31st Parliament · 1st Session
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator D. B. Scott) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
- Mr Deputy President, [ inform the Senate that the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, today resigned the portfolio of Primary Industry and the office of Leader of the House of Representatives. The Minister for Transport, Mr Nixon, has been appointed Minister for Primary Industry in addition to his existing responsibilities. The Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, Mr Viner, has been appointed Leader of the House of Representatives.
The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr MacKellar, will act as Minister for Foreign Affairs until Mr Peacock’s return from overseas on 9 October. There are no changes in the representing arrangements in this chamber. Senator Webster will continue to represent the Minister for Primary Industry and Senator Chaney will continue to represent the Minister for Transport.
– I present the following petition from 883 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned electors respectfully showeth:
That the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Act 1977 should immediately be repealed because:
It provides unfettered power to Ministers to suspend, stand-down and dismiss Commonwealth Government employees and places them in a markedly disadvantageous position as compared with all other Australian workers.
Its use places Commonwealth Government employees in direct conflict with the Government as it circumvents the arbitration tribunals and denies appeal rights.
Its use will exacerbate industrial disputes and inflame industrial relations in the Commonwealth area of employment.
The International Labour Organisation has condemned the Provisions of the Act as being incompatible with the rights of organised labour in a free society.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 52 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth that the construction of a uranium enrichment plant in North Queensland and the mining of uranium on the Herveys Range area should not be proceeded with on the following grounds:
1 ) No safe method has yet been devised for the disposal of nuclear waste.
The mining of uranium ore exposes workers to considerable danger from radon gases.
The danger of poisoning chemicals seeping into surface and underground water supplies as a result of uranium ore mining and refining of uranium ore could pose serious health hazards for persons living in the Townsville region.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate in Parliament assembled should take all possible steps to abandon or postpone indefinitely the mining of uranium in the Herveys Range area, and the construction of an enrichment plant in the Townsville region.
Petition received and read.
-Did the Minister for Science and the Environment attend a meeting, chaired by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Mr Lynch, on 3 1 May this year following the contradictory answers on the Great Barrier Reef issue given by the Minister for Science and the Environment and the Minister for National Development, Mr Newman? At that meeting, were discussions held about the fact that three Ministers would be in difficulty if Mr Newman’s answer were let to stand? Did Mr Newman volunteer to go back into the chamber and say that he had not heard the question?
– If the Leader of the Opposition wishes an answer to that question he should place it on notice and I will get the facts for him.
-Mr Deputy President, I wish to ask a supplementary question. Is the Minister for Science and the Environment asserting that he cannot recall having attended the meeting to which I referred, even though at the time that matter was of prime importance not only to the public but also to this Parliament? Is he now asserting that he cannot remember a meeting involving four Ministers and certain other persons who heard certain statements being made? I repeat: Did the Minister in fact hear the Minister for National Development say that he would go back into the chamber and say that he had not heard the question?
-The honourable senator has asked me two questions. To the two questions the answer is no.
– I direct to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs a question which refers to reports of large scale Chinese troop movements on the Laotian border. Has the Government any confirmation of those reports? If so, will the Government make the strongest representations to the parties concerned to exercise restraint, as any further military adventures in Indo-China would have grave implications for the security and stability of the region?
– I am aware of what amount to mutual accusations by both Laos and China of aggressive acts and of troop movements near their common border, but I have no information of large scale Chinese troop movements near the Laotian border. That is the most uptodate information the Government has. I would share the apprehension underlying Senator Sim’s question regarding any inflammatory actions within that area. I will certainly bring that aspect of the question to the attention of the Foreign Minister.
-Did the AttorneyGeneral attend a meeting, chaired by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Mr Lynch, on 3 1 May this year following the contradictory answers about the Great Barrier Reef given by him and Mr Newman? At that meeting, were discussions held about the fact that three Ministers would be in difficulty if Mr Newman’s answer were allowed to stand? Did Mr Newman at the meeting volunteer to go back into the House of Representatives and say that he had not heard the question?
-I certainly did not attend any meeting of the character mentioned by Senator Button. I happened to be in Perth on 3 1 May, as he may remember.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. Does the Government possess a completely independent source of information on the oil industry? Is the Government in a position to make its own evaluation of the oil market, both within Australia and overseas, concerning such important matters as availability and volume of product, prices, tanker availability and charter rates, or is the Government dependent on the oil industry for this critical information?
– I propose to deal with the question in broad terms only and then refer it to the Minister for National Development for a more detailed answer. Officers of the Department of National Development are actively concerned in discussions and are monitoring oil supply and distribution problems. As the Minister for National Development has made clear, the Government has also set up a high level advisory committee to deal with this matter, and the Minister clearly takes a very close and personal interest in it. I will refer the question to the Minister for National Development for a further detailed answer.
– My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and refers to the resignation by Mr Sinclair. As the Minister is well aware, almost all citizens in Australia today are talking about the Sinclair affair. The matter is well known outside Parliament in the public arena and, I suggest to the Minister, should be debated or discussed in this House. I ask the Minister whether he intends to tell the Senate the facts surrounding the acceptance by the Prime Minister of the resignation of Mr Sinclair and whether at any stage today there will be an opportunity for the Opposition to discuss these matters in the Senate?
-Last night I pointed out that the New South Wales Government yesterday had tabled in the State Parliament the first of what may well be a number of reports on the investigation of companies with which Mr Sinclair is connected; that the report itself foreshadowed other reports; that it contained no recommendations; and that the State Government has not indicated whether any action will be taken by it. It is quite clear that at this moment the matter is not in any way in a complete form that would enable anybody to make any value judgments at all. I indicated last night that it was clearly the sensible thing for everybody to wait to get the facts and then there could be deliberation of those facts, assuming, of course, that action is not taken by way of any legal proceedings, which would make the matter sub judice. On that basis, there is no basis for any valid discussion today, as there was not last night, and I do not see any change at all in the circumstances from last night. The matter will come before the Parliament and the people of Australia when all the material is available.
-Can the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs inform the Senate what is the present situation of relief shipments to the long-suffering population of Kampuchea, particularly in view of the alleged reports that the Government of Kampuchea is not allowing foreign observers into Kampuchea to supervise the relief distribution?
– Yesterday a number of Government senators made clear the circumstances in Kampuchea and the difficulties involved. In brief, there is widespread acceptance in Australia that there is a state of serious crisis within the population of Kampuchea, a state of deprivation and starvation, which the world wants to alleviate as soon as possible. Australia made it clear by its earliest actions that it wants to act quickly not only on initial shipments of rice but also on other matters. Apart from the case of the initial shipment, the difficulties until recently have been closed borders and limitations on access.
Today, there is grave concern at the international level that there is not free access of supplies into Kampuchea. Australia is doing everything it can to try to get access. I think it was made clear yesterday that Australia was willing to arrange urgently for an aircraft to be loaded full of vital supplies and to be flown to Kampuchea. I have no information later than that of yesterday, but the Australian authorities would be pressing for those supplies to be shipped. In general terms, it can be said that we are trying to do everything we can to get more open borders in order that there can be more direct access. The difficulties are, as the Foreign Minister has pointed out, that a very savage war, a widespread war, is raging in Kampuchea. It is very difficult for free access to the country to be permitted when there is what amounts to very serious aggression by an outsider- Vietnamese forces.
-I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister whether he can assure the Senate that the Prime Minister was kept fully informed by the former Minister for Primary Industry on matters relating to the former Minister’s financial activities?
– That is a matter that only the Prime Minister could answer, since it requires first hand knowledge. I suggest that Senator Wriedt put his question on notice so that it can be directed to the Prime Minister for an answer.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Transport aware that in striking contrast to airlines in other parts of the world, notably the United States of America, the two airlines in Australia rarely serve fresh fruit to their passengers? Does he agree that there is a need to publicise the availability of and to encourage the consumption of the excellent supplies of fresh fruit available in this country? Will he therefore urge the two airlines to improve their services in this regard?
– It has struck me as odd that more fresh fruit is not served on Australian airlines. Like most honourable senators I spend a great deal of time in aeroplanes and I eat a great deal of the processed food that is served on them. On the rare occasions that fruit has been served- in my own personal experience it would be only two or three times in the last five years- I thought it a welcome contrast. There may be technical problems because of the restriction on the passage of fruit from the east to the west. The honourable senator will be aware that fruit is collected at certain points because of the desire to prevent the spread of fruit fly. I will refer the matter to the Minister for Transport, Mr Nixon, with the suggestion that he in turn refer it to the airlines which are independent in the matter. I think that it is a most worthwhile suggestion.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. It refers to the assertion by the former Minister for Primary Industry on 7 June this year that both Mr Fraser and Mr Anthony had been informed and had been kept informed about investigations into irregularities in companies with which the former Minister was associated. This assertion was confirmed by the Prime Minister in his answer to a question from Mr West on 30 August this year. Was the Prime Minister informed of the round robin between the Sinclair Pastoral Company and companies in the Reliance group, organised by Mr Sinclair on 12 June 1978 to cover fiscal deficiences within the group, five days after the Finnane inquiry’s terms of reference were broadened?
-And admitted by the Minister for Primary Industry. If so, when was Mr Fraser informed of this round robin?
– The question falls into an identical category to the one asked by Senator Wriedt and therefore invites a similar answer. I ask Senator Walsh to place his question on notice so that the answer can be obtained.
– I ask a supplementary question. Can Senator Carrick give us an assurance that the Senate will be informed of the answer to that question before it rises tonight? It requires only a telephone call to the Prime Minister, and providing he is willing to tell the truth we could know the answer in 30 seconds.
-I am delighted to know that Senator Walsh will be here alone tomorrow because the Senate, I think, will rise today. Mr Deputy President, I should like to draw your attention to the fact that the attempt to ask questions supplementary to questions that should be placed on notice seems to me to be a practice that might well cease in this place. When a question is put on notice it is because the Minister concerned cannot answer it of his first-hand knowledge and it is being referred to the responsible Minister. The result in that situation is that supplementary questions are entirely irrelevant and superfluous. My answer to the question is the same as my original answer.
– I am rising on a point of order to bring the whole matter into order. What the Leader of the Government is doing is raising a point of order during the answer to a question. That means, of course, that we do not have the opportunity to take up the point of order that he is raising. If he wants to raise a point of order, by all means let him do so and give us an opportunity to debate the matter, and not take it up in answer to a question.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Has there been a case reported from Australia of a woman eight weeks pregnant who received a smallpox vaccination? Did this woman subsequently give birth at 24 weeks gestation to an infant who could survive for only one hour, and from whose body the virus used in the smallpox vaccination was recovered? Is it not a fact that vaccination is contra-indicated in pregnant women and that it is probably not needed against smallpox now in many, if any, circumstances because the disease has been eradicated?
What steps are being taken to advise medical practitioners of the dangers of inappropriate vaccination in pregnant women or in other patients such as those with blood disorders or malignancies, or in persons on special medical therapy?
– I am advised by the Minister for Health that the report of the case of the congenitally acquired infection as described by Senator Baume is basically correct. It is generally accepted that there is a small risk to the embryo or to the foetus if vaccination is performed during pregnancy, especially during the first three months of pregnancy. Vaccination should therefore be deferred until after pregnancy, if possible. I understand that in June of this year the National Health and Medical Research Council agreed that there was no justification for routine vaccination against smallpox, and that therefore vaccination should be limited to travellers to countries requiring vaccination as a condition of entry, and to persons in certain at-risk occupations, for example, medical practitioners, hospital and certain laboratory personnel, and airport and ambulance service employees. This principle should continue until such time as the disease has been officially declared eradicated.
The contra-indications to smallpox vaccination have been drawn to the attention of medical practitioners by means of the National Health and Medical Research Council publications, the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories handbook, and the leaflets incorporated into every pack of smallpox vaccine distributed by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. The Minister for Health has also stated that the communicable diseases intelligence bulletin drew attention to the contra-indications of vaccination in its issue of 6 July of this year. This bulletin is distributed fortnightly to approximately 700 persons and institutions in this country concerned with health. A copy of this particular issue has been placed in the Parliamentary Library for the information of honourable members and honourable senators. I think that Senator Peter Baume has drawn to public attention the dangers that can be present with vaccination in these cases.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. Can the Minister inform the Parliament whether any official report has been received by the Australian Government in relation to an unidentified DC-3 aircraft which was reported to be flying in the area north of Cooktown on two occasions during the first three weeks of July of this year? Is the Minister also aware that in a reply to the member for Cairns, Mr R. Jones, M.L.A., on 28 October 1979, the Queensland Minister for Transport indicated to that Parliament that it was not a State responsibility to detect unauthorised flights and that there was no responsibility upon the Commonwealth Minister for Transport to advise him of Australian Government activities in this regard? Can the Minister now inform the Parliament whether he has any details of the apparent unauthorised flights and whether there has been any communication between his Department and the Queensland Government in regard to this incident?
– I will seek a reply from the Minister for Transport, Mr Nixon, to the questions that have been raised by Senator Keeffe.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. I preface it by saying that the annual report of the Family Planning Association of Tasmania Incorporated states:
Although the demands Tor our services continue to grow in both the educational and clinical fields, we have insufficient funds to meet them and we are under instruction from the Federal Department of Health not to increase our clinic services. We must and do try to help all people seeking our services, but there are delays and missed opportunities because of these constraints. We could do much more given the resources and permission to expand.
Can the Minister say whether this statement is accurate? Has the Department of Health instructed the Family Planning Association of Tasmania Incorporated not to increase its clinic services?
-In 1975 approval was given for the Family Planning Association of Tasmania to receive a grant and, since that year, the Department of Health, through the Minister, has continued to support the clinical activities of the Association and has increased its grant therefor in each financial year. The Department has always included a component for inflation in calculating the level of that grant. I understand that early discussions regarding non-expansion and financial constraint took place in November 1 977 with the family planning associations in all States. This general policy of financial constraint was imposed by the Government because of the economic climate that had prevailed over recent years. In this context, the Tasmanian Association, along with associations in other States, was advised that there should be no expansion of current activities without the prior approval of the Department of Health. This policy restraint was applied also to grants for education, information and training activities supported under the family planning program.
On 29 March of this year, in the other place, the Minister for Health appealed to the State governments to support the development of a comprehensive Australia-wide family planning program. However, State government support for family planning activities varies as between individual States. It is not usual for State governments to provide to the Department of Health details of grants made to family planning organisations. However, on the basis of the reports produced by the various State family planning associations, details of grants by the State governments to these associations in 1978-79, for information and education activities, are set out in a list which I have before me. The figures that are of particular interest are those which relate to Tasmania, in respect of which the State Government grant for 1978-79 was $7,800, and the Commonwealth grant was $ 1 1 ,800.
In response to the particular inquiry made by Senator Walters with regard to clinical activities, I draw attention to the discussions that I have mentioned, held in 1 977, concerning the activities of the family planning associations, which emphasised the need for financial restraint to be exercised in regard to these programs.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer and follows the excellent question asked by Senator MacGibbon concerning the lack of an independent assessment by the Government of Australia ‘s oil supply situation. However, my question concerns the fiscal side of the situation. Is the Minister aware that inadequate procedures to check oil production in Bass Strait could be costing the Federal Government millions of dollars in lost taxation revenue? I also ask whether he has seen the report of the Auditor-General for the year ended 30 June 1979 in which the AuditorGeneral castigated the Departments of National Development and Business and Consumer Affairs for:
Is the Minister taking steps to require that departments ensure that the revenue is not defrauded or, at least, is not underpaid by the oil companies concerned on the excise properly due to the Commonwealth, or is the Government content with the present totally inadequate general arrangements?
-I am aware of newspaper reports and other reports relating to the Auditor-General indicating that the methods of verification of oil production in Bass Strait are not satisfactory. I know that the attention of the Government has been drawn to them. I cannot say what immediate steps the Treasurer or the Government has taken. I have no doubt that the Government will be eager to protect its revenue under all circumstances. That is a natural attribute of Treasuries and Commissioners of Taxation. As it is an important matter in that regard, I will bring the question to the attention of the Treasurer.
-Can the Minister representing the Minister for Health inform the Senate what response has been made by the Government to the Ralph committee report which was tabled recently in Parliament?
– This question relates to the report of the Inquiry into the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Industry which Senator Durack, on my behalf, recently tabled in this place and which the Minister for Health tabled in the House of Representatives in September. The Government is prepared to consider submissions on the report which interested parties such as pharmaceutical manufacturers, pharmacists and the medical profession may wish to make. The report will receive detailed study by an interdepartmental committee before the Government reaches its decisions on it. The Minister for Health has advised that he will not be commenting on the report until after the Government has considered it. This would take place after any submissions have been made which relate to the report.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Housing and Construction, who is responsible for the overseas activities of the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation. Will the agreement signed by United States Vice-President Mondale and the Chinese Government on that country’s expanded hydro-electric program mean that the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, despite visits to China by senior Ministers of the
Fraser Government, will be frozen out of conducting any activity in that country?
– I am unable to give the senator a sound answer relating to that matter. I think that the Minister for Housing and Construction has provided me with a note which states that Australia will maintain its interest in that area. But if I can find a minute that assists on this matter I will provide it at the end of Question Time.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs which relates to the fact that many Aboriginal communities are fragmenting to quite a degree, w-h many tribal families and clans returning to their tribal homelands under what has been termed the outstation movement. What is the Government’s attitude to such moves? How does the Government see its responsibilities in the areas of health, education, community projects, et cetera? Do the State and Northern Territory governments also have responsibilities in these areas?
– Over a number of years the Government has indicated that it regards the outstation or homeland movement as a very positive movement among Aboriginal people. It is positive in the sense that the movement usually occurs away from centres where groups of Aboriginal people from different tribes, families and so on have been gathered together and where there has been a growth of tension and a social dislocation resulting in antisocial behaviour and often excessive drinking and things of that sort. The movement back to homelands or to outstations represents an escape from those pressures.
The movement itself gives rise to other problems. Notwithstanding the fact that once at an outstation one is likely to find that there is better social order, that drink is less of a problem, that diet improves and even, it is thought, that health improves, clearly there are problems in the areas raised by the honourable senator in his question in the delivery of services. These problems greatly concern various functional Ministers, including Senator Carrick, who went to a number of outstations with me during the recess and who has, on previous occasions, taken a personal interest in this matter.
A number of functional departments continue to have responsibilities with respect to outstations. The Commonwealth has retained responsibility for assisting outstations in the Northern Territory, but departments such as Health and Education are closely concerned with the need to provide facilities. I cannot say that the problems of delivering services to the outstations have been solved by any means. They have been raised with me as a matter of concern by a number of State Ministers, including the Minister for Education in Western Australia, Mr Jones, who has urged us to try to restrain movement away from existing centres without a lot of forward planning. This will enable the State to meet the particular requirements of the people when they do go to outstations.
There are shared responsibilities in this area. It is the role of my Department to try to co-ordinate the work of the State, Territory and Commonwealth departments which are involved. If we have not done that perfectly in the past, and I suspect that we have not, that is a matter for regret. However I hope that most honourable senators support the very real alleviation of social problems that this movement represents and put up with some of the difficulties that it poses.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. Is it a fact that an instruction has gone out from her Department that in future spouses of all applicants for sickness and other social security benefits will have to attend for personal interview at the Department? If this is a fact, why has this instruction gone out? How will it affect the work volume of staff in the Department? Will other areas of the departmental officers’ activities be affected, and in what way?
– I will seek advice from the Director-General of the Department on the matters raised by Senator Grimes and advise him accordingly.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources. I refer to statements yesterday announcing major initiatives to increase exports to Australia of products from Third World countries. Do the announcements reflect the recent report released by the Minister for Foreign Affairs that Australia should not make its reduction in restrictions on those exports conditional upon concessions from the Third World? At the same time, will the Department increase trade representation in Third World and South East Asian countries to promote, as far as possible, the sale of Australian manufactures?
-The Minister for Trade and Resources made a statement in relation to the matter raised by Senator Davidson. It relates to a new series of initiatives which the Government has decided upon in regard to trade with developing countries. I propose to seek leave at a later hour today to table that statement. I trust that the questions Senator Davidson asked will be covered by the statement. If there are any further matters that he wishes to raise, I will refer them to the Minister for Trade and Resources.
-I refer the Leader of the Government to questions I asked earlier in Question Time concerning a meeting held on 3 1 May involving certain Ministers. Has the Leader of the Government any knowledge of that meeting?
– I have no recollection of such a meeting.
-Mr Deputy President, my question is directed to you. In your opening prayer within this chamber, will you give consideration, firstly, to widening its content to acknowledge Australia’s obligations within the world community and, secondly, to using modern English?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- I believe that the prayers that are in use, and have been in use in this place for a long time, are basically regarded as suitable to the occasion. Nevertheless, I will give consideration to the question raised.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I wish to clear up the point raised in a question I asked last Tuesday about whether there were any threats made by the Prime Minister about American defence facilities in Australia. I ask the Minister whether he has noticed the Prime Minister’s reply to Mr Lionel Bowen in the other place on Tuesday, in which he stated:
But it would be entirely wrong for whatever remarks were made at that discussion in February to be construed as implying any threat of action by Australia in relation to defence facilities.
I also ask the Minister whether he has noticed that in the book written by Mr Alan Renouf it is stated that in 1 979 Mr Fraser hinted:
That is alleged to be a statement by the Prime Minister. I also refer the Minister to the view of Inside Canberra, which states:
We have now established to our satisfaction that Mr Fraser made this threat at a meeting with the US Ambassador, Mr Philip Alston, Jr, on 7 February 1979, at Parliament House.
In view of the conflict, will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to release sufficient parts of what has been termed the agreed record of the meeting, signed by Australian and United States representatives, so that we can know what was the conversation in which so many people consider a threat was made?
– My recollection regarding the substantial question is that I invited Senator Cavanagh to place it on notice so that I could get the reply of the Prime Minister. I do not know whether such a reply has come to hand. In response to his individual questions, I have not noticed the Prime Minister’s reply to Mr Lionel Bowen and, indeed, I have not read Mr Alan Renoufs book, so I am unable to comment on them; nor am I aware of the comment in the periodical to which Senator Cavanagh refers. Since the matter must be one that the Prime Minister alone can answer, I will refer the final part of Senator Cavanagh ‘s question-that is, a request for some release of written evidence- to the Prime Minister and seek his response.
-I refer the Minister for Education to the fact that research funding in Australia has declined in real terms since 1970. In view of the need for Australia to maintain its position with respect to research and development in the face of international competition at a time when we are on the verge of a technological revolution, will the Minister exert his influence on the Government to review this policy with the objective of substantially increasing Government funding and incentives to industry, et cetera, in order to step up our research capacity, which I regard as very critical to Australia.
– It is a fact that research funding, particularly at universities, has declined over the decade. That is probably due to the strong influx over that period of primary degree candidates to the universities and the preoccupation of the universities with teaching, particularly in the primary degree or basic degree categories. The Government set up the Williams Committee to inquire into all aspects of education and training. That Committee gave very deep consideration to aspects of research, particularly in universities. The Committee concluded that more research should be done. It concluded that it should recommend the establishment of a discrete number of research centres at particular universities. All aspects of the Williams Committee report are at present under study by a Cabinet committee and also by the Commonwealth and the States in the forum of the Australian Education Council. The Committee’s report is available for scrutiny and study by the Tertiary Education Commission and its councils. The Crawford Committee has reflected what Senator Jessop has said, that is, that for Australia to be viable in the world of increasing competition and technology it must have greater skills. That must be acknowledged. The Government, through its establishment and development of the Australian Science and Technology Council, is indicating its interest in this matter. I certainly will be interested in the promotion and development of research in the widest possible fashion in the years ahead.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources. The question is rather apt in view of the situation in Kampuchea. Will the Minister inform the Senate whether his Government is prepared to support Ampol Petroleum Ltd in its stated proposition of converting food to ethanol for the purpose of decreasing a reliance on imported fuels?
– I will refer that question suggesting the conversion of natural fibres to ethanol to the Minister for Trade and Resources and also the Minister for National Development.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources, is on the same topic as Senator Davidson’s question. I would like to see whether the Minister could include in the statement, or supplementary to the statement, an item showing whether there has been a schedule established, approved or considered; whether it is intended that there should be an increase in imports from developing countries; and whether it is determined that there should be a direction of these imports from existing developed countries or from Australia ‘s own industries?
– I am not quite sure of the implication of Senator Archer’s question. I would suggest that, after the report has been tabled today, perhaps the matter that is concerning him will be answered in the statement. As I have said in answer to Senator Davidson’s question, if there are any further matters that he wishes to raise in relation to the statement, the Minister for Trade and Resources, I am sure, will be only too pleased to deal with them further.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Social Security. Is it a fact that the Reverend John Woodley has resigned from the Social Security Appeals Tribunal in Queensland, saying that the Tribunal is too bound up with bureaucracy and limited by regulations to help anyone? Is the Minister concerned that he should say that under present conditions it is a waste of time to appeal against the Department’s decision to cut off the dole or any other benefit? Has the Minister investigated these complaints? If so, has she any proposals to reform the Social Security Appeals Tribunal?
– It is a fact that the Reverend Woodley resigned as a member of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal in Queensland. I do not wish to make any comments on his statement of his attitudes with regard to his membership of that appeals tribunal.
– It is serious that a man of his standing should make those statements.
– He should regard it as serious that as a member of that Tribunal he makes statements of that kind. I take it that he made the statements seriously. However, I said that I do not wish to comment on his opinion of the Social Security Appeals Tribunals. Perhaps it ought to be said that he was not a very active member in attending the Social Security Appeals Tribunal in Queensland. Having said that, let me say also that the Social Security Appeals Tribunals, as I have said on a number of occasions, were set up by the former Government. The method of operation of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal as an informal appeals tribunal has been continued by the present Government, but I have said repeatedly in this place that I believe that people who wish to appeal under the Social Services Act should have the same degree of redress against determinations that are made as people who are working under any other Act of the Commonwealth Government.
In consequence of that view I have asked that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal be the ultimate appellate body for people who wish to pursue recommendations which are made by the Social Security Appeals Tribunal but which are not upheld by the Director-General of Social Security. I am advised that difficulties that existed with regard to the staffing of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal have now been overcome. I expect that an early announcement will be made that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal will now function as the ultimate appellate body for those who wish to seek redress against determinations made under the Social Services Act.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Capital Territory: Because of the need to consolidate development in the national capital at this stage, can the Minister say whether there is any proposal to continue with planning for development of a new town at Gungahlin? If so, what timing is proposed for this? Secondly, can the Minister say what the Government now proposes to do with respect to the development of Tuggeranong and the use of serviced land in the Tuggeranong Valley?
-The Minister for the Capital Territory has provided information which indicates that the current strategy for the metropolitan growth of Canberra provides for the commencement of the next new town, which is Gungahlin, when development of Tuggeranong is substantially completed. On the basis of this strategy, the current forecasts of housing demand would suggest that a start on Gungahlin would not be necessary for about 15 years. However, it is now 10 years since the current strategy was formulated and the National Capital Development Commission is presently reviewing its metropolitan policy plan to take account of factors which have changed during that period.
Any plans concerned with long-term development must be reviewed from time to time to test their continuing validity in the light of social, economic and technological changes and movements in public attitudes. For example, two factors which have emerged in the last 10 years and which will have a significant bearing on future planning strategy are reduced growth rates and public concerns about the environmental effects which development in south Tuggeranong will have on the Mumimbidgee River. A report on the Commission’s metropolitan policy plan review will be released for public comment before the end of this year. The land which has been serviced for residential development in Tuggeranong will continue to be released. By the early 1980s this will be the only land available for new standard houses. It is expected that the current number of surplus blocks will be progressively reduced.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who will be aware that on 25 May 1 978 the Prime Minister stated that parliamentary committee reports would be responded to by the relevant Ministers within six months. As none of the reports tabled since that time by the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence has been responded to, will the Minister agree that that Committee’s work and recommendations are being deliberately ignored?
– I certainly would not agree with the latter part of Senator Sibraa ‘s question. The Government, by its own initiative and as a new initiative which had not been adopted by previous governments, undertook that parliamentary reports should be studied and, within a program of time, should be brought before this Parliament. That the Government has not been able to keep to the time-table is no reflection on its intention, or its bona fides, to give consideration and attention to committee reports. My understanding is that at this moment the matter to which Senator Sibraa referred is under consideration and the situation is to be rectified. 1 am hopeful that in the weeks ahead a number of reports which at this moment may be outstanding will be made available to the Senate and to the Parliament generally.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Education and is about a table, headed ‘Comparison of Ratios of Students in Arts Faculties with Students Undergoing Technical Training’, which was contained in the submission of the Technical and Further Education Council to the Committee of Inquiry into Education and Training. The table shows the number of students studying the arts, humanities, economics, commerce and education as 54,149 and the number of people employed in the labour force in those fields as 50,643. So in fact it shows that the number of people employed in those fields was 6 per cent lower than the number of people studying those subjects. On the other hand, the table shows that 98,000 people were studying the electrical trades, motor trades, et cetera, and that the number of people engaged in those trades in the labour force was 614,000. In other words, the number actually studying in those fields was only 15 per cent of the number engaged in those trades.
I ask the Minister: Has that submission been drawn to his attention? What action has he taken to ensure that these sorts of facts are brought to the attention of all school leavers and that they are not encouraged by the universities to undertake courses which will provide little prospect of employment, simply in order that universities may retain their establishments?
- Senator Lewis raises a question which has its roots profoundly within the community. The origin of this overpreference for the arts and related subjects and the decline in attention towards the manual skills has been one which came from consumer preference and, I think, a misunderstanding.
– But why? There is a good reason for it.
-I am grateful for the help from the opposite side of the chamber, because most of this problem occurred in the period of the Labor Government. Honourable senators opposite now feel a sense of deja vu. If only they had had foresight to match their deja vu we might not have had the disastrous Government which they formed. Having said that, perhaps I might be allowed-
– Tell us whether Fraser knew about the round robin. Tell us about the round robin.
- Mr Deputy President, it is good that the community should understand that whenever a fact which displeases the Australian Labor Party is evidenced, its members try to drown it out by shouting because they do not want the public to understand it. I delight when we get this uproar because all it serves to do is to underline a profound truth. I now say that during those years there was a drift away from the vital TAFE courses into too heavy a concentration in the arts courses. We have sought by public education and public persuasion to correct this trend. The Williams Committee, of course, was a focal point on this matter. The essence of the Williams Committee inquiry was heavily directed towards TAFE. Through the Australian Education Council we have sought also the help of the States, and it is a very ready help, in rectifying this imbalance. Through the manner of distribution of funds, we have increased our funding to TAFE relative to other matters, and we have sought by the encouragement of counsellors in the schools to do what Senator Lewis says. Primarily, what is needed is a community understanding and for the parents, who are the primary teachers and counsellors, to understand this gross imbalance.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Industrial Relations. Is the Minister aware that two prominent trade union leaders from New South Wales, namely, Mr Unsworth, the Acting Secretary of the Labour Council of New South Wales, and Mr Oliver, a senior official of the Australian Workers Union, are coming to Canberra this morning to see the Minister for Industrial Relations and to use all their endeavours to maintain industrial peace at Kurnell in order to keep oil supplies flowing in New South Wales? I further ask: Did the Government of New South Wales last Thursday file an application with the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission for an extension for one month of the suspension date of the oil refinery workers’ award at Kurnell? Is it a fact that no presidential or other members of the Arbitration Commission were present in New South Wales last Friday to hear the application because a seminar was being held in Melbourne? Was the previous time for suspension of the award to be 7.30 a.m. on Monday, 24 September, and was it only after complaints had been received from the New South Wales Government that no one was on hand in Sydney to deal with the application that the President of the Arbitration Commission himself extended the suspension date? Will the Minister take up this matter with the Arbitration Commission to see that at all times at least a presidential member or an arbitration commissioner is available in Sydney to deal expeditiously with urgent matters of this nature?
-Senator Douglas McClelland has asked a series of questions, some of which I can answer, but others of which I will have to refer to the Minister for Industrial Relations. I understand that the New South Wales union leaders to whom the honourable senator referred are coming or have come to Canberra; I am not sure which it is. Certainly discussions are to take place between them and the Minister for Industrial Relations. As I think I said in answer to a question from Senator Mulvihill, the Minister for Industrial Relations has been engaged in recent weeks in a good deal of discussion with the New South Wales Minister in relation to this problem. Last week there was a move to suspend the Federal award for a further month, and that was to come on before the -
– To extend the suspension.
– To extend the cooling-off period. I personally am not sure whether that move was made by the New South Wales Government, but I accept that that was very likely the case. I am not aware of the composition of the bench which heard the application. It is a fact that the former suspension expired earlier this week, and certainly it was important to obtain an extension of it at the time. I will refer to the Minister for Industrial Relations the question relating to the composition of the bench. As I understand it, tomorrow the Commission will be hearing the substantive argument on the application for extension for a further period of one month. I assume that certainly presidential members of the bench will be hearing the applicaton when it is dealt with substantively, but I will take that matter up with the Minister for Industrial Relations.
– During Question Time last Thursday Senator Messner asked me a question concerning capital inflow from the Australian Government’s overseas loan program. Upon perusal of the question and answer, I think that I may have inadvertently not given a complete answer. I now seek to correct it. In my answer, I inadvertently conveyed to the Senate an incorrect description of the way in which overseas loan proceeds are treated for government accounting proceeds. The net proceeds of all overseas borrowings by the Commonwealth form part of our overseas reserves. However, the Australian currency equivalent is in fact credited to the Commonwealth’s accounts with the Reserve Bank. In this way, the proceeds of overseas borrowings are available as a source of finance for the overall Budget deficit. To the extent that the Commonwealth borrows overseas on its own account, the requirement for funding the total deficit from other sources is correspondingly reduced.
To illustrate the nature of the various financing transactions used to fund the deficit, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing the details of government financing transactions for 1978-79 and the way in which overseas borrowings entered into the financing of the deficit. I just add what I have said on several previous occasions: As a result of our improving trading position and our much improved private capital inflow, the need for the Australian Government to borrow overseas has been substantially reduced. Borrowings in 1978-79 were some $200m less than in the previous year. The reduced rate of borrowings was particularly evident in the second half of 1 978-79. With continuing improvement in our external position, it is expected that the trend will continue. I seek leave to have this table incorporated in Hansard.
The table read as follows-
-On 25 September, Senator O ‘Byrne asked me a question concerning contaminated waste in a Singapore steel plant involving private interests. He referred in that question to confidential advice, regrettably leaked to the Press, as to how the matter should be handled by the Government. The Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs- it is clearly a matter which falls within the Foreign Affairs area- has provided me with the following reply:
I would like to emphasise that Australian representatives abroad arc charged with the general responsibility of protecting and advancing Australian interests. This involves them quite properly in making recommendations on how best these interests might be served. Their advice is considered but not necessarily followed. I would simply restate what has already been confirmed in the present case, that no approach was made to the ABC. The Government has not sought to do other than confirm the facts of this matter which it hopes can be satisfactorily resolved between the commercial parties involved. I should add ‘that the Government regards it as important that the news media should be able to cover international issues factually and as comprehensively as possible.
Additional to this information, it is a fact that Commonwealth responsibility for radioactive waste management rests with the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman). I am informed that the Department of National Development is maintaining contact with officials of the Western Australian Government and of the Australian companies concerned on this matter.
-On Tuesday last, Senator Rae asked a question without notice concerning increases in marine radio licence fees. A large number of representations have been made on this subject. I am advised that the figures quoted by the honourable senator in his question are correct. Marine radio licence fees have been increased to $37 per annum. Land based citizen band radio licence fees are $25. CB radio licence fees were not inluded in the recent increases. The concern of many volunteer search and rescue associations and other boating organisations is appreciated. In many cases such groups provide a valuable service to the community. The views which they put to the Minister are reasonable and will be carefully considered by the Government. For this reason Mr Staley, the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, has instituted, within his Department, a comprehensive review of the scale of licence fees payable for radio communication services. This is a complex exercise and will take some time to complete. However, the Minister has directed that it will be a high priority task and that some options on restructuring the scale will be submitted to him at the earliest possible date.
– Also on Tuesday last, Senator Townley asked a question without notice concerning a report in the Australian about increases in telegram charges which will be effective from 1 October 1 979. 1 was able at that time to give Senator Townley information which had been provided to me by the Postal and Telecommunications Department. I have been further advised by Mr Staley that he also is concerned about the administrative uncertainties associated with the arrangements, and he has sought urgent clarification from Telecom Australia on the point raised by Senator Townley. He will provide additional details to the honourable senator as soon as possible.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- For the information of honourable senators I lay on the table the report of the Eighth Conference of Presiding Officers and Clerks of the Parliaments of Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalua and Western Samoa held at Apia, Western Samoa, from 20 to 23 June 1977, and the report of the Tenth Conference of Presiding Officers and Clerks of the Parliaments of Australia, Fiji, Gilbert Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalua and Western Samoa held at the National Parliament, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, from 15 to 22 June 1979.
Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) On behalf of Senator Guilfoyle, pursuant to section 122 of the Repatriation Act 1920 I present the annual report of the Repatriation Commission 1 978-79.
Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) For the information of honourable senators, I present a statement made yesterday by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony) relating to Australian trade with developing countries.
– I should explain that the document is not listed on the sheet before us. It is a statement made by the Minister yesterday relating to trade with developing countries.
– by leave- I move:
I received this paper only a few minutes ago. I really have not had time to read through it entirely. As the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) has stated, it was not listed on the Notice Paper which was circulated. For that reason, I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– For the information of honourable senators I present a report by the Anglo-Australian Telescope Board 1978-79.
– Pursuant to section 29 of the Wine Overseas Marketing Act 1929 1 present the Wine Board annual report for 1978-79.
– Pursuant to section 8 ( 1 ) of the Poultry Industry Assistance Act 1965 I present the annual report on the operation of the Act, 1978-79.
– Pursuant to section 16 of the Pig Industry Research 1971 I present the annual report of the Australian Pig Industry Research Committee, 1 979.
– I seek leave to move that the Senate take note of some of these papers.
-On behalf of Senator McLaren, I move:
I do this because I am sure that Senator McLaren would want to say something on these matters when he returns. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– Pursuant to section 6 of the National Fitness Act 1941 I present the National Fitness in Australia report for 1977-78.
– by leave- I merely wish to draw the attention of honourable senators to the fact that the report is for the year 1977-78, which means that some 15 months have now elapsed since the conclusion of the period to which it relates. There may be some good reason why it is so late. I simply indicate that the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations would wish to look at the matter and, if necessary, take further steps in the Senate with a view to investigating the reasons for the delay.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the annual report of Commonwealth Accommodation and Catering Services Ltd for 1978-79.
Senator DURACK (Western Australia-
Attorney-General)- by leave- For the information of the Senate I present the Government’s responses to the recommendations contained in the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce in regard to its investigations of the Australian Trade Commissioner Service.
At the outset I should mention that as part of its reference the Committee resolved, on 2 September 1977, to examine the Trade Commissioner Service. The Committee was conscious of and indeed the Government places great emphasis on, the importance placed on the promotion of international trade by all governments. I am pleased to be able to say that, from witnesses’ evidence and written submissions, the Committee was informed that, in terms of overseas trade representation, the Australian Trade Commissioner Service is highly regarded by both the Australian and international business communities.
Since its establishment, the role of the trade commissioners has grown and diversified as Australia’s overseas trade has adjusted to new situations and policies. Against the background of the needs of Australian exporters and the Export Now’ campaign, the Government earlier this year completed a comprehensive review of the Trade Commissioner Service which took full account of the changing patterns of trade and trading prospects in individual markets. As a result, Australia’s trade representation has been strengthened to meet more adequately the needs of Australian exporters. Over the years, a very close working relationship has been built up between exporters and the Trade Commissioner Service and exporters have strongly supported the continued existence of the Service, under present arrangements provided by the Trade Commissioners Act.
The Government is pleased to receive the Committee’s report. I seek leave to have the text of the Government’s responses to the Committee’s recommendations incorporated in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
The Trade Commissioners Act 1933 be retained without amendment.
The commercial aspects of trade promotion be the responsibility of a Trade Commissioner with considerable experience in private industry.
Trade policy and trade relations be the responsibility of a Trade Commissioner with experience in Government policy formulation.
It is considered that under present staffing arrangements, the Committee’s wishes are already being fulfilled.
The Department publicise clear guidelines as to the nature of the inquiries to be handled by Trade Commissioners and the limits of their responsibilities in determining the substance of inquiries.
The requirements of this recommendation are being and will continue to be met.
In response to inquiries in respect of the appointment of agents or distributors, the Trade Commissioners investigate the suitability of likely candidates and provide a short-list to the exporter for final selection.
Australian Trading News’ be published more frequently, in full colour, with improved content and format; the reader card service be computer controlled to facilitate the prompt dispatch of detailed information to inquirers.
This recommendation is dependent upon funds availability. However the Department of Trade and Resources has underway an intensive review of style, content, format and circulation of Australian Trading News. This investigation is also examining computerisation of the reader card service.
The Department investigate the costs involved in providing exporters visiting a Trade Commissioner post with limited access to telex services and other office facilities free of charge.
The Government is anxious to see businessmen travelling overseas receive every assistance from Trade Commissioner Posts, particularly in difficult areas such as the Middle East. However, bearing in mind cost and staffing factors, the government believes that the present levels of assistance adequately meet the requirements of the business community.
A substantial proportion of a Trade Commissioner’s time between posting be given to personal contact with representatives of export firms.
It is considered that the aims of this recommendation are presently being met.
The Department give greater publicity to the advice and assistance made available to exporters by the Trade Commissioner Service.
Australian exporters keep informed of trends in merchandising marketing techniques overseas in order to maximise their export potential; the Trade Commissioner Service be utilised as an initial point of contact for information relating to these matters.
State Governments make greater use of the wellestablished and comprehensive services available from the Trade Commissioner Service and that separate State export agencies be encouraged to work through the Service.
The government welcomes State Agencies to use the facilities of the Trade Commissioner Service.
The recruitment policies of the Trade Commissioner Service remain in keeping with the spirit of the enabling legislation; recruitment policies give greater emphasis to the appointment of people with wide experience in industry and commerce; future recruitment policies accurately reflect the relative importance of trade policy and trade promotion work-loads.
It is considered that the recruitment programs conducted by the Department of Trade and Resources are meeting the spirit of the enabling legislation and reflecting the relative importance of trade policy and trade promotion workloads.
Sufficient funds be made available to enable Trade Commissioners to travel more frequently throughout their post territories in the course of their trade promotion responsibilities.
The Department of Trade and Recources continue to pursue and reassess its policy of thoroughly briefing Trade Commissioners on the nature of Australian trade with the overseas country, and the customs, history, culture and business practices of the country; the views of interested exporters and industry groups must be adequately canvassed prior to the Trade Commissioner’s departure; all Trade Commissioners must have at least a working knowledge of the language of the country to which they are posted prior to taking up this appointment.
In any future expansion of the Trade Commissioner Service, consideration be given to the recruitment of technical specialists for limited periods and on limited product ranges such as farm machinery, heavy engineering, processed foods, etc. These officers would be positioned in strategic locations and service the specialist requirements of a number of Trade Commissioner posts.
The basic aims of this recommendation are already being fulfilled.
Urgent consideration be given to recruiting more Marketing Officers particularly to posts in the Middle East and other developing markets; all Marketing Officers be fluent in English; the salary level of Marketing Officers be increased in order to attract and retain better qualified people; the practice of bringing Marketing Officers to Australia be extended and actively encouraged by the Department.
Any suggestion concerning the declaration by Trade Commissioners of their pecuniary interests should await the findings of the Government committee currently reviewing the declaration of pecuniary interests by persons employed at Government expense.
The Service be flexible in determining the duration of postings; as a general rule, postings be for a minimum of three years and a maximum of five years; and during the longer postings, Trade Commissioners be recalled to Australia at frequent invervals for briefings with industry groups and government.
Posting procedures were recently varied and are now in accord with this recommendation.
Sufficient funds be provided to ensure real growth in the Trade Commissioner Service, both of Australia-based and locally-engaged officers.
Within the funds available, every effort is made to ensure that the export sector is adequately serviced.
-(Western Australia) -by leave- I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– I seek leave to make a statement relating to grants to voluntary conservation organisations and to move a motion that the Senate take note of the statement and to have the statement incorporated in Hansard.
The statement read as follows-
The Government is continuing to make funds available to assist voluntary conservation organisations. A sum of $350,000 has been made available in the Budget and I will be distributing these funds to those organisations supported in the previous financial year. In making the grants the Government is well aware of the value of the work of these voluntary organisations. I am announcing the grants earlier than has been the practice in past years so that the conservation groups will be able to plan their activities, and to emphasise my appreciation of their efforts. The organisations are particularly active in promoting public education and awareness, and contribute significantly to reasoned public debate. They also provide scientific and special knowledge to Government inquiries.
Mr Groom, when Minister for Environment , Housing and Community Development, in announcing last year’s grants to voluntary conservation organisations, stated that from this financial year grants would be made on a $ 1 for $ 1 basis. The Government is concerned to see that the voluntary conservation movement should be seen to retain its impartiality and independence and not become too reliant on government assistance. Funds will be provided, up to the limit of the Budget provision, on the condition that each organisation raises an equivalent amount of money to that allocated by the Government. I confidently expect that all bodies will qualify for the maximum grant allocated to them, thus demonstrating the wide level of community support which these bodies enjoy.
It is now some time since the program of grants to voluntary conservation organisations was established following the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Hope. There have also been changes in administrative responsibility for the program consequent to changes in portfolio responsibilities in December 1 978. Is is now appropriate to review the scope of the program and the criteria used for allocating the grants.
I intend to approach the State Environment and Conservation Ministers on this matter and I invite non-government environment and conservation groups to offer their views, individually or as groups, on the objectives and administration of the program. I also intend to seek the advice of the Australian Heritage Commission. I hope to receive these views by mid-November 1979 in order to facilitate completion of the review by early 1 980, in time for the application of any new criteria to next year’s program.
I believe these initiatives demonstrate the Government’s concern for the protection of the environment and the conservation of our unique flora and fauna.
– I thank the Senate. I move:
– It is pleasing in one respect to see that the Government is continuing to accept some part responsibility for funding the voluntary conservation organisations. But I think it has to be said that the Government’s emphasis on economic restraint and on the reduction of public funding generally is affecting the efficient and proper functioning and responsibilities of the conservation movements. One would hope that the Government, and particularly the Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster), would take a very firm stand against any further reduction in the funds for these important organisations.
One of the facts that have to be recognised is that if it were not for the work of the voluntary conservation movements throughout our country many of the important areas which need to be preserved and conserved, many of the important buildings that should be preserved and many of the important functions that ought to be the responsibilities of public authorities, would not be attended to properly. Because of the dedication and involvement of increasing numbers of people at the grass roots level, we have seen the development of the voluntary conservation movements in the Western world and particularly in our country in recent times. It can be argued that such movements should have not only their own momentum but also their own funding. However, the sorts of responsibilities that citizens have taken upon themselves, that is, the protection of the environment in its many and varied forms, being borne in mind, it is becoming more and more important that they have the wherewithal to carry out the important function of protecting the public and community interest. If government funds are restricted, reduced or not available to the degree and in the quantity necessary to carry out that function, the community at large suffers as a result of any penny-pinching policy of government.
One only has to look at the areas in which conservationists have operated to see the important task that they perform and to see the importance of resources that they have to employ in order to bring to the notice of the community and governments what ought to be the responsibility of the community. Of course governments in that respect have some particular responsibility to act on behalf of the community. We have seen abundant evidence over the last decade or so of the need for community action to bring to the attention of the bureaucracy- and government is a part of that bureaucracy- what should be its concern for protecting important matters which fall generally within the umbrella of the environment.
Of course, that means that dedicated and concerned citizens have to identify what public authorities or the private sector will do in respect of matters affecting the environment. That task involves research, travel, time off work, presentation of argument, taking the case to the media and of course, a watchdog responsibility. I believe that part of government responsibility in this area is to provide the wherewithal or the essential resource so that concerned citizens can take up an obligation which they feel ought to be obligation of government. In recent years we have seen not only a reduction in the amount of funds provided but also in real terms a lessening of money available to the organisations at a time when development in both the public and private sectors of our economy is putting more and more pressures upon the protection of the environment in its varied forms.
It is true that many members of the committee make donations and many sacrifices to fund and carry out what are obviously community concerns. That needs to be matched by government responses and the best way that governments can respond in that sense is by providing sufficient funds so that the organisations do not have to concern themselves with the raising of funds from public subscription and public organisation in order that they may carry out this very important watchdog function. It matters not whether it is the Barrier Reef, Terania forests, Lake George, or the Black Mountain in Canberra. Whatever the case may be, there is a need for community involvement.
One of the pleasing things we have seen in more recent years is the degree to which young people have taken upon themselves the need to protect the environment from the many pressures that exist within the Australian community. Young people have a better sense of conserving our environment and more concern about what is happening through the varied forms of pressure and development that take place within our community. Environmental impact statements on all matters of development, whether in the private or public sector, are becoming very important from the point of view of looking at all sides of development. That, in itself, is where funds are becoming more and more important. If there is to be a proper evaluation of development, wherever it is and in whatever form it takes, it requires resources to carry out an allsided objective analysis of the particular development or project that is involved. We have seen, particularly in the private sector, the use of tremendous resources by the private entrepreneurs in order to present a case to the general public and to the Australian Parliament that such and such a development is in the public interest. It is sad to see the environment movement, with its lack of resources, having to match the largely unlimited resources that the private sector has in these matters. It is important for Ministers, governments and for the Parliament to accept an additional responsibility and to see, in periods of economic restraint, that this one area is not placed in the same position as all other categories, with an automatic funding reductions taking place from Budget to Budget to the point where, in fact, the work of the voluntary organisations becomes less effective and in many ways is rendered ineffective. I hope, therefore, that the Minister, whether in this place, in the Cabinet room or when the Budget allocations are made, will continue not only to press very strongly for maintaining funding in real terms taking into account inflation, but also to bring to the attention of the Cabinet and the framers of the Budget the need to extend this aspect of community involvement. We in the Parliament see our role as trustees, as guardians, of the work being carried out by the voluntary organisations. They give up their time and need extra incentive, resources, funding and encouragement so that the Australian environment, which, relatively, is in its infancy at this stage of our economic development, will be protected for all time, and future generations will look back and say that those who acted in a voluntary capacity and those in the Parliament both played their part to present a balanced view of development as it relates to the Australian environment. I seek leave to continue my remarks later. ( Quorum formed).
– I want to speak briefly on the matter of funding of voluntary conservation organisations because I believe it is of considerable importance. To begin with, I would like to congratulate the Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster) and the Government on one point. The Minister rightly says in his statement that he is making these grants earlier than in past years so conservation groups will be able to plan their activities. That seems to be a valuable, thoughtful and considerate point of view.
Beyond that, I want to speak briefly about the Australian Democrats’ concern for the whole area of conservation and the Government’s attitude to it. Of course, this is something that Senator Gietzelt mentioned and which is stated quite clearly between the lines of the report by the Minister, who as good as says that if there are citizens who feel strongly enough about conservation, let them raise some money; if they can do that, the Government will subsidise them dollar for dollar. The Minister gives a very curious reason for this in his statement. He says that the Government is concerned to see that the voluntary conservation movement should be seen to retain its impartiality and independence. If honourable senators look at that conversely, do we then have to accept the situation or imputation that every research organisation which is publicly funded is not impartial or independent? I suggest to honourable senators that that reason is not one which can be accepted without reservations. In this statement, the Minister states:
Funds will bc provided, up to the limit of the Budget provision, on the condition that each organisation raises an equivalent amount of money to that allocated by the Government. I confidently expect that all bodies will qualify for the maximum grant allocated to them, thus demonstrating the wide level of community support which these bodies enjoy.
Surely the point is that the natural environment of Australia is not a sectional interest; it is not a sectional viewpoint because it is a common heritage of benefit to the entire community. The Australian Democrats feel it is wrong and unfair that the attitude should be taken that these are groups of people who, for some weird reason, are concerned about the environment; that it is something they own or which is to their benefit and therefore they had better get out and raise some money to protect it. However, that is not the case. From my experience of environmentalist groups, like other public causes a lot of the work is carried out by a few people. They are not in it because they have some perverse desire to carry out voluntary work apart from their own jobs and earning their own livings; they are there because they see this as an important national task and also, as Senator Gietzelt has mentioned, because they see arrayed against them a formidable amount of money and influence which can take the other side.
There has been a fair example of this recently in the Terania State Forest episode. I do not think it is necessary for honourable senators to make any judgments on that issue, whether it is right or wrong, or whether milling should proceed. Although I have my private views on that matter, I would not assert them in this debate. The real point of the matter is that that was a confrontation between business and people concerned with the environment. Those commercial interests have a great deal of money behind them. It is right and proper that there should be adequate Government funding of those concerned enough about the environment to allow them to proceed with their work. Indeed, if the environmental organisations and the people who work for them have to devote a lot of their spare time to raising money, they will have less time available to do the job that they should be doing- acting out a watchdog role over environmental matters. That applies regardless of the best will in the world of the community. The community may well hand out the money the groups need; however, the environmentalists are people who are concerned about this national problem but who are being put at a disadvantage because effort has to go unnecessarily into that part of their task.
I was advised by the environmentalist movement this morning that the dollar for dollar basis will have serious detrimental effects on a number of environmental centres that are finding it hard enough to raise funds in today’s economic climate. It will cripple substantially the Darwin environmental centre, possibly the one at Townsville, and at Cairns as well. Probably the only viable environmental centre left may be the Total Environment Centre in my electorate of New South Wales. I challenge the Minister by saying that, because of its hard campaigning and active attitudes in the past, it has received no support from the Federal Liberal-National Country Party Government.
– Which group is that?
– The Total Environment Centre in Sydney. It has established self-funding through its maturity. It is good that it has done that but it is wrong that it should have been compelled to take that course of action. I challenge the Minister on the basis of selection when it comes to giving support. I think that is another relevant matter. The Minister has stated the Government’s concern for the impartiality of these organisations and, in the same breath, respect for the assistance that the organisations have provided. However, the Government has ended the technical assistance grants, established under the Whitlam Government- grants of $5,000 to $7,000-which were made specifically for research into areas of concern for the environment which cannot be carried out without money. Those valuable grants led to the consultant study on the Border Ranges- a most important and valuable contribution to this country’s literature on the environment- and the book entitled Native Forest Ecosystems, which are good results from what was a generally useful series of grants. I think the Government must realistically realise that this sort of work cannot really be carried on without assistance.
It is also a point that governments- not only this Government but others as well- have supplied millions of dollars through assistance directly and indirectly to companies such as those involved in mining, whereas they do not give more than a paltry $350,000 to the environmental movement. There has been no change in this total grant since 1974, despite inflation and consistent requests from the environmental movement for the indexation of the benefits that it gets. I will not detail these examples in tedium, but I mention that, for instance, the Wran Labor Government supplied $1,250,000 for roads, et cetera, to a 100 per cent Japanese owned corporation, the Harris-Daishowa company, which is involved in woodchipping at Eden. Of course, the controversial New South Wales Forestry Commission has been involved in a tremendous deficit. There is a $35m deficit on top of a $26m deficit last year. Certain causes are being taken against both these organisations by environmentalists. It is their watchdog activities which draw the attention of the public and the media to reasonable causes in that area.
It is a fact that the viability of certain of these organisations is steadily increasing. I am delighted to be able to tell the Minister that the Australian Conservation Foundation had 1,500 new members last year, on top of the 9,000 it had previously. The National Parks Association of New South Wales has experienced a 20 per cent growth of membership. So, I think the Minister would have no worries about public response, and a good indication of community support. Surely these organisations increasing their membership of people who are prepared to pay an annual fee is an indicator of community support, rather than the Government requirement stated in the Minister’s statement that additionally they must go out and whip up funds from somewhere to do this work.
Finally, let me repeat that the work these organisations are doing is for the benefit of the people of the nation and the nation as a whole. There is no way in which it can be said that they are doing it for their own benefits, be those benefits for crippled children or other groups for the worthiest of causes. This is in a different category. It is a national cause. On behalf of the Australian Democrats I would implore the Government to look very carefully at, firstly, altering this policy which has come in this year of dollar for dollar grants and, secondly, to improve and increase the amount of funding available for this important area and to look sympathetically at requests for relatively small $5,000 to $7,000 special purpose grants. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave- I was not until this morning aware that this statement was to be made. As one Liberal Party senator who is very concerned in this area, I want to make a few remarks. It is impossible to make a thorough analysis of the statement, which I think is somewhat vague, because of the inability to check this matter with people who may be concerned with it. There is a great deal of concern with the extent of the grant which, as has been pointed out by previous speakers, is a matter which has continued now for some years. It is as though inflation has not happened in this country. One wishes that that were so, but the fact that it remains so fixed is a matter of some concern. The statement goes on to say that there is to be discussion with the non-government environment and conservation groups to get their views, the views of the States and the views of the Australian Heritage Commission. I think that is excellent. I hope the views will be carefully considered before any decision is made. I hope there will be an opportunity for the members of the Senate, including back bench Government members, to have their views put forward.
Not only do I think that there is a concern that there has been such a fixed amount available to existing groups, but also I think there is also a danger that groups which may pose as conservation groups and may set themselves forward with names that sound like conservation groups may well try to obtain this amount and, therefore, dilute still further the money which is available to genuine conservation groups in this community. So far as the argument which was raised by Senator Mason this morning in regard to the dollar for dollar basis and the statements made in this Senate that voluntary conservation groups should be seen to retain their impartiality and independence are concerned, I too say that it is not a matter where we should be expecting groups to spend much of their time in raising money and not doing the work that has to be done. 1 think it is excellent that they should raise money, but this is a national responsibility. It is a responsibility that should be of concern to all people in this community as to whether we are properly preserving the heritage of this country.
I do not regard this as a matter where it is generosity on the part of governments to give moneys to groups which are purely voluntary. They are not selfish groups. They are not, in a sense, doing other than helpful work so far as the community is concerned and pointing out the necessity for national work. I do not know that this statement really comes across as recognising that fact sufficiently. I recognise that it is a temporary statement as to the progress of what has been done. It does not set out any final statements in regard to the amounts that will be paid and how they will be distributed. I wanted to make those few points in regard to this matter because many of us in this chamber are very concerned to see that we give more emphasis to the support which we are giving to the conservation movement in this country.
Motion (by Senator Webster) agreed to:
That, unless otherwise ordered, the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Tuesday. 9 October 1 979, at 3 p.m.. unless otherwise called together by the Deputy President, or, in the event of the Deputy President being unavailable owing to illness or other cause, by u Temporary Chairman of Committees.
– To enable Estimates Committees B and D to meet, I move:
– I take the opportunity on the adjournment debate to raise two fairly minor matters in relation to the affairs of the nation, but two very substantial matters in relation to the city of Echuca in Victoria. Most honourable senators will recall that the city of Echuca suffered a rather severe economic downturn and a disastrous unemployment situation with the closure of the old ballbearing factory perhaps two years ago. One of the problems that have beset that community has been to devise a means by which employment could be recreated in the district. It does appear from the evidence before me that the city of Echuca itself, the local government body, did a lot of work in trying to bring manufacturing or other industry into the district. It appears that one of the firms that has been established there is a food processing company by the name of Plumrose (Australia). With the utilisation of Commonwealth Government funds some 25 or 30 people have been trained under the National Employment and Training Scheme to allow them to take up occupation at this food processing plant.
The local government body provided certain facilities, financial and otherwise. The State Government provided funds to allow this development to take place. The Federal Government provided $500,000 to allow this company to go along its way and to employ people. One can well understand the disgust in that community some two or three weeks ago when the company announced that its employees would be stood down for four months and would not be reemployed until early next January. The reason why 1 raise this matter is that I wonder at the ethics of a firm such as this that would allow itself to be the beneficiary of local State and Commonwealth funds, possibly up to $lm, and then to stand down its employees for a four-month period. I leave the matter at that. I would hope that the Minister responsible would carry out some investigation into the matter and ask this firm why it would do such a thing. It is obviously nothing more than a golden handshake to a firm which has used every means in the book to cajole money out of three levels of government, one would presume, on the understanding that it was going to take up the unemployment slack in the city of Echuca; it then dumped those workers with virtually no notice whatsoever. 1 am pleased that Senator Carrick is in the chamber because the other matter which I wish to raise relates to education. It is possibly very largely a State issue but at Echuca, which, as 1 have said, is on the border between New South Wales and Victoria, children from New South Wales travel into Victoria to attend a certain school. I understand that that situation of children transferring largely from New South Wales, it would appear, into Victoria prevails right along the Murray River. As I understand it, this is because of a lack of junior technical education facilities in New South Wales. Because something like 200 children are being bussed across the Victorian border for technical education in the city of Echuca, the local school, the Victorian Department of Education, or whoever- I am not quite sure who- has had to issue an edict which virtually bans Victorian children from access to the technical school there. I think that is a tragedy. The Victorian parents are not prepared to call for black bans to stop free trade across the border, but they feel that they have a right and an entitlement, as citizens of Victoria, to have their children get access to the only technical school facility that is available.
I do not know whether the Minister is in a position perhaps to act as the umpire in the decision. I understand that a new technical school in the city of Echuca is about to be tendered for. When that is built it could perhaps relieve the situation. I also understand that in Deniliquin the New South Wales Government, through private enterprise, has facilities for the production of temporary school buildings. One of the suggestions that have been put to me is that it may be feasible to have built in a hurry in Deniliquin a number of temporary school rooms which could be placed on site adjacent to the facility already in Echuca to allow all the children of that region to obtain their education. I ask Senator Carrick to look at the situation to see whether he, as the Federal Minister and the overriding authority, could break the deadlock which seems to have developed in relation to this facility.
– I wish to register a protest about the contempt for the Senate which Senator Carrick displayed at Question Time this morning. The broad and fundamental issues concern the former Minister for Primary Industry and the degree to which the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony) were implicated in covering up the facts pertaining to the business affairs of the former Minister for Primary Industry.
– I take a point of order. Standing Order 418 makes it very clear that no senator shall use offensive words- which Senator Walsh has just done- against either House of Parliament or any member of either House and also that the imputation of improper motives and personal reflections on members shall not be permitted. It is clear that Senator Walsh has already made an imputation against the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Carrick), but specifically he has just spoken about the former Leader of the House in the other place and the Deputy Prime Minister. I would suggest that he should not be permitted to do that.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Senator Walsh, 1 ask you to show full awareness of Standing Order 4 1 8 in the comments you wish to make.
– I say in response to the point of order that if Senator Missen finds those comments offensive I am quite happy to withdraw them. I suggest that he look at the sorts of comments that were made by people on his side four years ago, when he did not display the same sensitivity as he displays now. I would be quite happy to withdraw them on the condition that Senator Carrick, as the representative of the Prime Minister in this place, make available to the Senate the facts. In answer to a question on 30 August this year the Prime Minister exhorted the Opposition to be patient about the question of the business affairs of the former Minister for Primary Industry. He said: ‘Wait until the report comes out and then there may be some facts on which we can make judgments.’ In an earlier period the Prime Minister was very strong about obtaining facts. In July 1975 in the House of Representatives he said:
Ten per cent, or even 50 per cent of the truth is as good a way of misleading this Parliament and the Australian people as a downright lie. The half truth, the partial answer and the slipping over of the full facts are a misleading of this Parliament.
The first of the two facts that I am asking the Government to disclose now was the subject of my question this morning. Given the fact, which is on the record of the House of Representatives of 7 June this year, and which was acknowledged by the Prime Minister in answer to a question by Mr West on 30 August- that the former Minister for Primary Industry had kept his leader and the Prime Minister informed of the investigations into his financial affairs, we want to know whether the Prime Minister was aware of the round robin organised by Mr Sinclair on 12 June 1978 which Mr Sinclair has admitted to having organised. Does the Prime Minister consider that that is a normal way in which to conduct business? Is that the way in which business is conducted between Western Districts brahmins? We know, of course, that that is the way in which business was conducted by the Prime Minister’s ancestors in Melbourne in the 1880s and 1890s when they established their fortunes with shonky government contracts and by defrauding -
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Order! I would ask you, Senator Walsh, not to use that sort of language in reference to people in the other place. I would ask you to withdraw that as being objectionable.
– My reference was to the Prime Minister’s ancestors, not to the Prime Minister.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- It was an indirect reference to the Prime Minister- an attempted description of the Prime Minister- by perhaps devious means.
– With great respect, I think that is drawing a long bow in the interpretation that we would normally place on any references to people in another place. I would suggest to you, Mr Deputy President, that if you were to make a ruling of that nature we would have some very difficult rulings to make in the future and would obviously restrict many things that would normally be said here. I do not really believe that you could suggest that Senator Walsh is out of order by making reference to persons who lived in the last century, the 1880s and 1890s. There is no direct reference to the Prime Minister or anybody else in the other place.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT-Senator Walsh, I ask you to continue and at the same time to refrain from the use of unparliamentary language.
-Very well, Mr Deputy President. However, it is a matter of historical record that Simon Fraser was one of the people involved in floating land banks in Melbourne in the 1 880s and 1 890s and that the fortunes of that family were partially established at the expense of the depositors who lost their money in those banks; that that was not the only fortune in Melbourne that was established that way; and that Mr Fraser is not the only descendant of families which established their fortunes in that way who currently sits in this Parliament representing the Liberal Party.
I return to the issue proper. Senator Carrick, as the Minister representing the Prime Minister, was asked whether the Prime Minister knew of that round robin. His response was to tell me to put the question on notice. We are entitled to know the facts. The former Minister for Primary Industry said that he kept the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister informed. The Prime Minister acknowledged on 30 August that that was so. Therefore, we want to know whether the Prime Minister was informed about the round robin. We also want to know whether the Prime Minister was informed about the so-called loan which was made to Sinclair Pastoral Co. Pty Ltd on 7 July 1977 and which just happened to exceed by $ 10,000 the repayment of a previous so-called loan from Sinclair Pastoral Co. to the Reliance group one week earlier, just before the end of the financial year. I do not canvass at all anything disclosed in the Finnane report other than those two matters which Mr Sinclair has corroborated. We are entitled to know whether the Prime Minister was aware of those two transactions, the factual accuracy of which Mr Sinclair has acknowledged. We are entitled to know also whether the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Country Party knew about those things.
Only two alternatives can possibly be deduced from those facts. If Mr Anthony and Mr Fraser were informed of the two matters to which I have referred, they certainly have an extraordinary idea of the type of financial behaviour which is proper for a senior Minister of the Crown. If, on the other hand, Mr Sinclair did not disclose to them those two happenings, and was withholding information from them or misleading them, they were extraordinarily gullible to have accepted Mr Sinclair’s assurance that everything was in order, given the amount of information which already was available on the public record at that time. It was not information from the Finnane report, but information available on the public record and in particular documents lodged with the Corporate Affairs Commission in New South Wales. Those documents can be obtained by anyone and were obtained and put together by people.
Given the allegations which have been published in the Bulletin, the Melbourne Age and other publications, if Mr Fraser and Mr Anthony were willing to accept, in the face of that evidence, Mr Sinclair’s assurance that everything was in order, they were extremely gullible. And it seems that they still are. If, on the other hand, they were informed of transactions such as the round robin and the so-called loan repayment of 30 June 1 977 and the borrowing back again of that money a week later, they have an extraordinary notion of what is proper financial conduct for a senior Minister of the Crown. Indeed, if they were informed of those matters, they are accessories after the fact to those actions. So either they are accessories after the fact or they are so guillible that they should not be trusted to run a pie shop, let alone to govern a country. Those are the only two deductions which can possible be made from the facts. Whichever one of them is correct, the Prime Minister is not fit to remain in office, and neither is the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party.
I find it a matter of some dismay that a government and a Prime Minister, who has preached so freely about propriety and integrity over the last four years, should now be in this position. For example, 18 months ago, on 12 March 1978, the Prime Minister said:
One of my Government’s first promises when we were elected just over two years ago was to restore the integrity and honesty of Government
Without integrity- without the appearance and reality of integrity- no Government can hope to have the confidence of the people, or the trust of the people.
My Government has demonstrated again and again our fundamental commitment to restoring integrity to public administration in Australia. Our record in this regard is without parallel in our history.
I do not think that that would be disputed seriously now. He continued:
As long as 1 lead the Government, there is no way known that anything less than the highest code and practice of public administration will be tolerated.
How does that proclaimed, self-imposed standard measure up with the unanswered questions which I have again put to the Senate? Was the Prime Minister aware of the round robin? Was the Prime Minister aware of the so-called loan repayment and the borrowing back a week later in mid 1977? If the Prime Minister was aware of those transactions- Mr Sinclair has acknowledged that they took place- he certainly has an extraordinary idea of what constitutes integrity in ministerial behaviour. In a Press statement issued just over a year ago regarding the unfortunate Senator Withers, the Prime Minister said:
The community rightly demand a high standard from the Ministers of the Government. The judgments on Ministers are more exacting and sometimes more harsh than the judgments which might be passed on those outside the sphere of public life.
I will return to that in a minute.
– He was not talking about National Country Party Ministers!
– No, apparently not. The Prime Minister continued:
If these high standards were not upheld, the people’s confidence in Government- a confidence which is fundamental to Australian democracy- would be undermined.
On 2 1 November 1977, during an election campaign, when these matters were being discussed- it goes back more than two years- the former Minister for Primary Industry said:
Our standards are very high indeed. I believe the standards I have set are exactly the standards that anyone would wish a person in high office to set.
Are we to deduce from that statement that it is within the standards which the public expects from a senior Minister in this Government for a senior Minister to organise round robins and conceal from the shareholders of a company of which he is the managing director all knowledge of so-called loans made for the benefit of the person granting the loan? Is that the sort of standard of behaviour which the public expects from Ministers of this Government?
The Prime Minister’s extraordinary behaviour throughout the two years in which this has been a matter of public discussion- a great deal of the facts were known even two years ago- contrasts in an extraordinary way with his reactions to previous allegations against Ministers. The present Minister for Special Trade Representations, Mr Garland, went off within six weeks of this Government of propriety having been elected. He was sacked from the ministry, or he was required to resign. Next cab off the rank was Mr Lynch, towards the end of 1977. We cannot really discuss Mr Lynch ‘s affairs because we have never received a report on his activities. That is a secret. I remind honourable senators that the Prime Minister once said:
Ten per cent or even SO per cent of the truth is as good a way of misleading this Parliament . . .
We still do not know the facts about Mr Lynch. A report has been prepared, but we have not been given a copy of it. Nevertheless, Mr Lynch was required to resign as soon as allegations were made against him. The next was Senator Sheil, who at Government House spoke rather indiscretely to a couple of reporters. He got knocked off that night. Next was the present Minister for Finance, Mr Eric Robinson, against whom some allegations of attempts to influence electoral redistribution commissioners had been made by a fellow Liberal member of Parliament. Mr Robinson was suspended from duty. Then there was Senator Withers, who was said by a judge conducting an inquiry to have acted improperly in telephoning the Chief Electoral Officer and suggesting a name for an electorate. At the worst, that was a peccadillo. Senator Withers was knocked off within 24 hours.
– You did not say that at the time. You thought it was terrible at the time.
– It is terrible that he misled the Parliament about his role in the incident, but the incident itself was not terrible. He admitted that he had misled the Parliament. That was a peccadillo, but Senator Withers was sacked within 24 hours. These allegations about the former Minister for Primary Industry have been public knowledge for more than two years. A major report was tabled yesterday afternoon in the New South Wales Parliament, the salient facts of which were known by 3 o’clock by both the Government and the Opposition, and by the Press gallery and, very quickly, by most of the population of the country. What happened? Nothing at all happened for 12 hours, and only then because the Liberal Party back bench issued an ultimatum to Mr Fraser that, if Mr Sinclair did not go, he would. That is the only reason why he took action. If it was not for that, Mr Sinclair probably would still be the Minister for Primary Industry.
– Name the Liberals. I challenge you to name them.
– Let us have some questions answered. Let us have the answer to these questions. Did the Prime Minister know about the round-robin? Did the Prime Minister know about the cheques, the so-called loans, the socalled repayments and the so-called reborrowings? They are answers this Parliament is entitled to know. This Parliament is entitled to know whether the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister were accessories after the fact to Mr Sinclair’s business activities or whether they were extraordinarily gullible in not pressing Mr Sinclair to disclose the details of those financial activities. Either way, of course, they are not fit to hold high public office.
Let us return to this statement: ‘Judgments on Ministers are more exacting and sometimes more harsh than the judgments which might be passed on those outside the sphere of public life’, said the Prime Minister in August 1978. How does that measure up against the facts? In 1977, the Government introduced what it called the beef industry incentives payment scheme. It was a panic measure prior to the 1 977 election, and it was estimated at the time that it would cost $100m. In fact it has cost about $1 17m. To administer that scheme the Department- that is Mr Sinclair’s Department, or it was Mr Sinclair’s Department up until last night- recruited, although not all at once, 24 temporary staff. Subsequently, one of those people recruited to administer the scheme was suspected of having lodged a fraudulent application for assistance under that scheme. He was suspended, and the Commonwealth Police were asked to investigate. They investigated and reported, the person concerned was charged, and convicted ultimately. But the important fact is that an employee of Mr Sinclair’s Department was suspended on suspicion- before an investigation, before a report, and before a charge. The message that comes out of that is that a member of the Department of Primary Industry who is under suspicion of pinching money will be suspended, unless he happens to be the Minister, of course. That is the reality behind this pretentious rhetoric about the judgments on Ministers being more exacting and sometimes more harsh than the judgments which might be passed on those outside the sphere of public life. Incidentally, I should have mentioned that the Minister was notified of those incidents in his own Department.
The truth is that this Government has multiple standards. It has one standard for employees of the Department of Primary Industry; it has a totally different and, I hasten to add, much less demanding standard for the Minister for Primary Industry. It has one standard for people such as Senator Withers, Mr Eric Robinson and Mr Lynch, and it has a different standard for Mr Sinclair. Given the Prime Minister’s previous reverence for knowledge of the facts, his assertions that it is absolutely essential for this Parliament to be given the facts and that less than full disclosure of the facts is indistinguishable from the misleading of Parliament, I complain again about Senator Carrick ‘s contempt for this Senate, expressed at Question Time this morning, when he was asked to disclose on behalf of the Prime Minister a fact which, if the Government was willing, it could have supplied in five minutes. Senator Carrick ‘s answer was a request to put the question on notice.
– I understand that Senator Primmer raised several matters, not all of which I was able to listen to. I will look at the Hansard record and talk with my colleague. If there are appropriate matters to be dealt with, I will take those steps. As I understand it, Senator Walsh took the opportunity of the adjournment debate and the pretext for his speech to say that I was in contempt of this Senate because I asked that a question be put on notice. Let me deal with the substance of that. The question asked of me was this: Did the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) have knowledge of something? There is no way that anybody other than the Prime Minister himself can answer that question. It is to the nth degree absurd to suggest other than that a responsible Minister would refer that question to the Prime Minister, and the invitation to get the answer was made to Senator Walsh. I said that if he wanted the answer to that question he should put it on notice and the Prime Minister therefore would be able to respond directly. There is no other way; it would not be possible for any Minister to be equipped with that kind of knowledge.
Rather than showing contempt for the form and procedures of this place, what I did was to provide the normal avenues for obtaining the answers. But of course, that was not the purpose of the speech on the adjournment debate. The speech was based around that pretext in order to attempt to vilify a member of” this Parliament, Mr Sinclair, and to attempt to make allegations about the Government and the Leader of the Government. I repeat that these kinds of statements are being made at a time when a Labor State Government has set up a quasi-judicial inquiry- there is an old-fashioned view that when an inquiry is in process one does not prejudge- and has tabled only part of the report but has tabled no recommendations. Indeed, the Government has made no recommendations. What the Senate knows is that a sovereign government, a government which has within its sphere of responsibility the legal processes in this regard, has undertaken certain processes and will have a responsibility to make up its mind whether it will proceed to prosecutions. It has not done so. One can only regret that it has not done so.
As to the substance of what is being said, it is completely outside all the normal procedures of natural justice and of this Parliament that one should seek to form prejudgments on part of a report and in the knowledge that it is in the hands of a government to take action. I ask the Senate and the Parliament to accept that as being the normal procedure. To have lectures upon standards in that hushed voice of righteous indignation that Senator Walsh used is really too much.
We often use the phrase in here ‘physician heal thyself. In another place this morning the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) found himself in terms of his own standards in a very serious position. It is quite clear now that he deliberately misled the Parliament yesterday by a statement he made. If this matter is to be a question of standards, what an extraordinary thing that is. If it is to be a question of standards, what about the standards of a State Labor government which yesterday quite obviously sought to “give every kind of preference to the Labor Party by giving prior knowledge and advantage of a situation and which did not seek, in terms of natural justice, to put the whole of the report together in one tabled statement. The State Government is willing to let an agonising go on for days or more but is not willing by its standards either to table recommendations or to say what it intends to do. Are these the standards of natural justice? Are these the standards of good conduct that we are being lectured about at this moment?
It will do no good to the Labor Party, in terms of its own track record of the past, to try to dig up the question of standards. I do not see this as a game of check and counter-check. I see it as necessary for the fullest of explanations to be made where it is alleged that a case should be answered, but the case in this situation lies within an incomplete semi-judicial inquiry by a sovereign government. The inquiry has not made any recommendations or any recommendations for prosecution. If indeed the State Government decides to prosecute it will be for the courts of the land and not for Senator Walsh to make the decisions. It will be for the courts of the land and not for Senator Walsh so to do. If the State Government decides not to prosecute there will be a separate message altogether. It is for the people of Australia to determine why yesterday the State Government did the extraordinary thing it did, and that is not to wait until it had a whole report and table a total report and recommendations- not to wait until it was able, with the knowledge of the whole report, to say what it intended to do- but left the community and the person concerned in absolute total ignorance of the circumstances.
Nobody in this place or elsewhere knows basically what the inquiry is to recommend. Nobody in this place knows at the moment what the judicial officers will recommend to the State Government. Nobody knows what the State Government will proceed to do. If the State Government proceeds to prosecute, the place for judgment is in the courts. This so-called righteous indignation- I have put it in its true perspective because of the values expressed yesterday and at other times- is based on one pretext only: I did not answer directly as to the state of the knowledge of the Prime Minister on a matter. Everybody knows that that would have been quite improper and impossible for me to do. I could not possess that knowledge.
I invite the honourable senator to do what I invited him to do at Question Time and to put the question on notice. Then he can invite the Prime Minister to give an answer. In the meantime I ask that those who have even a shred of sense of values in terms of natural justice wait till the report is complete, till the State Government has made its recommendations and, if those recommendations involve prosecutions, to leave it to the courts to decide the truth in terms of judgmental values. To make those prior judgments is to be in contempt of this Parliament and in contempt of natural justice. If there is contempt it is being committed by those opposite.
– I want to say something briefly about this sickening business. I agree essentially with what Senator Carrick has said. On the other hand I agree that answers to the questions Senator Walsh asked Senator Carrick ought to be forthcoming from the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). Ian Sinclair is a man whom I have claimed to be a personal and close friend over many years. I think we ought to spare a thought for the agony that that man is going through now. I for one would think myself less than a man and less than decent if I did not stand here today and say that the friendship and affection I have for that man still prevail.
I think the one thing that this man, a man who has given so much service to the nation, is entitled to is to be put out of his agony. I am not attributing to the New Wouth Wales Government motives as Senator Carrick did. Out of all decency I believe, when a report like the one that was delivered yesterday by the New South Wales Government and which contained probably the gravest charges that have ever been laid against a member of this Parliament, let alone a Minister, the New South Wales Government ought to put the man out of his agony and do one of two things: It should press charges or state that it is not going to press charges. If it pressed charges at least Ian Sinclair would be given a fighting chance to prove the accuracy or otherwise of the charges laid against him.
– I advise honourable senators that Estimates Committee B will meet in the Senate chamber and Estimates Committee D will meet in Committee Room No. 1. The Senate stands adjourned until Tuesday, 9 October 1979, at 3 p.m., unless otherwise called together in accordance with the resolution agreed to this day.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 12.58 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 6 June 1979:
Is there provision in section 8 of the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942 for the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal to consist of a Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and at least one other member, but not more than three other members; if so, and in view of the current work load of the Tribunal, why has the Government not acted to appoint other members to the Tribunal to enable all facets of its public inquiry process to be dealt with expeditiously and appropriately.
– The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Government recently appointed Dr Robin Sharwood as an acting member of the Tribunal and the Government is currently giving consideration to the appointment of another member to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 8 June 1979:
– The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice, on 12 September 1979:
– The Acting Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
I add that, in the context of the IAC Report on Fisheries and the Fish Processing Industry, the Government has recently considered in some detail the specific matter raised by the honourable senator. Its decision was that the law should stand.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 27 September 1979, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1979/19790927_senate_31_s82/>.