31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
The Acting Clerk- A petition has been lodged for presentation as follows:
To the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned citizens respectfully showeth:
That there is an urgent need to ensure that the living standard of pensioners will not decline, as indeed, the present level of cash benefits in real terms requires upward adjustment beyond indexation related to the movement of the Consumer Price Index, by this and other means your petitioners urge that action be taken to:
Taxation relief for pensioners and others on low incomes by:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Peter Baume.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I refer to an editorial which appeared in the Age on 7 April 1980 which suggested that appeals for foreign aid be granted the same tax deductibility as that enjoyed by domestic charities. Does the Government have any plans to widen the tax deductible status of appeals for overseas aid beyond that already granted for the Kampuchea appeal and for the Red Cross appeal for East Timor famine victims?
– Successive governments of differing philosophies have maintained an attitude towards tax deductibility of foreign aid and only limited areas have been granted. It was in recent times that donations to the Kampuchea and East Timor appeals were granted tax deductibility. Any further decision would be a matter for policy and I am not competent to comment on that aspect. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Treasurer.
– I direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer to a report in the Australian Financial Review of 30 March that a major split has developed in the clothing and textile lobby for high protection. Is it not a fact that the apparel producers argue that, if textile protection was removed, the employment and investment industries would boom? Does this claim not contradict the argument by the textile lobby of large scale unemployment if protection were lowered? Is it not a fact, as claimed by the apparel manufacturers, that employment in the apparel industry is as high as 95,000 with perhaps only 15,000 in textile manufacturing? I ask the Government to take note of these representations and increasing evidence that the real objective of textile lobbying is to increase profitability behind a high tariff barrier and not, as claimed, to protect employment?
– I have not seen the claims of the industry concerned. Therefore I am not able to comment on them, nor do I know the relative figures for employment in the various sectors, whether in textile manufacturing or in clothing manufacturing The question raises a number of quite important implications. I will bring it to the attention of the responsible Minister.
– I direct my question to you, Mr President. Is it true that the Senate Transport Officer, Mr Bernie Scanlon, will retire at the end of this session after more than 10 years of unselfish, devoted and distinguished service to the Senate and to all senators who have served here during that time? As I may be overseas at the time of the planned tribute to Mr Scanlon, will you be good enough, as President of the Senate, to convey to him my short but sincere tribute which I hope to make, by leave of the Senate, after Question Time today?
– It is true that Mr Bernie Scanlon is to retire after a long period of very distinguished service to this Parliament. I shall be happy to convey Senator Chipp’s sentiments to Mr Scanlon in due time.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Education aware of claims by the Opposition spokesman on education, Senator Button, that the education of handicapped children has been neglected? Will the Minister inform the Senate whether this is a true statement of the Government’s record with regard to facilities for handicapped children? If so, can he inform the Senate whether any proposals exist to improve this situation?
-I understand that Senator Button has made some critical comments on this matter. The facts of the matter go against such statements. No government has given greater priority to the development of programs and the general improvement in assistance available to handicapped people, particularly handicapped children, than this Government has. In the past three financial years something like $1 15m has been spent under the handicapped persons welfare program. The handicapped child allowance has been increased in real terms by the present Government. Indeed, the allowance was increased from $10 to $15 a week in 1 976. Further eligibility was extended in 1977 to substantially handicapped children from low-income families and to handicapped students in the 16 to 24 years age group. In addition, the benefit paid to organisations conducting approved residential accommodation for handicapped children has been increased.
It is clear that by concentrating on the area of education of handicapped children the Opposition has sought to avoid the question of assistance to the handicapped generally because it is fully aware of just how great the Government’s initiatives in this area have been. May I illustrate this by pointing out that in the last year of the Whitlam Government a total of $468.7m was provided in assistance to the handicapped. That included invalid pensions and allowances and handicapped children’s benefits and allowances. In the current Budget a total of $906m is provided in this category. This is virtually double the amount allocated by the Whitlam Government.
– I ask the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs: Is it a fact that Aboriginal organisations in the Northern Territory have been told that all Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account funds have been frozen? If this is so, is it because of a dispute between the Departments of Finance and Aboriginal Affairs? What was the allocation to the Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account for use in the Northern Territory in 1979-80? Have the
Aboriginal organisations which made applications for grants been told that they must reapply, even though they were first invited by the Minister’s Department in August 1979 to make applications? Is the non-payment of these grants causing severe hardship to any Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory? If so, which ones? Will the Minister give his assurance that the grants will be paid immediately?
– It has not been drawn to my attention that there has been any freezing of the Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account funds. I will investigate the matters raised by the honourable senator in his question and let him have a reply.
– I wish to ask a brief supplementary question. I refer again to the point I made regarding the freezing of the funds, which apparently has been done in recent times. Does the Minister not have any knowledge of it?
– I indicated quite clearly that I had no knowledge of that matter and that I would have to seek responses to the questions Senator Keeffe raised. The matter has not been drawn to my attention. That is the clear meaning.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs aware of the urgent need for improvements to be made to facilities at the Australian War Memorial, which contains one of the world ‘s most significant collections of its kind? Is the Minister aware that these improvements include a better exhibition gallery, a theaterette, and improved facilities for the public and scholars and for staff accommodation? As three-quarters of a million people, including many school children, visit the Australian War Memorial each year can the Minister say what action has been taken to provide these urgently needed facilities? In particular, will he ensure that provision is made in this year’s Budget for these purposes?
– Yes, I am aware of the difficulties confronting the people who look after the Australian War Memorial. I am able to advise the honourable senator that the Government has introduced legislation which will greatly assist the governing body to perform its most important functions. In that legislation particular reference is made to the matters referred to by the honourable senator; for instance, the Memorial’s facilities for education and research. As the honourable senator remarked, it is a building through which some three-quarters of a million people, adults and children, move each year. It is a building of which I am sure all Australians are proud. I understand that the Minister for Home Affairs will bring before the Government very soon the matter of the provision of better facilities at the Memorial. I hope that the funds which are very necessary for the development and maintenance of this very important institution will be found in the next Budget.
– I direct a question te the Minister representing the Foreign Minister. I refer to a Press release issued by Mr Peacock on 27 March 1980 in which he stated, when referring to the appointment of the new Australian Ambassador to Greece, that he looked forward very confidently to a lasting settlement in Cyprus. I put it to the Minister that the London Economist, a very reputable journal, two issues ago took the opposite view and indicated that the impasse that had been reached there would never be solved. Can the Minister get an amplification of what our Foreign Minister said? Do we visualise taking an Australian initiative aimed at getting an overdue peace in Cyprus? On what grounds is the Minister’s optimistic forecast based?
-I will have to direct that question to the Foreign Minister, as it seeks information on details behind the Minister’s speech on the day mentioned. I will do so.
– I address to the Minister representing the Minister for Science and the Environment a question relating to a nine-year study recently completed by Professor Harry Messel, the head of the School of Physics at Sydney University. In the report on the study it is alleged that poachers are threatening the survival of estuarine crocodiles and barramundi in northern Australia. Will the Minister comment on this report and, in particular, on Professor Messel ‘s claim that there are now only 1 5,000 crocodiles, out of an original population of more than one million, remaining in the area? What action will be taken by the Government to put an end to the exploitation presently taking place in the Gulf region? Does the Minister agree that the nation will be poorer if we allow relatively unexplored parts in northern Australia to be robbed of their resources? If so, will he assure the Senate that the few remaining tidal river systems in northern Australia which still contain remnant marine resources will be policed to ensure that the natural habitat of this unique area is preserved?
– The honourable senator in his question raised a matter which is of great practical difficulty for the very reasons outlined in the question, namely, the remoteness from centres of population of the areas to which he referred. Whilst that in itself is a great protection for the areas against the pressures of population and the things that visitors do, it also makes the policing of any poaching activities quite difficult. I will refer the matters which have been raised by Senator Missen to the Minister for Science and the Environment.
I agree with Senator Missen that the nation would be poorer if we lost the various species to which he referred. I have visited one of the areas where Professor Harry Messel had a research station. I was advised not to swim because of the presence of crocodiles. I must say that I had very mixed feelings about the advantages and disadvantages of removing the crocodile population from that part of Australia.
– My question which is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer refers to the Government’s assurance given to the Australian Cattle Council on 14 November last year that it would review its policy on cost recovery for export meat inspection during periods of economic downturn. As the price of cattle has fallen by at least 25 per cent since December, as confirmed by Senator Scott yesterday in an answer to Senator Gietzelt, will the Government reduce or abolish its export inspection levy or will its assurance to the Cattle Council be as worthless as Mr Fraser’s assurances that inflation, interest rates and unemployment were coming down and his solemn promise of propriety in government.
-No doubt the Cattle Council, knowing that our undertaking that inflation would come down from 18 per cent and that soaring interest rates -
– Your undertaking was that it would come down to 8 per cent.
- Senator McLaren referred to what he alleged were worthless promises to bring down inflation. When this Government came into power inflation was almost double what it is now. The promise has been an effective one. The review of meat inspection costs is a policy matter. 1 will bring it to the attention of the Minister concerned.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs aware of the existence of a report to the United Nations Conservation Conference to be held in Nairobi which will charge that South African troops in Namibia have been slaughtering elephants, sometimes for sheer sport but mostly for their ivory tusks, which bring high prices on the black market? It is also alleged that in some instances South African army officers firing automatic weapons have shot elephants from helicopters. Will the Minister ascertain the veracity of this report? If it is correct, will the Government register its strongest protest at the wholesale slaughter of these gentle animals?
-No knowledge of the matter has been brought to me.
– Raise it with the animal welfare league over there.
– I think the matter is an important one despite the flippant interjection. I will therefore bring it to the attention of the Minister concerned and seek his review and comment.
– I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister: Is a company managing director who occupies a company house rent-free obliged by Section 26E of the Income Tax Assessment Act to add its rental value to his taxable income? Will the Prime Minister, in conformity with the precedent he set last Tuesday, ask Sir Garfield Barwick whether prior to 1 974 he paid rent to Mundroola Pty Ltd for the house he occupies and, if not, whether he added an imputed rent to his taxable income?
– The first part of the question is a matter of tax law. I will seek information as to the facts. The second part of the question is a matter between the Commissioner of Taxation and the person lodging a return of income. As in all these cases it is a matter for the Commissioner of Taxation to inquire into. It is not appropriate for others to seek the information. If a person is lodging an income return the Commissioner of Taxation assures himself whether that lodgment is accurate or otherwise.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question. Is Senator Carrick refusing to ask the Prime Minister to ask Sir Garfield Barwick whether he added imputed income to his taxable income in those years, and refusing to ask the
Prime Minister to table that information in Parliament in conformity with the precedent he established last Tuesday?
– This does not come within the jurisdiction of the Minister.
-Mr President, I accept your ruling.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. Once again I refer to my previous questions both on notice and without notice in regard to the maintenance of navigational aid stations and a review of staff conditions presently before the Public Service Board to ensure that there is adequate staff and maintenance for radio and navigational equipment in isolated areas. Is it a fact that staff is at such a dangerously low level that communications maintenance could be impaired to such a degree that the situation could be such as that reported in the Australian of Wednesday, 16 April 1980? That report stated:
Because of staff shortages et cetera, insufficiently trained staff and a power failure, Alice Springs recently lost all its communications with aircraft for six minutes while there were jet aircraft in the area . . . This may not sound like much to the layman but aircraft can go a long way in six minutes.
If the report is as serious as indicated, will the Government take emergency action because of the importance of this communication base for both domestic and international aircraft?
– On other occasions Senator Kilgariff has raised in the Senate questions relating to aircraft safety. In general responses I have assured him in the past, as I assure him now, that the Government and the Minister for Transport place the highest priority on matters which affect the safety of air travellers. The very good civil aviation safety record in Australia is something that we all appreciate and that we wish to maintain. With respect to the specific instance that the honourable senator mentions, I am not in a position to respond and to say whether it is a fact that there are difficulties of the sort that he has outlined. I will ask the Minister for Transport to examine urgently the matter which the honourable senator has raised and to let me have a reply.
-Does the Minister representing the Prime Minister recall a question I asked on 1 7 April inquiring whether he would ask the Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues to place a personal boycott on the sale to the Soviet Union of wool produced on the Prime Minister’s property or on the properties of any of his ministerial colleagues so as to make sure that it did not go to the Soviet Union. Does the Minister recall saying that he would refer the matter to the Prime Minister? I ask the Minister whether he did refer it to the Prime Minister, and what was the result.
-I understand that the question has been referred to the Prime Minister. If there has been any slip-up on that, I will correct it. I cannot answer whether the Prime Minister has had time to consider it.
-I wish to ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister clarify that the question has gone to the Prime Minister? When Parliament resumes can we ascertain whether the Prime Minister is prepared to answer that question?
– That is exactly what I said in my original reply.
– I ask the Leader of the Government whether his attention has been drawn to today’s Sydney Daily Telegraph, and to the main headline in that newspaper, How Pakistan Got the Bomb’, and also to the sub-heading, ‘Australian scientists passed on their nuclear know-how’. Is he aware that the article goes on to say that Australia may have inadvertently given Pakistan the knowledge to build a nuclear bomb? Will the Minister comment on the general accuracy of the article and indicate what the situation actually is?
-I have seen the article. In the inferences it draws it is entirely inaccurate. Over the years under both Labor and Liberal regimes educational processes of a non-classified kind have taken place at the Australian Atomic Energy Commission and in universities. They have in no way related to assisting other countries in the manufacture of atom bombs. I remind the Senate that information was provided in answer to a question asked by, I think, Mr Uren in March in which we indicated that prior to 1977 the Australian School of Nuclear Technology provided a course on nuclear technology aimed at science and engineering graduates from Australia and overseas.
Since 1 977 the ASNT has offered a course on introductory atomic energy aimed at graduates and undergraduates. Both of these courses include some lectures of a general non-specialised nature relating to uranium enrichment and fuel reprocessing including plutonium separation. These subjects are treated from an historical viewpoint and include only information which is freely available from open literature available anywhere in the world and from any academic source in the world. These courses commenced in 1 965 and have been, as I say, of a non-classified character. No overseas visitors who have been attached to the Atomic Energy Commission Research Establishment, including overseas participants in ASNT courses, have been involved in AEC work on either uranium enrichment or fuel reprocessing.
Australian policy on technical assistance in nuclear matters provides that assistance shall be given only to Non-Proliferation Treaty countries in matters related to the fuel cycle but not part of it and that no assistance shall be provided in high technology front end processes or the back end of the fuel cycle. In summary, what has been happening at the Atomic Energy Commission Research Establishment relates to the ordinary academic courses which are available at universities. The information that is transmitted is freely available in scientific literature throughout the world, and available to all countries. In no way could it be said that we have assisted any country at all towards the preparation of an atom bomb. We are thoroughly opposed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Australians are known as keen gardeners, yet the Federal Government imposes a sales tax of 15 per cent on compost bins- essential pieces of equipment for organic gardening. In the interests of conservation of energy and fertilisers, will the Treasurer give serious consideration to reducing the sales tax on compost bins to at least the level applicable to plastic garbage bins, which is 2.5 per cent?
– The matter is a policy one. I will refer it to the Treasurer.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer and Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, concerns the matter raised by
Senator Colston in his question earlier today. I ask the Minister whether he is aware of the editorial in the Age recently which pointed out:
If you give $100 to help a well endowed private school build a heated swimming pool, the Federal Government will credit much of it to you as a tax deduction. Yet, if you give $100 to Community Aid Abroad to bring water or health care to a destitute Indian village, the Federal Government gives no such support.
I ask the Minister: Is this double standard in any way defensible? Will the Government totally review the situation and take into account that so many Australians also seek an increase in official overseas aid from its present 0.45 per cent of our gross national product to the globally accepted target of 0.7 per cent of GNP?
-I have indicated that I will raise the matter with the Treasurer, but since Senator Teague used an illustration I remind him that lawyers say: ‘Hard cases make bad laws’. There are very few occasions on which one can say that a donation to an affluent private school might be for a swimming pool. The bulk of donations to non-government schools, as the Schools Commission has indicated, go to schools whose resource levels, in about 90 per cent of cases, are below those of government schools. It is a pity to use such an illustration, but I say that not in any way to denigrate the principle that the honourable senator seeks to establish, that there is abroad a great need for help by individual citizens. That is a principle that I think needs examination. I will refer it to the Treasurer.
– Can the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, who also represents the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, confirm or deny that Mr Bruce Gyngell, chief executive officer of the proposed Independent and Multicultural Broadcasting Corporation, has said that the Corporation will not concern itself with assisting Aboriginal broadcasters? In any case is it the intention of the Government that the IMBC should not assist Aboriginal broadcasters? If it is the intention of the Government that Aboriginal broadcasters are not to be included in the operations of the IMBC, does the Government intend to provide assistance to Aboriginal broadcasters?
-With respect to the last part of the question asked by the honourable senator, my Department has already provided some assistance to Aboriginal broadcasters. Indeed, I saw a group of Aborigines from Central Australia here only yesterday who probably saw Senator Ryan as well.
– I am to see them today.
-They are to see Senator Ryan. They are currently seeking assistance from my Department and from the Government. The more important part of the question that the honourable senator raised is the matter of the multicultural broadcasting organisation which is to be headed by Mr Gyngell. I saw a report of a statement by Mr Gyngell which is in the terms that the honourable senator mentioned. That is not consistent, however, with the approach which is being adopted by the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, Mr Staley, and me. We are examining the role of that organisation with respect to Aboriginal broadcasting. I expect that it will make a contribution in that field.
Up to date the efforts in Aboriginal broadcasting- these efforts are scattered around Australia- have been fairly ad hoc. There has been a contribution on station 6NR in Western Australia and a regular weekly program on commercial radio in Alice Springs. There has been some broadcasting in both Tasmania and, I think, Melbourne but I believe that much more needs to be done in that area. I am presently examining, with Mr Staley, how that might be brought about. One of the particular matters that we are examining at the moment is, for example, the future of the old Australian Broadcasting Commission studio in Alice Springs which, it is thought, might be a useful facility for the use of Aboriginal broadcasters. That is one of the matters that I discussed with the group that I met yesterday. Mr Staley has been most encouraging and co-operative in his approach to that matter. This is a developing area. I do not suggest that we have reached the final point of policy development with respect to how much the multicultural broadcasting organisation will involve itself with Aboriginal broadcasting, but it is certainly my intention that it should be involved.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. In the light of the liquidity problems being faced by most small businesses nowadays, has the Government given consideration to taxing small private companies as partnerships?
– This matter concerns policy attitudes of the Government. I will bring the suggestion to the Treasurer’s attention and seek his study of it.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources. The Press has reported that officials of the European Economic Community are in Australia pressing the Government to compromise over its nuclear safeguards policy as that policy is incompatible with supplying uranium to the European nuclear industry. Will the Minister advise whether the Government is considering such changes?
– My understanding is that the Government is not considering any alterations to its nuclear safeguards policy, but I will put the matter under study in case there is any nuance which has escaped me and which needs conveying to Senator Melzer.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs aware that the President of the New South Wales Branch of the Returned Services League, as chairman of the Defence Committee of the New South Wales RSL, in the current edition of its magazine, Reveille, has set out very comprehensive details of a scheme for the formation of an Australian youth corps as a means of assisting the youth of Australia in the fulfilment of their aspirations and the preservation of our democratic freedoms and way of life?
– Was that Colin Hines?
– Yes, it is Sir Colin Hines. That paper, apparently, is to be considered at the May congress of the New South Wales RSL. Has the Department of Employment and Youth Affairs been given an opportunity to examine the proposals contained in the paper? Has the Minister been invited to provide a representative to discuss the proposed plan with the RSL? If not, will he make an offer to the RSL to do so?
-I have not seen the article in Reveille. Knowing Sir Colin Hines as I do, it would be a thoughtful contribution by a good Australian and backed, I think, by a very considerable number of good Australians. I do not know whether the article has been brought to the attention of my colleague, Mr Viner. If not, I will make sure that it is brought to his attention and that he has the opportunity to respond to the other sections of Senator Lewis ‘s question.
– I have pleasure in drawing the attention of honourable senators to the presence in the Gallery on my left of a delegation from the Republic of the Philippines led by the honourable Querube Makalintal, Speaker of the Batasang Pambansa. On behalf of all honourable senators, 1 extend to our visitors a warm welcome. With the concurrence of honourable senators, I propose that Mr Speaker Makalintal take a seat on the floor of the Senate.
Honourable senators- Hear, hear!
Mr Speaker Makalintal thereupon entered the chamber, and was seated accordingly.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Has the Government given to the Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick, sole responsibility for organising the official opening of the new High Court building in Canberra shortly? Why did the Government take this unusual action? Is it a fact that the Chief Justice has decided not to invite the Governor-General to this function and that the Government has agreed to this decision? Is this decision in any way related to the expressed view of the Governor-General prior to his appointment of the way in which judges handle their private financial affairs and their subsequent position in the judiciary? What is the basis for this discrimination which has been shown by the Chief Justice?
-I do not think the Chief Justice has the sole or the predominant responsibility for arranging the opening ceremonies. I will find out who is the responsible Minister and let Senator Gietzelt know who has the basic responsibility. Naturally, the Chief Justice would have a significant responsibility in a general advisory fashion. This is to be a very important occasion, not only in Australia’s history- a country which has a very distinguished High Court and a great record of judiciary ability- but also in the visit to Australia of judges from a wide number of other countries. It is a very important ceremony. I have no knowledge at all of the matter. Certainly it would not be within Sir Garfield Barwick ‘s competence to extend an invitation to the Governor-General. Very real protocol matters arise when Her Majesty the Queen is in Australia with regard to whether the Viceroy is to be regarded as being present in that capacity at a function. I have no doubt that if there is some technical problem in this matter it relates to the fact that the Queen will be present and that, therefore, the Viceroy would not be functioning as Governor-General. That ought to be known to all present. If there is more to add to the matter I will let the honourable senator know.
He also asked me a gratuitous question concerning certain alleged views that the present Governor-General may or may not have had when he was a lawyer. If one is looking at the viewpoint on this matter of the body of lawyers in Australia today, I should refer to two matters: One is the resolution of the New South Wales Bar Council that there was no reason at all for an inquiry. I also refer to the comments of Professor Howard and Mr Blackshield made on Nationwide the other night. In fact, they said that not only was there no reason for an inquiry but also it could have been motivated only by political instincts.
– My question is directed to the Minister for National Development and Energy. As there is an arrangement between the Commonwealth and the States in respect of flood mitigation whereby the Commonwealth and the States concerned provide 40 per cent each and their local authority concerned provides 20 per cent of approved schemes, I ask: What is the situation in respect of beach erosion and the protection of our tourist resorts?
– This is an important matter on which I think I should get more detailed information than I have. I will seek out the information and let Senator Maunsell know.
– I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Transport to his answer to me on 28 February in which he said:
The working environment and safety on board Qantas aircraft are under continuing review by Qantas operating management. Neither sub-standard nor unsafe conditions would be allowed.
Has the Minister seen a letter published in this morning’s Press from the Flight Stewards Association of Australia which highlights what can be described only as a cavalier attitude on the part of the management of Qantas Airways Ltd to its cabin staff? In view of the reported incidents of in-flight violence involving unsafe working conditions and obvious management problems, can the Minister advise the Senate whether the chairman of Qantas, Sir Lenox Hewitt, has become personally involved in discussions to resolve these most important and pressing issues? If not, why not? If he has not, will the Minister undertake an inquiry into the matter?
-I have not seen the report to which the honourable senator refers. Related matters were raised in a question asked yesterday by Senator Baume. I will refer the detailed questions asked by the honourable senator to Mr Hunt and ask him to let the honourable senator have a reply.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs: Is it a fact that adjustments are being planned which will reduce by nine the number of staff working in Commonwealth Employment Service offices in Tasmania, as was stated by the State secretary of the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association?
– I have no present knowledge of any such matter. I will refer the question to the Minister and seek a reply.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Education: Has the Department of Education studied the methods used in the education of handicapped children by ANSUA, a New Start for the Under Achiever Association? If it has not, will he arrange for this to be done so that details of these methods which have proved so successful can be made available to State and Territory departments of Education?
– I will refer the matter to the Department and seek a reply.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Is it a fact that before an interview can be carried out by an Australian Broadcasting Commission reporter with a member of Parliament it must be approved by senior management? If so, can the Minister explain the reasoning behind such a policy, which would seem to inhibit the capacity of a member of Parliament in his communications with the public?
– There are no conditions or policy guidelines issued to Australian Broadcasting Commission staff in the area that Senator Jessop has raised, or so I am advised. Certainly there is no requirement for approval of senior Commission management- that is, head office staff- to be sought when it is proposed to interview members or senators, nor is it required that State or regional management approve any such interviews. I am advised that it is the usual practice that staff involved in program making should co-ordinate their activities with their respective producers. The logic and commonsense of that statement are, I think, fairly obvious. Assignments are given to individual reporters in a coordinated manner by the producers and there is no requirement for an individual reporter to seek his producer’s permission before obtaining an interview. The decision as to the newsworthiness of the interview concerned is left to the judgment of the individual reporter. If there is any specific area where the honourable senator believes that this general reply that I have given does not apply, I would be happy to have it drawn to my attention because it might be a matter of concern to the Commission if there was any suggestion that there was some inhibition in the way of reporters seeking comment from members and senators.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Will he consider the request of the recently formed Rugby League Players Association in New South Wales that players earnings be balanced out over a ten-year period for taxation purposes because, as the Association points out, a player’s income can vary by amounts of up to $40,000 from one season to the next?
– I will bring the suggestion to the attention of the Treasurer.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs: Has his attention been drawn to a report in this morning ‘s Age that $ 1 .7 billion in cheap credit to the poorest Asian nations has been threatened by a funding crisis in the Asian Development Bank? Is it a fact that this crisis is due to the Congress of the United States of America having failed to sanction a $445 m contribution to the fund which has effectively frozen a further $1 billion previously pledged to the fund by other countries? Since Australia is a contributor to the Asian Development Bank, what action will the Australian Government be taking to influence the United States to resume its normal level of contribution?
-I have not seen the article in this morning’s Age. I will refresh myself on that matter by studying the article. I understand that there has been some difficulty in the United States Congress on the matter but I do not know the specific point that this matter has reached. I will ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to study Senator Messner ‘s question as it is an important one. The matter of aid to developing Asian nations is of vital interest to the world and specifically to Australia so I will study the article and seek information and comment on it.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Special Trade Representations and it refers to an answer that he gave to Senator Wriedt on 1 7 April concerning the joint fishing venture which was earmarked between Russia and Australia for Southern Tasmania before the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. In reply to that question Senator Scott said in relation to some of Senator Wriedt ‘s fears: there has been an understanding that New Zealand will not seek to move in and take the place of the Tasmanian involvement.
Has the Government received information that a New Zealand company called Fletchers Pty Ltd has approached the Russian Government and its overseas trade agency with a view to establishing in New Zealand the floating dock which had been earmarked for Tasmania? Fletcher’s also operates a joint fishing venture and at the moment imports tractors from Russia. Will the Government urgently consult with the New Zealand Government to ensure that New Zealand business enterprises adhere to this Government’s undertaking mentioned by Senator Scott? Further, will the Government give urgent consideration to the Tasmanian Government’s request that the suspension of the joint venture be reconsidered, as it now appears that the southern Tasmanian community is being singled out to bear a permanent undue burden in the loss of many hundreds of jobs as Australia responds to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan?
-I recall the question to which the honourable senator refers, but I must say that I am not aware of the matters to which he refers this morning concerning the possibility of a floating dock being established in New Zealand instead of Tasmania. I shall certainly undertake to follow up that proposition and have an answer provided for the honourable senator. The Government is aware of the position that prevails or could prevail in Tasmania and has indicated that it has a responsibility to act in an appropriate manner if some sort of real loss can be confirmed. I understand that there is a possibility of other nations showing an extreme interest in such ventures as the one referred to by the honourable senator. It may well be found that here lies one possible solution to the problem that has evolved.
-I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer whether he has seen the headlines in today’s Australian Financial Review on the success in the market place of the government bond issue yesterday. Did he see the statement that the way the issue was rushed indicates that inflation rates have peaked in the judgment of the Australian commercial world? Is this further proof of the Government’s economic policies? Does it contrast starkly with the forecasts of doom issued yesterday from the Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Mr Hayden, and his quasi-economists?
– I have seen the article in the Australian Financial Review to which Senator MacGibbon refers. It does indicate that, despite the Jeremiahs, the people who understand what is happening and who are sensitive to the elements that make a stable economy have reacted with great confidence in this economy and a great confidence that there will be stability in the general trend of inflation and interests rates in this economy by comparison with the world outside. I think it utterly rejects the kind of critical comment that the Labor Party Jeremiahs have been putting up in recent weeks. It is a very nice tribute to the economic policies of the Government and to the general state of this economy, which is recognised internationally today to be a front runner in stability and initiative in the Western world.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer: What is the Government to do with its proposed change to section 260 of the Income Tax Assessment Act in the light of reported statements yesterday by Mr S. E. K. Hulme, Q.C., the barrister advising the Government on this matter, that no such reform would be effective? Will the Government continue to act to counter particular tax avoidance schemes only by legislating a year or so after the event in each case, thus allowing tax lawyers such as Mr Hulme and their clients an annual bonanza, or will it adopt the course which has been suggested by the Opposition as being the only truly effective weapon against avoidance schemes, that is, the retrospective application of anti-avoidance legislation to day one of the operation of each such scheme?
– It always astonishes me how persons when in Opposition can see with clarity what they could not see when they were in Government. If ever there was a track record of non-activity with regard to tax avoidance it was during the regime of the Australian Labor Party. One can only judge the motivation and intention of people when they were given the opportunity to do things. On the one hand the Labor Party -
- Mr President, I again take a point of order. It is regrettable that every Thursday points of order have to be taken on the Minister, but I again take a point of order and remind you of rulings you have given on so many occasions in this chamber, to honourable senators on both sides of the chamber, requesting that questions and replies be brief. We now have the Minister again making a second reading speech without even answering the question Senator Evans asked. I draw your attention to that fact.
– The point of order is not upheld.
- Mr President, if one were to look at the replies given this morning one would see that I have replied to about six questions with single or double sentences. It is quite extraordinary that the only time that the Labor Party objects to detail being given is when there is valid criticism of its policies.
– If you want some detail, we will give it to you- about you.
– Order! Do not make any references or innuendos.
– I made no innuendo; we will give straight history.
- Mr President, I take a point of order. Senator Grimes quite clearly made statements about Senator Carrick ‘s past which I think are in contravention of the Standing Orders.
- Mr President, on the point of order, I made no statement about Senator Carrick ‘s past. I suggest that Senator Baume should look at the Hansard record and see what I said. I made no statement about Senator Carrick ‘s past. If Senator Baume wants me to do so, I will. It was appropriate that Senator Baume was the one who took the point of order.
-Order! It is undesirable for anything non-specific to be said which tends to be hurtful to another honourable senator. I cannot uphold the point of order.
- Mr President, if Senator Grimes has anything regarding my present or past behaviour that he wishes to reveal to the Senate he has my personal invitation so to reveal it. In the absence of such a revelation I invite him not to continue with his run of sly innuendoes, day after day.
– I do it merely in exchange for yours. You stop, and I’ll stop. My rules are simple.
– Order! The Minister has the call.
– It is a simple code of conduct.
– Order! Cease interjecting, Senator Grimes.
- Senator Evans’s question related to advice apparently given by a Queen’s Counsel, Mr Hulme, regarding section 260 of the Income Tax Assessment Act. I am not familiar with Mr Hulme ‘s advice. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Treasurer and will seek his comment.
– Is the Minister for National Development and Energy aware that the Premier of South Australia has just returned from overseas where, amongst other things, he had discussions with regard to the establishment of a uranium enrichment plant in South Australia? As South Australia and its Premier in particular are leading the field for the establishment of such a uranium enrichment plant, will the Government have serious discussions with the Premier of South Australia concerning the establishment of such a plant in that State?
– I am aware of the very active undertakings of the Premier of South Australia- in contrast to what happened under the past regime- to achieve progressive and labour intensive industries for South Australia. I am aware that the Premier has been abroad, in the wider sense, to seek industrial opportunities. I am aware of his interest in uranium enrichment. The Government has brought together a group of business people to study this matter. No doubt South Australia will have had discussions with that advisory group. I will invite the group to have further discussions with the Premier. There are, of course, a number of matters to be discussed, not only as to techniques of enrichment, as between diffusion or centrifuge processes, but also as to what might be likely partnerships in any co-venture. It is a very expensive and involved matter, but it is also labour intensive.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. I remind the Minister that we are approaching a period when low overnight temperatures regularly precipitate the formation of ice on the frames of aircraft standing in the open at airports such as Canberra, Launceston and Hobart. Can the Minister inform the Parliament what facilities, stands, pumps, chemicals and spray equipment commuter and airline companies have for the total de-icing of aircraft at such locations? What type of de-icing fluid is used? Are company engineers based at and on duty for early morning departures from all locations where aircraft de-icing may be required? What training do engineers receive in relation to the effect ice can have on the take-off performance of aircraft? What training are they given in the safe and effective use of de-icing fluids?
– I will ask the Minister for Transport to provide answers to those questions.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The Federal Government has indicated on several occasions its intention to encourage employment opportunities among the Aboriginal people if Australia. Having in mind the need for planning and action in this regard, particularly in the country areas of Australia, what positive planning has been carried out? Rather than continuing the line of negative thinking and supporting people by unemployment benefit, what plans are there for the future of Aboriginal employment?
-Senator Kilgariff has raised an important matter which has engaged the attention of the Government for some time. He asked the question in the context of very high rates of unemployment among Aboriginal people, particularly in rural areas. I acknowledge the seriousness of the matter which he has raised. As to encouraging employment for Aboriginals, there has been a recent initiative on the part of the Department of the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, Mr Viner, who has a particular interest in Aboriginal affairs because of his previous ministry, in that there has been a further development of the national employment strategy for Aboriginals which he commenced some years ago. The initiative relates to the encouragement of Aboriginal employment in private enterprise. A couple of pilot campaigns were run in New South Wales and in South Australia. As these showed very encouraging results, further programs have now been mounted in northern New South Wales and Queensland. It is hoped that the early success of these programs will be continued and that a substantial number of Aboriginal people will be taken on by employers.
The National Aboriginal Employment Development Committee is doing valuable work. I am in close touch with at least one member of that Committee. I am aware of the very valuable work which is being done by some portions of both the public and the private sector to encourage Aboriginal employment. One example is the State Energy Commission in Western Australia which has a policy of employing a minimum number of Aboriginal people. The Commission has a constant requirement, imposed by its own management, to encourage the employment of Aboriginals. We hope to see other public and private corporations following a similar line.
I understand that Question Time is not the time for a statement to be made on government policy in these matters, but I mention very quickly that Community Development Employment projects have been expanded recently. In remote communities these projects provide work for Aboriginals instead of their having to rely on the unemployment benefit. A number of communities in the Northern Territory have recently been added to the communities which have these schemes. New developments have taken place also in Queensland and Western Australia. In addition, we encourage employment through special works projects in which both Aboriginal communities and local authorities get access to funds for the employment of Aboriginals. In towns such as Tennant Creek, for example, that approach has been used very successfully not only to provide short term employment but also to lead into permanent employment with the shire by starting off in the special works project. I will make further material available to Senator Kilgariff on this important matter. The Government is giving great emphasis through the work not only of my Department but also of the Department of Employment and Youth Affairs to doing something about the very real difficulties which Aboriginals, in rural areas in particular, face with respect to employment.
-I ask the Minister for Social Security when the Parliament can expect the final report of the International Year of the Child Committee.
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEI will need to check the progress of that report. We were seeking from all Commonwealth and State Ministers a report on the activities of the year so that one composite report could be compiled. I recollect that there is to be a meeting of the United Nations in May and I understood that our report was to be ready for presentation at that time, as I should think there will be a final report very shortly.
-Senator Mulvihill asked me a question on Cyprus. My advice is that the intercommunal talks convened in Nicosia on 1 5 June last year under the auspices of the United Nations soon became deadlocked and were adjourned on 22 June of that year. The Australian Government continues to believe that such intercommunal talks conducted under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary-General offer the most realistic possibilities of obtaining an enduring settlement in Cyprus. The Government will continue to support any moves for the reconvening of these talks.
-Senator Messner asked me a question on the United States contribution to the Asian Development Fund. The Government is aware of deep delays and difficulties, relating to the passage of United States foreign aid legislation, which are affecting appropriations to several international financial institutions including the second replenishment of the Asian Development Fund. It is understood that the United States administration’s request for $US440m for the ADF has been reduced to $US180m by the United States House of Representatives. However, the issue still has not been finally resolved. There will be informal discussions during the Asian Development Bank Board of Governors meeting to be held in Manila from 30 April to 2 May which may lead to the convening of a special donors’ meeting in the very near future to consider what action contributors to the fund might take. The Australian Government is hopeful that the issue will be soon satisfactorily resolved.
-Earlier today, Senator Kilgariff asked me a question about aircraft safety and the possibility of a loss of communications at Alice Springs on 27 February 1980.I now have some information provided by the
Minister for Transport, who advises that it is true that a loss of communications at Alice Springs did occur on 27 February 1980 at 12.45 p.m. local time. The loss of communications was a result of technician error and cannot be attributed directly to staff shortages or inadequately trained staff at Alice Springs.
The Minister refers the honourable senator to his reply to Question 2342, which is on page 1606 of the Senate Hansard of 21 April 1980, in which details were provided of the causes of staffing difficulties at Alice Springs and elsewhere in the Northern Territory and measures aimed at creating more favourable employment conditions at remote localities. It is worth noting that a wide-ranging review of manpower requirements is in progress, in the light of maintenance savings due to the progressive introduction of solid state equipment since 1970. Following the provision of the answer to Question 2342, the Minister offered to provide an opportunity for Senator Kilgariff to talk to departmental officers on issues related to his question. That invitation is still open. I suggest that Senator Kilgariff might have a discussion with those officers on this matter.
- Senator Wriedt asked me a question yesterday about suggested criticism of Trans-Australia Airlines by the Minister for Transport (Mr Hunt). The Minister has advised me that there was no question of his singling out TAA for citicism over recent moves in relation to fare innovations. Honourable senators would be aware that all air fares are subject to approval by the Minister for Transport. It is recognised, however, that in the spirit of competitiveness between the two airlines, one or other airline may wish to publicise its proposals as soon as possible in order to gain maximum commercial advantage.
However, on the occasion to which the honourable senator referred the Minister did not criticise TAA publicly but rather expressed his concern to the Chairman of the Australian National Airlines Commission about the need to ensure that he was given adequate advice before such advertisements appeared. Provided that such advertising is not misleading to the public, and the airlines do not expect to influence the Government, the Minister has no criticism of the airlines in adopting this practice. The Minister is continuing to encourage the airlines to introduce innovative fares and endeavours to decide upon airline applications in the shortest possible time.
– Earlier today Senator Missen asked me a question about Professor Messel and crocodiles. I am advised that a series of monographs detailing the work being undertaken by Professor Messel is in the process of being published. However, since the full series has not yet been published the Minister cannot yet comment in detail. The precise number of any species is always open to doubt. However, the Minister is advised that available information suggests that the number of salt water and fresh water crocodiles in northern Australia is on the increase. Both species are protected throughout their range, which includes part of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia by the relevant State and Northern Territory legislation. The enforcement of protective legislation is of course a matter for the relevant State and Territory authorities. The Minister for Science and the Environment (Mr Thomson) is confident that every effort is being made to enforce relevant laws vigorously. The remote locations in which the species occur would of course make enforcement difficult; a point I made earlier.
In addition the species are listed on the appendix to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species and the salt water crocodile which is the subject of Professor Messel ‘s study is listed on appendix 1 of the Convention. This prohibits any commercial international trade in the species. The Kakadu National Park in the Alligator Rivers Region of the Northern Territory contains extensive areas of crocodile habitat and is recognised as being a significant breeding area. The recently released plan of management for the park makes proposals for conservation of the species in the park area.
-Senator Keeffe asked a multi-point question of me today about the freezing of funds of the Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account. I indicated at the time that I had no information that the funds had been frozen. I am now able to confirm on advice from my Department that the funds have not been frozen. Therefore the second part of the honourable senator’s question about whether there was a dispute between the Department of Finance and my own Department does not apply. The allocation of funds from the ABTA to Aboriginal organisations in the Northern Territory in 1979-80 exceeded $350,000. This does not include substantial amounts paid to the Northern Territory land councils.
The next part of the honourable senator’s question asked whether any Aboriginal organisations had been told that they must re-apply even though they were invited to apply in August 1979.I am advised that as far as my regional director is aware this did not happen. There may be individual instances where plans have been changed and organisations asked to re-apply. Senator Keeffe also asked whether severe hardship was being caused to Aboriginal organisations. The answer is no. The nature of grants from the ABTA is such that the grants are not made to alleviate hardship. Hardship grants are funded through grants-in-aid from my Department. There is no need for an answer to the next part of the question, which flows from the previous one. In respect to the final part of the honourable senator’s question as to whether the grants will be paid immediately, I am advised that because of demands on the ABTA by operation of the land councils a number of applications for assistance from the ABTA have not yet been dealt with.
– by leave- I wish to make a personal explanation. In a debate in this chamber about a fortnight ago I used a quotation from a statement made by Professor Millar of the Department of International Relations of the Australian National University. I think he is currently seconded to the Parliamentary Library. Professor Millar has written to me and indicated his concern about that quotation. I will quote from his letter, which reads:
I was a little troubled by this -
That is, the quote- as it did not seem to me to make sense, and I felt sure that the context would have put some conditions on such a conclusion.
In the last paragraph of his letter he said:
It seems to me that your quotation conveys a meaning substantially different from what I wrote, and I would be grateful if you would take an early opportunity to correct the record.
I seek the indulgence of the Senate to do that. The quote I used was from page11 of a speech entitled ‘The State of Australian-American Relations: Some Impressions’ by Joseph M. Siracusa, senior lecturer, American Diplomatic History, University of Queensland, dated April 1978.I quoted directly what Mr Siracusa quoted. He quoted the words of Professor Millar. I used parts of the actual quotes of Professor Millar.
The point I want to stress is that I quoted from the speech of somebody quoting Professor Millar. I quoted from Mr Siracusa. So that the record is quite clear I will read into Hansard the precise wording. My words were concerning doubts about the ANZUS Treaty. As recorded at page 1336 of Senate Hansard of 2 April 1980,I said:
But these doubts have been expressed, and a statement by Professor T. B. Millar of the Australian National University is probably representative of reservations which have been expressed down the years. He said:
. will have little need of Australia, and the ANZUS Treaty will become increasingly a formality, an excuse for occasional rhetoric . . .
That is the quote that I used in my speech. Professor Millar has sent me the original article from which, apparently, Mr Siracusa quoted. Professor Millar wrote an article entitled ‘From Whitlam to Fraser’ which was published in the Foreign Affairs (US) Journal dated July 1977. Page 87 1 reads:
It seems extremely unlikely that the United States will be engaged in war in Southeast Asia during the remainder of this century. It this is so, it will have little need of Australia, and the ANZUS Treaty will become increasingly a formality, an excuse for occasional rhetoric, and unfortunately also a specious rationalisation for continued Australian reluctance to come to terms with its environment. An exception to this thesis could develop if Australia becomes important to American policies to protect the flow of Middle Eastern oil.
Certainly there was no intention on my part, in any way, to misrepresent what Professor Millar said. I do not feel that I have, in fact, done that. However, that is for others to judge. But in fairness to Professor Millar I want to put that into the record. I trust that it does make the position quite clear both to him and the Senate.
– I have received a letter from Senator Walsh proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion, namely:
The Prime Minister’s failure to understand the real problems of Australian agriculture.
I call upon those senators who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of senators required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places-
– The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) likes to be regarded as a farmer. He is not and never has been a farmer. He has never, for any length of time at least, had din under his fingernails or calluses on his hands. He has never been the sole or equal operator of a farm, doing all the physical and managerial work. He is and has long been an agricultural property owner.
– And a millionaire.
-And a millionaire. Nevertheless, because of his agricultural background and his important present responsibilities, one would expect him to be aware of agriculture ‘s fundamental economics and also its short term variables. Mr Fraser ‘s general economic literacy of course has always been suspect. But in two recent statements by him on agricultural matters he has exhibited a degree of ignorance, as well as economic illiteracy, that is most alarming in a Prime Minister, especially a Prime Minister with his propensity for meddling in agricultural policy.
On 14 April, just prior to jetting off to Salisbury in one of his private 707 aircraft, the Prime Minister held an impromptu Press conference to announce, on the pretext of drought relief, taxation concessions which would allow the immediate writing off of capital expenditure on dams, bores and pumping and reticulation equipment. The last two items also qualify for an investment allowance. How taxation deductions would help farmers who have no incomes because of drought, the Prime Minister did not explain. How newly excavated dams- that is, dry holes- would relieve water shortages was apparently not considered, either. Anyone who actually was a farmer, of course, would have been aware of those pitfalls.
If the Government claims- that the measures announced by the Prime Minister stand on their own merits, it begs the obvious response: Why, then, were they misrepresented as drought relief measures? The measures, quite clearly, came straight off the top of Mr Fraser ‘s head. The Australian Financial Review reported the next day that no written submission was presented to Cabinet and that the Department of Primary Industry was not involved in the policy. No papers were presented to Cabinet; no costs were given. In the Financial Review it is reported that the Prime Minister said that compared to the need, the costs would be relatively modest, but admitted that he did not know what the estimate cost would be. Government decisions were made on matters of expenditure without, on the Prime Minister’s admission, having the faintest idea of what the cost would be- responsible government, 1 980 Fraser version. Not all Government members, of course, are so irresponsible or as illformed as the Prime Minister. Senator Thomas, who has actually been a farmer, unlike the Prime Minister, in a question on 29 April said:
The question was directed to Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle representing the Treasurer and was in response to a statement made by the Premier of Queensland. In reply, Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle said:
So even Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle, who makes no pretence of having expertise in the agricultural area, is aware of that fact, and acknowledges it. I guess her awareness has been heightened by the fact that she was once an accountant and, presumably, understands arithmetic in a way in which the Prime Minister does not. Presumably, by now, John Stone and his minions will have calculated the enormity of the Prime Minister’s blunder. Mr Howard and Mr Robinson must be horrified. The reticulation and pumping equipment can now be written off immediately, and it qualifies for an investment allowance. So what is written off immediately is not the full cost but 120 per cent of the cost. Thus, a Pitt Street farmer, who is not affected by drought, who pays the maximum marginal rate of taxation and who spends $1,000 on a pump gets $723 back straight away from the Government. It does not stop there. The capital expenditure reduces average income and, therefore, reduces tax payable in the next four years. On a $50,000 constant income, for a $10,000 investment, the ultimate government subsidy is $903-$900. Ninety per cent of capital investment is paid for by the Government. In a speech to the Victorian Farmers and Graziers Association on 22 April, Mr Fraser touched on this theme and said:
The current demand for water supply equipment is extremely high.
How much higher will it be now that the Government is footing 90 per cent of the bill for the Pitt Street farmers? Even Mr Fraser should realise that prices for this equipment for which, on his own assertion, demand is already high, will rocket as Pitt Street farmers elbow each other out of the way to get their fists into the Government ‘s till before the end of June. Money, misdirected in the way in which the Prime Minister has asserted that it will be- misdirected to Pitt Street farmers in this manner- is money which will not be available to genuine farmers for drought relief. On the broader long term issue of taxation concessions of this magnitude I will quote the Director of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics who, at the Agro 79 Conference held in Perth last year, said:
Farmers should aim at achieving tax equity with other people in the community but not tax concessions not shared by others. Tax concessions result in excessive entry into agriculture for the specific purpose of receiving the economic reward associated with the concession. Rural land values and the costs of other limited resources such as livestock and credit are inflated by this process.
I ask the Prime Minister to note that he says they are inflated by this process. The Director continued:
Although individuals may benefit-
The individuals are the Pitt Street farmers- the benefits of tax concessions to rural industries as a whole are likely to be negative.
I regret that the ill-conceived, misconceived measures announced by Mr Fraser were welcomed by some elected officials of farm organisations, although I guess there is a degree of inevitability in this area as such people tend to be those with the highest incomes, those frequently bordering on the category of Pitt Street farmers because of very large off-farm investments. They see these matters from the perspective of the high income farmers rather than the ordinary farmers.
I repeat: Every government dollar misdirected in this way is a government dollar which will not be available for genuine drought relief to genuine farmers. It ought to be obvious that tax dodges are of no use at all to people who do not have a taxable income. It ought to be obvious but it does not seem to be so well recognised that, with any taxation concession, the higher the income the higher the absolute and proportional benefit from that concession. While the richest farmers and the Pitt Street farmers get a 90 per cent subsidy on capital investment under the proposals announced by the Prime Minister, the ordinary farmer on a taxable income of around $15,000 will get less than half that level of subsidy, even if he has the money to invest in the first place. If the Government wants to salvage any credibility from this misconceived Prime Ministerial whim it must change the proposed system from a deduction off the top of taxable income to a rebate on tax payable, which at least will provide benefits to all proportional to the actual expenditure.
Mr Fraser ‘s speech to the Victorian Farmers and Graziers Association, which I mentioned earlier, is a truly amazing document. Mr Fraser was boasting of the alleged success of the Government’s multi-laterial trade negotiations. After boasting of the alleged successes in Europe, he said:
Our negotiations with the US have been even more successful.
They have guaranteed a minimum access level for global beef imports of 1 .2 billion pounds per annum.
This the first time such a guarantee has been given.
He then said:
No longer will the American import beef tap be turned on and off.
Mr Fraser was talking about the Ullman Bill. He was skiting about his Government’s great achievement in securing counter-cyclical United States beef import legislation with a floor of 1.2 billion lb. The Ullman Bill became law in January. Except for a meaningless requirement to consult before reducing below a 1.3 billion lb level, it is identical to the Pouge Bill passed by Congress in October 1978 and ultimately vetoed by President Carter. When asked about this Bill in the House of Representatives on 1 7 October 1 978, Mr Fraser said: . . in the medium to longer term the legislation has potentiality for damaging Australia’s trade in a serious and grievous fashion.
I draw honourable senators attention to that statement by the Prime Minister that will damage Australia’s trade in a serious and grievous fashion. On the same day that he gave that answer, he announced that Mr Sinclair would be despatched to the United States of America at 24 hours notice to lobby President Carter to veto the Bill. The Prime Minister said that it was essential that this catastrophic piece of legislation be nipped off. What was catastrophic in October 1978, according to the Prime Minister, is a subject for rejoicing now. The Prime Minister’s view was shared by Mr Anthony. I have dozens of quotations here and I will use just one. In a Press statement on 23 October 1978 about the Pouge Bill, which is identical to the Ullman Bill about which Mr Fraser is boasting, Mr Anthony said:
This legislation in future years would have extremely serious effects on Australian beef producers, and the Government would be grossly negligent if it did not take every available step to try to persuade the President that he should not approve the new law.
That is what the Deputy Prime Minister thought about import legislation in the United States, which the Prime Minister now sees as a matter for rejoicing and a subject for Government boasting.
On 22 April, the Prime Minister said:
No longer will the American import beef tap be turned on and off.
That statement is not true. There are explicit provisions in the Act which has been passed in the United States for turning the tap on and off in a way that is inversely related to American domestic beef production. It is not just that it will be turned on and off; it is worse than that. It will be turned off or turned down when American production is at a peak, and it will be turned on when American production is in a trough. If Australia’s cattle cycle continues to remain in phase with the American cycle, as it has done in recent decades- and there are good reasons to believe that it will in the future- the tap will be turned off at the very time when that will do most damage to Australian industry.
The Bureau of Agricultural Economics Meat Situation and Outlook paper dated January 1 979 assessed retrospectively the effects of the proposed Bill, the Pouge Bill, which I stress has identical provisions to the Ullman Bill in 1975 and 1976. The BAE found that, if that legislation had been operative then, our exports to the United States would have been limited to 442,000 tons whereas the exports were 550,000 tons. In 1976, a similar provision applied. In those two years, when the Australian beef industry was in the depth of depression, if the legislation, which the Prime Minister sees as a great achievement by his Government, had been in operation 100,000 tons less beef in each of those two years would have been allowed entry into the United States, which would have had very serious consequences for the average price received by Australian producers.
The Prime Minister continued his boasting on another matter, when he said:
Between March 1976 and March 1980, the consumer price index went up by 47.5 per cent. If the reserve price had been indexed to the consumer price index, it would now be 367.5 cents, almost 50 cents a kilo above what it is. How a reduction in real terms of 50 cents a kilo would- and I use his words- ‘secure continuing improvement in the viability of the rural sector’, the Prime Minister did not explain. He does have an escape clause in that area but it is one that he cannot use while simultaneously retaining credibility. The illustration which he used of 250 cents and 318 cents seeks to compare unlike things. The 250 cents referred to 21 micron clean, which is an above average grade of wool. The 3 1 8 cents refers to a clean price for the whole clip. The situation is not quite as bad as an assessment based on the Prime Minister’s own figures would suggest. But, if he is going to use that as a defence, what this then shows is that this man, who has a well documented propensity to meddle in agricultural policy matters, is so ignorant of the basic facts about agriculture that he did not realise he was comparing unlike things.
In this same speech to the Victorian Farmers and Graziers Association we read the Prime
Minister’s usual nonsense and misrepresentations about oil pricing and the usual tedious tirade about alleged damage to the agricultural sector caused by the Labor Government. Then he capped it off in these passages:
It has been our determination that never again should prosperity be sacrificed by a lamentable indifference of government to the needs of rural industry.
It is a tribute to the resilience of the rural sector and its capacity to take advantage of an encouraging economic climate that the recovery from the troughs ofl 974-75 has been so commanding.
In other words he is on that tired old theme that everything that goes wrong with agriculture can be ascribed to the Labor Government. It is true that in a couple of years, for which the Labor Government can be held partially responsible, when it was in office in 1974-75 and 1975-76, the farm income was quite low. In 1975-76- this is in constant 1976-77 value dollars- it was $940m. But if that was the Labor Government’s fault, how does Mr Fraser explain away the fact that in 1977-78 it was down $840m, $100m lower. If he is going to invoke the doctrine of residual damage caused by the Labor Government, I would like him or his representative to explain how the figure was $8 19m in 1970-71 -the lowest on record in the last 30 years. Perhaps that was due to the Labor Government when it was in office in 1 949. Three pages later the Prime Minister said:
One of the real successes of recent years has been the dairy industry.
With Government help, it has achieved one of the most remarkable, if difficult, readjustments in Australia’s agricultural history.
– Whom can he thank for that?
– Yes, I am coming to that. The dairy industry was restructured because Senator Wriedt dumped the Liberal-National Country Party policy which provided incentives for the industry to stagnate and introduced incentives for it to be restructured. As a result the industry turned away from the product with a dying market to a product with a growth market. The terrible Labor Government was responsible for the progress which was so obvious that even the Prime Minister could see and recognised it on 22 April.
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– The Senate is debating as a matter of public importance:
The Prime Minister’s failure to understand the real problems of Australian agriculture.
Senator Walsh has just completed what has now become a usual feature of his contributions, a tirade against the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) as an individual. The attitude of the Prime Minister to agricultural problems in this country is the attitude of the Government that he leads. I propose to look at some of the things that are referable to agriculture and to the recognition of its problems. They are the policies and the legislative answer resulting from those policies of this Government. Of course there are problems in agriculture. No country is immune to this circumstance. Many of the problems of agriculture are outside the control of governments and legislation. The best that governments can do is to contribute intelligently and knowledgeably to the solutions of those problems.
I am not one who is pessimistic, nor do I believe the Government is, as so many of the members of the Opposition seem to be about Australian agriculture and, indeed, about Australian primary industry across the board. Despite the horrible consequences that could arise across a wide canvas because of international uncertainty, international wars and revolutions and despite the sort of insecurity and instability that could arise from such uncertainty I believe that agriculture in Australia and in most other parts of the world where it is significant has a bright outlook. It has a bright outlook because in the main the world is confronted with gradually increasing standards of living and a gradually increasing capacity to purchase those things that are relevant to a better standard of living. The area of the world that can be used effectively in the production of agricultural goods is limited. Consequently, with the opening of wider markets and with the increase in general affluence around the world one must admit that there is good reason for optimism in this field.
I want to make one or two remarks referable to the contribution made by Senator Walsh to this debate. The matter of public importance refers to the problems of agriculture and, indeed, to the Government’s response to those problems. Senator Walsh spent considerable time talking about the recent reintroduction by the Government- he said it was by the Prime Minister- but I say that it was by the Government- of measures to assist those who have been affected by drought. I refer to the fact that capital expenditure on equipment for water conservation and reticulation in Australia is now tax deductible. Whatever Senator Walsh and his colleagues may feel about this- I have a feeling that quite a number of his colleagues may not feel as he does- and whatever reply Senator
Walsh projects, I am quite confident that this move has had an excellent reception across the whole range of Australian agriculturists. The tax concession has been held up as being, amongst other things, inappropriate to people who have no income. That is a rather basic sort of observation. The fascinating thing about it is that it is completely irrelevant. In 1 979-80 Australia has been going through one of the most financially productive periods of Australian agriculture. In the 1 979-80 income year- that is the first year to which the new income tax concessions introduced by the Government applyAustralian primary producers across the board have received some of the highest prices for beef ever recorded. I believe that the highest recorded price for wool was also attained during this period. There is still a strong wool market. The beef market regrettably has temporarily slumped by 20 to 25 per cent from an extremely high peak. Thank goodness there had been such a high peak.
– What you are really saying is that it does not matter now if primary producers have a couple of bad years. That is obviously what you are saying.
– I am not saying that at all. I am merely making the point that because of drought Australian agriculturists are in need of taxation concessions even though the past year has been one of the most productive income earning periods that they have ever known. Any help in response to the drought situation by way of taxation concessions is certainly legitimate, proper and well-considered help. I do not wish to continue with that point. I think I have clearly indicated that the subsidy- Senator Walsh likes to refer to it as a subsidy- is indeed a responsible defence against the hardships caused by drought. The only real defence against drought is a proper measure of encouragement to people to implement fodder and water conservation measures. They will insulate the vast range of agriculturists against the problems which arise because of the unpredictability of weather conditions. The Government’s concession will help in the fight against drought. They are an effective answer, at least in some measure, to the cost of droughts. As I said, I propose in this debate to refer briefly to one or two of the problem areas of agriculture.
– Do you not think you should explain what Senator Walsh was saying about the American legislation? On behalf of your Government why do you not explain the different attitudes? You are the Minister. It is up to you.
– The American beef legislation comes at a time when Australia has a very large market, and a solid market, for beef in America as a result of the finalisation of the Multilateral Trade Negotiations. The demand by America for Australian beef- as I have said before in this chamber this is affected by America ‘s internal economic circumstances, to a rise in interest rates and to competition- has receded in the short term. The reduced demand is generally conceded to be a short term situation. Basically there is still a good outlook for Australian beef this year.
– Why was it no good two years ago and all right now? Why the difference in this Government’s attitude? We are entitled to an explanation.
– I am listening to Senator Wriedt. I am trying to avoid responding to the invitation to refer to some of the things that happened to Australian primary industry during the Australian Labor Party’s term in office. I will not use my time going over all the things that were ripped away from primary industry during those three years. I should like to refer briefly to some of the problems faced by the Australian agricultural industry. That is what this debate is about.
– You have no explanationno explanation at all.
– The honourable senator says that I have no explanation. I have just explained that Australian agriculture has gone through one of its most productive periods of its history. I could explain at length why that has occurred. It is relevant in some measure to the legislation that has been introduced in the last three or four years. We have introduced legislation giving taxation concessions and legislation providing for income equalisation deposits. We have introduced legislation to return the superphosphate bounty and have introduced legislation relating to research. I could go over a whole host of reasons. We have introduced legislation related to the averaging of incomes. An infinite number of measures which have aided agriculture have been introduced in the last three to five years and they have been relevant to the operation and the legislation of this Government.
Markets and marketing must surely be among the great problems and great challenges to agriculture in Australia. In 1973-74 Australian agriculture in particular suffered a great marketing loss when the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community. The market of a country plus a few European countries, of which we had something like a 38 per cent share, disappeared overnight. Today we have something like a 2.6 per cent share of that market. We have accepted the challenge of loss and we hope, and believe, that that loss is temporary. By the operation around the world of the Australian Trade Commissioner Service and by the operation of the Australian Wheat Board and corporations such as the Australian Wool Corporation and the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation, we have been able to expand and diversify very significantly indeed the market for Australia’s primary industry to almost the four corners of the world. Today the loss of markets in the European field has been largely overcome by our capacity and ability to enter into the new and expanding markets of the Middle East, Japan, China and South Korea- in other words, the east Asian and South East Asian markets- which offer, in the ultimate, very great opportunities to Australian agriculture. This Government, through a whole lot of methods, has been forthcoming and extremely keen in developing those very markets.
I remark now on the European Economic Community. For the first dme we have been able to gain a measure of access to that Community. For the first time since 1 973 we have been able to get a levy-free quota of some 5,000 tonnes for specialist beef. Some 60,000 tonnes of manufacturing beef has been admitted. Australia has obtained a very significant percentage of the global quota. Some 2,500 tonnes, or thereabouts, of buffalo meat has been admitted to the European Economic Community. Indeed, in the dairying field we have gained entry to the Community of some 3,000 tonnes of cheese. I am not suggesting that these are massive amounts; they are not in themselves significant amounts. They certainly are significant in the sense that they represent a measure of re-entry into what was once a traditional market. Our opposition to the common agricultural policy has been registered on many occasions and finds a real measure of support around the producing world.
I have dealt with the problem of markets and marketing. I remind honourable senators that one of the real problems of agriculture relates to climate. This is one over which it is difficult to legislate effectively. I suggest that the measures that the Government has taken over a period, particularly in recent times, have been effective. I refer specifically to measures which relate to tax deductibility for all forms of water conservation and reticulation; measures establishing income equalisation deposits and therefore regularising, as much as possible, over a period, tax commitments and income; the introduction of the investment allowance, in particular in order to aid the capacity of the industry to conserve fodder and to defend itself against climate, against droughts, one of which we are in the midst of now; the introduction of an averaging system of income; the abolition of the $ 1 6,000 limit and so on. As I said before, I could go through a very significant list of matters which have aided very significantly the Australian agricultural industry.
Time presses and I pass from that area to the economy. In the ultimate, in the basic consideration of such issues, there can be no doubt that the greatest problem of Australian agriculture relates to the condition of the Australian economy, to whether there is a measure of stability and how Australia’s economy compares with economies around the world. In this field it should be well known by now- it certainly should be recognised and is recognised by the responsible and efficient members of Australian agriculture- that this Government has succeeded in difficult times in reducing very greatly indeed the rate of inflation. Of course, it is still too high at 10 per cent or thereabouts. It now compares very favourably indeed with our competitors around the world. It is now something like 3 per cent or slightly more than 3 per cent below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average. This, of course, leads to a measure of confidence and competitiveness in Australian agriculture. Australian agriculture has always been a leader on grounds of competitiveness. The Australian farmer is recognised, certainly on a per capita basis, as one of the most- probably the mostefficient farmers in the world. So the condition of the economy, which has been brought about in difficult times with, I believe, commendable insistence, is a great contribution towards a solution of the problems of agriculture. The Government has been involved with research and with problems which relate to efficiency in cultivation, in machinery, in chemicals and so forth. There is no substance in the matters referred to by the Opposition. I move:
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– by leave- I wish to inform the Senate of the Government’s general reaction to the recommendations of the report of the Senate Standing Committee on
Education and the Arts entitled ‘Children and Television’. This report was tabled in November 1978 and was the result of the Committee’s inquiry into the impact of television on the development and learning behaviour of children. Before doing so, however, I would like to extend the apologies of the Government and the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) to the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Davidson, and to all members of the Committee for the unfortunate delay which has occurred in providing this response. I extend that apology also to cover the fact that, as was raised in the Senate yesterday, some elements of this statement were published by the Government in an answer given to a question asked in another place. That was done by administrative oversight and a letter of apology has been sent to the Chairman of the Committee. The Government certainly did not intend that to happen and meant no offence to the Senate.
Assessment of the Committee’s recommendations involved advice from a number of government authorities and instrumentalities and this took some time. At the same time, action in this same area taken by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal meant that the Government’s formal response to the Committee’s report required amendment to reflect the most uptodate position. Finally this general response had to take account of the Government’s position in relation to other Senate committee reports, including the report of the Standing Committee on Social Welfare’s report entitled ‘Drug Problems in Australia- an intoxicated society?’
The report of the Standing Committee on Education and the Arts on children and television was the outcome of a great deal of painstaking work by the Committee. It took account of submissions and information received from 274 organisations and individuals. Submissions received by the Committee represented a wide cross-section of attitudes and opinions. They covered the views of those involved in national and commercial television, the advertising industry as well as members of the public. The Committee’s conclusions on the impact and effect of television on children are of deep concern to government, as they should be to all honourable senators and to the community generally. The Committee’s recommendations covered a wide range of matters directly or indirectly associated with children’s television. Major recommendations included:
Stricter controls over children’s television programming and associated advertising;
Endorsement for the concept of a special children’s viewing dme and of a set quota for kindergarten programming;
A ban on early morning television and a ban on advertising in pre-school television programs;
Establishment of a children’s television program production unit to ensure quality programming;
Further research into the effects of television on children;
Further development of media education in schools;
Eventual abolition of all advertising of alcoholic beverages on the electronic media.
Some of the Committee’s recommendations involve other departments and instrumentalities, for example health matters and media education. Still others are complex and will require further detailed study. The Committee identified a number of areas where it believes television broadcasters have been failing our younger generation. There appears to be overwhelming evidence that some corrective action is required. One example is the decline in special programming for pre-schoolers during the seventies. There has also been some contraction in the range of material programmed for children generally. On the credit side, some stations have recently devoted attention and resources to these areas.
The Committee advocated a series of measures with the objective of improving the situation. These included suggestions for the imposition of bans and tighter controls on the industry in certain specified areas. The Committee also felt that much more research into the effects of television on children should be undertaken. It served notice of the Committee’s intention to consider reviewing the whole question of children’s television in about the middle of this year.
Honourable senators will know that the administration of programming and advertising standards in all three sectors of broadcasting is the responsibility of independent statutory authorities. The Australian Broadcasting Commission is responsible for programs on the ABC while the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal administers the commercial and public sectors. I emphasise this fact because any new measures intended to improve the standard of children’s television would need to have the support of, and to be endorsed by, the bodies who would be responsible for their administration. In effect, any action on Committee recommendations which seek additional regulation of programming or advertising in the commercial and public broadcasting sectors are matters for the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal.
Significantly, the Tribunal ‘s report on its selfregulation inquiry contained some unequivocal reservations about stations’ performance in the area of children’s programming. The Government endorsed those reservations in deciding that children’s programming standards should be one of the three areas in which the Tribunal would administer minimum standards. The announcement of the Government decisions on the self-regulation report made it quite clear that the Tribunal would be asked to take account of the findings of the Senate Standing Committee in developing Tribunal codes on children’s programming. I note in passing that the imposition of bans and more controls is not necessarily the most desirable or effective short-cut to the achievement of better television output. Television is a creative medium. Constraints on creativity tend to inhibit innovation, to produce blandness and repetition in, and hence boredom from, programming. With this in mind, encouragement rather than enforcement would appear to be a desirable approach.
After concluding that specific requirements should be met for children’s television programming, the Tribunal formed a Children’s Program Committee. That Committee has been very active since its formation. It has devised guidelines for children’s television material following consultations with program producers, representatives of the television industry and other interested parties. The guidelines, which took into account recommendations in the Tribunal’s self-regulation report, have been endorsed by the Tribunal. Some of the initiatives undertaken by the Tribunal are similar to those proposed by the Senate Standing Committee. The Tribunal now requires stations to air at least 30 minutes of pre-school age programming each weekday. This requirement became effective on 1 July 1979. Discussions are continuing on the question of the presentation of commercial-free pre-school programs.
The Tribunal has also accepted the Children’s Program Committee recommendation for the presentation of programs produced specifically for the six to thirteen age group between 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. each weekday. Commercial stations were served notice by the Tribunal that, effective from 1 July 1979, they would be required to televise at least three hours of approved children’s programming material. Such material is given a ‘C classification after being approved by the Tribunal. It is the Tribunal ‘s intention to lift the weekly requirement for the televising of ‘C classsification material from three to five hours. This requirement will take effect on the basis of assessment by the Broadcasting Tribunal of the availability of sufficient ‘C classification material to enable such an increase later this year. Action has also been taken to prevent the televising of unsuitable program material during C classified programs and time slots.
The Senate Standing Committee made clear its concern over the powers and responsibilities of the Tribunal under the existing provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Act. In answer to questions from honourable senators in this chamber, I have already stated the Government’s awareness of certain inadequacies and ambiguities in the Act. The regulatory powers and functions of the Tribunal are consequently being reviewed. The Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) has legislative amendments before the Parliament and will shortly be submitting further amendments with the aim of clarifying some of the relevant provisions of the broadcasting and television act.
I now turn to a focal recommendation of the Senate Standing Committee report- I refer to the proposal for the establishment of a children’s television program production unit. This proposal raised complex issues and could involve substantial expenditure. It could touch upon the jurisdiction of a number of departments and statutory authorities. Given the significance of this particular recommendation, the Government is anxious to facilitate the fullest possible discussion and consultation of the proposal and its implications. It has accordingly deferred a decision on this matter to allow concerned departments and authorities to complete the present round of consultation on this and associated issues.
The Senate Committee also looked closely at the question of television commercial content and its impact on children. This study considered complaints that certain advertising has an adverse influence on moral and social behaviour and attitudes of children. As a result, the Committee has sought a Tribunal review of television advertising standards. That recommendation has been referred to the Children’s Program Committee for advice, as has a proposal for a ban on advertising in programs directed to children under six. Similarly, the Tribunal has also asked its Children’s Program Committee to recommend new guidelines for advertising directed to children.
Another issue of deep concern both to the Committee and to the Government is the question of violence in television programs and its effect on children. Considerable research has already been done on this question. There appear to be grounds to conclude that at least some adverse effects have been identified in this context. The Committee wanted to see more research undertaken in this area, and relevant recommendations are now being studied by a working party established under the auspices of the National Health and Medical Research Council. That working party has been briefed to report further on television violence and its effect on children. Other significant issues probed by the Committee have included the possible harmful effects of the gratuitous use of sex on television; the effects of television and television viewing habits on children’s learning behaviour; and the neurophysiological side effects of intensive viewing over long periods. These have been taken up with other departments, notably the Department of Education and the Department of Health, and the Broadcasting Tribunal has decided to support a specific research project on the lastmentioned matter.
I reiterate the Government’s conviction that decisions on any action on increased regulation relating to television programming and advertising should be left to the responsible authority. I do not wish to give the impression that the Senate Standing Committee has suggested the need for direct government intervention in this respect. It is pertinent, however, to stress that many of the Committee ‘s recommendations are in accord with action already taken by the Tribunal.
It is also fair to remark that, in recent times, many television licensees have demonstrated awareness of the raw deal meted out to children in some aspects of programming. This awareness has been reflected in initiatives taken by these licensees to devote more resources to research and production of programming material for children. It is no coincidence that these developments have eventuated in the wake of the Tri.bunal’s self-regulation inquiry and the inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee and to some extent parallel the timing of licence renewal hearings by the Tribunal. Notwithstanding, I believe that progress is being made in the improvement of television fare for children and the industry is now sensitive to its responsibilities in this area. Recent developments indicate that station licensees will continue to respond more positively in the light of programming deficiencies identified both by the Tribunal and the
Senate Committee. There is no question of the need for more information on the effects of television on children in the Australian context. Action resulting from the Senate report and Tribunal activities should provide this information. Let me assure the Senate that the Government will not hesitate to endorse additional measures should further information reveal that action presently being implemented is not effective.
I conclude by expressing again the Government’s regret for the delay in the presentation of this statement. I add, however, that the work and findings of the Committee have been and will continue to be of immense value to the Australian community and its understanding of this most important area of concern. Senator Davidson and his Committee members are to be congratulated on their efforts in making such an important contribution to the body of information available on this subject. I present the following paper:
Senate Standing Committee on Education and the ArtsMinisterial Statement, 1 May 1980.
-by leave- I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks later. I would be pleased to have the assurance of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) that, at an early stage, the opportunity will be given for debate upon this document.
Senator CHANEY (Western AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs)- by leave- In brief response to Senator Davidson, I understand the Senate’s desire to debate this report which has been raised in the Senate on many occasions since it was put down. The position is that the Senate has another two weeks of sittings before it; the Government also would like to see the opportunity for debate on the report. I commend to the Senate the suggestion that it might devote some of its General Business time this evening to this matter. If that is not possible, the Government will do its best to find a time within the program it has for some debate.
Motion (by Senator Scott) agreed to:
That, unless otherwise ordered, the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Tuesday, 13 May 1980 at 3 p.m., unless otherwise called together by the President, or, in the event of the President being unavailable owing to illness or other cause, by the Chairman of Committees.
That, unless otherwise ordered, the Senate meet on Friday, 16 May 1980, and Friday, 23 May 1980, at 10.30 a.m. on each day, and that the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate have effect at 1 1 p.m. on each of those days.
Motion (by Senator Rae) agreed to:
That, unless otherwise ordered, after 8 p.m. this day intervening General Business be postponed until after consideration of General Business Order of the Day No. 23 1 standing in my name, relating to a proposed select committee on passenger fares to and from Tasmania.
– by leave- I move:
By way of explanation, I have been honoured to receive through His Excellency the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China an invitation from the Republic’s Institute of Foreign Affairs for my wife and me to visit China as its guests during this time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– by leave- I make this statement because I may be absent at a more appropriate time. I pay tribute to Bernie Scanlon, the Senate Transport Officer, who has won a place in all our hearts for his selfless devotion to the service of myself and my wife, and all honourable senators and their wives over the last 10 years. The qualities of this man are quite remarkable. Not only does he possess that rare combination of skills of thinking big yet meticulously implementing the myriad of detailed tasks, but also he accomplishes them with a graciousness, charm and generosity of spirit which has made him so admired and loved by all who have come into contact with him.
Mr Scanlon has performed tasks well beyond the call of duty. The ungodly Canberra Airport is often warmed by his smiling and cheerful presence in the earliest hours of the morning or well into the night if he is concerned that some honourable senator or an honourable senator’s wife may encounter difficulty. Any honourable senator who falls ill becomes an automatic subject for continuous check by Mr Scanlon concerning his or her health and welfare. To use his own words, he has become ‘both father and mother to us all ‘ while we are in this place. Perhaps the most refreshing quality about him is his approach to problems. His reaction to a difficult question of logistics is not even to contemplate the thought that the problem cannot be overcome but immediately to embark on a positive course to discover how it can be done. I shall miss this man of remarkable character and wish him peace and happiness in his retirement.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Scott) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
The purpose of the Bill is to provide for two minor machinery amendments to the Migration Act 1958. The first is contained in clause 3 and amends the definitions of ‘proclaimed airport’ and ‘proclaimed port’ in sub-section 5 ( 1) of the Migration Act. The amendment is necessary as a consequence of the provisions of clause 4 of the Customs Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1980 which replaces the concept of establishing ports and appointing airports by proclamation with a system of appointments by the Minister.
Secondly, clause 4 of the Bill narrows one of the defences to an offence under sub-section 1 lc ( 1 ) of the Migration Act committed by a carrier who brings persons to Australia without visas or return endorsements. Under the Act as presently drafted, a carrier has a defence if he can establish that he had reasonable grounds for believing that a person was not exempted from the need to obtain a visa or return endorsement. The amendment will limit the defence to establishing that he had reasonable grounds for believing that the person was exempt from the need to obtain a visa or return endorsement. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Ryan) adjourned.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives with an amendment.
Motion (by Senator Scott) agreed to:
That consideration in the Committee of the Whole of the message received from the House of Representatives be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
Sitting suspended from 12.49 to 2.1S p.m.
Suspension of Standing Orders
-Pursuant to contingent notice of motion, I move:
-Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion.
– I have an amendment to the motion moved by Senator Lewis. I move:
I have circulated already lengthy proposed amendments to the Human Rights Commission Bill 1 979. They are relevant to and consequential upon the adoption of the amendment known as the Simon amendment. Should the Committee of the Whole see fit to substitute Senator Lewis’s amendment for the Simon amendment I would desire to move amendments about which there may be some contention as to relevance if what I hear is correct. Consequently I am prepared to argue about that as some length. I seek to be in the same position should the Committee of the Whole choose to substitute the Lewis amendment for the Simon amendment and to be able to put before the chamber the same relevant factors as to why the powers of the Bill should be increased so that we can cover the situation in the light of the new requirements which the Human Rights Commission is to have. Without going into any details in arguing that matter I seek therefore the permission of the Senate so that I will be in a position to move those amendments should the Lewis amendment be adopted.
– I second the amendment. I support Senator Lewis’s procedural motion and Senator Missen ‘s amendment. I support the amendment on the basis that
Senator Missen desires to move amendments of a nature which the Opposition has generally supported throughout the debate on the Human Rights Commission legislation. I support Senator Lewis’s motion on the basis that Senator Lewis should be absolutely entitled by the Senate to put an amendment at a later stage which he regards as important and which is an appropriate matter for discussion by the chamber.
- Mr President, I seek your ruling on the proposal by Senator Missen. If the Senate is to examine and discuss Senator Missen ‘s proposal and either carry it or reject it I feel it is necessary for you, sir, to rule whether it is proper and in accordance with Standing Order 224. Standing Order 224 provides:
No Amendment shall be proposed to an Amendment of the House of Representatives that is not relevant thereto; nor can an Amendment be moved to the Bill unless the same be relevant to, or consequent upon, either the acceptance, amendment or the rejection of a House of Representatives Amendment.
– That is why he moved that Standing Orders be suspended.
– Does the same apply to Senator Lewis’s motion?
– I am just asking whether the proposal, when it comes before the chamber if this motion to suspend Standing Orders is carried, will be in order.
– The proposal before the Chair is to suspend Standing Orders to enable certain things to be done. It is quite in order.
Amendment agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
– by leave- Today I wish to make a personal explanation in answer to a question the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) referred to an advertisement in the National Times inserted by the Association for International Co-operation and Disarmament. He said among other things that the organisation was a communist front organisation and that the text of the advertisement undermined national security. The Prime Minister also read out some of the names appended to the advertisement, one of which was a Peter Walsh whom the Prime Minister said he assumed to be a Labor member for Western Australia, or words to that effect. Since I am the only Labor member of parliament from Western Australia with that name he was clearly referring to me. He had no evidence whatsoever to support his assertion. Had it been me, commonsense would suggest that the name would have appeared as ‘Senator Walsh’ instead of ‘Peter Walsh’. The Prime Minister did not ask me at any stage whether the name was mine. His assumption is completely wrong. It reflects on the credibility of the rest of the Prime Minister’s assumptions. It is typical of his disrespect for truth.
– Order! That is an inference -
– It is a measure of the Prime Minister’s desperation at the end of a bad week as the crumbling clay feet of his cronies are exposed to public scrutiny.
– Order! The phrase ‘disrespect for truth’ is a reflection on any member. It is a disrespectful reference.
- Mr President, I rise to order. I am not questioning your ruling, but if the Prime Minister in fact named a Peter Walsh and then described him as the same Peter Walsh who sits in this place without doing any checks at all, it was a very careless way of handling a very important subject. I think that shows disrespect for this House and disrespect for the person who has been named in this way. I think the misrepresentation ought to be retracted in the other place and rectified.
– I do not sustain Senator Keeffe ‘s point of order.
-I do not want to hold up the business of the day. I withdraw the expression and say that the Prime Minister was typically careless with the truth.
– I take a point of order and express concern to the Chair. This is not the first occasion on which certain senators have made certain inferences against either senators or members of the House of Representatives. Even though withdrawals are made unconditionally by your directions, sir, those inferences still remain within the Hansard record. I ask that serious consideration be given to such inferences also being struck from the Hansard.
- Senator Walsh has withdrawn the remarks which have been referred to. No further discussion is required.
Consideration of the message received from the House of Representatives intimating that it insists on its amendments disagreed to by the Senate.
– I move:
I have heard it said that certain members of the House of Representatives who supported the socalled Simon amendment before it came to this chamber on this occasion will change their minds and vote against it. I heard that said about those members of the House of Representatives last time the legislation came before the House. Following that occasion they did not change their votes, for one reason or another. I think it is quite likely that that may occur again. I have also heard it said that the Senate should not give in to the House of Representatives; that this is not the last opportunity for a compromise, and that if the House of Representatives again insists on an amendment, the Human Rights Commission Bill 1979 would come back here for a third time and then we could seek a compromise. I suggest to the Senate that we can do better than that. We should consider putting aside our emotions, our rhetoric and the sort of nonsense I have heretoday’s correspondence- and simply try to be reasonable.
The House of Representatives has twice passed an amendment which is not acceptable to honourable senators in this chamber. In my view it is still not acceptable to the majority of us. In due course the Simon amendment will come before this chamber and I will vote against it again. The Simon amendment sought to create rights and attempted to change the International Covenant, annexed to this Bill, as it applied to Australia. My formula does not try to create rights, nor does it try to change the International Covenant. It simply says that in performing its duties under the proposed Act, the Human Rights Commission shall have regard to three matters which I believe to be vital. I am sure that this chamber will again reject the Simon amendment for the reasons which it has already given to the House of Representatives. But if the House of Representatives has twice insisted on that amendment, I think we ought to look at what it wants and try to effect some compromise which may be satisfactory to both Houses- not just reject it as if to impose our will on the House of Representatives. Could we not seek some understanding of an alternative viewpoint and search for some common ground? I have come up with a form of words. Many people have asked me where the words came from. They came out of my mind. They are words which some have criticised, on the one hand for going too far and on the other hand for not going far enough- which leads me to believe that perhaps my form of words may be about right.
There are honourable senators in this chamber who are deeply committed to civil liberties. Some of them have told me that they will not support my amendment. I know that they want a commission; I do not understand why they are prepared to put this Bill in jeopardy. I ask them: Are you not prepared to concede some alternative solution, a solution that does not compromise your principles?’ My motive is simple. I want a human rights commission. I have looked for a formula that does not compromise principles yet would allow creation of a commission by the passage of this Bill.
The primary purpose of this legislation is to establish a commission, another statutory authority. But that simple proposition seems to have been forgotten. The next purpose of the Bill is to give that commission certain duties concerning civil liberties- liberties such as freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, freedom from slavery, the right to marry and the right to found a family. Those liberties are set out in great detail in the International Covenant which is annexed to the Bill. The Covenant deals with civil and political liberties. It is called an International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It does not deal with criminal offences or seek to establish a code of criminal law. Why then do some people think it should deal with abortion, which they seem to see as a crime?
Part I of this Covenant deals with selfdetermination. Part II deals with fundamental freedoms of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. I have selected just a few. Part III deals with fundamental freedoms of the subject in relation to his State, with the death penalty, genocide, unlawful imprisonment, the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, the right to know the nature of any charge made against a citizen and the right to recognition before the law. They are just a few examples. In my view the Bill has been badly named by the use of the words ‘Human Rights’. A much better name would have involved the words ‘Civil Liberties’ or ‘Civil and Political Liberties’. That may have avoided much of the nonsense that has gone on about this Bill. Because this Bill and the Commission have been called the Human Rights Commission Bill and the Human Rights Commission, a group of people in our community have sought to alter this Bill to force it to deal with the commencement of life and abortion. In my view- I say it openly- the question of commencement of life is one of immense importance. That question needs to be considered on philosophical, social, moral, political and religious grounds. The problems it raises are immense and of great complexity.
If the Parliament wishes to express a view on the commencement of life the Parliament should raise that subject separately and, after inquiring into it as deeply as possible, the Parliament should resolve the matter. I do not believe that the questions of the commencement of life and the right of unborn life to be born should be tacked on to a Bill which deals with civil and political rights of the subject. The problems are far too deep for me to approve that course of conduct. Nevertheless, I have never doubted that the Human Rights Commission, when we finally get one, in carrying out its duties could and indeed should have regard for unborn human life. There is nothing in the Bill or in the International Covenant which would prevent the commissioners from considering the existence of a foetus which may be born. For example, Article 1 6 of the Covenant states:
Everyone shall have the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
There is no question about the law having regard for unborn human life. I have not the slightest doubt that the human rights commissioners will have regard to the foetus or the unborn human life in relation to Article 16. However, following the furore of the debate on this Bill created by amendments by Mr Martyr and Mr Simon the simple proposition which I put seems to have been lost. It seems to me that, if we made that simple proposition clear, we might find some common ground with members of the House of Representatives. My proposal does not create any rights; it simply clarifies and emphasises what I believe is or should be the situation. After all, this is a Bill about civil liberties, and I suggest that it is not unreasonable to direct a commission, which is dealing with civil liberties, to have regard to these matters mentioned in my amendment. My proposal has been criticised by some who think it does not go far enough- may be that is so- but some have criticised this whole Bill for not going far enough.
I have heard statements that there are other matters that the Commission should have regard for, but when I have tried to debate that matter with people, those other proposals seem to have lapsed. I have heard it said that the proposal will cause the Commission to be subjected to a flood of cases in relation to abortion. Once this Commission is established, whether we pass this amendment or any other amendment, or no amendments at all, attempts will be made to bring abortion cases before it, whether we like it or we do not like it. The Commission has power to deal with them, and I draw the Committee ‘s attention to clause 10 (4) of this Bill which states: ne Commission may, in its discretion, decide not to hold an inquiry as a result of a complaint if -
Then (a) to (0 are listed as the grounds on which the Commission may decide not to hold an inquiry. I think once this Commission has dealt with one case of abortion, if it wants to, it will then report to the Minister, in accordance with clause 9. I guess it will then refuse to deal with any more, unless some good ground can be shown to it for dealing with another one. I have heard it said that my proposal will allow the Commission to create a human right, and that is just not so because the Act clearly defines human rights in clause 3, which states: ‘Human rights’ means the rights and freedoms recognised in the Covenant or in any relevant international instrument;
So the Commission cannot set up some new right as a result of my amendment. I come back, finally, to what I said at the very beginning. The House of Representatives has twice proposed an amendment to us which I believe is unacceptable. If we want to, we can again reject the proposal and send it back to the House of Representatives. Alternatively, we can seek to find some other course, some other area of agreement between the two Houses. I put it to the Committee that we should at least try this approach.
-The course which I adopt and recommend to honourable senators is to support the Lewis amendment, though preferably with the refinement which I have proposed and have circulated. For those who supported the Simon amendment last time, this will involve being content with a recognition of unborn human life and its claims on the attention of the Human Rights Commission. I argue that that can be a fruitful situation and can be consistent with the sorts of concerns that led them to support the Simon amendment. For those who rejected the Simon amendment, their course of action, if they do as I propose, will clearly maintain their integrity because they will vote to reject or to repudiate the House of Representatives insistence on that amendment. Prior to that, I am asking them to write into the charter of the Commission an additional realm of concern and activity to do with the unborn human life but expressed in a way which lacks many of the disturbing features bound up in the Martyr and Simon amendments considered earlier. I believe, in this way, honour and integrity are preserved and a position is moved to which allows this important legislation to pass into law.
I speak firstly of the virtues of the Lewis amendment which, as I say, I commend and support, though I wish to refine it. The amendment speaks of the Commission and the wish that it ought to have regard for human life, including unborn human life, which I regard as a considerable advance in that, as opposed to the Martyr amendment, it merely states that a recognition of human life may be said to begin at a stage before emergence of the baby from the womb. I think it goes a long way toward meeting the sorts of remarks that were made by Senator Evans and Senator Chipp in the previous debate when they expressed favourable sentiments toward the United States position which recognises the continual evolution of the life claim within the womb. This amendment alerts us to the fact that a relationship of dependence, on the part of the foetus, is there before birth, and, because of its immaturity and vulnerability, it may make claims upon us in such a way that obligations of care and protection may well fall on us as more mature members of the community.
The main point I am making is that, by contract with other proposals that have come before this chamber, a too-great precision is avoided, both as to the commencement of the claim of the foetus upon our attention and as to the nature of the obligations which may arise, firstly, as to the commencement of the obligations towards the foetus, that might be borne by other members of the human family. Words like ‘from conception’, which created great difficulty with the Martyr amendment, are avoided. They are words appropriate to criminal statutes where precision is required because of the penalties which society is imposing on those who are said to have breached the law. Here, we are not determining matters which may require a medical or precise judgment; we are merely recognising the widely-held view that at some stage before birth there is a human life which may have claims upon us. As to the nature of those obligations, once again, the Lewis amendment is silent.
There may be widespread agreement within the community that a child within the womb, for example, has a right not to be injured by its mother taking a drug which has been insufficiently tested and improperly placed on the market. One thinks of the thalidomide incident. The right to be born without physical or mental defect arising from another’s deliberate or negligent activity may vest rights of compensation and so on in the baby or its immedate family. Society may wish to go further and express its abhorrence by imposing a penalty on the respective person or company responsible. What the Lewis amendment is saying, I believe, is that those types of questions require reflection. For example, what types of rights are appropriate to be said to be vested in the child inside the womb? Who can make the claim that any such right has been violated? What should society’s response be, whether by civil or by criminal law? Those sorts of questions are precisely the questions which require reflection and discussion within an atmosphere of goodwill, expertise and commitment to the dignity and worth of a person, such qualities as we believe will be found within the membership of the Commission.
In other words, this amendment does not create any legally enforceable rights to be exercised on behalf of the unborn human life; it simply gives the Commission scope to carry out its functions of review and information by enlarging its charter somewhat. I believe the Human Rights Commission has a role which is consistent with its general charter and ethos which, speaking generally, is to inform the Parliament and the public of those instances where it appears that society has not evolved sufficient legislative instruments or administrative arrangements which would enable us, as a body of citizens, to comply with due observance of our obligations to each member of the human family.
If my amendment is required- I believe it merely clarifies Senator Lewis’s intention- it ensures that the Commission is not restricted in the avenues it may pursue, the initiatives it may take or the responses it may make as it helps the Australian people to come to a mature understanding of their obligations to all human life. I would not wish to see the Commission restricted to having regard for unborn human life only when reviewing Australia’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or any other relevant international instrument. I believe that may be an interpretation which could be drawn from the form of the words employed by Senator Lewis. After all, there are advances within our own common law and statutory tradition derived from Great Britain- the thalidomide incident gave rise to them- which should be available to be considered by the Commission.
In a nutshell, my amendment simply says that all the functions outlined in proposed section 9 ought to be available to the Commission when it is dealing with this or any other matter. That is all my amendment seeks to do; it clarifies what I understand to be Senator Lewis’s intention. Whenever the Commission is engaged in any of its functions under proposed section 9, then it shall have regard for human life, including unborn human life, and I shall be moving to achieve that clarification. I do not know whether I am supported in that modification and clarification, but I intend to support the Lewis amendment, as I have said, if my proposal is not carried.
The question I have had to ask myself is that to which I had to address myself last time we were debating this matter, and that is whether this additional charter is likely to overwhelm the Commission, to distort its workload by requiring it to endeavour to settle individual cases relating to the protection of unborn life. I am concerned- I made this point clear in my speech last time we were debating this matter- that the Commission should have as comprehensive an overview of all aspects of the violation of human rights in Australia as is possible. It should not be required so to overemphasise one side of an argument when it cannot deal adequately with others. In this area I agree with Senator Lewis. However, I think mechanisms are available to the Commission for it to make a judgment as to the amount of effort it will put into one aspect of the violation of human rights in Australia which may be alleged.
I point to two considerations in the Bill. Firstly, surely it would always be open to the Commission to set priorities, given the limitation of resources- both as to personnel and time. The society which establishes and funds the Commission would, if it were fair-minded, have to recognise and accept that not every alleged breach of or failure to live up to an obligation to the dignity of a fellow Australian can be the subject of investigation and report by the Commission. It will have to make its judgments and they will have to be accepted in any fair-minded response by society.
Secondly, I do not believe the Commission need involve itself in individual cases, particularly as in the proposed Lewis amendment a specific right is not delineated with a corresponding precise obligation which one can say has not been fulfilled. The specific right is not created and, therefore, cannot be said to be violated in a particular case. After all, the Commission is empowered only to try to effect a settlement where a right is violated and where it deems that it is appropriate so to do. If in its judgments it is not appropriate for it to become involved, it need not become involved.
Of course- this is the strength of Senator Lewis’s amendment- the Commission will always remain free to report to the Parliament on its assessment of the degree to which our laws may or may not have regard for unborn human life, such report being a reflective overview taking into account precisely the matters with which we, as a society, are trying to grapple: What rights are invested in the unborn child, how should society respond by way of civil or criminal law. It will then be for us as politicians- on this aspect I agree very strongly with the point made by Senator Puplick in an earlier debate- on the basis of those helpful reports, to take the hard decisions, creating or acknowledging a range of rights in relation to the unborn human life. Those decisions should be taken on the best considered advice. That is what we are asking to be available to us- from a Commission which has that as its aim, goal and ethos and whose personnel are selected to achieve the fullest expression of the dignity of the person within Australian society.
The course which I urge this chamber to follow is to reject the House of Representatives insistence on its clause, the so-called Simon amendment, and to adopt a clause which preserves the integrity of previous positions adopted by honourable senators but which allows the Bill to pass into law for the good government of this country. To the amendment proposed by Senator Lewis, I formally move as an amendment:
Leave out ‘in relation to the Covenant or any other relevant international instrument ‘.
-I oppose the amendment moved by Senator Lewis and that moved by Senator Tate, lt is my belief that neither of them has any justification and that the Senate would be taking upon itself one of the most disastrous courses in its history if it now chose to accept the pressure which has been brought to bear on it and turned from the course it took so well so recently. I stand by the speech I made on the occasion when we made that decision. I stand by the reasons given by the Senate on that occasion. I believe that nothing has happened since then to change the minds of honourable senators. I shall not deal at length with Senator Tate’s amendment. He is not satisfied that the Lewis amendment goes far enough. He wants to cut out the reference to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights so that in all its dealings the Human Rights Commission will have to have regard to these matters. Therefore, in my view he wants to go further towards the Simon or Martyr amendment.
I find myself in regrettable disagreement with the remarks made by Senator Lewis. He said today that the Simon amendment creates rights and purports to change the Covenant and that his amendment does not do that. That is a fallacy in the first place. That is not expressing an understanding of what the Human Rights Commission Bill means. Even the Simon amendment does not do that. It says that the Commission is to regard the Covenant as covering the rights before birth and that it is to redefine in its consideration, the meaning of human rights for the purpose of its investigation. The Simon amendment does not create rights.
The Simon amendment, to which I object so strongly, does very much the same thing as the Lewis amendment would do. Senator Lewis has all the best will and intentions in the world to try to find what he calls a compromise. Senator Lewis says his amendment is criticised on both sides, by some because it is not strong enough and by others because it is too strong. Therefore, he thinks that he is probably right. I put it to him that that is a terrible fallacy. Because he is criticised by people on both sides does not mean that he is right. I regret that the reason he is wrong is that he is substituting one form of obscurity- which the Simon amendment is- for another form of obscurity. Instead of redefining the rights for the purpose of investigation he puts a new clause into the Bill. Senator Lewis said that the commissioners- and this is where I agree with him- can already consider life. Of course, they are permitted to do that. If honourable senators look not only at the articles in the Covenant to which Senator Lewis drew attention but also at paragraph 1 of Article 6, they will see that it states:
Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
I have no doubt that people will come before the Commission and suggest that that reference includes unborn life.
– Why shouldn’t ‘t it?
– I will not argue that point. We argued it last time we were debating this Bill. The fact is that when one puts into this Bill an insistence, as this new clause will, that the Commission must ‘have regard for unborn life ‘, one is telling the Commission that it has to do something. It does not mean nothing. It is not just a piece of airy persiflage. It means that the Commission is expected- the Simon amendment was expected this of it- to have particular regard for unborn life and to forget about the other matters in the Lewis amendment which talk about life itself rather than the unborn life because life itself is already dealt with. The amendment says that the Commission should consider the parts of the Covenant which refer to people who are suffering ‘mental or physical handicap’. Even the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) has told us that those areas are already covered within the matters relating to discrimination which the Commission ought to consider. So those matters are merely extra considerations. The real matter is the direction which is given in this amendment. Although the words are different the intent is the same as is found in the Simon amendment. So there is no compromise in this amendment, lt is exactly what we had before.
– It is not exactly what we had before.
– It does not use the same words. It is done in a different way but it is to the same effect. It would result in a direction or compulsion being given to a commission. I do not believe that we will get commissioners who will accept the sort of compulsion that would be involved in that. I will come to that matter later. Therefore, they must consider these matters. They are given specific directions by this Parliament that this is the matter which covers them and which they must take into account. I believe that if they were to have these directions and if, in fact, the Commission were to go on to deal with these extra responsibilities which are thrust upon it, we would have to look again at the amendments of which I have given notice. We would have to look to see whether, in fact, we ought noi to be looking at the State laws because that is where most of the trouble is arising. Is it not arising in Queensland and elsewhere? Surely, that is where the real disputes are arising. We will need to establish what are the obligations, civil remedies and other matters which we did not get around to dealing with last time. But that is necessary only if one of those amendments is carried.
I remind the Committee of this fact: This Bill was debated for some 30 hours in the Senate last year. If honourable senators read Hansard, they will see that Mr Donald Cameron, in the other place, made it clear that something like 16 hours- or 8 meetings- of the time of the Government members law and government committee was spent on it before it came before the Parliament. In the course of all that consideration, people raised objections. They wanted to improve the Bill. Some were not happy and wanted to wipe it out altogether. The people who, in the House of Representatives, wanted to wipe the Bill out and who did not want it, are the people who are now supporting the Simon amendment in that house and who will no doubt support the Lewis amendment. This is not to detract from my good colleague, Senator Lewis. I am not saying that those are his intentions. But his amendment will be taken up by them as a ready cause because it will be the way to make the Commission really ineffective. In all the discussions that took place in the party rooms and in this chamber over the 30 hours, was there any mention of the necessity to have a Martyr, Simon, Lewis or Tate amendment? Was anything like this thought to be needed or to be relevant at all to the Bill or any part of it? Not at all; not a mention!
– We can do it in the House of Representatives.
– The honourable senator can say that the House of Representatives has had a flash of vision. On the road to Emmans or somewhere it suddenly found out something which the Senate had not seen in 30 hours of debate.
– That House has the same rights to amend as we have.
-In 30 hours of Senate debate, Senator Bonner, we did not see any necessity but, in the House of Representatives someone with an interest to serve decided that this was to be the way the Bill should be turned around so that we will be directed in a path which would take up most of our time. People like Mrs Tighe and others are writing to us so vehemently and telling us things like:
Is the will of the people’s house to prevail? Where are those people who protested about the Senate’s action in 1975? In those days we heard many speeches about the abuse of Senate power’. They are not so forthcoming now.
Right to Lifers will not be put off by protests from the Senators. ‘
She goes on to tell us in some of these documents who she is going to remove in the next election. If we put any of these amendments into this Bill, have honourable senators any doubt as to the great swag of work that will come before the Commission. I could think of a number of ways in which such organisations could approach the Commission telling it to look at laws, Commonwealth decisions, the position in the Australian Capital Territory and other States and Territories, and so on. There are unlimited possibilities to flood the work of the Commission- and that will be done.
This aspect, which was not in consideration in either House or in our parties before last year, now becomes a factor that some people say must be in the legislation. The Government insisted on the Bill going through the Senate in the form in which it did. Honourable senators will remember that some of my colleagues, including Senator Puplick and Senator Bonner, and I had to withdraw amendments in case they might be passed. That would be unacceptable to the Government. The legislation went through this House in a form which the Government insisted upon. Is there anything wrong with us now insisting that this Bill, with its relatively weak powers, should stay in that form and not be amended in this way?
Senator Lewis said that there are some people who may ruin the Commission and we may end up by not having one if we do not agree to certain proposals. I say that this is not blackmail by him, but other people have said that to me in a form of blackmail. They say: ‘You won’t get any Commission at all unless you drop your opposition to this’. I am not prepared to support a weak Commission, with this proposal embodied in it, which will have a ruinous course ahead. I would not expect people of any great integrity in the civil liberties field to want to be on the Commission if they are forced into that type of understanding. I would not want to see a Commission like that at all. Perhaps we must try again.
We are in a position here today to send back to the House of Representatives the type of Bill which we sent to them in the first place and which I think has still the relevant matters in it. We carried our last decision by 38 votes to 15. If we were to reverse that decision today this chamber would be the laughing stock of Australia. It would be seen clearly as one that could not firmly make up its own mind.
– It is a different amendment.
– I am saying that the amendment in essence is no different from what was passed before. I am sure that Mrs Tighe and the other people who are campaigning in this way will see equally that it has all those powers. Do honourable senators think that those people will go to the Commission and say: ‘Of course, it is much weaker. It is somewhat less than we had hoped but we want you to do it’? Not at all. They will be making the same demands on the Commission as they have threatened to make in the past; and in that they probably will be right. But because of that pressure we, as a Senate, should not be found wanting today.
I prefer the remarks which Senator Lewis made on the last occasion. I have a preference for his speech. When he spoke he described the great complexities on this question of life, and he did it well. He went on to say:
These are problems of great complexity which require deep consideration and should be subject to separate legislation and debate. They should not be tacked on to a Bill which deals with the establishment of a statutory authority and the implementation of a convention on human liberties.
He concluded in these words:
I have listened carefully to the debate today and I have read most of the debate in the House of Representatives, but I have neither heard nor read anything which changes my original view that the legislation should pass in the form originally proposed by the Attorney-General. Accordingly, I oppose all the amendments.
I think that both he and I were applauded by our mutual constituents in Victoria for taking that view. I think the records show that their view on this matter is that we are not to give way to the types of people who have brought such pressure on this chamber. I hope that this Senate will again stand firm and tell the House of Representatives that the Bill is as it left this chamber and it should stay in that form. Let the House of Representatives look again at the amendment. Let it see the reasons why people are campaigning in this way on this Bill and realise that, if any Commission is going to do anything worth while at all, the Bill ought to stay in the form in which it left this chamber. I oppose those amendments.
– I am not sure that 1 can put together two moderate, temporate and dispassionate speeches in the one week but I will certainly do my best. It should be said at the outset that this is a debate about abortion, about the unborn. Reference to the needs and welfare of persons with mental or physical handicaps, which sneaks its way into Senator Lewis’s motion, is simply a red herring. Perhaps I should say with due deference to Senator Lewis’s political persuasion that it is a blue herring. Be that as it may, it is obvious that the rights of handicapped people, people of that status, are acknowledged in the terms of the Human Rights Commission Bill and the language of the covenant as they exist at the moment because it is expressly provided that no one shall be discriminated against or picked upon by governments on the basis of their different status. I would argue that the rights of handicapped persons clearly do not need additional protection in a way that it is arguable, if one is committed to that point of view, that the rights of the unborn need extra protection because it is clear that the rights of the unborn are not explicitly referred to in this Bill.
I oppose the Lewis amendment with or without Senator Tate’s clarification of it, just as I continue to oppose the amendment being insisted upon by the House of Representatives. I do so for the reason that for all practical purposes they are indistinguishable in their effect. I acknowledge that the Lewis amendment has some advantages that were not present in the original Simon amendment. It has some attractions for the tidy minded, I suppose it can be said, insofar as it does not purport to fiddle with the language of the covenant itself. It might also be thought to have some attractions for those lawyers around the place- I am not one of them- who think that there may be some legal or constitutional difficulties about fiddling with the language of the covenant itself in the way that the Simon amendment proposed to do, a point that was made as one of the statements of our reasons for opposing the Simon amendment when it was put to the Senate.
The central point I make is that the practical effect of the Lewis amendment will be exactly the same as the Simon amendment, which we rejected before, albeit that the language is different. The Lewis amendment is not extending the formal definition of human rights by extending that definition in so many words to the unborn. What it is extending is the application of that definition to the unborn. I argue that that is something in practice which amounts to exactly the same thing. Let me explain that a little further. As the Bill now stands, it is possible to imagine complaints being made to the Human Rights Commission that a particular Commonwealth enactment- perhaps one to do with medical benefits or some particular activity that is going on such as the carrying out of terminations of pregnancy in the Australian Capital Territory- is offensive to the human rights as set out and defined in the Covenant for one or other of a number of reasons. It might be argued, as Senator Lewis put it, that perhaps it is offensive to Article 16, which provides that everyone shall have the right to recognition as a person. Again it might be argued that this practice in the Australian Capital Territory amounts to an arbitrary deprivation of life within the meaning of paragraph 1 of Article 6 of the Covenant and the definition of human rights or by extension that the act or the practice in question is giving aid or comfort to the arbitrary deprivation of human life. It could also be argued, again under the language of the existing Bill, that this kind of act or practice involves a discrimination against a person on the ground of his particular status, namely the status of that person as an unborn person. An argument of that kind is lurking. No doubt it has not escaped the attention of the Right to Life Association.
As the Bill stands at the moment it would be perfectly possible for the Human Rights Commission, when confronted with claims of this kind put forward on those grounds, to be able- no doubt it would be inclined to do so because of the potential inundation of complaints of this kind- to refuse to exercise its jurisdiction with respect to complaints of this kind on the basis that the legislation properly construed did not in fact extend to the rights of the unborn in these particular areas. It would be perfectly proper, and, I suspect legally more than sustainable, for the Human Rights Commission to say that the reference to everyone being respected as a person in Article 16 must as a matter of law be understood to refer only to persons in being, persons post-birth. It would equally be possible for the Commission to argue- I think this would be established as a matter of law- that the reference to persons being arbitrarily deprived of their life is only a reference to lives in being, human beings after birth because that, of course, is the traditional way in which the law has denned human personality. Similarly that applies to the reference to individuals which appears elsewhere. I think that would be the situation which the Commission would be entitled to adopt as a matter of law and which it would be likely to adopt in order to avoid having a very substantial proportion of its resources being taken up with the resolution of these matters.
If the Bill were to be armed with the language that Senator Lewis is trying to incorporate and if there were to be a provision in the legislation which says that in the performance of its functions the Commission shall have regard for human life including unborn human life, there would no longer be any basis on which the Commission could refuse to exercise its jurisdiction on any technical ground. Clearly this would be a straightforward statutory direction to the Commission that it was obliged to take into account human life at its unborn stage. To that extent the amendment that has been moved is accomplishing exactly what was sought to be accomplished by the Simon amendment in the House of Representatives, which we have previously rejected. As I said, it would not be open to the Commission to reject automatically abortion-type complaints on the ground that they were trivial or vexatious or many of the other categories referred to in sub-clause (4) of clause 10. Abortion complaints would, prima facie, be squarely within the subject matter of the Act, to which the Commission would have to have regard.
It is an important legal point that I am trying to make. I appreciate that it is a technical one and perhaps a difficult one. But the simple essence of it is that although Senator Lewis’s language is different, although he has not purported to change the definition of human rights, he has extended the application of that definition in a mandatory way so far as the Human Rights Commission is concerned. It would no longer be possible for the Commission just as an exercise of its general administrative discretion or in the exercise of any legal analysis of its obligations to refuse to deal with abortion complaints, as would of course be the case if the Bill remained as it is.
If that analysis is correct and that is the meaning of Senator Lewis’s amendment, it means of course that all the original objections which this chamber stated to the original Simon amendment are equally applicable to the Lewis amendment. One cannot differentiate between them. The Lewis amendment does not represent a compromise; it does not represent a retreat in any way from the absolute character of the Simon amendment. It simply represents a tidying up of that amendment- a different route to exactly the same end, exactly the same goal.
The objections that this place had previously to the Simon amendment can be stated very briefly because we do not want to go over the ground of that debate again. In essence, they can be put this way: For a start, to have a provision of this kind in this legislation would tend to distort and undermine the work of the Commission. Paragraphs ( 1 ), (2), (4) and (5) of the statement of reasons that this chamber advanced to the House of Representatives are elaborations of that point. Perhaps they ought to be read into the record again so people can remember what they were. They stated:
They are four of the five paragraphs that we stated as our reasons to the House of Representatives previously. If my analysis is correct they are equally applicable to the Lewis proposition that is before us now. There are perhaps additional reasons which lead one to reject this kind of amendment. I stated a couple of them earlier. Let me repeat them in just a sentence or two each. This kind of provision which the Simon amendment amounted to and which the Lewis amendment seeks to repeat, albeit in different ways, imports an essentially new concept into the human rights legislation- a concept of the rights of the unborn which is not embodied in any direct way in the language of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on which this whole exercise purports to be based. The Covenant does not deal with the rights of the unborn explicitly, for the very good reason that there is no universal agreement that the rights of the unborn, or at least the rights extending all the way back to the moment of conception, are matters of civil liberty in the way that Senator Lewis tried to assert. It is very obvious that there are enormous differences of opinion both within our community and within the international community about that very fundamental question. The joy of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is that everything in it at the moment states rights and values which are universally accepted as to their scope, applicability and desirability. Once one starts to try to add to that basic core of irreducible important civil and political rights by getting into matters of abortion and the rights of the foetus one is instantly in an area of controversy. It is unfortunate that there should be some attempt in this way to extend the scope of this legislation.
The final point that I want to make in opposition to the Lewis amendment- I made this point when opposing the previous amendment- is that the language of the Lewis amendment, referring as it does simply to the rights of the unborn human life, is too absolutist. True, it is not as absolutist or as precise as language in the Martyr amendment, which refers to the rights of the unborn from the moment of conception; but it is absolute in the sense that it does not distinguish in any way between the position of the unborn foetus at different stages of its development. I believe a very strong view is held in the community that the rights of the unborn, if any are to be recognised, are variable over time, paralleling the development over time of the foetus. To have simply an amendment such as this, couched in language which does not allow for any such distinction, creates a situation in which rights are being recognised which are more absolute in their scope than the overwhelming majority of people in the community would be prepared to accept.
For all these reasons, I simply say that the Lewis amendment, with or without its Tate clarification, just as was the original Martyr amendment in the other place and the Simon amendment which followed it, is simply the wrong legislation in the wrong place at the wrong time. I fear it represents the provocative forerunner of a mass of similar lobbying attempts to incorporate in different Bills, different kinds of legislation which will come before us over the years, provisions of this kind which are tacked to one Bill after another when there is some conceivable ground of relevance. I do not think it is an appropriate exercise for us to get into. I think we should insist on adopting the rational position which we adopted last time this legislation was before us. We should recognise that there is nothing new about the Lewis proposal which is before us now. The same old wolf- in sheep’s clothing, admittedly- is lurking underneath.
– I indicate my opposition to the Lewis and Tate amendments. With all respect to Senator Evans, I do not necessarily agree with him that the Lewis amendment is particularly tidy. I agree that it does nothing to advance the matter. I cannot really see any great distinction between this ring-in to the Bill- after all, that is what it is- and the other ring-ins which have been presented to us previously, except that this one presents a vague direction to the Human Rights Commission on which in fact a number of things might be suspended. It is possible to interpret ‘unborn human life’ to mean those generations of humanity yet to be born. That is a perfectly rational and logical interpretation. If that interpretation is possible, even though others might be possible also, it would be quite reasonable to support an argument against any form of contraception. There would be no reason in the world why that could not happen. Obviously Senator Tate’s views of the words ‘unborn human life’ and mine are different. To me, unborn human life’ means plainly those generations of humanity yet to be born. That is what the words mean.
The next point which worries me about this amendment is that it is actually inequitable. Senator Evans touched on this point, but I do not think he developed it completely. Plainly, in the amendment there is discrimination by omission. It seeks, in effect, to direct the Commission to have regard to human life, including unborn human life, and the needs and welfare of persons with mental and physical handicaps. I have a list of six additional categories which I might have sought to include by way of moving an amendment, but I will not do so. I merely indicate a reduction to the absurdity and list them: The elderly, racial minorities, Aborigines, orphans, victims of criminal violence and widows. It would be equally reasonable for any of those categories to be included as it is for the ones which have been placed before us to have been included.
I suggest through you, Mr Chairman, to honourable senators that that exposes the nature of the Lewis amendment quite clearly as being exactly what the previous legislation was, that is- this is one of the things that worries me most of all- a form of blackmail of members of this chamber to go against their convictions and consciences. I think that was made quite plain by a woman who was interviewed on this morning’s AM program, when she stated that the real poll on this matter was held at the Victorian election, when three Liberal members lost their seats. I think that quite plainly reveals the intention and the motivation. Therefore, I make the point- I think it is a very important point- that the amendment is discriminatory. It would tell the Commission that all those other people- the elderly, the racial minorities, the Aborigines, the orphans, the victims of criminal violence and the widows- are not as important in matters of human rights as are the unborn and persons with mental and physical handicaps. I make another point which arises from the Bill. Clause 10 (4) of the Bill states:
The Commission may, in its discretion, decide not to hold an inquiry as a result of a complaint if:
a ) the complaint is frivolous or vexatious or is not made in good faith;
b) the subject-matter of the complaint is trivial;
the act or practice, if established, would not be inconsistent with or contrary to any human right;
some other remedy in relation to the subject-matter of the complaint is reasonably available to the complainant;
There the Bill seeks to give a discretion to the Commission. If the Lewis amendment is carried, that will qualify the discretion. It will be very difficult for the Commission to use its discretion when it has been directed by this Parliament in such a strange way, by, as I said, a ring-in, by an extra gratuitous piece which has been added to the Bill. It would be very hard for the Commission to ignore that direction.
Finally, I support Senator Missen on the amendments he moved to the Bill. With respect to Senator Evans, I think it was I who first described the Bill as a tame pussycat. I so describe it again. It is a thoroughly ineffectual piece of legislation. I remind honourable senators that I was the only senator who voted against the third reading of this Bill and who asked that my name be placed in the Journals of the Senate indicating that fact. I believe this Bill, if it is to be amended, should be amended in many more reasonable and valid ways than those suggested. The time we are taking in debate now could be devoted much more reasonably to making the Bill something which was fair, reasonable and useful to the people. We are not doing that; what we are doing is taking up our time. We are now considering a point of blackmail which has been made by a pressure group. It is as simple as that.
– This is the first time that I have spoken on this measure. I must say that right from the start I have had misgivings about the measure. I regard human rights as being an issue for which it is impossible to legislate. Therefore, the Bill does not appeal to me. So I am speaking against the Bill. If a vote is taken at the end of this debate I would like to record my vote against the whole proposition.
– You cannot do that.
-If I cannot do that, I will not vote for any of the legislation; I will walk out of the chamber. I have thought about this issue very carefully. I have listened to the debate. It seems to me that the debate has hinged largely on the matter of abortion. In my opinion, that is regrettable because, as a consequence, I have had to support the Simon amendment. I did so with some misgivings because I believe there are other matters concerned with civil rights which largely have been ignored in the debate on this subject. I suppose we could say that Australia is taking a lead in demonstrating an interest in this rather difficult subject. Perhaps we could say that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) should be commended on his attempt to do so. I would be a bit surprised if a lot of the nations which had a say in the drafting of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, upon which the Human Rights Commission Bill is based, were to emulate our example. Something like 155 nations are involved and I understand that of them 41 are ruled by military dictatorships, whose attitudes and views on human rights could not be regarded as being of as high a standard as ours. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a document indicating the countries which are ruled by military dictatorships to which I referred.
The document read as follows- . . In Africa
Algeria: Col. Chadli Benedjedid was chosen President in January to replace the late Col. Houari Boumedienne who had ruled since 196S.
Benin: Lt. Col. Mathieu Kerekou became President in 1972.
Burundi: Col. Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, President, came to power in 1 976 coup.
Chad: A State Council representing rival military factions and headed by Goukouni Queddei took over in March, 1979, ousting President Felix Malloum, who himself had seized power in 1975.
Comoros: Ahmed Abdullah has been President since a military-led takeover in May, 1978.
Congo: Col. Denis Sassou-Nguesso ousted Brig. Gen. Joachim Yhombi-Opango in military coup in February, 1979.
Equatorial Guinea: Military junta with Nguema Mbazogo at the helm took power in August, 1979.
Ethiopia: Brig. Gen. Mengistu Haile Mariam, chairman of Provisional Military Administrative Council, has ruled since 1977.
Libya: Col. Muammar Qadhafi assumed command after coup of 1 969 that toppled King Idris.
Madagascar: Comdr. Didier Ratsiraka has been head of military-dominated government since 1975.
Mali: President Moussa Traore, a colonel, took power in 1968 coup.
Mauritania: Lt. Col. Mohammed Mahmour Ould Luly took over as President in June, 1979, after civilian predecessor resigned.
Niger: Lt. Col. Seyni Kountche became chief of state and President of the Supreme Military Council in 1 974.
Rwanda: Maj. Gen. Juvenal Habyarimana became President in 1 973 Army coup.
Somalia: Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siaf Barre, President, seized power in 1 969 uprising by the Army and police.
Sudan: Gen. Jafar Mohamed Nimeri has been Prime Minister and President since 1969.
Togo: Maj. Gen. Gnassingbe Eyadema became President in 1967.
Uganda: Godfrey L. Binaisa took reins of power in April, 1979, after Ugandan rebels and Tanzanian troops ended dictator Idi Amin’s 8 ‘/4-year tyrannical rule.
Upper Volta: Maj. Gen. Aboubacar Sangoule Lamizana has served as President since 1966.
Zaire: Lt. Gen. Mobutu Sese Seko assumed the Presidency in 1965.
Afghanistan: Military-backed Hafizullah Amin seized control in a September, 1979, palace coup, succeeding Mohammad Taraki, who had assumed power after a military revolt in April, 1978.
Bangladesh: Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahman, President and chief martial-law officer, headed a coup that ousted another group of officers in the poverty-stricken nation in 1975.
Burma: Gen. Ne Win took over the government in 1962, after an Army coup.
Cambodia: Vietnam-backed Cambodian rebels drove out the Pol Pot regime in January, 1979, and set up a government under President Heng Samrin.
Indonesia: General Suharto was named President in 1967, 1 7 months after Army took power.
Pakistan: Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq became chief martial-law administrator in military government established in July, 1977.
Republic of Korea: Armed forces hold balance of power after assassination in October, 1979. of President Park Chung Hee, who himself became head of government after Army coup in 1961.
Thailand: Gen. Kriangsak Chomanan became Prime Minister after October, 1977, military coup.
Argentina: Lt. Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla became President in 1976, after military junta deposed Isabel Peron.
Bolivia: Military officers led by Col. Alberto Natusch Busch seized control in November, 1979, ending a brief period of civilian rule.
Brazil: Gen. Joao Baptista de Figuriredo was inaugurated as President in March, 1 979, succeeding Gen. Ernesto Geisel as head of a junta that formed in 1964.
Chile: Maj. Gen. Augusto Pinochet has been President and head of military junta since 1973.
El Salvador: Young officers ousted Gen. Carlos Humberto Romero in October, 1979, and created a reform-oriented, military-dominated government.
Guatemala: Maj. Gen. Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia was inaugurated President on July 1, 1978, succeeding another general.
Honduras: Gen. Policarpo Paz Garcia was named President in 1 978 by the Superior Council of Armed Forces, which has been in power since 1 972.
Nicaragua: Guerrillas of the Sandinista National Liberation Front forced Gen. Anastasio Somoza to flee the country in July, 1 979, ending a family dynasty of almost 45 years.
Paraguay: Gen. Alfredo Strocssner has headed the country as President since 1 954.
Peru: Gen. Francisco Morales Bermidez Cerrutti became President after coup in 1975.
Uruguay: Aparacio Mendez Manfredini, a civilian lawyer, was named President in 1 976 by military-dominated Council of State
Syria: Gen. Hafez Assad became President in 1971 of a country under military rule since 1 963.
North Yemen: Ruled by military since 1974; Col. Ali Abdullah Saleh became President in mid- 1978.
– Furthermore, I think other aspects ought to be examined, including the fact that, in my opinion, a number of nations would not have regard to the section of the Covenant, as enunciated at page 21 of the Bill in its Schedule, which states:
Recognizing that these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person.
Recognizing that, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom and freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his economic, social and cultural rights.
I am sure that all honourable senators and all Australians generally would agree with the ideals which are laid down in the Schedule to the Bill. I find it very difficult to believe that countries of the character of Iran and of the former character of Uganda and some other Third World countries which currently have political prisoners in gaol because they have a different political point of view from that of the government which happens to be in power at the time will pass this sort of legislation. I gather that it is the intent of the Bill to set an example to the rest of the world so that other countries will adopt the human rights principles which we hold very dear. I regard that as a pious hope. A few countries may do it but not very many. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard another document. It is the ‘Contents’ pages of an Amnesty International report which was presented last year. It indicates the number of countries which came to the attention of Amnesty International, to a greater or lesser degree, because of their custody and treatment of political prisoners.
The document read as follows-
– I am worried about the Aborigines. I think Senator Mason singled out those people. Where does the Commission go in this respect? The Aboriginal people have traditional laws. For example, an Aboriginal male is able, within the spirit of the Aboriginal law, to marry two women. How would the Commission regard that situation? Would it consider the rights of the female Aborigine or those of the male Aborigine? At present the law in some Aboriginal tribes, if not all, regards sacrilegious offences during ceremonial initiations as carrying an automatic death penalty even though such offences are sometimes committed without knowledge on the part of the person concerned. The offenders can be put to death immediately. Those sorts of things crop up in my mind as matters that ought to be regarded seriously if we are to deal with human rights. That is why I find it impossible to lend my support to a proposition that I have reconsidered and thought over very carefully. I regard it as an impossibility. If I cannot vote against the proposal I will withhold my vote for the reasons I have mentioned.
– My views in supporting the Tate amendment will probably not be endorsed by other honourable senators. Quite frankly, I regard the Human Rights Commission Bill as a complete sham. I have never believed that a piece of paper will defend anybody’s freedoms. I repeat that belief. I am not being offensive to Senator Missen with whom I had a very friendly discussion after my utterances on the last occasion this Bill was debated. Honourable senators may talk about word smithing and say how lovely the Bill sounds with its various sentences which project piousness. They should consider the United States Constitution which states that all men are equal. Despite those words, it was only when the United States Attorney-General put the Federal marshals into the Alabama University that a non-white man was able to go to that university many years after the constitution in question was drafted. That was not done by a universal declaration of rights. It was done by force. A United States Attorney-General had to use force to help people who were underprivileged.
Let us consider our own arbitration system. We can talk about Judge Higgins, and the Harvester Award and the millennium on wage fixation that was supposed to have been achieved for the trade union movement. In relation to how many awards since then has the trade union movement had to fight in the streets and on the work shop floor to get some form of equitable distribution of wealth? No written words or declarations have obtained justice for people either in the United States or in Australia. To me, this legislation, no matter what form it takes, will do nothing. People will still have to fight for their rights. All honourable senators know of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Did that help the West Irianese? Because of power politics a part of the West Irian area was switched from one sovereignty to another. Of course, in that situation a piece of paper did not do any good. Irrespective of what form the Bill takes it will not make any difference at all.
I have known economic hardships. Anything I have I have had to fight for. I remember that when I was a teenager we had a particular mayor in our municipality. My mother had no money to get a court order for justice. I went with her when she gave that mayor a good serve. I assure honourable senators that he capitulated. We should get away from the idea that because we pass some resolution with beautiful paragraphs in it people will be protected. It does not mean a thing. Later in my life I defended myself. A certain lawyer in Sydney- I will not name him; he is not here to defend himself- was smart enough to get publicity one day and take out a writ against me. But the matter did not go any further. That is the sort of law honourable senators are talking about. When a person defends himself a smartalec lawyer can try to get at him on some synthetic charge. Honourable senators should not give me any of that sort of stuff!
I now get to the serious point. I support the Tate amendment. Senator Tate may feel that I have been a disadvantage to him. I wanted to be quite candid about the way I feel. In the last debate in this chamber that meant anything- this one does not- some of my party colleagues whom I respect took a different view. It related to the ACT Termination of Pregnancy Ordinance. I would not have opposed Senator Ryan’s proposal if it had meant that abortion would have been outlawed. Obviously, some people will take one attitude to the termination of life and some will take another. People have every right to adopt a certain posture. I and a number of my colleagues suggested the retention of some safeguards within the Australian Capital Territory. In no circumstances would I be a party either then or on this occasion to producing a charter to serve as a weapon against people who participate in abortion under medical safeguardswithin State law practices. Firstly, abortion is controlled by State laws. We all know that no matter what government has been in power no real punitive action has been taken against people who have had abortions. Penalties may have been imposed in a few back yard abortion cases, but not in the general hospital sense. I know that people will criticise me and say that in the Australian Capital Territory doctors must have certain qualifications, there must be grounds for abortions, et cetera. The point I am making- I make this point notwithstanding my lack of confidence in the whole Bill- is that if we have to placate people and take the sting out of the Bill I cannot see that even with the words Senator Tate uses it will placate people.
I have said in each of my speeches in this place and publicly outside the Parliament that the Right to Life Association cannot have it both ways. If on the one hand it talks about reducing the excessive number of abortions it will have to rethink its views on family planning. Honourable senators know my belief. I have said it to people from these various church movements. The younger clergymen are aware of this problem; the older ones are not. That is their weakness. I have no fears that Senator Tate’s amendment would create a situation similar to that in Queensland. There is a vast difference between the views of the Right to Life Association and the people who favour abortion on demand. As sincere as both groups are, I have always believed ultimately in the trade union movement and the strength of Bob Hawke and the Australian Council of Trade Unions in finally achieving a consensus, the middle ground. I do not think there is any form of cowardice in that action.
Senator Mason, in a reasonable speech, referred to blackmail. For 20 years the News Weekly in Melbourne has labelled me on everything. I have been an agent for UBBA, the Yugoslav security organisation. There have been certain suggestions about the Soviet Ambassador. I do not know what that publication will say after what I have said today. It leaves me cold to think about it. No matter in what form this Bill is adopted it will not do one iota of good for anyone. If a person has an organisation behind him, such as the trade union movement, a student group, a vigilante or a militant member of Parliament- I am not referring to any particular party- he will have a better chance of getting justice than from the Human Rights Commission Bill. All this legislation will mean is that a few people will sit in this Commission’s offices and produce reports every year, and those reports will be presented to Parliament and never acted on.
I accept the fact that there will always be people who, on reasonable grounds, will have abortions. Some will be counselled and given assistance to bring a child into the world. There might be medical or other good reasons why many births cannot or should not happen. As would be the case with all honourable senators, my advice and the advice of my staff have been sought in the case of the single pregnant woman. There are often cases where a deserted mother with one very young child finds herself pregnant and having complications that could prejudice her life and leave the first child an orphan. If the mother feels her first duty is to the first child then how could you criticise her for taking medical advice to have an abortion. This would not be the principle of abortion on demand- in effect it is a considered decision buttressed by reputable medical advice.
I inject these ideas deliberately. Honourable senators know what I said when this matter was first debated on a motion sponsored by Senator Ryan. On the last occasion when this matter was discussed I was not here; I had an important appointment in Sydney. I had made my speech but, as Senator Mason will appreciate, some people from the Right to Life Association implied that some honourable senators, including me, had run away from their responsibilities. Other people, from the Abortion on Demand group, thought that I was a square. One cannot win in that situation. We may graft onto the legislation what Senator Tate suggests. In any event, people will walk away after this debate to follow their religious or other convictions that say that there should be no abortion. I know that many people coming from the northern side of Sydney have a different attitude because there is not the economic hardship there that there is in a working class suburb.
I leave the subject at that point. The amendment moved by Senator Tate does give us the best of both worlds. In regard to the fears expressed by Senator Missen that there will be an inquisition such as that in the Middle Ages, from what I know of commissions, this organisation will just be a good job for a lot of people and the rest of us will have to struggle at various levels for justice, because justice does not come easily. It does not come through court orders and a lot of silly words. It never has for me.
– I indicate my opposition to both the Lewis and Tate amendments. The important fact to establish at the outset is whether one believes that the practical effect, as distinct from merely the words, of Senator Lewis’s amendment is the same as the practical effect would have been had the Simon amendment been carried. The Simon amendment used a form of words, which was before as well as after birth’. The Lewis amendment uses a form of words which is simply ‘including unborn human life’. I put it to honourable senators that the distinction that can be drawn between those two formulas, those two different sets of words, is no difference of any substance. In fact they mean, and are essentially intended to mean the same. They import the same and in the ordinary usage of the English language anybody would come to that conclusion.
Not only that, but also they both have the effect of compelling certain things to be done. For instance, Senator Lewis’s amendment does not say that the Human Rights Commission may’ have regard; it says in a quite clear, firm and mandatory manner that it ‘shall’ have regard. It does not suggest that it is an option for the Commission to decide whether it wishes to take these matters into consideration, but that it is an obligation on the Commission that by virtue of statute it shall have regard. Therefore, the point that Senator Evans made about the extent to which this diminishes the independent ability of the Commission to decide how it will conduct its affairs is one which he made with great clarity. But I should draw the attention of honourable senators to the fact that that point also was made with quite compelling force by the Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Ellicott, when speaking on exactly the same principle in the House of Representatives. Mr Ellicott ‘s speech is to be found at page 1601 of the House of Representatives Hansard of 2 April. In relation to the Simon amendment, Mr Ellicott stated:
It is absolute nonsense to talk about amending an international covenant by simply putting in a few words, such as the Simon amendment suggests. That honourable gentleman escaped down the hatch as soon as he moved the amendment because he realised the unwisdom of his amendment when it first came before the House. He realised that because it is legislative nonsense.
In talking about the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and referring to the concept of the definition and how one applies these rights to persons, Mr Ellicott said:
It talks about born people- born men and women. It is common sense that we cannot get the Covenant and suddenly amend it by including a few words about before birth as well as after binh and hope to change the whole concept of the Covenant. It cannot be done. Even if it could be done legally it could not be done linguistically or as a matter of interpretation. It just does not make sense.
Yet, here is a proposed amendment from my friend Senator Lewis which, without saying that in effect it amends the Covenant, says that in looking at the Covenant the Commission shall be guided by principles which are not the same principles upon which the Covenant, itself, is based and grounded. In other words, it is a direction on the way in which a covenant shall be interpreted, which does not gain its authority from the covenant itself but from some external direction.
It is extraordinary that honourable senators should be faced with two amendments, the arguments for which may be boiled down quite simply. One of the arguments put by Senator Lewis is that really his amendment is not necessary because, whatever it seeks to do, he says, can be done even if the amendment is not added. He says it can be done within the framework of the existing Covenant and the existing legislation. Therefore, the argument he puts is that we should add something which has no additional effect on this legislation but which may, he says, solve a potential problem which arises because of a difference of opinion between the two Houses of Parliament.
Senator Tate adds to that that the great virtue of his amendment is that it is sufficiently unclear. It is extraordinary for him to confront the chamber by saying that the virtue of his amendment is that it can be read to mean almost anything we like it to mean. It comes to a situation in which Senator Tate says that he seeks to further amend Senator Lewis ‘s amendment because he believes that that amendment moved by Senator Lewis does not go far enough. Senator Tate describes it in a letter which he was good enough to circulate to honourable senators. In his words, the Lewis amendment is ‘unnecessarily restrictive’. In going on to describe his amendment. Senator Tate said that it avoids the precisionthey were his words- of the Martyr or the Simon amendments. The one thing that I believe legislation ought to be is precise. One ought to be able to pick up a piece of legislation and say: ‘Here is legislation which is precise ‘. I find no great compelling value in accepting an amendment because the mover advances the proposition that it avoids precision. 1 do not believe that Parliament ought to pass laws which avoid precision. If it is dealing with a matter which is as sensitive as the question of abortion, the legislation ought to be precise. As I have said on a previous occasion, we should not expect the distinguished gentlemen of the Human Rights Commission to face up to making decisions which we in the Parliament do not have the courage to make precise or indeed to make at all. That is running away from a responsibility. If honourable senators expect those people to deal with the question of abortion, it is our responsibility to set the guidelines as to what is and what is not the law. It is not our responsibility to say to Mr Bailey or to anyone else who will be involved in this: ‘We are not going to say with any precision what we mean; we expect you to do that’. I do not believe that that is the way we should act. The Covenant has manifest obscurities. Everybody knows that. But it is not within the power of this Parliament to change that Covenant. The question is whether one should add to the continuing obscurities by adding amendments which we really are not altogether sure have a meaning which can be precisely denned.
I refer now to a letter which was circulated by the United Nations Association of Australia. I hope that honourable senators will have some regard to the views of that organisation.
– Not much.
- Senator Lajovic says: Not much’. It may be that the fact that we had a ballot in our party room to appoint a member to the United Nations Association of Australia should also be borne in mind. The Association, whose patron is the Governor-General and whose immediate past president is the President of the Liberal Party in Victoria, sent a letter to honourable senators which referred to the Simon amendment, which, as I said, I believe has precisely the same import as the Lewis amendment. The letter reads:
Since this Bill is unlikely to be passed unless the Simon Amendment is defeated by the House of Representatives, we urge you to support the passage of the Bill without the Amendment.
This amendment introduces an issue which is not included in the relevant section of the International Covenants on Human Rights on which the proposed Human Rights Commission is based and only confuses the major thrust of the Bill.
The Association makes this appeal in its concluding paragraph:
We urge you to vote against the Simon Amendment and in favour of the Bill.
– Who signed it?
-It is signed by Harold Wilkinson, Vice President of the United Nations Association of Australia.
– The view was not representative of the United Nations Association. Its members did not vote.
-I would have thought that if one gets a document on the United Nations Association letterhead signed by the Vice President one is entitled to draw certain conclusions about it without attempting to reflect personally on Mr Wilkinson and saying that perhaps he is purporting to give an impression to members and senators which was not a valid one to be drawn by that Association.
– But you tried to drag the Governor-General in.
-I simply said that His Excellency was a patron of the organisation. I wanted to indicate to honourable senators that the Association was not one whose reputation or standing was a matter of question or debate in this chamber.
I conclude on this point: I have a great deal of sympathy with the attempt that Senator Lewis has made to find a compromise proposal so that the Human Rights Commission may be established. I believe that it is a fact that this chamber can adhere to its original position. The matter can be reconsidered by the House of Representatives. It would still be, at that stage, within the competence of this chamber to look at the Bill yet again. I certainly would not want to go through that process, but I do not believe that this is the final and irrevocable point at which the compromise must necessarily be reached if in fact once again the House of Representatives is to insist upon its point of view.
– It is a good place for us to start.
-I will come to that in a second. I do not believe that there is anything wrong with the principle of compromise. What I object to in Senator Lewis’s amendment is what I see in it as a compromise of principle. That is what has occurred. The principle which this chamber debated and decided upon is in itself being compromised. I do not support such a move as a way of resolving an issue which needs to be resolved and ultimately must be resolved by an appreciation that this chamber has given the Government the Bill which the Government asked it to pass. The Government asked us to pass this Bill in a form that did not have the amendment attached to it. To that extent I believe that the Bill in that form is the Bill which the chamber should send back to the House of Representatives for its reconsideration and passage.
– The Committee is debating the Human Rights Commission Bill. I rise to record my opposition to the amendments that have been moved by Senator Lewis and Senator Tate. The chamber has debated this legislation for a long period; the debate has been complex; and there have been many changes of direction in the course of the debate. Because of illness I did not have an opportunity to participate in the debate when the Human Rights Commission Bill was last before the chamber.
I want briefly now to make a couple of points on the amendments. I find that the contributions to the debate this afternoon have been very sound and persuasive. I certainly do not want to go over the ground that was so competently traversed particularly by Senator Evans, Senator Missen and Senator Puplick. I think they dealt very competently with the procedural and legal aspects of the amendments and their consequences. I endorse, however, the sentiments of Senator Mason of the Australian Democrats. He said that there are many better and more useful ways to amend the Human Rights Commission Bill if it is to be amended in this place.
I also endorse the sentiments of those honourable senators who have been fundamentally critical of the Human Rights Commission proposal, in that in their view it is weak and it will not be the truly effective piece of machinery to ensure civil rights in this country that many of us would have hoped for. However, I do not think this is the time for a full scale debate on the Human Rights Commission. I would have preferred to see much more effective legislation- for example, wide-ranging anti-discrimination legislation or a wide-ranging Bill of Rights- but such legislation has not been brought forward by the Fraser Government. We have a fairly weak proposal for a Human Rights Commission but one which does have some merit.
I turn to the amendments. Senator Lewis, in speaking to his amendment, made several common-sense remarks. I understood, from what Senator Lewis said, that his amendment is not intended to give any new rights to anyone, including the unborn. It has been moved merely to clarify and emphasise certain provisions that exist. I notice that Senator Lewis nods his head in agreement. Senator Lewis is not seeking to create any new rights other than those already encompassed in the provision. He merely wants to clarify and emphasise rights that might exist. His amendment mentions the unborn and the handicapped. If we are to agree with Senator Lewis’s interpretation of what he is seeking to do we are in fact engaged merely in an exercise in tautology.
Certain rights and responsibilities are implied in the legislation. Senator Lewis wishes to make them explicit rather than leaving them implicit. If that is the case, we ought not to be engaging in this exercise at all. If we want to make explicit all the implicit people and groups that are intended to be encompassed by the Human Rights Commission we could be here for many days and nights. If we start making rights explicit I would like to add my list of people whose rights need explicit defence. Women, for example, constitute a very large disadvantaged group in Australia.
– Aren’t they human? Aren’t they people?
– They are covered.
– Of course they are covered. I refer also to Aboriginal people and refugees. Senator Lewis asks: ‘Aren’t they people?’ I ask Senator Lewis: Are the handicapped not people? Why should handicapped people be tagged on? I can only suspect that a cynical exercise is being engaged in. It is controversial to mention the unborn but, of course, the handicapped are not controversial. No one could oppose the inclusion of the handicapped, particularly with the International Year of the Handicapped coming up. So the idea is to include the handicapped as well in the hope that that will somewhat dampen the controversy which always surrounds the mention of the rights of the unborn.
– That is unfair.
- Senator Harradine says that I am being unfair. Senator Harradine will have his turn to speak in the debate. I do not doubt that he will make a contribution. He can explain why it was that the handicapped were plucked out of all the people and groups which could have been considered for special mention. It seems to me that this is something of a cynical exercise. As Senator Evans, Senator Missen, Senator Puplick and others have pointed out, we do not need to repeat things that are contained in the Covenant which, as other honourable senators have agreed, is a difficult and complex document. It tries to state, in terms acceptable universally, certain concerns for political and civil liberties. To try to pluck out of it an interpretation which suits the practical needs of Government senators 1 think is an exercise in cynicism.
If on the other hand, as some honourable senators have argued this afternoon, some new area of responsibility would come under the responsibility of the Commission as a result of Senator Lewis’s amendments being passed, what would the practical consequences of that be? I have not heard any honourable senator who has spoken in support of the amendments say exactly what the practical consequences would be. How would the handicapped or the unborn have their causes progressed, in practical terms, by the Human Rights Commission if the amendment were passed? No one has told me. It has been suggested that if the amendment were passed the Commission would be besieged by members of the Right to Life Association and their fellow travellers, or that individual women seeking to visit abortion clinics would be harassed by such organisations and an attempt would be made to bring them towards the activities of the Commission. Other people have denied that. I do not know how the passage of this amendment could affect the operation of the Commission in a way that would be advantageous either to the handicapped or the unborn. If any honourable senator speaking in support of the amendment can clarify this point I will be grateful.
I do not think there will be any practical consequences because I do not think that what we are talking about is a practical way of improving the Human Rights Commission in its protecting of political and civil rights in this community. What we are talking about really is a compromise whereby the Government can get its Human Rights Commission legislation through after controversy having emerged in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. I do not think that that is good enough, for the reasons that Senator Puplick has just given. After all, the Government had the opportunity to insist on the legislation in a certain form. It had the power to call its own senators into line, to call on Senator Missen and other Government senators to withdraw amendments that they wished to make. The Government got the legislation that it asked for and insisted on. Why are we engaged now in yet another, in some ways irrelevant, debate concerning this legislation?
We have to return to why this controversy came about. Some honourable senators are engaged in seeking some sort of compromise because there is a group of people in our community who have a certain view on a grave moral matter- abortion- and who seek to have that view imposed on all Australians by law. That is the essence of the Martyr amendment and is the essence of other abortion controversies that this Parliament has had to deal with. It is not the case that in originally seeking to set up a human rights commission, the Government wanted to include this controversial area of abortion; it is the case that after the legislation had been passed through both Houses of Parliament some members of the House of Representatives- Mr Martyr in particular- decided to be a tool for the promotion of the views of a particular group in the community. It is a matter of great irony that the Right to Life Association and its fellow travellers are seeking to amend a measure to establish a human rights commission, in my view and in the view of many people throughout Australia, to deny certain rights to women. The Right to Life Association seeks to change the law so as to deny the right of choice to a woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy. I do not think anyone can argue with that. That is a right which currently exists. As Senator Mulvihill said, abortion is legal in all States and Territories of Australia under certain circumstances. Members of the Right to Life organisation do not want to exercise that right themselves. That is fair enough. But they do not want any woman or any medical person in Australia to be able to exercise that right. It is seeking to do this by having amended legislation concerned with basic human rights. It seems to me that there is an awful contradiction and irony in this exercise. For example, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which this legislation is all about, states:
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
In exercising that right of freedom of conscience, many Australian women think that the right of choice, in the matter of an unwanted pregnancy, is one of those rights of conscience. It cannot be denied that the way the abortion issue has been debated in Australia, it is quite clear that a majority of Australians see it as a matter of conscience. I refer to the issue of the Australian Women’s Weekly published this week. It gives the results of a survey conducted by that journal.
Before Senator Walters becomes overwhelmed with emotion about my referring to this survey, I point out that the Australian Women’s Weekly is far from being a radical feminist journal, a radical socialist journal or anything of that kind. For many years it has expressed the views and ideas of what could be called the broad centre group of Australian women. Its high circulation alone proves that it reflects the views of the broad centre group of Australian women.
The Australian Women’s Weekly recently conducted a very wide-ranging survey of views amongst its readership. It received 30,000 replies which is not an inconsiderable sample of the views of Australian women. It is true to say that the sample was self-selected in that women chose to respond to the survey. The fact of its being self-selected I agree does skew the results of the findings, but skews them towards the middle ground because, as I have said, the readership of the Australian Women’s Weekly is the middle ground, veering towards the conservative. So I think that the views expressed in this survey represent conservative views. What we do find in the result? On the question of whether abortion should be freely available, 62 per cent of all readers answered ‘yes’; 32 per cent answered only if health is in danger’ and only 6 per cent answered ‘no’.
– What about the amendment?
- Senator Tate made an interjection about this not being relevant, but it is relevant to this extent: The only reason that we are here this afternoon, discussing these amendments to the Human Rights Commission Bill is as a result of lobbying by the Right to Life Association. If the Martyr amendment had not been put up we would not be discussing this matter here. It is quite clear that if Right to Life had not prevailed upon Mr Martyr to start this whole thing we would not be having this debate. Right to Life took that action because it wished to make abortion illegal under all circumstances and to deny the basic right of exercise of conscience to Australian women. The survey conducted by the Australian Women’s Weekly is very interesting because it shows that the vast majority of women who answered this survey believe that abortion should be freely available. It shows that the majority of women, particularly those of Christian beliefs- including Catholic beliefs- believe that abortion should be available. This chamber is engaged in an exercise which has been initiated by a group whose view stands far, far to the right of the general view held in this society. It is a view which is being held by a decreasing minority.
I am the first person to say that minority groups should be able to have their views expressed and discussed in this Parliament, but I will never agree to the view that a minority ought to be able to inflict its views, by legislation, on the entire population. I am saying something that is totally pertinent to a human rights commission Bill and pertinent to the international Covenant. I do not want to expand on my views on the subject of freedom of choice on the question of abortion, because I have had the opportunity to do it before in this place.
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– I support the amendment moved by Senator Lewis, and I want to explain it and explain my support for his opening remark that he wanted a human rights commission. By explaining to the Committee why I want a human rights commission I hope that I can explain why I think Senator Lewis’s amendment is worth while and why it should be passed by the Committee. There is a little confusion about what the Human Rights Commission Bill actually achieves. All it does is to provide a framework for debate about civil and political liberty in Australia. It does not purport to do any more than that. In that sense, I think it is essentially a piece of legislation which aims to improve the quality of our liberal democratic system in Australia. It will, I believe, enhance the quality of debate in Australia about questions of civil and political liberty. I depart from you, Mr Temporary Chairman, in your belief that bits of paper do not help, by saying that I believe documents like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights- bits of paper like thathelp when they direct the public mind to these issues and when they promote debate on these issues. I believe, from public debate on these issues, comes a recognition of wrong and abuse, which leads to remedy.
The substance of this legislation is to improve debate in a society which is not notorious for its willingness to debate important issues. Australians tend to shy away from debate on matters which are important. It is not our nature to enter into these discussions, and I believe that is one of the reasons why we do not have as good a system of democracy in Australia as we could have. I make it quite clear that I support this legislation very firmly, not merely as a Minister in the Government, but because I believe that is the way in which we will improve democracy.
I refer to the work of some people in this chamber, including people such as Senator Evans who, for many years, has directed his attention to debates of this sort. I have often quoted his article in the Australian Quarterly of 1972, sometimes to his discomfort. I believe, in the putting forward of ideas, one leads to a possibility of change. I think Senator Evans sees himself as part of that liberal democratic process. I remind the Committee that Australians regard people such as the Russian dissidents as being precious because, in a situation of oppression where human rights are ignored, they keep the chance of change and freedom alive. We pay respect to them because they and people who run the unofficial university in Czechoslovakia, and so on, are important people in terms of providing a hope for the future.
This very fuzzy international Covenant in a very imprecise way, tries to document human rights. It is imprecise because it represents a lot of countries of the sort that Senator Jessop complained about. Countries where there are very few human rights at all have contributed to it. This fuzzy set of statements of principle will provide something of a framework for debate in Australia, and I think that will be of value. If one looks at the clauses of the Covenant one will see in the articles the sorts of things to which debate will be directed. Some of them are utterly irrelevant to Australia. Article 8. 1 states:
No one shall be held in slavery . . .
I do not think anybody suggests that Australia has a great problem with that. There are questions about the right to liberty and security of persons. That article might be something which is useful. Article 10. 1 states:
All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity . . .
All right, there are probably abuses there, but not many in Australia. Article 1 1 states:
No one shall be imprisoned merely on the ground of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation.
Yes, there is a class of people in Australia who are affected in that area. There are questions of rights of movement and freedom to choose one’s residence. That is not really relevant to Australian problems. There is a right to leave the country and a right to be equal before the courts. All these rights, which I agree are important, are enshrined in the Covenant and will, no doubt, give rise to the examination of some laws in Australia. There are some quite contentious questions of civil liberties which will come under examination in the context of the Covenant. If honourable senators look at the right of peaceful assembly they will see that there is a subject of considerable debate in this country. Yet, when one looks at article 2 1 , one finds that the right of peaceful assembly should be recognised. That is good. Article 2 1 goes on:
No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
That is a very good example of the imprecision of this document and the fact that it will do no more than provide, as I say, a framework for discussion and a chance to hold the laws up to the light and to gaze at them and to argue about them. We will have a Commission set up which will report to the Minister on what might be thought to be abuses of this Covenant, and those reports must be published. As I said before, we will have an enhancement of public debate. It is in that context that I believe the amendment put forward by Senator Lewis is a sensible amendment and one that should be supported. Many of those freedoms which are dealt with in this legislation are matters of small moment in Australia. They are not really pressing problems for the people of Australia, but no one would deny that there are tens of thousands of abortions in Australia, and that to many Australians that is a matter of great moment.
If honourable senators look at the development of the law on abortion in other countriestake the United States for example, and I think Senator Evans conceded the sorts of developments in that country- there are surely important questions to be determined such as: Do the rights of the foetus differ in the first trimester from the second trimester, as against the third trimester? These are serious issues- matters of moment not once or twice a year in this country but tens of thousands of times- and all that is being sought in the amendments that have come forward is the chance for this Commission to hold these matters up to the light and to enhance the quality of public debate in Australia on them. I hear many complaints about the Right to Life organisation. I do not necessarily agree with its tactics. I have written complaining to one of its supporters about a letter he wrote to one of my colleagues which I thought was threatening and unhelpful and which did not add to the argument which we are having on a matter of great seriousness. It is concerned, after all, with something that is fundamentally important. If it shows a little passion, let me say that it appears to be equally matched by the passion of those who believe the great freedom to obtain abortion is so terribly important.
If one believes the abortion discussion in this country is being conducted at an improperly low level, ought we not be seeking that a body like the Human Rights Commission enhance the quality of debate by examining this matter allowing it to be held up to the light and examining it in a sober and serious way? I find it strange that those who classify themselves as most liberal in this chamber are so assiduous in their determination to keep this matter from the examination of the Human Rights Commission. I say that because many of those people are close friends and colleagues of mine. On many issues we are united, but on this issue I find their attitude illiberal. It may be thought it is a liberal view to feel that abortion is a good thing. I find it most illiberal because, surely, in at least some circumstances, there is room for dark doubt, even if it is only in the third trimester case. If there is room for doubt, are they not imposing a very final solution when they take the decision to abort? I concede that these are matters which touch people ‘s lives very closely and dearly. If one were put in a position where one had to choose between the life of a wife and the life of a child one would often choose the life of a wife. That is a serious question. I suggest to the Committee that it is a proper question for the consideration of the Human Rights Commission.
– I support the Martyr amendment in its totality. I am totally unrepentant for doing so because, having listened to the debate on this occasion and on the previous occasion when we were considering this Bill, I think the Martyr proposition is the one that ought to be supported. If I have the opportunity, I will be putting that view forward during this debate. I reject out of hand the suggestion- I think it is most unfortunate that it has been made; it reflects upon those who have made it- that those who support the right to life of the unborn child have somehow latched on to the physically and mentally handicapped to include in their proposition. I think it is most unworthy of Senator Evans, Senator Ryan and, by interjection, Senator Missen to make the suggestion that it was a smokescreen.
I have consulted Mr Martyr about these matters. He was not urged by the Right to Life Association in the initial stages to prepare and to present the proposal to the House of Representatives. He included the handicapped in his proposal as a result of an approach by one of his constituents on a matter relating to the death of a child who suffered from Down’s syndrome. In my support for the Martyr amendment in its totality- that is, including the physically and mentally handicapped- I say that I am one of the few members of Federal Parliament who have employed and who have on their staffs a physically handicapped person. The quality of his research, I think, is thereby enhanced. In regard to the mentally handicapped, month after month for 1 8 years my family and I have visited the Royal Derwent Hospital to speak to, assist and minister to the mentally handicapped patients. However, it was not done completely selfishly because after a few years in this place I can envisage myself being Forced into retirement to that place, and I will be needing friends when I get there.
The lawyers have had a go at this matter but where are we in our consideration of it? We have been presented by the House of Representatives with an insistence on the Simon amendment. Apparently Senator Lewis and Senator Tate are attempting to get some sort of a compromise in the belief, presumably, that not all the wisdom of the Federal political scene reposes in this place. I wonder where we are at? There has been an admission by all concerned- Senator Missen has said this-that in the Human Rights Commission Bill as it stood before the House of Representatives amendment was passed there was an opportunity for the Commission to have regard to unborn human life. It has been said that that is the case similarly with the handicapped. If that is the case, why do not we vote at least for the amendment put forward by Senator Lewis or for the amendment to that amendment proposed by Senator Tate. What is all the hassle for? I agree with the Attorney-General (Senator Durack)- I am sorry that he is absent- when he admitted when speaking about the physically and mentally handicapped provision that their needs were able to be considered. He said:
However, the amendment would certainly confirm the position of the physically and mentally handicapped as a group against whom there must be no discrimination and express to the Commission in binding form the Parliament’s particular concern with these unfortunate people.
There is the nub of the matter. The Parliament must be concerned for the rights of the unborn and for the rights of the physically and mentally handicapped for the very reason that those human beings have not the ability to speak for themselves. I hope that this chamber, given the opportunity, will take some decision which will settle this issue with the House of Representatives in an amicable way so that the legislation can be passed into law and so that the Commission can have special regard for these areas.
-I wish to indicate my support, first and foremost, for the Simon amendment. I support also the amendments which have been moved by Senator Lewis and Senator Tate. I have listened to this debate and to what honourable senators have had to say, particularly the lawyers. I think the whole matter has been somewhat confused. An honourable senator on the other side of the chamber said that the lawyers were dragging a red herring in front of the Committee and then it was changed to a blue herring. The lawyers are saying that if this amendment is carried the Human Rights Commission will be totally snowed under by doing nothing else but looking into this area. I do not agree with that view at all because the Commission has a discretion as to whether a case can be looked at, will be looked at or should be looked at. This is spelt out quite clearly in the Human Rights Commission Bill. I also want to make it quite clear today that I have not been blackmailed by the Right to Life Association or any other organisation.
– You mean whitemailed
-As a matter of fact, I think ‘blackmail’ is an offensive word to be using because it is racist. Being the only black male in this chamber, I take strong exception to the word blackmail’ being used. Perhaps I should be saying that I have not been whitemailed by any of these organisations. On top of that, I think the behaviour of many honourable senators who have spoken in this chamber and who have made so many harsh comments about the Right to Life Association is a shocking indictment of them. Members of that organisation have surely lobbied members of Parliament. Can Senator Missen or Senator Evans tell me that they have never been lobbied in this place or pressured by outside groups to do something in this chamber? Of course they have been. It is ridiculous to suggest that they have not been lobbied. Of course, they have been lobbied and they will continue to be lobbied. I hope they are lobbied strongly and fruitfully on this issue we are debating todaythe right to life.
All we are asking this Commission to do is to look into these areas. We are not asking it to do anything but that in this Human Rights Commission Bill. I have said before and I say again that this Bill is a toothless tiger in many ways. As my colleague, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator Chaney, has said, at least this Bill gives the opportunity for these matters to be brought to light and to be brought into this chamber for debate. Surely that is not asking too much. We are talking about a life. Whether born or unborn, it is still a life. I believe it has rights. We are debating a human rights Bill. Honourable senators are expressing support for a human rights Bill and yet they are denying investigation into the rights of a life to be born and to enjoy what this Commission is supposed to be doing, namely protecting human rights. It will not have that right because, in the first instance, it will be put to death before it sees the light of day. All we are asking is that this Commission looks into those areas.
I support the amendments. Without using all the fine words that have been used today by Senator Evans, Senator Missen, Senator Puplick and other honourable senators- I am a simple man- I say that I believe in the right to life. If this Commission can in any way help to preserve and protect that most defenceless life at all, I am all for it and I will support it. I will support it because I believe that what we are trying to do here is right. I reiterate that I support first and foremost the amendment moved by Mr Simon in the other place. Now that further amendments have been moved by Senator Lewis and Senator Tate, I will be supporting those as well.
– I call Senator Douglas McClelland.
-The only reason why I speak in this debate on the Human Rights Commission Bill is that the last time when this Bill came from the House of Representatives and was the subject of debate in this chamber, I was unable to speak or vote on it because, like you, Mr Temporary Chairman, I had to be in Sydney in connection with a function being held to honour v. former Premier and Treasurer of New South Wales, the State that you and I represent in this Parliament. Since reading the debate that took place at that time and having listened to the debate that has taken place today, I have given the matter my serious and detailed consideration. Having given the proposed amendments that consideration, I am not prepared to support either the Simon, Lewis or Tate amendments.
Like you, Mr Temporary Chairman, I do not know that we need a Human Rights Commission Bill. If this Parliament functioned effectively and was not crushed by the Executive sledgehammer, if sufficient funds were provided by governments to overcome some of the poverty, indignity and underprivilege that exists in this society, and if additional funds were provided by governments to fund effectively the legal aid organisations in this country, I do not know that we would need this legislation. As I speak I remind myself that, because governments over many years have done nothing to overcome that sort of problem perhaps we do need a human rights commission. If we are to have a human rights commission, let us get it under way. As someone has said, the legislation was first introduced in this chamber. There was a debate in this chamber, principally by the lawyers, for about 30 hours or 35 hours. Not one of the amendments from Martyr, Simon, Lewis or Tate was thought of, debated or considered in the 30 odd hours over which the debate took place here. I assume that this legislation was the subject of a debate within the confines of the Government parties before the Government presented the legislation to this Parliament.
– Over about eight meetings.
-The honourable senator says that it was debated over about eight meetings. So in the privacy of its own party room, the Government did not even contemplate any of these amendments. Then, the legislation went to the House of Representatives. The Martyr amendment was moved but not accepted, and then there was the Simon amendment. The request from the House of Representatives in connection with that amendment was transmitted to this chamber but was rejected. That message was reported to the House of Representatives, which has now sent a message that it insists on its amendment. We are now debating that message and, as a result of that, we already have two more amendments in this debate. Assuming that one of these amendments is carried today and then goes back to the House of Representatives, which either insists on the Simon amendment or refuses to accept the Lewis or Tate amendments, this process will go on ad infinitum without success or establishment of the Commission. Because of a clause already appearing in the Bill, I suggest that if the legislature wants the Human Rights Commission established, let us get it established and let that Commission then consider all of the aspects that the amendments are now contemplating in the formulation of the legislation. Let the Human Rights Commission make its recommendations on these matters to the Parliament through the appropriate Minister.
Let us consider the legislation that is already before us. If honourable senators look at clause 9(1) (c), they will see that the functions of the Commission are described in this way: . . on its own initiative or when requested by the Minister, to report to the Minister as to the laws that should be made by the Parliament, or action that should be taken by the Commonwealth, on matters relating to human rights;
I would think that, in the formulation of the legislation, all of the matters that have been contemplated within the scope of the amendments that are before the Committee now are the responsibility or pan of the function of the Commission to be established under this legislation. I agree with Senator Lewis who said this afternoon that the Parliament should be resolving separate from the passage of this legislation the question when human life begins and ends. If one goes to Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that is appended to the legislation, one sees that it states:
Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
I believe that the Commission has been armed with the responsibility, either on its own initiative or when requested by the Minister, to report to the Minister as to the laws that should be made by the Parliament or action that should be taken by the Commonwealth on matters relating to human rights. I regret that the whole tenor of the legislation has been lost by the multiplicity of the amendments- the side-track amendments, if I might use such an expression- that have been put before the Parliament in consequence of the formulation of the House of Representatives amendment.
In moving his amendment, I think Senator Lewis said that his proposal was a compromise merely to satisfy someone- and I assume it is the Government- that it is going to get a human rights Bill. I do not think that we need to be compromised. I do not think that I need to compromise myself on this matter because I believe that the Human Rights Commission, as the legislation provides, will have the competence to report to the Minister as to the types of” laws that should be made. Because of the length of the debate and the time given to this matter, I believe that the matter has been well and truly canvassed. I indicate that I intend, for all those reasons, to vote against all of the amendments that have been proposed.
– I think that I am unique in this debate because I am the only senator who actually voted against the Human Rights Commission Bill when it first came before the Senate. I did that because it was clearly intended to enable the Government to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and I thought that the Bill, as presented originally, was a quite inadequate mechanism for achieving this in particular because of its lack of coverage of State laws and lack of remedies. For those reasons I opposed the Bill.
Even though the Human Rights Commission is, in my view, a feeble thing, we most certainly do not want it further weakened or distorted by the passage of amendments to its enabling legislation. With the Bill as it stands, as passed by the Senate, the Human Rights Commission has discretion, if it wishes to exercise it, to investigate foetal rights. Senator Chaney, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, in a most eloquent address told us of the importance in his view of these subjects being investigated. I agree with him entirely. There is no need for these amendments for these subjects to be investigated. His argument was an argument for the Bill as it stands, not for the amendments which he said he supported. The Bill gives the Human Rights Commission discretion to investigate these matters. I am satisfied that it will use that discretion. Abortion is not the only subject concerned. The Bill, as it stands, gives the Commission, if it chooses, the power to investigate matters such as injury to foetuses and medical benefits for abortions. The Lewis and Simon amendments, if adopted, would compel the Human Rights Commission to investigate these matters. This was pointed out by Senator Evans in his only moderate, temperate and dispassionate speech this week. It also had the unusual benefit of being mercifully brief.
Senator Evans pointed out with great clarity that if either of these amendments, the Simon amendment or the Lewis amendment- in wording they differ but in effect on the Human Rights Commission they are identical- is passed the Human Rights Commission will be compelled to investigate complaints. Without the slightest doubt, as everyone in this chamber knows, the Commission would receive a flood of complaints about abortion. If it is compelled to investigate them its work will be totally distorted. As some honourable senators have pointed out, it is true that there are circumstances under which the Commission could refuse to investigate a complaint. These are not easily usable remedies. Subclause (4) of clause 10 was amended and put in this form by the Senate:
The subject-matter of the complaint is not of sufficient concern to the complainant.
I think it would be a brave man who said that the subject of abortion was not of sufficient concern to the Right to Life Association. No one could possibly say that abortion was a trivial matteranother ground on which the Commission may refuse to investigate a matter. No one could say that such a complaint was frivolous or was not made in good faith. The only way in which the Human Rights Commission will have a let-out will be to say that the complaints are vexatious and that it will be far from easy for the Human Rights Commission to exercise its powers not to hold an inquiry. I think the Human Rights Commission will be flooded with complaints of this type and its work will be distorted and held up by them.
Accepting that point, we should also ask ourselves whether there is any value in the Human Rights Commission being compelled to investigate these matters. It has the right to use its discretion to investigate such matters. The issue before us now is: Is there any value, any merit, in the Human Rights Commission being compelled to investigate these matters? In particular I refer to the matter of abortion. We certainly have a problem in that area and we all know it. The role of the Human Rights Commission is not to make laws. The role of the Human Rights Commission is to attempt to conciliate, which does not seem very appropriate in the area of abortion, or to report to the Minister that laws are contrary to some human right. Would this role be helpful in the abortion area? We do not need this particular problem drawn to our attention. We are only too well aware of its existence. The problem is not really a legal problem; it is a political or a moral problem. There is no merit in having this problem drawn to our attention. We have it drawn to our attention repeatedly by extremists on either side of the argument. On one side we have the Right to Life Association, which believes not only that human life begins at conception, which I think is incontrovertible, but also by a remarkable jump in logic that a fertilised genetically programme^ human egg is a human being with legal rights. In my view that is as sensible as saying that a fertilised hen egg is a chicken. At the other extreme- this view was put by Senator Ryan- we have the view that a woman has a complete right to control what goes on inside her own body. I think all reasonable people recognise that the fair solution, the right solution and the proper solution lies somewhere between those extremes.
As I said, deciding where justice lies between those extreme points of view is a moral or political problem, not a legal problem. We must consider this problem, and I will give the Senate an example of why we must consider it. The Australian Capital Territory abortion law makes a well-known birth control mechanism, the loop, illegal. The loop is an abortive device, not a contraceptive device. According to the literal interpretation of the present law in the Australian
Capital Territory, any doctor fitting a loop or any woman using one is committing a very serious crime. That is one area in which the present law does not fit the present facts of the case. I merely cite an example which this Parliament will have to face at some time. I think it should be dealt with in a separate debate. It should not be handled in this devious way of tacking it on to legislation designed for a quite different purpose. This Bill can achieve all the objectives of the people who in good faith put forward their points of view. It can achieve all the objectives they seek without these undesirable amendments. I accept the good faith of Senator Lewis in moving this attempted compromise. I do not support it. I do not support the amendments of Mr Simon, Mr Martyr, Senator Lewis or Senator Tate. I think they are all undesirable and irrelevant. They would weaken the already feeble Human Rights Commission. For that reason I oppose all amendments.
-The question before the Chair is that Senator Tate’s amendment be agreed to.
That the words proposed to be added (Senator Lewis’s amendment) be added.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator C. R. Maunsell)
Question so resolved in the negative.
On 25 March this year the Senate Committee for Reasons, which was appointed by resolution of the Senate, presented its report. The Committee was appointed under the chairmanship, if that is not too grandiose a term, of Senator Withers.
– I am being corrected; I should refer to Senator Withers as the Chairperson of that Committee. Nevertheless, I notice that the report of that Committee was modestly signed ‘R. G. Withers’ on behalf of the Committee. On 25 March this year the report of that Committee for Reasons was presented by Senator Withers and was conveyed to the House of Representatives. On listening to the debate on this matter in this chamber today I apprehend the view of the majority in this chamber to be that the essential reasons given in that report to the House of Representatives on 25 March remain the reasons of this Committee, in spite of the amendments which have been considered here today. Accordingly, I moved the motion, which was somewhat belligerent in terminology in that it required a double insistence.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator C. R. Maunsell)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
Motion (by Senator Carrick) agreed to:
That a committee be appointed to draw up reasons for the Senate insisting on disagreeing to the amendments insisted on by the House of Representatives in the Human Rights Commission Bill 1979 and that Senator the Rt Honourable R. G. Withers, Senator D.J. Grimes and Senator A. J. Missen be appointed members of the committee.
Debate resumed from 23 April, on motion by Senator Carrick:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition does not oppose the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Grants) Bill which provides for a subsidy of $80 a tonne for liquefied petroleum gas for domestic use. Since there has been some confusion or perhaps, deliberate misrepresentation, at least in Western Australia, from one of the more obscure members of the Government back bench, I stress that the subsidy applies only to household or domestic use. It certainly does not apply to liquefied petroleum gas used for automotive purposes. How the Government will separate LPG which is sold for household or domestic usage and that which is sold for industrial or commercial usage is a matter for wide-eyed conjecture. It is quite clear from the non-answers that the Minister for National Development and Energy, Senator Carrick, has given in the last few weeks that the Government does not have the faintest idea how it will separate at a retail level the LPG used for domestic purposes and that used for commercial purposes.
There are a couple of obvious examples of how this separation will be impossible. One is the pig producer, who heats his house with LPG and heats his piggery with, conceivably, the same bottle of LPG. Who will separate the industrial usage from the domestic usage? The same situation applies to poultry farmers. No doubt, if one were to investigate the subject more deeply one would find literally dozens of similar examples of how it is simply not feasible, without having an army of inspectors or bureaucrats looking over people ‘s shoulders, to separate one type of usage from the other. It is not possible to police effectively the Government ‘s policy.
This Bill is one of the torpedoes which sank the Government’s sacrosanct import parity pricing policy. We were told time after time over the last 18 months that that policy was the cornerstone, the foundation stone, of any rational energy policy- a policy which any responsible Government could not possibly think of abandoning or modifying. All that was sunk by this torpedo and two other torpedoes. The second torpedo was the Government’s failure to pass on the $2 a barrel retroactive Saudi price increase announced in February and the Government’s refusal to give any definitive answer on whether it will pass on that increase of $2 a barrel or any subsequent rise on 1 July. The third torpedo, which by then was really quite unnecessary, was the bureaucratic decision made by the Government that some refineries would have to sell LPG to preferred domestic customers at $205 a tonne instead of the prevailing market rate of $252 a tonne.
The ad hoc, off-the-top-of-the-head policymaking procedure into which this Government has slipped is not unusual, particularly in the last few months as its electoral fortunes continue to deteriorate, as the Opposition continues to be in front in almost every poll that is taken and as the Government sees electoral defeat staring it in the face. It degenerates into ad hoc, offthetopofthehead policy making of the type demonstrated by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) a couple of weeks ago and of the type inflicted on the Government by more consistent members of the Liberal Party and, in this instance, by National Country Party Ministers. Senator Carrick, for some two months, was not able to tell us what the Government’s LPG pricing policy was because the National Country Party had not given him his instructions at that stage. The National Country Party eventually gave him his instructions, but we still do not know what the Government policy is because the Government cannot tell us how it will administer it.
So, this sacrosanct import parity pricing policy which embodies the ultimate economic wisdom and which has inflicted enormous costs on the whole community, with tax through a crude oil levy being collected at the rate of $3 billion a year, is responsible for inflation returning to above 10 per cent- and it is still rising. Right now inflation is three per cent lower than it was in the calendar year 1975. We remember how the rate of inflation prevailing then was supposed to have been catastrophic; it was intolerable and so bad that it justified the unprecedented and probably illegal actions which were taken in 1975 to remove the then Government from power. Right now the inflation rate is just 3 per cent lower than it was at that time. According to the new economic doctrine expounded by Howard and Fraser, and echoed by Senator Carrick, it does not matter how high inflation is in Australia as long as we can find some other country where it is higher.
Likewise, the oil pricing policy is responsible for the all time record interest rates. The long term bond rate has never been as high as it is now. The yield on shorter term government securities is now almost 12 per cent, which is another record and another achievement of the Fraser Government and of the Prime Minister who, two and a half years ago, said that within 12 months interest rates would fall by 2 per cent. In November 1977, the Prime Minister said that it was a target ‘that can and will be met’. Since he made that statement, government interest rates have gone up by 2.5 per cent; they have not gone down 2 per cent as Mr Fraser assured us at that time that they would. That increase has not fully flowed on to the private sector. One cannot generalise about the critical area of building society home loan interest rates because there is some variation between societies within the one State, and between States. But, for most societies something like 1.5 per cent already has been passed on and there is little doubt that further increases for home mortgages are in the pipeline. Those increases will add something like $ 1 5 a week to the interest bill for many home mortgages.
This import parity pricing policy for which everything was sacrificed is the cause of all the economic damage, only some of which I have specified. This policy is receiving its first torpedo in the form of the legislation which is now before the Senate. The Opposition is not opposing the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Grants) Bill. The Opposition is likely to be accused by the Government of inconsistency, but that charge cannot be sustained because the Opposition has never asserted that any petroleum products need to be priced at import parity. Indeed, it has consistently criticised the Government for its import parity pricing policy on the grounds that the upward movement has been too quick. Pluses in the form of minuscule gains from slightly reduced consumption which may have accrued as a result of rising prices have long passed the point where they have been more than offset by the enormous minuses in the form of general damage to the economy flowing from the import parity pricing policy. So, on the contrary, the Opposition has been completely consistent. We have argued that on balance there is not a valid case for anyone paying import parity prices for petroleum products. Having asserted for almost two years that there was an inarguable case for import parity pricing, the Government is now in the process of burying its own policy.
It is apparent that the whole package of measures associated with the pricing of LPG of which this is only one has been produced so hastily that the Government does not even know how it will be administered. Apart from the difficulty I mentioned earlier of separating for this legislation domestic and commercial usage, in some circumstances, there is the additional problem arising from the decision announced last month in regard to LPG for other preferred customers to be made available by refiners at $205 a tonne. The Government has issued a directive to oil refineries that they will sell liquefied petroleum gas for $205 a tonne to automotive, domestic and some other users. For users who do not have that preferred treatment, the price will be negotiated. It is implied- and it is a reasonable expectation- that in those circumstances the price will be somewhere around the current export parity price of $252 a tonne.
That leaves us with the problem of having two markets in Australia for LPG. The Government directed the refiners to sell in one market at $205 a tonne and in the other market they can sell for whatever they can get, which will be about $250 a tonne. Who is to decide which refiners will supply the cheap market and which will supply the higher priced market? The policy may be workable, perhaps because of some coincidental geographic accident- although I think that that is highly unlikely- whereby some refineries which do not have shipping facilities available for liquefied petroleum gas might decide to sell at lower prices on the domestic market. Failing some happy accident like that, who will supply the lower priced market? I think there are three or four oil refineries in Sydney. Which of those refineries will sell LPG for $200 a tonne and which will sell it for $250 a tonne? The policy will not work. If the Government sticks to it, it will be forced ultimately to initiate an allocation policy under which the individual refineries will be obliged to sell a certain quantity of their output on the domestic market at the lower prices or face some other penalty imposed by the Government. Such a penalty could involve an export levy on the LPG which they might alternatively export.
We have not seen the end of legislation pertaining to LPG pricing, even with the Bills that are currently in the pipeline. The final irony is that all this incompetent meddling in the market place is being done by a government which will assert in every other context that it is dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and a free market.
– I was interested and very pleased to learn that the Opposition is supporting the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Grants) BUI 1980. At the same time, I took note of the criticisms of the Government’s import parity pricing policy, which on its own is a big subject. I will not muddy the water today by discussing import parity pricing policies other than to say that I fully support the Government’s stance. It can be clearly seen that the policies are working. As I have said in this chamber on many occasions, if people wish to take a short term view of import parity pricing perhaps they can justify some small criticism. The Government is not interested in a short term policy; it is interested in the long term security of fuel supplies for this country, which is basically what import parity is all about.
It is interesting to note the great demand for liquefied petroleum gas, liquefied natural gas and natural gas in the last few years. Once gas was regarded as a nuisance in oil exploration and particularly in oil development. Literally trillions of cubic feet of natural gas were flared off in the United States of America until it was realised that the gas could be utilised. It really was not until the crisis brought about by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries in 1 973 that the world suddenly realised that there would be an energy shortage particularly in the liquid hydrocarbons field and that natural gas could play an important part in helping to satisfy energy requirements. The demand for natural gas and its by-product, LPG, has increased. It is most fortunate that a great deal of natural gas has been discovered and exploited throughout the world. It is a tragedy that so much natural gas, as I said, was flared off because initially it was regarded as waste and, more than that, as nuisance material.
One problem which has arisen with the increased demand for natural gas and particularly for liquefied petroleum gas has been the escalation of price that has occurred in recent years, but no rise has been as great as that of the last 12 months. The prices are directly related to international crises, etcetera. At 1 July 1978 a tonne of liquefied petroleum gas cost $83. By January 1979- just six months later, the price had risen to $110 per tonne. By July 1979, another six months later, the price had risen to $147 a tonne. By January 1980 the price had escalated again to some $252 a tonne. One can see the great impact that this has had on the cost pricing structure for consumer usage of LPG. Throughout the rural areas many people have been dependent on LPG for many reasons such as cooking, home heating and, in some cases, refrigeration.
– Who encouraged that?
– There was a need for the Government to have a closer look at the whole situation. A moment ago Senator Tate interjected and asked who was responsible. Bottled LPG has been in use in country areas for quite some time because of its convenience. I think Senator Tate is very much aware of that fact. The Government also encouraged people throughout Australia to use LPG and natural gas for domestic and industrial purposes. We have witnessed the development of pipelines from the Cooper Basin in South Australia to Sydney and to Adelaide. We have seen the extension of pipelines from Lithgow to Bathurst and to Orange, from Sydney to Newcastle and from Cootamundra to Wagga Wagga. We know also of the trunkline which will be coming to Canberra. I hope that the present program will not be the end of the construction of pipelines for natural gas. Natural gas is taking the place of other fuels.
I turn now specifically to LPG. The Government immediately responded to the great escalation of pricing that took place by introducing a $80 a tonne subsidy to assist what I term domestic rural users. Even though this did have quite a beneficial effect it left the price of LPG very high in comparison with the cost of electricity in many areas around Australia. The Government decided, for that and other reasons, to encourage LPG usage and to back up that encouragement by having another look at the restructuring of the whole of the pricing of LPG. The Government has been criticised because LPG pricing was related to overseas prices. This policy was followed not by the Government- I emphasise ‘not by the Government’- but by the Prices Justification Tribunal. I remind the Opposition, in a constructive way, that whilst it has been critical of the Government over the price of LPG it must remember that when in government it established the Prices Justification Tribunal. The Opposition responded every time by saying that the PJT should be looking independently at many of the price structures. That is the basis upon which the PJT decided the price of LPG.
The Government has very responsibly taken a further step and had another look, as I said earlier, at the whole structure of the pricing of LPG. We have finished up with a revised price. The Government has reduced the price from $252 a tonne to $205 a tonne. For domestic rural use a subsidy of $80 still applies. The price of LPG with that subsidy is $125 per tonne, which is near enough half the current overseas pricethe price accepted by the PJT. In fact, the reduction, some $127 a tonne, is greater than the price for domestic use.
There has been criticism by the Opposition that this whole pricing structure will break down. Whilst it is true that the $80 a tonne subsidy will apply to household use, it will not apply to dairies and other areas on farms. However farmers might have to use in their stove a bit of LPG which has been designated for the dairy. There is every probability that this will happen. But because of the probability of a slight discrepancy or anomaly within the whole exercise, which is only minor anyway, is the Government to say that the whole basis of its philosophy to give assistance to rural consumers will be thrown overboard?
I think the argument thrown up by the Opposition is farcical. The Government has encouraged the use of LPG. It is now making sure that it is giving assistance by way of a subsidy and a new pricing arrangement to those users in rural areas, as it is doing by giving tax concessions to industries which turn to alternative energy sources. LPG is becoming more precious. Whilst there are alternatives such as electricity- coal-fired et cetera- the Government, by giving tax concessions is encouraging industry, wherever possible, to go away from using LPG. As I have said, the current price of LPG is now down to $205 a tonne as against the overseas price of $252. There is no doubt that the price of LPG will continue to escalate as will the price of crude oil. But the price of LPG seems to have accelerated at a far more rapid rate, if I can put it that way, than has the price of crude oil.
The Minister for National Development and Energy (Senator Carrick) said that in future the wholesale price of naturally occurring LPG will be linked with the price of indigenous crude oil and will increase by the same percentage- I repeat, by the same percentage- as any increase in the price of indigenous crude oil. The ex-refinery price will move in accordance with any such adjustments. I think that that shows a very common-sense approach. The Government has seen fit, in its wisdom, to link future price increases of LPG with crude oil prices which, in history, have shown to be more stable than has been the case with LPG. Indications are that this will be the case in future also. Rather than being critical of the Government- I do not say this because I am a Government senator- I commend the Minister for his foresight in making such arrangements because with this compensation he will encourage far more use of LPG as an alternative fuel in rural areas.
As I have said, I look forward to the use of liquefied natural gas in Australia. I hope that continuing discussions will take place on this area so that country towns which are not able to have natural gas transmitted by pipeline will be able to have tanker supplies of liquefied natural gas. I hope this will come. I am certain that the Minister since he has had his present portfolio which covers a wide range in energy, has been looking at this matter very closely. I have not discussed this point with the Minister but I hope that in his response some time this evening he will mention what the Government may do concerning liquefied natural gas, which I think can also provide a great saving as an alternative fuel.
I could refer to many other matters this afternoon. I refer to the encouragement of the use of LPG in transportation. The Government has done a great deal by reducing the price of LPG to 50 per cent of that of the current price of petrol, based on Melbourne prices. This will be a static situation. I refer also to the encouragement that has been given by tax concessions with regard to equipment being fitted to motor vehicles to enable the use of LPG; the Government’s removing of excise on sales of LPG for motor transportation, and the encouragement the Government is giving to the motor industry to produce vehicles that will leave the showroom or shop floor capable of using LPG or petrol.
These are matters that involve long term planning. Part of this legislation is not so much for long term planning but to compensate those people who had planned to use and were using LPG- some with the encouragement of the Government, and many by their own desire. Problems were created because of the great escalation in the price of overseas LPG, on which the Prices Justification Tribunal based the Australian price. The Government has taken an active involvement in this matter. It has come up with realistic legislation that will give assistance and benefit to those rural areas which are using and are dependent upon LPG. This is not a big
Bill, but it is an important Bill. I am very glad to be able to give it my support.
– In his concluding remarks Senator Young said that the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Grants) Bill 1980 was not a big Bill. In fact it requires an expenditure of $60m by the Australian taxpayer over three years to pay for the folly, incompetence and bungling of this Government in failing to achieve in the term of office that has been given to it a rational and coherent energy policy. An amount of $60m will be paid out of the Federal Treasury to remedy a situation caused by the Government’s faults. The Opposition, however, given the situation that confronts us in this part of 1980, feels obliged to support this legislation. I will speak briefly and enable the Bill to pass into law so that that relief may be granted as quickly as possible to the consumers of liquefied petroleum gas. But I need to establish my proposition that the Government has no energy policy. A newspaper report of what Premier Hamer said concerning LPG pricing policy at a Liberal Party conference reads: . . LPG pricing policy was ‘the greatest fiasco’.
The price has gone up, down and sideways- there is no clear policy’.
The president of the Confederation of Australian Industry, Sir Max Dillon, no great lover of the Australian Labor Party I would imagine, said of the Government:
It has a responsibility to produce an overall energy policy for Australia that can be clearly understood by all Australians.
He commented on the confusion caused to business and the community often leading to inappropriate and costly adjustments. Even in the efforts of this Bill to help household consumers of LPG, let us say, there is really no grappling with the need to undo costly arrangements that were entered into in reliance on Government policy encouraging the domestic use of LPG. I speak as a person who has heating and domestic appliances such as a stove in my home which rely on bottled LPG. I know that I, along with 200,000 other consumers throughout Australiahousehold users- will be facing a minimum expenditure of some $1,500 to $2,000 to convert those appliances to electricity. Perhaps in some country towns of Australia the conversion will be to natural gas. There is nothing in this Bill which aids in the conversion of that equipment. This Bill is no more than a panic reaction by the Government in an election year. This is well attested by all commentators. The editor of the Australian Financial Review stated that the abandonment by the Government of its parity pricing policy can be explained only in that way. In fact it makes no sense when put alongside its insistence on parity pricing as the proper determinant of the energy mix that should be used within Australia. In my view the second reading speech of the Minister for National Development and Energy (Senator Carrick) also contains evidence of lack of deep thought by the Government. It states: . . the Government has formulated a policy of encouraging the use of liquefied petroleum gas as a means of reducing our dependence on imported oil, particularly in areas where LPG has premium value, such as for automotive use or for use as a petrochemical feedstock.
I ask: What steps has the Governent taken to ensure that there is a proper allocation of LPG between automotive use and its use as a petrochemical feedstock? It is clear that the Government’s policies are directed to discouraging the use of LPG in domestic situations and in certain commercial enterprises in the many small industries- such as in dairy factories throughout the countryside of Australia. But in this allocation between automotive use and use as petrochemical feedstock, where is the Gover.nent’s ‘s policy? How will we determine how much of this scarce resource will be allocated to one or the other? In relation to the encouragement of automotive use, where is the Government’s answer to the claim of General Motors-Holden’s Ltd that the governments of Australia have failed to give it sufficient guidelines and standards to enable it to introduce LGP- using vehicles from the assembly line, rather than the vehicles requiring very costly conversion as at the moment. Where is the Government’s response to that claim? Where is its real concern to ensure that the Australian consumer of motor vehicles is presented with a product which, being produced on an assembly line en masse, will of course be much cheaper than the piece-by-piece conversion that has to occur in various garages throughout the country? I return to the question of allocation and refer to a submission to the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences on 9 November last year. I admit that the submission excluded the question of LPG becoming available in the distant future from the North West Shelf and took note of the fact that production from the Cooper Basin would not be available until the late 1980s. That eminent body in its statement, said:
If no LPG were reserved for petrochemical feedstock, LPG would contribute only about 10 per cent of the total expected requirement for gasoline.
That is, by 1 990. The submission goes on:
If sufficient LPG were reserved to meet requirements for petrochemical feedstock for the Australian domestic market, it would still be possible to allocate 1 0-20 per cent of the total to replace gasoline. This would correspond to between 1.5 per cent and 3.0 per cent of the gasoline consumption forecast for 1990.
In other words, in the opinion of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences, if there is a proper allocation of LPG for use as a petrochemical feedstock, the amount of LPG left as a substitute for gasolene consumption would be somewhere between 1.5 per cent and 3 per cent of expected gasoline consumption in 1990. The submission comments:
Although relatively small, this quantity could constitute a useful addition if reserved for major fleets of large mileage vehicles in Melbourne and Sydney.
How does that square with the oft-repeated assertion of the Minister in answer to questions and, indeed, in documents of his own Department, that one would expect that within the decade that, given government policy, LPG use will account for almost 15 per cent of the expected energy requirements of road transport throughout Australia. That has been a constant claim of the Government. Given the professed desire of the Government that LPG also be reserved for petrochemical feedstock, how is that to be achieved? I look forward to an answer from the Government. I conclude my speech, given pressures of time, by saying that the Bill is supported by the Opposition out of necessity, given the historical mess that this Government’s lack of -policy, its lack of direction to the Prices Justification Tribunal, its lack of concern until an election year to get a rational, fair and equitable policy in relation to the use of LPG. The Opposition supports the measure but indicates that it is not convinced at all by the reasoning and the expectations that are contained in the second reading speech of the Minister. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the table submitted by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences.
The document read as follows-
– I wish to voice some opinion on the use of liquefied petroleum gas. I believe, as Senator Tate said, this Government should stand condemned for not having set forth some years ago an energy policy. I believe the use of liquefied petroleum gas for domestic purposes is a terrible waste. Liquefied petroleum gas, as we all know, is made up of propane and butane. I believe this gas is too valuable to use for domestic purposes. We have not got the facilities because we have not planned. We should be using natural gas as a substitute gas. There has not been the planning for either electricity or natural gas pipelines to go to country areas. We are now forced into the position of using LPG which, as I said, is a premium fuel. We should have been planning to use natural gases in this field as a stop-gap measure.
I believe that plan also is inadequate. The consumer is put to a tremendous cost to change from one fuel to another. If residents in country areas use liquefied petroleum gas and then, in a few years time, electric power lines capable of serving that area are installed, those people are then faced with unrealistic prices to change their domestic appliances. Liquefied petroleum gas has been used in this country for 30 years at least, to my knowledge. Used in an internal combustion engine, it is a very safe fuel. If that machine is used in confined areas it is much safer than an internal combustion engine which uses petrol. There is a 93 per cent burn of LPG in comparison to a 63 per cent burn of petrol. The difference between petrol and LPG used in internal combustion engines is that the machine fuelled by LPG emits very small quantities of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide fumes. On the other hand, machines that use petrol emit large quantities of these pollutants.
Owners of taxis and delivery vehicles working in large cities such as Sydney and Melbourne, and especially operators of public transport, should have been encouraged five to 10 years ago to use LPG, because petrol produces not only sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide- the three main pollutants- but also lead and benzol pollution. A lot has been said about lead pollution in large cities; it is highly dangerous, especially to young people. Benzol, also, is used as an additive to petrol to lift the octane rating, the same as lead is used. Benzol is possibly more dangerous than lead; it is very carcinogenic. People who work around petrol stations where benzol has been added to lift the octane rating know it is a very dangerous commodity. I believe, in the long term, we should be encouraging some electric vehicles, but that development has not come as fast as one would have liked. It is essential to encourage a number of vehicles to use liquefied petroleum gas in order to keep down the pollution level in large cities.
Liquefied petroleum gas is, as I said, a premium fuel. It is possibly too valuable just to burn even in internal combustion engines. The value of it would be far greater in a petrochemical industry. The products of a petrochemical works are very considerable; life saving drugs and many other items are produced. I believe that LPG should be retained in the long term for such production. The burning of LPG for domestic purposes is a complete waste. If we are to conserve our energy I think this Government should get on with the formulation of a comprehensive energy policy.
Butane and propane will be the main components used in the Redcliff petrochemical works. LPG makes up some 40 per cent of total liquid hydrocarbons that come out of the Cooper Basin. By reducing the price of this fuel this industry will probably be put back some years. Most certainly, the construction of the pipeline which was designed to carry the liquid hydrocarbons out of that area will be delayed. Although nobody wants to see the price of fuel rise, I believe a policy has to be set down so that proper planning can take place. Sudden price rises have caused disaster in many fields. We have seen what the sudden surge in petrol prices has done. It has automatically caused price rises across the spectrum of goods available in Australia and throughout the world. If Australia had had a sensible energy policy it could have cushioned many of these rises. A lot of industries would be employing many more people in Australia if the sudden surge in energy prices had not taken place.
Naturally there is some truth in the argument that energy cannot be available at too low a price because it will be wasted. I believe the price of energy has risen too quickly. The Government has not allowed business or the public time to adjust to these price rises. Adjustment has to take place. If the price rises ranged over a longer time span I believe this country would be in a better position than it is today. We on this side of the chamber support this Bill because we realise that people who live in isolated country areas are entitled to the benefits that many city people have. I think LPG is the wrong fuel to use. As I said before, I believe that natural gas would have been a far better option. We should conserve LPG so that it is used better for the benefit of this country.
– Due to the shortage of time available I will be unable to develop the argument I wanted to put in speaking in the debate on the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Grants) Bill. The time available to me to speak is short, the Minister for National Development and Energy (Senator Carrick) has to reply to the debate and the Bill has to be considered in Committee. I wanted to mention a matter on behalf of the local petrol resellers in South Australia, but I will have to do that when we are debating the first reading of a money Bill when the Parliament resumes the week after next. That I do so is most important to their livelihood.
However, I am most interested in what the Minister said in the second reading speech. He said it is estimated that the cost of the subsidy scheme will be about $60m over a three year period. That works out to be $20m a year. Yet Mr Keating, the Opposition spokesman on energy matters, when addressing a seminar held at Surfers Paradise on 25 March, gave some very revealing figures. While the Government is claiming that by paying this subsidy it will encourage people to use liquefied petroleum gas and so conserve petroleum, Mr Keating was able to show that in fact what the Government is doing is imposing a massive rip-off, on the one hand, by using every petrol pump in Australia as a branch of the Taxation Office and, on the other hand, is making great play about giving back $60m by way of subsidy to encourage people to use LPG. The payment of that $60m is to be spread over three years. If what Mr Keating said is not correct the Minister might deny it when he winds up the debate. Mr Keating said:
This financial year the Fraser Government will collect $2,400 million from the crude oil levy, $956 million from excise on petroleum products, about $40 million in offshore petroleum royalties, $34 million in LPG excise and about $450 million in company tax from the oil producers and refiners, bringing the total Commonwealth receipts from oil and petroleum products to $3,880 million or 13.2 per cent of total Commonwealth budgetary receipts.
I would say that Mr Keating ‘s figures are very reliable because he is a man who has his finger on the pulse in relation to energy matters in this country. He was able to point out that in fact this Government, through all of its royalties, levies, excises and other imposts on the petroleum industry, will claw into its coffers $3,880m this year. Yet the Minister said in his second reading speech that the Government will give $20m a year in subsidy to encourage people to use LPG so that we can effect some conservation of petroleum products. It is no wonder the people in the community are screaming their heads off at the price they have to pay at the petrol pump today. That is the reason the South Australian Automobile Chamber of Commerce is going through its hoops, protesting that its resellers are going out of business hand over fist. Resellers in my town of Murray Bridge can buy petrol to put into their reselling outlets about 2c a litre cheaper from a retail petrol pump in Adelaide than they can buy it from the fuel companies. That is happening throughout South Australia.
The petrol resellers, about whom I will speak at length in the debate on the first reading of a money Bill, certainly have a case to put. The Government has to answer why it is endeavouring to run these small people out of business and is not doing anything to curb the price rises of the oil companies. I have received letters from constituents complaining about this matter. I will confine my remarks to what I have said otherwise we will not pass the legislation this evening. As I have said, when Parliament resumes after the week’s recess, I will take up the matter in the debate on the first reading of a money Bill.
– in reply- I am grateful for the restraint shown by all honourable senators who spoke in this debate. It is important that the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Grants) Bill is passed through all its stages. I too will be brief in my remarks. It is true that liquefied petroleum gas is a premium fuel. I acknowledge that. In order to make sure that it becomes a premium fuel and that it is used to the full in Australia, this measure and these policies have been put in place. Australia needs to conserve all of its energy, particularly its hydrocarbon energy. At the moment we export some 80 per cent of the LPG produced in Bass Strait. It is desirable that over a period we should absorb its use in Australia to add to our energy sources and to offset the need for the use of gasolene.
It is calculated that within a few years all of the LPG produced in Bass Strait which is now exported will in fact be absorbed in Australia. This policy has sought to establish with the producers and the refineries a clear understanding that the first priority for LPG shall be for automotive use and the second for petrochemical use. The development of fleet operators, taxi operators and commercial operators in metropolitan areas should be adequately serviced. It is believed that, some years from now, some 10 to 14 per cent of petroleum now used in gasolene will be replaced by LPG. That would be an enormous saving in the automotive sense. It is equally the aim that the petroleum petrochemical industry should be adequately served. There will be opportunities for that by the development of the liquids from the Cooper Basin and subsequently from the North West Shelf.
Some comment has been made about the level of $205 per tonne which the Government has asked the Prices Justification Tribunal to fix. It is fair to say that over the years, until one aberration in January, the price of LPG per tonne has almost been the same as the price of crude oil. It was only in the PJT determination in January that a very large lift occurred in the prices of butane and propane and that parallel did not exist. It is important to say that the amount of $205 per tonne, which the Government has established, bears again the restoration of the relationship with crude oil, which is I think about $196 per tonne, so that rather than departing from our crude oil policy and our import parity pricing policy, we are operating very much within them. I am bound to say that the fixing of the approximate 50 per cent differential between the price of gasolene and the price of automotive LPG will be such as to ensure continuity of costing in-fleet use for the future. It also means, from the latest table I have seen, that for automotive fuel use we will be selling LPG cheaper in Australia than it is sold in a full list of Western countries that I have seen.
Some suggestion was made that it was a waste to continue to supply to householders. Successive governments have ignored the wastefulness of allowing a development, particularly in country areas, of the use of LPG for ordinary domestic heating and cooking purposes. That use has been established and it is necessary for us now to act so that we wean people away from that. The major development of pipeline systems such as the Young-Cootamundra-Wagga WaggaAlbury pipeline system, the Dalton-Canberra system, the proposed Bathurst-Lithgow-Orange system, and the Sydney-Newcastle system are aimed to put the country suppliers on to natural gas. I will be talking to the Victorian Government in that regard.
Time does not permit me to answer all the points made. It is said that Mr Hamer made criticisms of the LPG policy. At the Liberal Party Federal Council meeting and in my presence he said that he wholeheartedly supported the LPG policy as it now is and that his Government wholeheartedly supported the import parity pricing policy. Senator McLaren quoted some figures that Mr Keating mentioned. They may or may not have been accurate; they probably are accurate. Mr Keating has indicated that his party’s proposed resources rent tax would almost certainly yield more from the oil companies than the present oil levy. Responding to a journalist’s question whether the Labor Party’s policy was not simply a branch of the tax office at every pump, he said: ‘Yes, that may be regarded as so’ if 1 can paraphrase him. I can only say that if one were to apply a resources rent tax one would deter exploration and the very reverse of a conservation policy would happen. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I move:
This relates to the prescribed size of the cylinder. It is a more accurate prescription and I commend it to the Committee.
– I raise a query with respect to clause 3 which gives the interpretation of”, among other things, a prescribed cylinder’. The interpretation reads:
Prescribed cylinder’ means a gas cylinder designed to contain not more than 45 kg of liquefied petroleum gas, but does not include a gas cylinder designed with liquid draw-off for the supply of fuel to an internal combustion engine.
An internal combustion engine that is water cooled must draw off a liquid from a gas. An air cooled motor does not. Does it mean that this legislation provides that it is legal to use a cylinder by drawing off just the gas instead of the liquid?
– I am advised that that reference is not made in connection with automotive use. May I take the technical question on notice and let Senator Elstob have a further answer?
Request for amendment agreed to.
Bill agreed to, subject to a request.
Bill reported with a request; report adopted.
Sitting suspended from 6.3 to 8 p.m.
General Business taking precedence of Government Business at 8 p.m. ( Quorum formed).
Debate resumed from 28 February, on motion by Senator Rae:
1 ) That a Select Committee of the Senate be appointed to inquire into and report upon passenger fares to and from Tasmania.
That provisions relating to membership, powers and proceedings of the Committee be contained in a subsequent Resolution.
– I propose at a later stage in my speech to seek leave to alter the wording of my original motion by adding after ‘fares’ the words ‘and services’. I will speak to this proposal in a moment. It has resulted from some discussions held with others interested in this matter. It will make quite clear what is intended. The Senate, although some may dispute it at times, is constitutionally intended to be, and I believe still is, a vehicle for the exercise of what is regarded by many people as States’ rights. There is an opportunity for the States to use the Senate and the Senate committee procedures to ensure that matters which are relevant to the total nation but of particular concern to an individual State can be given consideration.
I think it is of some significance that the first suggestion for a select committee of this chamber in 1901 was a proposal for a select committee to look at the question of transport between Tasmania and Victoria. That was the very first select committee proposed in this chamber. It has not ceased in the succeeding 79 years to be a question of some significance, of some importance, to Tasmania. The fact, as one Minister in this chamber with such incredible perspicacity noted, is that Tasmania is an island surrounded by water. Tasmanians were very grateful for the fact that he had identified the true situation. We felt that at last we had made a major breakthrough. The Executive Government in Australia was beginning to realise that Tasmania was actually an island surrounded by water. That, of course, has certain consequences. One of the consequences is that one cannot drive to and from Tasmania, notwithstanding what has happened to fuel prices. The situation remains that the very largest percentage of people who travel in Australia travel by road. They travel in their own car, in a hired vehicle or with friends. That option is not available either to Tasmanians or to people who wish to visit Tasmania.
I do not think that I am being chauvinistic in relation to Tasmania when I say that many people regard it as living up to the slogan of the Tasmanian Tourist Bureau- ‘the Treasure Island’. It is a treasure from the point of view that it has a tremendous variety of extremely attractive scenery in a small area. On the generally accepted figures tourism is probably the second most important industry. The general attitude around Australia is that Tasmania has got its tourism act together fairly well. It is a major industry to the State. It is a major attraction to the 9 million people who live less than two hours’ flying time from Tasmania. In a country as large as Australia one can take an overseas trip to an island as large as Tasmania. It is 26,000 square miles in area- twice the size of Taiwan, just to give a comparison. One can fly there for a holiday which is very different. Most people say it is one of the cheapest and one of the best holidays obtainable.
– Unless you go to the casino.
- Senator Chipp mentions the casino. I will now make some comments which I would have made later. I happen to be able to say that I have no problem about the casino. I went to the casino on its opening night and played blackjack for an hour. I won $3 and I gave $1 to each of my sons as a momento of opening night. I am still $3 in front at the casino. Whilst it has been of very great importance to Tasmania I think it is a matter of personal choice whether one visits the casino. One of the interesting things is that like the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the early 1930s, like the Sydney Opera House in the 1960s, the 1970s has seen in tourism in Australia the day of the casino- the Hobart casino, the Wrest Point casino, the Tasmanian casino. Of the man made features in Australia, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and the casino in Hobart are the best known both in Australia and overseas. The interesting thing about tourism statistics in Tasmania since the casino has been advertised and has been made the focal point of a lot of promotion is that a gigantic number of tourists who come to Tasmania never go near the casino. The casino has assisted in the development of a convention centre. Importantly it has been promoted so that now it can be readily identified as Ayers Rock can be identified, as the Sydney Opera House can be identified and -
– What about the Barossa Valley?
– However it is unlike the new High Court building, which people will not be able to identify as something which will attract anybody to Canberra. My colleague Senator Jessop interjects about the Barossa Valley. There is all the difference under the sun between the two. In relation to tourism, what Tasmania has to offer is that which can be complemented but not substituted by, the product of the Barossa. Fortunately we can import. In Tasmania we are developing a new and, what is likely to develop into, a great wine industry, producing very fine European-type wines. I do not imagine that it will ever produce wine in the sort of volume that will continue to be the product of the Barossa and other parts of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, but let nobody think Tasmania does not have a wine industry and it does not produce excellent wines. Let nobody who finds it enjoyable visiting wineries as part of a tourist trip think he will not get that opportunity in Tasmania, just as he can get it in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales or, for that matter, Western Australia, which recently has developed its wine industry quite significantly.
Let me return to the matter of the select committee to which I referred earlier. That was the first select committee ever asked by this chamber to look into shipping between Tasmania and Victoria. In 1970 the Senate accepted a motion which I had moved. When freight rates started to go up and to become a very real problem, we referred to a Senate committee the matter of freight rates to and from Tasmania. It was as a result of that committee inquiry that the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme evolved. That scheme resulted from the recommendations made by that Senate committee, its identification of the justice of doing something about the situation of the one State which was bearing the burden of three aspects of Commonwealth Government policy.
The Commonwealth Government had decided that it was important to preserve a shipbuilding industry in Australia. By giving subsidy and protection to that industry, what happened was that- no doubt to the delight of my colleague Senator Jessop- Whyalla was preserved, as were other shipbuilding centres. What happened to Tasmania was that it had to pay for the cost of the most expensive ships in the world. However, that was not the main problem. The main problem was that not only were they the most expensive ships to bring anything to Tasmania but also they were manned by the most expensive seamen in the world. That, again, was a matter of Commonwealth Government policy. The ships were turned around and the freight was loaded or unloaded by the most expensive waterfront in the world. Each of those three aspects were matters of Commonwealth Government policy, decided upon in the national interest and in the interests of preserving and developing our important overseas exports.
Compromises had been made, which meant that the only State which did not have the competitive alternative of land communication had to bear the brunt of the impact of three Commonwealth Government policies causing the most expensive ships, manned by the most expensive seamen and turned around and loaded by the most expensive waterfront in the world. When people occasionally say that the freight equalisation scheme provides a nice handout, some sort of subsidy, to Tasmania I start to get cross. I start to feel sorry about the fact that those people apparently have not yet reached the stage of understanding that it is not a subsidy, it is not a handout. It is compensation for the disadvantage, for the penalty, created by other legitimate Commonwealth Government policies.
My colleague Senator Jessop, who has always taken a very great interest in Whyalla, would agree that the point becomes significant when one realises that in the first year of the operation of the freight equalisation scheme for Tasmania which resulted from the Senate committee inquiry to which I referred a payment of $22m was made under that scheme in respect of people operating to and from Tasmania, whereas in that year $38m was paid out to Whyalla in shipbuilding subsidy. Yet we still wound up with the most expensive ships in the world. I give an example of what happened. A ship was to be introduced into the Tasmanian operation and the would-be owners sought tenders. The lowest tender in Australia was $ 11.1m. That would have attracted a subsidy of over $4m from the Australian taxpayer. That same ship could have been built in Korea for $3. 9m, or in Japan for $4,5m, which meant that the amount which the Tasmanian industry had to amortise in its freight costs, instead of being in excess of $7m, could have been $3. 9m.
– Had it been built in Taiwan it probably could have been even $3m.
– It may have been less had it been built in Taiwan. The two prices I mentioned are the ones of which I am aware. What it meant was that, in order to preserve the shipbuilding industry in places such as Whyalla or Newcastle, Tasmanians- Tasmanian industry and Tasmanian people- until the introduction of the freight equalisation scheme, had been asked to bear the brunt of the subsidy which was being provided to preserve an Australian shipbuilding capacity. I do not pause to debate the question of whether that process was efficient or inefficient. I simply make the point that the freight equalisation scheme does not offer a handout, does not offer a subsidy. It provides compensation, justly deserved. Tasmania’s passenger transport is provided by two means, one by air and the other by sea ferry.
– Some travel by yacht.
- Senator Chipp interjects, legitimately and accurately, that some people travel by yacht, some even prefer to do so, when they get time.
– Some walk across the water.
- Senator Grimes interjects to say that some people walk across the water. We have not had a visit from Gough for quite some time, but I understand that at one stage he did walk to Tasmania. I understand also that, having visited Tasmania for the Bass by-election, he took the first plane out afterwards.
Tasmania has no road and no rail opportunity and whatever anybody may say, competition does provide some levelling influence in the rate at which costs may escalate. When the choice is between air and ferry fairly important decisions need to be made as to what sort of air service and what sort of ferry service is required. I put it in simple terms: Do people want a low cost cattletruck type of operation, or do they want something with all the frills and at a high cost? There is no way that frequency, regularity and high standards can be provided without the cost being paid. If we want something which is a bit akin to the charter-type operation in which the standard of service is relatively low in which the size and comfort of the accommodation is relatively spartan, we can expect that the cost will be low.
A variety of interests are involved in travel to and from Tasmania. One is the interest of Tasmanians wishing to visit other areas of Australia for their family holiday, for commercial reasons, or for whatever other reason it may be. There is also the inflow to Tasmania of very significant numbers of tourists. The questions which then arise are: What sort of services will best suit the majority view? What sort of services do people want for that relatively short distance which takes about 40 minutes in a DC9?
I see no reason at all why Tasmanians should not have a say in the decision-making process. I do not mean that they should make the decision but they should have an input into the decisionmaking process of the airlines and the Australian National Line. At present the ANL is considering what sort of substitute vessel for the Empress of Australia will be introduced in 1985 when it will go out of service. Should it be a ferny? Do people want something which is fast, which burns up a lot of fuel and in which people sit up and are, perhaps, uncomfortable. By having a fast service at least they would reach their destination reasonably quickly. Obviously, with increasing fuel prices a fast service will be expensive. Do people want a sea trip which they can enjoy? I am sure that my colleague, Senator Bonner, would love the chance of a sea trip in a nice cabin.
– He could see the tranquil seas of Bass Strait.
– As Senator Jessop says, he could see the tranquil seas of Bass Strait. At times they are tranquil but, unfortunately, not always.
– You have the chance to get this committee and it looks as though you are going to sink it.
– Over the next 20 years decisions have to be taken about what type of aircraft and services can meet the needs. Decisions have to be taken in the next year about what type of ship will be provided as a substitute for the Empress of Australia. I believe that the ANL, notwithstanding the fact that it is a statutory authority, has done a tremendous job for Tasmania. It has been much maligned.
– It is one of those qangos.
– It is another qango but it has done an excellent job. 1 have every confidence that in planning a replacement for the Empress of Australia it will apply itself as assiduously as it can to the needs of such a service. But I am sure that it would be helped by the sort of consideration which a Senate committee, obtaining evidence from submissions and public hearings, could provide. I see the creation of this committee as the opportunity for Tasmania to put its act together in relation to one of its two major needs. One of them is that its commercial life line through freight services must be preserved. The second is that it must have personal transport communication. It is important that there should be an input from the people who are involved, whether it be the tourist industry, a group of pensioners or a major industry. They should provide some input in the consideration of what sorts of services can best meet Tasmania ‘s needs.
Questions which have to be answered concern the relativity of a provision which involves, directly or indirectly, Commonwealth expenditure, the investment in air and sea services, the problem of the cost-time relationship, the problem of frequency and, certainty as opposed to a lower cost, whether we should adopt a cattle truck approach, a super service approach or something in between. Of all the issues which have involved people in Tasmania in comment in the past couple of years, this would be the most common one. It would have taken up as much as or more space than any other issue in the Tasmanian newspapers. It would have taken up as much air time. I am sure that Senator Tate or Senator Grimes would agree that on every talk-back radio program, almost without fail someone will talk about the issues which are encompassed in the motion before the Senate tonight. In no way does it involve a conflict with the national air fares inquiry which has been set up by the Minister for Transport, Mr Hunt, to look at air fares. It relates to what services are appropriate to the one State to which considerations apply different from those which apply to the rest of the States. I have not moved the motion with a view to imposing any service or cost on the rest of Australia. I wish to use the vehicle of a Senate committee to gather evidence to provide an input to those who eventually will make the decisions in relation to the provision of those services.
I hope the Committee will be able to be involved in other things of some relevance such as the development of international links. The proposed link between Hobart and Christchurch in New Zealand is a matter which has been pursued for five years by various people in Tasmania to the stage where an early announcement is expected. There are various direct interstate links which avoid the extra cost of the flag fall rate. As we all know whenever an aircraft lands, turns around and takes off again a tremendous extra cost is imposed over and above the cost the aircraft would have incurred had it been able to fly directly from A to B instead of stopping off at C on the way. Such direct services as the Tasmania to Coolangatta service, the Tasmania to Sydney service and the Tasmania to Adelaide service which was tried for a little while last year have all proved beneficial and have reduced costs. These are services which we can explore usefully to find out to what extent they can be developed, how many services are required, what the demand will be and what savings there will be.
Many questions are involved. I certainly do not want to do what Senator Georges suggested I might be doing. I trust that the Senate will support the establishment of a small select committee, to use the select committee procedure, to enable Tasmanians to find out what is the majority view about what will best serve Tasmania’s interest as a State of the Commonwealth in linking it with the remainder of the Commonwealth. The Committee should be able to present a report which can identify to government, to the ANL and to the airlines what questions have been brought out as a result of a public inquiry using what I believe is one of the most important mechanisms available to any of us as members of this chamber, that is, the Senate committee system. I hope the Senate will support the idea. I seek leave to amend the motion in the manner which I foreshadowed earlier.
– The effect of the alteration is to add after the word ‘fares’ the words ‘and services’. As I understand it, others who are interested in the matter have agreed that the addition of those words has helped to make quite clear what the inquiry should be all about.
– I rise to support very briefly the proposal put forward by Senator Rae. I do so with some misgivings despite my belief that the Senate committee system is worthwhile and can produce useful results. It is a pity that we have not developed in Australia such organisations as airline consumer participation committees as exist in the United States, for example. Such a committee had the most dramatic impact in the pressure it put on the Government which eventually banned the flights of the DC 10s after their unfortunate run of accidents. There is no such body of consumers using transport services in Australia which could feed into government the views of consumers as to pricing, frequency, quality of services and so on. I would hope that out of this inquiry might come some proposals or ideas as to how such consumer participation might be stimulated. In the absence of such bodies, I believe that it is appropriate that a Senate select committee does inquire into and report on problems facing Tasmania in the field of air and sea transport, regarding both passengers and freight, because the two are inextricably linked, even in the one ship movement. As I will point out later, that has an effect on pricing and quality of service.
It is amazing that an island with a population of a mere 400,000 people is nevertheless so travel conscious and so attractive to mainland and overseas tourists that there are over a million movements of people into and out of Tasmania each year- some 1 12,000 of whom come by sea, on the Empress of Tasmania. There is a very high proportion of movements in and out of Tasmania per head of population. It has a tremendous impact on the social, commercial and economic life of that community. For that reason certainly I would welcome some expression of concern by this Senate in a practical, concrete way such as would be evidenced by an inquiry into a matter which is of great moment in Tasmania and which is causing a great deal of worry right throughout the community and in a bipartisan way.
I recall that when the Federal Cabinet met in Hobart in early October of 1979 a Tasmanian case for a new deal on air fares was presented by the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition, and by Tasmanian civic and business leaders. They put forward a 13 -page Government submission on Tasmanian transport problems. The proposals included a relaxation of the two-airline policy and that a third operator be permitted to engage seriously in the Tasmanian airline trade. I think that shows that Tasmanians feel that they have a common interest in achieving improved services by way of sea and air transport to the mainland, and then overseas. In early February we had the situation where, as a result of the Government’s fuel parity pricing policy, a tremendous increase in the cost of air fares to Tasmania was imposed on the Tasmanian community. In that first week of February, a massive 9.5 per cent increase in air fares was announced whereas in the same week air fares to Western Australia went up by only 1.7 per cent. Therefore, one can understand the misgivings and questions within the Tasmanian community which led all sides of politics to condemn that situation as being evidence of a crazy system which needed review. An improvement in respect of fares was required.
Senator Rae said that there will be instances -he referred historically to the case of shipping services to Tasmania- where Commonwealth Government policy, legitimate in other aspects, might have an adverse effect on a specific part of the Commonwealth- in this case, Tasmania. Where a Commonwealth policy such as the fuel pricing policy does have such a dramatic effect by way of curtailing possible use of the transport system to the mainland, by Tasmanians or by those on the mainland wishing to visit Tasmania- sea and air being the only means of getting to Tasmania- it is only fair that the Commonwealth should establish a mechanism whereby it can review the situation. Proposals might emerge which will help to balance the effect of singling out the island State with a particularly adverse result flowing from perhaps an otherwise legitimate policy.
I will not go over the examples cited by Senator Rae, except to mention a matter of concern to me, as the north-west coast senator, which is the fact that the fast ferry service that we thought might replace the Empress of Tasmania seems to have been definitely decided against by the Australian National Line. As honouable senators know, over the last year there has been considerable discussion as to whether even a jetfoil or a semi-submersible catamaran might be used in a service across Bass Strait, completing a round voyage every 24 hours. These ideas had their attractions as recently as 18 months or two years ago. But, with the fuel pricing situation as it is, both those services in feasibility studies have proved to be quite uneconomic. We are now in a situation where the Chairman of the Australian Shipping Commission, Mr N. G. Jenner, has announced that a super-fast passenger service across Bass Strait, in reasonable comfort and with sleeping accommodation, for example, as a possible option, has been negatived. The new ship will be built and used for the rapid transport of freight; passengers would be almost an extra, sitting in deck chairs- presumably under cover- or aircraft-type chairs as an addition to the major purpose of the vessel, which would be to transport freight across Bass Strait.
– Who negatived that proposal?
– As I understand it, that was done by the Australian Shipping Commission in an announcement by Mr Jenner on about February 11 1980. He said:
Interestingly enough, he predicted also that the replacement for the Empress would be an oil burner because coal for ships on a rapid shuttle run is impracticable. It is clear that the cost of fuel has determined that decision which is of great concern to the tourist industry in Tasmania and especially within my home port of Devonport. It may be that the arguments put forward by Mr Jenner are logical, but they are arguments that Tasmanians will find hard to accept having had the luxury- perhaps it was a luxury, over the years- of three passenger ferries. We now look like having a freight service with deck chairs to carry a few passengers as something of an afterthought.
I feel that the proposed Senate Committee can achieve a good end. It would have been preferable had long term machinery been available to review this type of problem which has been well delineated by Senator Rae. The 1975 Inter-State Commission Act, which was an Act of the former Labor Government- the Inter-State Commission has laid with potential since the Constitution set out its possibilities in 1 90 1 -provides that an Inter-State Commission could be established and that would initiate investigations into the provision of transport services throughout Australia. In effect, it would constitute an on-going royal commission. With this authority derived from the Constitution, I believe such an inter-State commission would have the ability to coordinate and oversight the provision of transport services and, for that matter, interstate freight services.
If I have any misgivings about this committee, it is that it will be another ad hoc committee inquiring into a problem and therefore will lack that comprehensive national view that should be the mark of any coherent transport policy view that should be the mark of any coherent transport policy appropriate to Australia’s needs, including all parts of the Federation and taking particular note of those communities with peculiar difficulties and geographical locations, like Tasmania. Given the absence of consumer participation committees and an on-going authority such as an interstate commission, I believe that a Senate select committee can work well and can report to this Parliament in a way which will be helpful in the formulation of policy from the points of view perhaps of both the Federal and State governments. For that reason I support the proposal.
– The Australian Democrats commend Senator Rae and absolutely support his proposition that a Senate select committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon passenger fares and services to and from Tasmania. I want to comment on the magic of how this item came out of the blue from being listed under General Business as Order of the Day No. 23 1 to top the list. I will not go into the intricacies of the motion moved by Senator Rae. I have no criticism of him. I think he showed extraordinary courage in placing this item on the Notice Paper before he had Government approval for it to be adopted. Clearly the fact that he has been able to use a mechanical device to have his motion moved to the top of the Notice
Paper for debate tonight indicates the Government will accept his proposition and agree to the appointment of a select committee.
Let us examine the position. It is rather an unusual step for a government to appoint a select committee of the Senate to inquire into fares and services connected with one State. Almost every honourable senator could point to particular and peculiar problems of transport pertaining to his own State; but Senator Rae, through rather cavalier action which I admire, made the Government an offer that it could not refuse. Therefore, he has been able to bring his item to the top of the Notice Paper. I commend him for that. We totally support the motion.
– It would not have been done without the co-operation of the Opposition.
– Again, with great respect, it was a ‘Don Corleone’ offer. If the honourable senator has read the Godfather, he will know what I mean. It was an offer the Opposition could not refuse either.
– He is a member of the family.
– The honourable senator is confusing nationalities. I did not know that the Mafia had its origins in ancient Greece, to which Senator Georges owes his inheritance.
– May I interject and say that I am delighted to have the co-operation of all sides of the chamber?
– I am sure the honourable senator is delighted. More particularly- let us be realists- the honourable senator is grateful to have the co-operation of the Government in accepting his motion, which means that his proposal will be passed.
I am disappointed that Senator Rae did not proceed with Notice of Motion No. 1 standing in his name, which he has postponed twice. I commend him again for that motion, which generally speaking states the view that the Senate is of the opinion that honourable senators should no longer hold office as Ministers of state. The Australian Democrats, since their inception, have believed that the introduction of that proposal would be a major breakthrough in the rigidity of party discipline in the Senate- the House of Review, the States’ House. Once every back bencher in the Senate has been deprived of the possibility of one day becoming a Minister and therefore exercising discipline over back bench members the way will be open for more conscience votes and more votes according to the relevance and substance of the issues rather than votes following the rigidity of party lines. I wish Senator Rae luck in getting the Government to give him the nod to proceed with Notice of Motion No. 1. 1 guarantee him the total support of the Australian Democrats if he is so lucky or persuasive.
I support the motion and I am pleased that the Labor Party is supporting it. As senators we travel to the various States of this nation. A Victorian who goes to Queensland notices, despite the rather peculiar type of football played, the feeling of Queenslanders that there is a difference between them and southerners. The word ‘southerners’ is said sometimes with a friendly hiss, but a hiss notwithstanding. If a person from Victoria goes to Western Australia he is regarded as an easterner. The teeth are clenched even a little tighter when ‘easterner’ is said in Western Australia. There are these natural divisions between various States. There is the natural rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne and so on.
Having travelled this nation as all honourable senators have done, I believe that there is something special about Tasmanians feeling different from the ‘mainlanders’, which is the word used in Tasmania. I think that Tasmanians are justified in their feelings. The division of water penalises them. Successive governments, both Labor and Liberal, have made gestures from time to time to allay these differences and difficulties but it has been done rather with tongue in cheek. Senator Rae gave the excellent example of the ship that was built at Whyalla. He mentioned the tongue in cheek gesture from the Federal Government to the Tasmanians. The Federal Government said: ‘Look, we, the Federal Government, have subsidised the building of the ship for $3m or whatever. Therefore you should be grateful’. But the Government was forgetting that the cost of the ship was still twice that of a similar ship from Taiwan. The Tasmanians essentially have to bear the burden of the amortisation of that double cost into perpetuity.
The Australian Democrats believe that Tasmanians have a special problem. We are amazed that Senate Rae has got away with murder in getting the Government to agree to the appointment of a select committee.
– The map of Tasmania is very intriguing.
– Yes, it is. It has sometimes been likened to my face. I totally agree. I wonder about the airline policy. A disturbing aspect concerning airline policy seems to be developing lately. I do not know whether Mr Hunt in his new portfolio or the accession to the Ansett throne of Mr Murdoch and Sir Peter Abeles or a combination of those factors has led to the new exciting development of competition between our two airlines. I compliment everybody concerned. I hope the competition will continue. Coincidentally, I have noticed in this chamber and in the other place an unfortunate polarisation of attitudes in the two major political parties in this country. There seems now to be a greater tendency by the Labor Party to champion TransAustralia Airlines and to denigrate Ansett Airlines of Australia or to champion Qantas Airways Ltd and to denigrate private enterprise. It is a slight difference in emphasis. On the other side the Liberal Party and the National Country Party members have been championing Ansett more and more. In their eyes, Ansett can do no wrong any more, and so on.
– I do not think you should generalise about that.
– I am generalising. If I am doing so at the expense of accuracy I apologise, but surely I am entitled to give a general impression of the way that the two political parties are polarising over what I believe to be a very healthy development of real competition between government-owned enterprise and private enterprise in the airline industry for the first time in many years. Let us all be critical as the war develops. As a free enterprise person I believe the more competition the better, provided that the war of competition is allowed to be free on both sides.
I am sorry that Senator Rae did not mention one matter. I am sure that he would agree with me that in the past the two-airline policy has been kept so much under the thumb of the Government that the Bizjet operation, for example, was scandalously allowed to fall into bankruptcy and liquidation. This happened under a so-called free-enterprise government. A small Aussie battler, a fellow called Walker, started Bizjets.
- Senator Grimes can scoff. Let him justify to his voters in northern Tasmania the Bizjets affair. Bizjets arranged flights to north and north-western Tasmania at something like half the cost of Ansett and TAA flights. In the good old days Ansett and TAA did a deal together and temporarily undercut Bizjets to such an extent that it went out of business. As soon as Bizjets went out of business the fares returned to the inflated level.
– They are not the facts.
-I will be grateful, when Senator Grimes speaks, to be informed of the facts. The north and north-western Tasmania venture of Bizjets was not the first time that Ansett and TAA screwed a private enterprise airline to stop it from operating flights to other places in Tasmania. I thought that I might have had the support of Senator Grimes in opposing that sort of collusion between the duopoly that existed. I hope that that situation is now over. We hope that something like Gordon Barton’s Tiger Line proposal which provides for fast transport, fast automated ships, to and from Tasmania might be extended from transporting just cargo to transporting passengers. I commend Senator Rae for initiating this proposal and Senator Tate for supporting it. I hope that the select committee appointed by this Senate will be able to go into great depth and will investigate the new horizons that have suddenly appeared because of the virtual breaking of this infamous two-airline policy that has strangled intercourse between Tasmania and the mainland for so many years.
– I support the amended motion moved by Senator Rae for all the reasons he gave and others. Transport has been one of Tasmania ‘s big problems, if not its biggest problem, since 1901 when, in fact, the first Senate select committee was mooted to investigate the transport problems of Tasmania. For Senator Chipp ‘s information, I think since then there have been five Senate committee investigations of Tasmania’s transport problems. There is nothing unique about this proposal. Despite those five committees, transport -
– The last one was some time ago, wasn’t it?
-Not that long ago. Senator Rae was on it.
-It was 1 970.
– Yes. Despite all these committees and investigations, transport still remains one of Tasmania’s biggest problems. It certainly has been since I had the good sense to go to live there. One can only echo the words of Senator Tate, that it would have been much better in this country if the interstate commission, as is provided for in the Constitution, had been established and had been continuously monitoring the transport problems which face Tasmania and the other States. I remind honourable senators that the establishment of the interstate commission, last time there was an attempt to revive it, was rejected by this so-called States House. Senator Rae has pointed out the main thing that we can expect from a select committee like the one proposed. If established, this committee could get the facts together; it could get the problems clearly delineated and, as much as possible, could set down some of the solutions to those problems so that the government of the day could look at how to overcome the very real problems that face Tasmania. There are problems not only as far as passengers fares are concerned, but also for Senator Rae, Senator O ‘Byrne, other Tasmanians and me in getting backwards and forwards. Difficulty with services occur and services are sometimes manipulated for people to get to and from Tasmania.
Senator Rae summed it up very well when he said that this committee will result in Tasmania getting its act together to get a better transport deal and solutions to our transport problems. In getting our act together, I am sure Senator Rae will agree, we may come up with some answers which may not be very agreeable to some people in Tasmania. Senator Rae and I can safely say that if a Senate select committee dealing with sea transport to Tasmania were set up it would come up with solutions, as other committees of inquiry into that sort of transport into Tasmania have come up with, which would not be approved of by Senator Tate, who comes from Devonport, or Senator Townley and Senator Wriedt, who come from Hobart. I believe one of our very real problems is a multiplicity of ports. That is one aspect of Tasmania’s transport.
I hope that the Senate select committee will not forget that Tasmania consists of three large islands which have a substantial number of inhabitants. There are many more islands with a few people on them. The problems of the people of King Island and Flinders Island in getting to and from Tasmania and to and from the mainland are real and of very great concern to them.
– Thank you for mentioning that. In no way did I suggest that they should be disadvantaged.
-I did not think that for a minute. We must realise that these people have difficulties that are sometimes not shared by the rest of the people on mainland Tasmania. I view with concern what has happened, despite the socalled increased competition between Ansett Airlines of Australia and Trans-Australia Airlines. Senator Chipp mentioned the fact that the large airlines sometimes get together and screw the small airlines. One suggests that a development which may occur on King Island may be the result of one large airline screwing one or two small airlines. I have reason to believe- I am sure others have reason to believe- that Ansett intends to pull out of its King Island-Melbourne services and is attempting to ensure that its licence is transferred not to one of the airlines which is flying to and from Tasmania and has experience in that area but to another airline with which it is closely associated which operates in New South Wales, Victoria and some parts of South Australia. That is the sort of thing that I think this Senate select committee could look at to get at the facts to see whether we cannot get proper solutions to that sort of problem which arises where a large company -
– Can you name that airline?
-No, I would rather not at the moment. A large company is involved. It has always said that it would continue its service on King Island but if it found itself in difficulties and could not continue that service it would consult with the people of King Island before it left as to what sort of substitute they should have. The sort of committee that Senator Rae is talking about could look at the rights and wrongs of the sorts of problems that Senator Chipp said occurred with Bizjets. Senator Chipp, I am sure, has reason to say what he did. We know that Bizjets did fly a service to and from north-western Tasmania. We know that the fares were cheaper. We know that TAA and Ansett, by cosy agreement, kept their fares down while Bizjets was operating. But even while Bizjets had its fares considerably lower than Ansett and TAA fares it had difficulty filling its planes and in keeping its flights up. People were not flying on its planes and for very good reasons. I suggest that it was not just a matter of an enterprising little Aussie battler, as Senator Chipp stated, setting up a service and then being crucified by the large airlines. If he is really proclaiming the rights of free enterprise, to claim in this place that governments should support such enterprises with subsidies is not advocating free enterprise or free competition.
We have many problems to look at. We have many answers to get. I merely give the warning, without trying to be a Jeremiah, that some of the answers which we get may not suit all people in Tasmania. Some of the answers we get may not be the answers that we expect, and some may result in even this Senate select committee recommending the sort of trans-Bass Strait ferry that Senator Tate is so worried about. It may not, of course, but it may. When we have our report and consider it we will have to consider some unpalatable facts as well as some palatable ones. We will have to consider some solutions which some of us may have some political difficulties with, but, by the same token, if the committee does its job, as Senate committees have done in the past, it will not shirk this sort of thing. It can only do us all good in Tasmania. In fact it can only do us all good to look in a dispassionate way at the transport problems of outlying areas of Australia generally. By looking at the problems that face Tasmania, perhaps we can transfer some of the solutions to those areas. For that reason, I certainly support the establishment of the committee.
– I enter this debate to express very strong concern at what I would almost call a gigantic conspiracy tonight by which this agenda was juggled. Senator Chipp hesitated on the brink. I thought he was going to say more, but he drew back. The facts are that I submitted an itemitem 100- as far back as August last year in which I asked for a Senate select committee to look at two aspects of our immigration policy, the Numerical Multifactor Assessment System and our capacity to take in, and method of taking in, refugees. I am not embarking on an attack on the Minister for Social Security (Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle) because I think she confirmed today, when she gave me an answer about one seminar on refugees, that nobody worried whether parliamentarians should have been there to evaluate some of the drivel that is produced by the seminars.
I am concerned about principle. I do not object to Senator Rae’s justification for seeking a Senate select committee, but I know another item was sponsored by Senator Mason about having a good look at our capacity in relation to civil defence in case of some unexpected act of hostility from an agressive power. That also has a lot of merit. I resent very much the peculiar way in which this came about. The point I make is this: Twice I have raised the matter in this chamber with Senator Carrick, and he has said: We have to look at all these things’. I think common courtesy demanded that Senator Mason of the Australian Democrats, and at least I, as a mover of the motion to which I referred, should have been informed by the Whips of the parties and Senator Carrick. They should have put their cards on the table and told us where we were. Of recent years I have not been as difficult on the adjournment as I have been, but I think I am quite capable of exceeding Senator McLaren at his best if people want this difficult situation. I have studied a lot; there are all sorts of lurks which we have not perpetrated here but which did occur in the House of Commons from about 1900 to 1910. I am quite capable of adapting those tactics because I believe this was a pretty cheap trick tonight.
Obviously, I would not have been able to veto what the Government wanted, but it is not as though I complained about it only tonight. I put it squarely to Senator Carrick some weeks ago; I could see a collision course coming. I was not ridiculing the laudable target that Senator Rae has in mind or the one that Senator Mason has in mind. I warned the Government and asked what priority it was going to accord to those matters. In any sensible chamber, if a debate is started, it should be finished. It has not been done in this way, and we bleat and talk about a House of review. Some of the assertions that were made by Senator Archer and me last night when talking about textiles probably would have been tested if there had been a select committee into certain facets of immigration.
– May I say that, as you will see shortly, I have had to forgo another matter which is at the top of the list to get this matter on.
-I still think this bargaining in the market place demeans the Senate. It is something which we should not have. If we are going to talk about collective bargaining, I would like somebody to tell me what is being offered to placate me. Senator Poyser used to say: ‘You will keep’. I know that is a Victorian approach, and New South Wales people are of a different breed. I feel- I mean this-that between now and when the session finishes I will be looking anxiously to see what Senator Carrick is prepared to do to placate me. If he does not do anything, he will find my illustrious South Australian colleague Senator McLaren and I engaged in guerrilla warfare with the Government.
- Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. When the motion is carried, do we not need to proceed to the actual appointment of the committee or is that already covered under the motion moved by Senator Rae?
– It was part of the motion.
– It was part of the motion, but it was not read out.
Senator RAE (Tasmania)- by leave- The wording of the second part of the motion is that the provisions relating to membership, powers and proceedings of the committee be contained in the subsequent resolution. That subsequent resolution will be put to the interested people, will, I hope, be able to be worked out, will be put to the Senate and agreed to. I hope that will happen during the next week of sitting so that it does not take any time but will simply be a procedural matter.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
– As foreshadowed by interjection during Senator Mulvihill ‘s speech, I move:
I emphasise ‘standing in my name’.
– I express my concern that this is the third occasion on which this motion of Senator Rae’s has been postponed until the next day of sitting. I had a General Business motion several weeks ago and, because of the action of the Minister for Special Trade Representations, Senator Scott, in filibustering, a vote was not taken on it. It is now about No. 260 on the Notice Paper. Twice before Senator Rae did not proceed with this item of General Business. Tonight he is postponing it again, and it is going to remain No. 1 on the business sheet. I do not think that is fair. I support my colleague Senator Mulvihill in his protesting against this action. The forms of the House have been used and the members on this side are not given the opportunity to bring their matters before the Senate. Honourable senators on the other side of the House should not be allowed to get away with this. I am not saying that Senator Rae is not within the Standing Orders in doing this. This item should suffer the same fate as the other items of General Business which members have not been prepared to proceed with. It should go further down the Notice Paper. I lodge my protest about the way in which the forms of the House are being used by Senator Rae to keep his motion at the head of the business paper. Even yesterday, nobody knew it was coming on. Certainly nobody on this side knew, or I would have protested when he moved for the suspension of the Standing Orders to allow it to happen.
– Well, I moved the motion this afternoon and nobody objected to it.
-Yes, I know you did, but you did not tell us you were going to do it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
I wish to speak briefly to my motion because since 19 February, when I placed this motion on the Notice Paper, I have spoken in this place twice at moderate length on this subject. I understand that other honourable senators are anxious to speak on this subject, and I have no reason to delay the Senate. The seriousness of the problem to which this motion refers could have been demonstrated nowhere better than during the Anzac Day march held in Sydney last Anzac Day. Ex-servicemen from Vietnam who, like other ex-servicemen consider Anzac Day a very serious if not sacred day and consider the march a very serious occasion, took the opportunity to protest at the lack of government action and government concern about the effect of defoliants used in Vietnam by wearing pieces of orange ribbon on their uniforms together with their decorations. I think this action was unprecedented on the part of ex-servicemen. It demonstrated how seriously they consider the dangers to which they have been exposed from the use of agent orange in Vietnam. It demonstrated how they consider that they have not had a fair go in this country- and ex-servicemen in the United States of America also think this- in pushing their claims to have proper investigation and compensation for having used agent orange and other defoliants in that unfortunate conflict.
In this situation a number of ex-servicemen are suffering uncertainty and, in fact, fear about what has happened to them, what may happen to their offsprings and what may happen to them in the future. Well they might worry. The use of defoliants in Vietnam, particularly the use of agent orange and one of its constituents, 2,4,5-T, as well as its contaminant, dioxin, must raise many concerns in the minds of all of us. Agent orange was used to defoliate forests to make warfare easier, to destroy crops and therefore to deprive the Vietcong of food, as well as to deprive villagers of food so they would be forced to go from the villages in which they were living to South Vietnamese Government-controlled villages. In that way they would come more under the control of the Government in the south.
As I have said before in this place, the use of defoliants was condemned at the time by scientists from the United States National Academy of Sciences and other responsible scientists in the United States. The dangers of these substances had been known since they were first produced in the United States in the 1940s. There had been serious accidents in Italy, Britain, West Germany, in various States of America and in Belgium at factories where these substances were produced. They were developed in the United States as a biological weapon. All in all there is a long and sad history of the use of these substances. In fact there is a very large volume of literature about the dangers of dioxin and dioxin-like substances- their dangers in cases of acute poisoning, their dangers in causing damages to the foetus and their dangers in causing long term illnesses, particularly skin and liver diseases, from chronic exposure. So we have a situation where these ex-servicemen might well be afraid and worried about what has happened. Their fear has not been relieved by the attitude of the Government and the authorities in this country or in the United States to their expressions of concern. In fact, when it was first noted that there may be some long term effects of agent orange and perhaps other defoliants, the first response of the government in this country was that, in fact, agent orange was not used by the Australian armed forces in Vietnam.
– That is always the first response.
– As Senator Walsh says, that is always the first response. It was obviously a wrong response. There is ample evidence from Australian servicemen using defoliants in Vietnam. There is obvious evidence that, in fact, agent orange was used. Certainly there is the admission of the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) that other defoliants of a similar type, in fact, were used. Quite apart from that, the Americans used defoliants- agent orange in particular- in enormous quantities, far beyond the concentrations and quantities used for agricultural purposes in this and other countries, and in Vietnam. Of course, our servicemen were in Vietnam.
Some evidence produced by a professor of medicine in Vietnam is now coming out of Vietnam. This evidence seems to be confirmed by Swedish medical teams who have been to Vietnam. The evidence shows that there are very serious effects on children born to those who were subjected to spraying by defoliants in Vietnam. It seems that the effects may be very, very tragic in the long term and may carry on through generations if, in fact, this substance affects chromosomes, forms chromosome breaks and damages genes. Unfortunately, the response in this country has not been to look at the evidence. That response is to be found in articles appearing in various newspapers which should know better. The articles come from people such as Mr Santamaria who always claims to be fair-minded and who claims that he takes a fair-minded approach. In fact, questions asked and answers given in this place and in another place have attempted merely to use a political weapon to denigrate the gentleman concerned in Vietnam. They suggest that, in fact, he is indulging in political propaganda and cannot be trusted. As far as 1 know, no attempt has been made by this country or the United States actually to look at the evidence he is producing and to look at the facts.
This motion tries to set up a situation whereby these ex-servicemen can be treated fairly, can be seen to be treated fairly and can be relieved of some of the anxieties which they feel. I think to do this we should ask the Government to have a full review not only of how the defoliants were used in Vietnam, who used them and how they may have been affected by their use but also, in fact, of all aspects of the advice that has been given to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann), the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Health (Mr MacKellar) on this subject. It should consider the advice which produced answers such as the one Mr Killen gave in which he claimed that agent orange was not used by Australian servicemen in Vietnam. He tried to make light of the very real fears and worries of these ex-servicemen, these members of the Vietnam Veterans’ Action Association.
It is not good enough that people who served their country in a war, particularly a war as unpleasant as the one in Vietnam, who come forward with very real fears and worries about their future and the future of their children should be subjected to the sorts of flippant answers which Mr Killen in particular produced in another place. It is not fair, it lacks any sense of justice and it certainly shows, to my mind, considerable ingratitude to people who were sent to fight in a war, no matter what one thinks of how we got involved in that war and whether we should have been involved in it.
The Government should give, as the motion states, ‘a clear and unequivocal assurance’ that servicemen who were affected or who may have been affected- and who therefore should receive the benefit of the doubt, as the Repatriation Act allegedly gives ex-servicemen the benefit of the doubt- will be compensated and will get adequate treatment. While investigations are being made into whether their children or wives have been affected, if necessary the repatriation legislation or the regulations should be altered to allow their wives and children to be treated under the repatriation system in this country. There has been, I believe, so much deliberate confusion, so much evasion of questions, and so much work remains to be done- that work must be added to the investigations which have already been done in the United States and other places- that we believe to allay the fears of and to give the appearance of justice being done to these veterans an independent inquiry should be conducted into the extent and range of disabilities which were incurred by Vietnam veterans and their dependants and the known effects and possible effects of the continued use of these defoliants in Australia. 1 am not one of those people who believe that we should use no herbicides or pesticides. I certainly am not one of those who believes that the use of herbicides and pesticides in the world in the last 30 or 40 years has resulted in only ill to mankind. I am certain that mankind has gained considerable benefit from their use. But we are far more knowledgeable now than we were in the past about the possible dangers, and we are far more knowledgeable about how we can avoid some of these dangers in the future. It would be suitable that such an inquiry, while looking at the problems suffered by Vietnam veterans, may look at the way in which such a problem in the future may be avoided. The question may well be asked: Why should we have a judicial inquiry? The problems which have been faced by the Vietnam veterans have been so compounded by the evasions and the attempts to push their fears under the carpet in the past that I believe only an independent inquiry will satisfy them and give the appearance of justice both to them and to the rest of the community. I believe it is not sufficient to appoint just a government inquiry to look at the statistical evidence which is available, although I do not disagree with that. I believe that that should be part of the evidence to an independent inquiry. I believe that an independent inquiry is essential to make sure that the ex-servicemen realise that they have been treated fairly. The best independent inquiry, I suggest, should be a judicial inquiry whereby a judge can weigh up the evidence from all sons of sources- from the veterans themselves, from scientists working in the area, from the companies that produced the defoliants and herbicides that were involved- with assistance, as judges do in such inquiries, from experts in the area who will advise the judge and assist him in interpreting that evidence. It is for the reason that justice is not only done but also seen to be done that I have moved that a judicial inquiry should be held.
There is one final reason why I believe a judicial inquiry is necessary. When we are dealing with the matter of the various defoliants produced by the companies around the world, we are dealing with very powerful, influential and ruthless businesses and economic influences. When the environmental protection authorities in the United States tried to make inquiries into the dangers of the production of these substances and tried to put safety restrictions on their production, the experience was that these large companies- Du Pont and others- used all their political and financial influence and then used the courts to the extreme, even to the extent of going to the Supreme Court of the United States, the purpose being continuously to delay and to obstruct people who were trying, through the environmental protection agencies, to ensure that their communities, their wives and children in the region of these manufacturing units were safe. Small citizen groups with little funds battled their way through the environmental protection agencies and through the courts and were continually obstructed while they tried to get justice for themselves and sought to render their communities safe. In our system the best way to ensure that an inquiry is fair and, as much as possible, taken away from these influences, is to have a judicial inquiry. That is why I have moved that we have a judicial inquiry into this matter.
The situation is serious. Tonight I have not listed any cases that have been brought to my attention. I am sure other honourable senators will mention similar cases. I have not listed the long suspected side effects of these substances; I have in the past. I have not listed the long series- I think, some 23- very serious accidents which have occurred involving the use of these substances. The evidence of the Vietnam Veterans’ Action Association, the evidence which I am sure will be presented here tonight by other honourable senators, and the run-around that these people have been given, reducing them to a state of fear and uncertainty warrant that this Senate should express to the Government its belief that we set up an independent inquiry, that we compensate the ex-servicemen and their families, and that we look at how these substances came to be used and how the Ministers in this Government came to give such misleading answers to questions on this subject in another place.
– I enter this debate and take as my starting point the aspect on which Senator Grimes concluded. In common with many other people in Australia, and especially the Vietnam veterans and their families who were affected by these defoliants, I was appalled by the attitude that the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann) and the Government took earlier this year when this matter first hit the headlines in Australia. I suggest that it was not the first time that the Minister or his Department had heard of agent orange or its effect because by that time some of these veterans had spent two years trying to attract the attention of the Minister and his Department to the very real problems they have and to the very real evidence that exists to show the connection with the service that they carried out in Vietnam for Australia.
In January-February, when this matter was first raised in desperation by Vietnam veteransthey could not attract the attention of the Government when they first went to the Pressthe reaction of the Government and the Minister was that the stories were not so; their claims were not true. They said that the Vietnam veterans were not being affected by anything like herbicides, that we had not used herbicides in Vietnam and Australians had not been affected. As the weeks went by and in late February and March Parliament was back in session, we had involved not only the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs but also the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen). The Minister for Defence, with his colleague the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, continually maintained in the Parliament that Australians had not used agent orange, toxic herbicides, and therefore were not affected by the material. Mr Adermann reaffirmed several times in the Parliament that this was so. He changed his ideas a little to affirm that he was aware that agent orange had been used in Vietnam but that that was not a toxic herbicide and so the soldiers in Vietnam could not possibly have been affected. A transcript of a PM broadcast on the Australian Broadcasting Commission records that Mr Adermann said that so far as he was aware agent orange was not used by Australian troops although other toxic herbicides were used. He went on to spell out that herbicides were used by the Army to keep foliage back from the perimeter fence of the base at Nui Dat. The Air Force used them from helicopters for the localised destruction of small rice crops adjacent to Viet Cong base camps. He claimed that there was no secrecy about that at all. He went on to say that the chemicals used were commercial grade herbicides widely employed in agriculture and for domestic purposes throughout Australia and, indeed, the world. He said they were standard commercial grade herbicides which were available in Australia and which in fact were purchased in Australia from commercial sources.
I do not know what the people were more appalled at- the ignorance of the Minister in that he did not know what was being used by the Army in Vietnam or his assertion that the material that was used was material used for domestic purposes throughout Australia and the world; that indeed it was standard material that was bought as commercial grade herbicides purchased from commercial sources in Australia. By that time even the most ordinary person knew that many herbicides were extraordinarily dangerous products and that many contained contaminants which, if not kept under control, could cause death, cancer or severe illness. Many of us know by that time that the herbicides that had been used in Vietnam were herbicides that had been deliberately made more dangerous than we thought the commercial herbicides available in Australia were. We were faced first of all with a government that said: ‘It was not used. We do not know. We were not there. We had nothing to do with it’. Then we were told that the dangerous substance that could cause the illness that people were complaining about was a substance that was bought in Australia. We were faced with a Minister who apparently did not have the faintest idea what the Army had used. One was forced to wonder whether he even know what the Army was doing at that time or what it might plan to do if it went into another conflict.
Of course, as those statements were made, and because many people were caught up in the Vietnam war, people began to come forward to show that story was nonsense; that the Minister did not know what he was talking about. Veteran after veteran and servicemen after servicemen came forward to give evidence showing quite conclusively that Australia had sprayed the material, that Australian helicopters had been used to spray the material, that Australian servicemen had sprayed it and that Australian servicemen had been drenched with the material by their own helicopters, by their own forces, and by the forces of the United States of America.
We reached the point where Mr Killen finally tabled documents relating to the use of herbicides around Nui Dat. Those documents showed that in 1968 the people using this material had been badly affected by the heavy use of herbicides. They had suffered nose bleeds, ulcerations, conjunctivitis and symptoms of the breakdown of mucous membranes. Documents at that time concluded that closer attention to personal hygiene and safety precautions would overcome the problem. But by the evidence that veteran after veteran gave nobody was too pressing about making sure that those personal hygiene precautions or safety precautions were in any way enforced by the Army. Veteran after veteran was returned home with increasing symptoms and increasing distress from the heavy use of herbicides.
We came to the point where a former member of this Parliament- a politician of the same persuasion as the Government- came forward and said that the Federal Government did not know what it was talking about. I am referring to John Sullivan, who at one stage held the Federal seat of Riverina. He came forward and, in great detail, gave a picture of what had happened when he was an instructor in a jungle warfare school in South Vietnam. He had seen his men soaked in defoliant. He did more. He gave a film to the Government which showed in graphic detail Army personnel being drenched in defoliant. He maintained that he had seen his men suffer from the effects of exposure to the chemicals. Despite what the Government had said we were supplied with a tremendous amount of evidence showing that the material had been used. Not only did the Government agree that agent orange had been used but it also agreed that many other chemicals had been used. It finally agreed that agent orange was not one chemical but was a mixture of chemicals that could have serious effects and had been known for a long time to have serious effects. It accepted that our aircraft had carried defoliant chemicals, that they had sprayed large areas; and the Government accepted that other chemicals such as malathion, which was used for mosquito control in Vietnam, had been used.
The Government had to accept that all these chemicals could have caused the sorts of complaints about which our soldiers were complaining. When the Government accepted this we started to find out a little more about the amount of material that had been used in that area. We were given evidence from the United States Air Force that it had sprayed poisonous defoliant over our soldiers. For instance, at one base our soldiers had been sprayed on perhaps 30 occasions. The Pentagon confirmed that a herbicide linked to cancer, nervous disorders and genetic defects was used in Phuoc Tuy Province between 1965 and 1970. The spokesman said he could not say how many herbicide dusting missions were made; nor could he say whether any Australian units were notified. The Government of the United States admitted that it was facing claims from United States servicemen of between $40,000m and $70,000m because of the results of the spraying with agent orange.
The Government finally accepted that our soldiers and probably our airmen were sprayed with agent orange. But still the Government would not accept that a lot of the sickness that was showing up amongst Vietnam veterans could possibly come from this sort of material. The Government resisted the fact that the men who had been drenched with agent orange had used it daily and had come into contact with it continually could possibly be suffering from ill effects. The Government did not believe that the very obvious ill effects that the Vietnam veterans were suffering could possibly come from this sort of chemical. The substance which we suspect has been the main cause of the problem with Vietnam veterans is dioxin. It is not a new substance. It is a substance that has been known to the world for some time. It is a substance that has been referred to by reputable scientists as the most deadly substance ever isolated. An article in the Sun stated:
As a foetus deformer, it is one million times as potent as thalidomide. There can be little doubt that even in the minutest quantities, it can cause cancer.
Three ounces dropped into the water supply of New York could wipe out the entire population of close to 9 million people. Yet, between 1962 and 1970, the US dumped more than 1 30 pounds of dioxin on Vietnam.
Dioxin apparently is a totally insidious menace. It can stash itself quietly away in body tissues even when the victim is not directly exposed.
It lurks about in air, water and food. Its toxicity lasts between 14 and 30 years.
That was an agent which was present in a deal of the material which was dumped on our servicemen. The Dow chemical company was the chemical company which produced much of the material used in Vietnam, much of the so-called agent orange. According to a document of Dow Chemical (Australia) Ltd, agent orange contained up to 50 parts per million of the deadly dioxin TCDD. It was sprayed in Vietnam in concentrations of up to 10 times those used in agriculture today, according to the document. In other words, agent orange applied in Vietnam at times held 5,000 times the concentration of TCDD, a side product of the chemical 2,4,5-T, than is permitted in herbicides used in Australia, where it is restricted to a concentration of one part per 10 million.
So we know our men were there, we know the material was used, we know the material was sprayed on them. We know the material which was sprayed on them has an extraordinarily bad effect on human beings. Yet we still are not prepared to take a great deal of action on the matter. It has been concluded in scientific circles that it is abundantly clear that dioxin is an exceedingly toxic and stable substance, that it can be readily incorporated into an ecosystem, within which it becomes distributed to the various living and non-living components and that, once thus incorporated, it is extraordinarily persistent and virtually impossible to remove. It thus becomes additionally evident that dioxin could be employed for hostile purposes in order to make some large area of enemy territory irreversibly uninhabitable for an extended period, a use, one might add, that has been similarly suggested for plutonium.
Did we know that our men were going to be subjected to those sorts of chemicals? Did we know that we were using that sort of substance on a small country which we had invaded? Did we know that that sort of effect could stay there for an incredibly long time? On 3 1 March 1 980 the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs said in the House of Representatives:
One of the difficulties with which we are faced and which we share with the United States authorities is to establish scientifically that the symptoms and medical problems being experienced by veterans and their families are due to exposure of the veteran to herbicides, of which agent orange is most notorious, during the veterans ‘ service in Vietnam.
Back in 1 967, when the war was going on in Vietnam, while Operation Ranch Hand was in progress- that is, the operation in which the United States used these herbicides to wipe out foliage and food in Vietnam- American doctors near Da Nang first pointed to the complaint which is now being faced by Australians: Nausea, birth abnormalities and the existence of a skin disease called natis in Vietnam which led to persistent and severe rash. It was only later that the worst effects were noticed, though. Doctors at the Tu Doc Hospital in Saigon first published reports in America of what they termed a foetal disaster in areas that had been heavily sprayed. ‘Deformed babies are arriving by the dozens’, they wrote, and other hospitals began to see the same thing throughout the south. American scientists had originally complained that the Pentagon was using defoliants without proper scientific research into their effects on humans. That point is now the basis of thousands of law suits in the American courts as American veterans try to take some action against their Government. It would appear that American veterans, like Australian veterans, were the unrecognised victims of what could be the world’s biggest and most concentrated use of chemical agents in warfare.
It is not good enough for the Minister to say in 1 980 that we still do not know, that we still face problems in establishing that the symptoms of the medical problems experienced by veterans can be due to herbicides when as far back as 1967 it was becoming exceedingly evident that those herbicides were having a terrible effect on human beings. Since then it has become very evident that what was happening to those men in Vietnam, be they Vietnamese, Americans or Australians, was that they were subjected to, as I said, the biggest and most concentrated use of chemical agents in warfare. That had been going on during all the years of the Indo-China war. I have just mentioned that American doctors said that they were concerned about the effects and that, although there has not been proper scientific research, the effects on the humans concerned were showing up.
Not long ago in the Senate the name of Professor Ton Tatt Tung was raised in a very disparaging fashion, I must say, by Government senators. It was insinuated that, because Professor Tung was at the Viet Duc University Hospital in Hanoi, in some way he was a communist agent who would say anything to denigrate Americans, Australians, the people who fought against the Vietnamese. It is interesting that in many scientific circles that this very eminent man is taken very seriously when it comes to discussing the problems and effects of herbicides. His work commenced as far back as 1960. As far back as 1960 he began monitoring the effects of herbicides, mainly the herbicides used in what we have come to know as agent orange; monitoring the effects as far as birth defects and miscarriages were concerned and monitoring children whose fathers fought in the south and were sprayed with those defoliants. Yet we are still not taking a great deal of notice.
It was not just the Vietnamese who were showing concern or just those doctors who were in Vietnam with the military. Although we did not send many people in to assess what we did to Vietnam, a Herbicide Assessment Commission of the American Association for the Advancement of Science went into Vietnam and its report appears in the congressional records in 1972. That report included a study of birth defects in South Vietnam, which made a correlation between heavily sprayed areas and still births. The doctor in charge reported:
Although that Commission could only study limited areas we did evaluate in detail the birth record in Tay Ninh, a very heavily defoliated province. We found that for the years 1968 and 1969 the Tay Ninh provincial hospital showed a higher rate of stillbirths than any of those reported in the other studies.
It is not just in Vietnam that people have been concerned about dioxin. What appals me is that we do not know whether the military knew what they were doing or whether they did what they did in ignorance. Did they just use that substance as a herbicide or a defoliant, or did they really know that with the high concentrations of dioxin they were really using a weapon against the Vietnamese people? As far back as 1899, 75 years ago, dermitologists had a clinical picture of the disease we now know as chloracne. They confirmed their suspicion that dioxin was the cause of that sort of poisoning. As far back as then we knew that and in the years since there have been repeated disasters in which again and again it was proved that dioxin was the substance causing so many problems. In 1953 in Germany there was an accident in which people were stricken with severe and acute chloracne. That resulted from a disaster and caused all sorts of health problems. The cause was dioxin. In 1961 a disaster in Germany showed it again.
In 1957 in the United States of America there was an outbreak amongst poultry of an unknown disease which was proved to come from dioxin. In 1963 in the Netherlands there was an explosion in a factory producing dioxin. The explosion severely affected 20 workers. It affected the plant to such an extent that it was sealed off for 10 years, after which it was dismantled, brick by brick. I could go on with instance after instance of accidents in industry which show that when dioxin was being used an extraordinarily dangerous substance about which we do not know a great deal and which kills was being used. Yet long years afterwards we were engaged in a war knowing that this material could affect the heart, liver, gastric tract and cause cancer. We were using the chemical presumably to kill the plants and the grass around the camps and to defoliate trees so that the Vietnamese would not be able to hide in the scrub. Extraordinarly, the chemical was not even much good for doing that.
I refer to a senior Australian military representative in Saigon, Colonel Serong. He pointed out that the defoliant actually aided ambushers. If vegetation was close to the road those who were ambushed could take cover quickly. When it was removed the guerrillas had a better field of fire. One wonders why the material was used. A great deal of literature is coming forward suggesting that in using these defoliants and herbicides we and our allies in Vietnam were really using a chemical agent under the lap. I refer to a book called Riot Control Agents and Herbicides in War. It states:
In 1970 the American Government publicly announced a new definition of and a new official doctrine on chemical warfare. As from that time, the use of so-called riot control agents (harassing substances) and anti-plant agents (defoliants and herbicides) -the chemical agents used in Vietnam- was excluded from the concept. In line with this approach, the United States Government has ratified, on 22 January 1975, the Geneva Protocol of 1925 which prohibits chemical warfare, on the understanding that riot control agents and anti-plant agents were not covered by its terms.
I hope that as a result of the Vietnam veterans raising these matters this Government will look more closely at what we mean when we talk about chemical warfare. One wonders what research has been done in Australia in the same line. It is interesting to look through the annual reports of the Defence Standards Laboratories. Research was being carried out at the Joint Tropical Research Unit, that is the joint British and Australian unit, at Innisfail. A glance at the report for 1 969-70 shows that DSL Technical Note 146 dealt with the prediction of downwind aerosol dosages in foliage while four lectures were given on chemical warfare agents. I wonder what exactly we have been doing in Australia. I maintain that that is why we need a full judicial inquiry with terms of reference as wide as possible so that the Australian attitude to chemical weapons can be examined as well as what might have been perpetrated on our soldiers in Vietnam.
It appears that a number of countries including the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom may have been deliberately attempting to thwart the intention of the 1925 Geneva Convention and a number of other agreements since the 1899 Hague Gas Projectile Declaration by arguing that CS, as a police riot control agent, and 2,4,5-T, and others as herbicides, were not chemical warfare agents. We cannot say that we did not know of their effects. As I have said, there were reports on the toxicity of these herbicides as early as 1946. Reports on the toxicity of 2,4,5-T date from the same time. We all know by now that the agents and chemicals used in Vietnam were highly damaging. The people who used them did not know how dangerous they were. The people being drenched by them were not given the opportunity to take any son of precautions against the chemicals. It has been said that at the time we were unaware of their effects. The men who were using them believed that they were doing so to defoliate so that the Vietnamese would be more easily seen. As early as 1945 the Americans were preparing to use 2,4-D on Japanese rice fields. As I have said before in the Senate, the semi-official history of the Royal Australian Air Force in Vietnam, George Odgers’ Mission Vietnam. Royal Australian Air Force Operations 1964-1972 contains the following statement:
In November-December 1967 it (No. 9 sqn RAAF) had engaged in . . . operation ‘Forrest’ (a campaign to deny the rice harvest to the enemy).
No mention is made in that book of the methods that were to be employed to deny the rice harvest to the enemy but it is interesting that the RAAF was engaged in the operation. It is also interesting to note that as far back as 1945 the Americans were preparing to use chemicals to destroy the rice fields. One cannot help but believe that the same sorts of methods would have been used by the RAAF. I ask the Government to investigate whether we have been circumventing the existing laws of warfare by the use of riot control agents and herbicides. I would like somebody to investigate also what redress soldiers have for the actions of their government or those of their allies that were deleterious to their health. I am not referring to normal war injuries or death. That is the position that the Vietnam veterans are in. They maintain that they are suffering from injuries which are not normal war injuries. That appears to be the problem that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has had in facing up to the complaints with which it has been presented.
Since the issue became a major one in December 1979 the Government’s response has been an attempt to bury it. Only when forced into the open by overwhelming evidence and reports from men who were actually involved did the Government admit that the material was used. Despite the statement of the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs that his Department was seeking all available information from world authorities he persists in making factually wrong statements about the use of the material. The main example of this was his persistence in saying that chloracne is the only symptom conclusively linked to agent orange. As early as 1974 the National Research Council of the United States
National Academy of Sciences, following an exhaustive investigation in Vietnam, said:
On the other hand, a variety of immediately painful and disagreeable symptoms associated with herbicides were described by many people. These can be grouped in five categories: (1) Respiratory symptoms (coughing, shortness of breath, soreness of throat, inability to breathe, coughing blood, bleeding from the nose, etcetera); (2) central nervous system symptoms (headaches and dizziness); (3) gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, nausea, and stomach ache); (4) dermatic and ocular symptoms (skin sores, rash, and eye irritation): and (5) generalised symptoms (pain, fever, fatigue, trembling, perspiring, palpitations, and general soreness).
That statement was included in a publication entitled ‘The Effects of Herbicides in South Vietnam’ which was put out by the National Research Council of the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1974. Yet in 1979 and 1980 the Minister persists in saying there is no evidence to show that anything but chloracne is a symptom conclusively linked to agent orange. One wonders how far Ministers in this Government go to gather their facts. One wonders whether Ministers for Veterans’ Affairs of that ilk care about the veterans who went out, in this Government’s own words, to save Australia. A World Health Organisation paper published in August 1977 described a number of toxic effects of dioxin in man. It listed similar symptoms as the National Research Council of the United States. So we can go on.
There is a tremendous amount of evidence that links dioxin with 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, as well as other chemicals that were used in Vietnam, to the sorts of illnesses that our Vietnam veterans have. I have a letter from a Vietnam veteran dated December 1979 telling me of the problems he has trying to convince the Department of Veterans’ Affairs that he is ill. It is interesting to note that the symptoms he mentions are exactly the same as those the National Research Council linked to the use of agent orange in South Vietnam. He says he has constant nausea, constant lethargy, constant diarrhoea, constant tiredness and exhaustion, constant vague vision, constant trembling hands and fingers and a pulsating sensation in his body and a complete loss of appetite. With all that, we still had the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs in February 1 980 saying:
It should be understood . . . that various overseas studies thus far have produced no confirmation that disabilities reported by veterans are due to exposure to herbicides.
Either the man cannot read or he is deaf- or he does not want to know. It seems extraordinary that, with the overseas evidence, this Government should quibble about providing assistance to men who went to Vietnam in a war that this Government got us into. Scientists will admit that it can take a long and difficult inquiry to link scientifically the effects of agent orange, herbicides, and 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, or dioxin, to each of the men who served in Vietnam. One would have thought that a government which takes notice of the fact that, out of a set number of people who were in a certain area at a specific time, so many suffer from the same illnesses and the same problems, would admit that obviously there is some cause that links them and would show some concern for those men.
This Government gets out of it by saying that, if a person is a veteran, the Department will look after whatever problems he has. It does that without taking into account the fact that these men are worried sick about themselves, about their futures and about their families. The Minister continually asked for links between the illnesses these men suffered from and herbicides. When the Minister was asked why the Government did not go to the veterans, he said that the veterans had to go to the Government. When he was asked why, if his Department was aware of the illnesses among veterans it had not gone to the veterans to make sure that they were not in any way affected, he replied:
Simply because the veterans have not come to us and told us that it’s been a problem.
Yet, man after man will tell of the long hours he has spent trying to convince the Department of Veterans’ Affairs of his problems. But, even if we convince the Department and the Government that there are a large number of men with real illnesses, what will we do about their children and their wives? For a long time, the Government relied on the supposed fact that deformed children could not be fathered by Vietnam veterans because their wives could not possibly have been affected by the chemicals in the herbicides. More and more research is coming to the fore to show that men can be affected for long periods after they have been subjected to these chemicals, and that they can pass on damaged genes to their children.
One would have thought that a government that says it cares so much for veterans and has such a debt to pay to men who went away to save Australia- to use its words- would have pursued immediately and with a great deal of effort the scientific work that is being done which shows that the reproduction systems of veterans can be affected and, further, would have done this to safeguard the wives who are so worried about the children they will produce. Even if that were to take time, and even if it did not want to pursue that, I would have thought that a government that cared about men who gave up so much of their youth to fight a war into which they were pitched without much choice at least would have taken responsibility for the future of those men. Taking responsibility for the future of those men means taking responsibility for their wives and children and not quibbling about whether the very real effects from which their children are suffering can be linked to a particular instance in the war effort.
In conclusion, I must say that there has since been evidence that not only were men in the Royal Australian Air Force and the Army affected, but also were civilians working in Vietnam similarly drenched with the material. One hopes that this Government will take close notice of that fact and will investigate their problems in the inquiry that it is setting up. One hopes it would also look to the fact that these very chemicals are used here in Australia. For instance, after the Vietnam war there were complaints from chemical companies in Australia that herbicides were being sent straight back from Vietnam and dumped in Australia. They were worried about their market. My party and I are worried about the effect that that material may have had on the people of Australia. ( Quorum formed).
- Mr Deputy President, I seek your indulgence initially to comment very briefly on Senator Mulvihill ‘s cry from the heart earlier this evening in regard to General Business. I am obliged to him for mentioning the matter of civil defence that I have on the Notice Paper. It seems to me to be quite scandalous that it is a matter the Government has neglected so seriously because it touches the interests of this country so closely. It should be dealt with urgently, and yet it has been treated in such a leisurely fashion. Senator Mulvihill made the point that he had had a matter on the Notice Paper for a year. I have checked that, and it is an important matter. But I have news for him. I have had a matter that has been on the Notice Paper for nearly two years, and it was supported by the largest petition put before the Senate in nine years.
– Did you say two years?
– Two years. I moved a Notice of Motion on the day I was sworn into the Senate. It is still lying there, even though it is supported by a petition of nearly 10,000 people. I doubt that we will get to it within the next year. I wonder whether there might be some reorganisation of General Business in such a way that honourable senators bringing forward matters which actually seek to inititate action- repugnant though that idea might be to the Governmentmight be treated differently from General Business Orders of the Day which perhaps deal only with taking note of reports and papers. It seems to me that that would be an improvement in our procedures.
I now address myself to the motion moved by Senator Grimes. I am not aware whether it has been seconded but if it has not I now do so with pleasure. I have spoken before in the Senate on agent orange at some length so I will not take up too much time by going over the matter especially since we have had an excellent and very scholarly review of the matter by Senator Melzer. She certainly gave me much more to think about and informed me much more generally on the background of a matter which I thought I already knew well. I thank her for that.
I think the time has come for the Government to respond to a few points that have been raised by honourable senators on the question of agent orange over the last few weeks. I seek a response from some Minister of the Government to matters which I have raised and one which I think Senator Knight raised in a question. The first and most important matter is whether the Government will make some investigation of the results of the research of the Department of Surgery at Hanoi University which Senator Melzer mentioned. I would have thought that this was square one for the sort of inquiry we are trying to conduct. If the Government is not capable of organising itself to the extent of carrying out that relatively simple operation it might consider assisting a private effort for an independent inquiry. If the Government does not do so sooner or later somebody else will. I think that that may embarrass the Government. That is the first matter I would like some information on.
The second matter 1 raise relates to the issuance of cards to all Vietnam veterans so that they can have a check on themselves and their families by local medical officers working on behalf of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. I think this is a very reasonable follow-up to the kind of inquiry the Government is already projecting. It would go on for a longer term and would use mechanisms which exist at present at no great expense. The third aspect is the thought that the costs of pregnancy tests of the wives of Vietnam veterans should be borne by the Crown. I think that is something the Government ought to introduce as soon as possible.
I have also asked the Government, and I ask it again, to consider certain cases- Senator Melzer mentioned these people- which appear strikingly similar in their symptoms to those reported from such things as the Seveso disaster and from Vietnam. I have to hand several cases which concern my own constitutents. I have their leave to raise these matters. The cases have been brought to my attention by the Vietnam Veterans’ Action Association.
The first case I will mention although it has been settled. I refer to Mr Robert Gibson, who is 34 years old. His case was settled last week in Sydney although it is significant that the Government would not accept Mr John Evans’s evidence which he had prepared to show some kind of link between his symptoms and dioxin poisoning generally. I mention this man’s symptoms because they will be found very interesting if honourable senators recall what Senator Melzer said about symptoms. Robert Gibson was a rifleman and worked frequently in defoliated areas while he was in Vietnam for one year in 1967-68. His symptoms are recurrent rash on the face, head and groin. He has sore, red eyes and a deteriorated temperament including depression, aggression and insomnia. He also suffers from diarrhoea.
The next case I mention is that of Michael Millar, who is aged 32. He was in Vietnam for two years in 1967-68 and 1970-71. He was a combat engineer and frequently worked in defoliated areas. His symptoms are much the same. He has a permanent skin rash. His personality has changed since he came back from Vietnam. He suffers constant insomnia, periodic violence and bouts of severe depression. He has recurring blurred vision and sore eyes. He also has recurring stomach pains and recurring diarrhoea. One sees how the theme becomes consistent. Mr Millar has one son who was born in 1971 and who has a recurring skin rash similar to his father ‘s. He has a daughter born in 1 973 who has allergy problems and a daughter who was born in 1974 who was very small at birth. He has been told not to have any more children as each child has been significantly lighter than the last. He has been told that any further children might be too small to survive.
I refer now to another relatively young man, Michael Scrase, who is 32 years old and who served in Vietnam for one year from February 1968 to March 1969. He was in the dispatch and convoy services. He watched the defoliant spraying from a few miles away and frequently travelled through defoliated areas. This again is also a consistent theme with these people. His symptoms are a bad skin rash on the hips, lower back and groin. These rashes do not go away; they are permanent. He has a deteriorated temperament including sudden personality changes, severe depression, insomnia and bouts of violent anger. He gets frequent nausea, recurring diarrhoea and a recurrent jaw soreness because gristle in his jaw sockets became soft while he was in Vietnam. Mr Scrase has one son born in 1972 who has been asthmatic since birth and a daughter born in 1 974 with club feet and deformed index fingers.
I have one further case. I have reason for not mentioning the name. The person was in Vietnam for one year in 1 969-70. He was a clerk and his second daughter died at 10 days of age from congenital heart disease which was a transposition of major arteries. These men live in my electorate. They are my constituents, to whom I have a duty and to whom the Senate has a duty. These instances are key cases which should involve the discretion and the compassion of the Australian people. After all surely the Government concedes that it should respect the wishes of the Australian people. I am sure the Australian people would want certain things done. In all these cases and other cases like them which show a remarkable similarity of symptoms, the Government should have a discretion which enables it to give these people, who were after all our soldiers, in Vietnam the benefit of the doubt. I think the Government ought to look carefully at assisting and compensating these people, without prejudice if necessary. Something at least should be done for these people rather than $2m being spent on an inquiry. I do not know where all that money will go but certainly none of it will go to the people who are suffering and who deserve and need assistance.
The matter of agent orange worries me a little. It had a big run as a news story in the media. I am now concerned that it is beginning to be forgotten. I think it is essential that there should be firm support from people of goodwill in the Senate, in this Parliament, in the Government and in the community to see that it is not forgotten and to see that the matters that need investigating are investigated. They are not being investigated now. There are no plans to investigate them. The Government will spend $2m on an inquiry but it has not even attempted to send a team to Vietnam to check on research which all the world agrees is right but which, of course, is to the political disadvantage of this Government.
(10. 18) - Having heard the discussion on the General Business item concerning agent orange raised by Senator Grimes and spoken to by other honourable senators I wish to conclude the debate by referring to speeches of the Minister for Veterans’
Affairs (Mr Adermann) on 21 February and 31 March. Those speeches dealt with many of the matters that have been raised and outlined the Government’s response and how it is to deal with the problem as quickly as possible. In those speeches the Minister stated that the Government had asked the Commonwealth Institute of Health at the Sydney University about information on a study to be undertaken and about a number of matters which were clearly outlined by the Minister.
By way of background, the time frame is of interest. By the end of December, only 20 claims mentioning herbicides had been received. By the end of March 1980, 289 claims had been received. On 7 January 1 980 the Minister issued a Press statement about a study, and the other initiatives mentioned then followed. In an attempt to resolve doubts as to whether chemicals used in Vietnam have had an impact on the health of those servicemen exposed to them, studies are to be conducted in the United States of America. In Australia, the Government is pressing on with a major epidemiological study. Actions that have been taken in respect of each veteran’s claim must be seen in the context of the repatriation legislation. The principles of this legislation require that there must be a logical basis to presume that a given disability is related to service before compensation can be granted. This is the basis of our system of veterans compensation.
Senator Grimes’s motion called for a review of advice tendered to Ministers to be undertaken by the Administrative Review Council. The conduct of such a review does not come within the functions of the Council as set out in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act. The importance of the question and the public concern that surrounds it make it difficult to see why the administrative advice would be anything other than what it has been, namely, that there is a need to establish the facts. As I have said, the Minister has outlined steps that have already been taken to do that. Senator Grimes has called for a Government assurance that servicemen and their wives and children will be compensated. There is no question of veterans not being compensated should conditions being claimed prove to be related to service in Vietnam. This is a requirement of the Repatriation Act. If it is established that there is a connection between birth defects in children of veterans and exposure of the veterans to herbicides in Vietnam, the Government will take appropriate action.
Senator Grimes has called for an independent judicial inquiry with a two-fold purpose. The Minister has responded by saying that as far as veterans and their dependants are concerned, the Government looked at the matter against the need to find answers to a number of questions. The Government was not able to see how such an inquiry would help to resolve the most distressing of the problems faced by some Vietnam veterans. It would not assist in assessing the medical condition of the members of the veteran’s family, in establishing what treatment and disability pension payments would be appropriate and in helping him to make decisions as to whether he and his wife should have more children. There would be nothing personally or immediately helpful to the veteran in such an inquiry. As a consequence, the Government has decided that the request for this form of inquiry must be refused.
Senator Grimes and other speakers will probably be aware that, subsequent to the notice of motion that was moved by Senator Grimes, the Vietnam Veterans Action Association publicly rejected the proposal for the Australian study and called for an independent judicial inquiry. The Vietnam Veterans Action Association has subsequently, in discussion with the Minister for Veterans ‘ Affairs as recently as 2 April, offered every support and co-operation in the study that is proposed by the Government. I draw attention again to the matters mentioned in the two speeches made by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. I undertake to refer to the Minister the comments of the honourable senators who have spoken and I feel sure that he will address himself to the matters that have been raised in this debate. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– In response to inquiries I have made, following further references to me by Senator Missen with respect to his question to me of 22 April concerning delay in the issue of a current topics reading list on freedom of information from the research section of the Parliamentary Library and my answer to him, I have been informed by the Parliamentary Librarian that some confusion has arisen because several lists were compiled by librarians on freedom of information.
One such list was put out in 1975. There are no official records but the recollections of officers involved are that another reading list was drafted in 1978 but not distributed as, according to those recollections, the Parliamentary Librarian questioned whether the draft fairly represented all points of view. That draft appears never to have been resubmitted for approval. A request was received from the committee secretariat on 9 August 1978 for a bibliography as a basic reading list and, in response to that request, the unapproved draft was provided. The information given to the Senate on 22 April referred to yet another list which incorporated some earlier material and which was prepared in August 1979.
The history of events concerning that list was as reported to the Senate. That list has not been made available as it has never been resubmitted for approval. The Parliamentary Librarian assured me that the list prepared in 1978, or for that matter the 1979 list, has not been delayed by senior management. The Parliamentary Librarian has now given instructions for another up to date reading list to be compiled and made available to senators and members before the end of the current period of sittings.
With regard to matters raised in the Senate recently in connection with the Parliamentary Library I wish to make another statement. I have given further consideration to the request that I conduct an investigation into the resignation of Mr Stewart Harris from the staff of the Parliamentary Library and report to the Senate. I understand that Mr Harris has now instituted proceedings against Mr Weir in the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory and that the action could relate to matters associated with, or consequential upon, Mr Harris’s resignation from the Library. As it is understood that Mr Harris has chosen to exercise his right to have the matter determined by judicial proceedings, I believe that any further inquiry by me as Presiding Officer of this chamber could risk prejudicing one or other of the parties to that action.
Accordingly, I think it would be improper of me to make any further reply at this time to the requests made by Senator Grimes and other honourable senators. The working of the Library and the achievement of an atmosphere in which the optimum results can be obtained from the professional work of its officers for all senators and members are matters I am discussing with Mr Speaker. When I am in a position to do so I will report further to this Senate on the way in which we propose to achieve this result.
– by leave- Mr President, I am a bit limited in what 1 can say as I have only just received a copy of your statement. As I am not a lawyer I am not certain of the sub judice situation regarding the writs of Mr Harris. As I understand it they are issued but not served, or served but not issued. Perhaps the lawyers in this place can comment.
– It is difficult to serve a writ if it has not been issued.
– I suppose that is right senator, but you are the knowledgeable one in this matter, not 1. 1 am a little disturbed that the further matters that have been raised by other honourable senators and me in this place concerning the effective functioning of the Parliamentary Library and the independence of the Library, which we all consider to be terribly important, are still under investigation. One wonders how long that investigation will take. I can only hope that we will be able to discuss the problems which arise from the resignation of Mr Harris and the difficulties faced by Mr Dunn. That is obviously up to the Senate and to you, Mr President. The proper functioning of the Library and the proper servicing of members of this Parliament by the Library, by skilled and independent staff is important.
We know already that Mr Harris’s position has been advertised on a short tenure. I and others believe that this situation will raise problems for any person who takes up that job because his future may depend on the sort of reports he produces and his future may be in some difficulty if he produces reports that are critical of a government. I also hope that out of this matter honourable senators and members of the House of Representatives will play a more active part, either directly or through the Library Committee. It seems to me that the situation has now been reached where the Library Committee is just an advisory committee. The Presiding Officers, as efficient and as concerned as they may be, have all the decision-making powers but must delegate so much of those decision-making powers to the Librarian. This has been found to be not very satisfactory. I hope that we get an answer to those problems in the near future.
– by leave- Mr President, I missed the opening three or four sentences of your answer to Senator Missen, but the gist of the answer you gave appeared clearly to me to be an acknowledgement that there had been- to put it at its most benign- something of a misunderstanding about the document to which reference was made in relation to freedom of information in your original reply to Senator Missen. It would appear in the circumstances that Mr Harris’s account of the history of the freedom of information document is not in fact being challenged either by the Librarian or by you, Mr President. It appears that something in the nature of an apology to Mr Harris is in fact called for so far as at least that pan of this episode is concerned: namely, the fairly clear statement and the original answer to Senator Missen that Mr Harris had been in error in claiming, as he did, certain things about the history of that document. It appears that Mr Harris was not, in any sense, in error, and to that extent the suggestion that he was -
– Order ! It being 10.30 p.m., in conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the negative.
– I make the point that it appears in the circumstances that something in the nature of at least a partial apology to Mr Harris is called for, and I would appreciate your reaction, Mr President, now or in due course on that matter.
The other short point I make is about your second answer to Senator Grimes in relation to the further information in the light of the two libel writs having been issued. I make the point that the object of the issuing of such writs is the vindication of the reputations of the gentlemen concerned. I am sure that were they satisfied that their reputations would be vindicated by statements made, preferably by you, Mr President, in this Parliament on behalf of the Library administration, then they would be to that extent much less inclined to pursue their court action. In the circumstances, it seems to be rather unfortunate that both sides, as it were, in this dispute are digging in for a prolonged period of trench warfare. It would perhaps be more appropriate if you could reconsider the terms of your second answer to Senator Grimes to see whether you could satisfy yourself that, on a proper analysis, the circumstances of these events are such that something in the nature of a vindication of the reputation of Mr Harris and Mr Dunn can be made to this Parliament.
It seems to me that the rules of sub judice, such as they are, have no real application in this situation. Libel writs do not operate as a basis on which to stop discussion- public or otherwise- of their subject matter. That is a familiar understanding but not one that is founded on any principle of law. Mr President, were you to pursue this investigation just a little further, I rather suspect that you might find yourself in a position to be able to unwind, as it were, some of the more unfortunate language that has been involved in earlier statements to this Parliament and, by so doing, perhaps create the conditions in which a prolonged bout of judicial warfare could be avoided. Mr President, I ask you to take seriously that suggestion that you pursue this inquiry a little further to see whether such a statement might not be made. I think that course of action could well be in the interests of everyone concerned- Mr Weir, Mr Dunn and Mr Harris; the institution of the Library and, not least, the institution of this Parliament.
ABC Program ‘Nationwide’: Qantas Airways Ltd
Motion (by Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle) proposed:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
-by leave- I bring up the seventeenth report from the Publications Committee and move:
That the report be adopted.
– Can we have two motions? I do not know which one takes precedence.
- Senator Cavanagh is right.
– I raise a point of order, Mr President. Is it in order that reports be tabled on the adjournment debate after the question has been put that the House do now adjourn?
– No, but leave has been granted.
– On that point of order, Mr President. Leave was granted and the report was tabled. Now we have another motion here. I do not know how we have two motions before the Chair to be voted on. All I am concerned about is- I believe all that will be involved will be just moving the motion and carrying it; it will not be opposed- what precedent will be established for the future. It could well be a means of stopping those who want to speak on the adjournment from proceeding at that stage.
- Senator Messner was granted leave to move a motion. I put the question ‘ that the report be adopted ‘.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– The question now is ‘That the Senate do now adjourn ‘.
– I take advantage of the adjournment debate merely to correct something that I said last night when speaking on the Qantas Airways Limited (Loan Guarantee) Bill 1980. At page 1997 of yesterday’s Hansard 1 am reported to have said: . . I understand that the Australian Broadcasting Commission was contemplating doing a Nationwide program in the last week or so about the controversy surrounding the flight from Townsville to Singapore and return, and that an invitation was issued to Sir Lenox Hewitt to appear on the program as chairman of Qantas. I am given to understand from sources within the Australian Broadcasting Commission that the invitation was extended to the chairman of Qantas to appear on the program. After he accepted the invitation, the ABC decided not to proceed with the program. The inference, of course, was that the ABC wanted to say that the chairman of Qantas, Sir Lenox Hewitt, had been invited to appear on the program but that he had declined to appear. But when the invitation had been extended to Sir Lenox and he had decided to accept it to state the case of Qantas to the Australian people, the ABC decided conveniently not to proceed with the program.
Earlier this evening, Mr John Penlington, the producer of the program, Nationwide, rang me to say that those remarks had been drawn to his attention and to inform me that the Australian Broadcasting Commission did in fact propose that a debate on Nationwide take place nationally between a representative of Qantas, namely Sir Lenox Hewitt and, on the other side of the debate, either Mr Rupert Murdoch or Sir Peter Abeles. The Australian Broadcasting Commission, according to Mr Penlington, was advised that Sir Lenox Hewitt would be available to take part in the debate, and it was told not that Mr Murdoch or Sir Peter Abeles declined to appear but that they would not be available. I am told by Mr Penlington that, so far as the Australian Broadcasting Commission is concerned, the offer still stands, but it is an invitation to the parties to engage in a debate, and not an invitation for separate interviews. I acknowledge that fact that an invitation was extended to Sir Lenox Hewitt, that he did accept the invitation, but. because the other people were not available, the debate did not ensue. I am pleased to put the record straight because I have great admiration personally and for the professional integrity of Mr Penlington, the producer-in-chief of the program.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.40 p.m. until Tuesday, 13 May, at 3 p.m. unless sooner called together in accordance with the resolution agreed to this day.
The following paper was presented, pursuant to statute:
Public Service Act- Appointment- Department of Aboriginal Affairs- T. C. Agius.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, upon notice, on 19 February 1980:
– The Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 20 February 1980:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Productivity, upon notice, on 4 March 1980:
Has any Commonwealth assistance been sought for the development, manufacture, marketing or for any other purpose for the Little brothers’ solar water heater; if so, what decision was made in relation to the application.
– The Minister for Productivity has provided the following answer:
Yes. In respect of my portfolio, the Little brothers through their company Solar Tracking Systems Pty Ltd applied for and received assistance in 1979 by way of a $25,000 Commonwealth Grant under the provisions of the Industrial Research and Development Incentives Act 1976. This assistance was for the further research and development of their tracking solar water heater. An application for further assistance is currently being considered by the Industrial Research and Development Incentives Board.
In February 1980 my Department arranged an Adventure Workshop on the innovation and entrepreneurship aspects of the commercial development of technical innovations. David Little of Solar Tracking Systems was one of the six innovators who freely gave their time, experience and details of their respective inventions to the graduates who attended the workshop. The graduates subsequently examined the innovations and prepared business plans and investment proposals for each of the innovators. A copy of the solar water heater business plan was supplied to the Little brothers.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources, upon notice, on 1 8 March 1 980:
– The Minister for Trade and Resources has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Unemployment Assistance: Unspent allocation (Question No. 2701)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, upon notice, on 1 7 April 1 980:
– The Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question: (1 ), (2) and (3 ) The amount of $68m, which the honourable senator mentions, appears to refer to the $67.9m for expenditure under the National Employment and Training (NEAT) System.
In the course of preparation of the revised estimates for 1979-80 the Department of Employment and Youth Affairs estimated that under-expenditure on NEAT in 1979-80 could be $ 10.9m.
This figure was published in the Department of Finance Information Paper “Statement of Savings Expected in Annual Appropriations” on1 April 1980.
The actual expenditure on the program at 30 June 1980 will, however, depend on the extent of the response of employers to the subsidies available.
Cancer: Selenium Sulphide
Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle- On 28
May 1979 (Hansard, page 2154) Senator Gietzelt asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Health in the Senate, a question without notice concerning the possible carcinogenic effects of anti-dandruff shampoos containing selenium sulphide.
The Minister for Health has provided the following information:
The full report of the bioassay of selenium sulphide for carcinogenicity conducted by the United States National Cancer Institute has only recently become available and is presently being evaluated by experts of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NH & MRC).
However, 1 do not concede that, on matters relating to health, the Commonwealth Government tends to follow advisings of American authorities. I am aware that the United States National Cancer Institute has warned that selenium sulphide has been shown to cause cancer in experimental animals and that this substance is the active ingredient in some dandruff shampoos on sale in Australia.
It must be appreciated however that the circumstances under which cancer developed in experimental animals fed selenium sulphide at high doses for what is effectively a lifetime bear little relationship to the use of this substance at low concentrations (usually 2.5% maximum) on the outside of the skin for short periods. The Americans recognised this and have not banned selenium compounds as such. Rather they have issued a warning that selenium sulphide has been shown to cause tumours in experimental animals (albeit when ingested at excessive doses over extended periods of time). It is perhaps worth noting that selenium is an essential nutrient in men and animals.
Because of the honourable senator’s interest in this matter. I shall advise him of the findings of the NH & MRC in due course.
-On 20 March 1980 Senator Young asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources a question without notice concerning uranium enrichment and the interests of South Australia in that matter.
The Minister for Trade and Resources has provided the following reply to the honourable senator’s question:
The Commonwealth Government’s statements on uranium enrichment, including my statement of 5 March 1980 on tabling the report on uranium enrichment by the Uranium Advisory Council, have stressed that the question of the commercial feasibility of uranium enrichment in Australia would be assessed by Australian industry, specifically the Uranium Enrichment Group of Australia (UEGA). The Commonwealth Government has also indicated that the State and Northern Territory Governments will have an opportunity to be involved as fully as possible.
It will be a matter for the State and Northern Territory Governments to make known to the UEGA their particular interests in the location of an enrichment industry with their State or Territory. The Work of the South Australian Uranium Enrichment Committee is well known and will, no doubt, make a significant contribution to South Australian endeavours in this field. The positive attitude of the present South Australian Government to uranium mining and processing will be of assistance to that State in seeking to locate an enrichment industry there.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 1 May 1980, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1980/19800501_senate_31_s85/>.