30th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
-1 present the following petition from 7 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:
Television is the single most influential medium for the dissemination of information and for the recording and development of our national identity and culture;
Children are the most important section of the viewing public in that they are most likely to be affected by the impact of television;
Australian children, on average, spend more time watching television than in school;
And believing that:
The basic problem behind the lack of programmes designed for children is the fundamental divergence of aims between those primarily interested in the welfare of children and the commercial interests of television licensees and their shareholders.
The creation of an Establishment to initiate, research, promote, co-ordinate, fund and produce material for children’s consumption through the medium of television, as recommended by Australian Children’s Television Action Committee in its submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and The Arts 1973; The Australian Broadcasting Control Boards Advisory Committee Report 1974 and the Television Industry Co-ordinating Committee 1975, as a positive step towards providing better quality television for Australian children.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 22 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:
Objection to the metric system and request the Government to restore the Imperial system.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 97 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill 1976, does not satisfy the Aboriginal needs for land in the Northern Territory.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, should:
Extend the freeze on European claims to the unalienated Crown Lands of the Northern Territory until 12 months after the passage of the Bill; and to provide for speedy lodging and hearing of Aboriginal Claims. The hearing of Aboriginal claims have been postponed as a result of Government decisions, Aboriginals should not be penalised;
Amend the Bill to ensure:
. The removal of all powers to pass Land Rights Legislation from Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, particularly its control over sacred sites, entry permits, control over the seas adjoining Aboriginal land, the fishing rights of non-Aborigines the right of Aborigines to enter pastoral stations and control of wildlife on Aboriginal land.
The control of Aborigines of all roads passing through Aboriginal lands.
The restoration of the Aboriginal Land Commissioner’s powers to hear claims based on need as well as traditional claims lodged by Aborigines.
The restoration of all powers vested in Lands Councils and the Land Commissioner in the 1975 Land Rights Bill . . .
A provision that any Government decision to override Aboriginal objections to mining on the basis of national interest be itself reviewed by both houses of parliament.
A provision that land-owning groups of Aborigines may apply to form separate trusts if they wish.
The removal of artificial barriers to traditional owners imposed by the Territory Borders on all tribes so affected.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 265 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That we desire more consideration and public discussion concerning the changes envisaged in the Broadcasting and Television Amendment Bill No. 2, 1 976.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, should:
Re-affirm the independence of the ABC as the National Broadcasting Service belonging to the people and not to the Government of the day, whatever political party.
Reject a reduction of the numbers of ABC Commissioners, including the staff commissioner.
Reject review of the ABC by the newly created Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, when similar reviews are not scheduled for the commercial broadcasting sector.
Reject any reduction in the wide range of ABC programs by either direct censorship and /or financial restrictions.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 285 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That we desire more consideraton and public discussion concerning the changes envisaged inthe Broadcasting and Television Amendment Bill No. 2, 1 976.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, should:
Re-affirm the independence of the ABC as the National Broadcasting Service belonging to the people and not to the Government of the day, whatever political party.
Reject a reduction of the numbers of ABC Commissioners, including the staff commissioner.
Reject review of the ABC by the newly created Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, when similar reviews are not scheduled for the commercial broadcasting sector.
Reject any reduction in the wide range of ABC programs by either direct censorship and/or financial restrictions.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– A petition has been lodged for presentation as follows:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill 1976, does not satisfy the Aboriginal needs for land in the Northern Territory.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, should:
Amend the Bill to ensure:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Senator Jessop. Petition received.
-When does the Minister for Industry and Commerce propose to release the White Paper on Australian manufacturing industry which was promised following the release of the Jackson Committee report? Will the White Paper be tabled before the Senate concludes the present sessional period? If not, why not?
-I love these ‘if not, why not’ questions. I wish honourable senators would stop asking them. They are like ‘beating your wife’ questions. The position is a simple one. My work and that of the Department has been concluded about a fortnight. We took a very wide cross-section of views. We were most anxious to get the view of the trade union movement. That took a rather long time to get, but we have it. I believe that it was necessary to take the time to get that. I believe that the document is a good one. It has been presented by me to the Government. It is now being studied by the relevant government departments which have a common interest in the whole problem. It is hoped that the report will be ready before very long. I shall be trying to get it out so that I can present it to the Parliament before we close. If I cannot do so, I shall present it as soon as possible after I have it finalised. I cannot really give any firmer undertaking than that. I have approached the matter on the basis that it is important. It ought to have the widest possible input, which I believe it has had. It certainly needs to have the attention of other government departments, which it is now getting. I hope that when it does come out it will receive public examination and there will be some genuine attempt to approach the problems of manufacturing in a bipartisan, non-political style.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry aware that the Russians have embarked on the highly successful venture of producing a caviar substitute from casein?
Opposition members interjecting-
– Is the Minister aware that the caviar so produced is very palatable and extremely rich in protein? In view of the limited quantity of natural caviar available and the increaing world demand for it, will the Minister investigate the viability of a similar substitute commodity being produced in Australia for local and overseas markets from our abundance of milk, with the aim of further assisting our dairy industry? I do not think that is a laughing matter.
-I am sorry, Mr President, but when Senator Bonner was asking his question I was talking to one of the people who work with me in order to get some more information for Senator Wriedt, if I could. I am anxious to get the White Paper on manufacturing industry out as soon as possible. In fact, I have lived with it for a very long time. I feel that my section of the work has been pretty well completed. That was of concern. I apologise to you, Mr President, and to Senator Bonner. If he could repeat his question, which I understand was interesting, I would like to hear it.
- Senator Bonner, will you repeat your question?
– I am quite happy to do so. I think it is an important one because we could be helping an ailing industry, the dairying industry.
Is the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry aware that the Russians have embarked on the highly successful venture of producing a caviar substitute from casein and that the caviar so produced is very palatable and extremely rich in protein? In view of the limited quantity of natural caviar available and the increasing world demand for it, will the Minister investigate the viability of a similar substitute commodity being produced in Australia for local and overseas markets from our abundance of milk, with the aim of further assisting our dairy industry?
-On my living standard I am not familiar with caviar. I am not terribly well up on the caviar world. I know that what Senator Bonner said is substantially correct. Because of pollution of the Caspian Sea, it is said, the volume of caviar that is being produced out of sturgeon is declining at a fairly fast rate. Therefore, with world demand increasing, maybe the substitute product will have increasing attraction. There is a well-known story of a British Army commander who between the 2 wars was camped on the shores of the Caspian Sea with his troops. Of course, they were being fed regularly on the local product close to the Caspian. One morning at breakfast, in company with his orderly officer he asked: ‘Any complaints?’ One of the soldiers said: ‘Yes, this jam tastes of fish’. What I will do is inquire whether we have any hope for the dairy industry in Australia.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I ask the Minister Can she inform the Parliament which Aboriginal housing associations and Aboriginal enterprises have been funded as a result of the $25m allocated to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs on 5 October this year? How many Aboriginals have been employed as a result of the extra $25m being allocated? Of those Aboriginals employed as a result of the extra allocation of $25m, how many, were previously employed directly and/or indirectly by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in the financial year 1 975-76?
– I am aware that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs recently made a statement in regard to the allocation of the $25m. I do not have the details requested by the honourable senator but I will obtain them.
– They are not in the statement.
– I realise that the statement was made. I have not the details the honourable senator has requested, but I will obtain them from the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is the Minister aware of complaints by Amnesty International and other organisations concerning the actions of the military regime in Paraguay and the imprisonment and torture of political opponents, including Dr Dino Tomas Acosta, held without trial for 12 years and now said to have been tortured to death? Does the Minister have any knowledge of the current state of Dr Acosta ‘s health, his treatment by the regime and whether he is still alive? Has the Australian Government made any representations in respect of these complaints? Does the Minister envisage any action that
Australia might take to influence the Paraguay regime ‘s treatment of political prisoners?
-I have no personal knowledge of any of those matters but I will seek information from my colleague in the other place.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. I refer the Minister to newspaper reports that Sir Henry Bland, the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, threatened to resign because of statements made by the Prime Minister which were regarded as political interference in the management of the ABC. I ask the Minister: Are those newspaper reports correct? Is it correct that the Government moved quickly to placate Sir Henry Bland? If so, who is running the country?
– I have no knowledge at all of the newspaper reports. If Senator Button has any knowledge of this matter I would be grateful to receive it from him.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. In the light of significant structural changes in business and the relocation of employees resulting therefrom due to economic upheavals over the last 4 years, can the Minister say whether the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations is able accurately to predict, by statistical method or other objective processes, the extent of the effects on other employers and community employment levels of the closure or contraction of a particular industry in the community? If not, are there methods used overseas which could be adapted for use in Australia? Would not such information be vital to the preparation of Budget estimates in respect of the unemployment benefit, relocation allowances, etc.? Will the Minister request his colleague to investigate this matter, perhaps in conjunction with the Department of Social Security, to establish the worthiness or otherwise of such methods?
– The honourable senator has asked a number of very important questions, the answers to which would demand a fairly high degree of technical knowledge and understanding of areas in which certainly one would need to be highly expert. Although I am not in a position to provide the honourable senator with answers to the specific questions he has asked I certainly will pass on the questions to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations whom I represent in this place and obtain answers as soon as possible.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Education. It follows the 17’/i per cent devaluation of 28 November last. Does the Minister agree that the short term inflationary effects of devaluation will necessitate further allocations to ‘cost supplement’ education funding if serious reductions in spending levels are to be avoided? In view of the Minister’s undertaking of 4 November 1976 that ‘the Government will continue to supplement programs to meet unavoidable cost increases’, will the Minister now give an undertaking that the Government will provide full cost supplementation to education funds to cover the reduction in spending levels caused by the devaluation?
– The matter raised in the first part of the question is one primarily for the Treasurer. The success of the devaluation move, in terms of its effect or otherwise upon inflation, will depend upon a whole series of concomitant activities, including the Australian community’s attitude towards wage spirals, wage escalation and other inflationary things. If there is a general restraint and if the Australian Labor Party will assist the Government in urging general restraint in Australia, then there is no need at all for inflation to occur; the very reverse is true. The very healthy trend towards a reduction in the rate of inflation that started this year can be continued if there is a bipartisan approach by the Government and the Opposition in this country towards getting the rate of inflation down and not exacerbating it. As to cost supplementation, the statement means what it says. It is clear in its meaning. It relates to all unavoidable costs and will be interpreted as such.
-Can the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications inform the chamber in which States the overnight parcels services are already operating and when the scheme is likely to be extended to the other States?
– I cannot inform the chamber, but I shall find out.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Social Security, refers to the concern expressed by some migrant groups in Adelaide over the proposed appointment of an assistant director for migrant services in the Department of Social Security in South Australia, about which the Minister recently responded following a question asked by Senator Messner. In that answer Senator Guilfoyle said:
I acknowledge the necessity for linguistic and human relations qualifications to be held by the person who will be appointed.
Can the Minister say whether such an appointment has now been made? Does the appointee possess the qualifications to which the Minister referred?
– I understand that the appointment of Mr Brown to the position mentioned was made after consideration had been given to all the applicants for the position. As I understand it, Mr Brown has not within his capacity the ability to speak any language other than English. Mr Scott of my Department visited Adelaide this week and met with many community group representatives who had expressed concern about this appointment. I am awaiting a report from the Director-General on the results of those discussions which were held by Mr Scott. I will give some further consideration to the matter and advise the Senate accordingly.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommuncations. Do the advertising restrictions which apply in the electronic media to cigarettes apply with equal force to other tobacco products such as cigars and pipe tobacco? Is snuff advertising, for example, included in the restrictions which have been placed on machine-made cigarettes?
– My understanding of the legislation is that it relates only to cigarettes; it does not relate to cigars or pipe tobacco or even snuff. If the honourable senator is addicted I think he can continue his practice.
-I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister whether he is aware of a report by Mr S. Rawling of the Australian National University Careers Office which shows graduate unemployment at a level of 10 per cent, which is twice the national average. Further, the report states that the major reason for this high level of unemployment is a decline of Public Service appointments from 17 per cent in 1975 to 8 per cent in 1976. Can the Minister outline proposals relating to Public Service intake for 1977? Will the intake be increased to offset graduate unemployment which represents individual hardship and, one might say, a waste of human resources?
-That presupposes that everybody who graduates has a skill that fits him for employment. That is a matter for argument within the community, too.
– Oh, go on.
-It does presuppose that. I do not think it is necessarily correct.
– That is a dreadful statement to make. You do not really mean it.
-No, it is not. There are a lot of odd people around with a piece of sheep skin that is not of much use outside. The honourable senator asks a question of detail as to Public Service recruitment. I think it is only proper that I ought to get the full details from the Prime Minister and the Public Service Board so that the honourable senator can have a detailed answer.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development. I take up with him a radio report this morning that quantities of nuclear waste are deposited at Maralinga in South Australia. Is the Minister aware that claims have been renewed that this waste is insufficiently protected and covered? Will he investigate these claims and will he take steps to correct any inadequacies that may exist? If the process of correction is necessary, will he make an announcement to that effect?
-I did not hear the media report this morning relating to the disposal of nuclear waste at Maralinga in South Australia. I shall certainly act today to seek details about this matter from my colleague. It is a matter which ought to be studied. It is a matter in which an assurance should be capable of being given to the people of Australia that there will be no radioactive consequences. I shall look at the matter and get an answer as quickly as possible.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Administrative Services. The Minister will recall my persistent questioning during an Estimates Committee’s investigations into this year’s Budget allocation in respect of the amount provided for the Australian Security
Intelligence Organisation and my further questioning of this amount during the Estimates debate in the Committee of the Whole. The Minister will also recall that he refused to answer any of my queries. I now ask the Minister whether he will verify an article in the Canberra Times of 1 December that ASIO is to resume a watch on industry. If this claim is correct, can it be construed that it is the Government’s intention to use ASIO as part of its weaponry to enforce its policy of cracking down on outspoken members of the trade unions in an attempt to weaken the trade union movement?
-The honourable senator should not read newspapers. He picks up these questions out of newspapers. He does not give any basis for these charges.
– This is in the newspaper. I have it here.
-But that does not make it a matter of fact. The honourable senator picks up gossip. Nothing like that makes it a matter of fact. I have no intention of answering questions based on newspaper gossip. In any event, I take the stance which was adopted by Mr Chifley back in the 1940s and all Prime Ministers and governments since.
– Nothing changes, does it?
-The position that questions on ASIO are not answered never changed in 3 years under the Whitlam Government.
-Has the Minister representing the Minister for Transport any information regarding the time-table and placement of the Omega navigation station? Does the fact that the Labor Party now appears to be in favour of the installation make any difference to its timing or siting?
-I shall refer first to the implication of the second question. My understanding is that technically the optimum desirability is to site the Omega station relatively far to the south-east of Australia so as to get the most effective triangulation. That being so, I understand that the experts regard a site in Tasmania as being desirable. If the Labor Party were to have second thoughts and were willing to consider Tasmania as a suitable site, I have no doubt that my colleague in another place would be interested so to hear. I am not aware of any such changes. I am not aware that any alternative sites have been finalised. Clearly, the Government is looking at a series of sites in an area in south-eastern Australia which would be desirable. It has now been established, thank goodness in a bipartisan way, that Omega is a valuable peacetime navigational aid and in no way represents a threat of military consequence. That was the foundation recommendation of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. It should also not be overlooked that the Omega station, wherever it is sited, will bring not only valuable capital equipment but also some useful employment and prosperity to the area.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Women’s Affairs. The Minister would be aware of reports regarding a stripper- female- jumping from a giant cake as part of some celebration by Liberal members in the private dining room of Parliament House. Could the Minister advise whether this is evidence of the Government’s commitment to the dignity of women as human beings or is it still content to sell us as some sort of commodity?
-I think it would be a very bold man who expressed any opinions about the role of strippers in the community generally. I have no knowledge of the matters which Senator Melzer raised. I do not know whether she really expects me to make inquiries about them. If she insists that that be done I shall certainly take the matter up with the Minister whom I represent and endeavour to obtain some information. What conclusion would be drawn I think any honourable senator would be capable of drawing for himself or herself.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs aware that on Monday of this week a group of persons purporting to be members of the Ananda Marga organisation forcibly occupied the Chancellery of the Indian High Commission and threatened the High Commissioner and members of the High Commission staff? Apparently they have also been subjecting officers of the High Commission to a campaign of harassment by telephone calls and other such activities. Can the Minister give assurances that the Australian Government will do everything it can to prevent such treatment of a foreign mission in Australia, whatever opinions may be held by Australians of some of the activities of the government of the country which is represented in Canberra?
– I can give the assurance that the Government will take all the steps it is able to take to see that all foreign embassies or high commissions are protected no matter whether or not individuals or groups in the community like them. That is none of their business. The people concerned are properly accredited representatives to the Head of State in this country and they will be protected as such.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. By way of preface I refer to the long-standing agitation for the creation of a panel or tribunal to enhance the status of interpreters and translators. I seek from the Minister information as to the constitution of this body with a particular assurance that in the selection of the 10 people who I believe will comprise this authority he will consider the claims of the growing number of people who have the very difficult job of translating industrial agreements and awards into various languages for certain sections of the trade union movement. Could the Minister indicate who the 10 people are supposed to represent, how people who are interested will indicate their availability, and matters of that nature?
– I am not able to give the honourable senator the information that he has requested. I am aware that recently the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has made certain statements with regard to a new interpreter authority. I shall draw to his attention the matter raised with regard to those who are able to interpret industrial agreements. The comments that I have seen more recently have been more in the area of personal services- health, social security and other matters. I think it is important that an understanding of industrial agreements be comprehended within the proposed authority. I shall draw that to the Minister’s attention.
-Has the Minister for Social Security issued instructions to her Director-General as to how many job applications from a school leaver registering for work and benefit will suffice to establish that he or she is a genuine job seeker; or has the DirectorGeneral chosen a standard number of applications as proof of the school leaver’s bona fides; or is it indeed a fact, as suggested, that whether a school leaver has made one attempt or 101 attempts to find a job he or she will be treated equally rigidly, with no benefit being available until the dates as proclaimed by the Minister and her Director-General? What are the guidelines for special benefit to be given to school leavers over the long vacation?
– I have not issued instructions to the Director-General with regard to the number of job applications that should be interpreted as showing that reasonable steps have been taken to obtain employment. As I understand it, the Director-General has issued no directive on the standard number of job applications that he would regard as complying with the Act. The third part of the question suggested that there was an attitude that whether one application or 101 applications for employment had been made by a school leaver there would still be a rigid application of no payment of unemployment benefit. That is not accurate. It is an area where some flexibility needs to be exercised so that reasonable steps to find employment are the objective of the school leaver. Special benefit is able to be paid to those students in a situation where hardship exists. Again in the area of special benefit the DirectorGeneral determines whether eligibility for that benefit has been achieved by the person who makes the application.
– I have a supplementary question. Will the Minister make available to the Senate or the Parliament the guidelines laid down by her or her Director-General under which this flexible arrangement is carried out?
– I shall give consideration to that question.
-Is the Minister representing the Minister for National Resources aware that Dow Chemical (Australia) Ltd has expressed significant interest in proceeding with the development of a petrochemical works at Redcliffs in South Australia and that the South Autralian Minister of Mines and Energy, Mr Hudson, has claimed that unspecified ‘support’ is required from the Federal Government? Can the Minister indicate whether any approach has been received from the South Australian Government in this connection?
-I shall have to seek the information on that question from my colleague in the other place.
-Mr President, my question is directed to you. It follows the question that was asked by Senator Melzer. In view of the answer given by Senator Durack- I appreciate that this matter is not his direct responsibility- I ask you whether you will take up with the Speaker of the House of Representatives the question of the use to which a private dining room was put on Tuesday night and consider the actions of the persons who saw fit to use the dining room for the purpose for which it apparently was used, with a view to reporting to the Parliament on the appropriateness of such behaviour.
– I know nothing of this matter to which the Leader of the Opposition has referred other than from some Press references this morning. I will discuss the matter with Mr Speaker, as he requests.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the AttorneyGeneral. The Northern Territory Supreme Court Amendment Bill will enable the appointment of a fourth resident judge in the Northern Territory whose time, it has been indicated, will be taken up mainly on the investigation of Aboriginal land claims. If this legislation is to be passed in the near future, is the Government in a position to indicate when the fourth judge will be appointed and the name of the person to be appointed?
– I have no advice from the Attorney-General in regard to the question that Senator Kilgariff asks. The Bill to amend the Northern Territory Supreme Court Act will be dealt with in the Senate either later today or tomorrow. I will endeavour to obtain some further information and perhaps the matter can be raised again at the Committee stage of the Bill. However, I can assure the Senate that when the appointment is made the name will certainly be made known.
-I ask the Minister for Social Security whether she will table the legal advice on which the Department of Social Security bases its view that students on vacation should not be considered as unemployed. Is there separate legal advice for those students who believe their last vacation to have been in September this year and who are in no sense on vacation while trying to find permanent work?
– I will be happy to table the legal advice that students on vacation are not regarded as unemployed. It is legal advice given some years ago that has been used as the basis for our decisions over a number of years and through changes of government. I will be happy to table that advice as soon as I have it available.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. I draw to the Minister’s attention a report in the Canberra Times of 17 November that a community health centre will be built at Eden, the announcement having been made by the Minister for Health in the New South Wales Government. I ask whether the funds for this construction contain a Commonwealth funding component. If so, what is the amount of money provided by the Commonwealth for this project, what consultation has taken place with local health professionals and what provisions are there to ensure that a co-operative co-ordination of services takes place in the Eden area after the health centre opens?
– I understand that Commonwealth funds have been made available for this project under the community health program. Specifically, it is expected that a total of approximately $191,000 will be allocated to this centre in the 1976-77 Commonwealth block grant to the Health Commission of New South Wales. That Commission is primarily responsible for the development and management of projects such as the Eden community health centre, the Commonwealth’s role being related to broad policy issues, planning, evaluation and the provision of financial assistance. Based on information held by the Commonwealth Department of Health it is my understanding that consultation has taken place between the local health professionals and the regional directorate of the Health Commission of New South Wales. I understand that this consultation is continuing and is particularly directed at ensuring the coordination of services when the health centre opens. The State authorities have the detailed management of this project and any more detailed answer to the main point of the honourable senator’s question lies with those authorities.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for the
Northern Territory. I ask: Has legal action been taken against the Department of the Northern Territory following the slaughter in October this year of SOO privately owned and branded cattle on the Daly River Wildlife Sanctuary? I further ask: Has the Government made an offer to the 2 parties concerned, Tipperary Station and the Unia Association, to settle out of court? If so, what was the quantum of compensation offered? Will the Minister ask the Minister for the Northern Territory to make a public statement on the matter to explain how, during the control exercise, SOO privately owned and branded cattle were slaughtered? What steps have been taken to ensure that such an incident does not occur again?
– I am not aware that action may have been commenced against the Department, as the honourable senator stated. I will attempt to ascertain the information from the Minister for the Northern Territory. I recall the honourable senator’s questions earlier this year relating to the fact that a slaughter was taking place on some of the reserves. I will obtain the information for the honourable senator as soon as possible.
– I ask a question of the Minister representing the Treasurer. I preface it by saying that no doubt the Minister will remember his reply to a question from me earlier this week concerning the benefit Tasmania will gain from the increased value of its exports due to devaluation. I now ask: Can the Minister say what effect devaluation will have on tourism to and within Australia and will it also benefit Tasmania?
-Yes, it certainly will. One of the problems of the tourist industry- and we have talked about this in the Senate on previous occasions- has been the growing imbalance in funds taken out by people leaving Australia and taking their holidays abroad for various reasons and those brought in by people from overseas coming to this country to see Australia. There has been a growing amount of difference; it has been quite substantial. The difference was about $60m about 4 years ago, and in the next year it could be more than $400m. That is a great deal of money to be worried about. There has also been a decline because of factors in the domestic tourist industry, which has had a marked effect on Tasmania and particularly on the Gold Coast and other areas in Queensland. For those sorts of reasons the Government set up a select committee on which all parties have joined together to study this matter. I believe that Tasmania will get out of this devaluation a very considerable improvement in its domestic travel industry through people on the Australian mainland travelling to Tasmania as a good logical alternative to travelling abroad. As I have said before, and I think it can be fairly said, Tasmania has an immense range of attractions, not the least of which are the honourable senators from Tasmania in this place.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. I am extremely pleased that it is not going to his colleague the Minister for Administrative Services because he has openly admitted in this chamber many times that he does not read the newspapers. I am quite sure that Senator Durack does. I point out that on page 2 of the Sunday Independent of 21 November there appeared an article which was headed:
Checks to intensify.
The article talked about more intensive checks to be earned out on international aircrews at the Perth Airport following the conviction of 3 South African crew members who were trying to smuggle live parrots and revolvers out of Australia. Having had some experience with the Customs people at Perth Airport over the past few months, I am concerned that there has been a decrease in the number of officers on duty whenever international aircraft arrive and depart. I ask the Minister: Will he advise the total strength of the Customs inspection force at the Perth and Fremantle offices in Western Australia. How many of those officers are attached to Fremantle and how many to the Perth Airport? What is the difference between that figure and the figure, say, 12 months ago? If more intensive checks are to be made, will the Minister advise by how many the force will be increased and when it will be increased?
– I am not so rigid in my attitude to the reading of newspapers as my Leader in the Senate. On the other hand, I am not an avid reader of newspapers and I am certainly not an avid reader of the Sunday Independent. So the article to which Senator Coleman referred me did escape my attention. Also, I have not had the advantage of international travel in recent months, as has Senator Coleman. Therefore I am not so familiar with the Customs checks at Perth Airport, Fremantle Harbour or wherever else in Western Australia from which one may go abroad. Nevertheless, the matter that the honourable senator has raised, which is based partly on her own experience and partly on newspaper reports, raises an issue that is certainly of some importance and perhaps of some concern. The honourable senator seeks a good deal of statistical information which I do not have at my disposal. I shall certainly pass on her question to the Minister whom I represent in an endeavour to obtain an early answer.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Resources. It refers to the AMDEL organisation in South Australia. The Minister might be aware that this organisation was established by a triumvirate of the Commonwealth Government, the State Government and private industry, which fund the organisation and allocate work to it to enable it to provide a bridge between research and development and the application of such technology to industry. I understand that it is a unique organisation. I also understand that the Government has had consultations with Sir Ian McLennan, who is the Chairman of AMDEL, with respect to the Government’s future attitude towards it. I ask the Minister whether the Government has made a decision concerning the funding of this organisation and the allocation of work to it.
-My present understandingI shall have to check on it- is that this matter is now the subject of communication between the Prime Minister and the Premier of South Australia. I think I should ask my colleague in another place whether he wants to go further than that.
-I ask a supplementary question of the Minister. Will he use his good offices to get a speedy decision on this matter?
-I certainly undertake to do that.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Did the Minister hear on the AM program this morning a report from the United States of America of apparent intentions to film some impending executions in that country? Will he have discussions with the Minister for Post and Telecommunications in an endeavour to ensure that such macabre and dehumanising spectacles will not be permitted to be seen in Australia? I am not conversant enough with the subject to know whether his colleague has the power to ensure that, but I ask the Minister to ask his colleague to exercise whatever power he might have to ensure that such material is not brought into Australia, particularly for the purpose of enabling someone to make a fast buck from it.
-I did not hear the AM program this morning, but I have read in the Press of the decision of a court to allow the execution- I think by firing squad- of a convicted murderer to go ahead. I have also read in the Press reports that there may be a filming of this situation because the execution will take place outside the walls of a gaol. I think that the matter raises 2 questions of human taste and judgment. The Senate is aware of my feelings. I find it more repelling that anyone would seek to execute anyone else. I find the filming secondary to that in terms of ethnical judgment. I am astonished that the Leader of the Opposition referred only to the question of filming. It is a matter of conscience whether or not one believes in capital punishment. If it has to be, I share his view that it is macabre and I share his feeling about the filming of it. I will refer his question to the Minister in the other place, but I am bound to say to the honourable senator that the question of a government exercising censorship on this or any other matter would raise the gravest doubts in my mind. What I would hope is that the good taste of the Australian people would be such that they would share the honourable senator’s revulsion at what to me is a horrible spectacle.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. As a result of the Government’s decision to extend free telephone installation from 8 kilometres from the exchange to 12 kilometres from the exchange, can the Minister give the Senate some indication of when the resulting backlog of construction work will be completed? The conversion of many manual exchanges to automatic depends to a large degree on this matter.
-I will find out and let the honourable senator know.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Social Security. What is the position of school leavers who complete their schooling in one State but register for employment in another State where school resumes earlier or later than in the boy’s or girl’s own State? Is benefit uniformly payable on the date of the resumption of school in the State in which he or she is registered? Is there a mandatory 6-week waiting time, or in some cases will this be 5 weeks or 10 weeks according to the inter-state movements of the school leaver?
– In general terms unemployment benefit would apply in accordance with the position in the State in which a person is resident at the time he makes application. If a person has attended school in one State and has moved residence to another, the school commencement date in the State in which he is living is the one which would be applicable to him. I will look at the several points that were raised in the question and see whether any information needs to be given to clarify the position. In general terms it is the commencement date of school in the State in which a person is resident that applies to his application.
– Following the announcement that the south-bound section of the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme is to be implemented, can the Minister representing the Minister for Transport advise whether the schedule is yet available or, if not, when it may be available?
-I understand the very natural interest of all Tasmanian senators in this second major reform- the south-bound equalisation. The north-bound equalisation is now functioning. Whilst I do not have immediate knowledge of the matter raised, I will get the information and let the honourable senator have it as soon as possible.
– My question to the Minister for Social Security relates to unemployed school leavers. Will all applications for special benefit payable to unemployed school leavers in lieu of unemployment benefit be sent to Canberra for determination by the Director-General, or will State offices of the Department of Social Security be given responsibility for making the decision on whether hardship exists?
– At present State directors and senior officers in State offices are able to decide on applications for special benefit. This will still apply in the case of those students who have left school, who suffer hardship and who need a determination. It can be done in the State offices.
-Has the Minister representing the Treasurer seen a report in today’s Australian that a system of quarterly tax payments for companies is to be reintroduced? Is the Minister able to confirm or deny the veracity of this report? If the system is to be reintroduced can the Minister assure the Senate that there will be sufficient notice to companies of the implementation of the decision so as to avoid undue pressure on the liquidity of companies at this critical stage of economic recovery?
-I had a bit of bad luck this morning. I missed reading the Australian, so I do not really know what is in it. I do know that once upon a time we had a traditional pattern of company tax payment. It has been altered variously. There have been arguments that it distorted the monetary position and it is therefore logical speculation- and that is all it can be said to be- that people will be looking at this aspect. I know no more than that. I have no official information whatsoever. I will just have to suggest that the question be placed on notice if the honourable senator does not mind so that I can get information for him.
– I ask a further question of the Minister for Social Security relating to the unemployment benefit payable to school leavers. Are school leavers required to register on a special form? Are they advised on that special form of their right of appeal? If they do appeal, how long does it take for the Appeals Tribunals to process the appeal? Will the tribunals be sitting during that vital period for these people- the December- January period?
– I am not aware whether school leavers are provided with a special form by the Commonwealth Employment Service, but I will inquire about that. As far as the right of appeal is concerned, in the Department of Social Security every person is advised of his right of appeal. As to the question relating to the sittings of the Appeals Tribunals, the tribunals decide themselves the times and dates that they sit but I assume that they will be sitting throughout the year. I will check whether they have made arrangements quite independent from my Department not to sit, but my assumption would be that they would continue to service appeal applications throughout the year.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development. It concerns an annual grant of $150,000 to an organisation known as the Australian Conservation Foundation. It also relates to the AM. broadcast of 18 November last in which the interviewer Hamish Robertson referred to a statement by the Director of the Foundation, Dr Geoff Mosley, to the effect that certain legislation then before the Victorian Parliament relating to penalties against organisations which prevented or hindered any vital State project was reminiscent of Nazi Germany. Later in the program Dr Mosley said: . . it’s very much like the situation in Germany prewar . . .
Later in the program in reply to a question from the interviewer, ‘Could the Australian Conservation Foundation stand to pay a fine of $50,000?’, Dr Mosley said:
Oh, we certainly could not afford anything like that. I mean, our whole expenditure on projects for the year is in the order of about $6,000.
Can the Minister say whether Dr Mosley was expressing a personal view or the view of the organisation? Will the Minister ensure that grants of this nature are applied strictly for the purposes for which they are made?
– I am not aware of the circumstances which Senator Tehan has outlined. Assuming that what he has stated is factual, I cannot respond as to whether Dr Mosley ‘s views are personal views or otherwise. I do say that the concept of the Australian Conservation Foundation is an excellent one and one should be careful not to confuse the general concept with what might be judgments on actions of individuals. It is a matter for those within the voluntary organisations to act to ensure that views of the organisations represent a true cross-section of the individuals.
I am bound to say, being a member myself of that organisation, that over a period of time I have had some grave reservations about views that have been expressed as being the views of a cross-section of the body; but that is a matter, as in all voluntary organisations, for the people within them to do something about. Certainly it is true that the body concerned receives a grant- in-aid, I think from the Commonwealth Government. I will look at the substance of the question from that point of view, but I have no other information than that.
-My question which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations is related to an incident which occurred last night and which is reported in this morning’s Melbourne Sun. By whom was the person concerned employed? What was the purpose of her employment? Under what conditions was she employed? What payments were made to her? Was the person a member of a union and, if so, what union? Finally, has the Minister considered the question of the establishment of standards to prevent the exploitation of womanhood in such circumstances?
-I have already said that I have no knowledge of or information about the incident that is alleged to have occurred the other evening. I do not even know on which evening it is alleged to have occurred, nor apparently did Senator Wriedt when he asked his question earlier. Senator Harradine has asked a whole series of questions, some of which I do not think are within the area of responsibility of the Minister whom I represent. I suggest that he put his question on the notice paper.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs by reminding him that I have been made aware that it has been difficult for some medical delegations from Taiwan to attend medical congresses in this country. Under what conditions are delegations or groups from Taiwan allowed to enter Australia to attend international scientific or medical congresses?
-The honourable senator was good enough to advise me that he would be asking a question along those lines. I have 2 briefing papers from my colleague in the other place which I think I ought to read for the sake of clarity and definitiveness. In general, under current policy, residents from Taiwan may make private and unofficial visits to Australia. Entry for each individual is conditional upon his holding an ordinary passport and submitting in advance a written declaration that he will not purport to represent Taiwan, China or the Republic of China. Residents of Taiwan enter Australia on letters of authority which are usually issued through our Commission in Hong Kong. Persons from Taiwan wishing to participate in medical or scientific congresses in Australia must do so in a private and unofficial capacity consistent with the terms of the general declaration outlined above. For example, they should not seek to use a flag, insignia or any other form of identification suggesting that they are national or government representatives of Taiwan, China or the Republic of China.
I think that basically answers the honourable senator’s question. There was a specific instance of the Secretary-General of the Australian Medical Association writing to the Minister for Foreign Affairs on 16 July of this year seeking advice on whether visas would be issued to people from Taiwan wishing to take part as representatives of the China Medical Association in a congress of the Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania to be held in Sydney in 1 977. In replying to Dr Repin the Minister, Mr Peacock, briefly outlined the conditions governing the entry to Australia of people from Taiwan and suggested that, as Dr Repin had indicated it would only be possible for participants from Taiwan to attend as representatives of the China Medical Association, it seemed clear that they could not meet the conditions of entry for residents of Taiwan and therefore would not be able to obtain visas to attend the congress. In the event it appears that the AMA was unable to make arrangements for the congress which would enable people from Taiwan to take part except as representatives of the China Medical Association and accordingly felt obliged to cancel plans for holding the congress in Australia.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question. Can the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs tell me whether the same restrictions apply across the board, including restrictions which would apply to representatives of liberation fronts in other countries?
-I shall have to seek that information. I would prefer not to get outside the terms of my brief in matters which concern foreign affairs.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Education by remarking that I have noticed that some post-secondary educational institutions in Brisbane are competing for students by offering courses of a similar nature. I refer in particular to some departments of the University of Queensland and the Queensland Institute of Technology. At times, the competition for students has become quite overt. Whilst there may be some value in such competition, I question whether this is in the best interests of the community, given the scarcity of resources available for education. Can the Minister advise whether any mechanism is available to the Commonwealth to ensure that unnecessary duplication of courses does not occur at postsecondary educational institutions in Australia?
-I think this is an important point. I, like Senator Colston, have seen the advertisements and the competition. Primarily, the matter is one for the higher education authorities in the Queensland State Government because, as the honourable senator will know, the primary constitutional responsibility for such colleges rests with the State governments. A residual responsibility remains with the Commonwealth for 2 reasons: One is that we pay the bills- that is always a salutary one- and the other is that we do have some final say in the accreditation of courses. That, in itself, is of some help.
I am looking forward to the report of Professor Williams’ committee on education and training, as that committee will have to look at the whole question of co-ordination and rationalisation. This will be one of its concepts. I propose to take up with the State Ministers at the next Australian Education Council meeting the question of duplication, excess competition and the fact that it is competition for valuable resources with matters of higher priority. I share the honourable senator’s concern.
– I am not aware of any of the matters raised by the honourable senator or any action that has been taken in these matters. I shall refer the question to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs to obtain an answer for the honourable senator.
– I desire to give some further information in reply to a question asked by Senator Robertson about the killing of cattle in one of the parks in the Northern Territory. I am advised that the Department of the Northern Territory has received claims for compensation arising out of the killing of cattle in a Northern Territory park. The legal aspects are under consideration by the Crown Law Office. The Minister for the Northern Territory will be making a statement on the matter when the legal aspects are clarified.
-On 18 November Senator Robertson asked me questions without notice about a newspaper article criticising the Darwin Cyclone Tracy Relief Trust Fund for allocating sums of money in the Fund for a proposed community cultural centre in Darwin. The Minister for the Northern Territory has informed me that it is true that the member for Nightcliff in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, Mrs Dawn Lawrie, has criticised the decision by the Darwin Cyclone Tracy Relief Trust Fund to grant funds totalling $545,499 as a contribution to the Tracy Memorial Cultural Centre.
It was implied by Mrs Lawrie that the dispersal of the funds for this purpose was outside the terms of the trust deed. Accordingly, the Minister has asked the Crown Law Officer to examine the matter. The Minister and the members of the Trust Fund will, no doubt, be guided by such legal advising as is tendered. The Minister said that the members of the Trust Fund had acted at all times in the interests of the people who suffered as a consequence of the cyclone and in accordance with the wishes of donors. He said that there was no reflection whatever on the probity of the Trust members, including Senator Robertson who moved the motion for terminating the Trust Fund at its final meeting held on 30 September 1976.
– During question time yesterday Senator Colston asked me about the availability of application forms for Service pensions following the change to the income only means test for those pensions. I am advised that the new application forms for Service pensions have been distributed to the State branches of my Department and should now be available. I do not know whether Senator Colston had any specific information concerning the nonavailability of forms yesterday or the day before. If he has any such specific complaint I should certainly appreciate hearing from him about it or from any other honourable senator for that matter. I am assured that the forms should be available in all branch offices. My colleague, the Minister for Social Security, who also heard Senator
Colston’s question yesterday, has made some inquiries. The new income test forms have been printed and will be available in offices of the Department of Social Security next Monday. This form will also incoporate for the first time an interpreter block.
– Yesterday I answered a question from Senator Mulvihill and said that I thought Mr Booker was still in Belgrade. I was informed this morning that the information I gave yesterday was incorrect. I apologise to the honourable senator. I understand that Mr Booker is in fact in Australia.
– For the information of honourable senators I present a paper prepared by Major-General Stretton, dated 14 April 1975, concerning relief operations in Darwin, together with a statement by the Minister for Defence relating to that paper.
Senator ROBERTSON (Northern Territory) by leave- I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the 1975-76 annual report of the Department of Industry and Commerce entitled Industry and Commerce 1976.
– For the information of honourable senators and pursuant to section 9 of the States Grants (Dwellings for Pensioners) Act 1 974 1 present the annual statement on the operations under that Act for the year ended 30 June 1976.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the annual report of the Australian Capital Territory Police Force for the year ended 30 June 1976.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the annual report of the Department of Science for the year ended 30 June 1976.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the report of the Trade Practices Commission, dated October 1976, entitled Consumer Education.
Senator Sir MAGNUS CORMACK (Victoria) I present an interim report from the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on its inquiry into the Lebanon crisis.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
In May this year the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence decided to investigate the significance of the Lebanon crises. The Lebanon crisis- a civil war- has an international outreach because the Middle East is a region of ideological, religious and strategic concern to great powers, to the Jewish communities throughout the world and to Arab peoples and governments. There is a natural concern among Australia’s Lebanese community. The Committee has taken voluminous evidence and held informal discussions with people who have first hand knowledge of the Lebanon crisis. A comprehensive report to the Parliament will be presented during the Autumn session covering all aspects of our terms of reference. In the meantime the Committee has found it necessary to make an interim report on what are mainly the humanitarian aspects of the crisis, Lebanon needs help. This interim report comes at a time when the possibilities for helping victims of the civil conflict in Lebanon are better than they have been over the last 18 months because the latest cease fire seems to be holding well, notwithstanding that frequent failures of previous efforts at armistice have dashed hopes for peace and sanity.
The traditional ‘national pact’ between fairly equally balanced communities of Christians, Muslims and Druzes has disintegrated. Under the impact of eighteen months of violence, vendetta and retribution, Lebanon’s consensus has broken down. Factionalism, fears of genocide, and economic and social status disparities will make the reconciliation process very difficult, lt is probable that disinterested care for the people of Lebanon by powers like Australia could heal a situation aggravated by powers which fish in troubled waters with the ultimate aim of territorial expansion or ideological influence.
The human tragedy and devastation resulting from the Lebanon crisis is so immense that they create claims of great moral weight on other nations to take action to alleviate suffering. The number of dead may be as high as 60 000 with a further 200 000 wounded. These are casualties in a population of 3 million. Compare these figures with the 46 000 U.S. servicemen killed in Vietnam over 12 years and the disastrous impact of the war on a small state like Lebanon can be realised.
Possibly a third of Lebanon’s three million people have fled the country and there are many more homeless, wounded, sick and destitute within Lebanon. The Lebanese people are critically in need of assistance but aid programs have faced deliberate obstruction, corruption and immense physical difficulties including the chronic state of insecurity due to indiscriminate killing, and the complete breakdown of Lebanon’s economy, communications, and service infrastructures.
A necessary rendition for the healing process in Lebanon is the cessation of all outside interference in a country which for many years has managed to live a much more prosperous existence than the non oil producing Arab states. This outside intervention is initially and tragically attributable to the Palestinians. They came to Lebanon as refugees but have since adopted a disruptive role in Lebanon’s internal affairs. Their interference in Lebanese politics, possibly at foreign behest and certainly with foreign support, constitutes abuse of Lebanese hospitality.
Syria, Iraq, Libya and several other countries have intervened. Syria’s intervention has been overt. Iraq’s and Libya’s intervention has been mainly through influence on the Palestinians, propaganda of intransigence, as well as money and ‘volunteers’. Lebanon’s Government may benefit from Syrian intervention, whatever Syria’s motives. Iraq and Libya have tended to frustrate a solution to the Lebanon crisis.
The existence of a recognised government authority in Lebanon, however disintegrated and impotent that government’s administrative structure may be, has contributed to a great reluctance by Australia as well as many other nations, to raise this issue of the tragedy of Lebanon, including foreign intervention in Lebanon, in international forums, such as the United Nations. This is despite the fact that there has been a clear breach of the United Nation’s charter, and despite a manifest threat to peace in the Middle East. This is not simply due to the apparent futility of taking such matters to the United Nations, but also in deference to the fact that world discussion and United Nations action would not be welcomed by some Arab States.
Aid for the Lebanese people has been totally inadequate. This is in part because of an atmosphere of deceit surrounding the crisis. Leaders of the various participants, including those Arab States actively involved, want the United Nations to keep out. Therefore appeals for aid are minimal and people in flight have not been declared refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The United Nations definition of what constitutes a refugee clearly applies to many uprooted from Lebanon and within Lebanon.
The Committee does not believe that Australia has so far been particularly generous in the unhappy predicament of the Lebanese people. In the nine months ending 30 September 1 976 only 1,835 Lebanese arrived in Australia. They were mostly close relatives of Australian resident Lebanese. We have sent no medical teams there, despite the fact that the International Red Cross have had only 16 doctors and nurses in Lebanon. The lack of adequate reaction by the International Committee of the Red Cross is one of the most depressing aspects of the crisis. There may be reasons for this, but the contrast with previous International Red Cross action seems marked.
The Committee has carefully considered the prospect of helping more Lebanese refugees into Australia and has made a number of recommendations in this regard. It has been particularly concerned that there should be a compassionate, effective and clear-cut refugee policy in Australia. The committee believes that there will continue to be refugee situations in years to come and that Australia needs to develop an enlightened policy which would command the support of all political parties and the assent of enlightened opinion.
In its consideration of the likely impact upon Australia of an increased number of Lebanese migrants, the Committee looked for any signs that the destructive factionalism of the Lebanon situation and the antagonism rampant in the Middle East generally were reflected to any extent in Australia- particularly in the media used by ethnic communities. The Committee was particularly concerned at the allegations against two Melbourne radio stations- 3CR and 3 Double Z. It would appear that at times these stations have been guilty of incitement to hatred and gross misrepresentation without always granting an opportunity for reply. Although the Committee has received some evidence in this regard its work was hampered by an apparent lack of monitoring of both the English broadcasts of 3CR and the Arabic broadcasts of 3 Double Z.
The Committee has recommended that the proposed Australian Broadcasting Tribunal hold an inquiry into both ethnic and community access radio stations and that the Australian Broadcasting Commission take an active interest in the selection of qualified and responsible organising committees for ethnic radio stations. While the Committee does not wish to curtail the right of ‘normal’ free speech it condemns the use of radio stations or ethnic newspapers and periodicals for creating hostility and inciting race, religious and ideological hatred between communities in this country. Australia should welcome refugees but not the importation of their quarrels. The Committee appreciates that when such incitement to conflict and contempt occurs it is invariably generated by a faction not representative of the ethnic community as a whole.
The Committee has made 18 recommendations in its report Many of these require urgent action such as A. The sending of medical teams to Lebanon, B. Government support for appeals by the International Red Cross and the World Food and Agricultural Organisations for urgent relief to Lebanon, C. The efficient and humane handling of applications from genuine refugees, D. The establishment of a diplomatic post including a migration team in Syria.
Syria has enhanced its national influence, through its intervention in Lebanon, and has the bulk of Lebanese refugees within its borders and has increased in diplomatic significance. The Soviet Union sent its top leaders there recently. Australia is unrepresented.
Before the Committee reports again to the Parliament on this reference early next year, the Committee hopes that significant progress will have been made towards the implementation of the recommendations in its interim report. They seem to be recommendations of logic and good will. I take this opportunity of thanking the large number of very good witnesses who have made this report possible. 2 December 1 976 Magnus Cormack, Senator
Debate resumed from 1 December, on motion by Senator Durack:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– When the debate was interrupted last night I was discussing briefly what would flow and what has flowed on to the States from the coal industry, especially in my State of Queensland. I mentioned that royalties were playing a major part and that when new production was commenced increased royalties would assist our economy. I say here and now that I believe that royalties are a natural thing which should flow to the people of Australia; but when governments impose royalties they should take into consideration the profitability or otherwise of the mines concerned so that royalties do not have a detrimental effect, as this coal export levy did.
I mentioned also the profits from the rail freight. I touched briefly on the fact that the railway built in Queensland to carry the coal from the Utah Development Co. mines of Peak Downs, Saraji and Goonyella to Hay Point was unique in that the mining company paid for the railway line and the rolling stock. We have a magnificent railway which was built at a cost of not one cent to the taxpayer and which eventually will revert to the Government and people of Queensland and will be a common earner. It will not belong to the mines; it will belong to the people of Queensland. Already cattle yards have been built along that line to tap the fattening areas in the Nebo district. So these benefits have flowed to the State. Another benefit, of course, is the increased payroll tax revenue. The coal exporting companies are paying 70 per cent or more of their gross profits to the State and Federal governments. These imposts currently include income tax, coal export duty, royalties, coal freights, payroll tax and sales tax. So they are playing a vital part in the economy of our country at a time when we need all that we can get.
The abolition of the coal export duty will remove that discriminatory barrier to the flow of funds into the coal mining industry. As I mentioned or alluded to previously, it also will give confidence to other people who want to set up what could become quite feasible and profitable industries. Undoubtedly there is a question in people’s minds in that where a government would impose a levy on something that is seen to be profitable they will be loth to invest risk capital. So the abolition of this levy undoubtedly will help to build up confidence in this sector once again. The Industries Assistance Commission, in its draft report on the petroleum and mining inquiry, stated that it ‘accepts the proposition that the mining sector in Australia is efficient and low cost in comparison with other sectors’. I think this has been borne out. The rnining companies employ a large number of people and make an important contribution to Australian export income. That is proved by the figures I quoted. The industry has proved its ability to open new mines in order to meet growth in world markets. The industry sees a potential for further export, building up to an extra 22 million tonnes with an ultimate increase in sales earnings of $ 1, 000m as a contribution to the Australian economy.
The removal of the duty will result in the development of new mines in Australia. Major positive results will accrue to the national economy, as desired by the Australian Government. Therefore I have no apprehension at all in supporting this measure which is designed eventually to abolish this iniquitous levy.
It has had a very detrimental effect. There are mines which were not profitable because of this levy. The mining industry has brought into Australia expertise and technology and nsk capital which we just did not have in Australia. The point must be made that Australian workmen are now operating all those mines and ancillary industries. They helped to construct the massive drag lines and the unique unloading operation at Hay Point. We could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of people outside Australia at present who have anything to do with the operation and management of these coal mines. The industry has been of tremendous benefit and it should not be hit hard because it has been so successful. That success has flowed through all sections of the Australian community by way of jobs and taxes and other things which have been mentioned in the debate.
– in reply- I thank the Senate for its support of this measure. I was particularly pleased to find that the Opposition had changed its attitude to this measure during its passage through the Parliament. In the debate in the other place the Opposition opposed the Bill and apparently wanted to retain the levy which the Opposition in the debate here and also in the debate in the other place recognised was an inequitable and discriminatory tax. Nevertheless, it was prepared to continue it despite the criticisms of it which the Opposition recognised. However, wisdom seems to have prevailed even in the Opposition ranks following reflection on this matter and I am pleased to find that in this chamber the Opposition is not opposing the measure. Obviously I am grateful to Senator Wriedt for giving the Opposition some sense of reality in regard to this tax.
The Government’s proposal is that this tax should be phased out over 3 years. This Bill is the first stage in the phasing out operation and makes significant reductions in the levy. However, the Bill points the way and gives the coal mining companies a clear indication of the policy of the Government. They know where they stand in relation to this levy and they know where the Government stands. It is most important for investors and existing producers to know exactly where they will stand in the future. One of the matters which bedevilled the development of the rnining industry generally in Australia during the years of the Labor Government was the air of uncertainty which was created by that Government about its policy on the mining industry. Therefore by the step we are taking here this
Government is making it clear where it stands on one matter in particular which has had serious effects not only on new investment in the coal rnining industry but also on those producers who already have invested in the industry.
The Bill does one other thing which I do not think has been fully adverted to. Apart from reducing the levy on the two different rates- the rate on high quality coking coal being reduced from $6 to $4.50 and the rate on other coal from $2 to $1.50- the Bill widens the exemption from the levy. It also makes perfectly clear that in future the levy will not apply to non-coking coals. The exemption provided in the existing Act, which was passed last year, was drafted in such a way as to include some coal which could not come within the actual intention of the exemption to ensure that non-coking coal was not the subject of a levy. However, the new definition which has been adopted in this Bill should make it clear in future that the levy will not apply to non-coking coal. That significant improvement is being achieved by this measure.
The debate that we have heard in the Senate on this Bill has covered all the ground which needed to be covered and I do not think that there is much more I should say in reply. Senator Martin and Senator Collard covered very fully and effectively the question of the importance of new coal mining investment and production in Queensland in particular. They pointed out the great importance of these large investments to trie Queensland economy and welcomed the investment that has been made. I do not think I can add anything further to what they have said, except to emphasise on behalf of the Government the importance which the Government attaches to these large-scale investments in the mineral industry generally. Certainly, investment in the coal mining industry in Queensland in recent years has been a notable example of the type of development which the Government favours and encourages. Investments and developments of the same nature and terms have occurred in Western Australia in the iron ore developments in the Pilbara. The developments in the Bowen Basin in Queensland on the east coast of Australia and the iron ore developments in the Pilbara on the west coast of Australia are two of the major new developments in the mining industry which have occurred in recent years.
The only problem which the Government has seen in any of these developments is that perhaps there has not been the level of Australian equity investment in some of the projects which we hoped would have been achieved. That is a matter which the Government has taken into account in its guidelines for foreign investment. In relation to new investments in this area in Queensland, the Government has already cleared them through negotiations which have taken place between the Government and the companies which propose to engage in new investments in the coal mining industry in Queensland. I understand that they have been fully cleared in terms of the level of Australian equity in new projects. However, the fact is that investments which were made in Queensland were made under different attitudes and policies in relation to foreign investment. Utah, the company which has been particularly criticised in this debate by Senator Walsh, was prepared to come in at a time when other companies were not interested in investment in this area, as Senator Collard said. The company took the risk and it has made very great profits from that risk.
The mere fact that a company has been successful and is making a profit is certainly not a reason, in the view of this Government, why the company should then be beaten about the head with high taxes. Indeed, that was one of the major criticisms that we made last year when in Opposition of the measure introduced by the Labor Government. We emphasised that it was a tax on success, and we do not accept for one minute the criticisms implied in the words ‘windfall gains’ or ‘windfall profits’. The fact is that these happened to be successful investments. There are many other investments, particularly in such a risky venture as mining, which are not successful. Very large sums of money are spent on exploration and on the development of projects which for the very many reasons that affect the mining industry are not successful or profitable. When such a venture is profitable, it is a most dangerous and improper course for government then to step in and tax it simply because it happens to be making high profits.
As Senator Collard has pointed out, government revenues are replenished in a very notable way by the various forms of tax paid by the mining companies. Not only are they paying company tax at a rate which makes the Federal Government virtually an equal partner with the companies in their profits but they are paying other taxes as well. They are paying State royalties, and indeed this was another objection which we had previously. The levy was a similar type of tax to State royalties, which hitherto had been the States’ share of the benefits that accrue from the mining industry. Apart from the 2 traditional taxes in the form of State royalties and Federal company tax, there are many other taxes. Payroll tax is now payable to the States, and there is also the benefit of income tax which accrues to the Government from the employment generated by these industries. Another major benefit which the community derives from these industries is the infrastructure provided by the companies in the form of towns, railways and ports.
– Did you read the Fitzgerald report?
-Yes, I did read the Fitzgerald report and I was not impressed by it. It took a most narrow and limited view of what the mining industry contributes to this nation and it revealed little understanding of the importance of that industry. I do not know whether Mr Fitzgerald was entirely to blame for that. I think he was commissioned to write something by Mr Connor when he was the Minister. I think that Mr Connor is the person who is really to blame for the use that was made of the socalled Fitzgerald report.
The big developments in the mining industry in Western Australia and Queensland have provided enormous direct community benefits in the infrastructures- that is, the towns- that they have built, apart altogether from the direct mining development and the ports and railways. Senator Martin gave figures in relation to the Queensland projects showing that, I think, 75 per cent of the capital investment is in fact investment in the infrastructure itself and only 25 per cent of it is actually direct expenditure on the creation of mines themselves.
I do not propose to go in great detail into the statements that were made by Senator Walsh. He made some reference to an article in yesterday’s Australian Financial Review. In fact, he seemed to take some joy from the report that the Japanese iron and steel industry is not to take as much iron ore and coal from Australia next year as it has been taking. Somehow or other Senator Walsh seemed to derive satisfaction from that.
– That is not a fair comment.
– He is a strange Jeremiah. He seems to get satisfaction out of being a Jeremiah.
– He is entitled to draw the attention of the Parliament to it, is he not?
– I was more impressed with the attitude that you adopted, Senator Wriedt.
– I said much the same thing.
– But you said it in a way which I think we all recognised as indicating a matter of some concern. Certainly it is a matter of concern that the Japanese economy is not picking up as quickly as we would like. Naturally that is a matter of great concern. But it is certainly not a matter which should give any satisfaction. The fact of the matter is that the report to which Senator Walsh referred did not bear out the total gloom from which he seemed to be getting quite a good deal of satisfaction. He mentioned it in relation to the confidence that was expressed by, I think, Senator Martin, in relation to new developments in the coal mining industry in Queensland- the Hail Creek, Norwich Park and Nebo projects-and said that there was little likelihood of their continuation because of the problems with the Japanese economy. However, having looked at the article, I think I should refer to some aspects of it which do not bear out the impression that Senator Walsh gave to the Senate last night. I shall quote some passages from the article:
But the effect of a Japanese cutback on Australian producers may not be as severe as feared.
A cutback could mean exercise of ‘down options’ in contracts rather than reduction of basic volumes.
Another interesting point in the article, and one to which I think the Labor Opposition ought to be giving more attention in relation to these matters than it is giving, is that Australian producers recently have failed to meet even reduced shipment targets, largely because of industrial trouble. The final part of the article is also of interest:
The industry is expecting an increased demand in the coming fiscal year -
I emphasise the words ‘increased demand ‘- but as a spokesman for a major coal producer said yesterday, Whether it will be 2 per cent or 10 per cent we just know’.
I think it should read ‘we just do not know’ instead of ‘we just know’. But the fact of the matter is that, despite the rather sluggish state of recovery in the Japanese economy, new contracts for iron ore have been entered into by major Western Austraiian producers- Hamersley Iron, Mount Newman and Cliffs Western Australian Mining Co.- which it has been forecast will involve new investments of about $600m over the next couple of years involving the creation of about 3000 new jobs. So although there may be some doubts about when completely new projects will get off the ground, the fact of the matter is that there are to be major extensions to existing mining operations among the iron ore producers. I think that it is wrong to say, simply because there are no new producers coming into the field, that there are in fact no new projects going forward, particularly when there are extensions of existing projects to the tune of that magnitude.
I believe that the Government’s stand in relation to the coal export duty which was levied by its predecessor- the Labor Government- is one which will give relief of a major kind to producers who were suffering from what everyone agrees was an inequitable and discriminatory tax. This is a measure which will relieve the industry of the uncertainty that had been created. Once one starts to introduce new taxation of this kind- particularly taxation on success, as this was- one inevitably creates an air of uncertainty. I believe that this measure will also give a boost to new investment in the coal mining industry. I thank the Senate for its support of the Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
Debate resumed from 4 November, on motion by Senator Withers:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
-The Senate has before it 2 Bills- the Asian Development Fund Bill and the Asian Development Bank (Special Funds Contributions) Amendment Bill. The intent of the legislation is to authorise a contribution by Australia of just over $30m towards the first replenishment of the Asian Development Fund, which has been established within the Asian Development Bank. These Bills are similar to many Bills which we have seen go through the Parliament over the years. I think it can be said generally that both sides recognise the involvement of Australia in the work of the various international bodies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
As I have indicated, the Opposition is not opposing the Bills. However, they invite comment on the attitudes not only of our own country but also of others and of political parties within our own country towards this general question. It is unnecessary for me to emphasise the magnitude of the problem that faces so many of the developing countries at present. The problem is not new, but it appears that it is being aggravated. For many years there has been an increasing disparity in wealth and economic growth between developing countries and developed countries. This trend has not been so apparent in the last couple of years because of the decline in the economic activity of the developed countries. In fact, the World Bank shows that overall those developing countries which qualify for assistance under the International Development Agency program have seen a growth rate of around 4½ per cent in recent years. That is not a bad rate of development in countries, many of which are not in what is often termed the take-off position. It is a matter of encouragement to all of us that progress is being made, but that progress obviously is not rapid enough. If we are to avoid the much greater problems which will arise in the years ahead, it is necessary that we continue our involvement in the general aid programs around the world. Organisations such as the Asian Development Bank give us that opportunity.
It should be said that Australia, if not officially then in spirit and certainly by statements made not only by the previous Government but also by this Government, subscribes to the United Nations goal of making available for overseas aid purposes 0.7 per cent of our gross domestic product. As a nation we have not achieved that. The maximum that we reached was in the area of 0.55 per cent of our GDP under Labor Government. In the last year of that Government our contribution did slip marginally, but under the program of this Government, is has slipped below 0.5 per cent. That was admitted recently by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock). In other words, it appears that a decline has set in in our general preparedness to devote a proportion of our national income to this purpose. This is something which must be resisted. I do not think that any responsible party in this country would wish to see that decline continue. There has to be a realisation by the Parliament that we must strive to get back to the position we were in, of gradually increasing the proportion of our gross domestic product going into overseas aid.
As politicians we all are aware that there is very little political mileage in this matter. It is not a subject that is popular in the electorate. I suppose that many of us in this Parliament, on both sides, who have taken an interest in this matter over the years have been told on many occasions: You would do better if you concerned yourself with problems in Australia rather than with what might be going on in India or somewhere else’. That is the old ‘charity begins at home’ argument. The response to that, of course, is that charity begins where there is the greatest need. Obviously the needs of other countries in that context are infinitely greater than the needs that exist in this country, despite the fact that there are many Australians for whom much more should be done. We as a nation have the wealth to do those things for our own people, if we were perhaps to be more equitable in the distribution of income in this country. But that does not overcome the fact that there are enormous problems for developing countries. Those problems will continue to be with us for the foreseeable future.
We as a nation have to accept the responsibility, which we have accepted in the past, to ensure that we do the maximum we possibly can. We might even have to have a bipartisan approach to this matter between the major parties in Australia and agree on a certain percentage build-up to reach 0.7 per cent. Maybe that is the only way we will be able to do it. It is quite evident that we are starting to slip from the maximum figure that we achieved two or three years ago. With those few comments, I think that the Bills should pass the Parliament without undue delay. The Opposition does not oppose them.
– I thank the Opposition for its support of the Bills and see no reason why we should not proceed to give them the speediest possible passage.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills read a second time, and passed through their remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 4 November, on motion by Senator Cotton:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition does not oppose this legislation. The Bill essentially liberalises the estate duty assessment for which the Commonwealth legislates or is responsible, in line with the recommendations of the Asprey Committee. I daresay that this issue would be one of the most contentious which we have experienced in this country in recent years. There as been an increasing opposition to the imposition of estate duty. Not only in this legislation is there a recognition that liberalisation should take place; in the States, particularly New South Wales and South Australia, similar sentiments are being expressed by State governments. We find a more extreme position being taken by the Queensland Government as the indications are that it is the intention of that Government to abolish estate duties entirely; and that of course is not in line with the recommendations of the Asprey Committee because for obvious reasons it would create difficulties between the States.
The legislation itself is quite straightforward. The only matter to which I would draw attention is the need, as the Committee itself indicated in its report, for much more thought to be given on the different approaches which have been taken by successive Federal governments and State governments. If we want to remove the anomalies and inequities in the estate duty laws there has to be greater consultation and indeed agreement between the Federal Government and State governments. Again this was a recommendation of the Asprey Committee. There is no doubt that on so many occasions estate duty has created hardship for surviving spouses, particularly women. I think it is evident that throughout the nation there is a very strong feeling that these impositions, where they are impositions, ought to be removed even though this can be done only gradually.
I understand that this legislation involves an amount of $ 14m in revenue which will be foregone by the Federal Treasury as a result, but it is probably $14m well spent by the Government because of the much greater chance now that widows particularly are not likely to suffer the same difficulties as have many others over the years. An estate valued at $90,000 will presumably soon be depleted by the inflation rate in this country which almost certainly will increase in the ensuing year or two at least, and the duty exemption level naturally will need to be considered again as time goes by. On behalf of the Opposition I indicate that we do not oppose the legislation.
– I rise to support the Bill. It does give further relief in the Federal estate duty field in respect of property passing to a surviving spouse. As the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) has said, the value of the spouse’s interest to a maximum of $50,000 will be excluded from liability for duty irrespective of the total value of the estate or the nature of the assets included in it. So there is an absolute exemption from liability for duty on an estate of $50,000. The Minister also referred to another aspect of this legislation which removes from the Estate Duty Assessment Act the exemption which applied in relation to the matrimonial home. This will provide greater flexibility because under this legislation exemption from duty applies irrespective of the nature of the assets included in the estate whereas previously the matrimonial home exemption was restrictive.
Under this legislation in the case of an estate passing to a spouse the effective exemption from duty applies where the value of an estate does not exceed $90,000 because estates up to the value of $40,000 are exempt from duty in the existing legislation which remains unaltered in that respect. Once the value of an estate hits $90,000 the allowable exemption of $40,000 disappears at the rate of $2 for every $8 by which the total value of the estate exceeds the figure of $90,000. So in effect under this legislation an estate gets some exemption until a figure of $250,000 is reached. This is a very valuable step forward. It is pleasing to note that the Government has continued the recognition of the additional problems faced in respect of primary producer estates by reason of the fact that very often a major part of the asset is a freehold property and indeed in many cases that is the only asset held apart from livestock and plant. It has been a principle recognised over the years that an estate used for primary production should bear a lesser rate of duty. Primary producer estates up to a value of $98,000 will be exempt from duty. There is of course the benefit given of a reduction in duty in respect of primary production estates valued above that figure. That provision is in the existing legislation and remains unaltered.
I think it is worth looking at the burden of Federal estate duty. I do not want to delay the Senate long on this matter but I do want to make a few observations. The payment of estate duty strikes at the middle and small operators in primary, secondary and commercial enterprises. In certain cases where there is a heavy hand by the estate duty commissioner these economic units become dismembered and in some cases the expertise of several generations is lost simply because the vicious impact of the scales of duty means that the assets which have produced income over the years have to be sold to satisfy the heavy assessment of duty. I think this is a situation which governments ought to avoid because, as I have already mentioned, liquidity problems face primary producer estates in respect of having to find large sums of money to pay duty when there are no capital funds available. The capital which has to be used to pay duty means that investment capital is lost to the nation. Thus national productivity opportunities are lost.
I just want to cite a few figures in relation to the cost of the collection of Federal taxes and the percentage of total revenue derived from Federal estate duty. Firstly I will deal with the revenue derived from the imposition of Federal estate duty which comprises a very insignificant proportion of total Federal revenue. I have here a table which sets out the details of the total Federal revenue. I will seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard, but before doing so I will explain it. It covers the 3 years 1973-74, 1974-75 and 1975-76. For 1975-76 of a total tax revenue of $ 16,843m estate duty revenue amounted to $76.4m or 0.45 per cent. As a percentage of total revenue collected by the Government, which was $ 18,274.8m, estate duty represented 0.42 per cent. As a proportion of the total tax revenue and as a proportion of total revenue, in both cases that figure is receding. In 1973-74 estate duty represented 0.61 per cent of total tax revenue, and in 1975-76 it represented only 0.45 per cent. That is a significant drop, a drop of 25 per cent. A similar situation applies in relation to estate duty as a proportion of total revenue. That figure dropped from 0.55 per cent in 1973-74 to 0.42 per cent in 1975-76. I seek leave to have that table incorporated in Hansard.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bonner)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
– The second set of figures relates to the cost of collection of estate duty. It shows that the cost of collecting federal estate duty, calculated as a proportion of the net cost of total collections, is 2.69 per cent, compared with the cost of collecting income tax of 1.052 per cent. So it is costing 2V4 times as much to collect estate duty as it costs to collect income tax.
– Is that per dollar collected?
-I think it is in relation to total revenue from estate duty. In other words, the total collections of federal estate duties in 1973-74 amounted to $65.9m and the net cash cost of collecting that amount was $1.8m. that means that the net cost of collection expressed as a percentage was 2.69 per cent. A similar situation applies in relation to the collection of income tax. The net percentage cost of collecting sales tax is even less, of course. The comparison I make, however, is between the net cost of collecting income tax and the net cost of collecting estate duty. I seek leave to have that table also incorporated in Hansard.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
– I want to make a brief reference now to the situation which has arisen in relation to the abolition of probate duty in the State of Queensland. Of course, in New South Wales and Victoria steps are being taken in that direction by abolition of death duty between spouses. In the case of Victoria I think legislation has already been passed by the Parliament, and in the case of New South Wales a Bill is at present before the Parliament. The effect of the New South Wales and Victorian legislation is to abolish completely duty on an estate which passes to a surviving spouse. I understand that it is proposed to introduce partial abolition of probate duty in Tasmania from 1 January next. I think that South Australia also has legislation on the way which will do what is being done in New South Wales and Victoria. So we find that the majority of the States are taking action to abolish completely the payment of duty on an estate passing to a surviving spouse.
– But it is rarely these days that you give property absolutely to spouses in estates over $50,000, surely. You give life estate; otherwise you get double death duty within a couple of years.
– That has been a practice followed, but I think that the situation in relation to estates valued at less than $50,000 has been improved. The figures show that a very high percentage of estates have a net value of $50,000 or less.
– If you will permit me one further question, I heard Senator Wriedt give the amount which this Bill was costing. Can you say something about that?
-Senator Wriedt mentioned $14m. My impression was that the figure might not be that high. I do not have the figure. The Minister may be able to help. I may have misheard Senator Wriedt but I think $ 14m was the figure he gave. That could be checked, however. I want to say something about the New South Wales legislation because it is a small part of a package deal with regard to a proposed Bill on stamp duties. This Bill establishes the most destructive levels of death duties in Australia. I suppose it could be said that it is the old thimble and pea trick. A great deal has been said about the abolition of death duties as between husband and wife. The tail of the tiger is that this Bill introduces very vicious provisions which will have the effect of increasing the duty in a great number of cases. Since the Bill has been introduced the people of New South Wales have had the opportunity to study it, and they realise the duplicity of the Premier m offering rebates as between spouse and spouse but at the same time imposing vicious duties in other areas. I refer to that legislation in that context to show the difficulties of the dual system which is in operation in the State and Federal sphere in this area. I put it as another argument to the Government that it may well be a telling case for the ultimate abolition of duty in this field. The matter could be returned to the States, but what the States do about it, of course, is their business.
One side effect which I want to mention in relation to the legislation is, of course, that under the existing Federal Act duty paid in a State is deductible from the duty payable to the Federal Government. Duty is paid to the Federal Government on the balance of the estate after the amount of State duty has been deducted. The effect of that is that when the State duty is completely abolished, the Federal Government will impose the duty which would have been paid under the existing State legislation. That, I suggest, will deprive the dependants of the deceased from making what has been a legitimate deduction in that the full effect of the State legislation cannot be obtained. Because of the operation of the State legislation and the existing Federal legislation these people will actually be paying more in Federal duties, because the State legislation has been liberalised. That is the sort of anomaly which I think requires urgent attention. I am aware, of course, of the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations which investigated this matter and which reported in December 1973. 1 am also aware of the findings of the Asprey Committee.
The abolition of estate duty in Queensland occurred only this year. The other States have taken steps in this area only this year. I suggest that those steps make a radical alteration in the overall picture of the imposition of death duties throughout the States and the Commonwealth. For that reason I take the opportunity of speaking in this debate to bring this anomaly to the notice of the Government so that some steps might be taken to rectify it and to enable the dependants of deceased people in the various States where substantial relief has been given in the imposition of duties as between spouses to obtain the full benefit of the exemptions provided by the State legislation. I commend the Bill to the Senate as a first instalment in the total abolition of estate duty. I trust that the Government will look at the matters I have raised, particularly the recent amelioration by the States in this field, so that the anomalies to which I have alluded can be rectified.
– As Senator Wriedt has stated, the Australian Labor Party is not opposing the Estate Duty Assessment Amendment Bill. Some other minor alterations are provided for in the Bill but its main purpose is to provide substantial exemption from estate duty on an estate passing to a surviving spouse. My own view is that the Government might well have gone further in that respect by abolishing entirely the duty payable on an estate passing to a surviving spouse. I say that not because I disapprove of inheritance taxes- in fact, quite the contrary is the case- but because in fact the levying of duty on an estate passing between spouses is a tax overwhelmingly upon widows.
The arguments that have been advanced on this issue by the Women’s Electoral Lobby, amongst other organisations, I have found to be sound and convincing. I hope that in the not too distant future the Government will legislate to grant complete exemption of duty on estates passing between spouses.
The broader question of estate duty in general, in my view, is a very different matter. To argue for the abolition of duty on estates passing between spouses when in most cases the spouses have jointly contributed to the accumulation of the estate is very different from arguing for the abolition of tax on inherited wealth between generations. A great deal of attention has been paid recently by vested interest groups to this matter. A lot of emotive propaganda has been poured out in an attempt to justify the total abolition of inheritance tax. I note with great regret that in the State of Queensland, which politically is the most reactionary State in Australia- and in that circumstance this is not surprising- that campaign has succeeded.
In support of this spurious campaign a number of false assertions are either made explicitly or implied. The first is that people should not be taxed when they are dead. The simple and undeniable fact is that probate is not paid by the deceased: Probate is paid by the beneficiaries from the deceased’s estate. It is a tax on windfall gains. It would indeed be a curious value judgment or combination of value judgments which argued that taxes ought to be levied on income which is earned but that no tax should be levied on income which accrues from windfall gains from ancestors or some other philanthropic benefactor. Yet that case, although not put in those words but put in spurious and deceptive terms, has been argued successfully and accepted in the State of Queensland. The people who argue for the abolition of probate- the entire abolition of inheritance tax- ought to be forced at all times to stipulate what other taxes they would increase to cover the revenue foregone or what government services they would cancel to offset the loss in revenue pursuant to the abolition of probate.
In 1974-75 the total collection from inheritance taxes at both the State and Federal levels amounted to $248m.
– Almost precisely the loss on the New South Wales transport system this year.
-If Senator Wright is suggesting that the New South Wales Government ought to abolish inheritance taxes totally and to increase freight charges for the State railways in New South Wales to an extent sufficient to offset the loss in revenue, which would have amounted to $82m, then that is a legitimate point of view. If that is Senator Wright’s point of view I hope he states that there ought to be an increase in freight charges sufficient to yield $82m to New South Wales, because that is what it would have cost in 1974-75 to abolish probate.
- Senator Wright will state his own point of view in his own way.
– Yes, in a different way- in a deceptive and spurious way, in the same way as everyone else who argues for the abolition of inheritance tax. One of the alternatives which would yield approximately the same revenue as probate or inheritance taxes currently yields to both State and Federal governments would be a $100 receiver’s licence fee on colour television sets. I wonder whether Senator Wright believes that that would be an acceptable substitute for inheritance tax.
– Please do not use my name so much in your speech.
– If Senator Wright is going to speak on this matter, I shall be very pleased to hear him spell out in precise terms just what taxes he would increase to cover the $250m loss to revenue which would follow the total abolition of inheritance taxes. Incidentally, Mr BjelkePetersen, who is a great advocate of making fuel available in all parts of the State for the same price as it is available in Brisbane could pay many times over the freight on all fuels from the bulk depots to the outback areas of Queensland with the revenue losses flowing from his abolition of inheritance taxes.
It is paradoxical and ironic that so many of the people who argue so vehemently for incentivesthey assert that it is essential to provide incentives to people in society to ensure that they work diligently and efficiently- also argue for the abolition of taxes on windfall gains from inherited wealth. I do not know how the incentive argument fits in with the other arguments unless it is being argued by the proponents of the abolition of inheritance taxes that it would provide an incentive for the unfertilised egg and the spermatozoa to select wealthy parents. That is the only way in which the incentive argument can be validated. When put in those terms, its patent absurdity is pretty clear.
Government senators interjecting-
-I gather that all the galahs on my left who are screeching believe that taxes should be increased sufficiently somewhere else to permit the abolition of the tax on windfall gains that accrue from inherited wealth. Presumably they believe that a $100 licence fee ought to be imposed for colour television receivers, that the Medibank levy should be doubled, or something like that.
Sir Charles Court, hard pressed by his Country Party colleagues, stated 2 weeks ago that his Government was looking for a means of abolishing probate duty without losing revenue or without having to increase other taxes or charges. That is an interesting proposition. Sir Charles Court is looking for a way to abolish something which now yields $12m without affecting bis revenue or forcing him to increase other taxes or charges. I do not know whether Sir Charles believes that he has a midas touch that can turn Pilbara iron ore into gold or whether he intends setting up a press to print counterfeit $50 Australian bank notes, because there is no other way in which the objective which he says he is seeking can be achieved.
What is really needed in the area of inheritance taxes is partly what the Government is doing- a partial abolition of inheritance tax on estates passing between spouses, which I believe should be extended fully to a total abolition; periodic reviews of the rates which are levied, particularly to keep up with changes in general price levels; and reviews in the case of rural properties, or special provision for time to pay, because it is a fact that probate duties can make it extremely difficult to maintain the liquidity of an operating farm. Those things are needed. Apart from those things, what is needed is not the abolition of inheritance taxes or the massive increase in railway freights, as Senator Wright suggests, or something else that would offset the loss to revenue, but a tightening of the net or a closing of the loopholes which at present allow so many very large estates to evade completely the payment of duty.
Senator Georges- Bjelke-Petersen has made special arrangements for his own.
– He has made special arrangements for himself and all his other friends. He has abolished probate duty in Queensland. What we do not need in particular are the sorts of loopholes deliberately reinserted into the law of Western Australia by the Court Government shortly after its election. This was a provision which related to a governing director’s share in a company. It was some bogus provision designed to evade probate in particular and possibly also income tax. It enabled a person to hold a nominal $2 share in a company.
In one particularly interesting case I think 25 002 $2 shares were held. One of those shares was, ironically and oddly enough, held by the Premier of Western Australia in his family company. Yet with that $2 share he was able to exercise complete control over the assets and income of that family company and to appropriate, if he chose to do so, the entire assets and income of that company for himself. Yet, because he had only a $2 share, on his death his beneficiaries would pay probate only on something less than one-thousandth of the assessed value of the assets of that company. The amendments to enable that to be done were deliberately re-inserted in the probate laws of Western Australia 2 years ago by the Court Government. I imagine it is purely coincidental that this provision happens to provide precisely for the sort of business arrangement which Sir Charles has worked out for his own family company and, no doubt, for many of his friends. I refer now to the statement by Senator Tehan with respect to farming property that investment capital was lost- I think this was the way the argument went- if taxes were levied on the windfall gains accruing from inherited wealth.
– I certainly did not use the words ‘windfall gains ‘.
– No, the honourable senator preferred to use some euphemism. I recognise that the people who sit on my left prefer to use some euphemism to describe what are, in fact, windfall gains. I think he said that investment capital was lost in this way. It is a curious argument to put forward. It reminds me of the arguments I once saw put forward in textbooks inflicted upon students of economic history at the University of Western Australia, written by apologists for the crimes, past and present, of the English dominant classes who were trying to justify the Corn Laws. They said that no responsible government in mid-nineteenth century England could have done other than maintain the Corn Laws because half the nation’s capital was tied up in land. The really outrageous propositiongiven that this was written by people who were supposed to be technically competent in this area- was that the capital, the land itself, remained whether the Corn Laws remained or not. The capital was immovable. It could not even be moved out of England. The Corn Laws did not affect the nation’s capital; they affected the distribution of wealth in England. Senator Tehan seems to be endorsing the same sort of patent rubbish this afternoon. He thinks that somehow or other the nation’s real productive wealth will be dissipated if the distribution of wealth within a society is changed. The land itself is not destroyed when taxes are imposed on the transfer of ownership between one generation and another. The land is immovable.
I do not know whether any honourable senator on the other side will speak on this subject. If one does, I dare say we will hear the customary arguments that honourable senators opposite put forward for the abolition of probate or inheritance taxes. If honourable senators on the other side of the chamber do speak, I particularly appeal to them to provide an ethical rationale for imposing taxes upon income which is earned and for not imposing taxes upon windfall capital gains that may be picked up from an ancestor of some other benefactor. Secondly, if they are to put a case for the reduction or abolition of inheritance taxes I ask them to state precisely what other taxes they would increase or introduce, or. what other government services they would curtail, consequential upon the abolition of inheritance taxes for which they may argue.
– I do not intend to answer any of the points raised by the previous speaker because most of them are identifiable as absolute rubbish. I should like to refer to several matters in the Bill and bring them to the attention of the Senate. Firstly, I will add to the general thrust of the remarks of my colleague, Senator Tehan, and point out that the impact of Federal estate duty laws affects only 1216 per cent of people who die in Australia. I think that firmly reinforces the argument that Senator Tehan proposed that the position of the Federal Government in exacting this form of taxation ought to be reconsidered. He referred to a Senate committee report in 1973. Some dissenters from the opinion expressed in that report recommended that the Federal Government should vacate the whole field.
I wish to refer particularly to clause 5 (3) of the Bill which sets out the various exemption levels. The level is $90,000 in the case of an estate passing to a widow or widower. The exemption is reduced where the estate passes to a widow, widower, children or grandchildren of the deceased person. The exemption level in any other case is reduced to $20,000. A situation which may arise in this regard has been raised with me by professional practitioners in this area. It is possible that if a person seeks to provide a small legacy of, say, $500 or $1,000 to a person who is not in the category of a widow or widower his estate might very well be subject to a reduction in the exemption level from $90,000 to $40,000, due to the fact that the whole of the estate is not passing to the widow or widower. I have referred this matter to the Treasury and I am advised that sub-clause (4) will take care of that situation and that the Commissioner has a discretion to relieve that particular problem. This is another example of putting discretion in the hands of officers or public servants rather than setting out the principles in the law. The Department has been kind enough to provide me with a copy of calculations on 3 levels of estate where this situation may arise- estates of $60,000, $ 1 00,000 and $ 1 50,000, where in each case there is a gift of $5,000 to a person who is not regarded as a widow or a widower. Those calculations show that I have no real reason for fear but I seek leave to have them incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
The only point to which I wish to refer is the general principle of valuation of estates for estate duty purposes. Of course, this also applies to State succession duty. This is a problem that occurs in a great number of cases when estates are artificially valued at particular levels because of the price of shares, for instance, on the stock exchange on a particular day or when valuation of land might be affected by events before the time when payment of the duty becomes due. As is known, in a number of cases there is a great period between the time of actual death and the time at which the assessments are actually issued by the authorities. During that time it is possible that there could be major downward fluctuations in the values of assets but the estate is levied at a rate of duty applicable to the higher value of those assets. This imposes a great deal of hardship in a surprising number of cases. It is something which I believe should be examined, since there is a very real argument that there ought to be some alleviation of duties in cases where this occurs. It has particular relevance where there are small businesses, or businesses of any size for that matter, which include amongst their assets the sorts of liquid items or near liquid items which fluctuate violently in accordance with the known market. Since the Whip has granted me only 5 minutes in this debate, I conclude by saying that I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill.
– The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Wriedt, has already expressed the views of the Opposition on this matter. We do not intend to oppose the amendments. I want to make a couple of points that I think are highly relevant in this day and age. I think we all recall those days when legislation in this area contained terms such as ‘husbands’, ‘estate’, ‘wives’ and responsibility’. I am pleased to see that these amendments refer only to ‘spouses’. It was always the situation, by tradition and by statistics, that wives outlived their husbands by something like 6.68 years. They were the ones who had to pay the estate duty on their husband’s properties. This sometimes meant that they had to reduce their standard of living purely to accommodate both State and Federal governments in the area of estate and probate duties.
There is still some legislation which does not take into consideration the fact that a wife in a marriage is a partner in that marriage. I think immediately of the Commonwealth Superannuation Act which provides that a wife is able to receive only about 75 per cent of the total amount that her husband receives if he is not inconsiderate enough to die before she does. I think the Government would do well to look at that area also. We also have to take into consideration the fact that a great number of people in the community these days do not believe that they have to be married to live in a marriage partnership. Nothing in these amendments caters for the common law spouse. I should like to hear the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton), in his reply to this debate, state the intention of the Government with respect to common law spouses, whether they be wives or husbands. These people contribute to what they believe is a marriage partnership; they live as married people; and they are entitled to be treated as married people. I think that is a great consideration that has to be taken now; it should not wait until such time as more people are disadvantaged throughout our community.
I believe that the figure mentioned in the amendments is not realistic. It does not take into consideration the general appreciation of properties over the years to come. The figure will need constant review or there will need to be total abolition of estate duties on properties passing between spouses. The situation at the moment is that there will be relief or exclusion from liability for duty only up to a maximum of $50,000, or in the case of a matrimonial home, as I am given to understand, up to $90,000. This will not always meet the circumstances. One can find a property appreciating very rapidly these days. It is not the fault of the people who purchased that property, quite often at low prices and perhaps in outdated areas. They suddenly find that the whole area in which they live is to be pulled down and new buildings are to be built. They realise that their properties have appreciated suddenly to a much greater value. The other consideration that I think has to be given in relation to these amendments is to those completely dependent children- I talk of them as children only in the sense that they are born to a particular marriage- whom we find frequently in our society, such as a man or a woman, sometimes in middle age, who has devoted his or her entire life to looking after aged and infirm parents. These people suddenly find themselves in middle age with no skills at all. They have to sell the family home to pay probate, estate or succession duties, call them what you will. They suddenly find that they are without a job, without the security of being able to live in the property that was owned by their parents- sometimes the only property that they have ever known- and without the familiar things around them, just to satisfy a government. I should like the Minister’s comments on those matters. We support the Bill.
– in reply- I note that the Opposition does not oppose the measure. I remember an earlier occasion on which I was involved with a group of senators in looking at the whole question of probate and estate duties on a committee headed by Senator Gietzelt. We spent some time on this matter. The investigaton exposed many of the problems which were referred to here in a very interesting debate. At that time we made a minority report recommending that death duties be abolished in the Commonwealth area. The Government of the day was unable to do that. In Australia there is a general move towards trying to reduce this burden so far as the Commonwealth is concerned. But if all that happens in that process is that the States change their duties so as to gather an increased amount of revenue by default, that will not help the people greatly. There is a great case within the federal system of government for trying to get some rationalisation between governments as to their overall intentions towards people who in effect are dispossessed by death.
I listened with great interest to Senator Walsh stating his views on inherited wealth. I could not help thinking about the time when I was very young and talking to my father about this problem of inherited wealth. I said to him: ‘Dad, I want to have a serious talk to you. I want you to understand that I am a total disbeliever in inherited wealth; so in no circumstances are you to do anything about leaving me any money’. He said: ‘That is a most interesting view, and I am glad to hear it. But you do not have a problem; I do not have any money’. In Australian society there are people who get great benefit out of inherited wealth and there are people who do not get any benefit at all and who start life with nothing and proceed to do their own thing.
Australia has been characterised by people who began life without very much and have made their own way. One would like to feel that it is what one can do in Australia and, generally and philosophically, that people who have done those sorts of things have some chance to pass the benefits on to those to whom they wish to give them in their own way and without governments unduly complicating the situation.
A number of points were raised in the debate that I shall endeavour to answer. It may not be possible to cover them all. Senator Tehan said that it was anomalous that State exemptions should result in increased Federal duties. That is the sort of point I was mentioning on my own broad understanding of this matter. The new exemption of $50,000 for estates passing to the surviving spouse, which we are now considering, comes at a time when the States are providing exemptions for estates so passing. The value of the new Federal exemptions to most estates will be greater than the additional Federal duty resulting from the reductions in State duty. Senator Wright, in interjecting, asked whether many estates of more than $50,000 passed wholly to surviving spouses, in view of the fact that an estate may be subjected to duty a second time within a few years. I am having trouble reading the writing of my adviser. This is interesting. I used to reckon that I was the worst writer in the world, but he is very close to me. Honourable senators will appreciate the problem here: He has to write fast to keep up with everybody. I might say just in passing that there are notable occasions on which I have been asked to read my own writing and I have not been able to read it myself. My staff have asked: ‘What are we supposed to do?’ This Bill enables estates of up to $90,000 to be left wholly to surviving spouses without fear of estates being taxed twice. The cost of exemptions in a full year will be $ 14m.
Senator Walsh proposed that the Government should go further and give complete exemption on property passing to the spouse. He also proposed periodic reviews of rates and the provision of time to pay, particularly in the case of rural estates. In this area the Commissioner of Taxation has authority under the existing law to extend the time of payment in any case in which he considers the circumstances warrant it. Senator Walsh referred to the need to counter avoidance of duty by loopholes and company arrangements. I do not think anybody would quarrel with the suggestion that in what has been a highly inflationary society there has been a need to examine this continuously. So much of the problem has been the high inflation rate which in effect changes the situation so fast and so dramatically. Every government, of whatever political flavour, is charged with raising revenues for the purposes of the people. In those areas it is always hoped that we get it as evenly and fairly distributed as possible and those who by one means or another evade the process of paying their share of revenue for the overall purpose are in effect defrauding their fellow citizens. No one quarrels with the view that the Commissioner has a hard job. There ought to be equity and people try to achieve it.
Senator Messner spoke about clause 5 dealing with the lodgment of returns for small legacies of $500 of $1,000, not to widows or widowers. Clause 5 relates only to the lodgment of returns, not an entitlement for exemption. This is not a matter for the Commissioner’s discretion. All he may do is dispense with the lodgment of returns if he is satisfied that no duty would be payable. Senator Messner also referred to problems which arise when the value of assets decline between the date of death and the date of assessment. That certainly is a problem. It is equally true that the reverse applies and that the value of an estate may be greatly enhanced after the time of death. It is a difficult matter on which to get a balanced position. We always hear about the people who are dispossessed but never about the people who are greatly advantaged. This is particularly true at times of share market change. It is a problem of achieving equity between one group and another.
Senator Coleman talked about the common law spouse. I take her point. I do not think that anything in this legislation has brought this matter forward in any way and the advisers have been asked by me to take it into account when they go back and talk to their department. Estate duty has never recognised anything other than the legal spouse. This is consistent with general taxation law which does not recognise de facto relationships except to the extent that a housekeeper rebate may be allowed for a person having the care of a taxpayer’s child under 16. 1 listened carefully to Senator Coleman and every honourable senator who spoke and I thought that it was a debate of great use and represented the Senate seriously examining problems. In these situations in a world like this there always will be inflationary problems-if we get them fixed it will make life much simpler- and complexities coming out of social relationship changes and they will have to be considered when updating legislation like this.
I note in closing the debate that the legislation is not opposed. It represents an improvement on the past and one should always seek to achieve this result. The advisers always take into account the comments made in the Senate and these comments are extremely useful when preparing new positions because without doubt the time will come when this law will have to be revised again. I hope very much that it will be in the direction of further relief to taxpayers.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Sitting suspended from 12.55 to 2.15 pan.
Debate resumed from 4 November, on motion by Senator Cotton:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-This legislation is a further amendment to the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation legislation, the Corporation having been constituted in 1974 out of the Export Payments Insurance Corporation. The purpose of that change was to enable the Corporation to engage in the actual financing of overseas transactions which the private sector was not prepared to engage in or which the government of the day felt it was in the national interest to support. The Opposition has some reservations about the legislation because there are some significant changes. In his second reading speech the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) claimed that one of the major reasons for Australian companies being unable to compete overseas was a lack of competitiveness. He alleged that our costs had risen at a greater rate than those of our competitors. That may or may not be the case, and I shall come back to it in a moment, but I want to refer initially to one aspect of his second reading speech where the Minister stated:
The new arrangements, which the Government announced in July, transfer to the trading banks the responsibility of providing funds for the facility.
The idea of the trading banks financing the operations of the Corporation- that is, its overseas arrangements and not the financing of the Corporation itself- is not new. It has been considered in the past, and I think it is fair to say that some very good advice was given at least to the previous Government that it was not a proper course to follow, that difficulties would arise from the trading banks providing the facility entirely, particularly when it came to the question of interest rates and also what might constitute the national interest, even though I assume- and I am not clear whether the Bill does provide this-that the banks will need to consult with the Government on what constitutes any assistance under the national interest clauses. The Minister went on to say:
They are consistent with our intention of ensuring that initiative and responsibility are, in appropriate cases, restored to the private sector.
We hear many times in this place about the paranoia of the Opposition in relation to the public sector. That sentence in the Minister’s speech illustrates the paranoia of the Government about the private sector. I should have thought, and I am quite certain that I am safe in saying this, that when the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation legislation was enacted in 1974 there was nothing in the legislation which remotely adverted to whether the public sector was better at doing this work than the private sector. If I am wrong I invite the Minister to indicate where I am wrong. At that time, and I assume again this time, negotiations were held with the Bankers’ Association. No doubt it put forward proposals on this occasion which the Government may or may not have accepted. I do not know because I do not know what the proposals might have been. Certainly in the time of the Labor Government there were full negotiations with the Bankers’ Association on the advantages of alternative methods of financing the Corporation’s work. But at no time was there any suggestion that appropriations to finance the Corporation’s activity had to come out of the Budget simply because that was the public sector. That would have been a rather doginthemanger attitude to take. The Labor Government did not close the door to the possibility of using finance through the trading banks for the operations of EFIC, but basically the appropriation came from the Budget. In this case we find this paranoia on the part of the Government in saying that we must restore these activities to the private sector as an article of faith. In a moment I shall consider what the effects of that decision might be. The Minister continued:
The Government’s overriding objective is to attack inflation by substantially reducing the rate of growth of Government spending.
One wonders what is the intention of the Government in transferring this financing over to the trading banks. Is it because it has this paranoia about the public sector or is it because the Government is reducing expenditure in its alleged attack on inflation? Perhaps the Minister could clarify for the Senate what in fact is the intention of the Government. The speech continued:
Under the new arrangements, the banks will provide loan funds to EFIC at the commercial rates of interest applicable to this category of business. The Government, for us part, will provide an interest rate subsidy which will enable EFIC to on-lend these funds on internationally competitive terms. The savings in the 1976-77 Budget are estimated at some $20m.
That gets to the heart of what the Government is doing and we must consider how it will affect the competitive position of Australia in certain parts of the world. It is quite true that other countries operate a similar sort of assistance scheme for export credits. In fact, virtually all the major exporting countries do this. In a moment, I shall seek to have incorporated in Hansard a table on the current costs of funds to buyers for long term export credits in a number of countries. We have to be sure that under this new arrangement the Government will not reduce the competitive position of Australia. To claim that our competitive position has been eroded simply because of increases in costs and inflation in this country does not sound a very convincing argument when one considers that a country like Britain, which has had a higher inflation rate than ours and has a cost structure which is increasing as quickly as ours, is still more competitive in certain parts of the world than we are. The reason, of course, is that the British Government has a similar body to the Australian corporation which makes it more attractive for export payments to be made. We ought to consider that this applies particularly in the Middle East and in other areas where we would normally expect to be able to hold a market.
Under the old arrangements the Corporation obtained long term funds from the Government at 7lA per cent and these were blended with trading bank finance. As I mentioned earlier, the previous legislation was designed not to rely entirely on the trading banks but to minimise reliance on the trading banks. The rates of interest which applied then as a result of what is known as the blend to the 2 rates, which is referred to in the Minister’s second reading speech, meant that the on-lending rate would have been somewhere between 9Vt per cent and 10 per cent, which to some extent depended on individual cases. Under the present arrangements, the Government is to make available a certain sum of money only for the purpose of subsidising the interest rate. The actual amount of the subsidy to which the Government commits itself under the legislation is not apparent to me. It may be contamed in the Bill but I understand it is in the area of $500,000. That presumably, would be about right because the Minister said in his second reading speech that the saving to revenue this year would be of the order of $20m. That means- I ask the Minister to give some thought to this matter and to guide me on it when he replies- that the subsidy must be sufficient to enable our competitiveness to be maintained against that of these other countries.
The current overdraft ra’es for sums over $100,000 are about 1 Ite per cent. The long term bond rate is around 9.8 per cent. So, presumably, the Corporation could not obtain funds through the private banks at a rate less than 9.8 per cent. Even though it is a statutory authority, I would assume that to be the case. Therefore it would seem that the lowest rate at which these funds could be on-lent by the Corporation would be somewhere in the area of 10 1/2 per cent to 1 1 per cent. We also know that the statutory reserve deposits have been held fairly tightly by the Reserve Bank. This must affect the liquidity of those banks. I ask the Minister to state to what extent the Government believes that the private banking sector will be able to maintain the flow of money which the Corporation will need for what will be very large sums involving, I would assume, an amount in excess of $ 100m over 12 months.
The key point is that if my assumptions are correct the rate at which the Corporation now will be able to compete on the world market will be, as I have indicated, in the area of Wi per cent to 1 1 per cent I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a table which is headed ‘Cost of funds to buyer for long term export credits’, and which shows the percentage rate per annum. The source of this information is the Eximbank of the United States of America.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator DrakeBrockman) Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
– The document shows the rates being charged for December 1975 and June 1976 in several countries, namely, Canada, France Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. In all cases except for Italy the rates at June 1976 are lower- in some cases by up to 2 per cent- than the rate which I have indicated seems to be the minimum rate at which moneys will be available to the Corporation. I ask the Minister. Can he confirm or indicate that the Goverment either is happy that the private banks will be able to make loan moneys available at a competitive interest rate or, alternatively, that the Government will undertake to subsidise those interest rates so that they will not be greater than the interest rates being charged by the other major exporting nations? If the Government cannot give that undertaking, obviously our competitive position will be worse than that of the other nations, and as far as I know, would be worse for the first time in the operations of the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation. So it has become very important that we understand the implications of the legislation. In determining a position of opposition to or support of the legislation it is extremely difficult for an Opposition party, not having this information from the Treasury and the Reserve Bank available to it, to make a fully informed judgment. I have raised these matters in order that the Minister can give us some precise answers.
The Minister also said in his second reading speech:
Our talks with the banks were both positive and constructive. They resulted in their agreement to provide up to $100m to support new export finance business undertaken by EFIC, in addition to financing some $50m of existing EFIC commitments.
He went on to say:
Indeed, since their implementation, EFIC has been able to offer financial support in respect of tender bids amounting to some $ 120m.
I ask the Minister to indicate, if he can, the date from which he is referring when he speaks of bids amounting to some $120m because his second reading speech does not make that clear. I realise that these matters cannot be shown to be exactly watertight. Nevertheless the Government ought to be able to give us something fairly definitive as to how these rates finally will finish up in comparison with those of our major competitors. Looking at a difference in the interest rate of only 2 per cent on a loan of $lm there is an additional cost involved to the exporter of around $20,000 a year, which is a very significant amount and which the exporter obviously would have to weigh heavily in his competition with any other overseas country.
That largely covers the points that I wish to make, which I believe are central to the legislation. I do, however, refer to one other matter which I raise at this stage rather than in the Committee stage in order to allow the Minister time to consider it. It is on the competitive position. I ask the Minister Is it envisaged that the funds which will be provided for the Corporation’s work will come wholly from the trading bank sector? What will be the position if the Corporation comes to the Government in relation to, for example, the establishment of or the giving of assistance to a particular project in a developing country, which is the normal case, and says: ‘Here is a matter which involves the national interest and the private banks are saying that, despite the guarantee arrangements that the Government might provide, it is not in their interest to provide money for this project’? If that is the case, is the Government going to forgo what it believes to be a project in the national interest or is it going to come good with the money from its own appropriation in order to ensure that the project goes ahead?
– in reply- I have noted from reading Hansard that the Opposition did not oppose the measure in the House of Representatives; indeed, it supported its passage. The purpose of the Bill is to give legislative effect to the Government’s decision to alter the funding arrangements applicable to the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation’s export financing facility and to transfer the source of those funds from the Budget to the trading banks.
Senator Wriedt made some comments about this matter. I think I should reply to those comments by saying that one thing that characterised the period in office of his Government was the immense and excessive strain that was placed upon the available resources as against the capacity to supply those resources. I believe that the progressive increase in the demand position and the progressive concentration of that demand in the public sector contributed markedly to throwing the Australian economy well off balance. There seemed to us to be no sense in continuing that approach. Accordingly, one of the things that we set out to do when we returned to office was to restore the traditional balance between the demand positions in both the public and the private sector and, at the same time, to try to bring the total resource demand back into balance with the availability of the Australian position to supply that demand. That is the question of resource reallocation which, in our view, restores a better and more sensible balance.
Under these new arrangements the trading banks will lend to EFIC, over the next two to three years, up to $150m on the commercial terms normally applicable to this type of business. EFIC in turn will on-lend those funds in support of Australian capital goods exports on internationally competitive terms. The Government will provide an interest rate subsidy to make up the difference between EFIC’s borrowing rate of 1 1 to 11 /2 per cent and the rate at which it will on-lend the funds, namely, Vh to 9 per cent. As I said, the measure was taken as part of our overall effort to restrain the growth in public sector expenditures and to return to the private sector those functions which we believe are better carried out there.
The adoption of the new arrangements followed detailed discussion with the trading banks. They were positive, constructive and helpful in the consideration of the whole matter. The new arrangements have led to a sizable growth in the level of funds available to support capital goods exports. At the same time they have achieved significant Budget savings, which will amount to some $20m in 1976-77. Consistent with the arrangements, the Government also has decided to amend the national interest provisions of the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation Act to enable the Minister to guarantee the repayment of loan moneys advanced by EFIC in certain high risk transactions when that is judged to be in the national interest This replaces the previous arrangement, which required the Government actually to advance the necessary funds to EFIC from the Budget. To us, the new arrangement seems more sensible. The opportunity also has been taken to make several amendments to the Act in regard to superannuation and terms and conditions of employment of EFIC staff.
I think it is worth commenting that February 1973 saw the legislation introduced by the previous Government, which I think at the time received my commendation. Great interest has been shown in it by Australian capital goods exporters. Up to 20 October 1976 EFIC has been able to offer financial support in respect of tenders amounting to $232m and involving loans of $187m.
– Over what period was that?
-That was up to 20 October 1976 from February 1975. That is the span of time.
– Eighteen months.
– Approximately; perhaps a little more. Contracts have been won amounting to $32m and with a loan value of $27m. Verbal acceptance has been received of further tenders amounting to some $45m and involving loans of $34m. There are still tenders outstanding amounting to $140m. The government control over the commitments into which EFIC may enter is exercised by way of subsidy commitment authority which limits the total amount of interest rate subsidy that may be committed in any one year. The interest rate subsidy commitment has been set at $ 15m for 1976-77, which will enable EFIC to sign up loans of approximately $75m during that period.
Some of the comments made in the second reading speech would answer in part, if not completely, the comments made by Senator Wriedt. The second reading speech makes this point about the expansion of EFIC’s facilities:
One might say once again that at the root of this whole problem is the overall position of costs. Any student of this matter can compare Australia’s relative cost position at the end of 1975 with what it was at the end of 1970 and 1972. There has been a severe deterioration. It is hoped that some part of that will be restored by devaluation. Over 5 years there has been a rapid change in our competitive cost situation. This nas had a marked effect on our ability to gain business overseas. Nonetheless, I am quite sure that when this measure was introduced it would have been welcomed. It was a useful expansion of our ability to help exporters, particularly in the capital goods area. We thought at the time that it had merit. I think the legislation with which we are now dealing has equal merit.
Senator Wriedt referred to various items. I will answer his queries, but first let me make one other comment. Very long lead times are involved, as Senator Wriedt I am quite sure knows very well, in negotiations on capital goods transactions. Such negotiations sometimes take a very long time to come to fruition. That is something which, with his experience, he would understand. He referred to the second reading speech and mentioned that the reason for the export finance facility being established was to overcome the problem of Australian exporters’ costs being cut out of line with those of overseas competitors. I do not really think that was the reason for establishing the facility. Maybe exporters’ financing costs were a consideration, but their basic costs were not.
The Corporation’s finance facility is designed to produce export finance which is competitive with finance available to overseas competitors. The competitiveness of the tenders in respect of particular contracts is a responsibility of the exporter, not of EFIC. Of course there is an overall responsibility on a nation of people, who are large traders, who live in a world that is competitive and who have to continue to live in that world, to look increasingly to exporting many of their products and increasingly to exporting capital goods that they have a particular facility in manufacturing. There is an overall problem of the basic cost to make and sell. That contains a great number of factors. We are dealing here with the competitive position only in regard to the finance capacity offered by government and public underwriting in the total government and banking situation.
Senator Wriedt also referred to the transfer of the source of funds to the private sector. I mentioned some part of that. I now make some extra comments regarding it. Prior to the establishment of the export finance facility all export finance for this area, of course, was drawn from the trading banks anyway, because nothing like this capital goods facility existed. Whilst originally the export finance facility drew its funds from the Budget, the banks always indicated a willingness to provide these funds. This is something that I know because I was contacted about it when we were in Opposition. Given the Government’s desire to get a proper allocation of resources and to get the Budget deficit back into balance, the Government felt it appropriate, and it was part of its overall strategy, to allow the banks, the market place financial nouses, to take over this function. The saving in the 1976-77 Budget is $20m, as I have mentioned.
We talk about the cost of finance. Interest rates offered by EFIC range between 8W per cent and 9 per cent. That compares favourably, I am informed, with the international rates quoted for this type of business. As to the cost of funds borrowed by EFIC from the banks, EFIC borrows at between 11 per cent and lite per cent. The difference between EFIC’s borrowing rate and its lending rate is made up by way of subsidy payable from the Budget. It is not really a question of domestic rates charged to normal borrowers; rather the banks have agreed to make funds available at special rates which reflect the A rate standing of EFIC as an institution. EFIC’s lending rate is designed to match but not to lead overseas countries’ rates. The amount committed by the banks to EFIC is $150m for the time being. The banks will review their position, as the amount becomes committed, in the light of the overall position. As discussions have taken place to establish this, discussions will continue on the basis of any necessary extra demand or change.
As to the volume of business done by EFIC under the new arrangements, since July 1976 EFIC has offered financial support for tenders amounting to $120m. Success in tenders supported amounts to some $ 150m. We are optimistic of obtaining, on the figures for projects still offered on tender, another $20m. So it has been a substantially useful exercise. Senator Wriedt spoke of the source of national interest funds. This is again the trading banks, but with a government guarantee that the advances or funds will be repaid. It is fair to observe that, should the banks’ commitment of $150m become exhausted and the banks be unable to inject additional funds, and should additional funds be clearly shown to be sensibly and usefully required, it is still open to the Government to inject additional funds should it feel this to be desirable and appropriate or equally to engage in discussions with the trading banks and the Reserve Bank in an endeavour to solve the problem.
The reality is that this is a good facility. It is sensibly being expanded. If the demand for it continues to exist, it is to Australia ‘s advantage to support that demand because it adds to our capacity to export products, particularly in areas where we are developing special skills in the way of selling manufactured goods. There have been some notable examples of Australian success in this field, and I hope that we will see more and more of them. The sugar cane harvester of Toft Brothers Industries Ltd is one case in point. I have the view, and this relates particularly to my own area, that Australia ought to be looking more and more to becoming an exporter of machinery that is manufactured in Australia for special purpose Australian needs and demandssuch as agricultural machinery and specialist mining machinery. In the areas in which we have immense raw materials to convert, the specialist application, the machinery technology to that, ought to have a world market as well as an Australian market and in that area I think this facility is useful. I am glad it has been started and I commend to the Senate its continuation in the form proposed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I wish to pursue with the Minister the question of interest rates. I indicated when I spoke earlier that there is a significant shift now in the approach of this Government towards the previous legislation. Notwithstanding the fact, as the Minister has said, that in the event of the banks finding after some time that they have insufficient money to provide to the Corporation the position could be reviewed. Obviously it would be. But I notice there is no commitment of course at this stage for the Government to find any additional finance that might be needed. As I said earlier, we might be talking about very large sums of money. It is said- and I repeat- in the second reading speech:
The Government’s overriding objective is to attack inflation by substantially reducing the rate of growth of Government spending.
This Government is holding rigidly to that position. That is its business. I am not going to argue about that in this debate, but it is obviously committed not to spend any more money, not a cent more than it can absolutely avoid. This is the sort of bind into which the Government could well get itself because of the changes that are being made in this legislation.
I am not clear as to the amounts to which EFIC is committed. The Minister gave a lot of information but I could not get it all down. As the second reading speech says:
Indeed, since their implementation, EFIC has been able to offer financial support in respect of tender bids amounting to some $ 120m.
Let us assume that there could be a commitmentI think the Minister mentioned this figure- of $ 150m over an 18-month period. How do we compensate or subsidise as interest rates for a figure of $500,000? It would seem to me that the Government is talking in terms of a differential of about 3 per cent. Obviously on a figure of $150m it is dealing with a figure of about $4.5m. There is an alternative to that. This is where the Minister’s figures interest me. The Minister referred to the interest rates of banks being 8 1/4 per cent to 9 per cent. I ask the Minister: Is that some special arrangement that has been entered into between the banks and the Corporation? If those figures are correct they are obviously well below the normal commercial lending rates at the present time. If they are, there should be an explanation because I am sure that there is a host of other organisations in Australia both in the public and private sectors that would like to know why the private banks would be prepared to make loans available at a concessional interest rate. There may be some special provision in the Act of which I am not aware which justifies that, but I would certainly like the Minister to give me a clear answer to it.
– Perhaps it would be helpful if I reiterated what I said. With regard to the cost of finance, interest rates offered by EFIC to the borrowers from EFIC range between 8% per cent and 9 per cent. Those rates compare favourably with the international rates that are quoted for that type of business. On the other hand, as to the cost of funds borrowed by EFIC from the banks, EFIC borrows as a borrower in its own house at between 1 1 per cent and 1 1.5 per cent. There is of course a difference between EFIC’s borrowing rate and its lending rate. This is made up by way of subsidy payable from the Budget and of course clearly identified and examinable in the Senate at the time of Estimates Committee examinations. That is the differential and that I think explains to Senator Wriedt what is the matter of his concern which I, of course, understand.
Equally Senator Wriedt made some comments about the Government’s pre-occupation with attacking inflation but I think he did not draw the logical conclusion from that, that if the Government succeeds with the help of the community in attacking inflation and bringing it down, correspondingly interest rates will decline with it and there is a compensating obvious balance. Equally if the community and the Government between them and the Parliament are not successful in attacking inflation and inflation continues to go up, the interest rate pressures will continue to be in the system and that will be very disadvantageous to Australia and all Australians but none more so than to those trying to export. Probably amongst the worst off will be the exporters of capital goods.
asked: Should the banks have no further funds available for EFIC, will the Government commit itself to inject new funds? That is clearly a matter for consideration at the time. The party which Senator Wriedt supports began this measure. This Government is carrying it on. The only basic difference is that we believe the market ought to provide the funds rather than the Budget and the difference between the costs of the market and the actual situation of onlending should be a subsidy identifiable in terms of the Budget as an overall community disadvantage paid for by the whole community. The banks on the other hand have clearly indicated that they will look again at the figures and we certainly will as a government. The Senate may be sure of that. It is to our natural advantage and to the advantage of everybody that if this business of capital exports can grow it is to Australia’s advantage and to the Government’s advantage to continue to finance it sensibly.
On offerings by EFIC the figures quoted in the second reading speech related up to 20 October. The later figures relate to the present only. Here is an area of some interest, I think. When I read out the figures from the general briefing notes and other figures that were available in the second reading speech I thought this was an area where it might be useful to have the thing clearly defined by letter later on just to bring it more up to date. I undertake to do that.
I think the Department of Overseas Trade would be equally happy to make further information available and anybody in the department would be happy to come and talk to Senator Wriedt or any group of his colleagues, or indeed supporters on our side, and to provide further information they may like to have. I think one ought to look at the basic situation which is a change in the method of the same thing and the logical national interest in continuing to support a facility which can add to Australia’s export income particularly in the capital goods area, and the willingness as a community to pick up the burden of the difference in cost for the Australian people who have to get that finance as against the price they can in effect get for thenfinance in world competitive situations for the finance facility.
– I thank the Minister for that clarification. I will not delay the Senate. I just point out to him that I have now got those figures clearly. The rates offered by the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation as I understand it are now 8V4 per cent to 9 per cent and the rates charged by the banks to EFIC would be 1 1 per cent to lite per cent. So we have a differential of about 3 per cent. In the reply that the Minister intends to give me by letter to some of the other points I ask him to consider that differential on the total sums to which he has referred. I just cannot see arithmetically where the Government could possibly anticipate a commitment of $500,000 in a full financial year. It would just have to be more than that and I suggest very much more. So I believe that point ought to be explained and I would appreciate it if he could do that by letter if need be.
– I would prefer to explain it by letter because I can see exactly the point raised by Senator Wriedt. It refers to this year. I think what is necessary is to run the figures out perhaps a bit more precisely over a longer period of time, take them back a little and try to get some clear definition in it because I move to the position that a Senate will in due course through a Senate Committee be looking at a sum of money which is a subsidy in the Budget for interest rate differential. The members of that Committee will be wanting to know how it is made up and therefore anything that we can do to clear their minds and all of our minds in that regard would be useful, and that will be done.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Cotton) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 4 November, on motion by Senator Cotton:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition does not intend to oppose the States Grants (Fruit-growing Reconstruction) Bill 1976 which is before the Senate. The Bill seeks to extend the fruit growing reconstruction scheme until 31 December. So those fruit growers who wish to take advantage of the scheme have 29 days in which to lodge their applications for the consideration of the authorities. Payments will be made to 30 June 1977. The legislation arises as a result of specific applications made by the governments of Victoria and South Australia for additional funds. The purpose of the legislation is to provide an additional $ 1 m to assist in the removal of canning fruit trees in those 2 States. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) in discussions with the Premiers of those 2 States accepted the proposal because he became aware of the very severe over supply position that exists in the canning fruit industry in those States.
The Opposition wants to draw the attention of the Senate to the very parlous state and the very difficult conditions that the industry continues to face. In terms of the overall agricultural scene in Australia the industry is regarded, I suppose, as one of the smaller areas. Nevertheless, there are some 37 000 horticulturists involved in the fruit and vegetable industry in this country, and they do contribute something like $500m annually to the nation’s income. So the need to maintain this industry does not need to be stressed either by the Opposition or by the Government. It has become apparent for quite some time that the industry has reached a certain critical point. In fact, the Australian Canning Fruit Growers Association held its 51st annual conference just a month ago in Shepparton, Victoria. The report of that conference sets out the extent to which canning fruit tree removals have taken place since 1971. It is quite revealing to find that, on the basis of 250 trees to the hectare, some 7702 hectares of peach trees have been pulled, for which assistance has been granted under the scheme. Some 5696 hectares of pear trees and 1889 hectares of apricot trees have also been removed. So obviously the scheme has been operating for a considerable period. Despite that fact we are still in an over supply situation, which arises primarily because of the collapse of overseas markets in an industry which is geared now, I suppose, primarily for the domestic market.
In those circumstances, we support the Bill because we believe it is correct that the Australian Government, being responsible for exports, should take financial responsibility for its constitutional responsibility in relation to this matter. For that matter, any collapse of markets which would affect the economic wellbeing of people is the responsibility of the Government in the social security area.
The rural reconstruction schemes are designed to attempt to align Australian rural industries and Australian rural production with the markets available. As most of the crises in agricultural industries arise from loss of export markets, it has become more and more imperative that the Australian Government give financial support to the States in meeting that responsibility. I think we are entitled to say that the new federalism policy must not be used as a means of passing on increased financial responsibility to the States for rural reconstruction. That point has been made not only by State government Ministers of my political persuasion but also by all of the Premiers at various meetings of the Australian Agricultural Council. They have said that the export component is now the critical part of agricultural production. In those circumstances it should not be the financial responsibility of the States to finance rural reconstruction, because the export component is a national component and a national responsibility.
The Australian Government has not provided for the fruit growing industry any sort of long term plan for recovery. As one reads reports from the various sectors of our fruit growing industry it becomes clear that there are a lot of misgivings about the future of the industry. When one reads the Industries Assistance Commission report one can understand the reasons why there is growing concern about the future of the industry, having regard to the international market position. It is regretted therefore- I think we are entitled to make this comment- that the interim initiatives which the Labor Government began and which this Government has continued are to be regarded only as interim initatives. The direction of the industry after the expiration of the 1976 scheme which we are discussing has not yet been determined. Surely we are entitled to say to the Government that it has had a year in which to look at the nature of the problem and to accept the IAC recommendations, or amend them or reject them; but certainly it should come up with a plan for some stability m this important industry.
The extent of the contraction of the industry which this legislation is designed to accommodate will be determined at a later date. There is no certainty that the market conditions for fruit will improve next year. If we could be assured that the market position internationally would improve then we could probably regard this as an interim measure. However, all of the forecasts, all of the estimates, indicate that we have reached that point in the fruit growing industry in Australia where the overseas position does not look as though it is going to afford any relief to the industry. It may well be that further funds will be necessary to accelerate reconstruction under this scheme next year. Members of the Government parties who have had any connection with the industry must surely agree with me when I say that a very critical situation exists in some of our fruit growing regions in Australia.
Tasmania, for example,, which is export oriented, receives 40 per cent to 60 per cent of its annual income, depending upon the income for a particular year, from agriculture. So that sector of agriculture contributes almost half of the
State’s income. A similar situation applies in Western Australia and Victoria where the export component is a very important part of the industry’s survival syndrome. There is no certainty that the market situation can be expected to improve, notwithstanding the mammoth devaluation of 1Vi per cent. Those in the rural community who believe that devaluation is the panacea, that it will be the miracle that will bring about stability in agriculture, look for simple solutions and seek to ignore the principal factor so far as this sector of agriculture is concerned. It is not the price of the article but the access to the markets that represents the threat to the industry. In fact, if we were to give the fruit away we would not solve the problem because it is the trade barriers and the protection policies that are being pursued in our former markets overseas that are denying us access. It is not the cost of the article. So I am afraid that little relief for this industry will arise out of devaluation.
I think, though, that there might be a glimmer of hope for the canning industry if the Government exercises its powers to restrict imports from overseas countries. There is no doubt that imports will now rise as a result of devaluation. I have asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) on several occasions, as he well knows- I have had such a request from Western Australia in the last few days- that the Government take some steps to restrict the import of canned fruit and vegetables from overseas. It may well be that the mechanism can now be applied more judiciously and expeditiously in order to give a little bit of relief to our own canned fruit industry.
Additional freight charges have to be considered. It seems to me that they would operate to reduce the benefits that the reduction in the value of the Australian dollar achieves in spite of the price of our exports and in addition to the access of the markets to which I was referring. Clearly overseas markets are closed or restricted for reasons other than the price of the goods. As we have said so many times, the European Common Market has had a tremendous effect upon many sectors of our agricultural economy. The restriction of access of our beef, for example, to the United States, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Canada is a more recent example of the fact that it is not so much the price factor that affects us as the decision made domestically within other countries to protect their own domestic production. I digress for a moment to refer to beef. We have had questions and discussion and public comment about the dumping of beef on the United States market. I think that indicates to us that it has not been the price that has been the consideration.
The tragedy of our rural reconstruction scheme which we are considering is that whilst it adequately rationalises the market forces operating and logically comes to the conclusion that there must be a tailoring of production to stabilise markets, it does not provide many options for fruit growers who decide to avail themselves of the scheme. It is incumbent, I believe, therefore that any scheme of this sort which is put into operation be oriented more towards people. By this I mean more than the distinction often applied by the Industries Assistance Commission between ‘product oriented ‘ and ‘people oriented ‘.
I do not wish to ally myself with the general criticism that has been applied to the IAC, but I believe it ought to put a little more stress on the needs of people. I am obliged to Senator Wright for the interjection he made when we were debating some of these matters in the autumn session. He said that we have to have some regard for the local people involved in a particular industry. The more I have looked at this, the more I have come to the conclusion that we have to look at the social consequences as well as the economic consequences in rural reconstruction. If we apply only the criterion of efficiency, we will do so at the expense of the human factor. Whilst it cannot be denied that the IAC is correct in condemning product-based assistance in a situation where over-production is the problem, this should not be interpreted as being against product-based assistance where lack of production is the problem. It is also true that schemes designed to assist people, such as the tree pull scheme, are infinitely better than product-based assistance and are to be applauded. Those Government members who from time to time have criticised the Labor Government’s initiative in this area ought to reexamine their attitude as to whether we were more concerned with taking away the bounties and subsidies that were related to the product and to production.
However, criticism of the latter approach is not in regard to the direction it took but that it did not go far enough. If there is to be peopleoriented assistance- I am sure all honourable senators would agree with that emphasis- I believe the options made available to people who decide to leave the industry should be made clear and, where possible, increased. We must seek, therefore, to pay greater regard to the human factor in our consideration of these matters. Quite plainly, if people are to be restructured out of this industry, they want to know where to go, what is to be their future, what their opportunities are and what options are available to them. I would not like to be in a position of trying to advise fruit growers where their economic future is in this country. I certainly would not want to put them into the boot industry, or the textile industry or the shipbuilding industry, or the motor car industry. I certainly would not want to put any of them into the beef industry. It seems to me that a lot more thought needs to be given to those people who will be seeking to leave the industry, so that they will have some meaningful part to play in the whole of the social and economic life of our country. So for the assistance to be truly people oriented, it must continue to the point where people are placed in a viable alternative means of earning a living, and earning a living that has some purpose for them.
The acute problems of certain fruit growing areas highlight the need to tailor assistance programs to prevent the very social fabric of those areas from collapsing. That is happening in some of our fruit growing regions. The social fabric, the rural infrastructure, is at risk. These are matters which surely must concern not only those of us in the Parliament but the community generally. Certainly those in the rural communities who see families leaving districts and who see families leaving a particular industry must be concerned with the effects that that decline has upon the hopes and aspirations of the people within that particular region. On 12 August a sub-committee of Government members dealt with horticultural matters. Growers representatives attended that meeting here in Parliament House at the beginning of this session, and it was clear that there was a need for a greater understanding and for more initiatives to be taken by the authorities. Growers representatives made the point on that occasion that, from the canning point of view, they needed some government assistance in regard to imports coming to Australia.
To rely solely on the market place as a means of determining whether an industry is to be viable in a certain area is to sign a death warrant for certain rural districts. I think the IAC has expressed this concept in a somewhat different way. In its examination of rural problems, it stated:
Market forces left to themselves can seriously undermine the confidence by farmers and other sectors of the economy with which they are linked.
More and more producers, as well as consumers, are totally disenchanted with the operation of the market system, or with the market place for that matter, which neither gives an adequate return to producers nor distributes at a reasonable price to consumers. It is crazy that growers are being subsidised to pull out fruit growing trees; yet simultaneously because of high prices fruit is not available to those very sectors of the Australian community most in need. I refer to those on lower incomes, pensioners, large families and others who are not able to buy the quantity of fruit that otherwise would be available. I believe that domestic sales are sluggish around the 3 million basic carton level, partly because there is a consumer resistance to the price tag on apples and pears. I remember, when returning from a visit to some of the fruit growing areas during the last winter recess, drawing my family’s attention to the fact that farmers were not even bothering to remove the fruit from the trees when families were paying 10c, 12c or 14c each for apples and pears. It is crazy that it does not pay the grower to pick his apples; yet in the market place there is a buyer resistance based on the price. I am sure that if fruit were cheaper there would be at least some benefit to the producer because there would be more consumption in the Australian community.
The Opposition supports the Bill but cannot ignore the fact that it runs contrary to the apple and pear stabilisation scheme which is production based and therefore encourages production by guaranteeing a payment of $2 a bushel. It is interesting to see in one of the reports that in the last year there was a drop of approximately 30 per cent in the number of cases of apples and pears exported. We require an integrated strategy and a policy which does not contradict itself. Unfortunately, there is no such co-ordinated policy in the fruit growing industry. The Government has made no effort to initiate a co-ordinated policy for the fruit growing industry which will place the industry on the road to a stable recovery. The lack of co-ordination at the national level is illustrated by the Government’s contradictory policy thrusts.
We should be examining the distribution and transportation costs in respect of the fruit growing industry. I have been able to see only one set of figures that would help us in this direction. I have no criticism to make of the Government’s freight equalisation scheme which is being applied to Tasmania and which undoubtedly will assist Tasmanian fruit growers in gaining competitive access to the mainland domestic market. This has been introduced to help the Tasmanian fruit industry. If one listens to the comments being made by the fruit growers and fruit grower organisations in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales, particularly in Queensland and
New South Wales, one can appreciate the concern that is being expressed by these organisations. If there is to be a utilisation of this subsidy scheme, it will affect the domestic marketing of those who hitherto have had complete access to the domestic market for their products. I am advised that growers in Tasmania are taking advantage of the freight equalisation scheme in order to sell their products on the mainland market. I will make no comment upon their desirability to do so.
– It may wreck the mainland market.
– It may well wreck the mainland market, as the honourable senator said. I am sure that as a Queensland senator he probably has received representations, as I have, about this very problem. In the northern and southern parts of Tasmania there is a substantial degree of subsidisation. On fruit carried in refrigerated containers the subsidy is $20 per cubic metre for fruit to go to Victoria, $25 for fruit to go to South Australia and Western Australia, and $28 for fruit to go to all the other States. For unrefrigerated containers the subsidy is $ 1 4 per cubic metre for fruit going to Victoria, $20 for fruit going to South Australia and Western Australia, and $24 for fruit going to the other States. I think this highlights the need for a rational policy. Whilst we should not be seeking to deny the Tasmanian growers some stability in their production and distribution, it must not be done in a way which completely destroys the marketing ability and stability of the growers in the mainland areas.
– That is nonsense.
– The honourable senator says that it is nonsense. It is a question of how the scheme is applied. If it means an unlimited dumping of fruit, then of course problems will be created. If a rational approach is made so that both sectors- the domestic market and the export oriented market- are given access to the markets in the mainland States, there may be a share for all. I am referring to the representations made to me by the mainland fruit growers. If honourable senators opposite say that that is nonsense, I will let the fruit growers know that that is the way they approach the problem. It is the responsibility of the organisations and the Government to find an equitable alternative solution which will not entail the setting of one sector of the industry against another. That is what is developing. Uniform State legislation, particularly in the area of marketing, could prevent the conflicts between States which will take place if there is no understanding.
This applies even to the dairy industry. If the Victorian milk producers gain access to the market in New South Wales or Queensland, I can assure the Senate that the New South Wales Government will show that it is able to talk just as loudly as Mr Bjelke-Petersen talks about protecting his domestic situation. It is a matter of rationalising the distribution in such a way that nobody has absolute access and an advantage over anybody else. I am assured that movements are taking place which affect the particular areas to which I have referred. This legislation specifically seeks to give assistance to the Victorian and South Australian governments on the basis of the problem that exists in those States.
– Order! I seek the indulgence of the honourable senator to interrupt his speech for a moment.
– I draw to the attention of honourable senators the presence in the Gallery of a delegation from the Senate and National Assembly of the Republic of Turkey led by Senator Mehmet Unaldi, the Senior Vice-President of the Senate. On behalf of all honourable senators I welcome the delegation and trust that the visit has proved both rewarding and enjoyable.
Honourable senators- Hear, hear!
– by leave- I thought our distinguished visitors might be interested to know that in the corridors of Parliament House is a painting of the Honourable E. L. Batchelor, a member from South Australia, presented to this Parliament by the Royal Ottoman Society, the distinguished forebears of our visitors, in the year 1912. Our visitors might like to look at it.
– I call Senator Gietzelt and thank him for his courtesy in allowing me to intrude upon his speech.
– It is to be hoped that the Government will endeavour to plan on a national basis and on a constructive basis, and not take the easy way out by adopting ad hoc, piecemeal, social welfare measures which only facilitate fruit growers leaving the industry after they have lost their war against poverty without offering them an alternative other than to join the ranks of the unemployed in the outer metropolitan areas of our capital cities. The continued loss of people from rural districts and towns has been occurring for more than a quarter of a century. When the Labor Government was in office it identified the problem and attempted, through its decentralisation and regional development programs, to prevent this from happening. We believe that is a matter which would devalue the quality of life and is against the best interests of both the rural folk and the urban folk.
I have indicated that the very fabric of society in many fruit growing districts is now threatened by depressed market situations and by adoption of a tree pull scheme without assessment, and ultimately determination, of what happens to the people forced to leave the area and the effects, other than economic, on those remaining. That has to be taken into consideration in reconstruction schemes. The Industries Assistance Commission has recommended the setting up of area redevelopment authorities in apple and pear growing regions of the south-west of Western Australia, southern Tasmania and the Stanthorpe region of Queensland, and that feasibility studies be carried out to determine the nature and extent of these authorities. It is clear that special problems of certain areas need specialised solutions. This Government’s whole philosophical position is to allow the market place to determine the demise of these districts and largely to ignore the poverty problems involved. For many fruitgrowers in these districts there is no payment for an honest day’s work for reasons which are totally outside of their control. Of course, the Henderson poverty report refers to the fact that it is in the fruit growing areas where the greatest poverty exists in the non-urban regions of Australia. It is unconscionable for governments to stand by and take the easy way out by giving piecemeal assistance from time to time.
I shall conclude by quoting from a Press report of 1 December 1975. The report in the Hobart Mercury relates to the present Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). It states:
Tasmania’s rural industries are facing grave conditions which could worsen in the near future unless urgent action is taken.
I refer only to the Hoban situation. He made many other statements at the time which referred to other regions in Australia.
The report continues:
The Deputy Leader of the National Country Party, Mr Sinclair, said at Launceston on Saturday he was deeply concerned at the position which he said had been caused by the failure of the Labor Government to take remedial action during the past 3 years.
He is reported further as stating:
As the Minister for Agriculture, I can assure you that on election to Government on December 13, 1 will ensure that priority will be given to the problems of the fruit industry and strong representations will be made overseas on behalf of Australia’s apple producers.
I have already given to the Senate the fact that the 1976 export of apples and pears is down by almost 1 million boxes. It is all right for us to engage in rhetoric and to use quotes about what we have said from time to time, what we stand for and what our policies are. So far as this legislation is concerned, obviously we could not be put in a position where we would oppose any agreement reached between the Australian Government and the States, but we believe that the time has arrived for the Government to come up with a rational policy that will take into consideration the economic and human aspirations of those people who are affected by conditions outside their control.
– I rise to support the States Grants (Fruit-growing Reconstruction) Bill which extends the existing scheme of assistance to fruitgrowers which commenced in July 1972. The scheme is now extended by the terms of this Bill to the end of December 1976 and provides a further sum of $lm to assist in further tree removal. Before proceeding to deal with the real purpose of the Bill I want to deal briefly with a couple of points made by Senator Gietzelt, who spoke before me. I think he had been speaking for 25 minutes before he came to the real purpose of this Bill. He stated that the purpose of it was to assist the canning fruitgrowers, as distinct from fresh fruitgrowers, in Victoria. That is the prime purpose of the Bill.
– South Australia too, senator.
-I take the point on board but 70 per cent of the canning fruit in Australia is grown in Victoria. I accept the honourable senator’s interjection that South Australia, in the Renmark-Berri area, and New South Wales, in the Mumimbidgee Irrigation Area, produce the balance. I hope that Senator Gietzelt ‘s comments on freight equalisation relating to Tasmania are fully reported in the Tasmanian Press. I am sure that members of his party would not be very happy after reading those comments. The freight equalisation scheme relating to the fresh fruit industry in Tasmania is a good initiative of this
Government and it is doing a great deal to assist the growers in that State.
The legislation provides 2 forms of assistance. One is the clear fell, an agricultural term which means that the whole of a grower’s orchard is removed and he can then retire from the industry. The second is a partial tree pull where part only of the orchard is removed and what is left will allow the farmer, the orchardist, to have the capacity to produce his share of what is now a very reduced market. I think it is worth stating that to qualify for the assistance, the recipient is required, whether it be partial or full tree pull, to enter into a mortgage agreement with the appropriate authority- in Victoria, the Rural Finance and Settlement Commission- that he will not replant the particular variety of fruit tree for a period of 5 years after the trees have been removed. Of course this ensures observance of the covenant. In practice, this creates no real difficulty because if the property is sold usually a personal covenant from the vendor is accepted, or alternatively the purchaser allows the mortgage to remain on title but gives priority to other borrowings by the purchaser.
I think I should also mention that earlier this year the guidelines were liberalised to enable a greater percentage of growers to qualify for assistance. I think it is fair to say that the original guidelines for obtaining tree pull money were too restrictive. Through the State of Victoria, the Commonwealth Government doubled the asset entitlement to enable a greater number of growers to come into the field. This, coupled with the depressed land values by reason of the depressed state of the industry, has had a cumulative effect. The applicants have more than doubled since this new liberalisation of guidelines was introduced earlier this year. It is interesting to note that in 1972 and later when the scheme was introduced, dairying was then a reasonably thriving industry and there was a ready demand from dairy farmers for the land from which trees had been removed. But now of course, with the depressed state of the dairying industry, there are great problems about the use to which land from which trees have been removed is to be put. There are very grave limitations on the re-use of this land at present. Some of it can be put to vegetable growing but in the present depressed state of primary industry this is one of the additional problems which the orchardist has to face.
In speaking on this Bill in the other place the honourable member for Murray made a plea for some amelioration of the conditions for partial tree-pull because the scheme is not achieving the purpose for which it was designed, that is, to reduce the acreage of trees- pear trees in particularto a level which will enable the crop to be sold. There are still some 2000 acres of excess pears for which there is no market and this is largely because under the restrictions in the partial tree-pull scheme growers are unable to get compensation for pulling out their trees. Some of these trees have not been sprayed and pruned, simply because the orchardist does not have the capital for that purpose. It is a fairly expensive operation. “prose who have been able to raise the capital have in some cases been cautious in their outlook because of the uncertainty of the prevailing markets, and uncertainty about whether the canneries will be able to take the fruit and whether a viable price will be paid for the fruit
Another matter I would like to mention in relation to this problem is that the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee which is charged with the duty of fixing the price to be paid has not as yet announced prices for the coming year although apricots will be started to be picked in about a fortnight’s time and peaches and pears will be picked shortly after. This creates greater uncertainty in the industry and now that devaluation has been announced the price should be set at the earliest possible moment to allow fruit growers a final opportunity before 3 1 December to exercise judgment in relation to further tree-pull. Obviously if they know the price they are going to get for their product they will be in a far better position to make a judgment on whether it is worth paying the high labour cost involved in getting their fruit to the canneries. There would be no more unfortunate plight for the grower than to be unable to make a reasoned and calculated decision about the area of trees he should take out because he has no information on the price of the product or the quantity of fruit that the canneries will take. In this regard I share some of the concern which Senator Gietzelt expressed but I remind him that the Government’s announcement on devaluation is the first real ray of sunshine to appear on the horizon of the fruit industry after several dark, dismal and gloomy years. It is a major ray of sunshine not only for the canning fruit industry but also for our other great primary industries which still provide the major part of the export income of this nation.
The Government’s decision to devalue can only mean better times ahead for the industry. Of course, the amount of canned fruit sold on the export market has declined over recent years due to competition from South Africa, the European Common Market and America. I can recall that after World War II for a number of years the whole of the canned fruit pack was sold to Britain before it was off the tree under the Food for Britain scheme. There was a preferred market Now we have a changed situation and there is a tariff against the entry of our fruit into Britain, so there has been a dramatic change which has compounded the difficulties of the industry. When we consider the unfavourable exchange rate and the high labour cost across the board from the time the fruit is taken from the tree until it reaches the supermarket shelf in Australia or in the country to which it is exported we realise the problems which the industry faces. Despite the competition in the export field there is still a significant amount of total production which is exported and it is estimated that the devaluation decision will be worth between $65 and $80 per tonne to growers in respect of their canned fruit for export. I am certain that the industry in general and the growers in particular will welcome the Government ‘s decision.
It is also fair to say that this will give a fillip to the industry. The canneries will be able to take more fruit than was at first thought necessary and markets overseas which were doubtful will be consolidated. Fruit that is sold on consignment in Australia will get the benefit also. Generally it is a brighter picture. If we couple with that decision the initiatives which have been taken by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) in a Bill of this type the sole purpose and design of which is to reduce the amount of raw product to meet the available market and remove the excess raw product, we can see better days ahead for the industry.
I would like to refer briefly in conclusion to the canning side of the industry in Victoria. There is a rationalisation proposal in relation to the 3 Victorian canneries in which 70 per cent of Australia’s canned fruit is processed. I trust that this proposal will come to fruition as rationalisation is essential to the future of the industry. However, there are problems. The Shepparton Preserving Company Ltd is the biggest cannery in the Southern Hemisphere. The Kyabram Preserving Company Ltd is the second biggest and Ardmona Co-operative Fruit Products Co. Ltd is very high up the line. They are extensive commercial operations with a large share capital. In the case of the Kyabram and Ardmona companies a large proportion of the shares is held by the growers. In a situation where there are 3 commercial institutions there is great concern about which one ought to close. Because of the practical problems associated with this decision I commend the action taken by the Victorian
Government in asking Mr Ian Moreton, the Chairman of the Rural Finance and Settlement Commission, to make an in-depth investigation of the 3 canneries and make recommendations to the State Government on initiatives it might take to assist this rationalisation proposal. Of course, it recognises that the final decision on whether a cannery closes must always rest with the shareholders of the company. The report of the Chairman of the Commission is now with the Victorian Government and all I wish to do at this stage is to stress to the people in the industry in Victoria the necessity for getting together and rationalising the production side of the industry. If that is done, with devaluation and the trimming of production to the available market, I can see better days ahead for this industry. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
-The Senate is debating the States Grants (Fruit Growing Reconstruction) Bill and, as outlined in the second reading speech, the purpose of the Bill is to extend the fruit growing reconstruction scheme to the end of this year and to provide up to a further $lm to assist in the removal of canning fruit trees in South Australia and Victoria. The limit on assistance will now be $5. 6m, and although the closing date for applications will be 3 1 December of this year the closing date for the removal of trees will be 30 June next year. I imagine that there will be a number of precautionary applications for tree-pull.
Notice of this Bill was given in the Budget. It is worth noting in passing that, despite all its promises when in Opposition, the present Government’s Budget was a disaster for farmers. I wish to quote some statements from the policy speech made by Mr Anthony and also some statements made by the present Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair. Senator Tehan stated that devaluation will be of tremendous help to the canned fruit industry. He went on to say that a very small portion of the crop was exported. He did not tell us how devaluation will assist the industry when such a small portion of the crop is exported. The home market is the best market for the canned fruit produced in Australia. I would go so far as to say that we could have the reverse effect as a result of the massive devaluation announced by this Government last Sunday night- a devaluation which all the economists tell us will reduce the spending power of the wage earner. It is the wage earner who consumes most of the canned fruit produced. If the wage earner has not the money in his pocket to buy canned fruit, how will devaluation assist the canned fruit industry? Senator Tehan says that it will.
I wish to quote some statements made some years ago by National Country Party Ministers, who blamed the Labor Government for bringing disaster on the industry when that Government devalued the currency. On the one hand we have National Country Party Ministers saying that devaluation had some adverse effect on the industry, and on the other hand we have Senator Tehan, a National Country Party senator, saying that devaluation will help the industry. Who is right- Senator Tehan or the Country Party Ministers, his own colleagues? We will see when the time comes. Time will tell whether devaluation has helped the industry or has had an adverse effect on it. Repeated irresponsible statements have been made by members of the Government Parties, in particular Country Party Ministers, in endeavouring to lay the blame for the rural industries’ problems at the feet of the Labor Government. I wish to quote a few extracts from the policy speech delivered by Mr Anthony at the Festival Hall in Brisbane on 26 November 197S. I will quote only a few extracts because there were far too many promises which have not been honoured to quote them chapter and verse. Mr Anthony opened his famous speech by saying:
The great goal of this election is to put Australia back on its feet.
To restore good management.
To repair a damaged nation.
To put men and women back to work.
Of course, just the reverse has happened, as we all know-
To fight inflation.
We know how the Government is fighting inflation. Mr Anthony did not tell us this at the time, but the Government has created a massive pool of unemployment and has brought about a massive devaluation of the Australian dollar-
To remove stagnation.
We are further stagnating, if one can take any notice of the business people of this nation-
To rebuild confidence.
There is no confidence in the nation-
To revive national growth.
Mr Anthony went on:
The people of this nation have seen their dollar devalued, their money watered down, till it’s almost counterfeit.
In 3 years in Government, Labor did not devalue to anywhere near the extent to which this Government devalued in one fell swoop on Sunday night; yet Mr Anthony, the Leader of the
National Country Party, the Leader of Senator Tehan ‘s Party, stood up at the Festival Hall in Brisbane on 26 November last year and blamed the Labor Government for crippling the nation by devaluation. This Government has done even worse than we did.
– Your Government revalued.
-We devalued too. Mr Anthony went on to say:
This inflation, this watering down of your money, this devaluing of your income, this destruction of savings, lies at the heart of Labor’s betrayal.
As I have said before in this place, I have been a poultry farmer for many years and I have learned that chickens come home to roost. This is the chickens coming home to roost following the statements made by Government Ministers when they were in Opposition. They fooled the people and now they have to live with the statements they made. We will see that they live with them; I can assure them of that. We will not let them forget them, just as we will not let them forget the episode which took place in this Parliament House on Tuesday night. They will be reminded at every opportunity. At page 4 of his policy speech Mr Anthony said:
By failing to give them a chance of worthwhile satisfying work; of useful, fulfilling lives.
He was talking about the people of the Australian nation-
A once fully-employed community suffers unemployment on a scale not seen for 40 years, with worse to come. “As I pointed out some weeks ago in this chamber I had incorporated in Hansard a list compiled by the Parliamentary Library- for every month that this Government has been in office unemployment has increased. Mr Anthony further said:
Better economic management will enhance the value of both.
That is, the value of the economy of the country and of the people who live in the community. But the most important thing he said was this:
We will urgently examine the problems of the canned fruits industry in the light of the forthcoming IAC report.
I will have something further to say about that when I refer later to the report of the Industries Assistance Commission. The Whitlam Government sent a reference to the IAC because of its concern for the canned fruit industry, and this Government has not taken any action on that report. It has not taken the action which Mr Anthony promised the electors of this country it would take if it was returned to Government.
In today’s mail I received a screed from the Minister for Primary Industry. It is a copy of an address he gave to a National Party rally in Roma in Queensland on Saturday, 20 November. Talking to his own people, and again’ belittling the Labor Party, Mr Sinclair said:
Whitlam inflation crippled the ability of the rural sector to compete profitably on international markets.
– Quite correct, too.
-Did it? In his own paper, which Senator Cormack probably has not read- he might have criticised Mr Sinclair if he had read it- Mr Sinclair said that Labor crippled the rural sector, but he went on to give figures which in fact proved that the reverse was the case. He said:
It is Commonwealth Government rural policy to assist those disadvantaged farmers and to restore overall profitability to the rural sector. But it must be remembered that the States play a large role in this and there must be shared attitudes.
I will refer later in my speech to the fact that Mr Sinclair repeatedly has refused to share with the South Australian Government the responsibility of assisting the canned fruits industry in South Australia. In his opening remarks Senator Tehan said that 70 per cent of Australia’s canned fruit was produced in Victoria. That may be so, but I am beginning to wonder, after listening to Senator Tehan ‘s speech, whether the reason why Mr Sinclair will not come to the party in converting a loan to a grant to the fruit growers in South Australia is that Mr Hamer is not prepared to come to the party. If 70 per cent of Australia’s canned fruit is being produced in Victoria, Mr Hamer would have a much bigger commitment to make. Apparently Mr Hamer is not prepared to do what Mr Dunstan in prepared to do in converting the South Australian Government’s share of the loan to a grant. That could be the very reason why Mr Sinclair will not come to the party, as he says the State governments ought to do. He said this on 20 November: it must be remembered that the States play a large role in this and there must be shared attitudes.
We want to share the attitude in South Australia, but what do we get from this Government? We get a complete rebuff. This Government will not come to the party; it expects the States to carry the burden. Mr Sinclair continued:
Australia has the resources to be an efficient producer of agricultural products.
Of course we have; nobody denies that-
There will be an increasing world need for food.
We must work towards regaining our ability to be competitive on world markets.
This very legislation that we are discussing was brought into this Parliament in 1972 to encourage growers to pull out trees with which we produce food because the Government of the day did not have the expertise or the inclination to go out and find markets. When the Labor Government went out and found markets for other commodities it was told that it was sleeping in the same bed as the communist countries, in looking for markets in which to sell our products. Yet just a few weeks ago the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) made a statement abusing one of Australia’s best customers, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But Mr Sinclair says that we should be producing this food as there is a world-wide demand for it. Because of their parochial political ideology, those who sit opposite will not go out and trade with these nations. They offend them at every opportunity they get. For the sake of getting a few votes from those of the blue rinse set who live in some areas where they have a doubtful voting capacity they scare the living daylights out of them by saying that we are going to be overcome by Communist countries. We should be doing all we can to sell our primary products to those countries. Mr Sinclair went on to say:
But tragically, without Government support and assistance, the answer to whether the rural sector can survive might well be no.
The total commitment of our party and the coalition Government to the survival of agriculture, however, ensures that this will not be the case.
I throw that right back into Senator Tehan ‘s face. He stood up in this chamber today and in his early remarks blamed the Whitlam Government for the problems that are now being faced by the rural industries. It is not to blame, as I will prove to him by quoting some of the statements that Mr Sinclair made when he was in office previously and he talked about devaluation and things like that that had a crippling effect upon industry. We were not even in government then.
It is all very well for honourable senators opposite to try to lay the blame at the feet of the Labor Government. We have had to sit and take it for the last 12 months. But the LiberalNational Country Party Government has since brought in a Budget. It can no longer fire a fusillade at this Opposition and say: ‘It is all your fault’. The Government has to accept responsibility. It has to honour the promises it made to the people 12 months ago. I am happy to say that if it cannot do it in the next 18 months the Opposition in this chamber will have the numbers and the Government will be then made to toe the line. We will make the Government honour its promises. Of course, if we come back to this chamber with the numbers by 30 June 1978, it is almost certain that we will then come back with the numbers in the other place. The people of Australia, having experienced a Labor Government which has been accused of crippling the rural industries in 3 years and having then experienced a government which made promises that it would assist them in the next 3 years, will be in a position to make a choice of their own and I am sure that they will make that choice wisely because there will be no such nonsense to cloud the issue as we had on 13 December of last year.
Some very famous statements have been made by Country Party Ministers. I just happened to pick up one today. It was a news release by Mr Nixon just prior to the last State election in New South Wales in which he said:
However, the prospect of the Labor Party being elected to govern in New South Wales was so remote that it was unlikely that the people of that State would suffer.
We have had Senator Lajovic interjecting and writing a big no across the chamber that we will not get to government. That is what a member of the Government of which he is a supporter said a few months ago in relation to the election in New South Wales, but the Labor Party did win office in that State. The Labor Party did so because it did not take the people long- less than 6 months -to get a stomach full of what Mr Fraser has been dishing out to them.
– Tasmania is next.
– Tasmania is next. We are waiting for that. Let us look at the Budget. The total outlays for net direct assistance to the agricultural and pastoral industries was estimated at a negative $25.3m for 1976-77. That represents a massive decline of $ 189.7m on Labor’s last Budget. Most of the decrease is explained by the $2 14m decrease in the provision for wool marketing assistance. But in 1974-75 the estimates showed a Government outlay of $447.1 m. In 1975-76 it declined to $ 163.4m. If the Liberal and Country Parties had been serious about their promises to the rural sector, which is what I have been talking about, they could have used the repayments by the Australian Wool Corporation to assist the rural sector generally and still have made Budget savings, instead of slashing expenditure to the bone. For example, no direct assistance was specified for the canned fruits industry in the Budget, despite the fact that there is abundant hard evidence on which to base policy.
The Prime Minister has made one or two speeches on rural policy. It is evident from them that the Government still has a few policies in many areas- I stress the word ‘few’- but we have yet to hear them. The only policies that the Government have put into effect have been to downgrade the working class of this nation and crush it into the ground. I asked a question today about the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation but I could not get an answer to it The Government is even co-opting the assistance of ASIO now to spy on trade union officials and to break the trade union movement. Yet we have had Senator Tehan saying that devaluation is going to help the canned fruit industry. If the wage earners of this country are suppressed to such an extent that they do not have any extra money to spend they will do without fruit They will eat spuds and onions, as had to be done during the depression. They can do without those luxuries of life. But if they are forced into that situation the canned fruit industry will suffer even more than it has suffered over the last decade.
– Talk some sense.
-I am talking sense and Senator Walters does not like it. Every time I stand up in this chamber and explain the situation Senator Walters does not like it She deals in fantasy. She is one of the people who delight in pulling the wool over the eyes of farmers and telling them a lot of nonsense. But the farmers are fast waking up to those people and they will not be able to do it for much longer.
The Liberal and Country Parties said in thenpolicy speech that in the process of the readjustment of market opportunities the industry could be assured of sympathetic co-operation. In other words, they were making faint promises based on heart-warming code words. That is just what I have explained to Senator Walters. But heart warming promises will not keep people solvent The Minister for Primary Industry has abdicated his responsibility in many areas of rural policy. The Chairman of the Government’s rural committee, Mr Giles, who, God forbid, is the member of the other place for my electorate in South Australia, sounded a grave warning to the Government The members of that Committee are aware of the situation in the horticultural regions of this country, as is the Australian Labor Party’s resources committee, of which I am privileged to be the Secretary.
What is the Government doing about the problems confronting the canned fruit industry, apart from this piece of legislation? I wish to quote from a statement that appeared in the Murray Pioneer of the Riverland district of
South Australia of 22 July 1976 in which Mr Giles is reported as having given a resume of his committee’s findings when it went round the rural areas during the winter recess. He was reported as saying that he would be ensuring that the problems of the horticulture industry would be considered in the talks prior to the framing of the Budget. I refer now to an article in the Australian of 12 August 1976 headed ‘Farm Crisis will cost votes, PM warned ‘, which reads:
A confidential report to the Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, has warned that entire regional economics in rural areas are at grave risk because of the economic crisis.
Who is in government? Not the Labor Party. The Liberal and Country Party coalition is in government The article continues:
The report says that some staunch Liberal-National Country Party seats will fall to Labor unless urgent action is taken and that some Federal Ministers are being openly abused for apparent inaction.
Bluntly it says of rural attitudes: ‘Our concept of freedom from Government interference won’t work when they’re broke.
That is just what I said in replying to an interjection from Senator Walters. Of course it will not work when the people are bankrupt The article continues:
Bankruptcy is a more serious proposition than worrying about the future inflation.
Those are Mr Giles’ words. Mr Giles is the Chairman of the Liberal-Country Party coalition ‘s rural back bench committee. The article continues:
Mr O Halloran Giles, the Liberal member for Angas, South Australia, and Chairman of the joint government parties rural committee, wrote the report after an 8-day tour of hard-hit communities in Victoria and Tasmania.
The article goes on to say:
The Giles report, which was also sent to the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, shows a deep-seated resentment at the state of the economy that will be relieved only with the greatest effort.
We are not seeing a great deal of effort insofar as the canned fruit industry is concerned. I have repeatedly made pleas in the Senate in recent weeks for some help but have not been able to get it I will read a letter later that I received from Mr Sinclair on this matter. The article goes on to say:
Particularly in Victorian dairy areas, they will vote ALP in my opinion- ‘
Of course, in my opinion the people will vote ALP in the Riverland district at the next State election. The report continues:
There is still time but lack of action will no longer hold support in these areas. Press reports on company tax, investment allowances and taxation indexation are not only no help at all to the people but are a positive irritation to them ‘.
Loans, whether government or private, are no longer possible for people to service, particularly when their asset position has deteriorated to the stage where in some cases it is non-existent.
Those are the words of Mr O ‘Halloran Giles. That was not a Labor man speaking. That was not a Labor man criticising the present Government That was the Chairman of the Government’s rural back bench committee criticising his own Government for the lack of action taken. Yet we had Senator Tehan get up in this chamber today and criticise the Labor Government and say that it got this industry into a mess. I throw the words back at him. His colleague has said that it is his Government that has done it and not the previous Labor Government. In the rural industry information papers Mr Sinclair put out in July 1 976 he gave a resume, and I give him all credit for it, of what the Labor Government did to help the canning fruit industry. I will quote what he had printed.
– Labor sent them bankrupt.
– I will quote it accurately. I never deal in inaccuracies, Senator Lajovic.
– I did not say anything.
– It might have been Senator Archer. I apologise. Senator Archer is very famous for the old poem he read in here about big Mai and the superphosphate bounty. When he read that poem, it was the best speech he had ever made. Mr Sinclair, speaking about 1972, stated:
Loans totalling SI. 9m provided to New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia Co-operative canneries to enable an acceleration of payments to growers for 1 97 1 -72 season ‘s fruit These loans were an interim measure pending a decision on the industry’s request for assistance in respect of currency changes following the December 1971 devaluation of the VS. dollar. Condition that any payments subsequently made in respect of currency realignment assistance should be used to reduce these loans.
That was in 1972 under the McMahon Government. When the Australian Labor Party came into government, what did we do? There was $1.5m currency realignment assistance provided by way of grants to all canneries exporting canned deciduous fruit. These grants of $1.5m resulted in a reduction of the 1972 loans by $838,000. This is what I am trying to persuade Mr Sinclair to do with the present loan. He will not do it. Out of the $205,000 loan that we converted to a grant, the Riverland cannery got approximately $196,000 and Jon Preserving Co-op Ltd got about $56,000 of a loan of $178,000. We were prepared to help them as soon as we got into government. Mr Sinclair’s paper states this in respect of the fruit growing reconstruction scheme:
To 30.4.76 some 1014 hectares of peaches, 33 1 hectares of pears and 146 hectares of apricots had been approved for pulling.
Of course, as my colleague the shadow Minister for Primary Industry said, it is a crying shame that in a nation where women and children in the industrial areas in the cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth cannot afford to buy fruit the only solution that can be found to try to improve the lot of the canned fruit industry is the scheme brought in by the McMahon Government to pull trees out so that fruit would be dearer. The present Government will not even come to the party to assist by converting the loan to a grant. Mr Sinclair’s paper went on:
In May 1973 the then Minister for Agriculture announced that post-revaluation adjustment assistance would be given to fanners producing export apples and pears and canning preaches, pears and apricots. Grants to each grower of up to 1,500 according to volume of fruit Additional grants of $1,000 to farmers predominantly growing export apples and pears and $500 to farmers predominantly growing canning fruit, if a grower applied by 30 June 1973 and eligible for clear fell assistance under the Fruit Growing Reconstruction Scheme. Assistance was given in terms of the Prime Minister’s announcement of 23 December 1972 . . .
It did not take Mr Whitiam long to get busy after being elected and announce that he was going to help the fruit growing industry. A matter of weeks after the election he came forward with an announcement. The information paper continued:
Problems of adjustment already being faced at time of revaluation, and particularly difficulty in bearing the consequences of appreciation. Adjustment assistance payments were made to 4794 fruit growers, with payments totalling $3,282,036.
So there in Mr Sinclair’s own publication is a record of what the Labor Government did to try to assist the fruit growing industry, which was in a pretty parlous state when Labor came into office. I have another statement that Senator Tehan will be very interested to hear. It is a statement put out also by Mr Sinclair. It reads:
The canned fruits industry has been an important source of employment in post-war Australia. It has been the industry which has enabled irrigation areas in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, to switch from pastoral activity to profitable closer settlements.
The orchards on the Murray River, Mumimbidgee River and Goulburn Valley not only helped in closer settlement programs, but also in the provision of employment opportunities for the people in the towns that service these communities. In many irrigation centres they are the major source of local employment and as such important decentralised industries. These facts the Government recognises.
The Labor Party recognises them too. It is not only people who grow the fruit who are assisted when a subsidy is provided or a loan is converted to a grant. All the people who live in the area are assisted. I refer to the ancillary industries, the support industries and the small business people, about whom honourable senators opposite talk so loudly but completely forget on many occasions. Mr Sinclair went on to say:
Sterling devaluation . . . currency realignment . . and then the floating of sterling . . . have aggravated the industry’s condition. The profitability of the industry has been further affected by inflationary pressures which have led to significant increases in the cost of production.
I would like to dwell on these words:
The profitability of the industry has been further affected by inflationary pressures which have led to significant increases in the cost of production.
– They are labour costs. They went up by 56 per cent.
– What is the date of this Press release? It is dated 23 October 1972. It relates to a speech by Mr Sinclair to the Australian Canning Fruitgrowers Association at the Berri Hotel at Berri in South Australia. He addmitted then, before Labor came into government, that inflation was having its effect on the fruit canning industry. We are told every day in this place that it was the Labor Government’s inflation that crippled the industry. Yet Mr Sinclair is on record in the document from which I have quoted as saying that inflation under the government before the Whitlam Government was having its effect on the industry. So Senator Tehan cannot have it both ways. He forgets that when these Press releases are put out some of us chaps on the Opposition side put them away because we take great notice of them. We get them out later and we read them. I know it hurts Senator Tehan to have to sit there and listen to words of his own Minister being thrown back at him.
– It is on the record how inflation increased when you were in government.
- Senator Tehan can natter away, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In the document from which I have quoted Mr Sinclair stated that inflation was crippling the industry when the Liberal and Country parties were in government. Of course, Senator Tehan was not in government, but his party was in government. It is not sufficient for the Government simply to blame the Labor Party for every rural problem. It is not a rural policy for the Government to say: ‘Whitlam was anti-rural’ or to refer to Labor’s stand on any policy question. The Labor Party set up the Industries Assistance Commission and asked for a series of reports on the horticultural fruit industries. These were delivered on 16 January this year. Since then we have heard nothing. Labor would have acted on the IAC reports. I am sure that the people in the horticultural regions expected action on them by any responsible government. Of course there was one IAC report that the ink was hardly dry on when this Government put it into effect, and that was the report on the restoration of the superphosphate bounty. The ink was not dry when the Government made a decision to restore the bounty because the IAC recommended it. But what about the IAC recommendations on the canned fruit industry? Why has the Government allowed the reports to moulder away in the pigeonholes and has done nothing about them? I ask Senator Walters to answer that. She cannot answer it. The Government thought that the whole problem that existed in the rural industries was that the Labor Government failed to reenact the legislation- it was a wise decision- for the superphosphate bounty. The Government thought that reintroduction of the bounty would solve all the problems. It told the people that it would, and the people in the country towns thought it would. But their position is getting worse and worse every day, and they have got the bounty back. The Government is not helping them. They are fast learning to believe what I have said in this Parliament on many occasionsthat that subsidy helps only the wealthy producers.
I am not making a simple debating point by saying that more should have been done in the past and that more should be done now. Anyone can say that. I know the situation in the irrigation areas in the country, particularly in the Riverland, because I live there. I know the disillusionment of the farmers. Mr Sinclair was confronted by angry fruit growers at Berri some months back and Federal politicians were also confronted by angry fruit growers at Mooroopna. Senator Tehan referred to the Labor Government’s mismanagement, but he conveniently forgot to tell us- he mentioned Mooroopna too- about the massive demonstration that took place in Mooroopna. The Sun News-Pictorial of 2 July under the headline Growers protest as MPs arrive ‘ states:
More than 300 fruit growers demonstrated when four federal MPs arrived in Mooroopna yesterday.
That would have been 1 July. The article reads:
The growers, waving placards, confronted 4 members of the Federal Government’s rural committee when they arrived on an inspection tour of the Ardmona cannery.
The committee members seemed surprised at the demonstrations. About 20 police were at the cannery’s front door when the 4 parliamentarians arrived.
Of course we are used to police protection under this Government. There is a certain gentleman who cannot go out to the little house at the back unless he has a battalion of police accompanying him.
The demonstrators did not try to break the police line but waved placards reading ‘Change Government’, ‘Hang Sinclair’.
The committee chairman, Mr Giles (South Australia), secretary Mr McVeigh (Queensland), Senator Archer -
Senator Archer was there; he was one of them- and the local federal member for Murray, Mr Lloyd, asked for a loudhailer to address the growers.
Why did Senator Archer not tell us about that? He glossed over that. He did not want us to know, but as I told the Senate a while ago we have some very alert people on the Resources Committee of the Parliamentary Labor Party. We search these things out and file them away so that we can remind people of them. The report reads:
Mr Giles said that he had read many of the placards and in many ways didn ‘t blame the growers.
Again he comes in in support of the growers against his own Government as he did in the report he tabled. The article reads:
One gets the idea that demonstrations only happen in the city areas’, he said.
Of course it is all very well to hear people opposite blast the Labor Party about organising demonstrations. Who organised the demonstration for the growers? Did they come out to greet Senator Archer with plates of hot scones and strawberry jam? Of course they did not. They came out with placards and frightened the very life out of him. He had to call for a loudhailer so he could address them. The article reads:
The demonstration organiser, growers’ representative, Mr Peter Nethersole, said that there was still $ 1 m outstanding in payments to growers on the 1975 crop and $9.5m to $10m on the 1976 crop.
Which Party was in Government then? I will take Mr Nethersole ‘s word that the growers were not paid Sim when the Party I support was in government but have a look at what has happened under this Government: an amount of $9.5m to $10m outstanding for the 1976 crop. So much for the people who said as Mr Anthony said in his policy speech, what his Party was going to do for the rural sector. The article continues:
The canneries are overstocked with fruit and the Reserve Bank is only lending enough money to pay the cannery workers- not the growers’, he said.
That is what happened on 1 July as reported in the Sun-Pictorial on 2 July. Let me go further to 29 July. Of course the dissatisfaction with the Liberal-Country Party was growing because when Mr Sinclair himself went to Berri on 28 July, as reported in the Adelaide Advertiser of 79 July, there was a protest from 400 fruitgrowers:
About 400 fruitgrowers marched through Berri yesterday in a protest at the state of their industry.
They marched from the Berri caravan park to the Wine Barrel Restaurant where the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) met fruit industry leaders.
The placard-waving group asked Mr Sinclair to address them before entering the restaurant for formal talks.
Mr Sinclair said he was concerned about the cannery payment situation.
He is not too concerned about it now or the pleas I have been making to him in the last few weeks to help these people. The article continues:
Actions by canneries in other States had not helped the situation, but a proposal from the Riverland Cannery to delay repaying the last cash advance by the Federal Government would be favourably considered.
It has not been favourably considered, as I will relate to the Senate later on when I quote from the Minister’s letter. The article continues:
Mr J. Deakin, of Renmark, one organiser of the protest, said the protest had achieved its aim.
He hoped Mr Sinclair now had a better understanding of the growers’ feelings.
I am afraid from the replies I have received that he is not showing that he has a better understanding, because he has not given us some action. It will be recalled that, as I have said, the South Labor Government through its Premier Mr Dunstan and the very able South Austraiian Minister of Agriculture, Mr Brian Chatterton, have gone out of their way to help the canneries. Not only has the Government given them a $500,000 loan to tide the citrus industry over a very flat period but also there is the South Australian Government offer- I have mentioned it previously; it is in Hansard if people would like to read it- to the tune of $272,000 to convert our portion of the loan to a grant, and Mr Sinclair has refused to do that. It might be opportune now for me to read a letter which I received from Mr Sinclair, dated 9 November:
Dear Sena tor McLaren,
In the Senate on 4 November 1976, during the Adjournment Debate, you asked my colleague, Senator Cotton, Minister for Industry and Commerce, to take up with me the question of converting the Commonwealth Government’s snare of the 1976 loan to Riverland Fruit Cannery to a grant and to advise the Chairman of the Co-operative prior to the meeting of the Cannery’s shareholders on Friday 12 November 1976.
I have already received direct from Mr Durieu of the Cooperative a message on this matter and I have replied by telegram as follows:-
I will not read that telegram because I am going to seek leave to have the letter incorporated in Hansard, but for the information of honourable senators who probably cannot wait to read Hansard to see what Mr Sinclair had to say, because it is of vital interest to them, I shall quote further from the letter
The arrangements under which these loan monies were made available by the Commonwealth are provided for under the States Grants ( Fruit Canneries) Act 1 976.
Although the legislation does provide for extension of the rime for completion of repayment in special circumstances there is no discretion under the legislation for the Commonwealth to convert the loans to grants.
What a statement to make. The letter goes on:
I have already informed the South Australian Minister of Agriculture, Mr Chatterton, that whilst I am examining the question of repayment arrangements covering the loan monies provided to the several States, including South Australia, might be extended I am not prepared to support the Commonwealth agreeing to convert its loan monies to a grant as is proposed in the case of Riverland.
What happened after that? I received that letter on 9 November. I had raised the matter in the Parliament on several occasions. I had raised it in a speech on one of the Appropriation Bills prior to raising it in an adjournment debate when I brought it to the notice of Senator Cotton- and I thank Senator Cotton for his prompt action. We find Mr Giles, the chairman of the backbench rural committee of the coalition parties, coming out with a statement that offended many many people in the Riverland district. I quote from the Murray Pioneer, which is printed in Renmark, of
I I November- 2 days after the Minister’s letter to me. Mr Giles used similar terms to the terms used in the letter from Mr Sinclair. This heading is ‘Misleading’. It reads:
The member for Angus, Mr Giles, said there appeared to have been a deliberate attempt to mislead Riverland canning fruit growers.
He said that the Premier’s comments were deliberately misleading.
He was referring to the Premier’s saying that he was going to make available to the cannery the South Australian Government’s portion of the loan as a direct grant. Mr Giles said this was deliberately misleading. I put out a Press release in which I reminded the people that it was not the first time that Mr Giles had himself misled the people in the Riverland. I shall not read all of the Press release. If Mr Giles is at all concerned, if Senator Tehan- who said that this cannot be done under the legislation- is at all concerned, and if Government supporters generally are concerned, they can do as I said in my Press release:
There is nothing to stop the Government amending their legislation . . . -
To convert the loan to a grant-
In fact, I can give the Government an assurance that the Labor Party will support any action that is taken to have the loan converted to a grant.
So I put it to Senator Tehan fairly and squarely, that if he and the people who sit with him, including Mr Sinclair are fair dinkum in wanting to help the fruit canning industry they should bring in an amendment to the States Grants (Fruit Canneries) Act 1976. Bring in an amendment to it tomorrow or next week and we will support it. They cannot run away and hide by saying that they cannot do it under the legislation because this Government brought in an urgent Bill on the Thursday night before the week’s recess and in a matter of minutes it was debated and passed in this place before one could say Jack Robinson. This matter is just as urgent for the canning fruit growers of South Australia, in my view, as was that matter which was to protect some uranium producers. I inform Senator Tehan that this can be done. The honourable senator will not give any promise. Of course he will not. He will not promise to make some move in his Party room to amend the legislation. So I challenge him: In view of what he has said and the criticism he has made of the Labor Government I challenge him to come in here with an amendment for which there will be support from this side. If the National Country Party senators want to bring in an amendment themselves they will have it passed, because together we can beat the Liberal Party if it does not want to help. It is obvious that Mr Giles does not want to help.
The fact is that the Government has done little or nothing on the specific IAC horticultural reports and has failed to implement key sections of the IAC report on rural reconstruction. After haggling with the States on the percentage amounts to be paid and on interest rates, the Government is to allocate some $20m for the period from January to June 1977. I have the IAC reports with me and I will quote from them in a moment. I will not do so just at present. The IAC recommended the payment of $50m for a full year. However, the Government did not agree to the formation of an area redevelopment authority or to the proposal for a national authority to co-ordinate, monitor and evaluate rural adjustment policy and initiatives. This is of particular relevance to reconstruction in the horticultural industries, where industry is specifically regional and where there is little other choice of enterprise. I will come back to that point in a moment.
It will be recalled that I said a while ago that in helping the canned fruit industry by way of subsidy a government is helping not only the canned fruit industry but also all the ancillary and supporting industries to be found in the irrigation areas. However, not only has the Minister failed to implement the recommendation that would have shown fruit growers that the Government is really interested in the industry but also he has completely wiped his hands of the proposition put to him by expert bodies to adjust the fruit canning industry. The IAC has said that the Government should participate in this rationalisation. Mr Sinclair says that it is a cannery problem. That is an incredible position. The LiberalNational Country Party Government some years ago poured money into Victorian canneries without any direction or control. Now it wipes its hands of the problem. This is where the truth comes home. We heard Senator Tehan say that we have about 2000 acres of pear trees in excess of market requirements. As I point out, that situation could well have been brought about by the Liberal-National Country Party Government pouring money into the canned fruit industry at that time without any survey being made of the market potential.
When growers have not been paid for their 1975 or 1976 crop, when growers are going to the wall, when growers are not investing in essential inputs into their farms and when incomes are negative, I say that it is the Government’s problem and that to wipe its hands of the cannery problem is downright irresponsible. Since July 1974 is a long time for the growers to wait for their money for canned pears, peaches and apricots, To sum up the cynicism of the Minister, one needs only to quote his statement, which was that the Government ‘may have been retarding import industry initiatives’ by involving itself in the industry’s problems. The Government talks about free enterprise, and Senator Walters is a great advocate of free enterprise. The Government tries to get itself off the hook by saying that it should not interfere. Yet who in this chamber speaks more than anybody else on rural problems? It is the senators from Tasmania, led by Senator Wright. He has done that for years. He did it when were were in Opposition and his Party was in Government previously and then when my Party was in Government, and now he is doing it when again my Party is in Opposition. He has been practically crying for assistance for Tasmania, which is quite the opposite to what Mr Sinclair says. Mr Sinclair says that if the Government interferes it might be involving itself in the problems of the industry. Should not governments involve themselves in all of the problems of industry? Industry is the lifeblood of this nation, whether it be primary industry or secondary industry.
I come back to the specific IAC reports which the Government so far has chosen to ignore. References to the IAC were made as far back as 11 March 1974. More than 200 witnesses gave evidence to the IAC on the fruit industries. After a long and careful analysis, recommendations were delivered at the beginning of this year and, as I have said, nothing has been done other than to introduce this minor Bill which partially implements the recommendations of fruit growing reconstruction in Part A of the report. The other fruit growing reconstruction measures which the IAC recommended and on which the Government has not acted appear on pages 23 and 24 of the IAC report. Under the heading Other Fruit Growing Reconstruction Measures’ we find the following:
The Commission also recommends that:
Area Redevelopment Authorities be established in designated areas to co-ordinate and guide the changes taking place and to influence the rate at which they occur, for specified fruit or for horticultural production generally in areas subject to Area Redevelopment Authorities: a fruitgrowing adjustment counselling service be established to work intensively with individual farmers and their families: concessional adjustment finance be provided to help farmers redevelop within agriculture or, where appropriate, to establish themselves outside it, on the following terms and conditions: finance from commercial sources is unavailable but the loan could be serviced; for the first three years of a concessional loan the rate of interest be 50 per cent of the long term bond rate; during these three years there will be capitalisation of interest at the concessional rate and a repayment holiday for at least that period; the upper limit for concessional loans be $20,000; and the viability of adjustment be demonstrable given those loan terms; assistance be provided for the removal of trees and vines which, if not properly maintained, could harbour diseases and pests.
The Commission stresses the integrated nature of its recommendations on concessional finance, adjustment counselling and Area Redevelopment Authorities.
The Commission draws attention to its suggestions concerning the role, responsibilities and administrative structure of Area Redevelopment Authorities and to suggestions regarding the importance of monitoring, co-ordinating and evaluating counselling activities in the context of an independent national rural adjustment authority. These suggestions are an integral part of the Commission’s recommendations.
Canning Fruit Industry
The Commission recommends that the question of assistance to the canning fruit industry be referred to the Commission for inquiry and report.
How many of those recommendations have been acted upon by the Government? Very few of them have been acted upon. As I said in answer to an interjection by Senator Walters, the Government acted on the IAC report dealing with the superphosphate bounty before the ink was even dry on the paper. The recommendation which I have just read was of particular significance to the South Australian Riverland and coincides with the analysis and conclusions of the IAC on that most important region. The pivotal element of the Commission’s strategy for the rehabilitation of the region was the establishment of an area regional authority. But what action has the Government taken? It has done nothing. Mr President, I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard pages 1 1, 12 and 13 of Part D of the IAC report which deals with the South Australian Riverland.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
The situation of individual growers varies considerably. The studies undertaken by the Commission suggest that about one third of the 2400 fruitgrowers in the Riverland have sufficient resources, equity and managerial ability to earn from full time fruitgrowing what might currently be considered acceptable levels of income. Relatively few growers in this category have large incomes by Australian standards, but with access to credit under commercial terms these growers should be able to develop at a fast enough rate to generate adequate income for their business and household needs.
Approximately one sixth of the growers earn the major part of their income on* their farms. The average level of household income of these ‘part dme growers is comparable with that of the full time growers in the previous category. Though off-farm employment opportunities are limited, part time growing appears to be viable for those who are so engaged and it represents an efficient use of physical and human resources in the region.
Another one third of the growers have low to very low levels of income but appear to have the potential to develop viable units capable of providing modest incomes from full time fruitgrowing. These growers may need some assistance in debt refinancing, property build-up and redevelopment, or development of managerial skills. For the purpose of the Commission’s study, a viable farm was assumed to be capable of providing an income of approximately $6,000 per annum in real terms.
The remaining one sixth of the growers have little prospect of viability as full time fruitgrowers. Their household incomes are low, and their resource base, equity and managerial skills are so inadequate that their farms would not be viable even with refinancing and managerial assistance.
The Commission considers that the foregoing estimates may prove to be optimistic. They are based on existing real income levels in the Australian community, and an assumption that prices received for farm produce will increase at the same rate as all farm costs. Yet, notwithstanding this optimistic basis for the assessments, approximately half of the fruitgrowers in the Riverland are in the latter two categories. The assessments hence establish a need for a major redevelopment and adjustment initiative if growers are to reestablish their standard of living at acceptable levels, either as growers or in other occupations.
The Commission’s recommendations for the Riverland are covered in the separate reports on Rural Reconstruction and Fruitgrowing Reconstruction. They constitute an integrated strategy designed to encourage efficient change and to minimise the personal problems associated with change. If changes are not anticipated they will involve substantially greater individual and national costs when they subsequently occur.
The major emphasis of assistance for fruitgrowing in the Riverland should be focussed as far as possible on eligible growers who could redevelop their properties into viable farms if they received financial assistance to do so, and on growers who have little prospect of long term viability. For the latter group, assistance would be for re-establishment off the farm. These two categories would encompass some SO per cent of Riverland growers. However the characteristics of growers in these categories are diverse. For example, the Commission’s survey found that older growers tend to have incomes lower than average. Assistance for a major change of occupation or lifestyle is clearly inappropriate for most older growers. Counselling on problems of adjustment would be a major form of assistance for most growers in these circumstances.
A pivotal element of the Commission’s strategy is the establishment of an ARA to encourage the co-ordination of adjustment within national guidelines established for the fruitgrowing industries and to plan and guide the redevelopment of area infrastructures which efficient farm adjustment would require. The strategy also includes an adjustment counselling service to help growers anticipate and deal with the adjustment problems they face before they are ‘forced’ to do so and to ensure that they and their families have access to generally available assistance measures. Another important part of the ‘package’ is the provision of concessional finance and a repayment holiday for at least the first three years to enable growers to redevelop their farms within fruitgrowing or to re-establish themselves in alternative livelihoods.
These are the elements of the integrated strategy recommended by the Commission for fruitgrowing reconstruction generally and the Commission emphasizes the need for its assistance ‘package ‘ to be applied as a whole. A partial or piecemeal approach is considered unlikely to succeed in solving the problems of the area. The package is designed to supplement the general provisions recommended in the Commission’s report on Rural Reconstruction and the specific recommendations of the Commission’s report on Dried Vine Fruit.
Evidence presented to the Commission and the Commission’s own study have shown that a large amount of resource adjustment, both on and off the farm, is needed in the Riverland. The Commission considers that the extent and diversity of such adjustment, together with the integrated nature of the region, is sufficient to warrant the establishment of the ARA for the Riverland. The efficient operation of this ARA would require effective co-ordination between the Australian and State Governments and the local community.
With respect to the executive members of the ARA, consideration could be given to seconding an officer of the independent NRAB recommended in the separate report on
Rural Reconstruction, as the representative of the Australian Government. This would facilitate communication and coordination with this Authority. For similar reasons, one member could be an officer seconded by, or a person acceptable to, the State Rural Reconstruction Authority which is already working closely with the State departments. This would also provide access to other important services provided by State departments. Local participants should be appointed primarily on the basis of their ability, rather than as representatives of particular interests. The Commission recognises, however, that some representation may be required from those organisations most directly concerned with the activities of the ARA. The Commission would see a membership of greater than five as being unwieldly, but stresses the importance of having the ARA as a local organisation. The composition of its membership should reflect this.
The number of growers who can be supported within the Riverland at acceptable levels of income is limited. If too many redevelop larger, more productive farms, the extra amount of production will depress fruit prices and jeopardise further the viability and well-being of all growers. In addition, cost reduction may be difficult, especially in multicrop activities where the introduction of mechanisation may be less applicable. The optimum number of growers for the Riverland cannot be assessed without substantial and continuing research. It is suggested that this research could be undertaken by the ARA m the context of national guidelines established for the fruitgrowing industries, and the technical and economic opportunities for redeveloping the Riverland ‘s irrigation and drainage systems (see Supplement 6.5). Infrastructure redevelopment would also need to be integrated with an overall farm redevelopment strategy which recognises the problems caused by past land and irrigation policies, and which may require the Authority to oversee the resumption of land during a transitional period. Provision should also be made to allow for possible future changes in technology; continuing adjustment being a likely requirement of production units capable of providing levels of income comparable with those in the rest of the community. In particular, care is necessary to avoid past mistakes which placed unnecessary inhibitions on farm development and expansion.
-Other parts of the IAC reports on fruit growing were concerned with apples and pears and dried vine fruits. I understand that some legislation dealing with apples and pears will be coming from the other place, so I will not speak on that industry at the present time. I will confine myself to the dried vine fruits industry which is of great importance to the Riverland and Sunraysia regions. Despite difficulties, there has been little pay-in by government to the stabilisation of the dried vine fruits industry, although domestic consumption prices provide a hidden subsidy. That is to say, the price of the fruit is at such a high level that the subsidy is hidden in the domestic price. Again, if the Government is successful with its devaluation policy, fewer and fewer people in the industrial areas of this nation will be able to spend money on dried vine fruits which, in my opinion, are a must on any person ‘s table.
Many dried vine fruits grapes are now sold for winemaking, and the climatic problems in the northern hemisphere have meant that Australian producers face a good overseas market in the coming year, provided that our own weather causes no problems. That is a hazard which every primary producer faces, no matter what he is producing. If there is to be a short breathing period for this industry, it is essential that the industry redevelop its stabilisation scheme and that the Government take the lead in the formulation of policy on the basis laid down by the IAC. I have quoted some of that policy, and I have been granted leave to have incorporated in Hansard those recommendations of the IAC which are related to the Riverland of South Australia. We will not get any informed, constructive debate in this chamber until the Government takes the initiative and puts up policies or papers for discussion.
It is not good enough for situations to be allowed to get so bad that a no-option policy is put up as a desperate last measure when the industry is in agreement due to its near destruction. The present Minister seems to want to see as many people as possible go to the wall, before he will act. I hope that he will change his mind in that regard and give some assistance. The IAC recommendations on the dried vine fruits industry included a plea for the creation of area redevelopment authorities. The dried vine fruits industry is concentrated in 3 regions in Australia because of the defined regional extent of this industry and other horticultural industries. I must emphasise (hat I believe that that recommendation must be acted upon or at least tried on an experimental basis.
Time will not permit me to mention other matters which I wanted to mention. Politics is being played in relation to the measures which the South Australian Premier, Mr Dunstan, and the South Australian Minister for Agriculture, Mr Chatterton, have adopted to help the canned fruit industry in South Australia. Recorded in the South Australian Hansard of 1 8 November is a question asked of the Premier by Mr Tonkin, which makes inferences on lines similar to those made by Mr Giles that the Premier was misleading the canned fruit industry. Mr Tonkin and Mr Arnold expected- Mr Tonkin is on record in the Hansard as saying this-that action would have been taken by the Government the day after Mr Dunstan and Mr Chatterton made their announcement that they were prepared to convert the loan to a direct grant. Mr Tonkin said that if action was not taken the Premier was welching on his promise. Mr Dunstan, in his usual capable manner, was able to point out to Mr Tonkin that he was only playing politics and trying to make an issue out of nothing. The South Australian
Government stands by its promise to help the canned fruit industry in South Australia. Once again, I make a plea to the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, to come to the party with his share of the loan and convert it into a grant to help these growers. Not only the growers in the Riverland of South Australia will benefit; also those people who depend on the incomes that the growers spend on entertainment, motor cars, furniture, electrical appliances and so forth will benefit. These are the things that the present Government is going to help the people in the canned fruit areas to be deprived of.
The canned fruit industry is at a low ebb as far as the marketing of its products is concerned. It could well be that growers will find themselves in very serious trouble in having to pay the portion of the loan which is going to be left over. Of course the States are responsible. It may well be that the South Australian Government will have to come to the party and meet the whole commitment because of the inability of the canned fruit growers in South Australia to repay to the South Australian Government the portion of the loan which will remain after we have paid out what we intend to pay. I hope that does not take place. I have no doubt that Mr Dunstan, in his wisdom, would not see the growers in really desperate trouble because they had to find that money. He would find some measures by which to help them as he has done with regard to the repayment of our portion of the loan. I again make a plea to the Minister that some effort be made as quickly as possible to assist these people in the Riverland. Senator Tehan has said- and he is criticising his own Government- that some price should be announced before 31 December so that the people who are intending to apply for grants under the tree pull scheme will know where they are going. This is important also to the Government of South Australia.
– It is not our Government.
– Of course it is your Government. You are a member of it.
– It is the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee.
– Well, you have a lot of control over that. You can make recommendations to the Committee. You have the wherewithal. You have a Minister. What is he doing? Why does he not get on with the job and help the industry instead of making pious promises, as I have pointed out here time and again?
The Opposition supports this Bill, but we are disappointed that it does not go further to give some real direct help to the people. As Senator
Gietzelt pointed out, it is a shame that we have to make money available to producers to wreck an industry, to curtail production, when there are so many women and children and elderly people in this community who could well do with that fruit if the Government could see its way clear to help that fruit to be placed on the market at a cheaper price.
– in reply- Senator McLaren said that he regretted that there was not more time for him to do some more talking. I took a rough count of the time that the debate has taken so far on the Bill which is not opposed but is supported. The debate has taken about 100 minutes and Senator McLaren has spoken for more than half that time; so he has not done too badly. I endeavoured to listen to him with the greatest of care. All I can really undertake to do is to read the relevant Hansard and commend it to the appropriate Minister, who is not myself, and at the same time raise, as I have done on 2 occasions or possibly three, the problem of the capital moneys that Senator McLaren has talked about. I shall be as brief as I can because I think all of my colleagues on both sides of the chamber are conscious of the program of work we have and have some anxiety, as I have, not to eat their Christmas dinner in Parliament House.
Briefly, the history of the scheme is that it was introduced in 1972, and $4.6m was provided under a special appropriation. The scheme has been extended twice up to 31 December 1975. This is the first occasion on which extra funds are being provided. Progress of the scheme was such that as at 31 August 1976 $3. 9m had been approved. Over 1250 growers have been assisted. Removals approved account for over 10 000 acres of fresh apples, 1000 acres of fresh pears, 3000 acres of canning peaches, 1000 acres of canning pears and 400 acres of canning apricots. Three hundred and twenty five applications are being processed at the present time, of which 140 are from Victoria and 130 are from South Australia. The purpose of the Bill is to ratify an exchange of letters extending the scheme until 3 1 December 1976, and to authorise the provision of an additional sum of $lm to assist the removal of canning fruit trees in Victoria and South Australia.
Various comments have been made about the industry’s problems and the difficulties that it has, all of which are freely acknowledged and understood. Attempts to solve them have been made by governments which have come from both sides of this Parliament. As I think Senator
Gietzelt said, the problem is very much one of access to markets. That is, without any doubt, a substantial part of the industry’s problems. All of us should have some regard to that when we think about Australia’s total position. We are consistently advised by people to lower our tariffs to nil, to import everybody else ‘s products, and at the same time cheerfully to buy and have our own products denied access to world markets. I think that as a Senate we ought to be quite bipartisan about this. What is fair for one should be fair for another. I think Senator Gietzelt, in making that comment, was accurate.
The devaluation of our currency should assist the industry. As best we can judge, it will take some time for that particular area of assistance to be developed. As to the fresh fruit aspect and the canned fruit aspect, it is too early yet to judge the final result. If we accept this proposition that some people are putting, our country will be much more open to the imports of canned products from other people’s orchards. So honourable senators might think a little about that. There is also the problem of paying subsidies to growers to remove trees and consumers then having to pay higher prices. Only time will illustrate whether the policy to rectify the problem of this horticultural industry by the tree-pull method is a good or bad policy. Governments of both parties have taken part in that scheme and have supported it. The scheme has been extended. Indeed, this particular scheme is being supported.
Senator Tehan spoke about the industry with very considerable understanding. I think he was fairly well placed as to what might happen, and as to the problem areas. Without any doubt, at the moment a lot of the industry is in substantial difficulty. Some part of it may yet be better off. We will have to wait and see. It may still stand in need of assistance in the years to come; we do not yet know. It always seems a tragedy that in a world where people are hungry you have fruit which could be produced but which is not produced. All honourable senators know this problem. It is a problem of access and of price.
The honourable senator discussed a question of rationalisation of canneries in Victoria. This is a matter really for Victoria and those people concerned in the industry. In our own Department of Industry and Commerce we do have some interest in this matter because once fruit moves to a processing stage it tends to become an industry. We have been helping and watching this very carefully. We believe that basically Australia ought to be in a situation of basing a lot of its manufacture on adding value to its own raw materials, of which fruit is a notable case. This has become very difficult in recent years because of the substantial increase in the cost of making and selling Australian goods. They are problems we all know.
Senator McLaren made some comments about inflation. Let us bear in mind that when his Government began to operate on the Australian economy the rate of inflation was about 4 per cent. However, when that Government left office, the rate of inflation was running close to 20 per cent. So there is some margin for Senator McLaren to take some blame upon himself, smart though he is.
Senator McLaren, as I said, spoke at considerable length. It is impossible for me to follow the ramifications of his mind through the points he made. But those matters will be taken into consideration. To the extent that he has raised new material, it will be dealt with. To the extent that I can help in the situation of once again talking to the Minister about the money that Senator McLaren wants converted into a grant, I will certainly do what I can to help South Australia- not any particular person. If the matter can be taken further, I shall try to do so. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) has replied to Senator McLaren and he knows that. He has quoted the reply. We understand the problem is one of examining the situation with a view to seeing whether or not it is possible at least to extend the time of the loan. It will be useful if that progress can be made. Senator McLaren spoke at great length about the report of the Industries Assistance Commission on fruit growing. I am unable to tell him why the report has not yet been dealt with in detail by the Minister but since it was brought down it has been studied with great care. I understand that many of the problems are moving towards resolution. I cannot be fairer or say any more than that. I undertake to obtain information from the responsible Minister in relation to the matters which need further clarification.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 16 November, on motion by Senator Cotton:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Senate is considering a very important piece of legislation, the States Grants (Beef Industry) Amendment Bill. The Opposition will not oppose this legislation. The purpose of the Bill is to provide continued short term assistance for beef cattle producers. However, before I refer to the Bill itself I should like to make some brief comments. I will exempt from my remarks the Minister in charge of the Bills that the Senate is debating this afternoon, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Senator Cotton. It seems to me that he has attempted to come to grips with the problem to some extent and with the manner in which the Opposition is endeavouring to approach the serious problems which are the subject of the Bills being debated in the Senate. I hope I am wrong in coming to this conclusion but it seems to me that there is a tendency to believe that the Opposition is involved in some sort of time wasting exercise. It is accused of procrastinating and engaging in some sort of humbug in respect to legislation before the Parliament. I detect a certain frivolity and arrogance in some honourable senators opposite who appear to take the view that the task of the Senate is to pass Bills without any critical comment.
I believe that the Opposition in supporting the great majority of the Bills before the Parliament relating to agriculture understands the problems facing the rural sector. It ill behoves those who believe that because we want to exercise our rightful and constitutional prerogative of adequately debating Bills and drawing attention to what we consider to be the deficiencies of the Government and its inability to comprehend the total picture. Senator Cotton made a bipartisan reference to this when summing up the second reading debate on the previous Bill- the role of the Opposition should be to follow meekly in the wake of the Government. When we do not oppose legislation this does not mean that we should not exercise our right to examine it and give the ideological or philosophical reasons why we criticise the Government’s approach to it. When the Labor Government was in office for 3 years- it was 3 years in the period from 1949 to 1975- honourable senators opposite who were then in Opposition, such as the tate Senator Greenwood and Senator Wright, would speak on legislation six and eight times a day for half an hour or an hour at a time. I exempt some of the newer senators from this criticism because they probably do not know of the tortures and ordeals to which we were subjected. Yet when we wish to exercise legitimately the role of examining government legislation we are regarded as being time wasting and involved in the exercise of humbug. It is thought that we should pack up and go home. That is just not what we are about.
We believe- I am speaking on behalf of a considerable number of members of my Party- that we have a role to play in the Parliament. It is one of the few forums available to us in order to criticise what we consider to be the inept way in which government legislation is being placed before the Parliament. I refer specifically to agriculture. We are now past the half-century mark in respect to agricultural Bills. This applies to me personally as shadow Minister for Agriculture. In the great majority of cases the Government’s agricultural policies are the continuation of initiatives taken by previous governments or the Labor Government. By ‘previous governments’ I refer to previous conservative governments. Agricultural problems today are manifestly stronger and greater than they were when those interim measures were taken in the 1960s and 1 970s by the respective governments. I assure the Senate that we are not here for the purpose of wasting time. We are here because it affords us an opportunity to draw attention, as we have an obligation to do, to what we consider to be deficiencies in legislation.
This piece of legislation enables the Australian Government to provide $1 5m on a $1 for $1 basis with State funds approved for lending in the next financial year under the beef carry-on loans scheme, a scheme which has been extended from year to year. Beef producers have indicated to me their utter dismay that there has been a cutback in funds allocated to assist their industry in the first Lynch Budget. From discussions I am having with farmer leaders, it is clear that they are looking for more fundamental legislation and a more fundamental examination of the problems than a continuation of initiatives of the past. Last year the Labor Budget provided $ 19.6m under this very scheme. Yet only $ 12.3m was taken up. It should be borne in mind that our Budget which was presented in August of last year did not receive the assent of this place of humbug until 11 November. Therefore the responsibility for allocating and spending the $ 19.6m which the Labor Government made available in the 1975-76 Budget rested with this Government. During the period from 1 1 November when Australia had an interim government, through the period of the elections, to 30 June 1976 this Government which claims to speak on behalf of agriculture and on behalf of beef producers did not spend the total allocation of money available to it in the Budget. It applied its philosophical dogma that there should be a cutback in public funds.
This Bill permits the allocation to beef producers of the balance of that sum plus $15m. It might be said that in the long term the beef producers will not lose very much- they will receive, in money terms, only $4.6m less than the amount we allocated in the last Whitlam Budget. Of course, the seasonally adjusted figure would be something more than that. In other words, the Government has decided to continue the previous Labor Government’s short-term assistance to the beef industry. Surely it cannot be argued that during those tempestuous years when we were in office we could have carried out the fundamental examination that was needed in the beef industry as, indeed, is needed in all the other crisis industries of Australian agriculture. I am sure that the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) will agree with me that we are in an impossible position in respect of the dairy, beef and fruit industries. It may be that the beef industry is better placed than the other 2 industries. If only those industries could be as optimistic about the future and as buoyant as the wheat, wool and sugar industries are!
I think that at least some credit ought to be given to the previous Labor Government of the time. We very rarely receive any credit for the fact that we set in motion the Industries Assistance Commission, which examines the various sectors of the Australian economy that were and are sick. Do not let any honourable senator tell me that a chronic sickness is not facing the rural and manufacturing industries. One only has to read the Jackson report, the reports of the Industries Assistance Commission in respect of different sectors of manufacturing industry and the voluminous reports that are now available in respect of agriculture to appreciate the very grave structural problems that exist in those industries.
I agree entirely with the comments made by the Minister for Industry and Commerce in winding up the debate on the States Grant (Fruit-growing Reconstruction) Bill, that only with an understanding by the Australian community and an acceptance by all political parties will we be able to tackle these fundamental problems that are facing sectors of industry and to restructure industries where necessary. Great changes have come across the horizon as far as our industries are concerned. The evolution has reached a point where an epoch has come to an end and we must adopt a whole new approach if these industries are to survive and have any hope in the present and in the future.
The Minister said in the other place, in summing up the debate on the Bill- I find it incomprehensible that a Minister of the Crown could make such a statement:
More money is being allocated to the beef industry than has been allocated by any previous government.
This claim is false; it is wrong; and it is a lie. It certainly is not fooling the beef producers or the farmers. I ask honourable senators to examine what the Minister said in the other place and to consider what was said in the Budget Speech, particularly what is recorded on page 80 of the Budget Speech. The Minister can use all the rhetoric he likes when he addresses farmers but I think that when he presents the Parliament with a responsible document he ought to be factual and correct. At page 80 of the Budget Speech, under the heading of ‘Cattle, Sheep and Pig Meat Industry’, the following is stated:
In 1975-76 the Commonwealth undertook to provide up to $ 19.6m under the States Grams (Beef Industry) Act to match State contributions for a joint scheme to provide carry-on finance at concessional rates of interest to specialist beet producers who, while judged to be viable under normal market conditions, lacked finance and were unable to obtain carry-on funds from normal sources. The actual amount provided in 1975-76 was $ 11.3m. The scheme has been extended and the Commonwealth has agreed to provide up to $ 1 5m for the scheme in 1 976-77.
But the fact is that in the 1975-76 Estimates and the Budget which was approved $ 19.6m was allocated. What was spent was the responsibility of the Treasurer or of the Minister for Primary Industry- certainly it was the responsibility of the Government. Last year when in opposition Mr Sinclair claimed that the $39.6m that was allocated by the Labor Government, comprising the $ 19.6m under the scheme to which I have just referred and $20m made available to producers at commercial rates of interest through the Commonwealth Development Bank, was inadequate.
Let us consider the irresponsible attitude of the Minister for Primary Industry. I bear no personal malice in these matters because the Minister for Primary Industry has made available to me the full resources of his Department and I am grateful for this co-operation. But I am concerned about the way in which he publicly presents the position of himself, his Party and, subsequently, his Government. I shall read from a copy of a Press statement by the Minister, a copy of which was made available to all honourable senators. It is headed ‘Beef Crisis is a Social and Economic Crisis (Extracts from a speech given by the Deputy Leader National Country Party, Ian Sinclair, at a public meeting, Wangaratta, 5th September, 1975)’ and states:
The time is rapidly passing for the Australian Government to take action to relieve the position of the beef industry’, the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party, Mr Sinclair said today.
Speaking to a public meeting at Wangaratta Mr Sinclair said:
The economic problems facing the beef industry are generating grave social problems for the families of beef producers and their employees.
These social problems will become more pronounced as long as the Government fails to act to assist the industry.
The total failure to act will bring down on Australia not only an economic tragedy but also a widespread, lingering social tragedy.
The basic fact needs to be recognised by the Government
Of course, he was referring to the Labor Government. The Press statement continues:
Up until now the Labor Government has chosen to callously disregard the position of the beef industry and its problems-even though, only a few years ago, it was Australia ‘s major export earning industry.
I have the distinct impression that the Labor Government couldn’t give a damn if the beef industry totally disappeared.
The Government must reverse its attitude of doing as little as possible to assist the beef industry.’
Surely honourable senators cannot accept that those sorts of statements represent anything more than rhetoric, humbug and misrepresentation when this legislation which is before us and which we support will, in fact, reduce the Government’s allocation of funds from $ 19.6m, which was criticised when we were in government as not being enough, to $15m. It is a year since this Government came to office. That year has been one of the worst years for Australian agriculture since the Liberal Party and National Country Party were previously in office during the rural recession of the 1 960s and early 1 970s.
If the forecast of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics proves accurate, next year we will see a major drop in real farm incomes. The Bureau projected before devaluation a drop of 36 per cent in incomes in the rural sector of industry. It has now adjusted that figure to take into account the devaluation and projects a drop of 2 1 per cent. Certainly beef producers are entitled to be concerned about their problem when the income of a very large section of the Australian rural scene is dropping alarmingly as a result of the problems of export markets. The Government’s response to this is to give reduced short term assistance to producers, to adopt an interim measure, and to carry on that which had been begun and which, if it is to be carried on, in no way represents a tackling of the basic problems facing the industry. Unfortunately, more producers will be requiring assistance but less assistance will be available. In the words of the Minister for Primary Industry, ‘the Government’s continued acts of attrition against rural industry, cloaked this time’, in that great illogicality that we have, ‘as an attempt to control inflation’, more than anything else and to cut back public spending more than anything else, ‘erode the ability of many rural areas to survive; adding to this problem is the fact that unemployment is highest in rural areas ‘. I do not think any honourable senator can be but concerned at that situation.
The Minister was then adequately expressing his Government’s policy towards rural Australia, although at the time the words to which I have referred were used they were directed against the Labor Government. Those words will be remembered for a long time to come. They were words which attempted to suggest that it was as a result of a deficiency on the part of the Labor Government that export markets had changed and that there was a continuing decline in the beef industry. Now, one year after this Government came to office, instead of living up to its promises to the electorate it has failed miserably. There is no revival, more unemployment, a larger deficit and more overseas borrowing, and inflation is substantially the same and may well increase despite the steps taken on the devaluation front. So I am suggesting to the Government that in using plain rhetoric to fight inflation it will not make any headway and that in the process of cutting back public spending it is slashing financial assistance to the rural sector to such a degree that the rural sector is receiving less funds from government than ever before. In fact $25m comes in from the rural sector to the national income.
The failure of the Government in the international market place has been disastrous for our export-oriented beef industry. The problem is in the way our industry has developed and this is why structural problems have to be faced by governments, Opposition parties and communities alike. There are sectors of our beef industry which are totally dependent upon export markets and if those markets change or are denied completely to us those sectors have very little chance of adjusting to the new circumstances. So the failure of the Government in the international market place is disastrous. Yet when they were in Opposition the Liberal and National Country Parties, against the national interest I believe, torpedoed the tactics of the Hayden Budget and hypocritically tried to maintain the general thrust of that strategy after the damage had been done. The Lynch Budget and the miserable efforts of this Government to maintain our overseas beef export markets have torpedoed the beef industry in Australia. Mr Sinclair and the gang of four who have been running the economic affairs of our country have claimed that this Liberal-National Country Party Government enjoys a special relationship with our major trading partners. In the Mercury of 26 September last year Mr Sinclair is reported as saying that the then Opposition ‘could find better government to government accord than Labor has done in the agricultural marketing area’. They are pious words. Now that it is in government its performance speaks for itself.
Without notification we learn by listening to the news in the morning or by picking up a newspaper that government after government is concerning itself with its internal domestic situation. Firstly, there was the United States, then Canada, then the Philippines and then Japan. They arbitrarily placed restrictions on our beef entering their domestic markets. When Japan made its announcement, we know what the response was from Mr Sinclair. I know that he said it for National Country Party propaganda purposes when he made the statement that it would be difficult for the Government not to take into account Japan’s decision to cut beef imports from Australia when considering an extension of the fisheries agreement between the 2 countries. Are we in a position to wield the big stick at our major trading country? Is that the way to conduct trade negotiations or to solve the problems facing the beef producers? If one is to take this statement seriously, it could have serious repercussions on our trading relationship with that country. I remind the Senate that in dollar terms we export almost twice as much to Japan as we import from Japan. So how are we in a position to start making threats.
We have to recognise the limitations that governments have in these areas of trade relationships when governments overseas want to make decisions. If we accept that as a principle, we should cut out all this nonsensical propaganda from National Country Party leaders suggesting that everything that happened in the decline of agriculture in the post-war years- the ups and downs; the slumps and the good times; the general decline in agriculture, whether it be in terms of beef, fruit or dairy products- was the result of just a measly 3 years of Labor Government. Who are they trying to fool? Are they not men and women who understand and comprehend, or will they always resort to petty party political jibes to try to fool all the people all the time? This Government is threatening a disruption of trade relations with Japan. We ought to have a senior Minister in Japan if we want to do something about the beef industry, rather than standing in far off Australia waving a finger and threatening to do something retaliatory against Japan.
These bravado tactics do not work. If they do, why did the Government not use them against the United States? Its decision was even more disastrous than the Japanese decision. After all, the United States is supposed to be the country with which this Government has philosophical, ideological and close working relationships. However, it did not make any threats against the United States, although trade between the United States and Australia is 2 times in its favour. If we want to use the big stick we should use it against big brother. That is a fairer way to fight. Of course, this Government does not do that, which shows the hypocrisy and the illogicality of the Minister and this Government. More than 52 per cent of our beef exports is destined for the United States. Maybe that is why it does not do it. Despite this, our trade relationships in this area have deteriorated so much that we were not even consulted when the arbitrary decision was made at the height of a big election campaign. True, there was election fever and the decision was made for pragmatic reasons; but, if that is the way friends behave, who needs enemies?
– There is not much hope for us.
– No, there is not much hope. In order to be elected American candidates just turned down their thumbs on Downunder. Stable international trade agreements are arrived at not by threatening action after the damage is done but by negotiation to prevent the damage from being done. It is obvious that this Government did not see what clearly was the writing on the wall. It has so little intelligence information from the United States, Japan, the Philippines and other countries that we were not able to ‘guestimate’ what was to happen; we were not able to understand the pressures under which the Government would be placed. Had we been, we would have been over there to see that the American Government did not bow to the demands of the American cattlemen in the first instance and later of the Japanese cattle industry.
So the Federal Government has failed, if any government has failed, to maintain existing export contracts and therefore should bear the increasing financial responsibility for programs of assistance to beef producers who have been affected by the Government’s failure. As I said in the previous debate on the fruit industry legislation, if it is the export component which is the failure section of our industry the Australian Government should pick up the total tab. It should not be endeavouring to use its federalist policy to put the States on the receiving end of the financial responsibility. It is time the Federal Government took up its responsibility in relation to the marketing of beef, and indeed all meat. The Government has fiddled with the establishment of an Australian meat and livestock corporation. Rather than establish and man a corporation with the best possible people to represent the industry in these highly competitive days, the Minister has split the meat industry with his assertion that the composition of the corporation will follow the plans and form recommended to him by one section, the livestock producers.
The major section of the meat industry is pressing for the establishment of a public corporation to acquire, classify, market and promote the sale of meat in this country. Is it impossible for the Minister to consider that as a reasonable proposition? He has had it before him for a considerable period of time. I can tell the Minister now that if he is prepared to move in this area of the Government acquiring the meat industry and establishing a proper marketing authority, he will have the full support of the Labor movement. Such action would bring about a great degree of stability, and was one of the problems discussed when we considered the price of meat back in 1973 and 1974. While we might not have made that specific recommendation, those members of this Government who were members of that Committee will recall that the problems of the industry were to some extent associated with a lack of central control, co-ordination and classification. I am not asserting and would be the last to assert that livestock producers should have no say on such a corporation or livestock authority, but to assert that the other half of the industry, with its multi-million dollar investment, is not to be adequately represented is equally unacceptable. Clearly, what is required is a corporation which will be able to take up the challenges confronting the industry, and they are very sizeable challenges.
As I have said, these 3 sectors of agriculture today have their backs to the wall. It seems to me that in 1976 the challenge comes more from the marketing side than from the production side, and I hope that I will have the nodding support of Government supporters on the other side of the chamber for that statement. It is no longer a question of production with which we are concerned but the problem of distribution. By and large, beef producers in Australia are able adequately, and efficiently to keep their end of the bargain so far as production is concerned. What we require is marketing skills to be able to penetrate new markets, maintain old ones and improve domestic consumption. Mr Sinclair is required to establish a corporation which is not only representative but also satisfies the needs of the industry. I believe that the performance of a statutory corporation should be subject to constant public review. I would not want to support the mere establishment of a public corporation for the meat industry. We need a review apparatus and process upon which its performance from season to season and from day to day could be monitored, not in the way in which we see the voluminous annual reports coming to the Parliament which very few people read but in a way in which the industry, the employees and the consumers would have an opportunity to monitor the progress and the performance of the corporation.
The recent decision of the Minister on the way in which the export quota to the United States of America is to be allocated may seriously disadvantage the industry in Tasmania and Northern Queensland, where the killing is seasonal. I raise that point only to indicate the need for this coordinated and central influence. I think it highlights the need for establishing a plan or a mechanism by which no sector of the industry is disadvantaged because of seasonal difficulties. Senator Cotton will recall that in the earlier part of this year questions were asked of the industry itself about how some sectors were taking advantage of quotas in order to disadvantage others. There was a need for this central direction and co-ordination so that all sectors would have equal opportunity and access to the available markets. It seems to me that the Government has not adequately carried out its duty nor has it provided such a plan. All I can do is ask Government senators to start to bring pressure, to get committees in the Government working, to examine the ways in which a mechanism can be established which will do more to stabilise the industry and the income of the rural sector.
I believe that it is in the area of distribution of agricultural products that this Government has to pay more attention. No longer is the market place providing adequate returns to producers at reasonable prices to consumers. The price to consumers moves almost regardless of the prices paid to producers. I have some figures from the New South Wales Department of Agriculture, and I think it is worth drawing to the attention of the Senate and of the community at large the variations which are taking place in relation to the beef producer, the beef industry, the returns available and the state of the industry. These figures relate to the share of the consumer dollar on a monthly basis, and they range from 1971 to 1975. 1 also have some late figures which came to me only today from the Legislative and Research Section of the Parliament which bring the information up to October 1976. The figures show an alarming state of affairs. In 1971 the average return to the beef producer, to the farmer, was 61c in the dollar, to the wholesaler 7c in the dollar, and to the retailer 32c in the dollar. In my view, that was a fairly equitable distribution of financial responsibility, having regard to the person who produces the article. In the following year there was not a great variation, although the farmer dropped down to 59c, the wholesaler to 5c and the retailer to 37c. When we come to the following year, 1 973- which was a Labor year so perhaps we ought to refer to it, because according to the conservatives of this country everything went bad- the farmer received 64c in the dollar, the wholesaler 7c and the retailer 30c. The position at the end of 1975 was that the farmer’s share had dropped to 30c in the dollar, the wholesaler’s share to 24c and the retailer’s share to 46c. The latest figures show that those amounts have changed only marginally, although the return to the producer has improved. The percentage for beef and lamb is just a fraction over 40 per cent to the producer, with 25 per cent going to the wholesaler and approximately 34 per cent to the retailer.
– Are you going to incorporate those tables?
– Yes, I would be happy to incorporate both documents because I think they show very revealing figures. I seek leave to incorporate the documents.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McAuIiffe)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The documents read as follows-
– I thank the Senate. What I find interesting is the way in which the white meat industry- and the only figures that I have are for pork- has maintained a general degree of stability. In the period from 1971 to October 1976 the producer received 63 per cent, in round figures, the wholesaler IS per cent and the retailer 2 1 per cent. I am sure my National Country Party colleagues would agree that if the beef producers were receiving 60 per cent of the consumer dollar they would probably not be very concerned about the success or otherwise of this legislation. I think it is correct that the Opposition should be examining the problems of distribution. The tendency of rural newspapers, the National Country Party and the conservatives generally is always to talk about wages as being the principal factor in this area. They have never given very much attention to the problems of costs involved in distribution, and I think it would be desirable if the Government parties or even the Senate itself were to put some of its time into an examination of those problems. I believe that it is in the field of distribution that the producer in so many areas of agricultural products requires a great deal of examination, change, and I imagine assistance.
The market place is no longer providing adequate returns to producers at reasonable prices to consumers. We all remember what happened when the beef industry was having its heyday in 1973-74 and the price to the consumer was not a satisfactory one. The amount of red meat being consumed dropped quite considerably, to the advantage of the white meat industry. So the price to the consumer is an important factor. But the Government prefers to allow beef producers to be subjected to reconstruction examinations and maybe even bankruptcy rather than change its false dogma and blind acceptance of the market place as being the one and only arbiter in this area of agriculture- in fact, in the whole area of production. It seems to me that the stage has been reached in the Western world where production is not the problem that it was. It is now a question of being more able adequately to distribute the goods. I referred in a previous speech today to the fact that the Industries Assistance Commission has said that market forces themselves cannot solve these problems.
If the beef industry is to obtain stability, which I am sure is the objective of honourable senators, and there are to be adequate returns for producers at reasonable cost to consumers there is a need . for planning. I know that planning is regarded as a naughty, dirty word, but I am afraid that if there is to be any stability in agriculture we have to have a real examination of the need for planning. There is a need for efficiency in the domestic and overseas distribution processes. There is a need for a uniform national plan which will not disadvantage one section of the industry merely because of its geographic location. It struck me as being rather unusual that when I was referring in the previous debate to the influence that the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme was having and to what it would mean in respect to the domestic markets on the mainland someone wanted to take it down in evidence and use it against me in the Tasmanian elections. That is a petty way in which to deal with these matters. I was referring to the fact that that change in one piece of government assistance has other influences which can be disastrous. I was not advocating it. I was drawing attention to the influence that it has, which is influence that could cause hardship to greater numbers of people.
The industry can no longer afford the exorbitant profit margins to which I have referred in relation to the consumer dollar. One of my colleagues in the other place, Mr Fry, has provided some figures on this subject. I will not quote the figures, but I suggest to honourable senators opposite that they look at the profitability of the meat processing companies, which must be making exorbitant profits, which is the only way in which they can be described, at the expense of the producer. The initiative must come from the Government. We cannot do very much in Opposition, except to use the forms of the Parliament that are available to us. The responsibility rests with the Government. It can commence by instituting a uniform classification system for all meat. It can continue with the establishment of a meat corporation which will unite- not divide- the industry and which, above all, will be capable and efficient. The Government has to get out of its thinking and its decision-making the concern it has about giving handouts by way of tax incentives and concessions. I do not believe from my discussions with the rural sector leaders that that is what they are after. They are looking for a fundamental approach.
After one year in office the Government has made no significant reduction in the rate of inflation. The deficit is greater. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch) has borrowed a considerable sum of money overseas- in excess of $1 billion- to prop up our reserves. There has been a big reduction in our reserves. There has been a reduction of $189m in the allocations to the rural sector from last year’s Budget and almost all the specific promises to the rural sector have yet to materialise. I think it would make for a useful weekend’s reading if we were to produce for honourable senators a catalogue showing all of the promises and statements in the speeches of Mr Anthony and Mr Sinclair in 1975. It would make for very good comic capers for honourable senators to see the way in which they made numerous promises and set out to apportion all blame to the Labor Government. None of their specific promises has materialised. I do not think the Government can afford to blame the Whitlam Government, the trade union movement or certain governments overseas for its own failures to accept its responsibilities. Unless the Government adopts a much more reasoned approach to these problems, I believe that the ballot box might produce some interesting results in a couple of year’s time. In the meantime the Opposition supports this legislation.
– I rise to support the States Grants (Beef Industry) Amendment Bill, which is before the Senate. I am glad that Senator Gietzelt has indicated that the Opposition also supports this measure. Any measures that are referable to the beef industry in this country are extraordinarily important. Let me say very briefly of the Bill itself that it is in some measure an expansion of the capacity of the legislation that previously has been before us. It enables an amount of some $ 15m to be available as carry-on finance to the Australian beef industry up to the end of June 1977.
There are one or two significant recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission that have been accepted and built into this legislation. They comprise, briefly, the fact that the limit of $15,000 which was previously available for only a year and which previously applied only to Queensland is now to be available over a period of 2 years and is now to apply to the entire pastoral zone in Australia. The other amount that is to be available- a limit of $10,000 per annum per bona fide beef producer- is to be available within any zone in the Australian beef producing area. Again it is to be available over 2 years instead of only one. It is important that we recognise that in this legislation the States have already in almost total measure agreed to comply with the dollar for dollar basis and with reference to the amounts involved.
Before I proceed very briefly to mention something of the industry itself, I make mention of one or two matters to which Senator Gietzelt referred. He said that the great objective should be to find new markets and to increase old ones. No one on earth- certainly no one in Australiais going to object to that suggestion. Of course that is the objective that is fundamentally the real way of escape, the real manner in which success can be achieved in this great industry. But there are other matters. There are questions relative to cost and to matters within the marketing field that are not just as simple as it is to say that all one has to do is seek more markets. There are great problems relative to the final establishment of a livestock and meat marketing corporation. Virtually everybody in the industry would agree that classification is a desirable circumstance, but there are enormous problems in implementing it as a measure of the marketing system. The Government has this matter under close scrutiny, as has every organisation that has relevance to the beef producing industry in
Australia. We certainly recognise these matters of marketing as being fundamental.
Classification and the establishment of a meat marketing corporation are matters which are receiving the absolute maximum of attention. So they should. It is only with a proper consensus of the whole industry that we can hope to achieve any form of real success in this area. Senator Gietzelt mentioned a public corporation having powers of classification and acquisition. Of course, that is getting into pretty deep water, because one of the problems with meat, as with any product that is not easily kept is being able to stockpile it realistically and in a form in which it retains its attractiveness to the markets around the world. This is an obvious and extraordinary problem. If we can grapple with it and solve it, then the problems that confront the Australian beef industry are relatively small.
I noted also that Senator Gietzelt mentioned the suggestion that the Minister for Primary Industry make reference to the Japanese of Australian fishing rights in the context of Japan’s withdrawal from the importation of a significant amount of beef. He said that that was wielding a big stick and we should not be wielding a big stick because we are a relatively small nation, whether from the point of view of population, consumption or whatever. Of course that is very true. Nevertheless, the approach was reasonable to make. It was reasonable to make that point. If you accept the view that negotiation is a proper thing and then say it is no good negotiating because someone is bigger than you are, you are in a cleft stick and there will be no negotiation at all. So it is quite proper that we should use what significant forces we can muster in negotiating with the Japanese over this problem. The further approaches of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) to the Japanese have made it fairly evident that there is a strong possibility of Japan reassessing and perhaps amending its beef imports in early 1977. So the approach and the negotiations have not by any means been a worthless exercise.
It is true that 4 per cent- a low rate of interest, as Senator Gietzelt described it- was the rate of interest on the carry-on finance that was available during the Australian Labor Party’s term of Government, as it continues to be under the present Government. That 4 per cent for carry-on finance for the beef industry is a relatively, and properly, low interest rate. It is interesting to remember also that the Labor Government offered to the beef industry through the Commonwealth Development Bank an amount of $28m in additional aid which was taken up at a very slow rate, if in fact it was taken up in total. That amount of money was offered at a commercial rate of interest to an industry that was in pretty dire straits.
When this legislation becomes law it will mean that up to the end of June 1977 there will be available to the Australian beef industry in carry-on finance at 4 per cent interest about $27.3m to be matched by the States. The terms and conditions of the money have been considerably liberalised in this legislation. If a producer is outside the zone or is in some way outside the context of the legislation he still has an opportunity to apply to the loan administering authority for special conditions and special consideration.
I do not want to say more than that about the Bill itself. It is significant. It gives an industry that is in dire straits some sort of solid background and some hope for the months ahead. It has recently been assessed that of the 50 000 bona fide beef producers in Australia only some 1 8 000 are viable in that they earn in the vicinity of $5,000 a year or more. Some 1 1 500 earn between no income and $5,000. A further 13 000 are losing up to $5,000 annually and 7500 are losing more than $5,000 annually. So there is a crisis in this industry, and it is due to several things. Many of them are largely outside the control of governments. I do not want it to be imagined that the difficulties of the beef producing industry in Australia are such that it should be suggested that this is an untenable enterprise or that it has no real significance in the future of this country. The beef industry has a great potential for employment and for earning overseas credits. It is an industry which is significant in the employment of men on the producing properties, in the transport system, the meat works, the processing works, the wholesale business, the retail business, and so on.
It has great significance in that area and it has a significance in earning overseas credits which, even at their lowest point, amounted to some $500m. In their heyday these earnings were in excess of $1 billion. The industry is certainly a tenable industry. It is going through very difficult times and it has had a sad recent history. In very recent times it has seen the impossibility of getting through tariff barriers into the European Economic Community. It has seen its market in Japan fall in a year from 100 000 tonnes to 8000 tonnes. That is the sort of problem that has confronted the industry. The industry itself had no answer to that sort of situation. It has had quota problems relative to political situations and lobbying in the United States of America, Canada and other parts of the world. It seeks new markets. It must find new markets, but it must re-establish basic traditional markets if it is to survive and grow as it should.
It would be wrong of me if, besides highlighting market problems, I did not mention the cost situation in the Australian beef cattle industry. We have seen an extraordinary escalation of costs in this industry of which all the people involved, particularly the workers in transport, the processing industry and the meatworks should be aware. In a single year, 1974-75, the cost of processing meat in Australia increased by some 81 per cent. In the previous 3 years, it had increased significantly by 74 per cent, but in one year the increase was 81 per cent as against an average over the previous 3 years of about 25 per cent. That is the sort of escalation that no industry can stand and that certainly the people who work in the industry at every point cannot stand. Their capacity to survive is virtually being destroyed. On both sides of this Parliament and through the integrated beef cattle industry in Australia there is recognition of the disastrous situation that that cost structure is producing. It is producing a situation in which producers are tending to become bankrupt and in which the consumers are paying infinitely more for meat than they should be paying.
We must seek to reduce the gap that exists between the price that is paid on the farm and the price that is paid at the retail outlet. To do this we have to recognise the importance of bringing into the industry all those technological advantages that can make it a more productive industry and indeed a cheaper and more effective industry.
We, as a government, have implemented the Industries Assistance Commission recommendations by suspending the export levy on beef and by increasing the money to be spent on the eradication of brucellosis and tuberculosis. We are seeking desperately to establish new markets. We are seeking desperately to increase our traditional markets. In some real measure the problems which confront this industry stem from, among other things, a measure of overconfidence that was born of the 1973-74 period when beef prices in this country reached an alltime high. That circumstance was contributed to probably by practically everybody involved, politically or economically, in the industry. It was not an unreal consideration that the industry did have a buoyant future at that time. No one was to foresee the energy crisis, for instance, and the effect that it would have on the demand for Australian beef in some of our most important traditional markets; nevertheless, that overconfidence did tend to bring a measure of overproduction and it did tend to bring about the use in the beef cattle producing industry in this country of areas of land which basically were not suited to the industry. So there has to be, and I believe there is coming about, something of a rationalisation at the producer level.
Having made those few reflections on this industry and having reiterated once again the immense importance of it from the point of view of employment, from the point of view of overseas credits and from the mere point of view that Australia produces some of the finest beef herds in the world, has some of the finest cattle producing country in the world and is a relatively economic producer at the producer level, I submit that it is absolutely imperative that we as a government do everything in our power to maintain and develop this industry and to see it ride out the rough passage that it is certainly in. This legislation is part of the process of riding out that rough passage.
-The Bill before us enables the Commonwealth Government to provide up to $ 15m on a dollar for dollar matching basis with the States for beef carry-on loans in the current year. Quite frankly, it is a somewhat miserly sum compared with what the beef industry received over the last full year in which the Labor Party was in office. The Labor Government in its last year in office provided to the beef industry $2 8m by way of Commonwealth Bank funds- that was granted in December 1974- $ 19.6m from Government funds in April 1 975, and $ 1 .2m to Northern Territory producers, making a grand total of $48.8m. That is why I believe that the present Government has been somewhat tardy in that it has had 12 months in office and at this point in time the beef producers are to receive a miserly $ 1 5m. This is $ 1 5m from a Government that pretends to be the farmers ‘ friend. I say ‘pretends ‘ in the light of statements which were made by the present Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, during the last 12 months in which the Labor Party was in office. I will give a couple of examples. A statement made by Mr Sinclair to the Queanbeyan-Canberra branch of the Graziers Association of New South Wales in October last year was reported as follows:
The death warrant of the Australian beef industry would be signed unless the Government took action to assist the beef industry. Assistance for the industry was urgently needed and long overdue.
The same gentleman, Mr Sinclair, now the Minister for Primary Industry, in September last year said:
Up till now the Labor Government has chosen to callously disregard the position of the beef industry.
These words ring rather hollow when one has a look at the evidence of the actions of Mr Sinclair as the Minister in the present Government responsible for primary industry matters who can only get around to giving $ 1 Sm to the beef industry, compared with the $48.8m given by the Labor Government in its last full year in office. Then, in the role of a seer, in September last year Mr Sinclair said:
Australia ‘s agricultural marketing position overseas would improve dramatically under a Liberal-Country Party government.
We all have a pretty fair idea of what has happened to that prophecy when we talk about beef and particularly the American market.
Somewhat unscrupulous exporters, who no doubt were in league with their counterpart importers in America, were caught sending meat into the United States against the law, resulting of course in cuts in Australia’s export quota to America- a country which traditionally has taken more than SO per cent of our meat exports.
Speaking of exports brings me to another point. Whilst Austraiian meat producers have been pushed into a corner over the last couple of years, to a stage where, because of low pricesgiveaway prices- third grade beef cattle have been shot and buried, both on and off the farm; where the prices for cattle have been so low that farmers have shot or allowed to die cattle which were in any way ill rather than send for the veterinary surgeon, because of the expense involved; and where saleyards throughout the country were inundated with livestock which were given away from almost daylight until after dark. The farming community, the producers of those animals, have gone from relative affluence to abject poverty. At the same time there has been one other section of the industry that has gone from strength to strength. That section of course is the meat exporting section. This matter was highlighted in another place by the honourable member for Fraser, Mr Fry. I do not intend to §o into any great detail about it. Anyone who is interested in it can read the House of Representatives Hansard of 9 November. In that speech Mr Fry produced figures which he obtained from the Research Service of the Parliamentary Library and which showed that in 1975-76 exporting companies had increased profits by anything from 60 per cent to 400 per cent.
I feel that this proves that those farmers who stood and watched their cattle being shot or given away at the saleyards and who had that gut feeling at the time that they were being ripped off were right. They were being ripped off, and I believe that they were being ripped off basically because the Australian meat industry is not organised. In fact, it is totally disorganised. Totally disorganised is the way many people engaged in the beef industry have wanted it to be, do want it to be and will want it to be, because whilst the industry itself is disorganised powerful sections in the industry are able, because they themselves are organised, to rip off the producer and to make profits for themselves. In effect, they rip off the great bulk of any money that is to be made in the industry and throw the crumbs to the producer.
Such organisations as the National Country Party and stock and station agents scream socialism if beef producers, or any other farmers for that matter, dare to question the auction system or any other facet of the industry which has been and is considered traditional. Of course, even the farmers at times are victims of this system of total free enterprise and of disorganisation within their own industry. I think that is quite common knowledge amongst meat exporting firms. Because of that disorganisation they at times can be the victims of exploitation through our ad hoc approach to overseas marketing of our meat. Because we have a multiplicity of exporting firms selling overseas, importing firms in other countries are able to pick off one firm and play it against the others. That is quite a common practice in the meat industry, as an honest manager of any exporting firm will tell you.
The same sort of situation prevails in the meat industry today as prevailed for some years prior to 1947 when the Australian wheat industry was organised and when the Australian Wheat Board became the body totally responsible for exporting and selling our wheat on overseas markets. Those people who had previously exploited the farmer were pushed aside. They were certainly pushed aside from the wheat industry. Of course, they still continued to rip-off the producers in other areas of primary industry.
Quite frankly, I remain totally convinced that one answer to the problem facing the Australian beef industry today is to establish a statutory body- the Meat Board could perform this functionto utilise the present powers to sell on the overseas markets to the exclusion of private enterprise so that any private meat marketing firm overseas which wants to import into its country Australian beef, or Australian meat for that matter, will have to do so through the authority and pay the going rate. In that way it would not be able to telephone Thomas Borthwick and Sons (Australasia) Limited at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and ask at what price it could purchase blade-bone steak or something else to send to America. Then the Australian firm would ring back the American firm to say: ‘Yes, we have got X amount of meat here which you can have at X cents per lb’. It could be told by the overseas company: ‘I am sorry, we have been to another company which can do it for 32c per lb’. That is the way in which those firms traditionally have beaten down the price around the Australian countryside. Of course, it is the Australian producer who finishes up with the backside out of his trousers.
The chairman of the pastoral division of the Victorian Farmers Union raised this matter in an article in the magazine Victorian Farmer of October last. Mr Crowe said:
The VFU pastoral division is concerned over the recent announcement by the United States President, Mr Ford, that the U.S. meat imports will be limited this calendar year.
The import quota Tor Australian meat could be significantly smaller than the import level agreed to in ‘voluntary restraint’ negotiations earlier this year. Australia could possibly lose eight million pounds of meat exports, worth approximately $4 million.
There is a strong possibility that some Australian meat which has entered the U.S. via Puerto Rico will be included in this year’s quota.
The division is also deeply disturbed about the Australian Meat Exporters’ Council threat to seek a writ in the High Court to prevent the Federal Government and the Australian Meat Board from introducing controls on the export of Australian meat to the U.S. in 1977.
Mr Crowe said further:
The problem of getting meat into the U.S. has been a continuing one over a number of years. It is well time the Meat Board was restructured and took a strong hand in controlling the exports of meat into the U.S. whether direct or through other areas.
I think that that statement indicates that at least some sections of the meat industry in Australia realise that what I have just said in relation to the powers of the Meat Board represents one way in which the industry can go forward.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting for dinner, I was quoting from a statement by Mr Des Crowe, the chairman of the meat committee of the Victorian Farmers Union. I was only half way through the article in question, so I shall now continue. It states:
The licensed exporters to this point of time seem to be unaware of the disruption that can be caused to the Australian meat industry should they overstep the mark in any export area relevant to the U.S. quota.
The recent action by meat exporters only serves to highlight the urgent need expressed by the VFU-
That is the Victorian Farmers Union- and AWMPF-
That is the Australian Wool and Meat Producers Federation- for the establishment of a new Meat and Livestock Corporation with producer membership majority as soon as possible in order to organise the livestock and meat industry.
The livestock producer pays for the running of the Australian Meat Board and should have a major say in the destiny of his product, which he takes from one to three years to produce, ‘ Mr Crowe said.
The VFU is anxious that the Federal Government establish a meat industry conference consisting of representatives of the producer organisations and with a similar structure to the Australian Wool Industry Conference.
I do not necessarily go along with everything that Mr Crowe has to say in that statement, particularly when he calls for a majority of producers on any statutory body, but I believe he has put his finger on the pulse of one of the biggest problems currently besetting the beef industry.
Finally I come to marketing generally, I suppose in relation to primary products overall, but in this instance in relation to the meat industry in particular. In 1960 the Australian Cattle and Beef Research Committee was established. In 1966 its charter was extended to include sheep meats also. Last year that body spent over $4.5m of producers’ and taxpayers’ funds on a great range of research projects some of which, in my opinion, in the current over-supply situation could only be described as way out. Whilst one realises that research cannot be turned on and off like a tap, I believe that in some areas some of the research that is being paid for by producers and the taxpayer could well be phased out and the question of marketing could take a higher priority.
– Have you anything in mind there, Senator?
-Well, I have been through the research committee’s more recent report, and, as I say, it would be hard to pick out some of the things that could be phased out. Quite frankly, when one looks at the problems that the industry currently has and has had in the past and will continue to have in relation to marketing, I do not believe that enough stress has been given to this area of the industry over the years. I hold the opinion that, unless something is done and more stress is placed on marketing, the meat industry will be in the doldrums for a long time or will suffer severe ups and downs, troughs and peaks. I simply suggest to the Meat Industry Research Committee that they should look very hard at this money that is being spent. It is a lot of money- $4.5m in one year. I suggest to them that some of that money may be better expended on some research on meat marketing. Honourable senators know as well as I know that it is from the time that the produce leaves the farm gate and arrives on the consumer’s table that the great profits are made. Regrettably, the farmer does not partake of those profits. As we all know, over the years he has been content, like every other producer, to be finished with the produce when it goes out of the farm gate. He allows other people to rip him off. The consumer is in the same position. I believe that some solution to this problem will only be brought about by a lot more money being expended in that marketing area.
All of us who have been involved in the meat industry know that despite the problems that the meat producer is confronted with and despite all the diseases, etc., with which the industry is fraught, the Australian farmer, because of his approach to the industry, because of his efficiency, wins out. That has been proved by the massive increase in our herd numbers over the more recent years. I think, from memory, the figure has risen from 24 million to 32 million or 33 million head of cattle. That surely indicates that at this point in time research has done a very good job. The farmer, as a beneficiary of that research, has also been able to do a very good job. But as I said earlier, once the produce goes out through the farm gate the farmer is no longer in control, and that is when he is ripped off. I finish on that point- that that is an area where the farmer may well put a little bit more pressure on his industry generally to have, as I have said two or three times, more work done in the area of marketing.
– I also rise to support the Bill. I look optimistically to the results of the expenditure of the $15m for which the Bill provides. A week or so ago I think I would have had grave doubts as to whether increasing the debt was the right thing to do at this time. However, I now believe that with the slight changes that have occurred we have to look ahead with more optimism. We have to try to make sure that the money is spent in a manner that will provide results for the people who are spending it.
I should like to add to what Senator Scott said earlier about the survey that was carried out. An article in Stock and Land of 1 8 November under the heading ‘Beef survey shows situation’ states:
If beef prices doubled tomorrow, a quarter of Australia’s specialist beef producers would still be going broke.
A sum of $ 15m is certainly not going to assist a very large percentage of that number. The article continues:
With prices at current levels, two-thirds of producers relying mainly on beef for their livelihood are unviable.
For the sake of brevity, I seek leave to have that article incorporated in Hansard.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator DrakeBrockman) Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
Beef survey shows situation
If beef prices doubled tomorrow, a quarter of Australia’s specialist beef producers would still be going broke.
With prices at current levels, two-thirds of producers relying mainly on beef for their livelihood are unviable.
The full scale of the disaster confronting the Australian beef industry is highlighted in an internal report prepared for the Australian National Cattlemen’s Council by some of the country’s top rural economists.
The report focuses on the prospects and fates of the 50 383 producers in Australia who rely on beef for more than half their annual income.
It looks at all producers in this category who run more than 50 head. It defines a viable producer as one whose net cash income (before tax) is $5,000 or more.
These 50000 odd producers own 23 million cattle between them- more than two-thirds of the total bovine population.
Thirty-two thousand of these beef producers are not viable at the present prices of around 45c a kg.
The ANCC survey looks at the situation of beef producers in four separate categories. Preliminary figures show: 1 8 300 producers are viable, and earn more than $5,000 a year. They run 10 million cattle with an average debt a beast of $25, and have an average herd size of 566 head. 1 1 000 producers, representing three million head and averaging 276 a heard, are earning between $0 and $5,000 a year. Their debt a beast is $23. 13 500 producers are losing between $0 and $5,000 a year. They represent three million head of cattle and have an average heard size of 210. Their average debt a beast is $43. 7600 producers are losing more than $5,000 a year. They represent seven million cattle and have an average heard of 905 head. Their debt a beast of $39.70.
Thus it can be seen that it is the smallest and the largest scale beef producers, the latter concentrated chiefly in the pastoral zones, who are facing the gravest threat.
ANCC took the survey a step further by projecting how many producers would be viable if beef prices lifted to 96c a kg; the answer was 28 700 of the 50 000.
At 96c a kg, there would still be at least 12 000 beef producers who would be losing money.
The message here is clear,’ says ANCC executive officer Baden Cameron. ‘Many producers are pinning their hopes on some great marketing scheme to lift returns and ensure the survival of the industry.
But while we desperately need a good marketing scheme, the unfortunate truth is that it still would not guarantee the survival of a very large part of our specialist and beefdominant producers. ‘
Mr Cameron said for these producers the only possible solution would be the implementation of household support and other reconstruction schemes aimed at helping them to recover financial equilibrium.
He expressed optimism that the Federal Government’s new rural reconstruction proposals, currently before the States, would contain some help.
It is understood that the Bureau of Agricultural Economics is currently holding a crash investigation into the plight of unviable beef producers, and should produce further statistics in the near future.
There are estimated to be 130000 individual rural producers in Australia who run cattle in one form or anotherbut the SO 000 covered by the ANCC investigation clearly represent the concentration of expertise and specialisation in the industry.
According to the Bureau of Statistics, there are 33 032 rural holdings in Australia devoted mainly to beef production.
– In the main, I think that urban dwellers generally have come to regard farmers as being wealthy, that farmers usually think the processors are wealthy, and that usually the housewife thinks that everybody else is wealthy or is making too much profit. To show what the position is in Tasmania I sought costs from a retail butcher and an export abattoir. I found that an ordinary retail butcher running an average establishment spends 31.56c per lb on the meat between the time he buys it and the time it goes out of his shop. This represents $ 146.24 per beast on an average sized beast, plus the price of the beast. At present, those cattle are costing, say, $80 and it is costing $146.24 from the time he buys the beast until the time he sells it. I seek leave to incorporate those figures in Hansard.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator DrakeBrockman) Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows- dated 25.11.76
The retail meat industry suffers the same cost factors as other sections of the total industry. High capital investment, labour intensive, low profit level.
What is an average retail butchering outlet
This is and will continue to be a hotly debated subject. Two years ago the West Australian Countryman published a productivity level of 750 lb meat per butcher per week. The Advocate newspaper later published a productivity level of 850 lb meat per man. In the demonstration carried out at the Elliott Research Farm on 2 April 1975 a productivity level of 1000 lb per man per week was put forward.
For the purpose of this exercise we are going to consider the average retail outlet at 1200 lb per man per week with the assistance of a cashier, wrapper, bookkeeper. This poundage of meat per man would allow some quantity of home freezer bulk meat.
The first known cost to the retail butcher is the cost of livestock.
In productivity analysis, costing and pricing consideration must be given to the recovery level of beef which is 66 per cent average saleable meat from a good quality carcase. This demonstrates that small yield percentages of carcase weight cuts must be higher priced than larger yield percentages, e.g. fillet steak 1 per cent yield, rump 4 per cent yield of carcase weight.
Direct costs: Based on a 5 man shop with productivity level of 1200 lb per man per week = 6000 lb carcase meat throughput per week, with the assistance of a cashier, wrapper, bookkeeper.
Butchers Wage cost- General Shop butcher as at 25. 1 1.76 without overtime.
A tradesman works for only 3714 hours a week as the employer must provide 1 5 minutes each morning and afternoon fora tea break.
Average cost per man per week = $181.43 or $4.84 per hour worked or 8.06 cents per minute.
This results in a direct labour cost of 1 5. 1 lc lb.
Direct Labour Cost Cashier, Bookkeeper, Wrapper. Base rate 25. 11.76
– $156.66 per week or 2.6 lc lb
Other overheads per man per week. His productivity throughput is based on 1200 lb 2 lightweight cattle 800 lb, 10 lambs 330 lb 1 porker 70 lb. Livestock costs from purchase point to retail shop.
or 6.35c lb.
These costs are probably the lowest in Australia and are based on local experience.
Other overheads associated with average retail business with a throughput of 6000 lb per week, 5 men and one adult female.
Cost of premises: Say rental $ 100.00 a week or 1 .66c lb.
Butchers goods for a business of this size would be at least $200.00 per week or 3.33c lb.
Other overhead, accountancy, advertising, depreciation plant electricity, freight, insurance other than workers compensation, motor vehicle cost, a business this size must have a van, bank charges, trade association membership, telephone, plant and machinery repairs, a conservative estimate would be a cost factor of $150.00 per week or 2.5c lb.
Cost summary: Based on poundage of meat handled:
– The same situation applies to the export abattoirs. It costs $4 1 .90 per head to have the beast slaughtered. It costs $27.24 in fixed overheads, making a total average processing cost of $69.14. These figures apply to export meat. The figures I have obtained indicate that on an average cost of $70, the cost per head was $ 1 39.90 for export meat on which, at present, the return is $87.12 and on which the average operator in Tasmania is currently losing $42.78 per beast. If the farmers were being paid what the exporters can get they would currently be paying $17.98 per head or 4.64c per lb. Converting this into overhead costs, the wages for export cattle are running at 17.52c per lb on meat produced with an overhead of 1 1.03c per lb or 28.55c per lb on meat produced. With cattle on the boned-out quantity of 28.64c per lb, it means that the cost of the meat at the exporter’s door is 57.19c per lb. I seek leave to incorporate these figures also in Hansard.
– Is leave granted?
– This is the third or fourth time that the request has been made. What is the source of the information that the honourable senator is seeking to have incorporated?
– One set of figures is from a retail butchery and one is from an export abattoir. They are the actual costs.
– Do I understand that one of the documents is from a single retail butchery?
-That is correct. It represents an average.
– I will not object on this occasion but I think it is rather strange that material from such a source should be incorporated in Hansard. One would normally assume that honourable senators would seek to incorporate material from a more authoritative source than from one retail establishment.
– It is a Tasmanian establishment. You ought to be interested.
- Senator Webster knows as much about this as he knows about feral cats so I suggest he keep out of it. I think there ought to be a little more discipline as to incorporating material from such a restricted source.
– We have had a day of incorporations today. I think we have been extremely restrained and modest. I hope that that will continue. As long as the source is identified an incorporation carries its own character for the base of its statistics.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT-Is leave granted? There being no objection leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
Typical week ended 8.9.76 Cattle purchased 734. Dressed weight 283 883 = 3871b average Cattle cost (including cartage ) $5 1 ,94 1 = $70.76 each (landed cost at abattoirs, Smithton) = 18.30 cents lb dressed weight.
Cost per beast
Maximum buying price should have been $ 1 7.98 per head or 4.64 cents lb + gambling price of diversification entitlement.
Cost per lb cattle purchased and meat produced:
Wages $3 1 ,779 = 1 1. 1 9c Jb cattle purchased or 1 7.52c lb meat produced.
Assessed overhead $20,000 = 7.05c lb cattle purchased or 1 1.03c lb meat produced.
Total week ended 8.9.76 =$5 1,779 = 18.24c lb cattle purchased or 28.55c lb meat produced.
Cost of cattle purchased $51,941 = 18.3c lb cattle purchased or 28.64c lb meat produced.
Total cost of purchase and process cattle:
Week ended 8.9.76-$ 103,720 = 36.54c lb cattle purchased or 57. 1 9c lb meat produced.
– I seek to have these documents incorporated as a means of saving time. I thought this would be preferable to reading them at great length. In spite of these costs it has been generally considered that the exporters are making huge profits. In another place an honourable member, whose name I will not recall, made substantial charges about rip-offs and named several firms which he accused of making unfair or undue profits. He did not, of course, at any stage indicate what he considered to be a reasonable profit or what he thought a reasonable return should be. Nor did he mention the amount of capital involved in securing the return. The first firm he named was F. J. Walker Ltd. He made various remarks about that company. He said that over the 8-year period he nominated that firm had a turnover of $584.7m in sales which produced a gross profit of $3. 82m, representing 0.67c in the dollar on turnover. I do not really believe it is reasonable that a firm operating on that volume of turnover could operate on a much finer margin than that and still stay in business.
– The producer is operating on a finer margin. Should not that be your real concern?
– The next firm which the honourable member made various remarks about was Tancred Bros, which, over the same 8-year period, showed an average profit of 1.2c in the dollar. I did not work the rest of the figures out. I just worked out those two sets of figures to see whether the claims that were made were correct. I consider the returns to the farmer but there will be no return to the farmer if we continue to lose the processors at the rate we have been losing them through bankruptcy. The success of the farmer is entirely dependent upon the success of the exporter. Without the exporter the farmer will make nothing.
Australians are eating the cheapest meat in the world. In fact, they are eating the cheapest food in the world. Practically nowhere else is as little of the income dollar spent on food. Food producers generally are subsidising consumers generally and it is not the processors or the butchers in the meat industry who are making all the money. The loans provided in this Bill will help in the cash flow situation and in the carry-on situation. Costs have increased by 34.5 per cent over the last 3 years coupled with an income loss of 61.4 per cent over the same period. The Bureau of Agricultural Economics records this as a loss of $1,8 16m. Devaluation is certain to help a little but it will not turn the corner. It may help to restore a little confidence but the marketing of the meat generally is still not good enough.
The Australian Meat Board has failed to give producers or exporters the confidence necessary to go ahead and plan in the long term. On many occasions there have been changes which were very hard to follow, with little explanation as to why they were made. Producers and processors alike find it difficult to engage in long term planning when they are provided with only short term measures. In that regard I welcome the changes that were made today allowing greater equity for the seasonal works and the reinclusion of Japan, Okinawa and Sweden in the income entitlement earning countries. The Meat Board has been giving a lot of verbal encouragement to exporters to engage in the risk markets but they are entering the risk markets without sufficient protection. If the risk markets are to perform the function we should like them to perform, I do not think it is unreasonable that the Meat Board should provide greater protection.
This year we have seen what happened to the Canadian market and the Peurto Rican market. In these instances it is my interpretation that basically the exporters were left virtually high and dry by the Meat Board when the crunch came. In the Primary Industry newsletter of 10 November the Chairman of the Australian Meat Board, Colonel Malcolm McArthur, said that he was right behind private enterprise in the meat trade and would be ready to stand by to help if needed. If they happen to get into a hole we will help them, that’s the Board’s role . . . and if there is any price cutting we will step in . . .
That is what he said, but my interpretation of the situation as I have seen it is that it has not really worked out that way. I think we have to look at what we can do to make the role of the Board much more satisfactory. We have to try to see what we can do to get the growers and the Board to have greater understanding with the exporters. The way it stands at the moment, every time there is uncertainty, every time there are any risks to run or every time questions are asked to which answers are not available, it is reflected immediately in the price of the beast in the saleyard. I believe that this is where the greatest loss to the farmer exists. If we can get a little continuity, confidence and regular trading, that situation will be improved. With this last flicker, as Mr McMahon said recently, it cost him $50 a head in the saleyards at Wodonga the next day.
– Was he buying or selling?
-He was selling. This is the way the market reacts. We have to try to ensure that at least we take out some of the bumps. At present all sorts of manoeuvres are being worked upon. With the restructuring of the Board and the greater market control that we are looking for, plus, I hope, the introduction of some reasonable measure of classification, I think we will be able to do more not only for the 34 million cattle that are involved but also for the 130000 people who run cattle for either their whole livelihood or their main livelihood and for the 300-odd meat processors who are involved, all of whom are the basis of what is one of Australia’s largest industries. Until we can get this little bit of solidity and understanding, the industry will continue to flounder along from highs to lows, without the people in the industry really knowing what they are looking for. In the meantime 1 look for the result that the $15m, coupled with a similar amount from the States, may provide. I support the BUI.
– As other speakers on this Bill have indicated, the purpose of the Bill is to amend legislation enacted under the Labor Government to provide $15m to match the States dollarfordollar in approved lending in 1976-77 under the beef carry-on finance scheme. I would call this a scheme to provide low interest finance to specialist beef producers who would be viable in normal market conditions. I find the amount of $15m very interesting. It has been indicated earlier that in August 1975 the present Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, when talking about the Labor Bill, said that $39.6m was not enough and that the National Country Party suggested that $100m was necessary. Now that that Party has the opportunity to provide funds, we find that it is suggesting that $15m will be sufficient. I think it would be agreed by all honourable senators that the situation in Australia is much worse now than it was in August 1975. This deterioration has been brought about to a degree by Mr Sinclair’s action in Canada earlier this year and by actions of the Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Fraser, in Washington. Both of these visits were reported on in the Australian Financial Review of 1 December. The article states:
Three things rankle with Administration officials: What is seen as tardy action by Australia to cease using the loophole’ of the Puerto Rico free-trade zone for getting meat into the U.S. market.
Similar reluctance to deal with the problem of low-priced Australian beef coming into Canada, thereby sending Canadian beef onto the U.S. market.
The strongly-worded letter of protest sent by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser to President Ford shortly after quotas were finally introduced in October.
The Australian Financial Review went on:
It is likely to be carried through into next week’s negotiations, where Australia could be hard-pressed to improve on this year’s import entitlement, under quotas, of 632 million pounds.
What I want to do is to comment on the situation in the Northern Territory, rather than on the Australian scene, and on the problems faced by the industry there. In case honourable senators are under any delusion that there are no problems in the Territory, I cite 3 comments made by 3 leading Country-Liberal Party members in the Northern Territory. Dr Letts, the Majority Leader in the Legislative Assembly, said:
General economic crisis in the Australian beef industry has been more severe in the Northern Territory in its effects than in other beef producing areas.
Mr Les MacFarlane, who is the President of the Legislative Assembly, was reported in the Northern Territory News of 6 May 1976 as follows:
MLA Mr Les MacFarlane of Moroak Station said today that the Territory’s cattle industry had suffered a disaster comparable with Cyclone Tracy.
Mr Rex Jettner, who is the Chairman of the Primary Producers Board and, I understand, the President of the Country-Liberal Party, was reported as follows: “The Territory beef industry was near the stage of total collapse’, the Chairman of the Primary Producers Board, Mr Rex Jettner said today. ‘Without Government input the industry was at the point of no-return for many producers and there would be ‘poverty-stricken evacuation of properties’.’
Let us look at the situation in the Northern Territory. I think it is fair to say that the Northern Territory is different from the rest of Australia for a number of reasons. Perhaps we can look at the reasons why the Territory is different and why it needs different treatment. The first is that the Territory beef producer is basically in a monoculture situation. The majority of beef producers in Australia, as honourable senators would know, have either mixed or alternative propertieseither cattle running with wheat, sheep, dairy cows, vealers and so on, or cattle running in conjunction with cropping, such as sorghum in Queensland. Where there is this sort of diversification the producer does not have all his eggs in the one basket, as one might say, and he is not as hard hit when the industry collapses. In the Territory producers produce beef or nothing. When beef fails the people are really in trouble.
The second problem- I call it a problem because I think it is a problem- is the dependence on the United States market. In the Territory 95 per cent of the industry is concerned with export marketing and the bulk of the exports go to the
United States, mainly in what is called the ‘certain class’ of beef which is desired by the United States. Of course, that is a very fickle market. If that particular market for that certain class of beef goes, the industry is in trouble. The second reason why I think it is a problem that we are related so much to the United States is that United States standards of slaughtering are very high. I am not critical of this; but, as I shall explain later, this has an effect within the industry.
Another problem for the Northern Territory is that the beef industry is seasonal. That means that there is a cash flow only during the dry season. The cost of slaughtering in the Northern Territory is much higher. Figures given to me by one of the producers indicate that in 1975 slaughtering cost $83.60 in the slaughter house or the abattoirs. There are problems associated with seasonal workers. These people have to be accommodated, have to be brought in from interstate and have to have particular conditions negotiated for them. This all adds to the problems in the Northern Territory. It is not a stable situation. Of course, as the industry is seasonal, it cannot take advantage of market fluctuations. There are vast distances to be covered in the Northern Territory. I know that this problem is shared by Queensland and Western Australia, but only to a degree. I think it would be agreed that the majority of producers in Queensland would be nearer the abattoirs than are most of the producers in the Territory. Certainly, there are vast distances to be covered, compared with those in the southern States.
I should like to commend the Government for the fact that the Minister for Primary Industry did make available to the producers in the Northern Territory 25 per cent of the freight costs, which is a great help to the producers. I think that that figure might rise in some areas to 50 per cent. As I said before, different conditions exist in the Northern Territory; therefore the problems require different treatment. I shall come back to that a little later. Let us look at the situation today. We have had 2 good seasons in the Northern Territory, yet we have declining markets. I should like to read a telegram which is a little abrupt but which gives the story. The following is taken from the Northern Territory Rural News Magazine:
The economist for the Northern Territory Primary Producers Board says that it can be seen that there have been dramatic increases in labour costs, freight charges and fixed costs, that is, administration and finance, overhead, depreciation, maintenance, stores, selling expenses and katherine freezing storage. While these cost factors soared the price paid for beef on the U.S. market has risen only IS cents per kg since 1969, from 89 cents in 1969 to 104 cents a kilo in 197$. The result has been that while producers received 62.08 per cent of the price paid for their beef in 1 969, in 1 975 they scored only 1 8.77 per cent.
So not only have the markets deteriorated but also there has been a decline in the return. This decline in markets has led to a serious situation, which would be known to many honourable senators here, of too many cattle in the Territory. Most of the properties have too many cattle, are overstocked and have all the problems which go with overstocking. It was mentioned by one of the honourable senators who spoke this afternoon that there was encouragement given by Mr Anthony and Mr Sinclair a few years ago for people to build up the cattle numbers on their properties. At the moment, since we cannot sell these cattle, we have all the problems that go with overstocking- destruction of pastures, erosion and se on. So I repeat that not only have the markets not improved, they have declined, but also the return to the producer is much less than it was 6 years ago. So it is not surprising to learn that most of the pastoralists in the Northera Territory are in a debt situation. They need cash flow at present and I will come to that in a moment.
The degree of the problem in the Territory might be assessed more easily if we note that the Bureau of Agricultural Economics has revealed that there was a loss of $ 1 3m in the industry in 1975-76. Unfortunately the result of this is that management on properties is being wound down. Fences that ought to be repaired are not being repaired. Pasture that ought to be looked after and improved is not being looked after let alone being improved, and there is no attempt at stock improvement. The situation is so drastic that one of the senior officers of the department said to me that there is a possibility of returning to an almost no management situation with no fences and the stock running wild. Men all over the Territory are leaving their stations to the bank and walking off. I had another letter today from one of the leading pastoralists in the Territory indicating that yet another group of men had been forced to walk off their properties and leave them to the bank. This means a loss of skills to the Territory. People who have worked in the Territory for years and have built up great expertise in the beef industry are walking off and it is very unlikely that they will be coming back. So we have a situation today where there is a general feeling of lack of confidence and this is not surprising.
Let me sum up briefly the reasons for this lack of confidence. Firstly, access to markets is being restricted despite devaluation. Secondly, shipping freights are continually rising. It has been indicated that most freights to the United States will rise by 22 per cent on top of the 12 per cent announced in October. This will make it almost impossible for producers in the Territory to ship out to the United States. The cost of food, fertilisers, veterinary supplies and so on are all increasing at present and despite the fact that people involved in the industry are Country Party people there is a lack of confidence in the current Government’s handling of the economy. My feeling is that in the Territory, and this has been put to me by a number of people, there is a lack of confidence in long range planning. We must plan at least two or three years ahead when running a station and when we have a limited killing season we can have no confidence in the Government.
Most people would sum up the major problem in the Northern Territory in one word- ‘markets ‘ -and this was suggested on both sides of the House during the debate. But it is not only that. I want to make the point quite strongly that responsibility for finding markets lies with the Department of the Northern Territory or the Government, because the Government is the Department of the Northern Territory. The department has to admit that over the years very Little, if anything, has been done by it to find markets and the reason for this of course is that it does not have the staff to do the job. It is no criticism of the department if it does not have the staff. Let us look at some of the possibilities that could be investigated in the Northern Territory. In 1974 an Egyptian living in Katherine, who is known to a number of Territory people and is now an Australian citizen, went home to Egypt for a holiday. When he came back he made the suggestion to the cattle producers around the Katherine area that they should sell to Egypt and that they should kill the cattle according to the religious traditions of the Islamic faith- because there was a good market in Egypt. Unfortunately, for some reason the Katherine meat works was not interested. The Cattlemen’s Association went cold and Western Australia got the market, not that I deny it to Western Australia. It went out and looked for it.
The Northern Territory needed this market and could have done a lot with it. Unfortunately, producers in the Territory got the feeling from this exercise that the public servants were not really interested in the industry and this feeling pervades a number of associations in the Territory. It is a great pity that this opportunity was lost. Surely it is an indication that the Department of the Northern Territory and the pastoralists should work together to look for markets. Obviously it is not enough for just the department to do it. The pastoralists are the ones who are particularly interested. Let them get together and go looking for markets. We are very close to Asia. Surely we could send a small team to look at the possibility of markets over there. The information that has been given to me is that there is a possibility of 7500 tonnes being sold on the Asian market. This would be basically in small lots but 7500 tonnes is quite an amount and would help the industry in the Northern Territory.
I now come back to the problem I hinted at before, the high cost of killing. The figure given to me was $83.60 and this was based on United States standards. The Katherine meatworks did not have an automatic plant. Perhaps we could look at the possibility of killing by Australian standards. If these are acceptable to Australia they should be acceptable to Asia. There is one pastoralist in the Northern Territory who is selling buffalo on the South Australian market at 23.5c a pound and making a profit. Perhaps we could look at the technique that he is using to see whether it could be transferred to the other areas of the beef industry. So let us look into the possibility of selling beef to Asia.
Another area which certainly could be investigated is the possibility of live exports. I attended a meeting two or three weeks ago which was called at the insistence of the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union to have a look at the possibility of selling livestock overseas. The department was represented, the buyers were represented, there was one pastoralist and one member of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. I was there representing the Australian Labor Party. It seemed to me to be an excellent way for the industry to have a look at itself for the buyers, the producers and the unions to get together to see what could be done. The information given to us there was that there is a potential market for 25 000 beasts a year. Certainly there would have to be some assistance given by the Government. The excellent wharf which used to be at Darwin was pulled down a few years ago. To replace it would cost $100,000 including providing permanent races and yard facilities. Portable facilities could be set up for $50,000. It seems to me that the Government might look into that matter as an excellent investment and as a way of getting some of the cattle moving out of the Northern Territory.
Another suggestion which was made to me by one pastoralist in the Northern Territory, and it might make some people smile, is flying out the surplus young cattle. Apparently the possibility is there. For about $100 a head we could send the young stock overseas. This would of course include some breeding stock.
– We were doing it in the west and the unions stopped us.
-That is right-flying out the live beast. Is this figure of $100 reasonable?
– The unions are stopping us doing it.
– It is not being stopped in the Territory, shipping through Darwin.
– Not yet.
– It was the union which took the initiative here to get the live export market moving. It was not the producers or the department, it was the union.
– The meat workers union.
– It was Prendiville in this case. This is something that might be worthwhile looking at. I move now to one of the problems in the industry and that is the meatworks or abattoirs. I will look basically at the Northmead works near Katherine which, as most honourable senators will know, is 46 per cent owned by the Hooker Corporation and at the present time is run by the Wyndham group. The meatworks at Katherine has been a problem for some years. The previous owners claimed that they did not make a profit at any time. Certainly last year they had some trouble opening and honourable senators might recall that the Labor Government lent it $1.4m on very favourable terms to get the meatworks operating. This year they opened late, and I think the basic problem was industrial trouble caused by certain unusual conditions of wages which had been set by the former operator. However, I do not want to go into that. As I mentioned previously, the equipment is not up to date, the plant is labour intensive, and the method of handling damages the carcass and reduces its value. I am advised by the people there that the abattoir needs to handle 30 000 carcasses a year to be reasonably efficient. This year it handled 13 500, with a return to the grower of $300,000. There is a need for automation; there is no doubt about that. It has been said for years, and I hope that the new owners of the plant will look at that. There is also a need for better communications between management and the workers. Seasonal workers or itinerant workers present something of a problem and require a different handling situation. Certainly, it is my observation that there is a need for better communication than exists at the present time.
At one stage Mr Sinclair said ‘a beef crisis was a social and economic crisis’. May I briefly look at the social and economic crisis in the Northern Territory. I shall deal firstly with the families who live on the stations. Mostly they are people who have lived there all their lives. Many of them were born and grew up on the stations and are second generation families. They have problems in educating their children and providing opportunities for them. I will not elaborate on this, but I bring it to the attention of the Senate. I draw attention also to the problems of the Aboriginal stockmen. I have raised this matter before in the chamber without getting an answer. I suggested then that unemployed stockmen should be kept on the station and that preferably employment should be found for them but certainly they should be given social security benefits and not forced to gravitate to the smaller towns to live on the fringes.
Those are the 2 main points I wanted to deal with. May I suggest very briefly, because I know we want to move on, what the Government might do about the situation in the Territory at the present time. The first thing is obvious, and that is to assist with finance, to accept the Industries Assistance Commission recommendations and look at debt reconstruction, either by extending the payment time for loans or preferably by making a grant. There is no reason why we cannot write off some of these debts. I think that is the advice which Mr Sinclair has given and which was referred to earlier today. No State-type situation exists in the Territory and it is therefore the responsibility of the Federal Government to look at the problem.
We need household support for the people living there so that they will have a reasonable standards of living. We need farm build-up to make sure that properties are not only kept in order but also improved so that when the market improves they will again be viable. As well, they need carry-on finance but, as has been suggested by one of the speakers on the other side, we have to be careful that we do not impose too great a debt. There needs to be an equitable share of the reconstruction. Mr MacFarlane, to whom I referred earlier, had this to say:
The Territory fared very badly when compared with other States which received State assistance matched by the Federal Government. For instance, last year Canberra had matched the $ 10m loan granted by the Queensland Government to the beef industry. But the Territory got only $600,000-
That is the same figure as for this year- about one-third of its due on cattle population.
The Government can also assist with advice to the people in the industry at the present time. Perhaps there should be some lease aggregation. That is something which most of us would fight. We do not like to see a man lose his property but it is fairly obvious that in some areas, particularly in the Centre, some properties will have to combine so that one family can have a decent living and others can be given assistance with retraining and support to help them move elsewhere. Since the people in the Territory in the industry need a cash flow, we must actively seek markets and I have suggested earlier that this should be done in co-operation with the growers.
One point raised by the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry) in another place and by an honourable senator here today was that there must be a greater return to growers than they are getting at present. I quote what Mr Sinclair said at Roma, Queensland, on 20 November this year:
Whilst returns to beef producers have been entirely unsatsifactory, the same cannot be said for the balance sheets of most meat exporters in 1975-76.
He went on:
But any suggestion that there is a confrontation with the exporters is not the wish of the Government.
While there might not be a confrontation, it is fairly obvious that something needs to be done and some firm action taken. To assist the industry in the Territory, the Government could provide staff for market research, again in cooperation with the growers. It could provide staff for research into management and productivity, the two areas of the industry in the Territory which have a definite need. I will not dwell on that; I think it is well understood. The last point I want to make in relation to Government assistance is to suggest that sympathetic consideration be given to those who have borrowed, either by reconstructing the loans, extending the time or by giving holiday periods for repayment. Alternatively, as I suggested earlier, the loan could be converted into a grant, as has been done in some States.
What is the effect of devaluation? In the Territory, where the industry is well established, one would have hoped that devaluation would assist the industry. One of the reasons put forward for devaluation was that it would help the mining industry and the primary producers. Unfortunately, as far as the Territory is concerned, the season is closed and there will be no help there. By the time the season opens again the cost of equipment will be higher, the cost of labour will be higher, the cost of veterinary supplies will be higher, and so on. One wonders whether there will be any assistance at all to the industry. When considering the United States markets and some of the Territory’s other markets, one wonders whether the devaluation will be of any help at all. The rnining industry in the Territory will profit, but one wonders whether any of the other industries will. Let me refer again to a statement by Mr Sinclair. On 5 September 1975, he said.
The economic problems facing the beef industry are generating grave social problems for the families of beef producers and their employees. These social problems will become more pronounced as long as the Government fails to act to assist the industry. The total failure to act will bring down on Australia not only an economic tragedy but also a widespread, lingering social tragedy.
I plead with the Government not to see the future of the Territory solely in terms of mining. Beef production has been the biggest employer of labour and has given good returns to the Territory. Perhaps we could latch on to one of the catch-cries of the recent election and call on the Government to put the industry in the Territory back on its feet. I support the Bill.
– in reply- A lot of comments have been made about this legislation, which is not opposed by the Opposition. Indeed, it is supported, and Opposition speakers naturally have taken the opportunity to ventilate their apprehension, their concern, and their solutions to the problem. Those of us who have been involved in the industry- and some of us have been involved in it personally for quite a while- understand its difficulties and its problems and have lived with them for quite a few years. At the present time, the problem is not funny for those in the industry anywhere. We acknowledge that as a fact of life. Senator Gietzelt talked about the view of the Meat Board. He made a claim that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) is tending to divide the industry. The Minister has consulted all interested parties and recently met representatives of all parties to consider their diverse views. Consultations are continuing with a view to early introduction of legislation. Those who have been involved in primary industries, both as producers and as members of an industry organisation, are not unfamiliar with the problem of divided views and divided solutions in industry associations. It is the job of some person, usually a State or Federal Minister, to try to reconcile those views. That is what is happening now.
Senator Gietzelt talked about the United States beef market and the 1976 quotas. He claimed that the Government should have avoided the quotas. That is the sort of general proposition to which I referred in a different context this afternoon. How does a seller tell the buyer what the buyer is to do? It is a terrific proposition if it can be achieved, but that is one of the difficulties. I understand the theory; its application is what concerns me. In effect, quotas were set by the United States Government at the level of voluntary restraint quotas under which Australia was already exporting to the United States. While the Government does not favour quotas for many reasons and fought them very hard at the highest level, the fact remains that our exports to the United States in 1976 will be similar to the levels of last year. Our shipping program to the United States was almost complete when the quotas were announced by President Ford. Senator Gietzelt and I had a quite amicable chat across the chamber about this when I observed that I thought part of the problem at the moment with Japan and the United States was the fact that they were involved in election situations. The new year will show whether that is true or false.
Senator Gietzelt spoke about the Australian Meat Board’s new export scheme for the United States of America in 1977. He said that he thought that it could result in inequities and that he had a genuine concern about it. The Meat Board has carefully considered any possible inequities- for example, for Tasmania or north Queensland- and yesterday met with the Australian Meat Exporters Federal Council to review its findings. Consultations are still proceeding. The aim of the Meat Board is to avoid or minimise any possible inequities in whatever scheme is agreed to.
I should say in regard to the Meat Board that I have been involved in the industry in one way or another since 1948 and I have been involved a lot in the consideration of its marketing and at no time have I found any producer group in favour of the Meat Board. It is difficult for the Meat Board. But I have always found it to be one of the great Aunt Sallys of the business. I do not know whether somebody else can do better, but it has run for a fair period of time, it has gained a fair amount of experience, it has a fair amount of talent and there are many people involved in it. It has tended to become an almost permanent target for the abuse of one section or another in the business. In fact, if somebody were to say to Senator Gietzelt or me: ‘How would you like to be a member of the Meat Board? , I would recommend him very strongly. No, I would not really do that. Perhaps I would recommend him as President of the Sutherland Shire but not as a member of the Meat Board.
Senator Primmer spoke about there being a rather miserly approach. I invite him to refer to the tables that are available on this subject. I can have them sent to him. I would not want to incorporate any more of them in Hansard. If I were to do so the reporters might strike. The amount of $ 19.6m was allocated but producers did not take up all of that amount. They took up $ 12.3m, which was committed to 30 June 1976. The $15m now being provided by the Commonwealth for 1976-77 is sufficient to meet the estimated requests from the States on behalf of the producers. All States were asked for estimates. The basis for arriving at the $ 1 5m was the State estimations. The Labor Government had various alternatives. It provided $28m to the Commonwealth Development Bank to enable it to expand its lending program to beef producers, but at commercial rates of interest.
Senator Primmer was concerned about the high profits of meat exporters. That is something about which most of us in the industry have been anxious. He referred to big increases in the profits of major exporters in the past year and said that he thought that they might have been achieved by paying low prices to producers. The best information that I have been able to getsome of it has come out of my head- is that most companies have had a record through-put in the past year. The economy of scale to some extent has led to reduced unit costs and thus given them a good return. I have also seen some pretty lousy results for meat exporters in past years. Large cattle numbers have led to a big supply. It certainly has been a buyer’s market. The Meat Board’s export control scheme of 1977 is aimed at the problem. It aims to increase the demand for cattle and, accordingly, to try to improve the price situation.
I think that Senator Robertson spoke with a lot of feeling and concern when he spoke about the particular problem of the Northern Territory, which is really not within the general ambit of this Bill and which is really a separate responsibility situation. I listened to his remarks with considerable care, as did the advisers. It is a problem that I find very hard to solve on the input that he gave to us within the ambit of this legislation in the Commonwealth Parliament. It seemed to me to be a problem more to be solved by application in the Northern Territory itself. Once again, nobody in this chamber is unconscious of the overall Australian problem. The overall Australian problem is simply one in relation to which cattle numbers expanded rather massively and our market shrunk quite heavily. Somebody gave me the relative figures in relation to Japan. They were, I think, 100 000 tonnes to 8000 tonnes. In that context- with the United States levelling itself off, with our numbers expanding and with our being denied access to the European Economic Community market- a very difficult position arose.
I think the debate has been very useful. I listened to it very carefully. It has brought to my attention some new material for examination. But it has not produced a situation in which the Senate finds itself in conflict over the measure or in opposition to the measure. The measure is agreed to. So I suggest to the Senate that the matter should be disposed of and that the advisers should take the points that have been raised further into consideration. The Senate reflects a very wide range of views. Sometimes its range of views is wider than that of the House of Representatives. That is said with the greatest respect, but I think that it is perhaps true in this case that the Senate’s view is a wider and broader view. I do not think that I can say anything more that will be of value to my colleagues. Accordingly, I think that the Senate should proceed to the further stages of the consideration of this Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 17 November, on motion by Senator Durack:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Senate is now debating the Defence Service Homes Amendment Bill, which, in the words of the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack) in his second reading speech, has as its prime purpose the reconstitution of the Australian Housing Corporation in accordance with the Government’s announced policy to change its name, nature and function so that its sole responsibility will be the administration of the Defence Service Homes Scheme. The title of the Bill is therefore rather deceptive. The Bill has the positive function of re-establishing the Defence Service Homes Scheme in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, but it also has the negative function of destroying the Australian Housing
Corporation. It is for the second reason- the destruction of the Australian Housing Corporationthat the Opposition opposes this Bill.
We support the retention of the Defence Service Homes Scheme. Under this Bill, the functions of that scheme in fact will remain unchanged. The ex-servicemen and eligible people still will be entitled to defence service homes at the same interest rate and under the same conditions as they have in the past. I do not wish to dwell on this aspect of the Bill. I merely ask the Minister whether he can tell us what is happening concerning the situation under the Defence Service Homes Scheme of de facto widows of deceased eligible ex-servicemen. I understand that provision is made under the Repatriation Act for whatever reason for the de facto wives of exservicemen. Consistency would seem to me to mean that under this sort of legislation the same sort of provision would apply, but it does not seem to do so. I understand that the Minister before last was having discussions with the Returned Services League. We have been advocating this change and we are wondering when it will come about.
As I have said before, this legislation to all intents and purposes destroys the Australian Housing Corporation. The Corporation was set up in 1975 by the Labor Government. It was designed to assist low income families to purchase homes. The main plan it had in hand was to supply second mortgage loans for home purchase and for building, with a deferred repayment formula to ease the burden in the earlier years of the loan. First mortgages also were to be available on specific housing developments on a joint venture basis. The aims of the Corporation in general were to help one income, one parent families, poor families, those establishing first homes on a limited budget. It also was designed to provide information and advice on home purchases, titles, tax deductions and other things that are so important in the purchase of homes.
Housing remains a very serious problem in this country. We have in excess of 100 000 people on waiting lists for public housing. As has been demonstrated by the various housing surveys, large numbers of people live in inadequate housing and housing which is far too expensive. There is an inequitable distribution of welfare housing to the underprivileged, as the Henderson report and others have pointed out. More poor people live in privately rented houses and pay too much rent than live in public housing, and too many people in public housing have no real need for the concessions and benefits which that sort of housing provides. It is now 12 months since this Government came into power. Although the Housing Corporation, which had not been in existence for very long, was only just getting off the ground and had not been able to establish its functions properly, of course it has not been functioning at all this year because of the Government’s reluctance to support that sort of scheme.
What has happened in the 12 months since the Government came to power? We all know that housing is in short supply in this country. Housing is of an inadequate standard in many places. Housing is the major expenditure of families. Its cost is escalating. The Government has appointed a Minister for Housing who has other responsibilities, particularly for the environment and community development, which at the moment are very onerous. He has some very difficult problems. Inflation continues, and therefore cost increases in the housing field continue. The Government now has increased interest rates again. It has introduced a homes savings grant scheme. The grant, which has a maximum of $2,000, is for those who can afford to save sufficient money to qualify. This scheme is regressive. It favours those more affluent people who are able to save, more than it favours the poor. There is further legislation coming up next week dealing with that subject. I will not go into it now, but I am sure that at that time we will be able to demonstrate that the main function of the homes saving grant will be to add $2,000 to the cost of houses. The Government has introduced a housing allowance voucher experiment. It is on this subject that I wish to expand later. The main purpose of this experiment would seem to be to demonstrate that the Government has a concern for social reform. But the Government also has cut funds for public housing; it has sabotaged the land commissions scheme which was designed to reduce land costs; it has reduced assistance available under the mortgage interest payment tax deductibility scheme; it has reduced funds for Aboriginal housing; and now it abolishes the Australian Housing Corporation.
The main initiatives of which the Government seems to be most proud are in fact the homes savings grant scheme and the housing allowance voucher experiment. The housing allowance voucher experiment was announced by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) soon after he’ took over the portfolio. An amount of $75,000 has been allocated in the present Budget for the introduction of this experiment. There has been no debate in this Parliament; in fact until recently there has been very little public debate on the introduction of this scheme. The housing allowance voucher experiment has been introduced with very little publicity, as I said, and very little public discussion. This scheme is worth looking at. It is worth looking at all the more because the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said last week in Tasmania that the housing allowance voucher scheme would increase the availability of adequate housing in this country. He spoke as though it was not an experiment but an established scheme that would continue. In answer to a question from Senator Harradine in this chamber on 2 November, Senator Guilfoyle said that the Government’s housing allowance voucher scheme would make a great difference to the housing available for aged persons in Tasmania, particularly those in rural areas.
The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development has talked about the housing allowance voucher scheme as being the brave new world, the great new initiative in housing. I question this. I question whether the Government is really introducing an experiment or whether those Ministers who have spoken on this subject believe that it is an experiment and not an on-going plan. We know that the Government is planning this as an experiment, and it is this very experiment that I want to question. We know from discussion papers of the Department and discussion papers of those who are talking about this scheme that the proposed housing allowance is described as being part of an income support program. The allowance is described as a series of regular, periodic payments made directly to a family or eligible individual unable to afford a decent home in a suitable living environment. The allowance must be used to pay rent. The amount which will be paid will be determined on family need- I assume that that is family size and family income- in relation to the cost of a standard existing house or flat in a modest neighbourhood. The professed aim of the scheme is for the family to be allowed to choose its house or flat, for the family to be given assistance by the Government and for the Government to have a secondary or what is called an enabling role.
The definitions that I used before and the definitions that are used in other places involve the use of terms such as ‘decent homes’, ‘suitable environment’, ‘need’ and ‘modest neighbourhood’. The legislation talks about fair market rents and minimum standards of housing. It talks about a community wide housing code enforcement program, whatever that is. All the factors in this experiment will require terms such as ‘decent houses’, ‘standard houses’, ‘modest neighbourhoods’ and ‘community- wide housing code enforcement programs’ to be defined and will require these terms to be supervised. They will require inspectors to decide what is a decent home, what is a standard home and what is a modest neighbourhood. They will necessitate the determination of a fair market rent. Minimum standards of housing will have to be determined. We already have, in the group of definitions to which I have referred and in other definitions, the start of a burgeoning inspectorate or a burgeoning bureaucracy just to supervise this experiment.
When we consider that it is in fact an experiment, that people are to be experimented on, that their behaviour is to be watched and that their reactions to the housing voucher scheme are to be watched carefully, we can see that a large number of people will be involved just in the experimental stage. But that is not going to be all because there is going to be non-monetary assistance given under this housing voucher experiment. This sort of assistance will help people in how to spot a good buy in terms of structural adequacy and financial soundness of the house or the deal. It will provide information on discrimination of a social or ethnic origin. It will require all sorts of non-monetary assistance to help these people involved in what, I repeat, is an experiment. It will involve them in getting help of this type. It will mean that this whole scheme will have to be carefully supervised.
If we take the Government’s intention seriously what we are looking at in this scheme is certainly the biggest- probably the only- real social experienment in this country’s history, an experiment for which $75,000 has so far been allocated for the design stage but it will certainly need very much more than $75,000 to establish. What we are looking at is a scheme which is going to be conducted in the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart over 3 years and is going to involve the expenditure of many millions of dollars in those years. I believe this Parliament and this community should question this experiment. The first question I ask is: Should such an experiment, an experiment on such a scale, be commenced at all? Should it be commenced without more parliamentary, more public and more expert discussion? Should such an experiment be conducted without a clear statement of termination procedures- the procedures to terminate the experiment in case it is not seen to be successful or in case the economic conditions provide that the experiment cannot be continued or that the whole scheme cannot be continued? If we do not know what the termination procedures are we do not know how it will affect the behaviour of the renters or the builders who will take advantage of the vouchers available under this scheme.
The more serious question, I believe, is what validity such an experiment will have when those who are involved in it know that they are part of an experiment and part of an experiment which may be terminated after 3 years. How will this affect their behaviour- their behaviour in renting houses or flats? How a social experiment of this type can be conducted when the people who are part of the experiment know they are part of it is beyond me. The experiment is going to involve controls. How will those people who are controlled and who are getting no assistance behave?
– You do this in your medical practice.
– We do this in our medical practice. This is a social experiment. I am very surprised that the honourable senator would agree with such a social experiment. Indeed, if the Labor Party had suggested such a social experiment I can imagine the speech the honourable senator would make about it. I ask: What sort of validity will an experiment conducted in urban areas in Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart have in the consideration of future rural housing policies? We have no idea how much this experiment will cost. We have no idea what housing authorities, housing experts- public or privatewill be needed to judge such things as minimum housing standards, modest neighbourhoods or the establishment of a community-wide housing code enforcement program, whatever that is. We have no idea how migrants, the Aborigines and the aged will enter that experiment especially in view of the minimum housing standards.
This has been a great problem in America in the housing voucher experiments which were started there and which, despite the claims of the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) and the department, are still continuing and have not been evaluated. But we do know from the preliminary evaluation that the take-up in the American experiment- and American conditions are very different from ours- has been very low. The main reason for this low take-up has been the minimal housing standards that were set and the great difficulty for ethnic groups and other under-privileged groups to get into the experiment even if they desired to go into better housing standards. A serious question in a country that has a shortage of dwellings and a shortage of units available for people to live in is what sort of effect on rents will a housing voucher experiment have in areas where there is such a shortage? One would suggest that a very likely result and an almost inevitable result will be the bidding up of rents, an increase in rents in those areas, as has been predicted in articles on this subject.
The big problem we have in this country is to increase the number of houses and flats available in Australia and to increase the standard of those houses and flats and to make them accessible to the low income groups in this country, particularly in a period of high inflation. The Australian Housing Corporation, although it did not get off the ground, had positive schemes involving second mortgages, varying the repayment rates on first mortgages under certain conditions, to make some positive effort but that has been abandoned in favour of what is a 3-year experiment, an experiment which will not start till next year, an experiment which is very doubtful will increase the number of houses available in this country and the number of flats available. That is the problem that is facing us in housing.
I question the validity of social experiments of this type at all. I question the timing of this sort of social experiment if that is what is to be done. At a time of increasing inflation, at a time of housing shortages we are going to sit back for 3 years and conduct an experiment of doubtful validity to see just what will happen at the end of that time. I question whether some influential Ministers in fact consider it an experiment at all. They are talking as though this is the future in this country. They are talking in their Friedmanite way as though this is the way to do things, to give people money and they will somehow magically be able to acquire the services, even the services do not now exist. Already articles have appeared on this subject such as that by Patricia Apps in the National Times of 2 weeks ago which nave pointed out very seriously doubts about how any possible successful outcome can come from this experiment, an experiment conducted in 2 large cities- and 1 moderate sized city- in this country; an experiment which has no reference to rural areas; an experiment which has no reference to the large country towns which also have housing problems; an experiment which will have no effect on the appalling state of housing for aged persons in this country as demonstrated in the aged persons housing survey which was produced last year but done in 1974.
It is time this Parliament and the public had more information about this experiment which is going to be conducted, this experiment which is going to eat up a lot of money. It is time we in this Parliament, those in the community who have more expert knowledge of this area, those in universities and those in the building industry had a serious look at just what methods are going to be used in this experiment, and at its aims. We should not blindly translate into this country an experiment which is still being conducted in America. We should not blindly conduct social experiments in our community unless we have a much greater idea of what is going to happen at the end of them and unless the people in this country know exactly what is going on.
The Australian Housing Corporation had positive aims but never had the chance to start to achieve those aims. For that reason we believe that the Government, even though it is philosophically opposed to things like the Australian Housing Corporation, even though it philosophically has great difficulty in accepting such concepts, has not adequately substituted any other scheme to replace it; and it should have, because, as I have said before, we have a great shortage of housing and we have a great problem with regard to inadequate housing in this country. Because the Government is dismantling a scheme which started to show signs and had promise of helping to alleviate the problems of housing in this country we oppose this legislation. We have further questions to ask when the Bill is considered at the Committee stage. We shall ask how this Bill is going to affect defence service homes and how it is going to carry out the functions for which it provides. Our prime reason for opposing it is the fact that it destroys the Australian Housing Corporation.
– I am in total agreement with what the Labor Party shadow Minister, Senator Grimes, has had to say in regard to the Defence Service Homes Amendment Bill. I want to raise in my speech tonight a specific area. This is the second time today that I have had to rise to express my concern on behalf of the women in the Australian community. I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without once again pointing out just how discriminatory is some of the legislation that comes before this chamber and the other place. In his second reading speech the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack) said:
This Bill therefore provides for the establishment of a Defence Service Homes Corporation, the affairs of which will be conducted within the departmental framework by the Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The very recent establishment of the Department is evidence of the Government ‘s interest in the welfare of those -
I stress the word ‘those ‘- who have served this country in the armed Services.
I presume that the word ‘those’ includes exservicewomen, because at the moment there is no provision in most of the previous Acts, including the War Service Homes Act, for a great number of ex-servicewomen who were in the Services during the war but who did not serve overseas. It was not their fault that they did not serve overseas, because only women who had specific skills were able to serve overseas. However, they did contribute a great deal to the welfare of the people of Australia.
I want to quote from a letter written by the former Minister for Urban and Regional Development to my colleague from Victoria, Senator Melzer. Senator Melzer was most anxious to participate in this debate but unfortunately had to meet a most important electoral commitment away from Parliament House at a time which conflicted with the bringing on of the debate. She has given me a copy of the letter so that it may be recorded. The letter is dated 13 October 1975. The former Minister wrote:
When the Defence Service Homes legislation was originally enacted to provide homes for members of the Forces who served in the 1914-18 War, the principle adopted was that benefits would be limited to persons who were enlisted for service in Forces raised for active service overseas. The same principle was followed when the legislation was extended to cover service in the 1939-43 War and eligibility was limited to persons who were enlisted or appointed for or employed on active service outside Australia or on a ship of war. Therefore, members of those Forces raised for active service abroad, the AIF, the RAAF and the RAN, some members of the Nursing Service and persons enlisted for service in the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service (AIF), are eligible for benefits. On the other hand, persons who were enlisted in the Citizen Military Force, the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service (CMF) and the Women’s Auxiliary Forces, which were raised primarily for home service, are not eligible unless they actually served outside Australia. There is, therefore, no distinction, in this regard, between men and women.
To my mind, there is a very great distinction between the men and women who can be covered.
– The Labor Government introduced that division.
– I am quite aware of that but this matter goes a long way back. The Labor Government is not the only government to blame. I am making the point that this Government does not have the courage to do what other governments have not done. No government has yet had the guts to concede that women played a vital part in the Services during the war.
– It cost one battalion to look after every woman in a theatre of operations.
-Rubbish! Senator Sir Magnus Cormack should not talk so much twaddle.
– I was there.
-Well, it is a pity you are not there now. Ex-servicewomen enlisted voluntarily for service but, as I mentioned, they could not, even if they wanted to, enlist for service overseas unless they were skilled in particular areas. They could not do so simply because they were women. However, they were actively engaged here in Australia and their lives were just as much at risk here as were the lives of some of those who were serving overseas.
– Send them all back to the kitchen!
– And keep them barefoot and pregnant, too, I suppose. That is the attitude of Senator Sir Magnus Cormack to women. The work that those women performed freed a lot of men and enabled them to go overseas. Those men are eligible for housing benefits and the women who replaced them are not. Those women worked hard and they worked long. They worked extremely well and they deserve the same form of compensation as that of which the men are able to take advantage. I have already explained the reasons why they did not go overseas. I want the Government to explain to me why it does not have the guts in this day and age, when it is abolishing the Australian Housing Corporation and replacing it with the Defence Service Homes Corporation, to cater for those women.
Honourable senators will know that in December 1972 Mr Whitlam and the then Minister for Defence put forward a number of amendments. Some of those amendments were passed. One of them had the effect of extending the scheme to include all persons serving in the defence forces after 7 December 1972 with 3 years continuous service. So we are now talking about women as well as men who have served in the defence forces in peacetime as being eligible for a benefit which is not available to women who served in wartime. They are the women about whom I am talking; they are the ones for whom I am seeking the benefit.
At the same time, I am given to understand, consideration was given to extending the scheme to cover those women, but it was considered that the cost would be too high. I ask: The cost of what? Are we talking about thousands of women who will suddenly apply for this benefit, or are we talking about a few hundred women who are at an age- the war finished 30-odd years ago- at which they need security and the advantage of knowing that they have decent, comfortable accommodation for which they can afford to pay and which will be provided for them in their old age. We are talking about a few hundred people and possibly a few thousand dollars. The amount involved would be only a few thousand dollars. The flood gates will not suddenly be opened for hundreds of thousands of people. Perhaps a few hundred women find themselves in those circumstances.
For the benefit of those honourable senators who happen to be of the opposite sex to me, let me assure them that it is not easy at any time, under any circumstances, for a woman to have a loan made available to her. The lending institutions and the banks look rather unkindly upon women, especially if they happen to be single women. They do not see that women contribute a great deal to the running of Australia, any more than Senator Sir Magnus Cormack recognises that women in the Parliament play a great role.
– They play a separatist role; I will grant you that.
– We play a most important role, Senator. One of these days you may be able to find out just how important that role is. Those women have the same difficulties as men in saving for a reasonable deposit on a home in an endeavour to keep monthly repayments at a minimum. I am talking about women who are no longer young. I am talking about women who are now in their fifties and who may find that it is not possible to commit themselves for a great amount of money at widely varying monthly repayments which they may not be able to afford.
I spoke a little earlier about the qualifying period which now applies for ex-service women. Women who have served continuously for 3 years in the defence Services can at this point in time have a loan made available to them if they are married or are about to marry or have dependants. I have been informed that a number of single ex-service women have applied for and received loans and have their dependent parents living with them. Single ex-servicemen get loans for homes and nobody begrudges the widows of ex-servicemen the benefits that they receive; but I am talking about the women, particularly those women who were quite prepared to sacrifice themselves if necessary, who sacrified their time and their human resources in wartime service.
The excuse that the claims of these women could not be considered unless the claims of the men who served in the Citizen Military Forces could be considered is, to my mind, quite spurious. I am not saying that the CMF men are not entitled to have consideration given to them. I think the claims of the CMF men are very real ones. But I wish to make the simple point that the women to whom I am referring volunteered; the men of the CMF were conscripted. To me, that makes quite a big difference. The women voluntarily enlisted out of a desire to serve their country. May I say, for the benefit of Senator Sir Magnus Cormack, that in 1944 women comprised two-thirds of the defence forces serving in Australia. Men could not have gone overseas unless the women were prepared to step in and do the messy work that the men had left behind here. At this point of time, those women want an assurance of proper, permanent, decent accommodation for the rest of their lives. I hope that the Defence Service Homes Corporation will bring before this Parliament in the very near future a Bill for an allocation of land so that a housing project, a block of units perhaps, could be established for the aged amongst those exservice women and, if necessary, for their husbands who may not necessarily have contributed in the war effort.
As I have already stated, I do not believe that the extension of this scheme to wartime exservice women would commit this Government or any other government to a great deal of money. I do not think we should be endeavouring to put a cost on the services of those women between 1939 and 1945. 1 think it is disgraceful that 30 years after the war has finished they are still having these rights denied them. I hope this will be one of the first areas to come before the Parliament from the Defence Service Homes Corporation.
-in replyPerhaps that I should remind the Senate that we are debating a Bill to amend the Australian Housing Corporation Act. This legislation seeks to abolish the Australian Housing Corporation as set up by the Labor Government last year and to replace it with a corporation to be known as the Defence Service Homes Corporation to continue the administration of the defence service homes scheme under the old Act. The Australian Housing Corporation, for most of its life, has simply administered the defence service homes scheme. When the Corporation was set up by the Labor Government, it was given the responsibility of administering the defence service homes scheme. It was also allocated, I think, $25m in Labor’s last Budget for other purposes but that money was not made available to it. As I say, for most of its life, its sole responsibility has been the administration of the defence service homes scheme.
This Bill simply seeks to amend that Act in such a way as to bring it into accord with the actual situation and to have the defence service homes scheme become the dominant feature of this legislation. The Bill is not one which alters in any way the terms and conditions of the defence service homes scheme. Therefore I think that most of the comment that has been made in relation to the defence service homes scheme in this debate has been quite irrelevant.
This particular legislation before the Senate this evening is hardly a suitable vehicle by which to debate the Government’s housing policy. That seemed to be the main concern of Senator Grimes. I can appreciate that he may have wished to express views that he holds or that the Opposition holds in relation to the Government’s housing policy but, as he recognises, there will be a further and better opportunity to debate that subject next week when the Government’s home savings grant legislation will no doubt come before the Senate. lit will be much more appropriate to debate the subject then. That Bill is in the hands of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) and it will be bis representative in this chamber who will be piloting that Bill through the Senate. I would think that that would be a much more suitable occasion for a general debate on the Government’s housing policy.
I should also like to say in very broad answer to Senator Grimes that the Government’s housing policy is by no means confined to the voucher scheme which he spent most of his speech discussing. The Government’s housing policy covers a variety of matters. Of course the dominant one is the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. That is the major contribution of the Commonwealth Government to housing in Australia. But the Government has also announced some major policies through the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) in relation to aged persons’ housing. As I said, the Government is to introduce into the Parliament this session the new home savings grant scheme. So there are many other aspects of the Government’s housing policy. Apart from stating the policy in those broad terms, in my reply I do not intend to deal with it.
As I have said, this Bill is not concerned with the terms and conditions of the defence services homes scheme; it is simply concerned with the administration of that scheme. I have explained in my second reading speech the way in which that scheme will be administered in the future. The general policy is that that scheme should be administered through and under the general control of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The nature of the scheme is such that it is required to be conducted by a corporation, for obvious legal reasons. It has always had that legal structure, and that will be preserved by this legislation in that the Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs will constitute the corporate structure in his own person.
The Government’s reasons for abolishing the Housing Corporation were very forcibly stated in this chamber about 18 months ago by the then shadow Minister for Housing, Senator Carrick. When we were in Opposition we made it perfectly clear that we were entirely opposed to the concept of an Australian Housing Corporation. Soon after this Government was formed the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) announced that it was the Government’s intention to abolish that Corporation. I think that was in early February of this year. This Bill simply gives effect to a long-standing policy of the Parties which now comprise the Government in relation to this concept. Broadly, the reasons for our opposition to it are that we believe that the proper method of providing housing is through the Commonwealth-State housing agreement and its administration by various State government agencies. All States have, and have had for many years, housing commissions or housing trusts to administer the necessary and proper government assistance for the housing needs of the lower income earners in the community. We as a government believe that that is the proper way in which this assistance should be administered. We have supplemented this assistance by several schemes. When we were in government previously we had various supplementary schemes for housing assistance. We do not see the role of the Commonwealth Government as a dominant one in the administration of the housing needs of the community. The actual administration would be more properly and better carried out by State governments. The other problem with the Housing Corporation is the constitutional limitations of this Parliament in relation to housing.
The way in which the functions of the Corporation are set out in the Australian Housing Corporation Act reveals the very clear constitutional limitations of this Parliament in relation to housing. Efforts by a national administration to provide housing schemes are inevitably discriminatory. That is clear from the legislation. For instance, the Corporation may provide for the housing needs of Commonwealth public servants but not of State public servants. It may provide for the housing needs of members of the defence Services, but not, for instance, of members of the police forces. It may provide for the needs of migrant Australians, but not for the needs of Australians generally. This is quite clear from section 6 of the Act which sets out the functions of the Corporation. It arises from the limitations of the power of this Parliament in relation to housing. Many other objections were stated to the Commonwealth Government participating in housing policies and administration through a body such as the Australian Housing Corporation. I have indicated the 2 broad objections which we had when we were in Opposition and which we have now when we are in government. Those are the reasons why the Government is now proceeding to disband that Corporation and to replace it with the Defence Service Homes Corporation which, of course, has been a longstanding responsibility of the Parliament and the national government and which the Government certainly will continue to maintain.
Senator Coleman raised a matter concerning discrimination against women in relation to the defence service homes scheme. I point out that there is no question of discrimination against women because the defence service homes scheme always has been confined to persons who have served on active service outside Australia or on a ship at war. That applies to both men and women. Therefore, there is no discrimination against women. The only discrimination that could arise would be discrimination between those who served overseas and those who did not. That is a basic feature of the defence service homes scheme.
– And those who are serving in peacetime.
– There were plenty of men in the Citizen Military Forces. They were not all conscripted into the CMF. There is no discrimination between men and women as far as service in Australia is concerned. Senator Coleman has misconceived the nature of the defence service homes scheme. Since I assumed responsibility for the scheme, I have said that I am reviewing the scheme and many aspects of its administration.
However, I do not contemplate considering that aspect of the scheme and I am not prepared to hold out to Senator Coleman any hopes that there will be any change in that aspect of the scheme.
Question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 3 (Members of Australian Housing Corporation to cease to hold office).
-This clause provides that members of the Corporation shall cease to hold office on the date of commencement of the Act. The Corporation originally consisted of 8 members, including the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Construction, the General Manager and others. Under section 13 of the Australian Housing Corporation Act part time members were appointed for 3 years and it was provided that they be paid such remuneration as would be determined by the Remuneration Tribunal. I wonder whether there will be any compensation for the early termination of these appointments. Also, has the Governor-General been consulted about abolishing the apppointments made by him?
– The Government is not offering or providing, nor has it been asked to provide, any compensation to the members of the Corporation, I had lunch with them today.
– That is compensation.
– That may be taken to be the compensation. I had no complaints from any of them about the way in which the Corporation is being disposed of. I am not suggesting on their behalf that they are happy about the Corporation being abolished, but the matter raised by Senator Grimes has not been raised by any of the members. My advice is that they would not have any claim for compensation.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 4 to 7- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 8 (Defence Service Homes Corporation).
-I would like some explanation of this clause. Subclause ( 1 ) repeals Parts II, III, IV and V of the original Australian Housing Corporation Act which dealt with the functions and powers of the Corporation, the composition of the Corporation, the General Manager and the provision of finance for housing. Clause 8 ( 1) of the Bill substitutes a new Part II, which includes section 5 (2), which states that the Corporation included in the repealed section will continue in existence under a new name. But this Bill makes it clear that the nature, functions and powers of the new corporation are fundamentally different.
We are wondering why this has been done this way. The question seems to be: What is the nature of the body referred to in that clause that is to continue in existence? For instance, who will be the members of the new Corporation? Will the Corporation continue to have functions and powers? If so, specifically, what will they be? If the Corporation will have no members, what in fact constitutes the Corporation? Why was this done in this way? One wonders why the whole Act was not repealed and a new Act introduced.
– I think that is a very fair question. It has been done this way for the convenience and speed of drafting and passage through the Parliament. The Senate would appreciate that the Government has had a very heavy legislative program this session and a large number of Bills still require to be passed this session. In the opinion of Parliamentary Counsel this was the quickest and most convenient way of actually effecting the Government’s purpose. I appreciate that to some extent the Bill is a misnomer in that, as Senator Grimes said, one would probably expect to find one Bill abolishing the Housing Corporation and another Bill setting up the new Corporation, to be known as the Defence Service Homes Corporation. Clause 8 does that. Honourable senators will see that it provides in a new Part II the following:
For the purposes of the Defence Service Homes Act 1918 there shall be a body corporate under the name ‘Defence Service Homes Corporation’.
Also in Part II, what will become new section 6 provides:
The affairs of the Corporation shall be conducted and controlled by the Secretary.
The Secretary is defined as the Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. That is the way in which the Corporation will be constructed. I think honourable senators would find that if there were a completely fresh Bill to establish a Defence Service Homes Corporation it would not provide any differently. The same clauses would appear m the Bill. The only somewhat confusing aspect is that these new provisions will appear now as a new part in an existing Act. I concede the element of confusion that arises and the explanation is the one that I have given.
– Is it intended to alter this legislation later? I cannot understand why the Government has decided to maintain the structure of the Corporation, but has vested all the powers of the Corporation in the Secretary, the permanent head, of the Department of Veterans ‘ Affairs. He will be the corporation. It seems to me that the Corporation will be a bureau with a department. I cannot see the necessity for it being left this way. Does the Government intend to leave it this way?
– Until the establishment of the Australian Housing Corporation the defence service homes scheme had always been conducted by a person known as the Director of Defence Service Homes or Director of War Service Homes. That person constituted the Corporation. It has always been conducted by what is in law known as the ‘coroporation sole’. Really we shall only be going back to the traditional way of administering the scheme by a person. The actual corporation is set up by statute. It is a creation of statute the same as I understand are a number of corporations, such as the Commonwealth Bank. A group of people is not needed to constitute a corporation. The Bill simply provides that the affairs of the Corporation are going to be conducted and controlled by the Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
– I am sorry I do not have the legal education that is often needed in this place. It would seem to me that the Defence Service Homes Act, the parent Act, confers certain powers on the Corporation. The Corporation has functions. What are the functions conferred on the Corporation by the Defence Service Homes Act? Are the functions substituted for functions contained in the repealed Part II of the Housing Corporation Act? This Bill does not seem to contain any mention of the powers of the Corporation. We assume that the Corporation has only whatever powers are conferred by the Defence Service Homes Act.
On a slightly different tack, is it intended that this Corporation will employ staff from outside the Public Service, as I believe it does now, or will the staff be provided by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs? I should think that if the Corporation continues to employ staff from outside the Public Service it may be inconsistent that the Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs should be the person controlling the Corporation, or corporation sole, or whatever the correct legal term is.
– I think that the answer to the honourable senator’s question is to be found in clauses 13 to 16 under the heading: ‘Part Ill-Amendments of the Defence Service Homes Act’. It will be found that this provides a tie-in between the creation of a new corporation and the existing Defence Service Homes Act. That Act outlines the powers, functions and policies of the defence service homes scheme which in future will be conducted by the Defence Service Homes Corporation created by clause 8 of the Bill that we are now considering. So the answer is that one has to look at the Defence Service Homes Act to find all the powers, functions, policies and so on which are going to be administered by the new Corporation.
asked a question about staff which I should answer. To answer this question I have to give a little history of the way in which the scheme has been conducted by the Australian Housing Corporation. When the Corporation was set up the existing staff of the defence service homes scheme, I think I am right in saying, were all employed under the Commonwealth Public Service Act and, at that time, were under the Department of Housing and Construction. But, whichever department they have been working under, they have always been a separate group.
– But they were all public servants?
-They were all public servants. They were lent to the Australian Housing Corporation. The vast majority of them are still under the Public Service Act. However, the Corporation has recruited about 30 new staff who are not under the Public Service Act because they have been recruited by the Corporation. We have preserved the legal situation that the staff is in at the moment because this Bill does not alter the existing sections of the Housing Corporation Act in relation to staff.
What has to be done- and this will take some time- is to achieve the transfer back from the Corporation of the staff and their reabsorption into the Public Service. Although they still remain public servants they are on loan to the Corporation and in many cases they are employed on slightly different terms and with different status from that under which if they had been employed under the Public Service Act and there will be a fairly lengthy period of dealing with the final transfer of staff in which consideration will have to be given to every public servant employed by the Corporation. Probably there will have to be some further amendment to the legislation to cope with that problem but at this stage negotiations are taking place between my Department and the Public Service unions who are concerned with the staff. The negotiations are proceeding amicably and assurances have been given to the staff that every consideration will be given to their position.
– I thank the Minister. I shall take a crash course in law and take the matter up with him when the amendments come along.
Clause 8 agreed to.
Remainder of Bill- by leave- taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Durack) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 4 November, on motion by Senator Durack:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition enthusiastically supports this Bill, which is quite a simple Bill. The Republic of Nauru, a small island with some 7000 people in the Pacific Ocean, was originally a mandated territory which gained its independence in 1968. Prior to that there was provision in its legal structure for appeals to our High Court and this, of course, lapsed on the Republic gaining its independence. The Bill gives effect to an agreement which has been made between the Government of Australia and the Government of the Republic of Nauru relating to appeals to the High Court of Australia. It is quite a tribute from the people of Nauru that they desire to have the benefit of our highest and most prestigious court. There is no question of Australia trying to maintain any neo-colonial domination over Nauru or anything like that. One of the articles of the Agreement provides that it comes into force on the date on which the 2 governments exchange notes notifying each other that their respective constitutional and other requirements necessary to give effect to this
Agreement have been complied with- that is, when this Bill passes through the Australian Parliament and the Nauru Parliament- and there is a safeguard that the Agreement shall continue in force until the expiration of the ninetieth day after the day on which either government has given to the other government notice in writing of its desire to terminate the Agreement. So there is no suggestion of Australia wishing to retain any influence if the Nauruan Government gives some indication that it wishes to sever the tie. Therefore, there is no attempt by the Australian Government to maintain any domination. On the contrary, this is a fraternal gesture to a Pacific neighbour and we support the Bill.
– I rarely enter debate on a Bill which is related to matters dealt with by the AttorneyGeneral or matters relating to legal or court affairs and I enter this debate with some degree of apology because I realise that I am taking some time at a period of the Senate’s operations when the Senate wishes to draw its activities to a conclusion. I feel constrained to enter the debate because I am interested in Nauru in my capacity as representing the Australian Parliament and a group of parliaments within the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The point of interest in this measure to me is that the Republic of Nauru and the Commonwealth of Australia are both members of the Commonwealth of Nations. They both have parliaments within an organisation known as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, they both are part of the Pacific region and there are very close relations between the Australian Parliament and the legislature of Nauru. After all, Nauru, was a trust territory administered by Australia for many years until 1968 when it gained its independence and this Parliament was involved by the Nauru Independence Act 1967 which made provision for the Nauruan people to adopt their own constitution.
In adopting their own constitution they established their own courts of law and their own legal and judicial procedures. In this case, as Senator James McClelland mentioned a few moments ago, the Nauruan Government took the initiative in seeking to have the High Court serve as the final appeals court of Nauru and this indicates a degree of confidence in what Senator James McClelland called the most prestigious court in Australia. Within the constitution of Nauru there is provision for a Supreme Court and in the section of the constitution relating to the judiciary there are references to the relationship between the Legislative Assembly of Nauru and the Supreme Court of that Republic. The legislature of Nauru and the legislature of Australia therefore have this close and interesting connection. I seem to recall from the second reading speech of the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack) that it was something of a novel and interesting process whereby this step was taken and that for the first time the High Court will function as final court of appeal from the supreme court of another independent sovereign country.
Honourable senators here may know that within the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association I have the privilege of being what is called an Australasian regional councillor. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association operates through an executive of some 14 members, two from each of the 7 regions throughout the world, and one of these regions is the Australasian region. I am one of the councillors from the Australasian region. Plans are now made for my visit in my official capacity within the next few weeks to the legislature of Nauru and without doubt I can say that the people I will meet there will be interested in the progress of this Bill which is before the Senate tonight. Nauru is within the Australasian region and this legislation provides an opportunity for an association between the legislature there and the legislature here. I do not go so far as to make claims for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association beyond the areas which it is designed to serve; but, because it is an organisation which provides for the conferring together of parliament and for negotiations between one parliament and another and one legislature and another, without any doubt there is an area in which the kind of material that is within the substance and body of this Bill has some relationship with the organisation which I represent. If I may claim so, I think it has some connection with my duties as a regional councillor.
The legislatures in the Pacific- that of Nauru is one of those- have maintained a strong and useful connection with the Australian Parliament, the Australian Government and the Australian system. The legislatures within the Pacific and Australasian area have sought advice and assistance from the Australian Parliament and have continued what I would call the political and parliamentary fellowship. A great deal of this has been fostered and sponsored by the organisation that we know as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Indeed, at this moment one of the parliaments within the Pacific area has sought a degree of assistance and guidance through the Commonwealth of Australia
Branch of the CPA. This Bill relates to the courts. It is a matter relating to the legal and judicial processes and does not have any relationship to the economic or social circumstances of either Nauru or Australia; but it is very much involved with the development of governmental processes in one of the Commonwealth countries with which Australia has a very strong, intimate and continuing connection.
Nauru achieved its independence in 1968. Until about mid- 1965 all powers of government were vested in the Adminstrator, who was appointed by the Australian Government. These powers were not only administrative and legislative but also judicial. There was a local government council and, following the talks with the then Australian Minister for Territories, a Legislative Council was established. As honourable senators probably are very well aware, there was a series of developments following that and Nauru moved steadily towards independence, which took place in 1968. Nauru is now an independent republic within the Commonwealth of Nations, to which it has been admitted as an associate member. Nauru is also a full member of the South Pacific Commission. In 1971 a series of 3 courts were established within Nauru. These have been reviewed and the review has led to the Bill which is before the Senate and to which Senator James McClelland referred as being a very important step in judicial and court relationships between the Republic of Nauru and the Commonwealth of Australia. Nauru has only a small parliament of about 18 members, I believe. I it is based on the Westminster system, with a number of amendments, alterations and modifications which suit the local circumstances. The terms of this Bill undoubtedly have received the attention of someone who is described as the Minister for Justice within the Nauruan legislature. He was one of the members returned at the election of 1974. The Republic of Nauru is developing a strong tradition in the British Westminster system.
For those reasons, I take some strong interest in this Bill, which is perhaps a little unusual from my point of view. In Nauru there is what is called a main branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association which sends delegates to conferences. It sent a delegate to the recent conference in Mauritius and to the recent conference in this country, and it is proposed to send delegates to the regional conference which is to take place in Adelaide early next year. That background means that the Commonwealth parliamentary system and the branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association will have had some connection with the terms, styles and titles of the measure that is before the Senate tonight. Because it is my privilege to serve as an executive member of the organisation and to serve as one of the representatives of the area of the world which includes both Nauru and Australia, I thought I should make these few comments and this contribution to this debate in order to indicate that in the interparliamentary scheme of things there is a place for an organisation such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and that in a measure of this quite unique and interesting kind the organisation on whose behalf I am speaking has played a very material part. I lend my support to the measure and will be pleased to report on its progress when I visit the people of Nauru in January.
– in reply- I thank the Senate for its support of this measure. It is an interesting one and can only add to the status and prestige of the High Court. As Senator Davidson has said, it is a very practical example of the continuing value of the Commonwealth of Nations and of the association of the parliaments and governments within the Commonwealth.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 16 November, on motion by Senator Durack:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
– In relation to the first of these Bills, namely the Federal Court of Australia Bill, I move:
At end of motion, add-‘, but the Senate is of opinion that the Federal Court of Australia Bill 1976 should provide a Federal court with original jurisdiction in all matters refereed to in section 75 of the Constitution and laws made by the Parliament’.
Although the Opposition does not oppose this or any of the other Bills being dealt with in this cognate debate, I point to what I see as a basic illogicality in the reasons given by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack) in his second reading speech for limiting the field of the exercise of original jurisdiction in the proposed Federal Court. To illustrate my point, I wish to quote a few passages from the Minister’s speech. These are not exactly in order, but I will refer to them in the order which makes my point. After dealing with the differences between this Bill and the proposal to set up a Superior Court which was introduced into the last Parliament by the Labor Government, the Minister said:
The present Bill therefore differs from previous Bills relating to a Commonwealth Superior Court in that the original jurisdiction that is to be exercised by the proposed Federal Court of Australia will be limited initially to that now exercised by the Industrial Court and the Bankruptcy Court . . .
In another part of his second reading speech he said:
The Government believes that only where there are special policy or perhaps historical reasons for doing so should original federal jurisdiction be vested in a federal court.
In another part of his second reading speech he said:
The Court now proposed will not, as would previous Bills to establish a Superior Court that have been introduced into the Parliament, perform judicial functions that can better be performed by State courts or create jurisdictional problems of a kind that might delight constitutional lawyers but only add to the hazards of litigation for the parties concerned.
It will be observed that the statements that I have read from the Minister’s second reading speech are merely bald, unsupported assertions- not arguments- in favour of the limitation of the original jurisdiction of the proposed Federal Court and we have been asked to accept it merely on the say so of the Minister that there is ample justification for this limitation of the original jurisdiction to be exercised by this Court. Let us set those statement against another statement in the Minister’s second reading speech, that is, the statement which reads:
As conceived by the Labor Government, it-
That is the conception which the Minister admits has a very august parent in the person of the former Attorney-General and present Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Sir Garfield Barwick- would have removed from State courts the bulk of the federal jurisdiction exercised by those courts and greatly weakened the status of those courts and the quality of the work dealt with by them.
To summarise, the argumentation behind this limitation of the original jurisdiction of the Federal Court seems to be that, out of deference to the preservation of the status of the State courts, much original federal jurisdiction which properly belongs to it will be withheld from the Federal Court. I cannot see how it is that this limitation does not strike some sort of blow at the status of the new Federal Court.
I do not know whether this is just an illustration of the hold which the mystique of federalism has on this Government. There might be another reason. It is almost impossible for the Government to explain why the Australian Labor Party’s proposal for a Superior Court was rejected. As I have pointed out, the Minister said that the concept of a Superior Court was developed by the Labor Government from the original proposal by Sir Garfield Barwick. The Government is stuck with considerable difficulty in explaining why a measure which the Labor Party introduced and which was rejected by the Senate now has been introduced by it, unless of course it has changed the concept in some way to make it look as though it is a totally different concept. It bears some sort of relationship to its conduct in respect of Medibank. When we proposed a levy to finance Medibank- presumably because we proposed it- the proposition was thrown out in this chamber. But when the Liberal and National Country Parties gained office they introduced a levy to finance Medibank.
It was suggested that the reason or perhaps a subsidiary reason why the Liberal-National Country Party forces did not like the idea of our introducing a Superior Court measure and perhaps wanted to defer it until they could introduce a measure of their own was that they might have some regard to the appointment of the judges of this Federal Court. I will not impute any such unworthy motives to them. I merely point out the illogicality of a Federal Parliament being so tender to the status of State courts, and, in doing so, depriving a federal court of what would seem to me to be its logical ambit of jurisdiction, which should be to cover the whole field of federal jurisdiction not already covered by another federal court.
The Opposition is not opposing these Bills. The others, which I will not deal with, merely confer jurisdiction which now belongs to other courts onto this Federal Court and relate to other subsidiary matters, such as the remuneration of judges. They are matters which do not really call for any disputation. I should like to say in conclusion and merely in passing that I happen to know a fair bit about the history of proposals for the establishment of a Superior Court. For example, I happen to know that a prominent Sydney barrister accepted a judgeship on the Commonwealth Industrial Court, whose jurisdiction is now to be absorbed in this Federal Court, on a promise that he would soon be elevated to the chief judgeship of the Superior Court which was then in the pipeline. This proposition has had a very chequered career. As is pointed out in the Minister’s second reading speech, it was first spawned by Sir Garfield Barwick and then spurned by him. A Bill was introduced in 1968 by Mr Justice Bowen, as he now is, but it was not proceeded with and then, as I have said, the proposal introduced by the Labor Government was thrown out by the Senate. I cannot help reflecting upon how much better off the country would be if the Superior Court had been established at the time Sir Garfield Barwick was talking about it and the promise had been kept to a man who later became Governor-General of Australia.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator DrakeBrockman) Is the amendment seconded?
-I second the amendment.
-in reply- I am pleased that the Opposition, although moving an amendment to the Federal Court of Australia Bill, is in fact supporting the measures, and even more so because Senator James McClelland has referred to the august progenitor of this whole concept, namely, the present Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick. In fact, the original proposal that Sir Garfield Barwick put forward for a new Federal Court, Superior Court or whatever it might be called would have had jurisdiction only in special federal matters. The Federal Court of Australia Bill and the related Bills that are before the Senate this evening are much more similar to the original proposal of Sir Garfield Barwick than the subsequent Superior Court proposal which became a matter of such great policy by the former Labor Government, of which Senator James McClelland was a distinguished member.
I well remember the debates we have had in this chamber on the Superior Court Bill. I have just asked my advisers whether this debate is the third, fourth or fifth debate that we have had in this chamber on the subject. If we take Senator James McClelland ‘s amendment as raising the issue of the Labor Government’s Superior Court proposal, and I think that it must be taken in that way, this debate will be in fact the fifth debate that we have had in the Senate on this matter in recent years. All of us- even the lay members of the Senate, if they are not utterly bored with the tedium of the debate- probably could take part in a debate on this subject in our sleep.
Acceptance of Senator James McClelland ‘s amendment, which proposes that the jurisdiction of this Court should be extended to cover all original jurisdiction arising under the Constitution or under the laws made by this Parliament, would in fact completely alter the concept of this Bill. I was rather surprised to find Senator James McClelland, having put forward that proposal, then criticise the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) and the Government for introducing the Bill and then say it is very hard to explain the difference between our proposal and that of the Superior Court when in fact his amendment to the Bill highlights the distinction very clearly. The reasons for this Bill that I gave on behalf of the Attorney in the second reading speech that I presented to the Senate were quoted by Senator James McClelland.
The purpose of the Bill is to create a Federal court with jurisdiction limited to areas that have developed as special areas of federal judicial interest and expertise. No doubt those areas will be developed in the years ahead. There will be new Acts, new initiatives and no doubt there will be new areas of jurisdiction for this court. But the idea of the proposal of setting up a Federal court is to absorb that rather disparate group of jurisdictions and courts into the one Federal Court of Australia. It is in many ways largely a tidying-up operation. The establishment of a new court to cover all the areas which have been traditionally areas of federal jurisdiction no doubt will have some benefits in future developments. They will come from the individual Acts passed by this Parliament in future years.
We are most concerned, as the Attorney has indicated, that we should not develop in
Australia 2 parallel legal systems and jurisdictionsa federal jurisdiction and a State jurisdiction. We are concerned to preserve the status and prestige of the State Supreme Courts. We do not want to introduce a new Federal court which will denude them of a great deal of their work and thereby go a long way towards creating a system such as has developed under the federal system in the United States of America where there are parallel court systems. There is a federal court system and a federal jurisdiction, and there is a state court system and state jurisdictions. The object of this Bill is a limited one. The proposal put by Senator James McClelland on behalf of the Opposition, if adopted, would greatly widen the whole concept contained in the Bill. For that reason the Government will oppose the amendment.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills together read a second time.
– I rise for the purpose merely of recording a few comments on the Remuneration and Allowances Amendment Bill 1976. As my colleague Senator James McClelland indicated when he spoke on the second reading of all these cognate Bills, and there is quite a number of them, the Opposition does not oppose this Bill. As was stated in the second reading speech of the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack) when the Bill was introduced in August or September, the purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the report on remuneration payable to judges as made by the Remuneration Tribunal to the Government on 21 June and to a subsequent report to the Government on remuneration payable to the President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
The increased salaries that are recommended by the Tribunal and which have been accepted by the Government for justices and judges of federal courts and of the Supreme Courts of the Territories, the Chairman of the Prices Justification Tribunal, the President and Deputy Presidents of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, the President of the Trade Practices Tribunal, the Director-General of Security, the Chairman of the Law Reform Commission, the Chairman of the Grants Commission and the President of the Administrative
Appeals Tribunal under this Bill are to be made retrospective to 1 June.
I place on record that it was the Whitlam Labor Government that established the Remuneration Tribunal, and the recommendations of that independent tribunal are made by it after detailed inquiry by it. These increases are the first that have been awarded since March 1975 to the people occupying the positions mentioned. I also want it recorded that the Tribunal ‘s report has not been made on the principle of indexation. Clearly the Tribunal has based its findings on a number of principles. Firstly, the High Court is the pre-eminent Court in Australia. Secondly, the salaries and allowances of High Court judges should have a suitable margin above those paid to federal and State judges. Since March 1975, the last time an increase was granted to federal judges, salaries and allowances of State judges have risen substantially. Thirdly, there is no basis for formal links between judicial salaries and those paid to Ministers of the Crown or to First Division officers of the Australian Public Service. Fourthly, the Tribunal does not suggest that the rates proposed for federal judges establish margins which the Tribunal necessarily considers appropriate on relation to other judicial offices or salaries in the public sector of the economy.
– What about the semi-judicial role of the Presiding Officers of the Australian Parliament?
-They are not related. The Tribunal clearly points out in its findings that the rates proposed for federal judges should not establish margins which the Tribunal necessarily considers appropriate in relation to other judicial offices or salaries in the Public Service. They are not related in any way.
– You would agree that the Presiding Officers occupy a semijudicial position.
– I do not have to agree or disagree with your proposal. All I am recording is the principles on which the Tribunal based its assessment of the wage value of judges of the High Court and other federal judges. We are not discussing the salaries of the Presiding Officers of this Parliament or others.
– We are discussing principles though.
– If the honourable senator wants to speak on that he can do so, but I am just setting down these things that have been enumerated because members of the Government have been talking about wage indexation and pressures by the trade union movement for a long time. I am just having these things recorded for future reference. If Senator Sir Magnus Cormack wants to go through the Tribunal’s determination and make other references to it he may do so and this Committee debate may go on for some time. All I want to say is that the increased amounts that are payable under this legislation on a percentage basis are very much higher than the increases that were recently awarded by the Tribunal to Ministers of the Crown and to members of the Australian Parliament. For instance, the percentage increase in salary for the Chief Justice of the High Court is 16.7 per cent. The percentage increase for other High Court judges is 15.9 per cent. The percentage increase for other federal judges, who are the subject of the Tribunal’s findings, is 12.9 per cent. But so far as the increase for members of Parliament was concernedand members of Parliament had not received an increase in salary since March 1975- the percentage in the determination for them on a salary basis was a mere 6.3 per cent. That is what I was trying to say to Senator Sir Magnus Cormack earlier.
We do not pass comment on any comparison of like with unlike. We adopt the attitude that the Tribunal is an independent tribunal. We accept the fact that it was established by a Labor Government and we are prepared to abide by its findings. After all, it took evidence in public. It reached its conclusions based on the evidence and after informing itself, so we are told in its findings, on all aspects. We believe it is proper to preserve the independence of the Tribunal. We do not oppose the provisions set out in the Bill. I have taken advantage of the Committee stage to indicate that the Tribunal, in bringing down its findings so far as the salaries of judges of federal courts are concerned, on a percentage basis granted a much larger increase to judicial office holders than it did to members of this Parliament.
Senator Sir MAGNUS CORMACK (Victoria) ( 10.42)- I have been challenged by Senator Douglas McClelland on the basis of the implicit threat in his observations, namely, that if Government senators addressed themselves to a Bill it is Government senators who are delaying the passage of Bills through the Senate and I reject that; I will not accept that. Any senator sitting in this place is as much entitled to make an expression on any Bill as anyone who sits on the Opposition side. The area of discussion in relation to Bills or the area of discussion on clauses in a Bill has nothing to do with whether a senator sits on this side or the other side.
– He should stand when he talks.
-I am standing.
– You were not previously.
-I am standing now. I was bending down to pick up a copy of the Bill. I address myself to the remarks in general terms that have been made by Senator Douglas McClelland. The Remuneration and Allowances Amendment (No. 2) Bill is a Bill to put remuneration allowances for justices of the High Court- I am referring to Schedule 3 so I am within the ambit of your observations, Mr Chairmanin a preferred position above and beyond all other people in the community. I acknowledge and direct the attention of honourable senators to the fact that the Remuneration and Allowances Tribunal is, of course, presided over by a judge. When I go through Schedule 3 I do not mind seeing that the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia is acknowledged and recognised as the chief of one of the arms of government and receives a salary of $52,000 per annum. But when I look at some of the other eminent adornments of the bench in the Commonwealth jurisdiction I find all sorts of odd characters- if I may use that derogatory term in this sense- who are given special remuneration.
By interruption I addressed myself to Senator Douglas McClelland, saying that the Presiding Officers of this Parliament who occupy a semijudicial position and who, in the Table of Precedence are put far above and beyond some of the lesser lights of the Commonwealth jurisdiction, are treated with less than consideration because in fact they do occupy a semi-judicial position.
I content myself merely at this stage by directing the attention of honourable senators to the fact that I do not accept that the Chairman of the Remuneration and Allowances Tribunal occupies a position of immutable distinction as was accorded once to the Medes and the Persians. At some stage we have to look at the Tribunal and offer criticisms of its findings. Simply because the Tribunal was appointed, as Senator Douglas McClelland said, by a Government which he once adorned- I say this without any contempt at all; he was a man of quite singular distinction in the Ministry of the Government which he supported- I do not accept that any comment upon the Tribunal is beyond the ambit of this chamber. I well remember that one of the present justices of the High Court was one of the first honourable senators of that time to make the observation and draw the distinction as to what is happening in the context of this Tribunal. I hope that the next time a recommendation comes down from the Tribunal and is embedded either in regulation or in statute some more stringent observations will be made by honourable senators on the preoccupation of the Tribunal with members of the bench.
– In relation to the comments by Senator Douglas McClelland, I do not propose to discuss in any way, certainly not critically, the recommendations of the Remuneration and Allowances Tribunal to which we are giving effect in this legislation. But I thought I might make some comment by way of explanation on the salaries of federal judges. I do not know whether there has been an increase of 16 per cent on their previous salary. I have not worked out the mathematics but I think it is important to compare the salaries which have been recommended and which we are approving in this legislation with the salaries of judges of supreme courts because I am sure that that comparison would be one which would have been very clear to members of the Tribunal in recommending the salaries provided for in this Bill.
The salary for the Chief Justice of the New South Wales Supreme Court is $50,660. The salary forjudges of the New South Wales Supreme Court is $46,350 compared with the salary of a judge of the Federal Court of Australia of only $42,000 even with this new recommendation. Judges of the Queensland Supreme Court receive $42,940. Judges of the Tasmanian Supreme Court receive $39,735. Judges of the Supreme Court of Victoria receive $43,290 1 do not propose to read out any more of these figures. I think that gives some indication of the comparison.
– The salary in Victoria is $43,920.
-Thank you. I think those comparisons explain the level of the recommendations. These new salary scales for judges of federal courts compare somewhat unfavourably with the salaries forjudges of supreme courts by and large throughout Australia. Indeed, it is rather significant that the new salary of the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia at $52,500 is less than $2,000 more than the salary of the Chief Justice of New South Wales.
Bills agreed to.
Bills reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bills (on motion by Senator Durack) together read a third time.
Debate resumed from 9 November, on motion by Senator Durack:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– It is useful to move out of the judicial area and back into the fresh air of our rural countryside. Of course, this Bill will not give rise to quite the emotive response that occurred on the last occasion on which the Parliament was dealing with the question of fertilisers. At that time, of course, we were dealing with the superphosphate bounty. We are dealing this evening with the Nitrogenous Fertilizers Subsidy Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976. Once again, on behalf of the Opposition, I indicate that we do not intend to oppose the Bill, although we believe that some comments ought to be made in respect of the Bill because it is another piecemeal measure. It is another piece of legislation that deals with the effects of the crisis that faces agriculture and does not in any way deal with the causes of the problem besetting so many thousands of our farmers today.
The Opposition does not oppose the amendments to the nitrogenous subsidy, because they are in keeping with the recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission. However, we condemn the Government for not instituting programs envisaged by the IAC in its very fundamental examination of rural industry and such recommendations as are designed to alleviate the hardship that currently is being experienced by farmers. The Bill seeks to extend the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy scheme for a further year until 31 December 1977. I suppose it reflects something of the way in which the Government regards the rural sector that in the twilight of this session we are dealing with a number of Bills concerned with agriculture. Many of those Bills should have been on the business paper earlier this year, if we are to believe the rhetoric and the propaganda upon which the Government based its campaign against the Whitlam Government in 1 975 and its subsequent election campaign of November-December last year.
The Bill seeks to reduce the subsidy from $78.74 per tonne of nitrogen content to $60 per tonne of such content. It proposes that the 1977 calendar year subsidy be payable at the reduced rate. Of course, it leaves in abeyance the future of the subsidy, because the suggestion was made by the Industries Assistance Commission that the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy should be phased out over a 3-year period. The Government has taken the initial step, in its first year of office, of reducing the subsidy. Perhaps one can read into that that ultimately it intends to adopt the total recommendation of the Industries Assistance Commission in relation to the fertiliser subsidy.
The Labor Party consistently has held the view that the rural producer most requiring assistance and support does not receive such assistance and support with across-the-board subsidies of this nature. They do not take into account the degree of hardship which is faced by the small farmer. In fact, they give the larger farmer the greater subsidy. Because the Labor Party has expressed that view, it has been misinterpreted to mean that the Labor Party is against all forms of subsidy assistance or assistance to the rural community. I hope that our performance during the 3 years for we were in government and certainly our attitude to legislation which has been passed by the Parliament this year have shown that that does not accurately reflect the Labor Party’s attitude. What the Labor Party Opposition is against is the manner in which subsidies such as those based on tonnage use of fertilisers, or those based on volume of production, which purportedly assist the genuine, needy farmer, in fact give only a nominal assistance to him because of the amount of fertiliser that he uses.
We look forward to the day when the Government will introduce legislation- it did not come in the first session, and obviously it will not come in this session of Parliament- that recognises the plight or the need of the small farmer. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and all of the spokesmen for the Government have expressed the view that something like half the fanners in this country today are earning less than $5,000 a year, which is considerably less than average weekly earnings and which places them even further down the income scale than those in the 70 per cent of the Australian work force who receives less than average weekly earnings.
It has been established that the bulk of the assistance from product-based subsidies is obtained by farmers who do not require as much assistance as those lower down the scale. The Government claims that it will consider the level of subsidy to apply after 13 December 1977. So we have a year to wait before we can see whether the Government implements the second recommendation of the Industries Assistance Commission. I have no doubt that it will do so. I have little doubt that the Government intends to follow the balance of the IAC recommendations which are related to the subsidy. That is to say, in the second year the subsidy will be reduced to $40 per tonne of nitrogen content and in the third year the subsidy will be reduced to $20 per tonne of nitrogen content before the Government phases out the bounty completely. When one considers that it is intended to phase out this subsidy, it is amazing how little reaction there has been from the farming community, especially when we consider the hullabaloo, the outcry, the protest meetings and the rhetoric that was expressed when the Labor Government took the step 2 years ago of phasing out the superphosphate bounty.
The decision to phase out this bounty will, in certain instances, in the absence of alternative schemes, exacerbate the hardship already experienced by those recipients who ought to be considered for some form of government assistance. So the Government has failed to produce simultaneously a viable income support scheme designed to assist those farmers experiencing severe downturn in their real income. I do not think any honourable senators needs any advice about the very serious plight that is facing so many sections of Australia’s rural industries today.
The Labor Party does not oppose the reduction of the amount of the nitrogenous bounty but it does oppose the failure of the Government to introduce legislation which would give assistance to those farmers in need. We always have been critical of product-based subsidies, but we never have been critical of subsidies designed to assist people in need. In fact, the hub of all of the legislative programs of the Labor Government between 1972 and 1975 was identification, recognition and legislation, taking into account the question of need. What we are opposed to is the indifference that the present Government is displaying in relation to people in need in Australia. It has to be stated in this year, 1976, that we can look at 2 areas of need- a large section of the rural community and the unemployed. Both of these sections are being ignored by a Government which seems to be more keen to promote the foreign mining interests than to subsidise commercial and other concessions such as tax allowances for the Australian worker, whether he be a farmer in the rural sector or a labourer in the city.
Medibank Deductions from Pensions -Community Health Programs- Commonwealth Employment Service -Telethon Program
– Order! It being 1 1 p.m., in conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I wish to raise 3 matters on the adjournment tonight.
- Senator Sir Magnus Cormack is walking out of the chamber.
- Senator Sir Magnus Cormack may leave the chamber; I do not want him here to listen to me. He would not take any notice, anyway. He need not mutter in his cups over there, either. I wish to raise very important matters tonight despite the fact that Senator Sir Magnus Cormack might think they are not important. He will not put me off.
– We have had a bellyful of you today.
– Well, you might have. The reason why you have had a bellyfull of me was that I was able to expose to the Senate all the false promises that your Party had made to the electors of this country. I caught you out on them. Now we will get back to some sanity as Senator Sir Magnus Cormack has left the chamber.
I wish to raise in the first instance tonight a matter which I raised here by way of a question without notice to the Minister for Social Security, Senator Guilfoyle, on 2 1 October. I asked her:
Is it a fact that pensioners who are required because of their income level to pay the Medibank levy can make arrangements with the Department of Social Security to have the standard Medibank levy deducted from their social security pension but are not permitted to have an extra amount deducted to provide cover for choice Number 2 or Number 3 as set out in the booklet circulated by the Commonwealth Department of Health? Will the Minister take immediate steps to enable pensioners to arrange with her Department to make any deductions necessary to cover them for the type of medical care they may desire?
Senator Guilfoyle answered:
It is a fact that pensioners who are required to pay the levy may make arrangements with the Department of Social Security to have the standard Medibank levy deducted from the pension payments being made to them. Next Tuesday I will be announcing the program, and giving the information that will clarify this matter for pensioners and clarify the new income tests and other matters that I believe need to be advised to all of those people concerned. I shall investigate what has been suggested by the honourable senator with regard to private insurance. It will be understood that Medibank Private is in the same classification as any other private insurance fund. I shall have an investigation made with regard to the proposition put in the honourable senator’s question that this further deduction be made possible.
Senator Guilfoyle wrote to me a letter dated 1 December 1976. She said:
Dear Senator McLaren,
When replying to your Question- Without-Notice of 21 October 1976, 1 promised to make enquiries with regard to the possibility of providing a facility by which deductions could be made from Social Security pensions to meet private Health Insurance contributions. I have attached a copy of the Hansard record of your question and my reply for your convenience.
As you know, arrangements are made to deduct the standard Medibank levy from pension on request. This facility is in line with arrangements commenced when pension first become taxable. Since that dme pensioners have always been offered the facility to have tax deductions made from their pension. These arrangements help pensioners to meet their taxation liability where their other income, plus their pension, requires them to pay tax and they are unable to make any other arrangements for periodic deductions. As the Medibank levy is payable with tax to the Commissioner for Taxation, the above arrangements ensure that pensioners, who have no other ready means of paying the levy by deduction, are relieved of the burden of making lump sum tax payments at the end of the financial year.
As you are aware, for those pensioners who choose to take cover beyond basic Medibank, extensive facilities already exist through Medibank and private fund organisations for payment of any extra insurance which pensioners may take.
I am advised that it would be very costly to set up facilities within the Department of Social Security for the payment of private fund insurance. The provision of such facilities would require extensive changes to the computer systems in use and would make further demands on staff resources which currently are heavily strained to provide the basic services for which the Department is responsible.
As such a service would, in equity, have to be offered to all private funds, I think you will understand that it would be beyond the present resources of my Department to provide it.
Yours sincerely, (MARGARET GUILFOYLE)
I want to say to the Minister that in view of the fact that it was this Government that interferred with the Medibank system which was operating quite successfully under the previous Government and brought about the system under which pensioners are under some considerable inconvenience I see no reason why this Government cannot make some provision for pensioners if they want to enter into a section of Medibank Private which would mean that they would share a room in hospital. I do not see why the Department of Social Security cannot make provision to have the necessary amount deducted from their pension. This would save the pensioner inconvenience. Although the Minister has said in this letter that such a service would be beyond the resources of the Department to provide, surely in the interests of elderly citizens of this nation, the Department with all the resources at its disposal could make some provision to alleviate the unnecessary worry and the trouble that these people have to go to if they want to insure under the Medibank standard scheme or to take out extra cover with Medibank Private.
It is argued that Medibank Private is on the same level as private health insurance but, of course, we are all aware that Medibank Private was a company that was set up in the premises which were operated by the Whitlam Government under the previous Medibank scheme. The Government is using all the facilities that previously were used and calling it Medibank Private. In effect, it was a Government instrumentality and all the Government has done is to change the name. I make a plea again to the Government and ask it to do something to help pensioners and elderly citizens to take out extra cover if they so wish. It may be that not many of them will require that extra cover.
Another matter I wish to raise which causes me great concern is a letter dated 18 November which, no doubt, would have been sent to all members of Parliament from the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt). I will read the letter to the Senate in order to get it in its proper context. It states:
In order to clarify the position in regard to Commonwealth grants under the Community Health Program, I am writing to notify you that, in the current financial year, the Government proposes an appropriation of $8 1 million for community health services and facilities. This includes $70 million for the Community Health Program specifically. By comparison, estimated expenditure under the Community Health Program in 1975-76 was $54.3 million.
The proposed appropriation of $70 million this financial year includes an allocation of $5. 1 million for your State.
Of course, this letter from which I am quoting no doubt was sent to South Australian members of the House of Representatives and South Australian senators. It continues: . . covering both State-conducted projects and projects conducted by non-governmental organisations.
Since the Community Health Program commenced in 1973-74, Commonwealth financial assistance has been made available for a total of over 700 individual projects, ranging from small to relatively large and covering a wide variety of project categories to meet the varying needs of particular areas or groups. The $70 million to be appropriated for the Community Health Program this financial year will not provide for growth in the Program at this stage-
That, in effect, means that the program has stagnated- but it is intended to maintain previously approved projects at a viable level of activity. During the current financial year the Government will have the opportunity of evaluating the success of the Program.
Consistent with our federalism policies, Commonwealth financial assistance under the Community Health Program now takes the form of annual block grants to the States, and it is primarily the responsibility of each State to determine the allocations to individual projects from within its block grant. This will provide the States with the flexibility necessary for efficient administration but, of course, there will also be a process of Joint Commonwealth/State review of the implementation of each annual program with a view to ensuring that its essential characteristics are maintained.
Attached to this letter is a list of the projects in your State which have been approved for Commonwealth purposes in relation to the $5. 1 million block grant to your State. My Department will be seeking details of the allocations decided upon by the States for individual projects. When these details are received- probably over the next four to six weeks- my Department will advise you of the allocations applicable to the projects in this list.
What disturbs me greatly is that when I examined the list of projects that was attached to this letter, under the name and location of the project and the description of the project as approved for new health program funding in 1976-77 I immediately looked at the electoral divisions of Angas and Barker. I live in Angas and I live on the border of Barker and I endeavour to service those electorates as a Senator from South Australia
Under the heading ‘Name and Location of Project’ is the Murray Bridge Community Health Centre- Development of a Minor Community Health Service project. That rang a bell with me. I immediately rang my secretary and asked him to go through my file. I found out that I was advised by Dr Everingham, the Minister for Health in the Labor Government, of allocations for certain projects. I made a statement in the provincial Press dated 1 November 1974 that $16,050 had been allocated for a paramedical centre and nursing personnel at Murray Bridge. No money is mentioned under the heading for this project for 1976-77 by this Government. There is just a description of the project as approved for community health program funding in this financial year; that is, the development of a minor community health service project for the Murray Bridge Community Health Centre.
I am at a loss to know what the Government is doing. I do not know whether it is now saying that it funded this centre for this financial year or whether, in effect, it is repeating an announcement of the funding which the Labor Government made and which I had the privilege of announcing some 2 years ago. A little further on the Riverland Health Advisory Services Committee is described as an advisory committee for coordination of health services in the area. In my Press statement of 1 November 1974 I announced that an amount of $23,475 had been allocated for the Riverland Community Health Centre to co-ordinate health services in the area, namely, Renmark, Berri, Barmera, Loxton and Waikerie.
– Was the cash paid across?
– Of course the cash was allocated; it was announced.
– Was it paid across?
– It was announced 2 years ago. I now refer to the electorate of Barker. There was a project for the Coonalpyn Community Health Centre, a community practice nurse for the area. An amount of $9,000 was allocated, which I announced on 1 November 1 974, for the provision of a community nurse to serve the area. A little further on in the statement by the Minister under the heading ‘Name and Location of Project’ is the Christie’s Beach/ Noarlunga Community Health Centreconstruction and operation of a temporary community health centre providing primary care and a range of community health services. An announcement was made in 1974 of an amount of $ 1 87,200 to establish and operate a community health centre. The money was appropriated 2 years ago by the Labor Government.
– It will be paid this time.
– I do not know whether it was paid. If it was not paid why is it not designated in this document? This document says: Description of project as approved for community health program funding in 1976/77’. I have checked with some of my colleagues, particularly the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis). There is an enormous number of centres -Senator Baume will be interested to hear about this- listed in the appendix to the Minister’s letter as being approved for 1976-77 by this Government. Some of them have been operating in the electorate of Grey for the last 6 or 8 months, long before the start of this financial year. I hope Senator Baume took notice of that.
I am asking the Minister to get me an answer as soon as is humanly possible as to whether this is a misleading document. Is the Government saying that it has funded all the projects listed for South Australia, totalling $5. lm, or were most of these programs funded by the previous Whitlam Government when Dr Everingham was the Minister for Health? That ought to be clarified.
Mr Hunt claimed that this Government has made massive increases in the community health program. I want to read a letter I received several days ago from Dr Cass, our shadow Minister for
Health, in answer to the announcement by Mr
Hunt. Dr Cass wrote:
I am writing to you in order to clarify the position with regard to Commonwealth grants under the Community Health Program in 1975-76 and 1976-77.
The Labor Government in 1975-76 appropriated $64.1m for the Community Health Program, including $4.4m for the establishment of community health centres and facilities in your State.
He is referring, of course, to South Australia. He continued:
During the 1975 election campaign, Liberal and National Country Party spokesmen promised repeatedly that the Community Health Program would be maintained if they were elected. In January 1976, despite these assurances the Fraser Government reduced expenditure on the program in South Australia by $0.6m, so that grants totalling only $3.8m were approved in your State in 1 975-76.
This savage reduction in funding forced several States to apply strict moratoriums on the replacement and hiring of new staff and lead to a rapid decline in the quality of service provided in many health centres.
The proposed allocation for South Australia under the program in this financial year is only $5. 1 m, an increase of 4 per cent in real terms on the amount appropriated in 1975-76 but grossly inadequate to maintain existing community health centres. This allocation will not only prevent the construction of new health centres urgently required in many areas of South Australia, but will force established centres to restrict the service they provide to the public.
During the current financial year Mr Hunt claims the Government will have the opportunity of evaluating the success of the program. Vet in March this year the Hospital and Health Services Commission in its ‘Review of the Community Health Program noted . . . ‘that despite some difficulties in implementing the program, its value and overall success have been proven’. How many reviews does the Minister require before he will accept that the Community Health Program provides comprehensive health services to the 1 5 per cent of Ausralians living in areas that are seriously underserviced with basic health care.
It does the Minister for Health no credit to continue to claim that the program is being maintained, when the allocation of funds is being continually reduced.
Dr Cass’s letter in reply to Mr Hunt’s circular ties in with the question I am asking about the funding of the projects set out in the appendix and I hope we can get some clarification.
There is one other matter I want to raise and I will not take too long. I will read out the question I asked and then seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a letter I received from the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street). On 6 October I asked Senator Durack, in his capacity as the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, this question:
My question is addressed to Senator Durack in his capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. I refer to the report of the special youth unemployment working party which was recently handed to the South Australian Government. Is the Minister aware that the report states that the image of the Commonwealth Employment Service is not high amongst young people in South Australia? Further, has the Minister considered the fact that the report makes strong criticism of the CES for being unable to match young people to jobs and for placing too heavy an emphasis upon rigid work tests for young people? As the report rightfully recognises the skills and concern of the officers of the CES in their endeavours to find employment for young people, could it be that the officers are having to shoulder blame which rightly rests with the Australian Government because of its budgetary restraints? Finally, in view of the tragic numbers of young people unemployed and the expected spiral in these figures in January 1977 due to the numbers of school leavers seeking employment, can the Minister provide the Senate with a clear undertaking that significant Government initiatives to eliminate this problem will be taken in the immediate future?
Senator Durack undertook to draw this matter to the attention of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and I received a letter from the Minister dated 18 November replying to that question. As it is a lengthy letter I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The letter read as follows-
Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations 239 Bourke Street Melbourne 18 November 1976
Dear Senator McLaren
I refer to your Question Without Notice asked in the Senate on 6.10.76, concerning the Report of the Youth Unemployment Working Party to the Premier of South Australia, the Hon D. A. Dunstan, Q.C., M.H.A., in May of this year.
I understand that the Youth Unemployment Working Party was set up at the direction of Mr Dunstan following representations to his Government by the Unemployment Youth Action Committee. This committee comprises a group of youth workers and social workers from a variety of Government and non-Government agencies concerned about youth unemployment. The terms of reference of the Working Party were, in summary, to coordinate State Government Department and other programs for unemployed youth; examine the long-term aspects of the problem and make recommendations on State Government action; and consult, where appropriate, with a broad range of State and Commonwealth Departments, voluntary agencies, employers and trade unions.
The South Australian Regional Office of my Department cooperated and assisted the Working Party in its enquiries. In particular a special survey of unemployed youth was conducted by three officers of my Department in Adelaide. The Working Party’s Report notes, in its conclusions, a number of comments arising from the special survey concerning the operations of the Commonwealth Employment Service and, in particular, the difficulties being faced by the staff of the Service. My Government is aware that the Commonwealth Employment Service is under pressure at the present time and has recently announced that it will be the subject of a major review.
The criticism of the CES contained in the report is based mainly on interviews held with young people who have been unable to find employment. Unfortunately the report did not seek to balance the views of these people with those of the very large number of young people who had been successfully placed in employment by CES.
The report concluded that there should be a wide variety of approaches to the problems of youth unemployment. You will of course be aware that the Government has recently taken some significant initiatives with regard to unemployed youth.
Firstly, a special youth employment training program has been set up under NEAT. Its purpose is to provide the opportunity for six months’ on-the-job training to young people who face being severely disadvantaged in the labour market. A special subsidy was introduced to the NEAT System for the program. In three working weeks some 1 100 young people have been placed in training under this program and 2500 employers have come forward with vacancies. Training placements have been effected across the spectrum of industry and with a geographical distribution which has by no means been limited to metropolitan areas.
Secondly, programs sponsored by community groups and aimed at providing support for young unemployed persons and improving their personal capacity to find employment while facing a period of unemployment, can now be assisted under the recently announced Community Youth Support Scheme. The Scheme seeks to help young people maintain a positive orientation to employment and job finding and to provide them with opportunities to undertake voluntary community service activities, whilst unable to find regular employment.
Thirdly, the Government has instituted an inquiry into the relationship between education and the labour market. It is hoped that this enquiry will enable the Government to focus on some of the longer-term issues affecting difficulties school leavers experience in gaining satisfactory initial acceptance into the work force.
Fourthly, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is conducting a comprehensive investigation into the various services provided by government agencies to youth. It is expected that this investigation will explore the need for the establishment of a Youth Bureau to coordinate and provide a focus for action in the area of youth affairs. Finally, officers of my Department have been working with officers of the State Departments of Labour and Technical Education on a review of aspects of apprenticeship in an attempt to develop initiatives aimed at improving the effectiveness of the Government’s incentives to employers in relation to the employment and training of apprentices. The Government already provides substantial assistance to employers of apprentices under the National Apprenticeship Advisory Scheme and further development of that initiative will not only enhance opportunities for employment and training available to young people but also assist in ensuring a ready supply of skilled tradesmen to the workforce.
I am sure you will agree that the initiatives I have referred to indicate quite clearly that the Government is well aware of the seriousness of the youth employment situation and has taken appropriate action. I can assure you that my Department is keeping the matter under close review, particularly as to the need for any further action.
Yours sincerely A. A. STREET
Senator G. T. McLaren The Senate Parliament House Canberra A.C.T. 2600
-I thank the Senate for permission to incorporate that letter in Hansard. I think it answers the question I read out. In conclusion, as I said earlier about the other 2 matters, I hope the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) can do something to assist those few pensioners who require the Department of Social Security to make the necessary deductions from their pensions to cover any extra medical coverage they may require under Medibank. I am making this request not on behalf of the other private health funds but only on behalf of the one set up by the Government because I recognise it as having been set up by the Government and not as one of the multitude of private enterprise health funds endeavoured to be sold to the public. On the other matter I raised, I hope that the Minister will be able to obtain from the Minister for Health, some clarification of the document which he circulated to members in South Australia and no doubt to members in every other State.
– On 3 November I asked a question of the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) in regard to a promise she made when she appeared on a telethon program on television Channel 7 in Perth. I asked her whether it was a fact that the film had been destroyed so that no record of the Minister’s promise was available. On 9 November I received a letter from TVW Channel 7 which stated that the company’s attention had been drawn to an article published in the West Australian on 6 November which referred to my question. The company felt from the terms of the article that I had posed a question which reflected upon its integrity. I was assured that the videotape of the interview was completely intact and I was invited personally to view the videotape. I accepted this offer. So that the record may be put straight, I wish it to be recorded that the tape and all that it contains are intact.
- Senator McLaren raised first a matter that related to a letter which he had received from me in answer to a question. The letter, as read by Senator McLaren, is selfexplanatory. I did investigate the possibility of deducting from pensions the amount that would be appropriate for private insurance if a pensioner required this. As I stated in the letter, it is a matter which is unable to be handled. I state again that Medibank Private is in the same category as any other private insurer and it is not possible for us to make this service available to pensioners. I have nothing that I can add to the letter which was read by Senator McLaren, which was my response to the investigation that was made on this matter. It should be pointed out that it is not new for pensioners to make their own private insurance arrangements. Under the previous Medibank they were still required privately to insure for those services outside standard Medibank. I believe that they are able to do this if they require that additional service.
The second matter raised by Senator McLaren with regard to the community health program is one to which I shall make a more general comment than the one that would cover the specific item that he mentioned as being one in which he was interested. To put the record right, let me say that in the 3 years 1973-74 to 1975-76 the Commonwealth made a total of $ 125m available for community health projects. Much of this assistance was at 100 per cent rate and the rest was at the high rates of 90 per cent of operating costs and 75 per cent of capital costs. As the community health program expenditure in 1975-76 was $54.3m and having regard to the absolute necessity to reduce Commonwealth expenditure, the 1976-77 allocation of $70m represents a very substantial contribution to the continuation of this program at a viable level of activity.
As a matter of background I should like to state on behalf of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) that the States submitted programs totalling $95. 5m to cover their estimated requirements for the continuation in 1976-77 of existing community health projects. After critical examination and detailed discussions with the States by the Hospitals and Health Services Commission, the total estimated requirement for this purpose emerged as $85.9m. This was the estimated requirement for the continuation of already approved projects at a level of activity previously proposed by the States and accepted for the purposes of Commonwealth funding. In May 1976 the Treasury announced that $81 m would be available in 1 976-77 for the continuation of community health services and facilities. This includes $70m for the community health program. Deducting $5. lm which is required for the continuation of national projects leaves $64.9m available for State projects. That is $2 lm less than the estimated total requirement of $85.9m. It appears that overall the States will find it necessary to apply some restraints on expenditure in 1976-77, although, if past years’ failures to achieve expenditure targets continue in 1976-77, the actual degree of restraint required should be less significant than the States contend.
I will refer to the Minister for Health the specific matter raised by Senator McLaren and obtain an answer to clarify his mind on that subject. I will refer the matter raised about the Commonwealth Employment Service to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) to obtain a response for Senator McLaren. I thank Senator Mcintosh for his comments. I believe that any misunderstanding which may have arisen out of the telethon appearance has been satisfactorily dealt with in Western Australia following the meeting of the community organisations with Federal and State government authorities to plan the priorities of projects which can be undertaken in our 3-year program.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.27 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The further conclusion was drawn in the report that it will be possible to study any possible chance effects when the penetrants are identified and quantified.
I have, meanwhile, sought information from the authors of the abovementioned report on any further work which they may have undertaken.
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
While the community pre-school centres in some States have advised specifically of the additional services they are providing or propose to provide, information is not available in relation to all or even a high proportion of the approximately 3300 pre-schools operating in the States with Commonwealth Government recurrent assistance.
On the basis of the information available, additional services provided include accommodation for playgroups, parent/child services, operation of toy libraries and some outside school hours and vacation care. A common development, and one not necessarily in keeping with the Commonwealth’s understanding of the objectives, is the provision of sessional pre-school services for a further group of children during times when the centre was not previously used. While this arrangement maximises the use of the facilities, it does not offer a range of diversified services providing options in the light of community needs.
Commonwealth recurrent assistance for pre-schools from 1 January 1 977 will be in the form of a fixed lump sum grant to each State.
Conditions of this grant include the requirement that preschool facilities are made available on a non-profit basis for extended services, and that State authorities encourage preschools to extend the range of services provided.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
– The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The information is available within the Queensland Main Roads Department from whom it was sought by Department of Transport officers. It has not been forthcoming.
The Roads Grants Act 1974 does not enable the Minister for Transport to require a State to provide this type of information.
States. Therefore the Minister for Transport normally accepts the State Minister’s advice.
Over the last couple of years the Queensland Minister for Local Government and Main Roads has not recommended that any Commonwealth funds be spent on the Mulligan Highway.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
1 ) The National Health and Medical Research Council at its 64th Session in 1 967 stated that:
At the same session it also recommended that:
WARNING- THIS MEDICATION MAY BE DANGEROUS WHEN USED IN LARGE AMOUNTS OR FOR A LONG PERIOD.
Subsequently the following statements have been made.
Council recommends that a warning label drawing attention to the possible dangers should be required on all packages of preparations containing salicylates, phenacetin or paracetamol when sold without prescription; the warning should read as follows:
WARNING-THIS MEDICATION MAY BE DANGEROUS WHEN USED IN LARGE AMOUNTS OR FOR A LONG PERIOD.
A warning label drawing attention to the possible dangers should be required on all packages of preparations for internal human therapeutic use containing salicyclic acid, its salts, its derivatives and their salts, phenacetin or paracetamol when sold without prescription; the warning should read as follows:
WARNING-THIS MEDICATION MAY BE DANGEROUS WHEN USED IN LARGE AMOUNTS OR FOR A LONG PERIOD.
The 76th Session of Council ( 1 973) approved the following for analgesic preparations containing calicyclic acid, its salts, its derivatives and their salts, phenacetin or paracetamol when sold without prescription. This warning might be used as an alternative to the warning label recommended at the 69th Session:
CAUTION: THIS PREPARATION IS FOR THE RELIEF OF MINOR AND TEMPORARY AILMENTS AND SHOULD BE USED STRICTLY AS DIRECTED. PROLONGED USE WITHOUT MEDICAL SUPERVISION COULD BE HARMFUL.
All the States have adopted a form of warning recommended by the Council and while the Territories do not yet have relevant legislation the products sold there are manufactured in States with the appropriate legislation and thus carry a warning.
Several committees of the Council have been actively considering further action concerning the ready availability of specific analgesics. In order to explore the matter in greater depth Council at the 82nd Session in October 1976 agreed to establish a specialist working party with the following terms of reference.
There is therefore no need for an approach by the Minister. The N.H. and M.R.C. is acutely aware of the problem and expects to have a report from the Working Party in due course.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
What is the projected staff ceiling for the Department of Transport as at 30 June 1 977.
– The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The honourable senator’s attention is drawn to the reply given by the Prime Minister to Question No. 1246, on 9 November 1976 (Senate Hansard, page 1 174).
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice:
Is the Minister aware that, in the Queensland Parliament on 30 September 1976, in answer to a question without notice, the Queensland Minister for Health, Dr Edwards, said he knew of no legislative restriction on Queenslanders joining private health funds in other States to take advantage of lower rates of health insurance. If so, (a) was the Queensland Minister for Health correct, and what are the details; (b) does the situation apply to all States; and (c) how should persons make the application for health insurance in a State other than that in which the persons’ names appear on the electoral roll.
– The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
With respect to the question of intrastate trading by vessels of the Australian National Line, (a) what is the form of discussions currently taking place between the Australian Government and the Queensland Government, referred to by the Premier of Queensland in answer to a question on notice in the Queensland Parliament on 23 September 1976; (b) what is the ‘certain information’ from the Australian Department of Transport that, according to the Premier in his reply, is being awaited by the Queensland Government in order that further consideration can be given to the possibility of intrastate trading being carried out per medium of the Australian National Line, and (c) when is it likely that agreement will be reached between the two Governments.
– The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Committees on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (Question No. 1301)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice:
– The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
However, because of the variety of expiry dates of the original and subsequent appointees to the Committees- and, in some cases appointments made by my predecessors for unspecified periods- I determined all appointments on a common date, namely, 30 June 1 976.
In no sense did I disband the Committees and, although there has been more delay than I would have liked or expected, all the Committees have now been reconstituted for the second triennium concluding on 30 June 1979. I announced the names of the appointees on 25 November 1976.
The reconstituted Committees will meet in the immediate future and proceed to deal with complaints of discrimination in employment and occupation according to their normal procedures.
Moreover, it would not be correct to infer that there has been no activity on behalf of the Commonwealth Government in the field of investigation of complaints of employment discrimination since last June. The Secretariats to the National and State Committees (which comprise officers of my Department), have continued to undertake a great deal of preliminary investigative work into complaints of discrimination, and the results of their work will be immediately available to the Committees when they reconvene.
On the other hand, in its Second Annual Report for the year 1974-75 which I tabled in the Parliament on 2 June 1 976, the National Committee expressed the following view:
There is no unanimity among members of the National Committee on the question of the need for legislation. The Committee agrees, however, that if legislation were to proceed it would welcome the opportunity of being consululted on it.’
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
– The Minister for Transport has provided the following information in answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
– The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Perth Airport Terminal: Fun Parlour
– On 16 November 1976 Senator Sim asked a question concerning amusement machines which have recently been installed in the Perth Airport terminal. I replied that I knew nothing of the matter and I would bring the question to the attention of my colleague. The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The installation of these machines has been undertaken by the Department of Transport primarily to raise airport revenue.
However, the units also appear to reduce the incidence of vandalism in the terminals and provide amusement for not only children but other travellers required to pass time in the terminal.
The units have been installed by concessionaires in most major terminals and the Department has had no complaints from either tenants or persons using the terminals. On the contrary they would appear a welcome addition to the existing amenities.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 2 December 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1976/19761202_senate_30_s70/>.