26th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– 1 direct a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Has the Government forgotten the television interview with former French Premier Bidault which was banned by the Australian Broadcasting Commission on Government instructions and which was shown later, only after a public outcry? Has the Government forgotten that the ABC referred to this impropriety in its report under the Broadcasting and Television Act? In view of that and other incidents, how can it bc said that the ABC has not been subjected to political interference?
– 1 have not at my linger tips the details of the film to which the honourable senator refers. I was under the impression that the Minister for Customs and Excise knew something about this matter.
– lt was a long time ago.
– Apparently my colleague cannot help me with the details. Therefore, I think the question had better go on notice and I shall get a detailed answer for the honourable senator as soon as possible.
– 1 direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. Could the Minister indicate the area of land already sold by the war service land settlement authorities in the form of abandoned farms on King Island? What is the area still likely to be disposed of by sale? If the area of abandoned farms to be disposed of is considerable, has every consideration been given to the practicability of increasing the size of existing settlement farms?
– The area that has been disposed of is something in excess of 3,000 acres. I understand it is expected that there will be a further area of approximately 5,000 acres for sale. As to the last part of the honourable senator’s question, the possibility of the land being developed for the original purpose is always taken into consideration, along wilh other factors before a decision is made to dispose of the land.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Repatriation. Does the Repatriation Department offer any repatriation benefits to migrants from European countries who served with the British or allied forces in World War II? If so, what is the extent of these benefits, and to whom should such ex-servicemen apply?
– World War II ex-servicemen from the United Kingdom look to the United Kingdom for any entitlements that may be due to them and we act as agents for the United Kingdom. We do not provide repatriation benefits for the other people mentioned in the honourable senator’s question.
– Has the Minister representing the Prime Minister noted reports of statements made within the last week by the Roman Catholic bishops of Australia and by the Anglican Primate of Australia on the subject of the war in Vietnam and the need to take positive steps to achieve an end to the fighting there? Will the Minister assure the Senate that the views of these eminent churchmen, reflecting a body of responsible opinion in Australia, are receiving the close attention of the Government and are not regarded with suspicion, disfavour or worse?
– The Government has made it perfectly clear through the Prime Minister and the Minister for External Affairs that we in Australia as well as people in other parts of the world desire to end the conflict in Vietnam as soon as possible. Naturally, every point of view that is put on the subject is given consideration by the Government. I can assure the honourable senator that the Government is fully aware of the facts to which he referred and the statements by the eminent gentlemen he mentioned. All such views are taken closely into account in the judgment of the Government. 1 repeat that we in Australia, as well as many people in other countries, have openly expressed our desire to end the conflict in Vietnam as soon as it can possibly be ended on just and proper terms.
– I ask the Minister for Housing: How many war service homes were destroyed by the Tasmanian bush fires on 7th February of this year? Have plans for rebuilding those homes been finalised? What financial arrangements will be made for rebuilding them? Will the loss of the homes by fire be an additional cost to the Commonwealth Government over and above the sum of $ 14.5m it has already made available to the Tasmanian Government in respect of the fire disaster?
– Following the disastrous fires on 7th February the Deputy Director of War Service Homes in Hobart had his officers visit the affected areas to study the losses and damage that had occurred. Every effort was made to contact the owners of homes destroyed or damaged by fire. Twenty-nine homes were totally destroyed; ninety homes were partially destroyed or damaged, all of which were insured under the war service homes special insurance scheme. My Department estimates that the total claims for fire damage will exceed $200,000. Already an amount of $56,165 has been paid out. Of course the most pressing need has been the replacement of homes completely destroyed in the disaster. The Department is doing everything it can to deal with this problem. It has transferred architects and technical officers from other branches to Tasmania to ensure that the task of replacement and restoration is completed as quickly as possible.
So far eleven families have decided to rebuild their homes through the war services homes scheme. Plans have been prepared and tenders called in some cases, and plans are in an advanced state for the remainder. Seven families have decided to rebuild or to purchase homes in another locality and approval has been given by me in the very special circumstances for second war service homes loans to be made available. Two of the families concerned have already completed purchases of other homes in this way. Three families are as yet undecided on their future plans and another eight families have elected to accept the insurance and discharge their liability to the Director of War Service Homes. I feel that the War Service Homes Division tackled the problem as quickly as it could after the fires and honourable senators may feel as I do that everything possible has been done to assist the people affected.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. In view of the fact that private insurance companies now will not cover property damaged by fire caused by atomic energy, will the Government further consider instituting an insurance fund similar to the war damage insurance fund which operated during the war?
– I am not aware that private insurance companies will not cover property in the circumstances mentioned. Therefore I suggest that the honourable senator place the question on the notice paper and I will see what information I can obtain for him.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Does he consider that sufficient public attention has been directed to the establishment by the United States Government of a procurement office in Melbourne? As there is a great potential for an increase in trade between America and Australia, not only in the immediate future but also in the long term, does the Minister consider that it would be wise to notify all chambers of manufactures and chambers of commerce in Australia of the United States Government’s intention?
– The Department of Supply has given attention to this matter and has been in touch with the many industries represented on the panel which advises the Government on the calling of tenders. Every industry from which we would be likely to seek supplies is represented. I am confident that these industries, as well as the chambers of manufactures and chambers of commerce, have been advised of the United States Government’s proposal. 1 cannot believe that this would not be so. However, I shall institute action in my Department immediately to ensure that no industry which may be concerned has been overlooked.
– My question to the Leader of the Government relates closely to that asked earlier by Senator Murphy in relation to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Has the Minister or the Government forgotten that the late Senator Sir William Spooner, a senior Minister, insisted on being given time on ABC television to answer statements made during a panel discussion on housing in which he had refused to participate? In view of that fact, how can the Government say that the ABC has not been subjected to political interference?
– The honourable senator still has a hangover from the incident recently referred to by the Prime Minister in another place about which comment was made by the ABC. That incident was one in which only one side was given an opportunity to state its view on a subject. The incident involving Senator Sir William Spooner arose when he asked for an opportunity to state his view on a particular subject. I believe that he was quite right in asking to be given an opportunity to state his case, a request which was graciously acceded to by the ABC. I think that was only fair and proper.
– My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. In view of the urgency and interest of all Australians in the Snowy Mountains project, what action has the Government taken to preserve the scientific and engineering department associated with the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority? Would the Minister not agree that the loss of these highly trained men would be a great tragedy in its effect on the future development of Australia? Can the Minister therefore advise what future plans the Government has to retain the services of these men?
– The honourable senator has referred to a very important organisation engaged in a very important project. The Snowy Mountains Authority has built up a tremendous reputation in Australia and has done a grand job. The difficulties arise in these matters when the work undertaken by a great organisation comes to an end. The Government is fully aware of the position and has been in consultation with State governments to ascertain what work they may be able to suggest in the States on which to employ the top level officers of the Authority. This matter is under active consideration and examination at the moment.
– Will the Leader of the Government in the Senate inform the Parliament whether the Australian Country Party section of the Government coalition is committed to support the proposals of the Government for a ‘Yes’ vote at the forthcoming referendum? If the answer is in the affirmative, will the Government take immediate action to deny reports to the contrary?
– The Leader of the Country Party, which is our partner in the coalition, has made the position perfectly clear and has stated where his Party stands in this matter.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Repatriation, is supplementary to a question asked earlier to which the Minister replied that 3,000 acres of war service land settlement property on King Island had been sold and an additional 5,000 acres were to be sold. Is this area of 8,000 acres composed of properties on which soldier settlers have not been able to make a living? How many settler families are concerned in the areas sold and to be sold?
– This question is addressed to me as the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. A big proportion of the land which has already been sold and of the land which it is proposed to sell has been and is being disposed of, as I understand it, because of the failure of the soldier settlers to make a living from it. Portion of the 5,000 acres still to be sold has not been tried for soldier settlement. If the honourable senator puts the second part of the question on notice I shall get an answer for him from the Minister for Primary Industry.
– In addressing my question to the Minister representing the Postmaster-GeneralI refer to the provision of telephones for the blind. The Minister will be aware that the Government has provided a third reduction in rental for blind people. Will the Minister give consideration to providing telephones rent free for the blind in the Australian community?
– I shall refer the question to the Postmaster-General.
SenatorWHEELDON - Is the Leader of the Government aware that the Government of Sweden has now withdrawn its Ambassador from Saigon on the ground that the Government of South Vietnam does not represent a majority of the people of South Vietnam? In view of the fact that two leading uncommitted Western democracies in France and Sweden have now reached a similar judgment on the situation in that country, for how long does the Australian Government intend to continue with the pretence that the military regime of Air Vice Marshal Ky is the legitimate Government of South Vietnam?
-The Australian Government does not pretend anything. The Australian Government has stated its position clearly over and over again. If the honourable senator will put the other part of the question on the notice paper I shall endeavour to find out some details as to whether the Ambassador to whom he refers has or has not withdrawn. As to that matter 1 have no details at the moment.
– I do not want to comment too frequently on the asking without notice of questions that should be placed on notice. Honourable senators must take note that they are just wasting the time of the Senate if they fail to put such questions on the notice paper. By putting them on the notice paper honourable senators will be just as well served as otherwise.
(Question No. 29)
asked the Minis ter representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:
Will the date of the next Senate election and the number of senators to be elected at that election be influenced by the result of the proposed referendum to alter the Constitution?
– The Minister for the Interior has provided the following answer:
The next Senate elections must be finalised in time to enable the newly elected senators to begin the term of service on 1st July 1968, and there appears to be no reason why the date of the next Senate elections will be influenced by the result of the forthcoming referendum. No consideration has been given to any alteration in the number of senators in relation to the result of the referendum.
(Question No. 40)
Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following reply:
– J have received from Senator Cant an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of discussing a matter of urgency, namely:
The failure of the Government to honour its election promise to provide funds for urgent State water conservation projects for irrigation, stock water, power and flood mitigation. ls the proposal supported? (More than the number of senators required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places)
– I move:
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till tomorrow at 11.30 a.m.
The purpose of this motion is to enable the Senate to debate a matter of urgency, namely:
The failure of the Government to honour its election promise to provide funds for urgent State water conservation projects for irrigation, stock water, power and flood mitigation.
At this stage I wish to speak only on the matter of surface water. The Australian Water Resources Council in its 1963 report estimated that the average annual run off in
Australia was 280.7 million acre feet. The Council also estimated the present authorised and planned water quantities committed to use at 18.2 million acre feet per annum. It was against that background that the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) delivered his policy speech for the 1966 election. What he had to say is rather interesting. He said:
Since 1949 we have consistently carried out our policy of national development. For us this is a wide and embracing term. It means people as well as physical resources.
One aspect of natural develpoment is vivid in our minds from the recent drought. This is the conservation of that precious commodity - water.
We believe a programme of water conservation related to national needs should now be drawn up by us with State governments.
We have in mind a national water resources development programme. Its purpose would be to increase water conservation activity, to reduce hazards of drought and expand primary production.
We envisage that the States will maintain at least their existing levels of expenditure in this Held, from their own financial resources. We shall invite the States to put forward programmes of additional works they would propose for Commonwealth financing. We, in turn, will make a contribution to enable additional works, selected on their merits, to be carried out.
I remind honourable senators of the action of the Prime Minister respecting the Ord River scheme in the context of those words. He went on:
One cannot, at this stage, be precise about the capital requirements of our programme. We contemplate, however, that the contribution to be made by the Commonwealth for selected additional works could amount to $50m over the next five years.
That is $10m each year. We are now in the middle of April of the first year of this second Holt Government and the only further statement we have heard on this subject was made by the Governor-General when he delivered his Speech in this place on 21st February. He said the same thing somewhat similarly but in much shorter terms. As reported at page 10 of Hansard, the Governor-General said:
Recent drought experience emphasises the importance of water conservation in our programme of national development. My Government has announced its intention to set up a national water resources development programme with the object of increasing water conservation.
Those are the two authoritative statements of the Government on water conservation. I remind honourable senators that it has been estimated that the annual run off of water in Australia is 280.7 million acre feet and, at present, planned conservation amounts to 18.2 million acre feet. For this purpose, the Prime Minister contemplates the spending of $50m over a period of five years. The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric scheme will cost at least $800m before it is completed. Despite the fact that the recent drought in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales cost Australia, in round figures, fifteen million sheep and one and a half million cattle, and the overall cost will run into something like SI, 000m. This is the answer that the Prime Minister provides for perhaps the most important problem in Australia - a miserable $50m over a period of five years. The whole amount is not sufficient to construct one decent dam in Australia. The cheapest dam that will be constructed in Australia will be the Ord River dam, if it is ever completed. It will run into more than S50m. The Prime Minister said that we have to treat water conservation as a national project - as part of our national development. Yet this is the amount that he contemplates spending. But the Government has not got around to spending it at all.
– He is not proposing to spend it on dams.
– It will be spent on associated research work and hydrological programmes-
– Why does not the honourable senator make this clear?
– He knows it.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Drake-Brockman) - Order! Honourable senators will cease interjecting. Senator Cant has the call.
– Senator Cormack will be able to say a few words directly. I hope that they will concern areas north of the Murray. All we have at this time is a statement by the Government about setting up a national water resources development programme. Only the programming will be done. There is no mention of an authority that will do any constructing. We would like to know who will do the programming. Up to this point of time no committee has been appointed and no engineers have been selected to carry out this work. Only a few minutes ago the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty), when answering a question by Senator Fitzgerald, did not seem to know what is going to be done with the Snowy Mountains Authority. The Government is appealing to the States and asking them what the Authority should do. Will the Snowy Mountains Authority do this programming? If not, who will do it? The bland statement by the Government can mean anything and can be implemented at any time. Are we to have another body, such as the Loder Committee, that will bring down a programme which will be hidden and which will never be seen by the public or even by the Parliament? Is this the type of programming that we are to be subjected to?
We already have a body known as the Australian Water Resources Council. I have quoted this article before but it bears repeating in the context of the Government’s intention to set up a programming authority. It states:
The principal objective of the Water Resources Council is ‘the provision of a comprehensive assessment on a continuing basis of Australia’s water resources and the extension of measurement and research so that future planning can he carried out on a sound scientific basis’. . . . Australia’s limited water resources will have considerable influence on the country’s growth and future development. The longer-term objectives of the Council include the definition of areas where water resources offer the greatest potential for population growth and areas where inadequate water resources may require the introduction of special measures to provide opportunities for development.
In the face of that statement, do we want another programming authority? Do we want someone else to tell us more about water? Do we want someone else to tell us where water conservation should be undertaken? I suggest that the statement by the Government, through the GovernorGeneral, is all eyewash. One might ask: is the Australian water Resources Council to be the programming authority?
The Government’s failure in this field is a national disaster. I do not refer only to the Government which was elected last November; 1 refer also to the conservative governments over the years because since federation they have occupied the Treasury bench for a period of fifty years, whereas the Australian Labor Party has occupied the Treasury bench for only seventeen years. Water storages totalling only 18.2 million acre feet have been added to the original pre-federation State storages. That is the record of conservative governments. Although the terms of office of Labor governments included two world wars and a depression, it was a Labor government that started the Snowy Mountains scheme, which is the biggest water conservation scheme in Australia. Labor also started the Comprehensive Water Supply Scheme in the south west of Western Australia, and assisted other State governments with water conservation. So if we subtract the amount of water involved in these schemes from the 18.2 million acre feet storage that has been added during the whole period, we see that the record of conservative government’s over the years is a pretty slack one. In addition to drought, we consistently have trouble from floods in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, and the Government docs nothing about it. It has been put on record that flood mitigation measures should be taken in this area to protect one of Australia’s natural resources. Despite the fact that top soil is one of our natural resources, and despite the fact that this natural resource is being constantly washed into the sea in this area, the Government does nothing about it. Again, we constantly have trouble from flooding in north Queensland. I need only mention the recent disastrous floods in the Cairns and Townsville areas which caused millions of pounds worth of damage. Even at this late stage, the Government has not committed itself to assisting the people concerned to rehabilitate themselves. One is certainly entitled to ask what the Government is doing in this field.
The first six inches of top soil is what the people live on. Every year acres of this top soil are washed into the sea and the Government does nothing about it. Because of the siltation caused by floods, those river estuaries which are used as harbours have to be dredged continually, as have the mouths of rivers, in an effort to reduce the effects of floods. This all means added expense to the community and the Commonwealth Government does nothing to assist the States in this respect. Floods cause untold damage to private property in the way of loss of homes, the loss of personal effects and furniture, damage to personal effects and furniture and loss of stock; and still this Government proposes no remedy.
Drought is probably the most devastating of these problems because the top soil is not spread higher up in the rivers. It is blown away and all that is left is heaps of stones, lt takes thousands of years for the first six inches of top soil to build up. Every year we allow thousands of acres of it to flow into the sea and we do nothing about it. Man is the greatest cause of soil erosion. Of course, man is a destroyer, wherever he goes. If we care to travel along our rivers we will find ample evidence that, due to lack of care and often due to lack of knowledge, man has been responsible for a considerable amount of soil erosion. But flood and drought are the natural causes of soil erosion, and the Government makes no effort to solve this problem in this country. 1 do not know very much about the project because I was not over interested in it, but quite recently the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Ian Allan) in another place put forward a programme for harnessing the Darling River for water conservation purposes. It was estimated that the project would cost $200m. That was only one project. Yet the Government blandly says that its commitment may be $50m over a period of five years. I suppose that water conservation undertakings in this country would be about as cheap to put into effect as they are in any other country, but S50m spent over a period of five years on this work just would not hit the ground. In any case, the Government is not anxious to get on with what it promised to do during the election campaign.
Volumes have been written about water conservation in Australia. A few moments ago the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty) expressed great praise of the Snowy Mountains scheme and the officers associated with it. I do not think any honourable senator would doubt the integrity and ability of Sir William Hudson who until recently was the Commissioner of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. He said:
In Australia we are in a much more favourable position to commence new irrigation projects than the United States was when the Reclamation Act was passed in 1902. There has already been much irrigation development, mainly in the heavily populated south eastern States. Some 2im acres are already irrigated, 85% of this located in New South Wales and Victoria. It is well to remember that the stream flow available in these States represents only about one-fifth of the total stream flow of the mainland - most of the remainder occurring in the north. Value of the total production from these existing irrigated areas is estimated to be approximately one-tenth of the total value of Australia’s pastoral and agricultural production, but obtained from an area of only about one five-hundredth of the total area used for this type of production. Irrigation also assists decentralisation, the total increase in regional population being about four persons for every 20 acres irrigated. In Australia today over half a million people are located in prosperous rural communities as a direct or an indirect result of irrigation development. One has only to visit such centres as Renmark, Mildura, Shepparton, Leeton, Griffith and Mareeba to see the prosperity and population growth which depends on irrigation and this development is in areas which otherwise would be relatively uninhabited. Another feature of these developments is the comparatively low cost. The present capital expenditure on irrigation works amounts to some £15m per annum, which may be compared with annual capital expenditure of some £158m on roads and £136m on power, fuel and light. The return from this comparatively low investment in irrigation is impressive. The total capital invested to date is some £220m, which returns an annual value of production of approximately £130m. Taken with the impressive degree of decentralisation of population obtained in this way and the stimulation of secondary industry both in the irrigation areas themselves and elsewhere, this forms an impressive justification of water resources development through irrigation.
Yet the Government does practically nothing about water conservation. It has all sorts of ideas at election time - anything to catch votes. In 1961 it relied on its record and averted defeat by only 460 votes. In 1963 it promised northern development. The Northern Division of the Department of National Development was created. And what happened to that Division? It is practically defunct since Dr Patterson left it and we have heard scarcely a word about it. The Division was formed and promptly forgotten. It has not been given an adequate budget to carry out its tasks.
In 1966 the Government came up with a development programme but as yet nothing has been done. That is the recent record of the Government. We are still in a period of drought which persists in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. Many of the dams in New South Wales contain little water. According to the February 1967 monthly rainfall review prepared by the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology, Burrendong Dam contains 49% of its capacity, Burrinjuck 76%, Glenbawn 16%, Hume 82%, Keepit 10% - this is the dam upon which the cotton growers in the Wee Waa and Narrabri districts rely - Lake Victoria 80%, Menindee 32%, the Snowy Mountains system 50% and Wyangala 84%. That is the real position in New
South Wales despite the talk we have heard about the drought being over. I can assure honourable senators that we are a long way from being out of the drought. When we consider the present state of the dams I have mentioned we must realise that we cannot expect to get any flow water in those areas for a few months yet.
We have only to look at the Canberra district. Some honourable senators have been here for many more years than I have but 1 have never seen this place as dry as it is at present. One has only to go a few miles from the centre of the city and kick his foot in the ground and he would think he was in the desert; yet this is supposed to be one of the prosperous areas. The Government deserves the censure of the people of Australia for ils neglect of this very serious problem, particularly in view of the promises it has made.
– I regret that when Senator Cant finished his speech 1 was consulting with my advisers and obtaining some information for the honourable senator. I was not aware, Mr Deputy President, that you were waiting to give me the call. At the outset let me direct the attention of the Senate to the policy speech made by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) during the 1966 election campaign. This is what the Prime Minister said about national development and water conservation:
Since 1949 we have consistently carried out our policy of national development. For us this is a wide and embracing term. It means people as well as “physical resources.
One aspect of national development is vivid in our minds from the recent drought. This is the conservation of that precious commodity - water.
We believe a programme of water conservation related to national needs should now be drawn up by us with State governments.
I emphasise the words ‘with State governments’. The statement goes on:
We have in mind a national water resources development programme. Its purpose would be to increase water conservation activity, to reduce hazards of drought and expand primary production.
We envisage that the States will maintain at least their existing levels of expenditure in this field, from their own financial resources. We shall invite the States to put forward programmes of additional works they would propose for Commonwealth financing. We, in turn, will make a contribution to enable additional works, selected on their merits, to be carried out.
One cannot, at this stage, be precise about the capital requirements of our programme. We contemplate, however, that the contribution to be made by the Commonwealth for selected additional works could amount to $50 million over the next five years.
It is perfectly clear from the policy speech that the Commonwealth will invite the States to put forward programmes of additional works they would propose for Commonwealth financing. This is under way. We have been consulting with the States on this matter.
I think 1 should correct certain statements Senator Cant made. He said that $50m would not be enough for one decent dam. 1 must correct him. Many dams have been built in Australia and others are proposed at a cost of much less than $50m. He said we have done nothing about flood mitigation and frequently referred to the Hunter River. I want to correct him on this matter also. The Commonwealth has matched the contribution by the State Government of New South Wales for flood mitigation on the coastal rivers. Over a six-year period the Commonwealth has contributed $5. 5m for flood mitigation work on the Shoalhaven, Hunter, Macleay, Clarence, Richmond and Tweed rivers. To say that we have done nothing about this problem is to be completely incorrect, as my statement shows.
Water conservation is constitutionally a matter for the States. Primarily it is a State responsibility. The Commonwealth does not pass this responsibility to the States; it comes to them from the Constitution. We must be very careful that we do not intrude into areas of State responsibility which are defined by the Constitution to be peculiarly theirs. The Commonwealth can participate in these fields only with the agreement of the States. The work on flood mitigation on New South Wales rivers to which I have referred was performed in conjunction with the State Government. The honourable member spoke about the Snowy River. I want to say at once that work on the Snowy River was undertaken by the Commonwealth under the defence powers which were still in existence at that time under the National Security Regulations. It was only in that way that the Commonwealth was able to undertake that work. Before we undertake water conservation or any other detailed water works it is essential that we make sure of our basic facts. This is what we have set out to do.
The honourable senator played down the tremendous contribution that the Commonwealth has made under the States Grants (Water Resources) Act 1964 by which the Australian Water Resources Council can do and is doing valuable work in the six States and in the Northern Territory. In all those places the Council is establishing stream gauging stations at more than twice the rate at which they were established in 1962-63. These stations are necessary to provide basic facts and the information which must be obtained before embarking on any great flood mitigation or storage works on these rivers. In addition studies of underground water resources have been speeded up in many areas, leading to more efficient use of these resources. With the object of accelerating this work legislation to provide for a loan for a further three year period will be introduced in the Commonwealth Parliament in the very near future. This will extend the work of this very important body, the Australian Water Resources Council, for a further three years. The new legislation will cover the second three years of a ten year accelerated programme of water resources measurement to which the Commonwealth Government has agreed and which was begun in 1964. So it is not correct to say that the Government has done nothing about this. These are very strong indicators of the interest that the Commonwealth Government has shown and the practical work that it has done.
In this ten year programme the proposed expenditure by the Commonwealth and State governments together on still more extensive works will reach $ 13.2m over the next three financial years. This will take the total expenditure on this work in the six States since the inception of the scheme to nearly $24m by 30th June 1970. During the next three years the Commonwealth will contribute up to $4.5m to State programmes in addition to financing its own programme of underground water assessment in the Northern Territory. We are working closely with the States and, in addition, doing this work on our own accord in the Northern Territory. In the next three year period the Commonwealth’s contribution will be about 60% higher than the $2.75m provided for the three-year period which ended on 30th June this year. The ten-year programme envisages a basic stream gauging network of 2,800 stations, or about twice as many as in the base year of 1962-63.
It is very easy for honourable senators with no sense of responsibility to complain and imply that we have not been doing this work. It is easy for them to make statements which are not correct, but these facts disclose the work that is being done continuously by this Government. This is an accomplishment of some considerable merit. It is apparent from results to date that the programme is proving most successful and that rapid progress is being made with water resources assessment throughout Australia. In the current year it is expected that 149 new stream gauging stations will be established by the States, compared with seventy in the base year. In the underground water field studies have been speeded up in many areas, leading to the more effective use of resources, and it is most encouraging to note that the States have become imbued with the enthusiasm shown by the Commonwealth Government and are now spending more than is required to attract the full Commonwealth grant. They have gone beyond the measure of the Commonwealth grant and they are spending additional sums, because they see the value of this work which must be undertaken by any government if it is to have the basic information so necessary for water conservation, flood mitigation and hydro-electric power development.
Having spoken at some little length about the Australian Water Resources Council, I want to talk about some of the projects to which the Commonwealth Government has committed itself in the various States. Legislation was enacted in October 1963 to enable the construction by the River Murray Commission of the Chowilla dam on the River Murray. The dam will be located some six miles downstream from the Victorian-South Australian border and about thirty-eight river miles upstream from Renmark. The water will back up as far as Wentworth, some 120 river miles. The height of the dam itself will be 48 feet above the flood plain and its length will be 3.3 miles. The capacity of Chowilla reservoir will be 5.07 million acre feet, by far the largest in Australia. The dam is being constructed by the South Australian Government, whose Engineering and Water Supply Department is carrying out the work, under the control of the State Minister of Works, as constructing authority to the River Murray Commission. It will be subject to the customary approval and oversight of the Commission. It is estimated that the total cost, including land acquisition, road diversion, and railway works, will be about $43. lm. The Commonwealth will provide one quarter of the cost and is providing financial accommodation for New South Wales for its quarter share. Total expenditure on the project to June 1966 was $2,912,000, of which the Commonwealth’s share was $728,000, with an equivalent amount advanced to New South Wales. This is one project alone - South Australians will know the value of it - which is of immense importance, which the Commonwealth is actively undertaking and to which the honourable senator made no reference. Total expenditure in 1966-67 is estimated at $3,232,000, of which the Commonwealth’s share will be $808,000, plus an equivalent advance from New South Wales. Construction of the embankment and spillway is expected to be completed by 1970.
Chowilla reservoir will benefit New South Wales and Victoria as well as South Australia. It will mean that South Australia’s entitlement to River Murray water under the River Murray Waters Agreement will be supplied from Chowilla instead of from Hume reservoir. This means that New South Wales and Victoria will be able to make maximum use of Hume reservoir water for irrigation purposes in the major irrigation areas commanded by the Hume reservoir. With the advent of Chowilla, the River Murray Waters Agreement has been amended so that the three States, in periods of restriction, will share equally in the available water rather than in the proportions of 5:5:3 as at present, whereby South Australia is entitled to only three-thirteenths of the available water. This is, of course, most important to South Australia. Not only will there be much more water available in periods of restriction but also South Australia will obtain a larger share of such water.
I want to refer to another project; I have a number of them to refer to. The honourable senator will be deeply interested in all of these, on which he failed to comment and in which the Commonwealth is helping.
– From what is the Minister reading?
– It is from a document containing basic facts that I have had prepared for me on this subject and which I am sure will be of interest, though I am sure the honourable senator does not like it. The Menindee Lakes are a series of storages constructed adjacent to the Darling River, east of Broken Hill. They have been constructed by New South Wales to meet downstream irrigation needs and to meet the industrial and domestic water requirements of Broken Hill. The Menindee Lakes Storage Agreement Bill has been introduced to enable the River Murray Commission to use water from Menindee to augment water supplies in the River Murray during times of drought until the Chowilla reservoir has commenced to fill. The Agreement applies for seven years from 1st January 1963. It has been agreed that in consideration of the River Murray Commission’s use of Menindee water, a portion of the capital charges attributable to these storages will be paid to the New South Wales Government. The agreed sum is $320,000 per annum. New South Wales has retained the right to draw 90,000 acre feet per annum for local requirements.
Let me now refer to Blowering dam and the Coleambally irrigation area. Legislation was passed in October 1963 - that is four years ago - authorising the construction of Blowering dam on the Lower Tumut River by the Snowy Mountains Authority as the agent and at the expense of the Government of New South Wales. This dam will create a storage of 1.3 million acre feet at an estimated cost of $42m. The Snowy Mountains Authority will install a single unit power station of 80,000 kilowatt capacity at the foot of the dam. The Commonwealth has agreed to lend New South Wales one-half of the cost of the dam. Commonwealth expenditure to June 1966 amounted to $9,913,000 and it is expected that $6,300,000 will be provided in 1966-67. The agreement provides for the State to make available within six months after the completion of the Blowering storage works a minimum of seventy large irrigation farms within the Coleambally irrigation area and to make provision for the full use of the additional water provided by the storage within ten years of the dale of completion of the works.
Blowering dam will conserve the natural flow of the Tumut River and the waters diverted to the Tumut River by the works of the Snowy Mountains scheme from the Tooma, Eucumbene and Upper Mumimbidgee Rivers. Waters released from Blowering reservoir will serve the Coleambally irrigation area, the largest single irrigation and closer settlement scheme ever developed in Australia. The Coleambally area is comparable in size with the whole of the existing Murrumbidgee irrigation areas. Using the water available to date, about 200 farms have been allocated and occupied. With the advent of the Blowering dam, however, it should be possible to establish another 650 farms, most of which will be large holdings - 500 to 600 acres in area - producing a wide range of products including rice, wheat, barley, fat Iambs, wool, beef and possibly cotton. I have referred already to the flood mitigation work on New South Wales coastal rivers. They are in an area which is subject to heavy precipitation resulting from cyclonic depressions that create rapid stream flow from the eastern slopes of the Great Dividing Range. I have referred to the assistance that we have given to New South Wales in regard to flood mitigation work. That work has been done in full partnership with the State by means of matching grants.
I pay tribute to the Federal Government for the provision of money for the building the Gordon River Road. That road will provide access to an area in south west Tasmania which has a very large hydroelectric potential and which could be developed by a series of hydro-electric projects costing about S300m. The area is also considered to have forestry and mineral potential. It is an area of high rainfall and is extremely rugged and inaccessible. The Commonwealth is providing $5m, which is the total estimated cost, to the Tasmanian Government by way of a non-repayable grant for the construction of the access road to the Gordon River which will enable the resources of the area to be adequately mapped and assessed. The amount already paid to Tasmania is $3,204,000. It is estimated that $1,630,000 will be provided in 1966-67. I have referred to the continued development of the Snowy Mountains scheme. The Government has pressed on with the construction of this scheme. During 1965-66 funds totalling $42.5m were provided. The Government has now invested funds of the order of $574m in this great scheme. The Budget for 1966-67 provides $46m to ensure that the work continues.
I have mentioned only some of the more important projects. I have outlined the basic plan of the Water Resources Council, the immense amount of work that it has been doing and the immense amount of money that has been made available through it by the Commonwealth Government. I have referred to the value that every State will place on the basic information that will come from that Council. I have mentioned the water conservation works that have been undertaken by the various States. Therefore, I say that this urgency motion falls flat and hollow. The motion has been moved for some purpose other than to enable discussion of a matter of urgency. I believe that it has been moved to keep off the air Government speakers on matters such as foreign affairs. The Opposition very much dislikes such matters being discussed on the air by Government speakers. This urgency motion is shallow and without basis. The facts that I have given only highlight the attention that the Government has given to this matter of water conservation. I refer again to a statement in the policy speech which is being carried out. The Prime Minister said:
Wc envisage that the States will maintain at least their existing levels of expenditure in this field, from their own financial resources. We shall invite the States to put forward programmes of additional works they would propose for Commonwealth financing.
That is the basis of the whole policy statement. It is the basis of the whole policy objective. It is being attained. It is a shallow and hollow sham for the Opposition to raise this subject as a matter of urgency at this time when we have so much important legislation to deal with and in view of the Government’s fine record of accomplishing so many matters that were mentioned in the policy speech for the last election. In my opinion, this motion is a sham and a ruse to avoid discussion of matters that the Opposition dislikes being discussed when the proceedings of the Senate are being broadcast.
– I support the motion which was moved by my colleague Senator Cant to permit a discussion of the following matter of urgency:
The failure of the Government to honour its election promise to provide funds for urgent State water conservation projects for irrigation, stock water, power and flood mitigation.
Let me reply briefly to some of the statements made by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty). When the time came for a Government senator to be called, I was shocked to discover that no Government senator was ready to enter the debate. There was a strange sense ot urgency among Government senators while they looked around to see who would take up the cudgels on behalf of the Government. Then Senator Henty stood up and proceeded to read from a document which he admitted was compiled at his request. He might just as well have read from Alice in Wonderland’. That would have contained as much substance as the document from which he read. The only point on which I agree with him is that stream gauging is necessary if we are to plan properly and so carry out a water conservation project. But why does the Government have to wait for seventeen years before it starts its planning programme. I will refer to that matter in more detail later in my speech.
The Leader of the Government might be able to fool himself with the figures that he read in a jumbled way, but he certainly will not fool members of the Opposition, people who read Hansard or anybody who happened to be listening to him.
– Members of the Opposition hate facts.
– The Minister may say what he wants to say the next time he has a chance to speak. He referred iti a caustic manner to a statement by Senator Cant that $50m would not build a reasonable dam. But then he did a lot of blowing about the Blowering dam which he admitted will cost $42m. It is very good to think that a dam has been built. But Senator Henty devoted himself almost entirely to the one dam.
He said that the Labor Party raised this matter of urgency because it wanted to keep Government speakers off the air while foreign affairs was being debated. It would be very good if Government speakers did go on the air and tell the people of Australia about the additional 2,000 troops that the Government is going to commit to the Vietnam conflict. But let me get back to the urgency motion that is before us. On 23rd September 1965 Professor Munro said:
Before we embark on any big project to water the desert, let us remember that in Australia we have a Garden of Eden going to waste. This is Queensland. Countless millions of tons of water fall in Queensland annually and run away wasted into the Pacific Ocean. Before we develop any arid part of Australia we should develop Queensland. And there is room there for twenty schemes like the Snowy.
In spite of the flowery promises that we heard the Leader of the Government read from the policy speech delivered by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) - that sounded like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ too - the Government is not really interested in water conservation for flood mitigation, the production of power or irrigation on any scale. Almost the only water that members of the Government parties appear to be anxious to preserve is their own bath water, so sanctimonious are they in their attitudes to great social questions such as this one.
The conservation of water is required in order to build up population in certain districts. In fact, if we are to build up a permanent population in the northern part of this continent, the conservation of water will be a most necessary project. There are plenty of outstanding examples of success achieved in this field. I refer to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority. The power produced by the Snowy Mountains scheme eventually will amount to four million kilowatts. The expected total cost of the project is only $800m. Compared with our annual Budget, that is only a small sum and it has been and will be expended over a number of years. The Authority has three essential jobs in connection with this great project; the production of power, the irrigation of valuable farm land and flood mitigation. Now, the Government has equally let down the people of north western Australia by refusing to go ahead with the Ord River scheme. The
Government found this out to its political disgust at the last Federal election when Western Australia was the one State where the Labor vote increased. It has been proved beyond all doubt that cotton and other crops can be grown in this area provided sufficient water is made available. But the Government is not prepared to go ahead with the supply of water for this scheme in spite of giving the airy fairy promises that it has made on many occasions.
Let us have a look at some of the smaller dams that have been constructed in my own State of Queensland. I refer to the Tinaroo Dam and the Koombaloomba Dam which I have mentioned previously. These dams are situated on the Atherton Table-lands. In the recent flood conditions that we had in the far north, it was obvious that the construction by a long-sighted State Labor Government of the Tinaroo Dam proved to be of great benefit when the flood waters were gathering in the stream area, lt is doubtful that any development project can generate greater direct or indirect benefits than the conservation of water can. In this regard, I wish to quote to the Senate from the Current Affairs Bulletin’ of 19th September 1966 dealing with beef cattle in the north. I think that this is worthwhile placing on record in Hansard for the people of this country. The quotation reads:
In the short term, however, programmes of water conservation could be tied to the cattle industry which surrounds every major watercourse in the north. In addition to cash crops like cotton, and wheat, production could be directed towards sorghums, maize, lucerne and fodder crops in conjunction with carefully planned major fodder conservation programmes designed to store fodder in strategically located areas, particularly along the key railway systems.
So, Mr Acting Deputy President, the Opposition wants water conserved. We want the Government to start off in a small way if it has not the political courage to go into water conservation in a big way. The quotation continues:
Water conservation founded on the cattle industry need not necessarily be confined to largescale projects. Small, compact dams and weirs for irrigation and stock water should be an important integral part of every overall plan of water development. Water conservation is the key to the transformation of the empty areas situated within 200 miles of the northern coast into relatively heavily permanently populated areas. But the development of water resources means a recognition of a long-term planning which, in turn, involves courageous financial actions on the part of national governments.
I ask honourable senators to mark those words- * courageous financial actions on the part of national governments.
– And long term planning.
– The Government has had plenty of opportunities to carry out long term planning but it was not interested. Indeed, the honourable senator who made that comment said at a public meeting that he did not believe in long term planning of large water conservation schemes.
– The honourable senator said that. Do not deny it.
– Where did I say it?
– I will tell the honourable senator when he said it at the opportune moment.
– I rise to order. I claim to have been misrepresented.
– The quotation continues:
But as soon as water conservation projects are mooted, critics employing the narrow-
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bull) - Order! Senator Cormack claims to have been misrepresented. He will have his opportunity to raise the matter when Senator Keeffe has finished his speech.
– In elaboration of my point of order, I should like to say that the normal courtesies that exist between honourable senators should be understood by Senator Keeffe. Apparently they are not.
– Let me continue with the quotation I was putting before the Senate when I was interrupted:
Even if national subsidies are involved in the initial years of water development the long-term benefit to Australia and to future generations may be considerably greater than many major enterprises operating in Australia today.
Senator Heatley made his statement in approximately September of 1966 at Townsville.
– I did not raise the objection.
– There is no shortage of areas-
– The honourable senator has referred to the wrong senator. It was Senator Cormack who interjected previously.
– I am sorry. I thought Senator Heatley had interjected. In any case, Senator Cormack probably agrees with what Senator Heatley said. There is no shortage of areas for water conservation. In Queensland, for instance, there is the Burnett River Basin, the Fitzroy River Basin, the Burdekin River area and other places such as the Gilbert River region. There is room for extension of the Ord River scheme, as I said a while ago, and there is room for large scale expansion of existing conservation schemes or the introduction of new schemes in southern Australia.
Let us look at this matter from another aspect. There should be no short term money wasting projects such as special funds and loans for drought relief and’ special funds made available for the seeding of clouds where drought conditions exist. These are not the methods by which we can overcome the problem of water conservation. If we had carried out water conservation projects property in the first place there would have been none of this wastage of public funds that we have today because of the effects of drought. Quite recently, $3,000 was made available to the North Eton Sugar Mill and the Mackay District Development Bureau for experiments in an attempt to obtain some sort of drought relief in the Eton area. There is an outstanding example of what has happened in the sugar areas recently where moneys had to be expended in this manner for drought relief.
If long term planning and long term organisation by the National Government had taken place probably all or most of this expenditure would not have been necessary. The extension of this scheme includes growers in the Mackay area. It includes the extension of the maximum loan for crop expenses to $2,000. The sustenance allowance of up to $1,000 was still provided. These are modifications approved and implemented by the Queensland Government in relation to the drought relief scheme. Other modifications included the extension of the basis of eligibility by raising the maximum level of harvest in 1965 to 1,500 tons of cane, provided the 1965 harvest was less than half the average production of the 1962, 1963 and 1964 seasons. The 1964 season production was subsequently omitted from the averaging conditions because it also was a drought year in a number of mill areas. These detailed arrangements have to be made in order to see that some sort of relief is provided for the people who are drought effected. Would it not be belter if help were provided by long term planning? Would it not be better if we provided water conservation in areas in a small degree or a large degree wherever this is necessary in order to obviate a lot of this expenditure involved in drought?
Drought losses for 1964-66 are estimated to be S3,000m. Imagine the number of small dams that we could build for that amount. Imagine the number of large dams that that amount could build. The drought was estimated to be as severe as any recorded in the 170 years of European settlement in Australia. Might I read to the Senate a definition of ‘drought’ in order to bring home to honourable senators of the National Government the seriousness of this problem? I refer to Bureau of Meteorology Bulletin No. 48 of 1967 on rainfall deciles as drought indicators. Under the heading ‘What is Drought?’ we find this statement:
There is no universally agreed definition of drought but a definition which may be generally accepted is ‘severe water shortage’. This definition begs I Me question somewhat, as it requires a further definition of ‘shortage’ or alternatively the specification of the amount of water needed. Water need depends on the types and numbers of animal and plant communities using the water so that the concept nf drought cannot be divorced from the use to which water is put. Conditions which a market gardener would regard as drought would often cause n pastoralist no concern. 1 want to point out that not only does the Opposition support this national programme of water conservation but also other organisations such as the Federation of Chambers of Commerce of Northern Queensland also support the proposal. The Federation of Chambers of Commerce of Northern Queensland in a statement made late last year at a symposium held in Ingham had this to say:
As with the Snowy Mountains Scheme, politics will decide the issue of northern development, although politics is not the motivating force of the diverse groups and individuals voicing a common demand for such development, a demand which cuts right across party politics and offers the widest scope for co-operation among all parties.
The Leader of the Government in the Senate has said that the Opposition has raised this matter to embarrass the Government. Yes, we have raised it to embarrass the Government - to force the Governinto a realisation of the obligations that it owes to this community and also to bring the Government to a realisation that it cannot make promises in election campaigns if it has no intention of keeping them. The People the North Committee in progress report No. 9 made this statement regarding the Water Resources Council’s survey:
The Water Resources Council’s survey, which confirmed that the North’s water resources far exceeded the South’s and strengthened the case for conservation and irrigation in the North;
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– I have heard a lot of urgency motions in my time. An urgency motion is a very good instrument by which members of the Opposition can bring forward matters which are urgent and have them discussed in accordance with the standing orders. But although 1 agree with the principle, I submit it is a principle that should never be abused. I believe that the wording of this motion and the contributions made to the debate by Senator Cant and Senator Keeffe are breaking down the value of the standing order relating to urgency discussions because nothing of urgency has been brought forward in anything that they have said. Indeed, there is very little fact in what they have said, as I intend to prove in a few moments. This subject is not truly a matter of urgency if it is to be judged on the contributions made by Senator Cant and more particularly by Senator Keeffe who followed him on the Opposition side. 1 turn to a couple of comments that were made by Senator Cant. Early in his speech he referred to the promise that was made last November by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) concerning water conservation and said that nothing has happened following that announcement. If Senator Cant truly believes that he does not pay as strict attention to the proceedings of this chamber as I thought he did, because in conformity with this policy pronouncement the Queensland Government has made two very lengthy and worthy submissions. Possibly Senator Cant would not know that. In late February my colleague, Senator Lawrie, asked a question in this chamber concerning this very subject. In March I asked further questions about it. On each occasion the Minister gave a sound, sensible and reasoned reply. So how on earth can Senator Cant say that nothing has been done about the Prime Minister’s announcement?
– What was the subject?
– Water conservation, which is the subject that the honourable senator has raised in this urgency debate. I will tell the honourable senator more about this matter in a few minutes. Later Senator Keeffe said something which I think was well below what should be the standard of debate in this chamber. I doubt whether any other member of the Opposition would have said it. Senator Keeffe knows or should know that there is an arrangement between the Government Whip and the Opposition Whip whereby various speakers know the order in which they are to speak. It was natural that a Minister - in this case the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty) - would reply on behalf of the Government. We do not treat occasions such as this lightly. But it was clear to every honourable senator that when Senator Henty was called to speak he was collecting certain data from his officers. Yet Senator Keeffe had the temerity to say that no one of the Government side was ready to participate in the debate. I believe that that was said to mislead people who might have been listening to the broadcast of proceedings into thinking the Government was not keen to participate in the debate. Wild horses would not have prevented me from participating in it. I was perfectly prepared to enter the debate immediately, but in deference to my Party Whip, and particularly in deference to my Leader, I certainly did not make any attempt to usurp the Minister’s position in the debate.
There is one further comment made by Senator Keeffe to which I want to refer, and if any honourable senator on either side of the chamber could show me how it is relevant to the debate, then I would say that he is a very clever man. In an aside, in his quick manner of speaking, Senator Keeffe said that the Government should tell the public about its intention to commit further troops to Vietnam in the near future. I submit that this was entirely unparliamentary; it was entirely below the dignity of any member of this chamber and was entirely untrue. I do not believe that an honourable senator is serving this Senate or abiding by the principle in accordance with which the proceedings of the Senate are broadcast by adopting snide tactics. That is the only way in which I can describe Senator Keeffe’s effort to introduce into this debate the question of sending troops to Vietnam. It was an incorrect statement.
– It was an abuse of the standing orders.
– It was quite contrary to the standing orders. But let us look at the record of water conservation and see what has been done and what is being done. Since 1964-65 Queensland - and I am speaking of Queensland only in this instance - has received from the Federal Government through the agency of the Australian Water Resources Council some $935,000 for the purpose of investigation. It is quite ridiculous to suggest that there has been no investigation of water storage, water conservation, water flow and that sort of thing in Queensland because all that money has been spent on research. T move on from there to an examination of the money that over the years has been made available throughout Australia. Western Australia has received grants of over $12m. South Australia has received quite a deal of money for the construction of the Chowilla Dam. The cost of this project is being shared between New South Wales. Victoria and South Australia. I think that $10,750,000 will be made available by way of grant from the Commonwealth and over $10m by way of loan for this project. Then of course nearly $700m has already been expended on the Snowy Mountains scheme. The Leader of the Government referred to the Blowering Dam which ‘ has been estimated to cost $42m. Of this amount, $21m will be made available by way of loan to New South Wales. Every State to which I have referred, with the exception of Queensland, has received heavy grants for water conservation, water storage, irrigation, power and flood mitigation. I listened with considerable interest to the speech by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty) because it was very important to me to hear of his enthusiasm for assisting the various States in this sort of work. 1 attended the symposium referred to by Senator Keeffe at Ingham in June of last year and I have with me a quite large and interesting report that was submitted by Mr Haigh. Commissioner of Irrigation and Water Supply. He spoke quite fully of the work that can be done in Queensland and the work that is being done there. Queensland is spending over $7m a year out of its loan funds on this type of work.
Unfortunately - I say this quite deliberately - Queensland has not received one penny either in the form of grants or in the form of loans for capital works for any irrigation projects although we certainly have received a lot of money in other spheres. But I feel absolutely certain after listening to the Leader of the Government in the Senate today that deep consideration is being given to our present submissions. We have a dam which Senator Keeffe calls a ‘little dam’. I speak of the Tinaroo Dam, which Senator Gair will know very well because he was the leader of the Government in power in Queensland when this was conceived.
– There is not one penny of Commonwealth money in it.
– No, there is not, but it cost some S31m and it has been of wonderful assistance to Queensland. Unless someone is generous enough to give me a littlt more time, I have only a quarter of an hour to speak in this debate and 1 do not want to consume it unnecessarily. A few weeks ago, I received two very voluminous reports. I show them to honourable senators. 1 do not intend to quote them all because I do not believe I will have the time. The first is a report on a proposal which has been made by the Queensland Government for assistance to build the Emerald irrigation project. I might say that this project would cost well over $20m. The second is a report on water conservation in the Gin Gin-Bungaberg-Isis region. It is referred to commonly as the Kolan report. Both reports are most interest ing documents but, because of the limitation of time, 1 shall refer just very briefly to one only - the report on the Emerald project. This was submitted to the Federal Government some time ago. It was examined by the Federal Bureau of Agricultural Economics, as well as other Government departments and at that point of time it was not accepted as being entirely suitable.
The Bureau of Agricultural Economics made an economic study of the proposed scheme and said that although the increase in gross income for the area was substantial the benefit-cost ratio was insufficient. Therefore, the scheme was not then recommended. This project was again examined very thoroughly and in great detail and, having made the examination, the Queensland Government has made representations to the Federal Government for assistance to the extent of $50m for these two great irrigation projects.
– Did it get it?
– I asked a question in this chamber and the reply I was given was that these matters are both under consideration. Naturally they are. Does the honourable senator expect the Federal Government, upon receiving a request from a Slate government, irrespective of how thoroughly the case is prepared, to say immediately: ‘Yes, we will give it to you?’ These things have to be examined very thoroughly, as the honourable senator knows very well. I am surprised at an honourable senator from Western Australia rising in this chamber and telling us that insufficient money is being provided for irrigation when his own State has benefited to an enormous extent from the assistance which it has received while we in Queensland are still seeking money for the important projects I have mentioned.
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– There are few if any matters more important than that which we are discussing in the Senate this afternoon - the conservation and reticulation of water. Water is an indispensable commodity in any country, but particularly in a country such as this. No successful settlement of people can be carried out without water. Our primary industries cannot hope to succeed unless they can count on a regular supply of water. Indeed, our secondary industries, too, depend a great deal on an adequate water supply.
I recall that during the period when I was Premier of Queensland, I was asked by representatives from the World Bank the purposes to which my Government applied its loan moneys. I told these representatives that, outside what We were required to spend on schools, hospitals and other community services, the order of priority in the expenditure of loan moneys was water, power and transport. These gentlemen said that any government that expended its loan money on work in that order of priority must succeed.
I am sure that none of us here needs reminding of the necessity for the National Government to play some part in the conservation and reticulation of water. The Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty) said in the course of his remarks that this was a matter for the States. I suppose that is true enough. It is a matter for the States to collate the information, to examine the propositions and projects and to go into the economics of suggested or projected schemes, but it is utterly impossible for the State governments, from their limited loan resources, to carry out many of these projects. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary, and I believe appropriate, that the National Government should play a part and assist in the implementation of these schemes because, when all is said and done, the benefit to be gained is national in character. It is not confined to the particular State or States in which the works are being carried out.
As an example I mention the Snowy Mountains scheme on which unlimited sums are being spent not out of loan money but out of revenue for the benefit of the two major States of the Commonwealth and perhaps to some small extent, for the benefit of South Australia. I do not complain about that at all. I am sure no forward looking person would complain about it, but other States have projects that are equally as important in their own way as is the Snowy Mountains scheme. We have schemes in Queensland, and I rise here today not so much to criticise the present Government as to appeal to it to give very sympathetic consideration to the projects that have been submitted by the Queensland Government. I believe that they are soundly based and imperative for the further development of Queensland and our primary industries which make such a great contribution to our export trade.
I have a sad memory of my association with Queensland governments that carried out such works as the Burdekin River scheme, the Tully Falls scheme, the Koombaloomba hydro-electric scheme, the Walsh River scheme and the Tinaroo Dam, which has contributed so much to the growth of the tobacco industry in northern Queensland. Each of those schemes was examined at the time by Commonwealth officers. Each scheme was regarded by Commonwealth experts as being economically sound. Indeed, we had the blessing of a Commonwealth Minister of that time who is the present Governor-General. We also received the promise that the Commonwealth Government would aid the Queensland Government financially in the implementation of those works. I am sad to have to report that not one penny of Commonwealth money was contributed either as a loan or a grant to those schemes which were carried out entirely from State resources. I do not want a recurrence, of that situation. I am sure that no honourable senator from Queensland wants the Queensland Government to be left carrying the baby, to use a colloquial term, on .those projects which are yet to receive approval and which we believe are indispensable and urgently needed to overcome drought conditions, to provide improved settlement and to increase primary production.
I refer to the Nogoa River scheme - the Emerald project as it is called - which would make a valuable contribution to the growth of our cotton industry, grain growing and general settlement. I refer to the Fitzroy River basin scheme which has been under consideration for some years, and to what is known as the South Burnett scheme in the sugar country where three successive droughts have been endured. That area is calling out for water and irrigation. I believe those schemes have been examined by the State authorities and submissions have been made to the Commonwealth Government. I want to make my voice heard in support of them. They are not airy fairy schemes which have been drawn up by parochial minds. They are schemes which have been examined for many years and have the approval of State irrigation officers. If they have not already received the attention and examination of Commonwealth officers, no doubt they will.
In a State like Queensland water conservation and irrigation are matters of urgency. It is true that certain parts of Queensland receive great rainfalls, particularly in the north. But of what use is the rain which Divine Providence sends us unless we do something to conserve it? We have little cause for complaint when drought hits industries in Queensland and other States if we do not do something about conserving water. Nature has been good to Australia and I believe that we all recognise just how bountifully we have been blessed; but nature expects us to develop the resources given to us and expects man’s hand to be applied to the development of those resources for their proper utilisation.
No-one can properly overstress the importance of water. One has only to travel through the far west, the far north, the north west and even the central western parts of Queensland in drought times or any other drought stricken area in Australia to realise how terrible are the effects of extreme drought. Parts of Queensland have suffered from drought repeatedly over the last few years, and northern New South Wales has been in much the same position. One has only to see the effects of drought to realise just how true it is that conservation of water must be given top priority for the development, progress and successful settlement of our people in this grand country.
– I wish to enter this debate on a matter of public importance which refers to the failure of the Government to honour its election promises and so on. Senator Cant, who raised this matter, has stated his case at length but I remind honourable senators that it is 41 months since the last elections. Does the honourable senator want miracles? Does he expect all the projected works to be completed in 4* months? I do not think that 1 have heard such a weak case since I have been in the Senate as that put today by Senator Cant. He referred to the dry areas around Canberra and to numerous dams in New South Wales that he said were empty or half empty. I think the honourable senator wants the Govern ment not only to organise dams and water schemes but also to organise rain. If there were twice as many dams they would still be half empty because of the drought we have had.
Senator Cant also referred to recent floods in Townsville. He was a bit off the beam there. The people of Townsville would like a little rain just now because, instead of having floods as he stated, it is quite dry in the immediate vicinity of Townsville.
At one stage of his speech Senator Keeffe suggested that there should be long term planning but then he went on to condemn the Government for not getting this scheme under way in the 4i months since the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) made the promise in his policy speech. Let me repeat the relevant passage of the policy speech:
One cannot, at this stage, bc precise about the capital requirements of our programme. We contemplate, however, that the contribution to be made by the Commonwealth for selected additional works could amount to $50m over the next live years.
The Prime Minister did not sa the expenditure would be confined to exact amount. There is nothing in the speech to prevent the expenditure being considerably more than $50m if that is found lo be necessary. Until we know precisely what our water resources really are, it is impossible to make plans for the conservation of water in many districts. lt has been mentioned that the work of the Australian Water Resources Council has been stepped up. Stream gauging has been increased greatly-
– Not in too many places.
– If the honourable senator travelled a bit more around the State he represents he would know that what I have said is correct. Expenditure on stream gauging has been stepped up considerably as a result of an agreement between the Commonwealth and the States. When the information obtained is correlated it will then be possible to plan where the big water conservation schemes will be implemented. 1 repeat that proposals for water conservation works must come from the States.
The Commonwealth just cannot build a dam in a State without the approval of that State. The States have sovereign rights in this matter. Before any work is commenced a complete investigation of the position must be made. Let me mention also that all States have their own water supply authorities which are very efficient, and no State Government would allow its water supply authority to be superseded in any way by the Commonwealth. The supply and conservation of water is a State responsibility but the Commonwealth is prepared to help. In fact it has helped States in the past.
The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority was set up under defence powers. Today the Commonwealth has no right to go into a State and commence work on some project. Another point to be noted is that revenue received from the sale of electricity from the Snowy Mountains scheme contributes substantially to interest redemption on the cost of the project, thus enabling water for irrigation purposes to be provided free of charge. Few places in Australia aTe suitable for a scheme such as the Snowy Mountains scheme. If revenue were not obtained from the sale of electricity from that project the farmers who now use the water for irrigation purposes would have to meet a substantial bill. As it is, they now pay only a small amount to cover the cost of administration. Normally they are not called upon to contribute anything towards interest redemption on the cost of the project.
As well as an investigation of our available water resources, an investigation of soils is necessary. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is carrying out such investigations in many districts. The question arises of the kind of crops or pastures most suitable for an area. Then, as has been the case quite often in the past, there is the problem of a market for the produce. It is not much use growing a commodity which is not readily saleable so the Bureau of Agricultural Economics investigates that aspect.
Much has been made of the fact that the amount of money the Commonwealth proposes to expend would build only one decent sized dam, but I remind honourable senators opposite that the cost of a dam is not met in one year. It is spread over the four or five years of construction. As has been men tioned, Queensland has submitted two water conservation schemes to the Commonwealth Government. One is on the Nogoa River near Emerald. The proposal is based on a cotton and stock fodder economy. The original Emerald scheme was submitted to the Commonwealth Government about two years ago and it was then referred to the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. The Bureau said that the scheme as submitted was not good enough and it suggested the establishment of a couple of pilot farms. Those pilot farms were established and have been operating for two years. This bears out my contention that these things cannot be done in a hurry and without full investigation. The pilot farms have proved that the economics are right for the commodities I have mentioned and the scheme has been resubmitted. I believe it is at present receiving consideration by the Commonwealth Government and we hope to have a favourable answer in the not too distant future.
The Emerald scheme has quite a few things in its favour, ft is in an area where there is already a fair sized town and a rail and road complex. Regional power is also available. In addition to cotton, the Emerald scheme will provide fodder for the central west of Queensland which is only a little over 200 miles distant by rail and road. If the scheme is developed fully and goes ahead as we hope it will, good use will be made of the stock fodder produced.
More recently the Queensland Government has submitted a scheme for a dam on the Kolan River, about 50 miles from Bundaberg, for the purpose of irrigating sugar crops in the area. The water will be used not only for surface irrigation but also to replenish the underground water supplies there. This scheme is also receiving consideration by the Commonwealth Government and we hope to have a favourable decision in the not too distant future.
Australia is somewhat different from other countries in relation to its water supplies in that quite a few of our major rivers, which could provide for big conservation schemes, run interstate and become the province of more than one State. For instance, the Ord River drains part of the Northern Territory, the Finke River in the
Northern Territory runs into South Australia and Coopers Creek in Queensland also runs into South Australia. Closer to the east coast the big Darling-Murray system actually drains parts of four States and, quite conceivably, problems could arise because agreements between States would be necessary before any project could be undertaken. All these aspects must be considered. In this context I refer particularly to the so-called border rivers scheme and its effect upon Queensland and New South Wales. The agreement in relation to the scheme is under discussion but no final decision has been reached. Therefore, construction of dams is not proceeding on the border rivers.
Some years ago a similar scheme was started on the Balonne River near St George. The scheme had many teething troubles because a full investigation had not been made before work commenced. That scheme, which has been in the nature of a pilot scheme serving about thirty farms, proved itself in the recent drought. Provided that water is available in the Balonne River I believe that that area is capable of much greater development. To show what can happen if we rush into a scheme without proper investigation I mention that in the 1920s a scheme was started at Theodore in Queensland where many problems developed. This was a big pioneering scheme in irrigation in Queensland. Many problems which had not been anticipated arose and all these matters had to be ironed out. Many of the original settlers did not do so well in that scheme. A much smaller area has now been developed under that scheme, and from the knowledge gained we have been able to develop part of the Dawson River complex scheme in a bigger way than would otherwise have been possible. I mention that to show that we must have a full investigation before embarking on any project.
I am wholeheartedly behind any scheme which will supply water to areas where it is needed in any part of Australia, and more particularly, in my own State of Queensland. However, I believe that I cannot support this proposal of urgency and that it is quite wrong to expect an election promise to be honoured within four months. Like the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty) I believe that this proposal is a device to delay the Govern ment’s business and to enable honourable senators opposite to take advantage of the fact that the Senate proceedings are being broadcast. As I have said, I am prepared to support any workable scheme after it has been fully investigated and I do give my wholehearted support to the Emerald scheme and the Kolan scheme.
– I support the proposal introduced by my colleague, Senator Cant. I believe that the importance of State water conservation projects become questions of comparison. Some Government supporters have referred to projects which are under construction. However, I believe that the crux of Senator Cant’s criticism was at our failure to develop postwar Australia at the same rate as development has proceeded following the wartime devastation in Asia and Europe. We were fortunate that there was no invasion of Australia and we were not filled with that note of urgency in our developmental projects. If the urgency had been sufficient we would have advanced much more quickly. I propose to develop that theme further. Senator Lawrie referred very aptly to the unquestionable problems at times with interstate rivalries on the utilisation of water. Obviously rivers do not recognise State boundaries. I think it is because of that salient fact that in this National Parliament we must have leadership on these issues at the Federal level. I think this is epitomised in the history of the Snowy Mountains scheme which was sponsored by the postwar Prime Minister, Mr Chifley. At that time he was faced with interstate rivalries which could have affected the commencement of the scheme. In addition he was in a situation where he had to utilise defence powers and had to wade through numerous conferences to enable the project to get off the ground.
It is true also that there has been an exodus of skilled workers from the Snowy Mountains work force to New Zealand and other places because it has been believed that there were no more long range projects in view. I do not think it is merely a matter of saying that we have project A or project B at a certain stage of development. Not one project which is in contemplation or which is under construction at the moment compares in magnitude with the Snowy Mountains scheme. It will be agreed that, in a continent like Australia, the very fact that there are such large sections which are arid means that we must make every post a winner in water conservation projects. However, I believe that one of the most unpopular issues involved in these projects is the diversion of money to enable the construction of these schemes.
Senator Morris waved a couple of reports around and said that we could not expect the Government to make speedy decisions on them. He said that they were matters that had to be examined. Of course they have to be examined, but the deciding factor in all these things is the attitude of the Treasury Department. Honourable senators know as well as I that every department, no matter how enthusiastic its Minister may be, must rely upon the Treasury ultimately to make up its mind on whether the green light will be shown. Let us take the argument a little further. I refer to a matter which T believe will be appreciated by members of the Australian Country Party. In our economy, which is a private enterprise economy, if we travel about the suburban areas of any of the capital cities we see evidence of useless activity and useless construction on a multitude of service stations and other establishments. We see much useless expenditure’ on advertising on television of tobacco and other products. If all this money were diverted into worthwhile projects, what would we achieve? I think the answer can be found by looking at the barrenness of Israel and seeing what has been created there, by looking at various parts of Europe or by seeing the way in which Japan has recreated its society. But the means of achieving these things are unpalatable to a government. The Government’s attitude is: if we decided on this form of regimentation, what would people say? It is suggested that this is one of the ways in which idealism would be killed in Australia. But this is said because people are afraid to offend the tobacco companies or the petrol and oil groups.
My criticism is that we could have increased by one third whatever has been achieved in postwar Australia in relation to water conservation had there been a rigid diversion of finance and building materials into worthwhile projects. But this was not done. As a result we have an unnecessary surplus of service stations and we see signs of other wasteful expenditure in our community. Honourable senators may suggest that this would result in a police state. I do not believe that it would involve a police state; it would be a realistic approach towards making Australia a better place. As one of my colleagues said, we need scientific planning. But we go further and refer to authorities which echo the condemnations expounded by Senator Cant and others. I refer to resolutions which stemmed from the Sixth All Australian Timber Congress which was held on the Gold Coast in Queensland on 19th and 23rd September 1966. At the bottom of page 3 of their report in clause 5 they note that this advance has improved the average Australian forest yield prospects in the next generation from 629m cubic feet to more than 1,000m cubic feet. They state that they are disturbed at the expected serious shortage of millable logs in 1 990 but that the short term shortage’ in about 1990 could be appreciably alleviated by work being put into native forests now. That is a body of people which has no political axe to grind. They warn of what could happen by the year 1990. That is typical of criticisms that we hear. I do not suggest that nothing has been done, but probably there has been too little too late.
We must have massive planning and we must have a massive diversion of money away from some of the city projects. The Senate has heard me at times speak very caustically of city dwellers talking about the terrible thing which besmirches Sydney, referring to the Hotel Chevron not being completed and criticising the big hole in the ground beside it. It is my belief that any thinking Australian would not care two hoots if it were never completed. I think it is much more important to achieve greater advancement in the rural areas. I think we would achieve much if some of this private money which is put into the Hotel Chevron and other projects were diverted into the common field, by direct or indirect pressures, to enable us to achieve our objectives. An intensification of these dam projects could be brought about by a deliberate direction of credit.
I want to develop another aspect. Whether we like it or not, there is an added responsibility on the Commonwealth Government. I am not one of those who get into long discourses on constitutional powers. My idea is that if something is in our road and we cannot go through it we can go round it as long as we get to the objective that we seek. I should like to direct the attention of honourable senators to an article in ‘Time’ magazine of 3 1 st March 1.967, which deals with conservation. It states that the United States Secretary for the Interior, Stewart Udall, will present recommendations to President Johnson in May. He estimates that there are 800,000 acres of barren land in several of the States. This is an interim report. It does not cover the whole of the United States, let alone the North American continent, but refers to a lot of land in West Virginia and other areas. The article states that at the turn of the century there were unlimited controls over mining excavations and what is called land stripping before there were any laws to control mining companies. The United States is thinking in terms of $250m to put this land back to some useful purpose. 1 do not suggest for one moment that we can approach that target but I say, particularly to Senator Henty, that it is not sufficient to talk about the number of projects that are under way. 1 repeat that we have to intensify and that we have to think big. Senator Keeffe mentioned the expression ‘all the way with LBJ’. I want, to say that there is a number of aspects of United States political life which under a federal system we would do well to emulate. I refer particularly to the term which is being used to a large extent, creative federalism’. It is not sufficient to call together State Premiers, State Ministers for Lands and State Ministers for Health and say: ‘We think that you ought to do this’. Then the matter goes to subcommittees and time goes on. It is amazing to me. On the one hand we talk about air services and being able to go from Sydney to Canberra in 33 minutes, which is quite a laudable project. In the little time that I have been in the Senate .1 have come to the conclusion that too often we are slaves to protocol. Somebody has suggested that time has been wasted in this debate. I suggest to honourable senators opposite that we should inject a jet propulsion approach into some governmental committees and meetings of State Premiers. They should say to their officers: ‘We want a report in a month or else’. The history of World War II shows that, irrespective of whether a government that 1 supported was in power or whether a government that honourable senators opposite supported was in power, heads of departments were instructed to bring down reports within a couple of weeks and we got those reports. We do not get them in that fashion today.
I have been asking in the two years that I have been here for the Commonwealth Department of Health to give me a report on adult health schemes and I am still waiting for it. I do not know what is the position about these green lights at all. Take the Department of Primary Industry. I have been waiting since last November for a simple answer as to whether or not the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Adermann) was to get the State Ministers in charge of fisheries together to decide what we would do to protect the dolphin. All I get is an intimation that the Minister is having a look at it. We should have learned something in the war years about speeding up industrial production. I do not think that we have learnt it in respect of modern governmental bureaucratic trends. We are not facing up to the position at all. We are getting slower.
Senator Lawrie said that in some matters we can move in too quickly. I agree. 1 have a circular dealing with the protection of Tasmania’s scenic heritage which is very interesting. Senator Cant says that we must speed up water conservation. We must be equally vigilant in other respects. We do not want to see the rape of parts of the virgin continent that are a wild life refuge. Sometimes there are State rivalries in relation to dams. There is a need for a Commonwealth Minister for National Development to issue ultimatums. I am a great believer in them. In times of national stress all governments get cracking. We had an illustration of it recently in relation to the terrible bush fires in Tasmania. Now that the event has passed we can look back at it. With the action by the Premier of Tasmania and the acceptance of certain responsibility at Commonwealth level everyone got cracking.
We make a basic criticism. We do not say that certain water conservation projects are not on the way. We say that the spurs should be applied a little more vigorously. When the schemes that Senator Lawrie,
Senator Morris and Senator Keeffe mention get to the Federal Cabinet level the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) will be able to say: ‘There is another $X million here’. In the last few years large amounts of money have been wasted on advertisements appearing on the television screen, telling us what tobacco we should smoke and what beverages we should drink. This is all waste in a country like this. There is no need for that sort of thing. We all know it, but this matter needs a lot of courage. Honourable senators opposite are afraid that if they take on some of these quite unnecessary organisations there will be a sort of reaction. Is it the Socialist bogy coining out? The United States has had to accept this position. There it is called creative federalism’. 1 say quite sincerely to the Government that what we are suggesting is a revision of priorities. Whatever has been done should be increased ten or twenty fold. Money may have to be found from capital levies or it may be that in the case of company tax the Government will have to dig a little deeper in the August Budget and take something from other sources for what we want. When most of the people in this Parliament have passed on. the most effective monument that we could get would be finality on the Ord scheme and construction in north Queensland of some replicas of the Snowy Mountains scheme. That is what we are seeking and that is what Senator Cant’s motion proposes.
– In the last few weeks since we have noted the translation that has occurred in the leadership of the Australian Labor Party, it has become clear to me that too many people from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) down have been reading Mr White’s book ‘The Making of a President 1961’. The lessons that may be adduced, it seems to me, from that book are being applied by the Opposition, both here and in another place, which is engaged in the business of trying to make a new prime minister in 1971. Therefore, the normal legislative processes of the Parliament are being put aside and Government business in this ‘chamber and in another place is being impeded - I repeat impeded - by the introduction of fractious urgency motions that do not bear very much examination.
The motion proposed by Senator Cant this afternoon is an illustration of the matter that I have been raising for the interest of honourable senators who sit on this side. These are not truly matters of great urgency. They have been introduced into the Parliament and are being debated under the terms of the Standing Orders to try to put the olive leaves on the forehead of the present Leader of the Opposition in another place.
– It is a fighting Opposition.
– 1 wish it would choose better material. Senator Mulvihill reminds me of something that perhaps would have escaped my mind. If the Opposition wishes to send somebody out into the olive groves to gather olive branches so that they may be twined into a wreath to go on the head of the new prince, it might choose better gatherers than we have seen in the Senate this afternoon. If ever a motion were badly supported in terms of debate and authority, this motion has been so supported by Senator Cant, Senator Keeffe and Senator Mulvihill. They do no credit to the concept of making the new prince.
– That is only the opinion of a man with a guilty mind.
– That is not the opinion of a man with a guilty mind at all. The interjection by Senator Cavanagh is an interruption by a man with an embarrassed mind.
When Senator Cant stood up to speak, it seemed to me that he indulged in a normal debating trick by taking as his hypothesis the fact that the total runoff in this country is 250 million acre feet, 1,000 million acre feet, or whatever astronomical figure came to his mind. It may or may not have been accurate; I do not know and I will not debate it. He related that runoff to the amount of water that we have conserved in Australia under this Government - about 3 million acre feet. He referred to the wide disparity between the two figures. When he did that I thought he might say that the output of the Swan Brewery in Perth was so many million gallons of beer a year and he managed to drink only two gallons a year, and that was an illustration of underconsumption on his part. There was no reality in what he was arguing. That was the assumption on which he began his argument, and it seemed to me that the rest of his argument fell to the ground because he made an assumption which does not stand the test of analysis.
Of course, we now know what to expect from Senator Keeffe. To my mind, he - not Senator Mulvihill - is the supreme botanist on the Opposition side. When he stands up to speak it is characteristic of him to botanise over the whole field of newspapers that he can encompass with the warning that he has had before he stands up to speak. His speech becomes a tissue of unconnected allegations which he has extracted from newspapers and which will not even bear challenge. For example, without batting an eye he alleged that I had made a statement in Townsville in relation to water conservation. He refused to identify the document from which the quotation came. Then it turned out that he was referring not to me at all but to Senator Heatley. But he has not yet produced the evidence that Senator Heatley made the statement.
So I do not pay very much attention to his allegations, except that he also involved himself in a curious, tortuous argument. First of all he attacked the Government for taking seventeen years to gauge streams. With a grandiloquent gesture and a raising of the voice he said: ‘Seventeen years. This illustrates the Government’s incapacity to tackle the problem.’ Then much later in his speech he said: ‘Of course, water conservation needs some long term planning.’ It is generally recognised by engineers and scientists who involve themselves in these problems that it takes at least a quarter of a century to make a careful and accurate assessment of the amount of runoff. So seventeen years is not a very long period after which to say: ‘We will take a risk on this. We will gauge the rivers in northern Australia, which have never been gauged.’
When Senator Gair, who is not in the chamber at present, was Premier of Queensland there was no gauging of rivers in that State. When the question of water usage in northern Australia came before the Parliament we discovered that there had been no river gauging there at all. If we want to see how much water can be harvested in northern Australia, the first thing we must do is discover how much water we have.
When we know that we can take a risk and say: ‘We will reduce the period from twenty-five years to, say, fifteen years and we will reduce the amount of water that we can extract by limiting the height and size of the headworks in order that we do not build dams that may run dry from time to time.’
The Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) has involved himself and the Government in the very thing that Senator Cant was deprecating, that is to say, long term planning in relation to water conservation in Australia. That was the essence of the relevant part of the speech that the Prime Minister made in opening the election campaign in 1966. He said that certain moneys would be set aside in order to make an accurate assessment of the actual amount of water that can be harvested in Australia. Great sums of money are being made available for that purpose.
As well as the problem of how much water can be harvested there is the problem of how the water is to be used. This involves not only problems of the Commonwealth but also problems of the States. As Senator Mulvihill quite rightly pointed out, there is a constitutional impediment that denies the Commonwealth Government the right to move in and take over water conservation in the States. Senator Mulvihill, in a rhetorical way, said: ‘This is an obstacle or an ultimatum. The Commonwealth can just push it over, go round it or do something like that.’ The Commonwealth cannot do that constitutionally.
Another matter that has been overlooked by every member of the Opposition who has spoken this afternoon in condemnation of the Government is that decisions have to be made on what resources can be deployed at the Commonwealth level and what resources can be deployed at the State level. It is obvious that a great number of scientific investigations have to be made. Irrespective of the amount of water that it is possible to harvest and the amount of money that is devoted to water harvesting or the damming of rivers, there is the problem of soil structure and stability. It is quite easy to say: ‘We will put a dam here.” It is not so easy to say whether the soil structure below the headworks will carry the water for irrigation purposes.
A subsequent phase of the problem in which the Commonwealth is involved relates to the Commonwealth meteorological services. Up to the present they have not produced enough information for us to know the amount of precipitation in northern Australia. Irrigation must go hand in hand with natural precipitation. The rainfall figures for a great deal of the north are not understood. Another matter is the economics of the project. When we know about the water, the soil stability and everything else, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, which is an agency of the Commonwealth Government, should give an opinion on how the water can be used and what can be produced wilh it.
The States have great responsibilities in water conservation. I have mentioned stream gauging, which was not begun until two or three years ago in northern Australia. I direct the attention of the Senate to the fact that no-one knows very much about underground water resources. I suggest that they are equally as important as runoff water resources. The States also will have to investigate problems relating to salting that may.be caused by runoff. I defy any honourable senator opposite to say that, in a great number of the streams that it is proposed to dam, irrigation would not result in heavy salting of the areas to which the water was brought. In addition, the States will have to discover whether the agronomy of the area is of sufficiently advanced capacity, scientifically speaking, to enable the project to be carried through successfully.
Therefore, in company with Senator Henty, I consider that this urgency motion is directed, not towards the well being of Australia and doing things quickly, but at one thing and one thing only; that is, producing a new image for the new leader of the Australian Labor Party. I believe that the functions of government and parliamentary procedures are being destroyed for that purpose and nothing else. I say that the Senate should reject this motion with the contumely that it deserves.
Sitting suspended from 5.40 to 8 p.m.
– This debate has been brought on by the Opposition in order to bring home to the Government and the people the necessity for the
Government to proceed with haste in the conservation and use of our water resources. The Government did promise to spend money - certainly very little money - over a period of some five years on various projects of water conservation and use. The $50m which the Government proposed to spend does not go anywhere near meeting the requirements of this country for water. The fundamental fact is that this is the driest continent on earth. We do not have the great rivers that are found in South America, China and Europe. The main problem of Australia is lack of water. That lack of water means that we cannot develop as we would want to. It means that we cannot grow the food that we would want to. It means that we are limited in every possible way.
With this lack of water, one would think that any government would see to it that there would be no delay whatever in spending any financial resources that were available so that the problem of lack of water would be overcome as far as it could be done by engineering and human ingenuity. Yet we see this Government not only in respect of this $50m but also in other respects over a number of years failing to face up to this problem. In 1964 one of the professors at the Sydney University described the actions of the Government as those of a shuffling half blind beggar in relation to the development of our water resources. This young country is limited and will continue to be limited while ever the Government takes the attitude that it has. Spokesmen for the Government in the Senate today have said, in effect: ‘Well, really, water is a matter for the States. Let the States come and tell us what they want and we will have a look at it. We will think about it.’ This is nonsense.
The lack of water is the great national problem. It is the greatest problem Australia has to face. It is time the Government dealt with it as a national problem. The Government is aware that many projects have been put up by the States including New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. There is no excuse whatever for not spending, not only this proposed money, but more money on the conservation and use of water. I refer not only to surface water but also to underground water. As Senator Cormack rightly said, it may be in this field that the greatest use can be made of our resources. Yet, as he and others have indicated, we are not even aware of the extent of our resources. We have the measuring devices not utilised to their full. We are stumbling along not in any way aware whatever what our resources, surface or underground, of water are. How can this be excused in this country when to us water is life? But water does not mean life only to us. It means life to other peoples of the world.
We live in a world where the population has already passed the 3,000 million mark. That figure was achieved in 1960. We live in a world where already only 5% of our people die of old age. What do the rest die of? Most of them die of starvation through lack of food. What makes food? Water makes food. We would be able to grow the food required in this country if we utilised our water resources. Where we have done so, as in the Murrumbidgee irrigation area, we have transformed deserts into fertile areas. We have been able to produce with the use of water in an area such as that commodities such as barley, rice, cotton and beef, fat lamb, citrus fruits and wines. All of these things can be produced in a desert area when one applies water to it. But not only water is required. Knowledge, enthusiasm and determination are required to make use of the water; also a determination to make use of modern technology in order to produce food not only for the people of Australia but also for the people of the world.
What excuse have we for not using every bit of our water resources that is available to us? What excuse has the Government in Australia for allowing water to flow out to the sea up in the north of Western Australia, and along the coastal rivers of Queensland and New South Wales? What a tragedy it is that we still suffer in 1967 successive floods and droughts along these coastal river areas. Is it said that it is beyond human ingenuity to stop this? Is it said that there is nothing that can be done about it and that we must face, year after year, floods that destroy the years of work of persons, only to be followed in another year or so by a drought again causing heartbreaking tragedy to the people there? What possible excuse is there for the Government to carry on in this fashion when it knows, and the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) himself has conceded, that water is our most precious asset? Yet, we are wasting it. The little water that we have has been allowed to flow to waste by this Government because it will not face up to the problem. The Government has been asked this question:
What is the role and what are the policies of the Commonwealth Government in the framework, if it exists, of a consistent national water policy, including, so far as it is contemplated, coordination of Federal and State agencies towards the conservation and development of water resources for the benefit of the nation as a whole as well as of the States and local authorities?
There ought to be an answer to that question. There ought to have been an answer to it when it was asked by me on 16th March 1966. Mr President, if honourable senators will examine the very lengthy answer that was given they will see that there is no real determination by the Government to deal with this problem; no plans have been prepared by the Commonwealth within the framework qf a consistent national water policy at all. The answer to my question has been given here today when various Ministers have said on behalf of the Government: ‘Let the States come to us with this or that project and we will look at it and see what it is all about’. That is not the approach that should be adopted at all. There should be a consistent national water policy. The Federal Government should determine what its role is and what its policies are. It should say what it is prepared to do in respect of those policies. It. should set out the conditions under which it is prepared to advance moneys to the States or to local authorities; what conditions it wants; and what it wants to achieve. All these things ought to have been determined long ago by the Federal Government. Instead, the policy in between elections is to do nothing. When elections are coming along and it looks as if the people of Queensland could be getting upset about nothing being done up there, the Government decides that it had better put something into its policy speech to keep the people in Queensland quiet and let them think that something is going to be done. The Government says: ‘Let us do the same with the people in New South Wales. Let us kid them along, get over this election and then, when it is passed, we do not have to worry very much about the matter.*
This has been going on year after year. Meanwhile this country is suffering and the people of the world are suffering. What right have we to fail in our international duty? When so many people are starving in the world and when so many people are suffering from malnutrition, what right have wc not to make the utmost use of our resources?
Very often Government supporters say thai Australia is menaced by all sorts of people in Asia. They say that those people will want to come down here and take this land from us so that they can feed their people; they want it for expansion purposes. What better excuse can be given to anyone who says that than to point to the failure of a country to utilise its resources. How can we justify holding on to our land when we are not utilising our resources, when we are not producing the food that we could produce and when millions of people in the world are not getting enough to eat every day. We could produce more food but we are not doing so because the Government will not conserve our limited resources of water. Eminent authorities in this country agree that the Government is not doing enough. We do not lack engineering skills, we do not lack the people needed for these tasks, but we lack political will to undertake them. The attitude is the same regarding water pollution and many other problems that we have to face. We do not lack technical skills; we lack political skills. This Government is deficient in the will to set to and solve these problems. Now that the election has passed and the GovernorGeneral has made his speech, the Government says: ‘Let us forget about it unless tremendous pressure is put upon us to force us to carry out what we have promised! What the Labor Party is doing here and in another place today is applying part of that pressure. We will not relent. We will see to it that the Government is forced to utilise our natural resources. We will not allow the Government to fall down on its election promises; we will not allow it to fall down on its duty to the Australian people, and we will not allow it to fall down on its duty to the people of the world.
– I have listened with a great deaf of attention to what the Opposition has said in this debate. I am pleased to say that I am surprised at the number of honourable senators opposite who are taking an interest in this question of water conservation. That is quite enlightening. 1 shall comment first on some of the remarks made by Senator Murphy. The honourable senator referred to malnutrition. Presumably he was referring to malnutrition of human beings. There is also malnutrition of stock, but I do not think that he appreciates that point. Earlier today one of Senator Murphys colleagues almost demanded that the Government should fill the water storages which have been seriously depleted because of lack of rain. We have no control over this matter. We cannot make rain when we want it, despite the work that has been undertaken by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in this Geld.
Senator Murphy then referred to the lack of food in overseas countries and what we should do about it. I remind him that overseas countries have a lot to learn themselves. Australia is a very young country when compared with other nations but what we have achieved is quite remarkable. India and some other Asiatic nations nave resources far greater than our own, but as yet undeveloped. We have a right to expect them to look to their own resources before they begin to look at ours. That is my view.
Senator Keeffe claimed that when I was in Townsville I said that I was not in favour of long range planning in water conservation. I give this statement the complete lie. 1 repudiate it absolutely. Four days after I took my place in the Senate J was delegated to go to Townsville to discuss the question of national development. When I met Senator Keeffe in Townsville I said I was in favour of long range development in water conservation but I was against damming streams just for the sake of damming. On that occasion 1 had a few clashes with Senator Keeffe. Recently when Senator Keeffe raised the question of floods in northern Queensland he mentioned that he had travelled over the area in a light aircraft. He said: ‘lt was a disastrous sight. 1 saw stock stranded in trees - dead, of course’. I myself travelled over the area in an aircraft. I also went by jeep, car truck and on foot. I made first hand reports and recommendations to the appropriate authority. This is what I think should be done by any politician, irrespective of his political affiliations.
I will support any person who is prepared to help expedite the development of our water resources. ButI hasten to add that logical reason must prevail. It must prevail in this matter as in any other matter.I shall have more to say on this shortly, it should be obvious that I as a Queenslander who is fully aware of the importance of water, wholeheartedly support the remarks of our Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) in his policy speech when he said - and I shall quote only the essential parts because this section of his speech has been quoted almost in full:
We believe a programme of water conservation related to national needs should now be drawn up by us with State Governments.
Further on he said:
We shall invite the States to put forward programmes of additional works they would propose for Commonwealth financing. We, in turn, will make a contribution to enable additional works, selected on their merits, to be carried out.
Finally he said:
We contemplate, however, that the contribution to be made by the Commonwealth for selected additional works- andI stress the words ‘additional works’: could amount to $50m over the next five years.
The Commonwealth Government already is assisting State programmes by making available grants totalling as much as $2. 754m over the three year period 1964-65 to 1966-67. An amount of $4.5m will be provided in the three years 1967-68 to 1969-70. In addition, the Prime Minister contemplates that an extra $50m could be made available over the next five years. This depends on his advisers. To my way of thinking, the Government has little to be ashamed of for what it has done in water conservation to date, particularly since 1961 when the then Prime Minister, implementing the promise contained in his policy speech, established the Australian Water Resources Council. I think honourable senators should be quite au fait with the functions of this Council - measurement and research for future sound planning. This is what it has achieved. For those who ask what it has achieved, 1 can illustrate by saying that the Australian Water Resources Council has given consideration to urgent water research and education needs in Australia and has recommended that a water resources research fund with an income of $200,000 in the first three years be established. The Commonwealth Government will contribute half that sum, and the States will contribute the other half over six years. The Council was also responsible for the first official comprehensive assessment of Australia’s water resources, which was published in 1965. in addition to this, as recently as 17th March 1967, the Minister reported:
The Council, during today’s meeting, discussed the question of determining what proportion of the nation’s total water resources might be conserved and utilised. The Council also considered reports from several expert panels appointed to study matters including farm dams, evaporation losses in storages, the use of water plants, estimation of run-off in areas where direct measures have not been included . . .
Those are some of the steps which have been taken by the Government to increase the development and conservation of our water resources. As the Prime Minister stated in his policy speech that he would do, he has requested the State governments to make recommendations. I have here one statement, if I might be parochial, from the Queensland Government in which that Government recommends that the Commonwealth Government consider providing financial assistance totalling $47. 2m over five years. That was one State recommendation. The Commonwealth Government certainly has a lot of others to consider. I am only hopeful that the Queensland Government will get more than deserving, or even deserving treatment, compared with what has been given to other States hitherto.
In these major schemes, investigated and desirable, in addition to the programmes already mentioned in the early part of the report, there are six major projects, including the Emerald and Kolan projects each of which will cost over$20m. These have been investigated in substantial detail, and a report has been submitted. I am not trying to be parochial in concentrating on Queensland, but it is the State that I represent.
Again the Opposition asks what has been done. I refer honourable senators opposite to the report on major developments for 1966. There are certainly some projects undertaken by private enterprise, but I am sure no Government would dare to prevent private enterprise from taking part in a national development project. I know, too, of my own knowledge that no private developer would expect the government to do everything. Amongst other things, the report to which I refer says:
Other large irrigation and water conservation projects are also either under construction or have been completed in the last few years by the various State and local government authorities. In the two year period the total cost of such water projects completed was over $77m and projects estimated to cost in excess of $582m are currently under construction.
These have been considered, and I am sure they will be assisted by the Federal Government. I am quite sure that this urgency motion stems from a question asked in the other place recently by the adviser in this field for the Opposition. I am sure, too, that this adviser will be embarrassed when he finds what the reply is. He referred in particular to projects in the Burnett, Fitzroy, Pioneer and Burdekin basins. I have with me a report from the Bundaberg District Canegrowers Executive, and I shall quote very briefly from it. In it the Executive stipulates that the Monduran Dam in the Burnett area is one of the main projects it would like to see carried out. The approach was a quite logical one. The scheme was submitted by the Queensland Canegrowers Executive to the growers for their approval. Incidentally, in this survey, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority helped to no mean effect.
There is no doubt that many of the worthy schemes to be considered - and this is one of them - must be assisted, as I have said before in this House, in order of priority. This applies to the Burdekin, Fitzroy, Tully, Herbert and other schemes. The report that I have states:
Because of the inadequacy of existing supplies most irrigation practice provides supplementary or partial irrigation rather than irrigation for optimum production. To ensure supplies to existing areas of irrigation, for optimum production and extend irrigation to the existing non-irrigated areas, substantial water conservation and distribution works are necessary.
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– Senator Cant, on behalf of the Opposition, has initiated this debate drawing the attention of the Parliament and thereby of the Australian people to the failure of the present Government to honour its election promise to provide funds for urgent State water conservation projects for irrigation, stock-water, power and flood mitigation. Notwithstanding all that has been said by Government spokesmen on this matter, the fact is that Australia, the largest and driest continent in the world, has just passed through one of its most serious droughts and, because of this very reason alone, water conservation is a subject of vital interest to the Australian nation.
There was, of course, a very serious drought in 1944, but many residents of the western part of New South Wales, the State that I have the honour to represent in this Parliament, tell us that the recent drought was the worst of all because it was so widespread - because it affected almost every facet of primary industry and rural lifeand, secondly, because of the greater demand that has been made on the land in recent years. The development of irrigation along the Macquarie, Namoi and Lachlan rivers by the construction of headwater dams has certainly made the effect of the drying up of the rivers in the inland areas much more serious than it would have been twenty years ago. The simple fact is that the difficulties and problems encountered by our primary producers in the past will inevitably have to be faced in the future. To meet future problems much more planning of our water resources has to be embarked upon, not only by this Government but by all State governments. Planning must be started now if we are to be able to meet the great challenges of tomorrow.
During this debate we have heard a lot from our political opponents - particularly from our friends in the Australian Country Party - about decentralisation. In fact, decentralisation cannot really take place until a planned and effective water conservation policy is operative. Already our capital cities are overcrowded and their populations are growing day by day. Our coastal cities are short of water. Sydney in particular has had pretty severe water restrictions recently. An immediate programme of water resources development has to be embarked upon now, for soon it- will be too late.
The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Murphy) during this debate said that water is one of Australia’s most precious commodities. That is so. Although Australia covers an area of approximately 3 million square miles, only 1.9 million square miles - or about two-thirds of the continent - is regarded as contributing to the stream flow of our rivers. The total average annual discharge of Australian rivers has been assessed at about 280 million acre feet. This figure is very small indeed when compared with the flows of rivers in other countries such as South America, the United States of America, China and Europe. For instance, the average annual discharge of the Amazon River in South America is 2,950 million acre feet; the Mississippi River in the United States 465 million acre feet; and the Mekong River in Asia 405 million acre feet. Apart from any other consideration, those figures should convince every honourable senator that water is one of our most previous possessions.
If we are to take our rightful place in the world and we are to supply the underprivileged nations with the necessary foodstuffs, and if we are to set about developing our great mineral resources that have been found in the last twenty years - bauxite, lead, copper, silver; zinc and so on - we certainly have to take steps forthwith to plan for the full utilisation of those resources. The Northern Territory can no longer truly be regarded as an empty and barren land of little use except for pastoral development, as was the case in pre-war years. Its discovered and potential mineral resources by world standards rank very high indeed. If we are to develop effectively (hose resources and to make proper use of this nation for the people who live within its bounds, we have to look at examples of what has been done elsewhere. If we take action through imaginative planning then I believe that Australia has a great future. lt is interesting to study the development that took place in the western areas of the United States in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The relationship of that area at that time to the more populous eastern areas of the United States was not unlike the present relationship between northern Australia and southern Australia. The western regions of the United States were very sparsely populated. The easily developed water supplies had been exhausted and neither the States as they existed at that time nor private enterprise could finance the storage dams and diversion works needed for large scale expansion. The legislators failed abjectly to realise that the planned application of water could bring about a complete transformation and turn areas that were then vast deserts into nourishing States. Today those States in the western part of the United States have a population of about 50 million. The feats accomplished in the United States in those days can be attributed to the foresight and vision of President Theodore Roosevelt, whose Reclamation Act of 1902 laid the foundations for successful development of the arid western areas of the United States. He established a reclamation service, now known throughout the world as the United States Bureau of Reclamation, for the purpose of examining proposals for development and to construct and operate reclamation projects.
All honourable senators know of Sir William Hudson, a very great Australian. In a paper on the subject of water conservation Sir William had this to say about the United States Reclamation Act of 1902:
Results achieved since that time have shown this Act to be one of the most far-reaching and important pieces of water legislation ever put through by Congress. . . . This legislation has at all times recognised the interests and rights of the States in water resources developments within their borders, lt has resulted in excellent co-operative working relationships being built up between the Federal and Slate agencies and has ensured that full regard is paid to State and regional interests in achieving optimum development. lt is interesting to compare those statements with the statement made by Senator Lawrie today about the difficulties associated with rivers that run between two Slates. Sir William indicated what can be done by a co-operative effort and I suggest that this Government should take heed of his comments. It could also profitably study the United States Reclamation Act of 1902.
If this Government and the State governments would act now or had acted before we would be in a more favourable position to commence new irrigation developments than was the United States when President Theodore Roosevelt enacted the Reclamation Act of 1902. What is the position wilh regard to irrigation projects in New South Wales and Victoria? An area of about 2i million acres is already being irrigated in those States. The stream flow available in them represents only about onefifth of the total stream flow available on the mainland. Most of the remainder of the flow, of course, is in the north.
In the irrigated area of New South Wales and Victoria to which 1 have referred - an area of some 2i million acres - the value of production is estimated to be approximately one-tenth of the total value of Australia’s pastoral and agricultural production. When one travels through the great Riverina area, through Griffith, Leeton and out as far as Colleambally and sees what has been done by wise and proper planning and hard work, and what can be accomplished by co-operative effort, one reasonably asks why, after eighteen years of office, the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) on behalf of the Government, went before the Australian people in November last and said in his policy speech:
We believe a programme of water conservation related to national needs should now be drawn up by us with State governments.
I emphasise the word ‘now’:
We have in mind a national water resources development programme. Its purpose would be to increase water conservation activity, to reduce hazards of drought and expand primary production.
The first paragraph of the Prime Minister’s policy speech on the subject of national development and water conservation is very interesting when one compares it with a statement made recently by the New South Wales Country Party Minister for Decentralisation, Mr J. B. Fuller. The Prime Minister had this to say:
Since 1949 we have consistently carried out our policy of national development. For us this is a wide and embracing term. It means people as well as physical resources.
It was rather ironical to see that statement contradicted on 13th February last by the New South Wales Minister for Decentralisation who, when addressing the Australian Country Party Conference, said that the Federal Government had lost sight of the true concept of the balanced development of Australia.
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– In the remaining few minutes of the time allotted for this debate I want to make three points in relation to the motion which has been placed before the Senate by the Opposition. I remind honourable senators that the first phrase of the Opposition’s reasons for the motion is in these terms: the failure of the Government to honour its election promises.
At the outset I deny emphatically, firstly, secondly and thirdly any failure of the Government in this regard, and I remind the Senate that the water conservation policy outlined by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) in his policy speech was only one of a number of proposals which he enumerated during the campaign. Writing only a few weeks ago in the ‘Bulletin’ Alan Reid directed attention most emphatically to the fact that, with only about a dozen working weeks gone since the election, the Government had moved quickly to fulfil its election pledges. He went on to say that there were fourteen of those; more than eight of them had been fulfilled already and more were on the way.
Associated with this let me direct attention to the fact that time after time today members of the Opposition have quoted the Prime Minister’s policy speech. We appreciate their recognition of its quality but, as far as I am able to recall, not one of them quoted the policy speech of the then Leader of the Opposition. I have in my hand the printed policy speech of the Leader of the Opposition which carries on its front page a photograph of the honourable gentleman. Have honourable senators opposite quoted one single sentence of that policy speech? What does the speech say about water conservation or anything of that nature? In a couple of sentences it talks about three parts of surface water in Australia being in Queensland, and it says something about runoff, the tragedy of the tropics and a few things like that. The Leader of the Opposition made passing reference to the fact that Labor would consider establishing a national conservation authority. The subject of water is lumped in with land, forests and other things. If. the Opposition, which is the alternative government, were in office that is the kind of tasks that would be handed to the conservation authority. I deny that there has been any failure whatsoever on the part of the Government in the matter of water conservation.
My second point relates to the Australian Water Resources Council, which has been mentioned. I emphasise that under the
Constitution responsibility for the measurement, conservation and development of all kinds of water is not a matter for the Commonwealth Government only; it is also closely allied with the States. Let me place on record the developments which have taken place as a result of the activities of the Council and its relations with the States. It has implemented an accelerated programme of conservation of surface and underground water. Indeed, the funds allocated to this organisation for its second three-year period are more than double the funds allocated for the first period. The activities of the Council, associated with various research programmes conducted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, indicate that the Government is alive to the need for water conservation and is taking such steps as are proper and as may be taken under the Constitution, bearing in mind the cost involved and other related factors, in a national programme of water conservation.
Finally may I, as a South Australian, say a word about the splendid part that the Chowilla Dam will play in our overall water conservation programme. I have mentioned this subject in the Senate on more than one occasion. The dam will not benefit only South Australia; it will also make a major contribution to the total amount of water conserved at the national level. Besides providing water for groups of people in the surrounding lands it will provide water for the capital city of Adelaide, for countless growers on the upper Murray, for primary producers of a score of kinds in the midnorthern areas of South Australia, for the industrial centre of Whyalla and for Woomera and for places beyond. All of this has more than a bearing on primary production and industry generally. It involves also the totality of life in South Australia.
The arguments which have been put forward today relating to what the Opposition regards as the Government’s failure in this matter surely stand condemned. The arguments are not based on any authority and have no authenticity.
– Order! The time allotted for consideration of this motion under standing order 64 having expired, the Senate will now proceed to other business.
– by leave - The presence of rats on an overseas vessel at Darwin, and their subsequent extermination, only serves to highlight the strict precautions taken by the Commonwealth Department of Health at all Australian ports to see that vermin from ships are kept in check. A world-wide system of reporting already ensures that the World Health Organisation is kept constantly aware of the presence of such diseases as plague, which are carried by rats. At present the only country reporting plague is Vietnam, and any ships coming to Australia from Vietnamese ports are given priority of attention by quarantine officers. Power exists under the Quarantine Act for a quarantine officer to board a vessel in any Australian port and to require the master to undertake the destruction of rats and mice. The master must also see that necessary rat guards are in place to prevent any vermin from reaching the wharf.
Under the International Sanitary Regulations of the World Health Organisation, ships are also required to hold a valid international de-ratting certificate. For overseas vessels this certificate is valid for six months, but the presence of the certificate does not preclude any ships from re-inspection. In the case of the vessel ‘Dumai Trader’ in Darwin, the vessel held a valid de-ratting certificate, but Australian quarantine authorities took the added precaution of laying more rat baits and also of fumigating the vessel for cockroaches. These added precautions were taken even though the Dumai Trader’ had come to Australia direct from Japan where no cases of plague are being reported. When all the cargo from the ‘Dumai Trader’ had been removed at Darwin the vessel was again treated. During these operations a number of rats were killed. It was considered most unlikely that plague could have originated from any rats on the vessel.
Ships entering Australian ports, whether overseas or interstate traders, are immediately inspected by quarantine officers for signs of rat harbourage. If cargo has to be unloaded, the holds of the ships are re-inspected after the cargo has been moved. If there are signs of rats, appropriate measures such as fumigation, trapping or baiting may be ordered, regardless of whether the vessel holds a current international de-ratting certificate. All vessels tied up in Australian ports during unloading are inspected at least once a day to ensure that any necessary rat guards are in place, that any openings on the vessel adjacent to the wharves or other vessels are adequately screened and, finally, to ensure that refuse from the vessel is being disposed of according to quarantine regulations. These anti-rat measures are a major part of the Department of Health quarantine activities and quarantine officers are stationed at all first ports of entry for this particular purpose.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) read a first time.
[8.53] - I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Almost twenty years ago the Commonwealth Government established a service to provide rehabilitation assistance for severely handicapped people. Since that time more than 20,000 invalid pensioners and other people who might otherwise have become invalid pensioners have been restored to gainful employment through the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service and have taken their place in the community. This programme represented a considerable advance on the position where the invalid pension was the only prospect for the severely disabled.
The Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service, together with hospitals and other rehabilitation agencies, will continue this valuable work and each year a thousand or more persons who have been disabled by accident or disease will be helped to return to normal employment. However, each year there are several hundred people who, despite the medical treatment and training which they receive, fail, through no fault of their own, to measure up to the exacting requirements of normal employment in commerce and industry. These and other handicapped people in the community can be given the opportunity to work and play a role in our society if employment under sheltered conditions is available for them.
There are in Australia today more than 100 sheltered workshops of various kinds. They cater both for the physically disabled and mentally handicapped and much credit is due to the voluntary organisations which have pioneered this field. More than half of these workshops have been started within the past five years, and while their main purpose is to help handicapped people they are, at the same time, producing goods services which are worth about a million dollars a year. Sheltered workshops, established through the initiative, enterprise and generosity of voluntary organisations, provide a worthy part of community assistance for the disabled. lust as rehabilitation services have released thousands of people from dependence on invalid pensions, so too can sheltered workshops provide new opportunities for thousands more.
The purpose of this Bill is to foster and encourage the sheltered workshop movement by enabling grants to be made to eligible organisations to assist them in establishing and equipping sheltered workshops in which severely handicapped people will be able to earn up to the limits imposed by their disabilities. Some will eventually be able to graduate to outside jobs; others will find within the workshops themselves employment which is both socially and financially rewarding. Rehabilitation and sheltered workshop services will not, of course, be operated in isolation. There is already a close link between many sheltered workshops and the Rehabilitation Service and that collaboration can and will be developed to the advantage of both services. The scope of available assistance will be extended, especially for the more seriously disabled, and the opportunity will be greatly improved for a person to secure employment at a level compatible with his disability.
Honourable senators will notice that the term ‘sheltered workshop’ is not used in the Bill. The word ‘workshop’ suggests an
Industrial form of enterprise and certain types of sheltered employment that the Government may wish to encourage might bc excluded by its use. Employment in a rural environment, for example, has proved very suitable for some disabled persons, particularly the mentally handicapped, but it would scarcely be appropriate to refer to a market garden or a plant nursery as a ‘workshop’. When I use the phrase sheltered workshop’ I shall therefore be talking in this somewhat wider context. It is the most convenient way of explaining the operation of the Bill, even though the term itself is not in the Bill. it is fundamental to the Bill that the independence and initiative of the voluntary agencies which have already done such a magnificent job in this field should be preserved. Existing or proposed sheltered workshops will, however, need to comply with certain standards to qualify for assistance. The need for workshops to be administered with an understanding for the special needs of their employees is fully appreciated. lt will, nevertheless, be necessary to differentiate between sheltered workshops »nd activity centres or similar establishments which are primarily intended to serve a purpose other than that of enabling handicapped persons to achieve some degree of financial independence. When the Prime Minister, in his policy speech of 8th November 1966, announced the Government’s intention of assisting sheltered workshops he said:
Wc will forthwith begin consultation with both voluntary and other agencies with a view to granting capital assistance on a $2 for $1 basis towards the expansion and establishment of sheltered workshops conducted by voluntary agencies throughout (he Commonwealth. We have in mind that this aid should run not only to workshops that aim lo restore the disabled to outside employment, but also to those that will provide employment under sheltered conditions to those who have a permanent residual disability.
We will introduce a special allowance for employees in sheltered workshops. The allowance will bc reduced when earnings exceed a certain limit, but will be so arranged that employees will receive a net increase in income for each Increment of earnings.
The Social Services Bill now before the Senate provides for invalid pensioners and
Tertain other people engaged in sheltered employment to be paid a sheltered employment allowance. It will provide an incentive for them progressively to increase their earnings, while assuring them of an income and other allowances no less than they would receive as pensioners.
The Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Bill gives effect to the capital assistance proposals referred to by the Prime Minister. It provides assistance on a $2 for $1 basis towards the capital cost of purchasing, erecting or extending premises for use as sheltered workshops and the cost of items of equipment required for the operation of a workshop or to increase its efficiency or productivity. In addition, where a workshop is conducted in rented premises it offers a $2 for $1 subsidy towards the rent for up to three years. It also incorporates, continues and expands the assistance previously available under the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act, which it is proposed to repeal.
The organisations which are eligible for assistance arc the same, with the addition of local governing bodies, as those which are now eligible under the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act and the Aged Persons Homes Act, namely religious organisations, charitable and benevolent groups, exservicemen’s organisations and local governing bodies. Other voluntary organisations may be approved by the Director-General. Trustees under a trust established for charitable or benevolent purposes may also be approved. As the intention of the Government is to encourage voluntary endeavour two basic conditions of eligibility are that an organisation must not be conducted for the profit or gain of its individual members and that it must not be controlled by persons who have been appointed by the Commonwealth or a State Government.
Before any action can be initiated to approve a project or make a grant for any purpose it is necessary for the Minister to declare that the employment provided by the eligible organisation is sheltered employment. Employment can be so declared if a substantial number of the persons employed or to be employed on the premises are disabled persons and they are paid for the work they perform.
The Bill defines a disabled person as one who is either incapacitated to the extent necessary to qualify for an invalid pension or in the opinion of the Director-General would be likely to become incapacitated to that extent if he were not provided with sheltered employment. A project would not necessarily be disqualified for assistance if some persons who did not come within the definition were employed on the same premises. The requirement that disabled persons engaged in sheltered employment must be paid for the work they do takes into account that the earning capacity of disabled persons varies considerably and is affected both by their own skill and speed and also the type of work on which they are engaged. Its purpose is to ensure that employees receive a fair return for their labour and that sheltered workshops operate on equal terms with other business enterprises.
The capital subsidy for premises which provide sheltered employment will apply to buildings purchased or erected including any necessary fixtures or alterations. The value of land may be included in the capital cost. Grants may also be made towards the cost of renovating, altering or extending existing premises or for land, including fixed improvements, used for farming activities in which disabled workers are employed. To make an effective contribution to the welfare of the disabled, sheltered workshops must be equipped to operate efficiently. Modern tools and machines are the key to increased productivity in any industry, and the need for such equipment becomes greater in the case of persons whose strength, dexterity or mobility has been reduced by disablement. Subsidies will be provided for initial equipment and for the expansion and reequipment of existing workshops, lt is not proposed, however, to grant subsidies for the replacement of items originally subsidised or for items of a relatively minor nature.
The making of a grant will be subject to reasonable standards being met and to the opportunities which a workshop provides for its disabled employees to engage in useful and remunerative work. Organisations will be expected to enter into an agreement to abide by the conditions on which the grant is made and may be required to repay a grant to the Commonwealth in the event of a breach of the agreement. The Director-General must be satisfied, before making a grant towards the purchase or construction of premises, that the organisation has sufficient funds, together with the amount of the grant, to cover the cost of the premises. Funds that become available as a result of borrowing, or were received from the Commonwealth or a State Government, or an authority, other than a local governing body, established under a Commonwealth or State Act, cannot attract a subsidy. Borrowed funds or funds received from a State Government can be used, however, to help meet the cost of a project. For example, if an organisation had raised $20,000 from public appeals, had received a donation of $10,000 from a local governing body, $7,500 from a State Government, and borrowed $7,500, the amount of $30,000 received from the public appeals and the local governing body’s donation would be the amount that could be subsidised. This would attract a grant of $60,000 and by using all available funds the organisation could obtain a sheltered workshop costing up to $105,000.
Some organisations operate sheltered workshops in rented premises and provision is included in the Bill for the making of grants towards the cost of renting premises where sheltered employment is provided. Grants for rent will not be made to an organisation which is paying rent for premises to another organisation with which it is affiliated, unless the latter organisation is itself renting the premises. Grants for rented premises may be made for a period of up to three years or for periods not exceeding three years in the aggregate. Organisations with limited funds may prefer to start a workshop in rented premises. They will then have up to three years in which to accumulate capital for the purchase or erection of their own workshops. Should they decide to continue to occupy the rented premises following expiration of the threeyear period during which the rental subsidy had been paid they may, of course, do so.
Mr Deputy President, as I mentioned earlier, the present Bill provides for the repeal of the Disabled Persons Accommodation Act and incorporates its provisions with one important addition, that is, that local governing bodies have been included in the definition of ‘eligible organisations’. Assistance towards accommodation is on the same basis as the assistance towards the capital’ cost of the premises which provide sheltered employment and any eligible organisation, whether or not it conducts a sheltered workshop, may provide accommodation for persons engaged in sheltered employment and receive a grant towards that end. In relation to sheltered workshops the legislation will have effect for buildings and land purchased or buildings commenced or in course of construction on or after 28th November 1966; that is immediately after the Government was returned to office following the announcement of its plans of assistance for sheltered workshops. The rental subsidy will be paid only for rent payable subsequent to the commencement of the Act and the subsidy for equipment will not be granted for items purchased prior to that date. The usual provisions for the making of regulations and the delegation of powers and functions are included in the Bill.
Mr Deputy President, that is a general outline of the Bill, which I am sure will be recognised as a sincere attempt to join with voluntary organisations and similar bodies in giving practical help to a very deserving section of the community. The measures provided for in the Bill are those which accord with the voluntary organisations’ assessment of greatest need. They will enable these organisations to help disabled people who are unable to take their place in ordinary employment and in some cases will enable disabled persons eventually to enter ordinary employment. I am confident that the proposals will have the support of all honourable senators. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Byrne) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) read a first time.
[9.11] I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of this Bill is to enable the benefits that are available to pensioners under existing provisions of the National Health Act to be made available to persons who will become eligible for pensions and allowances as a result of the relaxations to the social services means test recently announced. The pensions and allowances that will be affected by the proposed relaxations to the means test are age, invalid or widows pensions authorised by the Social Services Act; service pensions authorised by the Repatriation Act; sheltered employment allowances which will be authorised by the proposed amendments to the Social Services Act; and allowances authorised by the Tuberculosis Act.
At the present time, every person receiving an age, invalid, widows or service pension or a tuberculosis allowance is entitled to all the benefits of the pensioner medical service. These benefits are also available to the dependants of the persons in receiptof these pensions and allowances. The benefits comprise general practitioner medical attention free of charge from a doctor of the pensioner’s own choice, hospital treatment free of charge in the public wards of public hospitals and pharmaceutical benefits free of charge. Persons newly eligible for pensions and allowances as a result of the proposed relaxations of the means test will, as a result of this Bill, become eligible for the hospital and pharmaceutical benefits 1 have mentioned as soon as they have been accepted for pension purposes. The dependants of these persons will also be entitled to the hospital and pharmaceutical benefits provided for pensioners.
Honourable senators will be aware that the free general practitioner medical service for pensioners is conducted under an agreement, authorised by section 32 of the National Health Act, between the Commonwealth Government and the Australian Medical Association. Under this agreement doctors throughout Australia provide medical attention for pensioners and their dependants for concessional fees which are paid by the Commonwealth. The Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) has informed the Federal Council of the Australian Medical Association of the proposals for amending the social services means test now before Parliament and sought the concurrence of the Association in the extension of the existing agreement for a free general practitioner medical service to the persons becoming eligible for pensions and allowances as a result of the proposed amendments. The Federal Council has advised that the Australian Medical Association’s policy in this matter can be determined only by the Federal Assembly of the Association, which is meeting in May to consider this and other matters. When the policy of the Australian Medical Association is determined by this meeting in May, the Government will give early consideration to the extension of the free general practitioner medical services to this new group of pensioners and persons receiving allowances.
The new definition of ‘pensioner’ included in clause 3 of this Bill will enable a new agreement to be made with the Australian Medical Association, under section 32of the Act, in relation to all persons in receipt of an age, invalid, widows or service pension, a tuberculosis allowance or a sheltered employment allowance, including all persons newly eligible for pensions and allowances as a result of the relaxations of the means test. In the meantime clause 4 of the Bill continues the effect of the existing agreement in relation to persons entitled to pensions and allowances under the legislation currently in force.
In detail, the benefits that will be authorised by this Bill are firstly, hospital treatment in public wards of public hospitals without charge, in return for which the Commonwealth pays the hospitals concerned $5.00 a day for each pensioner so treated; secondly, an extensive range of drugs and medicines, ordered on doctors prescriptions, without charge; and thirdly, free general practitioner medical attention, upon the making of the necessary agreement with the Australian Medical Association.
It is proposed that the provisions of this Bill will commence from the same date as the social services amending Bill so that the new pensioners and persons in receipt of allowances and their dependants will be eligible for the hospital and pharmaceutical benefits from the date they are accepted for pension purposes by the Department of Social Services or the Repatriation Department or the date a sheltered employment allowance or a tuberculosis allowance is granted. The estimated annual costs to the Commonwealth of the measures contained in the Bill are $550,000 for hospital benefits and $380,000 for pharmaceutical benefits. The estimated cost of extending the free general practitioner medical service would be $450,000 in a full year. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Dittmer) adjourned.
Message received from the House of Representatives intimating that it had agreed to the amendments made by the Senate in the Bill.
Debate resumed from 18 April (vide page 879), on motion by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Senator Toohey had moved by way of amendment:
That the following words be added to the motion: but the Senate condemns the Government because it has failed to -
eliminate the injustices of discrimination between the rates of married and single pensioners;
increase adequately all rates of pensions and social service benefits to meet the increased cost of living;
institute a national inquiry into poverty and social welfare in Australia;
carry out its policy of abolishing the means test as promised as long ago as 1949, and
make benefits retrospective to the date of the last elections, 26th November 1966.’
– Before this debate was interrupted last night I pointed out to the Senate some of the anomalies and discriminations which are taking place under the existing social services legislation and which I suggest will continue to take place notwithstanding the introduction and subsequent passage of this Bill. I also quoted from various policy speeches made on behalf of the present Government, commencing in 1949 when the Government first came into office and ending as late as November last year. By quoting from those policy speeches I pointed out how inconsistent the Government had been in its approach to the treatment of the elderly and infirm sections of the Australian community. I was about to say that in each policy speech made on behalf of the Government the proposals put to the people in respect of the abolition of the means test were different from those in the other policy speeches and different from the original ones in the 1949 policy speech, which contained an express undertaking by Mr Menzies, as he then was, to establish a compulsory national insurance scheme and to give that matter urgent attention as a matter of priority.
In the course of this debate Senator Marriott said something about the abolition of the means test. He said that now it would cost about $300m, compared with the 1949 estimate of £70m. He went on to say that he would rather extend additional benefits to the needy than abolish the means test. But I suggest to him and other members of the Government parties that they cannot have it both ways. I point out that the Government imposes no means test at all on one social service benefit, namely child endownment. I- would suggest further that if anyone dared suggest the imposition of a means test on child endowment, then Senator Marriott would be one of those who, literally, would be tearing down the walls of this Parliament. So, surely, all of this indicates that the problems of the needy, of the aged and of the infirm have in fact really been tackled on a piecemeal unorganised and, indeed, discriminating basis. One rule exists for the elderly - the imposition of a means test - and another rule for the very young in respect of whom no means test is imposed for child endowment.
Now, Madam Acting Deputy President, in the short time that I wish to speak further on this proposal, I want to deal with the amendment proposed by the Opposition that the Senate condemn the Government because the Government has failed to institute a national inquiry into poverty and social welfare in Australia. Of course, this is not a matter that has now been raised by the Opposition for the first time. It has been raised in this Parliament over a number of years. On 2nd September 1964, Senator Cohen asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Service (Senator Anderson) the following question:
What research, if any, is being conducted by the Department of Social Services into the economic position of aged, invalid and widowed pensioners?
The answer was:
There is no research of this kind being conducted at the present time.
Has the Department made any study of the relationship between pension payments and the actual needs of pensioners for food, housing, clothing and other items necessary to sustain a reasonable standard of living?
The simple answer to that question was ‘No’. Senator Cohen finally asked:
Are any reports available of the results of such studies?
The answer of course was that this was not applicable.
We of the Opposition believe that the stage has been reached in the Australian community when it is necessary, if not essential, for the Government to institute a national inquiry into poverty and social welfare in Australia. Last July, Mr W. G. Ford, the senior lecturer in industrial relations at the University of New South Wales, said that more than 800,000 Australians were on the poverty line. He said that 735,000 age and invalid pensioners and 65,000 widows were on pensions that could barely clothe and feed them. He went on to say:
As a result, the pensioners who built this country’s prosperity are today denied a share in that prosperity.
The only equitable way to increase pensions is to increase them automatically with basic wage increases.
If anyone wants further evidence of the apathy and inertia of the Government on this particular aspect of social services, reference need only be made to the TwentyFifth Report of the Director-General of Social Services for the year 1965-66 under the heading ‘Social Work and Welfare’. We see from the report that an increase has taken place in the social work staff in the States from 33 to 44, three of whom are employed part time. The report states that of the overall gain of 1 1 three are employed part time. The report goes on to say:
Despite the improved staff position, the number of social workers is still inadequate to handle the increase in referrals from within and outside the Department and prevents the Social Work Branches offering a casework service to additional categories to departmental beneficiaries whose circumstances clearly demonstrate the need for such a service. This is apparent even in metropolitan areas. The amount of work undertaken in areas outside the capital cities and the Newcastle, New South Wales, and Townsville, Queensland, Regional Offices is very small, as evidenced by a total of only 203 Says country visiting throughout Australia during the year. The only solution to this is the recruitment of more social workers, both to capital city offices and to additional regional offices. Newcastle and Townsville are still the only regional offices with a social worker.
Madam Acting Deputy President, when one sees statements such as the one credited to Mr Ford of the University of New South Wales and one sees from the annual report of the Department of Social Services that an inadequate number of staff is available to handle the social work and welfare problems of people coming within the ambit of the Department, one can see that much more than has been done to date, in fact, has to be done if the problems of these people are to be adequately attended to.
Not long ago there was a ‘4 Corners’ programme dealing with poverty in Australia. It showed the slums. It showed the poverty of the older people. It showed the problems of kids who were left to roam the streets and to fend for themselves while both of their parents, because of their economic circumstances, had to go to work. It showed people receiving food and sustenance from workers such as those connected with the Meals on Wheels organisation. It showed how, in fact, elderly people are barely able to exist but for the charity work of these people. This situation exists not only in the slum areas of the great metropolises but also, indeed, in some of the country towns. If one goes to some of the country towns one can see evidence of this there. Elderly people throughout the length and breadth of this nation regrettably are living in virtual squalor with lack of suitable toilet and hygienic provisions. They are living in damp and cold conditions.
J remember that the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) after this film was shown on the programme ‘4 Corners’ said at the time that it was not a function of his Department to conduct a survey of this nature and of the type that we are proposing now, but that it was something that perhaps could be tackled by a university or some such similar organisation. The fact is that there is ample evidence of poverty existing so far as our elderly and infirm citizens are concerned. If, in fact, poverty does exist in this country, and the present rate of pension is inadequate to meet the needs and requirements of these elderly people - the pioneers of yesterday - then surely it is the responsibility of this Government to conduct an inquiry to find out, in fact, what the situation is and to ascertain the real needs and entitlements of these people.
One has only to ask those who are connected with the Meals on Wheels organisation or other charitable organisations such as the Lyons Club, the Apex Club or the Rotary Club - members of all of these organisations carry out work of this nature - to find that these people, in addition to Mr Ford and in addition to the indictment that appears in the annual report of the Department of Social Services are able to provide ample evidence that there is need for an inquiry into the poverty of our aged and infirm citizens. Last year every member of this Parliament received a circular letter from Mr Creary, the Welfare Officer of the National Pensioner’s Society. Under the sub-heading ‘The Plight of the Pensioner’ Mr Creary had this to say:
The plight of the Pensioner, particularly the single Pensioner, does not need surveying. The stark reality of their problems is evidenced in their daily lives.
Those who belong to Welfare clubs learn the art of mass begging and look to the community to provide them with extra amenities. Charity organisations such as Apex, Rotary and other bodies direct their attention to the Clubs and take for granted that the members of these clubs represent the majority of Pensioners needing assistance. This is not so, as many Pensioners do not wish to be segregated but wish to keep their dignity and remain in the community. Thus the reforms must be founded by reorganisation of the policies and legislation now in existence.
In the last paragraph he said:
This poverty stands as a monument to the mistakes and the apathy of both the Federal and State Governments. The plight of our pensioners is well known to all and the remedy is of a basic nature - housing and higher Pension. When will the Federal Government realise that this is their problem.
I suggest that it is very wrong that the Government is not prepared to face up to its responsibilities to this very important section of the Australian community.
As I said earlier, pensioners of today were the pioneers of yesterday. Principally through their efforts in their younger days we, the present generation of Australians, are enjoying what we have today. They lived through the years of the great depression. They saw difficult times in the First
World War and the Second World War. Their’s was not an easy lot. Some had very little education themselves and most had very little money with which to rear and educate their families. Now, because of this Government’s inertia, many of them, through no fault of their own, have literally become the flotsam and jetsam of the Australian community. As the Bill does ameliorate some of the conditions complained of, we of the Opposition do not oppose it. However, because of the great and pressing needs and the near insurmountable problems that face the great bulk of our elderly citizens, we have moved an amendment in the interests of the pensioners and indeed in the interests of Australians generally.
– Most sessions of Parliament seem to acquire a title which describes the kind of legislation passed during that session. I think there can be no doubt that if we were to look for a title for this session we would find that it should be called the social services session. The Government has introduced a large number of amendments to our social services legislation and has introduced new measures, most of which are in accordance with the policy speech delivered by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) at the end of last year. I think that we mislead ourselves and other people if we look at each of these amending Bills in isolation. For example, the Social Services Bill which we are discussing now is, to a very large degree, closely associated with the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Bill which was introduced about half an hour ago.
Excluding all the other Bills that we have dealt with this week and last week, and will deal with next week, this measure alone will increase the charge on the Exchequer by $13.5m in a full year. When we recognise that this is only one addition to our social service benefits and that other additions are being made, I think we can agree that a steady and large increase is being made in our assistance for those who are in need. The increased benefits provided under this Bill will bring the total social service payments for this year to the extremely high figure of $757. 8m. No doubt the Opposition will say that this is not enough. I suppose that there are many honourable senators on this side of the chamber who would like to see improvements made in various other categories of social service benefits. But it is not enough just to wish for these things. We have to be realistic and recognise that it is not just a matter of the Government saying what it would like to do. lt has to find the money with which to do all the things that it wants to do. Let us assume that we accepted a number of the proposals that have been made by the Opposition in relation to social service benefits in the last couple of weeks. There would have to be either an increase of taxation, or a reduction of expenditure in other avenues where, no doubt, we would find the need just as pressing. It is purely a matter of finding the wherewithal with which to meet the problems that have to be faced. 1 think it is fair to say that whilst it is possible for people to find many avenues in which they would like to see improvement, it would be impossible to find another country in the world in which social service benefits are as good as they are in Australia. There would be very few countries in which people received anywhere near the same standard of social service benefits as we are able to provide for the Australian people. I think that it is much more realistic to adopt this attitude than to look at the problem in isolation. Senator McClelland has told us that there is poverty in Australia. Of course there is. But let us also remember that the United States of America, which is the richest nation in the world, is facing a similar problem which is not only greater in magnitude but also greater on a population basis.
We also have to realise that, normally, changes in our social services legislation - always for the better - are made during the Budget session. The Government is making the present changes in the social service legislation in this sessional period, because it does not want to wait until the Budget session before it implements its election promises. These are the promise? on which it was accepted as the Government of Australia by the Australian people in an overwhelming manner. We are doing this now because it is not desired by the Government to wait any longer than is necessary. That is why these changes are being made in this somewhat unusual manner. I was struck by something that Senator McClelland said. I think it was an apt phrase to use. He said: ‘You cannot have it both ways.’ That is true. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot have a situation where we are living under favourable conditions of taxation and at the same time demand, in one sphere or another, millions upon millions of additional dollars. I well remember - I was somewhat disgusted to notice this at the time and I am disgusted when I still remember it - how the Opposition attacked the Government most violently, I think it would be eighteen months ago, when the Government, in its need for further finance, imposed a slight addition to the tax on the sales of tobacco and liquor. This was declared at the time to be a violent attack on the people who like to enjoy their amenities. Here was an effort to raise more money to meet the cost of the very many extra responsibilities which were falling on the shoulders of the Government. I said at that time and repeat now that in ‘that field we were merely taxing those who wished to be taxed because it was a self-inflicted wound. The simple solution, of course, and the one that the sensible person took, was to level out his use of those two commodities so that, in fact, he would not be hurt.
The point I am trying to make is that there was a huge outcry from the Opposition when those comparatively slight increases were made. I venture to say that if we as a government tried to implement the very things that honourable senators opposite are suggesting we should implement, and which would cost more money, by the imposition of a further tax on those two commodities which are certainly in the field of luxuries, there would be a greater outcry than we have had in total against ali of the legislation that has been attacked during this sessional period.
Let us have a look at what this Bill is in fact doing. It is liberalising the means test with relation to age, invalid and widows’ pensions. It is certainly not removing the means test, and nobody is suggesting that it is. But it is liberalising the means test, as has always been the policy of this Government. Right throughout its term of office, the liberalisation not only of the means test but also of the pensions payable and the very many other benefits called fringe benefits’ which are associated with them has been the policy of this Government.
I am most particularly interested, of course, in that part of the Bill which deals with special allowances for those people who are employed in sheltered workshops because 1 have had a particular interest in this field for some years. Whilst I do not intend to develop that theme tonight because I think it is more adequately dealt with under the Bill that was introduced in relation to sheltered workshops, it is quite pertinent for mc to comment on it because the Bill under discussion at this moment provides the extra allowances which go hand in hand with the benefits provided under the Bill relating to assistance for sheltered workshops. Senator Breen referred to the term ‘widow’ as applied to the wife of a person who has been committed to a mental hospital for medical treatment. She suggested that a different term might be found. I thought that a very sensible suggestion and that the criticism of it that came from one quarter on the other side of the chamber was most unjustified. The Bill further provides free of cost certain items necessary for the rehabilitation of handicapped people and it also provides that a rebate of charges may be made in certain circumstances.
I come back to a matter closely related to the question of widows’ pensions, the problem of deserted wives. Here we have a problem which I think has never yet been thoroughly covered. I suppose all honourable senators will know that the Federal Government provides assistance to deserted wives but that assistance is available only after a period of six months has passed since the desertion. Tn Victoria, action has been taken to assist deserted wives in the period between their desertion and the expiration of the six months. I am open to correction here, but I think Victoria is the only State which has taken legislative action in this field.
– The Commonwealth pays in Victoria for the first six months because the State Government does not. In the other States, the State governments give benefits for the first six months.
– I have been rather interested in this matter, and when we were given notice of this Bill a little while ago, 1 went to the Department and made inquiries. 1 wanted to know whether there had been any change in the situation since I last discussed it. The information furnished by the Department to me reads:
A deserted wife must be deserted for a period of six months before qualifying for a widow’s pension.
– That is correct.
– That is the point 1 am trying to make. For many years, the Queensland Government has assisted to tide deserted wives over this extremely difficult period. 1 know of my own knowledge - 1 imagine all honourable senators know this of their own knowledge - that this is one of the most difficult situations of all. I have pleaded not only in this chamber but in the Queensland Parliament for action to be taken to mitigate the difficulties of deserted wives. I have also tried to think of some way whereby not only their circumstances in relation to this waiting period may be mitigated but also whereby action may be taken to prevent a deserted wife from being penalised by circumstances other than the waiting period. Frankly, I have no clear answer as to how it can be done. I refer to a situation where a husband by one subterfuge or another evades his responsibilities. 1 am very sorry for deserted wives in the community and I would like to see action taken in that respect. I recognise that there are difficulties and that there is a possibility of occasional connivance between a husband and wife. However I do not think that should be advanced as sufficient reason not to take action. On many occasions I have sought a solution but I have not succeeded. I hope that constant efforts may wear away the problem and produce an answer. I most earnestly hope so.
I thought that Senator Toohey’s comments about the difficulties in the way of keeping abreast of changes in social service benefits and the consequent failure of some people to avail themselves fully of their opportunities were most pertinent, lt is a very real problem. Senator Toohey referred to the case of a husband and wife whose son was killed at the war. They can receive an additional pension. That was my first knowledge of that provision. I have had quite a deal to do with social services but I did not know of that provision. I do not know how many other honourable senators were similarly unaware, but I have no doubt that a large number of people are unaware of it. I would like to see an improvement in the method of dissemination of information on social services. Senator Toohey referred to the possible use of television. I think the people most in need of social service benefits may not be able to follow television programmes easily or conveniently. But that is only one of my objections. A more pertinent objection is that people could watch a programme on social service benefits night after night but not be involved in the circumstances being discussed. After two or three weeks no doubt they would forget at least some of the details. They may then suddenly be faced with the problem already discussed but they are just as lost as they would have been had they not watched the programme. Certainly greater Press publicity may be more effective.
Senator Toohey has now come into the chamber and I would like to congratulate him on his approach to this legislation. I think his speech was extremely well reasoned. I did not agree at all with the amendment he proposed but I thought that his approach was reasonable. He made an extremely interesting contribution. I have a different suggestion to offer. I believe that social service legislation has become very involved in the last few years, particularly in view of the number of amendments. All the amendments have improved ‘the legislation but I think the time has come when the Act should be consolidated so that we may start again with a clean plate. Any subsequent amendments could more adequately and perhaps more easily be dealt with. I know of many instances where the consolidation of a difficult and involved Act or series of Acts has been extremely valuable and useful. 1 suggest that the people responsible should examine the possibility of consolidating the Act to the present day. I hesitated a moment before I said ‘the present day’ because the thought went through my mind as I was speaking that it may be preferable for the consolidation to take place after the presentation of the Budget. On reflection, I think that course deserves preference. I have already said that the amendments we are now discussing have occurred more as a result of the implementation of promises made by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) and his Party than as a result of general and usual Budget variations. 1 hope that other suggestions will be made about the publicising of available social service benefits. If it is not considered appropriate to consolidate the Act, at least it should be possible to put in lay terms the benefits which can accrue in the different areas of social services so that easier reference can be made even by people not so closely associated with them as parliamentarians usually are.
I thought that Senator Marriott made an extremely thoughtful contribution to the debate. He had no hesitation in stating quite clearly that he did not see that the total abolition of the means test was practicable at present. I admire the courage he displayed in expressing that opinion. It does require courage to take a course which is not popular. He gave very cogent reasons why he believed that that course was undesirable. I do not intend to traverse the reasons he gave, but I shall refer to one of them. He said in effect - I am paraphrasing his words - that if efforts were made to overcome the problem of poverty, certain sections of the community, notwithstanding what was done to aid them, would be beyond aid in a very short time. I think he referred also to alcoholics and those who are subject to drug addiction. They pose a very real problem which perhaps can be solved. In any case, the honourable senator made a thoughtful contribution for which I commend him.
I conclude by saying that I most heartily congratulate the new Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair). Since he has held this portfolio he has applied himself with diligence, care and brilliance to his duties. That is evident in this amending legislation. Let me add that I think we in the Senate are extremely fortunate that he is so ably represented in this chamber. Although 1 have not said so in as many words, I think it is perfectly clear that I commend the legislation. I cannot in all conscience support the amendment proposed by the Opposition.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wedgwood) - I call Senator Mulvihill.
– I raise a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President. I placed my name on the list of senators wishing to speak in this debate. You saw fit not to see me when I rose ahead of
Senator Morris and you saw fit not to see me when 1 rose ahead of Senator Mulvihill. That is your privilege, but 1 object strongly. Because I happen to bc an Independent I am placed on the list of speakers where the Party Whips choose to place me.
– So are we.
– Very well, but the Chair is supposed to protect every senator. We place our names on the list and we should abide by the list, if there is a list, stick to it, but if the list is to bc changed whenever it suits the powers that be, I object strongly.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– In relation to an earlier matter I was placed in a situation similar to that in which Senator Turnbull now finds himself. However, my intervention in this debate will be fairly short because 1 do not believe in endless repetition. I think most honourable senators who have participated in the debate have covered all facets of the subject but I want to make one early comment. When we get into this morass in relation to how much is being spent on social service benefits and how many people are involved in the various fields of social services, I am led to believe, rightly or wrongly, that the National Welfare Fund which was created in the early postwar years should have been maintained. I know that Government senators will argue that an amount equivalent to the projected accumulated receipts in the Fund has been made available over the years. I think that is debatable.
When the average man in the street reads in the newspapers that nature has been good to us and given us good seasons, that our wool clip is up and there are good markets for our wheat, I am sure he must ask: ‘How does that affect my position in the community? Will taxes be reduced? Will social service benefits be increased?’ If we reverted to the previous practice of showing in the taxation schedules that a certain percentage of tax receipts was being placed every year in the National Welfare Fund, the people would have a much better appreciation of what was going on.
The Government says, in presenting this legislation: ‘Another 100,000 people are being brought this year into the field of social service benefits. Are we not creating a better society?’ But that must be assessed in relation to the additional number of taxpayers who are now contributing. In an earlier debate either Senator Gair or Senator McManus suggested the appointment of an independent tribunal to deal with this subject, but sometimes such autonomous bodies become soulless, too. That is the risk.
Local government bodies have been asking for some time for a percentage of income tax receipts to be earmarked for them. They have a pretty strong case. The Government should treat its budgeting and tax raising like the balance sheet of an organisation, whether it be a trade union, a friendly society or an average size company, and keep things in compartments. I believe we would be on much sounder ground if we reverted to the National Welfare Fund because its activities could be regulated. In good years its funds could be increased considerably and in lean years we could take other action. That is my basic criticism.
I join with other speakers who have made the point that in the field of social services the Scandinavian countries - Denmark, Sweden and Norway - would rank among the leading nations of the world. I suppose on a population basis there is not much difference between those countries and Australia. According to various United Nations documents on social services, Australia is not in the first six or eight nations in that field. We could argue endlessly that a continent like ours, which did not suffer any wartime devastation and is not subject to earthquakes and other catastrophes of that magnitude although we are concerned from time to time with bush fires and droughts, could do more than it is doing. We cannot argue that more money cannot be made available for social services because we must spend on unproductive work. Anyone who has been to Europe in winter will realise what I mean by unproductive work. They will have seen men, sometimes with the assistance of mechanical devices, moving snow night after night only to have more snow fall in the mornings. That is a fruitless effort, the like of which we do not see in Australia. The question of providing increased social service benefits should be approached on an economic basis. I am convinced, although I am not one to criticise any achievement, that more can be done having regard to overall Australian production. That is the broad criticism I make.
In the Minister’s second reading speech reference is made to the liberalisation of the means test which will extend benefits to 100,000 people. I believe that we should allot priorities in the relief of hardship. I want to refer to two groups of people - not large groups - who I think have a legitimate grouch that they are being ignored. The first group covers married couples who are both in receipt of an invalid pension. Suppose they have a son about twelve years old. I know that a small educational allowance is paid for that child. Even though those invalid pensioners are suffering hardship they like to feel that their son is receiving a better deal than they are. I ask the Minister - I should like a clear cut answer - whether this Bill provides any increase in the education allowance.
I now turn to the second group of people. 1 have dealt with many of these cases and I am sure honourable senators opposite have done so too. Take the case of a blind woman married to an invalid man. We know that today the accent rightly is on getting such people into some form of productive work rather than allowing them to indulge in self-pity. If the blind woman is doing some kind of work, such as basket weaving which can be done by touch, and is earning something but not a lot, is that income taken into account in assessing her husband’s invalid pension? The point I make is that if we want a woman to maintain her selfrespect and sense of achievement wc obviously should not interfere with the few dollars that she is able to earn through becoming more dexterous in this basic work. On the other hand we must consider the effect on her husband if she has to sit and brood and is unable to earn because it may affect his invalid pension. I suppose that my knowledge of psychology is very limited, but I think we would all agree .that people are better off if they have some outlet. It could be even that joint adversities shared by the couple made the marriage a success. My view is that until a few months ago when this legislation was contemplated people in this category had legitimate grounds for complaint.
Added responsibilities are an encouragement to these people. I know that in some cases they receive in return certain concessions, such as telephone rental rebates, but that is only -fair if they have taken the trouble to be office bearers for various associations or have been good enough to act as spokesman for their organisations or have agitated for an improvement in their conditions. I believe that this type of activity should be encouraged. Ostensibly I rose in this debate to seek clarification of the position of people in these two groups. I ask the Minister to give me clear answers to two questions which I pose. The first relates to the case of an invalid pensioner couple, both in receipt of the benefit, with a son or daughter aged twelve or fourteen years. In that situation is the existing educational allowance maintained or will it be increased? When speaking in terms of 100,000 new recipients of social service benefits in cases like the one to which I have referred where children are involved, would it not boost the morale of the limited number of people in this category? My second question relates to a blind woman pensioner with an invalid pensioner husband. Is there to be a limitation on the amount that she can earn? If she shows enough aptitude or is keen enough to take on some of this work which would have limited sale, surely by this legislation we should not deprive her of that right, by so doing putting pressure on the marriage and taking from her this boost to her morale. 1 ask the Minister to clarify these two points for me.
– I rise to speak on this Bill, not that anyone appears to be interested in whether 1 speak on it or not.
– I am.
– I thank the honourable senator. I have been amazed to see that for the last hour and a half or nearly two hours there have been only four or five Government supporters in the chamber. Government supporters who continually jibe at Opposition members for nonattendance in the chamber should now realise the hypocrisy of their remarks when they are never in the chamber themselves on a matter of rather great importance. But this is just one of the facets of the Senate! It does not matter anyhow whether one is in the chamber or not. Honourable senators know how they are going to vote and their attitude is: What the hell; let us not be in the chamber. As I have had to put up with remarks about Senators not being in the chamber I raise this point-
– To get square.
– To get square, as the honourable senator has said.
– He raises it on a Wednesday and the honourable senator is not here on Thursday.
– That is my priviledge. Nevertheless, I object to having jibes thrust at me by Government supporters when no more than four or five of them have been here for the last two hours.
Coming back to the Bill, I think it is a disappointing measure for three main reasons. Firstly, there is no increase in the amount of pension payable. We have heard so many speakers stand up in this place and say what a wonderful job the Government has been doing in this sphere. One wonders really whether they believe that a wonderful job has been done. I wonder how many Government supporters or other members of the Senate could live on $13 per week. I wonder whether honourable senators have even thought about it or have tried to work out for themselves how they could live on $13 per week. But of course they do not have to do so because they have assured to themselves an adequate pension when they retire from this chamber. So why bother with the futile exercise as to how they would live on that amount. Nor do I think the Minister’s advisers have thought how they would live on $13 per week. Yet honourable senators come into this chamber and say that this is an adequate return to pensioners, a word to which I object anyway.
The Bill is disappointing also because it still maintains discrimination between married and single couples. Admittedly where they are paying rent two people can live in one room cheaper than one person can live in one room, but surely that is not all that must be considered in framing legislation. After considering all that is involved in this matter. 1 think the Government should be ashamed of itself for maintaining this discrimination. Perhaps the couple can be in one room together and therefore pay only one rent, but surely two people need more room than one person and surely it is not the end result that we should expect when we have to retire because of old age that we should have to go into one small room. Probably single people find it easier than married couples to be able to stay with relatives. There is often room for one but not room for two. 1 object strongly to this discrimination between the married rate arid the single rate.
Also 1 think this provision has an air of stupidity about it. It seems to be trying to bring morality to bear on pensioners. I propose to cite a case in which a couple - I will not say where, nor will I mention their names - were happily living in sin, as it is termed. They lived together for several years as two single pensioners. They were quite happy and no one cared. Everyone was happy that they should live this way. Unfortunately the building in which they lived had to be pulled down and they had to move to a rest home. The cost was higher in the rest home which in any case would not take them as a single couple. They were told that the rest home would take them as individuals but they would have to move into single rooms as they were not married. To overcome the morality of the position these two people had to marry at the age of 70 years. Of course their pensions were immediately reduced, although their costs had increased. This is the stupidity of this discrimination against married couples. As has been pointed out in this chamber time and again, it is better to live in sin and receive an extra $2 per week than to marry.
– Even at the age of 70.
– Yes, even at the age of 70. After all, there are other facets in marrying at the age of 70.
The other thing about the legislation is that it encourages people when they retire to spend their money as fast as they can. Obviously this is the reason why the tourist trade in older people has grown tremendously. The attitude is: spend the money and then apply for a pension. Every member of Parliament must have had people come to him and ask how they can get the pension. The advice is to spend what they have so that they become eligible for the pension. This is not the way that we should be living. I for one am strongly in favour of the abolition of the means test. I have always advocated this. Although I and the Opposition generally have been doing this, many members of the Liberal Party also believe in its abolition. In fact, in the other place I understand that several members believe that it should be done. The greatest leader of the Liberal Party, they tell us, was Sir Robert Menzies. We all know how he advocated this great principle that there should be a national superannuation plan. Admittedly, of course, being a shrewd politician, he used that to stab Joe Lyons in the back, but that did not matter - be got the Prime Ministership. But having got the Prime Ministership, for seventeen years he did nothing about this great principle that he had advocated. Now here we are today still arguing about the abolition of the means test.
The first thing that comes up when this subject is raised is the cost. To talk about cost in this connection is another stupidity; it is stupid for two reasons. A government that can budget for a deficit of S300m is in effect using that money for a project or for some projects. One of the projects could well be the abolition of the means test. When there is a budget deficit the Government is really spending money which it has not got. For a scheme such as this all that we would need to do would be to increase the budget deficit. If the Government believes in a budget deficit, it should increase the deficit and abolish the means test. Do not forget that those of us who advocate abolition of the means test believe in a national superannuation scheme. This eventually must mean a gradual increase in income to the Government. This will take time. We all ought to be entitled to this. I cannot for the life of me see that just because someone happens to be in the civil service he is entitled to a Commonwealth subsidy. When he retires he is entitled to superannuation. It is not called a pension, of course, although most of it comes from the Government. Pension is a demeaning word. Every member of the Parliament believes that no means test should be applied to him. We do not have a means test for our pensions, yet many honourable senators believe in a means test for everyone else. I think it is disgusting. Do honourable senators opposite really believe that a means test should be applied? They insist that there be no means test on their superannuation. The time has come when we should have a committee to investigate the possibility of abolishing the means test and applying a national superannuation scheme. As Senator Gair pointed out, this can be phased. There is no doubt that even the Australian Labor Party would not believe for one moment that tomorrow we could abolish the means test. The sensible thing would be first to abolish the means test for anyone over seventy years of age and then, every two or three years, lower the age limit by one year until we get down to sixty-five. This can be done.
In the meanwhile, people will be paying into the national superannuation scheme, which will increase the finances of the Government. 1 cannot for the life of me see why a person, just because he happens to be a shopkeeper, a farmer, a milk vendor, or even a doctor, is not allowed to attract a Government subsidy for his superannuation. We work just as hard as civil servants. Some people might even believe that we work harder, but we do not attract a subsidy from the Government when we retire. We have to provide our own superannuation.
– That is not so. The politician’s pension is subsidised by the Government.
– Of course it is. I did not say that it was not. I just said that we did not have a means test. I do not want to keep on about pensioners because I feel that it does not matter what, we say. We cannot change this. The Government will not increase the amount, although 1 do not believe that one member of the chamber could live on SI 3 a week. For an invalid pensioner the ridiculousness of the position becomes absurd. He cannot possibly earn any extra amount. I wonder how many honourable senators have been in the homes of pensioners. I do not mean on a visit when the pensioners know you are coming. When one pays unexpected visits to these people and sees how some of them have to live, he is horrified. Some honourable senators worry about the brutality of war but do not worry in the least about the brutality of the treatment of pensioners or about the lot of single pensioners living alone in absolutely squalid conditions.
We do nothing whatever about it. We say: ‘We are being magnificent to you. We are giving you $13 a week. Go out and earn some more. Get another $10 or $12 and that should keep you.’ It is a shocking case against members of Parliament. They do not go out and see these people. 1 have to work amongst them and I do see them. When they are ill there is no-one to get their medicine. They live on their own. This experience can be repeated by thousands of doctors all over the country. There is no-one to help these people unless there is a good government which provides domestic service and a district nursing service. If they have that, it is a great help. Also it is of assistance if there is a meals on wheels service. This does not alter the fact that we allow these people to live in poverty, while we sit here smugly and get our £3,500 a year.
– And extras.
– And extraswhile these people have to live on $13 a week. Not one of us could do it. Not one of the civil servants in this chamber who advise the Government could do it, either. Yet it is the advice, f. presume - I do not know that they have given this advice - that there should be discrimination between married couples and so on. I come now to the Opposition’s amendment. Unfortunately, it is not strong enough. This is a pity, because it is nebulous and it does not mean a thing. It suggests that we condemn the Government. The Labor Opposition has been condemning the Government for years, and what have we when it comes to social service benefits? This should have been a motion to censure the Government for failing to carry out its proper responsibility to pensioners and failing to abolish the means test.
In one of my very first speeches in this chamber I suggested the very thing that the Opposition has suggested, that is, that we have a survey of poverty. I admit that it was a small scale suggestion on my part. I suggested that the research section of the Australian College of General Practitioners should be paid to investigate this very subject of poverty among pensioners. Of course, nothing was done, because, as we all know, unless it comes from the departmental advisers any idea is just hopelessly absurd and must be turned down. I have never known any fresh idea to be accepted by a department unless the department could think of it first, lt is not too late for the Government to do something like asking the College of General Practitioners to carry out a survey. These are the persons who see pensioners every day. They know what is going on. They know the poverty, the malnutrition and the squalor; the Government does not. It does not see it and it does not care. I suggest that we get the Department to let the College do something along these lines. It would be a quick way of getting results if the research section of the College undertook such an investigation, if the Department feels that it is not the right authority to do such things, although I do not. know why it should not; there are research sections in many of these departments now.
There is no doubt there is poverty and it is a slur on our standard of living. I think that all of the five points raised by the Opposition are well worthy of support. I am sorry that it did not go further. The last point that the Opposition makes is that payments should be retrospective to the last election. I cannot see why this should not be so. Benefits arising from other election promises are made retrospective. Even increases in members’ salaries are made retrospective. When it comes to pensioners, somehow or other we just do not care. There are not so many of them. I suppose their voting strength is not great, so what the hell - why do we worry about them? I do not want to prolong the agony. I believe that the Government has failed in its attitude to pensioners. I believe strongly in the five points that the Labor Party has put forward. It is regrettable that it has not gone further. I am prepared to support the Opposition’s amendment.
– 1 rise to support the motion for the second reading of the Social Services Bill 1967. Of course, one has a degree of sympathy for all of the points in the amendment moved by the Opposition, but I do not think it is reasonable to suggest that the
Senate would condemn the Government on the points that are set out. We would all agree that within our community there is much more that we would wish to do. But the overall position is that social service benefits for the people of Australia are costing the Government about $8 15m from an income of about $6,000m. Undoubtedly each of us in his own way would like to see aid given to people in the various areas of need, such as those who find themselves in poor conditions, people with various degrees of handicap, widow pensioners and people employed in sheltered workshops. All of these people have our sympathy. It is very easy for somebody who has not the reins of office to stand up and say to the Government: ‘We condemn you for not doing these things. We would do this and we would do that’. The people who speak that way are not in a position to implement what they advocate, and when they were in that position - this applies particularly to members of the Labor Party - they were unable to implement proposals that they sincerely wished to implement.
I wish to direct my attention to one particular part of this Bill. It is interesting to note that the Senate has before it three Bills dealing with assistance given by the Government to needy people. In addition to the Social Services Bill, which is immediately before the Senate, there is the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Bill and the National Health Bill. Each of these Bills provides assistance for people who are not capable of getting out into the community and earning a solid living for themselves and who, of necessity, must receive special attention from either their relatives and friends or people in the community who have a sympathetic attitude. The Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin), in her second reading speech, said: lt is in furtherance of the Government’s progressive policies -
I agree with that phrase, although previously I have used the phrase ‘imaginative policies’ to describe the approach of this Government and its predecessor to social services -
I have mentioned that Bill. The Minister went on to say:
The sheltered employment allowance, as it will be called-
I ask the Senate to note the words ‘sheltered employment allowance’ - will be payable to a disabled person employed in a sheltered workshop who would be qualified to receive an invalid pension if he were not employed in the sheltered workshop. Any pension or benefit being paid under the Social Services Act will, in general, be suspended and the allowance wil be paid in lieu of that pension or allowance. 1 wish to bring to the notice of the Senate some idea of the people with which this part of the Bill deals. They include people who have been injured in motor accidents, paraplegics, quadriplegics, mentally retarded people, and people with psychological problems. All of these people will be aided by this Bill.
The problem of mental retardation in the community is of particular significance at the present time. I have been in touch with Ministers for Health including not only the Minister in my own State but also the Federal Minister. I find that very little is known about the amount of mental retardation in the community. I would regard mentally retarded people as those who at some stage in their lives require special attention because of their lesser intelligence causing an inability to live, work or progress within the framework of what is available for the majority of their contemporaries. In this Bill we are providing something for such people when they reach fourteen, fifteen or sixteen years of age. The Minister mentioned the fourteen to sixteen years age group.
I wonder whether the Senate realises that we have no statistics on the incidence of mental retardation in Australia. I ask the Minister for Housing to take to the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) my plea that the Commonwealth institute a survey of the incidence of mental retardation. The Minister for Health was kind enough to tell me that he thought the various State Ministers for Health could give accurate figures on this matter. But that is not so. If the Federal Minister realised that we are now allocating millions of dollars for the provision of aid to mentally retarded people in their adolescent years or later in life, he might agree that we should look at the incidence of mental retardation in the community.
It is interesting to note that where statistics have been kept it has been found that approximately 3% of all children born are retarded to some extent. That applies in Great Britain, Canada and the United States. It is worth noting that in the United States the number of mentally retarded patients is approximately ten times the number of diabetics, twenty times the number of patients with tuberculosis and 600 times the number of patients suffering from poliomyelitis. This makes mental retardation a national problem, if only because of its magnitude. I do not doubt that it will be very difficult to obtain figures in a survey such as I have suggested. A person who finds himself in charge of a mentally retarded child has great problems.
I am connected with one or two institutions for helping people who are handicapped in some way. The significance of these handicaps does not come home to a young couple until they start to notice that their child does not pay attention when it is perhaps five or six months old. In the course of my interest in the Victorian School for Deaf Children, which does not happen to come within the area covered by this Bill, I have come in contact with numbers of parents who were delighted at the birth of their child, but suddenly became aware that when they walked into a room or when they clicked their fingers, for instance, their child did not pay any attention. They then decided that they had to look around and find out how they could help their child in the ensuing years. I suggest that the diversion of some Commonwealth funds for assistance in this area would be of immense importance at this time. Because of the particular needs of retarded children, it is very seldom that they can stay in the family home for very long without harmful effects on the other members of the family. We know that approximately 3% of the children of our community come within the definition of mentally retarded. This deficiency in the community indicates that we should make adequate provision throughout the Commonwealth for services for these children.
Let me take the figures for Victoria. At the present time two homes care for mentally retarded children in that State. A great deal of sympathy is felt for those in this category in Victoria. The State Government has advised me that the two homes for training in this field are being expanded at quite large expense to the State Government. At the moment in Victoria over 900 children are being looked after in the two schools in existence there. A waiting list of some 900 children exists at the present time. Depending on the degree of the disability that a mentally retarded child has, it can take up to four months or Ave months to gain entry to one of these homes. 1 know of parents who have not been able to get their children into training homes for four months, five months or even six months. Indeed I know of cases where this waiting time has extended into years. This presents a great problem, I may say, for people who live in country areas. Let us take the example of the average parents in a country area who find that their child needs special attention. What is the position with which they are faced? They may know, by application to the homes that are in existence at the present time, that it may be months or it may be years before their child can gain admission. If the parents happen to be small land holders, they must, in the interest of their child, sell their property or sell their house - whatever they have - and move into an area where they can be with their child while the child is attending the home, so that they can encourage it and give it some home life.
– We have a free boarding school for these children in Brisbane. They come from the country. They are educated free and are cared for by nurses on the premises. They receive free passes for travel backwards and forwards to the school.
– Can the honourable senator assure me that there is no waiting list?
– No, there is not.
– There is no waiting list at all?
– We send out recruiting officers to bring people in to these schools.
– I would be very interested to know whether that is the situation. If what Senator Gair says is correct, this means that Queensland is sufficiently catered for and 1 offer congratulations to the present Queensland Government and the past Queensland Government.
– I made it a free school. There is no means test for entry to it.
– ls it a Government controlled school?
– We usually think of such institutions being run by church organisations. 1 believe that encouragement should be given on some basis to these homes just as assistance is to be made available in the early stages for those who will need sheltered workshops later in life. Perhaps we should apply the system of a $2 for $1 grant to enable encouragement to be provided in the early stages of the development of these children, lt is much better for a child needing specialist attention, such as retarded children need, to receive that attention during its early life. If a retarded child is unable to receive this attention in its early life, training in later life is much more difficult even though the Government may say: ‘We will provide some sheltered employment allowance or assist in the building of sheltered workshops where these unfortunate people can be employed profitably for their own benefit in the future’. Perhaps we should revise our thinking and provide some assistance for the younger people in the community who are in this category. Through you, Mr President, I plead with the Minister to take note of this proposition. A great need exists in Victoria for hostels of this kind. I am surprised to learn that there are other States where adequate provision is made for the proper care of mentally retarded children without any waiting time. 1 doubt the situation as put forward by Senator Gair until I myself discover it to be true. 1 hardly know of one section of handicapped people, whether it be blind children or deaf children, who are adequately catered for. I think that much more can be done. A great need exists for research regarding this matter at the present time. One wonders to what degree our community is civilised. We give great attention to the assistance provided by the Government by way of pensions. We provide assistance for people who during their lives may have had the opportunity in many instances to aid themselves. I believe that there is a great need for research in this field. I have already told the Senate that some 3% of the community is affected in this way. We live in a community that believes that it is civilised. Perhaps we will eventually bring our assistance in social services on to the basis of which I am speaking. We need to know the cause of many of these problems that we have in the community today.
– Is the honourable senator criticising the Government?
– He cannot afford to do that. He cannot afford to criticise the Victorian Government.
– I am not criticising the Government. I am pointing out what is lacking in Victoria at the present time.
– Senator Webster cannot take that risk.
– 1 can assure Senator Gair that I am very proud to stand up here and say that at least I have taken some interest in this matter.
– No wonder the honourable senator’s party is giving its second preferences to Labor.
– We know how various people try to make political capital out of a subject that is as serious as this subject is. 1 suggest that if Senator Cavanagh in his State took some interest in this vital matter about which I am speaking he would not try to jest while I deal with such a serious matter. I suggest that Commonwealth aid is needed in this field. In this regard, I refer to an article written by Ethel Temby in Victoria. She has made an excellent survey of this matter. I suggest that members of the Senate might wish to read this lady’s comments which are reprinted from the ‘Social Survey’ of December 1966. One comment that Ethel Temby makes is this:
A larger investment by the national government could well return worthwhile dividends in productive instead of dependent retardates, in better family health (emotional as well as physical) and in return to community life of many family members now engaged largely in the care of a retarded relative.
This is the point on which I would wish to see assistance extended further. She goes on to say:
The paramount consideration should sure’.y be not the money spent or saved, but the human values of the 10% of the population closely affected by the retarded persons in the community, and the lives and happiness of the mentally handicapped themselves.
The Bill with which we are dealing, and two other Bills to follow, deal with this very important matter. I congratulate the Government on its sympathy in this field I hope that it will pay some attention to directing its social services contributions to the earlier stages of the lives of mentally retarded persons.
[10.49] - in reply - Mr President, first of all I wish to thank honourable senators who have spoken in this debate on their very considered speeches, in most cases, and, I believe, on their very real concern in connection with matters so serious and important as those relating to social services. But I should also like to inform the Senate that the Government cannot support the amendment which has been moved by Senator Toohey. Very briefly, Sir, I wish to make a few points in connection with the speeches that have been made in the Senate on this important Bill. First, I would like to say to the Senate that, although I have heard during this debate considerable belittling by some honourable senators of the record of the Government in this field, 1 say with all sincerity that this Government has a proud record in social services of which we on this side of the Senate, and indeed Australians, can be proud. This is one more piece of legislation which the Government has introduced with a very real desire to help those people who need assistance and in order to carry out a promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) in the election campaign.
The legislation is designed to liberalise the means test on age, invalid and widows pensions and to provide special allowances for disabled persons employed in sheltered workshops. From the speeches made by honourable senators it is obvious that they have a very real concern in this matter and a very real appreciation of the needs of the people involved. I shall reply to a few points which have been raised. The means test has been mentioned. I remind honourable senators that ever since this Government came into office it has shown continually that its aim is to alleviate the means test. Every increase in the pension rate extends the upper limit of means beyond which no pension is payable and every such extension brings more people into the pension benefit range. This, I believe, is a very important matter.
Senator Toohey referred to aged persons homes and spoke about an amount of $2,000 paid as a donation. He was concerned whether this amount was counted in the person’s means.
– I said it was counted but it ought to be extended.
-I think that the reply I have will answer the honourable senator’s query. Of the amount donated $2,000 is completely disregarded. If the pensioner has no income he or she may have a further $4,040 worth of property before the pension is affected. In respect of a married couple these amounts are doubled. I think that is valuable information.
A number of honourable senators referred to the assistance which will be given under this legislation by the provision of a special allowance for disabled persons employed in sheltered workshops. From what honourable senators have said, it is obvious that they have a very real concern in this matter and a very real appreciation of what this legislation will do. We all are concerned about people who are not so well equipped as others are to face life and the problem of finding employment. We pay a tribute to organisations and individuals who assist these handicapped people to lead a happier life. We believe that this allowance will be of great assistance, particularly to those whose lives would otherwise not have been productive. 1 come now to a question raised by Senator Breen concerning the rehabilitation of disabled housewives. I would draw her attention to a sentence in the second reading speech which I think answers her query. It states:
It is now proposed that authority be given to fix charges in accordance with a person’s ability to pay.
That provision, I believe, will assist in this field. Senator Marriott gave us a very thoughtful contribution. He showed that he has a very real appreciation of the problems of people in need, Senator Mulvihill asked whether any additional educational allowances were available to children of joint invalid pensioner couples. The answer is that payments under the Social Services Act for children of invalid pensioners are: a child’s allowance for the first child of $1.50 a week; an additional pension of $1.50 a week for each child in excess of one; and child endowment of 50c a week for the first child, $1 a week for the second child and $1.50 a week for the third and subsequent children. Senator Mulvihill also asked whether, under the Bill, a blind woman pensioner with an invalid pensioner husband can earn more without her husband’s pension being affected. The answer is that the couple may have additional means as assessed, which may consist entirely of the wife’s earnings of $156 a year. 1 think that that information may be of assistance to Senator Mulvihill.
A number of honourable senators referred to the differential rate of pension for single and married pensioners. The Government believes that the introduction of a higher rate of pension and a more liberal means test for single persons can be fully justified in view of the well established fact that a single pensioner needs more than one half of the combined married rate of pension, plus allowable means, in order to command the same standard of living. This principle is recognised in most other advanced countries. The differentiation between single and married pensioners has been described here and in another place as being some kind of imposition on married couples. Some speakers have claimed that it would be more profitable for married persons to obtain a divorce or for single persons just to live together instead of marrying. It is very wrong for honourable senators to put it in this way. As the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) himself has pointed out on many occasions, the purpose of the differential is to improve the relative position of the single pensioner, not to penalise the married couple. It is not possible for an unmarried couple to continue to benefit from the higher rate of pension payable to single persons by living together as man and wife. Under the provisions of the Social Services Act, if such a couple have lived together for three years or more they are treated as if they were married. Where they have lived together for less than three years the practice is not to place them in a better position for pension purposes than if they were married. It is of course possible for unmarried members of a family to live together and each to receive the single rate of pension, thus obtaining greater value from their pensions by sharing expenses. However the extent to which they share would vary from case to case and would, we believe, generally fall short of that of a married couple. As I have said, these points have been made by the Minister for Social Services himself.
I now wish to refer to a point raised by Senator Webster. He asked what amounts are being paid in respect of mentally retarded children. The answer is that child endowment is paid if a child is living with its parents, and the invalid pension is paid to that child at sixteen years if it is 85% incapacitated. I appreciate Senator Webster’s concern for mentally retarded children. He also asked for statistics showing the incidence of mental retardation in the Commonwealth. I think that this is more a matter for the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) and I shall be pleased to bring it to his attention. I commend the Bill to the Senate, believing that it will be of great benefit to the Australian people.
That the words proposed to be added (Senator Toohey’s amendment) be added.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin.)
Majority . . . . 2 .
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Australian Broadcasting CommissionCitizen Military Forces
– Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I want to refer to three incidents that occurred in another place. They were three attacks made by the Prime Minister, Mr Harold Holt, against a young pressman by the name of Michael Willesee, who is my son. The first incident originated from the following question asked by the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Hughes):
Has it come to the notice of the Prime Minister that in a political news sheet circulated in Canberra it has recently been asserted that attempts to subject the Australian Broadcasting Commission to political influence and interference have increased since the right honourable gentleman assumedoffice as Prime Minister, and that the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, and the Minister for Labour and National Service have been talcing part in such attempts?
There was some interruption at this point. The honourable member for Parkes continued:
Has it been brought to the notice of the right honourable gentleman that this allegation was repeated in a recent ABC television programme entitled This Day Tonight’? Is there any truth in the allegation? Has there been any attempt by this Government to influence the policy or management of the ABC? Lastly, can the right honourable gentleman assure the House that the allegations concerning himself, the Treasurer and the Minister for Labour and National Service are without foundation?
Mr Holt made a long reply. I do not suppose it is necessary to say that the reply was long, but, towards the end of it, he said:
When this item appeared the two people who were chosen to comment on this statement, uncorroborated in this unofficial news sheet by a known Labour supporter, were Mr Michael Willesee, who is a son of Senator Willesee, a Labor senator, and who as far as I am aware does not disagree violently with the political views of his father.
I do not know what inquiries Mr Holt made as to the political relationship between my son and myself. I note that he said ‘as far as I am aware’ he does not disagree violently. It would seem that the Prime Minister did not check to find out whether my son agreed violently with me or disagreed violently with me. In fact, as a political commentator and an unbiased reporter, he both agrees and disagrees with me, as he does with both sides of this Parliament, on many occasions.
I had intended to raise only one aspect of this matter, but because the misrepresentation by the Prime Minister was carried two steps further today I propose to go a little further than I intended to go when I read Hansard this morning. But still, my main point of disagreement, my main challenge to the Prime Minister, and my main ground for disgust that a man in his position would stoop to do the things he has done on this occasion rests on one main premise.
I do not challenge the right of anybody to disagree with a political commentator, a pressman or anybody else who moves into the public domain to comment on politics in Australia. I do not do that at all. If a man likes to do what Mr Holt has done - to hide behind privilege - that, of course, is a matter for his own choice. If he likes to make a statement publicly through the Press, he can do so. Again, whether he chooses to ask a television station to let him, with the pressman concerned, whoever he may be, publicly debate the point, is also a matter for his own judgment. Of course, very obviously a political commentator or pressman, if he is doing his job in an unbiased and fearless manner, will tread on the corns, not only of a lot of individual politicians but also of parties from time to time. To say, as the Prime Minister did, that a man cannot do his job, that he cannot be a decent reporter, that he cannot be a television commentator, which he is going to be full time from now on, for no other reason than that his father is a politician and happens to be a member of the Labor Party is wrong. That is the only thing that the Prime Minister can throw at Michael in this connection. He does not query the comment. He does not throw out a challenge. All he said is: ‘Because his father belongs to a political party that is not of my political faith, ipso facto, you cannot have a television commentator of this type’. He took advantage of his senior position as Prime Minister and misused his privilege to cast a smear and slur at a young man whose only crime was that he had given a factual historical statement of an incident and an honest opinion of a fellow journalist. The strange part about this matter is that in the whole interview, the script of which I am prepared to read to the Senate in a few minutes, Michael (fid not criticise the Government or Mr Holt at any stage. He gave factual, historical information of what had taken place. Today in another place the honourable member for Watson (Mr Cope) sought to get some fairness, even after two attacks had been made by Mr Holt. Mr Cope asked:
I ask the Prime Minister a question. In answering a question yesterday about Mr Whitington and Mr Willesee the Prime Minister implied that Mr Willesee, being the son of Senator Willesee, would naturally hold a biased political view. I ask: Did the right honourable gentleman hold a similar view in regard to a former colleague of his for many years, Senator McCallum, whose daughter is a leading Communist in New South Wales and has been for many years?
During the Prime Minister’s answer the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) interjected:
Are they ashamed of the fact that he is a member of the Labor Party?
Mr Holt continued his answer and said:
I would not imagine that at all but it does, I think, help to sustain the general comment I made yesterday that clearly there has been an attempt by means of membership of this Parliament to sidetrack me from the issue that I tried to lay bare so clearly yesterday.
Mr President, if I were to call the Treasurer a liar it would be unparliamentary language and I would have to withdraw the statement. But let me state very clearly the fact that Michael is not a member of any political party in Australia - including the Australian Labor Party - and never has been. In spite of that, a senior member of the Cabinet made today without checking the facts the interjection that I have quoted. Alternatively, if he did check, his interjection was a lie. If he did not check he had a responsibility to do so as an ordinary individual, let alone as a senior member of the Cabinet. The same comments apply to Mr Holt in respect of the amount of checking that he did. Mr Holt implied that Mr Mc Mahon made the direct statement that Michael is a member of the Labor Party, and it follows that in his recent appointment as a political commentator he will not carry out his duties objectively and impartially. Why? Because his father is a senator - a Labor senator. How paltry, mean and contemptible can anybody get?
Let us examine this question of bias. 1 have more than one son. Because I happen to belong to a political party it does not mean that they will automatically carry on the line. In reading the weekend’s Press I noticed an article on tariffs in which Michael referred to what Dr Jim Cairns had said in another place and to what Senator Sim - a Liberal senator - had said. This is the way that Michael summed up:
The Labor policy shift is a departure from tradition and is doubly incongruous because it has been spelt out by Dr Cairns, who for so long has been the leader of the hard line Left wing.
Senator Sim, though placing himself in the position of criticising his government’s policy, is probably the more consistent performer, viewed in the light of committed political philosophy.
Do honourable senators think that article would please me as a member of the Australian Labor Party? It certainly did not, but it was written by Michael and not by me. I have also come under criticism by my son. In dealing with the coming referendum he wrote an article disagreeing completely with the approaches of both the Liberal and Labor Parties and advocating a No vote. He wrote:
The argument to remove the nexus is not new, it first took place in 1897 in the convention debates, and it was the four smaller States - with help from Sir Edmund Barton, who became our first Prime Minister - who saw that it remained.
The WA team was headed by Sir John Forrest and Sir James Lee-Steere. The WA team in Canberra this week was not so forthright for its Stale.
Four Government Senators voted against the Bill but none were from WA. No Labor men voted against it.
However, Senator Prowse (CP) from WA struck a rather telling blow for the ‘no’ case when, lo former Opposition Leader Senator McKenna, he interjected: ‘What safeguard is there for the Senate in the present legislation?’
Senator McKenna, also from a small State (Tasmania) but for the ‘yes’ case, answered: ‘It is not there now and I concede that quite frankly.’
And that’s it in a nutshell.
There is no safeguard for the Senate and that means no safeguard for the smaller States.
In dealing with the Labor team, Michael is dealing with me, too. 1 assure honourable senators that I did not write that article either. Recently a group of journalists went to Vietnam as a result of an unusual incident at a National Press Club dinner which Air Vice-Marshal Ky attended. A Communist newspaper representative asked a question. There was some chit chat and probably before Air Vice-Marshal Ky or his questioner realised it fully, the questioner was invited to go to Vietnam. Three other journalists were then invited to go, one of whom was Michael. 1 suppose at that time Michael was screened for security purposes and he must then have seemed to be all right. When he came back from Vietnam his support was divided. He opposed conscription but supported Australia’s commitment in Vietnam. Is that a Labor line? If I had advocated it I would, have been expelled from the Party because it is against Labor’s firm policy. Yet this person is supposed to be so biased and is following Labor a/I along the line according to Mr Holt.
The fact is that if any other journalist in the Press gallery had been handling this matter Mr Holt would not have had anything on which to hang his smear. Mr Holt did not use an analysis of Michael’s comments but simply the fact that he is the son of a Labor “ senator. That is sufficient for Mr Holt to hang a smear on. That is good enough for a smear. If any one of the journalists sitting in the Press gallery tonighthad been concerned, because they do not have a Labor senator for a father there would have been no ground for complaint at all.
Let us examine what was said in the telecast. I did not intend lo take this course until Mr Holt made his comments in the House of Representatives this afternoon. I repeat that if Mr Holt disagrees with statements by Michael or any other pressman, he has a perfectly legitimate right to state his disagreement. But the point is that no statement was made by Michael other than to give the facts. I have before me, with the compliments of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, a script of the telecast. It has the usual heading, including a record of the duration time of 4 minutes and SO seconds. With the concurrence of honourable senators, I incorporate the script in Hansard.
Item on Chairmanship of ABC - Duration 4 mins 50 secs
HUNTER: One man apart from those of us in the ABC who has been closely following this story of the alleged changes in the ABC’s structure is the Canberra Political correspondent of the Perth Daily News, Michael Willesee.
Michael, what’s the background of this story?
WILLESEE: The background is that in a political news sheet called ‘Inside Canberra’, which is presented by Don Whitington, a veteran and a respected newsman, Don alleges that senior ministers are planning to take some political control over the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and Don goes so far as to suggest just how the ministers intend to go about this.
HUNTER: Does he name ministers, or does he name members of the ABC?
WILLESEE: He does. The members of the ABC for a start He suggests that Dr Darling will not be re-appointed after his term expires on the 30th June. He suggests that Dr Darling’s deputy, Mr Dawes won’t be re-appointed. He suggested also that the West Australian Commissioner, Mr Halvorsen won’t be re-appointed. He infers that two more Commissioners may be named, giving those who wish more control and more flexibility with the members of the Commission and he suggests that Sir Howard Beale will be the man who replaces Dr Darling. Sir Howard Beale, the former Federal Minister and a former ambassador to America. The three ministers named, starting at the top - Prime Minister Harold Holt, the Treasurer Mr Mc Mahon and the Minister for Labour and National Service, Mr Bury. He suggests that Mr Mc Mahon is the prime contender in these moves.
HUNTER: Does he say whether the matter is before Cabinet?
WILLESEE: He suggests it’s before Cabinet. My information is that it hasn’t yet reached Cabinet but is being discussed by some Ministers while at the same time, other Ministers are pretty hotly against this.
HUNTER: Does he, in fact, make any allegations of interference in the past at all?
WILLESEE: Don Whitington says that in the past, all Governments - that is Governments made up of all parties - had attempted to influence the ABC. But he says, quite categorically that the ABC in the past has been free of political control.
HUNTER: Michael, from your own experience as a political journalist in Canberra, how seriously can we take this report of Don Whitington’s?
WILLESEE: Eric, 1 think we can take a report of Don Whitington’s very seriously. Don is a veteran newsman, a respected newsman, a respected political author, his news sheet ‘Inside Canberra’ has been going out 20 years, it’s stood the test of time in a pretty rough arena.
HUNTER: Thank you very much, Michael Willesee.
Another man in Canberra who has been closely following the story is a former Federal Parliamentarian; he was 23 years in Federal Parliament - he is a journalist at the present time, a columnist with the Sydney Sun. Mr Allan Fraser . . . Mr Fraser, what do you see as the possible implications of any changes in the ABC’s upper structure?
FRASER: Well, I’m a rare bird in this matter. Because while I’m intensely concerned at the increased restriction on the freedom of expression in Australia, 1 myself do enjoy complete freedom of expression of my views in the Sydney Sun. But, the position is, that in the last 20 years, effective control of all metropolitan newspapers and all commercial television and radio stations has fallen in the hands of not more than six proprietaries, all of whom support the Government.
If the Government now moves in to take complete control of the ABC, then a most dangerous situation can be created in which all freedom of expression in Australia could be blotted out in certain circumstances. Now the real importance of Mr Whitington’s story - and I regard Mr Whitington as a most reliable journalist - is that it shows not only what may be done but what can bs done at any time. The Government - through the financial control which it already exercises over the ABC - and through the system of Cabinet appointment of ABC Commissioners - can at any time, step in and do what Mr Whitington says the Cabinet is now planning to do.
HUNTER: Really, how much more controlled can the ABC be than it is already?
FRASER: As 1 have said, the Government exercised considerable control now, but it’s resisted by the freedom and independence shown by the ABC and by the Commissioners. If the Government appointed its own direct agents as representatives of the ABC, the position would be bad indeed. What is needed - what is very important- is that the ABC should be given a charter of independence. . . . (Interrupts)
HUNTER: I’m afraid I’ll have to cut off your freedom of speech right there. One very quick final comment from you Michael. . . .
WILLESEE: Eric, I think one hard fact of this matter is that if the allegations of Don Whitington’s are true, whatever chances these ministers had of success with their plan are now diminished with this publicity being given to it.
HUNTER: Thank you very much Michael Willesee of the Perth Daily News and Mr Allan Fraser of the Sydney Sun.
The very first question put to Michael is:
Michael, what’s the background to this story?
He is asked not for his opinion, but for the background. The whole of the document states only historical fact, something that had already happened. Michael was asked his opinion of the journalist who wrote the story under discussion and again he made a factual statement. He said:
The background is that in a political news sheet called ‘Inside Canberra’-
He then referred to what Whitington said in his news sheet. Another question was:
Michael, from your own experience as a political journalist in Canberra, how seriously can we take this report of Don Whitington’s?
His answer was:
Eric, I think we can take a report of Don Whitington’s very seriously. Don is a veteran newsman-
That is fact - a respected newsman, a respected political author, his news sheet ‘Inside Canberra’ has been going out twenty years, it’s stood the test of time in a pretty rough arena.
That is all factual. Whitington has been running a news sheet for twenty years. Did Mr Holt expect Michael to say that those things were not true? Michael added only the very minor comment that in his view they added up to make Whitington a respected and serious journalist. The interview was then taken over by Mr Allan Fraser. I was asked today: ‘Why did Michael Willesee select Allan Fraser?’ The fact is that he did not select anybody. The ABC producer - whoever he was - invited two people to come along and Michael was one of them. He did not have any choice as to who else would be there.
Finally, after Fraser had finished, Hunter, who was the interrogator, said words to this effect: ‘I must close off quickly. Have you a final comment?’ Michael said:
Eric, I think one hard fact of this matter is that if the allegations of Don Whitington’s are true, whatever chances these Ministers had of success with their plan are now diminished with this publicity being given to it. 1 emphasise that even then he did not agree with what Whitington said. He said that if the allegations were true this publicity had torpedoed the plans of these people. I wonder whether this is not the crux of Mr Holt’s ire and the reason this was raised. They were trying to get away with something and the publicity torpedoed it.
If Michael made a statement with which Mr Holt does not agree, he has every right of course to ask to go on television and debate it with him, to contradict it on a newsreel or, if he likes, to take advantage of the privilege afforded by this Parliament. The fact is that no such statement was made - none at all - yet for other reasons Mr Holt went on in a childish, petulant, mean and contemptible manner.
All this has been putting Michael under some inspection. May I for a few moments put the Prime Minister under some inspection. He has had a very long parliamentary career of thirty-four or thirty-five years, and over those years he has enjoyed the reputation of being a very affable gentleman, a very shrewd political manipulator, one of those people who exude fairness and demand a fair go for everyone. That is the Harold Holt we grew to know. But the moment he became Prime Minister of this country the facade dropped away. Then we found that he had acquired the unenviable reputation of being the only Prime Minister, if not the only member of Parliament, to quote in the House of Representatives from an anonymous letter and try to hold it up as evidence of support for his Government’s policy. He was pinned down by the honourable member tor Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) until he finally admitted that the letter was anonymous.
Let me remind the Senate of the Michaelis case. I would say from the spelling of that name that it is Latin or Greek for Michael. Evidently Mr Holt does not like the Irish name Michael; it seems to be anathema to him. This lad was a school cadet who objected to the dramatic training of facing up to the Vietcong, brain washing and the rest of it. What did Mr Holt do? He called for a security report. On whom? On the lad’s mother. This was about the time when he started dragging families into it. I should have thought Mr Holt would have been the last person in Australia to want to subject families to the public gaze.
What was the reason for this second attack? Why was this matter raised again today? It was raised because this morning Michael went to the Prime Minister’s office, left a letter for him and asked his Press
Secretary to get a very urgent reply because this sort of thing could not be left hanging in the air. This is the letter:
Dear Mr Prime Minister,
I am distressed by your reference to me in the House yesterday.
Your action in casting the sins of the father upon the son seem to me to be unfair and un-Holt. You have inferred a political label which can only prejudice my career. Had the same inference been based upon anything i have said or written i would accept it, whether it be to my mind fair or unfair, as part of the political game.
With respect, Mr Holt, I am asking you to withdraw the inference.
Michael stated the matter very clearly because only in the last two weeks he has informed his newspaper in Perth that he will be resigning, and under the terms of the journalists’ award quite a period of notice is required. I think in his case it is four or six weeks. Michael stated also that in future he would be a full time political commentator on television with the ABC. Of course the ABC is a government body. Mr Holt must have known full well when he made his attack what the effect would be on a young man starting out on a career. If he did not know, Michael pointed out to him quite clearly that his career would be jeopardised.
Any man in this chamber, if he thought that he was affecting the future of a young man of twenty-four years of age, would have said irrespective of whether he thought he was right: T will withdraw that because I do not want to be the instrument of striking down any man’. Mr Holt knows in his own heart that he was wrong and yet he was not man enough to stand up and withdraw. When Mr Holt was asked in the afternoon whether he would withdraw, the second attack came even though he knew what could be the result.
It is most revealing to read the transcript of Mr Holt’s reply to a question asked of him this afternoon by the honourable member for Lang, Mr Frank Stewart. This is part of what he said:
I made the statement of fact yesterday that Mr Willesee is the son of Senator Willesee. I could have added that the senator had been elected to the leadership of the Labor Party in the Senate, for a short time at any rate. I made the comment that I had not known Mr Willesee to disagree violently with the political views of his father-
He was repeating that statement -
I was not making an attack on Mr Willesee as such-
He could have fooled me -
I was drawing attention to the fact that an unofficial report, appearing in a news sheet which had no authority and no known accuracy about it, had been made the subject of a telecast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission in which those invited to comment upon this news sheet and its allegations of improper and irregular pressure by three Ministers of this Government, including its Prime Minister, were two people who, on the face of it, might not only be regarded as having political sympathies akin to the known political sympathies of the principal of the news sheet, but whose political sympathies might have been interpreted clearly enough as lying in the direction of the Opposition. If that is not a fair comment in respect of Mr Willesee, the son of this very senior Labor senator-
Thank you - t would be very interested to hear him publicly dissociate himself from that.
Evidently if there is a Labor newsman about and he prints something, then to be in the clear with Mr Holt you have to say to him: I dissociate myself from the fellow. He votes Labor. He is a Labor pressman. I cannot agree with him’. This is the kind of thing that has been thrown at Michael. Then Mr Holt went on with a marvellous bit of deduction. He said:
If he has ever voted for any party but the Labor Party during his life that would come to me as a revelation.
This is a most amazing kind of situation. Firstly, if Michael wants to be regarded by Mr Holt as an objective reporter, presumably he must dissociate himself from anything Whitington writes in the future because evidently Whitington is known as a Labor sympathiser. So he will have to check every pressman to find out his political sympathies, and if the pressman is a Labor man Michael must say: T cannot agree with that because Mr Holt will not like it’.
We may ask: Where is this much vaunted free speech we talk about? Where is this freedom of the Press that we used to hear so much about when we were the Labor government? What about political freedom and the secrecy of the vote? Is this to apply to everbody in the community except the Governor-General, the Queen and pressmen in Canberra? Are they the only people who are not allowed to vote or, if they do vote, must they tell Mr Holt whether they vote Labor? This man has a blind spot. Unless you are Liberal he looks at you as if you are some kind of pariah. This ls the
Hitler theory of the pure race. If you do not vote Liberal, if you do not stand up for the Liberal Party in every set of circumstances, the best thing you can do is go away somewhere and quietly die because you are no good at all to the community.
There is one other thing. I hate to disappoint Mr Holt but 1 do disagree with my son in one matter. In his letter, short, concise and fair as I think honourable senators will agree it was, Michael said that the action of the Prime Minister was ‘un-Holt’. That is not so. It was typically Holt. I have the advantage over Michael. He has been in this place for only a couple of years. I have been here for seventeen and a half years and 1 have had the opportunity to observe this man - this person - at very close range during that period. I say quite frankly that I have never regarded him as a big person or a competent one. I do not compare him as a Prime Minister with the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, because whatever disagreements we may have had with that right honourable gentleman, noone can argue that in places he did not have very great stature or that he did not have ability. I am certainly not going to compare this person with people like Chifley and Curtin because that would be sacrilege. I do not hold that against him. I am not comparing him as a Prime Minister. But as a man, personally and politically he has shown himself to be greatly vindictive and without marked ability. His action in smearing a young man, knowing full well that it could jeopardise his career, when this man has not attacked him, his Government or his policies is contemptible in the extreme and unworthy of a man who sits in the Parliament, let alone one who takes to himself the name of Prime Minister of Australia.
– I rise as a fellow Western Australian to support the remarks made by my colleague, Senator Willesee. I have read the articles by Mr Michael Willesee which have been published in the Perth newspapers, the ‘Daily News’ and the ‘Weekend News’, ever since he was appointed to the position of Canberra correspondent. I wish to join with his father, Senator Willesee, who has been placed in a somewhat embarrassing situation, in condemning tha smear tactics used by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) against this young journalist. I wish to speak on this matter because I believe that two questions are involved. The first is an important question of principle and the second is the factual situation which results from an attack being made under cover of parliamentary privilege against an honest journalist.
To deal firstly with the question of principle involved in this, the smear on this journalist which was contained in the speech by the Prime Minister was that he said that so far as he knew Mr Michael Willesee did not violently disagree with his father. The only construction that one could put on that statement was that because he did not violently disagree with his father, therefore he was a dishonest journalist, a biassed journalist and the sort of journalist who was writing something which was not true. It may be said about this that of course the Prime Minister does not know whether Mr Michael Willesee agrees wilh his father. All he said was that so far as he knew he did not violently disagree with his father. He certainly was not in a position to say he knew that he agreed with him or he knew that he disagreed. All he could say, and this was certainly allowing himself a large amount of latitude, was that he had not heard that he violently disagreed. Of course one can say that the Prime Minister did not say anything at all, but the smear is there without the obligation being placed on the Prime Minister to prove it.
I believe an important question of principle does arise here. Whether or not Mr Michael- Willesee agree with his father, disagrees mildly with his father or disagrees violently with his father seems to be totally irrelevant to what is involved in this matter. After all, half of the people of Australia support the Australian Labor Party. Is the Prime Minister saying that half the people of Australia are not eligible to be journalists, that half the people of Australia should not be employed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission? That is the only possible construction that can be put on the statement made by the Prime Minister. The only possible construction is that unless a person is a member or supporter of the Liberal Party of Australia he cannot be eligible for employment with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Does it follow that because Mr Michael Willesee agrees with his father, even if he were a member of the Labor Party - and he is not - therefore he is dishonest? If the Prime Minister is going to make this sort of allegation against this man, and I believe he has made a very serious allegation, he cannot just make this vague statement T have never heard that he violently disagrees with his father’. He must establish that Mr Michael Willesee does agree with his father, he must establish that he is a supporter of the Labor Party and, furthermore, he must establish that being a supporter of the Labor Party he has deliberately used his position to make misleading statements on the radio and television. What if it could be proved that he was a member of the Labor Party? Does this make him ineligible for employment with the Australian Broadcasting Commission?
But then I come to the second matter, the personal attack on Mr Michael Willesee. As 1 have said, I have been reading his articles for as long as he has been in Canberra. On some occasions I have agreed with what he has said and on some occasions 1 have disagreed. But I can say that I have seldom read the work of a journalist who has, in my opinion, endeavoured to be more objective, more honest and more factual than Mr Michael Willesee has in his reports of what has been happening in Canberra. I think it would be impossible for anyone reading his articles to say that he is a supporter of this Party or that Party. Various instances have already been cited by Senator Willesee. One was his attitude in the article which referred ‘o Senator Sim and Dr Cairns on the question of the tariff policy, and there was the fact also that he had visited Vietnam. Senator Willesee did not continue to cite these instances. However, if one were to look at the reports written by Mr Michael Willesee subsequent to his visit to Vietnam I think one would have to say that on balance he was much more in support of the Government’s policy on Vietnam than he was a supporter of the Australian Labor Party’s policy on Vietnam. I do not believe that anybody who read the articles could deny that although there were criticisms of certain aspects of Government policy, on balance he was more in favour of the Government’s policy of having troops in Vietnam than the Labor Party’s policy of withdrawing the troops from Vietnam. I may say that I have been the subject of an article by Mr Willesee. In the article he wrote about me he said that I was the most extreme left wing member of the Australian Parliament.
– It could not be true.
– The honourable senator says that it could not be true.
– Nearly, but not quite.
– He says it could be true, but is not true. Mr Michael Willesee said that I was the most extreme left wing member of the Australian Parliament. He spoke of me in not uncharitable terms, but he said that because of my extremism and aggressive behaviour - Senator McManus would say that that is not true either - I would be unlikely to rise very high in this Parliament. This hardly seems to be the attitude of someone violently opposed to the Government, someone using his position in order to discredit the Liberal Party. I did not go out making attacks on Michael Willesee when he criticised me. It is very interesting on this occasion to find that the Liberal Party, which is so used to having a servile Press, on one of the few occasions on which it finds that somebody is being critical has to descend to this sort of personal attack.
If we were to examine all the relationships between various people it would be interesting to see the relationship between Sir Frank Packer, Mr Clive Packer and various other people who support the Liberal Party. I have not heard Mr Harold Holt or anyone else say.: ‘Of course, articles appear in the Sydney ‘Daily Telegraph’ which support the Government, but members of the Opposition should take them with a grain of salt because, after all, they are related to certain members of the Liberal Party.’ I do not think that has been done, nor do I think it likely that it will be done, lt is because they are so used to having a servile Press and having virtually complete control of communications in Australia that when they do find someone whom they believe has been responsible for some minor criticism they squeal in this way and resort to this filthy sort of personal innuendo. Be that as it may, all I wish to say in conclusion is that what the Prime Minister has done on this occasion has been the action of a bully. He has acted towards a young man at the beginning of his career in such a way-
– Order! So that the honourable senator will not get into conflict with me, 1 draw to his attention the established rule that a senator may criticise whomsoever he pleases, including a member of another place, provided that he makes no offensive reflection on the member. If the honourable senator lives within this ruling he and I will be able to proceed.
– I wish to make no reflections on anybody. I am now referring to Mr Michael Willesee. I am merely making a factual statement that the Prime Minister has damaged a young journalist in his employment. Mr Michael Willesee has recently obtained employment with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I believe that the only conclusion that the Australian Broadcasting Commission, Mr Willesee’s superiors, can draw from the statements made by the Prime Minister is that here is a journalist, a member of their staff, who is regarded with some hostility and is regarded as being unreliable by no less a person than the Prime Minister himself. I shall not use any adjective to describe the Prime Minister’s action; I shall leave the adjective to the imagination of honourable senators so that I do not say anything offensive about someone not present in this chamber. There are two other things on which I should like to comment. The first is that this incident is a repetition of tactics used by the Government - tactics in which it has persisted over the years. I refer to this constant use of the tactics of guilt by association, of condemning people because they are supposed to be associated with some other person, either at some meeting or because they are related in some way, as happened on this occasion.
My final remark is that it is most curious that on the very occasion when the subject of discussion is political interference with the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Government is busily denying that there is any political interference with the Commission, what does the Prime Minister do but precisely that. By discrediting one of the journalists employed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, by suggesting that he is not a person suitable for occupying the position which he occupies, he is engaging in political interference with the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the very thing which he denied he was doing. I believe that the actions of the Prime Minister deserve the censure of this Parliament and of all decent people in Australia.
-I discount the last speaker but I do want to refer, of course, to what Senator Willesee has said. I understand his motive. I think that it is fair to say that one can respect the father who rushes to the rescue of his son. In this case 1 do not think it is doing the boy any good for him to take the stand that he has taken. I want to refer to the case itself, because this is, of course, a red herring that the Australian Labor Party has endeavoured to draw across the scene. The Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) was replying to a question in another place by Mr Hughes and he set out to refute the charge that there had been interference with the independence of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. During this refutation, he questioned whether the ABC’s handling of the This Day Tonight’ interview could be regarded as impartial, in view of the fact that its choice as commentators were Michael Willesee and Allan Eraser. To underline the Government’s objective to the ABC he clearly said:
We want to see the Commission conduct itself with an independent mind, with objectivity and with impartiality–
I think it is fair to criticise the use of an uncorroborated news sheet which appears in Canberra, called ‘Inside Canberra’, on a television feature programme, and to have as commentators only an ex-Labor member of the House of Representatives, Mr Fraser, and not somebody who could be prepared to put another point of view but the son of Senator Willessee, who clearly identified himself. I want to correct Senator Willesee, by reading from the script of this interview. The title of the programme was ‘This Day Tonight’. It was telecast on 11th April 1967. The transcript reads:
Hunter - Does he say whether the matteris before Cabinet?
Willesee - He suggests it’s before Cabinet . . . That refers to Mr Whitington. The transcript continues: . . My information . . .
That is what Mr Willesee says, immediately identifying himself with it:
He completely identifies himself, and 1 think this sustains beyond question that :t was very ill-advised indeed of the ABC, if it wanted to carry out the objectives that the Government has for it - that is, to conduct itself with an independent mind, with objectivity and impartiality - to have two people, one who identified himself with the position by saying not what Mr Whitington had said, as Senator Willesee tried to make out, but:
My information is that it hasn’t yet reached Cabinet but is being discussed by some Ministers, while at the same time other Ministers are pretty hotly against this.
This is a complete identification of himself with the text. What did the Prime Minister say? I was interested to notice that Senator Willesee said that his son was smeared. 1 have yet to find that it is a smear to say that a man has political leanings towards the party that his father has so ably represented for so many years. I do not know whether that is a smear, but the Prime Minister did not even say that. The honourable senator has read what the Prime Minister did say. I will not repeat it because what he said is well known. He received a further question today, addressed to him by a Mr Stewart. It read:
I ask the Prime Minister whether he inferred yesterday that Mr Michael Willesee, a political journalist, could not be objective or impartial because his father was a Labor senator. Has he received a request from Mr Willesee for a withdrawal of the inference which could prejudice his career? Does he intend to make the necessary withdrawal? If not, can his failure to do so bc interpreted to mean that the right honourable gentleman intends to use the forms of the House and Parliamentary privilege to attack the personal integrity of, and impute improper motives to, any person who dares to criticise him or his Ministers? Does he realise that his action invites other honourable members to impute improper motives to the social, moral and business activities of members of his own family? I now ask the Prime Minister whether he will withdraw the inference he made against Mr Willesee.
The Prime Minister, of course, has categorically denied the statement in ‘Inside Canberra’ from which the whole of this controversy has arisen. I think honourable senators are entitled to know what the Prime Minister said. He replied:
I do not think the honourable member nas served the interests of Mr Willesee by the form of question he has put to me.
I do not think so either. He went on:
I leave that to the judgment of the House or of those who take the trouble to peruse the record of the House. I made the statement of fact yesterday that Mr Willesee is the son of Senator Willesee. i could have added that the senator had been elected to the leadership of the Labor Party in the Senate, for a short time at any rate. 1 made the comment that I had not known Mr Willesee to disagree violently with the political views of his father.
This is what he said. He had not known. The Prime Minister did not say that Mr Willesee did disagree and he did not say that Mr Willesee did not. He had not known. He went on:
I was not making an attack on Mr Willesee as such; I was drawing attention to the fact that an unofficial report, appearing in a news sheet which had no authority and no known accuracy about it, had been made the subject of a telecast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission in which those invited to comment upon this news sheet and its allegations of improper and irregular pressure by three Ministers of this Government, including its Prime Minister, were two people who, on the face of it, might not only be regarded as having political sympathies akin to the known political sympathies of the principal of the news sheet, but whose political sympathies might be interpreted clearly as lying in the direction of the Opposition.
The Prime Minister was not attacking Mr Willesee. He was drawing attention to what I believe was an indiscretion on the part of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in its choice of commentators on this subject. One would have thought that, if the Commission wished to be completely impartial and objective in its comment on this matter, it would have chosen representatives of all sides of the political field. The viewers or listeners are entitled to an objective view from all sides of politics so that they in turn may make up their own minds on a matter.
I am sorry that Senator Willesee went further and made a personal attack on the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has no need of any defender on this side of the chanber. His record is well known, as Senator Willesee rightly said. It is a record of which any citizen of the Commonwealth could be rightly proud. His accession to the office of Prime Minister is something of which he, the Liberal Party and all of its supporters are rightly proud, because of the job that he has done up to date.
– Twice within the last seven months the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) has dealt with citizens in such a way as to make us all feel ashamed of him. The first occasion - the Michaelis incident - was in September of last year, when the Prime Minister attacked a young lad who was expelled from the Sydney Grammar School for refusing to wear the cadet uniform. The Prime Minister attacked him by assailing the political affiliations of his mother. In the last day or so we have seen the Prime Minister attack the good faith, the integrity, the impartiality and the objectivity of Michael Willesee by associating him with the political opinions of his father. In each case the political opinions of the parent have been imputed to the child.
If we are to have this, Mr President, then the reputation of no-one in this country will be safe. If we are to have people found guilty by association with other persons, if we are to say that a journalist is not objective and is not to be regarded as impartial by the Australian Broadcasting Commission or some other body because his father, his uncle or his mother is a member of the Labor Party, a Communist or a Liberal, where are we going? People are entitled to be treated as citizens and as individuals. They are not entitled to be dealt with on the basis of the political opinions of their relatives. The Prime Minister above all has no right at all to introduce those matters into a political controversy. He should be setting a standard for all citizens, not degrading the standards that should be applying in this community.
It is a disgrace that this should happen. Why is it that Senator Willesee has to stand up in. this chamber and, as has been said, endeavour to rescue his son? Why should his son ever have been put in this position? He is a journalist. Why should he have imputed to him the political opinions of his father on no basis whatever? Senator Willesee said tonight that his son is not a member of the Labor Party. What does it matter whether he is or not? What right did the Prime Minister have to stand up in the Parliament and start to level his attack at the ABC and use young Willesee as the instrument simply because his father is a member of the Labor Party?
It is apparent that over many years there has been an attack upon the political independence of the ABC. I hope that the Commission will have enough guts to see that young Willesee does not need rescuing and that his career is not prejudiced. I hope that if it is threatened, the Press, radio and television of Australia will ensure that he is not adversely affected. This is an attack not only on Willesee, not only on the ABC, but on free speech in Australia. If we do not have freedom of the Press - in that I include radio and television - there will not be freedom for very long in Australia. The lesson all over the world is that such matters start off in a little way. People start to attack other people by methods such as guilt by association. If this can be done by the Prime Minister to a citizen such as young Michaelis and if it can be done to young Willesee, who is the son of a member of this Parliament, how can it be said that anyone at all is safe?
If a person becomes involved in a political controversy, then he is subject to attack in this Parliament under privilege. Irrespective of whether the attack is libellous or not, is it not sufficiently damaging when the Prime Minister himself attacks a person’s objectivity, his standing as a journalist, as has happened to Willesee simply because he is the son of his father - nothing more than that? Is that the standard that is to prevail in Australia? If it is, it is not a standard that is fit for a free people. What has been done in this instance is not of the standard that we expect of the Prime Minister of Australia.
– Last evening Senator Poke drew the attention of the Senate to a matter affecting members of the Citizen Military Forces in Tasmania. I now have some information that I hope he will be interested to hear. His inference that the soldier concerned had been victimised because of representations concerning pay is without foundation. In his representations on pay, the honourable senator did not mention any individual by name and his inquiry affected about 400 members of the CMF in Tasmania, not any one person.
On the general question of soldiers approaching members of Parliament, I point out that soldiers are expected to follow laid down procedures in submitting real or alleged grievances. However, many servicemen and relatives choose to make representations through members of Parliament. These are fully investigated in the same way as any other representation. The proposed discharge of the sergeant concerned arose from instances of inefficiency not connected with the question of pay or other matters mentioned by Senator Poke. In this instance the soldier has not yet submitted a request for a redress of wrongs, but it is known that he intends to do so. Pending consideration of this, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further. It is not correct, as Senator Poke implied, that the final arbiter in the matter will be the commanding officer. The soldier can, if he so desires, submit his complaint in succession to his commanding officer, the commander of Tasmania Command and finally the Military Board. The sergeant is aware of his rights in this matter.
– Apparently I am being told that I have made a complete misrepresentation of this case. That is the inference to be drawn from the statement just made by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar). Let me advise the Senate that only this morning the wife of the soldier concerned was in touch with her husband by telephone. She related the position to me after she had discussed the matter with her husband. This man was brought last night before Lieutenant-Colonel Abbott.
– Last night?
– Yes, last night.
– After the honourable senator had spoken?
– No, it was before I had spoken. Let me say that Lieutenant-Colonel Abbott is a member of the Opposition in the Tasmanian Parliament.
– Oh! Is he impartial?
– Well, LieutenantColonel Abbott is none other than Or Abbott-
– A Liberal Party member.
– Yes, the Liberal Party member for Denison. It seems rather significant that this sergeant probably has some Labor leanings. I do not know whether or not this is so. It could be a similar case to the one with which we have dealt in the Senate this evening regarding Senator Willesee’s son. This incident leads me to the opinion that something like this could happen. Admittedly, Dr Abbott or, rather, Lieutenant-Colonel Abbott, as we should refer to him in this particular instance, did advise this soldier that he had another fortnight to appeal to a higher tribunal if he so desired. I agree with this. But the point is that until the soldier claimed his rights as a member of the Citizen Military Forces he was to be dismissed last night - on 18th April 1967. As I understand it, the application for redress of wrongs has been filed. Again, as I understand it. this was filed prior to 1 8th April, in other words prior to last night when the soldier was brought before Lieutenant-Colonel Abbott. Mr President, I am afraid that 1 cannot accept the explanation that has been given by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) tonight. I feel that there is more behind this matter than has yet come to the surface.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 12.2 a.m. (Thursday)
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 19 April 1967, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1967/19670419_senate_26_s33/>.