28th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. J. F. Cope) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and the members of the House of Representatives in Parliament Assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That grave concern is felt at the imminent introduction into the Commonwealth Parliament of legislation to permit abortion on demand.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled should not admit into the laws of this land a principle which violates a fundamental right - the right to life.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Uren, Mr Coates and Mr McLeay.
To the Honourable the Speaker and the members of the House of Representatives in Parliament Assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled should not admit into the law of this land a principle which violates a fundamental right, theright to life.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Coates and Mr MalcolmFraser.
– I give notice that on General Business Thursday No. 6 I shall move and the honourable member for Hotham shall second:
That in the opinion of this House, a Federal Judge should be appointed as sole Commissioner in accordance with the provisions of the Royal Commissions Act to inquire into and report upon:
How many abortions are performed each year in Australia and what are the characteristics of the women who are aborted and the circumstances in which abortions occur.
What are the consequences of abortion for women who are aborted, practitioners performing abortion procedures, police enforcing the laws on abortion and the community as a whole.
What are the courses open to women who carry through unwanted pregnancies and what are the consequences of each course for the mother and for the child.
How effective are the laws on abortion of the Australian Capital Territory, of each State and of countries comparable with Australia, what alternatives to the law in the Australian Capital Territory are offered by laws in other places and what are the likely medical, social and economic effects associated with each alternative.
In what ways can the incidence of abortion be reduced by improving services and facilities such as sex education in schools, family planning clinics, supply of contraceptives, pregnancy support agencies, adoption agencies and social security payments.
Other matters which the Commission regards as relevant to abortion and the shortcomings in fertility control of which abortion is an expression.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer and I preface it by reminding him that at present when an employee retires income tax is levied on 5 per cent of any lump sum he receives as a retiring allowance or superannuation payment. Is the Treasurer aware that there are very strong rumours that the amount on which income tax is levied on such lump sums is to be substantially increased? I have heard figures as high as 25 per cent of the amount mentioned. I further ask the Treasurer, while not expecting him to express an opinion as to whether there is any substance in these rumours, whether he will say to the House in an unequivocal manner that should any such legislation be introduced it will not be made retrospective in its application. In other words, any higher amount of tax would not be levied on an amount which was paid prior to any such relevant legislation passing both Houses of the Parliament.
– I thank the honourable member for asking that question because it gives me the opportunity to deny certain rumours that seem to be circulating in this area. I am pilloried at times for things I have said, but one certainly does not deserve to be abused for something that has not been said. There is no intention to alter the existing provisions about payments of lump sums on retirement. As far as I know, ever since income tax has been in existence there has been provision that with lump sum payments, 5 per cent only is regarded as subject to income tax in the first year. The presumption is that thereafter the recipient would sensibly and prudently invest the lump sum and it would return an income of its own. There is no intention to alter that provision of the Act and I resent the fact that some mischievious people seem to be circulating a proposition that there is an intent to increase the proportion on which tax is payable from 5 per cent to 25 per cent. I give an unqualified assurance that there is no such intention.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration whether South Africa has imposed new entry requirements affecting Australians. If so, what are these restrictions and will they close yet another door to Australians?
– As from 1 July 1973 the South African Government will impose certain new requirements on Australians visiting that country. For example, on arrival as visitors Australians will be required to be issued with a temporary entry permit - a visitor’s visa, in effect. Another condition of entry is that the visitor’s visa will not be interchangeable with a visa for permanent residence or for work. There will also be the requirement that a return ticket or a cash equivalent be held by the Australian visitor proceeding to South Africa. If Australians proceeding to South Africa in the future need or desire a work permit or a migrant visa they should apply for it before leaving this country. These measures are in line with measures taken by most other countries. They certainly represent a departure from past procedure, but this is a matter for the South African authorities. I say, in passing, that there now remains only one country to which Australians can go without let or hindrance for any purpose and that is New Zealand.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. I refer to his appropriation, for his own use, of the Commonwealth luxury guest house at Kirribilli, his unprecedented chartering of aircraft, etc., for his excursions overseas and his acquisition at Commonwealth expense for his own use of a luxury Mercedes car, like none other yet available in Australia. These are examples of socialist equality in action. Has the Prime Minister considered the second verse of the first chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes?
-Order! That book may be unparliamentary.
- Mr Speaker, that is a party reference on your part.
– It is true, as you quite rightly said Mr Speaker, that there are many passages of Ecclesiastes, or of the Song of Solomon, which you would have to rule as contravening the Standing Orders if members presumed to quote them. As all honourable members know, my staff is well versed in the Old Testament. First I refer to the Mercedes. When I assumed office as Prime Minister I inherited an archaic vehicle which I declined to use. Out of the proceeds of sale of that car I was able to order a Mercedes and return a profit of $1,300 to the revenue. I would be very happy if every office-bearer in this Parliament were to make do with an ordinary Holden or Valiant, but if there is to be a gradation of cars I frankly am going to have the best.
As regards the chartering of aircraft, it is true that I have chartered Qantas aircraft when I have gone abroad to represent this country as its head of government. Some of my predecessors did, too, and they were quite right. When other heads of government or heads of State have visited our country they have chartered aircraft from their own national airlines, and quite rightly.
– Is the Minister for Education aware that the Government’s decision to spend $188m for teacher education in the next 2i years has aroused the wrath of the Victorian Teachers Union? The Union claims that the amount offered to Victoria is $3 3m less than the amount established by the 1969 needs survey.
– The Victorian Secondary Teachers’ Association expressed the opinion that the Victorian Government would not be able to spend the money and the Victorian Teachers’ Union has come in with a different opinion. The first thing I would like to say about the statement of the Victorian Teachers’ Union is that that body is comparing unlike. The Cohen report dealt with the financial needs of institutions. The needs survey of 1969 dealt with the financial needs of institutions plus student allowances. So the amount of money that Victoria will spend on student allowances is not allowed for in the statement of the amount of money that will become available for Victorian teacher education. Therefore, the comparison is quite false.
Secondly, I would say that the Cohen report is the most systematic study of teacher education in Australia since the Martin report. The Martin report made recommendations which included a share of finance for a former Commonwealth government which was not accepted by that Commonwealth government. The Cohen report is based on the evidence of State governments and its own study in teachers’ colleges and in pre-school teachers’ colleges. It is a thorough study - a more thorough study than comments by the needs survey, even though, as I have said, the two are not comparable because the Cohen report does not take into account student allowances.
It is also quite a misrepresentation to suggest that the needs survey - and this is a persistent habit of some of these unions - stated that all the money to be found for education in Australia in 5 years was to come from the Commonwealth Government. It made no such statement. Almost all of the money that will be provided for the needs of institutions under this plan will come from the Commonwealth Government. In fact, we have gone $104m beyond the recommendations of the Cohen Committee which recommended $84m as the Commonwealth contribution. We have assumed a load of $188m. The Victorian Teachers’ Union also has made comments about what we are going to do about student allowances. This proposition is for grants to the States. We are not taking over the administration of education in Victoria. The Victorian Govern ment can decide its own student allowances and whether or not students will be bonded. The proposition to grant Commonwealth finance to teacher institutions for the benefit of the State governments is not the assumption of the administration of these institutions which, I hope, will be independent and autonomous; nor does it determine any relationship between the Victorian Government and its trainee teachers which seems to be the assumption underlying the criticism.
– I wish to ask a question of the Prime Minister supplementary to that asked of him by the honourable member for Mackellar. Is it true that on his recent journey abroad by chartered aircraft he carried a number of journalists for all or a part of his trip? Have the employers of those journalists been asked to contribute to the Government, either at tourist rates or thereabouts, a fare approximately equivalent to that which would have been paid if they had been travelling on normal commercial routes, as was the practice of the preceding Government? Is it also true that a Mr Mick Young, a senior official of the Australian Labor Party, was a passenger for a portion of the trip, namely, that between London and Rome? On what basis are Party officials to be carried and is there to be any payment by the Australian Labor Party to the Government on the same basis as that required of the employers of journalists?
– The answer to the first question is yes; to the second question, yes, except that the journalists’ employers will be expected to pay at first class rates; to the third question, yes, as my guest, so that he could accompany me when I had an audience with the Pope.
– My question is directed to the Acting Attorney-General. I ask: In view of the recent statements attributed to the Minister and the AttorneyGeneral concerning reform in the courts of petty sessions of the Australian Capital Territory, can the Minister inform the House whether any steps are being taken to dissociate policemen from those courts except where they appear as witnesses? Is it intended that the present police prosecutors should continue prosecuting while remaining members of the police force or are changes contemplated?
– Yes, certain decisions have been taken along the lines suggested by the honourable member in his question. Honourable members would know that in courts of petty sessions throughout Australia it has been a long standing practice to have the prosecuting work done by members of the police force. That is a practice which has often been criticised because it tends to suggest that the courts are not independent but rather police courts, as they were once known many years ago in New South Wales. That practice has always been justified on the basis of cheapness.
It is the view of the Attorney-General and the Government generally that the training and the work performed by policemen is far too important and specialised to allow some of them to spend their time just doing attendants work around the courts. The prosecuting role is primarily a matter for lawyers who have a more apparent independent role in the administration of justice. The decision has been taken that the police prosecuting section of the Australian Capital Territory Police Force should be incorporated into the Deputy Crown Solicitor’s Office and cease to be a part of the police force. This will lead in time to the development of an independent type of prosecuting section there that will not be a part of the police force. Policemen are so often involved as witnesses and it sometimes gives rise to concern amongst litigants and accused persons. The other decision that has been taken is that police attendants should be replaced by court attendants who are sheriffs’ officers in non police uniforms.
– I wish to direct a question to the Treasurer. Is the Treasurer able to give the House any information about suggestions that there may be a further devaluation of the American dollar? In any event, will the Treasurer assure the House that the Australian Government will not tamper further with the Australian dollar in such a way as to compound the damage already done to our export industries, Further, will the Treasurer inform the House what benefits have resulted from the revaluation of the Australian dollar, especially in the form of lower prices on imports? Perhaps he will consider preparing a statement for the House setting out this information.
– As 1 have indicated before in this House, I am not answerable for the American dollar. I am answerable for the Australian dollar and I believe that the decisions taken on 23 December were in the best interests of Australia, and I think subsequent events have borne that out.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration a question. Is it correct that there has been a change in the Government’s immigration policy, as reported in the Melbourne ‘Age’ this morning? Is it also correct to say that the Government has re-started the immigration program?
– I did see a report which suggested that the Government had a new and dramatic policy. It was news to me, I must say. In fact, of course, there has been no change in policy at all. We are operating within the policy that was laid down at the change of Government. There has been no re-starting of the immigration program because the immigration program has continued. Two major things were done under the new policy of this Government. One was that it was decided that the immigration program of the Government in future .is to be finely tuned to the economy. The second was that a decision was made in the face of unemployment at that time not to import unemployment by maintaining the immigration intake at a level which was not commensurate with our national needs. So, a reduction was made. The target of 110,000 set for the intake this year is a considerable lift of people into this country. We have continued along the lines of that program. We have had an intake every month and probably every week all the time that we have been in Government.
There has been no suggestion of re-starting the immigration program; it was never stopped. To suggest that we should have a system whereby we can attempt to turn on and turn off the migrant tap, just like that, is absurd. It cannot be done, and it has never been contemplated. In the first quarter of this year the immigration intake was something more than 11,000. We are proceeding at full pace within our policy and under the arrangements now made the intake in this quarter will be about 14,000 or more. This is entirely in accordance with the program and the policy that we laid down. Finally, it is certainly not the intention of this Government to engage in a mindless quest for numbers. To do that is simply to play with human hopes and aspirations and also with the Australian taxpayers’ pockets. In the last calendar year, with a total intake of about 120,000, due to departures we had a net population gain of 27,000. This is a completely unsatisfactory situation as far as we are concerned. It is important to end wastage and all our major efforts are being directed to that end.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. It relates to a Bill which is listed for debate in the House - the Grants Commission Bill. The honourable gentleman introduced this Bill last Thursday, I think - recently at any rate. In his second reading speech the Prime Minister used these words:
The grouping of authorities into regions and the approval of regional organisations will be carried out in full consultation with the States.
He adopted this method in the Bill because I think there are over 600-
– Nine hundred.
– There are 900 local governing bodies which would need to be put into regions to make the task of the Commonwealth Grants Commission manageable; hence the idea of regions. I believe that full consultation with the States is essential. However subclause (1) of clause 17 of the Bill reads:
The Minister for Urban and Regional Development may, by instrument in writing, approve an organisation or body that represents, or acts on behalf of, the local governing bodies established in a region as an approved regional organisation for the purpose of this Act.
In other words, the Bill does not state what the second reading speech stated. I ask the honourable gentleman: Will he agree to an amendment to that clause in order that the Bill will give effect to the intention which he stated in his second reading speech?
– I will certainly consider any amendment that the right honourable gentleman or his colleagues move in this regard.
– What about you moving it?
– The undertaking that I have given is quite clear, and the Minister concerned - the Minister for Urban and
Regional Development - has shown to a conspicuous degree that he is anxious to collaborate with his counterparts in the States in upgrading the role of local government. In fact he is today in Canberra conferring on one such regional organisation with the Ministers for decentralisation from New South Wales and Victoria. I will be taking the three of them to lunch.
– Why not put it in the Bill instead of taking them to lunch?
– They will not need very long spoons. I will probably have a ladle. As honourable members, I hope, know, the Minister has already come to arrangements in the local government field with his counterpart in Western Australia and I think there are advanced negotiations with his counterparts in South Australia and Victoria. There can be no question that the Australian Government is anxious to collaborate with the State governments as far and as quickly as they will, in seeing that regional development in Australia goes ahead both in the capital cities and in designated growth areas.
– It is the issue of consultation.
– If the right honourable gentleman will let me see wording I will b( happy to consider it. Clearly the Bill provides in a statute a degree of State representation to the Commission which the earlier Acts never guaranteed. Under this Grants Commission Bill there will be opportunities and encouragement for the State governments to approach this long standing and now enhanced federal body both on their own behalf and on behalf of the bodies which they have created, such as the local governing bodies, some of the county councils and so on. This is a very great advance in enabling the States and their authorities to approach a Commonwealth authority.
– I address my question to the Deputy Prime Minister in his capacity as Minister for the Navy. Is he aware of a report in last Saturday’s ‘Australian’ regarding the likely demise of the DDL program and the possible purchase of three American patrol frigates instead? Is he aware that this report has caused consternation in the Williamstown Naval Dockyard where the DDLs were to be constructed? Can he assure the House that whatever destroyer replacement is decided upon it will involve substantial construction at the Williamstown dockyard?
– I give the honourable member an immediate assurance that the destroyers that will be acquired for the Navy will be built in Australia, and that there has been no change in the decision to build those destroyers at the Williamstown dockyard. I am fully conscious of the problem that exists at the Williamstown dockyard in relation to the work load and I have been giving very careful consideration to this problem. As the House is aware, an in depth study of the destroyer program was initiated as a result of instructions which I gave to the. Department of Defence and that study has now been completed. A decision has not yet been made as to whether the Government will proceed with the DDL project or whether an alternative will be selected. But whatever decision is made by the Government - it will be announced in due course - I can give an unequivocal assurance that there will be a requirement that the destroyers be built in Australia and at the Williamstown dockyard.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Will the honourable gentleman tell the House whether he has ordered a revision of the Government’s proposed Freedom of Information Act which was so widely referred to by him during the election campaign but which is now apparently a matter of some secrecy itself? Has the honourable gentleman ordered this revision because certain of the proposed Act’s provisions would compel his Government to release a number of documents which were suppressed by his AttorneyGeneral during the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation affair? Will the honourable gentleman indicate to the House when his Government intends to give legislative effect to his pre-election promise of open government?
– I regret that it has not been possible this session to draft legislation parallel to the United States Freedom of Information Act which the Government is committed to introducing. I have not seen any draft of it. The matter has not been considered by the Cabinet. As honourable gentlemen will probably have noticed, over 90 Bills will have been introduced during this session.
That is as many as we usually get in a year, and it has been impossible to draft and therefore to introduce a Bill such as this or some other quite significant ones such as the Trade Practices Bill. Honourable members will also realise that the Government has very promptly tabled all the reports coming to it from expert bodies or expert persons whom it has asked to make reports to it. It might be useful if I read, or perhaps honourable gentlemen will give leave for me to incorporate in Hansard, a list of some of these nonofficial reports - that is, non-statutory reports - which have beenalready tabled.If leave is given I can save question time.
– Is leave granted? Then being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
28 February- Tabled by
Report by Mr Justice Moore on the Mr Whitlam Inquiry into Steel Price Increases proposed by BHP and AIS. 15 March-
Bilingual Education in Schools in Mr Beazley Aboriginal Communities in the Northern Territory (Requested by Minister for Education on 22.1 . 73). 3 April-
Report on Employment Problems in Mr Cameron the Port of Portland. 11 April-
Components of the growth of Mr Uren Australia’s Major Urban Centres 2 May-
Report of the Health Insurance Mr Hayden Planning Committee 2 May-
Report from the Academy of Science Mr Whitlam on the Biological Effects of Nuclear Explosion Fall-out (Request from Prime Minister 12.2.73). 3 May-
Location, nature and development of Mr Beazley Institutions of Tertiary Education in Sydney, Melbourne and Albury/ Wodonga (Prepared by AUC and ACAE). 17 May-
Biological Effects of Nuclear Explosion Mr Whitlam Fall-out (Meeting between Australian/French scientists, Canberra 7-9/5/73). 17 May-
Academic Salaries - Report of Inquiry Mr Beazley by Mr Justice Campbell, dated May 1973.
– I thank the House.
– I address a question to the Minister for Labour arising from his statement last week that most metropolitan employment grants will be phased out after 30 June this year. In view of the fact that Western Australia’s unemployment rates, while much reduced, are. still well above the national average and above the rates in all other mainland States, and in view of the special structural difficulties of Western Australia’s unemployment resulting in a much higher proportion of unemployment in the metropolitan areas than applies elsewhere, will the Minister review the exceptions to the phase out which he indicated last week, with a view to giving some greater continuing assistance in the Perth metropolitan area?
– This question is not altogether without notice. The honourable gentleman has taken this matter up with me quite strongly over the few days that have elapsed since my statement in the Parliament, and I have had representations also from other honourable members from Western Australia. 1 have not heard anything from Opposition supporters but I have from Government supporters. I am impressed by the case that has been put to me by people representing Perth and also by the case that has been put to me by the honourable member for Hawker on behalf of people, in certain parts of Adelaide. There is a case for not cutting off the unemployment relief scheme in certain metropolitan areas - in certain cities and in parts of certain cities. At the moment I have a submission before the Cabinet subcommittee. I cannot tell the House, any more about it at this stage. But in due course the Prime Minister will announce the outcome of that submission and when he does everybody in the House, except those who want to see the scheme fold up so rapidly as to cause hardship, will toe please.d at the Government’s decision.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. Is it true, as has been reported, that a foreign company, the East Asiatic Co. Ltd, has obtained a controlling interest in the timber company Kauri Holding Ltd despite offers by the Australian firm A. V. Jennings Industries (Australia) Ltd to buy the offered shares at the equivalent price to that paid by East Asiatic? Did the Treasurer or the Department of the Treasury approve this transaction as was stated by the parties concerned? If so, will the Treasurer say how this approval is to be reconciled with the Government’s alleged concern to keep Australian companies out of foreign hands?
– This case shows that there are distinct weaknesses both in the foreign take-over legislation and also, in my view, in the stock exchange regulations in Victoria. Despite the belief of most people that Kauri Holdings Ltd was an Australian company it was already a foreign company insofar as at least IS per cent of its share holding was held abroad, because 33 per cent of the equity in Kauri Holdings was held by Boise Cascade Corporation. Unfortunately the Companies (Foreign Take-overs) Act does not have provisions covering the takeover of a foreign company by another foreign company. I think this points to the need to rewrite the Act. In many respects the Act has been a very effective piece of legislation despite the haste with which it was constructed. It has enabled us to stop one or two takeovers which otherwise might have been consummated and it has prevented a lot of takeovers from taking place. But in this case unfortunately I think the Australian company which made the offer made it too late. The company made it after our examination had shown that we had no power in this case. But I think that what has been done reflects somewhat upon the directors of Kauri Holdings Ltd because what has happened is that 67 per cent or two-thirds of the shareholders have been effectively locked out of any decision as far as the takeover was concerned. This, as I indicated points to deficiencies, both in the Commonwealth law in regard to foreign takeovers and in the way that stock exchange regulations operate in Victoria.
– I ask the Minister for Transport whether the Commonwealth Railways recently called for tenders for the supply of standard gauge axle and wheel sets. Is any preference shown to Australian manufacturers when these orders are placed? If so, will he continue to extend the preference in view of the work shortage in many Australian heavy industries?
– It is true that preference has been given to Australian industries in respect of this matter. In fact, one of my first jobs when I became Minister for Transport was to cancel an order which was to have been placed with a Japanese company to supply axles. Bradford Kendall Ltd had a part of the contract and a part of it was to go to Japan. The result is that the whole set - wheels and axles - will now be built in Australian workshops. Bradford Kendall has got the total contract. In March this year it received a contract for 528 sets at a cost of $300,000. I know of the honourable member’s interest in this matter because part of this work was subcontracted to Walkers Ltd in Maryborough. That company is to supply the axles at a cost of $112,000. Very shortly an order for an additional 200 sets will be placed with Bradford Kendall, and this will bring the value of the total contract to $414,000 and Walker’s portion of it to $154,000.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Why is he, prompted by his Treasurer, considering restraining the operations of the building society movement in Australia? Is he aware that building societies are nonprofit co-operative organisations rigidly controlled by the States and are one of the major means of people on low incomes owning their own homes? Is this proposed interference with building societies further evidence of the Government’s desire to build up a renting community and to discourage little capitalists?
– Mr Speaker, I want to take a point of order before the Prime Minister replies. Is it in order for an honourable member who has a pecuniary interest in buying and selling real estate to act as an agent for the interests he represents in this Parliament?
-I call the Prime Minister.
– You ought to know what he. has offered for Kirribilli. There are 2 kinds of building societies in Australia. There have been since the 1930s, particularly in New South Wales, what are called terminating building societies. These have operated under State legislation whereby they enjoy the benefit of guarantees. There can be. no question that terminating building societies have been a most effective and beneficent form of enabling people to buy and build their own homes on as economic conditions as it is possible to raise money for that purpose. Latterly permanent building societies have arisen in Australia. They are not as long-established, of course, as permanent building societies have been in Britain where they are a wellestablished institution for people’s savings and for finance for home builders or home owners. I have not checked the position recently but my impression is that it is only in New South Wales that there is legislation covering permanent building societies.
– And in Western Australia.
– In Western Australia too. I thank the honourable member. I am not sure whether that legislation guarantees deposits with the permanent building societies as the legislation for terminating building societies guarantees deposits with them. The discussion on this matter flows from the fact that it is now plain, following High Court decisions, that this Parliament is certainly able to pass laws concerning such (financial corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth. It would seem, therefore, a very reasonable thing for this Parliament to pass laws regulating the conditions under which such societies make advances and, in return, that those societies should receive guarantees from the Australian Government. This would be parallel to the situation which has applied to banks since, the war. No bank registered under Australian Parliament legislation can go bankrupt. In return for that guarantee against loss, banks pursue a lending policy which the government of the day approves. In the case where there is a dispute over government banks, the government of the day has to make a report to the Parliament as to why it wants its will to prevail. There is no need for people to get agitated on this subject. It would be a very proper thing for this Parliament now to see that such basic financial institutions as building societies are equated much more in their operations to banks - that is, we should guarantee their security and, in return, they should pursue the public interest in their lending policies.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question supplementary to the questions asked by the honourable members for Mackellar and New England concerning the concealing of information about Government expenses and expenses of Ministers. Did I ask a question about ministerial expenses and perquisites last year? Did the question sit on the notice paper for many months and was it withdrawn after I was informed by the then Prime Minister and the Treasurer that an increase in the Canberra daily allowance would not be paid to members until I withdrew the question? Did the Clerk note the details of the withdrawal of the question and was the present Speaker required to withdraw a similar question? If there is to be any imputation concerning extravagant expenses and perquisites, does the Prime Minister regard this matter as a serious attempt to conceal information? Will he assure the House that no such action will be taken by him or by any members of his Government?
– I was not aware of the history of the questions that the honourable gentleman and you, Mr Speaker, put on notice in the last Parliament. I can certainly give an assurance that there will be no such concealment or attempts to procure it by the present Government.
– Can the Treasurer tell the House why the Government, according to reports, rejected proposals put by the Victorian Premier for anti-inflation measures that would have involved both prices and incomes? Does the Treasurer agree with the eminently sensible view of the Victorian Premier that both sides of this question must be tackled?
– A week before the Victorian election, the Prime Minister and I attended a meeting of Premiers, after which committees of officers were set up to bring along proposals. Those talks are continuing. There has been no rejection or acceptance of anybody’s point of view. What there has been is a clarifying of issues and we are to meet with the Premiers again on 28 June.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Social Security been drawn to the public statements made by Dr Hames and Dr Fischer of Western Australia that they were withdrawing from the pensioner medical service because of intrusion and interference by the Australian Government in the manner in which they practise? Will the Minister investi gate this claim to ensure that, if there has been any Government intrusion or interference, it is promptly ended and that steps are taken to prevent its occurring in any other instances?
– I did note the reports in the newspapers yesterday and accordingly took the opportunity of checking with the Department of Social Security to establish what were the facts. The facts are a little different from the claims attributed to Dr Hames of Wagin and Dr Fischer of Pingelly, both of Western Australia. No effort was made to intrude or interfere in the way in which they practised medicine or in their relationship as medical practitioners with pensioner medical patients. The Department, in line with normal procedures adopted where sample surveys show what seems to be an excessive visiting rate for pensioners, wrote to these 2 medical practitioners seeking information about the need to maintain such high visiting rates. The 2 doctors took objection to the communication from the Department, refused to supply the information and withdrew from the pensioner medical service.
Perhaps I ought to indicate the justification for the Department’s writing in a reasonable sort of way seeking this sort of information. The State average number of services per pensioner medical service patient in Western Australia is 7.8. Dr Hames was providing an average of 14.02 services per patient, nearly twice the State average rate. Dr Fischer was providing 16.8 services per patient - more than double the State average. The significance is that Dr Hames sought $4,787 remuneration under the pensioner medical service. If he had been providing services at the State average rate he would have been seeking only $2,663. Dr Fischer sought payment for pensioner medical services of $6,810. If he had been providing services at the State average rate he -would have sought or been paid only about $3,143. Accordingly, there is an amount of $5,791 greater than would be justified if the visiting rates were about the State average. It could well be in some cases that the visiting rate has to be higher than the State average and this is one of the reasons that this information was sought.
Finally, I mention to the honourable member and to other honourable members that the rough guideline followed by the Department in matters such as this is very generous. Not only has the visiting rate to be greater than 50 per cent above the State average but also there has to be a consistent pattern over a long period and related to particular visiting practices where home calls or nursing home calls are provided. On this basis checks are made, and I submit have to be made as a matter of public responsibility, where fairly substantial amounts of public money are concerned.
– Pursuant to section 11 of the Life Insurance Act 1945-1965, I present the twenty-seventh annual report of the Insurance Commissioner for the year ended 31 December 1972.
– by leave - Honourable members will be pleased to know that the members of both Houses of the Tasmanian Parliament have unanimously agreed to the followingresolutions:
Thatin the opinion of the Legislative Council and the House of Assembly the testing of nuclear devices in the atmosphere is to be deplored.
That the Parliament of the State of Tasmania records its support for moves by the Federal Government to prevent the planned nuclear tests by the French Government in the South Pacific area and to refer this important matter to the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
Perhaps I might take this opportunity of publicly acknowledging the debt that the Commonwealth Government owes to the initiative of the Attorney-General of Tasmania - of which both the previous Minister for Foreign Affairs and I were aware at the time - in seeking advice from Professor O’Connell of the University of Adelaide, now the Chichele Professor of International Law at Oxford, on the prospects of this avenue before the World Court of restraining the French nuclear tests. It was Professor O’Connell’s advice, I believe, which was responsible for Australia, New Zealand and Fiji relying on the 1928 General Act for the pacific settlement of international disputes, in bringing their dispute in this matter to the International Court of Justice.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
– I have received a letter from the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government’s lack of concern for the long term needs of rural industry and the uncertainty being created by the Government’s inability and unwillingness to make long term decisions on rural industries.
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.)
– Primary producers traditionally face uncertainties caused by factors such as low world prices, bad weather and changing demands over which neither they nor their government have any control. All farmers face uncertainty from these sources, but today Australian farmers face new kinds of uncertainty - the uncertainty of not knowing whether the Australian Government will support them and the uncertainty of working under a government which seems to be going out of its way to hurt them and to demonstrate its lack of concern for and understanding of their needs. Any government creating this kind of uncertainty by its own deliberate actions is deserving of the strongest censure. The practical effect of the Government’s attitude to primary industry can be seen in a number of matters. Firstly, the Government’s only 2 spokesmen on primary industries, such as they are, were deprived of the primary industry portfolio by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). This was not just accidental. It was part of the Prime Minister’s deliberate strategy to keep the primary producer in his place.
Next, the Government made a decision on the exchange rate and then compounded that mistake with another causing primary producers and all exporters very considerable losses. Yet despite this deliberate action, which was said to be in the national interest - and this has yet to be shown - the Government has refused to provide compensation for the losses it caused. The Government added insult to injury by putting up a spurious adjustment assistance scheme that is not even worth the paper it is written on. A favourite expression of the Government is ‘reallocation of resources.’ The Government, of course, is involved in a massive program of resource reallocation, shifting incomes from the productive rural industries to the consumer oriented cities. The Government is putting its mouth and its money where the votes are and the Government’s anti-rural bias becomes more evident every day. This is shown in its efforts to control meat prices, the cuts in funds for wool research and promotion with a bigger load on growers, procrastination on wheat stabilisation while Cabinet and Caucus brawl about it and reduced funds for rural reconstruction. All of these things are bringing uncertainties to primary producers.
The Government has established an economic task force to find ways of pruning existing support programs, not to mention the Government’s attack on the political representation of the country area, country telephones and so on. But the worst factor is the Government’s unwillingness to make long term decisions. We have been hearing for 20 years about the Labor Party’s great policies for agriculture. Yet, when that Party gets into office and has a chance to act, what does it do? It starts hesitating and putting off, as in the delaying tactics of a referendum in regard to the merino embargo, the wool research program which will run for 1 year only and which will be allocated less money; wheat stabilisation which will be postponed for 1 year; incentive payments for wheat which will run for 1 year only; and rural reconstruction which will operate for 1 year only and will attract less money.
After 20 or more years the Labor Party still does not know what its rural policies are. After harping for years on the need for planning, the Labor Government is, by its own lack of planning and its inability to make decisions, destroying whatever chance rural industries might have had to do their own planning on a firm and predictable basis. The procrastination of the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) in the face of the need to make policy decisions has reached such dimensions as to constitute a real cause for alarm. When decisions are belatedly forthcoming they are inconclusive and usually reflect the Labor Party’s attitude of denigration of country people. Rural industry is becalmed on a sea of Government indecision. The impression given is that rural industry is regarded by the Government with something of the same fondness as the Treasurer (Mr Crean) holds for building societies.
A large part of the problem lies, of course, in the tortuous processes of the Labor Government’s decision making or non-decision making. Cabinet committees and party committees look at proposals; then there is a full Cabinet discussion involving 27 people; then Caucus must look at the matters and perhaps send them back to Cabinet - and so it goes on. A list of instructions has even been issued to Ministers by Caucus as to how decisions are to be made. While all this shunting back and forth goes on, the losers are all too often the primary producers who are waiting to find out what the Government intends to do.
There are many examples of this, but one will suffice: Since coming into office the Minister for Primary Industry has had before him the compelling problems of the apple and pear industry. The nature of these problems has been exhaustively examined and the Minister has been faced with a clear set of policy options. His response has been to call conference after conference and to assert again and again that he is considering the matter. His latest pronouncement on this matter was issued in Hobart on 13 May after yet another meeting on it. He said: ‘I am not going to be stampeded into hasty decisions.’
The worst fears of Australia’s primary producers were confirmed by a speech in Paris in April by the Minister for Primary Industry. I shall quote some of the things he said. He said:
We will not be offering assistance to agriculture for the purposes of stimulating production.
That is almost a criminal attitude for a national government to take at a time when there is a world food shortage and when droughts on 3 continents threaten famine of disastrous proportions. I do not support the encouragement of unthinking production when it is not needed; but at the moment it is needed in several commodities. We should be encouraging grain and meat production, but the Government’s agricultural policies are working in the opposite direction. With wheat, for example, the Minister said in his speech in Paris:
Any price guarantee the Government may sanction will be strictly limited. It will not be open-ended.
We know now, of course, that he has been forced to back down on that threat. The Government has given an open-ended commitment to the wheat industry, although for only one more year. I welcomed the incentive payment added to the first advance for this year, but let no one think that that reprieve will be for any longer than one year. The Labor Partys’ rural rump, as it is called, has not got a hope of winning in the end because the whole of the Labor Party’s strategy runs in the opposite direction. Labor knows where its votes are, and that is what counts. That is why the Government wants to control meat prices.
What else did the Minister say in Paris? He said that the Government was setting up a protection commission. That is a misnomer if ever I have heard one. The commission will not protect rural industry; it will attack it The Minister made it clear in his speech that the commission’s job will not be to advise on helping to build up primary industry but on scaling down primary industry. One of the worst things the Minister did in Paris was to call on other nations to co-operate in the Labor Party’s program to reduce the support given to Australia’s agricultural producers. I recall that there was a great howl of anguish from the Labor Party last year when I called on International corporations in this country to resist, in the national interest and in the interest of all Australians, the pressure for shorter working hours. Yet here we have a Labor Minister calling for international support in the launching of an attack on Australia’s primary producers. When I did it to help the whole of the Australian people it was wrong: When a Labor Minister does it to attack our primary producers it is right.
There should be no misunderstanding about the Australian Country Party’s position. No one has spoken more, and done more, about encouraging Australian farmers to accept the need for adjustment in their industries than I have. But, unlike the Government and the Minister, I am not committed to a program of dismantling the assistance which agriculture receives and is entitled to receive. The Minister for Primary Industry made his Government’s attitude clear when he spoke to the rural conference of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party at Healesville on 10 March. He said:
We don’t want the rural sector to become one vast sheltered region soaking up scarce public funds.
No one does. What that comment does is demonstrate the Labor Party’s historic antagonism towards the rural industry. It is interesting to note that the conference the Minister was addressing folded up after one day. Not enough people turned up to make up a quorum; so they gave it away and went home. Commenting on that after the Minister had addressed the conference the Assistant State Secretary of the Australian Labor Party, Mr Butler, said that no worth while rural policies bad been put forward at the conference. He said that the attendance was disgraceful.
The Labor Party’s record on rural finance also is disgraceful. The Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby), in a most effective confidence trick, talked during the last election campaign of making low interest finance available to farmers in massive amounts. He mentioned a sum of $500m at 3 per cent interest But the deception did not rest only in the words of the Minister for Immigration. The Labor Party’s official rural policy leaflet also spoke of long term low interest loans to farmers. In his policy speech the Prime Minister said that the ready availablitiy of long term low interest finance was fundamental to Labor’s policies. Yet all we have seen so far is the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday that the Development Bank legislation is to be amended.
Again let there be no doubt as to where the Country Party stands on this issue. I have said repeatedly in recent years that I believe that the term of a loan is far more important than the interest rate. I have urged primary producers to accept the view that they should strive to meet ruling market rates of interest for their normal borrowing operations. There was nothing in my policy speech about low interest rates other than for rural reconstruction purposes. There has been no deception by the Country Party. It has become clear now that the Minister for Immigration and the Government as a whole pulled a deliberate and shabby confidence trick on Australian farmers. In raising this matter of public importance I want to ask questions of the Government.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It has been-
– Order! The Minister for Immigration will address the Chair and he will do so only after I have called him. Does the Minister wish to raise a point of order?
– Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker. My point of order is this: If it is suggested by someone that an honourable member has done something deliberately which is defamatory the honourable member has the right under the Standing Orders to object. The Leader of the Australian Country Party has said that I deliberately performed a confidence trick. That is, of course, wrong and he knows it. It is also objectionable to me. Under the Standing Orders, I ask him to withdraw it.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, further to the point of order–
– Order! The Minister for Immigration will resume his seat. I am of opinion, from the way I heard the Leader of the Country Party, that he referred to the present Government.
– He mentioned my name.
– Order! I did not hear him mention your name. It was my opinion that he mentioned the present Government. If he mentioned your name I suggest he should withdraw that reference. But I did not hear him mention your name.
– It is a pity that my time has been deliberately taken up. I ask these final questions: Is the Government intent on imposing criteria of economic efficiency on rural industries that it is not prepared to impose, for political reasons, on other sectors of the economy? Is it not a fact that the Government is intent on a redistribution of resources and incomes away from the rural sector? Does the Government recognise that there is an economic case, on grounds of efficient use of national resources, for providing for rural industries some offset to the effect of industrial protections on costs, prices and wages, and consequently on the incomes of producers? Finally, is the Government prepared to regard the problems of rural industries as worthy of Government consideration and support in the same way and sense that it is concerned with the problems of people living in urban areas? In short, Australia’s primary producers want to know just where this Government stands. Until they know that they will not know where they, themselves, are going.
– Thismust be regarded as one of the shallowest, superficial and hypocritical discussion proposals to come before this Parliament. Just listen to the wording of the subject the Opposition asks us to discuss as a matter of public importance. It is:
The Government’s lack of concern for the longterm needs of rural industry and the uncertainty being created by the Government’s inability and unwillingness to make long-term decisions on rural industries.
In fact, the substance of this matter is the same as that of matters that I have proposed for discussion in this Parliament for the 7 years immediately before this new Govern’ ment was elected. I criticised and took to task the previous government for doing or failing to do exactly what the Opposition is attempting to allege we are doing or failing to do. Have honourable members ever heard such superficial nonsense? One of the main reasons why the previous government was finally turfed out of office was its pathetic lack of leadership with respect to long term planning. This was emphasised throughout every State in the nation. It was unable to make and incapable of making positive decisions. It thrived on ad hoc-ery and on short term political expediency. It refused to make positive decisions. In fact, this is one of the main reasons why the primary producers of Australia finally revoked and took part in protest marches in respect of the wheat industry, the wool industry and other industries. Finally the primary producers had had enough, as was demonstrated in the last election.
Let us have a look at some of the previous government’s performances in this field before it starts to throw stones. Let us look at the history of the wool industry for a start. If ever there was one industry that has been crying out for marketing reform it is the wool industry. What did the previous government do in this field? Its whole characteristic over the years was one of no action.
– Are you opposed to the Wool Commission?
– I have noticed a great change in the honourable member’s character since the previous government lost the election. He cannot accept the fact that he is in Opposition. In fact, 2 doctor’s on this side of the House–
– Order! I suggest that the Minister should address his remarks to the chair. I suggest that the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony) and the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) should show the Minister the same courtesy that the Leader of the Country Party was afforded while making his speech.
– The previous Government was so inactive that in 1964 the position had degenerated to the point where wool industry leaders in desperation wanted a price reserve scheme. I pay credit to a previous Minister for Primary Industry (Sir Charles Adermann) for being able to get that scheme through a hostile Cabinet. But what did the previous government do? It did not back him; it succumbed to the vested interests of the wool brokers, the rich and affluent represented by the honourable member for Wannon m this field, to stall a reserve price scheme. The vested interests finally won and no reserve price scheme was introduced. Yet the Leader of the Country Party talks about long term planning. No more action was taken in this field by the previous Government.
– You can no more tell the truth than jump over the moon.
– Will you shut up? We had an abortive, weak Government in respect to the wool industry. No more action was taken in this field at all until the industry itself took action. It organised protest marches. It made decisions in relation to price acquisition schemes to attempt to get the previous government do something in long term planning. The clouds on the horizon with respect to international action on polyesters, acrylics, nylons, all pointed to a downturn of wool prices. The warning was ignored by the Government and the crash finally came. In desperation the previous Government started to move, and - typical of its disregard of long term planning action - it took short term, politically expedient action.
A series of committees were set up to investigate in this field. The Crawford report, the Randall report and countless Australian Wool Industry Conference reports were brought down stressing the need for marketing reform in the wool industry. What action was taken? None. Again in desperation the previous Government finally succumbed to the interests of the wool industry in amalgamating the Wool Commission and the Wool Board - a move which should have been taken years ago. The previous Government refused an attempt by the then Opposition to establish a committee to report on wool acquisition. Such a report still has not been made. This Government wants to get such a report as quickly as possible so that it can act on it.
Let us deal with the wheat industry. If ever there has been an industry which has rebelled against the negative policies of the previous government it is this industry. A Labor Party government introduced an orderly marketing scheme and a wheat stabilisation scheme into this Parliament and the nation. But despite the warnings the previous government refused to act on the formula laid down until 1968. I give credit to the Leader of the Country Party for stopping an injustice to the taxpayers and consumers of Australia regarding the formula involved in these schemes. He altered the cost of production formula as it should have been altered years before and related it to increases in the actual cash movements in the index. However, on the other hand he perpetrated one of the most savage injustices with respect to the wheat stabilisation scheme. He abolished the one price scheme and, in effect, instead of having a weighted price per bushel of $1.51 he inserted 2 prices - $1.45 for export guarantee and $1.70 for home consumption price. Everybody knows that of all primary industries the one which has the most effect in the community on low income earners because of its relationship to the cost of bread is the wheat industry. The Leader of the Country Party put the burden on the low income earning consumers. This is completely unfair and it is one thing that the Labor Party will alter in the next wheat stabilisation scheme.
I turn now to the injustice with respect to the prices for surpluses for stock feed. On the one hand the Leader of the Country Party was saying that we must pay $1.70 or more for stock feed, yet on the other hand he allowed blackmarketing to become rife in New South Wales and Victoria. Finally he gave in to the then Opposition and an amendment to the Wheat Stabilisation Act was introduced which reduced the price of stock feed in a sensible fashion. Of course, the big crunch came through the deliberate foreign policies of the previous government. Due to insults by that Government it lost the wheat trade to China. Its involvement in Vietnam, the insults by its Ministers and its continuous disastrous foreign policies caused one of the greatest wheat trading nations of the world to put Australia at the bottom of its list and discriminate against us.
The subject of this discussion is long term planning. What has the Government done with respect to the wheat industry? Only 2 days ago I received a cable in the following terms in connection with the visit of the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) to China:
During special session with Minister Pai this morning Dr Cairns was asked to arrange for representatives of the Wheat Board and the Wool Corporation to visit Peking at the earliest possible opportunity for discussion and negotiation on long-term arrangements for wheat and wool.
Yet the Leader of the Australian Country Party had the audacity to say that the Government is not interested in long-term interests, long-term arrangements or long-term planning. The word ‘planning’ was a dirty word in the Liberal and Country parties for over 20 years. One has only to read some of the speeches of Sir Robert Menzies to illustrate that point of view.
Let us turn to the beef industry. One of the greatest problems in the beef industry, because it is a major export industry, is the threat of a boycott of our exports because of the prevalence of specialised diseases. For years the beef cattle industry in Australia tried to get the previous Government to introduce compensation schemes particularly in the field of tuberculosis reactors. Every time it was raised with that Government, the Government turned it down despite the pleas of the beef industry. If anybody knows, the Leader of the Country Party knows that the one thing that could wreck the beef industry would be the imposition by the United States of America and other major nations of restrictions on imports from a country in which there was a specified disease. What has the present Government done? One of the first things I did when I became a Minister was to talk to industry representatives and to put forward proposals to Cabinet in relation to compensation for tuberculosis reactors in every State in the Commonwealth. Cabinet agreed to those proposals. The Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) put forward a similar submission in relation to upgrading the amount of compensation for brucellosis. Yet the former Government talked about long-term planning. I have stated specific instances of the actual position.
In 1960 the then Government commissioned a top level committee of inquiry - the McCarthy Committee - to investigate the problems of the dairy industry. The Committee’s report was made available in that same year. It recommended long-term planning that the Government should follow. The report” was pigeonholed. It never saw the light of day again. People in the dairy industry are still fighting amongst themselves, as was characteristic of the 23 years of previous LiberalCountry Party governments.
In regard to long-term planning let me now deal with the Leader of the Country Party and what he did in the early 1970s when the most important European Economic Community negotiations with respect to developing Commonwealth countries and Australia were taking place. Where was the Minister at that time? He was here. He should have been in London at that time but that was the time of the overthrow of the Gorton Government - the coup by Mr McMahon. The Leader of the Country Party was not game to leave this country because of what might happen. The previous Leader of the Country Party had refused to serve under Mr McMahon as Prime Minister. But what happened when Mr McMahon became the Prime Minister? With a smile on his face, the Leader of the Country Party pledged full allegiance to him. He should have been in London with the leaders of New Zealand and of the other developing Commonwealth countries looking after our interests. We are still uncertain about the phasing out of our markets in the United Kingdom, Questions are still being asked in the House of Commons about this matter. The full Warne for the position must be taken by the Leader of the Country Party for not being in London and Brussels at that time.
I want to deal with another issue relating to long-term planning. This is something that might even shock the Leader of the Country Party. I refer to water conservation. It is one of the things which are needed in this country. Never have I been more hoodwinked than when the government changed hands . and I learned the truth about the previous Government’s investigations and progress in water conservation schemes. Let me deal with some of the schemes that happen to fall within my responsibility. In 1949 the right honourable Sir Arthur Fadden said about the Burdekin scheme:
We will not pigeonhole it for the future. We will build it.
Eighteen years later, in 1967, the Government through the then Minister for National Development, Mr Fairbairn, announced to the House that the Government would investigate the Burdekin scheme. Two years later, in 1969, no action had been taken. The Government then announced that it would have to wait until it had finished its benefit-cost evaluation analysis of the Urannah project. It sold a pup to the Burdekin people and to the Premier of Queensland.
When the new Federal Government came to office the first thing I did was call for the papers on the Urannah scheme. I found that the evaluation had not even started. What has happened over this 20-year period? Phase 2 of the Bundaberg scheme was supposed to start at the end of this year. I was under the impression and so was my honourable friend from Wide Bay (Mr Hanson) - I would not mind betting that some of the former Ministers were also under this impression - that the former Minister for National Development and the people who served under him had completed the analysis evaluation of the Bundaberg scheme so that a decision could be taken in Cabinet.
– That is wrong.
– It is right. There has been no economic evaluation made of phase 2 of the Bundaberg irrigation scheme. Now we have to go back and tell the people of Bundaberg that the previous Government did nothing but hoodwink them for the last 5 years. No evaluation analysis had been made. The same thing applies to the Eton irrigation scheme which happens to be in my electorate. It took 2 years for the previous Government to make a decision, and no evaluation analysis had been made.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
– The Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson) said that he had been hoodwinked by the previous Government. In fact he had been hoodwinked by his own Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) who had led him to believe that he might be Minister for Primary Industry. If we want to talk about the European Economic Community and the person who has done so much to damage Australia’s interests and negotiating strength with the EEC, we need only to read a recent speech of the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) which he gave to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris. In that speech he made it clear that he believed that Australian industries had been too much supported and that production had been too much expanded as a result. He implied that production would need to be cut but he did not specify the areas or industries that were concerned. This was telling the European Common Market countries in plain language that, when we come to knock upon the doors of the Market to get access for the commodities for which we now have no access, they can then say to us: ‘Just read Senator Wriedt’s speech. He has given you your answer*. He has thrown away the negotiating strength that Australia had which the previous Government had developed in arrangements of this kind.
The Minister for Northern Development spent some time talking about the past Government. If we wanted to talk about the past we could talk about the circumstances in which a former Minister for Agriculture, a Labor man - Reg Pollard - sold wheat on account of Australian wheat growers below the world price to help a Labor government in New Zealand b the early years after the war. But we are not concerned with the past. We are concerned with the present actions of the present Government. We need only to look at the danger in which the present Government is placing Australian primary industries by the careless and inconsiderate way in which both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) return from overseas on VIP flights. I do not object to their taking chartered Qantas aircraft or BAC-11 ls to the places they went, but I object very strongly to their returning to Australia and flouting the normal health and quarantine regulations of this country. If the health and quarantine departments and officers did not put the ruler over VIP flights in the same way as they ought to do with ordinary commercial flights, we will have the Australian Prime Minister bringing into this country foot and mouth disease or bluetongue, if he has not already introduced his own particular form of foot in mouth.
The Minister for Northern Development made one other completely false allegation concerning my attitude to a floor price plan in 1964. I want to set the record straight. In 1963 I prepared and published a paper which I delivered at a symposium on wool in Brisbane. It advocated an appraisal scheme for the marketing of the Australian clip. Much of what I then said I believe is still valid. In 1964 I voted for and spoke in favour of the reserve price scheme. One of the reasons why it might not have been supported was the fear of what a Labor Government would do if it got into power under the kind of arrangements that were then being pursued by the Australian Labor Party.
The Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) has done this country a service by bringing forward this matter of public importance. There is a lack of long term planning by the present Government. After 23 years and 6 months with all the advice in the world it does not know what it wants to do about wheat. The Minister for Primary Industry knew what he wanted to do about wheat, but the Minister for Northern Development organised behind his back a Caucus revolt against the Cabinet decision.
– I rise to a point of order. The allegation is a deliberate untruth and I ask for an unqualified withdrawal.
– I do not think that a point of order is involved.
– The honourable member said that 1 deliberately organised a revolt behind the Minister’s back. I did nothing of the sort.
– I do not think a point of order arises. I think it is a debating point, although I think it is an unfortunate point which I suggest the honourable member may be prepared to withdraw.
– I am prepared to withdraw the word ‘deliberately’ and just leave it that he organised behind the Minister’s back. As a result our wheat program was extended for a year and beyond that wheat growers do not know what will happen. Despite the great increase in levies upon the grower for research and promotion funds - there was no consultation in relation to that - and in spite of the great reduction in the Government’s contribution it is a one year plan and a one year plan only, making forward planning and forward arragements for promotion and research difficult to achieve. The Government has shown an inability to make decisions. The Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby), who I understand will follow me in this debate, led farmers in Australia to believe that the Government would provide - I use those words deliberately - $500m at 3 per cent. I know that he did not quite say that.
I know he hedged around the words, but he was deliberately establishing a situation in which every farmer believed that a Labor Government would provide $500m at 3 per cent, and I think that even he might have known at the time that he would never get his Caucus or the Prime Minister to support that proposal. That also is one of the reasons why he is not Minister for Primary Industry. Secondly, rural reconstruction funds have been cut by more than 50 per cent and attempts have been made to increase the rate of interest which only the activities of Premiers like Mr Hamer in Victoria were able to destroy and frustrate. So the interest rate was left where it was. But if it had been left to this Government the interest rate would have been increased.
From the point of view of primary industry organisations, one of the most serious aspects of the Government’s activities is that consultation with industry leaders is just out the door. The rules of the Launceston Conference govern the decisions and govern what must be done. The honourable member for Dawson, as he was known then, explained very precisely on ‘This Day Tonight’ what he thought of those Launceston Conference decisions and we are grateful to him for the explanation of what they meant, lt is a pity that more farmers did not understand what they meant; they are now beginning to do so, to their great regret.
There is no consultation, and this is typical of an arbitrary government that believes in a unitary government - one government alone, no division of power, all power in Canberra, no need to negotiate, no need to consult. This is what the Government believes in and this is what it wants. There were no discussions with the Australian Wool Industry Conference or with wool industry leaders on changing arrangements which ought to have been honoured by the present Government because before the election they were a firm commitment for the wool research and promotion funds. There has been no consultation in any meaningful sense on holding a referendum on the merino embargo, which no industry leader or organisation 1 know of wants. I think this will ensure a disturbing future for the primary industry organisations in having their voice heard.
We have seen the deception of the Government, the deception which was clouded by the Minister for Northern Development and the
Minister for Immigration before the election and deliberately so, in what has happened with revaluation compensation. On 28 December the Treasurer (Mr Crean) said that the present Government would follow the principles and practices of the previous Government. Later in January or early February the Minister for Primary Industry made it plain that this would not be so. For the fruit industry there would be some support but not much - Senator Wriedt comes from Tasmania - but for the dairy industry, the cotton industry, the wheat industry the sugar industry, the fishing industry and others, whose losses would total $200m or more in a year, there would be nothing. There was a complete renunciation of what the Treasurer said on 28 December, but he might not have understood the basis of the previous policy when he said it.
On 10 April the Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry (Dr J. F. Cairns) announced widespread revaluation compensation proposals for secondary industry. This shows the changed orientation of this Government. We wanted to get a copy of the report of the inter-departmental committee on revaluation compensation. We had thought that there would be open government. Some had even believed what the Prime Minister said he thought about these matters, but the answer came back in writing that this is a confidential document and cannot be seen. There are no defence or security implications in an inter-departmental committee report on revaluation compensation. There are no currency implications. But there would be the greatest possible embarrassment to this Government, which would be shown up by that report as having renounced every action of decency that it might have been expected to follow in this matter and that is why this report will not be made public. It is now a classified, secret document and we are not allowed to see what is in it.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– 12.35) - I am not sure what gave birth to this matter today. It certainly was not the conditions of the countryside. Of course it might have been the Victorian election, which indicated that the Australian Country Party vote in Wimmera, for example, was halved and that there was an increase in the Australian Labor Party vote in Dundas, Portland and Kara Kara. In fact, the rural vote for Labor in Victoria was up, so this perhaps is a signal that something should have been done by the present Opposition when it was in government. It is rather interesting that in relation to long term planning the Opposition could not even plan the speakers’ list. On the Opposition side the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) was to be followed by the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) but we had the interpolations of the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), who was not even on the list, and I have here a copy of the list.
– I rise on a point of order. The total misrepresentation of the Minister is evidenced by the fact that the 2 Labor members in the areas about which he was talking, Portland and Dundas, lost their seats.
-Order! If the honourable member for Wannon deliberately wastes the time of this House with facetious points of order again I will name him.
– It is difficult for the Parliament or the nation as a whole to take seriously this casually introduced matter of public importance referring to the present Government’s lack of concern for the countryside. It is surely a smokescreen introduced by the past Government, the present Opposition, to hide its years of failure which culminated in a rural recession that was in existence when we took over government on 2 December. The former Government actually reduced the Australian farmer to penury for the first time in a generation and, as I say, the countryside to a rural recession. The policies of the past Government, the present Opposition, caused that recession. Australia was the only country in the world that had the distinction of having a rural rcession when everyone else was moving ahead very nicely, thank you.
Let us just see what was the position when we took over. The previous Government had been preaching rationing, restrictions and reduced production. Its policies of cut back brought us to a whole series of crises. It rationed wheat production. Now the industry is rationing customers. The previous Government was so pre-occupied with cutting back that it brought us within a week of having to import butter. The past Government’s policy to protect the wool grower saw prices drop to 29c per lb for wool from parts of my electorate. What the former Government did was too little too late. It allowed bankruptcy, it allowed hardship and it did not even apologise for them. Let us have a little look at the help it gave. To whom in the main did it give help? It was to the banks and the brokers. The members of that Government are the people who have come forward with this matter of public importance today.
It is interesting to see what the previous Government did even for the fruit industry. Honourable members opposite were talking, with great indignation, about currency adjustments. There were 2 currency adjustments during the Prime Ministership of Mr McMahon. The adjustments resulted in a serious problem for the canned fruits industry. When we took over government we found that there was no Treasury allocation to meet those adjustments and in fact there was not even provision to discuss the actual provision of such finance. A discussion was not even listed. Nothing had been done at all. When one takes over the books one can look to see exactly what the position is.
Then, just to make sure that there was no industry that was not in trouble the previous Government imposed a wine tax - the height of stupidity. The result of this was to make sick an industry which was previously healthy. What happened to land values? They dropped to the lowest level in a whole generation. Land values were down. There was no rural credit because the taps of credit had been turned off. In New South Wales the rural reconstruction scheme was broke for months under the previous Government. It had no money. It was writing to people saying that it had no funds. Yet the Opposition says now - 5 months later: ‘Listen, all these problems of the past are really your fault.’ It is very interesting of course to have this sort of thing coming from members of the Country Party. The other day I got a copy of the Platform and Policy of the Australian Country Party. I notice that there are 2 or 3 interesting points in it and I think that they are very good. I will just read one or two of them. One reads:
For a period of not less than 10 years, payment of incentive guaranteed minimum prices to producers to ensure continuity of production.
That is excellent. It has been in the Country Party’s platform since 1949. This is another really good one:
The Commonwealth Bank to be free to enter into competition on a competitive basis with private banks in all banking business.
That has been there since 1949.
– It is like the rural bank.
– Yes, just like the rural bank. Another one reads:
No settler shall be asked to commence repayments to the Crown until the property could reasonably be expected to be in profitable production.
That is very good. It has been there since 1949. The copy of the platform which I have is dated 1949. What has happened? None of those things were honoured in any shape or form. I turn to some of the policy promises. This one is very interesting because it is one on which the Country Party came into power. It ‘says: ‘a pounds worth of purchases for every pound spent’ - rates of direct and indirect taxation steadily reduced. . . .
That promise was made when the Country Party first became part of the coalition government. What happened? The rate of inflation did not slow down and the rate of income taxation increased at all levels. That was an interesting one. There was another very interesting policy speech in which it was said that the cost of petrol is to be no more than 4c a gallon above the city price anywhere in Australia. That is an interesting point. Have honourable members opposite forgotten about that one? Perhaps they ought to have a look at it.
Let us see what the present Government has done in 5 months. We rescued the rural reconstruction scheme from bankruptcy. We offered $38m - not a small sum - with an additional offer on a dollar for dollar basis to the States if it were needed. Then we gave the wheat growers their first increase in 15 years in the first advance to $1.20. These champions opposite are a little bit late. Then we provided millions for isolated children, the most neglected children in the whole of Australia. They had been neglected for a whole generation. Honourable members opposite sat back and did nothing. What did we do? We found some millions for these children and they are getting help for the very first time. Then we abolished the iniquitous wine tax - the ultimate piece of stupidity by the dying Government as it was then.
As far as new lending facilities are concerned, my friend the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan) will deal with the Government’s record but we will shortly be announcing a new initiative on new lending facilities. We have had a dedication and we have had it for 50 years to provide long term low interest finance. I can remember on one famous occasion going with the leader of the Country Party to Condobolin to talk about the rural recession. I said that we had a commitment to long term low interest finance. I said that it was in our platform and that it was there for several purposes. It ranged from 3 per cent. I said that we could make it available as had been done by a New South Wales Labor government by government guarantee. I gave an example and 1 said that under that system there could be made available an amount of $500m at 3 per cent interest using a government guarantee and the only call on the Treasury would be for an amount of $15m to service the interest rate and to subsidise it. I think that is a very good example of what can be done. It is one of the things that we have been looking at.
In 5 months we have made considerable progress in establishing priorities for what must be done. I make no apology for giving examples of the sort of thing that can be done. In 5 months we have done many of the things that we set out to do. But there are other things that remain to be done. Going back to the platform and policies of honourable members opposite and also going back over their policy speeches, I say that if we cannot do better in the next 23 months than they did in 23 years of governing the countryside I for one will be bitterly disappointed and disillusioned. I think it is pretty obvious that the reason why this matter has been brought on for discussion is that there is a need to make a noise following an obvious trend. The trend is pretty definite. It is borne out by the divisions which exist which are pretty obvious. 1 cannot say that I blame the divisions for occurring because it is obvious that there are great disagreements among the gentlemen on the Opposition as to what they really should be doing in the future.
The Prime Minister made clear in his policy speech the commitments for immediate policy to which honourable members can refer. He made them loud and clear. They referred, among other things, to rural finance. All of the things which he set out to do he has put in train. If honourable members opposite are suggesting that we have not in fact implemented all of the promises in our platform in the first 5 months of the first new government for 23 years, of course the suggestion is correct. But to bring on for discussion this matter of public importance at this time is absurd and it is a waste of the time of the national Parliament.
– Of all people on the Government side of the chamber who should not be saying anything at the present time about creating uncertainty in rural industry it is the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) because he more than anybody else has caused the rural crisis because of the statements which he has made. If there is to be a discussion about actions taken by the previous Government which caused uncertainty let us see what was said previously by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) and the honourable member for Riverina who are now so great in defence of the wool growers. When the real crunch was on the wool growing industry in 1971 the honourable member for Dawson said:
The Australian Wool Commission has panicked because of its failure to bludgeon the wool market into accepting higher prices. Grave fears are now arising that the Commission’s activities could wreck the entire foundation of the wool industry.
The action taken by the previous Government saved the wool industry. If the present Government had been in office at that time it is obvious that it would have chickened out and the wool industry would now have been in ruins.
We should remember that the most damaging thing that has even been done to the fruit industry has just been done by this Government. If one wants to look for examples of infamy by a Labor government in selling growers short one does not have to look any more at the sale of wheat to New Zealand in 1949 at a price which was under half the international price.
One has only to look at the direction given by the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) to the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee less than a month ago in which the Minister stated that the Committee which sets the price for canning fruit in this country must reduce its price to growers by $10 a ton for this season. The price had been agreed upon by the industry in January 1973. It is now May 1973 and the Minister has deliberately said: ‘Reduce the price by $10 a ton’. This is a direct intervention by the Government to reduce the returns to the growers in this industry who are already suffering penury. At a time of rising prices there is intervention which has never been undertaken before by a government to reduce by 10 per cent the price to be paid to growers.
The whole position of the fruit industry indicates the uncertainty that is now in primary producers’ minds of contradictory statements - the difference between promise and performance - that have been made by this Government and the lavish promises that have been made by some of its supporters. I will give the House some examples. No industry received a higher promise than the fruit industry that, with a new government, the long term problems confronting the industry would be overcome. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) is reported in the Griffith ‘Times’ of 20 November as saying at Griffith when he was speaking during the general election campaign:
Mr Whitlam who took the stand as a leadup to Mr Grassby’s opening of his campaign for Riverina clarified many issues affecting the rural sector.
He declared that Labor when elected will make full payment to fruit growers for all fruit delivered within 2 weeks of being elected to Government.
Those growers are still waiting for the complete payment. What talk has there been since the Government came to power of the statement made in its ‘It’s Time’ booklet that long term stabilisation plans would be provided for the canning fruit industry? This was a promise which was made by the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) and one which would have been carried out if the previous Government had been returned. This is what any industry needs for certainty of planning for the future.
I refer now to the question of revaluation assistance. We are not talking about floating here and floating there, but about things that this Government has done. There have been 2 deliberate revaluations against the United States dollar since December totalling 18 per cent, the United States being our major competitor in fruit on world markets. When this assistance was finally announced it was not revaluation assistance and the terms of it were a radical departure, from anything this country had ever seen in the field of compensation. Instead of growers being paid for each ton of fruit produced the Government placed a limit of $1,500 on each grower. This completely overlooks the fact that there are high fixed costs in the production of fruit and that those costs will rise as production increases. We have here a complete departure from the, accepted principles which have been followed in recent times. The Government talks about what has been done in consultation with growers but one has only to remember that growers were not even consulted on this point.
To return to the real bombshell to the fruit industry in the announcement, that is, the instruction to canners to reduce their prices by $10 a ton. This was included in a Press release by the Minister for Primary Industry on 4 May. This carries with it 3 very serious and damaging implications to primary industry which add to their uncertainty for the future. Firstly, here is a Government which is prepared deliberately to reduce the price of a commodity to a farmer when that price has been agreed to by those people who have been appointed to set prices. Secondly, this move lets the Government off the hook on the question of revaluation because the statement indicates, as I understand from a letter that has been sent throughout the industry, that because of dropping prices, particularly if there is a good fruit season in northern Europe, the price for canned fruit will drop. Coupled with the fact that our currency has now risen so much following action by this Government, any claim for revaluation compensation by the industry will be rejected because the Government can say: ‘Here is the price. It is $10 a ton less than it should be, but there is no need to worry about this extra $10 because the canners have paid all that they are required to pay’. The Government forced the canners to reduce their price by $10 a ton. What sort of certainty for the future does that action provide not only for the fruit industry but also for other industries?
One of the ironies of the whole business is that with the revaluation assistance pegged at $1,500 per grower, cutting out at a maximum production of 125 tons of fruit per grower, the Government is giving with one hand and taking away with the other. The average fruit grower in the Goulburn Valley produces more than that amount and the Goulburn Valley produces 70 per cent of Australia’s canned fruit so do not let us get carried away with other areas. The Government is saying on the one hand: ‘Here is $1,500 because our revaluation policy has hurt you’, but is saying on the other hand: We intend to cut the price paid to you by $10 a ton’. The average grower will lose money because of that, and he will receive no assistance from the Government. In fact, he will be penalised. The third point arising from the Government’s announcement was the means test applied to the tree pull scheme. There was a lot of talk about this when the present Government was in Opposition. The present Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby), the honourable member for Riverina, is reported as follows in the Griffith Area News’ of 1 6 October:
The tree pull scheme is inadequate and hopeless if a means test is applied and State debts deducted from any compensation moneys,’ Mr Grassby declared.
We will insist that the means test be deleted and that if money is to be made available it should be for the grower to decide what to do with it.’
Since this Government came to power there has been a meeting of the Ministers involved with this scheme. No change has taken place in respect of that industry reconstruction scheme. In the meantime many fruit growers were lulled into the false belief that things would be changed if a new government came to power. They kept on growing fruit and are consequently now in a worse position.
What about the dairying industry? There is complete uncertainty in the dairying industry because of statements made by the Minister for Primary Industry about what he might do, what he might impose on the industry. We have the new season starting on 1 July but there has been no statement by the Minister on what the policy will be. I sincerely hope that the Government will provide some certainty by allowing the situation which was set up by the previous Government and in view of the good markets available at the present time, to continue without restriction. I hope also that the $27m guarantee across the board will continue with none of these new dangerous ideas which have been introduced into the fruit industry. What of margarine quotas? In the statement made after the Australian Agricultural Council meeting on 6 February the Minister for Primary Industry said:
A separate quota for the Australian Capital Territory was discussed and this matter will be raised again at the next meeting of the Council in July.
I emphasise ‘in July’. Yet here we have, in May, the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Enderby) setting up his own private little monopoly for margarine in the Australian Capital Territory in the form of a company, Marrickville Margarine Pty Ltd, which was widely rumoured to have financed the midyear campaign of the Labor Party prior to the 1969 election. One could go on for hours dealing with uncertainties that have been created whether by way of threats to the meat industry, protection commissions, demolition squads, taxation concessions, further revaluations by the Government or producer membership on marketing boards. The real crunch of uncertainty lies in what this Government will do about stabilisation in wheat, dairying, wool marketing and fruit. There is complete confusion and uncertainty among producers because of different statements by different Ministers who have no real knowledge or empathy of the great rural industries of Australia.
– Let us go back to 2 November to put this debate in context. On 2 November there was the following headline in the ‘Daily Telegraph’: Minister and PM Disagree’. What Minister? It was the then Minister for Primary Industry. The former Prime Minister and former Minister for Primary Industry disagreed on one essentia] thing - rural credit. As the former Minister for Primary Industry correctly said, it is essential for farmers to receive long term credit because of the difficulties of marketing and the changing character of development of farms. Even though the $65m - a wonderful figure - grant from the farm development loan fund is a good start, it is only the beginning and it is not enough to establish a rural bank. In the ‘West Australian’ newspaper on the same day the following appeared:
The Prime Minister, Mr McMahon, said tonight that the Government had not yet completed consideration of the many complex issues involved in a rural bank.
The honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) is quoted as saying that he was disappointed. The article continued:
The decision is a setback for the Country Party, which has been pressing for the establishment of a rural bank since the Treasurer, Mr Snedden, announced in the Budget that $20m would be allocated for long-term rural loans.
The facts are that we entered the election campaign with not a farmer knowing whether there was to be a rural credit scheme. The decision making process in the previous Government was that the Country Party proposed and the Liberal Party disposed. This applied not only to the question of rural credit.
Let us go back to the debate on the reserve price scheme. Who was the vigorous opponent then? It was none other than the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon), who later became Prime Minister. Who were the supporters - luke warm I admit - on the election platform? None other than the Country
Party. At that time the Minister for Primary Industry was Sir Charles Adermann. Now this decision making process is being held before this Government as a worthy ideal for it to follow. Let us look very carefully at what has happened. The reason that this matter of definite public importance has been raised today is that in the Victorian electorate of Dundas the Australian Labor Party first preference vote increased in the recent Victorian election. We lost that seat because the Country Party in one of a series of desperate moves in the previous election had given its preferences to the Labor Party. However, in this election the Country Party withdrew those preferences from the Labor Party and witnessed the spectacle of its total vote being reduced considerably. That is the motiviation of the Country Party in bringing this matter on for discussion today. The fact is that this Government has announced explicitly to many farmer organisations - I have spoken to some ten or twelve of them - that agricultural policy is now undergoing review. This Government refuses to initiate action impulsively. It requests, and in fact insists, that this long term planning in which we are now involved, must be firmly based but the industry must understand what is being done.
Sitting suspended from 1 till 2.15 p.m.
– The Opposition parties have created a fiction in regard to the way this Government works. We find the Opposition parties more readily accepting their own fiction because their own governmental mechanism was very strongly dictated by the whims of whoever happened to be the Prime Minister at the time. The facts are that the mechanism used by this Government to arrive at decisions involves the back benchers in a considerably more intimate way than was true for the Opposition parties when they were in government. This Government has as a mechanism 3 decision making areas in this process. The first consists of the Caucus committees. In regard to the present debate, the Government’s primary industry committee is the relevant one. We also have Cabinet and Caucus. By the time the decisions have been through these 3 areas, they have been subjected to very close examination and we can be sure that the policy that evolves from this mechanism is very soundly based.
In particular, the primary industry committee, as are most of these committees, is taken extremely seriously by the Ministers involved. On the primary industry committee we have not only the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) but also the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson) and this shows the falsity in what was claimed by the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) earlier today in this House. The honourable member for Wannon has done nothing but display his own ignorance and complete neglect of the facts of the situation. The committee that makes these decisions has as its full members the Minister for Primary Industry and the Minister for Northern Development. How could the Minister for Northern Development go behind the back of the Minister for Primary Industry when they are members of the very same committee that makes the decision? It is absurd to make this claim.
The members of the Opposition are deluding themselves in perpetuating their fiction of what they believe happens. They have failed to see that the electorate has long since failed to believe the fictitious images that the Opposition raises as a spectre in connection with the Government Party. The primary industry committee, of which I am secretary, has made itself available to all industry groups in the agricultural sector. These groups have displayed a great willingness to speak to the committee. Not only that, but they have also commended the attitude of this Government for its willingness to wait for one year to collect the information and the views of these primary industry groups before it enters into any important policy decisions. The Government subjects these matters to a great deal of consideration and, in fact, we find that the agricultural interest groups have far more interlligence and rationality than the Australian Country Party has traditionally given them credit for possessing. These groups recognise that their policy must be based on a rational and sensible ground.
When this Government took office, it found as I have already illustrated, complete confusion as to what the Opposition’s position was in regard to rural credit. Not one elector could tell honourable members what the now Opposition intended to do after the great dispute between the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony), the Prime Minister of the day and the then Minister for Primary Industry. Absolute confusion was the keynote of the previous Government on rural credit policies. We found a complete absence of any long term drought relief program which would mitigate against the serious effects of drought and other climatic factors. We found absolutely no protection for market price variations. We found the apple and pear industry in complete chaos. We found that land speculation was so rife as a result of the economic policies of the previous Government that the rating systems in the country had created an impossible cost for the agriculturalists. We found them paying rates that were more equivalent to rents and the very basis for these phenomena was that the previous Government had permitted land speculation to occur unchecked.
But we look not only to rural finance and the wool reserve price plan to find this dichotomy of opinion between the Liberal and the Country Parties in the previous Government; also, the Country Party wanted to recognise China, while the Liberal Party did not. Public statements were made by the respective leaders of those 2 parties which illustrated a complete disagreement on that point of policy. In this debate one can see the reflection of this confusion between these 2 factions of the previous coalition Government. Yet the Opposition has the audacity today to hold before this Government - a government which is 5 months old and which already has established its reputation as being sensible and soundly based among the agricultural groups - an illustration of the way in which it made decisions for the rural sector when it was in government. I know that the electors in the country will not accept this but will turn down the confusion that that coalition Government represented. Fundamentally, that is why this matter has been raised as being one of public importance.
I mentioned earlier the vote in the Victorian electorate of Dundas in last Saturday’s State elections. The facts are that in the rural areas of Victoria, the Australian Labor Party vote increased last Saturday. The vote for Labor in Dundas, Portland and Kara Kara was higher than for the previous State election. The Country Party vote in Wimmera was half of the vote it received at the previous election. The only solid result to emerge from that election in Victoria is that the Country Party and the Democratic Labor Parity are a dying race. Let us consummate their marriage quickly and see them exported from this country as quickly as possible.
– I was extremely interested to hear the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan) talk about what he saw as the 2 elements which had suffered from last Saturday’s election result in Victoria. I would have thought that it was one of the most devasting defeats ever handed out to the Australian Labor Party, particularly when a Federal result was obtained only a matter of a few months earlier.
– We received the same number of votes as you did.
– It is no use the honourable member protesting. Honourable members opposite can protest as much as they like; that is the key point of the Victorian election. How silly it is of honourable members opposite to bring the Victorian election forth as a red herring to try to divert attention from the argument when we, the Opposition parties on this side of the Parliament, have introduced today a very serious matter for the notice of the nation. For the edification of members on the Government side I will read the terms of the matter of public importance. The discussion of a matter of public importance was introduced by the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) and states:
The Government’s lack of concern for the longterm needs of rural industry and the uncertainty being created by the Government’s inability and unwillingness to make long-term decisions on rural industries.
That is the issue, not all the other issues that have been propounded before the House today. The issue is the uncertainty due to the lack of long term decision on the part of the Government since it has been the Government of this nation. There are those on this side of the House who feel that, as a result of this matter having been raised, we can begin to inject a bit of decision making into the Government on so many of the issues that now are causing uncertainties in every rural sector in Australia today.
Let us touch on one or two of these issues, because this is the point of the exercise. It has nothing to do with what happened in the last Government or 3 decades ago or what Bob Menzies thought of some woe-begone situation. The element that has been introduced today by the raising of this matter of public importance should be, but has not been, confined to those areas. The areas to which I refer are quite distinct and I hope to elaborate on them as I develop my speech.
Before I do so, however, might I take a bit of a side swipe at the honourable member for Eden-Monaro who professed to be the Secretary of the Australian Labor Party’s primary industry committee. I think we on this side could all say: ‘Jolly good luck to you’. He has the job in front of him. As far as I am aware - I stand to be corrected on this matter - not one member of the entire Government has ever owned his own farm and tried to produce wool, meat, tobacco or whatever it might be. I have no doubt that the meetings of this committee are interesting and educational to people who try to instruct its members on some of the basic problems that affect people on the land today. So, I wish the honourable member for Eden-Monaro good luck and I hope he succeeds in getting members of the committee down to earth every now and again. I say this in spite of the example that is so close to the memory of all of us when the Minister for Nothern Development who is at the table had to draw attention to the complete disunity and, might 1 say, stupidity of certain resolutions moved in Tasmania to the complete disadvantage of the future of agriculture in this nation.
In order to demonstrate the Government’s unwillingness to make long term decisions I could instance a variety of matters most of which have been fully debated already today. However, one matter that has upset the people in my electorate more than any other concerns the reduction in Commonwealth funds for various purposes - more or less for all rural industries across the board. The provision of country telephones is one matter that a colleague of mine has raised on occasions but the only substantial answer the Government has given is that it would be cheaper for the Government to take over farms in isolated areas than to establish telephone connections. I do not know whether that is right as an economic exercise but this is one cause for discontent in rural areas. Government supporters may think it quaint that people living in outlying areas should feel that they have a right to some of the facilities available to their city brethren. The Government sees no chance of such telephone connections as a realistic proposition. In fact the only reply given to serious questions is the facetious comment that it would be cheaper for the Government to take over farms than to supply them with telephones. Another matter for concern is wheat stabilisa tion which I shall discuss at greater length soon. There is grave uncertainty in the dairying industry. I wish I had time to discuss this topic properly. The honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) drew attention to the implications of the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee whose operations affect the price of canned fruit if sugar rebates are granted. Instructions have been given to lower prices to the growers of commodities for fruit canning. So the list goes on.
Adverting to the wheat industry, it is well known that every 5 years the wheat stabilisation plan comes up for renewal. In 1968 the Australian Agricultural Council knew that the plan will come up for review in 1973. The Standing Committee on Agriculture, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics and officers of the Department of Primary Industry are aware of this fact, as is the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation. The Australian Labor Party would have known since 1968 that the plan was due for renewal in 1973. Why is it now suggested that the Government needs more time to examine this question? I believe that this is a valid question. Everybody has had any amount of time to assess the implications of a stabilisation plan. Only one implication strikes the growers in my electorate and that is that the Government means to undo drastically the sort of plan that the industry has been used to in the past. That is the only clear implication to be drawn from the present situation, yet Government supporters ask why we say that there is uncertainty. There is a ton of uncertainty and the wheat stabilisation plan is only one example. lt may be valid to ask whether the Government has taken this step of proposing only a year’s planning because of the possibility of an election. I do not know the answer. Is it because the Government is incompetent? I should not have thought so. Certainly 1 do not regard officers of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics and of the Department of Primary Industry as incompetent. Is the present situation causing uncertainty? Undoubtedly it is causing grave uncertainty.
What are the elements of the wheat stabilisation scheme? The most important element is the export area where a guaranteed price is to be offered for 200 million bushels. The legislation recently passed by this House increases the guaranteed price by 3c a bushel but this will not cover the depreciating value of the dollar during the next harvest period. The Minister for Primary Industry (Senator
Wriedt) consistently claims the current scheme to be ‘open ended’. One end is closed in that the area of export is defined. The agreed price also is defined. I would suggest that the home market is defined because it is easily discernible and its requirements easily projected. If one examines any dictionary definition of ‘open ended’ one has doubts - certainly I do - whether the wheat stabilisation scheme could be referred to as open ended. By any equation of the elements involved, I would say that it is closed. Why then does the Minister insist that it is an open ended scheme? This is one cause of uncertainty in the industry. It is typical of the uncertainty that is rife in the rural population today. We are not debating legislation related to wheat now so perhaps I should restrict my remarks on wheat stabilisation to what I have said.
Let us examine the dairying industry. Has the Government given any assurances to the dairying industry? The clear answer is that it has not. People in my electorate who are engaged in dairying pursuits - indeed, in a part time way I am a dairyman - do not know whether to go ahead with capital investment in this industry. This attitude is mirrored in the fruit industry, in the apple industry and in rural reconstruction where there are grave doubts about the Government’s intentions. So long as uninformed caucus members dictate to those who bring forward ideas of some merit-
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. I remind the honourable member for Angas that once the Chair announces that an honourable member’s time has expired no further words of his will be included in the Hansard report.
– If ever proof were necessary, and 1 doubt that it is, the matter of public importance introduced by the Opposition today and the speeches that Opposition members have made during this debate show conclusively that the Opposition is as barren of ideas in Opposition as it was when in Government. Certainly the remarks of the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) were no exception to the rule. The wording of the proposition follows almost exactly the same lines which the present Government used while in Opposition in condemnation of those people who are now in Opposition. But of course we had very sound grounds for expressing our lack of confidence in the previous Government whereas the present Opposition has no grounds at all and speeches of Opposition members have proved pretty conclusively that this is so. In fact, all that has come out of this debate from the Opposition side is a clear certainty that what is really worrying Opposition members is not the welfare of the rural industry and the people engaged in it, but the fact that the Government by its well planned, sympathetic and realistic policy on rural matters will further weaken the chances of the Opposition Parties of holding the seats that they now hold.
It is quite ridiculous, indeed dishonest, for the Opposition to suggest that the Government lacks concern for the needs of rural industry. The Government’s policy in that regard is quite clear and was made clear to the public prior the last election. The fact that the Government won so many additional seats, sufficient to become the Government, makes it abundantly clear that most people in country areas as well as in the cities saw the Government’s policy on rural matters as being much better and more positive than the policy - if it could be called such - of the Liberal-Country Parties. If the Opposition is foolish enough to believe it has the support of people in rural areas it should ask itself why it was that it lost seats in the last election, why it was that its representation declined in rural areas and why it was that it did not receive a greater number of votes from those particular people. The simple fact is that not only was it because of its lack of definite policy but also because of its failure to come to grips with the problems of rural industry that its stocks were so low and continue to be low at present.
The Opposition, while in Government, was notorious for its patching up scheme and for introducing measures which could never be the answer to the problems and could never have any long term effect of a beneficial nature. Despite its failure - I believe the correct term would be its neglect - to come to grips with long term requirements the Opposition now has the unbelievable audacity to try to condemn the present Government which has been in office for only 6 months for things which the Opposition failed to do, when in government, over a period of 23 years. Of course, it was not only in the field of rural matters that the previous Government failed. It failed in so many other areas as well - social services, repatriation, health, education, arbitration, housing and others too numerous to mention. The present Government has been faced with the task of correcting all of those faults or as many of them as possible as quickly as possible.
While members of the Opposition cry out about delays in implementing our policy, it would be well for them to remember that for over 23 years they failed to honour a promise that they made in 1949 in relation to the means test. The present Labor Government has already or is now well in the process of remedying many of the matters left undone by the previous Government, matters which in many cases caused financial and mental suffering to the people concerned. Let me point out that in the majority of cases people who live in rural areas suffered the most. But despite the concern of these people the previous Government did very little except in a patchwork way to improve their conditions.
Let me refer for a moment to the problems and anxiety besetting so many parents in the far flung and isolated areas in regard to education. Many parents on rural or pastoral properties are faced with the high cost of transport, boarding fees and so on in providing their children with a proper education. They received no sympathetic or realistic action or even thoughts from the previous Government. Those problems are not just of recent origin. They had existed for many years. It was not until the present Government came into office that those parents and their children received any proper consideration. Let me inform members of the Opposition who do not already know it that these people are extremely grateful for the quick action that the present Government took. As I said earlier, the same situation applies to social services, repatriation and so on. Surely the Opposition realises that people in country areas just as elsewhere require much better treatment than they received at the hands of the previous Government. Many people are very pleased with the quick action that the present Government has taken on their behalf in those fields.
One of the long term benefits which should have been brought about long ago and which the Labor Party will provide for the rural industry is a statutory marketing authority to acquire and/ or market the Australian wool clip. Members of the Opposition who are trying to accuse us of any delay in that respect would do well to remember that we have been prevented from acting as quickly as we would like because of their actions when in Government. The fact is that while the Australian Wool Commission Bill was being debated in this House the Labor Party moved an amendment to provide that the Australian Wool Corporation should report to Parliament within 3 months on a comprehensive wool acquisition plan. We wanted the plan to become available as quickly as possible. The wool industry wanted the plan as did the majority of wool growers. Had our amendment been carried we would have had that plan before us long before now. But what happened? The Liberal-Country Party coalition Government of the time rejected our amendment out of hand and as a result the Australian Wool Corporation had no direction from Parliament or from the Minister then in office to produce such a plan. We still do not have the benefit of a plan.
Surely it must have been obvious to all those associated with the wool industry that the previous Government really was not concerned with trying to solve the problems of wool growers, even though so many of those growers were in real financial difficulties and were desperate to see something done to give them a reasonable chance of survival. The fact is, of course, that it has been a Labor Government which has given the rural industry the only stability that can really be claimed. It was Labor which introduced the wheat stabilisation plan. Whilst I do not wish to open up old sores or arguments amongst the Opposition parties, it is as well nevertheless to remember that when Mr Pollard, the then Labor Minister responsible for primary industry, introduced the wheat stabilisation plan it was bitterly opposed by the spokesman of the Country Party on the grounds that it was a socialist plot. The spokesman said that this was the first step towards socialising the wheat industry. When the Country Party adopts that attitude in these sorts of things, is it any wonder that the rural industry is looking somewhere else for assistance?
The Joint Organisation plan was also introduced by Labor and like so many other measures introduced by a Labor government it proved to be very beneficial to primary producers. Our performances in government during earlier years have proved surely our concern for the people in the industry. The present Opposition is well aware of our concern, desire and intention to overcome the many problems of the rural industry, and it is worried in the knowledge that we have the support of most of the people affected. Surely one of Australia’s problems has been to find markets for wheat. This is one of the things required to allow wheat growers to sell and produce enough wheat to give them a good living and also to meet their payments and problems But what has happened? The previous Government by its action in refusing to recognise Red China in a political way denied us the opportunity of selling additional wheal to China and this, of course, is to its everlasting discredit. The fact is that the previous Government had no long term realistic policy in the general field of primary industry and its unconcern caught up with it at the last election. This move today therefore is simply one of desperation.
-Order! The honourable members time has expired. The discussion is now concluded.
Bill presented by Mr Crean, and read a first time.
– 1 move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill proposes amendments to the appeals provisions of the income tax law to transfer to the State Supreme Courts the jurisdiction of single justices of the High Court in income tax appeals. This is intended as an interim measure pending the establishment of the proposed Superior Court. There is a pressing need to relieve the High Court, so far as possible, of the single justice work. Some of this work derives directly from the Constitution and cannot be removed from the jurisdiction of the High Court. Other parts of that jurisdiction derive from Commonwealth statutes and may be removed by amendment of the statutes. By far the greater volume of work presented in the single justice jurisdiction of the High Court consists of income tax appeals, either appeals brought directly from a Commissioner’s decision or from a decision of a board of review.
Under the Income Tax Assessment Act a taxpayer, if dissatisfied with a decision of the
Commissioner, may request a reference of the matter to a board of review or to the High Court or to the Supreme Court of a State as an appeal. It is proposed that in future a taxpayer’s choice will lie between a board of review and a single Judge of a State Supreme Court. Similarly, where the present law allows the Commissioner or a taxpayer to appeal to the High Court from a decision of a board of review involving a question of law, it is proposed that the right of appeal shall lie to a single Judge of a State Supreme Court. References by a board of review to the High Court on a question of law arising before the board will, in future be to a single Judge of a State Supreme Court.
The amendments provide that where a taxpayer has gone to a board of review and on appeal to a State Supreme Court, or where a board has referred a question of law to a Supreme Court, the matter may, with the leave of the High Court, be taken on appeal to the Full High Court. Where a taxpayer requests the Commissioner to treat his objection as an appeal and the matter is, under the proposed amendments, decided by a State Supreme Court the present law gives the taxpayer or the Commissioner the right of appeal - without leave - to the High Court in its appelate jurisdiction. This will remain unchanged. The amendments also provide for certain procedural and transitional arrangements. Principally, these will permit the High Court to remit to a Supreme Court any of the single justice income tax matters which have come to it under the present law. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Malcolm Fraser) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Crean, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to improve the retirement schemes provided under the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances and Judges Pensions Acts. The changes to the parliamentary scheme were foreshadowed by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) when introducing the Remuneration and Allowances Bill on 28
March 1973. At present the parliamentary scheme provides for a retiring allowance on involuntary retirement at the rate of 50 per cent of the parliamentary allowance provided 8 years or more service has been completed. The Government has concluded that this should be changed so that recognition will be given to length of service. Accordingly, the Bill provides for a retiring allowance of 50 per cent of the parliamentary allowance on involuntary retirement after 8 years service increasing with each additional completed year of service to a maximum of 75 per cent after 20 years. The 3 occasions rule will continue to apply and the retiring allowances, including those now payable, will be maintained at the level of the entitlements of serving members. The contribution rate will remain at Hi per cent of the parliamentary allowance.
The Bill removes the existing minimum age 40 qualification for retiring allowance on involuntary retirement and raises the minimum age qualification for retiring allowance on voluntary retirement from 40 to 45 years, the age at which members at present qualify for the basic 50 per cent retiring allowance on retirement at age 45 if they have completed the necessary period of service. The qualifying period of 12 years service when retirement is voluntary is retained. The rights of present serving members are protected where they are superior to those provided in the Bill.
The Bill makes provision for recognition of a member’s service in a State House before entering the Australian Parliament. Where the member established entitlement to a State parliamentary retiring allowance his service in the State Parliament will be taken into account in determining the level of his entitlement, which will then be reduced by the retiring allowance received from the State. Where the member received from the State only a refund of his contributions he will, if he so desires, be able to pay the refund to consolidated revenue and have his State service recognised for entitlement purposes. As well, members entering the scheme will be permitted to pay in moneys available from previous employment in the form of preserved SUPperannuation benefits, that is, lump sum benefits including an employer element. These payments will purchase notional ‘past’ service and enable a member to become entitled to a retiring allowance at an earlier date or at a higher rate than would otherwise be the case.
There will also be special arrangements for members who have life assurance policies of the federated superannuation system for universities type. These preservation arrangements will operate retrospectively from 1 January 1970, the operative date of the preservation provisions in the superannuation and defence forces retirement benefits schemes.
The Bill removes those provisions of the Act that require the reduction of retiring allowance where the person in receipt of the retiring allowance is receiving remuneration as the holder of an office under, or from employment by, the Commonwealth or a State or an authority of the Commonwealth or a State. This change will bring the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Act into line with the superannuation and the defence forces retirement benefits Acts from which corresponding re-employment provisions were removed in 1965. The provisions requiring reduction of retiring allowance if the recipient receives salary or pension as a member or former member of a State Parliament or as a State Minister, or cancellation of retiring allowance if he is re-elected to the Commonwealth Parliament, are, however, retained.
Another important change relates to retirement from the Parliament because of ill-health before the completion of 8 years service. At present a member receives in such circumstances a refund of his contributions plus a Commonwealth supplement, the normal benefit payable to a member who has not qualified for a retiring allowance. The Bill provides for a member who retires because of ill-health before completing 8 years service to receive a retiring allowance at the 8 years level provided that, on becoming a member, he furnished a medical certificate to the effect that he was not likely to be rendered incapable of performing his duties within a period of 8 years. Present members who have not yet completed 8 years service will need to furnish a certificate for the balance of the 8 years only.
The widow of . a serving or retired member will receive an annuity of five-sixths of the rate of the retiring allowance that was or would have been payable to the deceased. This is the level that generally applies now. Where the serving member did not complete 8 years service before his death he will be deemed to have completed 8 years service for the purpose of the widow’s annuity. As at present the widow will have the option of receiving, instead of an annuity, a lump sum benefit. The widow of a marriage contracted after the member’s retirement at present receives no benefit. The Bill provides for a widow’s benefit to be payable where the marriage was contracted before the former member attained age 60 or at least 5 years before his death. Provision is also made for benefits to be payable to widowers of serving and retired female members on the same basis as widows of serving and retired male members.
The Bill also provides for the ministerial retiring allowances scheme to be abolished. Ministerial retiring allowances presently being paid will, however, continue and existing contributors and former contributors still serving in the Parliament who have qualified for a ministerial retiring allowance will receive on their retirement from the Parliament the retiring allowances for which they have qualified at the date of commencement of the legislation. Those not so qualified will receive an immediate refund of their contributions.
Consistent with what is to be done with the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund as recommended by the Joint Select Committee on Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Legislation, the Bill provides for the assets of the parliamentary and ministerial retiring allowances funds to be transferred to the Commonwealth. The cost of benefits will be met in future from Consolidated Revenue into which members’ contributions will be paid.
I turn now to judges’ pensions. The Bill provides for the rate of pension payable to a judge on his retirement after reaching age 60 and having completed 10 years of judicial service to be increased from 50 to 60 per cent of salary. The rate payable on retirement because of ill-health is also increased to 60 per cent of salary.’ In choosing a rate of 60 per cent of salary instead of the maximum of 75 per cent proposed for the parliamentary scheme the Government took into account that judges’ pensions are non-contributory.
In line with what is proposed for the parliamentary scheme, pensions, including those now payable, will be maintained at the level of the entitlements of serving judges. The Bill also contains provisions in relation to postretirement marriages and widowers similar to those proposed for the parliamentary scheme. The rate of pension payable to a widow or widower will remain at five-eighths of the judge’s pension. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Malcolm Fraser) adjourned.
Bill presented by Dr Patterson, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to seek the approval of the Parliament for conversion to metric measure of the definitions of a ‘winery’ and a distillery’ for the purpose of the requisition of a poll and voting, under the Wine Overseas Marketing Act 1929-1966. Any such poll would relate to the question of whether the Act - and so the Australian Wine Board - should continue in operation. Provision for such a poll has been included in the Act since its inception. The amendment proposed in the Bill has been introduced simply to accord with the wine industry’s progress in metric conversion. The intention of the present provision in the Act would not be altered.
The change now proposed is simply to substitute the nearest rational metric quantity, 25 tonnes, for the imperial system quantity, 25 tons, of annual grape intake which at present determines whether an establishment is a winery or a distillery for the purpose of this Act. In a Bill, which I have just introduced, to convert to metric measure certain references in the Wine Grapes Charges Act, a different quantity of annual grape intake determines a winery or distillery. The 10 tons currently specified in that Act is amended to 10 tonnes. This difference between the definitions in the 2 Acts has existed for many years. The lower qualification in the Wine Grapes Charges Act is intended to spread as widely as possible the burden of financing the Australian Wine Board. 1 commend the Bill.
Debate (on motion by Mr Bonnett) adjourned.
Bill presented by Dr Patterson, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to seek the approval of the Parliament for conversion to metric measure of the definitions of a ‘winery’ and a distillery’, and for conversion into metric measure of the maximum rates of charges applicable to the grape intake of such establishments, under the Wine Grapes Charges Act 1929-1969. This Government has accepted that Australia should convert to use of the metric system as the system of measurement of physical quantities.
Some Australian industries have already converted to metric measurement, and many others are well-advanced in their conversion programs. The wine industry is well to the forefront in this sphere and I understand that operations at all wine processing establishments are expected to be converted by 1 July next to measurement by the metric system. The present Bill provides for amendment of the Wine Grapes Charges Act 1929-1969 in the ways necessary to give effect to metric conversion. One change now proposed is to substitute the nearest rational metric quantity, 10 tonnes, for the imperial system quantity, 10 tons, of annual grape intake which now determines whether an establishment is a winery or distillery for the purpose of making charges under this Act.
A second proposed change provides that the maximum rates of charge which may be applied will be converted from $2.50 per ton of fresh grapes and $7.50 per ton of dried grapes to the same amounts per tonne. This change also substitutes the nearest rational metric quantity, the tonne, for the imperial unit, the ton, on which these charges are based. I may add that the use of the tonne as the basic unit in this case results in a small increase of about H per cent in the maximum rates of charges. Funds raised under the Wine Grapes Charges Act provide virtually the whole income of the Australian Wine Board, which is responsible, inter alia, for controlling and promoting the export of Australian wine. I commend the Bill.
Debate (on motion by Mr Bonnett) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Charles Jones, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time. This Bill seeks the approval of the Parliament to an agreement between the Commonwealth and the State of Tasmania, embodying arrangements for a Commonwealth contribution of $1.355m towards the cost of construction of a seaport at Grassy, King Island. The Bill also seeks the necessary authorisation of expenditure for the purposes of the Agreement. The proposed assistance for this project was agreed by the former Prime Minister in March 1972 and an offer made to the Tasmanian Premier of the day. Following the change in the Tasmanian Government in April 1972, the new Premier reiterated his State’s acceptance of the Commonwealth offer.
The proposed port, situated at Little Grassy Bay on the south-east coast of King Island, is being developed as an alternative to the existing port of Currie. Over the years, shipping operators have found difficulty in providing a reliable, economic service to King Island owing to the hazards of entering or leaving the port of Currie in bad weather. There are also severe restrictions on the size of vessels able to use that port. Development of a more sheltered port at Grassy will enable larger vessels to operate on a more regular basis. The Commonwealth has had a special interest in King Island since the war service land settlement scheme was established on the Island in conjunction with the Tasmanian Government. From 1963 until April last year the Australian Government provided financial assistance towards the shipping service linking the Island with the Australian mainland.
Work on the port at Little Grassy Bay is nearing completion. Peko Wallsend Ltd, the parent company of King Island Scheelite Ltd, which operates a scheelite mine close to the port site, is acting on behalf of the Tasmanian Government as major contractor and coordinator of contracts. Overburden and rock from the mine are being used in the construction of the main breakwater. The company has also provided finance for a 20 ton crane. The State of Tasmania will bear full responsibility for the maintenance and technical and economic viability of the port and its installations. The port will be operated for the State Government by the Marine Board of King
Island. Port facilities include a stern loading ramp for roll-on roll-off cargoes.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $ 1.848m. Of this $110,000 is by way of a loan from Peko Wallsend Ltd and $383,000 was spent by the State in 1970-71. The Australian Government will provide the balance of $1.355m. The Agreement incorporated in this Bill provides for this amount in the form of a non-repayable grant of $677,500 and an interest bearing loan of $677,500 repayable over 15 years. The detailed terms of the Agreement follow the usual lines for projects of this nature and include provisions to ensure the necessary co-operation between the Commonwealth and the State in respect of control of expenditure, repayments and interest. I commend the Bill to the House and 1 hope that it receives a much smoother passage than did the previous piece of legislation which I picked up from the former Government.
Debate (on motion by Mr Bonnett) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Beazley, and read a first time.
– 1 move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
When introducing a Bill to amend the Australian National University Act on 27 October 1970, the then Minister for Education and Science, the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr N. H. Bowen), spoke of the introduction at a later stage of further amendments to the Australian National University Act to give the University power to control traffic within the University. 1 am in agreement with my predecessor on the need for the University to have such a power. The present measure is for this purpose. The Bill gives the University a general power to make statutes for the regulation of traffic and parking on the University site. It also gives the University specific powers: To appoint its own traffic officers; to regulate access to the University roads; to set up parking meters and charge for parking; to tow away vehicles; to prescribe fines for traffic offences proved in court; and where parking or stopping offences are involved, to fix a small penalty which the offenders may choose to pay rather than undergo prosecution. The provisions of a University traffic statute apply to members of the public on the University site as well as to those connected with the University, unless the statute provides otherwise. The statute-making power proposed for the University with respect of traffic control, is, however, restricted to the making of provisions which are not inconsistent with the provisions of the Australian Capital Territory Motor Traffic Ordinance. A similar provision already exists in the Canberra College of Advanced Education Act.
The provisions of this Bill will enable the University to secure its campus from overencroachment by traffic and enforce reasonable traffic behaviour within University grounds. The University’s Council has pressed for a traffic control power for some time and I am satisfied that without such a power the University will not be able to develop its site effectively or have adequate control over daytoday activities upon the campus. It is intended that the University should draft its traffic control statutes in consultation with the Department of the Capital Territory, a requirement which can be dealt with by administrative arrangement and needs no legislative provision. 1 believe that the House and the Parliament should pass this measure.
Debate (on motion by Mr Bonnett) adjourned.
– I move:
The proposal is a 17-storey reinforced in situ concrete construction, fully air conditioned with multiple air handling and refrigeration plants to suit the specialist PostmasterGeneral’s equipment to be installed. Emergency generating plant is included, and special attention has been paid to the decor of the manual assistance centres, where murals and curtaining will be provided to create a pleasant working environment.
The estimated cost of the proposed work is Si 1.3m. The Committee concluded that there was a need for the proposed building at Wellington Street, Perth, and recommended its construction. The Committee also recommended that guidelines for preparation of environmental impact statements be laid down as soon as possible and that the planning arrangements of the Post Office be examined with the aim of effecting changes in policy or overcoming shortcomings in procedures and resources to avoid late referrals of proposals in the future.
An interdepartmental committee is examining the policy directives necessary to lay down guidelines for the preparation of environmental impact statements and has set up 3 working parties to assist in its determinations. The interdepartmental committee has a target of recommending to the Government guidelines for preparation and presentation of the environmental impact statements in time for amendments of legislation as necessary to be processed during the Budget session of this Parliament. The Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) has advised that there have been staffing problems within the Australian Post Office but that the matter is currently under consideration. Upon the concurrence of the House in this resolution, detailed planning can proceed in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill received from the Senate, and read a first time.
– .1 move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the Bill now before the House is to amend the Book Bounty Act 1969-1970 to give legislative authority to administrative decisions announced by the previous Government. When the book bounty was introduced in June 1969, the then Government expected payments to total about $1..6m a year. During 1970-71 this amount was exceeded and in May 1971 it was decided to contain expenditure to an acceptable level by excluding certain publications from bounty eligibility.
The change was publicly announced on 28 May 1971 and applied on and from 31 May 1971 except for those publications for which a firm order was held by printers prior to this date and all copy had been received. The Bill gives legislative authority to this administrative practice which has been in force since 31 May 1971. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Bonnett) adjourned.
Bill received from the Senate, and read a first time.
– 1 move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to repeal those provisions of the Crimes Act 1914-1966 which permit Australian citizens to be deported from Australia. The Bill gives effect to the policy of the Australian Labor Party that naturalised Australians are to be treated for all purposes as Australians and are not to be liable to deportation or cancellation of citizenship except for substantial fraud in application for citizenship. The Crimes Act contains a number of provisions under which the Attorney-General may order the deportation from Australia of a person not born in Australia. The provisions apply irrespective of whether the person against whom such an order is made is an Australian citizen or not. These provisions were inserted in the Crimes Act by the Bruce-Page Government in 1926. The Government has in recent weeks given a number of assurances that Australian citizens will not be deported. The Bill is the practical expression of those assurances.
I turn now to the detailed provisions of the Bill. The first 3 clauses deal with formal matters or consequential amendments. The substantive provisions are clauses 4, 5 and 6. Clauses 4 and 5 amend sections of the principal Act which empower the Attorney-General to order the deportation of a person convicted of an offence against those sections in a case where that person was not born in Australia. Clause 6 of the Bill repeals a number of sections of the principal Act. Section 30l empowers the Attorney-General to. order the deportation of any person not born in Australia who is a member of a body of persons declared by the High Court or the Supreme Court of a State to be an unlawful association. The other sections to be repealed by clause 6 are machinery provisions relating to deportation under the Crimes Act. Clause 7 and the Schedule to the Bill make a number of amendments to the text of the principal Act to bring that text into conformity with current drafting practice. They do not involve any changes of substance in the principal Act.
The provisions of the Migration Act relating to the deportation of aliens and persons who are in law regarded as migrants will continue to apply. Under the Migration Act a person may be deported only if he is a prohibited immigrant, he is an alien or a migrant who has been convicted of a serious offence or he is an alien or migrant whose conduct has been such that, in the opinion of the Minister for Immigration, he ought not to be allowed to remain in Australia. In this latter case, a person against whom a deportation order is to be made has a right of appeal to an independent commissioner and he may not be deported unless the commissioner considers that the ground on which the deportation is proposed to be made has been established. The passage of the Bill will also give effect to many representations that have been made over the years by migrant organisations in Australia. I am confident that the Bill will be supported on all sides of the House. I commend it to honourable members.
Leave granted for debate to continue forthwith.
– The Opposition supports this Bill. It is consistent with views which were expressed by the former Attorney-General in another place on 8 September 1971. As the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Enderby) has said, it is eliminating first of all section 30c, which makes it an offence for a person to advocate in speech or writing the overthrow of the Constitution, and which authorises deportation. It would apply to a person who was an Australian citizen by naturalisation, that is a citizen not born in Australia. It is desired to eliminate this section from the Crimes Act. There are some consequential provisions. The other substantial amendment effected relates to section 30l which creates the power for the Attorney-General to deport people who are members of an unlawful organisation. We support the repeal of these provisions.
The Minister in his second reading speech referred to the fact that the provisions being repealed were inserted in the Act by the Bruce-Page Government. It is a fact that they were inserted in the Crimes Act in 1926, but I understand that they were inserted with the agreement of both sides of the House at that time. I do not think even that small residue of comment should be left residing on the Bruce-Page Government, which however did introduce these provisions. Since the time when they were introduced, so far as I am aware, no Australian citizen has in fact been deported under the provisions, and consequently we are not removing from the Crimes Act anything that has been creating difficulties in practice. It is quite clear that, whatever might have been the merit of these provisions in the 1920s when they were introduced, they are inconsistent with the view which we have of Australian citizenship today. We have the view that all Australian citizens, whether bom in Australia or coming here and becoming naturalised, should be treated in an evenhanded and equal way by the law. We do not agree with the distinction which it seems in the 1920s was desired to be drawn between those who are naturalised and those who are natural born citizens.
But, as I say, my colleague the former Attorney-General in another place on 8 September 1971 announced that he proposed to make these amendments himself but he said that as it was not immediately important, because no deportations were taking place under these provisions, he would do it at a time when there was a general amendment of the Crimes Act involving other amendments as well which he was then contemplating. As he has pointed out, quite a lot of provisions of the Crimes Act apart from this question require amendment. For example, I think that the provisions relating to search without warrant need modernising and the provisions relating to the enforcement of penalty need amendment. The sections referring to offences against the Government were drafted in language more appropriate to the nineteenth century than to this century. I think that the provisions about disclosure of confidential information or classified information of government, which have sometimes been the subject of debate, need modernising for our current requirements.
It was hoped that there would be a general amendment of the Crimes Act of which the present amendment could be part. I suppose the reason for this piecemeal amendment of the Act, just bringing one amendment forward at this time, is the fact that a good deal of concern and even fear has been created in the minds and the hearts of the migrant population by events of recent months. We know of the raids on various migrant homes, some arrests, public statements that were made and threats of deportation. The whole migrant community in Australia was placed in a position where fears were created amongst migrants that they might be deported, and might be deported to a country which perhaps did not have the protection of citizens, particularly in the case of political offences, which would be applicable here. It is really the action of the Government itself and its Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) in another place which has made it necessary, I suggest, for this Bill to be brought in at the present time, giving the matter a degree nf urgency. However that does not lead us to oppose the Bill, rather to support it. We recognise that it is necessary, in view of the climate of fear which has arisen, that these fears should be allayed amongst Australian citizens. Whether they are natural born or naturalised, they ought not to be deported for any crimes against Australian law. They should be dealt with in Australia and according to our law. For those reasons the Opposition supports the present Bill.
– I rise to speak for only a few minutes. I did not realise that this piece of legislation was to be taken through all its stages today. I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Government for bringing in this piece of legislation. I am one of those people who under the previous legislation would have been deportable from this country. I have certainly been one of those who has organised and moved appropriate resolutions either in the Australian Labor Party or in connection with the Council for Civil Liberties, emphasising that it was necessary to remove this legislation from the statute book. I thought it was a regrettable piece of legislation as long as it stood. The honourable member for Parramatta (Mr N. H. Bowen) pointed out that the previous Government had only 23 years to remove it from the books and he said that it had always wanted to do so.
– I said that on 8 November 1971 the previous Government said it was going to remove it.
– Until then, apparently the previous Government wanted to threaten people with deportation, as it had previously done when it threatened trade union leaders with deportation because they were involved in what the Government liked to call ‘illegal strikes’ which meant, of course, every strike in this country.
– That was in the 1920s.
– The same kind of political parties were in government. The previous Government realised only in 1971 that there were a significant number of people in the population who objected to being treated as second class citizens. Suddenly the previous Government woke up and at least promised the people to do something about it but, in fact, it did nothing about it in all the time it was in office. It did not take this Government very long to carry out what in fact has been Labor Party policy for quite a number of years. As soon as we had the opportunity to do so we brought in this piece of legislation. I agree with the honourable member for Parramatta that many other amendments are required to the Crimes Act but many of them are what I would call ‘political amendments’. They concern questions such as whether it should be possible to declare organisations illegal and whether it should be possible to prosecute people for taking part in what the Government of the day declares to be an illegal strike. 1 am one of those who believe that none of those things have a place in a democratic society.
I reiterate that I should like to congratulate the Government as a whole and the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Murphy) who is at present overseas for being so quick in carrying out the recommendations to eliminate any possibility that people would be deported from this country in addition to any other punishment that may be inflicted on them. I think it is important that the provisions of this piece of legislation, which apparently will be passed today and which will no doubt receive royal assent within the next few days, are made known to the migrant population because I agree with the previous speaker in this debate who said that there has been concern in the migrant population during the last few months arising out of so called Croat happenings.
Personally I think that all the concern was misplaced. The House may recall that even before the Attorney-General made his statement in the Senate I took the opportunity to ask the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) to give an undertaking, firstly, that no naturalised Australian citizen would be deported, and secondly, that even nonnaturalised Australian citizens convicted of some crime would not be deported to any totalitarian country if they had some political reasons to fear a return to that country. The Minister for Immigration gave that undertaking. I think that it did not receive as much publicity in the migrant population as it should have received. This was a great pity. I can understand the fear of Croats or anybody else who has strong political differences with the government of the country from which they have come at the possibility of being deported back to that country. They know how they would be treated. They might well finish up in gaol for the rest of their lives and in some countries they might even be executed.
We have had cases recently where police in Sydney have gone to houses for a variety of reasons. I do not know the nature of the warrants and I do not want to discuss that. As a result of those visits people have been charged with offences including resisting arrest. In one case against a person whose name I have forgotten - he is either a Yugoslav or a Croat - evidence was given not only by the man but also by the police that he was worried that he would be sent back to Yugoslavia. He got himself involved in a minor scuffle with a policeman and as a result of that scuffle it was alleged that he bit the policeman’s finger. He was acquitted of the main charge which I think was one of having explosives in his possession but he was sentenced to 3 months gaol for assaulting police. I will not canvass that case any further because I have contacted the solicitor concerned and he has told me that there is an appeal pending on the severity of the sentence. But I think that does illustrate that there were people in the community who panicked and if they were not aware of what our policy was the panic probably was justifiable because of the possibility of being sent back to Yugoslavia or to some other totalitarian country.
I therefore commend the Government on bringing in this repealing legislation. I should like to ask the Government to try to publicise in the migrant community the effect of this Bill so that the migrants - certainly naturalised migrants - can be quite sure that they will not be deported from Australia and that they will not be sent back to any country which they fear. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Enderby) read a third time.
Bill received from the Senate, and read a first time.
– I move:
The Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation was signed for Australia on 12 October 1972. Following ratification by the tenth signatory State, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the convention came into force on 28 January 1973. This Bill together with some necessary amendments to the Extradition Acts, to which I shall refer later, will enable Australia to ratify the convention.
The Montreal Convention is the third international convention in recent years dealing with the problem of the disruption of civil aviation by terrorism, hijacking, personal acts of violence and the destruction or interference with aviation facilities. The other related conventions are the Tokyo Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft, which was implemented by the Civil Aviation (Offenders on International Aircraft) Act 1970, and the Hague Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft implemented by the Crimes (Hijacking of Aircraft) Act 1972.
Australia is one of the world’s principal aviation nations and accordingly played its part in the formation of the Montreal Convention in 1971. The main purposes of the Bill are to approve ratification by Australia of the convention, to make provisions in Australia for the offences created by the convention, to provide the necessary procedures with respect to the detention and custody of offenders and for their prosecution. There is also provision for the holding of a preliminary inquiry into the facts relating to the offences, as provided by article 6 of the convention, the findings of which are, under the convention, to be reported to other interested parties.
The offences created by the convention are enumerated in article I. As the English text of the convention its set out in the Schedule to the Bill i need not detail those offences. It is, I think, sufficient to say that sub-clause 7. (1) of the Bill, which creates the offences for Australia, has adopted the language of the convention in its entirety.
At the same time, however, the opportunity has been taken to extend the scope of operation of the Bill beyond that of the convention, where the interests of Australia are considered to require that extension. Accordingly sub-clause 7. (2) of the Bill applies to offences committed by Australian citizens anywhere in the world and to offences involving either Australian Government or visiting government aircraft. The convention is, of course, confined to offences in relation to civil aviation only.
Article 3 of the convention requires that the offences be made punishable by severe penalties of imprisonment for 14 years and vides that the 2 more serious offences carry penalties of imprisonment for 14 years and the other 3 offences penalties of imprisonment for 7 years. Those penalties are substantially the same as those provided in the Crimes (Aircraft) Act 1963.
The remaining provisions of the Bill create the necessary machinery for dealing with offenders. In view of the fact that the Montreal Convention is, except for the provisions creating the offences, identical in terms with the Hague Convention, the provisions of the present Bill are for all practical purposes the same as those of the Crimes (Hijacking of Aircraft) Act 1972.
A further consequence of that identity of terms is that additional provisions will be required to implement the terms of article 8 which permits the use of the Montreal Convention as a basis for extradition in appropriate cases. Accordingly the earliest opportunity will be taken to introduce amendments to the Extradition (Commonwealth Countries) and Extradition (Foreign States) Acts. The amendments will be very similar to the amendments made to those Acts last year for the purpose of implementing the Hague Convention. This Bill will enable Australia to take a further important step in the protection of aviation in Australia and elsewhere.
I commend the Bill to the House.
Leave granted for debate to continue forthwith.
– The Opposition welcomes this action on the part of the Government recognising the Montreal Convention to which the previous Government was a party and which was signed by that Government last year. This Bill provides for our accession to the Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation. This is the fourth significant legislative step which Australia has taken to combat this modern problem, a problem which arises from time to time by reason of hijacking of aircraft, the planting of bombs on aircraft and other crimes and interference with the facilities of air travel. Air piracy and air hijacking have become a frightening feature of air travel and, although we have been reasonably fortunate in Australia, it is the fact that the free flight of people around the world, including Australians, is liable to be interfered with at any time by hijacking or by some crime taking place on an aircraft. It is important for the nations of the world to combine to ensure the safety of ordinary innocent passengers travelling by air around the world. This is connected in some degree with the general climate of the use of the weapon of terror for political purposes in various parts of the world. Hijacking represents one feature only of this problem.
I was in attendance at the United Nations last year representing Australia not long after the terrorist activity at Munich and some hijacking, and on behalf of Australia I then made the point that even this convention was not enough. I said that the nations of the world had to combine to take steps to see that where there was terrorist activity, where there was hijacking, there should not in any country be sanctuary for those who had taken that violent action. In the past a series of steps have been taken. There was the Crimes (Aircraft) Act 1963 which made the aircraft on which a crime was committed Australian territory. At that point there was a difficulty in prosecuting for crimes which took place on aircraft as they got outside Australian geographical territory, and this Act made the aircraft Australian territory so that prosecutions could take place in respect of crimes committed on those aircraft. The second step was the Civil Aviation (Offenders on International Aircraft) Act 1970 which gave effect to the Tokyo Convention in the formulation of which Australia had quite a part. It did not create offences but provided that offenders against laws could be dealt with expeditiously. It made provision for giving powers to the commanders of aircraft to deal with people who committed crimes on aircraft, and gave them authority to deliver offenders to the authority of countries in which their aircraft landed and provided for the way in which such offenders should be placed in custody or dealt with. A further Bill was introduced in 1972 and became an Act. It approved the accession of Australia to the Hague Convention.
So there was the Tokyo Convention, the Hague Convention and finally the Montreal Convention which is acceded to in the present Bill. The Hague Convention created the offence of hijacking and provided means by which people who were accused of that offence could be dealt with. The Montreal Convention provides that certain world-wide offences on aircraft become part of the law of a country if that country is prepared to accede to the convention and to make by legislation those offences part of its law. This is what the Bill now before the House does. Clause 7 sets out the terms of the Montreal Convention and renders a person who commits offences under it liable to Australian law. The Montreal Convention was something which was entered into by the previous Government and this Bill gives effect to it. We support and welcome the action of the Government in introducing this Bill into the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Enderby) read a third time.
Bill received from the Senate, and read a first time.
– I move:
The main purpose of this Bill is to reduce from 21 years to 18 years the age at which a person may marry without parental consent. Clause 3 of the Bill achieves this purpose by altering the definition of ‘minor’ for the purposes of the Marriage Act to mean a person who has not attained the age of 18 years. No doubt some honourable members will recall that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), when Leader of the Opposition, introduced a Bill for this and other purposes in 1968, and again in 1970. Regrettably, it did not reach the statute book.
I believe that nobody could seriously dispute the fact that to-day’s young men and women of 18, 19 and 20 are much more mature in every way than people of the same age were even 12 years ago when the present Marriage Act was passed. By any standards they are now entitled to be regarded as adults and to be given the rights and privileges as well as the duties and responsibilities which adulthood entails. There is a growing recognition of the need to accord these young adults the rights they are entitled to have. Thus, they can now vote at all Federal and at some State elections, and in a number of States they can make a will and freely enter into binding contracts.
But in the important personal area of marriage they are still subject to this disability that they cannot marry the person of their choice without their parents’ consent - or the approval of a court if their parents refuse consent. I am sure all honourable members will agree that the time has come to remove this disability. It has already been removed in England, where the relevant legislation was enacted in 1969 in accordance with the recommendations of a committee appointed by the Lord Chancellor to inquire into the age of majority. Such legislation was unnecessary in Scotland because minors over the age of 16 have never needed parental consent to marry in that country.
The opportunity is also being taken in the Bill to make some other amendments to the Act, which are regarded as necessary or desirable in the light of the experience gained since the Act came into operation in 1961. These other amendments are for the most part of comparatively minor importance, and I can deal with them in Committee, if necessary. However, I would like to mention briefly one particular matter - the list of persons whose consents will be required to the marriage of a person under the age of 18 years. I should explain that while I have hitherto mentioned only parental consent, the consents of other persons may be needed in certain circumstances.
The persons concerned and the circumstances in which their consents may be required are set out in the Schedule to the Act. Clause 13 of the Bill removes as far as possible the distinction between children born in wedlock and those born out of wedlock by substituting a new Part I in the Schedule to replace the existing Parts I and II, which deal with legitimate and illegitimate children respectively. There are 2 consequential changes of substance. The consent of a child’s father who is not married to the mother will now be required where the father is living with the mother, and in cases where the parents are separated and the minor is living with him. I believe that, in addition to ending the legislative distinction between children born in and out of wedlock for the purpose of consent to marry, the new table will be more in keeping generally with modern requirements. I commend the Bill to the House.
Leave granted for debate to continue forthwith.
– The Opposition supports this Bill. At present, the age at which persons may marry without the consent of their parents is 21 years. This Bill will reduce it to 18 years of age. Of course, at present, people below the age of 21 years can marry with the consent of their parents. They can, of course, marry without the consent of their parents, but under the present law. they must go to a magistrate. If they make out a case then, notwithstanding the opposition of their parents, the magistrate may give his consent and they can marry. This Bill will remove the necessity for the magistrate’s consent during that period between 18 years of age and 21 years of age.
We believe that this change is in accordance with modern trends and the greater degree of education which young people have in our present modern community. Indeed the movement towards the reduction of the age of majority has been a steady one in a number of fields. For some time people under the age of 21 could not make a binding contract but now, in some States of the Commonwealth, people below the age of 21 but above the age of 18 can contract and be bound by their contracts. Certainly, for some time in the Australian Capital Territory, people under the age of 21 have been able to borrow on mortgage for home building. At one time, people could not make a will until they were 21 years of age except in the odd case where they happened to be on military service. This now has changed and in some States, people over the age of 18 can make a will. People over the age of 18 now may go and drink in a public bar and drive a motor car. At the age of 18, a person expects that he may be called on to take up arms and defend his country or undertake commitments of service which a nation has entered into in the interests of world peace. We have recently passed in this House a Bill to permit persons to vote at the age of 18.
It may be said that the position concerning the age of marriage is in a different category from these other provisions. However, I think the trend has been such that it is proper at this time to reduce the age at which consent is required from 21 years to 18 years of age. We have the authority of the Latey report in England to which the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Enderby) referred in the remarks which he has just made. I should like to quote from paragraph 165 of that report which states:
We have concluded on every ground that it is not wise to demand parental consent to marriage past the age of 18. We can only end by saying that this is not because we think parents should never discourage their children’s marriages but because this is not the way to do it; not because we think well of marriages made in defiance of parents but because we think the law now contributes to the defiance, not because the family is too weak to use this weapon but because it is strong enough to do without it.
I should perhaps say, because I believe there are some in the community who will regard this Bill perhaps as loosening some family or parental influences which they consider should be maintained, that the Latey Commission gave very careful consideration to these matters. In paragraphs 104 to 106 the Commission refers to those considerations and perhaps I could make brief reference to 2 matters. The report states:
There have been 2 solid arguments put forward for keeping the requirement of parental consent up to 21. Both have a lot to be said for them.
The first is that this requirement of the law does stop a great many unwise marriages from taking place. However as we have already shown, we believe that when this happens (and we have no doubt it often does) it is the force of parental persuasion that does the trick, not the stick which the sanction of the law puts into the parent’s hand.
The second, and a deeply disturbing one, is that removing the requirement of parental consent would have the effect of undermining parental authority still further; and even of encouraging bad parents to wash their hands of their children at the first signs of teenage trouble. We all firmly believe in the importance of the family and the last thing we would want to do is to pull the rug from under it; but after much thought we have come to the conclusion that this argument does not stand up. Good parents do not cease to be such when the sun rises on a 21st birthday; indeed their continuing care and concern is confidently gambled upon by the government when it requires a financial contribution to a child’s further and further education even up to the age of 25.
We believe that in this field at least the law is useless as a strengthener of family ties, and indeed by the friction it causes between the generations may well help to wear them through. 1 think most honourable members have experienced this type of case in their constituencies. They have seen the family strain which occurs when there is parental opposition and children have to go before a magistrate to get consent to marry in defiance of their parent’s wishes. In many cases the parents then do not attend the marriage ceremony. One often has the feeling that if this requirement of going before a magistrate had not intervened the parents ultimately would have become reconciled and attended the marriage, especially if the matters that could properly have been put before a magistrate were sufficient to justify his approving the marriage. The Opposition supports the Bill.
– I did not realise that it was intended passing all stages of the Bill now because the daily program states clearly that the debate on the Marriage Bill is to be adjourned. Perhaps it was adjourned momentarily.
– Are you in trouble?
– No, I am not in trouble at all. In his second reading speech the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Enderby) said that similar legislation is unnecessary in Scotland because minors over the age of 16 years there have never needed parental consent to marry. Being of Scottish stock, I suppose that I should not be speaking to this particular Bill but I do so because I am not altogether convinced that the Government or the Opposition is doing the entirely correct thing. In his second reading speech the Minister said that in England in 1969 a similar Bill was introduced to reduce to 18 years the age at which parental consent to marry must be obtained. He said that if this was good enough for England it was good enough for us. They have bull fighting in Mexico and Spain and yet I should like to see the Minister for the Capital Territory try to introduce bull fighting in this country. An outcry would follow. It is not sufficient to say that because something is done in another country it should be done in Australia.
I have never been one to oppose the right to vote at 18 years of age. Newspaper reports in my home State of Queensland would record the fact that years ago when some members of my own Party were fearful of reducing the voting age I was advocating it. But the question of permission to marry at 18 years of age is an entirely different thing. Even though I may be one of the younger members of the Parliament and unmarried that does not mean that I am incompetent to speak on such a subject. The honourable member for Parramatta (Mr N. H. Bowen) who spoke on behalf of the Opposition instanced cases where young people over the age of 18 and under the age of 21 had gone to a magistrate to receive permission to marry and had married, but he did not say whether they had lived happily ever after. I wonder whether the Minister, the Government and fellow members of my Party have bothered to look at particular cases - I do not know whether figures are available or any surveys have been made - to see what happened when young people married whose parents did not actually stop them from marrying at an early age but said that they would prefer them to wait until they were 21 years of age.
– Are you a bachelor?
– If the Minister for Services and Property had been listening he would have heard me admit to that. I am not ashamed of it; I am quite proud of it. The Minister has often said to me in the past: “I wish I was still single like you’. The point I am making is that while I will agree to let this Bill pass - because it is simply a game of numbers and when one puts 124 members of this House against one member the one member has no chance at all - I decry the fact that parents will lose all control of their children. Perhaps this is a good thing; perhaps it is a bad thing. I am quite sure that a lot of parents outside this House would agree with my point of view that whilst someone may be mature enough to vote at 18 years of age the state of matrimony is such an important institution - an instiution which is supposed to hold together from its beginning until death - that I wonder whether we are making a mistake in passing this Bill. Perhaps only time will tell, and in 20 years time people may point to the speech I have made today and say that as there has been no increase in the number of broken families and no increase in the number of divorces in our society I was well and truly out of touch. If that is the case, I will be very happy to have been wrong. However I hope that we are not just getting on the band wagon of being fashionable and saying that because people can draw up a will at 18 years of age or can vote at the age of 18 they are capable of doing everything at 18 years of age. Consistency is most desirable, but consistency is not always possible. I simply issue this warning to all those who might in the future marry at 18 years of age. I wish them all the best of luck and hope that there will be no increase in the number of broken families which unfortunately exist in our society today.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Enderby) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 22 May (vide page 2453), on motion by Dr Patterson:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Daly) read a third time.
(Nos. 1 to 5) 1973
Consideration resumed from 2 May (vide page 1583, on motion by Dr Patterson:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bills together read a second time.
Leave granted for third readings to be moved forthwith.
Bills (on motion by Mr Daly) together read a third time.
Debate resumed from 22 May (vide page 2385), on motion by Mr Hayden:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I would like to suggest that it might suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill, the National Health Bill and the Broadcasting and Television Bill as they are associated measures. Separate questions may, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore that you permit the subject matter of the 3 Bills to be discussed in this debate.
– Is it the wish of the House that this course be followed? There being no objection, this course will be followed.
– The Opposition does not oppose this legislation. In fact, as the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) has pointed out, the Opposition is co-operating with the Government to ensure that the legislation is passed through this
House as soon as possible. The principal reason why the Opposition supports this legislation which provides for a benefit to be paid to people termed supporting mothers is the beneficial effect the Opposition believes the legislation will have on children who otherwise could suffer subsequent disadvantages. Unfortunately, lack of time will not permit me to expand that argument. However, I just wanted that particular item put on the record.
One uncertain feature of the legislation - this was referred to by the Opposition in a debate on a social service Bill earlier this year - is the possibility of abuse. 1 would like to bring to the attention of the Minister the specific possibility of a young woman eligible for the benefit under the terms of this legislation who comes to Australia, perhaps even under assisted passage provisions, acquiring the right through the portability provision to this benefit and then leaving Australia. This woman, assuming she did not marry again or take up some de facto relationship - and incidentally I will ask the Minister how he proposes to guard against the latter possibility occurring overseas without his knowledge - would be entitled to a lifetime income even though she was not then living in Australia. This, of course, is quite a different situation to the portability aspects of age pensions where there is a qualifying residential period. I would be interested to hear from the Minister how the Government proposes to deal with that problem.
On behalf of the Opposition I would like to point out some weaknesses or omissions which we believe are apparent in the social services legislation. One example directly relevant to the Bill is the lack of any mention about a supporting benefit for widowers who find themselves in much the same position as supporting mothers as defined in this Bill. My colleague, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), will be distributing an amendment relating to this aspect. However, to ensure the quick passage of the Bil) to which I referred a moment ago the Opposition will not be pressing for a division on this amendment. In addition, we see the need for the amendment of social service legislation referring to certain aspects of sheltered workshops. Again, the honourable member for Mackellar has an amendment which will be distributed so that the Opposition’s attitude will be placed on record.
Finally, I wish to make it clear that although the Opposition is not opposed to this Bill its main concern is with the normal 2-parent family and especially the young family. In other words, in our efforts to redress anomalies suffered by a minority we must not lose sight of the quite legitimate claims of everybody else. As I mentioned in a speech on earlier social services legislation, the resources allocated to social services must be allocated on a basis of priority. The Opposition, while supporting this legislation, puts as its first priority the needs of the young family who face many difficulties and who have accepted their heavy responsibilities.
– The Australian Country Party supports Social Services Bill (No. 3). In fact, it is very strongly in favour of the benefits that will be given to supporting mothers. I think that the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) detailed this matter adequately. There are, however, one or two aspects of the legislation which I think should be mentioned and to which I would like to draw the attention of the Minister. Firstly, I refer to the problem that can arise in the case of people referred to as unmarried mothers. The term in simplicity of course would seem quite all right, but the wording continues: including deserted de facto wives and de facto wives of prisoners’. I think that these areas of need must be recognised. But there is equally a need to protect sections of the community that can perhaps be nurtured in a way detrimental to their interests and to the interests of the whole community in which they live.
I want to refer to a case in my electorate of a very young unmarried Aborigine who now has given birth to her eighth child. There has been concern in the local community where this person lives as well as in the local hospital. Concern has also been expressed by local welfare workers and a host of other people. I think that by citing this one instance I might suggest to the Minister that care should be taken to ensure that whilst on the one band we are extending a necessary benefit, on the other hand we must try to devise some mechanism that will ensure that advantage is not taken by people in a certain category, and I am not in any way implying that I want to place some people in one category and others in another category. But I believe that there is an inherent problem that there will be those who can see an opportunity to gain by merely taking advantage of what we provide by way of a special benefit.
I think that what I have said is sufficient to draw attention to this problem without dwelling upon it or laying emphasis on it, which is perhaps an equally wrong thing to do in this Parliament. It is a matter which I might submit to the Minister in more detail in writing. The other provisions which we are dealing with I think are timely. The honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) raised the matter of the widower and I think that this is worthy of some consideration. Perhaps if the Minister is not able to see his way clear to support immediately the amendment that will be introduced by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) this afternoon he could indicate to the House that serious consideration will be given to the amendment when the Bill comes before the other place. In one way or the other this very vexed question is perhaps deserving of more consideration than some of the other matters that have been raised. Like other honourable members, I have had widowed constituents coming along to me with their problems and showing quite clearly the difficulties they encounter in caring for a large family. I have been unable to secure the benefits that those constituents received to which they were entitled. There is a real disparity between a supporting widow and the situation that exists in the case of a widow.
I think the other machinery proposals - concessions for radio broadcasting licences and television viewers’ licences - are matters which should normally apply in cases of this kind. Therefore we support them without question. The provisions of hearing aids to an added bracket of beneficiaries is a very worthy measure. I am sure that those honourable members who have had approaches from their constituents on this matter have found from time to time that they are in fringe areas excluded from the existing legislation and that there is a great need to extend the legislation. I am pleased to see this action being taken.
– I rise to support this legislation because of my concern about the need to provide adequate benefits to the children who, in other contexts, are sometimes described as fatherless children. Already the legislation of the Commonwealth, through broadening for social security purposes the definition of the term ‘widow’, provides for families other than those where the family is fatherless as a consequence of the death of the father. This legislation now extends the supporting mother’s benefit to another group which previously had not received that assistance. Those who will be in receipt of the assistance are those who have been under extreme financial pressure. The young mother, in the circumstances under which this Bill will provide a benefit, has had difficult choices to make as to how she would care for her children and give that child the proper mothering it deserved. Should she go out to work in a full time capacity or should she stay at home and live under extreme financial difficulties in order to provide the mother care that she thought her child deserved? The point I wish to make is that by looking to legislation to cover special areas of need there is the extreme danger that in endeavouring to remove discrimination, as it is put, against particular groups with special needs we will in fact create a massive discrimination against those who form the normal groupings within the community.
I wish to express my grave concern about the increasing financial pressures being imposed upon the single income 2-parent families. These days a young married woman usually works until she has her first child. During the period in which she is working she and her young husband have the opportunity of living on 2 incomes. They adjust their expenditure patterns accordingly. They try to anticipate the burdens that will be placed upon them when they undertake the rearing of a family. When the first child arrives the young mother is faced with an extraordinarily difficult choice. Should she continue to work to provide her husband and her child with the financial resources that 2 incomes will bring into the household or should she stop working and provide mother care to her child.
Whilst I support this legislation for what it will do for the children of fatherless families, I do urge the Government to look into the establishment of a far more comprehensive family benefits scheme whereby young mothers with very young children can, in effect, be paid to be at home providing the care that they wish to give to their children so that, instead of the community having to pay for substitute mothers, the natural mother of the child can provide care at home, certainly during the infant and pre-school days.
We will find that by tackling in a piecemeal fashion the problems concerning the provision of benefits for children we will impose great pressures on the normal family in the community and that by putting those pressures on that family we will cause greater difficulties in the future because of the inability of the normal family to face the financial burdens that are imposed upon it when the first and second children come along and the mother chooses to stay at home and care for those children. In supporting this legislation, I do draw the attention of the House to the importance of it being looked at in a wider context than merely the setting of the special need groups. We now have a situation where a widow or a person in receipt of this supporting mothers benefit will receive an income considerably more in excess of the acknowledged poverty levels than similar 2-parent single income families with dependent children. This discrimination between the different family groupings within the community is likely to cause severe difficulty for the future generations of the community. 1 believe that we need to review our assessment of the period of dependency of children. We have thought in the past that a child is dependent for a period of 16 years and we have tended to adjust all our benefits on the basis that having started at birth they should continue throughout that period. I think we need to look at them in a more sensible fashion and to adjust the benefits at levels according to the needs of the families to enable them to spread their earning capacity in a way which permits them to provide their children with a reasonable standard of living at all stages of the family’s development. Whilst I would have liked an opportunity to develop further the thoughts I have expressed, because of the pressures of time in relation to the debates this session it is not possible for me to examine in more detail the many aspects of the concepts I have advanced for the attention of the House. But I do want to place on record today the need for us to examine the deserving demand of the families of the nation in order to place them in a position where they too can have financial benefits to provide their children with the home care and mother care which are so essential to their educational development.
There is one other aspect of this legislation to which I wish to direct attention for it does give me some concern. That is the circum stances under which the benefit ceases to be payable. 1 do express concern that, because of the definition in the legislation, there may be undue inquiry into the private affairs of people. If the benefit were across the board - available to the children of all families - such an intrusion of the private lives of people would not be necessary.
– The honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) and the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) have both, T think very rightly, drawn attention to the need to look after the normal family to a greater extent and particularly to the need to look after the married couple at the birth of their first and second children. This is something which I hope the private member’s Bill which I will introduce into the House tomorrow will deal with to some extent - although only to some extent and it will touch on only part of the problem. I should like to have spoken at greater length on the main provisions of the Bills before the House but I know that an agreement has been made in regard to the limitation of time for debate and I shall not violate that agreement.
I just place on record that I have some disquiet about some features of the Bills, but I will not go into those features at any length. Instead, I want to say something about an amendment which I propose to move in the committee stage which is not related to the matters which the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) mentioned but does come within the order of leave for the Bills. If the LiberalCountry Party government had remained in power and if I had been the Minister for Social Services there would have been a development of the program that we had under way. I want now to put before the House 2 of the things which quite inevitably would have been done had we remained in power and which I believe should be done. The first is a measure to help widowers with dependent children and the second is a measure to cure an anomaly regarding the application of the means test in sheltered workshops, particularly as it presses upon those at the bottom of the scale who by reason of their incapacity are earning perhaps only $3, $4 or $5 a week. Those are the 2 things to which I am directing amendments which I hope to have an opportunity of moving in committee.
I shall deal just briefly with those 2 matters. I refer first to widowers with dependent children. While the previous government was in power we tried to clean up one by one the more pressing pockets of hardship in the community. I think we achieved this. But one pocket that was left and one which I had hoped very much to have an opportunity of clearing up, at any rate in this present year, was that of the widower with dependent children. I speak first of the man whose wife has died. Very often it is a terrible thing for such a man that when he is faced with the loss of his wife, at the same time, because of the fact that he receives no social security benefits or help, he is faced with the loss of his young children because he is unable to keep them at home. This has always seemed to me to be one of the most terrible things that could face a man. There is another case which unfortunately is becoming more common in the community, and that is the case of the deserted husband whose wife has left him with young children. He also suffers from emotional deprivation. We should not be adding to this emotional situation the financial hardship of receiving no help from social security benefits.
Therefore, in Committee I shall move an amendment designed to place the widower with dependent children on the same footing as the widow with dependent children. This is something which by reason of the operation of the means test, of course, will not mean that a man earning a wage will receive the full pension, but under the measures which the last government brought in, by the tapering of the means test and by the raising of the free area of income from SIO to $20 a week, those men who perhaps have 2 or 3 dependent children and who are earning, say, $80 to $90 a week will still receive a considerable help. These are people whom we should be helping and whom I hope the Government will consider in accepting the amendment which I propose to move.
The second matter I mentioned applies only to supplementary assistance payable to people working in sheltered workshops. As the Minister may remember, there is a precedent for treating income from sheltered workshop employment on a different level from that of other income. I hope that we can get rid of the anomaly whereby the one for one loss of supplementary assistance presses on those in sheltered workshops. I do not know whether honourable members have had as much experience as I have had of visiting sheltered workshops and seeing what happens in them and what are the complaints and the difficulties in them, but very often these problems arise through the entire loss of supplementary assistance to the employees at quite low levels of income. I can understand the Government’s desire not to make supplementary assistance too widespread through the community. However, I hope that it will do what the previous government would have done in this term if it had been in office, and that is to rationalise the means test on supplementary assistance as we did in regard to the main means test. 1 can understand that the Government might not want to go too far in this matter at one jump. Therefore I suggest that at the present moment income earned in a sheltered workshop should be considered differently from normal income and the free limit for supplementary assistance should be raised to $10 a week and the balance of income should be subject to a tapering means test. These simple measures - the widower’s benefit and the change in supplementary assistance that I have suggested - between them will not cost more than $4m a year. This is a small amount in comparison with the $26m a year which the Minister has suggested - I believe it is an underestimate - is the cost per year of the. measures presently before the House. So, I do not think that the Government should be deterred by the financial impediment of my suggestions. I hope very earnestly that the Government will be prepared to accept my proposed amendments, which are reasonable and very modest. They are designed to cure 2 of the remaining defects in our social security system. Of course, they are defects which affect only a small minority of social service recipients and widowers, but that minority suffers great hardship.
In the name of humanity I hope that the, Government will act quickly, as we undoubtedly would have in this term. I do not propose to press this matter to the stage of calling for a division. I do not want to impair or impede in any way the main purposes of the Bills which the Minister has put before the House. I would not want the consideration of my amendment to be used as an opportunity to delay the Bills before the House. But I suggest to the Minister that he look at the matters I have raised on their merits and look at the hardships which my amendment might obviate and look at the comparatively small cost, when measured against the cost which he has given for the measures now before us. In Committee I hope to move those 2 amendments which, as honourable members know, have already been circulated in my name.
– As has already been said, Australian Country Party members support the Bill. There is a need for the mothers concerned to be provided with the benefits contained in the Bill, Those benefits will give the supporting mother the assistance necessary to engage her to provide for the children under her care and control. While commending the Bill, however, let me also say that the previous Government recognised the need for improved social service benefits generally and it backed up this recognition by increases in social services benefits over a period of years. When the Social Services Bill (No. 4) was introduced in September 1972 by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) it was the fourth separate occasion on which the rates of pension had been raised by the Liberal-Country Party Government over the previous 18 months. That shows how interested the previous Government was in social services benefits.
Another factor of interest is that the level of purchasing power of the standard rate of pension was increased very considerably. In fact, from the time when the previous change of government took place until the LiberalCountry Party Government went out of office it was almost doubled. One should also recall that the previous Government commissioned a family research project through the Commonwealth Department of Social Services with the full support and co-operation of the State departments. This project arose from the longstanding and widespread concern of the then Government, voluntary agencies and the community generally about the increasing number of deserted wives and unmarried mothers seeking assistance. Therefore, to this extent, there was some degree of unanimity of opinion in regard to this assistance which has been brought to fruition under this Bill. It was realised that the family research project would have great significance in developing in Australia a social services system which was fully balanced, efficient and humane. That was the objective of the previous Govern ment. I hope that it will be the objective of this Government, because the under-privileged section of our community needs very serious consideration. The fact that the research project was undertaken proves indisputably that had the Liberal-Country Party Government been returned to office it would have introduced pensions for the categories now catered for in the Bill.
One of the problems that confronts pensioners and people with fixed incomes is inflation. No category of people in the community suffers more than do the pensioners from the problems created by inflation. The big difference between the benefits provided by the present Government and the benefits that would have been made available by the Liberal-Country Party Government is in that field. The benefits provided by this Government will undoubtedly be eroded rapidly as inflation gathers momentum, as it surely will under the present Government’s reckless spending and irresponsible approach to the provision of a sound economy. This angle must be kept under observation and consideration by the Government in power to ensure that the pensioners of this country are not disadvantaged by the inroads of inflation on the pensions provided for them. If this is to be done in a satisfactory way it will require a constant supervision of the total pension position.
I would have liked to go more deeply into the remaining categories where pensions could be provided. I appreciate the fact that the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) has said that this is a beginnig. I am sure that it will not be the end of consideration of pensions. Whilst 1 welcome the Bill, I trust that this consideration will continue to be given to pensions, both in relation to their purchasing power and in relation to increasing the standard of living of pensioners compared with the general standard of living in the community. I think that this is a reasonable approach to take. It is an approach that gives a fair balance between what is reasonable for the community to provide and what is necessary for the pensioners if they are to enjoy that standard of living which I am sure most of us would agree, and which I certainly uphold, should be provided for the pensioners of this country.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hansen) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 17 May (vide page 2304), on motion by Mr Whitlam:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– 1 thank the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen) who moved that the previous debate be adjourned to enable me to speak on this Bill now. I appreciate the courtesy. This Bill is very significant, not merely for what it does but for what it can do. It should properly be divided into 2 sections, the first relating to the good it can do and the second relating to the bad it can do. I propose to deal with both aspects. But first I want to describe the way in which I understand, from my reading of the Bill, it will operate. The Grants Commission Act has lasted for very many years. Under it States, which are often called the mendicant States, have been able to go to the Grants Commission and point out how they have suffered from the lack of services to their citizens.
It is very important that this project had been undertaken because that is the way in which we have obtained equality for people throughout the whole of Australia. In this sense Australia is different from most other countries which have distinct regional differences - whether they are province or State differences or whatever is the political subdivision - in their standards. Australia does not have those differences. It is a remarkable factor of Australia when compared with other countries. A very great deal has been done through the Australian Loan Council and the Premiers’ Conferences and especially through the operations of the Grants Commission. The Act is now to be repealed by this Bill. The new Grants Commission to be set up under the Bill will deal not only with States but also with local governing bodies.
Clause 5 of the Bill, a short clause, reads:
References in this Act to the grant of special assistance to a State are references to the grant of financial assistance to a State for the purpose of making possible for the State, by reasonable effort, to function at a standard not appreciably below the standards of other States.
On a reading of the Bill it seems to me to be clear that the old concepts of the Grants Commission will be maintained, for that was the test that has been applied in the Grants Commission. Therefore, it will continue to have the effect of equalling out between the States the services which the States give and will prevent the creation of great divergencies of standards between people resident in different States. I accept that there is no essential change in that matter. Therefore I do not intend to say any more on that aspect.
However, clause 6 of the Bill is a very significant clause, lt is the clause which enables the local government bodies to come to the Grants Commission. It has 3 . subclauses. The first is one which enables the Commission, in looking at a regional body and making recommendations about it, to give an equality between the regional bodies approved so that a regional body can provide services by reasonable efforts of its own which equate with the services provided by other regional bodies which are not declared as regional bodies and which therefore do not have access to the Grants Commission. To put it in its simple form, the idea of it is to create equality between, for example, municipality A which is unable to rate at a level which would provide the services, because of the low value of the properties, because of drought or because of the great distances that are involved in the municipality, and a small, relatively highly valued inner surburban area such as Kew, if the citizens of Kew do not mind my using them as an example, where the rate is high because the values are high and where demographically the people are at higher age levels and the municipality is an older one in which all the services have been provided over a period of time. That is the basic point about granting local government bodies access to the Grants Commission.
The other 2 paragraphs are the necessary corollaries to that. Paragraph (b) provides that there should be a balance between each of the local government bodies in the agreed areas, so that if one regional body is approved the services it provides ought to equate with those provided by another regional body which is approved, so that we get equality. The necessary third corollary is that there be balance between the individual municipalities that make up the region so that municipality A is equivalent to muncipality B, and provided they take reasonable self-help decisions there should be equality within the region.
That is the basis upon which we must approach this legislation. In approaching it, however, one needs to know what is an approved regional body. It is a term that we know not in Commonwealth legislation. It is, as a term, something which needs definition to tell us what it is. We may think of a region as the region of Murchison, the region of Broken Hill or of Gippsland. But what is the region for the purposes of this Bill? The way in which one finds that is to go to clause 17 of the Bill, because the definition at the commencement of the Bill says that an approved regional organisation means an organisation or body that is approved under section 17. I believe that in clause 17 we find a major fault in the legislation.
Clause 17 of the Bill says that the Minister for Urban and Regional Development may by instrument in writing approve an organisation or body that represents or acts on behalf of the local governing bodies established in a region as an approved regional organisation. So primarily the approved regional organisation is not a local government body. It is some other creature created for the purpose of representing or acting for a group of local government bodies, ft may be called the Murray Valley Development League, it may be called the Citizens Progress for a New State, it may be called any sort of thing; but if the Minister decides to approve it it becomes a body that can receive money, how much money depending upon the will of the Grants Commission and the decision of the States. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development quite clearly is not equipped to make this decision, not because of any personal characteristics of the honourable gentleman but simply because as a Minister in the Commonwealth Government he cannot have the information necessary to make that judgment. There is only one place where any such judgment can be made, and that is in the States. The States would be obviously the correct authorities to decide what should be an approved regional authority.
The Prime Minister in introducing this Bill used these words:
The grouping of authorities into regions and the approval of regional organisations will be carried out in full consultation with the States.
There is no reference in the Bill to consultation with the States. Quite clearly there must be consultation. This morning during question time 1 drew the attention of the Prime Minister to this deficiency in the Bill and he indicated that if I could provide a proposed amendment he would consider it.
– Would the Leader of the Opposition like me to intervene at this stage?
– by leave - The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) asked me in question time about this matter, and since then he has let me have a copy of the amendments which he will move in Committee. Three of them suggest the insertion of the words ‘after consultation with the appropriate Minister of the State concerned’ in the relevant clauses of the Bill. We will accept those words which he proposes to insert in those clauses. At this stage might I say that I would still like to consider the fourth amendment, which would require the Commission to report not only to the Federal Minister but to the appropriate Minister of the State concerned. I have some doubt as to whether that should be incorporated in the legislation. I am not sure whether, because the Commission is appointed by Federal authorities, one should require the Federal authority to report to a State Minister. Let me consider that, and perhaps the Leader of the Opposition and I might discuss it. I tell him that we will accept the 3 amendments which suggest that the words after consultation with the appropriate Minister of the State concerned’ should be inserted.
– I thank the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) for making that indication to me. I appreciate it. I will be glad if he further considers the fourth of the proposed amendments. While he is considering that I would be grateful if he would also consider a matter which I feel is a fault in the legislation but which, because I did not raise it at question time this morning, I had not pursued. I now raise it in accordance with my intention during the course of my speech. Under the clauses of the Bill the Minister for Urban and Regional Development may by instrument in writing approve an organisation. An instrument in writing is a method by which an organisation can be approved. I readily acknowledge that that is a method by which it could be done, but for reasons which I hope to point out later this Bill must not be allowed to do more than what the Prime Minister in his second reading speech said he intended it to do.
I do not want, and I am sure the Prime Minister in no circumstances would want, some future government to use this Bill as an instrument for patronage to individual municipal councils. It does have in it that capacity. For instance, an approved regional authority. while it is a body which represents or acts for a group, can under the terms of clause 17 of the Bill be a single municipal authority. It would therefore be possible to pick out municipality XYZ and the Minister whoever he may be at the time, could by instrument in writing, make it an approved regional organisation and then give it patronage for political purposes. I put it to the Prime Minister that the correct way in which this should be done is in such a way that it has the supervision of Parliament. With the supervision of Parliament the correct way is to do it by way of regulation and there would be a capacity for debate and it could be argued that it is being done for patronage if that is what some future government - and I am sure it is clear to the Prime Minister-
– I accept that.
– I appreciate that. It will be moved by somebody on this side of the House that the words ‘by regulation’ be substituted for the words ‘by instrument in writing’.
– The consequence being that if either House objected to the regulation it could be disallowed.
– That is right. I thank the Prime Minister for that interjection. I come now to applications for assistance. The application is to be direct from the approved regional organisation to the Minister. The Minister concerned is the Special Minister of State. That does not appear from the legislation but it does appear from the second reading speech and no doubt the administrative arrangements order will so provide for the Special Minister of State to be the recipient of the application. The Minister will then send a copy of it to the appropriate State Minister. The appropriate State Minister is the State Minister who is prescribed.
If I may claim the attention of the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) and the Prime Minister for a moment, there is another matter that I wish to raise. The first definition in clause 4 defines ‘appropriate Minister’ as follows: appropriate Minister’, in relation to a State, means such Minister of the Crown of that State as is prescribed . . .
I would not want to think that the Federal Government would go to the point of prescribing the State Minister. This surely must be a matter for the States to decide. I am. sure that the Prime Minister would agree with that.
– I certainly accept that. I am not sure what wording should be used. I imagine it would be some such wording as the Premier notifies the Prime Minister’.
– Something of that order. A copy of the application goes to the Minister, the Minister being the Special Minister for State. Clause 18 (3) provides that the Minister - that is whoever the Minister may be and at the present time it is Senator Willesee - may, in his discretion, refer to the Commission for inquiry and report the application that has been received. Normally I am very reluctant to give unlimited discretions especially discretions of this kind to a Minister but on this occasion I will not say to the Prime Minister: ‘I would like you to take away that discretion’, because if the Government feels that the discretion ought to lay there all I can say is jolly good luck to the man with the discretion because he will be under enormous pressures. It will be a terrible job. The Minister will have great pressures on him. He will be asked: ‘Why did you not refer this?’ It will be said: ‘You must refer it’. The pressures on him will be such that if I were Senator Willesee I would be saying: Please do not give me this discretion’. But I leave it no higher than that at this time.
– What I will have to suffer is the Tariff Board.
– There will be a lot of suffering done. The point I ought to draw attention to is that there will now be direct access from local governing bodies to the Grants Commission so that there will be direct access upwards from the local governing authorities to the Federal authority, the Federal authority being the Grants Commission. On the downward thrust, that is the money coming down, it still will have to go through the States because there is no other way to get the money to the local governing bodies except by a section 96 grant. It is important to remember that a section 96 grant will have to be approved by the Commonwealth Parliament and it is very important in assessing this Bill to make that clear in our minds. This Parliament will retain ultimate authority as it ought to have over the distribution of monies under this Bill.
The Commission is to consist of a chairman and 4 to 6 members. The chairman will have administrative functions including assigning members. There is a lir.it of 6 members plus the chairman and a minimum of 4 members. If this Commission composed of 5 to 7 members can do the job and do it quickly and actually get the money to the local governing bodies then I will pay full tribute to them. But I feel that there will be a very long slow process before any product comes out of this Commission. I say in passing that I am very glad that Sir Leslie Melville has agreed to stay on as Chairman of this body. Sir Leslie Melville is an outstanding Australian. He has made a very great contribution to Australia and will continue to do so at least until September of next year. The Commission will have a very consuming task. The examinations will be slow. It will have to evolve standards and those standards will be very difficult to achieve because in order to make a recommendation as to special grants the Commission will have to consider what is an appropriate rating level, not just a rating level across the whole of the Commonwealth for all municipal bodies.
It will have to make decisions as to what is an appropriate rating to ensure that a municipality by its own reasonable efforts is contributing to the amount of services it can give. It will have very many sub-divisions of the level- of rating. It will also have very many sub-divisions of the level of service which municipalities should provide. For example, there will be the level of service in a scattered municipality as compared with the level of service for a confined metropolitan municipality. The Commission will have to particularise and it will take a very long time before it can establish criteria. I cannot express any confidence that there will be a quick flow of money to the municipalities. But we must assume that the Commission will do the job. In doing the job no doubt the members of the Commission will have regard to the differences between local government bodies. They will not be able just to strike a common rate for the purposes of this exercise by making a judgment on comparisons. If they did that it would be a capricious use of land values. For we all know the differences in land values whether the land be in the cities, country towns or scattered areas.
There are also very definite demographic structures. I have quite clearly in my mind the difference between the demographic structure of the City of Kew and the demographic structure of the City of Waverley within my own electorate. The City of Kew has older people than the City of Waverley. In Waver ley there are very many children. They are the children of parents who have bought their own houses and they have mortgages and repayments to meet. They are at the early stages of repayment and therefore will find the burden of meeting repayments much heavier than will those people who borrowed perhaps half the amount of money on mortgage 20 years ago and whose outgoings today are significantly less and whose capital appreciation on the house has been very great over the 20 years. So the demographic structure and the value of property makes a very big difference. In the inner city there are vast differences, for instance, between the City of Melbourne and the City of Fitzroy in the provision of services and what should be a proper level of service. In the outer metropolitan area there is a difference, for instance, between Kew and Knox. There are rural cities with surrounding shires. There cannot be common rating values in those instances. There cannot be the same standard of services required of both yet presumably if there is to be a regional body within the one region it will be the City of Benalla and the area outside it, or the City of Bendigo and the shires outside it, or the City of Wagga and so on.
One of the good things that this can do is to provide an opportunity to correct differences that come about for reasons beyond the control of people, because of the demographic difference in structure, the age structure, the value structure. Another very important thing, especially for rural areas, is that in case of drought or when an industry leaves an area - perhaps it is a manufacturing industry in a country town - or when an industry such as the canned fruit industry strikes trouble, the ratepayers have great difficulty meeting their commitments. One point which needs to be made abundantly clear is that the money will be coming out of the same pocket. This Bill is merely redistributing it. That is essentially what it is doing. However, the redistribution can contribute to social and welfare progress in municipal areas in terms of halls, libraries, swimming pools, community welfare centres, the community nurse nursing service, the family planning centre and so on. The bad features of the Bill, not that they will be realised immediately, but the way in which they can become bad, is by an erosion of the States, and if that happens the federal compact which we have and which is the basis of Australia’s constitutional structure will be destroyed. It must not erode the States merely to erect in their place administrative units which lead to the atrophy of the States and their ultimate abolition. I spoke earlier of another possible bad effect and that is of patronage if they are selected out, but I hope that will now be cured. The amendment will certainly do what it can to prevent it happening.
In terms of the public administration we must think of the policy distribution of government function. Policy distribution lies between the Commonwealth, State and local governments. It is a fundamental principle of public administration that administration should take place as close to the people as is possible consistent with good administration. It is also clear that policy areas must differ. Some of the policy decisions need to be taken close to people, other policy decisions need to be taken more in the centre of the federal system in Canberra. If this Bill is wrongly used, it will result not only in bad constitutional practice but also in bad public administration principles for it will move to the centre all policy decisions and the States will cease to be involved with policy. All policy decisions could be made in Canberra, and Canberra quite clearly is not a place in which proper policy decisions which affect local government areas can be taken. Clearly it cannot be. If policy becomes remote and moves away from the area where people are receiving the administration of the policies decided upon, it can be guaranteed that there will be a breakdown in administration. It can be guaranteed that the policy decisions will prove to be wrong, at least in some instances, and that as time goes on will become progressively more wrong.
Australia has 13 million people today but by the turn of the century it will have a minimum of 22 million. Whatever may seem attractive as a means of public administration or constitutional structure today will no longer be so in the year 2000 with a population of over 20 million. By half a century from now it is likely that the population of Australia will not be 22 million but will be approaching 35 million. In a major continent like ours, the concept of all policy decisions being taken in Canberra is frightening for the plain fact of the matter is that because a public servant works in Canberra he has no monopoly on knowledge, wisdom and policy initiatives.
What we need to do is ensure that the first units, the States, remain a fundamental political entity in our Australian Constitution. I have a totally opposite view to that of the Prime Minister in this respect. In answer to a question yesterday the Prime Minister said that he is a unionist and is looking for a unitary constitution. I say clearly that I and my Party favour a federal constitution. There can be no doubt about where we stand on that. As we develop our population, decentralisation and regional development must be real. We on this side have a commitment to that. The Country Party and the Liberal Party as a government set about regional development and urban improvement. It will take an immense amount of money and we must succeed in it. If we are to succeed in regional development, it is certainly true that we need the co-operation and assistance of State governments and we need them as units in political administration. (Extension of time granted). I thank the House. Decentralisation and regional development must be real. Local government needs adequate finance and adequate staff for the demands of people living in local government areas are very often directed principally to the local government body. We all know the honorary services of local government councillors and the number of hours they put into their work trying to solve problems in the provision of services. As time goes on local government bodies will need to provide more and more services. This is true across the whole spectrum of government and is no less true of local government. For them to respond adequately to the need for improvement in our living standards and social structure they must have finance and staff. There must also be strong citizen participation in local government and in that strong citizen participation we want those councillors and citizens to engage themselves in policy, not to be simply the administrative fingernail of the long finger and arm stretching out from the policy decisions taken beside Lake Burley Griffin. That will not work to the interests of the Australian people.
What we want the Federal Government to do is to produce a comprehensive policy rather than piecemeal elaboration through a series of Bills. We want consultation with the States for the local government bodies are created by the States. The States have the power to group them into more economically efficient areas. They have the responsibility to limit the rating powers of local government. They have the responsibility to empower local government to carry out services. The local government bodies need rating relief. Rating is becoming an increasing burden especially in rural areas and in the outer metropolitan suburban areas. The States are an essential part of this. The fact is that in this Bill there is a bypassing of the States, and in passing the money down this Parliament becomes watchdog for it. The direct approach from the local government bodies or the approved regional council - I note that the Minister for Urban and Regional Development shook his head when I said that-
– It is not bypassing the States.
– I am glad to have the assurance that it is not bypassing the States. This is a most important assurance to have. I ask the Minister when he responds in this debate to set out in detail the way in which the States will be brought into this so that there will not be open the accusation that the Federal Government is bypassing the States. I ask the Minister to do that when he responds and to spell it out in detail. What we need to have is a full comprehensive policy. It will be a major purpose of my Party to develop this full comprehensive policy which will fit local governments into their correct perspective consistent with the correct constitutional and political responsibility of the States in relation to the Commonwealth. The 3 tiers of government must be real because the people of Australia look to any one of the 3 tiers for their services; they do not differentiate between them. We must have the clear responsibility stated and those who have the responsibility must have the power to carry it out. There would be great value in a Green Paper so that the Australian people can assess what is the overall intent of the Labor Government’s policy in this area.
– One of the major reasons for this legislation is the economic squalor of local government in this country. I will deal specifically with some details and statistics relating to this matter later in my speech. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) said that he wanted to do something really positive about decentralisation. The strange story is that during the 23 years that his Party was in power, the population of the non-urban areas of Australia fell from 31 per cent of the total population of Australia in 1947 to 14.7 per cent of the total when the previous Government went out of power. So much for the previous Government’s attitude on the question of decentralisation and in its dealings with local government.
In his policy speech before the recent elections, the Leader of our Party said that Labor was determined to make local government a genuine partner in the Federal system. Since coming to office, the Australian Government has acted promptly and has taken 2 decisive steps to meet this commitment. Firstly, the Australian Government sought and gained a voice for local government at the Constitutional Convention. Last month it was agreed by the Steering Committee of the Convention that 21 local government delegates, sharing 8 votes, would be. invited to attend the Constitutional Convention, the first meeting of which will be in September. This fulfils our promise to give local government a voice and a vote at the Convention. Secondly, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) last week introduced the Grants Commission Bill 1973. As he said in his second reading speech:
This Bill is a key part of our new charter for local government.
He said that the Government is determined to give local government adequate access to the nation’s finances’.
These are only our first 2 steps in upgrading the resources and the role of local government within our Federal system. We intend to make the Federal system work as a co-operative partnership - a partnership amongst the 3 levels of government - Commonwealth, State and local. A great deal is spoken about the relationship between democracy and local government. The argument is usually put as one whereby the system of local government, which is designed to administer small areas with direct and visible representation by councils, is one which is most amenable te our democratic tradition. As the Royal Commission on Local Government in England pointed out, the system of local government is ‘more than the sum of the particular services provided’.
The Maud Report pointed out that local government is an essential part of democratic government. It is the potential ability of local government to provide for the immediate access of directly elected representatives to a community which gives it this democratic quality once described by Harold Laski as *the genius of place’. This might be called the responsive aspect of democracy. But in order to be properly responsive, a system of government must carry out certain responsibilities. We might well ask the question: What sort of responsive democracy exists when the authority is paralysed? One must recognise that local government has been paralysed, particularly over the last 2 decades. It is with this aspect firmly in mind that the Government now proposes to give local government the opportunity to express its voice on fiscal needs at the level of the Australian Government.
The Bill presently before the House is a first step in upgrading the resources of local government and thus providing that tier of our system with the ability to better carry out its responsibilities. There are 2 distinct parts of the proposal in this legislation to give local government access to the Grants Commission. Firstly, there are sections dealing with the actual operation of the Grants Commission itself. These sections are concerned with the ways in which the Commission will go about its business of examining applications, determining criteria, considering needs and making recommendations to the Minister.
The second part of the proposal in this legislation concerns the role of the Minister for Urban and Regional Development. It will be seen from the Act that the Minister has 2 particular functions. Firstly, under clause 17, the Minister may approve local governing bodies as regional organisations for the purpose of this Act. Secondly, under clause 18, the Minister for Urban and Regional Development has the opportunity to assist the Grants Commission by making submissions to the Commission on the applications for special assistance that the Commission receives from regional organisations. With regard to the first function, one consideration which has led the Australian Government to seek regional organisations for the Grants Commission applications is the very simple matter of the administration of the scheme. There are over 900 local government units in Australia. It would completely overload the resources of my Department and the Grants Commission if we were to try to deal with each unit separately.
In addition, our interest in regional organisation goes beyond the consideration of administering this scheme. All of us are conscious that there are deficiencies in the local govern ment system. Some evidence of this can be seen in the great number of inquiries that have been conducted over many years. In fact, there is hardly a point of time when there has not been an inquiry of some sort or another into local government. At the present moment, there is a Committee of Inquiry into Local Government in New South Wales which is dealing, amongst other things, with the question of boundaries. South Australia has just established a Royal Commission on Boundaries of Local Government. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia does not mention local government. No local government body has a legal existence independent of its State government. The Australian Government has no power to intervene, even if it wanted to, in the question of boundary determination. But there is no doubt that the question of the size of local government units is one which has to be examined when any consideration is given to the maximum potential efficiency of the local government system. This aspect relates, of course, both to the responsibility side and the responsive side of local government that I was referring to earlier.
There is another aspect where the Australian Government can help local government to discharge its responsibilities and that is in the area of finance. Let there be no doubt that until now the financial resources of local government have been allowed to run down to a deplorable degree. A lot has been said about the worsening debt position of State governments relative to the Australian Government. However, if the relative shares of the 3 levels of government debt are calculated over the 30 year period from 1940 to 1970, honourable members will find that - I stress this point - while both the Australian and the State governments’ share of government debt have diminished, the share of local government and State semi-government authorities has increased significantly.
For example, let us look at the share of the government debt at 1940 and compare it to that of 1970. In 1940, the share of the Commonwealth was 27 per cent; in 1970 it was 18.6 per cent. In 1940, the share of the States was 56 per cent; in 1970, it was 44.7 per cent. In 1940, the share of local government and semi government bodies was 17 per cent and in 1970 it was 36.7 per cent. These figures reveal clearly the difficult and worsening position of local government. It is also quite apparent that in recent years increases in local government revenues have failed to keep pace with those of other levels of government. Between the years 1967-68 and 1971-72 the increase in government receipts for the Commonwealth was 61 per cent, for the States 63 per cent, but for local government 37.5 per cent. So it should be quite clear that one significant area where the Australian Government could lend its support for local government is in the area of finance. As a responsible Government we. have an obligation to see that financial assistance is granted, in the first instance, to the most deserving causes. This Government also has the responsibility to ensure that any financial assistance that is given to local government is used efficiently and to the greatest benefit. It is our belief that the best way of achieving these objectives lies in broadening the perspectives of the single local government unit. In this way problems, and solutions to these problems, could be looked at in a regional context. Therefore, the Act gives the Minister for Urban and Regional Development discretion in approving regional organisations. My Department is looking at regional formations that have already occurred in some States. We feel that the local government people themselves are good judges of what constitutes a region in their own circumstances.
We hope there will be strong and continuing moves in both metropolitan and rural areas towards the formation of regional organisations for the purpose of the Grants Commission operation. Ultimately we hope that these movements will assist me in the administration of urban and regional development programs. I might also say that the formation of regional organisations seems to offer the prospect for greatly advancing the interests of the regions and their members generally. I mentioned earlier that the 2 functions were given to the Minister for Urban and Regional Development under this Act. The second function is to assist the Grants Commission by making submissions to it. In fact we will be making submissions in support of local government and their regions. In some cases the second ministerial council meeting contain proposals. But it will be my Department that will be giving evidence, to the Grants Commission on details and information in regard to the regions.
Over the last 2 decades the responsibilities of local government have been increased and complicated. The problems of local govern ment have increased due to booming population growth which has been caused partly by an unplanned influx from immigration. I was astounded that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) said Australia would have a population of 22 million by the turn of the century. He referred to a population in Australia of something like 35 million people within a half century. If that is to be the growth of population of this nation we will have grave problems. The whole question has to be examined clearly and scientifically. If we want to lift the quality of life, the standard of living and the standard of local government areas in the cities, population growth must be examined and we must not simply pull figures off the top of our heads in relation to population growth. We must consider that if the population growth of this country increases to the extent to which the Leader of the Opposition has referred - 22 million people by the turn of the century - that will mean an increase of 9 million people. No country has been able to decentralise its population to any greater extent than the United Kingdom did between the end of the Second World War and now. By creating new communities Britain was able to slow down the population growth of its major cities by only 1 million people. Despite what the Leader of the Opposition said, even if we can equal the achievement of the United Kingdom between now and the turn of the century, 8 million people will have to be located in our existing cities. I put it to the Leader of the Opposition that that would be madness. We have to improve the standard of our living. We must look seriously at population growth if we want to increase the standard of living in Australia.
This Government is doing something positive about decentralisation. Today I chaired the second ministerial council meeting concerned with the Albury-Wodonga complex. This is a great venture and the State governments of New South Wales and Victoria, to their credit, did a fine job in co-operating with the Commonwealth. It is a new spirit of co-operative federalism. This Government is doing something positive after 23 years of no action by the previous Government.
The problems of local government have increased due to lack of financial resources. These problems are not evenly distributed. Different units of local government have different problems. There are different levels of needs and resources among the local units. Therefore, under this Act, the Grants Commission will be able to receive applications for special assistance from local government organisations. The Act defines ‘special assistance’ in clause 6 as being to enable approved regional organisations to function, by reasonable effort, at a standard not appreciably below the standards of other approved regional organisations.
My Department will be involved in submitting to the Commission matters relating to standards, matters relating to the organisation of local government, and matters relating to the particular range of needs which might be expressed in applications for financial aid. It is an essential part of my Department’s duties to give assistance to approved regional organisations. My Department will be consulting the appropriate State authorities about this assistance. For that reason the Government accepted the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. We will, in fact, consult the appropriate State ministers. After discussions with the States, the Department will be helping the regional organisations in the preparation of their application for financial assistance. After this Bill is passed by both Houses, further discussions will be held with the relevant departments and the Grants Commission. As soon as possible after this an announcement will be made about the procedures to be followed for submitting applications to the Commission.
I believe this is an historic and far-reaching proposal. Under this Act local government, for the first time since Federation, is given the opportunity to influence the Australian Government in its financial allocations. It can do this through an independent advisory body of high repute as the Grants Commission. The Grants Commission has served Australia well with regard to the dependent States and I am quite sure it will serve Australia well with respect to the claimant regional areas that need assistance. The Australian Government recognises the traditional and statutory relationships of local and State governments. However, the Australian Government also recognises the justice of the case for assistance to local government. This Bill represents a first step in the recognition of that case. It will not solve all the problems of local government. These problems cannot be solved overnight. There are no instant solutions to local govern ment and urban problems. My Department is examining these problems with a view to formulating fundamental solutions which involve co-ordinating the allocation of resources within urban areas. We are aiming for changes which will provide for a more efficient allocation of resources and a more equal distribution of social goods.
I believe that this proposal can work only with the utmost co-operation and goodwill of local government bodies, State governments and the Commonwealth Government. We in the Australian Government have goodwill towards those other 2 tiers in our federal system. We in the Australian Government seek the co-operation of all levels of government We must meet together as a team in the spirit of co-operative federalism, as a team of men and women of goodwill who are concerned to put this nation on the right tracks again. I ask the House to support the Bill.
Debate (on motion by Mir Street) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 2519).
– in reply - Mr Speaker, I thank members of the Opposition for the succinct and thoughtful way in which they put their many points of view on the subject and the way in which they have facilitated the progress of this Bill. To continue the facilitation I will condense what I have to say to a few points in reply. The main points that were made relate to the amendments which the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) proposes to move at the Committee stage. Insofar as his amendments relate to widowers, I support the views he put forward. I believe that something has to be done. Indeed the honourable member would know that earlier this year and towards the end of last year I indicated after this Government was elected that this would be one of the things that we would want to rectify at what I hoped would be a fairly early stage.
The honourable member wanted to rectify this defect himself when he was Minister for Social Services. I have no doubt, knowing him, that he tenaciously tried but he was not successful and there would be reasons for that. I hope that I will be successful in the near future. I only mention that to indicate to the honourable member that there are reasons why a person cannot do these things immediately. Perhaps I can take him back to the 1968-69 Budget speech of the then Treasurer, the right honourable William McMahon, in which inter alia he said:
The Government is aware of the difficulties that can be faced by widowers of relatively small means who are left to care for a family of young children. It is hoped that the measures of relief for these widowers will be formulated and announced soon.
Of course, the announcement was not made soon. I can only say that it is a little late now to remonstrate with us although, in fairness, I appreciate the genuine way in which the honourable member for Mackellar as Minister for Social Services did try to apply many farreaching changes to the system of social security, or social services as it was then known. In fact, the then Minister for Social Services did effect quite a number of valuable changes and advances in the field of social services.
The other amendment which the honourable member proposes relates to the supplementary assistance which is drawn by people in sheltered workshops. The honourable member is correct; it is a baneful issue for these people and it is a disincentive as we understand from the reports that we receive. But what is to be done about it? I do not think that the answer rests in tinkering with the supplementary assistance system. If we do adjust the system I apprehend that there will be widespread pressures for the general adjustment of payments which are received by social security beneficiaries. For instance, if we were to provide the $4 supplementary assistance for all people paying rent or board the cost to taxpayers would be $50m. If we were to provide this level of supplementary assistance to all pensioners without any reference to whether they paid board or rent the cost would be $150m. So there are some complex problems.
My own predisposition is towards developing some system of guaranteed award wages for these people. As I have mentioned in this House before, I find extremely attractive the West German practice by which a levy on payroll is imposed on all employers who employ above a minimum number of employees Under that system the proceeds are paid back to employers to subsidise any loss in earnings that they may suffer as a result of employing handicapped people who cannot perform to the average output level and to allow the employers to make any architectural changes which are necessary to facilitate the movement of handicapped people in general employment. This is something that we are looking at. I hope that in the near future something substantial will come from this study.
It is clear, of course, that I cannot accept the amendments that will be put forward by the honourable member for Mackellar. Apart from any other reason, I do not have any authority from the Government and such a matter would call for a policy decision. But in rejecting the amendments I state quite clearly that the views are commendable, they are worth developing and we are searching in this area. I have no doubt at all that throughout the period that the honourable member for Mackellar was a Minister, although he was not able to effect these changes, he desperately tried to do so. I repeat that the Government cannot accept the amendments for the reasons that I have mentioned.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Statement by Member
– I seek leave to make a short statement to clarify a question I asked at question time.
-Is leave granted? there being no objection, leave is granted.
– At question time today I asked a question of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) relating to a question that I had put on notice about a year ago in regard to the salaries and payments of Ministers. I want to clarify the question. The text of the Hansard report reads as follows:
Did the question sit on the notice paper for many months and was it withdrawn after I was informed by the then Prime Minister and the Treasurer . . .
I want to insert words so that the question reads: after I was informed by message from the then Prime Minister and Treasurer.
I have done this at the request of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) who says categorically that I did not speak to him, and that is true. But I placed question No. 4944 on the notice paper on 9 December 1971 after the abortive salary Bills were introduced into this House. The question sat on the notice paper during April and disappeared. It appeared on the notice paper on 20 April 1972 but did not appear on the following Tuesday’s notice paper of 26 April 1972.
The question which I placed on notice asked:
What payments other than salary were paid to each Minister in 1970-71, and what did these payments represent?
The Government informed me on 2 occasions. The then Prime Minister and the then Treasurer told me that an increase in the daily allowance for members whilst in Canberra from $15 to $22 would not be paid until I withdrew the question from notice. I told the person who brought me the message that that was unacceptable to me and that I did not operate in that way. The same gentleman came back the following day and gave me the message again and said I was obliged not to hold up payments going to colleagues in the House. So in that respect I had the question withdrawn from the notice paper.
It has been said apparently by the Leader of the Opposition that he does not know of it. I am not prepared to make a statement about that. All I know is that the question was withdrawn. I asked a senior parliamentary officer to withdraw it. I think that you will find, Mr Speaker, on examination, that the daily allowance was paid within days of the withdrawal of this question - maybe a day later.
Clause 1 agreed to.
This Act shall come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent.
– I move:
Omit the clause, insert the following clause: 2.(1) Sections 1, 2, 17 and 18 shall come into operation on the day on which this Act receives the Royal Assent.
The remaining sections of this Act shall come into operation on 3 July, 1973.’.
The effect of this amendment and of other amendments I will move in the Committee stage of the debate on this Bill and the other 2 Bills which were debated cognately with this Bill at the second reading stage will be merely to alter the date of commencement of the Bill so that the provisions relating to the new supporting mothers benefit and those relating to the children of widowed pensioners will become operative on 3 July, which is the first widows pension pay day after 1 July, the date on which the Bill was originally intended to operate. The amendment has been made possible by the courtesy of the Opposition in promising to allow the Bill to pass through all its stages during the current sitting. I thank the Opposition.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 3 agreed to.
Proposed new clause 3a.
– I move:
That the following new clause be inserted in the Bill: 3a. (1) Section 30a of the Principal Act is amended by inserting after sub-section (3.) the following sub-section: “(3a) In computing means as assessed under the preceding sub-section, there shall be excluded from the earnings of a pensioner employed in a sheltered workshop under the provisions of the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act 1970 -
an amount of four hundred and sixteen dollars per annum; and
one-half of the excess of such earnings over five hundred and twenty dollars per annum.”.
The amendment made by sub-section (1) shall not operate until the Parliament has made an appropriation for any expenditure which it may involve.’.
I listened to what the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) said in his reply to the speeches on the motion for the second reading of the Bill. I appreciate the difficulties it will involve, but I do not believe that this amendment is justified at the present time. It is true that the application of this provision generally across the supplementary assistance board would result in quite heavy expenditure. The Minister was quite correct in drawing the attention of honourable members to that. On the other hand, I do believe it would be possible to accept this provision with regard to sheltered workshops as the expenditure involved would be absolutely negligible, to be quite candid, and would not be likely to infect, if I can use that phrase, the rest of the scheme in the way in which the Minister has feared, and involve him in the heavy expenditure he fears. I am in agreement with the Minister on that.
The Minister said that he knows that the present provision is a disincentive. It is a very great disincentive. Worse than that, it does sometimes cause unreasonable resentment in the minds of those people who are heavily handicapped. Those who are mentally handicapped perhaps would be unable to appreciate the facts of the situation. I would not like to see anything happen in a sheltered workshop which caused that kind of resentment and bad feeling, particularly among those who are, as I have said, heavily handicapped. The Minister has said that there may be some other solution to this problem. That may be the case. But I should have thought - I do not know the details of what he has in mind - that the kind of solution that is based on the West German experience that he outlined to this chamber would itself be amenable to the same kind of troubles in regard to infecting other supplementary assistance as the one that I have suggested. But, be that as it may, the Minister and I are at one, I think, in that we realise that something has to be done with regard to this matter.
I think the Minister was wrong in saying that I was remonstrating with him. If I gave that impression, I did not mean it in the slightest. Here we have a real and substantial problem. Surely between the Opposition and the Government we can find some kind of solution to it. I appreciate the fact that there are other solutions. But, whatever they are, let there be no delay in implementing them. I still think it is unlikely that the Government will find a better solution than the one which I have put forward in the form of this proposed amendment. The Minister has told me that he cannot accept the amendment. I do not intend to take up the time of the chamber by pressing it to divide on this matter. I am glad, on behalf of the people concerned, that something is going to be done very shortly. Whether it be this solution or another solution, I look forward to what the Minister is going to put forward.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Clause 4 agreed to.
Section 59 of the Principal Act is amended -
by adding at the end thereof the following sub-section:
Omit the clause, substitute the following clause: 5.(1) Section 59 of the Principal Act is amended-
by omitting from the definition of “child” in sub-section (1) all the words after the words “sixteen years,”; “widow” in sub-section (1) the following paragraph: “(f) a man who has the care and custody of his dependent child or children and -
whose wife has died or has been divorced, and who has not re-married; or
whose wife has deserted him, or is a mental hospital patient.”; and
by adding at the end thereof the following sub-section:
For the purposes of this Part, a child who is being maintained by a widow shall be deemed to be a child of whom the widow has, and had at any time when she was maintaining the child, the custody, care and control.
The amendment made by paragraph (b) of subsection (1) shall not operate until the Parliament has made an appropriation for any expenditure which it may involve.’
I listened to what the Minister said in relation to this matter in his reply to the speeches on the motion for the second reading of the Bill. I am sorry that this amendment cannot be accepted immediately. The amount of money involved would not be substantial when considered in relation to the cost of the implementation of the proposals contained in the Bill which is before us at present. I think it would operate to correct a very heavy injustice and a very heavy hardship which lies on widowers. There are, as I have said, 2 classes of widowers. There are those who have lost their wives and still have young children, which is a terrible thing for a man to experience. It is something which is becoming more common because of the increase in the number of motor accidents. The second class consists of the deserted husbands whose wives leave them with young children. This is also, unfortunately, becoming more common. Both classes of men deserve our very greatest sympathy. Several alternative solutions could be advanced to this problem. I think the one I have suggested is a fair and reasonable one. I will not pretend that there are no other solutions. All I want to impress upon the Minister is that something should be done about this matter and done fairly quickly. I take it from his remarks earlier that that is in the Governments’ mind. Once again it is not a case of my trying to remonstrate with the Government or anything of that character; it is a case of my believing that something should be done, and done quickly, for this class of person.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 6 to 20 - by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Where, within three months after the commencement of this Act, a woman lodges a claim for a benefit under Part IVaaa of the Principal Act as amended by this Act, the benefit, if granted, is to be paid from -
– I move:
Omit the clause, insert the following clause:
Where, on or before 30th September, 1973, a woman lodges a claim for a benefit under Part IVaaa of the Principal Act as amended by this Act, the benefit, if granted, is to be paid from-
in the case of a woman who was a supporting mother on the date of commencement of that Part- that date; or
in any other case - the first widow’s pension pay-day after that last-mentioned date on which the woman was a supporting mother.’.
The comments I made earlier on the initial amendment apply to this amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hayden) - by leave - read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 22 May (vide page 2385), on motion by Mr Hayden:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I have an amendment which relates to clause 2. Clause 2 reads:
This Act shall come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent.
Omit ‘the day on which it receives the Royal Assent’, insert ‘3 July 1973.’
The amendment merely adjusts the date of commencement for the benefits for the supporting mothers under the provisions of the National Health Bill.This amendment was made necessary because of the assistance the Opposition gave in passing the Bill through all stages today.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hayden) - by leave - read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 22 May (vide page 2386), on motion by Mr Hayden:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I have an amendment which relates to clause 2. Clause 2 reads:
This Act shall come into operation on the day, on whichit receives the Royal Assent
Omit the clause, insert the following clause: 2.(1) Subject to sub-section (2), this Act shall come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent.
Section 5 shall come into operation on 3 July 1973’.
The purpose of the amendment, as I have mentioned several times already, is to adjust the commencement date under this Bill for supporting mothers who are to commence to benefit under the amendment to Social Services Bill No. 3.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hayden) - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 10 May (vide page 2004), on motion by Mr Crean:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation. Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill, the Insurance (Deposits) Bill and the Life Insurance Bill as they are associated measures. Separate questions may, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the 3 Bills to be discussed in this debate.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)Is there any objection to that course being followed? There being no objection that course will be followed.
– This Insurance Bill is a large and fairly complex Bill of some 63 pages and is being considered in addition to 2 related Bills, lt deals with an area of a new law for the Commonwealth. At the outset I remind the House that the former government spent years of detailed work to get this proposed law into financial shape. The present Government made a few amendments, but the Bill is essentially the same. 1 had the honour to introduce the previous Government’s Bill into the House on 28 November last year.
The present Treasurer (Mr Crean) said in his second reading speech: .. . style and presentation of the Bill has been improved in many ways - for example, by the inclusion of a table of provisions, rearrangement of clauses and textual improvements which make the bill easier to understand. Some changes pf substance have been made if reviewed in the light of comments received on the earlier Bill.
Those changes of substance are very hard to find indeed. I do not criticise such changes as have been made. Of course, one can go on and on continuing to refine complex law in a Bill such as this. But certainly the time has now arrived to enact this endeavour. However, I point out the general agreement of both sides of the House to the provisions in the Bills. I do so because of the Treasurer’s comments to which I referred, and because of one or two other Party political references in the second reading speech. Indeed, the Treasurer acknowledged last year that he needed some time to absorb the complex provisions in the former Bill. This Bill sets up an effective system of supervision of general insurance in Australia. The Treasurer foreshadowed further proposed legislation in the insurance area. The Opposition hopes that that legislation, when it is introduced, will not go too far in entering into unnecessary restriction or indeed worse. The Opposition has no quarrel with the present Bill which, after all, was 99 per cent prepared by the former government. Indeed, an earlier Bill was introduced just before the last election when Parliament was dissolved. The Opposition therefore supports this Bill and will not move any amendments to it. The present Treasurer is perhaps fortunate that the timing was such that he and his Government were able to come in and take credit for this legislation. Of course they made the claim that the legislation should have been introduced earlier. The former Treasurer, now the Leader of the Opposition, the right honourable B. M. Snedden said in his statement to the Parliament last year:
It must be remembered that general insurance business in Australia is conducted for the most part by companies which are sound and efficiently managed. … In considering ways of supervising general insurance companies one does not wish to bring down legislation which is so restrictive that it would stultify the business of the great majority of insurance companies.
I take the opportunity of elaborating on that point of view. It is the view of the Opposition and embodies an important principle. In 1970 when several small insurance companies were failing the former Government was under great pressure to take emergency action. Proposals were made for a steep increase in the deposit requirement under the existing insurance legislation and other proposals were made for the then Government to send investigators to companies suspected of being financially unsound - under what legislating authority was never made very clear. Increasing the deposit requirement steeply would undoubtedly have put a number of companies out of business. Sending in investigators on suspicion would have had similar effects and, more fundamentally, could in some cases have been a most unreasonable invasion of the rights of private citizens. The former Government resisted these pressures and opted instead for the less dramatic but more equitable course of embarking on the task of preparing comprehensive legislation to give Australia a permanent system of supervision of general insurance. That approach is embodied in this legislation.
The approach in the preparation of the legislation had been throughout to strike a balance between the need to regulate company activities in the public interest and the preservation of the rights of companies to carry on business in a private enterprise environment. That balance is an example of a basic principle, I believe, of all members of the Liberal Party. It is one of a set of principles - an outlook - which I believe in and propose to pursue as long as I am in public office. It remains to be seen whether the Bill has succeeded in striking the right balance, but I can assure honourable members that was the intention of the former Government. When the legislation comes into force, insurance companies will be legally obliged to maintain minimum standards of solvency. In practice their solvency will normally need to be higher than the minimum to guard against the unexpected downturns in their finance. The standards have not been set unfavourably high, nor will they interrupt normal, sound business. The industry as a whole should benefit greatly from the introduction of these financial disciplines.
Companies will be obliged to provide statements of their business periodically to the Commissioner in prescribed forms. This obligation may in some cases require changes in company accounting systems and may involve some added costs. However, many efforts were made to avoid making unreasonable demands for accounts and to make the form as consistent as possible with current accounting practices. Furthermore, the industry should benefit from the great improvement which will be possible in published insurance statistics for the country as a whole, which will assist individual companies in the conduct of their business. The new system of supervision is intended to ferret out financially unsound companies and to provide for their reconstruction or orderly withdrawal from business.
I am sure that insurance generally would regard that as an essential purpose of the legislation.
Overall the approach has been to mould the new system of supervision onto the industry as it is, with the minimum of disturbance to its existing practices. Where new obligations are to be imposed, any burden on individual companies should be offset by benefits to the industry as a whole. I believe that this broad regulation of the insurance industry will result in a healthy industry and at least in this proposed legislation the Government will not enter into a field of contractual relationships between the insurance companies and the policy owners. This approach - mainly devised by the former Government - epitomises the principle of the Liberal Party to which I have referred and, I believe, of our colleagues in the Country Party, in a most practical application. We did not believe in an economy where firms and the private sector can engage in any activity ‘open slather’. There often is overriding public interest, but we believe in setting a climate of greater opportunity for competition and thus innovation and resourcefulness. So we have a continuing effort in the government of these parties to balance the rights of the individual or private firms with the rights and claims of the public interest, but we give preference to the private way of doing things. This insurance legislation is in accord with those principles, and I believe those principles to be widely accepted by the Australian community.
I now contrast those views and attitudes with those of our political opponents. This is of significance because of the proposed legislation in the insurance field which was foreshadowed by the Treasurer. For some people who believe that a tidy, planned world will work, socialism is a great attraction. I believe that it is impractical. I do not want to go too deeply into the broad subject on this occasion but I will relate my remarks as closely as possible to the insurance industry. The Labor Government’s objective, as set out in its Platform, Constitution and Rules at Part xxiv under the heading ‘National Insurance Office’, reads as follows:
The establishment of a Commonwealth Government insurance office actively competing with private companies in all States in the fields of life insurance, fire, accident, workers compensation and other forms of insurance. Such activities to be conducted on a non-profit-making basis by way of rebating surpluses to insurers when renewing premiums.
A more sweeping and, 1 believe, the logical extension of that policy is the document Economic Planning*. Clause 3 of chapter 5 reads as follows:
With the object of achieving Labor’s socialist objectives, establish or extend public enterprise _ where appropriate by nationalisation, particularly in the fields of banking, consumer finance, insurance, marketing, housing, stevedoring, transport and in areas of anti-social private monopoly.
That policy was incorporated in Hansard by the Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry (Dr J. F. Cairns) on 1 December 1971 in an unsolicited display - a warning almost - of the policy of the Labor Party now in government. When he was questioned on a television program late last year and was pressed, he went on to say that Labor would not nationalise an industry immediately but only after some event, such as a strike or industrial difficulties, made it appropriate. There is no such qualification in his speech of 1 December 1971 when he went out of his way to display this policy.
The realisation that socialism finds little support in Australia has now caused Ministers to equivocate and slide around the question, but we know where they stand, because here they have the authority - the authority of the ALP Conference whose decisions must be adhered to by all members of the Party. The Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry who made that statement is the third senior Minister of this Government and perhaps one day he will be its leader. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in an address to the Victorian Fabian Society on 25 July 1972 said:
It would be intolerable if a Labor government were to use the alibi of the Constitution to excuse failure to achieve its socialist objectives.
In the same speech he went on to say:
Yet others think . . . that at best the first term of a Labor government can be nothing more than a mopping up operation and it would be impossible to strike out in new directions. I reject those views and the conclusion drawn from them - the conclusion that a Labor government would not make much difference.
That was the view and is the view of the Prime Minister. I refer to these additional Bills in the insurance law field which the Treasurer has foreshadowed because he went out of his way to mention them and we must expect that they will conform to the policy that has been stated.
Let me conclude my quotations by referring to a statement by Mr R. J. Hawke, the real - if extra-parliamentary - leader of the Australian Labor Party, whose quotations have always to be included on occasions such as these to provide a balance. He was reported in the Sydney ‘Sun’ on 4 September last year as saying that the Australian Labor Party was a socialist party and that he had no respect for any person who denied this. I am glad to see the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) smiling in approval. I present these matters to the House at this stage because of their obvious importance in the near future in relation to insurance legislation. It is selfevident that these matters are important, because insurance is a vast financial area which thrives in an atmosphere of free enterprise and affects beneficially the life of each Australian. It is an industry which stresses the importance of individual virtues. I believe that where these qualities are essential, interference by large government bureaucracies can lead only to inefficiency and to the stifling of initiative. My Party is not a party of dogma. It does not believe that the mere exposition of outdated slogans will do away with problems. Such behaviour usually makes them worse. Emotion is prone to be more quickly stirred than is intelligence. In reviewing this proposed legislation I emphasise the individual or individual firm’s, and company’s, place in the community. The community and the economy work best when there is not undue interference in the market place. There is a need in a mixed economy such as Australia’s for the Government to set the rules for competition, because the obvious result of unfettered competition is monopoly. However state monopoly - I use that word with its proper meaning - is as undesirable as private monopoly and can be worse.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– I rise to support the 3 Bills. Two of the Bills, the Insurance (Deposits) Bill and the Life Insurance Bill, are consequential measures. I want to direct my remarks to the Insurance Bill itself. I view these Bills with a sense of achievement. In March 1970, 3 years ago, I drew the attention of the House to the crucial need for a Federal Act to establish a comprehensive system of supervision of general insurance. Throughout the last 3 years I persistently attacked the preceding Liberal Government for its failure to enact such legislation. It clearly failed to face up to its constitutional responsibilities. The implementation of this legislation has fallen to the Australian Labor Party Government, and the current Bill which was introduced last Thursday week indicates that the Government has acted responsibly and quickly to plug part of the legislative gap. Over the preceding 23 years all tory governments have failed to enact appropriate legislation to regulate the insurance industry. The failure to act has had disastrous consequences. We have witnessed over the last 3 years the collapse of no fewer than 16 companies, involving millions of dollars. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a schedule which sets out the insurance companies which have gone into liquidation since July 1970 and the money involved.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
– I thank the House. Tens of thousands of policy holders have needlessly suffered hardship, anxiety and financial loss because of the failure of previous governments to update the existing Act - that is, the Insurance Act 1932-1966. After almost a quarter of a century of Liberal Government, action is now being taken. We should bear in mind that during this time one could have confidently assumed that governments would have learnt from the United Kingdom experience in this field and would have foreseen the need for continual updating and surveillance of the Regulations and the Act. As far back as 1870 the United Kingdom experienced the failure of 2 large insurance companies, the result being that the United Kingdom Parliament passed the Life Assurance Act of 1870. Subsequently the United Kingdom witnessed the failure of a further 2 companies in the 1920s and as a result of the report of the Clauson Committee further powers were given to the Board of Trade in 1933 and again in 1935. The failure of the Fire, Auto and Marine Co. and a number of motor insurance companies followed in the 1960s despite the 1946 and 1958 Acts, the result of which was that Part IV of the Companies Act of 1967 was brought to bear.
Despite the 1967 Act in Great Britain, which in fact was the 1958 Act with layers of the Companies Act of 1967 placed over it, the failure of the Vehicle and General company occurred in February 1971. As a consequence a completely new Bill is currently before the United Kingdom Parliament. The deplorable consequences of the Vehicle and General failure - and it had its effects here through its subsidiaries in Australia - were that overnight 10 per cent of motorists in the United Kingdom were left without insurance cover, lt is estimated that arising out of the failure of Vehicle and General the established companies within the insurance industry will probably have to meet a bill of $ 12.7m because of the undertaking given in 1946. The actual failure of Vehicle and General in Britain caused an estimated loss in excess of $36. 3m. However members of the British Insurance Association sustained a loss of $56. 3m on motor insurance in 1970. One can assume therefore that if the insurers get this bill of $12.7m from the Motor Insurers Bureau they will have little choice but to pass it on to the consumer. Regrettably it is always the consumer who has- to pay. I have read the tribunal report on the Vehicle and General crash in Great Britain and it clearly revealed that the Board of Trade had the responsibility but regrettably not necessarily all the power required to do what was needed. Equally disastrous have been the effects in this country for exactly identical reasons.
This Bill, like that currently before the United Kingdom Parliament, is the net result of company crashes. This Bill can be summarised as follows: It raises or permits to be raised existing minimum financial standards. It emphasises the need for greater surveillance by the Government. It gives the Government more flexible powers to intervene if the need should arise. The new Bill is intended to perform a limited but important function, that is, to prevent unsound companies from undertaking or continuing in non-life insurance business. The preceding Bill, drafted under the aegis of the previous Liberal Government, when it was introduced, contained a number of imperfections and omissions in both drafting and substance. This Bill has rectified both.
Whilst I compliment the Treasurer (Mr Crean) on this Bill, I feel he would be the first to admit that it is deficient in many respects. The seriousness of the problem, particularly in the field of motor vehicle insurance, makes urgent legislative action imperative, and to this end I support the Bill despite the need for additional regulation, so important to the stability of the industry. What one must aim to achieve is avoidance of the necessity for governments continually to fight rearguard actions or the slamming of .the stable doors after the horse has bolted. Governments are obliged to protect the public against com.panies which are not soundly based and which undertake risks that, contrary to the interests of the policy holder, have proved to be improper and impossible to sustain. Surely, as recent events have demonstrated, voluntary controls, however good, have been totally inadequate. One could argue that the industry itself has failed and has passed the responsibility on to government. I note that the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland) in his speech put excessive weight on the needs of companies involved in the industry but we never heard an utterance about protection for policy holders. Whilst it may be true that the industry itself has failed, in my view it has demonstrated beyond question that the whole field of insurance is too big and too complex to be operated entirely by voluntary control. It is a fact that, with the exception of the United Kingdom and Iceland most Western European and Scandinavian countries have thought fit in some measure to legislate and as a consequence to regulate premium rates, policy conditions, advertisements, the vetting of investments, and competency of directors and managers. But equally important is that they have regulated to protect their indigenous companies and markets from overseas control and plunder.
I am the first to concede that the insurance industry is an extremely complex one. In the field of non-life insurance this Bill encompasses 383 companies plus 1 15 brokerage firms, which are largely covered under the existing Act - a total of 498 companies. Annual outgoings from Australian policy holders is of the order S of Si billion. I am equally conscious of the f need for sound legislation directed towards the protection of both policy holder and share holder against unscrupulous predators, the result of which has been the extraordinary number of company crashes which have had such devastating effect on the industry. Above all we must acknowledge that a sound and well regulated insurance industry is an integral part of the national economic structure. In dealing with this crucial factor of sound legislation I refer to the Minister’s second reading speech. He had this to say:
In this connection the Government has received a proposal from the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi) that a committee of experts be established to examine ways in which the insurance legislation cao bs strengthened and improved.
My proposal for setting up an expert committee of inquiry and drawing up terms of reference is, I believe, a constructive approach. It stems from my having read in depth the recent debate in the United Kingdom Parliament, that is in the House of Lords, dealing with the United Kingdom Insurance Bill. It reinforced my view about the complexity of the industry and the adverse effects that could eventuate as a consequence of amending legislation which has not first been the subject of in depth examination or indeed which has been hastily drafted. Such amending legislation might be as questionable as having not legislated at all.
I take this opportunity to supplement my proposals and request that the Minister give consideration to the following 2 aspects. Firstly, that the committee be directed to confine its initial examination of issues of priority to enable recommendations to be formulated quickly and considered and debated in this House and then embodied in the new Act. Secondly, that the expert committee, once having completed its investigations in relation to its terms of reference, be retained as a standing committee so that areas or issues of conflict may be quickly examined and recommendations tabled, for such a committee will serve as a valuable adjunct to the Parliament, the Insurance Commissioner and the industry as a whole. I believe that the time has come for a thorough, expert and impartial survey of the insurance industry in Australia, in all its aspects.
Whilst I admit my proposal for the expert committee and its terms of reference are limited to the industry, this Bill is structured to regulate it. I take this opportunity to outline some of the areas which I consider warrant urgent investigation: The vital question of entry into the insurance business; the state of the insurance industry generally with particular reference to the restrictive practices common within it; control of insurance company cover and among other things the question of foreign ownership and its costs; the honesty and efficiency of management; the control of excessive remuneration or dividends; the representation and protection of policy holders and shareholders. Quite frankly I think we ought to seek to increase the protection of policy holders in a number of ways. Firstly, with regard to cover there are many policy holders who find that most of the terms of a policy are in small print. As a consequence they find they do not have the cover they thought they had insured for. It may be possible therefore to have standard forms of cover for various categories of insurance.
We might also further protect the policy holder on the question of the invalidation of his policy through what I might call ‘involuntary non-disclosure’ on a proposal form. I understand that cases have arisen where a proposal form had not asked the relevant question so an answer had not been given but having regard to the nature of an insurance policy, which we all understand, the policy had been held to be invalid. There is thi allegation that companies discriminate against some women. Why do some companies pay claims ex-gratia while others do not? What are the provisions in respect of disputed claims? Does the policy holder get a fair hearing? Does he have a sufficient right of appeal? This is an area of consumer protection which has received insufficient attention, yet it is one which may result in greater hardship to the individual than any other area. It is to be hoped that legislative measures such as the present Bills will considerably reduce this rate of insolvency among insurance companies. But what if insolvency does occur?
How are policy holders to be protected in respect of premiums paid to a body which cannot meet potential obligations because policy holders are unsecured creditors? The consumer has to go to the added expense of re-insuring and, more importantly, in respect of liabilities to others for which his contract for right of indemnity has become valueless. Such people must be protected. Such a survey must arrive at the fairest and most efficient way of providing this protection.
A further question of concern to the consumer and the country, is that of the methods by which insurance companies obtain their business. Misleading advertising has been extensively used and unfulfillable inducements have been offered by a few companies to the detriment of the great majority of honest firms. But even the practices of reputable firms may be undesirable. I note that in the United Kingdom Bill there is provision in clause 38 which asserts power to make regulations as to the form and content of insurance advertising. It should be ascertained to what extent the cost of insurance has been increased by the unnecessary employment of agents or insurance brokers and also what is the place, the role or the standards of conduct for both the agent or broker in the industry. In the past 3 years I have continually pressed the preceding Government - and I will do likewise with this Government - to introduce legislation to cover insurance brokers. Another question to be determined is the extent to which agreements or understandings between insurance companies and other financial intermediaries restrict the freedom of choice of the individual. Those areas need to be investigated urgently and legislative protection is crucial if policyholders, shareholders, the industry and the community as a whole are to have the protection and the stability that they deserve.
There are 2 aspects of the Bill on which I want to pass some comment in depth. Firstly, I draw the attention of the House to Part VI of the Bill which deals with the insurance tribunal, provision for which is set out in clauses 63 to 92 inclusive. I pay tribute to the Minister and to the Government for including this part in the Bill. I draw the attention of the House to what can perhaps be said to be one of the most important provisions in the Bill, the appeal provisions which are found in clause 75. Basically the clause provides for a safety valve. It sets up machinery for appeals against administrative decisions and in my view these provisions could well be inserted into a number of other Acts of this Parliament.
The second aspect relates to Lloyds. I do not wish to raise this in the Committee stages of the Bill. I feel it ought to be given consideration now by the Government. This Bill will meet a long overdue need for collecting comprehensive statistics on this vital multimilliondollar industry. All companies will supply these statistics except one. The only exception, oddly enough, will be Lloyds for whom discretionary provisions are set out in the Schedule to the Bill. Complete statistics are essential in order to understand and supervise the industry. Prior to the introduction of this legislation we have never been able to get those statistics. I feel that a precise date should be fixed for Lloyds to submit the same type of returns as any other insurer, if Lloyds wish to operate in this market. I see no reason for the blatant discrimination between Australian companies and Lloyds.
Let me conclude on this note: I have no doubt that there will be cries of alarm from some sections of the insurance industry. I noted that the honourable member for Curtin raised such cries. The industry will have to put up with some semblance of regulation because the impact of company crashes are disastrous for the people who count most - the policy holders. I have no doubt that when the industry hears that it is to be investigated there will be cries of alarm. The reactions of the industry are easily predictable. But no honest or efficient company need be afraid of an investigation. Such companies will only benefit from the elimination of unworthy competitors and their reprehensible practices. All important institutions ought to be scrutinised from time to time and the time is long overdue for this industry to be examined. I support the Bills.
– I do not intend to speak at any length. I commend both the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland) and the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi) on some very provoking thoughts and a very excellent contribution to this debate. This legislation is rather complex. It is a voluminous document. It does break some new ground. The Australian Country Party is supporting these Bills because the previous Government framed legislation which embodied the same intention as this legislation. The Treasurer (Mr Crean) made reference to that fact in his second reading speech. I agree that if these Bills had been introduced separately they would have been somewhat deficient. I think that there is still a lot to be done in this field. This is just a first step. I was interested to read in the Treasurer’s second reading speech that other areas of investigation will be undertaken particularly to protect policy owners and to safeguard the community interest in general insurance. I think that these investigations ought to be made and I approve of them.
I will not take up the time of the House in discussing the areas of investigation further because we will have an opportunity to do that at a later stage. Unfortunately all too often in recent years - I think the honourable member for Hawker mentioned 16 companies - there have been cases of insurer failures. These have resulted in loss and hardship and an undermining of public confidence. It is not sufficient to say that the public should be more discerning in placing their insurance business. Quite frankly that is not the answer because there are so many companies and there is so little information about many of them. I feel that in introducing these Bills the Treasurer has taken the first step which is necessary to restore public confidence and to provide adequate supervision and standards for those who wish to establish themselves in the field of general insurance. The system under which we have worked in which virtually any person can pay a small deposit and open an insurance business free from any effective supervision has just not been good enough. This has led not only to the failure of companies but also to disaster, loss and hardship for many policy owners who, in good faith, have done the prudent and wise thing and have insured their property and possessions only to find when they have made a claim that the company has become insolvent or has ceased to operate. So this Bill is a step along the road towards remedying these deficiencies.
I studied very closely the clauses in the Bill. I have gone through the Bill in detail. 1 note that there is to be an insurance commissioner and a tribunal. I think this is good. One aspect of the Bill that I do like is that which deals with the standards of accounting and recording that are to be maintained. This is good because it will provide information and protection, and I endorse those actions of the Treasurer. In addition, proper auditing of those accounts is provided for in the Bill. These are methods of protection, and if a company is honest it has nothing to fear by keeping such records and making such declarations. There are provisions in the Bill for lodging appeals and I think they are adequate. The position of Lloyds Underwriters has been provided for. I was interested in the comments of the honourable member for Hawker. I find myself in agreement with what he said but no doubt as times goes by, as the Treasurer said, there will be more investigation and the points made by the honourable member for Hawker may be caught up in later legislation.
The main provisions of the Bill which must be complied with are detailed in it. The BUI talks about the applicant being a body corporate and, under clause 23, having a paid up capital of not less than $200,000 or, in lieu of that capital, assets of that amount. It also provides that where the body corporate is incorporated in Australia it shall have assets in excess of liabilities of not less than $100,000. To a layman this would seem adequate. I am not able to comment on whether it is adequate but the Treasury is equipped to look into this aspect. In general the Treasurer has stated that the Bill sets out to establish an adequate and comprehensive system of supervision. This is important, it is overdue and it is necessary. I think the Treasurer is right in trying to establish that companies are not likely to go insolvent and leave the premium payer high and dry, suffering not only hardship and loss of premium but also loss of property for which he would receive no compensation whatsoever.
My Party approves these Bills and does not intend to move amendments. We do not intend to speak at length because we do not want to delay the House. We endorse what the Treasurer has done, and the idea he has put forward of making further investigations. There is, however, one caution that I would administer. Investigations into general insurance are to be endorsed but there must never be any endeavour to exercise any sort of socialistic control over insurance company funds because that we would oppose and would not tolerate. In fact, the people of Australia would not tolerate it, as they showed very clearly 23 years ago. This legislation is good. It provides conditions under which new insurance companies are to be established. It does not impose undue fetters on those insurance companies that exist now. There are many reputable companies which have provided excellent service and are financially sound. I support the Bill because I believe it to be a constructve and determined effort to rectify a situation which has caused a lot of worry and damage to public confidence. The Country Party endorses this Bill and the associated Bills and will be voting for them.
– I refer very briefly to clause 37 of the Insurance Bill. This clause deals with exemption in respect of insurance business which is carried on for the benefit of limited classes of persons. I relate my remarks to the effect that this clause will have on some sections of the taxi cab industry. This industry throughout Australia has established insurance organisations to serve the industry’s peculiar needs. I believe that none of these organisations has a paid up capital of $200,000. Under the general provisions of this Bill they would not be able to continue to operate were it not for clause 37. Sub-clause 3 (1) (b) and sub-clause (4) of clause 37 exclude from the operation of this clause any organisation which has an annual premium income exceeding $200,000. I understand that the Australian taxi cab industry has already made representation to the Treasurer (Mr Crean) asking that this limit be raised to $600,000 per annum as the income of some of these organisations already exceeds $200,000 per annum while the income of others is expected to reach this limit fairly soon. Unless the amount of $200,000 per annum is increased, those companies which have presently or will have in the future an income exceeding $200,000 per annum from their premiums will be out of business. My purpose in rising is to ask the Treasurer whether he will give sympathetic consideration to the representations of the taxi cab industry and also look very sympathetically at clause 37 of the Bill.
– in reply - I am sorry I was not able to be here during the whole of the debate but I thank those honourable members who have taken part in it. I will make some inquiries about the point raised by the honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I refer to clause 50 which reads in part: 50. (1) In this Part, unless the contrary intention appears -
In this Part, a reference to a body corporate being associated with another body corporate is a reference to a body corporate that is related to the other body corporate and -
In clause 50, omit sub-clause (2), substitute the following sub-clause:
For the. purposes of this Part, a body cor porate is associated with another body, corporate if the two bodies corporate are related to each other and -
This amendment is the result of a drafting error in clause 50.(2) which defines an associated company for the purposes of Part V. As honourable members are aware, this is a very complicated measure and this error was not revealed until scrutiny after the printing of the Bill. It is entirely technical by nature.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Crean) - by leave - read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 10 May (vide page 2004), on motion by Mr Crean:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Crean) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 10 May (vide page 2004), on motion by Mr Crean:
That the Bill be now read a second time
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Crean) read a third time.
– by leave - Following the 1971 census the Chief Electoral Officer determined in accordance with the provisions of the Representation Act that 10 members of the House of Representatives are to be chosen for Western Australia in lieu of 9 as at present. Section 25 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act provides, amongst other things, that the Governor-General may issue a proclamation directing a redistribution of a State into divisions whenever an alteration is made in the number of members of the House of Representatives to be elected for the State. Despite this provision the present Opposition when in government did not take appropriate action over redistribution in Western Australia. On the other hand, the present Government strongly criticised the Opposition for its failure to provide the tenth member for Western Australia at the last election, thus denying electoral justice to the people of that State.
As the Parliament is aware, the Government proposed to make certain alterations to the redistribution provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act but the Electoral Bill was rejected by the Senate on 17 May 1973. This Bill will be presented again immediately Parliament resumes in August. I advise the Senate accordingly. Despite the Senate’s rejection of this important piece of legislation, the Government is determined that Western Australia shall not be denied the extra member to which it is entitled and a redistribution of that State will therefore be effected without delay. The Governor-General will be invited to make the necessary proclamation and to appoint Distribution Commissioners. I shall inform Parliament of the names of the Distribution Commissioners as soon as possible.
– by leave- The Opposition parties welcome the announcement which the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) has made concerning the proposed redistribution for Western Australia. This is a significant step. As the Leader of the House made clear, following the 1971 census the Chief Electoral Officer determined, in accordance with the provisions of the Representation Act, that 10 members of the House of Representatives are to be chosen from Western Australia in lieu of the present 9 members. Therefore, the announcement made by the Minister is an essential step to safeguard the needs of the people of Western Australia and to satisfy the constitutional requirements of the Act. But it is not an announcement that should cause the Leader of the House to have any great sense of joy, and I regret that he sought marginally to politicise a subject of very great concern to an important section of the Australian people.
– It was more than marginal.
– As my senior colleague, the right honourable member for Higgins, has just pointed out, it was more than marginal. When, I say that the Leader of the House should have no great sense of joy in making this statement, I reflect the feelings of the people of that great State of Western Australia. As the honourable gentleman would be very well aware, the State of Western Australia returned additional representation to the Opposition benches during the course of the last Federal election. I refer to my colleagues, the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Viner) and the honourable member for Forrest (Mr Drummond) - 2 outstanding members of this Federal Parliament, as you would be the first to acknowledge, Mr Speaker - who have joined this national Parliament from that State. I also have regard to the reaction which the people of Western Australia have had to the activities of the present Federal Government and also to the nefarious activities of the present State Government. I can see the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren), who has just joined the Leader of the House at the table, acknowledging that statement by a graceful smile because he recognises the disabilities which characterise his Party in Western Australia. I am told in fact that colloquially the Premier of Western Australia is called the ‘super Tonk’ in that State.
– That is disgraceful.
– I think it is disgraceful but I am simply echoing a term which is used freely in Western Australia to characterise the
Premier of that State. I think it is a very discreditable term; I regret it is used at all. But 1 simply draw attention to a term which has been and is used by so many people, both inside the Australian Labor Party in that State and outside it, to indicate the sense of respect, responsibility and public esteem with which the Premier of Western Australia is held at present - by the use or misuse of the derisive term the ‘super Tonk’.
I also very much regret that the Leader of the House sought to politicise what is in fact an important statement, because to bring politics into this is unbecoming of the honourable gentleman. He would be the first Minister to acknowledge that the real reason that the redistribution was not carried out prior to the last Federal election was that the then Governmnent did not receive the final population figures from the Commonwealth Statistician in sufficient time to enable a redistribution to take effect in that State prior to the last election. Western Australia, of course, is entitled to an additional seat and quite obviously a redistribution is required to satisfy the constitutional requirements of the Act and to cater for the need of the people of Western Australia.
It is significant that the Leader of the House referred to the Commonwealth Electoral Bill which was rejected by the Senate. The Minister foreshadowed that the Bill will be coming back to this place during the month of August and I would suspect from the manner in which the statement was made by the Minister that the redistribution proposed in this statement in fact will be carried out under the present boundaries and under the existing formula. If that is so, it is the Government’s clear intention, by inference, to carry on as at present, which would indicate that there is no real nexus between what is proposed in this statement and the Commonwealth Electoral Bill. I simply observe, for the purposes of the record, that the Leader of the House injected into this statement what I would have thought an extraneous comment, namely, the foreshadowing of the Commonwealth Electoral Bill coming back to this House. He is the. first to know that it provides for a gerrymander of the worst possible type. It is unbecoming of him and the Government he serves. He would be well aware of the strong stand which the Opposition Parties are taking in saying to the Australian people that this Bill is shabby, and discreditable and, I repeat, unbecoming of the honourable gentleman. It is a Bill which seeks to place the Labor Party in Government in this national Parliament in perpetuity. As the matter has been dealt with already in the House of Representatives and in the Senate he can be assured that the fate of the Bill will be very much before, us when it comes around a second time.
In summary, whilst not joining with the Leader of the House in all of the comments he made, the Opposition recognises that the statement is significant. Members of the Opposition Parties are the first to acknowledge the fact that the redistribution is being carried out. We look forward to the support of the people of Western Australia - support which has not been denied us in the past and which was so obviously heavily forthcoming in the course of the last federal election. I say to the Government that far from this document representing any threat, by inference or in any other way, to the Opposition Parties, we welcome it because we will stand to gain as a result of the good sense of the Western Australian people they know full well how badly regarded and how disregarded they are by the present Government in all of its activities, as it seeks to develop a centralised administration in Canberra.
Mr DALY (Grayndler - Minister for Services and Property)– Mr Speaker, I desire to make a personal explanation.
– Order! Does the Minister claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) implied that there were sinister purposes behind my announcement. I say, firstly, that the Government is doing this in order to meet the constitutional position in Western Australia with regard to electoral redistribution. This is something which the previous Government declined to do. In addition, the redistribution will be carried out in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act and following the precedent set by our predecessors with regard to commissioners and others concerned. It will not be a gerrymander. It will, of course, be carried out in accordance with terms and conditions laid down and dictated in 1965 by the Country Party, which denied electoral justice to the Australian people. It will not, of course, follow the Victorian pattern where 41 per cent of the people voted for the Liberal Party which got 42 seats, and 41 per cent voted for the Australian Labor Parry which got 17 seats. It will provide electoral justice.
– I seek leave to make a short statement.
-Order! Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I join the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) in congratulating the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) on making this statement tonight and for showing a great degree of realism in announcing a redistribution of electorates in Western Australia. I do not think I should let this occasion pass without saying that the former Government was not able to undertake a redistribution in Western Australia because the Commonwealth Statistician was unable to furnish it with final figures in sufficient time to enable a certificate to be issued, thus enabling a redistribution to take place in Western Australia. Nevertheless, I think the Minister has shown great wisdom in moving now to undertake a redistribution in Western Australia, even if that redistribution is to be undertaken in accordance with the terms of the existing Electoral Act. I think the Minister, and indeed the Government, perhaps have read the mood of the Parliament. Whilst there was a slight insinuation in the Minister’s statement of a warning to the Senate that the former Bill will be reintroduced, there was not the same fervour in talk of a double dissolution as there was prior to the Victorian State elections. Being a realist, I know why the result of the Victorian elections would moderate such a mood.
It is true that Western Australia is entitled to 10 members instead of the present nine. It is right and proper, as the Minister has said, that he should introduce procedures to provide Western Australia, in the terms of the Act, with a redistribution to take account of the needs of Western Australia. But I cannot help saying that there is a degree of hint in what has happened here tonight. Obviously the Government has taken it for granted that the Electoral Bill will be defeated again in the Senate. The Government will go ahead and have a redistribution based on the old formula and then proceed to have an election, probably at a later stage when the Government feels that the climate may be more favourable to it. To honourable members on this side of the House I say that I feel that the climate will probably deteriorate as the months pass and as the people of Australia really understand the sort of economic mess into which the Government has driven this nation.
– Mr Speaker, I seek leave to make a statement.
-Order! Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– As one of the Western Australian members of this Parliament I congratulate the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) on his anouncement that Western Australia will get the tenth seat in this House to which it was entitled at the last election. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition Mr (Lynch) has made a great deal of play about what he feels is the trend in Western Australian voting at present. His consciousness of this, of course, is his knowledge that Western Australia was deprived of the seat that it was entitled to by redistribution before the last election. In 1969 the people of Western Australia voted very heavily for the Labor Party and then they returned a State Labor government. The late McMahon Government failed to carry out its constitutional duty, which it could have carried out, and it deprived Western Australia of the tenth seat to which it was entitled because of the voting pattern in the federal election of 1969 and the State election which followed.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Debate resumed (vide page 2527).
– 1 should like to enter into this debate on the Grants Commission Bill which, for the first time, provides for direct Commonwealth assistance to local government authorities in Australia. Whilst I have no objection to the objective of this Bill to provide money for local government authorities, I find it difficult to accept the administrative arrangements proposed in the Bill. I think all honourable members will accept that local government authorities in Australia are finding themselves in an increasingly difficult financial position. It has become obvious that if local government authorities are to have sufficient funds to meet their heavy commitments, the Commonwealth must become involved. This attitude was accepted by the previous Government, although no firm policy arrangements had been worked out. I accept that the Labor Party at the last election put forward certain proposals and as it won the election it has a degree of mandate to enable it to seek this amendment to the Grants Commission Act. However, in the course of my speech I will move an amendment which, while not opposing the Bill, will take note of objections that we see to the Bill and the need for a more simplified means of distributing money to local government authorities.
Local government in Australia is the creation of the State governments and is legally subordinate to them. The boundaries and the functions of local government may be redrawn by the States. The Commonwealth influence to date has been indirect with no formal role and even if the administration of this new Bill demonstrates that there is a need for direct Commonwealth involvement, it will have to be by way of section 96 grants through the State governments. The needs of local government and semi-government authorities have been considered at Loan Council meetings on the basis that the allocation of borrowing rights amongst local bodies is again the responsibility of State governments. The functions of local government are difficult to enunciate precisely. They vary considerably. The local government Acts specify the duties and provide a lengthy list of services or jurisdictions which may be undertaken by a council if it chooses. So it is quite clear that the constitutional responsibility for local governments lies with the State governments and whatever we do as a Commonwealth Government has to take this aspect into consideration.
From a study of the financial situation of local governments it is quite easy to see why a crisis is developing. The total expenditure by local government authorities in 1970-71 amounted to $766m, which is 7 per cent of the total governmental expenditure in this country. This percentage has been fairly constant over a period of time and it is broken down into something like 9 per cent for cultural and recreational facilities, 9 per cent for the development of resources and assistance to industry, 37 per cent for roads and bridges, 11 per cent for interest and 9 per cent for administration. The interest burden, however, is growing rapidly. In the 10 years from 1960 to 1970 this burden has risen from 8 per cent to nearly 11 per cent today. The administration percentage also is rising. I think that the attitudes of the present Government toward wage conditions will only accelerate the difficulties of local government. With policies of shorter working hours, greater penalties and higher wage conditions local government bodies will be affected very severely and will have to pass these conditions on to the ratepayers. No Prices Justification Tribunal or anything else can overcome this problem. Wage conditions have a direct influence on the rates that must be paid by ratepayers.
A break-up of the revenue received by local government authorities is as follows: Taxes 55 per cent; profit from public enterprises 14 per cent; and State grants 11 per cent. Indeed, local government raises 87 per cent of its revenue from iits own resources. This is a very high level by world standards. The indebtedness position of local government also is worrying. The share of total government debts has risen from 1960 to 1970 from 6 per cent to 8 per cent, a worrying feature in itself. But the most dynamic growth has been with semi-government authorities where the debt has increased from 24 per cent to 29 per cent. The local government debt now stands at $l,619m. It is quite clear from the financial circumstances that local government is drifting into a serious and impossible situation. For this reason it is necessary for the Commonwealth Government now to become involved in helping to finance the operations of local government.
The Australian Council of Local Government is pressing for greater financial assistance from the Commonwealth and State governments and it would appear that increases in local government revenue in recent years have failed to keep pace with other levels of government expenditure. Receipts between 1967-68 and 1971-72 show that Commonwealth revenue has gone up by 61 per cent, the States’ revenue by 63 per cent and local government revenue by only 38 per cent. Is it little wonder that they are finding circumstances extremely difficult? The case for financial assistance is no doubt due to the drift of population. A decline in population in the rural areas means that the greater share of the revenue by local government bodies has to be financed by fewer ratepayers whereas in city areas the congestion of population is placing undue strains upon local government in providing the necessary services.
The proposal by the local government authorities that the Commonwealth should provide a special section of its income revenue needs closer examination. They are proposing that 5 per cent of total income tax collections be used by local government authorities. Of the income tax expected to be collected in the current year that would amount to about $290m. This proposal runs counter to what has been a basic budgetary principle held by the Commonwealth and which I believe would be held by the present Government; that is, that revenue from any particular source should not be earmarked for any specific purpose. The Commonwealth has held that each claim for money should be considered on its merits against competing claims. The previous Government believed that allocations should not be tied to the yield of any particular tax. It saw collections from income tax as forming part of the general revenues of the Commonwealth from which a wide range of expenditures had to be financed. It believed that priorities accorded the competing claims for money should be decided from year to year on the basis of the best possible assessment it could make of the needs of each section of the national community.
It should also be kept in mind that revenue from income tax fluctuates in an irregular manner that is not in any way related to movements in local government needs. For example, income tax collections fell in 1958-59 and there was practically no growth at all in 1962-63. So it does not follow that allocations tied to income tax would yield a regular and steady growth in local government finance. There are also difficulties in distribution amongst the States of grants raised in the manner suggested. For example, distribution in proportion to income tax collections would favour the wealthier States. There would be distortions because large companies pay their income tax through head offices - usually in Sydney or Melbourne - on the income they derive from operations throughout Australia.
Again, a distribution on the basis of some assessment of the needs of local government would be difficult. There is a very large number of local government authorities throughout Australia. Although their broad functions are generally the same, local government authorities in different parts of Australia face quite different circumstances. The previous Government took the view that because local government authorities are created by State governments and function under State laws they are a State responsibility and the determination of what financial assistance should be given to local government is a matter primarily for State governments. However, whilst the previous Government did not accept the ‘five per cent’ proposal, it did take a number of steps to increase the finance available to local government. I mention the very large increases in general revenue grants, the transference of payroll tax to the States and the exemption of local government non-business activities from payroll tax at the old rate. Vast amounts of money went to local government under the Commonwealth aid roads scheme.
The thing that has largely contributed to the financial problems of local government has been the burdening of local government with a lot of new responsibilities. A range of community and welfare services is now expected to be provided by local government. The activities of local government today extend far beyond the traditional role of providing services to ratepayers - the property owners. I have frequently expressed the view that the changing nature of the services provided by local government makes me wonder whether the main method of raising funds - that is, through rates assessed on property values - should not be modified or amended in some generally acceptable way. I think it has to be seriously asked, for instance, whether the cost of services and facilities which benefit the whole community should be mainly borne by property owners. I know that a great deal of consideration has been given to this question, but it is a difficult one and remains unanswered.
It is my view that local government should have wider power than it now has to raise revenue. I believe that the best form of government is one in which the authority to raise money and spend it stays close to the people. It seems to me that the whole question of local government - its position in our national administrative structure, its role, its responsibilities and especially its finance - must be looked at. The Grants Commission certainly is not able to meet all of the problems in relation to local government. I believe that the appropriate place to do that would be at the constitutional review convention later this year, when we will have to consider what the relationship is going to be between the Commonwealth and local government authorities.
I believe that the prime objective of this type of legislation should be threefold. Firstly, the yearly Commonwealth allocation should be predictable in the amount to allow for forward planning by local government. The present grants system is, to a degree, unpredictable and therefore not a reliable source of revenue to local government or any council wishing to plan ahead. The result is often that it is not possible for a council to take into consideration such grants in forward planning programs. Secondly, the grants should be aimed specifically at the reduction or at least stabilisation of rates. By way of example, the general metropolitan increase in rates has been approximately 25 per cent this year. In country areas, rate increases this year have been up to 57 per cent - for example, in the Gloucester shire in New South Wales. If grants are not somehow tied to rate reductions or stabilisation, they will be used in addition to and not as part of a council’s normal revenue and loan program so as to stabilise or reduce rates. Thirdly, grants should be channelled through State governments, but local government and ratepayers as such should have some say in the distribution. The objective of this is to ensure a fair and reasonable distribution throughout each State and to safeguard against undue political interference.
The present legislation suggests that there should be distribution on a regional basis. In my view that would unduly restrict the use to which grants can be put by individual councils as the limit of regional projects is relatively small - for example, regions are often opposed to some local projects. It is for those reasons that I wish to move the following amendment:
That all words after That* be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: while not refusing to give the Bill a second reading, this House deplores the establishment of a complex new bureaucratic Commonwealth mechanism and is of opinion that the Bill should have provided that:
immediate consultations be held with the States to determine the financial requirements of local government taking into account their loan commitments, their overall financial responsibilities and the burden of rates on ratepayers;
funds provided to meet these requirements should be allocated to State governments for distribution to local government in accordance with priorities determined by the States after consultation with local government; and
payments should commence in 1973-74.*.
It is not the intention of the Opposition to oppose this legislation because it believes the Government has to a degree a mandate to put it into effect. In fact, the Opposition is very much in favour of the objective of the legislation, which is to help overcome the crisis that is developing in the financing of local government authorities. The Opposition believes, however, that the administrative arrangements are unnecessary. It believes that they are a duplication of the State apparatus. A whole new mechanism which is quite unnecessary is to be set up. For instance, there is in the New South Wales a Grants Commission which already has a tremendous amount of information as to the operations of local government and which could easily, fairly and justly distribute finance according to needs. This Bill could, if applied harshly, infringe the rights and responsibilities of the State governments. For that reason, I have reservations about the bureaucratic interference of the Commonwealth Government.
The Commonwealth has the money - that ls true. It is a matter of knowing how best to distribute it. I believe that the State governments are in the best position, having the knowledge and the experience, to determine the priorities as to where money should be best spent. That is referred to in a part of the amendment I have moved. I believe that the setting up of a new bureaucratic mechanism will cause undue delay in the providing of the financial assistance which is urgently needed. I see little hope of finance actually getting to the needy local government authorities by the year 1973-74. I do not believe the Department of Urban and Regional Development has the expertise at this point of time to perform the necessary administration. That can be done only by the use of the facilities that the State governments have available. This Bill is too vague in what it seeks to do. Whilst it would be quite wrong to try to interfere with the processing of this Bill, I believe it is right formally to put before the House by way of the amendment I have moved some of the reservations that the Opposition has about the Bill. I believe it is important that we on this side of the House should demonstrate our views in this mild way, that is, by way of an amendment which will not stymie the passage of the Bill but which states quite emphatically that we are not in favour of the setting up in Canberra of a bureaucratic instrumentality which is unnecessary and which seeks to bypass the functions of the State governments.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Is the amendment seconded?
– Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker. 1 wish to reserve my right to speak later.
– It was encouraging to honourable members on this side of the House to hear the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) confirm the worsening financial situation of local government. But he failed to mention that the present difficulties which local government faces and which this Bill aims to assist in remedying gradually developed during 23 years of determined avoidance of local government by a Commonwealth government of which he was a member. It was encouraging also to hear him express doubts about the present principles upon which local government revenue is raised. But why did not the Government of the day, of which he was a member, do something about the situation? After all, as a member of previous Governments for over 15 years, as a Minister for over 10 years and as a Deputy Prime Minister surely he was one of those who would have been in a position to assist or project the cause of local government. Or has his sudden awareness of local government developed only since he has been in Opposition? Maybe he has suddenly learnt about it from the Democratic Labor Party. Maybe this is another side benefit from the shot-gun wedding.
This legislation will do much to assist in the removal of some of the inequalities between regions and between local government areas in much the same manner as the Grants Commission has operated in the past in removing some of the inequalities between States of the Commonwealth. Those of us on this side of the House who have come here with a background of service in local government know from practical experience the constant financial dilemma that faces local government; that is, the increasing demand for services, the continuing increase in the cost of providing existing services and the limited access to revenue under which councils and local authorities have to operate.
In many local councils in New South Wales the burden on that select group, the ratepayers, has reached the limit. Despite a lengthy royal commission during 1965-66 into the problems of local government in New South Wales, very little has been done apart from the establishment of the New South Wales Local Government Assistance Fund which disburses general purpose and specific purpose grants, to implement the recommendations of the royal commission. Rate revenue based on property values only, without taking into account the principle of the ability of the ratepayer to pay is onerous and inequitable. Again, because of the system of allowing rates as a tax deduction, those on higher incomes receive a greater tax concession from rate payments than those on lower incomes.
Giving local government access to the Grants Commission for general purpose grants will do much to relieve the inequalities among ratepayers and will give the third level of government access to the Federal purse so that all taxpayers will be making a contribution towards the cost of providing local government services, and not just ratepayers. Clause 6 of the Bill defines the purposes for which grants may be made to local government - either to a local government body in a region or an approved regional organisation. Any definition of the method by which local government authorities are brought together into regional bodies is bound to find opposition from some member authority or council. In determining the regional groupings I believe the following criteria could well be taken into consideration: The philosophy of common regions for all government administration, community of interest, population distribution, the pattern of communications, topography and climate including river valleys, the distribution of natural resources, the pattern of industrial and commercial development, existing government administrative divisions, capacity to sustain a regional centre and to develop a regional identity, conformity with local government boundaries and accordance with statistical divisions.
The joining together of local authorities into regional divisions for the purposes of this Act will be an added bonus to local government. It will promote local government thinking into the greater perspective of assessing the needs and inequalities of regions. The decision of this Government to grant local government access to the Grants Commission is the biggest break-through for local government that has been made since Federation. It is an acceptance of a principle that local government associations and shire associations have been fighting for for almost 30 years, the principle that local government should receive a share of the common pool of taxation collected by State and Federal Governments. The associations’ case was based on the fact that when the means of financing local government were first established councils were called upon to provide only basic services that related to property and at that time it was fair and reasonable that rates based on property values should provide the source of their funds. In later years, especially since the Second World War, councils have been called upon to provide a whole range of cultural, recreational and community services which benefit all the people and have no relation whatever to property. Because of this, the rates income from property owners should be supplemented by an allocation from the taxes paid by all taxpayers.
This case was consistently put to Federal and State Governments for many years. It was first recognised in a limited manner by the New South Wales Government in the setting up of the New South Wales Local Government Assistance Fund in 1969. Whilst the intention of this Bill is to provide additional finance to councils or local authorities for general purposes as a topping up or equalising process, work is in hand to enable assistance to be made available under separate legislation for specific purpose grants.
In the Newcastle region local government is administered by 3 city and 2 shire councils. In addition, the Shortland County Council is responsible on a broader regional basis for the distribution of electricity, whilst the Hunter District Water Board reticulates water and provides sewerage services on a different regional basis again. The 5 councils undertake a wide range of essential services in addition to those directly carried out by the departments of the local government itself. Public works, health and immunisation services, garbage collection and disposal, maintenance of municipal property, and the care of parks and reserves are major items of expenditure. The financial programs of most local authorities are dominated by high works outlays with, in most cases, a continuing rise in total annual spend ing. The improvement of living standards and constantly expanding public needs have resulted in an expansion of local government expenditure which has often exceeded the rate of increase in population.
The amount of construction of new buildings, additions and alterations in an area is a useful indicator of the growth rate of the area. During the period 1966 to 1971 the aggregate estimated value of building applications to Newcastle City Council increased by 39 per cent. The value of the applications to the Lake Macquarie Shire Council more than doubled and the value of the applications to the Port Stephens Shire Council rose by half during the 4-year period 1966 to 1969. The disparate growth in population is shown by comparing the totals of populations of the councils. During the period 1966 to 1971 the population of Newcastle increased by 1.85 per cent to 145,718, whilst the population of the adjoining Lake Macquarie Shire increased by 13.75 per cent to 122,268. In Cessnock the population rose by 1.76 per cent. The population of the Port Stephens Shire rose by 19.81 per cent and the population of Maitland rose by 8.88 per cent.
The Newcastle City Council area, for example, is almost fully developed with a strong central business district that provides something like 40 per cent of all rate revenue collected, whilst the Lake Macquarie Shire, an adjoining shire, is a rapidly developing shire spread out over a larger area with major problems of development and connection of suburban centres. It should be made quite clear that grants to local government from the Grants Commission are in no way intended to replace revenue-raising by the local authorities themselves, but they should materially assist in levelling out inequality in access to revenue suffered by the less advantaged councils. If local government is to develop attractively and flexibly it must have financial independence. A case can be established for grants for the provision of services which result in large benefits to those in the areas outside the area in which the money is spent. A case can also be justified for grants that would enable the poorer units of local government to operate at minimum acceptable standards.
– As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) has made clear, the Opposition is not opposing the passage of the Bill, notwithstanding the fact that it has some misgivings about the long-term implications of the Bill and of the method adopted of getting to local government bodies moneys which they so badly need. We on this side of the House appreciate the need for more funds to be made available for local government bodies to discharge their very important duties. We appreciate the closeness of local government to those issues which affect people so much in their daily living, often more than the national matters which are dealt with in this Parliament.
The real question in this case is: By what method should moneys be allocated to local government? What was proposed before the last election by the Prime Minister has been proposed over a considerable period of time. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) gave an address to the Academy of Social Sciences at the Australian National University Seminar on Inter-Governmental Relations in Canberra on Monday, 8 November 1971. In a broad way he flagged this method of dealing with the allocation of finances, which is reflected in the Bill, when he said:
A Labor Government will ask the Grants Commission to recommend the amount of Commonwealth assistance required to remove the inequalities in servicing our developing suburbs and regions. The Commonwealth would clearly be most readily impressed and persuaded by a joint application by local and semi-government bodies in a region.
The Bill is in accordance with that statement made back in November 1971.
On 25 October 1972, in an address to the annual conference of the Local Government Association of New South Wales in Canberra, the Prime Minister referred again to the way in which he, if elected, was proposing to get finance to the assistance of local government bodies. In his address on that occasion he said:
Accordingly, a Labor Government will amend the Commonwealth Grants Commission Act to authorise the Commission to inquire into and report upon applications for Commonwealth grants by any semigovernment or local government authority or group of authorities, preferably on a regional or district basis. The Commission will determine the amount of Commonwealth help found necessary for that authority or group of authorities by reasonable effort to function at a standard not appreciably below that of other authorities or groups of authorities.
As I read this Bill, it seeks to carry out that statement.
The Prime Minister mentioned this again in his policy speech. The Governor-General’s Speech on the opening of Parliament, which is reported in the Senate Hansard at page 10, reads in part as follows:
My Government aims to make local government a genuine partner in the Federal system. To promote financial equality between regions the Commonwealth Grants Commission Act will be amended to authorise the Commission to inquire into and report upon applications made for grants for local government purposes. Discussions will be held with the States aimed at providing local government in each State with a voice and vote in the deliberations of the Loan Council.
I mention these references, which were made over a period of time, because I find myself having considerable objections to the method adopted in this Bill. At the same time I must say that this issue was put very fully from time to time before the Australian people, and at the last election they voted the present Labor Government into power. We in the Opposition accept and face that position. We do so in relation to this Bill as in relation to other Bills.
I do not agree that a government necessarily has a mandate to carry out every item which has been mentioned in a policy speech or in the course of an election campaign. I believe that there is a growing misunderstanding on this point. The fact is that, under our system, electors are compelled to choose between parties. They may disagree violently with some points of policy outlined in a policy speech or mentioned in the election campaign and yet, because of other major items which appeal to them or because of something they dislike in the policy of the other party, they vote in favour of that particular party and return it to power even though they disagree with items in the policy speech. No vote is taken on individual items in the policy speech. I suggest that the theory or the assumption that there is a mandate for everything mentioned in a policy speech is a false theory or a false assertion in terms of political science or in terms of our own constitutional conventions.
Of course we have the occasional situation in which a particular policy that is mentioned in a policy speech or made an issue in an election campaign is so much in the forefront of things, is so vital an issue and the parties are so much in conflict about it, that the party which is elected can truly be said to have a mandate to carry out that policy which it espoused during the election campaign. The particular policy that is embodied in this Bill falls somewhat short of that last category. However, it is one of a number of important issues which were put before the Australian people and I think it is fair to say that the Australian people would be entitled to expect this Government to carry out its promise when elected to power. It is a matter of precise detail when one comes to consider what is actually contained in a Bill. The function of an opposition is at all times to see that what is in a Bill, as distinct from the broad general issue which might be debated in an election campaign, is proper, and to oppose anything in the Bill to which it takes exception.
In the Committee stage the Opposition will be moving amendments designed to correct some things which we see in the Bill with which we disagree. The Committee stage will be the proper time to do this. If the Oppotion opposed this Bill, as those who disagree with some of the principles involved in it might be tempted to do, and if it took steps which resulted in this Bill not being able to be brought into effect, local government would be deprived of those funds which are provided for by the Bill. I believe that this would be contrary to the wishes of the Australian people as evidenced by their vote at the last election, following the way in which this matter was put to them. Accordingly, the Opposition does not propose to take any course which would lead to the defeat of this Bill.
However, having said that, I feel I should draw the attention of the House to the implications which are inherent in the method adopted in this Bill. In the distribution of State and Commonwealth powers the area of local government is one, perhaps above all others, which our founding fathers retained for the States. They thought that the States were much closer to local matters. They thought that this area was not of a national character and so it was not given to the control of the Federal Parliament. The councils themselves are created by State laws. The New South Wales Local Government Act of 1919 governs in every detail what the councils do in that State. There is no Commonwealth power to legislate in respect of that. In the past funds to enable these councils to carry out their functions have been derived partly by enabling the councils themselves to strike rates - general rates, special rates for kerbing and guttering outside private dwellings and so on - and in addition the States have provided funds for the local councils.
The difficulty which has arisen is that, with the rapidly expanding areas particularly in the metropolitan outer areas, it has been beyond the capacity of the councils to meet the needs. The well endowed councils in areas where services have been provided over a great number of years and which have become static are not in so much trouble. Indeed, even the poorer councils in the old city areas, where sewerage and other services are present, are not in so much trouble. But the rapidly expanding areas have produced pressures on councils for services, for amenities such as libraries, care centres and senior citizens homes, as well as for the normal ordinary functions of government which have been beyond their capacity to serve. This has led to a very great pressure from local government for further funds. This Bill now offers to those councils a further source of funds. Under the Bill councils may come to the Commonwealth direct. They bypass the States in doing so. It is true that under this Bill they are required to submit applications, and to do so on a regional basis, to a Grants Commission which this Bill establishes. But the Grants Commission provides only a filtering process. It looks at the application. It compares the performance of the council making the application with other councils and decides whether their services are of a standard equal to the services in other regions similar in character. It advises the Commonwealth Minister and then the Commonwealth Minister decides upon the allocation of funds. When he decides on the allocation of funds to the council he does so on the basis of a section 96 grant.
This section when originally inserted in the Commonwealth Constitution provided that for the first 10 years of Federation or until Parliament otherwise provides the Commonwealth could give financial assistance to the States on such terms and conditions as might be provided. The obvious thrust of section 96 was that the Commonwealth could come to the help of the States for the first 10 years after Federation or until Parliament otherwise provided. It was never a section designed to enable the Commonwealth to take over State responsibilities and bypass the States. Of course gradually and with the course of decision we have reached the situation where we have a Bill under which application is made by councils not to the States but direct to the Commonwealth and the grant is made, technically, in the form of a section 96 grant to the States but only on condition that it go straight to the council. So the State is a letter box or perhaps is more accurately described as a post office. The State is a letter box to pass on the cheque under section 96 to the council. This of course was never the original intention of section 96. This is a device that has been used in various ways. It has been used with the Australian Universities Commission. But the difficulty about using this procedure in a case such as this is that it could develop in the course of time into a rigid and detailed control of what the councils do.
If the councils want to establish a child care centre, a senior citizens centre, a swimming pool or a park, who decides it? Not the council. The council does not decide it. Not the States. The States do not decide it. The Commonwealth decides it. The Commonwealth Minister, on the advice of the Grants Commission, will now decide it. This of course means that the whole control of the lower tier of government is now potentially placed under the control of the Commonwealth Government by this Bill. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, the opportunity arises for a political application of the discretion in this field so that those regions which it might be thought politically advantageous to favour might be found getting the advantage under this Bill from the Commonwealth Government. I am not suggesting that my friend, the present Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) who a moment ago was sitting opposite me at the table, would engage in this kind of activity, but the Bill itself provides the potential for control of regions and councils from the centre in Canberra on a political basis. To that extent I suggest it needs very careful consideration.
The Bill as originally introduced and as at present before the House did not provide in clause 17 for consultation with the States. This itself highlighted the direct bypassing of the States in this field. I suggest that it is important to consider amendment of this area. The Leader of the Opposition has indicated that in Committee he will be introducing amendments to clauses 17 and 18 to require the Minister to consult with the States, which after all under our Federal Constitution have ultimate responsibility for this matter.
There are different views on how power should be distributed in Australia, and what may have been the distribution of powers in 1901 may not be the ideal distribution of powers in the minds of many of us in 1973. But the way to amend this is not by indirection. The way to amend this is not by stealth. The way to amend this is not by taking away from the States responsibility for tertiary education, by administering their primary and secondary schools through a centralised schools commission, by administering their hospitals by a centralised hospitals commission, by taking over their railways or by taking over control of the territorial sea from the low water mark at the top or by taking away responsibility for local government from them at the bottom, because there will be nothing left in the States but a shell if this is done. We have rationally to look at this matter. We have to decide what is our philosophy on the distribution of powers in 1973, not by indirection and not by this kind of Bill. We have to face up to this question and decide what is the best system.
The Prime Minister in answer to a question in this House this week has said that he is in favour of a centralised, unitary system of Government. Are we? Are the Australian people in favour of that? They have never had an opportunity of saying, and the matter ought to be put to the people so that they can say what they think. It should not be decided by indirection. I suggest very seriously to members of this House, including the Minister for Urban and Regional Development, that it is important when distributing powers in a democracy to have checks and balances. I suggest that there are dangers for all of us, including my friends opposite, in . having simply one central source of power. I do not think Australian people want it. At least they ought to be able to have a chance to say what they want. It should not be done by indirection in a Bill of this type.
However, having said that and given that warning as to the possible implications of this Bill, I come back to the point that I believe that councils and the Australian people are entitled to expect funds as a result of the promises that were given to them by the Government which they elected. I believe that local government needs this additional finance. I know certainly it does in my own area of Parramatta, Hornsby and Ryde, and I would not be a party to holding up the possibility of their getting this finance. I do not think they will get it quite as fast under this Bill as they might expect, but at least the
Government elected by the people ought to be given the opportunity of carrying out its promise to provide it. In these circumstances the Opposition does not intend to oppose the Bill.
– It has long been recognised that local government is in urgent need of additional finance. Over the years the traditional functions of local government have changed considerably from building roads and providing kerbing and guttering, of controlling sub-divisions and of supervising building operations. It has now entered the wider role of providing welfare, which is urgently needed in the Australain community. It might be thought and properly argued that local government has now reached an age and a measure of power, independence and influence sufficient to enable it to carry out its wider community responsibilities. It might also be thought that there is a proper way in which local government can raise its finance through the traditional channels through which it has been able to raise it for years. But it is a wellknown fact, and well known throughout local government in Australia, that the rating system of raising finance for local government has reached saturation point where people cannot afford to pay any more money by way of rates and so it is necessary, with the wider powers that local government has had to assume, that local government bodies be able to find additional sources of revenue. It is interesting to note that in government receipts for the period 1967-68 to 1971-72 Commonwealth receipts increased by 61 per cent and those of the States by 63 per cent, whereas local government receipts increased by only 37.5 per cent. I think that when one considers the additional outgoings of local government one must concede that local government is the poor relation in relation to finance that is available in the 3 tiers of government in Australia.
There is an implication in the Act which I think is desirable because local government areas were designed away back, possibly a century ago or shortly afterwards, on some neighbourhood affinity between people. They do not bear any resemblance to the needs of a modern local government area. It is implied in this legislation that local government has some responsibility in this regard. It is interesting to note that there are 900 local government areas in Australia. Many of these are very small areas which do not properly provide the functions that one would anticipate local government should provide today.
The Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) made some reference to the attitude of the New South Wales State Government to areas of local government. That Government has to be given a great deal of credit because I think it was the first government in the Commonwealth to set up 9 areas of association for planning purposes in regions throughout New South Wales. I think it is commendable that it took the initiative to bring those regions together so that they might at least have some say in planning within the areas concerned as local people are entitled to have. It is also interesting to note that the New South Wales Government appointed a former Under-Secretary of the Department of Local Government in New South Wales, Mr Barnett, to a very expert committee of people. In fact it would be very doubtful whether there has ever been a committee comprising more people who are better qualified to look into the role of local government in New South Wales. That committee will be reporting to that State Government in the near future.
It is fairly obvious from the statements that it has made and from the deliberations and the evidence that it has gathered that it is looking to larger local government areas with a view to the compounding of areas which previously had been small councils into large councils. I think the need for this is very obvious. If the Leader of the Australian Country Party thinks that this is not desirable then he and also the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr N. H. Bowen) are in conflict with the people who are regarded as being the most knowledgeable people in Australia on these matters. At the second national seminar on the needs of local government which was held in the national capital about this time last year many prominent people attended to present papers in relation to local government. It is generally conceded by those who attended the seminar or read reports of it that there is a great need for a rationalisation of areas of local government. Mr Justice Else-Mitchell said that a conference of State Ministers for Local Government in 1971 had expressed the following beliefs:
His Honour went on to amplify that statement. There were many others who held that view. It is also interesting to read from Richards on the new local government system. This relates to the position in Great Britain. The grants title commission has operated in Great Britain and honourable members will be aware that the system of government in that country is not the 3-tier system of government that we have in Australia. There is some difference. But the national Government has recognised for many years the need at the local level to provide this sort of bridging finance. In writing about this Richards said: ‘Every benefit involves cost’. He went on to say:
So there is a great responsibility on local government to look into its own situation and to do something about it. I am rather amazed that Opposition supporters can stand up in this place and make some of the claims that they do make in view of requests by the Australian Local Government Association. I think that every honourable member would have received before the last general elections from his mayor or shire president or whoever was the local government leader in his area a booklet asking the Government to make finance directly available from the Commonwealth to local government in order that it might carry out its functions properly.
It is interesting to hear the Leader of the Australian Country Party when he becomes very critical of the fact that this Government will give money to local government and that it will do so, as he said - which of course is not correct - directly without passing the money through the State governments. This is not the case. The money will go to the States. Admittedly the needs will be examined by a Commonwealth department but the money will be paid through the States. If honourable members look at the Aged Persons Homes Act 1954 they will notice that the Government of the day whose supporters now sit on the Opposition side of this House expressly excluded local government from being able to receive any benefit. If we look at the 1967 Act we will find that the previous Government changed the Act and it expressly stated that this money could be paid direct to local government, not through the State governments. It could be paid directly without any reference whatsoever to a State government. So the principle that the Commonwealth could make money directly available without any reference whatsoever to the State governments was well established by the people who are now trying to criticise this Government for doing what the Australian Local Government Assaciation had asked the Government to do for many years - to my knowledge since 1960. The Association had been completely ignored by the previous Government.
The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) made, in his ministerial capacity, direct subsidies available to his own local government area in the form of a subsidy to a welfare officer. It was all kept very quiet because there were plenty of councils throughout Australia which were employing social workers and social workers were not entitled to a subsidy. But the Warringah Shire Council was able to attract from the Commonwealth Government a part subsidy towards the salary of a welfare officer. The Leader of the Australian Country Party also made reference to a country council, the Gloucester Shire Council in New South Wales. It is a well known fact in local government in New South Wales that there had been - I say this without intending to give offence - a lack of management in that the Gloucester Shire Council had for a number of years not increased its rates. So there was a disproportionate or an abnormal increase in rates on one occasion because it was of great concern to the inspector of accounts in local government in New South Wales and to the Minister for Local Government in that State that the council together with one other rural local council in New South Wales had got into a financial position from which it was almost unable to extract itself. It is quite unfair of the Leader of the Australian Country Party to take this example and to say: ‘You know, this is the typical situation’. It is not the typical situation at all. lt is a very abnormal situation.
I compliment the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) and the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) on their initiative in doing what the Australian Local Government Association and 900 councils throughout Australia have asked the Government to do. That is to make money available to them. This is only a first step in a process of bringing local government into its proper perspective as the third tier of government. Other moves will be made. When the constitutional convention is held later this year there will be direct representation from local government and they will be asking for direct representation at meetings of the Australian Loan Council so that this inequity that has existed over all these years when councils have not been able to get proper loan money to carry out their functions and to provide for the needs of their areas will be removed. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development has stated and the Prime Minister has said in a speech that the purposes of this Bill is a topping up process. It is the same process as the Commonwealth Grants Commission has provided to the States since 1933. Since 1933 those States which were at a disadvantage with the other States were able to get money from this Government directly in order that some people might have no unfair advantage over other people in Australia and that everybody might have an equal share of the wealth that is available. This is the whole purpose of this Bill. Those who have been involved in local government will know that there are plenty of areas, particularly those that have rapidly developed over the post war years, that are urgently in need of some additional financial assistance to enable them to improve the standard of the roads, kerbing and guttering, drainage and the other works that are so urgently needed. I commend the Bill to the House. I think it is a move in the right direction. Certainly it is an ambitious move and it will present some problems. The Government does not deny that, and I do not think that anybody could properly concede that it will not present some problems. However, the Government will attack the problems. No doubt when the Commonwealth Grants Commission Bill was introduced in 1933 it was seen that it would present problems too. But these problems are not insurmountable, and certainly the Government will work to see that the Bill equitably distributes the money that is available in the areas where it is needed. As I have said, I think this Bill is a move in the right direction. It will be hailed by local government as the first breakthrough of any significance it has had in the last 2 decades.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Order! Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I just heard the honourable member for Cook (Mr Thorburn) saying some scandalous and untrue things in an allegation that I, as a Minister, gave preferential treatment to the Warringah Shire Council. Furthermore, he made a scandalous and false allegation that, to quote him, ‘I kept the thing quiet’. Both of those allegations are utterly and completely untrue, and could only be said by somebody who is either irresponsible or ignorant in a way in which no honourable member should be ignorant.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I apologise if I have misrepresented the facts. I will check them again. As I understood them I stated them, and I apologise to the honourable member if I have misrepresented them.
– I most certainly accept an apology given in those terms.
. I would like to follow up some of the points he has made and look firstly at local government finance.
Compared to other federations, the functions allotted in Australia to local government are unusually limited in scope. I believe we must expand the role of local government as the democratic body closest to the people. I suggest that the administrative principle we should follow is that power should be delegated to the body closest to the people iia which that power can be effectively exercised. But power cannot be effectively exercised without financial independence. That he who pays the piper calls the tune is only too true. One of the great erosions of the independence of the States was the transfer of their taxing powers to Canberra so that they became financial clients of the Federal Government. Now the first step in the same process is being taken in respect of local government. It may be desirable, but we must look at the consequences. What are the financial needs of local government in Australia? Total expenditure by local government for the year 1970-71, the latest year for which financial figures are available, amounted to $965m. This represented only a little over 7 per cent of expenditure by all levels of government in that year. There has been little change in the last 15 years. There has been a general consistency in the proportional level of local government expenditure with a slight increase in the early 1960s since followed by a small decline.
Local government’s share of government employment also has remained reasonably stable since 1946 comprising between 9.6 per cent and 10.3 per cent of total government employment in every year since then. Social services, which are obviously of growing importance in local government, have really been relatively minor activities of local councils. For example, in Victoria in 1968-69 they comprised only 4-7 per cent of ordinary service expenditure and if cultural facilities and grants to hospitals and charities are included, it rises to only 14.8 per cent. This clearly is the area m which local government expenditure in the near future will rise sharply if local government is to meet reasonable community needs and the needs of good administration. The needs of local government tend to be exceptionally labour intensive, and labour productivity in local government is very difficult to raise. Therefore, even if local government were to maintain parity with other levels of government and the private sector, local government employment should be increasing and, consequently, the relative financial expenditure of local government should also be increasing. I emphasise again that its relative financial expenditure is slowly declining.
Clearly local government needs more resources to do effectively what it has been doing in the past, apart from financing the considerable expansion of its activities which
I believe to be socially and administratively desirable. What are the sources of local government finance? On an Australia-wide basis, in 1970-71 local government had borrowings of $142m. Of the remainder, representing current revenue of $606.5m, some 68.4 per cent came from rates and fines - principally rates - 17.6 per cent came from profits on public enterprises and 13.2 per cent came from grants from State governments. There are a number of points to make about these figures. Firstly, local councils raise over 85 per cent of their current revenue, an enormously higher proportion than do State governments. By international standards also this is an abnormally high proportion. If Australia’s local government bodies are compared with comparable bodies in other countries, it will be seen that the proportion of revenue raised by local councils in Australia is higher than it is in Canada, United States of America, Sweden and twice as high as it is in New Zealand. Looking at government grants as a percentage of the ordinary revenue of local government, in Australia 14.7 per cent is provided by the Government, in New Zealand 20 per cent is provided by the Government, in the United States of America 28 per cent is provided by the Government, and in Canada 32 per cent, more than double the Australian figure, is provided by the Government. So local government bodies in Australia are raising an abnormally high proportion of their revenue from their own resources. This naturally gives them a much higher degree of independence. But power, of course, has its responsibilities.
No one likes paying taxes. Councillors are very close to the people - that is their great quality - but this also makes them very vulnerable to ratepayer reaction and there is therefore a very real limit to how high, in practice, rates can be set. I would like to say a few things about rates. They are often criticised as being a regressive tax falling exclusively on property owners. This is not true. Landlords naturally pass on their rates. Rents inevitably include an appropriate proportion of rates. So all people, whether rent payers or property owners, are in practice paying rates. Rating thus covers as broad a spectrum of the community as does income tax, and is far less regressive than sales tax, for instance.
As I have said before, there is a practical political limit to how high rates can be pushed, and if councils are to pursue their roles efficiently, they need additional finance, which in practice can come, directly or indirectly, only from the Federal Government. Some ratepayers, and some councils, seem to think this will be money for nothing. In fact it will be paid in the form of tax by very much the same people as pay the rates, but at least the council will not have to bear the political odium.
Before I turn to how this additional finance should ideally be distributed, I should like to mention one other point. In Victoria, the largest councils have populations of over 100,000 and the smallest, under 500, and there is a similar pattern in most other States. It is difficult to find an easy measure of the dis-economies of small scale in local government, but one measure is the proportion of net current expenditure devoted to general administration. New South Wales has the highest population per local government authority and also the lowest proportion of expenditure on administration. Victoria, whose authorities are smaller than New South Wales - an average of 16,500 as compared to the New South Wales average of 20,600 - finds its administration costs are 11 per cent higher. Of course, the principal advantage of local government is its small size. So, it is close to the people and it should not attempt to become too large. A United States study showed that costs per head of population, after declining as the size of local government areas became larger, eventually began increasing as the optimum size was exceeded and we must be careful not to consolidate local government so far that it not only loses touch with the people but it also starts becoming less economic.
How should this additional finance, which I am sure both sides of the House agree is necessary for local government, be distributed to local councils? So far I have supported the purpose - or anyway, the ostensible purpose - of the Bill which is to give help to councils. But when one examines the actual proposals of the Government, one has serious doubts. I agree with the point made by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in his second reading speech; the problem is to reduce disparities between council areas. This undoubtedly is the greatest problem. Some councils - those in wealthy areas which are fully built up, with most facilities already provided - have little if any need for the type of assistance we are discussing today. Others, in expanding areas, with less rateable value, have great need of assistance and 1 can accept that the Grants Commission which has long given balancing payments to the mendicant States would be a suitable body to consider the claims of local government.
Clearly, of course, the Grants Commission could not possibly deal with 900 separate local government bodies. So, the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) is going to approve regional groupings of local government authorities and permit them to apply to the Grants Commission. The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) and accepted by the Prime Minister to require in the Act as it will become that there should be consultation with the State governments before these regional groupings are approved in my opinion is a great improvement, but nevertheless the ultimate power rests with the Minister for Urban and Regional Development. He is the one who will give his approval on these issues and I do not believe that this is a proper power to give the Minister because he does not have the staff or the organisation to make rational judgments on this issue.
As far as I can see, the reason for this administrative monstrosity seems to be purely to redeem a rash but vote catching electoral promise by the Prime Minister to allow local government direct access to Commonwealth funds. That was one reason. The other reason seems to be that the Government sees an opportunity to deal a sharp blow at the prestige and power of the State governments. As the Prime Minister has said in this House, he would prefer a unitary system; and this Bill provides him with an opportunity to march some distance along that stoney path.
But if we do not agree with what the Government proposes, what alternatives are there? 1 suppose we could give a general purpose grant to the States and hope that they would spend more on the local councils. After all, each State has a large local government department dealing with the problem of councils and, on an Australia wide basis, more than 13 per cent of local government current revenue already comes from the State governments. But I am sure that such an approach would not be effective. Any grants for local government must be made as a specific grant under section 96 of the Constitution to make sure that it reaches its intended objective.
But local government constitutionally is the responsibility of the States and the State governments must be concerned in this process. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development said that the States would not be bypassed in this process, but there is not much guarantee of this in the Bill. The Minister did not make entirely clear the extent to which State governments were to be concerned. I suggest that State governments should assess the needs of their local councils, using the local government organisation that already exists in the States, particularly the need to equalise services, and the States should be the body that presents the case for their local governments to the Grants Commission. The Grants Commission could then make a recommendation to the Government for the proportional allocation of available resources between the States so as to equalise local government services between the States. The administrative responsibility within the States would remain where it should be, namely, with the State governments. Although I deplore the political and administrative failings of the Government in this Bill, I support its purpose of providing urgently needed additional finance for local government and because of this urgent need 1 am prepared to support the Bill
– The Grants Commission Bill is an element of the Government’s policy to restructure the finance of local government and the development of our urban and regional areas. The proposal to have the Grants Commission make ‘equalising grants’ to local government bodies must be seen in the total context of the Government’s proposals in urban and regional affairs. All these measures are due to our basic belief that me Australian Government can no longer ignore the problems of the cities and regional towns. Far-reaching reforms with respect to local government are beyond the financial capacity of the States and local government finance is in a state of stress in most areas. There is a tremendous need for co-ordination of development and administrative programs within the cities, towns and regions. Australian Government directed programs are being implemented in the States in a great variety of. functions such as education, roads and transportation, and health and social security, but hitherto there has been no overall policy attempt that seeks to co-ordinate the work of
State and local government in urban and regional development.
The councils that are struggling financially with an inadequate rating base, a booming population - not many of these people, proportionately, are ratepayers - a backlog of unmade streets, inadequate social services and pressure for facilities due to the influx of tourists or unplanned industrial development all need assistance in the way of general purpose revenue grants. Single purpose initiatives by the Commonwealth and State governments in works such as national estate proposals, the sewerage backlog and transportation services will only marginally alleviate the situation of the local governments. The solution to the problem must be found in the best ways available. The Australian Government could make straightforward allocations based on criteria such as population. But this would not distinguish between the various degrees of need. The Grants Commission is a quasi-judicial body that can investigate needs and resources and make recommendations on the level of financial grants that should be made. The Commission, since its inauguration in the 1930s, has proved to provide a sensible and fair way to restore financial equality and, in principle, there seems to be no reason why it should not work equally well with respect to local government. However, the Commission cannot be expected to handle the 900 or so local government bodies and thus the powerful idea of requiring regional groupings or a regional context within individual local government areas is put forward. Although this may be said to make for better administrative ease, there is much to recommend a regional approach to the problem. It is the regional approach which will allow us to help and give local government a wider appreciation of its role. The States are adopting a regional approach as a means of encouraging decentralisation. If the Australian Government is prepared to invite local government to join the partnership and to share in the fiscal responsibilities that are largely controlled at the Australian and State government level it seems not unreasonable for it to seek, insofar as this policy initiative is concerned, an administrative regional organisation of local government bodies that will look at needs unconstrained by what are often irrelevant boundaries.
The Australian Government realises that it has to pay respect to the existing historical organisational structure of local government. In fact, for statutory reasons there is little alternative, but that should not preclude the Australian Government from asking local government bodies to acknowledge regional groupings. This should not be offensive to local government bodies because many of them are already grouped in a variety of ways, for a variety of functions - for example, regional libraries, social security, administration of justice, refuse disposal and so on. The idea of regional groups is not new to local government people. It has simply been extended for the purposes of the Grants Commission scheme. The requirement for the Minister for Urban and Regional Development to approve regional organisations is a discretion that will be exercised democratically and in the light of the Australian Government’s concern for the ordinary citizen.
How the Grants Commission will, in fact, go about its business is simply up to it. The element of patronage simply does not apply. All honourable members must surely be aware of the way many people identify government with local government. The biggest file in my filing cabinet is on local government matters. Local government is the level of government closest to the people and many of the services that are of most immediate concern to the people we represent can be satisfied by local and semi-government bodies, such as the Water Board. My electorate of Macarthur contains 13 of these authorities and for too long they have been crying out for Federal assistance. In many ways the success of this Government will be determined by the success it has in giving local government the means to carry out its many important jobs. This Bill will not be the immediate solution to every local government area’s needs, as the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) clearly stated in his second-reading speech.
I do not claim that this Bill and the instrumentality it will allow local government to have access to will be without many problems. If a government waits until every problem can be resolved before legislation is introduced I am afraid little legislation will ever be introduced. All legislation is subject to amendment and review and this Bill represents a first attempt by the Commonwealth to grapple with the problems of local govern ment. It may not prove the very best way to help.
At the outset I said that this Bill related to a range of measures in urban and regional affairs. All of these represent new paths of government endeavur to solve social and economic problems. Innovation in social affairs is a very complex and demanding process and we are all well aware of the problems. There are 4 natural regions in my electorate - but the word ‘natural’ should be avoided in any definition of a region. There is really no such thing as a definitive regional boundary. It simple depends on what function one is describing as a feature of the region. One can say that the Illawarra region possesses special disabilities with respect to it being a low income region with a poor tax base for the collection of rates and where expenditure per head on services in nearly every public area is below that of the rest of Australia. The south-west corridor, as defined in the Sydney regional outline plan, . is another area that commends itself for definition as a region due to the factors of a booming population and a necessity for increased loan raising at a time when its population is young. The Shoalhaven Shire is a very large shire having all local government services combined in it and possessed of a very competent planning body. It is a regional government in microcosm. Local governments can certainly carry out a good job here.
Margarine Manufacture in Australian Capital Territory - Pyramid Selling; - Whitlam Ministry - Currency Revaluation - Australian Surf Life Saving Movement
– Order! It being 15 minutes past 10 o’clock p.m., and in accordance with the order of the House of 1 March I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
-I appreciate this opportunity to raise a matter of great importance. At the same time I want to criticise this Australian Labor Party Government caustically for the lack of control of its Ministers and for condoning the actions that they take. It appears quite obvious to me that the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Enderby) in unilaterally granting a margarine production licence tothe margarine company
Marrickville Holdings Ltd, did so without the knowledge of the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt). This poses a few questions to which I hope the Government will give this Parliament and the people of Australia some honest answers. First, I ask: Why did the Minister for the Capital Territory act so secretly and without consulting the Minister for Primary Industry? Could the answer be that the Minister for the Capital Territory and this Australian Labor Party Government have a close politico-financial alliance with this margarine company? Why would Marrickville Holdings be granted a monopoly licence without any apparent reference to or information being given to other margarine companies, several of which are Australian-owned? Surely the proper way would have been to give the right to all manufacturers to submit a proposition to be studied by the Government. I believe that he should have allowed all margarine companies to compete for the Canberra licence. His action prompts the question: Has the Marrickville company been selected to break the quota system by manufacturing in the Australian Capital Terirtory? If so, it is clear to me that this is the most serious threat to the dairying industry in 33 years.
The Marrickville company could be a stepping-stone to flood interstate markets in defiance of the State quotas. I remind this Parliament and this Government that no company has fought the quota system more determinedly that has Marrickville. It was the company, which, with Lever Brothers, launched the Mrs Jones’ campaign in 1966. I was then in the Victorian Parliament. That was a misleading advertising campaign and I had great pleasure in supporting the Victorian Minister for Agriculture, Sir Gilbert Chandler, in the legislation which he brouht down at that stage and which defeated their plan. I think they are probably like elephants - they never forget.
The unilateral granting of permission to Marickville Holdings brings to mind many reports over the years that this company has been one of the Australian Labor Party’s backers. This prompts me to ask another question: Is Marrickville at last being rewarded for its political and financial investment in the Australian Labor Party over the years? If one casts one’s mind back to the records of prosecutions for breaches of the margarine quota and misleading advertising by margarine companies, Lever Bros and Marrickville Holdings have a poor record. I represent an elec torate where the dairy fanner population is probably one of the largest of any electorate in this Commonwealth, so I view this situation with alarm. Are we to see the great stabilised dairying industry pulled down to its knees by the irresponsible and rather dubious actions of the Minister for the Capital Territory?
Can the Government honestly condone this approach to the smashing of margarine quotas? The whole episode savours of being near to a public scandal. One company only is selected by the Minister for the Capital Territory. The announcement was made the day before the meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council of which his colleague, the Minister for Primary Industry, is chairman. The Minister for Primary Industry was not told of the announcement but at a belated moment the Minister for the Capital Territory attended the Australian Agricultural Council meeting and had his actions confirmed on the explanation of the Minister for Primary Industry who said that he was responsible for a misunderstanding in the mind of the Minister for the Capital Territory. It is nice to have colleagues, is it not? But the interesting observations are that prior to the Minister for the Capital Territory making his announcement many things had taken place and, I believe, in anticipation or by collusion.
Firstly, the factory of Home Pride bakery at Fyshwick was purchased some months ago. Plant suitable only for the manufacture of margarine was installed at least 1 month before the announcement. This surely must have been done in consultation with the Minister and it raises doubts in my mind. It certainly makes a mockery of the statements by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) that there is full consultation within the Ministry and at Cabinet of all policy initiatives. The fact that the licence was granted to a company which apparently had already acquired premises in the Australian Capital Territory is disturbing. It would appear that the Minister by his decision deliberately backed a political favourite and gave it a monopoly. He certainly needs to explain his case.
I have raised this matter because I believe it should be aired. It is certainly contrary to the allegedly anti-monopolistic Labor policy which is boasted about by honourable members opposite. This action which appears to be somewhat suspect will have the opportunity to break the long standing all-States agreement on quotas. I see it as a threat to an industry traditional for its great contribution to the wealth of this nation. The whole of my electorate will feel its repercussions. This Government will go down in history as one which refused to recognise the importance of the rural areas of this Commonwealth, particularly the most efficient dairying areas which are in the electorate of McMillan and upon which thousands depend for their livelihood.
– What about those with a coronary condition?
– It has no effect on them. It concerns me deeply to see the initiatives taken by the coalition government being imperilled because of an anti-rural industry stance taken by Ministers of the Australian Labor Party Government.
Margarine quotas by the unanimous agreement of the States took into consideration the oil seed industries importance but that industry, because of bad seasons and many disabilities and some lack of know-how, cannot supply the present quotas which were recently increased by 6,000 tons by this Government. This means that the polyunsaturated table margarine industry has to rely on a great quantity of imports and therefore must stand aside for our own nationally important dairy industry. It horrifies me to think that this Government would play one industry off against another when both would manage to exist comfortably in co-operation. That is what the previous Government had promoted.
– I have had a complaint from a migrant family which I believe should be conveyed to the House in order to draw attention to a highly undesirable practice. The complaint is based on an advertisement which appeared in the ‘Situation Vacant’ column of a local newspaper which sought a man of specified age to do what was called ‘supervisory work’ and whose qualifications were to include a European language in addition to English. The response to the advertisement was to be directed to a post office number. Sure enough, this turned out to be a small variation on an old theme and two of my constituents - husband and wife - .ended up at a group meeting of a pyramid selling organisation. What happened next is best described in the wife’s own words. She stated:
He started telling us (until my head was spinning) how we could start making part time $50 to $100 a month to begin with and rise to $4,000 a month.
Apparently this latter figure is the amount that would be received on becoming what is called a ‘general’, because she goes on to say:
Of course, you could not just rise to be a general. After you went higher and higher, to become a general you gave them $2,500 and in return they gave you $4,000 worth of goods. Not only were you making $1,500 profit right away, you made 60 per cent profit on all the goods sold. He went on and on and then they showed us a 10-minute film of the 3 men in the United States who started it all and even had ex-Vice President Humphrey on screen going mad about their product.
I refrain at this stage from using the name either of the product or of the group involved because further inquiries are necessary. However, 2 things are clear enough to warrant some public cautioning even at this early stage. Firstly, the impression was obviously given and intended to be given that an employment opportunity existed when in fact no employment opportunity existed. Secondly, the reference to a European language was obviously intended to attract migrants to the scheme and it achieved its purpose because, as well as my own constituents, two other foreign language speaking migrant couples were present at the meeting.
The hard sell associated with pyramid selling is bad enough at any time. It is all the worse when directed against migrants who may not be so proficient in English as to understand the implications of the scheme they are being invited to join or who may not be as aware as the population generally of the previous warnings which have been given against this form of selling. I hope that these comments, brief as they are, can be brought in particular to the attention of the foreign language Press and migrant groups and that they in turn will be prepared to bring them to the urgent attention of their readers and members. I think I should add that I have taken the opportunity of contacting the Perth migrant task force recently set up by the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) so that this matter can be listed for their consideration and for their assistance in due course in bringing appropriate warnings to the attention of migrant groups in my State. 1 am quite sure, however, that ours is not an isolated case. I invite the attention of honourable members to it in the hope that they will raise this matter in similar avenues in their own areas. I should perhaps add that the constituents I mentioned at the beginning of my speech did not get involved in the scheme that they are complaining of and to that extent they are impartial observers and have no axe to grind. Their concern is for the position of others who have been dragged in, to use their term, and I believe that concern should be shared by all of us.
Finally, while I want to focus attention on the specific migrant implications of this scheme I hope that no one will be left with the impression that the other improper aspect of it - that is the advertising of non-existent job opportunities - is any less serious. Only today I received a complaint of an unsolicited visit to a private home by a canvasser who, in the absence of the parents, questioned a 14- year old daughter of the family on her parents’ work and income. This was again followed by what appeared to be a job offer and the appearance of this employment opportunity was bolstered by the very name of the organisation offering it, namely, Poins and Associates, employment consultants. When I rang this organisation this afternoon to check whether it was in fact an employment agency I was told that it was not exactly an employment agency but it was involved in what it called employment survey and staff planning. I suspect that what that adds up to is another system of eventually appointing generals.
I have had a third case, again only in recent weeks and following the same line, of a woman dragged into a scheme while looking for work following a nervous breakdown during which time she was on an invalid pension for over 6 months. Her condition must have been known to the people she was dealing with at the time she was enrolled. Again I refrain from mentioning the firm and the persons involved in this case because there are very serious implications and I do not want to prejudice the manner in which I intend to pursue her position. I believe, that these matters are serious for all sorts of reasons, but not the least because they are directed against people who are least able or least equipped to defend themselves against the blandishments offered. I hope that by raising this matter in the House and outside of it, which I intend to do at every appropriate opportunity, I will be at least adding to the warnings which have already been given against these schemes in so many ways and in so many forums, but still apparently without success in providing the cover which we should be giving.
– Tonight I participate in the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House to bring to the notice of the Ministers concerned what some people refer to as a scandal. I refer to the failure of the people and companies concerned to pass on to the Australian consumer the savings that should have resulted in imports following the unilateral decision of the 3-man band in December to appreciate the Australian dollar and the decision not to follow that same dollar down in February. One need not be a tough minded critic nor a perceptive analyst to obtain figures - reliable ones - which show that less than one-third of the estimated reduction in import prices following revaluation is being passed on to the Australian consumer.
Just as we hear repeated as often as the clock strikes the statement that costs fall heaviest on certain sections, it is beyond doubt, because of the heavy capital commitment in imported machinery, that the primary producing sector is the one most savagely hurt in this circumstance. Figures show that $400m a year is being pocketed by overseas suppliers and local importers not for services rendered and goods supplied but as extra profit. One can ask with impunity the question: Did the Labor Government revalue just to make profits for currency speculators and foreign manufaturers at the expense of Australian exporters? Newspapers published at the time of the currency alignments decisions contained many statements which have since been proved to be mere platitudes, such as: ‘Industries hit by the effects of revaluation will get Federal compensation’, “The Federal Government will give cash compensation to industries hit by the revaluation of the Australian dollar’, and Treasurer said today the Government would not depart from the principles of compensation adopted by previous governments’. The most unguarded statement of the year by the Treasurer (Mr Crean), as reported in the ‘Melbourne Observer’ of 24 December 1972, was as follows:
You could say that the announcement the Prime Minister made this morning contained the voice of Whitlam and the hand of Crean.
Some 5 months later - months of evading the issue and begging the question; months when almost no decision has been made on these matters - one can state unequivocally that the voice is silent and the hand is paralysed. The hand is incapable of turning on the tap which the Treasurer referred to in a humourous way
In this House on one occasion. We have been Waiting for 5 months for the Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, his Deputy and the Treasurer to justify their precocious behaviour to the public of this country. Those gentlemen, in their rather infamous statements of December and January last, which sought to outflank the forces of the mining and rural sectors before they could organise, have had ample opportunity to give effect to what must now go down as being meaningless words - words uttered without any depth of feeling or sincerity. No compensation has been granted to the Australian grain industry. Up to this stage the Press has carried no announcement of a favourable decision on compensation of the sorghum growers of Queensland and the wheat growers of Australia. The Australian Wheat Board has received no reply to its claim in respect of losses, nor has it received permission to cover against revaluation losses pertaining to non-payment on a given date.
However, tonight I want to make a plea on the other sector - the negative side of the revaluation issue peddled so assiduously by the Government at the time of the currency re-alignment. Its thinking was that the price of Australia’s imports would fall; that imports should be cheaper not only to the extent of the revaluation but also to the extent that tariffs and sales taxes calculated on percentages also would be less. The result should be a lessening in the rate of increase in the prices of competing Australian goods, which also would tend to increase real incomes - a factor the Government should try to ensure is reflected in reduced wage claims. How wrong the theoreticians were - theoreticians who, as was stated earlier today in this chamber, are completely devoid of practical experience! Prices are continually going up and up. One of the few imports that has fallen in price is tea - by 3c a lb. Wages, encouraged by a government which seems, however, to be very chastened by the happenings in Victoria on Saturday last, are the highest on record, resulting in increases in the prices of beef and other essential foodstuffs. But no wholesale compensation has been paid to the rural sector - a sector which is in no position to stand any arbitrary reduction in its selling prices. That was confirmed by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics in its economic survey of the wheat growing industry for the 3 years 1969-70 to 1971-72. Australian wheat growers averaged a return of only 4.1 per cent on capital employed after allowing for a very low wage of $42 a week for the farmer’s own labour - a labour which is skilled and responsible.
Where are the responsible Ministers in this issue? They lambast us with International Labour Organisation principles and average wages; but where are they when it comes to dispensing justice to a section of the community which is subject to tremendous pressure from economy, science, philosophy and now a Government which is not concerned with its plight? Talk is cheap; action negligible. The Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) said in the Senate the other night in reply to a question concerning the fact that imports have not decreased in price: This matter does cause concern’. But what has he done about it? What has he done about the financial plight of the people who are receiving less than half the accepted commercial return on their capital and less than the minimum industrial wage for their labour. To reduce their income to half of this by arbitrary government action is totally unjustified. It is unfair to the individual farmer and certainly not in the national interest of maintaining a reasonably prosperous and expanding grain growing industry.
Very few items of imported equipment have fallen in price and overseas freight rates have steadily escalated. It is clear that the overseas suppliers of goods and services to Australia and the local importers of these goods are taking as extra profit practically the whole amount that should have reached Australian producers and consumers in the form of lower prices. In some instances where a slight reduction has been made purchasers have found that their trade-in values have decreased by a corresponding amount. They have moved in sympathy with each other. But the savings are not going to where they should be going.
This is a clear case which, due to the inaction of the Government, should be referred forthwith to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Prices for investigation and action. The losses are difficult to assess because they are so multitudinous. A side issue as far as the sorghum growers of Queensland is concerned is the loss of dispatch money on export cargoes of sorghum. Due to efficiency of operations and planning by practical men on the farmer organisations and not the theoreticians so ardently advocated by the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan), dispatch money on 4 cargoes of sorghum, due to the changing rates of exchange of the Australian dollar versus the American dollar, has fallen from $21,722 to $18,276. I submit that this amount should be paid forthwith to the Queensland Graingrowers Association. This is a small amount when compared with the loss against sales, but nevertheless a loss which has been forced on to the growers. We will not accept a government which seeks to avoid legitimate challenge and controversy. Disinterest is not the hallmark of toughness. What we want is tough-mindedness; that is, the willingness and ability to look facts in the face, however bitter they may be, to appraise them at their worth and to act calmly, judiciously and determinedly.
– I rise to speak because of certain remarks concerning margarine which were conveyed to me and which I gather were made a little while ago by the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Hewson). I regret that I was not in the House at the time the remarks were made. I was attending a meeting of the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council. I left that meeting to come into the chamber. I do wish - if I put it this way with all fairness - that the honourable member had let me know that he intended to speak on this subject which is obviously of interest to me, on the adjournment debate tonight, so that I could have been here to hear him and perhaps to reply to him. My difficulty now is that I do not know what he said. I shall obtain the Hansard record of his speech in the morning and if the honourable member’s remarks call for any reply - I do not know whether they do - 1 will take the first opportunity to reply to them.
It seems to me implicit in the little I heard of the honourable member’s speech, that there is confirmation of the long-standing attitude of the honourable members who belong to the Australian Country Party section of this Parliament in their determination to support one group of people in the country in apparent opposition to the interests of another group. In other words there is a divisiveness implicit in their attitude. It is well known what happened in Canberra as far as margarine is concerned. The Australian Agricultural Council met in February. It considered, amongst other things, the quota system of margarine production. In my view that quota system operates against the interests of the great majority of Australians who are consumers and who want a spread to put on their bread. In the interests of diversity of choice, maximising their freedom of choice as consumers and giving them a cheaper product when it is available, they should be able to buy what they wish. Perhaps more important than anything else it is a product that almost unanimously, from the point of view of medical opinion, is in the interests of their good health - polyunsaturated margarine. The quota system, it cannot be denied, operates against all those 3 purposes that should be fulfilled by any proper system of government.
– That is where you and I differ.
– Yes, that is quite clear. At the meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council I argued, as did others, for a revision of the system of margarine quotas. The Agricultural Council agreed that the Australian Capital Territory, which had never been considered before - and it was as a result of my having raised the matter that it was considered - would be entitled to produce 300 tons of margarine a year. I accepted that. The Australian Capital Territory will produce its 300 tons. I hope that subject to consultation and discussion with the Australian Agricultural Council, because that is the purpose of that Agricultural Council, in the not too distant future the quota system will give way to a better system which will allow the consumers of Australia to have access to the spread of their choice, whether it be butter or margarine, polyunsaturated or otherwise in the interests of their health, their pocket and their freedom as individuals. I hope that the quotas will not be imposed upon the consumers as they have been imposed in the past, by a government that was dependent almost entirely on support from a sectional political party basing its support almost entirely on sectional interests.
The divisiveness which it seems to me is implicit in the sorts of remarks that I heard the honourable member saying, does not even take account of the people he claims to represent. There are rural industries in this country which depend upon ingredients produced by them to be used in the manufacture of margarine. So there is a shortsightedness in the approach of the Country Party no matter how one looks at it. I will not say any more at this stage except that when I have had a chance to look at the Hansard tomorrow. I may wish to say something else. But I shall certainly give the honourable member notice of my intention if I wish to say something further on the matter.
I have been asked by the Treasurer (Mr Crean) to indicate on his behalf in response to some remarks which I understand were made by the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) that the whole question of import pricing has been referred to the Parliamentary Committee on Prices for its consideration.
– I want to raise a matter which should be of interest and concern to all those who have extolled the virtues of Australian beaches and have benefited from the feeling of security of being watched over while using these beaches by those selfless individuals, the members of Australia’s surf life saving clubs. There can be few more admirable organisations than the Australian surf life saving movement. Not only does the organisation, formed on the principle of vigilance and service, exemplify the highest ideals of man’s concern for the well-being of his fellow-man; it also has saved the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of people and has brought great notice and credit to this country, in a way no other organisation can emulate.
It has been the inspiration for similar movements throughout the world. It has provided an example of community service, allied with enrichment of personal skills and development of individual character of enormous significance. It has played more than a small part in the development of an Australian image reflecting great credit on this country. It is not a moribund organisation. In fact the reverse is true, as the surf life saving movement has experimented with and adopted new equipment, new techniques and new methods in response to changing knowledge and technology. For all these reasons, and many more, the surf life saving movement is deserving of our utmost respect and assistance.
I mention assistance because the surf life saving movement is experiencing severe difficulties in attaining its objectives of providing the most up to date service and protection to the maximum number of people using Australia’s beaches. The organisation is suffer ing from absence of financial support in three main areas. These are the provision of basic accommodation, the provision of basic equipment and the provision of sophisticated equipment. Let us be under no misapprehension. It is through no lack of effort by club members that the clubs lack finance. In my own area of Warringah, as a patron of one of Australia’s oldest and most famous clubs, the Manly Club, and a supporter of the other clubs in the electorate, I know at first hand how hard the members work to raise money. Just a few weeks ago the honourable member for Mackellar and I, together with hundreds of others, walked 10 miles in a walkathon to raise money for the power boats operated in the Warringah peninsula. Raffles, barbeques, appeals, parties - a host of methods are used by the clubs to raise money. I am glad to say that in the Manly-Warringah area, the local councils as well as local businessmen contribute significantly to club funds. But the cost of buildings, the cost of maintenance, and the cost of equipment is rising more quickly than the income of the clubs can stand. This is not confined to Manly-Warringah; this is reflected, I believe, in most areas in which clubs operate or would like to operate. Just recently the New South Wales State Centre of the surf life saving movement adopted a report from a special committee formed to investigate the financing of surf club premises and equipment.
I believe that the Federal Government should take great interest in and support some of the proposals of that committee. In essence the proposals involve three stages of development. The first stage involves consideration by local councils to provide redevelopment loans to build facilities to be known as beach pavilions. Ideally, these pavilions would include room for equipment and gear of a beach inspector with access to telephone and public address, a bunk room to accommodate 12 to 20 bunks and cooking facilities, a captain’s room, a secretary’s room, a committee room, female and male public dressing rooms with toilet facilities, a room for a ladies auxiliary, a locker room and internal showers for club use, an ambulance or casualty room, caretaker’s and members’ resident quarters, assembly room or hall with kitchen facilities, and a boat and gear room. These pavilions, to be adapted from present buildings, should be a required and accepted part of beach development. It is obvious that with increased leisure time becoming available, more and more people will use beaches and tax to the utmost the present facilities.
The second stage involves the provision of funds to build new facilities similar to the type I have outlined. Both these stages involve the co-operation of councils and State and Federal governments. What are needed are long-term loans, at little or preferably no interest, being made available to the councils and, most significantly, this not being counted as part of their normal loan allocation. In other words, special provision and special loans should be made to seaside councils specifically for the development of these beach facilities and not having the effect of reducing the councils’ loan allocations for other local government work. The Commonwealth could and should readily co-operate with the State in the provision of such special loans.
The third stage deals particularly with equipment. I am not talking about basic equipment such as surf reels which are financed mostly by club members or donors, but I am speaking about sophisticated equipment of high cost such as power boats, beach buggies, towers and so on. To finance this equipment I fully concur and endorse the suggestion that a fund should be created, financed by the State and Federal governments plus contributions from the life assurance offices. There can be no argument that the life assurance offices benefit greatly from the activities of the surf life saving movement - 191,339 lives had been saved by the clubs at the time of completion of the Association’s last annual report - and I can see no reason why this Government should not immediately initiate discussions with the life assurance offices aimed at reaching an understanding whereby these offices contribute to the fund I have suggested. It may mean the setting of a special levy on the life assurance companies, or other means may be preferred, but I would suggest and urge in the strongest terms that prompt action be taken.
I have not mentioned costs. I hope that my colleague, the honourable member for Mackellar, will have the time, will support me and will deal with this aspect of the suggestions I have raised tonight. I have not taken a political stance. I have sought only to present to this Government a suggestion which, if implemented, would reflect great credit on all par ties, and be of untold value to an organisation at once unique and irreplaceable.
– I am very happy to join with the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar) tonight in making a special plea for a group of dedicated young men. From time to lime a great deal is said about the shortcomings of the youth of this country, yet along the 20 miles or so of the coastline around Sydney every weekend hundreds of young men give unselfishly of their time in devotion to the cause of the protection of others. These young men protect those who are participating in recreation and sport against the dangers of the surf. The dangers of the surf are real; they are not imaginary. Without these young men and their constant vigilance one could not estimate the number of lives that would possibly be lost through drowning, shark attack or other mishaps that can occur in the surf.
These young men patrol the beaches; they ensure good conduct in the water; they ensure the safety of our citizens. Not only that, these men and youths assist in the development of still younger people - the children - in the sport of surfing, in the recreation of the surf and the beach, and also in the development of a spirit of service to other men and women. What is of concern is the assistance they can expect from the Government. One who preceded me as the member for Phillip, now Senator Joe Fitzgerald, first advocated Commonwealth Government assistance for the surf life saving movement in this country. He succeeded in that the previous government started a form of aid which has been continued. That aid, valuable though it is, is not sufficient for the purposes of the life saving movement. That aid goes almost exclusively to the administration of the Surf Life Saving Association. Valuable though that may be, more assistance is needed. The assistance is needed on the beach where immediate help is given to those in difficulty.
As the honourable member for Warringah has said, this is not merely a political matter. It is a matter which should attract the sympathetic attention of all members of this House. This is a life saving service. This is a service which truly saves lives. It also saves injury. It is active in the development of the personalities and the bodies of the youth of this country. The life savers should not be dependent on charity for their continued existence or on the whim of business or on the decision of some benefactor to hand out occasionally a donation. These people are entitled to the support of the community. The only way in which adequate community support can be given is through the attention of this Parliament.
Each weekend during the summer months we watch a very vigorous and spectacular sport. It is a great recreation for those who want to watch the surf carnivals. It is a wonderful recreation and a very healthy exercise for those who wish to participate in the sport. Those who participate need this assistance. In this country we have the greatest beaches in the world and we have the greatest band of men voluntarily giving their services every weekend. They deserve the support of this Parliament.
– Mr Speaker, I seem to have drawn the short straw again. I am delighted to support the matter that has been raised by the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar) and supported by the honourable member for Phillip (Mr Riordan). The honourable member for Phillip said, I think rightly, that in Australia we have the best beaches in the world. People who have not been abroad and seen other beaches may not always realise how true this is. Surfing and surf life saving are part of the Australian way of life and we hope that they will be even more a part of it. When one thinks of the way in which we talk of improving the quality of life and the enjoyment of life, surfing must surely play a great part in it. Especially do I say this of the city of Sydney which is situated on the beaches. I suppose that my electorate of Mackellar would have more surfing beaches in it than any other electorate in the world. I think that there are as many as 14 life saving clubs in my electorate.
I want to be practical about this. The question of costs comes into this matter. Surfing requires surf life saving, and surf life saving requires facilities. This can be an expensive matter. I believe that in the United States of America as much as $2m or $3m a year is spent on a single beach in patrols and in providing the services which our surf life savers give free. If only from the point of view of economy, it is well that they should be supported. I think it was in 1951 that the Commonwealth Government first supported life saving clubs. I was associated with the move to get that support. The $10,000 a year which was given has grown to $34,000 a year but this is far from sufficient. One thinks not only of the support which must be given to the surf life saving clubs as such but also to the scheme which has been advanced by the clubs for the construction of what they call surf pavilions which will be for the use not only of the clubs but also of the people who patronise the beaches. Mr Speaker, once more, goodnight.
-Order! It being 11 o’clock, the House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow. I will be pleased to see you again.
Mouse adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Urban and Regional Development, upon notice:
According to the latest available census figures, what proportion of Australia’s population lives in urban centres with a population of more than (a) 500,000, (b) 75,000, (c) 50,000, (d) 20,000, and (e) 10,000.
– This answer replaces the answer previously supplied to the honourable member on 3 May 1973:
At 30 June 1971, the proportion of Australia’s population living in urban centres of (a) over 500,000 was 57.92 per cent; (b) 75,000 to 500,000 was 6.58 per cent; (c) 50,000 to 75,000 was 2.52 per cent; (d) 20,000 to 50,000 was 4.59 per cent; (e) 10,000 to 20,000 was 4.21 per cent.
The total proportion of population in centres of more than 10,000 people is therefore 75.82 per cent.
However for the purposes of the 1971 Census the percentage of Australia’s population living in urban areas with a population of less than 10,000 persons was 9.73 per cent, giving a total percentage of the Australian population in all urban areas of 85.55 per cent.
asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
As at 31 January 1973, of the 11,809 national servicemen who were serving on 4 December 1972:
Note- The balance are accounted for as follows: 2,135 had not made an election. 1,172 had elected to be discharged but had not, at that time, been processed.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
For how many of its employees did the Commonwealth pay fees on (a) an unbonded and (b) a bonded basis for (i) universities, (ii) colleges of advanced education, (iii) teachers’ colleges, (iv) technical colleges and (v) other educational institutions in 1971 and 1972? (Hansard, 27 October 1971, page 2649 and 22 February 1972, page 88.)
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Public Service Board has advised me that the numbers of staff employed under the Public Service Act for whom fees were paid by the Australian Government in 1971 and 1972 were:
On 1 May 1973 I announced that the bonding of staff in the Commonwealth Public Service would be discontinued from that date.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Media, upon notice:
– The Minister for the Media has supplied the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Special Minister of State, upon notice:
– The Special Minister of State has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (1), (2) and (3) The decision to make this document available to members was taken to inform Parliament on an issue of particular public importance and interest. The circumstances were, as I made clear in a reply to a question from the Leader of the Opposition on 9 May, exceptional. (Hansard, pages 1854-1855).
Agricultural Production: Restriction (Question No. 521)
Mir Drummond asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice:
Was the Minister’s reported statement from Paris, relating to restraints on Australian agricultural production, a proper reflection of Government policy.
If so, what prior notice will be given to farmers of impending cuts in production.
Will farmers, who are subjected to cuts in production, be allowed to diversify their operations into other forms of production.
To what extent have State Governments participated in this decision to restrict agricultural production.
Can the Minister say whether producer organisations are satisfied with this restrictive policy, and to what extent have they been informed and consulted.
Is it a fact that, regardless of any legislation passed in this or any other Parliament, fruit trees will continue to bear fruit.
If so, how does the Minister intend to handle this situation, bearing in mind that fruit that is not sold can still be an expense to the orchardist
As the Paris report made no reference to the finding of new markets for our agricultural products, does the Minister intend to explore this possibility.
– The Minister for Primary Industry has provided the following answers to the honourable member’s questions:
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 23 May 1973, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1973/19730523_reps_28_hor84/>.