– Order! The honourable member for Grayndler will address himself to clause 5 of the Bill. Before the honourable member proceeds, I remind the Committee that apart from the fact that every honourable member has the right to be heard in silence it is very difficult for the Chair to monitor the proceedings above the exceedingly high level of conversation. I again ask honourable members to remain silent.
-The honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier) has demonstrated to the Committee his inability to read the English language. The Committee has before it a Bill to regulate the trade union movement. I was talking about regulating the trade union movement. The honourable member for Bendigo never appreciates what we are dealing with in this place. In fact, last night we saw that he did not have the confidence of his own Party. The Opposition had the numbers and the Chair upheld our position.
This Government will never be able to regulate industrial matters through this clause and this Bill. The name of this amending Bill is the Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill. It is not the ‘put-them-in-gaol’ Bill. It is not the Bill to muzzle the trade unions. It is a conciliation Bill, but the Government forgets about the first words of the measure. All it wants to do is set up confrontations. We have heard the ridiculous outpourings of the honourable member for Denison who said that a trade union was silly enough to make him a life member. I am nearly forced to believe that if a trade union could be so foolish as to make the honourable member a life member the Government’s position might be right. I hope that the waterside workers will do the right thing by him and get rid of him.
If this Government spent some time in trying to make businesses accountable for the way in which they are ripping off the economy or make private enterprise accountable for the way in which it is funnelling money into the Liberal Party, instead of looking for nit-picking ways to make it more expensive to run a trade union in Australia or for union members to get the industrial representation that they deserve, the Government would be doing itself some good. It seems to base most of its arguments on the activities of the Seamen’s Union of Australia. No one would suggest that the indemnity payments requested by the Seamen’s Union may have been in the best interests of its members, or indeed the people that it was trying to protect against the other flag carriers that were trading on the New South Wales and Australian coasts. But to go to the ridiculous length of requiring that organisations which make donations of $100 or more shall register that fact in their journals shall possess a proliferation of such journals, that there will be more and more regulations with which trade union secretaries and honorary officials of small unions must comply, is to make it very difficult to run a trade union in this country. That is something that the Government would like to see happen. If people spend all of their time ensuring that their books are right lest they may be challenged on some tiny point of law they will have less time to get on with the business of trying to get proper industrial gains for their members.
I put it to the Parliament and to the Australian people that they should see these amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act as but another pettifogging attempt by the Government to muzzle the trade union movement, an attempt to say, ‘We cannot talk our way out of the industrial problems or get ourselves out of the strife that we are in so we will pass some draconian laws to make it more difficult for the trade unions to operate. ‘
The Government is not even bringing down these amendments at the behest of the employers. The honourable member for Swan (Mr Martyr) is sitting there laughing like the goose that he is. He wants to talk to us about trade unions. He would not know what a trade union was but doubtless he will tell us, just as the honourable member for Denison has done, that some union was fool enough to take him in.
-I raise a point of order. Is it in order for the honourable member to abuse the honourable member for Swan when he has spent the whole of his speech standing in a slovenly fashion with both hands in his pockets and his tie dishevelled -
– Order! The honourable member cannot raise a point of order when he embarks upon such a description. I am afraid that I did not hear a reflection made on the honourable member for Swan. If one was made I suggest that the honourable member for Grayndler withdraw it.
– It is my pleasure to put up with that sort of thing. That is what I get paid for.
Apparently the honourable member for Swan did not find it offensive. I call the honourable member for Grayndler.
– I will not attack the honourable member for St George because it would be rather difficult -
– I suggest that the honourable member proceed to a discussion of clause 5.
– It would be difficult to do that in the short time that I have left to me. Clause 5 represents an attempt to make it difficult for trade unions to function. The
Government has not even been asked by the employers to make these amendments. Most Australian employers wish that the Government would get itself out of the industrial relations field. Every time that the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Street) or the Industrial Relations Bureau become involved in a dispute it costs employers in some industries millions of dollars. They say, ‘My goodness me, Street and his marauders are back in business again. We are about to go out of business. ‘ I suggest to the Parliament and to the Government that we would be far better off letting the trade union movement and the employers get on with conciliation instead of the Government’s making ridiculous and iniquitous attempts to pile regulations upon regulation. The only people who make anything out of that sort of thing are the pettifogging lawyers who rob workers and employers alike and live off everyone ‘s back. If we are proceeding towards such a situation as that, Australian industrial relations are heading into an even worse era than we have witnessed in the last five years as a result of the interference by this Government in the Australian industrial field.
– My criticism of clause 5 relates to its draftsmanship. I invite the Committee to examine it and tell me what it really means. If honourable members cannot understand what it means, I ask them to put themselves in the position of a trade union official who is required to carry out this particular law. Clause 5 begins; . . Where an organization is divided into branches:
I repeat: . . did not form part of those of the organization;
Paragraph (b) goes on to say: this Part (other than this sub-section) applies to, and in relation to, each of the branches as if the branch were itself an organization.
I have already discussed what this means with a legal authority from the Government side. He said: ‘I do not have a clue.’ We have come to a pretty pass when partliamentary counsel cannot do a better job of drafting a law so as to make it understood by the people to whom it is to apply. It would seem that parliamentary counsel set out deliberately to make the law as hard as possible to understand. It would be utterly impossible for anybody to make this particular sub-clause more difficult to understand than the people who drafted it have done. It is about time that we put the cleaner through some of our parliamentary counsel and draftsmen. They are grinning about it. They have every good reason to grin. They know they have made it impossible for anyone to understand what they have done. They are pleased about it, proud of it, because they know that they have achieved what they set out to do- to make the law impossible to understand.
This Parliament has a duty to the people who sent us here. It has no right to pass laws that no one can understand. Not one person sitting in this Parliament could provide a valid justification for the gobbledeygook that passes for law and legal draftsmanship, as it is enshrined in this clause. I invite the Press tomorrow morning to write an article saying what the clause means. If members of the Press cannot do it, how can the Government expect some trade union official to be able to comply with this law, which no one can interpret and understand? How can we expect people to be bound by the penalties of a law that no one can understand? I can just imagine what will happen in the Federal Court of Australia when someone is prosecuted for a breach of this law. The lawyers will have a Roman holiday trying to explain to each other and to the judges what this stupid law really means. It is not necessary for people who are trained in the law to go to such lengths to make the law impossible to understand, as the draftsmen have done in this case. It is a disgrace that we have such people on the Government payroll, that we have permanency of status in the Public Service and are not in a position to give these people their walking tickets. They do not deserve to be employed if they cannot do better than this. What they ought to understand is that out there in the sticks there are people who have not got law degrees. Especially should this be understood when people who do have law degrees cannot even understand what has been done. I invite anybody on the other side or on this side of the chamber to get up and convince me that that is the best that a properly qualified draftsman ought to be able to do. I think it is a disgrace to the Parliament, a disgrace to the Government and a disgrace to the Public Service that we allow dolts like this to remain on the pay-roll.
– There are a couple of points to which I would like to reply. I will reply first to the remarks of the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Les McMahon) and then to those of the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) in order to clarify exactly what clause 5 means. It is very difficult to follow this Committee debate because most of the speakers have merely made what might be termed mini-second reading speeches. The honourable member for Sydney raised, in my view, two valid points. The first point he raised was how to explain to rank and file members what this Bill is all about. Inherent in that is an acceptance that the requirements of the auditing and financial reporting of this Bill are a significant addition to the present situation. That is quite deliberate.
It is a direct result of the recommendations of Mr Justice Sweeney. I can tell the honourable member for Sydney and the Committee that the National Labour Consultative Council committee which has been working on this subject now for a long while has not finished its work and will now be preparing explanatory material on the Bill relating to its requirements. I remind the honourable member and the Committee that there is a six-month period after the legislation is passed before it comes into effect. During that period, the explanatory material will be prepared and distributed as widely as possible to both employer organisations and employee organisations and their officers. They will get an opportunity to explain what it means to their committees of management and to their members.
The second point that the honourable member raised, if I heard him aright, concerned an official who works for both the Federal organisation and perhaps a branch of that organisation. He asked where that official would fit into this accounting procedure. To clarify the situation, I inform the honourable member that it will depend on who pays that official. If part of his salary is paid by the Federal organisation that will have to be shown in the financial reports of the Federal body. If part or all of his salary is paid by the branch then it will be shown in those respective accounts. So it will depend on where the expenses are paid from.
The honourable member for Hindmarsh raised the question of what exactly clause 5 means. Because it is a technical provision, its language is not immediately clear. I shall read from the official explanation of the clause to clarify the situation for the honourable member and the Committee. It reads:
The amendment proposed by this clause is designed to make it clear that where an organisation is divided into branches the requirements of Part 8aa are to apply equally to branches as to the organisation itself and that in relation to an organisation itself the accounts to be prepared are to be the accounts representing the financial affairs of the financial body excluding the accounts of its branches. In other words, the accounts of the organisation are not to be in the form of consolidated accounts. Each branch is to be required to prepare and publish its accounts separately. The effect of this new section 1 5 8 aaa is that the word ‘organisation ‘ wherever appearing in Part Saa has two meanings in relation to an organisation which is divided into branches, namely, the Federal body, excluding its branches, and each of the branches.
– That has made it even more confusing. I am sure, by the vacant look on the Minister’s face, that it was confusing to him too, although he read from the notes in front of him. I would like him to throw the notes away now and get up and say in simple terms that an ordinary trade unionist could understand what he meant by what he has just read out.
– I am delighted to do that. Where a federal organisation has branches, both the branches and the federal organisation will be required to file accounts separately.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of Bill- by leave- taken as a whole.
-Since I spoke last, we have heard several accusations being made by honourable members opposite, specifically by the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman). When listening to the honourable member for Denison, one is reminded of how many greasy lawyers there are in gaol for giving bad advice. I am astounded that unions still use lawyers to try to tell them how they should behave. As the former Minister for Labour and Immigration, the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) who initiated the Sweeney inquiry, will tell honourable members opposite, that there is no hiding behind the curtains as far as the Labor Party is concerned. We believe that all organisations should be fully accountable to the public about their operations.
It is amazing that the attitude being adopted by the Government and the allegations being made by Government spokesmen about trade unions contain sentiments that they do not express when they talk about organisations which may be a little bit closer to their hearts. When I have moved in the past that the Government should provide laws so that all organisations make available information as to any donations they make to political parties and individuals, the Government has had a different alibi. It has one law for the trade unions- and this is what it is all about- and another law for its mates. It will not say to the Australian Medical Association that the laws which the Government wants inherent in this Bill ought to be made imperative for that Association.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I take a point of order. My point of order is that this Bill amends the Conciliation and Arbitration Act which can refer only to organisations registered under that Act. The honourable member for Port Adelaide is referring to an organisation which has no connection whatever with that Act.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)-I would uphold the point of order except that I believe that the honourable member for Port Adelaide was making a passing reference to an organisation.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, another reason -
- Mr Deputy Chairman, on a point of order -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I will hear what the honourable member for Port Adelaide has to say to the point of order.
– No; point of order, Mr Deputy Chairman.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member for Prospect will resume his seat. The honourable member for Port Adelaide is already addressing himself to the point of order.
– It is a different point of order.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! I cannot listen to two members of the Committee at the same time. I ask the honourable member for Port Adelaide to address himself to the point of order.
-Mr Deputy Chairman, the reason why this Parliament cannot uphold the point of order taken by the Minister is that this Government is so incompetent that no member of the Parliament has a copy of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, nor can he get a copy.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- The honourable member for Port Adelaide knows that he was not making a point of order. I call the honourable member for Prospect on a point of order.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, my point of order is that in fact the Australian Medical Association is registered under this Act. It is registered as an employer organisation under this Act and the Minister is completely wrong when he says that the honourable member for Port Adelaide, in referring to the Australian Medical Association, was not referring to a registered organisation. The AMA is a registered organisation under the Act. I have previously been an official of the Australian Medical Association, and I know that.
– I wish to speak to the point of order. If that is the case, this will no doubt apply to the AMA.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I call the Minister.
– If I am in error in that respect, I apologise. But it invalidates the point that the honourable member for Port Adelaide was making, because it is required to report. I emphasise that my point of order is completely valid in the sense that this legislation will apply equally to organisations of both employers and employees.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The Minister is now addressing the Committee. I accept the explanation of the honourable member for Prospect.
– I reiterate that the Sweeney report was initiated by the Labor Government because it was not happy about the allegations that payments were being made to some maritime unions. I wonder why this Government, after four years of consideration of the Sweeney report, is acting in one specific area and not in all the areas. Let me quote something else that Mr Justice Sweeney said in his report. He said:
The Government sponsor courses of training for officers of organisations responsible for financial matters and more elementary courses in bookkeeping for officers and employees.
There is no mention of any effort by this Government to discourage what it sees as an inadequacy in the way in which the books of trade unions are kept. Another feature of this debate tonight- we have heard only a couple of larrikins from Tasmania speak- is that there is not one specific case -
– I take a point of order. Mr Deputy Chairman, as you have been in Tasmania, I suggest you will appreciate how unfair that comment is. I ask the honourable member to withdraw it.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I take it that the honourable member finds the remark offensive.
– I do indeed.
– I withdraw. Not one illustration has been drawn of the information which any honourable members opposite would want from any of the books of the trade union movement and which they cannot receive. The honourable member for Swan (Mr Martyr) smiles. Why should he not smile? The books of his organisation, the National Civic Council, really are secret. We cannot get the information off Santamaria. The honourable member is laughing because he has conned the Liberal Party into putting him here and we cannot get the books of the National Civic Council. Why would he not laugh? Not one member of the Government has drawn one illustration of a situation in which he would want to know whether the metal workers union, the seamen’s union or the shop assistants union gave a donation to the Labor Party because the members of the Government know, stupid as they may be, that all they have to do is to leave this chamber, to turn left outside the main door and to go to the Parliamentary Library where they will be given the information.
– On a point of order, it occurs to me that actually I gave $200 to the National Civic Council this year. It does not pay me.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! There is no point of order.
– There we are! Blokes who are infiltrating the Liberal Party are making donations to the National Civic Council. My God! Bob Menzies will be back here tomorrow!
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! I do not think that the National Civic Council is covered by the Act. I invite the honourable member for Port Adelaide to return to the Bill.
-Mr Deputy Chairman, it is very important, as you will well understand, to draw comparisons of the values of the Government with regard to separate organisations. In the next few months this Government will raise $5m or $6m to fight an election. It will not ask any organisation that makes a donation to make it apparent in its balance sheet that it is making a donation to the Liberal and National Country parties. It will be laundered through greasy lawyers like the honourable member for Denison. They will put it in–
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I seek a withdrawal. The honourable member knows full well that barristers do not have trust accounts. Even communists know that.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member for Denison finds the description offensive.
– I withdraw. But that is how people do it. They pick out a very simple-minded lawyer. If they find one who is wearing a carnation in his lapel they say: ‘We have got one. Let us launder it through his firm. We can give it to the Liberal Party’. They do not have to worry about names. They can just pick that he is stupid and can say: ‘This is the way we can do it. We can get him to help Doug Anthony and Malcolm Fraser. No one will know about it. It will not be on a balance sheet. We can bring it from overseas’. So long as the legal practitioner is stupid enough to wear a carnation in his lapel, he can be picked a mile off. These people do not get someone from a popular State but from somewhere where not too much attention is paid to him, and then we know -
– On a point of order, I wonder whether the honourable member could refer to the clause he is speaking about?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- The Committee is addressing itself to the remainder of the Bill, which allows a wide ambit of debate.
– To the disgrace of this Parliament, no member of this Parliament can get a copy of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. It is not available. The Government will not make it available because it cannot do sufficient work to make it available to us. That is the truth. The second thing is that not one illustration has been given to this Parliament of why this legislation has to be rushed through. All we have said to the Parliament is that if the Minister goes back to the National Labour Consultative Council he will find a lot of common ground between the parties so that we can bring legislation into this chamber and get a unanimous vote, because we all believe that people should be responsible to the public.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– On behalf of the Government, I would like to reply to a couple of points made by the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young). He mentioned that the Government had said nothing about trade union training for financial reporting and accounting, as recommended by Mr Justice Sweeney. The relevant part of the Sweeney report is paragraph 1 6.7.2, where His Honour said: . . steps should be taken to improve the accounting skills of those responsible for the finances of registered organisations. This is of course-
I emphasise this -
Partly a matter for the organisations themselves, however, I consider that the Government should provide financial incentives for this training and, if necessary, provide courses under the Trade Union Training Act.
I hope that the trade union movement has taken to heart the words of His Honour with respect to its responsibilities. The honourable member for Port Adelaide should know perfectly well that 50 per cent of the Executive Board of the Australian Trade Union Training Authority is composed of members of the union movement and that that Executive Board is responsible for the structuring of the courses provided by the Authority. I understand that a great deal of work has been done by the Authority in providing courses on precisely this subject.
Finally, I remind the Committee that the Trade Union Training Authority was established by one of my predecessors, the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron). I commend him for that. The basic principle of trade union training has always been supported by this Government. As far as I know, the Australian situation is unique in that this statutory authority is funded completely by the Australian taxpayer. I would welcome, as recommended by His Honour Mr Justice Sweeney, a greater recognition by the trade union movement of its responsibility to make a greater contribution to the training of its members not only in financial reporting but also in other aspects of union administration.
– I ask the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Street) to turn his attention now to clause 9, which starts by stating that an organisation shall, on the application of a member, provide certain information. Why did the draftsman use the words ‘the organisation’ when what we are actually talking about, surely, is the proper officer of the organisation? The organisation is its rank and file. The Government is falling into the error that many people fall into when they say My union is going to do this’ or ‘My union is going to do that’, when what they really mean to say is: ‘I am going to do this or that’. The union or, shall we say, the organisation consists of all of its members. So the wording of the clause is quite stupid. It says in effect that a member shall make an application to all the other members for certain information, and then the other members presumably will have to supply the information. That is just bad, sloppy draftsmanship. It means that the people who drafted it just do not understand that a union official- that is what they are talking about- is not the organisation. Union officials very often believe that they are the organisation they purport to represent, but they are not. If we are going to use the term ‘organisation’, the organisation always has to be the members of the organisation- not one of them, not half a dozen, not 10,000, but all of them. Every single man and woman in it represents the organisation.
I can just imagine the field day some Queen’s Counsel is going to have in the Federal Court when an official of an organisation is prosecuted for not supplying a member with the information which clause 9 says the organisation has to supply. He will simply say that the member made the application to him, the secretary of the union, or to him, the president of the union, whereas he should have made the application to all of the members of the organisation, to the organisation or to each of the 1 80,000 members of the Amalgamated Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union, if that happens to be the union concerned. I repeat that this is just plain sloppy draftsmanship, arising really from the fact that the draftsmen do not understand the difference between the terms ‘organisation’ or ‘union’ and a union official.
That is all I have to say by way of criticism. However, I ask the Minister to look at the use of the term ‘organisation’ before the Bill goes into the other place, to study what I have said, and then look at the second point I am going to put. Assuming now that we are talking about the proper officer of the union and not the organisation, I want to know what steps will be taken in relation to a situation in which the proper officer, when required by a member of the organisation to supply him with certain information, supplies the information in a form which, if it is false, can lead to the prosecution of the proper officer. Unless there is provision in the regulations that the proper officer shall supply information by way of statutory declaration, then the proper officer can simply laugh at any member who seeks information about the union. If the member writes to the officer and says that he wants to know what wages the officer is receiving from the organisation, what his out-of-pocket expenses are, how much his travelling allowances are, and how much he received last year for entertainment allowance, if any, the officer can write an ordinary letter and tell the member anything he likes. It need not be true; it can be as false as sin, and nothing can be done about it.
If the Government is going to require, as it now does, that in the normal course of events the proper officer of an organisation is required by statutory declaration to submit to the registrar the accounts of his organisation, then it ought to require that the proper officer shall supply this information by way of statutory declaration. If the information supplied to the member is found to be false, the person then can be dealt with for having submitted a false statutory declaration. If the Government does not do that, it is wasting its time. The proper officers of the organisation may treat their members with utter contempt and there is nothing at all that the Government can do about the matter.
– A couple of points have been raised by the honourable member for
Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron). They are technical ones, and I will do my best to deal with them. The term ‘organisation’ in this clause is used because, as the honourable member would know, an organisation is a corporate entity separate from its members. The obligation must be placed on the corporate entity, which of course can act only through its officers, lt cannot be placed on the members generally. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act imposes all obligations on the organisation.
I come to the question of the supplying of information. The honourable member will know that in the second reading speech I incorporated in Hansard the two lists. One list imposes a statutory obligation on the organisation to supply the information to all its members. It has to be audited, of course. The second list is not- I emphasise this- absolved from auditing. It is available to members or to the Industrial Registrar upon request. As I understood the honourable member for Hindmarsh, he said that if one applies for information of this kind one can get any sort of information which may or may not be correct. I think the honourable member might be under a misapprehension in not realising that the information on the second list is required to be audited, as is the information on the first list which has to be statutorily supplied to members. If that explanation does not satisfy the honourable member, I shall look carefully at Hansard lo see what further information can be supplied to him.
– I have not had the benefit ‘of seeing the regulations that will cover the kinds of records that must be kept or the balance sheet that must be published. I take this example: Salaries may be covered by a single line entry in the balance sheet. It may read: Salaries- $330,000. As a member of the organisation, I may wish to know how this sum of $330,000 was carved up among the various people and who got what. I ought to be able to write to the officer who is the spokesman for the management committee in these terms: ‘I cannot get any information that I am looking for out of this balance sheet. I want to know how much Tom Dougherty is actually getting and what his out of pocket expenses are. I want to know how much Squizzy Taylor- I am sorry; I should have said Squizzy Williams, for the two are interchangeable- is getting out of the till for his salary. I want to know how much Squizzy Williams is getting for out of pocket expenses and also travelling expenses. I want to know whether he charges his union for air fares to go to Melbourne to attend meetings of the advisory council of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs when that Department is paying for him to attend the meeting. I want to check these matters because my money is involved and I have a right to know where my money is going’.
In addition, there might be a single line entry such as Sundries or Miscellaneous Expenses- $123,000- or some fantastically high figure like that. I am entitled to say: ‘I do not want to know how many inkwells or pencils you bought, but there seems to be an inordinately large sum of money under the single line of sundries- $ 1 30,000. Could you please give me a breakdown of the larger amounts constituting these sundries?’ When I get the reply, it ought to be a reply that can be enforced against the person supplying it if the information is false. That is all I ask the Minister to look at.
– I am happy to say that I can put the honourable member’s mind at rest. For the honourable member’s information, if he looks at the Hansard report of my second reading speech, he will find set out the information which the regulations, when they are drafted, will eventually prescribe to be supplied. There are two lists. One is a statutory requirement which has to go to all members listed in the journal of the organisation, or whatever means are used to distribute the information to members. The second list is to be available to members, on request to the organisation or to the Industrial Registrar, and that will include a breakdown of precisely the information that the honourable member is talking about in relation to salaries.
Further, list A- the list which goes to all members- will have a note to the effect that certain other information is available in detail upon request by the member. The information so requested must be supplied in writing within 14 days of receipt of the request. It must be posted to the address nominated by the person making the request. Otherwise the information is to be made available at the office of the organisation or branch where the request was received. So the honourable gentleman’s understandable concern is covered by the legislation and the regulations.
Remainder of Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Street)- by leave- read a third time.
Debate resumed from 22 November, on motion by Mr Howard:
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 Income Tax (Rates) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1979 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.
– Firstly, may I say how absurd it is to bring on for debate a Bill which is as important as this Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill at this hour of the night. It is making a mockery of this Parliament to bring on complex legislation at half past eleven at night. The Government obviously does not give a damn about a thorough understanding or discussion of legislation. Firstly, the Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill (No. 6) changes the basis of taxing the income of trusts and of dependent children. Secondly, it varies provisions of the Income Tax Assessment Act relating to the taxation value of housing provided free or at a subsidised rate to employees by their employers. Thirdly, it contains measures to prevent tax avoidance schemes fom utilising deductions for bad debts. That measure was announced by the Treasurer (Mr Howard) in June last year. Fourthly, the Bill provides tax deductible status for gifts to relief efforts in Kampuchea and East Timor.
The Opposition does not oppose these Bills, but it is strongly critical of the weakness of the measures relating to tax avoidance through income splitting with children. This area of tax avoidance has been proliferating over recent years through the use of trusts which enabled persons with income-producing assets to place those assets in trusts to which their spouses and particularly their dependent children were beneficiaries and so become the recipients of the income from those assets. At their much lower incomes, they would pay considerably less tax than if they were -
– Get on with it.
– I am going to speak for the full half hour, Bourchier, whether you like it or not. As I was saying, at their much lower incomes, they would pay considerably less tax than if they were taxed as part of the income -
– Come on.
-Order! The honourable member for Bendigo will be warned. If he insists on interjecting the whole time I will have to take such actions as I would take in relation to any other honourable member of the House.
– For the third time, as I was saying, on their much lower incomes they would pay considerably less tax than if the income had been taxed as part of the income of the original owner. The Opposition has been calling for government action in this area over the last few years, but the Government was apparently reluctant to take any action for fear of alienating its own supporters. The catalyst which almost certainly stirred the Government into action was the abolition of gift tax which came into effect on 1 July 1 979. This meant that income splitting within the family was likely to become far more prevalent than ever before because it would not be necessary to go to the trouble of setting up a trust and keeping it in operation. Income producing assets could now simply be handed over to dependent children or put in their name without any liability for tax on the gift, thereby enabling the amount of tax paid on the income from those assets to be significantly reduced. So gift duty really threw the door open for tax avoidance, as even the Treasurer has admitted. I remind the House that in an answer given to a question on notice asked by the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi), on 23 October 1979, the Treasurer said:
Abolition of gift duty is not seen as relevant to tax evasion practices which are, of course, illegal. To the extent that abolition resulted in the lifting of a constraint on the transfer of capital assets, it has, to a degree, made tax avoidance that much less complicated and costly. As against that, the Government has moved firmly against tax avoidance, including avoidance through certain kinds of trusts, and will be monitoring other developments in the area of trusts generally.
The Treasurer said that his action in abolishing gift duty had made tax avoidance more easy but the Government would be taking action against tax avoidance by way of trust measures. Of course, what he had in mind was the legislation which we are currently debating. As I will show, that legislation was weakened considerably after he made that reply to the honourable member for Hawker. But I think it is tremendously important to note at this stage that the Treasurer admitted that the abolition of gift duty made tax avoidance easier for people. Therefore, as I said, this was the catalyst which made this kind of legislation necessary because without it there would have been a tremendous loss of revenue.
On 26 July last year the Treasurer announced a series of measures which he said would significantly curtail avenues for avoidance through trusts. These measures were to apply not only to income from trusts but also to cases where income was diverted to children by other means such as through the transfer of income producing assets. Basically, the Treasurer’s announcement was to the effect that all income other than employment income of unmarried persons who at the end of the income year are under 18 years of age or are full-time students up to the age of 25 years would be taxed at the middle rate of income tax which in this financial year is 47.07c in the dollar. To use his words, in order that people with only small amounts of income would not be troubled by the new system there would be an exemption of $416 or $8 a week of nonemployment income.
These measures represented a substantial step forward. They were estimated to raise $125m a year, which gives some indication of the degree to which tax was previously being avoided through the use of trusts. Of course, without some such provision vast amounts would have been lost because of the newly created ease of income splitting through gifts. Nevertheless, these measures were inadequate, in our view, because they still enabled high income earners to avoid tax by splitting income. This was due to the fact that as the tax rate on unearned income of dependent children was set at the middle tax rate of 47.07c in the dollar, persons with a large amount of income above $33,216, which is the beginning of the income bracket to which the top rate of 6 1 .07c in the dollar is applied, still could save 14c in the dollar by splitting their income with their dependent children.
So these measures did not stop tax avoidance by high income earners and the very wealthy. There was still plenty of scope for them. But it did wipe out tax avoidance for those people with little or no property income in the top marginal rate of income range. Nevertheless, these measures created a furore in the Liberal Party. There was reportedly a great deal of lobbying of the Treasurer. It was even reported that at one
Liberal Party meeting- not a meeting of the parliamentary party- he was dubbed a socialist. Eventually the Treasurer buckled under the pressure or he was rolled in Cabinet. Either way it was a big blow to him because he had defended the original proposals very strongly. In his Press statement on 26 July he said:
These proposals are further evidence, if that were needed, of the Government’s determination to ensure as far as possible that people in the community share the income tax burden equitably.
So he places considerable emphasis on the importance of these measures for an equitable tax structure in this country. The next day, when these measures came under attack from his supporters, he defended them even more vigorously and put out another Press statement in which he said:
It is already clear that some will attempt to discredit the Government’s changed tax arrangements on family trusts by emotional references to their effect upon the earnings of children.
The fact is that the arrangements I announced last night will make the tax system fairer. They will take away the tax advantage previously enjoyed by predominantly high income earners who could split their income and thus reduce their tax liability through the use of trusts or other arrangements involving their children.
Later in that Press release he described his measures as fundamentally fair and a necessary reform of our taxation system. Those were the measures on which he has now backed down. They are not the measures which are before the House. That is what he said when he put forward the original proposals- not the measures before the House- in July of last year. I am glad to see that the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) supports the original measures and not the measures before the House. Where are the sentiments of the Treasurer now that he has buckled and brought before this House a very watered down version of the July proposals? These weaker proposals were announced in the House on 14 November 1979. The measure of the Treasurer’s capitulation was that the revenue foregone by the concessions made to his original proposals was $55m, or 44 per cent of the amount of revenue that his original proposals would have raised.
The modifications which he then announced, which are in the legislation now before the House, were as follows: The first was that the new system would not apply to student children between the ages of 18 and 25 years as originally proposed but only to children under 1 8 years of age. It was claimed that this would disadvantage them, if it was left in the original way, by restricting their ability to generate sufficient income to cover their own education. This is a quite ridiculous assertion. The original provision in no way stops students from gaining employment and earning an income. It only restricted their unearned income. Very few students would be expected to have substantial income from investments.
The Treasurer defended the watering down of the proposals by saying that if students go out to work in their vacations, earn some money and invest it, they should not have that taxed at the penal rate. But of course the amendment to exempt income- a subsequent amendment that he made- from a child’s savings would, if it had been applied to students, have been sufficient to overcome the anomaly in the case of a student who worked in the vacation and wanted to live off the interest of his savings from that employment while he was studying. In other words, it was utterly unnecessary to cover the position that the Treasurer proposed as being important to coyer by not making this legislation applicable to student children. It was utterly unnecessary because it was already covered by the later amendment that the Treasurer introduced in regard to a child’s savings.
What the Treasurer has done- he knows this- is to leave a significant avenue of tax avoidance available for people who can now split incomes with student children up to the age of 25 years in the old way and thereby avoid paying tax. That is what he has done. It was utterly unnecessary to cover the situation which he said he was concerned to cover. The second modification was that the level of non-employment income exempted from the new system was raised from $416 to $1,040 per annum, or from $8 a week to $20 a week. When it is considered that because of shading-in arrangements the full rate of $47.07 does not apply until an income of $3,625 per annum is reached, this still leaves considerable scope to minimise taxes by distributing income to minors. For instance, non-employment income of $1,500 would be taxed at only 20c in the dollar. The Treasurer says that this is excluding income from modest investments, but how many minors would have investments amounting to more than $13,000? The $1,040 is 8 per cent of $13,000. Certainly, how many of them would have $13,000 that is not part of a tax avoidance arrangement?
In July of last year when the original statement was made by the Treasurer, he defended the $416 limit- and I commend him for that- by saying that this represented 8 per cent on an investment of $5,200. That is not a bad amount for any child to have. I would agree that that is probably a substantial amount for a child to have and to invest. Now, the Treasurer will allow them to have $13,000 before they become liable to these provisions. Of course, that has opened up again a vast area of tax avoidance, or has refused to close off a vast area of tax avoidance. The measure of the importance of this change is that the Treasurer has admitted that it will cost $30m in lost revenue. That is a massive backdown and one which quite clearly, on the basis of the Treasurer’s own comments in his Press statement of 27 July last year, when he strongly defended the figure of $416, shows that he did not believe that statement because the amount was extended to $13,000. One can assume only that he has been rolled somewhere along the line in the decision-making processes of the Government. Therefore, the Treasurer has $30m less revenue and that much more tax avoidance is occurring in our society.
The third change is that the income derived from the property left to a child by a deceased estate will be exempt, as well as other incomes coming from a person’s death such as life insurance or superannuation payments. The Opposition has no quibble with those provisions in the main, except where property is left to a surviving parent who then finds it necessary to settle part of it on the children. That provision raises some doubts. For instance, will a surviving spouse be able to use that provision to avoid tax? It is quite possible that that will be the case. I would like an assurance from the Treasurer that that will not happen. I doubt whether he can give it.
The fourth modification was that income from a child’s business or savings out of their own efforts are to be exempted. Again, one must query to what extent a child will have an income from his own business. The Treasurer says that safeguards will ensure that a child’s business income is not artifically inflated by money diverted to it by parents. Tax avoidance through this means may be very difficult to prevent. The Opposition has no quibble about the part about income coming from a child’s savings where those savings come from his own efforts, but it believes that the child’s business to which reference is made provides some form of tax avoidance in the future. The fifth amendment involves income from compensation moneys, public appeals for needy persons or court ordered settlements. The Opposition has no quibble with that. Some of these provisions are not objectionable, but certainly the most costly ones are. They represent a decision by the Government in the face of pressure from its supporters to allow a substantial amount of tax avoidance through income splitting to continue.
The Opposition takes strong exception to the so-called relieving provisions. These provisions give the Commissioner of Taxation discretion to reduce by a rebate any extra tax payable under this system if, under arrangements entered into before the initial announcement was made- that is, before 26 July last year- more tax is now payable than would have been the case had the arrangements not been entered into. It was thought that without such a provision people who had already entered trust arrangements would be unduly penalised. These provisions will not be available unless the tax payable on unearned income under the new system is greater than the tax that would have been payable on that income had it been added to the income of whichever of the child ‘s parents had the higher income.
The important point is that the Treasurer is essentially saying that people who have been dodging tax for years through trusts but who as a result of these amendments might have to pay more tax than they would pay without a trust arrangement should be saved the trouble of getting out of that tax dodging device. Why on earth should we have a provision like that? Why should we enable people who have been dodging tax for years through a trust to be saved the trouble of now getting out of that trust? Why not make them go through the process of unwinding their affairs to meet the lower tax obligation which would otherwise be there, if that is what they want to do? Of course, one would assume that they would want to meet this obligation. Why should we be concerned to save tax dodgers the trouble of unwinding their tax avoidance arrangements? I regard this as an absurd provision and one which in no way should be in this legislation. I am amazed that the Treasurer has capitulated so far.
The effect of the Government’s measures is that trusts still will be quite profitable for persons with large amounts of property income, as I mentioned previously. In this regard I would like to incorporate in Hansard a table which shows the maximum tax savings under various trust arrangements as they would have been in the past and, in the particular example which I will give, as they would have been with the tax arrangements announced after 26 July, and as they will be after the legislation which is now before us is passed by the Parliament.
The table read as follows-
MAXIMUM TAX SAVINGS UNDER VARIOUS TRUST ARRANGEMENTS
An income of S 100,000 split between husband, wife, one student child aged 22 and two young children under 1 6.
1979-80 tax rates.
-I thank the House. The table shows three examples of a taxpayer with a high income of $100,000 a year split between a husband, a wife, one student child aged 22 and two young children under the age of 16. The table assumes that this year’s tax rates apply. The first example shows the tax which would be paid if they were to arrange their affairs through a trust to pay the minimum amount of tax and it also shows what the situation was before the 26 July announcement. In this situation it would pay the family to channel as much income as possible to the three children- the student child and the two other children who are younger- up to $16,600 so that all of that income for the three of them was taxed at 33c in the dollar and for the husband and wife to split the rest equally so that they did not get into the top rate of 6 lc in the dollar. Under that arrangement the tax saving for them is $20,279 as against what it would have been had the income been taxed solely in the hands of the husband.
The second example shows what the arrangement would have been after the Treasurer’s original proposals. In this case it would have paid the family to ensure that the husband and wife did not get taxed at the top marginal rate. All of the income for the three children would have been taxed at 47c in the dollar. In this case their tax saving drops to $ 12,96 1 as against what it would have been had it all been taxed in the hands of the husband.
Thirdly, we have the situation with the legislation as it will be after this Bill is passed through the Parliament. In this case it pays the family to give the maximum amount of income to the student because he will pay tax at only 33c in the dollar. An amount of $16,600 goes to him so that he can be taxed at that low rate. The other two children pay tax at 47c in the dollar so obviously a minimal amount goes to them. The husband and wife ensure that they do not get up into the top bracket of 61c in the dollar. In that case the tax saving is $16,573. The situation with the legislation as it will now be, as against what it would have been, is that there is an increase in the tax saving for this taxpayer of some $3,800.
– It is still a reduction.
-Yes, indeed, it is still a reduction on what it was before.
– It is a major reduction.
– It is still a reduction on what it was before but it is nowhere near as substantial a reduction as it should have been. It is about half the reduction that it should have been. The Treasurer has a smirk on his face as if he has achieved a great victory. At the outset of this debate I said that this is a step forward and that it will close off some tax avoidance. The point is, as this example shows, that it will not close off anything like the degree of tax avoidance that it should have closed off. I reiterate that we support these changes as far as they go. They should have gone much further. The appropriate solution would have been that recommended by the Asprey Committee, that is that the income of children under trusts be taxed by notionally adding it to the parents’ income. Income from property not obtained from the child’s own earnings should also be so included if gift tax is not applicable, which is the case at present.
So much for the trust measures. I wish to say a few words about the taxation of subsidised housing. In the Treasurer’s statement of 12 July 1978 he announced that the Government had commenced a review of section 26E of the Income Tax Assessment Act relating to the taxation of the value to an employee of housing provided by an employer. He said that the review would be completed as soon as possible. He said that because of the review the Commissioner of Taxation had decided not to pursue certain initiatives in the matter pending the outcome of the review. This decision arose out of the disruption caused by widespread strikes, mainly in Queensland, over the tax increases caused by the enforcement of this section. The strikes closed all Queensland’s coal mines at one stage and the strikers were joined in open protest by teachers, rural and construction workers and even policemen. A Taxation Office circular reported by the Australian Financial Review on 10 July 1978 directed employers to show a minimum of $988 on group certificates of employees provided with subsidised housing. This would have meant a rise in tax of about $7 a week for most workers in the area. Nothing was heard of the outcome of the review until 7 February 1979 when the Australian Financial Review revealed that Cabinet was to consider a submission calling for locational exemptions from the tax. In this time a number of complaints had been received that the Taxation Office was continuing to assess some taxpayers but not others for the value of subsidised housing. Finally, on 13 June 1979, the Treasurer announced that the review had been completed. This Bill gives effect to his announcement of the outcome of the review.
The Government is now amending the Act to make it clear that the Commissioner of Taxation is to take into account all relevant matters in assessing employees on the value of any housing provided for them. In particular he is to take note of remoteness, lack of choice, onerous conditions, quality of accommodation and whether it is customary to provide low rent housing in the industry. This seems to the Opposition to be a reasonable provision. We believe that the criteria included in the amendment for consideration by the Commissioner are appropriate and should result in an equitable solution to the problem. Although the criteria are very broad and there is no indication in the Bill of the difference they will make to the tax liability of people previously affected, it seems fairly clear from the Treasurer’s second reading speech that he expects the amendment to result in substantially reduced assessments. The only real criticism we have of the amendment is that it took so long to produce. As I have already explained, there has been an inordinate delay in dealing with the problem since it arose in mid- 1978, one and three-quarter years ago. The review which the Treasurer promised in July 1978 would be completed as soon as possible did not eventuate until a year later. Now, three-quarters of a year after that, the amendment is actually before the House. I hope that the Treasurer never tells us that he intends to take his time over something.
Consideration of 26E of the Income Tax Assessment Act inevitably raises in our minds the general issue of its enforcement to cut down on tax free perks and fringe benefits available to many high income earners. The purpose of section 26E is to subject various non-monetary allowances and benefits to tax in order to achieve equitable treatment between employees who receive all their income as wages and salaries and those who receive only part of their income in this form and the remainder in other types of benefit. This section has, however, been allowed to fall into substantial disuse. Although the Commissioner has recently implemented a selective crack down in areas such as expense accounts and cars it seems that many benefits are still untouched. This has led top executives and salary earners increasingly to insist that their remuneration be based on salary packages in which tax free perks are becoming more and more important. This is their way of jumping on the tax avoidance bandwagon. They are unable to enjoy the delights of the more blatant tax avoidance schemes run by people with property and business income so they are insisting on having a higher part of their salaries paid as tax free fringe benefits.
Fringe benefits work in two ways. A typical executive may be paid $30,000 a year and receive another $10,000 worth of fringe benefits. This means that he costs the company he works for $40,000. Tax on $30,000 amounts to $10,500. So the employee ends up with the equivalent of $29,500, whereas had he received $40,000 in straight salary he would have paid tax of $16,150 and ended up with only $23,850. So he has been saved an amount of $5,650. Alternatively, it would have cost the company roughly $55,000 to give him an after tax salary equivalent to what he is receiving with his fringe benefits. So this form of tax avoidance benefits both the company and the executive. It is now not uncommon for top salary earners to receive as much as one-third of their salary in these perks or special incentives.
It seems that Australia is well ahead in these stakes compared with top salary earners in other countries. One study in the United Kingdom last year by business school graduates claimed that Australians were earning between $5,000 and $10,000 a year in fringe benefits compared with between $2,000 and $5,000 for similar personnel in Europe and the United States. Salary packages take many forms. A couple of years ago the National Times listed 28 ways to work the fringe system. All of them are still available, I would note in passing. A recently published guide to tax avoidance claims to offer ‘several dozen fringe benefits which can help reduce an executive’s tax’. Two years ago the National Times cited a typical case of a general manager of a mediumsized company with a salary of about $30,000 a year, part of which was paid as a non-taxable expense account of $1,500. In addition, he would expect to be supplied with a fully-maintained prestige car and membership of a couple of city clubs and to have his private home telephone bill paid, generous company contributions to a superannuation scheme and the company taking out life insurance and disability or salary continuation policies for him. These benefits add up to around $6,000.
A multitude of other non-taxable rewards is available. A company may buy a small farm or vineyard and then hand it over to its executives for their recreational purposes. Company organised health and fitness schemes are used for tax avoidance. Executives can have the use of company facilities ranging from sporting facilities to yachts, aeroplanes, holiday houses, secretarial services, legal and accounting staff and company tradesmen for house extensions. Staff stock options are another form of tax avoidance. Company provided health insurance, tax free bonuses not declared by the company, subscriptions to magazines and journals, use of company credit accounts and interest free loans for houses, yachts, swimming pools and so on are other forms of avoidance. Overseas trips are yet another form. The Pan Am executive in charge of executive travel business in Australia estimated in the Bulletin in 1 978 that the value of tax free overseas junkets for Australia amounted to $90m.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Thursday, 27 March 1980
-The words of the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis), representing as they do the Opposition’s views on this legislation, have a curiously hollow ring to them. His main attack is not against the measures themselves but that in the opinion of the Opposition the measures do not go far enough. The hollow ring exists in the fact that the Australian Labor Party, in its three years in government, did absolutely nothing either to reform the taxation system in this country or to crack down on what it regards as the tax avoidance industry. It did absolutely nothing in the three years it was in office. What is more, the Australian Labor Party fought elections both in 1975 and in 1977 when it might have proposed to the people of Australia policies in terms of cracking down on tax avoidance. It proposed nothing in those elections. To that extent, there is an absolutely hollow ring to what has been said tonight by the honourable member for Gellibrand.
The honourable member spoke about the trust provisions of this legislation being watered down and about there being some sort of capitulation. He did not address himself to the comment made by the Treasurer (Mr Howard), in his second reading speech that after a careful examination by individuals and organisations of his first announcement the Government decided on a number of modifications to eliminate potential anomalies and unintended consequences.
What the honourable member does not concede is that in fact in the law there are very legitimate family and commercial reasons for the use of trusts, which ought to be supported and not attacked. Indeed, the honourable member, using some of the examples he apparently found in a table which I have not seen, talked about what tax would be payable on income left in the hands of the husband only or the sole breadwinner. He seemed to make some sort of sinister and unstated attack on partnerships. I would like to hear him explore that matter further at some time in the future, if he would. If his intention is to deny even the use of partnerships, that would be a very sinister approach indeed.
My main concern this evening is to refer to the proposed amendment to section 26e of the Income Tax Assessment Act. In so doing, I refer the House to a speech I made here on 15 March 1978, soon after I entered this place. The speech concerned the effect of section 26E in isolated places, in places where there were accommodation difficulties. I said then:
It seems to me that where the valuers -
That is, the valuers or assessors employed by the Taxation Office- are going wrong is that under present guidelines they are not entitled to take into account certain factors that ought to be taken into account.
After that, I referred to a number of areas -
– It was a speech on the adjournment.
-It was, indeed.
– I was present.
– It was very impressive.
– And I replied to it.
– Yes. Now the Treasurer has fixed it up, at long last. I thank him for that. I referred to the various factors which ought to be taken into account in determining true rental value for taxation purposes. I said then that adequate attention was not given to some of the disabilities and problems which existed, particularly in the more remote areas of this country. I am pleased to see that the honourable member for Gellibrand now agrees that the amendments which are before us and which are rather in line with that speech of mine of two years ago, are sensible amendments.
Very briefly, what the amendment to section 26e seeks to do is specifically to require the Commissioner of Taxation to take into account all relevant matters when determining for income tax assessment purposes the value to an employee of any taxable benefit that an employee receives by way of free or subsidised accommodation. The amendment specifies certain items. It requires the Commissioner to take into account remoteness of location, lack of choice of accommodation, any onerous terms of occupancy, any excess in the standard or size of the accommodation and, when it is customary in a particular industry for employers to provide housing for employees, that factor is to be taken into account.
The amendment contains a couple of very significant measures, measures for which I congratulate the Government. The first is that the proposed amendment dates back to the 1977-78 income tax year and does not commence just at the current year. That is very welcome because the problems I referred to in 1 978 related to the 1977-78 financial year. It is also welcome, therefore, that, in addition to the legislation being retrospective to the benefit received by the taxpayer from the 1977-78 financial year, the Commissioner of Taxation will have the power to amend any issued assessments in respect of that income year.
The other substantial amendment, that in relation to trusts, to which the two Bills which are before us tonight refer, is in line with and ought to be seen in the light of the Government’s continuing income tax reforms, particularly in the area of tax avoidance and cracking down on tax avoidance. The continuing tax reforms of the Government have been of great benefit to the general taxpaying community. On the one hand, there have been significant reforms in terms of the amount of tax being paid by individual taxpayers in the community under the scales of taxation. On the other hand, the Government has made a continuing and substantial effort to crack down on various income tax loopholes to ensure that the income tax burden falls as equitably as possible on the taxpaying community.
Let me very briefly refer to some of these reforms; reforms of this Government; reforms that the previous Government saw fit not to bother about. In the area of personal taxation the two important measures which have meant so much to individual taxpayers in this country are, firstly, a simplification of the scales of taxation applicable and, secondly, the application of indexation to some extent. Both of these have meant that an individual taxpayer in this country today is paying far less tax than he would have been paying if the scales in operation at the end of 1975 still applied- scales which Labor did nothing about; scales which Labor used for income tax rip-off -
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I draw attention to the state of the House. This man is telling lies.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order! I ask the honourable member for Capricornia to withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw. He is telling untruths.
-I ask the honourable member for Capricornia to withdraw the remark.
– It has to be unqualified.
-Order! I think I am quite capable of handling the House myself. I ask the honourable member to withdraw the remark unqualifiedly.
– Unqualifiedly I withdraw. (Quorum formed).
– I am gratified that at least the honourable member for Capricornia who drew attention to the state of the House has a conscience. He was indeed hurt at being reminded of Labor’s inaction in both the reform of the income tax laws and the cracking down on unfair tax avoidance.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I resent the imputation. It is incorrect. That was not my motivation and I ask that that imputation be withdrawn.
-That is not a point of order.
– Of course as the Hansard record will show that was precisely the reason for calling attention to the state of the House. It was a fit of mean-minded pique. Moving on from the area in which there has been benefit to the individual taxpaying community in Australia, I briefly refer to the other reforms of this Government including the abolition of Commonwealth gift and estate duties which, contrary to what the Labor Party often says, benefit even people of quite modest means when one bears in mind the levels at which these sorts of duties used to be payable. There have been tax concessions for the disabled. There have been investment allowance reforms and changes in the retention allowance for private companies. These reforms have all been of great benefit to the taxpaying community, a productive part of this community. The reduction in the rate of sales tax on motor vehicles has been a significant measure. The introduction of a depreciation allowance by the Government on certain income producing buildings used for the accommodation of travellers is a further welcome advance to the tourist industry. The more rapid write-off of mining expenditure is another of these welcome changes as indeed are the changes to the averaging provisions concerning the income of primary producers. Modifications to the income equalisation deposits scheme is another move by this Government to reform the taxation laws of this country.
Against those measures of relief and reform have to be seen the continuing action by the Treasurer on tax avoidance. The Treasurer in a proper, considered and reasonable manner has restored equity to the taxation system and eliminated unnecessary and wrongful tax avoidance measures. Nevertheless he understands that there are legitimate family and commercial reasons for partnerships and other relationships between people.
I sum up by making two very brief points. The first is that this package of legislation on the one hand provides, as the honourable member for Gellibrand has conceded, a sensible reform in the area of the taxation of the rental value of subsidised housing in remote or difficult areas. Secondly these measures in relation to trust taxation changes are consistent in the broad with the continuing measures by this Government to ensure that there is not unnecessary or wrongful tax avoidance and to ensure that income tax is spread as equitably as possible across the taxpaying community. I therefore commend these Bills to the House.
– I am one of three or four Opposition members seeking to speak in this debate.
Motion ( by Mr Bourchier) put:
That the question be now put.
The House divided.
The bells being rung-
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)The honourable member for Denison will resume his seat. He is quite aware that that is not a point of order.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– by leave- I move:
– If, in fact, the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) first received notice of these amendments in the manner that he described and they were not communicated to him by my staff or by the Government, I apologise to him for that. That should not have occurred and I will see that it does not occur again.
-I would like to add something to what has been said by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) on this issue. I am frankly amazed, even taking into account the explanation that has been given by the Treasurer (Mr Howard)- and I treat it in all good faith- at the Government’s actions in this regard. I want to let this Committee know and to place on the record that the Opposition does not intend to stand by and be jack-booted into submission, not necessarily by the Treasurer but by- and I am not afraid to name them- the Government Whip, the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier) and the Leader of the House (Mr Viner). The Treasurer could well give to the Leader of the House and the Government Whip a lesson in how to handle the House. It is pertinent to point out that even at this Committee stage there has been dissension between the members of the National Country Party and the members of the Liberal Party, the alleged coalition if honourable members like to call it that. How beautifully they get on with one another. Let it be known for the record that the honourable member on my immediate left, the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite), from the Country Party -
– I raise a point of order. I draw your attention, Mr Chairman, to the fact that the honourable member for Banks should be speaking to the relevant clause.
– The honourable member for Banks will address his remarks to the question before the Committee, namely, that the amendments be agreed to. The honourable member may proceed.
– In view of the fatuous interjection by the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu), who I know is not related to the Baillieus of Melbourne, I hope he is not related to the establishment, because it ill becomes a person of his ilk- if I may call it that- to make such a fatuous remark. I come back to the Bill. It amazes me that the honourable member on my left, Mr Braithwaite- I know I should not call him by his name but refer to him as the honourable member for Dawson- was so concerned tonight that he walked out of the chamber and would not vote when the Bill was gagged by the Government Whip. That is an indication of the dissension taking place between the Country Party and the Liberal Party. I am sorry to have to mention it at this stage but I feel I must.
- Mr Chairman, I draw your attention to Standing Order 33 with regard to the seating occupied by members and I ask that you refer to the Speaker the fact that there has been gross intimidation tonight by the pro-communist left of the right wing members of the Labor Party and that the Speaker order that the pro-communist left members sit on the far left of the Opposition side of the chamber, and what is left of the Labor Party can sit on the right side.
– Order! The honourable member for St George will resume his seat.
– I raise a point of order. The interjection by the honourable member for St George as you, Mr Chairman, well know was facetious. It was meant to disrupt this House. It was nothing short of a load of rubbish. If that is to continue, the honourable member has to be disciplined properly and not allowed to get away with those sorts of facetious remarks.
– I raise a matter of privilege and I ask that progress be reported so that I can raise it.
- Mr Chairman -
-Order! The honourable member for Banks will resume his seat.
- Mr Chairman, I am craving your protection. I am being threatened by the Government Whip.
– If the honourable member for St George apologises to the Committee for his statement, I will not proceed with my matter of privilege; otherwise I will.
– If the honourable member for Banks withdraws his claim of intimidation by the Government Whip I will withdraw my claim. He made such an accusation and he should withdraw. If he does, I will withdraw my statement, and I do withdraw my statement.
– Order! The honourable member for Corio has put the simple proposition that if the honourable member for St George withdraws the remarks he will not proceed with his matter of privilege.
-I withdraw without qualification. I challenge the honourable member for Banks to do the same.
– The honourable member for Corio has withdrawn. The Treasurer does not wish to proceed.
Motion- by leave- withdrawn.
- Mr Chairman, I would ask for your protection and guidance. When I sat down it was only in deference to you, Mr Chairman. I had not finished the remarks that I was making in the Committee stage. I am certain that if the Treasurer knew that he would not have moved the motion that he did.
– The honourable member for Banks has the call and he may continue with his remarks.
– I was so upset by what happened tonight that I could not contain myself. Now that we are getting down to proper cases on this issue, I refer the Committee to the statement made by the Treasurer tonight when he introduced these amendments. He said that the Government would welcome comments on technical aspects of the new arrangements for taxing income of trusts and minors before seeking passage of the legislation in these sittings. He said:
I have not received any comments in response to that invitation.
What the Treasurer, who is a sincere man, read tonight with regard to the amendments- he delivered the equivalent of a third reading speech- and what the honourable member for Gellibrand complained about seems to be somewhat at variance with what the Treasurer said when he spoke off-the-cuff, because he said that the Government had received representations.
– That was before -
– The opportunity will be given to the Treasurer to speak on this issue. There seems to be some variance between what he said in his speech about the amendments and what he said in the latter pan of his remarks when he was speaking primarily to the honourable member for Gellibrand, who is the Opposition’s spokesman on this Bill. I am just an ordinary back bench member of this chamber and I do not claim any special knowledge, although I worked in the Australian Taxation Office for 34 years. That has been of some benefit to me; I must admit that. I claim to have more knowledge about the matter than the Government Whip. After all, I think he was the manager of a timber mill. I claim to have some knowledge of the subject.
– You could use his head as a block.
– The honourable member for Lalor has said that I could use his head as a block, but I am trying to speak to the Bill at the Committee stage. The Treasurer mentioned this matter. He was speaking particularly about the trust provisions of the Bill. I would like some additional information from the Treasurer. It is common knowledge that the trust provisions of the Bill are still not conclusive enough to warrant passing the Bill without any comments from us or without our even objecting to it. I say that for the simple reason that it is a known fact that there are still loopholes in this Bill. I would like the Treasurer to deny that fact because I have certain contacts- I will not tell the Committee who they are- and there is a ‘but’ to it.
There are amendments in this Bill which are good; I will grant that. There are amendments in this Bill which are bad, and that is another issue. It is up to us to try to obtain information at the Committee stage. After all, the purpose of the Committee stage is to try to obtain information, and that is all I am seeking to do. I am seeking information from the Treasurer so that we as members of the Opposition are fully informed in respect of this Bill, because it is an important Bill. Its passage will mean that money can or cannot be taken from taxpayers. If we do not take the correct amount we will be robbing ourselves, the ordinary people of Australia, about whom the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) apparently does not concern himself but we do. In that regard I would say that the Treasurer will give the answers. I know that he can give the answers if he wants to.
-I want to deal particularly with clauses 12, 14 and 16 of the Bill relating to income of minors from trust estates. It might surprise the Opposition that someone wants to speak to the terms of the Bill for a change instead of talking rubbish. I want to draw the attention of the Committee to some points which were made by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) and which are simply unsustainable. His speech at the second reading stage was largely a direct rerun of his speech of 14 November 1979 which is recorded at pages 2980 to 2982 of Hansard. It would have been better for him to incorporate that speech rather than to restate it. He repeated the same quotations, the same extracts and the same nonsense in respect to one particular section of the Bill- that section which refers to a discretion in the Commissioner of Taxation in relation to income where a trust has been created and the income under that trust situation would result in people paying a higher rate of tax than would have applied had the trust not existed. As I understand it, that amendment stemmed largely from representations made by the taxation sub-committee of the Treasury committee which perceived -
– Who is on it?
– I will tell you who was on it. The member from Macarthur is the secretary.
– He is a very persistent and dilligent secretary.
– I thank the Treasurer (Mr Howard) for his remarks. I thank him also for acknowledging the assistance given by our subcommittee, an acknowledgment made in his statement last November.
The point is that many people have been concerned about the possibility of situations arising in which there would be an unfair tax level because of the existence of a trust. In other words, because of the trust people would be paying the higher tax rate of 47.5 per cent. The honourable member for Gellibrand regards this as appalling. He said that it is a simply amazing provision. I am reading from the first version of his speech of 14 November 1979 which I think he repeated word for word tonight. In that speech he said:
That is a simply amazing provision, lt means that people who entered trusts to avoid tax, and who did so effectively for years, are to be saved the expense of dismantling those trusts . . .
I make two points about that. Firstly, many people enter into trusts for reasons other than those of tax avoidance or tax evasion. Many trusts are aimed at protecting the children of parents in cases in which both parents are incapable of looking after them, or where there is created for all sorts of reasons of benefit to the child a trust which does not have any purpose of tax avoidance or tax evasion. But, more significantly, the honourable member for Gellibrand finds it abhorrent that people should be able to take the lower of those tax rates if they are being unfairly treated. Let me point out to the House that the only people who would benefit- I hope that the honourable member for Gellibrand is listening to this- are the people on a tax rate lower than 47.5 per cent, which would be people on the 32c basic tax rate. That means the people earning approximately $300 a week. They are the so-called rich people whom the honourable member for Gellibrand wants to belt over the ear by his objection.
It is an appalling situation that a scheme could disadvantage such people. That the members of the taxation sub-committee quite properly objected to such treatment when they saw the first draft of the Treasurer’s statement is regarded by the honourable member for Gellibrand as appalling. If the honourable member for Gellibrand had his way the only people who would suffer would be the people on incomes of under $300 a week. Let that be a warning to the people who think that a Labor Government would not belt the modest income earner, particularly the family man. Let us face it: An income of $300 a week is not a rich man’s income. These days it is the income of the ordinary family man in Australia. The family people earning $300 a week are the very people that this Labor Government wants to belt by attacking them in the way that the honourable member for Gellibrand did. I find this to be appalling. I think the very same people should look to the situation and should be aware of what would happen under a Labor Government. They should see that the only way for the honourable member for Gellibrand to cope with this sort of problem is to add the income from the trust to the income of the parents and to tax them at the maximun marginal rate. If that is a statement of what the Labor Party is all about, then people earning $300 or less had better beware if there is ever another Labor government in this place. I am also concerned about the basic objection of the honourable member for Gellibrand to the removal of gift duty and probate. That is really what he is all about.
– I never mentioned probate.
– The honourable member for Gellibrand says that he did not mention probate. The gift duty provisions are clearly parallel with the probate situation. They move in tandem. The reality is that under the old probate and gift duty system, the Government collected only about $90m under probate and $7m under gift duty. This was because, if one was rich enough, one could go into schemes to avoid both those imposts; but if one was not rich enough, one would get caught. Once again, what the Labor Party is seeking to do is to catch the bloke who is not rich enough, who is not a big man and cannot afford to pay for the schemes to avoid that kind of impost.
I suggest that what the Government has done is quite right and proper. Despite what the honourable member for Gellibrand says I believe it is correct to have dropped that revenue of $97m and to have replaced the bulk of it with the current introduction of revenue collection of about $70m under the systems introduced by the Treasurer.
I suggest that once again tonight we have seen a situation, and I want the Committee to be certain of the reality of it, whereby in that section of the speech of the honourable member for Gellibrand which dealt with the simply amazing provision that the Commissioner should have discretion, the only people to suffer, as with the bulk of the Labor Party’s taxation efforts, would be the middle income groups, the people with families, the people who have the greatest pressure to carry. In the main, they are the very people whom I submit our Government is looking after. The recent tax changes, for example, have been to the benefit of the family man. The one-income family will receive the full benefit of the $4.70 a week tax cut to be introduced on 1 July. I support the Treasurer’s amendments, and I commend the Bill to the Committee.
– The amendments introduced tonight by the Treasurer (Mr Howard) appear to have merit. As the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) indicated, there has been insufficient time for honourable members to gather a thorough understanding of the import of the amendments. Nevertheless, although I have had the opportunity to glance through them, I feel that I can hardly be critical of them. In discussing this Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill (No. 6) in the Committee stage, I want to express my disappointment that there has not been a redraft of section 260 of the principal Act. The Opposition actually questions the bona fides of the Government on the tax avoidance scheme. We support what the Government has done and what is proposed in the amendments that have just been moved, that is, to the extent to which they have any bearing on tax avoidance matters. But we still contend that this is not the best way to go about preventing tax avoidance and that there should be a more effective blanket approach.
Nearly two years ago the Opposition called on the Government to amend section 260 of the Act. We called for the provision of a framework to allow the Commissioner of Taxation to proceed against schemes as they evolve which obviously are designed to reduce artificially the tax liability of the company or individuals concerned. In October 1978, my colleague, the honourable member for Sydney, Mr Les McMahon, who takes a very keen interest in these matters -
– He is an expert.
-I do not think that he would actually claim that himself. He is certainly a well-informed layman on such matters. He had taken the trouble to take good advice. He put a proposal to the Minister and the Commissioner of Taxation which I can summarise best by referring to a question which the honourable member for Sydney asked of the Treasurer on 1 8 October 1978. He said: . . will the Treasurer consider introducing an amendment to provide that when the Commissioner of Taxation or the court is of the opinion that the transactions, dealings or financial affairs of a taxpayer are artificial or contrived, the tax liability of the taxpayer concerned may be determined according to the commercial realities?
That was a proposal as to how one would deal with the loopholes which are at present being exploited. The Treasurer indicated that the Government was considering a re-write of section 260. My colleague clearly promised the framework for that redraft of section 260. Notwithstanding the difficulties involved, surely enough time has now passed for the Government to bring in this redraft. I have risen tonight to express my concern about the long delay. As I have said, the Treasurer has admitted that an effective section 260 could do a great deal to inhibit tax avoidance schemes. We are talking here about matters of infinitesimal consequence tonight while, on the other hand, the matters which are involved in section 260 could represent thousands of millions of dollars of tax evasion.
On 24 November 1978, the Treasurer said: 1 am convinced that this is the right way to take action against what, in most instances, are blatantly contrived and artificial arrangements.
I commend him for that observation. As I understand it, he was speaking in support of a more simplified approach to this particular matter. The delay is costing taxpayers thousands of dollars in lost revenue. In part, that has prompted the Government to increase taxes in other areas and to introduce new taxes such as the petrol tax, which I understand is going to involve massive revenue this financial year. I think that the income from oil and petrol products this year will amount to $3, 380m. I cannot see any reason why the Treasurer may not appropriately use the discussion on the provisions now before the Committee to indicate whether the Government is still intending to tighten up the loopholes in the manner to which I have referred and on which the Treasurer has previously commented in a favourable way. I conclude by reminding honourable members of the attitude of the Australian Financial Review of 22 June 1978, which is summed up in these few lines:
Up to now the Government appears more content with a patchwork job on tax avoidance than to meet head on a judicial challenge to the taxation laws set by Parliament.
I believe that that statement puts in a nutshell, in a very clear and concise way, the alternative approach to this ruthless exploitation of our tax system which is costing the working taxpayer, the ordinary taxpayer, the less affluent citizen of this country, very dearly indeed.
-I wish to take this opportunity, late though it is, to address a few remarks to the Committee. I must apologise for doing so, but when a member of the Committee feels very strongly about the issue, I think it is appropriate that he express his views, however late it is. Firstly, let me say to the Treasurer (Mr Howard) through you, Mr Chairman, how much members of the Government members tax committee appreciate the way in which he discusses matters of the sort that we are dealing with tonight and the way in which he responds to genuinely expressed views of concern in a way which is constructive, helpful and fair to the taxpaying public.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Chairman. It is now one o’clock in the morning. The Standing Orders of the House state that if the House sits after one o’clock the Government has to provide supper. I am not particularly hungry but I am campaigning against the creeping-back of this madness. I want your ruling at to whether the House is supposed to follow that process and suspend the sitting for supper.
– Order! There is no point of order. The matter raised is not the responsibility of the Chair.
– I have said on previous occasions, in debates of a more wide-ranging nature, that our income tax system is both outmoded and inequitable. While it remains outmoded and inequitable and levies its burden in a different way on families with light incomes there will be massive public resentment of the system. In fact, in my view, while it remains inequitable and unfair in the way in which it levies its burden it is the duty of families to make every effort they can to minimise the amount of tax that they pay so that families who now pay a higher burden of tax than others who are in receipt of the same household income, are put on an equal footing. I am aware that the trust system was used as a means of real tax avoidance by some but others established trusts for a range of proper and legitimate reasons.
My concern about this legislation is that it is not limited in its scope to trusts. It introduces the concept of a differential tax burden on earned income as compared with unearned income. I remember speaking in the Parliament about the unfairness of trying to distinguish between different types of income in levying a tax burden upon the recipient of a certain type of income. I know that trusts have been treated differently in the past but this legislation is not limited to trusts. It introduces the concept of a tax on unearned income. It is hard therefore to read in Press statements criticisms of members of the Committeedisregarding the side on which they sit- and creating the concept of an ogre about those who would contemplate the idea of introducing or reviving a tax on unearned income. This legislation does just that. I think it is a bad legislation from that point of view. I think the ill, the evasion, which this legislation seeks to overcome, could have been overcome in other ways. (Quorum formed). I expressing my concern at the introduction into this legislation of the concept of a differential tax burden on unearned income.
I also express my concern at the way in which the Taxation Office and the Government have devised this legislation and excluded from the higher level of taxation certain categories of income. I forecast that within 12 months or 24 months the Treasurer will be back in this Chamber seeking amendments to clarify those exclusions. One of the difficulties that I see in this legislation is that in its description of earned income not only is there a difficulty in definition but also there is a very real difference in the way in which it will impose that burden. There are many taxpayers, small businessmen and farmers throughout the country who are able to employ their children to earn a level of income up to the tax free zone. No clear criteria are laid down in the legislation to make sure that the income is earned in a way which justifies that payment.
So a device will exist whereby some people who are in a position of being able to transfer income by employing their children, deducting this income as wages paid in the course of their businesses, will continue effectively to income split. If some people can do it, every family should be entitled to do the same thing. Therefore, I am concerned at that aspect of this legislation. I will be interested to hear in time the way in which the Taxation Commissioner treats those children who have an income. I will be keen to learn whether he seeks a justification of the extent of the work that children do to justify their earnings.
The second point I make along these lines is to express concern that people on the highest income, those paying 60c in the dollar, will still be able to make massive tax cuts for themselves by splitting their investment income across to their children. If some people can do that and benefit from it why should not all people be able to do it? In my view it would have been better to have approached this matter from a more general view and to recognise that there is a different level of capacity to pay on the part of children. The way to tackle this matter would be to lower the tax threshold for children to set the tax brackets at different levels so that all families would have a progressive scale relating to the income of their children. As the legislation is presented, it still leaves those taxpayers who can split their income across their children through paying them wages, those on very high incomes, to take advantage of the tax system. While they can do it other taxpayers in the community will continue to feel resentment and, in my view, will be quite justified in looking into whatever way they can to split their incomes amongst their children. I am sure that within the categories listed they will find suitable avenues to do so.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
- Mr Chairman, I raise a point of order. Can anybody other than a Minister move ‘That the House do now adjourn’ or can only a Minister move that motion?
– The honourable member can check that point in the Standing Orders.
-I wish to comment on a couple of the comments made by the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) who, in his normally rather bumptious manner, attacked me in various ways. Firstly he accused me of making a re-run of my speech of 14 November last. In fact, my speech tonight was quite different in many respects. As he realised, the topic was exactly the same in regard to the trust provisions as was the case on 14 November when the Treasurer (Mr Howard) first announced his backdown from his provisions announced in July of last year. Of course, we can see from the comments made by the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) where the pressure for that backdown came. It came very much from the Taxation Sub-Committee of the Government back bench. Members of the SubCommittee, along with the honourable member for Sturt, congratulated the Treasurer on being so co-operative. What the honourable member means is that the Treasurer made many amendments in watering down the original legislation so much.
What I really want to take up now are the comments made by the honourable member for Macarthur that in my speech at the second reading stage, by attacking the relieving provisions, I had been opposing something which would be of benefit to low income earners. What a lot of absolutely ridiculous nonsense. It shows just how little the honourable member for Macarthur knows about this issue. In reality, how many wage and salary earners and low income earners have family trusts? I bet that a very small proportion of the family trusts which exist in this country are shutters for low income people. It is absolutely absurd to make that point. The reason that there are so many family trusts and the reason they have proliferated so much the past few years is that they are very handy means for people to avoid paying tax. Of course, the way in which they avoid paying tax is that the income flows to people who are only going to be taxed at the rate of 33c in the dollar. That is the way in which they operate. It is absurd for the honourable member for Macarthur to say that people who are only paying 33c in the dollar in taxation are low income earners. The only way in which income splitting works is for high income earners to split their incomes through trusts amongst various members of their family to make sure that they pay the lowest amount of tax possible. It is utterly absurd for the honourable member to suggest anything other than that.
The honourable member for Macarthur suggested that I called for the restoration of gift duties. I said absolutely nothing about the restoration of gift duties. At no stage did I mention the need to restore them. What I did say was that the abolition of gift duties by the Government had opened the door to tax evasion and tax avoidance and that the Government then had to take these kinds of measures to try to offset what would otherwise have been a very substantial loss of tax revenue. The measures which have been introduced are not going to be as effective in preventing that avoidance as they should have been.
– I came back into the chamber for a very good reason. I wanted to continue my comments on clause 3. Before I talk in connection with family trusts and the alterations to them, I refer to the fact that the previous honourable member who spoke, on behalf of the Government, the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson), paid credit to the Taxation Sub-committee of the Government back bench. I think we ought to say to the Treasurer (Mr Howard) that we do appreciate the fact that he is prepared to listen, amend laws or alter them in such a way that will benefit the taxpayers in the community. To the Opposition could I say that whilst the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Dean) was speaking originally, and commenting about the fact that the Australian Labor Party had done very little in the way of tax avoidance, I can only reiterate his comments by pointing to two particular examples. Not only did the Labor Party do nothing about tax avoidance, it also withdrew from action against the Curran schemes altogether and from action against the motor car allowance taxation provisions which would have been introduced in 1 974. It withdrew completely from those areas. In fact, far from being tough as far as tax avoidance was concerned, one might say that the Labor Party has encouraged it by these two actions.
I turn to deal with clause 3 which is concerned with subsidised rental taxation. I am sorry that it has taken from 1977 until this time- nearly three years- for the legislation actually to come before the Parliament. People have been deprived under this section, particularly the amendments that are now coming in, in the form of section 26AAAA. The guidelines are now set for the Commissioner of Taxation to reassess some of the rentals downward for those people who have been penalised in the sugar industry and other industries. In 1 978 we had a differential between the new initiatives and old initiatives. The mining industry, which was under threat of fairly heavy rentals at that time, was given the advantage of a new initiative and it has paid no tax on it since. However, others in the industry, regarded as old initiatives, paid the tax in that time and they are continuing to pay it.
I hope that the Taxation Office recognises the intention of this legislation and of the Government, and that in re-assessing these people back to 1977 it will take into account the spirit of this legislation. The spirit is that the rentals at this moment are far too high in comparison with the conditions of work, and they should be reduced. Not only those people to whom reference has been made, but also policemen, firemen and ambulance men are still being assessed on a weekly pay-as-you-earn basis on the higher rentals. I hope that once the legislation is clear it goes straight to the Taxation Office and receives immediate attention, certainly not the attention it has had since November 1977. I thank the Leader of the House (Mr Viner) for bringing on this legislation earlier than was expected so that this benefit can be given through the Taxation Office to those people.
-I do not quarrel with the remarks of the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite). In many ways he has expressed the views that I would express, particularly about section 26e, as it is generally known. That section refers to the value attributable to such things as housing for employees. I do not quarrel one iota with what the honourable member for Dawson has said. His remarks have been well taken. I commend him for the manner in which he has made those remarks. I am somewhat concerned at the tone of the speech made by the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson). I am also somewhat concerned at the tenor of the speech made by the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Dean). I know that in the Committee stage I cannot answer those comments to any great degree, unless I receive a great degree of tolerance from you, Mr Chairman. I would not ask for that tolerance.
– I bow to the communists.
- Mr Chairman, I ask for a withdrawal.
– Order! The honourable member has withdrawn.
- Mr Chairman, he has withdrawn from the chamber but I ask for a withdrawal of his comment. I ask that the SerjeantatArms be instructed to bring him back, and that he be made to withdraw.
- Mr Chairman, I wish to raise a point of order. I draw your attention to the fact that it is Thursday. Could you explain why proceedings are not being broadcast?
– I will give consideration to the honourable member’s question.
– I am attempting to answer the remarks of the honourable member for Sturt with the same degree of sincerity as the honourable member had in making them. I think that any member of this Parliament who has the courage to get up and speak against his own party, as the honourable member for Sturt did, is deserving of some form of commendation. In reality, that is what he has done. He has spoken against his own party, and for that I must commend him. However, I do quarrel with his reasoning and logic. I realise that he is a Rhodes scholar. I am not attempting to be sarcastic about that but I quarrel with his logic. It seems to me entirely illogical for any member of this Parliament, including the honourable member for Sturt, to put a point of view that seems to attempt to establish that there should be brought into this place legislation which, to quote his exact words, introduces the concept of a differential tax burden on unearned income. What is the difference between unearned income and earned income? That is the point that was made by the honourable member.
– That is what I was asking.
– I grant the honourable member that point. The problem that arises from the legislation is the concept that seems to be creeping into this Parliament from the Government side that there has to be a differential rate between those who have and those who have not. I make no apology for the fact that my party is looking after the interests of those people who have not the opportunity to go to skilled taxation advisers, skilled lawyers and skilled experts in the taxation field. If I had more time I could quote from some of the advertisements which appear in today’s Australian Financial Review encouraging people on ways to get out of their tax burden. Is that right? Is that honest?
All that we are looking for is some honesty in the taxation system. That is where I quarrel with the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) on this issue. I do not doubt his sincerity one whit but I quarrel with his logic. There is some truth in what he has said and I agree with him to some extent. I quarrel with him on the one issue and I agree with him on another. He said in so many words- this is what he meant when he said it: ‘If some can split income and get away with it, why not let everybody get away with it?’ That is not a very logical attitude to me but it may be logical to the honourable member for Sturt. He said, and this is almost quoting his own words: ‘Why not let everyone get away with it and not just penalise trusts?’ Let there be no doubt about the fact that that was what he said.
Why should there not be some tougher legislation on partnership? That is what he meant. I agree with him 100 per cent. That is one of the faults of the legislation that was brought into this
Parliament. I do not apologise for the Labor Government in the period 1972 to 1975. The Labor Government was not bringing in this legislation but it was in office for three years. It was hammered by the Opposition. Every device was used to try to prevent the Labor Government bringing down legislation. We had examples night after night of what we are giving now to the present Government. I lay down the law here and now to let honourable members know that the Labor Party and the Opposition will not stand by and be jackbooted by the Government. The threat is there. If the Government wants to play with it, that is all right. The Labor Party will not be jackbooted by the Government.
Getting back to the logic again of the honourable member for Sturt, I would commend to the Treasurer the system which used to be in operation in regard to partnerships. There are sections in the Act dealing with partnerships which have not yet been deleted. These sections are still in the Act enabling an interpretation to disallow a partnership which is not a bona fide partnership. Unfortunately we are in the situation where we have had certain High Court decisions on these issues which may or may not be genuine. I doubt the genuineness of some of those decisions when we look at the personnel on the High Court bench. Let us be honest about the issue. Let us look at it squarely in the face. This Government claims- there is some truth in it- that it has brought in a tremendous amount of legislation. I commend the Treasurer to the extent that he has brought in that legislation. He has been the medium of bringing in legislation to tie up some of the loopholes which have existed but there are still many more.
I suggest that the Treasurer take advice from the skilled advisers in the Taxation Office who would be only too willing to bring to his notice some of the loopholes which still exist. I am quite sincere on this matter. In my maiden speech in 1970 I said that I had few ambitions in the Parliament. One of them was to use all my efforts to bring some equity into the income tax system. I have battled to do this and have achieved some results. I do not expect a cross or a bouquet but if I can leave the Parliament and say that at least I have achieved something towards tax equity I think that I can hold my head up high.
– I will respond briefly to the Committee consideration of the Bill. The honourable member for Banks (Mr Martin) thought that there was a contradiction between my saying in my speech introducing the amendments that I had received no representation of a technical kind on the provisions of the Bill and my later remarks that the statement of 14 November was made in response to a large number of representations. There is, of course, no conflict in those statements. The legislation now before the Committee was, in fact, foreshadowed on 14 November.
The honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson), not unnaturally, raised the question of section 260 of the Income Tax Assessment Act. I know that it is a long time since I first indicated to the House that the Government would look at a re-write of that section. It is a very complicated matter. A draft was completed last year. I have obtained the opinions of counsel in both Melbourne and Sydney on that draft. As a consequence, I have obtained some further views from the Commissioner of Taxation. They are presently receiving consideration by me. I assure the House that the Government is serious about introducing a feasible and workable section 260. I think that members on both sides of the House who share an interest in this subject would like to see a general anti-avoidance section but it has to be one that is effective and does not interfere with normal commercial transactions. Trying to achieve that is not altogether easy. Those members on both sides of the chamber who know the system well will understand that.
The only other comment I make concerns the relieving provisions of the Bill before the Committee. I make the point that was made by the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume). A person has to have an income which attracts tax at less than 47c in the dollar in order to get the benefit of the relieving provisions. Therefore, by definition that person could hardly be in the wealthy section of taxpayers which was the subject of the intervention of the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis). I thank the House.
Amendments agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report- by leave- adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Howard)- by leaveread a third time.
Consideration resumed from 22 November, on motion by Mr Howard:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Howard) read a third time.
Sitting Hours of the Parliament
Motion (by Mr Howard) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-I know that it is late at night. That is one of the reasons why I want to speak in the adjournment debate. About six months ago I raised in this House the question of the sitting hours of the Parliament. During that time and over the past six or eight months I have spoken to many members of this Parliament from both sides of the Parliament and I have spoken to attendants, to members of the staff and to members of the Press and I have yet, with one exception, to find anyone who does not agree that we are absolutely insane for sitting the hours that we do.
– Get your blokes to co-operate.
– I am not talking about what happened tonight. These sorts of things happen no matter who is in government because legislation has to go through. I am talking about the regular sitting hours of this Parliament. There seems to be no reason whatsoever why we cannot start one hour earlier- at 1.15 p.m., 1 o’clock or somewhere around that time- and sit through until 7.30 p.m., move the adjournment motion at 7.30 and conclude any adjournment debate by 8 o’clock. We are all members of a generation which does not usually have its dinner until 7 p.m. or 7.30 p.m. anyhow.
Why are we sitting here until 1 1 o ‘clock every night? Nobody wants to sit here until that time. What are the reasons? Do we get a better Press coverage? We do not. The members of the general public do not listen to a debate after 8 o’clock; they are usually watching television. An honourable member who speaks between 6 p.m. and 7.30 p.m. will get a much better coverage as that is ‘drive time’ and many people listen to the debates on their way home from work. We would have a better chance of getting a Press coverage of a speech which is made between 6 p.m. and 7.30 p.m. than we would of one made between 8 p.m. and 1 1 p.m. One has no chance of getting a Press coverage at that time unless one is the Prime Minister and is going to declare war. That is about the only way one will get a coverage at that time.
I intend to pursue this matter. I am tired of everybody saying to me: ‘Why do we not do it’. We all agree but nothing happens. I do not know what are the forms for proceeding with this sort of thing, but I ask honourable members to consider this matter as a sensible Parliament. Everybody in the place agrees that the hours of sitting should be changed. We can still have committee meetings. Each of us might have a committee to attend once a week or fortnight.
– Move a motion and have a vote now.
-I will do that next week. We could still have that committee meeting even if the hours were changed. I think that this matter would have to be decided by the Standing Orders Committee. I have discussed this matter with the Speaker and he agrees with me. As I have said before, all of the members of the staff of Parliament House want to work those hours, all of the members of the Press want to do so, all the attendants want to do so and we want to do so. For God’s sake, let us get on with it. I will write to every member of this Parliament and see what the procedures are for getting this idea introduced.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 1.34 a.m. (Thursday)
The following notices were given:
Mr Hunt to present a Bill for an Act relating to the provision of certain equipment for a domestic airline.
Mr Howard to present a Bill for an Act to amend the States (Personal Income Tax Sharing) Act 1976.
The following papers were deemed to have been presented on 26 March 1980, pursuant to statute:
Defence Act- Determinations- 1 980-
No. 8- Clearance Diving Allowance.
No. 10-Extra Risk Allowance (Reserves).
No. 1 1- Parachutist Allowance.
No. 12- Special Air Service Allowance.
Mr Speaker; The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows;
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 22 November 1979:
– The answer to the honourable mem ber ‘s question is as follows:
Federal Government funded stations which have commenced operation since December 1975.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 19 February 1980:
What sum did the Commonwealth provide to Victoria for-
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
These figures include earthworks, signalling and station improvements which are not separable from amounts for new rail construction. Lines concerned are South Kensington-Footscray, Sunshine-Deer Park West, CaufieldMordialloc, Ringwood Corridor, Macleod-Greensborough. (ii) ni.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 1 9 February 1 980:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Public Health Advisory Committee
Environmental Health Committee
Air Quality (Reference) Sub-committee and Working Party.
On these committees are medical and scientific experts from various organisations including universities and State and Commonwealth Government health and environmental authorities.
The conclusions and recommendations of Council will be published in the report of the 88th Session of Council.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 19 February 1980:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 19 February 1980:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
My Department does not have information on the prescribing of oral contraceptives other than for prescriptions
supplied under the provisions of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The following tables show the number of prescriptions recorded during the past five years for the ten most frequently prescribed oral contraceptives supplied as National Health Scheme pharmaceutical benefits and do not include any prescribing details for private, Repatriation or public hospital dispensing. Cost figures shown make no allowance for the deduction of patient contribution, where applicable.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 20 February 1980:
-The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
and (S) According to the organisation’s annual report for the period November 1978 to November 1979, the Service has received a grant of $30,000 from Australian Catholic Relief and a similar amount from a West German Protestant organisation.
asked the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, upon notice, on 20 February 1980:
What sums were paid under the (1) Special Youth Employment Training Program (SYETP), (2) Commonwealth Rebate for Apprentice Full-time Training Scheme (CRAFT) and (3) other youth support schemes introduced by the Commonwealth Government in the Electoral Divisions of (a) Hughes, (b) Cook, (c) Barton and (d) Cunningham during (i) 1978, (ii) 1979, and (iii) the period I January 1980 to date.
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Sums paid under the Community Youth Support Scheme (CYSS) are as follows:
asked the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 20 February 1980:
How many applicants for appointment or transfer as trade apprentices with Australia Post were successful in 1 979.
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Thirteen applicants were appointed as trade apprentices with Australia Post in 1 979. There were no transfers to the position of trade apprentice in that year.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 20 February 1980:
-The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1980:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Due to the abovementioned shortfalls of suitably rated staff, during the periods as stated, a total of 100 shifts had to be filled. Specifically, 52 of these were worked by air traffic controllers in excess of normal rostered shifts, 6 were covered by stretches of shifts within agreed industrial parameters, and 42 were covered by staff deployment (i.e. check control staff on duty were switched to an operating position and fill-in shifts were activated).
The requirement to work 52 extra shifts during the December 1979/January 1980 period was spread over at least twenty-five suitably rated air traffic controllers. The overtime roster’ of an average of one extra shift per controller per month was accepted by field staff as a preferred alternative to curtailment of the recreation leave roster over the Christmas Holiday period.
During the currency of the overtime rosters referred to in para. 1 the incidence of sick and special leave throughout the ATC complement at Melbourne Airport resulted in 42 extra duty shifts in December and 59 extra duty shifts in January 1980.
In summary, the additional shifts required to be worked by air traffic controllers at Melbourne in excess of normal rostered shifts during December 1979 and January 1980 were 52 due to shortfalls of suitably rated staff and 101 due to unforeseen absences, totalling 153 in all.
However, it was not until the June 1979 intake of 10 trainees became productive in the flight data preparation area that the training programs for ratings at the successively higher ATC levels could be fully implemented.
Because of this necessarily prolonged sequential training program, there were still shortages of suitably rated air traffic control staff during December 1979 and January 1980. These shortfalls have now been eliminated.
Public Transport: ‘People Mover’ Concept (Question No. 5485)
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1980:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 26 February 1980:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 26 February 1 980:
Will the Minister consider extending to other next of kin, who bear sole financial responsibility for the funeral expenses, the benefit currently available to widows and widowers of deceased pensioners who receive 6 fortnightly pension payments following the pensioner’s death.
-The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
The purpose of the special allowance paid for up to six fortnights to widows and widowers of deceased pensioners is to enable them to adjust to the change in their income brought about by the death of their spouse. It is not specifically intended to help pay funeral expenses.
Funeral benefits are available to assist people liable for the funeral costs of an age or invalid pensioner by providing a benefit of up to $20. A higher benefit of up to $40 is payable to an age, invalid or widow pensioner or supporting parent beneficiary liable for the funeral costs of a spouse, a child or another such ‘pensioner’. For these benefits ‘pensioner’ means a person who is, or was, eligible for a pensioner health benefits card.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 27 February 1980:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The prime responsibility of my Department under the Air Navigation Act and Regulations is to ensure the safety of air navigation. The conditions specified for the use of aircraft in the aerial spraying of agricultural chemicals relate to the safe operation of the aircraft and the protection of persons or property from operational hazards arising from the normal and emergency manoeuvre of such aircraft.
My Department does not have expertise in the matter of the safe application of agricultural chemicals and has no powers to regulate their use either from the air or through use of ground rigs. Such powers are the responsibility of the appropriate State authorities. A note to this effect is contained in the current aviation legislation drawing the attention of the aerial applicator to the need to comply with the appropriate State legislation on the use and application of agricultural chemicals.
asked the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, upon notice, on 27 February 1980:
What percentage of persons employed under the Special Youth Employment Training Program have been retrenched at the completion of the subsidised period.
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The two most recent surveys on the Special Youth Employment Training Program were conducted by my Department in March 1979 and November/December 1979.
The March 1979 survey covered SYETP placements during the March quarter 1977, the March quarter 1978 and the month of April 1978 and included employers in both the private and public sectors. This survey found that 6.4 per cent of the employers terminated trainees’ employment at the end of the then six months subsidy period.
The survey in November/December 1979 covered trainees placed in the private sector during the month of April 1 979. Employer responses showed that 2.7 per cent terminated the trainees’ employment at the end of the present subsidy period of 1 7 weeks.
Radiation Levels at Nabarlek and Ranger (Question No. 5547)
asked the Minister for Science and the Environment, upon notice, on 28 February 1980:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The relevant authorisations for work to proceed issued by the Northern Territory authorities require the companies to report on monitoring results ‘in such form and in such manner as directed from time to time . . .’. The Supervising Authorities have laid down their detailed reporting requirements and I understand these are being complied with by the mining companies.
The Supervising Scientist may also require information from the companies. The companies are sending copies of their monitoring reports to the Supervising Scientist (see also (2) above).
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 28 February 1980:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The air safety incident statistical system maintained by my Department does not provide for the extraction of data in the precise terms requested. I trust, however, that the following information meets the intent of the honourable member’s question. In all cases the information given for 1979 and 1980 is provisional, in that a number of these reported incidents are still under investigation and have not been fully evaluated as to the circumstances and nature of the occurrence.
1 ) Number of reported incidents involving a go-around from a landing approach
at Sydney Kingsford-Smith Airport
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 28 February 1 980:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The air safety incident statistical system maintained by my Department does not provide for the extraction of data in the precise terms requested. I trust, however, that the following information meets the intent of the honourable member’s question. In all cases the information given for 1979 and 1980 is provisional in that a number of these reported incidents are still under investigation and have not been fully evaluated as to the circumstances and nature of the occurrence.
1 ) Number of reported incidents involving a go-around from a landing approach at major airports other than Sydney Kingsford-Smith:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 4 March 1980:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follow:
Consideration has been given to the effects of this reduction on Port Pirie. However these effects are considered to be outweighed by the very substantial benefits which will accrue to the State and the nation from the connection of Adelaide to the standard gauge network. I am assured that, from the inception of the project, the reduction of staff will be carefully planned. In line with ANR Commission policy, there will be consultation with the unions and employees concerned, and all employees affected will be offered alternative employment.
Conference on Unemployment (Question No. 5580)
asked the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, upon notice, on 5 March 1980:
Has his attention been drawn to reports of calls by the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the national newspapers for a national summit conference on unemployment, involving politicians, employers, union leaders and bureaucrats; if so, what is the Government’s response.
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Yes. I refer the honourable member to an answer to a question without notice given by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Carrick, in Senate Hansard of 23 November 1979, p. 3017.
asked the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, upon notice, on 5 March 1980:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 5 March 1980:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The arrangements gazetted on 22 January 1980 are in force for the 1980 calendar year and were made following public invitation of tenders with all operators who submitted formal offers. The final selection in each instance is made on the basis of the most economical suitable aircraft available at the location where the service is needed. For these reasons the sum concerned in each case cannot be predetermined. It is anticipated, however, that approximately $15,000 will be spent in total during the 12-month period and this was the amount notified in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette.
The companies which have entered into arrangements with the Department at various locations throughout Queensland are listed below:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 5 March 1 980:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 5 March 1 980:
How many major medical rehabilitation units operate in:
a ) New South Wales and
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 6 March 1980:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Each complaint received has been investigated and, excepting for two, the reported damage could not be attributed to exposure to the X-ray equipment in use in Australia. For the two exceptions to which I have referred, it is unlikely that the X-ray was the cause but, as the radiation level of the equipment had shifted slightly beyond its maximum tolerance, there was sufficient doubt for Qantas to accept liability and make suitable compensation. Safeguards against this recurring have since been made.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 6 March 1 980:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Essendon (Metropolitan Fire Brigade) one Hose Carriage Unit carrying 900 litres of water and 100 litres of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF)
East Keilor (Metropolitan Fire Brigade) one Hose Carriage carrying 900 litres of water and 100 litres of AFFF one Mobile Tanker carrying 5,400 litres of water and 72 litres of AFFF
Neither Station carries Asbestos Suits. (This type of suit became obsolete more than 20 years ago). Firefighters in the Metropolitan Fire Brigade wear normal protective firefighting uniform, except for hazardous conditions when special protective clothing can be called for from Metropolitan Fire Brigade Headquarters, Melbourne.
Standard type of building firefighting equipment and break-in tools are carried on Hose Carriages and Tankers.
One Large Fire Tender Mk 3 carrying 3,600 litres of water plus 435 litres of AFFF having a rate of throughput through the monitor of 1,800 litres per minute for two minutes
In addition, the tender carries 90 kg of Dry Chemical Range of emergency equipment as carried on all Airport Fire Tenders i.e. Hose-branches- Rescue Tool KitHydraulic Rescue Tool Kit- Axes- Crow Bars etc.
Manning of the Tender is one Airport Fire Officer and one Firefighter on a 24 hour basis.
Overpass of Freeway from Airport to Mathews Avenue.
Main ingress for Essendon and East Keilor Metropolitan Fire Brigades are from Freeway and Alexander Avenue on the south side of the Airport adjacent to the Department of Transport Workshop area.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 16 October 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The United States administration decided on 28 April 1970 to launch these operations. They began on 1 May 1970. The United States Ambassador informed the Australian Government of the United States’ decision on 30 April 1 970.
asked the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, upon notice, on 24 October 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Over the period in question there have also been changes in sponsorship and nomination procedures.
As a result statistics on a comparative basis over the period from 1974 to 1 979 are not available.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 22 November 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member ‘s question is as follows:
The information sought does not appear pertinent to the Foreign Affairs portfolio. If, however, the Honourable Member cares to refer to a specific project, I would be pleased to seek to provide the appropriate response.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 March 1980, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1980/19800326_reps_31_hor117/>.