31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Address-in-Reply: Presentation to Governor-General
– I remind honourable senators that his Excellency the GovernorGeneral will receive the Address-in-Reply to his opening Speech at Government House this afternoon at 5.30 p.m. For this purpose it is proposed that the sitting of the Senate be suspended at 5 p.m. Cars will be available at the front of Parliament House at 5.15 p.m. for the purpose of taking honourable senators to Government House.
– by leave- I inform the Senate that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) left Australia on 6 March to attend a meeting of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. He is expected to return on 10 March. During his absence the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) will act as Minister for Foreign Affairs.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows:
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 the Charter of the United Nations clearly precludes it from interference in the domestic affairs of a country or from obstructing the free transmission of news and information between individuals and between nations.
That the United Nations, in apparent illegality, has imposed many restrictions and sanctions upon Rhodesia which has been remarkably free from the bloodshed and turmoil of Northern and Central African lands, even to the extent now of actively encouraging armed conflict against the legally elected Government of Rhodesia.
Lord Graham as Minister of External Affairs and Defence has said: ‘International Communism is our enemy, all this talk of political advancement and majority rule is no more than a smokescreen in the early skirmishes of an assault upon the whole of Africa . . . It is even difficult to see this enemy because it is not merely attacking us, but on a broad front is attacking the whole world order, its standards, its law and order, its moralities, its churches, its patriotisms, its philosophies and even much of its learning . . .
That Communist Chinese infiltration in much of Africa over many years, and Cuban Communist troops reported to number 25,000 are dominating nearby Angola, and possess modem missiles etc.
It is urgent that Mozambique, now under Communist domination and which has a common border with Rhodesia, does not receive any further aid from the Commonwealth Government of Australia, which has benefited mainly the terrorist guerrilla movements that are responsible for the deaths of many Rhodesian people.
It is urgent for the Australian people to determine for themselves the actual facts of the Rhodesian struggles.
It is urgent that the Senate and the House of Representatives in the Parliament assembled, will observe common justice and proper humanity by inviting only authorised representatives of the present Government of Rhodesia to Australia, to do what they have been deprived to do previously, present their case fully and publicly so that this can be examined and tested, without interference, and so that the eventual impact on Australia’s own security and defence alliances can be gauged with better accuracy.
Your Petitioners request urgent action to be taken immediately,
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Sheil.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled:
The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth objection to the Metric system and request the Government to restore the Imperial system.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Sheil.
-I ask the Minister for Administrative Services whether it is correct that on 8 February of this year three permanent heads agreed that the computer contract for the Bureau of Statistics should be re-opened. Did they take this step on their own initiative or were they merely asked to agree with the Prime Minister’s proposal to that effect? Did the Prime Minister or any other Minister communicate with the three permanent heads prior to their meeting on 8 February.
-I indicate to the Senate that I understand that at a later hour this day the Prime Minister will be making in the other place a statement on this whole matter. If he does, I expect to make a similar statement at the same time in this place. I would suggest that, until honourable senators have heard that statement and have considered their questions in the context of the statement, it would be rather foolish for me to attempt to answer questions on it at this time.
– I refer the Minister representing the Treasurer to an article in today’s Courier-Mail headlined ‘Tax Clamp on Subsidised House Rents’ and ask: Is it true that the Australian Taxation Office will put its own assessment on the value of the rent and alter the income for taxation purposes accordingly? Does the Minister realise that these subsidised rents, as they are called, are deliberately provided to attract people to jobs in more remote areas? Does the Minister realise that the beneficiaries of these schemes are people who are part of the more productive sections of the community, for example, mining towns, cattle and sheep properties and railway settlements, and that these reduced rents are to compensate for the isolation and lack of facilities that urban Australia takes for granted? Lastly, does this proposed clampdown tie in with the Government’s announced intention of using lower taxation to help stimulate the economy.
– Having seen the article in the Courier-Mail, I asked the Treasury to give me information. I have fairly detailed information on the matter. I am advised that under a long-standing provision of the income tax law an employee is assessable on the value to him of all allowances or benefits given or granted in relation to his employment. Among the benefits within the scope of the provision- section 26 (e) of the Income Tax Assessment Act- is that arising from the use of residential premises provided either free of charge or at concessional rental to an employee by his employer. Whilst it is strictly the responsibility of each employee who receives such benefit to include its money value in his tax return, it has long been the practice of the Taxation Office to take the initiative in relation to particular groups of employees to determine from time to time what are regarded as appropriate values. This practice, which has been followed for many years in the ordinary course of administering the income tax law, has the advantage of ensuring, as far as is reasonably practical, that the values are assessed on a consistent basis throughout Australia. The assessed value is notified to the employee concerned at the time the determination is made, if that is practicable, or when he receives his assessment. In determining the value of the benefit, the starting point is usually the fair rental value of the premises but, because the amount to be included as assessable income is the value to the taxpayer, the normal rental value often has to be discounted for other factors peculiar to the particular case.
Subject to what I have said, I add the following comments: The answer to the first question is yes. As far as possible, the values are determined with the knowledge and agreement of the employee concerned. Secondly, it is appreciated that employers frequently find it necessary to offer intending employees the use of residential accommodation, particularly where the industry is in a remote or isolated location where housing is not ordinarily available. The answer to the third question is yes. As I have pointed out, the factors referred to by the honourable senator, including isolation and lack of community facilities, are taken into consideration in determining the value of the accommodation to the employee. I have explained that the review is a continuing one. It has been carried out by the Taxation Office over many years. It is necessary to maintain equity between employees who receive their income in cash and provide their own accommodation and those who have accommodation provided for them. Any change in the long-standing provisions of the law to disregard such benefits for taxation purposes would create grave inequities and anomalies in the income tax treatment of different employees.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. In view of the considerable number of amendments recently made to the Broadcasting and Television Act, will the Minister make available to members of the House of Representatives and senators a consolidated update of the Act? Is it a fact that such a version has been produced in the Postal and Telecommunications Department and has been made available to industry bodies such as the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations and the Federation of Australian Radio Broadcasters? Does the Minister agree that the Government should be as willing to assist and inform members of parliament as it is to assist the industry groups?
– May I respond to Senator Ryan in the reverse order of her questions. The answer to her third question is yes. The answer to her second question is that I do not know whether such a consolidation or explanation has been made available. I shall find out. If there is such a consolidation and if it can be so arranged, I will certainly ask my colleague to see that all senators and members get a copy of it. I believe that the honourable senator’s suggestion is a valuable one, and I will try to get it acted upon.
-I ask the Minister for Social Security whether she has read a letter written to the editor of the Adelaide Advertiser in which a woman states that she visited the office of the Department of Social Security, where the simple process of filling in one form took well over four hours and it took two hours even to find her file. The letter also referred to a man who had left his children in a city car park thinking that his visit to the Department would not take long. He was there for more than four hours. He was in urgent need of money but he received none as the cheque office closed at 4 p.m., before he was attended to. I also ask the Minister whether she has seen the charge that some of the female staff were barefooted, were completely uncaring and in general treated the public like dogs. Further, it was stated by one of those in the queue that everything would stop at 2.30 for the usual Public Service tea break, and it did, with the youngsters wandering around for the next hour with cans of drink, hamburgers, chips, and so on, quite unheeding of the queues of people waiting or the length of time they had waited. Will the Minister make inquiries into these allegations made in a letter to the editor of the Advertiser last Monday and, if her inquiries show the allegations to be true, will she take such action as she deems fit to ensure that proper service is given to the general public by one of the Public Service departments?
– My attention was drawn to an article which listed complaints with regard to the Commonwealth Employment Service and the Department of Social Security in South Australia. I have asked for a report on the matters raised although I believe that some of the complaints were of a fairly general nature and it may not be possible to identify specific events as relating to a particular day. If any of the allegations are correct and the service that should be given by the Department has not been maintained, I will ask the superior officers in the Department to ensure that the service to the public is maintained at a standard that facilitates the payment of benefits and pensions and that any undue delays in the payment of benefits and pensions is kept to a minimum. I will ensure that any further information that I have on the matter is given to Senator Young.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs and relates to statements which were reported to have been made over the weekend by Mr Peacock concerning the socalled internal settlement which has been agreed upon by the Government of Mr Ian Smith and various nationalist forces in Rhodesia or Zimbabwe. I ask: Has the Government yet considered the nature of the so-called internal settlement and adopted any policy relating to the desirability or otherwise of this internal settlement? Will the Minister not agree that in view of the fact that Australia already has taken a strong position on the present situation in Zimbabwe or Rhodesia, as is evidenced by its accession to the United Nations decision to apply sanctions to Rhodesia, it is necessary that Australia should adopt its own policy and make its own determination on whether the so-called internal settlement is desirable or otherwise and should not wait to find out what somebody else thinks about it before we say what we think about it?
– From my reading of a little report of what Mr Peacock is alleged to have said, I understood that he was being very cautious and not committing himself to any fixed position. As I understand it, the matter is under study by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and officers of his Department and as soon as a conclusion is reached it will be announced as a decision of the Australian Government and not of anybody else.
-Can the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs inform the Senate whether the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly has introduced complementary legislation to the Federal Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill? If not, when is it expected to be tabled, and when it is tabled will members of the Senate be given copies of it for study and determination?
– I am not aware of the status of any legislation in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly but I will seek the information that has been sought and ensure that Senator Bonner is advised.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Health: Is it a fact that the opening of the Tennant Creek Hospital is being delayed because of shortage of staff? If so, will the Minister indicate whether this staff shortage is a result of the unrealistic staff ceilings in the Department of Health in the Northern Territory?
– I shall seek information from the Minister for Health with regard to the opening of the Tennant Creek Hospital. If it is still unable to be opened I shall have an uptodate report prepared for the honourable senator to inform him of the present situation.
– My question is addressed to the Acting Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. I refer to the denial of fringe benefits in the service pension area to ex-members of the Commonwealth forces who are now Australian citizens. Is it true that the Repatriation Act was amended in 1975 to extend the provision of fringe benefits to these ex-servicemen? Is it also true that, due to the failure of the Government to make corresponding amendments to the National Health Act, the same citizens cannot actually obtain the relevant benefits? Is the Minister aware of this anomaly? Is he willing to promote legislative changes to ensure that such fringe benefits are effectively enjoyed by these ex-servicemen?
– In 1975 the Repatriation Act was amended to enable Commonwealth exservicemen who have been resident in Australia for 10 years to be eligible for the service pension under the same conditions as Australian exservicemen. However, the provisions then did not extend to entitlement to free medical treatment under regulation 66 of the repatriation regulations. It appears that when the National Health Act and the Health Insurance Act were amended in 1976 a right may have been created in favour of those service pensioners who were formerly Commonwealth ex-servicemen to receive pensioner health medical cards. Apparently an anomaly has been discovered between the two sets of regulations, as Senator Missen has indicated. However, I think the situation is the reverse of what his question suggests. The anomaly has only recently been brought to the attention of the Government. In the light of it the Minister for Health and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs have conferred. As a result, officers of the two departments have been instructed to examine the whole question with a view to rationalising the position.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for the Northern Territory. Are the fears of Professor Messel that crocodiles are being exterminated from the Northern Territory justified? I add as a postscript that this question is not motivated by any fears of the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment which will be in the Alligator River region of the Territory in a few weeks.
-The honourable senator’s question relates to a matter now under the control of the Northern Territory Executive. The Minister for the Northern Territory has been advised by the Northern Territory Executive’s member for resources and health that liaison between the Northern Territory Executive and the Environment Ministers of the Commonwealth and the States is achieved in the context of the Council of Nature Conservation Ministers. The Commonwealth Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development is also represented on the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission and contact is made with the Queensland and Western Australian authorities on crocodile protection issues as required. I am aware that the Department of the Northern Territory has entered into an agreement with Professor Messel to allow some facilities at one of the research stations- I think it is Beatrice Hill- to be used by his staff. So there is an integration of activities there.
A co-ordinating and liaison function on crocodile protection in the policy formulation area is also being performed jointly by the University of New South Wales and the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission. That commenced over seven years ago. The honourable senator may be interested to know that the last survey of the crocodile population in the Northern Territory, which was made in 1976-77, estimated the population of the surveyed areas to be approximately 4,000 to 5,000 salt water crocodiles, of which fewer than 15 per cent exceeded the two-metre minimum size of maturity for females. There are an estimated 50,000 fresh water crocodiles. The honourable senator’s question will be considered in its diverse areas of interest, and I will obtain more information for him.
– I preface my question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Capital Territory, by saying that many people in Tasmania have regarded the end of daylight saving as daylight robbery. Is the Minister aware that when Tasmania introduced daylight saving many years ago, ahead of the other States, the period of daylight saving was six months, and that it has now been reduced to about four months, in line with the other States that have daylight saving? Has the Government any plans to extend the time for daylight saving in the Australian Capital Territory during the next summer so that Victoria and Tasmania and other States that I regard as more illuminated than some others will be able to extend their period of daylight saving?
– I acknowledge the interest of the honourable senator, on behalf of his State, in having some co-ordination of daylight saving. I was not generally aware of the facts that he related to the Senate. I know of no plans for an extended period of daylight saving in the Australian Capital Territory for either this year or the coming years. I will put the proposition to the Minister for the Capital Territory and attempt to get a reply for the honourable senator.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. In view of the Prime Minister’s claim that interest rates have been substantially reduced, I ask: Has the interest rate of the Rural Credit Department of the Reserve Bank been reduced? If not, when can we expect a reduction in the interest rates charged to the Australian Wheat Board and similar marketing boards?
-The honourable senator asks a quite interesting question about interest rates and primary industry. Of course Senator McLaren, being a member of the Labor Party, will recall quite well that the previous LiberalCountry Party Government had a preferential rate of interest for primary industry, which was at least Vh per cent below the normal lending rate of the banks, and that the Labor Party when it came to power reduced and eliminated the preferential rate of interest for primary producers.
– What is it now?
– I can well understand that that is a concern of Senator Walsh, too, although I do not think he was here at that time. He is now the Opposition spokesman on primary industry. Senator McLaren is a quite respected member of the Labor Party and he would recall that incident very well. I am unaware of the reasons why the Labor Party, when in government, eliminated that preferential rate of interest for primary producers. I hope that one night, perhaps in an adjournment debate, Senator McLaren will give us the benefit of his views on why his Government abolished that preferential rate of interest to primary producers. I am not aware whether there has been a reduction of interest rates for rural credit. Also, I am not aware whether the Wheat Board is obtaining a preferential rate of interest on its borrowings. I will attempt to obtain the information for the honourable senator.
-Has the Minister for Education seen the third and final volume of a publication known as Australian Studies in School Performance which was prepared by the Australian Council for Educational Research? I draw the Minister’s attention to the last sentence of the report, which read in part:
Some students, not a large proportion but nevertheless a significant number, are being denied the opportunity to learn to read, to write and to calculate confidently and accurately by a failure on the part of the schools and on the part of Australian society which must make the necessary provision for education in its schools.
Can the Minister tell us the initiatives, if any, which are available to him to restore the ‘three Rs’, as they are colloquially known, to their rightful place as a necessary provision for education in schools in Australia?
– In response to the first part of Senator Tehan ‘s question, I am aware of the reports of the Australian Council for Educational Research. The work done by the ACER in respect of school performance is very valuable indeed, particularly because it is the first research of its kind which can become a benchmark for the future. That report indicated a number of defects which are well worth pointing out. I do not think it is fruitful to contemplate whether we have become less equipped in basic skills, in numeracy and literacy, than we were in the past. The fact is that the report indicates that in certain areas we are not performing sufficiently well. Of course, the report does state that our standard is about the same as the standard of other countries. I believe that the report contains constructive criticism and that it is the kind of criticism we should take up. We shall be drawing it to the attention of all educators, particularly in the two Territories where we have direct responsibility. Also it will be surveyed by the Australian Education Council.
Keeping this in mind, the Commonwealth Government will be establishing in the weeks immediately ahead a very significant inquiry, a national inquiry, into all aspects of teacher training. That inquiry ought to get to the very heart of this matter because it will look at how we train teachers, the curricula, who trains the people who train teachers, the wide range of disciplines involved and, essentially, the teaching of the basic skills. Another direct initiative is the setting up of a study group under the Education Research and Development Committee to investigate the feasibility of monitoring educational standards and progress on a regular basis. The ERDC is concerned also with the commissioning of research in respect of learning disabilities and the dissemination of these findings and developments through seminars and publications.
Taking the ACER report as a benchmark, and with the monitoring systems, we will be able in future to see whether we are making progress. I think all honourable senators and honourable members will recognise that basic skills are the first essential building blocks for learning and therefore it is a good premise to urge that we upgrade them as a general principle.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Administrative Services and refers to an article published in today’s Melbourne Age which states that the Government faces a $440,000 bill to reopen Australian consular posts in Bombay and Los Angeles and that the Government has already lost $100,000 in dead rent in Los Angeles. Can the Minister inform the Senate whether any other diplomatic posts were closed down during the past two years on which the Government is paying dead rent? Further, in the light of these policy changes, can the Minister explain why the posts in Bombay and Los Angeles were closed initially and why it has been found necessary to reopen them?
-I do not carry such details and figures in my head. I shall obtain them for the honourable senator as early as possible and let him have them.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Productivity and refers to a meeting in Sydney three or four weeks ago which was arranged by the Department of Productivity to form Australia’s first Information Technology Council. Can the Minister tell us the aims of this Council? Can he indicate the progress made at the meeting and subsequently, and whether this centre will be of any special benefit to small businesses?
-The Information Technology Council was formed on 16 February at a meeting organised by the Department of Productivity. The meeting was attended by representatives from government and from professional and industry associations representing individual information technologies. At the meeting it was decided that the objectives of the Council would include the establishment of facilities for advice, instruction, demonstration and support to business management on information technologies; the promotion of the importance of information technology to the productivity of business enterprise; the promotion of the interrelationships and complementary nature of the individual technologies; and the sponsorship of development projects within the ambit of information technologies which offer particular promise in the enhancement of productivity of business enterprise. It was intended that the body would advise firms, particularly smaller ones, on integrated solutions to their information requirements. No independent body exists in Australia to do that, particularly for small business. It was intended that small businesses in particular would refer to this body for that type of advice. I think I should refer the other detailed aspects of the question to the Minister for Productivity who I understand will be giving further details on the matter.
– My question to the Minister representing the Treasurer refers to the answer given to my question last Tuesday in which he claimed that what he called a spectacular drop in inflation and a fall in interest rates would, in his words, taken together, ‘work towards a better conjunction of balance of payments’. I ask the Minister how lower interest rates are likely to induce a positive movement in the balance of payments.
-I would have thought that it was the basic knowledge and understanding of all honourable senators that, allowing for certain other matters such as invisibles and the inflow or outflow of currency, the balance of payments occurs with two factors, namely, exports and imports.
– And capital movements.
-I included that in currency capital movements, but I accept what the honourable senator has said. Our ability to increase our exports depends upon our ability to trade within world markets and not be costed out of world markets. In the period 1974-75, because of the upsurge of inflation and the upsurge of interest rates, we were costed out of world markets. We will get back into world markets when we reduce inflation and reduce interest rates. Interest rates are a significant part of all costs. Quite clearly, if we can reduce inflation and reduce interest rates the manufacturing industries in this country which were destroyed under a previous regime will be able to come back into production and compete with the outside world. It is quite clear in relation to both exports and imports that inflation and interest rates play a dominant, if not the most significant, part.
-I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Transport whether, in light of the fact that traffic at Perth Airport is increasing at an alarming rate, he is able to say whether there are at present plans to increase the capacity of Perth Airport to alleviate the critical overcrowding. If plans have not been prepared, would the Minister consider directing the joint State and Federal committee which has been set up to review Perth Airport’s needs to report as soon as possible in order to alleviate any unnecessary delays in the future?
- Senator Thomas quite rightly has pointed out that there is a joint Commonwealth and State committee considering the needs of Perth Airport. I understand that this Committee intends to report in September. If there is a demonstrable need for hurrying this report I imagine that that could be arranged. I am advised that some forecasts of the committed usage by various kinds of traffic at Perth Airport could be exaggerated. The advice I have from the Department of Transport is that the number of international passengers will double in 10 years, the number of interstate passengers will double in 12 years and the number of intrastate passengers will double in 13 years. I take it that that is a lower estimate of progress than was in Senator Thomas’s mind and that the increase in passenger movements is part of normal growth. I am also advised by the Department that whilst international facilities for visitors become overcrowded at peak periods, in line with almost every international airport in the world, there are still long periods when the facilities are underutilised. As regards domestic facilities, the airlines intend in the near future to make improvements to their own facilities. If I could make a personal comment, the delights of being in Penh are in fact mitigated by the noisiness of the amplifier system at the Perth Airport, which I think is most distracting. Quite apart from any other reforms there, one should look to the paging system, which I think causes pain. However, I will direct the salient part of Senator Thomas’s question to my colleague in another place.
– I ask the Minister for Social Security: When was the second Bailey report received by the Government and when does the Government intend to table the report in the Parliament?
– The Bailey committee is an interdepartmental committee that reported to the Prime Minister. I am unaware of the date on which the report was presented to the Prime Minister. I am also unaware whether the Prime Minister has made any decision as to the publication of the report. I will seek the information for the honourable senator.
– Will the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs advise what the Commonwealth’s attitude would be in relation to tax revenue levels, which may be set in the Territory by the Commonwealth, in the event of the current negotiations concerning financial arrangements, et cetera, not being successful and the Northern Territory government not being established by 1 July 1978? Will the Minister also inform me whether, in the event of agreement not being reached, the levels of taxation in the Territory would remain unchanged or rise to the levels of taxation imposed by, say, New South Wales, Victoria and other States of Australia?
– I will treat this as a hypothetical question because emphatically the Commonwealth will strive as far as it can- it believes it can succeed- to bring about an agreement regarding basic financing. I do not believe that a forecast of the future is necessary in that regard. Secondly, I should say that the best way in which the Territory can preserve its current advantagesaccrued over the years because of its very nature, its isolation, its sparseness of population and its distance from points of main supplieswould be to proceed towards the selfgovernment principles that the Commonwealth Government has in mind. The Commonwealth Government has indicated that its intention is that the Northern Territory should have the same arrangements, as far as possible, as those between the Commonwealth and the States and that therefore there would be a preservation of relativities. It is not for me to say what would happen in other circumstances. It is true, and I stress this, that the best way to preserve existing conditions is to go along with the arrangements as they are now foreshadowed.
– My question is addressed to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs and follows the question that has just been asked. Do I understand that in the event of the Northern Territory reaching a similar financial arrangement to that now applying between the Commonwealth and the States, the legislation proposed by the Government- that is, Stage 2 of federalism, which will permit the States to introduce State income taxes- will also apply to the Territory?
-It could so apply. At this moment it is not included in the foreshadowed legislation because that legislation lies between the Commonwealth and the States. In fact, under self-government the Northern Territory would not have statehood. I think the answer is that it is not foreshadowed at this moment because the arrangement of Stage 2 lies between the Commonwealth and the States. It is something that could be discussed between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory as the Northern Territory moves first to self-government and, in later years, to statehood.
-Mr President, to clarify that matter for my own information I wish to ask a supplementary question. Is the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs saying in effect that he is not ruling out the possibility that residents of the Northern Territory may be obliged to pay a separate income tax in the years ahead under the present Government’s policy?
-I did not say that at all. I said that the present legislation provides for Stage 2 as between the Commonwealth and the States; that, as I understand it, it is not contemplated that the Northern Territory be included; and that it would be a matter for the Northern Territory to raise it if it had that in its mind in the future. I stress that the real nub of the question asked by Senator Kilgariff and the matter underlying Senator Wriedt ‘s question is that the Northern Territory will preserve its present equalisation or relativities best if it follows the kind of principles which the Commonwealth is now offering to it.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development. I refer to a recent article in the journal Meanjin entitled: ‘The Mystic Stonewright: Walter Burley Griffiin’. Burley Griffin, of course, designed Canberra. The article states:
Many see Griffin not just as one of the greatest and most original architects to have worked in this country, but also as one of the world ‘d leading twentieth century architects.
The article goes on to point out that in the last four years five of Walter Burley Griffin’s buildings have been demolished in Melbourne alone. I understand that others have been demolished elsewhere. In view of that, I ask the Minister whether he can indicate what is being done or what action might be taken by the Government to ensure the preservation of as many as possible of Burley Griffin ‘s major works in Australia.
-I think that all who know the works of Walter Burley Griffin as a designer, an architect and a creator will acknowledge that they are of enduring significance. Senator Knight’s question is of importance. In my briefing I have information which indicates that the following works of Walter Burley Griffin have been placed on the register of the National Estate: Newman College, Melbourne; the ceiling of the Capitol Theatre, Melbourne; the Willoughby incinerator, Sydney; the Hindmarsh incinerator, South Australia; the Thebarton incinerator, South Australia; and the Burley Griffin Lodge, Avalon, New South Wales. The Paris Cinema, Sydney, is on the interim list and a number of other buildings, mostly domestic, are being considered.
Places listed on the register are afforded the protection of section 30 of the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 in that no Commonwealth Minister or department may take any action that adversely affects such a place unless there is no feasible and prudent alternative, and even then all reasonable measures should be taken to minimise the adverse effect. A considerable amount of further information is available to the honourable senator should he require it. The information which I have shows that the works of Walter Burley Griffin are recognised nationally and that steps are being taken through the Australian National Trust and the Australian Heritage Commission to protect those works. If the honourable senator lets me know of any instances which appear to be the exception in this regard I shall bring them to the attention of my colleague.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Education, follows the question asked by Senator Tehan concerning literacy. When will some action be taken to overcome this problem instead of another long-winded inquiry being held, as has been proposed? I refer to the Minister’s Press statement of 16 February, in which he appeared to claim that it was inevitable that a surplus of teachers would grow. If, indeed, such a surplus does exist, will the Minister give consideration to the launching of an immediate, organised plan to utilise the services of these teachers to combat the presence of illiteracy in Australia? In connection with this problem of illiteracy, I draw his attention to an alarming claim made in the newsletter of the Council for Adult Literacy, which reached our offices today, that in Tasmania there were possibly 50,000 illiterate people. I should point out to senators from other States that similar surveys have not yet been made in their States and that the problem of illiteracy would no doubt prove to be more severe on the mainland.
– The Commonwealth is in no way defensive on this matter. It accepts the fact that there is evidence of a lack of basic skills in a significant number of people in the Australian community. The honourable senator will recall that it was this Government which set up the Education Program for Unemployed Youth, which has revealed a significant lack of basic skills in a significant number of those who are unemployed. This finding supplements the Australian Council for Educational Research report following which the Commonwealth was quick to set up its monitoring systems. It is not good enough simply to say that a research investigation will not get us anywhere. Until we know what we want in a teacher, and how we should train a teacher, until we know the curricula and best methods to train a teacher, we cannot satisfy ourselves that we are doing enough in terms of entrenching basic skills.
There is no doubt that, following the inquiry on teacher training, there will be throughout Australia an emphasis upon the basic skills of numeracy and literacy. The work of the Williams committee of inquiry will come to fruition in approximately June of this year. No doubt it will have recommendations upon which we shall certainly act. Also, the Tertiary Education Commission is studying the upgrading of the quality of tertiary education. It is fair enough to say that there is evidence of some lack of basic skills even at the post-school level. What we learn from the work of EPUY will be used not only for remedial purposes but also for reviewing where the defect lies in the community, the home and the school.
A great deal is being done, in both the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, where we have direct responsibility for the provision of basic skills. The Commonwealth has, of course, emphasised to the States, which have the basic responsibility in the state schools, that these reports are fundamental to the exercise of learning, and the States and the Commonwealth will co-operate in this investigation of teacher training. I emphasise that the Commonwealth rejects the idea that there is some kind of incompatibility between basic skills and innovation. We believe that one cannot embark upon true learning, or the adventure of experiment, until one obtains the basic skills. To the extent that the Commonwealth can encourage and lead, and in its own case, direct, it will do so on this matter.
– I preface my question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, by referring to the apparent discovery of quite substantial fishing areas within the 200-mile limit of the coast, and the many cases being presented for proposed joint ventures with overseas countries and companies. Has his attention been drawn to the report last Friday in the Australian Financial Review of an alleged $ 100m trade deal involving a proposed joint fishing venture with the Russians? Will the Minister say whether the Government is considering any form of trade-off, whereby Australian fishing rights would be given in exchange for the sale of some other Australian product such as beef? Is that proposal being considered by the Minister for Primary Industry and the Cabinet?
– So far as I am aware, a trade-off is not being considered at present, but I make that comment without the full knowledge of the attitude being taken by the Minister for Primary Industry. I will attempt to obtain the information requested by the honourable senator. As the honourable senator commented, the possible fish reserves in our proposed declared waters are reckoned to be very significant. These are a most valuable resource to Australia. Indeed it can be noted from questions in this place that several State governments are particularly interested to see that Australians, especially those involved in the fishing industry, themselves derive benefit from future proposals about feasibility fishing. I am unable to answer for the honourable senator the direct question about a trade-off, but I will attempt to obtain an answer for him promptly.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security and it refers to the type of compensation which will be payable to South Australian railway employees who were transferred to the control of” the Australian National Railways on 1 March. They have been told that they will have the option of accepting either the State compensation scheme or the provisions of the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act. Legislation would need to be introduced to allow for the election. Can the Minister give details of the legislation that might have to come before the Parliament? If there is to be legislation, can she indicate when it might be introduced into the Parliament?
– The Government proposes amendments to the Australian National Railways Act so that it is able to put into effect the transfer proposals that have been outlined in the question. The responsibility for processing claims under the new amendment will remain with the office of the Commissioner for Employees’ Compensation. The proposed amendments will allow an employee a choice between the South Australian compensation scheme and the Commonwealth scheme. The legislation will be in keeping with the agreement which was reached between the South Australian Government and the Commonwealth Government on the transfer of the South Australian railways to the Commonwealth. I expect that the amendments which are required will be introduced in the House of Representatives this week. The legislation has been prepared and subject to the legislative timetable in the other place the legislation should be introduced this week.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Education by saying that I realise that the Commonwealth Government is only acting as a centre for dispensing the Social Education Materials Project to state schools. I realise that the method of use of this material and the type of teacher promoting this material are State matters. However, I ask whether the Minister will consider warning the States of the crucial need for care in the choice of teacher and the concern expressed by many involved in SEMP that the material should not be used as a definite course but should be included within the context of other studies.
- Senator Walters raises a vital question which lies at the very base of all teaching of social science, and that is that quite apart from the quality of the material the effect upon the student depends upon the objective or subjective approach of the teacher. Fundamentally, the Commonwealth Government, and I believe the State governments, would accept that it is not the role of a teacher to engage in social engineering by trying to change forcibly the normal values of the student.
– Is it the role of a government to do that?
-It is the role of the Government to produce material on social science which would show honestly and accurately what are the normal values accepted by the bulk of the community today. It would stress that and at the same time show equally honestly and accurately what may be alternative values held by some. It is not the role of a government to engage in forcible social engineering. The objective of SEMP is to produce this accurate information, and I hope that it does so. If any honourable senator would like to point to illustrations where he thinks it does not do so I would be grateful because SEMP can only draw its strength from its ability to stand up in public to public criticism. The honourable senator asks the fundamental question whether we will underline with the States the importance of teacher quality. I will be glad to raise this matter at an Australian Education Council meeting. However, in the national inquiry into teacher education we will be looking fundamentally at the methods of selecting teachers, of training teachers and of training teachers to be skilled, accurate and honest in social education, perhaps the most sensitive, delicate and difficult task required of a teacher. I certainly will keep the general principle in mind.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs aware that the sum of $60,000 was made available by Truaid Ltd to enable the Burdel Co-operative Advancement Society Ltd to establish a caravan park at Ayr? Is it intended that the caravan park at Ayr will provide employment for a number of Aborigines and then an on-going income for a smaller number of Aborigines at that centre? Is the Minister aware that the Queensland Government has refused a lease of Crown land at Ayr for the establishment of the caravan park? What action is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs taking to persuade the Queensland Government to reverse the decision not to allow Aborigines to lease this small area of land.
– I am not aware of the matters stated in the question. I will refer them to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and obtain an answer.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs and refer to observations in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. It is reported that the Minister for Foreign Affairs in a statement to the International Press Institute has called for a new economic order as being essential to peace and well being in the world. Is the Minister aware that his colleague has called for a new United States initiative to do more than make what he called ‘adjustments to the margins’? Is he further aware that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has warned that world tensions will rise if developing countries are not given a better deal by developed countries? Does this indicate that a new government initiative and program on international and developmental aid are about to be implemented?
– I am unaware of what is in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald or in any other newspaper published this day. I would not be at all surprised if my colleague Mr Peacock had made such a statement. As we all know, he is a most innovative Minister and is always keen to be pursuing new ideas in all areas of foreign affairs and not just in foreign aid.
– I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister: Is it a fact that after two years the Income Security Review Committee has been wound up? In view of the fact that in the last two years various senators in this place and members in another place have been told that some 30 major and minor matters of welfare concern have been referred to this Committee, will the Parliament be allowed to know what conclusions the Committee reached, and will we be able to obtain the background working papers which contain valuable information concerning future welfare planning in this country?
-I will pass on the honourable senator’s question to the Prime Minister.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and relates to the claim by the Premier of Queensland that he might travel to the Cook Islands to bring Mr Brych into Australia if the Federal Government does not agree to let him in. Would transport by the Premier of Queensland in any way absolve this man from complying with normal entry requirements or any special entry requirements which might have been laid down by the Australian Government?
– I will refer that question to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs to obtain the information that has been requested.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Is it a fact that entry to Australia has been refused to a Mr Fred Mazelis, a United States citizen? On what date did Mr Mazelis apply for admission to Australia? On what basis did he make his application to visit Australia? If the answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative, what were the reasons for the exclusion of Mr Mazelis? Lastly, is the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs contemplating reviewing his decision in this case?
– I have no information to provide on this matter. I shall refer the question to the Minister for his reply.
-Has the Minister for Administrative Services been made aware of a report by the Australian Electoral Office stating that 731,555 Australians, or 9 per cent of the total poll, voted informally at the Senate election last December? Does the Minister agree that the magnitude of the informal vote is a national disgrace? Does he propose to initiate any reform to simplify our voting system?
-I thought the Australian electorate voted very sensibly at the last two elections. I thought the people of Australia showed great wisdom. The Government parties did very well. I do not think the electorate needs educating. The honourable senator referred to an overall informal vote of 9 per cent being cast for the
Senate election. Perhaps the situation varies from State to State. I should imagine that my State of Western Australia would have a lower informal vote than most others, being more sensible. The number of informal votes cast varies from election to election. The figure was lower for the election after the double dissolution of 1975. At the last separate Senate election the figure was much higher. I assume that in 1975 the people of Australia were so anxious to make certain that the Whitlam Government did not get back to office that they concentrated on filling out a formal ballot paper and that at the time of the last election they were so convinced that the Liberal and National Country Parties would win easily they did not take so much care.
-I direct a question to the Minister for Education. Has the Assistant Director-General of the Queensland Department of Education, Mr George Berkeley, resigned from the council of the Curriculum Development Centre? If so, what reasons did Mr Berkeley give for his resignation? What action, if any, does the Minister intend to take following Mr Berkeley’s resignation?
-I am advised that Mr Berkeley has tendered his resignation as a member of the Curriculum Development Centre, which he served very effectively indeed. I am not aware of any explanation being given. He is a State public servant and is responsible to his State. I am not aware of any explanation being sought. I regret that he found it necessary to resign. His services were useful to the Curriculum Development Centre.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the annual report of Qantas Airways Ltd for the year ended 31 March 1977.
– by leave- I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– Pursuant to section 32 of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act 1949 I present the annual report of the
Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority for the year ended 30 June 1977.
– Pursuant to section 42 of the Film and Television School Act 1973 I present the annual report of the Australian Film and Television School for the year ended 30 June 1976.
– Pursuant to section 10 of the Seat of Government (Administration) Act 1930 I present the statement of receipts and expenditure relating to the administration and development of the Australian Capital Territory for the year ended 30 June 1977.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the annual report of the Australian Capital Territory Police Force for the year ended 30 June 1977.
Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) For the information of honourable senators I present the report of the Industries Assistance Commission on tyre cord fabric.
Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) For the information of honourable senators I present the report of the Industries Assistance Commission on the tourist accommodation industry.
Motion (by Senator Durack) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act relating to incursions into foreign countries and recruitment for service in armed forces in foreign countries.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing Orders suspended.
– I move:
This Bill follows the broad lines of the Bill of the same title which was introduced last year but lapsed at the end of the Thirtieth Parliament. That Bill was referred by the Senate to the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs which furnished a useful and constructive report to the Senate on 26 April 1977. The Government reconsidered the Bill in the light of the Committee’s report and the present Bill takes into account the recommendations of the Committee. The Bill is directed to meeting two problems that have arisen in Australia and elsewhere in recent years. Thus, the first objective of the Bill is to prohibit persons preparing for or engaging in incursions into foreign countries. The second is to prohibit the recruiting in Australia of persons to serve in armed forces in a foreign country.
As to the first- prohibition of foreign incursionstwice in recent years persons from Australia have carried out incursions overseas. The Government takes the view that circumstances in overseas countries and Australia make possible the repetition of these activities. The Government believes that it should do what it can by legislative means to discourage them. While under existing law- provided information is obtained early enough- some limited action can be taken to prevent these activities achieving their ultimate objective, past events have shown that existing law is not adequate. In all the circumstances, including the need to preserve international relations, there is a need for legislation to deal specifically with the problem, including preparations in Australia for these activities.
To this end, clause 6 will prohibit incursions into foreign countries for the purpose of engaging in hostile activities. This clause will apply to Australian citizens, persons ordinarily resident in Australia and persons who at any time during the period of one year immediately preceding the commission of the offence were present in Australia for a purpose connected with the offence. In regard to the last category of persons I mention that persons meeting this description participated in previous incursion episodes. Clause 6 refers to hostile activities against governments and the term ‘government’ is defined in clause 3 of the present Bill to mean, in relation to a foreign country, the government recognised by the government of Australia as the lawful government of that foreign country. The term was not defined in the earlier Bill and the report of the Committee on that Bill recommended that it should be defined but did not indicate the form of the definition.
The alternative to defining ‘government’ as the government recognised by Australia as the lawful government would have been to define it in effect as the de facto government of the particular country. But it must be noted that clause 6 in effect distinguishes between the would-be overthrowers of a regime and the supporters of a regime. The first are prohibited; the second are not. Such a distinction could not be justified in relation to a regime that Australia had declined to recognise as lawful. Further, if such an approach had been adopted, the lawfulness or unlawfulness under the legislation of activities could fluctuate from week to week as the de facto control of a particular region changed. Finally, it will be a matter of public knowledge whether a government is recognised by Australia as the lawful government of a country and there would thus, under the approach used in the Bill, be certainty in the application of the law. For these reasons, the Government chose the definition of government’ appearing in the Bill.
Clause 7 prohibits preparations for incursions into foreign countries. In relation to acts done in Australia, the clause applies to all persons; in the case of acts done outside Australia, the clause applies to the same persons as clause 6. Clause 8 prohibits the recruiting of persons to join organisations engaged in hostile activities against foreign governments. The seriousness with which the Australian Government regards these matters is reflected in the heavy penalties provided for breaches of these provisions. Thus, the penalty for a breach of clause 6 will be 14 years imprisonment. The penalty for making preparations for these acts of terrorism will be 10 years. It should be noted that the consent of the Attorney-General will be required for any prosecution for a breach of the Act.
As to the second main purpose- prohibition of recruiting- many countries including Australia have been concerned by the recruiting of, or attempts to recruit persons in their country for service as mercenaries in foreign forces. A United Kingdom statute, the Foreign Enlistment Act, in force since 1870 and applicable to the British dominions, dealt with enlistment by British subjects in foreign forces but in terms inappropriate in today’s circumstances. The United Kingdom Government established a Committee of Privy Councillors under the chairmanship of Lord Diplock to examine the problem. The Committee recommended the abolition of the offence of enlisting while abroad as a mercenary and of leaving the United Kingdom in order to do so. The reasons given by the Committee for this view were:
First, for reasons we have given, we do not think it practicable or just to try to define an offence of enlisting as a mercenary in such a way that guilt would depend upon proof by the prosecution of a particular motive as actuating the accused to do so. Secondly, a penal prohibition sought to be imposed by the State upon what an individual does abroad involves a restriction on the liberty of the individual which we think can only be justified on compelling grounds of public interest. Thirdly, the practical difficulties of providing such an offence would mean that there could be very few successful prosecutions; and the chances of convicting the accused would depend not so much on his actual guilt as on his exceptional bad luck in there being available to the prosecution in his case sufficient evidence to convict him on his trial in this country.
The United Kingdom Committee, however, recommended new legislation to prohibit recruitment of persons to take up service as mercenaries abroad, including prohibition of offers of employment as a mercenary, publishing information as to how or where to apply for such employment or to reach the place where it is available, or making any payment or taking part in any arrangement to enable or assist a person to do so. The law in the United States prohibits recruitment of any persons as mercenaries within the United States but does not prohibit a citizen or other person in the United States leaving the country to enlist in a foreign military service.
Independently of the United Kingdom inquiry, the Australian Government had conducted its own examination which produced the same broad conclusion as the Diplock Committee, namely, that it was not appropriate to attempt to prohibit enlistment outside Australia or to regulate overseas military activities of Australians- except incursion activities dealt with under clause 6- but it was desirable to control recruitment within Australia of mercenaries for service in foreign forces. To implement this conclusion, clause 9 of the Bill will make it an offence for a person to recruit, advertise in respect of recruiting, facilitate or promote recruitment of another person to serve in or with an armed force in a foreign country, whether government, insurgent or otherwise.
In order to meet circumstances where it is in the interests of the defence or international relations of Australia to permit the recruitment in Australia of persons to serve in particular armed forces, the Minister will be authorised to exempt recruitment for such forces. However, the legislation will not prevent an Australian from going overseas and enlisting in armed forces in another country. The Government recognises that occasions will arise where persons will wish to enlist and serve in the armed forces of another country because of a deeply-held personal belief. To prohibit this generally would be an infringement of individual freedom.
The report of the Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs recommended that the Bill be amended to ensure that persons serving with the armed forces of a government or a force approved by the Minister pursuant to sub-clause 9(2) should not be liable to penalty for acts done during the course of their service with those forces. Sub-clause 6 (4) was accordingly included in the present Bill to meet the point raised by the Committee. The Government believes that the addition of this provision adequately deals with the matters raised by the Committee in this connection.
A further recommendation of the Committee was that the term ‘advertisement’ in paragraphs 9(1) (b) and (c) should be denned to include items published as news items but which were in fact published pursuant to some contractual or commercial arrangement. Sub-clause 9(5) has accordingly been added in the present Bill to deal with the point made by the Committee. As the Committee pointed out, in the debate on the earlier Bill in another place the Government indicated that it would amend that Bill to ensure that an instrument under sub-clause 9 (2) should be subject to the same requirements as a regulation as regards scrutiny by both Houses. The Committee indicated this was a satisfactory solution. Sub-clause 9 (4) of the present Bill achieves the result recommended by the Committee. The Committee indicated its disapproval of the inclusion of provisions in the earlier Bill enabling the Attorney-General to delegate his function of consenting to proceedings for commitment of a person for trial on indictment for an offence against the Act. The Government in the debate on the earlier Bill in another place indicated its preparedness to accept an amendment to this effect. Clause 10, as now expressed, meets the Committee’s recommendation.
The Senate is, I believe- and certainly the Government is- indebted to the Committee for its thorough examination of this measure. The Bill, as now presented, accords with the Committee’s recommendations. It represents a significant contribution to the Government’s overall objective of dealing with all manifestations of terrorism and other resorts to violence whether in Australia or in other parts of the world. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Button) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Withers) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
The basic purpose of the Control of Naval Waters Act is to regulate the movement of vessels and other activities in the vicinity of naval establishments and naval moorings so that naval operations and activities are not hindered or endangered. Over the years, various difficulties in the operation of the existing Act have come to light making necessary a general revision and clarification of the existing provisions of the Act.
While the primary purpose of the Act remains the control of vessels in naval waters, there is a need to control also the activities of persons. An example is the need to control the activities of skindivers, both to protect naval property and to protect individuals from any danger associated with naval activities such as sound waves from underwater equipment. At present, there is doubt whether regulations could be made under the Act with respect to the activities of persons, as distinct from vessels, within naval waters or on the foreshore of naval waters. The proposed amendments will remove this doubt. The Act will also be amended to ensure that the activities of aircraft over naval waters and vehicles on the foreshore of naval waters can be regulated.
There are two serious deficiencies in the existing Act. Firstly, the definition of ‘naval waters’ does not extend to areas of open sea and there is accordingly no capacity to exercise control under the Act in respect of, for example, activities in waters of the seaward side of Garden Island, Western Australia, where the Naval Support Facility is nearing completion. Secondly, there is doubt whether the Act applies in relation to installations which, while used for defence or naval purposes, are not Commonwealth-owned property, such as piers leased from harbour authorities. The Bill rectifies these deficiencies and provides that the Governor-General may declare as naval waters, waters of the sea, including waters within the ebb and flow of the tide, that are within two nautical miles of defence land or five nautical miles of a defence installation. Defence land’ is defined as meaning land used by the Commonwealth for defence purposes. A defence installation’ is defined as including a naval establishment or any fixed structure, apparatus or equipment used by the Commonwealth for purposes related to the naval defence of the Commonwealth.
The Bill applies the operation of the Act to territories but specifically excludes the Australian Antarctic Territory. Under the Antarctic Treaty, the Antarctic is to be used for peaceful purposes only and, although the use of military personnel or equipment for peaceful purposes is permitted, the extension of this Act to the Antarctic could produce misunderstanding having regard to Australia ‘s Treaty obligations.
The existing Act vests various powers in the Senior Naval Officer’ which is defined as including ‘the senior naval officer doing duty at any naval waters’. This definition has produced considerable uncertainty and it is proposed to provide instead for the appointment of a superintendent in respect of each area of defined naval waters.
The Bill covers various other matters which will enable naval waters to be more effectively administered. For example, it will be an offence for a master of a vessel to fail to comply with the lawful directions of a superintendent relating to the movement of the vessel within naval waters. The Bill also clarifies the definition of ‘vessel’ to ensure that it covers such modern developments as hovercraft and oil rigs.
In general this Bill is designed to improve in various ways a rather outdated Act while at the same time ensuring greater protection of naval waters and for people who might be inclined to engage in unregulated activities in those waters. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Durack) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
The Industries Assistance Commission Amendment Bill gives effect to decisions concerning the role of the Industries Assistance Commission- IAC- which were announced on 14 September 1977. The Bill also amends the temporary assistance provisions of the IAC Act as foreshadowed earlier last year. One of the purposes of the Bill is to ensure that recommendations of the IAC are made in the light of Government policy and that the IAC’s reports contain all relevant information to enable fully informed decisions to be made by the Government. I emphasise that the changes will not compromise the independence of the IAC, nor its role in advising the Government on the nature and levels of assistance which should be afforded particular industries. The public inquiry and report procedures will continue as important features of the IAC’s operation.
The Bill provides that the IAC, in the performance of its functions, will have regard to the Government’s desire to achieve sustained growth through balanced development of industries with a view to providing increased opportunities for employment and investment. The Bill also expresses the Government’s objective that any measures to achieve changes in the structure of industry are taken only after due regard has been given to the capacity of the economy to sustain those changes and to absorb members of the work force displaced by those changes. The Minister will have the power to bring additional matters to the attention of the IAC and to direct it to observe certain priorities in regard to its policy guidelines. When reporting on matters referred by the Minister, the IAC will report on the level of assistance required to ensure that activity and employment in an industry is sustained. Where the IAC recommends a lower level of assistance than this, it will be required to state the reasons for doing so. The IAC will also be required to report on the manner in which the structure of industries can be improved and the measures by which this can be done.
The Bill clarifies the role of the Temporary Assistance Authority- TAA- as the principal body dealing with temporary assistance matters. The principal purpose of a TAA inquiry will be to enable it to report on the level of assistance necessary to maintain the existing level or a previously existing level of activity and employment in an industry. The TAA will be able to recommend to the Government any form of assistance which it considers appropriate, and the Government will be able to accept, reject or partially adopt the TAA ‘s recommendations. Not all temporary assistance matters will necessarily go to the TAA. From time to time there will be circumstances where short term problems are of such a nature and of such basic importance that they are immediately critical to the long term future of the industry. The option of referring such cases to the IAC rather than the TAA is, therefore, retained. TAA inquiries will be held in public, and due notice will be given. The present 30 days time limit for the TAA to report on matters referred to it will be extended to 45 days. This will provide witnesses with better opportunities to prepare and present submissions.
The Bill provides for reviews of temporary assistance by either the TAA or the IAC, depending upon the circumstances. Temporary duties or import restraints will not, in certain cases continue beyond three months after they are reviewed by the IAC and a report is received. This revised review arrangement will require a consequential amendment to the Customs Tariff Act and I will introduce a Bill for this purpose. The structure of the TAA will be changed so as to comprise one full-time member. The Bill provides for the Minister to appoint associate members for specific inquiries, thus allowing for the appointment of persons having expertise in a particular area as the need arises. Provision is made for references to the IAC or the TAA to be withdrawn or amended.
Mr President, the changes to the IAC Act which I have outlined demonstrate the Government’s concern that the Commission should fully respond to the Government’s policy with respect to industry and that efficient emergency procedures to safeguard industries should exist. The Government fully recognises the interdependence of short and long term assistance and the amendments will ensure that the appropriate balance is struck. Temporary assistance will not, therefore, be provided in such a way that it effectively removes the need for industries to adapt to changing circumstances; rather it will be provided so as to allow industries to take appropriate action to adapt to such changes. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Durack) read a first time.
Senator DURACK (Western Australia-
Attorney-General) (3.50)- I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
This Bill deals with amendments necessary to the Customs Tariff Act 1966 consequent upon the proposed changes to temporary assistance measures foreshadowed in my second reading speech on the Industries Assistance Commission Amendment Bill 1978. The amendments provide that temporary assistance by way of temporary duties will, in certain cases, not continue beyond three months after receipt of a report from the Industries Assistance Commission. As explained in my speech on the Industries Assistance Commission Amendment Bill 1978, thesecases are where an industry seeks continuation of temporary assistance beyond two years or where, having received such assistance for a period of two years in the previous four years, it obtains further temporary assistance. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
– I have received messages from the House of Representatives requesting the concurrence of the Senate in the appointment of a Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, a Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory, and a Joint Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House. Copies of the messages have been circulated to honourable senators.
Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence
Motion (by Senator Withers)- by leaveproposed:
- Mr President, this matter should be given more mature consideration by the Senate having regard to the fact that the role of the Senate and its committees was the subject of consideration by a number of honourable senators on both sides of the Chamber during the Address-in-Reply debate. I note that in each of the messages received from the House of Representatives, and I assume we are dealing first of all with Message No. 6, there is no provision for appointments to be made to the committees other than by the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. That seems to me to make a mockery of what has been said by honourable senators on both sides of the chamber about the working of the committee system, the need for a joint approach on matters that come before the Senate, the need for thorough investigation of those matters, and the need for the interests of the States to be considered when matters come before the committees of the Senate. I rise to point out that there is no provision in the message before us, to which we have heard the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) move support, for independent senators or senators from parties other than the Government parties and the official Opposition party to be represented on the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence.
With respect, Mr President, I think that that comes within your scope because you are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that senators who are elected by the people of their States are given adequate participation in the business of the Parliament. Frankly, this provision gives inadequate representation in the business of the Senate to those senators elected by the States who do not happen to be members of either the Government or the Opposition parties. How often have we heard it said that this chamber ought to be a States’ House? We heard Senator Rae say that the Senate ought to be a non-party House. I would like to see Senator Rae and the other honourable senators on the Government side of the chamber who are, rightly, convinced that this House should be a non-party House and that it should be a genuine House of review come into this debate and support the viewpoint which I am putting forward now. If this viewpoint were adopted it would ensure that every honourable senator, irrespective of the party to which he belonged or whether he belonged to a party, would have the untrammelled right to participate in the work of the Parliament and, in particular, in the work of Senate committees.
I thought we were going part of the way in this regard last year or the year before when the Standing Orders were amended to ensure that there could be a nomination from an independent senator to be a member of an Estimates committee. I draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that 1 have not taken unfair advantage of that provision. I accepted the spirit behind the provision that independent senators would have the right to nominate to become members of Estimates committees. I have not nominated to become a member of an Estimates committee because I realise that points of view have to be expressed at meetings of Estimates committees and, more importantly, because it was provided in that amendment to the Standing Orders that honourable senators would be entitled to attend meetings of Estimates committees even though they were not members of the committees. Thus honourable senators were able to participate in the working of the Parliament. However, no such similar provision applies in the messages which are now before the Senate. I cannot see any provision in the messages whereby Senator Haines and I can go to a meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence or the Joint Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House, express our viewpoints and participate in the working of the Parliament in respect of those committees.
I should have thought that it would have been our right and, in fact, our duty to provide both of those committees with a viewpoint which may not necessarily be in the mainstream of the major political parties. I think that we should express our viewpoint to those committees and participate in their functions. I apologise to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) for not raising this matter before but I realised what was about to happen only a quarter of an hour ago when I read through the messages. I do not want to hold up the appointment of the committees but I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate to give consideration to this matter. In addition, if there were some arrangement whereby independent senators or honourable senators belonging to minor parties could attend meetings of such committees, we ought to consider whether the provisions of the decision of the Remuneration Tribunal are adequate in this respect. Certainly they are not adequate as far as the Estimates committees are concerned. For example, if an Estimates committee were to sit during a nonsitting week in Canberra and I had a desire to express a point of view before it, I personally would have to pick up the tab for overnight accommodation and so on. I think that honourable senators’ rights should be preserved without the imposition of that sort of financial penalty. I would ask you, Mr President, since you are charged with the honour and duty of ensuring that the rights of individual senators are preserved, and also the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition, to give consideration to the matters that I have raised.
– This is a matter for the Senate as a whole.
– I should like to say a few words concerning the proposition that is before the Senate, perhaps comment briefly on the contribution of Senator Harradine and also raise a matter on which he did not touch at all. The appointment of a joint standing committee which is to concern itself with all of the factors relating to the construction of a new Parliament House is very important, and I know that I would be underestimating the view of all Senators if I were to say that we believe it to be long overdue. The Public Service Board, as a result of submissions made to it in recent times, has accepted the fact that a prima facie case has been made out for members of the Parliament to enjoy access to much better resources, so that they may better perform their parliamentary duties. In fact, in reply to correspondence from me, the Board has accepted the fact that members are working under quite unsatisfactory conditions; that they do not have access to the sorts of resources that ought to be available; further, that one of the constraints upon providing adequate resources to members of Parliament is the insufficiency of space within the Parliament itself.
Therefore, I rejoice that we are taking another step towards providing accommodation which will enable additional resources to be made available to members. However, in view of the time required to prepare specifications and plans, the red tape that that will imply, as well as ultimately the provision of funds for the construction of such a building, we probably are thinking in terms of a considerable number of years hence before the facilities for the more effective functioning of the Parliament will become available.
In those circumstances, it might be important to point out that space allocated to the 187 members of the House of Representatives and the Senate is restricted to 22,000 square feet, compared with 23,000 square feet, or slightly more, which is allocated to the Executive. I do not quarrel with that, because I think it is obvious that the effective functioning of the Executive requires that it have access to adequate space as well as resources, but when one compares that allocation with the allocation that is available to the remainder of the Parliament, one finds that it is a very odious comparison indeed.
– Order! That matter is not being debated now. We are considering the message relating to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. Obviously the honourable senator is speaking about the Joint Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House. I cannot allow the honourable senator to continue his remarks on that subject.
– I apologise.
– Perhaps the honourable senator could continue his remarks on the subject at a later stage.
– I support the argument put by Senator Harradine in favour of members other than those in the main parties being able to serve on Senate committees. I think that a person who has a special interest in a committee, or special qualifications, would be a valuable addition to it. As one who has taken a very keen interest in the committee system since I became a senator almost 29 years ago, I would say that the committee system has been responsible for the Senate being a much more effective body than it was in former days. Therefore, I think the stronger we can make our committees, by including in them people who are really interested in a given subject or who have the qualifications to offer valuable advice, the better the Senate will be. We should work wherever we can to widen the scope of membership of committees. Therefore, I think this is a very simple matter that should be thought out so that Independent senators who are keen to serve on a committee can do so and that everything possible will be done to make that a reality. The work of the Senate is such that the more we can do to make it more effective, especially through the committee system, the better it will be. I strongly commend the points put by Senator Harradine regarding Independent senators serving on committees.
– This matter exercised my mind recently when Senator Haines asked that she be placed on one of the Senate committees if a vacancy should become available. However, the Senate decided that no changes would be made to the membership of its committees, because the view was taken that they would be changed on 1 July when the new senators took office. That did not help Senator Haines very much, but the response from this side of the chamber was that any committee changes should take place upon the entry of the new senators. I was attracted by Standing Order 36AA where provision is made for the appointment of standing committees. Although I do not agree with it, it may give us a guide to the position. The Standing Order provides:
It says that quite clearly.
– It also states: ‘ Unless otherwise ordered’.
-That might be a key phrase to get us out of our bind. It states further: and three being Senators who are not members of the Government, to be nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate or by an Independent Senator.
– But these are different committees from the ones we are talking about now.
-Yes. It relates to a standing committee, but it may give us a guide to the intention. I do not agree with it because it throws upon the Opposition the responsibility of providing for Independent senators. My view is that the Government should be party to some arrangement which provides for service by Independent senators; it should not be left to the Opposition to give up a place on a Senate or joint committee, which may be a very important one. That could in some way influence the position of a member of the Opposition or the policy of the Opposition. For that reason, it would be difficult for the Leader of the Opposition to concede a place to an Independent senator. Apparently, the rules provide that if there is a disagreement the matter can be placed before the President, who will subsequently place it before the Senate as a whole for decision. I do not know whether it has ever happened, but I believe that procedure would be followed. Since the matter has been raised and since the place of independents has to be recognised without in any way unduly affecting the Opposition, either the matter should be made clear today or it should be referred to the Standing Orders Committee so that some guidelines can be laid down. My view is that the Government as well as the Opposition has a responsibility to provide the opportunity for independents in this place to play a role. The
Government, if it so determines, may relinquish one of its places on a committee in favour of an independent. It should not be entirely the responsibility of the Opposition to do so.
- Senator Harradine has invited me to make some comment or, perhaps, he has put his case in such a way as to make me feel compelled to make a comment. I simply put the proposition that irrespective of whether the composition of joint committees as set out in the Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives of 2 March is acceptable to individuals is really irrelevant. As Senator Georges suggests, whether there should be some reappraisal which would permit independents or senators who are not members of the major parties to become part of these committees on Foreign Affairs and Defence is another matter. The fact is that today we are dealing with a position that has been established for some time. I do not want to prevent people from serving on committees any more than I think Senator Withers would. But the fact remains that we know the conditions under which we come into the Parliament. We come as a member of a major party or as an independent. Certain advantages accrue according to a senator’s position in this place. I do not doubt that I am not on my own when I say that on many occasions I would like to have a completely independent and free voice in this place and say and do exactly as I would like; but I know there are certain constraints upon me, and I accept them. For that basic reason we have to accept the current position.
Personally I would not object to the matter being referred to the Standing Orders Committee for further consideration; but at this stage I really cannot see that a great deal can be done about it. I certainly would not ask one of my colleagues to vacate his position on a committee. The composition of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, for instance, is to be eight members of the House of Representatives from the Government side, six from the Opposition side, four senators nominated by the Government side and three senators nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. I indicate quite clearly that until such time as a satisfactory solution is found I would not suggest to one of the three senators nominated by me that he should withdraw in favour of anyone else.
-What the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) said makes me feel that something further should be said. He concluded that members know the conditions under which they come into this place. Obviously that comment was directed at the independent members. Yet we have just come into a new Parliament. It is true that the major change in the complexion of the Senate will not take place until 1 July. At the same time, if there is a change in the composition of the Parliament or a chamber it ought to be reflected, as it would be in the House of Commons, in the parliamentary committees by other groups being given some notice in the making of appointments to Committees. If the Opposition becomes weaker in numbers and independent groups become stronger in numbers, presumably the representation on committees should vary.
Surely we should not accept the very conservative view which the Leader of the Opposition put to us today that this matter must be dealt with in a fixed way, that people come into Parliament as a member of a party or as an independent and know where they stand, and that is the end of it. Surely the complexion of the committees of the Senate must vary according to the makeup of the Senate. I think some case is made out for this matter being looked at further by the Standing Orders Committee.
The Senate is asked to concur in the appointments to joint committees by an arrangement which is made by the House of Representatives. I see a difficulty with representation on these committees. I think we ought to keep open the possibility of considering as a right representation on committees of senators who are not members of the three major parties. What Senator Wood said is right. All the views of the Senate ought to be reflected as far as possible on committees. It may be that if an independent member wants to serve on a standing committee an extra government member ought to be appointed to that committee. This would preserve the balance of representation. It would not deprive any Opposition member now serving on a committee of his or her position on the committee, but it would give an opportunity for service by others. The Standing Orders Committee should consider whether senators who are not members of the major parties should take pan in the committee system of the Senate.
Senator Sir MAGNUS CORMACK (Victoria) (4.16)- Mr President, I would like to intervene very shortly in the matter that has been raised by Senator Harradine. One simple fact has been overlooked. I assume that it is the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence about which Senator Harradine is concerned. I remember when the original proposition was put forward by Lord Casey for the setting up of a foreign affairs committee. The matter originated in the House of Representatives. Since that day. of course, the messages concerning the appointment of members to this Committee and other such committees have always come from the House of Representatives after each House of Representatives election; but over at least the last 10 or 12 years my colleagues in this chamber have taken the view that the Senate is a House in constitutional life irrespective of the dissolution of the House of Representatives. Hence the majority party in the Senate has assumed the position, I believe properly, that senators sitting on a joint committee prior to the dissolution of the House of Representatives are still members of that committee in the new Parliament because the Senate is a House which has power and authority irrespective of whether the House of Representatives is dissolved or not.
Whether we should have a substantive debate about whether Senator Harradine should be on a joint committee has nothing to do with the matter. According to the practice of the Senate, senators who are sitting on a committee prior to the dissolution of the House of Representatives are still members of that committee or are automatically put back on it in the new Parliament, until such time as a new Senate sits in this place. Therefore I suggest that Senator Georges’ idea that the matter be referred to the Standing Orders Committee is a way out at the moment. I agree with Senator Wriedt quite firmly and emphatically that no honourable senator should make way for Senator Harradine until such time as a new Senate comes to a conclusion about how these matters should be dealt with and how appointments to committees should be made.
– Because of the possibility of this matter being referred to the Standing Orders Committee I take the opportunity to say a few words. If the Standing Orders Committee is to look at the composition of a joint committee I request that it also take into account the attendance at meetings of committees of members who are nominated and then elected to committees. My experience is that some people who have been nominated to committees on which I have served have very rarely attended meetings. Of course the onus is on senators to attend. I am only talking about Senate standing committees. Senators devote a great deal of their time to these committees at the expense of other work they ought to be doing. I will not mention any committees or any names, but if it were not for the attendance at committee meetings of members of the Opposition in the last couple of years, one committee of which I am a member would not have been able to operate because it would not have a quorum. Members nominated by the government have not attended in sufficient numbers. This ought to be taken into account by the Standing Orders Committee. If a committee member absents himself from so many meetings without good reason, he ought to be replaced by somebody else who wants to serve on his committee. We heard Senator Harradine say today that he wants to serve on committees. If Government senators are not going to man committees why can they not be replaced with independent senators?
– in reply- Senator Harradine has raised a problem which is both new and not new. I suggest to the Senate that we ought to agree with the messages but on the understanding that the matter will be raised at the next meeting of the Standing Orders Committee. The Standing Orders from Standing Order 33 onwards provide for a variety of Senate committees with a varying number of members doing various duties. I often wonder why we need the President, the Chairman of Committees and ten other senators on the Standing Orders Committee, or seven senators on the Privileges Committee, or the President and six other senators on the Library committee, or the President and six other senators on the House Committee or seven senators on the Publications Committee. Maybe there is some magic about the number seven. Is it something to do with dice? I do not know.
– It has something to do with a majority.
-I never could count. Maybe the basis is one from each State. Perhaps that is the answer. There is a variety of provisions relating to these committees. One of the problems is that everyone here is delighted to have independent senators serve on committees providing they can do it at the expense of my side of the chamber. All honourable senators are very generous in this respect. I must say that Senator Wood showed enormous generosity in his attitude because I take it that if Senator Harradine says that he would like to serve on the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances Senator Wood would immediately resign from it to make way for him. It is all very well to be generous at the other fellow ‘s expense. I can recall when the present Government parties were in Opposition- those dark years- and a delegation went to the Australian Constitutional Convention. From memory it consisted of six senators, three from the Government side and three from the non-Government side. The Liberal Party which at that stage had 23 or 24 senators had one representative on the delegation, the National Country Party which had about six senators had one representative on the delegation and the Liberal Movement which had only one senator here also had one representative on the delegation. The Liberal senators at that time thought that it was outrageous in view of the representation of the parties in the chamber.
– You are not going to separate the National Country Party from your Party: are you?
-If that is the honourable senator’s argument, I remind him that he is in Opposition now and should be careful.
- Senator Harradine never votes with our Party. He always votes with the Government. Anyway, those parties were in opposition to the then Government.
-On the assumption that Senator McLaren is speaking officially for the Opposition- he is always speaking but for whom I do not know- I take up his point that the independents ought to be accommodated at the expense of the Opposition. I too have been in Opposition- it was not a terribly delightful period although we did have some fun here and there- but I do not believe that every time a minority group or an independent is to be accommodated on a committee it must necessarily be at the expense of the Opposition or, and I think most of my colleagues would agree, at the expense of the Government.
– That leaves them out in the cold.
-That is right. So there are some problems. In the past in relation to the Standing Orders Committee, the words ‘unless otherwise ordered’ were used in the resolution to overcome this problem. From memory former Senator Gair was accommodated on the Committee by a Senate resolution. I cannot see why, when the Standing Orders Committee has looked at this matter, we cannot do something to accommodate the wishes which have been expressed. I do not know whether it is a good thing or a bad thing- it is a bit early to make a judgment- but in the past eight years there has been an acceptance of the principle that the Government, no matter what its majority in this place, should have the numbers on committees. There may be three senators from each side on a committee but at least a senator from the
Government side would be chairman, l nave heard it argued that in respect of some committees we ought to adopt the procedure of the House of Commons and have an Oppostion member as chairman. The Opposition, despite the fact that it might not have the numbers, would have the power. As I recall the position eight or nine years ago, one of the things which persuaded the then Government to support the committee system was the arrangement we now have in respect of numbers. Maybe we have advanced sufficiently in that period to have enough faith that the committee system will operate on that basis although I must say that in a certain three-year period some of us had reservations about the committee system working as well as it should. These problems bedevil us.
Much as 1 am sympathetic with what Senator Harradine put forward I do not see how this matter can be resolved in the next half hour. The problem is that there are joint committees which have work in train and no doubt want to get on with that work. Personally I would be quite relaxed if we did not proceed to the appointment of committees now but left it for some weeks. However, I do not think my colleagues behind me would be delighted about that. The members of the House of Representatives on these committees most likely then would have the capacity to meet even though the Senate had not appointed senators to the committees and I doubt whether the Senate would want to leave itself in that position. Mr President, I assure Senator Harradine, as you have indicated, that the matter will be raised at the next meeting of the Standing Orders Committee which will at the earliest date report back to the Senate with a solution to this problem.
Senator McLAREN (South Australia)- I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable senator claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. My personal explanation arises from the statements made by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers). I think, probably unintentionally, he misconstrued my interjection. He thought I was saying that Senator Harradine ought to be coupled with the Opposition. My interjection came after Senator Withers had said that during his term in Opposition between 1972 and 1975 there was an overseas delegation elected and that from 24 Liberals -
– No, it was the Constitutional Convention.
– Yes, the Constitutional Convention. Senator Withers said that although there were 24 Liberal senators his Party had one representative on the delegation, the National Country Party which had six senators also had one representative and the Liberal Movement also had one representative. My interjection was to the effect that all those parties were in opposition to the then Government. I was not suggesting that we should substitute Senator Harradine for one of the Oppostion members serving on the Committee.
Senator HARRADINE (Tasmania)-I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable senator claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The interjection by Senator McLaren was that I should not take a position from the Opposition because I have voted consistently with the Government. If Senator McLaren were to consult the Parliamentary Library as to my voting pattern he would be in a position to tell the truth to the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory
Motion (by Senator Withers) agreed to:
Joint Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House
Motion ( by Senator Withers) proposed:
– I was referring to Message No. 8 also when I was discussing matters in relation to Message No. 6 which was then before the Senate. I felt that there was a certain relationship between these matters. What I wanted to draw to the attention of the Senate was the problem of resource unavailability to members of Parliament because of the accommodation constrictions and the fact that in practice the Parliament does not recognise other than the Government and the Opposition. Some consideration ought to be given to the role of smaller parties in the compilation of specifications and working plans for the new Parliament House. It seems that we are confronted with some permanence of independents and smaller parties in this place and that they will be associated with the Parliament probably more in the Senate than in the House of Representatives, in the present political climate at least. When I became a member of this chamber six years ago the Democratic Labor Party had representatives in it. They were regarded as being of some permanence, but that situation has changed. Representatives of the Australian Democrats are now with us and will be with us for a considerable number of years.
In the preparation of plans and specifications for a new Parliament House consideration should be given to providing a place for independent senators and those representing the small parties. I do not mean office space; I mean space in the Parliament itself. There would not be disagreement then about the situation within the Parliament itself of the members of parliament who do not belong to the major political parties. I consider it to be an unsatisfactory state of affairs when such disagreement arises. There will be times when an opposition will have to vacate part of its space in the Senate for minor parties because the government of the day says that that is where those parties should sit. At the moment there is a disparity between the number of Government senators and Opposition senators and there is no problem about where the independent senators sit. But perhaps the stage will be reached when the two major parties have 31 senators each and two senators from other parties make up the total number. It may well be that the allocation of seats then by the government of the day, as is the present practice, will be unsatisfactory. To some extent it may impinge upon the impartiality and neutrality of the senators who are independents or members of smaller parties. There is some obligation on the part of the committee which is to be appointed to have regard to the changing political representation which seems to be a feature of other countries. It has not been a feature of our country so far but in my view it is likely to be in the future.
The point that Senator Harradine raised earlier today has now been adequately catered for in the proposition that the Standing Orders Committee should have regard to the changing nature of the Senate. That may create a protocol problem for the House of Representatives, which does not recognise the peculiarities of the Senate insofar as the Senate has different trends of thought. It now has five trends of thought. It is conceivable that there will be some change within the structure of the National Country Party of Australia, given the circumstances that exist in some of the State branches of that party. It is conceivable that six or seven trends of thought will be represented in the Senate from time to time.
– And a few trendies.
– We may also have a few trendies. An exciting new world could develop. I think the committee to be appointed by both Houses of Parliament should take that into consideration. I have spoken previously about the constraints placed upon members of parliament and their staff. Despite the fact that the Government is now taking some initiatives in providing for the construction of a new Parliament House, I envisage that it will be a decade before it actually comes about. I am assuming that the government of the day will vote the funds necessary for the construction to be completed. I do not think that the Government can ignore the present accommodation problems of members of parliament for that period of time. I suggest that this Committee, the Government or the Presiding Officers should look at the accommodation problems facing members of parliament particularly as more staff may become available to members of parliament. As a first step there is a case for members of the shadow Ministry being provided with additional resources so that they can more adequately represent the Opposition in debates in this place. It must be conceded that the shadow Executive is very much disadvantaged by the existing restraints. The Cabinet has access to tremendous resources not only in the departments of the Ministers but also in the personal staff of the Ministers.
I raised this matter with Mr Daly when he was Minister for Administative Services. He said that he would not give additional resources to the then Opposition. My rejoinder was that we were more likely to be in opposition than the Liberal and National Country Parties. How prophetic my words were! But that does not destroy the logic of the argument that oppositions should be equipped to deal with the actions of the government of the day. To do that they need resources. They need accommodation within the Parliament. I am not suggesting that the Government can be prevailed upon to provide the Opposition with all the resources available to the Executive at the moment. But there is a case for making some improvement in the accommodation situation. This debate gives us an opportunity to raise that point of view. How this is to be achieved is surely a matter for the Presiding Officers, but consideration ought to be given to the way in which accommodation has been distributed. Over the years the Parliament has grown and changed. I am sure that even Government members and back bench supporters feel that there is room for improvement.
I believe that the Parliament is one of the centres where decisions should be made for the benefit of the Australian people. The Parliament should be a place where democracy exists not only in theory but also in practice. I am one of those who are agitating for the Parliament to be a much more effective place in the distribution of power in Australia. If we do not take some steps towards this end within the Parliament itself we are recreant in our areas of responsibility. I do not know whether the proposed committee will have the responsibility to consider this matter. If it does not the Presiding Officers or the Government should give the committee the right to make such recommendations, unless that is already within the province of the Presiding Officers. The committee has an obligation to the Parliament to extend to members of parliament, including members of new parties, better facilities than are available at the moment.
– I support the remarks made by Senator Gietzelt. There is a great deal of value in what he had to say on two subjects- firstly, the accommodation situation in this building, which no doubt we will continue to occupy for a long time, and, secondly, the provision of support for the Opposition. I have spent half my parliamentary life in opposition. It has been a rather short life. I agree with Senator Gietzelt that the need for physical support is very great and that the provision of support in the past has not been adequate. The Government should do everything it can to ensure that the present Opposition is comfortable in the role it has apparently worked towards over the last couple of years. With respect to accommodation, I am aware of course that you, Mr President, and the Speaker have been giving this matter some earnest attention. In fact, I understand that this is the first Parliament in which all senators and members have had a room each. That is something for which we all are grateful. Honourable senators had been better treated in this regard; your predecessors had been able to ensure that there was a room for each senator. Our colleagues in the House of Representatives had been less well served. You and the Speaker are to be congratulated for giving each member of this Parliament the minimum requirement of a private office in which he or she can do private work.
My reason for wishing to speak on this matter is that I would like to put on record the view that this is but a very worthwhile first step. In my view, the demands, not only on Opposition members but also on Government supporters, are such that more support is necessary if we are to do the job that is expected of us by our electorates. The tantalising thing for all honourable senators at the moment is that the Remuneration Tribunal has indicated that it would be prepared to recommend an additional staff member for each of us if we had the space for them. We are in the awkward situation that those who rule on our industrial conditions have agreed that we could usefully employ another staff member each but we simply cannot make use of that decision unless more accommodation is made available.
I would like to see the problem tackled on a quite different basis from that on which it has been tackled in the past. I think the proper basis is to decide that Parliament House is to have a certain amount of space for members and senatorsI think the minimum should be two small offices- and, having allocated that amount of space to members and senators, proceed to use the remaining space as best possible to provide for the support staff required. In other words, I see a rather strong approach being required, under which the provision of adequate space for members and senators is made the first priority and there is enough room for them to have a support staff member in Canberra. I express the personal view that, notwithstanding the many difficulties that might flow from that, it would be possible to provide most of the services that members and senators require, apart from their personal staff, from outside this building. I simply commend publicly, as I have commended privately to you, Mr President, this matter receiving your continuing attention. I understand that the availability of space in nearby buildings is such that now is the time for some further action. I am sure that you, Mr President, and the Speaker would be regarded as Presiding Officers of historic importance if you were able to further advance the conditions of members and senators in this way.
– I wish to make a few comments on this very important subject. I consider it to be very important because the city of Canberra and, indeed, the Australian Capital Territory would not exist but for the existence of the Parliament and Parliament House. I regret that members of Parliament, at least over the last decade, have viewed themselves as second class citizens, as it were, bearing in mind the substandard conditions under which members of Parliament are expected to work and have been expected to work for so long. I remember that in 1966 I was a member of the joint select committee that was set up to inquire into and make recommendations concerning the provision of a new and permanent parliament house. Sir Alister McMullin was then the President of the Senate. My recollection is that there have been three Presidents of the Senate since Sir Alister McMullin occupied the chair. Sir John McLeay was the Speaker of the House of Representatives at that time. Certainly, since then there have been at least three Speakers of the House of Representatives. Honourable senators will notice that in the message from the House of Representatives one of the recommendations is:
That the committee reconsider and, as necessary, amend the recommendations of the former Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House contained in its report dated March 1 970-
That is eight years ago- which when revised shall be used as the basis of the construction of the new and permanent Parliament House, unless both Houses resolve to vary any recommendation or have any recommendation reconsidered by the committee.
I suggest that, if members of this Thirty-first Parliament do not take this committee, its reports and recommendations seriously and implement some of the reports and recommendations it brings down, frankly we will never have a new and permanent parliament house. This is the chance of a lifetime for this Parliament to do something about it. The recommendation is to look at and revise a report that was presented to the Parliament as long ago as March 1970. It is now March 1978. 1 remember, as other senators will, the number of debates and votes that we have had in this chamber about the siting of the new and permanent parliament house.
– That is long over now; that is finished.
-The debate has finished, but now we are revising the plans that were produced as long ago as March 1970. One only has to go out to the front step to see a new National Gallery being constructed following a proposal that was put up, I suggest, long after the proposal for a new and permanent parliament house to be constructed in Canberra.
From the front steps one can also see a new building for the High Court of Australia being constructed. This follows a proposal that was put up long after the proposal to build a new and permanent parliament house. One can travel to many places in the State of New South Wales and see civic centres that are much more salubrious and much more luxurious than any building that is contemplated to be constructed as a new and permanent parliament house.
-Not only Bankstown. I could take honourable senators to a number of places. For example, I could take honourable senators to a town in New South Wales in which there is a salubrious shire council chambers on one corner and on the opposite corner there is an equally salubrious municipal council chambers. Unless we do something about reports that are presented by the new committee, it will become a laughing stock. I urge members of the Parliament to take its deliberations seriously, to look at its recommendations at an early date and to implement them, so that, hopefully the new and permanent parliament house can be opened by 1988- that was the recommendation of, I think, the Gorton Government in 1970- the time of the celebrations of the bicentenary of the settlement of Australia. I hope that something will be done within the next 18 months to enable that work to be undertaken; otherwise there will be no hope of its being completed by that time. Therefore, I support the recommendation from the Government but urge expedition in this matter.
-I think that this debate should be put into context. Whilst I agree with most of the things that have been said and with most of the urgency expressed in the speeches of honourable senators, perhaps they do not altogether appreciate the fact that we are not creating a new committee. This matter relates to the re-establishment of a committee which- as you well know, Mr President, from the constant work which you and Mr Speaker and members of the Committee have been doing- has been in constant and very active operation during the past year or two. In this debate there seems to be a feeling that, as Senator Douglas McClelland said, if we do not get on with the establishment of a new and permanent Parliament House we might be the laughing stock of the community. The fact is that we have been getting on with it; the work has been proceeding according to the plans set out as a guide by the Committee.
I said that it is easy for one to gain the wrong impression about this matter. The Melbourne Herald of last Saturday contained an article by Peter Costigan, head of its Canberra bureau. 1 regret to say that it was a fairly uninformed article on this subject and gave the impression, among other things, that the mockup design of the future building was a precise design. As yet no determination has been made on the size of the structure or its appearance. Mr Costigan appears to have been misled by the mockup design, which was intended merely to indicate the nature of what might emerge. The previous Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House has been determining the internal needs of the building. It has been considering the very issues which honourable senators have mentioned today- for example, the needs of a number of political parties for which the building will have to cater.
The matter raised by Senator Gietzelt concerning the fact that the building might have to meet the needs of four or five political parties has been within the considerations of the Committee. The Committee realised that the building would have to cater for the complexions of the parties many years ahead. So this is not a new consideration; it is not new to the Committee.
As one who served on the Committee in the previous Parliament and who hopes to serve on the Committee when it is re-established, I believe that this aspect has been kept very much in mind by the Committee. As you know, Mr President, that Committee met throughout last year. I think it met weekly. I think that hardly a week went by, except during recess, when the Committee did not meet to work its way through a massive brief concerning the requirements of a new and permanent Parliament House. These considerations are essential. We cannot yet see the results in the form of bricks and mortar, but this work was carried out and, I think, was desirable. I regret that the Melbourne Herald stated in its editorial on Monday, 6 March:
So, once again, the question has been raised of a new and permanent Parliament House. This time the Minister Tor the Capital Territory, Mr Ellicott, has sponsored a joint committee of both Houses to plan the project. What the new building would cost taxpayers is anybody’s guess . . .
This editorial contains the misconception that the building of a new and permanent Parliament House is a new idea which emanated from the Minister for the Capital Territory, Mr Ellicott. The fact is that years ago the site of the building was decided by an overwhelming vote. The Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent
Parliament House was given the task of reconsidering and redrafting decisions made in 1970. and it has been performing that task. It has been considering modern-day requirements for such a building. Therefore, the matters which have been raised are not new.
I think that the statements by Senator Chaney and other honourable senators with respect to the present problem of accommodation are true. This matter is very urgent. It is important that honourable members and honourable senators have adequate accommodation, particularly when one bears in mind, as was pointed out by Senator Chaney, that the Remuneration Tribunal is prepared to recognise the need of honourable members and honourable senators, for example, to have some staff in Canberra to provide assistance. We have a ridiculous situation of executives- as we all are- having no assistants whatsoever in this place. Our staff has to be located elsewhere where we cannot see them for most of the week. These issues should be considered urgently and should not wait upon the building and eventual opening of a new and permanent Parliament House.
The Committee has been working on the basis that the building ought to open in 1988; that is the time scale set in the Committee’s planning. As Senator Chaney and others pointed out, there are needs which cannot wait until then to be fulfilled. There are important issues with respect to accommodation.
It seems to have been implicit in this debate that we are establishing a new committee; that it is starting from nowhere. It is not starting from nowhere; the matters with which it will be dealing have been under consideration for some time. These considerations were interrupted by the recent general election. I trust that that work will resume very quickly according to plan. Those considerations would have been interrupted by a general election regardless of whether it had been held last year or this year. So I do not imagine that the time lost due to the general election will make any great difference to the plans we had in mind and the time factor envisaged.
I do not think that there is any risk that this Committee will be looked at as a laughing stock, as was suggested by Senator Douglas McClelland. To my mind, the work done by the previous committee dealing with this matter and the reports already presented by it under the joint presidency of you, Mr President, and Mr Speaker have stood the test, and the work done and reports presented by this Committee will continue to stand the test. Whilst all the contributions which have been made in this debate are desirable, I think that we should not fall into the trap of thinking that work on this objective is not proceeding as it ought to proceed so that we will have in 1988 a Parliament House which is worthy of the Australian people.
– I have great pleasure in drawing the attention of honourable senators to the presence in my Gallery of a former honourable member of this place. To you, Mr Fitzgerald, we tender a warm welcome back to this chamber. We trust you are enjoying good health.
– in reply- I thank honourable senators for their remarks. I thank Senator Gietzelt for raising a lot of the problems that he raised. I agree with almost everything he said. I am delighted also that Senator Chaney made his contribution. I am well aware of the fact that honourable senators and honourable members are possibly the worst accommodated parliamentarians in Australia. If I had sufficient time I would make a speech on this matter. However, I refer honourable senators to a speech I made on 5 June 1975 when I told honourable senators how to cure the accommodation problem. At that stage I said that one of the things that annoyed me about this place was the fact that every honourable senator and honourable member complained about it but did nothing about it. What has the Parliament done about the problem? Honourable senators should ask themselves that question.
I recall that on 5 June 1975, as Leader of the Opposition, I moved an amendment to the motion which had been moved by Senator Wriedt relating to the appointment of a Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House. In my amendment I sought, amongst other things, to add the following subparagraph to the motion moved by Senator Wriedt:
The amendment sought to have the Committee report on those matters on or before 1 November 1975. We probably could have had those two rooms each for over two years now. The sheer weight of numbers carried that amendment through this chamber, but when the amended motion was returned to the other place tragically it became the matter of a government-opposition confrontation. When it went to the other place even my own colleagues deserted me. They would rather chase a pie in the sky than fix up present accommodation problems. I said at the time that I thought that that Committee would be far more useful in the next five months if it obtained two rooms for every honourable senator and honourable member rather than chased the dream of a building on Capital Hill. Here we are, two and a half years later, and we are not one whit advanced.
– Not quite.
-We are not one whit advanced in accommodating honourable senators and honourable members in this place. The Remuneration Tribunal has already said that if there were decent accommodation in this place it would be prepared to recommend the provision of a further legislative assistant for each honourable senator and honourable member. That was stated in its report last year. Does any honourable senator or honourable member have two rooms? Does any honourable senator or honourable member have the capacity to accommodate a further person? More than two years have passed. Yes, the Capital Hill edifice is coming along, but what about the present? It is great to look to the future; I am all in favour of looking to the future. I still believe in fixing up the muck of the present. The speech I made on this matter on 5 June 1975 was a great speech. I recommend it for everybody’s reading.
– What about moving the amendment again?
-I remember that in the course of that speech one of the great interjections was made by Senator McLaren. I said:
You will be the Opposition members. We will clean you out in Bass, then we will clean you out at the double dissolution if you are game to have one.
Senator McLaren, who as usual could not stop talking said:
You said that in April last year, and you were wrong.
Yes, but I am never wrong twice, whereas Senator McLaren is wrong ali the time.
My statement has tended to be fairly prophetic. It will give credence to his conspiracy theory.
Perhaps I should not have reminded him of what I said.
– It is a bad time.
-Yes, it is a bad time. It is almost the time of the full moon, and I should not set him off again. I suggest that honourable senators should read that speech because in it I said some very rude things about a lot of people. I meant them then. I do not know whether I am allowed to believe them now that I am Leader of the Government in the Senate, but certainly then, as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, I believed them. I have been a senator off and on for nearly 12 years, and in that time I have been staggered by the absolute apathy of honourable senators and honourable members. Everybody expects somebody else to do something about the problem. Here we have a Parliament which does nothing about the problem. Honourable senators and honourable members complain because the Executive does not do something about it; they complain because the Presiding Officers do not do something about it. Everybody blames somebody else. Two and a half years ago the present Opposition had the remedy in its hands but it preferred pie in the sky to doing something about the circumstances of which it now complains. I believed then and I believe now that the way senators and members are housed here is disgraceful. I had enough time in Oppositionthree years- to know of the lack of facilities for Opposition members to have an executive meeting. Matters of moment would spring up rapidly and Opposition members had to hunt around this place trying to find a room big enough to hold a meeting of 12 people. I assume that the Opposition is still going through that sort of procedure.
– We are used to it, though.
-Members of the present Opposition may be used to it, but we were not and I did not care for it. I do not think any Opposition should have to put up with that sort of thing. I remember that during that speech- I see that it does not appear as part of the Hansard report- somebody interjected: ‘How would you do it?’ I said: ‘Quite simply. I would just get a plan of this building and I would go through it and allocate every senator or member two rooms and the other people in this building can dig out accommodation from what is left.’ I am old fashioned enough to believe that this building is here firstly for senators and members. It is not here for every other Tom, Dick and Harry. There has been some sort of rule in this place that those who enter through the front door get the wrong end of the stick. Mr President, I cannot understand why senators and members have been prepared to put up with this situation since 1927.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Address-in-Reply: Presentation to Governor-General
– For the purpose of presenting the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General the sitting of the Senate is suspended until 8 p.m.
Sitting suspended from 5.1 to 8 p.m.
– I have to inform the Senate that this day, accompanied by honourable senators, I waited upon the Governor-General and presented to him the Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency on the occasion of the opening of Parliament, which was agreed to on 2 March 1978. His Excellency was pleased to make the following reply:
Mr President, thank you for your AddressInReply which you have just presented to me. It will be my pleasure and duty to convey to Her Majesty the Queen the message of loyalty from the Senate to which the Address gives expression.
– by leave- Mr President, this statement was put down some three hours ago by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). I think that all honourable senators have a copy of the statement- certainly the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) has- and I therefore ask leave to have the statement incorporated in Hansard.
The statement read as follows-
Honourable senators will know that there have been questions in the House and some Press comment on this issue. I will first set out the facts of the case. On 22 September 1 977 a senior public servant closely involved in the proposed acquisition of the computing equipment in question gave notice of his intention to join the staff of one of the two short-listed contenders for a major pan of the contract. I refer to Mr D. A. Harragan formerly of the Department of Social Security, now employed by Facom Australia Ltd. Mr Harragan was, until shortly before his Public Service employment ended, a member of the Interdepartmental Committee on Automatic Data Processing (IDC on ADP). This IDC had the responsibility to review the tender specifications prepared by ABS and the Department of Overseas Trade, their evaluation of tenders received and their recommendations as to which tenders should be accepted. The relevance of Mr Harragan ‘s position will become clear after I explain the tender processes.
The first stage of the tendering process is the identification of a need. In this case, the identification process formally began on 1 August 1975, when the Acting Commonwealth Statistician raised the Bureau’s need for a new computer network with the IDC on ADP. Mr Harragan was at that time a member of the IDC. On 16 October 1975, the IDC on ADP considered proposals for the acquisition of computing facilities for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Department of Overseas Trade. It supported in principle the establishment of a computer communication facility to meet the needs of the two organisations. Mr Harragan was present at that meeting.
The second stage involves the formulation of specifications. In this case, a working party, which did not include Mr Harragan, was established by the IDC to assist ABS and the Department of Overseas Trade in formulating the tender specifications. The IDC at its meeting on 16 September 1976 approved the working party’s recommended specifications with some modification. Mr Harragan was present at this meeting.
The third stage involves the issue of tender documents. Cabinet had given broad approval for tendering in July 1976. The Stores and Tender Board duly called for tenders and tenders closed on 1 February 1977. The Bureau of Statistics was sent the tender documents submitted by the tenderers, and cautioned that they should not be disclosed to anyone who did not have a need to know. Tender documents were seen only by officers of the Stores and Tender Board and the evaluation team.
The fourth stage is the evaluation of tenders. In this case, the tenders were examined by an evaluation team comprising officers of the ABS and the Department of Overseas Trade. In addition, five officers- two from the Public Service
Board, two from the Department of Social Security, and one from Health assisted the evaluation effort on a part-time basis. Mr Harragan was not a member of the evaluation team.
On 1 1 May, the IDC considered reports of the proposal and agreed to a short list as the basis for further consideration adding two network tenders to those proposed by ABS and the Department of Trade. Mr Harragan attended that meeting. The final evaluation and recommendations of the evaluation team were sent to IDC members on 2 September 1977. This report contained information in the main features of the tenders including prices, although the actual tender documents were not included. Mr Harragan, as a member of the IDC, received that report on 2 September 1977.
On 19 September, Mr Harragan telephoned and advised the Acting Chairman of the IDC that he was considering an offer of employment from an unnamed computer supplier and requested that he be excluded from any IDC deliberations until the matter had been clarified. He was directed not to peruse any IDC material further and he was specifically excluded from any further IDC discussions. On 22 September, Mr Harragan advised that he had accepted the offer and that it had come from Facom Australia Ltd. Facom is reported in the Press to have stated that it approached Mr Harragan with a job offer on 25 August. Eight days later he received the final report of the evaluation team for which his prospective employer was a major contender. It was not until 1 7 days later that he made known his new employment interest.
On 12 September, the Australian Financial Review reported that Facom had been recommended by a departmental selection committee. A further report in that newspaper on 28 September stated Mr Harragan was to be employed by Facom, ‘in expectation of large computer orders from Canberra’. On 25 October a report appeared in the Tokyo Press that Facom had won the contract. Each of these reports appeared before Cabinet had had any opportunity to consider the recommendations on the computer acquisition.
Although Mr Harragan did not take part in the IDC’s deliberations after 19 September, he left the Public Service on 27 October- after the IDC had decided to endorse the evaluation team’s recommendations in favour of Facom as the mainframe tenderer. While Mr Harragan did not take part in this final process, he was certainly in a privileged situation. He had had access to the confidential report of the evaluation team He would have known that it was most unlikely that the team’s recommendations would be rejected.
Let me summarise the sequence of events: 25 August- Mr Harragan, according to Press reports, which subsequently appeared on 10 February 1978, was offered a job with Facom. 2 September- Mr Harragan received a confidential report recommending that his prospective employer, Facom, be awarded a major government contract. 12 September- A Press report suggested that the Facom tender had been recommended by a departmental selection committee. 19 September- Mr Harragan advised the IDC of his possible involvement with an unnamed computer company. 22 September- Mr Harragan identified his future employer. 12 October- The IDC recommended that Facom be selected as the successful tenderer. 27 October- Mr Harragan left the Public Service.
I was advised by the Chairman of the Public Service Board on 23 September, of Mr Harragan ‘s decision to take employment with Facom. I was immediately concerned that Mr Harragan ‘s action might cast into doubt the impartiality of the Government’s tendering procedures. Mr Harragan had placed himself in a position which many would argue involved a clear conflict of interest.
I was concerned, and remain concerned, about the construction that could be placed on Mr Harragan ‘s involvement on the IDC on ADP and his subsequent employment by Facom Australia Ltd. My concern was deepened on 28 September when the Secretary to Cabinet sent me a minute questioning the wisdom of proceeding with the awarding of the contract and advised that an entirely new IDC should be formed to reconsider the tenders.
I saw merit in that view, and notified the Chairman of the Public Service Board on 4 October that a completely new IDC should be formed to make fresh recommendations on the computer tender. He recommended against taking this course of action on the grounds that Mr Harragan ‘s resignation from the IDC was sufficient.
In the light of that advice, and of the strong view of the ABS that the acquisition of the new computing equipment was a matter of the utmost urgency, on 10 October, I directed the Chairman of the Public Service Board to convene a meeting of the permanent heads whose departments were on the IDC to report to me that they were satisfied all proper procedures had been followed and consequent on Mr Harragan ‘s resignation that no requirement existed for a fresh consideration or alterations of procedures. The permanent heads meeting was convened by the Chairman of the Public Service Board on 24 October 1977. It was attended by Sir Arthur Tange, Secretary, Department of Defence; Mr R. W. Cole, Secretary, Department of Finance; Mr S. Burton, Deputy Secretary, Department of Overseas Trade; Mr R. J. Cameron, Australian Statistician; Mr P. J. Lanigan, Director-General, Department of Social Security, and Mr G. J. Yeend, Acting Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
It concluded that proper procedures had been followed in regard to the proposed acquisition of the computer equipment for the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Department of Trade and that therefore there was no need for fresh consideration of the proposal. In the light of this clearance from permanent heads, Ministers proceeded with consideration of the recommendations of ABS and the Department of Trade and Resources as supported by the IDC.
Cabinet Committees discussed the matter in three separate meetings on 4 November, 7 November and 8 November. During these discussions Ministers expressed concern about the possibility that Mr Harragan ‘s actions would lead members of the public and the commercial community to believe that the integrity of the tendering process had been compromised. Ministers discussed at some length whether fresh tenders should be called, but decided not to do so at that stage. Since it was an important policy matter in accordance with traditional practice they agreed that the matter be held over for consideration after the election when the matter could be determined by a committee of Ministers without further reference to Cabinet.
As a result of Mr Harragan ‘s appointment, the Secretary to Cabinet’s note to me and other discussions, I had a deep seated feeling that it was not possible to demonstrate that the accepted Commonwealth procedures had been carried through in their entirety both in spirit and in fact although up to this time, I had been persuaded not to take the course of action to which I was initially attracted- namely a complete recall of tenders.
On 2 December, Mr A. G. Moyes, Managing Director of IBM Australia Ltd, wrote to me about the computer tender. He had earlier communicated with the then Treasurer, Mr Lynch. The most important of the issues he raised with me was in my view his questioning of the appointment of Mr Harragan to Facom Australia. This was the first communication I had had with Mr Moyes on this matter. Far from initiating a concern about the Facom tender, Mr Moyes’ letter to me came a considerable time after my doubts had been raised as had those of the Secretary to the Cabinet as he expressed to me in his note of 28 September. There was also the concern manifested at three separate meetings of Cabinet committees at which Ministers had expressed their reservations. These concerns had all been pushed aside because of the urgency with which the need of the Bureau of Statistics had been argued.
Arrangements were made for Mr Moyes to meet with the Chairman and the Commissioner of the Public Service Board on 22 December to discuss his letter to me. The Chairman reported to me that in discusson Mr Moyes returned again and again to the possible influence that Mr Harragan could have had on the conclusions reached with respect to the acquisition. The Chairman also drew my attention to the fact that the Committee of Ministers appointed by the Cabinet decision of 8 November had approved the issue of the letter of intent, the dispatch of the letter was imminent, but that he had asked that dispatch be held up pending final confirmation from me that it should issue.
After receiving the Chairman of the Public Service Board’s report of his discussions with Mr Moyes, I discussed the matter for the first and only time with Mr Moyes and then with the permanent head of my Department, and with the Minister for Administrative Services. The points raised my IBM served mainly to support the very real concern of my Department first expressed to me on 28 September, and which I had continued to feel about the Harragan issue. I must say that my concern had not been allayed by the discussions on this matter. My misgivings would have been much greater had I appreciated at the time the narrow ambit of the permanent heads’ committee discussions and report. Accordingly, on the same day I asked that the letter of intent not be issued, and that no further formal action be taken until Cabinet next met, in January.
My concerns had been reinforced. I had come increasingly to the view that, in all the circumstances, re-tendering was the only totally satisfactory solution. The Bureau of Statistics, however, pressed in the strongest possible way the urgency of their need. To meet these pressures, officials endeavoured to devise a method which would be fair and seen to be fair, but which would get the new equipment quickly. Officials were then of the view that a brief additional period in which tenderers could revise their tenders would meet these needs. This would avoid complete re-tendering while providing a way for testing the validity or otherwise of the original tenders. Such a course of action was endorsed by Cabinet on 17 January. Cabinet also decided that the Department of Administrative Services, with its responsibilities for government purchasing and contracting, should be added to the IDC for the reassessment of tenders; and that an independent assessor should be appointed and that he be required to report separately to the Government.
Later that day, I formally replied to Mr Moyes’ letter ofl December, informing him of the decision we had taken. In my one discussion on 22 December I indicated to him, as I had said to Mr Carmody that retendering seemed appropriate. The following day the Chairman of the Stores and Tender Board wrote to the four mainframe tenderers informing them of the Government’s decision and asking for responses by 13 February. Following these letters, the Chairman of the Stores and Tender Board received further conflicting representations from IBM and Facom including on 7 and 8 February respectively.
At this stage a very real concern strengthened among our advisers that the shortened tender procedures which they had put to us unfairly favoured IBM. It was suggested that it was easier for IBM than Facom to meet the relatively short time limit for lodging revised tenders. This was because of IBM’s greater resources and the fact that it was tendering entirely its own equipment, whereas Facom had many subtenderersincluding several Australian companies- which would have to be consulted before revised tenders could be submitted. Indeed, the Treasurer, in writing to me on 5 January 1 978 to press that the Government proceed with the Facom tender, expressed reservations about the short tendering process.
Accordingly, the permanent heads of my Department and the Department of Administrative Services and the Chairman of the Public Service Board, contrary to the view previously expressed by officials, unanimously recommended on 8 February that the shortened procedures be abandoned and new tenders called. I discussed the situation with the two Ministers most directly concerned, the Minister for Administrative Services and the Treasurer, both of whom agreed that this recommendation should be accepted. On the following day, 9 February, Cabinet endorsed this position.
The information gained since that time has reconfirmed the Government’s view that recalling of tenders was the only possible decision. Indeed, if the total information had been available in October or November, and in particular had we realised that the permanent heads had not considered all the aspects of the case which Ministers believe to be relevant including the plain question of ethical behaviour, we would have recalled tenders then.
Ministers in their judgement placed heavy reliance on the permanent heads’ report. It has since emerged that, due to a genuine misunderstanding the report was of much narrower ambit than had been intended and that Ministers believed.
The permanent heads did not consider the ethics of Mr Harrigan ‘s employment with Facom. I know now that the meeting was concerned merely as to whether Mr Harragan had influenced other members of the IDC, and that the permanent heads received assurances from other members of the IDC that Mr Harragan had not so influenced them. The report of the permanent heads’ committee was based on those assurances.
But that hardly seems to go to the nub of the matter. The real issue is whether a senior Government official was in a position to give confidential information and provide support to a particular tenderer. There is no evidence that this occurred. But in terms of the public appearance of the matter, there is no way in which the Commonwealth could ever prove that it did not occur.
As a result of this total experience, the Government has decided that the processes for the purchasing of computer equipment should be revised. Over the last month there have already been discussions between the head of my Department and the Chairman of the Public Service Board concerning variations in the role and composition of the Interdepartmental Committee on ADP.
This matter will be the subject of early consideration by the Government with the objective of achieving greater safeguards in the system to protect the integrity of the Government’s tendering process. It has already been decided that the Department of Administrative Services will play a more active role in these purchases in future, and independent assessors will be appointed where appropriate. Both will be involved in evaluation of the tenders for the new equipment for the Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Trade and Resources.
Mr President, the course the Government has taken in this case will cause some inconvenience and added cost to tenderers and to the Bureau and Department. All have their own legitimate needs and interests and the Government has done its utmost to meet these without compromising its principles. There was a conflict between the interest of rapidly acquiring a computer for the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Trade and Resources, and procedures which would not only be just but would appear to be just. It was because of the desire to facilitate the purchase of a computer that re-tendering was not called from the moment doubts first arose, and which led officials to advise a shortened tender process. Ultimately, the conflict between departmental convenience and the imperative that justice both be done and be seen to be done became clear. No compromise was possible. Thus we have called for new tenders, which it is plain is and was the only totally proper course.
Any who might still wish, against all the evidence, to question our action in calling new tenders, should consider what the position would have been had matters been allowed to proceed and the tender awarded to Facom. Ther would have been immediate and completely justified criticism that the Government had ignored a highly irregular situation. The damage to the integrity of the tendering system would have been great.
There is another point worth making. The Facom tender involved offsets which would have benefited Australian industry. The Government is fully conscious of the benefits which can be gained in this area. All other things being equal, we would lean towards a tenderer which offered the most beneficial offsets. In this instance, such consideration would favour Facom.
Finally, a few words must be said generally to all companies and all public servants involved in the tendering process for government purchases. If any companies believe they can employ a public servant or serviceman intimately involved in a tendering process and not cause grave problems for that individual, for the public service, and for good government then they are sadly mistaken. That applies whether they take on such a person before or after the government’s final decision is made.
In this instance, a company- that may still end up being the successful tenderer- employed an official who was working on the IDC at the heart of the tender process, within weeks of the final decision being made. As far as we can ascertain, the circumstances of Mr Harragan ‘s appointment are unprecedented. I am informed that officials cannot recall a previous occasion where an officer while being significantly involved in a current tender case has left to join one of the tenderers. I can only say that this is a practice which I believe should not be repeated. Some countries have specific rules to cover such matters. I am advised that the British government requires that, save with express permission, no senior public servant may take up such a position within two years of leaving the British Civil Service.
The Government has decided that this question should be one of the matters expressly referred to the inquiry on conflicts between public duty and private interests, which is about to be undertaken by His Honour Mr Justice Bowen. Mr President, one thing is abundantly clear. No one has received an unfair advantage as the tenders have been recalled, and the contract will be awarded on the merits. The facts of this statement have been checked with all relevant permanent heads- namely, the Chairman of the Public Service Board, the permanent heads of the Departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Trade and Resources, Defence, Administrative Services, Social Security and Finance, and the Australian Statistician.
– The statement that the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) has just put down was read this afternoon in the House of Representatives and concerns a matter about which we have heard quite a deal in the last few days, that is, tenders called by the Government for a computer for the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Trade and Resources. I should say at the outset that the document could be described as a plausible one. Of course, it is a fairly lengthy document and many questions arise from it. Had members of the Opposition felt that all aspects of what we have been told could be substantiated we probably would have let the matter rest. However, because of the circumstances leading up to this statement, the Opposition is more inclined to take a critical view and make a critical examination of it The main theme that becomes evident, as I read the statement, indicates quite conclusively that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) was concerned about the events. The reasons for that concern need not be discussed at this moment, but during the course of the statement he has said that had he known certain things earlier he would have done things other than those that he did.
Another consistent theme is that, whatever mistakes may have been made or may appear to have been made, they were the mistakes of other people and not those of Mr Fraser. This statement is an attempt to whitewash Mr Fraser. At no stage has he said that he might have been in error in any way, and in that respect I nominate two matters. One matter about which we ought to have great concern involves Mr Harragan, and I will deal with that later. I wish to deal firstly with the appointment of the permanent heads to look into the matter. I assume that all honourable senators are reasonably familiar with the background, but perhaps I should state in broad terms that tenders were called in 1 976 and closed early last year. Procedures were then set in motion to consider the tenders received. In September Mr Harragan, one of the public servants involved, indicated to the Public Service Board that he was considering accepting an appointment to a position with Facom Australia Ltd, one of the four companies that had tendered. The Prime Minister has claimed that in order to ensure that there was no suggestion of impropriety, on 10 October he appointed a number of senior public servants to a committee, and I will read the relevant extract from the statement:
I directed the Chairman of the Public Service Board to convene a meeting of the permanent heads whose departments were on the IDC to report to me that they were satisfied all proper procedures-
I emphasise those words- had been followed and consequent on Mr Harragan ‘s resignation that no requirement existed for a fresh consideration or alterations of procedures.
The statement then sets out the composition of the committee and, as all of us who have been around this place for a while would know, none of them could be described as slouches. The committee comprised Sir Arthur Tange, the Secretary to the Department of Defence; Mr R. W. Cole, the Secretary to the Department of Finance; Mr S. Burt the Deputy Secretary to the Department of Overseas Trade; Mr R. J. Cameron, the Australian Statistician; Mr P. J. Lanigan, the Director-General of the Department of Social Security, and Mr G. J. Yeend, the Acting Secretary to the Department of the Prime
Minister and Cabinet. Those most senior, experienced, competent public servants were asked to report on all proper procedures associated with Mr Harragan ‘s resignation. I might say, and the statement indicates this, that those gentlemen eventually reported and said that there was no suggestion of any impropriety or any practices being followed which would suggest any irregularity, the thing about which Mr Fraser claimed he was most concerned.
– No, he did not say that. The committee concluded that proper procedures had been followed.
-That is right. I think that is a fairly typical statement. After all, public servants do not talk in exactly the same way as politicians talk. I emphasise the point that, being experienced public servants, they would have considered all relevant aspects, as they were required to do by the Prime Minister. I think that that is a reasonable conclusion to draw, but if we turn to page 1 1 of the statement we find that the Prime Minister said:
My misgivings would have been much greater had I appreciated at the time the narrow ambit of the permanent heads’ committee discussions and report.
Surely there is a gross inconsistency in those two statements. I cannot understand how it can be suggested that the initial term ‘all proper procedures’ equates with the term ‘the narrow ambit’. There is an inconsistency there and, no matter what is contained in the statement, it remains unresolved as to why the Prime Minister eventually overrode the recommendation of that committee. None of those permanent heads would have allowed himself to be party to a recommendation to a Prime Minister unless he was certain in his own mind that he was satisfied about the matters with which he was dealing. That is the first point I wish to emphasise. The second main theme concerns the statements about Mr Harragan. I do not know him and I daresay nobody here knows him either. Mr Harragan naturally remains central to this matter because if he had not resigned from the Public Service and joined Facom Australia Ltd presumably none of this business would have arisen.
– That is right.
-That is right. Therefore, Mr Harragan becomes a central figure. If one considers what may have been the motive in bringing IBM Australia Ltd back into the tendering field, it would not be beyond the stretch of imagination for someone to cast some sort of reflection upon Mr Harragan. I hope that anyone who feels I am being presumptuous in saying that will read this statement. Some reflection may have been cast upon Mr Harragan about being guilty of some impropriety or using his influence in some way. It may have been said that there was a conflict of interest on his part. For example, on page 7 of the statement the Prime Minister states:
Mr Harragan had placed himself in a position which many would argue involved a clear conflict of interest.
I find even the wording of that sentence strange. It contains an implication. It is a strengthening of a statement. Normally I would think that anyone would say that Mr Harragan had placed himself in a position where there may have been a conflict of interest. I believe the statement has been strengthened in order to question the integrity of Mr Harragan. On page 14 of the statement there is another reference to Mr Harragan. He is not actually named in the paragraph I am about to read. He is named in the paragraph at the top of the page. But it refers to him. The paragraph states:
The real issue is whether a senior Government official -
That is obviously Mr Harragan- was in a position to give confidential information and provide support to a particular tenderer. There is no evidence that this occurred. But in terms of the public appearance of the matter, there is no way in which the Commonwealth could ever prove that it did not occur.
It seems to me that the last sentence is a totally unnecessary remark for the Prime Minister to make. Again it strengthens the supposition that in some way there must remain in our minds and be implanted in the public’s mind some doubt about Mr Harragan. Of course, there is no doubt at all about Mr Fraser and there is no doubt at all about his conversation with Mr Moyes or why he changed his mind after being in contact with Mr Moyes. Why did IBM have to be brought back into the act? It had been given exactly the same chance to tender as the other companies but it appeared that IBM would miss out. Even the Treasurer, Mr Howard, wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to proceed with the Facom tender and to wind up the matter at that. But, despite the advice of perhaps his most senior Minister, the Prime Minister still decided that the Government would reopen the tendering arrangements.
The third question we must ask ourselves is: If Mr Fraser was so concerned about the propriety of all this matter, why did he not take action earlier? Did he take action only after a journalist by the name of Mr Laurie Oakes had given him a big fright by writing something in the Press about this matter? Was that what prompted the
Press briefing by the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary, Mr David Barnett, to certain journalists in the Press Gallery? It was on the understanding, of course, that they would not tell where the information was coming from, that they were not to tell anybody that they got the information from the Press Secretary to the Prime Minister.
– He ought to be brought before the bar of the Senate- like Khemlani.
– It has been done before. I suppose it will be done again. How anyone can undertake the risk of talking to the Press and expect the Press not to make the information available, which is common knowledge as I understand it, surprises me. Of course, immediately following that we have this statement being made, again in order to make sure that the standing of Mr Fraser is in no way impaired. So we have a series of events. We have the permanent heads apparently being specifically instructed by the Prime Minister to do a particular job. According to this statement those instructions were clear. We are not dealing with inexperienced fools; we are dealing with the most senior men in the Public Service. They were at fault for a start. Apparently Mr Harragan has to be made some sort of suspect character. But Mr Fraser is not to be implicated in any way. Mr Fraser then found that the information was getting out into the Press. As a result of these leaks to the Press he decided to try to take some action to clear up the whole matter.
There are other matters which I believe will be dealt with at a later stage in relation to this statement. I indicate that the Opposition wants to learn the whole story of what has transpired. We want the letters and minutes which came about as a result of this tendering to be laid on the table of the Parliament so that they can be properly examined. On previous occasions the Parliament has required the tabling of documents in relation to a number of issues. I heard the name Khemlani mentioned.
-And the Jetair Australia Ltd dealings back in the days when Senator Bonner supported another government. It was necessary for that government to table in the Senate papers relating to dealings which went on between a previous Prime Minister and certain people in the airline industry. I ask honourable senators to bear in mind that in the last week we have heard a lot of talk about the functions of the Senate and about the things it should do for the public of this country. There have been many times when both sides of the Senate have felt that the tabling of documents was fully justified. I suggest that this is one of those occasions. If the Senate is the watchdog which so many of the honourable senator’s colleagues- and perhaps he himself- claim it to be, I hope honourable senators on the Government side will support the tabling of these documents so that the Parliament and the people of this country can hear the full story which is only briefly touched upon in this statement.
– Which documents?
-The Leader of the Government in the Senate asks which documents. I have indicated that all documents relating to the letting of this tender should be tabled.
– They are about nine feet high.
– If the Leader of the Government is not concerned about them, I should think he would have no objection to the documents being tabled.
– You were talking a moment ago about minutes and recommendations. I am trying to get accurately what you want tabled.
-I have just told the Leader of the Government in the Senate that I want all documents relating to this matter to be tabled. He has had enough experience in this place to know what I am talking about. Documents have been tabled on many occasions before and they should be tabled on this occasion. I do not think I am in order at this moment in seeking leave to move a motion requesting those documents to be tabled. If I am, I shall seek leave to move a motion to that effect. I understand the correct procedure is to seek leave to continue my remarks. I seek leave to do so.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Wriedt)- by leaveproposed:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 358, there be laid on the table of the Senate all papers relating to the proposed acquisition of computing equipment for the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Trade and Resources.
Debate (on motion by Senator Withers) adjourned.
Consideration of the First Report of the Fiftyninth Session.
Motion (by Senator Withers) agreed to:
That the items of the report be considered separately.
Item 1- Standing Order 64: Motion to debate matter of urgency.
– I move:
I see my role here tonight as not that of Leader of the Government in the Senate but merely as that of someone- the duty must fall on someonewho puts before the Committee of the Whole the recommendations of the Standing Orders Committee. As far as Government senators are concerned this will be a totally free vote. That has been traditional in this place on our side, and indeed generally on the other side in regard to such matters.
I wish to make some brief opening remarks, for which I ask the indulgence of the Chair. The Standing Orders Committee has had before it a number of matters which, during recent weeks, it has canvassed. Views on what is generally called in this place an urgency motion, which is dealt with under Standing Order 64, have varied somewhat in recent years. There are various arguments as to how it should be put. The Standing Orders Committee proposes that in effect we should adopt to a large extent the procedures followed in the House of Representatives. I think it is fair to say that amongst some honourable senators there is a feeling that many matters which are put forward as matters of urgency tend to be highly-charged and of a political nature and tend to take the character of a censure motion; that therefore the Senate tends to divide on them upon party lines rather than upon their substance.
Perhaps the major reason I support the change from the description ‘motion of urgency’ to that of ‘matter of public importance’ is that it ought to take out of the debate the arena of straight party politics on the issue that is before the chamber. To illustrate: An Opposition senator may bring before the Senate as a matter of urgency the problems of the unemployed. We are agreed that that is a problem within the community and ought to be debated. It is something on which honourable senators on both sides ought to be asked to express a view, but as practising politicians we all know that if the motion were carried it would be reported in the media as a defeat for the Government on the unemployment question. That really was not what the motion was all about; that was merely the result of using a certain vehicle for its presentation.
On the other hand, if an Opposition senator were to present as a matter of public importance the proposition that the Senate was worried about the state of unemployment in Australia, I think it is fair to say that if there were to be no vote upon it, and the Government were not to be seen to be censured, we would get a far more sensible debate and would not be attempting to play party politics on such matters of public importance. There are a large number of issues in the community which are important and on which certainly there will be disputation across party lines; that is fair enough, but there are equally a great number of issues on which the Senate could have more sensible and reasonable debate if at the conclusion thereof there were not to be a vote on which Liberals must line up with Liberals, on which our National Party colleagues feel they must join with us and on which Labor Party supporters feel they must line up together in opposition to what is being put. The suggested new procedure is one that I think has met with some success in the other place.
It is not proposed to change the period for which the proposer of the matter of public importance, and the first speaker in reply, may speak. There would be no change in the provision that every subsequent speaker shall have 15 minutes. Since there is no motion before the Chair, one cannot move the gag. Proposed new paragraph (6) states:
At any time during the discussion, a motion may be made by any Senator, but not so as to interrupt another Senator who is addressing the Senate- That the business of the day be called on.
That procedure is followed in the House of Representatives. I do not agree with it. It is, I suppose, basically the gag motion. However, I am convinced, and believe it fair to say that the Standing Orders Committee was also convinced, that we ought to give this new procedure a trial to see whether it can bring to debate on matters of public importance a more non-political content.
Another proposal is that, in the event of more than one matter being presented for discussion on the same day, priority shall be given to that which, in the opinion of the President, is the most urgent and important. Honourable senators will recall that on one occasion last year the President had presented to him two motions of urgency and, following previous rulings, he accepted that which had been first offered. One of the problems with the policy of first come, first served, is that it might lead to people queuing up, or attempting to get to the head of the queue, outside the President’s room. The proposed practice has worked well in the House of Representatives, upon whose experience we are basically drawing, and for a number of years I do not think there has been overmuch, if any, dissension when the Speaker has made up his mind on which matter of public importance ought to have priority.
There is also the proposal that the matter for discussion shall be handed to the President at least 90 minutes before the Senate meets. That is fair enough and gives the other side an hour or two of notice, but the presentation is to take place on that day only. Honourable senators who were here prior to 1974 may remember an occasion when, I believe the Democratic Labor Party, on the day of Parliament’s opening, put down a series of matters of urgency which preempted the debate on such matters for about six months. How, for the life of me one can put down on 1 January what is to be a matter of urgency on 1 July, I do not know, but in fact the old procedures have allowed that to happen. The Standing Orders Committee was of the opinion that 90 minutes notice should be given before the time of meeting and that is, together with the time taken for questions, petitions and so on, would give the other side at least 2 hours warning, but felt also that it should take place on the day of meeting; that no individual or group of individuals could be permitted to come along in advance and pre-empt the discussion of these matters over a period.
The present Standing Order provides that upon such a matter being proposed, four other senators must stand in support thereof. It is suggested that the presentation of a matter of public importance ought to be signed by at least five senators- the senator proposing and four of his colleagues. The reason is quite simple: As we saw it, the President could be presented with two matters of public importance. He might choose matter B, and when he calls on those who support it to rise nobody might do so. Those who proposed matter A could not then have their matter called on for debate. At least if the President knew from the letter written to him that a proposed matter of public importance had the support of five senators at that stage, and one assumes could have later, he could make a judgment. We felt that it would be unfair if a proposer who had the support of four others could not get priority when the proposer who got priority lacked the support of four others when the matter was called on and therefore no matter of public importance was debated that day.
– Has it always been four senators? Was that the position when there were only 36 senators?
-It is five senators- the proposer and four others. Standing Order 64 as it stands refers to the proposer and four other senators supporting him. When the matter comes on for debate the President asks: ‘Is the matter supported?’ Usually six, eight or ten senators stand up and the President calls on the proposer to proceed.
– Was it four when there were only six senators per State, and has it always been four since the increase to 10 senators per State?
-The number of supporters required has always been four since Federation. Even when there were only 36 senators a matter of urgency required a proposer and four supporters. When the number of senators increased to 60 perhaps the figure should have been changed. I see no magic in the number five. It is the number that has been worked upon and accepted. It Senator Sheil thinks three might be a better number, I cannot get excited about that. We felt that if a matter had to be supported by a specified number in the chamber the President, in selecting from two matters, would at least know that both were likely to be supported. Otherwise a matter to which he gave priority might not be debated because of lack of support and one to which he might not have given priority might not then be debated even though it has the support of the required number. That is the only reason for the change. Mr Chairman, I trust I have been able to explain the reason why the Standing Orders Committee feels that proposed new Standing Order 64 may be a better Standing Order to adopt.
– I am concerned only with paragraph (4) on page 2 of the report of the Standing Orders Committee. This paragraph refers to the procedure to be adopted in the event of more than one matter of public importance being brought to the attention of the President for debate. In spite of what the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) has said, I am concerned that the procedure proposed will in some way politicise the role of the President when he is asked to choose, on some grounds which he has to decide, between two competing claims on one day. The proposal has a lot of merit and I hope to support it, but I would ask you, Mr Chairman, whether there is to be the opportunity to deal with each of the proposed amendments one by one. The proposal that the President should decide between competing claims is one that I would not be willing to accept at this stage unless other honourable senators could advance arguments showing me that in fact it would not put the President in an extremely difficult position of being forced to decide always to accept a matter proposed by honourable senators on one or other side of the chamber.
– That has happened before.
– It does not mean that I find it any more acceptable. In a way I would rather have the President able to accept the first matter proposed. At least it would involve a judgment which is not political. Whoever got to his door first would get priority. I am not convinced that the proposal that the President should be asked to exercise his judgment is necessarily something that will serve the President at all times in the best possible way. I would be interested to hear argument on that point.
- Senator Baume has asked whether item 1 will be dealt with paragraph by paragraph. The Leader of the Government moved that it be considered as a whole. Is it the wish of the Committee that we consider it paragraph by paragraph?
– On the face of it, that seems a reasonable thing to do, but the fact is that if we fall on one paragraph we fall on the lot. They all hang together. My own personal opinion is that a better objective would be achieved if we discuss all the paragraphs as a whole and let honourable senators deal with any paragraph they like. The Leader of the Government, who has taken the responsibility, I think quite properly, to move the motion should then reply. In other words, we should have a formal debate. If we take the paragraphs one by one and we lose a vote on one paragraph we might as well tear the lot up.
– I take it that there is objection to taking the paragraphs one by one. Therefore the question is that the motion moved by Senator Withers be agreed to.
– On the surface, the proposition from the Standing Orders Committee must be supported by the Senate because it represents an improvement on the present Standing Orders. It seems to me that it has evolved naturally from the way in which the Senate has dealt with matters of public importance. That is the way I interpret what the Leader of the Government (Senator Withers) has said. Senator Baume has raised an interesting point which probably requires a little more consideration. I am somewhat perplexed about whether we should put the President in the position of having to adjudicate on two or perhaps three propositions that may be submitted to him. We should bear in mind that matters of public importance can be submitted by one member or any group of members as constituted in the party sense. If we adopt the proposition that the choice between competing matters should be left to the President it will tend to put him in a political position and create conditions which will enable those who get up early enough to put forward a proposal to stop another proposal coming forward. That is the dilemma as I see it. We have to consider whether there should be a time factor, that is, whether the first person who submits a proposal should get priority or whether it should be left to the President to decide which matter should be debated.
The submission of a matter of public importance appeals to me as being better than a motion to debate a matter of urgency which may involve a censure of the Government. If we want to see the Senate assume a more general role and not just develop as a party House, we should have some misgivings, as I have had, about the rigidity with which the Senate operates from time to time. I would like to see many more debates on general matters. I think that is part of our review role. From time to time we should be able to make decisions that do not necessarily reflect upon the government of the day. It might suit me in today’s circumstances to have a motion agreed to by the Senate, but it might not in other circumstances. One cannot have double standards in these matters. Perhaps the greater part of my time in the Parliament has been spent in opposition rather than in government, so I can see some merit in allowing a more genuine debate to take place within the Senate on matters which are of public importance but which may not necessarily reflect, although I suppose in most instances they would, completely upon the decisions of the government of the day. What we are concerned about here is developing a concept which will put the Senate in a much better position to consider matters which in the opinion of four senators ought to be placed before the Senate for its consideration. I have no foreknowledge of the views of my colleagues on the Committee to this matter. As I understand it, we are dealing with it in the sense of determining whether it has any merit. I am inclined to think that we ought to be examining the proposal from the point of view of what is best for the Senate and what would best facilitate the discussion of matters which have public importance rather than matters which might be critical of the Government of the day.
Having regard to what I said earlier this day about the rights of smaller parties, the other point to remember is that we are placing some restriction on the ability of the smaller parties to contribute to this process. That may be good or it may be bad. I am inclined to think, in view of what I said earlier in the day, that it is not a good practice to require four signatories on each matter proposed for discussion. It may well be, in six months, that a proposed matter for discussion will have the signatures of only two or three senators and will therefore require the support of another senator for it to be aired in this place. I am not sure that we should support that restriction. It may well be that when the matter proposed for discussion is read to the Senate, it having first met the requirements of the Standing Orders, individual senators will want to rise as part of a quartet to support the proposal. This matter is worthy of some consideration. I would not go so far as to suggest that an individual senator should submit a matter for discussion in his own right without having the support of other senators but I think that by requiring four senators to support in writing a matter proposed for discussion it could restrict the rights of the minority point of view.
I suppose what I am saying is that I support in general terms what has been recommended by the Committee but I have some misgivings about the way in which the President will be forced to adjudicate. I also have some misgivings about whether a matter proposed for discussion should be supported by the signatures of at least four senators, which is a departure from the previous practice which required the signature of a senator and the support of a specified number in the chamber.
– What is the difference?
– I indicate firstly my support for the proposition. Although Standing Orders debates may appear somewhat tiresome and dry in comparison with debates on other subjects in the chamber, one of the great strengths of these debates is that we think as individuals. As Senator Gietzelt properly pointed out, we decide for ourselves as individuals what is best for the Senate. The most effective way by which to improve the Standing Orders is for us to do what we individually feel is correct. This gives rise to differing positions among honourable senators even on the same side of the chamber but that is a good thing. My view on the matter under discussion is that it is not one of great substance. From our discussions on the Committee I believe that the term ‘matter of public importance’ seems more appropriate than the term ‘matter of urgency’. It has a wider title and gives the subject matter greater ambit although over the years never to my knowledge has there been in practice any argument about whether a matter was a matter of urgency. In my view the term ‘ matter of public importance’ is a more appropriate term to use. There are many matters of public importance which could not be described as matters of urgency. The time limits of speeches have not been altered. Senator Georges interjected previously and asked what is the difference between one senator signing an urgency motion and four senators rising in their places, and four or five senators–
– We are proposing that the proposer and four others sign.
– I am sorry, the proposer and four senators, making five in support of the discussion. I do not think in practice that there will be much difference between the two methods, though I should imagine that the proposal will result in a tidier and more useful procedure than we have had in the past, even if the improvement is only marginal. Whether the President should be the person to determine the order of priority on the rare occasion when two matters are proposed for discussion on the same day was a matter which was discussed at some length by the Committee. Alternatives were suggested but I think that we must have confidence in the President to act wisely and not make a judgment on a political basis, no matter who the President is or from what party he comes. Over the years the tradition has been firmly defended. I do not think that either the present President, Senator O ‘Byrne or Senator Sir Magnus Cormack gave us any cause to believe that he would use that office for party political advantage. That being the case it would seem that the power of the President to exercise that right is something which should not be of concern to us.
– I broadly support the recommendation of the Standing Orders Committee but do not wish to deal with matters that have already been dealt with. Instead I wish to indicate first that the amendment proposed by Senator Chaney has some merit. It seems to me that there is -
– He has not moved it.
– The amendment which Senator Chaney proposes to move.
– Tell us all.
– Forewarned is forearmed.
– I will wait for the mirth not unnaturally created by that and my embarrassment to subside a little. I realise that messages passed across the chamber as to whether somebody has spoken are not always accurately received. It is my understanding that Senator Chaney proposes to move an amendment which he undoubtedly will outline and, having had an opportunity to discuss it with him, I indicate in advance that I think his is a good idea.
– Sit down and let him move it.
– I wish to make a number of other comments while on my feet. Another point which is somewhat pedantic but which I think it is important to clear up while we have the opportunity relates to the present Standing Order 64 which provides for a motion to be moved and then supported by four other senators standing in their places. I am not sure whether the new proposal means the same thing or whether a change is intended. Proposed new standing order 64 (2 ) states that the senator proposing the matter shall hand in to the President at least 90 minutes before the time fixed for the meeting of the Senate and on that day only a written statement, supported by the signatures of at least four other senators, of the matter proposed to be discussed that day. It seems that that provision will ensure that the same procedure will prevail. I presume that it is not intended to make any change.
– You do not have to stand in here.
– Therefore, it is a matter simply of getting four signatures in advance. Would it make the position of the independent senator or senator from a small party any more difficult than it was previously?
– Yes, it would.
– Will somebody explain why it would?
– I shall explain that.
- Senator Harradine says that he will explain that. I think that this is important. The Senate ought to be looking to the interests of the smaller parties and independent senators. The proportional representation system of voting for this chamber provides an opportunity for those interested to be represented. We need to be mindful of that in drafting the Standing Orders. I have raised this matter on the basis of encouraging those who think this proposition will adversely affect in some way the position of minority groups in this chamber to explain to us in what way that will happen. With those brief anticipatory comments, I conclude my speech. I support the proposition generally.
– As I understand the proposition- I think I am correct- the purpose of the requirement for four written signatures hangs on the point that it is for the President to choose between two competing motions. As I tried to explain previously, the President may have two competing motions without signatures. He may choose the first motion and then find that it has insufficient support in this place. Therefore, no motion of that type is debated that day. That is the only reason why the Standing Orders Committee has included that proviso. If the procedure is followed on a ‘first come first served’ basis the four signatures would not be needed.
– But you need eventually to have the motion supported.
-The motion would eventually need support in this place. Rather than talking about whether four other signatures need to go before the President, we ought to be concentrating on whether a motion will be debated on a ‘first come first served’ basis or whether the President will pick a motion for debate. If the rule is on a ‘first come first served’ basis four other signatures will be unnecessary because those four honourable senators will stand in this place. But if the President is to pick which motion will come on for debate it would be most unfair if a motion which definitely has support does not come on for debate because it does not get the President’s priority and another motion which has no real support comes on for debate. We are only trying to be fair. We are not trying to be clever.
The President’s decision as to which motion is the most important is, of course, always subject to dissent in the Senate. That needs to be clearly understood. No matter what Mr President does, he is always subject to the will of the Senate. If he came into this chamber and said: ‘I have an urgency motion from Senator Georges that something be debated as a matter of public importance which I think has priority ‘ it would not stop me standing up and saying: ‘I do not think that it is as important as mine. I move dissent from your ruling’. If I can get the numbers, mine will be the most important. That ought to be kept in mind. I hope I am not being too presumptuous. The issue of whether paragraph (2) of the proposed new Standing Order, which requires four signatures in support of a motion, is adopted depends very largely upon whether we adopt paragraph (4), which relates to the President having priority. That provision is included only to preserve fairness when there are two competing motions. I have been both in government and in opposition. When two or three groups in the Parliament submit motions with only one signature the President may choose one which does not receive the support of anybody other than the person who has signed the motion. Another person who had submitted a matter of public importance for debate would feel pretty cranky about that. The Committee considered other methods by which the President could come to a decision. It talked about drawing lots, tossing coins and taking turns. The Committee canvassed a number of methods and eventually concluded that what has been proposed is the fairest way out.
I remind honourable senators that this will not be a permanent Standing Order. It is proposed as an experiment for the balance of the year. It may be found to be unfair, unworkable or unreasonable. It will be for the Senate to decide next year whether the new procedure has worked. I make that quite clear. The Senate has been adopting this procedure with regard to amendments to the Standing Orders over the last four or five years. Instead of trying to come to a final conclusion we have experimented with new procedures to see whether they are workable. If they have been workable we have kept them. If they have not we have either amended them or gone in some other direction. I have been trying to be helpful. I hope I have been.
– I appreciate what the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) has said. The last point he made is the point I intended to make at the outset. I regret that I was not able to be present at the meeting of the Standing Orders Committee, but on my reading of its report it is proposed that the new procedures be of an experimental nature for the rest of the year. The Minister mentioned that. I also intended to mention it. Having emphasised that point, I must say that frankly I am concerned about the second paragraph in relation to Item 1, which concerns Standing Order 64 and which states:
The Senator proposing the matter shall present to the President at least 90 minutes before the time fixed for the meeting of the Senate, and on that day only, a written statement of the matter proposed to be discussed.
Paragraph ( 3 ) states:
When presented to the President, the statement of the matter proposed to be discussed must be supported by the signatures of at least four Senators, in addition to the Senator proposing the matter, as indicating their approval of the discussion.
I think that will deprive the honourable senators who will represent minority sections of the Australian community as from 1 July next of the opportunity to move in this chamber motions concerning matters of public importance. We have to give cognisance to that fact. Each Wednesday there is a meeting of the main political parties. The Government parties meet in the Government party rooms and the Labor Party meets in the Caucus rooms. Both parties decide there whether they will seek to move in the Senate a motion concerning a matter of public importance on that Wednesday. If either party so chooses, a letter is given to the President indicating that it is intended that a certain senator will move that it is a matter of public importance that a particular matter be debated. When the President reads the letter in the Senate chamber he will ask whether the motion is supported. Honourable senators will then rise in this place to determine whether the motion submitted is supported by a number of people. If this proposal is adopted it will mean as from 1 July next that members of the minority parties in the Senate, be they Senator-elect Chipp, Senator-elect Mason or Senator Harradine, will have to canvass in advance of the 90 minute period or after the 90 minutes has expired whether other people in the Parliament are prepared to support the proposed motion of public importance that they wish to be adopted. Without consideration by a political party acting as a team- it is team work in politics- they will have to ask whether members of the Labor Party would be prepared to put their signatures to a proposal they seek to move as a matter of public importance.
– Or the Government.
-Or the Government. They may ask members of the Liberal Party or the National Country Party whether they would be prepared to support their motion for a matter of public importance either before or after the meeting of the particular party has occurred.
– Does not that also apply to the requirement for four senators to rise in their places? What is the difference between the requirement for signatures and the requirement for senators to rise in their places? Could you explain that?
– In my opinion there is a quite substantial difference because of the physical impossibility of members of the smaller parties going to senators from either the Government parties or the Labor Party before a party meeting and asking them to affix their signatures to a document saying that they would support a matter of public importance going to the Senate. If the senators give an indication before the party meeting has taken place that that might be their desire and the political party does not get around to considering that matter that day, time being what it is, then automatically they will not be prepared to stand up in this chamber after the party meeting and support what the members of the minority party have put forward. Therefore I suggest that this proposal is putting members of the minority parties at a very distinct disadvantage.
– That is the first time you have said that. It is an incredible revelation.
– It might be the first time I have said it. I am looking at the political realities of the situation. I am looking at the future rather than at the past.
– Forget about the past.
– I am looking at the future rather than at the past. Last week we had a great debate about the future of Parliament, the importance of Parliament and the position of Parliament compared with the importance of the Executive. If we believe in democracy and in the rights of people, although I certainly do not believe in proportional representation I tell you that now- while we have this situation we must accept it. While people are elected to this chamber on a basis of proportional representation, they are entitled to have their views heard. Although I certainly do not accept the idea of proportional representationI say that quite frankly here and nowwhile we have it we must give those people who are elected on a proportional representation basis the right to be heard in this Parliament. Under the system of proportional representation the proposal of the Standing Orders Committee means that a person can be denied the right to be heard in the Parliament. That is what concerns me about this proposal of the Standing Orders Committee.
It is not so much the proposal that the President must adjudicate on what is the matter of priority which concerns me. At one time in 1976 we had a proposal by the Labor Party, a proposal by Senator Townley when he was an Independent and a proposal by Senator Chaney as a member of the Liberal Party. At the time the President accepted the proposal by Senator Chaney from the Liberal Party. Of course we fought about that. That was the right of the honourable senator. As Senator Withers has said, any honourable senator has the right to move that the President’s ruling be disagreed with. This proposal concerns me because before a matter of public importance is submitted there must be, in addition to the name of the proposer of the matter, four signatures supporting the proposal. I think that that is impractical, considering the political realities of this nation. Therefore I am strongly opposed to it.
– As a member of the Standing Orders Committee I generally support the recommendation of the Committee, as moved by Senator Withers. Perhaps I should start by thanking Senator Rae for his support in anticipation of the amendment I will propose. It is an unusual pleasure to be supported in advance. I will meet his expectations shortly. I was pleased that Senator Douglas McClelland raised the question of the smaller parties, because I think that is an issue most honourable senators would wish to consider when looking at this proposal for change. However, I cannot agree with him that the smaller parties are in a more disadvantaged position if the experiment is tried.
The period of 90 minutes notice which is required for a matter of public importance to be submitted to the President is, of course, the same period as is required under the present Standing Order. Bearing in mind the present sitting times, it means that on a Wednesday at some time before a quarter to one it would be necessary to deliver to the President a piece of paper with five signatures on it. I find it hard to believe that there would be any great mechanical difficulties in doing that if either the Opposition or the Government wished to support a matter of public importance which was raised by an Independent senator. The fact of the matter is that there would have to be discussion between the Independent senator who wished to put forward the matter of public importance and his supporters in the same way as there would have to be discussion if he wished to put forward an urgency motion with any prospect of success. It would be simply a matter of the timing of the discussion in relation to the time of a Caucus meeting or a Government party meeting that would determine whether the proposal would be able to get the required number of signatures.
I respond to Senator Douglas McClelland simply by saying that he has overestimated the mechanical difficulties involved. I have never attended a Caucus meeting- it is a matter of considerable regret to me that I have not had that experience- but I assume that Caucus meetings, like our party meetings, are not closed, in the sense that members can move in and out of the meeting. At almost every party meeting I attended last year I was disturbed and given a piece of paper stating that the Opposition had moved yet another urgency motion. I then spent the next ten minutes or quarter of an hour sorting the matter out in the party room- seeing who would respond to it and making sure that the Government was prepared when the motion came on. In other words, our party meetings currently are interrupted by the procedure of responding to urgency motions. I do not find it particularly difficult to imagine them being staged in a way which would enable a request by an Independent senator for support of a matter of public importance to be considered and the mechanics dealt with.
– What if a matter of public importance were raised by a minor party on a Tuesday instead of a Wednesday, when the party meets?
– Of course, the same problem applies now. I do not see members of the Opposition leaping to their feet in support of Senator Harradine unless there had been Caucus consideration and the Labor Party had decided it was in its political interest to support Senator Harradine. I apply the same criteria to my party. Therefore, we have that mechanical difficulty under the present system. Senator Harradine would not know whether he would get support in this chamber until the party had made a decision. It is highly unlikely that four honourable senators from any side of the chamber would leap to their feet and make a decision to support Senator Harradine, or any other Independent senator, without the matter having received party consideration.
Two other matters which have been raised need consideration. The first relates to Senator Baume ‘s suggestion that it would be better to have a temporal test rather than a test of the President’s judgment. I adopt the arguments already put forward that the President ought to make the judgment. After all, his decision is always subject to disagreement in this chamber. I understand that that procedure is time-tested in the other place. I understand that it usually works to the benefit of the Opposition. I do not think it unreasonable that that should be so. I do not believe that there is any great problem. I find it a little ludicrous that time should be the test. I remind honourable senators opposite of the occasion on which, using the rule about time, I managed to raise a matter of public importance with respect to Western Australia, before the Opposition did. That was timed to meet the needs of the Western Australian election. I was following the precedent which the Opposition had set with respect to the South Australian and Tasmanian elections. I did find it faintly ludicrous that just by getting in first I received automatic priority. I should rather see a matter of judgment which, after all, is ultimately subject to the test of this chamber’s agreement or disagreement.
The matter on which 1 disagree with the recommendations of the Standing Orders Committee relates to the maintenance of a time limit of three hours for the discussion of matters of public importance. I hope that this chamber will consider, during an experimental period, reducing to two hours the time allotted for the discussion of a matter of public importance. My reason for wishing that is quite straight forward. I have yet to hear an urgency debate which was really worth listening to after two hours. We had quite a long period when these debates did go for three hours because no honourable senator had the power to move the gag. Consequently, when we were in Opposition and there was a blocking majority- I think we were even Stevens- all the discussions of matters of public importance went for three hours, and the particular skill which honourable senators brought to bear was to try to have a member of their party as the last speaker. That involved very intricate arithmetic on the part of both Whips. Quite frankly, I always found it faintly ludicrous to have this terrible toing and froing, and honourable senators would terribly cleverly sit down eight minutes early and throw out all one’s timing. In other words, I thought that all that was fairly farcical.
Since we have had the ability to move the gag in this place- I regret that on occasions we have used the gag- all these debates have gone for only two hours. I ask all honourable senators to sit back and think about whether they believe any one of those debates was diminished by the fact that it went for two hours rather than three. I know that a number of honourable senators opposite were very angry at not being allowed the chance to speak. I ask them to forget the particular speech they had burning in their bellies and to think of the awful speeches they had been listening to before the gag was applied. I think that two hours has been shown in this place to be quite an adequate time for the discussion of a matter of public importance. Although the Opposition was not fussed about the imposition of the gag- I think that must always be the case- I think that on most occasions there was a real sense of relief, even on the Opposition benches, that the debate had been brought to an end after two hours.
This matter has been considered in this chamber on a number of occasions. The Standing Orders Committee has considered the question of time on a number of occasions. In August 1971 it recommended that within the procedures governing the debate of a matter of public importance the time allowed for debate should be reduced to two hours and that at the same time there should be a reduction in speaking times from 30 minutes to 20 minutes for the first two speakers and from 15 minutes to 10 minutes for the remaining speakers. That matter was discussed in this chamber. I understand that a majority of honourable senators clearly approved of the recommendation that the time for debate should be reduced to two hours. However, there were fewer in agreement on the reduction of speaking times.
In 1972 this chamber actually agreed to a motion which was moved by the then Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson, to the effect that we agreed in principle that Standing Order 64 relating to these matters should provide that the whole discussion on the subject should not exceed two hours. I propose to move an amendment that the time be reduced to two hours. In doing so, I stress that this should be purely an experiment. I stress that we should be seeking procedures in this chamber whereby the use of the gag and the guillotine is unnecessary. Obviously, one cannot completely do away with the gag and the guillotine. Honourable senators opposite will remember history. On occasions they in Opposition teamed with the Democratic Labor Party to support a guillotine.
– On only one occasion.
– All right, on one occasion. I do not believe it is humanly possible to do away entirely with the gag and the guillotine. I do suggest that we ought to aim for procedures which in general will permit us as a Senate to operate sensibly without a majority, whoever might have the majority, having to impose its will on the minority. I think that the experience of the past year particularly demonstrates that we could run a system which permits the discussion of matters of public importance to go for two hours without disruption of other business of the Senate, which would be a quite adequate time in which to air the particular issues which honourable senators might wish to raise. I ask honourable senators to give very serious consideration to an amendment in the terms I have indicated, on the basis that it would enable us to assess whether that would provide a procedure which would enable the Senate on a consensual basis to deal with the issues which are believed by honourable senators to be important and to warrant public debate. Therefore I move:
I seek the support of honourable senators for that amendment.
– I support Senator Chaney ‘s amendment, perhaps with a reservation concerning the speaking times allowed for honourable senators. I think honourable senators will agree, as Senator Chaney has pointed out, that for the past year our discussions of matters of public importance, as I think every honourable senator generally agrees they should be called, have lasted only two hours by virtue of the application of the gag, to which we agreed in private, but to which we disagreed strongly in public.
– The truth comes out.
– I am sorry, I have not made such a confession before. It always seemed to me to be a reasonable proposition that we should debate a matter of public importance for two hours before 6 p.m. and keep the heat in the matter, rather than defuse it by speaking for another hour after 8 p.m. However, to do that it was necessary to ask every speaker to limit his or her time. By arrangement the time was limited. The leading speakers spoke for 20 minutes apiece, and we divided the remaining time between four other speakers. We had six speakers on a discussion of a matter of public importance. I thought it a reasonable arrangement because the debate was terse and to the point. Both sides put up their best speakers and generally, in spite of the application of the gag, we finished up reasonably satisfied. So if what Senator Chaney proposes is accepted and if with that acceptance there is a limitation on the time allowed for speakers, either by arrangement or by rule, I do not think that the Senate will be disadvantaged.
When we come to the other matters raised, though, I think there ought to be some disagreement. On the matter of acceptance of a matter, I really do not believe that the President ought to be placed in a position where his own party would look with some disagreement upon a decision which he might make which would favour the Opposition. Really, if we look at the way we behave in this place, we realise that we make it very difficult for the President to give a ruling which might be to the disadvantage of his party. He might not do so, but he might appear to do so. Consequently, unnecessary criticism is raised by the Opposition sometimes and by the Government on other occasions. Therefore I believe that the President ought not to be given the responsibility of determining what is a matter of importance. Although the arrangement of precedence by time has not proved satisfactory, it appears to me to be the only satisfactory way in which to proceed. It means that the parties must be on their metal to see that the matter of importance which they wish to debate is submitted quickly enough to take precedence over somebody else’s idea of what should be debated that day. We should not put the President in the position of deciding between two matters of public importance, nor should we place the Senate at a later stage in the position of disagreeing with the President’s ruling. So although it is highly unsatisfactory, I still believe in the principle of first in, first served.
I turn to the matter of signatures. There does not appear on the surface to be much difference between the procedures in question. In fact, it appears to be a better arrangement that the President should know beforehand that the matter is supported by the proposer and four other honourable senators. I believe that Senator Harradine is going to point out later that it is of advantage to a minority party, having submitted the matter of urgency first and the urgency motion having been called by the President, to move that urgency motion and have it refused by the Senate. It is part of a strategy to move a matter of urgency which is supported by neither of the major parties. The present proposition is that the minority party should have to canvass and obtain four signatures, and if it does not get the four signatures the matter is not raised in the Senate. I am not one to plead the cause of minor parties. I believe that minor parties ought to make a decision as to who they support and declare that and become part of a coalition, either with the Opposition, if it would have them, or the Government, if it would have them.
– Who would have them?
– Who would have either? I know it is rather difficult. That is the only problem I can see. My opinion is that a matter of importance should be supported by four senators, that a minority party should seek out support for a matter of importance and that the party which first submits a matter with the four signatures should be the one that is selected. The President should not be put in the position of having to decide whether one matter is more important than the other.
I think the matters raised by Senator Chaney are worthy of support. Provided that the speaking time of the leaders in each case- I do not see why they should speak for half an hour while somebody else can speak for only 1 5 minutes- is restricted to 20 minutes, the secondary speakers have 12 minutes each and the debate is confined to two hours, we will do very well indeed. How are we going to achieve that position by amending the rules tonight? I cannot see how we can achieve it; nevertheless, I think the Senate should express its opinion that that is the correct way of going about it.
-I see no difficulty in the proposition that the President should decide between matters of public importance. In fact, I think it is a Presidential prerogative and I do not think he would use any political judgment at all in making that decision. I do not envisage any problems about abridged debate arising from Senator Chaney’s amendment. The item to which I want to turn my attention is No. 3 concerning the number of supporting signatures, or senators standing in their places. Apparently the number required since time immemorial when the Senate was just on half the size that it is now, has been four supporting senators for a debate on any matter of urgency.
It is refreshing to hear the Labor Party speaking up in support of minor parties. Nevertheless, a matter of public importance should be a matter that is of public importance and should engender support. If a party has difficulty obtaining support from either side of the House or from other minor parties, the matter should be considered to be one that is not of public importance. I suggest that the number of supporting signatures required additional to the proposer of the matter of public importance should be raised to six in order to generate the same relative support as was deemed necessary when the Senate was about half its present size. In addition I suggest that as only one matter of public importance can be put before the Senate on any one day, the six senators who support one matter of public importance should not also be the supporters of another matter of public importance proposed for that day. Knowing that there is only one resolution to go before the Senate, honourable senators themselves should have to decide which matter is more important before the decision is put to the President.
-I seek clarification of a point which has not been adverted to thus far. Under current Standing Order 64 (4), the urgency motion may not be amended. I notice that in the proposed new Standing Order 64 there is no provision that a statement of a matter of public importance cannot be amended. I wonder whether that is the intention of the Standing Orders Committee. If that is the intention, it has not been adverted to in the explanatory notes and it certainly has not been adverted to in the proposals that we are currently debating. I am flexible on that point. I would be quite happy to have deleted that part’ of Standing Order 64 which states that a motion cannot be amended. However, I feel that Standing Order 64 is at present adequate for the purpose, except in relation to the title. I accept the proposal of the Leader of the Government (Senator Withers) to change the title from a matter of urgency to a matter of public importance. I think that would be a good idea. I agree with what has been stated in proposals 1 and 2. 1 do not agree with what has been proposed in statement 3. The reason that has been given by the Minister in proposing–
– What statement?
– I am referring to item 3. It states:
When presented to the President the statement of the matter proposed to be discussed must be supported by the signatures of at least four senators in addition to the senator proposing the matter as indicating their approval of the discussion.
I have two things to say about that. Firstly, I think in formulating Standing Orders it is important for the Senate to ensure that the matters which the Senate is debating or which a senator desires to have debated in this chamber is a matter of public interest. In other words, the proposal before us reeks of the need for a senator to do back-door deals in order to have a matter of public importance raised in this chamber. I do not think that it is proper to suggest in an amendment to Standing Orders that a senator has to do a back-door deal in order to raise a matter of public importance on the floor of the Senate. Let the matter be judged when it hits the floor of the Senate on whether it receives the necessary support that traditionally has been required. I recall that, acting in pursuance of Standing Order 64, 1 have raised at least two matters of urgency. One related to the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd and, from memory, the other related to the Government’s industrial relations policy leading to confrontation. Fortunately, both those matters received support, but I must say that I did not canvass support to ensure that the required number of senators would support me on those occasions. For what it is worth, I believed that both of those matters were of supreme importance to my State. I felt that I had a right to raise them publicly in this chamber and to let them be considered on their merits. If honourable senators did not consider that they were matters of public importance I believed that that should be done publicly, and of course ultimately let the people judge that performance. I believed that that course was preferable to going behind doors and making the deals necessary to get signatures on the piece of paper to go before the President.
- Senator, did you ever come into this place to move an urgency motion feeling that you did not have the support of four senators and not having canvassed anybody to see whether you had support?
– On the matter of urgency relating to the Government’s industrial relations policy, I think that only four senators stood on that occasion.
– Had you spoken to anybody about your urgency motion?
– I assume that I did. I had not come down in the last shower on that matter. I had stated publicly, but not prior to presenting the matter to the President, and that is all important -
– That is timing.
– No, I had not done that. As Senator Douglas McClelland will realise, it is difficult for an independent senator to talk to people on a Wednesday, when these matters are to be discussed. In the case of Mount Lyell, it was a Tuesday and we were coming to Canberra. The point is that certainly before the matter was discussed in this chamber I had discussed it with honourable senators but not necessarily before I exercised my right under Standing Order 64 and presented the matter to the President for presentation here.
The Minister has adverted to a problem, and it is a very real one. If I came into this place tomorrow and raised a matter of public importance that the President thought was more important than one that the Leader of the Opposition wished to raise, if my motion did not attract support under proposed Standing Order 64(3), then under that Standing Order the motion of the Leader of the Opposition could not be considered. I concede that that is a problem, but it could be overcome by a very simple amendment. I cannot move it now, but I will foreshadow an amendment that paragraphs (3) and (4) be deleted and that in lieu thereof the following paragraph be considered: ‘That in the event of a matter not receiving the support required, that is, the support of four senators rising in their places as indicating their approval thereof, such matter be not considered as a matter of public importance for the purpose of the Standing Order’. Such an amendment would mean that the matter raised by the Leader of the Opposition would come forward as the matter of public importance. I hope that due consideration will be given to that suggestion.
I agree with what has been proposed in relation to paragraph (5). Debates on matters of public importance cannot go on ad infinitum, and people might well say that a matter has been aired sufficiently and that the Government has a responsibility to ensure that government business goes on. In those circumstances, if the Government considers it desirable, it should be enabled, with due cause, to proceed in accordance with paragraph (5).
- Senator Harradine at the end of his speech foreshadowed an amendment to provide that if a matter of public importance did not receive the support of four senators then that matter would lapse. With great respect, I suggest that the present Standing Order states that anybody standing in his place and moving what is now known as an urgency motion must have the support of four senators standing in their places. If Senator Harradine ‘s suggestion were adopted, we would be reverting to what we already have.
– Could I explain that. The position would be that that matter would not be regarded as a matter of public importance for the purpose of Standing Order 64 and therefore would not prevent another matter of public importance coming forward.
-But that matter would automatically lapse because there were not four senators standing in their places to support it.
– That is so, but in the current situation that would preclude another matter of public importance being debated, and that was the sole reason given by the Minister for this provision.
– I accept that point. I wish to deal with a point raised by Senator Chaney relating to the President having discretion as to what will be the selected matter of public importance. I recall that a few years ago the Standing Orders Committee, when discussing Standing Order 64, dealt with the problem of the race to get in first to the President’s office with an urgency motion. We finished up with a compromise of 90 minutes. I believe that it is far better for presidential responsibility and integrity to operate in this area and for the President, whoever he or she may be, to make the decision as to what will be regarded as the matter of public importance to be discussed by the Senate, so long as it has the support of four other honourable senators.
At this stage I wish to deal with the matter of signatures. One appreciates that we have had a situation where, so long as somebody moved a matter in this place and four honourable senators stood and supported it, then that matter was the one eventually debated in the chamber. But I believe that it is far better to have four signatures than to have four senators rising in their places. I have listened tonight with interest to what Senator Harradine has said and I support the need to ensure that individuals, be they independents or members of minority parties, have the right to be heard and the opportunity for freedom of expression in the Senate chamber. That is what this chamber is all about. In my book any honourable senator who stands in this place knowing that he does not have the support of four other honourable senators- be they honourable senators who are seated in the chamber who are prepared to stand in support of the motion or be they honourable senators who are outside or within the chamber and who have put their signature to a motion- is in all probability playing politics. I admit that a lot of the urgency motions which have been debated in this place have revolved around politics. But there is a big difference between an individual standing in this place and trying to play politics and one who comes along with what is stated as being a matter of urgency.
– Oh, come on!
- Senator Harradine has moved two urgency motions in this place, as I recall, and he has had the support of at least four honourable senators on each occasion. I am certain that a man of Senator Harradine ‘s ability and political prowess would not come into the chamber cold on those occasions. Senator Harradine can count above four. He knew that he had to have the support of at least four honourable senators beforehand or he would have been dropped from great heights when trying to move a motion concerning a matter of urgency. I am also sure that if Senator Harradine- I say this very respectfully- were to come into this place wishing to move and debate a matter of urgency he would have the intelligence and initiative to make sure he had four signatures before going ahead. He also would not go ahead with raising a matter of urgency under the current Standing Orders if he did not have support.
I feel that there is a need for these things to be tied up far more than they have been in the past. I accept that this is a temporary procedure. We will try this procedure and see how it operates. I am very happy about that because we have been discussing the provisions of Standing Order 64 for some years. I am pleased that the Senate Standing Orders Committee has come forward on this occasion and made further positive suggestions to the Senate. I give my wholehearted support to the implementation of this procedure on a temporary basis. Let us see how it operates. If Senator Harradine or any member of a minority party has proven objections and can show factually that the Standing Order is not operating in the true sense of democracy in this chamber, I will be happy to take a different stand when the time comes to make this procedure a permanent part of the Standing Orders. At this stage I would like to try this proposal. Standing Order 64 has been discussed for a long time in this chamber. I am pleased to see positive suggestions coming forward again. I am quite happy to accept on a temporary basis the recommendations of the Standing Orders Committee.
– I rise with some trepidation. I do not propose to operate these newfangled Standing Orders. With some experience of what has gone before, I detect in this move a further de-escalation, subordinating the Senate to the government of the day. The idea is that before one can interrupt Government Business with a matter of urgency one has to go to the Australian Labor Party or other parties for signatures and be exhibited as a miscreant when one feels strongly about an incident such as the Timor situation or when one feels incensed about the appointment of Sir John Kerr to a particular position. What rot! One stands or falls in one’s place as an individual. What sort of politics is it to say that Senator Harradine would never come into this place with a motion relating to a matter of urgency unless he knew he would get support? Churchill often stood in the House of Commons of 600 members when he did not have three supporting him. That happened in the eight years before 1939 when the nation was at stake.
– That was in public debate.
– What rot! Churchill had to fight the House of Commons. Here we are trying to muzzle an individual honourable senator, be he a member of a party or an independent. We are already protected from the situation by a provision in the new proposal that I heartily applaud, which provides that at any time during the discussion, after one speech has been made, any honourable senator may put the motion that the business of the day be called on. A matter of urgency, if felt keenly by an individual honourable senator, should be listened to for IS minutes and not interrupted at the convenience and ease of the members of the Ministery who want to get away to a secret Cabinet meeting and who will not tell us any of the reasons which motivate a decision. For God’s sake let us have a Senate where any honourable senator can rise and move that a matter be mentioned for 1 5 minutes.
– You still have to get four others.
-Of course. But that is a different matter from going around and canvassing Senator Gietzelt on Timor, which is what I would do if I were speaking for my friend Senator Bonner. I am all for the Government on Timor but I recognise the right of other people to show concern. I will not mention the other issues such as the stacking of pensions. God help us if not one voice is to be listened to in this place on a matter of urgency. We are just atrophying the Senate in favour of the Government parties or the major Opposition party and squeezing out the dissident members of parties who feel that they should be heard or the independents.
– Regarding four senators, Churchill also said: ‘Be prepared ‘.
– It is very nice to be reminded of that but so do the boy scouts. The great thing to remember is that Churchill said that democratic institutions in the United Kingdom maintained their integrity by insisting that members elected to a representative chamber were the spokesmen not of governments but of the people. Therefore any honourable senator has the right to raise a matter of urgency. As I pointed out, a feature of this matter is that any honourable senator can seek the opinion of the chamber as to whether the debate in the subject matter should be cut off. But if I or some other unpopular member of the Senate wanted to raise a matter of urgency it would be one thing to go around the Opposition corridors and scheme to get four signatures and it would be another thing to see whether my party will shirk supporting me when I rise. Therefore, who are we to require four signatures before we can interrupt the sacred flow of government business and listen to the Senate debate a matter of urgency.
-I regard this move as a very severe restriction of the rights of individual senators. I feel that it is a very serious matter when it is suggested that such a restriction should take place. It is very easy for people to laugh and to be supercilious about these matters, but an honourable senator may have a view about which others may not be aware or which they may not understand prior to the honourable senator moving a motion about that matter. It may be difficult for an honourable senator to get four honourable senators to subscribe to his proposition, but if he can put up a good case on the matter he may induce other people to support him. To require that four senators be in support of a matter is to be very restrictive as far as the Senate is concerned. Since I have been a senator matters have been raised by senators, on the Government side particularly, who, one would have thought, would have seen the folly of what was being proposed. Instead they blindly followed the leader. While we still have people being afraid to support someone because he has an independent character? I remember on one occasion the Government wanted to impose a 40 per cent sales tax on cars. I remember that Senator Wright and I were the only two senators on this side who were prepared to oppose such an imposition. Can one imagine what the car industry would have been today if a 40 per cent sales tax had been imposed then?
– About like what it is nowwrecked.
– It would be wrecked completely. Our Government would have wrecked it. Senator Wright and I were snubbed; we were not talked to. It goes to show that although one may be right on something, it is very hard to get other people’s support; more particularly before one puts one’s case to the Senate. We have to remember that Parliament is the focal point of democracy in this country. Therefore, the individual senator has the right to express himself. If he wants to raise a matter of public importance, there is no reason why he should not be able to do so. To require that he has to go canvass the support of other honourable senators before he can put the matter before the chamber is to take a step backwards. Therefore, as has Senator Wright, I strongly oppose this move, which I think is a negation of democracy. I should be very sorry to see the Committee of the Whole accept that proposal.
– Could I ask two or three questions? Senator Wright, supported by Senator Wood, is now proposing that an honourable senator should be able, without giving prior notice to the President, to propose a matter of public importance. If it is suggested that a person can, without the support of four other senators, do that then we shall have not a debate on a matter of public importance, but a grievance debate, which is something entirely different. Surely the position is not as Senator Wright put it. I think it would be necessary in some way to limit the ability of a senator to debate a matter of public importance. There has to be some limit. Surely Senator Wright is not suggesting otherwise.
– No. I am suggesting that the senator in question obtain on the floor the support of four other senators.
– That is the present position. I will leave it to the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) to sort it out.
– I may be able to assist the Senate. In spite of what honourable senators may think, I have been taking notes of what has been said and after discussion with the Clerk, have worked out certain amendments which should make everyone happy. To this point there has been a great deal of talk but no action. May I suggest some action? I shall not move any of these amendments; I am prepared to give them to honourable senators to move. The first proposed amendment, which should suit Senator Harradine, would be:
In paragraph (2), leave out ‘supported by the signatures of at least four other Senators ‘.
I ask honourable senators to ignore the first five propositions discussed in the report and consider only proposed new Standing Order 64. By doing that we shall be much better informed. That proposed amendment would meet Senator Harradine ‘s objection.
-It does. Of course, the quid pro quo for that -
– It does not fix you up, though, does it?
-I am saying that if the honourable senator cares to move that it will get him out of his difficulty. I thought we might try to get some votes here tonight, to see where everybody stands, instead of everybody just talking. That would need a quid pro quo involving a new paragraph 3 a, which I am prepared to accept, which would read:
Proposed discussion must be supported by four Senators rising in their places as indicating their approval thereof.
That is the present procedure- one proposerand overcomes Senator Harradine ‘s objection. Again, there are those who are worried about the President deciding which matter is to be considered as being more urgent. For those who are worried, I have a further proposed amendment to paragraph (4), which would be:
Leave out ‘in the opinion of the President, is the most urgent and important, and no other proposed matter shall be read to the Senate that day’, insert ‘is first handed to the President’.
That is the proposal for all those who are worried. We have had some discussion about other matters. Senator Chaney ‘s proposed amendment to paragraph (5) -
– He did his own work.
-He did his own work. He did it very well. He was a well-trained Whip. He is a well-trained apprentice. He has moved that in paragraph (5) ‘two hours’ be substituted for ‘three hours’. For those who want to go further, I would propose that ‘20 minutes’ be substituted for ‘30 minutes’ and that ‘10 minutes’ be substituted for ‘ 15 minutes’. I think those amendments would meet all of the objections. They could perhaps be dealt with one by one but, as I am reminded by the Chairman, he has before him Senator Chaney ‘s amendment. I would suggest that this be disposed of firstly; that the proposed changes from 30 minutes to 20 minutes and from 15 minutes to 10 minutes be dealt with next; that we then proceed to consider Senator Harradine ‘s proposal to delete the requirement that there be obtained the signatures of at least four other senators, inserting in lieu thereof the provision that there be support by four senators rising in their places; and, finally, that we then consider the amendment relating to the adoption of the principle of first come, first served.
– It is amazing how discussion produces clarity, even in a leader.
-I thank the honourable senator. If it were not for his urging I would look the fool that I am.
– I am prepared to be associated with the first proposition. I did not realise I was opening a Pandora’s Box when I suggested that the requirement that a senator obtain the written support of at least four other senators imposed an undue restriction upon the rights of honourable senators. However, as a result of the ensuing debate, it appears that we may reach sufficient unanimity to support the proposition that the Senate itself, in session, shall have the opportunity to express its view. On some occasions senators from both sides may rise in support of a proposition. I think that is a more edifying way of dealing with the matter than suggesting that an honourable senator go cap in hand seeking support, and perhaps spending a whole morning trying to get senators out of their party rooms to support a proposition. I do not think that is a very sensible way to deal with the matter.
Therefore, if necessary, I shall be prepared to support the proposed amendment. I do not know whether the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) proposes to withdraw his proposition with a view to obtaining unanimity on this matter or whether he wants a specific amendment moved. If that is the case, I am prepared either to move or support an amendment which would provide that the Senate should itself be master of the situation and that an individual senator or minority group would not be placed in a disadvantageous position in respect of matters of public importance.
– We decided that it was very important that the length of the debate on a matter of public importance should be two hours. We now have to decide whether we should formally cut down the time of speakers or whether it should be left to the Whips to make the arrangements. There may be good cause to allow the position to remain as it is. Some matters of public importance may draw in the Leader of the Opposition and the Minister concerned, and they may require their full time. In other matters of public importance the Whips may decide that all honourable senators shall speak for 15 minutes. It may be an arrangement which allows for flexibility. We may decide by arrangement that the lead speaker speak for 20 minutes. It may be that the lead speaker wishes to speak for 24 or 25 minutes. The Leader of the Opposition may speak for only 15 minutes. We have reached the point where senators now say what they want to say and then sit down. When I first came to this place a senator was allowed half an hour to speak and he had to speak for half an hour.
– It was compulsory.
– It was compulsory. Somebody spoke sensibly for 15 minutes and then ruined everything by speaking for a further 15 minutes. Fortunately, through good sense prevailing on both sides of the chamber, we now speak by arrangement for the time we think is necessary. I am not prepared to go to the barricades and move an amendment at this stage. At a later stage we might decide that we need to do so. It is quite possible that in some debate five senators on each side may speak in the two hours; on other occasions the number may be only three. My view is that we should leave it as two hours, and we can decide at a later stage whether anything else needs to be done.
Amendment (by Senator Harradine) agreed to:
In paragraph (2), leave out ‘supported by the signatures of at least four other Senators ‘.
– I move:
Because Senator Harradine ‘s amendment has been carried this new paragraph will have to be inserted to retain the procedure whereby the President will say ‘Is the motion supported? ‘and the proposer and four others must stand in their places in the chamber.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Senator Peter Baume) proposed:
In paragraph (4), leave out ‘In the opinion of the President, is the most urgent and important, and no other proposed matter shall be read to the Senate that day. ‘, and insert ‘is first handed to the President’.
– I have not had time to check it, but does the amendment not mean that there could be two debates on matters of public importance in one day? Is that what is desired? There has not been any discussion of the possibility of more than one matter of public importance on the same day. I wonder whether that is really intended.
– What ought to be left out are the words in the opinion of the President, is the most urgent and important’. The words ‘and no other proposed matter shall be read to the Senate that day’ should be left in. If the motion were amended in that way it would overcome the problem. The motion as it stands proposes to leave out too many words. I thank Senator Rae for drawing this to the attention of the chamber.
– I concur. I seek leave to amend the motion accordingly.
That the amendment (Senator Peter Baume’s) be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator the Hon. T. C. Drake-Brockman, D.F.C.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Item 1, as amended, agreed to.
Motion (by Senator Withers) proposed:
That Item 2 be noted.
-This is a rather curious item. This position arose last year when I presented a petition in respect of which the Clerk was not prepared to give a certificate. The Standing Orders Committee comes to the surprising conclusion that the provision in Standing Order 76, that a petition when presented must bear the Clerk’s certificate that it is in conformity with the Standing Orders, should continue. I do not know who suggested that it should not continue. I do not know of any suggestion that the Standing Order ought to be altered in any way. When this matter arose last year and the certificate was not signed by the Clerk I moved the suspension of Standing Orders to enable the petition to be presented. That motion did not come on for debate before the elections and the matter has lapsed. Certainly I do not intend to raise it now; it is a dead issue. The issue was whether a senator was entitled to proceed with a petition in respect of which the Clerk was not prepared to give a certificate even though the petition had been put in by somebody who wanted it read and the senator considered, as I did, that it was a proper petition- one which ought to be presented as the constituents desired and one which they were to have presented. At present there is the power to adopt that procedure. One can move the suspension of Standing Orders and I would do it again in exactly the same circumstances. This item does no more than say that the Standing Order should remain. I have never heard anyone suggest that it should not remain. I do not know what it is all about or why we are bothering to note it, but if we do note it, does it matter?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Withers) agreed to:
That Item 3 be noted.
– I move:
I explain to the Senate that the Standing Orders Committee is drawing the attention of honourable senators to this item. In regard to other items the Committee said that it suggested either the previous ruling of the President or the present practice. In regard to this item it is urging that honourable senators should adopt the procedure that it has proposed, not that honourable senators must adopt the procedure. The Standing Orders Committee is not recommending that it should be the only procedure. It is suggesting that in relation to the handling of papers presented to the Parliament, honourable senators should refer to the report presented in September 1977 in which certain suggestions were made to honourable senators. The Standing
Orders Committee again urges honourable senators to look at that procedure. It strongly recommends that honourable senators should adopt it by consent but not by enforcement.
– I have noted over the last three years that a terrific lot of time is wasted when a paper is tabled. Leave is asked to move a motion, the motion is moved, then there is the adjournment of the debate followed by a motion that the debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting. It is all a matter of tendentious wearying of people, and we empty the chamber as a result. We are all at liberty to move a motion at any time we wish as to the noting of papers. I note that the Standing Orders Committee is offering to us not an amendment of the Standing Orders but some advice which, in this instance, is good. It is ruining the whole spirit of a chamber of debate to take up four or five successive brackets of three minutes each with parrot-fashion remarks such as: ‘I seek leave to move a motion. I move: That the Senate take note of the paper. I move that the debate be adjourned ‘. God help us!
– This is one of the very rare occasions on which I support the remarks of Senator Wright
– Ah, my friend, you will find company if you pursue it, and comfort.
– That sounds like one of the rare occasions on which I have shared his company in different circumstances. I believe this is a good example of where the procedures of the Senate ought to be changed. The practice of taking note of papers is a practice we witness so often in this chamber. It is cumbersome. It has been handed down. It is one of the things we seem to have been frightened to touch for a long time. It would be to the benefit of the Senate if we were to accept the suggestion. It is not revolutionary. It is simply a means by which we can expedite the work of this chamber.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
On page 12 of its report the Standing Orders Committee states:
To that end, the Standing Orders Committee will keep this matter under examination and, in the meantime, it would be helpful to hear the views of Senators when this Report is debated.
That sentence was not put in as a formality of words. The Standing Orders Committee is more than anxious to hear the views of Senator Rae and members of his committee in particular and members of other committees. I realise that it is getting late and that the adjournment motion will be moved at 10.30 p.m. I appreciate that Senator Rae will have only a brief opportunity to speak tonight. I point out to honourable senators that if I can find further time this week or next week I shall come back to consideration of the report.
– I regard this matter as the matter of greatest moment in the Standing Orders Committee report. It is a matter about which a number of Estimates committees have been concerned. It has been before this chamber on a number of occasions. On several occasions Estimates Committee F has made unanimous recommendations. Basically it relates to the desire that Senate Estimates committees become more effective than they have been in the past. It is not in any way an attack upon their current effectiveness; it is a desire to make them more effective. Of necessity, there is a relatively short period of time between the production of the background material that is made available for the use of honourable senators in examining the estimates and the actual hearings which take place. In that time it is very difficult to make a thorough examination of the Estimates. The provision of assistance by experienced, permanent staff would be conducive to the development of a higher level of examination by the Senate on behalf of the people.
We understand that it may well be difficult to enlarge in any substantial way the staff of the Senate at this stage. As a short term measure we favour the use of the secretariat which already exists and which contains a significant number of highly qualified, specialist staff who are associated in particular with the legislative and general purpose standing committees. We suggest that some of those staff members may be able to be made available to the Estimates committees for a week or two during the preparatory period immediately before the Senate Estimates committees sit and during the actual sitting period to give some extra specialist research assistance to the whole of a committee in the preparation of the examination of the Estimates. I regard that as being something that could be done at this stage. The only detriment would be to delay slightly the work of the general standing committees. However, it would be to the advantage of carrying out another extremely important function of the Senate, that is, examination of the
Estimates. I hope the day will soon arrive when we can take the further step which has been recommended positively by Estimates Committee F and other committees, that is, that there be full time staff so that there can be an examination throughout the whole year of what is going on in the departments and a building up on behalf of the Estimates committees of a more continuous role.
When these suggestions were first made it was stated that in the interests of gradualism we should start off with the introduction of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations and that the matter could be then discussed further by the Senate. I should like further discussion to take place tonight. Therefore, I shall not take any longer than I have to outline briefly the history and objective of what has been repeatedly proposed in this chamber. It has been carried unanimously by this chamber as a matter to be referred, with support, to the Standing Orders Committee. I believe the proposition has the general support of the Senate. I hope that the net result of this discussion will be re-affirmation by the Senate of the unanimous attitude it has previously adopted that these steps should be taken to help develop further fulfilment of the role of the Estimates committees. If that step were taken we could therefore expect the Standing Orders Committee to reconsider this proposal at an early stage and put a firm proposition for at least the secondment of the permanent existing secretariat staff to assist the Estimates committees and shortly thereafter the development of a further and more continuing role with some full time assistance for the Estimates committees. We should at least take the first step and examine further the cost and practicality of the second.
– I raise very quickly two matters for the chamber to consider. The recommendation brought forward by Estimate Committee F, which the Standing Orders Committee considered, stated:
Under the provisions establishing Estimates committees any senator is enabled to go along to any Estimates committee meeting. It is rather restrictive for Estimates Committee F to suggest that the staff be available to assist only members of the Estimates committees. I agree with what the Standing Orders Committee said on page 12 of its report. It stated:
The Committee agrees that, to enable Estimates committees to function most effectively, every possible assistance must be provided to honourable senators.
I raise that point to that it can be borne in mind by the chamber.
– I support what Senator Rae has said about the need for secretariat help for the Estimates committees. There is no doubt that some of the things we have been able to achieve in some of the Estimates committees have been significant. I can think of departments which have changed procedures in a major way. I am concerned, however, about the method that might be adopted to achieve this aim. I know that Senator Rae has suggested that his proposition would be a short term, interim proposition; but I am nervous about even a short term proposition that in fact may -
-Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Chairman do now leave the chair and report to the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The Chairman having reported accordingly-
– Order ! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
-I rise tonight to speak on a matter of grave concern to meat producers and, indeed, all Australians. I have thought for a long time about what I am going to say now. At times I have felt that the matters I intend to raise should not be brought before the Parliament. Indeed, in the short term a certain amount of damage to our meat export industries may be the result of a public discussion of the matters I wish to canvass at this point of time. However, if the situation as it now exists continues, I firmly believe that long term damage will be done to a major rural export industry. Therefore, the short term disadvantages have to be weighed against the long term advantages of cleaning up a gross mess in the industry. The matters to which I am referring concern what I believe to be widespread malpractices in the meat export industry. Further, it is my contention that the present Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) has been less than studious in attempting to eradicate illegal practices in the meat export industries. Refusal to take action jeopardises long term market prospects, undermines legitimate efforts of local producers and undercuts registered meat exporters. Basically, it is an open secret that massive backyard processing of meat for export has been organised by a number of processors with the purpose of avoiding meat inspections.
Before I deal with specifics, I wish to outline how and why this backyard operation has been established. Over a period of time a number of meatworks, some of which have Commonwealth registration to slaughter for export and others of which do not have this registration, have been processing meat for export which has not been inspected by Commonwealth meat inspectors. Some of this illegally processed meat destined for export can be of inferior quality. What has been occurring is that this meat which is not inspected for export has been brought into registered export works, the packaging has been changed, the meat has been stamped illegally with a Commonwealth stamp made without the knowledge of the meat inspector, and then it has been sent overseas. The most obvious reason for such an operation is to maximise profits for the processors. For example, as there is only a small local market for forequarters, the processor using this backyard operation sells them on the export market. In essence, through repackaging meat, Commonwealth inspections have been avoided and a considerable amount of uninspected meat is sent overseas.
I turn now to some specifics relating to this illegal meat export operation. As I understand it, in June- July 1977 the Romanian Government issued a diplomatic complaint to the Australian Government alleging that meat it had received did not meet required specifications. Further, I believe that two other eastern European governments complained to the then Australian Meat Board concerning meat which failed to reach required standards. The Romanian contract, I understand, was carried out by the meat brokers, C. R. Lawrence Pty Ltd of Sydney. The order was filled by obtaining meat from a number of operators in Victoria, and possibly other States. At the same time as complaints were received by the Government, a prominent member of the
Meat Export Association complained to the Australian Meat Board about the inability of legitimate companies to compete for veal orders against a number of small operators who had no killing facilities.
As I understand the situation, the complaints were referred to the Minister for Primary Industry in about the middle of last year. The Minister referred the complaints to the Commonwealth Police for investigation. As a result of these investigations a number of illegal operations were closed down. The Commonwealth Police report on this matter named a number of companies which had been involved in illegal processing of meat which was destined for export. None of the companies named were registered export slaughtering establishments. The Minister for Primary Industry was made aware of this situation just prior to the 1977 elections.
I ask the Minister to disclose whether the following six companies were among those named in the Commonwealth Police report. According to my information, the companies named were: Steigers of Northcote, Victoria; M. Seigal & Son of Fairfield; Lance Creek near Wonthaggi; Ryans at Morwell; Mount Skehan; and Bambra Export Pty Ltd. Further, I ask the Minister: Does the Government intend to initiate further investigations into this matter? Does the Minister intend to start prosecutions on this matter? Is it a fact that the Minister made an arrangement with the producers of a television program to give an exclusive interview on this and related matters, provided that the matter would not be exposed prior to the last Federal election?
I now turn to several other points related to malpractices by certain operators in avoiding inspections of meat exports. As I understand it, Commonwealth Police investigations have been made into the disappearance of 30,000 trunks of mutton which were processed by the Donga meatworks for local consumption. These trunks were transported to Melbourne. However, it has been alleged that they have in fact disappeared. Could it be that they were exported illegally? Is is the case that Commonwealth Police investigated this matter? What are the results of these investigations? Further, is it the case that the Victorian Attorney-General is investigating the operations of an illegal export meat racket involving many millions of dollars? Could it be the case that some of the illegally exported meat is contaminated with salmonella or other diseases?
I now turn to another matter relating to the meat industry. Allegations have been made in the Hamilton Spectator that the Victorian Department of Agriculture removed Mr Doug Mackie, the Regional Meat Inspector, from Hamilton to Melbourne, following Department of Agriculture inspections of illegal meat slaughtering establishments. Newspaper reports of these illegal meat slaughtering operations allege that prominent Western District Liberals are involved. Two Liberal MLAs were named amongst those allegedly involved. They were Mr C. Burgin, the member for Polwarth, and Mr J. McCabe, the member for Lowan. The removal of Mr Mackie from Hamilton followed a meat inspectors raid upon a farm owned by Mr Hanson at Timboon in December 1977. The reason, as far as I can ascertain, for Mr Mackie ‘s removal was that he instigated the investigations into illegal slaughtering in his area of responsibility. So, outraged by the Department of Agriculture ‘s removal of Mr Mackie, the full staff of the Hamilton Pastoral Research Station and Regional Veterinary Laboratory signed a petition describing his removal without notice as ‘an extraordinary decision’.
Is this another attempt to cover up illegal activities in the meat industry? I ask: Who made this extraordinary decision- the Director of Agriculture, Dr Wishart; or the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Smith, in an attempt to cover up for his Liberal Party colleagues? Is it a fact that State Government meat inspectors have been precluded from some areas of operations by the Victorian Minister for Agriculture as the result of pressure from exporters and others over recent weeks? These cases of illegal slaughtering, either for export or for domestic consumption, are not the end to this most serious situation in the meat industry. Export licences for the profitable United States market are granted on the basis of credits earned from exporting to other markets. I believe that a considerable amount of favouritism is being exercised by the Minister for Primary Industry in the granting of United States export licences and export orders to companies which have not earned sufficient credits. For example, I cite the granting of an United States export contract to a Mr Whitaker of Wales Meats, to operate out of an Alice Springs abattoir, just recently.
Is it a fact that most of the best meat from this area is transported to Adelaide for killing and that the bulk of the meat left to be killed at the Alice Springs abattoirs consists of scrubbers? Is it the case that the Wales Meat company is being investigated by the Australian Taxation Office? Is it the case that Mr Whitaker is a personal friend of Mr Sinclair? Further, was Mr Sinclair in any way responsible for the granting to Norwest an extra quota worth $1.5m, for export to the United States of America? It is a fact that Norwest had not earned the credits necessary to obtain the extra quota?
I believe these matters I have raised to be of sufficient importance for a royal commission into the Australian meat industry in the interests of producers, consumers and legitimate operators. The matter to which I have drawn the Senate’s attention is nowhere near the complete picture. Malpractices which place the meat export industry in jeopardy must be eliminated forthwith. Hiding these malpractices may serve short-term purposes but ultimately threaten the basic stability of our overseas markets.
On 1 March 1978 Mr Sinclair outlined the Government’s policy to the Rural Press Club. He said that the Government was attempting to expand current markets and to develop newer markets in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and eastern Europe. However, the existence of illegal operations is eroding this market extension. Only a royal commission will be able to get to the facts on these illegal operations and clean up the industry. This is a task demanding urgent attention, free from cover-ups and favouritism, and demanding full public disclosure.
- Mr President, would it be possible for the honourable senator to table the document from which he read?
– Yes, certainly.
– Thank you, Senator.
– I rise to set the record straight on an issue which was raised in the Senate last Thursday. In recent times there has been some comment about the use and abuse of parliamentary privilege. I believe that there was an abuse of parliamentary privilege last Thursday when Senator Georges addressed the Senate and made certain statements which were in no way founded in fact. His speech was designed primarily to defend the position of one Mr Bill Wood, who was an Australian Labor Party candidate at the last State election. It is claimed by the Labor Party that Mr Wood has since been victimised. I do not intend to canvass Mr Wood’s position because that has been spoken about here by other speakers. I do intend to take up a statement by Senator Georges in his speech which was com.peltely untrue and on which the record ought to be set straight.
At present in Queensland there is a campaign, involving quite innocent people, which is aimed at the State Government and is not based on fact. This campaign is on behalf of Mr Bill Wood, disregards the facts and does great harm to the reputations of innocent people. In the course of this campaign supporters of Mr Wood have seen fit to make quite serious allegations about the State Government and other former members of the State Parliament. Senator Georges here last Thursday made certain statements which followed a line which has been running for some time in Queensland. I understand that the statements were reported in the Courier-Mail last Friday, 3 March. Being part of the public record, they ought to be set straight.
I quote from a section of Senator Georges’ speech, recorded on page 341 of Senate Hansard of 2 March 1978. He referred to one Mr David Byrne, who had been the Liberal member for the electorate of Belmont from 1974 to 1977. He lost his seat in the November 1977 State election. When talking about the fact that Mr Wood was out of a job and would not be reappointed to a job in the Department of Education, which he required, Senator Georges said:
This did not happen to Mr David Byrne a defeated Liberal candidate at the last election. He was employed as a lecturer in the Police Academy. There was no advertising for the position. As far as can be ascertained there was no vacancy prior to the election. Yet he got the job. There is no wasting time for a supporter of the Queensland Government. He can be squeezed into the Public Service somehow.
That statement is just untrue. I rise to set the record straight on this matter. In fact, the position which Mr Byrne filled was advertised. I have a copy of the advertisement which appeared on page 2 of the Courier-Mail of 12 November 1977. I understand that it was repeated in the edition of 19 November 1977. The State election in Queensland was held on 12 November. When the decision was made to advertise the vacancy no doubt it was not known that Mr Byrne would be an applicant for a job subsequent to his losing his seat. This advertisement shows that the Queensland Police Academy required lecturers for academic appointments, including lecturers in senior English, in senior English and modern history and in accountancy and social mathematics.
Mr Byrne prior to his entry to Parliament was a senior master at a Brisbane private school, where he specialised in English and history. He is an arts graduate and has a post-graduate diploma. Therefore, he was obviously qualified to put himself forward for this job. He is a registered teacher and was more than adequately qualified for the position when he lost his seat in
Parliament. The advertisement shows that the closing date for applications was 25 November 1977. I am informed that Mr Byrne’s application, forwarded in response to this advertisement, was dated 22 November and was received by the Police Department at 9.30 a.m. on 24 November. So there were indeed several known vacancies before the State election. They were advertised in the newspaper on the day of the State election, which I suggest was totally coincidental. They were advertised again a week later, and applications closed some 13 days after the appearance of the original advertisement.
Senator Georges’ statement that there was no advertising of the position and no vacancy prior to the election is just untrue. It is disappointing that an honourable senator would make statements like that without making any attempt to find our whether they were true. I suggest to Senator Georges that all he had to do was to lift the telephone and call the Commisioner’s office to find out the position. The allegation was loose and unfounded and seriously imputes the reputation of the Queensland State Government, Mr David Byrne and the Queensland Police Commissioner. I believe the record ought to be set straight. I seek the indulgence of the Senate to table for the record a photocopy of the advertisement which appeared in the Courier-Mail.
– Other things have happened in Queensland in relation to other State members of Parliament which I think ought to be referred to at this stage because usually Mr Byrne is referred to in the same breath as Mr Colin Lamont and Mr Dennis Young, also former Liberal members of the State Parliament who lost their seats and have since obtained other jobs. There was a program on This Day Tonight in Queensland- I am sorry I cannot cite the date, but I know it was in the week before Parliament resumed so I could find out the datewhich related to Mr Wood and made the statement that Messrs Byrne, Lamont and Young had achieved high government appointments after their defeat at the election, although Mr Wood could not get the position he wanted.
The record ought to be set straight. There are reasons why this allegation was particularly damaging. Mr Young, prior to entering Parliament, was a member of the Juvenile Aid Bureau of the Queensland Police Force. Since leaving Parliament he has rejoined the Juvenile Aid Bureau of the Queensland Police Force. However, it ought to be noted that, far from this being a top government job, Mr Young returned to work at the Queensland Police Force in the Juvenile Aid Bureau without any recognition of his service prior to his election to the State Parliament in 1974. When he entered the Parliament he was a constable in the State Police Force. When he left Parliament he returned to being a constable in the State Police Force. He has been reappointed on the same terms and conditions as a new recruit, which hardly constitutes a toppaying government job.
In fact, Mr Young has received no preferential treatment at all. He certainly has gone back into the Queensland Police Force and into a job in which he was widely recognised as being very successful, the Juvenile Aid Bureau being one of the very highly regarded sections of the Queensland Police Force. To suggest that he received any advantage in that appointment is quite unfair to Mr Young. In fact, he went in without the advantages which he had when he left the job in order to go into Parliament.
There is particular concern relating to the position of Mr Lamont. Mr Lamont is now the Executive Director of the Queensland Deaf Society. He was appointed to that position following the death of the Society’s previous director. The Deaf Society advertised the position during October 1977 and it had not been filled by the time Mr Lamont was defeated in the November Queensland State election. The suggestion has been made that this is some sort of government position and that government influence was brought to bear in order to have Mr Lamont appointed to it. This allegation has been extremely damaging to the Deaf Society and the record should be set straight. Mr Lamont has been president of the Australian Deafness Council in Queensland for the past two years. He is himself deaf as a result of a bomb explosion which occurred when he was in the police force in Hong Kong. His extensive work for the handicapped in the State is very much valued by those concerned.
The Deaf Society is a private charitable organisation, run by a private board in Queensland, elected annually by the deaf community and other Society members at a public meeting. Appointments such as Mr Lamont ‘s are made by that board without reference to government. No representative of the government is a member of the Board. Mr Lamont ‘s appointment is therefore not influenced by the Government. He does not hold a government position. However, the Queensland Deaf Society, which is a charitable organisation, has been damaged by allegations that the Queensland State Government can determine who will be appointed as its State director. In fact, Mr Lamont, because of his experience before entering parliament and during his time in parliament, was admirably suited for the job. The Deaf Society, which has no connection with the Government at all, made a completely independent judgment in appointing him. However, because of the allegation that there was some sort of government influence and that this is some sort of government job, an organisation which is entirely a charitable body feels that it has been disadvantaged in the eyes of the Queensland public. That is why I have raised the matter. The record ought to be set straight. While people may feel that they have a case for Mr Wood- which is a debatable case- they ought not to involve innocent people like Mr Lamont and Mr Young. They ought to think before they damage organisations such as the Queensland Deaf Society.
– I call Senator Georges.
– With all due respect, Mr President, I rang early this morning to inform you of my wish to speak tonight and I think I was the first to do so. I yielded to Senator Primmer, but with all due respect to Senator Martin and her complaint I wish to deal with a matter which a Minister is waiting to hear. I am not being critical of you, Mr President, but I feel that there should be a little more balance in the way the Senate is running tonight.
– As you said, you were the first to advise that you intended to speak tonight. I thought that the order of speakers had been rearranged. I will give you the call now. I call Senator Mulvihill.
– Thank you, Mr President. I rise at the request of the New South Wales Trades and Labour Council and the secretary of the Liquor Trades Union, Mr John Morris, to seek ministerial mediation of a long-standing industrial impasse that seems to be plaguing the KingsfordSmith international airport. I might say as a preface that last year with the aid of Senator Bishop and Senator Durack, who represented Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street), after a long campaign we were able to effect long-overdue industrial reforms in another area of that airport. The Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) and Mr Street, either by letter or in discussions with me afterwards, assured me that they felt that future tenders at the airport would usher in a higher degree of industrial harmony. In the light of that assurance I point out that well over four months ago a minor dispute occurred in the catering service. That dispute was inescapable. Olims Traveller Services Limited had dismissed a casual employee, the company having asserted that he was drinking on duty. It was discovered subsequently that this was not the case, but as he was a casual employee the company then claimed that as it had made certain adjustments to staffing he had become redundant and that was it. There was a normal industrial reaction. The members of the Liquor Trades Union met and carried a motion supporting his reinstatement. They decided to stay out on strike for a few days while negotiations were undertaken to have the man reinstated. That is where the matter went wrong.
A Mr Walsh, acting for Mr Hood of Olims Traveller Services Limited, then segregated one section of the casual staff where there were language difficulties and intimidated those employees into going back to work. The situation then was that one group of people had returned to work and additional labour had been recruited. The Liquor Trades Union, which had been a party to the original decision to stop work, in order that production would not be impaired sought to have a conciliation commissioner mediate. That is an important point. When the dispute first arose it would have been open to Olims to go before a conciliation commissioner and justify its stand on the basis of the man’s capabilities. I understand that, as happens on many occasions, this firm had submitted a tender for the concession but found that its calculations were wrong, as a result of which it may have been in financial difficulties had the figures in the tender not been amended. This firm has been criticised about the excessive tariffs that it applies to meals and other services, but that is not of importance in this issue.
The prime point is that the unions sought to go through the normal conciliation processes and took the dispute before Mr Commissioner Brack. The company took the easy way out. It argued that the dispute was confined to Sydney, that it was not interstate in character and, therefore, that it was beyond the jurisdiction of the conciliation commissioner. The company won a technical victory but the situation has gone on and festered. As I said to one Government supporter tonight, the more serious aspect of the matter is the poisoned industrial relations atmosphere that has resulted. The dispute involves people of a number of ethnic groups as well as Australian- . >rn people and some British migrants, and a .”al devil’s brew of hostility is being created. Because of the failure of the firm to go before a conciliation commissioner reprisals are being contemplated. It is a simple thing to have another union hold up supplies of liquor and food. I know that this could lead to all sorts of collision courses with certain other legislation but, being fully aware of that, Mr Barry Unsworth, the Assistant Secretary of the State Trades and Labour Council, within the last three days sought to ring Mr Hood, who is in charge of Olims, to arrange a conference. He was told quite blandly that Mr Hood was not in. He asked when he could see him and was told by the staff that they did not know. He asked whether this applied only to him or whether Mr Hood was just busy for the next week. He was told that it applied only to him, that Mr Hood did not want to talk to him.
The Sydney Trades and Labour Council Disputes Committee is meeting tomorrow. I appeal through Senator Durack to his colleague Mr Street, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, and, if necessary, to Mr Nixon, the Minister for Transport, who has responsibility for awarding the franchise. Senator Durack received his share of flak, as did Senator Bishop and myself, when we were dealing with the James Richardson Wholesale Co. Pty Ltd which previously operated the concession. On that occasion when we spoke of a gross distortion of wages paid by that firm we all received lawyers letters, which we disregarded. We were vindicated in what we said. Mr Street or Mr Nixon should tell this firm that it is not going the right way about achieving industrial harmony. In saying that I am not passing judgment on the original cause of the dispute. I have in my hand a copy of a news release, No. 12 of 1978, issued from Mr Street’s office. I point out that this deals with the birth of the Industrial Relations Bureau and its opening operations.
I will wind up by saying that the situation at the airport is not an area in which one would find what one could define as militant trade unionism, although I do not regard that as a vice. I make the point that it does appear to me that if one is meek one does not receive a fair appraisal of one’s problem. This firm should learn something from the Richardson case in which the present Government, largely at the persistence of Senator Bishop and myself, had the franchise taken from the company. I think that Olims has to be told. It submitted a tender, and it realises what it is all about. It has a right to confer within the next 48 hours with the Liquor Trades Union to achieve a more harmonious relationship. In this time of economic fluctuations, probably nobody would argue about the number of people employed, but we do not want to go back to the 1 9th century master and servant concept with the managing director cracking the whip and everybody in a gigantic circus ring jumping through a wall of flame. I know that that is not the attitude of the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) and I hope that it is not the attitude of other Ministers. Speaking for senior officials of the Labour Council and the Liquor Trades Union, I should say that that would not be good enough. The initial issue was not very important, and I believe that discussions should be held, preferably before a conciliation commissioner, to return harmony to the industry. There has been a lot of talk about the acceptance of migrants, and in this case one of the men involved is from one ethnic community and another is from another ethnic community. That provides an added incentive to settle this matter and reach industrial maturity, and it is on that basis that I make an appeal to the Attorney-General.
-I need to enter the debate tonight to answer what Senator Martin has said, and perhaps I ought to deal firstly with the misuse of privilege. I do not take lightly an accusation of misusing privilege. I may accept that my information was in error, and I think Senator Martin has proved that, but misuse of privilege is a charge than can be directed against the person whom Senator Martin defended tonight as being an innocent victim of statements that 1 made here under privilege. If I recall correctly, it was the same Mr Byrne who used a police report to mount a scurrilous attack against Senator Colston at the time that Senator Colston had been nominated to fill a vacancy in this place.
– That does not excuse your not checking the facts.
– If we are talking about a misuse of privilege, I consider that on that occasion Mr Byrne’s action was a gross misuse of privilege. What I said under privilege last Thursday night was that Mr Byrne had been appointed to a position in the Police Academy, having been defeated at the previous State election. Unlike Mr Bill Wood and other Labor Party men who had been defeated, he quickly obtained a job in the Public Service. Had Mr Byrne been a defeated Labor candidate his application for a job in the Police Academy would have been subject to the consent of the Executive. At Mr BjelkePetersen’s direction, an application for Public Service appointment from a member of the Labor Party who has been defeated at an election is a matter for the Executive.
– What about Mr Wilcox? He went straight back to his job as deputy principal of Salisbury state high school.
-Manfred Cross would bear witness to this and so would Senator Colston.
– So would Mr Young.
-So would Mr Bill Wood. Is the honourable senator justifying that action?
– I have made my position clear, but you are being selective. You do not mention Mr Wilcox, who went straight back into his position.
-Mr Wilcox’s case is not known to me, but I will accept that.
– He was the Labor candidate for Salisbury.
– Yes. Is the honourable senator saying that the case of Mr Bill Wood is debatable when, having been appointed by the Education Department to a job at a school, he was subsequently dismissed at the direction of the Executive? Is the honourable senator saying that that action by the Premier of Queensland is supportable? What is the honourable senator saying?
– Do not put words into my mouth. I am saying that you did not check the facts before you made statements about Mr Byrne.
– I am prepared to accept that. I will accept for the moment that I could have been in error. In fact, I will say that I was in error regarding the case of Mr Byrne and the job at the Police Academy. I apologise for that. The information I had was that the case of Mr Byrne was the same as the case of the gentleman who was appointed in north Queensland. The honourable senator did not mention that case. I refer to the Secretary of the National Party being appointed to a job which was not advertised and for which a vacancy did not exist. The clear lines of that appointment were these: The person concerned was to be a candidate at the next State election and the job would facilitate his movement around the electorate of Cook. The honourable senator did not mention that one.
– In that case you have information I do not have. I do not know anything about that.
– The honourable senator should have sought out that information as well to make her case against me even more substantial than it has been. The honourable senator has produced evidence here that I was in error regarding Mr Byrne. I accept the error. I apologise for it. But it cannot be claimed that I was in breach of the privilege of this place. The honourable senator has raised a certain matter. I have apologised.
– I said that you used the privilege of this place in order to make statements that were not true.
-Many of us in this place make statements based on information which we receive. The honourable senator said that I should have telephoned the Commissioner and checked on the information. I received information together with a lot of other information. The honourable senator has proved a section of my information to be not correct. I accept that, but I do not accept that I misused privilege. The misuse of privilege is a serious charge. I shall be more careful in the future when I use information of this sort.
The honourable senator has not in any way altered the true situation in Queensland. Prejudice is directed towards defeated members of the Labor Party. There is clear evidence of that. If I should have been wrong in the case of Mr Byrne, it does not mean that the record has been corrected in regard to the unsupported prejudice and injustice which is levelled against these people. I would have thought that Senator Martin in her comments would have supported me in that direction as well as supporting the right of Mr Byrne to be re-employed. I do not say that he ought not to be re-employed. I have no case against Mr Byrne which would justify his being treated the same as Bill Wood and others have been treated. I am not saying that. I merely brought down a case. In part I was incorrect. Nevertheless, Mr Byrne is employed, Mr Young is employed and Mr Lamont is employed.
– Not by the Government.
– No, not necessarily; nevertheless, they are employed and no one questions that. We are questioning the fact that other people have been denied employment; and Bill Wood is one case in particular.
– Bill Wilcox is one who has not been denied re-employment.
– Bill Wilcox has not been denied re-employment, but we still have to consider Bill Wood and the treatment that was suffered by Sinclair in Queensland. I am not trying to escape my error. I am merely saying to Senator Martin that she should not add to the charge of error on my part a charge that I misused privilege. I object to that. I have said before on a number of occasions that I believe privilege exists for a particular reason. It should not be misused. It exists to protect any senator or honourable member who likes to give information in the Parliament. Words do not come easily to me. Let me put it this way: Privilege is given to members of Parliament to protect them from the powerful whom they seek to accuse.
– And it carries certain responsibilities.
– It carries great responsibilities. That is why I take great objection to what Senator Martin said here tonight. I apologise for the misinformation concerning the vacancy and the advertisement. I place that on record.
– It had not been my intention to enter the debate tonight in relation to certain events in Queensland and I do not intend to do so in great detail. But I feel that I should make a few remarks at the outset about the case of Bill Wood. I have known Bill Wood for a long time. Many of my colleagues are well aware of that and are probably wondering why I have not made a comment in the Senate so far about what happened to him in Queensland. There are very good reasons for my not doing so. I do not wish to canvass those reasons tonight. I announce, however, that I shall mention his case in full and when I do so the reasons why I have not mentioned the matter before will become quite evident.
Some misleading comments have been made from my left tonight about a man called Bill Wilcox. He was a candidate for the Australian Labor Party in the State seat of Salisbury at the last Queensland election. It is said that he got his job back. The difference between Bill Wilcox and Bill Wood is that one stood at a State election and the other stood at a House of Representatives election. The person who stood at the House of Representatives election- Bill Woodhad to resign because of the requirements of the Constitution. Section 44 of the Constitution obliged him to resign. Having resigned to contest the election he was without a job. Bill Wilcox stood for a State seat and did not have those constraints placed upon him. He did not have to resign. Once he became an unsuccessful candidate he was still employed by the State Government. There was no question about that man getting his job back. There was a question about Bill Wood getting his job back. What has been meted out to Bill Wood is really an indictment of the Queensland Government. I intend to pursue the matter further in this place as part of a major speech relating to public servants having to resign if they wish to contest a Federal election. My reasons for not mentioning the matter in the Parliament before tonight will become evident at that stage.
Tonight I wish to raise two matters relating to social security payments in Queensland. Many of us in the parliamentary sphere find that we have constituents coming to us with problems relating to social security payments. If it were not for our staff, on many occasions we just would not be able to cope. Quite often our staff are able to handle those matters which are straightforward and shield us from the excessive work load which has developed because many people are not receiving payments or are having difficulty with social security benefits. I become involved with the more complex matters in my office. With some of those complex matters I go to various lengths to try to obtain justice for people. Sometimes I am not successful. Sometimes in reviewing a case I might think that it has been dealt with according to law, that the person has been looked after properly or that the case has been considered properly and that nothing further should be done.
The two cases which I shall mention tonight, although specific cases, bring out matters which are of general importance. The first case concerns a man who received the first news that he was not to receive unemployment benefit from the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. I am not sure why he received a note from the Social Security Appeals Tribunal first and a note from the Department of Social Security second. But that is the way it happened. He came to me after receiving both these letters. The Social Security Appeals Tribunal said, in effect, that because he had moved to a place of low employment he was not eligible to receive the unemployment benefit. Some time later this man received a letter from the Department of Social Security which said a similar thing; that is, that he had moved to an area of very poor employment prospects and therefore he could not receive any unemployment benefit.
It was after receiving those two letters that the man came and put a case to me. In some respects it was quite a poignant case. The man had been living very close to the Brisbane area and went to a seaside resort on what we in Brisbane call the north coast. It is about 80 or 90 kilometres north of Brisbane. At first blush one would say that the man did move from an area where there were reasonable employment prospects, although that is debatable now even in Brisbane, to an area where certainly there are poor employment prospects. But he had a good reason for moving. I would like to read to the Senate what he said in his appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal about the decision not to pay him the unemployment benefit. He said:
I had my unemployment benefit terminated because I left Brisbane and went to Boreen Point. I think it is not understood that because of my medical condition, it was necessary for me to do so. When I was working at Wacol I was living with my brother but he then shifted to Boreen Point.
It was necessary for me to go to Boreen Point with Paul because I am an alcoholic and I need family support and assistance with my problem. I could not stay with my elder brother in Brisbane because he told me to get out of his house about two years ago.
If I had stayed in Brisbane without any family support or assistance with my problem, I am sure that my alcoholic disability would have been made much worse. When I went to Boreen Point, I was willing to take any work that was available. I emphasised that it was necessary for me to be with my brother and did not move to that area because there were low employment prospects there. I was genuinely seeking work at Boreen Point.
Because I have not received any unemployment benefits since October -
This appeal was made in January this year- and have had no work since then, I have now come to Brisbane to seek work. I am living with my elder brother, even though relations between the two of us are very strained.
Relations were strained because this person was an alcoholic. He did not fit into the family well because of his problem and his brother just did not want to have him in the house. It was for this reason that he went with his brother, who was more sympathetic to his problem, to the north coast. He went so that he would have family support. I expected that the Social Security Appeals Tribunal would look into this matter carefully. The Tribunal may have done so but I expected that the result from the Tribunal would be a favourable one. The Tribunal wrote a letter dated 23 February 1978 in which it set out its findings. It stated in part:
The Tribunal has given . . . appeal further consideration but is not able to recommend grant of Unemployment Benefit on this claim.
The letter went on to state:
The appeal has now been referred for the consideration of the Director of Social Security who is the final review authority under Section 1 5 of the Social Services Act.
I do not know whether the Director of Social Security has looked at this case. It seems to me that this is a most unsympathetic decision in respect to a man who is prepared to work and who is able to work. He has overcome this problem of alcoholism provided that he has family support. He is able to work but he has to move to seek the support of his family and because of that he is denied the unemployment benefit. I ask that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) give this case further consideration to ascertain whether the points that I have raised and the points that were raised in the appeal to the Tribunal can be taken into account.
The second case is also a rather peculiar one and, I think, raises an important matter. We know that after the present Government came to power it brought in certain regulations in relation to what happens if one leaves a job of one’s own choice. Basically, if one leaves a job of one’s own free will, one must wait six weeks before unemployment benefit is payable. In a case which was brought to my attention, two people left Australia on 12 December 1 975, at which time of course the new regulations could not have been made, or new guidelines established, in relation to leaving one’s job and thus being ineligible until six weeks had passed for unemployment benefit. While these people were overseas they taught in Iran. They had signed a contract to work there for 12 months, but because of government policy there- I believe it was a decision that only nationals should teach in that country- the contract was terminated after 10 months. The two people concerned then returned to Australia. They could not immediately find teaching positions in Queensland and applied for unemployment benefit.
I was astounded that, although they had left in 1975, they were denied unemployment benefit for the first six weeks, on the ground that they had voluntarily terminated their employment to go overseas. They subsequently wrote to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal and received a reply which, in part, read:
The Social Services Act provides for the postponement of unemployment benefit in those cases where the claimant is considered to be voluntarily unemployed without good and sufficient reason. In such cases it is government policy to postpone payment for a period of six weeks. A person who leaves a job of his own accord to travel overseas and subsequently claims unemployment benefit on his return to Australia is not absolved from these postponement provisions.
It mentions the person’s name and says that he- left a position of his own accord in December 1 974 -
I believe that should read December 1 975- in order to travel.
It was not quite in order to travel. The person concerned went overseas to travel and work. The reply also stated:
In these circumstances the Tribunal agrees with the decision to postpone payment of unemployment benefit for a period of six weeks.
I doubt that the Minister could tonight give me an answer on this case, but it seems to me that if a person left Australia in 1975- about the time of the election- and before any decision had been made by the Government to provide for a sixweek waiting period before people who left a job of their own accord could obtain unemployment benefit, it is rather unfair that they should now have to wait for that period because of that decision in 1975. I leave these two cases with the Minister in the hope that they could be investigated.
- Senator Colston was good enough to give me the papers relating to the two cases that he has mentioned. I will see that the Director-General reviews the decision of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, as referred to in its letter of 23 February, concerning the first case, and ensure that an early answer is provided. I will have his remarks on the second case also reviewed and studied by the DirectorGeneral.
– Speaking on behalf of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), I indicate that I have noted the comments of Senator Primmer. Indeed, in his suggestion of impropriety, he cast a fairly wide net. I shall refer the matter to the Minister for Primary Industry.
– I thank Senator Mulvihill for giving me some notice about a black ban on Olims Travellers’ Services Ltd at the Sydney International Airport. I have obtained some information from the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street), whom I represent, and it appears that the matter was referred to Commissioner Brack. This dispute about the dismissal of an employee, which has been canvassed by Senator Mulvihill, came within the terms of the existing award. I take it that the point about the matter not giving rise to an interstate dispute was made in order to find a new jurisdiction and to have it dealt with afresh. That being the case it is not easy to see what steps can be taken by the Minister, or, indeed, by anyone. There is an award. The matter has been referred to the arbitration process and the decision has been found to be in accordance with the award. So, as Senator Mulvihill has mentioned, there is certainly a continuing problem.
I understand that a conference will be held tomorrow at which representatives of the union and the Trades and Labour Council as well as the employer will be present. Hopefully some resolution may come from that. At least the parties are continuing to talk to each other. I hope this matter will not prove to be as lengthy a saga as the last incident at Sydney International Airport with which Senator Mulvihill, myself and many others were concerned. However, I will draw Senator Mulvihill ‘s remarks to the attention of the Minister. Maybe the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) should be alerted also because, as Senator Mulvihill says, he should have some regard to problems concerning business carried on by tenants of the Commonwealth at the Airport. I think the problem is a legal one and, for the reasons that I have mentioned, I do not think that Ministers can wave magic wands and resolve it. I really think that the best way of resolving the matter is for the parties to keep talking with each other. I am glad to see that they will do so tomorrow.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 1 1.28 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
Have representations been made to the Minister this year by a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate concerning the delays being experienced in the issuing of Social Security cheques in the Mount Isa area; if so, what were the results of those representations?
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
Yes, representations have been received concerning delays experienced in the issue of Social Security cheques in the Mount Isa area. In particular, my colleague the Honourable Robert C. Katter, M.P., member for Kennedy, has made representations regarding the Mount Isa area. I am advised that the work in the Mount Isa office is now completely up to date. Claims are being dealt with promptly by the staff and payments are being processed without delay. Unavoidable problems occur in some instances because of the non-receipt of forms owing to the size of the region and infrequent transport services.
The staffing of the Mount Isa office is considered adequate for its present load and a small amount of overtime is necessary to deal with the seasonal peak of new claims which occurs about this time of the year. It is intended to minimise overtime by placing an additional officer on the staff on a temporary basis. A senior officer from the Brisbane office of my Department visited Mount Isa to investigate delays and to assist in bringing the office up to date. Whilst in the area he had discussions with Mr Katter and Senator Colston.
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 28 February 1 978:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 23 February 1 978:
– The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 7 March 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1978/19780307_senate_31_s76/>.