29th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. G. G. D. Scholes) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– I have to inform the House that we have present in the gallery this morning members of the Swedish Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour Market and Regional Policy led by Mr Karl Erik Eriksson, Chairman of the Committee. On behalf of the House I extend a warm welcome to members of the Committee.
Honourable members- Hear, hear!
– 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 insurance industry is already coping with
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House will reject the Bill.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Bungey.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble Petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that the establishment of an Australian Government Insurance Office will:
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives rejects completely the Australian Government Insurance Office Bill 1975.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Calder.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that the establishment of an Australian Government Insurance Office will:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives rejects completely the Australian Government Insurance Office Bill 1975.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Connolly and Mr Corbett.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that the establishment of an Australian Government Insurance Office will:
Lead to nationalisation of the Insurance Industry.
Create hundreds of public service jobs and cause serious unemployment in the private Insurance Industry in Australia.
By the ‘National Interests’ provision of the Bill provide the opportunity for any government to introduce national schemes which should properly be the subject of separate legislation.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives rejects completely the Australian Government Insurance Office Bill 1975.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Hyde.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that the establishment of an Australian Government Insurance Office will:
Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives rejects completely the Australian Government Insurance Office Bill 1975.
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 employees and agents of the Australian insurance industry respectfully showeth:
That the insurance industry is already coping with
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House will reject the Bill.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrMacphee.
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 we wish to protest most vigorously at the proposed increases in postal and telephone charges.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will take immediate steps to:
Diminish the size of the increase or, if possible, leave charges as they are.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Everingham.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petitition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that postal and telephone charges should not be increased.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House either decrease or reject proposed increases in postal and telephone charges.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrBungey.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned electors of the Division of Bendigo respectfully showeth:
That we strongly oppose the increased postal and telephone charges effective from 1 September 1975.
These charges will create an added burden to the whole community and will increase inflation.
These charges will only add to the inflationary spiral and increase unemployment.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take steps to reduce these charges.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Bourchier.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That whereas the natural environment of Fraser Island is so outstanding that it should be identified as part of the World Natural Heritage, and whereas the Island should be conserved for the enjoyment of this and future generations,
Your petitioners humbly pray that the members, in the House assembled, will take the most urgent steps to ensure:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Bourchier and Mr Donald Cameron.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the plan to obliterate the traditional weights and measures of this country is causing and will cause widespread inconvenience, confusion, expense and distress.
That there is no certainty that any significant benefits or indeed any benefits at all will follow the use of the new weights and measures.
That the traditional weights and measures are eminently satisfactory.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the Metric Conversion Act be repealed, and that the Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional and familiar units to be restored to those areas where the greatest inconvenience and distress are occurring, that is to say, in meteorology, in road distances, in sport, in the building and allied trades, in the printing trade, and in retail trade.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Jarman and Mr Oldmeadow.
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:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House take steps to-
And your petitioners as in duty hound will ever pray. by Mr Nixon.
-Mr Speaker, my question is directed to you. You will be aware that the Prime Minister has been accustomed to use his official position to injure those who cross his political path by publicly describing them as ‘second raters’, ‘disgraces to their profession’, ‘fanatics’, paranoiacs’ and ‘bible banging bastards’. I ask whether such expressions may be used in this House by one member speaking to another, or would such language be deemed unparliamentary? If, as I hope, it is unparliamentary to use such terms, is it at least permissible to describe the Prime Minister in terms which Mr Speaker has permitted him to use in this House in reference to other members, namely, ‘a disgrace to this Parliament’?
-The question deals with hypothetical matter and cases which are not at the moment before the Chair. It is not the practice of the Chair to give rulings on matters which are not current.
-Has the Minister for Transport seen reports that a floating airport is to be built in Sydney Harbour for short take-off and landing aircraft? Has the Government made a decision on this matter?
-I have seen reports in various Sydney newspapers and one of the things that strikes me about them is the approach that newspapers have taken to this matter. The Sydney Morning Herald and the Sydney Sun put out a factual statement on what it was all about. An aircraft manufacturer has developed a short take-off and landing aircraft and so that it can sell the aeroplane it is talking in terms of having a floating airport built on Sydney Harbour. That is all right if one has an aeroplane to sell and needs somewhere to land it. Then the Sydney Daily Mirror in a leading article said:
Sydney is one of the few cities in the world which has what amounts to an inner-city airport. So why on earth does the Australian Government want to foul up our Harbour by proposing a runway on it for short take-offs and landings?
I have not even seen any official report about this proposal. As I mentioned earlier, it is a matter that has been floated by an aircraft manufacturer who is trying to sell an aeroplane and the only way he can sell it is to build a floating landing strip in Sydney Harbour. I think it is a ridiculous proposition for Sydney and I hope that the newspapers adopt a more reasonable approach to it. If anyone wants long odds about such a landing strip being installed I am thinking about opening a book on it.
– I ask the Prime Minister: When did the Treasurer write to him warning that supply allocations for the Regional Employment Development scheme and Medibank would be inadequate? Did that letter also indicate that the alleged shortfall would be considerably greater than the Advance to the Treasurer No. 1 of $ 120m.
– I ask that the question be placed on notice.
-Has the attention of the Minister for Health been drawn to a report that a leading Sydney racehorse trainer has transported a champion racehorse named ‘Grand Memory’ to Singapore in mistake for a hack? Is it also a fact that the animal cannot be returned to Australia under quarantine regulations for another 12 months? If so, what can be done to shorten this period?
Br EVERINGHAM- It has been brought to my attention that a champion racehorse called ‘Grand Memory’ is now visiting abroad by mistake. Perhaps this was due to a phenomenal memory lapse on someone’s part. I also understand that one of the reasons for the animated and excited appearance of the right honourable member for Lowe this morning is that he is finding it difficult to retain a grand memory of this magnificent animal which was so lucrative for him. I do not think very much can be done but I will try to offset the error, firstly because I would like to help conserve foreign exchange in the racing industry and, secondly, because I know the right honourable member for Lowe needs the money.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister and concerns the decision to establish a special ministerial committee to inquire into the problems of Darwin. Why is the Minister for Housing and Construction not a member of that committee? Has the report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee in the Northern Territory been rejected or accepted by Cabinet? If rejected, what course will now be followed? Will the Prime Minister instruct the committee to visit Darwin to consult with local citizens about these problems? Can he assure the House and the people of the Northern Territory that the Government will not use the situation in Darwin as an excuse for delaying a greater measure of self-government in the Northern Territory? Has there been a breach of faith between the Minister for the Northern Territory and the majority party in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly with regard to the employment of back-up staff for the Legislative Assembly?
– The Minister for the Northern Territory will answer the question.
– It is a fact that a committee of Ministers has been set up to consider policy matters with respect to Darwin. As honourable members will appreciate very large sums of money are involved in the reconstruction of Darwin. In the last Budget approximately $100m was allocated for works concerned with the immediate reconstruction. There are a large number of policy issues relating to Darwin such as priorities with respect to housing accommodation and the allocation of resources. All of these have to be considered by the Ministers concerned with the policy aspects of Darwin.
The honourable member mentioned the Minister for Housing and Construction. As he would know, the Department of Housing and Construction is an agent of the departments in the Northern Territory concerned with Darwin. But the policy aspects of construction and reconstruction requirements and housing accommodation are the responsibility of the departments or Ministers directly concerned with the policy aspects of Darwin. With regard to the joint committee, this matter is under consideration and has been for some time. Honourable members will appreciate that a large number of departments are involved in Darwin. A significant number of Ministers with portfolios concerning Darwin and involving not only local matters but national matters such as Aboriginal affairs, health and education also are involved. All these subjects are under consideration. There has been no breach of faith between myself and the majority Leader or any other person in Darwin.
-I ask the Prime Minister. Is the Government giving consideration to conducting a referendum to amend the Constitution to ensure that a casual Senate vacancy is filled by a person endorsed by the political Party of his or her predecessor, particularly in light of the support expressed for this principle by the Leader of the Opposition, the Liberal Deputy Premier of Queensland and the President of the Queensland Liberal Party?
-The Government has not given consideration to introducing a Bill for a referendum on such a matter into the Parliament. This is a matter, or course, which has been considered by various committees and conventions considering the Constitution for many years past. I remember that it was considered by the Constitutional Review Committee set up by the Parliament in 1956. That Committee unanimously made recommendations in its reports of 1958 and 1959. It did not draft a Bill for a referendum to cope with the matter; it thought that it was appropriately a matter to be dealt with by a convention.
The Constitutional Convention which assembled in September 1973 also considered this matter and referred it to one of its committees. I believe that committee has also recommended that it should be a matter of convention as distinct from constitutional amendment. There are obviously difficulties in drafting any constitutional amendment which refers to political Parties. The Constitution itself does not do that and while there has been some legislation introduced by the Minister for Services and Property which identifies political parties in the same way as political parties have been identified in much legislation in other countries, including federal countries, I believe there have not been any constitutional provisions of that character yet devised. Nevertheless it is clear that both those bodies which have considered this matter have always advised unanimously that there should be a convention accepted in this regard. I have quoted their words on previous occasions. The matter, as I mentioned, was raised by some of the committees before -
– Time, Mr Speaker.
-The matter was raised by some of the committees -
– Why do you not have a private discussion outside?
– I would have thought that honourable members in this House, and members in the other House too -
– Why do you not talk to us instead of having a private conversation with your back to the Speaker?
- Mr Speaker -
-Order! The Prime Minister will resume his seat. If honourable members are not prepared to listen to what is said during question time, we will wait until they are prepared to listen. It is their time, not mine or the Prime Minister ‘s. I call the Prime Minister.
– It is about time that honourable gentlemen opposite made up their minds as to what attitude they will take in regard to constitutional reform. There is very clearly a difference of opinion between Liberal and National Country Party State governments and also between some of those governments and Liberal and National Country Party members of the Opposition in this Parliament. I have mentioned the Constitutional Convention which met 2 years ago and which raised the matter upon which the honourable gentleman has asked me a question. This is a matter which is of current importance in the Parliament. It was debated last week and this week in this House and in the Senate.
There is a proposal now to abandon this Constitutional Convention. Perhaps it would be salutary for me to recall to honourable members what some honourable members have said about this matter quite recently. In May last year the Opposition parties went to the people on a published program to ‘support and work for the continuing examination by the Australian Constitutional Convention of the changes to the Constitution which 70 years experience has revealed as being necessary’. Last March, a handout of the Liberal Party of Australia quoted the shadow Attorney-General, Senator Greenwood, as saying:
The Federal Opposition wants the Constitutional Convention to continue its work. The immense amount of research, deliberations and really worthwhile effort already contributed should not be wasted.
On 21 August 1975, the Leader of the Opposition told us:
It is our hope that this Convention will be a useful forum in which State and Federal representatives may constructively consider constitutional reform in a way which will advance the good government of Australia.
A few months ago, the retiring chairman of the Convention, Sir Eric Willis, led a delegation to me which asked me to do what I could to stir the
Senate to send its section of the Australian Parliamentary delegation to the Convention. He had written articles in the Sydney Morning Herald supporting the Convention. I gather that the New South Wales Government is now reconsidering whether it should participate in the Convention due to meet in a fortnight’s time. After Sir Eric Willis called on me there was a meeting of the Executive Committee in Brisbane which Mr Bjelke-Petersen, the Queensland Premier, attended. It was agreed at that meeting to draw up the agenda and make preparation for this Convention. I now find that Mr Bjelke- Petersen decides that Queensland should not participate in the Convention. The Premier of Western Australia now decides that Western Australia should not participate in the Convention. Yesterday I received a telegram from the Deputy Premier of Victoria who was to be next chairman of the Convention and who had publicised its agenda and advocated support for several items but is now suggesting that we abandon the Convention. There will be a meeting on Friday to consider its future. It is about time we knew what the former leaders of the Liberal Party and the present Leader of the National Country Party meant in May last year, what the shadow Attorney-General meant in March last year and what the present Leader of the Opposition meant on 21 August this year when they consistently said that the Convention should proceed. It is about time they agreed or consulted with their State colleagues.
– Order! I suggest that the honourable members who are interjecting remain silent. Interjections during answers to questions invariably prolong the answers and lead to complaints about long answers. If honourable members are not prepared to cooperate with me during question time, they should not seek to blame anyone but themselves for the lack of opportunities they receive.
– Did the Prime Minister receive a letter from his colleague the Treasurer in which the Treasurer indicated that expenditures during the Supply period on the Regional Employment Development scheme and in the Medibank area are expected to be considerably greater than the provisions for those purposes in Supply Act (No. 1)? If the the letter was written after the preparation of the Budget, does this mean that the allocations in the Budget for the RED scheme and for Medibank are hopelessly inadequate?
– On notice.
-Order! Would the Prime Minister rise to reply?
-The question should be placed on notice.
-Will the Prime Minister indicate to the House what action the Government intends to take on the draft territorial criminal code that was tabled in the House in June?
-The draft territorial criminal code, which the Attorney-General tabled on 5 June, was the second such draft to be tabled in the Parliament. A previous one was tabled in May 1969 by Attorney-General Bowen. The Government is not taking any steps to enact the code. The previous Government certainly did nothing to enact the code which was tabled in May 1969. At that time the enactment of any such code was entirely the responsibility of the Government. The Government could make an ordinance which could then be debated and disallowed, if seen fit, by either House of the Parliament; or, alternatively, the Government could introduce a Bill to enact such a code. Now, however, my Government has introduced and secured the passage of legislation to establish a Legislative Assembly for the Australian Capital Territory. Accordingly, any action to enact the draft code now would be appropriate for any interested members of the Legislative Assembly. The Government does not propose to make an ordinance to enact the draft code. The Government does not propose to introduce in either House of the Parliament a Bill to enact it.
-My question is directed to the Prime Minister. I refer to 2 statements attributed to the Prime Minister over the weekend: Firstly, his reference to the Premier of Queensland as a bible-bashing bastard and, secondly, his suggestion that the Australian Labor Party could win 5 extra seats in Victoria alone in any forthcoming election. Will the Prime Minister consider submitting himself for a thorough psychological examination and, in the interests of open government, will he release the psychologist’s report to the nation so that it may be assured of his sanity or otherwise?
-This is typical of the people to whom we give the golden handshake. It is much more important what a person does than what a person says. Last week the Premier of
Queensland did something which was immoral, dishonest and unprincipled. Everybody, I believe, would acknowledge that the Premier of Queensland acted in those ways- immorally, dishonestly and without principle- in what he sponsored in the Queensland Parliament last week.
– I don’t agree.
– See, the right honourable member for Lowe supports the view that I have expressed.
– That is untrue. I wish to take a point of order, Sir.
– Order! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
– Honourable members, without dissent and without a division, last week carried a motion condemning what the Queensland Premier persuaded the members of his Party, but only half the members of the Liberal Party, to perpetrate in the Queensland Legislative Assembly last week. This is not the first assault that the Queensland Premier has perpetrated on the constitutional proprieties in this country. In my reply to the last question I answered I referred to his action in now sabotaging the Constitutional Convention which only 3 months ago he was co-operating in promoting. He chaired the meeting for this revived Constitutional Convention. Now he has initiated the sabotage of it.
He also, of course, is one of those who is bringing this improper pressure from outside on the Leader of the Opposition to reject the Budget. I naturally am incensed, as I hope are most honourable members, by these constant assaults on political and constitutional proprieties. As I said last Sunday, it is particularly nauseating to have this amoral, unprincipled, dishonest conduct from a person who is so conspicuously a humbug and a hypocrite. I use the terms about a humbug and a hypocrite -
– I rise on a point of order. Mr Speaker, is it appropriate for the Prime Minister to use terms in this Parliament about someone outside it which I understand you would not allow one member to use of another within this chamber?
– It is the practice of honourable members- not only honourable members on the Government side but also those on the Opposition side- to use language about members outside this Parliament with which I would not agree. But that does not empower the Chair to stop honourable members from using that language. I think it is an unfortunate practice, but it is one that is fairly generally practised within this Parliament.
-Of course I used strong language and I could not count up half a dozen people in the place, including the honourable gentleman who asked the question, who would not use similar language about similar hypocrites.
– I address my question to the Prime Minister and ask: Is it a fact that the burden of personal income taxation is now effectively lower than it was in the last year in which the Liberal-Country Party Government was in office?
-Certainly the rate of income tax which people pay this new financial year under the Budget will be considerably lower than they would have paid under the old scheme or under any previous scheme which, for instance, might have been indexed. The Government has made its third reduction in income tax and the sum total of the reductions was stated by me and several of my colleagues earlier. The Treasurer explained in his Budget Speech that the Government had regard to the alternatives mentioned by the Mathews Committee. We could either introduce tax indexation immediately or we could design a new tax schedule and make a commitment to index it in this year’s Budget. We also had regard to the radically different type of rate scale proposed in the Asprey Report. My Government sought the report from the Mathews Committee; our predecessors sought the report from the Asprey Committee. The Government considered both reports in preparing the Budget.
Particularly as the existing rate scale was a wholly unsatisfactory basis for indexation, the Government decided, having regard to the recommendations of both the reports, to introduce a radically new tax rate scale to apply this year which would lend itself readily to indexation and specifically to retain indexation of this new scale as an option for next financial year. Under the new rate scale on which tax will be assessed from 1 July- that is, the benefits of the new scheme have been accruing already over the last 9 or 10 weeks- there will be an overall net reduction of about $200m a year in taxation collections. Furthermore, the rate scale has been restructured so that for the great majority of incomes- those falling between $5,000 and $10,000 a year- the additional tax collected on each additional dollar of income will be about 35c instead of 45c as under the scale which is being displaced in this year’s Budget. Of more immediate significance, however, as from 1 January next it will be possible under the new scale greatly to reduce the over deductions from wage and salary incomes under which wage and salary earners were previously obliged to make huge interest free loans to the Government. Over the following 18 months wage and salary earners may be close to $1 billion better off largely because they will be no longer singled out to make these loans. As the Treasurer pointed out in his Budget Speech, the take home pay of a wage earner earning between $100 and $150 a week with a dependent wife and 2 children will probably rise by about $5 a week as from 1 January next as a result of this change.
– I ask the Prime Minister. When was he advised of official estimates that unemployment would rise to 400 000 in January? Was he advised of these estimates before or after the Budget was brought down?
– The Minister for Labor and Immigration has received a projected estimate from his Department that the raw actual unemployment figures at the end of December will be in the vicinity of 400 000, that is after making allowance for the influx of 250 000 school leavers into the labour force at about that time. There are two other things that should be said. There are people who are prepared to make predictions about unemployment virtually by plucking figures out of the air. The President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions seems to think that there will be something of the order of 500 000 unemployed. But of course if the shadow Prime Minister’s shadow Budget were introduced there would be at least 750 000 unemployed by the end of the year because of the massive reduction in government expenditure which would have an immediate effect on employment. If honourable members want to query and to look at these trends and projections, the point that also is available from the Department’s projection is that in seasonally adjusted terms- I must say that I for one find great difficulty in accepting the validity of seasonal adjustment in unemployment -
– Then why do you use it?
– I am not one that does use it. The fact of the matter is that at this time the seasonally adjusted figure is higher than the actual figure. At the end of December the seasonally adjusted figure, in most cases, will be lower than the actual figure. I think there is a lot to be said for consistency. But this figure of 400 000 is a projection based on actual figures at the time.
– When did you get them?
– This week.
(Mr Young addressing a question to the Minister for Services and Property)–
Mr Donald Cameron- I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question must be out of order because the Minister is not responsible for the actions of the National Country Party or the Liberal Party as they do not have anything to do with his portfolios. ( Honourable members interjecting)-
-Order! I suggest that honourable members remain silent until I rule on the point of order. I am not a clairvoyant. Therefore, I cannot tell whether the question is out of order. (Mr Young continuing to ask his question) -
-The question is out of order.
-Has the Minister for the Media seen today’s report confirming that the Department of the Media is being used as a Dr Goebbels style propaganda machine? Can the Minister give an assurance that the integrity and the independence of the Australian Information Service will not be interfered with in this way?
– I have seen very briefly a report in the Press today which completely misunderstands the situation in relation to the Australian Information Service. So much is the position misunderstood that, for example, for the newspaper to talk about the enormous amount of money spent by my Department is to fail to recognise that this money is spent mainly on instrumentalities which were either set up or developed to their present level by the previous Government and not by this Government at all. In fact, the extra funds allocated for that sort of thing upon which it is hoped we can be attacked are infinitesimal. However, in view of the enormous confusion, rather than take up the time of the House at this stage in giving a detailed answer, I intend to prepare a statement which I shall make in the House.
I will conclude on this note: I think that democracy is founded upon the free availability of information. That includes all that goes on in this Parliament, including the views of the Opposition as well as of the Government Party. I am not going to cavil about what at times appears to me to be biased reporting by newspapers because I am aware that honourable members on the other side of the House have the same view sometimes about the newspapers. This is a fact of life; I do not even cry about it as far as the newspapers are concerned. The purpose of newspapers is to print what they think is news which will attract readers and maintain their position in the market, if I may use that term. That is just a reality. Much of what we say on both sides of this House from the point of view of news is boring; let us face it. Yet, whether it is boring or not, it is still information which should be available to the whole community. I have some ideas on what ought to be done to enable the Australian community to be better informed about the views from both sides of this House. However, I shall elaborate in my statement and honourable members can debate it at leisure.
-No doubt the Minister for Northern Australia is aware of the dangers of exotic diseases being introduced into the livestock industries of northern Australia through the exodus of refugees from Timor with their personal effects. Is the Minister satisfied that every possible precaution is being taken to prevent the introduction of contagious disease and to eradicate it should an outbreak occur?
– Timor is not normally regarded as a country in the foot and mouth disease category as there have not been any outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in Timor for a number of years. Nevertheless, there is always the possibility, which is recognised by the Australian Government and the various State authorities in Western Australia and Queensland, of some animal product or equivalent which could contain some of the bacteria of exotic diseases entering northern Australia through being brought in by ships or by people.
Very strict quarantine measures have been taken with respect to the refugees from Timor. No animals have been brought in. All animal products that have been found have, of course, been destroyed. On the first ship which came in there were 3 parrots and a significant quantity of foodstuffs including animal products. Foodstuffs were burnt and buried. All of the refugees are searched very thoroughly in respect of anything that they may be carrying. Anything that is suspect- particularly animal products or associated products- is destroyed. Approximately 4 to 5 tons of foodstuffs have been destroyed.
The quarantine officers have been very alert to the possibility of exotic diseases being introduced into Australia. In accordance with the procedures laid down by the various veterinary conferences, eradication measures would be taken immediately in the remote event that any diseases were introduced. I can assure the House that this matter is being treated with great seriousness because there is always the possibility of some exotic disease being brought into Australia via our northern shores.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. In the light of his recent promises, will the Minister inform the House when the Government proposes to introduce the Aboriginal land rights legislation? Has the legislation been delayed? If so, what is the reason for the delay? Is the Minister aware that Aboriginal communities, members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly and others are anxious to consider the legislation before it is debated in this Parliament? Will the Minister undertake that time will be given to interested parties to consider the legislation and to make representations before it is debated?
-Right at the outset this Government acknowledged the right of Aboriginal communities to own land. In February 1973 Mr Justice Woodward was appointed to investigate and report on Aboriginal land claims in the Northern Territory. I think the honourable gentleman knows that in July 1974 the Government announced its acceptance of those principles and that it has been proceeding since that time with the preparation of legislation. I might say that this firm and positive action on the part of the Government is in direct contrast with the attitude of the previous Government. In 1 97 1 Mr Justice Blackburn established that, under the law, Aborigines had no legal tenure of land as a traditional right; but no action was taken by the Government at that time to change that situation. It took the election of an Australian Labor Party Government to achieve positive action in this respect. I suppose that the most positive action has been that of the Prime Minister handing over 1250 square miles of land at Wave Hill to the Gurindji people on 16 August. The honourable gentleman would be aware that the legislation is extremely complex. It has taken a great deal of time in preparation. It is currently receiving consideration by the Government. I hope that it will not be long before it is introduced. I concede the point taken by the honourable gentleman that time for reflection ought to be given to interested persons and indeed to the 2 Houses of Parliament, following the introduction of that legislation.
-Conflicting statements on this matter have been put out by the Premier of New South Wales. The Prime Minister wrote to the former Premier of New South Wales, Sir Robert Askin, in February 1973 and suggested that if discussions concerning the transfer of responsibility for the New South Wales railways were held they might be to the mutual satisfaction of both governments. The Premier replied very shortly after that, in about March 1973, and agreed to the holding of exploratory discussions on a non-commitment basis. Further unofficial discussions were conducted. The New South Wales Government proposed that the terms of reference should include, for example, an examination of the question of whole or part transfer. That was agreed to. It also suggested that the parties to the discussions might identify the areas where increases in operating efficiency could be achieved by transfer of its railways to the Australian Government or by joint action on a cooperative basis between the 2 governments. This was likewise accepted in the terms of reference.
Having approved the terms of reference, we got down to some joint meetings in April and September 1974. Departmental officers from both the New South Wales and Australian governments met and started to put together a report. Unfortunately there was a change of Premier in New South Wales in January 1975. Of course, one of the first things that the incoming Premier had to do was to establish the strong man role of ‘hate the Feds’ and ‘have nothing whatever to do with the Australian Government’. So he terminated the discussions. It was not the action of the Australian Government; it was the action of the New South Wales Government.
The position now is that the Australian Government is still prepared to sit down with the New South Wales Government to discuss the complete or partial transfer of its railways. If the Premier wants to get the guidelines on such a transfer he can refer to the terms of the agreements between the Australian Government and the South Australian and Tasmanian governments which have already been tabled in this Parliament Legislation concerning the transfer of the railways in those States has been through this House. In fact, the legislation concerning the South Australian railways has been brought forward on 2 occasions. There is any amount of precedent to which the Premier of New South Wales may refer to find out what the position is. I re-emphasise that we are still prepared to enter into negotiations with the New South Wales Government for the total t. partial transfer of the New South Wales railways to the Australian Government.
-I direct direct a question to the Minister for Health. Is it correct that Medibank administration was established on the premise that bills for payment would be received at the rate of 300 000 per week and would be paid within 5 days; that in the first month of operation Medibank received some 700 000 accounts, and this has resulted in delays of between 3 and 5 weeks in payment? In view of the Government’s statements that Medibank would make payments in 5 days, what does the Government propose to do about the delays in payment?
-Medibank comes within the administration’ of the National Health Insurance Commission within the Department of Social Security. These figures are available no doubt from the Minister responsible. I will get them and let the honourable gentleman know.
– Pursuant to section 16 of the Dairying Research Act 1972 I present the annual report of the Dairying Research Committee for the year ended 30 June 1 975.
– For the information of honourable members I present the annual report of the Director-General of Health for the year ended 30 June 1975.
- Mr Speaker, I ask leave to table a paper.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The paper I table is -
– What is happening?
– The procedure for granting leave is that if no one objects leave is granted. No one did object. I think leave has to be granted.
– One wants to know what the paper is.
- Mr Speaker gave a clear ruling.
– I did ask whether leave was granted, and no one objected. I did indicate that leave had been granted. I cannot withdraw that.
– I would have objected.
– It is too late now. The paper I table is a copy of a -
-Order! The honourable gentleman is not entitled to speak to the paper. He has asked for leave to table it and he has been granted leave.
– I was only going to name what it is, Mr Speaker, but I table the paper and leave it there.
– It would have been advisable to have stated what it is when asking for leave.
Discussion of Matter of Public Importance
– Order! I have received a letter from the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The failure of the Government in science and research and its administration.
I, therefore, call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in thenplaces. (More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in thenplaces).
-The matter of public importance is the failure of the Government in science and research and its administration. This was dramatically revealed by the drastic Budget cuts in research. These Budget cuts reveal the Government’s real attitude to science and research in Australia. While budgeted outlays increased by 23 per cent and no doubt will increase beyond that, research through the Australian Research Grants Council was slashed from $9m to $3m and the National Health and Medical Research Council funds have been cut from $8m to $4m. This means a cut in effective terms of about 70 per cent as opposed to an overall increase in Government expenditure of 20 per cent plus.
These figures dramatically illustrate the dismal priority which research and science generally are given by the Labor Government. In fact the Government appears to have no policy for science and research. This is not surprising because when one looks through the policy speeches of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in 1972- a 35 page document- and in 1974- a 42 page document- there is no reference to research or science. In those documents and elsewhere the Prime Minister states quite often that he supports and encourages excellence and quality in Australia but he gives excellence and quality no role in research or science which every other advanced western society gives a prominent part. The Prime Minister and this Government give no role to research and science in their dream of a better and healthier Australia.
The previous Liberal and Country Party Government gradually developed support for science and research from a modest beginning to a reasonable level when it lost office in 1972. In 1965 it established the Australian Research Grants Council. The grants in 1965 were greater than they will be in inflation-ridden 1976. The 1973- 75 National Health and Medical Research Council triennium allocation was a substantial lift for medical research in this country and credit should be given not just to the McMahon Government of that day but to the then Prime Minister himself, the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon), for his prominent part in lifting medical research. The triennium allocation to the National Health and Medical Research Council also provided stability and a long term planning ability which is essential for research. By 1973 Australia had an acceptable international reputation in respect of the quality of and Government support for research. Australia was gradually increasing the amount of money available for research along with the ability of the country to sustain research and to provide adequate numbers of skilled researchers for the number of worthwhile projects available. Two and a half years later Labor has shattered this carefully built structure for research in this country. I intend to concentrate in my remarks on medical research and the honourable member for McPherson (Mr Eric Robinson) will go into detail about the lack of a science policy generally and the lack of scientific research.
Two aspects of medical research are relevant. One is the long term attitude of this Government and the other is the immediate problem in medical research which has been created by the actions of the Government. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development examiner’s report on science and technology- it investigated the subject in 1973 and the report was presented in 1974 at a time when there was far more adequate research finance available than there is now- said of medical research in Australia:
We feel that there is a need for a stronger and better sustained medical research effort in Australia for economic as well as humanitarian and welfare reasons.
At that time the amount of research expenditure in Australia was acceptable but, as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development points out, it is still modest by international standards. What a contrast that is with today’s figures in the present inflationary situation following these drastic Budget cuts. Australia probably has the lowest priority on any research of any Western nation. The 1976-78 triennium allocation for the National Health and Medical Research Council announced in this Budget was proudly heralded as a 39 per cent increase in medical research with $24m being provided for the 3 years. However, the National Health and Medical Research Council submission requested $47m. The Government’s $24m allocation, after allowing for inflation between the two 3-year periods with which the allocation has been compared and the 30 per cent of total expenditure on equipment etc. which is not indexed for inflation in the grant, will mean that the level of research expenditure will barely be maintained at the 1975 level. There will be no increase at all. It will be less than in 1 973 or 1 974. If one really looks at what the Government’s allocation of that $24m has done, it can be seen that it will mean another crisis for medical research in 1978, that is, if medical research survives the immediate crisis of the first 6 months of 1 976.
I think the tragic attitude of the Government to medical research is highlighted by the treatment which the National Health and Medical Research Council submission received. It is considered that this submission is the best, most carefully documented proposal ever presented on medical research in Australia. My information is that this carefully documented submission was never presented to or considered by Cabinet.
It has certainly never been presented to the Parliament. So much for the open Government of which Labor so proudly boasts! So much for the priority of research in this country to allow the people of Australia to see what is happening to these proposals. I am informed also that the National Health and Medical Research Council proposals were never presented to the Australian Science and Technology Council which is the Government’s proclaimed advisory board on research. I am also informed that the Australian Research Grants Committee proposal also was not presented to the Australian Science and Technology Council. What is the immediate effect? Even if the triennium allocation is considered adequate- ‘adequate’ would be the strongest word one could use and then I think one would still be exaggerating- the triennium planning is theoretically continued but that may be of no value if the present crisis, that is the crisis in medical research that will be with us in the first 6 months of 1 976, is not resolved. That is the immediate crisis. The first allocation of this $24m will become available only after the 1976 Budget. The Minister for Health (Dr Everingham) increased the allocation of the $24m for the latter half of 1976 from $2.3m to $4m after medical research groups and Opposition protests. He then tried to sell this under a Press release heading ‘Funds for Medical Research Assured’. What a sham! That sham was soon exposed by the people in medical research and by the Opposition. It resulted in an answer to a question by the Minister last Thursday when he acknowledged that he would have to take the matter up with the Treasurer (Mr Hayden) on his return.
If there are to be the necessary funds for the first 6 months of 1976 they must come from this Budget either by way of a new allocation or by economies elsewhere. In the first 6 months of 1976 only $2.3m will be available compared with $4m for the same period this year. Of this $2.3m, $ 1.679m is already committed as being the half-year cost of the $3. 359m allocation for on-going projects beyond the end of the present triennium in December. Unless additional Budget money amounting to Sim to $1.5m is provided for this January- June 1976 period, there will be this immediate crisis in medical research. If we deduct $ 1.679m from $2.3m, about $621,000 is left to finance all the new triennium arrangements, including project grants coming up for renewal and new grants. -There are 400 applications for new grants of which 199 were recommended and 35 were accepted. Of that 35, only 5 were new grants.
– How many?
– Five out of 400. What of fellowships and scholarships which are essential? What of the equipment, the maintenance and the goods and services required for backup? This allocation will mean a dislocation of research in this country. Two hundred out of 425 people employed under National Health and Medical Research Council grants will be out of a job at the end of this year. A good percentage of those 200 people will be women. So much for the Government’s concern for employment opportunities and opportunities for skilled women in International Women’s Year. Many of those people will have to leave the country or are leaving the country now. Our international reputation in this area will be severely damaged. The future health of Australians will be in danger.
Out of a total expenditure of $2,700m for health care allocated in this Budget- I include Medibank in that figure- and an increased figure of $171m, on the Minister’s Press statement, of funds available to the Department of Health for this year, medical research receives the princely amount of $4m. The cost benefit of this amount in relation to that total health expenditure far outweighs much of the other expenditure because of the future payoff in the health of Australians and the reduced health care costs in this country in the future. The ratio of medical research expenditure to total health expenditure in this country is the lowest of any Western nation. Surely in this massive total expenditure of $2, 700m there is an economy of $lm or $1,500,000 available to provide the funds needed for the first 6 months of next year. What is the position of the Government’s own in-house research bodies? They have not been forced to accept the same cuts in expenditure. The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, the National Acoustics Laboratory the Radiation Laboratories, the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, the Ultra-sonic Institute and the National Biological Standards Laboratory have not had to accept such expenditure cuts. This leads one to suspect not only that does the Government not care about independent research but also that it may even be attempting indirectly to muzzle independent research. I think that the honourable member for McPherson (Mr Eric Robinson) will have more to say about this.
The Minister must stand up, accept his responsibilities and obtain this increased amount of money either by economies or by a new allocation. He cannot continue to pass the buck to unnamed people in departments. If a genuine mistake between departments has been made, that can be easily solved. But one suspects that that is the excuse and not the reason. The academic community in Melbourne is aroused to the extent that a protest meeting is held tonight. The National Health and Medical Research Council is to meet on 20 September. A decision must be made by that time to avoid staff dislocation. I am authorised to say on behalf of the Opposition that if it were in government medical research and research generally would receive a higher priority in overall expenditure priorities than is evident with this Government. By inference, there would be a greater encouragement for independent research. Secondly, I am authorised to state that research would not be dislocated arbitrarily as the present Government has done and that a Liberal-National Country Party Government would continue the long term financial arrangements it commenced when in office so that the necessary stability could be provided for medical research in this country.
– In the first place I would like to correct the wrong assumption that has been made about funds that are likely to be made available in the 1976 calendar year for the reseach program administered by the Australian Research Grants Committee. It has been assumed in the representations made to the Government on this matter that the amount available to the ARGC for 1976 would be $3.3m. This is twice the amount of $ 1 .65m made available for the first half of 1976. Of course, there has been no Cabinet decision on this question. The Government has decided that the triennial allocation for the research program administered by the ARGC should be maintained at $20m which is the figure that was the base level for the previous triennium. That was the original decision made by our predecessors in government.
– Costs have gone up.
– And so has Budget stringency gone up. Cabinet also approved an amount of $6.3m for 1975-76. This comprises $4.65m for the remainder of the 1973-75 triennium and $ 1.65m for the first 6 months of the 1976-78 triennium. I would like to take this opportunity to assure universities and research institutions that contrary to their assumptions regarding funds for research in the calendar year 1976, an amount of $5.5m will be available in that calendar year. This will involve the provision of some $3.8m in the second half of 1976 and an appropriation somewhat in excess of $7m in the 1976-77 Budget. The latter figure is broadly consistent with the rate of spending implied by the Government’s decision to make $20m available for the 1976-78 triennium. This policy is also broadly similar to that adopted for the National Health and Medical Research Council program and is consistent with the concept of stringent restraint which forms the basis for the 1975-76 Budget.
I turn to deal with the National Health and Medical Research Council. Honourable members will be aware from my reply to the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) that we had increased the funding available for the forthcoming triennium for medical research by 39 per cent. The honourable member said that this would not make up for inflation. He says this is the case after allowing for inflation. He is incorrect. The effects of inflation on wages and salaries will be taken into account. The amounts provided each year will be adjusted in accordance with changes in wages and salaries. In fact, the organisations concerned will not have to wait for 12 months. The grants provided can be adjusted when wages and salaries increase as has been done during the previous triennium. We have agreed to index these costs in regard to salaries and wages which comprise 70 per cent of the cost of medical research. So it is not true to say that a 39 per cent increase in funds in the triennium would barely maintain the 1975 level of expenditure.
I would also like to point out that the level of spending for the previous triennium was set in advance by our predecessors in office at $ 13.3m. We increased that level of spending by indexation or, if you like, an adjustment of the grants in accordance with the movements in salaries and wages, to $ 17.7m. It is on that figure that I am saying we have increased funding by 39 per cent on actual spending which was higher than that allocated by our predecessors. The honourable member says that the previous Government was moving to bring Australia’s position in medical research into some comparability with that of other countries and that it had a responsible attitude to medical research, but the fact is that Australia was well down the list in regard to medical research during the time of our predecessors. This was the case in all areas of research. It is not something invented by this Government that medical or any other kind of research is lagging in Australia compared with other advanced countries. But a time of Budget stringency is not the best time to increase our area of involvement in this regard. In the previous triennium- that is, the 1969-1972 triennium- our predecessors allocated, I think from memory, $6.9m for expenditure in this area. In other words, they allocated about half of the amount that they allocated in advance for the 1973-75 triennium. So certainly, a big jump was made in that period but the actual figure of $6.9m for the 1969-1972 triennium did not compare with the figure of $24m that we are making available for the current triennium, even allowing for inflation on all costs including equipment costs and all the others.
The Government has decided that $6.3m will be available for expenditure on medical research in the coming calendar year. Negotiations are taking place with the Treasurer (Mr Hayden). I have no doubt that discussions will take place with him again when he returns from overseas. We have taken the matter to the Acting Treasurer (Mr Crean). Negotiations will continue with the Treasurer when he returns to establish that the National Health and Medical Research Council can be assurred of an adequate evening out of the flow of funds over the whole of the next financial year. It is true that I said that a mistake had been made in calculations by the confusion of calendar years with financial years in assessing funds for the coming triennium. This is the issue which we will iron out before the National Health and Medical Research Council meets in 10 days time. This confusion, of course, was considered to be cause for the honourable member to condemn me for incompetence in this regard. During the course of a previous speech on this subject in an adjournment debate the honourable member made exactly the same mistake. So, although he had gone into some detail on the whole question of medical research fundingpeople have made representations to him as they have to me- I at least woke up to the situation a little faster than he did.
He stated in the adjournment debate that we have made available $4m for the latter half of 1976 by bringing the amount forward from the triennium starting at the end of 1976. 1 am pointing out this mistake to him. I am not accusing him of being incompetent, as he did to me. I am pointing out that if he looks carefully at the figures he will see that the triennium starts at the end of this year and not at the end of 1976. The honourable member said that 200 out of 425 people who are now employed in research will be out of a job at the end of this year. Certainly, if the cash flow as so far approved by the Budget, the triennial allocations and the fiscal year allocations are looked at as the sole basis for the funding of research, this could happen; but I have given him an assurance at question time and I am giving him an assurance now that the matter of cash flow and the distribution of the spending will be looked at by the Treasurer and by me. The information will be conveyed to the National Health and Medical Research Council in a week or so.
The honourable member spoke of many people leaving the country. Of course, a brain drain was alleged to be occurring in Australia in all the years that the Opposition was in power. It was said that because the then Government did not give adequate money to medical research some of our best researchers were being forced overseas. We were as vocal as anybody in telling the then Government about this. Now the Opposition is turning the argument back on us. I suppose this is fair enough at a time of Budget stringency when we decide that we cannot increase our allocations in this area. I point out that almost every speaker on the other side of the House, when dealing with the question of raising money, is telling us to cut down government spending, to reduce taxes and to reduce the collection of money. But, when Opposition members have to debate a specific issue- whether it be medical research, defence, the welfare area, education or anything else- they say that we should have given more money. This argument rings a little hollow.
The fact remains that we have increased the triennial allocation. We have assured $6.3m for the coming calendar year, which is a 20 per cent reduction on actual spending in the current calendar year. The allocation of this spending is under review. There is no evidence that doctors or research workers are leaving this country any faster than they did under the similar constraints that were imposed by our predecessors. We have moved, as quickly and responsibly as they did and as Budget constraints will allow, to increase the amount of money for medical and general research.
Mr LLOYD ( Murray )-Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Seriously. The Minister for Health (Dr Everingham) referred to what I said previously regarding the 39 per cent increase, which was a figure quoted by the Government. I said that because of inflation the amount allocated would not allow for increased research. The Minister said that I had not allowed for the fact that salaries and wages are indexed. If he reads my speech he will see that I acknowledged this point. The point I made related to constant dollar terms at the starting of the previous triennium with the Budget of 1972 and to the starting of this triennium with the Budget of 1975. If one looks at the movement in inflation between those 2 constant dollar term periods and includes the 30 per cent of the total cost which is not indexed for inflation, one will find that the overall figure is less. The second point of misrepresentation related to when the triennium starts. There is no doubt that the triennium starts in January 1976. The important point is that the $24m starts to be allocated with the next Budget and the problem still remains of a crisis of funds for the first 6 months of the next calendar year. They are not my figures that I am using; they are the figures of research experts around Australia.
– I want to refer today to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the Australian Research Grants Committee. The comments of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and other Australian Labor Party members before they achieved office, relating to what their interest in science was to be, obviously conflict with the decisions that they have made in Government. Let us talk about the Australian Research Grants Committee. Of course, assistance to research has been going on in Australia for a long time. It was not until 1965, when this Committee was set up, that worthwhile funding started. Literally thousands of research projects and people throughout the community have been assisted. It is a fact of life that these grants are the principal source of revenue for research at universities. So great is the concern regarding the Government’s present budgetary plans that the Chairman of the ARGC who said that 660 people were being assisted in 1975, is now talking about retrenchments to the extent of 350 people.
I do not intend getting into a boring argument about figures. Let me quickly refer to the amount of money expended. In the triennium 1973-1975 an allocation of $22.8m was made to the ARGC In the triennium 1976-1978 an allocation of $20m will be made. If one takes into account what has happened to the economy under this Government with inflation, that is an enormous reduction in assistance for research. We have a particular problem at the moment regarding the 1976 calendar year. Although these figures may be capable of some adjustment, at present the expenditure for 1976 is likely to be a little over $3m, as distinct from the $9m spent in 1975. Tremendous concern has been expressed by the science community. People are concerned about the waste of personnel and about the careers which will be interrupted and in many cases never resumed.
The Parliament ought to understand that the ARGC covers many fields. The honourable member for Murray spoke about health research. The ARGC covers the areas of engineering, the physical and biological sciences, agriculture, energy, economics and social welfare. If the Government has been unhappy with the job the Committee has done and seeks to reduce the work of the Committee, let the Government say so; let it not hide behind a small, one-line item in the Budget Papers. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report in 1974-1 have heard this Government comment upon the value of the OECD- commended the ARGC and suggested that there ought to be an extension of its work. It drew a comparison between the low level of expenditure in Australia on research and the levels in many other countries. Research is essential to may sections of the community in Australia. What has been the reaction from leading people? The question whether research will be retarded disastrously has not been answered by the Government. Other people have said that if we continue on this path we will reduce the nation to a third-rate intellectual and technological community. Another learned gentleman has referred to this as the most serious blow to research in 25 years.
I wonder how some of the members of boards of directors in overseas countries, particularly the United States of America, would welcome this news,, knowing the tremendous value it will represent in the opportunity to sell overseas technology to Australia if we cannot maintain a sufficient expenditure on research ourselves. I put the question to the Minister and he answered me by simply saying: ‘I have written to the Prime Minister about this’. That is just not good enough. We want to know what the Government intends to do.
– Where is the Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs?
Mr ERIC ROBINSON I will talk about the Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs (Mr Clyde Cameron) in a moment. One might wonder where he is. With regard to science, he has been missing pretty often ever since he got the job.
It is not the only attack on science. Let us look at what happened in June to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. May I say in passing that the allocation to the CSIRO is of a stay-put nature. In fact it is slightly less than what is required to keep it at the expenditure of last year. The increase has not allowed for the inflation caused by this Government. Honourable members will remember that Mr Morrison was pushed out of Science into Defence in June, at the time when there was a massive attack upon the independence and the totality of the CSIRO. Mr Cameron, after a gallant ministerial sit-in, accepted the portfolio of Science and Consumer Affairs. Mr Morrison went overseas. Mr Cameron went to Delhi and Sweden and absented himself from the tremendous struggle that was going on in the scientific community.
It is a disgrace to this Parliament and to the Government that when we initiate a debate on science the Minister shows such a lack of interest that he does not even bother to enter into the debate. Let every person involved in science and technology in Australia- not just the 8000 staff members of the CSIRO and their families, but also those in manufacturing and primary industriesrecognise that the Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs is not interested enough to come into this place and take part in a debate.
The Prime Minister, aided and abetted by the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor),that great empire builder, decided to transfer the minerals research and the solar studies sections out of the CSIRO and into the Public Service, taking away their independence, breaking down the strength of the CSIRO which, of course, very much is concerned with its totality. Of course, the result was a tremendous outcry from the entire science community who recognised the move as a fragmentation and as a beginning of the dismembering of the CSIRO. There was no consultation with the chairman of the CSIRO. No effort was made by either Mr Morrison or Mr Cameron to avoid it. So the sciences were left to fight on their own. They received some help from the Opposition and from the CSIRO Advisory Committee. Of course, in the end, after weeks of struggling without any assistance from the Minister a compromise was reached. The CSIRO is now maintaining its totality but it is under the control of 2 Ministers and we have yet to see how this arrangement is to work.
With the decision on health, the decision on the ARGC and the attitude to the CSIRO, of course the science community throughout Australia has now become, like many other sections of the community, completely disenchanted with this Government. Many of these people helped Labor into office. They were fooled by the statements of the present Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition which he made to seminars and conferences all over the country expressing bis concern that he wanted to see increasing technological development. They, like a number of others, were fooled by the promises and they are now no longer fooled. They realise that this Government has let them down tremendously badly. They recognise, like all Australians do, that research is essential. They realise that if we are to have national progress we have to expend a sufficient amount of money to see that we get technological processes. Not only should we be concerned as Australians with national progress; we have an international reputation and international contribution to maintain, particularly in the fields of health and food production in South East Asia. So the Government has a requirement to re-look at the allocation. I am not suggesting that there should be an increase in government expenditure. What I am saying to the Government- and it had better have a look at this- is that there has been so much waste and bungling ever since Labor came into office that here we have another section of the community which is paying the price for the inefficient management of the Australian economy. But it is a price that not only the science community will pay; the entire Australian community will pay. If we are to increase productivity, growth and development we have to have research and technological skills. I join with the honourable member for Murray and support his criticism that the Government has failed, and has failed abysmally, in its administration of its science and research policy.
-When I first saw the subject of this discussion of a matter of public importance I thought that the House might have the opportunity for a full-blooded debate on science and research in Australia. But what have we had? The debate was restricted first of all by the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd), who was the first speaker, to 2 areas- the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Grants Committee. The honourable member for McPherson (Mr Eric Robinson), who was the second speaker on the Opposition side, concentrated on the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. This reveals their lack of understanding of the history of science and research in Australia.
The honourable member for Murray talked about the gradual improvement that went on in scientific research under the previous Government. It was very gradual indeed. I can remember carrying out projects funded by grants from the NHMRC at a time when the Liberals were in government and I can remember what pittances they were and how much encouragement was given. The matter of public importance is a very wide one. Those honourable members who have brought the discussion forward have shown a complete and utter lack of any appreciation of the other things that have been done that provide the basis for research. What about the progress in general terms? Have they looked at what has been done in the field of tertiary education in the last 3 years? The honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards) would know that academics in tertiary institutions rely on the proper functioning of the teaching side for them to be able to carry out their independent research; they rely on the facilities that are used to produce the circumstances which enable proper research to be carried out. There has been a considerable advance in this field. No longer do researchers have to do as I did and be tucked away in a little ten by twelve room with one electric fight globe trying to carry out research. Now they have a decent basis of buildings and facilities in these tertiary institutions. What about questions of the environment, which was a ragtag attachment to a Minister who had a number of things to deal with?
– Tell us when research into the environment will be done.
– Through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will talk in terms of the matter of public importance which the honourable member for Murray put forward and did not speak to. If he wants to put forward matters of public importance he should speak to what is contained in them and not just on narrow matters. What about the environment- the impetus that has been given to research in this field and to the biological research in a number of other fields?
– You cut it in half.
– This is something that was ignored by the last Government. Even if we cut expenditure in half we would be streets ahead of the situation that existed in 1972. An attack was made on the Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs (Mr Clyde Cameron). The Ministry of Science in the last 3 years has brought scientific research into a great deal of practical application to the community. Mention was made of the CSIRO. I suggest that if honourable members want to talk about this body they should do so during the Estimates debate. They will find that there has been a pretty substantial increase in this field. They will find that this Government has given a pretty substantial stimulus to the CSIRO in many areas of research.
The honourable member for McPherson mentioned the brouhaha that went on in regard to the transfer of sections of the CSIRO concerned with energy. What he did not say, of course, was that due to the stimulus that has been given in this area solar energy researchers in the CSIRO are recognised as equal to anyone in the world. They are leaders in this field and are respected as such. The CSIRO can claim that this is happening because of the stimulus that has been given. I was concerned with an investigation in a previous Parliament which was looking at a biological survey. This investigation had not been carried out under the previous Government. It is now a survey that is being well stimulated by finances from this Federal Government. And the Opposition says we have failed in science and research and its administration. The trouble is that members of the Opposition restrict themselves to narrow areas the whole time. The introduction by the Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs of standards for consumers is very much a scientific research project where standards are being laid down so that consumers can know the quality of things that they are receiving
So I could go on talking about the number of other general areas in which stimulus has been given. We heard criticism that the Government’s in-house research activities were being looked after at the expense of others. The honourable member for McPherson mentioned the joy of boards of directors in various areas. A lot of the countries the Opposition is comparing Australia with get substantial private endowment from such boards of directors. By golly there is not too much private endowment in the research area from large companies in Australia. But private enterprise will accept the benefits of the research that is carried out. Nor do State governments play their proper role in stimulating research in either government of other institutions. Places like the Baker Institute and the Walter and Eliza Hall- those sorts of institutes- have had to battle over the years to get any assistance from successive Liberal-Country Party governments.
We have not heard much about this basic argument of economic restraint from honourable members opposite. Do they accept it? If they are going to give this undertaking for increased expenditure are they going to abandon economic restraint? The Minister for Health (Dr Everingham) has already explained what has occurred with the triennial funding of the 2 organisations, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Grants Committee, which have been mentioned by the supporters of this matter of public importance. The Minister has explained the problem that occurred because of this calendar year aspect. He promised that there will be a review and a discussion when the Treasurer (Mr Hayden) returns. I think he has taken a proper attitude in that way in giving that understanding and not being like honourable members opposite who stab their executives and their officers in the back. The Minister has accepted that the proper person to talk about this problem with is the Treasurer. I am sure that when the Treasurer returns and the Minister for Health and the Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs have discussions with him and point out an anomaly that has occurred- we accept that there is an apparent anomaly that needs examination- that the fears of those concerned in the field of medical and scientific research will be proved groundless.
The triennial budgets have been restrained. They have not been reduced as has been suggested. A stimulus to the scientific research field has been given since the Labor Government came into power by its promotion of so many other institutions than those narrow ones that honourable members opposite have put forward. I appreciate their concern for those 2 committees. I have a great deal of sympathy for that. But I do not think that they do the case any good by magnifying it in the way they do and by making an attack on the Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs. He is not here. The Minister for Health can quite capably handle the problem. It is part of his responsibility. To ask for reconsideration in the absence of the Treasurer is so foolish. I think the matter put forward is ridiculous to be raised at this stage. Common sense will prevail and the researchers in the field will find that the drastic results they expected will not occur.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)The discussion is concluded.
Suspension of Standing Orders
– I move:
This is an urgent matter of raising additional funds for the operation of the stevedoring industry and for provision of certain payments to waterside workers. I do not believe that the suspension of Standing Orders will be opposed but I simply say to the House that for each day this legislation is delayed a loss of revenue by the Stevedoring Authority represents some $80,000. It is a matter of considerable urgency and I hope that the Opposition will co-operate in having this matter dealt with expeditiously.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Consideration of Senate ‘s request-
After clause 3 add the following new clause:
The operation of this Act shall cease on 1 July 1976, or at such earlier time as legislation is passed providing permanent arrangements for the Stevedoring Industry in substitution for the Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974.’.
– I indicate to the Committee that the Government proposes that the request of the Senate be met with modifications and that amendments be made to clause 3 of the Bill. The motion to suspend so much of the Standing Orders as would prevent the Committee considering the amendments was agreed to earlier today. May I suggest therefore that it may suit the convenience of the House to consider first the request of the Senate and when that has been disposed of, to consider the amendments which I propose to move to clause 3.
-Is there any objection to that procedure being followed? There being no objection, I shall allow that procedure to be followed.
– I move:
That the requested amendment be made, with the following modifications:
omit ‘at such earlier time as legislation is passed’, substitute ‘on such earlier date as legislation comes into operation’;
at the end of the requested amendment add the following sub-clause:
Sub-section (1) does not affect a liability to pay, or the recovery of, any amount of charge in respect of employment that occurs while this Act is in operation and any such amount shall be paid and may be recovered as if sub-section ( 1) had not been enacted.’.
– I want briefly to clarify paragraph (b) of the amendment which the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Riordan) has just moved. As I understand the position, levies will be collected right up until the date when the legislation runs out on 30 June next year. Obviously there will be collected levies undistributed at the time the legislation runs out. My understanding is that this amendment is purely to allow those moneys to be distributed after the expiry of the legislation. I should just like confirmation from the Minister that that is so.
– Yes, that is the intention of the provision.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Section5 of the Stevedoring Industry Charge Act 1947-1973 is amended-
– The Minister proposes to move 3 amendments to the Bill. Is leave granted for the Minister to move those together? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I move:
As honourable members will recall, the former Minister for Labor and Immigration, Mr Clyde Cameron, introduced the Stevedoring Industry Charge Bill into the House during the autumn sittings. The Bill proposed increases in the maximum rates of charge that could be prescribed in respect of waterside workers. The actual rates of the charge are fixed by regulation within the limits imposed by the Act and are collected on the hours worked by a waterside worker. The Act provides that different rates are payable in respect of the 3 separate classes of waterside workers as defined in the Stevedoring Industry Charge Assessment Act. Class ‘A’ waterside workers are by far the greatest in number and are registered regular waterside workers employed at weekly hire at permanent or continuous ports. Class ‘B’ waterside workers are employed at the smaller, non-permanent ports. Class ‘C’ waterside workers are few in number and are irregular waterside workers who, because of age or some special reason, are not obliged to attend regularly or make themselves available for employment. As stated during the former Minister’s second reading speech, moneys collected by means of the Stevedoring Industry Charge are paid to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority to enable it to discharge its responsibilities under the various Stevedoring Industry Acts. The charge, it should be noted, comprises only one element in the total cost of employing a waterside worker, which also includes such factors as award rates of pay, private employer levies and other costs.
The Bill, which sought to increase the maximum rates of charge to $2.50, $3.50 and $2.50 for classes A, B and C waterside workers respectively, was subjected to a number of amendments moved by the Opposition. The amendments were designed to encourage the Government to bring in proposals for permanent arrangements in the industry and to have these debated prior to the expiry of the Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act on 30 June 1976. Ultimately, only the amendment intended to place a cessation date of 1 July 1976 on the Act was successful in the Senate. The Bill has now been returned to the House with the request that the House so amend the Bill. In respect of the Senate request for a cessation date of 1 July 1976, the Government maintains the view expressed in the previous debates that the amendment is unnecessary because the expiry of the Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act on 30 June 1976 will ensure an opportunity for Parliament to debate future arrangements for the industry. It is also inappropriate that a tax machinery Bill be so amended as this could place the industry in an impossible position should Parliament unexpectedly and suddenly rise in the autumn 1976 sittings without otherwise providing adequate income for the industry. However, in view of the urgent and pressing need by the Authority for the income which will result from the successful passage of this Bill, the Government is prepared to accept the amendment with some modifications. The modifications moved by the Government are of a technical nature only and will ensure appropriate legal authority to collect, after 1 July 1976, the charge in respect of work performed before the cessation date. This will be in accord with normal arrangements in the stevedoring industry in this regard wherein the charge moneys may not be accounted for until several weeks after work has been performed. The Government has sought leave at this time to propose a number of amendments in respect of the maximum rates of charge provided for by the Bill. It proposes to increase the maximum for Class A, Class B, Class C waterside workers to $4.00, $5.00 and $3.00 respectively.
The Committee will recall that the former Minister Mr Clyde Cameron, when introducing this Bill in the autumn sittings, indicated that the increases in the charge then proposed were a response to a loss of revenue to the Authority resulting from the low level of stevedoring activity and rise in expenditure following significant wage increases for waterside workers. Mr Clyde Cameron indicated that were the passage of the Bill to be deferred to the Budget sittings the financial position of the Authority would become disastrous and that deferral could result in a 100 per cent increase in the actual rate of the charge, with a consequential increased impact upon commerce. Mr Clyde Cameron further indicated that, in the event of the Bill being deferred, the Authority would necessarily have to use long service leave moneys to meet its on-going expenses. Mr Clyde Cameron’s warnings have since proved correct and the financial position of the Authority is now disastrous. The Director of the Authority has requested that the Bill be amended to provide for new maximum rates of the charge. These new rates have been incorporated in the Government’s amendments.
In support of the recommendations to amend the maximum rates of charge, the Authority considered the following factors: The further decrease in the level of stevedoring activity with a consequent further decline in revenue and a parallel increase in so-called ‘idle time’ payments; increased redundancy expenditure which will ultimately result in improved industry efficiency and long term savings; the need to protect the long service leave interests of waterside workers (the long service leave fund is near exhaustion through its use to meet on-going expenses) and the loss of revenue attributable to the fact that the Bill was not passed during the autumn sitting. The Authority has indicated that as a result of the continued low level of stevedoring activity and an increase in redundancy payments, the maxima previously set in the Bill will be inadequate for the purposes of meeting current expenses. The new recommendations will allow scope for actual rates of the charge to be sufficient to meet anticipated on-going expenses until June 1976, and would restore the financial position of the Authority to at least that prevailing at the beginning of the year.
The Government accepts that relatively large increases in the charge are envisaged. The Authority’s cash reserves, including long service leave moneys, are virtually exhausted and unless provision is made for the restoration of some financial stability to the Authority, it will remain on the brink of insolvency. Already the position of the Authority is such that it is meeting its statutory commitments only with considerable difficulty. Certain payments have been deferred or delayed and waterside workers are expressing concern at whether money will be available to pay their long service leave. The Government has received the very strongest representations from the industry and the Stevedoring Industry Council that urgent action be taken to ensure a proper rate for the charge and the continuing financial stability of the Australian Industry Authority.
When this Bill was before the House earlier this year, members of the Opposition expressed concern as to future arrangements for the stevedoring industry and sought the Government’s views on this. The then Minister noted that one possibility, already canvassed by members of the Opposition as helping to provide a solution to the industry’s problems, was the idea of setting up a national or Australian stevedoring industry corporation. The Minister said that he believed there was merit in that proposition. Mr Cameron indicated, however, that, before facing up to the many problems that would need to be surmounted with such a proposal, the Government would need some reasonable assurance that the appropriate legislation would not be blocked. Since that time, the present Minister for Labor and Immigration (Senator James McClelland) has had under consideration various reports and submissions made by industry interests over the years on future arrangements for the industry. The Minister has determined that, because of the far reaching social, industrial and economic implications of this whole question, it is proper and necessary that he should satisfy himself personally of the issues at concern by hearing the views of those directly involved with the industry. He has already met with several parties in the industry and received submissions from them. He will continue to do this. At the same time, the Minister recognises the considerable merit inherent in what the Opposition suggested in the earlier debate and in the view by Mr Clyde Cameron that, before attempts are made to settle upon future arrangements for the industry, reasonable assurances would be required from the Opposition as to its attitudes.
-Mr Chairman, the Stevedoring Industry Charge Bill is a hardy perennial. I wish to make it quite clear to the Committee that the Bill has come back before us because of the mishandling by the Government of the affairs of this Parliament at the end of the last session. The Committee will remember that that session ended in a succession of gagging motions and a substantial amount of the Government’s own legislation was left on the notice paper. Included among those measures was the Stevedoring Industry Charges Bill 1975.
That is why this Bill was not handled as it should have been at the end of the last session.
I spoke then on the Bill. I do not intend to go over all of that ground again. I illustrated then the problems of high costs involved on the Australian waterfront which eventually all had to be paid for by exporters. The intervening months have given an opportunity to assess just how bad that situation really is. The problem essentially is that while the work on the waterfront fluctuates very widely because of changing conditions of trade, the work force does not. The result, as we all know, is idle time payments in certain circumstances and shortage of labour in others.
The waterfront is not like other industries. The major ports have their work force fixed or virtually fixed because the cost of getting a waterside worker once registered out of the work force can be approximately $14,000 for each worker involved. Not only that, but the waterside worker himself has voluntarily to declare himself to be redundant. Because of these circumstances, the position has deteriorated quite dramatically since the Bill was before the House in May. As the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Riordan) has said, the proposed increase in the levy on employers of waterside labour is now for the class A waterside workers, who comprise by far the greatest part of the work force, to be raised to the huge total of $4 per man hour. Of course, out of that money payments have to be made for idle time, long service leave and all the other commitments of the industry.
– That is the maximum.
-That is the maximum. I take the Minister’s point. The legislation sets the maximum; the regulation sets the actual figure. I have heard that the figure is likely to be slightly in excess of $3. Eventually the cost of this has to be met by the exporter, since stevedoring costs eventually find their way into freight costs. I think it is worth remembering that when the levy was introduced along with permanent employment on the waterfront in 1967 it was about 48c a man-hour. The latest figures clearly illustrate that the position has got out of control. I would like to cite some figures from the official documents of the Stevedoring Industry Authority. In the last quarter for which figures are availablethat is, the April to June quarter of this year- at the port of Melbourne a waterside worker averaged 22.7 hours a week and idle time averaged $41 a waterside worker a week. That is quite a dramatic increase on the previous figures, hi Sydney 18.7 hours a week were worked and $52 a week was paid for idle time. In Adelaide 18.1 hours a week were worked and $61 a week was paid for idle time. I seek leave to incorporate those tables in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
– I thank the Committee. Another problem is what is technically known as locked up idle time; that is, when waterside workers are not available from one employer but other employers have a requirement for labour. I think that the situation in Adelaide needs to be drawn to the attention of the Committee. On a recent occasion in Adelaide there was the ludicrous situation of 1000 man-days being locked up on one day and another employer having a requirement for 1000 man-days of labour on that same day.
– Would the locked up people receive idle time payment?
– Yes; they would be paid idle time even though the other employer was seeking people to work his ship. That illustrates just how serious things are. Against that background, yesterday, on behalf of the Opposition, I issued the following statement:
Recent events have highlighted the problems of the Australian waterfront.
The rising cost of idle time due to a slow down in trade, and the alarming effects on exporters of increased freight rates have made it a national problem.
Accordingly, the Liberal and National Country Parties have decided to urge the formation of an all Party Parliamentary Committee of both Houses to investigate the stevedoring industry and bring forward recommendations by 30 June 1976, when the existing Temporary Provisions legislation expires.
We believe that the issue should be approached on a bipartisan basis. The important thing is to get the best solution possible, and we trust the Government will respond to our suggestion.
That was a genuine attempt to offer constructive help in solving one of the nation’s most difficult, most intractable industrial relations problems. I think the Minister would agree with that description. It is a matter of some regret to the Opposition that the Government has not responded to our offer. As I understand it from the Minister today, the Government has come up with the proposal that it will investigate in depth and with some speed the problems facing the industry. So far as it goes, this is welcomed by the Opposition. Honourable members on this side of the chamber will be seeking to see what contribution we may be able to make in this respect, even though the Government did not see fit to accept our proposal for a committee.
In considering the future of the industry I urge that 2 principles be kept in mind. The first is that the most efficient elements of the industry must not be called upon to pay for the most inefficient. That would merely delay the change to the most effective and cheapest way of handling cargo. The second principle is that there must be some degree of flexibility in permitting people to come into and go out of the industry, to cope with the variations in trade which I mentioned a moment ago. The smaller ports have already moved in this direction. I believe that it is essential, in the light of the figures which I cited earlier, that some similar arrangements be made in the major ports. This problem is now urgent. Australian exporters cannot be expected to bear the burden of the rate of increase in costs which we have seen over recent years and the galloping increase in costs which we have seen over the last 6 months.
-The honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) has spelt out a grim picture of a situation which we cannot allow to continue. I think that the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Senator James McClelland) would agree that we cannot allow the present system to continue. It is doing many things, but chiefly, for the Waterside Workers Federation, it will kill the goose that lays the golden egg. It is effectively killing interstate shipping. If the situation continues, these costs will break any sensible transport system. Everybody knows that. I think that the Minister knows it. I am certain that the previous Minister knew it. We cannot go on as we are going. I am very sorry to hear that the Government has decided not to allow the Opposition to join with the Government in a committee to try to solve this problem which is imposing a serious burden on the community in general. What alternatives are open to us? We cannot go on as we are going. The incentive for sweetheart agreements that have been made in the past and that will continue to be made under the present system, costs being passed on in this way and the necessity for a levy for idle time of up to $4 an hour just cannot be allowed to continue.
Solutions have been put forward by various sections of the industry. One was to nationalise the stevedoring section of the industry. Honourable members who have some philosophic attraction to that proposal should look at how the Australian Post Office is running and how the railways are running. If they have any real hope that a nationalised waterfront will work well, I think that they are kidding themselves. Another solution proposed was that we should go back to the old system, which we had before permanent employment, and have the Stevedoring Industry Authority controlling and disciplining the labour and hiring it out to the stevedores. The difference would be that it would now be permanent employment and not temporary employment as it was before. I always come back to this system with a good deal of hope. If one reads the Foster report one sees continual criticism of this system. All the same, I warn the Minister that any system that is popular will not do anything to contain the costs. I look with some cynicism on the criticisms I hear about the operation of the old stevedoring industry system. Any system that discourages sweetheart agreements will not be popular, but any system that does not discourage sweetheart agreements will not be worth starting. In the meantime I intend to have a good look at the way in which the previous Authority system worked. I repeat- I think everybody should realise this- that if the Government is looking for popular solutions, any solution that is going to discourage sweetheart agreements will be unpopular. Any system that does not effectively dampen down or get rid of sweetheart agreements largely is not going to be worth it. It is not going to cure the problem.
The other alternative put forward is that we could form a company of the WWF, the stevedores, the ship owners and the Government to do the same kind of thing- to control the labour and to hire it out to the stevedores. That is a possibility which I know has been canvassed. This has the problem the previous suggestion, model 3, had relating to the authority controlling the labour. There is a separation between the people who are engaging the labour and the people who are employing it. There are problems and I am looking at them, I would hope, clear eyed. I see no essential difference between the Stevedoring Industry Authority that operated in the past and a company, which I have heard suggested, of the various components of the industry to do the same kind of thing- to engage the labour, to discipline the labour and to hire it out to those who do the work.
The other suggestion that is put forward often is that the Government should back out and leave the industry to sort itself out. There is a great deal of sense in that. It would put an automatic brake on the idle time problem. No one minds employing extra labour if other people are going to pay for it and it would get rid of this locked up labour problem. It would provide a direct incentive. If people were not required, automatically they would not be kept on. But it should be remembered that inherent in this proposition is that there have to be at the maximum 2 stevedoring companies in the conventional area. That sounds pretty sensible and it attracts me, but the thing that worries me is that there is the same economic drive to have one stevedore in the conventional area. That is something that does not fill me with any great happiness because the waterfront is a pretty rough school. I would not like to see the conventional area, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, left to one stevedore.
The other kind of problem we have to face is this: Are we going to separate the terminal and the conventional cargo areas? It is quite unthinkable that we should have in the very intricate terminal areas, a turnover of people who have not had the necessary experience and training with the very intricate equipment. So we have to make up our minds whether we are going to separate the conventional and the terminal areas and whether we are going to have a progression of people through them. If the WWF insists on a roster system throughout the terminals we will make the terminals impossibly inefficient.’
They are the kinds of problems we face. I am very disappointed in the Government, which I know is fully seized of the seriousness of the problem. You do not have to be a genius to see the problem clearly. I can see the problem clearly. What I cannot see yet is the solution. Yet we know that we have got to find the solution. The Minister poses a problem in saying: ‘When we have done it, then we have got to get it accepted by the Senate’. That is the problem that he faces. Yet seeing it so clearly, he says: ‘We are not going to ask the people who could possibly influence the Senate to pass legislation on this matter to take part in a committee exposure or examination of the situation’. I think the Government is off its nut in not accepting the offer that was made by people who have a very great interest and incentive to have a better system. Some of us have done a great deal of work on the system. The Minister knows something of its background, and would have had the goodwill of a committee system that does work. I think he would know how effective a good committee can be. Certainly the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Senator James McClelland) in another place knows, because he has been very competently operating in Senate committees himself. Why the Government did not eagerly seize the opportunity I just cannot understand. I can assure the Minister however that the Opposition will do all it can to expedite the end of the present hopeless system and bring in a better system. If the Government brings up a system as good as it has to be, I can assure the Minister that the Opposition will take what steps it can to see that it gets through the Senate.
– I associate the National Country Party of Australia with this legislation. I have no intention of ploughing the fields again. They have been certainly well cultivated by members of the Opposition. I join with the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) and the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) in expressing regret at the failure of the Government to respond to the initiative of the honourable member for Corangamite to have a round table conference to overcome some of the problems.
I want to comment on some of the messages that were conveyed by the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Riordan) and to state how extremely disappointed I was at his rather thinly camouflaged expression of defeat. In effect, he has admitted that the Government does not know the solution to the problem which was described by my friend the honourable member for Corangamite as an intractable one. I would have thought that in this situation the Government would quite readily and willingly respond to the sense of urgency and concern that was expressed by the honourable member in his capacity as shadow Minister.
The Minister stated that there was no need to
PUt a finishing date on the temporary legislation, certainly was not convinced by his rather weak expression of logic, because at least if the Government had made a firm statement of intent and nominated a definite date it would have inspired some type of confidence in the stevedoring industry and in the exporting industry that some muscle was going to be put into the matter.
– Have you ever seen a wharfie, Tom?
– My friend, I would know more about wharfies than you would know. They are my friends. They all vote for me. Obviously honourable members opposite have not heard of Drayton Harbour. Their lack of knowledge of history is equalled only by their lack of knowledge of the activities of the stevedoring industry.
The Minister for Housing and Construction stated a series of reasons why there is a need to increase the stevedoring charges, but I was rather amused by his comment on the loss of revenue due to the failure of the Senate to agree to the rather weak propositions of the Government. The Minister did not say that one of the reasons for the gross need for funds in the different banking accounts is the fact that this Government deliberately encouraged and inflamed increases in wages in its initial years in office. Owing to the Government’s policy of not encouraging private industry there is a low level of activity in our export industries. The Minister, of course, made one correct statement when he said that there is a low level of activity in our export industries. This is because people cannot produce the volume of goods that is necessary if we are to remain a great trading nation. They cannot do it because of the socialistic policies of the Government and the lack of incentive for people to get on with the job and develop their own enterprises. These are the reasons why there is a fall in the level of activity and the reasons why not enough revenue is going through the ports to increase the amount of money that is coming into the various funds. The honourable member for Corangamite hit the nail right on the head when he said that the charge that is finally determined under the redulationary provisions of the Act automatically flows on to the exporter. To me the real kernel of the problem is that a government can sit back and set a charge that it thinks fit without any idea of its effect upon the people who have to pay it. The charge is automatically passed on to the exporter whether he is a representative of primary or secondary industry.
I think it pertinent to point out in this debate how exorbitant the cost of exporting can be and there is one factor which I think is worthy of recognition. In the recent sale of beef to Russia, if one can call it a sale- I think it would be more pertinent to say that the socialists gave the meat to their fellow socialists- the cost of shifting the meat from the wharf to the boat was 5c a lb. That seems to me to be an intolerably high charge for what in essence should be a very small job. There are many other costs associated with getting meat or meat products to the wharf but we should consider here the farmer who is getting only 8c or 9c lb return from the meat sold under the Russian contract while 5c a lb goes in the very small manoeuvre of lifting the meat from the wharf on to the boat. The Opposition is very concerned about this and fully realises, as the honourable member for Wakefield and the honourable member for Corangamite said, that it is a difficult situation when there is a need for a pool of people who are paid idle time. It is absolutely necessary, of course, that when a boat comes in there is a sufficient work force to load the boat as quickly as possible because of the advantages that accrue in regard to the obtaining of despatch money. So it is necessary to have a pool of trained personnel ready when the boat comes in. Obviously it is difficult to come up with an economic solution in that environment.
– Who is your adviser?
– Look, you would not know whether it was Tuesday or Wednesday. And how about being in your seat when you interject. Mr Chairman, I suggest -
-Order! The honourable member for Darling Downs will address the Chair and ignore interjections.
– One who values sense finds it rather difficult to ignore an interjection coming from someone who obviously has no sense. The Opposition is concerned about what has gone on in the stevedoring industry. In conclusion, I want to say how disappointed we are on this side of the House that the Minister has not set a definite date to show that he does have some muscle and intends to overcome this serious problem. We are extremely disappointed also that he refused to accept the offer of the honourable member for Corangamite to get around a table and in a calm logical way debate the matter with someone in the national Parliament who is concerned about finding a solution. One of the great problems of the waterfront is that the economic policies of the
Government have led to a downturn in exports and exporters are the people who pick up the tab. The Opposition is concerned for them just as it is concerned for the preservation of the jobs of the stevedores. We are concerned to see that they get all the rights that should accrue to them as members of the work force.
– I thank honourable members opposite for their co-operation in having this matter dealt with expeditiously because, as I said at the outset, it is very important that it be dealt with without delay. This is an inappropriate time to debate all the problems besetting the stevedoring industry and I would not like it to be thought that because I did not respond to the matters raised in the debate I have a lack of interest in or agreement with the problems put forward. The Government has not rejected lightly the suggestion of the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) for a joint parliamentary committee. It merely considers it an inappropriate way to look at this or any other problem that honourable members raise. I am authorised by the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Senator James McClelland) to say that if the honourable member wishes it the Minister will be happy to have consultation with him. The Minister and I would meet with the honourable member together with representatives from the Department of Labor and Immigration and of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority to consider this and any other matters he wishes to raise. That is a genuine offer by which the Government will stand.
However, on the question of inquiries let us look at what has happened since the Second World War. There was the Foster inquiry which was set up on 19 October 1945 and its report was presented on 22 February 1946. Then there was the Basten inquiry which was set up 1 6 July 1951 and its report was issued on 4 January 1952. Then we had the Tait inquiry which was set up 25 November 1954 and 2 reports were issued, one being an interim report on 28 February 1956 and the other being a final report on 7 March 1956. Then we had the Woodward inquiry which was commenced in 1965 and the final report was made in April 1967. Of course it is from the Woodward report that the Stevedoring Industry Council was formed and the present arrangements made. To suggest another parliamentary committee of inquiry or some other inquiry of that type I think would do little except to inquire again into an industry which has probably been inquired into more often and possibly in more depth than any other industry in Australia. After each inquiry and the adoption of the recommendations in its report somebody says: “That has solved nothing, let us start again’. We cannot continue doing that ad infinitum. At some stage the industry must be allowed to settle down. If there are difficulties that have to be corrected and if the Opposition through its spokesmen wishes to make suggestions for overcoming these problems, its suggestions will be welcomed, considered and discussed with it in an appropriate and proper way.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Amendments agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr Riordan) agreed to:
That in the message returning the Bill to the Senate, the Senate be requested to reconsider the Bill in respect of the amendments made by the House of Representatives to clause 3.
Consideration resumed from 9 September.
Proposed expenditure, $ 1 1 , 499,000.
– Yesterday I spoke briefly on this proposed expenditure and said that I hoped that my remarks would be constructive and on a nonparty basis. This morning the Minister for the Media (Dr Cass) said something which I thought was very relevant and right. He said that the operations of democracy depended upon information being freely available. The operations of this Parliament depend on information being freely available to members and one of the ways by which honourable members can get information, perhaps the chief way, is by asking questions. As you know, Mr Chairman, the time for questions each day is limited and, therefore, honourable members ask questions on notice. Unhappily, under this Government and under the previous Government, questions on notice have been left unanswered for far too long. I instanced last night questions which were asked in July 1974 and which still remain unanswered on the notice paper. This is not good enough. I would suggest that some mechanism be found to improve this position. I should like to make a positive suggestion in this regard. I believe that questions should be answered promptly and that when they are not answered promptly some attention should be drawn to this fan by the Speaker in the House. There has to be some limitation of course.
If a question has been on the notice paper for say two or three weeks, or perhaps five or six sitting days, and it remains unanswered, then the Speaker should on his own initiative address the question to the Minister concerned and ask the Minister whether he proposes to answer the question. It is always in the prerogative of a Minister to refuse to answer a question, but if he does not want to answer it the fact that he refuses to do so should be made known to the House. I suggest that perhaps at a regular time, say on Thursdays after questions on notice, the Speaker should take the first 10 questions which remain unanswered and which have been on the notice paper for a given time- questions on notice require a certain time for them to be answeredand should address those questions to the relevant Ministers and ask them whether or not they propose to answer those questions. Some drastic move of this character has to be taken to avoid the situation which, as I have said, occurs under this Government and occurred under preceding governments whereby questions stand on the notice paper for months or years and no answer is given to them.
I realise that the present time is such that questions without notice can be allotted only a certain time each day. I regret, as do many honourable members, that answers to questions sometimes become so lengthy that the time is taken up by matters which would better be dealt with by means of a statement. But if a question is put on notice because there is no time for it to be dealt with by questions without notice, and if that question is unanswered, there should be some kind of public penalty on the Minister concerned. It may be that the question is such that he does not want to answer it. That is fair enough. Let him say so. If he has good reasons for not answering the question, the reasons will be weighed by the House. But let not any Minister shelter behind leaving a question on notice unanswered month after month. The situation is made more serious by the fact that a question on notice can preclude the asking of a question without notice. It is possible for the House to be denied information on a very relevant and current matter by the simple device of having a question put on notice and leaving it unanswered.
I do not regard this as a Party matter at all. I have said that I think both Parties have been guilty in this respect. It may well be that the present Government is worse than its predecessor, but that is a matter which I think is irrelevant and is not one which I should like to raise. I do suggest that some solution should be found and that we should really hold up to the censure almost of the House a Minister who refuses month after month to answer a question put on notice. As I have said, this is not a Party matter. It would apply to both Parties when they were in government. I am one of those people who hold that it will not be long before there is a different Party in government. What I am saying now is that if some kind of penalty were put on Ministers who did not answer questions, this would probably operate more against my Party over the long term than against the present Government Party. I am putting this proposal forward on a completely non-Party basis. I ask the Speaker perhaps to put this kind of thing or some variant of it to the Standing Orders Committee or have it brought forward in the House. The present position is intolerable. I endorse the words spoken this morning by the Minister for the Media who said that the functioning of democracy depended on the free availability of information, and the functioning of this House depends upon members having proper information and access to the information that the Government has in its possession.
-Last night during my remarks, I indicated that I would incorporate in Hansard some documents relating to the procedures of the House. At that stage I did not do so and I seek leave to have the documents incorporated.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. ( The documents read as follows)-
During the recent Parliamentary recess I was leader of an official Parliamentary delegation to Thailand and Japan and separately I paid visits to a number of Parliaments where I studied procedures and methods used in those Parliaments and saw modifications and new procedures which may be of benefit to the House of Representatives.
Clearly many of the practices and procedures of other Parliaments are not applicable to the House of Representatives of Australia. The number of members, the number of political parties and the methodology of the Parliaments are often quite different.
However, it is important that we continually examine our procedures in order to ensure that maximum value is obtained from the sittings of the Parliament and that Members have the maximum opportunity to scrutinise the activities of the Government and to participate in the decision making process. Accordingly, I make the following observations:
It is clear from discussions and observations in London that the House of Commons is having difficulties similar to those experienced by the House of Representatives because of the increasing volume of legislation. It is true that the leisurely pace at which the House of Commons passes legislation would appear a luxury in Canberra, but with their 633 Members it is not unreasonable that far greater time would be consumed on major legislation.
The use of legislative committees would appear to be the most satisfactory form of diverting minor business, and some major business, from the whole House in order that greater flexibility in debating time could evolve and greater concentration on major legislation could take place. The use of legislative committees would enable consideration of legislation during periods when the House is not normally sitting. This would enable more than one Committee to sit consecutively and thus have a multiple flow of legislation through the Parliament. This would have to be accompanied by firm Standing Orders to prevent the reopening of debate on legislation which has been fully debated in Committee unless it is desired to change the decisions of the Committee. I believe this can successfully be achieved with careful drafting of the required Standing Orders.
The use of the House of Commons’ division system (or a modification of same) whereby Members are required to file past the Chair and cast their votes during the period while the bells are ringing, would seem to be a reasonable means of modifying the existing procedures without going to the extent of electronic voting. It would enable Members to cast their votes in a much shorter time and eliminate the fairly long roll call at present undertaken by tellers. The physical means of conducting such a ballot or division could fairly easily be devised and it would seem that about four to five minutes per division could be saved. With the size of membership involved in the House of Representatives the use of this method is certainly worth investigating and some of the money which would be involved in an electronic voting system could be saved.
A development that I found surprising in the House of Commons was the very substantial change in the rules of dress which had taken place, apparently over the last few weeks. No doubt this was due to the prevailing heat wave conditions but all the same it was an interesting development.
It would also seem reasonable that we once again examine our Question Time and possibly seek to modify the existing Questions Without Notice period each day with a period similar to that which exists in the House of Commons. Certainly a far greater number of questions are asked, as the subjects are fairly narrow and the questions therefore specific It does however, have the disadvantage that what is going to be asked can quite easily be anticipated. There is thus some reduction in the requirements for the briefing of Ministers.
A further practice in the House of Commons which would seem to be worthwhile is the practice whereby following a statement by the Prime Minister or a Minister, members raise questions on the statement rather than replying to the statement with further statements. Most of the questions are short, the answers correspondingly short and to the point. I heard a major statement by the Prime Minister on the recent Heads of Government talks in Helsinki. The statement plus the Opposition questions and debate on same lasted in total about 45 minutes. This seemed to be a fairly reasonable use of Parliamentary time- it was more satisfactory than the present set piece operation which exists in the House of Representatives. Certainly it would require considerable modification in the approach of the Party leaders, including Ministers, but would add substantially to the value of the debates that take place in the House and especially on Ministerial policy statements.
I would, therefore, suggest that the House give consideration to the following modifications to our existing procedures:
This would require modification or removal of Standing Order 399.
Proposals for the appearance of Ministers in both Houses should be dealt with as a matter of some urgency by the House and once established should include the handling of legislation. This would require firm pairing arrangements when both Houses sit concurrently as is normally the case.
Reform and modernisation of the processes of the Parliament rest with the Members themselves and collectively the parties, both inside and outside the House.
More flexibility in implementation of basic objectives especially in the detailed form of legislation would involve the Parliament and its members in actual law making. It would not detract from a Government’s policy objectives for Members to have greater flexibility within the framework of the policy determination of the party.
Detailed examination of legislation by the Parliament through committees will result in legislation approved by Parliament both in principle and form.
I would suggest that in addition to the Standing Orders committee a procedures committee should be established to undertake a continuing review of the procedures of the House and its committees.
The committee would be empowered to make reports to the House on matters of procedure at any time, to conduct inquiries and seek information from such sources and by whatever means it considers appropriate.
The committee should have a working rather than a nominal membership, which should be evenly balanced between Government and Opposition.
I would recommend that the committee have six members appointed by the House, plus a chairman appointed by the Speaker. The chairman Will have no vote other than on matters of procedure within the committee. He will exercise all of the rights of committee chairman, except for voting on recommendations and related matters.
A proposal not carried because of a tied vote will be mentioned separately in the report of the committee, but not included in its recommendations.
Any dispute about the ambit of the committee’s terms of reference will be determined by the Speaker.
I suggest that the House should have four committees of twenty-one members each, ten Opposition and eleven Government, which would deal with matters referred by the House.
Matters to be considered:
Ministerial Statements to the House
Bills could be referred at any stage to the committee for either part or full consideration and report to the House.
Reference to a legislative committee of bills, reports and statements would be automatic unless objection to such reference were made by at least a quorum of Members (43) or a Minister, a party leader or his Deputy.
Bills would be presented to House with a memorandum of explanation. No speech or motion is required at this stage. The bill lies on the table for four sitting days and is automatically referred to a legislative committee unless otherwise ordered. Second reading to continue immediately if it is decided the bill will not go to committee at that stage, however, bill could still be referred to a legislative committee after the second reading stage.
The committee will consider bills at both second reading and committee stages in the same manner as in the House and committee of the whole House.
The committee will report to the House the result of its deliberations.
The question that the report be adopted may be moved forthwith provided notice of the committee’s intention to report has been given, or by leave of the House.
When a motion to adopt a report of a legislative committee is moved, it will be in order for a motion to be moved that the report be referred to the committee of the whole House for further consideration. This will be put without debate.
The motion for the third reading will be changed to a motion that the bill be passed.
Reports and statements will be referred to a committee for consideration unless a motion to note the paper or statement is carried.
The Committee may, following consideration of the report-statement, convey to the House an expression of opinion or request for action arising from its consideration.- It would be in order for a request to be made for further inquiry by a standing committee.
A legislative committee may only debate legislation, it may not undertake inquiries or call for evidence, etc. A legislative committee may request reference to a standing committee in which case the committee will suspend further consideration until a report is received or the request denied by the House.
The House may by resolution limit the time within which the legislative committee must report on a bill. The adoption of this procedure will enable the House to concentrate its debates on major legislation and policy statements, and will enable much more detailed consideration of other legislation, reports and statements.
Legislative committees would meet at times when the House would normally meet, sittings being so arranged that four committees could meet at the same time subject to the provision of facilities.
The conduct of committees would be the same as for the House or committee of the whole, the standing orders for debate being the same. Meetings of legislative committees would be public.
Bills, reports, etc, would be referred to committees in order A.B.C.D. . . except that groups of associated measures would, with the approval of the House, go the same committee.
The composition of each committee will be the responsibility of the Government and Opposition Whips who will provide the Chairman of Committees with the names of members who will serve on each committee prior to the sitting of the committee.
The Chairman of Committees will be deemed to be chairman of all committees and will have a casting vote in case of a tied vote- providing he is present at the time of the vote being taken.
The Chairman will nominate one of the Deputy Chairmen of Committees appointed by the Speaker to act as chairman of each committee and a second to act as deputy. Such chairman will have a deliberative vote only. A tied vote may be put again immediately. It would be desirable for these appointments to be two Government and two Opposition Members.
The nominees for chairmen and deputy chairmen will be taken into account when compiling the list of those who will serve on each committee.
The Whips may change any of the personnel on any committee at any time by notice to the Chairman of Committees.
Depending on the amount of business referred, committees could meet from say 12.15 to 10.00 p.m. Wednesday, the House would meet from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. for Question Time, etc., adjourn for committee meeting then reform at 10 p.m. for notices, reports, etc., and adjournment. This would extend the time for consideration legislation, etc, by 20 hours a week, without any alteration to sitting times.
Debates in committee would be included in Hansard and available to Members in the normal way.
The Minister in charge of a bill would be expected to be present during its consideration.
A number of administrative difficulties will be evident, but should not prevent the adoption of this procedure.
– Last evening at about 8.45 p.m. as Deputy Opposition Whip I called for a quorum in this chamber. Shortly after there was a comment of gentle criticism as to what I had done. The matter was followed up shortly afterwards by another honourable member who virtually apologised for the fact that a quorum had been called. I should like to say briefly that, in accord with the views expressed later in the evening by the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly), the calling for a quorum is one of the few weapons which is in the hands of the Opposition. Any of us in this chamber could stand now and call for a quorum, because we are far below a quorum. We all know that the procedures of this place are such that honourable members have to work in their offices during the day when the Parliament is in session. Last night there were committee meetings while the Parliament was sitting and the Opposition used this method to protest at those committee meetings being held during the parliamentary sitting and also to flex its muscles a bit.
I make no apology for having called for a quorum. It had the backing of the Whip and no doubt the backing of the Party ‘s Leader. I should remind those honourable members on this side of the House who are critical of such measures that when we were in government for 23 years, we were run off our feet by the then opposition which employed this method. Until such time as the quorum method is changed and if we are still in opposition, I shall continue to call for quorums. As I said earlier, this is the only weapon or form of harrassment which lies in the hands of the Opposition. It is a means of protesting against unjust treatment which Oppositions sometimes justifiably feel is being meted out to them.
– I should like to support the remarks that have been made by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) in regard to questions in the Parliament. I think it is obvious to everyone that the present situation is most unsatisfactory. We on the Opposition side had a small committee which looked into a number of aspects to see what could be done to improve the situation. The first thing that we came to realise was that there was this completely unsatisfactory situation. We average in this House about 14 to 16 questions a day. This morning we heard the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) give a long and fairly irrelevant answer to a question which reduced the number of questions available to honourable members.
I ran a trial on the number of questions asked during a period in the autumn session last year. I found that over a 7-week period a back bencher of the Opposition averaged about 1 Vi questions and a back bencher of the Government averaged about 3 questions during the same time. This is completely unsatisfactory. Of course, the difference in the figures is caused partly by the fact that there are more back benchers on the Opposition than on the Government and also that the Leaders and Deputy Leaders of the 2 Opposition Parties are entitled to ask questions when they stand, just as the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party, when in Opposition, were entitled to do this. They used that entitlement and as a result asked many of the questions which came from the Opposition. Let me compare this situation in the Australian Parliament in which 14 to 16 questions are asked in the 45 minutes available for question time- 850 to 900 questions per annum- with the situation that applies in the House of Commons. In the House of Commons in 1971, 15 107 questions were tabled for oral answer. Of those about one-third- just under 5000 questions- were answered. In addition, approximately 8000 supplementary questions were answered. The House of Commons has been known to process 28 000 questions in one year. Of course, not all of them are asked orally. Some of them are placed on the notice paper. But I ask honourable members to compare this situation with the 850 to 900 questions asked in the Australian Parliament each year. It shows how completely inadequate our present system is.
In the House of Commons, questions upon notice are answered and must be answered within 7 days. There is a question on our notice paper at the moment which has been there since July 1974. 1 received an answer only in the last two or three weeks to a question which I directed to the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) and which I placed on the notice paper during the 28th Parliament. It was replaced on the notice paper in the 29th Parliament and I received an answer about two or three weeks ago. Of course, there would have to be limits. One of the troubles was that the present Prime Minister, when he was Leader of the Opposition, placed a vast number of questions on the notice paper designed, I believe, to clog up the works of Parliament It was quite impossible for that number of questions to be answered. I am sure that the Prime Minister- the Leader of the Opposition as he then was- did not even require an answer to many of them. But a limit would have to be imposed on the number of questions asked and on the length of the questions. In the House of Commons, I think, approximately 70 words are allowed in a question upon notice. At the present time, there is a question on our notice paper which contains 1093 words.
What can be done to improve the situation at question time? We could increase the length of question time. I do not doubt that in time as this Parliament undertakes more and more work it will be necessary for it to sit longer hours. Possibly this will mean sitting more days than it sits at present. It would be possible to sit longer hours in the day provided we were prepared to do as the House of Commons does, namely, sit through the meal adjournment without the can.ing of quorums, thus allowing members to continue speaking. Of course, we have to realise that if this were done many officers of the House would not be able to handle the additional sitting time. Therefore, this would mean the employment of additional staff- for example, Hansard reporters- and an increase generally in the staff assisting us. There could be a reduction in the length of ministerial replies to questions asked. Going through a few questions to which long answers were given during August I found that in reply to one question the present Treasurer (Mr Hayden) spoke for 16 minutes. Finally, the answer was ended by the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), who leads for the Opposition in matters affecting the conduct of the House, moving that the Minister be no longer heard. That was the longest answer. It is not unusual to receive replies from Ministers which take 10 or 1 1 minutes. I think that the Prime Minister’s reply this morning which, as I have said, was irrelevant could have gone close to 10 minutes. It would be possible to time the answers. Admittedly, this would not be easy to do but it could be done.
There could be a reduction in the number of questions asked by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch). But I think that we in the Opposition would say that these people should be entitled to ask questions when they deem it necessary to ask them. Provided they use this right with discretion, I do not think that anybody in the Opposition would cavil at it. Standing order 145, which deals with the relevancy of questions could be strengthened. As honourable members will know, at the present time standing order 145 states that an answer shall be relevant to the question. It has been suggested by my colleague, the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Drury), that this might be expanded to say: ‘An answer shall be relevant to the question and shall not debate the subject matter of the question. If in the opinion of the Speaker the answer is unduly protracted, he may direct that the answer be completed’. A standing order framed along those lines would give the Speaker more strength when it comes to sitting down Ministers who on many occasions give replies which are much longer than necessary.
We can look at the Westminster system generally in this regard. Of course, the problem in Australia is that our debates are broadcast. Thus, what is done in the Westminster system would not be immediately applicable because questions are placed on notice and a number is called. The member rises and says: ‘I ask the Minister question No. 200 ‘, or whatever it is. That would mean nothing to the people who were listening to the radio broadcast. I mentioned that the system of asking questions upon notice could and should be improved. Firstly, it should be improved by much quicker replies secondly, it should be improved by imposing some limitation on both the number of questions and on the length of the questions. It would be possible to give more questions to the Opposition members. This view was put by the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating), who moved when he was in Opposition that because there were more back benchers on the Opposition side than on the Government side, more questions should be given to the Opposition. The matter was put to the Standing Orders Committee but it did not accept the recommendation then. I say that the Standing Orders Committee is a quite unsuitable body to look at the subject of questions asked in this House because, firstly, it is composed of senior officers who are extremely busy and who do not get the time necessary to look at these various alternatives; secondly, of course, they meet very rarely. I think that what we should do is set up a Select Committee of the Parliament This was done in the House of Commons which is not 100 per cent certain that it has the right system. It set up a Select Committee in 1971 which reported and made some valuable suggestions. I believe that this is a matter upon which both sides of the chamber could agree. After all, we are here today in Parliament and gone tomorrow or on the Opposition side today and in government tomorrow. I think that all of us have to look at the matter from this point of view: How do we get more questions for private members of Parliament? How do we get more accurate replies? At the present moment, many of the answers given by Ministers to questions asked without notice are not accurate. They cannot be, because a Minister cannot be expected to know everything that goes on in his Department. On the other hand, if he has time to prepare an answer and go over it with his Department, perhaps we will receive more accurate answers and more of them.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 12.40 p.m. until the ringing of the bells.
- Mr Chairman, I suggest that the order for the consideration of the proposed expenditures agreed to by the Committee on 4 September be varied by postponing the consideration of the proposed expenditures for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of the Special Minister of State.
-Is the suggestion of the Minister agreed to? There being no objection, that course will be followed.
Department of the Treasury
Proposed expenditure, $ 1 57,88 1 ,000.
Advance to the Treasurer
Proposed expenditure, $ 1 50,000,000
-I refer to one item in the Advance to the Treasurer which requires some elucidation. It is the advance nominated as payments to or for the States and appears on page 35 of the document on the Advance to the Treasurer. It is division 873 and refers to assistance for welfare housing under the 1973-74 Housing Agreement. The Advance to the Treasurer was made very late in the financial year, and that is the reason why this advance of $ 10.4m appears in the Advance to the Treasurer. The events which have transpired consequent upon that advance being made to the States in June last year deserve to be explored. I consider that a very great and significant error has been made in respect of that advance.
When one looks at that advance and at the Budget Speech of the Treasurer (Mr Hayden) it is quite clear that the Budget Speech indicated that the advances to the States for welfare housing were to be kept at the same level as they were in the previous year. I refer to page 1 1 of the Treasurer’s speech. Bearing in mind both of those facts, the Advance to the Treasurer and the Budget Speech which reflected the advance for welfare housing, an error has been made. The error has been made in relation to the $ 10.4m mentioned in the Advance to the Treasurer. What has happened clearly is that for this year the $ 10.4m has been taken off the advances to the States for welfare housing. Not only has that amount been taken off; in fact the total amount taken off is double that amount, namely, $20.8m. I hope that the Government can give an explanation. It is indeed an error.
I preface the remarks I will be able to make in the few minutes that I have available by saying that in December last year the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) was campaigning in the Queensland election. He was pretty unsuccessful. In campaigning in that election, he said that the Queensland Government was assured of a blank cheque for welfare housing for all those contracts that it could let. The blank cheque has not been given; in fact, there has been a deduction from the amounts to be given to 3 States which is not explained and which, I believe, is a significant bookkeeping error. The reductions in the advances to Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania have been exactly twice the amount nominated as having been given to those States in the Advance to the Treasurer. I believe that what has happened is this: As the amount was given late in the financial year the Government said that that advance would be taken into account in the subsequent year. So, $ 10.4m was taken off the amount to go to the States in the subsequent year. Then, when an amount was to be given for this financial year, 1975-76, the Government said to the States: ‘You have already had that amount; so we will take that oft* again’. So, there is a subtraction of $20. 8m from the amounts available to the States in respect of welfare housing.
This has happened in respect of Queensland whose amount has been reduced from over $40m to $31m; it has happened in respect of Tasmania which has been deprived of $4m; and it has happened in respect of Western Australia which also has been deprived of $4m. I hope that the Government can give an explanation in regard to the amounts which are due to those 3
States in terms of the welfare housing commitment of this Government What has happened is that well over 2500 fewer homes will be able to be built as a result of the subtraction of money. I believe that this was never intended. I say to the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Crean) that I hope the Government looks to see what has happened to the $ 10.4m. I believe that there has been a double subtraction of that amount from the amount due to the States in toto for welfare housing. The present Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Riordan) certainly had this in mind at a Housing Ministers conference in Queensland in June. At the time he had not been a Minister for long. I intend to read one sentence of what he said. It is a long sentence, but it is pregnant with meaning. He said:
The funds that will now be available to Queensland and Western Australia are clearly advanced on the basis that they will be considered in the light of next year’s commitments in the same way as funds that have been made available to other States will have to be considered next year in the light of what has been achieved and what has been made available in the last year.
That is a long sentence. It is a rather turgid sentence. Quite clearly it says 2 things: It says that an amount of money had been advanced in that month and that what would happen in respect of one State because of that advance would happen in respect of other States. In this case, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have not been penalised because of the advances made for their housing commitments last year. The other 3 States in Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania- have been penalised twice over. As the amount that has been subtracted happens to be exactly twice what was promised, I believe that there has been a simple bookkeeping error. It could happen quite easily. In fact, the amounts that have been given to each State conform exactly with that explanation. There is no other explanation for the circumstances.
The Treasurer in his Budget Speech presumed that the amounts to be advanced this year would be the same as in the previous year. He was under a misapprehension. The Minister for Housing and Construction was under a misapprehension when that promise was made in June. There are so many circumstances that dovetail in respect of this matter. I hope that an explanation can be given of division 873 on page 35 of the document on the Advance to the Treasurer. Money is needed in this area of housing activity. There has been no significant upturn in housing activity which would compensate for what is to be done in the public welfare housing field. Figures released yesterday by the savings banks and the building societies indicate that the money that is being advanced for housing is being used overwhelmingly to buy old homes. It is not being utilised to build and to develop new homes. Only two in every seven homes for which advances are being made by these 2 groups of institutions- the savings banks in toto and the building societies in toto- are in fact new homes.
The circumstances which require that there be no reduction even of the money amounts for welfare housing, I believe, are rather overwhelming. Even if the money is left at the same amount as in the previous year, there is a reduction in the number of homes. For Queensland there is a reduction of about 30 per cent. For Western Australia there is a reduction of, I believe, 20 per cent. For Tasmania there is a smaller reduction in the actual money amounts available. When that is added to the inflationary situation, the capacity to build homes with that money in the light of what has been accomplished in the last year, to use the Minister’s own words, deserves to be acknowledged and account ought to be given to it.
So I ask the Deputy Prime Minister, who is a fair minded man whom I have known for a long time, to look at what has happened. I give him the 3 references: Page 1 1 of the Budget Speech and the Treasurer’s Statement; page 35 of the Advance to the Treasurer; and the promises made by the Minister for Housing and Construction at the Housing Ministers meeting in Brisbane in June of this year. The Deputy Prime Minister will find, if the bookkeeping is analysed, that an error has been made which can have quite grievous consequences for those people on low incomes who require welfare homes, housing commission homes, and home builders’ account advances. Those advances will not be able to be made under the circumstances that apply at the moment I ask the Deputy Prime Minister to examine that proposition.
– The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In speaking to the estimates of expenditure for the Department of the Treasury my remarks are addressed particularly to Division 672 ( 1 )- Australian Taxation Office, Salaries and Payments in the nature of Salary. I refer particularly to the investigation section of the Taxation Office. To me it appears quite ludicrous that staff ceilings are applied generally and in the same fashion over the whole of the Australian Public Service irrespective of the particular functions of an individual department or a branch of a department. These staff ceilings in my opinion should be applied in a more flexible manner. Some departments should be limited to present staffing positions or even reduced while others performing a real function should have no staff ceiling at all whilst they continue to function efficiently. This latter situation applies to the Taxation Office and in particular to the investigation section of that office.
I would like to quote some comments which were made in the most recently published report of the Commissioner of Taxation- the fifty-third report. In that report Sir Edward Cain, the Commissioner of Taxation, speaking of the task of collecting revenue, had this to say:
This task, which involved the collection of about $S,500m in the course of last year, requires the Commissioner of Taxation and his staff to be interested in the results of every business operation and every income producing transaction taking place in the country. This would impose a formidable burden even if the task could be approached with perfect knowledge of the affairs of all taxpayers and if all taxpayers were able and willing to comply fully with the spirit of the laws enacted by Parliament.
In practice, the position is far more complicated- in Australia as in all other developed countries- because a minority of taxpayers will inevitably attempt to avoid the intended weight of taxation, by legal or illegal means; and the devices entered into to alter the incidence of taxation give rise to counter-measures in the taxation laws which complicate the task of the officials who have to administer the law . . . No country can afford the resources needed to enforce an absolute level of compliance upon all of its citizens. There is necessarily a compromise between what might seem theoretically desirable and the resources that the community can spare for tax administration in the light of other priorities.
In that report the Commissioner of Taxation gave details which were applicable to the year ended 30 June 1974 of the number of income tax investigations and the revenue which was raised from them. The number of investigations during that year amounted to 5827 and the additional revenue raised by tax and penalty amounted to a not inconsiderable sum of $53,451,244. During that year according to the report only 909 investigations officers were operating throughout the whole of Australia. The point that concerns me is that the number of investigators shown in the Estimates of Receipts and Summary of Estimated Expenditure for the year ending 30 June 1976 is only 724. This compares with 656 for the year ended June 1975 and 909 for the year ended June 1974. It could well be that those figures do not show the true picture because apparently they do not take into account the number of sales tax investigators. There is no break-up of these numbers in the summary which is attached to the Budget Papers.
I would now like to quote from evidence given by senior officers whom we employ to enforce taxation legislation. Honourable members will note that I am not just giving my own opinion but the opinion of the experts. At a meeting on 22 April 1974 of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, of which I am a member, we had before us officers of the Taxation Office. This meeting which was held in public was inquiring into some of the affairs of the Taxation Office. I took the opportunity to ask for an authoritative opinion or expression of opinion from Mr P. J. Lanigan, the Second Commissioner of Taxation, about the extent to which the enforcement provisions of the taxation legislation could be improved. Referring to what the Taxation Office calls the enforcement section- which I call the investigation section, having been an investigator before coming to this august assembly- I asked Mr Lanigan the following question about the Public Service:
Would you care to express an opinion on what effect the staff ceiling has had in the build-up in the enforcement areas such as the investigation sections?
I shall quote to the Committee verbatim from the transcript what Mr Lanigan had to say. He said:
Our position -
That is the position of the Taxation Officeis that at the moment each additional investigation officer is producing between $150,000 and $200,000 of revenue that we would have lost altogether. That means that if we can put on a new investigation officer he produces ten times his salary in additional revenue. If you were running a commercial business you would go on increasing the number of investigation officers until each officer’s return came down to something like his cost. So there is no question that if we were free to be guided solely by the economic considerations which affect getting the best results from the Taxation Office we would be expanding very greatly.
I ask honourable members to note what he said. He pointed out in so many words that if the Taxation Office were allowed it would be expanding very greatly. He went on to say this:
It is not solely confined to investigations. It is also related to inspections. The force we have to enforce our tax instalment system is the critical way of controlling the tax paid by employees. It is common knowledge that substantial numbers of people work under false names. We have a limited force of people who try to stamp out this sort of thing. It is public knowledge that there is a great deal of it going on, particularly in areas such as the building industry where people work for very short times and so quite readily get by under false names. We have responded to this by stepping up our activities to some extent. But we have to face up to the fact that if we have an investigator on these sons of matters he loses $150,000 that he could have got on a fraud investigation. So the position from our point of view is that if we can expand in this area we can both curb inflation by taking money out of circulation and pay for our own results by getting more money in and perhaps making a contribution to unemployment.
Maybe that is the solution to our economic problems. I do not know whether it is, but I think that his words are words of wisdom when he says that we can curb inflation by putting on additional tax investigators. I think that there is some sense in it. Later on in his evidence he had this to say:
If the Government wished to do so- it is partly a matter of Government policy- we could readily expand investigation at a progressively substantial rate in advance of our present rate.
I leave those thoughts with the Acting Treasurer (Mr Crean) because it is an important matter. At a later part of the inquiry Mr Lanigan- I think this is a telling point- in answer to a question I posed to him, said:
The answer to your question specifically is that we could expand to a very substantial extent if the Government decided that it wanted that to be done.
I leave those thoughts with the Acting Treasurer and ask whether he will bring them before the mind of the Treasurer when he returns to this Parliament to see that the wisdom that has been expounded by those very senior officers in the Taxation Office- the Commissioner of Taxation and the Second Commissioner of Taxation- can be taken note of and that perhaps in the next Budget we can have a considerably greater amount of money provided for salaries to be paid to investigation officers who would return tenfold the amount they are paid in salaries.
– In speaking to the Treasury estimates I should like to deal with one special aspect, that is, the Government’s new rebate scheme for income tax. This scheme is being presented as a revised form of taxation which will give added benefit to the taxpayers as well as simplifying the system of tax collection. However, I cannot accept that it is an advantage universally across the board to taxpayers. In fact, there are a lot of sleepers in this new form of tax rebate that need to be examined much more closely by the taxpayers before they get too jubilant. There are areas such as the marginal rate of tax. For certain sections of the community the marginal rate will go up quite substantially. There is the case of the single person. His level of taxation will increase enormously. The taxation levels for the married couple who are both working will go up tremendously. Of course, the aged persons will lose the rebate provision that existed before and they will find that their levels of taxation are much higher. But it is not those areas that I want to mention today. I want to talk about the income tax averaging.
The new income tax scales contained in the Budget radically alter the existing provisions relating to the averaging of incomes by primary producers. This point does not seem to have been brought out yet. I must say that for the layman, the man on the street, it will be very difficult to understand just how he will be disadvantaged by this new rebate system on the averaging provisions that are made permissible for him up to an income of $16,000. Briefly, the effect of the new system of rebates in place of the concessional deductions on the primary producers will be to change completely the income base on which taxation is calculated for the purpose of averaging. Under the previous system taxable income for averaging purposes consisted of gross income less expenses, less concessional deductions. These were the deductions for education, health and insurance.
Many primary producers hold large insurance policies in order to cover probate on their properties. I must say that these new taxes will hit the insurance companies and the incentive for people to take out more insurance. But certainly the primary producer felt compelled to protect his family by taking out substantial life insurance policies for probate purposes. There was some incentive for him to do it up to the maximum of the $1,200 a year concessional allowance. Under the new scheme taxable income for averaging purposes consists only of gross income less expenses. After the average tax is calculated for income over the 5 previous years and applied to the income of the present year a $540 rebate is then allowed. However, the result is that the tax that will be paid is more than would have been paid under the previous system. For example, for a farmer with a taxable income of $4,000, on which he now pays $420 tax, the new taxable income, assuming concessional expenditures amount to 10 per cent of the net income, is $4,400 and the tax under the new scheme will be $497. This represents an increase of 1 8 per cent. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which shows figures for higher incomes.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
– I thank the Committee. These higher rates of tax represent only the increase for the next year, but income for the purposes of averaging is the average taxable income over the previous 5-year period. For each year that the new scheme operates the income for the previous years will include a year with a higher taxable income until after 5 years the whole of the taxable income for the averaging period will have been raised to a higher level. The effect will be that in 1979-80 the primary producer with an average income of $4,000 will pay $508 tax, an increase of 21 per cent on his present tax. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which shows the corresponding figures for higher income.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
– I thank the Committee. Of course with this higher level of taxation the primary producer’s provisional tax impost is also lifted. So primary producers will now be discriminated against as a special group in having to pay still higher taxes than the ordinary taxpayer would have to pay. He also has the trouble of paying provisional tax on top of the other increase. The reason for this huge increase in tax for primary producers operating under the averaging scheme is that the considerations governing the new tax system simply do not apply to the averaging scheme. The new taxation scheme was designed for people on fixed incomes who pay tax under the pay-as-you-earn scheme. The $540 rebate was adopted because it was intended that the average taxpayer should be no worse off than under the previous concessional deductions scheme. However, the primary producer is not an average taxpayer. His incomes fluctuate, sometimes violently, and the averaging system with the concessional deductions was designed to allow him to even out his income and tax over a period.
The new system of rebate is totally irrelevant to the situation which averaging attempts to remedy. It ignores the fundamental distinction between those on regular and on fixed incomes and those on fluctuating incomes. Income averaging is basic to farm management in Australia and has played a vital role in helping to give certain income stablility and enabling farmers to meet their taxation commitments. By radically altering this essential feature of the economics of a rural enterprise the Government has again demonstrated its failure to understand the different needs of people in rural areas and I believe it adds still further to the financial disabilities that people in rural industries have had to suffer under the existing Government.
-In speaking to the estimates for the Department of the Treasury, I wish to refer to the general acceptance within the Parliament and the nation that the Budget strategy of the Government is one that more or less accords with the view of the Treasury. It is rather interesting to note that we now have an Opposition which is fundamentally opposed to the Treasury line or the Treasury strategy as proposed in this Budget. This is particularly interesting given the fact that, when the Opposition Parties were in government, they were noted for being conformists to the Treasury line. They are now utterly non-conformists in their approach as regards the Treasury view.
This aspect is interesting also because, at the same time as we have this line adopted by the Opposition, the Opposition is trying to put forward a strategy which would involve substantial additions to the level of unemployment now prevailing. The Opposition is trying to make a great deal of political capital out of the fact that substantial unemployment exists at present and that unemployment is likely to increase, in original and not seasonally adjusted figures, as has been outlined by the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Senator James McClelland).
The strategy of the Opposition would lead to a substantial increase in unemployment. This would be the result of the policy which has been outlined by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the expenditure cuts which he says the Opposition would institute and also the expenditure cuts which would be involved in its policy but which have not been referred to by the Leader of the Opposition.
If one looks through the second reading speech of the Leader of the Opposition in the Budget debate, one sees proposed a number of cuts in expenditure which would undoubtedly involve a reduction in employment opportunities. For instance, we are to have zero Public Service growth, according to the Leader of the Opposition. The policy of the Government involves, in broad terms, a 2.8 per cent increase in the size of the Public Service; or, if one takes account of the fact that there would be more public servants on leave this year, the net increase would be 1.4 per cent.
What is involved in zero Public Service growth has not been spelt out by the Leader of the Opposition. But if one looks at an increase of 2.8 per cent in broad terms of which the Government is thinking, that means an extra 7700 employment opportunities. If one looks at the increase in net terms of 1.5 per cent, the result is 4000 job opportunities. These job opportunities, either 7700 or 4000, would not be available if the Opposition’s policy were brought into effect. Presumably, we would have increased unemployment to this extent.
We are also to have a winding back on the capital works program. I draw the attention of the Committee to the fact it is the non-dwelling construction area which is in diabolical trouble at the present moment. A winding back of the capital works program would cause immense problems additional to those which exist at present in the non-dwelling construction area. The Leader of the Opposition referred particularly in the second reading debate to office building as being one area in which activities would be cut back. It is this area which is extremely slack at the moment. Fewer employment opportunities would be available in that area of economic activity.
The Leader of the Opposition said that he would suspend growth centre expenditure also. Expenditure on growth centres in the Budget involves some $84m. Most of this expenditure would be employment creating. Again, it would be involved very much in the construction area. These opportunities would not be available under the Opposition’s program. These employment opportunities would be lost immediately as it is employment which is created immediately by Government expenditure, and that expenditure would not be available under the alternative Budget strategy proposed by the Opposition.
The Opposition suggested also that new works undertaken by the National Capital Development Commission should be cut back. I apply the same argument to this proposal as I did in relation to growth centre expenditure. The result would be a further loss of job opportunities in the construction area. Also, the Opposition would provide less money for housing purposes. The Government has proposed an additional $20m for the Australian Housing Corporation. This sum would not be available under the alternative Budget strategy of the Opposition. Therefore, that $20m would not be available to be spent on housing. Again the result would be fewer job opportunities.
The Opposition has said also that there would be special economies in urban rehabilitation and area improvement activities. For the area improvement program, the present Budget pro.vides $17.7m while $16.8m is allocated for urban rehabilitation. Most of the expenditure in these areas is again employment creating. These further opportunities would not be available under the Opposition’s alternative Budget strategy. The areas to which I have referred are, in effect, only the tip of the iceberg. These are examples of the expenditure cuts outlined by the Leader of the Opposition as part of the Opposition’s alternative Budget strategy. However, much more than these reductions would in fact be involved.
According to Treasury estimates- these were put forward previously in the second reading debate- an additional $500m in expenditure cuts over and above those which have been outlined by the Leader of the Opposition would need to be instituted if the deficit proposed by the Government were not to be increased beyond the figure set by the Government. To contain that $500m in additional cuts, further loss of employment opportunities would be involved. But, again, that is less than the full story. Opposition speaker after Opposition speaker in the second reading debate criticised the increases in indirect taxes proposed by the Government on beer, cigarettes, spirits and so on. Opposition speakers also criticised the coal export levy. They criticised also, and undoubtedly will do so later in this Committee debate, the increases in postal charges. Altogether, these revenue items will raise approximately $ 1,000m. If Opposition members criticise these increases, presumably they are against them. This means that, in their alternative Budget strategy, they could not expect to receive that amount of revenue and would need to cut that amount of expenditure by a further $ 1,000m. Again, such a cutback obviously would involve a very substantial loss of employment opportunities.
Further, Opposition members have proposed other increases in - expenditure. Prior to the Budget debate, Opposition members spoke about the need for increased expenditure on defence and on a whole range of other areas which, if the projected Budget deficit were not to be exceeded, would involve further cuts in Government expenditure. The incredible situation which we face at the moment is one in which the Opposition- the Liberal Party and the National Country Party- is criticising the Government for spending too much and for proposing a deficit of a certain size. Yet the Opposition Parties in their policy would create a Budget deficit which in effect would be substantially in excess of that which the Government proposes, unless the Opposition Parties slash government expenditure. Yet at the State level Premiers and Ministers of the same political persuasion as the Opposition Parties are attacking the Australian Government for not spending enough. So the Opposition’s policy is really an absolute shambles. If it were to be instituted as it has been expounded in this Parliament, it would certainly involve a drastic, enormous reduction in job opportunities immediately.
Of course, the Opposition has proposed tax cuts. The Opposition claims that these tax cuts would stimulate private expenditure and private investment and, therefore, would provide job opportunities. In doing so, the Opposition seems entirely to neglect the fact that there are lags in respect of these areas. Taxes cannot be cut in the expectation that immediately there will be a great leap in employment opportunities in the country. The Opposition seems at the moment to be fairly strongly supporting the monetary approach of Professor Friedman and others. Professor Friedman has made the point in the past that these lags are very substantial. For instance, in aspects such as movements in the money supply, an alteration in the money supply or in the rate of increase in the money supply has a lag of up to 2 years in terms of prices and from 9 months to 12 months in terms of employment opportunities.
So it is quite obvious that the Opposition strategy is one which would involve a very substantial reduction in job opportunities now through the cutting of Government expenditure. It may involve in the long term an expansion of private job opportunities. But this would be in the very long term. We are talking about well into the next calendar year. Certainly, if the Opposition wishes to make a point about the levels of unemployment in this financial year, it certainly would have to alter the Budget strategy that it is proposing because that Budget strategy must necessarily involve a very substantial increase in the number of unemployed in this financial year.
In the short time remaining to me, I wish to make one point about lead indicators. I think it is a shame that in this country we do not have much more available to us in the way of lead indicators. In the United States of America now a lead indicator index is available which is extremely advantageous to the Government and to those involved in dealing with the economy. This assists them to know what is happening in their country in terms of the likely forward movement in the economy. These lead indicators are not available to us in Australia at present. I think that it is a shame that we do not have such an index. The Reserve Bank of Australia in 1973 did produce an occasional paper called The Indicator Approach to the Identification of Business Cycles. It tended to pour cold water on the idea of such an index. But if such an index -
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) spoke very glibly about unemployment and spoke at some length about the question of lags in the economic system. Of course, one of the major lags which we will be seeing in the short term is the lag in relation to unemployment. If the honourable gentleman had listened yesterday to his senior colleague, the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Senator James McClelland), he would have heard that Minister say that unemployment in this country is now set for a peak which will be around 400 000. In fact it may be considerably in excess of that figure. Regardless of what the honourable gentleman has said, the
Government has deliberately created more unemployment in Australia than any other government has created in the history of this country since the great depression. I will say no more about it because the Australian public is very much aware of the facts in relation to unemployment and inflation.
The 2 items before the Committee are the estimates for the Department of the Treasury and the Advance to the Treasurer. This debate takes place in a growing climate of suspicion about the Government’s economic plans- its Budget Estimates. It is becoming clear that the Budget strategy set down by the Treasurer (Mr Hayden) on 19 August is no longer credible. The Government persistently has refused to answer questions properly asked by the Opposition Parties. In spite of the very serious economic problems facing the nation, the Government apparently is not prepared to take the Parliament or the public into its confidence.
The fundamental question before the Parliament at the present time is whether the 1975-76 Budget can be believed. Expenditure for the first 2 months of this year was 48 per cent higher than the outlays recorded for the months of July and August 1974. Federal spending is continuing to increase at an annual rate well in excess of 45 per cent. This is quite contrary to the Budget strategy outlined by the Treasurer. Already the deficit recorded for this year is well over $ 1 billion. The Opposition Parties simply are not prepared to permit the Government to continue with its overt suppression of economic information. Last year, when I spoke on the Treasury estimates, I specifically referred to the absence of any reference to the role of monetary pOliCY in the 1974-75 Budget Speech and to the failure of the Government to release a White Paper on the economy in 1974. Regrettably, we face the same situation again this year.
The Opposition has made it clear that the Loan Bill will be held over in the Senate until such time as adequate information is given about the Government’s monetary strategy. It is completely unsatisfactory that the Treasurer did not indicate any overall monetary target in the context of this year’s Budget Speech. With a deficit in prospect of over $2.7 billion, it is no longer sufficient to provide estimates only in relation to outlays and receipts. The Opposition believes that the Government should have a monetary target and that this should be made public. Without this information, no proper analysis can be made of important determinants of economic activity such as the level of finance likely to be available to the private sector by way of the banking system. The other serious omission this year is that of an economic White Paper. It is clearly encumbent upon the Acting Treasurer (Mr Crean) to state why no White Paper has been published this year. The failure to provide adequate economic information to the Parliament and to the public is inexcusable.
The fact is that this Government is engaged in an exercise of deceipt and deception. Why is it that the Opposition can find out the truth about the present economic situation only by documents which are leaked? Only today the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser) tabled in this chamber a letter written by the Treasurer to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) which illustrates in clear terms the financial difficulties which now face the Government. One part of the letter read as follows
Earlier tentative estimates suggested that the additional requirements would be considerably greater than the amount appropriated for Treasurer’s Advance No. 1 ($ 120m). If that prospect is confirmed it seems that an early approach to the Parliament for additional funds may be necessary. There have of course already been some calls on the Treasurer’s Advance No. 1 and inevitably there will be others arising between now and the end of the supply period.
That speaks for itself. I turn now to the Advance to the Treasurer. This item seeks approval for the expenditure of funds authorised by the Treasurer in 1974-75, and payable out of appropriation entitled ‘Advance to the Treasurer’, which is contained in the annual Appropriation Acts. Out of this Advance the Treasurer is authorised to allocate funds to meet recoverable, emergent and unforeseen expenditure not specifically provided for in the Acts. When I spoke on this matter on 13 December 1973, 1 put the Opposition’s view that it is important that a deliberate effort be made to keep the appropriation of such funds to a minimum. The Leader of the Opposition, in his reply to the Budget, said specifically that the Opposition would have reduced the amount provided for in the Treasurer’s Advance during 1975-76. Advances of the proposed magnitude $270m this year- are in effect a disguised addition to government outlays. Over the past 3 years there has been a dramatic increase in the Advance to the Treasurer. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard 2 statistical tables illustrating that point.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The documents read as follows)-
– Appropriations under this head have increased from $75m in 1972-73 to $2 70m in 1975-76. In terms of constant 1966-67 prices the increase is from $57.8m to $136m during the same period. As a percentage of Budget outlays, the Advance to the Treasurer has increased from 0.74 per cent in 1972-73 to 1.23 per cent in 1975-76. Only a small part of expenditures out of the Advance to the Treasurer has been related to natural disasters or emergency relief. In 1972-73 Victoria was granted $40,000 for natural disasters, and $17,279 was voted for Colombo Plan disaster relief. This compares with $19,125,890 in total expenditure out of the Advance to the Treasurer. In 1974-75 Darwin relief and reconstruction, natural disaster payments and Vietnam assistance totalled $ 14.5m out of total expenditures of $89. 7m from the Treasurer’s Advance.
The advance has been used by the Government to cover additional administrative costs that either should have been included in the Estimates in the first place or represent a failure by the Government to control its own costs effectively. In 1972-73 additional administrative costs of $10m, or $ 11m counting increased defence salaries, were included in the Treasurer’s Advance. In 1973-74 the equivalent figure was $15m, or $19m including defence administration, and in 1974-75 it was $4. 7m, or $9.5m including defence administration. The Advance also has been used by the Government to introduce new spending programs during the year. In 1972-73 new educational programs of $4.5m and industry compensation for exchange rate or bounty payment charges of $1.2m were included in the Treasurer’s Advance. And so the story went on during 1973-74 and 1974-75, when the Advance facilitated important additions to the spending programs.
In short, the Treasurer’s Advance has become a vehicle for unnecessary increases in government expenditure. It has been used by the present Labor Administration as a deliberate device to avoid declaring its expenditure intentions at the time of the Budget introduction. It is clear that the expenditures pursuant to the Advance have not been used to meet recoverable, emergent and unforeseen expenditure- except in exceptional circumstances. The Treasury estimates and the Advance to the Treasurer represent and reflect to this Parliament a mishmash of economic mismanagement and the chaotic nature of the present economic circumstances which this Government has perpetrated and which it is continuing to perpetrate.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I intrude at this point because of the speech that has just been made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch), who I suppose would presume to be the next Treasurer of this nation if there were a change in government. For the last 2 days he has been endeavouring, both by placing questions on notice and then by a curious device of writing to me a letter which he released to the Press, to get certain questions answered. If I may say so, the questions display a very primitive knowledge on his part of the finances of this nation. For instance, he made great play about the expenditure in the 2 months to the end of August as against the expenditure for those 2 months a year before, and for some reason he came up with the rather astonishing conclusion that we are going to run out of funds because we are spending too fast. Before he made his speech today, I asked him whether he would have a look at the figures that are presented. I think one of the apalling things in all the financial debates in this Parliament over a great period of years has been that very little use has been made of the very substantial information that is provided. Whether little use is made of it because it cannot be understood I do not know.
Projected in this Budget for the 12 months to the end of June 1976 is expenditure in aggregate of $2 1,9 15.2m. I ask the Deputy Leader of the Opposition why he does not divide that by six. Honourable members opposite have ‘ a great habit of multiplying particular numbers by six to get an annual result. If they divide the projected total expenditure to the end of June 1976 by sixthat is a 2-month average, if you like- they will come across a figure of $3,652m, which is $400m greater than the 2 months expenditure which has already occurred and which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is criticising. I find it difficult to know upon what the kind of analysis that is being made is supposed to be based.
The honourable gentleman has also asked me a number of questions about Supply Bills (No. 1 ) and (No. 2). I think he has the rather primitive belief that it is only expenditure under these 2 Supply Bills that is authorised. Again I draw his attention to the Bill we are now debating, Appropriation Bill (No. 1), and another one that always gets very perfunctory treatment, Appropriation Bill (No. 2), which of course deals with capital works as distinct from ordinary annual expenditure. Those 2 Bills between them account for $6.9 billion, near enough to $7 billion, in one case and $2,268 billion in the other; in other words, something like $9.25 billion out of total projected expenditure of nearly $22 billion. Of course there are things like payments to the States and payments out of the National Welfare Fund which are automatically appropriated. They do not form part of the Appropriation Bills (No. 1 ) and (No. 2) or, in the 5-month carry over period, the Supply Bills (No. 1 ) and (No. 2).
It is very easy for people to ask what they think are clever questions either at question time or through questions on notice, but sometimes what they do not seem to indicate is the lack of cleverness on the part of the people who ask the questions. It seems to me that there is an attempt here somehow to indicate that the Australian nation, via its Treasury processes, is bankrupt. I regard that as a very dangerous approach to take. I am a little bit regretful that the gentleman who presumes to be the next Treasurer is disposed to take that sort of approach. He, through the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the other night adopted much the same sorts of Budget parameters as those contained in this Budget. He said that there should be a deficit of the order of $2.8 billion. He would have the same difficulty as any other government in financing that deficit. Yet he is prepared to try to be clever about asking this Government- this is a question that was never asked of other governments- at this point in time how that deficit is proposed to be financed. He says that in the defences that are giventhat we could do it by taxes, by resort to loans, overseas borrowing, the printing presses or the Reserve Bank- somehow this Government is less forthcoming in its explanations than previous governments were. That is not the case.
He is trying equally to make a point about the Advance to the Treasurer. Certainly the Advance to the Treasurer now has to be larger than Advances to the Treasurer in other times. Nothing can be spent out of the Treasurer’s Advance which will not finally receive the approval of the Parliament itself. In my view the Treasurer’s Advance is a quite sensible device. I offered no objection in my days as shadow Treasurer when the amount was progressively put up. Surely to goodness, given the rising population and inflation, the parameters are different in 1975 from what they were in other days. Scoring cheap debating points instead of trying to get down to an analysis of the difficulties seems to me to be vacating any responsibility.
Yesterday I gave what I thought was a sensible kind of answer to a rather silly question that was asked. That has been followed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition resorting, as I said, to writing a letter to me and then releasing the letter to the Press. I wish sometimes that the
Press would write about things with a little more knowledge of what they are supposed to write about. I have said before that the Press in this country has become a series of keyhole reporters rather than reporters of substance. I agree with the answer that was given by my colleague, the Minister for the Media (Dr Cass), today about the Press. I suppose that a lot of what goes on here is tedious and boring, but that is part of the substance of democratic institutions. I think it behoves the potential Treasurer, as that is what he claims to be -
– Well, he is.
-You say that he is. I hope you will give him a little bit of schooling. I hope that he will be a little bit more responsible in the kinds of questions that he asks. I, as shadow Treasurer, would never have asked the silly sort of questions that he released to the Press after writing to me about it, because I think it shows a rather fundamental ignorance of the processes of government finance.
I have intruded in the debate at this point only because I hope that this sort of nonsense can be scotched. If the honourable gentleman claims, as he did through his Leader the other night, that he would have budgeted for a deficit of the magnitude of $2.8 billion, he would have faced precisely the same sort of difficulties or problems as we face. But somehow to suggest that what we are doing is falsifying or cooking the books I think is unworthy of him. I hope that at least he will take heed of the realities of the situation; that is, that the Treasury book keeping is honest.
– Why do you not produce the White Paper instead of suppressing information?
– I think a lot of information has been produced which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has not read. He has suggested that he does not know what the monetary policy is. I would say that it is as explicit as it can be and is written within the documents. Those who are too blind to see are never likely to comprehend and this seems to me to be part of the difficulty here. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is attempting to make cheap political scoring on everything, confident that if he cannot get his way here he can use the contrived numbers in the other place, numbers which have been made worse than they already were by the elevation of the new senator, supposedly as a Labor man. The Opposition thereby is frustrating the proper processes of democracy. This is not my understanding of a democratic system. I often wonder what the situation would be if the Australian Constitution had been written in 19 14 instead of in 1 90 1 . The provisions in the Constitution about what Senates can do about money Bills was an acknowledgement of the convention that had never been breached in the British system, but which for sheer political expediency the Opposition is willing to breach at any time. Governments in Australia ought to be made and unmade by defeat in this House of Parliament not by curious chance numbers that occur -
– What has this to do with the Treasury estimates?
– It has a lot to do with them, because of the attitude that has been taken in this debate. The questions asked yesterday were indicative enough of that. And, Mr Deputy Chairman, there should not be any interjections from a senator sitting in the back of this chamber. I heard what he said and he ought to be quiet. I would have enough dignity if I were sitting where he is sitting to say things so softly they would not be heard once. It is a sign of contempt on that senator’s part that he is prepared to speak in that way. This is the kind of level to which constitutional practice has been brought in Australia. Mr Deputy Chairman, I am sorry that you did not rebuke him. At least I heard him say something and he has no right to say anything in here.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Keith Johnson)- In my own defence, I did not hear what the senator said, I was so entranced with your eloquence.
– I will not take up much of the 10 minutes I have skirting those aspects of the Constitution which the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Crean) raised except perhaps to remind him that it was the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) before the last election who was very fond of describing the then members of the Senate as yesterday’s men and men elected for a certain number of years. Of course, at that election the people decided that the Aus.tralian Labor Party would not have a majority in the Senate. It was their voice and, of course, the Senate is acting constitutionally in terms of the compact that was made in the 1890s when the Commonwealth of Australia was formed. The Senate is playing its role and I believe that that role is the proper one, representing as it does electors and, to some degree, the States. I do not want to draw attention to differences but I must say that the remarks we heard a few moments ago showed some emotion, which perhaps is understandable, but also disclosed a lack of understanding of the views of residents of some of the smaller States who see value in that chamber.
Turning to the matters which have been debated, firstly I want to make some brief comments on what the Deputy Prime Minister as Acting Treasurer said, and secondly, to make some other comments on this new taxation rebate scheme. I draw the Acting Treasurer’s attention to the answer that he gave yesterday in the House in reply to a question on the statement he has in front of him on revenue and expenditure for the 2 months ending August. The Opposition rightly has expressed a great deal of concern about the size of this deficit and indeed -
– Yours would be bigger.
– Would the honourable gentleman do me the courtesy of listening to my argument? I do not have much time and if he wants to interrupt then when I get to the end of my time he might care to move a motion seeking an extension of time for me. It is quite right and proper that we question the Government’s expenditure. Consistently since the Government came to power the Opposition has questioned its attitude to the economy and financial matters. We have criticised in great detail its attitude and what we believe to be its irresponsibility. The shadow Treasurer, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch), mentioned yesterday that the Government was running at an increased rate of expenditure of 45 per cent ‘in spite of the fact that the increase in outlays for the full financial year is estimated at 23 per cent’. I draw the Acting Treasurer’s attention to his own reply in which he tried to justify this increased expenditure on 2 grounds. First, he spent most of his time saying that he thought the expenditure was justifiable. There seems to be a hint in that that this increase over the average for the year is justifiable and that he is not very upset if it ends up much higher than was budgeted for. There seems to be that hint because he is saying rhetorically: ‘Where would you cut it?’ The Opposition has said many times that we believe a lot of items of expenditure are desirable but that there has to be some overall understanding of the economy’s capacity.
The Acting Treasurer also said that we cannot take 2 months in isolation- that that would be unfair. He said we cannot multiply it by six. I remind him that he used that same argument against me in a debate in 1973 in relation to the inflation rate which was then announced on the basis of a quarter of the year. He said then that it would be quite wrong for me to multiply that rate by four. However, if I had it would have been less than the inflation rate turned out to be. So that is not a decisive argument to use by way of reply. The Opposition is concerned that this deficit will end up being greatly in excess of the $2,800m deficit that has been estimated. It may, not be but that is a fear and there is some evidence that we are pointed in that direction. I do not suggest multiplying the rate of expenditure for the first 2 months by six because that would lead to a deficit of $6,000m or more- I think the deficit for the first 2 months is $l,071m-but perhaps the final deficit will be $4 billion or some such figure. Obviously that will have a tremendous effect.
The Acting Treasurer said that we could not really ask the Government about financing when we know the effect that it will have and because no other government has ever been asked about it. Goodness me! No other government has ever thought about providing a deficit of $2,800m. No other government has ever suggested that that should be the case and we think that we are entitled to some indication of what is involvedcertainly to far more information than has been received by us. We got a bit more information in the Senate but it was not offered in this House. All these so-called reasons for the increased rate of expenditure for the 2 months were given by the Acting Treasurer but he was complaining really about the questions that were being asked. Why should not he be questioned here either at question time or by questions on notice? Why should he complain about that? Let me produce some evidence to justify our fears. There was a letter tabled in this House this morning. It purports to be, and I have not heard that its validity has been denied, from the Treasurer (Mr Hayden)- not the acting Treasurer- to the Prime Minister. I believe its date is 10 July or 20 July. It refers to the immediate question of whether the Government should use the Treasurer’s Advance for the purpose of Regional Employment Development schemes or to defer the transfer of certain staff. I skim over that point. The letter is there for all to read. The Treasurer said:
In considering this question we need to keep in mind the expenditures during the supply period on the RED scheme and in the Medibank area are expected to be considerably greater than the provisions for these purposes in the Supply Act No. 1 . 1 have recently -
This was the Treasurer speaking- written to the two Ministers concerned for their assessments of requirements for additional funds.
Earlier tentative estimates suggested that the additional requirements would be considerably greater than the amount appropriated for Treasurer’s Advance No. 1 ($ 120m). If that prospect is confirmed it seems that an early approach to the Parliament for additional funds may be necessary. There have of course already been some calls on the Treasurer’s Advance No. 1 and inevitably there will be others arising between now and the end of the Supply period.
That really undercuts a great deal of what the Acting Treasurer has just said to us. I put to him that instead of making rhetorical replies he might tell us whether the Government will introduce a Bill. Is it a fact that a new Bill is necessary because of the Government’s great shortage of money, and a shortage of money on top of the financial assistance Acts that have already been passed and on top of this greatly increased Treasurer’s Advance which has been given to this Government and which has been increased out of proportion with what we knew in the past. The Acting Treasurer said that the sum was naturally greater and went on to allude to the parameters being different, inflation and the like. If I recall correctly, the last Treasurers Advance of 1972-73 was of the order of $25m.
-Well, perhaps it was a figure close to that amount. What I am talking about now is $120m. Great as inflation has been in this country it has never been of that multiple. There are some strange things going on; there is some disturbance. It is of no use the Government trying to gloss over it and suggest that the amount is very Utile.
I have very little time left to me to speak, but I should like to add that I believe that the new tax rebate system will result in our finding a great number of inequities and anomalies. The Government is clearly trying to present the system as something that will be a godsend to everybody. There are a number of people on low incomes- incomes below average weekly earningsand people on superannuation who pay a greatly increased tax. I cite the example of a man and his wife whose taxable incomes were about $3,100 each and whose taxes have gone from $245 for the both of them to $708- an increase of 189 per cent.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Keith Johnson)- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-A debate on the estimates for the Department of the Treasury seems an appropriate time to look at the Treasury as it is the most important Department, and at the way in which we managed to overcome the problems inherent in our community. It goes without saying of course that there has never been a budget which has pleased everybody or which has transformed the economy overnight. Great political justice has been applied to the manner in which the Treasury has operated in this Budget, especially in terms of the Medibank system which was opposed by the Opposition and in terms of the taxation concessions which were so much exploited by high income earners over a long period when the present Opposition was in government. There does seem to be a distinct lack of understanding of the problems that beset other countries and which have had their effect in Australia. There seems to be a distinct lack of other than what we might call conformist economists working in Treasury.
Recently there has been a great deal of discussion about the system under which we live, the system we have come to describe as capitalism. Recently in the great socialist magazines, Time and Newsweek, questions have been raised as to the operations of this system and whether the injustices inherent in our society can be overcome within the system under which we live. I should like to quote extensively from Time magazine because it raises a number of questions as to whether or not political parties in this country will continue to allow the injustices that I refer to and as exposed by the Henderson Committee. Professor Henderson found that no less than 12 per cent of our community lived below the poverty line. It also raises the question as to whether we can continue to watch the Aboriginal people live in poverty and whether we are accurate in our assessment of the cost of Medibank, whether Medibank be a justice or not. There is no question of that on this side of the Parliament but the other side of the Parliament questions Medibank because of what it may cost. It seems to me that the community of Australia would want Medibank irrespective of the cost because it provides great medical and health justice for all people in the community.
Like America itself, the capitalist system is now approaching its bicentenary, as is the printing of Adam Smith’s book entitled The Wealth of Nations. As honourable members would know, this book readily became a capitalist declaration of independence from the remaining shackles of feudalism and helped to launch an economic revolution that has produced far more wealth than man had amassed in all previous history. Time magazine states:
Yet today the heirs of that revolution cannot celebrate in triumph. As capitalism approaches its bicentennial, it is beset by crisis. Increasingly, its supporters as well as its critics ask: Can capitalism survive?
It may well be that the question that ought to be asked in Australia is whether the system that we have lived under all our lives Will continue to provide for the community the type of society that we want to see for our children and for their children to come. The United States of America is looked upon by everybody, including members of the Opposition who see as their god private enterprise and who see as their god the training of people to think in conformist views.
– Who do you see as your god?
-My god is justice for aU the people who live in Australia. Of course the society in which we are living at the moment just does not give that justice. Honourable members opposite should take time out to read about the people they represent in the country towns. They have ignored those people. Ever since I became a member of this Parliament, I have never heard a National Country Party member ask one question about education, one question about health or one question about poverty. So much for their concern about the people in this country. The Time article continues:
As to whether or not the present system can survive- is all the more urgent because the United States, by far the most powerful capitalist economy, is recovering from its recent debilitating bout of inflationary recession and faces a particularly uncertain economic future. Production is beginning to rebound. Officially, the unemployment rate fell from 9.2 per cent in May to 8.6 per cent in June. But that was a statistical fluke, reflecting the imprecision of the Government’s methods in measuring the number of students entering the job market for summer. Thus the jobless rate could well go up in the months ahead. Most experts expect the rate to stay above 8 per cent for at least another year and not dip below 7 per cent until 1977.
Bringing it down faster might well require surges in demand that would kick up a new, probably more devastating inflation. There is a gnawing fear that capitalism has no way to cure inflation except deep recession, and that any concerted attempt to lift an economy rapidly out of recession will only fan inflation.
So what we are talking of is curing some of the economic ms of the system under which we liv with human sacrifice- by putting people out of work, by ignoring the poverty they live in and by perhaps ignoring completely the people who are underprivileged and are forgotten about by both politicians and by political and economic systems.
Obviously this is the type of system that will not continue. It seems to me that perhaps more questions ought to be asked about the way we plan what will happen in Australia. Business after business, primary producer after primary producer, are continually at the door of Government seeking straight out economic assistance. If it is fair enough for the Government to reach decisions which give them that sort of economic assistance, then it seems to me to be fair enough for the Government to have some say in the manner of operations that will go on in those enterprises. Obviously none of us should sleep lightly on the fact that there are people living as Professor Henderson has pointed out. But there are a lot of people- intellectuals and young people- who contend that capitalism at best can build only a rich, not a just society. Time magazine states:
In January seven Nobel prize winners, including Economists Gunnar Myrdal and Kenneth J. Arrow, signed a declaration condemning Western capitalism for bringing on a crisis by producing ‘primarily for corporate profit. ‘ They called for an intensive search for ‘alternatives to the prevailing Western economic systems ‘.
Of course, when speakers from the other side of the chamber as well as from this side point to the economic ills of our society and of our system what they are in fact doing is raising questions as to the success of the system which we have lived under for 200 years. More people ought to question it and more people ought to be working in the Treasury, putting up alternative ideas in regard to the system which brings about these ills.
I understand that now it is respectable in 1975 to quote from the works of Karl Marx; I do not think that he was ever a member of the National Country Party. But during the 1950s and 1960s if a person ever quoted from Karl Marx he would receive a McCarthy type onslaught and investigation conducted by the Liberal and National Country Parties. We would have a sort of Petrov inquiry because he was quoting somebody who was unacceptable, who challenged the system and who asked people to think about what ought to be done. Marx, of course, in summary, reckoned that capitalism would pour out more goods than workers could buy with the paltry wages that the system paid then. Of course, this applies today. Honourable members opposite seem to have a great liking for citing the figures in relation to average male weekly earnings. They say that these are $160 a week and make it sound as if everybody in Australia receives an average of $ 1 60 a week. We in this Parliament are paid a salary of $400 a week. That is put into the melting pot. Some people in the PubUc Service are paid $600 or $700 a week. That is put in the melting pot. Judges are paid $800, $900 or $1,000 a week. That is put in the melting pot. Those salaries are put into the melting pot together with the wages of people working on councils and in country towns who may be receiving $85 or $90 a week. The fact is that 64 per cent of the members of our community in
Australia do not receive an income equivalent to the average weekly earnings.
As I said at the outset, there is great justice in the political application of what has been done in this Budget. I do not think that it would have been done had it been left to the Treasury. It needs political motivation to bring some of these things to fruition. The members of the community, irrespective of the attitudes that are expressed by honourable members opposite, will not allow you to dismantle Medibank. They will not allow you to forget the under privileged people who were put in that sort of position during your 23-year regime from 1949 to 1972. They will not let you forget what Professor Henderson has told us about the Australian community. They will not let you forget that pensions ought to be 25 per cent of average weekly earnings so that people have some grasp at a decent living in this country. Some of the things that have been done by this Government are of great social justice. I am sure that the community will not let you undo them.
I raise this point in the consideration of the estimates for the Treasury: Far more thought ought to be given to the makeup or the infrastructure of the present society and its inadequacies. If it cannot provide for the 13 million people in this country, imagine the difficulties it is having in other countries. The system we live under is in crisis, as has been pointed out by our Treasurer (Mr Hayden) who is visiting overseas. Australia, the United States of America, Great Britain and the Federal Republic of Germany- all of these countries which have the same economic system have the same problems. More people ought to be trained to see how we can overcome those problems. If capitalism took over from feudalism, just as surely socialism can take over from capitalism.
-We have just heard an extraordinary speech, read largely from an overseas publication, by the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) in which he postulates that because capitalism, according to this article, is not being as successful as he would like to see it, socialism would be more successful. I think that this proposition deserves some close examination. If socialism has been so successful, why has it been rejected and been so unsuccessful in such a large proportion of the world’s countries and enslaved so many of the world’s people? I think it is interesting to hear so many people talk about socialism and the benefits that it can give. Yet let us have a look at those nations which suffer under socialism. I remember the Nazi nation, which I believe even the honourable member would rail against. That was a socialist republic, if we remember our history. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is a socialist republic. It is not going too well. Therefore, the apologists for socialism really have a couple of things to answer for.
Let us have a look at the situation in Australia at the moment under an avowedly socialist Government and let us see how it is going. Let us have a look at how the socialist government of Australia is getting on in managing the economy of this country. Inflation is running at 16 per cent and rising. Unemployment is the highest since the Depression. Interest rates are the highest in living memory. Businesses and primary industry are going broke. The honourable member for Bass (Mr Newman) has been in the Parliament since June. I took part in that election campaign in Bass. I remember very clearly walking down the streets of George Town, a bastion of the Australian Labor Party in the past, and noticing all the empty shop fronts. The empty shop fronts were all brought about simply because of the mismanagement of this Government. How did the people of George Town react to this splendid socialist dream brought upon them by this Government? They voted against it- to the tune of a 17 per cent swing- and for the people who believe in free enterprise.
What about the morale of producers in this country, those who make the goods which become available so that people can have the sort of life we would all like to see? They are going out backwards. What about the deficit? The Budget deficit is the greatest in the history of this nation and has been brought about by this splendid socialist Government. What do we have in this country? We have a sheer shambles in terms of the economy. Whether the Government likes it or not, it cannot blame the position on overseas events. The Government has sought to blame it on overseas events since it came to power. Do not take my word for it that we cannot blame the position on overseas events. Have a look at the document of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development for July 1975. Have a look at Budget Statement No. 2. Have a look at the Budget speech by the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Senator James McClelland), a member of your own Party, delivered in the Senate last week. He did not blame the position on overseas events. He blamed it quite rightly, as did these other authorities, on home grown mismanagement. That is what has occurred in this country since this socialist Government came to power in 1 972.
Let us have a look a little more closely at the Budget. What does it do? What should it do? Does it, in fact, control inflation? Rather than controlling inflation, the Budget says that inflation will run at the rate of 1 8 per cent in this coming year. How about that for a control over inflation. Inflation is running at the rate of 1 6 per cent at the moment. The Government is budgeting for an inflation rate of 18 per cent. Government expenditure is up 22 per cent on its already excessively high level. Indirect taxes have been pushed up enormously. Are these measures inflationary or anti-inflationary? Everybody knows that they are inflationary. What do the measures do? Whom do they hit at most? They hit at the people Government members are supposed to represent- the small man, the man who finds it difficult to buy an extra gallon of petrol, the man who finds it difficult to buy a pint of beer these days, the man who has a cigarette,-
– The working man.
– The working man-the people that the Government is supposed to represent. What is the present position? Already, there has been a 6c a gallon increase in the price of petrol. What about providing encouragement for the business sector? There will be a $25 per tonne increase in the price of liquefied petroleum gas. That will help business get under way! There is no way that the Budget brought down by this apology for a government can diminish in any sense the inflationary pressures let loose by the mismanagement of this Government. What about the unemployment? Government members are alleged to be concerned about unemployment But we have the Minister for Labor and Immigration in the Senate talking about a rise in unemployment peaking at around about 400 000 people by December or January of this year. How do Government members like sitting on that side of the chamber?
– I like it.
– Of course the honourable member likes it. He should not get used to it; he will be over this side shortly. There is no way that this Budget will restore business confidence. If business confidence is not restored, unemployment cannot be brought down. Whether Government members like it or not, the majority of the employment takes place in the private sector and will continue to take place in the private sector. If the Government keeps bashing the private sector, there is no way it will get unemployment down. Let us have a look at support for the private sector to which some people in the Government pay lip service- and I use that word advisedly. There is no assistance in capital raising by either the provision of new funds or the retention of profits. There is no relief of the liquidity crisis facing many businesses. There is no long term commitment and no real encouragement to invest. The double depreciation allowance is deceptive. Honourable members should remember that the continuous process industries had been allowed double depreciation allowances until last year. The allowance was removed by the Labor Government last year. It has now been restored to its original position. How about that for taking away with one hand and giving with the other! This is simply deceptive, as is so much of the rest of this Budget. There is no promise to continue the commitments in terms of double depreciation allowances or tax relief.
The failure rate of business in Australia, if one cares to have a look at it- I ask honourable members to remember that the people involved are the ones who provide employment for the vast majority of Australians- has trebled since this socialist Labor Government came to power. The tax on stocks is enormous. It is 316 times what it was 2 years ago. It is increasingly difficult to finance needed working capital, and costs are added to by companies being forced towards a non-contributory superannuation scheme because of the situation brought about in this Budget introduced by the present Government. In all these ways there is absolutely no practical boost whatsoever to the market place. The people in the market place are the people who most provide the jobs; the people who most provide the goods. If no boost is given to these people and no incentive is given to these people, the economic mess which faces Australia at the moment will not be overcome.
How about the easing of personal hardship about which the Labor Party talks so much? This Budget- said to be responsible by the apologists for the Government- in my belief can be described as nothing but a sheer hoax. I ask honourable members to look at personal income tax. We are led to believe that personal income tax will be relieved by the new measures introduced by the Government, but if we look a little more closely at the figures what do we find? We find that personal income tax is up by 43 per cent and earnings are up by 22 per cent in the present year. Who will pay that difference? Will it or will it not be the taxpayer? Why are the members of the Government Party not honest with the Australian population? Why do they not tell the people that they have taken them for a ride? Even if they do not tell the people, they will realise it in the months ahead.
The total income tax paid by individuals is budgeted to exceed $10.3 billion. This is equivalent to 58.7 per cent of the total Budget receipts. In 1972-73 the total tax paid by individuals was $4.09 billion, which equalled 48.4 per cent of the total receipts. This Government says that it has introduced tax relief. What absolute humbug and deceit! The total tax paid by individuals has grown by more than 2Vi times in 3 years. Again I throw it back in the face of the Government: This Budget is a hoax. I believe very strongly that the Budget will cause a resurgence of demand for very large wage increases simply because unionists will realise that their tax will not diminish and that if they are to get anywhere they will have to have higher and higher wage increases so that their after-tax pay will be meaningful.
The combined effects of tax on business and individuals and the continuing high inflation will prevent any significant recovery in employment and in private sector consumption and investment. In other words, there is no chance whatsoever that the gross domestic product will increase by 5 per cent in real terms as the Budget postulates. In fact, if I were to predict what will happen, I would say that the gross domestic product at best will only break even and may slip by more than it did last year. I repeat: This is not a responsible Budget. It is a hoax. It will not result in a lowered inflation rate. It will not result in more employment. It will not give the needed incentive to the private sector. In other words, the people of Australia face another hard winter under this Government.
-I took the opportunity this morning to obtain from the Clerk of the House a photostat of the letter tabled this morning by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser) which purports or is alleged to be a copy of a letter from the Treasurer (Mr Hayden) to the Prime Minister Mr Whitlam
– Read it out.
– I have it right here.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Keith John son-Order! I do not think the honourable member for Chifley needs any assistance from the honourable member for Bendigo. He is doing quite all right on his own.
– It seems to me that it -
– I think the honourable member for Chifley needs a great deal of assistance.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The” honourable member for Hume will please contain himself. I am not in the habit of chiding one member only to have another member respond to the Chair in such a way. The honourable member for Hume will please contain himself, or he will find himself outside the chamber.
– The honourable member for Hume is noted on both sides of the chamber for bis immaturity. At the outset it seems to me that it cannot be the original, a duplicate or an official copy of any letter from the Treasurer to the Prime Minister. For example nothing goes out of the Treasurer’s office which is not dated and which has not got a ‘signed Bill Hayden’ stamp on it. This practice was employed by previous Treasurers. Furthermore it is a retype. It is not signed and it is not dated. Also, a paragraph within it is identical with the terms of an alleged letter which was printed in the Courier-Mail of 4 August 1975. 1 stress ‘a paragraph’- not all paragraphs. I ask honourable members to keep in mind that that letter was printed in the CourierMail before the Budget of 1 9 August.
I think we all are well aware of the duplicity of the Leader of the Opposition. One has to read every word and every phrase he writes or speaks. He is quite capable of suborning a public servant or another person to leak false, private, confidential or classified information to him. I want to make it quite clear that I do not think a Treasury official necessarily is involved. Every public servant signs an oath of secrecy. I did myself. I can recall that, when I was on the staff of the Reserve Bank and prior to that in the exchange control department of the central banking division of the Commonwealth Bank, I came across some highly confidential and highly politically explosive information which could have brought about the downfall of the Menzies Government in the election of 1961- an election which that Government won by only 2 seats. The information concerned a person who is a prominent person in the Australian community and has great influence upon the media. The person received 3 lots of f stg5,000-in other words, £stg 15,000 in all-for his third honeymoon to Europe. The instructions for this came from Canberra in the days of the Menzies Government. However, I did not break my oath of secrecy, even though I was a candidate at that election- a successful candidate as it turned out. I still will not break my oath of secrecy by giving any names -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN -Order! The Chair has been very lenient in this matter, but I think the honourable member is straying somewhat from the proposed expenditure.
– Very well, Mr Deputy Chairman. The Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition generally are deliberately trying to destroy the trust which should exist between the Public Service, the Parliament and the elected government; in other words, the democratic system. Members of the Opposition are quite ruthless in their attitude that the use of any means is justified in an attempt to regain the treasury bench. In doing so, they are corrupting other people and the parliamentary system generally. For the reasons I have given- the need for an oath of secrecy, the need for integrity of the Opposition and the need to maintain the integrity of the Parliament- I make a call now for a full scale investigation by the appropriate official bodies to ascertain the validity of the alleged letter and if it is valid- I have grave doubts about that- how it came into the possession of the Leader of the Opposition.
-In speaking briefly to the estimates for the Department of the Treasury I will refer to matters concerning the Australian Taxation Office. These matters relate primarily to accountants in country regions preparing taxation returns. I am pleased to see the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Crean) at the table because I know he will realise that I am not seeking to launch an attack on the Australian Taxation Office. But I sincerely believe there is a very serious lack of appreciation and indeed often of common courtesy evidenced by the Australian Taxation Office towards such accounts. I was for a very considerable period a country accountant in full time practice so I speak from experience and in the very definite hope that this regrettable situation can be remedied.
I fully realise the responsibility of the Australian Taxation Office in assessing returns and that it is charged with the collection of the taxation revenue within the financial year. I most certainly concede that there must be some arrangement to ensure that assessments and collections are smoothly and expeditiously supervised. That observation is sincerely made to indicate that I seek a constructive and sympathetic detente between the Taxation Office and tax agents, which does not exist at the moment. In the great majority of cases country accountants are unable to attract qualified staff into the country to assist them. They operate in an economy which precludes them from charging clients anywhere near the amounts which metropolitan practitioners can command. Their clientele relies on them to prepare not only their taxation returns but all sorts of statutory returns such as statistical, livestock, land and payroll tax returns.
They also have to prepare returns required by commodity boards as well as all sorts of documents required by banks, such as loan applications and rural reconstruction applications. There is an endless variety of such returns. Short staffed, in tight economic conditions, country accountants find that they have little or no time for general accountancy work for which they are qualified and which is more remunerative. Instead they are bogged down and under tremendous pressure to meet the lodgement programs laid down by the Australian Taxation Office. The practitioner bears the responsibility for every return lodged. The onus is his, not his staff’s. Every tax return requires considerable time, complete reconciliation and very much hard and exacting consideration and work.
While I concede that there may be some who contribute to their own unfortunate situation, that number is very small. It is no exaggeration to point out that many country accountants have to work 7 days and 7 nights a week, including public holidays, and mostly get no annual vacation. Their financial reward is often very much below the salaries of the staff they employ. I wish this could be appreciated by many officers of the Australian Taxation Office. Unfortunately communications issuing from the Taxation Office are curt and sometimes quite rude. Demands for information are issued and if a reply does not arrive within a few days there are nasty reminders, even summonses and all sorts of follow-up. Yet the experience of accountants is that when they write to the Taxation Office, inquire about a refund or assessment, request information or ask for consideration of a matter, they often receive no answer at all or the answer is not furnished for very long periods. No matter how often the accountant asks, this does not make the slightest difference. That was my own experience in private practice. It is the complaint of virtually every accountant in the country who continually point out this totally unsatisfactory state of affairs.
There is no courteous acknowledgment where the Australian Taxation Office is in error. But the country accountant dare not miss a requisition from the Taxation Office. The Taxation Office with its demands for lists, its penchant for final notices, its imposition of penalties, its requisitions for very time consuming and detailed information directed at times of greatest lodgment pressure seem to fail utterly to realise that accountants work their guts out and would do anything to be able to meet lodgment programs and avoid final notices and summonses. Yet on the due date, and even before, out they come, not only to accountants but also to clients and the harassed accountant is further besieged by unhappy and bewildered clients, very upset by the terse, formal demand they have received from the Taxation Office. It is usually hopeless for an accountant to succeed in being allowed to discuss problems on the telephone with the officer in the Department that he seeks. The penalties and fines imposed are usually paid by the accountant because despite his utmost efforts he just cannot meet the deadlines and avoid them. He is unable to go to accountancy conferences or seminars because he cannot get away from his practice.
Year by year he brings these problems to the attention of the Taxation Office in response to their demands. But all that seems to happen are more forms and the position becomes more hopeless. This year additional forms are being sent to clients whose returns, assessments and payment were delayed last year. Has the Taxation Office any conception of the extra burden and worry that this imposes on accountants? If it is under any misconception let it see how completely unsaleable are country accountancy practices and how unwilling qualified accountants are to go to country areas to practice. Many years ago before I was a member of Parliament I managed to talk to a Deputy Commissioner of Taxation and sought to get to him at least some understanding of the problems. His attitude was that accountants are somewhat parasitic in nature and but for the good graces of the Taxation Office they would not have a job. I failed to make him see how impossible it would be for the Australian Taxation Office if accountants did not so assiduously sort out the material and compile the returns. From experience I can tell honourable members that these returns are often constructed from shoe boxes or even flour bags of unsorted papers, cheque butts, bank statements and so on. They have to be reconciled. Accountants have to follow up every sale, contra and purchase with livestock agents and community organisations to ensure the accuracy of the return.
If a person becomes bankrupt aU sorts of requisitions are put on the accountant asking all types of questions. The accountant has to provide this information knowing that he will not get paid. We have that sort of attitude expressed so often by city-bound Taxation Office employees, on flexitime, enjoying every public holiday and taking vacations on full pay plus 17V4 per cent, or whatever it is, who send out notices as if they come out of a sausage machine but will not answer an inquiry or give one bit of co-operation. I have said, and I am sincere, that I know the responsibilities of the Taxation Office. I wish that I could give a complete and full solution to this very serious situation. But let there be no mistake. It is serious, it is frustrating and it is causing physical and mental breakdowns and increased heart disease among country accountants. There is a curtness, often a rudeness, an attitude of demand but very little understanding and cooperation. There is an attitude among many taxation officers which is cruel and totally indefensible. I regret having to say these things but because they are true they must be said.
Public relations by the Australian Taxation Office with country accountants is absolutely shocking and is deteriorating further. Refunds are slow and there is a suspicion that clients of tax agents wait much longer than do individuals who furnish their own returns. Despite the Acting Treasurer’s statement in the House I have been assured by many accountants that refunds this year are hopelessly slow and long delayed. Again the wrath of the clients is vented not on the dilatory Taxation Office but on the poor accountant. He cannot shed his workload for there is no one else to do the work. The excuse that the return is in the computer and will be processed soon wears thin when further months elapse without further advice.
I hope that we wm see changes of attitudes and greater co-operation and understanding. I hope that accountants will be able to have some trust and faith in the Taxation Office, and feel that they are being treated as human beings because such faith has been stifled. Accountants feel- unfortunately with justification- that they are regarded as less than human. I would like the time to document chapter and verse and relate case after case and instance after instance. But in the short time that I have had to speak I hope that I have identified the problems and situations that are extremely distressing. I hope that the Taxation Office will realise and value the tremendous and responsible role of these country accountants and admit how much it relies on the work that they perform. I hope that the attitudes change. I believe that this is a serious matter and it must be rectified and remedied because it has persisted too long. The situation of country accountants is still deteriorating; in many cases it has become untenable and quite impossible.
-I want to dwell on a couple of points raised by the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar) and the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland) earlier in the debate. It is notable that the Opposition is using the debate on the Treasury estimates to qualify its position on the latest Commonwealth Budget, It was clear to everybody who is a student of Australian politics or who closely watches what happens in this place that the day after the Budget was presented the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said clearly that there would be no attempt by the Opposition to stymie the Budget’s passage through the Senate. Now we find equivocation by the Leader of the Opposition because of pressure on him from the National Country Party of Australia and segments of his own Party. He is attempting to qualify that statement.
The spokesmen of the Liberal Party in this chamber, particularly in this debate, have called the Budget ‘a hoax’ and are trying to dismiss it as some kind of a confidence trick perpetuated by the Government. I make this point: A lot has been said about deficits, and I think probably too much. But the point is that the Government accepted the view that there was a need to restrain the normal expenditure commitments that the Government would incur in this financial year. It had to restrain them because it realised clearly that it could not resort to the imposition of higher taxation or indeed savage increases in indirect taxes to cover the shortfall between receipts and expenditure. Therefore, it had a simple choice facing it: It could cover the deficit which would normally come from its expenditure with loans raised from the non-bank public, which has the effect of course of driving up interest rates; or alternatively it had the option of reducing the size of its own expenditure, which it has done.
The Opposition made the point clearly that in the event of the Budget having a deficit of around $2,500m it would approve of it. That was the effect of the utterances from the Opposition in the month before the Budget was formulated, believing that the Australian Labor Party would try to perpetrate a Budget with a deficit of $4000m to $5000m. Inconveniently for the Opposition, the Government decided to reduce the deficit to something of the order that the Opposition mentioned. No case can be made in terms of fiscal responsibility for the Senate to even consider rejecting the Budget on the basis that it is irresponsible. The references to the tax system by the Opposition are such that it is as though members of the Opposition expected that along with cuts in expenditure this year we should also offer massive cuts in taxation. Obviously this is not the year when big cuts in taxation can be given; in fact it is a year when higher taxes could have been considered as an offset to expenditure.
The Government has decided to pick up the Medibank cheque from taxation revenue because the levy to fund Medibank was not applied. An amount of $205m was handed back directly in income tax cuts and there was a reallocation within the income tax scales so that the married man with a wife and children got a go at the expense of married people without children and with both partners in occupations. In the first half of this calendar year there was a reduction in tax of $700m. This was a give-away to the public. The reduction for 12 months was given back in the 6 months from January to 30 June this year. There has been a reduction in income tax of $205m in this Budget and provision has been made for the funding of Medibank. This means that in times of enormous expenditure there is quite a significant contraction in the amount of money which one would normally have expected to be raised by way of income taxation in this Budget. In this situation the Government has a simple choice. It can finance its deficit from the non-bank public, in which case there is no inflationary effect. This is the point that needs to be recognised. If the Government reduces the public’s holdings of money by the same amount it spends in excess of its own income there is a nil inflationary effect.
There is nothing wrong with a government deficit providing it is financed correctly. By correctly, I mean financed from moneys taken from the non-bank public. That drives up interest rates. Because of our concern for the private sector we have kept Treasury note yields at around 8.7 per cent this year. We have decided that we cannot go on to the bond market to raise a lot of money. In July we raised $680m- 45 per cent of that came from the public- to redeem loans which had been raised at an earlier time. If one tries to raise a significant amount of money in excess of that, one drives up interest rates. That was an option the Government sensibly, I think, decided not to take. Therefore it is faced with a situation in which the deficit would be financed by drawing from the liquid assets and government securities ratios of the banking system, the non-lendable money which is in the net an addition to the money supply. That is the situation with the deficit. We have kept it to about $2,50Om to $2,70Om
– You have done $ 1,100m of that in 2 months.
– What would you know, you clown? You would not know what day it was. You are just a dummy that has been given a job. We have kept the deficit within manageable limits. Not only that, there also have been significant adjustments in the imposition of income tax under the Budget scales. The Government resorted to some indirect taxation to cover what shortfalls it could see. Nevertheless the point needs to be made that this year there will probably be a need to redeem about another $ 1 ,000m in loans. That has to be funded by public subscription. If one seeks more than that amount to cover the Government’s deficit one drives interest rates to an intolerable level. Any significant movement in the price of government securities means that interest rates in the public area would probably rise by 2 per cent or 3 per cent which would be too harsh an imposition on all people in Australia.
Nevertheless, in times of inflation all investors are entitled to a reasonable return on their money. I think at the moment that the investor perhaps is not doing as well as he expects to do in the sense that interest rates are reasonably low considering the prevailing rate of inflation. The point needs to be made in the Senate that in terms of responsibility and of trying to redistribute the impost of the tax burden the Government has done a remarkable job, I think, in this economic predicament in which Australia finds itself. No amount of chin wagging or trying to dismiss the Budget now as a hoax or as a con can relieve the Opposition of its responsibilities to face the fact that the Budget is responsible. It is not a matter of whether the Budget pleases the Senate; the point is that the Senate has no right at all to force any elected government to the polls, not because it does not have a majority in this Chamber, not because it lacks a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives, not because it does not have the support of the people at an election but because it does not have the money to govern.
The point needs to be made to the Opposition fairly clearly that in the event that it stops Supply it will stop. There will not be any easy recourse like there was before the last election when the Prime Minister got permission for a double dissolution in the dinner adjournment and the Supply Bill was passed at 8 o’clock. This time the Supply Bill will not be passed and the Opposition will carry the odium for the stopping of Commonwealth salaries, the stopping of the pension cheques and we will sit it out and we will see. So if the Opposition thinks it will be a pushover with its thuggery and its demagoguery it can think again. Blatant and open opportunism ought not to prevail in the Australian economy. Let the Opposition, if it likes, pay its freight to the Treasury benches. But it is a mindless lot of hacks with a new leader who is getting the run-through from the establishment because of the wealth redistribution this Government has perpetrated on it. The Opposition can take its chances if it will but I do not think it Will have what it takes to stop the Supply Bill. We dare the members of the Opposition to do it. If they do it we Will take them on. If the Opposition believes that the Senate’s role is to stop Supply Bills that course of action will be available to another Opposition in the Senate at another time. The constitutional processes which the Queensland Premier aborted have been aborted here as well. The breaking of those conventions will react as much against the Opposition in times to come as it has on us in the past.
I make the point that the Budget is responsible. The criticisms of the tax measures by Opposition speakers are without foundation and have been outlined today only to try to let the Opposition out of a situation in which its leader said that there would be no stopping of the passage of the Budget in the Senate. He now wants to go back on what he said and the undertaking he gave. I do not think the Press or the public will let the Opposition squirm out of it.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– It is always interesting to listen to the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) who comes in here perpetrating this holier than thou attitude and asserting that the Opposition is the one that breaks conventions.
– The Opposition does.
– It seems to me that this Government is probably responsible for breaking more conventions and more traditions than any other Party in this Parliament or in any other Parliament. The record is long. It is also on the record that if the Labor Party had had the opportunity in the Senate in earlier years it would have rejected Supply also.
– Give details.
– We had the opportunity.
– The opportunity was there.
-The Labor Party did not have the opportunity. That view was expressed by Mr Justice Murphy of the High Court as he now is. He said that if he could have mustered the numbers in the Senate when he was a senator he would have rejected Supply to a Liberal-Country Party Government. The honourable member for Blaxland comes in here with this holier than thou attitude, trying to put across the message that the Labor Party is the pious Party in this Parliament
I have risen in this debate primarily to direct some questions about the Medibank aspect of the Budget and to seek some clarification from the Acting Treasurer (Mr Crean). I am seeking detail of some of the figures that are involved and the relationship of those figures to the overaU deficit that has been projected in this Budget. The Treasurer (Mr Hayden), with his knowledge over the years of developing and seeing through the Parliament the Medibank proposals, is probably the man most familiar with the costing of the Medibank scheme. The figure that he has produced, and which one assumes has the blessing of the Department of the Treasury is an amount of $ 1,400m. In that $ 1,400m is a sum of $822m for the hospital side of Medibank.
The documents tabled with the Budget Speech reveal that that $822m does not include any figure for the hospital side of Medibank in respect of the States of New South Wales or Queensland. This was because at the time when the figures were drawn up those 2 States were not participating in the system. New South Wales apparently is going to participate in the hospital side of Medibank and I understand that Queensland will also. Those 2 States will bear part of the cost of the hospital side of Medibank in the financial year which we have entered and for which these estimates are relevant. So it is apparent that the $822m contained in the Budget estimates will fall far short of the overall cost of the hospital side of Medibank alone.
I would be very pleased to hear some explanation from the Acting Treasurer as to the view of the Department of the Treasury in this regard. I would imagine that there are probably enough hospitals in New South Wales- let alone New South Wales and Queensland combined- to involve the Government in additional outlays of as much as $822m, which would bring the hospital contributions from this Government to the Medibank scheme to an amount in excess of $ 1,600m. If this is to be the case, I think that the Government does have a responsibility to lay those facts before the Parliament and the people.
The other aspect of Medibank and the figures which have been presented in relation to it and to which I wish to refer is that, to my knowledge, we do not have any understanding or idea of what the costs will be in a full year. The costs on the medical side, I am sure the Government would suggest, are a fair estimate of the costs of Medibank in that area. But, on the hospital side, the dates on which the Medibank operations commence vary from State to State. In the 12 months period that we are presently considering, the entry dates of the States into that side of the scheme will be different. Obviously, the figure for the cost of the hospital side of Medibank must be very conservative. I think that the Treasurer does owe a responsibility to the Parliament and to members on both sides of this Committee to give some explanation of just what the overall cost of Medibank might be in a full year on the basis of all the States participating in the hospital side of that scheme and perhaps in the light of the usage factor that has developed in the number of claims being received on the medical side.
In relation to this aspect, it is interesting to note the comparison that has been drawn between the system which operates in Canada now and the Medibank scheme in Australia. The figures which have been used and which I accept and believe to be right show that in the current year the Canadian Parliament has budgeted for an expenditure of approximately $A7,000m for its equivalent of Australia’s Medibank scheme. That expenditure will cater for a population of 22 million people. Working on very rough figures, we can see that the cost of the scheme in Canada, which is pretty much the same as the Medibank system in this country, will be approximately $300 per capita. It seems to me to be totally unrealistic to suggest that the Australian Medibank equivalent of the Canadian system can be financed at a cost of $ 1,400m for 13 million people which is approximately $100 a head of population. Are we correct in assuming that the Treasurer puts before the Australian people the suggestion that in this country we can run Medibank at a cost of approximately $100 a head although in Canada the cost of running an equivalent scheme is approximately $300 a head? How realistic are the figures which we have been given in relation to the whole Medibank proposal?
A number of questions need to be answered in this area. I have raised some specific ones. They are: What are the costs estimated by the Department of Social Security, by the Treasury or by some other government authority as to the cost of Medibank in a full year on a basis of all States participating in the hospital side of that scheme and with the benefit of the knowledge of the number of claims which have been lodged in the first few months of operation of the medical side of Medibank. I think that the Australian people are entitled to know the answers to those questions based on estimates and experience.
The other aspect which I wish to raise briefly in the time available to me is this: I would be pleased if the Acting Treasurer would give some consideration as to what the prospect may be for Australia to reduce the deficit and in fact to reach a surplus situation. I find it very difficult to believe that there is the remotest possibility that an Australian Government Treasurer could introduce a Budget which would be able to reduce the deficit in any way significantly.
How would this be done? It would have to be done by the Government either getting an enormous increase in the revenue available to it or making some drastic cuts in its expenditure program. In simplistic terms, that is basically the situation if the deficit is to be reduced. I do not see any prospect of the Government obtaining revenue over and above increasing costs- let us say of the order of $2,000m- which would be sufficient to reduce the proposed deficit to $800m, which the Government regards as being a reasonable deficit. I would be interested to know whether the Acting Treasurer has any thoughts in that respect.
We must bear in mind the cuts that were made in the original departmental bids for funds and the number of programs which have been deferred by the Government. I mention as an example the progressive elimination of the means test on pensions and the lack of availability of additional funds in a number of areas including pre-school activities and tourism and recreational needs. We assume that appropriations for such proposals will come into operation next year or in the Budget the following year, if the Government is in a more healthy financial position. Having regard to commitments of that type which the Government has, as well as the many ongoing costs of running its programs, I ask: Is there a possibility that this country can ever look forward to a reduction in the deficit or is it committed to an ever increasing deficit year after year, Budget after Budget?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The Budget proposals introduced by the Government on Tuesday, 19 August 1975, included, inter alia as regards income tax, the replacement of certain concessional deducations by rebate of tax. The principal items of concessional expenses now rebatable, beginning in the income year which commenced on 1 July 1975- instead of being deductions in determining the taxable income which was the case for the year of income ended 30 June 1975 and for prior years of income- are as follows: Rates and land tax on taxpayer’s principal residence- a limit of $300; life insurance premiums and superannuation fund contributions- a limit of $1,200; and medical expenses- no limit. The rebate of tax in respect of all rebatable concessional expenses is the greater of $540 or 40 per cent of the total amount of rebatable items. Thus, even though a taxpayer may have no rebatable concessional expenses, he is entitled to a concessional rebate of $540. The 40 per cent rebate begins to operate where the concessional expenses exceed $1,350. Where a taxpayer has substantial rebatable expenses, his taxable income is increased by the amount of such rebatable expenses, and this can result in a substantially higher tax liability than would have applied under the previous concessional deducations system.
I instance the case of a person who spends most of his time in an iron lung. He has advised me that his concessional deductions, comprising mostly salaries paid to qualified nurses, for the year ended 30 June 1975 totalled approximately $10,000. He estimates that about the same amount or more will be incurred for the current year ending 30 June 1976. He has a net income, before concessional expenses, from property, of approximately $20,000. He advises me that he cannot recover any of these expenses from the Medical Benefits Fund or from Medibank as from 1 July 1975.1n respect of the year of income ended 30 June 1975 his tax position was as follows: Net income from property, mostly rentals- $20,000; less concessional deductions, principally nurses’ salaries- $10,000; taxable income-$ 10,000; tax on $10,000-$2,780; add 10 per cent surcharge on property income included in taxable income- $278; tax payable on 1974-75 taxable income-$3,058.
Now that the 10 per cent surcharge on property income has been eliminated, his tax for the year ending 30 June 1976 under the present system, and assuming no change in the rates of tax, would be $2,780. However, under ‘the most sweeping reforms of the tax system ever made’, as they were hailed by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), his tax position for the year of income ending 30 June 1976, assuming that the rebate system becomes law, will be as follows: Net income from property, as before -$20,000; tax on $20,000-$7,960; less 40 per cent rebate on $10,000 concessional expenses- $4,000; tax payable on 1975-76 taxable income-$3,960. The sweeping reform of the tax system will increase this unfortunate taxpayer’s income tax liability by $902 or approximately 29te per cent, taking into account the 10 per cent property surcharge, or by $1,180 or approximately 42 Vi per cent, not taking into account the abandoned 10 per cent surcharge on property income. ‘Sweeping reform’ in this case should really read ‘sweeping punishment’.
Perhaps the case illustrated is not as isolated as one may think. Paying 39.6 per cent tax on a net income of $10,000-made up of $20,000 income less concessional expenses of $10,000- is in my opinion a savage impost. Out of the $20,000 income, this unfortunate taxpayer is left with only $6,040 after tax. I recommend that this matter be investigated by the Treasurer (Mr Hayden) and by the Government as it appears to be a very severe tax to have to pay and as there are many more instances of a similar nature.
– I have listened with interest to this debate and I intervened at one stage. 1 undertake that the Treasurer (Mr Hayden), when he returns tomorrow, will reply in writing to some of the technical matters that have been raised. I would like to comment on one or two matters that have been raised. As an employee of the Taxation Office many years ago, I was rather disturbed by the comments of the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Adermann). Occasionally there may be misunderstandings, but I hope that it is not thought that the Taxation Office is totally inefficient. I find it a very efficient and very obliging department. If particular examples of misunderstanding occur, I wish that honourable members would notify the Commissioner of Taxation direct, rather than try to malign the whole of what I believe is a very efficient service.
The honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) referred to Medibank and to the costs if New South Wales should enter the scheme. It ought to be pointed out that the Estimates can be only estimates of expenditure which the Government knows it must incur, not of expenditure that is likely to be incurred if New South Wales enters the scheme. That is not what Estimates are about. They are about things of which the Government is contractually aware. I think that New South Wales has been very foolish not to come in and I think that pressure from the people there will make it come in. If that is the case, obviously additional provision will have to be made. On the other hand, the Government cannot make provisions in anticipation of New South Wales coming in.
A comparison was made between Australia and Canada. I do not know whether the honourable member allowed for the difference in values of the dollars. Canadian dollars are not as good as Australian dollars. One needs to add nearly one-third to get the equivalent in terms of Canadian dollars. At least the Canadian scheme currently covers the whole of Canada. If New South Wales is out of the scheme here, something like 40 per cent of the population is not covered. When New South Wales enters, as I believe it ultimately will, perhaps the per capita cost will correspond to that in Canada. I think that this is indicative of the costs of medical service these days. I believe that medical service is better provided this way than if it is left to the hazards of what used to be called private insurance.
– Are you prepared to accept that type of escalation or that type of cost?
-The costs would be the same whether the service was financed under the old scheme or the new scheme. What seems to be ignored sometimes is that at least the taxpayersthose people who are quoted so often- no longer have to pay a so-called voluntary contribution. Whilst it was not called a tax, in my view it was the equivalent of a tax. I used to pay the best part of $5 a week to receive full hospital and medical cover. To me, it was just as irksome as if it were a tax. The cost is there, whichever way the scheme is financed. I wish that, when comparing one scheme with another, people would not assume that the scheme we had was costless and that the scheme we now have is costly. That is a very unfair description. However, I point out that the provision of $ 1,445m for Medibank appears in the estimates for the Department of Social Security and I think it would be better if honourable members asked their questions during the consideration of those estimates. But I make the point that I can make that New South Wales is not covered because New South Wales is not a contractual party yet to the arrangement.
I do not want to go into a lengthy debate about what the deficit is likely to be next year or whether we can ever do without deficits. Whether they are high, whether they are low or whether there is a surplus is rather circumstantial according to the conditions of the time. I believe that at the moment a deficit is inevitable. I think it is rather difficult- I think I said this in the Parliament the other day- to reckon that $2,900m is disaster, $2,700m is prudence and $2, 800m is just right. I do not think we have that sort of exactness in what used to be called fine tuning, to use that lovely term. At least on this occasion both the Opposition and the Government assume a deficit of the magnitude of $2, 800m in the circumstances.
I will take note of the case that was raised of the taxpayer and the iron lung and see that we give at least a detailed reply, and similarly with the examples that were cited by the Leader of the National Country Party of Australia. I will see that the Treasurer looks at those matters. I thank honourable members who have contributed to the debate. I think it has been a friendly and useful debate on the whole.
Proposed expenditures agreed to.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I suggest that the order for the consideration of the proposed expenditures agreed to by the Committee on 4 September be varied by postponing the consideration of the proposed expenditures for the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Police and Customs. I would point out that the reason for this, of course, is the absence at the moment of the Attorney-General. I ask the Committee to concur with that suggestion.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock)There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
Proposed expenditure, $ 10 1 ,309,000.
-As shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs I have the unenviable task of dealing with the estimates for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in 10 minutes. However, I shall do my best to cover the field. The increase in departmental appropriations under this Budget runs from $109m to $ 142.7m, an increase of 30 per cent. The increase in the total appropriations for Aboriginal Affairs runs from $ 158.443m to $192m. This is an increase of approximately 20 per cent. It is worthy of note that that is less than the total increase in expenditure by the Government; that is, 23 per cent. So the actual increase on expenditure in relation to Aboriginal affairs over the whole range is 3 per cent less than the total increase envisaged by the Government.
The next thing to note is that not all the funds expended on Aboriginal affairs are expended by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Other departments have their say- the Departments of Education, Health, Housing and Construction, Northern Territory, and Urban and Regional Development. These departments between them expend an amount of approximately $50m. In this fact alone lie the seeds of many of the problems which can arise- an overlapping of functions, a lack of co-ordination, misunderstanding between departments, and if I may say so, a likelihood of competition between the departments. As one has more to do with Aboriginal affairs one finds these factors emerging: Overlap, lack of co-ordination, misunderstanding and competition. Of course this leads and can only lead to waste and inefficiency, and in the end it leads to disillusionment amongst the Aboriginal people.
One of the most significant matters for the government of the day to attend to is getting the co-ordination of expenditure going in relation to Aboriginal affairs. In recent years considerable concern has been expressed about expenditures in this Department. It is to be hoped that it is now using and recommending proper procedures. There can be no more damaging fact to the administration of Aboriginal affairs than waste and inefficiency in administration. There is a growing feeling amongst some that Aboriginal people are being too generously treated. I do not share that view. However, waste and inefficiency provide a very powerful argument for those who wish to decry the efforts to assist Aboriginal people.
During my recent visit to the Northern Territory I detected signs of this condition. I found large quantities of housing material lying idle with no intended use. I found small houses for Aborigines costing over $50,000 each, and I also detected an excessive use of consultants. The fact, of course, is that if there is waste and inefficiency it is not the Aboriginal people who cause it or reap its unjust rewards; it is the administrators, consultants and others who are living off the Aboriginal vote. I believe that in the light of past events the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Les Johnson) has a very special responsibility not only to this Parliament but also to the Aboriginal people to ensure that no criticism can be levelled as to the manner in which Aboriginal funds are expended. If he fails in this, he will fail as a Minister. Let me give some examples of the type of expenditure needing his consideration.
In the estimates there are references again to Applied Ecology Pty Ltd. Already several million dollars have been expended on the turtle farming project in which it is involved. There is no indication, of course, in the estimates as to whether the project is giving a return, and certainly one would like some explanation from the Minister as to what is happening.
On the other hand, in the field of sport and sporting activity we find the sporting appropriation reduced from $496,000 to $220,000. One asks why, when this is such a significant area of
Aboriginal activity in which Aborigines can mix with the rest of the community.
An amount of $220,000 has been appropriated for Aboriginal publications. I understand that there are 2 publications- Aboriginal News and the Aboriginal Affairs Monthly. I have had doubts expressed to me about the quality of these magazines. On the other hand one wonders whether there is a need for two of them. There is a reference to films and television and an amount of $63,000. 1 would like to know what there is to show from the expenditure in the past year in this area.
There are a number of areas where the Minister should be giving careful consideration to expenditure found in the estimates that we have before the Parliament. Take the hovercraft in the Torres Strait Islands. I have had the joy of having a ride in it, and it is an exciting adventure. However, I understand it is going to cost $200,000 to hire it and maintain it in the ensuing 12 months. The question arises: Is it worth it? Has the Government investigated alternative means of transport such as a helicopter or has it investigated means of transport that can employ Aboriginal labour? It does seem that an analysis of costs should be undertaken in this area to see whether that expenditure of $200,000 is worth while.
Another thing I notice in the estimates is that a large number of organisations are supported, and one cannot help feeling that there are expenditures in making grants to organisations which overlap in their activities. I assume that the Department is constantly looking at their activities. There is a number of them. I do not want to take time mentioning them, but there is a need to see whether the expenditure which is being undertaken in relation to them does in fact represent an efficient use of funds. I ask the Minister whether the Department is doing this. I appreciate of course one has to appreciate the fact that it is desirable for Aboriginal organisations to be supported. There will necessarily be a degree of overlapping. At the same time if there are bodies which are employing only or mainly white people then it is desirable perhaps that that aspect of the vote be looked at very carefully
Another general comment which I wish to make relates to the degree to which funds allocated for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders are being eaten up by administrative expenses and salaries of bureaucrats and middlemen, some of them in private enterprise. At least 13 per cent of the total allocation to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs is taken up by departmental salaries and other administrative expenses. Some extremely disturbing comments were made, as honourable members will recall in a special report on rural poverty in northern New South Wales. The report said:
It has been calculated that in 1967 there was one Aboriginal welfare worker for every 70 Aboriginals. One of us (Lovejoy) has estimated that, if the 1973-74 expenditure on Aboriginal welfare of $1 1 7.4m had been given directly to Aboriginals (estimated to be 140 000), there would have been about $838.00 for every man, woman and child.
That is, $5852 for each Aboriginal family.
As happens so often in other spheres of activity, Australia is following the trends in the United States of America and poverty is being professionalised and bureaucratised. In the process, it is becoming a lucrative business- for professional welfare workers, administrators, researchers and consultants.
The Commission of Inquiry into Poverty, which drew up the report, saw a very strong argument for negative income tax. The 13 per cent is only the tip of the iceberg in respect of administrative costs. Hidden in many of the substantial items in the estimates are further amounts to be expended on administration- for example, in grants to the States, in respect of housing and in grants of $23m to the departments of Education and the Departments of Housing. Those grants hide a great deal of administrative expense.
The danger therefore is that Aborigines are remaining institutionalised and are being increasingly bureaucratised. The only effective means of giving the Aboriginal people the greatest advantage from the funds made available is by pruning unnecessary procedures and, where possible, cutting down on the need for bureaucrats, middlemen and others who leech upon the Aboriginal allocation. Of course, the consultants in the Northern Territory and in other areas of Aboriginal affairs are also eating into the funds.
There are other matters to which I would have referred if I had time, such as the increase in staff. I would have asked the Minister why it was necessary to increase staff and how many of the increased number are to be Aborigines. I would have asked about the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee whose allocation this year is less than half what it was last year. I would have also asked what the Government was doing about giving the NACC an effective role in government.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I listened to the previous address with some interest. It seems appropriate that the previous speaker, the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr
Ellicott), should also speak on matters concerning Tasmania where there is a lack of Aborigines because he appears to have a real lack of concern for Aborigines. All I can do is stress the alarm of members of the Aboriginal community that they are being used as a political football for the purposes of the election or re-election of people. I am cognisant of the fact that even in this House they do not have an indigenous representative on either side elected to speak for them. It behoves us to look at that aspect. It is disappointing to see the political chicanery which is used to decry these estimates. I thought the debate would have opened on a better standard, particularly as a 30 per cent increase is proposed in these estimates.
From what the previous speaker said I think that the Opposition still believes in a separatist policy for Aborigines because this appears to be what it is seeking in denying Aborigines the expertise of consultants and bureaucrats of the white community. The Opposition seems to want to separate the amounts provided for bureaucrats and the amounts provided for Aborigines in some areas. The honourable member for Wentworth went on to say that the Opposition wanted a similar division of allocations in other areas such as education so that the allocations did not overlap. This separatist policy harks back to the dim dark ages before the 1967 referendum.
The previous speaker drew to my attention the matter of publications and while the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Les Johnson) is in the chamber I would like to draw his attention to the fact that the estimates include provision for the publishing of periodicals by Aboriginal organisations. One such publication is the Aboriginal and Islander Forum. Some 6000 copies are printed but I understand that the publishers are having problems getting the publication endorsed by the Postmater - General’s Department for the purpose of concessional postage. I would like the Minister to look at that aspect because provision for this very thing is provided in the estimates. It would be a shame to see this publication collapse because of lack of co-operation from Government departments- one of those overlapping departments referred to by the honourable member for Wentworth. This is a typical white attitude- the removal of the Aborigines’ autonomy because of the cost factor. This has arisen in the past and I am really disappointed to see it arise in this situation. If the Opposition ever became the Government it would deny Aborigines their autonomy and the right to make their own decisions.
– How do you know it would?
– I am only going on what Opposition spokesmen have said. I am glad that the honourable member drew attention to it. The estimates presented before this Government came to power show that there was no overlapping in other areas. For instance, there was very little reference in them to any areas of Aboriginal involvement. I will mention briefly some of the proposed items of expenditure because time does not allow me to go through the various papers and references that I have.
– You have time. You have 6 minutes left. Go ahead.
– I am glad, because I would like to say something else as well. Some of the major items of expenditure are: Salaries and payments in the nature of salaries; administrative expenses; other services, and this is where the greatest increase is; Aboriginal advancement or payment to the Aboriginal Advancement Trust; conferences, meetings and consultations- they were not consulted before; investigations and research; support of Aborigines on government settlements; assistance to missions- of course, the previous Government would know all about those areas of expenditure; repairs and maintenance of settlements; vocational training and adjustments; support for ecological projects; support for Aboriginal sporting activities; support for Aboriginal publication activities; the Royal Australian Institute of Architects; the housing panel contribution; Aboriginal enterprises for payment to the capital fund for Aboriginal enterprises; National Aboriginal Consultative Committee- again there was no voice for Aborigines before; salaries and allowances of members; meeting expenses; the provision of facilities for members; election expenses; incidental and other expenditure in that area; Aboriginal Loans Commission; Aboriginal enterprises for payment to the Aboriginal enterprises fund; and so I could go on. If honourable members look through the various papers they will find these references.
The general attitude of the Opposition would take us back to the days when Aborigines were treated as they were during the war years. Perhaps honourable members opposite would like to see a return of the situation where Aborigines were locked up at Moore River Missionthe children put in Wandering Mission- the children forcibly taken from their parents under the provisions of an Act and educated somewhere other than with white children. That is the pattern of thought which seems to come through from what has been said by Opposition members.
I notice that there is an allocation for Aboriginal housing and I draw to the Minister’s attention the fact that in Western Australia- I know that the Opposition would not agree with this because a consultant has been asked to look into it- Aborigines want to establish a building company of their own in order to be in a position to utilise tradesmen who are being trained at the moment. I understand that some 10 bricklayers are being trained as the base for this company which Will seek to build homes for Aborigines within the Perth metropolitan area. I know that it is a major undertaking and that perhaps it may be over-ambitious, but I feel that again this is something which the consultants and the Department should look at and on which they should bring down a suitable recommendation. I feel that the Government, if it consults with the Aborigines, will receive the co-operation which has been very evident in the past in Western Australia. I would hate to see a situation arise where the end product was so dear that the Aborigine who is the purchaser is penalised because of some inefficient production methods.
I do not mean my remarks to be a slur on those who are doing the work. I just make the point that perhaps in one of these overlapping areas a subsidy could be paid to those in training so that the cost would not be reflected in the housing. I realise that I am asking to have an overlap of departments with which the Opposition does not agree as is evident from the speeches of honourable members opposite during the Estimates debate. However, I feel that this is one area that should be looked at. It is an effort to do something to help those people and it is something on which I feel this Government has a proud record and which has been shown in the Estimates over the years by the foundation of these particular self-thinking areas.
This matter has arisen from the elected personnel of the Aboriginal community itself. It was raised by a Mr Bennell who is the elected representative who covers some of the area which I cover. I feel that it is useless to have a situation where the Aborigines put their questions to the people concerned and who they elect. Bearing in mind that they do not have an indigenous voice here, at least we should put them in a position to enable those particular thoughts and claims to be put into effect. The purpose for which I rose to speak on these Estimates was to ask for the Aborigines to be allowed autonomy instead of our having the high handed attitude, which has been so evident in the past, of everything being on a cost basis, on an efficiency basis. We should endeavour to make them fully self-sufficient and integrated within their own community. It should be borne in mind that the white community is responsible for the situation in which the Aborigines find themselves through lack of education as a result of a lack of attention to the demands of the 1967 referendum held under the previous Government. We are trying to lift them from their neglect. I commend the Minister for the tremendous advance which has been made in this Budget, even though it is a Budget of some curtailment.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I was sorry that the honourable member for Swan (Mr Bennett) introduced a Party political note into the problems facing the Aboriginal, because I have felt that all members of this Parliament thought this was a non political problem and that there was much which was required to be done. I think the honourable member’s speech was an unfortunate one to have been made in this chamber because the problems of the Aboriginal are not as I have said a Party political issue; they are a problem which faces all of us. As a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, I know how closely and how well members of all sides of the Parliament have worked under the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross), our chairman, to try to do something positive for Aborigines and not just make Party political points concerning the problem. I am as I have said very regretful that the honourable member for Swan has endeavoured to do this.
As a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs I should like to congratulate the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Les Johnson) on his recent appointment to that portfolio. During his period in Parliament, the Minister has been active in many areas of social reform including housing, health, social welfare and education. I am sure his experience will stand him in good stead for the difficult task which he has ahead of him. It will not be an easy task as we all know, as the Minister’s predecessors have found before him.
I believe that it is to the eternal shame of the Australian people that so Utile was done in the past 200 years to better the lot of the Australian Aborigine. Because of this neglect we have a lot of ground to make up, in a very short time. However, over the past 10 years, we have seen the problems facing the Aboriginal people receiving more and more attention. Under the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) and Mr Howson, as Ministers concerned with Aboriginal Affairs, and more latterly under the 3 Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs of this Government, significant steps have been made. Probably the boldest of these was the setting up of the National Aboriginal Consultative Council by the present Government I congratulate the Government on taking this step. As a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, I have attended one of the meetings of the Council, and on Thursday of next week I will again attend a meeting of the Council’s in Melbourne. Although the Council is still in its infancy and still faces many teething problems, I believe that it has a vital role to play in the interests of the Aboriginal people. It could achieve much or it could be a dismal failure. The success or the failure of the Council will depend as much on us as members of this Parliament as it will on the Council members themselves.
One of the Council’s greatest problems is the diversity in background and education of the members of the Council. The Council is comprised of the well educated and the articulate urban dwelling Aborigine or part Aborigine together with the outback or tribal Aborigine. One might be understood for fearing that the more articulate or better educated Aborigines might exercise a stronger influence on the Council than his or her tribal brother. However from my short experience of the Council, I do not believe that this problem, if it exists, will last for long. The Aboriginal people can be very stubborn when they believe they are right or have a just cause, and they are not prone to be stampeded into making hasty decisions. I believe that the Department and we as members should, without interfering unnecessarily, be doing more to help the members of the Council in the actual running of that Council. As I have said, Members of our Committee went along to one of the Council’s meetings and we found that so many of the Aborigines were confused as to what they should be doing and how they should be running their meetings. I think that a lot of notice could be taken by the Department to show the Aboriginals just how the Council could run more efficiently in the interests of Aborigines.
Under the constitution of the Council, it is laid down that the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives should apply. I believe that at this stage of development of the Council, the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives are far too sophisticated for the Council to have as its Standing Orders. I have served as a Deputy Chairman of Committees in this House for some 4 years and I would not lay claim to being an expert on the Standing Orders of this House. I think there are many other honourable members who are in a similar position. I believe- and we discussed this at the NACC meeting- that perhaps a set of rules such as the Joske Rules for Procedures used at meetings might be better suited to the Council. Joske’s Rules would be more easily understood than the Standing Orders members of this House are trying to foist upon the National Aboriginal Consultative Council.
I am afraid that I must answer the honourable member for Swan on a point that he mentioned. He said that the Aboriginal people had no voice in this chamber. The Aboriginal people do however have a voice in the Senate. It is the voice of our Liberal Party senator from Queensland, the only Aboriginal member of this Parliament. Senator Bonner has done a magnificent job. He has shown that Aborigines can play a very significant part in the running of this nation, not only as Aborigines, but as Australians. Senator Bonner has often said to me, ‘I do not regard myself just as a spokesman of the Aboriginal people. I regard myself as a representative and senator of the people of Queensland ‘. I think that Senator Bonner has the correct approach. We should be one people. We should not be Aboriginal people because we have black skins and white Australians because we have white skins. We should be one people. We should all be Australians.
In saying that I am not saying that there are not special problems and therefore many things which should be done for the Aborigine. But let us regard ourselves as one Australian. We do not want or need to adopt a system of benevolent apartheid. We have had a member of the South African Parliament here today who has talked about the situation in South Africa where the black people are put into one section of the country and told, ‘You live there’, and the white people are told, ‘You live here’. I would not like to see this situation occur in Australia. I believe that we should be one Australian people irrespective of the colour of our skin or any other characteristics which we might possess. If the Aboriginal people have a skin which is different from that of the white people and if they are disadvantaged because they have lived in outback areas, it is our duty as the more affluent Australians, to see that those people are given the same opportunities to compete with and enjoy the same privileges as the people who are born in better circumstances.
There are several other things that I should like to say in the time available. The first is that we hear a lot about drinking problems among Aborigines. I know this is a problem. It is a problem we have to face with the Aborigines and it is a problem that many white people face. All of us in our electorates have problems of drinking and driving white people. The problem is not confined solely to Aborigines. I do not know what the answer is. Are we justified in saying to the Aborigine: ‘It is all right for the white man to drink. It is all right for the white man to be an alcoholic. But it is not right for you, because your skin is black, to be an alcoholic or for you to drink alcohol and liquor’. I know that it is not in the interest of Aborigines that they should drink alcoholic liquor. But it is not in the interests of the white man, either. There is much to be done for the Aboriginal population. The problems facing the tribal Aborigines are very different from those facing the fringe dwelling Aborigines. We have a big job before us.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I speak with a great deal of interest and concern in the debate on the estimates for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. I follow honourable members who have already spoken in the debate tonight about the philosophical matters of Aboriginal affairs. I think that those of us on both sides of the chamber who have some concern for Aboriginal affairs do not make a judgment on the achievements of government in the area of Aboriginal affairs on the basis of the money provided for in the estimates. After all, that is an earnest of the Government’s preparedness to place resources behind the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, but I think that all of us are aware of the fact that it is a case of men and women as well as resources. It is a case of obtaining the enthusiastic co-operation of the departments in the State. I am referring not only to the departments of Aboriginal affairs or their equivalents but also to all those other instrumentalities involved in Aboriginal affairs. I think any honourable member can take some considerable satisfaction in saying that involved in Aboriginal affairs is the substantial support of the Australian Government. One thinks also of the State departments through which programs in health, education, housing and, indeed, Aboriginal affairs themselves are financed.
When one looks at the estimates one sees that there has been step by step, year by year, substantial progress made in the amount of money actually being channelled to the States. Another aspect of the estimates shows the increasing amount which is being channelled through organisations which are composed of Aborigines and which are Aboriginal controlled. This is a slow process in some areas but it is a very worthwhile process. I think that aU of us reject the concept that we should be paternalistic in the programs that are financed by the Australian Government to help Aborigines. We believe rather, that we should encourage initiative by the Aboriginal people, that we should help them where they need back-up resources, that they should know where they show an initiative they will receive a sympathetic response from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Les Johnson).
This is an area where there is a good deal of risk capital. The media is fond of turning the searchlight of truth or at least illumination on those matters where it can be suggested that there is some waste of public expenditure or where it seems that there has been some discrimination in favour of Aboriginal people which seems to be unfair vis-a-vis other Australians. But leaving aside the more spectacular areas, the mistakes which I think all of us will admit have from time to time been made, there is a basis of very solid achievement within this program, real achievement in terms of approximately 12,000 children of Aboriginal descent now at secondary schools compared with the mere hundreds attending such schools before the program of Aboriginal secondary education grants was established; the substantial number of Aboriginal people who are now living in better housing than they were before; the numbers of Aboriginal children who are now receiving a better education in pre-schools, and schools whether those schools be conducted through the State system or whether the children go away and board; and, of course, the Aborigines who are assisted through Aboriginal enterprises.
If there are any failings in this area they are failings in public relations. As I travel through my State of Queensland- not altogether a sympathetic State in some areas of Aboriginal affairs- and elsewhere in Australia, I find that there is a very widespread misunderstanding of aU these programs. I do not think there is any great difference in philosophy between the present Government and its predecessor but I do think that there is an increased pace; there is a greater amount of money made available for the program. But people throughout Australia do not really understand that we are trying to give Aboriginal people in this generation special advantages and that we are trying to discriminate in their favour at this time in order that at some time in the future all Australians might be equal.
I have the honour of being the Chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. I pay a tribute to my colleagues on the Opposition side of the chamber as well as on the Government side of the chamber for the honest and non-partisan way in which they look at Aboriginal problems. But there are many people who, when looking at a program put forward in regard to Aboriginal affairs, are inclined to say: ‘This is discrimination in favour of the Aborigines. The Aborigines do not want this discrimination. They want to be equal and to be like our children. Really the Aborigines do not need this, they do not want it and it is harmful’.
How can Aboriginal people or children be equal? If one goes into a State high school in central western New South Wales- I do not propose to mention townships- one finds that four or five times as many Aboriginal children are attending today as were attending five or six years ago. That is a tribute to the Aboriginal secondary education grants started in the days of the previous Government and expanded under our Government. The people in those townships say that this is discrimination in favour of Aboriginal children, but if one goes to the places where some of the adults live and where some of these Aboriginal children live one finds very often that they live on a reserve and, notwithstanding the large amounts of money that have been devoted to Aboriginal housing, they may still live in a corrugated iron shed or shanty without electric light or a water supply. When one looks at the school rooms in these high schools, State or otherwise, one finds books stacked around the walls or on the desks. This is because the pupils of these schools do not take their school books home. They come from large families and live in poor standard accommodation. The younger children at home would tear up the school books, and the school children could not do their homework at home because there is no electric light there. If someone suggested to me that by abolishing this system of Aboriginal secondary education grants all those children would be made equal, I would remain to be convinced.
I say to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs that this is the major task in Aboriginal Affairs: Notwithstanding the great amount of progress that yet has to be made and the leeway that yet has to be made up, the great task in Aboriginal Affairs is public relations. I find it very sad that we have not convinced large numbers of people in the
Australian community that what this Government is doing or what its predecessor was doing is just and has to be done if Australia is to be the sort of nation to which we all aspire. No nation can be really great and really democratic and take its place in the world as an enlightened community if it has within its borders substantial numbers of people who are living in depressed circumstances. The Aboriginal people of this country for many years have been living in such circumstances.
That is principally what I wish to say. I think that the Department and the Minister are to be congratulated on the increased allocation. I am heartened by the increased level of expertise in the Department. I hope for a more effective regional presence of departmental officers because I do not believe that other departments can carry out the co-ordinating role or the communications role- we still have a problem of communicating to Aboriginal people the programs that have been made available to them- of ensuring that Aboriginal people know that those programs are available. I am heartened to see, in this time of restraint in so many programs, that the Government obviously has given a high priority to Aboriginal Affairs. Like education and health, it obviously is one of the priority areas of the Government. I am very happy about that. I am pleased to see the progress that has been made and will be made.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired .
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8p.m.
Mr LIONEL BO WEN (KingsfordSmithMinister for Manufacturing Industry) For the information of honourable members I table a copy of a statement by my colleague the Special Minister of State (Senator Douglas McClelland) together with the ordinance referred to in the statement.
– I have received advice from the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Wriedt) that he has nominated Senator Gietzelt to be a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence in place of Senator Wheeldon.
Department of Aboriginal Affairs
Proposed expenditure, $ 10 1 , 300,000.
-The expenditure on Aboriginal affairs for 1975-76 is estimated at $192m. Of this amount $142m will be directly controlled by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. In addition the Department administers payments to the States for housing, education, health, welfare and employment responsibilities. Expenditure on these projects is estimated at $40.8m. The remaining $50m of the total of the estimated $192m for Aboriginal expenditure by departments other than the Department of Aboriginal Affairs is the responsibility of the departments of Education, Housing and Construction, and Health. Mr Chairman, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a breakdown of this figure for payments to the States.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
-The estimates this year -
– Order! Would the honourable member for Mackellar please observe the standing order that no member should cross between the member addressing the Committee and the Chair.
– The estimates this year indicate recognition of the decreasing role for departmental employees on settlements in the Northern Territory from which Aboriginal people are leaving in a noticeable movement back to tribal lands. They also point to a large growth of regional and branch officers. For the information of the Committee I also seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a breakdown of the 830 staff members into divisions within the Department and the estimates of these divisions for 1975-76.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
– It is worth noting that approximately 19 per cent of the staff or 169 people on the Department of Aboriginal Affairs are of Aboriginal origin. The branch offices of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs have now taken over many of the responsibilities for policy review and formulation that the former State departments handled.
I believe it should be stated that there has been criticism that increases in the number of departmental staff have led to a lucrative business for welfare workers and administrators. A report tided ‘Rural Poverty in Northern New South Wales’ by the Poverty Commission of Inquiry noted that if the 1973-74 expenditure on Aboriginal welfare of $1 17.4m had been given directly to Aborigines, then estimated at 140 000, it would have meant $838 for every man, woman and child. In other words, the average household of 7 people would have received $5,852 or about double the then basic wage. Of course, an increase this year to $192m for an estimated Aboriginal population of 153 000 will show an even more disturbing situation. This is not a specific criticism of the Department in particular but it does reveal the difficulties involved in relation to the alleviation of poverty generally. It does reveal and point to the importance of administrative efficiency at all levels to achieve the utmost benefits for our Aboriginal people.
As often happens in spheres of government activity, Australia is following the trends in other countries where poverty is being professionalised and bureaucratised. Government welfare programs must not be allowed to become a lucrative business either for professional welfare workers, researchers or consultants. It is the responsibility of this Parliament to ensure that economists, accountants and systems specialists can work out how to deliver the maximum proportion of the dollar to the needy and the underprivileged and not to the bureaucrat. This is a problem common to every government department that has been exacerbated over recent times by inflation and its accompanying wage rises and cost increases. But it must be controlled. Parliamentarians in this place have a primary right to protect 2 groups of people to be assisted- in this case the Aborigines and, of course, the taxpayers.
I wish to confine my remaining remarks to housing and education for Aboriginal people. An amount of $44.9m has been allocated for the Aboriginal housing program in 1975-76. During the past year I have been making representations to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Department in an endeavour to meet the housing problems of individual famines in my electorate, particularly at Swan Hill and Mildura. These famines have found it frustrating and difficult to understand how huge amounts of government funding could be available for valuable but grandiose schemes while action relating to very basic requirements such as housing appears to be unattainable. I am heartened by a response from the new Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Les Johnson) on 27 August that finally details for the purchase of 12 houses in the Swan HillRobin.valeMildura areas are presently with the Valuer-General awaiting approval. The difficulties encountered by myself and no doubt other honourable members of this House, particularly in respect of the specific requirements of our Aboriginal constituents, should not be overlooked by any government which at times allows a policy of self determination to dominate all its thinking. The provision of housing, as with health, should not be an unmanageable problem. The availability of resources and the ability to design and build houses to meet varying lifestyles and conditions is, however, the main challenge.
Huge amounts of money have already been spent on consultants and architects to design and build houses that are both inadequate and unsuitable for various communities. It cannot be emphasised too often that a successful housing program Will result in improvements in the social, economic and health status of our Aboriginal people. The Secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in an address to the Press Club on 14 July 1975 indicated that the Aus.tralian Labor Party pOliCy on housing was running into disasters and was likely to encounter others. The Aboriginal housing panel in referring specifically to the ALP’s policy on housing- ‘that a mass construction program should be commenced immediately to accomplish this task’stated:
Such monolithic solutions to problems which no one has adequately defined should be resisted or they could lead to a monumental social or environmental disaster for many Aboriginal groups. Not only could there be a gigantic disaster in human terms, but it would be achieved at great economic cost.
The Aboriginal Housing Panel suggests that conventional housing as determined by Europeans is often not applicable. The empty rows of King Strand houses at Papunya and repeated throughout Australia and the support services they brought in their train are a stark testimony to the follies of constructing fixed structures either for a people who might not want them or in a place in which they would prefer not to be. Present and previous Government POliCY has favoured selfhelp housing programs. The financial allocations to self-help housing programs alone have risen from $400,000 in 1972-73 to $ 19.8m in 1975-76. The average cost per dwelling is approximately $30,000. Architects get 10 per cent as their commission. This represents 10 per cent of $ 19.8m in 1975-76 for architects to housing associations alone. I am sure that some rationalisation of this immensely profitable area should be immediately made.
An example of the types of homes that are unsuitable for our Aboriginal people is exemplified in Laverton where the Laverton house is the latest in a long list of expensive designs. Housing programs have been constructed in areas where no one wishes to live as at Umbakumba on
Groote Eylandt and One Arm Point in Western Australia. In Mowanjum, Western Australia, housing was constructed at a place where it is physically and legally impossible to live; that is, on a telephone easement between the planned main runways of Derby airport. There are no absolute or objective criteria available on which to base designs for Aboriginal housing even where the efforts are made to discover the wishes of the community.
I wish now to mention briefly education. I make particular reference to recommendations made by the Aboriginal Consultative Group to the Australian Schools Commission. It has been obvious to me since I have been a member of this Parliament and a representative of a large Aboriginal community along the Murray River that a restrictive factor in the education of Aboriginal children is their inability to identify with a European education system or to adjust to the conflict between preservation and change, between autonomy and ancestry. I give support and urge great emphasis to be given to those suggestions to train Aboriginal teachers and teachers aides and to allow State authorities to establish a scheme to use trained liaison officers to assist at primary and secondary level. Their duties would include liaising with parents, teachers and children, to help involve parents in school activities and vocational guidance and counselling.
I support the estimates as proposed by the Budget. The success of this Government’s policies or those of any future government will not hinge on resources alone; they will demand tolerance and understanding of all of the white community and the ability of the Aboriginal community to meet a confused period of social change, where traditional societies are being destroyed and where employment opportunities are almost non-existent.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Darling) (8.13)-When the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott was discussing the estimates for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs he mentioned the wastages that he had observed and spoke about the great number of bureaucrats handling Aboriginal affairs. He mentioned something about inefficiency in the Department. The honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher), when first addressing the Committee, spoke along much the same lines. I have heard all these accusations previously but I have never had a specific case pointed out to me. As a matter of fact, in all my associations with the members of the Department I have found them dedicated and efficient people. Most of them were performing thenwork long before the Labor Government came to power. But I am prepared to accept the suggestion made by the 2 honourable members that in setting up the Department of Aboriginal Affairs perhaps a few mistakes were made in the personnel selected. Maybe there is some inefficiency. I believe that could really be sheeted home as the responsibility of the LiberalCountry Party coalition when it was in government.
I support the estimates for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. I am pleased to note that they provide a 30 per cent increase on last year’s appropriation. I believe that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Les Johnson) should be congratulated for being able to convince the Cabinet and the Treasurer (Mr Hayden) that such a large appropriation is necessary during a period when most of our departments are cutting back on their expenditures. In my opinion it shows the determination of this Government to give justice and equality to our Aboriginal population. It does not surprise me that the Minister has been able to do this. He showed his compassion for the Aboriginal problem long before he was a Minister of this Government. I have travelled hundreds of miles with the Minister to look at Aboriginal situations in many parts of Australia. This was carried out at the Minister’s own expense. There is no doubt that his appointment as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs received endorsement by our Aboriginal population.
I am a little disappointed that this large appropriation has not received the electoral support that I consider it is worthy of receiving. It seems to me that many sections of our community, when seeking financial assistance and unable to obtain aU they want, say that we should take the money from the Aboriginal appropriation. Yet I have never heard anyone deny that the gap between the average real living standards of Aboriginal life and the life of others in the community is not a real and widening gap. I have never heard anyone deny that the relationship of power or authority between us and the Aborigines in the main has always been with the European population having authority over the Aborigines.
It is unfortunate that because Aborigines are a small ethnic minority- I believe that it is projected that they will represent 2 per cent of our population by the end of the century- they will remain under this disability for many years. I can see that this will have a detrimental effect on our relationship. Looking at the problem from our position I suppose we would not be very concerned but if one were to look at our relationship from the point of view of the Aborigines one would understand that this relationship must have an effect on the Aboriginal population, especially on a young Aborigine going to school with his companions. In my opinion this type of relationship must corrode old Aboriginal attitudes to living.
I believe that the problem, as we become more affluent, will be that we will have to make a greater redistribution to the Aborigines. This situation will be the prime condition of their livelihood. No one could deny that this greater redistribution is well justified. But the unfortunate aspect of this approach is that it seems to generate a greater resentment towards Aboriginal welfare. Because of this I think it should be remembered that the circumstances in which Aborigines now live were not caused by Aborigines; I believe that they are the end result of our own settlement, our own investments and the effect that our communications and transport had on Aboriginal society. I believe that these things have forced Aborigines into a position of involuntary dependence. For this reason alone I believe that this appropriation is justified and that we have an obligation, a responsibility, to lessen the hurt to and to lighten the burden of Aborigines.
I have had the opportunity of examining Aboriginal life styles in many parts of Australiacentral Australia, Queensland, Palm Island Western Australia and of, course, in the large Aboriginal population in my own electorate. One thing that I can say is that nowhere have I found an Aborigine who wanted to live a life style in which some elements of our way of life did not exist. Because of this fact, I believe that we have reason to expect a degree of co-operation from the Aborigines themselves. It does not matter how we look at these matters; we cannot expect any great credibility in world forums, especially those where the developing nations are involved, if we allow Aborigines to live in the conditions in which they live at present. Aborigines are human beings. When one is examining their situation, they keep referring to this point. They continue to remind us that they are human beings. It is an indictment of the European population that Aborigines should feel it necessary to remind us that they are human beings. The husbands and wives and the families to whom I have spoken seek the same things for their family groups as any one of us would seek for our families; that is, education, decent housing and health services, to name a few.
– What about dignity?
– I believe that that too is very much a part of what they seek.
Let me refer to the situation that I found at the end of the 1973 floods when the Aborigines at Wilcannia were flooded out as a result, I suppose, to some extent of the weirs and water schemes constructed lower down the river which caused a bank-up of water which flooded the grounds on which Aborigines had camped for many years. Most of their houses were under water. We had to make an appeal to the Government for assistance. Then we rigged up tents. When the Aborigines were living in tents the situation was much better than it was before the floods. Unfortunately a promise was made to the Aborigines that permanent houses would be built. The problem is not an easy one. By the time we returned to them, the Aborigines were very disappointed and a good deal of resentment was generated against the Government.
At Wilcannia, we have joined in many discussions with Aborigines and their committees, including their housing committee. I was surprised that the Aborigines not only allowed us to express our opinion on what the remedy should be but also went to a lot of trouble to point out where we went wrong. Instead of my convincing the Aborigines that they should accept something else, they convinced me that what they wanted to do was quite right. I accept the view of the previous Minister for Aboriginal Affairs that the road ahead is not easy but every one concerned will benefit if our critics realise that the intentions of this Government are as honourable as the cause of the Aboriginals is just.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Mr FISHER (Mallee)-Mr Chairman, I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I believe that I was misrepresented by the honourable member for Darling (Mr FitzPatrick). I was not intending to cast any aspersions at all upon the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. What I was attempting to do was to explain the importance of getting the maximum value of the taxpayers’ dollar across to the under-privileged and not having increasing percentages of Government appropriations lost in administration.
– This afternoon I received a letter dated 4 September 1975 from Oenpelli, an Aboriginal settlement about 120 miles east of Darwin I understand that copies of this letter have been sent to other people both in this House and outside it. The letter is signed by T. C. Cooke. It bears the further notation: ‘Read and agreed to, on behalf of the Oenpelli Council’ and is signed by S. Maralngurra the chairman of the Oenpelli Council, which is of course an Aboriginal council. I will read some extracts from this letter and later I will ask for leave of the Committee to have the full text of the letter incorporated in Hansard.
The letter describes the troubles that are occurring at Oenpelli by reason of the existence of a liquor licence in the adjoining border store and the abuses that have followed from it. This is not a new matter. I remember that, even when I was Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, some abuses were occurring, but not perhaps on this scale. I would have hoped even then that the border store would have been closed as a liquor store. This did not occur. I am not trying to put the blame for this matter on this Government but I wish to point out that, by reason of the new flood of money which has come to the Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, the situation there is getting absolutely out of hand. In point of fact, we are debauching the Aboriginal community, and the members of the Aboriginal community themselves know it. They ask us to do something about it.
This letter to which I have referred and from which I will read parts is written on behalf of the Aboriginal community at Oenpelli. These are not my words; they are the words of the Aboriginals. The letter reads:
I would like to draw your attention to a serious situation, and one that is going to get worse, at Oenpelli in regard to drunkenness. You will no doubt be aware of the past history, so I will only mention recent events.
With the drying up of the road since last June there has been a growing problem with alcoholic drink. For almost a week after each pay day (Wednesday) the Station almost comes to a halt, reaching a peak usually on Fridays and Saturdays.
The letter goes on to describe the attempts that the Aboriginals have made to have this matter remedied. The letter continues:
People from Humpty Doo, Bamyili, Pine Creek, Maningrida, Goulburn Island, Darwin, etc., are coming to Oenpelli as a place that has no restrictions. It is hardly worth mentioning that many of these people do not respect local tribal laws, which results in fights and abuse of women. This situation can be particularly dangerous to European staff, who are normally recognised and respected by the local people, but are liable to abuse by strangers.
The letter then goes on to say:
I would now like to describe the events over the last few days. Wednesday 27th August the pay was given out as usual about 4 p.m. The next day there was virtually no one at work (this has become usual). Council vehicles, including one of the Council trucks had been taken, along with tractors and trailers, and by 1 p.m. there was evidence of drunkenness in all areas of the Station.
The letter then goes on to describe some rather dreadful! occurrences which will be set out in full in the record if the Committee gives me leave to have this letter incorporated in Hansard. I will not have the time to read that part of the letter now.
Let me read to the Committee the recommendations which are made in this letter. These are not my recommendations. These are the recommendations of the Aboriginals at Oenpelli, put up through their Council. This letter, I would think, is now an official document. The letter states:
I would like you to consider the following points:
Because of the large percentage of absentees from work, wages have dropped from an average of $15,000 per fortnight in the wet season to $6,400 and $8,400 over the last 2 pay periods.
A serious health problem is arising. Garbage collection is haphazard. Blocked toilets and septic tanks could cause a serious epidemic. Raw sewerage is evident in many places, and one unfinished house has been occupied and the toilet is being used although not connected to the septic tank. Likewise, toilets in other partly constructed houses which have no water supply connected are being used. Malnutrition is becoming evident in children as well as adults.
As a direct cause of drunkenness, school attendance has fallen from a possible 200 to 48. The average during this dry season is 60/70. Some of the reason for this is that parents find they cannot endure the conditions on the Station and they are moving to Outstations.
There is the increasing likelihood of Aboriginal/European violence in the vicinity of the ‘Border Store’ which could involve some of the many visitors camping at the river crossing, as well as mining company employees.
The morale of Aboriginal and European population . on the Station is declining . . .
The takings of the Oenpelli Shop have fallen- by 50 per cent-
Excessive damage is being caused to vehicles and houses by direct destruction and lack of care.
The Council is no longer capable of having its decisions carried out.
It will be seen that a serious problem is no longer imminent, but is actually here, one that could have untold repercussions for the Aboriginal population of Oenpelli and other nearby settlements and Missions, as well as European staff.
I suggest that immediate action be taken on the following lines:
The immediate placing of an adequate permanent police force at Oenpelli.
The revolting of the Liquor Permit of the ‘Border Store’. (Note: The Council has stated that it does not want a wet canteen.) c An immediate investigation of the hygiene situation, if necessary, calling in outside assistance.
I hope to be visiting Oenpelli next week. I do not believe that this is an isolated instance. Only about a fortnight ago, on the day that Wattie Creek was handed over, I passed through Hooker Creek and I found there that the hospital had had to be evacuated because, through drunkenness, violence had been offered to the nursing staff. I was at Papunya fairly recently and I found that the same kind of thing- perhaps not to the same extent- was occurring there.
What worries me and what should worry the Government- but that is not the point; it should worry the Australian people- is that the Aborigines in the north of Australia, whether they be in Western Australia or in the Northern Territory, are being debauched by a flood of money which they cannot sustain. We are ruining the people and sending them down to degradation. This is happening. It is not my letter from which I have quoted; this is a letter written officially by the council of Aborigines at Oenpelli. It has been widely circulated by them. I take this opportunity to seek leave to have the whole letter incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
Oenpelli Council, Community Service Bag No. 6, via Darwin, 5791. 4 September 1975
Mr W. Wentworth,M.P., House of Representatives, Parliament House, CANBERRA, A.C.T. 2600.
Dear Mr Wentworth,
I would like to draw your attention to a serious situation, and one that is going to get worse, at Oenpelli in regard to drunkenness. You will no doubt be aware of the past history, so I will only mention recent events.
With the drying up of the road since last June there has been a growing problem with alcoholic drink. For almost a week after each pay day (Wednesday) the Station almost comes to a halt, reaching a peak usually on Fridays and Saturdays.
Previous letters have been written to, the then, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs- Mr Kavenagh the Minister for Police and Customs, and the Minister for Environment (who was approached through the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs) because the main source of liquor comes from the East Alligator River ‘ Border Store ‘, which is within the proposed Kakadu National Park. Early this year (April) two Aboriginal people from Oenpelli, Mr Jacob Nayinggul (Vice Chairman of the Oenpelli Council) and Mr Bobby Nganjmirra went to Canberra and had discussions with Mr Kavenagh, Mr Wentworth, Mr Hunt, Mr
Calder and other members of Parliament. One of Oenpelli ‘s European staff, who is temporarily resident in Canberra- Mr Peter Carroll, accompanied them. The troubles associated with the ‘Border Store’ were explained and statements were made to the press of their discussions which centred on the need to have the liquor permit of the ‘Border Store ‘ revoked. This has not happened!
Many efforts have been made in the past, including opposition in Court, all to no effect. However, I do not see that revocation of the licence will have much affect, the roads are good and much of the liquor comes from other areas. People from Humpty Doo, Bamyili, Pine Creek, Maningrida, Goulburn Island, Darwin, etc., are coming to Oenpelli as a place that has no restrictions. It is hardly worth mentioning that many of these people do not respect local tribal laws, which results in fights and abuse of women. This situation can be particularly dangerous to European staff, who are normally recognised and respected by the local people, but are liable to abuse by strangers.
Oenpelli has made repeated requests for permanent police to be based here, but have been told that without proper faculties nothing can be done. An offer of two almost new houses, one, a three bedroom, and the other a two bedroom dwelling, and also a building that could be made suitable for an office has been made to the police. It was also stated that a building would be erected as a place of detention. Inspector Woodroff Darwin Police came and inspected the situation and subsequently sent a plan for a cell block. This plan calls for a building that would have to be done by outside contractors and would take the rest of the dry season at least to complete. It is estimated that between $20,000 and $30,000 would be required to fund the project, and this amount, has not been budgeted for.
Recently an employee from the Department of Housing and Construction, Darwin, spent a day checking over recent additions to the water reticulation system. He mentioned that he was asked to take note of the position of the water mains in relation to a proposed mobile police station, due here, he thought, in the near future. With this information I went to Darwin on behalf of the Oenpelli Council, and talked with Inspector Woodroff, and he made enquiries but could not find any information. I then went to see Mr Sid Smith of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, and he also knew nothing of a mobile police station, except that there might be one available next year.
On the 1 1th of August last, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr L. Johnson, visited Oenpelli During conversation with Mr Johnson and other members of his party mention was made of the likelihood of a mobile police station. I understand that the matter was to be investigated.
I would now like to describe the events over the last few days. Wednesday 27 August the pay was given out as usual about 4 p.m. The next day there was virtually no one at work (this has become usual). Council vehicles, including one of the Council trucks had been taken, along with tractors and trailers, and by 1 p.m. there was evidence of drunkenness in all areas of the Station. There is an arrangement with Police Department, Darwin, that whenever possible a patrol will be sent to Oenpelli if possible on the Thursday after pay day until Sunday night or Monday morning. As evening came it was obvious that a serious situation was developing. At about 7 p.m. in the absence of a patrol I sent a telegram to the Police Department, Darwin, informing them that a serious situation was developing, and I asked for assistance. The operator at the Darwin Post Office rang straight through to the Police Duty Officer who then asked a number of questions through the Post Office operator. I was then asked to report again the following morning, no mention was made of any patrol.
Thursday night proved to be one of the worst on record. Many requests were made to staff for help from Aboriginal people, I myself, made several visits to different areas in answer to a call for medical assistance. I witnessed almost 100 per cent drunkenness from 14 year olds to old age pensioners. It is a miracle that there was only one serious injury, as the fighting was general and wild.
On Friday morning, 29 August, I reported to the police through the radio of the Church Missionary Society in Darwin, and asked again for help, this was promised for Friday afternoon. A patrol did in fact arrive at the ‘Border Store’ and was able to reduce the amount of liquor coming into the Station, hence, Friday night was compartively quiet. Saturday afternoon it became necessary for the patrol to leave for Darwin in order to take an arrested person back.
Not long after the patrol left liquor recommenced coming into the Station again. This continued throughout Saturday afternoon and Sunday. Fortunately, there was not much further violence due partially, I think, the departure of visitors of Oenpelli. Before the patrol left I asked if it was going to be replaced by another, the Senior Constable said he would see what he could do … no further patrol arrived!
I would like you to consider the following points:
It will be seen that a serious problem is no longer emminent, but is actually here, one that could have untold repercussions for the Aboriginal population of Oenpelli and other nearby Settlements and Missions, as well as European staff.
I suggest that immediate action be taken on the following lines:
Yours sincerely, (T.C. COOKE) Oenpelli Council Clerk
Read and agreed to, on behalf of the Oenpelli Council
(S. MARALNGURRA )
Chairman, Oenpelli Council
– I thank the Committee. This is not a party matter, and I am not trying to blame the Government in regard to it. What I am saying is that we have to look to the real welfare of these Aboriginal people -
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I endorse entirely the remarks made by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) and what was written in the letter by Silas and Mr Cam Cooke from Oenpelli. The situation is a running sore and it is very bad news for the Aborigines at what is and has been for many years a fantastic settlement . of Aborigines- a fantastic place for them to live in and work in. I commend the honourable member for bringing the matter to the attention of the Committee. I am certain that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Les Johnson), with his knowledge and sympathy, will act on it.
Money is not the solution to the problems of Aboriginal affairs. I commend the Government for the amount of money it is spending- I note that the increase just about breaks even with the inflation rate of 17 per cent- but it is not sufficient just to vote large amounts of money and say: ‘There it is’. It is not enough just to give them material things such as cattle stations. I, too, was at Wave Hill and saw the handing over of what is now known as the Murramulla cattle station. I am grateful to the Minister for advising me of its name. I thought that it was the Gurindji cattle company. In relation to these enterprises, more has to be done than just making available vast sums of money. People are needed who will work with the Aborigines, who will help them, who are sympathetic towards them and who have experience and knowledge. Unfortunately, many of the people who are coming into these areas today have neither the experience nor the knowledge, and the Aborigines are suffering as a result of that.
The honourable member for Swan (Mr Bennett) raised the point about consultants. He said that the matter was in the hands of consultants. I know that someone must act as a consultant in the running of such an enterprise until the Aborigines reach the stage where they can run it themselves. But I would like to read what the Reverend Jim Downing of Alice Springs said about consultants, in giving evidence before the Senate Standing Committee on Social Environment. He said:
It is rare for a consultant to have any real appreciation of the entirely different thought world or the cultural patterns of most non-urban Aboriginal communities today. A few are sensitive; very few make the time and effort to learn. They have a vested interest in the situation, and the higher the cost of a program, or the more elaborate or diverse the details, the higher the fees. It is not easy for a man or a firm to be seen to maintain his integrity in this situation. Many try probably, but few seek expert advice or interpreting help, and even fewer make the time to do courses, or to learn about the people or their language. Most have not the knowledge to try effectively to understand and to really listen to the people.
That is what Jim Downing said about consultants. I know that there are consultants running Everard Park, or Mimili as it is called, and probably Willowra, Kildurk and so on.
I urge the Government to use the local experience, the local knowledge and even some of the knowledge that is available to it from its own Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Let us take the case of Haasts Bluff, which contains 5000 square miles of some of the best cattle country in Central Australia. The Aborigines at Wave Hill have been given 1250 square miles. They will not run as many cattle on that place as could be run on not very many more square miles of Haasts Bluff. The point I am making is that ever since this Government came to office I have had a standing offer to the Government- I endeavoured to get the same message across when we were in government- to get hold of someone who knows how to run a cattle station, who knows something about cattle and who knows something about working with Aborigines, and to get him to run these places. I Will not recount the story of the overseer at Everard Park. He probably did not know a heU of a lot about it anyhow.
I have said again and again and I say now that we must use people with knowledge, sympathy and experience to work on these projects. A vast amount of money has been made available for Aborigines. This is fine but it is not the answer. It is doing them no good just to give them money, give them vehicles or give them whatever else you like without backing it up so that they can get practical knowledge and be able to use these things. It is no use giving a fellow a truck if he is going to drive it until it runs out of oil and the engine seizes. These are things that the Minister has no doubt found in his visits around the countryside. I bring them very strongly before the Government while I am talking on these estimates.
I think it is worth while repeating something while we are talking about blacks and whites. I believe that speeches this evening have been of a non-political nature except that made by the honourable member for Swan, who unfortunately brought a political note into the debate. The Minister wm probably remember when the land at Wave Hill was being given to the Aborigines. Mr Vincent Lingiari, who is the Gurindji leader, said: ‘Now we have the land. We must be friends’. Virtually he said: ‘We must co-operate ‘.
– He said: ‘We are all mates’.
-‘ We are all mates ‘-they are the words he used. Someone said: ‘What are you going to do if you get into trouble on the land?’ He said: ‘We will ask Ralph’. He did not mean Ralph Hunt but Ralph Hayes, the white manager of Wave Hill. That is the spirit which exists. Mick Ranggiari when the announcement was made that he had been elected to the National Aboriginal Consultative Council, said: ‘This is right. It has got to be right for whites and it has got to be right for blacks’. I think we all congratulated those men on their dignity and the way they carried on that day.
The message I have for this Parliament is what Mick Ranggiari said. He said: ‘Whites and blacks must be together’ and he emphasised it. He said it again and again. I do not want to hear people here saying what was not done during the 23 years of Liberal-Country Party Government for Aborigines, because in actual fact a lot was done for Aborigines during that time before the present Government came into power. A lot of money has been spent and great strides have been made towards the betterment of Aborigines. I do not want to hear politics coming on to the Aboriginal scene. I know it is there. It is up to us, if we are going to do any good for Aborigines at aU, to take it away. As honourable members know, I live right in the midst of it, and a lot of people are fermenting trouble between black and white in the town of Alice Springs. I think it is deplorable and I hope that this Government will take every action that it possibly can to see that both Aborigines and Europeans are brought together, understand each other and work together on projects for the Aborigines, because they will be a failure if the European is not there to assist the Aborigine. They just must be there. They must find the men. Instead of so much money being spent on material things we should be spending it on training people, on giving them the experience, on trying to find men and women with experience who can give the Aborigines the lead and help them enter the future life that they are going to have. I say once again that it is no use voting tremendous amounts of money unless there is sympathy, understanding and preparedness for the people of Australia to be with the Aborigines and work with them.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-It is not my wish to discuss whether the Government has appropriated enough money or whether it has appropriated too much money to the cause of the Aboriginal people, but I do agree with the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) and the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) that money alone will not solve the serious Aboriginal problem. Certainly there is a need for a genuinely generous, sympathetic and patient approach. This may redress the damage that has been done. If I had to make a criticism- I do not make it in any party political sense- of the Government’s approach to the Aboriginal problem it would be on 3 counts. The first count is that I believe that the Government has thought that a big money handout will meet the debt of 200 years of neglect.
– Would you cut it?
-I would not say that I would cut it, but I think I would make sure that money was not going to the disadvantage of the people. We have heard the speech of the honourable member for Mackellar, and I think there is a lot of truth in what he has said. It is worth taking aboard. The second matter is the question of selfdetermination. I wonder whether that in itself is a panacea. Thirdly, perhaps the Government has thought that land rights and the settlement of land rights in itself would largely solve the Aboriginal problem.
I do not think that these approaches in themselves are good enough unless they are applied in the knowledge that there is a great diversity in the development amongst Aboriginal communities region by region, State by State. Whilst the term Aboriginality has gained credence- a term which is intended to identify all people of Aboriginal blood with the commonly held view that the Aborigines have been dispossessed of their land and have been broken by white settlement- the term in itself tends to oversimplify the totality of the problems and the actions we must take in order to try to tackle the problems.
Whilst there is a common problem, there is certainly no common solution to the problems of the Aboriginal people. The needs of the Aboriginal people living in either the semi-tribal or tribal situations in the Northern Territory, in northern Queensland or in parts of Western Australia are certainly entirely different from the problems of the Aboriginal people living in Redfern in the electorate of the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Cope) or in my own home town of Moree. The tribal structure of the tribal Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory must not be deliberately or inadvertently shattered any further at this stage. Extensive handouts or white intervention in the affairs of these tribal people, I believe, will only erode the power of the Aboriginal tribal structure with a consequential breakdown in their whole community. I believe that this must be resisted.
It is not unrealistic to suppose that the time will come when these people will wish to merge into the wider Australian community. I think this is inevitable, but I believe that that time should come when the people themselves feel they are able to go out into it. In New South Wales, while most of the Aborigines and people of Aboriginal bloods identify themselves with the term Aboriginality they have become part of the wider Australian community. It should be our objective to ensure that they become living elements within it. In so doing, special emphasis must be given to health, education, job opportunities and housing. It is essential that they be encouraged to accept their full responsibilities- I underline that- as members of the total Australian community, because I do not think they can have it both ways. I do not think anybody can. It is in this situation where they are living elements amongst white Australians, working amongst white Australians and enjoying their leisure time amongst them, that they must also be encouraged to assimilate into the wider community, accepting their total responsibility, accepting the laws of the land and accepting their responsibility to that community. Certainly I see them as a separate ethnic group not unlike the Greek, Italian or Baltic groups but integrated into that wider community. Such an approach should not ignore the special need to improve their health, their educational facilities, their standard of housing and their ability to accept employment because they start from behind scratch. Special efforts must be made to meet their needs.
In Moree, where we have the largest Aboriginal population outside Sydney, there is an urgent need to provide employment. Certainly there is an urgent need to provide more housing and adequate health care although I must say that the Daughters of Charity have done a tremendous job in Moree in providing health care for the younger people. However, employment opportunity does become a very important ingredient of their advancement and their ability to adapt to the total society. The Moree wool store- I have written to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Les Johnson) about it- was built during the war years by the Chifley Government and today is virtually empty. It is owned by the Commonwealth. I asked the Minister on behalf of the Moree Aboriginal Advancement Association whether it would be possible to get a special works project going within that store in order to provide employment for the many unemployed Aborigines in the town and district. The store is very large and would provide good and sound facilities for the building of prefabricated houses and for teaching skills and trades to Aboriginal people. I know that the Department of Labor and Immigration has taken the suggestion aboard but I hope that in the not too distant future the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs will turn his attention to this possibility and that his Department will take the opportunity to use this wool store, which is lying empty, to try to provide worthwhile employment opportunity and training for many of the young people who, because they have no trade, will have to drift into Redfern or elsewhere in Sydney away from their own environment.
In conclusion I turn my attention to the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee which was established with good intentions to try to help in the formulation of policy and in the establishment of priorities for expenditure. It was a way of trying to achieve self-determination. The Committee has failed so far. The Aborigines on it seem to think that it has failed. However, I believe that it is essential to try to restructure that body in some way so that the NACC will have some relevance to the Aboriginal communities and groups throughout Australia. Unless the NACC is responsive to their views and reflects the diverse and differing requirements of each community it surely Will not be able to discharge the role of giving sound and proper advice to the government of the day. It is probable that this body could be made into a statutory body. It could not be under its present constitution. The difficulty for the Northern Territory Aborigines is that on the NACC they can barely cope with the Aborigines from the other States. That in itself raises a further problem. The NACC probably is a good concept although as it now is operating it is not serving a proper and sound cause. I hope that the Government will examine its structure to ensure that it is able to give expression to the grass roots feelings and attitudes of the Aboriginal people at the local community level.
– The Committee has had a wide-ranging discussion on Aboriginal affairs in a fairly non-partisan and constructive way and I am appreciative of the contributions that have been made in the debate. When all is said and done, we are talking about one of the great challenges that confronts the Australian community at the present time when we speak about the emerging Aboriginal people- people who are evolving at varying rates and who increasingly are being afforded the opportunity to make decisions for themselves. Nobody here can dogmatically presume to know the way Aboriginal people think and most of us acknowledge the need to do a great deal of listening but the facilitation of the process by which we listen is a challenge in itself. In that respect I pay tribute to a very much maligned, and unjustifiably maligned, Department, the senior officers who comprise it and those at other levels and eschelons who serve it in ways right across Australia
To the greatest extent that it is able, the Government is concerned with making an unprecedented rate of progress. As honourable gentlemen know, in recent times we have enacted legislation directed at the Queensland scene designed to eliminate discrimination against Aboriginal people. I take this opportunity of saying that legislation is operative and I hope that wherever opportunities present themselves the Aboriginal people Will avail themselves of that legislation and seek legal advice, perhaps from my Department, in order to sweep away any of the relics of the discrimination that remains in that State, as indeed it does.
Queensland remains the only State in Australia where Aboriginal people do not have autonomy about their own lands. In the near future new legislation will be introduced- a councils and associations Bill- but I will not speak about it except to indicate that it is synonymous with the emergence of autonomy and is designed to give community councils and various organisations and associations the right to operate in an incorporated way with a legal entity so that they can make their own decisions and be recognised legally and officially by governments, instrumentalities and private concerns all around Australia. This, in itself, represents a very significant milestone and I feel it will be warmly received by both sides of the Parliament.
Additionally legislation which has been talked about since the Government took office- the Northern Territory Aboriginal Lands Bill- soon will be before the Parliament. It has a lot to do with the fundamentals of Aboriginal affairs because Aboriginal people have a great affinity with the land. In the opinion of the International Labour Organisation, by virtue of Convention 107, and of other bodies they have the right as indigenous people to occupy and have an effective and autonomous say about their traditional lands. By this legislation- the Northern Territory is the part of Australia where the Australian Government has an uninhibited prerogative to set an example that others may emulate- the Government is acting in a desirable way and in a way that Aboriginal people have been wanting governments to act for many years past. As I mentioned to day at question time, our good intentions in that regard have been demonstrated first of all by the acceptance by the Government of the Woodward principles and by the establishment of interim land councils which will operate until the legislation is introduced. I suppose that, more dramatically than anything else, the handover by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) of 12 500 square miles to the Gurindji tribe a short time ago shows that the Government means business.
A number of members have talked about the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee; some of them have referred to it by the wrong name. The name certainly implies what are the Government’s intentions as to the Committee’s role and there is no ambiguity at this time or in the foreseeable future as to the role of that organisation. I readily acknowledge that the expectations we have had about the NACC are yet to be fulfilled in entirety. I think it is the job of all honourable members- I know there is a great deal of co-operation in this regard- to assist in making that body work effectively. I know that in the forthcoming Parliamentary recess a number of parliamentarians will meet NACC members I certainly shall- to talk turkey and to get down to fundamentals as to how that organisation can become effective. It represents the Aboriginal people of this country in the best possible way that we as non-Aboriginal people can contrive. That does not mean of course that the Committee represents everything that is desirable because our system of selecting representatives is entirely different from the Aboriginal traditional system. But we are making the best of a difficult situation.
The 41 members who assemble in a central place from time to time representing the 41 electorates will be encouraged to go back, if it is their wish to do so, to their regions and build a solid base among their people so that they can come and effectively represent the voice of the Aboriginal people. We will be talking about these matters and the processes by which they shall be supported and funded by the Australian Government. To make that possible a constitution for the NACC is necessary. It is proposed on the part of the Aborigines to establish an association which also is to be incorporated and which probably will become the instrument by which the secretariat and the other funding requirements will be fulfilled. I want the Committee to know that it is the intention of this Government to work co-operatively, to the extent that it is possible, with NACC representatives in the hope that the aspirations of those members about the role they will play in fulfilling the destiny of Aboriginal people will be advanced.
There are so many things happening in Aboriginal affairs today that the subject is becoming extremely exciting. The most contemporary development, of course, is in respect of the request of some 1 8 or 1 9 lawyers for a royal commission about a number of matters mainly concerning Aboriginal people and the administration of justice, Aboriginal people and corrective institutions, and Aboriginal people and police relations. There can be no question in anybody’s mind that there is a lot to be done in respect of each of these matters. It is not for me to say that the Government will go ahead with the royal commission, but I can assure the Committee that these matters are being given a great deal of consideration at present.
We have, on the initiative of my predecessor, instituted extensive inquiries into problems that have emerged in Western Australia. I believe that the Laverton - Skule Creek Royal Commission is revealing information which I hope will provide remedial benefits in the future. It is also the Government’s intention to proceed with a royal commission into the plight of Aborigines in the Northern Territory in the hope that we will be able to effect better relations in the future between the Aboriginal people and the police. In talking about this subject, I take the view that the interest I have is not motivated by a police bashing approach to the situation. Everybody here knows that there are people who serve in all the government instrumentalities who have a lot of understanding and a lot of sympathy but here and there of course there is a bad apple in the box.
Other wide ranging matters concern the initiatives taken by the Government in the establishment of Aboriginal legal services which are providing a very direct orientation to the problems that Aboriginal people are encountering. It is peculiar that we do not effectively take into account such matters as Aboriginal customs and traditions in matters of the law in many parts of Australia. For example, lawyers are saying: ‘Where are the Aboriginal people who take their place on juries which hear Aboriginal cases? Where are the Aboriginal advisers to the magistrates? Where are the assessors? Where are the people who might take their place in a custody case, for example to identify the fact that contrary to the situation in a non-Aboriginal community, Aboriginal people often attach a great deal of importance to an uncle taking custody of a child?’ All these matters could stand a lot of examination. What we have to understand in providing Aboriginal medical services is that Aboriginal people are responding to an atmosphere which is conducive to their own style of things in a way that they have never done before. I pay tribute to the medical services that are operating in various parts of the country and declare on behalf of the Government our intention, to the extent that we are able, to provide support when it is sought.
One of the phenomena in this whole area is the apparent desire on the part of Aboriginal people to go back to their traditional and tribal way of life in their tribal grounds. A number of outstations which have emerged in recent times is extremely interesting. Aboriginal people in large numbers, in groups, in mobs as they sometimes like to refer to themselves, are leaving the settlements, leaving the missions and going away back to the bush to make a way of life as they see fit. For a government, this throws up a lot of interesting challenges and a great deal of philosophical conjecture as to whether or not the Government should sustain, support and back up that kind of movement even though it may cost money and even though facilities that have been expensively funded by governments may be left unused back in the missions and the settlements. Nobody really understands the motivation for this. We all know that may Aboriginal elders are concerned about the fact that menchildren are entering a way of life that throws them into a twilight sort of situation, a Umbo way of life which is extremely disturbing in that they are not completely a part of one culture or the other. So they seem to be seeking out for themselves an indigenous style of life. No doubt the prospects of their gaining rights over their own tribal land which is being facilitated by the Government could have some bearing on these matters.
The honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) talked about award wages. He did not want us to give people too much money. All these matters have to be approached primarily from the standpoint of basic principles. It is not easy to tell people that because they are Aboriginal they are entitled to a wage rate that is less than that of other people. Even though that may throw up some problems in the short term, including the excessive use of alcohol, it could well be a stage that we have to go through. I do not want to take a lot more time but there are many matters which one could talk about. The honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott), who is the spokesman for the Opposition on Aboriginal affairs, raced over the Estimates like an animated blowfly over a smorgasbord. He jumped from issue to issue and they were aU very interesting issues.
– I should like the answers.
-I would like to give him many of the answers. I may make some reference to some of the points that he has raised in a short time. I think one of the early issues which he raised was the fact that the Government has greatly increased its expenditure on housing for Aboriginal people. The amount allocated has risen from about $ 14m in the previous Government’s Budget to about $45m in the Labor Government’s Budget. I do not wish to make too many odious comparisons of that kind, but it is apparent we are trying very hard to overtake this deficiency in the housing scene.
The honourable member has taken some points which he is justified in taking and has offered some criticism. Nobody can be happy with the scene that is in evidence now because materials are lying idle and things are not flowing as smoothly as they should. Mention has been made of waste and of consultants sapping away the financial vitality of this effort to some extent. But it has to be realised that in housing people in the remote parts of Australia there are often problems in wet seasons. There is a need to store materials. There is an unavailability of the expertise that is needed at given times.
Be that as it may, I am inclined to take the view that we have turned over to the Aboriginal people probably an excess degree of democracy in regard to housing. I have seen the best results where we get an honest, down-to-earth, practical overseer who can get in and build houses at a decent price, as is being done at Bathurst Island, for example. I know of houses which are incorrectly designed in my view and in the view of the Aboriginal people. They are also greatly overpriced. There is a lot that one could say about that. It is interesting to note that the Aboriginal people are contriving their own housing systems. One of the most outstanding is the Apatula house which is designed to enable semi.skilled Aboriginal people to engage in the erection of houses in many parts of Australia. This seems to be a highly acceptable product.
Applied Ecology Pty Ltd was mentioned. I will not go into this except to say in respect of the turtle farm that we have had the benefit of 2 expert reports and the Government is engaged in the process of looking into the scientific potential of that and a number of other associated industries. Sport was mentioned by the honourable gentleman. He complained that funds were reduced in this area, as indeed they have been, but I may say that the amount we have provided has a comparability with the amount expended in the previous year. Mention was made also of publications. There is some misunderstanding about these matters. Aboriginal News and Aboriginal Affairs Monthly are produced by my Department and the publication identity is provided from the Publications Foundation.
The hovercraft was mentioned. I am sorry if there is the intention to criticise that because I believe it is a very exciting initiative that has been taken by my Department. The honourable gentleman might be interested to know that it is used for medical evacuation, transportation of medical clinics to islands, transportation of government personnel and council chairmen. After that, it is used for general transportation of the community. It is proving to be a very interesting pilot scheme to the point where the Department has already contracted with a firm in South Australia to construct an air cushion vehicle for use in the Torres Strait Islands. This improvement in communications has many very impressive possibilities
Mention has been made of organisations overlapping. I may say that there is some evidence of this. Nevertheless, it is very important that we do not crush initiatives. Where the Aboriginal people want to establish an organisation for a particular purpose, we are inclined to favour them a great deal. In that respect I may say that the inquiry of the Public Accounts Committee has established that the Projects Control Branch is working very effectively in the Department. If the work continues as it is at present, we are likely to minimise the extent of overlapping by organisations. I cannot take too seriously the criticism that 30 per cent of the expenditure by the Department is represented by administration -
-It is 13 per cent.
-It is $13m out of $142m. The fact of the matter is that we have a very complex operation. It covers almost every facet of material, life and so on. We also have the benefit of a high Aboriginal staff content which is growing apace. In terms of the total staff which at 1 October stood at 1490, more than half-744- are Aborigines. Of those 774 Aboriginal staff members, 650 are industrial employees in the Northern Territory. Excluding these, there remain 124 Aborigines within the Department’s total number of 840 second, third and fourth division staff members. I could give a lot more information in that respect. We are trying quite earnestly to involve the Aboriginal people in participation in these administrative matters.
There are many other things on which one would like to comment. The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) has raised the matter of Oenpelli Mission and alcohol. As he indicated, I have had the benefit of that letter. Indeed, I made my second visit recently to Oenpelli and talked to the people there. There is a great problem there in respect to alcohol. Mention has been made of the border store. That was in operation, of course, before this Government took office. But there are all kinds of rights that have to be acknowledged in the Northern Territory. They do not involve just the Aboriginal people.
I think the honourable gentleman knows there is a problem here which concerns the licensing authorities. It is certainly not my right or prerogative to go in heavy-handed and take away liquor licences I could not do that if I wanted to do it. But everything that has been said in that letter has a great deal of credibility. I have seen the signs and symptoms of excessive drinking in a number of parts of Australia by Aboriginal people and by non-Aboriginal people. In Oenpelli a lot of interest is being shown by the community in getting a police presence there. I talked to the Police Commissioner in the Northern Territory recently. There is some interest in a mobile police station and associated facilities. But there is a great problem in this whole area. Honourable gentlemen know of the experiment at the Finke Hotel. The hotel was bought and handed over to Aboriginal management. One of the first decisions taken there was to limit the range of deleterious liquor and to restrict the drinking hours. Already, there are very beneficial effects. The communities are grappling with these problems. They are already trying to decide whether they should have their own liquor licences under control, whether they should serve only canned beer, whether they should open the beer so that the liquor does not get back to the camps or whether they should use draught beer. Some people are clamouring for liquor licences and others are clamouring to get rid of them. So it is an extremely difficult scene.
I have probably outstayed my welcome. I simply want to say that there are a lot of things happening. The Aboriginal people themselves are really on their toes. I think an interesting development the other day was the emergence of the Aboriginal women here in Canberra. They have given, as their menfolk have, a clear indication that they will not be taken for granted and that they want the Australian Government’s interest in them continued so that they can live the same kind of life and have the same opportunities as all other Australian’s. I thank the Committee for the consideration it has extended to me. Where there are outstanding matters that I have not attended to, I hope to be making some contact with the honourable members who have raised those matters with me.
Proposed expenditure agreed.
Department of the Capital Territory
Proposed expenditure, $39,486,000.
-The Opposition is engaged in formulating a policy document in respect of Australian Capital Territory matters which I trust will be agreed to and announced in a matter of a few weeks. At that time no doubt we will afford opportunities for residents of the Australian Capital Territory and others outside the Australian Capital Territory to study the document because it involves ramifications of interest to taxpayers and Australians generally. It is not, therefore, my aim this evening to debate the major issues. I will allude to them, necessarily somewhat briefly, in the 10 minutes allowed to me under the Standing Orders covering this debate. We acknowledge and are pleased to see the development of the Legislative Assembly in the Australian Capital Territory. We acknowledge its increasing prestige and the responsibility which it displays and exercises in the conduct of affairs in its advisory role on behalf of the residents of the A.C.T. I am advised, notwithstanding statements to the contrary by the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Bryant), that it has not always been consulted and at times it has felt that it was ignored and circumvented in respect of some matters of policy and some ordinances. I place that on record and urge the Minister to give the Assembly greater consultation.
I believe that this session of the Assembly- if I may call it that- has given to the A.C.T. a body that is of more importance and of more responsibility than it has had previously. In the year or thereabouts since the last election it has earned the right to have a large degree of confidence placed in it- perhaps more confidence than has been apparent of late. I realise, in making the remarks I am about to make, that under the Senate procedures one of the Senate committees will be examining the estimates in more detail and will be questioning public servants and perhaps the Minister’s representative in the Senate on the details of them. I have before me some notes that were given to me. I raise a point which, I think I can say to the Minister, may well be raised at the Senate Estimates Committee. Perhaps a greater explanation ought to be given of the costs incurred in the A.C.T. which are not contained in the estimates for this Department. The territorial accounts are of importance and perhaps of more importance now that cost factor in the A.C.T. inevitably will rise in considering what further responsibilities ought to be given to the Legislative Assembly. The Minister may see fit to say something about that when he speaks in this debate, but certainly I believe that a request- I put it that way- for that information is likely to be made.
Of considerable concern to residents of the A.C.T. is the very difficult situation that exists in the rental accommodation field. I understand that my friend the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) will be speaking more fully on this aspect later in the debate. The fact of the matter is that the rent control system that has been imposed by this Government has been a failure. It has resulted, as was predicted and as happens in all such cases of experimentation in other spheres, in a desperate shortage. The movement of people into and out of Canberra is predictable- I think the movement is larger here than in other areas- and it is up to the Government to take steps to try to overcome the problem in a way that has more convincing results than we have seen so far.
One can point out the tremendous rises in rates and charges that have been imposed on the A.C.T. I should allude to that because it is yet another illustration of how inflation and mismanagement of the country’s affairs have required that such rises in rates take place. This, of course, is causing a great deal of hardship to residents in the A.C.T. Nobody, I would think, would try to convince anyone that a 40 per cent rise was reasonable. This Government has even removed much of the alleviation by way of taxation deduction in respect of rates. That rise is tremendous and it is the direct result of the inflationary forces that have been unleashed by this Government. So far, in very few areas has any attempt been made by the Government to hold those forces back. I know of the checklist of the things the Government says it has done; but in fact none of them has been very effective or could have been very effective- with the possible exception of withdrawing money through the banking system, which of course has had a lopsided and detrimental effect in other areas. That is something which the Government and the Minister owe to the residents of the A.C.T. to prevent from happening in the future. It is something which is the result of a number of bad decisions, bad management and a failure to face up to facts.
I am advised that it is a very long struggle to obtain assistance to purchase a home by way of a defence service home loan. If one wishes to purchase an existing home in that way the wait is of the order of 1 1 months. Anyone must acknowledge that that is unreasonable and ought to be cured, if necessary by consultation with other Ministers of the Government. I am delighted to see the Minister taking some action in respect of garbage removal. I am sure he will recall my interest in this matter some time ago. I am sure he will recall his embarrassment at the unconvincing reply that was then produced.
– A lot of garbage.
– It was a lot of garbage.
– It was an inherited system; that was its problem.
– It was an inherited system, but not an inherited result. The Minister, in his reply to that question, tried to convince us that nothing was wrong. One only had to get in a car and go down the street to see what was wrong. In his reply the Minister tried to explain that, because there had not been many complaints or recorded complaints, therefore everything was all right. We have seen from what has been announced in the newspapers that an admission of failure has been made. I am fascinated to learn that this matter also involves the Department of Urban and Regional Development. I only wish that my colleague who is interested in urban and regional affairs were here to take up this point, because I know that he pricks up fas ears every time regional development is mentioned.
– It was occasional regional collection.
– Occasional regional collection is something I would be most interested to see. I hope that the Government is able to get on top of that matter. Surely that must be one of the simplest of its problems to solve. The truth is that administration in these matters is of a doubtful order and the Minister would do well to tour around and have a look at the problems that are faced by people in the A.C.T. instead of making a number of speeches and issuing Press statements the gist of which is that everything is perfect, that he is doing the job adequately and that not much exertion is necessary. We believe that there can be considerable improvement. In the brief time I have had available to me I have tried to point out some of the major aspects -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN ( Mr MartinOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The Opposition Parties- have a number of very well worn whipping posts which they tend to use with rather regular monotony in debates in this chamber. The red menace, of course, has had a new lease of life recently, but it is hardly appropriate for a Budget debate; so members of the Opposition parties resort to another one of their well worn whipping posts, namely, union bashing. But in this case -
– I raise a point of order. Mr Deputy Chairman, I am sure you will find this reference to foreign affairs irrelevant to the A.C.T. estimates.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I think the honourable member is getting around to the estimates before the Chair.
– Well, I just make the point that the union bashing concept in this particular case takes the form of Public Service bashing. When one hits the Public Service in Canberra one hits the whole of the Canberra community.
I want to point up the ridiculous contradiction between the policies of members of the Opposition, particularly the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser), when they want to impose concepts like zero growth rates on the Public Service and at the same time want to stimulate the private sector and to reduce unemployment. The 2 things, of course, are contradictory and everybody knows that in this situation the private sector is very dependent on the public sector. Only 36 per cent of the Canberra work force is employed in the Public Service. This means that a very large percentage of the work force is in the private sector. The building industry in particular depends on the normal development of Canberra as a growth centre and on the Public Service.
The employment opportunities for young people of course are very dependent on the Public Service. If we were to put zero growth on the Public Service many young people leaving school at the end of this year would be deprived entirely of employment opportunities. Whatever happens in relation to government policy something like 1 5 000 people will come into Canberra in 1975-76. Something like 4000 houses will be built in Canberra in that time. Can anybody really seriously suggest that the Department of the Capital Territory, which is responsible for the administration of the city, can maintain the basic services that are required for 4000 new houses and 15 000 people without any increase in its growth? This would be a ridiculous proposition. I think that the Department will be doing very well to maintain the services with the 4.8 per cent growth rate which has been allowed by this Government. It is all very well to say: ‘Cut back on this and cut back on that’ but most thinking people will realise that there is a definite limit to the extent to which one can cut back in Canberra and still present the city of Canberra as the seat of government and the national capital.
Over 1 million visitors come to this city every year. They include a lot of people from overseas. If we want to present the city as a shabby place not worthy of being a national capital, this is precisely what would happen if we attempted to impose zero growth on the Department of the Capital Territory. We just could not maintain the garden city concept and carry out other functions at the same time.
There is another grave misconception about the Public Service, namely, that it is comprised mostly of people who sit in offices all day, people who have earned the epithet of ‘shiny seats ‘. This is quite misleading. The Department of the Capital Territory is made up of something like 3500 people, many of whom are employed in management areas and who get outside and do a job. A total of 750 people are employed in the parks and gardens and tourism sections of the Department. These people are doing practical jobs in these management areas. The transport section of the Department employs 855 people. The land division has 120 people in its forestry services. Also, 151 people are engaged in the conservation and agricultural sections of the Department. All of these people work on the outside and are doing a real job in the community. Therefore everybody who works in the Department does not sit at a desk. As a matter of fact, only 82 people out of 3500 are employed in the administrative area of the Department. So it is a completely erroneous conception that these people are working in office jobs. Most of the people employed in the Department work in the management area and I think that they are doing a very fine job for this city.
The Department of the Capital Territory has been limited to a growth rate of 1 3.5 per cent and an expenditure of $79m. It is pleasing to see that priorities have been maintained in relation to the problems of people. We have tended to cut back on the material services but we have maintained and not cut back our priorities for welfare services and projects concerned with physically handicapped people, hostels for young people, women’s refuges and programs of this type.
The other misconception, of course, is that everything in Canberra is all milk and honey and that no-one suffers any inconvenience at all. People think that because Canberra is a new city everything is wonderful. This view is quite wrong too. Canberra has been subject to some faulty planning in the past and many of the deficiencies today can be traced back to bad planning 4 or 5 years ago. Although this Government has gone a long way towards correcting these deficiencies it has not been able to catch up all along the line. People who live in the new areas of Canberra suffer the same lack of amenities as do people in similar circumstances in other cities. They have to wait for bus services, postal facilities, footpaths to be sealed and all of these sorts of things. Many areas do not have schools and the residents have to wait for them to be built. People in Canberra pay high rents, as was mentioned by the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland). This has happened in spite of our policy of rent control. The Government has done much to overcome problems in this regard. We transported accommodation from construction sites and set it on campuses to make up for a lack of accommodation facilities at the Australian National University and the Canberra College of Advanced Education. We have converted other huts into temporary accommodation for students. Last year we bought quite a few ready built 2-bedroom Hats which private enterprise had constructed but had not been able to sell. The Government came in and bought them in order to get private enterprise going again. As a result of these purchases people on the housing list now have to wait only 6 or 7 months for 2- bedroom flats. This is a big improvement on the situation that existed when this Government came to power.
Although most people concede that conditions generally are good in Canberra not many people are aware that we have our poor and deprived areas. Anybody who has any doubts about this should have a look at the Causeway which contains houses which were built on a temporary basis in 1925. These houses, which are really little wooden boxes, are in very poor condition. Although we have done our best to maintain them I think that this type of accommodation is a blot on Canberra. It is not the sort of accommodation that should be tolerated in any city, let alone the national capital. I think that people who look at these houses would agree with what I have just said. I am not suggesting that the people at present occupying the houses should be thrown out of them but I think that as the houses become vacated they should be demolished and the residents moved to better accommodation. As I have said, the houses are very sub-standard and were built as temporary accommodation over 50 years ago, but we are still using them.
I think that the way in which the Department of the Capital Territory maintains the standards in this city with limited funds is a credit to it. We should be proud of what it is doing and the way in which it carries out its functions without adequate funds. I think that the way in which the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Bryant) has co-operated with the community in relieving some of the problems of the city is a credit to him also. The basic problem in Canberra, of course, is the high cost of living. We have attacked that in a positive way. The Minister has approved and assisted in the establishment of co-operative stores. Measures such as this are already having a marked effect on keeping prices down and in some cases reducing them. I think the Minister deserves the highest commendation for his action in this direction. Generally I think we should be proud of the way in which the Department, ably led by the Minister, maintains this city.
-The Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Bryant) said that was a good speech. I think it was a good speech too, but I think that he is not a very good Minister. I think that the Minister really has no idea of what is going on in the Australian Capital Territory. He is impervious to any criticism that is published in the Territory. To that extent I think that he would probably, if I could be so unkind as to say this, be very close to a total failure as a Minister for the Capital Territory. The honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry) talked about- I think I quote him correctly- ‘little wooden boxes’. Those little wooden boxes are like many other houses in the Australian Capital Territory built as government houses for about $15,000 each. The Government, through the Minister for the Capital Territory, expects the tenants- the people who live in these places- to buy them for something like $25,000. For a socialist who does not believe in making a profit I think that the policy of the Minister is reprehensible.
I have a whole file of letters from people, exservicemen and others, who live in the Australian Capital Territory and who are expected to pay premium prices for government houses on which the Government will make a fantastic profit. I am pleased to see that the Minister is making a few notes. I hope that he will reply to that criticism. The honourable member for Fraser mentioned the Red menace. It has a new lease of life. I am not exactly sure whether he sees the Red menace in Timor or somewhere else. That is where I see it. He talked about union bashing and zero growth in the Public Service. I am totally in favour of zero growth in the Public Service. I have yet to see- the Clerk at the table will excuse me- an unemployed public servant. But one can look around this community and find 300 000 people unemployed in the private sector. It is the private sector that provides the job opportunities in Australia.
A few moments ago the honourable member for Fraser talked about the polls. I think he said that according to the polls public servants do not like the Liberal and National Country Parties and therefore we will be in trouble in the Australian Capital Territory. I find that inaccurate. My experience is that the Public Service now has some sort of warming towards us which I do not claim we had previously. To an extent they very nearly love us these days.
– Oh good Lord!
– The Minister for the Capital Territory who is at the table said: ‘ Good Lord ! ‘. I think the Public Service would like to get rid of the present Government and it would like us to be critical of the present Government. That is what we will do at every opportunity. I ask the Minister for the Capital Territory: Where is the honourable member from the other seat in the Australian Capital Territory, Mr Enderby? Surely Mr Enderby ought to be here tonight. We are talking about the estimates for the Department of the Capital Territory. He temporarily holds a seat representing half of the Australian Capital Territory. Where is he tonight?
– Representing our Government overseas.
– He is representing your Government overseas. He should be here, right here in this chamber tonight debating these estimates. I suggest to the honourable gentleman who interjected that the honourable member will not last very long in this place and that it is very likely that the seat that he holds- whatever it is called, the Australian Capital Territory or Canberra- -Will become one of our seats after the next election.
– I am talking about the temporary member for Canberra. He is the Minister who made the classic remark, which indicates his total understanding of trade and other business affairs, that most of Australia’s imports come from overseas. For that statement I give him full marks.
I should like to make a couple of points on the estimates for the Capital Territory. The first is in connection with the appropriation by the Government for what is erroneously, I think, described as welfare housing. There has been a cut back in housing for the Territory. Of course anybody who has looked at the Budget Papers, including the Minister, will have had real trouble in finding out exactly where these cutbacks in figures occurred. One has to be almost a Philadelphia lawyer to work it out. I think the Minister is nodding. If he looks at the papers carefully he will find a reduction of $3.2m in the appropriation for the Territories, which include the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, in the area of public housing which the honourable member for Fraser discussed.
I should not like anybody in this Government to say to anybody in the Australian Capital Territory that this Government is spending more on welfare or government housing. Does the Minister agree with this? In fact there is a cutback in government housing oppropriations of more than $3m for both the Territories. On the basis of last year’s completions of dwellings and this year’s allocations and allowing for a 20 per cent inflation factor- I think it is slightly higher in the Australian Capital Territory- the loss in homes as I work it out for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory will be 600 dwellings. I find it difficult to understand how the Government can substantiate a cutback in housing and industrial assistance. I think that is the line in the Budget appropriations. The only areas that the Government has cut back in the whole Budget are industrial assistance, assistance to private enterprise in the secondary industry sector, and housing. Yet in every other respect the Budget expediture has been increased. Overall Budget expenditure has been increased by a significant 22V4 per cent. The cutback in housing is 10 per cent. The way I work it out is that in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory there will be a loss of 600 dwellings this year in the so-called welfare section.
I also draw attention briefly to what I believe is quite ludicrous reporting by some sections of the media. In this area the Minister and I could even join together and express the same view. I refer in particular to a report in the Australian Financial Review on 4 September last. It is an article by a Mr Stuart Simson about the housing industry. I realise the danger in ever referring to anything that anybody in the Press has to say but I regard this newspaper as something of a thought leader in the community. The article states that housing approvals very marginally improved over the last month from the previous one. In fact the housing approval rate is at the most depressed level for the last 3 years. But the Government and, of course, the Minister for the Capital Territory, if he ever thinks about housing, would put the view that the housing problem is improving marginally around Australia. I put the view that the housing approvals, commencements and completions are marginally improved on a very low base. Yet this newspaper and this journalist say such things as:
Housing industry recovery is now sustained.
I ask the Minister for the Capital Territory: Does he think that the housing industry recovery is now sustained? Does he think there is any improvement in the completion rate, the approval rate or the commencement rate of houses in the Australian Capital Territory? Does he regard it as an improvement for the Government to buy a block of private enterprise flats in the Australian Capital Territory?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Martin) - Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In 1973-74, an amount of $2,000 was appropriated to the Department of the Capital Territory for the South East Region Symposium. This Symposium was approved by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) at my request and was extremely well organised by the Department of the Capital Territory. The purpose of that Symposium was to provide a forum for the people of the south east region to define the problems which arose because of the proximity of the Australian Capital Territory. The Symposium was directed at formulating the manner in which the integration of the Australian Capital Territory and the surrounding region should take place.
These were balmy days. At the time, the problems seemed difficult. There seemed to be resistance from the New South Wales Government to the Australian Government in regard to the coordinated development of the 2 areas. Well, by comparison, they were in fact a paradise. When Premier Lewis took over in New South Wales he reneged on most of the agreements that had already been arrived at by Premier Askin. We are now back to the position where there is absolutely no co-ordination at all between the New South Wales State Government and the Australian Government. This is simply because Premier Lewis reneged on agreements which had been made after 4 years of very patient negotiations on the problems that confront the 2 Governments with respect to the integration of this development.
This issue is a serious one for my electorate as not only does it affect the constituents of EdenMonaro physically but also we find that comparisons between the Australian Capital Territory and the State of New South Wales as represented by cities and towns in my electorate show that what occurs certainly is very strongly weighted in favour of the administration and direction which takes place in the A.C.T. Let me cite, for example, some of the issues that have been raised by Opposition members this evening in this debate. We heard complaints that people in the A.C.T. have to wait 1 1 months for the purchase of a new home or for a loan; I am not sure which. In any event, the claim makes no sense. The facts are that the waiting period for a loan in the A.C.T. for a home is 6 weeks. The waiting period for a 3-bedroom house is 28 months. The waiting period for a 4-bedroom house is 26 months. The waiting period for a 2-bedroom flat is 5% months; for a bed-sitter it is 6 months.
In Queanbeyan, which is directly over the border from the Australian Capital Territory and administered by the New South Wales Government, a person is lucky to get a house in Vh years and it is impossible to rent a 2-bedroom flat at prices which are anywhere within the reach of incomes of young couples who are seeking to buy in that market. The comparison, to say the least, is odious. This is the situation after a year in which the Australian Government gave to the New South Wales Government every dollar for the construction of government housing that the New South Wales Minister for Housing sought.
On the issue that the Opposition has chosen to raise here this evening, we can go in to bat quite confident that the administration of the Australian Capital Territory shows up the lack of responsibility of the administration in New South Wales, especially towards the constituents of my electorate. We find that the development of many of the projects which were initiated in New South Wales, I might mention, under the previous Premier are on-going undertakings. In the report prepared by the Department of the Capital Territory as a companion to this debate, we find evidence of this fact. For example, the Lands Division of the Department of the Capital Territory has many responsibilities which have a bearing on my electorate. The evaluation of policy strategies relating to the future growth of the Australian Capital Territory obviously has a very direct and intimate relationship with the electorate of Eden-Monaro. In my view, it is very important that we see this whole complex as a part of the region and that we see the need for integration in the development of the A.C.T. and each city and town in the electorate of EdenMonaro; otherwise that development will be against the interests of the people in both areas. Washington D.C. stands as a monument to what could happen to the surrounds of the Australian Capital Territory. I am sure that nobody who has any passing familiarity with the situation there would like to see what has occured in and around Washington D.C. happen in this region.
Again, the Lands Division of the Department of the Capital Territory has the responsibility for liaison with the South East Region Advisory Council in New South Wales. This activity is extremely important. These days it does not seem to lead to very much action. But we look forward to the time when in New South Wales we will be able to reach a more rational basis of cooperation between that State and the Australian Capital Territory. In this report prepared by the Department, we read in the section dealing with the Land Management Branch that that Branch has the responsibility of looking after the rural road network in the A.C.T. A point is made in this report which I will read to the Committee because it can be extrapolated directly to my area. The report states:
The rural road network in the A.C.T. is subject to special pressures caused by a high volume of individual and recreational traffic.
There is no question that that is true of the Aus.tralian Capital Territory; there is no question that it is true of the electorate of Eden-Monaro. These special pressures create, I believe, a special case for consideration to be given to the shires and city councils in my electorate in respect of the demands made on their roads by traffic from the A.C.T.
We find further that the Land Management Branch has the responsibility in conjunction with New South Wales in relation to the development of the Googong Dam and ‘the prevention of pollution from the Captain’s Flat mine dumps’. That is a most interesting phenomenon as I understand that the first letter on this threat was written in 1928 and the first action on it took place under the present Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Bryant) and the present Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren). Action of that type is needed quite urgently in many other areas throughout my electorate. The Googong Dam is another project which is related to the Department of the Capital Territory. It involves the expenditure of $30m in my electorate.
The honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry) made a very important point, that is, that zero growth in the Public Service Will have a very direct impact on the economic environment of the A.C.T. It Will certainly have a direct impact on the economic environment of Queanbeyan where nearly 750 public servants are now employed in the Australian Government Public Service. They also live in Queanbeyan. Queanbeayn is very much a Public Service town. I welcome with great relish the statement by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser) that part of the pokey outlook of the Opposition is zero Public Service growth.There is no question at all that this Will have a very strong political impact in Queanbeyan which is the fastest growing city in New South Wales.
We have heard also from the Opposition this evening that its members believe they have the support of the Public Service. How can they believe that after the attitude that the Opposition adopted towards the legislation on the new superannuation scheme for public servants? Only a cursory examination of the mail which has come into my office since the Opposition opposed that Bill demonstrates the futility of that belief. The dream by the Opposition in that respect is similar to its dreams that it will be in government in the future.
Another aspect in relation to the Public Service is the belief often cultivated by the Opposition that the Public Service belongs to the non-productive section of the community. The Opposition makes this tight distinction between the public sector and the private sector as though those in the private sector were the only ones who produced goods. Again, the honourable member for Fraser has given us an extremely good example of the fallacy in that assertion. Those 620 people employed in the Forests Branch of the Department of the Capital Territory are definitely involved in the productive sector. That industry producing pine logs is a very strong and viable one. It is very much a commercial industry which supplies timber mills in my electorate. One could mention many examples of the involvement of members of the Public Service in the productive sector. There are many issues in the area administered by the Department of the Capital Territory which I could enumerate as having a direct impact in EdenMonaro. I believe that the examples that I have given here this evening are enough to illustrate the intimate relationship that exists between my electorate and this city of Canberra.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock)Order! Before I call the honourable member for Gwydir, I point out that earlier this evening the Chairman of Committees spoke to a member of this committee for crossing between the member speaking and the Chair, thus failing to observe a Standing Order that, unfortunately, is not observed by many people in this chamber. The 2 Standing Orders involved are part of the courtesies of this chamber. I will not mention the member by name but I sincerely hope that the remarks of the Chairman of Committees previously and my remarks now may remind members of this Committee of those courtesies for which provision is made in the Standing Orders. Mention was made earlier of observance of the Standing Orders relating to showing respect to the Speaker. We might be able to raise the standard of both this Committee and of the
House if members observed those Standing Orders.
– I want to join with other speakers in paying tribute to the Department of the Capital Territory. I do so with a great deal of sincerity and feeling because I know just how good a department it is. I also pay tribute to the City Manager who undoubtedly is one of the top men in the Public Service. I know that the Department has laboured under great difficulties at times, particularly since 1972. The Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Bryant) has made the most of a bad job. He inherited one heU of a mess from his colleague, the present Attorney-General and honourable member for Canberra (Mr Enderby), who really and truly, got away with murder. If I, as the Minister for the Interior, had tried to do to Canberra what he was able to do in that time, I would have been shot in the Australian Capital Territory. I do not know how he got away with it. He was control mad. He surrounded himself with so many controls that on one occasion I could not help but liken him to a barrow man trying to fly a jumbo jet. There was one control after another. I think that the present Minister has had some difficulty in trying to find the right time at which to remove some of the controls and measures the previous Minister had taken.
In my view, probably one of the worst things that has happened in the Australian Capital Territory has been the way in which the Australian Capital Territory Police Force has been treated. I firmly believe that when the Opposition returns to government it will return the administration of the A.C.T. Police Force to the Department of the Capital Territory, to the body that is responsible, to the charge of the Minister who has direct responsibility for this Territory. Members of the A.C.T. Police Force are wen trained. I do not think that any police force in Australia gives more training to its recruits than does the A.C.T. Police Force. It is a shame that the integrity of that Force has been somewhat damaged because of the recent rearrangement. It has not helped the morale of the Force. I think that it is a great tragedy and I hope that one day this situation will change.
– Who was the Minister responsible?
-The Attorney-General and honourable member for Canberra did that evil deed, too. Another bad feature of this Government is that when it assumed office it decided to turn the Australian Capital Territory into an experimental social laboratory for some of its socialist experiments. I think it was Mr Larry Pickering who on one occasion likened the Aus.tralian Capital Territory to a guinea pig, with the then Minister operating upon it. It has not been a proud record. Canberra is one of the world’s finest cities. We have inherited a very great city, and it was no accident that that came about. Twenty-three years of Liberal and Country Party government saw to it that the national capital would be a city of which every Australian would be proud. Canberra owes its grandness and its elegance, in my view, to Sir Robers Menzies perhaps more than to anybody else because he saw it as a garden city. I hope that aU governments in the future will treat it as a national capital and will try to maintain the present beauty and integrity of the city.
The land problem has not been an easy one to resolve. Clearly, the people in the Australian Capital Territory wm face difficulties in the next year and the year to follow as a result of the 33 per cent reduction in funds for land servicing in 1 976-77. 1 must admit that I had a similar experience in 1971 when, for economic reasons, the then Government decided to cut back on the amount of funds available for land servicing. We paid a price for that in the years that followed. Let me tell the Government that it will not catch up on the backlog if too big and too drastic a cut is made. I turn now to Commissioner for Housing loans. I understand that the loans are now for $ 1 5,000, subject to a means test, for the purchase of a new house and $12,000 for the purchase of an established home. Undoubtedly the reason for the differential was to try to put some life into the building industry. I think that the time has come when that differential needs to be taken away. I think that Commissioner for Housing loans should be $15,000, if not more, for all houses because of the increases in building costs that are taking place.
Rent control has been something of a disaster. It has led to a situation in which rental accommodation is in extremely short supply. The fair renting principle has driven investment out of the Australian Capital Territory. It has tended to force builders and investors into parts of New South Wales and into other States. Who on earth is going to invest in building in Canberra to receive a return of about 6V2 per cent when he is facing an inflation rate of 18 per cent to 20 per cent? Of course, there was a scream when the municipal rates were increased. I suppose one could say that that is the consequence of inflation. It is another price that the ordinary householder has to pay because of the inflationary spiral that is taking place. But a 40 per cent increase is a very large jump in a year. I do not know how many communities could take it. I am certain that when I was in local government I would not have remained a member of local government if I had been a party to a decision to increase rates by 40 per cent in a single year. That is an incredible increase and I do not thing that it was justified.
The other point I want to make concerns redevelopments in Canberra. I believe that this is long overdue. In suburbs such as Kingston and some of the older suburbs, the houses are falling into disrepair. If we do not watch out we will have slum-type buildings in some of the older parts of Canberra. The time has come for the National Capital Development Commission and the Department of the Capital Territory to press ahead with medium density housing, if not high density housing, in certain parts of Canberra to try to cope with the ever-increasing demand for housing. Canberra’s population has increased from 138 000 in March 1971 to just on 190 000 today. That is an enormous increase. The Department cannot let the city spread wildly or at that rapid rate without trying to provide more medium and high density housing.
– There has been no increase whatsoever in rental accommodation in that period.
– There has been no increase in rental accommodation in that time. It is no wonder that there is a great housing shortage. Of course, under the rent control system many people are preferring to sell their houses rather than to rent them. A further matter which I ask the Minister to consider is the matter of commercial leases in the Australian Capital Territory. I understand that enterprises no longer can purchase a 99-year lease in the Australian Capital Territory. I am sure that that is why there is such a surplus of commercial leases on hand. Clearly, business will not buy in unless it has a long tenure of the leasehold. I do not think that the Government has made a wise decision here. This city depends not only on government expenditure but also on private investment- investment from the private sector- to maintain the growth that is necessary to accommodate the people. I would hope that the Minister would look seriously at the rent control report, which advocates the progressive reduction of rent control. I believe that he is sympathetic to the idea, and I hope that his colleagues show enough sense to support him should he make the proposal, because clearly rent control has been a disaster for the Australian Capital Territory.
Whilever it exists here and it does not exist elsewhere, there will be an accommodation shortage here.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– Some honourable members opposite have attempted to have a field day at the expense of the Australian Capital Territory. My friend the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) administered the city of Canberra, its environs and some other parts of Australia for some time. His administration was not so disastrous as some of the other administrative efforts of his colleagues, but he did leave behind a number of things which we found it difficult to disentangle. I shall mention those directly.
Perhaps it is appropriate that I should start with the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland) and his remarks. I understand that very shortly the Australian people will wait with breathless anticipation for a new policy on the Australian Capital Territory from the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party is pretty accustomed to producing old policies in new bottles It does it with everything else. I do not expect that there will be any fundamental change.
The honourable member raised a few other matters to which I shall give some attention. There is the question of the Legislative Assembly. The Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council was founded, I think, in 1931. Over the years it continued as an advisory body, sometimes grumbling, sometimes near revolt, and usually frustrated. When the Australian Labor Party Government came to office it was working on the assumption that the citizens of Canberra should have a reasonable participation in the government of the Australian Capital Territory. Last year the Legislative Assembly was created with an election for 18 members. At the time we were waiting upon the report of the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory on self-government for the A.C.T. As far as I am concerned, the Legislative Assembly ought to embark upon its own legislative operations. I have pointed out to the Legislative Assembly that there is no area of law from which it is excluded. It is probably the only legislative body in Australia to which that applies. In the Australian Parliament there are strict constitutional restrictions upon things about which we can legislate. In the States there are equally strict limits. For the Legislative Assembly of this Territory there are no restrictions.
However, it is true that it faces the fact that after having passed its legislation that legislation has to run the gauntlet of the 2 Houses of the Australian Parliament. I do not see that in the short term or in the long term that situation will change. We in this Parliament will continuously have to decide whether or not we will intervene between the decisions of the Legislative Assembly and perhaps the policies of a government in this Parliament which may have a different political colour or have different social or national objectives. I think that is a formula which has to be resolved. I do not claim to know the answer to that problem. So far, for instance, we have not resolved the question of the machinery by which this Parliament, if it wishes to do so, may amend legislation that has been passed by the Assembly. That is one area of endeavour which is open to the Assembly. At the present moment it is not adequately serviced. It needs its own drafting service and a few other facilities.
I invite members from both sides of both Houses of this Parliament to repair to the question of the Government of the A.C.T. with a view to creating a co-operative operation between the Australian Parliament and the Legislative Assembly. On the other hand I am adopting the policy wherever it is possible or practicable of appointing the members of the Legislative Assembly to the chairmanship of local bodies that have been set up by statute or by any other method. I believe that this is in an area in which they can start to exercise their executive authority.
I do not claim to know the strict answer to the way in which a territory such as this ought to be governed. It is true that we can produce reports which can specify almost another State. I would think that neither the citizens of Canberra themselves nor the members of this Parliament would want that to happen, but there must be some formula by which we can act in a co-operative way. I give honourable members an assurance that as far as it is practicable and within the limits of the wit and wisdom available to all of us we are proceeding along a road to self-government for this territory. One of the interesting questions, of course, that one can always ask about any form of government is: How much ‘self is there in government anyhow? How much citizen participation can there be? I hope that this is a city and an area in which we can enlarge that.
In the minutes that are left this evening I will deal with the question of rental accommodation in Canberra. My friends opposite have been slightly critical. They have suggested that a policy of disaster has been proceeding here. The situation is that the Australian Government itself owns and operates some 10 500 units of accommodation 8000 houses or thereabouts and over 2000 flats. That is nearly 20 per cent of the total residential accommodation in this city, a much higher proportion of rental accommodation than is available in any other city. Last year that was raised by a total of 1000 units over and above those that were sold during the year, so the Government has managed almost to double the best effort of the past in the creation of government rental accommodation in this city.
– What has it done for the private sector?
– I will deal with that in a moment. I take the points that honourable members have raised about the general standard of housing. It has been said that perhaps government accommodation is not up to scratch. Government houses have been called little boxes. There has been some progress in the design of housing. I for one would not regard us as having reached Utopia in general public housing anywhere in Australia.
Now I come to the question of the private sector. For some mysterious reason it is a mythical being which is totally different from everything else. Apparently a house which has been erected by a government is a totally different object from one that is put up by a private operator. I take the point which I think was raised by my friend the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry). What is the difference? Of course, there is none. For the private sector in this city ample land is available. It is the best serviced and probably the cheapest land available in this country.
– You have scared them away.
-Honourable members opposite say that rent control has scared them away. But of course, if they maintain that they should produce evidence that all round the rest of Australia people are madly building rental accommodation. My information is that they are not.
– Of course they are not; not with the way your Government penalises private investment.
– Of course they are not. In the rest of Australia, whether there is rent control or not, nobody is building rental accommodation.
– Your own supporters have left the chamber.
-Order! The honourable member for Boothby will cease interjecting.
– I always like a bit of audience participation but usually of a little more useful nature than that contributed by the honourable member for Boothby. The facts are, of course, that the cost of money these days is of such an order that it is a fruitless way in which to invest your money. Nobody has come to me yet and said: ‘Mr Minister, I will build a thousand units if you will remove rent control’. If they do I will see whether it is a matter for consideration. But the fact, as far as I see it, is that while we operate our rent control system it is an inhibiting factor on private rents in this city. The people who are getting $40, $50 and $60 rent for their houses, often houses that have appreciated remarkably in value over the last 10 or 15 years, are receiving an adequate return.
My friend from Gwydir said that people were being forced to sell their houses instead of renting them. I thought honourable members opposite believed in home ownership and that buying a house is a better principle than renting it. If someone can come forward with an adequate proposition about rental accommodation in this city we will be only too willing to listen. We have continuously examined this situation with a view to making it easier for people to purchase land and to build on it. We take any administrative action we can take to make it easier for people to build accommodation.
– I again issue the challenge: Let somebody come forward who is prepared to build a large amount of rental accommodation to overcome some of the deficiencies or pressures and we will give the proposal to lift rent control serious consideration.
-Would you lift it?
– I will need a proposition which can be examined thoroughly and which will stand up to adequate study. I know that no one could come across with such a proposition because it is not happening anywhere else in Australia. The question of rates was raised. Honourable members opposite said that a 40 per cent increase in rates was a scandal. I think that was the word they used. It is fairly frequently used by them. The fact is that rates in this city are still relatively lower than they are in large areas of Melbourne and Sydney. I am not happy with the system; I think the rate system is archaic. I think that the financing of public services in municipalities solely from a rate charged upon land or residences is a relic of medieval times and we ought to change it.
– It is a challenge to all of us. Honourable members opposite representing the propertied class would recognise the difficulties imposed upon people, particularly people in the country areas, who pay extravagant rates on farms. But that does not happen in this Territory. My own view is that we have to find some way by which those people who live in the city and have the advantage of its services- there are some 80 000 to 90 000 people in the work force in this Territory; there are about 50 000 residential units paying rates and many of these have 2 employed people in them- contribute in some way. Whether it is by way of a subvention out of income tax or something of that order, I do not know. I simply put the proposition to the Parliament that it is a question we all have to face throughout Australia. Local government is running into serious financial problems because of the restrictive way in which we raise these funds.
– You have the initiative, not us.
– I floated it. After all, four of the 6 governments in Australia which control local government have found no solution to the problem either but we hope that in the next 3 or 4 months we will have a proposition to put to the citizens of Canberra through the Legislative Assembly and ultimately to this Parliament in an appropriate ordinance dealing with this matter. My view is that the people in this city who use its services, such as its library facilities, lighting of streets, its parks and gardens, ought to be contributing something towards the cost. The rates are to meet the general running costs of this city and these costs include such things as lighting and the maintenance of parks and gardens. Street lighting in this city costs about $630,000 a year while maintenance of the water supply costs $2. 7m, garbage and sanitation services cost $ 1 .9m and library services cost over $ 1 m.
Many of the services in this city are of a higher standard because it is a national area. Many of the faculties have been better provided because the servicing in the first place was more adequate. I understand that it is cheaper mile for mile to maintain roads and streets in this city than it is in other parts of Australia because they are better put down in the first place. On the whole, in comparison with the rest of Australia, the citizens of the Australian Capital Territory get good value for their rates although I think the system is inequitable and inadequate. Honourable members probably agree with that observation. However, the Government has had passed on to it a system which has existed for many years.
A number of other questions were raised. For instance, there was the matter of land and housing. I think the honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) said that the Government had reduced the supply of money by $3.2m. We did not do that at all. The allocation for Commissioner for Housing loans is $1.6m less this year. However, last year we had money over and had to return funds to the Treasury. We believe that the amount allocated this year will be adequate. Another question concerned the availability of land. There are some 4000-odd blocks of land available in this city now- the cheapest and best serviced land in the country. Over the last 18 months we have managed to get in front with the supply of land and there is no reasonable complaint about it now. The reduction in the amount of money allocated for the servicing of land flows simply from the fact that we have managed to get in front of demand.
I do not think there were any other points raised which need answering at this point except perhaps the matter raised by the honourable member for Gwydir concerning the redevelopment of areas such as Kingston. My view is that those are the areas that ought to be preserved as they are, although some redevelopment is ocur ring. I and others recognise that it is possibly necessary to increase the density of the population in those areas. That is a challenge to the planners and builders to see that the redevelopment program will not take away the general charm of the inner city area. We do not want to turn the inner suburbs of Canberra into crowded areas such as we have in other capital cities. We recognise that there are some challenges in Canberra that perhaps we have not resolved. For instance, there are social disabilities imposed upon the people of Canberra because it is a new community. It is a totally different form of society which flows from the fact that it is new city. In the new suburbs there are young families with none of the ordinary family relationships that exist in other parts of Australia. Perhaps not enough thought has been given to the supply of social necessities in some of the new suburbs, but we are doing our best in every way to encourage this community development.
My colleague, the honourable member for Fraser mentioned the co-operative shopping exercise in Belconnen. Honourable members opposite will be pleased to know that it is going well. I will do everything I can to encourage community participation and ownership of the resources of the city. For too long my predecessors allowed the land in this city to be bought, used and exploited by people who had money for investment purposes with a total disregard for the social factors. Too many people have been able to exploit the land in this city for their private purposes and capital gain. It is difficult to turn back the wheels. I believe that the former Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), did the city a great disservice with the changes he brought about but I give an undertaking that this Government will proceed along the lines that the community itself ought to have the greatest possible say in the government of this city, the greatest participation in its development and in the ownership and management of its commercial and general resources.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Motion (by Mr Daly) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-Last week a matter concerning the defence services homes scheme was drawn to my attention by one of my constituents, and I should like to bring this matter before the House and before the Minister concerned. This constituent, an ex-serviceman, lodged a written application for financial assistance under the defence service homes scheme and was assured that he was eligible. We all know that in the past a certain processing period of about 6 to 8 weeks has occurred in these matters. No one has really complained about that. However, in this instance my constituent was told, and later this advice was confirmed by letter, that he must face an 1 1 -month delay before his application could be approved and settled. There is a great deal of difference between the usual 6 to 8 weeks processing delay and this proposed 11-month period.
– About 8 months I think.
– Something like that. Since a waiting period of11 months seemed to be both excessively long and also a peculiar figure to choose at random, I made inquiries of senior officers of the Australian Housing Corporation in Melbourne and Canberra. As a result of these inquiries I was told that all applications within the new 1975-76 year for loans on existing homes must, under direction, accept an 1 1 -month waiting period. It was explained to me that this was a policy directive issued by the Board of the Corporation as a result of a major shortfall in this year’s Budget allocation. Honourable members will remember that the
Australian Housing Corporation received some $ 122.5m this year for advances under the defence service homes scheme. With inflation currently running at 17.5 per cent in real terms, this is well below last year’s allocation of $ 130m. It also fails to account for any increases in demand for assistance and of course increased building costs. In other words, this year’s allocation for defence service homes is quite a dramatic curtailment in size as well as making no allowance for any future growth in demand.
I am informed that it is because the Government has restricted its allocation in the area of defence service homes that the administration of the scheme has been obliged to impose an 1 1 -month wait, and in effect to postpone eleventwelfths or 95 per cent of all applications for assistance for purchase of existing homes. This means that the largest single part of the whole defence service homes scheme, which is the provision of financial assistance for the purchasing of existing homes, has been deferred for a considerable time. This is a major blow to exservicemen who are endeavouring to purchase their first home. Its impact will damage the hopes, costs and home planning of many Australians. The Government seems to care Utile for helping the average Australian to purchase or build his own home. The Government abolished the home savings grant scheme earlier this year. It has increased taxes on young couples saving for a home and it has increased the interest rates on home loans. I am glad that the shadow Minister for Housing is here this evening to hear my remarks.
I notice that the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren), whom I informed I would be making these statements, has come into the chamber. I appreciate the fact that he is here. This Government has effectively arrested the defence service homes scheme by curtailing its budgetary allocation. In doing so, it has crippled the plans and hopes of many Aus.tralian ex-servicemen. It is not easy to obtain detailed figures of aU those eligible and eager to benefit under the defence service homes scheme, but it is clear that there are many now and in the future who will be adversely affected in either having to buy their own home or being obliged to resort to commercial bridging finance over the 11 -month or 12-month waiting period at rates sometimes 10 per cent in excess of their normal interest payments under the scheme as eligible applicants
Last year, 14 823 applications were lodged for assistance under the scheme. Of that number 8975 loans were actually settled and a further 2838 applications were approved but have not yet been settled or were not settled at the end of the last financial year. They consisted of the carry-over which the Corporation wm presumably settle this year. These figures show that the scheme is of no small benefit to the Australian ex-serviceman. The defence service homes scheme is widespread in its operations and significant in the assistance that it has provided. It is certainly noteworthy that under a retrospective order of this Government early in 1973 the basis of eligibility for defence service homes was significantly widened, retrospectively coming into operation from December 1972. 1 think all of us who are ex-servicemen were pleased that the Government did that.
Now, within a mere 3 years of that much publicised move to expand the scheme, this Government has so restricted the funding of the scheme that the Corporation is obliged to postpone all new applications It is particularly noteworthy that the postponement of the scheme was done virtually without any publicity. One cannot help but feel that this Government is against the concept of home ownership and yet lacks the integrity to admit this in public and in a straightforward manner. Does the Government still hold to the concept that home owners are little capitalists as a former Labor Minister once said? The defence service homes scheme has traditionally been a part of the recognition for service within our armed forces. It has been one of the special advantages and incentives, at first for those who served in overseas combat areas, and more recently for aU ex-servicemen upon completion of 3 years active service. The scheme has been an integral part of our defence Services and indeed one could say an inseparable part of such Services. Servicemen have had removed from their reach for at least a year a major benefit to which they were entitled and had been promised. The Government, by causing this delay, has not only unilaterally and surreptitiously cut the rights of all past servicemen who have not yet used their entitlement for home assistance, but it has also breached the contract to which it was party with enlisted servicemen.
It is evident that servicemen who fought under orders in the Vietnam conflict will be among those penalised. Many of the applicants who must now face extended postponement of their home ownership plans are some 20 000 national servicemen. Like aU other soldiers their presence in Vietnam, and thus their entitlement under the scheme as it then stood, was mandatory. Exservicemen should not be so penalised They honoured their contract to national service. It is reprehensible that this Government should now, without so much as a murmur, dishonour its part of that contract. I have asked the Minister for Urban and Regional Development to be in the House while I make my remarks and I am pleased that he has come. I call upon him as the Minister who is responsible for defence service homes to take action immediately to rectify the situation which has occurred.
– The honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman) informed my office a few minutes before the motion for the adjournment that he would be raising this matter in the House. He did not give me the courtesy of giving me all the details that are necessary in respect of the request that he has made. Basically, the honourable member said that no public statement had been made. A clear public statement of the situation was made by the Chairman of the Australian Housing Corporation, Mr Alec Ramsay. That statement was made approximately a month ago. The situation is that there has to be a curtailment of applications In other words, there is a waiting time of approximately 1 1 to 12 months for people who want to acquire a home in the present situation. They have been able to obtain temporary finance, as has been done in the past when there were waiting periods for such loans under the former Government of which the honourable member was a supporter. If we were to meet aU the loan applications for this year immediately, instead of making available the $ 122.5m which is allocated in this year’s Budget, we would have to provide an amount of $175m. Opposition members have to make up their minds on the matter. They are the people who have been complaining about Government expenditure. They have to decide whether they want a huge deficit or whether they will accept a responsible deficit of about $2, 500m. Any further increase in the deficit would mean an increase in interest rates across the board. The Australian Government had to make its determination in a responsible way to try to retain Government expenditure within a certain limit. This was one of the areas that have had to suffer to some extent. But I point out that the amount of $122.5m is so much more than was ever provided in the past by any previous government. The honourable member says that -
– Why waste it on Monarto?
– I wish the honourable member who is parroting something would apply some common sense and examine the Budget expenditure. If he did that he would find that the Monarto project has been deferred in this year’s
Budget A public statement has been made that the resources of the people of Monarto will be used to assist in the reconstruction of Darwin. So I say to the honourable member Please -
– There are only 2 people in Monarto- the curator of dogs and the curator of cemeteries.
– The responsible spokesman for the Opposition who interjects helplessly is so devoid of any real knowledge of budgetary matters that he goes on like a parrot. Quite frankly, nothing would make me more happy than to be able to make the $175m that I believe was needed to meet aU requests for defence service homes. Unfortunately, we have had to make a decision on budgetary matters. The Defence Service Homes Division is one of those sections which has had to come within the constraint of the commitments that we have made. What we have done is to say that those people in a position of hardship can obtain payments immediately. The Regional Directors have been given certain categories which cover such circumstances. If there are cases that the Regional Directors have not been able to meet, honourable members will come to me as the Minister. I Will try to assist wherever possible.
We have to keep in mind that there is a limited amount of money available and that we have broadened the program from the narrow concept that was previously applied. If one examines the expenditure that the Government made in the 1960s, one finds that the same amount of money was provided every year. It was about $70m. Then, of course, there was a substantial drop in the amount provided. If the honourable member had given me sufficient notice, I would have been able to make the figures available to him. They dropped from $70m to $59m to $48m. In those days, of course, the amount provided was reduced because the loan was not sufficient to meet the commitments of those who were eligible I am not trying to say that the $ 1 5,000 that we make available now solves all the housing problems of those people who are eligible for a defence service homes loan. It does not. But the $122.5m, the second largest amount that has ever been made available by any government in the history of this scheme, has been made available to try to alleviate the position. It is in Une with the overall budgetary restraint. I make no apologies for the position.
Opposition members have continually hammered the Government and said that there should be continued cuts in Government expenditure and in the Government’s deficit. In that case they have to come up with possible alternatives. I am saying quite clearly that this reduction is part of the overall Budget strategy. I believe that even though the people eligible for the loan have a waiting period of 1 1 months, this is still one of the best deals in the nation. The honourable member for Deakin talked about the bad deal that Australians have been given in housing. He should look at the situation of people on low incomes who are waiting for welfare homes. They have to wait much longer than 1 1 months. Why is this? It is because the previous Government neglected any social welfare housing. The situation was such that in the last year of the previous administration only $176m was made available for this purpose. In our first year of office, we made available $2 18m. Last year, we made available approximately $370m and we have made available a similar amount again this year to try to catch up the backlog of welfare housing for those people on low incomes. Some of them have to wait up to three and four years. In order to make the point quite clearly that this Government has brought forward what was thought to be a responsible economic proposal, let us look at the economy as a whole. There is budget restraint and this has to be dealt with in that light. I believe that people in defence service homes are getting a good deal, particularly those who have been on the welfare homes list for so many years.
Mr JARMAN (Deakin)-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, I do claim to have been misrepresented. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) made it sound as though I had just notified his office that I was to raise this matter a few minutes before I came into the House. I telephoned his office some time after 10 p.m. He was not present in the office at that time. I wanted him to be present in the House tonight because I wanted to give him the opportunity to put the other side of the case. I had previously telephoned the office of the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Riordan) because I had forgotten temporarily that the matter had been transferred from the ministry of Housing and Construction to this ministry. I did ring earlier. No underhand move was involved in ringing his office just after 10 o’clock. I gave him the opportunity at least to come into the House and put the other side of the case. I hoped he would appreciate that.
- Mr Speaker, as a matter of fact, I received a message at twenty past ten. Even Ministers cannot conjure up information in 5 seconds. I would like to have been able to give the exact details, including the exact details of how the Liberal-Country Party Government which the honourable member supported, cut expenditure on war service homes in difficult times. The point is that the honourable member did not pay that courtesy. I will give the exact details at some other time.
-I should like to raise the same matter as the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) has just dealt with and to touch on certain aspects of his comments. I, too, have had representations made to me by people who have suffered and will suffer greatly as a consequence of this secret decision taken by the Government and its instrumentality to extend the period of availability from 5 to 6 weeks to 1 1 months.
– Welching on a commitment.
– As the honourable member says, with regard to many applicants the Government is welching on a commitment. The Minister appears to fail to understand the circumstances surrounding negotiations for the purchase of a house. Many people who wish to avail themselves of their entitlement under the defence service home loans scheme look for the house of their choice. When they have found the house they tell the prospective vendor, through an agent, that it is their wish to purchase the house. Then the question of finance is raised. They indicate to the agent that they are entitled to a loan under the defence service homes scheme. The agent in many instances assume that there will be a 5 to 6 weeks delay; so the contract very often is written with a priviso that settlement is to be effected 5 to 6 weeks later. In some circumstances specific mention is made of the contract being subject to defence service home loans division approval.
I notice that the Minister has left the chamber. It appears that he is not prepared to answer the further issues that were implicit in the remarks that he just made. The type of purchaser to whom I have been referring, having entered into this form of contract very often is buying a house from someone who wishes to move to other accommodation. So the vendor of the house very often also is entering into a contract for the sale of his house in order to purchase another. That contract, too, is made subject to the completion of some other sale. As a consequence of the secret decision to extend the time within which these loans can be made available, many people are facing great hardship.
The case that was drawn to my attention had these facts: The agent had indicated to the buyer that he had discovered that there was a longer waiting period. When he raised the matter with me he did not know whether the delay was temporary or whether it was a policy announcement. We have heard from the Minister tonight that a policy decision has been taken. The availability of loans under the defence service home loans scheme will now be extended to 1 1 months. The agent in the case to which I refer asked me whether he should go to the vendor and ask the vendor whether he would allow settlement to be postponed for 11 months. What home owner seeking to sell his house for whatever purpose, whether to buy another one or to realise on his asset, would be prepared at no cost to the purchaser to postpone the settlement date for a period of 1 1 months? He might be prepared to do so for 6 or 7 weeks, or even 9 weeks. He might even be prepared to allow the prospective purchaser to enter into possession on some rental arrangement. Normally the vendor of a house needs the proceeds of that sale to meet his own commitments, both on his mortgages on his existing house and to complete the purchase of some other accommodation.
The number of members in the chamber tonight shows the interest of the members of the Labor Party. Only one member is here this evening listening to this debate. The Minister who dealt with the issue, and in answer to an interjection indicated that in cases of hardship directors would be authorised to make funds available earlier than 1 1 months, is not here to answer the question I now wish to put to him. The question I have is: Will directors be authorised to make loans available within a 6 to 7 weeks period in all those cases where contracts were written by prospective purchasers in the belief and expectation that their defence service homes loan would be available within the 5 to 6 weeks period, which has been the practice over recent months? If it was as a consequence of budgetary constraints that the period had to be so extended, it should have been done with great publicity so that people who had entered into contracts were not prejudiced. The Minister’s action and the Housing Corporation’s action in taking the decision that has been taken have prejudiced a great number of people. I hope that those who are prejudiced by virtue of the fact that they have entered into contracts will now get some relief from the Minister’s assurance that hardship cases will be looked at sympathetically. I think that anyone who entered into a contract in the belief that money would be available in 5 or 6 weeks from the time of application for the loan will suffer severe hardship now when he discovers that the loan money will not be available for some 11 months.
– It was not my intention to join in this debate this evening. I think I should commence my remarks by saying how grateful this House should be, firstly, to the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman) and, secondly, to the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) for raising what appears to me to be a very important issue. I frankly admit and agree with the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) that he could not be expected to give a detailed answer to the honourable member for Deakin at very short notice. Nevertheless, a few principles are involved in this matter.
– He should at least have stayed here.
– I agree with the honourable member for Boothby that the Minister should at least have stayed here until the conclusion of the debate. To me, in this time of great unemployment, a government decision that indirectly will cut back the production of housing is a crime. It is all very well for us members of this chamber. We all, no doubt, have comfortable homes to go to. No doubt the bulk of the people of Australia have the homes that they require. But there are some people, of course, who do not have homes. We talk about cutting back expenditure in the interests of the economy. This cut-back is false economy. We want to encourage the productivity of this country and to encourage employment. This action by the Government will do the reverse. As the honourable member for Deakin said, interest rates charged to these people for bridging finance is in excess of 10 per cent more than the interest rate on their defence service homes loan. To me again this is a crime.
I am very surprised at the Minister brushing off this question so lightly. It is pretty obvious that the Government has got its priorities mixed. Here we have an urgent situation in which people require homes. Whether a person is using government finance or private finance, the houses must be built. We must remember that this is not grant money that is coming from the Commonwealth; it is loan money. I have not had time to check the Budget Papers on this issue, but I would forecast that the money coming in from existing defence service homes loans certainly would be more than the money that is going out -
– Order! It being 11 o’clock, the House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated
asked the Minister for the Media, upon notice:
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
It has also been shown that there are certain areas in Sydney where, due to the presence of obstructions to the radio path between the television transmitters at Gore Hill and the area in question poor reception exists which is beyond the viewers’ ability to correct. Methods of overcoming the difficulties in these areas are now under consideration by the Board and I am advised that I will receive recommendations on the subject within a few months.
The Board will make special reference to Sydney television coverage in its annual report which I will table shortly.
asked the Minister for Manufacturing Industry, upon notice:
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
However, the time spent on reproduction and distribution would be fairly constant. My department estimates that the cost of reproducing and distributing a typical press release of two pages and 500 copies would be about $75. Between 12 June and 12 December 1974, 47 press releases were made by the Minister for Manufacturing Industry.
Television Reception in Sydney (Question No. 2017)
asked the Minister for the Media, upon notice:
When will he answer my question No. 758 which first appeared on the Nonce Paper on 3 1 July 1 974.
– The answer has been provided in today’s Hansard.
asked the Minister for Manufacturing Industry, upon notice:
When may I expect an answer to my Question No. 1771 placed on the Notice Paper on 1 3 November 1 974.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I refer the honourable member to my reply to Question No. 1771 which appeared in Hansard (Page 242) on 19 August 1975.
Independent Consultants Report on Australian Industries Development Corporation (Question No. 2258)
asked the Minister for Manufacturing Industry, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Since the honourable member asked his question, responsibility for AIDC matters has been moved to the portfolio of the Minister for Manufacturing Industry.
I refer the honourable member to the comments in part (3) of the Prime Minister’s answer to Question No. 2243 on 13 May 1975 (Hansard pp. 2 198).
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation, upon notice:
– The Minister for Repatriation and Compensation has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Department of Repatriation and Compensation (Question No. 2804)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation:
– The Minister for Repatriation and Compensation has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
What was the cost of all the expenditure items incurred by the Australian Government in holding the Women ‘s Conference that began in Canberra on 31 August 1975, including items such as fares, travelling expenses, consultants fees, and advertising.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
See my answers on 4 September 1975 (Hansard, pages 1 104-5).
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
Would he please answer my letter dated 1 7 April 1 97 5.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The letter was answered on 8 September 1 975.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
Would he please answer my letter dated 14 May 1975.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The letter was answered on 1 0 September 1 975.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 10 September 1975, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1975/19750910_reps_29_hor96/>.