29th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Justin O’Byrne) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I would like to draw the attention of the Senate to the presence in the President’s Gallery of a delegation of members of the Japanese Parliament. We are very pleased to welcome them.
-Is the AttorneyGeneral aware of the deregistration of the Australian Builders Labourers Federation by the Australian Industrial Court in June last and of the revelations made in the judgment of the members of the Court of over 200 instances of unlawful acts, assaults and intimidation engaged in by that union? Is he also aware that the union subsequently has resolved to intimidate 6 building companies, which are currently in proceedings before the High Court of Australia, by means of bans and guerrilla-like stoppages, as the resolution of the Builders Labourers Federation communicated to the company has stated? Is the Attorney-General aware that in addition to the resolution of intimidation, acts of intimidation have taken place? Is he also aware that the intimidation has been successful and that the building companies are withdrawing from the High Court action? Was not the AttorneyGeneral informed several weeks ago by representatives of the building companies of the intended action of the Builders Labourers Federation? Is there not a prima facie case of contempt of court and does not the Attorney-General have the right and the obligation to uphold the authority of the courts and the rights of people to have access to the courts? Will he take action?
-I am aware of the fact that there was a case in which the Australian Builders Labourers Federation was deregistered. I have not read the judgment. I have some general acquaintance with the reasons for it from seeing the submissions that were made during the course of the case. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition suggests that there has been intimidation in respect of proceedings in the High Court of Australia. He asserts that as though it were a fact. May I say this: proceedings were taken in the High Court of Australia by very large companies which have an organisation to look after their affairs. If they were of the view that they had been intimidated there were courses open to them. This matter has been heavily tied up with the preservation of harmony or the creation of disharmony in the industrial field. The honourable senator is seeking, I think, to stir up some situation and to aggravate the relations between employers and employees in a very sensitive field. I have no doubt that if there had been some contempt of court the High Court would not accept it and the employers’ organisations which were concerned would take action. I know that some correspondence occurred. It was referred to my Department and I acted in accordance with the advice that was given to me.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Media. The Minister will recall that on Tuesday last I asked him a question regarding the televising of the football grand final in Melbourne. I now ask: Has the Minister seen the reports in this morning’s newspapers that the Victorian Premier has rejected approaches requesting his Government to supply funds to finance the telecasting of the Victorian Football League grand final? Are there any measures that the Minister can now take to ensure that the match will be telecast live to the Victorian viewers who cannot get into the ground for the match?
– I have seen the reports to which the honourable senator refers. It certainly does not surprise me that the Victorian Government finds itself in much the same position as the Australian Government on this question. I know that the honourable senator will excuse me when I point out once again that the Australian Broadcasting Commission is an independent statutory body to which this Government has guaranteed political and programming independence. Apparently also the Victorian Government adheres to that view so far as this issue is concerned. It is entirely for the Commission to decide whether it is to pay the very large sum being demanded by the Victorian Football League for this event.
The honourable senator has referred to those people who cannot get into the ground to see the grand final. I am personally very conscious of the desire of those people to watch a live telecast of the match, just as I was conscious of it last year when the VFL flatly refused even to contemplate a direct telecast of the event. All I can say is that I believe the VFL has hardly changed its attitude at all this year from what is was last year. Last year at first it refused flatly to have a live telecast. This year it is demanding a sum that is so far in excess of the sums charged by other football bodies for like rights that the ABC cannot even contemplate meeting its demands. I can tell the honourable senator also that earlier this year the ABC made a recommendation to me under section 62 of the Broadcasting and Television Act which involves my approving any expenditure by the Commission in excess of $100,000. Under the approval that I gave under section 62 of the Act the ABC certainly has replay rights of the VFL grand final even though it has not the rights for a direct telecast.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. The Minister will be aware that Western Australians have been deeply concerned about the almost non-existent defence effort in the western part of this continent and that they will welcome any steps to correct that situation. In view of the concern, I ask the Minister to give the Senate full details of this week’s announcement of increased Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Australian Navy patrols off the north-west coast. Have the operations already commenced? How many aircraft and patrol boats are involved? What improvement does this represent and what further improvement is planned?
– I cannot give the honourable senator plans of any future surveillance or new arrangements. I can tell the honourable senator that co-ordinated aerial survey patrols have been operating for some time and that since July the rate of aerial surveillance in the northwest has been more than doubled. Before the Labor Government came to power there was ad hoc surveillance by aircraft and ships on passage. Since we became the Government we have established a routine examination of the area. More recently, of course, the number of patrol boats stationed in Darwin for that purpose has been increased. I think that the total number is four. I know there has been certain public discussion in the newspapers about the need for surveillance of that area. Some attention has been drawn to the matter because of the presence of Indonesian fishermen, etc. In respect to any future planning, I think that I should ask the Minister for Defence to supply any additional information he can for the honourable senator.
-Has the Minister for Agriculture seen a statement in yesterday’s Melbourne ‘Herald’ newspaper attributed to a member of the local branch of the Victorian Farmers Union to the effect that Senator Wriedt has 3 times refused to address farmers in Warrnambool and also that Senator Wriedt ‘s appointment to the Agriculture portfolio was an attempt to downgrade the portfolio? Are these statements correct or is it true that the State President of the Victorian Farmers Union recently described the present Minister for Agriculture as being the best Agriculture Minister for 20 years?
– I saw the accusation. I am not referring to the one about my being the best Minister for Agriculture but to the statement that I did not appear in Warrnambool. I was invited to attend a meeting at Warrnambool last April. Because of another meeting at Warragul in Victoria on the same night I was unable to be in Warrnambool. However, I arranged for a public meeting to be held at Warrnambool. From memory, it was held on 13 May and was attended by about 100 people. I want to assure the farmers, and especially the dairy farmers, in Warrnambool that I am quite happy to talk to them at any time when I can find the time. I hope that, in view of the comment that has been made, I will be able to visit Warrnambool again before the end of the year. I also want to assure them as dairy farmers that I am just as interested in the problem of fats as they are, be they polyunsaturated fats or other types of fats.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Education. Following the statements by the Minister for Education approving further capital grants for non-government schools in Australia amounting to some $5. 3m, can the Minister say which South Australian school will receive the miserable pittance of $15,000 allocated to South Australia out of a total allocation of some $5. 3m for Australia? How many applications were received from South Australian schools?
– I ask the honourable senator to place the question on the notice paper.
– I direct a question to the Postmaster-General. Is the allegation, which is frequently repeated by Labor’s political opponents in country areas and echoed in the rural Press, that postal and telecommunication charges discriminate against country people correct?
– I have no doubt that this subject will be raised very shortly during the debate on the Post and Telegraph Bills. But as I think everybody knows, the general position is that it costs much more to establish subscriber connections in rural areas. From memory, I think the figure for the city is $1,500 and for the real outback about $9,000. Even in the country areas, the figure is something just below $4,000. The postal services to the country areas are obviously more expensive to provide. Perhaps this is a question which can be developed better in debate on the Bills which will be brought on this morning.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Agriculture. With the threat of entry of exotic diseases into Australia, concern has been expressed in primary industry that the Government is not giving sufficient priority to the establishment of the Bureau of Animal Health. When will the Director be appointed? Will he be given priority in the recruitment of staff? Does not the Minister agree that, until the Bureau is functioning properly, efforts to combat an outbreak of disease will be ineffective?
-It is true that the Government has decided to establish a national Bureau of Animal Health. We have done so because we realise the need more effectively to organise our campaign against the importation of disease generally in Australia and the management of animal diseases in Australia. As the honourable senator will be aware, the Government has made a decision in respect of the growth of the Public Service over the next 12 months. Naturally, the formation of this Bureau will be affected by the restrictions which flow from that decision. I hope that the Director of the Bureau, together with a nucleus of officers, will be appointed this financial year. But I think that it would be expecting too much to assume that the Bureau will be fully functioning by the end of this financial year. I can assure the honourable senator that the Government will press ahead as quickly as possible with the resources available to it in order to ensure that the Bureau is functioning as soon as it can.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Science. By way of preface I refer to an illuminating article in the ‘Bulletin’ which questions the hangups that graziers have about the alleged effect of dingoes on cattle. Reverting to Senator Wright’s answer to me 2 years ago that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation was indulging in research into theories on this subject, what is the latest result of such research? Does the Minister visualise a time when the bounty on dingoes will be removed?
-The notes supplied to me are to the effect that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has advised that work by its Division of Wildlife Research on the biology of dingoes is going ahead in Central Australia and the eastern highlands. Like research on other wildlife species, this is necessarily long term so as to cover different seasonal and regional conditions. Studies of such aspects as water, physiology, dingo movements, behaviour, diet, numbers and control are providing a thorough understanding of the animal. Such information is an essential prerequisite to the development of soundly based management practices and policies. The current program is scheduled to be completed in about 2 years, and whilst there have been some interim statements, it is essential that relatively complete information should be available to the authorities responsible for the administration of dingo control for assessment of current policies.
– I address my question to the Minister for Agriculture. The Minister is concerned about the introduction of exotic diseases into Australia, because a little while ago he answered a question concerning the proposed establishment of the Bureau of Animal Health. Equally he knows that the Senate is concerned about the problem of the introduction of exotic diseases by animals that might come into Australia from countries adjacent to Australia. I think that this is a general concern that is shared by the whole of the Senate. The Minister will be aware of the fact that foot and mouth disease exists in Bali and therefore that at any point of time it is possible that we might have an outbreak of it in Australia. I ask the Minister: In view of his problem concerning the staffing of the proposed Bureau of Animal Health, will he give consideration to organising a voluntary pool arrangement among Australian veterinarians in order to cope with an emergency situation should there be an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Australia? I can assure the Minister that the veterinarians would be prepared to co-operate. I think it would be a useful exercise if he were to embark upon it.
-I would not deny that there is merit in the suggestion made by Senator Cotton. I would, though, say that recently, because of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Bali, the Government initiated discussions with the Indonesian Government and, as a result of those discussions, it was announced, I think by Senator Willesee, that the Australian Government will assist the Indonesian authorities to combat foot and mouth disease in their country. Probably that is the most positive thing that we can do. Nevertheless, Senator Cotton’s suggestion is worthy of consideration, and I shall certainly consider it.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether he has seen newsagency reports that the French Foreign Minister announced in the United Nations General Assembly on 23 September last that France has finished atmospheric nuclear testing and would conduct further experiments underground. Is this true? Also, is Australia still pursuing its proceedings in the International Court of Justice concerning atmospheric nuclear tests by France?
– From the reports I have received, it appears that what the French Foreign Minister actually said was:
We have now reached a stage in our nuclear technology that makes it possible for us to continue our program by underground testing, and we have taken steps to do so as early as next year.
Honourable senators will note that this statement falls far short of a commitment or undertaking that there will be no more atmospheric tests conducted by the French Government at its Pacific tests centre. Radioactive fall-out has now been positively identified as resulting from the latest series of French tests. The Government has protested against this action by the French Government which is in breach of the order of the International Court of Justice of 22 June 1973.
There is a basic distinction between an assertion that steps are being taken to continue the testing program by underground testing as early as next year and an assurance that no further atmospheric tests will take place. It seems that the Government of France, while apparently taking a step in the right direction, is still reserving to itself the right to carry out atmospheric nuclear tests. In legal terms, Australia has nothing from the French Government which protects us against any further atmospheric tests should the French Government subsequently decide to hold them. The judicial proceedings are therefore as relevant and as important as when the Australian application was filed in May 1973. The stage reached in those proceedings is that, after the presentation of major argument on behalf of the Australian Government on the questions of jurisdiction and admissibility, the Court is considering its judgment on these questions.
I especially want to assure honourable senators that, so far as the Australian Government is concerned, there is no basis for a report which I understand is being carried by some of the news agencies and which quotes ‘Normally Wellinformed Sources’ as saying that Australia and New Zealand may ask the International Court to strike the case off its roll in the light of the French Foreign Minister’s statement. The New Zealand Government no doubt can speak for itself on the matter.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Labor and Immigration. Will the Minister endeavour, as a matter of urgency, to obtain and, if possible, table today the report made by the task force which recently investigated unemployment in the Launceston area?
– As a result of questions asked yesterday by other honourable senators I have asked the Minister to give me the information as soon as he can. As soon as it is available I will supply it to the honourable senator or to the Senate.
-My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Labor and Immigration, relates to the Government’s regional employment development scheme. Can the Minister say whether any projects under this scheme have been approved for the State of South Australia?
-On Tuesday the relevant Ministers met and they approved sporting and recreational projects for the whole of Australia involving about $350,000. These types of projects are included in requests which have been received from South Australia. There was a request from Port Pirie for financial assistance for a drainage project. A decision on that matter has been deferred because sufficient information was not available. Another region of South Australiathe Port Lincoln region- has been added to the list of regions which would come under the scheme. At present 3 South Australian regions are involved. I will find out from the Minister and the committee that is dealing with this matter whether any other projects for South Australia are under consideration.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Media. I refer to the announcement that the Australian Broadcasting Commission will be invited to give consideration to the operation of 2 new amplitude modulation or AM radio stations- one in Sydney and one in Melbourne. I ask: What is the time scale for the operation of these 2 stations? Are they to be styled as specialist stations for such purposes as educational programs or are they to become additional competitive stations with those already established in these 2 large cities?
– I cannot tell the honourable senator the technical details which are involved in the operational frequency of the proposed stations. These matters have been discussed with the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, my Department and officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department. If the honourable senator peruses an audience survey report which, I think, was taken early this year or late last year by the ABC she will realise that the Commission has found that because of the inadequacy of frequencies or stations available to it there have been certain deficiencies in its ability to cater for as wide a section of the Australian community as it would like. Therefore it has been suggested that the standby transmitters available to the Commission in Sydney and Melbourne can be put to use by the Commission to overcome some of the program deficiencies. I will be having discussions with the ABC as to the use the Commission will be able to make of these stations. Beyond that I cannot comment at this stage.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation. Now that the Repatriation artificial limb and appliance centres are responsible for the supply of artificial limbs to all in the community who need them, can the Minister assure the Senate that the Department of Repatriation and Compensation is taking appropriate steps to keep abreast of new developments and techniques in the manufacture of artificial limbs and appliances?
-Apparently there are constant scientific developments in the field of artificial limb making. Within the Repatriation Commission there has been established for some years an organisation devoted to research into and development of artificial limbs called the Central Development Unit. It is under the control of people who are qualified medically and it employs people whose profession is the designing and manufacturing of artificial limbs. An international organisation which deals with this matter, the International Society of Prosthetics and Orthotics, has its headquarters in Copenhagen. The Australian Repatriation Commission is represented on this Society and maintains contact through it with all the leading limb and appliance centres throughout the world. Quite frequent visits are made overseas by officers of the Repatriation Commission who are concerned with this matter. We believe that the standard of information and development in Australia compares favourably with that in most other countries.
– My question refers to the announcement by the Minister for the Media yesterday that Cabinet had approved of the establishment by the Australian Broadcasting Commission of some 28 new frequency modulation and amplitude modulation radio stations, together with other experimental ventures in public broadcasting. I ask the Minister: On what estimates of capital costs and annual recurrent costs did Cabinet give its approval? What is the estimated capital and revenue expenditure for the current year for this purpose? Is that expenditure included in the published budget of the Australian Broadcasting Commission for this year?
-The honourable senator framed his question by saying that he referred to my announcement that the Government had approved of the establishment of some 28 stations. If the honourable senator reads the statement I think he will see that the Government approved of the planning of the additional stations. Therefore, the question of costs will be raised, as I have said in the statement, when the plans are submitted by the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to the Government and approved by the Government.
– My question to the Leader of the Government representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs relates to a visit in recent times by a United Nations mission to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. I ask: What stage has been reached in an examination of the recommendations of the mission which visited the Islands in recent times?
– The United Nations mission visited the Cocos (Keeling) Islands between 7 and 1 1 August at the invitation of the Australian Government. It consisted of representatives from the Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Trinidad and Tobago. They were accompanied by officials from the United Nations Secretariat. Discussions were held in Canberra before and after the visit. As with the other United Nations missions to non-self governing Territories, its task was to inform itself and report to the United Nations on political, economic and social conditions in the Islands and to seek the views of the people on their future political status. The Government will give careful consideration to the report of the mission and to any subsequent resolutions of the Committee of Twenty Four and the General Assembly relating to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Our Government recognised the desirability of changes in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands which will be directed towards assuring for the people of the Islands higher standards of education, economic development and self government. As has been stated previously, the Government’s intention is that the future political status of the Islands should be determined with full regard to the freely expressed wishes of the inhabitants and in keeping with the principles of the United Nations charter and the relevant United Nations decisions.
-Is the Minister representing the Treasurer aware that the Government has in the present Budget substantially increased the rate of company taxation on private companies? Is the Minister aware that the prime tax rate for public companies and for private companies is now at the same level of approximately 47 Vi per cent? Is he also aware that the smaller proprietary limited company is forced under the threat of further heavy taxation to distribute or disgorge at least 50 per cent of the profit that it retains after tax and that this requirement does not apply to public companies? It applies only to the smaller companies which I imagine, the community would wish to encourage so that they may build strength and reserves against the thrust and competition from the larger and more financially sound public companies. Would the Government consider either reducing the forced distribution of profit by private companies or at least placing both kinds of companies on the same basis, now that they are taxed at the same rate?
-The Treasurer has in fact announced that the taxation rate for private companies now will be the same as applies to public companies. It is my understanding that the reason for this is that certain escape clauses have existed by means of which individuals within private companies have got around paying the higher rates of personal income tax which are higher than the company rates. Obviously, retained profits could be kept within the private company and paid for at the lower rate. It is my understanding that this is the reason for the Government’s decision to take this step which was, of course, announced in the last Budget. I assume that Senator Webster, when he used the word ‘reducing’, meant reducing the 50 per cent requirement of distribution of profits. I would have to refer that matter to the Treasurer. I think it is well known that a public company has a much wider consideration in distributing profits than a private company has. More people are involved and the taxation benefits which have accrued or which have been used by people in private companies are not available to shareholders of a public company. I cannot say whether the Treasurer would consider altering the 50 per cent rate, and I will have to refer the matter to him.
-Will the Minister representing the Minister for Labor and Immigration indicate whether moneys for the unemployed are available for the use of councils in the floodravaged Lachlan, Murray, Murrumbidgee, Macquarie and other river valleys in New South Wales? Further, will he indicate whether such moneys can be used to hasten the urgently needed repairs to roads and bridges, in particular, in those areas? Finally, by what manner of application can the councils involved receive the funds?
– Certain criteria have been established and made known, as far as I am aware, to all State governments and also most of the councils and corporations. The criteria relate to how the applications should be processed. I understand that local councils can make an application either directly to the regional office of the Department of Labor and Immigration or to the Minister. I am not sure whether any applications have been received in connection with the projects about which the honourable senator has asked. I can only undertake to find out whether any such consideration has been given. In addition it may be proper if the honourable senator directed the attention of the authorities concerned to the fact that they can apply directly to the Minister. Mr Clyde Cameron chairs the meeting, but there is in fact a committee of Ministers, including the Minister for Social Security and the Minister for Urban and Regional Development, which is responsible for determining, on the criteria, which applications should be approved. If the honourable senator wishes, I will ask for information in respect of the matters he has mentioned and see whether applications have been made.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs. Can the Minister inform the Senate whether any progress has been made in the finalisation of the Treaty of Nara which was announced by the Prime Minister some time ago?
-Mr President, both the Australian and the Japanese governments have a strong interest in the Treaty of Nara. Every effort has been made to bring it to a successful conclusion, although full agreement will not be reached before the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister to Australia. On 6 May the Japanese Government gave to the Australian Government a draft which took into account the initial Australian draft which was presented on 14 December 1973. A number of meetings of Australian Government departments have been held in Canberra to consider the 2 drafts and to work towards a formulation which will meet the interests of both countries. Australian officials held discussions in Japan from 25 to 27 July, following which the Japanese produced on 6 September a revised version of their draft. This is currently under active consideration by the Australian Government departments.
-I recall Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson’s question. I have referred the matter to the Treasurer for a considered reply. I am sorry that apparently he has not yet received a reply. Decisions made in the Labor Party party room are not matters on which I am going to comment at question time.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Overseas Trade. How significant is devaluation in terms of the conditions laid down by the trade unions for wage restraint agreement? Are the unions sceptical despite yesterday’s statement by the Minister for Overseas Trade that devaluation would meet the unions’ demands and further protection for industry would not be necessary?
– I have not seen the statement by the trade unions which was referred to by Senator Maunsell. I do not know what they said. I will have to refer the question to the Minister for Overseas Trade.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Urban and Regional Development, relates to the proposal of the Australian Government to build premises for the Australian Radiation Laboratory at Lower Plenty Road, Yallambie, Victoria, within 10 miles of the centre of Melbourne, despite the strong objections of local residents and their progress association. Is the Minister aware of the growing concern of the objectors at the threatened danger to the environment of this partly rural and partly residential area and the damage to the amenities of the district through the wholesale destruction of trees and the creation of traffic problems, quite apart from any health hazards that might result? Does the Government intend to proceed with this proposal in the light of the objections and the highly critical environmental impact statement prepared by the Preston Institute of Technology?
– 1 have no knowledge of this matter and will have to refer the question to the appropriate Minister. I was wondering whether it would be the Minister for Urban and Regional Revelopment. All Government projects are the subject of investigation and an environmental impact statement by the Department of the Environment and Conservation. Whichever Minister is responsible, I will obtain a reply for the honourable senator.
-Can the Minister representing the Minister for Transport indicate when the steps to be taken to examine the freight differential, as outlined last week by the Prime Minister, will be undertaken? Are these steps to be taken in conjunction with an interim report from the Nimmo Committee of Inquiry, or are they to be taken separately?
– The steps on what?
-The freight differential as outlined by the Prime Minister in his announcement last week.
– Again I suggest that the question be placed on the notice paper so that I can obtain the details from the Minister concerned.
-I ask the Minister for the Media a question relating to a question asked yesterday about the provision of television services to Leigh Creek. I recall that the Minister said that officers of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board would be visiting Adelaide shortly and would be discussing this question with interested parties. I would like to know, firstly, whether the Minister can identify the interested parties. The Minister may be aware that I have been to Leigh Creek with an officer of the Broadcasting Control Board and I recognise the point he raised about the economic and technical difficulties with respect to a micro-wave connection to that area. I believe that the Minister mentioned the alternative proposal that a low power television service be installed in that area. What is the Government’s policy with respect to the provision of such installations? As Leigh Creek is essentially an Electricity Trust town and as such is of particular interest to the South Australian Government, and in view of plans to expand the coal mining activities in the area, prolonging the life of the town for a long period, will the Minister negotiate with the State Government with the object of discussing the possibility of jointly financing a low power installation to serve this town? Finally, in the event of the provision of satellite television for Australia, is it a fact that low powered television installations such as this can be utilised and, because of this, money expended in that direction would not be wasted?
-A great number of questions have been asked by the honourable senator. I will try to answer all or as many of them as I can remember. I well recall the honourable senator going to Leigh Creek with an officer of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board some time ago after he had made representations to me on this matter. I would not know all the interested parties but recently I received a deputation from my colleagues Senator Donald Cameron, Senator McLaren and Mr Wallis, who is the local Federal member.
- Mr Kelly is the local member.
– I did not know that. I know that Mr Wallis was a member of the deputation and I assumed that he was the Federal member. The matter of approaching the South Australian Electricity Trust is something that came out of the deputation. An approach has already been made and I would assume that when the Australian Broadcasting Control Board says that it is going to Adelaide to discuss the matter with interested parties these interested parties would include the South Australian Electricity Trust and/or the South Australian Government. In regard to low powered television services, I do not want it to be accepted for one moment that what I said yesterday automatically is the answer. I just put that up as a prospective answer and suggested it should be closely looked at. What the honourable senator said in regard to satellite television is, I think, basically correct although I imagine it would be some considerable time before this sort of move could be envisaged.
– My question is directed to the Attorney-General and refers to an answer which he gave Senator Greenwood earlier today in respect of apparently successful intimidation by the Australian Builders Labourers Federation of some building contractors who had taken proceedings in the High Court of Australia. These contractors have apparently withdrawn from the court proceedings as a result of action that was taken by the Builders Labourers Federation. The Attorney-General said that he had had some correspondence in the matter and had acted in accordance with the advice that he was given. That was the only information he gave the Senate. I ask: From whom did he obtain the correspondence? What action did he take? Did he authorise any investigation? In respect of his general attitude when answering the earlier question that it is up to the building contractors to complain of contempt, is there not an overriding and paramount responsibility on the Attorney-General to protect the rights of people whose position before the Court may be jeopardised by intimidation and threats.
-I would ask that the question go to notice so that an answer with some precision can be given in relation to the matters of fact that are raised. Although some of the matters of general principle might easily be answered now I would prefer to deal with the question on notice:
-My question is directed to the Minister for the Media and arises from my reading this morning of his statement to the Senate yesterday which referred to the expansion of radio services and which was also connected with an earlier question asked by me. Can he give further information on his reference in the statement that the radio station of the University of Adelaide would be invited to extend its operations on the AM band? Is it the Minister’s understanding that the radio station of the University of Adelaide is at present just off the normal AM band and that our sets have to be modified to receive it? Does his statement yesterday mean that VL5UV in Adelaide will be given a new frequency in a more favourable position near existing national and commercial stations? Finally, will the Minister say whether any financial assistance is to be given to this quite outstanding radio station to extend its present valuable community services and to develop the new forms of broadcasting to which the Minister referred?
-Let me answer the last portion of the question first. As I said in my ministerial statement yesterday, at this stage there is no commitment by the Government to the expenditure of funds. What the Government has in mind generally is that as the Adelaide station has had the experience of conducting, as it were, a public broadcasting station, it should be invited to conduct public broadcasting courses and to increase its activities and programming in the types of matters in which it already engages. The question of frequencies will be a matter for discussion between the station, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and officers of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Until those discussions take place I will not be in a position to answer the first portion of the honourable senator’s question.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs. In view of the Prime Minister’s announcement of his intention to attend the forthcoming meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, will the Minister tell the Senate what initiatives Australia will be taking there?
-The Australian Government will be taking 2 initiatives at the twentyninth session of the General Assembly. They will be broadly in the area of diplomatic asylum and in the area of peaceful settlement of international disputes. Australia has asked that an item dealing with diplomatic asylum be included on the agenda. The intention is to seek elaboration of the international rules governing diplomatic asylum. In the second area the Australian Government’s intentions are more modest. They are to stimulate discussion on peaceful settlement in order that the Assembly may consider its role and the present and potential capabilities for the peaceful settlement of international disputes by such means as mediation.
-Is the AttorneyGeneral aware of the report which appeared in the weekly paper, the ‘Bulletin’, earlier this month that the paper had been given ‘convincing information that armed vigilante groups prepared to act as assassination groups have in fact been formed and are undertaking paramilitary training in at least 2 centres in New South Wales’? Does the Attorney-General agree with me that that is a most serious allegation? If so, have investigations been made in relation to the report? Has the journalist who was named in the Bulletin’ been interviewed? Has the AttorneyGeneral received the result of such investigations? In view of the fact the allegations constitute, at least prima facie, a breach of the provisions of the Crimes Act, are prosecutions to be launched or are the allegations without foundation?
-The subject matter which the honourable senator raises is, of course, a serious one if persons are engaged in any kind of activity with the motive of assassination. I do not propose to answer the honourable senator’s questions except to say that, prior to any report in the ‘Bulletin’, the Government had this matter under active consideration and investigation.
- Mr President, my question is addressed to you for your consideration and, if you consider it worthwhile, for reference to the Standing Orders Committee of the Senate. Because of the number of ministerial statements given during the now limited period of question time, the traditional use of which is for honourable senators to seek information rather than for Ministers to arrange propaganda plugs, will you consider suggesting changes to the procedures of the Senate to permit, say, the first 15 minutes of this period each day being devoted to ministerial statements and this to be followed by the customary, or should I say former, normal question and answer period? This would save the time and energy used by Government senators in putting their prepared questions to Ministers.
– I will consider the matter that the honourable senator has raised.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Can the Minister inform the Senate what progress has been made in respect to permitting Army personnel to wear shorts as part of their summer uniform? If Army personnel are to be permitted to wear shorts, will he confer with his colleague, the Minister for Services and Property, with a view to permitting Commonwealth drivers to do likewise?
– What about senators?
– And senators, too.
- Senator McLaren, who initiated a campaign for the introduction of this reform, is renewing his application in a very cold situation, because snow fell in Canberra this morning. Anyway, the facts are as follows: Tropical dress has recently been made an optional dress for the Army during the summer months. If members of the Services so choose, they can wear an approved tropical dress. Previously of course, that option was restricted to tropical areas. I can say in addition that there is currently a review to determine whether there should be some modification and improvement of the standard of dress.
-Was the Leader of the Government in the Senate aware of the discussions which led to the decision by the Government to remove the benefits which taxpayers had originally received when, in earning their assessable income, they used a company vehicle or premises which may have been made available to them? Can he say how this decision is related to the situation of members of Parliament? Would the Minister be prepared to present a statement to the Senate so that members of Parliament will know the position in relation to the transport that is provided for them to and from their place of work by their employer? The Minister may well apply these remarks to himself. Undoubtedly, he has had some interest in this matter as has, say, the Prime Minister who is provided with accommodation and the use of very expensive motor vehicles 24 hours a day. This appears to be an enormous concession. I ask the Minister whether this has been taken into account so that these individuals will be required to include this expenditure as part of their taxable income?
-The first part of the honourable senator’s question asked whether I was aware prior to any decision of what was in contemplation and so on. I do not propose to answer the honourable senator’s question, not that the answer, if I did give it, would help, one way or the other. I do not think it is right for Ministers to be questioned about who spoke to them about what and so on. The fact is that a Government decision has been made. The honourable senator asks in the next part of his question what is the position of members of Parliament in relation to their transport. I suppose that in one way it may be very good for us all if in some way we were required to walk to work rather than being transported. Certainly it might have general benefits for the health of all honourable senators and members. Senator Webster is asking whether some indication can be given by the Government as to how this proposed change in the taxation law applies to members of Parliament. That is a fair question, and I will refer the matter to the Treasurer in order that he might give some indication, if he so wishes, of the application of the proposed change in the taxation law to members of Parliament and, I suppose, to people in the Public Service.
– For the information of honourable senators I present a report prepared by the Industries Assistance Commission titled ‘Wood and Metal Working Machinery etc’ dated 28 June 1974.
– I lay on the table a statement by the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) relating to the distribution of States into electoral divisions and the appointment of Distribution Commissioners. Copies of the statement are being made available to honourable senators.
Senator WHEELDON (Western AustraliaMinister for Repatriation and Compensation)For the information of honourable senators I lay on the table volume 2 of the report of the inquiry into national compensation and rehabilitation. I seek leave to make a brief statement.
– Is leave granted? There being no dissent, leave is granted.
– As honourable senators are aware, I tabled volume one of the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Compensation and Rehabilitation in the Senate on 10 July this year. At that time I said that a separate report on rehabilitation and safety would be presented. There is a third volume to the committee’s report, which unfortunately I am unable to present at this time because the printing of it has not been completed. It is described as a compendium, and contains statistical and costing details together with some other background information.
The national compensation scheme, as put forward by Mr Justice A. D. Woodhouse, D.S.C., and Mr Justice C. L. D. Meares, is a total concept, designed to guarantee the social well-being of all those in our community who encounter difficulty through illness, accident, or congenital disability. The report stresses safety as a vital preventative measure, rehabilitation as a means of reducing or eliminating incapacity when prevention has failed, and finally, compensation as a last resort when preventative and rehabilitative measures have failed.
These are the 3 main elements of the total scheme, and for each of them to be fully effective, there needs to be an overall co-ordinated effort. The report offers suggestions for bringing together in a co-ordinated way the present fragmented rehabilitation services in Australia, and it proposes a more scientific approach to safety. I expect there will be considerable public and professional interest in the report, and copies will be widely available through the Australian Government Publishing Service shortly. I commend the report for the consideration of honourable senators.
– Pursuant to section 41 of the Commonwealth Railways Act 1917-1973, I present for the information of honourable senators financial statements of Commonwealth Railways for 1973-74.
– For the information of honourable senators I present 2 Ministerial Council Communiques titled ‘Official Announcement of the Planning Strategy for AlburyWodonga, 29 June 1974’ and ‘Meeting of Ministerial Council for Albury-Wodonga Development held at Hotel Canberra, 23 April 1974’.
– I lay on the table the following papers: Treasurer’s Statement of Receipts and Expenditure for the year ended 30 June 1974, accompanied by the report of the Auditor-General thereon and upon other accounts for that year.
-Mr President, I ask for leave to make a statement concerning the action taken by the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control in respect of the Australian Industry Development Corporation and the National Investment Fund Bills.
-Is leave granted? There being no dissent, leave is granted.
– The Senate referred the amending Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill 1973 and National Investment Fund Bill 1973 to the Committee on 28 November 1973 for inquiry and report by 12 March 1974. Upon receiving this reference the
Committee immediately suspended the investigations which it was undertaking at that time and despite the limited time available organised and carried out an investigation. Advertisements appeared in the daily Press on 8 and 15 December 1973 inviting submissions by 31 December 1973, and in addition the Committee approached all of the major industry and trade associations in the financial sector. The Committee received 28 formal submissions and called representatives of 12 organisations to give further oral evidence at a series of public hearings which were conducted in Canberra from 5 to 12 February prior to the prorogation of Parliament on 14 February 1974. Copies of the evidence taken are available to interested persons, firms and organisations, upon request, from the Secretary of the Committee.
In the conduct of its inquiry the Committee took as the broad basis for its inquiry 2 aspects of its terms of reference, namely:
At the same time the Committee recognised that the Bills raised issues of critical importance extending over a wide area which necessitated an examination of the Bills not only from the viewpoint of Australian ownership and control objectives but also from other aspects. These included possible Government involvement in the Australian capital market and industrial structure arising from the proposed additional powers, extended functions and privileges of the Australian Industry Development Corporation; the implications for other financial institutions, in the money and capital market arising from the financing activities of the AIDC and the NIF; the consequent implications for resource use in the economy and the attainment of other economic and social objectives.
The Committee adhered to the program it had established and was in a position to report by 12 March as requested by the Senate. It is unfortunate that the events following the prorogation of the Parliament prevented the Committee from presenting a report to the Senate. However it is gratifying to note that the AIDC and NIF Bills 1974 which were introduced in the other place on 16 April drew heavily on the issues raised in evidence during the Committee’s public hearings. The Committee was reconstituted on 14 March 1974 and members were appointed on 19 March 1974 and the Bills were again referred to the Committee on 19 March prior to Parliament being dissolved on 1 1 April 1974. The Bills were re-introduced in the other place on 16 July 1974 and passed on 25 July 1974. The Bills were debated in the Senate on 13 August 1974 and a motion by Senator Cotton to refer the Bills to the Committee was defeated. A further motion by Senator Cotton to refer the substance of the Bills to the Committee was also defeated on 16 August 1974. In view of the events that have occurred the Committee is in a position where it can take no further action in respect of the AIDC and NIF Bills and, unless instructed otherwise by the Senate, will continue its foreign ownership and control investigations.
Before concluding, I wish to direct the attention of the Senate to 2 events which occurred during the Committee’s AIDC and NIF inquiries and which reflect adversely upon the Senate. The Committee has been criticised for not presenting a report by 12 March 1974 as requested. Such criticism ignores the fact that because of the prorogation of Parliament on 14 February the Bills lapsed and did not exist after that date. The Committee was not reconstituted again until 14 March and members were not appointed until 19 March, the same day that the AIDC and NIF Bills were again referred to the Committee for report as soon as possible. The Committee was considering a draft report, but again due to circumstances outside its control was unable to report. This was because Parliament was dissolved.
Another aspect which must be commented upon was the unusual action taken by the Government in resubmitting the Bills in another place on 8 April 1974, while the Bills were still being considered by the Committee as directed by the Senate. The Committee was on the point of presenting its report when Parliament was dissolved on 11 April 1974. The AIDC and NIF Bills were again reintroduced in the other place on 16 July and during his second reading speech the Minister in charge of the Bills, Dr J. F. Cairns, Minister for Overseas Trade, again referred to ‘a remarkable record of delay’ and said ‘that the Committee had not reported by 12 March nor had it reported by the time the Bills were again reintroduced, a further 27 days later’. These statements, were not in accordance with the facts of the situation and as well as being incorrect and misleading, these statements reflect adversely upon the Committee. Mr President, for the information of honourable senators I have prepared a list of the key dates relating to the inquiry and I seek leave to have them incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN OWNERSHIP AND CONTROL
AIDC/NIF Inquiry-Key Dates 30 August 1973- Amending Bills introduced in Houseof Representatives. 1 8 October 1 973- Bills passed by House of Representatives 23 October 1973- Amending Bills introduced into the
Senate. 28 November 1973-A1DC and NIF Bills referred to the Committee. 4 and 13 December 1973- Private Committee Meetings. 8 and 15 December 1973- Committee invites submissions in National Press 31 December 1973- Closing date for submissions. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 1 1, 12, and 13 February 1974-Public Hearings held in Canberra by Committee. 14 February 1974- Prorogation of Parliament. 28 February 1974- Opening of Parliament. 12 March 1974- Message from House of Representatives to Senate requesting that consideration of the Bills be resumed. 14 March 1974- Committee Reconstituted. 19 March 1974- Members Appointed. Bills again referred to the Committee for report as soon as possible. 20 March 1974 and 4 April 1974- Private Committee Meetings. 8 April 1974-AIDC and NIF Bills 1974 again introduced and passed by House of Representatives. 11 April 1974- Parliament Dissolved. 16 July 1974- Bills re-introduced and read a first time in House of Representatives. 25 July 1974- Bills as amended passed by House of Representatives. 13 August 1974-Motion by Senator Cotton to refer Bills to Committee defeated. 16 August 1974- Motion by Senator Cotton to refer substance of the Bills to the Committee defeated.
– I ask for leave to move a motion that the Senate take note of the statement.
-Is leave granted? There being no dissent leave is granted.
– Has Senator McAuliffe finished?
– I have just asked for leave to have a table incorporated in Hansard.
– The honourable senator has not finished his statement.
– I had not finished. Now I move:
– I am sorry. Senator McAuliffe has moved that the Senate take note of the statement. I certainly apologise to him because I thought he had finished.
– Can I make an explanation? I asked for leave to have incorporated in Hansard a list of dates. I did not want to weary the Senate with them. Then I sat down. Now I have moved that the Senate take note of the paper.
– I desire to speak to the motion that the Senate take note of the report. I think that Senator McAuliffe and his Committee, the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control, are to be complimented for the frankness with which they have put the record straight about the activities of the Committee and about the history of the 2 Bills, that is the Bill relating to the Australian Industry Development Corporation and the National Investment Fund Bill. I feel that when a Committee of the Senate which consists of Government senators and Opposition senators- Senator McAuliffe, a Government senator, is Chairman of the Committee- presents a report of this character it ought not go unnoticed by the Senate. I refer to the last words of Senator McAuliffe ‘s statement. He referred to the statement by the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr. J. F. Cairns) as not being in accordance with the facts of the situation as well as being incorrect and misleading. The honourable senator points out that this reflects adversely on the Committee.
Let us look at what has happened with regard to these Bills because the Opposition’s conduct has been very severely criticised. I think an examination of the record, which Senator McAuliffe ‘s statement now permits, at least allows a balance to be given. When the Bills were introduced in 1 973 the desire of the Opposition parties was to have an examination by a committee. That was the decision of the Senate. The Committee set to work under the chairmanship of Senator McAuliffe. It heard a considerable amount of evidence as to whether there could not be amendments to the Bills which had been introduced by Dr J. F. Cairns. I am assured that there was a great deal of co-operation and willingness to consider a better Bill not only by Government and Opposition honourable senators but also at the time by the Minister for Overseas Trade. Unfortunately, the report of the Committee had not been completed when the Senate rose last December. In the ordinary course, the Committee’s report would have been examined and considered between the time at which the Senate rose on 1 3 December last year and the time at which it came back in February this year. It was the Government’s action in proroguing the Parliament which brought all Committees to an end. Therefore, the Senate Select Committee was not able to continue its investigations during the summer break. The hearings of the Committee were brought to an end by the Government’s own decision. When the Senate resumed it was necessary that the Committee be reconstituted. It was reconstituted, as Senator McAuliffe said, on 14 March. It ought not to be forgotten that the Committee was reconstituted with the support of both the Government and the Opposition. It was a decision in which we all concurred. The decision to refer to that Committee a further investigation of the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill and the National Investment Fund Bill, again was made with the concurrence of the Government and the Opposition.
It is my recollection- I am willing to be corrected by the record- that the motion that the Senate Committee further consider the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill and the National Investment Fund Bill was moved by the Government itself. It is in those circumstances that Dr Cairns’ statement and a lot of subsequent statements of other Government spokesmen have to be examined. The fact is that the Committee would have presented its report. If the report had been presented the whole of the ensuing debate on the Australian Industry Development Corporation and the National Investment Fund Bills could have been examined in the light of a report presented by a Senate select committee. But there was no opportunity for that to be done. What happened?
One can only assume this action was taken by the Government to gain some political advantage: While the Bills were before a Senate committee the Government, in the House of Representatives, re-introduced the Bills. Why was that done? Why was it necessary for that course of conduct to be taken? Of course, the matter was not resolved at the time when the double dissolution occurred. We come to the situation in July of this year when the Government re-introduced the Bills into the House of Representatives. That is a fair enough course to take in order to get the Bills back on the notice paper. But the effort of the Opposition in this chamber to have the matter referred back to the Committee so that we could have the report of the Committee, was rejected by the Senate. Unfortunately, I think it was an even division in the Senate and therefore the Opposition’s proposal, which was resisted by the Government, was defeated.
The Government had accepted some amendments to the Bills as a result of evidence which had been tendered to the Committee. In the other place the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) and the Leader of the Australian
Country Party (Mr Anthony) both indicated that generally they were in accord with what was contained in the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill and the National Investment Fund Bill subject- this was specifically stated- to a consideration of the report of the Senate Select Committee. The Government, in this place, declined to have the matter referred to the Senate Select Committee even though it had agreed to the Committee’s being re-established. It refused to send back to the Committee this matter which was still under consideration. In those circumstances, for Dr Cairns to say, as Senator McAuliffe stated, that there is a remarkable record of delay by the Committee is completely unwarranted. I am glad that Senator McAuliffe, on behalf of the Committee has said so. The incorrectness of the suggestion that in some way the Opposition has been delaying matters is now, I think, absolutely and completely exposed by what has been said. I only hope that those who comment on affairs in this place and who usually derive their comment from what Ministers and Ministers’ staffs have to tell them, will now have a look at what this Committee has said so that we can have a little more balance from commentators about the history of the Australian Industry Development Corporation legislation in this place.
When the matter was before the Senate last, in July, the decision upon which we had to vote was whether the Bills should be referred to the Committee to report by 1 October. That decision by the Senate not to refer the matters to the Committee has meant that we have not got the Bills in any form. It seems to me ridiculous that the Senate at this stage is not referring the Bills to the Committee. If the Government is not prepared to change its mind, the crucial factor is our Independent senator, Senator Steele Hall. I hope that he will read the report and recognise that there would be merit still in having the Committee examine the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bills with a view to getting something constructive and completing the work of the Committee. We want the Committee’s report. I do not know whether any other senators desire to speak after what I have said. If they do, I will sit down and give them the opportunity. Otherwise, I would ask for leave to continue my remarks.
– I wish to speak.
– I understand that Senator Cotton would like to speak.
- Senator Douglas McClelland also would like to speak.
– I intended to move that the debate be adjourned.
– I shall be brief. I am grateful to my colleague Senator Greenwood for handling this matter so fairly and expeditiously. I compliment the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control, Senator McAuliffe, on what, I think, is his detachment and fair-mindedness in producing this report to the Senate. I think that his attitude shows the true spirit of the Senate, and he has to be given credit for the way he has handled this matter. I do not need to speak at any great length except to say that I and the Opposition have been referred to in many quarters as being bloody-minded in our actions. It is now demonstrated who was bloodyminded. I think that the way in which this report has been produced is very useful. I suggest that we ought to look now at this proposition in the light of what Senator McCauliffe has said. The Opposition should consider, not now but perhaps a little later, whether there is any merit in giving the Committee the authority to finish the work that it has done, in my view, so extremely well. I think that all its work will be useful if the report were made available to this chamber, to the Department of Overseas Trade, to the House of Representatives and indeed to Australia at large. I think that we will be giving consideration to that matter. I close by paying my respects to the Chairman of the Committee and by complimenting him on the attitude which he has expressed on behalf of the Committee.
– I wish also to say some words on this matter. I speak as a new senator who now has before him the report of a committee which sets out clearly the circumstances and facts and makes clear that the allegations which Dr J. F. Cairns made previously are not justified by the facts. I hope that this report will lead to some reconsideration of the matter. The senators who have spoken already have set out the salient points. I refer to one matter. When the Bills were last debated in the House of Representatives the Opposition indicated its attitude. My understanding is that the Government then indicated that it appreciatedthat was the word used- the attitude of the Opposition, but in the Senate it saw an opportunity to defeat the proposal to bring the matter back before the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control. It rings clear from the Committee’s report, which I think is a courageous and sensible report, that the Bills should go back to the Committee and be reconsidered. I feel that if a reasonable debate on this matter had taken place some months or so ago in the Senate and if the facts reported by the Committee had been before the Senate then, the result might have been different. One would hope that in considering the facts at least one more senator would have seen the advantage of referring these 2 Australian Industry Development Corporation Bills to the Committee, which had already done a great deal of work. Surely the Senate, which rightly regards its committees as a valuable part of its institution, should take every opportunity to see that they do not do half the work and stop there, but make sure that the work is completed.
I draw this report to the attention not only of the Senate but also of the Press of this country, which took a critical attitude towards the Opposition a month or so ago when these Bills were defeated. I think that the Press should take proper note of this report and likewise of the attitude which Senator Cotton expressed at that time. Despite the defeat of the Bills he tried to refer the Bills back to the Committee so that it could complete its deliberations. I suggest that the duty of a government in this country is, first and foremost, to go ahead with its legislative program, to try to get its Bills through and to cooperate with others who serve in the government of this country, whether they be members of the Opposition Parties or members of the Government Party. It is the Government’s duty to get its legislation through the Parliament. On that last occasion one certainly had the feeling that the Government was more concerned with setting up the first leg of a double dissolution proposition than with getting its Bills through. It took the opportunity at that time to have the Bills defeated rather than have them referred to the Committee for a short period.
– It hastened your ascension to the Senate.
– My assessment of the Senate is that it is a co-operative body and ought to be such. That applies to both sides of the Senate. I hope that we have not heard the end of this matter and that the attitude that the Opposition is expressing now will be considered by the Government. I hope that the attitude which the Committee so clearly brings forward will lead to a change of attitude on these Bills by the Government.
– I wish to speak only briefly, following the remarks of my Party colleagues. As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control from its inception until the last election, I have been very much involved in its work at all stages, and in particular in the reference made to it by the Senate of the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill and the National Investment Fund Bill. The work of the Committee was carried out with sincerity, dedication and great purpose. The Bills put forward by the Government on the second occasion reflected much of the evidence and opinions of the people who would be affected by them. This information was gained during the course of the Senate Committee’s work. However, there are still some matters which need clarification with regard to these Bills and perhaps that clarification can be obtained only by reflecting upon the Senate Committee’s report.
With Bills which are so far reaching as these there had to be an understanding by the Government, by the people and by the Senate as to whether the Bills really were concerned with foreign ownership of Australian resources or whether they were an instrument to transfer to public ownership many of the resources which hitherto were under private ownership. The Committee did a great deal of work to clarify that situation. The extent of the national interest division of the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill and the purpose of the National Investment Fund Bill were matters which needed the attention of the Senate in its role of reviewing government legislation. I believe that that work is incomplete. I believe that the integrity of honourable senators who are serving on the Committee and who reflect the wishes of all the other honourable senators in this place is at risk if the Committee is to be hindered in its work by the statements from the Government that were quoted in the report this morning.
I think that matters still needing clarification are an express declaration by the Government of its intention with regard to the insurance funds of Australia in the pursuit of the national interest division and the purposes of the National Investment Fund. These are matters on which clarification should be sought from and given by the Government. I hope that the action taken by the Committee this morning will allow the Senate and the Committee to pursue the objectives which they have undertaken. I welcome and congratulate the present Committee on the report which has been presented by the Chairman, Senator McAuliffe.
– I join with other senators in welcoming the report of the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control. I appreciate what Senator McAuliffe, as Chairman of the
Committee, has brought before the Senate. However, it is a most convenient crutch for those who took the action which threw the Bills out of this chamber and prevented other senators from trying to amend them as they had desired to do. The most pertinent part of the report by Senator McAuliffe which I have read is on page 2. 1 shall refer to it in passing. The report states:
The Committee adhered to the program it had established and was in a position to report by 12 March as requested by the Senate. It is unfortunate that the events following the prorogation of the Parliament prevented the Committee from presenting a report to the Senate.
However it is gratifying to note that the AIDC and NIF Bills 1974 which were introduced in the other place on 8 April drew heavily on the issues raised in evidence d during the Committee ‘s public hearings.
Not having been here during those times, I take from the report that it had been concluded at that stage and was ready for presentation to the House but the Committee was prevented from presenting it by the prorogation of Parliament. As both sides of politics in this chamber had members on that Committee it seems to me to be quite without understanding that members on this side of the House could not have proceeded to move the amendments which they may have wished to make to the Bills during the Committee stages in the Senate. The Chairman’s report clearly says that the Committee was ready to present the report to the Senate. My understanding is that this side of the House said that it could not move along those lines because there was no formal presentation to the Senate. If that is the case all I can say is that Parliament has a hardening of the arteries and had better do something about it.
– They would need to change the Standing Orders if what you were suggesting were to take place because it would be quite contrary to Standing Orders for the report of a senate committee to be used in that way.
– I give credit to Senator Rae for where he got his particular amendment, but is he saying that his Party room could not decide to move certain amendments here because those matters were included in a report of the Senate Committee which had not been presented?
– That is right.
– All I can say is that there is certainly hardening of the arteries of the system. It certainly would not have prevented me from moving what I would have wanted to move so far as Standing Orders would have allowed me to do so. I would like some clarification of whether that is officially the case in the Senate.
Am I to understand that because a matter is referred to a select committee no other member can move in respect of lt in this House?
– Look at page 3, second paragraph, and you have got what the Committee itself said.
-There seems to be some confusion again on the Opposition side.
– The only person on the Opposition side who is confused is you.
– Well, let us clear it up. Which part of page 3 are we looking at?
– The second paragraph.
– The second paragraph reads:
In view of the events that have occurred the Committee is in a position where it can take no further action . . .
I did not say that the Committee should take action. I said that the Liberal Party should have taken action.
– How could we know what the Committee was going to report unless it breached Standing Orders?
-I go back to the earlier stages of my speech where I said that this was a crutch for the Opposition to get out of the criticism of having delayed the Bills in this Senate. There were senators in this House who wanted to move amendments to those Bills and wanted to see them improved and altered. I was one of them and yet we were denied an opportunity to move those amendments. I have no idea whether what I wanted to move was in the Committee ‘s report or not. As I understand it, I would not have been prevented from moving my amendments. The Opposition is therefore using the inability of the Committee to report as a crutch to get out of the criticism that it delayed the Bills.
It was mentioned that the Government had set up the road towards a double dissolution. That is an unsupported statement. Every statement of every leading member of the Opposition parties in the other House clearly sets out who was responsible for setting up the double dissolution. The Opposition parties were responsible for that move.
– This is the next one we are talking about, not the last one.
– As I understood the honourable senator, he said that the Opposition set up various measures. If I have misunderstood him I apologise to him.
– I said the Government is taking the opportunity to set the stage for another double dissolution.
-Then I withdraw my remarks about the honourable senator. I go back to my point that the delay was caused essentially by the action of the Opposition in causing a double dissolution. They therefore bear heavily on the reasons why the Bills were delayed. I do not agree with the general run for cover which is being taken by Opposition speakers who are using this report as a crutch for explaining why they should not have proceeded with the consideration of the Bills and as an excuse for not finding sufficient means to amend the Bills according to its desires. Opposition senators surely must have known what their representations were to the Committee. Having fully considered the matter, whether the Committee has so decided, according to them, or not, they surely must have known what their parties wanted to have done to those particular Bills.
– They could not refer to it under Standing Orders.
-Very well. They need not have referred to the evidence. They knew what their parties wanted to do to those Bills. If a party did not know what it wanted to do to them it was ineffective, but it surely must have known, and if it did then it used the Committee’s report as a device not to proceed. I do not agree with the general tenor of debate on this side of the House which uses this as a crutch to get out of the censure of public opinion.
– I also want to draw attention to the paragraph on page 2 of the statement of the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control to which Senator Steele Hall has referred because therein is contained the essence of the attack on Dr Cairns. I am mainly concerned with what is an attack on my colleague, Dr Cairns. These Bills were deliberately passed over by the Liberal and Country Parties. This is only a device, as Senator Steele Hall has said, to defer it. The real test will come when the Bills come back into this Senate and we vote on them. It may be that improvements to them can be effected in the Committee stages and I think this is the point that Senator Steele Hall was making. I am quite sure that the Government will give any amendments moved proper consideration but how can it do that if the motion for the second reading of the Bills is defeated by an Opposition which does not want this legislation because it seems to think it will hurt some of its friends when in fact that whole purpose of the legislation is to protect Australian industry?
Dr Cairns took the trouble, with his officers, to find out what were the main recommendations coming forward from that Committee and they were incorporated in the legislation. I do not know what of the other recommendations he did not accept at that stage but the substance of them was incorporated and that is the point that is so important. The report of the Committee states:
It is gratifying to note that the AIDC and NIF Bills 1974 which were introduced in the other place on 8 April drew heavily on the issues raised in evidence during the Committee ‘s public hearings.
Dr Cairns and his officers, but he particularly, could not have been fairer or more objective. He certainly did not reject the findings of or the evidence which had been placed before the Committee. It is true that we now have another device before us. What do we want in this country? Do we want to see the Australian Industry Development Corporation enlarged and legislation to that effect put on the statute book? I might say that the Liberal Party-Country Party Opposition did not oppose the legislation in the House of Representatives. Do we want to see a national investment fund to finance the operations of the AIDC or do we not? That is really the question. It is not a matter of whether the Committee has done a good job. I will not debate that aspect of it. But that last question is the real crunch. Senator Missen made a comment about co-operating with the Government. Dr Cairns co-operated with the Committee and used all the information and evidence that was brought before that Committee to bring the Bill up to a form acceptable to this Parliament and which would provide the greatest benefit to the people of this country. I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) agreed to:
That General Business be postponed till after consideration of Orders of the Day Nos 1 to 8 and that when General Business is called on consideration be given to notice of motion No. 15 for the appointment of Estimates Committees.
Bill presented, and (on motion by Senator Douglas McClelland) read a first time.
Standing Orders suspended.
– I move:
This Bill will establish the Australian Film Commission, which will administer the principal forms of assistance provided by the Australian Government for the development of the film and television program production industries in this country. The broad functions of the Commission will be as follows:
The Bill provides for the repeal of the Australian Film Development Corporation Act 1970 and the Australian Film Development Corporation Act (No. 2) 1970. Upon repeal of those Acts the Australian Film Commission will assume as part of its functions, but in broadened and strengthened form, the role and responsibilities of the Australian Film Development Corporation which, within its restricted franchise, has assisted considerably the development of local film and televison production in recent times.
The Bill also provides for Film Australia, at present a branch of my Department, to transfer to the Australian Film Commission where it will continue to produce films for the Australian Government’s purposes. Under the Bill, however, Film Australia will be given a fresh and expanded opportunity to develop and apply its creative potential. Film Australia will also benefit from the Commission having the freedom and flexibility under this Bill to organise and manage its operations in accordance with acceptable industry practices. At present Film Australia must conform to procedures under the Audit Act and Treasury Regulations that often are inappropriate to film production requirements. Basically this Bill is an expression of the Australian Government’s determination to establish a local and successful film and television program industry. As I stated at a gathering of motion picture industry executives on 2 February 1973, the Labor Government has undertaken as part of our nation building, to encourage an increasing participation by Australian artists, producers, writers and technicians in developing a local feature film industry and in the production of Australian programs for television’.
As I also stated on that occasion it is tragic that film, one of the greatest forms of mass communication in history, was not fostered and protected by government during Australia’s promising early film beginnings. Twice the Australian film industry had the ground cut away from under it. The world’s first feature film was made in Australia in 1900, when Joseph H. Perry made The Soldiers of the Cross’ for the Salvation Army. After a flourishing start, with more than 200 ‘photo-plays’ filmed in the first quarter of this century, the Australian film industry flagged. Following a federal royal commission in 1927 and a number of State government inquiries and conferences, the New South Wales Government introduced in 1935 a quota system for Australian and Empire films. Initially this system helped the Australian film industry but opposition to it by overseas interests was not countered by government and the system was allowed to become ineffective. Compounding this, the development of talking pictures resulted in bigger budgets and increased technical complexity. Nevertheless the Australian film industry started to flourish for a time during the 1930s. Cinesound, with Mr Ken Hall as Director, produced 17 feature films, beginning in 1932 with Bert Bailey in the classic comedy ‘On Our Selection’ and continuing, until World War II forced suspension of Cinesound feature production in 1940. 1 am told that all but one of those 17 films made a profit- and even that exception broke even. Frank Thring Senior and Charles Chauvel were other notable forces of that time. In this second active period, some 70 films were wholly financed and made by Australians.
It was no coincidence that, at this time, foreign capital entered Australian theatre ownership. A major factor in the decline of Cinesound as a producer of Australian feature films was the takeover of its parent company by British interests. Once again inadequate protection led to the undermining of what had been a flourishing industry. In 1963 the Senate Select Committee Report on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television- known as the Vincent Committee, of which I was a memberpointed out that, in the case of an industry with a strong cultural element, there is a great responsibility to protect it. That report also recommended a loan scheme of subsidy and this was implemented to a degree with the introduction by the Gorton Government in 1970 of the Australian Film Development Corporation Act. However, that Act did not go far enough in setting out the functions of the Corporation. Following consideration of the Tariff Board’s 1973 Report on Motion Picture Films and Television Programs, the Government adopted most of the recommendations made by the Board. The Government also approved of the establishment of an Interim Board to advise me on policy matters associated with the formation of the Commission and to carry out some preliminary planning tasks. The Interim Board has been functioning efficiently since February of this year. It is representative of the industry and the public and has been examining a wide range of important matters.
This Bill, therefore, stems from a painstakingly thorough examination of the history, development, problems and potential of the Australian film and television program production industry and of the social, cultural and economic aspects of its operation. This process has involved extensive consultation with all sectors of the industry and the people who work in it, and with other individuals and groups who are concerned about the industry and its present and potential role in our society. This process of consultation is continuing at the present time through the work of the Interim Board of the Australian Film Commission and through such activities as the symposium arranged by my Department on 21 July to discuss, with a widely representative group, the question of overseas participation in film and television program production in Australia.
During the period since this Government came to office in December 1972 we have done much to encourage the industry and to stimulate fresh ideas and new initiatives. As a consequence there has been a new surge of hope throughout the industry. Feature film production has risen to levels not known for many years. Television programs of a distinctively Australian character have reached new heights of public acceptance and popularity. In all, there has been a heartening upswing in creative and technical opportunities and in the influence on the industry of Australian producers, artists, writers, actors and technicians. The enactment of this Bill to establish the Australian Film Commission is a vital and historic step in the process of establishing a solid foundation for a viable Australian film and television program production industry.
The Bill provides for the Australian Film Commission to have the power to do all things necessary for the performance of its functions. It will be subject only to general Ministerial direction except that the Minister may give directions on particular projects in relation to films produced by Film Australia. These productions will be financed from moneys appropriated by Parliament for the Government’s own film production purposes. Ministerial involvement could be necessary at times. All such directions, whether general or specific, will have to be given in writing and be set out in the Commission’s annual report. The Bill also provides for the Australian Film Commission to have power to direct exhibitors that a specified proportion of the screening time given to short films must be devoted to films certified by the Commission to be Australian short films. In formulating the provisions of these quotas, the Commission will be required to have regard to the provisions of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Code on the Liberalisation of Current Invisible Operations, to which Australia acceded on 7 June 1971. The provisions of the OECD Code are also relevant to another area of operation by the Film Commission.
The effect of this will be that, when the Commission is considering the provision of financial or other assistance to film projects, it must give the same consideration to films produced under international co-production arrangements as it gives to totally Australian films. The Commission will have power also to require the provision of statistical and other information relating to the making, promoting, distributing and exhibiting of films but the confidentiality of information obtained in this way is protected under the Bill.
It is proposed that the Commission will consist of a full-time Chairman and at least 5 other members, with at least 2 members in addition to the Chairman being full-time members. Members will be appointed by the GovernorGeneral for periods of up to 5 years. Subject to an upper age limit of 65 years, members will be eligible for re-appointment. Provision is made for the appointment of acting members by the Minister to cover vacancies, pending further appointments by the Governor-General, or during temporary absences of members. The Bill allows the appointment under certain circumstances of people having a pecuniary interest in the making, promotion, distribution or exhibition of films. As a safeguard, however, it also provides for declaration of such interests and for exclusion of members from meetings where discussion relates to matters involved with those interests. The staff of the Commission will be employed under the Public Service Act 1922-1973. The Officers’ Rights’ Declaration Act 1928-1973 and Superannuation Act 1922-1973 will apply to them where appropriate.
At the particular request of the Public Service Board, following discussions I understand they have had with the unions involved, I have agreed that arrangements should be made by the Board to allow the staff of the Australian Film Development Corporation to have a right to elect to join the staff of the Australian Film Commission. The financial affairs of the Commission will be conducted under 2 broad categories. As a trading corporation in respect to all of its general activities, other than the special film-making functions of Film Australia, the Commission will apply the accounting principles generally followed in commercial practice. Film production at Film Australia, on the other hand, will be financed from moneys specifically appropriated for this purpose by the Parliament and will therefore be treated as a non-trading type of activity. Nevertheless, as I mentioned earlier, the Audit Act and Treasury Regulations will not apply to the operations of the Commission and it will be able to devise financial systems appropriate to its special needs. The Bill does provide, however, for strict accountability in the management of the Commission’s affairs. The Auditor-General is given full powers of inspection of accounting records and is required to audit the Commission’s accounts and to report the results to the Minister annually.
The Bill makes proper provision for the transfer to the Australian Film Commission of the assets, rights, etc., of the Australian Film Development Corporation and also from Film Australia. It deals with procedural matters involved in employment by the Commission of people now on the staff of the Australian Film Development Corporation and in the winding down and final reporting upon the operations of that Corporation.The Commission is required under the Bill to report annually to the Minister. As indicated before, financial statements accompanying the annual report will be reported upon by the Auditor-General before the report and financial statements are placed before each House of the Parliament. The Commission will be required to furnish such reports as the Minister requires and it may furnish such other reports as it thinks fit.
Finally, the Bill provides for the GovernorGeneral to make regulations under the Act. Thus the Bill before the Senate will establish a Commission having the full statutory powers, resources and organisation of related activities needed to implement the Government’s policies in respect to this vital industry. Those policies are aimed at developing and maintaining a strong, increasingly self-reliant, responsible and distinctively Australian film and television program production industry. The Australian Film Commission Bill 1974 is the cornerstone for the construction of such an industry and I therefore commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Douglas McClelland) read a first time.
– I move:
Mr Deputy President, I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
The purpose of this Bill is to authorise a nonrepayable grant of $2. 56m to the Queensland Government towards the cost of constructing stage 2 of the Ross River Dam near Townsville. The Queensland Government and the Townsville City Council will together meet the balance of the cost of stage 2, at present estimated at $5. 12m. The construction of stage 2 is being advanced to ensure adequate water supplies for the fast growing population of Townsville and neighbouring areas in the Shire of Thuringowa now totalling about 80,000 persons and expected to reach 100,000 by 1980. Stage 2 of the Dam construction will ensure an additional daily supply of 83.6 megalitres (18.4 million gallons) bringing the total daily supply for Townsville and its environs from all sources to about 166.4 megalitres (36.6 million gallons) for domestic, industrial and municipal purposes. It will also provide for increased domestic consumption levels which are limited by the present restrictions, because supplies are often severely inadequate over drier periods.
There are other important implications for Townsville in stage 2 of the Ross River Dam project. It will increase the flood mitigation storage in the dam and virtually secure Townsville against flooding of the Ross River. In so doing, it will enable the City Council to plan with confidence the future use of areas of flood-prone land under its control. Further, the storage of some 417,000 megalitres (338,000 acre feet) in a dam, only 30 kilometres from the centre of the largest city in northern Australia, should provide valuable opportunities for relaxation and recreation. Proposals are being examined to have the storage area declared a flora and fauna reserve. The construction of stage 2 involves raising the height of the stage 1 spillway by 6.5 metres (21.5 feet) and the embankments by 4 metres (13 feet), including the placement of some 1.53 million cubic metres (2 million cubic yards) of earth, sand and rockfill. In addition, about 16 kilometres ( 10 miles) each of the Flinders Highway and the Great Northern Railway will need to be relocated due to the enlargement of the storage area.
Townsville is a city of considerable importance, not only to the north, but to Australia generally. Its major industries are export-oriented, based on the rich resources of its hinterland, including a copper refinery to process concentrates from Mount Isa, a nickel refinery now under construction to handle the output from the Greenvale nickel deposits and 3 abattoirs, two of which process livestock mainly for export. Townsville also handles exports of sugar from the Burdekin region, one of Australia’s most important sugar districts. Townsville has been selected by the Australian Government for study as a possible growth centre. Its growth over recent years owes much to Australian Government decisions, such as the location of defence installations, the establishment and growth of the James Cook University and work now in progress on the Institute of Marine Science at
Cape Cleveland. The prospective provision of international air traffic facilities at Townsville would provide a further stimulus to growth. In fact, it was specifically in recognition of the burden on the public utilities of Townsville created by the various Australian Government initiatives that we decided in 1973 to provide a grant of $1.5m towards the cost of constructing stage 1 of the Ross River Dam.
The Department of Northern Development and the Department of Urban and Regional Development have worked in close consultation on this matter, examining all aspects of water supply and demand within the context of our policies in respect of northern development and regional growth centres. The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, at the request of the Department of Northern Development, reviewed the design and cost estimates of the engineering works and an interdisciplinary panel of senior State officers examined the likely environmental impact of stage 2. No adverse environmental consequences were foreshadowed. The Government believes that an adequate supply of water will be a major incentive for future growth in the Townsville area. Water consumption in the tropics is inevitably higher than in most southern cities because of harsher environmental conditions and the requirement of large quantities of water for the maintenance of municipal amenities, such as parks and gardens, recreation areas and street improvements. The provision of adequate water supplies is also an indispensable conditions for the location and development of new industrial enterprises on which the longterm growth of Townsville will depend. I commend this Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Carrick) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Douglas McClelland) read a first time.
– I move:
Mr Deputy President, I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
The purpose of this Bill is to obtain approval for an agreement which has been negotiated with the Queensland Government under which the Australian Government will provide a loan of $2m during this financial year to the State towards the cost of constructing Julius Dam on the Leichhardt River at a site about 65 kilometres east of Mount Isa. Construction of the dam is to be financed by Mount Isa Mines Ltd, the Mount Isa City Council and the Queensland Government. The estimated cost of the dam is $ 10m with an estimated further cost of $ 1 5.2m to cover pumps and a pipeline supply system. The Queensland Government’s share of the total estimated cost of $25.2m is $7.3m and includes an amount of $3. 9m to enable the dam to be built with spare capacity to cater for the expected growth requirements of the area. Julius Dam with a storage capacity of 123,500 megalitres, is being constructed in the Selwyn Ranges some 1,500 kilometres north-west of Brisbane. Rainfall in this region is low, averaging less than 400 millimetres a year and both monthly and annual falls are variable resulting often in severe water shortages over long periods and sometimes in serious floods. The extremely high annual evaporation of 3,230 millimetres leaves an annual deficit of 2,830 millimetres and is the major cause of low yields from water storages.
The whole area is highly mineralised and known reserves of silver, lead and copper ores have been increased as a result of recent exploration, whilst the economic feasibility of developing other mineral deposits has been proved. Mining started at Mount Isa in February 1923 in primitive conditions; transport through the Selwyn Ranges was difficult, and the only water available was from sandy pools in the bed of the Leichhardt River. During its first 50 years of development, water has been an extremely important constraint to progress at Mount Isa. The first water supply was provided by damming Rifle Creek in 1929 and this supply was supplemented by bore water. Later, supplies were further augmented by the construction of Lake Moondarra in 1955, and it is obvious that further development will rely on additional water supplies.
The population of Mount Isa at the 1971 Census was 25,200, representing an increase of 8,200 since 1966 at an average annual growth rate of 8Vi per cent over the census period. Undoubtedly, there is general agreement that people living in arid areas under uncomfortable climatic conditions for many months of the year should have access to assured water supplies for domestic and municipal purposes. The demand for water for mining activities is also expected to increase. Mount Isa Mines is developing a new mine at Hilton some 16 kilometres north of the present workings. Operations at the Hilton Mine are expected to commence around 1977-78. Other prospective users of water, such as the phosphate mine at Lady Annie and copper mining at Kajabbi, are likely to begin operations at a later date. Julius Dam is expected to be completed by 1975 and, therefore, there will be some considerable delay between the completion of the dam and the main demand for water.
The loan to the State of Queensland is basically to enable the State to assist in the development of our valuable northern mineral resources. This loan, together with funds provided by Queensland, will ensure a supply of water in anticipation of expected demand by mining industries. It will ensure that workers and their families will be able to enjoy some of the amenities which people in southern Australia often take for granted. Concern has been expressed at the high level of water charges which may have to be levied by the Mount Isa Council to meet its share of the dam and distribution works. An offer of a loan of $2m to the State of Queensland was made by the Australian Government in October 1972 and confirmed by this Government with improved terms to ease the burden of repayment until the anticipated demand for water develops. This new offer has been accepted by the Premier of Queensland under the terms set out in the Schedule to this Bill.
The mining industries of northern Australia are making a noteworthy and vitally important contribution to the economy of Australia. They will continue to do so in the future and, in one way or another, we must assure that the heavy burden of costs for water, transport and other basic facilities does not act as a deterrent to those people whose personal contribution is indispensable to the success of the development of our northern resources. I commend this Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Carrick) adjourned.
-Mr Deputy President, I seek leave to make a statement relating to this matter.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– In its Forty-ninth Report the Regulations and Ordinances Committee recommended the disallowance of the Australian Capital Territory City Area Leases Ordinance (No. 2) 1974. 1 would draw the attention of the Senate to that report. It would appear that prior to December 1973 a number of home buyers made contracts with builders who are in this sense referred to as vendors, for the assignment of leases of land when the builders were not in fact the lessees of the land concerned. Two cases came to the attention of the Department of the Capital Territory where such contracts were made and the lessees, who are the principal financers of housing development in such cases, had not assigned leases when requested to do so. I understand that this practice is known in the legal profession as gazoomphing. I understand that it is a Yiddish word meaning to welch, to renege or to go back on a deal.
– It is certainly not a legal word.
– It is used by the legal profession in cases such as this. The Ordinance sought to avoid this situation by retrospectively binding the lessees to such contracts even though they were not a party to the contracts. The Committee considered that the Ordinance unduly trespassed on the rights and liberties of citizens in that: (a) it is expressed to be retrospective and to apply to contracts made before the Ordinance; (b) it purports to bind the lessee by a contract to which he may not h../e been a party; (c) it reverses the onus of proof; (d) it ignores the contractual rights of the vendor. The Committee considered that it was not proper for an Ordinance to seek to overcome defective contractual arrangements by interfering with the rights of the parties.
The Committee has received a letter from the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Bryant) in which he gives an undertaking that the Ordinance will be repealed. Accordingly, with the leave of the Senate, I withdraw Business of the Senate, Notice of Motion No. 1, standing in my name. I wish to express appreciation of the cooperation extended to the Committee by the Minister concerned.
Debate resumed from 24 September (vide page 1 30 1 ), on motion by Senator Bishop:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Senator BISHOP (South AustraliaPostmasterGeneral) I suggest to the Senate that it may suit the convenience of honourable senators to have the debate on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1974 (No. 2) and the Post and Telegraph Bill 1974 (No. 2) taken together. Therefore, I seek the leave of the Senate to have a cognate debate on these Bills.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– These Bills, which are part of the Budget, implement the highly extensive, we might almost say vicious, increases in postal and telecommunication charges. The Bills are not simply repeating the charges that were proposd a couple of months ago. In fact, they are proposing even higher charges than the ones which were before the Senate 2 months ago. I do not propose to take up the time of the Senate in going through the details of the proposed increased charges because they have become fairly well known and I think there are more important things to be said in this debate. But in order to set the scene, so to speak, I will refer broadly to the nature and size of the proposed increased charges. They include an increase of 43 per cent in the basic postal charge. Indeed, in regard to articles that just do not happen to fit into the category of standard articles I think that the increase is approximately 66 per cent. There is an increase of 33 per cent in the telephone service connection fee for new applicants for telephones, a 30 per cent increase in the local telephone call fee and an overall increase of 50 per cent in telegram charges. I just refer in broad terms to these percentage increases so that the Senate and the public will have a clear idea of the magnitude of the proposed charges. They can virtually be described, as I have said, as vicious increases.
A couple of months ago the Government sought to justify these proposed increased postal charges as part and parcel of an alleged package deal to fight inflation. Of course, we remember very clearly that between the time when the Government proposed these increased charges and the time when they were presented to the Senate the Government ‘s plans for fighting inflation had already been thoroughly emasculated, although at that stage not completely overturned, by the Caucus and Dr Cairns. As I have said, the proposed increases were presented as part of a so-called anti-inflation package deal. But by that stage the thing had been emasculated and the proposed increased postal charges were really the only anti-inflation proposals put forward by the Government. We thought it was very strange. We found it difficult to understand how proposals which were presented as fighting inflation increased- perhaps not by the amount proposed in these Bills, but certainly in a very substantial way- the charges for postal and telecommunication services. We in the Senate were mystified by the Government’s action and we said to the Government: ‘Surely this ought to be re-thought and reconsidered’. We did that so that the Government, before it came before the people with its Budget for the current financial year, would have had an opportunity to consider these charges in the whole context of that Budget.
Although we were starting to have serious doubts about how much the Government was really concerned about fighting inflation even 2 months ago, nevertheless we believed that the Government or the senior members of it were still rather concerned about the problem of inflation and intended to do something about it. But of course the view that we held then was entirely unjustified and we had presented a week ago a Budget which not only does not attempt to do anything about inflation at all, but which in fact is designed to increase greatly the rate of inflation. It will certainly have a rapidly growing effect in that direction in the coming months. As I pointed out recently, revenue derived from income tax and company tax will increase by 46 per cent in the current financial year. There is to be a 46 per cent increase in income tax collection alone. In round figures, increases of about $3,000m by way of increased income tax and company tax alone are to be imposed on the Australian people. The Government is not doing that because it is proposing to adopt a responsible policy regarding inflation. The Government is proposing to spend every cent of that money. In fact, it has proposed an increase of 32 per cent in public expenditure.
We look at these proposed increased postal charges as part and parcel of the Government’s Budget which we in the Opposition devoutly wished and in fact until recent weeks believe would represent a serious attack upon inflation, that it would be a responsible Budget and would be designed to do something about this grave and fundamental problem facing the nation. But, as I have said, we have a Government which has completely abdicated its responsibility in regard to the economy. It has abdicated its responsibility as a Government. Obviously it has presented a Budget which will not only do nothing to arrest inflation, or even to steady it, but which in all probability will inflame the raging fires of inflation.
The Postmaster-General (Senator Bishop) in presenting the Bills which provide for these great increases in postal charges sought to throw further responsibility on the Senate in the old hackneyed way which has become so familiar to us and to the public in recent months. At every opportunity this Government seems to try to repeat these old, tired cliches about Senate obstruction, the Senate adopting a negative attitude and so on. I think that the speech by the Postmaster-General on these Bills beats all other efforts at this type of attack. Now the Government is trying to say that in some curious way the Senate is responsible for the size of the proposed increased postal charges. I have received comments, which I will be quoting, from many people in the community who believe that the Senate adopted a very responsible attitude to the proposed increased postal charges that came before us 2 months ago in isolation but as part of some alleged anti-inflation deal. Because we adopted that responsible attitude and said to the Government: ‘For goodness sake, go back, think again and try to do a bit better’, the Government now is trying to say that that is some evidence of irresponsibility and obstruction by the Senate. In fact, it is trying to say to the people: The Senate’s action is costing you $30m more than you would otherwise have had to pay’.
What an idiotic proposition that is. I cannot understand why the Postmaster-General, for whom I have a good deal of respect, would put forward such a proposition. Certainly I have no respect for his advisers who present that to the Senate as being in any way a reasonable argument, because the fact of the matter is that if these proposed increased postal charges had been imposed 2 months ago, the people who use the services would have been paying that additional amount of money over the last 2 months. What the Government is saying is: ‘Well, because you have not been paying it over the last 2 months you will have to pay a bit more in the future’. It is the same amount of money, whether it was paid over the last 2 months or whether it is paid over the next eight or nine months. The people have not had to pay any additional amount of money because of* the Senate’s action. It really is incredible that responsible people- I believe that the Postmaster-General is a responsible person- would put up such an argument. If ever there was an attempt to mislead the people of this nation, that argument is a classic example of such an attempt. Moreover, the increase in the basic letter rate from 7c to 10c, instead of the previous proposal of 9c, will not be taken off at the end of the financial year. If the Government’s argument was in any way honest that is what the proposition would have done because, if the Government has lost this alleged $30m in the last couple of months and it has to recoup it over the next eight or nine months, the Government’s Budget proposal to increase the basic letter charge rate to 10c means that the loss will be recouped by 30 June next year. As I said, the Government’s argument is a stupid one. If it were an honest argument the increase would have to come off and there ought to be provision within the legislation to take it off on 30 June next year.
The Post Office is saying- as I said, it is not a credible argument- that in order to recoup the alleged loss of $30m incurred during the past 2 months the people of this nation will have to pay forever an extra lc on letter articles. That charge will continue and it will snowball beyond this financial year. It will be built into the letter rate charge and any increases in this charge in future years will be added to a base rate of 10c instead of 9c. It is utterly ludicrous to try to blame the Opposition in the Senate. As I said, I really find it hard to believe that people could honestly believe that the Government’s argument is a credible one.
– It is a good excuse just to get a bit more revenue.
– As Senator Young says, it is a good excuse to get a bit more. That is exactly what it is. I wish that the Government was honest enough to say so, but unfortunately for this nation it is not. I want to deal briefly with the alleged amount of $30m which the Government says has been lost over the past 2 months. I will commence by referring to a statement made by the Prime Minister on this matter 2 months ago. We all know that the Prime Minister is not very strong on economics. He is certainly a good deal weaker in arithmetic. We well know- this is repeated in the Postmaster-General’s second reading speech- that the object of the exercise of viciously increasing postal and telecommunication charges is to increase the total revenue of the Post Office in the present financial year by $146m. The Postmaster-General has told us that this will give the Post Office a profit of $60m. The reason why it wants that profit is to assist it in its capital expenditure. I will deal with that matter later.
I just want to deal with the arithmetic which has been presented to us on this matter by the Government. As I said, I will start off with what the Prime Minister said. The Postmaster-General said that when the increased charges were proposed 2 months ago the purpose was to provide an amount of $1 46m additional revenue which would leave the Post Office with an estimated profit of $60m. Let us see what the Prime Minister had to say about the matter. No doubt his whole attitude to it is coloured by his obsession with the Opposition in the Senate. In speaking about this subject he chose language with which we have become very familiar. I will read what he said about us and the action we took in the Senate in rejecting the earlier proposed increase. He said:
They’re grossly irresponsible. The Post Office in this new financial year, if there is no increase in its charges for postal and telegraphic services, will suffer a deficit of $ 142m.
He could not even get the figure right. It should have been $146m. But what is $4m to the Prime Minister or to this Government? It is nothing. They do not have to worry about accuracy. The Prime Minister said, in effect, that if there was no increase in postal charges there would be a loss of $ 142m. As I have already pointed out, one of his own Ministers, the Postmaster-General, had made it perfectly clear that as a result of an increase in charges there would be a profit of $60m. So the Prime Minister conjured up that figure out of the air. It is rather interesting that the members of the Press should take up this sort of thing. They take the Prime Minister’s word at his Press conferences as though they were graven words from heaven.
– They are changing now.
-I hope they will. This is a good illustration of why pressmen should look critically at and take a little more care with what the Prime Minister says. But they swallowed this. I noticed in the Press the day after this conference that reports continued to quote the Prime Minister’s statement that the Post Office would have a loss of $ 142m as a result of the Senate’s action. At his conference the Prime Minister went on to say, with reference to the proposed increases:
If they are rejected in the Senate, it will be 2 months before they can be brought in in the Budget.
As we know, that is what has happened. He went on to say:
That means that we will have subsidised those losses from taxes to an extent of about $2 5 m.
He said that as a result of the action taken by the Opposition in the Senate the taxpayers would have to subsidise the Post Office for the revenue it would forgo in those 2 months. But we now have another one of his broken promises because the taxpayers will not be subsidising the Post Office. The proposal is- the Government makes great play on this-that the taxpayers and the postal users will pay twice over. They will pay 46 per cent more in income tax, and they will make up this loss by increases amounting to $30m. The Prime Minister said that it would be $25m, but now we are told that it will be $30m. It is the same old thing. The Prime Minister cannot do his arithmetic. It does not worry him whether the loss will be $146m or $142m. He does not pay regard to $4m here or there. We now find that the Prime Minister’s estimate of $2 5m has been upgraded to $30m. If one cares to do the arithmetic correctly, one will find that the amount of revenue that the Post Office has forgone over the past couple of months is about $24m. That figure is obtained by using elementary arithmetic to divide $ 146m- which the Post Office still intends to obtain- by six which represents the period of one-sixth of a year in which revenue was lost.
The Government also seeks to justify its argument by quoting statements from some Press articles which it believes give it comfort and support for an increase in postal charges. The PostmasterGeneral quotes from reports in the ‘Age’ and also from reports in the ‘Financial Review’ of 3 1 July this year. I do not propose to repeat what was said. But I want to say that at the time we took the action in this Senate to reject the proposed increases many people wrote to me and to other members of the Opposition expressing views, and newspapers also expressed views, which were in commendation of the stand that the Opposition took. One of those newspapers is the Geelong ‘Advertiser’. Referring to the stand that had been taken in another place by my colleague the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) it stated that the suggestion made by Mr Nixon- that was the same suggestion as we made here- that the proposed increases in postal charges should be deferred until their effects on inflation, could be determined was one of the few sane suggestions which had been made in Canberra with regard to the present economic crisis. Government supporters like to quote from the Financial Review’ or the ‘Age’. I have just cited the view of another newspaper in Australia. I have referred to the many letters and telegrams which I have had from individuals and associations in Australia about these postal charges. I propose to quote a few of them which I have received recently. I think the Government should rapidly disabuse itself of the idea that people in this country are in any way prepared to accept these increases as being justified. I have a telegram here from the Australian Mailing Service. It states:
The Senate must act as the prices justification tribunal for the PMG and again refuse proposed postal increases stop many proposed increases exceed 60 per cent stop savage increases of this sort will result in decreased volume not increased revenue.
I have a telegram from Mr Johnston-Bell of the Postal Users Council which states:
Proposed increases in postal rates unacceptable to the public industry business and will effect increases in unemployment and inflation.
The twin problems facing the nation today are unemployment and inflation. As forecast by the Postal Users Council these increases in fact will worsen both these problems and will not in any way alleviate them. I have another telegram from Mr Weldon, the managing director of the Hamlyn group of companies. He states:
The effect of these additional increases will be further price escalation and significant reduction in the level of our mail order activities which will contribute towards unemployment.
I also received a letter from the Australian Direct Mail Association, written to me on 23 September. It is a long and very interesting letter. I shall refer to parts of it again. On this subject it states:
In terms of inflation, it is clear the proposed increases represent a very significant cost additive to both business concerns and to private individuals . . .
So far as employment is concerned, the sudden imposition of such increases must cause cutbacks in mailings with resultant immediate effects upon employment in many fields such as, for example, the printing industry. That such cutbacks will take place is certain. Indeed the Vernon Committee acknowledged that past experience shows that demand for postal services generally drops for a period following a substantial tariff increase (see page 186 of the Vernon Report).
I have quoted a few of those telegrams and letters which I received. As I have said, I received many others from individuals. Many of my colleagues have received such letters as well. I think the Government gives a completely false picture in presenting to the Senate, as it does, the view in the second reading speech that somehow or other the public accepts these increases as being necessary, desirable and, indeed, reasonable.
I turn generally to the question of policy in regard to determining the rate of postal charges. I accept, as I expressed in the debate 2 months ago, that some increases in postal and telecommunication charges are necessary. The figures as presented by the Postmaster-General in the previous debate- and there is a financial analysis in the Vernon Commission’s report- clearly indicate that if these charges are not increased to some extent there will be significant losses by the Post Office. The Vernon Commission estimated that in the current year the loss will be something like $90m, but very likely it will be greater because of the rapidly growing rate of inflation since April when the Vernon Commission’s report was submitted.
Although I think it has been accepted for many years that the community should accept a loss on postal services- in fact, the postal services have been making a loss since 1961- the overall result of the Post Office, with the profits made on the telecommunications side, should be kept fairly well in balance and the general policy should not be to make a loss overall. But the Postmaster-General in his previous speech and again when he referred to it in his second reading speech set out the policy of this Government when he stated: the Government is determined to ensure that the costs of the Post Office are met by the users of the services. This is in line with the recommendations of the Vernon Commission, which saw the need for the Post Office to operate in a similar manner to other government undertakings.
I believe that this proposition which seems to be accepted by the Government is far too simple a view to take broadly in regard to the Post Office and is the reason for these very large increases which, as I have said, are really larger than necessary. But the Government takes the view that the user of the service must pay. As I said here the other day in relation to broadcasting and television licence fees which have been abolished in this Budget, this is a remarkable contradiction of policy. The user of the broadcasting and television service is not paying any licence fee. He should get that for nothing. But the poor old user of the Post Office has to pay and, my word, he certainly will be paying through the nose for it as a result of these increases. This is not really a true application of the Vernon Commission’s recommendations. I do not want to be taken as accepting the Vernon Commission as gospel by any means, but in relation to broad government policy on postal and telecommunication services in its summary which appears at the beginning of the report it states:
The Commission sees the APO as an organisation which: offers a comprehensive range of postal and telecommunications services and at standards which meet, within reasonable and responsible limits, the requirements and needs of the whole community. offers those services on the basis of a tariff structure which:
provides tor the reasonable costs of those services to be recouped from revenues received from customers;
ensures that the community contributes to the revenues of the APO in proportion to the use each member makes of those services;
provides a reasonable return to public revenues for the use of community funds employed in the enterprise. is administered in accordance with accepted principles of business management so that the efficiency and vitality of the organisation is constantly under review.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting for lunch I was quoting the Vernon Commission’s basic statement of what the broad policy should be in relation to the Post Office. I did so, because I do not think that the Commission as quoted by me would support the Government’s policy, as stated by the Postmaster-General, that the Government is determined to ensure that the costs of running the Post Office are met by the users of the service. I believe that the Vernon Commission made it quite clear that some balance has to be struck between the reasonable requirements and needs of the whole community and what would be reasonable costs of the tariff structure. The Commission used the word ‘reasonable’ in relation to that balance. I believe that the Government, in its approach to these charges, is now going far beyond that. It has committed itself to the proposition that the user, more or less, must pay no matter what it costs. That is the reason the charges are of this magnitude.
As I have said, I believe there is justification for reasonable increases. Increases of this size which will give profits of the size budgeted for are away beyond the policy enunciated and recommended by the Vernon Commission to the Government. The Government’s claim is that it has to make these profits because the Government’s policy is to limit the capital advance to the Post Office to the same sums as last year, $385m. I do not know how the Government can justify that limit when, in fact, this year it is budgeting for a rate of inflation of more than 20 per cent and with increases in salaries and wages of that order. Obviously, by following the policy of pegging the advance to $385m, the Government is in fact considerably reducing- probably by 20 per cent or more- the advances to the Post Office. The Government’s justification for limiting the advance is that if it were to increase the advance to the Post Office beyond that figure it would be at the expense of other government priority programs in the field of education, welfare and health. But there are other vast areas of government expenditure which, in the view of the Opposition, are quite unjustified and which could be used to pay for a reasonable increase in the advance which the Post Office requires.
– What is your definition of reasonable’?
– I am referring, for instance, to the millions of dollars which will be spent on the pipeline authority and petroleum and mineral authority. I believe that the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) is even going to build a treatment plant for uranium. These are the sorts of areas in which the Government could economise. They are areas in which the Government should not be involved. Private enterprise is perfectly prepared to provide the capital for these projects. It is the area in which the Government ought to be looking to provide the necessary increases in capital for the Post Office, rather than do it by increasing charges in this way. But this is all a question of basic budget policy. The Opposition, I believe, has rejected the whole concept of this Budget. These charges are part and parcel of the Budget and we do not intend to oppose them. We are exercising our rights and are at liberty to point out the basic fallacies in the Budget of which this is a part and the contradictions and, indeed, the stupidities in many cases of the arguments that are being advanced by the Government in support of these increases in postal and telecommunication charges.
There is just one other point I wish to touch on before concluding and that is that these Bills provide for the establishment of a courier service within the Australian Post Office. I was very pleased to hear the Postmaster-General confirm yesterday, in answer to a question from me, that the Government does not intend to prevent private courier services from operating. The intention of the Government is that the Post Office courier service should act in competition with other private services. I sincerely hope that the Postmaster-General and the Government will stick to that policy and will not be pressurised by its doctrinaire Caucus to eliminate private courier services which I have no doubt many members of the Caucus would wish to do.
– Is it proposed that there be any separate accounting for such services?
-I hope there will be. That is something we will be keeping an eye on, no doubt. Of course, the private courier services have proliferated because the Post Offices’ own services have been deteriorating so rapidly in recent years. The private services have mushroomed all around Australia. That is an excellent example of private enterprise taking the initiative and satisfying community needs which were not being provided by the Post Office.
Instead of the Post Office following the policy of putting up its charges I would hope that it would be looking all the time more and more into the question of improving its own efficiency, which is desperately needed, to see where it can cut costs. The Post Office should be following that policy rather than the policy of despair whereby postal charges will be increased year after year. The Vernon Commission report seems to blandly assume that postal charges can go up 15 per cent every year as a solution to the problem. It may be good enough for the Vernon Commission and it may be good enough for this Government- in fact, the Government is increasing its charges more than recommended by the Vernon Commission. It is certainly not good enough for the Opposition. I hope it would not be good enough for this Parliament to accept that as the solution to the problems of an enterprise the size of the Post Office or any other enterprise.
– When Slater gets his hands on the courier service that will not work either.
-One of the big problems of the Post Office is industrial. I do not want to move into a great debate on that topic. I have been speaking at length already. But I want to emphasise the necessity for the Post Office to look to increasing efficiency and a way to cut costs as the prime way of maintaining solvency. It should not simply take the attitude: ‘Well, if we make a loss we can always put up the charges’. That is not good enough and we in this Opposition, so long as we are the Opposition, take the attitude that we will scrutinise that sort of thing as we have done already. However, I think that a more effective method of scrutinising these increases will have to be found. It is not fully within the power of the Parliament to be able to scrutinise these increases effectively. When all is said and done this Government insists that industry should justify its increases in charges before the Prices Justification Tribunal. The Government is extending the jurisdiction of that Tribunal. If it is good enough for private industry to have to run the gauntlet of the Tribunal, it is good enough- it ought to be a requirement- for all large government business undertakings to do the same or a similar exercise. 1 am giving notice to the Postmaster-General that the Opposition will seriously examine this aspect of the problem and that in future we will insist that there be proper and full public investigation of these sorts of charges.
-In his speech the Postmaster-General (Senator Bishop) referred to the Vernon Commission which was set up a few months ago to report on the whole activities of the Postmaster-General’s Department. One of the recommendations of the Commission was that the 2 sections of the Post Office be divided into 2 statutory corporations. Beyond the appointment of a chairman, or whatever the temporary office is called, nothing appears to have been done. We are very interested in how the financial side will be divided, because the mail section has been run at a loss, or has not made very much profit, for a considerable number of years and the telephone, telegram and telegraph section has made a considerable profit. In view of the profit made by the telecommunications section, as it is called, we are wondering whether when the 2 sections are run separately that section will reduce its charges or whether there will be greater expansion and development through increased capital expenditure, thus making that section an even better business proposition than it is today.
The Vernon Commission recommended that the increases in postal and other charges be made gradually. These 2 Bills provide, as has been mentioned, a 43 per cent increase in the basic postal rate, to 10c for a stamp. In the Post Office the sale of postage stamps is probably the greatest single unit of turnover. Although the 10c- a shilling in the old currency- might be a good round figure, it will certainly have a lot of publicity value, because each time a person licks a stamp and puts it on a letter he will realise who is charging him. He will blame the Government. No matter who is in government, people blame the government for an increase in postal charges and each time they post a letter they will blame the Government for the cost. This round figure of 10c is easier to calculate and work out than the 9c which the Senate was asked to approve in the last Bill. It is a far cry from the days of Sir Rowland Hill who about 130 years ago introduced the penny post. The service then was a much better service than the service which we have today. I wish to comment on the mail section.
– What about the female section?
– The honourable senator will have a chance to speak later on. Today our mail service is worse than it was at the time of Federation. I am not referring to the telephone and telecommunications section. This situation exists despite the introduction of air mail services which are supposed to mean faster delivery of mail. I have received complaints from people in many places that it is a worse and a slower service. The charges have gone up, and they are still going up. I believe that the rates for parcels and newspapers have become far too expensive. One of the worst features in recent months, mostly during this year, is the decision, not made by the Government or the Postmaster-General but by the unions, to close all the official post offices on Saturday mornings. No action has been taken to alter that situation, and apparently it is here to stay. This has had a considerable detrimental effect on the public. Apparently no mail sorting into post office boxes takes place anywhere in Australia on Saturday mornings. The small nonofficial post offices, for the most part, do not give out mail on Saturday mornings, although the mail has been sorted and put in pigeon-holes in many cases.
Most of the set-up of the Post Office, which has developed over many years, has provided that mail from the big cities and bigger centres of population be delivered at the weekend so that people can read it or answer their correspondence or read the newspapers. The publication of weekly newspapers is designed so that they may be delivered some time on Friday. We now see the spectacle of that mail- letters, correspondence, weekly newspapers- not being available to the people to whom they are addressed until early in the next week. For people with a weekly service this means a full week’s delay. It is the people outside the big cities and the big centres of population who suffer most because when they get their weekly newspapers the news is quite stale. In many cases the answers to their correspondence, which they could post by return mail, are delayed for anything up to a week.
I believe that the Post Office should make more use of road transport for the cartage and delivery of our mail. We have found in recent weeks and months that for various reasons- the shortage of fuel lately and the lack of patronage- the train services which usually carry the mail have been severely curtailed in many parts of Australia. This means that a town or village in a country area or even a bigger centre which had a mail service by train which ran daily, bi-weekly, tri-weekly or whatever it might be, is sometimes down to a weekly train service. The Post Office has done nothing about delivering this mail by an alternative means of transport. I know that road transport does take mail to some areas, and it is a much improved service. Private enterprise has shown that it can make deliveries of morning newspapers- even roadside deliveries- up to 100 miles, or something like that, by breakfast time. But a train which is going in the same direction and leaving at approximately the same time and taking mail, plods along all day and when it reaches its terminal point in the late afternoon it is probably too late to sort and deliver the mail. Therefore, there is another 24-hour delay. If an existing system carries newspapers, surely tenders could be called and contracts entered into for the provision of a mail service in conjunction with that system. I know that I will be told that the Australian railways have a contract to carry mail, but this is subject to alteration from time to time. Not too much detail is spelled out, but I believe that the contract provides that a lump sum is paid to the railways of each State.
Another matter that has upset a lot of people in recent times is the charge for re-addressing letters. I wonder who thought of that? Since there has been a mail service one has been able to go to a post office and fill in a form stating that one is changing one’s address, either temporarily or permanently, and one’s letters are re-addressed. There is surely not much work attached to that. Now if one wants to do that and one is going away for longer than a month, one must fill in another form. I understand that the charge is $3 a month. If one has gone to the seaside or on holiday or is changing one’s address temporarily for any reason that charge must be paid for letters to be re-addressed. If one does not have much correspondence during that month, some of the letters will be expensive.
I wish to refer to the downgrading of many official post offices to the non-official classification. I want to be fair about this matter. I have seen figures for some official post offices which I do not believe anybody could justify maintaining as such in view of the revenue they receive and the cost of running them. However, I do not think that situation applies generally. So there should not be a blanket decision to downgrade official post offices, as has happened. A post office, especially in country towns, is such an important institution and centre that some compromise should be worked out.
I refer now to the telephone and telecommunications section of the Postmaster-General’s Department. I understand that under a Government decision the Overseas Telecommunications Commission is to be included in a corporation which I think is to be called the Telecommunications Corporation. I only hope that if that is the case, and I may be wrong, it will not mean a blackout on overseas cable services during the weekends such as there is at present on our telegram service. I refer to local telegrams sent and received in Australia. In the PostmasterGeneral’s Department of old, they used to have an advertisement which stated that sending a telegram was a good way to communicate and a reply-paid telegram was a courteous way of getting a quick reply. This service seems to have disappeared from the map now, because in effect the telegram service in Australia is dead from mid-afternoon on Friday until Monday morning. If a telegram is not dispatched by mid-afternoon on Friday it is not delivered until Monday morning. It could be delivered to a telephone number.
Not so long ago telegraph offices in most of the big centres stayed open at weekends. Someone wishing to send a telegram could go to a little pigeon-hole at the telephone exchange and lodge it there. That service has gone. I believe that if for any reason someone wants to lodge a telegram at the weekend it has to be telephoned to a capital city office. He certainly does not pay the full trunk line rate for the call, but he has to pay a reduced trunk line call rate. Is it any wonder that telegram business in the Post Office has fallen off? In spite of this there is to be an increase in the rates for telegrams. In fact, I think that for a small telegram there is not much change left out of $ 1 under the new rates.
Another thing about which I have always spoken is the restricted hours telephone exchanges. I regret to say that there are still a large number of telephone exchanges operating on restricted hours. The small automatic exchanges are not being installed fast enough. I have referred many times to the disability suffered by residents who are unfortunate enough to be connected to one of these exchanges. Many of the palliatives offered to these people, such as leaving a local number connected to the trunk line at weekends and at night time, are not much help. I have pointed out before the great disadvantage that this is for people living a little out of town or away from the exchange.
More funds should be allocated to speed up the installation of the small automatic exchanges and more use should be made of what I understand are called remote controlled manual exchanges. When these were first tried they appeared to have many disabilities, but now most of the bugs seem to have been overcome. They appear to be working well and people on long lines are able to make use of a satisfactory continuous service. They did not have this before and they did not look like getting it for quite a considerable time. I believe that more use could be made of the radio telephone service. A chap not far from where I live has been battling for a long time to get a telephone. He has not been able to get one for various reasons, and this situation has gone on for several years. In desperation he got two radio licences and he has his own private radio set-up from his house in a big city to the station property to which he could not get the telephone extended.
In speaking to these Bills I also want to refer to the increased rates for trunk line telephone calls. According to the Postmaster-General’s second reading speech, there is to be a general increase of from 3 per cent to 5 per cent in the rates for trunk calls. I want to mention particularly the savage increase of 26 per cent in the charge for calls over a distance of more than 645 kilometres, or about 400 miles. This is defeating the object towards which we thought we were working at one time, of achieving standardisation for all trunk calls throughout Australia. This increase for calls over a greater distance than 400 miles will have a particularly savage effect on people in Queensland. In Queensland we have 400,000 people living more than 400 miles from Brisbane, our capital city. No other State approaches that measure of decentralisation. Consequently, apart from having to pay the increases on interstate calls or anything else to which the increases apply, those 400,000 people- no doubt many of them have telephones- will have to pay a 26 per cent increase for trunk line calls to Brisbane or other places beyond a distance of 400 miles. This would not apply in the other States. The only other State with a great number of people more than 400 miles from its capital city is New South Wales.
The increase in telephone rentals, particularly those connected with smaller and more isolated exchanges, is the next thing I want to mention. The principle that has applied for a long while is that the rental on a telephone exchange was related to the number of people who could be called at the local telephone call rate. What is proposed now? All rentals are being standardised. Consider the case of a small exchange with maybe 10 or 20 subscribers who can make local telephone calls only to people in their own small group. Some such areas may have one or two other villages close by, but not too many. Practically every telephone call that those people make is a trunk line call. To compensate for that situation in the past they have been charged a reduced rental for their telephone. That situation is going by the board now and apparently those people are to be put in the same category as people in a capital city who have access to many thousands of other subscribers at the local call rate and who have very huie cause to make any trunk line calls. I believe that this is a very unjust situation.
The new country lines policy has upset many people. As all honourable senators know, the Liberal-Country Party Government had agreed to build and maintain lines up to IS miles long. This Government has reduced the distance to 5 miles. It is demanding an exorbitant fee from prospective telephone users to meet the cost of constructing these lines. I have had people coming to me with bills for $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 or perhaps $5,000, and asking me whether they should pay them and wait two, three or more years before getting a telephone. I have advised them not to. As a result they do not get a telephone. There are other people in the area who will not get one either because the backlog of new services in rural areas is becoming even greater. I do not know what to tell people. I have checked up on the backlog and I know of people who have been waiting years. I have checked with departmental officials in these areas and they cannot tell me with any certainty in which year these people are likely to get their telephone or when there is any prospect of their getting the telephone. Unfortunately the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is getting further behind in many of these areas. For many people the telephone is their only means of communication, but they just cannot get anywhere.
The comment of the Minister in his second reading speech that the Senate had made it necessary, by its alleged delay of the passage of this measure when it was brought before us a few weeks back, for higher charges to be levied, is grossly unfair and unjust. This is a Budget measure and should not have been brought into this Senate in advance of the Budget because we had no idea at that time what the Budget would contain. May I say on behalf of my Party that the Opposition will allow these increased charges to go through as part of the Budget although it does not agree with a lot of them and will not make any promises as to what might happen in the future. I contrast this action with that taken a few years ago when the present Government was in opposition and the Australian Labor Party members of that day walked out of this Senate rather than stand up and be counted when a similar measure was brought in by the then government. We will not do anything like that and we will let this measure go through, but we will protest about it and criticise it.
I hope that with the additional money the Post Office will have, particularly in the telephone section and possibly in the mail section, greater efforts will be made to improve services in the mail section and to catch up on the backlog in the installation of telephones so that we will not have a lot of disgruntled people around the countryside who live practically in sight of a telephone exchange but cannot get a telephone. This is pretty hard to live with and it is hard to justify and defend in any way. I have told people that I cannot do any more for them. The Post Office unfortunately is getting further behind with the installation of telephones in those areas. We can only hope that something will alter in the not too distant future. The Opposition will allow these measures to go through but that is as far as it will go-
-It is my contention that the increases in Post Office charges sought by these Bills are savage and inflationary and could lead to a possible reduction in revenue, particularly in the postage field. If there is not a reduction in revenue then there will certainly be a reduction in the number of items handled by the Post Office. As Senator Lawrie and Senator Durack have both said, there is no doubt that some small increase in postage rates is justified. I do not think anyone would argue against that. But the increase in the basic letter rate from 7c to 10c, more than a 40 per cent increase, is a cost inflicted on the community far in excess of what I feel is necessary. Considering the rate of inflation we have in the country today it is completely undesirable. It was proposed, I believe, in the Vernon Committee report that the postage rate be increased to 10c over a period of 3 years, not over 5 months. I have been talking about standard letters but a consideration of non-standard letters shows that there is little logic in those charges, which are out of proportion with the basic letter rate.
The charge that the present increases are due to the Senate’s action a few weeks ago is, in my opinion, so much rubbish. I think Senator Durack produced figures which point this out quite well. The Government is using the Post Office simply as a taxing authority and its action will have the result, as I have already said, of reducing the number of letters being posted or of having mailing costs passed on by people who use postal services for their accounts and things of that kind. It could lead to a dramatic decrease in things like birthday cards and Christmas cards, which in themselves are becoming quite expensive. When that cost is added to the 10c it will cost to post them the total cost will become prohibitive for many people.
These increases will have an obvious effect on inflation. They also will have an obvious effect on unemployment. One example of where their effect on unemployment may become obvious is in the printing industry. We have these huge increases made at a time when the service of the Post Office is on the decline. It is at a very low ebb. We have only 5 home postal deliveries in a week instead of the 1 1 we had a couple of years ago. A lot of the letters we post are taking a tremendous amount of time to reach their destination. So we have Post Office service at a very low ebb being provided at a very high cost.
I return now to dealing with non-standard items which I do not think were dealt with fully today. If I were to post a book weighing about 500 grams from Hobart to Sydney it would cost exactly 48c under these new charges, but if it weighed 1 gram more it would cost $1.15. To post something weighing 50 1 grams to Brisbane would cost $1.35, yet I believe that I could send that same article to Europe for $ 1.35. In this and a couple of other cases the customers is not being considered very fully by the Post Office. The logical solution is to abolish the distinction between standard and non-standard articles or at least take the weight of non-standard articles under the basic rate up to 1 kilogram. At present we have 4 grades between zero and 500 grams. It would be very easy to have a progression to, say, 750 grams which may cost something like 67c and then to 1 kilogram which may cost 90c This would encompass one of the busiest areas of package traffic. In my opinion it is unfair to lumber the public with an arbitrary high minimum which, as I have said, would be $1.35 for an article over 500 grams to be sent from Hobart to Brisbane.
One other matter I want to deal with is that of Post Office boxes. I believe that the box service is almost as much a convenience to the Post Office as it is to the public. Of course there should be a charge for them but nothing like what we are approaching these days. Here too we see the Post Office being designed as a taxing medium- part of the old socialist ethic that if people are in business they can afford to pay. The Post Office is approaching the time when it will be in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs because I think people are likely to make less use of Post Office services. The principal statistics of the annual report of the Postmaster-General’s Department for 1974 on page 5 show that the number of postal articles handled dropped during last year. Also the number of postal articles carried by air in Australia dropped by something like 5 per cent. The number of telegrams within Australia also dropped last year- most probably due to the price increases that we saw- at a time when most things in this country are supposed to be increasing. All I can say is that I hope the next government that is in office looks critically at these rates and attempts to reduce them wherever possible.
I could have applied those remarks just as easily to the increase in telephone costs. I think that they are too high. I was going to say disgraceful but maybe that is a little too strong. I hope that they will be very carefully considered by the next government. Perhaps I am being a little parochial, but I think it is time that the Post Office looked at the possibility of neglecting the width of Bass Strait when charging for trunk line telephone calls from my State of Tasmania and also for the rental of the television links between Tasmania and the mainland so that Tasmania can link up with the other States for certain programs and news events. I believe that there is a spare link that could be used by commercial television if the rates were somewhat reduced.
-I would like to support what Senator Durack, Senator Lawrie and Senator Townley have said about the outrageous increase in charges that this Government intends to inflict upon the people of Australia. At the outset I reject totally the suggestion that has been put forward and promoted by the Postmaster-General (Senator Bishop) that the Senate is to blame for these increases in charges. He continued his attack on the Opposition, trying to show that it is frustrating the Government. I have become tired of that phrase, particularly as out of a total of 343 Bills that have been introduced by this Government the Opposition has rejected only thirty-four. To accuse the Opposition of increasing these charges is quite irresponsible and unacceptable. On the one hand the Postmaster-General blames the Opposition for forcing the Government to increase the cost of a postage stamp to 10c and on the other hand he flamboyantly abolishes broadcasting and television licences, thereby reducing the revenue of the Department by about $7 1 m in a full year.
– Is Caucus not considering wiping out the tax on unearned income?
– I would not be surprised by what Caucus would be considering. I am quite certain that the Treasurer (Mr Crean) and the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) would be bound to take notice of whatever it suggests. I cannot understand the rationale of this incredible charge against my Party. Certainly the PostmasterGeneral’s Department requires additional finance to keep up with wage pressures and the running costs caused by the inflation that is rife under this Government. However, the Opposition believes that there are areas of inefficiency within the Postal Department where economies ought to be effected. It is to that area that we, as a government, would be looking to avoid the necessity of excessively high increases in postal charges.
The Postal Department is the largest department in the Commonwealth, employing about 35 per cent to 40 per cent of the Commonwealth’s civilian public servants or over 1 14,000 people. Recognising the need for a restructuring of the Postmaster-General’s Department, the Liberal-Country Party Government in 1971 streamlined its administration with the object of establishing 32 fully equipped business management headquarters throughout Australia under the control of area managers. This involved the amalgamation of the lesser administrative units into larger area offices. The organisational reforms effected under the Liberal-Country Party Government provided an appropriate balance between centralisation and decentralisation, and between forward planning and shortterm achievements. These sentiments were expressed at that time by the Director-General of the Postal Department, Sir John Knott.
The results of this initiative taken by the Liberal Party Government were revealed over the ensuing 2 years because the combined earnings of the postal and telecommunications sections improved from a $2m deficit in 1970-71 to a profit of $36m in 1971-72. Because the postal section of the Post Office is labour intensive it suffers much more than the telecommunications area, which is highly capital intensive, as a result of wage increases. I believe also, because there is a fairly large number of females employed within the Department, it would have suffered substantially as a result of the added costs of the maternity leave that was provided by the Government early in its administration.
– Do you oppose that reform, Senator?
– I do not oppose that at all if taken at a sensible time, but taken at a time when the economy is in a sick state and when inflation is increasing I believe that that sort of activity was irresponsible. My Party would recognise that need and would act upon it when the economic circumstances permitted. I heard the other day that in one union’s log of claims there is a claim that maternity leave ought to be increased to 52 weeks and that paternity leave ought to be increased to 12 weeks. As Senator Sims asks, what is going to happen in the Postal Department if that sort of irresponsibility is allowed to persist.
We have heard a lot about the Vernon report. It has been subjected to a great deal of criticism by many writers in Australia. I noted earlier today an article by Mr McGuinness of the ‘Australian Financial Review’. In July he said:
The report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Australian Post Office is a disappointing document.
It contains few of the basic issues which any proper examination of the postal and telecommunications services should consider, in particular the basis for pricing capital investment, procurement and subsidy policies.
There is little in it- except historical and public relations material, and accountants’ reports- which was not covered in principle by the Coombs task force report.
And the Coombs report had the benefit of much less time and input than the Post Office inquiry.
He went on to say:
The increase in charges foreshadowed by the Government is not much of an anti-inflationary measure, but it is essential if any kind of brake is to be put on a form of social investment which is heavily capital-consuming and, henceforth, in a capital-scarce environment like ours, inflationary.
The Vernon report indicated to the Government that postal service expenses would increase by 10 per cent this year based on last year’s figures, but now the Government is asking us to accept an 18 per cent increase, and this is in spite of restrictions that have been applied to staff escalation. The Committee recommended that the postal charges should be increased at a rate of 15 per cent per annum. That seems to me to be quite incredible because under this Government I doubt very much that that figure could be adhered to. It seems to me that within a very short number of years we will see a greater escalation in charges.
– A policy of despair, I think, don ‘t you?
– That would be an appropriate expression to describe it. The Post Office has estimated that without increasing charges the loss this financial year would be 5 times that of only 2 years ago- being approximately $100m. We know that the Austraiian Post Office finances its operations from 2 sources. Firstly, the Post Office is financed from the cash flowing from its trading activities, including net profit, if there is any, and depreciation; and secondly, it is financed by borrowing from the Treasury at a rate of interest equivalent to the interest rate on longterm Government bonds. The additional revenue that will accrue from the Government’s proposals, amounting to about $146m, provides what would appear to be a profit of $60m. However, the Minister conveniently has not mentioned that this revenue is required to supplement capital expenditure because Treasury advances to the Department for capital are pegged at 1973-74 levels. This ignores the eroding effect of inflation which is currently running at about 14.6 per cent and, as anticipated in the Budget, will probably exceed 20 per cent.
In 1973-74 the estimated expenditure of the Post Office was $385m. This is the same amount of expenditure that is being allowed for this year. If honourable senators do a little simple arithmetic I suggest they will find that the Government ought to be allowing, if it takes inflation into account, for an expenditure of approximately $442. 5m. In other words, the additional revenue that will be attracted from the people of Australia by way of these additional charges merely offsets inflation. I think that in another 12 months we can look forward to another massive deficit in the Post Office.
My colleagues have already detailed many of the deficiencies and penalties of the measures that are being proposed in these Bills. I have received many complaints from people about the proposed increases in Post Office charges. I would like to read a typical example to honourable senators. It is from the Australian Postal Users Council. The letter was written on 20 September 1974 and states:
The new postal rates must greatly increase unemployment and inflation and will seriously assist in undermining the confidence of the public, industry and business.
The suggested increases are vastly in excess of those proposed in the Mini-Budget which you helped to reject in July this year. We ask your support in the rejection of this Bill. In April this year the Vernon Report compiled by the Commission set by the Government was tabled and obviously was to be used as a guide for the reconstruction of the Australian Post Office. This report was completely ignored when the new postal rates were compiled.
The Vernon Report recommended that there would of necessity be an annual increase of 1 S per cent per annum and that in three years time the basic standard letter rate would be 10c.
The present proposal to increase the basic standard letter rate from 7c to 10c is disastrous showing as it does an increase of 42.9 per cent. This great increase is suggested not in three years but in five months.
If we take the basic non-standard letter the increase is even greater from 7c to 1 lc, an increase of 63 per cent. As the rate progresses into the heavier letters and articles of nonstandard size the increase does not follow any regular percentage and would appear to have little logic. An article is an article and the processing of such an article basically requires the same amount of handling. Therefore the charge of 33c for a non-standard article between 100g and 250g is out of all proportion to the basic rate. It is obvious that some increases in postal rates are justified. No person could argue against that and certainly not members of this Council. But to increase the basic letter rate by 42.9 per cent is to inflict a cost increase on the community which we suggest is far in excess of what is necessary and desirable in today’s circumstances.
The Council supports the idea put forward by Senator Durack which seems to me to be a logical and sensible suggestion. I will read the paragraph of the letter in which this matter is mentioned:
Once again publishers and the printing industry will surfer an unbearable load. During the past few years many magazines have been suspended or have placed their printing overseas. The phasing out of Categories ‘A’ and ‘B’ and the forcing into Category ‘C or ‘Other Articles’ of many publications and all new publications again means that publishers of necessity must increase both their cover price and also advertising rates. By Government decree all such increases must be presented to the Prices Justification Tribunal.
I believe that Senator Durack ‘s suggestion that it would not be unreasonable to expect the Postal Department to do the same is a valid and sensible suggestion. I have stated already that the Opposition gave the Government an opportunity to revise its thinking on these charges realising that the Government is reaping an astronomical sum in increased personal income tax. We hoped that the Government would recognise the wisdom of providing some relief to the people of Australia by reducing some of these charges. Obviously, the Government has ignored and passed up the opportunity we gave to it. Therefore, it deserves the condemnation of the people of Australia.
– I commend what has been said by speakers in the debate from this side of the Senate. I join with the general sentiment they have expressed that it represents a cost increasing factor for postal charges to rise as they do. However, we all recognise that they rise because of the general inflationary situation. When I joined with other honourable senators in defeating the first attempt to increase postal charges, I did so on the basis that was clearly enunciated from this side of the Senate chamber, namely, that the Government was not aware of the impact of inflation on Australia and needed to understand that impact in a particularly effective way. I believe that the denial of the first increase in postal charges did bring home to the Government the very deep feeling that members on the Opposition side have in relation to uncontrolled increases in costs in the community.
– They are pretty slow thinkers, are they not?
– I agree with Senator Durack that Government members are slow thinkers. I also agree entirely with his statements that they still are doing nothing about inflation. In fact, they could be taking action which is still greatly increasing the rate of inflation in Australia. I have no doubt that that matter will be dealt with in the Budget debate.
Having said that, I state that I also join with what Senator Durack said in relation to the blame which is now cast on the Senate for the additional increases which are to be applied in the Post Office. Of course, the Post Office must live. It must obtain funds to maintain its services. There is no way that any long-term denial can be made of the economic facts of the matter. It is in the general context of the Government’s failure to grapple with the economic problems of Australia that the Post Office must, as every other instrumentality must, increase its charges. The public will pay an inordinate amount in a very disturbed economic situation for the services which are rendered to them by the public sector as well as the private sector.
I want to raise very briefly a smaller but nevertheless important item. That is the subject which has caused so much controversy in this fair city of Canberra, the matter of the tower on Black Mountain. The fight that was mounted to prevent its construction has now been lost, and we find daily some new dimension being added to the now visible base of the tower which is being built on Black Mountain. The contradictions that accompanied the proposal to construct the tower and the determination of the Government to proceed with its construction are rather staggering. We find that according to the records of the Post Office some 115,000 applications for telephone connections have not been satisfied in Australia. Yet the Post Office is proceeding with a project which, on the latest information provided to me, is to cost $7. 17m. With the rapid rate of inflation which now besets us, one can hazard a guess as to what the final cost will be. I suppose that it would be fair to say that it must be at least $8m. But let us take the amount of $7. 17m which is the figure on which these sums are projected.
– Does that allow for inflation?
– I must admit at this stage that I do not know whether it is a fixed price contract or not. So I feel that I should not spoil the argument by proceeding to deal with that question. But I suspect that Senator Jessop is right in the inference that he makes. But I predicate on the figure of $7. 17m which was supplied to me. The submission by the Australian Post Office to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works on 13 June 1972 stated:
Because the Government has given the Post Office a business as well as a service role, the proposal incorporates provision for the recovery of the annual costs of the structure. In this connection the earning capacity of the main visitor facilities is vital to the proposal.
It then went on to list the estimated annual costs. Without boring the Senate by referring to a division of these costs, I merely indicate that they total about $535,000. A realistic assessment under today’s increased cost structure by those who have approached me- and I believe their sums are fairly reliable- shows the provision of $170,000 for control staff and maintenance and $648,000 as interest on”$7.2m at a rate of 9 per cent per annum, making a total of $818,000. I am told that this does not include provision for depreciation or amortisation of the project.
The submission by the Post Office showed that income would be derived from fees paid by visitors to the tower, from rental paid by concessions- and I understand that a restaurant is included in these concessions- and from the rental of technical facilities. The income derived from those sources averaged out at $550,000 a year. Paragraph 7.6 of the submission predicted that income from the fees paid by visitors would be $240,000 in 1975 and $662,000 in 1990 and that capital expenditure would be completely amortised at the end of 30 years by income from lookout fees alone. The prediction is made that if the costs are to be met, the total number of visitors to the tower would have to be 1,600,000 a year at a fee of 50c a head. In 1973, 1,200,000 people visited Canberra, of whom 600,000 visited the Australian War Memorial and 250,000 visited Parliament House. People are not charged fees at either of those establishments. I suppose some people would almost want to be paid to come to this place at various times.
The figures are not very encouraging. The earlier figures I gave related to the previous cost assessment. But on the assumption that 100,000 Canberra residents visit the tower every year, the number of tourists to Canberra needed to make the tower financially viable would be 3,750,000 a year, because not every visitor to Canberra would go to the tower. We are getting into astronomical figures. This only emphasises the validity of much of the argument that was first advanced against the construction of this tower. I say quite frankly, as a complete layman in technical matters, that I was pretty impressed by the arguments that were put to me and by the type of person who conveyed those arguments. Those people had spent many months working it all out. I can only say that there has been no real answer that I can see from the Minister to the charge that the tower is not needed technically, at any rate, and that it will probably be superseded in the very near future- and according to one representation made to me the points of transmission on the tower will be 12 feet higher than the existing towers. If that is the case, the Post Office is building a tourist tower. What is the Post Office doing building a tourist tower- using funds which we all know are very short in this community and are available at a very high rate of interest? What is the Post Office doing building a tourist tower and restaurant whilst there are 1 15,000 telephones still to be connected? Surely the Federal Minister has not taken a leaf out of the book of his colleague the Premier of South Australia who, in any particular economic crisis in our State- and they occur pretty frequently under his management- tends to go off and buy a restaurant in the name of the South Australian Government. For the edification of honourable senators I will be quite happy some day to list the number of restaurants in which the South Australian Government is now involved. Surely the Federal Minister is intelligent enough to see through those sorts of public stances that his colleague takes in that great public relations effort which is called the South Australian Government.
To return to the proposed increased postal charges, I recognise that they must proceed. I also recognise that they are only a symptom of the general economic climate in Australia and of the Government’s failure to grapple with the present economic situation. But I say now in lament, because the construction of the tower is proceeding, that it seems to me to be a completely wrong-headed view of priorities to build a tourist tower and restaurant on Black Mountain when there are more than 100,000 telephones still to be connected in Australia.
– in reply- I am rather pushed for time because of the number of Bills that we have to consider this afternoon, but I will do what I can in the time allotted to me to deal with all the matters that have been raised. I thank the Senate for its indication that there will be no opposition to the Bills. Perhaps I should first refer quickly to what Senator Hall has said. In a way I think he ought to know the circumstances. First, he charges me with agreeing to proceed with construction of the tower on Black Mountain. He has been in this place long enough to know that before I became the PostmasterGeneral the Government had tested the proposition to build the tower. In various ways the proposition was subjected to tests. Not just the previous Postmaster-General, but also the Cabinet and the Government decided to go ahead with the project. So it is no good Senator Hall belatedly saying that I personally am responsible for the decision to proceed with the construction of the tower. Since I have been the PostmasterGeneral I have seen all those groups who obviously have seen Senator Hall. But I will state the story which has been repeated by the Government.
A number of Ministers have been involved. The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson), the previous Postmaster-General and various other Ministers had tests conducted and heard arguments about the tower. It is doubtful whether any government building project has been so subjected to public argument as has the Black Mountain project. The project was tested at public hearings of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, at legal proceedings and by an examination of an environmental impact study. There has been full argument amongst all the interested Ministers. I have not mentioned some of them. In addition, of course, as we all know, the legal proceedings were made possible only by the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Murphy) granting his fiat. The Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court found no environmental objection to the proposal to build the tower on Black Mountain. Currently there is a case involving this matter before the High Court.
As regards the operations of the tower, the facts are that the technical information was tested in various ways by committees of the Government and by departments and at those other hearings to which I have referred. In the opinion of the people who looked at the question, technically such a tower was necessary. Senator Hall should know that unless there is some further legal obstruction, the construction of the tower will proceed.
The strange thing about this debate is that all honourable senators opposite who have taken part in it generally have argued that they did not do anything wrong in stopping the proposed increased postal charges on the previous occasion. Of course, the facts are that they frustrated the Bills which came before the Senate on the last occasion, and the Government has had very little option other than to increase the postal tariffs which previously were before the Parliament to the rates which the Senate is presently considering. All that has happened is that we have had another debate about postal charges. Previously honourable senators opposite deferred the proposed increased postal charges and now they accept them. Those honourable senators opposite, particularly Senator Jessop and Senator Townley, who have spoken in the debate have said that there ought to be economies in the Post Office. I remind them that in the last four of its years in office the previous Government increased postal charges. It increased them in 1967, in 1968, in 1970 and in 1971. Honourable senators opposite have complained about interest charges. They have canvassed the argument which has been put on payment for services. But they supported the Government that applied the principle that the Post Office should pay interest.
Nobody has mentioned what the Liberal governments in the States have done only in the last couple of days. Have a look at the Victorian State Budget under which liquor licence and tobacco licence fees have been increased; motor vehicle licence fees have been increased from $2 to $6; insurance charges are to go up; fares are to go up; and stamp duty is to go up. In New South Wales the same thing is occurring. What options are available to the Post Office? I admit that this has been argued from different sides in the past, but the options are very few. If we did as the Opposition suggests, we would have to subsidise the operations of the Post Office and the telecommunication services, or say that in future the services will not be as good as they have been or that they should be reduced.
Mention has been made of the necessity for economies in the Post Office. It seems to me that the Vernon report has been discounted. That report contains some of the most satisfactory recommendations that have ever been put to any government. It is a most valuable report. We will be discussing that report later when we come to the general formation of the new corporations. In the report the highest regard and commendation is paid to the work of the Australian Post Office. The recommendations and conclusions in that report state that the Post Office offers a comprehensive range of postal and telecommunication services. The report says that the services are adequate. It commends the telecommunication services. It commends the general policies of the Post Office, including its industrial policies. It does make some criticism of the mail services in New South Wales. But generally the report gives the administration a fairly clean sheet. I think it is unfair to suggest that economies can be achieved. Without being personal, let me say that Senator Jessop and Senator Townley are used to operating businesses. I think Senator Townley may still operate one. If anybody said to them ‘You should subsidise this with your own savings’, they would reject that point of view.
Senator Lawrie spoke about the disabilities which are faced by country people. He referred to the attitude that this Government is taking in respect of tariffs. This is not new. The previous Government which he supported also did this. We know that services are not as good in some country areas as they are in the city areas. This morning I answered a question on the cost of connecting subscribers to telephone exchanges. It costs the Post Office about $1,600 to make a connection in the city. In the settled country areas it costs nearly $4,000. In the outer rural areas it costs $9,000. If there is no increase in tariffs, then services have to be cut down. Senator Lawrie made a different point. He said that services should be increased. He said that there ought to be improvements and that new technologies ought to be introduced. But we cannot just do that. The estimates which we had well before the Vernon Commission started to make its examination showed that for every $ 1 spent in country areas the Post Office recovered only about 49c. Because the 2 different revenues are taken together, often the Post Office is able to come out with a small profit. In accepting the view which it has accepted and which was put by previous governments, the Government was influenced largely by the opinions of the Vernon Commission. I think that is the real substance of the whole issue.
I think that the comments of Senator Townley and Senator Jessop were largely political and should not be taken as ones which they, as members of a responsible body, would put forward if they were in government. It has been argued that the Vernon Commission proposed an increase of about 15 per cent in postal charges. At the time that Commission made that estimate it was not aware of the financial developments which have taken place in the community. In fact, on the last occasion on which we proposed to increase these charges we said that there was a gap amounting to $30m- which was correct- and at about that time we had to meet an increased wages bill and superannuation commitments. The Government, like every other organisation in business, is faced with these sorts of escalations. Each year the Post Office, as is the case with other instrumentalities which come before the Senate, has to re-examine its tariffs to see whether within the framework of its general operations it can or cannot avoid applying increases. I suggest to the Senate that having accepted the tariffs at the present time we have accepted that there must be increases. The Opposition is saying that we must examine this in the future. I think that with some luck, if not at the time of the next Budget then at the time of the one after that, we will have the 2 corporations set up. If those corporations operate along the lines recommended by the Vernon Commission they will apply the same sort of approach to this matter as the Government is applying at present.
I think that substantially those are the main arguments that ought to be put on this matter. In relation to some of the constructive comments that have been made, I undertake to have them examined to ascertain whether I can add anything. In view of the time which has been allotted for the passage of Bills today, I have been asked to make my contribution short. I conclude my remarks by thanking those honourable senators who took part in the debate. Some of my own colleagues did not take part in it simply because they wanted to save time in order to facilitate the business of the Senate today.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Consideration resumed from 24 September (vide page 130 1 ), on motion by Senator Bishop:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 25 September (vide page 1426), on motion by Senator Wriedt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I realise that there is a rush in relation to these wool Bills as we are trying to get so much business done before the Senate rises. At this stage we are discussing 7 wool industry Bills. Five of them are the Wool Tax Bills Nos 1 to 5, another is the Wool Industry Bill and the other is the Wool Marketing (Loan) Bill. To save time I shall deal firstly with the 5 Wool Tax Bills. These are aimed mainly at increasing the growers’ contribution in order to accommodate the 5 per cent levy which will be imposed for the wool industry to finance its marketing arrangements. Mr
Deputy President, could I suggest that all Bills be taken together in a cognate debate?
– The Government agrees to that course being followed.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, that course will be followed.
-As far as the Wool Tax Bills are concerned, we do not have any amendments. We appreciate that it is necessary to bring these Bills down so that the money is collected. We also note that there is still the provision of a tax of 2.75 per cent for research and promotion. In passing I point out that the 2.75 per cent, when the wool market is buoyant, could return a great deal more money than is returned under the situation which we have today. We note the explanation given in the other place that this tax should return a greater amount than is required. Therefore any surplus monies will be vested in the Wool Research Fund to overcome shortfalls at some other time. As far as the 5 per cent tax is concerned, this money will go to the Australian Wool Corporation for the express purpose of financing a reserve price scheme. What we are concerned about in relation to these tax Bills is that the money may be relegated to a special fund. Although we do not have any amendments in relation to these Bills it may be necessary to amend them if our amendment to the Wool Industry Bill is carried. The reason for this should be obvious to most people. After all, in relation to research and promotion a certain amount of money comes in each year and a certain amount is expended each year. Therefore, generally speaking, the fund will balance out. For the 5 per cent levy for the Wool Corporation to carry out its marketing proposals it is a different situation altogether. Under the 250c per kilo for 21 micron clean wool it is expected on present production to bring into the Corporation something like $50m a year.
At times like the present the Wool Corporation has to buy fairly heavily. Large sums of money may be required but it has happened in the past, that the Wool Corporation has not had to operate in the marketplace. In fact, it has been able to sell wool which it brought at a fairly low price and to make a profit on it. So that in 5 years time there could be $250m in the pool. Probably that would be sufficient to operate our floor price scheme. But what does the Government do? Does it levy growers in depressed times, like the present, to make up the fund? When there is sufficient money in the fund it says: ‘Okay, we do not need to levy them any more. ‘
Growers who are receiving good prices are not levied. This means that we may have to have a revolving fund so that those growers who contribute in the early years can have money refunded. Those who contribute at present will carry on contributing. Thus it is fair to the whole industry. That is the reason why we have asked that there be a separate fund. It will have to be properly balanced. We will have to know exactly what contributions are paid. If we get the money mixed up and it goes into Consolidated Revenue all the details will be lost. That is all I have to say as far as the Wool Tax Bills are concerned. We support them. We know that the industry supports the 5 per cent levy. We certainly know that it supports the levy for promotion and research. What we want to ensure, of course, is that the various levies are used for the purpose for which they were levied and that they do not find thenway into some other avenue of Government expenditure.
I turn to the Wool Marketing (Loan) Bill. The purpose of this Bill is to decide whether the Government will lend $150m to the Australian Wool Corporation so that it can operate its reserve price plan. This is in addition to the amount of $13m which was mentioned in the Budget speech. We are disturbed that the money is being provided by the Government and not through the traditional avenues of finance which are the trading banks or, if we are unable to gain money through the trading banks, through the rural credits of the Reserve Bank. These are much better avenues by which to maintain the independence of the Wool Corporation than if the money were directed straight from the Government. If the Government is to have a say in the policy of the Corporation and if it is to control the purse strings we feel that the industry could find itself in a position where it no longer has any say. While I do not say that that will be the case the doubt exists all the time that that could take place, particularly in the minds of growers and people in the Opposition. We are disturbed with the situation.
We have heard 2 different stories as far as the financing of the Corporation is concerned. We have heard that the banks are unable to supply the money. We have also heard that if the Government were prepared to release funds from the Reserve Bank the trading banks would be able to finance this operation, if not to the extent of $150m then certainly for the amount which we expect is necessary for the next few months. It is expected that the wool market will lift towards the end of the year and that the Corporation will have to buy in as heavily as it is doing at the moment only for the next few wool sales. As the Japanese run out of their stocks of raw wool they will come into the market. If they come into the market to the usual extent the Wool Corporation will not be required to buy to any great extent. The Opposition has a proposed amendment to the Wool Marketing (Loan) Bill 1 974 which states that the Senate:
I presume that that means from the Australian Government- and revert to normal commercial sources for rural borrowings for such borrowings as it may need for its marketing operations.
I believe that this is what the industry wants, as I said earlier, to maintain its independence. We regret that the economic climate that has been created by this Government through inflation and the shortage of funds in the banking sector with its credit squeeze has made this Government measure necessary. The Government has had to provide loan funds for the Corporation. In the past the Australian Wheat Board and other primary industry corporations have been able to borrow through the normal market place with some degree of independence. The second part of the proposed amendment is quite clear. It indicates that when the economic climate becomes clear and more satisfactory and when private banks or other institutions that can lend funds to the Wool Corporation are able to do so, the Government will opt out of this particular loan fund.
The Wool Industry Bill 1974 has been before the House previously. It is the main Bill concerning the levy on growers. The Opposition has certain amendments to this Bill which I will move in the Committee stage of the debate. The Opposition wants to have, as I have said earlier, a separate fund for the 5 per cent levy. I have already given reasons for our attitude. I should like now to say something generally about the wool industry. A lot of people have had the idea that the Government is backing the wool industry and that everyone in the industry will now receive 250c a kilo for their wool. Unfortunately, those who are not aware to how wool is marketed or who are not aware of the different qualities of wool will believe that the wool industry is having a bonanza. If one relates that 250c a kilo for 21 micron wool to cents a lb for an average clip, say for a merino grower in western Queensland, it comes back to about 56c a lb- that is, for a reasonably good clip. If one takes 56c a lb on today’s cost structure and relates that figure to 36c a lb which the growers were getting when we were in Government- at that stage we maintained it was just a bare living for the wool growers during that wool depression- one will find that the growers who are being paid 56c a lb may be worse off than those who were being paid 36c a lb. The costs in the wool industry, particularly in the remoter areas where a great deal of merino wool is grown, have increased. Transport costs have increased and the petroleum subsidy has been taken away. All these things have added up and have increased the costs of growers in remote areas.
So by maintaining a 250c a kilo floor for 21 micron wool we certainly are not giving the industry a bonanza. We are giving the industry just sufficient income on which to operate. I know that certain people in the industry regard 250c a kilo as too low. A lot of people in the industry say that they cannot make a profit and they want 300c a kilo. I think we have to be realistic about this matter. I quite agree with the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) that whilst 300c a kilo would have been certainly nice, it was not realistic in view of the price conditions obtaining throughout the world. I think we would have been in a situation where we would have had very few buyers. The Australian Wool Corporation would have been buying all the wool.
We only hope that when the time comeswhen the Japanese come into the market and when economic conditions overseas improvethe wool manufacturing side of the industry will become a little more economic. We hope we will see a rise in wool prices. Then, of course, the variable reserve price will operate and perhaps we will be able to reach that 300c to which I referred earlier. I propose to move some amendments during the Committee stage. I also have an amendment to the second reading of the Wool Marketing (Loan) Bill 1974 which I will move now. I move:
– As Senator Maunsell has already indicated, there are 2 major Bills being discussed jointly in this debate. The Wool Marketing (Loan) Bill 1974 provides for a 5 per cent levy to establish a growers’ capital fund to support wool prices in the future in the market place and to provide for promotion and research. The second important Bill is the Wool Industry Bill 1974. It is the most important Bill in my view without any doubt and authorises the Government to appropriate anything up to $ 150 m for the purpose of supporting the stated reserve price of 250c a kilo clean for 21 micron wool for the remainder of this year. I emphasise, and I note with approval, that for the first time ever an Australian Government has had the courage and the gumption to serve notice to the rest of the world- to the entire wool trade- that wool will no longer be sacrified in a period of temporary market depression. I cannot stress too strongly the simple fact that throughout 23 years of Liberal-Country Party government, in spite of the fact that they were under continual pressure from a wide crosssection of the wool industry and an overwhelming number of growers to make such a move, the Country Party consistently declined to do so. I shall state some facts which are pertinent to the meaning of a 250c 21 micron clean floor price. I am pleased to note that Senator Maunsell has interpreted, I would think correctly, the meaning of that floor price in terms of an average greasy price for a clip in western Queensland. Such an interpretation, unfortunately has not been made by every person who has commented on this floor price. I refer in particular to a couple of statements made by the Premier and Deputy Premier of Western Australia, statements made by a number of people who claim to represent wool growers throughout Australia and a rather appallingly inaccurate editorial which was published in the ‘Australian’ shortly after the Government announced that it would support the market in this way. According to which version one likes to take- they vary greatly- the 250c floor price translated into terms of an average greasy price was anything between 40c and 45c a lb, which is nonsensical. In the case of the ‘Australian’ editorial it juxtaposed figures which referred to greasy prices and clean prices without bothering to differentiate between the two. It declined subsequently to publish a correction. However, I am pleased to report that Senator Maunsell has stated what seems to me to be the significance of that floor price for his area of Queensland.
In terms of an Australian average price the 250c, 2 1 micron clean, according to information supplied to me last month by the Australian Wool Corporation, equals 133c per kilo average greasy price or 60c per lb average greasy price. Probably most wool growers still tend to think in terms of pounds. The allegation that an average greasy price of 60c per lb is equivalent to the 36c deficiency payment price guaranteed some 3 years ago by the previous Government cannot be accepted without very grave reservations. Since December 1970 the consumer price index has moved up 43 per cent. Almost certainly in that period the consumer price index has over-stated the true average increase in prices because it is comprised of a weighted average of a particular and limited index. For that reason it is not a realistic guide. Moreover, if we use simple indexes of prices paid and prices received for agricultural commodities or any other commodity over a significant period, it becomes quite unreliable. For example, an exercise related to an index of prices paid, and prices received by farmers, based on 1951 figures and projected forward to the mid-1960s would prove that virtually every farm in Australia had become non-viable. Even if one accepts this exaggerated estimate of a 43 per cent movement in the consumer price index, it does not equate the price of 36c per lb in 1971 with 60c in 1974.
I wish to say a few words on the philosophy and assumptions, as I see them, which underlie the major Bill. I think that I have interpreted the position in the same way as the Government has. It is impossible to predict accurately the present market price for wool because the price is being supported by a non-commercial buyer, namely, the Government. But a reasonable estimate of the present market price in a free market is something below 200c clean per kilo compared with the 250c support price. The assumption is that that price level is unrealistically low and is the result of a temporary downturn in demand, principally because of Japan’s withdrawal from the market. In the medium term that price will rise to a higher level. Assuming that it is a temporary decline in prices, the Governmemt- I stress again, for the first time- has moved in and served notice to the trade throughout the world that wool will no longer be sacrificed in periods of temporarily depressed demand at give-away prices, as it was when the Country Party governed Australia.
– Are you saying that your Government will give a continued guarantee of support?
- Senator Webster should hear me out. I cannot guarantee what the Government will do.
– That is right, but you have just attempted to do that.
– Did your Government ever give a guarantee at any stage or did it ever support the market?
– You were saying that you would do it, that is all.
-We have said that we will do it for 12 months, and that is more than any Country Party government ever did. If Senator Webster cares to listen for another few minutes I will explain to him not only the assumption on which, as I see it, the Government based its policy, but also the philosophy which underlies it. I regret that from what I have heard of Senator Webster’s comments in the Senate he probably will not understand it. To understand the philosophy requires a minimal comprehension of economic reality and analysis which, from the comments that I have heard Senator Webster make so far in the Senate, I estimate he does not possess. The philosophy is that it is not the function of governments to provide incentives to produce in normal circumstances. In a market economy incentives should come from market prices. Nor is it my belief or, in my opinion, the belief of the Government that governments should intervene indefinitely in a futile attempt to protect from the realities of the market place industries which are losing or have lost their comparative advantages.
For the edification of Senator Webster I mention that the Country Party Government of which he was a member attempted to do something very much like this for the dairy industry for a period of 20 years, during which time about $750m, which would have bought half the dairy farms in Australia, was poured into the dairy industry to produce butter for many years at a marginal on-farm price of about 7c per lb. In the middle of that 20-year exercise in futility an expert committee of inquiry made certain recommendations. The economists whom Senator Webster detests comprised most of the members of that committee. I do not know why he detests economists so much. Presumably it is because they generally deal in factual statistics rather than metaphysical claptrap. The committee of inquiry into the dairy industry pointed out the irrationalities of the present policy. That was as far back as 1960. At the end of the 1960s, after this futile policy was continued for 10 years, even
Senator Webster’s Government began to recognise that it was counter-productive in the long term to attempt to insulate from market realities industries which are losing or have lost their comparative advantage. Moreover, it does not eliminate poverty in an industry. No substantial agricultural industry in Australia has ever had as many low income farmers as the dairy industry had during the period when the policies of Senator Webster’s Party were implemented.
– By your theory, you are opposed to tariffs.
- Senator Young wishes to discuss tariffs.
– I do not. I asked you for your theory.
– I am astounded that anyone who claims to represent the interests of exporting industries- anyone on the other sidehas the audacity to raise in this Parliament the question of tariffs. If they want to talk about tariffs, their argument is as vulnerable as is their argument on the question of supporting the wool market because for 25 years what did they do about tariffs except to increase them progressively under the influence and domination of the then Minister for Trade and the Leader of the Country Party. I may repeat all the scurrilous allegations that I have heard from the Liberal Party, but not necessarily endorse them, that if one wants to know the most highly protected manufacturing industries in Australia one should look at the subscription list to McEwen House and one will find that the names are the same.
– You should look at the subscription list of the Labor Party.
- Senator Webster has indicated that he is anxious to have political parties disclose the sources of their funds. I understand that in the not too distant future the Government intends introducing into the Senate legislation which will oblige political parties to do just that. I eagerly anticipate Senator Webster’s full support for that legislation when it comes before the Senate.
– Not only will I support it, but I will be making inquiries to find out how the Hansen Rubensohn-McCann Erickson account was paid by others for the Labor Party.
– I am sorry, Mr President. I should not have permitted the asinine comments that have floated across from the other side of the chamber to distract me from the central purpose of this debate.
– Who is finding the $lm for the Labor Party building in Canberra? Do not get upset. Just tell us that. We opened a letter containing a cheque from one of the big multinationals -
– Order! I think Senator Walsh would prefer to make his speech unaided.
– As I stated, I eagerly anticipate Senator Webster’s support for that legislation when it is introduced in the Senate. Will he guarantee to give it?
– It depends on what the legislation is.
– Will he guarantee to give support for legislation which will oblige political parties to disclose the sources of their funds?
– Provided it is from every source, you will get my support.
- Senator Webster is on record as stating that he will support the legislation when it comes before the Senate. He may rue the day that he had that remark recorded in Hansard.
– Order! The Senate is debating the Wool Marketing (Loan) Bill and I would like the honourable senator to return to that subject.
– I apologise, Mr President. I said that, as I see it, it is not the economic belief of this Government that it is either prudent or justifiable in any way to intervene in the market place to protect an industry which is losing its comparative advantage. In the long term it becomes counter-productive. Nor is it intended that there will be a subsidy component in this legislation, which is to appropriate $150m. It may well be that the Government will be called upon to contribute a substantial amount to make good the ultimate losses, if there are any. The Government certainly believes and hopes- I do not doubt that even our opponents share this hopethat this will not be the case and that, in fact, in the long term market prices for wool will rise and the Government will not have to contribute.
The Government has made a balanced assessment of the position and has taken what it considers to be a justifiable risk in the light of all factors concerned. It is not intended that there should be a subsidy distributed to wool growers on an across the board basis. Nor, in my view, would such a move be justified if it were intended. It cannot be justified on the ground that some wool growers may have low incomes for the same reason as any agricultural subsidy based upon the level of output cannot be justified; namely, that the overwhelming majority of the money finally goes to the wool growers with higher incomes who have no need for it
This Bill, apart from making history in the field of the Government serving notice on the rest of the world that wool will not be sacrified at give-away prices, stands out in stark contrast to the actions of previous governments in the area of wool marketing.
-Senator Webster’s intellectual contribution to the debate is ‘Rubbish’. In November 1970 the then LiberalCountry Party Government established the Australian Wool Commission to operate what it and the Leader of the Country Party, Mr Anthony, called a flexible reserve price scheme to fill potholes in the market. There were some interesting facts associated with the establishment of this Commission, or its very early history, which have never been adequately explained. It began its operations in the week before the Senate election of 1970 and during that week, according to market reports, wool prices increased by 10 per cent. The Commission bought 10 per cent of the offering. It is quite feasible that prices increased because the Commission bought that 10 per cent. It cannot be proved, but it is quite feasible.
We then had the election. In the next week the Commission bought a negligible quantity of wool and prices fell by 10 per cent. Why this happened has never been explained. As I see it, the only interpretation that is compatible with the facts is that in the second week- that is after the election- the Commission dropped its reserves. Why it should have done this, in view of the fact that its operations the previous week had succeeded in lifting the price of wool by 10 per cent, once again has not been explained. But once again a likely interpretation seems to be that the Commission was trying to oblige the Liberal- Country Party Government in the week before the Senate election by enabling it to claim that the establishment of the Commission was a remarkable success because in the first week of its operations it had forced prices up by 10 per cent. After the election, when there was no necessity to do that, prices were allowed to fall to the previous level.
In May 1971, in one week the average Australian greasy price fell to 23c per lb, and still the Liberal-Country Party Government refused to set a floor price in the market. Moreover, in that same week, the then Prime Minister, Mr McMahon, stated that his Government would have to ‘review’ the Commission’s finance in the next year, thereby serving notice upon the trade and the rest of the world that the Government was considering withdrawing the very limited finance that it was providing at that time for the Commission so that wool would be sold on a completely unprotected market. Later in the same year, of course, the Government introduced its deficiency payments scheme under which it still allowed wool to be sold on the market at near give-away prices but guaranteed to make up whatever the difference may have been between the true market price and the grower’s return up to a level of 36c per lb. In other words, if wool was sold at 25c per lb the grower received 25c from the market and 1 lc from the Government, making a total of 36c; if it was sold on the market for 30c, the Government contributed 6c and made the price up to 36c.
The great weakness of that scheme, apart from its ultimate cost of $52m to the taxpayer, was that it did nothing to inhibit wool being sacrificed on the open market, or virtually open market, at near give-away prices to overseas interests. In fact, it could logically be argued that that scheme expedited the transfer of wool to overseas buyers at low prices because the grower was guaranteed a price of 36c. At that time the grower might have thought that that was the best price offering, and the wool was sold. If the grower really had been selling his wool on the open market and had to accept a price of 25c he may have decided to carry his own insurance and his own risks. So in that way that scheme expedited the sacrifice of wool at near give-away prices.
In conclusion, once again I commend the Government for having the courage and the gumption to take a decision which no Australian government has taken before. I also commend the representatives of the wool industry who have implicitly, if not explicitly, recognised, in their agreement to contribute the 5 per cent levy to establish a capital fund, that the primary responsibility for stabilising wool prices quite properly belongs with the wool industry itself and that it is not the responsibility of government. Under very unusual circumstances, or in the short term, in my view there is justification for government intervention. I am extremely pleased to see that the Government that I proudly support has seen this issue in exactly the same light and has decided that the circumstances which prevail in the wool market today justify the sort of government intervention that it has taken. I commend the Bills.
– I will speak only briefly in this debate. I support the Bills, but I really speak to the amendment which seeks to add words to the motion for the second reading. I ask the mover not to proceed with that amendment. I will give my reason. It does not in any way intend to alter the Bill. It is a Bill which, I suppose, has the undivided support of the House and yet the amendment introduces divisive comments as to its passage. I do not disagree with the essential political message contained in the amendment but if we were to pursue this principle of adding to every desirable Bill some divisive political matter on another subject we would create division over a great section of the legislation that proceeds through the Senate and which is generally approved by the total Senate. On that principle I cannot support the amendment, not that I disagree with its intentions or its expressions in other spheres and realms when looking at government performances. But I do not believe that it belongs attached to the motion for the second reading of this Bill.
– We have 3 Bills before us but I will deal only with the Wool Marketing (Loan) Bill as that is the one in respect of which an amendment has been moved to the motion that it be read a second time. I will leave my comments on the amendments proposed to be moved in the Committee stage on one of the other Bills until we come to that Committee stage. Senator Maunsell made several points, two or three of which I would like to comment on. He made reference to the fact that the normal commercial sources of finance should have been used for this purpose and not an appropriation. This matter was contained in the amendment. As Senator Hall pointed out, that is not really germane to the Bill. It is a general statement and one which can be fairly debated but not in the context of this legislation. However, for the record I think it should be said that the trading banks indicated that they would have been prepared to meet the Australian Wool Corporation’s requirements providing they had been able to get assistance from the Reserve Bank of Australia. The Government, and that means specifically the Treasurer (Mr Crean), had to make an overall judgment, and the Treasurer acted accordingly. He believed that it was necessary to appropriate the money.
The important point about this is that the Government was prepared to take this step by means of an appropriation. Senator Walsh emphasised the fact that this Government has done this for the first time in the history of the industry. Far from being a point for criticism of the Government, especially by the Australian Country Party, I would have thought that this was a step which the Country Party would have praised. On the question of the commitment beyond the 1974-75 season the Government is clearly committed to the maintenance of the floor price during 1974-75. Currently before the Government is the full marketing report of the Australian Wool Corporation. Of course, the Government could not be expected nor would it have been wise for it to make a commitment in respect of this floor price plan until such time as that marketing plan had been fully studied by the Government. Many other matters were raised, especially during the time that Senator Walsh spoke. I want to congratulate him on the informed manner in which he always speaks on matters of agriculture. Notwithstanding the interjections from Senator Webster, it is quite obvious that Senator Walsh does his homework very thoroughly on all these matters. I suggest, in view of the time factor, that we put this Bill to the vote on the second reading and proceed to the Committee stage.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
WOOL TAX BILLS (Nos 1 to 5) 1974 Second Reading
Consideration resumed from 25 September (vide page 1426), on motion by Senator Wriedt:
That the Bills be now read a second time. Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills now read a second time, and passed through their remaining stages without requests or debate.
Consideration resumed from 25 September (vide page 1427), on motion by Senator Wriedt:
That the Bill be now read a second time. Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I have an amendment which has been circulated. I move:
As I said earlier, this levy has been struck for a particular purpose. It amounts to 5 per cent of the wool grower’s proceeds. In many cases at the present level it could amount to all their profit. I believe that when money is collected for a particular purpose there should be an accounting for all expenditure to see where that money has been used. It should not go into Consolidated Revenue. The Opposition is asking that a trust account be set up so that the operations of that account can be laid before the Parliament for its scrutiny and for the scrutiny of those people who have provided those funds.
I notice that in the other House when the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) was replying he said that the Government intended to bring down further legislation which should cover this matter. He did not explain what it would be. The Opposition is adamant that there should be a separate trust account for these moneys. A considerable amount of money is involved- $50m a year- which could build up if the Australian Wool Corporation showed a profit on its operations from time to time. We could have a situation where the whole of that money levied would go into the Fund. Surely if the industry is to make up any loses that occur, when it has a surplus it should be able to invest that money and attract interest. The main purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the moneys collected in this way are used for the purposes for which they were levied and so that the industry and all members of Parliament will be able to scrutinise the operations of that fund closely.
– The Government will oppose this amendment. The Committee should be reminded that this legislation came into the Senate some months ago and was concerned primarily with extra levy on the industry for research and promotion of wool. The matter was explained then. The essence of the amendment does not concern that particular levy because, as I think we realise, there is no opposition to it from the Opposition. But this amendment centres on the 5 per cent levy, which has been agreed to by the Australian Wool Industry Conference and the Government after the Government decided to support the 250c wool price.
It seems from reading the amendment that the Oppostion’s concern is with the identification of those moneys. Senator Maunsell made some reference to the fact that he would not want to see any portion of those moneys paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund or for some other purpose. Let me say that there is not the slightest intention on the part of the Government to see those moneys used for any purpose other than for the wool industry. The same thing applied when we dealt with the meat inspection levy and the brucellosis and tuberculosis levy earlier this year. Senator Maunsell mentioned that in the other place no explanation was given of what was meant by further amendments. When the agreement was reached with the industry on the 5 per cent levy it became necessary for legislation to be enacted. The most practical way of doing this was through this legislation. The other amendments referred to involve supply management powers and also full trading powers which will be given to the Australian Wool Corporation. These amendments will need to come forward when their technicalities are finalised. They will make provision for a separate account in the Corporation’s accounting system for this 5 per cent levy.
So basically what we are looking at with the amendment are 2 propositions: Should the money be paid into a special market account of the Corporation or, alternatively, into a government trust account, as is proposed by the Opposition? I think it is fair to say that in either case the moneys would be clearly identified. There is no argument about that. But the adoption of the amendment means that the trust account would become subject to certain restrictions which would apply under the Audit Act, particularly in respect of investment. Moneys payable to the Corporation would need to be paid after concurrence of the Treasurer, whereas under the proposal of the Government the account would be at the discretion of the Corporation and would appear in the Corporation’s accounts, still subject of course to audit but not to those restrictions which will apply if it is turned into a trust account.
I strongly suggest that the Senate would be well advised to reject the amendment. If it could be established that there were some reason to suggest that the Government had an ulterior motive and that it did not intend to see all these moneys used in the industry there might be some validity in the amendment, but I am making it clear to the Senate now that there is no such intention. The Government wants to see that all the moneys which are levied by the industry eventually are used for the industry’s benefit. The 3 main purposes for which the 5 per cent levy is imposed- by agreement, of course, with the industry- are: Firstly, to repay the Government in the event of losses under the floor price scheme; secondly, to make advances to growers as a result of the introduction of the supply management scheme: and, thirdly if other moneys are remaining- we hope that they will be- to build up a reserve fund for the wool industry.
As I mentioned a few moments ago, we must bear in mind the wool marketing plan which is currently before the Government. I want to make it quite clear that the Government has as much desire as the Opposition to ensure that the proceeds of this levy are safeguarded for the benefit of the industry. The Government believes that the method it proposes will be a simpler method and it will certainly give the Corporation more discretion. Why should the Corporation not have that discretion? I do not think that, in the normal process of the business operations of the Corporation, the Government should interfere or that the Corporation should have to seek the concurrence of the Treasurer every time it wants to utilise the moneys in the account. That is what will happen if the amendment is carried. That is really what we are talking about. I strongly suggest that, in the interest of the industry, the amendment be rejected. Once again I give the assurance that the Government would in no circumstances deviate from the principle of applying any moneys collected under the levy for any other purpose than the benefit of the industry itself.
– I am a little puzzled as to why the amendment is being moved, in the light of Senator Maunsell ‘s earlier statement and his insistence, when speaking during the second reading stage of the cognate debate, that the Australian Wool Corporation should have the utmost independence. It seems to me that if it is to have the utmost independence we are putting a discipline in its way. I must freely admit that I am not familiar with the Federal Audit Act and with just what the trust account provision means, but I remind Senator Maunsell that State trust funds are completely at the mercy of a State government. I went through a period in Opposition when the State Government used a very considerable percentage of the State’s trust funds to bolster its deficit. That action created a great deal of uncertainty among those many dozens of organisations that had their funds lodged in trust with the State Government. Really, I do not know anything about the Federal Act and how it operates in comparison with that State Act. I assume that the same thing can happen here. I remind Senator Maunsell that, at least on a State basis, trust funds are not exactly what they seem to be if the State concerned uses them to bolster its own failing finances.
But I take the major point made by the Minister in relation to the independence of the Australian Wool Corporation. The Minister has given what I take to be a water tight assurance that the funds will continue to be identified. They will be placed in the particular account concerned in the name of and under the control of the Wool Corporation. That being the case, I really cannot see that it is an additional safeguard to the Audit Act and the discipline that it might place on the Wool Corporation, that it is a better balance for the Wool Corporation to have that discipline instead of the flexibility that it would have if the funds were entirely within its control. I must say that I regard the Minister’s assurances as being of some importance in this matter. I take them seriously. I believe that he has made them in all good faith. I would think that in supporting the amendment we are not really helping the Corporation. I would still like to listen to further argument, if there is any. But I am not convinced on the merits of the case that the amendment should be supported.
– I ask the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) in which part of the Bill there is the guarantee that all monies collected from the wool growers will go to the Australian Wool Corporation? If at some time in the future funds build up and a revolving fund is required, will the records be kept, particularly amongst the wool brokers and others who sell the wool, of the amounts that have been collected from individual growers? If there is to be a revolving fund that is to operate at some stage in the future, surely records will have to be kept of the payments made by individual growers. I do not think that it would be fair, if we reach a stage at which sufficient funds have been built up to operate a marketing system, for the levy to be cut off, particularly if it is in a time of high prices. It means that those people who paid the levy in times of low wool prices, when they could ill afford to do so, would have set up a scheme which is to benefit those people receiving the higher wool prices at a later stage. I ask the Minister to answer those questions.
– I will reply as briefly as possible to the last point that Senator Maunsell has raised. An industry levy is to be imposed as the result of an offer made by the industry. The levy was not the result of an approach made by the Government. I want to make it clear that there is no suggestion of the industry having this levy imposed on it involuntarily. Senator Maunsell also asks where this matter is dealt with in the legislation. I thought that I made myself clear when I indicated that the manner in which this legislation comes forward is such that there will be further amendments required to it in regard to supply management, trading powers of the Corporation and the establishment of a separate account. At this stage I can only give the honourable senator an assurance that this is what the Government is doing. It is because of the need to have legislation passed to impose the 5 per cent levy that this is being done in conjunction with the legislation for the 2.75 per cent research and promotion levy. I cannot explain the matter in any more detail than that.
The only other point that the honourable senator raised was in relation to individual grower accounts. I do not profess to be able to answer that because that is a matter of accounting procedure which the Australian Wool Corporation will exercise in its judgment. I have no doubt that it will exercise that judgment responsibly.
That the amendment (Senator Maunsell’s) be agreed to.
The Committee divided.
Question so resolved in the negative. Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Wriedt) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 25 September (vide page 1399), on motion by Senator Wriedt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– in reply- Yesterday the Senate was considering the Wheat Industry Stabilisation Bill. One or two points were made on which I would like to dwell and, because of the time factor, I will be as brief as I can. In recent weeks there has been considerable discussion about the delay in the second payment of 20c a bushel to wheat growers. The comment was made that had this legislation been enacted earlier the payment could have been made earlier. I assure the Senate that that is not the case. It would have had no effect on the payment of 20c a bushel. I understand that this is the first occasion on which the second payment has been made before November in any year. So this legislation, which gives the Australian Wheat Board the option of borrowing commercially, will enable second payments to be made to growers earlier than has been the case in the past.
The main substance of the legislation concerns the new wheat stabilisation scheme. As any stabilisation scheme ought to do, this scheme will not make payments available to the industry when those payments are not warranted. But it will assist the industry when it is in difficulty. I think Senator Young said it is possible that there could be great wheat surpluses in the years ahead. The wheat industry is historically a volatile industry, in regard to both production and volume and also in regard to prices, and it is for this reason that under the new stabilisation scheme the Government is establishing the principle of picking up the total debit that may be standing in the account at the end of the scheme. Under this scheme that could be up to $80m. I think it is only fair that the Government ought to be prepared to write off any debt that would be standing in the account at the end of the scheme. I believe that this is an important new principle which is being written into wheat stabilisation. I thank the Opposition and the Senate generally for supporting this legislation. I am sure that all of us accept the fact that it will do a great deal to help stabilise the wheat industry.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– Yesterday Senator Scott, in speaking to this Bill, made a point about the owner-operator allowance. As the Minister knows, the wheat grower today is a man of many parts. He can work at quite a number of trades, as well as having managerial experience and being a bit of a scientist. The Government has decided that the owner-operator allowance should be based on what is paid to a leading hand under the Pastoral Award of 1968, which I understand is $3181 per annum. That has been written into this agreement as an item of cost. I should like from the Minister an assurance that he will consider this matter in the future as a cost item in the indexing for the other 4 years that lie ahead. I know that the Minister has spoken about this matter to organisations outside this Parliament but I believe, as Senator Scott said yesterday, that the Minister should consider giving us such assurance in the Senate.
– I had intended to mention the owner-operator allowance. In fact, this allowance was taken out of the indexation in 1968. It is not in the scheme at all now. The proposal to reintroduce the owner-operator allowance and to index it forward to present day values has been put to the Government. The Government considered the matter and felt that it would tend to add an inflationary aspect to the scheme. For that reason the proposal has been rejected. Nevertheless, I have indicated to the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation that I will place the matter before the Government again next year when there is a re-negotiation of the domestic wheat price. It will be a matter for the Government to make a decision then.
– Firstly I refer the Minister to his second reading speech in which he said:
The Government has agreed that any outstanding government contributions not recouped by the end of the fifth season will be written off.
But then there is no provision in the Bill. I ask the Minister why this has not been included in the Bill. Secondly I refer to clause 18 (2) of the Bill. Where the Government has played a part in the marketing of some wheat under long term arrangements which may be extended for an extra period, or where there may be default of payment, is the Government prepared under such circumstances to give financial assistance to the wheat industry? Thirdly, I cannot see anywhere in the Bill reference to wheat that may be given in aid to countries at a discounted price or as a grant. What would be the position of the wheat industry under those circumstances? Can the Minister give me answers to those questions?
– As regards the third matter raised by Senator Young, the Government last year made a decision that in respect of long term agreements entered into at the request of the Government in excess of 12 months, all additional expenses or costs involved would be borne by the Government. Of course, this came about through the long term agreements which had been entered into in the past and which required the industry to carry the costs for periods of up to 3 years. From memory I think there have been three or four cases where credit has been extended beyond 12 months and the Government has accepted the costs involved.
In regard to the second matter which Senator Young raised about giving wheat as direct aid, the normal practice is for the Government to purchase wheat from the Australian Wheat Board at the f.o.b. price. I think that in one or two cases the Government has also paid the freight costs. But it is not normal practice for the Government to make a commitment beyond the f.o.b. price. The Government purchases wheat at the normal price which the Wheat Board sees fit to charge at the time.
In regard to the first matter raised by Senator Young, I refer him to my second reading speech. I think the matter to which he referred is explained in part (iii) of the item headed ‘Operation of the Stabilisation Fund ‘. It reads:
The Government has agreed that any outstanding government contributions not recouped by the end of the fifth season will be written off.
Was that the matter to which the honourable senator was referring?
– Yes, but it is not in the Bill itself.
-I understand that it is to be written into a later amendment. I am not quite sure about this. There certainly was an agreement with the industry that this would be the case but apparently there is some problem about putting it into the legislation. It has been the traditional view of the Parliamentary Counsel that it should not go into the legislation. It is a policy decision to be implemented in the future if in fact the contingency arises. But I certainly make it quite clear to Senator Young, in explaining the reason- I hope it is clear to him- that the Government is committed to that contingency fund of up to $80m. There is no argument about that.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Wriedt) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 24 September (vide page 1 3 1 3 ), on motion by Senator Wriedt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
Consideration resumed from 24 September (vide page 1314), on motion by Senator Wriedt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Order! It being 5 p.m., in accordance with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative. Senate adjourned at 5 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labor and Immigration, upon notice:
– The Minister for Labor and Immigration has supplied the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice:
Who were the persons who accompanied the Prime Minister on his recent visit to South East Asia, other than air crew, and the purposes for which they were carried.
– The Prime Minister has provided the following information for answer to the honourable senator’s question:
See my answer on 24 September 1974 (House of Representatives Hansard at page 1755).
– On 19 September Senator Baume addressed the following question without notice to the Minister for Foreign Affairs:
Has there been a change in the rights of Australian citizens of Baltic origin in regard either to the carrying of their national flags in Australia or showing Estonia, Lithuania or Latvia as their country of birth when applying for Australian passports or visas to visit other countries.
The answer to both questions is no.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 26 September 1974, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1974/19740926_senate_29_s61/>.