27th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. Sir William Aston) took the chair at 2.30 p.m.. and read prayers.
Mr HURFORD presented from certain citizens of the Commonwealth a petition showing that (a) the Commonwealth Parliament has acted to remove some inadequacies in the Australian education system; (b) a major inadequacy at present in Australian education is me lack of equal education opportunity for all; (c) more than 500,000 children suffer from serious lack of equal opportunity; (d) Australia cannot afford to waste the talents of one-sixth of its school children; (e) only the Commonwealth has the financial resources for special programmes to remove inequalities; (f) nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States have shown that the chief impetus for change and the finance for improvements come from the National Government.
The petitioners pray that the House make legal provision for a joint CommonwealthState inquiry into inequalities in Australian education to obtain evidence on which to base long term national programmes for the elimination of inequalities; the immediate financing of special programmes for low income earners, migrants, Aboriginals, rural and inner suburban dwellers and handicapped children; and the provision of preschool opportunities for all children from culturally different or socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
– I ask the Treasurer whether he agrees with the view expressed by bis predecessor at question time in October 1968 that it is high time that the various State Governments considered the desirability of establishing a securities and exchange commission in each State?
– I rise to order. I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that a question asking anyone to express an opinion is out of order.
– This question does not ask for the expression of an opinion.
– 1 deduce from the latter part of the question of the Leader of the Opposition that what he is asking is right in the centre of State jurisdiction. I have, of course, thought about this matter and followed it closely and with great interest but it covers matters which are within the sovereign powers of the States and there is every reason to suppose that the States themselves are taking effective action in this regard. I might add that questions on this subject should be addressed to the AttorneyGeneral.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question concerning the entry into this country of a journalist who is alleged to have assisted two Asian countries whose soldiers were fighting Australian soldiers. Has the Government records which would show that this person did assist the enemies of Australia? If so, has he broken any of our laws? If he did assist the enemies of our country, but by doing so did not break any Australian law, is it the intention of the Government to alter our laws so as to make future actions of this sort an offence?
– Answering the last part of the question first, my understanding - and it can be no more than an understanding since it is based on my understanding of legal advice - is that the laws in fact have been altered to make an offence of matters which previously the laws did not cover. But I will take up with the AttorneyGeneral the question of whether any further amendment is required in that direction. In relation to the man of whom the honourable member is speaking, there is no doubt, and it is a matter of public record, that he lived with the enemy behind the enemy lines in wartime on an occasion when Australian troops were engaged in that war. There is no question but that he engaged in propaganda activities which were designed to be and which were helpful to the enemy in that time of war, and there is no question but that he visited prisoner of war camps, run in many cases under the most barbarous conditions by the enemy, in which Australian troops were incarcerated. I believe there is evidence that on those visits he engaged in discussions with Australian troops which would be calculated to lower their morale and their belief in the cause for which they were fighting. That is sufficient for this Government to say that we do not believe that man should be provided with a passport, asking Australian posts to assist him, and I see no prospect whatever of that approach being changed.
-I direct a question to the Minister for External Affairs. Did Sir Alexander Downer, Australia’s High Commissioner in London, say inter alia in Durban, South Africa, on 18th November last that both South Africa and Australia were rising powers, with a capital P, in the southern hemisphere and that unless he was much mistaken we would in the future have important common strategic interests? Will the Minister table Sir Alexander Downer’s full1 statement and make it clear that the Australian Government does not identify itself with South African strategic interests in the Indian Ocean any more than it does with Russian interests in the same area? Will the Minister explain to some of the members sitting behind him that an attempt to show identity of Australian and South African interests plays into the hands of Russia and China?
– As to the first two questions asked by the honourable gentleman, I should let him know that the administrative responsibility relating to the High Commission in London is within the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Department and not mine. But nonetheless I will try to obtain a copy of the statement that was alleged to have been made by the Australian High Commissioner. I will send a copy to the Prime Minister and at the same time I will have a look at it myself. As to the last part of the honourable gentleman’s question, again it is not within the jurisdiction of an individual Minister to do as he asks. If any member of this House wants, under the rules of free expression of opinion, to say what he honestly and sincerely believes ought to be said, he has a perfect right to do so.
– I draw the attention of the Minister for External Affairs to the invasion of Laos by North Vietnam and a statement by the Laotian Prune Minister that North Vietnam is aiming to take over his country. Is the Minister able to inform the House of the number of North Vietnamese troops engaged in the attack on Laos? Is he aware that Sir Robert Thompson, President Nixon’s adviser on Vietnam, who is at present in Australia, has suggested that Communist attacks could topple Asian countries one after another? Are we in fact witnessing the so-called domino theory which is so often derided by the Opposition in this Parliament?
– It is well known to the House, and I believe it is well known to the Australian people, that the North Vietnamese, assisted by the Communist Pathet Lao, have re-occupied the Plain of Jars and have pressed westward to Muong Soui after capturing Xieng Khouang, the airfield. Previously this field had been occupied by the Vang Pao forces. So we have clear evidence that the North Vietnamese are engaged in these operations. Souvanna Phouma, the Prime Minister of Laos, has informed us that the numbers involved are of the order of 50,000 or more and confirmatory evidence of this estimate comes from United States sources. I also mention to the honourable gentleman that Communist road builders are constructing a road from Chinese Communist territory down to Pak Beng on the Mekong River, close to the Thai border. This, of course, is of great concern to the Thai Government. The honourable gentleman also asked about the opinion of Sir Robert Thompson, one of the world’s experts on guerilla and insurgency operations. He said, and has repeated, that he believes in the domino theory. His words were: T do not only believe in this but I have confirmation from the dominoes themselves’. He obviously meant by that comment that during his discussions with the governments of South East Asian countries they have expressed the opinion to him that the domino theory is valid.
In the last part of his question the honourable gentleman asked about the validity of the theory itself. I have said in this House and I repeat, because we may now be witnessing the possibility of this theory becoming a fact, that the domino theory is valid in this sense. If Laos were to fall there is no doubt that the theory would apply and that the danger to neighbouring countries would correspondingly increase. Sir, if in a crucial area South Vietnam were to fall to Communist domination and Communist influences we would again have proof of the validity of this theory. I add one statement to what 1 have said: We on this side of the House make it clear, as the Americans have made it clear, that we will protect South Vietnam’s right of self-determination and that we will not permit it to be subverted by outside influences. We do not want to see the dominoes given one further push to the south and closer to our shores.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Has he noted the criticisms made of conscription in Australia by the American Gates commission on a volunteer army? Will the right honourable gentleman appoint a similar commission to look at ways of ending the present unjust form of national service by establishing an all volunteer army for Australia?
– I find it strange to hear the implication in this question from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that Australia should slavishly follow some American suggestion. Whatever the Gates commission may have to say about what it believes appropriate for America and whatever it has to say about what it might believe appropriate for Australia has no significance in this country for this Government. We have been examining for some time the way in which Australian forces can be kept to the level that is necessary for the defence of this country and we have come to the conclusion -I believe the correct conclusion - that the only way that can be done is by the existence of a scheme of national service and we propose to continue this scheme while it is necessary to do so, asI believe it will be for long ahead.
-I address my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. It refers to the 65% of wheat growers in Western Australia who have been allocated delivery quotas of less than 10,000 bushels, amount ing to approximately 30% of the State quota, and who are now to have these deliveries reduced by 20%. Has the Bureau’ of Agricultural Economics been asked to survey this majority of Western Australian growers to ascertain what effect this drastic reduction will have on their economic viability? If the Bureau has not been asked to make such a survey, will the Minister direct it to do so as a matter of urgency before any cloak of legality is thrown over an action which may result in mass bankruptcy? Finally, will the Minister also direct the Bureau similarly to examine the position of holders of quotas above 100,000 bushels and up to 250,000 bushels to determine whether there is equality of sacrifice in a straight cut across the board of 20%?
– The first thing I want to say in reply to the honourable member for Moore is that before the Bureau of Agricultural Economics could make any investigation of an industry on a State basis a request would normally come from the State government concerned and, before I would consider such an investigation it would certainly need to have the support of the wheat industry in that State. The inference in the question is that there should not be any reduction in the quotas. I think one must face the fact that there is a major problem in the wheat industry. We are producing too much wheat and now we have the problem of storing it and of wheat growers having to pay for that storage. The Australian Wheatgrowers Federation, with great courage and with a great degree of responsibility, is facing up to this problem. It realises that production must be cut back still further and that that must be done in an orderly manner. To try to subvert the present quota arrangements that have been arrivedat by the Australian wheat industry would do nothing but throw the whole wheat industry into absolute chaos. There must be some restraint. It is up to everybody to give encouragement and strength to the leaders of that industry who have undertaken such a responsible job.
– I ask the Prime Minister: What survey or what assessment was made of the work value in the office of the honourable member for the, Australian
Capital Territory before the Government decided to reject his request for additional secretarial assistance? In applying whatever rule or precedent exists, did the Government have in mind that the 125,000 people of this Territory have only one approach to government - through their member in this House of Representatives. They have no government at the State level, no senators and no form of local self government. In the interests of the people of the Territory will the Prime Minister undertake to have this matter re-examined?
– This matter was examined in some depth by the Department of the Interior and the Minister for the Interior who has responsibility for these matters being brought to the Cabinet. His assessments were examined by the Cabinet, and it was agreed by the Cabinet that at this time it was not felt that additional permanent assistance was justified for this purpose, one of the factors taken into consideration in arriving at this decision being the factor that there is a pool of typists and secretaries, as I understand it, available to the Australian Labor Party. The honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory is usually, in times of recess, the only member of that Party here and it was felt that such assistance could be gained by him from that source.
– Has the attention of the Minister for External Affairs been drawn to a recent statement attributed to the honourable member for St George that food aid given by Australia was something of a confidence trick for which the Australian taxpayer was the bunny? Is it not a fact that Australian official development assistance, as stated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ranks close to the top of all donor countries as a percentage of national income? In view of this, was not the statement which has been attributed to the honourable member an inaccurate and unwarranted slur on Australia’s sincere co-operation with its Asian neighbours?
– I did read the statement said to have been made by the honourable member for St George, which he can contradict if he wishes to, in which ho attempted to ridicule the Australian aid effort in South East Asia and other ports of the world. I think the best way to resolve this problem is to quote from the Chairman of the Development Assistance Committee which is under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - the authority, and the only authority, that examines aid programmes and which makes comments upon the size, equity and justice of them. Ambassador Martin said this:
It is these days unfortunately a rare pleasure to be able to review an official aid programme which is growing steadily and substantially in volume and is also already at a high level in relation to national income by standards of international comparison. Australia’s official aid programme however fits this pattern.
Therefore we have from the very highest authority commendation of the Australian aid effort and what Australia is attempting to achieve. I do not want to argue that we are not prepared to or should not do more. There are always opportunities to do more and, of course, we regard the efforts we make to aid the South East Asian countries as having the highest priority.
But as to four of the statements made by the honourable gentleman - who was quoted as being the Deputy High Commissioner but who happened to be a councillor, and I want that fact to be known - I want to show where the truth lies. In the first statement he said that we are purchasing wheat in order to get rid of a substantial surplus that has developed. In fact, the Minister for Trade and Industry negotiated the relevant Grains Arrangement and the Food Aid Convention in 1967 before the problems associated with the glut of wheat either in Australia or on the world markets appeared. So, far from trying to get rid of a surplus, it was done for humanitarian reasons. I well remember my approach to the question when the Minister for Trade and Industry first mentioned it to me.
As to the second point raised by the honourable gentleman, that is, that three countries, Pakistan, India and Indonesia, because of the green revolution that has occurred in those countries, no longer have any necessity for wheat, I point out to him that not only have they a necessity for it, but they are importing it now because they need it in order to feed their hungry millions. The number of demands that have been made upon us to supply wheat under the Grains Arrangement and the Food Aid Convention is far in excess of our commitments, that is, 225,000 tons, and as far as I can make out from the forecasts given to me for next year, the demand will be even higher.
The third statement of the honourable gentleman was that our grains assistance was of the order of 50%. It happens to be 30%. On the last point, that is, that we were supplying wheat at lower prices to Communist China, he obviously was badly misinformed here because all sales take place at current prices in the market where wheat is being sold. The differential in some cases is due to the grade of wheat and the cost of transporting wheat from Australia to the recipient country.
– Will the Prime Minister take steps to institute an urgent review of rural indebtedness and of the fall in business activity in many country centres due to the hangover from the drought, recent decisions by Government on the handling, financing and marketing of various primary products and failure to resolve the problem of rising costs?
-Order! The honourable member will ask his question. He cannot give information when he is asking his question.
– Will the Prime Minister arrange for the review to be made in conference with public and private banks and the appropriate federal and State agencies with a view to injecting some confidence and collateral into rural Australia which is now facing the most uncertain and difficult period in this generation?
– The Government is aware that there is rural indebtedness. It has increased for a variety of reasons. One reason, which was mentioned by the honourable member, is the drought situation which has occurred in various parts of Australia. Part of the indebtedness has come about as a result of the assistance given by the Government to the rural community to allow it to carry on in such drought conditions. I remind the honourable member that, as far as the Commonwealth is concerned, the assistance is provided in the form of carry on loans and other loans which bear no interest whatever. Surely this is one example of an attempt to help those people who live in rural areas to meet such disasters. Although the loans have to be repaid eventually no interest is charged. The honourable member can be assured that the situation of the rural industries will be constantly in the mind of the Australian Government and that it will do what it can to assist those industries in the situation of falling overseas markets in which they find themselves. One example of that kind of assistance I have already given lo the House.
– 1 address a question to the Treasurer. Why are overseas interest rates consistently higher than those prevailing in Australia? Is it correct that interest rates of 8% to 10% and even higher are considered reasonable in the United States of America and on the Eurodollar market? If so, how will Australia fare when attempting to borrow at these higher interest rates and then endeavouring to re-lend in Australia where interest rates are much lower than those applicable overseas? Will such borrowings overseas and subsequent re-lending in Australia be supported by the Commonwealth Treasury in order to be competitive with Australian interest rates?
– Interest rates are much higher in Europe and North America than they are in Australia due to a complex of factors, but due largely to the tremendous pressure on resources in those countries, the upward thrust of costs and prices, the various deflationary and disinflationary measures which the authorities in those countries have been obliged to take and so on. 1 do not think that the people in those countries regard the current level of interest rates as reasonable; no doubt they all hope to see a considerable fall but so far there is no very positive sign that the table will turn. The second part of the honourable member’s question concerns borrowings of the proposed corporation. This is a case where rumour, speculation, leakage and so forth have got out of the stable long before the horse. This being the case, anything I could say would be highly conjectural. Of course, this high interest situation could change in the course of time. I hope it will because the Australian Government has already been priced out of the market for its own loans. Naturally the proposed corporation will have to face these problems when they arise.
– My question is addressed to. the Minister for External Affairs. Why has he taken no initiative to have the United Nations intervene on behalf of the Government of Laos? Will he attempt to do something about it? While recognising that it is not very easy for the United Nations to do anything under its constitution, how can it work on behalf of countries such as Laos if .nations such as Australia fail to take the initiative on these occasions?
– Already the Prime Minister of Laos, Prince Souvanna Phouma, has asked the Co-Chairmen of the nations which were party to the Geneva Accords to call a conference in an endeavour to settle the problem or come to an accommodation with the North Vietnamese and Communist Pathet Lao. It is under consideration now. An attempt to refer the matter to the United Nations would not only delay it but also, I think, reduce the prospect of getting any sort of solution. Honourable members are probably aware that the Prime Minister of Laos did make an offer to the North Vietnamese Government for consultations in an attempt to arrange neutralisation.
– Which Prime Minister?
– Souvanna Phouma. As you would expect, he got no reply. For that reason he had no alternative but to put the matter before the Geneva countries.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. Has counsel for journalist Wilfred Burchett asked for a court of inquiry to hear charges against Mr Burchett? Will the Prime Minister meet this request, or does he prefer to establish guilt without trial?
-Order! I am not sure whether this question is in order. I understand that a libel action is pending.
– I rise to order.
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. I ask the Attorney-General whether a libel action is pending. I am not sure whether the question infringes Mr Burchett’s rights. The normal practice when a person is involved in a case before the court has been not to ask questions about the matter.
– i rise to order.
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. I ask the Attorney-General whether I am correct.
- Mr Speaker, your statement is correct, if I may say so with respect. I understand that there is pending in the Supreme Court of Victoria a libel action in which Mr Burchett is suing a journalist - I think it is a Mr Denis Warner - and the Melbourne ‘Herald’ in respect of publications in that newspaper concerning Mr Burchett.
– I rule the question in order.
– The answer to the question, I understand, is yes. Mr Burchett has asked for a court of inquiry to establish some charges against him. What those specific charges are I do not know. There is no need whatever for a court of inquiry to examine whether Mr Burchett was living behind enemy lines in the course of two wars. There is no need of a court of inquiry for that whatever. There is no need for a court of inquiry to establish the published documents which he has put out - the published reports which he has sent to the Communist ‘Guardian’ here, which were propaganda designed to assist the enemy, and there is no need for a court of inquiry to establish whether or not he went through prisoner-of-war camps in which Australian troops were incarcerated. That being so - there being no need for a court of inquiry into these matters - these matters are sufficient in the Government’s view to refuse him a passport asking Australian officials to assist him. If there are other charges against him - and no doubt there are - they might be appropriate for a court of inquiry but they do not affect the Government’s decision which is made on the basis I have put before the House and which requires no court of inquiry to substantiate it.
– -I ask the Minister for Education and Science a question about the marine institute which it is proposed to establish at Townsville. Will the institute deal solely with studies of the Great Barrier Reef, or will its studies cover all matters of marine biology? Will it co-operate with similar institutes throughout the world?
– Let me assure the honourable member for Herbert that what is proposed for the Institute of Marine Science is that it should investigate from both the biological and the physical points of view alt aspects of marine science. It is true that in the first instance, situated as it will be in Townsville near tropical waters, its initial inquiries are likely to be directed specifically towards the Great Barrier Reef. However, ils charter will not be limited, and in fact it will be abl’e to consider all matters of marine science around Australia. It will, of course, be co-operating with other institutes - not only institutes in Australia but also top level institutes in other parts of the world.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral a question. Is it thought that Mr Burchett has broken any law of the Commonwealth? Alternatively, now that he is in Austrafia, is any investigation being undertaken to ascertain whether he has broken any law of the Commonwealth?
– I will answer the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition in this way: I do not propose to give any opinion as to whether Mr Burchett has broken any law of the Commonwealth. What I will say, however, is that I, as the principal law officer of the Crown, do not propose, as at present advised, to bring any charges against him in respect of-
– I note the kindly interest of the honourable member for Lalor in Mr Burchett, and no doubt the public will be interested to note it. I do not propose to bring any charges. It is proper that I should say that in answer to the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition.
– I address my question to the Prime Minister. A number of distinguished and retired senior officers of the merchant navy and the Royal Australian Navy have asked me to make representations concerning the future of the Customs House at Circular Quay in Sydney. Would the Prime Minister be able to advise me of the present position in this matter and the trend of the Government’s consideration of the future of the Customs House?
– The Commonwealth Government will preserve the Customs House in Sydney as a link of some significance with Australia’s past. There have been various suggestions made as to what the Customs House could be used for in the future - suggestions that it might be a maritime museum and other suggestions - and these can be examined when the time comes. But a thing of this kind will occur only after the Department has moved from the Customs House. All I can say to the honourable member is that the Customs House itself will be preserved as an architectural link with Australia’s past
– Is the Minister for External Territories aware that a considerable number of policemen of South African nationality are employed in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea Police Force? If so, how were they recruited, and is it the policy of the Government to employ policemen from a racist country with the object of keeping ‘the natives’ in check?
– 1 point out that members of the New Guinea Constabulary have been recruited from many parts of the world - mainly from Australia - but 88% of the Police Force in New Guinea is made up of local people. Let me say here that we can be proud of our Police Force in New Guinea, particularly on two very serious occasions. I recall the events on Bougainville, which received most exaggerated reporting in our Press. The area was likened to the Congo and so on. Seven hundred police were there. On the Gazelle Peninsula another very difficult situation was held. One thousand police were there.- On both those occasions order was maintained and in the process not one person was injured through police action.
– I am sure that the Treasurer is aware of the complexity of business in modern commercial life but I have had a number of complaints from various accountancy firms and organisations concerning the amount of time that has to be spent in the preparation and completion of forms for the Bureau of Census and Statistics. While everyone is aware of the necessity for these forms I ask the Treasurer: Could he have discussions with officers of the Treasury and the Bureau of Census and Statistics to see whether these forms could be kept to a minimum?
– I have had quite lengthy and continuous discussions with the officers of the Treasury and the Bureau of Census and Statistics on this subject. I am glad that the honourable member pointed out the necessity for much of this information. He will recall that from time to time many requests have been made in this House and elsewhere on behalf of business interests, social bodies and other groups in the community for the provision of reliable information upon which action of some kind or another can be based. This issue arose particularly in connection with the recent decision about the information which should be sought in the census to be taken in 1971. Representations have been heard both from those who have to provide the statistics and the users. No statistics are sought which have not been requested by users of one kind or another. It is always necessary to keep a balance between the nuisance and inconvenience caused to and time taken by those who provide these statistics, on the one side, and the benefit to users on the other. We endeavour, by a sifting process and by hearing all sides, to arrive at reasonable conclusions.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Defence. Does the Government still intend to take delivery of the F111A aircraft? If so, when can delivery be expected?
– Since the last crash the Government has been pressing for sufficient information to enable the situation concerning the F111 to be reassessed. While there are still some gaps in knowledge, as a result of that accident we now have enough information to review the matter and it is before the Government.
– My question is directed to the Attorney-General. The honourable gentleman will recall that following the stock exchange rampage in the United States of America which precipitated the great depression of 1930, President Roosevelt appointed Mr Joseph Kennedy as Chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission which the President then set up. This Commission has functioned very effectively since, particularly because Mr Joseph P. Kennedy-
– Order! I ask the honourable member to ask his question. His preface is far too long.
– My question, addressed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport, refers to the maritime accident which happened to a tanker off Wednesday Island which is in my electorate. It concerns the damage that could be done to the cultured pearl industry, the fishing industry and the Great Barrier Reef. Was the Government prepared to cope with such a disaster? What measures were taken and have they been effective?
– Since my statement to the House yesterday a series of reports has been received from Thursday Island about the movement of the oil slick and the progress made in trying to ascertain what can be done to minimise its effect. Two notable problems are involved. One is that the Master of the vessel that is holed, the Oceanic Grandeur’, is hesitant about transferring oil from the tanks on board that vessel because, as I understand it, of risk to the stability of the vessel. However, the Leslie J. Thompson’, another vessel owned by Ampol, is standing by and she has the capacity to take at least half the oil that was on board the ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ at the time of the accident. The oil slick itself at this stage is apparently moving in an easterly direction instead of the northwesterly direction . which was originally noted yesterday. The oil slick is broken up into several parts. There is one fairly substantial slick and a number of smaller slicks. The smaller slicks are those which are at the moment causing the most fear for Thursday Island and the pearl beds thereabouts. As to what is being done, yesterday a Hercules aircraft of the Royal Australian Air Force flew some detergent to the area. This morning another load from Sale in Victoria with some equipment to spray it was forwarded, together with some experts to ensure that in its use there would be no added risk to sea life or any other form of life in the area. There is some problem in determining the best type of detergent to use and at this stage no detergent has in fact been spread. But I can assure the honourable member and other honourable members who are concerned with the possible effect of pollution that everything possible is being done to ensure that the spread of the present slick will be restrained and also that any future discharge will be limited to the maximum degree possible. As soon as I am in a position to make a full statement on the position I shall do so.
– by leave - Mr Speaker, His Excellency the Governor-General has already foreshadowed major changes in the Government’s health insurance programme during this Parliament. I appreciate the opportunity of providing the House with further information concerning the wide ranging improvements which the Government intends to introduce. As long ago as February 1968 the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) clearly indicated his intention to review thoroughly and, where necessary, extensively improve the health insurance scheme. With this clear objective and on the firm foundation of schemes introduced by previous Liberal-Country Party Governments, we have already made great advances in providing security against the cost of illness - advances of which this Government is justifiably proud.
During April 1968 the Government appointed the Commonwealth Committee of Inquiry into Health Insurance, under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Nimmo, for the purpose of securing the searching, independent and impartial review which was considered necessary after 16 years’ operation of the health insurance system. For almost a year this Committee exhaustively probed every aspect of health insurance.
While the Nimmo Committee was proceeding with its inquiry, the Government directed its immediate attention to matters requiring priority. A number of significant changes were therefore introduced without delay, but I should stress that these were well considered measures implemented within the framework of the comprehensive new scheme being developed by the Government.
The Government then commenced an intensive study of the Nimmo report almost immediately after the report was tabled. In keeping with its aim to accord the highest priority to matters requiring immediate attention, the Government acted promptly to introduce an entirely new scheme based generally on the Nimmo Committee’s finding that some groups in our community experience difficulty in meeting the cost of health insurance. Under this new subsidised insurance plan, which came into operation on 1st January last, families on low incomes, persons receiving unemployment and sickness benefits, and newly arrived migrants are given special assistance in obtaining health insurance cover. I will shortly provide details of proposed extensive improvements to this scheme of assistance as it applies to families on low incomes. The far reaching changes already introduced have clearly established this Government’s determination to aid those ill and infirm members of our society who need, and are entitled to receive, assistance. However, the additional measures of major importance which I now propose to outline will strengthen even further our health benefits plan.
As evidenced by the introduction of the subsidised health insurance scheme, the Government recognised the need to avoid undue delay in implementing any necessary changes in our health benefits plan. However, the range of matters dealt with in the Nimmo report is so wide and the changes which it recommends are so substantial that the Government was bound to thoroughly evaluate every aspect of the report and to carefully examine all its implications in terms of optimum standards of health care, Commonwealth-State relations, levels of governmental expenditure and similar important questions. The Government also desired to consult with representatives of the health insurance funds, the medical profession and other interested bodies, and to provide an opportunity for the report to be publicly debated. The Government has now virtually completed its evaluation of the Nimmo report and has decided to adopt the majority of those recommendations by the Committee which it is practicable to implement at this stage.
1 will deal first with the matter which has recently received considerable public attention, namely, medical benefits. As already foreshadowed by the Prime Minister, a medical insurance system based oh entirely new concepts will be introduced. Against the background of other far reaching changes recently implemented, these new medical insurance arrangements comprise a major element in the establishment of a comprehensive health benefits plan.
The new medical benefits arrangements are based on the same common fee concept as the Nimmo Committee’s recommendations regarding medical benefits. Comprehensive surveys of fees actually charged by medical practitioners in all States have been undertaken by the Australian Medical Association and the health insurance funds, for the purpose of determining the most common fee for each type of service - that is, the fee most commonly charged for the particular service. The Australian Medical Association has submitted to the Government lists containing the most common fees in each State for well over 1,000 medical services. The Government has accepted the fees contained in these lists as the fees most commonly charged by doctors, and it is on the basis of these fees that the new medical benefits have been determined.
Combined Commonwealth and medical fund benefits will be established at levels which provide a contributor with substantial coverage against the cost of any type of medical service where the doctor charges the most common fee. As previously announced by the Prime Minister, a medical fund contributor will be required to meet only 80c of the common fee for general practitioner consultations and only $1.20 of the common fee for a visit to the home or hospital by a general’ practitioner. The higher levels of benefits to be provided under these new arrangements have been graduated to provide greater assistance towards the more costly services. Except for the two general practitioner services mentioned, the portion of the common fee to be met toy a New South Wales contributor will be slightly higher than in other States in the case of services within the common fee range above $3.50 and below $20, due to the generally higher levels of medical fees in that State. However, I would stress that, in all States, including New South Wales, contributors will bear no more than $5 for services in the common fee range of $40 and higher. Even in the case of an operation involving the administration of anaesthetic and other services directly associated with the operation, a contributor will bear no more than $5 of the combined common fees for the operation and those services. The previous rule that combined Commonwealth and funds benefits may not exceed 90% of the doctor’s fee will no longer apply under the new arrangements.
A further new feature of these arrangements will be the payment of differential rates of medical benefits in the case of over 300 types of medical services - for example, confinements - which are customarily performed by either a general practitioner or a specialist. That is, higher benefits will be paid for these particular services when performed by a specialist than when performed by a general practitioner. The same principle will be applied to benefits for consultations by specialist physicians. Some sections of the medical profession engaged in general practice hold the view that the introduction of these differential benefit rates may be detrimental to general practice.
The Government fully recognises the particular value of general practice and the desirability of maintaining the high standards of this section of the medical profession. However, the Government is convinced that these arrangements, which have the support of the Australian Medical Association - the profession’s official negotiating body - and which were recommended by the Nimmo Committee, are necessary in view of the medical profession’s own long established policies and fee charging practices. It is considered that the provision of differential benefits is essential for the security of contributors against the actual costs of medical treatment. In accordance with established policy, these higher benefit rates for specialist services will apply only on referral by another practitioner but, in view of the scope of le new arrangements, the procedures adopted to identify referral cases will be reviewed.
The Government has adopted recommendations 38 and 39 by the Nimmo Committee. Medical benefits will therefore be payable for certain services by oral surgeons and at the higher specialist rate on referral to an ophthalmologist by an optometrist The higher specialist rate of benefits will also be payable on referral to a medical specialist by a dentist.
As announced in the Prime Minister’s 1969 election policy speech, only one table of medical benefits will be operated in each State. The decision to implement this recommendation by the Nimmo Committee is founded on the Government’s desire to ensure that all contributors to medical funds are adequately covered against the cost of medical treatment; to eliminate any confusion or uncertainty as to the level of cover provided; and to simplify administration of the new medical benefits arrangements.
The contribution rates payable under the new scheme will be determined for each fund having regard to its particular financial position and on the basis that the reserves which some funds hold in excess of their requirements for financial1 stability will be gradually absorbed. Thus, all funds in a particular State will pay medical benefits at the same rate but contribution rates may vary between funds. As already announced, the new family contribution rate for the major funds in New South Wales will be 75 cents a week, representing an increase of 15 cents a week on the existing higher tables. In the other States, the new family rates wilt be within the range of 50 to 66 cents a week - an increase of not more than 10 cents a week for contributors in existing higher tables.
Persons classified as medical fund Special Account contributors, due to fund rules regarding such matters as pre-existing ailments, have previously received benefits at reduced levels. The Government has now decided that the medical Special Account system should be extended along the same lines as the recent extension of the hospital Special Account system. This means that any discrimination against persons such as those who suffer pre-existing or long-term illnesses will be entirely eliminated; all contributors will receive the same medical benefits for the same medical service.
The co-operation of the medical profession in adhering to the list of most common fees submitted by the Australian Medical1 Association is, of course, a factor vital to the success of the new health benefits plan. The Government has closely examined the recommendation by the Nimmo Committee that medical benefits be payable only for services given by a doctor who has agreed to participate in a scheme under which he informs his patients of both the most common fee and his own fee for any particular service. As the Nimmo Committee pointed out, the medical profession’s own policy is to encourage patients to discuss the question of fees with their doctors before treatment is undertaken, and the Government has received an assurance from the Association that it will make every endeavour to advise doctors to observe the lists of most common fees which it has provided. Against this background, the Government has decided not to adopt at this time the Nimmo Committee’s recommendation that a ‘participating doctor’ scheme be established. However, the Government’s overriding aim is to protect the interests of patients and it will’ be constantly reviewing the degree of co-operation by the profession in the common fee arrangement.
The Government accepts in principle the proposal contained in Nimmo Committee recommendation 19 that the power to initiate disciplinary action in relation to any abuses of the health insurance scheme should be taken by the Commonwealth, and is examining appropriate methods of implementing such action.
Concurrently with the introduction of the new medical benefits arrangements, a system will be established for the. wide . and continuing dissemination of information regarding medical benefits and the common fees list on which they are based, in order that contributors may be fully informed oh the reconstructed scheme and on a continuing basis thereafter.
The question of periodic future adjustments of common fees and medical benefits is receiving close attention by the Government. In dealing with this subject, the Nimmo Committee expressed the view that adjustments of fees should be in conformity with the general movement of the economy but should also take account of other developments affecting the incomes of doctors. Clearly, the whole subject of periodic adjustments of fees and benefits is vital to the future success of the medical insurance plan. Discussions with the Australian Medical1 Association have therefore been commenced and will be continued with a view to the development of an acceptable basis for future adjustments.
During his 1969 election policy speech, the Prime Minister announced that the changes in the medical benefits arrange ments as proposed at that stage would involve additional Commonwealth expenditure of approximately $16m a year. At that time, the Government proposed a general increase in the level of Commonwealth expenditure on medical benefits, based on the application of the most common fee concept to medical services as listed in the current medical benefits schedule. That is, the estimate of increased expenditure was based on the most common fee charged by all doctors collectively - both general practitioners and specialists - for the services listed in the Schedule. On that basis, $16m a year was and still is a reliable estimate. I have already mentioned the high level of security which the new medical insurance arrangements provide against the cost of operations and in cases of pre-existing or chronic illness.
During the period of development of the reconstructed scheme, the Government continued to consistently apply the principle that contributors to medical funds should receive the highest possible level of cover against medical fees and that the scheme should be refined wherever possible. Arising from the application of this policy, major improvements were introduced into the reconstructed scheme. I refer in particular to the provision of differential benefit rates for many services provided by general practitioners and specialists, which represents a major improvement. This decision has involved the separate specification of most common fees for services by general practitioners and specialists and has substantially altered the application of the common fee concept to the services as listed in the current benefits schedule.
As a result of the Government’s decision to further improve the medical insurance arrangements, additional Commonwealth expenditure of the order of $ 13.5m a year, based on currently available data and current utilisation rates, will be undertaken. I should emphasise this point to honourable members: The Government in no way apologises for its decisions that this additional expenditure be undertaken. Indeed, it is proud to sponsor further improvements of the medical insurance scheme in order to ensure that contributors receive the highest possible level of cover against the cost of medical treatment.
Although introduction of the far-reaching changes which I have just outlined involves considerable administrative effort on the part of both the health insurance funds and my Department, the Government is determined that the new arrangements should become effective with a minimum of delay. It therefore intends to introduce legislation which will come into operation as soon as practicable after it has been passed by Parliament.
I turn now to other proposals arising out of the Nimmo Committee’s recommendations and the Government’s intensive review of the health benefits plan.
The administration of health insurance received considerable attention by the Nimmo Committee and its recommendations on this subject have been thoroughly reviewed by the Government. It has been decided to adopt the Committee’s proposal that a National Health Insurance Commission be established. The Government is currently giving consideration to the composition and functions of the new Commission.
The Nimmo Report contains a number of important recommendations - numbers 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11 and 17 - directed mainly towards the establishment of a closer relationship between public hospital fees and hospital benefits. The States have significant responsibilities in the provision of hospital services and these recommendations therefore require negotiation with the State governments. The implications of the recommendations are so far-reaching that the Government is not in a position to make decisions on them at this stage or to undertake reciprocal commitments until the States’ attitudes have been clarified and all relevant information has been obtained. The Government will continue its examination of the important issues raised by these recommendations, and actively pursue negotiations with the State governments.
The Government has decided to adopt recommendation 7 by the Nimmo Committee that three hospital benefit tables - related to standard, intermediate and private ward charges - be operated in each State. This decision requires no legislative action and will be implemented as an administrative measure over an appropriate phasing-in period.
The Government has already introduced a scheme for the provision of assistance to families on low incomes in obtaining health insurance cover. This scheme, which is based on the same general principles as those underlying recommendation 20 by the Nimmo Committee, also extends to persons in receipt of unemployment and sickness benefits and to newly arrived migrants. In addition to the announced proposal that this scheme be up-dated in the light of recent changes in the wage structure, it has been decided to further liberalise these arrangements by providing subsidies on a graduated basis to families whose incomes exceed $42.50 a week.
The Government will therefore introduce legislation during the current session, under which families whose incomes exceed $42.50 a week but do not exceed $45.50 a week, will pay only one-third of the normal health insurance contribution rate for the new medical benefits coverage and for coverage against public ward charges in public hospitals. Families with incomes in excess of$45.50 but not exceeding $48.50 will meet two-thirds of the usual contribution rate for this coverage. It is estimated that this liberalisation of the subsidy scheme will cost an additional $1.6m per year for the medical coverage and an additional$1. 4m per year for hospital coverage. These new arrangements will do a great deal to reduce the effect of the proposed increased medical benefits contribution rates on persons less able to meet them.
The Government will introduce arrangements under which most salary and wage earners will be provided with facilities for health insurance contributions to be regularly deducted from their wages or salaries by their employers, if the employees so desire. The voluntary group deduction scheme has already been developed to some extent and has provided many employees with protection against loss of fund membership through neglect to pay contributions when they fall due. It has also materially assisted some funds to reduce their levels of management expenses. However, it is now proposed that facilities for the deduction of contributions from salaries and wages should be made more widely available, both in the interests of individual contributors and for the more effective and economical operation of the health insurance system.
Based on the Government’s general endorsement of recommendations 27 and 28 by the Nimmo Committee, this measure introduces an entirely new principle into the administrative system of health insurance. A new group deduction system will therefore be established under which employees will be entitled to have their health insurance contributions deducted from their salary or wages and remitted by the employer to a health insurance fund, if the employee so desires. The Government considers it appropriate that the new group deduction scheme should operate without the payment of commission to employers. These new arrangements will, of course, involve additional effort on the part of some employers, but the Government is confident that employers will be prepared to accept this work as a genuine community service.
I refer now to three recommendations by the Nimmo Committee relating to the rules applied by health insurance funds. They are: Recommendation 21, which proposes the abolition of current fund rules relating to pre-existing illnesses and their replacement by a uniform rule that benefits be disallowed for pre-existing illnesses during the first 6 months of membership; recommendation 22, which proposes that rules excluding payment of benefits for the treatment of alcoholism, self-inflicted wounds and similar cases be eliminated; and recommendation 23, which proposes the adoption of uniform rules regarding transfers between funds, third party insurance claims, waiting periods in maternity cases and like matters. The Government has adopted this group of recommendations, except that the general 2 months waiting period will apply to cases of pre-existing illness instead of the 6 months period suggested by the Nimmo Committee.
The Nimmo Committee’s recommendation 24 proposes that all enrolments to both medical and hospital benefits tables be made on the basis that contribution rates will be automatically adjusted whenever variations in rates become necessary. The Government has decided to adopt this recommendation.
Under the new medical insurance arrangements, the separate specification of Commonwealth and fund benefits in documents issued to contributors by the funds will be discontinued, as proposed in the Nimmo Committee’s recommendation 26.
100% RULE’ FOR HOSPITAL BENEFITS
Recommendation 12 in the Nimmo Report relates to the payment of hospital benefits in excess of the amount of hospital accounts - a practice which the Committee considered should be discontinued. The Government sees merit in the Committee’s view on this subject and will give the recommendation further consideration in the light of other relevant factors such as the proposal for an all-inclusive hospital fees system.
The Government has closely considered the Nimmo Committee’s recommendation 10, to the effect that special arrangements be made for payment of Commonwealth benefits to persons who object to health insurance fund membership on religious grounds. However, this proposal is contrary to the basic concepts of voluntary insurance and will not be adopted.
Since its introduction in 1959, the Special Account system has been of considerable assistance to health insurance fund contributors whose claims would otherwise have been disallowed under most fund rules regarding long-term, chronic and preexisting illnesses. These rules have necessarily been applied by the funds because of the financial implications for them. The Special Account system has been progressively improved over the years and I have already mentioned a further major improvement to be incorporated in the new medical insurance scheme. This latest measure will, in effect, close the only remaining gap in the Special Account system, so that all contributors will now receive their full medical benefit entitlement and their full hospital benefit entitlement up to the amount of the hospital account, irrespective of chronic illness, the length of stay in hospital or similar circumstances.
However, the Government accepts the Nimmo Committee’s view, as reflected by recommendation 25, that it is desirable to devise a simpler system by which the Commonwealth underwrites deficits arising from the payment of benefits in cases of longterm, pre-existing or chronic illnesses. It has therefore been decided that this matter be examined in depth with a view to the development of less complex arrangements under which health insurance funds will receive Commonwealth subsidies approximating the amounts they receive under the present Special Account system. Of course, the new arrangements will in no way reduce the level of benefits now available to contributors under the Special Account system; they will merely provide more effective and less costly administrative machinery for the Commonwealth to provide assistance in this area of health insurance.
In recommendation 35 the Nimmo Committee has proposed that no health insurance fund at present registered under the National Health Act be excluded from the scheme if it is willing to comply with the new conditions recommended. This reflects the Committee’s finding that there is no support for the view that the numbers of different organisations adds to the cost of the scheme. The Government endorses this finding and accepts the Committee’s recommendation. This will mean that all contributors will continue to have the opportunity of membership in a fund of their own choice. In many cases they will secure their health insurance coverage at relatively low contribution rates which reflect the efficiency of the funds to which they belong and will obtain other advantages arising from the personalised and highly satisfactory service provided by smaller funds.
Recommendations 29, 30 and 31 of the Nimmo Committee relate to the management expenses of health insurance funds. While it should be stressed that many funds operate at very low and entirely acceptable expense rates, the Government accepts the Committee’s finding that there have been some practices of a wasteful character, particularly those arising out of the undesirable competitive activities between some major ‘open’ funds - that is, those in which membership is open to the general public.
As proposed by the Nimmo Committee in recommendation 31, registered funds will be required to restrict their management expenses to specified limits. For this purpose, legislation will be introduced to enable the maximum permissible management expense levels for hospital and medical funds to be prescribed by regulations. The Government has also decided that, if such action proves necessary in the light of future developments, reimbursements of benefits by the Commonwealth to a fund whose management expenses have exceeded the prescribed limits may be reduced by an amount equal to the amount of the excess expenses.
The Government has decided not to adopt the proposals by the Nimmo Committee that only one ‘open’ fund be permitted to establish and maintain facilities in any particular region and that friendly societies be obliged to limit future enrolments in their health insurance funds to society members. It is considered that the objectives of these recommendations should be pursued by other measures which the
Government believes will eliminate the practices identified by the Nimmo Committee as unnecessarily increasing the operating expenses of some funds.
In future, each registered ‘open’ fund will be required to have a separate approval for each State in which it operates enrolment, collection or payment facilities. Approval for an ‘open’ fund to operate in a particular State will not be given unless it is shown that economic and efficient operations, in that State can be expected.
The Government supports the Nimmo Committee’s view that the adoption of standard forms of accounting by health insurance funds is desirable, in order that the activities of the funds may be better compared and so that areas where economies are possible may be identified. The Government has also, decided to adopt the other aspect of recommendation 36, namely, that funds be required to publish annual accounts in greater detail. Legislation will also be introduced to provide for each fund’s financial experience to be tabled in Parliament each year by the Minister for Health, within a period of 12 months after the end of the fund’s financial year.
In addition to the new measures which 1 have just mentioned, the Government is considering the introduction of legislation providing for penalties to be imposed on fund officers for serious neglect of their responsibilities, and enabling the replacement of fund . officers by appointed managers in certain circumstances, as proposed in recommendation 37 of the Nimmo Committee.
The Government has decided to substantially adopt the proposals contained in recommendations 32 and 33 of the Nimmo Committee. These relate to the financial reserves of registered health insurance funds. In future, a policy will be applied under which the ‘free’ reserves of the larger funds - that is, reserves in excess of amounts held against unpresented claims and contributions paid in advance - will generally be limited to the equivalent of 3 months’ contribution income. In the case of smaller funds, more flexibility will be allowed and their ‘free’ reserves may be permitted to exceed that level in appropriate circumstances.
Under the new one table medical insurance arrangements and the proposed three table hospital insurance scheme, all funds in any particular State will pay the same rates of benefits but contribution rates will be flexible, depending on a particular fund’s financial experience. On this basis, any excess reserves accumulated by a fund will be used to provide lower contribution rates or to provide higher benefits as the need arises, without increasing contribution rates. The efficiency and economy of fund operations will thus be reflected in their contribution rates.
The Government has closely examined the Nimmo Committee’s recommendation 34 that investments by funds be limited to trustee investments. It has concluded that funds have generally exercised a proper sense of responsibility in the investment of reserves, and that non trustee investments have provided good returns to the advantage of contributors. The Government has therefore decided not to adopt this recommendation.
The Government considers that the existing arrangements for payment of ancillary benefits from fund hospital and medical ordinary accounts are reasonably satisfactory and therefore will not establish separate ancillary benefits funds as proposed by the Nimmo Committee. However, we will proceed with our general examination of arrangements for ancillary benefits within the context of other relevant proposals.
Nursing homes have a very important role in the Australian health care system and this Government already provides very substantial assistance towards nursing home accommodation charges. Grants have also been made available to the States for the purpose of subsidising the capital costs of State nursing homes for aged persons of limited means. In his 1969 election policy speech, the Prime Minister referred to a proposal for the payment of increased nursing home benefits to persons who have been regular contributors to health insurance funds and who require intensive nursing home care. We are proceeding without delay towards the implementation of this proposal. The Government is also undertaking a general review of the measures necessary to provide security for nursing home patients and, in that context, will consult with the States as proposed in recommendation 40 of the Nimmo Committee’s report.
The Government strongly supports recommendation 41 by the Nimmo Committee and has already approached the States with a view to their taking action to prohibit the use of the title ‘hospital’ by nursing homes.
The more important decisions I have announced represent the outcome of the Government’s detailed consideration of the Nimmo Committee’s report. At the same time they represent the culmination of the most carefully planned and comprehensive programme of reform of the health benefits system that has ever been carried out in Australia. This programme has been undertaken in pursuance of the Government’s conviction that a plan based on voluntary insurance is far more likely to satisfy the needs of the Australian people than any alternative plan based on compulsory levies. Experience in other countries has demonstrated that a substantial degree of patient participation is necessary in a soundly based, economically operated plan. Patients must be personally identified with the plan and carry a degree of personal responsibility if the plan is to have any effective inbuilt cost controls - controls which are absolutely essential if we are to be protected against over-utilisation and over-servicing which has been common to so-called free health schemes in countries where such schemes exist.
Although patient participation is essential in order to provide some brake on costs, it must be arranged in such a way that noone in the community finds the costs of medical insurance or the costs of actual medical treatment unduly burdensome. Under our plan, each individual in the community who is able to do so shares the . cost at two points. He can insure himself and his family against the costs of medical and hospital treatment by contributing to a registered fund and, when he needs a medical service, will meet a small portion of the cost of the doctor’s charge. At the same time our plan, although recognising these essential ingredients, includes them in such a way that the less fortunate amongst us are relieved of all or portion of the cost of the insurance contributions and no person, irrespective of his financial position, will have to meet more than a relatively small proportion of the doctor’s common fee.
The Government believes that any arrangements whereby contributions by- the community are payable solely through taxation or by any method related to taxation result in the individual ceasing to recognise his contribution as a personal share of the cost of a particular service. In time he tends to regard it merely as part of his overall payment of Government revenue by way of direct taxation. A situation can also arise in which medical resources are at times misdirected and in which the correct priorities of medical treatment are not achieved. We are convinced that a scheme financed in that way would in the long run inevitably be more costly and less satisfactory than a scheme where the mem-, bers of the community assume personal responsibility for the payment of their contributions to- a non-government body operating under incentives for- efficient and economic service.
The Government believes that participation in a welfare measure of this kind, however valuable and desirable that welfare measure is to the individual, should be on the basis that the individual makes a personal and voluntary decision as to whether he wishes to take up that welfare assistance or not. For this reason, the new medical benefit scheme will continue to be based on the voluntary concept. In addition, of course, the Government is insistent that the patient be free to seek treatment by the doctor of his choice.
Any medical benefit arrangement depends on the co-operation of the medical profession and without such co-operation no medical benefit arrangement would work. My Government confidently looks forward to the general co-operation of medical practitioners in this country. There have been some difficulties and others will arise, but these difficulties are not basic to the overall architecture of the new arrangements and are capable of solution within the general framework of our health benefits plan. Notwithstanding what I have said, the Government fully realises that the profession must remain aware that it has a tremendous obligation under any medical benefits arrangements. The report of the Nimmo Committee made this point very strongly.
The Government has based its new medical benefits structure on the concept that doctors’ charges can be the subject of a reasonable degree of uniformity and stability on a voluntary basis. The recognition of such a concept - that is, uniformity and stability - is believed to be the only way in which a medical benefits scheme can be made work, but of equal or possibly of greater importance is the need for the profession itself to recognise the concept and, by so doing, enable the people of Australia to be adequately protected against costs of medical treatment. These, then, are the fundamental concepts on which our health benefits plan has been developed. But sound principles and concepts do not in themselves constitute a plan and the Government has in these past two years accorded a very high priority to the task of translating the principles in which it believes into a practical, modern, health benefits plan tailored to to-day’s needs in the Australian community.
There have been a number of separate stages in our total plan and, although they have been referred to before, they are important enough for me to repeat them here. The first and highly important stage was the identification of and action to deal with a number of areas of need with special high priority.
These special areas and the action taken by the Government were: For handicapped children - payment of a new benefit which, in little more than a year since its introduction, has substantially assisted over a thousand less fortunate children in our community; for those suffering long-term and chronic illnesses - security against the cost of hospital treatment for an unlimited period; for nursing home patients who require intensive care - that is, about 40% of all nursing home patients - substantial additional assistance which amounted to no less than $ 14.5m in the first calendar year since its introduction; for the provision of assistance to frail aged members of our community - the availability of substantial grants to the States.
The second stage in our plan was the setting up of the Nimmo Committee of Enquiry with the object of securing authoritative, independent advice on the best means of introducing a comprehensive, thoroughly investigated, health benefits plan.
The next stage was the examination by the Government of the Nimmo report and the decision to urgently introduce an entirely new programme of assistance to families on low incomes.
We have now progressed to the stage of a complete review of the Nimmo report and the initiation of action to implement many of its major recommendations. The total picture presented by the far reaching changes I have just outlined and the other improvements recently introduced by this Government is one of a completely reconstructed scheme - indeed, a new scheme - which will be known as the Health Benefits Plan. The many facets of the Health Benefits Plan clearly reflect the Government’s particular concern for those members of our society who are in need of assistance and to whom this Government is resolved to provide assistance.
The scope of the proposed improvements which I have outlined is extremely wide, but it should not be assumed that they represent a final solution. We recognise that conditions change, needs change and priorities change. We have demonstrated the capacity of our voluntary system to meet the challenges of change and are confident that its future responses will be as effective and satisfying as we know our current proposals will be. Lastly, may I emphasise that the effectiveness of these new arrangements depends heavily on the co-operation of the many parties involved - members of the general public as well as State governments and authorities, the medical and paramedical professions, social welfare agencies, employers and health insurance funds. We are confident that this co-operation will be given readily.
I present the following paper:
Health Benefits - Ministerial Statement, 4 March 1970. and move:
That the House take note of the paper.
– The Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) has had almost 55 minutes in which to discuss the Government’s proposed approach to restructuring the health insurance scheme in some areas. I will be given 20 minutes - possibly 30 minutes, if granted an extension of time. I leave it to fair minded people to judge the reasonableness of such a practice. Secondly, I hope that the fact that the Minister has gone to a great deal of trouble in order to express to the House in a general way, not a specific way, proposed changes to the health insurance scheme will not encourage him to indulge in lengthy delay before- amendments are introduced. Quite clearly there is need for urgent reform in quite a number of areas of the health insurance scheme.
Let me get on to the proposals the Minister has been mentioning. It is quite clear that his speech is a public confession of the Government’s humiliation on health insurance. He has retreated a considerable distance - in fact, a long way - from the position he frequently upheld until the last election, namely, of asserting the excellence of the scheme as it currently operates. One should be quite clear that his present proposals are not radical reforms; they are rather mild proposals. They mainly revolve around the Nimmo Committee report and recommendations. Let me say two things about the Nimmo report and the way the Minister has used it. It does not represent the acme of what should be done in the field of health insurance in this country.
The Committee was carefully manacled by restrictive terms of reference to prevent it from making any radical recommendations. The Government asserted within its terms of reference that the Committee had to bring down findings that fitted into the present structure of health insurance. It could not exceed those. It could not go out and experiment and investigate the appropriateness, efficiency and general desirability of the sort of propositions the Labor Party has been recommending^ So, the first point is that the Nimmo report represents a restricted view - restricted by Government fear - of health insurance in this country.
The next point is that in any event the Government has not handled all of the recommendations of the Nimmo Committee. Indeed, it has neglected the keystone of the recommendations in the report; that is, regionalisation of the activities of the open funds. That has been completely neglected by the Minister, who rejects any suggestion that the Government should introduce this practice. I will come back to it because, as 1 repeat, it is the keystone of the operation of all the recommendations of the Nimmo Committee.
Let me work my way through some of the points the Minister made. The first one I want to raise relates to protection for low income earners. Under the Government’s proposals a family man earning $42.50 a week and supporting a wife will receive full protection under the health insurance scheme. I cannot see the equity of that approach when a man supporting a wife and five children and earning $48.75 a week will have to meet the full cost of the scheme himself if he wishes to insure. He is 25c outside the adjusted scale which the Minister proposes and which would allow him to meet two-thirds of the cost of insurance. This is a completely wrong approach to the way in which subsidised protection or completely free protection for low income earners should be provided.
The Melbourne Survey of poverty clearly showed that a number of people in the low income area have grave problems in meeting the cost of health insurance. The more dependants they have, the graver this problem becomes. Accordingly, that survey established an income level that proceeded on a sliding scale, and in any event, the level was only 40% of what the survey team regarded as a minimum standard of living for people in the community. That means to say that the people in this area were defined in a very austere living environment, and the Government is not moving out in a wholehearted approach to this problem by giving completely free cover to a person such as the one I have mentioned, who earns $48.75 a week and is supporting a wife and five children. There is a complete lack of equity in the Government’s approach.
Let me refer now to the case of a man who is cast into sickness and is not insured because of apathy, ignorance or, maybe and most likely, lack of means. He is a low income earner. He has no savings. He has to be hospitalised in a public ward while he is supporting a wife and two children. He has to meet debts at an estimated rate of $65.40 a week, excluding Commonwealth benefits, for public ward treatment in New South Wales; a minimum of $10.10 for a stringent food diet for his family - none of us would like to try to live on that sort of diet; rent of $12 a week, if he is lucky; and other charges including fares, clothing and hire purchase of $6. That is a total of about $94 a week. Those conservative estimates understate the true extent of the debt burden an unfortunate person in this position would have to bear.
The only income he has with which to meet those debts in the first week of his sickness is $1.50 child endowment. In the next week he will have an income of $17.50 from sickness benefits - incidentally, a totally inadequate amount. Thus, in the first week he has debts of about $92.50, or nearly 2i times his weekly income if he is in the $40 a week bracket. Thereafter his net weekly debt amasses at the rate of $75 a week. This is a national scandal. It ought to be intolerable to any elected body, a government, which claims to accept a responsibility to* discharge a moral obliga tion to the community. Quite clearly the Government ought to have looked at this from two directions. It should have um.versalised the protection provided by medical and hospital insurance so that this sort of people who need assistance either because of their own errors or through misfortunes beyond their control, do get full cover and so that the burden of this full cover is borne equitably.
I want to move on next, and quickly, to the increased cost of this scheme. A staggering amount is involved in funding this scheme. To put it into an iron lung in order to resuscitate it for a little longer, it is going to cost the Australian taxpayers and contributors an extra $65m. If the Australian Labor Party said that it was going to spend half that amount of money in improvements in social welfare, perhaps by eliminating university fees - I think the figure we recommended was only about $12m - the Government would express alarm. The Government would say: ‘Where are you going to get the money?’ But in this scheme the Government is providing $65m of which $40.5m will come from the taxpayers and $24m will come from contributors. Then, of course, there is the additional cost which will have to be included later on when the amendments concerning the hospital insurance side of the scheme are introduced. Therefore there is no end in sight for this spiralling cost burden which is inherent in the present structure of health insurance.
One asks the question, quite reasonably, having heard the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) say that he proposed to reduce taxation by $200m before the end of 1972: How does the Government propose to do this considering the pressures for increased expenditure in education, housing and other areas of health?’ Over $6m is written off each year by public hospitals in Australia. Generally speaking, public hospitals are a grave area of need. Some of the most antiquated buildings in Australia are public hospitals. Where is the Government going to get the money, if it reduces taxation by S200m, to meet all of these increased demands and to discharge its responsibilities within the area of health insurance?
I point out to contributors that this will be no easy ride for them. The increase which they will have to bear will be between SI 6m a year and $23m a year. Incidentally, the total amount representing the cost to the Government of resuscitating the scheme, $65m, is about the same as the amount of increase in specific payments of a capital nature to all the States of the Commonwealth in the last Budget. One therefore has some appreciation of the enormity and the massing nature of the cost of maintaining this scheme and this is in spite of the proposed improvements which the Minister for Health has put forward.
In the course of his speech the Minister for Health spoke about the equity of the scheme. This scheme is a fraud. It is shockingly inequitable. The low and moderate income earners have to bear the burden of supporting it and there is a massive transfer from these people over to the wealthy people in order to support them. Let us consider the case at the present time of a low income earner in New South Wales receiving $2,236 a year, or about $43 weekly, who is supporting a wife and two children and paying about $67.60 a year in weekly payments for medical and public ward insurance protection. In fact, after his income tax deductions are allowed, he pays $57.51 for this insurance. His public ward treatment, excluding Commonwealth benefits of $14 a week, costs him $56 a week or $] less than he pays yearly for insurance. Contrast this with a better off man supporting a wife and two children who contributes $88.80 yearly for maximum private hospital and medical insurance protection in New South Wales. This man earns about $10,000 yearly. After tax deductions are claimed he pays $41.64 net a year for his health insurance. In return he receives private ward protection worth $100.80 weekly net of Commonwealth benefit. Now, where is the equity that the Minister was talking about? On what system of social and economic justice is this sort of system based? The poor man pays $57.51 a year for public ward treatment worth only $56 a week net of Commonwealth benefits; the rich man pays only $41.64 yearly for the superior comfort, convenience and advantage of private ward treatment worth $100.80 weekly net of Commonwealth benefit.
Let me put it another way in case this is not making any impression on the Minister who spoke about equity. The rich man pays 28% less than the poorer man but receives goods and services twice the posted value of those purchased by the poor man. Quite clearly the Government’s guiding principle seems to be to subsidise luxury and penalise unavoidable need. Income tax statistics indicate that there are probably twelve times more family units on about $2,000 a year than there are on $10,000 a year. As I mentioned earlier, there is an enormous transfer of finance from low income earners contributing to the scheme in order to subsidise the best and the costliest of private hospital treatment for the rich. It is quite clear that the Minister for Health, who is a doctor of philosophy and not of medicine, as are five of the doctors on the Opposition side of the House, has based his philosophy on the biblical injunction of St Matthew, chapter XXV, verse 29 which states:
For unto every one that hath shad be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. 1 mentioned the recommendation of the Nimmo report that the open funds ought to be regionalised in their activities. This is the keystone to the whole proposal. It was the best approach which the Nimmo Committee could make towards rationalising the activity of these open funds in an endeavour to cut back on unnecessary competition, on wasteful expenditure of contributors’ money on advertising, of the expenditure of $100,000 a year on a slush fund to run political propaganda, and on the purchase of all sorts of status symbols. Generally the Committee tried to tighten up the way in which the contributors’ money was being wastefully used by these funds. Having read the Nimmo report I have no doubt that given the opportuntiy - that is, had the Committee not been handcuffed by the restrictive terms of reference imposed upon it by the Government - the Committee would have come down in support of a system of universal insurance under which the cost would have been spread equitably among the people and all people would have been covered. Having been prevented from doing this the Committee did the next best thing. Clearly its thinking was that with regionalisation of the activities of the open funds there would have been an opportunity” to cut back on the wasteful duplication of administrative services within an area, as currently occurs, competitive expenditure on advertising, waste on status symbols and other things, and generally to try to reduce this enormous amount of money wasted in administrative costs or retained in reserves representing about $1 in every $4 contributed to the scheme. The Government has rejected this proposal. Therefore it is allowing to persist in the operation of the scheme the very cause, the very seat, of all the inefficiencies and all the unnecessary costs which ‘bedevil it as it now operates.
The recommendation of the Labor Party - it is well known - is that the scheme be universalised and based on a li% levy on taxable income. This would mean in turn that a growth factor would be built into the fund so that as Income grew the total sum of money available to a national health scheme for distribution through a regionalised scheme of insurance funds operating close to the people would grow according to the need. As presently happens we find that the Government’s contribution to the scheme tends to be static over a period. Given an increase of X, by the time Y is reached, as a percentage of the total cost of maintaining the fund, X has been reduced considerably and of course the burden has increased. This burden has to be met by the contributor who also provides the money which is returned from the private insurance funds. Additionally, our scheme has the benefit of equity in that the higher one’s income the more one pays, the lower one’s income the less one pays, and the more dependants one has to support the less one has to pay.
I mentioned the enormous amount of money which is either held in retained funds in reserves or spent in administration costs. I mentioned that the amount was about SI in every $4, or roughly 24% of the contributions made in 1967. In the United States of America the Blue Cross schemes can operate on a retention ratio of 4% for hospital care insurance and 9.6% for medical insurance, so it seems quite incomprehensible that in Australia we have to operate on a retention rate that is several times higher. Nowhere in the Minister’s speech has he stated the degree to which the Government is prepared to reduce this ratio. According to the Health Insurance Council the best that can be hoped for is a retention rate of about 15% in management fees. This does not include reserves. But even at a rate of 15% for management fees the figure is far greater than the cost which is incurred in operating the schemes in the United States of America.
Finally, the Minister’s statement projects that the Government will eliminate the means test on public ward treatment in public hospitals and at the same time he rejects the proposition - which is implicit in the proposals of the Australian Labor Party - that we do away with the system of honorary services at hospitals and establish full-time specialist medical staff and sessional services. What the Minister does not appreciate is that if he eliminates the means test as he ought to-
– I did not say anything of the sort.
– Did you not? I am sorry, but that is how I read the report. I withdraw that statement. In any case, the Minister ought to withdraw the means test on public ward treatment at public hospitals, which is a recommendation of the Nimmo Committee, and consistently with this he ought to adopt the next recommendation of the Nimmo Committee that honorary treatment be displaced by sessional services and full-time specialist services, because the means test cannot be eliminated unless this is done. The burden cast on to the honorary service would exceed the capacity of that service to meet requirements. There is no doubt that to eliminate the means test would place a tremendous demand on these services because 86% of the Queensland public prefer public ward treatment at their public hospitals to paying for private ward treatment and this in itself is an endorsement of the proposals of the Labor Party.
Debate (on motion by Mr Buchanan) adjourned.
– by leave - It has recently been drawn to my attention that a number of private organisations have been advertising themselves as consultants on pension eligibility and the operation of the means test. I am concerned with the style of advertising some of these companies have adopted. I have received complaints, and from inquiries I have made it seems that at least some of these organisations are primarily concerned with encouraging people to invest funds in their various business enterprises rather than with the welfare of the individuals involved.
While this practice may not be contrary to any specific law or necessarily against the best interests of the people responding to the advertisements, 1 do want to draw attention to the dangers of acting on advice received from persons who are not expert in the field of social services. Unfortunately it comes to my notice from time to time that wrong advice is given by self-styled experts on social services. By the time the person comes to the Department he has committed himself to a course of action which may have an effect on his pension eligibility contrary to what he was led to believe. Of course, by this time it is usually too late to retrieve the position and the person suffers as a result.
I wish to emphasise that there is no need for the public to seek information about pensions or pensioner entitlement from these organisations. With over 50 offices throughout Australia and a staff of about 4,000, my Department is geared to give prompt, courteous service and expert advice to all persons seeking information about social services. Recent widespread departmental advertising and publicity have encouraged increasing numbers of persons to avail themselves of these services and it is to be hoped that this trend will continue.
In addition, departmental leaflets about the various social services are available upon request at any Post Office or office of the Department, and a ready reckoner is available for those who wish to calculate for themselves the approximate rate of pension they may be eligible to receive. Honourable members on both sides of the House make their services available to constituents, and where there is any doubt in their minds as to the eligibility for a pension they may properly avail themselves of their contacts with my Department. The House may recall that last year I made available folders with information on social services to all honourable members, so that they would be in a better position to answer queries from their constituents.
If any honourable member is convinced that full justice is not being done in any particular case, then I am only too happy for the matter to be brought to me personally. It is my policy and the policy of my Department that anyone who has a pension entitlement under the law should receive it to the full and with the least possible delay.
– by leave - In harmony with the Government’s approach indicated in the Governor-General’s Speech the Government intends to introduce some immediate changes within the provisions of the present Papua and New Guinea Act which will give Ministerial Members drawn from the Papua and New Guinea House of Assembly increased powers both individually in relation to the functions of their departments and collectively as members of the Administrator’s Executive Council. During the parliamentary recess there were Ministerial discussions in Canberra with the Territory Select Committee on Constitutional Development, which were helpful to both sides.
Following the recommendations of the Select Committee on Constitutional Development set up by the first House of Assembly the Papua and New Guinea Act was amended in May 1968 to provide for further constitutional development in Papua and New Guinea. The main changes made at that time provided for increased participation by elected members in the executive government of the Territory through a system of Ministerial offices and the replacement of the former Administrator’s Council by the Administrator’s Executive Council. It was emphasised that these arrangements were essentially transitional in character. It was stated that under section 25 the role and functions of Ministerial Members and Assistant Ministerial Members could be adapted in the light of experience.
The Act sets out that the functions of Ministerial office holders are generally to assist in the administration of the Government of the Territory to the extent and in the manner provided by arrangements approved by the Minister for External Territories under section 25. In 1968 in accordance with the amendments to the Act 7 Ministerial Members and 8 Assistant Ministerial Members were appointed from elected members of the House of Assembly.
These office holders were selected from elected members of the House jointly by the Ministerial Nominations Committee of the House and the Administrator before being nominated to the Minister for appointment. There are Ministerial Members for Agriculture, Stock and Fisheries, Education, Labour, Posts and Telegraphs, Public Health, Public Works, and Trade and Industry. At present Ministerial Members share responsibility with the departmental heads for overall departmental activities and for the framing of policy proposals including proposals for expenditure.
The Government considers that the time has now come to invite Ministerial Members to assume more responsibility in the administration of the government of the Territory. New arrangements have therefore been approved for Ministerial Members under section 25 of the Act. I table the approved arrangements. These include also the arrangements applying in respect of Assistant Ministerial Members. Subject to the overall responsibility of the Minister for External Territories, acting through the Administrator, these approved arrangements provide that a Ministerial Member will be fully responsible to the Administrator’s Executive Council for the day-to-day running of the department instead of, as at present, acting jointly with the departmental head and sharing the responsibility with him.
As set out in the approved arrangements a Ministerial Member will within the framework of broader Government policy make decisions regarding policy and administration in day to day activities related to the matters for which he is responsible. He will formulate plans and proposals for departmental expenditure including draft departmental estimates. It is the Government’s intention that these changes should come into effect in practice at once and without waiting for amendments to Territory Ordinances which will be necessary.
The Government looks to officials who may now hold statutory powers by delegation or otherwise to exercise these with the concurrence of the Ministerial Member in the spirit of these arrangements.
Some changes are also being made in relation to the Administrator’s Executive Council. Again these changes are within the framework of the existing Papua and New Guinea Act. The Council has been exercising increasing authority over the past 2 years and its scope is now being further enlarged. Under the present arrangements the Council advises the Administrator, who is broadly free to accept or disregard the advice. However, the Government has been consulting the Council on a widening range of issues and has increasingly accepted the Council’s views. In future the Council’s authority will be enhanced in 3 ways: Firstly, it will be consulted on all significant policy issues; secondly, it will advise on the more important departmental questions referred to it by a Ministerial Member; thirdly, it will have a greater voice in the procedures for the framing of the Territory budget, as explained later. May I interpose that I propose to delegate powers which will be advised at a later date.
Apart from these specific matters the Government has been giving and will continue to give increasing weight to the views and advice of the Administrator’s Executive Council. This increase in the power and. influence of the Council is qualitative in character. It is not to be measured in terms of specific powers, individual acts of administration or areas of policy or increased financial delegations, but it will be apparent by the degree to which the Administrator’s Executive Council in future influences the Government’s attitude on important issues. An example of this kind of increasing influence is the recent reference to the Council by the Minister of the question whether the Papuan Medical College should become part of the University of Papua and New Guinea. This is a matter related to the responsibilities of the Ministerial Member for Health. The Council concluded that it was highly desirable for the Medical College to become part of the University provided arrangements could be made for Government controls to be maintained over costs and the broad direction of the medical course. Such a formula would meet the difficulties previously seen by the Government and the Government has said it accepts the Council’s conclusion so that if the University agrees to the Council’s recommendations they will be put into effect.
Having regard to the changes I have mentioned, regulations will be made under the Act to govern some procedural matters including the recording of Council decisions and their transmission to the Commonwealth Government There will also be changes in the procedures by which the Territory budget is framed so that elected members of the House of Assembly will have a greater say in the budget. The Administrator’s Executive Council will be invited to establish immediately an Estimates Sub-committee. Officials of the Territory Treasury will keep the Sub-committee closely in touch with plans and progress in respect of the forthcoming financial year’s estimates. The Sub-committee will be invited to discuss the draft estimates with the Minister for External Territories before these are finalised. After those discussions no important alterations will be made in the draft estimates without the knowledge of the Estimates Sub-committee and without their having a full opportunity to comment. Throughout the period during which the budget is being framed it is expected that the Estimates Sub-committee of the Council will keep in touch with the existing Budget Committee of the House of Assembly, a body made up wholly of elected members, with a view to informing themselves of any points which members of the House may wish to have considered in the draft estimates for the following year.
Self government will not be forced on the people against their wishes. Nevertheless the Government considers steps should be taken now so that the elected representatives of the people take on additional responsibilities in the government of the Territory. The Government is satisfied that the changes now proposed accord with the climate of opinion of the House of Assembly and of the Territory generally. The changes I have outlined reflect the Government’s approach of progressively transferring responsibility to elected members of the Territory House of Assembly. The new arrangements are a definite and material step along the road to self government.
Further constitutional changes to be put into effect later this year are now under examination. None of the changes I have outlined requires amendment to the Papua and New Guinea Act. Important or major changes in the constitutional arrangements for Papua and New Guinea of the sort that might be expected to require substantial amendment to the Act should in the Government’s view await consideration by the Territory House of Assembly of the report of the Select Committee on Constitutional Development so that such substantial amendment of the Act would be decided upon in the light of the views of the Territory people.
I present the following papers:
House of Assembly - Ministerial Members - Ministerial statement, 4 March 1970.
Approved arrangements for Ministerial Members made under section 25 of the Papua and New Guinea Act, and notes on conduct of holders of ministerial office.
Motion (by Mr Holten) proposed:
That the House take note of the papers.
– I want to express the appreciation of the Opposition to. the Minister for External Territories (Mr Barnes) for the fact that he gave us a very early copy of the statement which he intended to make and thus enabled it to be studied. It is desirable, because of the enormous difficulties of one people ruling another with justice, that there should be as much consensus as possible in this House as to what should be done in Papua and New Guinea. The early supply of the paper, indicating the Minister’s courtesy towards the Opposition, is the sort of thing which may help that to occur. But the statement does not indicate that it is the intention of the Government to reduce in any degree the real power in Papua and New Guinea - expatriate power; nor does it establish the responsibility of Ministerial Members to a parliamentary majority in the House of Assembly.
There should now be a clear reduction of expatriate power. The establishment of the responsibility of Ministers to a parliamentary majority, if it is the Westminster system that is the aim, is an essential change, and this change was expressly disavowed. The Minister at no stage suggested that there was any power. He constantly used the word ‘influence’. I draw attention to the following words in the Minister’s statement:
This increase in the power and influence of the Council is qualitative in character. It is not to be measured in terms of specific powers, individual acts of administration or areas of policy or increased financial delegations, but it will be apparent by the degree to which the Administrator’s Executive Council in future influences the Government’s attitude on important issues.
That may be influence; it is not power, lt is essential at this stage that the Ministerial Members should be trained in the exercise of power, not in the exercise of influence. The statement marks a further evolution of the Administrator back towards the position of a 19th century governor and his executive council, yet the Minister imagines that this is progress towards self government. It is not even really a further step towards the Westminster system. Yet it shows a complete un awareness of a possible line of constitutional development that has been asked for by the Speaker of the House of Assembly and shown in the questions asked of witnesses by the members of the House of Assembly committee investigating the constitutional structure. This is a possible development of a presidential system of government.
The Commonwealth Government thinks it is teaching a Westminster system. If the Government wants to do the job on Westminster lines, it really should do it by providing for ministerial responsibility to Parliament. What the people are getting de facto is education in a presidential system while being told that it is evolution towards a Westminster system. This is the worst of both worlds. Whilst I do not want to refer to it any further, there is also in the system of Papua and New Guinea a dash of the Swiss arrangement in that Ministers are elected trans-party in the House of Assembly. This is a characteristic of the Swiss constitution and no other. But this system is inevitable if, while the Government says it is assisting the Territory towards a Westminster system, it is in fact discouraging parties and especially Opposition parties. If the essence of power is in expatriate hands, Oppositions are in opposition to expatriates and that we will never encourage. 1 want to stress the .point on the education that the Government thinks that it is giving. Julius Nyerere, Milton Obote, Hastings Banda, Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta were all ostensibly, in the mind of the British, given an education in the Westminster system. But what power did they in fact aspire to exercise. Not that of a Prime Minister whom they never saw and therefore could not model themselves upon, but that of a governor with a plenitude of power. So what has happened is that after 70 or 80 years of rule of their country by absolute power in the hands of the Governor, that is the model they had in mind and those are the powers they in fact now exercise. For 80 years before Papuan and New Guinean eyes, whether demonstrated by the Germans or by ourselves, the model of government they have seen is a governor or administrator exercising absolute power. At this stage when we imagine we are stepping forward towards the Westminster system, we have an explicit statement of the responsibility of Ministers to the Administrator in his Executive Council. lt is no wonder that men like John Guise say: ‘What we want is a presidential form of government*. That in fact is the form of government they have had. The Administrator and the Governors in the past, choosing their advisers, corresponded very much more closely to an American president choosing his cabinet from outside Parliament or Congress than they ever did to a British Prime Minister with a parliamentary Cabinet within the Westminster system.
– How would they elect a President under that system?
– That is a matter for John Guise to explain if he likes. All I am saying is that the education is coming not from your words but from the form of government that you are in fact operating as a model before their eyes. This happened in Africa. There the people have gone back much more closely to an approximation of a 19th century governor than to a British Prime Minister. The Ministers and the Assistant Ministers in the House of Assembly are left completely unable to accept the sort of responsibilities that Ministers usually accept in Britain and Australia. Expatriate power overriding them ensures this and this is destroying them. Their prospective defeat at elections is expected everywhere just as the defeat of the Parliamentary Under Secretaries occurred in the 1968 election. The belief of the people, and it is a right belief, is that power is actually in the hands of expatriates and members who reach one of these key ministerial member positions are expected to make representations to the real Government - the Administrator and his expatriate staff - seeking what they want but that these members do not go back often enough to the constituency to find out what the electors want. That is the criticism the people had of the former Parliament Under Secretaries, who were defeated holus bolus, and that is their criticism of the present Ministerial Members. On this basis the defeat of the Ministerial Members is expected everywhere. They cannot make real decisions in the interests of their people.
If the Government wants a Westminster system, it must encourage parties. But the real attitude of the Government towards the Pangu Party and to those who go into opposition to what the expatriates are doing is that any sort of criticism of what we are doing in Papua and New Guinea is fundamentally very ignorant or ill willed and that these parties are quite wrong and really should not exist. Of course, nothing is done to abolish them - I am not suggesting that - but the whole attitude discourages parties. The Government is not moving towards a Westminster system if it discourages parties, because without parties we cannot have the responsibility of Ministers to a clear majority in the House of Assembly. The Government actively dislikes dissent and this dislike tends to the systematic misleading of the House of Assembly.
I sat in the House of Assembly and heard the official members saying in effect to the native members: ‘Now, do not rock the boat on these Bougainville arrangements. The copper there is not all that valuable and if you make too many criticisms the company might go away.’ Well, the ‘Australian’ mentioned deals on Bougainville copper worth $ 1,700m in its mining reports last week and I very much doubt whether the company would want to. go away. The information available to Ministerial Members and other members of the House of Assembly when making decisions, which were all subsequently repudiated, was completely misleading. The company was prepared to pay very much more than the Administration was prepared to seek on behalf of the people. I am afraid that the Ministerial Members will become a new form of facade. The House of Assembly has practically no access to libraries and no independent access to information, and almost no information except what is given it by the Administration, and so we have policy going round in a circle. It seemed completely true to Oala Oala-Rarua, judging by his speeches, that $105 an acre for the land at Bougainville was fair and all that could be expected. Why? Because that is what he had been told. The people who said it was utterly unfair were discussed as though they were bad, disaffected people and ultimately, after the clashes, the whole policy had to be reversed.
A further point is that the Administration divides the nation. I say this with regret; I have said it in the House before but I will say it again because I regard it as being deadly serious. It made my blood run cold when I saw what happened after what might be called intellectual coastal natives made some demands on behalf of their people. After all we are training the House in the language of demand. The standard procedure of the nominated members of the House of Assembly was to invoke the highland majority and say: ‘What will happen to you fellows if they get what they are seeking? You do not have nearly as much in the highlands.’ If a highland administration party is not being created by these methods, I do not know what a party is. However, it is not called a party. All I want to say as a warning is that the British did this in Nigeria. The nice, Moslem uneducated people of the north could always be invoked against the Ibos of what later became Biafra. So long as the British wanted to rule Nigeria, they fanned the divisions and we have all seen the consequences. All I say to the Administration in Papua and New Guinea and to the planters in Papua and New Guinea who think they can build privilege on nice, docile, backward highland members is to stop fanning divisions in the country. That is what is happening there now.
Constant claims are made by the Government that whatever it does is what the people want. If. the Government had chosen to establish an American presidential system, there would have been no criticism. Does the Government seriously suggest that the villagers are saying: ‘Now the time has come for the Ministerial Members to take the changes set out in the approved changes mentioned by the Minister’? Of course they are not. We are expected to know what government, is. The models put forward by Australia are accepted.
There was once a gallup poll on the TaftHartley Act, which was a labour law in the United States, and 75% of the people said that they were against it. Then the same gallup poll asked them about every clause of the Act, and never less than 70% of the people said that they were for every one of them. But Taft-Hartley had become a bad label. We have found that in Papua-New Guinea self government has become a bad label, because the Government in its utterances has not made a clear distinction between self government and independence. The Labor Party delegation asked the people there, including Ministerial Members, if they thought the House of Assembly should control education, agriculture and fisheries and so on, and listed what amounted to the whole structure of self government. They said yes to every power. The only things they did not believe in controlling were defence and foreign policy. Of course, if the House of Assembly and a Cabinet had control over defence and foreign policy they would have complete independence. They were in fact universally in favour of seu! government as a list of powers. But the words ‘self government’ had been made fear words. Whatever the Government wants, it says, is what the people want. Where the Government dares not claim this, as in the Bougainville attempted land seizures in Bougainville and in the reduction of the wage scales of local officers in the Public Service, it says: This is for their good’.
The expected inability of Ministerial Members to hold their seats is a point I mentioned earlier. There is confusion in Papua-New Guinea on nearly everything. There was confusion about taxation. We in Australia first heard that there were going to be prosecutions of various residents of the Gazelle Council area. Then - horror of horrors - it was found that the taxes that had been imposed for a few years were illegally imposed and the House had to be assembled hastily to give retrospective validity to the laws. There was confusion in the House of Assembly on the Bougainville question and there is confusion on native councils. The Administration is playing a dangerous game in ordering the exercise of force against a section and getting all other sections to applaud. When the Administration sent the police to Bougainville the majority of the House of Assembly applauded. It also applauded the complete change in policy.
I want to warn the Government that it cannot with impunity use the House of Assembly as a weapon against indigenous people on a question like land. The House was really a mask for what the Commonwealth was doing.. The High Court has ruled that the Government could take all the land of Papua-New Guinea. I do not mean that those words were used. The High Court has ruled in effect that the exercise of sovereign power over land by the Germans before us and by us now is established as valid. We can take land, but we have preferred to do it through the House of Assembly. The issue of land is a very deep one among the people of Papua-New Guinea. Land is the one thing that they possess when the expatriates possess all else.
II the Government uses the House of Assembly as an instrument to deprive the people of their land it has Buckley’s chance of maintaining a united Papua-New Guinea. In Bougainville and in New Britain secession movements are developing. I think that by the exercise of force the Government has reached the point where the best thing it can hope for in the future is a federation, with local government or provincial government in some of these areas exercising power over land as a means of defending the areas against Port Moresby. Otherwise Ministerial Members will be blithely saying as they say in conversation, if not in the House of Assembly, that they are going to share out the wealth of the people of Bougainville. But if one should go to those same Ministerial Members and suggest that the Government should take their land there would be a violent reaction in the other direction - a denial of powers to act or of justice in acting.
If the Government wants to give training to a future government of Papua-New Guinea in dispossessing expatriate businesses I imagine that the training given in Bougainville could not be bettered. I warn honourable members that the native people will model themselves on what the Government does and not on what it says. If an extreme exercise of sovereign power is possible and if land is taken by force at a price which the Government chooses to nominate it will be fair enough if that is done by a future native government to Burns Philp or someone else. I do not advocate that. I am just warning the Government of the force of the example of the exercise of government power which it in fact has given.
The members of the House of Assembly are confused about self government and independence, and they are being kept that way. Instead of transferring power, the prime concern seems to be with new ways of concealing what is essentially expatriate power. There is a widespread folly in Papua and New Guinea in criticising an entity called the United Nations and in encouraging all the indigenes to do that. The entity of the United Nations might be very unworthy, but by 87 votes to none and by about 127 votes to none the instructed delegates of other governments at the United Nations have said that Papua-New Guinea ought to be independent. As Australia is one of the crowd which chases Rhodesia, do not let us forget that there may be a similar crowd chasing us. I do not flout the opinion of the world; I do not say that this opinion is the final determining consideration; but if the only answer to United Nations criticism is the form of consultation we maintain with the people of Papua and New Guinea now, our position is weak. To weigh against the opinions of 127 nations, including the United States of America, our present intentions, I think is a mistaken approach to the world.
There is a fear that an independent government will make mistakes. Papua and New Guinea must make mistakes. The Australian Government made very bad mistakes in Bougainville and it has made another bad mistake in relation to the Mataungans. The only way in which the Papua and New Guinea government will learn to govern is by making its own mistakes and achieving successes. It has to be allowed to make those mistakes in the period before independence, when some of the mistakes may not be so serious and when Australian can perhaps assist in rectifying the blunders. It is not right to hold before the local people the idea that the coming of self government or independence means the abandonment of Australia’s interest in them. That needs to be made clear if we are genuinely seeking uncoerced expressions of their opinion of the various stages of constitutional development.
Debate (on motion by Mr Calder) adjourned.
-I wish to inform the House of the following appointments of senators and members to be members of the Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House. Senators McKellar and Dame Ivy Wedgwood have been appointed by the Leader of the Government in the Senate; Senators Cavanagh and McClelland have been appointed by the Leader of the Opposition in that House; Mr Drury, Mr Erwin, Mr Fox and Mr Giles have been appointed by the Prime Minister; Mr Birrell, Mr Bryant, Mr Duthie and Mr Mclvor have been appointed by the Leader of the Opposition in this House; and Mr Barnard has been appointed jointly by the Leaders of the Opposition in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Prime Minister has informed me that in accordance with paragraph 3 of the Resolution of Appointment of the Committee he has appointed Mr Snedden to attend the Committee when he is unable to be present. The Leader of the Country Party has informed me that in accordance with paragraph 3 of the Resolution of Appointment of the Committee he has appointed Mr Nixon to attend the Committee when he is unable to be present.
-I wish to inform the House of the following appointments of senators and members to be members of the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory: Senators Marriott, Maunsell and Withers have been appointed by the Leader of the Government in the Senate; Senators Devitt and Milliner have been appointed by the Leader of the Opposition in that House; Mr Fox and Mr Hallett have been appointed by the Prime Minister; and Mr Daly and Mr J. R. Fraser have been appointed by the Leader of the Opposition in this House.
– In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, I present the report relating to the following proposed work:
High Schools at Casuarina (Darwin) and Alice Springs, Northern Territory.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-I have received a letter from the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The unjust Commonwealth Government decisions and submissions on wage and salary rates, equal pay. and employment standards for Commonwealth employees.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places. (More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places)
Mr CLYDE CAMERON (Hindmarsh) the matter of public importance that we propose for discussion so that it may be on the record. It is as follows:
The unjust Commonwealth Government decisions and submissions on wage and salary rates, equal pay, and employment standards for Commonwealth employees.
Also for the record I want to state that although this is a matter which vitally affects the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations, and the Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organisations, the Leader of the House (Mr Snedden) has decided to refuse the Opposition the right to have more than one speaker on this most urgent and important matter. One of the most important matters facing this country today is the vast and tremendously, growing rate of dissatisfaction with the present industrial system, and here we have the Government refusing to allow more than one speaker from our side of the House to speak on this matter. The Government has decided that it will apply the gag as soon as I have finished and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Snedden) has replied. It is all very well for the Minister to say later that we can raise these matters during the Address-in-Reply debate, but the difference between the Address-in-Reply debate and this debate is that in this debate the Minister has to reply. In the Address-in-Reply debate honourable members can protest as much as they like about matters that they think are wrong, but Ministers are free completely to ignore them. On the Opposition’s industrial committee we have six members altogether - five besides myself - who wanted to speak on this matter. The honourable member for Burke (Mr Leonard Johnson), the honourable member for Swan (Mr Bennett), the honourable member for Darling (Mr Fitzpatrick), the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Foster) and the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) all indicated to me a desire to speak in this debate in order to support the proposal that I am now submitting.
Mr Speaker, I have not time to deal with all of the matters which ought to be dealt with in a discussion of this kind, but they include such questions as equal pay, the Commonwealth Government’s refusal to grant 4 weeks annual leave to its employees and thereby bring them into line with State Government employees in New South Wales, its refusal to give proper consideration to salary ranges, and its refusal to deal with workers compensation expeditiously. We have the worst workers compensation legislation in Australia. The Commonwealth Government ought to be giving complete support to the International Labour Organisation’s decision on equal pay, because the Government has full constitutional power to apply equal pay to its own employees if it so wishes. The Commonwealth Government has full authority to apply the 4 weeks annual leave provision which already operates in the Public Service of New South Wales, but it does nothing about it. Not only does the Commonwealth Government do nothing about it, but quite guiltily the Minister refuses to allow Parliament the right even to talk about it. Therefore I regret that in the time available to me I will have to deal with only one of the many matters that I would like to see debated in this Parliament at this time and in circumstances which would force the Government to answer them and not run away from the criticism that we will level against it.
I can deal with only one matter, the professional engineers’ case, but it is a terribly important matter and it highlights and illustrates again the attitudes that we have come to expect from this Government. In July 1967 the professional engineers lodged a claim for a new award. Negotiations broke down when the Commonwealth Public Service Board refused point blank to negotiate. It said that it was not prepared to offer without prejudice interim increases because it wanted the matter to go to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. In July 1969 - 2 years later - the very same Board did approve without prejudice of increases to two other Public Service organisations, and then, after more than 2 years of delay in fruitless negotiations and something like 70 or 80 days of formal hearings, to say nothing of the inspections and the other time wasting devices to which the Public Service Board and the employers concerned resorted - this costing some thousands of dollars, let me say, in counsel fees and for fares and transcript charges - the Board, after saying that it would have nothing whatever to do with these increases without prejudice, unilaterally announced its own assessment of the salaries that should be paid. At the same time it also announced the date from which the increases would operate. I am bound to say that the Board’s action in making its offer public carried very strong political overtones because the announcement was made only 4 weeks before the election was held on 25th November last year, and it was made in such a way as to suggest that more could be expected when the Commission made its final award.
The applicants, the Association of Professional Engineers of Australia, the Professional Officers Association and the Association of Architects Engineers Surveyors and Draughtsmen of Australia, had every reason to expect that there would be substantial increases awarded over and above the Board’s interim increases. They were entitled to assume that the 1969 award would have lifted the salaries to a level at which they would be at least equal to those awarded in the 1961 and 1962 cases. The three associations were representative of highly qualified, well-trained and widely experienced people whose salaries had become so depressed that this country, which needs this class of highly trained people so badly, had to watch the brain drain to other countries. If one looks at the figures and sees the number of professional engineers in the United States of America, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United Kingdom and compares them on a pro rata basis with the number of engineers in Australia, one cannot help but realise that we are drifting into a serious and dangerous position, because this is a young and developing country which needs these highly trained professional men more than any other country needs them. How do we treat them? We treat them in a way that is literally driving them out of the country in order to obtain better treatment elsewhere.
The Association of Professional Engineers of Australia, the Professional Officers Association and the Association of Architects Engineers Surveyors and Draughtsmen of Australia knew, too, that Mr Justice Wright .and Mr Commissioner Portus, who had heard the 1961 and 1962 engineering cases, had stated that the Board’s interim offer was not enough. If anybody knew what the rate ought to be, it was Mr Justice Wright and Mr Commissioner Portus because in 1961 and 1962 they had made an assessment of the rates which represented a completely new charter for the professional engineers of this country. The associations knew that Mr Justice Wright and Mr Commissioner Portus would constitute a majority on the bench of the Commission which would finally decide the matter, and therefore they were entitled to assume that there would be some increases in salaries above those which the Public Service Board had fixed. They knew, of course, that the Public Service Arbitrator would do whatever he might anticipate would be the Government’s wishes. Imagine therefore the astonished anger of professional engineers when, with the Federal elections safely out of the way, the Commission endorsed in toto the Board’s assessment of salaries’ and thus limited salary increases to 11% for class 1 officers, .12% for class 2 officers, 13% for class 3 officers, 14% for class 4 officers and 15% for class 5 officers, and ordered that the increases would operate from the date chosen by the Board, 17th October 1969.
The professional engineers had noted that there had been no examination of engineers salaries since the famous 1962 case. Their association took into account the assessment made in that case, the accelerated economic changes and the increased value .of engineering work and felt justified in claiming rates ranging from 45% for class 1 engineers to 54% for class 5 engineers. Their case was an excellent one. It was not an extravagant case; it was a case which they were able to back up with hard facts. Therefore, they were expecting that their application would be granted. But the negotiations and hearings dragged on for 2 years and, as I have already pointed out, on the eve of the recent Federal election the Public Service Board made its first offer.
I wish to say something about the decision of the Commission in support of the Board. It seems to me remarkable that the Commission should have reached exactly the same conclusion, made exactly the same assessment in regard to rates and decided on exactly the same date of operation as the Public Service Board - no doubt acting under the Government’s instructions - had arrived at earlier. This can be interpreted in only one of three ways. Firstly, the benches did not agree that 11% to 15% was warranted but, the Commonwealth Public Service Board having agreed to it, they decided to let it stand. Secondly, the benches independently arrived at the same percentages as the Board. Thirdly, the benches were told what to do by the Liberal-Country Party Government. As to the first interpretation, the most experienced arbitrators - Mr Justice Wright and Mr Commissioner Portus, who both sat on the previous engineering cases in 1961 and 1962 - stated that the amounts granted were not enough, though for differing reasons, but Mr Chambers and Mr Justice Moore said that the amounts granted were correct. In regard to the second interpretation, it can be shown quite easily that 90,000 million to 1 would represent something like the odds against the benches independently arriving at the same conclusions as the Public Service Board. Therefore, I think we are left with only one reasonable interpretation. Clearly what happened is that the Government told the Commission, either directly or indirectly, what to do.
The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Snedden) is scribbling down notes so that he can make a denial later on. This is something we have come to expect from him, but it is not good enough. The evidence strongly suggests that’ the Liberal-Country Party Government put pressure to bear upon the Public Service Arbitrator, which is not hard to do as be has proved himself always to be a mere rubber stamp of the Government, particularly the Public Service Board. His deputy is no better. The Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme), who is glaring at me, knows to his sorrow that because he rubber-stamped the Deputy Public Service Arbitrator’s decision in the postal dispute now we have a strike on our hands.
– We have not.
– If there is no strike it is because the Postmaster-General has removed the rubber stamp and is getting ready to put on another one; that is the only reason. If the Government did not endorse the Public Service Board’s earlier opposition to negotiation it should say so. If the Government did not endorse the Board’s subsequent agreement to grant increases it should say so. If, after the election, the Government did not pressurise the Commission into rubber-stamping the Board’s decision it should say so. If the Government is brazen enough to deny that, directly or indirectly, it pressurised the Commission that is its business, but I am one of those people who agree with the many thousands of professional men who will not accept the Government’s denial. I wish to quote what Mr Jack Michael, the General President of the Association of Professional Engineers, had to say about this matter. He is a very responsible person. He would not lightly make such a statement. I quote only a portion of his letter. He said:
Many of our members believe that the Commission was influenced by the Federal Government policies, as expressed by the Board, which after all was only one respondent in the case. If there is even the slightest reason to suspect the judicial independence of the Commission, this is very serious indeed.
He went on to say: . . the very low amounts awarded are all such as to constitute a direct incitement to militancy by this Association, which has always been noted for its responsible and temperate approach in its industrial policies. Indeed, many members are saying that the Commission has taken advantage of such policies, and that’ there appears to be no room for temperate and responsible policies if justice is to be achieved before the Commission.
I believe that a powerful case can be made out for many amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and the Public Service Arbitration Act, but perhaps the most urgent amendment is one which will discourage delaying tactics on the part of employers by providing that wage claims which are not settled within 90 days from the date on which the claim is filed shall, if partly or fully granted, be made to operate retrospectively to the date of the application. That is the only way it can be done. The future of conciliation and arbitration in this country is in the balance. I do not want to see it destroyed, but the Government, by its interference in the proper functioning of conciliation and arbitration, is rapidly destroying the system. Once the workers lose faith in the integrity of the arbitration system they cannot expect any of their associations to accept the decisions of the arbitration tribunals.
The Government is making it plain to anybody who cares to examine the actions of the Commission and the Public Service
Arbitrator and his deputy that the Commission and the arbitrators have become mere rubber stamps or public servants of the Commonwealth Government. Can anyone imagine the Leader of the Australian Labor Party using the kind of influence which appears to have been used in this case? Of course not. Imagine a Labor government going to an industrial ‘ tribunal
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– We have just listened to a quite remarkable speech. No speech could be more calculated to barm a major institution which has been set up under our Constitution, Fortunately, it will not do the harm it was calculated to do because, pitched in such exaggerated and extreme terms, it is identified as being quite irresponsible and uninformed. Quite clearly it is designed to achieve a political aim and not to contribute to the welfare of the people the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) claims to support, namely the professional engineers of Australia.
The honourable member said that the Opposition would be refused more than one speaker. It is true that there will be only one speaker on each side of the House, but the honourable member did not say that there were discussions beforehand and that no arrangement could be reached. Before referring to the professional engineers case, I wish to deal with two other matters which were also raised by the honourable member. The first concerned equal pay. In the terms of his letter there were unjustdecisions and submissions, including one on equal pay. How could there have been unjust decisions or submissions when the Commonwealth, as an employer, has applied equal pay on margins over a long period of time and, subsequent to the decision of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission which -was referred to, has been applying that decision? At this point of time equal pay is applied at a 90% rate; in 1971 it will be 95% and the full 100% will be applied in 1972. When the Commonwealth intervened in the equal pay case it intervened on the basis that it supported equal pay for work of a like kind. How can it be unjust? On the contrary, the Government was putting the proposition that it supported equal pay for work of a like kind. In putting that submission the Commonwealth made it clear that it was on the same basis as the equal pay provisions in New South Wales and Tasmania and was supported by an International Labour Organisation convention. So much for the matter of equal pay.
As for the matter of 4 weeks annual leave, which was alluded to briefly and passed over, I would like the House to be aware that it has been refused at the request of the associations. I would like the House to bear in mind that we have in Australia at the present time a tight labour market. It should be obvious logic to everybody that more annual leave will require one of two things - either the employment of additional work force to make up the time lost by recreation or the working of more overtime. If the extra leave of 1 week were granted and the additional work force were recruited to make up the time lost it is estimated that it would cost the Commonwealth $25m per annum. If that provision of 4 weeks annual leave flowed on into the community generally and if it were covered by employing extra staff, it is estimated that the cost would be $290m. But if it were covered by working overtime instead of employing more staff the cost would be greater.
There are existing pressures on the economy and on the labour market and it is the opinion of the Government that this is not the time to grant additional annual leave of 1 week. I should draw the attention of the House to comparisons with overseas countries. Our annual leave provisions are as good as those in any other country. In many countries there are no provisions for long service leave and fewer public holidays than workers in Australia enjoy.
Let me turn to the professional engineers’ case. It is worth while briefly reiterating the accusation made by the honourable member for Hindmarsh. He alleged that the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, composed of three men who, under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, are entitled to the right, style and privilege of judges - who are regarded as judges in their actions, their responsibilities and their independence - was submissive to political pressure. That is a calumny of which I did not think the honourable member capable. He alleged also that the Government applied that political pressure. He described the Public Service Board’s action as unilateral. Well, in that sense I suppose it was because the Board made the decision and paid the rates. The honourable member alleged that this was done 4 weeks before the general election with a promise implicit that there would be much more after the election. He then said: Imagine the shock when, after the election, there was not a lot more. I think he has disclosed to the nation what would be the attitude of the Australian Labor Party to independent judicial commissions if it were in government. He would not for a moment refrain from attempting to apply political pressure to those independent bodies. I am glad to say that such is the quality and the integrity of the men who constitute those commissions that they would tell him where to go. Perhaps it might be a good thing if this were done. These men who have been so traduced by the honourable member are men whom I happen to know personally - whom I have known for a number of years and before whom I have appeared. Any man who knows them would be proud to stand here and say that he knows them - that he knows their quality. Anybody who knows them would, when an attack of this type is made upon them, feel a duty to disclose to the House and to anybody listening to the debate or anybody who wishes to report it, that they are men of character, chosen for their character. I know of no greater insult, slander or defamation - choose what term you will - than the allegation that they are subject to political influence or that they are not their own masters.
The honourable member has asked what is the answer to the case. He had only one case, and that was that these men were subjected to political pressure and that they are not independent. I was surprised that the honourable member should reiterate the allegation, for it is a practice of this House that the independence and integrity of the judiciary will always be protected. I have never heard them attacked from the front bench of the Opposition before. In the engineers’ case a decision was given which the professional engineers did not like. Let us be clear about that: The Professional Engineers’ Association and individual professional engineers did not like the decision.
– That is an understatement.
– There is laughter in the ranks of the Opposition. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition says that to claim that the decision was not popular is an understatement. But this explains why the honourable member for Hindmarsh has spoken in the intemperate terms which he used: He wants to make a political issue out of this even if it means traducing the members of the Arbitration Commission.
The engineers claimed an increase of 45% in salaries. They asked the Public Service Board, which under the provisions of the statute has the primary wage fixing responsibility, to grant interim increases in salary. There was argument at the time as lo whether the Public Service Board should grant interim increases and the Board, exercising its responsibility, decided not to grant interim increases. The matter went before the Commission and the parties presented exhaustive arguments to support their claims. The honourable member for Hindmarsh has made allegations of deliberate time wasting on the part of the Board and the employers. I have never heard that allegation made by the associations. However, after the associations had finished their case the Board was called upon by the Commission to state its view in precise terms and to give its response to the case made by the associations. The Board responded that it believed that the rate of increase should be between 11% and 15% for grades 1 to 5 of engineers. It was because the Commission asked the Board to state clearly its view that the Board did so. Having stated that it believed that the engineers should get increases of between 11% and 15%, the Board paid those increases. There would have been reason for complaint if having stated that it believed increases of between 11% and 15% should be paid the Board did not pay them, but it did pay them.
The honourable member for Hindmarsh made the remarkable statement that the associations were entitled to expect that they would have a majority because two of the members of the bench - the presiding judge, Mr Justice Wright, and Commissioner Portus - had sat on an earlier engineers’ case and granted big increases. This had involved a new provision for engineers which was a landmark in their view. The honourable member said that the engineers were entitled to expect big increases because they already had a majority, and they were shocked that they did not get them. It is worth while looking at the decisions of these judges, put into the perspective of the claim made. I will read from page 8 of the roneoed copy of the judgment delivered by Mr Justice Wright. He said:
The Public Service Board’s new rates were announced before final addresses commenced in the present proceedings, which enabled discussions of them by advocates on both sides. As regards counsel for employers in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act cases it may be stated that none of them seriously challenged the fairness of the new Public Service rates - although Mr Robinson-
He was counsel for the employers - at one stage referred to them as ‘over generous’ - or the precedent established by the 1961 decision of national minimum rates in the base grade.
Another extract that ought to be brought to the attention of the House is from page 7 of the roneod copy of the joint majority decision of Mr Justice Moore and Mr Arbitrator Chambers. It reads:
The action taken by the Public Service Board has introduced a new element into these proceedings. It has not, however, relieved us-
That is the Commission - of the responsibility of making a proper assessment of the salaries of professional engineers. We have endeavoured, independently of the Board’s decision, to give proper weight to the material put. That material does in our view disclose that there have been in recent years developments which warrant increased salaries for professional engineers and we must assess what the increases should be. Taking all factors into account, we consider that as an act of value judgment we would, even if the Board had taken no action, have arrived at increases substantially similar to those which the Board has awarded. When to that is added the fact that the Board, an important primary wage fixing tribunal and a significant employer of professional engineers, has fixed these rates, we are prepared to treat them as proper rates and to make determinations accordingly.
They did it in the full knowledge of their responsibility. I think it can properly be said that in the event two members of the Public Service Arbitration Act bench - Mr Justice Moore and Mr Arbitrator Chambers - decided to treat the Board’s rates as proper rates and to make determinations accordingly. The presiding member of the two benches - Mr Justice Wright - and Mr Commissioner Portus were of the view that higher rates were warranted. But had they reached a majority view in the case relating to engineers outside the Service the result would have been relatively small differential rates outside the Commonwealth Public Service area.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
– Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Snedden), in a state of feigned anger, said-
– Order! I remind the honourable member that he shall not cast aspersions on the Minister. The honourable member is making a personal explanation. He will refer only to the way he has been misrepresented.
– Thank you for your guidance, Sir. The Minister said that I said that a promise that there would be more to come was implicit in the Board’s decision. Of course, I said nothing of the sort. What I said was that the association concerned felt that they had reason to expect that the Commission’s award would grant further increases. So there is a vast difference between what the Minister says I said and what I actually said.
– Order! The honourable member wilt not debate the matter.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) put:
That the business of the day be called on.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. Sir William Aston)
Majority . . 4
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Sitting suspended from 5.54 to 8 p.m.
– Pursuant to Standing Order 18, I lay on the table my warrant nominating Mr Armitage, Mr Bonnett, Mr Cope, Mr Corbett, Mr Dobie, Mr Drury, Mr Hallett, Mr Jarman, Mr Luchetti and Mr Scholes to act as Deputy Chairmen of Committees when requested to do so by the Chairman of Committees.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) put:
That notices Nos 1 to 9, Government business, be postponed until a later hour.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. Sir William Aston)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr Wentworth, and read a first time.
Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar-
Minister for Social Services) [8.10] - I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The House will recall that in his policy speech before the last election the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) said:
The Meals on Wheels organisation is one of the worthiest such bodies in the community. In the next budget we will make available to each separate organisation in the Meals on Wheels organisation a $1 subsidy for every ten meals served in the past year, such money to be used for the expansion of their activities, or to be donated to another Meals on Wheels organisation of their choice.
This Bill now before the House will carry the Prime Minister’s proposal into effect. The Meals on Wheels organisations throughout Australia are generally bodies enjoying a fair degree of local autonomy, but acting within a common framework and sharing a common objective. They deliver meals to the aged, the sick and the lonely who live in their own homes and have the need of care and contact with outside life. Their staffs are predominantly volunteer; the headquarters from which they operate are varying in type - sometimes they have their own kitchens; sometimes they work from a hospital kitchen; and there are various other arrangements. They generally distribute meals from special insulated containers. The vehicles which they use are almost always the property of the volunteers who give their services. They sometimes receive assistance from State and local governments, and they raise and get charitable donations to expand their work.
They charge for the meals which they deliver to the extent necessary to balance their budgets - usually something approximating the cost of the foodstuffs they buy. Since they can buy in bulk, they can buy keenly and pass the savings on to those who get the meals. This means their customers get a really good and satisfying meal - indeed, as honourable members would know, the portions which they serve out are usually so substantial that the one delivery provides the best part of two meals.
This is admirable, but it is by no means the sole contribution which Meals on Wheels and its members make to the well-being of the community. You will find that pensioners and others look forward very much to the regular visit: it gives them the chance of a chat: if they are lonely, they like someone to come inside their home, even if only for a brief visit. This aspect - which I call the morale aspect - is no small part of the good which is done. Basically, Meals on Wheels mobilises latent resources in the community. There are many wellintentioned people - indeed I think that most Australians have a desire to help their neighbours - there are, I repeat, many well-intentioned people who are looking for practical ways to show their goodwill. Many of these are only too happy to be rostered from time to time and to take their turn at driving their own car and helping to deliver these meals to old people who still live in their own homes.
The plan started, I think, in the United Kingdom, and so far as I can ascertain the idea was first brought to Australia about 1949 by Mrs Nancy Dobson, who was then Honorary Secretary of the Ladies Auxiliary attached to the South Melbourne Council. In that year meals were first served at the club premises, and home deliveries started some 2 or 3 years later. In those early days experiments were made with various forms of transport - tricycles, municipal vehicles and Red Cross cars among them. Since then, the movement has spread vastly. One outstanding name connected with it is that crf the late Miss Doris Taylor, M.B.E., who although an invalid from childhood was the founder of Meals on Wheels Incorporated in South Australia. It would seem that the outstanding progress of the movement in South Australia should be attributed, at least in part, to her drive and inspiration.
I am well aware that honourable members on both sides of the House have in the past shown keen interest in helping Meals on Wheels. I can recall, for instance, the honourable member for Casey (Mr Howson) even before he entered this House as the member for Fawkner, taking an active part in helping it. I hope that honourable members on both sides will give this . Bill active support and see in it a way of pushing forward the work which they themselves have done in the past.
The movement as 1 have said has now spread throughout Australia, though its development has not been even everywhere, as the following table will show:
It is true, of course, that circumstances differ in different parts of Australia, but I do not think that differences in requirements for Meals on Wheels should be substantial as between whole States. South Australia delivers 322 meals per year for each 1,000 people, and I am told that even at this figure the current demand is not completely satisfied - and indeed I am told also that current demand continues to grow. For 12,200,000 Australians, therefore, saturation - that is the number required to do the job fully - would seem to require at least 3,000,000 delivered meals per year, as against about 2,000,000 at present being supplied.
The Meals on Wheels organisation is making every effort to expand the scope of its operations, and the proposals made in this Bill are designed to help them. In brief, it is proposed to pay to each organisation a subsidy of $1 for each ten meals delivered in the preceding calendar year. It is proposed that this provision should become immediately operable, so that eligible organisations will be able to draw now their subsidy for the meals they delivered in 1969.
While this measure represents a further step in the programme which has been instituted by the Government of providing assistance to the aged, it is not confined to the aged. The subsidy will be available to organisations which are providing a meal service wholly or mainly for aged or invalid persons or for both. Nor is the subsidy to be limited to any segment of the aged and invalid group. There will be no form of means test. The Government recognises that persons in all walks of life can face problems, in both the short and the long term, in caring for themselves. The assistance to be provided under this Bill will therefore be available to any approved eligible organisation engaged in the provision of meals wholly or mainly for aged or invalid persons, and the delivery of those meals from the place where they are prepared to their homes, or to some other convenient place.
I have mentioned that only eligible organisations will qualify for the subsidy. Honourable members will be familiar with the definition of ‘eligible organisation’ contained in the Aged Persons Homes Act. A similar definition will apply for the purposes of this legislation, that is, an eligible organisation will be a non-profit religious, charitable or benevolent organisation or a local governing body.
The introduction of this measure will mark an important expansion of the Government’s home care programme, which is designed to provide housekeeping, home nursing and other services to the aged with a view to maintaining them in their own homes, if they so desire, as long as possible.
It will also provide another opportunity for the participation of voluntary organisations and other bodies in the programme of caring for people in need of community support. Community response to the home care programme has so far been encouraging in spite of some delays in the completion of arrangements by State governments; however, there is ample scope for the development still further of the type of service which community effort can best provide.
The object of the legislation is to assist in the establishment, expansion, improvement or maintenance of the Meals on Wheels type of service. In order to qualify for the subsidy of $1 for every 10 meals delivered during the preceding calendar year, an organisation will be expected to supply satisfactory evidence of the number of meals in respect of which subsidy is claimed. Furthermore, an organisation may also be required to provide full information about the meal services being provided before the next year’s grant is made available. For example, an organisation might be required to provide details of the way in which the preceding year’s subsidy was used before payment in respect of the current claim is authorised. These provisions will be administered with the utmost flexibility. We want to get the subsidy out and not in any way curtail its availability.
I should, however, make it clear that we do not propose to interfere unnecessarily with the affairs of any organisation by laying down rigid conditions in regard to the application of this subsidy. We are prepared to trust organisations which, by their very existence and operation, have shown themselves worthy of trust. Clause 4 of the Bill states:
The purpose of this Act is to assist in the establishment, expansion, improvement and maintenance of delivered meal services.
Provided that our subsidy is applied for these purposes or any one of them or any combination of them, I think we ought to be satisfied. We should leave it to the decision of each organisation as to how best the money should be used for these purposes. May I add that we shall be perfectly happy if an organisation itself decides to devote its subsidy to the help or establishment of a kindred body. It may well be that some organisations will prefer to help others in this way; perhaps several organisations wm , decide to pool their subsidy and use the combined amount to establish Meals on Wheels in some district which needs it. But again I emphasise that the decision would be one for the organisation concerned, and we will not be exerting any pressure either way - that is, whether the organisation should use the subsidy itself or donate it to a kindred body with like aims and functions. It is true, as honourable members will observe, that there are certain reserve powers’ under clause 9 of the Bill. May I assure the House that these are reserve powers only, and it is not intended to apply them generally.
As I have said, there are at present some 2 million meals a year being delivered in Australia. The subsidy proposed will therefore cost some $200,000 per year to start with, but I hope that it will rapidly expand with the expansion of the whole Meals on Wheels programme. The amount concerned is not large, but it may well have a substantial impact. It represents, on the average, about one-third of the material cost of the meals provided. If it results - as I believe it will - in the quicker expansion of this excellent scheme, it will be money well spent.
May I make these final observations: Firstly, although we are pressing forward with our aged persons homes and similar plans, we recognise that many old people prefer to go on living in their own homes, even if they need occasional help to enable them to do so. The right of choice should be theirs, and we should create conditions which make it possible for them to choose freely to the maximum extent. Our home care programme is designed to do just this. Let those who want to remain in their own homes, be given every facility to do so. Meals on Wheels can be a great help to them. Secondly, although this subsidy is to be paid directly to the Meals on Wheels organisations, it is by no means the only way in which help may become available to them under our home care programme. Depending upon decisions of local people they may also be able to get some help with equipment and the use of facilities in the local centres which are to be established. Thirdly, this proposal, although it stands by itself, is one example of the way in which the Government proposes to ask voluntary organisations to enter into partnership with it for service to the aged and the sick. We aim to tap and utilise the great reservoir of goodwill which exists in the whole community. Per dollar spent, I know of no service which gives greater comfort and satisfaction than Meals on Wheels. I commend the Bill to the House.
-Order! The honourable member cannot speak to the Bill unless he is to continue his speech.
– Yes. We are gravely concerned with the inconvenience and, to some extent, the deprivation of the people who will benefit under the proposals contained in this Bill. This deprivation has been caused by the record recess of the Federal Parliament, for which the Government rather than the Opposition has been responsible. We want to see this Bill go through all stages tonight so that the people who will derive the benefits from the scheme will not be denied those benefits any further.
-Order! Does the Leader of the House intend to let this Bill go through tonight? Otherwise, the honourable member for Oxley will need leave to speak.
– I will move that the debate be adjourned.
– There is a simple answer to this. If the honourable member for Oxley is to continue now and speak to the second reading of the Bill he will need leave to do so.
– I seek leave to speak in reply to the Minister. If I am to be refused the opportunity to speak, that will test the sincerity of the Government.
-If the honourable member for Oxley looks at the Bill he will find that it is necessary to have a message from the Governor-General before the measure can be passed.
– Mr Speaker, I ask for your guidance. Is there any way in which we can expedite the passage of this Bill? These unfortunate people have been deprived for 4 months now. This Bill should have been introduced on 25th November last.
– Under the Standing Orders, is it not competent for the Leader of the House to move the adjournment of this debate until a message is received from the Governor-General so that thereafter the honourable member for Oxley can proceed with the debate? I have been here for a long time, perhaps too long, but I have never known a procedure of this sort to be ignored before. I suggest to the Minister that that is the proper procedure to adopt. He can obtain plenty of signatures outside. He can soon produce a message.
– The message has just arrived, but the honourable member for Oxley will still need leave to speak.
– Then I seek leave to make a speech.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I am extremely grateful that the smoke signal from Yarralumla was seen so quickly. The Opposition supports this Bill. Its subject is not a controversial issue, and in fact it was not in dispute in the last election campaign. I repeat that we want to see the Bill pass through all its stages tonight. We were concerned at one stage with the reaction of the Leader of the House (Mr Snedden) in wanting to adjourn the debate. In fact, it appeared that there might have been a lack of sincerity in the sentiments that were expressed by the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth). We are concerned, as is the Minister, that the people who will benefit under the provisions of this scheme will quite unnecessarily be deprived of those benefits for some further period if the Bill is not passed tonight. A point was taken earlier, and quite reasonably, that this measure could have been passed on 25th November. Honourable members and the public will recollect that on 25th November the Parliament met for 1 day at great expense to the Australian public. One journalist estimated that every second that the Parliament sat cost the Australian taxpayer from $8 to $10. This is a phenomenal amount of money to achieve nothing. It was the most expensive afternoon tea we have had in the history of federation.
– I rise to order. My point is that the cost of the 1 day sitting has nothing to do with the people who are about to receive this benefit.
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order. The honourable gentleman is entitled to give his reasons for supporting the Bill or otherwise. However, I would say to the honourable gentleman that he is getting a little wide of the purpose of the Bill.
– The point about the 1 day sitting is that we had the most expensive afternoon tea in the history of federation while the people who hoped to get something from the Meals on Wheels legislation received nothing. In any event, tonight we are supporting the Bill and we hope there will be no delays in passing it. None will be caused by honourable members on this side of the House.
I would like to make one or two points. The Bill represents an improvement. It is a contribution towards the welfare of certain people. To that extent it is desirable, but it would be a mistake to regard the proposals in the Bill as the most that we should be striving to do, even if our goal is only moderate. The grave deficiency as I see it is that the provision of the Meals on Wheels service, like so many other social welfare benefits required in the community, is dependent on the response of charitable groups. I in no way denigrate their efforts. They are thoroughly commendable. However, I question the scale of values of a Government that always leaves this work to outsiders. If we depend on charitable groups to come together and initiate action that will lead to the development of a service like Meals on Wheels the response and therefore the service will be patchy. Some areas of need will receive a benefit because the people in those areas are concerned about the welfare of others. But other areas of need will be neglected because no-one there has the interest to set in train the necessary organisational functions that will lead to the provision of a service.
There are not adequate Meals on Wheels services within the community. I am sure the Minister, whose approach in many areas is quite warming, would agree with that view. He would like to see many more
Meals on Wheels organisations operating in the community. The services provided by these organisations are greatly needed. But the point is that development in the community is on a patchy basis. Area A will receive the development; area B will miss out. The aspect that gravely concerns me is that area B may very well be the area of greatest need. I do not know; 1 am not aware of any surveys that have been carried out, but from what I have seen my assessment is that the areas of greatest need are the areas proportionately least likely to obtain the service. That is not the same as saying they do not receive the service. Some of them do, but not all of them do.
If we intend to develop social welfare services, we should identify priorities. We should find out what the needs are, develop our scale of priorities and set about providing the services that are needed. This is a public responsibility. How do we measure the quality of life in our society? What we have to offer is more than the mere quantitative measurement of the gross national product and how it varies from year to year. Rather it is a matter of how the wealth in the community is distributed, indeed it may very well be that the country would be much better off qualitatively if we had a slower growth rate and if the wealth were distributed much more equitably and beneficially.
Let me illustrate my point. How do we measure the value of the sort of life we offer in society? On the one side we see a surplus of motor vehicles, with the yards of car wreckers crammed with used motor vehicles. We have more service stations than we require and many of them are closing. All this represents a drain on scarce economic resources for development. On the other side we see grave deficiencies in public needs, such as education. It is notorious that every second child in Canberra has the opportunity to attend a preschool centre, but outside Canberra only one child in 13 has this opportunity. The distribution of child care centres is even worse. I am not talking about child minding centres but rather about kindergarten centres at a recognised level. The distribution in this area is even more inequitable. The lower income areas are much less likely to have these facilities than the higher income areas because largely their provision depends on the resources and initiative available in an area. The provision of one of these expensive centres is a substantial drain on the resources of the lower income groups.
The question is: How do we measure the value we are getting in life? We certainly do not measure it by the number of used motor cars. We certainly do not measure it by the amount of money we spend on razzamatazz advertising on television. We do not measure it by the number of service stations on street corners. I use these only as symbols. I could illustrate my argument by using other materialistic matters. We measure the value of life by the benefits we give to people, by the sense of fulfillment in life, and not by materialism. There are some material satisfactions in life, but emphasis on these can leave a person spiritually empty. I use the term ‘spiritual’ in the very broad sense and not in the narrow theological sense.
These are the important challenges in our society today. Will we make life better? Do we have a material conscience? Are we concerned about the welfare of people? We are living in an age where human values are supposed to be predominant and clearly it is quite wrong to approach the provision of Meals on Wheels services or other community welfare services on this ad hoc basis. We should not regard these services as a series of loose strings lying about the community, with many of them overlapping. The organisations do not realise that the services they are offering overlap’. The Minister knows well what I mean. We have, for instance, multi-problem families. 1 have in mind the family that has a problem in the matrimonial area, maybe a problem also in the juvenile court area, a problem in handling a hire purchase commitment and a problem with school truancy. With each different aspect, the people go to a different agency for assistance.
What is clearly needed is a regional organisation of social welfare services. The Meals on Wheels service would fit into this organisation. If we rely on the spontaneous initiative of local people, we will get a lumpy sort of development of these services. We wa get too much duplication of the services in some areas and a complete dearth of them in other areas. Meals on Wheels should not be seen or treated in isolation or as an independent entity. Meals on Wheels quite clearly has a relationship to the domiciliary nursing service. Again this is not just a matter of providing a visiting home nurse as we do at the moment on the initiative of some local charitable body. The charitable bodies do a wonderful job and I commend them, but really we ask too much of them. In turn we are not providing enough for the needs of the people in our society.
The domiciliary nursing service seems to have a very close relationship to the Meals on Wheels service. Some of the people needing and receiving assistance from the Meals of Wheels service may have a nutritional deficiency. They may need the aid of a visiting home nurse. They may have a personal problem and may need the help of a visiting social worker. They may need occupational therapy or physiotherapy. There is a whole range of services which should be tied up and the whole lot dovetailed into a domiciliary service to the community. Meals on Wheels is only one of these. The Minister knows well what I mean. Frankly, if he had his way we would achieve much more progress in this area. This service, in turn, has to be developed on a regional basis. We do not want to see something developed and operated by a remote, impersonal bureaucracy. We want to see past the power, past the financial resources, down to a regional body which is well known as being established in the area to give service to the community, which has a high reputation in the com- munity and which is regarded as a personal, integral part of that community. This is the way in which this regional service ought to be operated.
There is a grave deficiency in our approach to social welfare services in the community if we always approach these things on an ad hoc basis. For all we know it might very well be that other forms of social welfare service rate a much higher priority than Meals on Wheels. That is a general statement. I make it only to indicate that we are wrong in plucking something out of the air as a social welfare service because we think This will be very good for votes at the next election. We will sit onit until about 6 months before the election and then we will act. Having acted, we will get public support’. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) reminds me that we will wait 6 months after the election to introduce it. So the grave concern diminishes as the election date recedes. This is quite wrong. What we need in the Australian community is some sort of inquiry to establish what are our needs in social welfare. Those needs are going to vary from area to area.
Adverting to the point I started to make about Meals on Wheels perhaps not having the highest priority in some areas, I think it could very well be because of the demographic structure of a particular region that the people in that region have a much graver need for some other form of service. It could be for juvenile counselling; I do not know. It depends on the demographic structure of that community. We have to identify these needs and then establish our priorities. We have to expect reasonably that there will be a variation between areas. What is a grave need for one area may be less so for another which has something else as its grave need.
The Opposition supports the Bill. It wants to see it go through tonight. While we believe that the ad hoc approach is gravely deficient nevertheless we also accept that what is being done is an improvement. It is an advance on what presently exists. The Opposition is not going to stand in the way of any advance of this sort. Certainly we would feel that we were recreant if we were responsible for delaying the progress of this Bill any longer. The Government proposed this measure at the last election. Parliament met on 25th November, and now we are into March, the fourth month since that meeting, and nothing has been done until tonight. The Bill could quite easily have been passed on that day. I stress that there is no disagreement between the Government and this side of the House on the measure. We do not regard it as controversial. We regard it as a measure which could be much improved on the lines I have mentioned. The delay has not been ours; it has been the Government’s. The Opposition is not going to contribute to the Government’s recreant approach to these measures which has been manifested to the present time. We hope that the measure will go through without any further delay. If it does not, it will be the fault of the Government.
Motion (by Mr Giles) put:
That the debate be now adjourned,
The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. Sir William Aston)
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would enable the second reading debate on the Delivered Meals Subsidy Bill to proceed forthwith.
– Order! I did not interrupt the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, but before we proceed further I have to put another question. The question now is, That the adjourned debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting’.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. Sir William Aston)
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Suspension of Standing Orders
-I now move:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the debate on the Delivered Meals Subsidy Bill proceeding forthwith.
– I second the motion.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) put:
That the question be now put.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. Sir William Aston)
Majority . . 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the motion (Mr Barnard’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. Sir William Aston)
Majority . . 6
Question so resolved in the negative.
Bill presented by Mr Wentworth, and read a first .time.
– 1 move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I rise to order. Under standing order 292 is it competent for a Minister to move the second reading of the Bill before Mr Speaker has received a message from the Governor-General recommending an appropriation of revenue for the services of the Bill?
-Order! There is no substance in the point taken by the right honourable member because the Standing Orders provide for the receipt of the message after the second reading of the Bill.
– I ask the House to treat this matter on its merits and substance. The Opposition is playing politics at the expense of the pensioners.
In his policy speech prior to the last elections the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) said:
We shall pay pensions al standard rates instead of at married rates to aged couples who lose the economies of living together by reason of failinghealth - for example, if one or both of them is in a nursing home.
The Bill provides the legislative measure to give effect to that undertaking. One of the Government’s social service aims has been lo seek out areas of special need and to bring to this House measures to meet those needs.
For some years now it has been recognised by the Government and, I think, by honourable members, all of whom are personally aware of the situation of many pensioners, that a single person needs more than half the combined income of a married couple to maintain an equivalent standard of living. The House may recall that in recognition of this situation the Government introduced supplementary assistance in 1958 for single pensioners who had little or no means beyond the pension and were paying rent.
Later, in 1963, a higher rate of pension for single pensioners - the so-called standard rate - became part of the social service pension structure. The innovation brought Australian practice into line with that of most other countries where differential rates for single and married persons are accepted as an essential feature of a modern pensions system. The changes I have just outlined were a major departure from the previous Australian common rate pension pattern and they have been fully supported by people interested in, and conversant with, the problems of pensioners.
The House may be interested in comparative figures showing the Australian position in this regard as compared with the position in certain other countries. This can be measured by expressing the single pension as a percentage of the pensions received by a married couple. This is set out in the following table which, with the concurrence of honourable members, I incorporate in Hansard:
I think that it should be pointed out that in the above table supplementary assistance is excluded from the Australian figures. If supplementary assistance were taken into account the Australian rates would be 64.2%, However, it must be recognised that the economic situation of some married couples, who, through illness or infirmity, must give up ordinary domestic living and be cared for in a nursing home or in some other similar way, is often much the same as that of single pensioners.
The Bill recognises the special needs of such married couples by providing that, where either or both of a married couple, because of illness or infirmity, are obliged to leave their matrimonial home and the situation is likely to be permanent, the Director-General of Social Services may, if he is satisfied that their living expenses are greater than they would otherwise be, give a direction that each shall receive the rate applicable to single pensioners. Where, under the provisions of the Bill, married couples become eligible for pension at the single rate they may also - subject to means - each become eligible for supplementary assistance. Thus, on the passage of the Bill, couples may each receive an increase of $1.75 a week in their pension plus grant of $2 a week supplementary assistance, giving them a combined increase of $7.50 a week.
An increase in the pension rate for these married couples will raise the income and property limits beyond which no pension is payable. For married persons the present income limit is $70 a week and the property limit $37,200. These limits will now become $77 a week and $40,840 respectively. Under other new provisions which were introduced by this Government in 1968 the survivor, on the death of one member of a married pensioner couple, receives, for 6 fortnightly instalments, the equivalent of the 2 pensions that would otherwise have been payable. The payment of this ‘double pension’ entitlement will, on the passage of the Bill, continue on the basis of the married rate.
In conformity with the usual practice it is proposed that the increases in pensions provided by the Bill will come into operation on the pay day following the Royal Assent.I propose to write to the authorities of aged persons homes, nursing- homes and benevolent homes asking them to bring the provisions to the notice of married pensioner inmates so that their claims can be promptly considered. Mr Speaker, the new provisions which I have just outlined mark a further step in the Government’s concerted programme of assisting those with special needs. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hayden) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Anthony, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to increase the maximum rate of charge that can be imposed under the Dried Fruits Export Charges Act 1924-1965 so that an operative rate of charge higher than the present maximum can subsequently be introduced by regulation. Under the Act a maximum charge of 0.1c per lb can be imposed on all dried fruits - currants, sultanas and raisins - exported from the Commonwealth. This charge is the major income source of the Australian Dried Fruits Control Board, the statutory authority which controls the export, and the sale and distribution after export of Australian dried fruits.
The charge was first introduced under the Act in 1924 and the maximum rate has remained unaltered up to the present time. Under regulation, the Board operated on rates of charge lower than the maximum until 1964, when, on its recommendation, the operative rate was set at 0.1c per lb, which is the maximum permitted by the Act. In recent years, however, it has become apparent that the income derived from the existing charge is insufficient to allow the Board to operate effectively under present: conditions. Over the last 3 years its expenditure has exceeded income, resulting in a continual reduction in accumulated reserve funds.
The Board’s financial . problems were aggravated in 1969 when adverse seasonal conditions reduced the supply of exportable fruit to the lowest level in almost 20 years.. This confronted the Board with the prospect of funds sufficient for only administrative purposes. Probably the most serious effect of the Board’s money shortage is in the field of export promotion. The reduced 1969 income has meant a curtailment of the budget for this activity and uncertainty as to the amount the Board can make available for future expenditure through the Overseas Trade Publicity Committee.
This Bill raises the maximum rate of charge from 0.1c per. lb to 0.3c per lb and retains the provision for a lower operative rate of charge to be set by regulation. It is intended to set the operative rate for the 1970 season at a lower rate of 0.2c per lb. This or any subsequent rates imposed within the limits set by the new maximum charge should enable the Board to replenish reserves to meet any future losses in income arising in seasons of low production and to plan for a positive programme of export promotion.
These proposals have been recommended by the Australian Dried Fruits Control Board which is comprised of members representing both grower and marketing interests. I am confident that the dried fruit industry as a whole can regard this and any subsequent recommendations concerning the level of operative rates of charge as being designed to provide the most effective basis for export marketing of dried fruit. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Dr Patterson) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Anthony, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The basic purpose of this Bill is- to obtain the approval of Parliament to an agreement made between the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments to regulate the production and marketing of sugar within the Commonwealth for a period of 5 years from 1st July 1969.
On 25th September of last year the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) made a statement in the- Parliament that the negotiations between the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments for a new Sugar Agreement had been satisfactorily concluded and the basis on which a formal agreement could be drafted had been arranged. The Bill now before honourable members contains the text of the Agreement as subsequently concurred in by the Governments, and provisions to implement the Commonwealth’s responsibilities under the Agreement.
The previous Sugar Agreement, the Sugar Agreement 1962, as varied by the Supplemental Sugar Agreement 1967, had been due to expire on 31st August 1968, but the two Governments agreed, by exchanges of letters, to the extension of its term of operation until 23rd October 1969, the clay the Sugar Agreement 1969 was’ made. A significant reason for extending the term of the 1962 Agreement - which originally had been due to expire on 3 1st August 1967 - was the desire to continue that Agreement until the outcome of the negotiations for a new International Sugar Agreement was known. As honourable members are well aware a new International Sugar Agreement was achieved late in 1968 but only after protracted and difficult negotiations. When the Sugar Agreement 1969 was finally executed its terms provided for its retrospective operation from 1st July 1969. Previously the traditional starting date of Sugar Agreements had been 1st September but the change in commencing date on this occasion was made for reasons of administration.
In the course of his statement to the Parliament which I have referred to above, the Prime Minister outlined the principal features of the new Agreement. In view of the importance of the Agreement I would like to touch briefly on some of those features again. The new Agreement which is the latest in a long line of Agreements which go back to the 1920s is, in substance, along similar lines to the Agreement it replaces. In this connection I quote verbatim what the Prime Minister said in the Parliament in September. He said:
Experience in operating the provisions of the existing Agreement, since the last major review in 1962, has indicated that some changes can make it more effective hi its operation and clearer in ils expression. During the drafting of the new Agreement the opportunity will be taken to effect these adjustments, which are largely of a technical or drafting nature and will have no bearing on .the principles on which the Agreement is based. This, as previously indicated,- will follow the traditional lines Of previous Agreements.
The text of the 1969 Agreement as subscribed to subsequently by the two Governments and as now contained in the Bill before honourable members is consistent with what the Prime Minister said. For example, under trie new Agreement, which will run for S years, the State of Queensland, on the one hand, will continue to control the production of raw sugar, and will make available, as a matter of priority and at stated maximum wholesale prices, refined sugar and sugar products to meet Australian needs. The Commonwealth of Australia, on the other hand, will continue its embargo on the importation of sugar and of the sugar products, golden syrup and treacle. The maximum domestic wholesale prices for sugar and sugar products as were, prescribed in the Supplemental Sugar Agreement 1967 have been continued under the new Agreement.
Features of previous Sugar Agreements have been the domestic sugar rebate scheme and the export sugar rebate arrangements. Both of these features will be continued under the new Agreement. The objectives in the case of both rebates include that of assisting, by stabilising fruit prices, growers of fruits used in manufactured products. Manufacturers who purchase fruit at prices not less than those declared annually by the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee, established under the Agreement, are entitled to the domestic sugar rebate on the sugar used in conjunction with the fruit.
Under the export sugar rebate arrangements exporters of products containing sugar obtain their requirements of such sugar at prices related broadly to the Australian import parity price. In short they pay what they would have paid had there been no embargo on the importation of sugar. In the case of domestic sugar rebate the rate has been increased by S5 to $15- per ton from 1st July 1969. This will make the rebate more significant to manufacturers. The higher rate of rebate represents the only major difference between the old and the new Agreements. To provide funds to pay the rebate at the higher rate- the Stale of Queensland will increase its contribution from the level under the previous Agreement to a new level of $924,000 x year.
So far I have been speaking almost entirely about the Sugar Agreement 1969 which comprises the Schedule to the Bill. lt is now appropriate to turn to the clauses of the Bill itself. The Bill is similar to previous Acts in that it continues the Commonwealth’s obligation under the Sugar Agreement to prohibit the importation of sugar, golden syrup and treacle.
In addition the Bill ‘approves’ the new Sugar Agreement as did previous Acts in respect of Sugar Agreements which were new at the time. In this connection I would remind honourable members that it was not possible to bring the new Sugar Agreement before the Parliament when it was made by the two governments. Accordingly, and since it was agreed by both the Commonwealth and the State of Queensland that it was in the interests of both producers and consumers that the Agreement should be brought into operation as soon as possible, it was decided that the Agreement should come into full force and effect upon ils signing in order that the benefits under it could commence to flow without delay.
Clause 6 of the Bill does not have an equivalent in earlier Sugar Agreement legislation. It is a machinery clause to place beyond doubt the position of interest or other income derived from the investment of moneys which belong to the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee and which are placed to the credit of the Commonwealth Trust Fund. Clause 6 is intended to ensure that the interest or income will flow to the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee Fund to which it rightly belongs.
The Sugar Agreement Bill 1970 advances further the story of co-operation between the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments in the field of sugar, which has fostered the development of the sugar industry, and at the same time has ensured full and stable supplies of sugar at reasonable prices for Australian consumers. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to the state of the House. This Bill relates to an important issue concerning members of the Country Party but hardly any of them are present.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member is completely out of order.
Debate (on motion by Dr Patterson) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Anthony, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill is intended to amend the Wheat Industry Stabilisation Act in two respects. It will complement legislative action by the States: first, to implement a quota scheme for wheat deliveries; and, second, to give discretionary authority to the Australian Wheat Board to sell wheat in Australia for purposes other than human consumption at prices tower than the price for human consumption.
The 1968 Act made provision for the fifth consecutive 5 year stabilisation plan for the wheat industry. In the first season of the plan, 1968-69, production exceeded 540 million bushels and the unprecedented quantity of 515 million bushels was delivered to the Australian Wheat Board. The build-up of stocks and the prospect of further large supplies at a time when world trade in wheat had suffered a serious decline from the record level of 1965-66 meant that the industry was confronted with storage and marketing problems such as had never before been encountered. Industry leaders were not slow to see that these problems would be compounded unless some positive remedial action were taken without delay. Their reaction was courageous and responsible. They proposed, and obtained the backing of the industry for, regulation of deliveries to the Wheat Board by a system of quotas.
The State governments accepted the industry proposals. With the exception of Queensland each brought down enabling legislation in 1969. In Queensland a severe drought cut wheat production so badly that little more than one-third of its proposed quota was delivered to the Wheat Board. There was therefore less urgency about enacting legislation but I understand that it will be introduced this month.
The 1968 Act envisaged that the Wheat Board would continue to operate its accounts on a pool basis with all the wheat delivered in any one season being wheat of that season’s pool1. This Bill will enable the Board to operate on a quota pool basis. In the 1969-70 season, for example, wheat delivered in excess of this quota will be become part of the quota pool. Wheat delivered in excess of his quota will be received as over-quota wheat. It will not be taken into the 1969-70 pool unless, and to the extent that, it is sold and paid for in full during the season.
This Bil’l does not provide for the allocation of quotas. That is a matter for State legislation. It does contain provisions in respect of deliveries in the Australian Capital Territory, the intention being to ensure that the purpose of the quotas in a State may not be defeated by delivery of wheat grown in a State to a licensed receiver in the Australian Capital Territory. This
Bill recognises that costs incurred in the implementation and administration of quotas should be borne by the industry as a charge against the relevant quota pool. The quota provisions of the Bill are intended to be effective from the beginning of the current season, that is, 1st October 1969.
Turning to the price provisions of the Bill, the change proposed is as a result of a further recommendation by the Australian Wheat Growers’ Federation. The 1968 Act provided for a home consumption price to apply to all domestic sales of wheat whether as stockfeed or for products for human consumption or for industrial use. It is the prerogative of each State to fix the price for sales within its boundaries. The Commonwealth legislation in this respect is effective only in so far as sales in a Territory of the Commonwealth are concerned.
In September 1969 the Federation asked that the price provisions of the complementary legislation be altered to give the Wheat Board discretionary authority to sell wheat for stockfeed and industrial uses at a price below the going home consumption price of $1.71. per bushel for f.a.q. wheat in bulk f.o.r. ports, but not less than the equivalent of the guaranteed price which for that season was $1.45 per bushel for f.a.q. wheat f.o.b. With changes in the price levels and in the freight to Tasmania loading the limits for this season are $1,725 and $1,435 per bushel f.o.r. ports basis. Each of the States enacted legislation to put the changes into effect in November-December 1969. This Bill would make the Commonwealth legislation consonant with that of the States.
The home consumption price of wheat has long been tied to a cost of production concept. In earlier years of stabilisation it was well below going export prices. For some years now it has been above the level of export prices. The industry’s decision to seek this departure from a basic feature of its stabilisation arrangements was not taken lightly. It reflects a realistic appreciation of the marketing situation which has developed. I commend the Bill.
Debate (on motion by Dr Patterson) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Hulme, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to amend those portions of the Broadcasting and Television Act which affect the financial operations of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and to make some changes to the existing provisions regarding the ownership and control of broadcasting and television stations. The Bill also makes certain other changes affecting the Broadcasting Commission and extends broadcast listener’s and television viewer’s licence concessions to several additional small groups of pensioners. 1 do not intend to go into detail as to the financial provisions of this Bill. As drafted they represent what is nowadays a standard approach to statutory authority financial legislation. The existing provisions in the Act have been recognised for some time as being inadequate and indeed the Public Accounts Committee, at the time of its inquiry into the financial affairs of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, expressed interest in the comparison between the financial provisions of the Act as they relate to the Broadcasting Commission and similar provisions relating to other statutory authorities.
Both the Treasury and the AuditorGeneral’s Office have been consulted with a view to amending the Act, both in relation to the Broadcasting Commission and the Broadcasting Control Board, so that its provisions will adequately reflect the modern approach to statutory authority financial regulation. The Bill has been drafted accordingly to achieve this purpose and in particular to update the banking provisions, provide for the proper keeping of accounts and records and to amplify the audit provisions in accordance with more modern legislation. The Bill also makes certain other changes affecting the administration of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Section 40 of the Act at present provides that the Commission may delegate ils powers, except the power of delegation itself, to a Commissioner or the Genera) Manager. In an organisation such as the Broadcasting Commission, which operates in all States of the Commonwealth, this restriction on delegation of powers has led to administrative difficulties in that only the Commission or the General Manager may, for example, incur expenditure or issue contracts. The Bill therefore amends section 40 to provide that the Commission’s powers may be delegated to any person in the employ of the Commission. The delegation of the power to appoint permanent officers of the Commission is, however, still limited to a Commissioner or the General Manager.
Amendments to sections 61 and 62 are included in the Bill to liberalise the conditions under which the Broadcasting Commission may, without the approval of the Minister, purchase and dispose of property, or enter into .any agreement involving expenditure. The Act at present places a $40,000 limit on these transactions and directs that no agreement may be entered into for a period in excess of 5 years. In view of the changes in values since these provisions were first drafted in 1942, the Bill proposes that these limits be raised to $100,000 and 10 years respectively. In addition, the existing section 71 is repealed. This section provides that the Commission may not pay compensation to a member of the Commission or its officers or employees in excess of $300 without the approval of the Minister. The purpose of this section is not known and since it has no counterpart in other legislation, and the Commonwealth Employees Compensation legislation provides adequate cover, there appears to be no reason for its retention.
The Bill provides for 2 new Sections, 90aa and 91ab, to amend the ownership and control provisions of the Act relating to broadcasting and television station licences respectively. The effect of the new provisions, if passed by the Parliament, will be that interests in broadcasting and television licences acquired by funds maintained for the purpose of providing pensions and retiring allowances or other personal benefits for the employees of a company shall be deemed for the purposes of the ownership and control provisions to be beneficially held by the company concerned. Honourable members will be aware that the Act now places important restrictions on the number of television and broadcasting stations that can be controlled by any one person or company. In this connection, it will, I think, be agreed that there is obviously a close association between company employees benefit funds and the companies with which such funds are associated. Experience has shown that there is an increasing trend for pension funds associated with companies already having extensive interests in broadcasting and television stations to invest also in companies having interests in such stations. If this trend is permitted to continue unchecked it could have a material bearing on the control of television and broadcasting stations. After a full review of all the circumstances, the Government came to the conclusion that such a development was contrary to the intentions of the ownership and control provisions of the Act and that in consequence those provisions should be amended to take into account such form of investment. Clauses 14 and 15 of the Bill give effect to this decision. Honourable members will note that the new provisions will apply as from 12th December 1969, which was the date on which I announced the Government’s intention to bring down this legislation.
Finally, the Bill takes the opportunity to group, in section 128, for the purpose of concessions, all pensions payable under the Repatriation Act and other Acts making provisions of a similar kind. At the same time, the concessions available under this section have been extended to certain additional pensioner groups. This amendment has been undertaken as a tidying up exercise to bring within the scope of the broadcast listener’s and television viewer’s licence concessions persons in receipt of pensions of the same kind as those applicable to existing concessional licensees. The new entitlement covers persons in receipt of a service pension under the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) legislation and persons in receipt of service pensions and pensions in respect of total and permanent incapacity under the Native Members of the Forces Benefits Act. Tn addition the Bill grants concessions to persons in receipt of pensions for total and permanent incapacity under the Interim Forces Benefits Act and the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act. The number of persons involved in this amendment will be small but the concessions have been extended in the interests of giving equitable treatment to all persons in receipt of similar pensions. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Stewart) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Bury, and read a first time.
This Bill to amend the Estate Duty Assessment Act will provide reliefs from duty on estates of deceased primary producers and remove restraints on the powers of the Commissioner of Taxation to grant extensions of time for payment of duty. The amendments proposed by the Bill were foreshadowed in the 1 969-70 Budget Speech and. were explained in detail by the former Treasurer in a’ statement he. made in. this House on 24th September 1969. Thereliefs from duty will apply to estates of primary producers who, at the time of death, were domiciled in Australia. They will be available against duty on estates resulting from deaths on or after 25th September 1969.
The Bill contains two basic tests for determining whether an estate is eligible for the reliefs. Broadly stated, an estate will be eligible if, firstly, disregarding any encumbrances or other debts, the gross value of rural property included in it is more than one-half of the gross value of the whole estate and, secondly, if more than one-half of the deceased person’s gross income in the 5 years before his death was earned from carrying on a business of primary production. Rural property will include land, or interests in land, used in a business of primary production, together with improvements on the land. It will also include livestock, produce and farm plant and machinery, or interests in these assets. One of the reliefs is to be in the form of a 20% increase in the level of exemption from duty provided for small estates.
The level of outright exemption, which is usually described as the statutory exemption, is to be raised from $20,000 to $24,000 for eligible estates passing wholly to the widow, children or grandchildren of the deceased, and from $10,000 to$1 2,000 for eligible estates which do not pass to any of those persons.
Where the value of a primary producer’s estate passing to his widow, children or grandchildren is greater than $24,000 the statutory exemption will be reduced by $2 for every $8 by which the value is greater than $24,000 and will, as a result, cut out where the value of an estate is $120,000. The same basis of shading out will apply for the smaller estates that do not pass to close relatives. This will mean that the new statutory exemption of $12,000 for these estates will be reduced where the value of an estate is in excess of $12,000 and will cut out completely where the value is $60,000. I mention that these bases for shading out the exemptions are the same as those that apply under the present law.
The other relief is to be in the form ofa partial rebate of duty. It will be available where the dutiable value of an eligible estate is less than $250,000 and will be calculated as a proportion of the part of the duty that is attributable to the rural property included in the estate. The rate at which this rebate will be allowable is to be determined by reference to the value of the estate before the allowance of any statutory exemption. Where this value is not greater than $140,000 the rebate will be 50% of the part of the duty that, by a process of direct apportionment, is attributable to the rural property. If the value of the estate is greater than $140,000 but less than $250,000, the 50% rate will be reduced by one-tenth of 1% for each $220 by which the value of the estate exceeds$1 40,000.
The Bill contains provisions under which estates of primary producers whose business activities had been conducted through a family company may qualify for the reliefs. In these estates, the allowance of the concessionswill primarily be conditional upon the gross value of the company’s rural property being greater than the gross value of its other assets and upon the capital of the company being held wholly,or almost wholly, by the deceased and his relatives.
If the primary conditions are satisfied by a company, the administrator of an estate may elect to have shares owned by the deceased in the company included as rural property of the estate to the extent that the value of the shares is attributable to rural property owned by the company. If the administrator makes this election the shares must, however, be valued by reference to their ‘assets-backing’ value for all estate duty purposes, including the general liability to duty and the proportion of duty attributable to rural property.
The ‘assets-backing’ value will, in broad terms, represent the amount that would be received in respect of the shares in the event of a voluntary liquidation of the company, without any allowance for costs of liquidation. In effect, it will therefore be the market value of the property represented by the shares. This will mean that, when shares are treated as rural property for the purposes of the rebate, the property which they represent will, for all duty purposes, be included in the estate at a value corresponding with the value that would have been so included if the property had been owned personally by the deceased instead of by the company. This is also a feature of the probate duty rebate scheme of the State of Victoria and is designed to provide equity between primary producers who have conducted their businesses on a personal basis and those who have conducted them through companies.
One of the eligibility tests I have referred to earlier is that the income of the deceased for the 5 years preceding death was derived principally from a business of primary production carried on by him. The 5-year period will be either the 5 full income tax years that preceded the death of the person or, at the option of the administrator, the 4 full income tax years together with the part year that ended with the death of the deceased. Where a deceased person had carried on his business through a family proprietary company, income received by him from the company in the form of dividends, salary or wages, bonuses or director’s fees in each of the 5 years before death may be regarded as income from a primary production business carried on by him. This income will be so regarded if the company’s own income in each relevant year was derived principally from a business of primary production and the deceased was a shareholder in the company at the time he derived his income from it. In the case where a primary production business had been conducted by the trustee of a trust estate in which the deceased person had been a beneficiary, a share of the trust income received by the deceased will, to the extent that it was paid out of the primary production income of the trust estate, be regarded as income from a business of primary production carried on by the deceased.
The purpose of the provisions I have just mentioned is to ensure that an estate that is comprised principally of rural property will not be excluded from the reliefs because the primary production income of the deceased person was derived through the medium of a proprietary family company or a trust estate. The Bill* ensures that the existing rights of administrators to contest decisions of the Commissioner before a board of review, a valuation board or a court, where those decisions affect the liability of the estate for duty, are available in relation to the allowance of the proposed rebate. It also contains provisions under which an election made by an administrator to have shares in a proprietary family company included in the rural property in the estate may be withdrawn, if, for example, their inclusion at an ‘assets-backing’ value would, even with the allowance of the rebate, result in an overall increase in the duty payable by the estate.
I turn now to the other important feature of the Bill. Under the present law, the Commissioner may not extend the time for payment of duty except upon receipt of sufficient security for payment. The law also requires that the whole of the estate duty payable shall1 be paid within a period of 2 years. The Bill will remove these restrictions so that an extension of time for payment of duty may be approved by the Commissioner in the light of the particular circumstances of an estate. This will apply for the general body of estates - not only the estates of primary producers - and will bring the estate duty law in this area into line with the comparable and more widely applied provisions of the income tax law.
The amendments proposed by the Bill will result in a significant reduction in the duty payable on smaller rural estates. In the Government’s view, they will provide valuable assistance to the heirs to farm properties and will do much to discourage the breaking-up of economic farm units to obtain finance to meet estate duty. An explanatory memorandum dealing with the provisions of the Bill is being circulated for the information of honourable members. In view of this, and the detailed statement that has already been made in the House by the former Treasurer, I do not propose to say more about the measure at this stage. I commend the Bill to the House.
– BeforeI seek the adjournment of the debate I would ask the Treasurer to make available the statement of the former Treasurer. It is true that the statement is enshrined in Hansard but it would make it easier to study it if the Treasurer were to make it available separately.
– I will do my best to make it available.
Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Bury, and read a first time.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to enable the Commonwealth to meet its obligations under a Commonwealth guarantee of repayment of certain borrowings by the Australian Wheat Board from the Reserve Bank of Australia, in respect of wheat from the 1968-69 crop. To assist in the marketing of that crop, arrangements were made for the Board to borrow up to $624m from Rural Credits Department of the Bank. The date for final repayment is 31st March 1970, approximately 12 months after the drawings were made, in order to comply with section 57 of the Reserve Bank Act which requires that loans of the type made to the Board shall not be for more than 1 year.
The Board’s income from sales of wheat will be insufficient to enable it to repay the borrowings in full by the due date. This will mean that, for the first time since the wheat stabilisation scheme was introduced over 20 years ago, the Commonwealth will be called upon under the guarantee. The Board currently expects that its indebtedness to the Bank on the 1968-69 pool accounts as at 31st March 1970 will be in the vicinity of $250m. The Board also estimates that recoupment of this amount from subsequent sales of wheat to overseas markets will take about 15 months.
It is proposed that the Commonwealth lend to the Board sufficient funds to enable it to discharge its debt to the Bank. It is also proposed that the Board be required to use for repayment of the loan all net receipts, after the date of the loan, from export sales of wheat of the 1968-69 pool. The Bill provides that the loan to the Board may be made available on such terms and conditions as the Treasurer determines. It is intended that the rate of interest on the loan by the Commonwealth will be the same as the rate charged for Government guaranteed loans by the Rural Credits Department of the Reserve Bank on the date the loan is made.
The Bill authorises the Commonwealth to borrow up to $300m to make the loan to the Board. This exceeds the Board’s current estimate of the amount required under the guarantee, but this seems prudent in case the Board’s estimate proves to be too low. The Australian Loan Council has agreed to a special borrowing programme for this purpose for the Commonwealth in 1 969-70. The terms of the borrowing will be subject to Loan Council approval. To sum up, the Bill makes provision for the Commonwealth to borrow the requisite amount and to make a loan to the Board on terms and conditions approved by the Treasurer.I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion of Or Patterson) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Malcolm Eraser, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to validate certain payments made to members of the three Services during the period 1st April 1961 to 4th February 1966 and to civilians employed under the Naval Defence Act during the period 1st April 1961 to 18th June 1969. This validation action is necessary because it has been established that there were certain formal defects in the financial instructions under which the payments were made. The period in respect of which this action is required commences on 1 April 1961 because all payments made prior to that date were validated by the Defence Pay Act 1961.
The financial regulations of all the Services empower the Minister or the Service Board to make determinations authorising the payment of certain allowances, etc., to members of the forces. However, until the regulations of each Service were amended on 23rd September 1963, there was no power to authorise retrospective payments under such determinations, lt is therefore necessary to validate those payments authorised between 1st April 1961 and 23rd September r963, which involved any kind of retrospective payments. Honourable members will appreciate, I am sure, that it would be impossible without causing injustice to individual members to ensure that no retrospective payments were authorised under such determinations, and, as I have already stated, the regulations have now been amended authorising the making of determinations involving retrospective payment limited to a period of 2 years.
Payments made to members of all Services in respect of which retrospectivity would be authorised include: Overseas outfit allowances; overseas allowances for short term duty; overseas transit allowances; overseas transit allowances; overseas living out allowances; child allowances, school expenses; overseas rental allowances; and representation and entertainment allowances. Certain determinations made under Service financial regulations were defective for other reasons and the situation in this regard varies with each Service.
In the case of the Department of the Army, the Financial (Military) Regulations were replaced on 15th March 1961 by a new set of regulations, the Military Financial Regulations. Unfortunately the new Regulations did not contain a provision to enable payments to be continued to be made under the authority of determinations made under the repealed regulations. After the contention of the Auditor-General that, with the repeal of the old regulations, all determinations should be remade even if no changes were made, had been upheld by the Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of the Army completed the formidable task of revising and remaking determinations on 4th February 1966. The period during which there are payments which need validation as far as the Department of the Army is concerned is 1st April 1961 to 4th February 1966.
Major items in respect of which payments were continued under determinations made under the old regulations include: Scale of clothing and necessaries; replacement of initial issues; scales of issue - rations; and scales of issues - fuel, light, stores. With regard to the Department of the Navy it was found that certain determinations made by the Naval Board under the Naval Financial Regulations did not meet the formal requirements stated by the AttorneyGeneral’s Department to be necessary because they had not. been made formally by the Naval Board in session. The last of the formal determinations was made by the Naval Board on 12th September 1963.
In the case of the Department of Air, all determinations under the Air Force Regulations were remade by the Air Board on 23rd September 1963 to remove any doubts regarding the validity of the determinations in force before that date. However as I have stated earlier there is a need to cover -payments involving retrospectivity in respect of both the Department of the Navy and the Department of Air. The period during which there are payments which need to be validated is 1st April 1961 to 23rd September 1963 for both the Navy and the Air Force.
The payments made to members of the Navy or to members of the Air Force under defective determinations include payments in respect of: Good conduct badge pay; hard-lying money; rent for Service residences; issue of uniform kit; mileage allowances; short term duty travelling allowance; and removal of furniture and effects.
The Naval Defence Act authorised the employment of civilians and provided that the terms and conditions of employment shall be prescribed in the regulations. The Act was amended in 1968 to enable the
Naval Board to determine the terms and conditions of employment of these employees, and the necessary determinations authorising payments to these employees were completed on 19th June 1969. As certain payments had been made which were not prescribed in the regulations, the opportunity has therefore been taken in this Bill to validate the payments made to the civilian employees during the period 1st April 1961 to 18th June 1969. All payments made since that date have been made in pursuance of determinations made by the Naval Board.
The payments made to civil employees under the Naval Defence Act included payments for: Fares and allowances incurred in overseas visits; travelling allowances on temporary transfer, allowances paid to staff on trials of ship afloat; meal allowances; and special rates for disabilities, etc. The total amounts involved have been estimated to be: Department of the Navy, $18,913,600; Department of the Army, $27,270,100; and Department of Air, $4,800,000. The payments involved were made in good faith and were in accordance with approvals given by the Treasurer or other competent authority. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Barnard) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Swartz, and read a first time.
– I move:
Last year, the Government took a number of detailed decisions on the powers and functions of the proposed Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation. This Corporation was to be sst up to carry out on a continuing basis the engineering consulting services which the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority had been providing for some years. I now have pleasure in submitting to the House a Bill to give effect to these decisions. Construction of the Snowy Mountains scheme will be completed in 4 years time. As
I feel there is a danger of our taking the scheme for granted, 1 propose to spend a little time in drawing the attention of the House to the great effort which has been entailed in reaching this situation and the benefits flowing therefrom.
Less than a year ago the Jindabyne pumping station was officially opened and this completed the work of diverting the Upper Snowy waters to the west of the Great Dividing Range. The huge Murray power stations were completed several months ago and are now producing electricity from these diverted waters. We have now spent over $700m on the scheme and some $100m will be required to complete it and the last and largest .of all the projects, namely the Talbingo Dam, its power station and all its appurtenant works, lt has taken 20 years to reach this stage in the project. In the initial years, expenditure on the scheme was small but this Parliament gave its full financial support and as a result expenditure reached major proportions. Since 19S6 annual expenditure has never been less than $30m. In fact it has generally exceeded $40m, and in 1960 reached $56.5m. By any yardstick this is sustained massive support on an unprecedented scale.
The result in physical terms has been tha construction of a scheme which both in concept and execution has received world acclaim. The power stations have supplied valuable peak load power to the New Sorb Wales and Victorian systems to the benefit of the industries and domestic consumers of those States. The electricity has been provided at costs which are low for a peak load scheme. In the last financial year the charge for power was $14 per kilowatt and for energy lc per kilowatt hour. The facility with which the hydro stations can be brought on or off line together with the interconnection provided between the New South Wales and Victorian systems has enabled those States to make considerable savings in the quantity of reserve plant they would otherwise have had to maintain.
Apart from electricity the scheme has by the diversion and regulation of the headwaters of the streams in the Snowy Mountains area provided valuable additional water for irrigation in the arid western plains. No charge is made by the Snowy scheme for this water. In the Mumimbidgee Valley the additional supplies will enable the virtual doubling of the area under irrigation. In the Murray Valley thousands of acres of additional land are being irrigated and existing irrigation schemes now have more water and are worked more intensively. The scheme has provided greater security of supplies of water to the Mumimbidgee and Murray irrigation areas. This was demonstrated dramatically during the recent record drought when the scheme was called upon to make special additional irrigation releases. The releases made towards the end of 1968 irrigation season when the Hume and Burrinjuck reservoirs were empty were of critical importance in saving irrigated crops and sustaining production.
None of these physical results (which I have necessarily indicated so briefly) have come about by accident or by the adoption of ad hoc measures. They have arisen first from the massive financial support I mentioned earlier and secondly the scientific manner in which the project has been tackled. The scheme is unique in Australia’s history both in its size and in its 25-year construction time. This required the setting up of highly expert groups in the form of investigation, design, scientific services and contract supervision staffs. No other project in Australia has been, or is likely to be, big enough to support the cost of the specialist staffs which the Snowy scheme needed.
These staffs have more than paid their way in effecting major savings in the cost of the works. In recent years they have been in a position to provide similar valuable services towards the problems of major engineering projects in Australia and overseas. .Fees from such services already amount to $3m a year. It is this most important component of the Snowy which we propose to retain. The specialist staffs will form the basis of the engineering consulting Corporation.
Some sections of the community would have liked us to retain the whole of the Snowy organisation intact to undertake major water development measures throughout Australia in much the same way as it has tackled the Snowy scheme. The truth is however that there is no other scheme in Australia of the same size and homogeneity as the Snowy. The Snowy has been geared to spend annually, sums equivalent to the total expended by all States on rural water development measures. While the States’ total might with good reason be increased, there is no case for the Snowy to move into this field so as to push the States out. The Snowy can however provide valuable services in investigation and design work to the States which they have not geared themselves to undertake. Additional technical assistance will also be available to supervise major contracts on nonrepetitive jobs which form difficult peaks in State works programmes.
On the other hand we are conscious of the growing importance of the services of local private engineering consulting . organisations, lt is not the Government’s intention to set up an organisation which will compete directly in all fields with Australian engineering consultants. We consider that most of the jobs the Snowy will undertake will be those which up to now have been done by foreign consultants or will be in fields not adequately served at present by Australian consultants.
There is a further and very important field, namely overseas work. Already the Snowy has established a favourable reputation in South East Asia in the planning and construction of works and the training of local personnel in the operation and maintenance of works equipment. For the most part these activities have been financed by aid funds provided by Australia. In addition, the Snowy is registered with the relevant United Nations agencies and the Asian Development Bank for consultancy work.
As a result of the status it has already attained, I have no doubt that it will continue to attract a considerable volume of work overseas. We can look forward therefore to the Snowy acting not only as an implementer of some aspects of our foreign policy but also as a saver and an earner of foreign exchange. Foreign exchange earnings flow not only from consultancy fees but often from consultants specifying goods and equipment available from their own countries. These activities will not only benefit the Snowy and Australian industry generally; they will also benefit Australian private consultants. For example, the Snowy recently undertook the investigation, design and construction of the Sandakan-Ranau Road in Sabah. It has sublet the work on the design and construction of seven bridges on the road to an Australian engineering consultant. This policy will continue and will enable Australian consultants who are to some extent unknown overseas to increase in status and become established in new areas.
To give effect to the policy considerations I have outlined, the Bill provides that the Snowy may carry out a broad range of consultative activities in Australia and its Territories in a number of engineering fields. Within these fields it will not be permitted to act as a constructing authority in its own right, as it has in the Snowy area. It will investigate and design engineering works and supervise or give advice on contracts entered into . by its clients. The principal engineering fields in which it will operate may be broadly described as those relating to the development of water and power resources and for underground works.
Apart from work for the Commonwealth it is expected that the Snowy will continue to do a lot of work for State governments and their instrumentalities. It is expected also that it will continue to work for private organisations, such as the large mining companies. In work for private organisations, however, it will only be able to act when commissioned by private consultants. There is some doubt that the Commonwealth can effectively empower the Snowy to do work in the States and accordingly the State governments have been invited to introduce legislation matching that of the Commonwealth. It would be contrary to the public interest to stop the Snowy’s current activities in the States until the State parliaments have passed enabling legislation. Such work will accordingly be allowed to continue to completion. I will also authorise the Snowy undertaking new work in the States conditional upon the relevant Premiers giving an undertaking to introduce matching legislation as soon as possible.
So far as overseas work is concerned, the Snowy will be authorised to work in a somewhat wider field. It will be able to act as a constructing authority and supervise construction of projects in the fullest sense of this term. The categories of projects it may undertake will be those in which it will engage in Australia, plus works of a type previously undertaken by the Snowy and such additional types as I consider to be appropriate to its specific skills. We would also expect the Snowy to continue to use and collaborate with Australian consultants in appropriate circumstances.
It will be necessary for the Snowy to obtain my approval before undertaking any job. In this connection, I shall have available the advice of a consultative committee which is to be formed. The Committee will advise me on whether it would be appropriate for the Snowy to accept particular commissions. For works within Australia, the committee will comprise four persons, two of whom will be appointed from private engineering sources: for work outside Australia a further two persons will be added.
The Corporation will be similar in form to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority in that it will be headed by a corporation sole with two statutorily appointed assistants. It will operate as a commercial organisation, will pay Commonwealth income tax and be expected to make a reasonable return on its capital.
Detailed provisions of the Bill deal with the appointment of staff, the preservation of rights of staff taken over from the Authority and machinery for the transitional problems of the new organisation. The terms and conditions of employment of Corporation officers will be determined by the Corporation subject to the approval of the Public Service Board. I shall have power to determine the total number of staff.
So much for the framework of the present measure. I should, however, explain that with the setting up of the Corporation there will be three organisations acting in the Snowy area. First, there will be the Authority, which still has some 4 years of major work ahead to complete the scheme. After its completion, certain continuing functions need to be carried out in accordance with the terms of the Snowy Mountains Agreement, but they will be handled by a small number of officers. Secondly, there will be the body which is the subject of this Bill, namely the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation. As far ahead as we can see it will be centred in Cooma to enable full use to be made of existing specialist facilities. Finally, there will be the Snowy Mountains Council, which is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the completed works of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. This organisation was set up under the Snowy Mountains Agreement and has been functioning for some 10 years. The Government plans to provide it with funds and staff on a more self-contained and formal basis than exists at present, and in due course this will be the subject of a separate Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Stewart) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr N. H. Bowen, and read a first time.
– I move:
Thatthe Bill be now read a second time.
Early in 1967 the United Kingdom and Australian governments agreed to join together in the construction and subsequent operation of a large optical telescope to be located in Australia. The two governments decided that the telescope would have a nominal aperture of150 inches and that its specifications would.be based on the design adopted for a similar optical telescope which was to be constructed by the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona in the United States of America. The Australian National University’s Observatory at Siding Spring Mountain, near Coonabarabran in New South Wales, was chosen as the site for the instrument.
Pending the conclusion of a formal agreement between the governments, a joint policy committee was established to initiate arrangements for the construction of the telescope and to supervise detailed design and subsequent manufacture and construction. This committee is made up of Sir Richard Woolley, the Astronomer Royal, Professor Fred Hoyle, Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge University, Professor Olin Eggen, Director of the Mount Stromlo Observatory, and Dr E. G. Bowen, Chief of the Radiophysics Division of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, together with Mr J. F. Hosie of the Science Research Council in Britain and Mr K. N. Jones of the Department of Education and Science, Canberra. A small project office has been established in Canberra. Under the direction of the joint policy committee, this office is responsible for all phases of design, relations with consultants, tendering, contracts and general supervision. During this interim period the two governments have acted through the Science Research Council in London and the Department of Education and Science in Canberra. The Australian National University has cooperated in the project from its commencement. In additionto the provision of the site at the Siding Spring Observatory, the University has agreed to make available the whole range of its scientific and technical support facilities, both at Siding Spring and at Mount Stromlo.
The manufacture, construction and running in of a large complicated optical telescope is a complex and. lengthy operation. A good deal of progress has been made. Detailed work on the project commenced in the latter half of 1967.. Construction is scheduled for completion in the first half of 1973 and alignment and testing of the instruments and associated facilities should be completed early in 1974. When the governments agreed to co-operate in this venture the estimated total cost of construction was approximately$11m. Today it is estimated that the partners will contribute approximately $11m on joint account and in addition the Australian National University will spend $1.8m on new and upgraded facilities at the Siding Spring site. Of the amount expended by the ANU, $850,000 will be a charge upon the joint project and will be repaid over a period of 20 years together with interest at the long term bond rate. Expenditure of nearly $2. 5m has already been incurred and commitments entered into for further expenditure of $1.8m.
The House will be interested to hear of the major activities which have already been carried out. The primary mirror blank has been constructed by Owens-Illinois Incorporated of Toledo, Ohio, at a cost of close to $500,000. Earlier this year the primary mirror blank was delivered to Sir Howard Grubb Parsons and Company Limited of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, for grinding and polishing and for incorporation, together with other optical components, in the telescope tube, which itself is to be constructed by Grubb Parsons. At the Siding Spring Observatory, water and electricity services and roads are being upgraded and expanded and additional lodge and housing accommodation provided. Preparatory site works and construction of ancillary buildings for the telescope itself are now in hand. A contract for the supply and erection of the telescope mounting is expected to be let in the very near future, and tenders for the building and dome will be called later in the year.
In all of its activities, the joint policy committee has operated under the directive from the two governments that open tendering is to be used for all of the major components and that this work is to be available to any suitably qualified contractor from any part of the world. The arrangements arrived at between the two governments were incorporated in a formal agreement which was signed on 25th September 1969. It provides for the establishment of an Anglo-Australian Telescope Board to represent the two governments in the process of construction and subsequent operation of the telescope. The agreement contemplates the creation of that Board as a statutory authority under legislation of this Parliament. The present Bill, to which the text of the agreement is annexed, has been prepared accordingly. From a reading of the agreement and of the Bill, honourable members will see that the agreement spells out the arrangements made by the two governments for the construction and operation of the telescope and that the Bill itself deals primarily with the establishment of the Anglo-Australian Telescope Board as a statutory authority, and with its relations with this Parliament.
The Bill regulates the appointment of the Australian members to the Anglo-Australian Telescope Board and provides for the appropriation of moneys and their application by the Board. Provision is also made for audit of the Board’s accounts and for the presentation of periodical reports and financial statements, ft will be noted that a pro vision of the Bill exempts the Board from taxation under any law of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory of the Commonwealth. As a complementary measure, a Bill will be introduced to amend the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act 1935-1967. When the telescope has been completed access to it will be shared equally by British and Australian astronomers, although there will be provision for each party to make available a portion of its time to other astronomers. In each country, arrangements will be made within the astronomical community for the consideration of requests for use of the telescope and the Anglo-Australian Telescope Board will be guided by this advice in the allocation of time on the telescope.
Australia has an enviable reputation as a world leader in both optical and radio astronomy. The provision of these new facilities should enable us, in co-operation with our British partners, to develop that reputation further. We will be able to exploit the natural advantage which our geographical location gives us through the use of facilities which will be equal to those available anywhere else in the world. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Stewart) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr N. H. Bowen, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act 1935-1967 to provide exemption from sales tax for goods purchased by the AngloAustralian Telescope Board for its own use and not for sale. This Bill is a subsidiary measure to the Anglo-Australian Telescope Agreement Bill 1970. Section 15 of that Bill proposes that the Anglo-Australian Telescope Board will not be subject to taxation under any law of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory of the Commonwealth.
However, section 15 will not exempt a taxpayer who sells goods to the Board from liability for sales tax on those goods. The amendment to the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act to be effected by this Bill will ensure that tax is not payable either by the Board or by vendors on goods sold to the Anglo-Australian Telescope Board for its use and not for resale. By clause 2 of the Bill the amendment is effective from the day on which the Anglo-Australian Telescope Agreement Act 1970 comes into operation. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Stewart) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr N. H. Bowen, and read a first time.
– I move:
Honourable members will recall the Prime Minister’s announcement last October of the Government’s intention to establish an Institute of Marine Science at Townsville in Queensland. This Bill provides for the establishment of such an institute, to be known as the Australian Institute of Marine Science, and makes formal provision for the detailed planning of its functions and powers.
Australia is excellently situated to make a significant contribution in the field of marine science. As an island continent, with a vast and varied coastline extending from the tropics far into the temperate zone, the opportunity for study, exploration, exploitation and conservation of our marine resources is large. Our shores are washed by no less than three of the great oceans - the Indian, Southern and Pacific Oceans - while the Great Barrier Reef and our extensive exposure to the Southern Ocean offer opportunities that are unique. While some valuable work in marine science is already being carried out in Australia, this is, in relation to the needs of Australia, too limited an effort. The Government has accordingly decided to establish the Australian Institute of Marine Science at
Townsville to provide a national centre that will conduct research itself and give encouragement to valuable studies conducted elsewhere.
The Institute should become a centre of excellence and earn for- itself and Australia a world reputation in the field of marine science. As the Bill provides, the Institute will be concerned with both biological and physical aspects of marine science and the reference in clause 7 (2.) of the Bill to certain specific matters will not limit the Institute’s activities. I would expect the work and interests of the Institute to extend, as time goes on, over a very wide range of possibilities - for example, the study of the geology of the sea floor; the potential of the sea as a source of food and pharmacological products; the need for and means of conserving our marine environment; the effect upon that environment of the activities of man, in his attempts to win new treasures from the sea, and of predators, among which 1 would anticipate that the crown of thorns starfish would be a continuing subject of study until the problems it has created may have been solved.
Honourable members will note that the Bill provides for the appointment of an Interim Council to make recommendations on the functions and powers of the Institute and it is my intention to appoint Dr M. F. Day of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation as Chairman and the following scientists as members of the Interim Council: Professor C. Burdon-Jones of the University College of Townsville; Dr N. H. Fisher of the Commonwealth Bureau of Mineral Resources; Professor Dorothy Hill, Department of Geology and Mineralogy, University of Queensland; Mr Walter Ives, Secretary of the Department of Primary Industry; Mr D. F. McMichael, Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service in the State of New South Wales; and Professor R. J. Walsh, representing the Australian Academy of Science.
As soon as the Interim Council has completed its work, I shall place its recommendations -before the Government so that a further Bill may be introduced prescribing in detail the functions and powers of the
Institute and its constitution. I have great pleasure in commending this Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Stewart) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr N; H. Bowen, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Universities (Financial Assistance) Act 1966- 1969, which appropriated Commonwealth grants to the States in connection with universities during the 1967-69 triennium, made provision for building programmes at universities including student residences. A condition of the payment of the grants in respect of student residences was that the Commonwealth grant would be limited to a matching of actual expenditure from State funds during the triennium; that is, up to 31st December 1969.
In respect of two halls of residence - the Women’s Hall of Residence at the University of Tasmania and a hall of residence to be known as Roberts Hall at Monash University - unavoidable delays in planning meant that the amounts of State funds expended on these projects up to 31st December 1969 were insufficient to attract the full Commonwealth grant. In each case, the State government is prepared to continue with its matching expenditure up to an amount not exceeding the amount planned for the 1967-69 triennium and the Commonwealth Government has therefore decided to introduce this Bill to provide authority for the payment of appropriate balances of the Commonwealth grants that were provided for the triennium 1967- 69. The amounts involved are $47,241 in respect of the Women’s Hall of Residence at the University of Tasmania and $454,930 in respect of Roberts Hail at Monash University. The Bill therefore provides for the completion of the capital programme for student residences that was planned for the triennium 1967-69. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Stewart) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Holten, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to bring into operation for repatriation service pensioners the election promise of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) that the Government would introduce legislation providing increased pensions for married means test pensioners who lose the economies of living together because of failing health. The specific proposal is that, where pensions are now paid at married rates to each of such a married pensioner couple, each will receive pension at the standard rate after the passage of this legislation. The Bill makes the same provision for Service pensioners as is made for age and invalid pensioners in the Social Services Bill introduced by my colleague the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth).
Honourable members will know that an eligible ex-serviceman or woman who is single, widowed or divorced may receive a Service pension at the standard rate, namely $15 per week, which is higher than the married rate - currently $13.25 per week - payable to each of a married pensioner couple. The higher rate for single people recognises their special needs as compared with married pensioners who, because they live together and are able to share common expenses, are in a relatively better situation. It must be accepted, however, that the position of married couples who, because of illness for example, must give up normal domestic living to be cared for in a nursing home is often the same as that of single pensioners. The Bill1 gives practical recognition to this fact.
Clause 3 of the Bill therefore provides that where a repatriation board is satisfied that a pensioner husband and wife cannot live together in a matrimonial home because of the illness or infirmity of either or both of them, and these circumstances are likely to continue indefinitely, the Service pension may be granted at the standard rate.
Under the Repatriation Act a repatriation board is the primary independent determining authority concerned with the determination of claims. It is for that reason that the power of determination in these instances is given to a board.. It will exercise the power in relation to Service pensioners which is exercised by the Director-General of Social Services in relation to age and invalid pensioners. Under the Social Services Act the Director-General has a general power to review a determination whenever it appears to him that sufficient reason exists for doing so, and upon review he may affirm, vary or annul it. Clause 3 of the Repatriation Bill gives a similar review power to a repatriation board in relation to the circumstances of married pensioner couples who may be eligible for the standard rate.
The Bill also provides in clause 4 that couples who benefit from the amendment I have outlined may, subject to their means, also receive supplementary assistance, often known as ‘rent allowance’. It will be recalled that in 1968 the Government amended the Repatriation Act to provide that, where one of a married pensioner couple dies, the surviving pensioner receives for 6 fortnights the amount of pension that would have been payable to the couple jointly. The Bill provides that this benefit will continue to be paid on the basis of the married rate.
The Bill also provides for the appropriation of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the extent necessary for the purposes of the Bill. It is proposed in accordance with the usual practice that the increases in pension rates provided by the Bill will come into operation on the payday following royal assent. The measures I have outlined represent a further development in the Government’s provision for the needs of means test pensioners and I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Stewart) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr Hughes) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
- Mr Speaker, I am pleased that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten) is in the House becauseI want to bring to his notice a case which I consider to be one of the worst I have struck in the repatriation field since I have been a member of this Parliament. The Ministers predecessor knew all the details of the case. 1 do not intend to go over all of them tonight. On 28th March 1968I brought to the attention of the Parliament the case of a Mr M. M. Medlyn.I mention his name because I have his permission to do so. At that time he was living in my electorate at 51 West Street, Petersham but he is now domiciled at Sussex Inlet. This exserviceman has now become totally blind as a result of an operation performed during the last war. Since his discharge he has been endeavouring to secure a military pension because he believes his loss of eyesight was caused by an operation which was not properly completed. He believes it was due entirely to carelessness. The Repatriation Department has continually refused to give him a pension.
The previous Minister for Repatriation was good enough to let me look at the file relating to this case. I went through it and in my opinion every element of doubt was decided against the ex-serviceman. It was stated that the loss of sight could have happened through one thing and another but to my mind on every occasion the benefit of the doubt went against the ex-serviceman. Now he is living in almost complete poverty. He is living on an invalid pension. The details of the type of ailment he has in his eyes and their condition is such thatI do not intend to mention them to the Parliament now. It is difficult to describe them and they sound exceedingly dreadful.I want to say to the Minister that this man has written direct to the Minister for Repatriation and the file is available in the Department. Subsequent to a letter he wrote, the Minister wrote back to him and told him that he should call and see the doctor at Sussex Inlet who would explain the circumstances to him. Mr Medlyn replied by letter to the Minister. 1 also wrote, on 20th January this year, to the Minister about this case and the letter that Mr Medlyn had written to the Minister. In my letter I said:
I refer particularly to that section of the letter addressed to Mr Medlyn in which you suggest he call to see Dr Waters and to which Mr Medlyn replied to you under date 2.12.1969 stating: . . as you must know I am totally blind and it is a six mile walk to Dr Waters’ residence and 1.5 miles to the nearest phone, your request is virtually impossible.’
I subsequently wrote again to the Minister stating that I thought that the Repatriation Department ought to visit a blind man and not expect him to go that distance. I have since received a telephone call from Mr Medlyn giving further details of the tragic state and the tragic condition in which he is living. In a telephone conversation, to me Mr Medlyn finished by saying: T cannot get a guide dog because my income could noi feed it.’ The cost of feeding a guide dog would be between $7 and $8 a week. 1 have mentioned these details relating’ to the facts of this case once again because I believe they represent an absolute injustice to an ex-serviceman. Merely to give him a paltry invalid pension now that he- has lost his sight because - from the facts available to me - of an operation performed iri the course of. his military duties, is, to my mind, a scandalous state of affairs. ] made this statement in this Parliament on several occasions to the previous Minister for Repatriation. I have informed Mr Medlyn that until such time as a military pension is granted I will continue to raise his case again and again because I believe it has been treated unjustly. This Government is asking men to fight and die in Vietnam at this moment. It says it is necessary to conscript men in order to protect this country. Yet at this very time a man who has lost probably the most valuable asset in life, his eyesight, is now unable even to afford a guide dog because his income is so low. His domestic circumstances have been affected. He sacrificed a garage to enter the forces and now is living in poverty as an invalid pensioner. Surely when the Government can spend $27m in order to subsidise the primary producers and others it can spend a couple of dollars a week to give a reasonable pension to an ex-serviceman who has lost his eyesight. 1 repeat what I have said before in this Parliament: Some of these Repatriation Tribunals ought to be tossed out lock stock and barrel because their members have become case hardened. If some of the ex-servicemen serving on Tribunals have become case hardened the Government should put a few civilians on them who might be more sympathetic to people like Mr Medlyn who have given their all in the service of this country. 1 do not blame the present Minister over this. I know he is a sympathetic person and that naturally he must be guided by what his departmental officials or his tribunals put forward. However I suggest that he look at this file. There were several points in this case on which I could have given the benefit of the doubt to this ex-serviceman rather than require him at all stages io prove his case to the hilt. 1 know’ that the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) is aware of this case but I think the case bears repeating again and again until something is done about it This man is now . in the Royal’ Prince Alfred Hospital suffering, the intense pain and agony associated with this kind of an ailment yet he is getting nowhere with the Repatriation Department. He has been knocked back again and again, lt is bad enough for a . man “ who can walk and see to be continually told to see this Department or appear at the tribunal but to tell this to a blind man and to expect him to do this continually is something which I do not think the Minister or the Government would tolerate if they really understood the circumstances.
I raised this matter tonight because I hope the Minister will sympathetically look into it. The case is under discussion now. 1 suggest to the Minister that he should have a good look at the man who told him ro tell a blind man to walk 6 miles to visit a doctor. This is quite unsympathetic treatment. I think the case has been flippantly put aside. 1 repeat again that a long overhaul is due in the Repatriation Department in regard to tribunals if this is the type of treatment being meted out to ex-servicemen. When all is said and done, this man is receiving an invalid pension and he is now pretty well on in years. The cost involved in paying the difference between the invalid pension and that to which he is entitled hardly would be noticeable. If this poor man passed on the Minister might find that his wife probably would get a pension at that belated stage. I have seen cases which I thought were not nearly as bad as this where pensions have been granted. The reasoning of these things is sometimes difficult to follow.
I repeat that the Minister has the file available to him. I have supplied the name of this man. I suggest that the Minister give special attention to this case because it is one of the most genuine and deserving cases I have struck. As I said earlier I have been in this Parliament for a long time and the treatment given to Mr Medlyn by the Repatriation Department is one of the greatest injustices I have seen.
- Mr Speaker, I am sure all honourable members feel sympathetically towards this gentleman, as the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) does, but I am not aware of the details of the case. Most members will know that there is a system under which these claims are investigated. The basis of the system is a study of the medical and other evidence brought before the various determining authorities, namely, the Repatriation Board Commission and then, if necessary, the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals. It might interest the House to know that all the members of these determining authorities at this moment are all returned servicemen. It would, therefore, be fair comment to say that they would have a sympathetic outlook and an understanding of the service conditions under which this gentleman served. They are duty bound to give the serviceman - the appellant or the claimant - the benefit of the doubt under section 47 of the Repatriation Act. Many people complain that the Repatriation Department is too lenient. However, the duty of these three bodies is to give the serviceman the benefit of the doubt as to whether their condition is due to war service.
Having given a broad outline of the general administrative setup of the Department I say to the honourable member that I certainly will have a look at the case and we will do everything within our power - I can assure him of this - to make sure that if this ex-serviceman does undergo a medical examination he will not have difficulty in being transported anywhere for such an examination. I give an assurance to the honourable member that we will look at this case tomorrow and then I will have further discussions with him about it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.12 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 March 1970, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1970/19700304_reps_27_hor66/>.