31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 2.15 p.m.. and read prayers.
– Before questions are called on, I seek the opportunity to apologise to the Senate in general and to Senator Button in particular for an answer which I gave yesterday which was not quite correct. Honourable senators will recall that Senator Button asked me a question about the building of a satellite communications station at Learmonth on the Northwest Cape in Western Australia. I was working from a brief which I have now discovered to be incorrect. The Minister for Defence has given me advice- unfortunately it was not the Minister for Defence whose advice I was working from yesterdayabout a facility at North-West Cape. What I said yesterday about the establishment of a solar observatory at the Cape was correct. However, I am now advised that the article in the Australian Financial Review would have been referring to a satellite communication terminal within the joint naval communication station at North-West Cape. A satellite terminal was in operation at the station until late 1973. A terminal of the same type was again installed late in 1 977 and the contracts referred to in the article were with companies manufacturing part of this equipment. The terminal carries out functions previously performed by other means. Its installation does not represent a significant expansion to the capability of the station. The Australian Government was fully aware of the situation and gave approval for the re-installation of a satellite terminal at North-West Cape.
-I ask the Minister for Science: Is the United States delegation that came to Australia a few days ago to study the implementation of the InterScan system still in Australia? If not, will the Minister indicate whether the Parliament will be provided with a report on the details of the discussions that have taken place and the extent to which the Government is prepared to allow overseas manufacturers to be involved in the development of the InterScan system?
-The honourable senator’s question might well be directed to the Minister for Productivity. I believe that the development of InterScan will be taking place under his arrangements. According to the brief that I had yesterday, the group from America was still in Australia and there were encouraging signs that the negotiations between the commercial groups involved and the Australian Government might give us greater access to the American market where there are certain provisions for the purchase of equipment that demand that a large percentage be of American manufacture. Apparently there is a possibility that this can be overcome by further development in partnership between the United States and Australia. I acknowledge the honourable senator’s interest in ensuring that Australia’s commercial interests are well preserved and represented. The best that I can offer him is an attempt to get an answer as soon as possible from the Minister for Productivity.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development and I ask: What countries are mining and exporting uranium? What countries have known reserves of uranium but are not yet mining it? What safeguards are being imposed by countries at present exporting uranium?
– As to the first two parts of the questions, I am able to give specific answers now. As to the third part of the question, I may need to seek detailed information because the safeguards would vary as between countries and I want to be absolutely precise. In relation to the countries that are mining and exporting uranium, the advice I have in my brief is that Australia, Canada, France, Gabon, Niger, South Africa and the United States of America are in that category. As to the countries with known deposits of uranium, that is difficult to answer because I suppose that uranium in some of its traces occurs throughout the world. However, if the honourable senator’s question relates to mineable and exportable quantities, the countries are Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Central African Empire, Denmarkthat is, Greenland- Finland, Gabon, the Federal Republic of Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Niger, the Philippines, Portugal, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United States of America, Yugoslavia, Zaire and France. That is not necessarily an exclusive list because the answer depends upon the quantities involved. We do not have too much information about the Eastern European countries, but we understand that Czechoslovakia both mines and exports uranium and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has known quantities of workable uranium. As to the third part of the question, because I want to be accurate I will seek the answer and let the honourable senator know.
– I address my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs and refer to the question I asked yesterday about the establishment of a United States defence satellite communications system in the north of Western Australia. I now ask the Minister: Is not this a matter which concerns the national sovereignty of this country and a matter which should appropriately have been reported by the Government to this Parliament? Is it right that Australian citizens should first find out about the establishment of such a satellite communications system by reference to a United States congressional committee rather than from a statement made in the Australian Parliament?
-I should imagine that the statement made at the congressional hearings was not beaten up into the great issue into which the honourable senator has beaten it here. I should imagine it was put down merely as something that has happened. As I said when I answered the earlier question, a similar facility operated there before. As I understand it, it ceased to operate and has been reactivated and reinstalled. I fail to see that that is a derogation of sovereignty or even a matter to get excited about.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and relates to the movement of tourists and other travellers between Australia and South Africa. Is it true that in 1977 the Government rejected a request by Australia’s national airline, Qantas, to introduce cheap fares to South Africa on the grounds that it did not want to encourage tourism to a country that openly practised apartheid? Is it also true that the Government has recently allowed South Africa’s national airline, South African Airways, to introduce cut price air fares between Sydney and Johannesburg? What is the rationale for the apparent inconsistency of these two decisions? Is it the Government’s intention to discourage tourism to South Africa as part of its public campaign against racial segregation and victimisation in that country?
-I do have some briefing material on the question of air services to South Africa. My advice is that the Minister received a request in early 1977- that is last year-from Qantas Airways Ltd to consider the possibility of introducing excursion fares on the Indian Ocean route. Consideration of the request was still continuing when, for commercial reasons, Qantas suspended its services on the route. I stress to the honourable senator that Qantas’ action was purely on its judgment for commercial reasons and no others, and that there was no Foreign Affairs content in that.
South African Airways, as the sole operator on the route, late last year also submitted proposals for the introduction of an excursion fare on this route. This development meant that the question of air fares had to be considered further in the light of changed circumstances. I should emphasise that the Government was concerned to ensure that any decision made in relation to air services between Australia and South Africa should fully take into account the needs of those members of the community desiring to travel from Mauritius and other points in Africa.
On 30 March of this year the Minister for Transport announced that he had agreed to the proposed introduction of excursion fares for air travel on the Indian Ocean route to Mauritius and to South Africa. The Minister also stated that the introduction of those fares would facilitate lower cost air travel to Mauritius and to countries in Africa. It was one of the few routes on which excursion fares had not been available in the past. The decision was taken following consultation with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in accordance with normal commercial aviation criteria and in the interests of the Australian travelling public. The decision does not imply that the Government’s policy towards South Africa has changed. This policy remains, namely that normal economic relations with that country are to be permitted to continue without avoidable official assistance. I think there were some five parts to the honourable senator’s question, and I think that basically covers them.
– Is the Attorney-General aware of the expressed concern of the Law Society of Tasmania that the Australian Legal Aid Office in Tasmania has no further funds for the current month and no idea of how much more funds it will get for the current year? There is concern about the effect that that will have in frustrating the objectives of the Family Law Act in particular. I also ask the Attorney-General: Does this situation apply in any other State? What sort of funding will be available to the Australian Legal Aid Office for the rest of this year?
– I have received a telegram from the President of the Law Society of Tasmania in regard to the matter which Senator Grimes raised. I have also had some representation this morning from Senator Rae and Senator Walters from Tasmania in regard to the same matter. The position is that legal aid funds are allocated to the private legal profession on a monthly basis of referrals of work up to- this is for Australia as a whole- the value of $1,050,000. There has been difficulty in keeping the referrals all around Australia to that figure, and that is a problem we are facing.
However, as to the position in Tasmania, there was a special drain on the budget in the last month or two because of some major murder trials which were being funded by the Australian Legal Aid Office. That is the reason why there is now a difficult situation and a particular problem in Tasmania. As I said, I have had this matter brought to my attention. I have asked officers of my Department to give immediate attention to it, and I am hoping to get some further advice from them in relation to it as soon as possible. In the meantime, I am assured that the most urgent cases on referral to the central office in Canberra can be met. Of course, it is an unsatisfactory situation, and I am seeing whether anything can be done to alleviate it.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs. It concerns the Kippax Library in the Australian Capital Territory for which the building and physical facilities have been available for some time. Can the Minister indicate why that library is not yet open and when it might open to the public?
– Due to the recent unusually high staff turnover, the number of staff employed by the National Library of Australia at the end of April was 10 below the approved staff ceiling. The Council of the National Library has endorsed a recommendation of the Canberra Public Library Service Advisory Committee that it would not be practical to open the Kippax
Library until the number of staff employed by the Library again reached the approved ceiling. It also recommended that the Kippax Interim Library should not be opened at the expense of existing services. The Public Service Board is assisting the National Library to make special arrangements to fill the vacancies. It is hoped that by July recruitment procedures will allow the Library to maintain the number of staff employed at the full ceiling level. The Library hopes that the maintenance of these procedures will enable it to introduce a 30-hour per week service at the Kippax Interim Library as from Monday, 3 July 1978.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry whether his attention has been drawn to a report that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Ltd has warned New South Wales sugar-cane growers that it will close its three mills at Broadwater, Harwood and Condong if the growers do not agree to take over the mills. In view of the fact that sugar-cane growers are presently experiencing severe economic difficulties and that there is great uncertainty about next year’s International Sugar Agreement prices, will the Minister agree that the threat by CSR to close the mills at this time is like an economic death threat to growers who find themselves in extremely difficult circumstances? If the mills are closed by CSR will the jobs of mill workers, farm hands and others associated with the industry be lost, with consequential grave economic effects on the north coast of New South Wales? Has the Government been approached to make a loan to the growers of half the amount required by CSR? If so, what decision has been made by the Government on the matter? In any event, will the Minister arrange for an appraisal of the working state of the mill plant, particularly the boilers, so that all aspects of the CSR proposal will be known to the concerned growers who are affected?
– The honourable senator has asked me five questions. I can answer them in the following way: Yes; No; I am unaware; No; and I am unaware. The Opposition probably requires better information than that but I make the point that a number of questions are involved and it is difficult to answer them shortly. I have seen the article- I have it before me- concerning the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Ltd and the possibility that it will have to close some of its mills. I understand that the proposition put by
CSR would be a commercial proposition. Undoubtedly it would require a commercial evaluation by the grower groups in New South Wales who are involved and who probably have an interest in maintaining the mills in operation. I imagine that if CSR closed down those mills the jobs of workers in the sugar industry would obviously be at risk. The honourable senator asked whether the Government, has been approached for funds. I am unable to answer that. I do not know of any such approach. The final question was whether the Government may make certain approaches in this matter. I will refer that question to the Minister whom I represent and attempt to obtain an answer later in the day.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Will he consider allowing tax rebates to single parent families for the cost of putting children in child care centres during the hours of the parents’ employment? I ask this question as it seems to be an anomaly that costs for a housekeeper can be claimed as a tax rebate but moneys paid to child care centres cannot.
– I will pass on to the Treasurer, my colleague in another place, the suggestion made by Senator Walters. A rebate is, of course, a matter for Government policy and, therefore, a matter for Cabinet decision. At the moment my advice is that a payment to a child care centre is not conemplated within allowable rebates. As honourable senators will know, under present law a tax rebate of $555 is allowable where a housekeeper is wholly engaged in keeping house for a taxpayer and caring for the taxpayer’s child who is younger than 16 years of age. There is a functional distinction to be drawn between this position and that of the working single parent who puts his or her child in a child care centre during working hours. The question of allowing costs of child minding for particular categories of taxpayers has been examined on a number of occasions in past years. No decision to allow such costs has been taken, not least because it was found that such allowance would inevitably give rise to various problems of equity. In view of that I am bound to say that there is no great hope of child care costs being allowed in the present situation. It may be for the future. Under present law sole parents are entitled to a special tax rebate of up to $388. I have a considerable amount of data on this matter and if Senator Walters so desires I will be happy to give it to her.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Administrative Services. It has been said that a financial sneeze in tha United States ends up as economic influenza in Australia. It seems that security in the United States has created a fear of terrorists syndrome in Australia. Has the Minister seen reports in today’s Press that members of the American Vice-President’s delegation have voiced surprise at the intensity of VIP protection, Australian style, in the post-Hilton bombing era. Press reports described dozens of police and plain clothes security men being on duty yesterday at the Vice-President’s hotel. Others with binoculars lined the roof of Parliament House while colleagues checked under parked cars for bombs. Does it not appear that the whole fear of terrorists syndrome has been over-done here and that the security business has become a new and blossoming industry? Will the Minister note the comments of one of the visiting delegates who said that Mr Fraser was conservative and oldfashioned, that he was concerned about the Soviet presence in the Indian Ocean, the red hand of Moscow and so on, when all this is passe in Washington?
-I am very interested that the honourable senator should make remarks concerning our American visitors and guests. As I recall, during most of my time in the Senate the honourable senator has spent most of his time abusing Americans, both individually and as a nation. He has said some very harsh things about them. I have not seen what some American is alleged to have said about Mr Fraser. What I have seen is what Mr Wran told some Americans. Evidently Mr Wran is a fairly perceptive judge of political affairs in this country because he reportedly told a group of businessmen in San Francisco not to worry about investing in Australia because the Fraser Government was there for at least the next six years. If I were the honourable senator I would not worry overmuch about what some American thinks of Mr Fraser. I would be more worried about what Mr Wran thinks of Mr Hayden. I think that tomorrow in Caucus something ought to be done about that situation.
Opposition senators interjecting-
-Do not get excited, fellows. It is bad for your blood pressure. The honourable senator raised the matter of security precautions for the visit of the Vice-President. As honourable senators would know- we on this side of the House appreciate this factprevention is better than cure. Should something have happened while the Vice-President was here, Senator O ‘Byrne no doubt would have led the wolf pack which would have criticised the Government for not taking proper precautions. The honourable senator cannot have it both ways. If the honourable senator and his colleagues were prepared to say that the Government ought to take no precautions whatsoever and that if the Government followed that course they would not be critical if some untoward events happened, the Government might take some notice of them. The honourable senator should not come in here and have two bob each way. I hope the honourable senator has a very pleasant time in Caucus tomorrow morning.
-I refer the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development to an answer given by the Minister yesterday in the Other place which appears on page 1957 of the House of Representatives Hansard. It relates to protection of the Great Barrier Reef from any commercial activity which might cause it harm. In particular I refer to that part of the Minister’s answer which stated:
Of course, in any decision that might be made there would have to be consultation with the Queensland Government.
As questions of mining involving large corporate interests and vested interests of powerful private persons will no doubt arise, does the Minister anticipate that he will enjoy a much closer rapport with the Queensland Premier and his Government than that which is presently being experienced by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs?
– I am aware of the nature of the question relating to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. I have taken note of the Hansard reference and will refresh my mind. Senator Bonner will know because of his interest in the Reef generally, including its protection and environmental circumstances, particularly the preservation of its ecosystem, that the Commonwealth Government has taken major Steps to ensure the protection of the Reef. The second part of his question seeks an assurance of co-operation between the Queensland Government and the Commonwealth Government. We only hear of occasions when there is some kind of dispute or conflict between governments. Ninetynine times out of 100 there is amity and unity so far as the relationships between the Commonwealth and the States are concerned. I have no doubt in the wide world that in a matter of such considerable concern the Commonwealth and the Queensland governments will work in amity and to a common purpose for the preservation of the Reef. In any case, the Commonwealth is determined that the enduring quality of the Reef shall be preserved.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs whether the Australian Government claims that Christmas Island is Australian territory, even though it is nearly 800 miles closer to the coast of Java than to the coast of Australia? If the Government does claim it is Australian territory, when will the laws of Australia, particularly wage laws, apply to an island which the Government proclaims to be legally part of Australia?
– I will refer the question to the Minister for Home Affairs and see that an answer is given to Senator Walsh.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Northern Territory. Is it a fact that under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act any pastoral lease purchased by an Aboriginal or Aboriginal group can, on application during the currency of the lease, be changed to Aboriginal land at the expiration of the pastoral lease? If such an application is made, does not the subject land become land held under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and, in effect, become completely outside the authority of the Northern Territory Government? Has the Minister any information on the number of applications made to date for conversion of such pastoral leases to Aboriginal land? What is the total land area involved in applications to date? What is the position in relation to pastoral leases held by nonAboriginal lessees on the expiration of their leases?
– If a pastoral lease is held by or on behalf of Aborigines, a traditional land claim may be lodged with the Aboriginal Land Commissioner for land included in the pastoral lease. Section 50 ( 1 ) (a) of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act is relevant. If the claim is successful, Aboriginal land title may be granted pursuant to sections 1 1 and 12 of the Act before the expiration of the pastoral lease. A claim can be successful under the provisions of the Act. Section 74 of the Act permits the application of Northern Territory laws where there is no conflict with the Act. Complementary legislation is being dealt with by the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, consistent with the provisions of section 73 of the Act and the findings of the Joint Parliamentary Select Committee on Aboriginal Land Rights, under the chairmanship of Senator Bonner.
I understsand that seven pastoral leases totalling 21,518 square kilometres have been purchased on behalf of Aboriginal groups. One application to convert a pastoral lease called Utopia’, with an area of 1,963 square kilometres, has been lodged with the Aboriginal Land Commissioner for conversion to Aboriginal freehold land. In March of last year an application to convert a pastoral lease called Daguragu’, which was part of the Wave Hill pastoral lease and has an area of some 3,280 square kilometres, was lodged with the Interim Aboriginal Land Commissioner. However, this application was not processed and a new application has not been re-lodged.
Any pastoral lessee may, under section 48 of the Northern Territory Crown Lands Ordinance, apply between the twentieth and fortieth year through a Land Board process for a new 50-year pastoral lease. There is nothing to prevent the Minister or the Aboriginal Land Commissioner from making submissions to the Land Board.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. It may also require some consideration by the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources. Is the Minister aware of the many suggestions that processing of our mineral resources could be a valuable addition to Australian industry? What progress has been made to encourage the development of such secondary industries? Will the Government take the initiative in convening a conference of interested parties to plan for the success of such indigenous enterprises?
– That is a question in the most general terms because not only has this Government been aware of this matter, but also previous Liberal Parry Governments in the 1950s and 1960s proceeded throughout Australia towards the beneficiation of raw materials in various stages. For example, bauxite was processed through alumina to the metal. As the honourable senator may know, the Government provided sanctions to insist that there should be beneficiation. The honourable senator would also know of the encouragement in processing iron ore to steel and he ought to be aware that in places such as Dampier the processing has been taken to the pelletisation stage as one means of reducing the amount of rough material and dirt that is carted overseas. Copper is also smelted here.
A number of States are interested in the processing of yellowcake for the enrichment of uranium. Indeed, my understanding is that at least one Labor governed State has expressed a continued interest in so doing. The Commonwealth Government would be keen at all times to proceed in such a way. It has constantly under study the means of upgrading our resources. The holding of a conference is a matter of policy. I shall refer it to the Minister in the other place and see whether I can get a reply for the honourable senator.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Health aware of the case of an age pensioner, as cited in the Adelaide Advertiser of 1 7 April, who is residing permanently in a nursing home- I know that this is not an isolated case; there must be many thousands of these people- whose only income is the pension and the special nursing home grant totalling $108.60 a fortnight, which is $14.40 a fortnight short of the nursing home costs? Can the Minister say whether the balance of this payment is the responsibility of the next of kin? Also, can the Minister inform me what happens in the case of a person who has no next of kin and no other source of income?
– The matter of dealing with fees in nursing homes has been of concern to the Government. It will be recalled that the nursing home benefits were increased in each State in October of last year. They were set at a level at that time which, together with the statutory patient contribution, would cover the whole of the fees which would be charged to about 70 per cent of patients in non-government nursing homes. This meant that the rate of benefit for ordinary patients was increased by $19.25 a week in South Australia, and at the same time the benefit for extensive care patients was increased by a further $2 1 a week. The statutory patient contribution is currently $46.90 a week, which would leave a pensioner who is a patient in a nursing home with approximately $7.40 a week from his pension entitlement for personal spending.
As I said, this would cover about 70 per cent of the patients. About 30 per cent of patients are in nursing homes which are in the higher cost bracket, and the fees which I have mentioned would therefore leave a gap for those patients. The person to whom Senator Jessop referred would have a gap, and that gap would need to be covered by either the next of kin or, as I understand it, in some cases by a special arrangement with the nursing home concerned. As I said earlier, we have been concerned that the pension of the majority of patients does cover the nursing home costs and leaves just a few dollars for their personal use. Where a patient is in a nursing home which charges a fee above the statutory fee upon which we have based our support, there is a gap, and it needs to be met either by the family of the patient or by arrangements with the nursing home concerned.
I think it is true to say that with the increases in benefits from 1 October the Government has provided a greater measure of protection to nursing home patients than has been achieved in the past. It is because we believe that nursing home patients require some support from government that we made the arrangements of last October. The gap would need to be covered by the next of kin or family or by special arrangements because the government subsidy is at the level I have mentioned.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs aware that 40 Aborigines were recently expelled by the Yarra Bay Sailing Club in Sydney and that the expulsions were carried out because some Aborigines had taken up a petition protesting about an alleged assault on an Aborigine by an officer of the club? Is the Minister also aware that no appeals, as provided under the constitution of the Yarra Bay Sailing Club, have been allowed? Can the Minister inform the Parliament what action can be taken to rectify what appears to be a blatant act of racial discrimination?
– I am not aware of the matters raised by the honourable senator. As I understand the question he has posed to me, there is a need for the Yarra Bay Sailing Club to make some decisions. If, under its constitution, there is a right of appeal for persons who have any action taken against them, I suggest that that is a first avenue. If the honourable senator is claiming that there has been racial discrimination against the 40 Aborigines concerned, I am sure that the Racial Discrimination Act would provide some basis for reporting that incident to the Office of the Commissioner for Community Relations. I will refer the question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to see whether he has knowledge of the matter and to see whether he has any information which he wishes me to give to Senator Keeffe.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. Will the Minister advise whether at the time Qantas Airways Ltd and TransAustralia Airlines agreed before the Supreme Court of Victoria to a scheme of arrangement for AUS Student Travel Service Pty Ltd, their officers had any knowledge that in attempting to trade out -
– At it again.
– Put a new record on.
– I find it interesting that Opposition senators are so sensitive on this matter. Can the Minister advise whether they had any knowledge that in attempting to trade out, AUS Student Travel planned to operate in breach of the air navigation regulations?
– What is the position in regard to the Young Liberals?
– I hope that Opposition senators will continue to interject. They will provide valuable evidence that they are in support of breaches of air navigation regulations. In particular, all travel agents will be interested to know that honourable senators opposite are interested to have rules which favour one group to the exclusion of others. I take it that that was the substance of the interjection. Otherwise, why would any Opposition senator be sensitive to a question which tries to secure equity in the travel business? I am advised that when Qantas Airways Ltd and Trans-Australia Airlines agreed before the Supreme Court of Victoria to enter into a scheme of arrangement, officers of those airlines were of the opinion that the carriage of AUS Student Travel passengers on their respective services would be in accordance with the air navigation regulations. I stress that it is the policy of the Government to ensure equity throughout the travel agencies for all who practise in that field.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial
Relations seen in today’s Australian Financial Review a letter citing statistics that demonstrate the extent of unemployment amongst women? For example, the figures show that the total unemployment amongst women is 10.4 per cent compared with a 6 per cent male unemployment rate. The figures go through the various categories showing that in every category, including married and unmarried women and so on, the unemployment of women is very much higher than unemployment of men. Do these figures concur with data available to the Government? If so, does the Minister agree that they establish that women are severely disadvantaged in the current unemployment crisis? Will the Government consider taking special measures to combat female unemployment similar to the special steps it has taken to assist unemployed youth?
– I have not seen the article in the Australian Financial Review referred to by Senator Ryan. I do not know whether the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has seen it. I will refer the question to him and endeavour to obtain an early answer for the honourable senator.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Commerce been able to obtain any further information in relation to the delay of some six months which has been experienced by the Commonwealth Government in waiting for any suggestions from the Tasmanian Government as to action which that Government seeks to be taken pursuant to the Callaghan report to develop tourism in Tasmania?
– I have obtained some information now in reference to the question Senator Rae asked me yesterday on this subject. On 9 November the Government announced a range of initiatives for the growth and development of Tasmania as a result of the Callaghan report. Included in these initiatives was a statement:
The Department of Industry and Commerce has been asked to arrange an examination by Commonwealth and State officers of ways in which the tourist industry in Tasmania might be further encouraged and to bring forward as appropriate any particular proposals.
At a meeting on 7 December 1977 between Commonwealth and State tourist officials it was agreed that Tasmania would prepare a paper on specific proposals for assistance to be considered by the Commonwealth. At a meeting of the joint Commonwealth-State working party on the Callaghan report at Hobart on 24 February 1978, Tasmania advised that its submission to the Commonwealth was being compiled and would be forwarded to the Minister for Industry and Commerce. However, I understand that the Minister has not yet received that submission.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, is based upon information that was furnished to Estimates Committee C on Friday, at which she was present, and at which her officers disclosed that the ratio of Vietnamese political refugees to Latin Americans was running as high as six to one. I now ask the Minister: In view of our apparent open-ended commitment in regard to these refugees and in view of further queue jumping which has taken place over the last three days, do we contemplate any emergency curtailment of the situation? Was this subject discussed by Mr MacKellar and the United States Vice-President?
– I do recall a discussion held in the Senate Estimates Committee meeting with regard to the matters raised by Senator Mulvihill. As far as emergency curtailment is concerned, at this stage I am unable to answer on behalf of the Minister. I am not in a position to disclose details of any discussions that may have been held with the American VicePresident yesterday. I shall refer the matter to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs to see whether there is any further information he can give about Latin Americans who seek entry into Australia and whether at this stage there are any other matters upon which he would like to advise.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development. In view of a question asked about drilling for oil et cetera on our Great Barrier Reef, I ask the Minister to point out to the Minister concerned that a lot of nonsense is spoken about the destruction of the reef caused by drilling for oil. Will he point out to the Minister that nature itself is one of the greatest destroyers of the reef?
– It does not drill for oil, though.
– That is the trouble in Victoria. They get so many fogs that they cannot see very clearly. In Queensland we get so much sunshine that we can see so much further ahead. A fall of rain in certain proportions on the reef when it is uncovered will destroy the reef as it did off Mackay- a very beautiful reef- when the area received 58 inches of rain in three days. Will he also point out to the Minister that nature rebuilds and that that reef is as good today as it ever was. Will he draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that a much greater threat hangs over the reef, if oil is going to kill it, from tankers which ply up and down the coast of Queensland. One of those tankers running onto a rock would pose a much greater danger to the Great Barrier Reef than would a spill from oil drilling. Will the Minister give those facts to the Minister concerned so that he will get a proper perspective as to what constitutes a danger to the reef?
– I will transmit to the Minister the information which Senator Wood asserts but I do not know whether the Minister, like the late F. E. Smith, will be either the wiser or the better informed. I am aware, as I think we all are, that nature provides a balance in the ecosystem and that within the biological framework of nature there is constant destruction and constant rebuilding. I am very well aware of the studies that were made recently on starfish and of the findings of that study. Let me put the matter into perspective. The fact is that the Commonwealth is determined that this great natural resource will be preserved in perpetuity. It can do that in a variety of ways. It certainly has the power to do so and it will do so.
I have to acknowledge that deep sea tankers are a potential menace. That fact is demonstrable throughout the world today. One of the sad facts of today is that as we produce more tankers of gigantic size the chance of their breaking their backs, as they have been doing, or going on reefs becomes greater and the possibility of destruction of the marine ecosystem by oil slicks is very real indeed. As Senator Wood would know, Australia is participating both nationally and internationally in an attempt to control these matters. I think he would agree that the main aim of us all, particularly of Senator Wood, coming from Mackay, is to see this great natural resource preserved. Senator Wood and the Government together will work to see that that happens.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and refers generally to the visit yesterday by United States VicePresident Mondale, and Press reports about the subject matter of talks between the Prime Minister and/or other Ministers and the United States Vice-President. The Minister would have noticed that ordinary members of the Parliament have been almost entirely dependent upon Press reports for information concerning the visit and the subject matter of the talks. As an example, a few days ago the Press was saying that the United States Vice-President was here to make sure that we take more Vietnamese refugees. In today’s Press there are reports that the opposite would appear to be the case. I ask: In view of the fact that members of the Parliament, with some few exceptions- I understand only two members of the Opposition- were not invited to talk to the Vice-President, could something be done to improve discussions between the Parliament and representatives of other countries in circumstances such as this important visit? Will the Minister consider the extent to which these visits and talks can be reported upon quickly? I am told that the statement on foreign affairs that the Leader of the Government is putting down today does not include any information on the visit. Will he see to what extent communications can be improved in the future?
-The honourable senator has made a perfectly reasonable request and I will certainly pass it on to my colleagues.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources. In view of the continuing industrial problems in New Zealand’s paper pulp industry, which appear to be no closer to resolution, and that country’s request that Australian interests not extend Australian production, can the Minister advise whether the Government has considered the declining Australian stocks and whether its attitude is towards fostering the new Australian industry or increasing foreign dependence, which is currently being shown to be somewhat unreliable?
-As all honourable senators know, Senator Archer has a deep and continuing interest in the New Zealand-Australian Free Trade Agreement. It would appear that the mantle of former Senator Elliot Lillico has descended upon his shoulders. Last week the honourable senator asked me a number of questions concerning various matters that had arisen at the ministerial conference on NAFTA that was held recently. As I recall it, I answered some of the honourable senator’s questions, which ranged over a number of subjects, including peas and beans, which were being referred to a special panel, and paper pulp. At this stage I cannot add to what I told Senator Archer last week, but I will get in touch with my colleague in the other place to see whether I can get a more detailed answer for him.
-My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In view of the fact that increasing difficulties appear to be occurring in Rhodesia, or Zimbabwe, particularly as a result of the present dispute between Bishop Muzorewa and his colleagues in the interim government, and also in view of the fact that Cuban forces, according to reports, apparently are preparing to intervene inside Zimbabwe, will the Minister ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether, before the sessional period finishes, a statement could be delivered to the Parliament as to the Government’s position on the resolution of this question? I might point out to the Minister that the Government appears to be delightfully vague as to whether it supports or opposes the internal settlement. It is a question which is of great importance to Australia. It is a question in relation to which Australia can bring about some influence. It would seem to be unfortunate if Australia intended not to have any policy whatsoever but merely to rely on the effluxion of events around it before it was dragged into adopting a position.
-I have been looking very quickly through a statement which I am to deliver on behalf of my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs later this day. I see on page 23 that certain matters are alluded to. I suggest to the honourable senator that after that statement is made I could perhaps follow up his question. If what is contained in the statement does not sufficiently answer his question, I will seek further details for him.
– Is the Minister for Administrative Services aware that transport drivers who are required to go to the Adelaide Airport have no transport desk or telephone, unlike those in many other capital city airports? As this causes a great deal of inconvenience to both passengers and drivers, will the Minister give consideration to establishing at the Adelaide Airport a central contact point which has a desk and telephone.
-I think I had a similar request from some honourable senators some time ago. I cannot recall whether it was about Adelaide and reference was made to Brisbane by way of interjection, or whether it was about Brisbane and reference was made to Adelaide by way of interjection. This is a matter of arrangement between the Minister for Transport and me. I shall again seek a resolution of the problem for the honourable senator.
– I ask the Minister for Social Security: Are there any circumstances under which recipients of social security benefits or applicants for social security benefits who live in country areas are able to telephone offices of the Department of Social Security and reverse charges? If there are any such circumstances, what are they?
– In the early part of the question, I was preparing myself to say yes, that there are circumstances under which such people are able to telephone the Department and receive advice which otherwise might have to be given in writing. I am not able to say whether the facility is available to them whereby they may reverse the charges to the Department. I will make inquiries about the matter so that the information I give is accurate.
– Perhaps I should take this opportunity to say that yesterday Senator Colston asked me a question with regard to people who were voluntarily unemployed. I gave him an answer which may not have been as precise as it should have been. I now wish to advise him that where a person becomes voluntarily unemployed without good and sufficient reason his unemployment benefit is postponed for six weeks. The six weeks period normally runs from the date of registration with the Commonwealth Employment Service. In order to assist people who have been in contact with the Commonwealth Employment Service but who have not claimed unemployment benefit, the period that they have been in contact with the CES is taken into account as part of the six weeks period of postponement. However, in all cases, registration with the Commonwealth Employment Service is necessary before payment of unemployment benefit can be approved. This is in accordance with long standing administrative arrangements for the payment of unemployment benefit and also because the CES administers the work test on behalf of the Department of Social Security.
The position in relation to school leavers is that, following the amendments to the Social Services Act last year, unemployment benefit is not payable until six weeks after leaving school or ceasing full time education. Where a school leaver registers with the CES and lodges his claim within six weeks of leaving school, payment commences at the end of the six weeks period. If the school leaver does not register with the CES and make a claim for unemployment benefit within six weeks of leaving school, normal eligibility conditions apply. I have given this further information in response to Senator Colston’s question because it is a matter of general interest and I felt that it should be precisely stated.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing either the Minister for Primary Industry or the Minister for the Northern Territory. The Katherine meatworks is an abattoir situated in the bluetongue endemic area in the Northern Territory. It did not commence the killing season on 1 April. Because of lack of turnoff of cattle, many pastoralists in the area are in poor financial circumstances. With this in mind, can the Minister advise of the present situation at the Katherine meatworks? Has the abattoir commenced killing? Have the management and the meat workers come to an agreement? If not, what is the present situation and when may an agreement be reached?
– I understand that rates of pay to certain meat workers at Katherine in the past have been well above the rates paid to workers in comparable meatworks in northern Australia. The company which owns the Katherine meatworks, being concerned to achieve economic operation, apparently reached an agreement with the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union on wage rates and conditions for the employees based primarily on the federal award. Apparently negotiations extended over 3 lA months before that agreement was reached. Notwithstanding that, workers at Katherine refused to work at those agreed rates. I understand that the company then made some concessions, these were accepted by the workers and the plant commenced on Monday, 8 May, which was yesterday. I think it should be stressed that, in order to get the plant operating, the company had to pay higher rates than those to which the union itself had agreed.
– My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. His attention will have been drawn to an advertisement in the Australian Financial Review announcing a new Peter Clyne service and stating that bankruptcy is a solution not a spectre. The advertisement goes on to state:
The Australian Bankruptcy Clinic can help to get you through the crisis with your dignity, your health, your peace of mind, your assets and your integrity intact.
Does the Government intend to close whatever loopholes may exist which allow bankrupts to retain their assets? If the Government maintains that existing legislation now makes such retention impossible, will it be looking to prosecute for false advertising under the Trade Practices Act?
– The administration of the Bankruptcy Act is in the portfolio of the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs whom I represent. I will pass the question to him for an answer.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. It follows his remarks yesterday about the beef producers consultative group. Is it a fact that the Australian Wool and Meat Producers’ Federation, which claims to represent the largest number of beef cattle and other livestock producers, has indicated to the Minister that it does not favour deferring the holding of the election for the producers consultative group? Is it also a fact that the Cattlemen’s Union of Australia favours holding the election as soon as possible? If that is the case, what are the real reasons for the Minister’s deferring the election for the beef producers consultative group?
– I am not aware of the decisions of the two groups that the honourable senator mentioned. The matter was discussed during the adjournment debate last evening, and the papers I had from the Minister for Primary Industry expressed the situation as well as I am able to at the present time. I do not doubt that the honourable senator has read the report of that debate. I will attempt to obtain an answer from Mr Sinclair relating to this matter. If the honourable senator believes that there is some other reason why the election is not being held, he might care to put that to me, but I will seek an answer from Mr Sinclair immediately.
- Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In view of the answer given by the Minister, I ask him: If the producer organisations representing the greatest number of producers are in favour of holding the election, will the Minister request his colleague whom he represents in this place to agree to proceed with the election for the producers consultative group as quickly as possible?
– I believe that matter was canvassed during the adjournment debate last evening. Perhaps the honourable senator should refer to the words that I used then. I am unable to say whether the Minister for Primary Industry would immediately negotiate an election if the majority of producers, that is, the majority of members who produced beef, were to request it. I think that would probably need to be found out by referendum. The point was raised that, whether a farmer produces two or three head of beef or whether he produces 50,000, some consideration should be given to when an election is a proper thing, but I will refer the matter to the Minister.
-Senator Coleman has twice asked me in recent days for details of the Australian delegation to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Disarmament which will be held in New York from 23 May to 28 June. She also asked whether senators and members of the House of Representatives would be included in the delegation. I inform the honourable senator that the delegation will be led by the Minister for Foreign Affairs who will be present in New York for about one week early in the session. In his absence the delegation leader will be the Australian Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr Ralph Harry. The remainder of the delegation is still subject to a final decision but it is expected that it will include officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs based in Canberra, New York and other posts. It is hoped that the delegation will be announced in the near future.
I am informed that it will not be possible for members of the Parliament to participate in the delegation to the special session. In this matter the Minister has taken into account the nature of the work to be carried out at the special session and the structure of the meeting. This will differ from that of normal annual General Assembly sessions in that activity will be concentrated in drafting groups and caucuses. As honourable senators know also, whilst it has been the practice of parliamentary observers to attend regular sessions of the General Assembly, this practice has not extended to special General Assembly sessions. The delegation in New York will be pleased to provide a briefing to any member of the Parliament who is in New York at the time of the special session.
-Yesterday Senator McLaren asked certain questions on the proposed rural bank. He asked whether the Government intended to amend the legislation for the establishment of a rural bank and, if so, whether the amendment would be introduced during this session of Parliament. I am able to advise that a proposal to amend the Australian Rural Bank Act 1977 is at present being considered by the Government. Should this proposal be agreed to it is intended to introduce amending legislation without delay, certainly during this session of Parliament. Senator McLaren asked also what interest rates will be charged. The answer is that the basis of interest rates to be charged by the new bank has not as yet been determined. Final decision on this will not be made until the bank board has been established and an opportunity provided for consultations to be held between the Government and the board. Senator McLaren asked further when the director of the rural bank would be appointed and whether this person would be someone who is at present associated with a private trading bank which will be a client of the rural bank. The answer I have is that it is anticipated that the board of the bank will consist of 12 directors. Seven of these will represent the major trading banks and the Commonwealth Trading Bank; one will represent the State banks; two will represent primary producers; one will represent the Commonwealth Government and one will be appointed as Chairman. As indicated in the second reading speech introducing the Australian Rural Bank Bill it is intended that the chairman will be a person of independent standing.
– Earlier today Senator Wriedt asked a question about InterScan. The Minister for Productivity, Mr Macphee, has sent a note to me advising that he announced on 5 May that a consortium of Australian industry had on 4 May concluded an encouraging round of discussions with the American company Wilcox Electric Inc., the world’s leading supplier of existing aircraft instrument landing systems. The Minister stated that the discussions had been undertaken with the objective of securing for Australian industry a significant share of the very large world microwave landing system market following the recent decision by the International Civil Aviation Organisation to endorse the principles pioneered in the Australian InterScan system as the basis for all future world aircraft guidance landing systems. Mr Macphee said that both parties were giving prompt and detailed consideration to joint arrangements for the manufacturing and worldwide distribution and marketing of InterScan.
– Earlier today Senator Colston asked me a question with regard to the possibility of reverse charge telephone calls being accepted by the Department of Social Security. I undertook to make an inquiry for him. I am advised that as a general rule this was not the practice in the past. Recently the matter was reconsidered by the Department. Clients in remote areas who have an urgent necessity to contact the Department in cases of emergency and hardship may use the reverse call charge system. The calls will be accepted by the Department. I understand that the Department recently issued a circular to this effect.
– Pursuant to section 25 of the Australia-Japan Foundation Act 1976,I present the annual report of the AustraliaJapan Foundation 1976.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the annual report of the Department of Foreign Affairs for the year ended 3 1 December 1 977.
– Pursuant to section 29 of the Dairy Produce Export Control Act 1924, I present the annual report of the Australian Dairy Corporation for the year ended 30 June 1 977.
Report of the Australian Delegation
-by leave- I bring up the report of the Australian delegation to the 64th Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference at Sofia.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– by leave- I move:
On bringing up this report and moving for the Senate to take note of it, I wish to make just a few brief comments. The first matter to which I refer is that relating to the violation of the human rights of parliamentarians. This is a matter of great concern to many people and the recent Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference agreed to resolutions, both on the general subject and on specific cases. The Australian group has been active for some time in supporting inquiries by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and I believe that our Parliament and group should actively pursue the suggestions contained in the general resolution on the subject. That resolution is found in appendix H to the report. At the Sofia conference two subject matters were of considerable contention. One was the behaviour of the Israeli authorities in the Arab occupied territories and the other was the situation in southern Africa. When the resolutions on these two matters came before delegates for the vote, the Australian votes, which consist, under IPU rules, of 13 votes, were divided, after full, friendly discussions, among members of the delegations. On the first item the votes were 6 ayes, 3 noes, 4 abstentions, and on the second item 6 ayes, 7 noes. This practice is followed by delegations from countries such as ours, where there is a freedom for expression, and all our delegates concurred in the decision. I personally believe it to be important that this opportunity should remain available to our delegations.
Mr President, I do not wish to say any more at this stage, other than to assure you and the Senate that the Australian delegation worked very well together in making an Australian contribution to the Conference and to Australia ‘sinternational reputation. I appreciated the contribution and help of every member of the delegation and trust that the high level of interest and activity will continue to be maintained. I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– I seek leave to make a statement on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs ( Mr Peacock) relating to foreign policy.
-Honourable senators will understand that the first person personal pronoun ‘I’ refers to my colleague in the other place.
The world is in the midst of a period of change that could prove to be as significant as any in modern history. The character of international relations as we have known it is changing. New concepts of national interest are emerging and there is an increasing recognition of the interdependence of all members of the world community. There are no simple remedies or ready made solutions for the problems we face today. Skill and application are required even to define the nature of the problems, particularly for those of us who must deal with their day-to-day manifestations. In dealing with the demands of the day it is possible that the main trends, the broad sweep of developments, can be neglected or overlooked. If we are to develop policies to protect our long term interests, we must understand the nature of the challenge and the problems we face.
Governments do not have the advantage of developing policies on the basis of hindsight or at leisure. We must face the issues that emerge today; but we must do so on the basis of a keen appreciation of the momentum and direction of change which is the characteristic of the present world situation. It is no longer possible to identify separately issues as having only a political, strategic, economic or social nature. The changing pattern of world development involves all these elements. The present balance between the superpowers is as much political and economic as it is strategic. The demands of the developing countries of the Third World are as much political as they are economic. A characteristic of the changing pattern which confronts us is the challenge to the values and traditional thinking of the past. Australia can look back on a past which brought it many advantages. We must, however, clearly distinguish between those values which have been central to the Australian experience and those which reflected particular circumstances and are now perhaps outmoded. We must preserve those fundamental principles of justice, liberty and democracy which form the main strands of our national fabric. At the same time we must recognise the need for the bold measures which changing circumstances require.
A major element in this process of change has been a shift in the pattern of relationships among the major powers. This pattern is now more complex and fluid. Although the two superpowers retain their overwhelming predominance in terms of strategic military power, new centres of political, economic and military power have emerged. Nevertheless, the grim reality remains that the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics each possess sufficient military power to destroy civilised life. The avoidance of general nuclear war and the establishment of a lasting peace remain the major tasks confronting the international community. All countries have a very great interest in seeing a balanced agreement reached in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) now being conducted between the United States and the USSR. We do not discount the complexity of the issues at stake nor that the talks involve the vital interests of both sides but we remind the superpowers of their awesome responsibility towards the world community. The erosion of former supremacies has coincided with a period of serious strain in the established international economic system. This strain derives principally from the continuation of unacceptably high rates of inflation and unemployment and slow recovery in the major economies, together with the effects of the sharp oil price increases in the mid 1 970s.
Despite great differences in their individual economic conditions, Third World countries have become better organised and more united in pressing for a new international economic order and for a substantial improvement in their economic condition. Developing countries will continue to participate in overall global economic expansion but it is unrealistic today to believe that they can still be satisfied in this way. In their view the present system offers little prospect of meeting their demands or of taking account of their needs and their desire for a greater role in international decision making. The slow-down in world growth has further reduced their confidence that their interests can be accommodated through the expansion of the present system.
The united approach of Third World countries has been influenced in shaping the discussion of international economic issues. It has helped to create what I have repeatedly called a new international agenda. The need for reform is widely recognised. It is accepted that international relations have moved in directions which require a new and imaginative approach.
Third World demands are too frequently seen only in economic terms. But the issues go deeper than this. Developing countries are seeking not only a more direct role in the management of the world economy but also an extension of their political influence. They seek redress in all those areas in which they consider there is inequality between the developed and the developing countries. Similarly, they want to build a world security system which would reduce the military predominance of the nuclear weapons states and the major alliances. They seek a role in the international system suited not to their former weaknesses but to what they see as their present strengths.
The proposals for a new international economic order cover a wide range of specific economic questions in particular those relating to commodities, access to markets of developed countries, industrialisation, transfer of technology, food and agriculture, problems of the poorest nations, problems of debt, aid and other financial transfers and institutional arrangements. There are, of course, various views on what the so-called new order should include and on what its shape should be. I want to make it clear that the Government is taking a determined and vigorous part in the negotiation of these broad issues and in the detailed discussion of the particular questions which such negotiation requires. We want to obtain practical and durable decisions which take account of the legitimate interests of all groups of countries and which hold a prospect of reasonable benefit for the world community in general.
The Government has naturally taken full account of Australia’s position and economic circumstances. Australia is a middle power with certain features of particular relevance to the present international situation. As a large continent with a comparatively small population in a region of developing countries, we are numbered among the industrially developed. We are rich in natural resources and in general productive capacity; we are a significant maritime trading nation to which communications with major allies and trading partners are of particular importance. We therefore have a strong, indeed a compelling interest in ensuring that international economic relations are so adapted as to function more vigorously and equitably.
Progress in the negotiation of international economic issues has been disappointing. For some time the Government has been concerned about the lack of positive results. The present impasse has arisen because the two key problemsslow growth rates in the developed economies and the need to accommodate the interests of developing countries- have been treated as distinct and separate processes. Recovery in the economies of developed countries has been regarded as a necessary pre-condition for the settlement of Third World demands. In my address to the ministerial council meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris last June I indicated that the North-South distinction had served to dramatise the issues but had now become too rigid. There were many different interests represented by the countries falling into both groups and meaningful international solutions would have to take account of these differences.
The Government believes that a fundamental re-appraisal of present thinking is required on grounds of justice to the Third World and in the interests of the developed countries. Unless the developed countries reassess their policies we cannot expect to arrest the present drift in international negotiations. This does not mean all the demands of the developing countries can be met, nor that we support all their claims. However, there are areas where action would result in mutual advantage action which will help to restructure trade relationships could stimulate world economic growth. A fresh look at NorthSouth relations is needed. We should seek out areas of mutual interest and work for positive and concrete international action.
From our experience over the past 12 months, therefore, the Government has concluded that measures which may have worked in the past have not succeeded in the present situation. We believe that it is not enough to concentrate our effort only on the revival of economic activity in the industrialised countries. We must also find ways to utilise demand in the developing countries to encourage world economic growth. This should include the significant number of middle income countries, many of which have growing industrial sectors. We have always understood the concerns of these groups of countries to expand their overseas markets. An overall expansion of world trade would go a long way towards meeting the needs of these countries, of the more stagnant economies of the least developed nations and of the developed countries.
In recent years there has been much discussion of ‘linkage’ in international relations, mainly in relation to detente. What the Government is saying is that, whatever its merits in terms of detente, the concept of linkage is necessary and appropriate in approaching the two problems of world economic recovery and North-South relations. There will be greater prospect of progress if they are considered in conjunction instead of as entirely separate questions. With this in mind the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm
Fraser) and I recently visited Tokyo for talks with the Japanese Prime Minister and his colleagues on the need for a new approach to world economic issues. We canvassed the Government’s views on expanding world trade, particularly the need to involve developing countries. In talks with Mr Fukuda and in extensive discussions between officials we found a large measure of agreement on objectives. Japan welcomed the opportunity to consider possible areas for co-operation in our approach to world economic problems. The two Prime Ministers reached a considerable degree of agreement in their analysis of the world’s economic and trading problems and on the need for closer and continuing consultations. We found that the Japanese shared our view that growth in the economies of the developing countries could play an important part in the long term in the growth of developed economies.
So far I have spoken in general terms. I turn now to consider in detail some of the major items in these international economic negotiations. In the period since my last comprehensive statement on foreign policy in the House in March 1977 the Government has taken significant and pracitcal measures to give direction and purpose to Australia ‘s role in these developments.
The Committee on International Economic Co-operation was a most important event and Australia welcomed the framework it provided for the examination of a remarkably wide range of issues. The Conference fostered greater understanding of the issues involved and created an atmosphere conducive to further dialogue. Achievement may have fallen short of expectations but there were positive results.
The proposal to set up a Common Fund to finance buffer stock operations, designed to stabilise world commodity prices is, perhaps, the most notable achievement of the CIEC. I am pleased to have played a part in its adoption at the CIEC ministerial meeting in Paris last May, particularly in seeking the agreement of our major Western trading partners. The Government had hoped that this decision would have led to more rapid progress in the establishment of the Fund. We were disappointed when the principal negotiating conference in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development failed to resolve outstanding differences on the role and structure of the Fund. The Government attaches considerable importance to the successful negotiation of the Common Fund and in the last 12 months we have been closely associated with moves to overcome differences and to facilitate progress. On the suggestion of the Prime Minister the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London last June set up a technical working group of experts to work out what progress could be achieved within a reasonable time frame. Ministers from 32 Commonwealth countries met in London on 13-14 April to consider the report of the experts group and to promote efforts to find an acceptable basis for the resumption of the negotiations. The Government believes that this initiative has made a significant contribution to progress in the understanding of the attitudes of all groups towards the establishment of a Common Fund.
In the interest of resolving outstanding differences the Government has re-examined the Australian position. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting in Sydney in February the Prime Minister indicated that we were prepared to go a long way to meet the views of developing countries by modifying our position on points which had proved a stumbling block in earlier negotiations. In so doing we have moved ahead of the great majority of developed countries. There should be no misunderstanding on this score. Developing countries regard a successful conclusion of the Common Fund negotiations as a major test of the commitment of developed countries to futher progress in the North-South dialogue.
The Government now accepts that the Fund should have direct government subscriptions as well as deposits from participating commodity organisations, and borrowings. We also accept that the Fund could have a role in measures other than the financing of buffer stocks in stabilising the export earnings of developing countries. With our own experience in testing the merits of stabilisation we have always recognised the importance of stability in commodity markets and that the international market must be improved for the benefit of all countries- both consumers and producers. We found, in our recent talks in Tokyo, that the Japanese Government appreciates our concern in this matter. Both countries have agreed that our senior officials should consult to find ways of bringing together the various world views on this key question. The form and extent of direct Government subscriptions and the role of the Fund in financing any other measures’ remain to be negotiated. Nevertheless, we believe that Australia ‘s initiative is an advance towards the eventual establishment of a Common Fund.
The Government believes that the Common Fund negotiations can be advanced only if both developing and developed countries move beyond the rigid positions which caused the breakdown of the UNCTAD conference. We have urged other countries to modify their positions in the interest of reaching early agreements. Only by such a re-examination can the negotiations hope to progress.
Integrated Program on Commodities
In the same general context, Australia is an active party to negotiations under the Integrated Program on Commodities- IPC. Eighteen major trading commodities are being examined. The Government hopes that agreements reached under the IPC will stabilise trade in these commodities and will ensure a more equitable distribution of the benefits of trade.
The Government is concerned at the slow progress of the multilateral trade negotiationsMTN. We believe that the objectives of the MTN are to expand and liberalise world trade by substantially reducing or eliminating trade barriers. Australia is participating fully in the negotiations and stands ready to negotiate concessions in all areas of the MTN where it receives real and tangible advantages in return. For this to occur there would have to be substantial and improved proposals for the liberalisation of world agricultural trade in products of interest to Australia and from which we derive approximately 50 per cent of our export income. The Government has recently tabled an offer on tariff and non-tariff barriers and these will be the subject of negotiations over the coming months in the light of responses made by other countries to Australian requests.
The Government’s recognition of the developing countries’ economic potential has been demonstrated in the practical steps we have been taking. We have established official representation in important oil-producing countries with fast-expanding economies in the Middle East and North Africa. We have emphasised the economic- especially commercial- side of relations with many other developing countries. Earlier this year the Government signed a trade agreement with Brazil and special arrangements are being developed for improving Australia’s trading relations with the Association of South East Asian Nations group of countries. Honourable members will already have noted the significant commercial growth reported at the recent Australia-Korea Ministerial talks on trade; and I have no doubt that a similar trend will be brought to notice when the Australian /Iran Joint
Ministerial Commission meets for the first time in Australia- in a few weeks ‘ time.
The Government also recognises the need for a thorough examination of the interests and aspirations of developing countries. In accordance with our election undertaking we have set up a high level committee, with its secretariat in my Department, to conduct an inquiry into Australia ‘s relations with the Third World and to examine the implications of their demands for Australia’s national interests. I look to the Committee to give particular attention to the policy options open to Australia. I view the inquiry as a matter of urgency and I have asked the Committee to report to the Government within 12 months. The setting up of this Committee is a unique development. It demonstrates the Government’s resolve to place Australia’s relations with developing countries on a firm and constructive basis and to increase the effectiveness of our participation in the negotiations on world economic issues. It is vital that we formulate guidelines for national policies which enable us to identify major trends and anticipate developments. The Third World inquiry will assist the Government to do this more precisely.
The Australian development assistance program will continue to be a major vehicle for our efforts to contribute to regional and international development. Resources provided through international and bilateral programs have an important role to play in realising the great potential for growth in developing countries. The Government has significantly improved Australia’s performance in terms of the transfer of real resources to developing countries. We have reaffirmed our pledge to work towards the aid target of 0.7 per cent of our gross national product- GNP. The initiatives we have taken have built solid foundations for the expansion of our program which will occur as circumstances permit.
Consistent with the Government’s recognition of the needs of developing countries we have broadened the scope of our aid program. This year we have increased our support for multilateral agencies by nearly 50 per cent. One tangible result of the CIEC meeting in Paris was the decision by developed countries to support a Special Action Fund of $US1 billion for immediate assistance to the most needy countries. Australia has been in the forefront in finalising the form of our contribution of $US18m. One half will be given as untied cash grants to the International Development Association of the World Bank Group. The other half is being made available in bilateral grants to needy regional and Commonwealth countries, for the purchase of developmental commodities, materials, equipment and services from Australia over the next two years. We hope that other Governments will be no less generous in meeting this commitment. Our support for multilateral agencies also includes joint financing of projects with the Asian Development and World Banks. We are increasingly funding community development projects in association with specialised agencies of the United Nations including the United Nations International Children ‘s Emergency Fund, the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation. The Government has made real progress in ensuring that our development assistance is relevant to the needs of developing countries. Some 83 per cent of our aid is now untied, notably in regard to local suppliers in recipient countries and within the ASEAN group. Further, the Government is prepared to cover significant local costs for projects in countries in the South Pacific and Asian regions and in least developed countries.
An important objective is to assist developing countries to achieve self-reliance in areas such as food production and technology. As food shortages are expected to persist in the short term, the Government has undertaken to double present levels of food aid over the next two years. To consider ways of making Australian technology and skills more available to Third World countries, we have set up a Consultative Committee on Research for Development, chaired by Sir John Crawford. The Committee will assist the Government to identify research projects suitable for implementation under the aid program. The Government has also drawn more on expertise available in the private sector. This has improved our capacity to provide developing countries with the know-how appropriate to the large-scale and diversified projects which we are supporting increasingly.
Central to the issues of economic growth and development and to the interests of both developing and developed countries are the world ‘s energy resources. As an exporter of energy, with an even greater role to play in the future with our reserves of uranium, coal and natural gas, the Government is taking a constructive part in international discussions on energy.
We are supporting efforts to conserve energy, to explore new energy reserves, to develop alternative energy resources and to establish an effective international dialogue on energy questions.
Australia is participating in the working group on energy, which was established at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting in Sydney as the result of a joint initiative by India and Australia. The work of this group concentrating as it will on alternative forms of energy will be forward looking and could have considerable potential. Australia has, of course, also been active in international bodies involved in energy questions in pressing for the framing of constructive international energy policies. We are at present reviewing Australia ‘s position in relation to the International Energy Agency- IEA. In the United Nations we took the lead in encouraging member nations to develop a forum within the organisation for the discussion of energy issues. Australia will continue to urge on member states the necessity for cooperation in tackling what is regarded by many as the most serious problem of the age- the need to adapt a world economy based on the high consumption of oil to one based on renewable forms of energy.
Nuclear Energy, Non-proliferation and Disarmament
With large uranium reserves Australia has a vital interest in the development and use of nuclear energy. The Government’s decision to permit the mining and export of uranium is consistent with our international responsibilities in regard to nuclear non-proliferation. The comprehensive and stringent safeguards policy for uranium exports announced in May last year is designed to promote universal adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty- NPT. The Treaty represents a formal commitment to non-proliferation. Our policy offers a tangible reward- access to Australian uranium- for those countries which have renounced nuclear weapons by becoming parties to the Treaty. Equally, our policy offers a tangible incentive to non-parties to adhere to the Treaty. Last November the Government established an expert multi-disciplinary task force on nonproliferation and safeguards. The functions of this group which is chaired and serviced by my Department are to keep the Government fully informed of all developments, to support the work of our Ambassador-at-Large, Mr Justice Fox, and to co-ordinate Australian participation in international forums concerned with nonproliferation. The Government has also joined in renewed international efforts to strengthen the non-proliferation regime, including the important International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation. Through our co-chairmanship of one of the eight working groups and our membership of a further six, we are contributing fully to this study. Our object is to ensure that any measures eventually agreed upon in INFCE, while meeting energy requirements, are consistent with and contribute to non-proliferation objectives. Australia was among the leaders at the last session of the United Nations General Assembly in securing the adoption of a resolution which called on all states to co-operate in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and to ratify the NPT or, as a minimum, to accept arrangements involving non-proliferation safeguards covering their entire fuel cycle. The resolution also expressed strong support for making International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards more effective. We were also intrumental in the negotiation of a nuclear test ban resolution which attracted practically unanimous support, including the United States and the Soviet Union.
The Government believes that the forthcoming Special Session of the General Assembly on Disarmament has the potential to promote a new consensus on the principles and priorities for future arms control negotiations. We believe, however, that the Special Session should also play a major role in promoting nuclear arms control objectives.
Law of the Sea
Increased interest in the distribution of the world’s resources has focussed greater attention on the law of the sea, an area of special concern to Australia. The Law of the Sea Conference is an ambitious attempt to resolve a range of complex issues through multilateral negotiation. Given the nature of the issues and the disparate interests of the countries involved considerable progress has been achieved since the first session of the Conference was held in Caracas in 1973. Geographical factors have in many instances cut across developed, developing country lines. That distinction, however, remains at the root of some of the unresolved issues.
The resources of the ocean and deep seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction is one such issue. The United Nations General Assembly in 1970 declared such resources to be the common heritage of mankind. Developing states want to establish an international authority to exploit mineral resources on a commercial basis and to distribute the proceeds, principally to the benefit of developing states.
Developed states, on the other hand, want to ensure that such an authority should not unduly restrict access to these resources by companies or instrumentalities of states with technology capable of exploiting them. A similar, though less clearly defined difference of interest has emerged over the rights of access of other states to the living resources of the economic zones of coastal states. A group of over 50 land-locked and geographically disadvantaged states, mainly developing states, has been pressing claims to such rights by making rights of access to the exclusive economic zone, a quid pro quo for its acceptance of other provisions of the proposed convention.
It is clear that if a convention is to be widely acceptable the interests of all groups will have to be accommodated. The Australian delegation will continue to play an important part in the negotiations recently resumed in Geneva. The Government hopes that substantial progress will be made towards an acceptable, comprehensive convention. However, I recognise that final agreement may still be some way off. A major effort will be required at the present meeting to achieve a breakthrough on outstanding issues.
Another important issue concerns the future of Antarctica. The drive to develop new fishing grounds in the more remote areas of the world has been accelerated by recent developments in the law of the sea, especially the proclamation of 200-nautical mile fishing zones. Several countries have already begun to assess Antarctica’s potential in fish and marine living as well as non-living resources. Large-scale commercial harvesting of fish and krill in Antarctic waters is an increasing probability. The Government is convinced that the future of the marine living resources of the region is the most urgent issue requiring the attention of those countries involved in Antarctica. The Special Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting which the Government hosted recently in Canberra set out to elaborate a draft regime for the conservation of marine living resources. The meeting is preparatory to a further meeting to be held later this year, which, hopefully, will establish the regime. Most of Australia’s basic interests and policy objectives are accommodated in the text that emerged from the meeting. I refer, in particular, to our interest in ensuring that any fishing that does take place should be carried out under conditions which will protect the integrity of the unique ecosystem of the seas surrounding Antarctica. I would like to repeat what the Minister said in the House on 10
April. The contribution of honourable members and senators who participated in the meeting was favourably commented upon by everyone to whom I spoke.
As a party to the Antarctic Treaty we are committed to the demilitarisation and denuclearisation of that continent and to ensuring that it is used only for peaceful purposes. As the power which administers a large sector of the continent, we have a number of important national interests to protect. We must conserve the living resources of the region and the unique Antarctic environment. We must also ensure that Australia’s position in the continent is respected.
In this survey I have, on several occasions, referred to the work of the Commonwealth of Nations. Trade, development and related matters naturally have a special priority for the Commonwealth, the majority of whose members are developing countries. The Commonwealth also provides a vital link between developing and developed countries. There is no area of international concern which does not touch one or another Commonwealth country directly and intimately. The Government attaches considerable importance to Australia’s membership because the Commonwealth is making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the search for agreement on many global issues. We believe that the Commonwealth association gives member countries a singular opportunity for sustaining and strengthening this process of negotiation. In some cases such as the Common Fund the Commonwealth has given a practical lead. That is why Australia proposed that a regional dimension should be added to the Commonwealth’s activities. The Government felt that the Commonwealth’s accumulated experience and its unique tradition of consultation and practical cooperation through informal discussion would enhance co-operation in the Asian-South Pacific region. As a result of the Government’s initiative, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting was held in Sydney in February.
The meeting, which was attended by all 12 leaders from the Commonwealth states of Asia and the South Pacific, identified a number of regional problems. In addition to the consultative committee on energy to which I have already referred, a similar committee on trade matters, to be chaired by Australia, was set up. The establishment of these committees and also of working groups on the illicit drug traffic and on terrorism, demonstrates a commitment by the heads of government to assist one another in practical ways. The success of the meeting was demonstrated by the unanimous agreement by the participating heads of government to accept the offer of the Indian Prime Minister to host a second meeting in 1980. The CHOGRM is one of the most important international initiatives sponsored by the Government since we came to office. Australia will continue to be a source of support for the Commonwealth because it provides us with an effective channel for promoting the Government’s foreign policy objectives both globally and within our region.
I have described the Government’s substantial contribution to the search for solutions to world economic problems. Our foreign policy also gives a high priority to the defence of Australia. While the Government does not foresee any immediate threat to our security we have introduced greater realism into defence matters. Internationally, Australia is firmly aligned with the broad objectives of the West and the Government has strengthened our alliance with the United States. This alliance is based on many shared ideas and assumptions. It is reinforced by very extensive co-operation between the two governments and at the private level.
The ANZUS Treaty, which links us to the United States and New Zealand and, through this association to wider Western interests, will remain the cornerstone of our security. We consult regularly and extensively with the United States in areas of direct and substantial strategic interest to Australia. The Indian Ocean is one such area. The aim of the current talks between the superpowers concerning the Indian Ocean is to prevent the further build-up of their military presence, to stabilise the status quo and, possibly at a later stage, to reduce their present level. The Australian Government has been kept closely informed of developments in the bilateral talks between the two superpowers. At the invitation of the United States we have commented to them on relevant aspects of the talks. As an ally of the United States and as an Indian Ocean littoral state, we have a direct interest in this matter. As a result of our consultations with the United States we have every confidence that any Indian Ocean arms limitation agreement will not qualify or derogate from the United States commitment to Australia under the ANZUS Treaty or constrain their freedom to act in implementing that commitment.
Mr President, I seek leave to have Senator Webster continue reading the statement.
In my review of foreign policy in the House on 15 March 1977, I stressed the importance the Government attaches to strengthening Australia’s relations with the developed democracies- our neighbour New Zealand, the United States and Canada, Japan and Western Europe. Inevitably in a period of sluggish growth in the world economy and international trade, competition is heightened and the pressure for greater protectionism increases. The consequence has been that Australia has suffered from certain measures adopted by some of these countries with which our interests are so closely identified. The Government is making vigorous efforts to redress the imbalance in our trading opportunities with the European Community and to preserve and expand Australian markets in Japan and the United States and elsewhere.
Though this means frank speaking and hard bargaining, we have not lost sight of the basic community of interests which we share. If the present emphasis in our relationships is upon adjustments in our economic ties it is also our objective to strengthen our political links. The close association between liberal democratic states can withstand such disagreements. The reconciliation of differences on the basis of mutual understanding and compromise is central to our shared democratic experience.
Following the visit of the Prime Minister and myself to Washington last year, the Government has established extremely good relations with President Carter and his Administration. This was clearly evident during the just completed visit of Vice-President Mondale. The visit reemphasised the strength and cordiality of the relationship between the United States and Australia; a relationship which is solidly founded in the shared values and aspirations of the American and Australian people. The talks between Vice-President Mondale and the Prime Minister and other leading members of the Government ranged widely over most issues of international and regional interest. His visit brought home the importance of regular bilateral exchanges on issues of mutual concern. If ANZUS remains the centrepiece, our relationship has acquired new dimensions, more appropriate to the circumstances and demands of the present situation.
World security depends to a great extent on the willingness and ability of the United States to maintain its central role in international affairs.
The United States also remains a focal point for much of the commercial activity and financial arrangements of the developed countries and of much of the developing world. Fluctuations in United States’ fortunes have important international repercussions. Confidence in United States’ strength and in its determination is a vital factor not only for the United States itself but for those countries like Australia with shared values and common interests.
Japan’s importance to Australia as an economic partner and as a regional power hardly needs restating. With complementary economies we are now partners in one of the largest trade flows in the world. Japan buys a greater share of our exports than the United States and the European Community combined.
During 1977 two serious problems developed in our commercial relations with Japan. These were differences over the long-term sugar contract and continuing difficulties in securing access for Australian beef to the Japanese market. The sugar problem was resolved on a basis acceptable to both sides. Negotiations on beef are continuing and successive increases in quotas for global beef imports into Japan have been encouraging. In the present difficult world economic climate such problems are likely to arise. In the circumstances it is essential that the level of understanding and co-operation between our two countries should be strengthened. There is no doubt that our recent visit to Tokyo has enhanced relations with Japan. These discussions represented a new level of maturity and mutual confidence in the Australia-Japan relationship.
The ratification in July last year and entry into force of the Australia-Japan Basic Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation was another milestone in our relationship. The Treaty re-affirms our friendship and commonality of interest. It also establishes a framework for continuing cooperation. In June Australia plans to host a meeting of the Australia-Japan Ministerial Committee, an important annual gathering which brings together the Ministers of both countries responsible for foreign relations, trade and economic matters.
The Government has also given serious attention to our relationships with the European Community. During our visit to Europe in May last year the Prime Minister and I clearly registered Australia’s need and interests in Western Europe. Subsequently the Government appointed a Minister for Special Trade Negotiations, whose duties relate largely to Europe.
The Minister has recently concluded a second major series of discussions in West Europe, the results of which are being carefully studied. The Government’s objectives are to mitigate the harmful effects of the Community’s policies on our agricultural exports and to develop Australia’s role as a supplier of raw materials, minerals and energy resources to the Community.
In the past 12 months Australia and New Zealand have developed a sharper awareness of the need for a united approach to the trading problems we are both experiencing. Perhaps, in the past, in the very ease of our relationship we have taken each other for granted. The recent visit of Mr Brian Talboys, the New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister, has brought to the relationship a better appreciation of our common interests. In talks at ‘Nareen’ on 19 March we agreed to undertake a joint examination of international economic relations and to work together to press for progress in this area. The Governments also agreed to more regular exchanges of Parliamentarians and officials and to the establishment of foundations to increase the range of contacts between our countries.
The Government has sought to place Australia’s relations with the major Communist countries on a less ideological basis. Consistent with this objective our relations with the Soviet Union are conducted in a pragmatic and harmonious manner. Trade continues to be one of the most significant elements in our relationship. The Soviet Union is a substantial buyer of Australian products and Soviet officials, with our encouragement, have promoted Soviet products more actively in Australia. We have a shared aim in encouraging scientific and cultural exchanges under existing agreements. We both have an interest in finding effective solutions to international issues such as Law of the Sea and Antarctica.
At the same time it must be acknowledged that we differ with the Soviet Union on many international issues. We find some aspects of Soviet policy disturbing and we have registered our concern about these. As I will indicate later, Soviet activity in Africa has assumed proportions and forms which are bound to attract our attention.
Reliable estimates of Soviet defence expenditure over the past decade indicate a rapid growth. In 1977 Soviet defence spending exceeded that of the United States by about 25 per cent. While we do not discount the real defence needs of the Soviet Union, we cannot fail to be concerned at the apparent Soviet military build-up. I reiterate the Government’s hope that the two superpowers will be able to arrive at an agreement on arms control which will prevent any dangerous instability and halt the upward spiral in military expenditure.
I turn now to our regional relationships and policies, which together with our relationships with the Western democracies and Japan lie at the heart of our foreign policy. Our commitment to co-operation, to the fullest extent possible, with the countries of the Asian and Pacific area, has been a major theme in Australian policy for many years. Australia has a permanent national interest in the security and development of the area which will continue to have a high priority in the Government’s foreign policy. Effective relations with the five countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations- ASEAN- are essential to the Government’s continuing efforts to promote regional stability and economic development. The logic of our geographical position, and the economic and political vigour of these close neighbours, gives ASEAN a particular importance for Australia. We support the Association as an example of the best sort of practical regional self-help and co-operation. I have now visited each of the member countries and established close working relations with their leaders.
Since the Prime Minister’s visit to Kuala Lumpur in August last year for discussions with ASEAN Heads of Government we have been working actively to implement the agreements about Australian-ASEAN relations made at that time. We have increased our forward aid commitments to ASEAN countries by $90m to $250m. Similarly we have extended the ASEANAustralia co-operation program by a further $10m to $15m for projects to be implemented jointly by the five countries. In addition to providing this assistance, the Government has taken steps to strengthen our structural relationship with ASEAN by creating machinery to promote greater ease and regularity of consultation. Pending final arrangements we propose to establish an ASEAN-Australia Consultative Committee, to be based in Canberra, to act as an early warning system’ on trade and any other problems which emerge in our relationship. In the coming months we propose to host two major forums for the expansion of ASEAN ‘s trade with
Australia- an ASEAN-Australia Industrial Cooperation Conference in Melbourne in June, and an ASEAN Trade Fair in October. We have continued to implement our program of economic co-operation with ASEAN in a number of development assistance projects. I should add that the Japanese and New Zealand Prime Ministers attended the post-ASEAN summit meeting in Kuala Lumpur in August 1977, together with our Prime Minister. The three Governments recognise the important role that the developed countries can play in assisting in the development of their neighbours in the region.
Australia’s relations with Indonesia are one of the most important threads in the complex web of Australia’s foreign policy. We welcome the opportunity of working with President Suharto and his new Government to strengthen the already extensive range of contacts and exchanges normal between close and friendly neighbours. These have continued and in some cases grown despite disagreement over aspects of the Timor issue. On 20 January I announced the Government’s decision to accept East Timor as part of Indonesia. We hope that the Government’s action will facilitate settlement of some outstanding humanitarian issues, such as family reunion and the rehabilitation of Timor. We look forward to moves towards fulfilment of these objectives and to expand further the mutually beneficial ties that already bind our two countries. As I have stated before in the House, the Government will not turn away from this vital relationship.
There have also been a number of important developments in the South Pacific, which, with South East Asia, is a region of direct and special interest to Australia. As a member of the South Pacific Forum the Government naturally gives a high priority to fostering co-operation in the region. The meeting of the Forum in Port Moresby in August last year made two decisions of farreaching consequence. Member countries agreed to co-operate closely with each other in declaring 200 nautical mile fisheries or exclusive economic zones. The Forum also decided to establish a Regional Fisheries Agency to secure the maximum benefit from the living resources of these zones. Australia warmly welcomed these developments. Honourable members will recall that on 1 3 April my colleague the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) introduced a Bill to amend the Fisheries Act 1952 extending the Australian fishing zone to 200 nautical miles around Australia and its Territories. It will be necessary for Australia to delimit the fishing zone with the 200 nautical mile maritime zones with several of our immediate neighbours. The Government has expanded Australian representation in the South Pacific. New posts have been opened in Apia in Western Samoa and in Vila in the New Hebrides. The number of independent countries in the region continues to grow. This year we will welcome two newly independent countries- the Solomon Islands on 7 July and Tuvalu on 1 October. We hope that the remaining territories will continue to progress towards independence in accordance with the expressed wishes of their people. In the past 12 months there has been a noticeable increase in the number of high-level contacts between Australia and the countries of the South Pacific. Ministers have attended several regional meetings, including the South Pacific Commission in August last year. In July a parliamentary delegation led by Senator Durack travelled extensively throughout the region. The President of Nauru and the Head of State of Western Samoa and the Chief Ministers of the Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides, all visited Australia during the period. Officials of my Department held regular exchanges with their counterparts in the Fiji Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Government welcomes the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on Australia and the South Pacific. The report, tabled on 13 April, reflects the growing awareness in Australia of the countries and peoples of the South Pacific.
Australia’s close relationship with Papua New Guinea has resulted over the past few years in a series of bilateral agreements and arrangements in the aid, trade, defence, civil aviation and other fields. The only major.outstanding bilateral issue is the maritime boundary between the two countries and all other issues relating to the Torres Strait. The Papua New Guinea Minister, Mr Olewale, and I resumed negotiations in April and we have met again this month. The results of these talks have been most satisfactory and productive and I will soon be making a separate statement on these matters.
I have already mentioned that amending legislation, to proclaim a 200 nautical mile fishing zone has been introduced into the Australian Parliament. Consistent with the South PacificForum declaration of 31 August 1977, Papua New Guinea, on 30 March, made a similar proclamation. In the area between Australia and Papua New Guinea these proclamations will be of a restricted and interim nature, pending final decisions to be taken when the Torres Strait negotiations are concluded. The first national elections since independence were held in Papua New Guinea last year and saw the return of the
Somare coalition Government. The Australian Government looks forward to continuing and expanding the practical and warm relationship which we have developed with Mr Somare and his colleagues.
The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific- ESCAP- is highly regarded by developing countries in the region. Honourable members will be aware that I led the Australian delegation to the 34th session of ESCAP, which concluded in Bangkok on 17 March. The session was devoted largely to a discussion of a new development strategy for the 1980s. I am pleased to say that Australia was able to play an important part in the meeting. A resolution which identified certain regional needs and guidelines for future action was approved. This, I believe, is a significant achievement for the Commission- it reflects the cooperation and understanding that have developed in recent years among members of ESCAP. As the Regional Commissions of the UN system will be given increased powers as a result of decisions on restructuring the economic and social sectors of the UN, taken at UNGA 32, 1 would expect this process to be developed further in the future. There have been some particularly noteworthy regional activities undertaken by or through ESCAP. These include the Mekong Committee, comprising Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, which was finally reconvened in January 1978. The fourth member, Kampuchea, has so far displayed little interest in the Committee. This Committee co-ordinates the development of the resources of the Mekong River. It is widely recognised as a vital project for this part of South East Asia.
Earlier today I tabled my Department’s annual report which covers the full range of Australia ‘s bilateral relations and activities overseas during 1977. However, before completing my remarks on our regional relationships and policies I propose to refer to our relations with two countries of importance to the Asian-Pacific region- China and India. Relations with China show the steady consolidation that both sides of this House would wish to see. The visit last September by a delegation from the National People’s Congress, led by Vice-Chairman Ulanfu, was a significant indication of the progress that has been achieved since relations were established. We now deal with China in a large number of areas. The growth in our trade has been very gratifying. Record levels will be reached this financial year. China’s foreign trade is expanding and there are good prospects for continued growth as China pursues its goals of economic modernisation and growth. The Government welcomes the increasing number of Australians visiting China. The establishment of the Australia-China Council, about which I hope to make an announcement shortly, will further enhance our contacts and non-official exchanges. I would also like to note the valuable contribution made to relations with China by the recent visit of the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch).
While there are clear differences between our two societies there are some important elements we have in common. The improving state of China’s relations with the countries of South East Asia and its declaration of support for the activities and objectives of ASEAN are encouraging evidence of China ‘s more positive attitude. This should favour the development of confidence and relieve some tension in the region.
The Government has sought to inject greater substance into Australia’s traditionally warm relationship with India. The Prime Minister took the opportunity at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in June 1977 and at the Regional Meeting in Sydney in February to have wide ranging discussions on bilateral and global issues with Prime Minister Desai. Both leaders agreed on the desirability of strengthening bilateral co-operation in trade, scientific and agricultural research and regional energy requirements. Existing trade and science and technology agreements will provide the framework for expanding contacts in these areas. Invitations to the Prime Minister and me to visit India were most welcome and we look forward to making the visit at an appropriate time.
I regret that time does not permit me to discuss our expanding relations with the other countries of the West Asian region. We value the relations we have established with Iran, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma and we will continue our efforts in these countries.
I would not wish to submit a comprehensive statement on Australia’s foreign policy to the House without touching on some areas of international tension. In some cases there have been significant developments since my last report. In the past year we have seen the prospects for a settlement of the Middle East question fluctuate between the hopes inspired by President Sadat’s dramatic decision to visit Jerusalem in November, and the atmosphere created by the terrorist attack in Israel on 1 1 March and the subsequent Israeli incursion into southern
Lebanon. It is to be hoped that recent developments will not jeopardise peace talks between the parties to the Arab-Israeli dispute. A United Nations force, UNIFIL, has now taken up a position in southern Lebanon. The Government hopes that the force will help to restore the authority of the Lebanese Government in southern Lebanon and bring the security and normality for which the people of southern Lebanon have waited so long.
The Government’s view which I outlined to the United Nations General Assembly last September, is that a settlement of the Middle East dispute, to be both just and lasting, should be based on the principles encompassed in Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. Any settlement will have to take account of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. The Government would support any settlement which was freely agreed to by the parties themselves in their negotiations.
There has been some progress in reconciliation between the communist and non-communist states of South East Asia. This development is to be welcomed and encouraged. Fighting has, however, again broken out in the area, this time between two neighbouring communist states, Vietnam and Kampuchea. The Government naturally regrets this outbreak of conflict and supports the concept of a peaceful, negotiated settlement. We do not take sides in a dispute which is primarily the result of long-standing mutual suspicions.
Australia’s bilateral relations with the countries of Indo-China also deserve comment. I have initiated high level contacts with the Vietnamese Governments, last year with the Foreign Minister at UNGA in New York and more recently with a Vice Foreign Minister at the ESCAP session in Bangkok in March. These exchanges will, I hope, help to resolve some outstanding matters in our bilateral relations, notably the reunion of families separated by events in IndoChina. The Government has made representations to the Vietnamese Government expressing concern about the health and welfare of a respected Vietnamese clergyman whose continued detention is a matter of concern to many Australians. The Government continues modest aid programs in Vietnam and Laos. This year we have provided some food aid in response to international appeals following grain shortages in both countries.
The situation on the Korean peninsula at present gives no cause for immediate concern, although the potential for a rapid deterioration will remain until there is real progress towards a lasting settlement. The Government has welcomed assurances from the United States that reduction of its forces will be managed in such a way as to preserve the present military balance.
Events in southern Africa have reached a stage where the momentum for change is irreversible. The Government’s position has been consistently and clearly stated. We support all attempts to find peaceful solutions based on the principle of majority rule and human rights for all. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London last year the Prime Minister unequivocally reaffirmed this commitment. The Government, however, does not subscribe to the use of force in Zimbabwe or, for that matter, in any other country. Nevertheless, we realise that attempts to thwart black African aspirations can only play into the hands of extremists and those from outside the region who would exploit them for their own purposes. In our recent talks with Vice-President Mondale we expressed our support for the Anglo-United States proposals for a settlement in Zimbabwe. The Government’s total opposition to apartheid has been placed firmly on record. More recently our position has been restated at a number of major international conferences, most notably at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in June 1977 and at the World Conference for Action Against Apartheid, which I attended in Lagos last August.
The Government has been concerned by developments in the Horn of Africa in relation to the hostilities between Ethiopia and Somalia. There has been a large build-up of Soviet and Cuban military equipment and personnel which has clear implications for the balance of forces in the region. It is regrettable, to say the least, that this build-up is taking place while the Soviet Union is engaged with the United States in substantive negotiations on arms control in the Indian Ocean. Now that Somali Government forces have withdrawn from Ethiopia the continuing presence of Soviet and Cuban military personnel can only hamper the search for peace, and we look to their withdrawal.
It is apparent from my references to southern Africa that the Government takes its human rights obligations seriously. This is a theme I developed in my speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September last year and it should be placed firmly on record in this Parliament. Australia’s membership this year of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, after a long absence of 22 years, indicates the importance the Government attaches to humanitarian issues.
In developing our position in the international debate on human rights, the Government has sought to ensure that Australia’s traditions and values are given full expression. I appreciate that the issues involved are complex and embrace a variety of social, cultural and political contexts. Given our geographical position we in Australia have a keen awareness of this. The Government believes that the rights of the individual should be given due recognition. We, therefore, support initiatives which will produce action where gross violation of rights has occurred. In recent years international attention has been drawn to serious human rights violations in Asia, Africa and South America. The Government is concerned about infringements of human rights wherever they occur. In summary, we are working to improve international machinery for protecting human rights and to promote support for the human rights standards set out in international instruments.
A practical illustration of the difficult choice we face is the tendency for some developed countries to introduce human rights criteria into decisions on the eligibility of governments for loans from international financial institutions. The Government considers that decisions on these matters should continue to be based principally upon economic and financial criteria. Wherever possible, loans should be related to the needs of the people in recipient countries.
This year member states of the United Nations will commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which remains one of the international community’s enduring achievements. The Government is conscious that we have not yet ratified the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This is a matter we hope to rectify- like most things, human rights begin at home. New legislation will shortly be introduced to give effect to the Government’s election commitment to establish a Human Rights Commission relating to Commonwealth Laws.
There is continuing criticism that the Eastern European approach to human rights has been no more than formalistic. This reflects disappointed Western expectations about ‘detente’ and the Helsinki Accords. The Soviet Union and its allies have, nevertheless, been obliged to take human rights questions more seriously. Further action is required but the limited progress achieved should not be altogether discounted.
Long-standing refugee problems persist; new situations have arisen. We have seen this in Europe, Africa, South America and the Middle East and more recently in South East Asia. IndoChinese refugees continue to arrive in Thailand, Malaysia and neighbouring countries to add to the number already there awaiting resettlement. Australia’s response to refugee situations bears directly on our foreign relations and on our standing in the international community. Statements by Ministers during the past year, particularly by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) testify to the Government’s determination in association with other countries to develop an appropriate, consistent and humanitarian response to refugee situations.
This Government, along with many other governments, has for some time been concerned by the increasing resort to terror by groups in support of extreme political, social or economic objectives. Terrorism is a violent assault upon the freedom of individuals and the stability of the international system. In many cases it seeks to undermine free societies. All individuals and societies should be protected from the threat of such terror. One of the important results of the Sydney CHOGRM was the decision to set up a regional working group on terrorism. The work of this group should greatly assist countries in this region to take positive steps to guard against acts of terrorism. In taking these steps, the Government is conscious of its responsibility to achieve a proper balance between the requirements of security and the rights and liberties of individual citizens.
Another problem of grave concern is the traffic in illicit drugs. The Government has increased its efforts to halt this traffic. The recent CHOGRM underlined the gravity of this situation and established a working group to examine further regional co-operation to tackle the problem. My colleague the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) announced on 24 January the details of the comprehensive initiatives taken by the Government to contain drug trafficking into Australia. I have repeatedly expressed the Government’s concern at the number of Australians, particularly young Australians, being arrested overseas on charges relating to the possession of or trafficking in drugs. I repeat my warning that in many countries the penalties for these offences are drastic and much more severe than those in Australia. I again emphasise that Australian citizenship does not confer immunity from the laws of other countries.
Foreign Policy and the Public
I have appreciated the co-operation I have received from the media generally in promoting public awareness of the dangers of becoming involved with drugs overseas. The media, of course, perform a vital function in disseminating information, not only on specific issues such as drugs but also on foreign policy matters more generally.
It is important that the Australian public understand the changing nature of international relations and their consequences for Australia. As the Government looks for answers to the complex problems we now face, public understanding of, and support for, our policies will be vital. An effective foreign policy depends ultimately upon an interchange of ideas with an informed public opinion. In my speeches to a wide variety of Australian organisations and by other means I have emphasised these new and significant developments in world affairs and the Government’s view of their implications for Australia. It is equally important that the decision-makers in countries of particular importance to Australia should have up to date information and a realistic appreciation of Australian policies and national interests. Our missions abroad have an important role in this function.
I have described in some detail the general issues facing Australia, the practical measures the Government has taken in the past year and those areas requiring particular attention in the future. I have sought to convey something of the magnitude and complexity of the international scene which confronts Australia. We can no longer rely on instinctive reactions to the increasingly complex and sensitive issues. We must maintain a high degree of professionalism and sophistication in our approach. Change is not always comfortable and adjustments can be made more easily if we anticipate the problems and develop policies to cope with them.
I have said that the prospect of change can be unsettling. The Government does not neglect those elements which give our national life coherence and continuity. We take fully into account the more permanent and enduring features of Australian foreign policy interests.
Within the framework of change, the Government maintains an appropriate sense of perspective. In the course of this statement I have emphasised the importance the Government attaches to our links with the Western democracies whose basic values, traditions, way of life and social structure are similar to our own, and to our regional policies and relationships. Together these form the core of our foreign policy.
The Government is taking every opportunity to promote Australia’s views in the international discussions on the critical questions of world economic recovery and development. If these negotiations are difficult, it is partly because their objectives are anything but simple. If agreements are to last, if they are to be effective, they must be worked out thoroughly and meticulously. If the process seems slow we can take comfort in the knowledge that change of this magnitude cannot and should not be wrought overnight. We often speak of historical changes with a peremptory kind of precision, as if they had covered no more than the space of a few years. If we do so, we lose the reality of history and we miss that most invaluable practical lesson, the lesson of patience. Hasty improvisation will retard our common end. We require understanding and a willingness on all sides to review attitudes and to compromise. After all good government is founded on compromise. We balance inconvenienceswe give and take. We remit one advantage that we may enjoy another.
In pointing to the need for patience and a spirit of compromise, I am not suggesting that we relax our effort. On the contrary, the Government’s will and its endeavour is directed towards the creation of a new momentum, a new commitment to restoring sound economic growth and to building solid foundations for a more equitable international economic system. This was the motive and theme of our recent talks with Mr Fukuda in Japan. It will continue to be a most important feature of our diplomacy.
Sustained and lasting international economic recovery is as essential for Australia as it is for the rest of the world. Greater opportunities to sell more of our produce in world markets will have a real effect in stimulating our own economic recovery. This is not a narrow or selfish national goal but one which recognises the greater interdependence of the world community. We, therefore, look also to the developing countries of the Third World. They have a significant contribution to make to any sustained and lasting world recovery. The alternative can be only increasing confrontation, bitterness and disillusionment as countries fight for a bigger share of present world markets.
I am confident that the Government, in the vigorous and determined pursuit of the goals I have put before you today, will have the support of this House and the Australian people. I present the following paper:
Foreign Policy: A Year of Change and ChallengeMinisterial Statement, 9 May 1978.
– by leave- We have just listened to one of the longest and most tedious speeches that has been delivered in this Parliament in the time that I have been a member. I am not condemning the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) or the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) who read the statement. Statements of this nature must be made in the Parliament every so often. I do not object to its length. I object to the fact that so much time of the Parliament is taken up by a speech which, in its entirety, says nothing. I know that it is easy for an Opposition to criticise ministerial statements, particularly if they cover a large and complex field. It is also very easy to fall into the trap of point scoring from a statement of this nature. I do not intend to fall into that trap myself, certainly not in the sense of taking the time of this chamber with an equally long reply.
The statement is full of cliches and pompous phrases. The very title of the statement- A Year of Change and Challenge- lends itself to the nature of the speech we have heard. It consists substantially of rhetoric. We are left in a position of having to guess the stance taken by the Government. Try as we might to ascertain from the statement we cannot find out the Government’s intention. It seems clear that the Government has no coherent foreign policy. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) in his statement to the Parliament during March last year sought to analyse our relationships with the developed democracies, including Japan, the United States of America and Western Europe; our changing relationships with China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; and our developing relationships in our own region. There was much in that statement to criticise but at least there was an attempt to grapple with some of the complex problems that we face in this area of foreign affairs.
But there is no such attempt in the speech delivered this afternoon. We are left with a collection of references to and a collation of events over the last 12 months. Some of the paragraphs that have been expressed in a superfluous manner should be rephrased so that we might be able to understand them. The speech represents an almost schoolboyish attempt to put down in the Parliament an essay about what the Government has been doing over the past 12 months. In contrast, I have here a speech made by President Carter in Charleston, South Carolina on 2 1 July of last year. It ought to be read by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and by everybody else who is interested in the subject. It contains 1 3 pages of double-spaced, large type and can be read in 10 minutes. More information is contained in that speech than in the long, 27-page dialogue to which we have just listened. The fact that it was a statement by President Carter does not carry any more weight with regard to its content. The Foreign Minister of this country ought to be able to address himself to where his country is heading in exactly the same way as President Carter was able to do.
No philosophy has been offered in the statement. There appears to be no consistent framework and no general policy can be detected. It provides no guidance on what is happening at present, let alone what might happen in the future. On the surface the speech appears to do little more than give the Minister an opportunity to talk about a number of matters in an attempt to reverse what appears to be a declining interest in foreign affairs by the Government. If the Foreign Minister were to be believed, our foreign policy is now dominated by the Third World in the international economic order. That means a significant shift in direction. The Opposition does not have argument with that suggestion. We recognise the importance of the Third World and of the developing countries to Australia and to this part of the world. We expect some critical explanation as to why the Government sees fit to make this change.
For many years we in the Australian Labor Party have advocated that there should be a much greater emphasis on our relationship with the developing countries in the Third World, as it is called. The speech seemed to dismiss our relationship with our nearest neighbour, Indonesia, in two paragraphs of 17 lines in a 27-page statement. The Minister spent almost as much time talking about a committee that is functioning in the Mekong Delta. That is an important area but I really do not think thai what is happening in the Mekong Delta, any more than the conflict between Vietnam and Kampuchea, is of more significance to Australia than our relations with Indonesia.
On the question of the law of the sea. we find no reference in the speech, from what I can remember, to our sovereignty in the Antarctic. Is this not of critical importance to Australian foreign policy? Will we maintain our sovereignty in Antarctica? Will we claim sovereignty over the 200-mile zone off the Antarctic coast? No reference is made to that at all. A major disarmament conference will be held in New York this month and next month. Only a passing reference is made to that conference and then only in the briefest possible terms. From that we assume that the Government has no policy. There is no suggestion as to what its policy will be at that conference. I could not detect any reference to West Irian in the speech. Who would delude themselves by imagining that there are not real problems developing in that country? The speech certainly will do little to advance public understanding of the Government’s policies. In a statement last year the Minister for Foreign Affairs stated:
As the major sources of the world’s trade, finance and technology, these -
That is, the major developed democracies- are countries on whom the recovery, reform and sympathetic functioning of the international economic system principally depend.
The speech this afternoon, read on behalf of the Minister, stated:
We believe that it is not enough to concentrate our effort only on the revival of economic activity in the industrialised countries. We must also find ways to utilise demand in the developing countries and encourage world economic growth.
A major shift has been made in approach in policy, but apparently no attempt has been made to explain it. Perhaps the Minister for Foreign Affairs does not know why the above statement has been written into the speech. Nevertheless he remains responsible for it. We are told that the Government’s main concern is to lift the level of demand throughout the world. Has the Government set an example of what is being sought by countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, that is, a reactivation of the economy by all its member nations, including Australia? Is this Government doing that? It is doing the very reverse. It says that we must minimise our spending and that we must keep our economic activity down in order to reduce inflation-
Is that the sort of example the Government ought to be setting when it moralises to the rest of the world about improving demand and improving trade? I do not think it sets a very good example at all. Some people argue that Australia should be expanding its export of manufactured goods. There is no mention of that in the speech. Only a month ago the Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony) announced what was claimed to be a major export development initiative. There were to be incentives, export promotions, export of technology, et cetera. If that is so important to the Government why was no reference made to it in the speech?
I shall deal with one or two points. One matter is the critically important strategic arms limitations talks which have been going on between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for some time. This Government seems to offer no constructive suggestions as to what might be done and yet every nation in the world is justifiably concerned about what is happening at those talks. In the speech the subject of our relations with Europe was dispensed in two paragraphs. That is the general pattern of the speech.
For the reasons I mentioned earlier I think the speech is one of the strangest statements I have ever listened to in this place. There is no cohesion of thought at all. Therefore it is equally difficult to make any cohesive comments on it. I suggest to the Government that instead of padding out the speech with a lot of words, in future it would do well to give to the Parliament statements on specific aspects of foreign policy, dealing in some depth with the various issues which have been raised only briefly in this speech. From such a series of statements we might have some indication of what the Government really believes about these very important issues and we might be able to discern whether, in fact, it has a foreign policy. I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Webster)- by leaveagreed to:
That leave of absence from the Senate for one month be granted to Senator Sir Magnus Cormack on the ground of absence overseas on parliamentary business.
– I inform the Senate that I have received letters from Senator Sir Robert Cotton and Senator Sir Magnus Cormack requesting their discharge from further attendance on the Standing Orders Committee.
– by leave- I move:
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 3 May on motion by Senator Webster:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Senator Mulvihill had moved by way of amendment:
At end of motion, add “, but the Senate is of the opinion that the Government should continue to provide funds to the States for new plantings in the same proportion as in previous agreements, of about SO per cent, in order to ensure that reasonable continuity of planting rates is maintained ‘ ‘.
-I was concluding my contribution to the debate on the Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill 1978 when the Senate adjourned on 3 May. I reiterate that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) has already stated that he would be quite happy for a committee to be set up to investigate the general matter of reafforestation in Australia. I urge the Senate to accept this proposal. However, I suggest that in setting up a committee to deal with softwoods alone we would not be facing all the problems associated with forestry. I implore the Senate, particularly in view of the situation in the hardwood industry in Tasmania which requires some urgent attention, to pass this Bill and to set up a committee to look into reafforestation generally, covering not only the softwoods area but also the hardwood area. The need for such a committee has been stressed by the Tasmanian Timber Association and I would very much appreciate the Senate taking that Association’s wishes into consideration.
– It is about a week since the adjournment of this debate on the Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill 1978. 1 assure the Senate that as far as I am concerned it will not be another week before the Bill receives the support of the Senate. The purpose of the Bill is to enable the Commonwealth Government to make agreements with the States for financial assistance towards the tending of softwood forestry plantations. To the motion that the Bill be read a second time Senator Mulvihill moved, on behalf of the Opposition, the following amendment:
At end of motion, add- but the Senate is of the opinion that the Government should continue to provide funds to the States for new plantings in the same proportion as in previous agreements, of about 50 per cent, in order to ensure that reasonable continuity of planting rates is maintained ‘.
I speak in support of that amendment. The softwood industry is a very important industry to Australia. It is very important to many towns and districts in New South Wales, the State which I, with others, have the honour to represent in this Parliament. Many towns in New South Wales rely to a very large extent, if not completely, on continuity of development of and continuity of work in the softwood industry.
The Australian softwood industry has quite a long history. The planting of exotic softwoods in this country began, as I understand it, on a trial basis in the late 19th century and the softwood industry became quite a significant industry in the 1920s and the 1930s. By about 1950 just over 100,000 hectares of plantation had been established. Approximately 600,000 hectares of softwood plantations exist throughout Australia now. So between 1950 and 1978- a period of some 28 years- there has been about a 600 per cent increase in the amount of softwood plantings. A great part of those plantings has been established in New South Wales. Private plantings have moved from annual levels of around 1,500 hectares in the 1950s to approximately 8,000 to 9,000 hectares at present.
When compared with many of the other primary industries, forestry appears to have been a relatively minor recipient of direct Commonwealth financial assistance. Whilst softwood plantings took place on a trial basis in the 1 9th century and some development took place in the 1920s and 1930s, and it really got underway in the 1950s, it was not until 1967 that the first softwood forestry agreements legislation was introduced into the Parliament. That legislation enabled the Federal Government to advance low interest loans to the States, repayable over 35 years, for the purpose of funding approximately half of the planting which was then thought necessary to protect the plantations for the period 1967 to 1973- a period of six or seven years. The second softwood forestry agreements legislation passed through the Federal Parliament in 1972. It was drafted in terms similar to the original legislation and it covered the period 1972 to 1976.
I shall cite some figures which I have had the Parliamentary Library take out for me. As can be seen by these figures, Commonwealth assistance to the States for softwood forestry has been drastically cut since 1976. According to extracts from
Budget Papers Nos 1 and 7, which were taken out by the Parliamentary Library, the Softwood Agreements Act of 1967 was intended to cover the period from 1 July 1966 to 30 June 1971. The period of the Commonwealth ‘s outlay was from the financial year 1966-67 to the financial year 1972-73- six years- and the amount of the Commonwealth’s outlay was $ 17.7m. In 1972, under the second piece of legislation to which I referred earlier, the period of application intended was from 1 July 1971 to 30 June 1976, covering the financial years from 1972-73 to 1976-77, a period of five years. The Commonwealth outlay was $3 1.4m. Under the 1976 legislation, the period of application was for one year, from 1 July 1976 to 30 June 1977- last financial yearand the period of the Commonwealth’s outlay was the last half of the financial year 1976-77 and the first half of the financial year 1977-78. The Commonwealth’s outlay was $5. 8m. Under this year’s legislation, the period of application is from 1 July 1977 to 30 June 1982 and for the financial year 1977-78 the estimated Commonwealth outlay is $4.2 m. So when one compares the importance of this industry with the financial assistance it has received from Commonwealth sources one can see that in many respects it is labouring behind many other primary industries.
– About as much as the Victorian abattoirs?
-The honourable senator would know more about the Victorian abattoirs than I do. I am talking about the Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill at the present time. In 1973 the Whitlam Labor Government commissioned a working group to prepare a Green Paper on all aspects of rural policy in Australia. That report was presented to the Parliament in May 1974. Quite a significant section of that report- appearing at page 256 onwards- is devoted to the subject of forestry. The working group which was established to prepare the Green Paper was helped in its consideration of forestry by the FORWOOD conference held in Canberra in April 1974. That conference established guidelines for a national policy for forestry and wood based industries to assist future planning by governments and commercial organisations. Unfortunately, the plan was hampered by the lack of research and investigation in this area. In the section of the reportpage 256- which is devoted to forestry, the working group expressed its concern at the lack of hard data and research in the industry. 1 quote what is stated in recommendation 9.131 as reported on page 261 under the heading of ‘research gaps ‘:
Our overall impression of the forestry industry is that there are important gaps in the information available on which to base decisions as to the future of the industry. The environmental aspects and the long production and hence planning period, strengthen the need for a good information basis for decision making in this industry.
The working group also stated in recommendation 9. 1 32, again appearing at page 26 1 of the report:
Again, our impression … is that the physical, technical and scientific aspects of forestry are well researched with our forestry experts very highly regarded overseas as well as at home. On the other hand with respect to both the economic and environmental aspects, the gaps are large. These could be filled by the collaborative efforts of organisations such as the BAE, State Forestry Commissions, the Forestry and Timber Bureau, the Bureau of Environmental Studies and by sponsored university research.
It appears to me that the working group found in 1974 that there are important gaps in the information available on which to base decisions as to the future of the industry. Notwithstanding some comments that were made by the Minister in his second reading speech, there is a long bridge to be built to overcome those wide gaps. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation, which carried out an inquiry during the period 1974 to 1 975- at the time of the Whitlam Labor Governmenton the operation of the first two forestry softwood agreements also expressed concern in its report about the lack of research available to the industry. That concern which was expressed by the FORWOOD conference and also by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation led to the Bureau of Agricultural Economics conducting a study of the industry, the report of which was finally published in 1977. It is entitled ‘The Australian Softwoods Products Industry: Plantation Requirements to 1980 Based on an Analysis of the Supply and Demand for Forest Products to the Year 2020’. It is stated in the introductory part of the report on page 6 that the primary objective of the report was to address itself to two questions. I will quote what is stated under the heading ‘Scope of the BAE Study’:
Therefore, from the national viewpoint, it is necessary to consider the economics of growing and processing wood in Australia. For this reason, the BAE considered that the rationale for planting pines in Australia must be decided from a consideration of the following questions:
What will be the demand for forest products in the future?
Will it be in Australia’s interests to meet this demand from its own forests and processing industries rather than from imports.
The second question will depend on welfare and efficiency factors. It was not possible in this report to consider welfare factors in any quantitative way, although some of them will be alluded to in the report.
Although marketing and economic viability are important areas of research in this industry, there are also important questions such as the number of people who are employed in the industry or who are likely to be employed in the industry in the future; the economic viability of the towns and the districts that substantially rely on the economic viability of the industry; the workers who are engaged in the industry and their problems; the unique characteristics of the industry, such as its relative inflexibility with the standard growth periods of 20 to 30 years; the value of the industry in providing regional and economic stability, because of its relative inflexibility; the environmental controls that affect the development of the industry; the industry’s value in respect of industry decentralisation; and the strategic and long-term economic planning for the industry- for example, the planning and development of the industry in relation to the future needs of housing in Australia.
During the course of my study of the Bill, I found it extremely difficult to obtain information about the number of people who actually earn their living from the planting of Australian softwoods and manfacturing the by-products that flow from Australian softwoods. It is true that some indication of the position can be obtained from the figures available on all those people who are engaged in the timber industry in Australia, both the softwood industry and the hardwood industry. But there is some difficulty -I found it extremely difficult- in finding any figures on the actual number of people who rely on the softwood industry in Australia for their living. I suggest that in any future surveys that are made of the industry- doubtless surveys will have to be made of the industry from time to time- that is one of the matters that should be looked at.
I do not know what approach, if any, was made by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics to, for example, the Timber Workers Union. I have noticed that in the acknowledgements attached to the study, it is stated:
The Bureau of Agricultural Economics wishes to express its appreciation to the following organisations for their invaluable assistance in providing information, comments and advice during the preparation of this report.
Then, a large number of bureaus, departments, authorities and instrumentalities are set out. They range from the Forestry and Timber Bureau to the forest services of Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania. But nowhere in that list of acknowledgements can I see any reference to the Bureau of Agricultural Economics being in contact with or having any discussions with officers of the Timber Workers Union of Australia. I think that it would have been very important for the BAE to have had such discussions with those experts who have worked in and been associated with people who have been involved in the planting of softwood forests throughout Australia over the years. I make that suggestion not by way of destructive comment but by way of constructive suggestion in relation to any further survey in years to come.
From the figures that I have been able to extract concerning the number of people engaged in forestry, the number of people in Australia employed in the extraction of timber in 1973-74 was 10,408. In 1975-76, the period covered by the last figure available to me, the number was 9,105. That indicates a drop of some 1,300 in a period of two years. In New South Wales, the State which I represent, in 1973-74 the number of people employed in the extraction of timber was 3,584 compared with 2,713 in 1975-76, which is the last year on which figures are available to me. The number of people employed in log sawmilling, resavvn and dressed timber throughout Australia in 1973-74 was 24,800, and in New South Wales it was 7,739. In 1975-76, two years later, the number was 23,985, indicating a drop of about 1,000 throughout Australia. In New South Wales the number was 7,098, indicating a drop of roughly 650. There is no information available on the number of people employed just in the softwood forestry industry. On the figures that I have been able to obtain, which I have cited, no distinction is made between the hardwood and the softwood industries. As I suggested earlier, this is another gap in the knowledge.
The Bill provides for assistance to the States for only the tending of existing plantings and not, as was previously the case, for new plantings. The Bill now leaves to the States alone the financing of new plantings for the next five years. As I have already mentioned, the industry involves a growth lag period of about 20 to 30 years, so the Commonwealth is now making a decision that is virtually irreversible for that length of time. That decision has been made, despite the obvious lack of detailed information on all aspects of the industry and the likely effect of any changes to the industry. The North Coast of New South Wales has experienced great economic trauma in the past few years with the advent of great problems in the area’s staple industries. For instance, there have been problems with the dairying industry and with the proposals to restructure that industry over a period of a few years. There have been problems with the banana industry- an industry to which I referred some years ago- so far as distribution and marketing are concerned. There have been problems in the zircon and rutile industries on the North Coast of New South Wales.
– You are a familiar visitor and a good representative of those people.
-As the honourable senator knows, I regularly visit the North Coast of my state. Only today I asked a question of Senator Webster who represents the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). Not only are there those industries but there is also the sugar industry, to which I referred at Question Time. So many towns in that part of the State which I represent rely heavily on the economic viability of this industry that it is important that all aspects of the industry be considered and taken into account when decisions are made. There is no point in expecting the States to foot the whole bill for new plantings without any Commonwealth assistance, as they have not been used to doing since before 1967.
One is left with the assumption that the present Government is abrogating its responsibilities, because of the wide change in financial assistance to the States, for the future of the softwood industry. We all know that the money that is involved in this legislation and the work that will be done as a result of this legislation are very important so far as the States are concerned. Therefore, whilst we do not oppose the passage of the legislation, we have moved an amendment, as Senator Mulvihill indicated in his remarks, that whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading: . . the Senate is of the opinion that the Government should continue to provide funds to the States for new plantings in the same proportion as in previous agreements, of about 50 per cent, in order to ensure that reasonable continuity of planting rates is maintained.
In order to protect the economic viability of the towns that rely on this industry for their existence and in order to protect the jobs of many thousands of people who rely on softwood plantings in Australia, in New South Wales in particular, for their industry, I suggest that the amendment moved by Senator Mulvihill be supported by the Senate.
-We are discussing the Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill 1978. The background of this Bill has been dealt with fairly thoroughly by previous speakers. Over the last 1 1 years the Commonwealth has spent some $54m in both planting and maintaining softwoods throughout
Australia. This is an industry which in Tasmania has been of some benefit and importance and is one that I am a little sad and sorry to see reduced to the state into which these agreements will put it. The agreements cut back on the planting of softwoods and do so on a basis that I believe is fairly nebulous. Under the previous program the Commonwealth provided loans to the States which were very helpful to them in their planting of certain areas of softwoods.
Although some people do not like softwoods, I believe, from the information that I received as a member of the committee that looked into the woodchip industry within Australia, that the planting of these trees does little or no damage to the ground in which they are planted. The information that I received from witnesses before the committee was that subsequently eucalyptus trees could easily be planted in the area where softwoods have been grown, although many people seem to think that permanent damage is done by the softwoods. However, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics has concluded that if we continued with private plantings of about 8,000 hectares there would be a need to reduce the State plantings to rectify an oversupply situation. It has looked a long way ahead in order to say this, because it is 25 to 30 years after these trees have been planted before they are of some value.
I do not believe that the experts crystal ball is as good as the Government’s action on this matter. I just think that there is some doubt about our needs for softwood, particularly when we consider the amount that we are presently importing from places such as Canada and New Zealand, and whether in time to come, if we do not continue planting, we will have enough softwoods for our local use. Australia is fairly efficient in raising softwoods, and I just do not know how we can look a long way ahead, particularly when over the last few years the amount of softwood that has been used indoors in furniture and things of that nature has changed considerably. I cannot see why that kind of use could not happen again in the future.
However, this Bill provides purely for the maintenance of previous plantings. It does not make any allocation for the purchase of land, which was possible under previous legislation. Such purchases were quite useful in enabling some farmers to get off properties that were no longer viable. I believe that we should look carefully at whether or not we should recommend to the Government that plantings be continued under a subsequent Bill.
– Our Committee recommended tax incentives to encourage that sort of thing.
-They certainly did. One of the criticisms I seem to remember being made by the Committee inquiring into the woodchip industry was that whilst government bodies were replanting areas from which trees were taken, the private sector was not. Senator Mulvihill is quite correct when he says that that was one of the Committee’s recommendations. What worries me about this Bill is that it covers not one year but five years, and one of those five years has almost gone. I feel that this whole matter should be examined before the Bill is passed. I doubt whether that will be the situation, but that is the action that I would like the Government to take.
I suppose it is easy to say that if timber is planted and it is not needed in 25 years, say, when it is anticipated that it might be needed, it is an asset that continues to appreciate in value. The asset does not deteriorate. I have always believed that if an error is going to be made in the supply of something, like timber, which is becoming a more expensive commodity, particularly in times of scarcity, it is wise to err on the side of over-production rather than underproduction. At the moment, my feeling is that to discontinue plantings is short-term thinking. I believe that only $3m or $4m extra a year is needed to continue the plantings and, if it is possible, I would like the Committee to look at this matter before the Bill is passed. Senator Douglas McClelland and Senator Rae have both referred to the unemployment aspect. We should be concerned at this time about providing jobs for people, and the forestry and timber industry provides a high ratio of jobs for the amount of money invested.
I repeat that we should look closely at the situation. I am worried about the Government’s attitude to this Bill. I believe that we need an investigation not of the whole timber industry but of the softwood requirements of the country, and an inquiry by a Senate committee could well be the way to do that. Whether it should be the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources or the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment I do not know. Perhaps it should be the National Resources Committee, although I am not saying that to avoid work because I happen to be a member of both committees. It seems to me that this is something a Senate Committee could well examine.
I think the Government would be wise, even if this Bill is passed, to examine the matter urgently, and I do not mean in six months time. Even though an agreement in principle was reached eight months ago, the Bill has now become urgent because the money has to be paid by 30 June. I think it would be wise for the Government to examine quickly whether plantings ought to be continued during the coming financial year and, if necessary, it should bring in another Bill to enable that to happen.
– I want to put a few thoughts to the Senate on this Bill. I certainly share the concern that has been expressed by honourable senators on both sides of the chamber that the Government has not seen fit to provide any finance to the States for new plantings for what amounts to the next five years. In view of the Forestry and Wood-based Industries Development Conference that was held some years ago, which pointed out the need for more frequent reviews of forestry plantings, I think the decision of the Government to proceed with a Bill providing only for maintenance was not well thought out. It is my view that the Government must reconsider this matter.
– Why don’t you do something about it?
-lt is all right about you. I am just making some constructive comments on the Bill.
– We can see the dead hand of Treasury in this.
– That is for sure. Treasury often puts a dead hand on some of these departments, and it is particularly unfortunate when in our view it is unnecessary and we ought to be looking to improving our resources in this way. After the debate in this House commenced I had an opportunity to discuss the matter with the Forestry Manager of Associated Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd, Mr Bill Meadows, whom I met during the woodchip inquiry. Mr Meadows happened to be in Canberra on the day after the Bill was introduced in this place. He was attending a meeting of the Joint Committee on Forest Industries which, as honourable senators know, was established by the Australian Forestry Council. Members of the Committee include representatives of all sections of the forestry industry who are interested in the subject with which we are dealing, the forestry commissions from each State and the Commonwealth, and bodies such as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
In my office in Parliament House on 3 May I expressed to those people the view that it was important for the Government to reconsider its attitude with respect to new plantings, in view of the unemployment problems that its decision could create. In my view, the decision was a retrograde step. However, the thoughts expressed to me by Mr Meadows and Mr Unwin, who is the Forestry Commissioner from Tasmania, were these: First of all, they agreed that new plantings ought to be contemplated at some future time, but they advised strongly against holding up the Bill because they required the maintenance money and any delay could cause unemployment problems. For the information of honourable senators, I will read the confirmation of the discussion I had with those two gentlemen, which came forward as a recommendation and an endorsement from the Joint Committee on Forest Industries.
– Couldn’t they have got the money?
– I am trying to support you, Senator, and I hope you will see the sense in what I am saying. For the information of the Senate, the document states:
The Joint Committee on Forest Industries wishes to confirm advice given you today by Messrs Unwin and Meadows, that it is our opinion that delay in provision of funds for plantation maintenance would cause difficulties in some areas and reduction of employment.
The members of JCFI are however firmly of the opinion that the question of Commonwealth financial support for maintaining the previous level of new plantation establishment should be reviewed at the earliest possible time. In this context there have been many changes in circumstances since the last review which review indicated a diminished need for such support.
In the wider context of forestry development you were advised that the Australian Forestry Council, fully supported by industry, has scheduled a second FORWOOD Conference for 1980 or 198 1 aimed to provide an all embracing review of the Forest Products Industry in Australia and to propose future planning requirements.
I think that indicates that the forestry industry and the forestry commissions throughout the country believe that the Government ought to be looking to reviving its interest in new plantings.
– Could not this Bill have been brought in months ago?
-That may be so. You have already said that. I will go along with that. Then we could have had all this business thoroughly examined. By now we could have been approving a Bill which contained some reference to plantings. I think the Opposition amendment is a fairly weak answer to our problem.
– It does something.
– I would like to see proper terms of reference drawn up by people who are interested in this matter. I would like to see the Bill referred to the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources. I think that is the appropriate course of action which we should take. If we were to go along with the idea of referring this Bill to the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment or to the National Resources Committee, we would not achieve our purpose because no mention of new plantings is made in the Bill. So I do not think there is any purpose in taking that course of action. That is why I have resiled from my original stance on the matter.
– If you hold up the Bill you will put men out of work.
-That is right; 1 go along with that idea completely. I would like the Opposition to consider what Senator Townley has said, in the light of the need for the Government to review its attitude towards new plantings. I know that the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) will convey that concern to his colleague, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). I hope the Government will review the matter very urgently and that, in the near future, it will look at the possibility of bringing in another Bill which provides for new plantings.
– I rise to speak very briefly on the Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill just to put on the record a couple of comments about the attitudes expressed towards the Bill and about the various amendments which have been moved or which have been foreshadowed. I agree with many of the criticisms of the Bill and of the Government which have been made by a number of my colleagues. I would have preferred that the passage of the Bill be delayed for some time so that a Senate committee could look at the principle it contains, namely, that the Commonwealth not finance any new plantings. I have some misgivings about the basis of that decision. I am not certain whether it is right or wrong. I fear that the Government’s decision may be precipitate in the light of some information which is available. A case has been made by a number of honourable senators about the detrimental effects which they believe the cessation of financing by the Commonwealth Government of new plantings will have on the industry both now and in the future. That, of course, includes the current employment position.
I come to this topic not as any sort of expert. The Bill provides some money for my State of
Queensland. But I do come to the Bill with misgivings because, from discussions both private and public which I have had with people who support it or who advocate the basis of it, I am just not convinced by what they say. It seems to me that the doubts which are raised about whether the Bill is properly based are quite strong. I therefore concluded that there would be value in a Senate committee looking at the Bill.
I cannot support the Opposition’s amendment which is simply an expression of opinion that the Government should continue to provide funds to the States for new plantings in the same proportion as provided under previous agreements. As I say, I am not certain that that is correct either. I would have liked to have seen this Bill referred to a Senate committee which has already been mentioned and which, it is alleged, would be in a reasonable position to bring a quick report to the Senate. That would mean, of course, a delay in the passage of the Bill. There has been some discussion in recent days about the effect that that would have. People both in the States and in the industry have indicated fears about the effect that the delay, caused by sending the Bill to a Senate committee for a couple of months, would have on the industry. I do not believe that those fears are well founded. I believe there was a possible alternative.
In attempting to find out the financial position I did at least make some inquiries on the subject and I have received some advice on it. The fear which is expressed is that if the Bill is held up, the money for maintenance will not go to the States. An amount of something like $4.5m is involved. However, the advice I have received is that if we were concerned that the reference of the Bill to a standing committee would unduly delay its passage and preclude or delay any payments to the States of financial assistance which is contemplated under the legislation, then the Senate could indicate its agreement to such payments by passing a motion something like this: ‘That the Senate has no objection to the Executive Government making payments pending the passage of the legislation ‘. There has been some dispute about whether the Government could do that. I have received some advice which I sought unofficially. It was given by an officer of the Department of the Treasury. He indicated from inquiries he made that if such a motion were passed, payments could be made for this purpose under section 5 of Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1977-78 when passed by the Parliament. Of course, that Bill will be passed before the Senate adjourns for the winter recess. Clause 5 of that
Bill, which is at present before the House of Representatives, provides:
Payments to a State out of such of the moneys appropriated by this Act as are specified in Division 846 in the Schedule shall be made on such terms and conditions, if any, as the Minister for Finance determines and in accordance with any determinations by the Minister for Finance as to the amounts and times of the payments.
Division 846 deals with payments to or for the States for natural disasters and restoration. I believe the Senate could have made a request that the money be provided, on a short term basis, from that source. That would have overcome the difficulty of delaying the passage of the Bill and it would have removed the necessity for us to say yea or nay when there is considerable doubt about the basis of the information that has been given to us so far.
Of course, the Senate has another alternative. It can let the Bill through and then decide that its standing committee nevertheless ought to look at the Bill and that it ought to bring in a report to the Government. The Minister for Science (Senator Webster) has indicated that the Government would take no objection to that course being followed. I would hope that the Government would take no objection to that course. 1 cannot imagine why it would because by then it would have the Bill and it would be under no obligation at all to take the slightest notice of any Senate committee report on this particular subject or on any other reference which it might be suggested would be related to it.
I am very sorry that the Government has delayed for so long the presentation of the Bill to the Parliament. It has restricted the opportunity for the Senate to examine the Bill properly. It is a Bill which we could have usefully examined. The agreement between the Commonwealth and the States was made in principle long ago. It is a simple Bill, given that the Commonwealth Government has made its decision. I believe that the Bill could have been presented to the Parliament months ago and it could have undergone proper scrutiny by a Senate committee. However, the timing is such that we have little opportunity before the parliamentary session ends. If we expect a report which is to be of any long term value in our considerations it is not realistic to expect a Senate committee to take the Bill now and to report on it before the end of the session. There is value in the suggestion that a future inquiry be held by a Senate committee, but the value of such an inquiry will be only that value which the Government gives to it.
If that reference is made to a Senate committeeI hope it will be- then the controversial points of view can be aired publicly. It can be a public exercise instead of something which happens within a department or in a Minister’s office. It would be possible for a variety of people to put a point of view. Presumably, the committee can come up with a recommendation which will be highly relevant to the Bill. But how very sad it is, just by virtue of the timing and by the fact that the Bill has been delayed for so long in its introduction, that an opportunity for proper parliamentary input is not given in relation to the Bill before it is passed. Once it is passed it is a fait accompli and then it is up to the Government, and the Minister in particular, to decide whether they want to take any notice of any subsequent input by the Parliament. For the reasons I have given I cannot support the Opposition’s amendment, but I indicate that I support the Government’s Bill with some reluctance.
- Mr President, I seek leave to make a statement relating to the motion which I foreshadowed when I last spoke on this matter. The statement will be brief and I believe it ought to be made prior to the conclusion of the debate.
– I indicated earlier that I proposed to move a motion for the reference of this Bill to the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment for inquiry and report to the Senate as soon as possible but not later than 25 August 1978. For various reasons, which have been outlined by previous speakers and particularly by Senator Martin, I believe it is not appropriate for me to pursue that particular proposal at this stage. The fear of the States and of the industry is not well founded; nevertheless, that fear is fairly strongly expressed. It would be most regrettable if funds were held up.
I do not see the foreshadowed amendment as being likely to hold up the funds, for reasons which Senator Martin has explained, but I still believe, for reasons which I mentioned earlier, that there should be an inquiry. I think that I can speak on behalf of a number of my colleagues who have a similar view that there should be an inquiry. To which committee this matter should be referred for a rather more lengthy and in depth inquiry after the passage of the Bill is something which perhaps requires some further discussion. I would be seeking to ensure, either through taking up Senator Archer’s suggestion or through one of the other possible variations, that there would be a reference to an appropriate
Senate committee or one to be created of the question of the forestry industry in Australia, presumably taking hardwoods into consideration as well. Whilst I will not be pursuing the foreshadowed amendment, I wish to make it quite clear that I still adhere to everything I said earlier. There should be an inquiry and we will be seeking to have it come about as soon as possible.
– I seek leave to make a brief statement.
– I have just learnt that Senator Rae is not intending to proceed with the amendment that he forecast last week in the debate. The Opposition would not have supported any amendment which would have held up the passage of the Bill and the payment of the funds. I presume that the knowledge that that is so would have been one of the reasons why he has decided not to proceed with the proposed amendment. Moreover, we could see little point in moving that sort of pious amendment, bearing in mind that, even if a Senate select committee did recommend that funds be provided for capital expenditure purposes, the Senate could not amend the Bill and the Government would be under no obligation to take any notice of such a recommendation. Whilst I cannot unequivocally commit the Opposition to any future course of action, I expect that if Senator Rae subsequently cares to move that this matter be referred to a committee of the Senate for study after this legislation has been passed such a move would be supported by the Opposition.
– It is clear from what has been said by honourable senators in this debate that very few of them, if any, apart from the Minister for Science (Senator Webster), completely support the Bill. The inadequacies of the Bill are to be found not only in its content; the timing of its introduction in this chamber by the Government is also inadequate. Time for proper study and investigation has not been allowed. Indeed it has been intimated to us by the States and by the industry that they feel they are over a barrel in respect of this piece of legislation. If its passage were held up they would have found themselves in the position of not having the maintenance money that is provided for in it.
-That is all bluff. The Government could provide this money before 30 June from a dozen different sources if the Bill were held up.
– I agree with what Senator Wright has said. It is bluff by the Government. That has been mentioned also by Senator Rae. I make it perfectly clear that I intended to support the proposition that the legislation be referred to a select committee which would be able to investigate its ramifications and to bring down a report in August or September. One of the distressing points about this legislation, which is to operate for a period of five years, is the presumption upon which it is based. Are we to assume from the legislation, which does not provide for new plantings, that there would be no demand for this product at the time of maturity of any new plantings? If we are to assume that then it represents a very sad picture of the future of Australia. We should be concerned that the Government is not making provision for new plantings because it means that the Government is saying that there will be stagnation in Australia’s population. If that is so, we are in a very parlous state, not only from the point of view of development of this country but also from the point of view of the defence of this country. The only alternative consideration to that conclusion is that the Government has made some arrangement for the supply of timber products from other countries. If it has done so, let us have all the facts. Let us know what countries they are coming from.
– You are forgetting the amount of private planting.
– No, I am not. The point I am making is that the recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment, of which Senator Townley and Senator Mulvihill were members, in regard to taxation incentives have not been implemented by the Government. I would have liked a committee of the Senate to examine the matter. Even at this stage I wonder whether it was appropriate or desirable for the honourable senator who foreshadowed moving such an amendment to decide not to move it, particularly in view of what Senator Martin has just said about this matter being in the hands of the Government.
– I had made similar inquiries and obtained similar information, but realities are realities.
– What is being said is that the majority of Opposition senators, except me and possibly Senator Janine Haines, would not vote for that proposition. I wish that they would because that would then enable the Senate to make two things perfectly clear to the
Government; firstly, that legislation that comes before this chamber should receive mature consideration and, secondly, that it should be introduced in accordance with a timetable which would enable honourable senators to do their homework on it and to vote in an appropriate fashion.
– in reply- The Government appreciates the contributions that have been made to this debate by honourable senators. I acknowledge the genuineness with which the arguments have been put forward by honourable senators. I acknowledge also the general thought that it would be attractive to have increased generations of plantings.
However, the Government does not take that view and it has reason for that. At the outset I should say that the Government does not accept the amendment moved by the Opposition. I understand that Senator Rae has decided not to proceed with his intention to refer this Bill to a committee and perhaps hold up the Bill while the committee considers it. I acknowledge the wisdom of that action at the present time. I thank very much those honourable senators who spoke last week and today for their contributions.
The debate on this Bill has been different from that which I have heard in this place on previous occasions. I well recall the comments of the late former Senator Prowse the last time we were debating a Bill of this type. At that time the debate from both sides of the chamber was directed to the fact that softwood plantings should not go ahead. That argument was based on an environmental consideration. The environmental consideration which was well put forward at that time and which is still held in some sections of the community was that planting of softwood stands in actual fact created a complete dearth of growth underneath the trees; that it increased the runoff and salinity of water in certain areas; and that it brought about a complete depletion of the wildlife and bird life that was associated with that planting. It was an argument which I never accepted. I thought it was quite foolish. I remember that one of the most venerated authorities, in my opinion, on timber in Australia, E. A. Alstergren, suggested that the interest of the environmentalists who put forward that proposition probably was to walk six feet from the exhaust pipes of” their cars when they drove into the forest. That perhaps is proved by the fact that that argument was not raised in the debate today in the Senate. I say to those honourable senators who are interested in having this Bill put forward to a committee of the Senate that they would need to spend a great deal of time arguing propositions such as whether the growth of Pinus insignus or Pinus radiata should, in actual fact, be developed at any particular time. That argument must be considered.
I think the important point associated with this Bill is that it is the result of an agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the various States. The States did not seek money for plantings because of the general proposition of self-sufficiency within Australia at a particular time. The difficulty of projecting the future situation is something with which the Senate committee undoubtedly will have to deal.
– Did you say that the States did not seek the money for plantings?
– I am advised that the States did not seek money for plantings basically because of self-sufficiency. They realised that because of the plantings that were being undertaken privately, the plantings that they were able to do on their own account, an appeal to the Commonwealth for funds was not warranted. I am advised that a meeting of State Forestry Ministers, who comprise the Australian Forestry Council, agreed that the States could make individual approaches to the Commonwealth if they wished to do so. I am advised further that approaches have not been received by the Commonwealth at this time. That is basically because the Commonwealth has indicated that during the period of this legislation and this agreement there will be an opportunity for review. It is certainly my wish that there should be a review if increased plantings are required. Such a requirement might come about for a variety of reasons which we do not understand today. It could arise because of unusual fires; it could arise because of disease and pestilence which the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is seeking to eliminate at the present time. There are various things that could bring about a situation where extra plantings were required.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
-Notwithstanding the points that have been made by honourable senators concerning the difficulty of forecasting future requirements of forest products, I think the overwhelming weight of evidence before the Government is such that the provision of finance to the States for new plantings is not justified at present. The major study carried out by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics of the Department of Primary Industry was a very thorough review which entailed several man-years work by experienced economists. I think that honourable senators would agree that the BAE is well qualified to conduct such studies.
– I agree, Senator.
– We have the endorsement of Senator Sir Robert Cotton. I am very pleased to have his support. The BAE, since the publication of its major study on the softwood forest products industry, has been engaged in research aimed at improving forecast methodology and refining its original estimates, estimates which we acknowledge in this place as being most difficult to decide from year to year.
A paper presented to the Australian Forests Development Institute Conference at Traralgon last year put forward revised estimates of planting levels based on the latest available information. This recent study took into account the point raised by Senator Walsh that planting rates should be relatively uniform. I think Senator Walsh made a good point when he suggested that any stop-go policy should be avoided. The Australian Forests Development Institute paper which honourable senators undoubtedly have read confirmed that Australia’s likely future forest products needs could be met from the softwood planting program of 20,000 hectares per annum in the 15-year period between 1976 and 1990. Assuming a continuation of present planting rates by the private sector, the States need to plant only at the level that they were planting prior to the existence of the CommonwealthState agreements for the annual target to be met. I hope that comment in some way will soothe the thoughts of honourable senators who have spoken and who are encouraged to believe that greater planting is required. The point I am making is that the targets will be met by 1 990 by the States planting the same yearly volume as they were prior to the Commonwealth-State agreements.
Having regard to the disruptive effect of a sudden reduction in planting rates, the States in the financial year covered by the 1976 Act planted a greater area than was scheduled. The Government recognises that the States are incurring considerable expenditure on softwood plantings. The legislation acknowledges the Government’s readiness to assist in maintaining the viability of the softwood forestry program. The Commonwealth’s contribution is not slight at this time. The Government has indicated to the States that it will examine the question of providing finance for the purchase of previously cleared land for softwood planting.
Senator Mulvihill referred to the need for a balanced conservation-production approach to forestry. I believe that the action taken by the Government of a co-ordinated approach with the States is a good example of the approach to be taken. It should be mentioned again that the States did not dispute the general conclusion reached by the Commonwealth and did not seek finance for new softwood plantings after the 1976-77 financial year. The Government has advised the States that it intends to review estimates of planting rates before the expiry of the legislation. The Government accepts the need for a continuous review of its policies relating to softwood forestry and to the forestry industry in general.
I believe that the present examination by the Industries Assistance Commission of the timber and timber products industry is probably the most comprehensive inquiry undertaken in the industry’s history. The need for further research has been highlighted in the BAE’s original report. The Government appreciates the value of recent parliamentary inquiries into forestry aspects. I refer to the report on the woodchip industry by the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment which is headed by my colleague Senator Jessop. I refer also to the report on the softwood industry of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure. The Government will give close consideration to the findings and recommendations arising from any inquiry into the timber industry of the nature proposed by Senator Rae.
Senator Rae has proposed a particularly important survey of the industry. I myself doubt the wisdom of referring this Bill to a Senate committee. This Bill is the basis of an agreement between the Commonwealth and the States for the maintenance of forests. I think the real thrust of what honourable senators wanted- the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) whom I represent and I encourage such a proposal- was an inquiry by a Senate committee with proper terms of reference. The Government has given an assurance through the Minister for Primary Industry that it will give close consideration to any recommendations that are made. I think the decision arrived at by honourable senators on this side of the House is most appropriate at this time. Senator Grimes suggested that a committee would not do justice to such a reference in a few months. I think that is an important point.
In looking at the level of plantings in this country in the foreseeable future, one must take account of the fact that economic aspects, population growths and usage of timber products vary greatly from year to year. I recall Senator Wright’s interrupting at one stage and making a comment about the increased usage of timber. Honourable senators will realise that in some areas inroads have been made into the use of timber in the building industry. Who is to say what the requirements will be in the future for the use of cellulose, homogenous board or woodchips for export? These days such items require the use of a great deal of forest products. Honourable senators who served on the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment when it inquired into the woodchip industry would agree with me that a much longer term is required to report on any reference relating to the forestry and timber industries. I am sure that there would be considerable interest in such an inquiry and consequently a considerable workload for honourable senators once an inquiry with appropriate terms of reference were commenced.
Honourable senators must not lose sight of the fact that the legislation covers the 5-year period from July 1977. The State governments are relying on the passage of the Bill to meet expenditure already incurred. Of course if the Bill were delayed for several months the States new planting programs would be jeopardised as would employment in the industry. Some honourable senators have expressed an interest in this area. I am sure that honourable senators who are concerned with employment will support this Bill very solidly. Following the passage of this Bill, should the Senate determine, as I understand it may, to carry out an in-depth study of the industry, as proposed by Senator Rae, the Government would refer the study to the Australian Forestry Council for consideration. I think that would be wise.
Senator Martin suggested that this Bill should have been brought before the Senate some time ago. I think that remark could always be said of legislation. In this instance we have a reason for the Bill being delayed. Basically it is because of continuing negotiations with the States concerning details of payments to be made during 1977-78. If honourable senators had pressed the point and had this Bill been introduced at an earlier date, they would have had a greater opportunity to discuss it and perhaps suggest action by a committee. Wherever there is a term agreement with the States and the agreement is to run out- in this case it was to run out in July 1977- there is an opportunity at any stage for members of Parliament to give their attention to what the prospects would be for a renewed agreement between the States and the Commonwealth. I think honourable senators would conclude that indeed the States’ interest and the Commonwealth’s interest has been well fostered and looked after under these present arrangements. I thank the other honourable senators for their comments which I think have been valuable. I will refer those comments to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), whom I represent. I regret that the Government is unable to support the amendment moved by the Opposition but I hope that this Bill will be passed so that the States, in which all honourable senators in this place are interested, will receive their money urgently.
That the words proposed to be added (Senator Mulvihill’s amendment) be added.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 12 April on motion by Senator Webster:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The International Sugar Agreement Bill 1978 ratifies Australia’s participation in the 1977 International Sugar Agreement. Current world sugar production exceeds sales by about five million tons. In addition to that, there is a very substantial stockpile of unsold sugar in the world. This five million tons surplus annual production represents only about 5 per cent of total production, but it is a much higher proportion of the sugar which is traded internationally. It represents about 20 per cent of international sales. Excess supplies of that magnitude would induce a catastrophic price fall in the classical free market situation, as it has done in the past. If we look at the record of Australian export sugar prices over the past decade or so we see that from a low of $59 a ton in 1967-68 prices slowly increased to $100 a ton in 1971-72 and then in 1975-76 to an enormous $276 a tonne. Such price fluctuations have been recorded in previous sugar cycles and, in the absence of some control of supplies onto the market, we could expect that world prices would tumble catastrophically to a level of probably $ 100 a tonne or thereabouts.
The agreement attempts to avoid that sort of catastrophic price decline. For that reason the Australian Labor Party does not oppose the Bill. But the agreement will be only partially successful. In particular, it has two glaring weaknesses. Firstly, the European Economic Community, which is a major sugar producer and, on occasions, a major sugar exporter and which is always a notorious dumper of surplus agricultural commodities on the world markets, is not a signatory to the agreement The EEC currently holds substantial stocks of surplus sugar. It is expected to have about 1.8 million tons in current production in excess of its local demand. Secondly, the agreement does not establish a minimum price. It requires the signatories not to exceed their export quotas if prices for 75 consecutive days are below 1 1 United States cents per pound ex Caribbean ports. The export quota- that is the term used in the Bill- for nearly all nations is around 85 per cent of past exports or, as the Bill puts it, of basic export tonnages.
Let me make this perfectly clear: There is nothing in this agreement to prevent sugar prices falling to zero provided the signatories to the agreement do not export more than 85 per cent, or in some instances 82 per cent, of their basic export tonnages- that is, broadly speaking, that percentage of their past exports. Indeed, for several months actual prices have been well below 1 1 cents a pound. They have held at above 8 cents a pound and are currently, I understand, in the vicinity of 7.3 cents a pound. Fortunately a good deal of Australia’s potential supplies are tied up in long-term contracts and will not have to be sold on the free market. I noticed an item in today’s Australian newspaper suggesting- I do not know whether it is correct- that the significance of the agreement might be even less than we imagined it was before. But there is some doubt whether the United States of America will participate in the agreement. If the United States does not participate in the agreement, it provides even less security for the Australian industry than we previously thought.
Under the agreement Australia’s export quota, which is the term used in the legislation, is about two million tonnes. Domestic consumption totals somewhat below 800,000 tonnes, giving a total secured market of around 2.8 million tonnes. Australia’s production peaked in 1976-77 at 3.294 million tonnes and is expected this year to be around 3.2 million tonnes. Thus current production exceeds the potential market by between 400,000 and 500,000 tonnes of sugar or about 1 5 per cent. Because of this market reality the Australian sugar industry is subject to a two-way squeeze. Firstly, it will not be able to sell about 15 per cent of its output; secondly, it will receive lower prices for the 85 per cent output which it might be able to sell. A combination of those two factors has largely induced the present campaign to recover some of the industry’s losses by increasing the domestic price of sugar from $260 to $340 a tonne. I make the observation in passing that the Government has been extremely tardy in making a decision on that issue.
The Government has been less than honest in presenting to the industry the harsh reality which the industry faces. As I shall demonstrate, the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony), who introduced this Bill in the other place, has consistently misrepresented the facts. For that reason, the Opposition will seek to move an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill. In the meantime, I shall briefly review the Government’s persistent misrepresentations of fact relevant to this issue. A Press release issued by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) on 6 October 1977, at the time of Mr
Anthony’s return from Geneva where the Agreement was negotiated, stated:
Mr Anthony’s return to Geneva this week enabled a breakthrough in the conclusion of the new International Sugar Agreement.
The agreed price range of 1 1 to 2 1 cents, equivalent to SA220 to $A420 a tonne, will mean a lift in returns to the world sugar industry of the order of $2,000m when measured against the prevailing world price which has been as low as 98 Pounds Sterling (about $A 1 55 ).
That extract is directly relevant to the amendment we propose to move. There is nothing in this agreement to prevent the price of sugar falling down to or below the $ 1 55 a tonne which Mr Anthony portrayed as being a catastrophically low price. In a statement in the other place on 1 3 October 1977, following Mr Anthony’s return from Geneva, he said:
The Agreement establishes a price range of 1 1 to 2 1 United States cents per pound- equivalent to SA2I7 to $A414 per tonne. Provision is made for review of the price range and upward adjustment when this is considered appropriate.
To contemplate upward adjustment now or in the foreseeable future is, incidentally, a blatant example of wishful thinking. But once again the significant point is that the Deputy Prime Minister misrepresented this Agreement as being something which established a price range between 1 1 and 2 1 United States cents per pound. It does no such thing. In a statement on 26 October 1977 Mr Anthony continued with this theme when he said:
The first break-through had been the negotiation in Geneva of an International Sugar Agreement. This Agreement promised stability in the face of an almost certain world sugar recession. It also established a price range of 1 1 to 2 lc per lb-
Again, we have the same basically misleading statements. But during the election campaign, Mr Anthony became even more reckless and less factual in his statements. The Sydney Morning Herald of 2 December 1977 reported statements he made in Townsville. I suggest it is highly significant that this statement was made in North Queensland. Mr Anthony said:
The report continues:
Provided we keep reasonable limitations on what is produced, the big things really worrying the Australian sugar industry are now behind us.
Further on in the report it is stated:
That is in the middle of 1978, when read in context- when the sugar agreement started to operate, the market would tighten and sugar prices could be expected to rise.
We are now almost into the middle of 1978. In fact, sugar prices are falling, contrary to what the Deputy Prime Minister said during that election campaign. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that they will rise in the foreseeable future. The consistent misrepresentation in all those statements is that the International Sugar Agreement has stabilised the sugar industry by establishing a minimum price. I must repeat again that it does no such thing. Prices on the free market at present are below 8c per lb, when the Deputy Prime Minister would have had the industry believe that the minimum price is 11c per lb.
Mr Anthony did not come clean even when making his second reading speech on this Bill a few weeks ago. In reply to a question asked in the House on 8 March 1978, Mr Anthony misrepresented the effect of the quantitative restrictions imposed on Australia by the International Sugar Agreement. When I say that, I am referring to the 85 per cent of past exports which Australia is entitled to export under this Agreement. In reply to a question about the effect of this restriction in output or sales, the Deputy Prime Minister said: . . it does not mean to say that sugar cane will necessarily be wasted. In some cases sugar could be carried over from one year to another and harvested the following year.
It is technically correct that sugar can be carried over from one year to another although I understand that there is some significant decline in quality or in yield. But, far more importantly, I point out that that can be done for one year only. If the market continues to be depressed- there is every indication that it will- the figure will be half a million tonnes this year and one million tonnes next year. The answer of the Deputy Prime Minister also blithely ignores the effect on sugar growers’ incomes of not being able to market 15 per cent of their crop in any particular year.
The Queensland Minister for Primary Industries, Mr Sullivan, came much closer to letting the industry know the truth. He was reported in the
West Australian of 28 February 1978 as saying that the Australian sugar industry would face a major financial burden for a while after the negotiation of the new International Sugar Agreement. He continued and said:
The stock-holding obligations of the export members are quite substantial, and Australia is required to establish its stock of about 400,000 tonnes over the next three years.
I will return to that point later in my speech. Mr Sullivan continued:
This will impose a major financial burden on the industry at a time when the expansion of its bulk storage and handling facilities is also making substantial demands on available finance.
I understand that this is particularly the case in the Mackay and Bundaberg regions where significant increases in sugar assignments have taken place in the last couple of years. I now want to deal with the question of pricing. The London Financial Times of 5 April 1978 contained a comment on a significant sale of sugar by the Soviet Union. It stated:
World sugar prices fell yesterday in response to reports that Russia had resold substantial amounts of white sugar bought earlier in the season to traditional outlets.
In the morning the London daily raw sugar price was marked down £2 to £100 a tonne -
This is pounds sterling- and on the futures market August delivery prices closed at £3.675 lower at £ 106 a tonne.
That price of £106 sterling a tonne is very close to the £100 a tonne which Mr Anthony cited in one of his earlier releases- it is equivalent to $155 or thereabouts in Australian currency. He claimed it would be a catastrophic price; a price to which sugar would have fallen had this agreement not been negotiated. As that report clearly demonstrates, the commercial expectation of the industry is that that is what the international free market price of sugar will be in August of this year.
As I mentioned before, it is very fortunate for the sugar industry that more than half of Australia ‘s likely exports are committed in long term contracts which, incidentally, were negotiated during the period of the Labor Government. When we look back to that period now, it is ironic to review the comments made about those agreements at the time they were made, particularly those made by the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). He now denounces everyone who draws attention to the present sick reality of the Australian economy as being in some way guilty of treasonable conduct. I have in front of me a Press release from the Liberal Party of Australia, dated 22 April 1974, under the name of the Hon. Malcolm Fraser, MP. In this Press release, Mr Fraser was building up the theme that agriculture was going through a period of catastrophic price decline and recession. I point out that farm incomes have fallen by about 50 per cent since he said that. In attempting to denigrate the importance of the sales contracts which the then Labor Government had been instrumental in concluding, he said:
Mr Whitlam claims to have built up new markets.
The agreements that have been made are worthless because no price is built into them. The farmer is unprotected on the world markets.
He went on to say:
The Government’s wheat and sugar deals with China give no protection because there are no price commitments by the Chinese.
Mr Fraser would now have us believe that such a comment is almost treasonable. It is the sort of comment which he now identifies as economic sabotage. In view of that disparaging comment, it is even more ironic to note the comments made by the Premier of Queensland on the value of these agreements which the present Prime Minister had decreed to be worthless in 1974. The Age newspaper of 14 July 1977 reports Mr BjelkePetersen as saying:
I haven’t the slightest doubt the Japanese will honour the original contract terms.
That is one of the contracts which Mr Fraser would have had us believe was worthless. This statement also appeared in the Courier-Mail of 17 September 1977, somewhat later:
That is Mr Bjelke-Petersen- said that the State Government would continue to pursue the objective of the full 1974 contract price.
He was speaking about the contract with Japan. As I mentioned earlier in my address, the history of world sugar prices is one of extreme instability. There have been cycles in the past when sugar has been in relatively short supply. This cyclical activity occurs partly because a relatively small proportion of total sugar production is exported. Most of it is consumed either within the country where it is grown or within the European Economic Community which does not enter into the general world trade. It ought not to be surprising to anybody looking at the industry to discover that the very high prices of the mid 1970s fell. Of course, there has always been a temptation when prices are very high to expand significantly the production base. We fell for this in the early 1960s after the conflict between Cuba and the United States of America had disrupted the world sugar market. The price rose and there was a significant increase in assignments and mill peaks within Australia.
The same thing happened in the 1970s. To some extent it is defensible to do this, because had Australian production not been expanded during that period the basic quota which Australia now has under this agreement would probably have been lower. The criticism I want to make relates to the time at which this expansion took place. In 1976 the gross assignmentsthat is, the land that is licensed to grow sugarwere increased from 320,000 hectares to 348,000 hectares. If one goes back as far as 1972 one finds that there were assignments to 320,000 hectares. The area granted for sugar assignments had varied by only a few thousand hectares going right back to 1 967.
But in 1976 additional assignments were issued for 28,000 hectares. At that time world sugar prices were already falling. The boom had passed, and that expansion was substantially responsible for the industry’s present surplus capacity. I suggest that the Government of Queensland ought to have made a more astute assessment of the likely potential market for sugar at that time, given that the cycle of high prices caused by either crop failure or some other market disruption like the United States-Cuba dispute of the early 1 960s induces boom prices, which in turn induce an expansion of acreage planted in most of the major sugar-producing countries and, consequently, another depression. At the very time when sugar prices were falling the Queensland Government took that decision to increase the assignment area by about 9 per cent. If we look at the mill peaks, we find that the same sort of proportions are reflected.
I want to make one other comment on the question of the expansion of the sugar industry and, in particular, to issue a warning. For many years the Premier of Western Australia has been endeavouring to find some use for the water that is stored at Kununurra in the north of Western Australia at a cost of more than $100m in current value dollars. The dam that was completed, I think in 1971 or 1972, originally to grow cotton, has been a miserable failure, as anyone who looked rationally at the proposal from the beginning had said it would be. But this is one of the Western Australian Premier’s private obsessions, and since cotton growing, rice growing, fattening beef cattle, growing sorghum, and everything that he has ever proposed for the area has failed, a couple of years ago, because sugar prices were high, he got the idea that perhaps sugar could be grown in the Ord. Technically, of course, there is no reason why we cannot do it; the problems are economic and not technical. So a pilot program for commercial sugar production was started in the Ord. In the West Australian on 4 March the following report appears under the headline ‘Sugar Plan at Ord goes on ‘:
Restraints on sugar production in Australia will not deter the State Government’s investigations into a commercial sugar industry on the Ord River.
The report then goes on to give the details. The particular warning I want to give here is that if the Premier of Western Australia is turned loose on the Arab loan market to borrow the $300m that he wants to borrow in order to establish a sugar industry in the Ord, not only will the longsuffering taxpayers of Western Australia have to foot the bill for greatly expanded losses on this project- and I mention as an aside that in addition to getting no return on the $100m-odd that is invested, the program has been a continuous strain on the Treasury of Western Australia; about $3m a year has been contributed by the Western Australian Treasury to maintain the handful of token farmers who still exist in the Ord in order to camouflage the fact that the Premier’s pet scheme has been a complete failure, which it has been- but also it will seriously add to the surplus capacity that is likely to continue.
It has been estimated by CSR Ltd that the minimum production cost in the Ord is in the vicinity of $300 a tonne. That is stated in the updated report of the CSR 1975 study. Current market prices, as we have already seen, are in the vicinity of $ 1 50 to $ 1 60 a tonne. At those prices, for production of some 200,000 tonnes of raw sugar, which is what is envisaged, we can anticipate an annual loss of about $28m or $30m. That is what it would cost under present conditions to support the Western Australian Premier’s pipe dream on the Ord. I make this point because there is a very real danger that if the Federal Government relaxes its controls over borrowings by State governments, if it turns the Western Australian Premier loose on the Arab loan market or on any other loan market, he will borrow $300m and set up the sugar growing plan as he hopes to do, and ultimately the national Government will be called upon to meet the $28m or $30m annual losses which are likely to ensue.
I want to make a couple more points about some of the minor matters which are covered in this Bill- they are minor relative to the fact that this agreement obliges Australia to restrict its sales by 1 5 per cent and provides absolutely no guarantee of a minimum price. Indeed, it contains nothing to prevent prices falling right down to zero. In addition, the agreement imposes obligations on Australia to hold stocks. One of the earlier quotations I made mentioned that there are stocks of up to 400,000 tonnes. There are fairly vague provisions in the agreement which require both importers and exporters to contribute to funding those stocks. The provisions are vague, and it is not at all clear what extra burden this obligation will impose upon the Australian industry. Specifically, the questions which have not been adequately answered are: Will loans from the stock financing fund established under the agreement meet all the cost of holding stocks of sugar? Recent reports in the Australian Press of borrowings overseas of some SI 6m, I think, by the Queensland Government or guaranteed by the Queensland Government suggest that the answer to that question is no, that the funds will have to be found by the industry and /or by the Queensland Government. If the stock financing fund is not supplied under the agreement, who will meet the difference between the loans from the fund and the total cost? Is the sugar likely to be carried over from one year to another and, if so, where will it be stored? What other implications flow on from this to the industry generally? On behalf of the Opposition, I move:
I think I have demonstrated from the extracts I have read that there has been a whole series of misleading statements by the Deputy Prime Minister on this matter, beginning in October last year and continuing to the second reading speech on the Bill. Therefore censure by the Senate for misrepresenting the pricing provisions of the Agreement is well merited.
I have said several times that the crucial defects in this Bill are that the EEC is not a signatory to the Agreement, that its current production is well in excess of its likely sales, that the EEC is a notorious dumper of surplus agricultural commodities on world markets, and that there is nothing in this Agreement, given the serious oversupply situation that exists globally, to stop the price of sugar falling to zero. The only obligations imposed upon those people who are signatories to the Agreement is that they will not ship more than a certain tonnage of sugar if the price is below $US0.1 1 per lb. No other obligation is imposed on them. This is not just speculation. In fact it has happened. Sugar prices have been hovering at just above 8c per lb for a couple of months, and I understand that currently they are slightly below 8c per lb. The Government, in particular the Deputy Prime Minister, has not come clean on this issue, and the Deputy Prime Minister deserves to be censured by the Senate in this mild form by the carriage of the amendment I have moved.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
-Mr President, I support the International Sugar Agreement because it is an attempt by the sugar growing countries of the world, with the exception of the European Economic Community, to arrive at a stabilised price for sugar. Over a period of years there have been violent fluctuations in the world price of sugar. I remember that some years ago the price rose to the unprecedented figure of something over f 100 a ton. I think it was fi 12. That in turn brought about an increase in production. It is correct to say that whenever the price of a commodity rises in that way and there is no control of production, naturally people increase their production, because the price is good, in order to reap the benefit of that high price. Because people try to cash in on the high price it usually happens that there is then an overproduction, which happened at the time of which I am speaking.
In 1974 there was an unprecedented rise in the price of sugar, which went to over $1,000 a ton. No one could ever have conceived of such a price for sugar, and naturally such a price set off a movement to cash in on the high market. As a result, more cane was grown. Too much cane was grown, and today we have the same result as before- low world prices. At various times agreements have been made, and there have been movements in recent years to get this International Sugar Agreement going. Ultimately we have reached the point at which Australia is one of the signatories to the Agreement. Unfortunately, as I said before, the European Economic Community is not a signatory and is acting in such an irresponsible and probably greedy way that I believe the other sugar producing nations of the world should take it by the scruff of the neck and bar its secondary products in countries where the Agreement applies. That is the way to treat these people. That is what they understand. The trouble is that most of the governments are too weak.
The basis of this Agreement is an attempt to develop a price that is reasonably profitable for the sugar industry, with a minimum of 1 1 rising to a maximum of 21c. It has been pointed out that the price of sugar is below 1 lc. When this Agreement was being discussed and was introduced I think it was recognised that there would be some difficulty in establishing that price but that over a reasonable period it would be achieved. In order to bring about this result the industry in this country, like the industry in other countries, cut back its production. In the case of Australia there will be a certain amount of overproduction of sugar, which it is proposed to store. The Agreement makes financial arrangements whereby the people who bear the costs of that production and storage will receive some financial assistance.
Sugar cane will be left in the fields and will not be crushed. That is a very serious blow to the sugar farmers of this country, but they have been far sighted enough to recognise that something like this has to be done. Whilst it might be difficult for a while and prices might be low, because of the cutback in production in the sugar producing countries of the world eventually prices will reach stability at a level that will be reasonably profitable to the industry. It is good to know that we in Australia are a part of this Agreement and that the Government is a signatory to it. We can hope only that it will bring about the results that were hoped for when the Agreement was formulated. Each and every one of us who knows the industry must recognise that it is of great value to this country to have a sound, solid, stable sugar industry.
In my own State of Queensland, sugar cane is grown in the coastal regions from around Bundaberg, Childers and other regions to the south to areas north of Cairns. My own area of Mackay is the largest sugar producing centre in Australia, and I know just what the industry means to the people in these communities. I believe that it has been responsible for one of the best decentralised areas of population in this country. The fact that the sugar industry is strung out along the coast has meant the establishment of populated areas of reasonable size, and as a result Queensland is a very good decentralised State. The sugar industry is one of which Australians can be proud. To those people like my colleagues from Victoria who imagine that all the brains are in the south I say that we have brains and ability in Queensland. As I said to one of our Victorian senators today when he interjected, people in Victoria live in such foggy country that it is hard for them to see very far, but in Queensland we have such bright sunshine that we can see much further ahead.
The sugar industry in Queensland has been one of stability and one which has achieved great progress and development for the State of Queensland. What is more, it has been of great value to the other industrial States because of the benefits it has brought to industry in those States. The Australian sugar industry is one of which, as I said before, we as Australians can be truly proud. It is a very scientific industry, so much so that it is looked upon as possibly the most efficient sugar industry in the world. It is one of the top industries in efficiency, and it is possibly one of the most efficient. That situation has been brought about over a period of years by the application of science and investigation in developing the industry to the highest standards. Research goes on continuously in the experimental stations into new types of sugar cane which produce more sugar and therefore larger tonnages per acre.
The matter of scientific milling has also received some concentrated attention. Over a period of years milling has developed tremendously. Wherever one goes one finds all types of modern methods of milling in application. Some years ago the bulk handling of sugar on the waterfront was introduced. That too was a very big advancement in the handling of the product of this industry. It did away with the necessity to put the sugar in bags and so on. At whatever aspect of the sugar industry one looks, one finds that it is an industry of which we can be proud because of its scientific developments which have taken place on the soundest possible lines. As I said before, as a consequence, we have in this country an industry which is so efficient that it is equal, if not superior, to the sugar industries of any country in the world.
Therefore I feel that anything we can do to stabilise our sugar industry will be to the advantage of Australia generally. We have to remember that our exports of sugar help to bring in overseas credits. It is States such as Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania which are earning surpluses in overseas credits which help to prevent the other States from going on the rocks financially. These sorts of things should be recognised. I think the people of the other States should realise what the sugar industry is doing for Australia and for them.
During the war years the people of this country were able to buy sugar more cheaply than were the people in any other country because of the price at which we were able to produce sugar in Australia. During the time of the great fluctuations in world prices, which in 1 974 reached more than $1,000 a ton, the people of Australia had access to possibly the cheapest sugar in the world because of the price that was fixed in Australia. There is a tendency for people and for governments to forget these things. Therefore I think it is up to this Government to get a bit of a move on and to recognise that this industry needs consideration in the setting of sugar prices. It is amazing how this Government staggers along and fails to recognise the great part that this industry has played in giving people cheap sugar and in helping to develop this country, as well as all the great things it has done for the people of this country.
Whilst there are difficulties ahead, 1 believe that the signing of this Agreement by Australia and the creation of the International Sugar Agreement will in the long run- it might take two or three years to reach real stability- be of great benefit to Australia. Because of lower sugar production throughout the world and the possibility of increasing demand, the international situation might change completely, in which case we will be looking at a sugar industry which is much more prosperous than it is at the moment. Because of the great worth that that industry is to this country, I sincerely hope that the Agreement will help stabilise the industry and to ensure that it continues to be the great industry that it has been over the years. I support the legislation.
– Earlier in the debate 1 seconded the amendment to the motion for the second reading which was moved by my colleague Senator Walsh. The effect of the amendment, if carried, would be to add at the end of the motion ‘That this Bill be now read a second time’ the following words:
deplores the Australian Government’s failure to:
b ) Condemns the Minister for misrepresenting the Agreement’s pricing provisions and their likely impact on Australian export prices.
At the outset I indicate that I agree with Senator Wood when he said that the Australian sugar industry is a very efficient industry. But the figures which are set out in the second reading speech which was delivered in this chamber by the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) indicate that obviously there are grave difficulties ahead for sugar growers in Australia. I wish to refer in particular very shortly to the problems confronting sugar growers on the north coast of New South Wales. In the second reading speech the Minister said:
Honourable senators are no doubt aware of the vital importance of the sugar industry to Australia, and will welcome the many benefits that membership of the ISA has brought . . .
Nonetheless, I say this International Sugar Agreement will not be able to alleviate very much the immense market problems that the industry faces at present, principally because of the world surplus of sugar production.
The purpose of the International Sugar Agreement Bill is to authorise Australia’s membership and participation in the International Sugar Agreement which came into force on 1 January 1 978. Might I say, however, that the Agreement which is now before us provides for basic export tonnages for exporting countries. Australia’s quota has been set at 2.3 million tonnes raw value. As Australia last year was able to export 2.8 million tonnes of raw sugar, this Agreement will mean further severe cutbacks in sugar production and therefore further stockpiling of sugar on the home markets than exist at present. The Agreement also imposes certain sanctions upon trade with non-member countries. That, I suggest, becomes a rather futile exercise when it is realised that, despite the efforts of the Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony) and the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland), who returned to Australia only today, the European Economic Community, which is the biggest trading bloc in the world and a major producer of sugar, is not a party to the International Sugar Agreement.
– Whose fault is that?
– It is certainly not the fault of the Labor Government. Do not blame the Labor Government. We are used to hearing from honourable senators opposite day after day that every problem that exists in the country stems from an administrative decision of the Whitlam Labor Government. Supporters of the National Country Party must face up to the realities of life and tell the sugar growers of this country, as they know already, that the economic future of the industry is not rosy.
As I said, the EEC, which is the biggest trading bloc in the world and a major producer of sugar, is not a party to the International Sugar Agreement. When I mention that under this Agreement Australia’s quota is to be fixed at the rate of 2.3 million tonnes raw value, that we exported 2.8 million tonnes last year, and that there is taking place in the world further over-production or a glut, the sorts of difficulties that the Australian sugar growers are facing can be seen. Despite the sorts of sacrifices which Australia has to make under the terms of the Agreement, there is not even a guaranteed or minimum price per tonne for export sugar. The Agreement also tries to stabilise sugar prices within a range of 1 1 United States cents and 2 1 United States cents per pound, financed by a levy on all trade in sugar by members of the Agreement. But again, as I mentioned, that does not guarantee a minimum price, and the Government has been careful not to mention that fact.
The Minister mentioned the importance of the sugar industry and of the 100,000 people who are directly or indirectly involved with sugar production in Australia. I suggest that the Government will have to realise that without its support and a close investigation of all aspects of the industry ‘s marketing and milling problems both on the domestic and on the international fronts, a major export earner for Australia will be seriously threatened. For some time I have been interested in the sugar industry as it exists on the Tweed, Richmond and Clarence Rivers of the North Coast of New South Wales, the State that I represent in the Parliament. Last October in the Senate I mentioned that a difficult position had arisen in the industry because the miller, CSR Ltd which owns and operates the three mills on the North Coast of New South Wales at Condong, Broadwater and Harwood, was interested in getting out of the industry. I said that if it were allowed to get out of the industry there would be increasing difficulties for New South Wales sugar growers. I said at that time that because it was currently the sole miller, the marketer and the refiner of sugar in New South Wales, it had a responsibility to face up to its obligations to the problems of the growers who had serviced the operations of the mills for some considerable time.
As long ago as last October I mentioned that CSR Ltd was interested in turning over its three mills at Condong, Broadwater and Harwood to the growers in the form of a co-operative. Only today one sees in the financial section of the Sydney Morning Herald- I mention again that I raised this matter in the Senate as long ago as last October- an article headed ‘Ultimatum on NSW sugar mills ‘, which states:
CSR Ltd has warned NSW sugarcane growers that it will close its three northern NSW mills if the growers do not agree to take the mills over.
I suggest that the company is literally holding a gun at the heads of those who now face severe economic circumstances. They grow their sugar. There is an over-production of sugar on the world’s market. Their future markets are very doubtful but they have got the crop in. Despite their present economic difficulties, CSR tells them: ‘If you do not take over the mills now we will close the mills and therefore you will not have anywhere to mill and refine your sugar’. I suggest that that is holding an economic gun at the head of those who are in difficult circumstances now. The article goes on to state:
A proposal that a co-operative be formed and pay CSR $5. 5m for the mills at Harwood, Broadwater and Condong is to go before meetings of local growers over the next 2 weeks.
Its acceptance has been recommended by the Council of the NSW Cane Growers’ Association after nearly four years of negotiations with the company.
I have no doubt that the NSW Cane Growers’ Council has recommended acceptance of the proposition that a co-operative be established. Many individual cane growers on the North Coast of New South Wales, particularly in the Tweed River Valley, are concerned about how they will be able to finance a proposition of that nature- if it exists- and about what sort of levy will be imposed on them, bearing in mind their reduced returns. The article continues:
In that time CSR, which has been trying to extricate itself from the Northern NSW industry -
In ordinary lay parlance that means trying to get out of the industry–
Would a large businesslike organisation such as CSR Ltd which has a price of $20m on its operations in Northern New South Wales suddenly, for generosity’s sake, reduce its price to the growers to $5. 5m? The company wants to get out of the industry as best it can in the economic circumstances of the time. The article continues:
CSR believes that agreement to, and implementation of, the proposed arrangements represents the only realistic course of action if the industry is to survive,’ a statement issued last night and signed by the company’s deputy general manager, Mr A. J. Campbell, said.
CSR has made it clear that it will not continue as a sugar miller in NSW (and) further investment in the NSW mills cannot be justified by a proprietary company.’
Apparently, according to CSR, it can be justified by the growers who have to mill their product in New South Wales. But so far as the company is concerned, in the continuation of its businesslike operations, the problems of milling cannot be justified by a proprietary company. According to the article, Mr Campbell stated: ‘If the mills are not sold, they will be closed. ‘ That, I suggest, is a very serious situation for the 150-odd cane growers on the Tweed River, for the 280-odd farmers on the Richmond River and for the 250 farmers on the Clarence River, plus the mill hands who work in the mills at Condong, Harwood and Broadwater and the farm hands who work on the farms.
I suggest that this proposal should not be allowed to go through without complete investigation. I do not knock it completely because it may be the only escape hatch that is left to the growers. If the Government is interested in protecting the welfare of the sugar cane growers and the workers engaged in the industry it must ensure that a complete investigation is undertaken of the whole proposal that has been submitted. It has now been suggested that the Government of New South Wales and the Federal Government should each bear half of the amount of the loan that would be required by the growers to buy out CSR. I want to know, as 1 asked the Minister earlier today, whether any approach has been made by anyone to the Federal Government for half of the amount of $5. 5 m- a fortnight ago when I was on the North Coast the amount was $6. 2m but apparently it is now down to $5. 5m- and if so, whether the Federal Government will put up the $2. 5m or $3m that might be required if such a proposal is put to it.
If the Federal Government will not back such a proposition, I suggest that the growers cannot possibly have a bar of it. I suggest that some inquiry be made as to the state of capital equipment at the plants at Harwood and Condong in particular. If the growers are to be asked to take over these mills they should be assured that they function at full or near full capacity and that they will not be asked to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, or indeed $ 1 m or $2m over and above the amount of $5. 5m, for replacement of the boilers and other capital equipment in them.
One other thing that I should mention is that I believe that in any arrangements of this nature that are made the Government should ensure the protection of the cane growers and the workers who have worked for CSR Ltd. It should ensure that before such a transaction occurs and the growers take over the mills as a co-operative, long service leave, superannuation and furlough entitlements of all those workers at the mills are paid by the company before they become a liability on the growers. On face value it would appear that if the growers on the north-west of New South Wales are to continue to exist in the cane industry this might be the only avenue open to them. If CSR is adamant that it intends to close down the mills come what may, in order to give full protection and so that the growers and the workers in the industry will know what lies ahead for them and the industry there must be a complete and open investigation into the proposal.
I know that the Australian Workers Union is very concerned about the situation. The New South Wales north coast organiser of the AWU was called to Brisbane last week to have discussions with the executive of the Queensland branch of the Union because, for industrial purposes, so far as the sugar industry is concerned, the north coast of New South Wales comes within the ambit of the Queensland branch. The Queensland branch of the AWU and the New South Wales branch are equally concerned about the situation. They are concerned to protect the livelihoods of their members and to protect the investment of their members in the industry, namely their furlough, superannuation and long service leave entitlements.
A number of cane growers on the Tweed River are fearful that a co-operative formed for the three rivers, the Tweed, the Richmond and the Clarence, with their different problems and different topographical variations, may not be able to work successfully in the strict sense of the term co-operative. They are fearful that they will be up for much more than the $5. 5m that was mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald today. They are concerned about the state of the boilers in the mills and the huge amount that might have to be found and spent by them on replacing urgently needed capital equipment. They are fearful that they might not have available to them the business expertise, built up by CSR over the years, to enable them to handle the milling operations. A lot of the expertise now available to CSR might not be available to them. In other words they believe that the people with expertise will go off to other sections of other industries.
The growers are fearful that in addition to the $5. 5m they might also have to meet, if these things are not attended to beforehand, the superannuation and long service leave entitlements of the workers who are to be transferred from the employ of CSR to the employ of the proposed co-operative. Thus the growers might wrongly come into confrontation with the workers in the industry when such confrontation should be between the CSR and the industrial unions concerned. If any arrangement is made for CSR to opt out of the industry provision should be made in any agreement for that company to meet the superannuation and long service leave entitlements of existing employees.
The New South Wales canegrowers are hard working Australian farmers. They are not as well blessed as their Queensland colleagues. Because by comparison only a small amount of cane is grown in New South Wales, I suppose it is only natural that the New South Wales Department of Agriculture has not developed the expertise in cane agronomy that has been developed in Queensland. Therefore, they labour under somewhat difficult circumstances so far as their production is concerned. But they are hard working Australian farmers. They want to protect their industry and to preserve their heritage. They do not want to be sold down the drain merely to let CSR Ltd out of the industry at a time of economic down-turn. The Labor Party in New South Wales has had as its policy for some 12 months that there should be a public inquiry into the raw sugar industry in New South Wales. I trust that such a policy will be implemented. That policy was confirmed and reaffirmed at a rural conference of the Australian Labor Party held in Goulburn last weekend and a request that a public inquiry should be held was carried as a motion.
In the meantime I believe that the Federal Government should state whether it has been asked to subscribe to a loan of $2. 5m or $3m, or whatever the amount might be, for the proposed establishment of a co-operative. If it has it should state the terms and conditions and whether it intends to make the finance available. I have noted that the takeover proposal is to go before meetings of growers at Broadwater and Harwood on Thursday and at Condong on Friday. It is then proposed that it go to a mass meeting of all growers at Lismore on Friday week. I suggest that the matters I have raised should be answered by the Government before those meetings are held because the decision the canegrowers are being asked to make will have great effects on the economic viability of the sugar industry and on the welfare of the people who live on the north coast of New South Wales. I support the amendment moved by my colleague Senator Walsh.
– I intend to take some little time to address myself to some of the matters mentioned by Senator Walsh. It is rather sad that Senator
Walsh is such a portrayer of doom. There are two things that are guaranteed when Senator Walsh makes a speech in this place: Firstly he predicts doom; secondly, he criticises Sir Charles Court. He manages to work in those two things in every speech he makes in the Senate. Also, almost invariably, there is nothing constructive in what he says. He managed to include those three criteria in his speech tonight. He said that the Government is somehow responsible for increasing the production of sugar in Queensland and northern New South Wales. I cannot see how that could have happened. If the Government was responsible for increasing the production of sugar during the period of high sugar prices I congratulate it. It should not be condemned for that. That is a normal state of affairs. But I cannot see how this affects by one iota the price of sugar on the world market, which was the point Senator Walsh was trying to make.
I agree that as a result of high world prices, production increases all over the world. In agreeing with that, I fail to see how Australia can control the situation at all. Senator Walsh made great play of the fact that the agreement does not include the European Economic Community. I agree that that is a serious shortfall in the agreement. But how does the honourable senator suggest that we get the EEC to become a party to the agreement? Senator Walsh tends to ignore the beneficial effect of the agreement. It gives a great deal of benefit to the sugar industry in Australia. First of all, there are the long term sale agreements that will be made as a result of this agreement, and then there is the buffer stock which will be stockpiled to overcome the shortfalls and the surpluses which will arise from the agreement.
Senator Walsh spent quite some time talking about the Ord. He referred to the figure of $300 per tonne as being the cost of production. I am not in a position to check the figure or to guarantee that it is correct. I suggest that the cost of production is substantially lower than the figure cited, given the fact that the Ord River dam is already built. I suggest that the honourable senator from the way he worked out his figure, tried to pay off the total cost of the dam in the first year of production. I would have to receive a lot more detail from Senator Walsh before I would agree with the figure of $300 a tonne as being the cost of production. I will deal with the situation in the Ord later.
Senator Douglas McClelland seemed to devote almost all of his speech to dealing with a matter which had nothing whatsoever to do with the Bill. He talked a great deal about the efforts of the CSR Ltd to sell its sugar mill in northern New South Wales to a group of producers. I understand that the philosophy of the Australian Labor Party is in favour of co-operatives. I have been a director of a co-operative for many years. I think that in some areas a co-operative represents a beneficial way of running things. I fail to see how the honourable senator can equate CSR holding the gun at the head of growers on the one hand and reducing the sugar price from $20m to $5. 5m a tonne on the other hand. I was in the Clarence River area a few weeks ago talking to many of the sugar growers. It is my firm belief that the growers have wanted to purchase the CSR sugar mill for many years.
I turn to the Bill. It is not my intention to speak a great deal about the provisions of the Bill. Senator Wood, my colleague from Queensland, covered some aspects of it. Senator Maunsell, also a colleague from Queensland, will be covering those aspects as well. It is sufficient to say that the agreement involves countries which represent about 84 per cent of the free market trade in sugar. As I have said the major exception is the EEC. It is rather sad that that is the situation because the EEC, as a bloc, is the largest single producer of sugar in the world. It is in a position to make a major disruption to the whole of this agreement. As I said before in response to Senator Walsh’s remarks, we cannot do anything about making the EEC become a party to the agreement. It was a major accomplishment to get the United States of America to become a party to the agreement in the first place.
It is a serious matter that the EEC is not a party to the agreement. This creates a tremendous threat to our sugar producers as it does to many of our other rural producers. It has been a tradition of the EEC countries in more recent years to highly subsidise their rural production. When they get what has to be an automatic surplus of production they dump it on the world market and undercut our traditional trading partners. The Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland) returned from the EEC today. I certainly hope that he has been able to achieve some results from his efforts in that area. The EEC is a very inward looking concept. I do not think that the concept will be of ultimate benefit to the countries in the Community, let alone to the rest of the world.
It is pretty well known that I adopt the philosophy of free trade. I firmly believe that any market controls create distortions in the market, but I believe, on the other hand, that international agreements are almost universally beneficial. Major buyers of a particular commodity can undercut one producer against another and thus force down the prices on the world market. I was fortunate to be able to spend some three weeks on the east coast of Queensland last year. I had a good look at the sugar industry. I do not consider myself to be an expert on the industry. It is certainly interesting to have a close look at it. More importantly, the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources, of which I am Chairman, spent several days in the north of New South Wales and along the Queensland coast recently. We conducted public inquiries into our reference from the Senate on the Commonwealth ‘s role in the assessment, planning, development and management of Australia’s water resources. The visit took place in response to the Committee’s receiving many submissions from Queensland sugar producers. The sugar industry, from what little I saw of it, seems to be extremely well organised. It is reputed to be one of the most efficient in the world. It is certainly attractive. When I was there last year the sugar cane was just out in flower. One of the most beautiful agricultural sights I have seen was the waving flowers on thousands of acres of sugar cane. The industry is tightly controlled by the mills themselves and by the CSR. I believe that has been one of the secrets of its success.
The industry has problems with water. We were there to find out the problems. The problems have come about because of an increase in production and a rapid increase in the usage of water from underground aquifers. Irrigation is necessary to overcome the frequent dry spells which occur in the growing period. Irrigation is putting quite a serious stress on town water supplies. Queensland has on the coast large cities which are growing quickly. Demands on water are increasing at a great rate. It is a serious problem to try to overcome what is potentially quite a disastrous water shortage problem, lt is significant that the requests for finance to increase the water supply have not been made to enable increased planting to take place; they have been made merely to mitigate against the effects of quite frequent droughts. That is an important matter to remember.
Senator Walsh mentioned the potential sugar cane production in the Ord River area. I do not hold it against anybody for carrying out investigations into that possibility. I am personally not confident that sugar cane production is the solution to the immense problems of the Ord River area. An investigation into the possibly of sugar cane production in the area will do no harm. Who knows what the future holds for the price of sugar? I see a great potential in the area for growing sugar cane to produce liquid fuel. I strongly support a proposal to conduct an investigation into that question. The area is remote from the larger cities in Australia, it is increasing in size and its requirements for liquid fuel are growing. It is quite close to the iron ore producing areas of the Pilbara. If they could produce reasonably economically liquid fuel from sugar cane or other materials, that would be quite a major contribution to remedying our potential liquid fuel shortage in Australia. It is quite well known that Tasmanians, who always seem to be optimistic, say that there is a potential for sugar beet in their State. No doubt they can grow sugar beet, but in the present period when there is a surplus of sugar in the world I doubt that it can be justified economically.
I strongly support the Bill. I reject the amendment. For the reasons I mentioned at the beginning of my address, I reject almost everything Senator Walsh said. I would suggest to Senator Douglas McClelland that in future he should talk about the Bill instead of discussing something totally unrelated to it. Finally, I congratulate the Government on reaching the standard of agreement that it has reached at this stage.
– This evening we are debating the International Sugar Agreement Bill 1978. The Opposition does not oppose this Bill but has moved an amendment to it. I shall mention that amendment at a later stage. Before referring specifically to the Bill, I would like to outline some aspects of the sugar industry in Australia. When 1 speak about the sugar industry in Australia, my comments will relate principally to Queensland, not because I represent that State but because most of the sugar production comes from Queensland. About 95 per cent of Australia’s sugar production is Queensland-based, the remainder coming from the northern part of New South Wales. Earlier this evening Senator Wood outlined some aspects of the importance of the sugar industry to Queensland. It is by no means an over-statement to say that if the sugar industry were taken away from Queensland, the east coast of Queensland would wither and die. If that happened and there were a sudden population decrease, there would be fairly disastrous effects on Australian trade, as I will show later. There would also be serious implications for Australia’s defence. It would leave a large length of the coastline of Australia without sufficient population for a reasonable defence barrier.
Therefore it is important that we look not only at the International Sugar Agreement itself but also at the sugar industry in Queensland and what it means to Australia. Australia is the fourth largest producer of cane sugar in the world. In Australia sugar is second only to wheat crops in value of production. The position in Queensland is different. In Queensland sugar production is of far greater value than that of any other crop grown in the State. In fact the value of sugar cane production in Queensland accounts for about 50 per cent of the value of crops grown. Various attempts were made from about the early 1 800s to grow sugar commercially in Australia, but it was not until about 1 860 that the sugar cane industry was firmly established. In 1867 there were six sugar mills in Queensland. There are now 32 mills in Australia. This gives an idea of the dramatic increase in the last century. All but three of these 32 sugar mills are in Queensland. As Senator Thomas mentioned, many of them are cooperative mills. From the 1 800s until now the industry has progressed a long way. It was not until 1924 that Australia became a sugar exporter, but since then it has been a major exporter to the rest of the world.
The sugar industry is now highly efficient. There is much mechanisation, and the labour content is much lower than it was. I can remember that even 20 years ago in Queensland we said that we would never mechanise the sugar industry in our State; there would always be a need for cane cutters. The cane cutter has virtually gone in Queensland. Some of us who remember Queensland history remember rather shamefully, I suppose, that Kanaka labour was used in Queensland, and it was still being used in this century. It was virtually slave labour. It was only because of the federation of the Australian States that Kanaka labour was phased out. We have a very highly efficient industry today.
I mentioned earlier how the decline of the industry in Australia, especially in Queensland, would mean grave consequences for Australia ‘s trade. I will illustrate that by some figures which give the value of this trade to Australia. In 1976-77 the value of sugar exports from Australia was $638m. To say that figure in isolation probably does not mean much, but if we were to compare it with the figures for other crops and other exports, it means a lot. This $638m of sugar exports in 1976-77 was 12.4 per cent or one-eighth of the value of Australia’s rural exports and 5.5 per cent of the total value of exports. Therefore one can quite easily understand that it is a significant industry for Australia and especially for Queensland.
The number of people employed in the sugar industry also gives an indication of its significance. The number of persons employed in sugar cane growing and harvesting in Australia, according to statistics revealed by the Australian census, as at 30 June 1971 was 12,403. Of course in addition there is the manufacturing side of the industry. In the manufacture of raw and refined sugar and products such as molasses, treacle and castor sugar 9,871 people were employed. So in 1971 there were 22,274 people directly employed in the sugar industry. This is a significant part of the work force. These figures do not include those people who are employed in transporting sugar on the railway trucks of CSR Ltd; they do not include persons who would occasionally handle sugar and its products, such as railway employees and wharf labourers. In addition to those 22,274 people other people are employed in this industry. This gives an indication of the importance of the industry to Australia, especially to that part of Australia where most of the sugar cane is grown, that is, in Queensland.
When 1 quoted the figures for the number of people employed in the industry, I mentioned some of the wide variety of products that come from sugar cane. There is not only the sugar itself but also there are products such as molasses which can be used as a stock food and a fertiliser, industrial alcohol, and, to the dismay of some people but to the happiness of others, rum. We have products like golden syrup, treacle and various types of sugar. One could examine a number of other aspects of the sugar industry in Queensland. For instance, if one were to look at the technical services which have grown up in Queensland, especially for the sugar industry, one would find these are of a high level of efficiency. But I do not want to mention anything further about the sugar industry in Queensland. I want to mention something about market agreements because this Bill is concerned with market agreements.
There have been three international marketing agreements which have affected Australia’s sugar industry. 1 mention them briefly. The first is akin to the matter we are debating tonight, namely, the International Sugar Agreement Bill. The International Sugar Agreement was first negotiated in 1937. It sought, as does the Bill before us, to lift depressed world market prices by way of a system of export quotas. So the principle then was exactly the same as the principle contained in the Bill which we are debating tonight. Unfortunately, war broke out shortly after this Agreement was first negotiated in 1937. World War II broke out in 1939 and precluded the operation of this Agreement. However, in 1953 a new International Sugar Agreement was negotiated. There were various breaks in this Agreement which were followed by newly negotiated agreements. So the International Sugar Agreement is one of the marketing arrangements which has been used.
The second marketing arrangement which could be considered is the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, which was first signed in 1951 following a conference of British Commonwealth sugar exporters. As one would anticipate from the title of this Agreement, it was concerned with trade and production within Commonwealth countries. As honourable senators would realise, the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement was terminated in 1974. The third marketing arrangement which affected Australia’s sugar industry and which we might consider was the United States Sugar Act. Under this Act Australia was allotted a percentage share of United State foreign sugar requirements. Like the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, the United States Sugar Act terminated in 1974. In addition to these three general marketing arrangements, of course, we have some long term contracts. At present we have contracts with nations such as Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea. It is well known too that even though we have these long term contracts with these nations we sometimes run into problems even when the contracts are actually being fulfilled.
I turn now to the International Sugar Agreement Bill, which is under consideration. When I look at this Bill I think I agree with one of the previous speakers who said that it is encouraging that this Agreement has the United States as one of its signatories. If it did not have that it would be of far less importance than it will be. The objects of this Agreement are basically to achieve stable conditions in international trade in sugar within a price range which is acceptable to both exporters and importers and to provide adequate supplies of sugar to meet the requirements of importing countries at a fair and reasonable price. So what we are considering is a supply and demand situation.
As has been indicated by most speakers in this debate, it is extremely unfortunate that the European Economic Community is not to participate in this Agreement or has not participated so far. I mention some of the consequences of this. From what I said earlier about the value of the sugar crop to Australia and to a number of people who work in the industry- of course, this relates especially to Queensland-honourable senators would see that it is natural that I would want to see the best done that can be done for the industry. But we must be realistic about some of the provisions of the Agreement. It must be pointed out that this Agreement contains no guarantee of price. There is an aim to establish a price of between 1 lc and 2 lc per lb. Within that 10c price range we have the price for which the industry is looking through this Agreement. But the short term prospects of reaching a price of 1 lc per lb are very poor indeed. Senator Wood said earlier that he believed that prices will eventually reach 1 lc per lb. I certainly hope they do; I hope they go higher. But I do not have the same confidence as he has that we will soon reach stability in production levels throughout the world so that we can attain this price of 1 lc per lb. Senator Wood spoke of lessening production and increasing demand. Certainly this is the aim of the Agreement, to make sure that production is not so high in comparison with demand that prices remain uneconomically low. But as I said, short term prospects of reaching 1 lc per lb are poor, let alone the prospects of reaching the 14c to 15c per lb stabilisation price which is intended under this Agreement. In fact, the current international price is about 76c US per lb. This is far below the 1 lc per lb which is the minimum price aimed at in this Agreement.
When I say that there is no guarantee of price in this Agreement I am not trying to cast gloom on the whole agreement. What I am trying to do is to be realistic and to point out that there is just no guarantee of price. We cannot say that this Agreement will provide a minimum price for the grower.
Earlier I mentioned the fact that the European Economic Community has not become a signatory to this Agreement. At present the European Economic Community is the world’s largest producer of sugar. If it is determined to go it alone there is grave doubt whether there will ever be a guarantee of the aimed minimum price of 1 lc per lb. I should like to point out how the fact that the European Economic Community is not a party to the Agreement could affect the price throughout the world. I quote two paragraphs from an article which appeared in the Guardian in London in April this year. The article stated:
The West is overflowing with sugar; world stocks are expected to soar to well over 30 million tonnes and probably reach record levels at the end of this season, the European Common Market is expected to have a surplus on its hands this year of 3.3 million tonnes and world prices are in the doldrums.
Common Market governments backed by their powerful sugar lobbies, have refused so far to join the International Sugar Agreement- in spite of all their talk about the need to stabilise commodity prices- because they refuse to accept restrictions on their exports. Britain, traditionally relying on secure supplies of cane from Commonwealth countries, is expanding its own beet industry, encouraged by high guaranteed EEC prices.
– Before I put the question for the adjournment of the Senate under the sessional order, I wish to answer a question asked of me yesterday by Senator Melzer which referred to supplies of food available and delays in service in the staff cafeteria yesterday morning. I am informed by the Secretary of the Joint House Department that at no time was there a lack of food to meet all orders but a delay of about 1 5 minutes was experienced in meeting a large order for toasted sandwiches. Steps are being taken to provide a better assessment of service demands on occasions similar to yesterday to ensure that normal canteen services are maintained at all times.
– Order! It being 10 p.m., in conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– Yesterday I asked a question in relation to unemployment benefit. I was prompted by a particular case to ask that question. The Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) will realise that it is very rare for me to bring before the Senate a particular case in relation to social security benefits. Hopefully, I will not do so tonight. However, I wish to obtain some clarification in relation to the question that I asked and to see whether this case can be looked at in relation to the procedures for which I have attempted to obtain a response. I would first like to review the case that prompted the question I asked yesterday. It concerned a married man with five children. He ceased working at an ex-services club in an inner Brisbane area on 25 February. He applied at the office of the Commonwealth Employment Service at Chermside for unemployment benefit on 29 March. It could be said that there is a fair time span between 25 February and 29 March. I am told that the reason the man did not apply for unemployment benefit or did not go to the office of the Commonwealth Employment Service during that time was because he was informed by a friend that it was of no use applying for the unemployment benefit for a period of six weeks because he had terminated his job voluntarily and he would not get any unemployment benefit. It seems that the advice from the friend may have been wanting in some ways but he took the advice and did not apply for benefit during that period.
During the time that he was unemployedfrom 25 February onwards- he made some efforts to obtain employment. Apparently, he is fairly adept at bar work or bottle department work. He made one firm application to obtain a position in an hotel bottle department and was interviewed by the assistant manager. Later he made a similiar request to obtain a position, this time at an hotel in his local area. Eventually the six weeks went by and he made an application for unemployment benefit. He was told at that stage that he would not be able to receive unemployment benefit because he had not registered to obtain employment with the Commonwealth Employment Service and that therefore he had to have the six week postponement of benefit, calculated from the day that he registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service. By this time I believe that this man was in fairly desperate straits trying to keep his family. He virtually had no money left. The case was brought to the attention of my office and some efforts were made by my staff to see whether the man could receive some benefit. It was suggested that the only benefit he could receive was a special benefit. He subsequently received a special benefit for two weeks only out of the six week period. At this stage, I am still not sure whether he is eligible to receive unemployment benefit or a special benefit only.
I make no claim at this stage about whether this person is eligible to receive unemployment benefit. But there are certain aspects which must be cleared up te determine whether he is eligible. Yesterday I asked the Minister for Social Security whether a person had to be registered as unemployed for that period of the six week postponement or whether it was acceptable for him to register at the end of the period provided he could show that he had been seeking work during that period. Senator Guilfoyle, in part, replied:
If a person endeavours to obtain work on his own account following his becoming unemployed voluntarily, that time during which he sought to obtain work is taken into account when determining the date on which he will receive his unemployment benefit.
It seemed to me, when I heard that reply, that a person did not have to register with the Commonwealth Employment Service if he were in the situation that he had voluntarily terminated his employment and that he could become eligible for unemployment benefits after a six week postponement if it had been shown that, in fact, he was seeking work during that period. I was not sure and, as you will remember Mr President, I asked a supplementary question to try to obtain the information more clearly. I asked in part:
I was trying to determine whether, during that six weeks, it is obligatory that that person be registered as unemployed with the Commonwealth Employment Service . . .
Senator Guilfoyle replied in part:
As a result action taken on one’s own account to obtain employment can be taken into account when determining when unemployment benefit shall be paid.
From both replies I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that initially the person did not have to be registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service under these conditions. One would accept that eventually a person would have to be registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service so that he could make a formal application for unemployment benefit. On the basis of those two replies from the Minister, in good faith I contacted the Department of Social Security in Brisbane and spoke to two officers about the replies of Senator Guilfoyle relating to this case, lt is with some regret that I announce that the reception I received from these two officers bordered on being belligerent. I do not mind if public servants are belligerent to me. But I do mind if they are also belligerent to people who come into the Department of Social Security seeking their advice and help.
If the events took place in this way with me, they provide a reflection of what will happen to clients who come into the office of the Department of Social Security. I mention this matter because I think that it is important to relate it. One sometimes wonders what happened to old world courtesy. I expect that if a member of the Australian Parliament spoke to a public servant, normally some deference would be shown towards that member of Parliament. But even casting that aside, one would expect that some courtesy would be shown to anybody who would come into the office of the Department seeking advice and help. Perhaps the Minister will be able to convey the message that courtesy costs nothing. When I was talking to one of these two officers I was also particularly disappointed about the value judgments which were made of the way in which this man spent the money. Certainly, from what I can understand, he spent his money in a way far different from the way in which I would spend my money. If I spent my money in the same way he did, I would think that it would be a fairly frivolous way.
But I do not think that I should make the same value judgment about a person who has no money left and who is looking for benefits of some sort. I do not think that other people should make value judgments of that kind. In view of the reception that I received when I telephoned the Department of Social Security about this case yesterday, I wished to raise the matter during the adjournment debate last night. I wanted to determine whether the replies I received from the Minister were accurate and whether, if they were accurate, she would notify people in the Brisbane office that this was current Government policy. I was not able to do so last night because the Minister notified me that she would not be available in the chamber. To my horror, I now find that I have been speaking for about nine minutes and, again, the Minister is not in the chamber. Perhaps I should have waited until tomorrow night. Undoubtedly, there is some explanation for her absence which I will receive shortly.
Today I asked the Minister for Social Security a different question but at the end of her reply she took up the question that I asked yesterday and said in part:
I gave him -
That is me-
I think that what the Minister meant by that, after hearing her further, was that it was not as accurate as it should have been. She said:
The six weeks period -
That is the postponement period-
What I would like to know at this stage is what normally’ means. Does it mean always? If it does not mean always, what are the exceptions? The Minister went on to say:
In order to assist people who have been in contact with the Commonwealth Employment Service but who have not claimed unemployment benefit, the period that they have been in contact with the CES is taken into account as part of the six-week period of postponement.
I presume that means that if a person goes to the Commonwealth Employment Service and does not register but receives some assistance and has some means of self-help, this is taken into account within the six-week period. But I am still not sure from this reply, about whether a person in the situation that I outlined yesterday has to register with the Commonwealth Employment Service. I will restate my question. If a person becomes voluntarily unemployed, because he prefers a job of his own choosing, does he, because of the regulations- I am not sure whether they are regulations or just rules that are made by the Government- become ineligible for unemployment benefit for a period of six weeks? Is there a six-week postponement period? During that sixweek postponement period, is it obligatory that he go to the Commonwealth Employment Service and register as unemployed? At the end of the six weeks is he then eligible for unemployment benefit?
As the Minister said yesterday- she did not use these words but words to this effect- I think that any sensible person who finds himself unemployed would go to the Commonwealth Employment Service and seek the help of that agency. I have sometimes engaged labour through the Commonwealth Employment Service and I have found it an admirable place at which to engage labour. I have always been satisfied. That being the case I would always expect that someone would go there and seek the help of the Commonwealth Employment Service. I think it would be the sensible thing to do.
But this person did not do the sensible thing. He did not do the sensible thing because he thought he was doing the right thing in not going there for a period of six weeks. What I would like to know is this: In this situation does he then have to wait the six weeks plus another six weeks until he becomes eligible for the unemployment benefit? That is the plain question that I am asking. I am hopeful that we might be able to get some answer to that question. I am not sure whether the Minister for Science (Senator Webster), who is in the chamber, will be able to reply to my question. If he is not able to do so I hope that the Minister for Social Security will read what I have said tonight and provide me with an answer. If a person does not have to register immediately with the Commonwealth Employment Service in a case like this, I would ask her whether she could advise the Brisbane office that this is so. The Brisbane office knows of the case and will be able to follow it up.
-On 16 March last in the course of a debate in relation to the report of the Australian National University I made certain remarks relative to attacks which had been made on that University in particular and on universities and colleges generally. In refuting those attacks, particularly so far as the Australian National University was concerned, and in asserting that that University has a standard of great excellence in its achievements, I made reference to the particular journalist concerned. That journalist has today written me a letter. I wish to read what I said and, in fairness to that journalist, to read the reply which he now makes. I think it fair, as I have the opportunity to speak here under privilege, that he has the opportunity to have what he says in reply recorded and available to the public. I read from the Senate Hansard of 16 March 1978 in which I said:
I deprecate the attacks which have been made on the Australian National University and some other universities by journalists such as Mr Peter Samuel. He is a journalist whose journalistic standards I believe leave a lot to be desired. He is a man who has pursued a vendetta against universities since he left them. One asks: Why did he do so? He is a man who appears to have a chip on his shoulder in relation to the activities of those who perhaps surpassed him in his would-be academic pursuits. Perhaps I could be as unfair as he has been in most of his articles in which he has condemned people without trial and without an objective approach to the matters about which he is writing. I will simply say: Let him explain why it is that he has a chip on his shoulder about universities before he starts to write any more articles condemning universities.
I admit that there are things that are not right about universities. There are things that are not right about the way in which some of the universities- probably most of the universities- have been administered from time to time. There was an awful lot that was not right about the way in which the Australian Labor Party administered this country when it was in government. There is an awful lot that is not right about the way in which we administer it when we arc in government. There is an awful lot that is not right about everything that goes on throughout the world. If one looks at what is happening in respect of companies and if one looks at any section of the community one will find something wrong. But for a man to conduct a vendetta against those whom he found himself having to leave for one reason or another and to write with a vitriol that is more reminiscent of Pravda than it is of the Australia media -
Then Senator Mulvihill said:
I was thinking of Goebbels.
Perhaps Senator Mulvihill has drawn my attention to a more appropriate illustration. I simply deprecate the sort of attacks that have been made. I do not think they are part of the Australian scene. I hope that the next time Mr Samuel proposes to look at an area in which he was once a participant he will be more objective and a little less personal.
Mr President, the articles to which I referred were in the magazine the Bulletin with such headings as ‘Education’, ‘Plundering the Public Purse’ and ‘The Scandal of our Universities’, and they are available for people to read. They were written in the early part of 1977, from March through to June. They made attacks which led to responses such as these two which 1 will quote before going on to read what Mr Samuel has written to me. The Australian
National University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Low, wrote to the Bulletin a letter which was published. Among other things, he said:
Legal action against the ABC and the Bulletin, concerning statements made in the ABC’s program Monday Conference and by Peter Samuel in the Bulletin article of 22 October, 1977, was contemplated only following Queen’s Counsel’s advice to the university that both statements were untrue and defamatory. The university’s concern is simply to correct the record, not to suppress discussion.
Such correction becomes the more necessary following the latest article, which is based on a distortion of information about university costs-per-student; on a persistent misconception of the financial arrangements for the university’s Staff Amenities Fund; and on an exaggeration of the trivial.
That is what Professor Low said. Another response to Mr Samuel ‘s article came from Mr L. B. Wallis, the secretary of the Federation of Australian University Staff Associations. These are quite long letters from which I quote briefly, but they are available in editions of the Bulletin. Mr Wallis said:
Mr Samuel’s arguments are confused, his ‘facts’ are thinly scattered and inaccurate, and his generalisations from anecdotal evidence are so blatant that a reply in any depth is difficult.
I quote those articles simply as a response not from me but from other people who are concerned. Because I believe fairness requires me to do so, I will read a letter Mr Samuel wrote to me on 9 May. It states:
Someone has just drawn my attention to the Hansard of 1 6 March, where a page is devoted to a vicious personal attack on me. 1 am amazed at this as the articles on the universities received an extraordinarily positive response, not least in the universities themselves. There was as much criticism of them on the lines ‘You did not mention this scandal et cetera . . . ‘ as there was criticism of them for being too damning. I would have been more impressed by your attack on me if you had actually focussed on something I had said, and attempted to refute it, instead of speaking in generally abusive terms. Where was I wrong Senator?
But I write mainly to have on record to you a denial of the slanderous suggestion that (a) I have a chip on my shoulder about universities (b) that I have pursued a vendetta against universities since I left them and (c) that I found myself having to leave for one reason or another’. All these propositions are false and if you were not speaking in that cowards castle under ‘privilege’ you would have had to answer in the courts for false and defamatory statements like this.
I have no chip on my shoulder at all about universities. People in universities had to nag at me to get me to write about them. I happen to regard proper universities as a vital component of a civilised society and absolutely essential to the maintenance and development of knowledge and culture and many essential, professional skills. I wrote out of sorrow and some dismay at the trends in universities hoping to help them not hurt them.
Second you could not possibly claim I pursued any vendetta. In 14 years in journalism, having written I would estimate some 3,000 to 4,000 articles I think I would not have written more than 4 about universities, only one- that was a pure news story about a dispute- of those before 1976. The recent three articles started as simply one article but the interest it aroused led my editor to ask me to follow up. Also a particularly stupid threat of legal action by the ANU forced us to reply making a third article.
Third, it is the opposite of the truth to suggest I was forced to leave universities. On the contrary I was attracted out into journalism by the offer of a much better salary than I was getting and the potentially greater excitement of journalism. I can well remember the head of department pleading with me to stay on longer at Monash University. For the record, I was given a quick promotion to Senior Teaching Fellow and I do not know of any complaints about my teaching. I think I could probably have made a career in academia though 1 have no regrets about having left it. I think I work best to the deadlines imposed in journalism, but I think I could have done reasonably well in universities.
I suspect you have been misled by one or two university administrators who have fabricated some slanders against me.
PS: I think I can dig up a letter from my boss at Monash asking me to stay on.
Without saying anything further, I wanted to read that reply for the record. I retract nothing of what I said originally.
– I note the comments that have been made by Senator Rae. I regret that the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) was not here to have taken note of them, but I realise that Senator Rae did not need him to be here. In relation to the comments made by Senator Colston, again I apologise that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) was not present. She has sent a note to me tendering her apologies to Senator Colston. She is involved in a Cabinet meeting that has been going on for most of the evening and was unable to be in the chamber during the debate. However, officers of the Department of Social Security have noted the points made by Senator Colston, as I have. I am unable to provide an answer as to whether the 6 weeks period is calculated from the time a person leaves his job or from the time he makes his application at the door of the Department, as it were. It could be construed- I imagine that it should be- that the 6 weeks runs from the time that a person makes the application, but I am speaking without knowledge on that matter. However, I think it is an important point and certainly the Minister for Social Security will provide an answer to the honourable senator very quickly.
Senator Colston also mentioned the belligerent attitude of some public servants in the Department of Social Security. Certainly that criticism has been made by the honourable senator’s side of politics as well as by mine. I know that the Government has made every attempt to solve the problem, particularly with the provision of some 300 extra staff members for the Department where there is an interface with those seeking employment, so that the staff members are not harassed or unduly stretched in their work. I will convey to the Minister the honourable senator’s comment that courtesy costs nothing. The Government fully supports that view. I believe that the Minister would be well advised to take up the matter with the Department to see whether the situation to which the honourable senator has referred can be alleviated. It is certainly not the Government’s intention that the attitude about which he has complained should be displayed to any member of the public who comes to a government department for service. We should maintain a courteous attitude within the Public Service, particularly at the public interface where people who are paying the costs of government seek assistance. No matter what their circumstances, they should be treated courteously, and by far the largest percentage of public servants do that. If one or two are astray, we apologise for that, and remedial action will be taken. I thank the honourable senator for raising the matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.27 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, upon notice, on 21 February 1978:
– The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 22 February, 1978:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
Care should be exercised when making comparisons between months as both series can be affected by administrative and policy changes. For example, in the case of unemployment benefit, the change from payment in advance to payment in arrears in November 1977, the treatment of school leavers and the voluntary unemployed, and variations to the waiting period.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 23 February 1978:
– The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 28 February, 1978:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows: (1), (2) and (3) The Department of Social Security has advised me that it has not engaged the Institute of Cultural Affairs as a consultant within the last three years nor has it been associated in any other way with the Institute as a client.
asked the Minister for Education, upon notice, on 28 February 1978:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 8 March 1978:
Did Trans-Australia Airlines or any other organisation require permission from the Department of Transport to charge a service fee of $2 for travel to and from Whitsunday as outlined in the TAA Timetable effective 5 March 1978: if so (a) when and why was such approval granted; and (b) is approval for such fees gazetted; if so, where and when was the service fee for Whitsunday gazetted.
– The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
No, Whitsunday aerodrome does not fall into the category that requires the approval of landing charges levied by the owner.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 4 April 1 978:
– The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
It has been the practice of successive governments not to authorise the expenditure of time and money involved in answering questions, such as this, which seek generalised information on interdepartmental committees. I do not intend to depart from that practice. However, if the honourable senator wishes to know the composition and function of any particular interdepartmental committee and for what period of time it has been active, I shall be happy to see if he can be provided with the necessary information.
Lockheed Orion P3C Aircraft (Question No. 292)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 5 April 1978:
– The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The approved roles of the P3C Orion aircraft are:
The principal use in peacetime is maritime surveillance; in wartime the principal utilisation would be dictated by the circumstances of the conflict.
(a) The aircraft are being procured through the United States Government. An agreement for eight aircraft was signed on 24 June 1975; this agreement was amended on 3 November 1976 to cover the purchase of two additional aircraft.
The total cost of support, facilities and integration of the BARRA sonics system into the aircraft was estimated to be: 8 aircraft $A77.8m (June 1 975 prices) 2 aircraft $A 1 . 8m (August 1 976 prices)
(a) The final price for all ten aircraft is now estimated to be $A125.6m at an exchange rate of $A1 = $US 1.1450. The actual final cost will not be known until after the aircraft are delivered. Final costs for support, facilities and the BARRA sonics system integration are not known because these aspects are still being progressed. The total cost of these elements of the project for all 10 aircraft is estimated at $A90.6m at March 1977 prices.
Australia in the second quarter of 1979. A prototype installation to integrate this UK system with both the hardware and software of the P3C avionics system will be undertaken by Australian industry.
Proving of the prototype installation of the system will be completed during 1979. Thereafter Australian industry will proceed to retrofit the system to all 10 aircraft. All aircraft are planned to be fully operational before mid- 1 98 1 .
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 5 April 1978:
– The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Resignation, and Discharge at Own Request, statistics for female officers and female Other Ranks are not available for the period prior to July 1 977.
Reasons for resignation are not required in every instance. Where reasons are given they are not recorded in detail other than on individual personnel files. It is therefore not possible to provide a comprehensive reply to this part of the Senator’s question.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, upon notice, on 5 April 1 978:
What is the membership of the State Ethnic Broadcasting Advisory Committees (SEBACs) in New South Wales and Victoria.
– The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The members of the State Ethnic Broadcasting Advisory Committees (SEBACs) in New South Wales and Victoria are as follows:
New South Wales
Mr P. Bosi (Chairman)
Rev. Father N. Mansour (Deputy Chairman)
Mr I. A. Birzulis
Mr P. G. Darmo
Mrs H. Eizenberg
Mr R. E. Gonzalez
Mrs L. Gustin, M.B.E.
Mr A. Hee
Mr U. Honold
Mrs O. Katchan
Mr G. Kennedy
Mr V. Lusic
MrS. Pappas(Fr. Stephanos)
Mr J. Seisun
Mr R. Treister
Mr I. D. Vickovich
Mr W. Schauble (Chairman)
Mr P. Van Hest( Deputy Chairman)
Mrs M. Aydin
Mrs K. Bitsis
Mr A. Bloch
Ms H. E. Bogdan
Mrs A. Ceferin
Ms I. C. Csar
Mr E. Djoumayia
Mr A. E. Doronila
Mr L. Kong
Mr C. J. Lancucki
Mr N. Mirza
Mr E. Obeid
Mr O. Sandrin
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 5 April 1978:
– The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 4 April 1978:
– The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 4 April 1978:
– The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Against this background and the recommendations contained in Parliamentary Paper No. 400, ‘Freedom of Information Legislation- Policy Proposals- Report of Interdepartmental Committee, dated November 1 976 ‘ that Cabinet documents and certain internal working documents of government should be exempt from mandatory access, I have reconsidered my decision and have decided that it would not be in the public interest for the interdepartmental committee report referred to in the question to be disclosed. The honourable senator would be aware that the Government is currently considering a draft Freedom of Information Bill. As would no doubt be expected, the Government has no intention of including any provision in that Bill that would detract from the confidentiality of Cabinet deliberations or require the disclosure contrary to the public interest of the internal working documents of government.
I would, however, draw the honourable senator’s attention to the fact that there has been considerable public reporting of the progress of the Commonwealth ‘s discussions with the States to date, e.g. the resolutions of the October 1977 Premiers’ Conference on seas and submerged lands matters, released to the press on 2 1 October 1 977, the public statement, ‘Meeting of Australian Minerals and Energy Council’ of 14 March 1978, and the Attorney-General’s press release ‘The Standing Committee of Federal and State Attorneys-General’, of 8 April 1978.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 4 April 1978:
– The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
I would, however, draw the honourable senator’s attention to the fact that Mr McMillan, when requesting the details of the inter-departmental committee paper, referred to my answer to a question from Mr Whitlam on the same matter, in which I set out the details of the establishment of the Myers Inquiry (House of Representatives Hansard, 3 May 1977, page 1505), and thus was fully aware of the Government’s action taken as a result of the inter-departmental committee paper.
I would also draw the honourable senator’s attention to the fact that the Myers report was released to the public following a joint ministerial press statement by my colleagues the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and the Minister for Social Security on 22 July 1977. That statement clearly set out the Government ‘s position in relation to the Myers report. In their statement the Ministers referred to a thorough examination of the Myers report proposals to be undertaken by officers of the Departments of Social Security and Employment and Industrial Relations following which a report was to be prepared for the Government’s consideration. That examination is continuing.
Freedom of Information: Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration (Question No. 327)
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 4 April 1978:
– -The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, upon notice, on 5 April 1 978:
– The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
– The Foreign Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Mr Fred Mazelis: Refusal of Entry to Australia
– On 7 March Senator Primmer asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs the following question, without notice:
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 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?
The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Mr Mazelis inquired orally about visitor entry to Australia at the office of the Australian Consulate-General in New York on 22 December 1977.
Mr Mazelis would not sign the visit application form for reasons which are unknown. The application form provides for the recording of personal information concerning the applicant and for details concerning the proposed visit. It always provides for the applicants to make declarations concerning, inter alia their health and character. The applicant is also required to declare that if granted a visa, he will not engage in employment or formal studies while here, or seek to remain permanently.
In the absence of a completed application form Mr Mazelis was not considered for the grant of a visit visa.
-On 16 March 1978 (Hansard, page 663 ) Senator Gietzelt asked me, as Minister representing the Prime Minister, a question, without notice, concerning the Prices
Justification Tribunal inquiry into oil prices. The Prime Minister has supplied the following information for answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The inquiry by the PJT into price increases proposed by Mobil Oil Australia Ltd for petroleum products commenced in Melbourne on 20 March. The Government will not be making a submission to the Tribunal in this inquiry but will examine with interest the Tribunal’s report to the Minister.
This inquiry concerns a notice from the company which, essentially, seeks to recover increases in refining, marketing and other local costs incurred by the company during 1977. The Government’s view is that companies should be entitled to charge prices that cover the costs they have incurred and which allow them to achieve a level of profitability sufficient to maintain adequate investment and employment. It is for the Tribunal to determine in the light of the evidence presented at its public inquiry whether the price increases proposed by Mobil are justified.
The Government fully recognises the significance of petroleum product prices to the economy and convened the Oil Industry Conference, chaired by the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, to examine the development of equitable distribution and marketing policies in the petroleum market. Matters under consideration at the Conference included leasing arrangements between oil companies and lessees, the question of alleged discriminatory pricing practices, rationalisation, marketing arrangements, and the position in the industry of particular interests such as bulk agents and lubricating oil marketeers. The final session of the Conference was held on 31 March and at that session the Minister stated that he intended to bring forward a report to the Government on the results of the Conference in approximately one month.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice, on 4 April 1 978:
– The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Exports to New Zealand: Tariffs
-On 6 April 1978 Senator Young asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources the following question, without notice:
Has he seen reports to the effect that the New Zealand Government is proposing increases in tariffs applying to Australian goods from some 1 7 per cent to 25 per cent, while reducing the overall general rate of duty from 55 per cent to 40 per cent, which would mean that the preferential margin on Australian goods would be reduced from 38 per cent to 15 per cent. I ask the Minister: Do these proposed changes come within the New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement? As such proposals could adversely affect many Australian exports to New Zealand, will the Government be having early discussions with the New Zealand Government in an endeavour to avoid Australian exports to New Zealand being so disadvantaged, particularly within the terms of the New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement.
The Minister for Trade and Resources has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Under the Agreement on Tariffs and Tariff Preferences which came into operation on 1 December last year, there is an obligation on both sides to consult the other in respect of increases in rates of duty and reductions in margins of preference below 1 5 per cent in certain circumstances.
New Zealand has recently reviewed its whole tariff involving over 4,000 items and the new tariff takes effect on1 July 1978. New Zealand and Australian officials have been consulting for some time on the nature of the changes.
At the NAFTA Ministerial Meeting in Canberra on 18 April 1978 the Minister for Trade and Resources, and the Minister for Industry and Commerce, drew to the attention of the New Zealand Ministers, our concern at the possible effects of the new tariff on Australia’s exports to New Zealand. The New Zealand Ministers advised that action is at present proceeding in New Zealand to amend certain rates of duty and margins of preference to the benefit of Australian exports to that country. In addition, they confirmed that effective consultations on other rates of duty and margins of preference will continue. In this regard, Australian Officials had further detailed discussions with their New Zealand counterparts in Wellington during the week commencing 24 April 1978.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 9 May 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1978/19780509_senate_31_s77/>.