28th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. J. F. Cope) took the chair at 2.15 p.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 members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the undersigned men and women of Australia believe in a Christian way of life; and that no democracy can thrive unless its citizens are responsible and law abiding.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the members in Parliament assembled will see that the powerful communicator, television, is used to build into the nation those qualities of character which make a democracy work - integrity, teamwork and a sense of purpose by serving, and that television be used to bring faith in God to the heart of the family and national life.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Sir John Cramer, Mr Fulton, Mr Morris, Mr Ruddock and Mr Turner.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the proposed ‘free’ national health scheme is not free at all and will cost four out of five Australians more than the present scheme.
That the proposed scheme is discriminatory and a further erosion of the civil liberties of Australian citizens, particularly working wives and single persons.
That the proposed scheme is in fact a plan for nationalised medicine which will lead to gross waste and inefficiencies in medical services and will ultimately remove an individual’s right to choose his/her own doctor.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take no measures to interfere with the basic principles of the existing health scheme which functions efficiently and economically.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by MrDrury, Dr Gun, Mr Kelly, Mr McLeay and Mr Wilson.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned certain citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Aged and Invalid Pensioners’ Association of South Australia Incorporated does its best for the betterment of pensioners, invalid or otherwise, who do not have to be over the age of 60 years.
That some of the meeting places and facilities at these meeting places are not worthy of the citizens of this city.
Whereas Sales Tax is payable on all facilities purchased by theAged and Invalid Pensioners’ Association of South Australia Incorporated, Senior Citizens Clubs are not only exempt from Sales Tax (we believe) but are eligible for a government subsidy.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Aged and Invalid Pensioners’ Association of South Australia Incorporated be granted the same subsidies for necessary items for its 61 Branches (approximately 7,000 members) as are given to Senior Citizens Clubs; and that similar subsidies be made available to pensioner associations throughout Australia.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Or Gun.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth.
That at the momentthe Government is providing fifty times larger funds for research into atomic energy than for research into solar energy; that, on the other hand, latest scientific research indicates that energy production from the atom has become obsolete and undesirable. This is because of its threat to the environment, both during operation and during removal of its radioactive wastes.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government urgently sets aside sufficient funds for research into the production of industrial solar energy which could be ideally established in the arid lands of Australia. We suggest that the ratio of Government funding be reversed - away from atomic in favour of solar energy. We feel strongly that since nuclear energy is a possible threat to the genetic balance of future generations, you - our Government - can only find favour with all Australians should you promote an energy program which is not only infinite in supply but also totally clean’.
By doing this, Australia would have a chance of becoming the centre of the New World, because current research at Australian Universities clearly states that an industrial solar energy source in Australia could supply not only local needs, but also those of South East Asia and the western States of America.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Jacobi.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of electors of the State of Victoria respectfully showeth -
That ex-servicewomen who enlisted during World War II have been discriminated against in the interpretation and administration of the War Service Homes Act 1918-1971, and Defence Service Homes Act 1918-1973.
Whilst on enlistment they were prepared to serve in any area, ex-servicewomen who did not actually serve outside Australia are at present debarred from War Service Homes rights.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that immediate action be taken to grant War Service Homes rights to all war-time ex-servicewomen, whether married or single and without restriction as to dependants, and your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Jarman.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth.
That all Australians are entitled to receive health services according to medical need.
That at the present time many Australians are unable to adequately insure themselves and their families against illness.
That the present scheme has serious defects and no longer serves the needs of the Australian people.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the government will persevere with its efforts to provide a Universal Health Insurance Scheme in order that all Australians will receive the best medical attention regardless of income.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr McKenzie.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth.
That the whale is on endangered species and should be protected by international agreement;
That whalemeat and all other whale products should be excluded from all Australian manufactured goods;
That no whale products should be imported into Australia.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will form appropriate legislation to protect the whale from commercial exploitation.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr McLeay.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectively showeth:
That jet aircraft operations have a detrimental effect by way of air and noise pollution on the environment and therefore on the lives of citizens living in the general area. That in close proximity to the proposed Galston airport site are the Berowra Reserves, the Hallstrom Nature Reserve and the Muogamurra Sanctuary, and areas of Sydney’s Green Belt, which would be so affected and should be preserved for future generations.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that this House take appropriate steps to ensure that the Government does not proceed with the proposal to site the second International airport for Sydney in the Galston area or surrounding north-western suburbs of Sydney.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Ruddock.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of Port Pirie (electors of the Division of Grey) South Australia respectfully sheweth -
That we view with grave concern the decision of the State Government not to deepen the Port Pirie Harbour and channel. The whole future and development of Port Pirie is thereby placed in jeopardy for it will result in concentrates from Broken Hill destined for overseas being railed elsewhere for shipment to the detriment of Port Pirie. Existing capital and facilities can and should be utilised and extended to improve and encourage the industrial development of the City and State of South Australia.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that in view of the relatively modest cost of the works involved the Australian Government should provide financial assistance to South Australia so the project can be completed. by Mr Wallis.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that the Human Rights Bill will deprive free Australian citizens of religious liberty and freedom of worship, and parents and guardians of the right to choose the moral and religious education of their children in that -
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House not proceed with the Human Rights Bill.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Wentworth.
– My question to the Prime Minister concerns the establishment of a national disaster fund. The honourable gentleman will be aware that the recent flooding in Queensland and northern New South Wales has revived again the idea of establishing such a fund. To enable honourable members to consider the practicalities of such a fund, will the honourable gentleman undertake to table in this House all of the information on the matter that has been collected so painstakingly over the years?
– As the honourable gentleman will remember, during the last 2 Parliaments I quite assiduously put questions concerning this matter on the notice paper to successive Treasurers - the right honourable member for Lowe, the honourable member for Wentworth and the present Leader of the Opposition - and was told that the Treasury was engaged in collecting and collating information about such funds in the United States of America, Canada and New Zealand. When the present Government came into office steps were also taken to reshape the Commonwealth’s participation in a natural disaster organisation, upon which the Minister for Defence, the Deputy Prime Minister, has reported to the House. The present Treasurer has also been pursuing the examination of comparable natural disaster fund schemes. I have had it in mind to table the documents which have been collected by the Treasury but I believe they are too bulky for that purpose. I will therefore table them in the Parliamentary Library. They are very bulky indeed. I hope that we will be able to develop such a scheme, but realising the complexity of the matter I do not hold out undue expectations. When the honourable member for Wentworth was Treasurer, he was kind enough to give me the credit for initiating the examination in the Treasury. The Leader of the Opposition said how complex it was to collect such information. In the meantime I shall table in the Library the material which has so far been collected.
– I ask the Minister for Housing and Construction: Has (he New South Wales State Liberal Government, through the Housing Commission of New South Wales, resumed large tracts of land at Doonside, an outer western suburb of Sydney, which includes such community facilities as the Featherdale animal sanctuary, land owned by Blacktown Hospital for a geriatric centre and land owned by the Maltese and Polish communities which is being developed as sites for ethnic clubs with associated sporting facilities? I realise that the Minister has no direct authority in this matter. Nevertheless could he approach the New South Wales Government with the request that these community facilities be preserved?
– I have been virtually inundated with approaches from people who will be affected by this development. However, I do not want to give the House the impression that I altogether disparage the need of the Housing Commission of New South Wales to acquire land for its purposes. It is noteworthy that from time to time the Australian Government finds occasion to do the same kind of thing. What is significant, I believe, is the fact that there are the special features mentioned by the honourable member for Chifley. A matter frequently drawn to my attention in recent days is the proposed acquisition of the animal sanctuary, which I am told is used by local schools over a large region and is generally used for education purposes. It is very serious that this utility should be sacrificed. Then of course there are the other matters mentioned - the club sites and the land held by the Blacktown Council, I think for geriatric purposes. I say to the honourable gentleman quite clearly and unambiguously that the Australian Government has no prerogative over this matter in terms of the current Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I am a little concerned to note that it appears that deliberate attempts have been made to attribute this acquisition to the Australian Government.
The other thing I would like to say is that last year was characterised by a great deal of disputation, and in fact confrontation, in respect of the development of certain areas in a number of capital cities, Sydney in particular. There has been a proposal to the effect that there should be established a new kind of authority referred to as the DDDT - the development disputes determination tribunal. It is intended by this scheme that tribunals should be established every time a major redevelopment proposal is mooted so that the developer, the affected residents, and maybe people interested in historical and environmental matters can come together and have their point of view put before an appropriate tribunal which in tura could make recommendations to the acquisition authority. This appears to me to have a lot of merit. In view of the hardship in the Doonside area I would commend such a proposition to the Government of New South Wales. I emphasise that the acquisition of the land in question is not the prerogative of the Australian Government; rather it is the direct responsibility of the Liberal Government which prevails in New South Wales.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Education. I refer to the honourable gentleman’s policy of making equal per capita grants to all independent schools in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Did the honourable gentleman obtain Cabinet and Caucus approval for his policy, or did he unilaterally decide to continue with the approach of the former Liberal-Country Party Government?
– Cabinet and the Parliamentary Labor Party adopted the Karmel report except for chapter 13 and the recommendations on category A schools. In adopting the Karmel report the Party adopted the recommendations in chapters 1.21 and 1.23, which counsel the States that the grants that were being recommended by Karmel superimposed on top of State grants should con tinue on the same basis as the grants that were being made by the States at that time. In the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory the Australian Government gives what I would have once called a State component and a Commonwealth component but which would now be called, I suppose, a territorial component and a national component. We have continued, according to the Karmel recommendations which were adopted by the Parliamentary Labor Party and the Cabinet, the policy of making these grants. This applies for 2 years.
The Schools Commission would be perfectly competent to recommend - I presume to the States and to the Australian Government itself as the Karmel Committee did not recommend - that that side of the grant should be differentiated. But there was the equality of a considerable sum in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory and the equality of nothing for secondary schools in New South Wales. In both cases the Commonwealth grant is superimposed on top of equality.
– Is the Minister for Transport aware that the tourist transport organisation Centralian closed down suddenly earlier this year after the company H. C. Sleigh Ltd withdrew its financial support, leaving some $30,000 to $40,000 owing to hotels, motels and sub-contract coach operators in Tasmania? What was the nature of the trading relationship between Trans-Australia Airlines, Centralian and H. C. Sleigh following enabling legislation that was passed by this Parliament last year in order to permit TAA to enter this field? Is it a fact that TAA paid all the accounts owing for a period of 2 weeks following the collapse of Centralian? What did this amount to? Why did TAA feel that this was its obligation and, if it is an obligation, will consideration be given to meeting the outstanding amounts owing in Tasmania? Finally, will the Government give consideration to introducing some type of bonding arrangement, in view of the fact that this is the third time in the last 7 years that Tasmanian business people in the tourist industry have been caught by these operators?
– I am aware that Australian Trailways Pty Ltd, trading under the name of Centralian Tours, was placed in receivership on 9 January of this year as a result of H. C. Sleigh withdrawing its guarantee of the accounts of Centralian Tours. What actually happened was that on that date, 9 January, Centralian Tours ceased to operate. TAA immediately took over the company’s tours that were under way - I believe that about 6 tours were in progress in Tasmania at that time - through its TAA-Mayne arrangement. It continued the tours, completed them and paid all accounts from 9 January onwards. The tours of people who had booked for tours after that date through Centralian Tours were once again taken over by TAA-Mayne; the bookings were honoured.
The arrangement was that TAA sold tours and Centralian sold tours. Centralian Tours was completely responsible for all the bookings. Once a person booked a tour with Centralian Tours, it would then go ahead and arrange the tour and the accommodation and make the flight bookings with TAA. That was the basis on which Centralian Tours worked. Centralian Tours paid TAA the cost of the air travel and also paid the hotel and motel keepers the cost of meals and accommodation. From 9 January onwards TAA has paid the lot. I do not know the exact amount of money involved, but I do know that TAA got its fingers burnt to the extent of a little over $37,000 as a result of Centralian Tours being placed in receivership.
As far as a bonding scheme is concerned, I think this is a matter for consideration by the people involved in these commercial enterprises. If a hotel keeper is doing business with a bus line and provides accommodation and meals, he should satisfy himself as to its bona fides and ability to meet its commitments. The same applies as far as TAA is concerned. I was not happy when I learnt about the background of Centralian Tours. For example, the buses it used were buses from the old Redline company which I described in this House some time ago as ‘only rust buckets’. They had been involved in numerous accidents, including some in which people had been killed. I assure the honourable member for Braddon that, as the firm in question had operated under various names and finished up being known as Centralian Tours, I was most unhappy to find that I was literally responsible for the operation of a line which I had criticised when my predecessor held the portfolio as Minister for Shipping and Transport. I am concerned about the way things have turned out.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Labour. Why is it necessary to approach 30 Filipinos to fill jobs at the motor assembly plant of Leyland Motor Corporation Australia Ltd? Cannot 30 unemployed Australians be located to fill the vacancies at the Leyland plant? Has the Department of Labour in operation a training scheme that could train and fit Australians for this work? Can the Minister inform the House whether in these circumstances Australians can be employed?
– The question is a very good one. The matter about which the honourable member talks is under constant consideration by the Government. We hope very shortly to be in a position to have before us the report and findings of the expert committee on some of the finer details of a retraining scheme. When that report comes to hand there is little doubt that the Government will be able to give effect to a training program that will do all the things that the honourable gentleman mentioned.
– Is the Minister for Labour aware that as a result of a court room disturbance this morning the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission has adjourned the hearing of claims for increases in the minimum wage and other wages and salaries? Will this action result in wage and salary earners losing money because of this avoidable delay? Are there any steps which can be taken to prevent any further disruption of the hearing of these legitimate claims? Will the Government use its best efforts to ensure that the case is finalised in the shortest possible time, thereby preventing injustice to wage earners, particularly those who are dependent on the minimum wage?
– Some time today the representative of the Victorian Government, Mr Dalton, asked the Arbitration Commission to adjourn any further hearing of the national wage case until the strikes in the metal industries stop. The Commission adjourned to consider the request made by Mr Dalton. During the adjournment the court room was invaded by unionists; I presume they were unionists because the banners they carried had words referring to unionism. When the Commission returned to give its decision on the application by Mr Dalton, the demonstrators interrupted the proceedings to the point where it was impossible for the Commission even to hear itself think, so to speak, because of the commotion and the distraction caused by the waving of banners. The President of the Commission, His Honour Mr Justice Moore, appealed for order pointing out to the demonstrators that it was utterly impossible for him to continue the hearing while they were interrupting and waving banners. It should not have been necessary for him to do this. Mr Justice Moore appealed to the demonstrators in a sensible and rational way to understand the situation that they were creating and to understand the plight of the 4.5 million workers outside the court room who were looking to the Commission for a decision. As the President pointed out, it was obviously quite impossible for the Commission to conduct its business under the conditions that had been created by the demonstration.
What the demonstrators succeeded eventually in doing was to force the adjournment which Mr Dalton would probably have failed to get. The decision which the Commission would have given from the bench but for the demonstration was one which may not have pleased Mr Dalton as much as the result of the demonstration. The President of the Arbitration Commission - I want to put this on public record - is not a person who is insensitive to the deep feelings that are generated over issues that are raised in matters like national wage cases. On the opening day of the case, at which I was present, a very ugly demonstration took place. It was quickly settled however by the presence of mind and the tolerance and the good common sense of the President who on that occasion successfully appealed to the demonstrators to remain quiet and to put their banners away so that he could continue the hearing.
No commission deserves the sort of treatment that the Arbitration Commission received at the hands of the demonstrators today. The present Commission is not unsympathetic to the working people of Australia and there is absolutely no evidence to suggest otherwise. This was proved by the Commission’s historic decision in last year’s national wage case to restructure the minimum wage with a record increase of $9 a week.
As I said, I was present on the opening day of the present case and I admired very greatly the manner in which His Honour Mr Justice Moore handled the very delicate situation that arose on that day. On that occasion the demon strators were allowed to make their point and they immediately responded as sensible men would be expected to do to the appeal made by His Honour. However, on this occasion they did not do so. All that is happening now is that the court has been forced to adjourn the proceedings sine die. The Commission will not resume those hearings unless they can be resumed in an atmosphere which makes it possible for the proceedings to be conducted properly.
I support fully the action of the Commission in refusing to conduct its business under such conditions. The Government deplores these attempts to disrupt the proceedings of the Arbitration Commission. The Government wants this case to be resumed as quickly as possible so that the 4.5 million workers who were not in the demonstration and who are waiting upon the result of the Commission’s hearing - those workers who have so much to gain if wage indexation which the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Government is supporting is introduced - can share in the benefits that can come from the present proceedings. I hope that the unions, whichever they are, responsible for organising this campaign will now see the error of their ways and that the Commission will be permitted to conduct its business in an orderly manner.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. With inflation acknowledged by the Government to be a major economic problem in Australia today at an annual rate of 13 per cent and more, and with the latest Treasury report released today showing that the economy is experiencing a seriously tight labour situation and, to quote from the report, ‘widespread shortages of goods and materials’, does the Prime Minister agree that it would be madness to reduce working hours? Will he give an assurance that the Government will oppose any attempts to introduce a 35-hour week whether pursued in the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission or by strikes?
– The Government will oppose any efforts to reduce the standard working week by strikes. It will decide on the facts of the application what attitude it will take in any matters which come before arbitration tribunals. As regards its own employees, it takes the attitude that the 35- hour week is a reasonable aspiration as long as it does not involve an increase in the amount of overtime being paid.
– I seek leave to read a short statement that has just been issued by the Registrar on behalf of the Arbitration Commission.
– Is the Minister asking for leave to make a statement?
– I suggest that the Minister does not cut into question time. I am sure that immediately after question time his application will be acceded to.
– My reply was inadequate.
– Is there any objection to a statement being made now? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I just want to add to the reply I gave a moment ago concerning today’s hearings of the national wage case. When I gave that reply I did not know that the Commission would definitely reject the application by Mr Dalton, I am now in a position to tell honourable members that a statement on behalf of the Commission bears out what I predicted. It said:
We are deeply concerned by the fact that members of the Metal Trades group of unions are on strike throughout most of Australia.
We have given most serious consideration to the application made by Mr Dalton to suspend the hearings of all these cases. The issues raised by the various submissions put to us today are complex. Also, the matters referred to by Mr Dalton are significantly different from the issues before us. On balance, we reject his application.
But, as I said in my original reply, the demonstrators got the adjournment for Mr Dalton.
– I ask the Minister for Education: What is the situation with respect to the $3. 67m allocated in the Budget for pre-school education for New South Wales? Is there any truth in the statement that kindergartens will have to close and that properties will have to be sold because of delays by the Australian Government? What likelihood is there of the money being spent in New South Wales by June this year? What progress is being made by other States in the expenditure of the $10m allocated for pre-school education?
– On 21 August the Prime Minister wrote to the States informing them of the Budget allocation of $10m so that they could plan their procedures of spending the money. On 26 January he wrote to them again because the plan set out by the Fry Committee was regarded by Cabinet, whilst having many merits, as being in need of acceleration and needing supplementary recommendations to the Government. He wrote to them on 26 January asking for their plans. Some of the States immediately put in their plans and funds have been approved. They may expect the funding to flow in April. Of course, States with plans approved can proceed to spend their own moneys and replace them with these funds.
New South Wales knows and has known since about 3 March that up to $3. 67m is available for expenditure in New South Wales between now and 30 June to establish and maintain education and care services for preschool children. This is in addition to grants of $3. 25m which have already been approved to New South Wales private organisations under the Child Care Act. Contributions to the cost of advisory services will be approved on a case basis. That Government knows that costs of approved capital projects, land, equipment and furniture will be met on a basis of priorities of need. An ongoing commitment to capital projects and operational costs will be accepted in the 1974-75 Budget for projects started under the 1973-74 Budget. Arrangements could be made for operational support of existing pre-schools designated as contributing particularly to opportunity for children in need. For existing pre-schools, Australian Government assistance would contribute to staff salary costs and would be available to avoid the need for parent contributions in respect of pre-schools catering especially for children in need.
I might comment that recurrent assistance is subject to the continuation of the existing levels of State recurrent assistance for pre-schools. The State Ministers in New South Wales professed great difficulties about this question which other States have not professed. I might say that, unlike the child care grants which on the capital side are expected to obtain approvals amounting to $ 13.5m by 30 June, the pre-school grants are grants to the States whereas the child care grants result from direct dealings with local government or local charitable organisations. The action of the Australian Government, of course, is contingent upon discussions between officers of the State governments and the Australian Government so that the timing and speed of the expenditure of this money or the ability to notify organisations of what they may expect to get is within the hands on the State governments.
– By way of a short preamble to my question, I should like to state that I understand that the Prime Minister has indicated his concern over property and livestock damage and losses in recent flooding and erosion. I ask: Is it a fact that it is essential to have co-ordination and co-operation by the 3 levels of government in order that future risks and losses will be minimised? Will the Prime Minister indicate whether his Government will widen its approach in reconsidering whether assistance by way of grants or loans, or both, could be afforded to State governments and local authorities for flood mitigation purposes including the construction of dams which would assist in this regard and beach and foreshore protection on a 40 per cent Australian Government, 40 per cent State government and 20 per cent local authority basis?
– The honourable gentleman raises 2 matters. Various answers have been given by me and other Ministers earlier to the first question. It is difficult, as the Constitution stands at the moment, for the Australian Government to play a direct, immediate role in the organisation of natural disaster relief. As the Constitution stands, the Australian Government cannot deal directly in financial matters with local government bodies. It must deal through the States. I hope that that position will be rectified within the next 3 months. Also, in actual practice, of course, the Australian Government must pick up all but the first million dollars or so - I think it is $5m in the case of New South Wales and $2m in the case of Queensland - of the expenditure on natural disaster relief in any one financial year. The honourable gentleman also mentions flood mitigation. I know it is a matter which naturally concerns him because he represents so large a part of the Queensland coastline which is regularly subjected to storms and consequent erosion. It is not an easy position. It is not as easy to deal with as the position, say, on the New South Wales coastal rivers where for the last 10 years there has been the arrangement that the Australian Government, the State Government and local government bodies should share in the proportion of 2:2:1 the cost of mitigation works.
The difficulty very largely on the Gold Coast and further north in the electorate of the honourable gentleman from Fisher is that much construction has taken place on sand dunes and the cost of mitigation of floods, or rather the avoidance of the consequences of cyclonic storms, is very expensive indeed. The Premier of Queensland and I and the Mayor of the Gold Coast have discussed these matters. It is very largely a question of closing the stable door after the horse has escaped. There should not have been such developments of this nature and this extent on those areas. It would appear to be quite likely futile to engage in the construction of groynes and other massive works costing tens of millions of dollars, to overcome the mistakes of the past.
The question of erecting dams, and the Australian Government’s share in the cost of dams, for flood mitigation is a matter of continuing concern in which my colleague the Minister for the Environment and Conservation is engaged in discussions with all the States, but particularly of course with the States of Queesland and New South Wales. There is a limit to the extent to which, in exceptional disasters such as we have experienced in the first few months of this year, any dam could have prevented the loss of life of humans and livestock and the destruction of property. Dams are not really suitable in such circumstances. But the Australian Government is anxious, as my colleague the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence, has already informed the House, to come to arrangements for the Australian Government to be involved where it has resources. Of course the armed forces in particular always play an heroic part in these circumstances and they alone have much of the equipment required. The Minister is making the arrangements for this natural disaster organisation to be on a contemporary basis largely to provide that what used to be the Civil Defence Organisation should be concerned not primarily or solely with the possible consequences of nuclear attack but also the certain consequences of recurrent natural disasters.
The matter of flood mitigation is under consideration particularly in, say, the Brisbane flood plain. It is not, however, a simple matter; it is a matter which only under my Government has become a matter of consultation between the Queensland Government and the Brisbane City Council. Perhaps I might add on this matter that in answer to the question by the honourable member for Moreton I mentioned that I would place in the Library the material which the Treasury had collected on natural disaster relief schemes or funds over the last 6i years since I first raised the matter. I am told that 2 copies of all the documents have already in fact been placed in the Library, I think last week.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Secondary Industry and Minister for Supply been drawn to the latest issue of the privately circulated weekly publication called ‘Inside Canberra’? Has the Minister seen the statement in this publication that the merger of the Departments of Secondary Industry and Supply is expected to be announced soon? Does this publication also state that the Secretary of the new Department will be Mr Neil Currie, the present permanent head of the Department of Supply, and not the present Secretary of the Department of Secondary Industry, Mr Frank Pryor? Is there any truth in the statements contained in this publication? If not, is it not a matter for concern that statements of this kind are made to the embarrassment of senior public servants and their departments?
– I have no dissent at all from the first statement contained in the publication ‘Inside Canberra’ which I read last night with concern. I have a copy of it in front of me at the moment. The second statement implies that a decision has been made on the merger of the 2 departments whereas no decision has been made. Indeed, it would be completely wrong for a decision to be made at a time when the whole issue is still under consideration.
– It is being considered, is it?
– The merger of the departments is being considered, but obviously the question of who will be the permanent head of the new department has not been considered. No decision has been made in that regard; it would be quite wrong to make such a decision. It is to be regretted that reviews or documents such as this publication which are circulated and widely read in Canberra should have this mischievous incidental effect, because it can cause serious embarrassment in the Commonwealth Public Service.
– Why tell us? Tell the Press Gallery.
– It is interesting that members of the Liberal Party and Country Party Opposition not only encourage discontent and enjoy discontent but also are voyeurs of discontent and embarrassment wherever it occurs in this country or in the Public Service. This is manifest by their interjections at this stage. There is a proper time to do these things. I would like to say that both gentlemen referred to in the question and the officers who serve them have served loyally and well during the time that I have been Minister for Supply and Minister for Secondary Industry. I have been impressed by their dedication, their knowledge and their professionalism. Anything that causes mischief and misunderstanding of the kind referred to is to be regretted. No decision has been made on the matter.
– The Minister for Health will be aware that the outbreak of encephalitis throughout large areas of Victoria and southern New South Wales has now claimed the lives of 5 people and has left a large number of people critically impaired, as well as resulting in huge losses in tourist returns. Many people have been disturbed by reports which suggest that health authorities were warned of the likelihood of this outbreak 2 months before the first cases were reported. I ask: Is it a fact that a warning was given? If so, to whom and when was it given? Why was the warning not made public, and what department or persons were responsible for this decision being made? Finally, what research is going on into this disease, and is a sufficiently large sum of money being made available?
– No official warning of the outbreak was given. Certainly no knowledge of a warning reached me. No warning was given by my Department of this outbreak. There may have been some people who believed that they could predict the outbreak. The second part of the honourable senator’s question is concerned with what department was responsible for not giving a public warning of the outbreak. Obviously an outbreak cannot be firmly predicted. Some evidence is coming forward now to suggest that the outbreak is associated with higher rainfall in northern parts of Australia which causes the southern movement of birds which sometimes settle in great numbers in areas such as the Murray Valley where there are insects which convey this disease. Infectious diseases, unless they are quarantinable diseases - this is not - are not the responsibility of the Australian Department of Health. I will ascertain more details as to what steps, if any, the States have taken in relation to prior notification and advise the honourable member of them.
The final part of the honourable member’s question is concerned with whether there is sufficient research into this disease. Again, this is primarily a matter for the States concerned, and principally Victoria. The Australian Government has provided assistance to Victoria to help in the investigation of the current outbreak. A request was made by the Victorian Minister of Health, Mr Scanlan, and I agreed to make available the services of Professor David Lee, of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, who is an authority on the transmission of this disease and who participated in research into an outbreak in 1951. A medicad entomologist from the School, Mr Richard Russell, is assisting him. The John Curtin School of Medical Research of the Australian National University also is participating. A team headed by Dr Ian Marshall, a senior fellow in the Department of Microbiology, has gone to the Murray Valley to carry out virus isolation and anti-body studies on water fowl and mosquitoes. Also there has been assistance from Queensland - from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research. Its Director, Dr Doherty, is a leading authority on arbor viruses; that is, viruses carried by insects and other arthropods. There have been recent Press reports that the attack is waning. I do not know whether this is correct. But I believe that there has been adequate response with the facilities available to us to investigate this disaster. If a need for further research is felt by the authorities, I am sure they will tell us about it.
COMMUNITY HEALTH SERVICES Mr BENNETT- My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Is it a fact that more than Sim has been allocated to Western Australia by the Australian Government for community and mental health services? What are the possibilities of increases in such allocations? Will these facilities alleviate the situation in which people are sued for recovery of medical fees? Will they remove the fear of bailiff seizure of goods from those unable to pay medical fees on genuine hardship grounds, such as has happened in my electorate?
– Answering the last part of the question first, obviously if no charge is made the patient need not fear the bailiff. At some of these centres no charge is made. It depends on the funding arrangements entered into by the State and the local community health committee. Some of these centres have salaried doctors and in those cases normally no charge is made. The first question was whether further funds can be made available through the community health program. Yes, they can be. The program approved by the Government is for $7. 5m in each of 2 financial years - the current financial year and the coming financial year. So there is no reason why a program at least as large as the one that has been announced should not be forthcoming in the next financial year. The program for the present financial year provides about $590,000 for Western Australia out of a national grant totalling $7.5m. The nature of these mental health services depends upon projects proposed by the States. There is a wide range of them in the different States. Some have concentrated on hostels for the mentally handicapped, some on alcoholism services-
– Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Prime Minister shortly will launch himself to ask that further questions be put on the notice paper. Up to the present, 50 minutes have elapsed and the question now being answered is only the twelfth for today. It has been a tranquil question time and there is no reason why 20 questions and answers could not have been achieved, except for the length of the answers given by Ministers. Mr Speaker, I ask through you, with your indulgence, whether the Prime Minister is willing to extend question time today by another 15 minutes.
-Order! I assure honourable members that I intend to celebrate the tranquility of the House today. The facts are that only 12 questions have been asked but
I think everyone will agree that three of the questions were very pertinent and necessitated long answers. I do not think anybody would begrudge detailed answers being given in regard to the floods in Queensland and northern New South Wales. I think the question asked of the Minister for Labour necessitated a long answer to enlighten the House as to what hapapened. I appeal to Ministers to be as brief as possible when they answer questions in future because I would hope to attain at least 16 questions a day. The question now being answered is only the twelfth today. The appeal by the Leader of the Opposition is simply a matter for the Prime Minister.
– If I might, through you, Mr Speaker, I ask the Prime Minister whether he will extend question time a further IS minutes.
– The Hospitals and Health Services Commission is very happy to have submissions from local committees, voluntary organisations or the States as to the nature of the aid which has been given, mainly through the States and in co-ordination with State services. If there are any specific projects which the honourable member would like to include in this program, I will be very happy to have them considered.
– For the information of honourable members I table the report of the inquiry into frequency modulation broadcasting.
– In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969-1973, I present the thirty-sixth general report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-I wish to inform the House that the following members have been nominated as members of the Select Committee on Road Safety: Mr Cohen, Mr Innes, Dr Klugman and Mr McKenzie have been nominated by the Prime Minister; Mr Fox and
Mr Hamer have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition; and Mr Katter has been nominated by the Leader of the Australian Country Party.
– I have received a letter from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The imposition by the Government of the highest and most onerous interest rates since Federation.
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.)
– The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in his policy speech on 13 November 1972 assured the Australian electorate that:
Labor will deliberately plan to reduce interest rates whenever practicable.
That now discredited Labor Party election pamphlet entitled ‘It’s Time - Economics’ asked the rhetorical question: why has our rate of inflation grown so fast that the interest rate on money we save no longer even covers the loss from inflation?
That is a question far more pertinent to the current economic circumstances than it was in 1972 when the Labor Party sought to convince the electorate that it would not permit high interest rates.
What are the facts today? The long-term bond rate is now set at 8.5 per cent. The overdraft rate is 1 per cent higher at 9.5 per cent. The whole structure of interest rates has risen dramatically throughout major lending areas such as housing finance and consumer credit. In short, interest rates are now at their highest level since Federation. Every national government in our history has managed the economy with interest rates lower than those now applying. No Federal Treasurer has permitted interest rates to rise to the levels set by the present incumbent.
The so-called deliberate plan to reduce interest rates has been abandoned. The Government’s pre-election commitment to a generally low interest rate structure has been dishonoured in the same way as many similar commitments have been dishonoured. The present level of interest rates is a reflection of this Government’s economic mismanagement. The Bank of New South Wales, in its annual report published in January 1974, referred to the Government’s policies in the following terms:
This drastic departure from Labor’s avowed cheap money attitude is a measure of the serious inflationary pressure on the economy and an unwillingness to tackle it by curbing Government expenditure.
Economists have increasingly adverted to the dangers of an over-dependence on monetary measures to maintain equilibrium within the economy. It is a widely accepted view that the main burden of economic adjustment should be undertaken by flexible fiscal measures with monetary policy having a supporting role.
The Government has consistently and stubbornly refused to revise its fiscal strategies. It taas refused to make flexible adjustments in spite of the overwhelming evidence that the 1973-74 Budget was totally destructive in its economic impact. It was, in fact, an expansionary Budget at a time when all economic indicators pointed to the need for budgetary restraint. The Treasurer has had, and still has, opportunities to introduce a mini-budget or to bring forward new economic policy initiatives. He has declined to take this course of action in spite of his public posture that fiscal adjustments should not be confined to a single day in the month of August. As long as the Treasurer refuses to introduce a mini-budget the rate of inflation will continue at an intolerable level. The Government’s own advisers, and specifically the Reserve Bank, have stated in clear and forthright terms that it is totally insufficient to rely on monetary policies to curb inflation. But this advice has been, and is being, completely ignored.
The basis on which the Budget was formulated has been shattered. The foreshadowed growth of 13 per cent in average weekly earnings will in actuality be around 20 per cent. Taxation revenue will exceed that of last year’s Budget by around $ 1,500m. Where is the logic in rigidly maintaining a strategy which is self-evidently based on error and misconception? The Opposition has called for the implementation of a series of policies, and I invite the Treasurer to comment on these policies during this debate. I especially draw the Treasurer’s attention to page 200 of House of Representatives Hansard of 7
March 1974 where a series of definitive policy initiatives have been set down. These include a reduction in Government spending, a progressive reduction in the interest rate structure and the provision of taxation relief for lower and middle income earners.
Notwithstanding the economic arguments surrounding the application of the present credit squeeze policy, there are, of course, a number of groups within the community for whom the Government’s policy represents a substantial burden. Increases in interest rates, as with increases in indirect taxation, have differential effects on various groups within the community. Its most harmful effects are reserved for lower income and underprivileged groups. Presumably this was the reason why the Labor Party sought to represent itself as the low interest rate party. The Treasurer is fully aware of the impact which increases in the rates of consumer credit have on low income earners. Increases of the magnitude which he has introduced have boosted the cost of goods and services purchased on terms.
But discussion on the general level of interest rates can, of course, be misleading. At any one time there is a large number of different interest rates in operation, ranging from the level of simple interest on savings bank accounts to the interest charges on loans made by registered moneylenders. These differential rates exist, of course, because the market for loan funds is complex and varied. There is no such thing as a single market. People who wish to borrow for home purchasing rarely look beyond building societies and savings banks; companies wishing to borrow for large capital projects normally call on their own shareholders or seek to acquire new shareholders; companies seeking funds for small capital projects rarely go beyond their own reserves or their bank manager; and so on.
On the supply side, people with small amounts of money for loan usually deposit them with savings banks or building societies, whilst those with larger sums available for loan tend to use the facilities of merchant banks and stockbrokers or, if their reserves are large enough, operate directly on the capital market themselves. But, for both the demand and the supply of funds, interest rate differentials unequivocally favour the larger borrower or lender, that is, the person with the greater bargaining power. As a consequence, in times of rapidly rising rates of interest - when the actual quantity of loan funds available is subject to very high levels of demand - those with the greatest bargaining power can negotiate the most favourable loan terms whilst the smaller borrower or lender is, at least to the same extent, arbirarly disadvantaged. In fact, in times of rapidly rising interest rates, the actual differential between rates tends to widen, and the smaller borrower or lender is to this extent disadvantaged.
A high interest rate policy is a socially regressive policy, for the interest rate burden in absolute terms tends to weigh more heavily upon the lower income groups. Those persons who are well versed in financial practices and those with capital can take advantage of the present policies. Those without special expertise and those without sufficient capital resources cannot take that advantage. The majority of low income earners have their savings invested in savings banks, at a rate of 3i per cent. Given that the rate of inflation is currently running at around 14 per cent, the savings of low income earners in this country are in fact attracting a negative rate of interest of at least 10 per cent.
– It is shameful, as my colleague the honourable member for Berowra has mentioned. It means that each year that a a small depositor leaves his money in a savings bank account he is losing $10 in every $100 deposited. If his life-time savings amounted to $1,000 when Labor came to power, in net terms he would be at least $100 poorer today. Therefore the small depositor is, in effect, subsidising the remainder of the Australian community. There is clearly no equity in this situation, and the Labor Government’s sponsoring of this general approach unquestionably has contributed to the widening of income levels and social differences within our community.
The low income earner is further disadvantaged through increased rates for personal loans, hire purchase, business loans and housing loans. Every car, washing machine and refrigerator purchased on terms has an additional cost element directly attributable to increased interest charges. But the area of greatest concern is that of housing finance. I notice that the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) is in the House. Apparently he is prepared to contribute to this debate.
Government monetary policies have restricted the availability of housing finance to the extent that building society loan approvals for the year ended January 1974 have fallen by 52 per cent. As a result of higher interest rates, the average loan from a building society now costs some 25 per cent more in monthly payments than it did only one year ago. This reflects the fact that the average loan taken out from a building society has increased from $14,000 to $16,000 as a result of the spiral in home purchasing costs. As a direct result of Government policy it is estimated that 100,000 families or 400,000 people in this country will be waiting for homes at the end of this calendar year. These families will be either unable to obtain the funds required because those funds are not available or unable to borrow because they cannot afford the increased cost of borrowing.
Economists have argued that the level of interest rates is determined as a form of equilibrium price, balancing the demand and supply of loan funds. Periods of excessive price inflation exacerbate the influence which Professor Milton Friedman has termed the ‘inflation compensation’ factor. Given that inflation is now running in excess of 13 per cent, it is obviously necessary now to build an incremental factor into the interest structure to compensate for the loss in real capital value during the currency of the loan. Recognition of this need obviously places a very high degree of upward pressure upon interest rates, causing an escalation in interest charges hand in hand with the growth in the rate of inflation.
The Government therefore bears a very heavy responsibility for the growth of the level of interest rates in 2 distinct but related ways: Firstly, by failure to implement a co-ordinated and wholly consistent anti-inflation policy to counter inflationary pressures and, secondly, by raising its own rates in an inflationary market in competition with other borrowers. If the Government is at all sincere in its desire to lower the level of interest rates it must first and foremost implement a comprehensive program of restraints. Inflation, of course, is a complex problem - the causes are complex; the results are complex, and so too are the solutions. It is simply not possible to cut back on inflationary pressures in one sector of the economy and fuel the pressures in another sector; this is simply robbing Peter to pay Paul. The Government cannot keep siphoning money out of the private sector and pumping it back in additional public sector spending, and then seriously assert that it is seeking to reduce or even control inflation. This is immediately apparent to anyone even without formal economic training. Government anti-inflation policy must clearly be exposed for the sham that it is. For the Government to express anxiety about the level of interest rates and to profess concern for those who are seriously disadvantaged as a result is both cynical and irresponsible. We believe that the Government stands condemned for imposing on the Australian community the highest and most onerous interest rates since Federation.
– I will set my friend’s mind at rest on one point, and that is this: There will not be a mini Budget. Let us get rid of that nonsense at this stage. A further point is that 2 years ago I could have promoted a discussion on a matter of public importance such as this because what the honourable member for Flinders (Mr Lynch) has said is applicable now was applicable when the Government of which he was a member went out of office; we had the highest interest rates we had had in Australia since Federation. Let us get down to a bit of common sense. It sems to me that the honourable member is arguing that interest rates should be increased for some people but not for others. He quoted Professor Friedman. He referred to escalations in interest charges and all these sorts of things. For the information of the honourable member - he ought to know this - Professor Friedman is the great disciple of the principle that increasing the volume of money by a certain quantity every year is the genesis of inflation. The year in which the highest volume of money was created in Australia was the year in which honourable members opposite went out of office. In that year the volume of money increased by 25 per cent. That was the genesis of the present degree of inflation in Australia, not that there have not been other forces operating since.
I want also to set at rest some of this nonsense which is being put forward about the number of houses being built. My colleague the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) will probably amplify this further. I would like to state how many houses have been built and completed in Australia. In 1970 - and that was a full year of your Government - that total number of completed dwellings in Australia was 161,300. The The number dropped to 160,300 in 1971. It dropped further to 160,100 in 1972. These were all years in which the Government of honourable members opposite was in office. No one can suggest that there were not long queues in those years of people who wanted houses and who were not getting them because of the methods still prevalent for their getting them. In 1973, the last completed year, 163,200 dwelling units were completed in Australia. This is the largest number on record. But a rather odd feature was that there was a drop in the number of houses described as public. This is the sort of area for which my colleague the Minister for Housing and Construction is responsible. In 1973 there were more dwellings in total than ever but a comparatively lower number in the public sphere. It seems to me that one thing those figures point to is that Australia has reached what might be called the physical ability to build houses at about the rate of 160,000 to 163,000. What satisfaction is it to anybody to have money made available by way of loans to build 250,000 hous.es when this country does not have the physical capacity to build that number? This is partly why monetary measures had to be taken.
One of the great unknowns in this country is what would have been the rate of inflation had we had to continue with the previous Treasurer’s handling of the economy. My belief is that inflation in Australia would have been 25 per cent-
Opposition members - Oh.
– Well, every attempt that was made to do something to control the volume of money, to do something about the exchange rate, to do something about restricting the volume of money coming into Australia from overseas, to set up the Prices Justification Tribunal and to set up the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Prices has been resisted on that side of the House. What would honourable members opposite have done? I suggest that one of the big differences between Australia in 1973 and Australia in 1972 is that in 1973 we found 215,000 new jobs in this country while in 1971 only 70,000 new jobs were found.
Honourable members opposite base their arguments on selected figures. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden), the former Treasurer, quoted figures on taxation yields when he spoke last night. But his figures were wrong and the sooner he stops inventing and circulating his own figures with high authority the better. One thing that does not seem to be understood by honourable members opposite is that there is a difference between average weekly earnings and total salaries and wages. There is a difference when we have a 4 per cent increase in the wage force as against one per cent as to what the total increase in wages and salaries should be. One thing that has astonished has been the quick increase in total employment, and the quickest source of employment has been the take-up in female employees.
It is true that inflation is occurring under this Government just as it occurred under the previous Government. However, I think I had a little more honesty in economic argument when I was the shadow Treasurer than is shown by the presentincumbent of that office because some of his argument is shoddy and shabby and reflects nothing much upon the so-called experts that he has assisting him. I would hope that my friend who is now sitting opposite on the front bench and who ought to know a little better might play a better part. He has taken no part in these fundamental economic debates. He has been conspicuous by his silence since he has been a member of this place. 1 think he should speak out and maybe he could do a little bit of educating amongst those opposite who are now the spokesmen on economic matters.
Inflation is a serious business in this country as it is throughout the world. Australia is not unique in being the only possessor of inflation running at over double figures. Honourable members opposite should read the reports of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. They should read about what is happening in the United States of America and Japan. When Mr Heath was the Prime Minister of Great Britain 1 once suggested that the Leader of the Opposition in this Parliament ought to give his good advice to Mr Heath instead of giving it to me. I had the good fortune 12 months ago to meet the present Prime Minister of Great Britain and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. I rather facetiously said to them, not thinking that they would be the occupiers of office in 1974, that they were criticising Mr Heath in Great Britain for much the same sort of things for which I was being criticised in Australia. I think it is time we got a little more objectivity into some of these fundamental debates. Honourable members opposite believe that inflation would have been less under their government than it is under our Government. I say that there is no evidence to support their case if the solutions which they now propound are any guide. Does anybody seriously believe in this country at the moment that a government could increase expenditure on defence by some hundreds of millions of dollars and at the same time reduce taxation by $500m to $600m. According to what the Leader of the Opposition said last night this is what should be done. But could anybody say this would make a serious contribution to halting inflation? I think the public is a little more sensible and I hope a little more sensitive to some of these issues than to believe the cheap sort of tedious tirade that we heard last night. Fancy taking 40 minutes to deliver that opus last night. We had a concerted attack by a potential Prime Minister of Australia, and he ought to be ashamed of it.
The Leader of the Opposition spoke about taxation yield. How does he know what the yield of income tax will be at 30 June 1974? Yet, he airily goes on record as saying that it will be $500m to $600m more than I have budgeted for. I say now that that is nonsense, and the quicker it is seen to be nonsense the sooner we will get on to sensible discussion.
MrKatter - Name your figure.
– It will be more for the sort of reasons I have suggested and -
– How much more?
– Nothing like $500m.
– How much?
– I am not going to answer that question. The Leader of the Opposition stated the figure of $500m to $600m. But I point out to honourable members opposite thatI have to have some degree of responsibility while they do not and the quicker this sort of thing is realised the sooner we will be able to get down to serious things.
Last night the Leader ofthe Opposition said: ‘Let us have a conference of all the people’. The 2 groups one first has to get into conference in this country on what I call a trustful basis of co-operation are the employers and the employees. There was not much evidence of this happening today in what took place in the Arbitration Court when someone from an employers’ group tried to stop the proceedings and the other side took what it thought was the only defensive measure to stop this action. That is the first step that has to be taken. At this stage it does not matter about the other groups. There are 2 prime groups in Australia - those who employ labour and those who work to produce the goods and services, public and private, that this community needs.
To suggest that if the present Leader of the Opposition were Prime Minister he would have happy teaparty meetings and all the problems would be solved is sheer nonsense. The sort of world we want to preserve in the next several years - the Western world - will be faced with this problem of inflation. The rate of inflation will reach double figures in most countries with which we want to make comparisons. Honourable members may think that the situation in America, where the rate of inflation is 10 per cent with 7 per cent unemployment, is better than the situation in Australia, with inflation running at 12 per cent or 13 per cent and virtually no unemployment. These are the choices that have to be made. Inflation is running at over 20 per cent in Japan. It is running at something like 15 per cent in the United Kingdom. Interest rates are much higher in those countries than they are in this country. This Government did what it could to insulate certain sections against the impact.
The previous speaker, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, said that the Government could have been satisfying the 400,000 people who he says need houses. The people who are obtaining houses in Australia today are in some respects not the ones who need them most. The people who are not obtaining them are the ones on the housing commission lists, which have numbered more than 100,000 for the last 4 years. There has been very little attempt to remedy that. The Opposition’s aggregate figures camouflage the fact that sometimes people are obtaining a second house when others have not obtained a first house. I hope that honourable members opposite will pay serious and critical social attention to the Henderson report when it is published, I hope, shortly, lt is an indictment of the Australian nation - not of this Government or of any particular government, but of governments in the past. It shows that, despite advantages that this country has, something like 1 in 10 of its men, women and children - old people, married people on low incomes and children - is suffering from what might be called some degree of poverty.
These are the fundamental problems. Inflation does not make them easier of solution. But members of the Opposition will not achieve solutions with the sort of cheap urgency motions they put forward nearly every day. They must scratch around and ask: What will it be today?’ I thought that last night we had heard nearly everything it was possible to drag out of the rag bag when we heard the Leader of the Opposition, yet we have been presented with this matter for discussion today. Yesterday we discussed superphosphate and I was chastised at the table because I talked about superphosphate. This matter of public importance ostensibly is about interest. Very little was said about it. There was an attempt to look at all the economic problems of the nation. I do not mind having a full and sensible debate on the Australian economy at any time; but we did not have it last night, we did not have it yesterday and we are not having it today.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the right honourable gentleman claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I have been misrepresented by the Treasurer (Mr Crean) in many ways, but I will deal with only one subject. He claimed that I had wrongly stated my expectations of the increase in personal income tax collections for this year as compared with last year. I gave a figure of $l,500m.
– It is not the figure. You are saying that it will be $500m greater than was estimated in the Budget, and you are wrong. You cannot substantiate it.
– He now says that I have said it will be $500m more than was estimated in the Budget. The figure I have used is an increase in the total personal income tax collection of $ 1,500m. The bases on which I put it are these: The Treasurer in his Budget Speech estimated that the increase in personal income tax for this year would be $l,089m. The assumed increase in average weekly earnings upon which the Treasurer based that figure was 13 per cent. I asked a question of the Treasurer. It was answered by the Acting Treasurer, the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), because the Treasurer was overseas. The answer given to me can be found in Hansard. It is question No. 857 and it was answered on 26 September 1973. The Acting Treasurer’s answer read as follows:
Assuming other parameters move as forecast, the gross PAYE income tax receipts in 1973-74 would vary from the Budget estimate by approximately $30m for each 0.5 percentage point variation in the increase in average earnings from 13.0 per cent.
That specifically answered my question. The question was: To what extent would the PA YE collections increase for each 0.5 per cent increase in average weekly earnings? The answer was: Thirty million dollars for each 0.5 per cent increase. The actual increases in average weekly earnings, seasonally adjusted, were: For the September quarter, 5.3 per cent; for the December quarter, 3 per cent-
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I try to be tolerant. For a start, the proceedings are not being broadcast today, if that is a matter for consideration. However, I think that some respect must be shown for the Standing Orders. The right honourable gentleman is debating how he arrived at his figure.
– I am explaining the way it was arrived at.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order! As the right honourable gentleman would know, I have been watching fairly carefully to make sure that he did not stray too far from the subject. Of course, traditionally the Leader of the Opposition has always been given a fair amount of leeway. But I think it is important that the right honourable gentleman get to the point as to how he has been misrepresented. He should make his explanation as brief as possible.
– I appreciate your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I am being precise. 1 have been challenged on the figure of $ 1,500m and I am explaining that it comes directly from an answer given, with the authority of the Treasurer, by the Acting Treasurer. It relates specifically to average weekly earnings. His forecast was based on an increase of 13 per cent. I am saying that it will be approximately 20 per cent.
– You are saying that, but you are wrong.
– I am saying that it will be 20 per cent on this basis: In the March quarter there was a 5 per cent increase and in the June quarter it was 5 per cent. Average weekly earnings, given the large wage increases which have occurred and which are in store - the national wage case is being heard at the moment - will rise by 20 per cent. That is 7 per cent higher than the honourable gentleman’s figure of 13 per cent. On the basis of his own answer - that it is S30m for each 0.5 per cent - it is 14 times S30m, which comes to S420m. His own figure was $1,089. Therefore the total is S 1,509m in extra personal income tax collections this year over last year, on his own figuring. The increase in personal income tax this year over last year, on those figures, will be 36.9 per cent.
– In the course of his remarks the Treasurer (Mr Crean) brought out one of the fundamental differences in economic management between those of us on this side of the House and honourable members on the Government side. He referred to the fundamental division of the Australian community into 2 prime groups. He saw the 2 groups as those who employ labour and those who are employees. We on this side of the House do not look at that division as being the prime grouping of the Australian community. Rather we see the division as being between those who are involved in productive enterprise, and those who are involved in the service enterprises. We see the division as being between those who are in the work force and those who are unable to be in the work force.
We do not see those who are employed as being in any different relationship to the community from those who are employers. Certainly, for industrial reasons, there are very good and valid bases for contending that it is necessary for communication to be improved between those who are employees and those who are employers. That I do not dispute. But I think it is important that we recognise that out of this assessment of the 2 prime groupings of the community, the Treasurer and those who frame the economic policy of this Government are pursuing a course which is directly contributing to inflation; a course which very much relates to the matter now a subject of debate in this chamber - the imposition by the Government of the highest and most onerous interest rates since federation.
The fundamental objective of this Government which has been expressed on many occasions by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and the Treasurer has been to divert resources from the private sector into the public sector. The Government’s policy has been to try to curb the growth of the private sector and to divert funds that would otherwise be spent in the private sector into the public sector so that the Government might pursue both the policies which it has embarked on in the broad and so that it can implement its own socialist philosophy which in essence means the diversion from the private individual into the public sector of much of the sinews of economic action.
Might I just say before I go any further in terms of an analysis of the consequences of high interest rates; the management of the economy and the stratagems of this Government that it is most unfortunate that the Treasurer saw fit to criticise my colleague, the honourable member for Berowra (Mr Edwards)? He hopes to participate in this debate. I trust that he will be given a chance to participate in the debate. I thought it ill behoved the Treasurer to suggest that the honourable member for Berowra was not privy to the economic judgments and assessments of those who speak on economic matters on this side of the House. Indeed, the honourable member for Berowra is quite capable and willing to speak for himself.
– Then why is he not on the list of speakers?
– He is on the list of speakers. He is the next person who is willing to speak. If he is not on the speakers list it would only be because the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) has suggested that the debate should be reduced, rather than extended to 3 speakers from each side as normally is the case. I direct the attention of the House to the 2 particular respects in which the consequences of a high interest rate are most apparent. The first is the degree to which it is reducing the initiatives and endeavours of those in the private sector of the economy and diverting funds from the private sector into the public sector so that the Government can pursue its programs. This of course is manifest in several ways. The second respect is the impact that high interest rates have had on the ordinary men and women in the Australian community in pushing up the costs of everything they want to do and in denying them the opportunity to build homes and to do many of those things which as Australians we have come to expect as a result of years of sound and wise economic management by governments from this side of the House.
There are several areas wherein the application of inflation can be seen. I was delighted that the Treasurer recognised that it is not peculiarly a matter of looking at the Australian economy. It is also necessary that we recognise the energy crisis and the impact that it has had on our trade opportunities, the slackening production rates, the shortages of importable products and the problems of increased costs in shipping and bunkering which affect freight rates. There are the very real problems that flow through from the level of industrial disputes which have cost so much in lost wages and in the number of lost working days and the degree to which those lost wages and lost working days have increased this year and last year as compared with 1972. Then, of course, there is the direct diversion by this Government of the number of people employed in the Commonwealth Public Service. There has been a significant increase in this number. Between November 1972 and August 1973, the increase was 4.1 per cent, equivalent to an increase of over 5 per cent in a 12 month period. At the same time, employment in private industry over that same 9 months period increased by only 2.1 per cent, or a little over 50 per cent of the growth rate of the Public Service. These are only a few of the manifestations of inflation. Yet in spite of the necessity for a broad based attack on inflation, the Government is pursuing a policy which at the moment covers currency revaluation - .that seems to be the core of one of the advocacies of the Prime Minister as to the way by which inflation can be contained - and an attempt to divert resources from the private sector into the public sector. That objective is won by the application of high interest rates. The very success of the February loan which collected the record amount of $509m demonstrates that because high interest rates are being offered there is a tendency for funds to be invested in the public sector rather than the private sector which means, of course, that the Government is able to finance its program while private enterprise cannot.
However, the real problem as I see it affects the productive sector of the economy, its ability to plan ahead and the confidence that it no longer has. The degree to which this sector is able to afford to borrow funds has been seriously affected by the Government’s lack of ability adequately to control inflation. There are 2 particular ways in which the little man in the productive enterprises has been particularly affected. One is in the degree to which funds have been diverted from savings banks. I think it is very material that the result of having high interest rates applied to Commonwealth loans and the degree to which the bond rate has been increased has been that funds have been diverted away from areas from which private enterprise might normally work into areas from which the Government can work. I think it is of relevance that on 10 January this year in the ‘Australian Financial Review’, Mr R. B. Cameron, the Director of the Australian Bankers’ Association Research Directorate was reported as saying:
In the first 9 months of 1973, savings bank deposits increased at an average monthly rate of S171 million. Growth in savings bank deposits in October and November has been affected by the changes in interest rate structures flowing from the monetary policies adopted by the Government last September.
Savings bank lending for housing has been under moderate official restraint in recent months. . . . The lower level of lending in November also reflects the influence of recent lower deposit growth. Nevertheless, savings banks are continuing to assist as many home buyers as is possible.
There are 2 consequences of that situation. One is that people are not being encouraged to save, certainly not in savings banks, because as my colleague the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) effectively demonstrated, at their present rate of return and at the present level of inflation, people are losing about 11 per cent per annum on funds invested in savings bank deposits. The other consequences of the diversion of funds from savings banks is the degree to which funds are diverted from investment in the housing sector. It is important that we recognise that housing expenditure is tremendously important both in social terms and in economic terms and the effect of the high interest rate policy of this Government has been to divert funds from housing expenditure both in the availability of funds from savings banks and the cost of funds to the small investor.
The. potential home owner faces a very bleak future. In an article in the Sydney Sun’ of 12 March 1974 ‘the costs were shown to be of such an order that it would be impossible for a man receiving average weekly earnings of $125 to buy a home using traditional sources of finance. It is in this way that the application of this Government’s policy is diverting funds in a negative fashion from sources which would enable this country to grow. So, the raising by the Opposition of this matter of public importance has not been done in a negative sense. Rather, our action is designed to point at the ill consequences of this Government’s mismanagement of the economy. The Treasurer himself failed to demonstrate this afternoon that high interest rates benefit the community. He failed to produce a way in which inflation can be controlled.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) concluded by saying that the Treasurer (Mr Crean) had failed to establish that high interest rates are not of ill consequence. Of course, it is the case that they are of ill consequence. I think that even the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) would not be naive enough to think that the situation is regarded otherwise. The matter proposed for discussion by the Opposition can be regarded only as pious and self-righteous. It is probably the kind of matter which any Opposition in a less responsible mood in any part of the world could raise in the present situation in the face of world-wide inflationary trends. Is the honourable gentleman able to point to any country where interest rates are coming down? Does he not know the circumstances that apply in comparable countries, such as in the United Kingdom, and in other parts where the interest rates are much higher than prevail in Australia at present?
Of course the Opposition’s complete disinterest in the idea of making any propositions at all as to how any government can overcome the demand liquidity situation with which this country is confronted has been of interest. It would be the height of absurdity for anybody to suggest that the economic situation that prevails in Australia has descended overnight or that’ it is even the creation of the present Government. I gained the impression, I think yesterday at question time, that those who sit opposite and who now point to the heavy demand on the building industry, were unaware of the fact that they were creating the situation when they were creating it. Of course they sit opposite today able to talk in this critical way, but if anyone takes the trouble to look at any of the documents and any of the economic trends from any official papers it can be clearly established that those persons opposite are the guilty men. If there is any quibble with that, let me just give some statistical information to show how those who sat on the Government side of the chamber for 23 years, in a desperate preelection situation, gave rise to a state of affairs with which we are now confronted. Now the Labor Government, after 23 years, faced with the products of that irresponsibility, is trying to bring order out of chaos which was irresponsibly created by those who dare today to criticise this Government which is taking positive forms of action to arrest what we willingly acknowledge to be a highly undesirable situation.
What did the previous administration allow to happen from the standpoint of creating this liquidity demand? In respect of savings banks, in the year 1970-71 the value of housing loans was $567m, in the following year it was $671m and in 1972-73 it was $l,104m. That is to say, in a 3-year period those who sit opposite allowed savings bank lending to run from $567m to $1,1 04m. Trading bank housing loans in the same period went from $234m to $75 lm. The permanent building societies were running along in a fair state of equilibrium up to 1970-71 when $420m was made available for housing. Two years later these people who have the temerity today to point the finger of scorn allowed lending by the permanent building societies to increase from $420m to $1,1 39m. Of course, there were other aggravating factors as well. The life assurance companies lending for housing went from $56m to $63m and the finance companies must have just about quadrupled their loans. I have not the precise figure but I know that they went to $ 1,070m without one skerrick of concern being shown by those opposite. This transference of the lending capacity into the hands of the high interest finance companies was allowed by the previous Government. What did it do? In total, in a 3-year period, it allowed a volume of money to descend onto the housing industry probably to the extent where it quadrupled. There would be nothing wrong with that in many respects. People want money for housing. But what is the point in pouring it into an industry unless in a comparable way the logistics, manpower and material supplies are increased.
If one takes a look at any of the Treasury documents relating to this matter one will establish that as a result of the action taken by our predecessors the time taken to build houses has lengthened and the cost of building them has gone up, and if these trends remain unattended and unarrested the consequences for thousands of home seeking Aus tralians will be even more serious and more deleterious in the future. It is to the credit of the Treasurer (Mr Crean) that he proposed that firm action should be taken in the latter part of last year. The action that was taken involved the bond rate being able to find its own level. It is true that it moved up to a higher extent than had prevailed earlier. The Treasurer was hoping to take the demand off the money market. Already it is a fact that gratifying results have accrued.
What would our political antagonists do? In the face of this situation where people arc finding that builders are no longer able to take their orders and when the unfortunate builder who does take an order finds that he is no longer able to recruit the services of bricklayers and carpenters to the extent necessary to fulfil the contracts, would they allow these pressures to cause the price of housing to go up endlessly without any action? Have they any propositions at all to make or are they going to wallow in this irresponsible attitude that has characterised their stance today? The present Government is very anxious to face the facts of life and to bring the 3 elements of manpower, material and money into sensible relationship, one with the other. Towards that end for the first time in the history of Australia we have introduced a process which we hope will result in effective planning and the maintaining of a sensible relationship and balance between those 3 elements to which I have referred - manpower, material and money. We have established an indicative planning process. The departments concerned have come together for the first time and we hope to go on to transfer the consideration of Australia’s housing needs from a centralised position into the regions, and then marry these factors with the availability of the type of material that is needed in each region and the type of tradesmen necessary to utilise those materials.
In addition to that, of course, we realise that in the face of this tradesmen shortage other steps have to be taken. The solution of a tradesmen shortage is not the easiest thing to find. The availability of tradesmen under the immigration program is a diminishing factor. Tradesmen are in international demand. We hope to be able to take longer term courses of action such as adult training and pre-apprenticeship training and improvements of this kind to bring our tradesmen force up to date. We are also looking at the urgent need to find better ways of building houses which will not involve the utilisation of such a large building force.
So many other matters are already the subject of positive initiatives by this Government and others are receiving the attention of the Government and could be the subject of announcements in the near future. We know that people have been affected by the high interest rates. We want to restore lower interest rates as quickly as we can. We are taking steps towards that end. In the meantime, of course, it is our intention to alleviate the problems that some home seekers are experiencing with the higher interest rates that prevail by introducing a system of tax deductibility on mortgage repayments. But, more importantly, initiatives which will be taken with regard to financial corporations and which will be the subject of debate later in this session will have desirable effects.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order! The Minister’s time has expired. The discussion is concluded.
Debate resumed from 7 March (vide page 157), on motion by Mr Crean:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Inter-, national Monetary Agreements Bill 1974, which is presently before the House, seeks parliamentary approval for Australia to take up a special increase of US$41. 14m in its subscription to the capital stock of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The Opposition parties support this Bill. As a matter of policy we believe that programs of multi-lateral aid and assistance must continue to play an integral role within the framework of foreign policy. The proposed subscription for additional shares in the World Bank is consistent with the precedents established by successive Liberal-Country Party administrations. Those former governments were similarly committed to multi-lateral aid through such avenues as the United Nations voluntary programs and the Asian Development Bank. As a nation we have consistently been among the first three or four of the major aid donors and, under the last 4 years of Liberal-Country Party administration, direct government aid averaged 0.56 per cent of the gross national product.
The total actual consideration to be approved under this legislation is US$41. 14m. This sum represents the computed purchase cost of the additional 341 shares of voting stock of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The entitlement to the increased capital subscription accrued in 1970, when Australia, along with 74 other countries, was granted a special increase in its quota in the International Monetary Fund. As the Treasurer (Mr Crean) indicated in his second reading speech, 90 per cent of subscriptions will remain at call and only 10 per cent is actually payable. Past practice involved the use of the promissory note technique of payment. As a consequence of the revaluations of the Australian dollar in December 1972 and September 1973, the Bank is required under the ‘maintenance of value’ provisions ill its articles of agreement to repay to Australia over the next few years an amount in excess of that which Australia will have to pay to take up this special increase in our subscription to the capital -stock of the Bank. Consequently, the Treasurer has indicated that the Government proposes to negotiate an understanding with the Bank to offset these respective payments to and by Australia, and thereby avoid any net impact on the Budget of the present subscription.
There has existed since the inception of these two independent, albeit complementary, bodies - the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Monetary Fund - a certain implicit relationship between quotas in the one and contributions to the other. Although these relativities have not been strictly formalised, Australia has in the past respected the commitment and ordered its international obligations accordingly. The purpose of this Bill is therefore essentially to re-establish this parity and maintain the policy commitment of the previous Government.
The World Bank is one of the most important and effective international agencies in the field of development finance. The Bank is in fact the largest multi-lateral source of development financing in the world. By the end of June 1972 the Bank group had committed nearly US$23 billion in over 100 countries. It is important to remember that, although the World Bank is constituted as an intergovernmental organisation, it nevertheless relies mainly upon private capital resources for its actual operations. The world’s capital markets are the Bank’s largest single source of funds.
The obvious success of its operations clearly establishes the efficiency of private investment capital as a vehicle of development finance. The Bank’s capital structure with its substantial loan resources from its own paid-up capital and governmental guarantees, enables the Bank to borrow even more sizable sums, essentially through the sale of its own paper to private investors. Given the Bank’s very sound reserve position, it is able to provide finance in given situations when the prospective borrower would otherwise be unable to obtain a loan on reasonable terms. In fact, under the terms of its charter, it is only in these specific areas, where alternative financing is not available, that the Bank is actually allowed to operate.
Despite the fact that the Bank must confine its operations to project financing in areas that, to say the very least, are not attractive to the capital market in prima facie terms it nevertheless does conduct its operations in a manner that is fully consistent with the basic concepts of credit banking. In this respect the World Bank fulfils the original concept of its operation and ‘acts as a safe bridge over which private capital could move into the international field’. Indeed the basic philosophy of the World Bank is fully consistent with one of the precepts of the Opposition parties, that is, that private capital can be effectively and efficiently mobilised to provide investment capital for the development of basic economic and social infrastructures both within Australia and overseas. We fully support the Government’s proposal to increase Australia’s commitment to this very worthwhile international body in the knowledge that it represents a commitment to an organisation which successfully adapts the force of private capital to the attainment of the economic and social advancement of the underdeveloped regions of the world. It does so in a manner that is primarily apolitical and in a manner that is explicitly designed to encourage the growth of productive private enterprises in the recipient member countries.
It is appropriate to view Australia’s commitment to the World Bank in relation to its wider commitment to the International Monetary Fund. Given that there exists a ‘longstanding relativity’ between the degree of monetary involvement in the operations of each and as membership of the International Monetary Fund is a pre-condition for membership of the World Bank, any major change in the operational efficiency of the International Monetary Fund must necessarily reflect in some measure upon the operations of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
In the last few years there has been a profound change in the basic international monetary structure. For the greater part of the post-war period most countries have clung to the concept that preservation of a pattern of fixed exchange rates provided for the most effective and orderly operation of any system of international capital transfers. The International Monetary Fund identified closely with the maintenance of this pattern of fixed exchange rates. Constant crises, caused by feeble efforts to maintain fixed parities, tended however to dissipate rather than increase the effective influence of the International Monetary Fund in the international money market. Under the previous fixed parity system the International Monetary Fund acted as lender of last resort. With floating rates, however, a much more limited need for credit has tended to be met by central banks’ own reserve facilities. This arrangement is obviously only temporary as real additions to international reserves must be created once the present large pool of United States dollars is mopped up. Given Labor’s maintenance of a fixed exchange rate policy, Australia, however, will need to maintain larger working balances than would be required under a more rational policy of flexible exchange rates.
The international monetary scene has been deteriorating rapidly in the last few months. The influence that negative forces may have upon the general wellbeing of Australia could be profound. We believe, therefore, that the Government must take appropriate action now to ensure that Australia’s position is protected to the fullest extent. The oil crisis remains basically unresolved and the industrialised nations of the Western world face a further massive dose of cost-price inflation in the coming months. The danger of an oilcrisisinduced balance of payments set-back cannot be discounted lightly. In attempting to adapt cost structures totally to revised energy prices, many countries may be tempted into competitive exchange devaluations so as to protect their respective balance of payments positions and their export industries. Such beggarmyneighbour ^policies have, in the past, provided no remedy for economic recession; in fact, they have tended to make matters worse. To restore and maintain a strong and influential International Monetary Fund obviously is necessary.
At present, the Government’s position visavis the International Monetary Fund is subject to question. Apparently, there is a difference of opinion between the Prime Minister, who in international monetary matters appears to be a devoted disciple of the World Bank President, Mr Robert McNamara, and the Australian Treasury on matters of international monetary policy. Although the actual position apparently is unresolved, the Opposition is prepared to regard the Treasurer’s statement of 23 October, rather than the Prime Minister’s reported comments, as the policy of the Government. We note the general agreement reached through International Monetary Fund negotiations that, in principle, countries maintaining par values should settle in reserve assets those official balances of their currencies which other countries present to them. We endorse the Treasurer’s indication that Australia is willing to participate in any agreed system but that such a system should be based on voluntarism rather than automaticity.
The Treasurer, during his statement on 23 October, said that the Government had stressed the importance of individual action to correct balance of payments disequilibrium. However, the Government continues to maintain a fixed parity with the United States dollar. The Opposition parties believe that the tie with the American dollar is strong in world markets. The significant turn-around in the American balance of payments has meant that the American dollar is strong in world markets. The tie with the American dollar has resulted in a substantial appreciation of the Australian dollar against the weighted average of our trading partners’ currencies. We believe that a continuation of this situation would not be advisable. Although our international reserves are still at a high level, the balance of payments situation is tending more towards a deficit. The Reserve Bank should fix the daily rate for the Australian dollar against the United States dollar so that the trade-weighted average of our currency against other currencies remains the same. Adjustments to this central’ rate, expressed in terms of a tradeweighted index, should be made on the basis of the current level of our reserves in relation to imports. However, we believe that the Government should announce that the tradeweighted value of the Australian dollar should not be permitted to move by more than 5 per cent in any 3-month period.
These latter comments have been put forward during the discussion of this Bill because the Government has refused to allow the Opposition parties adequate time to debate international monetary matters in this House. As I have already indicated, however, the International Monetary Agreements Bill 1974 has the full support of the Opposition parties and will co-operate in seeking its passage through the Parliament.
– This is not a contentious Bill, but it certainly deals with 2 subjects that are of great importance in contemporary international politics - the international monetary system and development assistance to the less developed countries. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) has said, the Bill enables the Australian Government to increase Australia’s subscription to the capital of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, otherwise known as the World Bank, by US$4 1.4m or roughly $A28m. The World Bank is an international agency or, rather, one, of a group of related agencies which together form the largest single financier for the less developed countries. Its total development assistance amounted to a little more than US$3,500m in 1972-73. This is still only marginal in terms of the total development assistance to less developed countries; nevertheless it is important.
The principal arm of the World Bank is the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development which has more than 120 member countries. It makes what are generally known as hard loans to developing countries; that is, they are not grants, they are loans made only for projects which the Bank regards as being within the limits of the country’s capacity and willingness to service external debt. Only projects that provide a satisfactory return on the total investment are considered. So this basically is a commercial operation. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development raises its funds, as the Treasurer (Mr Crean) said in his second reading speech, by borrowing on world markets and from capital subscriptions to the Bank by its member countries. Of course, it is those capital subscriptions to the Bank which we are considering in this Bill.
Another important agency related to the IBRD is the International Development Agency which also comprises about 120 member countries. It is a sister organisation to the
IBRD. Its role is to provide funds for worthy projects in the less developed countries, but on much softer terms than those of the IBRD. Indeed, for a country to receive an IDA credit it must be judged to have insufficient capacity to service debt equivalent to its longer term capital import requirements. Generally, IDA loans are made only to very poor countries. In fact, I think the maximum is to a country which has a gross national product of no more than $300 per capita per annum. Countries which have income of that level and below obviously are countries which find it difficult to attract or afford hard loans and, of course, they have the greatest need for assistance. In 1972-73, 70 per cent of IDA funds went to countries with an average gross national product of less than $A80 per capita per annum. This is an agency which deals with the very bottom of the poverty league, looking at the whole world. It gets its funds by contributions from Part I members - some 19 countries which are all major developed countries in the Western world and most of them in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. I have mentioned the IDA because it is important in the international aid area. It is a sister organisation to the IBRD which we are directly considering in this Bill. At the moment the future of the IDA is in jeopardy. The IBRD needs all the assistance it can get if we are to do anything about eliminating world poverty.
Despite the substantial and growing importance of the IDA, the IBRD remains the more important of the two in terms of total development assistance provided. Last year it approved US$2,050m in loans to 42 countries and the IDA provided credits worth US$1, 3 57m to 43 countries. It is important therefore that the IBRD be assisted in its endeavours, and this means that member countries should meet their obligations to this organisation, whether formally or morally obliged to do so.
It is surely a matter of some concern that the previous Government of this country consistently refused for a period of some 3 years to take up its entitlement, or in other words meet its obligation, to increase its capital subscription to the IBRD following the increase in our IMF quota in 1970. The excuse given was that we had budgetary restraints. That was the excuse in 1970, 1971, and 1972. I suppose it is a matter of priorities. This matter of the increased allocation by the
International Monetary Fund of special drawing rights which are being created as a special reserve asset has become a contentious issue in world politics as less developed countries contend that the developed countries are keeping the special drawing rights for their own benefit and not using them to help development. I do not want to get into this argument at the moment, because it is a very contentious issue, one on which this Government is at least keeping its options open, but it is a relevant factor in the world scene.
In these circumstances there is surely at least a firm obligation on the governments of developed countries which are benefiting from the allocation of special drawing rights at least to keep up with their obligations to the World Bank which are related to their IMF quotas. In my opinion it is a shameful situation that we are one of the few countries that have not done this. The previous Government in this country is directly to blame for that. This Bill seeks to redress that situation by fulfilling our obligations to the World Bank and meeting the capital subscription. This should have been done in 1970 and not left until now.
I think if we talk about this in general terms it does not mean as much as if we look at some specific factors related to world poverty and the need to assist developing countries. The fact is that the disparity between the rich and the poor countries is getting greater. A couple of weeks ago the World Bank published its economic atlas, which showed that the disparity between the rich and the poor was growing greater. This is a deplorable situation, one in which no one here should find any satisfaction. Yet the developed countries of the world, instead of taking action to offset this, are in fact cutting back their aid. This Government is at least making some attempt to meet its obligations not only in relation to multilateral agencies like the IBRD but in other areas as well. We should be terribly concerned about world poverty if we think about the conditions in which people live in many countries. We should be terribly concerned about the fact that world poverty remains a tremendous problem for many hundreds of millions of people. A week before the World. Bank economic atlas was published a report was made to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights which revealed that between 40 per cent and 70 per cent of people in the developing nations - about 2,000 mil-> lion people - live below the poverty line. At least 40 per cent of them live in absolute poverty. God knows what absolute poverty is; it must be pretty terrible.
Perhaps I can fill the situation out a little by referring to an address that was given by the President of the World Bank, Robert McNamara, to the third United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Santiago, Chile, in 1972. Perhaps this fills out the statistics somewhat. Mr McNamara said:
What are we to say of a world in which hundreds of millions of people are not only poor in statistical terms, but are faced with day-to-day deprivations that degrade human dignity to levels which no statistics can adequately describe?
A developing world in which children under age 5 account for only 20 per cent of the population, but for more than 60 per cent of the deaths.
A developing world in which two thirds of the children who have escaped death will live on, restricted in their growth by malnutrition - a malnutrition that can stunt both bodies and minds alike.
A developing world in which there are ‘100 million more adult illiterates than there were 20 years ago.
A developing world, in short, in which death and disease are rampant, education and employment scarce, squalor and stagnation common, and opportunity and the realisation of personal potential drastically limited.
This is the world of today for the 2,000 million human beings who live in the more than 95 developing countries which are members of the World Bank.
That puts a bit of a face on the statistics and enables us to see what we are really talking about. We are talking about immense human suffering, yet the shameful situation is that the developed countries of the world are cutting back their aid. Page 7 of the World Bank Report of 1973 states that official donor assistance disbursements represented 0.34 per cent of donors’ gross national product in 1972, compared with 0.35 per cent in 1971. So in that one year, the last year for which figures were available, the figure for official donor assistance had been chopped back slightly. Roughly speaking, official donor assistance means government aid as a proportion of gross national product to underdeveloped countries. That is a disgusting situation and one which must be changed. The United Nations has set an objective for official donor assistance of 0.7 per cent of gross national product for the developed countries, and that is to be achieved by 1975. In fact only a few of the developed countries will reach the target or intend to reach the target by 1975. I am sorry to say that this country will not be one that reaches the target unless this Government changes its plans. We have said that we will reach our target of 0.7 per cent by the end of the decade. That is not good enough. I say we should achieve it by the time the United Nations says it wants it done, and that is by 1975. New Zealand has said that it will reach its target by 1976. At least this is better than achieving it in 1979 or 1980.
I think there is probably no more important issues in the world at the moment than this issue of assistance to the less fortunate countries. We normally think of poverty in terms of our own country. We are rightly concerned about it, rightly concerned to analyse it, to work out the extent of it, and to think of ways to offset it. That is important and should be done. In my opinion it is just as important to take drastic action to help the under-developed countries to join the growth league and to help their people escape from the poverty which blights their lives at the moment.
The International Development Agency, to which I referred previously and whose operations I described, is in dire danger of collapse and this situation is deplorable. Last September Robert McNamara said that the IDA was at least in a dicey situation because the developed countries of the world were dithering about whether they would meet the fourth replenishment of funds needed by the IDA to continue to conduct its assistance program for the very poor countries of this world. Since then the United States Congress has refused a fourth replenishment and its refusal to do so puts the whole program in jeopardy because the United States is by far the richest country in the world and provides by far the largest part of the assistance which goes through the IDA. The fact that the United States Congress has chopped back its assistance means disaster for the underdeveloped countries. If the United States Congress does not change its mind - I believe it will have an opportunity to do so - I would hope that this Government in any case would pursue it? allocation of $60m over 3 years agreed on at a meeting of the IMF and the World Bank at Nairobi last year. I would hope that we would stick by that and not chop back this allocation because the United States refuses to meet its moral obligations in the international aid sphere. We should stick by what we have said we would do and not in any way chop back. This is particularly so because of the oil crisis which has meant tremendous suffering to the underdeveloped countries which are not oil producing. All of them are very reliant on oil and its by-products. They find it tremendously difficult to obtain fertilizers and a whole range of other things because they are not able to meet the payments for oil which they previously made. This country is escaping from the oil crisis probably better than most other countries because, in a large part, we have our own oil supplies and our balance of payments position is still very good. We are not in a state of balance of payments crisis, and even if we stick to the United States dollar I do not see that we will have a balance of payments problem in the near future. So looked at from the balance of payments point of view, we can afford to meet the obligations that we have said we would meet in international conferences. Despite what the United States might do, we should stick by our promise to provide $60m to the International Development Agency over the next 3 years.
Finally, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which this Bill is providing funds to assist, will in fact be trying to help the less developed countries offset the problems created for them by the oil crisis by raising loans from the oil producing countries which, of course, will have tremendous surpluses of funds available in the next few years if the oil crisis remains as it is at the present time. For the IBRD to be able to do that it needs the full support of the developed countries, and we should do all in our power to assist it and its sister organisation, the IDA. 1 support the Bill.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, as has been pointed out by previous speakers, the International Monetary Agreements Bill proposes that Australia should take up an additional entitlement of 341 shares in the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. These shares have a value of approximately $A28m, of which only 10 per cent - say $2.8m - will be required to bring Australia’s total equity in the bank to $643m, of which $64m has been provided in cash. The bank borrows on fairly favourable terms on that equity investment and passes on those favourable terms to the recipients of its activities (which are the poorer member countries of the bank) in order, as the Treasurer (Mr Crean) said in his speech, to encourage the best rate of economic growth and development.
I had the pleasure of visiting, with considerable interest, some officers of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in December last year. The Bank makes loans broadly speaking, on commercial terms for economic projects related to capital works, water, transport, power and production. More recently, when the Bank has engaged in a wider range of activities, more emphasis has been placed on the social implications, and necessarily less emphasis has been placed on economically viable projects. I do not think that it is possible to express a view on this fairly recent tendency. One would have to look at each project on its merits to see,how : sound it is and really hOw beneficial it is in its social objectives. But I cannot say that this tendency worries me as much as it does some people who have expressed concern about this matter. I believe that the Government is acting properly in making this increased equity contribution and that it regards the officers of the Bank as being the best people to decide what projects they should assist.
As has been stated, the IBRD is easily the biggest development finance body in the world, and I for one - and I think the Opposition as a whole - certainly agree to the Bill and to the comments which the Treasurer made in his second reading speech. I was pleased to see his reference to the bipartisan support of the Bank which has existed down the years. Also, I see nothing against the discussions with the IBRD on payments to and from the Bank because of the ‘maintenance of value’ provisions resulting from the revaluation of the Australian dollar as against the United States dollar.
The Treasurer and the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) referred to the reason why Australia has not taken up the shares previously. The Treasurer in his second reading speech said that it was because of budgetary restraint. But it ought to be mentioned in passing that previously a number of countries - most countries - did not immediately take up their share entitlements. Many of them have since done so, although some have not. I certainly think that the time is now appropriate to take up the share entitlement and, as the honourable member for Gellibrand mentioned, perhaps it could be even a little bit later than it should have been. He emphasised this point, and although he said in another context that he did not want to get into a controversial area, that has not really been noticeable to honourable members on this side of the chamber on other occasions. He has never passed up the opportunity to criticise the Opposition or the previous Government. He did it on this occasion. The situation is, as he said, one of priorities. The present Government took great pride in having introduced 236 Bills into this House last year. So presumably the priority that it attached to this Bill ranked at least 237th or a little lower because some other Bills have already been introduced this session. This is the sort of thing that does not get either side of the House very far.
The point of his that I want to take up - and I want to speak for only another 2 or 3 minutes - is that in discussing the whole aid question the honourable member for Gellibrand made an impassioned plea for more funds to be spent. He singled out one country - the United States of America - for criticism. I do not know whether that is ideological, but surely we have to recognise the fact that the United States has been the most generous country when it has come to the question of providing assistance in aid and by other means to other countries.
– That is not true.
– In aggregate terms, of course it is true. The United States is the country which really came to the rescue of the world after the Second World War in an endeavour to build up demolished economies. But the honourable member picked out that one country which has done much. I am not trying to do any more than to restore some balance to the criticism that has been made. I know perfectly well that in the whole range of aid the United States Congress and the citizens of the United States have some aid fatigue. They have seen some failures and have received a number of insults over the years, and that has had an effect on them. But I think that they have also discovered that providing assistance by way of gifts and loans has had a far less result than they really expected in the first place. In other words, the problem is more difficult than they expected, and 1 think that we should understand that.
But we also should understand that aid and the use to which it is put is a 2-way process. It is not only a question of the way in which developed countries behave, although I agree with the previous speaker when he said that United States aid has not been sufficient. I also believe that the aid given by Australia has not been sufficient. But the behaviour of the recipients is also important. One can point to many political decisions - coups d’etat and other events - which have eaten away at the determination of countries to assist by providing aid. I just make those comments in passing - they could be elaborated on at greater length on another occasion - because of the one-sided presentation and, I suggest, the over-emotional presentation that was made by the honourable member for Gellibrand - unlike the speech of the Treasurer when introducing the Bill.
I think that what is being done by this Bill is properly part of Australia’s responsibility. As I have indicated, I favour an increasing responsibility by Australia in areas of need. 1 take pride in the fact that I referred to that in my first speech in this Parliament and in many speeches since. Australia also has a very substantial interest - and perhaps one that we feel more keenly - in the Asian Development Bank which, after all, deals with an area in which we have a particular responsibility. The Treasurer is not present, presumably because he is unable to be here at the moment. I ask him to explain, either in reply to this debate or preferably in a paper which he might care to prepare, why Australia as yet does not allow either of these banks to raise capital on the Australian market in their borrowing activities. I think they should have entry into this field. It seems to me that if they were permitted to do this it certainly would not aggravate the problem of inflation that we now have. I think the effect would be the reverse. Although it is a minor matter, I think that to make the Australian market available to these banks for the purpose of raising money would further discharge the responsibility that Australia has and increase our assistance in the field of aid.
– I intervene only briefly in this discussion. First of all, I refer to a remark made by the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland) when he was discussing the reduction made by the United States Congress in that country’s foreign aid vote. He suggested that my colleague the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) was ideological in his attack upon the United
States Congress for taking that action. I think this attack on my colleague was somewhat unjustified because we should remember that the reduction made by the United States Congress in that country’s foreign aid vote - I agree with my colleague that this is an utter tragedy for the lesser developed countries - was made against the wishes of the Nixon Administration. My understanding is that it was certainly against the wishes of Mr Robert McNamara who made attacks upon it. I would not imagine that even the honourable member for Curtin would claim that Mr McNamara’s attacks on the United States Congress were based on ideology. I strongly support the view put by my colleague the honourable member for Gellibrand, namely, that it is a terrible shame that the United States seems to be adopting this somewhat narrow and isolationist position. Whatever the reason for the reduction might be, I do not think it will do the cause of the underdeveloped countries any good at all.
My main reason for making a few remarks in this debate is to give some special emphasis to the greatly accelerated and heightened problem that has occurred due to the oil crisis. Mention has been made already of the effects that the oil crisis will have on the balance of payments problems of the industrialised countries. If the crisis is going to cause problems for industrialised countries, then surely the problems that it will pose for the lesser developed countries will be nothing less than devastating. It appears that the increase in the cost of petroleum and petroleum products that the developing countries will have to meet this year will wipe out the foreign aid commitment made to them by the more developed countries.
This has tremendously far reaching implications for these underdeveloped countries because they depend upon foreign aid to pay not only for petroleum but for all their imports. If all their imports are to be more expensive, if the cost of petroleum products is to be infinitely more expensive and if this will completely wipe out any increased foreign aid that these underdeveloped countries receive, I just do not know where these countries will finish up. They still have the continuing problem of high population growth. If they are prevented from importing goods, equipment and services in order to improve their living standards, it seems to me that they will be very lucky if they are able to stand still; but it would not be surprising to see the underdeveloped countries slip even further behind, thereby causing an even wider disparity between their living standards and those in the industrialised countries.
In this context I was appalled to hear the attitude expressed on a television program last weekend by, I think it was, a former Chief of the Naval Staff in Australia who pointed to the widening disparity between the living standards in Australia and those in the countries around us. He said that surely the time will come when one of these countries will want to look with envious eyes upon what we have and perhaps will want to come and take some by force for itself. What was his remedy? It was not to try to close the gap between the living standards of the 2 countries but to arm ourselves to the teeth to prevent another country from having a share for itself. What an utterly morally bankrupt attitude that is! I just hope that is not the attitude that is held by most Australians or most members of the armed forces. I want to say a little more about that matter in a later debate, when we come to discuss the overseas visit made by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). I believe that we have to take a more humane attitude to this problem. If there is a widening of the gap in living standards, then it is up to us to do what we can in an endeavour to close the gap. I think that the Bill before the House will have some beneficial effect, but I do not know that it will go far enough.
The Shah of Iran, of course, is in an extremely fortunate position at the moment because he happens to be the head of government of a country which has done extremely well out of the current oil crisis and perhaps is better placed than Australia. But it is interesting to note that the Shah of Iran has suggested the establishment of an international fund to help to overcome the balance of payments problems which underdeveloped countries will experience as a result of the oil crisis. I would like to see the Australian Government do everything it can to help in that regard. Under this Bill Australia will increase its subscription by US$4 1.1 4m, which in Australian currency is a slightly lesser amount. Only part of that money will be paid and thi rest will remain at call.
I wonder whether the Australian Government could not do better. After all, we still have a very strong currency and’, as my friend the honourable member for Gellibrand pointed out, we still have a very large surplus in our balance of payments. I cannot really see - perhaps somebody more versed than I am in economic affairs can tell me about this - that it would do any harm if Australia put the majority of its foreign currency reserves at the disposal of the underdeveloped countries - not just US$4 1.1 4m, but many times that amount. It would not have any adverse affect upon our internal economic situation. I believe that if we took some action like this it would be a more realistic objective for the Australian Government in trying to help these underdeveloped countries. I cannot see that this would do any great harm to the Australian economy; so for goodness sake why cannot we do this sort of thing?
The situation is really one of great urgency if the underdeveloped countries are not to fall even further behind now that the oil crisis has come upon us. I do not know what our reserves are at the moment. I think they amount to about $3.9 billion. What is the use of having this money just sitting there? All it is doing is adding to our domestic money supply. Making this money available to assist underdeveloped countries might even have a beneficial effect on the Australian economy. Perhaps my friend the honourable member for Berowra (Mr Edwards) will be able to put me right on this matter. Surely we can afford to do much more than we are doing. If the proposal put forward by the Shah of Iran gets off the ground - I understand that the proposed international fund is to be financed partly by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries and partly by industrialised countries - why could not we all put in and do everything we can? If we do not, I believe that the world will be a very much sorrier place at the end of 1974 than it was at the beginning. I support this measure but I would like to see this Government do a great deal more.
– The International Monetary Agreements Bill now- before the House is an important Bill, not because of the amount of money which it makes available but because of the concept behind this the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and what it does. World instrumentalities such as this that are set up to assist various countries around the globe do a tremendous job. Most of the discussion this afternoon has been about the economics of the whole exercise. I suppose in the long run this matter comes down to economics but I think we are concerned here with a human exercise in more ways than one. What we are trying to do is to harness the resources of the world and to redistribute those resources to countries which are less fortunate than ourselves. When one sees some of these projects which ‘are located in countries in Asia and elsewhere which are unable to harness their own resources one can start to appreciate what this operation is all about. For instance, the harnessing of the tributaries of the Indus River is one project which the World Bank has been financing for some time.
Many hundreds of engineers from around the world are brought to one location to harness rivers and to generate electricity, which are the 2 main objectives of their work. However, at the same time thousands of men who would not otherwise have an opportunity to learn the skills required in harnessing the water are employed in these operations. The exercises that are embarked upon as a result of these loans are of tremendous benefit. I believe they do many things. They bring about goodwill between nations. Engineers and others who are involved in and supervise these projects contribute to this. Also, the people of a country are brought into a new area of industrial development. Of course, the electricity that is made available sets in motion the industrial organisation throughout the country concerned. People are able to be employed in a greater number of different pursuits than otherwise would have been the case. Also, such schemes make a lot of water available for agricultural and other pursuits which means that a greater beneficial use can be made of a country’s resources. In addition, many people are able to attain a higher standard of living.
These projects are designed to help people in various parts of the world to help themselves, and this is a much better ideal than what are sometimes termed as handouts that have been made available and which possibly are still necessary in some cases. But the main objective is to help these countries to help themselves, countries which would not have the opportunity of doing so if this type of scheme was not available. The point I want to make is that it is not only money that is necessary; it is people. Such a scheme needs chaps with the necessary expertise who are willing to go into these nations and help them. It is an international operation not only in finance but in people. As I have mentioned there is an industrial concept in this operation to help industries to get the water and the power which are the bases of industry. Also, new industries will be able to be developed and in many cases they too will need assistance.
As has been mentioned here today, poverty is growing in the world. Last year I mentioned the very serious situation that existed in regard to feeding the people of the world. The main reason why the world is in this situation is because of the changing weather pattern around the globe. The whole globe is affected. As we all know the greater proportion of the world’s land mass is in the northern hemisphere and that is where a tremendous amount of water falls in the form of monsoonal and other rains. Also a great amount of water can be harnessed from melted snow. But that monsoon pattern is changing and has been changing for a number of years and, as I said last year, the whole weather pattern is moving south. It is quite possible that the rain and floods that have occurred in Queensland in recent months have resulted from that situation.
The great land mass of the northern hemisphere is not getting the rains that it previously received. I say again that if this pattern does not change, and scientists see no indication that it is changing at the moment, the world will reach a very desperate position as far as food supplies are concerned. The supply of water which is available in the northern hemisphere can be harnessed and is still available from sources such as the Himalayas, for instance, which contain a certain amount of snow which will melt in certain areas. But the diminishing supply of water in the northern hemisphere poses an extremely dangerous threat to the people of the world and I do not believe that the people of the world have come to grips with this problem yet.
Over the last few years America has put aside a certain amount of territory which for various reasons has not been put under crop but which is being used again because of this situation. We in Australia will do likewise - there is no doubt whatsoever about that so long as various incentives are made available by governments in the form of finance and so on. Of course, America is one of the biggest suppliers and exporters of food in the world. When one looks at the world situation generally and takes into consideration the amount of good agricultural country which has been taken up in Europe and Britain for the purpose of building roads, schools, houses and so on, one chu sc. h that the world weather pattern is extremely worrying. No doubt the World Bank knows about these things. It certainly should. The people in the Bank who are responsible for distributing money should be looking at projects which can help to increase the world’s supply of food.
We can do certain things in this country in relation to food production, but it would be a very small contribution when considered against the total grain requirements of the world of which rice is one of the big components. When we consider the populations of countries such as Bangladesh, for instance, which I understand has a population of 80 million people in 54,000 square miles, one can imagine the situation that will arise if this v/eather pattern continues. So the world of today should be viewing this situation very seriously. It should be making available capital of the type proposed in the Bill now before us so that the world food problem can be dealt with in the best possible way.
Mention has been made of the amount of capital that will be at the disposal of the oil exporting countries as a result of the present oil prices around the world. It has been suggested that these accounts will be large, which they will. It has also been suggested that moneys should be made available from these accounts to the undeveloped countries of the world and this money could be used in the concept about which we are talking. This is fine. But take a country like India. I saw an article the other day which said that India would probably have to absorb something like 80 per cent of its foreign exchange to buy the energy that she requires in the present oil crisis. It would mean that she would pay this to a foreign oil exporting country and then would have to borrow it back with interest to do her development work. I think that this situation is a bit rough.
The economists of the world should be able to work out a better system than that because in the long run the other 20 per cent of foreign capital would go in the repayment of interest, etc. This is a serious position. Between 1 January and 10 January this year the increases in the price of oil were tremendous. The increases did not quite double but they nearly doubled the previous price, and we know that there were some exceptionally large increases last year. This situation needs to be looked at. It will become extremely serious. I think that the oil exporting countries themselves, with the vast amount of wealth they will have at their disposal, would be well advised to make grants available to various countries for particular projects that are needed to feed, clothe and house the various peoples of the world who do not have the opportunities that we in this country have. The whole economic structure of the world is becoming a little confused, to say the least.
Our balance of payments is in very good shape because of our large amount of exports in recent times, coming mainly from the agricultural and industrial spheres. Providing we have reasonably good seasons and providing our increase in industrial exports continues, our balance of payments should be sound for some time to come. But there are many countries which over the next two or three years, because of the increase in oil prices and energy prices around the world generally, will be in very serious financial trouble. A world international monetary fund of this nature must look at those 2 points - the food situation which will obviously develop if the weather pattern does not change, and the balance of payments of these countries. These 2 points are related. If a country’s balance of payments deteriorates to the extent that all it can buy is oil, how can it buy any food and how will it get the necessary machinery required to build that nation? It simply will not be able to do so. This is the overall situation as I see it. I believe that the debate on the International Monetary Agreements Bill 1974 is where these things should be mentioned. I certainly hope that the international financiers and others around the world will take note of that situation.
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 Morrison) read a third time.
Consideration of Senate’s message:
Pursuant to the Standing Orders relating to the resumption of proceedings on lapsed Bills, the Senate requests the House of Representatives to resume the consideration of the Bill intituled ‘A Bill for an Act to Establish a Legislative Drafting Institute’, which was transmitted to the House of Representatives for its concurrence during the last Session of the Parliament.
Motion (by Mr Enderby) agreed to:
That the request of the Senate contained in its message No. 1 for the resumption by the House of Representatives of the consideration of the Bill entitled ‘A Bill for an Act to Establish a Legislative Drafting Institute’ be complied with and that a message be transmitted to the Senate acquainting it thereof and that the resumption of the debate on the question ‘That the Bill be now read a second time’ be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
Debate resumed from 12 March (vide page 329), on motion by Mr Riordan:
That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech of Her Majesty the Queen be agreed to:
MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN:
We, Your Majesty’s loyal subjects, the Members of the House of Representatives, in Parliament assembled, desire to thank you for the Gracious Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.
The presence in Australia of Your Majesty and of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip has once again brought the greatest pleasure to Your Australian people. We, their representatives in this House, are grateful for this opportunity to re-affirm our allegiance to you as our Queen.
Upon which Mr Snedden had moved by way of amendment:
That the following words be added to the proposed address-in-reply: but the House of Representatives is of the opinion and regrets that your Majesty was not informed by the Government of the true position in Australia in that it has:
created an intolerably high level of inflation and has taken no effective steps to stop it;
caused uncertainty and in its management of the economy is creating social inequalities;
attempted to change the Federal system of the Australian Constitution by diminishing the responsibility of the States;
injured rural industries and the communities they support;
pursued defence and foreign policies which have seriously weakened our defence capacity; and
failed to fulfil the expectations of the Australian people because of its administrative incompetence.
– The mover of the motion relating to the Address-in-Reply, the honourable member for Phillip (Mr Riordan), who commenced, as a supporter of the Government in this debate, was one of three people who drafted this motion. Of course, the principal person on that committee of three was the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), so 1 think we can take it for ‘granted - particularly in the light of the speech made by the honourable member for Phillip that was so full of praise for the Prime Minister - that he drafted the wording. The last sentence of the motion reads as follows:
We, their representatives in this House, are grateful for this opportunity to re-affirm our allegiance to you as our Queen.
For a Prime Minister who has been reported as saying that he sees Australia as a republic one day and who is surely going down that path, to use those words smacks of a little hypocrisy.
In passing - because I want to come to economic matters in a moment - I think that one ought to point out in the debate that the Government’s use of the Queen to promote its party political objectives on this occasion is really despicable. After all, the Speech delivered by the Queen is written by the Government. That is settled constitutional practice and it was the case in this instance. The Speech is written by the Government - actually, by the Prime Minister’s staff. So all those references to reform, progressive policies, the alleged shortcomings of previous governments and having a clear mandate for its policies were written by the Prime Minister’s staff and were no doubt read and agreed to by him. As the constitutional monarch, the Queen presents the Speech for the Govern.ment. The Government writes its program. But surely in such circumstances and bearing in mind her position some restraint, some objectivity and detachment is called for. I think there was a deliberate attempt made to share in the aura of the Crown by putting into the mouth of the Queen self praise to bolster the Government’s standing, a standing which I think is much impaired by so many misjudgments and impractical policies. To use the Queen’s Speech in this way surely emphasises the fact that the Government is craving for praise, and repeatedly having to resort to self praise surely shows its weakness.
The mandate doctrine which is raised so often by the Prime Minister, his Government and its supporters is simply unfounded as a doctrine for the Australian body politic. The Prime Minister, who has the letters *Q.C after his name, knows how false that claim is. I have said before in this House and I will continue to say it. that he cannot name one constitutional authority to support the view that in the last election he received any mandate in the way that he expresses it. I see that the Leader of House (Mr Daly) looks up. He also has used the term. He cannot quote one constitutional authority to support the interpretation that the Government is entitled to have all its Bills passed and the policies contained in its policy speech agreed to.
I take up what to me is the most important feature of that address. I refer to the following words:
My Government believes the economy is basically strong and buoyant. Nevertheless, it regards inflation as a most urgent domestic problem and will continue its efforts to contain it. It believes the many antiinflationary -measures it has already taken are having an important restraining effect.
What pious nonsense. If those measures - I will come to them in detail in a moment - are having an important restraining effect, what utter recklessness there must be on the other side when we have at present in this country an inflation rate of 14 per cent. The truth of the matter is that the Government - this includes every Minister and certainly includes the Prime Minister and the Treasurer (Mr Crean) - has shown great complacency from the beginning to this problem of inflation. The Prime Minister really makes only a few polite references to inflation from time to time. He is not really interested in it. He really is interested only in cutting some sort of international figure and, of course, his dignity allows him to deal domestically only with the great constitutional questions - not that that endeavour has been marked with much success. It is fortunate that the people have the last say in these matters.
I think that the Treasurer’s attitude must be examined. His attitude to inflation is a complacent attitude. Inflation is not a theoretical concept. In fact, it affects everyone in the community. Some people can live with it successfully but inflation certainly creates for the whole community instability and uncertainty and certainly that is not desirable. In extreme conditions the cohesion of the community breaks down. We have seen that happen in the history of some countries. But at present in Australia, the instability in the value of money means, firstly, hardship for the retired - those people on fixed incomes - and a lower real income for those who are not in the militant unions or who do not wish to strike to achieve adequate rises in wages. One can with sympathy see the position of the bank clerks, most of whom I believe did not want to strike in support of their recent wage claim. One can see the pensioners finding that even a $3 increase in pensions is not enough in this period of 13 per cent high inflation. One can see huge expenditure being made in many fields and while it feeds inflation itself, the real value is greatly diminished by the fast depreciating value of money. These are some examples of the damage of inflation. But there are many others. The depreciating value of money encourages a flight into real goods and property in the community, giving rise to increased prices which were unnecessary. The most vivid example of this is the increase in land prices. Another example is that manufacturers take every opportunity to implement price rises whenever they feel that the market will accept it because they fear that future cost increases will catch up with them. So, this economic climate creates a psychological situation in which unnecessary price rises become easier to make.
I should like to refer to the latest publication of the Chase Manhattan Bank which, when making a very short summary of the economies of the major trading nations of the world had this short but apt comment to make of Australia:
Shortages of materials and high rate of inflation strain the economy.
That is what the Chase Manhattan Bank thinks of us. That is their few word summary of our present position and, of course, that publication goes to influential people all over the world. Shortages of goods in the community become widespread as the result of inflation at the level which exists today and eventually - I believe that we see the beginnings of this - artificial shortages arise. The depreciating value of money diminishes incentive; and a loss of productivity at many levels is simply inevitable. Obviously, a significant number of people in Australia today live on welfare payments rather than choose to work. The Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) publicly acknowledged that fact one or two days ago. Surely it is shocking that the Government could not have seen this in advance but has allowed the situation to arise. The Government now is talking about structural unemployment and that lovely term ‘disemployment’. We did not hear any of those esoteric terms in 1972. It is excuse-making. But still we see from the Government vast increases in expenditure, increased numbers of public servants, and mistakes in legislation which the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) says do not matter because we can come back to those later. Surely this is all clear evidence of the lack of care and lack of concern about the consequences of this enthusiastic but careless government.
The Minister for Labour in a submission during the national wage case hearings last Tuesday said that inflation itself may be inevitable. If he means it is inevitable at its present level of 13 per cent, what an irresponsible attitude to adopt. He is the man who supported a 35-hour week for some industries - in the power and the oil industries. The oil industry already has achieved a 35-hour week and, of course, the flow-on to other industries is irresistable. If the power industry received the 35-hour week there would be an increase in the cost of power alone of some 4 per cent and of course the flow-on from that increase would further increase costs.
Really, I think it is quite frightening to listen to the complacency of the Treasurer in relation to these maters. In his answers to 3 questions during question time yesterday and in the speech that he made today on the matter of public importance what he put was just stunning Ulogie and looseness. The content of today’s speech was appalling. The Treasurer made a number of accusations. Indeed most of his comment consisted of accusations against statements by members of the Opposition. However, he himself did all the things which he accused others of doing. I thought it was obvious from his whole tone and demeanour that he was tremendously upset, personally, by the criticism of his policies which in my view he has rightly received. One must go back a long way to find Treasury advice to all appearances so uninfluential in Cabinet. I believe that one must go back well before Chifley because it is clear from what we see in this House and from what we read in the Press - we know that the Government has a great barrage of Press secretaries to talk to the Press - that Treasury briefs are simply not listened to in the Cabinet of this Government.
In answer to one question yesterday, the Treasurer set out to enumerate the causes of inflation. He gave 3 causes. The first was the price of meat and the farmers. Well, the farmers are frequent whipping boys in this House. He then mentioned high oil prices. The Treasurer knows very well that Australia is the least affected yet by oil price increases in the world. He mentioned the price of food. I will grant him that commodity prices have risen all over the world, but they are lower here. Yet the rate of inflation in Australia is among the highest in the world. At that point, of course, he could not go on to talk about wage rises. So, he tailed off and abused the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for things that he had said. Now while I agree that there is some truth in the 3 points mentioned by the Treasurer they are not by any means the only significant causes of inflation, nor do they constitute a complete list. Not one word was said about wage rises. There was not a word about all the improved conditions of employment in the fields of holidays and superannuation and the other benefit increases. There was not a word about his Government’s encouragement in the Arbitration Court of wage costs beyond the national productivity increase or the encouragement of Public Service wage increases and condition improvements which have got to the point where they greatly compete, indeed I think in many areas unfairly compete, with the needs of the productive private sector. I am not talking now about the wages or salaries and conditions of the First and Second Divisions of the Public Service. I think practically all those men are hard-working, dedicated and entitled to what they get; I am talking about the thousands upon thousands - as a matter of fact, more than 200,000 - clerks and others at lower levels who have received increases out of all proportion to the national increase in productivity. There was not one word from the Treasurer in this reply about Government expenditure on an unprecedented scale, most of which goes to the administrative side of these matters, to the Public Service, and not to production or those directly providing services.
The Treasurer is very fond of saying that inflation is not new and that it is a world problem. He referred yesterday to periods of unacceptable levels of inflation and he referred to the early Menzies Government in 1949. In 1949 that inflation rate was inherited and the Government of the day took strong measures to combat it. In 1951 as a result of the Korean war excess demands the Government again took firm action. But from 1954 to 1969 - I am sorry to weary the House with some statistics but they are germane - in that 15-year period the average rate of inflation in Australia was 2i per cent a year. I suggest that that is not a bad record. Since that time and under the previous Government there was an un acceptable level of inflation. Still, at the time the last Government went out, in the quarter ended 31 December 1972, the inflation rate was less than 5 per cent a year. So when we talk about inflation being a world problem let us ask ourselves what that world problem is.
I suggest that the world problem in the comparable economies that I think we would look at, is an inflation rate of 7 per cent or 8 per cent a year, not 13 per cent or 14 per cent a year. The tone of the Treasurer in these matters is always that he is very concerned but the situation is really all right. He thinks so little of the problem or the result of instability and hardship to many people in the community who cannot defend themselves that he said: ‘We will survive if there is 14 per cent, 12 per cent, 10 per cent or less*. It is not a question of surviving at this moment; it is a question of equity. I think what he said was quite irresponsible and needs to be pointed up. Throughout last year we heard his speeches on this subject. In the autumn session while speaking to the Appropriation Bill he said, when warned about inflation by the Opposition, that we were taking the inflation rate for a quarter and multiplying it by four to get a yearly percentage and that that was a great mistake and we could not do it. The fact of the matter is that multiplying by four the figure for the first quarter gave us a more conservative result than we have today. In May last year I could not believe that inflation would ever rise over 10 per cent a year in Australia, but it has exceeded that rate by almost half as much again.
What has the Government done? The Reserve Bank has called up more funds. The Government has reduced tariffs by 25 per cent and there have been some up-valuations in the currency, none of which, I suggest, was done to affect inflation. Those are very long-term measures. Yet the Government trots them out each time as though they were urgently implemented to combat inflation. As a matter of fact the Treasury witnesses in evidence given to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Prices said that it would take 2 years to see whether these measures had any effect. How can one call those anti-inflationary measures? The Government also talks about the legislation to be introduced on restrictive trade practices. We have not seen that yet. That is hardly something that will make an immediate impact. Then there was the Prime Minister’s effort - it was a sincere effort - to affect interest rates. But of course the Australian Labor Party Caucus spoilt all that and made a mess of that policy as an antiinflationary measure. That increase was made in the teeth of longstanding Labor Party policy, but it was also made because of the need to raise funds, and because of international pressures. The move had a minute effect on inflation. Of much greater effect has been the vast expenditure by this Government and the increase in the Public Service which are just feeding the fires of inflation and defeating other worthwhile objectives of the Government. What we have seen is an excessive reliance on monetary policy but a lack of real antiinflationary policy by the Government, which is in absolute contrast to the words in the Queen’s Speech written by the Prime Minister’s staff.
– At the outset, I should like to say that I am very pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this Address-in-Reply debate.
– You will not get many more.
– We shall see about that. I think age at least is on my side. Twelve months ago almost to the day I made my maiden speech in this Parliament. When I spoke on that occasion I was very much aware that I was a member of a government that had just been elected and that had committed itself to policies of reform and innovation. That pleased me then and it still pleases me now. I believe now that the record of the Government is on the board. There is no doubt at all that its first year of office has been characterised by new initiatives which have been taken in almost every field of government. Of course there are people in the community who will say that there has been too much speed in these changes. Perhaps this is not surprising when we realise that some people for their whole lives lived with a Federal government which was noted for its inactivity. Then, suddenly, to be faced with the rapidity of change which has taken place in so many fields, one can understand, was somewhat of a shock to the system. It was pleasing for me to hear Her Majesty the Queen in her opening Speech state:
In this session my Government will continue with its policies of reform and innovation.
– She put that well.
– She did. I should like to devote my time chiefly to just 2 areas in the whole area of government, .and they are the initiatives that we have taken in the fields of education and health. There are numerous other fields that one could have chosen. Firstly, in the field of health -
– It came to a sticky end.
– I am not sure that it came to a sticky end at all. I think that the record is extremely good and I suggest that the honourable member listen carefully because I am sure he will then be much better informed.
– Say it twice; he is rather dull.
– Right, I might do that. The record of the Government in the field of education is magnificent. One of the chief reasons for this is that no longer is the Australian Government proceeding with a plug-the-gap approach. Now we have blueprints and plans for future development in all the fields of education. These have been drawn up by committees composed of experts in the particular fields. Documents of the greatest educational significance, such as the Karmel report, have been presented to this Parliament. I think it is very important to note that teachers, parents and the community at large had their opportunity to study these reports and make their recommendations. It was only after this procedure was followed that the Government brought legislation into this place. I submit that this surely is good government; this is truly democratic government.
The education program of the Government has rested squarely on the principle of direct assistance to schools and students according to their needs. In my home State of Victoria an additional $198m was made available by the Australian Government’s Schools Commission to spend on Victoria’s private and state schools over the next 2 years. State schools received the greatest boost that has ever been given to them by an Australian government. So one had every reason to expect that 1974 would mark a new era in education. But in Victoria this was not to be the case. The Liberal Government in that State hopelessly bungled this golden opportunity. I for one am bitterly disappointed at this inexcusable negligence in planning for a year in which a new face was to be put on education. Instead, what have we seen? We have seen school beginners turned away. We have seen other school children sitting in overcrowded classrooms. We have seen a shortage of the temporary portable classrooms. We have seen some school children being taught in corridors. We have seen the size of classes being increased.
To digress for just a moment, one school in my electorate has IS of these temporary portable classrooms. Only today, according to a newspaper report in Victoria, the State Minister for Education proudly announced that he was spending $2.7 5m on portable classrooms. This is so typical of the approach of the Victorian Government. The attitude of the previous coalition government here in Canberra was: Plug the gap with temporary classrooms; let us throw them on to a piece of land and we will call that a school. In Victoria I have seen schools on sites on which not one permanent building has been constructed.
There are a couple of points that I believe should be made about this situation. I refer first to the beginning of the school year in Victoria. As early as May 1973 the Victorian Government knew that it would be getting its fair share of the additional $700m that the Australian Government was making available. It is perfectly true, of course, that the Labor Government had to fight the Opposition to get through both Houses of the Parliament the legislation which made this finance available to the schools. But, as we all know, wiser counsel prevailed in the Australian Country Party and the Australian Democratic Labor Party and the Bills were eventually passed. It is interesting to note that never did the Liberal Party support the expenditure of that money. So on that score there is really no excuse for the education bungle in Victoria at the start of the school year. At best it is a complete failure to plan for the future and, at worst, it is a shocking example of gross negligence. In fact, one might say that it is political immorality; and there seems to be justification for a charge of this nature when one considers how diligently the Victorian Liberal Government has worked to render ineffective any Australian Government legislation which would have been of benefit to the Victorian people. Would that the Victorian Liberal Government had worked just as diligently to give effect to and to pass on to the people the benefits of the finance and the new thrust coming from this Government.
The second point is that the Australian Government has a most effective and efficient
Bureau of Census and Statistics. Birthrate figures which are broken down into city, regional and State trends, are readily available from the Bureau. One of the reasons the Bureau issues figures such as these is to enable education authorities to plan far ahead in their school building programs. It was obvious by early 1970 that the baby boom meant that within four to five years there would be a need for many more school buildings. Nobody in the Victorian Government had to be able to gaze into a crystal ball to see this situation arising. It was there for all to see. As usual the Victorian Education Department was years behind in its planning and, of course, those who suffer for this inefficiency are the school children.
I recall that in my maiden speech in this place I advocated the removal of what I called the iniquitous Commonwealth secondary scholarship scheme, which is what it was called at that time. This scheme rested on the false assumption that financial assistance should be given to and should be the prerogative of those most highly rated- in a competitive examination system. Although we as a government continued with this system last year, we initiated at the same time a new scheme of assistance at the secondary level based on a better criterion of assessment - that of need. I am pleased to note that it is unlikely that any more awards will be made under the old Commonwealth secondary scholarship scheme and that the assistance provided to students at the senior secondary level will ‘be based on needs. The scope of this assistance will be considerably widened in the coming years.
One could continue to speak on the achievements of the Government in the field of education. One could speak about teacher training, the removal of fees at the tertiary level, greatly increased student assistance, increased assistance in the education of the disadvantaged and the handicapped, and the encouragement being given to those engaged in innovatory projects. There is no doubt that in the next financial year the Government will provide the thrust that is so urgently required in the pre-school and child care fields. So much for education.
I wish now to deal with the field of health. Labor’s critics have attacked the national health insurance scheme as a classic example of the Australian Government’s power hungry centralism. So often we have heard this accusation thrown at the Government. It is said that we are centralist, that we want to wipe out the State governments and that we are not interested in the local governments. I believe that in the field of health we can show that this criticism is totally unfounded and totally uninformed. To substantiate this assertion we need only to look at the community health program. However, before speaking about that let me say a few words about the universal health scheme. We know that the doctors, the voluntary health insurance funds, the private hospitals and the nursing homes were successful in their hysterical campaign to block our legislation to implement this scheme. The cost of the defeat of this legislation will be felt by the Australian people for years to come. I know that in my own electorate there was a great need for the flow-on that would have resulted from the passing of that legislation. I know of the great need which exists for public hospital beds in the area around Dandenong. I know that the major public hospitals desperately need increased government financial assistance. I know that at present many people in the community which I represent are at risk because they cannot afford to join a voluntary health insurance organisation. Already there have been - this is particularly so in Victoria - sharp rises in the rates payable by contributors to health insurance schemes. All of this, of course, could have been different. If they wish to take the credit for it, this situation has been brought about by those powerful pressure groups which wanted to maintain the status quo. Also it represents another victory to the obstructionist policy of the present Opposition in the Senate.
The present community health scheme certainly is not just a health scheme operating at the national level, nor does it operate even at the State level. It gets right down to the areas in which people live - the suburb - and it helps the community in that suburb. It is true that planning is taking place at the national level, as I believe it should be. The then Interim Committee of the Australian Hospitals and Health Services Commission in June last year tabled a community health program for Australia. Again this was a departure from the methods used by our predecessors, under whom an ad hoc approach to government was the order of the day. Now it is essentially a co-operative venture, with the Australian Government attempting to work closely with the State governments and local communities. All three are involved. I believe that the 2 words ‘community’ and ‘health’ are the key words.
I submit that a series of events in my electorate of Holt provides a complete and irrefutable answer to this highly vocal cry of centralism. In my electorate is the most rapidly expanding area in Victoria. It contains the cities of Dandenong and Springvale and the new city of Berwick, all of which can be described as bursting at the seams. Within the Berwick city boundaries lie the housing commission area of Doveton and the nearby centres of Hallam and Narre Warren. There is a total population of something like 18,000 in the area around Doveton, lt is a growing population. To look after the medical needs of that area there are 2 doctors, with no para-medical help. Clearly this is a situation revealing a vast gap between reality and the ideal medical care situation. The Minister for Health (Dr Everingham), who has had wide experience in these matters, has said that the ideal is one doctor to no more than 3,000 people, plus para-medical help. In the case of Doveton and Hallam there are 2 doctors to 18,000 people, with no para-medical assistance.
Again I emphasise the word ‘community’ because it is at the community level where people at grass roots under our system of government are able to make known their health needs. Some weeks ago I called a meeting in the Doveton public hall to which members of the community came and gave expression to what they believe should happen in the community. Included in the people who attended that meeting were representatives of the Australian and Victorian Health Departments and the 2 doctors in the area, who were most enthusiastic supporters. The people, aware of the example of community health centres established and functioning well in the Australian Capital Territory and of the money set aside in Victoria, made it abundantly clear that they also wanted a community health centre in the DovetonHallam area. At that enthusiastic meeting there was quickly elected a steering committee which included councillors, a psychiatrist, service club members, pensioners and one of the local general practitioners, as well as other socially active people in the area. It is perhaps significant to mention in passing that wherever there is a great need for health services and a complexity of health problems doctors in the area seem to give their support. This is in marked contrast to the noisy group of doctors who wish to maintain the status quo in comfortable, settled and fee paying capability areas.
The submission of the community’s elected group will shortly be on its way to the Australian Hospital and Health Services Commission and the Minister in Canberra and also to the Victorian Hospitals and Charities Commission and the Victorian Minister.
Given the strength of its case, which is due, in no small part, to the lack of concern and indifference of the previous Government and its failure to implement any comprehensive and adequate policy of health care, there is every likelihood that full approval will be given, with accompanying finance for the proposal. Of course, on a number of occasions the Minister for Health has outlined the alarming shortcomings of the present system which he has described in phrases such as haphazard and inefficient’ and ‘fragmented and wasteful’. He has said that it is not coping in the world of the 1970s. It is creaking along in a horse and buggy fashion in an age of automation.
I submit that this Government has given a whole new dimension in its approach to health care. This results from the premise, which is the basis of our approach to this subject, that we believe that we have both a right and a responsibility to give all Australians access to high quality health care at reasonable cost. In conclusion, 1 believe that what must be emphasised in relation to the whole of this community health program is that it is not something imposed from above. This is not the big brother government in remote Canberra. As I have tried to demonstrate in the example from my own electorate of Holt, action has arisen out of the will and the wish of the community.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I listened with interest to the remarks of the previous speaker, the honourable member for Holt (Mr Oldmeadow), if only because he attempted to perpetuate an illusion that we have seen dragged through this House to date when he referred to the fact that this was the Queen’s Speech and attempted to imply that it was the Speech of Her Majesty and not the Speech written for her by the Government. This is something that should not have to be emphasised, but I make this introduction because I wish to draw attention to a number of sins of omission and sins of commission that are mentioned in this Speech delivered by Her Majesty for the Government.
The major sin of omission since this Government came into office has been in relation to the most important question of inflation. The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) demonstrates clearly the problem that has occurred since the former Government lost office. That amendment includes the words: the House of Representatives is of the opinion and regrets that your Majesty was not informed by the Government of the true position in Australia in that it has:
I think it was somewhat damning of the Government that the Leader of the Opposition was able to speak yesterday and to read in full a quotation from the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) which indicated that he, at least, was aware of the problems that inflation creates. If I paraphrase what he said, it is not because I wish to quote him out of context. He mentioned the important factor of altering the distribution of income in an arbitrary and often vicious way. He mentioned that inflation robs people by reducing the purchasing power of their savings, distorts resource allocation and encourages a rush into supposedly inflation-proof real assets such as land or housing. The Prime Minister said that inflation is anathema to us all. In that respect I agree with him, as I am certain would every responsible member of this Parliament, because inflation is a real problem that causes a great deal of dislocation in the community. I was, therefore, most distressed yesterday to hear the Treasurer (Mr Crean), the person who is responsible for the administration of our economy, attempt to deny that inflation at a rate of 14 per cent, as we all acknowledge we have today, is not intolerable. In answer to a question by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) the Treasurer, at page 249 of Hansard, is reported as having said:
But I do not think that a country is made or broken whether the rate is 14 ner cent rather than 12 per cent.
He went on to say:
I am asked what is an intolerable rate of inflation. All I suggest is that we will survive in Australia if the rate is 14 per cent, 12 per cent, 10 per cent or less, and we will survive if, for any unfortunate causes, the rate goes beyond those figures. But there is a responsibility upon us to see that we do our best to look after those who are adversely affected by whatever rate prevails.
I draw attention to that quotation because I thought yesterday that I was going to have my first interjection recorded in Hansard when the Treasurer looked like he was almost going to answer my comment: ‘What about the superannuitants?’ Since I have been in this Parliament, and admittedly it has been only a short while, I have noticed that the Government continues to ignore the plight of superannuitants when it thinks of people who suffer hardship as a result of inflation. I believe that these responsible people who have provided for themselves and who have participated in schemes which are designed to assist them in their old age deserve a special place in our society and that they should not be robbed by the action of a government that allows inflation to career on at a far higher rate than we have seen before or at least in some 20 years.
It is pertinent to ask: Who is hurt by inflation? Of course, the pensioners are hurt. To some degree the Government tries to compensate for this, although a real examination of the figures at this time demonstrates that, although in actual money terms the amounts paid to pensioners are somewhat higher, in percentage terms the amounts given do no more than reimburse pensioners by the amount they are robbed by price increases. Students are affected, yet a large number of students have been deprived of the advantage that at least existed under the old scheme of Commonwealth scholarships when all fees were paid. Many students are now required to pay fees that they were not required to pay before. Those who were fortunate enough to live on a living allowance are not seeing those allowances increased to enable them to live on a day to day basis, hand to mouth, and to maintain themselves in universities and colleges of advanced education. Also affected are many who remain at school. The amounts that are paid to their parents to maintain them at home are not increased on a regular basis; nor do we see the Government rushing in, when we have this high rate of inflation, to compensate them. Young people who have not yet been able to save for a home are disadvantaged because the time that it takes them to put away the amount that is necessary to start off on this track is extended further, and they suffer. It is not just the superannuitants who suffer; it is many. Simply to say ‘We are raising pensions’ when we are talking about the hardships people suffer as a result of inflation is not good enough because many more people than pensioners are dislocated. It is a very important issue in this community today.
The Government, when it deals with its own superannuation funds, makes no mention of, say, the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund and the people who have contributed to that. Because the fund happens to be reasonably prosperous no answer is given to those people who have participated to indicate that they will be able to share in that little amount of excess that has accumulated. So personnel in the Public Service are being robbed in that direction although the Government is trying to get out of the embarrassing situation it is in with other Commonwealth public servants, a situation it created by the uncertainty that it allowed to exist when its own Commonwealth Superannuation Fund had a surplus available for distribution.
The Government’s own statistics clearly demonstrate the problems that we have in this country. The various round-up documents on economic statistics produced by the Australian Government Publishing Service for the Treasury have, since I have been receiving them, indicated in their summary page the main problems that we are facing and each of them has dealt with matters of industrial dispute which have affected output and caused shortages of goods. We only need look at the document of March 1974 to see the statement that available data indicates that spending remains buoyant despite widespread shortages of goods and materials. Each paragraph in the documents I have looked at states that prices and wages continue to increase rapidly. This is unfortunately the fact of life. The Government documents confirm it.
The Government has now been some 16 months in office, and the steps it has taken, which it said were designed to control inflation have failed abysmally. It cannot blame the Opposition for this. It cannot blame us for the monetary and fiscal steps, and even tariff steps, that have failed to control inflation. It cannot blame us for increased Government expenditure or for the increase in the size of the Public Service. It cannot blame us for its own failure to act to restrain wages. I do not suppose it can even blame us for its representations before the tribunals that inquire into wage and salary increases which encourage such tribunals to increase wages. It cannot blame us for the fact that there is a lack of competition, labour shortages and not a sufficient work force available to bring about real competition. We see an extravagance of spending - many trips by Ministers and many extra people going on these trips. We see the Government taking over construction of a pipeline that could have been built by private enterprise. This takes away the ability of the Government to deal with the really important problems - the social service matters and questions of defence. In my opinion these are far more important.
We have seen it recorded in figures that not- - withstanding inflation the wage earner has not suffered. Wages are up some 21.3 per cent, yet company earnings are up only 15.9 per cent. I think these matters are relevant because they demonstrate the extent to which a redistribution of income is being brought about and the fallacy we hear when the Government steps in to protect, allegedly, wage and salary earners as against the vicious monopolies that we are supposed to have in the country and the vicious companies and the people who are so necessary in bringing to bear enterprise and effort and who bring about the larger cake in which we all try to share. I think it is very important to note the extent to which taxation is ripping away from people the willingness to go out and work hard and contribute to the prosperity of this country. Wherever I go, whether it is among young people, older people, workers or entrepreneurs, people complain about the extent to which income tax obligations are causing them to consider whether they should go on working as hard as they have, whether they should suffer the risks of a coronary just for the sake of earning money that they will put into the pockets of the Government. This is what has been happening.
The suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition that we reduce income taxes by some $600m, which would be only a small part of the extra income that is being given to the Government this year has been laughed at. Yet I believe that unless we have that form of distribution, that form of return to the people who are earning the income - income that is justly theirs - there will be nobody left to go out and work even to pay our own salaries, because everybody will want to be on the dole. Everybody will wish to live on some form of social services, but it must be recognised that social services cannot be collected and distributed unless somebody is working to gather the money. It is interesting that in the Queen’s Speeh confirmation was at least given that the Government intends to continue its program for ending the means test. I for one was relieved to see that that promise was there, although one could be forgiven for doubting whether the Government intended to proceed with the promise at all, having regard to the many newspaper articles that I have seen in the last week which have indicated that the Government is having second thoughts about this matter. I hope that the Government intends to honour the promise that was made in the Speech that the Government wrote for Her Majesty.
– Name one Government spokesman who said that we would not proceed with the abolition of the means test.
– I indicated that there have been a number of articles on this matter, and the Government spokesman who indicated some reticence was the Treasurer (Mr Crean) himself.
– Last week; although I have a copy of what he said in front of me, it does not bear the date. However, I will find out for the honourable member. The other matter that is of particular importance to me is housing, because I come from an electorate where there is a great deal of housing activity. This matter was debated in the House today. We have heard the Minister for Housing (Mr Les Johnson) speak about his 3 Ms - manpower, materials and money - when he tries to demonstrate to the Australian people that he is grappling with this real problem of housing and when he tries to excuse his own abysmal failures. In the few minutes remaining to me I will draw attention to some of the matters that indicate quite clearly the Government’s failure in this area. These matters have come to my attention in the few short days since this Parliament resumed, since Her Majesty’s Speech was read to the Parliament. Only one statement in the Speech dealt with the question of housing - this most important problem with which the Minister has indicated he is dealing - and that statement was:
Legislation will be introduced for a limited tax deductibility for home mortgage interest payments for home owners.
If one looked at the Press statements that I have seen from time to time one could be forgiven for believing that a great deal more can be done. But we do not see that set out in the program which the Government intends to follow. We hear a great deal of huffing and puffing from the Minister as he tries to excuse his own failures and suggests, on occasions, that he has in mind providing nodeposit home loans. I did not see reference to this matter in Her Majesty’s Speech, although the Minister said that this would be done by extending the activities of the Government’s Housing Loans Insurance Corporation. There was no statement in the Speech which indicated that a general household insurance scheme would be introduced. There was no indication that legislation would be introduced in order to give the Government power to direct more money into selected areas of housing need, nor that there would be any co-operative housing schemes.
These matters are mentioned in statements presumably to indicate to young people that the Government has this important matter in hand and is not neglecting it. It is designed to overcome the quite proper inference that housing is being used as an economic weapon and that young people are being deprived of housing in the Government’s endeavour to try to grapple with this problem because it has no other real policies with which to overcome inflation. In the Government’s statistics issued today it was indicated quite clearly that the demand for housing is falling. This statement was made:
Local government approvals of private dwellings declined further in January. In seasonally adjusted terms, approvals in the 3 months to January were well below the exceptionally high levels reached in the middle months of 1973.
It is quite clear that the question of housing is being used by the Government in this way. The Housing Loans Insurance Corporation, which deals with a wider range of matters than just the question of approvals and the number of young people who are able to borrow, indicates that the number of loans insured has dropped. It is not good enough for the Minister to indicate that there are problems in the housing area. He is the one who has to come up with the results. All we have heard in the time that this House has been sitting are statements by the Minister that if he was in a position to provide housing he would be able to build homes in the same way as he built them at North Rocks. In answer to a question by the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Ashley-Brown) in this House on 5 March last the Minister suggested that houses made avail able to defence personnel cost between $23,000 and $27,000 and were said to be valued at between $40,000 and $47,000. I can vouch for the fact that homes in this area may be worth that much money, but the price of land in the area is of the order of $20,000. The land on which these defence Service homes were built has been owned by the Commonwealth Government for many years. It was a disused rifle range. Quite clearly, when the Minister speaks glibly of the cost of building homes on this subdivision, he has overlooked the price of the land. He has led young people to believe that they would be able to get homes at that price if this Government had control over this area.
– Misrepresented the situation.
– It was a quite clear misrepresentation. The Minister speaks glibly about the recruits needed in the building industry, yet we have seen no real attempt made to bring to Australia the necessary people to build homes and to overcome the manpower shortage. In fact, we have seen a discontinuance, largely, of the past immigration programs which have provided many of the skilled workers who contribute in this area. Many other matters were overlooked in Her Majesty’s Speech; and I should like to mention before I have to conclude that child care and probate were important matters on which the Government could have commented but did not.
Sitting suspended from 6.11 to 8 p.m.
– We are debating the Address-in-Reply to the Speech delivered by Her Majesty the Queen in opening this Federal Parliament. It is interesting to note that in this debate honourable members opposite have been at great pains to indicate that the Speech was not written by Her Majesty but was written by the Government on her behalf. One would almost imagine that previous speeches, including the magnificent one which was made in 1969 by Sir Paul Hasluck, were written by the Governor-General of the day. I have never heard a weaker or more fallacious argument come from any party in this Parliament. Anyone with any sort of knowledge of parliamentary affairs is fully aware that, when the Queen or her representative says that her Government will do this or her Government will do that, she is speaking on the advice of her Ministers and it does not matter whether they are conservative or ‘Labor Ministers.
Last night in this debate we heard from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) one of the most remarkable speeches I have ever heard in this Parliament. I would just like to take one or two points from that speech so that those honourable members opposite who are interested will know what they will be supporting when they support the amendment which the Leader of the Opposition has moved. The Leader of the Opposition can never be said to be other than a versatile man. In fact, on one page of Hansard he is reported as saying, in reply to an interjection about the difficulties of home owners:
Yes. They find that when they can borrow money - . there is a shortage of money because the Government has created a liquidity crisis-
He went on to mention the cost of land. A liquidity crisis means a shortage of money in the economy. I ask honourable members opposite to take note of what he said, as reported at the bottom of the next column of Hansard. One of the major economic measure that the Leader of the Opposition states his Government would undertake is set out in these words:
We would reduce the growth in the monetary supply.
On the same page of Hansard he criticises this Government because of a liquidity shortage in the economy and he also proposes as a policy of his own Party further reductions in liquidity. One notes that he does not mention the $ 1,700m that was pumped into the economy in the last 6 months of 1972; nor does he make any basic economic assessment of the long term effects of that injection of funds on the Australian economy.
I would like to move on to a more central theme in what the honourable gentleman said last night and has been saying over a period of time. He makes a number of points. One of the major points which he makes and which his colleagues make fairly regularly is that in government his Party would reduce the level of government expenditure. It is a nice phrase. He indicated that he would reduce income tax collections by S600m. That is a nice round figure. His speech makes it quite clear that he believes that the defence vote should be increased by one per cent of the gross national product. He says that it is equivalent to approximately 2.5 per cent but it should be 3.5 per cent, which represents an increase in expenditure amounting to $400m or slightly more. So, in one fell swoop he would reduce the money available to the Commonwealth by Si ,000m. It is not much money if you say it quickly and you do not have to find it.
He has said that he will reduce the size of the Public Service. But his own Deputy, whose staff like that of the Leader of the Opposition has doubled as compared with the staffs of the previous Leader of the Opposition and his Deputy, has publicly complained that he has not sufficient staff and has criticised the Government for refusing to increase his personal staff further. The Leader of the Opposition claims that the size of the Public Serivice should be reduced. He claims that we should reduce interest rates. He does not say who will meet the cost of reducing interest rates. If inflation is running at 13 per cent a year, as he claims, the value of money-
– For the .time being. It will be 20 per cent soon.
– Taking the honourable member’s figure of 20 per cent and the current interest rate on borrowed money of 10 per cent, a person who puts his money into a savings bank receives 4i per cent to 5i per cent interest on his savings; so the Opposition is proposing that that amount of interest should be reduced so that the person who puts his money into a savings account will subsidise the interest rates applying to borrowers who may well be in a better position to meet the loss than the person whose savings are being sapped. The Opposition is suggesting that the person who saves his money should subsidise borrowers by accepting an interest rate which is lower than the rate of depreciation of the money that he has saved. In other words, the Opposition is saying that those people who are thrifty enough to save - I am talking not about the big investors but about the small savers who get the lowest interest rates in the community and who are usually the ones who subsidise government actions because it is government banks which are used - should subsidise borrowers; or does the Opposition intend to take that money out of tax revenue and subsidise interest rates in some way whilst at the same time cutting government expenditure?
– Your Party raised the interest rates. We did not.
– The honourable member’s Government raised them from 3) per cent to H per cent during its period of office.
That represents a 100 per cent increase. The Leader of the Opposition says that the amount of money in the economy should be reduced, but he would put more money into the economy by reducing income tax and reducing interest rates. He is aware, as we all are, that there is a shortage of goods and a shortage of labour. But he would reduce interest rates in order to increase demand. That is the classical economic theory on which the Leader of the Opposition worked when he was Treasurer, and I assume it is the theory he would accept now if he were the Treasurer. But the fact is that he is just talking. He has no sincerity whatsoever. How can any person respect a party which comes before the Parliament and proposes massive cuts in government revenue and massive increases in government expenditure? I did not mention the fact that Opposition members have repeatedly been demanding that we increase pensions substantially. They support the proposition put by the Australian Democratic Labor Party in the Senate in relation to health insurance funds at a cost of $ 1,400m in one year. They propose all of these things and they propose them repeatedly to what they believe to be a gullible public, whilst at the same time they are demanding cuts in government expenditure. I would like to see one member of the Opposition stand up on his feet and make substantial proposals - I do not mean ones involving only $50m or $60m - for cutting government expenditure whilst also denying-
– Fewer overseas trips, to start off with.
– The honourable member is talking about an expenditure of less than $lm in a year. I think that the honourable member would spend more money travelling around his electorate than all the Ministers spend in overseas trips in one year. I do not deny him that right for one minute; I think it is part of his rights as a member of Parliament. But the honourable member should not be so childish. We are talking about money in the national sense. We are talking about a gross national product of $30 billion and not 2 or 3 thousand dollars here and 2 or 3 thousand dollars there. I said substantial amounts of cuts. I have yet to see Oppositions knock back overseas trips which are offered to them by governments, and that includes all Oppositions, past and present. The facts of the matter are that honourable gentlemen opposite are voic ing words. Every proposal that has come before this Parliament which would cut government expenditure has been opposed by the Opposition.
Before the suspension of the sitting the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock) by innuendo endeavoured to suggest that the Government intended to drop its proposals to abolish the means test. I would point out to the House that in the Speech which we are debating, which is a record of the policy announcements of the Government for this session of Parliament, the following words appear: ‘The program for ending the means test will continue’. That program was announced in the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). The program is that the means test will be abolished within 3 years. There can be nothing more definite or positive than that statement. Any speculation of the nature which we heard earlier is merely designed to try to mislead people and is mischievous.
I want to raise one other matter, and I shall do so briefly because I have raised it in this Parliament on many occasions and I will continue to do so while the situation exists. One of the programs of the Government which this Parliament considers almost every day at question time and which is now the subject of major debate is whether or not the Australian electoral systems are in fact designed to ensure that the people elect governments rather than governments elect governments. It has been said outside this place by the Leader of the Opposition that the proposal to hold a referendum on this matter - this referendum is most likely to be held at the time of the Senate election - is designed to create a giant gerrymander in Australia and proposes undemocratic processes of elections. The proposed referendum which must be carried by the people to become law would force all governments to legislate in order that their parliaments would be elected by electorates in substantially equal population. It has been said that this would be a disadvantage to the very large electorates. The largest electorate in size in Australia is Kalgoorlie. This electorate has the third largest population of any electorate in Australia. The honourable members for Chifley (Mr Armitage) and Melbourne (Mr Innes) are the only 2 members in this place whose electorates are larger in population than the electorate of Kalgoorlie.
The point I want to make and stress to the Parliament is that there is no evidence in the history of State politics in Australia that governments of any political colour can be trusted to maintain reasonable standards of honesty - I suppose that is the only word which really describes what I want to say - in the administration of their electoral Acts. Over the years we have had restricted franchises. In South Australia at the moment - and this system is about to be abolished - there is an upper House in which the party that has 56 per cent of the votes in the lower House can get only 4 to 6 seats. This is the greatest number of members that this party has ever had in an upper House of 20 members in that State. Yet this party has received an average of 53 per cent of the vote.
The situation in Queensland is very honest when compared to what is happening in the South Australian upper House. In Tasmania ticket carrying members of the Liberal Party stand as independents for the upper House in that State. I think that the Labor Party in that State which at almost every election receives better than 50 per cent of the vote is able to elect 2 out of 19 Legislative Councillors. In Victoria the situation is nearly the same. The Liberal Party with about 40 per cent of the vote is able to elect an absolute majority of Legislative Councillors to the upper House in that State. The combined parties in opposition - and there the Country Party is just a little more enlightened than it is in this Parliament because in Victoria it is sometimes seen to be in opposition - which receive something approaching 60 per cent of the total vote are able to elect about one-third of the members of the upper House. In New South Wales the electors do not have to bother. The Parliament does not consult them at all but goes ahead to elect its own upper House.
– But that was done by your party previously.
– I made the point, and I would have hoped that the honourable member would have heard it, that I do not believe that any parties in State politics have shown by their records that they can be trusted. I want to repeat what I said so that the honourable gentleman can hear it. I believe that there should be some standards which all parliaments in Australia should be required to meet as regards the election of representatives to govern. At the moment it is quite possible for a State government to carry a law which would have the effect of wiping out Parliament altogether and which could set up an executive govern ment in perpetuity. While the people would not let a government legislate in such a way, there is no protection whatsoever to ensure that a government does not do this.
One other thing which I think should be said is that the day of self-appointed parliaments is long gone. The methods by which members of parliaments are elected, whether they be State or Federal, should be binding on the parliaments and not alterable by the parliament to which the members are elected. These methods should be alterable only by the people of the nation. This is what the proposal being put forward in the referendum would do. I hope that this proposal can become law in Australia. If it does we will forever end the cry that undemocratic elections have taken place and governments which have no right to govern are in office. At the present time there are only 3 State governments which have been elected by more than 50 per cent of the people. Of those 3 governments none has more than one-third of the membership of the upper Houses of those States. This situation has come about because of the way in which members of the upper Houses are elected. In Western Australia the differential between the largest and the smallest seat in the upper House is 15 to one - a range of 85,000 votes down to 5,000, and that is a greater differential than any democratic system can stand.
I have already mentioned the situation that exists in regard to the South Australian upper House. Fortunately the pressures of public opinion have forced a change in that State and a democratic system will replace the present archaic and undemocratic upper House in that State. I hope that this change will take place at the next election. I have also mentioned the position of the upper House in Tasmania. It may be that a system of one vote one value or electorates of equal population is not as ideal as one could devise. There are very few ways in which one can devise an ideal constitutional system. But the system proposed by the referendum is certainly better than the systems which are open to the constant wrangling about gerrymanders. An example of this is the situation in New South Wales where the Government redistributed the seats so late in an election campaign that the Electoral Office was not able to send a member of this Parliament ballot papers for the electorate in which he was enrolled. We all heard about the efforts of the honourable member for
Prospect (Dr Klugman) to get a postal vote. The honourable member told us that his ballot paper was delivered to him the day after the election. The names which appeared on the ballot paper were for an electorate other than the electorate for which he was enrolled. The name and address of the returning officer to whom he was to send it were for a third electorate. He was to send it to a returning officer for an electorate for which the persons listed on the ballot paper were not candidates and he was to sign it as an elector of 2 electorates for which he was not enrolled. The excuse given by the electoral office was that the redistribution was so late that its officers did not have time to check the roll thoroughly. Most likely that is as near to the truth as one could get. In New South Wales while the Liberal and Country Parties have been in office there has been a redistribution before every election - three in 7 years.
-Order! The honourable gentleman’s time has expired.
– I support strongly the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) to the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply. Anyone who reads the Speech that Her Majesty made at the opening of Parliament can do nothing but condemn the Government. Speeches have been made by certain Government supporters extolling the fact that the Government has achieved this or that. I suppose that in nearly 16 months in government inevitably it much have achieved some success in some field. But when one looks at the Government’s total record one wonders what the future of Australia really is. In matters such as defence, primary production, interest rates, postal services, Aborigines, pensions and the referenda or referendums - however one likes to say it - that have been put before this House one can see a degree of confusion and haste in most of the Government’s legislation and in most of its actions.
I want to refer to something that was mentioned by the Treasurer (Mr Crean) earlier today when he was speaking on the matter of public importance regarding inflation. He said that the Opposition wasted time in cheap urgency motions. I always thought that one of the tasks of an Opposition was to bring before the notice of the House matters of urgency and matters that concern the people of Australia. Surely the 2 matters to which he referred - the one yesterday relating to the superphosphate bounty which concerns primary production and the one today relating to inflation - are 2 matters of urgency because of the effect they have on this nation. They are 2 matters which I believe the Opposition should raise, and raise every day that this House sits. The Treasurer mentioned inflation. I would like to read to the House a certain paragraph from Her Majesty’s Speech. She said:
My Government believes the economy is basically strong and buoyant. Nevertheless, it regards inflation as a most urgent domestic problem and will continue its efforts to contain it.
– What is wrong with that?
– The honourable member for Hunter asks: ‘What is wrong with that?’ Like everything else that has been done by this Government, they are great words but they do not mean anything at all. They are not at all effective and, as I said, they prove conclusively all the arguments that were put forward in the discussion of the matter of public importance that was raised so capably by my colleagues in regard to the inflation which is confronting this country. When one looks at the policy of this Government one finds that there is confusion from one piece of legislation to the next.
Unfortunately, some people in my electorate were gulled into voting for the Australian Labor Party at the last election. I am sure that they have learnt their lesson. One of the things they said was: ‘If we have Labor in power it may have more influence with the unions and we will have more industrial peace; we will be able to go forward, to progress and to develop this country’. If that were not so serious it would be laughable. We have had more strikes, more unrest and more dissatisfaction in labour matters under this Government than under any previous government that one could name.
– And a shortage of consumer goods.
– As my colleague and friend the honourable member for Paterson said, there is a shortage of consumer goods. A great deal has been said about the floods and the problems that have been facing northern New South Wales and Queensland in recent weeks. Yet one of the problems that will face people in primary industry in these areas will be replacing fences, sheds, machinery and other things that have been lost in the floods. The problems of the floods and the difficulties of rehabilitation in those areas will be accentuated by the shortage of supplies that is facing the people of Australia at the moment. So, as I said, if it were not so tragic it would be laughable that people misguidedly voted for the Labor Party in the last election, believing that at least in one sphere there might be some semblance of order, some progress and some development.
The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition reads in part:
Your Majesty was not informed by the Government of the true position in Australia in that it has:
created an intolerably high level of inflation and has taken no effective steps to stop it;
caused uncertainty and in its management of economy is. creating social inequities;
attempted to change the Federal system of the Australian Constitution by diminishing the responsibility of the States;
Anybody who has studied the Commonwealth since Federation will realise the importance of the part that the States have to play. By many of its actions this Government is doing everything possible to undermine the strength and the value of the States. The amendment continues:
There is the true picture of what has happened to Australia since this Government came to. power. I ran through some matters very quickly. Let me now go through them in more detail. The first is the matter of defence. What has happened to the defence of this country since this Government came into power? The morale of the defence services of this country has never been lower. Yet the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) comes into this House and says literally that everything in the defence sphere is lovely. I say quite frankly that, if he thinks that, it shows that he knows nothing about the defence services and nothing about the factors relating to the defence of this country. Let him go out to some of the defence installations in Australia and talk to the servicemen who are engaged there. He will then find out their feelings about what this Government has done to the defence of the country.
Much has been said about the association of the previous Government with the United States of America. I have mentioned this before. Previously, if we had things to say to leaders in the United States they were said in private and not blazoned as headlines in the newspapers of the world so that everybody could see our differences.
– You hatched the Vietnam war.
– There is an interjection from my friend the honourable member for Hunter.
– I said: ‘You hatched the Vietnam war’.
– I say to my friend from Hunter what I said once before when the previous Government had been accused of going all the way with LBJ namely, that it is possibly better than to live and die with Chou En-lai. The way the present Government is going, we will be doing more dying than living. Nobody would say that a country such as China should be ignored, but to have discussions or an association with a country does not mean that we have to give away every single piece of prestige. If China had really and truly wanted to have dealings with Australia she would have accepted certain conditions that we would have put up. We did not need to go cap in hand and give away every single piece of prestige. I have said enough about defence.
I now refer to primary production. As I said, the Opposition put forward as a matter of public importance She question of the removal of the superphosphate bounty. I read a comment in one of our newspapers - I think it was the ‘Australian’ - which said that there was a shortage of food in the world and that there was a danger in years ahead that the world would be very short of food. We know that problems in regard to food exist in many countries. I appreciate some of these problems and I accept the fact that in some cases, the problem is not so much one of a shortage of food itself as the lack of capacity to get food from where it is produced into certain areas. But it is suggested that there is a shortage of food. We have been talking about an energy crisis. I mentioned this in my own electorate the other day. The headlines of the newspapers have asked what is to be done in this circumstance or in that circumstance and saying that we should conserve our fuel and that we should do this and that we should do something else. It would be just as dangerous to the world to have a shortage of food as it would be to have a shortage of energy. Yet the people in the primary producing areas who contribute to the strength of the economy of this country are making this contribution with very little assistance from governments. This Government, instead of assisting the primary producers, is doing everything that it can to make conditions difficult and to reduce production. That was the great argument that members of my Party and Opposition members put forward during the debate on the superphosphate bounty. We should endeavour to do everything that we can to increase production and to help primary producers.
As I have said, I have read reports on numerous occasions where people talk about the inefficiency of the farmer and say that by giving them subsidies and assistance we were only backing them up in their inefficiencies. Surely anybody who has any understanding of primary production realises the problems that are faced by the man on the land. As I said, we have seen such problems only in recent weeks. It was pointed out in the House that in certain areas where there had been a great deal of rain, now the farmers were finding it difficult to plough the ground because the ground was so hard. These are the problems faced by the farmer. The farmer sows his crop and waits for the harvest. He gets floods. He gets rain when it is not required and he gets droughts when he wants rain. He has absolutely no control over these things.
– Then he gets a Minister who says that flood plains are for floods.
– That is right. As my friend the honourable member for Gwydir said, we even have a Minister who should know better making a remark which shows that he has no appreciation of the situation. These are the things which justify the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition and provide reasons why that amendment should be carried.
I refer now to interest rates. The Australian Labor Party was the party which, before it became the Government, was going to help young people and which was going to make it easy for young people to purchase homes.
– They will not forget.
– As my friend, the honourable member for Calare said, they will not forget.
– Order! Would those sympathetic interjections cease, please?
– If this Government is going to help young couples, heaven help them if this
Government were not going to do anything. Interest rates are now, I think, the highest they have been in the history of this country. Certainly, they are the highest they have been for a long time. Young people buying homes are now faced with a greater commitment because of the increased interest charges or a longer period before they finally pay off their homes. These young people are struggling to live in this country during a period that this Labor Government said was going to be such a delightful experience under Labor. The increase in interest rates has also affected the man on the land. Again, the primary producer has been hit because, at a time when he is trying to battle against increased costs and when there is an inflationary spiral, he is met with increased interest rates so that his payments are increased, placing a further burden on him as he confronts many of the difficulties in his sphere of production.
I refer now to postal services. I suppose, in a way, in this twentieth century, in 1974, we perhaps should drop the word ‘services’ because I really do not think there is much service in the postal services. One might almost say there is a lack of postal service. Again, of course, this situation hits the man on the land, and the people in country towns. It makes it more difficult for them. If a person lives in a metropolitan area, at least he has a neighbour next door to whom he can go and obtain some assistance. But, of course, in some of these country areas it is miles to the next door neighbour. I come now to the delivery of mail.
– There is not any.
– That is right. There is not any. I refer to the delivery of mail as it affects newspapers. I appreciate that radio and television have helped to reduce the isolation of country areas but there is still the newspaper - the written word - to be considered. Because of the further reduction in postal services, not only is it costing the people a great deal more to get their newspapers but also it is taking longer for them to receive them. There are many other aspects of postal services that I could mention, but my colleagues both from the Australian Country Party and from the Liberal Party on numerous occasions have put forward cases relating to the reduction in services provided by the Postmaster-General’s Department.
Let me refer to the question of Aborigines. I have some experience with this matter because there are a number of Aborigines in the electorate of Lyne. The moderate, sensible Aboriginal who wants to make a contribution and who wants to be part of the community life has a fear in his heart because of the extremist and the ratbag who one could say is being almost encouraged by members of this Government. The true Aboriginal - the man who wants to accept his responsibility and who wants to play his part - is not the man in the demonstrations or the man who is causing all this trouble and confusion. Even the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) - this is one statement with which we can agree - said that the Government’s policy in regard to Aborigines had been a disaster. One might say that he could say that about every section of the policy of the Government. However, he did say it about the Government’s record in Aboriginal affairs, and basically, that statement is correct.
I now come to the matter of social security and the increase in the pension. This is a delightful situation. The cost of living goes up so that the pensioner is about $4 or $5 a week worse off than he was before and so the Government gives him an extra $3 a week and says that everything in the garden is lovely. In addition to providing an increase in the pension because of the inflationary spiral, steps should also be taken to stop this inflationary spiral in which case, of course, not only would the pensioner be better off but also every man, woman and child and every industry in Australia would be better off. For those reasons I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. The people of Australia should read and digest the words of the amendment moved by the Opposition. It should be supported because it expresses in clear and concise terms the complete and absolute failure of the Government to fulfil any of its promises or to be an effective government of the Commonwealth of Australia.
– In opening this session of the Australian Parliament, Her Majesty, the Queen of Australia, summarised in concise terms the legislative program of the present Government. She said that in this session the Government would continue with its policies of reform and innovation. It seems to me that the speakers on the opposite side of this House are completely out of touch. They have no idea of realism or of what the people are thinking. When they speak here they speak for themselves and certainly for nobody else. We have had much criticism from the Opposition side of the House on the Government’s approach to national problems and particularly to the problems concerning inflation. Much has been made of the present rate of inflation but no effort has been made by the Opposition to assist in the correction of what everyone recognises to be a very real problem. All efforts by the Government to tackle the problem, including the referendum seeking a national power over prices and incomes, have been resisted and in fact opposed by the Opposition.
There is the continuous cry that Government spending should be reduced. But of course there is no specific area that the Liberal Party or the Australian Country Party is prepared to nominate as one where spending can be curbed. Would they have us reduce spending on social security or education? We have just been told that not enough is being spent on social security and that pensions are not adequate. Would they have us reduce spending on defence or overseas aid or do they prefer just to stand up and say ‘reduce spending’ and not indicate where? In recent weeks the Country Party has consistently attacked the Government on rural policy. It has claimed that all primary production is emerging from a period of crisis after crisis and so it needs some special considerations. I believe that the Australian electorate is beginning to recognise the falsity of this assertion and, of course, it does not escape the people that the Governments of the previous 23 years played their part in achieving the tragic position in which so many rural workers found themselves.
The Government insists that primary producers are not in a special class of their own; they are quite capable of looking after themselves and their own affairs. They are entitled to the same sort of assistance as is applicable to all other industries. In order to facilitate this assistance the Government introduced the Industries Assistance Commission Bill to provide the means by which any industry, either primary or secondary, could have initiated a public inquiry to determine the type and extent of assistance, if any, required to enable the viable operation of that industry. But wc saw the attitude of the Country Party and the Liberal Party. They opposed the Industries Assistance Commission Bill. They did not want to see assistance to primary industry on the same basis as secondary industry. They would not accept the fact that for years the assistance that has been granted to primary industry in infinitesimal compared to that accorded to secondary industry. It is possibly appropriate now to remind honourable members of the Country Party that they joined with the Liberals in opposing the Bill.
For many years in government the Country Party spoke in extravagant terms of the things that should be done for primary industry. But the electorate became disenchanted when the Country Party failed to produce the goods. This Government initiated an in-depth study of all primary industries, but in the meantime set out to cure the problem where the cause lay. Marketing is the main consideration for any industry. It is of little use to produce goods which cannot be sold or for which an inadequate price cannot be obtained. The Government has tackled this problem at the roots. We heard just a few minutes ago once again a member of the Country Party denigrating our association with China. For years in Government the Country Party refused to accept the fact that China existed. But now, with the sale of 4.7 million tonnes of wheat, worth some $600m at current prices-
– You gave it away. You did not charge them enough.
– The previous Government gave it away for years and would still be giving it away; the producer would not get anything for it. Sales of some 300,000 tonnes of sugar a year have been negotiated. The Country Party thinks these things do not matter and that it is better to bury its head in the sand, to pretend that China is not a country at all, and that one-third of the world’s population does not exist. The Country Party continues on its merry way. Who pays for this attitude? The Country Party does not pay for it; the primary producer pays for it. A few moments ago we were told about our association with the United States of America. One honourable member said that the former Government did all its dealings with the United States in private. Does he not know that there were tapes at Watergate? There has not been a private conversation in America for years and we should not forget it.
New markets have been negotiated for primary production and we have guaranteed sales for many years to come. Every possible initiative has been taken in an effort to reduce the rate of inflation in Australia. The Country Party initiated tariff protection for secondary industries which added so much to import costs to the farmer. This has been reduced and primary industry is at least well on its way to recovery. It has been admitted that this is the case. We are told now that primary industry is in a much better position than it has been in for years. But of course this is only coincidental with the change of Government. Honourable members should use their heads. Industries started to pick up after the change of government. What other reason could there be than that this was caused by the change of government? Primary producers are recognising this.
– You ought to look out. They will blame you for the floods next.
– What is the difference? A new wheat agreement has been negotiated to the satisfaction of the industry and the Wool Corporation report is to hand. Positive policies have been pursued in contrast to inequitable subsidies and wheat quotas and so on that were the policy of the previous Government.
– I will bet that you are not game to have a ballot on wheat quotas.
– The Country Party introduced them. There are still people on wheat quotas. We were told by a member of the Country Party tonight about the starving millions of the world, yet the Liberal-Country Party Government in New South Wales has people on a wheat quota and refuses to give them permission to produce wheat. How laughable. There is one basis and one basis only for a comparison between the policies of this Government and the previous government and their effect on primary industries, and that is in terms of income to primary producers. Every primary producer in Australia will tell us today that he is far better off than he was before. He is far better off under a Labor Government than he has been for years under an anti-Labor administration.
I should like to make a few brief references now to constitutional proposals for the future. The Government proposes to ask the Australian people to approve of various amendments to the Constitution by way of referendums at the time of the next Senate election. The first of these proposals is to allow an amendment to the Constitution to ensure that Senate elections are held at the same time as House of Representatives elections - a reform designed to correct the position created by
Sir Robert Menzies when Prime Minister, which requires an election each year. Mr Whitlam, the Prime Minister of Australia, as Leader of the Opposition before the last election, promised that the Government would take action on this matter. People are sick and tired of going to an election each year. They have a State election one year, a House of Representatives election the next year, and a Senate election the next. But this situation has not concerned honourable members oppo site. They have carried on under these conations for years. They have even gone to the extent now of opposing not only the principle of allowing the referendums to go to the people but also the Bills which will allow the people to have their say. Honourable members opposite do not want the people to have their say. Why should the Senate election not be held at the same time as the House of Representatives election?
– Let the people judge.
– We will come to that next. The second proposal is to allow the electors in the
Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory to vote at referendums on proposed laws to alter the Constitution. I suppose that honourable members opposite will deny to electors in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory the right to vote at referendums.
– Not at all.
– The Opposition is opposed to the Bill and it will oppose the referendum. It does not want the people to have a say on this matter. Obviously the people in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory are citizens and are entitled to a vote. Residents of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory have had to wait for the Labor Party to come to office before these proposals could be put to the people in an attempt to gain some measure of democracy and of justice for them.
Another proposal is to alter the Constitution to enable the Commonwealth to borrow money for and grant financial assistance to local governments. Once again this is a matter which has been requiring attention for a long time. Our local government authorities have been in dire straits. We know the difficulties under which they are working. We know that the local government debt has increased many times while the federal debt has been reduced. But honourable members opposite were quite happy with that situation. It did not matter to them that local governments could not properly perform the functions for which they were elected. This Government will ask the people to decide whether the Federal Government - the national Government of Australia - should have the right to give financial assistance directly to local governments.
The other proposals are to allow an interchange of powers between the Commonwealth Parliament and the State parliaments and to ensure that members of the House of Representatives and members of the parliaments of the States are chosen directly and democratically by the people. I notice that Opposition members have no argument with that. Apparently they agree that the people of Australia should have the democratic right to elect representatives to the Federal Parliament and to the State parliaments on the basis of electors or population rather than as has been the case in the past, on the basis of gerrymandered boundaries. We are told that honourable members opposite are frightened that the Labor Party has embarked on a course which will enable it to hold government for all time. If this is the case, they do not have much confidence in the people who will make the choice. If the Opposition is afraid to give everybody an equal right to have a say in the government of this country and if it is frightened that this say will deprive it of office, I am afraid that it is admitting that it should not be in office in the first place.
This Government stands on its policies. For years we heard the members of the Country Party speak about what should be done for rural people and what should be done for rural industries, but nothing was done. That is why they are where they are today. Nothing was done for rural people and nothing was done for rural industries. Today something has been done. The first criterion by which one can judge this is the income of rural people. It is immeasurably higher today than it was under the previous Government, and the people of Australia recognise this. The people of Australia will back us up all the way. Who but the present Opposition would oppose the Bills by which we propose to change the Constitution or attempt to deny to the people of Australia the benefits and democratic rights to which they are entitled. I do not think one would find another Opposition in Australia which would be prepared to oppose not only the legislation which would allow these referendums to be put to the people but also the right of the people of Australia to decide for themselves. Honourable members opposite are the judges and the jury. They sit in this House, dissociated from their constituents, with no idea of the wishes, aspirations or hopes of those constitutents, and they pass judgment. But they are not passing judgment on the Government; they are passing judgment on themselves.
– Earlier in the debate the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Doyle) made some observations about the recent floods in Queensland. In his remarks he chose to become quite partisan and introduce party politics into something which I would regard as the misfortune of many Queenslanders. I am very sorry that he chose to do so. It is not unexpected, however, coming from the honourable member, knowing that other members of his Party in Queensland did exactly the same thing while the floodwaters were still raging through the main street of Brisbane.
I do not want to speak about the floods tonight in any sense of trying to sheet home blame or responsibility for them. However, I do want to set the record straight in view of what the honourable member for Lilley said earlier. Actions, of course, speak much louder than words. We were told in the Queen’s Speech that there was deep concern on the part of her Government for the loss of life and property in the recent floods in Queensland. At the time when Queenslanders were being afflicted by the most serious and devastating floods this century, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) showed quite clearly by his action that he preferred to take tea with oriental despots rather than to make a first hand tour of devastated areas in Brisbane. It is a matter of record that the Prime Minister did not choose to stop in Brisbane on his way to the East, as he could well have done if he was really concerned. He sent us instead the Minister for Science (Mr Morrison) who arrived a couple of days after the floods had descended upon us. After a few hours of touring the flooded areas by helicopter and by motor car - from the photographs which appeared in the ‘Courier Mail’ the following day it would appear that he hardly got his feet wet - he offered us this remarkable observation which was printed in the ‘Courier Mail’:
Many of the flooded areas have been zoned irresponsibly for housing and industrial development. zoning is a State responsibility and they will have to give local government power to exercise responsible zoning.
That sentiment was echoed by the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Alderman Clem Jones, a few days later.
– He is a sub-divider, is he not?
– He is indeed, yes. That sentiment was echoed also by no less a person than Jack Egerton, President of the Queensland Trades and Labour Council.
– And the ALP.
– And the ALP, as I am reminded by my friend from Griffith. If ever there was an attempt to whitewash the activities of the Labor controlled Brisbane City Council and to blacken the name of the Queensland State Government for the purpose of party political objectives, at a time when Queenslanders were suffering terribly, this must surely be it. This particular propaganda was put abroad in an attempt to imply that the Queensland State Government was responsible for the flooding that occurred by allowing people to build on flood plains and by allowing land adjacent to rivers to be used, which some mystic power of perception should have prevented it from doing that; and that the Brisbane City Council, which knew all this, would have prevented it had it had the power. I want to put the facts on record for the people of Australia. Two of the most recently developed suburbs in Brisbane - Jindalee and Bellbowrie - were developed under the auspices of Clem Jones and his Labor Council. This was a development permitted by the Council. We in Brisbane are familiar with the type of transactions which go on in order to get development permits in that city. During the recent floods Jindalee was one of the worst inundated suburbs of Brisbane. It is no wonder that the Lord Mayor sought to sheet home responsibility elsewhere in order to avoid any searching inquiry as to his responsibility in the matter.
– Is that a Labor Council?
– It certainly is. What makes it worse is that Jack Egerton was sitting as a member of the Town Planning Advisory Committee to that Council. It also approved these developments. If he has not a responsibility in the matter, I do not who has. As I have said, I do not want to conduct a witch hunt tonight to determine who is responsible for the damage which occurred in the flood. However, I point out that some of the suburbs which were inundated in this recent flood are older suburbs in the electorate of the honourable and learned member for Moreton (Mr Killen). Yeronga and older suburbs in Griffith were populated while a Labor State government was in office. So, if it is a question of State government responsibility it comes back to the same source. As I said, I do not want to sheet home responsibility in any party political terms on a sensitive issue such as this: I just want to set the record straight about one or two comments which were made during the flood and repeated by the honourable member for Lilley in his speech in this debate.
Of course, we had from the Minister for the Environment and Conservation (Dr Cass) an observation which was most helpful. I recall that at the time that statement was made my honourable and learned friend from Moreton was out in a pair of shorts, paddling up to his knees - his neck on some occasions - in water, evacuating people from his electorate. The Minister told us, with a penetrating observation, that flood plains are meant for water, not for people.
– That was brilliant. It impressed us all.
– I am sure it did. This sort of sentiment that we got from the Labor Party will be remembered by people in Queensland for many years to come. It is significant also to point out that the Government waited for at least a week before any Minister of responsibility was sent to Brisbane to discuss the question of flood relief. The Treasurer (Mr Crean) arrived and, to give him his due, he approached the matter with a certain amount of public interest rather than simply seeking to play party politics. But he was in Brisbane a week after the flood. He was the first responsible Minister to do anything for the plight of Queenslanders. The Prime Minister honoured Brisbane with a night-time trip to the VIP lounge at Brisbane Airport some 19 days after the flood.
– On one of his frequent visits to Australia?
– Yes. He was interviewed by various people in the VIP lounge. He looked at a few aerial photographs. He refused to speak to reporters and left immediately. He was there for approximately 60 minutes. Needless to say, he is not too popular in Brisbane at present. That, of course, is one of the reasons for the sensitivity of the honourable member for Lilley.
I move on from these matters of party politics, which were introduced by Government supporters, to point out one or two lessons which can be drawn from the recent flood experience. The first is that local people on the ground respond quickest to emergency situations. The local Red Cross, civil defence organisations, the police and the St Vincent de Paul Societies did tremendous work at very short notice. They were the first into the field. The Army also did a tremendous amount of work. Whilst there was an enormous amount of goodwill in the community by those who wanted to assist, the co-ordination at the top was not what it could have been. It was not to be unexpected, I suppose, that faced with a disaster of this magnitude the civil defence organisation was not geared to controlling it. Probably the experience of the recent floods will have done much in clearing the decks and making sure that further discussions are held to ensure that the chain of command in these emergency situations is clearly predetermined so that all people can be used to the best advantage as quickly as possible. Also there is a need for more accurate information on rainfall in the Brisbane Valley so that accurate information on flood levels lower down the river can be compiled and disseminated by the proper authorities. In Brisbane on this occasion there was a certain amount of confusion because of conflicting advice as to the level which the flood was expected to reach. If proper warnings had been given and proper estimates of flood levels had been available to the public, there would have been much less panic than there was and some people would have been shifted from their homes earlier than they were.
The last lesson to be drawn from the experience of the flood is that there is need for some flood mitigation work on the Brisbane River itself. Whether the local council or the State Government was responsible for allowing people to build in these areas, it is undeniable that one cannot turn the clock back. We must take the situation as it is. This land is close to a metropolitan area. People will want to live there. It is unreasonable at this point of time to start on a program of buying back these properties and turning them again into flood plains. The only alternative to make sure that this type of disaster does not occur again is to press on urgently with flood mitigation schemes on the Brisbane River itself to reduce the level of future floods. The VVyvenhoe Dam, which has been begun, will satisfy this requirement in a measure, but other flood mitigation works on the Brisbane River need to be undertaken urgently in order to prevent recurrences of this disaster. Because of the immense cost involved the Commonwealth should contribute towards this scheme. Even if one takes a tightfisted view of the matter, the amount of money which the Government would spend on a proper flood mitigation program would be much less than the amount now being made available to rectify the damage done by the recent disaster.
I move now from the question of the floods to another section of Her Majesty’s Speech - the interesting statement that inflation is the most urgent domestic problem and that the Government will continue its efforts to contain it. It is difficult to pinpoint the efforts which the Government is making to contain inflation. Every time the Opposition seeks to have a debate on this interesting topic we are met with a certain amount of petulance from the Treasurer, who believes that inflation is not unique to Australia and that we can survive. Yet he makes no claim to put before us the program which the Government has initiated and which in his view will curb inflation. It has been a fits and starts sort of program which has produced no tangible effects whatever. Prices went up by 22 per cent last year. What are the Government’s plans to keep food prices down? The Treasurer apparently does not know. If he does know, he is keeping it an extremely dark secret.
– You opposed the referendum.
– The Minister says that we opposed the referendum. The people of Australia opposed the referendum and everyone who voted ‘no’ in the referendum was perfectly aware that the Government had within its power means of taking positive steps to control inflation which for reasons of its own it refused to use.
– You are a pretentious hypocrite.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)Order! The honourable member for Prospect must withdraw that term.
– What particular word is objectionable?
-The honourable member used the word ‘hypocrite’. It is unparliamentary and 1 ask him to withdraw it.
– I withdraw it.
– It is of no use telling us every now and again that the Government is taking urgent action to combat inflation. It has told us that it lost the prices referendum, but it has done nothing else to control food prices. It has removed the superphosphate bounty which of course will have the result of increasing the price of fruit and vegetables in the supermarkets in the cities. It has taken other measures which will directly affect not only food prices but all sorts of other prices. At the same time the people of Australia are finding that last year’s dollar is worth about 80c now. We are facing the prospect of our dollar being worth probably 60c next year. Nothing tangible has been put before this House or the country as to what the Government intends to do to tackle inflation. There is a growing uneasiness in the country that in fact the Government has no intention to control inflation because it needs this inflationary pressure to finance its other programs. It is becoming increasingly apparent to the middle income earners of Australia that they are paying more in income tax and they are becoming disturbed by the fact that money is being taken out of their pockets to finance Labor Party projects which exclude them from any benefit.
We are told in the Queen’s Speech that legislation will be introduced for a limited tax deductibility for home mortgage interest payments for home owners. If one believes the reports in the Press, the limit will be that you will only be allowed a deduction if your income is at a certain level or your loan is for about $15,000. The amount of $15,000 is insufficient to buy an averagesized home in almost any electorate in Australia so that the vast majority of people who are a little above the poverty line will find no relief forthcoming to them in the proposed Labor program of deductibility of house mortgage payments. Yet they are being asked to finance this program in which they receive no benefit.
They are also becoming disturbed at the rapid growth in the Public Service under this Government, and the growth of public sector spending. It is apparent even to the ordinary man who works in a factory that if private industry provides wealth it is the public sector which spends the wealth and if the public sector starts to spend more than the private sector can product, dire results will be forthcoming. The public is also becoming uneasy about the expansion of Ministerial staffs and the unscrupulous way in which the Government is using Government paid positions for the purpose of promoting its own party propaganda. The expensive machinery of the Department of the Media is being used primarily for promoting ALP propaganda under the cloak of being a Government information service.
There are at least 2 endorsed Labor Party candidates for the next general election working on the staffs of Ministers of this Parliament. All these matters are causing the people of Australia concern. They are also becoming concerned about slackness in the administration of government departments. Not only are they disturbed about the recent disclosures of mishandling of money procedures in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs but they are also becoming increasingly suspicious of slackness in other departments, departments which perhaps as yet have not undergone the scrutiny of the Public Accounts Committee. They are disappointed to find that the Minister for the Environment and Conservation has said that his program is a disaster. He has not done anything, yet he has set up a complete new ministry financed by taxpayers’ money to produce absolutely no result. These things are now causing a growing concern among middle income earners in Australia. They are being soaked in tax money to provide lavish Government expenditure.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The Government enters this second session of the twenty-eighth Parliament determined to pursue with renewed vigour the policies for which it received a clear mandate. The unconstructive, ineffective and lacklustre Opposition refers to the great leaders of South-East Asia as oriental despots. I wonder to whom the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Cooke) specifically referred. Is it President Marcos or Mr Lee Kuan Yew? I challenge him now to stand up and say to whom he refers in that manner. I think that his behaviour is very typical of some of the attitudes of some of the members of the former Government.
I had the opportunity today to peruse a publication called ‘Joint Opposition Party Policy for 1949’ - a very interesting document. What a disappointment it must be to some of the members who are now in Opposition and who were Opposition members at that time to see that the progressive policies that the Opposition had in those times were not implemented in the quarter of a century during which they were in government. I remember one policy very well. It was the ‘Put Value Back into the £’ policy.
– It would be a winner today.
– It was a winner in those days, but the then government never did it. I was interested to read on page 22 in the social services section these words:
Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness.
Yet when the Government puts forward such proposals the Opposition opposes them. In 1949 this was the Opposition’s policy. In a quarter of a century of government it never implemented those policies. Today it still opposes them. That is why honourable members opposite are still in Opposition.
We have heard with repetition from a number of speakers about the inflationary situation of the country. They have blamed it on this Government. Let us put the matter in true perspective. Let us look at the position when this Government came to power. I was most interested to hear the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland) in his contribution in this debate imply that the Government took no notice of Treasury advice which was offered to it. I wonder what the advice from the Treasury to the previous Government on revaluation was just prior to the last election. I wonder what pressure the Country Party brought to bear on the Government not to implement revaluation at that time. The House will well remember the 1971 Budget - the disastrous Budget that started this country on its inflationary trends. The 1972 Budget is a Budget we all would like to forget. I ask honourable members to cast their minds back to what occurred after that Budget. There were the queues of unemployed at the Commonwealth Employment Offices trying to get a job. There was the complete frustration of those involved in commerce when they could not get people to buy their goods. There was the total stagnation that existed in Australia just after that Budget and prior to the 1972 election.
What was the position? What had happened? The Government had failed effectively to curb the great inflow of overseas capital which created such tremendous liquidity problems in 1973. The Government took no action whatsoever to do anything about the situation. I remind the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland) that if he looks at the publication entitled ‘Overseas Investment in Australia’ which was issued in May 1972 he will see that the Treasury tried to tell the Government that this was happening. In the first paragraph on page 1 the Treasury said this to the Government:
In particular, the very high level of capital inflow during the past 2 years has given rise to growing concern.
But what did the Government do about it? It did nothing at all. The honourable member for Petrie (Mr Cooke) made a great song and dance about what was done to try to curb these things. Let us look at the record of this Government since it came into power. On Treasury advice we carried out a revaluation which was urgently needed. We introduced a variable deposit system for overseas investment. We implemented tariff cuts. We established the Prices Justification Tribunal. We ordered expenditure cuts as set out in the Coombs report. We have adopted the monetary measures which were recommended to curb this inflationary trend without experiencing the worst unemployment record for more than a decade which had existed when we took office.
This Government can be proud of its record up to date. It has been an inventive Government in almost every sphere. It has adopted a totally new approach to the problems of contemporary life. We now have a number of portfolios which hitherto did not exist, and these portfolios already have made their impact on the Australian community. In regard to foreign affairs, Australia has never been held in higher esteem throughout the world than it is today, and this is greatly to the credit of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) for the efforts which they have made to build the bridges that were broken by the previous Government. Papua New Guinea is on the tracks to independence and it is being financially supported by this Government so that it can achieve its ends. We have accepted our responsibilities to the underdeveloped nations which the previous Government had not been able to accept.
Turning to the field of social security, 1 can remember that prior to the Anglican Primate of Sydney disclosing the extent of the poverty that existed in that city, the former Government’s only contention was that there was comparative poverty - that one person did not have as good a motor car as another person. Never at any time did the former Government admit that there was poverty in the Australian community. Yet in the interim report which the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) released yesterday, Professor Henderson tells us that one person in every ten in this great country lives in poverty. What action did the previous Government take to do anything about this question? This Government, in introducing very positive social security measures, has set about helping these unfortunate people who are in this poverty bracket.
I noted that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) made a great splurge about housing in his speech. It is interesting to note that more houses are being built now than at any time during the period when the previous Government was in office. Even in the present depressed situation when the Government has been forced to control liquidity and to impose certain economic restraints, more houses are being built in Australia than were built previously. In addition, the Government has set out on a progressive policy in order to ensure that something is done about housing. We have started the new city of AlburyWodonga, which is something that could and should have been started years ago. This is the first positive step towards decentralisation. In this great city land will be acquired by the governments and it will be retailed on the same basis as in Canberra. It will not be sold at the fictitious and inflated prices which people in the great cities of Australia have to pay for land so that certain people can line their pockets and grow wealthy at the expense of the unfortunate people who seek a home.
We have looked to new methods of building houses. In a time when there is a shortage of tradesmen and material, surely it is necessary to look at this age old trade to see whether we can do something about invigorating it and changing it so that it can mass produce houses in which people can live. It is notable how private enterprise has entered into the spirit of this with the Government. More progress in introducing new ideas into the housing industry has been made in the last 12 months than over the last 30 years, and I am quite sure that in the next 2 years we will see a greater number of houses being made available to the Australian people at a much lower cost than has been the case up to the present time.
I can remember that at question time when I first came into this Parliament many honourable members opposite wanted to ask. questions of the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor). It is interesting to note that he never gets a question asked of him now. Nobody wants to talk to him now because the policies that he enunciated then have proved, in the present world oil crisis, to be the right policies for Australia.
– And the multi-nationals ran out of money.
– Yes, and overseas corporations will not be able to increase their 60 per cent ownership of Australia’s quarry. They will be stopped at that point and not allowed to go any further. If possible we will retain our equity in this great Australian quarry that was sold off to overseas enterprises by the previous Government. This certainly will not restrict our preparedness to enter into agreements and partnerships with other overseas people in order to develop our resources, but we will not be giving the resources away as the previous Government did. So it is to the great credit of the Minister for Minerals and Energy that he has approached his portfolio in the manner in which he has done so. Today Australia is in the position where it has ample petrol, when nearly every other nation has not. It is to the great credit of the Minister for Minerals and Energy that he adopted his positive approach which was an unpopular approach at the time he took it.
In the field of health we have done more than, any government has ever done. We have embarked upon community health programs with the State governments in order to provide much needed psychiatric centres for alcoholics and drug control which hitherto were not available. For years social workers and people engaged in preventive medicine and in other fields told the previous Government that these things were necessary, but we never had a Minister for Health with an inventive mind who was prepared to go ahead and introduce these policies. As much as it might hurt the Opposition for me to say this, the Government’s policy in establishing health centres in the Australian Capital Territory has been an outstanding success. The centres are a great credit to the Minister and to the people who operate them.
In the field of urban development, the Government has embarked on an inventive program which previously had never been considered. We will look at the situation where people have to live and spend their lives. We will improve the quality of life by improving the environment in which people have to live. No more will people who have small incomes and little means have to live in the worst suburbs without any facilities. Irrespective of a person’s means, irrespective of how much money a local government authority is able to accrue and irrespective of the rates people are able to pay, this Government will ensure that all local government areas in which people live have equal opportunities. No longer will the fringe suburbs be without sewerage as they have been for 2 or 3 decades because of previous governments being inactive and having a wrong set of priorities, with money being misdirected and being used for the wrong purposes. We will ensure that these things are overcome and that the people who live in the great cities of Australia will have these essential facilities. The position is bad in every city. When one looks at the percentage of unsewered homes it is embarrassing. On a percentage basis, it is worse in Perth and places like that than in Sydney. Every city has suffered as a result of neglect on the part of previous governments. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) is very active in his portfolio. This Government will bring in an inventive and profitable scheme to assist all people in this great country.
The new portfolio of Tourism and Recreation has already been outstandingly successful. No matter where one goes if one is involved with sporting bodies one is greeted with appreciation for the assistance, though it has been small in this first year, which has been given to sporting bodies all over Australia. This is a field which has been neglected for many years. It is a great tribute to the Minister for Tourism and Recreation (Mr Stewart) that in this dual portfolio already he has been able to engender enthusiasm into people occupied in these pursuits. I am quite sure that in the next Budget we will see a much greater allocation of funds for tourist and recreational purposes. We will see more money granted to sporting bodies which have been starved for so many years and have not been able to provide the facilities or the encouragement needed for our sportsmen and sportswomen. Yet we bask in the glory of our sportsmen. We pride ourselves that our tennis players can win the Davis Cup; that our cricketers can win the Ashes; and that our footballers can go overseas and compete successfully against other countries. Yet we have done nothing to help our athletes and all the other people associated with sporting pursuits.
All the things that this Government seeks to do will be implemented despite the Opposition and despite the Senate, because the Australian people demand to have them. No longer are the Australian people prepared to sit back and take what a government is prepared to dish out. The governments that serve the people of Australia will be the governments that provide the policies that the people want. This Government will set out to achieve this. Over the next few weeks it will be very interesting to see the attitude of the Opposition parties to the referendums which have been proposed by the Government. I wonder whether they will oppose the referendum to give local government access to the Loan Council. Already they are dithering on this because they can see the great wave of public opinion and the support that is coming from local government authorities in every State for this measure. They also know that the people in the great cities are being affected by the enormous rates that they are forced to pay to cover the services provided by local government when the cost should be met from State or Commonwealth funds.
It will be very interesting to see the attitudes which are expressed and to see whether the Opposition parties are as vigorous in their opposition to this measure as they appear to be in their opposition to all the other constitutional changes that the Government has proposed. No doubt they will oppose the electoral reforms which are so badly needed. Surely there could be no greater gerrymander than the gerrymander that has existed in the systems throughout the States and the Commonwealth. As a matter of self-preservation, they will try to oppose these great measures which will bring our electoral laws to the point where they are democratic and constitutionally correct. Nevertheless, the people will remain the judges. I am quite convinced that the Australian people have the good sense and the responsibility to support these measures that we will place before them. I challenge both Opposition parties now to come out and say what their attitude is to local government having access to the Loan Council. What are they - the National Party and the Liberal Party?
– The Alliance Party.
– Whatever parties are in opposition when these matters come up, 1 challenge them to oppose the referendum on giving local government access to the Loan Council. The Government will endeavour to do all the things I have mentioned despite the Senate. I trust that the Opposition will reconsider its position during this session of Parliament and give us some constructive support where that support is warranted and some true opposition when it thinks true opposition is warranted.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. Earlier the honourable member for Cook quoted from an interim report presented by Professor Henderson, I think he said, and said that one in 10 people are living in poverty. As this report has not been tabled, I ask the honourable member to table it forthwith.
– No point of order is involved. In the first place, a point of order must be raised immediately, at the time of the incident. The honourable member did not raise the point of order at the time the matter was mentioned by the honourable member for Cook. Secondly, as I see it, this is a matter for the Government. It is not a matter for the Chair. It does not relate to a point of procedure. Therefore, there is no substance in the point of order.
– I would like to take up the same issue; but I will do so in a different way, not as a point of order. The Labor Government came to power some time ago with a great belief in open government. It was said that we would be allowed to see reports and they would not be hidden. The Premier of South Australia and the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) are covering up and hiding reports all the time. If they wish to put themselves forward to the Australian people as representing fair government, I think that in all decency the Leader of the House (Mr Daly), who is yawning his head off, should say that he is prepared to table that report. I just leave it up to the honourable member for Cook (Mr Thorburn) or the Leader of the House to decide whether they are genuine or a mob of hypocrites. Surely the issue is quite clear.
Let me deal with a couple of points made by the honourable member for Cook. I agree with him in regard to the health scheme. We on this side of the House know that the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) is searching the world for an alternative national health insurance scheme. He has been put to the sword by his own Party. He is wandering around, looking lost. He is trying to tap other people’s brains in order to produce a health scheme. Why? The reason is that petition after petition has been presented by every member on this side of the House and a good many honourable members on the other side from people all over Australia saying they want nothing to do with the Scotton-Deeble scheme, or whatever its mythical name is, which this Government in the past has tried to foist on to the people of Australia.
The honourable member for Cook also said that this Government was an inventive government. I can go along with that. It has invented more mistakes than any other government that I can remember in the 9 years I have been in this House. I am quite sure that with one or two exceptions, several of whom I can see looking at me now, the honourable members on the Government side will not object if 1 say that this Government is an inventive government of old, tired-out trade union hacks who are talking off the top of their heads and who are swayed entirely by the left wing of the Labor movement. The way to democratic government is not sectional rule from one area of the Australian people. The Australian people want something to say about this too. If I might go further, we see in these days of open government the complete silencing of erstwhile good debaters and people with a bit of constructive thought. What do we see today under the present Leader of the House (Mr Daly)? When worthwhile debates come along he keeps his own men down. He is so frightened that a split will appear in the Government ranks that the order goes out - the manifesto and the thumb screws - that: No Government members must get up in case we look as brittle as we really are’. This is the open government which we see today. We are forced on the Opposition side to look all the time for more of our members to speak in debates to take advantage of this situation. It is very generous of the Government to keep its own members down. But what has happened to the parliamentary thrust and to the to and fro of debate in which members look critically and analyse properly legislation? All of that has gone by the board since the advent of this so-called open government. I cannot think of anything that gives me more sorrow than to see the democratic process and parliamentary process so denied to the people of Australia as it has been recently on a great series of debates, which I will not bore the House by mentioning because they are well known to all honourable members.
I would also like to refer to what was said by the honourable member for Cook about the petroleum industry. We all know that the policy of the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) is to put a series of restraints on search and development in every sector of the petroleum and mineral industries. In a misguided fashion the Minister looks on himself as a nationalist. But let us have a better look at this problem. The result of his policies has been a halving of search activity. The number of wells to reach total depth has fallen from 134 in 1972 to 73 in 1973.
– They never found anything either.
– That is right, and this is at a time when we are short of all the by-products of the petroleum industry. We are short of PVC with all its impact on the automotive and building industries.
The short sighted policies of this Government in regard to the supply of plastics are threatening the future of everybody who wants constructively to do anything, whether it is building a house or buying a motor car, which one cannot get in most cities short of a 3 months wait. This situation is due largely to a policy which does no more than try to limit the supplies of petroleum found in this country. If this is not bad enough, when we look at all the companies that are so important to my State and which are operating around the Cooper Basin we can see that the Government’s policy of restraint has resulted in a handing over to the big petroleum consortiums and making it impossible for Australian companies to exist. I do not know whether the Minister for Minerals and Energy regards Santos as a charitable institution. This organisation has no way of repaying the people who have invested money to help it to find petroleum, gas and condensate in the Cooper
Basin. At the present time the company is selling gas to the Adelaide market and thanks to a Labor Government of South Australia the company has not yet paid one fraction of one per cent in interest to those who invested funds that enabled it to promote its activity in the interests of this nation. This is the experience of one company. But company after company in this country does not know what it is going to do except to close up its attempts to promote the finding of energy for the sake of the future of this nation.
Negotiations between the companies operating in the Cooper Basin and the Australian Gas Light Co. Pty Ltd must be renegotiated in the near future. It is impossible for these companies to continue in any other way. They have been stopped by the Minister from offsetting these costs by selling condensate or LPG on other markets. These companies have nowhere else they can turn to for funds so as to pay interest on capital advanced to them by the Australian people. I suspect that this is an intentional move by this socialist Government to try to force these companies to take out their future fund requirements from the Australian Industry Development Corporation and such bodies. It seems to me that at the moment the Australian Government wants to force companies owned by the Australian people to come under public ownership. This is not a funny state of affairs. The people of Australia are more and more waking up to these attitudes. I would just like to repeat, as the honourable member for Cook has prompted my memory, that this policy that he eulogises to such a high degree is ruining every Australian company that is trying to find petroleum and energy products for the sake of the future expansion of this nation, and he should remember this.
I would like to refer also to the problem of urban and regional development. I do this by pointing out that many groups of people today do not take the same point of view as that put forward by the honourable member for Cook. Not long ago, for instance, the Federation of Adelaide Metropolitan Residents’ Associations published comments by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden”) and also comments by the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren). The Association concluded this very interesting document with the words: ‘Mr Uren will have to gallop out of his complacent canter that he showed prior to the last election’. The Associa tion pointed out that the speeches by my Leader on this subject give a different perspective to a lot of the problems that are talked about in the community today. This Association is a residents’ action group.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask that the document from which the honourable member has quoted be tabled.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)Order! There is no obligation for the honourable member to table the document.
– If it suits the convenience of the honourable member I will be very happy to table the document so that the Parliament can have a look at it. This is such an important document that I believe that Parliament should have a look at it. It would suit my purposes extremely well to table the document. I hope that the honourable member will appreciate that we are prepared to be open in our approach to these things and not hide behind a subterfuge in the form of a paper that the honourable member appeared to me at any rate to be quoting from when making his speech.
I would like to spend a minute of two on this matter of residents’ groups because it so happens that I am a member of one myself - the Hackney development group which represents one of the inner suburbs of Adelaide. The Dunstan Government was dragged wailing to the wall by this action group which insisted that no government, whether it be an autocratic government or not, should make decisions affecting the street in which people live. The group believes that no government should make highhanded decisions affecting the suburb in which people live and that those people have a perfect right to band together and to put forward views. This action group has taken such steps. Although I cannot pretend, due to my occupations in the Australian Capital Territory, to be a very active member of the group, I am proud of the fact that I am financially involved in it. I am proud of the fact that the group has taken to the local government in the area in very round terms and has succeeded in effecting all sorts of changes for the good. Some of these changes affect thoroughfares in regard to which streets should be closed and which streets should become main roads through a suburb. These are matters that vitally affect individuals. Some of them have dealt with high rise development and a limitation of it. Some of them have proposed ideas about further tree planting schemes. All the vital energy developed locally in these areas has been entirely to the benefit of the redevelopment scheme of Hackney. I am sure that at this stage the Premier of South Australia would wholeheartedly agree, even if it took a year or two to force some of his highhanded planners to do so - I say this with respect - that there was another point of view that must be considered.
At this point of time I do not think that many people, apart from this particular association in Adelaide, would take entirely the same view as the honourable member for Cook. He touched on a matter of very grave concern to my electorate also when he dealt with Albury-Wodonga. I do not blame his Government for doing what obviously any other government would have done at the same point in history. I refer to the development of that scheme. As I have said in this House before now, I hope that this is the last scheme that is built upstream on a major river when the people downstream are entirely dependent on the water resources of that river for their existence. At the moment 70 per cent of the committed water supplies affecting Adelaide must come from the Murray River supplies. It is a grave matter and one that should have concerned this Parliament and the South Australian Parliament far more than it has done.
There is no written agreement - no indenture at all - promoted either by this Government or by the State Labor Government to protect the purity of water supplies reaching not only the irrigation areas of my electorate but also, as I have just explained, Adelaide itself. The per capita need for water is growing every day as facilities become more available to the average man in the street. The population is growing. There is another factor of far greater importance even than these - the need for water supplies for sophisticated new industries. I refer to Redcliffs and such industries in South Australia, the planning of which is fairly advanced.
- Mr Dunstan voted against Dartmouth Dam 4 years ago.
– That is true. He won a State seat in my electorate by a rather reprehensible display of party politics, to say the least.
– Can we join in this conversation?
– The honourable member would not understand if he did listen. He never lis tens anyway. For the reasons I have mentioned I am pleased that the honourable member for Cook brought up these matters tonight because they are matters that must concern parliaments that aim to protect the quality of life of people - in this case the people of Adelaide and South Australia. In the future governments must be very careful not to build regional complexes upstream if they are going to exceed an estimated population of 200,000. There must be built in some quantitative measure of quality to protect those who have a vested interest in living further downstream in a major river system such as the Murray. I ask honourable members opposite, if any of them are listening to this speech tonight, to instigate - even if the South Australian Government does not do so - such an indenture to protect people further downstream.
It is easy enough to talk blithely about regional development and the quality of life, but one of the points of the article to which I referred and which I will glady table later is that people must be aware of problems caused by the government action. They must have the right to form themselves into associations to protect their future interests and the quality of life as they see it. I am delighted to have had the brief chance to mention that tonight.
The only other thing I will have time to mention is that when I listened to the honourable member for Phillip (Mr Riordan) some days ago eulogising the performance of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) on his recent trip around Asia I was prompted to tell the story of a friend of mine who came back from Singapore recently, prior to the Prime Minister’s last visit. He disembarked from the plane and thought that he would like to buy a watch with the cash he had left. He went to the airport jeweller. They haggled for a while. Finally he said: ‘Will you bring it down a bit? I can give you Australian currency for this transaction.’ Very smartly he found that the people of Australia could no longer go in with their heads high thinking that Australian currency or Australian anything had very much value in the eyes of the people of Singapore. The jeweller said: T am not talking about monetary worth, sir; I am talking about Australian people who criticise and are impertinent to the leader of my nation of Singapore, and if you think you can get any special dispensation from us in Singapore you have got another think coming.’
Certainly the Prime Minister tried very hard to patch up the damage that he had already done by his petulant behaviour on a previous trip overseas. He tried hard and, my word, he needed to try hard because that is the attitude of the ordinary person in the street in Singapore today. They do not like arrogant behaviour and rudeness to their national leader for whom, regardless of anything else, they have a healthy respect. Let us not be deceived by the high sounding words from honourable members opposite. There are many homely illustrations that point to the damage done in the last 12 months to our reputation abroad. I look forward to the day when we find the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) going overseas and trying to patch up our national reputation so that we live at peace and trade peacefully with all the countries which are our neighbours.
– I have been intrigued listening to the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) raise several matters, particularly the last one when he talked about the alleged deterioration of Australia’s image abroad. I must say that the feelings that he expressed are contrary to the experience that I and other members of the parliamentary delegation to India, Iran and Pakistan encountered when we met the Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers of each of those countries and lots of other people. In every case we were able to establish without any equivocation that those countries felt that Australia had overcome many barriers in respect of its formerly unacceptable foreign policies and, because of these considerations, at least some of those countries which previously were relatively cool towards Australia were now more willing to embrace the country, to develop close associations and to make trade overtures which could bring very great benefit to the people of this country.
There are honourable members sitting in the House at this moment who will acquiesce with what I say along these lines. They have a recollection of asking the Foreign Ministers whether there is any point of foreign policy with which their countries are at variance with Australia. In each instance we were given the unequivocal assurance that as a result of the leadership of the much disparaged Prime Minister referred to by the honourable member for Angas there are now no barriers of significance between. the countries concerned. For example, the Prime Minister of Iran took the attitude that this country is now regarded as so stable that he was prepared to make long term contracts with Australia in regard to protein and dairy products. Does that not strike a responsive note on the part of the honourable members opposite who are trying to interject? There is the prospect of uplifting the relatively depressed dairy industry in this country. They were prepared to make longterm arrangements with Australia for the provision of cereals, minerals, Iamb and beef.
– And pay cash.
– Yes, and pay cash. Indeed, there is an honest comment from a colleague who accompanied me on the delegation - a member of the Australian Country Party. So, I am relating the facts of the situation which will be officially documented in the report of the parliamentary delegation. So what nonsense is it to mouth these cliches which have no relationship to the facts of the situation? Do not talk to Mrs Gandhi about the degenerating foreign policy stance of Australia. She obviously holds us in the highest esteem. Do not talk to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Bhutto, because likewise he regards us as being in the vanguard of countries which are embracing decent ideals. Obviously those countries are responding to the overtures that we have been making to come closer together. Other members who visited Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Burma and Nepal on a concurrent delegation have come back with precisely the same kind of reports. This is the old Goebbels technique - get on to a lie, batten on to it and pursue it in the hope that the people might be gullible enough to believe it.
Of course the country has been transformed in terms of its standing overseas. There is no question but that the rural producers, the industrialists and everybody else in Australia is assured of a better way of life because of the decent, honest and moral stand that we are taking. Yet we hear these platitudes one after the other. The honourable gentleman from Angas referred in a pedantic way to the Albury-Wodonga situation. It was a case of upstream versus downstream. I cannot get terribly involved in such an argument, but how uplifting it is for Australians to know that at last we have a government which has a plan, contrary to the policy pursued for 23 years involving the expansion of bulging cities such as Melbourne and Sydney with the consequent deprivation of decent transport facilities and the like. We had never heard of a new city in the lifetime of the previous Government, except for the Australian Capital Territory which was started way back in 1927. I suppose one could mention the city of Elizabeth which was not assisted very much by the Federal Government which prevailed over the 23 years preceding this Government.
Now we have a great string of cities not only identified by the Australian Government but co-operatively identified and upheld in objectivity by State Governments as well. This is going to bring about a tremendous transformation of the way of life that many people will experience in this country. If the honourable gentleman was saying something about the need for co-operative attitudes between citizens in developing areas and governments and authorities involved with those developments, let me say that I uphold that part of what he said. We are firm believers in co-operation and I am delighted to note that my colleague, the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) has sensibly set about the restoration of the western parts of the cities of Melbourne and Sydney as priority issues. In the process of doing those things, not only he but also the States working with him have formulated processes which enable the people of those areas to have an effective say in the improvements which are to take place there.
I am concerned to note the attitude of the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Cooke). It is almost beyond belief that any member could stand here with his tongue in his cheek contending that the Australian Government has been remiss in respect of the flood situation in Queensland. I admit that I do not know everything there is to know about the flood situation because I was overseas when the floods occurred. However, the first thing I did when I returned to Australia was to go to Brisbane. I went there immediately following my return from India. What I found out in Brisbane was that there had been a number of Ministers precede me. First of all, I was tremendously overwhelmed with the appreciation expressed of the efforts of my colleague, the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) who apparently worked tirelessly night and day. Senator Milliner was another who was praised. My visit was preceded by the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Barnard), and the Treasurer (Mr Crean). The Minister for
Northern Development (Dr Patterson) had been in Brisbane and, of course, has been there subsequently and to very good effect. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development had made a visit to the area.
– And the Leader of the Opposition.
– Yes. I am not trying to take anything from the Opposition. I am just trying to show how ridiculous it is for the honourable member for Petrie to seek to make cheap political capital out of this situation when all these Ministers went there. The Minister for Science (Mr Morrison) visited Brisbane. The Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly), and the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland) also visited the area. Doubtless, other Ministers also made visits to the area affected by the floods. Those were the Ministers whose visits went close to coinciding with mine.
– The honourable member for Petrie did not say there had been no visitors. He was complaining about a misrepresentation.
– The honourable member for Petrie was disparaging the efforts of the Australian Government in the flood situation in Queensland. Let me remind the honourable member of my own modest involvement because I did not go to Queensland to make any Press statements and, in fact, I did not. What I did was to meet the Lord Mayor and the Minister for Housing to make offers and overtures to him in relation to assistance for housing in that area. I offered the Minister 200 emergency accommodation places in the Commission hostel called Wacol. We offered him the resources of the Federal Department of Housing and Construction to co-ordinate the flow of materials to assist with the restoration of houses in that area. Regrettably, we have not had much response.
We went to check the situation in respect of the defence Services homes insurance scheme. I have told the House that in that regard we have an impeccable record with about $2m worth of claims met by the defence Services homes insurance scheme despite the sorry record of some of the private insurance companies. Then, of course, there is the question of the unbridled support of the defence Services. There is no need for me to talk about that. There is the fact that 5600,000 was made available to public relief funds and that there was an immediate declaration made about donations being tax deductible if they were over $2. Then, of course, there was the willing response of the Federal Government in regard to the providing of immediate relief for families amounting to $3,000 a family and $15,000 a household in respect of major repairs.
The honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock) who is fairly new among us may not be very much aware of the niggardly attitude that characterised the previous administration in regard to disaster relief. Relief was to the effect of a dollar for dollar subsidy. I might add that the Queensland Government is likely to spend $2m, so that Government could attract $2m under the criteria which the honourable member for Parramatta seems willing to uphold. Do honourable members opposite expect us to stand for this nonsense when this Government has seen the floods as a genuine humane and priority issue and has given an almost open-ended commitment to the relief of the situation in Queensland? Do honourable members know that already we have indicated our preparedness to back the State in the restoration of State assets? Do honourable members opposite know that we have already spent $9m and that probably we will go on to spend 4 or 5 times that amount and that in respect of the second episode there was no quibbling and Addling around as to how much it would cost? The Prime Minister of this country spoke affirmatively on behalf of the Parliament of the nation and the people of the nation when he said: These human demands have to be met’. So, we are going along with that kind of enthusiasm and neither I nor any Government supporter on this side of the House is prepared to listen to the humbuggery and the nonsense that has been meted out by the honourable member for Petrie. (Quorum formed.)
I did not intend to talk about those things but it seemed to me that the record needed to be put straight. I am very concerned also with the misrepresentation by the Leader of the Opposition in respect of the matters associated with my own responsibility. What the Leader of the Opposition has been saying in regard to the housing situation does not fairly represent the facts. He has been talking about approvals and commencements. He has been contending that they are down this year. What he has not said, of course, is that more houses were under construction in 1973 than in 1972, the last year of Liberal-Country Party government. He has been criticising me in respect of some of the statements attributed to me, particularly in last Sunday’s ‘SunHerald’. I noticed that he made a statement during the course this afternoon when he referred to my -
I think that I should take the opportunity to mention that the Leader of the Opposition was terribly disadvantaged in regard to the statement that I made because the ‘SunHerald’ failed to quote the statement in full. The remarks to which I have just referred were preceded by the comment:
Because the Liberal-Country Party Government laid the foundations of housing inflation 3 years ago . . .
Then I went on to say what I quoted previously. Perhaps he might like to take advantage of this misrepresentation and seek to correct the matter with the editor of the Sun-Herald’.
I have heard all this quibbling about housing and about the inflationary situation, but I wonder just how many of the initiatives taken in respect of inflation by the present Government might have been taken if there had been no change of government. It is undoubtedly the case that the housing situation is aggravated by inflation. I ask the honourable gentlemen opposite whether they would have taken the same step in regard to revaluation, a step designed to deal with this inflationary situation. Would they have taken the very dramatic action involving across the board tariff cuts, an action which obviously has had an extremely valuable remedial or soothing effect on inflation? Would they have set out to regulate overseas investment? The honourable member for Parramatta is shaking his head. Is he prepared to say that this is the kind of thing that the Liberal-Country Party coalition would have done?
– I would be more prepared to judge them if they had been successful.
– What I should like to know from the honourable gentleman and from anybody else on the other side of the House is precisely what they might have been prepared to do in the face of inflation. What I am putting is that this Government has taken initiatives without which the inflationary situation would have been as bad in Australia as it is in other parts of the world. Thank heavens it is not. The fact of the matter is that in addition to the measures that I have mentioned the present Government has also successfully and effectively established the Prices Justification Tribunal which everybody acknowledges and concedes has some regulatory and slowing down effect in the natural trend to inflation. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Prices, which is made up of people from both sides of the Parliament, has also been established. Is the Opposition prepared to disparage that committee? Opposition members on this committee have told me privately that this committee is an extremely valuable innovation and that it is useful in the fight against inflation.
– The only big report was the dissenting one which was accepted. As far as meat prices go, it was nonsense.
– Nevertheless, I have no time to speak about the pedantic aspects; I am speaking generally. Each one of these matters to which I have referred represents an initiative which would not have been taken if there had been no change of government. Would the Opposition have done the same kind of thing in regulating overseas investment as the present Government has done? The previous Government had always stood for unbridled overseas investment, and that is inflationary. The situation would have been extremely aggravated if there had been no change of government. It was this Government that sought the backing of the people to gain some additional powers. I doubt whether I can entice from honourable members opposite even by way of interjection one solitary idea which would have contributed to the fight against inflation. I say to the Parliament and the people of Australia that if there had not been a change of government the situation, already bad enough, would have been much worse. Housing interest rates would have been higher than ever before. Obviously they are the product of the misdemeanours of the previous administration and the flooding of the money market by the present Leader of the Opposition, the previous Treasurer, who contributed to all these things. But make no mistake, this Government will press on with its attempts to restore order out of the chaos which the previous Government created. The many initiatives already taken and those about to be taken I hope will bring about useful remedial effects.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
– I think I will have time in this debate to discuss only one matter. It concerns communications in and out of the Northern Territory. I refer first to the railway line from Port Augusta to Alice Springs. During the last session we heard several Dorothy Dix questions from an honourable member on the Government side to the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones), who virtually said that an agreement on this railway line was expected almost daily. This is the agreement which was to come into operation after the 1972 Budget. The previous Government approved in principle the building of this line and 15 or 16 months later and many Dorothy Dix questions later the agreement is still not signed. As at 1 February the same reply is forthcoming, namely, that arrangements are to be made with the South Australian Government. The present situation in the north with regard to fuel is very serious. The construction of this line could have commenced 12 months ago but for the haggling of the South Australian Labor Premier and the failure of the Minister for Transport to conclude any sort of deal on behalf of the Commonwealth. The construction of the railway would not have alleviated the present situation, but nevertheless the present situation underlines the problem very strongly.
That railway line has not operated since the first week in January. Apart from the foodstuffs, building materials and things for every day life in central Australia and parts north, that line carries the fuel stocks for part of central Australia. If the Darwin road along which are transported the Tennant Creek supplies were blocked, fuel from the south could reach the mines at Tennant Creek as well as Alice Springs and the surrounding country by means of that railway line. As I say, nothing has been done to reopen that railway line. Something should have been done about it.
No one has taken the slightest interest in whether this railway line operates. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) was in the Northern Territory a few days ago. I know that he was in Darwin. This railway line is a vital link .in communications to the Northern Territory. During the last 2 months that railway line has been under 7 feet of water at one time or other, but the section which has become submerged has been only the three quarters of a mile of track which runs across the bottom of the Finke River. At times it has not been submerged. I am not trying to belittle the extent of the disaster in Queensland and other parts of eastern Australia or the extent of the tremendous work that must have been done to get the Mount Isa railway line back into commission. Let us face it, if that railway line had not been put back into commission to some extent the mighty Mount Isa mines would have closed.
But now we are faced with the situation whereby the Peko mines might have to close. Although this project is not nearly so large as that at Mount Isa, it is nevertheless a vital one and is most important. I know that the people who live there normally get their fuel from Darwin by road. It so happens that the Stuart Highway has been cut by the overflow of Lake Woods at Newcastle Waters. The extent of that overflow tonight is a mile and a half wide and 9 feet deep. Surely there must be some way of pontooning supplies of diesel fuel over that area. Surely someone should be interested in following up this very difficult situation which the Peko mines are facing. The town has a population of 3,500 people who have been kept supplied by Hercules aircraft but, let us face it, at a minimal level. At the Peko mines there is $5m worth of stock to be moved away from the town. It has not been possible to do this because normally it would be transported down the Alice Springs to Port Augusta railway line. But, as I say, this line has not been in operation since 4 January.
There is a smelter at the Peko mines and that smelter is operating. But the same situation applies here as would have applied in Mount Isa. If the mines are closed down, the rebuilding of the furnace would cost many millions of dollars and many people in the town would be out of work. I was discussing this matter with people from Tennant Creek over the weekend and the possibility of evacuating the townspeople did arise. If the smelter closes down and the fuel supply situation deteriorates the townspeople will have only a few days’ supply of fuel left. The decision has to be made whether electricity should be supplied to the town of Tennant Creek. Even now the people are existing without air conditioners and some sort of refrigeration. I know that this sounds somewhat peculiar to people in this part of Australia, but air conditioning and refrigeration are essential in those places. If the mine pumps have to be kept going, which in fact is the case, because of the power shortage the people in the town cannot have any amenities. They probably will not have lights, heating, cooling or refrigeration. If the mines are allowed to become flooded, that will be the end of the whole operation. This is the problem they are now facing.
Despite the fact that telegrams have been sent to the Prime Minister, the Minister for Transport and others, no one really seems to be taking very much interest in the situation. The last thing I heard from Tennant Creek at the weekend was that the organisation and administration of the airlift carried on by the Royal Australian Air Force was considered to be a complete bungle, although the airmen themselves could not have worked harder. So that is the picture at Tennant Creek.
Alice Springs at the moment is facing a somewhat similar situation, except that it does not have a mine which will be wrecked if fuel cannot be kept up to it. The people in the town itself this evening are under the restriction of one light per house. Electricity is very severely rationed with power blackouts by the hour during the day. Refrigeration is turned off at the same time. There is little or no chance in the foreseeable future of getting any supplies to the area along the north-south railway line. The point I make is that that railway line runs across the bed of the Finke River, and no one can tell me that the Prime Minister, the Minister for Transport, the Minister for the Northern Territory (Dr Patterson) or anyone else who had the slightest interest in it could not have arranged for some sort of temporary crossing to be put over the Finke River so that trains at least could cross it. This could have been done by the Army. As I said, it was done for the Mount Isa railway line. But no one has paid the slightest attention to the Central Australian railway line. It is an absolute disgrace.
The Queensland Government, under the leadership of Mr Bjelke-Petersen, no doubt got things cracking. The South Australian Government under the leadership of Mr Dunstan, and the Commonwealth Government under the present Ministers, are just not interested in this situation. I give the Government credit for assisting with road freighting vital foodstuffs to Alice Springs from the Finke rail head. But neither diesel fuel nor motor spirit can be transported in great quantities over that road because it is not sealed. A load limit of something like 7,000 or 8,000 gallons is placed on each vehicle. That amount would allow Alice Springs to be kept going for about one day. The road from Port Augusta to Alice Springs has been serviceable for the last 2 or 3 weeks. This may not be the case for much longer because clouds are building up again in the area. Fuel could be brought in. In fact, only tonight I was speaking to a man who said that he could organise getting 100,000 gallons of fuel into Alice Springs over that road within 2 or 3 days. The only catch is that the differential in fuel costs, the elimination of which was recommended in the Coombs report, was eliminated by the Government in the Budget. This makes it very expensive to bring in fuel unless the Government is prepared to replace the fuel rebate. This just will not occur.
So I am urging the Government to look at this situation. The road is the only means at the moment by which to get power fuel or motor spirit into Alice Springs and fuel can be supplied to Tennant Creek through Alice Springs. The Government should look at what it took away from the people who live in these outback areas when it brought down its Budget. They were given no consideration at all. The Budget was aimed at the Collins Street and Pitt Street farmers but it hurts the people who work in Tennant Creek and all sorts of other places. Mount Isa and other outback areas of Australia suffered as a result. At the moment in Alice Springs there are no lights in the streets and few lights in the houses.
-Order! It being 10.30 p.m., in accordance with the order of the House I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
– This is the first occasion in 1974 on which I have spoken in an adjournment debate. Only a few weeks ago my attention was drawn to the fact that the number of occasions on which I spoke during 1973 was more than 4 times the number of times I spoke in 1971 and 1972; but the fact is that there has been more to complain about this year and last year than in previous years. The Postmaster-General (Mr
Lionel Bowen) is not presently in the House, but I am sure he will arrive shortly as tonight I shall attack his Department. I draw the attention of this House to the continued lousiness and meanness displayed by the present Federal Labor Government. I draw particular attention to the fact that this Government has taken from Australian charitable organisations the concession they previously enjoyed in respect of their telephone calls. My attention was first drawn to this matter by a letter from a director of a charitable organisation in my electorate. His letter to me commenced:
Every time I open a letter from this ALP Government they make me feel like the guy they nailed to a cross nearly 2,000 years ago. When are they going to stop crucifying us?
To his letter he attached a copy of a letter written on behalf of the Postmaster-General, advising that the SO per cent concession on local telephone calls was no longer to apply and that it would cost his organisation approximately $800 more a year. My reply was not intended to be and will not be regarded by fairminded persons as being blasphemous. I wrote:
You’re right, but I cannot tell you which of the thieves on your left or right is the PostmasterGeneral.
That is the situation today. In the late hours on the night of the introduction of the Budget last year the Postmaster-General announced measures his Department was taking. Regrettably, as every week passes, the people of Australia become more aware of privileges that previously existed being discontinued. Many charitable organisations are affected. One is Life Line, an organisation which spends much time on the telephone, providing a service for people who seek help. These are people who have great problems and are desirous of receiving counsel and assistance. Many are emotionally disturbed people. Life Line, in the course of its work, has to make many telephone calls. Yet the Federal Government wrote saying that the 50 per cent concession on telephone calls would be withdrawn.
I notice that you, Mr Speaker, are showing a great interest in this matter. As a lame excuse for its action, the Postmaster-General’s Department said that because of the introduction of subscriber trunk dialling the Post Office could not keep a close eye on the number of calls which were being made locally and the number which were STD or trunk line calls. I see the look of concern on your face, Mr
Speaker, and I ask you: How many charitable organisations could afford to spend the day making STD or trunk line calls? The Government, as an alternative to the previously existing concession which dated back to 1933, has offered a one-third reduction on telephone rentals. A charitable organisation may have two or three telephones, for which it would pay about $150 a year in rental; so the Government’s proposed concession is worth approximately $50. That charitable organisation may have made telephone calls to the value of $1,000. Previously it received assistance from the former Government to the extent of $500. The present Government, which parades itself as the friend of the downtrodden and those in need of help, is taking hundreds of dollars from these various organisations. Collectively, the amount involved would represent quite a large figure. Correspondence from the Minister’s office explains that the Government cannot afford to continue the concession. This is a serious condemnation of the Australian Labor Party’s administration of the Australian Post Office.
The Government came to power 15 months ago. Since then we have seen postal services disappearing so quickly that a person almost has to go to the Post Office to collect his mail. Concessions for country newspapers and for periodicals which are published even in cities are disappearing. It is probable that within 3 years all these concessions will be completely gone. We have heard that the PostmasterGeneral wrote to Mr Slater, who resigned as No. 3 Senate candidate as a protest against the manner in which the Government is presently running the country.
– From which Party?
– From the Australian Labor Party. I am glad that the honourable member for Kooyong reminded me of my omission. We have instance after instance of inefficiency on the part of the Post Office whose performance reflects directly on the Postmaster-General and the government of the day. If the government of the day and the Postmaster-General are doing a good job the public is satisfied with the Post Office. It is suggested that the cost of posting ordinary letters will rise from 7c to probably 9c or 10c in the near future. Saturday mail deliveries have disappeared and Federal members in Brisbane are affected. I notice in the chamber the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Doyle) and the honourable member for Bow man (Mr Keogh). Their letters no longer arrive in their Brisbane offices early on Monday mornings. On Monday of this week we Federal members in Brisbane had to wait until midday before our mail arrived. Those honourable members opposite, if they have any courage, will stand up and protest because parliamentary sittings are such that we have only Mondays in our offices to look after mail horn our constituents. Under this Labor Government the mail arrives almost 3 hours later than it did under the Liberal-Country Party Government. The Government has very little of which to be proud.
In 1970 or 1971, when the previous Government raised the postal charges for ordinary letters from 5c to 7c, I gave notice in this House that it would not do so again with my sitting by nodding my head in agreement. I find it much easier now to attack the maladministration of this Labor Party Government. The attack will be continued by me, and I am sure by other members from this side of the House, because we have reached the stage where the Australian public is paying more for the delivery of a letter than is being paid in any other country. The stage has almost been reached where it will be cheaper for a citizen of the United States of America to post a letter to Australia than for a person in Brisbane to write a letter of protest to the Postmaster-General in Canberra. This is a very sad reflection of the way things are going in this country. I come back to my original subject. When a government has to resort to robbing charities and taking concessions from charities to meet the costs of the Postmaster-General’s Department it is a very poor show. It is time the Australian Labor Party replaced the present PostmasterGeneral and tried to put in his place a man who is more capable of administering what is a very difficult department, but one for which the Australian taxpayer has to carry the cost.
-The honourable member’s time has expired!
– The Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) has given way to me tonight because I have a statement to make relating to charges made against me personally in the South Australian House of Assembly, so he is not here to answer the extraordinary charges of the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald
Cameron). On Tuesday, 26 February, behind the cloak of parliamentary privilege in the South Australian House of Assembly, Mr R. Hall, M.P., who heads the Liberal Movement there, made allegations concerning the standard of auditing of recent financial statements of the Storemen and Packers Union, South Australian Branch, conducted by my firm, C. J. Hurford and Co., Chartered Accountants. His language was so outrageous as to include the words ‘deliberately covered up the facts of the misappropriation of money that took place in that union’s affairs’, and ‘the firm of C. J. Hurford and Co. should be delicensed’.
The cowardly character of this baseless charge is witnessed by the fact that Mr Hall has refused to repeat the damaging words in public so that I can clear my name through the courts. As I returned from a study tour of North America only on the day the attack was made, I am reminded vividly of problems there. Mr Hall’s standards are the same as those of the persons who perpetrated the Watergate evils. They may be summarised as through enough dirt, act sufficiently excessively, do not worry about the truth and public morality - all that matters is political gain’. These are standards of the gutter and should not be tolerated here.
As the sole principal of C. J. Hurford and Co., I accept the responsibility for the conduct of the audits of the Storeman and Packers financial statements, including the actions of the persons entrusted by me to undertake the detailed audit work and its supervision. I assert that the audits were conducted without . fear or favour, with due diligence and professional skill and that in no way was my firm or its employees professionally or in any other way negligent. Indeed I believe we went well beyond the normal calls of duty in order to achieve satisfactory standards.
My firm was called in as auditors of the Storemen and Packers Union, South Australian Branch, in August 1972 - not in May 1972 as alleged by Mr Hall in his inaccurate statement. Already the inadequacy of the bookkeeping was well known. The previous auditor, Mr J. Richards, chartered accountant, had stated the facts in his reports. The Federal Secretary of the Union, Mr Jack Petrie, had carried out a thorough personal examination in May 1972, and had reported his judgments.
In August 1972 my firm was requested to undertake the specific task of preparing a receipts and payments statement to 30 June 1972, recording what did actually go into and come out of the branch’s bank account and records. This was done. We were not given authority to draw up a balance sheet as at 30 June 1972, that is 2 months prior to our being called in, and this was said in our report. Balance sheets had not previously been prepared for this branch of this union, nor are they required by the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. However, to maintain our usual standards, my firm prepared and reported on a balance sheet as at 30 June 1973 - the only financial year which has been fully under our control.
From the day C. J. Hurford and Co. became auditors of this South Australian branch of this union, we brought to the attention of the branch committee at meetings and the members of the union in the published audit reports distributed at the annual meeting and posted on notice boards at every major work centre the inadequacies and irregularities in the accounts and records. Remedies were put into effect in January 1973 and we have not encountered problems since. To substantiate this, we need go no further than draw attention to the financial statements and auditors’ reports themselves. The reports include the following statements:
We have not conducted an audit of the union’s assets and liabilities, nor members’ records and do not report thereon.
That was a report with receipts and payments statement for the 6 months ended 30 June 1972. Statements in the report with receipts and payments statement for the 6 months ended 31 December 1972 read:
These two further statements were included in the report with the balance sheet as at 30 June 1973 and with the receipts and payments statement for the 12 months ended on that date. They read:
Any objective, unbiased, reasonable person will realise that these are not reports of a firm covering up any facts whatsoever.
Behind the cloak of parliamentary privilege unsubstantiated charges were made by Mr Hall against Mr J. H. Doyle, who carried out the detailed work on this audit for my firm. They relate to what he is alleged to have said at branch committee meetings. They are utterly denied by Mr Doyle and are the subject of a separate statement prepared by him. If I do not get time to do so, I hope that my colleague, the honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun), will read Mr Doyle’s statement. He is a most diligent man of integrity, has my utmost confidence and respect - so much so that I am seeking to hand over the few audits which are done by C. J. Hurford and Co. to him, due of course, to my lack of time and increasing responsibilities elsewhere.
None of us associated with this audit are prepared to join Mr Hall in his unsubstantiated and thus irresponsible claims that there has been ‘embezzlement and misappropriation of funds in that union’. My firm reported fully on unsatisfactory administrative procedures from the day we took over. We co-operated completely with a police investigation over 6 months ago. Whether a felony had been committed or whether the problem was due to inexperience and a lack of administrative training and ability had to be left to the judgment of those to whom the auditors report, namely the union members and their representatives on the branch management committee. The auditors reported fully and their clients made their judgment.
If Mr Hall had confined his remarks to the need for union administrative training facilities and for possible alterations to Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Acts to bring their financial requirements in line with the Companies Acts, he would have been following me and my Labor colleagues in what we have been seeking to achieve. I personally, have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours of my spare time in promoting the Workers Educational Authority of South Australia, which has done much pioneering work in trade union education. I and my accounting colleagues have spent hundreds and hundreds of non-chargeable hours in improving the accounts and records of trade unions. The
Labor Party in Federal and State spheres has made giant strides in the last few years in appropriating funds to improve trade union education facilities so that the working man may be helped, not hindered, and industrial peace may be facilitated. But there is not much publicity in this. We do, however, have the satisfaction of knowing that we have achieved something and have not used the despicable method of muddying the names of innocent persons for political purposes.
I am glad to have been able to make this statement for the record, although I regret that the forms of the South Australian Parliament did not allow the State member for Adelaide to make this statement in the South Australian House of Assembly yesterday where it would have been better/ understood and also that the forms of this House have prevented me making this statement earlier. However, let it be known that I am also issuing this statement outside the Parliament. I do not need the protection of privileges. I stand behind each word and do not resort, as Mr R. Steele Hall, M.P., has resorted, to Watergatetype lies and excesses to achieve my political purpose. I hope that my colleague, the honourable member for Kingston, will have a few moments before the adjournment to read the statement from Mr J. H. Doyle.
– When Hercules cleaned out the Augean stables there is no record of his having made a speech in the Assembly afterwards, but it is known that he did say it was a hell of a mess. I forbear quoting the words in the original Greek, in deference to your ruling, Mr Speaker. I was interested to hear the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) revealing the inefficiency of the clients whose books he had audited. It does not seem to me that this was entirely ethical on the part of an auditor who seemed to me in this case to be much more concerned with defending his own reputation than in endeavouring to further the interests of the client union. I have no doubt that what he said about the Storemen and Packers Union is right. There may have been a felony - he used the word - in the union; I do not know. I do not know anything about this union, but I do know the kind of things which go on with union accounts, and I am not surprised that he had a hell of ‘ a mess to clean up. However, I do not want to spend any more time on that matter.
Another matter that I want to raise has no connection with that at all. There is a rumour current - it seems to be more than a rumour; it seems to be a well-founded story - that very shortly the Hotel Canberra will cease to be an hotel. This is something which I personally regret. The Hotel Canberra has been my home in Canberra for some 25 years, but I suppose that these things must happen. It is said with some reason, I believe, that the lessee is not going to renew his lease and that the hotel will revert to the ownership of the Commonwealth Government. I think that we should consider what is the best possible use to be made of these buildings when that event occurs. I know it has been suggested that the hotel should become a hostel for members of this Parliament. I do not think that this would be altogether a reasonable way in which to use this very important and commodious building. I do not think it is necessary for members of this Parliament to have that kind of accommodation.
Another suggestion which is current is that the hotel should be made into the headquarters for some department. It has been said that the Department of Foreign Affairs has its eye on the building with a view to using it as a kind of hostel for embryo diplomats. I am not certain that this is the best use to which the building should be put. I think that the pretentions of departments which have been so well fostered by this Government, which is letting the Public Service grow at an inordinate rate, should be kept within reasonable bounds.
Here we have a very important and comfortable building which should be put to some proper use, and I want to suggest one use to which it may be put. I am not trying to make my suggestion the definitive or only one, but it is something which perhaps might be given adequate consideration. It seems to me that this would be an ideal building to be converted into one of the homes for elderly people which are set up under the Aged Persons Homes Act. I know that the Government is trying to taper off this Act and is not altogether in sympathy with the idea that independent and voluntary organisations should take part in this activity of housing elderly people and would prefer to see this kind of thing brought within the compass of the department. This is not what I am suggesting. I am suggesting that the building should be a building for aged people, as other aged persons homes are.
In the past in Canberra we have not had very much need for these homes because the people who live in Canberra, very largely have come here fairly recently and many of them have not reached the age of retirement. But that situation is rapidly changing. A number of people who came to Canberra in the 1950s and 1960s are now reaching retiring age. Even among the younger people there are many who came from Melbourne or Sydney and who would be anxious to having living adjacent to them here in Canberra their parents or elderly relatives. I believe that in Canberra there is a call for a building such as the Hotel Canberra for that purpose. I speak as a former Minister who has had some considerable experience with aged persons homes, and it seems to me that the buildings of the Hotel Canberra would be quite suitable for this purpose with only very moderate modifications.
There are about 120 rooms in the hotel. Each one of them has its own separate bathroom, and this I think is essential for elderly people. If they are living in hostel-type accommodation for which I would think the present buildings in the Hotel Canberra would be eminently suitable, they could live in their separate rooms and from the hotel facilities have meals in common and the other services which have to be provided for elderly people who are not quite capable of looking after themselves completely independently in a separate flat but who do not need to have the full care of a nursing home. It is the hostel accommodation which is particularly needed and for which the Hotel Canberra accommodation is particularly suited.
About 75 per cent of the hotel’s rooms are on the ground floor, and this is important. The number of steps and so on that would have to be negotiated are of the absolute minimum, and this is important for elderly people. The 2 courtyards - one on either side of the hotel - are ideal for elderly people to sit in. It is important that elderly people should have some kind of sheltered garden space where they can sit and enjoy themseves in the evening of their lives. There are verandahs round the gardens. Perhaps some of them could be closed in, but they require very little modification. The services are all there. The rooms are all heated. The furniture is there. It is a walk in walk out situation.
I suggest to the Government that when it looks at this matter it should not regard the interests of members of Parliament as of top priority and it should not regard the interests even of departmental officers as of top priority, but it should look at the needs of the elderly people. In the Hotel Canberra the Government has a building which, in my view - and I speak as a Minister who has had some experience in these matters - could very easily be adapted for hostel accommodation.
– How many rooms are there?
– About 120. It would cost about $ 1.25m to construct this building, quite apart from the cost of the land. It is an ample site. Behind the hotel are facilities which could easily be made into a day centre for the elderly people of Canberra. There is a site where later on a nursing home could be built for those who become more advanced in years and are less capable of looking after themselves. It seems to me that the Hotel Canberra, with its location, is an almost ideal setup which can be afforded virtually without drawing on additional resources. Nearly everything is there and this could be done without its having any inflationary effect at all on the economy. Here is an opportunity. If the hotel becomes delicensed, which I would regret from my own point of view, here is an opportunity to give 120 people a comfortable old age.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
- Mr Speaker, I was going to read out a statement following on the statement made by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). It was a statement by Mr J. H. Doyle supplementary to that made by the honourable member for Adelaide concerning charges made by Mr R. Steele Hall, M.P., relating to the trade union audit of the Storemen and Packers Union in South Australia. Because of the lack of time available to me, I ask permission to have the statement incorporated in Hansard.
Mir SPEAKER-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
Mr Hall made no attempt to check the facts with me. Because he will not repeat his charges outside the Parliament where their truthfulness can be tested in the Courts, he has caused me personal damage in a cowardly way for his own base political motives.
11 March 1974.
-Order! It being 11 o’clock p.m., the House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice:
– The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice:
With reference to the Minister’s answer to my question No. 1298 (Hansard, 26 November 1973, page 3867) does the Audit Act make provision for the collection and payment of public moneys and the audit of the public accounts and the protection of public property.
– The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Applied Ecology Pty Ltd and Aboriginal and Islander Products Pty Ltd:
Two officers of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs hold one $1 share each in each company as nominees of the Minister.
Aboriginal and Islander Marketing Pty Ltd:
Two officers of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs hold one $1 share each as nominees of the Minister. 99,998 shares of $1 each are held by the corporation of the Minister of State administering the Aboriginal Enterprises (Assistance) Act.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice:
– The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
– The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Australian Advisory Committee on the Environment (Question No. 127)
asked the Minister for the Environment and Conservation, upon notice:
Br Cass - The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for the Environment and Conservation, upon notice:
Br Cass - The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Senate Select Committee on Air Pollution: Report (Question No. 133)
asked the Minister for the Environment and Conservation, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s, question is as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
Is there any inter-departmental committee or committees considering any aspects of the proposed bilateral treaty with Japan to formalise, stabilise and broaden relations between Australia and Japan in economic and related fields.
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
No inter-departmental committee is at present considering aspects of the proposed Treaty of Nara.
A draft text for the Treaty was prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs in close consultation with interested Departments. The draft text, which was agreed to by Ministers, was handed to the Japanese Ambassador by my colleague the Foreign Minister on 14 December 1973 and it is now being considered by the Japanese Government.
The Government attaches great importance to the conclusion of the Treaty of Nara which will symbolise the interdependent and co-operative relationship between Australia and Japan.
asked the Leader of the House, upon notice:
If the Government intends to move a motion similar to the Order of the House of 1 March 1973, will he give consideration to providing that a member who commences his speech on the adjournment after 10.50 p.m. but before 11 p.m. will be permitted to complete it.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Northern Development, upon notice:
– The answer to the right honorable member’s question is:
The aims of the study are:
asked the Minister for the Northern Territory, upon notice:
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
The activities of the Branch in conjunction with the Council are:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 March 1974, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1974/19740313_reps_28_hor88/>.