30th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I present the following petition from 6 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that many Australians are concerned at the announced decision by the Australian Government to reduce the 1975-76 Overseas Development Assistance vote by $21 million, and by the abolition of the Australian Development Assistance Agency.
We your petitioners do therefore humbly pray that the Australian Government:
as a matter of urgency, reverse the decision to cut the 1975-76 Overseas Development Assistance vote, so as to ensure that the full amount appropriated by Parliament for Overseas Development Assistance is spent this financial year to meet the pressing needs of those in the developing countries;
reaffirm Australia’s commitment of Overseas Development Assistance being a minimum of 0.7% of GNP, and
establish a fully independent statutory authority to administer Australia’s official Overseas Development Assistance.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– The following petition has been lodged for presentation:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned members of the Public of Western Australia respectfully showeth that:
There is a growing interest and concern in all sections of Australian society for the conservation of the environment, natural and man-made.
That there are also rapidly growing pressures by powerful forces tending towards the destruction of the Australian heritage.
That it is therefore urgent to appoint the Australian Heritage Commission, which was approved by both sides of this Parliament and to give the Commission sufficient independent staff, resources and funds.
That Technical Assistance Grants and Administrative Support Grants to community organizations are needed to partially redress the gross imbalance in technical expertise and resources suffered by community groups in pressing the community’s case against the exploiter.
That a proper balance between the Government’s program of public austerity and the need for action in conservation would be a modest increase in the budget allocations in these areas over that of 1975-76.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Drake-Brockman.
– I give notice that 3 sitting days after today I shall move:
That the Lands Acquisition Ordinance 1975 as contained in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Ordinance No. 5 of 1975 and made under the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955-75 be disallowed.
-I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act relating to the provision of land in the Northern Territory for Aboriginals.
I give notice also that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to provide for the constitution of Aboriginal councils and the incorporation of associations of Aboriginals and for matters connected therewith.
– I ask the Leader of the Government: Will the Government give an unqualified assurance that the Reserve Bank will intervene to stop the panic run on Queensland building societies? Does not the Minister believe that this intervention is warranted in view of the emergency now confronting Queensland ‘s investors and the thousands of couples borrowing for home building?
-My understanding of the present situation is that discussions have been going on between the Prime Minister and the Premier of Queensland and between the Treasurer of the Commonwealth and the Treasurer of Queensland. I believe that this is one of those situations where the less politicians talk about the problem in public the sooner it will be solved. I have no desire to add anything further to that answer.
– Following upon that answer given by the Leader of the Government -
-Is this a supplementary question?
– Yes, Mr President. I express great concern for the thousands of Queenslanders who are involved. I do not like the matter being brushed aside. There has been no answer to the question. My supplementary question to the Leader of the Government is this: Does the Government have any powers to require the Reserve Bank to maintain a close check on building society activities in view of the magnitude of investments in building societies throughout Australia which, in effect, have become the second tier of banking activity? Does not the Government think that the Reserve Bank’s surveillance has become necessary?
– I raise a point of order, Mr President. Senators are entitled, at the discretion of the Chair, to ask a supplementary question on the basis that the answer supplied is not adequate to the question asked. Senator McAuliffe is stretching that further and is now using a supplementary question to produce a new question. I think he should be ruled out of order.
- Mr President, in view of the seriousness of the situation I seek leave to ask a question.
- Senator McAuliffe, you have sought leave to ask a supplementary question. Please elucidate your original question.
– The question I now address to the Leader of the Government is this: Has the Government any powers to require the Reserve Bank to maintain a close check on the activities of building societies in view of the magnitude of investment in building societies throughout Australia which, in effect, have become the second tier of banking activity? Does not the Government think that the surveillance of the Reserve Bank has become necessary to protect the institutions themselves and the millions of investors and borrowers? Does the Reserve Bank have any authority to inspect the operations of building societies and to ensure that they observe a proper ratio of deposits to advances in the same way as the Reserve Bank insists upon the observance of strict rules governing banking operations?
-I understand that to some extent the Financial Corporations Act looks after this matter. But if the honourable senator desires a definitive answer on that he should put his question on notice so that I can obtain a proper answer from the Treasurer. I repeat that it is that sort of question that causes mischief in this area.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I believe that yesterday the Premier of Tasmania waited upon the Prime Minister. Can the Minister tell the chamber whether the Premier, during his discussions of Tasmania’s problems, made any inquiries regarding the Nimmo report or freight equalisation generally? If so, what were the results of his inquiries?
-If Mr Neilson was here I certainly was not present at those discussions. I have no information as to whether or not he was here. I shall seek the information from the Prime Minister for the honourable senator.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. Is the Minister aware of delays and difficulties being experienced by claimants for unemployment benefit in the northern rivers area of New South Wales? Is he aware of allegations of discriminatory practices and attitudes towards registrants for unemployment benefit by a particular Commonwealth Employment Service office? Have there been complaints of physical abuse of registrants for unemployment benefit in this area? If so, what action is being taken about such complaints?
– I am aware of the allegations and accusations to which the honourable senator has referred. All I can say in those circumstances is that I will refer his question to the Minister.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. I refer to some amendments to the Air Navigation Regulations which are to come into force on 1 April and which have been described by the Minister for Transport as measures to prevent the illegal discounting of overseas air fares and other malpractices in the industry. I ask: When the amended regulations come into force will it mean that various package holiday tours that are presently available at greatly reduced fares no longer will be available to Australians travelling overseas? Does it mean that the concession fares which have been available to students for overseas travel also no longer will be available to them? Does it mean that various price fixing agreements and other anticompetitive arrangements which are rendered illegal within Australia under the Trade Practices Act will be given full force and effect as far as international air travel is concerned?
– I have with me a copy of the Press release issued by the Minister. I think it covers most of the matters raised by the honourable senator. I shall do my best to interpret it in such a way that I can give a suitable answer. To the extent that it may be necessary to add to my answer, I shall ask the responsible Minister to do so. Firstly, the amended regulations will require the airlines to market package tours in accordance with approved fares and general conditions of travel, but considerable scope will continue to exist for tour organisers to package competitive tours. The general provisions of the fare concessions for students will be allowed under the regulations, but apparently it is contemplated that this matter will be looked into further. I shall need to get a bit more precision in that area. Apparently the amended regulations will apply equally to all international airlines operating to and from Australia.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Social Security. The Minister will be aware that the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story on 10 March 1976 in which it was stated that the migrant emergency interpreter telephone service would close its latetodawn shift. It was also reported that the Department of Social Security was to make a final decision late last week on whether this vital service was to be continued or cancelled. Will the Minister inform the Senate whether her Department has decided to close the late-to-dawn shift of the migrant emergency interpreter telephone service?
– This matter has been given some consideration in the past few days. It has been resolved at this stage that in place of the night shift an answering service will inform callers in the 6 languages most commonly required in the Sydney area- Spanish, Arabic, Italian, Greek, Yugoslav and Turkish- that the shift is not manned but that urgent queries can be referred to an on-call officer. The situation in Sydney will be closely watched. I have asked that all details be kept with regard to the effectiveness of this new arrangement, and I have given an assurance that in 4 weeks’ time I will review whether this is a satisfactory service and does cover the needs of the interpreter service during those night time hours. It is fair to say that the average number of calls that had been received throughout the 1 1 p.m. to 7 a.m. service was three per night. For this reason a decision was taken to try a new form of working with reference to an on-call officer who would be available. The situation will be reviewed in 4 weeks’ time.
– I am sure that the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry is aware of the serious implications for the wool trade inside and outside Australia of the current storemen and packers dispute over maximum bale weights. Will the Minister agree that mechanical aids have made wool handling less physically demanding than in the past; that the 204 kilogram limit of about 1965 origin has not been thought excessive in the 10 years that have passed since its introduction, and that weight reduction would erode one of the few areas in which this industry can contain and reduce costs, that is, in the areas of freight and handling?
-I think it has been characteristic of the Australian economy for a quite long time now that one of the substantial areas of cost increase that allowed itself to be examined with a view to making costs lower was the area of transport costs and handling charges. This has a particular effect in the primary industries where products are transported to the waterfront to be shipped overseas or rehandled In my recollection of all these things there was a substantial case for improvement in the handling methods of the wool clip when it reached the point where it was going to be either used or shipped. Consequently the development of mechanical aids has been of significance in the lowering of costs in the area of wool handling. As far as I can recall the increased bale weight and the tighter packing had no deleterious effect at all on handling, but it certainly added considerably to cost efficiency in the shearing sheds. There were no problems in transport from the sheds to the lorries and to the waterfront. I have the general view that in this area we ought to be continuing our work with mechanical aids and a different layout of wool stores in ships to decrease the cost burden in an area in which I think any fair minded person will admit that it is getting to the point where wool growing is hardly worth engaging in.
– Will the Minister for Education inform the Parliament of the total amount of cuts in funds for education in the Northern Territory? In particular will the Minister detail reductions in expenditure for this financial year in the following areas: School building programs; school maintenance programs; number of teachers employed; and the numbers of teachers and buildings on Aboriginal settlements?
– I can answer in broad terms and I ask the honourable senator to let me provide some particularities. It was foreshadowed that there might well be some deferrals in the general building program, but as the honourable senator must know a sum of $ 12.5m has been made available to the Darwin Reconstruction Commission in the last week under pressure from my Department. I am hopeful -
– That is not for schools.
– If the honourable senator would only listen he would learn that his interjection is wrong. The money will be substantially for schools and we hope the effect be substantially that those programs that were to have been deferred will be restored to the list. I think he will agree that that is good news. He will recall that yesterday I was able to say in regard to the replacement of teacher assistants and other ancillary staff out on the settlements that we had negotiated and were able within the current staff ceilings to make full replacements. Because there may be some details that I have not referred to in this spontaneous reply I shall look at the remainder of the question and give the honourable senator a detailed answer.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development. I refer to the statement by the Prime Minister yesterday in relation to growth centres and his indication that the Government preferred to give support to centres of 10 000 to 15 000 people. Is the Minister aware that the Chairman of the Monarto Development Commission in South Australia has resigned because he has not enough work to do? Will this mean that the Government will reconsider its relationship to the Monarto project. If so, and in the light of the Prime Minister’s observation yesterday, will any support be transferred to other centres, such as the adjacent township of Murray Bridge?
-The Monarto project is essentially a South Australian project. There was, by mutual arrangement, a ministerial council meeting in which the Minister for Urban and Regional Development in the former Government and, I think, the Minister for Planning and Development in South Australia were involved. That council met to consider matters relating to the Monarto project. The future of Commonwealth involvement in that project must, of course, depend upon decisions yet to be taken by the Government. However, there will be consultation with South Australia with regard to that matter as soon as it can be arranged. I have noted the resignation of the head of Monarto Development Commission, but that is essentially a matter for South Australia.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development. Recognising the Government’s electoral commitment to retain the Australian Heritage Commission, can the Minister indicate when it is proposed to set up the Commission in accordance with the legislation, with the planned and previously approved citizen body of private persons and departmental heads, to carry out this vital task of preserving our heritage.
– I think that I indicated in answer to a question asked by Senator Missen yesterday that the Government has this matter under consideration. As soon as I am in a position to do so, I will make an announcement.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry aware that the present reserve price for wool of 250c a kilogram for 21 micron clean is below the cost of production for many producers? Is he aware that many producers would favour greatly increasing their contribution to the Australian Wool Corporation in return for a reserve price of 300c a kilogram? Does the Minister know whether this matter is being considered by the Minister for Primary Industry?
– I am certainly aware of the first 2 elements of the honourable senator’s question. I cannot say whether the Minister is actively considering the proposition that the honourable senator has put forward. I should imagine that he is, but I shall certainly ask him.
– Has the Minister for Industry and Commerce studied the submissions emanating from the Federated Moulders Union of Australia in which concern is expressed that the increasing number of imported castings is a threat to the future employment of the existing skilled foundry workforce?
– Yes, we are aware of this situation. We have been in touch with the Metal
Trades Industry Association of Australia about the problem. It is difficult to identify precisely the imports and from where they are coming. The MTIA is also in touch, I believe, with the Federated Moulders Union of Australia, and we are jointly watching the situation. I thank the honorable senator for bringing this matter to my attention.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. As a preamble I point out that in the Dysart area of central Queensland there are a number of rural telephone subscribers attached by party line to the Clermont exchange and some of these lines run for 60 to 80 miles. When the town of Dysart was established to service the Saraji and, hopefully, Norwich Park coal fields, these lines were rerouted around Dysart. I ask: Why were these lines rerouted around the town and not connected to the Dysart exchange, thus obviating the necessity for subscribers to maintain such a long length of line.
-Senator Collard was good enough this morning to intimate to me that he would ask me a question the answer to which, because of its technical nature, could not possibly be spontaneously known to me. I have some technical information and, with the indulgence of the Senate, I will give it. I am advised that when mining works were being established at Dysart the mining company arranged the removal of 2 long telephone lines to a different location to enable the mining development work to proceed. That happened 2 to 3 years ago. An automatic telephone exchange was established at Dysart in April 1974. Connection of the long party lines which go past Dysart is not possible without major upgrading and probable rebuilding of those lines. To do this would involve a cost of many thousands of dollars. Two of the parties have been discussing terms with the Mackay office of the Australian Telecommunications Commission but no finality has been reached.
At least 6 of the parties could be connected to the 2 lines in question in the area surrounding Dysart exchange. If those parties wish to obtain service via Dysart, the officers of the Commission are available to advise them of the financial, technical and electrical requirements which would be necessary to bring their lines up to the standard required for an efficient service via the new automatic exchange at Dysart. Some minor details of the requested action are that Tayglon Station, Capella, which is located 7 miles away, is now connected to the exchange; Suraji Station, some 1 5 miles away, was quoted a contribution of $3,200 and declined; and Highland Plains Station, Clermont, which is 16 miles away, was quoted a $4,480 contribution and declined.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. What progress has been made towards the establishment of a coarse wool breed sheep in Australia which would give greater independence to the local carpet manufacturing industry? Can the Minister say whether advantage was able to be taken of the relaxed conditions introduced by the Minister for Health in the previous Government pertaining to the importation of semen to enable the commencement of such a coarse wool breed in this country?
-It will be recalled that in the days of the previous government Senator Wriedt, as Minister for Agriculture, and I had some discussions about this. The facts of the situation as I rememberr them are, first of all, that the use of semen from sheep has not been notably successful in improving a breed. It is more successful in cattle; it presents some problems in sheep. There are some methods of fertilised ova transplants and things like that which perhaps are more successful. But setting that to one side, to my knowledge, the country that has made more progress in this area is New Zealand, where by careful selection processes they established a breed called the Drysdale sheep, which has practically no crimp at all. There are some very definite opportunities for utilising that breed of sheep in Australia. I think I am correct in saying that some crosses of those sheep now exist in Australia with a view to achieving a breed of sheep by upgrading which would serve the purpose the honourable senator mentions. One would need to go further into the matter and see where those sheep are located and how much more needs to be done in the general area, but that is about the scope of the problem.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Is the Minister aware of the huge increases in telephone costs of as much as 600 per cent to emergency fire service units in non-metropolitan South Australia? In the light of the significant sacrifices in time and substance made by volunteers staffing these units, will the Minister request his colleague to investigate the matter with a view to reinstating the previous concessional charges?
-I will be very happy to communicate that question to my colleague.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government, representing the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence. It refers to the recent discussions between Mr Fraser and the New Zealand Prime Minister and to reports in the Press at the time that new and significant joint defence procurement arrangements would result from those discussions. Did the 2 governments canvass and approve new joint equipment procurement policies, including the manufacture of defence hardware? If so, can the Minister say to what extent such new arrangements, which would be quite different from the existing ones, would affect the recent recommendations contained in the Industries Assistance Commission’s report on the Australian aero-space industry? If the Minister cannot give me the information, will he attempt to get a clear statement on those discussions so that honourable senators will know what the position is?
-I will seek the information the honourable senator requires and see if I can obtain some clarity and detail for him.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. As we understand that the Tasmanian Premier visited the Prime Minister at Parliament House yesterday to discuss Tasmania’s problems, will the Minister advise whether Mr Neilson brought with him the Tasmanian Government’s submission on the Tasmanian dairy industry? If not, what was the nature of the submission made on behalf of the industry which as we all know, is in its most desperate state in Tasmania’s history?
– I believe I am correct in saying that Mr Fraser, the Prime Minister, referred to this matter last night. To the best of my knowledge the Premier of Tasmania did not raise with Mr Fraser the serious difficulties that the Tasmanian dairy industry is experiencing.
-I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry: Does he know that Borthwick’s Albany export meat works has, at present, an inadequate number of meat inspectors? I understand it has only 19 inspectors instead of a full staff of 24 inspectors. Have similar deficiencies been reported from other export meat works? What plans, if any, does the Government have to ensure that an adequate number of meat inspectors are available at all times?
– I am not aware of the position at the Borthwicks Albany export meat works but I am indebted to the honourable senator for raising the matter with me. If he has more details of the deficiencies that he claims exist in the meat works, I would be grateful if he will give them to me after question time and I will see that the Minister is given those details immediately.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. What is the present staffing situation with regard to doctors at the Darwin Hospital? Are there shortages of doctors in the Darwin hospital or other Northern Territory hospitals of the critical degree that is known to have existed in mid- 1975? In particular, are there adequate numbers of anaesthetists available to maintain the services of the Northern Territory hospitals? To what extent has the recent pay dispute made it more difficult to recruit doctors for the Northern Territory?
– I have some information from the Minister for Health with regard to staffing at the Darwin Hospital. If some of the honourable senator’s questions remain unanswered, I will be pleased to seek further information for him. As I understand it, at 4 March there were 19 vacancies at the Darwin Hospital within a staff establishment of 55. The vacancies occur in the categories of specialists, senior registrars, resident medical officers and administrative officers. The establishment provides for 2 anaesthetists at Darwin and one at Alice Springs. At present, all 3 positions are vacant. Services in this area are being maintained by senior registrars while awaiting the recruitment of specialists. The recent pay dispute and the difficulty this was causing in the recruitment of doctors leads me to say that the main reason for the difficulty is that the rates of salaries and conditions of employment between medical officers employed in the Commonwealth Public Service and in the various States and Territories do show disparity. It is believed this is the reason it is very difficult- in fact it seems impossible- to recruit the required staff at the Darwin Hospital at the present time. I will refer the details of the questions that remain unanswered to my colleague the Minister for Health. I am sure that he agrees with me that 1 9 vacancies out of an establishment of 55 is a serious situation.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Subsequent to the Government’s confiscation of the radio transmitter operated by Mr Tony Bella in Darwin on 25 January, was an applicaton made for a licence to operate a transmitter? If so, when was the application lodged and when can the applicant expect a decision?
– I am not aware of the details of this matter. I ask the honourable senator to put the question on notice and I will obtain the details for him.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Is the Government aware that the Overseas Telecommunications Commission has been using television commercials during prime viewing time for public relatons purposes rather than for the advertising of the services offered? Is it a fact that OTC has an Australian monopoly of international telecommunications? If so, what justification is there for the waste of these resources in creating a public image of a government monopoly enterprise? What does the Minister intend to do about the matter in the light of the present need for restriction on expenditure?
– Since it would be a ghastly confession for any Minister to admit that he had time to look at television, I must confess abysmal ignorance of the display of any kind of television commercial. Therefore, not having any ability to assess them as such, and so not being able to respond to the other questions which followed, I ask the honourable senator to put his question on notice so that I may get an answer for him.
– I address my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. I have been informed by servicewomen that the principles of equal pay have not yet been extended to their areas of employment. Can the Minister advise whether this is so? If these principles have not been extended, can steps be taken to have that done immediately? If the Minister believes that this has been done, can the Senate have a report on the extent of the implementation of equal pay in this area?
-I will seek those details from my colleague in the other place.
– I ask my question of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, in his capacity as Minister representing the Attorney-General. I refer to the proposal by Mr Whitlam and others to obtain funds from the Middle East, initiated on 16 November 1975, he will recall. I recall to his mind that on 10 December 1975 there was a breakfast with missionaries from the Middle East. Has the Minister noticed that Mr Hartley was reported as having written to Monsieur Arafat, the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation? I ask the Minister: Will he be reminded that the PLO’s avowed policy is the subversion of Israel, if necessary by terrorism?
– Ask the question; do not give information.
-I will take you off the hook as soon as possible. I ask the Minister: Is it within his knowledge that on 10 December 1975, the evening of the celebrated breakfast, Mr Whitlam was informed that the probable amount of money to be arranged was $500,000? Is it within the Minister’s recollection that all this time these proposals were concealed from Mr Hawke, the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The question concerning the national security of this country in which the Attorney-General is vitally concerned is whether the Minister recalls that all last year Mr Hartley was waging a war against Mr Hawke- Mr Hartley pro-PLO and Mr Hawke for Israel. I ask the Minister whether the concealment of this plan by Mr Whitlam, Mr Hartley and Mr Combe from Mr Hawke is suggestive of an arrangement to assist the PLO in its cause of subverting Israel -
– I must rise to take a point of order on this second reading propaganda speech by Senator Wright. Questions may be directed to a Minister for the purpose of seeking information that the Minister can give to a questioner on matters pertaining to his portfolio or department. I submit that any knowledge of a suggestion of an action by Mr Hartley in relation to Mr Hawke is not a matter within the Minister’s portfolio and that to discover Mr Hartley’s intention in not conveying some information to
Mr Hawke is a matter completely outside the ambit of the responsibility of the Minister. It is a question asked purely for political propaganda purposes and is one that the Minister would be incapable of answering because his opinion about a suggested motive of Mr Hartley could be contrary to someone else’s opinion and not factual. I suggest that the question should be restricted to matters which come under the responsibility of the Minister.
- Senator Wright has asked a question of the Minister and it rests with the Minister to determine how he will answer it. Senator Wright, please complete your question as quickly as you can.
– I rise to order. The objective of my point of order is to assist you, Mr President, and to assist the Minister who may be called upon to answer the question. I invite you and the Senate to look at standing order 98 and in this respect I differ slightly from the view taken by my colleague when he took his point of order. Standing order 98 states:
After Notices have been given Questions may be put to Ministers of the Crown relating to public affairs; and to other Senators, relating to any Bill, Motion, or other public matter connected with the business on the Notice Paper, of which such Senators may have charge.
I think it is fair to say that the question can canvass or seek information beyond those matters which may be seen to be directly the concern of a portfolio. I accept that. I ask you and the Senate now to look at standing order 99 which states quite clearly:
The following rules shall -
It says ‘ shall ‘, not ‘ may ‘- apply to Questions.
Then it sets out the form a question should take and, following that, states:
Questions shall not ask-
for an expression of opinion;
I rely on standing order 99 which states that questions shall not ask for an expression of opinion. The matter that the honourable senator has raised in his question can draw from the Minister only an expression of opinion. Accordingly, I invite you to rule that way.
– It is so that under standing order 99 questions asking for an expression of opinion are not acceptable. I ask Senator Wright to complete his question, but he may not ask for an expression of opinion.
– I am not going to ask for Senator Brown ‘s or anyone else ‘s opinion.
– I rise to order. That last remark by Senator Wright was a grave reflection on you, Mr President, and he should be made to withdraw it.
- Mr President, I hasten to assure you that there was not the slightest thought of including you in the rebuke that I sought no opinion from Senator Brown or anyone else. As you know, taking a point of order is a diversionary tactic to prevent a question from being rebroadcast so I shall re-present my question. I ask:
-As briefly as you can, please.
– Having regard to the now admitted -
– I rise to order. Has the honourable senator a right, on his own authority, to re-present a question, if one could term it a question, without your permission, Mr President? Surely it is only with your permission that he can reframe a question which he has already asked. He cannot take that authority unto himself.
– I have asked that no expression of opinion be sought and Senator Wright is now putting his question. I am listening to it very intently.
-I ask the Minister: Having regard to the now admitted proposal joined in by Mr Hartley, Mr Whitlam and Mr Combe on 16 November to obtain an amount of approximately half a million dollars from the Middle East and having regard to the breakfast on 10 December with 2 Iraqis, on the evening of which day Mr Whitlam was advised that the proper amount was half a million dollars -
- Mr President, I raise a point of order. Surely the questioner is giving far too much information in framing his question. I am not saying that his information is correct. Because of the laughter from Senator Withers I say that Senator Wright’s information is quite incorrect. The question is poorly based and he knows it.
– Order! Senator Georges, you should not debate the point of order.
– I accept that I should not debate the matter. It seems to me that I have been given a precedent by the honourable senator opposite. Surely he is not entitled to give information at great length. That point is contained in the Standing Orders.
- Mr President, I want to speak briefly to the point of order on a purely academic basis.
– Good try.
– I will not enter into a debate with Senator Wright. I want to supplement the statement made by my colleague Senator Brown. I refer you to standing order 99, particularly paragraphs (a), (b) and possibly (g). I think that all these provisions are being infringed by the honourable senator on the Government side. Mr President, I respectfully ask you to take these portions of standing order 99 into consideration in any subsequent ruling which you may make on this point of order.
- Senator Wright.
-I shall try to get my question through in this form. Having regard to the proposal, now admitted, to obtain Iraqi funds to the extent of $500,000 which was initiated on 16 November and which Mr Whitlam admitted he knew about on the evening of the day on which the breakfast was held, that is 10 December, I ask the Minister whether he recalls the bitter hostility between Mr Hartley and Mr Hawke, one favouring the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the other strongly defending Israel. As details of this transaction concerning the funding of a party of which Mr Hawke was president were concealed from Mr Hawke until 2 months later, does this prompt the Minister to ask the Attorney-General to scrutinise this transaction to see whether it was any part of a plan that the Labor government, if elected, would give assistance to the PLO in its cause of subversion of Israel?
- Mr President, I raise a point of order. I invite you to rule in due course, before the Minister answers if you consider giving a ruling, whether you consider that because of the way in which the honourable senator has constructed his question and because of the substance of the question the Minister can respond only with an opinion. He cannot give other than an opinion and that being so I invite you to rule the question out of order. It does not comply with standing order 99- not only standing order 99 (a). It asks for an expression of opinion and also contains imputations and reflections on the Party of which I have the privilege to be a member.
- Mr President, I wish to speak to the point of order. As I recall Senator Wright’s question, in the final part he asked whether the Minister would obtain certain information from the Attorney-General. That is the key to the question which was asked. I submit to you that the question is quite in order. It is correct for an honourable senator to ask a Minister or a Minister representing a Minister in another place whether he will seek or obtain information. That is what, in fact, I understand Senator Wright has asked.
- Mr President, I rise to speak to the point of order. I again ask you to consider standing order 99 to which Senator Brown referred earlier. I point to the fact that Senator Wright most recently talked about the attitudes adopted by Mr Hawke and Mr Hartley, Standing Order 99 provides:
Questions shall not contain-
statements of fact or names of persons unless they are strictly necessary to render the question intelligible and can be authenticated;
It is not within the competence of the Minister in responding to such a question to authenticate the information arising from it. In the same way, for example, I could not authenticate the suggestion in the Press that the Liberal Party of Australia received £96,000 from overseas companies. Mr President, I ask you to consider closely again standing order 99. Lastly, I ask you to consider the misuse of question time. Many senators are still waiting for answers to their questions. They cannot obtain them because Senator Wright is pursuing this neat political trick and not asking for information which it is possible to obtain.
– It is true that questions must relate to matters within ministerial responsibility. That is a rule of the Senate. I will let the question go through to the Minister. He may reply only insofar as he considers it his responsibility in any area covered by it. I call Senator Greenwood.
- Mr President -
- Senator Wright, I have called upon the Minister representing the AttorneyGeneral to reply to the question you have submitted.
– I think that it is the responsibility of the Attorney-General under certain legislation to exercise responsibility for the security of this nation. In the course of exercising those responsibilities he must give concern and attention to ensuring the nation’s independence, and to protecting it from subversion, inside and outside. I would have thought that revelations and allegations in recent times raised a fair question as to whether one of the major political parties in the nation- the remnant of a former government- was taking assistance from overseas countries in such a surreptitious way that so many of the leaders of the Party were not being told what was occurring. That is a fair matter for investigation by the Party itself. It is also a fair matter for investigation by those charged with responsibility for the security of the nation.
We are not told why the Executive of the Australian Labor Party condemned in the strongest terms the conduct of its parliamentary leader, a member of its Executive and its national secretary. But it must have been a grievous fault for those people to be condemned in the strongest terms. I think that the Executive of that Party, and indeed, its spokesmen in the Houses of the Parliament, owe an obligation to the nation to say what was condemned in the strongest terms. But we have added to this what the honourable senator has asked me about, namely whether Mr Hartley was one of those condemned for writing to Yassar Arafat, the acknowledged leader of the world’s greatest terrorist organisation, with a proven record of being prepared to hijack aircraft and take hostages. The fact that that letter was written, if that be so, would be enough to horrify anybody. But if it were written by an executive member of a Party which was recently in Government in this country, one would feel that that warranted further investigation.
I am grateful to the honourable senator for his question. I will convey his suggestion to the Attorney-General to ascertain whether the AttorneyGeneral thinks it proper to ascertain whether a member of the Executive of the Australian Labor Party, in pursuit of funds, was seeking the support of a man at the head of the world ‘s greatest terrorist organisation.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. I hope that he will be as grateful to me for my question as he was to Senator Wright for his question. Is it a fact that the National Country Party receives electoral campaign funds from the special purpose fund organised by the Graziers Association of New South Wales? Is it a fact also that the large overseas owned pastoral companies, including King Ranch (Aust) Pty Ltd and the Australian Agricultural Consulting and Management Co Pty Ltd, are large contributors to the special purpose fund? Is the Minister aware -
– What about Marrickville Holdings Ltd? What about the $70,000 from Mr Murdoch to the Labor Party?
– This is obviously hurting, Mr President. Is the Minister aware of any breach of the banking regulations as a result of these transactions?
– I am not aware of any breach of banking regulations. I think that the Attorney-General has demonstrated his preparedness to carry out investigations and to ensure that relevant facts concerning any person against whom allegations warranting court action are placed before the courts. I invite the Leader of the Opposition in this place to present to the Attorney-General any information he possesses because I am quite sure that the AttorneyGeneral will examine that information and take appropriate action. I invite the Leader of the Opposition to do that if he has the information. May I say that one of the great advantages of this country is that allegations concerning the source of political parties’ funds may be made as a part of the free speech which we all enjoy? When allegations are established then it ought to be a matter of judgment for the electors as to whether or not that should disqualify a Party or a particular candidate. I have no doubt in my mind that if it were established that one of the major political parties was securing funds, and was not disclosing the basis upon which those funds were being secured, from an overseas terrorist organisation, the people of Australia would even more forthrightly reject that Party than it rejected the Labor Party in December last.
– The Minister representing the Minister for Construction would be aware of the statements made by the Northern Territory Master Builders Association in which it is claimed that economy cuts in the Northern Territory civil works program are going to total $154m. Can the Minister say whether this is true or false as chaos and confusion are setting in among Northern Territory contractors about their future and the future of their employees? Secondly, does a similar situation exist in the States of Australia?
-The honourable senator will know that throughout all Commonwealth departments an efficiency program has been undertaken in an attempt to save something from the very serious financial situation in which the former Government placed this nation. It is totally untrue to say that $ 158m- I understand that that was the publicised figure- has been cut from the cash appropriations for Darwin. In fact, I have stated previously in this place that an additional $18m has been allocated to the cash appropriations for that area of the Northern
Territory during this year. I shall seek further information for the benefit of the honourable senator and of the honourable senator on the other side of the chamber who has inquired about this matter. I think it was quite proper for these comments to have been made when publicists in the Territory are attempting not only to take political advantage but also to do great harm to the economic stability of the Territory by making certain suggestions. I think it is necessary for a positive statement to be made as to the actual financial position. Difficulties are arising within my own Department because of escalations in costs. This situation will exist within any department. Extra funds are required in many areas and funds are very difficult to find when one is dealing with the $4,500m deficit with which this Government has to cope. I will see to it that on Tuesday of next week if possible- if not, by no later than Wednesday- a statement is put down by me in this place that gives the actual situation.
– I ask a question of the Minister representing the Attorney-General. It follows on the question asked by Senator Wright. I ask: Will the Minister examine the affidavit of a Mr Keegan which was read in the other place and in which he alleged that f Stg96,000 was collected in England for the Liberal Party of Australia, without the occurrence of an early morning breakfast but with the establishment of an office near Parliament House in London? Will he indicate whether any concessions were offered or granted to companies which made large contributions to the fund that was established for the Liberal Party? In view of the doubt that has been cast upon the affidavit today by the forgetfulness of Sir Robert Menzies, as published in the Advertiser, will he examine whether there has been any breach of the Oaths Act in relation to the making of this affidavit? If a breach of the Oaths Act cannot be established, will the Minister look into the question of the requirements of the firms making those donations to the Liberal Party?
-Senator Cavanagh is one Opposition member who we know is a trier. He is trying valiantly to avoid the consequences of the revelations about the Iraqi loan moneys by going back to 195 1 and looking at allegations about what occurred then. It seems to me that 1951 was the year when the Australian Labor Party had unity tickets with the Communist Party. The Labor Party in those days was in turmoil as to whether it should ban from its membership people who stood on unity tickets with Communist Party members. That was a very interesting feature of the political situation at the time. There is nothing new in the allegations which are currently being given credence in relation to an affidavit which a man has made. I recall those allegations being made at the time. They were aired in the newspapers. But when the people made their judgment they still preferred the Liberal and Country Parties over the Labor Party, as they demonstrated that they preferred the Liberal and National Country Parties in 1975. In fairness and as a matter of consistency, I think I should refer the honourable senator’s question to the Attorney-General. But I must say that the Oaths Act of New South Wales is not a matter for the Commonwealth Attorney-General to examine.
– I address a question to the Minister for Administrative Services. I ask: Can the Minister say whether there are plans to make a room available in Parliament House for the wife of a member of another place? Is that room about to be decorated? What is the cost of the proposed decoration and who will supervise the decorating? For what purpose will the room be used? As accommodation in this building is restricted, who will be deprived of space to allow this room to be made available?
-I have not heard of a room being made available to the wife of a member of another place. As I understand the rules of the Parliament, Mr President, the space within this building resides in the hands of both yourself and Mr Speaker and it is not for me or any other member of the Executive to decide what rooms in this building will made made available to anybody. As you well know, Mr President, the space I occupy in this place as the Leader of the Government in the Senate is by courtesy of you and no one else. I think Senator McLaren ought to realise that the space he occupies is by courtesy of you, Mr President, and not because of his own lack of merit. He is now asking me, as a member of the Executive Government, to say who is to decorate rooms within a building over which the Executive has no jurisdiction whatsoever. The jurisdiction I thought was quite clearly laid down from the time this Parliament was opened.
This building belongs to the Presiding Officers and they and they alone determine who will occupy which space and on what terms. I would have thought that in the time Senator McLaren has been here he might even have learned that small, simple fact. I realise we cannot expect him to learn much. We know that he is quite an adequate eavesdropper and retailer of tales within this place. We know that he has distinguished himself by showing that he has that capacity. Might I suggest to him that he not only learn manners but that he also learn something about how the Parliament is run.
– Pursuant to section 58 of the Stevedoring Industry Act 1956-73, 1 present the annual report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority for the year ended 30 June 1975, together with financial statements and the report of the Auditor-General on those statements.
– For the information of honourable senators I present a summary record of proceedings of the third meeting of the Council of Nature Conservation Ministers held in Canberra on 1 August 1975.
– Pursuant to section 5 of the Dairy Adjustment Act 1974, 1 present an amending agreement in relation to dairy adjustment programs in New South Wales.
– For the information of honourable senators and pursuant to section 8 of the Independent Schools (Loans Guarantee) Act 1964, I present a statement of the payments made during the year ended 30 June 1975 in respect of all guarantees given under that Act.
– I bring up the fifty-second report from the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances relating to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Lands Acquisition Ordinance 1975.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– Pursuant to standing order 28A I lay on the table my warrant nominating Senators Bonner, Coleman, Davidson, Devitt, McAuliffe, Maunsell, Melzer, Mulvihill, Wood and Young to a panel to act as Temporary Chairmen of Committees when the Chairman of Committees is absent. My warrant dated 19 February 1976 is revoked.
– I inform the Senate that I have received letters from the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate nominating Senators Baume, Bonner, Davidson, Keeffe, Melzer and Mulvihill to serve as members on the Senate Select Committee on Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.
Motion (by Senator Withers) agreed to:
That the senators nominated in accordance with the resolution of the Senate establishing the Committee be appointed members of the Select Committee on Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.
– I inform the Senate that the Speaker of the House of Representatives and I have decided that the Press Gallery accreditation of Mr Maurice Wilmott should be withdrawn for a period of 2 weeks, commencing forthwith. We have concluded that Mr Wilmott has breached that part of the rules of the Parliamentary Press Gallery which requires that ‘photographers and TV cameramen may take pictures or film on invitation in private rooms’.
This matter arose out of a complaint made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) in a letter to the Speaker dated 26 February last. The complaint referred to the publication of a photograph in the newspapers, the Australian and the Sydney Daily Telegraph, on that day. The complaint raised 2 issues: Firstly, the taking of the photograph in his room against the expressed wishes of Mr Whitlam and secondly, the treatment given to the photograph published in the Daily Telegraph. I table a copy of that letter.
On 2 March the Speaker wrote to the editor of the Australian and the editor of the Daily Telegraph and enclosed a copy of Mr Whitlam ‘s letter and asked to be provided with an explanation. By letter of the same date, addressed to the President of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery, the Speaker asked for any information about the matter which could be provided, and enclosed a copy of Mr Whitlam ‘s letter. I table copies of each of those letters.
The Speaker received a reply from the deputy editor of the Australian dated 9 March, which contained an apology. I table a copy of that letter. Mr Speaker received a letter, dated 9 March, from the editor of the Baily Telegraph, which contains an explanation of the treatment of the photograph as published, and an apology. I table a copy of that letter. The Speaker received a letter dated 15 March, from the President of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery, which advised the consideration and conclusions on the matter by the Committee. I table a copy of that letter.
Mr Speaker and I concluded that there was a breach of the rules by Mr Wilmott. He had a personal obligation as a member of the Press Gallery to comply with the rules, and he failed to do so. We regret having to suspend any Press Gallery accreditation but, in the interests of the proper working of our Parliamentary system, we must insist, now and in the future, that the rules of conduct in this building are strictly upheld. I table this statement.
- Mr President, I ask for leave to move a motion that the Senate take note of your statement.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
I move this motion because I know that a number of our colleagues in this place are interested in the matter and they may wish to debate it. I ask for leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– I have received message No. 17 from the House of Representatives requesting the concurrence of the Senate in the appointment of a Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System. Copies of the message have been distributed to honourable senators.
Motion (by Senator Withers)- by leaveagreed to:
– I have received message No. 18 from the House of Representatives requesting the concurrence of the Senate in the appointment of a Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. Copies of the message have been distributed to honourable senators.
Motion (by Senator Withers)- by leaveagreed to:
– I have received message No. 19 from the House of Representatives requesting the concurrence of the Senate in the appointment of a Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory. Copies of the message have been distributed to honourable senators.
Motion (by Senator Webster)- by leaveagreed to:
– I have received message No. 20 from the House of Representatives requesting the concurrence of the Senate in the appointment of a Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House. Copies of the message have been distributed to honourable senators.
Motion (by Senator Webster)- by leaveagreed to:
Debate resumed from 1 7 March on motion by Senator Cotton:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– in reply- The purpose of this Bill is to suspend from 1 March 1976 the charge of lc per lb imposed on exports of beef to recoup the Government the cost of providing the export meat inspection service, and also to suspend the charge of 0.6c per lb which was imposed to recoup government expenditure on the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign. These charges were introduced in November 1973 and, under the legislation, were due to expire on 30 June 1976. It has been mentioned frequently during the debate that when the charge was imposed demand for meat was strong and prices for beef were very high. Over the last 2 years, because of declining demand, which has arisen to a large extent from restrictions imposed in our major markets and from increased world supplies, prices have fallen very sharply while at the same time costs have increased markedly. I think we all recognise that Australia is a great primary producing country and has a need to sell overseas in large quantities the products of the land and some of the products of its mines. It has been found that many of our markets for these products have been closed to us by the countries which are normally our customers. For our part, we have to involve ourselves in buying goods from many other countries in order to sustain our balance of trade as well as opportunities for our primary products. But it is a falsity to imagine that the whole of our primary production passes into world trade freely and untrammelled by the receipt countries. That is something we might remember in balancing the position in our own country.
I want to say one thing in particular about the relative movement of costs. It is a very hard to identify in precise terms what relative cost changes have been in Australia, but a couple of figures should be borne in mind. At the time of the Vernon Committee, which was about 10 years ago, Australia was judged to have a relative cost disability of about 32 per cent against its normal trading partners. It is very hard to get precise figures as to the relative cost disability today, but the general belief is that it has expanded quite a bit, and work is going on to try to establish the relative percentage at today’s date. Work that I have had done on this has indicated some figures which might be of interest to honourable senators, particularly in relation to primary industry but also in relation to manufacturing and tertiary industries. In 1970 Australia had a relative cost advantage against North America of about 30 per cent. At the end of 1 975 it had a relative cost disadvantage of about 1 5 per cent. In 5 years, we have had in effect a turnabout of 45 per cent. That has had a very serious effect on the primary producers’ costs and a serious effect on Australia’s employment capacity. Overall we have a quite solid problem. It has been highlighted in some of the areas of primary production. In particular, it has been highlighted in the area of beef production and also in the area of wool production.
The Government’s decision implements one of the recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission report on assistance to the beef industry. The Opposition has claimed that the Government’s action has ignored the recommendations of the IAC that the charge be suspended with the proviso that suspension of the charge should not take precedence over other assistance. That other assistance relates to the extension of credit facilities and the introduction of household support. The Government has not ignored these and both matters are being dealt with as expeditiously as possible. In making its claim in this matter, the Opposition has, I think, not taken into account the statement of the IAC on page 46 of its report. Recommendation 4 (c) which refers to when the charge should be reviewed, states:
Prices return to high levels: or
That is very much involved with the total area. An interim report on the latter matter was recently released by the IAC. Whilst its recommendations were that the Government should adopt a general policy of industry meeting inspection costs, it pointed in its report to 2 exceptions to that policy which stated:
As a consequence of recommendation (II) the IAC recommended that export meat inspection costs be met by the Commonwealth Government. Opposition senators in this debate have claimed that the charges are legitimate costs of production and should be borne by the industry. In this regard I wish to draw attention to the remarks of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), whom I represent in this House, when discussing this matter in the House of Representatives. He said:
The reason for our cancelling these charges is not that we do not see that at some future stage when the industry is profitable the burden of paying charges should be imposed on it … to impose these charges at this time is only to penalise growers and probably make many of them totally unprofitable … at which point they will become more dependent on government.
Another point raised was that the charge will not be passed back to the producers. The IAC argued that the export charge causes a fall in Australian saleyard prices of approximately the same level as the charge. I think it is true to say that it does. The producers pay the charge and receive lower domestic prices for their product. The charge represents a transfer of income from producers to Australian consumers. The abolition of the charge, therefore, would increase saleyard prices and increase the flow of resources into the industry. It would represent a net gain to the Australian economy and a gain in the efficiency of allocation of resources.
However, it should be noted that whether the charge will be passed back depends also on the supply and demand situation at any particular point of time in the industry and, also, that abolition of the charge has reduced at least one element of costs in an industry which has for some time been experiencing difficult conditions. Honourable senators in this debate have raised also the question of dual or joint meat inspection. Meat inspection arrangements are, at present, under consideration by the Adminstrative Review Committee. On receipt of that committee’s report discussion, which has been going on for a number of years- including the years of Labor administration- will be continued with the States. It is true that where dual or joint meat inspection services operate, some extra costs are incurred. The extent of any cost saving will depend on acceptability of a single brand for export and home consumption, continuation or removal of State charges and the elimination of different terms and conditions of employment for meat inspectors. I think all questions raised by honourable senators in the debate have been answered.
The Government is conscious of the fact that Opposition senators are not in favour of the legislation but feels that all questions have been answered and the matter should now go to a vote.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 1 7 March, on motion by Senator Knight:
That following Address-in-Reply be agreed to:
To His Excellency the Governor-General
May it Please Your Excellency-
We, the Senate of the Commonwealth of Australia in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.
Upon which Senator Harradine had moved by way of amendment:
That the following words be added to the AddressinReply, viz: ‘and the Senate is of the opinion that your advisers having declared their intention of taking particular care over the special circumstances of the less populous States, should obtain the approval of those States prior to the implementation of your advisers’ new approach to Federalism ‘. and upon which Senator Brown had moved by way of amendment to Senator Harradine ‘s amendment:
At end of proposed amendment, add: ‘The Senate is also of the opinion that, because of the financial plight of local government organisations throughout Australia, your advisers should take action immediately to re-institute hearings by the Australian Grants Commission for the purpose of assessing appropriate untied and unconditional grants to local government’.
- Mr President, I rise to support the motion moved by my colleague, Senator Knight, for the AddressinReply to the Speech by His Excellency the Governor-General. None of us is aware at this moment whether the debate on this motion will conclude today or next Tuesday. But, whatever happens, it is an historic meeting of the Senate which commenced on 17 February when the Governor-General was pleased to deliver his reasons for the calling together of the Parliament.
This Senate for the first time includes representatives of the 2 Territories- that is, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. It also has a new President. I think it is fair to say that the Senate has seen the greatest expansion of its membership since that was last altered in 1949. The other aspect about the present Senate is that not only is it a new Senate but also it is a Senate with a younger average age of senators. I know that youth does not necessarily substitute for experience. But I do think that it is fair to say that the age groupings present in the new Senate represent a more accurate reflection of the age groupings within the Australian community. I think that that is a good thing for the Senate; it is certainly an advantage for the electorate to have age groupings within the Parliament which reflect the age groupings within the community.
As well as the changed character of the Senate with respect to its numbers and the average age of honourable senators- perhaps we should not place too much emphasis on those factors- what is true of the Senate, I am quite confident, irrespective of those age groupings and the points of view that individual senators may have in the political spectrum, is that in the future the Senate will continue to show its concern for the protection of individual rights and will seek to ensure that the interests of people in all the States are preserved. Whether honourable senators are from the populous States such as New South Wales and Victoria or from the less populous States like Tasmania and my own State of Western Australia, no matter where they come from, or whether those States are close to Canberra or far removed, honourable senators representing the various States and the Territories will still be concerned to protect both the rights of the individual and the rights of the people living within those States or Territories.
In addition the Government has shown that it is determined to ensure that individual rights in this community are protected. It is fair to say also that the Government has indicated its view on that matter in this chamber as the Government has actively promoted and certainly enthusiastically supported the re-creation and maintenance of the Senate committee system, which is perhaps the greatest means for the protection of individual rights that the Parliament possesses. I make those remarks more as a senator than as the Leader of the Government in this place. One of the great virtues of the Senate committee system is that that system when working properly and adequately and when taking its proper role does ensure that legislation is correctly reviewed and that proper inquiries are undertaken into a large range of matters affecting various members of the Australian community. If one should want evidence to support that statement one need look only over the references which have been given to various Senate select committees, to various legislative and standing committees of the Senate or to the joint committees of the Parliament, particularly those on the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. The number of matters which have been opened up and canvassed by the various committees, particularly of the Senate, has been enormous in the last 8 years or so.
I suppose this is the right time to say that the Senate committees were not the invention of just one individual in recent times. If I recall my Senate history correctly, one of the first things the Senate did when it met in Melbourne after the creation of federation was to set up a select committee on Tasmanian freights. That seems to be a continuing saga but I think that was one of the first Senate select committees of the Parliament. What the Senate committee system has done for the Parliament, and I and the Government trust that in the future it will continue to do so, is create a forum for the exchange and examination of views by a lot of Australians on a large range of issues. The Government is delighted that so early in this Parliament the Senate has set about creating its committee system and we wish it well in its operations. When the reports come in we may not wish it so well, but that is one thing which this Government is prepared to live with, and all governments should be prepared to live with for the Parliament must also be seen to have a role as a Parliament, not the mere cypher of the executive.
We all know that the Governor-General’s Speech is basically the outline of the Government’s plans for the future and in this GovernorGeneral’s Speech what the Government has done is outline its determination to grapple with the major problems facing Australia- the economy in, I suppose, 2 very broad senses, inflation and unemployment, which we inherited after 3 years of disastrous, confused and muddleheaded government of our opponents. Mr President, as you would have gathered from the Governor-General’s Speech and from statements by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) and other Ministers of this Government, we are confident that given the support both of our colleagues in the Parliament and the electorate, we can overcome the problems which were created and exacerbated during the last few years.
One of the interesting things about the maiden speeches which I think all 14 new honourable senators have now made is that, irrespective of party, they have shown the concern of all honourable senators for this major problem. Admittedly a variety of views and solutions were put forward and all those views and opinions will certainly be looked at by the Ministers responsible for the various areas. The Opposition, if I may be political for a moment, has of course shown an incredible pre-occupation with the past. I think it is fair io say that never has there been a Party in the Senate so concerned with raking over dead coals, so concerned with disputing the judgment of the electorate. I intend not to waste my time on the past but instead to look to the good things of the future. Because the Opposition has dealt so much with past issues I think it is fair to say that the issues with which the Opposition has chosen to occupy this debate for so long were canvassed at great length during the election campaign. The arguments both for and against those issues were also canvassed at great length. I doubt very much whether any of the 6 million-plus electors were not aware of the issues and of the arguments. On 13 December they made their judgment on the issues and the arguments. As far as I am concerned, I accept their judgment and I regard the arguments as having been disposed of.
I mentioned a while ago that the GovernorGeneral’s Speech placed a great deal of emphasis on our plans to put the economy right. What is also important to honourable senators is that the Governor-General’s Speech also placed heavy emphasis on the question of federalism. Of course, as honourable senators know, that was a major point in the Government’s election policy. If any House of Parliament ought to be occupied with the ideals and the practical implementation of federalism, it is this House. I am well aware that we were the creature of the Federal compromise, that there would never have been a Commonwealth of Australia without the creation of the Senate and its powers and responsibilities as they are embodied in the Constitution. Therefore upon this chamber, perhaps more than upon the other, rests a very heavy responsibility to see that the Federal compact of the 1 890s is carried into full force and effect. Also we are elected basically to see that it is carried into full force and effect. Not only is the Government committed to the policy of federalism; honourable senators who sit on this side of the chamber are certainly totally committed to the Government ‘s policy in that area.
I advert to the amendments which have been put down to the motion moved by Senator Knight. Senator Harradine has put down an amendment and so has the Opposition. I indicate at this stage that the Government will not be voting for either amendment, not because of sheer pigheadedness but because the Government is of the opinion that the amendments do not comprehend the totality of the Government’s approach to the problems of federation. We were elected partly because of our commitment to the rights of people within the States. That is something which at all times we must take into account. With respect to the amendments moved by Senator Harradine and by the Opposition, we on this side of the chamber are of the opinion that the amendments do not take into account the rights of the people within the States. For those reasons and so that there can be no doubt on where honourable senators on this side stand, let me say that the Government believes that the AddressinReply should incorporate a statement to the effect that the Government will consult with the less populous States prior to implementing its new approach to federalism. In fact, there is nothing new about that approach. This has always been the approach of the Government Parties. Consultation has been proceeding and still is proceeding. But for the sake of the record, the Government feels that it ought to put down its own addendum- if that is the correct word- to the Governor-General’s Speech. I cannot move the motion at this time but I shall move it at a later stage in the debate. It is in the following terms: notes that your advisers, having declared their intention to take particular care over the special circumstances of the less populous States, will consult with those States prior to the implementation of your advisers’ new approach to federalism.
That puts down in the clearest possible terms the Government’s approach to this problem. Some of these bogies that have been trotted around about double taxation and that some States will be disadvantaged as a result of the Government’s new approach to federalism ought to be put to rest once and for all. Nothing could be further from the truth. I say this in no light hearted sense: Any government which attempted to introduce any scheme which would disadvantage the less populous States of this country would have no show at all of getting such a proposition through the Senate, I would trust irrespective of the political party then in government.
There is not only that discipline upon the Government. The Senate and the Parliament as a whole have the Government’s undertaking on its attitude to this system of federalism. It is committed to see that the position of the less populous States is not disadvantaged through the implementation of its new policy in this area. I know that there are those in the community who do not believe this is so. I spoke to one such person yesterday. He believes that history has rolled on too far and that we are all hell bent for centralism whether we like it or not. I always believe that where there is a will, eventually a solution is obtained if we set out to achieve what is desired. This Government has the will to achieve proper co-operative centralism within this country. It can be achieved. It needs goodwill and understanding across a range of interests. But where there is a government made up of the Prime Minister, the Ministry, parliamentary supporters and the private members and senators of the Parliament who are committed to such a proposition, I believe we can achieve what we set out to do.
To those Jeremiahs amongst us who say that we are trying to turn back the clock, that we are living in an airy-fairy world, I say: Just wait and see. I think some of these people will be surprised and that some will be disappointed that we have the capacity to achieve what we set out to do. On behalf of the Government I thank all honourable senators who have spoken in the debate. As I said, there have been many varieties of different views put forward. I assure honourable senators that all those matters which have been put forward by them in the debate will certainly be taken into account by the Minister concerned.
Sitting suspended from 12.43 to 2.15 p.m.
– As I have spoken already in the debate on the original motion that was moved by Senator Knight, I do not intend to touch upon the more controversial aspects of the remarks made by the Leader of the Government, Senator Withers, before the suspension of the sitting for lunch, except to say that not one speaker from the Opposition has queried the verdict of the people at the last general election. I said, and Senator Button distinctly said that we of the Labor movement accepted the verdict of the people but that we did query and we did express concern about the manner and the circumstances in which the election was able to be brought about by the dismissal of a previously properly elected government. I say again that we shall continue to espouse our ire at the way in which that dismissal was brought about.
I wish to deal in particular with the amendment moved by Senator Brown and also the amendment moved by Senator Harradine because Senator Withers foreshadowed this morning that the Government will be adopting what I suggest is as a quite unusual stance in seeking to amend a motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply that was moved earlier by a member of the Government parties. Already Senator Brown, Senator Keeffe and, I think yesterday, Senator Button, have spoken about the desire of the Opposition to see a continuance of local government hearings by the Australian Grants Commission- hearings that were brought about as a result of amendments made in 1 973 to the Grants Commission legislation and hearings which have resulted in substantial assistance being given directly by the Australian Government on an untied and unconditional basis to local government organisations throughout Australia. During the course of this debate we have heard a lot from Government supporters about so called centralised government on the part of the Whitlam Government and about the terrible socialists who tried to centralise everything from Canberra. Reference is made in the Governor-General’s Speech to his Government’s adopting a complete reversal of the excessive centralising of power in Australia. I want to say at the outset that the Whitlam Labor Government was a great decentraliser. More decentralisation occurred in Australia over the last 3 years than occurred in the previous 30 years. When we amended the Grants Commission Act to enable the Grants Commission to make recommendations to the Government for assistance to local government, the Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, said that the inequities between regions of Australia that existed as a result of the previous 23 years of Liberal-Country Party administration were then far greater than any that existed between the States and that as our nation developed and expanded the inequalities and inequities and the burdens consequent upon those inequities and inequalities, region to region, would continue to grow.
So it was for the first time in the history of this country the Australian Government adopted a system of untied and unconditional grants being made available to local government organisations throughout Australia to enable them to spend as they so chose, the money that was made available to them by the Government. I think the money that was made available was $56. 6m in 1 974 and nearly $80m last financial year. When I was the Special Minister of State in the Whitlam Government everywhere I went throughout Australia local government organisations lauded the Labor Government for what it was doing for local government. For the first time a government had undertaken these things.
Then the Fraser Government came into office and announced that as far as local government was concerned tax sharing would work on a step by step basis. As I understand it, it is now proposed by the Fraser Government that the total amount to be allocated to local government will be determined by it in conjunction with the framing of its Budget. In other words, it will become a political decision and not a decision based on the hearings and recommendations of an independent, impartial, quasi-judicial tribunal. As I further understand the present Government’s proposals, it undertakes that the Commonwealth Grants Commission will recommend to the Government the proportions of the total allocations which should go to each of the States.
This means that the Grants Commission will not conduct hearings throughout Australia to determine the needs and inequities of local government finances but merely will make recommendations to the Federal Government as to how the amount that the Federal Government has determined should be allocated to the States for local government purposes on a State by State basis. Those total allocations will be based on 2 components: Firstly, on a per capita component which I understand may or may not be subject to the weighted principle and which may be subject to consultation between the Federal Grants Commission on the one hand and the States Grants Commission on the other hand; and, secondly, on an equalisation component which will be determined by the State Local Government Grants Commission, but no consultation in that respect will take place between the State Grants Commission and the Australian Grants Commission. It is all so complicated.
As I understand it, that, in principle, is the policy of the present Government so far as meeting the financial needs of local government is concerned. It is a detailed and highly complicated and complex formula. In other words, the amount shall be set, in the first instance, by the Government, not after recommendations have been received from the Australian Grants Commission on a local government recommendatory basis but purely on the basis of the proportions of the total allocations which go to each State.
– Ask whether it will be 2 per cent, senator.
– We shall come to percentage and quantum later on. In other words, representation by local government in the future concerning the total amount to be received by it will have to be made at the political level and not through an open hearing by an independent and quasi-judicial tribunal, a tribunal which was established, I think, in 1932 or 1933 and which for 40 years has been making recommendations to Federal governments of all political persuasions about the amounts of assistance that should go to States; and, since 1973, not only to States but also to local government organisations. In the entire 40 years that this Tribunal has been is existence not one of its recommendations has been rejected by any government, irrespective of political persuasion. I emphasise that to show the respect that all governments and all people have had for the integrity and ability of the Australian Grants Commission. Now, of course, local government organisations are being spurred on by some utterances on the part of Government supporters, who have implied that local government would eventually have the right to fix its own level of income tax.
There is concern amongst local government organisations about the proposed new policies of the Australian Government. Only yesterday I received a letter from Mr Mitchell, the Executive Officer of the Northern Metropolitan Regional Organisation of South Australia, which is a joint authority under the Local Government Act. Mr Mitchell sent to me, in my capacity as the shadow Minister for Administrative Services, a copy of a letter and a submission that he had put forward to Senator Withers concerning the future of the Grants Commission. At the expense of tiring the Senate, I shall read the letter into Hansard. Mr Mitchell, in a letter to Senator Withers of 12 March 1 976, said:
I wish to place before you the views of this Region on the proposal by your Government to remove from the Grants Commission, its functions relating to Local Government financial assistance. These views are set out in the attached document, the contents of which are being circulated as a discussion paper to all other Local Government Regions throughout Australia, and for information to other Members of Parliament.
In general, it is the view of the member councils in this Region that the present arrangements for direct access by Local Government to Federal funding via the Grants Commission are satisfactory, and capable of being developed further in the light of experience. No advantage is perceived in the proposal to transfer Local Government matters to States Grants Commissions under a guaranteed fixed share of personal taxation, and indeed there are several disadvantages associated with such a change, not the least of which is the unpredictable deflating effect which tax indexation may have on the level of assistance, in real terms.
That, if I might interpolate, comes back to the question of the proposed 2 per cent quantum that is being floated around by supporters of the present Government. The letter goes on:
The need for change is questioned, and it is submitted that Local Government should be consulted and its views taken into account before action is taken to introduce amendments to the Grants Commission Act.
Your assistance in acquainting your parliamentary colleagues with the views of this Region would be appreciated, and I look forward to your comments on this matter.
In the appendix to the letter Mr Mitchell made the following comment in relation to consideration of the background of the whole matter.
The Northern Metropolitan Regional Organisation (No. 1 South Australia), gave considerable thought to the question of future Federal-State-Local Government financial relationships, and concluded that it would be prima facie retrograde of Local Government were to accept any scheme which did not provide direct access to Federal finances. It was felt that the emergence of Local Government as a constitutionally viable third arm of government would be impeded rather than encouraged by any scheme of dependency on grants from the States. Rather, Local Government should ensure that the gains already accorded to it by virtue of its access to direct Federal assistance through the Grants Commission, are not lost, and that further gains are made in the future.
I have deliberately read that into the record to indicate that that is merely an example of the feeling that exists in a large cross section of the local government organisations throughout Australia today. In August of last year I, together with my colleague Senator Keeffe, travelled throughout a wide part of northern Queensland and there, as I mentioned earlier, the then Labor Government was lauded for the amount of money it had poured into local government on an untied and unconditional basis in the last 2 years of its operations.
The Leader of the Government in the Senate said during his remarks that we do not appear to comprehend the totality of the Government’s approach towards federalism. It was said by Senator Withers that the Government is of the opinion that the amendments that have been moved firstly by Senator Harradine and now by Senator Brown on behalf of the Opposition do not take into account the rights of the people within the States themselves. He has said that there always has been consultation and that by now adopting the attitude- I say that it is a quite unusual attitude- of amending its own proposal in relation to the Address-in-Reply the Government will get rid of some of the old bogies about double taxation and the Government’s new approach to federalism. But, if I might say so with respect to the Government, I believe that it is painting itself very quickly into a corner on this matter and could well be instituting a piranha like system whereby one system eventually swallows up the other and that by indicating consultation by way of this amendment rather than seeking the approval of the less populous States or agreeing to the continuance of the local government hearings by the Grants Commission the Government is now merely trying to paint itself out of that corner.
Many members of the Liberal Party throughout Australia have expressed very great concern about the proposals of the present Government. On the one hand, the Premier of New South Wales, Sir Eric Willis, has expressed grave misgivings about the proposed system from the point of view of his State, which is the State that I have the honour of representing in this Parliament. Speaking at the Royal Exchange Club in Sydney on 10 February he, representing the most populous State and probably the wealthiest State so far as revenue is concerned, made it clear that he hoped for a better financial deal in the Federal Government’s federalism policy. In a report in the Australian Financial Review of 1 1 February 1 976 Sir Eric Willis had this to say:
Another expression of the poor situation N.S.W. finds itself in compared to other States is that we receive in financial assistance grants only 28 per cent of the total personal income tax paid from this State.
That is New South Wales. He continued:
Victoria gets 27 per cent.
Other States do much better. For instance Queensland’s return is 52 per cent and Tasmania gets 73 per cent.
Now, as a government, we know that some other States must receive a greater consideration because of their smaller populations and lesser development.
However, we feel that there should now be a reassessment of the subsidies they need, because we believe that they now need less subsidy than they did.
That statement was made by a very prominent member of the Liberal Party in the Premier of New South Wales, who represents the most populous State in Australia. One can see the attitude of that Liberal Government insofar as the less populous States are concerned. I say at the outset that, coming from New South Wales and as a member of the Labor movement, I adopt the attitude adopted by the former Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, that the whole system of assistance has to be viewed region by region, boundary by boundary and growth by growth. I make no apologies for that. But I emphasise that what I have cited is the thinking of the Liberal Premier of New South Wales insofar as the Federal Government’s proposed system of federalism is concerned.
– The old system is under attack.
-As Senator Devitt has said, the system is under attack. That was from Sir Eric Willis, the Premier of New South Wales, on the one hand. If I might interpolate, honourable senators opposite ought to remember at the same time that the author of the proposed system or the announced author of the proposed system, Senator Carrick, comes from and represents in this chamber the State of New South States. I have stated the attitude of Sir Eric Willis. Who are some of the others who disagree with or raise queries about the proposal? Senator Rae, a Tasmanian senator, has written about the matter in the Australian. As recently as 13 February in an article headed ‘The problems of sharing out the tax’ Senator Rae commences by saying:
Why is the Queensland Treasurer, Sir Gordon Chalk, concerned over some aspects of the Commonwealth Government’s new federalism proposals?
I will not weary the Senate with a dissertion of the matter about which Senator Rae felt he needed to express concern. In short, having opened his column with those remarks, he then said:
Returning then to the expressions of concern. Are there clear answers available at this stage? The answer to the best of my knowledge is no- not yet.
That is an expression by Senator Rae, a member of this Parliament. Another person who has expressed views on the matter is a member from another place, the honourable member for Lilley, Mr Kevin Cairns. He expressed concern about these proposals before they were actually announced. Some time in September last year when it was being mooted that this new policy of federalism would be in the air, Mr Cairns, who was then not a member of this Parliament, issued a Press statement and the underlying point of it was that the smaller States could be threatened by a key feature of the new Opposition policy, and that was giving the States a direct right to income tax raisings. He expressed that concern last September, but again as recently as a month ago, on 13 February, Mr Cairns, now re-elected by this time to the Federal Parliament, went to the trouble of issuing a Press release- he did not make a statement in the Parliament- saying:
Australia’s new federalism policy must be fair, not only between Commonwealth and States but between citizens of States … Its acceptability will depend on the details of its revenue sharing and income proposals.
Dr Tonkin, Leader of the Opposition in South Australia and a member of the Liberal Party, at the Liberal Party Council meeting in Canberra last October sought a guarantee from that body that the less populous States would not be disadvantaged by the decision to restore income tax powers to the States. Of course, Sir Gordon Chalk, the Liberal Treasurer of Queensland, has been constantly expressing concern since the new federalism policy was announced about its effect on the less populous States. He apparently made a statement at the Liberal Party Council meeting last October. The Sydney Morning Herald of 13 October reports:
During question time, Sir Gordon said a speech that Senator Carrick had made on Commonwealth-State financial relations had missed ‘the whole kernel of the argument ‘.
It is reported in the paper that Sir Gordon Chalk’s remarks embarrassed Party officials, as the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Fraser, had earlier said the policy contained firm guarantees for the financial positions of the smaller States. The report continues:
Sir Gordon said he supported the policy. ‘I believe in it’, he said, ‘ but on the other hand I believe if lt is to be convincing to Australia and Australians, it is necessary that we spell it out’.
That was in October. Since that time the policy has been spelt out. On 16 January the Financial Review reported that the Queensland Treasurer Sir Gordon Chalk gave another blast to the Federal Government’s proposals. He said that he was bitterly opposed to the States having their own income taxes and having separate taxes. The report states:
It will mean a return to the dark days with each State outbidding each other by way of taxation to try and get industry established in one State rather than another’.
Then apparently, according to the Australian of 12 February, the Queensland Treasurer and Deputy Premier, Sir Gordon Chalk, the day before had accused the Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, and the New South Wales Premier, Sir Eric Willis, of plotting against the smaller States. The report states:
He said: ‘If we follow the guidelines laid down in the new Federal taxation policy, Queensland will get less money ‘.
I deliberately have not cited the opinions of prominent members of the Labor movement, particularly Mr Dunstan in South Australia and Mr Neilson in Tasmania. I think Mr Dunstan has gone on record as saying somewhere or other that so far as he is concerned the whole scheme is a con job.
- Mr Neilson said much the same thing. He wrote to all Tasmanian senators on the subject.
Senator DOUGLAS McCLELLANDSenator Devitt says that Mr Neilson, the very worthy Premier of Tasmania, has said much the same as Mr Dunstan and that Mr Neilson has written to all Tasmanian senators on the subject.
The Labor movement wants to see the protection of all people throughout Australia irrespective of the State or Territory in which they live. It wants to see the living standards of all people raised and improved on the basis of equity and on the basis of equalisation. It believes in setting out to overcome these inequities on a national basis. Under these circumstances I suggest it is quite meaningless for the Government now to say that there will be consultation between it and the various States. There has, automatically I suggest, to be consultation. In other words the scheme would fall to the ground immediately if there were no consultation. For instance if there is still disagreement after the consultation whose view prevails? Is it the States’ or is it the Commonwealth’s?
If the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) had looked at section 18 of the present Grants Commission Act he would have seen that rather than there merely having to be consultation, under the existing arrangements there has to be a reference by the Minister responsible to the Parliament for the Grants Commission to the appropriate State Minister dealing with local government applications. So already there is more than consultations. It is written into the legislation that there has to be a reference by the Federal Minister to the appropriate State Minister. Therefore we believe that the Government ‘s anticipated amendment does not go far enough. We believe that the amendment moved by Senator Brown should be adopted by the Senate as a firm expression of opinion of the Senate that the Grants Commission’s hearings for local government should continue.
Because we are suspicious of the present Government’s statements about how this proposed scheme will operate, we therefore believe the approval of governments of the less populous States should be sought in the first instance. I indicate now that we urge support for the amendment that has been moved by Senator Brown. For the reasons I have advanced we too will be voting for the amendment that has been moved by Senator Harradine.
- Mr President, I seek leave to make a personal explanation.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
- Mr President, I believe that the impression could have been created by the words which were quoted by Senator Douglas McClelland from something which I had written, that I was in some way opposed to my Government’s federalism policy. That is not so. It was simply a matter of pointing out some aspects which were still to be worked out, and some questions which had to be worked out in relation to those aspects. So that the matter can be made quite clear, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the actual article to which reference has been made. It contains 900 words.
-Is leave granted for the incorporation? There being no objection, leave is granted. ( The document read as follows)-
THE PROBLEMS OF SHARING OUT THE TAX
Why is the Queensland Treasurer, Sir Gordon Chalk, concerned over some aspects of the Commonwealth Government’s new federalism proposals?
Concern has also been expressed by the premiers of South Australia and Tasmania. Some cynics may suggest that as both the premiers are Labor leaders their concern is more party political than related to the basic interests of their States. But that of course could not apply to Sir Gordon.
Let us examine the matter a little further. There is widespread support for the broad principles of reversing the centralist trend and restoring some real power to the States. Basically the concern has been expressed by the small States and it has related to the questions of whether the scheme will constitute some form of double taxation and whether the equalisation grant proposals will adequately protect the interests of the smaller States.
It is inevitable that unless there is through the system a tremendous improvement in tax gathering efficiency (and this does not appear to have been claimed) then someone is going to surfer if someone else obtains an advantage. It is significant that in an interview after the Premiers Conference Sir Eric Willis of N.S.W. expressed his enthusiasm saying that he would like to see his State retaining or obtaining a greater percentage of the total taxes raised within it.
Obviously if that is to happen either the Commonwealth will retain less or there will be less distributed among the smaller States by way of ‘equalisation’ grants. Alternatively taxpayers will pay more. In so far as the concern of the two Labor premiers is related to the question of equalisation it can hardly be said that their views are party political. Let us then leave aside the double taxation arguments and consider only the equalisation concern.
The federations in Canada and the U.S.A. as well as Australia have all faced the problem of how to share the power and responsibilities among the member governments. Historically there have been two major features:
That the national governments have become dominant in revenue raising; and,
That there have been vast disparities between the economic effects of federation on some of the member States and the effects on others. The centripetal tendencies have made the strong grow richer and drawn off the cream from the weaker.
Let me give one simple example. The large company which exploits the natural resources of say Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania is likely to have its head office located in a large building in Sydney or Melbourne. The taxes paid on profits earned in those smaller States are paid in and credited to one or other of the two dominant States. The headquarters building, rates, insurances, professional services and a string of employees in the headquarters (including the highest paid and highest tax-paying employees) are all in the big city paid for by the resources and lesser remunerated efforts of Tasmanians. Queenslanders or Western Australians.
The current Canadian scheme is held up by proponents of the Australian proposal as a shining example but it is no exaggeration to say that such a claim would lead to a public stoning if made in some areas of Canada.
In Australia there was a period when compensation for disabilities arising from Federation was used as a basis lor grants. Significantly it was the small States which consistently made out the case for disability compensation.
From the mid- 1930s the principle of financial need has been applied. The Grants Commission operated on a basis of recommending the ‘ amount of help found necessary to make it possible for that State by reasonable effort to function at a standard not appreciably below that of other States’.
Questions of a State’s tax raising effort and taxable capacity became dominant factors in determining the payment of equalisation grants. The idea that what the smaller States were getting was really their own money back was abandoned and has been conveniently overlooked for many years. The idea of compensation for advantages forgone was replaced by the notion of charity to mendicants. This notion then tended to spread also to the larger States’ reimbursement of taxes so that a generous central government was making grants to States.
The current proposal in effect to return their taxing powers to the States may well overcome this latter attitude but what about the compensation to the smaller States? Is that to continue on the concept of equalisation based on need? If so they are likely to remain forever the poor relations with the total system having an increasingly regressive impact on them.
Returning them to the expressions of concern. Are there clear answers available at this stage? The answer to the best of my knowledge is no- not yet. In the published policy much is spelled out about other aspects but all that appears on the areas of concern is that the principle of equalisation and the current advantages accruing to the less populous States will be maintained and that the Grants Commission will be retained.
What about compensation for the effect of Federal Government policies as well as other disabilities suffered from the centripetal forces? For instance will the Tasmanian farmers destroyed by the effects of the New Zealand Free Trade Agreement receive some real consideration? Perhaps the Senate, as the States House, should through a committee acting with expedition enable some public examination and debate of these grey but vital areas of concern.
– I enter this Address-in-Reply debate rather late in the proceedings. It has been under way for some weeks now and will probably finish fairly shortly. This is the first opportunity that I have had to congratulate you, Mr President, on your elevation to the office which you now hold. All honourable senators are confident that you will grace that office, that you will show to the Senate the fairness and the dignity for which you are renowned and that you will be a great asset to the proceedings of the Senate during the time that you hold that office. I also wish to congratulate Senator Drake-Brockman on his election as Chairman of Committees. He has already shown that he is extremely capable in that capacity and that he is a senator who will be able to facilitate the proceedings of the Senate in a worthwhile way. Again, because I speak at a late stage in this debate, this is the first opportunity I have had to congratulate all the new senators on both sides of the chamber. Their maiden speeches have been of sterling quality. The contributions that they have made in this Address-in-Reply debate and on other matters have been most noteworthy. I am sure that in the future we will have a Senate which will work hard and well with the older members of whom I am now one after just a short time, and with the newer members.
I feel constrained to comment on some of the things that Senator Douglas McClelland has said. As I have said, this debate has been under way for some time and has ranged over many subjects. Most of Senator Douglas McClelland ‘s comments were apparently intended to be directed to the amendment which the Opposition has moved to the motion for this adoption of the Address-in-Reply. Nevertheless, there are a couple of things which Senator Douglas McClelland said to which I must take some exception. He said that the Labor Government, and the Labor Party, aims at the protection of all people on the basis of equity and equalisation. Unfortunately, he did not spell out what he actually meant by those words and he was not very easy to follow. I come from a State which was more than just resentful of the way it was treated by the previous Labor Government. Whatever the previous Labor Government may have said about the attitude of Queenslanders, there is no doubt at all that Queenslanders believed themselves to be well based in their distrust of and resentment towards that Government. In 1972 Queensland was booming quite dramatically. We had been, as I have said before in the Senate, through an extraordinary drought in Queensland. It had lasted 16 years and had broken a short time before, or at about the time when, the Labor Government assumed office. If it had not been for the tremendous expansion of the mining industry and the associated secondary industries in Queensland, that State would have been in very serious trouble, instead of which it was a boom State thanks to the growth of the industries which I have mentioned, notably the mining industry.
During the period it was in office the Labor Government managed to destroy the confidence of the mining industry and to go a long way towards undermining the future prospects of industries which we expected, back in 1972, were imminent, which were about to be established and which would have let to further expansion. The Federal Labor Government did not manage to slow down Queensland absolutely. Queensland still made some progress, but it was achieved under extraordinary difficulty. The former Labor Government demonstrated itself as a government not caring about people who live in remote areas and the difficulties experienced by families living in those areas on a day to day basis, as well as the difficulties involved in operating an industry.
The former Government did not quite have the nerve to come right out into the open and say: ‘We do not really think people should be developing the remote areas of Australia. Therefore, we would really prefer that you gave up the effort’. It did not quite have that sort of a nerve. But the penalities of living in those remote areas were harsh. In a State which is so large and so diversified in its population, the effect was felt strongly and bitterly. It would be very difficult for Senator Douglas McClelland to go to Queensland and talk about the protection of all people on the basis of equity and equalisation. He also stated- I am not terribly sure what he meant- that the development of Australia should be considered region by region, boundary by boundary and growth according to growth. It is a pity that that statement was not a little clearer because I think that, in the context of the performance of the Labor Party in government, would have been interesting.
The Labor Party has been saying quite a bit about itself recently. Within the last couple of days Senator James McClelland said that the Labor Party ought not to consider itself any more a party based on the trade unions. He referred to the fact that it is estimated that at least 50 per cent of trade union members did not vote for Labor in the last Federal election but, in fact, voted for the return of a Liberal-National Country Party government. That is nothing new. Although for a long time the Labor Party has claimed to represent ‘workers’- I put that word in inverted commas- in fact, it has never represented all those in employment if that is what it means by ‘workers’. The disaffection amongst the people whom the Labor Party has traditionally considered would support it should not have been any surprise to it.
Mr President, you know very well that a number of senators, who are now Government senators, came under some extraordinary pressure when the Opposition deferred the Budget in the Senate last year. Thanks to people like my colleague from Queensland, Senator Keeffe, continually naming me as one of those who might change their minds regarding the deferral of the Budget, I came under considerable pressure. Of course, the allegation was completely untrue. It did not seem to matter how often I denied it; somebody from the then Government side of the Parliament would repeat it and I would have the Press after me again and I would be denying it again. Other people were encouraged to put pressure on me amongst others, to try to weaken the stand that the then Opposition was taking in this matter. Of course they did not succeed. One or the reasons I stayed absolutely determined in my commitment at that time, and had no doubt at all about the decision that I had taken, was the number of low income earners who approached me and said ‘Good on you. Stick to what you are doing’. As far as I am concerned, it was not the high income earners or the members of the business community who were trying to keep us firm in our then resolve. It was the people who were really being hurt; the people who were most vulnerable; the people who did not have security in employment and in their personal condition. The people who were being hurt were the ones who were really threatened by unemployment; the ones who were threatened by inflation; the ones whose children had virtually no prospect of entering employment once they left school. Those people in advance of their being an election, had no doubt at all about the need for an election in Australia.
Senator James McClelland should not be surprised, because surely he was receiving the same sort of information. We have been acquainted with other sorts of information that he claims he had at that time. But this sort of information should have been something that was available to Senator James McClelland as a Labor senator. If it was, he has not said so. That is something that he has not chosen to reveal to the Senate. Now he says that the Labor Party apparently needs some super intellect basis. He says that it needs to appeal to people of a certain type of background. In fairness, he says that Parliament, not just the Labor Party, should be looking for people with these qualities. I suggest to Senator James McClelland and whoever of his colleagues are tempted to follow him in this line of thought, that the background of the person whom they attract into their Party and whom they choose for their parliamentary representation will not matter. It will not matter whether they are academics, professional people, union leaders or workers. It will not matter if they are complete illiterates. If they do not have the ability or the will to see how their policies affect people, then they will be failures. It will not matter to which group of people they claim to aim as a basis for future power. If they cannot govern in the interests of the people, then they will be a society which failed.
As I said earlier, the debate has ranged over many topics. It would be presumptuous of anybody to hope to cover all those topics at this stage. However, there are a couple of particular contributions to the debate to which I should like to refer. One was a contribution made by Senator Cavanagh.
Senator Cavanagh, a Minister in the former Government, covered many topics. He talked about the irrelevance of Parliament so far as he was concerned. He talked about the greater relevance of militancy on the streets and of militancy within trade unions, which I suggest is a greater reflection on Senator Cavanagh ‘s attitude than it is on this Parliament. He also put an extraordinary thesis of people not having to work if they did not want to. He made a case for people who wanted to indulge in leisure as their main pastime, and he made this statement at page 1 1 7 of the Senate Hansard of 1 9 February:
It is far better for increased leisure time to be in the hands of those who have selected it than of those who are forced into it.
In other words, it is far better apparently that people who are employed currently and who would rather not work but live on Government handouts should be allowed to do that than that people who are currently unemployed be kept unemployed. Senator Cavanagh wants some sort of swap over. He does not want people to be obliged to work in order to get some sort of income and he seems to think that an interchange should be possible. Quite apart from the logic of that, it is an extraordinary thesis. As I recall my history and political science lessons, one of the bases of the Labor movement was an objection to the fact that the leisure class of times gone by was the wealthy class and that those who were born wealthy or who acquired wealth along the way at the expense of the aforementioned worker in fact could indulge in leisure. We seem to have had the contrary thesis given to us now. Whereas before there was an objection to the idea of the nobility or the wealthy class being a leisured class, it is being proposed now that there is nothing at all wrong with the leisure class, nothing at all wrong with money being given to people as a means of subsistence, nothing at all wrong with whether they make any sort of contribution or are absolute parasites in society, as long as they are not noble or well-bred, as long as they are people from the working class and apparently people who would otherwise vote Labor.
Whichever thesis one takes- that there should be a leisure class and that it should be the province of the wealthy or that it should be the province of the workers- the same charges of exploitation can be made, the charges of exploitation which used to be made by the Labor movement many years ago. Those same charges can be made now against the sort of person who will sit down and say: ‘ No, I don ‘t want to work. I don ‘t want to contribute in kind to society. However, I want society to keep me. ‘ I would caution those of the Labor movement who intend to follow Senator Cavanagh ‘s thesis, interesting though it may be, of some of the pitfalls they are about to encounter. It is a new idea, and the Labor Party is casting around at the moment for a new ideaany new idea- in order to find something on which to hang its hat. If it is going to advance that thesis seriously, I suggest that it will not get off the ground in Australia.
There is no doubt at all that there was enormous resentment in our society, and there still is, towards people who claim that they do not have to work but that those who do have to work should keep them as well. There is an enormous resentment of that idea. I for one would hate to see an over-reaction on the basis of that resentment. I think we should be careful in our social welfare area of things like unemployment benefits and the conditions under which they are granted. We have to be careful about certain civil liberties. We cannot over-react to the exploitation which has taken place in the past. However, we do have a responsibility to those who are working to advance our society, to those who believe in our society and want it to work properly. We have a responsibility to them, as the people who fund the operations of government, to ensure that the basic democratic process, that is, the right of the taxpayer and the right of the voter to direct how their money will be spent, is safeguarded. Senator Grimes was one of the first to jump on that bandwagon.
Before Parliament resumed some announcements were made by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) on the tightening up of conditions under which unemployment benefits would be given. I was one who said that I welcomed that tightening up. However, I had some reservations about the means of implementation of the conditions which were going to be put on the dole in future. I had reservations because I believed that there was a potential for serious infringement of people’s civil liberties in those tightening up provisions. I believed that there was a potential for people to be treated unjustly and not in the way that we as a Parliament, or indeed society as a whole, would want to see people in that position treated. I suggested that the Government should consider very seriously the appointment of an ombudsman as a way of protecting those people. I am well aware that appeals machinery exists at the moment which was set up by the former Labor Government when it put some sort of restriction on pensions. I am well aware that that machinery exists but I suggest that it is no substitute for an ombudsman. It is certainly potentially a way of protecting people’s liberties, but an ombudsman operates rather differently. He operates with full professional respectability and with a greater chance of efficiency than the sort of appeals tribunals that we have. That is not meant in any way to be a reflection on the people currently serving on those tribunals. I know that they serve with the best will in the world and I know that they do a good job. But the need for an ombudsman goes beyond that scope. It is something to which I hope the Government will give early consideration.
A Bill to appoint an ombudsman was on the notice paper for a very long time last year. I hope that nobody is going to suggest that the fact that it was on the notice paper in the Senate for weeks was in any way the fault of the Opposition. As one of the people who looked forward to debating that Bill, I remember very well one day when those of us in the then Opposition who were particularly interested in the Bill actually thought that it was going to be debated that day. It had been listed about No. 4 on the notice paper and there was a good chance in the early part of the day that it would come up. As the day progressed, unfortunately that chance faded as the Senate became terribly involved in some other Bill. It actually got to the position of being the next Bill to be debated that day, but we did not finish the previous Bill. When we got our notice paper the next day the Government had dropped the ombudsman Bill down to No. 14, so there was no risk of it getting close to the point of debate. Parliament was dissolved without that Bill being debated in the Senate, although it was debated in the House of Representatives
I am one of many people who see some cause for concern in the growth of government, in the growth of its importance, in the growth of the potential it has for interfering in people ‘s lives. I am one of many people who over many years have advocated the appointment of an ombudsman at all levels of government. Several States now have ombudsmen, of course. Many objections were raised some 15 years ago, when the idea of an ombudsman was very novel. This was in a period before even New Zealand had an ombudsman. There was some debate about whether the office would fit into the Westminster parliamentary system, and I think that the thesis then put forward by people who opposed the appointment of an ombudsman was that it was not suited to the parliamentary style of government, that while it might be suited to the Scandinavian system of government it was not suited to ours. Of course, the enlightened decision some years ago of the New Zealand Government to appoint an ombudsman has given the lie to that allegation.
A further allegation which was made then, and I fear it is still made by some, is that an ombudsman would cut across the role of a member of Parliament, that it would somehow interfere with the prerogative of a member of Parliament. It was said that the job the ombudsman is supposed to do of hearing complaints from the public about acts of omission or commission by the Public Service is the job of a member of Parliament. I came into Parliament wondering about how my change in status in relation to politics from being a party worker to being a member of Parliament would affect my attitude to the ombudsman. I am bound to say that all it has done is to completely reinforce my previous opinion that an ombudsman is essential. There are areas into which a member of Parliament should not go. I do not believe it is right that a member of Parliament should have access to certain Public Service files. We have to respect the independence and the integrity of the public servant in the administration of his duties. However, we must recognise that there could be cases where the public servant makes the wrong decision, for whatever reason. It may not be just his own decision; he may have been influenced by others in his decision.
There are cases where great delays in decisions have caused enormous hardship to people on occasions. In those cases it is necessary to have some independent person who can review the case, who can look at its merits and make a recommendation. I suggest that with the best will in the world we could not always be confident that a member of Parliament could make that sort of independent review. Indeed, there are members of Parliament who are in no way competent to make any such review. I hope that the Government will give early consideration to the possible benefits that would flow to Australians from an ombudsman in the federal system. It is something to which we, as Liberals, are committed and it is something which fits very well with our philosophy of government.
As I said earlier, one of the reasons I raised the matter at that time was that I had some fears about political intereference in the operations of the restrictions on the application of the dole. One of the objections I raised was that I feared there was an opening for those who wanted to make political mischief to allege abuse, even if such abuse was not occurring. I am not suggesting for one moment that that is what Senator Grimes was doing in his speech on 19 February, which appears at page 126 of Hansard. Senator Grimes certainly went somewhere towards doing that. He may have been well intentioned but I suggest that there are many other people who will not be so well intentioned when they make this sort of statement. Senator Grimes made a reference that I will not repeat and then, referring to a speech made by Senator Sheil last year, said:
Never have any figures been produced to prove or to let us know how many of the so-called dole bludgers there werejust claims that there were thousands, that there were millions, that they were everywhere.
Senator Grimes went on to make a statement which indicated that the new provisions could be abused. I agree that the new provisions could be abused. I think, for the protection of the public and for the reasons that I have outlined, that we should have some safeguards. I think it is important also for the protection of the public servants that we have safeguards. Obviously, it is in the interests of many people- either in their individual interests or in their political interestsnow and in the future to make all manner of allegations relating to the application of those guidelines on the dole. We run the risk, I fear, of those new guidelines, which are meant to achieve the right objective, being discredited by people who will be in a position to make all manner of wild allegations if we do not have some independent benchmark against which to measure their allegations.
We are replying to the Governor-General’s Speech. He said many things in that Speech. I should like to make a couple of general remarks about what he said and a couple of particular remarks about areas that interest me. It seems to me that the Opposition has divided its debate on the Address-in-Reply into 2 parts. The first part, notably, is a vituperative attack on the Governor-General. The second part is an attempt to get an interesting debate going about their amendment in relation to local government. I suggest that the amendment is fatuous. I suggest it is a device to try to draw attention to one area of its policies which will not particularly benefit the Opposition because its record in that area is not good. It is easy, indeed, for Opposition members to make criticisms of the Government’s policies as outlined in the Governor-General’s Speech.
It is easy but they have not taken all the time that they could have on replying to it. There are some areas that I am sure will upset the Opposition very much. The Speech outlines a government policy which is quite contrary to the approach of the previous Government, which was a soft option government. It was a government which attempted to cover all areas and attempted, in some ways, to appear to give no one any cause for complaint, but ended up, of course, giving many people a basis for legitimate complaint. It indulged in bottomless pit financing. The previous Government had the idea that if $lm was considered to be not very much money then $20m was not very much either, when considered in relation to the total Budget and if $20m is an easy amount of money to spend then it is not a very big jump to say that $100m, $200m or $l,000m is not very much to spend. It becomes very difficult with a government such as the previous Government, which over-spent so grossly and which seemed to have no benchmark, to keep government spending in perspective. Senator Georges made an aside during a reply from Senator Guilfoyle to Senator Button in the Senate some weeks ago. The Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) was referring to a decision the Government had made to save $132,000 by not printing some reports. Senator Georges said:
One would have to look at the merits of that $130,000 in its own context, but one needs to have some base against which to start. The previous Government is guilty of never having attempted to set that base.
The idea of the bottomless pit of government financing was there. It had to operate on that assumption. It had, in Opposition for so many years, nurtured the idea that government finances were a bottomless pit, that there was no need for a government to exercise any restraint in its spending, that it did not need to set priorities or draw the line anywhere. The previous Government did draw the line on some occasions; it drew the line according to its own prescription and it decided that some could get benefits and others could not. There was an extraordinary coincidence in those decisions. One group, for example, could have hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. Yet another group- I am thinking particularly of the beef industrycould not have easy access to aid to keep itself going whilst waiting for a future which we know must be better than the present. Those in the beef industry needed a comparatively small amount of money to keep themselves going. The previous
Government laid itself open to that sort of criticism because it never tried to set any basis for its priorities.
In the debate on the Address-in-Reply a few remarks have been made about women. I would like to make my own small contribution to this subject. I am particularly interested in that section of the Governor-General’s Speech which says:
In all policy areas the Government will be alert to opportunities to increase the freedom of Australians to choosewithout exploitation- the kinds of goods, services and styles of life they want . . .
The Governor-General went on to talk about interference by the bureaucracy. Debates have taken place in this chamber about the role of women in our society. I thought that Senator Walters made a very interesting and worthwhile contribution- interesting because in my experience it certainly reflected the attitudes of many Australian women. Senator O ‘Byrne scoffed at these attitudes. I remember that Senator Walters said something about the need for an increase in child endowment to enable women to stay at home, if they so choose, to look after their children. When she said that there are some who allege that that is a standard sort of fascist line, Senator O ‘Byrne said very loudly: ‘Hear, hear!’ He seemed to me to be implying that that was his opinion- that it was a fascist line. Senator O ‘Byrne would need to have a little more contact with Australian women if that is his opinion. Perhaps he thinks that the majority of Australian women in that role are fascists. Goodness knows; he can speak for himself.
Women in Australia, the wives and mothers of our society, face a very difficult situation at present. I remember that some years ago in the early 1960s, when the big scare talk started about the population explosion, many terrifying articles appeared in books, magazines and, indeed, even in the Sunday newspapers about the implications of a population explosion. I remember vividly that one of the theories being put forward by economists at that time as a means of dampening down the population explosion was that government should so arrange the economy that it was necessary for just about every adult in our society to work. Their theory was to arrange the economy so that it would be just about impossible for a family to subsist on one wage and, by doing so, men and women would be discouraged from having children. This idea was based, of course, on the fact that if a woman has to take a full time job and has to take the full family responsibilities that she might have if she did not hold a job she would be discouraged from having children because children would be a burden to her and would be a burden to the family. The theory was, therefore, that people could be persuaded- not in so many words and not explicitly or honestly- by governments to keep down the size of their families, and thereby do something about the population explosion. I will come back to that point later because I fear that it is almost possible that some honourable senators have deliberately embarked on a debate of this kind in recent days. I must say that it is a cynical, cruel and ruthless policy. It is a policy that no civilised society, such as Australia, should for one minute consider.
We talk a lot these days about the need for people to get job satisfaction- enjoyment out of being creative in their employment area. It is something with which trade unions are preoccupied, but not many trade unions. It is something with which many employers and academics are preoccupied. It is a subject which comes up for debate in this Parliament from time to time, the argument being that people should be able to do the jobs for which they are most suited, that they should be able to develop and utilise the skills with which they were born or are most interested in developing, that they should have the opportunity to choose their job freely, to be creative in their job and to get satisfaction from it. We have embarked on such undertakings as job retraining schemes to enable people to do this sort of thing. But it seems to me that we talk entirely in the industrial area.
Much of the activities of the women’s movement was based on an objection to the idea that women, by their biological destinies, ought to remain in the home and ought not to pursue careers. That objection was based on the notion that if women could obtain satisfaction from careers- and they ought to be able to do that if they have that talent and that talent is not suppressed- women should have that equal right. It seems to me that that movement has made a most serious error. It seems to me also that this error is flowing into the thinking of society concerning the role of women.
When we talk about job satisfaction, as far as I can see this is being applied only to the assembly line, the office or whatever. It is not being applied to all occupations. It certainly is not being applied in that context to women who are pursuing a specific job- this is, the role of homemaker and the role of child raiser. The fallacy on the part of the women’s movement argument is that while is rejects what it calls the sexist assumption that women, by reason of their biological makeup, were destined to follow a particular sort of course in their life and that it was unnatural for them to want to do anything like follow another careerand I would agree obviously wholeheartedly with that rejection- I fear that the women’s movement has appeared to impose on women a different sort of assumption.
That is the assumption that if a woman gets pleasure out of the job of being wife and mother, if she gets satisfaction from the job of raising children, if she wants to stay in the home, as we call it, and perform a very particular duty there, she ought to feel guilty and that there is something inhuman or unnatural about making a decision of that type. That is as unreal an assumption as the previous assumption. But very many women, I must say to the Senate and specifically to Senator O ‘Byrne, who do like the job that they are doing- that is, the traditional job, the biological destiny type job- are now fearful. They are having all manner of emotions raised. They are fearful that they will be forced into jobs that they do not want to do, jobs that they have not chosen to do, jobs for which they do not have the proper skills and jobs from which they will not get job satisfaction. That is surely the essential basis of undertaking such work. We ought to extend our debate on job satisfaction to all people. We ought to consider that particular task for which so many women do opt, willingly, happily and gladly, and for which they have the necessary talents; we ought to consider that a job.
The year before last, this Senate passed a Bill which the House of Representatives finally passed last year in which we made some attempt to give some recognition to the economic contribution of the woman in the home. That was, of course, the Family Law Bill. Some quite new concepts were introduced, for instance, with respect to the basis for determining maintenance and property settlements. That Bill providedand we have put into law- that the contribution of the woman in the home ought to be considered a contribution to the family economy and ought to be considered as some sort of contribution to the assets of a family and, in the case of marital breakdown, a woman should have a claim as of right to have the assets assessed on the basis of the job that she has done.
I regret to say that it has been a once only piece of legislation. It does not seem to have flowed on to any other legislative area. The particular area to which it ought to flow- but it has not- is that of death duties. Death duties is a subject of quite some interest in my own State of Queensland at the moment. I have no intention of entering into the State debate on it. Death duties, nevertheless, is an area of some Federal concern. The previous Government proposed that there should be no duties on the family home, up to a certain value, as it passed from spouse to spouse. That was a bandaid measure. It completely overlooked that basis of claim to property on the grounds of a contribution to the family’s economy which we recognised in the Family Law Bill. It is intolerable to me that we would give some that right to claim and others not the entitlement to that claim. We give the claim to divorcees, but we do not give the claim to the widow or to the widower.
We make it possible for an individual, man or woman, but specifically in this instance a woman, to get some sort of just economic recognition for his or her contribution to the family at the point where a couple recognises that their marriage has broken down and at the point where they have decided not to continue with their marriage. I feel full of compassion for people in that situation. I do not suggest for one minute that we should penalise them or take anything away from them. However, how can we justify that position as against the woman whose husband dies, who has had a perfectly satisfactory marriage or a happy marriage and who has the misfortune to lose her husband through his death. That woman is then dealt with in an entirely different way. If it is good enough to make certain property considerations for and to give certain recognitions to a woman at the point of divorce, it is good enough- and it is certainly quite urgent- that we consider doing that at the point of death of the spouse.
It has been estimated that the contribution of women to the gross national product is approximately 25 per cent. The estimate comes from the United States of America. It is very difficult to make the estimate, but it is obvious that the contribution is made. It obviously costs more for 2 parents of a family to go out to work. It costs more to have 2 people working than it does to have one parent working. It costs more for many reasons, not just the practical considerations of work clothes, transport, and one thing and another. It costs more when the mother goes to work as well as the father, particularly when special arrangements need to be made for the care of the children. It costs more because there are certain contributions that the woman is unlikely to be able to continue to make to the family economy. I refer to simple matters like making clothes for the children, amongst other things. Another aspect is the failure to have the time to make the type of household economies which most women are not able to make when they take on a full time occupation. So, it is not all cop.
The fact is that the woman in the home who is not going out to work is making that sort of contribution. She is giving some child care. She is giving other forms of economic support to the family. But it is the only job in our country of which I know which is not paid. If women had a trade union, this situation would not have gone on for so long. But it is an area that has been completely overlooked. Plenty of pious words have been uttered in the past but nothing has ever actually been done.
Senator Walsh has made a suggestion relating to increased child endowment. I support that suggestion. The level of child endowment support these days is ludicrous, quite ludicrous! However, I am one of those who do not believe that child endowment should be an extraordinarily high payment. There is a tremendous risk to the low income family in a very high level of child endowment payments. In that position, a woman in the low income family, particularly if it is low income related to a general low level of education of both parents, is put severely at risk. I believe that such a woman is put in a position where quite unbearable pressure can be brought to bear on her to procreate as a means of bringing in family income. I see Senator Grimes frowning at me. But I suggest, Senator Grimes, that that is not an unrealistic suggestion. It is a fear that has been expressed to me by both women in that position and women who are acquainted with other women in that position. It is something about which we need to be careful. Nevertheless, 1 believe that child endowment payments should be increased.
That is not the whole story; it is only part of it. There have been suggestions that governments ought to pay women a wage for staying at home. There are pitfalls in that suggestion, too. I must say that I am not in general persuaded by the argument. However, I think governments must find some way of making an equitable recognition of the contribution that women do make to their family economy and thereby to the economy of the nation. I reiterate the words of the GovernorGeneral:
In all policy areas, the Government will be alert to opportunities to increase the freedom of Australians to choose without exploitation the kinds of goods, services and styles of life- they want.
I suggest that at present many Australian women are not truly free to choose; they need to go out to full time employment in order to keep their family decently and to educate them to the point which is so necessary in this modern society. I would suggest that, if the Government truly regarded the family as the important unit of society, as everybody keeps on claiming it is, it would do something a little more positive. It would not force such a large proportion of its population into work that the people do not want. It would not force such a large number of our children to be latchkey children. I am not suggesting that all fault lies with the previous Labor Government. I think the fault goes back further than that, but we must recognise it now. Suggestions have been made about how we can recognise it and how we can equitably deal with it. Frankly, the suggestion which appeals to me is the one of income splitting for the purpose of taxation, a recognition that the income earned by one partner in a family and his potential for earning income is substantially contributed to by the other partner. We recognise this in the Family Law Act. We recognise in that Act that the party to the marriage who plays a supportive role extends in general terms the earning capacity of the other partner to the marriage.
The obvious example that comes to mind here is the man trying to raise a family on his own with the enormous difficulties he meets trying to do that, the enormous limitations which that role places on his earning potential and the consequent difficulties which families in that situation fall into. The supportive role of the second parent- in most cases it is the woman- is important for the family’s economy and we ought to recognise that. At the same time we ought to recognise it directly in relation to that supportive partner to the marriage. As I have said, the notion of tax splitting appeals to me. I know that the immediate rock on which this could threaten to founder would be the reduced government income. If we split family incomes ibr the purpose of taxation governments will end up collecting less taxation. To take an income and split it into two and collect the taxation which would be relevant to each of those halves would return considerably less taxation than if we added those halves together and taxed the full amount at the appropriate rate.
However, I do not think that is necessarily an overriding consideration. I think justice to nearly half our population should be an overriding consideration. I think the welfare of our families should be an overriding consideration. Certainly much has been done in recent years but much remains to be done. Much has been done for the single supporting mother. Much has been done for the widow and possibly much more needs to be done, but I say firmly for those on the other side who appear to disagree with me that there is a very strong and growing feeling amongst those who are not in that single situation that they are becoming more and more disadvantaged. Whereas before the one parent family was disadvantaged, now provisions are made which make it easier for such families. At the same time other things are happening in our society which are making it more and more difficult for the 2 parent family where one parent is caring for the children. This is a matter of some urgency and I put it forward with full sincerity.
As I have said, there is some debate on our attitude to probate. I do not think that there is any cause for the glee that some Labor politicians, State and Federal, seem to be indulging in at the moment on that subject. Probate, or death duties, has always been considered to be a basic part of the socialist philosophy and I come back to the beginning of my speech when I talked about the original objection to the landed, the wealth by inheritance or the noble class, and the attempts which have been made successfully to break down that class. Probate was part of that and it is a matter of some cynicism in politics that there are now some State and Federal Labor politicians jumping on that bandwagon apparently for the purpose of forthcoming elections in New South Wales and elsewhere. This sort of political cynicism just will not wear these days. We are talking about people who, because there has been so much talk about this matter for so long, are well aware of what their rights ought to be. They are becoming more assertive. This is an area about which governments and oppositions can no longer by cynical and exploitative. We need to be alert to opportunities to increase the freedom of all Australians, including our female citizens, to choose without exploitation the style of life that they want.
– It is traditional when one addresses oneself for the first time to the Address-in-Reply debate to extend congratulations where appropriate and I commence by extending my congratulations to you, Mr President, on being elevated to the highest position in this chamber. I, as have other honourable senators on this side of the Parliament and your own colleagues, have every confidence in your ability to discharge the high office with great dignity, fairness and justice to all concerned. While I share the sentiments of some of my colleagues on this side that your occupation of that high position may not continue for any great period of time, nevertheless I hope that while you are there you find the position rewarding and one which brings you great happiness. I am certain that you will bring the dignity to that high office which has been traditional in this place. I take the opportunity also to extend my congratulations to my friend and political colleague, and I suppose foe, if you like, the gentle and kindly Senator Tom Drake-Brockman on his return to the position of your lieutenant, Mr President, as Chairman of Committees of the Senate.
Because it is particularly appropriate on this occasion, I would also like to say how much I appreciated the maiden speeches of our new senators. I thought that they were very fine contributions. They were well thought out and, and they obviously indicate the wealth of new knowledge and experience that has been brought into this chamber. I am certain that it will be helpful in the discharge of the important business with which we deal here. I congratulate those honourable senators. I know the worries and apprehensions that they must have had prior to making their maiden speeches, having been through the situation myself and recalling what has happened with some of my colleagues in the pasttheir worries and concerns, their loss of appetite and that sort of thing on the day on which they are to make their maiden speech but, having gone through the barrier, they then become fully fledged members of the chamber and cop it like the rest of us from then on. I am happy to have made their acquaintance and I look forward to worthwhile contributions from them in the interests of the good government of this country.
This is the first occasion on which 1 have addressed myself to the question before the Senate and I particularly want to speak to the amendment to the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply which was moved by my colleague, Senator Brown, in the following terms:
At end of proposed amendment, -
That is the amendment moved by Senator Harradine to the Government’s motion. add ‘.The Senate is also of the opinion that, because of the financial plight of local government organisations throughout Australia, your advisers should take action immediately to re-institute hearings by the Australian Grants Commission for the purpose of assessing appropriate untied and unconditional grants to local government’.
Honourable senators know my interest in this field of local government. It was my profession before I came to this place and I have had an abiding interest in its welfare ever since. I will address my principal comments to that subject referring perhaps briefly to the question of the Regional Employment Development scheme which was introduced by the previous Government for purposes of which we are well aware.
Then I would like to address my comments to the subject of the meteorological services which are available in Australia, the curtailment and reduction of some of those services recently and, if time permits, to relate that subject to the development of the Australian fishing industry. I had intended earlier to address some comments to the subject of the Australian Assistance Plan and to certain reductions in facilities and curtailments to services provided by the previous Government which have been made since the present Government came into office. I am talking about such matters as pensions, legal aid, the National Employment and Training scheme and Medibank. Perhaps I can leave that for another occasion.
Might I in passing make a plea to the Government to give the most sympathetic consideration to continuing the Australian Assistance Plan. There has been a lot of criticism of the Australian Labor Party because of its policy of centralism and because it has taken away the rights of people in the local areas, centralising them in the institution in Canberra. Whatever the basis or justification for making that criticism, I think one thing we must give the Labor Party credit for is that it attempted to encourage local initiative by the implementation of the Australian Assistance Plan. That plan brought into action in the local communities those members who were interested in the welfare of their local areas and those interested in the development of systems and services which would be of benefit to their community. Such people were amazed. I think they still have not really caught on to the fact that they alone are the ones who take the initiative. It is entirely up to them.
Of course, professional people are involved. Their costs and administrative expenses are met from the Federal Treasury. A sum of $2 per capita was made available for people in those communities. I have been the Chairman of Estimates committees of the Parliament and I know allegations have been made that the scheme was used for political purposes. Maybe that is so to a degree and maybe that has been practised on both sides of politics. If there is to be any just criticism of the intrusion of politics into the activities of the Australian Assistance Plan, I think we are equally blameworthy. I have not seen any evidence but I have heard it alleged that that is so. At least the Plan gave to local communities an opportunity to exercise an initiative on their own behalf, having regard to the needs of their local communities.
Despite the fact that in some of these communities the sum of money which it was originally intended would be available has not been made available, the organisation has been able to achieve a great many things. A great many benefits have been provided in those communities purely on the basis of voluntary activity which has been generated by those people working for the AAP, under the regional schemes and so on. I know that a conference is to take place shortly of people involved in AAP. An assessment is to be made of the benefits achieved because the present scheme runs out of time on 30 June this year. No doubt at that conference the benefits and the disadvantages of the scheme will be weighed and taken into account in the total. I certainly hope that as a consequence of that conference it will be found that the scheme has conferred a considerable benefit on local communities.
This benefit has occurred perhaps not so much in the urban or more populous centres around Australia but in the outlying communities with which perhaps I am more in tune than are some other honourable senators in the chamber. I am not saying this in any disparaging sense. Some of us live in the remoter areas of the country and we are more in tune with what happens in the smaller communities. From my own observations, from what has been told to me and from the pleas and representations which have been made to me by people working under the AAP I have reached the judgment that the scheme is, by and large, a good one, that it is beneficial to the Australian community and that it ought to be carried on. As I said at the outset, it is an indication of local initiative which we try to encourage. That is completely contrary to the view which is held so widely, I believe, among honourable senators on the Government side. They believed that we were practising a form of centralism which took away the rights and opportunities of people in the remoter communities.
- Senator, have you struck any municipalities which are dissatisfied.
– No, I have not. I have talked to individual councillors who are very keen on the scheme. Those councillors, trying to recall them quickly to mind, are people in the rural municipalities and in the country areas. I mention an interesting operation conducted by Dr Icerton who is a lecturer at the University of New England at Armidale in New South Wales. He has local community interest groups among farmers involved in the AAP. I believe that already there are very strong indications of a benefit to the people in those rural communities.
A few days ago I read pan of a report by Dr Icerton in which he analyses what has been done in his local community. He has visited other parts of Australia promoting his ideas and illustrating to people, who are interested in them, that people in rural and outlying communities can come together where there is a commonality of interest in a subject and derive a benefit for the community from that joint activity. Before, such people tended to have a rather disjointed approach to problems. I suppose we could talk about problems of education or communication or some other common interest factor in relation to which people have found, quite quickly, that united they stand, whereas formerly divided they fell. I am making this a rather broad generalisation. I think, over all, it would be accepted by the great majority of people that the AAP has been beneficial in those communities. I strongly urge the Government to ensure that the scheme is continued so that the benefits of it will become available to people, particularly those in the outlying communities.
I come to the subject of local government and the Grants Commission. Honourable senators will recall my interest, right from the outset, in the problems of local government throughout Australia. I, as a practitioner or a professional in the field, know something about this matter. I went through the problems of trying to make local government work under some quite considerable difficulty. Perhaps it would be as well to relate that immediately after the war local government faced some tremendous problems in the staffing areas. This used to worry the soul out of me. Local government had stagnated through the war years, but immediately after the war there was an ever-accelerating demand for the services of local government. People in the Federal sphere could take themselves off to places afar and those in the State legislatures could operate in a central position or in some localised position within the State. Local government operated in as many areas as there were local government councils in the community and therefore the councils were in very close touch with the people.
Any deficiencies in the performance of local government were reflected within minutes whereas under the State system they would be reflected within hours and, in those times, in the Federal situation it would be days and perhaps weeks before the thing filtered through. Local government represented the closest and most realistic form of government to the people in Australia. So there was a tremendous demand upon the services of local government which could not be met. Councils struggled and strove as much as they could within the limits of their financial resources to provide services, but it was a hopeless task. The legislature then began to devise means of assisting local government to better perform its function.
T remember that in mv State of Tasmania a piece of legislation called the Towns Act was enacted. Under this legislation the cost of providing additional streets, access and other services to people’s footpaths, kerbing and channelling, sewerage works and the like was shared on a one-third basis between the State Government, the local councils and the people concerned. That was a tremendous help. It became evident after a time that that was inadequate to meet the requirements of growing areas and that there needed to be some better system of funding local government. I do not want to go over this ground again in detail. However, it has always been my view- I am quite certain that it is widely sharedthat while there are 3 tiers of government in a country, if one tier happens to get into a condition of imbalance, the whole system tends to get into a condition of imbalance and problems arise. That will continue while ever there is an inability on the part of one or other of the forms of government to fulfil its functions.
Moving up to modern times, if I can put it in those terms, the Australian Labor Party decided that it ought to do something directly for local government. In fact, it realised that there were a tremendous number of homes in urban areas throughout Australia which were unsewered. Indeed, it is on the record that in the city of Sydney there were more unsewered homes than there were homes in the whole State of Tasmania which had a population at that time of about 350 000 people. That gives some sort of indication of the way in which services were lagging behind need throughout Australia. The Labor Government, in its wisdom, decided that there ought to be a system of direct funding for sewerage installations. That happened. So many other services also were able to be funded directly by grants from the Federal Treasury to local government.
Then we came to the situation in which local government had access to the Grants Commission. I believe, and the vast majority of the people who are practitioners in local government both at the professional and at the councillor levels believe, that this was a great thing. It was a great step forward because it gave councils an opportunity to put a case to the Grants Commission, an authority renowned in Australia for its ability to determine matters of this kind, ultimately to have a situation weighed and eventually to receive direct, untied, unqualified grants for the purpose of carrying out those specific services which the councils had listed and to which they had spoken when they appeared before the Grants Commission.
In my recent discussions with people in local government I have been impressed with the attitude that has been taken by them to the present situation which is, to say the least, very indefinite. If honourable senators approach local councils throughout the Australian community, they will find that these councils all have in mind projects of one kind or another. They may be small schemes for providing water to remote small localities or other schemes of a dozen and one different kinds which would have no hope of being funded out of their own resources. It would not be possible either for such schemes to be funded by State governments because of their lack of funds. This is always the cry. This is what Senator Douglas McClelland was talking about earlier when he said that the Premier of New South Wales is now talking about the problem for his State in funding the poorer States. We have a very serious situation on our hands at the present time. There are real problems in the less populous States, which lack the resources of States like New South Wales and Victoria. The States are becoming ever more vocal about their problems of funding the services which they have an obligation to provide. The possibility of obtaining any more sympathetic consideration by State governments in the area of local government is pretty remote. Therefore it was a breakthrough and a welcome change for local government bodies to have direct access to the Grants Commission to which they could put a case in expectation of receiving some form of funding to enable them to carry out these various schemes and to provide installations of one kind or another in the interests of the people in their communities.
Twice since this session of Parliament commenced I have asked questions about the prospects for local government in the foreseeable future under the plans of the present Government. So far it appears that these plans are quite indefinite. No conclusive decision has yet been reached. Local government institutions throughout Australia and practitioners at the highest level in this administrative field are expressing their fears and apprehensions about what the future holds. On 18 February 1976 I asked a question on this matter. I want to read it because I think that it is important in this context to try to deduce from answers which we have received so far just what hope there is for a better position for local government under this Government. I directed the question to the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) and asked:
Is it correct that local government organisations throughout Australia have been advised that they will not receive any financial assistance by way of grants through the Australian Grants Commission, as was a practice instituted by the previous Government when in 2 years $135m of untied grants were made available to local government? What details of the change are available?
This was the important question:
Is the Government aware of the serious implications for the financial position of councils and the prospect of greater unemployment which will be an inevitable consequence of the continuation of this action? Is this a first step in the return to the bad old days -
What I have been talking about- when former Liberal-Country Party governments ignored the plight of local government, or is it simply part of the Government’s so-called new federalism?
The reply I received from Senator Withers was as follows:
I think the honourable senator has answered his own question. It is part of the Government’s federalist policy. I do not think this is the stage where one should enter into an answer at great length as to what that is.
We are still waiting for an answer on that. He continued:
No doubt legislation on this matter will be introduced in this session of the Parliament and the whole matter can be opened up in debate in the proper sense within this place. Under the Government’s federalism policy not only will local governments be better off financially -
I hope this is so; I think we all hope it is so- but also the independence which they ought to have -
We are talking about local government- will be restored to them without Canberra looking over their shoulders like big brother.
That was an interesting answer because the Minister was talking about the independence that local government ought to have. There is no question about it. This situation may well be a manifestation of the new federalism policy. But it is certainly a return to the bad old days. It has to be. What it means is a breaking off of the newly established relationship between the first and the third levels of government and leaving the fate of local government largely in the hands and at the mercy of the second level of government which, as I was just saying, is the one clamouring for more funds and lamenting the fact that we have a shared system in Australia under which the stronger States help the smaller States. This Government seeks to leave local government at the mercy of the second level of government as was the case in the pre-Labor Government days.
I raise this question frequently. I do not do so with any malice because I am genuinely concerned for the institution of local government which I believe is probably a more important form of government in this land than are State governments. I believe that we need a Federal government to look after the areas of concern which have been reposed upon this level of government. But I believe- I think this happens in parts of the world already- that local government might very well discharge the functions of the present State governments throughout Australia. I do not think that we can do without local government. I have raised this question time and time again in the Senate. I was always told that it was not the concern of the Federal level but that in fact it was the concern of State governments. I was told that the Federal Government funded the State governments and that thereafter the responsibility was on the State governments to look after the financial affairs and problems of local government. I thought that we had got away from that. But it looks very much to me as if local government has not a direct access to the Federal government. If its pleas for assistance cannot be heard at the top level and it becomes submerged in the general welter of governmental operations within the States, one can easily see a situation developing in which the Federal Government wipes its hands completely of local government and local government is left floundering in the position it was in prior to the election of the Labor Government. That is an intolerable situation because the level of rating has now reached an unacceptable level in most parts of Australia. It can be demonstrated very clearly that very great hardship is being caused to a substantial proportion of the community in meeting its payments for rates and other municipal services. I do not know how far this situation will go.
One of the things for which we must commend the Labor Government is that it foresaw this grave position and took action to assist local government. I know that right throughout the State of Tasmania direct grants were given to councils through the activities of the Grants Commission and by direct funding of sewerage works and assistance to other major municipal undertakings. This meant that to a quite substantial degree this removed the load of worry and responsibility from amateurs. I am not detracting from the abilities of practitioners in local government, those people who give their time, services and energy voluntarily in the interest of the service of their local communities. That situation was accepted and acclaimed throughout
Australia. I think it would be a great pity indeed if we were to move back to that old situation where local governments would have to depend on the generosity and the financial ability of the States to help out local government. At the present time, or at least under the previous Government’s administration, this was not the case; local government was helped greatly then. There was a prospect of receiving greater help and being accorded a greater relevance in the total situation then than had previously been the case. On 18 February, in an answer to a question raised by me, Senator Withers stated:
Under the Government’s federalism policy not only will local governments be better off financially but also the independence which they ought to have will be restored to them . . .
I share the fears, worries and apprehensions of people in local government. If local government is going to be better off financially and if the Government’s policy is clearly known and able to be defined, I am at a loss to understand why a question that I put on notice a fortnight ago has not yet been answered. I would have thought that if there were a clear enunciation and acceptance of policy in relation to local government which could be clearly defined, spelt out and understood by everybody, it ought not to take the Government a fortnight to answer my question. On 4 March I asked a question of the Minister representing the Treasurer. I was invited ultimately to put the question on the notice paper and I have done so. I asked the Minister:
Is he aware that in today’s Tasmanian Press local government leaders have expressed their gravest concern at the dismal prospects facing them as a consequence of substantial roads grants cuts . . .
That was the specific question with which the local government leaders were dealing at that time. The second part of the question was:
Will the Minister be more specific in relation to the prospective enhanced financial prospects that he mentioned to me some days ago and say just how this most desirable situation -
I was quite serious about this- is to be achieved, so that the fears of local government organisations throughout Australia can be allayed and budgetary planning can be realistically undertaken in accordance with the long standing practice of local government?
Subsequent to that I discussed the matter of local government in general terms with one of the highest practitioners in the administration field in Australia. In fact, those discussions took place as recently as last Monday week. That person expressed to me very grave fears, doubts, apprehensions- call it what you will- concerning the position of local government under the changed system. But what changed system? Wc have not had it spelled out yet. We do not know what the terms and the parameters are of the sort of assistance that is going to be given to local government. We do not know whether local government will be accorded an acknowledgment of its position in its own right. I suspect and I think others suspect as well that we are going to return to the bad old days when local government received no acknowledgment from the federal level but in fact had to be responsive to the State governmental situation, through which Commonwealth funds were provided.
I am not going to go into great detail about the question raised quite properly by Senator Douglas McClelland concerning the attitudes being adopted by the Premier of New South Wales in relation to the funding of various services in the State. But I am terribly concerned for the smaller States, particularly as no clear definition has been given of what is proposed to take the place of the attitude and the practice instituted and carried out by the former Government. I express very great fears about this. I am concerned, as every person in local government throughout Australia is concerned and no doubt every ratepayer, if he were alerted to the fact would be concerned, that there has been no spelling out- no clear enunciation- of the situation which is to apply in the future in respect of the activities of the Federal Government.
I believe that it is high time that my question was answered and that the questions of so many people in local government were answered as to where this better deal is to come from and how it is to be funded from the Federal sphere, having regard to the unacceptable attitude that was adopted by the Federal Government prior to the election of the Labor Government in 1 972 when local government, for the first time in its history, earned an overdue recognition of its function. It then received also practical assistance to enable it to carry out its functions.
I pass from that to the second point I wanted to raise. I am glad to note that the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) is in the chamber. I alerted the Minister that I wanted to touch on the provision of meteorological services around the Australian coast. I am particularly sensitive to the position in southern waters because a significant part of the Australian fishing industry is located in the Bass Strait area, around the west coast of Tasmania and, of course, in the deep south where the Japanese trawlers operate and, I suspect, Russian ships operate also to pick up the fantastic catch of fish that is available in those waters.
– I think you can claim some experience in sailing also, senator.
– Yes, I do get involved in the use of the Bass Strait area as does my colleague, Senator Rae. We vie with each other some times and with Senator Sir Magnus Cormack from time to time. I understand he also gets involved.
– I will tell you what: If you listen to the meteorological forecasts you would never go to sea at all.
-I would not say that, Mr President. I have been assured by professionals in the fishing field that they rely very heavily indeed, or did rely when the services were available, on the broadcasts of the meteorological reports from South Australia and from other points from which meteorological data was taken and fed into the system and made available to people in the fishing industry. Many of the fishermen around the Tasmanian coast operate in relatively small fishing vessels and they and their families are terribly sensitive to the weather conditions there. Actually, if I were to say that the weather which hits the western coast of Tasmania comes completely uninterrupted from somewhere around Tierra del Fuego, in the Cape Horn area of South America, honourable senators might have some appreciation of the weather conditions that this area is subjected to and the very serious concern caused to people fishing in those areas. Bearing in mind that vast expanse of ocean upon which it is terribly difficult to obtain meteorological reports, in the absence of meteorological reporting it is very important indeed that any available information is provided to the people on the seas, whether they be fishing or in the maritime service at any level, to give some forewarning of weather conditions.
I have discussed this matter recently with probably the most outstanding professional fisherman in Australia. I am talking now about Mr Dick Richey, who is based at Devonport in Tasmania. I guess he would be one of the most advanced fishermen in the country. He operates trawlers in conjunction with 2 aircraft. Let me acknowledge at this stage that he is an outstanding citizen. He would be one of the finest persons in Australia. When things are really tough Dick Richey will get into his small aircraft and go out and search an area, send his ships out to sea to pick up mariners in distress or do whatever else is necessary to save life and limb and he will do so at absolutely no cost to anybody save himself. He has saved lives and he has saved very valuable property.
Dick Ridley said to me: ‘This is a critical matter, Don. I hope that you will be able to impress upon those concerned the necessity to restore the provision of meteorological data so that those of us who go lo sea and who can pick it up have sufficient time to enable us to take evasive action, get in out of trouble or do whatever is necessary to safeguard our ships and the personnel of those ships.’
The coast of Tasmania is notorious for shipwrecks. The west coast of Tasmania abounds in shipwrecks, as do the islands in the Bass Strait area- King Island in particular, but also to a lesser extent Flinders Island and the other islands that are in abundance in the mass of islands in the Furneaux Group. The Minister for Science would be aware of this. There have been shipwrecks not only as a result of the activities of amateurs but also of people who have been at sea for years and who have been caught in some weather that has blown up suddenly or are so far away from their base that they have lost their ships and lost lives. In quite recent months we have seen the loss of life in Bass Strait. In fact, a member of the crew of a small ship that was lost in Bass Strait recently blamed the lack of meteorological reporting for the fact that another member of the crew- his son- was lost at sea.
As the Minister said, I am out in the Bass Strait now and again in a small ship and I have some appreciation of the sorts of things that can happen there. I am quite certain that others who are in that area are in the same position. I plead with the Minister to have a very close look at this matter because the shipping activities in the Bass Strait area, in the West Coast region of Tasmania in particular and in the south of Tasmania, are part of a very important industry- the fishing industry. While ever men dare to go to sea in ships to engage in the fishing industry there will be problems. There are problems now and there will continue to be problems even with the best meteorological services available because storms blow up suddenly. I can recall once discussing with Senator Sir Magnus Cormack the reading of the clouds as to what is likely to happen very shortly at sea and that sort of thing. I think that the provision of any service at all will give at least a sporting chance to the people who go to sea.
It should be borne in mind that the people about whom we are talking are principally the professionals in the field who can in fact understand meteorological reporting and can appreciate the sort of weather conditions that will follow. It is their job as professionals to know these things. If they are given some sort of forewarning of a particular type of weather pattern coming up they can do something about it. They can get in out of it, batten down or take whatever action they deem necessary in the circumstances for the preservation of lives and property. Not a year goes by without the loss of shipping and the loss of lives around the Tasmanian coast. I accept that that is one of the hazards of the sea and that that is one of the chances one takes when one goes to sea in ships. Nevertheless I think it is incumbent upon us to do whatever we can to reduce that hazard to the maximum extent possible.
– Agreeing with you entirely, how do you see the loss of the coastal reports affecting your comment?
– What I want to see and what the professional fishermen want to see is the restoration of the situation whereby Hobart radio used to give actuality reports about the weather situation in certain parts of Australia. The people hearing those reports can then say: The weather is moving at a certain speed. These are the sorts of conditions that we are likely to encounter. They will hit us in 3 hours, 24 hours or something like that. We had better do something about it.’ The professional fishermen assure me that one of the biggest problems facing their continuation in the fishing industry at the present time is the lack of some forewarning of the possible weather conditions they are going to strike.
The weather in the region is absolutely foul at times. I have seen the sea virtually standing on end. Recently nothing could be done to find the remains of a boat that had been wrecked at sea because there was 12 feet of foam around the coast. It had been piled up by the boiling sea on the west coast of Tasmania. The searchers had to wait for days until conditions abated. Two people were drowned off Strahan recently. Their bodies were seen floating in the water but conditions were so bad that nobody could get out and take the bodies out of the water. They have not been seen since. They have not been recovered. Ships engaged in commercial trade have been wrecked by freak storms or some other hazard that has come up and substantial loss of life and property has occurred. I do not want to be emotional about this matter. It is a practical question that I am putting to the Senate. But I would like to see- I know that the Minister is not unsympathetic to this proposition- some special provision, if possible, for the restoration of that lifesaving aspect of the meteorological services which was formerly available. I understand that it has now been discontinued or at least reduced or curtailed in some way. I hope the Minister will look at the matter.
I believe that in the Bass Strait area and around the coast of Tasmania and, in particular, some hundreds of miles to the south of Tasmania there are prospects for the establishment of a vast fishing industry- one of tremendous value to Australia. We are operating there in small ships of 35, 40 and 50 feet. The Japanese go to sea in waters to the south of Tasmania and stay there for weeks. Their catch is vast and the financial return must be substantial. I foresee the position arising- this, of course, has some relevance to the establishment of a maritime college in Launceston, which I hope will proceed without too much delay- whereby in a short space of time a substantial fishing industry is established in that part of this country. The whole region abounds in all sorts of fish- pelagic fish, bottom swimming fish, Crustacea and that sort of thing. There is tremendous potential for the development of the industry.
A few years ago I took the opportunity to discuss the whole general question of the fishing industry with one of the chiefs of the Fisheries Division of the Department of Primary Industry. Very interesting surveys have been made of the fishing potential and the market opportunities. In fact, I think the figures will disclose that there has been a quite dramatic increase in activity in the fishing industry and in its financial value to this country. I think it is an untenable position that we should have overseas entrepreneurs operating in our waters while we are not operating there ourselves but are in fact just scratching the surface, as it were, with small and inadequate vessels, using inadequate systems and with an inadequate capacity to harvest the catch when it is garnered from the sea. There is a vast potential for this sort of thing but, for goodness sake, do not let us cut out those types of services which are essential if we are going to build up our fishing industry, particularly in the region to which I have been referring. I do not want to appear to be too parochial about this aspect, but it is an area that I know and it is an area from which representations have been made to me on a wide scale.
I have distributed the recent booklet on the meteorological services which the Minister circulated recently. I am passing it on to people who I think will find some interest in it and am inviting their comments on it. I think this is the way in which governments ought to work. We ought not to be able to say: ‘We are the masters of the whole situation here. We know what is good for you and you are going to get that. You are not going to get something else’. If we are to operate efficiently, properly and adequately as a government we must go out into the highways and byways where people operate, where people are at their work and where they can say to us: ‘This is the sort of thing that will help us do this or do that and will be beneficial to our industry’. I am not offering this in any sense as criticism.
I accept that the move to diminish the range of services in the meteorological area was initiated in fact before the present Government came into office. That does not take away, though, the need to have a close look at this having regard to the views that have been put by professional people who are prepared to risk their lives in the industry. This is a fairly lucrative industry when things are going right; there is no question about that. People can make a lot of money out of fishing. Of course, fishing has its doldrums and fishermen do not make much money. I want to see the vast potential within the fishing industry that is represented by the fish population around the Australian coast developed so that in fact Australians, not Japanese, Russians or somebody else, can outfit themselves with vast mother ships and with trawlers of sufficient size and capacity to operate in this field. I want to see Australians doing this.
– Attitudes like that caused the Second World War.
– Maybe they did cause the Second World War. We have a fishing war going on now in Finland somewhere. Why not have one of our own? Why not have a local one, especially when it is in our own interests? I do not agree that we should vacate the field. I guarantee of course that if there were a war all the meteorological services that man can put his hands on would be available, but we are talking about peacetime now and I hope it stays that way. I think a vast potential exists for the development of an Australian fishing industry. People have fiddled with it and played around with it at the edges only, but there is a potential. It has even been suggested to me that we ought to invite experts from other countries to become Australian citizens and to lecture to fishermen and potential fishermen in our own land. This could take up a vast section of unemployment which presently exists and we could develop for ourselves a fishing industry which would bring us tremendous national benefit. There is no doubt about it; here it is ready made for us if we can set up the equipment and provide the necessary expertise and skill. It is a skilled field and not everybody can operate successfully. I want to see people operating in this area with a minimum of personal risk. Families of professional fishermen in Tasmania have expressed their great concern about this to me. I can understand the strain at present in many of these families when somebody announces that it is time he went to sea again. The fishermen go to sea for days and I can understand the fears. Quite a number of homes have lost their loved ones. Many lives and ships have been lost around the Tasmanian coastline. Perhaps I can leave it at that.
Another matter I wish to comment on very quickly is the RED scheme which the Labor Party instituted to take up at least some of the substantial unemployment. I have heard a lot of criticism of the RED scheme. No doubt some of it is warranted. I think that some of the schemes that were undertaken were not appropriate for the purposes of absorbing unemployed labour. Some of them because of their very nature and design have been tremendously inefficient. There is no doubt that a lot more can be done with plant and machinery than can be done with labour. So some of the schemes have been much more costly and have received a very great degree of criticism because of that. I have seen some excellent work carried out under the RED scheme. I have seen some tremendous innovations introduced and benefits provided for communities as a whole. After all, it is a hell of a lot better to be doing something like that than to be paying people to stay in idleness. Even if it is a little more costly, at least it gives an opportunity for people to restore any loss of dignity that might have flowed from their unemployment. At the same time the RED scheme is providing a worthwhile service to the various communities.
I am very pleased to have been associated with a number of these projects in the Devonport region and in other parts of the north-west coast. There is another spin-off from this. In what I am about to say I am not implying any special criticism of people working on the RED scheme. Some of them are unfortunately in the position of not having had educational opportunities to develop latent skills they may have had. Many of the people working in these areas very often are lacking in the sort of initiative which would have driven them into some area of activity from which they might have benefited. I have seen this happen under the RED scheme. There have been a lot of beneficial effects, and these will be on-going. Many people who worked on some of the RED scheme operations and who were completely unskilled have learned various skills in the course of their work and often have been able to take those skills with them and thus are better able to look after themselves in the community. When they offer themselves for employment they can say that they have been a carpenter’s offsider, that they have done concreting work or whatever it is instead of saying that they are completely unskilled labourers. They could say that they have tried themselves out and there are things they can do. Therefore they become worthwhile members of the community. They get off the dole and perform some beneficial work in society.
Too often, of course, we are prone to criticise people working in the gangs under the RED scheme. We do not know the background; we do not know a lot of the circumstances; we do not know what sort of a home life they have had or what sort of upbringing they have had; we do not know what impediments they have had to their development as citizens in the Australian community; we do not know what sicknesses have occurred in their families or what other human or social problems they might have had, At least I have seen some of the benefits of this scheme. One benefit is the provision of various facilities in the community which were not and would never have been available, at least in this generation and perhaps in another generation. They are now provided. Many of the people- not all- who have been engaged on RED scheme operations are far better off for it and so is the country because these people can now go and do a job that they could not do before.
I think I have spoken for long enough. I have touched on the three special questions that I wanted to deal with. Perhaps an opportunity might be found later to deal with some of the other matters which I quickly alluded to in passing. The Minister for Science (Senator Webster) is in the chamber now and I invite him, since he asked me a fortnight ago to put a question on notice, to outline the ramifications of the range of benefits to local government. I think a fortnight is sufficient time to be able to spell out what the Government intends to do for local government. Local government wants to know and I want to know as a matter of interest. I now invite the Minister to have a close look at the question of meteorological services. Perhaps on-going from that, because of the Minister’s interest in primary industry, I invite him to see what can be done to further develop the tremendous potential of the fishing industry both in the smaller sense in the range of operations and in the future as well.
This is far more important, I think, than the superficial things that are going on at present. If the Government does not intend continuing with the RED scheme, I would like to see at least some form of community operation of this kind so that the quite substantial level of unemployment which still exists in the community, I am sorry to say, can be taken up, and some of the side benefits resulting from those activities can be spread out into the community to help those who are involved.
That the words proposed to be added by Senator Brown’s amendment to Senator Harradine’s proposed amendment be added.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative.
- Mr President, copies of my amendment to Senator Harradine’s proposed amendment, which I have foreshadowed, have been circulated to honourable senators. Therefore, I move:
That the words proposed to be left out of Senator Harradine’s proposed amendment be left out.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Withers) agreed to:
That the Address-in-Reply be presented to His Excellency the Governor-General by the President and such senators as may desire to accompany him.
– I inform honourable senators that I shall ascertain from His Excellency the Governor-General when he will be pleased to receive the Address-in-Reply. When the time is fixed I shall advise the Senate.
Senate adjourned at 4.39 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is:
Education: Student-Teacher Ratios in Canberra (Question No. 19)
asked the Minister for Education, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
The Commission did however suggest in paragraph 13.22 of its Report for the Triennium 1976-78, that if desired levels of recurrent expenditure per pupil were achieved by the recommended target dates ( 1 980 for primary schools and 1 982 for secondary schools), it should be possible to achieve a national average ratio of professional staff, teachers and other professional staff such as psychologists, careers advisers, etc., to pupils of 1:20 in the primary sector and one to 12.5 pupils in the secondary sector.
It should be noted that Government schools in the A.C.T. have already achieved the Karmel Report target levels in terms of total recurrent resources per pupil some 5 and 7 years earlier (for the primary and secondary sectors respectively) than the recommended target dates.
asked the Minister for Education, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice:
Will the Minister provide details of expenditure to South Australia for disbursement by the Land Commission in that State (a) since its inception and (b) up to the most practicable date.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is:
Funds provided under financial agreements concluded with South Australia, for disbursement on approved land commission programs, are as follows:
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 18 March 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1976/19760318_senate_30_s67/>.