30th Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I present the following petition from 1 1 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in the Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That on 13 September 1977, Steve Biko, President of the Black People’s Convention died, aged 30, while being held incommunicado for questioning in detention without trial in South Africa;
That this is the twentieth death of a black political prisoner in similar circumstances in South Africa in the last 18 months, and the fourty-fourth death of a prisoner while in police custody in recent years;
That Steve Biko had been held in detention since 22 August, and had previously been held for 101 days without trial, and in addition, was under a live year house arrest and restriction order;
That Steve Biko is the acknowledged leader of the black people’s resistance to apartheid, racial exploitation and injustice in South Africa, and that in this context his death in the hands of the white police must be regarded with grave suspicion.
Your petitioners accordingly request the Australian Government to register the strongest protest to the South African Government at the circumstances of Biko ‘s death.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 72 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That those who have retired and those who are about to retire, are being severely and adversely affected by inflation and Australian economic circumstances.
The continuance of the means test on pensions causes undue hardship to them.
We call on the Government to immediately abolish the means test on all aged pensions.
To ensure a pension for all on retirement, and a guarantee that all Australian citizens will retire with dignity.
Acknowledge that a pension is a right and not a charity.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
-I ask the Minister for Social Security: Does she recall saying yesterday in the Senate and outside the Senate that she had had very direct communication with the Prime Minister during the past year on the matter of staff numbers in her Department and that she believed further staff were necessary to enable her Department to give an effective and efficient service? Does the Minister recall that the Public Service Board at page 3 of its report states that difficulties were reported with the processing of unemployment benefits during 1976 and 1977 and that these problems had been considered by an interdepartmental committee on staff ceilings and a report prepared for the Prime Minister? Is the Minister aware that yesterday in another place the Prime Minister asserted that he had never been told that existing staff levels in the Minister’s Department were inadequate or that there was difficulty in controlling payment of unemployment benefits due to that reason. I now ask the Minister: What is the truth of this matter? Who is telling the truth? Has the Prime Minister misled the Parliament?
-I recall all of the things that were said yesterday by me. I am also aware that the Prime Minister stated yesterday that he had not been advised by the Public Service Board that overpayments would result from staff ceilings. The two matters are quite different and there is no conflict in the statements I made with regard to my direct representations to the Prime Minister for review of staff ceilings and structures in my Department to enable it to do the work that it is required to do.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question. Is the Minister saying that the Prime Minister was informed over the year by the Minister and the Public Service Board of difficulties in her Department with staff? What was the reason for the Prime Minister suggesting yesterday that he was unaware of this problem?
-I am stating that I made direct representations to the Prime Minister with regard to staff ceilings and staff requirements in my Department. I have made no statement about advice that has been given to the Prime Minister by the Public Service Board. I am unable to comment on advice that has been given to the Prime Minister by the Public Service Board.
-I preface my question to the Minister for Social Security by saying that the Minister will no doubt remember my questions recently regarding the payment of pensions overseas and the difficulties the Government has in being sure that the recipient is a genuine case, and indeed even still alive. I now ask: As pensions are for the most part additional to other income in Australia and taxable, what taxation if any is taken from pensions that are sent overseas? How can the Government be sure that an overseas recipient is not obtaining other income as well as the pension and therefore should be paying tax and may have an advantage over the pensioner living in Australia, where income additional to a pension is more easily detected?
– I will see that information is given to the honourable senator with regard to procedures in connection with the deductibility of taxation from pensions that are paid overseas. I will also see that a complete answer is given to the other matters raised by him.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security and follows the question asked by Senator Grimes. Is the Minister saying in effect that, although the Prime Minister was not advised by the Public Service Board of the matter raised by Senator Grimes, the Prime Minister was in fact aware that the problem existed?
– I do not know why questions should always be faced by the words Are you saying’. I am repeating statements I have made to the effect that the Prime Minister was advised by me during the past year of the difficulties within the Department and the requirements that the Department had with regard to staff ceilings and staff structures. Any other statements that have been made in this connection are not statements that have been made by me. My statements are quite categoricand have been made prior to the AuditorGeneral’s report, particularly during the period of work bans in my Department- that representation had been made to the Prime Minister with regard to the requirements of the Department.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for National Resources and relates to the report entitled Solar Energy presented to the Senate in
May this year. The main recommendation contained in that report states:
That the Commonwealth Government establish a statutory body, the Australian Energy Commission, to have overall responsibility for developing and co-ordinating a long term Australian Energy policy. … It is envisaged that the Australian Energy Commission would be advised by an Australian Energy Advisory Committee, which would provide advice on scientific and economic matters relating to an overall energy policy.
Since the report was presented the Government has established the National Energy Advisory Committee. Because the major portion of solar research funding is not necessarily directed towards national priorities and because, in my opinion, a disproportionately large amount of research funding is directed towards atomic energy research, I ask: Has the Government considered this aspect of the report? Is the Government planning to establish an Australian energy commission?
-An honourable senator asked me a question on this matter recently. As I remember it, I gave an answer on behalf of my colleague in another place concerning the Government’s attitude to the National Energy Advisory Committee. I have nothing further to add to that statement at this stage. I have no further brief on this matter. As the honourable senator has raised two specific quesions, I will make inquiries and obtain an answer for him.
-I direct a twopronged question to Senator Cotton, representing the Minister for Primary Industry. It refers to whaling. First, has the Minister yet had any feedback about the assertions concerning a homicidal harpoonist who was involved in violence on the high seas off the coast of Albany? Secondly, is it true that the Government is in the process of renewing the licence of the current whaling contractor? Are any additional conditions to be laid down on method of operation, adherance to quotas and so on?
-I shared the concern of the honourable senator that someone was lurching about on the high seas throwing two-pronged harpoons. I said that to him and I made some inquiries afterwards. I do not have the information with me at the moment but it indicated that the situation was not as serious as the honourable senator thought. It appeared to be a minor incident with no serious intent. For that, I am very grateful because I do not want to see honourable senators from Western Australia coming in with spears sticking out of their backs. There is enough trouble in the Parliament without that sort of thing. The second part of the honourable senator’s two-pronged question about the present licence and its renewal will have to be taken on notice for an inquiry to be made.
– I ask the Minister for Industry and Commerce whether he can advise when the task force report on small business finance will be available?
-I have not been given a firm date but I was told last week that it was nearing completion. I will spend some time this afternoon looking at one or two matters. This is one of the matters for which I will try to get a firm timetable.
-Mr President, my question is directed to you. In so doing, I draw your attention to the fact that at Question Time today there was only one journalistthere are now two- in the Press Gallery, namely, Mr Love of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Will you be prepared to draw to the attention of members of the Press Gallery that there is a Question Time in the Senate and that the Press has a responsibility to the public to report the proceedings in this chamber as well as the House of Representatives? How can the public expect newspapers to report proceedings of this Parliament fairly when there appears to be such a lack of interest on their part in the proceedings of the Senate?
-In reply to Senator Douglas McClelland I must say that I have no power of direction over the Press to be present in the Press Gallery in this chamber.
– My question is addressed to you, Mr President, and relates to the question asked by Senator Douglas McClelland. I ask: Do you think the poor attendance of the Press can be attributed to the poor standard of questioning of Ministers by the Opposition?
– That is a matter for individual determination and assessment.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. I ask: Does he endorse the remarks of the Auditor-General in relation to the cost of the Repatriation General Hospital at
Heidelberg in Victoria which is due to the huge number of unoccupied beds in the hospital? Does he agree with the Department’s reason for this which must have been given when he was Minister for Veterans’ Affair, that staff shortages were being experienced and that the hospital could not recruit skilled labour? Although the hospital can now recruit labour, staff ceilings are preventing it from hiring the labour that is necessary to maintain full bed occupancy at the hospital. In view of this difficulty and the cost to the Commonwealth did he, when he was the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, consult the Prime Minister on this question to seek some remedial action to overcome this problem faced by the Department?
-I am familiar with the situation at the Heidelberg Hospital in Victoria which is referred to in the Auditor-General’s report, as was mentioned in the question by the honourable senator. The staffing problems at Heidelberg have been a continuous source of concern to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and to its Minister for some time. This goes back to the time of the Government of which Senator Cavanagh was a member. Indeed, most of the major staff troubles at the Heidelberg Hospital occurred when a Labor Minister was in charge. I think it was Senator Wheeldon, although I am not suggesting he was responsible for them. The problems at that rime were industrial problems. As a result of those problems it became very difficult to maintain even the beds that were required for the veteran community. Those problems were largely overcome by the time I became the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, although there were some difficulties about this time last year with the Hospital Employees’ Federation but I am glad to say- I think I answered a question on it at the time- that they were resolved.
The position at the Heidelberg Hospital has been greatly improved over the last 12 months. There has been an increase in the number of beds available. I have been advised and I have always understood that the needs of the veteran community are being met and have been met at the Heidelberg Hospital for some time. The matter raised by Senator Cavanagh was the subject of detailed discussion during the hearing of Estimates Committee F last week. Officers of the Department were questioned on this matter and they gave very extensive replies. I suggest that Senator Cavanagh read those replies because I think they would probably be more up to date and more accurate than anything I can add now.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister answer my question? If there have been difficulties at the Hospital because of staff ceilings, has he discussed this with the Prime Minister?
-The problems I have been dealing with have had nothing whatever to do with staff ceilings. That is a basic misunderstanding in Senator Cavanagh ‘s question. A number of questions were asked by Senator Bishop when I was the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs in relation to the impact of staff ceilings on hospitals in particular.
– Your Department was right and the Auditor-General was wrong?
-I explained that arrangements were made to overcome many of the difficulties in this area. The only point on staff ceilings arising out of the Auditor-General’s report is that the staffing problems at Heidelberg Hospital, as I have said, have been overcome. The Department has been able to meet the needs of the veteran community. The Auditor-General points out that there is still a good deal of physical capacity at the Heidelberg Hospitalmuch more than would be required to meet the needs of the veteran community. However, because of the staff ceilings the Department cannot expand the Heidelberg Hospital into what would probably be an entirely different sort of hospital, namely one which would be able to cater for a large number of community needs. A question such as that involves considerable policy matters about the future of repatriation institutions generally. That is a completely different question altogether.
-I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Resources and refer to my speech on the adjournment of the Senate on Wednesday, 7 September in which I referred to the absence of any policy on the re-refining of oil and, in particular, in which I questioned the failure of a senior officer of the Department to take any action for over three months on a report given to him on this subject, despite assurances given in a further answer in July to my question of 31 March 1977 that the Department, ‘follows developments in regard to recycling very closely and the whole question is currently being reviewed’. Will the Minister investigate these complaints and make an early statement on the whole question of re-refining of oils?
-I will suggest to my colleague, the Minister for National Resources, that that ought to be done.
-I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence and/or to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I preface the question by reminding the Minister that the costing of defence projects is increasing due to inflation and that the longer those projects are delayed, the greater the costing. Is it a fact that officers of the Department of Defence use an inflation rate of 2 per cent a month compounding for projects that are delayed? If so, does this not represent an annual inflation rate factor of 24 per cent plus? On whose authority was this figure determined and why is it used? Does not this calculated inflation rate represent more than a doubling of the inflation rate the Treasurer maintains is the inflation rate? Which figure is correct? What is the explanation for the use of the higher inflation rate figure in costings for delayed projects undertaken by the Department of Defence? If the inflation factor used by the Department of Defence is not 2 per cent a month compounding, what in fact is the correct factor?
-The question undoubtedly involves a combination of defence costing and areas of Treasury assessment. Senator Keeffe has used a series of assumed figures and assumed rates, none of which I can vouch for, account for or know anything about. But he is entitled to an answer to the question and I will obtain that from the Treasury and the Department of Defence if such information is available.
– I ask a supplementary question on this subject. What I endeavoured to obtain from the Minister was information regarding the inflation rate. The factor applied to delayed projects, as I said in the question, indicates that it is 2 per cent a month compounding which brings the total inflation rate factor up to in excess of 24 per cent for a 12-month calendar period. The Treasurer maintains that the inflation rate is running at around 12 per cent. Which is the right inflation rate factor?
-Let me make some corrections here. I think that the latest inflation rate that has been established is about 10.2 per cent per annum. That appears to be the current running rate of inflation. It appears to be moving down. Once again, I state that I do not know what the assumed rates are in the scene to which the honourable senator refers. They will need to be found out. Any assumption that Senator
Keeffe draws from his own figuring is his business. I will do the best I can to find out the accurate information.
– My question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs follows on the question asked by Sir Magnus Cormack two days ago. It also flows from newspaper articles of last weekend concerning torture, execution and atrocities in Cambodia. Are the accounts substantially true? What is the best available summary of the extent of atrocities committed since the takeover of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge?
-Arising out of the questions alluded to by the honourable senator I nave been advised by the Minister for Foreign Affairs as follows: The Australian Government has no independent information on the situation in Kampuchea through which it can confirm or refute particular reports of atrocities. This is beacause Australia does not have diplomatic relations with Kampuchea and does not maintain an embassy in Phnom Penh. However, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs has told the Parliament on a number of occasions, most recently on 16 August, there seems to be little doubt that the most severe repression has taken place in Kampuchea and that this is contrary to the accepted standards of human behaviour. As the Minister said on 16 August, the Australian Government condemns cruel and unnecessary actions wherever they occur and appeals to the Government of Kampuchea to respect international human rights principles.
The International Organisation SubCommittee of the House International Relations Committee of the United States Congress has been holding hearings into the human rights situation in a number of countries, including Kampuchea. The various testimonies given before the Committee are probably as good a summary of the situation in Kampuchea as can be found.
-I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. I refer to page 12 of the 1977-78 Budget Speech. I quote the following passage:
We have now approved in principle the establishment of a national rural bank and we intend to hold discussions in the near future with major lending institutions concerning appropriate structural and funding arrangements. We shall press forward with these discussions without delay.
I ask: In view of the on-going crisis in the beef and other rural industries, would it not be realistic to say and would not the Minister agree that the 22 months which have expired since the idea of a rural bank was first floated by the Government have been more than enough to develop fully and implement the proposal? Can the Minister say what is the present position with regard to the establishment of a rural bank?
-I know that discussions have taken place quite recently. I believe they are still continuing. The best knowledge that I have is that it is hoped to have those proposals before the Parliament in the next six to eight weeks.
-My question is directed to Senator Durack as the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. Has the Minister seen the report that management and unions in Japan’s Honda motor company have agreed to forgo four days holiday during the next seven weeks to increase car and motorcycle production to meet foreign demands? Does he believe that similar cooperation between union and management would be possible in Australia and, if so, could this be an answer to our present economic problems?
– My attention was drawn by Senator Walters to this article. I certainly agree that this is a very good precedent which, hopefully, may be followed in Australia. It is interesting to note that the demand for Japanese production is increasing. That will be good for the Australian economy.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. I refer to the rather comprehensive answer he gave me yesterday to my question of 18 August concerning the crash of an Australian Army helicopter in West Irian. The fourth section of my question of 1 8 August was, in part:
The Minister replied in part:
The results of the survey will undoubtedly be made available to any Indonesian or Australian government organisation having an interest.
I therefore infer that that would include the Indonesian Army should it so desire the results of that survey. I then asked the Minister:
The Minister replied:
The answer to that is: No.
I do not know whether the Minister for Defence or the Department of Defence thinks honourable senators are fairly naive or dumb. I can assure them that I served part of my time in the Army in a survey unit. My colleague Senator Brown, who was generally known as one of those drop-shorts, would also know the use to which Army maps are put. I ask the Minister whether as was implied in the answer he gave me yesterday, the maps are available to the Indonesian Army? If they are, does this not mean that the Australian defence forces are supplying some of the wherewithal on one side of an armed conflict?
-I do not know whether the Department of Defence thinks the honourable senator is naive or stupid. That is not a judgment for me to make; that is a judgment he could make himself. The honourable senator can draw what inferences he likes.
– He wants an answer.
– Wait for it. One of the great joys of this place is that one really only need stand in his place and Senator Georges will give all the answers by way of interjection. He is very helpful. No wonder members of the Press Gallery are not normally in attendance.
– They are here now.
-They have come in for the amusing five minutes. As I said yesterday, the information is available to governments on both sides. There has been a very long-standing agreement whereby Australia has been assisting Indonesia in a mapping program. It was never interfered with by our predecessors between 1972 and 1975. Labor Ministers for Defence must have looked at it and been satisfied that it was being put to proper purposes. For the life of me, I do not know why at this late stage somehow or other the honourable senator should find something sinister or evil about the whole business.
– Does the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry recall that last Thursday, 8 September 1977 he tabled in the Senate the Pig Industry Research Committee’s reports for the years ended 30 June 1974, 30 June 1975 and 30 June 1976. 1 draw his attention to the fact that some questions have been placed on the Notice Paper in relation to these reports. In view of the requirement of the Pig Industry Research Act that the Pig Industry Research Committee report annually to the Minister as soon as practicable after 30 June and that then the Minister cause the report to be laid before each House of Parliament, I ask whether he has received the Committee’s report for 1976-77? When does he expect that the most recently due report will be tabled in the Senate?
-When I tabled those reports, I thought to myself: ‘There has been a very big delay here’. Subsequent to the honourable senator’s queries I took some time and trouble and I found out a little while ago that the report for 1976-77 is now being circulated amongst members of the Committee and is due to be tabled in the Parliament during this session. I might observe that the questioning by the honourable senator seems to have speeded up the process of getting out some of these rather late reports.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Education. I understand that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has promised to create new positions for Aboriginals in government departments where the need for such positions can be demonstrated. If this is so, I ask the Minister what provision his Department is making for the employment of further Aboriginals. I am particularly concerned at the situation in the Aboriginal residential colleges where, at present, there is no establishment for teaching assistants, recreation assistants, houseparent assistants or counsellors. The Minister will be aware of the problems faced by Europeans in establishing rapport with the Aboriginal students attending the colleges. Both the parents of the children and the staff at the colleges would be interested to know whether the Department intends to employ Aboriginals to help staff the colleges and, if so, when this is likely to happen.
-The whole general question that Senator Robertson raises is a very important one. In the course of the last six months the Government has had a number of studies made and a number of meetings by Ministers, including myself, to look towards developing a policy for the greater employment opportunities for Aborigines throughout Australia, notably in the Territories and significantly in government departments, both State and Federal. Senator Robertson will know very well that one of the tragedies is that whilst we have through, in particular, ABSEG- the Aboriginal secondary education grants- some 14,000 students or more in secondary schools, which is about one-tenth of the Aboriginal population of Australia, no real school work orientation has been done in the past. The result is that the youngsters who gam some education are not helped in particular ways to get jobs.
A major study is being done on this matter. As late as this morning I was having discussions with my ministerial colleagues on this matterfor example, the inclusion of Aborigines in the police force of the Northern Territory and in the full nursing staffs of the Northern Territory and not just as nursing aides. The honourable senator will know that my Department has set a lead in upgrading the teacher training of Aborigines at Batchelor. There are now 60 of them there. We are also upgrading the intake as far as we can of teaching aides and are looking at how we can have an intake of more Aborigines into the Department. This is early days. It will take quite some time. As the honourable senator may know, I will be going to Darwin in a fortnight to open a major wing at Kormilda College. While I am there I will be discussing with the Northern Territory division and Kormilda College ways in which we can get transition of the Aboriginal students from school to work. I thank the honourable senator for raising what I think is a profoundly important matter. It is one in respect of which I hope we are now on the right track towards long term resolution.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I think it is about a subject that would also encompass the responsibilities of the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development. I am sure that the Minister will agree with me when I say that the United States of America is recognised as being the world’s leader in nuclear technology. However, notwithstanding the validity of that statement, I ask: Is the Minister aware of a 73-page report by a congressional sub-committee which reveals that the United States has been accumulating thousands of tons of nuclear waste for more than 30 years and that even if all nuclear activities were halted today there would be an immense problem in finding a permanent safe storage for all that accumulation? Congressman Ian Ryan, the Chairman of that sub-committee, went on to say:
You have a staggering problem of both cost and environmental danger in regard to what to do with the temporarily stored, the nuclear waste much of which is in liquid form, you know like 74 million gallons of the stuff, which has a life of anywhere from 1,000 years to 250,000 years.
How can the Prime Minister and the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development claim that safe methods of disposal and storage of nuclear waste materials are available in the light of that congressional report?
-I do not quite understand the purport of the honourable senator’s question. I take it that what he is trying to do is say that when Australia mines and exports uranium we are going to add to what he sees as a problem. The issue of whether Australia mines and exports uranium will not get over the difficulty which Senator Brown sees at the moment.
– It will add to it.
-Senator Georges rushes in as usual and says that it will add to it. Of course, it will add to this problem, Senator Georges. Instead of people just using uranium they will go into plutonium. I am continually staggered at the Opposition, which I believe has a sincere belief in the containment of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, adopting a stance on uranium which will have but one end result, that is, of in fact pushing nations into the plutonium age and therefore into the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I think this is a great contradiction of Labor’s policy. Whilst the Labor Party may perhaps have a desirable philosophical stance, putting into operation what it believes to be a method of stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons will in fact lead to such a proliferation. I answer Senator Brown’s question this way: I will certainly ask my colleague in the other place whether his Department has seen the report to which the honourable senator refers and whether he can give me advice as to the validity of the information contained therein from a scientific point of view. I repeat that the tragedy of the Labor Party’s policy on uranium is that it will end up doing what the Labor Party expects it will not do.
– I ask a supplementary question. I appreciate the Minister’s referring the matter to his colleague. I suggest that the report of the congressional sub-committee be put under study by appropriate officers of the Minister for the purpose of reporting on the substance of the report to the Australian Parliament.
-Which other Minister?
– The appropriate Minister whose portfolio is germane to the subject matter.
-I will do that for the honourable senator.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Resources. The Government recently has indicated that it is its intention to authorise the construction of a closed town in the uranium province within the area of the proposed national park. As there is a growing concern by a large number of people in the Northern Territory that the proliferation of the closed town concept in the Northern Territory should not be continued, is the Government prepared to review this policy to enable free movement of the people in the Northern Territory, particularly in this area, because of the proximity of the national park? Is it the intention of the Government to retain the closed town concept permanently or, together with the town of Nhulunbuy, open these towns eventually to enable them to become normal towns within the Northern Territory community?
-This is not just a matter for my colleague, the Minister for National Resources; it also impinges upon the jurisdiction of my colleague, the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development. I think I should therefore get a considered answer from both my colleagues on the question raised by the honourable senator.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Has the Government been approached by either the United Nations or individual powers such as the United States and Britain with a view to Australia’s providing troops for a peace-keeping mission in Zimbabwe during the transition to majority rule? If so, what has the Government’s response been to such approaches? If not, will the Government consider the possibility of making available Australian troops for such a mission?
-I will have to seek that information for the honourable senator.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, who also has responsibility for Public Service matters. I refer to the Public Service Board’s annual report for 1977 and to the employment of the handicapped in the Public Service. In its report the Board stated:
Policies of providing for employment of the handicapped had not been put into effect as energetically as necessary.
The report refers, however, to special projects conducted in the Australian Capital Territory, for example with respect to work experience for handicapped people. Can the Minister say whether action has been taken to ensure that the Public Service Board and the Government provide greater employment opportunities for the handicapped? Can the Minister say how many handicapped people are being employed by the Public Service in view of its importance as an employer in the Australian Capital Territory?
-The question of Senator Knight raises a very important matter. He gave me some notice of it. I have been able to get a considered answer. Comprehensive statistics relating specifically to employment of handicapped persons in the Australian Public Service have not been collected by the Public Service Board and consequently are not available. The Board is currently considering the method by which information of this sort might be obtained on a regular basis. This year the Public Service Board instituted an internal reporting system to assist in monitoring numbers of people, including handicapped and others, who are employed through special placements action taken by Public Service Inspectors’ offices. Special placements action is aimed at people who have requested assistance because of disabilities, or who have been identified as needing such assistance during the selection process. During 1977, in the Australian Capital Territory some 49 people received special placements assistance up to the end of July and of these 12 were handicapped people newly placed in employment. Handicapped people neither requesting nor requiring special placement action by Public Service Inspectors’ offices or placed through direct departmental recruitment are not included in the figures. Prior to 1977 information obtained in respect of individual placements -
- Mr President, I take a point of order. I would have thought that the Minister would have abbreviated his answer. If you recall, early in his answer he gave the information that he had received notice of this question. I feel that on each occasion this is done it ought to be brought to your attention in case a precedent is established. This is the time for questions without notice, not for questions on notice. Senator Knight could have placed his question on the Notice Paper and got the detailed information in the normal way. I do not think question time ought to be misused in the way it has been misused.
- Mr President, on the point of order, there seems to be a continual misunderstanding in this place as to the difference between questions on notice and questions without notice. Questions without notice are, I think, questions which are not on the Notice Paper. It does not mean that there is an opportunity at Question Time for a sort of blood sport or trial by ambush. I have said in this place before that there are a number of honourable senators on both sides who genuinely seek information for the benefit of their constituents, who want the information on the same day as they seek it, and who alert Ministers to the fact that they would like certain information provided.
– They can get it from you.
– Yes. Honourable senators from both sides say to me: ‘I seek information which I believe to be important to a constituent. Could you get it by Question Time because I intend to ask you a question along these lines?’ I see nothing wrong with that procedure. It is a procedure which is of benefit to all honourable senators in this place. Senator Georges misunderstands what questions without notice in fact are.
- Mr President, I seek leave to speak further to that point.
– You cannot speak a second time to your point of order, Senator Georges.
– Well, I will ask you a question then.
The PRESH5ENT- In the purity of the matter, honourable senators, this is the time for questions without notice. But in discussion with Ministers at times, I have noted that indications of interest have been shown to Ministers. The fact is that this is the time for questions without notice, but what honourable senators do privately in the matter is something I cannot control. I call the Attorney-General.
-I know that Senator Georges is not interested in this answer about the employment of handicapped people, but I am sure that many other people are.
- Mr President, I take objection to that remark. It was not called for. The Minister is now saying that I have no interest in the answer. I have. He is saying that I have no interest in handicapped people. I have. I find his comment objectionable. He ought to withdraw it.
– I call on Senator Durack to continue.
– I am very pleased to have Senator Georges’ assurance that he is in fact interested in the answer I am giving. I certainly withdraw any reflection on him in that matter. I had not finished giving some of the information that was provided and I should like to do so.
– You know you are misusing Question Time.
-Well, Senator Georges, perhaps it is just as well for your colleagues that we are filling in the time. Prior to 1977 Information obtained in respect of individual placements by Public Service inspectors did not provide an adequate indication of trends in special placement activity. However, in the Australian Capital Territory last year, in addition to handicapped people employed through special placement, and by normal selection processes, the Board also initiated a pilot work experience scheme for handicapped school leavers which engaged 12 people. Further use of these schemes is under consideration.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Is he aware of the comment in the Australian Financial Review of 13 September in relation to the new tax averaging system for farmers? The report states:
Mr Lynch made no mention of the possible abuse of the system by farmers reducing their taxable income below $3,750 by taking out income equalisation deposits.
Can the Minister elaborate on this possibility for abuse of the system? Is the Treasurer aware of the potential for abuse of the system? Does the Minister know of any steps taken by the Treasurer or whether the Treasurer intends to take steps to prevent it?
-It does not always fall to my lot to read the Australian Financial Review every day, but the features in it which in effect are giving me a rough time are mostly drawn to my attention. However, not always do I get the detail that refers to the Treasury because I only represent the Treasurer here. 1 listened carefully to what the honourable senator said about the possibility of making a favourable tax change. I do not know anything about that, and I have some reservations about the accuracy of the report. I will certainly talk to the Treasury about it and see whether I can get some more information.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister and follows the question asked by Senator Brown. I refer to the matter of nuclear waste disposal, a matter of concern to us all, and in particular to an article in this morning’s Age written by John Stephen. I ask: Is it true to say that countries committed to the use of uranium will produce the same amount of waste whether we export uranium to them or not? Secondly, did the Prime Minister announce that nuclear waste from other countries would not be brought to Australia?
-The answer to the first part of the honourable senator’s question is yes; and that is the tragedy of the Australian Labor Party’s policy on this matter. The ALP really thinks it can hold back the progress of the world by being selfish at home. That is what it really boils down to. As to the second part of the question, I refer the honourable senator to the statement put down recently in this place by me on behalf of the Prime Minister. That statement reads:
Although Australia as a major exporter of uranium will be involved closely in international studies concerned with reprocessing and the nuclear fuel cycle there is no intention of Australia storing other countries’ radioactive wastes.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry and draw his attention to a Press statement issued on Tuesday by the Minister for Primary Industry in which he claimed that the new averaging rules for primary producers had removed what he called ‘discrimination’ against farmers by the interaction of zero or near zero income in a particular year and the general rebate system. I ask: Does not the tax threshold discriminate in a similar way? Does the table I left in the Minister’s office about an hour ago demonstrate that discrimination and, if not, can he identify any errors in my table?
-I have a copy of what the Minister for Primary Industry said which had some figures attached to it. I understand that the honourable senator has had access to that and there is therefore no need to incorporate it in Hansard. The honourable senator did leave in my office a set of figures, which I received about a quarter of an hour before I came into the chamber at Question Time. That did not provide sufficient time for me to get the definitive answer to which the honourable senator is entitled. It is not my practice to do taxation consulting on the run in the Senate. What I do try to do is get accurate information. If the conclusion the honourable senator has stated is correct I shall find out. If it is incorrect I shall also find out.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Education. Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to advertisements from colleges of advanced education appearing in the Sydney Sun, for example, advertising in the following terms:
Kuring-gai College is a very personal place … a beautiful centre for learning. Why don ‘t you study there?
Will the Minister agree that the Kuring-gai College is indeed a very pleasant place and a very fine college of advanced education? Can he advise whether these advertisements have been placed as a matter of policy with government money? Is the reason for the advertisements that there is some unfilled capacity in tertiary institutions in Australia? Do the advertisements mean that there are more student places available than there are students to fill them? If so can the Minister give an indication of how many places are available?
– In response to Senator Baume, I indicate that I have seen the advertisement from the Kuring-gai College. If honourable senators were devoted to reading such worthwhile newspapers as the Sydney Morning Herald, particularly on Saturdays, they would see many such advertisements. In other States there are similar advertisements. The fact is that it is currently the practice of a number of collegesand indeed one or two universities- to advertise. I think the Deakin University is advertising to draw to the attention of the public for the coming year the opportunities in the universities and colleges and to invite applications. It does indicate, of course, that in certain areas there is unfilled capacity. It does, I think, show that the Government’s policies are such as to allow an expanding intake of students.
-It will reduce unemployment too, Senator.
-How Senator Button can relate an advertisement for students at Kuringgai College with the unemployment which his government created utterly defeats me, but the facile minds of the Opposition are very real in this regard. The advertising is done by individual colleges and institutions and is not directed in any way by the Government. But, of course, the fact is that tertiary education today is offering expanding opportunities. The Tertiary Education Commission, in particular, is widening opportunities, notably in technical and further education. In that situation there will be more than one million students in tertiary education in 1978.
-My question is directed to Senator Carrick in his capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. It relates to a matter to which I adverted in the Senate last night. I refer to the Minister’s statement of 25 August in tabling the report of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal in which the Minister said that there should be ample opportunity for public discussion and debate regarding the report of the Tribunal. The Minister went on to say that he would then be able to make a recommendation to Cabinet after that ample public discussion and debate had taken place. I ask the Minister How many copies of the report of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal have been printed? Where are they available? Does the Minister regard the five weeks allowed for ample public debate as sufficient for the debate to which the Minister refers? If not, will the Minister make representations to ensure that the date upon which that debate is presumed to close may be extended?
– I am unaware of how many copies of the report of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal are available. I will find that out and let the honourable senator know. I imagine that the copies are available through the ordinary publication services of the Government. I will find that out also and let the honourable senator know. In the broadest possible sense, the Government has been inviting discussion on this whole matter for virtually the whole of its term of office. It has indicated that it was seeking a public forum for discussions. It held a public inquiry through the Broadcasting Tribunal. Considerable publicity was given day by day to the evidence before the Tribunal. There has been a very broad opportunity for public dialogue. I am not fully aware of the time limit which the Government has put on public discussion in terms of the five weeks as suggested by Senator Button. If it is proved that there is a need for an extension of that time I am sure that the Government would extend it. The aim of the Government is to have the fullest possible response from the public before it brings in amending legislation.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I draw the Minister’s attention to an article in today’s Australian Financial Review which indicates that the Government has decided on a special $100m youth employment scheme. Is he aware that the article claims that this expenditure, together with the new tax averaging scheme, will, in the words in the article, ‘blow out the deficit and that the Government is clearly putting political considerations ahead of its attempts to control government spending’? Is it a fact that the Budget contains provision for substantially increased expenditure on employment schemes and that the tax averaging scheme will not reduce revenues until next financial year? Are the claims of the Australian Financial Review inaccurate and misleading?
– Once again it looks to me as though the honourable senator is correct and once again the Australian Financial Review seems to be wrong.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. Is the Minister aware that it is claimed that the Public Service Board agreed in full to all proposals for increased staff put to it by the Department of Social Security last year and that the Government at no time reduced the Board’s proposals? If this is the fact, who is responsible for the deficiencies in staffing in the Minister’s Department? Is it the Department for not claiming enough staff? Is it the Public Service Board, which had already been critical about the staffing situation, for not adequately investigating the situation or is it the Government?
– I restate that on numerous occasions throughout the past year I made representations following my Department’s request for additional staff. Those representations were negotiated with the Public Service Board in the normal way. In addition, I made representations through the Prime Minister. The honourable senator will be aware of the interdepartmental committee on staff ceilings and other processes which take effect and I state at this stage that all requirements of the Department were not met in total and continuing negotiations were being held. The Government recently announced a review of the Department and following some preparatory work which needs to be done in the Department that review will be undertaken in conjunction with the Public Service Board. At that stage I hope that all the requirements of the Department will be met to enable it to give an efficient service.
-My question which follows the question asked by Senator Thomas is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Does the Minister recall saying that he regarded the Australian Labor Party’s policy on uranium as being a selfish one simply because the ALP is opposed to the export of uranium until such time as there are proper safeguards? Does he also recall saying that the Government and the Prime Minister have decided that there will be no storage of nuclear wastes in Australia? Is the Minister aware that there is a very strong body of scientific opinion that parts of central Australia are geologically the safest deposit areas or possible deposit areas in the world for nuclear waste? I ask the Minister: In the event of that being proved, is this Government saying that it is selfish enough to preclude any possibility of an agreement with other nations whereby such depositories may be declared safe for the disposal of nuclear wastes?
-I am delighted to think that the honourable senator is prepared to be generous enough to say that for the sake of other nations we might have to reconsider our policy. What I have said and repeated in this place is what the Prime Minister has stated as Government policy, which is that there is no intention to store other people’s nuclear waste. I am delighted that the honourable senator thinks there may be merit in the Government pursuing the matter to which he referred. I am not surprised at that because my attention was drawn to media reports this morning that 61 Labor members of this place are at odds with their master, the President of the Australian Labor Party, over his policy on uranium mining and usage. Perhaps Senator Wriedt is just putting another gloss on another view of the Labor Party. I repeat: There is no intention of the Government to store nuclear wastes on behalf of other people. But if the honourable senator is suggesting to me that because there is a strong body of scientific opinion that a place such as central Australia would be a safe place to store nuclear waste and it would be selfish not to do so, I will certainly tell the Prime Minister that at least the Leader of the Opposition in this place feels that the Government may be selfish in not acceding to the wishes of people in other countries and, in fact, that he is asking the Government to reconsider its policy of not storing the nuclear waste of other countries.
-Mr President, I direct a supplementary question to the Minister. Is the Minister indicating that the present policy he has already spelt out this morning could be subject to change in the future and, in fact, that this Government might agree in the future to the storage of nuclear waste in Australia?
- Mr President, I did not say that at all. What I said was that I would pass on to the Prime Minister the fact that the Leader of the Opposition in this place believes the Government ought to reconsider its position and be unselfish enough to store the nuclear waste of other countries. I think that that is the important thing.
-Mr President, I ask you a question and I assure you that I am not trying to ambush you as was suggested by the Leader of the Government earlier. Would you take time to consider the matter which was raised by way of a point of order during question time and refer also to the fact that on the back of the notice of question paper it is stated:
N.B.- Questions, unless they relate to the course of public business or to matters of urgency, should not be asked without notice, but should be placed on the Notice Paper.
There seems to me to be in that note at the bottom of the paper an interpretation that would prevent what happened in question time today, that is, the asking of a question of which notice was given to the Minister and the Minister replying in the manner that he would have replied had the question been placed on the Notice Paper. He replied at great length and in great detail reading from a prepared statement.
-Certainly, I will give the matter further thought. But the fact is that I have no jurisdiction, as it were, over inquiring about who spoke to whom in background. The honourable senator suggests that I give further consideration to this matter. However I must reiterate that if an honourable senator has a discussion with a Minister, how am I to know that fact in respect of a question he may or may not care to ask later?
-Yesterday Senator Mulvihill asked me some questions about the problems of certain ethnic groups in Sydney being able to enrol as an elector. I gave the honourable senator certain information then and I would like to add to it for Senator Mulvihill ‘s information and for the information of honourable senators generally. Today, the Chief Australian Electoral Officer sent the following telex to all Australian Electoral Officers in the Commonwealth. It read as follows:
This should be of assistance to divisional staff and electors alike. Naturally, we are anxious to assist electors who might strike this problem and if you have any other ideas on what further help can be given, would you let me know so that we can implement it on a Commonwealth basis?
-On 19 August and 8 September, Senator Melzer asked me questions on the export of uranium. I have a reply from my colleague on this matter. To make the reply more intelligible, I will quote Senator Melzer ‘s question ofl 9 August:
The Government is endeavouring to assure the public that it is concerned to see that Australian uranium is shipped overseas only with proper international atomic energy agency safeguards. Will the Minister tell me whether the Government has investigated whether any safeguards cover the uranium awaiting export from Brisbane at the moment? What are these safeguards?
I have been advised by my colleague as follows: The uranium in question was destined for use by power generating utilities in Japan and the United States of America. The material destined for Japan will be converted into uranium hexafluoride in Canada and enriched in the United States prior to being shipped to Japan. The material destined for the USA will be both converted to uranium hexafluoride and enriched in the USA prior to use. As required of a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), Australia advises the International Atomic Energy Agency of the quantity, composition and destination of the material exported. The IAEA is thus able to apply its safeguards measures to the material.
Canada and the United States, in which countries the material will be processed to uranium hexafluoride, are parties to the NPT and require stringent safeguards on the material processed. Furthermore, in this regard, as the Australian uranium will be finally processed into enriched uranium in the United States, it will attract the full force of the safeguards policy recently announced by President Carter. Japan is, of course, also a party to the NPT. In addition, the Australian Safeguards Office prescribes necessary physical security measures to apply until the material leaves Australian jurisdiction. The transport and packaging arrangements are made having regard to all relevant requirements of the Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Materials prepared by the International Atomic Energy Agency and Commonwealth and State Government regulations and requirements. The Australian Safeguards Office also advises other national nuclear material control authorities to ensure continuing application of national safeguarding measures, including physical security, after the material leaves Australian jurisdiction.
– Earlier in question time today, Senator Thomas asked me a question concerning the matters arising out of the report of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources dealing with solar energy. Since the honourable senator asked the question, I have been provided by my colleague with the following statement in which the personal pronoun T relates to him:
The Government is giving careful consideration to the report on solar energy from the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources which I regard as a valuable contribution to the debate in Australia on prospects for solar energy. As I announced on 25 August 1977 the Government has decided that as resources flow from the further development of uranium, additional funds will be provided to increase substantially our national effort on solar energy research. The National Energy Advisory Committee which was established in February this year as an interim body, will be reporting to the Minister for National Resources before the end of the year on its future structure, role and terms of reference. The question of the need to establish a statutory body will be considered by the Government in the context of the recommendation of the Senate Committee, the National Energy Advisory Committee, the Australian Minerals and Energy Council and the Australian Science and Technology Council involved in considering the role of energy research and development in Australia
In the meantime, energy research and development is a matter to which I have asked the National Energy Advisory Committee to pay particular attention, and I expect to receive advice on this matter in the near future. At the request of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the Australian Science and Technology Council is also preparing advice for the Government on energy research and development in Australia. The formulation of energy research and development POliCY which will make the most effective use of the nation’s research resources cannot take place without detailed knowledge of the existing research effort. Accordingly, the Department of National Resources is currently undertaking a national survey of energy research and development in Australia. The survey of Commonwealth Government departments and instrumentalities has already commenced and State governments, universities and private companies will be approached in due course. The need for an expanded energy research and development effort has been recognised by the Minister with energy responsibilities from each of the major Australian political parties. At the August meeting of the Australian Minerals and Energy Council, the Council expressed a unanimous view that there is a need for an active and co-ordinated research and development program. The Council is to consider at its next meeting the report from officials on the establishment of a national energy and research program and the means by which such a program might appropriately be organised and financed. This will enable the Commonwealth to frame a national energy research and development policy which takes full account of the advice of this national energy advisory committee and the Australian Science and Technology Council, the recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources and the activities and priorities of the State governments.
-Yesterday Senator Lewis asked me a question concerning the possibility of charging for aU telephone calls in Australia on a time basis and not a distance basis. In reply I indicated that Telecom Australia had provided some figures on the standardisation of the cost of unit calls. This information was provided to Senate Estimates Committee C on Tuesday, 6 September 1977. My memory of the call fee required was 35c. This is the figure I mentioned yesterday, but on referring to page 82 of the Hansard of Estimates Committee C I found that the fee level was 45c. This figure was for a unit call fee for metropolitan areas and extended local service areas in the rural districts irrespective of time. It applied for each three minutes of aU trunk calls in Australia irrespective of distance. It is five times the present 9c fee. As I understand it, this is not quite what Senator Lewis had in mind. As I indicated yesterday, I will refer Senator Lewis’s proposition to my colleague, the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, to see whether a figure is available for the time basis that the honourable senator wants.
– For the information of honourable senators, I present the annual report of the Commonwealth Department of Construction for the year ended 30 June 1977.
-by leave- I move:
That the Senate take note of the paper.
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave- I make this statement on behalf of the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Staley). When I use the personal pronoun T it refers to the Minister for the Capital Territory.
In a public statement dated 6 October 1976 I indicated that the Government had decided that legislative and executive functions would be delegated to the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly. I said the Government envisaged the delegation of authority for a significant portion of the territorial and local government functions of the Territory and recognised the democratic right of Territory citizens to be involved in the making of laws and the taking of decisions which affected them. I also indicated that the Government would identify those functions which should be reserved as the continuing responsiblity of the Commonwealth Government, such as functions relating to the national interest or the seat of government interest. I indicated that the Department of the Capital Territory, in close co-ordination and co-operation with other interested departments, would prepare detailed proposals on the financial and administrative arrangements for submission to the Government and that the Government would ensure that the proposals would be available to Territory residents before the next Assembly election.
In accordance with the undertaking made in October 1976 the Government has now decided to release a proposal for the constitutional development of the Australian Capital Territory with the objective of encouraging widespread public examination and comment on the issues prior to a final decision being made. The proposals are being announced now so that interested groups and the public will have plenty of time to debate them. The issues involve matters of significance and complexity and, in accordance with the best principles governing legislative policy development of such a nature, it is proper that they should be placed before the public so that they can be adequately examined and, if need be, reassessed in the light of Assembly and community views. There are now over 200,000 people living in Canberra and it is reasonable to expect that they would want to take part in a system of legislative and management controls affecting their daily lives.
Last June I announced that the next Assembly elections, scheduled for September 1977, would be deferred. Because of the importance of the proposals to the people of the Territory, the term of the present Assembly will be extended until not later than 31 December 1978 to allow full public debate of the proposals. The exact date of the elections will be announced later. I am clearly unable to give a firm commitment on the timing of a final decision on any hand over of powers or functions. All the views expressed will be considered before a final decision is made. The objective is to have the matter settled before the next Assembly elections.
After considering various reports on constitutional development in the Australian Capital Territory the Government indicated last year that there should not be any piecemeal delegation of functions. Under the proposals now released it is envisaged that legislative and executive responsibility for a significant portion of territorial activities will be transferred in one step to an elected Assembly. The Commonwealth, however, would retain control of matters affecting the national interest or the seat of government interest. The proposals are designed to encourage and facilitate active and effective citizen participation in the democratic processes of law making and administration while at the same time recognising the importance of the Commonwealth Parliament’s and the Government’s continuing role in maintaining the standing and importance of Canberra as the national capital and seat of government of Australia. The proposals envisage the delegation of wide policy and executive responsibility for important functions such as health, education and welfare services, public transport, the Australian Capital
Territory Police, municipal services, the present government housing operations and many other services of government in the Territory.
The constitutional position of the Territory as the seat of government and national capital does not allow the Commonwealth to divest itself of responsibility for the government of the Territory. What is proposed is a delegation of powers to an Assembly and not the creation of a State. Under the proposals the Governor-General in Council would have a reserve power to refuse assent to Assembly ordinances and the Parliament would retain the power of disallowance of ordinances. In recognition of Canberra’s unique position as the national capital the proposals indicate that the Commonwealth would retain control of those areas of administration which have a direct impact on the national capital role of the city. Because of this the National Capital Development Commission would not be brought under Assembly control, although procedures would be devised for greater community and Assembly involvement in the planning and development of Canberra. To preserve the present integrated land management system in the Territory, all land administration functions would also be retained by the Commonwealth. National institutions such as the Australian War Memorial and the Art Gallery would remain Commonwealth responsibilities.
The proposed allocation of responsibility between the Commonwealth and the Assembly is spelt out in detail in the paper which I now table. The allocation reflects the rights and responsibilities of democratic participation in local territorial affairs and safeguards the national interest in the seat of government and the national capital. The right to make democratic decisions in territorial affairs will entail responsibility to contribute a proper share of resources to the level of standards and services in Canberra. Under the proposals the financial arrangements for Commonwealth assistance to territorial activities would require negotiations on a regular basis between the Commonwealth and the elected Assembly with critical appraisal of expenditure levels. In recent years Australian Capital Territory municipal costs and locally produced revenues have been brought into balance with only limited government subvention to take account of national capital characteristics. It should be expected that the Government would be looking to the same general processes of refinement in high expenditure areas including education, welfare and health. This refinement would be achieved responsibly and gradually.
In accordance with the Government’s federalism policy it would be expected also that increases in levels of services and new initiatives would be funded from territorial sources of revenue. States apply charges such as estate, gift, probate and succession duties, lottery and gaming taxes, stamp duties of different kinds, tobacco and other licence fees and charges for services, registrations and the like. Such sources of revenue would need to be considered by the Assembly. The question of tax sharing and subventions would also be one for negotiation. I have already had preliminary discussions with all members of the existing Legislative Assembly and with local senators and members of the House of Representatives. These discussions have concerned the principles of the proposed handover of powers and functions and during the period of public debate. I expect that the broad outline will be filled in with all the necessary detail.
There would be a need for members of the present Assembly to co-operate with the Government and Commonwealth departments in the preparation of legislation, the machinery of administration and the financial arrangements to ensure a smooth and efficient transfer of powers and functions. Departmental officers would be available to assist the Assembly and provide advice and expertise. I repeat that the objective in announcing the proposals now is to stimulate public debate on the issues and to ensure that the views and opinions of all those with an interest in the proposals can be put forward and considered in totality before a final decision is made. I present the following papen
Constitutional Development for the Australian Capital Territory- Ministerial Statement, IS September 1977.
– I move:
That the Senate take note of the statement.
I would like to make a few brief comments on the statement. It represents an approach to the culmination of something that has been happening in the national capital for a number of years. Under the present Government and the previous Government discussions have taken place as to the desirability of reposing in a locally elected body the carrying out of what I think have been defined on occasions as state and local government functions. I think that all political parties have agreed that the time has arrived in the history of this city when the local people should elect to an assembly from their own members people to run local affairs. I suppose it can be said that this is a unique situation. It is the only place in Australia which is likely to have the seat of national government and the other functions that are ancillary to the carrying out of governmental and legislative functions. Because this is the national capital and the seat of government there should necessarily be- I think this is accepted by everybody- a retention by the national parliament of those functions which are essential to its performance and the carrying out of its duties.
I have been privileged over the years to serve on the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory. In fact for a time I was Chairman of that Committee. I have recently rejoined it. During my time with that Committee the Committee had quite lengthy discussions with and a great many submissions from people in the local community and from outside it, directed towards giving us a full understanding of what would be involved in transferring functions of the type we are now talking about. It was a very interesting debate and a great many differing points of view were put forward. I found, for instance, during my time on the Committee that there seemed to be- I do not know whether or not this is a correct assumption on my part- a very large body of local opinion which was not in favour of the transfer of functions to a locally elected body.
I believe it is probably still the case, though some people may argue against it, that many people in the Canberra community feel very comfortable in the situation they are in. They do not want to be involved in legislative and administrative processes which will naturally flow from the type of transition we are talking about now. In fact they would be quite content to go on under the old system. There are others, of course, such as students of democracy and the development of political systems, who believe that communities ought to be involved and ought to have a responsiblity for the running of their own affairs even if, in fact, that has to be brought about compulsorily, as would be the situation with an elected assembly carrying out municipal and state type functions. That philosophy seems to have been accepted. The community of Canberra shortly will be very much involved in running its local affairs. If my assumption that a large proportion of the Canberra population do not want local government is correct, I hope that attitude will change. After all, they will have a responsiblity. They wil be paying the piper, as it were. I think they Will be drawn to taking a greater, more active interest in local affairs.
I think it is important for any community to have a form of local government. It has been my experience over very many years that the more local the form of government provided to people, the more sensitive it is and the more responsive it is to the wishes of the people. I am sure that there would not be a great disagreement with the view that I put forward that there is a remoteness about the present situation and that the people of Canberra are obliged to accept laws which are made for them by an institution in a position of relative isolation from their own feelings and needs. Almost all of us in this place live away from Canberra. I suppose there is a tendency to make laws on a purist sort of basis without the sort of regard for the finer feelings of people in a community that you get with a locally elected institution running the community’s affairs.
There are many things one could say as to what may well be involved in this, but I imagine that because there will be a period of time in which a distillation process- a purification and refining of local attitudes and so on- will take place, we will have from time to time opportunities to give deeper consideration to what is involved and perhaps subsequently have an opportunity to debate the issue at greater length. I just welcome the fact that we are approaching this stage. I think it is an important step. I think it is necessary that the Canberra community should ultimately assume the responsibilities that other communities throughout Australia have assumed and carried out. I hope there is a proper regard on the part of the national Parliament and the government of the day to the peculiarity, I suppose one could call it, of the situation in Canberra as distinct from that of any other part of Australia.
I imagine that there will need to be a great deal of consultation between the two forms of government which will be operating here. I hope that the very vast reservoir of knowledge and experience of the people in the Australian Capital Territory who formerly had the responsibility for running this city will be available to the new authority. It is a very big step indeed when one reads the functions that will be performed by this new body and appreciates that it will be assuming total responsibility in one go rather than by a system of transition. There will be many problems. There will need to be a good deal of sympathy and consideration for the early problems of the establishment of this form of government. But I think it is a good and a necessary action. I hope that the people of Canberra, and especially those I mentioned earlier, will now take a greater interest in the running of the affairs of this community and will ensure that the beauty of the city of Canberra continues in the future. I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) Mr President, I make this statement on behalf of my colleague the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, Mr Fife. The statement has been made in another place by the Minister for Special Trade Negotiations, Mr Howard, in the absence of Mr Fife, who is indisposed. Where the personal pronoun ‘I’ is used, it refers to Mr Fife.
As indicated by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on 26 August last the Government has had under consideration the role of the Industries Assistance Commission in current economic circumstances. I am now able to inform the Senate of decisions the Government has taken regarding proposed amendments to the Industries Assistance Commission Act. I should make it clear at the outset that the Government remains committed to the principle of independent public inquiry into industry assistance matters by the Industries Assistance Commission and the Temporary Assistance Authority. The changes decided upon by the Government are designed to ensure that recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission are made in the light of government policy and that the reports of the Commission furnish to the Government all relevant information so that fully informed decisions can be made by the Government. The changes will not compromise the independent role for which the Commission was established and are fully consistent with the often stated policy of the Government that it is the role of the Industries Assistance Commission to advise and the responsibility of the Government to decide upon the nature and levels of assistance which should be afforded particular industries.
In its review of the role of the Industries Assistance Commission the Government has been concerned to ensure that under the relevant legislation the Industries Assistance Commission is able to fully respond to the Government’s policy with respect to industry. In particular the Government wishes to ensure that the employment consequences of specific recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission are fully canvassed in its reports. Honourable senators will be aware that in April 1976 the Government drew the attention of the Industries Assistance Commission to the government parties’ preelection policy on tariffs and assistance. At that time the Government requested the Commission to report explicitly upon a number of matters in all future reports. In addition, the Government included in the references sent to the Commission dealing with footwear, clothing and textiles specific reporting requests which dealt, inter alia, with employment considerations. The Government has decided to incorporate some of the matters referred to in its request of April 1976 and the references on footwear, clothing and textiles as amendments to the Industries Assistance Commission Act.
The amendments to the Industries Assistance Commission Act decided upon by the Government are additional to those which were foreshadowed earlier this year. Those amendments related particularly to the temporary assistance provisions of the IAC Act. The overall purpose of the further amendments is to make the statement of government guidelines in section 22 of the Act more closely reflect Government objectives, and to ensure that Commission reports cover all the issues on which the Government wishes to have the advice of the Commission. The amendments involving changes to the statement of Government guidelines in section 22 ( 1 ) of the Industries Assistance Commission Act are aimed to ensure that these guidelines reflect more closely the Government’s approach to industry policy. One amendment is to insert as the first sub-section in the guidelines in section 22(1) a statement of the Government’s desire to achieve sustained growth in the Australian economy through balanced development of Australian industries, thereby providing increased opportunities for employment and investment.
The Government also proposes to amend existing guideline (a) in section 22(1) of the Industries Assistance Commission Act to ensure that it expresses the Government’s objective that any measure to achieve changes in the structure of industry aimed at improving the efficiency with which the community s productive resources are used are related to the capacity of the economy and the workforce to absorb the changes involved. The Government also intends to amend the Act to empower the Minister to issue supplementary guidelines for the Commission and, as necessary, direct the Commission as to the priority it should place on the guidelines in the Act and on any supplementary guidelines given to it from time to time.
A new section is to be added to the Act to provide that in its reports the Commission wil explicity report on the following:
Consistent with the Government’s view of the respective roles of the Industries Assistance Commission and the Government with respect to industry assistance matters it is important that both the Industries Assistance Commission and the Temporary Assistance Authority be given through the Industries Assistance Commission Act a clear statement of the Government’s objectives and a clear indication of the matters upon which the Government wishes to have advice in reports made to it by these two bodies.
The Industries Assistance Commission will continue to deal with industry assistance matters of an on-going or longer term nature, while the Temporary Assistance Authority will deal with industry assistance matters of a temporary nature, deriving from import competition. I wish particularly to draw attention to the Governments intention which was stated in the White Paper on Manufacturing Industry, in these terms: circumstances such as those experienced in recent times will require emphasis on short-term policies which enable employment opportunities to be maintained until sound and sustainable growth is restored. The Government will therefore adopt appropriate measures of temporary assistance to support industry and to provide for the resolution of immediately urgent problems.
As indicated in my statement to the Senate earlier this year, the Act wm continue to provide for the temporary Assistance Authority to have regard generally to the same guidelines as apply to the Commission under section 22 (1) of the Act. However, the Government has decided to include a new provision in the Act to indicate that the substantial purpose of an inquiry by the
Temporary Assistance Authority is to report on the level of assistance necessary to maintain the current level of activity and employment in the production of the goods under reference for a defined period.
Under the amendments already foreshadowed the length of the period for which temporary assistance may be accorded will depend on the particular circumstances. Where the industry has been the recipient of temporary assistance for two of the past four years, a reference on long term assistance will be sent immediately to the IAC and the temporary assistance will continue until three months after receipt of the IAC’s report. Where the industry has not received temporary assistance for two of the past four years, the temporary assistance will run for up to 12 months in the first instance. This period could be extended to up to two years following a further report from either the Temporary Assistance Authority or the IAC. The provision of assistance beyond two years requires an inquiry by the IAC. It is the Government’s intention to introduce amendments to the IAC Act dealing with the previously foreshadowed changes relating to the Temporary Assistance Authority and the fresh changes I have outlined in this statement at the earliest opportunity.
-by leave-The Labor Party believes that the changes that are proposed for the Industries Assistance Commission, as set out in the ministerial statement brought down by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack), are a disguise or a cover for the Government’s incapacity to manage the economy. As Sir John Crawford, the IAC itself and other industry organisations have stated, it is not the IAC which is the cause of slack demand and activity in the community today, it is the failure of the Government’s economic policies. I must point out at the outset that the IAC is merely an advisory body. It should be given- as it was given by the Labor Government -as much independence as possible to collect data and to make recommendations to the Government. It is the Government that determines what recommendations will or will not be accepted. The proposals put forward in the statement, we believe, are a return to the old loaded reference days when the Tariff Board was requested by the Minister at the time, Sir John McEwen, to give the types of answers that the Government itself wanted to hear.
The guidelines under section 22 of the Act as it stands at present are, we believe, perfectly adequate. They require the IAC to give consideration to matters affecting the economy. Again I emphasise that the IAC is a body which only makes recommendations. It is the Government that has to make the decisions. Under the new guidelines we will no longer have a body whose clear objective and task are to look at longer term policies on the most efficient structure for secondary industry. In effect, what the proposed alterations to the guidelines do to the IAC is to make it report on the same considerations on which the Temporary Assistance Authority makes its report. As a result of the Minister’s statement today and when the legislation is introduced we will virtually end up with the two bodies- the IAC on the one hand the the Temporary Assistance Authority on the other handlooking at the short term issues affecting industry and making recommendations only on those matters to the Government. In the statement the Minister said that the changes announced are designed to ensure that IAC recommendations are made ‘in the light of Government policy’. I would point out that the Government is conspicuously lacking in a policy on the whole question of manufacturing industry. Sir John Crawford, who is an adviser to the Australian Government and the architect of the IAC, the Australian Chamber of Manufactures, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and the Australian Woolgrowers and Graziers Council have all stated that the White Paper on Manufacturing Industry did not provide specific guidelines for industry. This Government is doing nothing to resolve the longer term problems of the Australian manufacturing industry. This attack on the IAC- and it is an attack- is a prime example of the Government burying its head in the sand and refusing to acknowledge that an adjustment problem in fact exists. Sir John Crawford in a recent speech he delivered in the Stan Kelly Memorial Lecture on 6 September said: the rather said but understandable fact is that short term political necessities as seen by our leaders have a habit of getting in the way of sensible and necessary longer term programs.
This attack that is now being made by the Government on the IAC is, we believe, an outstanding example of such a process. The Labor Party is concerned to avoid unemployment- not only concerned to avoid unemployment but concerned also to bring about measures of employment. However, we question whether concern for unemployment is the real motive for this Government’s attack on the IAC in view of its own commitment to rising unemployment as a solution to the problem of inflation because since November 1975 when Labor went out of office the number of people out of work has increased from 265,000 to 340,000 and as a result of the
Budget unemployment is expected to rise to over 420,000 by January next. If the Government is concerned about unemployment why has it not taken other measures besides this attack on the IAC? Those measures include increased structural adjustment assistance, retraining schemes and government stimulation to the economy. Why is the Government not prepared to implement longer term structural adjustment schemes to solve the existing problem of structural unemployment? If the Government is concerned with preserving the notion of employment opportunities, why has it encouraged a shift of capital intensity by way of its investment allowance? Why does it not provide more money for the States to enable them to reduce payroll tax which, in fact, is an effective tax on labour and employment?
It is probably the Government’s intention by way of this statement to protect business generally. The reports of the Industries Assistance Commission to lower protection affect both labour and capital. The Government’s other policies affect labour alone. The Government obviously cannot tolerate measures which may dislocate capital as well as labour. By the Government deciding to amend section 22 of the Act to require the IAC to report on the assistance required to maintain the present levels of activity and employment in the production of the goods under reference, the Government is really basing its policy on the following assumptions: Firstly that a business will remain in industry simply because it is given higher tariff protection or is sheltered by stiffer import quotas; secondly, that higher protection given to one industry will not cause unemployment in another industry when the fact is that the higher costs incurred by raising protection for one industry may have very widespread effects on other industries; and, thirdly, that the present levels of employment and activity in an industry are desirable. It may be better to shift resources out of one industry to another.
The Government is ignoring the criticism and comments of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. In a report released in Geneva last week, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade said:
Protectionism is having widespread effects on industrial economies, weakening recovery and growth capacity in two mutually reinforcing ways.
The restrictions act directly on the production process tying resources to relatively less productive uses and thus restricting the expansion of more dynamic industries.
At the same time, increasing protectionism generates economic uncertainty by placing the system of agreed trade rules in doubt.
Such uncertainty is inhibiting investment at a time when it is crucial both as a stimulus to aggregate demand and for effecting structural adjustments.
The Australian Labor Party says in short that the effect of the proposed amendments as embodied in the Minsiter’s statement will be to restrict the effectiveness and flexibility of the Indutries Assistance Commission. They will provide for loaded references to the Commission in the pattern that existed in Sir John McEwen’s day- in the days of the old Tariff Board. The amendments will discourage the operation of market forces supported by positive government financial assistance to allow structural change to take place. They will preclude the Temporary Assistance Authority from recommending short-term reductions in assistance. They will further strain trade relations with our major trading partners, particularly Japan and the ASEAN nations. We believe that there is a disregard for the letter and spirit of GATT to which Australia is a signatory and that the amendments will create further inflationary pressures which will add to costs and thus cause more unemployment.
Additionally, the statement provides for openended supplementary guidelines at ministerial discretion in addition to the requirement that the IAC cannot make recommendations on changes in the structure of industry which cannot be immediately absorbed in terms of the current capacity of the economy or the work force. Finally, I repeat that it is not the IAC that is to blame for the slack state of the economy; it is the Goverment. Having made those remarks, I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Withers) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act providing for the extension of the Lands Acquisition Act 195S to the external territories and for purposes connected therewith.
BUI presented, and read a first time.
Standing orders suspended.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the BUI is to extend the Lands Acquisition Act 1955 to the external Territories of Australia, to enable the Commonwealth to acquire land in those Territories for its purposes under the same Act as applies throughout the rest of Australia. Honourable senators Will be aware that it is the intention of the Government to establish an animal quarantine station in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Honourable senators will also recall that in a Press statement dated 16 June last I said that it was the Government’s policy to own all land on which its facilities are located. Discussions will be held in the near future relating to the purchase of land for the quarantine station and, as necessary, the purchase of other land in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. This amendment to the Act will provide the necessary machinery for compulsory acquisition should a negotiated settlement not be possible. In such circumstances the amendment will allow the owner of the land- the Clunies Ross Estate- recourse to the courts for fair and just compensation.
The Lands Acquisition Act provides that all acquisitions carried out by the Commonwealth shall be on just terms, in line with the provisions of the Constitution. At present the Act applies in all of the States, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory but does not apply in the external Territories of Australia. Every owner of property should have the same rights and the same obligations when the Commonwealth ac- quires their land. This Bill provides that the Commonwealth’s acquisition powers, as well as its obligations when acquiring real property, apply universally within Australia and all its Territories.
The Act contains provisions safeguarding owners’ rights. Parliament is empowered under the Act to void a compulsory acquisition if it sees fit. Formal processes are laid down for notifying owners of intended acquisition and of the rights and obligations after land has been acquired. The Act also lays down the right to fair compensation, rights to arbitration and to assessment of compensation by the courts in cases of disagreement. The Bill makes special provision for landowners in the external Territories, isolated from the Australian mainland, to deliver claims, notices or other documents to a local address rather than to the address of a chief property officer on the mainland or in Tasmania. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Douglas McClelland) adjourned.
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Suspension of Standing Orders
Motion (by Senator Guilfoyle) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages for the passage through the Senate of the National Health Acts Amendment Bill 1977 and the National Health Amendment Bill 1977 being put in one motion at each stage, and the consideration of such Bills together in the Committee of the Whole.
Ordered that the Bills may be taken through all their stages without delay.
Bills (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The speeches read as follows-
National Health Acts Amendment Bill 1977
The Bill before the Senate contains provisions to authorise major improvements to the nursing home benefits arrangements. The financial position of patients in private nursing homes, which contain about half of the nursing home beds in Australia, has been of particular concern to the Government, many of these patients have been experiencing serious difficulties in meeting the difference between the fees charged and the nursing home benefits paid. This has been causing anxiety among nursing home patients and their relatives. It has been causing hardship for those in need of nursing home care, who are unable to obtain such care because they cannot meet the gap between the fees and benefits. The nursing home benefits arrangements for which the Bill provides represent a major advance in the Government’s health and welfare program introducing a new era of financial security for nursing home patients. This is achieved substantially by providing significantly increased nursing home benefits. From 1 October these benefits are to be adjusted upwards annually, so that they, together with the statutory patient contribution, will cover fully the fees charged 70 per cent of patients in non-government National Health Act nursing homes in each State. The Government believes, however, that the high cost of providing benefits for nursing home patients cannot be expected to remain almost exclusively its responsibility. It proposes therefore that hospital benefits organisations should pay the nursing home benefits in respect of patients insured for their standard table benefits while the Commonwealth continues to pay identical benefits for uninsured patients.
The Government is sure that most Australians will welcome this extension of the principle that those who can afford to contribute to the cost of their health care should do so. Unfortunately, since the announcement of the improved arrangements proposed by the Government, certain people in the community have seized the opportunity, presented by the winter parliamentary recess, to launch a reprehensible scare campaign. This created a great deal of uncertainty among nursing home patients and the community in general as to financial assistance nursing home patients would receive in the future. Out of concern for the welfare of nursing home patients, the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has written a letter to all patients to reassure them that the proposed changes to the nursing home arrangements will advantage them as patients. The Minister trusts they have all received those letters and that they are now reassured. Health insurers generally have shown a willingness to extend their benefits to include the payment of the proposed nursing home benefits. This was to be expected for it is a logical extension for the private health insurance system, which aims to provide cover for every nl Australian. to provide cover whether the ill person be in a doctor’s consulting room, a hospital or a nursing home.
I wish now to turn to the main provisions in the BUI. The Bill amends both the National Health Act 1953 and the Nursing Homes Assistance Act 1974. The amendments to the National Health Act are contained in Part II of the BUI and it is to these provisions that I would first draw the attention of honourable senators. The BUI provides for the payment of a basic Commonwealth nursing home benefit in respect of uninsured patients in National Health Act nursing homes. The rates of this benefit vary depending upon the State or Territory in which the nursing home is situated and are set out in clause 1 1. Successive governments and this government consider that it is reasonable to expect most patients in nursing homes to make a contribution towards their maintenance as they are usually long-stay patients. The present benefits arrangements applying to non-government nursing homes give effect to this principle in that where the fee is lower than the combination of the patient contribution and the benefit, the benefit is reduced to ensure that the patient contribution as specified remains payable. This principle of reducing the benefit thus requiring the patient to make a specified contribution has been retained in the Bill.
In addition, the BUI provides for the payment of a Commonwealth extensive care benefit for uninsured patients in National Health Act nursing homes who require extensive care. The criteria for approval as an extensive care patient is the same as that presently provided for intensive nursing home care. The only change is in terminology and this has been made as the current usage of ‘intensive care’ for the term ‘intensive nursing home care’ has caused some confusion in practice. The BUI provides for the rate of the extensive care benefit to be $6 a day. This is twice the level of the intensive nursing home care benefit, which has not been increased since it was introduced in 1969. As mentioned previously, the benefit levels have been determined so that the benefits, together with the statutory minimum patient contribution, currently $6.70 a day, cover fully the fees charged 70 per cent of patients in non-government National Health Act nursing homes in each State. The benefit levels Will be reviewed annually on this 70 per cent basis and the BUI provides for them to be increased by regulations.
As I have mentioned, the Government proposes that hospital benefits organisations should pay benefits for nursing home patients, insured for their standard table benefits, equivalent to the Commonwealth benefits for uninsured patients. These benefits Will be payable in respect of insured patients in nursing homes approved under the National Health Act and the Nursing Homes Assistance Act including insured repatriation patients in those nursing homes. The BUI provides that it is a condition of registration of hospotal benefits organisations that they provide these benefits. It further provides that hospital benefits organisations may debit aU nursing home benefits to their reinsurance accounts thus enabling liability for the benefits to be shared between the organisations.
As nursing home patients generally have very limited means, the practice has been adopted by nursing home proprietors of deducting the Commonwealth and fund nursing home benefits from the patient’s fees and charging the patients the balance. The proprietors have claimed the benefits and the benefits have been paid directly to them. The Government recognises the importance of these arrangements to the patients and the proprietors and the BUI requires that the practice be followed in relation to the new benefits. Accordingly, it provides that it is a condition of approval of a nursing home that a nursing home proprietor deduct the benefits payable from the fees and where this is done the Commonwealth and fund benefits are to be paid to the proprietor. The possibility cannot be ignored, however, that isolated cases may arise where special circumstances exist which result in a proprietor not deducting the benefits. In such cases the Bill provides that the Permanent Head of the Department of Health may direct that any Commonwealth benefits payable be paid to the person charged the fees. If the benefits have already been paid to the proprietor, they may be recovered and paid to that person. Where fund benefits are payable in such circumstances they are to be paid to the proprietor, but it is a condition of approval of the nursing home that he pay an amount equal to the benefits to the person charged the fees.
As the nursing home proprietor is responsible for claiming the nursing home benefits, it will be necessary for him to ascertain whether patients are insured in order to determine whether to claim Commonwealth or fund benefits. Accordingly, the Bill provides for it to be a condition of approval of nursing homes that the proprietor use all reasonable endeavours to ascertain whether patients are insured. The Government anticipates, however, that there will be a small number of cases where, following reasonable endeavours, it is not possible for a nursing home proprietor to ascertain whether a patient is insured. It is vital to the patient in such cases that benefits are able to be paid. Consequently, the Bill provides that in such cases, following an application from the proprietor, the Permanent Head of the Department of Health may determine that the patient be treated as being uninsured and as a result Commonwealth benefits would be paid. The Bill also provides that should fund benefits be payable to a proprietor in cases where Commonwealth benefits have been paid, the Commonwealth benefits are to be repaid.
I wish to turn now to Part III of the Bill, which amends the Nursing Homes Assistance Act 1974. By virtue of agreements made under this Act between proprietors of non-profit nursing homes and the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth meets the approved deficits of such homes. For uninsured nursing home patients in deficit financed homes existing arrangements will continue. However, the Bill imposes the same conditions of approval on these nursing homes, in relation to insured patients, as are imposed in relation to nursing homes approved under the National Health Act, to which I have referred. Further, it provides for the agreements to require proprietors to charge insured patients, other than insured compensation cases, an additional fee equal to the nursing home fund benefits payable. The Commonwealth will, of course, continue to meet the approved deficits of these nursing homes. The proprietor will deduct this fee from the patient’s account and receive the benefit from the hospital benefits organisation. The resultant increase in fees revenue will reduce the deficits to be met by the Commonwealth.
The Bill also provides for insured patients in these nursing homes to be approved as extensive care patients so they are able to attract the appropriate fund benefits. Under the revised nursing home benefits arrangements the existing controls relating to admissions, fees and growth in non-government nursing homes will continue. I am confident that honourable senators will appreciate the great value of the provisions in the Bill to nursing home patients and their relatives. Mr President, I commend the Bill to the Senate.
The purpose of the Bill is to enable action to be taken to give effect to a decision of the Government announced in the Budget that all privately insured patients pay for pathology services provided by the Commonwealth Health Laboratories. The Commonwealth Department of Health operates 14 pathology laboratories throughout Australia. In addition the Capital Territory Health Commission operates laboratories in the Australian Capital Territory. At present these laboratories do not charge for the services they provide. As a result of the substantial changes made to the health insurance arrangements since October 1976, the Government considers that this no charge policy is inappropriate as a significant proportion of the population is now covered by private medical insurance. The no charge policy is inconsistent with the Government’s approach to universal health insurance and that is that those who can afford to pay for health services should do so while those on lowest incomes and most pensioners are entitled to medical and hospital services at no cost to them. In addition the existing laboratory policy creates an unfair source of competition for private pathology practitioners operating in the same geographic area.
The pathology services of the Commonwealth Health Laboratories are part of the diagnostic services for medical practitioners and hospitals for which the Governor-General has provided under section 9(1) (b) of the National Health Act 1953. The section would support charges being raised against the medical practitioner or hospital for pathology work done m respect of a patient, but does not extend to allowing the patient to be billed directly for those services. The Bill, by enabling the services to be provided directly to the patient, will also enable the charges to be raised directly against the patient. It is proposed that charges will be made to private patients of hospitals; privately insured outpatients of recognised hospitals; and privately insured patients referred to the laboratories by medical practitioners. It is intended that the charges will be introduced from 1 October 1977 and will be at the level of medical benefits for pathology services as listed in the current medical benefits schedule. Patients will be able to recover the cost of the service from their medical benefits fund. Following passage of the Bill, the Governor-General will be asked to make an appropriate Order-in-Council under the section to impose the charges which it is expected will result in a direct saving to taxpayers of $5.3m in a full year and $3.3m for the financial year 1977-78. Mr President, I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Douglas McClelland) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 13 September, on motion by Senator Webster:
That the Senate approves of the proposal.
-Last night when this matter was brought on by the Government, I felt that it should be adjourned to enable any honourable senator who might wish to give the matter some thought such an opportunity. I believe that anything of a constructional nature being undertaken within the Parliamentary Triangle should not be pushed through the Parliament immediately. It was for that reason and because I wanted to give other honourable senators an opportunity of considering the matter that I felt it should be adjourned. They have now had the opportunity. I notice that the House of Representatives acceded to the proposal forthwith. The Opposition does not oppose the measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
That the Senate do now adjourn.
It was the intention that Estimates Committee should meet before lunch, but I imagine that by the time the place is rearranged and the bells are rung it will be almost 1 o’clock. Might I suggest that the Estimates Committees that are to meet today now meet at 2.15 p.m. at the ringing of the bells.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– The Senate stands adjourned until Tuesday next at 2.30 p.m. I remind honourable senators that Estimates Committees A, C and D will meet at 2.15 p.m. this day. Prior to the meetings the bells will be rung for 3 minutes. Committee A will meet in this chamber, Committee C in Senate Committee Room No. 1 and Committee D in Senate Committee Room No. 5. Honourable senators are also reminded that if necessary Committees A, C and D will meet tomorrow at a time to be determined by each Committee. On Tuesday next Committees E and F will meet from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Senate adjourned at 12.32 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 3 May 1977:
What action, if any, has the Government taken to implement the suggestion from the President of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, referred to in his Annual Report for the year ended 13 August 1976, on page 9, namely the creation of a joint secretariat.
– The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The suggestion by the President of the Commission raises questions which are the concern of the Commonwealth and the State Governments. I have referred it for examination to the Conference of Ministers for Labour.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 3 May 1977:
What action, if any, has the Government taken to implement the suggestion from the President of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, referred to on page 10 of his Annual Report for the year ended 13 August 1976, namely the provision in each appropriate Act for the joint sitting of members of State and Federal tribunals.
– The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The suggestion by the President of the Commission raises questions of policy which are the concern of the Commonwealth and State Governments. I have referred it for examination to the Conference of Ministers for Labour.
Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission: Consultation between Tribunals (Question No. 767)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 3 May 1977:
What action, if any, had the Government taken to implement the suggestion from the President of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, referred to in his Annual Report for the year ended 13 August 1976, on page 10, namely the insertion in all Acts of provisions whereby formal consultation could take place between two tribunals to deal with specific matters.
– The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The suggestion by the President of the Commission raises questions of policy which are the concern of the Commonwealth and State Governments. I have referred it for examination to the Conference of Ministers for Labour.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 24 May 1977:
Are there any statutory authorities responsible to the Minister; if so, (a) what are they, (b) who are the bankers for each authority and (c) which, if any, of the authorities may be termed ‘statutory authorities of a business nature’.
The Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority
The Australian Trade Union Training Authority.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 25 May 1977:
How many (a) permanent employees (b) temporary employees and (c) other employees were there in the Minister’s Department for each month since and including November 1975.
– The Minister for Primary Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
I refer the honourable senator to the answer to Question No. 949.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 26 May 1977:
What is the estimated cost of providing for Senator Colston the answer provided to his Senate Question No. 5 1.
While the honourable senator’s present Question reflects a proper concern that resources required to provide answers to Senate Questions in general, and to Question No. S 1 in particular, may not be commensurate with the value of the information being sought, I can assure him that, while the cost of providing answers is not precisely estimated, judgment is continually exercised as to whether the information sought can be economically provided, taking into account the resources available in my Department.
On the more general issue of the cost of answering Questions on Notice, I draw the honourable senator’s attention to the answer supplied to him by the Minister for Administrative Services to Question No. 1033 (Senate Hansard of 16 August 1977, page 1 13), as well as to the answer supplied to Senator Colston, also by the Minister for Administrative Services, to Question No. 1040 (Senate Hansard of 17 August 1977 page 2 10).
Fishing by Foreign Vessels (Question No. 1119)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 16 August 1977:
Are foreign fishing vessels taking huge quantities of scallops from fishing grounds inside the Great Barrier Reef, thus threatening the livelihood of Australians employed on commercial fishing vessels in that region; if so, what action does the Minister intend taking to preserve these fishing grounds for Australian fishermen.
– The Minister for Primary Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Information available to my department indicates that foreign fishing vessels have taken some scallops inside the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef beyond the 12 mile declared fishing zone incidental to their primary activity of trawling for swimming fish. The catches of the foreign trawlers have been inspected and it would not be accurate to say that they include ‘ huge quantities ‘ of scallops.
The Government is concerned, however, at the level of foreign fishing in the waters off Australia. As the honourable senator is aware, my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs announced in the Parliament on 16 August 1977 that the Government proposes to draft legislation to enable the reclamation of a 200 mile Australian fisheries zone. At the outh Pacific Forum which the Prime Minister and Senator Cotton attended in Port Moresby from 29 to 31 August, member Governments declared that they would extend their zones of fisheries jurisdiction by 31 March 1978. A 200 nautical mile fisheries zone will enable Australia to regulate foreign fishing activity in these waters, and to manage fisheries within the zone for the benefit of Australian fishermen and the Australian community as a whole.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 15 September 1977, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1977/19770915_senate_30_s74/>.