26th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston) took the chair at 2.30 p.m.. and read prayers.
– 1 wish to inform the House that the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Anthony, left Australia on Sth May to take the place of Mr McEwen as leader of the Australian delegation at the International Sugar Conference in Geneva. After the Conference concludes, Mr Anthony will make short visits to several other countries and he intends to return to Australia at the beginning of July. During his absence the Minister for the Interior, Mr Nixon, will act as Minister for Primary Industry.
– I ask the Acting AttorneyGeneral a question which concerns the clauses of the National Service Bill under which a person who faits to render national service is guilty of an offence which is punishable on summary conviction and not otherwise, and which carries a penalty of imprisonment for two years. I ask the honourable gentleman whether he can cite any other Commonwealth statute under which a person can be sentenced to two years’ imprisonment without having the option of trial by jury?
– A question in relation to the same Bill was asked last week. On that occasion I gave an answer, which I repeat now, that the Government feels that this is a matter of high policy, that people should render their obligation according to the legislation. The honourable gentleman will no doubt get an opportunity to argue the matter when the debate is conducted.
– Is the Treasurer aware of the critical situation facing the fruit industry as a result of the depressed market returns in the United Kingdom for Tasmanian apples and pears? Should this calamitous market trend continue, will the right honourable gentleman sympathetically reconsider the position, should the industry as a whole present a case for assistance from the Commonwealth Government?
– Some days ago the Premier of Tasmania submitted to the Prime Minister a recommendation that assistance should be given to the Tasmanian apple and pear industry. The Government considered the proposals and came to the conclusion that, on the facts as it knew them at the time, it required further evidence before a decision could be made. The Government felt that one of the difficulties might be the after-effects of the devaluation of the pound sterling. The Prime Minister has already sent a telegram to the Premier of Tasmania, and the Minister for Primary Industry has issued a statement about the matter. I cannot add anything to what they have said. What I can do is to assure the honourable gentleman that if the difficulties get worse the Government will be only too willing to look at the problem again.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Navy. Has he any further information about the accidental discharge of 6i tons of fuel oil from the Royal Australian Navy ship, HMAS ‘Supply’, into the waters surrounding Cockatoo Island, in Sydney Harbour with the subsequent pollution of the foreshores of Balmain and Drummoyne? What action, if any, is proposed to be taken to prevent a repetition of this incident? Is the Navy responsible for compensation arising from the damage that may have been done either to property or to the foreshores?
– Yesterday, I think at 10 a.m., HMAS ‘Supply’ was scheduled to leave her berth to go to Garden Island. It was noticed at that time that there was a list in the ship and it was decided to pump oil from the No. 2 aft tank to the No. 6 forward tank to correct the list. During the process, which is a routine one, some 64 tons of oil escaped into the sea. The accident is, of course, very much regretted. The ship stayed at her berth for 4 hours more than the scheduled time to contain the spilt oil and also put out a floating boom to help achieve this objective. At the moment, a Naval Board inquiry into the incident is in progress and until the inquiry is concluded it would be improper for me to add further to the comments I have made.
– Mr Speaker, I direct this question to you. Do you agree that the present method of holding a division in this House is time consuming? Is it the least useful survival of the traditional forms used by the House and is it without any intrinsic significance? Will you take the necessary action to obtain technical information wilh a view to installing a suitable electronic method of recording the votes in divisions held in this chamber?
– This matter has bean the subject of discussions on previous occasions. As the honourable member will well know, the present method and other methods - have advantages and disadvantages. The method of voting has been discussed at meetings of the New and Permanent Parliament House Committee and the matter is being further considered. However, I will look into the question again.
– I ask the Treasurer: Have further arrangements been made for credits with the United States Government to cover the increase of $US95m in the cost of the Fill aircraft since the last loan of $US80m to cover increased costs was negotiated?
– When I was in the United States last year I was able to carry put negotiations with the then Secretary of Defence, Mr McNamara. It was agreed that the increased costs of toe Fill aircraft, or the F111A as it was then known, would be carried by the Australian Government but would be on credit terms. I discussed amounts with him, but as I was not certain at the time what the increased amount might be I did not fix a precise amount of the order mentioned by the honourable gentleman.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Health. As the recent foot and mouth disease scare in New Zealand has focused attention on the disasters that this disease could bring to our livestock industry, although fortunately if appears to have been only a cheap scare, will the Minister consider the continued imposition of maximum precautions for travellers who come to Australia by air from other areas?
– I am sure that everybody shares the honourable gentleman’s pleasure at learning that this was not in fact an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. I take this opportunity to compliment the New Zealand authorities on their full and frank disclosure of the possible existence of the disease, on their notification to us and to other countries that might have been affected and on the precautions that they took. In answer to the main part of the honourable member’s question, the precautions that were put into operation immediately foot and mouth disease was suspected in New Zealand were, with one exception, exactly the same as those that have been applied for many years to any country or travellers from any country in which foot and mouth disease has been known to exist. That exception was the requirement for all passengers to have their footwear disinfected. The reason why this was done in this instance was that it was not possible in the time available to make the normal arrangements for declarations and so on in order to sort out the passengers, to see whether they were a risk as a result of having been associated with farms or animals. If the outbreak in New Zealand had turned out to be foot and mouth disease we would have quickly developed the same system that has been applied to other countries. However, the other precautions taken in relation to New Zealand were exactly the same as those applied to all countries where foot and mouth disease is known to exist.
– I ask the Postmaster-General a question. I refer the Minister to reports that his Department will withdraw from service telephones recurrently damaged by vandals. I further refer him to reports that all public telephones are vulnerable to this type of damage. 1 ask the PostmasterGeneral whether he will agree that a majority of Australian households still depend upon public telephones to summon essential services in emergencies. Will the Minister say at what point he will call a halt to developments that threaten to isolate such households? - Mr HULME - I am sure that the Australian people are disappointed at the vandalism that takes place in our community, especially as it relates to public telephones, which are available especially to people who do not have private telephones, particularly for use in emergencies. It is to be regretted that the repair of damage caused by vandalism is costing the Post Office about S2m annually. The Post Office docs not intend to remove public telephones merely because of vandalism, but many public telephones have been damaged so frequently that the Department must look at this situation and take it into account when assessing the requirement of the community for additional public telephones. At present there is a backlog of 284 public telephones in Sydney and 66 in Melbourne. The supply of these new telephones can only be delayed if the Department is to repair the telephones that are being damaged frequently by vandalism. It is a case in some instances of offsetting the situation in one area against the wishes df. the public for public telephones in another area. As a result, policies will be developed, having regard to these particular facts.
Last Friday no fewer than 134 public telephones in New South Wales were found to be the subject qf vandalism, with instruments damaged or stolen. The rate of damage beyond repair to public telephone installations in Sydney is 90 per month. I would mention that in Victoria there are no fewer than 700 technician calls per day in relation to public telephones, most of the damage to which results from vandalism of one type or another. The Post Office is undertaking research continually. There is continuous consultation between the investigating officers of my Department and State police. In the last 3 years, 150 people have been charged with this type of offence. I make an appeal to the public of Australia to co-operate with the police and with the Post Office and that .where they see any evidence whatever which leads them to suspect vandalism to report it in the hope that wilh their co-operation we can reduce the vandalism, reduce this cost to the Department and perhaps finally remove the necessity for increasing charges for public telephones as these of course are part of the economic requirement within the Post Office.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the reported statement in this morning’s Adelaide ‘Advertiser’ by Dr Neal Blewitt, senior lecturer in politics at the Adelaide University, describing Australia as a ‘joke nation’ and the ‘lap dog’ of the United States because of our involvement in Vietnam? Does the Prime Minister consider that this represents world opinion of Australia’s reputation or simply that portion of the world under Communist influence, including Dr Blewitt?
– Yes, Mx Speaker, mv attention has been drawn to the statement to which the honourable member refers. I would not regard it myself either as an expression of world opinion or, even as an expression of the opinion of that part of the world which is under Communist domination. I, of course, have long been interested by the glib way in which the words ‘world opinion’ are used by people in order to express views which are in accordance with their own. But I myself believe that world opinion would believe this: Aggression should not be allowed to succeed. I believe that that would be particularly so for citizens of small nations, and that if aggression is sought to be imposed by force it, needs to be resisted by force, just as has been done in the past in other instances. That is what Australia is assisting to do in this case. Therefore, I would not believe that this was at all an expression of world opinion.
As regards the second part of the question as to whether those sections of the world under Communist domination regard this as a joke, I would say to the House this: T do not believe that any nation whether it were Fascist or Communist, whether it came up against Australian resistance in the deserts of Libya or in Korea or in Malaya would ever have thought that resistance to have been in the nature of a joke. I would myself believe that the words read out by the honourable member were simply words put out by an individual, whether he believes them or not, simply in an attempt to denigrate and undermine action now being taken by Australia to assist a cause which, I believe, most citizens in the world would believe to be aproper one.
– The Minister for Civil Aviation will be well aware of my keen interest in having an airstrip constructed on Lord Howe Island to serve the needs of its 400 permanent residents and the thousands of tourists who visit the island each year. Is the Minister aware that I regularly visit the island in my capacity as Federal member for the island and that I will do so again during the coming Parliamentary recess? Therefore, I ask the Minister if he will be good enough to prepare a statement giving details of the stage reached in the negotiations between his Department and the Liberal Government of New South Wales for the provision of an airstrip prior to the cancellation of the flying boat service in 1970, so that I can give up-to-date information to my constituents on this matter, which is of such vital concern to them and myself.
– Unfortunately 1 will probably not have the opportunity of joining the honourable member on his visit to Lord Howe Island next week. However, I am sure that he will quite capably represent the opinion which I will give now in relation to the problem he has posed. The air service to Lord Howe Island is still provided by flying boat and this will continue for some time in the future although, as I have said before in this House, the service has a terminal date. Quite recently my Department arranged for a very careful inspection of the island to be made. In fact, this inspection has taken place over the last few weeks. The inspection has been made in order to find an area suitable for an airstrip that would be adequate for the type of aircraft that would operate across the expanse of water between the island and the Australian mainland. I believe we will be able to achieve our objective and will be able to license the type of aircraft that can perform this service at the termination of the service being provided at the moment by the flying boats. But this matter is one for discussion between the Commonwealth and State authorities. New South Wales has an interest in this matter and has a responsibility for the construction of any airport facility. Next Thursday there will be a meeting between the Commonwealth and the State Departments concerned. This meeting will also be attended by representatives of the Lord Howe Island Board and of the airlines. I believe that at this meeting some form of decision will be made which should be satisfactory for the future of the island service.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. The Minister will have noted that in the Wahine’ disaster in a significant number of cases the design of the life-jackets resulted in people breaking their necks as they hit the water, or drowning through slipping out of their life-jackets. Can the Minister say whether, by direct action or through membership of any international organisations, it is possible to ensure that the design of life-jackets used on ships around the Australian coast is less lethal.
– Since the ‘Wahine’ disaster the Department of Shipping and Transport has taken close note of all the proceedings that have been published, and those which have not been published, to try to ascertain whether any extra precautions are necessary on vessels plying around the Australian coast. As a result of the disaster it was thought necessary that on each voyage an explanation of safety drill should be made by officers of the Australian National Line on ships’ intercommunication systems. A recommendation to do likewise has been made to private operators. In regard to the design of lifejackets to which the honourable member referred, currently an investigation is being undertaken by my Department to ascertain whether or not newspaper comments on this subject have been accurate and what design alterations may be necessary. In fact, at this stage the design and the necessary number of life-jackets and life-rafts are, of course, specified by regulations. If it should be found, as a result of the inquiry which is to be conducted into the ‘Wahine’ disaster and the investigations made by the Department, that there should be a necessary alteration to the regulations, then, of course, that will be announced in this House and the necessary alterations will be made.
– I am sure that this House and the Australian people are saddened by the death of three Australian journalists in Vietnam, ls the Minister for External Affairs able to tell the House what happened and how these men were killed? Were they dressed as civilians or soldiers? Were they armed or were they killed, in reality, in cold blood? Are their dependants entitled to any compensation whatsoever from the Government, or is compensation a matter for the people who employed them?
– Some of the questions asked by the honourable member for Batman, particularly a question such as compensation, would require further inquiry and consultation with some of my colleagues. My understanding is that the journalists were not accredited war correspondents, so their status was that of civilians. Although T. cannot answer with certainty, because we have not got the full details yet, my understanding is that they were not only in the status of civilians but were unarmed and were in ordinary clothing, not in military uniform, when they were shot down.
I am sure that all members of the House would like to express sympathy to the bereaved, and if I may add one further comment, the sad death of these young men following their occupations as civilians is a reminder to us that the slaying of civilians is a feature of the Vietcong operations. Indeed, in the first 4 months of this calendar year, the figure of civilians killed in Vietnam by the Vietcong surpasses 6,500. The three Australian journalists and the two other journalists join with that company of over 6,500 civilians killed by Vietcong terrorism - direct action by Vietcong terrorists.
– I address a question to the Minister for Education and Science. I refer to my previous representations on behalf of Mr C. W. Steel of Bega whose daughter was unable to use a New South Wales teaching scholarship at the Australian National University this year. Does the fact that she cannot use this scholarship at the Australian National University result from a decision of the New South
Wales Government or from a decision of this Government? Could the Minister outline the circumstances surrounding this case?
-The honourable member has spoken to me on a number of occasions about this particular case. The result flows from a decision of the New South Wales Government to restrict the enrolment of teacher trainees bonded to it, to universities in New South Wales with which the New South Wales Government has made special arrangements by which these universities - its own universities - do not charge fees to New South Wales Government bonded students. This question goes back a little further, however, because some considerable time ago some doubt was cast on the authority of the Australian National University, which up to last year did remit fees to teacher trainees from New South Wales. On examination it was found that the authority for this action was certainly not sound, and as I understand it, the law was amended.
The practice had flowed from an older agreement, going back to the 1930s, when a university college had been established in Canberra and when that college was struggling to get students from whatever sources were possible. That was the basis of the original arrangement with New South Wales. But this was an unofficial arrangement, as I understand it, without any Government sanction. On examination it was decided that the Australian National University should not have the authority to remit fees for teacher trainees and this has now been made clear in the statutes. But this is precisely the same position as in Commonwealth departments such as the Department of Supply, the Department of Health or my own Department, which may have bonded students going through a university course. The departments are responsible for the payment of the fees. The State Minister was advised of this, as I understand it, about February 1967. There was correspondence from the then Prime Minister on 25th May 1967. Mr Askin, the Premier, replied on 7th June. Throughout the correspondence no objections were raised to the course that the Commonwealth proposed to take. This situation is precisely the same as it would be for a student in the Riverina or at Albury who might want to go to Melbourne, that being the nearest university. If students were bonded to the New South Wales Government, they would be able to go to the University of Melbourne only if that Government were prepared to pay fees to the University of Melbourne. If the New South Wales Government were not prepared to do this they would have to go to a New South Wales university.
– I address my question to the Minister for the Army. What is the present position of Captain Rule, the Citizen Military Forces officer who was the subject of the Minister’s statement to this House on 28th March? When Captain Rule was arrested, what was the offence with which he was charged? Was he placed under close arrest at that time? If not, what form of arrest was he placed, under? Is he now under any form of service restriction whatsoever? Under what authority is Captain Rule’s case held in such a state of abeyance as to create a strong presumption of injustice being done to him? Is it not a fact that a serious breach of the spirit of Service law protecting the rights and personal reputation of a serviceman has occurred?
– I regard this matter as being sub judice and for this reason it is not proper or appropriate for me to comment.
– He must be under a charge if the matter is sub judice, surely.
-Order! The honourable member has asked his question.
– For this reason it is not appropriate or proper for me to comment on a number of facets of the question which has just been posed. I refer to an answer that I gave in this place early last week when I indicated quite clearly that there had been delay. In fact there had been considerable delay. However, I made it very clear that it was my precise and explicit understanding that this delay had not occurred as a result of any action or lack of action by the Army; the delay had taken place only as the result of a written request by the officer concerned.
He bad sought time to consider his position and, I understand, also to have available to him legal counsel. I understand the counsel he required was not available during the period concerned.
– Has he been charged?
– If the honourable gentleman would look at the- statement 1 made in this House on 28th March he would see that the officer was charged at that time and that delay had been experienced in the taking of a summary of evidence, lt is expected that the summary of evidence will be concluded tomorrow, lt is not proper from a military point of view to release to this House details of the charges. I am given to understand that there is no statutory inhibition to this effect but that for very sound legal reasons it would be quite improper for me to indicate what the charges were at the time of the officer’s arrest or what charges might or might not have been laid since that time. This arises because after the completion of a summary of evidence and the laying of charges, such charges could be amended, withdrawn, dealt- with in a summary fashion or referred to a court martial. The honourable member is quite wrong in his interpretation or inference concerning this matter. Can I suggest to him and to other honourable members, with great deference and respect, that the proliferation of questions abou this matter does not in fact serve the cause of military justice which is in process, nor the interests of any of . the parlies which are involved.
In summary, the precise situation is this: There has been some considerable delay. That delay has not ensued as a result of any action or inaction on the part of my advisers. 1 understand it is hoped that the summary of evidence will be completed tomorrow. It is not proper, for very sound reasons, in the interests of the parties concerned, for details of any charges to be released to the House at this time.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. When making provision for reestablishment loans to national servicemen, where this is necessary to enable a national serviceman to re-establish himself in a business, profession or occupation, including farming, was it the intention of the Government that before such loans were granted it would be necessary for the exserviceman to lodge with the Commonwealth negotiable securities or to execute a charge over real estate in favour of the Commonwealth to the full value of any such proposed loan?
– The question asked has a rural flavour about it, I would think from what the honourable member has said. I am not sure of the precise details of that aspect of the legislation because it is administered jointly by the Minister for Primary Industry and the Minister for Repatriation according to circumstances. However I shall look into the matter and inform the honourable member accordingly.
– I ask the Treasurer a question. During the recess he authorised a regulation which permits the largest housing financier, the Commonwealth Savings Bank, to make housing loans up to $8,000 instead of the limit of $7,000 at which they had been pegged since March 1963. He commented that this increase ‘will offset increases in building costs since that time’. I ask the Treasurer if the cost of the average home has not increased by $2,000 rather than $1,000 in the last 5 years and if the average home builder will not still have to find a much larger proportion of the cost of his home - and I quote the Treasurer - from his own resources or from supplementary, borrowings than he did 5 years ago. Also, I ask if the present increase has been limited to $1,000 because the Government wishes to retain the limit of $7,000 which has been set by statute, not regulation, for war service home loans for 6 years, not 5 years, and which was so largely responsible for the total allocation for housing in his second budget being less than in his first budget.
– These are a series of very complicated questions dealing with a lot of policy matters. I am surprised that at a time like this the Leader of the Opposition saw fit to ask them. He might easily have put his questions on the notice paper and thus obtained a more specific answer.
Be that as it may, the request for the increased credit foncier loans from the Commonwealth Savings Bank came from the Commonwealth Banking Corporation itself and I approved of the limit going to $8,000. What the honourable member has to keep in mind is not only the increase that has taken place in the cost of buildings but also the fact that better quality buildings are required or are demanded today. Secondly, he must bear in mind that unless the Commonwealth exercises some influence over the total amount of money made available for housing there is a distinct possibility that some builders - not necessarily all - will exploit the position and will increase the price of houses.
As to the question relating to war service homes, I state categorically that the limit imposed in respect of war service homes had no influence on the decision to allow the Commonwealth Savings Bank to increase its advance limit. If the limitation in respect of war service loans had influenced the decision in respect of the Commonwealth Savings Bank, that decision would have been retained for the Budget. Finally, as to the amounts allocated for housing in the two budgets which I have introduced, the amount in the second budget was lower than that in the first for the good reason that more people are becoming satisfied in respect of their demand for war service housing and the demand for war service homes is nowhere near as great as it was a couple of years ago.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. Will the Commonwealth Government give sympathetic consideration to the request, which I understand will soon come from the Premier of Victoria, to assist Victoria with a loan of $40m, to be spread over 5 years, to meet half the cost of the construction of an urgently needed underground railway for Melbourne whose 2 million people constitute one-sixth of Australia’s total population and which is approaching a public transport crisis’ of major proportions? I ask the question ‘ as as one Victorian to another.
– Answering the question as one Victorian to another, I can say only that it clearly is very much involved with policy matters and therefore is not one suitable for question time. Secondly, the question appears to deal with a request which has not yet been received or even sent. So I can only leave the matter there.
– It has been sent.
– Has the honourable member got it?
– I beg his pardon. The request has not yet come to me.
– I ask a question of the honourable member for Adelaide.
-Order! Questions may be asked of members, in relation to a Bill of which they have charge or a motion which they have moved. I am afraid that the honourable member for Adelaide does not come within those categories.
– 1 ask the Minister for the Army: Will he have inquiries made into the conditions of employment and the alternatives being offered to members of the academic staff of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, during the period of the affiliation of the College with the University of New South Wales as a faculty of military studies? In particular, will he examine the position of academics who are permanent officers of the Commonwealth Public Service but who are being offered only temporary positions with the University of New South Wales, involving loss of superannuation rights as well as loss of credits for accumulated sick leave and furlough? Are members of the academic staff at the College being hoist by the Army’s petard to a position between the devil of the Public Service Board-
-Order! The honourable member’s question is far too long. He should come to the point.
– Are they being hoist to a position between the devil of the Public Service Board and the deep blue sea of the University, with no security for advancement or promotion?
– I am aware generally of the matters to which the honourable gentleman has referred. Yes, 1 will have them examined.
– I ask the Acting Attorney-General whether it has been possible to recruit additional staff in the bankruptcy administration to reduce the substantial delays occurring in bankruptcy matters. Will he look closely into the problem to see whether some relief can be afforded in cases of very long delay?
– This is a matter with which, of course, the Attorney-General would be quite au fait. I confess that I am not. I will make the inquiries and let the honourable member know. 1 do know that the bankruptcy administration is in the process of putting into operation the new bankruptcy legislation, of which the honourable member knows, and this will involve new staff arrangements.
– I address my question to the Minister for National Development. To what extent will the continuance of the Government’s present pricing policy on Australian-produced crude oil increase petrol prices to Australian motorists? Will the increases scale upwards from 4c a gallon according to the proportion of total requirements represented by Australian production? Has heavy pressure been applied to the Government by producers to extend the consumer-paid subsidy beyond its statutory expiry in 1971? When can the Australian motorist expect any benefit by reduced prices resulting from discovery of a world-ranking Australian oil field?
– The Government made its decision on the price of crude oil in September 1965. At that time it appeared that there was a considerable need to ensure, firstly, that all Australianproduced crude oil was used in Australia before imports came in and, secondly, that a reasonable price was fixed to encourage the people who were searching for oil in Australia to continue a high rate of activity so that oil would be discovered. At the time the Government had before it a Tariff Board report, and my colleague, the Minister for Trade and Industry, at the time said that the Government accepted the Tariff Board report and that, firstly, Australian crude oil must be taken before duty-free entry was allowed from overseas.
But our second step went further than the Tariff Board had recommended. There was a recommendation by the Tariff Board for an incentive payment of 25c a barrel on Australian crude oil. The Government felt that this was insufficient and raised it to 75c, and said that this would apply for the next 5 years. We have been particularly fortunate in that the various incentives to oil search in Australia have led to certain discoveries. These have not been large by world standards. In actual fact the discovery on the Gippsland shelf will provide about 24% of the total Australian requirements for the next two decades, so it is obvious that we have to continue incentives and continue to discover oil. Nevertheless, in the light of the different position today from the position in 1965 the Government is at the present moment undertaking studies to see what the price should be after the present incentive price comes up for review in September 1970. There will undoubtedly be an effect upon the price of oil, but it will be fairly small.
The Gippsland shelf will not start to produce oil until April 1969, when it is expected that production from the Marlin field will commence. The next one, the Halibut field, will commence in September 1969, and the Kingfish field will start producing in about the fourth quarter of 1969. Over the period from April 1969 to September 1970, the increase in petrol price, if related to the price of crude oil, would be of the order of an average of about 1.7c a gallon over the 18 months period. The honourable member asks when the Australian motorist will benefit. Without confining my remarks to the Australian motorist, I can say that the Australian public will benefit because the discovery on the Gippsland shelf will mean that we will be spared the necessity to bring in from overseas crude oil valued at about $2,400m. I point out to the honourable member that in Australia the price of petrol is amongst the lowest petrol prices in industrial countries, and that the price of petrol is subsidised in remote areas, by quite a considerable amount, by the Government. The success of oil search in Australia shows that the lines of assistance to the search for oil in this country undertaken by the present Government have been remarkably good and have been successful.
Ninety-fifth Report - Treasury minutes on Seventy-eighth, Eighty-first and Eighty-second Reports.
Ninety-sixth Report- Expenditure from Consolidated Revenue Fund for Year 1966-67.
I seek leave to make a short statement.
– As there is no objection, leave is granted.
– The Ninety-fifth Report relates to Treasury minutes on your Committee’s Seventy-eighth, Eighty-first and Eighty-second Reports which were concerned respectively with the report of the Auditor-General for 1964-65, the supplementary report of the Auditor-General for the same year and expenditure from the Advance to the Treasurer for 1965-66. The Ninety-sixth Report relates to expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the financial year 1966-67 and covers the remaining items which were examined in a combined inquiry that related also to expenditure from the Advance to the Treasurer and which were reported on in the Ninety-third Report of your Committee.
This report shows that there are explanations for expenditure variations from the Estimates which, due to unforeseen circumstances or other factors, are acceptable. It also shows, however, cases where departments have sought funds prematurely in the original appropriations, either because they have disregarded their own experience in the areas of activity where expenditure is to occur; or because they have applied for funds without a reasonably clear appreciation of the expenditure which might be involved or because they have accepted at face value, estimates supplied to them by other departments or authorities. For this reason your Committee has again set out in this report for the guidance of departments the principles relating to estimating which have been formulated by the Department of the Treasury and endorsed by your Committee over the years.
Your Committee would also direct attention to the incidence of clerical errors revealed in evidence and the frequent failure to detect them during the financial year concerned. We would emphasise that the consequences of these errors can be serious. As in our Eighty-fourth Report, we would reiterate the need for departments to pursue claims for settlement vigorously and we would, also draw particular attention to the responsibility which rests .with the central offices of departments to ensure that estimates formulated by. their regional offices and overseas posts are adequately scrutinised and are supported by such material as will enable the central offices to perform their review functions at a high standard.
Finally, your Committee would refer to the matter of recoverable expenditure. By its nature, expenditure of this type is cancelled out in the overall Budget to the extent that recoveries are made in the year of expenditure. Not all recoveries, however, can be achieved in the year of expenditure and therefore, in any’ given year, recoverable expenditure can ‘ affect . the Budget. Your Committee believes that departments have a responsibility to formulate estimates and pursue claims related to such items, with the same diligence that they are required to apply to other items under their administrative control. I commend the reports to honourable members. . .
Ordered to be printed.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced..
Bill presented by Mr McMahon, and read a first time. - -
– 1 move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill and of the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1967-68 is to obtain parliamentary authority for expenditure for which provision was not made in the Appropriation Act (No. 1) 1967-68 and Appropriation Act (No. 2) 1967-68. The total appropriations sought in this Bill amount to $155,135,000. The various items included in this Bill can be considered in detail in Committee, and I propose at this stage to refer only to some of the major provisions.
The additional requirement for departmental salaries is $8.3m, mainly because of the increases in salary rates arising from arbitration determinations, reclassifications of offices and additional staff. Further appropriations totalling $ 10.7m are required for departmental administrative expenses, which cover a multiplicity of purposes. Additional appropriations amounting to $6.1m for departmental other services include $2m for cost of assisted passages for migrants, $547,000 for development of civil aviation, and $700,000 for grants to eligible organisations under the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act.
An additional amount of $22. lm is sought in the appropriations’ of the Service departments to carry out the current defence programme but, as there are shortfalls in some appropriations mainly due to rephasing of payments on aircraft purchases, lags in delivery of equipment and stores and in the provision of accommodation and facilities, the estimated total expenditure on defence Services from the Consolidated Revenue Fund and the Loan Fund is not expected to exceed the original appropriation of $994.9m. Including drawings on defence credits, the total estimated expenditure for 1967-68 is not expected to exceed the original Budget estimate of $1,1 18.2m.
Under Business Undertakings an additional amount of $8m is sought, including $6.4m for. the Postmaster-General’s ‘Department, mainly to cover increases in salaries and wages; $800,000 for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and $600,000 for the Commonwealth Railways. The PaY: ment to the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve is an internal machinery . transaction involving the transfer of moneys from one Commonwealth .fund within the public account to another and does not involve any actual expenditure by the Commonwealth. There is a distinct possibility that it might be necessary to make a payment to the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve greater than the$288m appropriated in Appropriation Act (No. 1) 1967-68 and it is desirable that the additional appropriation should provide a margin of safety sufficient to meet all eventualities. To this end it is considered that the appropriation should be increased by $100m.
Leaving aside the additional expenditure for payment to the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve, the additional appropriations being sought in this Bill amount to $55,135,000. This, however, is not to be taken as an indication that actual expenditure will exceed the appropriations in Appropriation Act (No. 1) 1967-68 to this extent. The greater part of the additional authority sought is expected to be offset by savings in expenditure under other appropriations in that Act. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Bill presented by Mr McMahon, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to obtain Parliamentary authority for additional expenditure in 1967-68 amounting to $31,335,000 on various items relating to Capital Works and Services, Payments to or for the States and certain other Services. Although additional appropriations of $6.6m are sought for Capital Works and Services it is expected that after allowing for savings in other appropriations the total expenditure on Capital Works and Services will not exceed the Budget estimate of $515.8m. The major requirements are $500,000 for war service homes, $758,000 for acquisition of sites and buildings, $610,000 for expenditure of the National Capital Development Commission, $700,000 for construction of roads for the transport of beef cattle, $350,000 for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department for acquisition of sites and buildings and $442,000 for Broadcasting and Television Services. Additional appropriations of $3. 6m are sought for Payments to or for the States, including $3.4m for drought assistance in New South Wales. An additional amount of $21,143,000 is required for other services, the main item being $21 m for payment to industries in respect of losses arising from devaluation of sterling and other currencies. As I have mentioned this Bill provides for additional appropriations of $31,335,000. However, there will be savings in expenditure under other appropriations in Appropriation Act (No. 2) 1967-68 which will offset this to a considerable extent. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation for proposed expenditure announced.
Bill presented by Mr McMahon, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill and the associated Supply Bill (No. 2) is to appropriate moneys to carry on the necessary normal services of the Government during the first 5 months of the financial year 1968-69. The total amount sought in this Bill is $1,119,110,000 comprising:
In general these amounts represent approximately five-twelfths of the 1967-68 appropriation and make no provision for new services. However, the amount of $460,382,000 for Defence Services makes provision for large contractual payments due in the first 5 months of the financial year. An amount of$20m is sought for an advanceto the Treasurer to make advances which will be recovered within the financial year, and to make moneys available to meet expenditure on services of the Government, particulars of which will afterwards be submitted to Parliament.I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation for proposed expenditure announced.
Bill presented by Mr McMahon, and read a first time.
[3.36] -I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to appropriate $250,268,000 for certain expenditures to carry on the necessary services of the Government for the first 5 months of 1968-69. The total amount sought comprises:
The amount for Capital Works and Services is required in general for the orderly continuation of works programmes. The amount of $20,000,000 sought for an Advance to the Treasurer is to make advances which will be recovered within the financial year, and to make moneys available to meet expenditures, particulars of which will afterwards be submitted to Parliament. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.
– by leave - Mr Speaker, after exhaustive inquiry and discussion, the Immigration Advisory Council, which represents a broad cross section of the Australian community, recommended to me that some form of second assistance towards passage costs should be given to carefully selected migrants. The Governments considered this recommendation and decided that the serious human problems which confront many migrants who have returned to their homelands should be relieved by the provision of second passage assistance, where this is justified on the merits of the case. The decision is designed to meet human problems and not to add to the quantity of migrants in which respect we are already doing well. The decision follows the strong appeal on humanitarian grounds in letters written to myself and to the Department of Immigration and. the many inquiries made at our overseas posts from people who left Australia for compelling reasons beyond their control. These are not those who left because they were disgruntled or dissatisfied with this country, but people of quality who represent an asset to Australia.
Second assistance will be given only in carefully selected cases where migrants have demonstrated their potential to settle satisfactorily in Australia but who returned home in circumstances which are unlikely to recur. The assistance will, of course, be available only to those who do not have the financial resources to pay their own way back to Australia. It is expected that under the conditions which are to be applied many of those who would seek financial assistance from the Australian Government will not qualify for it. For example, a migrant who departed solely because of homesickness, the persuasion of relatives still living and similar factors, will not be eligible for second assistance, and people in the higher age groups, or who have been repatriated at Government expense, will be excluded. Academic studies and the experience of other governments indicate that in this age of international mobility many migrants who return home become successful settlers on second migration. These studies also indicate that many clearly desirable migrants who left Australia and wish to come here a second time are unable to do so because they cannot meet the full travel costs.
I believe that the availability of second assistance to carefully selected families will give us the opportunity to regain these people as valuable settlers. Appropriate safeguards will be applied, however, to ensure that these arrangements do not encourage departures from Australia for a visit In anticipation of second time assistance or result in abuses. People of the type we need here will not uproot their families on an unconfirmed expectation of some assistance to return in the future. Second assistance will be granted only to married couples and families. Single people, besides being more prone to use the original passage assistance for a working holiday, can reasonably be expected personally to finance second migration if they decide to come back.
Applications for second assistance will be approved only after investigation to establish: firstly, the reason for applicants returning to their country of origin; secondly, their experience since returning to that country; thirdly, their reason for seeking to re-migrate; fourthly, their individual prospects for employment and settlement generally if they were to return to Australia; fifthly, their need for financial assistance; sixthly, that there has been a demonstrable change in the conditions which prompted their departure from Australia.
– Could the Minister depart from the text to explain what is meant by the last point?
– Yes, 1 will explain it for the honourable member. A situation may exist in which a person who is perhaps an only child has married and has migrated with his family to Australia. Subsequently an elderly parent who remained in England may be widowed or left a widower and be in need of attention. There may be very compelling human reasons which require the son or daughter in Australia to return most reluctantly to his or her home country in order to look after that person. Then, after a period of time the aged person concerned may die and the person who was formerly here and was a happy citizen of Australia may very desperately wish to come back. This is the kind of situation described in many letters I have received. In dealing with these applications, more restrictive criteria than those which relate to first assisted passages will be applied strictly. I emphasise the word ‘strictly’.
Where second time passage assistance is approved the migrants will be required to pay more towards the passage costs than under the first assistance. Persons 19 years of age and over will contribute $180 each; family members under 19 years of age will, however, still make no contribution. Upon being granted second assistance, migrants will have to sign an undertaking to repay the amount of the passage assistance if they depart from Australia within 5 years of their arrival - compared with the 2 year period for those who receive first assistance.
In summary the Government has decided, for essentially human reasons, to give financial help to selected migrants who, although assisted previously, have shown that The are the kind of migrant Australia is anxious to have, that their success upon return here should be assured and that they intend to remain with us, given this second opportunity. We do not see this as a decision which will give us large numbers of returning migrants. Rather we expect only limited numbers, but those who do qualify should be people of undoubted quality at present confronted with problems of a very real human kind precipitated by circumstances over which they had very little control.
The Government has also recognised that the general case for granting second time assistance to migrants should also apply in certain instances to Australian families who in the past settled overseas and who would like to resume their lives in their home country but who cannot afford the fares to achieve this. Accordingly, in selected cases where otherwise these people would remain lost to Australia, passage assistance will be granted to them. This decision by the Government in respect of Australian citizens will also apply only to married couples and families. It will apply both to Australian born and to Australians by naturalisation or registration.
An example of the type of case in which we would be prepared to assist would be that of a young Australian who goes overseas, marries, has a family and is subject to the same influences and attractions to return to Australia as his neighbours in the community. He is no less entitled to the opportunity to do so.
– How long would he have to be away?
– I cannot say how long he would have to be away. This is the policy that will be adopted and it will be applied. It will be a case of whether or not the person has taken up permanent residence away from Australia and lives in a community in which his neighbour may be eligible for an assisted passage to Australia. At the moment because he is an Australian he is denied an assisted passage. That is the problem we are seeking to. solve. The criteria is whether he has taken up permanent residence in another country.
Factors to be taken into account in considering applications from Australians will include: whether their reasons for remaining away from Australia establish that they may otherwise be lost to Australia; their record abroad; their reasons for return to Australia and their bona fide intention to settle permanently; their need for financial assistance from official sources.
As in the case of migrants applying for second time assistance Australians will be required to contribute $180 if 19 years of age or over and family members under 19 will not be required to contribute towards passage costs. Special consideralion can be given, however to meet hardship cases. Australians granted this assistance will also be required to sign an undertaking to repay the. amount of assistance if they leave . Australia again within 5 years. People who come to Australia as assisted migrants, acquire Australian citizenship by naturalisation or registration, and then depart for permanent residence abroad, will come under the conditions applying to migrants who. receive a second assisted passage.
I emphasise that the special arrangement for Australians is only for people who need assistance to return and who. would otherwise be lost to Australia. I believe that the adoption of this policy will meet some of the very human problems which have been exposed to me by letters addressed to me by name from England and countries on the continent.
Mr CLYDE CAMERON (Hindmarsh)by leave - I congratulate the Government on the decision to give second assisted passages in the circumstances mentioned in the paper just presented by the Minister for Immigration (Mr Snedden). During the 20 years I have been in this Parliament, the Ministry of Immigration has demonstrated its tremendous efficiency. What is more important, it has demonstrated its very deep understanding of the human problems which face people migrating from one side of the world to the other. I can never speak too highly of the officers of the Department of Immigration; nor have I ever been able to speak too highly of the Ministers for Immigration, whether they be the present Minister or his predecessors back to my former leader, the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell). The Ministers and the Department have always shown a very admirable understanding of the great human problems and tribulations that face some unfortunate people. This statement is a further example of such understanding. When I was overseas last year I had the opportunity, through the cooperation received from immigration officials, of seeing at first hand some of the problems which immigration officials have to contend with. One of the problems that I felt needed attention was the very one to. which, I am pleased to note, the Minister has attended; that is, that some proper consideration be given to people who, because they have been obliged to return to their homeland for special reasons, after the reasons forcing them to return have altered, desire to return to Australia.I know’ that money prevents us from being more lenient or more generous as to those who return to their homeland, and thus from including a greater number of people in the category of second passage assistance.
I am quite certain that in many cases the best migrant of all is the one who returns to bis homeland, gets his homesickness well out of his system and then, after 3, 4 or 6 months, is just as homesick for Australia as, before, he was homesick for the country of his birth. He comes here. He has fond memories of the place in which he was born and where he played as a child and went to school, and develops a terribly strong yearning to return to his homeland. Usually if he can return to his homeland and get a good eyeful of it and content himself, it is not long before he wants to get back to his other home - in this case, Australia.
– If I may interrupt you, I am sure you understood from the statement that second assistance will not be available to such a person who is homesick.
-I know. I was. saying that if we could afford it, it would be a good thing to extend our generosity to all such genuine cases. It is not possible yet, and probably it will not be possible, for us to give second assisted passages to people who return to their homeland through homesickness. This matter is particularly referred to in the statement. When I was in the Netherlands I had the good fortune to be able to discuss with the Minister for Emigration of that country this question of migrants returning to the Netherlands, not only from this country but from other countries. Some Dutch migrants find the pull back to their homeland so strong that in the end they succumb to it and return home. But in many cases - perhaps in 60% to 70% of cases - they want afterwards to return to their new homeland.
The Dutch Minister told me that bis Government would be willing to give serious consideration to making loans available to such people to return to the country from which they had come back, provided that some suitable arrangement could be entered into with, in our case, the Austral’ian Government for the collection of the cost of the second assisted passage, in instalments or by some other means. The Dutch Minister is an intelligent man and he realises that it is not an easy position. Once these people returned here it would be difficult for the Australian Government to deal with those who had defaulted. Nevertheless, I do not think the proposition ought to be dismissed out of hand as not being worthy of being followed up. I should like the Minister for Immigration to ask his departmental officers to give some thought to the possibility of accepting offers of this kind from countries which are willing to make them, so that people who wish to come to Australia a second time may borrow the cost of their fare from the host country or from the government of their native land. We could undertake, probably in some loose way, to be responsible for the collection and the refunding of the money to the other country.
However, that is an entirely different matter. It is not one that is dealt with in the statement. In fact, it is one that is especially excluded from the statement. I agree with the Minister that we cannot make this second passage assistance available to people who are just plain disgruntled and who probably would not be satisfied even during their second stay in Australia.
These are not the people we are out to help. I think it is proper that this type of person ought to be excluded from the provision of the assistance. The Minister covered this point when he said that the immigration authorities would have to establish, first of all, that a person seeking second passage assistance was not likely e-er to return permanently to the other country; that there was every likelihood, so far as it was possible for human inquiry to establish, that he would become a permanent resident of Australia.
Of course, it is not possible to lay down a cast iron rule in a case such as this, so the Minister has very properly given 5 years as the minimum time for which a recipient of second passage assistance must remain in Australia. If he left Australia before the end of the 5-year period he would be required to refund the money paid for his assisted return passage to Australia. 1 understand that that is the position, from a quick reading of the statement. It is a very proper provision. The cost of a first assisted passage is not refunded unless a person leaves within 2 years. A second assisted passage will have to be refunded if a recipient leaves within 5 years. No reasonable person could possibly quarrel with that provision. I think it is proper that appropriate safeguards should be taken.
I found that immigration officers abroad are not only extremely conscientious but also very sensible. They carry out Government policy almost to the letter. I say almost to the letter* because they depart from it - and it is not my intention to name the people or the places where I had the good fortune or pleasure to hear of these slight departures - when they feel that in special circumstances the justification for departure is so compelling that if it were discovered the Minister would be the first person to defend his officers for taking the initiative. The Minister for Immigration smiles, but I should like to think that he does not impose on his Department such a cast iron rule that a slight deviation from policy, where common sense demanded it, would not be justified. In other words, if we were to put a fine tooth comb through all the migrants who have come here, we would find that probably one or two of them have received second assisted passages. I say good luck to them. No-one would complain about it. If it was wrong, it is being rectified by what is contained in the statement now before the House.
Finally. 1 agree that it should not be left to departmental officers to judge willy-nilly and to interpret who should receive second assisted passages and who should not. There should be strict rules, and if these rules are to be departed from the Minister should be the one to authorise the departure. The Minister for Immigration has to exercise his ministerial discretion possibly more than most other Ministers. Providing strict rules or guide lines are laid down and that the officers abroad know that a borderline case can be sent to the Minister for personal consideration, then I think it it not necessary at this stage to dot every ‘i’ and cross every t’, because the Minister’s final power of discretion can always unravel a borderline case if it is felt that special circumstances justify that being done.
I am pleased to note that naturalised Australian citizens are to be treated in the same way as Australian citizens. As the Minister was reading the statement a particular case came to my mind. I should like to refer to it because it illustrates, I think, the point that the Minister has in mind. A naturalised Australian of Italian origin in my district was told by his doctor that his wife would have to return to Italy. She had been in a mental institution in South Australia for 3 or 4 years and she was craving to go back to her own part of southern Italy to see her friends. She was calling out for this all the time, until finally, on doctor’s advice, this man took his wife back to Italy. He gave way to what seemed to be a silly sort of proposition. This man took his wife back to Italy, and after 3 years I am pleased to say that the family has returned to Australia as a united, intact and completely healthy family. The unfortunate woman has regained her sanity and is now completely normal. Her husband and family are back in Australia and are very happy. However, the family was involved in a tremendous financial burden. This man has virtually been forced to start from scratch with a large family of six children in order to get over the financial shock involved in taking the trip back to bis home country and then back to Australia in order to cure his wife, the mother of his. children.
I say no more about the statement other than once- again to congratulate the Government on it. The statement shows that the Government recognises the great human problems of these people. All through the statement is a spirit of sympathy and complete understanding for these unfortunate people who, for certain reasons, find themselves drawn back to their original homeland and then, later, want to return to us. Everywhere in the statement one will see that special consideration is being given to cases involving hardship. The proposal outlined by the Minister is not drawn so tightly as” to be unworkable. Any special case can still be considered by the Minister, as happens with so many other migration matters. I compliment the Minister upon the proposal. It is to the credit of his Department that it has never waited until strong pressures from within Australia have built up in favour of reforms of this kind, because pressures within Australia on behalf of people outside Australia are not likely ever to reach the proportions necessary to achieve results. Here we have a department the officers of which act with a complete and thoroughly humane understanding of the problems of other people. I commend the officers of the Department. This Commonwealth is extremely lucky to have a department like the Department of Immigration. No other department in the Commonwealth acts so efficiently or with such great credit to its country as the Department of Immigration does. In my opinion this statement is further proof of that point.
Mr CHARLES JONES (Newcastle)by leave - I thank the Minister for Immigration (Mr Snedden) and other honourable members for the opportunity to make a brief comment on this statement. I join with the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) in congratulating the Minister and the Government on having brought forward this scheme of second assisted passages. At this stage I issue a warning to the Minister. As he is aware, today many people overseas treat our assisted passages scheme as a means by which they can have a 2-year working holiday. They come to Australia, work for 2 years, and then pack up and. return home. Nevertheless, I believe that the scheme is worth a gamble because many people come to Australia, find that it is not such a bad place and decide to stay on. Although we may lose some migrants who. return to their homeland, at the same time we gain quite a number.
My reason for rising was to make a plea to the Minister to give further consideration to his decision to reject applications for a second assisted passage from people who have returned to their homeland because of homesickness. The honourable member for Hindmarsh cited what was obviously a pathetic case. I cannot mention a similar case, but from my own personal experience in industry and from my contact with people I am aware of numerous cases in which a man has brought his wife and family to Australia, the wife has had an urge to go back home to visit relatives and has disliked Australia and the husband, in order to preserve peace in the family, has agreed to return home. But after reaching their homeland the wife found that the people whom she believed to be her friends were the people whom she had left behind in Australia. She found that the people who had been her friends before coming to Australia had moved into new age groups and had made new friends. She felt that she was an outsider in her own country.
– We could have an Australian wanting to come home if he is homesick in England.
– England does not want migrants whereas Australia does. This is the point that I am trying to make. I have found that migrants who have came back into industry have become good citizens. They have blended in with Australians and have realised that this is the country that they want to live in. Consequently I make a strong appeal to the Minister to give further consideration to second assisted passages being made available to people who have returned to their homeland because of homesickness.If the Minister cannot or is not prepared to do something about my suggestion, I join with the honourable member for Hindmarsh in suggesting that interest-free loans or loans at a very low rate of interest be made available to persons seeking a second assisted passage in order to test their sincerity. The loans could involve some form of recompense or repayment and work in much the same way as do home savings grants. Perhaps if an applicant saved a certain sum he could be eligible for a certain loan. Surely the Government could devise a scheme whereby people could have loans rebated over a period of years. These matters are worth considering in the case of people who have returned to their homeland but who have since wanted to come back to Australia.
The honourable member for Hindmarsh referred to an Italian family. Recently I had experience of a Dutch family whose friends in Australia approached me. They wrote to me and asked whether there was some way in which they could get back to Australia on a second assisted passage. They wanted to know whether there was some way in which they could get the necessary money to come out to Australia again. Unfortunately they had to borrow money through the money sharks - the money lenders - and they are now repaying that money at a high rate of interest. These are some of the things that the Minister could look at. On their second attempt to settle in Australia these people invariably make better citizens than they did the first time.
Debate resumed from 4 April (vide page 840), on motion by Mr Hulme:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-I am very pleased to have the opportunity to say a few words about the proposed amendments to the Overseas Telecommunications Act 1946-66. The purpose of this Bill seems to be to bring the Act up to date. It deletes reference to the island of Nauru in the Overseas Telecommunications Commission’s charter, that island now having secured its independence. Clause 6 removes the restriction on the employment of married women and brings the legislation into line with the Public Service Act which was recently amended for that purpose. The period for which the Commission may enter into a lease of land without Government approval has been extended from 5 years to 10 years. There are other amendments about which I should like to say a word or two a little later.
In the debate on the Post and Telegraph Bill the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) spoke strongly against the Opposition’s amendment to appoint a select committee to inquire into the desirability and practicability of removing the Post Office from the administrative influence of the Public Service Board and establishing a public corporation to control the business of the Post Office. All that we proposed was that a select committee should be set up; our amendment had nothing to do with whether or not a corporation should be set up. Although the Postmaster-General is opposed even to a select committee being set up for this purpose, he has accepted the desirability of a commission being established to control telecommunications to and from Australia. That body is closely associated with the Post Office. The report of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission for the year ended 31st March 1967 contains a few references which in my opinion are very important. I propose to draw attention to them. On page 2 under a heading ‘About OTC the report states:
The Commission, a corporate body of the Commonwealth of Australia, created by the Overseas Telecommunications Act, 1946, is directed by five Commissioners appointed by the GovernorGeneral for three years with eligibility for reappointment.
It is responsible for the establishment, maintenance and operation of telecommunications services between Australia and other countries, with shipping to and between Australia’s external Territories.
In association with the Post Office within Australia and communication carriers in other Commonwealth and foreign countries, the Commission provides public message telegram services to 257, telephone to 172, telex to 106, phototelegram to 33 and leased circuit services to 21 countries and places throughout the world.
Through the Commission, Australia is one of the major international telecommunications countries and is a substantial owner of world-wide communications facilities. Net fixed assets exceed $42 million. The Commission has a 25 per cent share in the COMPAC Cable, a 28 per cent share in the SEACOM Cable and with a 2.5 per cent share is the sixth largest shareholder in the international Telecommunications Satellite Consortium (INTELSAT).
At March 3.1 , 1967, the Commission employed 1,421 people.
We know that the Post Office employs nearly 100,000:
It operated establishments, including an Overseas Telecommunications Terminal at Paddington, New South Wales . . .
And so on. Further on the Report states:
The Commission appoints its own staff with a General Manager as the Chief Executive Officer. It determines its own conditions of service.
I want to emphasise this statement because of the debate we had earlier in this session about a proposed select committee to investigate the Post Office. In another part of the Report, under the heading ‘The year in brief, the Commission refers to revenue and it states:
There was considerable growth in the Commission’s operations in 1966-1967 both in new facilities and in the means of communication, with the expansion of the international cable and radio networks, of the coastal radio system and with entry into the new medium of international communications by satellite.
Revenue increased by 24 per cent to $18.8 million and the net profit after all charges rose by 44 per cent to $5.8- million.
The Commission also refers to finance:
Total revenue increased by 24 per cent from $15.1 million to $18.8 million, expenditure by 17 per cent from $11 million to $12.9 million, and net profit by 44 per cent from $4 million to $5.8 million. The sharp rise in profit reflects the continuing growth in demand for telecommunications services and return on the substantial capital invested in recent years on modern telecommunications facilities.
The trend in modern telecommunications is toward large scale capital expenditure on broadband systems. Because of the need to develop such systems, mostly in partnership with other Commonwealth countries, it was necessary during the year for the Commission to draw a further $3.4 million in Treasury advances.
These funds, together with other internal funds and the profit of $5.8 million provided the capital necessary for system development. Re-investment of profits was made under the provisions of Section 48 of the Overseas Telecommunications Act in accordance with a direction by the PostmasterGeneral with the concurrence of the Treasurer.
All those points are very important in respect of the other debate we had on the Post Office. I come now to page 23 of the Report and what the Commission said about industrial relations:
Staff Rules, which prescribe the conditions of service were reviewed, a number of Rules revised, and new Rules added.
There were several salary increases following decisions by the Arbitration Commission, the Public Service Arbitrator and the Commission. All categories of employment within the Commission’s service were affected by the National Wage Cases.
Harmonious relations continued between Management and the Associations representing staff interests, making it possible for industrial problems to be resolved by negotiation.
I refer to this matter because, as the PostmasterGeneral knows, these are some of the arguments we used in the earlier debate in which we asked for the appointment of a select committee to report upon whether the Post Office should be controlled by a public corporation.
There are a few points I want to raise regarding some matters dealt with in the Bill and the effect that they could have on industrial relations. The Postmaster-General is aware that the Australian Council of Trade Unions is concerned with the effects of some of the clauses of the Bill. I propose to draw attention to them. For instance, clause 5 amends section 18 of the Act. It fixes the maximum salary payable to officers of the Commission, other than the general manager, at $7,500. The ACTU and the unions associated with the Overseas Telecommunications Commission consider this amount to be inadequate. They consider the figure should be about $15,000. They point out that the amount of $7,500 does not represent a proper assessment of the value to be placed on executive and senior executive positions within the service. As a matter of fact, having regard to the salaries now being paid and the claims of the Professional Radio Employees Institute, which are the subject of current negotiations, the ACTU feels that the figure of $7,500, if it is included in the legislation, may inhibit and restrict the area of negotiations and certain claims that may be made. It feels this provision could be used in subsequent arbitration proceedings. I feel certain that the Postmaster-General will be able to clear up this point to the satisfaction of the unions, judging by conversations I have had with him about it, and I ask him to do so.
Clause 7 of the Bill relates to another matter which has been raised by the ACTU. It proposes to omit these words from section 27 of the Act: (not being :in officer to whom sub-section (lj.) or (12.) of section eighteen of this Act applies).
The ACTU considers . that any rights affected by such proposed amendments, or any amendments which would remove any r ignis or benefits recognised in respect of any of the acquired officers whose previous service with Amalgamated Wireless Ltd or Cable and Wireless Ltd, would be strongly objected to by the trade unions. It wants these people to be protected. It feels the Unions would object to the discontinuance of such rights and benefits, or benefits becoming affected by the omission of these words. The ACTU feels this would be the result of the omission of these words. On behalf of the ACTU we of the Opposition seek assurances from the PostmasterGeneral that any officer of the Commission who had any right, entitlement or benefit accruing will not be disadvantaged as a result of the proposed amendment to section 27.
Clause 8 of the Bill affects section 33 of the Act and deals with the deletion of the word ‘appoint* and the substitution of the word “engage’. This has created some doubt. If it is intended by this proposed amendment to restrict or limit the obligations of the Commission to ‘appoint’ a person to the service and to ‘engage’ a person for an idenfinite period as a temporary or unappointed employee, then the trade unions and the ACTU strongly object to such insertion of a provision in the Act. The Professional Radio Employees Institute has advised that the PostmasterGeneral, in his second reading speech, gave no explanations of the reasons for the proposed amendments to sections 27 and 33. Therefore we seek from the PostmasterGeneral explanations and assurances as to the intention of the amendments to those two sections. We seek assurances that they will not operate to the detriment of any of the currently employed personnel. We seek assurances that the amendments will not restrict, limit or deny to any of the presently employed temporary staff prospects of appointment to the service of the Commission. I ask -the Minister to be good enough to refer to the matters that I have raised.
Clause 16 of the Bill deletes section 77 of the principal Act and inserts a new section 77. This clause requires some explanation. The Professional Radio Employees Institute raises no objection to sub-sections (1.), (2.), (3.) and (4.) of proposed new section 77; but it sees a danger in subsection (5.),- which could be construed, as a result of the amended terminology, as imposing upon the Commission, at the request of the Director of Posts and Telegraphs, an obligation for the Commission, its officers and employees to carry out work normally handled by personnel of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department for reasons other than a breakdown of facilities, disaster or circumstances of national emergency. What the Institute has in mind specifically is an industrial dispute. Tt is felt also that under sub-section (5.) of proposed new section 77, following an interruption to services under the control of the Postmaster-General’s Department, resulting from an industrial dispute between telegraphists and the Department, members of the Professional Radio Employees Institute employed by the Overseas Telecommunications Commission could be required to carry out work within the internal areas of the Commonwealth and thus be used to defeat the claims of other unions. Members of the Institute fear that they could be involved in a great deal of expense if disputes of this kind arose.. The Institute feels that the deletion of the words ‘landlines interruption’ and their replacement by the words ‘an interruption to services’ leaves the interpretation of what is an interruption to services open for the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs to define as he sees fit. I would like the Postmaster-General to clear up those matters. From conversations that we have had I think they could be cleared up satisfactorily
Clause 12 of the Bill increases from $40,000 to $100,000 the maximum value of property which the Commission may purchase or dispose of. At a later date that amount could be further increased by regulation. This clause has some bearing on a matter that I raised in this place last May. I refer to the purchase of 724 acres of land at Gnangara in Western Australia for a project being undertaken on behalf of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission. More than $108,800 of Commonwealth money was lost in regaining possession of the land for the Gnangara wireless project. This terriffic loss has created a lack of confidence in the Commonwealth department responsible for this bad deal. In saying that I do not refer necessarily to the Commission, but somebody was at fault. In an editorial on 10th May 1967 the ‘West Australian’ stated:
The excuse that the Gnangara land was not offered to the Commission, when the Army no longer needed it, because the OTC is a statutory body and not a Commonwealth department, shows an extraordinary lack of liaison at Canberra.
Land dealings giving a private person more than S60 per cent profit in just over 12 months and still held to be based on a fair valuation at the time show a lack of proper concern for the use of taxpayers’ funds.
However, the basis of Mr Hulme’s calculations is unsatisfactory. Public confidence, shaken by the OTC disclosures and by the scale of the unheralded increase in charges at a time of widespread service complaints, needs to be restored by a thorough inquiry into the whole system of Post Office finances.
I have raised this matter previously and still have not had a satisfactory reply. This is why I am raising it again. The Commonwealth lost $108,800 in a few months. The 320 acres involved are part of a 724-acre site near Gnangara Lake in Western Australia. The whole of this land was owned by the Commonwealth for 13 years before it was sold in 1966 for $19,200. The loss to which I have referred was incurred in regaining possession for the Overseas Telecommunications Commission. The Commonwealth originally acquired the 320 acres in 1952 for $3,200 from Michael Georgeff and a merchant named Korsunski. In January 1966 the Commonwealth sold the land to Dr Carl Georgeff for $19,200. In May 1966 the Commission paid $128,000 for the 320 acres. It also purchased the remainder of the 724 acres, which is in three separate titles. The total cost of the Gnangara project has been estimated at $2,225,000. I repeat that the PostmasterGeneral, has never satisfactorily explained this bad deal.
I ask him now to say how the price of the 320 acres of Gnangara land could increase by 566% in 151 months - from the time the Commonwealth sold it until it repurchased the land. Why was Mr Korsunski, one of the original owners of the land, overlooked when the Commonwealth sold the land early in 1966 to the son of his deceased partner? Those are two matters that should be answered. The Postmaster-General should know the answers because these matters were raised more than 12 months ago. Mr Korsunski was joint owner of the property with the late Michael Georgeff. After the Commonwealth acquired the land in 1952 and then found that it had no use for it, it contracted to sell the land for $19,200 to Dr Carl Georgeff, son of one of the original owners. The Commonwealth repurchased the land from him a few months later for S 1 28.000.
This House has not been told the full story about this deal. It is entitled to be fully informed on the matter. I do not want the Postmaster-General to say that he will not deal with a matter that should be raised in the debate on the Estimates, because I raised this matter last year during the debate on the Estimates and did not get a satisfactory reply. That is why I am taking the opportunity to raise it again now. I urge the Postmaster-General to deal with the matters I have raised, namely the purchase of land for the Gnangara project and the matters that have been referred to by the ACTU.
– The honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) said that the Overseas Telecommunications Commission was an example of a statutory corporation of the kind which could be set up to operate the Post Office. As he did in a debate last week, the honourable member advocated transforming the Post Office into a statutory body. There is no basis for comparing the Post Office with the Overseas Telecommunications Commission because the Commission is a strictly technical body having virtually no direct dealings with the public, whereas the Post Office deals directly with the public and has responsibilities covering a multitude of facets of service to the community. The success of the Commission indicates that the Government has been wise in selecting for it the present form of administration. The type of structure selected for the administration of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission is tailor made for the circumstances in which the Commission operates. Anyone who wishes to have first-hand evidence of the successful administration of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission and of just how efficient it is should pay a visit to Moree, where the first earth station in Australia for commercial communications from a satellite went into operation on 29th March last, when the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) opened this new service. Anyone who visits that station will be impressed not only by the efficiency of the Commission and its officers but also by the fact that with this step we have moved into a new era in communications. The earth station at Moree is, in relation to future developments with satellite communications, in very much the same position as skyrockets are to intercontinental ballistic missiles. We know that this is a new venture in a totally new field, and therefore that it is quite elementary, and that in the course of very little time indeed there will be some tremendous, quite radical developments in this field. Already we can see the trend of these developments.
In 1965 the chairman of the Radio Corporation of America, Brigadier General David Sarnoff, forecast that satellite communication would enable us to receive telephone communications, radio broadcast and television entertainment via satellite in our own homes, at small cost. This is the way in which we can expect developments to move in the next few years, and it is for us in Australia now to contemplate this prospect and to make our plans accordingly. We do not want to be caught as we were caught with the introduction of broadcasting in Australia. We do not want to repeat the mistakes which we made at that time and which subsequently have denied Australians the advantage of frequency modulation broadcasting, a benefit which is enjoyed by people in the United States of America and in Europe but has been prevented in Australia because we got off on the wrong foot with broadcasting. We do not want to make similar mistakes with this new form of satellite communications. We can see the trend and we should be planning now to meet the need when it arises, to provide Australia with the most efficient communications system possible.
The element of cost enters into this. We are a country of vast size and small population and we cannot afford, perhaps, the kind or scale of communications that the United States can afford. However, if we plan carefully, if we go into it thoroughly, I am sure we will be able to find adaptations to the system suitable for our needs in Australia. We must measure the costs - there will be costs - against the advantages that will accrue to us and also against those savings that will accrue by the elimination of land lines, perhaps, or the ground stations that we have at the present time.
Since General Sarnoff made his prediction in 1965 that we would have this type of direct satellite-to-domestic receiver communication, there has been quite a controversy in the United States. That country has an organisation equivalent to the Australian Overseas Telecommunications Commission. It is the Communications Satellite Corporation, commonly known as COMSAT, and it is geared to international communications and not to domestic communications. However, it has yielded to pressure and has put forward a plan to provide America with domestic communications via satellite. It is proposing to put up a satellite in 1969 to provide a number of expensive ground stations with signals. An argument is waging quite fiercely in the United States as to whether this is a useful step or whether in fact it is heading in a completely wrong direction. There are strong advocates for the proposal that General Sarnoff put forward, that instead of feeding signals back from a satellite to an expensive ground station and feeding them out from the ground station by microwave or landline or radiating them from a broadcasting station, satellites should be powered to enable them to broadcast direct from space to domestic receivers. It is estimated that the cost of adaptation of a domestic receiver would be about $100 if this system were put into effect.
However, there is strong resistance to this idea in the United States. COMSAT does not want it, evidently because the pressure groups in the United States which stem from the heavy investment that has already been made in land lines and in broadcasting stations favour the first proposal, that satellites should feed ground stations, which in turn should feed the existing network. But the Americans’ hand will be forced in this matter, and this is quite evident because the Russians and the Japanese, who are well advanced technically in this field, have no such local pressures to influence their judgment, and they are going flat out for direct satellitetodomestic receiver communication. If America stays out of this race, if it is sidetracked by COMSAT or by the pressure groups, it will be well behind and will be in the position of having signals transmitted from Russia, or from Japan for that matter, via satellite to domestic receivers within the United States. We in Australia will be in the same position, because these signals will be freely available to anybody who puts up the $100 to fit his set with the proper adaptors. Therefore, America will have to go in for this form of communication, and it will have to do this quite rapidly; it will have to move within the next couple of years. I quote from an article which appeared in ‘Fortune’ magazine of October last year. The words that General Sarnoff used in bis address in 1965, which I have referred to, were, according to the article, these:
Developments are too radical in their nature, and the pace at which they come is too swift, for the past to serve as an effective prelude to the communicating future. We must look for entirely new procedures, attuned to the realities of the spage agc.
Within a decade, and possibly less,’ said Sarnoff, ‘I believe it will be technically feasible to broadcast directly into the home from synchronous satellites. All of the basic components and technology already exist. . . .
That was a prediction made in 1965, and since then there has been quite substantial progress in the other countries, although for the reasons I have stated, there is some hitch in the United States. The article in Fortune’ which contains General Sarnoff’s words also says:
Canada is considering a $80m plan to build its own domestic satellite system without delay. . . .
Japan is actively weighing a satellite system of its own to link its sprawling, mountainous islands, more economically than expensive cable and microwave-relay lines. Its electronics industry, second only to that of the United States, is reported to be but a year or two away from having a direct-broadcasting satellite technically in hand.
Later the article states:
At the same time, the Soviet Union, which is not a party to Intelsat, has been busy. It launched its first communication satellite … in 1965.
It now has five communication satellites serving the domestic scene in Russia. The article continues:
The USSR meanwhile is also working on synchronous direct-broadcasting satellites, which are particularly applicable to its far flung territories and appealing to its totalitarian nature, for they would enable it eventually to reach directly into almost any region of the earth.
I will not quote any more of the article; I have said sufficient to show that we in Australia must reckon with the pace of change in satellite communication. We cannot sit back quietly and calmly, as we did with television, and watch developments in other countries.
We will be faced in the next few years with a situation in which we will be able to receive directly in our own homes signals transmitted from Japan or Russia and pos.sibly from other countries and to do so we will need to -make only a very small change to our present receiving sets. This will affect us quite closely. It is time that we looked at the total subject very carefully and made whatever preliminary arrangements we can. The use of satellites to provide communications by television or by broadcasting will mean entering the ultra high frequency range and using frequency modulation broadcasting. We have resisted this in Australia, but it may be wise for us to licence some frequency modulation stations operating in the ultra high frequencies. In that way we will be ready for the invasion of these signals from space in the next few years. This will apply, particularly to colour television. When we do introduce colour television in Australia, we could concentrate on ensuring that it uses the ultra high frequency bands. Similarly, with telephone communications and telex we should be preparing now for the invasion of satellite signals.
We should consider the, organisation that we must set up in Australia when we in our turn are in a position to put up a satellite for use with our own communications here. We should consider how such a satellite will be financed and how we can establish co-ordination between the various interests that will be Involved. I have in mind the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the commercial broadcasting stations. We must consider how this will tie in with the Overseas Telecommunications Commission, which deals with foreign communications. These matters should be considered now. 1 am amazed that so little has appeared in the Press on this subject. In fact, I have not read any authoritative article on this subject in the Australian Press. I am amazed that the subject has been neglected, because it is of vital significance to a country as vast as Australia is. Communications of all kinds here are of pressing importance. I trust that the Postmaster-General will give the matter his urgent consideration.
– in reply - The Opposition has referred to several clauses of the Bill and has sought an explanation of them. The first of these is clause 5, which increases a figure from $5,000 to $7,500. Salaries above this level must have the Minister’s approval. I do not quite understand the suggestion of the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) that the trade union movement has asked for this figure to be increased considerably to $15,000. This is getting very close to the salary range of the second level of permanent heads in the Commonwealth and would create an anomaly. In relation to all persons other than the head of the Department, there should be negotiation between the employer and the employee. We do not have the normal Public Service situation in the Overseas Telecommunications Commission. We have an unusual situation in that the Com? mission has the right to fix the salaries of the members of the staff. It could, therefore, except in relation to the General Manager, fix a level of salary that goes to the limit if there is not some point at which the Minister has authority.
What we are doing in the Bill is to create a situation similar to that in other areas. The Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies and the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation all require that, above a certain level of salary- I think it is $7,500- <the approval of the Minister is necessary. What we are doing in this situation is to throw responsibility for the salaries on to the person who has the final responsibility for the authority and that is the Minister. How: ever, we appreciate that most employees in any organisation are below this level and we leave the Public Service Board or, in this instance, the Commission to determine the level of salaries for these people. It is right that the Minister should be responsible1 for the higher salaries. We could pick any figure. Whether it be $7,000, $7,500 or $8,000 does not make a great deal of difference, but we have chosen $7,500 as a reasonable figure: We have also suggested that, as salaries generally rise over the years, we increase the amount by regulation.
The honourable member for Stirling also referred to clause 7 of the Bill. This relates to section 27 of the Act and provides:
Section 27 of the Principal Act is amended by - omitting the words ‘(not being an officer to whom sub-section (11.) or (12.) of section eighteen of this Act applies)’.
Clause 27 of the Act will then read:
Unless the Commission, in any particular case, otherwise directs, the appointment of every officer shall be on probation for a period not exceeding twelve months and the appointment may be terminated by the Commission at any time during that period. lt is sometimes well to be reminded of the manner in which an organisation such as the Overseas Telecommunications Commission commenced operations. In the early days Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd conducted all overseas wireless operations. Cable and Wireless Ltd, a private company, operated a cable system out of Australia. These were taken over many years ago by the Commonwealth. This was at the time when the Overseas Telecommunications Commission was set up. In this transition it was necessary to provide that the servants of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd or Cable and Wireless Ltd be protected as Commonwealth servants. I am sure the honourable member for Stirling will appreciate that there is now no need for that protection as there are no appointments of Cable and Wireless Ltd servants being made today and it is unlikely that we will take over, other than in the normal course of operations, any individuals from a private company. They would come to the Commission in the normal course of events and it would not be a matter of protecting the employment that they had at the time of take over. Therefore, these particular words, if left in the Act, would be redundant.
The honourable member referred also to clause 8, which is a small amendment proposed to section 33 of the Act by replacing the word ‘appoint’ with the word engage’. The section at present uses the word ‘appoint’ in relation to temporary employees, but this term is usually applied to permanent officers and not to temporary officers. Section 33 at present provides:
The Commission may appoint such temporary or casual employees as it thinks fit.
We believe that the word ‘engage’ is more appropriate when applied to temporary officials; that is the reason for the amendment.
Clause 12 proposes to raise from $40,000 to $100,000 the amount that can be spent on the purchase of property or the amount that can be received on the sale of property by members of the Commission without the necessity for the Minister’s approval. I am sure that .most honourable members will agree that the values of all types of property have increased tremendously over the past 10 or 20 years, and also that the Commission’s responsibilities have increased substantially. In these circumstances one can envisage that the amount of ordering, for instance, done by the Commission has increased considerably. It is believed that the value of $40,000 some years ago is comparable with about $100,000 today.
I believe it is unnecessary for me to comment further than I have in the past in relation to Gnangara in Western Australia. I merely say that the Overseas Telecommunications Commission owned a substantial block of land in Western Australia which was purchased about 50, 60 or 70 years ago for the purposes of the Commission. As years went by the city of Perth was built out towards this area and considerable interference to communications made it necessary for the Commission to move out further. The land in question was sold to the Western Australian Government for recreation purposes, and the Overseas Telecommunications Commission, in a normal commercial operation, purchased land at Gnangara, which is much further out from Perth, at a location where interruption is not expected for perhaps two or three centuries. The original purchase of the land near Perth, its sale, and the Gnangara purchase by the Overseas Telecommunications Commission has been a matter for the Minister for the Interior rather than myself. Although I was given some details, I do not have them with me at the moment. At the same time, I believe that what was done by the Overseas Telecommunications Commission - this is what I am concerned with and what the debate is about - was a norma] business transaction, and the Commission has benefited considerably from its earlier purchase. Whether it paid too much for the Gnangara land or not, the advice that the Commission received at the time of purchase was that this was the current market value of the land. Therefore, it was an appropriate and proper business transaction.
The honourable member for Stirling referred to sub-section (5) of proposed new section 77, which states:
Where the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs requests the Commission to do so by reason of an interruption to services under the control of the Postmaster-General’s Department, the Commission shall transmit telegrams from or receive telegrams at stations operated by the Commission, subject to payment of reasonable charges to the Commission by the Commonwealth.
The honourable member suggested that, if this provision were included in the Act, an alternative service would be available in the event of an industrial dispute. I assure the honourable member that nothing of the sort is contemplated, for I believe it would be impossible for the facilities of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission adequately to handle the normal telegram and telegraph traffic of the Post Office. This is neither a strike-breaking operation nor an operation to deal with an industrial dispute. This arrangement has been operating over a long period of years, and this provision in the Bill is merely to clarify the legislation.
I believe there is no need for me to comment on the other matters that have been raised. The honourable member for Gwydir again mentioned frequency modulation broadcasting. However, I have said that I would make a statement to the House during this session, and I believe I shall still make that statement, which will give an opportunity to all honourable members who are interested to offer their views on frequency modulation broadcasting.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hulme) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 4th April (vide page 842) on motion by Mr Hulme:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– This is the third Bill of a series dealing with the Post Office and its allied undertakings, and in some respects many of the arguments were traversed in the debate last week. However, in the first place I intimate that the Opposition does not oppose the Bill. Like the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme), I believed many years ago when we were serving together on the Public Accounts Committee that it was a rather silly arrangement for the Budget to be inflated on both sides - on one side showing all the revenue of the Post Office from such things as postage and telephones, and on the other side showing the details of expenditure for the same services. We believed that, in essence, what should have been shown were the net profit and loss figures and the applications for capital. As I understand it, that is the purpose of the Bill with which we are now dealing. Indeed, when the Minister introduced the measure he gave us an example of how, in future, the items will appear - in what he called a single line item, with the appropriation in the Budget being the difference between expenditure on capital works and operating costs on the one hand and, on the other hand, 1 believe the Minister implied that this would not in any way lessen the ability of members to criticise the operations of the Post Office or to seek information upon its operations, either during finance debates or during question time.
It is rather peculiar how the finances of the Post Office have operated since the passage of the original Post and Telegraph Act in 1901, when the Post Office was one of the items of administration taken over from the States. It was recognised at that time that this was a branch of administration that would be better handled on a national, federal or Commonwealth basis, rather than having six separate State Post Offices.
The provision that seems to me to govern the finances of the Post Office is contained in the simple section 65 of the Post and Telegraph Act 1901-1966. The section reads:
All moneys collected on account of the sale of postage stamps commission charges fees penalties and other dues levied collected or received under this Act or the regulation shall be paid to the Treasurer of the Commonwealth and placed to the credit of the Consolidated Revenue Fund: Provided that fines inflicted upon officers of the Department under section ninety-five shall be disposed of in such a manner as the Governor-General shall direct.
Apparently there was some separation of the moneys in relation to disciplinary charges; otherwise everything went into the Consolidated Revenue Fund. It is interesting to see, from that section which apparently was adopted from section 132 of the Queensland Post arid Telegraph Act 1891,. how simple the Post Office was in those’ days. All that was referred to in that section was the sale of postage stamps, commission charges, fees, penalties and other dues. No mention was made in those days of the telephone and scarcely was mention made of the telegram. Certainly nothing whatever appeared about television and broadcasting. - Now, it is proposed to. insert a’ new -financial clause into the Post and Telegraph Act. I refer to. proposed new section 96a, which appears as ‘Part IVa.- Finance’. I commented the other evening that it is rather odd to find where this proposed new section will .be inserted. Section 96 of .the Act reads:
Any person employed under the authority of the Postmaster-General may refuse to receive ‘ or transmit a telegram containing blasphemous indecent obscene offensive or scandalous matter in its contents address or signature.
Immediately after section 96 will be inserted proposed new. section 96a in a new part of the Act entitled ‘Part IVa- Finance’. I think that in many respects it . is rather absurd that such an insertion needs to be made in this way. Some provision ought to be made for renumbering the sections of Acts or for allowing such provisions to be inserted in their own right, as it were, and in this case certainly elsewhere than between a section dealing with obscene telegrams and a section dealing with regulations in general.
Be that as it may, it seems to me that the interesting part of the amendment is proposed new section 96h. This section provides: (1.) In the administration of this Act in relation to the Post Office services, the Postmaster-General shall pursue .a policy directed towards achieving in respect pf each financial year, in respect of those Services, such financial results as the Postmaster-Genera], with the concurrence of the Treasurer, determines.
It is about this matter of the overall financial result of the Post Office that I wish to have something to say.
I remember that in the days when this matter was discussed by the Public Accounts Committee what is now the Se letter rate was 2id or 3d. I recall asking the question: Why was it thought that a letter should cost 2id or 3d? Why was it thought that so many ounces of airmail should go at one rate and that so many pounds of parcels should go at another rate? Why were concessions given on certain classes of mail, telegrams and so on? One was always forced back to the answer that this was a matter of government policy. I think that everybody realises that even though in a fine analysis it may be regarded as a matter of government policy nevertheless some attention was paid to what were called the overall results of the Post Office on a commercial basis. I think that the Post Office, like any other undertaking, hopes by virtue of all its transactions to have enough money from its revenues to meet its costs. Whilst actual charges were a matter of policy, apparently the matter of matching revenue and expenditure was what called for the exercise of ingenuity by the Post Office.
When the Minister introduced this measure, he seemed to suggest that what is being done will provide for the first time the Post Office with a business charter. I am quite sure that he did not mean in any sense by that statement that in earlier years the Post Office operated in an unbusinesslike fashion without what he calls a business charter. I am a great admirer of the Post Office and its efficiency. I am also one who does not believe that earning a profit should be the only criterion or determinant of efficiency. I think that there are other ways of measuring the efficiency of an organisation than by establishing whether or not it makes a profit. After all, making a profit simply means charging more for the services performed than those services cost. The argument whether that difference can be elevated to a virtue and then called efficiency seems to me to have a lot of undistributed middle term in it. I submit that there are other ways than making a profit to determine whether an undertaking is efficient.
I concede that what the Minister raid is that the new method will enable the Post Office to be somewhat more flexible within its financial arrangements. Again, flexible is a term that lends itself to a certain amount of elasticity, I suggest, but an organisation can be flexible wide or flexible narrow. I hope that the Post Office will be flexible narrow rather than flexible wide. 1 wish to relate my remarks to proposed new section 96h because the other evening the Minister took me to task when I suggested to him that he - not my side of the House - made a reference to the 8% net earning to which the British Post Office works. I notice that the latest broadsheet from the Department of Economic Affairs in Great Britain, No. 36 for January 1968, is devoted to the subject ‘Guidelines for the Nationalised Industries’. Whereas the Post Office is supposed to earn 8% net generally, the publication in a footnote points out:
New targets for the Post Office have recently been set: For postal services, 2% surplus on expenditure (after depreciation and interest), and for telecommunications, 8i% on net assets (after depreciation at historic cost).
What I had pointed out- -and this argument was raised during the debate upon whether the Post Office should be reconstituted not as a government department but as some new breed of animal called a corporation, to which the Minister suggested by implication that such a corporation might be expected to earn 8% net - was that already the Post Office was being forced to earn 5% net or, to be more precise, 4.983% net. In his reply - of course I do not have the right of reply in a debate as the Minister does - he suggested that this was not quite true because the Post Office had actually made a loss of about $21 m, and therefore, in essence, the Post Office had not earned the 5%. With all respect to the Postmaster-General, I suggest that this is really a bit of a quibble because after all he has already altered the charges pf the Post Office so that that $21m loss will be converted into at least a breakeven figure. The objective will still be to allow the Post Office in terms of capital employed in it to have a net return of about 5%.
I want to point out what might be called a certain amount of cross-financing which goes on in regard to Post Office charges.
During the current session my colleague, the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb), has asked questions 689 and 703 relating to the overall results of the Post Office. I think these questions were mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) the other evening. In reply to these questions the Postmaster-General said as reported at page 790 of Hansard of 4th April:
Letters . . . . $1 million
The Post Office almost broke even with revenue of about S70m and handling costs of S71m. The Postmaster-General continued that other losses were estimated as follows:
This made an aggregate loss of $20m. I think the latest accounts show that on a commercial basis these losses amount to §21 m. The Postmaster-General also stated in answer to the question asked by the honourable member for Stirling:
It can be seen that this gives an increase in revenue of about $24m as against the losses of $2lm. Of course, there may have been some adjustments in costs, but that is not the point I wish to make at this stage. I am suggesting that the ordinary letter service of the Post Office that almost broke even is to cost the public another SI 6m. In my view, this indicates that this section of the undertaking will make a profit and that that profit will be used to subsidise some other activity of the Post Office. This is what is called cross-financing. I would like to say a few words about this subject. It seems to me that in statements issued from time to time by the PostmasterGeneral and the Government we should be given some information about this crossfinancing.
A colleague of mine from the Geelong district was disturbed the other day to find that some alterations that were being made in a kind of telephone exchange that was being installed in the district were to cost about $50,000. Although about sixty subscribers were not asked to pay any part of this $50,000, nine of the subscribers were asked to pay a bill of $15,000 between them. One subscriber was asked to pay $2,000. I would like to know something about the logic of this kind of system. A certain amount of cross-financing must have taken place because apparently $35,000 of the $50,000 was to be paid by all users of the Post Office, but nine unfortunate subscribers were asked to pay $15,000 between them. This is only one example of cross-financing. It may be that other honourable members know of further examples. I do not believe that the bulk of users of the Post Office services should subsidise these services of a particular section. However, I suggest that this practice is followed to a certain extent. It seems to me by implication that a fairly heavy dose of it will be financed by users of the ordinary letter service. . .
– It is a matter of developing the country.
– That is right. But I think if subsidies are paid to develop the country then the subsidies ought at least to be revealed so that we can know what is being paid.
I also believe that some sort of logic ought to be advanced as to why a person should be expected to pay additional costs simply because he lives a certain number of miles along a road. I am sure such a practice does not appeal to members of the Australian Country Party. I have listened at great lengths sometimes to the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) who I often think represents vacant miles and cows more than he represents people. Nevertheless there is quite a considerable distance between the people he represents. It is a little illogical and unfair that such people should have to carry heavier burdens than others for a telephone service. It would be interesting to hear some sort of explanation, perhaps not in this debate but at some other time. I suggest that the proposed White Paper be a little more discursive about the financing of the Post Office. Some observations in the report of a Public Accounts Committee inquiry of 10 or 12 years ago suggested that the governments would be happy, as I am sure the managers of the Post Office would be happy if, at the end of the year they found, like Micawber, that they had had £1 and spent 19s lid, rather than that they had had £1 and had spent £1 0s Id. They like their expenditure and revenue to balance as far as possible. It seems to me, without any doubt, that some profitable aspects of the postal services have subsidised other aspects that have been unprofitable.
I think one of the greatest beneficiaries from the losses incurred by the postal services are the members of the Press. They could send telegrams at a cheaper rate per word than anyone else in days when they did hot have their own teleprinters. They were able to make trunk-line telephone calls at cheaper rates.
– The newspapers still do.
– Yes. This was said to be a necessary subsidy because the dissemination of the latest information was regarded as a public service. I do not quarrel with this. But if these accounts are to be presented in a new fashion and we are told that they are based on a commercial rather than cash basis, then I think some notes should be contained each year in the accounts of the Post Office drawing attention to the fact that certain operations of the Post Office can more than cover the costs incurred. I can see, as every economist knows, that assessments of joint costs are pretty arbitrary. If we pay one man to do. ten separate tasks, how do we allocate his total wages among the various tasks to give the true cost of every task? Nevertheless, tests and canons can be applied which would show that some forms of the service do more than pay for themselves and, if I can be excused for the term, make a profit. Others make a loss. In my view, attention should be drawn to this. We should have an explanation about how charges for telephone services are imposed on certain users depending on whether or not they live certain distances from the exchange. If this were done then a lot of people would not be so confused about the situation. As I say, I hope that we agree broadly that this legislation simplifies the present structure of the Post Office. I hope that it makes the Budget a truer picture of overall results, rather than just putting everything into it and then taking some items out. It is a net performance rather than a gross performance.
I hope too that the flexibility which is to be given to the Post Office will be of the narrower type rather than the wider type and that it will enable the Post Office to apply tests of efficiency that previously it was not able to apply. I hope that the tests will not be based purely on financial results. I still think that there are better ways of organisation and management, which are part of efficiency, than the confusion, sometimes, of a mere debit and credit transaction. I look forward to the White Paper as an additional document at the time of the presentation of the Budget. I trust that the Minister has noted some of my reservations as to what information should be included in the White Paper in order to achieve a new and intelligible presentation of the accounts.
– The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) is on rather dangerous ground when he speaks of costing country telephone services, because if one were to apply costing effectively throughout the economy people who live in very large cities would find that the cost of their services would rise heavily, lt has been proved, quite satisfactorily, by people who have gone into this question that there is an optimum size in the congregation of people. It is approximately 500,000. Anything above that figure starts to become a heavy drain on the total economy. I think that if the honourable member for Melbourne Ports, who lives in one of the large cities in Australia, applied his principle generally, he would be most uncomfortable with the outcome.
I am in favour of the Bill because I am in favour of anything that helps to clarify the information contained in the annual Budget. This Bill does precisely that. Thanks to the work of the Public Accounts Committee, to which the honourable member for Melbourne Ports has referred, we have seen the Budget progressively improved over the course of the years. It has now become far more comprehensible and intelligible to the layman than it ever was before. So this further step forward is something to be welcomed and encouraged. But in saying that, 1 must admit that in carrying this Bill we are signing a blank cheque, because we really do not know what type of information we will be furnished within the White Paper. We hope that it will be adequate and will give us answers to the questions at which we will be looking at Budget time. We support the legislation, as an act of faith, and rely upon the good judgment of the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) and his advisers.
– in reply - I do not want to delay the House. I have noted the comments made by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean). I will have regard to them, particularly those concerning the White Paper which in future will be produced at Budget time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hulme) read a third time.
Debute resumed from 2 May (vide page 1106), on the following paper presented by Mr Fairhall:
Defence - Ministerial Statement, 2nd May 1968.
And on the motion by Mr Snedden:
That the House take note of the paper.
- Mr Speaker, it is my purpose this afternoon to follow the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) who was the closing speaker last Thursday evening in the debate on the defence statement. It is rather interesting that the speech of the honourable member for La Trobe excited a lot more comment in the Australian community than did the defence statement itself. This is because the honourable member showed some of the independence of thought for which he has become well known. We know that he, together with other honourable members on the Government side of the House, was responsible for the second ‘Voyager’ royal commission which raised very serious matters regarding the administration of the Royal Australian Navy. The honourable member for La Trobe said that there was very little in the statement of the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall). He said:
In view of the world situation I was amazed to find how little there was in it.
Later he said:
We have heard very little about thefuture, about what planning is necessary and about what is intended in the circumstances which surround us today.
He also said, referring to the United States of America:
If peace talksare arrangedand they are satisfactory, it couldwell be that the United States’ would remove herself from South East Asia. We have no alternative butto remain here, and we do riot know whattime is available to us to plan for defence.
All of these matters are very important. I agree with the honourable member for La Trobe. I, too, was rather amazed at how little information of any significant nature was conveyed to us in the defence statement. Indeed, I am amazed at what little significance the Government seems to place on a debate on such an important question as defence. If one peruses the list of speakers which has been conveyed to us, one sees no evidence at this point of time that the Minister for the Army. (Mr Lynch) or the Minister for the Navy. (Mr Kelly] proposes to speak in the debate. The Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) has not indicatedhis intention to . speak in the debate.’ Indeed, this session is well under way but we have not heard the Prime Minister in this session speak in support of Government policy, except insofar as hehas defended some aspects of that policy in the ‘Voyager’ debate and in thedebate on the unfortunate incident of the questioning of a woman in Vietnam.
– He has not spoken on any matters of Government policy since he became Prime Minister.
– That is exactly my point. I should like to canvass the present defence situation set out in the Minister’s statement in the light of the Australian Labor Party’s attitude and also in the light of the very sincere criticisms made by the honourable member for La Trobe and by speakers on this side of the House. The first question is the British withdrawal from east of Suez. I detect a change of emphasis in the Minister’s statement in this regard. There is no longer the shock and dismay which was reflected in earlier Government statements. It seems that the Government and its Ministers are now looking at the question of British withdrawal a little more realistically than they did. What that withdrawal means in the future we are not in any position to say. The defence statement does not tell us. It refers only to the fact that there is tobe a five-power conference in June. The remarkable thing is that the British have stayed so long. Having renounced colonial rule 20 years ago when withdrawal took place from India, Pakistan. Burma and other countries, the remarkable thing is that the British continue to maintain substantial forces right around the world. Now Britain because of financial and other problems, has decided to withdraw from cast of Suez.
I think it is timely to recall what Britain has done. The entire development of Aus- tralia prior to the Second World War occurred under what one might term the umbrella of the Royal Navy. In more recent times Britain has proved that she can still playan important role in this part of the world. Without any doubt, the substantial contribution made by Britain, both with land forces and the stationing of a Vulcan strike bomber force at Singapore in Malaysia, did a great deal to bring confrontation with Indonesia to an end. There are, of course, other factors in the British withdrawal. These factors will have to be explored at the five-power conference. One relates to the strategic reserve stationed in Malaysia under the ANZAM agreement which was brought into being by the Labor governments of Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia in 1948.
Britain has a nuclear capacity of some significance. When we think in terms of. the two super powers, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America, we tend to relegate Britain to a somewhat inferior status. We should not forget that Britain, with probably the greatest development of nuclear energy for peace time uses, has as a consequence of that development a substantial capacity for nuclear warfare. I believe, as I have said before, that the British withdrawal east of Suez was inevitable. The British have made their intentions quite clear in a White Paper. They have spelt out their intention not to renege the obligations that they have accepted under the South East Asia Treaty Organisation and their willingness to accept a continued obligation for the defence of Malaysia. Speakers on both sides of the Parliament in the House of Commons have pointed out that there is no doubt that Britain would accept a commitment to come to the defence of Australia and New Zealand if we were ever threatened; but there are a number of matters spelt out in the British White Paper on which we have had no comment from the Minister for Defence or the Government.
The British are prepared to co-operate in certain circumstances. They would require time; they would require in Australia, in Australian territories or in our immediate environs, facilities which were satisfactory and suitable for the equipment that they would use. These are the important questions to which we need an answer and to which we have not been given an answer so far. The statement made by the Minister was very disappointing. He seemed to leave the whole question as to where we go from here as something to be decided at the fivepower conference. I think the Minister could have indicated Australia’s interests in this area, what the Australian Government believes we ought to be doing and to which responsibilities Australia believes it should commit itself. In doing that we would be giving some leadership and making our views known. The details could be worked out when the five-power conference took place.
The Australian Labor Party believes that Australia has a continued interest in the whole region. It was a Labor Government which entered into the ANZAM arrangement. Labor’s belief was - the present Government has continued to think this way - :that the security of the Malay Peninsula was of vital importance to the security of the Commonwealth of Australia. I believe, and I do not think anyone in this place would contest, that if our neighbouring country, Indonesia, were threatened by invasion we would have to give very sympathetic consideration to assisting her in the problems that arose. No member of this Parliament disputes that we have a responsibility properly to defend the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. We have accepted responsibilities under the Australian, New Zealand and United States Defence Pact and under SEATO.
Having spelt out those general considerations, I believe that the Minister could well spell out just what Australia’s interests are in the area surrounding it. We want to see proper defence arrangements made to cover the Pacific and Indian Oceans adjacent to our shores and the seas to our immediate north. The obvious importance of sea power and air power has always been a consideration in Labor’s policy. The Australian Labor Party has always believed that Australia, with a small population quite evenly distributed over the area of this island continent and heavily concentrated in the south eastern corner, needs a very flexible defence force, which means a particular concentration on the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Australian Navy.
I was surprised that the Minister made no military assessment of the situation in Vietnam. This is the only place where Australian troops are engaged in a wartime occupation. He dealt with Vietnam in rather generalised terms, saying that the Government was in agreement with the Americans in their de-escalation of the bombing of North Vietnam and in expressing the hope that the peace talks would be pursued to a successful conclusion. I was disappointed that the Minister made no military assessment of the situation in Vietnam, using the Australian resources that are available to him. He and other speakers have said, and no-one in this House would dispute, that the Australians in Vietnam, in accordance with their training and leadership, are without any doubt carrying out their duties effectively and well. But we would like n know just what the success of this enterprise is and what is the result of more than 18 months of occupation of the Phuoc Tuy Province. We would like to know the success of the other responsibilities that have been accepted in Vietnam. We would like to know a little more of the war situation in which we are involved. It strikes me is rather an unusual statement on defence that makes no mention at all, or no significant mention, of the war in which we are actually engaged. There are a number of other matters. I, for one, would be interested to hear how the Centurian tanks are going and 1 should like to hear about a number of other matters to which passing reference has been made.
This brings, me to the Fill aircraft. I do not want to spend a great deal of time on the FI 1 1 because there has been already a great deal of discussion on this subject. In my view some of the discussion has not been particularly relevant. Whatever one thinks of the original decision to place an order for the FI 1 1 , the fact is that, based on a report by the technical staff of the RAAF, the Government decided to order that aircraft. That order has been placed and we are within a few months of taking delivery of the first of these aircraft. The Minister for Defence and also the Minister, for Air (Mr Freeth), who spoke on Thursday night last, made generalised statements that whilst there seemed to be some faults in the aircraft at present, they were quite sure and confident that it was not beyond the capacity of American technology to rectify these faults. I ask the Minister this question: Does that mean that wc will not be taking delivery of the Fill until, if I may use the term, these bugs have been ironed out? Are we in the position which applies when one buys a motor car, that is, if there are any faults one is not responsible for tidying them up in the running-in period? Does this mean that Australia will not take delivery of these aircraft until it is quite satisfied that it is getting a serviceable aircraft?
I read that when several of these aircraft were lost in Thailand recently the RAAF sent teams there so that we could make our own assessment of the position. The terms in which the Minister referred to the Fill would rather suggest that our assessment, if it has been completed, is that there is nothing basically wrong with the aircraft that cannot be straightened out. But there is a good deal of disquiet in the Australian community and I believe that the Government should be forthright in telling us whether these things are true. The greatest controversy in the community about the Fi Ils concerns the vast escalation of cost. It is quite spurious now to be arguing about the qualities of the aircraft, except insofar as we want to make sure that its anomalies are rectified. Obviously, in the future, the Government will have to come up with a much better story than it has come up with to this point of time in order to justify the cost escalating from $US120m to $US.300m.
There are other questions which I would like to ask, and which I would like to have answered, concerning the Fill. We are familiar with the enormous rebuilding programme taking place at the Amberley air base, the new hangars and new facilities that are being provided there. Am I to understand that the Fill needs all these facilities at a base from which it can operate? Is Amberley the only base in Australia from which it can operate? From what other bases can it operate in this region? Is Butterworth base capable of being developed into a station from which these aircraft can operate? Candidly, I do not know the answers to these questions. I think one of the faults of this Government is that it has not fostered proper discussion in this Parliament and in the Australian community about defence matters. One can argue that the Government should put a cloak over these things and keep them secret but obviously, if the people of Australia are to take a more intelligent interest in defence, and members of this Parliament, including myself, are to take a more intelligent attitude to defence than we may have done in the past, then a lot more information ought to be given to us. Is Amberley the best place for these aircraft to be stationed? What about fighter cover for these bombers? I do not know the answers to any of these technical questions but I believe there is a considerable amount of disquiet in the Australian community about them and it is up to the Government to give us some information.
There were a number of other matters raised in the speech by the Minister for Defence. He mentioned co-operation with New Zealand; the fact that defence was aiding Australia’s industrial development; that there had been forward steps in the establishment of a joint service college.
Again, J would like more information about the integration of the Services. We on the Opposition side of the House who have been studying developments in Canada and elsewhere are rather interested in centralising our Defence Services and cutting wasteful defence expenditure. We would like more information about how this joint service college is going to dovetail into the other colleges established by the individual Service Departments. We do not know about this at this point of time. 1 believe this information is not yet available but I would be grateful if it is made available to us as soon as possible.
I think it is very difficult to discuss, intelligently or adequately, defence matters in this Parliament. It seems to me that the present situation is that the Government has very substantially increased Defence expenditure and that this is a trend which will probably continue. The Australian Labor Party has never sought to cut down on Australia’s defence. Indeed, 1 believe that Labor has played a prominent role in the defence of Australia in two world wars. But we are concerned to see that the people of Australia get good value - the best possible value - for the money spent on defence. Irrespective of what may be decided at the five power conference, I believe that Australia has to be prepared in relation to some matters to stand on its own feet. The honourable member for La Trobe also made this point. The enormous cost of the Fill should not blind the Government to the need for forward planning in other defence areas. For example, it is obvious that some decision has to be made about a replacement carrier for HMAS ‘Melbourne’. Even though this vessel is now being refitted for specific antisubmarine work, we all recognise that the capital ship of today, and for the foreseeable future, is the aircraft carrier. It may be that action along these lines needs to be taken very shortly because one does not bring a modern aircraft carrier on stream in 18 months or so. We have no indication of the Government’s forward planning for the Royal Australian Navy or even for the Army.
I did refer earlier to the Centurion tanks and expressed my interest in learning how they were shaping up to the situation in
Vietnam. I think anyone concerned with our Army would know that there is a feeling within the Army that we need a light tank as a replacement for the Centurion more suitable for use in Australia and in vast areas adjacent to Australia where we have responsibilities. We should know what the Government is doing about some of these things.
The Australian Labor Party believes that Australia needs to increase and improve its defence preparedness. It believes that an essential part of this exercise is to eliminate wasteful expenditure and to develop proper co-ordination between the various arms of the Australian defence forces. It believes that there should be. proper co-operation with our neighbours and allies; that we should share common aims and problems and endeavour to effect economies of scale within the region. The Labor Part)’ believes that the statement by the Minister for Defence was a fairly poor one because of what it omitted rather than what it contained.
– Seven months have elapsed since the House last had a debate on defence. The subject was discussed during the Estimates debate last year. In that time two important decisions have been announced. Firstly, the British Government has decided to withdraw al’l its forces east of the Suez Canal, except those in Hong Kong, by the end of 1971. Secondly; President Johnson has announced moves to de-escalate the conflict in Vietnam. Both decisions, to my mind, will have a profound effect over a period of years on Australian Government policy for the defence of this country. I propose to deal with this later in my speech. My immediate purpose is to indicate how frequently changes of strategical situations occur in our part of the world.
Looking back over a longer period of years, say 3 or 4 years, I note that there have been many other important changes relating, for example, to West Irian, Indonesia and Malaysia. Bearing in mind these great changes in the strategical situation in those 4 years, we can see that it is almost impossible for Australia to forecast the strategical situation during the next 10 years.
Yet this is the situation which the Government must face when placing orders for defence equipment requiring a long lead time between the placing of the order and the date of delivery. For this reason I believe that there can be only one rule to govern Australia’s defence policy: That is, we should order the equipment that is required to provide an adequate and balanced force for the defence of Australia and the security of our near environment. For this is our own responsibility. It is the only situation in which we can even conceive of fighting on our own. In all other situations we would be fighting with allies. In such circumstances we could expect that our allies would provide items of equipment that are not in our own inventory. In such situations we would use those items in our own defence inventory which would contribute most effectively to the common effort.
But the lessons of the last few months raise questions as to the circumstances in which we can confidently rely on major allies and this, surely, must be the strategical situation which the House should now be considering and debating. It is in this context that we should be considering the need for the Fill aircraft, which has been referred to so much during the course of this debate.
The Fill was ordered in 1963. It is to be delivered in 1968 and it is likely to be a component of our defence forces at least until 1980. Surely, if we are to provide an adequate and balanced force for the defence of Australia and the security of our near environment, a deterrent capability must be one of the essential components of this defence inventory. One lesson that we learnt from the confrontation of 1964 was that the V bombers operating from Singapore and Darwin were a major factor in limiting the size of the conflict. But from 1971 onwards there will be no V bombers in Singapore.
Of equal importance to the deterrent role is the requirement for a reconnaissance capability. Until now the reconnaissance material obtained by the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force has been available to us. But after 1971 an Australian reconnaissance capability becomes much more vital for our own security. To my mind, therefore, the need for the Fill aircraft is imperative in the light of the strategic situation that is now developing in our part of the world.
At this stage the capability of this aircraft is being demonstrated in operational conditions over North Vietnam. Some people in Australia, particularly in this House, and overseas have appeared to rejoice at the loss of three of these aircraft and their crews in operational conditions, but let us remember that no aircraft has ever gone into service and not had losses in the early days of its operations. The loss of these aircraft is a cause for regret; but it is leading to technical adjustments being made to the aircraft to prevent similar losses. The loss of these aircraft is surely not a cause for abandoning the most sophisticated design anywhere in the world of a tactical strike aircraft.
Let us remember that there are four factors in the performance of this aircraft which set it ahead of any of its competitors. Firstly, the Fill, due to the efficiency of its terrain following radar, is able to fly at low level, in all weather and at night, and so can penetrate to targets that could not be reached in similar conditions by any other aircraft. Secondly, by penetrating to those targets at low level arid at high speed, it is able to avoid being picked up by enemy radar. Thirdly, the Fill can carry a conventional bomb load considerably in excess of that carried by any other tactical aircraft over a similar range. Its new bomb aiming devices enable it to deliver its weapons more accurately than can any other aircraft. Fourthly, it has a range capability in excess of other tactical aircraft. In comparison with, for instance, the Phantom, which has been mentioned in the debate, the Fill could carry out a mission without the need for in-flight refuelling, whereas the Phantom, even if it could carry out the task, would at least require a fleet of tanker aircraft to achieve the same range. In any comparison between these two aircraft, their refuelling capability and the cost of it must be taken into account.
The Fill has now completed a long period of operational training. Already 10,000 flying hours have been achieved. We must not forget that during this time there have been fewer aircraft accidents than in the case of any other comparable aircraft.
What is more, the experience that has been gained in operations and in operational training is now being transmitted for the benefit of the Royal Australian Air Force when we take delivery of our aircraft from July onwards. We now have it on record from the Air Staff that the Fill has demonstrated its capacity to fulfil the requirements laid down in the original Air Staff specifications. On no previous occasion can I remember the Air Force taking delivery of an aircraft at a time when there was no better aircraft available, either in operational service or even on the drawing board. So for these reasons 1 believe that we may confidently say that this aircraft will be in the forefront of world performance for years to come.
The Fill order has been one of the largest individual investments that Australia has made in its defence history. It is right therefore that we should examine the costs in some detail, as was done by the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) last Thursday. We not only now have a price for each aircraft but also can state with some confidence the price for the complete project. I should emphasise that the price we are paying for the elements of: this project is comparable with that being paid by the United States Air Force. The price we were given in 1963 and the price that was mentioned therefore in this House was the then current price estimated by the United States Air Force. So although the price for Australia has escalated it has escalated no more and no less than has the price being paid by the United States Air Force. The team of Australian experts m the United States has kept, and is keeping, rigid control oyer the ordering of equipment and the price of each item. We ordered this aircraft at a time when honourable members on both sides of the House felt the country to be potentially in danger, lt was a time when they were demanding that Australia have a strike aircraft comparable with anything that the Soviet Union might supply to its friends and customers. The Government’s estimate - correct, as events have proved - was that we had sufficient time in hand to enable us to order the best strike aircraft being developed anywhere in the world. To get an aircraft of this performance and to ensure that we received h early in the production run and not 3 years later necessitated our paying a price for it. I believe that I have highlighted the strategic need for this aircraft. It has been demonstrated that the aircraft is capable of the performance laid down to meet Air Staff requirements. So I believe that in due course the nation will realise that it is getting the aircraft at a price that provides value for the money expended.
Last Thursday the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) asked how we could evaluate this aircraft. Let me tell him that one evaluates this aircraft in the same way as one examines any bill which one gets and has to pay. The first thing one does is make certain that the bill is the correct one, that there is no waste and that we are paying the market price. I say categorically to the honourable member that we have had experts in the United States who have watched to see that there has not been waste and that we are getting the aircraft at the market price - the price which the United States is paying for its aircraft. Secondly, one should examine whether substitutes would do the job as well or at better value. As J have tried to say briefly, the only comparable aircraft is the F4 - the Phantom - but when one compares the Phantom and takes into account the cost of tanker aircraft that would be required to enable the Phantom to do the job that is being done by the Fill, one may be certain that we are getting better value for our money in the Fill project than we would if we purchased substitute aircraft, such as the Phantom. Thirdly, one should examine the effect of cancelling our order for the Fill. I say again that in the deteriorating situation that is likely to face us to our north and our west, as I shall demonstrate shortly, to cancel the order for the Fill at this time would be an unacceptable danger to Australia. So, in evaluating this aircraft I submit that we must pay the bill and save in other fields of government activity in order to ensure the safety of Australia.
Sitting suspended from 5.S8 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I was dealing with the advantages and the implications of the Government’s policy in purchasing the Fill aircraft. Now I want to deal with some of the aspects that flow from this .decision. Some members of the Opposition, particularly the previous speaker, the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross), criticised the cost of the Fill project, but I believe that they should examine it in the context of their own defence policy. The implications of their foreign policy would surely involve a retreat to Fortress Australia. If that is the Australian Labor Party’s policy, it should endeavour to work out what that policy involves in defence equipment and how much it would cost. At times, for instance, members of the ALP have advocated that Australia adopt a policy similar to that of Sweden. Sweden’s area is only 6% of that of Australia, and yet it spends a higher proportion of its gross national product on defence than Australia does. What is more important, the proportion of the total defence vote spent in Sweden on the Royal Swedish Air Force is very much higher than the proportion of Australia’s defence vote spent on the Royal Australian Air Force. Without going into detail, we can be certain that a policy of Fortress Australia would involve the Australian taxpayer in a very much larger contribution to defence than has ever been asked of him in our peacetime history. Therefore, when members of the Australian Labor Party advocate some of the things that were advocated this evening by the honourable member for Brisbane, they should examine how much they would cost. ] return, however, to an examination of the new strategical situation that I believe will confront Australia as a result of recent decisions of the British and United States Governments. The defence umbrella which has been our shield for many years is in process of change. Let us look at the three important factors. British forces are likely to be leaving this area of the world by 1971. The US is de-escalating in Vietnam, and the long-term implications of this were set out very clearly by Denis Warner in an article in the Melbourne ‘Herald’ last night. The third important factor is that Russian naval strength in increasing in the Indian Ocean. These are profound long-term changes for Australia. I agree with the Government that it is too early to evolve detailed plans for Australian defence but it is clear that whatever happens Australia will have to stand on its own feet much more in the future than it has in the past, and this will require more money for defence.
The cost of the Fill programme is the first indication of the burdens we may have to carry in the future. We have been fortunate that we have had these past 5 years in which to strengthen our defence equipment. Our forward defence policy has en.abled us to re-equip our defence forces while we were protected by the defence umbrella of our allies. We can be thankful today that we have grown in strength over this period. At a time in the near future when we could become much more isolated, we will possess much stronger defence equipment than we had 5 years ago.
In the few minutes that remain I shall look at the defence requirements for the new strategical situation that could develop over the long-term in this part of the world. I suggest five defence requirements. First of all, 1 believe that we should order only the equipment that is required to provide a balanced and adequate force for the defence of the Australian mainland and its near environment, and for this purpose I believe that our defence budget will need to be at least 5% of our gross national product. Second, we shall need to strengthen our relations with manufacturing industry. We need a viable aircraft industry, for instance, and 1 believe it will be necessary to integrate and rationalise the aircraft industry, because in its present state I feel there exists excess capacity which leads to high cost of production. Third, we should examine ways in which research and development grants can be provided to industry to enable it to co-operate with the defence services to provide new defence requirements. Fourth, we should be prepared to increase the number of technical advisers that we can make available to those defence forces in South East Asia that request our aid. Fifth, and most important of all in the light of the strategical situation that I have outlined to the House, we should examine our lifeline across the Pacific Ocean. This could become vital to us in the future, as it was vital to us in 1942. To this end we should seek closer relations with New Zealand and compatability of defence equipment between the Services of our two countries. At the same time we should examine what facilities are likely to exist in the Pacific islands. We should ascertain from the British Government what plans it has for the islands that it now controls. Britain may decide in due course to withdraw from her Pacific Island dependencies, as she has from almost every other part of her former empire. If this does happen, then we should seek to participate in any discussions that might lead to a transfer of sovereignty. History surely demonstrates the need for defence facilities in that part of the world to ensure our own security.
Debate (on motion by Mr Scholes) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr McMahon, and read a first time.
That the Bill be now read a second time. On 15th August 1967, in the Budget speech, I informed the House that the Government proposed to seek an amendment of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act to give common entitlements to members of the armed forces on continuous full-time duty for a period of 12 months or more by admitting to the scheme those now excluded by reason of the terms and conditions under which they serve. The defence forces retirement benefits scheme was inaugurated in 1948 to provide a common superannuation scheme for the three permanent arms of the defence force. In essence, the scheme was limited to regular officers of the three services and to other-rank members engaged for 6 years or more. Following the introduction of the national service scheme and the increase in the numbers of citizen, reserve and supplementary force members on fulltime service, there are now over 21,000 servicemen and women who, although serving for extended periods on the same basis and alongside members of the permanent forces, have not access to the scheme.
This Bill, which extends the membership of the fund to include members of the defence force aged 18 years or more who are engaged or appointed for a period of continuous full-time service of not less than 1 year, will bring the large majority of these persons into the fund. Though the new members will not contribute to the fund until after the Act is proclaimed, the Government has decided that eligibility for pension benefits will be extended retrospectively to or in respect of former members of the forces whose service was terminated by death or substantial incapacity on or after the date of the first national service intake, 28th June 1965, and before the commencing date, who would have been eligible to contribute to the fund had the membership provisions of this Bill then applied. Amounts of pension to be paid in respect of periods prior to the commencement of the Act will be determined by the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Board.
In determining these retrospective payments, the Board will have regard to amounts of gratuity received at discharge and to payments that have been received by the member or his beneficiaries by way of Commonwealth social service benefits, weekly payments under the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act or pension under the Superannuation Act. The amounts recovered from any of these sources will not in any case exceed the amount of the retrospective pension payment. One fortnight’s contribution at the rate appropriate to the former member’s rank will be deducted from the initial pension payment to establish contributor status in accordance with an existing principle of the principal Act.
By reason of fund membership the new members will become entitled to the generally more beneficialgratuity provisions of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act. As appropriate, suitable transitional provisions will cover those serving members who are now entering the fund in respect of gratuity entitlements accrued under Service regulations in respect of their earlier non-contributory service. No member will suffer any loss of gratuity benefit simply as a result of Fund membership. However, certain medical and dental officers who are entitled to special benefits by way of bounty and gratuity will continue to receive these benefits under the Service regulations.
Since 1959 the Act has provided for payment of $600 to a male other rank “member who re-engages for a further period of not less than six years after completion of an initial period of service of six years. The Government has decided to extend this provision to provide from now on for payment of $200 after three years’ service if the member has agreed to serve for not less than a total of six years, and for payment of $800 after six years’ service, less any payment previously received, if the member has agreed to serve for not less than a total of 12 years. However, payment will not in any case exceed the amount that would be payable to the member by way of gratuity and refund of contributions if he were to be discharged at the point he becomes entitled to the advance. The existing arrangement that payment will be made as entitlement arises unless the member specifically elects not to receive it will continue. As hitherto, advance payments will not be recovered from the retirement benefits of the member should he die or be retired on invalidity grounds.
Amongst the members who will now be elibible to contribute to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund are considerable numbers of Commonwealth officers on leave from their employment who are contributing to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. The Government has decided that these members, like their Service colleagues, should contribute to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund while members of the forces and their contributions to the Superannuation Fund will be deferred until they cease to be liable to contribute to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund. On completion of defence service the deferred contributions to the Superannuation Fund will be met from the refund of contributions and gratuity, if any, payable from the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund.
In the event of a superannuation contributor being discharged on invalidity grounds from the defence force he will not be entitled to pension benefit from the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund. Instead he will receive a refund of contributions and an invalidity gratuity if so entitled and will look to the Superannuation Fund for his pension which will be supplemented where the pension entitlement from the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund would have been greater. Similarly, should a superannuation contributor die while still a member of the forces, his widow and any children will receive a superannuation fund pension supplemented as appropriate. The member’s contributions to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund will be refunded. Later this day, when I introduce a Bill to amend the Superannuation Act I will explain these proposals in more detail.
Provision has been made in the Bill to meet the situation of a national serviceman who is granted extended leave without pay on grounds of exceptional hardship. Under the existing provisions of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act a member of the Fund is required to contribute during any period of leave without pay and continues to be entitled to benefits, including pension benefits, under the Act during the leave irrespective of its length. While this is appropriate for members of the regular forces the Government has decided that, in the case of a national serviceman, his contributions to the Fund will cease when the leave without pay extends beyond a period of 30 days and he will not be entitled to death or invalidity benefit while he continues to remain on leave. On eventual discharge the period during which he contributed to the Fund will be the period of his service for gratuity purposes.
The Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act at present does not make any provision against early payment of benefit from the Fund because of disabilities in existence before entry but not detected in a pre-entry medical examination. This is remedied in the Bill which provides that persons discharged within 3 months of entry into the forces because of a medical condition which existed prior to enlistment or appointment and which has not been materially aggravated by service will not be entitled to invalidity benefit under the Act. This provision will apply to all classes of members in the Fund and not only to the new categories of members being provided for in the legislation. The disqualification from benefit will not apply in the case of death during service.
Unlike the Superannuation Fund, the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund is not protected against abnormal liabilities arising from death and incapacity due to active service. The Government has decided that, with effect from 14th December 1959, the date from which the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund was placed on an actuarial basis, the Commonwealth will meet any excess charge against the Fund arising from the expected greater risk of death and retirement on invalidity grounds amongst members on active service, active service meaning service that is active service for the purposes of the Defence Act. -The Bill provides for the excess cost to be determined annually by the Treasurer after receiving a report from the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Board which will consult with the Commonwealth Actuary. It is intended that at each quinquennium the Actuary should review the adequacy of the amounts paid into the Fund.
One of the effects of extending the scope of membership of the fund is that members of the permanent forces who reach the retiring age for their rank and transfer to a reserve or supplementary force with a higher retiring age will be able to continue their contributions to the Fund and qualify for higher pension. Similarly, members who retire on pension and later return to serve again on a full time basis will be eligible to contribute towards better pensions Because some complex issues are involved it has not been possible to incorporate in this Bill the provisions establishing the basis on which these persons will continue their contributions to the Fund. The Government proposes to introduce a second Bill to deal with these and related matters later in this session.
There are three other matters not dealt with in this Bill about which I want to comment. Because many of the new members will serve for comparatively short periods and then leave the service, receiving a refund of their contributions to the Fund on discharge, the question arises whether the earnings on these contributions while held by the Fund will be adequate to meet the cost of death and invalidity risk cover provided to these members during their service. The statistical information presently available has not been sufficient to determine whether the experience of new members will be similar to that of existing members and accordingly, it is the Government’s intention to have the Commonwealth Actuary review the position as at 30th June 1969 by which time reasonable statistical information should be available. Should the Actuary’s review show that the death and invalidity risk amongst these new categories of members is significantly higher than that of the present members of the Fund, and this is by no means certain, the Government will propose that the Fund be reimbursed for the added risk.
A similar approach will be adopted in respect of those persons who the Government proposes should now be admitted to the Fund although of a somewhat lower medical standard than present Fund members. Here again, insufficient statistical information is available to assess whether the invalidity and death risk in respect of these persons is higher than for other members of the Fund. In view of the relatively small numbers involved, the Government decided that these members should be subject to the same conditions as other members of the Fund. However, it would be the Government’s intention to review the position as at 30th June 1969, and to propose that the Fund be reimbursed should a significantly higher risk be disclosed.
The third matter concerns the younger members of the forces. Members aged 18 and 19 years at present contribute at the normal rate of 5% of pay but are covered only for death and invalidity benefits until age 20 years, when service commences to count towards an age pension. Accordingly, these members may pay up to 2 years contributions more for the same age pension as a person entering the forces at the age of 20 years. As well, over 3,000 members of the forces under the age of 18 years are not permitted to join the Fund although many are in receipt of adult rates of pay. For such non-contributory members a small invalidity pension only is payable, even though the disability might be such as to impair the member’s earning capacity for life.
The Government Members’ Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Committee, ably led by the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Mr Stokes), some time ago expressed its concern to the Government about the position of these younger members and submitted a number of proposals. Last November I informed the House that the Government was examining various alternatives and hoped to be in a position to determine the most appropriate solutions and to incorporate these in legislation during this session. The Government has now decided that the age limit of 18 years before which a member is not permitted to contribute to the fund should be removed. Provision will be made for members entering the Fund before age 20 to pay lower rates of contributions throughout their service. These lower rates also will apply to present members who have entered the Fund since 1959, when the contribution basis of the Fund was changed, and whose age on entry to the Fund was 18 or 19 years.
Because the invalidity pension entitlement of some younger members would be unduly low in the initial years of service if it were determined by the member’s rate of pay and level of contributions to the Fund, the Government proposes to establish a basic invalidity pension rate which will relate the invalidity pension of members on less than adult rates of pay to the pension category appropriate to a private group 1, the minimum adult pay grouping applying to age 17 entrants. The existing provision for small non-contributory pensions payable to members under the age of 18 years retired on invalidity grounds will be repealed. I hope to introduce the legislation to implement these proposals in the Budget session.
This Bill and the legislation I have foreshadowed represent a new and, I think, enlightened approach to the matter of retirement benefits for the armed forces. Some 24,000 or more servicemen and women, including the 3,000 under the age of 18 years previously excluded, will become eligible to enter the Fund. This will provide death, invalidity and retirement cover for the great majority of the members of the armed forces. The scheme if amended will give to members new opportunities to contribute over wider spans of service for better pensions as they move from force to force. The changes being made are both worth while and timely. 1 have had prepared for honourable members a statement which gives examples of DFRB benefits payable to, or in respect of, members who are killed or discharged from the forces as a result of active service in Vietnam. Examples of the appropriate repatriation benefits payable in addition to the DFRB pensions also are shown. With the concurrence of honourable members, I incorporate the statement in Hansard.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 7 May 1968, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1968/19680507_reps_26_hor59/>.