30th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Lucock) took the chair at 2.15 p.m., and read prayers.
The Acting Clerk- 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. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth do humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government;
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Armitage, Mr Jacobi, Mr Les McMahon, Mr Martin, Mr Morris, Mr Neil and Mr Antony Whitlam.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned electors of the Commonwealth respectfully showeth:
Whereas your petitioners respectfully request consideration be given to:
Both of the above being without the prerequisite of referral by a medical practitioner.
Therefore your petitioners pray your Honourable House to legislate accommodation of these matters under the provisions of Federal law.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Eric Robinson, Mr Bonnett, Mr Bourchier, Mr Hurford and Mr Keith Johnson.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in the Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That the decision to withdraw the Australian Trader from the Tasmanian service:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will move to restore the Australian Trader to the Tasmanian service. And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Les McMahon, Mr Martin, Mr Morris, Mr Stewart and Mr Antony Whitlam.
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 distress is being caused to social security recipients by the delay in adjusting pensions to the Consumer Prices Index months after prices of goods and services have risen, and that medications which were formerly pharmaceutical benefits must now be paid for. Additionally, that State housing authorities’ waiting lists for low rental dwellings for pensioners grow ever longer, and the cost of funerals increases ever greater.
Your petitioners call on the Australian Government as a matter of urgency to:
Adjust social security payments instantly and automatically when the quarterly Consumer Prices Index is announced.
Restore pharmaceutical benefits deleted from the free list.
Update the State Grants (Dwellings for Pensioners) Act of 1974, eroded by inflation, to increase grants to overcome the backlog.
Update Funeral Benefit to 60 per cent of reasonable cost of funeral. (This benefit was 200 shillings, 20 dollars, when introduced in 1943. It was seven times the 1943 pension of 27 shillings a week.)
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Armitage, Mr Groom and Mr Martin.
To 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 many Australians are concerned that amongst many dismal actions of the Fraser Government, its proposed actions in connection to Medibank are the most debilitating in that they will affect most seriously those most in need of Medibank. Your petitioners fear most:.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that Parliament will ensure the following:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Armitage.
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 action to save Medibank and to ensure that Medibank is not just a name but a universal system of health care which provides equality of opportunity to all in regard to health care, irrespective of their means. by Mr Armitage.
To the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia showeth:
That there is growing concern in the community over proposed changes to Medibank. The Medibank Scheme was introduced as a system of universal health care but will become just another competitor in the health insurance field.
The new proposals hinge on income levels- people receive only the cover that they can afford. This obviously discriminates against those who can least afford it.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that Medibank be allowed to continue as intended to provide basic health care to all people without reference to income levels.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Holten.
To the honourable Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that
The Budget will increase unemployment to unprecedented and crisis proportions at a time when hundreds of thousands of Australians, especially school-leavers, young workers and apprentices, are without work; the Budget completes the dismantling of Medibank as a simple, effective universal health insurance scheme, providing basic coverage for the total community; the Budget, by its heavy cuts in urban and transport programs, will worsen the quality of life available to many Australians; the Budget will compel state governments to reduce their services and increase charges; the Budget reduces spending on Aboriginal affairs by 30 per cent and returns expenditure on Aborigines to pre- 1972 days; the Budget seriously disadvantages migrant groups, most notably in employment and health, and leaves room for concern over the future of ethnic radio; the Budget, despite the government’s earlier rhetoric about defence threats to Australia, continues to hold the size of the armed services at present levels; and the Budget, despite all the above, still cannot be expected to reduce Australia’s annual inflation rate below twelve per cent.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the 1976 Budget be redrafted to provide for economic recovery within the guide-lines laid down by the Australian Labor Government’s 1975 Budget
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Armitage and Mr Morris.
To the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled, we the undersigned, citizens of the Commonwealth by this our humble petition respectfully showeth:
That Medibank has proved itself to be the cheapest and most efficient means of bringing health care to Australian citizens and that the citizens of Australia have received Medibank as a great and valued social reform.
That Medibank has proved itself to be a far superior system of health care than was offered by the private funds prior to July 1975. Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will observe the promise made by the Prime Minister in his policy speech that ‘We will maintain Medibank and ensure the standard of health care does not decline’.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Jenkins and Mr Keith Johnson.
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:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Ruddock and Mr Scholes.
To the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth: the urgent need for a community owned and operated public access radio broadcasting station to service the mid western suburbs of Sydney and in particular the Municipalities of Ashfield, Burwood, Concord, Drummoyne and Strathfield.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled should grant a licence for this purpose to 2RDJ FM Community Radio.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Abel.
To the Speaker and the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that many Australians are concerned at the announced decision by the Australian Government to reduce the 1975-76 Overseas Development Assistance vote by $21m, and by the abolition of the Australian Development Assistance Agency.
We your petitioners do therefore humbly pray that the Australian Government:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Armitage.
To the Speaker and the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that many Australians are concerned at the recent outbreak of racial riots and killings in South Africa.
We your petitioners do therefore humbly pray that the Australian Government:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Connolly.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth: That the undersigned persons believe that:
The $300 limit on income tax deductibility in respect of personal residential land and water rates is unrealistic and is a discriminatory income tax penalty.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the government will take steps to see that the aforesaid limitation is removed entirely or substantially increased.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Connolly.
To the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That whereas uranium found in vast quantities in Australia is the raw material for the nuclear fission reaction.
And whereas presently assured reserves of uranium in Australia represent a potential production of over 540 000 kilograms of Plutonium 239 if utilized in Light Water Reactors overseas.
And whereas the Maximum Permissible Inhalation of Plutonium 239 is 0.00000025 gram.
And whereas Plutonium 239 is one of the most dangerous substances human society has ever created, causing mutations and cancers.
And whereas there are no methods of safely and absolutely confining Plutonium from the biosphere for the requisite quarter of a million years.
And whereas Plutonium coming in contact with the air forms an aerosol cloud of micron-sized particles, its most dangerous form.
And whereas the export of uranium may return to us an import of Plutonium particles dispersed in the global environment via the circulation of the atmosphere.
And whereas there are no sure safeguards against the military use of nuclear fission and the nuclear proliferation represents a prime environmental threat to all forms of life on the only earth available to us.
And that it is therefore an act of self-preservation to demand a halt to all exports of uranium except for bio-medical uses.
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 Falconer.
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:
Your petitioners call on the Australian Government as a matter of urgency to consider these facts in the light of justice toward a people who came as strangers to this land, and to take appropriate action to remedy the present situation.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Haslem.
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 decision of the Government to introduce a 2.5 per cent levy on incomes to finance Medibank and to offer private health insurance as an alternative to Medibank.
Your petitioners call upon the Australian Government
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Jenkins.
To the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
This petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth their concern at Australia’s apparent failure to fulfill the obligations it formally assumed at the World Food Conference in Rome, 1 974.
We, your petitioners do therefore humbly pray that the Australian Government:
As a matter of urgency reaffirm and meet the commitments it made at that World Food Conference.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Martin.
Dockyards at Newcastle
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Newcastle respectfully showeth:
That shipbuilding and repairs play a vital role in the economic stability of the Newcastle region.
That a recent study by the Hunter Valley Research Foundation showed that 50 000 people were partially or wholly maintained by the State Dockyard.
That stability is at present in jeopardy, as a new ship order is required within the next few weeks if serious unemployment and hardship is to be avoided.
That the previous Government’s plan for the building of a graving dock in Newcastle should be continued as proper ship repair facilities are a vital factor in the maintenance of a viable shipbuilding industry.
That the Government’s election pledge to restore business and cut unemployment can be implemented in Newcastle if new orders and a graving dock are granted.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government place immediate orders with the Newcastle State Dockyard and implement the previous Government’s plan to build a graving dock in Newcastle.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Morris.
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 Simon.
– I address my question to the Treasurer. Is the estimate for the cost of unemployment benefit in this Budget $49m less than in the last Budget? Is this cut a guesstimate? If not, what is the basis for such a cut at a time of rising unemployment? Is the Treasurer’s uncertainty and evasiveness in refusing to release the projected unemployment rate up to June 1977 a clear indication that he has no faith in the advice he has received from his Department?
– The unemployment benefit estimate was the subject of calculations by the Department of Social Security and the Treasury prior to inclusion in the Budget figures. The matter has also been the subject of a question raised earlier in the House by the Leader of the Opposition. I have written back to the honourable gentleman giving him the Government’s position in response to the question he raised. I will see that a copy of that letter is provided to the honourable member for Sydney. I have nothing to say on the matter other than what I have said already in the House on an earlier occasion. Honourable gentlemen on the other side must understand that this Government is not in the business of providing them with the information they refused to provide to us when they were in office.
– My question, which is directed to the Prime Minister, relates to the incredible decision of the New South Wales Premier to meddle in Australia’s defence and foreign affairs by banning visits by U.S.S. Truxtun to New South Wales ports. I ask the Prime Minister whether he agrees that it is in the interests of Australian security to allow nuclear powered and conventional ships of the United States Navy to use Australian ports. Can the Government take any action to avoid a situation again arising where a State Premier can determine an issue involving Australian defence and foreign policy?
– Yes, it is essential that nuclear powered ships be able to visit Australian ports, not just in the southern part or the western part of Australia, but also in the eastern part.
– If some honourable gentleman asks why, he ought to know that we have a defence treaty with the United States of America. Increasingly United States ships are nuclear fuelled. Unless their ships are able to call at our ports, we will not be able to co-operate as we ought and as indeed we must be able to as an appropriate ANZUS partner. I think that is very plain. People who strike at nuclear ships coming to Australian pons are striking at the ANZUS treaty itself. That may well be the reason why a number of them do it. It is worth noting that a couple of days ago the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions affirmed on behalf of the trade union movement, in a way in which nobody opposite in this House could ever do, that the union movement had supported too many strikes.
I am glad to see that in Melbourne the visit of the Truxtun is going well and disruption is much less than some people wanted. The visits take place only after all the proper environmental controls have been applied, and my colleague, the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development is principally in charge of those matters. Since the decision of the New South Wales Government was announced -
– A good decision, too.
-Let us get this on record. The honourable member interjects and says: ‘A good decision, too’. I like to have the Labor Party in its full colours on record so that the people can really understand it. We know that the honourable gentleman does not want the ANZUS treaty. That is fine. Such visits take place only after the fullest possible environmental precautions have been taken as they ought to be, as they must be, as they were in Western Australia, as they were in Melbourne. I am glad to say that in spite of his earlier decision, the Premier of New South Wales has agreedthis has now happened- to discussions taking place between environmental officers of the Commonwealth and of the State of New South Wales. I hope very much that the Premier of New South Wales will come to accept the wisdom of the Commonwealth Government’s view in relation to these matters. The Commonwealth Government cannot accept a position in which any State government or other people outside this Parliament determine the foreign and defence policies of this country.
– I have to inform the House that we have present in the Gallery this afternoon members of the Committee on Production and Exchange of the French National Assembly, led by Deputy Henri de Gastines On behalf of the House I extend to these gentlemen a very warm welcome.
Honourable members- Hear, hear!
-Has the attention of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development been drawn to the claim by the Executive Director of the Master Builders Association, which is supported by the building unions and associated industries, that only by committing an extra $350m can the Australian and New South Wales Governments save the New South Wales building industry from total bankruptcy? Will the Government react to this crisis situation in any positive manner or will it continue its policy of abandonment of this key industry which has already reached a peak of unemployment?
– I thank the honourable member for his question. I am not aware of the bid for $350m, and I would deny that the Government has abandoned the New South Wales building industry. I wish to make two or three points about the situation in the building industry in New South Wales. Firstly, the problem in New South Wales is a structural one. The cost of land, the cost of building and the location of land away from community facilities and places of employment present problems that the New South Wales Government and local government bodies in that State have themselves to help to solve. Secondly, the problem, particularly for first home buyers in New South Wales, is the high cost not only of buying the house but also of servicing the debt because of the interest rates applied. As the economic policies of this Government begin to bite more and more, those inflated interest rates will come down. This will once again enable young people to purchase houses. Thirdly, let me give an assessment of the situation and contrast it with the terms in which the honourable member was speaking. The result of a survey by the people from the Cordell Research Pty Ltd was published in the Press, I think a couple of days ago. The report’s forecast of likely commencements and trends showed a general upturn, in both public and private sectors, in ready-to-commence projects. That sort of survey tallies very well with the data available to my Department, in relation to both commencements and approvals. All in all, the Government believes that a modest recovery is taking place in the building industry in New South Wales. It is modest, I admit, but a recovery nevertheless. The investing of $3 50m in New South Wales alone would be quite contrary to the policies that the Treasurer has made clear on many occasions. In the meantime my Department and the Government will continue to watch the situation in New South Wales very carefully.
-I ask the Minister for Post and Telecommunications a question. I emphasise that my question is directed to a matter of principle, not detail. It concerns the situation arising from the unilateral action taken by the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, Sir Henry Bland, in banning a locally produced television comedy series, if I may dignify it by describing it as such, which nevertheless has an unbelievable 3 1 per cent of the total viewing fascination. I ask: Will the Minister convey to Sir Henry Bland the deep concern of myself, other members of Parliament and many people in the community that a self-appointed arbiter of viewing tastes has acted in this way- not necessarily in relation to the program under discussion, but on a matter of principle that similar unilateral action might be taken in the future on more important matters, such as questions of political and social significance? Will he convey to the Chairman that censorship of the programs of the ABC should be exercised only after full discussion with all members of the Commission and then only for overwhelming reasons and in rare circumstances?
-I will, of course, do as my friend the honourable member for Hotham has asked of me and convey his sentiments to Sir Henry Bland. I am not going to make any comment myself. I told the House what I thought about Blue Hills and Bellbird, but I am going to pull up short of making any personal comments about the program mentioned by the honourable member for Hotham. He has said that a number of people have been fascinated with it. I have not seen it. It was stopped in Queensland before it reached Queensland, and I did not take time off to watch it here. But, just through sheer chance, a number of my colleagues have seen it. Some have told me that they were disappointed with it; some have been disgusted by it; and others, frankly, have been amused or bored. I have not heard anybody say that he thought it was a production of excellence. I have yet to hear anybody say that.
The Australian Broadcasting Commission is quite independent. I can well remember everybody in this House stressing the importance of its independence. Sir Henry Bland is a prestigious
Chairman of that Commission. No doubt he would have consulted his fellow Commissioners before action was taken. I am aware that there is to be a Commission meeting in a few weeks. The Commissioners will then have the opportunity to discuss officially what no doubt they have been discussing informally and unofficially. I repeat that I will convey the honourable member’s comments to the Chairman of the Commission, as he has asked me to do.
-Order! I suggest to the House that it come to order during question time. It is difficult for Ministers to hear the questions asked of them and sometimes it is difficult to hear their answers. I suggest that if honourable members were to assist in this regard the work output during question time would increase.
-I direct a question to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations in his capacity as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Women’s Affairs. Did the Government cancel the planned publication of a directory of support services to women in Australia? How has this decision been explained to the women’s groups with which Ministers have been consulting this week? Does the Government still consider it appropriate that women wishing to have access to this important information, which was collected and compiled at government expense, can have it only by purchasing Woman’s Day oi 23 and 30 August?
– I have seen the document to which the honourable member referred. In my opinion, it was totally inadequate for the purpose for which it was designed. My Department is presently engaged in preparing a more adequate document.
– I put a question to the Minister for Health. Would it be correct that there are 52 000 people in private nursing homes in this country? Is the Minister aware that when they or their families come to face the payment of the bills they now find that the Commonwealth help they have been receiving is $45 a week less? Has the Minister consulted the Treasurer to see what he can do to assist these people who worked to serve this nation and to whom we should pay more care and more attention?
-I am well aware of the concern of the honourable member for Holt, and indeed of a great number of other members of this House, about the problem that is being faced by people in nursing homes and their relatives who have to meet the enormous gap that has occurred between the benefit that is payable and the private nursing fee that has been approved by the Department of Health. Of course, the problem has occurred as a result of the serious inflation that this Government inherited from the former Government. We have always said that inflation, particularly inflation at the rate of 15 per cent, bears more heavily upon the disadvantaged people in the community than on the advantaged people in the community. That is why the Treasurer and the Government have been going to great lengths to try to overcome an inflationary situation that is causing such serious hardship. The Government is very concerned about the difficulties being experienced by people in nursing homes and their relatives as a consequence of the gap to which the honourable member referred. We have set up a committee of inquiry to inquire into the whole problem of the aged and the sick aged in Australia. We are expecting that we will receive a comprehensive report on a range of measures that should be taken to overcome the serious problem.
– I am well aware of the difficulties. The honourable member asks: ‘When?’ He has a right to be concerned, because he was a supporter of the government that allowed this situation to occur without any inquiry, without any show of real concern. This Government is concerned and it will do something about the situation as soon as we receive the report from the committee of inquiry.
-Is the Treasurer aware that stock exchange indices fell after the share markets had had time to absorb both his statement of 20 May and his Budget Speech? Does this suggest that the Government’s tactic of leaking previews of major policy announcements leads only to disappointed expectations? Does it also suggest that the effect of the Government’s economic policies has been reduced business confidence?
-The matters to which the honourable gentleman referred certainly do not lead to the conclusion which he sought to draw. In fact, if he compares stock exchange movements at present with the position during the period the Australian Labor Party was last in office he will see that a strengthening of the market has taken place. Confidence has returned to the business community. I make it perfectly clear to honourable gentlemen opposite that, while an economy is in the early stage of recovery, of course the indicators are not unequivocal. The Government has been quite frank in putting this proposition in all the statements which have been brought down. If the honourable member for Adelaide seeks evidence of the turnabout in the Australian economy, I invite him to consider the following facts: Gross non-farm product rose again in real terms in the June quarter, following an increase of 3.2 per cent in the March quarter. Non-farm product for the first half of 1975 was more than 3 per cent above its level in the preceding half year. More importantly, the sources of growth in the June quarter indicate that the recovery has been consolidating. Whereas the March quarter increase in non-farm product stemmed largely from a turnabout in stocks, the June quarter increase reflected strengthening private final demand. Investment in dwellings, as the honourable gentleman would know, is continuing to increase at a healthy rate. Investment in plant and equipment consolidated the strong rise recorded in the March quarter. Exports have continued to grow over the period in which this Government has been in office. Lending by finance companies has been strong and new capital raisings by companies- certainly this is a reflection of confidence- showed a substantial uplift during the June quarter. As to the statement made by the Leader of the Opposition that Australia is in recession and the recession is deepening, the facts do not bear that out. I would have thought that the Opposition in this Parliament -
– What about unemployment?
– If the honourable gentleman is concerned about unemployment he will not continue to talk down the Australian economy. In response to the question asked by the honourable member for Adelaide, I conclude by saying that recovery is taking place. The Government is confident that the strategy which has been outlined will work. I indicate to the honourable gentleman that in the early stages of an economic recovery, whether here or abroad, the indicators are not unequivocal.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Overseas Trade. Can the Minister give the House any indication of the effects on Australia’s trade of the present industrial trouble on the waterfront? Can he also advise the House of the effect which the proposed ban on trade with New Zealand would have on Australian exporters?
– There is good reason for everybody to be very concerned about the increasing industrial trouble on our waterfront. It is having a very serious effect on Australia’s reputation as a reliable and dependable supplier of goods and raw materials. It is also having quite an effect on the import of goods for Australian industry. Many industries have had to stand down or dismiss employees because they have been unable to get goods off the waterfront. I suppose the most difficult area is the container area, where I am told there is a delay of something like 6 weeks in the delivery of containers. That has had a consequent effect on the filling of containers for export. At the moment something like 60 000 tonnes of goods in containers are held up on wharves around Australia. Surely the inflation situation and the need for economic recovery are important enough without this unnecessary industrial trouble on the wharves. But what is happening seems to be endemic.
There are so many areas where unions are taking it upon themselves to make decisions- many of them nothing more than political decisions- by placing limitations and bans or by striking, and thus preventing Australia from being a continuing exporter of goods. For instance, in relation to the export of livestock, numerous bans have been applied in different States. Some of them have been lifted but there is still a ban in Victoria which is preventing exporters from being able to take orders overseas. Surely if there has to be permission to export livestock it ought to be granted for the drought stricken areas such as Victoria. The ban earlier this year by the storemen and packers delayed the sale of almost a quarter of a million bales of wool. That led to a delay in payments to wool producers, who are certainly not enjoying very high incomes at the moment. The action of the Australian Workers Union on the handling of wheat in New South Wales during May and June reduced the capacity to export wheat by 200 000 tonnes. That had quite an effect on some of our overseas customers who were awaiting deliveries. I refer also to the action of the maritime unions in Western Australia. As a result of that there have been delays in the export of iron ore. In June about 1 500 men had to be stood down at Mount Newman while 16 bulk ore carriers were held up. There has been a ban by the Australian Council of Trade Unions on trade with South Africa. For one month no trade was allowed. Who was affected? It was Australian industry hoping to get export orders which was affected. There is a ban on Indonesian vessels. Indonesia is a country with which we are hoping to build up trade. Yet all this does is to impede and stifle continuing expansion and development.
Today we heard the most ludicrous of all possible decisions made by the ACTU, namely, to place a ban on trade between Australia and New Zealand in an effort to influence policy in New Zealand, as the New Zealand Government has become so frustrated and so desperate because of the continuing political strikes in that country that it is threatening to bring down legislation to counter political strikes. So the ACTU is now considering blocking trade between our 2 countries. That will involve $700m worth of trade and $450m of it is Australian trade. The balance of trade is in our favour. Yet the ACTU wants to take action which will have a greater detrimental effect on Australia than on New Zealand. At a time when we have high unemployment, as an honourable member interjects, all that this can do is to aggravate the situation and make it very much worse. The time is approaching when the Australian public will have to think very seriously about how much more it is going to take of the trade unions trying to run this country instead of its being run by the democratically elected government.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. Would there be any advantage in introducing a new public security on a limited basis with an inflation-adjusted capital value or floating interest rate? If so, what would the advantages be to the Government and to the public? If not, what would be the disadvantages?
– The matter referred to in the question posed by the honourable gentleman was examined by me quite some time ago. I was not attracted to the proposition of an inflationadjusted security. As the honourable gentleman is aware, the Government, in terms of its overall monetary policy, introduced Australian Savings Bonds, which have now become a permanent feature of government monetary policy. It was as a consequence of that initiative, and the other measures which are a matter of public record, that the Government had a capacity over the period since it has been in office to reduce the rate of increase in the money supply- M3 -which was running during the time in office of the honourable member for Oxley at around 20 per cent, to an annual rate of around half that percentage over the last half of the financial year. In other words, what I am saying is that the
Government will look at the overall question of monetary management and the sale of government paper to the non-bank public in a flexible way. I give the honourable gentleman credit for saying that the suggestion which was put for.ward was a constructive one. I say to the Leader of the Opposition, who is interjecting, that in a matter of a few minutes the honourable gentleman who sits behind him put forward more of a positive proposal than the Leader did in a 38-page speech when responding to the Budget Speech.
-Has the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs been drawn to the increasing number of Australians, particularly young Australians, who are being arrested overseas on drug offences? What action can the Government take to ensure that these Australians are not being held in unsatisfactory gaols for long periods without trial?
-Drug trafficking is a matter of major concern to many governments today, not the least our own Government. In fact, to the best of my recollection some 10S Australians are known to my Department to have been arrested for drug offences in other countries during the course of this year alone. The sentences range from several days imprisonment up to 10 years imprisonment. In some countries penalties now include, as I understand it, the death sentence for the most serious offences. The Government, of course, is deeply concerned about the increasing numbers of Australians travelling overseas who are involved with drugs. They are being arrested broadly for either possession of various drugs or trafficking in them. I suppose I should take this opportunity to warn Australians travelling overseas of the serious consequences that can result from being in possession of drugs. As I have stated, the penalties are often severe, with lengthy periods of detention. It has to be realised that there is little the Australian Government can do, other than to check on the welfare of these people and their well-being within the prisons or wherever they may be incarcerated, when Australian citizens are apprehended overseas on drug charges; just as there is little that foreign governments can do within Australia if any of their nationals are arrested in Australia on similar charges. The number of approximately 105 people arrested in this year alone should indicate the concern of the Government.
– I ask the Foreign Minister a question. Does the Government still believe, as he stated on 20 July, that ‘the broad requirements for a satisfactory process of decolonisation in East Timor have not been met1? Will the Minister confirm that this remains the framework within which discussions will be held with the Indonesian Government during the Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit? Since the Prime Minister did not mention it, I also ask whether he will accompany the Prime Minister during the visit?
-I will take the Leader of the Opposition’s question not seriatim but in the reverse order. It is my intention to join the Prime Minister in Indonesia- not to accompany the Prime Minister to Indonesia, because I will be firstly at the United Nations and then in Brussels for talks with the European Economic Community. I intend to leave those talks to join the Prime Minister at approximately the same time as he arrives in Indonesia, or perhaps the next morning. So I will join the Prime Minister in his visit. In regard to the framework of any discussions, it is of course public knowledge, as announced by the Prime Minister yesterday, that he will be visiting Indonesia and discussing a wide range of matters. The content of those talks is not for public discussion. I can recall only too well the present Leader of the Opposition refusing to disclose details of discussions. We would have been interested in the detailed discussions which occurred between President Suharto and him, particularly in regard to Timor. He resolutely refused to give those details or to make them public. We have our own versions and our own views of them, and I think the public has drawn its own conclusions. So far as our policy on Timor itself is concerned, we, in contrast with the previous Government, have made our views known. They have been stated constantly. There is no need for them to be reiterated today.
-I direct my question to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. Is a strike by the Plumbers and Gas Fitters Employees Union seriously disrupting the building industry? Can the Minister give details of this dispute? What is the present situation?
-The dispute to which the honourable member refers, concerning the Plumbers and Gas Fitters Employees Union, relates to the sprinkler and pipe fitters award and goes back to a log of claims lodged about 18 months ago that included claims for a 35-hour week and a $60 increase in wages. Since that time there have been stoppages, bans and the working of 36, 35 and 32 hour weeks more or less continually on and off in Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia. The dispute has been before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission many times. The claims have been refused because they are clearly outside the indexation guidelines. Many members of the Union concerned have been dismissed. The general building industry is becoming dislocated. About a month ago the Victorian members of the Union voted to go on strike indefinitely and they are still out. The dispute is now at a complete stalemate. It is not putting the matter too high to say that the whole building industry is now threatened. Thousands of jobs are at risk and thousands of stand-downs are a distinct possibility. It is a classic example of a selfish pursuit of excessive wage claims without regard to thousands of other workers, their families and the community.
Commissioner Brack of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in a recent decision used words which I think are stronger than I had ever heard from the Bench of the Commission. He referred to ‘a disgraceful situation’, and said ‘many buildings no longer have the safety protection that they should’. He referred to the callous and totally irresponsible union approach. I understand that Commissioner Brack has taken the very unusual course of sending copies of his decision to every individual member of the Union in Victoria and Queensland. I ask the Union members concerned to consider carefully Commissioner Brack’s decision, the loss of jobs their actions have already caused and the potentially disastrous situation which would arise if they continued on their present course of action.
-My question is to the Foreign Minister. I refer to the answer the honourable member gave to a question on 26 August when he stated that Government aid to Timor would in the future be channelled through the Indonesian Red Cross. Given the standing of the Indonesian Red Cross in relation to the Indonesian Government and the fact that his decision on aid represents the abandonment of a key element of the Government’s past policy, will he now confirm that this decision represents either de facto recognition of or a major step towards formal recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor?
-I would certainly not wish to visit the sins of the father on the son. To draw such a conclusion from the question itself is incorrect. As I understand it, a question was answered yesterday by the Minister for Primary Industry on my behalf because of my absence and he indicated then that the prime reason for redirecting the aid program through the Indonesian Red Cross was that we were unable to direct funds to the people of Timor through International Red Cross at this juncture. In view of that and with the concern not only that the remaining amount of money- approximately $100,000 of the quarter of a million dollars that was made available to the International Red Cross- should be expended, but also that an increased allocation over and above that could be put to use, we felt we should be meeting the needs of those people as soon as possible and, therefore, we ought to be doing it through the Indonesian Red Cross. I am not here to delineate the relationship between the Indonesian Red Cross and the Indonesian Government, but it requires far more than that for a de jure recognition, and that is not to be canvassed. The premise of the Government is that there is a humanitarian problem, as we have long indicated. We are seeking to meet it and the action we are taking will be a major contributing factor in meeting that humanitarian problem.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. The Minister will be aware of the serious drought that exists in southern New South Wales. He will also be aware that under the joint natural disaster arrangements New South Wales has to spend something like $5m to $6m before the Commonwealth is required to assist with natural disaster payments. Can the Minister inform the House what action is being taken to relieve hardship caused by drought in New South Wales? Is any avenue open to the Federal Government to encourage the New South Wales Government to fulfil its responsibilities under the natural disaster arrangements and to allocate its contribution to drought relief?
– The Prime Minister yesterday indicated in the Parliament that the Commonwealth would accept an extended range of measures on which it would be prepared to fund assistance to drought affected producers after the minimum amounts contributed by the States had been met. In each State there is such a minimum amount. In New South Wales that amount has still not been attained. Consequently, all present financing of drought relief is the responsibility of the State Government but with the understanding that once that minimum amount has been met the Commonwealth will be prepared to fund all assistance. At the moment, I understand that in New South Wales there is a 50 per cent rail freight subsidy payable on stock moved to and from agistment or a 50 per cent road subsidy after the first 40 miles where rail transport is either unavailable or impractical. In addition, there is a 50 per cent rail freight subsidy on fodder or a road freight subsidy if rail transport is not available. That is the extent of assistance currently available from that State Government.
As the honourable gentleman’s question indicates, quite extensive areas of southern New South Wales are declared drought areas. Producers in those areas are facing the position of coming into spring with feed drying off. There is little prospect of any immediate relief and there is quite an acute position arising both for the survival of stock and the imminent failure of the summer wheat crops. As a result, I have no doubt, there is a need for the New South Wales Government to extend its present range of drought assistance. There is quite an extensive number of other schemes included within those that the Commonwealth accepts, as was indicated by the Prime Minister yesterday. I believe that many of those are quite relevant to the circumstances in New South Wales. I would hope that the New South Wales Government would take note of the local need. In addition, the Commonwealth has constituted a standing interdepartmental committee so that it can examine further requests if it should be that the present range of assistance is inadequate. I commend the honourable member for his concern for his own constituents and others in the southern part of the State and trust that the State Government will take note of his representations.
– The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development will remember that in the document entitled Environmental Considerations of Visits of Nuclear Powered Warships to Australia tabled on 4 June, it was stated that because the authority for controlling emergency services is vested in State governments, the Commonwealth Government must rely on the States to establish and control the safety organisation in their ports. Which States so far have established safety organisations and in which ports under the Australian Government’s control have similar organisations been established?
– Talks have been conducted and have reached a satisfactory conclusion with Victoria in regard to Melbourne and with Western Australia in regard to Cockburn Sound. Talks have been initiated but, as far as I can recall at the moment, not concluded with any other State.
-I direct a question to the Foreign Minister which concerns the Torres Strait border with Papua New Guinea. The Minister will remember announcing in June of this year that agreement in principle had been reached with the Papua New Guinea Foreign Minister concerning a new seabed boundary and a protected zone. Have these lines been drawn? What is the position concerning Australian uninhabited islands north of the line? Has Papua New Guinea any international support for its position? What is the state of negotiations between the 2 countries concerning the border generally?
-It will be recalled by the honourable member that the Prime Ministers of both countries- Prime Minister Fraser and Prime Minister Somare- in a joint communique earlier this year indicated that there would be negotiations between the 2 governments to ensure that we could reach an equitable solution to this problem. The reality is that the negotiations are of course still taking place. They involve more than simply a seabed delineation or delimitation line. There are matters relating to fisheries, which come within the portfolio of my colleague the Minister for Primary Industry, and matters relating to quarantine and the like all to be discussed so far as the Torres Strait area is concerned. All I am prepared to say at this juncture is that I have met with Sir Maori KM on 3 occasions and that officials of my Department and his have met on at least that number of occasions. I am not prepared to enter into public discussion relating to those negotiations other than to say that the constitutional position regarding the specific question of islands is well known. It does not require restatement here.
Papua New Guinea’s own international support is a matter for Papua New Guinea to judge for herself. We have given a commitment to enter into discussions for an equitable arrangement to be reached. Sir Maori Kiki has made some comments on the matter. It is, of course, primarily his duty to look after what he assesses to be Papua New Guinea’s own interests. While seeking an equitable settlement, I have a duty not merely in relation to Australia geographically or the border between the 2 countries but also to look after, protect and preserve the rights and the traditional way of life and livelihood of the Torres Strait Islanders to the greatest extent possible.
Under the Constitution there can be no change in the boundary of a State without either the consent of the State Parliament or the people of that State. What we require are discussions between the Papua New Guinea Government and our own Government. We are keeping the Queensland Government and the people of the Torres Strait Islands informed. But I have a duty beyond simply this Parliament itself; I have a duty to the Queensland Parliament and to the Torres Strait Islanders. Beyond answering in those general terms and beyond a reference again to the constitutional position of the Islands mentioned by the honourable member, all I can say is that at this juncture the negotiations are proceeding well. I am not prepared to provide details at this stage.
– Pursuant to sub-section 7 (7) of the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973 I present a copy of the Remuneration Tribunal’s Determination number 1976-8 relating to holders of certain public offices and determination number 1976-9 relating to members of the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee.
– For the information of honourable members I present a report by the Bureau of Transport Economics entitled The 2CM Freight Wagon Bogie- An Appraisal.
Mr HUNT (Gwydir-Minister for HealthPursuant to Section 76A of the National Health Act 1953 1 present the annual report on the operations of the registered medical and hospital benefits organisations during the year ended 30 June 1975.
– For the information of honourable members I present the monthly reports on the Darwin Cyclone Tracy Relief Trust Fund for February, March, April, May and June 1976 together with a review of activities for the year ended 30 June 1976. Due to the limited numbers available reference copies of these papers have been placed in the Bills and Papers Office of the House of Representatives and the Parliamentary Library.
– I have received a letter from the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The continuing mismanagement by the Government of Australia ‘s natural resources and their marketing.
I call upon those members who support the proposed discussion to rise in their places. (More than the. number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places)
-The Opposition has chosen as a matter of public importance the question of the continuing mismanagement by the Government of Australia’s natural resources and their marketing. It does so because of the Government’s ineptitude in an area of business on which Australia has come to depend and will depend more in the future. After constantly berating the Labor Government for 3 years one now finds that the Fraser-Anthony Government is bankrupt in its administration of Australia’s resource development and marketing.
Australia now has the words of all worlds- a government without a minerals policy of its own attempting to live off the policies of the former Labor Government and camouflaging its inadequacy by distorting and dismembering the former policy to suit an ideological view which demands a diminishing role for government in an industry lacking national direction. One could at least respect the Government’s view if it was backed up with a policy that accommodated its ideology. Sadly, however, the policy is but a concoction of public statements which mean little to the industry, to our overseas customers or to interested Australians.
I will take the export control policy. The Minister for National Resources (Mr Anthony) boasts about the export controls providing an opportunity for benigned supervision of Australian resource industries. That was the policy of the former Government. But his supervision is so benign as to be non-existent. His supervision of export contracts has been so lax that the mining industry, the one industry that did so much in support of his election last year, is now expressing reservations about his administrative capacity. The reason is that without government backing and appropriate intervention in international resource negotiation, whether direct or indirect, the mining companies, the national revenue and the ordinary man in the street, lose out.
Australia needs every export dollar it can earn, yet this Minister will not exercise the export control power as he should. He has shown himself to be afraid of the Japanese and our other major customers. They have walked all over him; they have frightened him off. The result of course is that the Japanese steel industry and other international industries are being subsidised by the incidence of lower Australian resource prices. Take coal, for example. Recent price negotiations by Australian coal companies in Japan indicate that in real terms Australian coal producers are between $A3 and $A5 a tonne worse off than they should be. Indications are that Australia supplies the cheapest coal to Japan of the 4 major suppliers, which include the United States, Canada and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It is small wonder overseas buyers and their governments are losing respect for the Australian mining industry and its Government at the international negotiating table.
Overseas buyers now realise Australia is becoming the soft option in resource procurement. The Liberals have returned to the pre- 1972 days when our customers totally dominated resource negotiations, by cutting prices and placing Australian producers in a marginal position where they were just covering costs with a nominal profit. Buyers are again determining the profitability of Australia’s resource industry. As a united force they are able to split the Australian producers in all directions, play one off against the other so as to procure prices and conditions to their liking.
The need for government intervention and backing for Australia’s resource companies was illustrated by the extremely large price increases achieved for resources during the 3 years of Labor administration. This fact is now belatedly recognised in Australian financial Press and by the extractive industries themselves. I shall quote from the Australian Financial Review of 28 August this year. No less a personage than Mr Warwick Parer, an executive of Utah Mining Co. and Chairman of the Exporters Division of the
Australian Coal Association, told the Securities Institute of Australia that in the last round of coal price negotiations the Japanese steel mills had succeeded in playing Australian coal exporters off against each other and as a result Australia had secured a lower price than may otherwise have been obtained. The Australian Financial Review notes:
Mr Parer’s comments represent a turn around in the industries attitude to the Government being involved in coal price negotiations.
Mr Parer said … in recent negotiations with the Japanese steel mills the Government went to great lengths to avoid interfering.
It is quite clear that the Minister, who has abrogated his responsibility in this matter, must once again assert the role of the Government in this area. Every other government but Australia’s involved with resource based industries, whether buyer or supplier- and I stress buyer- has interventionist policies in resource negotiations.
Let us look at iron ore for a moment. The financial Press quite rightly has described the current negotiations on additional Australian productive capacity as an iron ore scramble. This Government is allowing the steel mills of Japan to determine the priorities for development in our iron ore industry. Let us look at the competing forces in the current iron ore scramble. Take the existing producers- the Hamersley expansion, the Mt Newman expansion and the Robe River expansion- or the new projects such as the Goldsworthy Area C, the Marandoo project or BHP’s Deepdale project. All of them are battling for a share of a limited market. At least one of the projects- Marandoo- is prepared to sell its soul in terms of its export price, to arrange an investment involving a 10 : 1 gearing ratio. The plan, of course, is premised on the acquisition of large slabs of Japanese capital in return for a quid pro quo on price which could jeopardise other Australian producers.
I am certain that the Minister has no plan for this industry. For instance, does he believe that existing projects should be accommodated first in any additional market? I refer to companies such as Hamersley and Mt Newman. Does he believe that Goldsworthy, as an existing producer, is entitled to additional contract tonnages before such projects as Marandoo and Deepdale? Should we not believe that the right course to follow is the setting of priorities between the
Federal Government and the Western Australian Government as to the order of development, or does the minister believe that the decision should be taken in the board room of Nippon Steel, or any other Japanese company for that matter? The plain fact is that this Minister has no idea of what he is doing. His laissez-faire approach is nothing more than a blind for his incompetence.
Let us consider the subject of petroleum. We have heard much bleating from the Minister about the need to fix guidelines for exploration companies searching for oil in Australia. But look at the performance. There has been a failure by the Minister and the Government to outline the correct legal position to potential Australian oil explorers and producers searching in offshore Australia. His colleague the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Ellicott) is a willing accomplice in a desperate play to smother the differences between the State and Federal organisations of the Government Parties. They are prepared to abdicate the Commonwealth’s proper role in offshore administration in the face of a spirited bluff by some conservative State Premiers.
The fact of the matter is that the High Court judgment on the Seas and Submerged Lands Act, which was deferred until 17 December 1 975, clearly established once and for all that the Australian Government has sovereignty over the seabed, superjacent waters and air space. The decision is based on section 51 of the Constitution and the dictum ‘external affairs commences from the low water mark’. Perhaps I should remind the Minister that, in his judgment, Chief Justice Barwick said that sovereign rights to explore and exploit this area belong to the Australian Government in the right of the Crown and not the States. There is no 3-mile limit to State sovereignty. The States may have powers to pass laws for ‘peace, order and good government’ over off-shore areas in such matters as crimes, workers compensation and the like; but, even so, if Commonwealth laws exist or are later enacted, State laws inconsistent with them are invalid. The Attorney-General, when asked a question on this subject, said, as recorded in Hansard:
I am prepared to indicate that I have taken the view that, although there may be some doubt as to the validity of the State Acts, the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act of the Commonwealth remains valid and the permits that are granted pursuant to it by State Ministers who are the Designated Authority under that Act are valid.
What a piece of studied evasion that was! The Attorney-General knows, as does the Minister for National Resources, that the State Acts are invalid- and I am speaking of the mirror legislation for the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act.
The Attorney-General also would realise that the High Court decisions of 1916 and 1921 are based on the principle that the executive powers of the Commonwealth can be exercised only by Commonwealth Ministers and by officers of the Commonwealth and that under no circumstances can a State Minister of the Crown, such as a State Minister for Mines, be considered an officer of the Commonwealth, as he answers to a State parliament- and the same applies to a State public servant. Yet the Government persists with this foolish charade and leads the Australian oil exploration and production industry into a quagmire of uncertainty. The Government asserts that it wants a clear policy for exploration; yet it is prepared to coax these companies into a position of illegality to satisfy the internal politics of its combatant Federal and State Parties. The functions of the Designated Authority under the Federal Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act in the granting of exploration or production rights, the definition of areas, the payment and collection of royalties and other moneys and the conditions of drilling intensity are exclusively Commonwealth functions in the exercise of Commonwealth sovereignty.
I have said before and I say again that a future Australian Labor government will permit development in accordance with the law and on no other basis. The Commonwealth Government must be directly involved in the administering of resource development in off-shore areas. It is high time the Minister for National Resources introduced legislation to give administrative effect to the sovereignty asserted by the Seas and Submerged Lands Act. It is time the industry was dealt with honestly by this Government and not tricked and hoodwinked into believing that its position is legally sound. In respect of oil exploration activity, I made it clear in a Press statement I released after the Budget that the Opposition was not opposed to the lifting of the $2 a barrel crude oil excise on new oil to promote development. I made it clear in an earlier Press release that a future Labor government would agree to sufficient gas exports to guarantee the viability of the North- West Shelf BOCAL development. The Opposition clearly sees the need for a rapid and effective oil exploration program, but it will have no part of Mr Anthony’s and Mr Ellicott ‘s pantomime.
The other area in which the Minister for National Resources and the Government are culpable is their so-called foreign investment policy. The Government’s high-minded ideals, as set out in the speech of the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) in April of this year, have turned into nothing but a retreat to the old policies that existed before 1972. Ministers have constantly watered down the import of the original guidelines with statements assuring foreign investors of their ‘flexibility’. The Minister told all and sundry in Europe during his recent visit there that projects do not have to have a SO per cent Australian equity to begin and that he will even consider 100 per cent foreign companies, provided they can show that they were unable to attract Australian capital. Yet what is the test of their bona fides in this respect? It is a subjective test that is applied by the Minister for National Resources on the one hand and the Foreign Investment Review Board on the other.
Three weeks ago we had the incredible spectacle of the Government sending 2 members of the Foreign Investment Review Board overseas to drum up foreign investment in Australia. The men who were to be reviewing foreign investment proposals are the men who are now drumming up the business. The week before that we saw Sir William Pettingell, the other member of the Review Board, changing the Government’s investment policy by unilaterally announcing that the Board’s criterion on foreign investment will be only an economic one. In other words, the Government’s foreign investment policy can be changed at the whim of the Foreign Investment Review Board and the Board’s policy is determined by the individual views of its members. So much for the Treasurer’s statement in April.
If I had time, I would instance more than just some of the cringing remarks that the Deputy Prime Minister made overseas recently in his endeavours to attract foreign capital to Australia. He said in one of his statements that it was soon likely that there would be American investment in the BOCAL consortium. He was not going to insist upon Burmah Oil disposing of its shares to an Australian company. He would have been content to see them fall into American hands. It is no thanks to him that BHP concluded a deal with Burmah Oil. As it turns out, there is now a majority Australian holding in the venture; but if Australia had had to rely on the strength of the Government ‘s foreign investment policy it would not have happened.
The Deputy Prime Minister is always talking about how difficult it is to get Australians to invest in resource projects, but he knows full well that Australian companies have to borrow most of their debt money outside of Australia. How does he expect any sound Australian company to go overseas at the moment seeking large sums of debt capital when a currency devaluation of the order of 15 per cent would mean a massive loss in the first year of operation? Until the Government clearly articulates the reasons why it believes that the parity of the Australian dollar is appropriate or otherwise, Australian corporations will not risk their necks by borrowing other currencies.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– We have had the pleasure or otherwise of listening to a lot of hogwash and utter garbage from the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating). His speech was really a confession of the Australian Labor Party’s failure in the management of the natural resources of this country. For him to try to excuse the Labor Government in which he was a Minister and say that a new Labor Government would allow the export of gas or would eliminate the export levy on coal is so cynical. One would not think he would have the audacity to say these sorts of things in the House. The Whitlam Labor Government completely destroyed confidence in the mining industry of this country. Its ideological approach in wanting to take over control of the mining industry brought about nil development in the industry during 3 years when it had a golden opportunity to attract capital and to develop new projects in this country. There was $8,000m worth of projects awaiting decisions by the Labor Government to proceed. Not one of those projects got off the ground. Some were deferred; some were cancelled. It will probably be years before they get off the ground.
When I was overseas recently I talked with various representatives of the mining houses in the United Kingdom and Germany. I was horrified to hear what they thought of Australia and to discover the reputation that we have amongst those people after 3 years of maladministration by the Whitlam Government. Nowhere did this maladministration make a bigger impact than in the mining industry. Of course, one does not have to go overseas to be depressed by the actions of the Whitlam Government. Under Labor confidence was completely abandoned in Australia. The stock exchange absolutely collapsed. Fortunately we have seen some recovery but it takes time. The stock exchange is reflecting an improvement in the interests of the mining industry. The present Government already has a fairly impressive record in the administration of the natural resources of this country in the course of this year. I will mention many of its achievements.
The honourable member for Blaxland said that the actions the present Government is taking are bad for Australia. He should equate our actions with the policies of the Labor Government, which did absolutely nothing for Australia. We do not have much room to move. We only have to get one or two projects off the ground and our performance will be better than the whole performance of the Labor Government in 3 years. The Labor Government discouraged people from coming to Australia to sign further contracts for iron ore and coal. The only contracts it did not discourage were those that it desperately needed at the time. It forced buyers to go to other potential suppliers around the world and to invest in those countries- countries such as Brazil. Enormous Japanese investment has taken place in Brazil in the last 3 years as a result of the frustration and concern that developed in dealing with Australia. Of course, nobody has been more responsible for that than the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor), who wanted to be the big tzar himself and determine what the price should be, who could develop and what projects could go ahead.
That is not the way this Government does things. We believe that private enterprise can do the job. We want to encourage people to come to Australia. We want to encourage foreign investors to come and join in partnership arrangements with Australian companies. Foreign capital will meet some of our capital requirements. With a limited population of 13 million, we do not have enough capital of our own. With the enormous development potential we have in this country, there just is not enough ready capital for all the projects, so if we can get overseas capital to help us, well and good.
– We do not disagree with that.
– What the honourable member is saying now is completely different from what he was saying last year and during the 3 years of Labor administration. The Labor Party has learnt its lesson but, my word, what a price it had to pay. Worse still, what a price Australia had to pay for the policies of the Labor Government.
– The companies did well, did they not, with record profits?
– The honourable member says that the companies did well. Listen to that claptrap. That is all honourable members opposite can think of. If somebody makes profits, to them it is bad. Companies made less profits and many of them became bankrupt as a result of the performance of the previous Government, which caused inflation and which caused costs to go up. Inflation is one of the things discouraging investment in this country. Let me come back to the matter of public importance. I criticise the honourable member for Blaxland for making a confession about the Labor Party’s approach, but there is also an admission in the wording of the matter of public importance. It refers to the continuing mismanagement of the Government. So the honourable member for Blaxland in the words of his own matter of public importance admits mismanagement by the Labor Government. We do not admit there is any mismanagement now, but we agree with him that there was mismanagement under the Labor Government. He knows himself that there was mismanagement because the policies he brought forward today represent changes in the policies of the previous Government. How ludicrous. It is unbelievable that he should think that by raising this matter of public importance he can score political points. Everyone can see through him.
He talked about coal contracts. He said that the new contracts that have been signed are for $3 to $5 a tonne less than what other countries are getting. I like that, because the new contracts that have been signed preserve the relativity of the contracts that were signed last year. If they are for $3 to $5 a tonne less than what other countries are getting this year, the contracts to which the Labor Party agreed last year were for $3 to $5 a tonne less than what other countries were getting last year. We all know of the performance of the Labor Government. When it came to power it decided that it was going to negotiate new contracts in Japan, but because there was a political crisis in Australia and it had to be resolved in 24 hours it did not matter what happened to the coal industry. The Government agreed to a price which was lower than what some companies had already got the Japanese to agree to. This is what happened when the Labor Party came to power and started to interfere with pricing arrangements.
The coal industry provides a good example of the Government’s attitude and approach. Under the Labor Government there was continual interference and continual red tape associated with approvals for the export of coal to the point that shipments were held up until each shipment had been approved by the Minister for Minerals and Energy. I have seen to it that my Department does not become unnecessarily involved in red tape in the administration of exports of minerals. Certainly we want to be notified and we want to know about the contracts that are being signed; but individual approval for each shipment is just stupid. We have tried to remove my Department as much as possible from bureaucratic intereference. This has been very much appreciated by the mining industry. We have kept a monitoring role so that we know what is going on. We have a responsibility as the national Government to see that the national interest is preserved. If companies are concerned about the way in which negotiations are taking place, they will inform the Government. To say that there is a laissez-faire attitude is not correct, because I watch- and I am advised by my Departmentthe various contracts that are being signed.
In the case of salt I had to step in and exercise export control. After a prolonged period of trying to get satisfactory negotiations, and after requests from certain members of the industry and the Western Australian Government that export approval be withheld unless a certain price was agreed upon, approval was not given. I say to the honourable member for Blaxland: Do not for one minute say that the Government is not interested or will not intervene. It has intervened. It caused a great deal of concern in the Soda Association of Japan when the Government did step in and intervene.
For a period of 3 years there were 3 enormous projects in the coal industry in the Bowen district of Queensland which never got off the ground. They could not get government approval. Within 3 months of taking office, this Government resolved the equity situation so that Hail Creek had 60 per cent Australian participation and Nebo and Norwich Park 55 per cent each. Back in 1973 we were hoping that Hail Creek would get off the ground, but the industry could never get any guidance or lead. Those projects were running into hundreds of millions of dollars then; now they will be approaching $ 1,000m because of the increases in costs over the 3-year period when nothing was done. Those projects should be under way now. They should not have been delayed for such an enormous period of time.
In relation to coal, the Government has reduced the levy and has said that it will be eliminated over a period of 3 years. The new tax provisions brought down in this Budget will be of enormous importance to developments such as the new coal mines that are to be opened up in New South Wales and central Queensland. The tax provisions will give the mines the capacity to get some cash flow to repay their loan commitments within the time over which they have borrowed. But what happened under the previous
Government? All the incentives and tax concessions were eliminated and companies were put on a straight line 4 per cent depreciation, which meant that it took 15 years to recover 50 per cent of capital outlay. At today’s rates of 7 to 10 years, how can money be borrowed when only 50 per cent of it can be recovered over a period of 1 5 years? It was hopeless to expect coal mines, iron ore mines or any other mines to get off the ground with the sort of tax provisions brought in by the Labor Government. So at the first opportunity this Government brought these concessions forward in the Budget.
The area which will be the greatest legacy of the Labor Party and for which it will pay a high price for years to come, perhaps for a decade, is its attitude to oil exploration in this country. Labor brought it to a halt. At a time when companies were enthusiastic to try to marshal capital and know-how and to go looking for oil and gas, both on-shore and off-shore, they were discouraged and their enthusiasm dried up. They were told that they were nothing more than a mob of hill-billies and mugs. They were told that the Government could undertake this itself, and various concessions and incentives were taken away from them. They could not obtain any clear guidance on policy, on whether they could export. They were given little incentive to have prices altered so that exploration could take place. They did not know what would be the situation if they made discoveries. Those problems have been cleared up during the period this Government has been in office. It has referred to the Industries Assistance Commission the question of the domestic pricing of oil, which is the proper way of dealing with the matter, rather than making an arbitrary decision as the Labor Government did. A fat lot of good that price increase was because Labor put a duty of $2 a barrel on oil and brought it practically back to zero. I have made a declaration that any oil discovered will be sold at world parity price and that there will be no $2 levy. That is terribly important if people are going to invest the enormous amounts of risk capital that are necessary.
The honourable member for Blaxland made a lot of noise about off-shore deposits and the Seas and Submerged Lands Act and said that the Government is handing over authority to the States. There is a designated authority written into the Act at the moment which allows the States to give permits with the Federal Government’s approval. The refinements of the consequences of the High Court decision are being examined by the Attorneys-General of Australia, and no doubt that Act will be looked at in that respect Export permits are being given and farm-ins are being allowed. The Government is encouraging investment in exploration because it knows that unless more oil is found in this country we are going to be dependent upon overseas suppliers and will have to pay an enormous amount of our foreign exchange in the future to meet our requirements.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
-The Minister for National Resources and Minister for Overseas Trade (Mr Anthony), who has just resumed his seat, is a little man in a very big job. He has already been the subject of attack by the Premiers of Western Australia and Queensland because his policies too greatly resemble those of the former Labor Administration. He has been under attack for that. The Australian Mining Industry Council is howling for his blood, and there is speculation as to how long he will hold office. Country Party members represent purveyors of concessions. They are now interjecting, of course. There is no fundamental decency in them. They are heard in courtesy at all times by me. I expect the same courtesy in return. I do not think they are capable of giving it. The position today is that this Government knows that Labor’s policies were correct. When Labor took control of the Australian mineral export industry there was chaos. We put it in order, but chaos is emerging again today, as my colleague the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) has said. What the Minister has just said is a misrepresentation of the facts, to put it mildly. In July of last year this same man was in Tokyo while I was there negotiating the best deal that had ever been made with the Japanese coal industry. He was bad-mouthing his Government, and the Japanese negotiators expressed to me their feelings towards such a man. After all, they value patriotism, but honourable members opposite do not possess it.
The Hail Creek project was approved several years ago. It fell flat for very obvious reasons which are well known to the Minister. The Nebo project was held up because of the stranglehold of Utah on the export port and the control of the railway system by the Queensland Government. I received the personal thanks of Sir Leslie Thiess for the work done in that respect. Those are the realities. Labor put things in order. The Labor Government found the Japanese market. The Japanese were acting as a monopoly, with one buying outlet under the control of the Government and with finance through the Japanese banking system. I do not blame them for it because I suppose that if we had been in a similar position we would have done the same thing. The Japanese made one bid. They knew what they wanted and they cut up the cake after they had bought it In the export black coal industry we had the spectacle of each company being prepared to cut the other’s throat and feuding for that market. We restored order, and we had to use some pretty tough methods in order to do it. The Japanese respect strength, they respect integrity, they respect competence. Today black coal is Australia’s major export earner. I repeat that it is the major export earner for Australia, and for that thanks are due to the former Government, its policies and its administration.
By the same token, the feuding has broken out again, and the question now is whether this Minister is capable of controlling these people. I say that he is not and that he would not know how. More than that, immediately after he took office he went to Japan to do a deal on a tied sale basis. He wanted to flog off meat, linked with sales of uranium and with sales of black coal. He fell flat on his face, and rightly so. I have every sympathy for the meat exporters, but that is not the way to do business with the Japanese. They will never respect him because of his incompetence and because of what he did 12 months ago in badmouthing the Government. Patriotism does count with the Japanese.
Let us look at the position in the iron ore industry. Let us look at the position of Hamersley Holdings for a start. That company, back in 1965, negotiated contracts in a hurry. There were no escalation clauses and no provision for variation of exchange rates. We tidied things up for that company. In terms of comparative quality, the iron ore industry is a much easier one than is the black coal industry. We had to knock a few heads together because there are some pretty tough cookies amongst the people in that industry. Today the feud has broken out again. We have a situation of Japan being offered 80 million tons of additional exports of iron ore when it has a total requirement of 20 million tons. The present Minister has not come in to knock those heads together and they need to be knocked together; there is no alternative.
This is a matter in relation to which the national interest comes first and not the foreign ownership interest which now stands at 78 per cent in the iron ore industry in Western Australia. In Queensland 85 per cent of the black coal industry is under foreign ownership and control. Western Australia has its problems. This
Government is not capable of solving them because it will not take sides. In the process Australia will suffer. When a government of the same political persuasion as the present government took office in 1949 and continued in office until 1972, it rode on the crest of the wave of the postwar boom. In those days it could adopt a low posture. It could open the gates wide for investors to come into the minerals industry on thenown terms. But the boom is over. Governments were able successfully and progressively through the years to allow an increase in foreign capital coming into the minerals industry, to the point where it was 62 per cent owned and controlled by foreigners. Today it is a new ball game and the Government does not know where to start or what to do.
These are the hard realities of the situation. Of vital importance are Australia’s reserves of foreign exchange. At the end of August they were down to $A2,409m, and the deficit on the balance of payments on current account was $A840m for the past year. In other words, what we have today, when related to imports, is the equivalent of only about 3Vi months’ purchases. The Government is out looking for money today; it is wanting to borrow money to add to the foreign exchange reserves. It is a difficult situation. I want to see the present exchange rate continued. Even Mr Parer of the Utah Development Co. wants to see the same thing happen. But thanks to this Government and its incompetence the Utah Development Co. now holds the absolute record of profitability in Australian company history- $ 1 50m, of which only 10.8 per cent will stay in Australia; the rest will go overseas. That is typical of this Government. It is typical of its mismanagement. It is typical of its utter, complete and continuing inability to provide a proper policy and proper management. These so-called tycoons, the representatives of so-called big business are utterly, completely and totally incompetent. They bridled when we came along and they said: ‘What does a Labor government know about business?’ We knew. We handled these people, and the Government is making a mess of the situation.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-If the subject matter of this debate was not a serious matter we would have to regard the move by the Opposition this afternoon to bring before the Parliament the questions that have been raised as probably the most humorous act since the House assembled in February. The honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor) and indeed the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) spent a great deal of their time personally attacking the Deputy Leader of this Government, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for National Resources (Mr Anthony). Mr Acting Speaker, I put it to you that these men are not in any position to attack our Minister for his performances in his portfolio. Indeed, the problems that are confronting him and the problems with which he has come to grips are problems that have been brought about by the ineptitude of the former Administration.
The honourable member for Cunningham did 2 tilings of note, and he will always be remembered for them. First of all, he abused the men who built the Australian mining industry to what it was when he assumed office in 1972. He called them hillbillies. But he did not stop at that. He turned on the customer. When I was in Japan in 1974 1 was asked by leaders in the Japanese steel industry whether I knew what the first principle of business was. I said that I thought I knew what the first principle of business was, but what were they getting at? They said that in their language the first principle of business was never to insult the customer. They said: ‘We were recently in Canberra talking to your Federal Minister and we were insulted like we were never insulted in any other part of the world ‘.
During his address the honourable member for Cunningham attacked the Deputy Prime Minister in relation to iron ore contracts. It may be that the honourable member for Cunningham is now out of date. It may be that he is unaware that private enterprise has just negotiated new iron ore contracts, without government assistance or interference, at a price which is 35 per cent above the previous level. Over the next 18 months the returns will be 35 per cent more than they were under the previous contracts.
– Without government help.
– That is without government help and without government interference. The honourable member for Cunningham then attacked in a personal way the Deputy Prime Minister. He said that he was a little man in a big job. The honourable member for Cunningham is a big man with an iron hand who moves like a tank without any sense of direction. That is the way in which he conducted the portfolio for which he was responsible when he was a Minister. He was a man who would not even negotiate. During the whole of the time he was Minister for Minerals and Energy he did not meet with the Australian Minerals Council, which is the body which consists of the Federal Minister and State
Ministers responsible for such matters. He refused time and time again to meet with them.
I support what the Deputy Prime Minister said in relation to the handling by the former Government of the petroleum industry. Not only will it be to the everlasting discredit of the former Administration what occurred to the petroleum industry whilst it was in office, but also it will be to the cost of this nation for many years to come. In just under 3 years the former Administration brought the petroleum industry to a point of near collapse. Between 1973 and 1975 there was a rapid decline in exploration. The former Administration has an obsession about foreign capital and foreign activity. Indeed, when I remind members of the former Administration that 2 major international companies withdrew from oil exploration in Australia during the period they were in office- I refer to Gulf Oil Exploration and Continental- they will probably say: ‘That is a good thing. That was part of their aim ‘. But was it part of their aim to also drive the Australian companies out of oil search in Australia? If that was not part of their aim, they certainly succeeded in doing it. During their period of office there was a transfer of activities by Australian companies to foreign countries. Beach went to Turkey; Southern Pacific Petroleum went to Italy; Endeavour went to the Philippines; AOG, AAR and Target in combination went to the North Sea; and Associated Australian Resources went to Indonesia. That is the achievement of the former Administration. All these are Australian companies that were engaged in oil exploration before the former Administration came into office. It drove them, with their expertise and with their capital, out of Australia, to undertake exploration overseas.
There have been no commercial discoveries of oil since 1970 and known reserves in this country have been depleted by 33 per cent. Only last night the Deputy Prime Minister told this House that if no additional discoveries of indigenous crude oil are made by 1985 the volume of petroleum that will have to be imported is estimated to be 200 million barrels, at a cost of at least $2,000m, representing about 62 per cent of our petroleum requirements compared with 31 per cent in 1975. Australia did not feel the full effects of the energy crisis a couple of years ago because previously the former Liberal-Country Party Administration had encouraged oil search and there had been a measure of success. But during the 3 years that Labor was in office, under the stewardship of the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor), at a time when every other nation in the world was doing everything it could to build up its reserves of petroleum, the Labor Administration brought petroleum exploration to a halt.
Today we have had two New South Wales members speaking for the Opposition in this debate. They had the audacity to mention coal, coming as they do from New South Wales, where the bulk of the coal that is produced comes from underground mines which, of course, are less competitive than the open cut mines of Queensland. What did they do? They put on an export levy- $6 a tonne for the high quality coal and $2 a tonne for the lower quality coal. They succeeded in deferring- I hope only for a short time- the opening of new mines in New South Wales as a result of the imposition of this export coal levy. It is arrant humbug that the Opposition has taken part in this afternoon; it is humbug for them to come here and be critical of this Government and of the Deputy Prime Minister, because they are the guilty men in relation to the depletion of this industry.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The discussion is now concluded.
Bill presented by Mr Eric Robinson, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill, together with another that I shall introduce shortly, seeks Parliament’s agreement to some changes in the health insurance levy arrangements that were approved earlier this year. The essential features of the arrangements are being retained but some desirable reforms are proposed. There is to be a limit- or, as it has come to be called, a ceiling- on the amount of levy payable. This will replace the earlier arrangement under which people had to pay a premium to Medibank if they wished to set a limit on their contributions towards standard Medibank benefits. The Bill will also provide an authority to make regulations to confer exemptions from the levy. This authority will be exercised to exempt pensioners who are entitled to pensioner health benefits. Such people will thus be given an exemption comparable to that provided for repatriation beneficiaries and members of the Defence Force. It is also proposed by the
Bill to remove the requirement under the earlier arrangements for private insurance funds to give their contributors end-of-year certificates for lodgment with income tax returns.
As honourable members know, the levy is to be imposed at a basic rate of 2.5 per cent of taxable income. For this year- 1976-77- the levy will apply only for the last 9 months of the year, so that the effective rate will be 1.875 per cent instead of 2.5 per cent. It follows that the maximum amounts of levy payable will be reduced by one-quarter for 1976-77. We have set the maximum amount- the ceiling- on a full year basis at $300 for a taxpayer with dependants and $150 for a person who has no dependants. These amounts will be reduced for 1976-77 to $225 and $112.50 respectively. Under the original arrangements, anyone who wished to pay no more than this towards standard Medibank benefits had to pay a premium to Medibank. If the premium was paid the person was exempt from the levy. On re-examination, this arrangement was found not to be the best available.
For example, under it people had to commit themselves at the beginning of a year, and before they knew what their income for the year would be, on whether to pay the premium or stay subject to the levy. By providing a ceiling on the levy itself, the amount of anyone’s levy liability is fixed by what his or her income for the year turns out to be. Where a husband and wife are both taxpayers, it is proposed that their individual levy liabilities are not, in total, to exceed the family ceiling of $300. The husband will be assessed to levy on the basis of his own taxable income, but subject to the ceiling of $300. The levy on the wife’s separate taxable income will be reduced, or eliminated, so far as necessary to ensure that her liability does not take the total liability of the couple above $300. The levy ceilings will be appropriately reduced for defence personnel and repatriation beneficiaries who have dependants who are not entitled under defence or repatriation arrangements to free medical treatment. Thus- to conclude my introductory references to the ceiling arrangements- a serviceman with a family will pay no more levy than $ 1 50.
In introducing the levy we have been anxious to protect the position of low income earners. We have freed from levy- or have given a reduction in levy- to people whose taxable incomes are below the points where, ordinarily, income tax becomes payable. For example, people whose only income is the age pension are not called on to pay levy. As already indicated, however, levy relief for pensioners is to go further than that. Pensioners who have an entitlement to pensioner health benefits will, like people covered by repatriation and Defence Force arrangements, be freed from the levy, Age pensioners entitled to pensioner fringe benefits, as well as repatriation beneficiaries and Service personnel, will thus continue to receive the special consideration that has long been extended to them in the field of health care.
In deciding to dispense with the requirement that private insurance funds issue levy relief certificates we accepted their point about the cost burden that this would put on some funds and, indirectly, on their contributors. People who have opted for private insurance will instead make a claim to that effect on their annual tax returns. The private funds will be expected to provide the Taxation Office with information to check such claims, and the Bills make that quite clear. There will be sanctions against people who falsely claim to be privately insured. Other parts of this Bill will result in de facto spouses being treated in the same way for levy purposes as legally married spouses. This is, of course, the case for certain income tax purposes. These are the main features of the Bills- the ceiling arrangements being dealt with in the Bill I am about to introduce and the other matters being the subject of this Bill. The Bill also makes changes of a more technical kind, which I do not think I need discuss in this introductory speech. A memorandum explaining the Bill in detail is being circulated to honourable members. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Br Cass) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Eric Robinson, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
In introducing the Health Insurance Levy Assessment Bill (No. 2)1 spoke in general terms about the ceiling arrangements for the levy that are the main subject of this Bill. While the Bill, in form, repeals the Act imposing the health insurance levy for 1976-77, and enacts another in its place, the only changes of substance specify the maximum- or ceiling- amounts of levy payable in varying circumstances. I should perhaps add that, although the Bill appears to be an involved one, its provisions for application to the ordinary run of cases are quite straightforward.
Its comparative length is due to the need to cater for combinations of less than usual situations. The explanatory memorandum being circulated with the Bill explains each clause and I think I need at this stage do no more than commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Dr Cass) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Hunt, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Honourable members will recall that when introducing the National Health Amendment Bill 1976 I stated that the provisions in the Bill would be fully discussed with registered health benefits organisations in view of the significance of the provisions for those organisations. At the time when the Bill was being debated I also gave an assurance that during the winter recess the provisions of the Bill would be carefully considered in the light of the comments made by honourable members and senators, and others, with the objective of achieving the most suitable arrangements for conducting private health insurance. The Bill before the House provides for further amendments to the National Health Act which the Government is proposing as a result of its discussions and deliberations during the winter recess.
The Government is confident that the adjustments which have been made will assure smooth and more effective operation of the new arrangements when they take effect on 1 October. As has been stated by Dr Catchlove, speaking on behalf of the Australian Hospital Association, and I quote:
The Government proposals for reorganising Medibank have, we believe, made the first real attempt to come to grips with the enormous escalation in health costs, while maintaining the principles of universal health insurance.
There are a number of provisions in the Bill which introduce new proposals, which I will explain. One of these is clause 20, which includes in Part VI a new division, 1a- benefits for certain contributors to standard hospital benefits tables. The new division provides for the payment of a subsidy by the Commonwealth to registered hospital benefits organisations in respect of persons who contribute to the standard hospital benefits tables of registered organisations but not to the standard medical benefits tables. This covers the situation of people on low to medium incomes wishing to retain the choice of their own doctor while in hospital. This combination of Medibank standard cover by payment of the levy plus private insurance for hospital-only will be cheaper for people in the low to medium income range.
When introducing the National Health Amendment Bill 1976 1 indicated to honourable members that the cost of this hospital-only insurance for a person remaining in Medibank standard was estimated at $ 135 a year or $2.60 a week- at the family rate- and would be payable in addition to the levy. When the contribution rates for Medibank private health insurance were being determined it became apparent that the family contribution rates for the standard hospital benefits tables would exceed $2.60 a week. It seemed likely that this would be the case with most other major organisations.
Because of its concern to keep the cost of this type of insurance within the reach of those with low to medium incomes, the Government decided to give a subsidy to hold the family contribution rate to $2.60 a week and the single contribution rate to $1.30 a week. This level of hospital insurance will cover contributors for public hospital charges in shared ward accommodation where they choose to be treated by their own doctor. The maximum rates of Commonwealth subsidy are based on the difference between the contribution rates for the standard hospital benefits tables for privately insured persons in Medibank private and $1.30 a week for single rate contributors and $2.60 a week for family rate contributors. For the information of honourable members, privately insured persons are those who are covered for standard medical benefits and standard hospital benefits through registered organisations.
The Bill also provides for the rates of $1.30 a week for single contributors and $2.60 a week for family contributors, and for the rates of Commonwealth subsidies, to be varied by regulations. Clause 13 of the Bill substitutes a new section, 73BB, which provides for the establishment and operation of reinsurance accounts by registered hospital benefits organisations. The decision to vary the existing reinsurance account provisions was made following discussions with representatives of registered health benefits organisations and the changes are designed to cause the arrangements to operate more equitably and efficiently. Basically, the reinsurance arrangements enable an organisation, after it has paid standard hospital benefits to a contributor for 35 days of hospitalisation in a year, to debit to its reinsurance account benefits payable to that contributor for the remainder of that year. The Bill provides for the reduction of the qualifying period from 60 days to 35 days. This does not, in any way, affect the benefits entitlement of any contributor. It will ensure that the $50m a year the Government has undertaken to pay towards the reinsurance arrangements will be utilised. Provision is made for the qualifying period to be varied by regulations.
The new provision also varies from the existing section 73BB in the way in which it provides for a contribution year to be determined for the purposes of the reinsurance account. The section provides that where standard hospital benefits have been paid to a contributor for 35 days of hospitalisation in any year, the contribution year commences on the first benefit day unless that day falls within a previous contribution year. Special provisions covering special account contributors as at 30 September 1976 provide that where they attract hospital benefits for a continuous period of 35 days of hospitalisation from 27 August 1976, benefits in accordance with the standard table may be debited to the reinsurance account from 1 October 1976. In this case the contribution year for the contributor commences from 27 August 1976. Where a special account contributor has received hospital benefits for hospitalisation after 30 September 1975, benefits in accordance with the standard table may be debited to the reinsurance account on or after 1 October 1976 when the days attracting benefits first exceed thirty- five. In this case the year of the contributor commences on the first day of the days aggregating to the 35 days.
As a result of the Government’s decision that the Health Insurance Commission should operate registered hospital and medical benefits funds, it is not considered necessary for the Minister to have the power in all situations to direct an organisation to accept a person as a contributor. I believe that competition between organisations will render this unnecessary. However, it is considered that the Minister should have the power to direct an organisation to accept a person as a contributor, where he is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person was not accepted as a contributor to a standard benefits table on health grounds. Clause 14 of the Bill provides for this change in the Minister’s power of direction.
Clause 17 of the Bill substitutes a new section 73d. The new provision is similar in objective to the repealed provision. It enables a registered organisation to request the Minister to direct that services or treatment of any kind, provided or arranged by the organisation, be treated as the payment of benefits in respect of those services or that treatment. The provision specifies the manner in which an organisation shall make the request and the action to be taken by the Minister upon receipt of such a request. The Bill, in clause 22, enables an application to be made by a registered organisation, for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to review a direction, or refusal to give a direction, by the Minister under new section 73d.
The Bill also provides for the repeal of the condition of registration, in sub-section ( 1 ) of section 73BA of the Act, that organisations continue to provide benefits for contributors to standard tables for 2 months after the period in respect of which contributions have been paid. This provision was only necessary to enable levy relief certificates to be issued. The Bill provides, in its stead, for it to be a condition of registration that a contributor to a standard table, whose contributions have fallen into arrears, shall be entitled, within a period specified in the rules of the organisation, being a period of not less than 2 months, to pay the arrears of contributions and retain benefits entitlements.
I would like also to draw the attention of honourable members to clause 3 of the Bill which substitutes new definitions of ‘the standard hospital benefits table’ and ‘the standard medical benefits table’. The definitions have been varied to relate the benefits payable in accordance with these tables to the fees and charges applying in the States in which contributors receive treatment. The changes ensure that appropriate benefits are payable where a contributor or a dependant of a contributor incurs expenses while temporarily absent from his normal State of residence. A further amendment to these definitions enables regulations to be made prescribing additional benefits to be paid from the standard tables. This power is already contained in existing sub-section (2) of section 73BA. However the amendment limits the scope of the prescribing power to the standard tables. A consequential amendment is made in clause 12 which omits sub-section (2) of section 73ba.
Clause 5 of the Bill amends section 57b to broaden the eligibility criteria for Commonwealth additional nursing home benefits. The purpose of the amendment is to enable these benefits to be payable in respect of all eligible persons, other than those who are privately insured in both the standard medical and hospital benefits tables. This amendment will mean that people entitled to the benefits of Medibank public will be entitled to these benefits and will remove an anomaly in the existing legislation. The Bill includes a number of technical amendments relating to references to dependants of contributors. These amendments are necessitated by the inclusion, by the National Health Amendment Act 1976 in section 4, of a revised definition of ‘contributor’ which does not include a reference to dependants of contributors. The amendments in the Bill cause provisions where appropriate to apply to dependants of contributors as well as to contributors.
Clause 23 of the Bill amends the Eighth Schedule to the Act by the substitution of a new table incorporating variations made to that table by regulations. The amendment has effect from 1 February 1976, the date of effect of the regulations. The amendment of the table in the Eighth Schedule is a statutory requirement authorised by section 55c of the National Health Act The Bill also provides for the continuation of Commonwealth payments in respect of late claims lodged by contributors to any organisations deregistered, with effect from 1 October 1976, under the transitional provisions in section 42 of the National Health Amendment Act 1976. Mr Acting Speaker, I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Cass) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Hunt, and read a first time.
The Bill includes provisions relating to the payment of medical benefits for pathology services and to the hospital agreements between the Commonwealth and the States. The provisions relating to the payment of medical benefits for pathology services are based on recommendations of the pathology services working party established by the Government in April 1976. They are designed to curb the use of the medical benefits system to finance the rendering of unnecessary pathology services and to curb high Medibank expenditure on pathology services. It is proposed that the existing levels of benefits should continue to be payable where: Pathology items are rendered by a recognised specialist pathologist, at the request of another practitioner; the number of items performed does not exceed three; and the person in respect of whom the items are rendered was not at the time they were requested a private patient or outpatient of a recognised hospital.
The Bill provides for lower benefits to be payable where pathology items are rendered by recognised pathologists other than in the circumstances I have described or are rendered by other medical practitioners. The lower benefits are to be calculated on fees equivalent to 75 per cent of the schedule fees for the 3 most expensive items, of the items determined during one day by a practitioner to be necessary for a patient. Where the number of items performed in either of the circumstances to which I have referred exceeds three, the Bill provides for benefits for the items, other than the 3 most expensive items, to be calculated on fees equivalent to 20 per cent of the fees that would otherwise apply.
The payment of lower rates of benefits for items in excess of three recognises the lower pro rata costs, particularly overheads, involved in performing a larger number of items. However it is envisaged that there will be cases where it is inappropriate to apply the reduction principle and provision is made in the Bill to enable the Minister to direct that it be not applied in particular cases. To assist in the achievement of the objectives of these provisions the Bill further provides that the recognised pathologist rendering the pathology service as a result of a request must include on his account or receipt, or on the assignment of benefits form, where the doctor enters into such an arrangement with the patient, the name of the requesting practitioner and the date on which the request was made. Where the service was rendered otherwise than as a result of a request, the medical practitioner must include on one of the documents to which I have just referred a statement that, on a specified date, he determined that the services were necessary. The Bill provides that medical benefits are not payable unless these details are supplied.
It is proposed that other changes based on recommendations of the Pathology Services Working Party be introduced from 1 January 1977, after final details have been determined and the legislation approved by Parliament. In view of the effective and representative participation of the medical profession in developing these revised arrangements, I anticipate that high quality pathology services will continue to be available throughout Australia and that the lower levels of fees for benefits purposes contemplated by the proposals will be generally accepted.
I wish to turn now to the provisions in the Bill relating to hospital agreements between the
Commonwealth and the States. The Bill provides for the Commonwealth to enter into agreements with the States, on revised bases, for and in relation to the provision of hospital services. The purpose of the Bill is to enable the Commonwealth to enter into agreements with the States on the revised bases under which the Commonwealth will share with the States the net operating costs of recognised hospitals. The Government proposes that the agreements should come into operation in respect of periods commencing on 1 October 1976 as the States Grants (Hospital Operating Costs) Act 1976 applies only in respect of periods up to 30 September 1976. The Bill provides for the repeal of Schedule 2 to the Health Insurance Act 1973, which sets out heads of Agreement and for a new schedule to be substituted. The heads of agreement set out in the new schedule have been determined following discussions with representatives of all State Governments.
The Government has been concerned at the open ended nature of the Commonwealth’s financial commitment under the hospital cost sharing arrangements. It considers that it should have an adequate knowledge of, and opportunity to express its views on, the ways in which the costs it is to share are incurred and the need for them to be incurred. Head 5 in Schedule 2 in the Bill provides for a mechanism to be included in the Agreements which will meet the Commonwealth ‘s needs in these respects. It is envisaged that the committees established to give effect to that head will comprise Commonwealth and State officials and that the budgets and variations to the budgets formulated by the committees will be subject to approval by the Commonwealth Minister for Health and the relevant State Minister.
Head 4, which is subject to Head 5, provides for the Commonwealth to meet 50 per cent of the net operating costs of recognised hospitals in a State during the period of the Agreement or an amount equal to the total of the amounts paid by the State from its own resources towards meeting those costs, whichever is the less. This was the basis for cost sharing in the former invalid agreements and the Government proposes that it be retained with the safeguards against open.endedness that will be provided in giving effect to Head 5.
The Heads also provide for all eligible persons, other than privately insured persons, to be entitled to receive, free of charge, care and treatment as hospital patients in recognised hospitals. Such persons are also to be entitled to receive, free of charge, outpatient services at recognised hospitals, other than particular services. The heads do not prevent an agreement from providing for privately insured persons to receive such care and treatment and outpatient services free of charge. The Government has advised the States that it sees this as a matter for decision by each State. I wish to remind honourable members that a privately insured person in this context is a person who is covered for benefits in accordance with both the standard hospital benefits table and the standard medical benefits table operated by health insurance organisations registered under the National Health Act.
I also wish to draw the attention of honourable members to Head 9 which permits particular outpatient services to be subject to a means test, or charges, or both a means test and charges. This Head has been included to give recognition to a situation that existed under the former invalid agreements whereby some States applied means tests or raised charges in respect of a small range of outpatient services such as dental services and those States intend to continue those arrangements. It is the firm intention of the Government that the range of services in this category should remain small and that the general principles relating to the provision of outpatient services should not be eroded.
The Bill, at the request of the States, provides for the repeal of provisions in the Act which authorise the making of daily bed payments of $16 a day to recognised hospitals. Amounts equivalent to these payments will be included in the Commonwealth payments to the States under the agreements. The Bill also provides for payments under the Act to recognised hospitals in the Territories to reflect the change in the financing of recognised hospitals in the States. Accordingly, it provides for daily bed payments to such hospitals to be discontinued. The daily bed payments of $16 a day will continue to be payable to private hospitals. Provision has also been made in the Bill for the validation of Commonwealth payments made in accordance with the former invalid agreements. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Cass) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Hunt, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Government announced during June 1976 its decision that the Health Insurance Commission should be authorised to carry on private health insurance business in competition with the private health insurance organisations registered under the National Health Act. The Bill before the House provides for the Commission to perform this role. The Bill provides for the functions of the Commission to include conducting medical benefits funds and hospital benefits funds. It further provides that the Commission, in carrying out this new role as a registered organisation under the National Health Act, shall be subject to all the provisions of that Act and regulations relating to the conduct of medical and hospital benefits funds by registered organisations. The Commission therefore will have the same rights and obligations under the National Health Act and regulations as other registered organisations.
The Government proposes that to the greatest extent practicable the Commission should use the same staff, buildings and equipment in carrying out its private health insurance functions as it uses for its other functions. The Bill provides for it to be a duty of the Commission to do this. However, it is important, in view of the Commission’s competitive role, that the costs associated with its operating medical and hospital benefits funds be clearly identified. It is also important that the Commission should not gain a competitive advantage due to its being exempt from taxation by virtue of its being a statutory authority. The Bill therefore provides for the Commission to determine, and whenever appropriate, re-determine, principles in accordance with which it is to apportion to its private health insurance functions and its other functions, costs related to its functions as a whole, such as salaries. These principles are to be subject to approval by the Minister for Health who shall consider the advice of the Auditor-General in relation to the principles before approving them.
The Bill further provides for the Commission to determine notional amounts of expenditure it would have incurred in respect of its private health insurance functions had it not been an authority of the Commonwealth and exempt from taxation. Examples of these costs that private health insurers have to meet are payroll tax, sales tax, stamp duty and rates. The amounts determined are to be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
The Bill further provides that the Minister may pay amounts to a State, a State authority or local government body equivalent to the amounts which he considers would have been payable to them in connection with the Commission’s private health insurance operations had the Commission not been an authority of the Commonwealth and exempt from taxation. The principles for apportioning costs together with any changes in those principles from the previous year, and the principles for determining the notional costs, are to be set out, by way of a note, to the annual financial statements of the Commission. This will ensure that a statement of the principles will form part of the annual financial statements and accordingly will be subject to the scrutiny of the Auditor-General.
Separate financial statements are to be prepared, in the form approved by the Treasurer, for the Commission’s private health insurance operations and its other functions. The whole of the Commission’s financial activities are to be audited by the Auditor-General. The Commission is to submit its annual financial statements to the Auditor-General before submitting them to the Minister and the Auditor-General is to report on the statements to the Minister. Copies of the annual report of the Commission together with the financial statements and the Auditor-General’s report on the statements are to be tabled in each House of the Parliament.
The Bill provides for the financial separation of the Commission ‘s private health insurance operations to be reinforced by providing for the Commission to maintain separate bank accounts for those operations from 1 April 1977. The commencing date of 1 April 1977 provides a period during which the Commission will be making the necessary administrative arrangements. There is provision in the Bill for the Commission to receive capital advances out of moneys appropriated by the Parliament to enable it to establish and conduct its private health insurance operations. An amount of $ 10m has been included in the Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1976-77 for this purpose. The Bill before the House also provides for the Commission to borrow moneys with the approval of the Treasurer for its private health insurance operations and for it to invest moneys standing to the credit of its hospital and medical benefits funds.
Provision is made for the Treasurer at his discretion to guarantee the repayment by the Commission of amounts it borrows. The Government ‘s intention is that the Treasurer would provide such guarantees only in the early years of the Commission’s private health insurance operations before it has built up reserves which it could give as security for its borrowings. It is not intended that the guarantees should be used to enable the Commission to borrow on more favourable terms than are generally available.
I consider that the framework within which the Government proposes the Commission to operate as a registered health insurance organisation will enable it to compete on equal terms with other registered organisations. There are indications already that it will be a strong competitor. It has been alleged in some quarters that some registered organisations have reacted to the competition from the Commission by utilising reserves to enable them to undercut the Commission ‘s contribution rates. It must surely be a good thing if the entry of the Commission into the field results in the utilisation of excess reserves in the interests of contributors in this way. I would hope that a longer term effect will be to cause all registered organisations to attempt to manage their operations with greater economy and efficiency and to be mindful of their principal objective which must be the welfare of their contributors.
I believe that the staff of the Commission has built a reputation for courteous and efficient service to its clients. I wish to pay tribute to the staff for the significant part it has played in the success of the Medibank program. It is expected that the great majority of those choosing to contribute for private insurance will do so at the basic, or standard table level. I consider that with the reputation for service that the Commission has achieved, it will be highly competitive in this area.
I wish to draw the attention of honourable members to one other provision in the Bill. The Bill provides for the repeal of existing Part Ha of the Act which provides for persons to be exempted from the health insurance levy by becoming Medibank contributors. These provisions have become redundant as a result of the proposal to introduce individual and family levy ceilings. Mr Deputy Speaker, I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Br Cass) adjourned.
– I move:
That, unless otherwise ordered, Government business take precedence of general business on each day of sitting until the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1976-77 and the Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1976-77 have passed all stages in the House.
This motion seeks to set aside, until the Budget debate is concluded, the rights accorded to private members during general business day to discuss matters which are of particular concern to them. The Government believes that within the Budget debate a very good opportunity exists for private members to canvass whatever subjects they wish. It gives a better than normal chance for those matters to be canvassed in debate in this chamber. As the Government seeks to provide the maximum possible opportunity for contributions by private members within the Budget debate, we seek the support of this chamber for the motion. The precedents for this action were established during previous Liberal-Country Party Administrations. Similar motions were passed. If this motion is accepted it will provide an opportunity for a greater concentration on the business of the Government, which is the passage of the Budget. As the Budget debate is so wide ranging the Government does not believe that the interests of private members will in any way be prejudiced by the passage of this motion. I therefore commend the motion to the House.
-The Opposition opposes this measure. Extremely limited opportunities exist for private members to participate directly in the proceedings and decisions of the Parliament. General business day provides one of the few initiative opportunities available to private members, and particularly to the Opposition. Even at this early stage in the Parliament a fairly full program of general business is listed for debate. Also a number of general business notices have not been brought to a vote. The Opposition believes that it will not impose a great hardship on the Government for it to give up the short period which is devoted to general business every second sitting week. A period of about 2 hours is provided for general business. The Opposition objects to the reversion to the pre-1972 situation. The Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) conveniently referred to the practice of past Liberal-Country Party governments. I point out that during the period of the Labor Government general business was dealt with during the Budget session and the opportunity was taken to bring most of the general business items to a vote. Accordingly, private members had the opportunity not only to bring forward matters for discussion but also to have the House express an opinion upon those items.
I think that this is a retrograde step. At a time when some honourable members on the Government side of the chamber are making noises about participation by private members in parliamentary affairs, we have before us a motion that removes from private members one of the few rights that they have to initiate business in the Parliament. Yet I am sure that those honourable members opposite will support the motion.
The normal procedures would allow something approaching 10 General Business days each year. By removing the opportunity for such days during the passage of the Appropriation Bills, the Government in fact is restricting the number of General Business days to eight or nine. Something like 17 items are now listed on the notice paper for consideration on General Business days. That means, in effect, that almost the whole of the 3 years of this Parliament is booked in relation to consideration of the General Business items on the notice paper and that any new items would not be brought on for debate within that period. In fact, some honourable members who want to put forward items for consideration will not be in the Parliament for long enough to enable them to put forward those items. There are also some 9 notices on the notice paper. Some of them are items that have been debated already but not voted upon. One of them is a major measure that was brought forward by the honourable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr Lionel Bowen) 2 weeks ago. Only 25 or 30 minutes debating time was available for it because of the actions of private members of the Government Parties in taking up General Business day with motions of their own.
The Opposition objects to the procedure of taking up the extremely limited time available to debate General Business items. I suggest that it is making a farce of the situation for either private members on the Government side of the chamber or the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), who frequently has made this type of assertion outside of the Parliament and inside it when it has been convenient, to suggest that participation by members of Parliament in decisionmaking is the aim of the Government when in fact the only major area open to private members to take an initiative is removed for a period of 3 or 4 General Business days. I do not think that it makes a great deal of difference to the passage of the Budget if 2 hours is devoted to discussing General Business every second Thursday morning. Certainly General Business days give honourable members an opportunity to initiate matters, and that opportunity is not substituted for by the opportunity that honourable members have to discuss matters in general in the Budget debate. Honourable members usually deal with matters relating to the economy in the Budget debate. That debate does not give them any opportunity to initiate business. Some major debates have taken place in this Parliament on General Business days. I indicate our opposition to this move and suggest that it is an unnecessary restriction that the Government is placing upon the rights of members.
That the motion (Mr Sinclair’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Deputy Speaker- Mr G.O’H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 26 August, on motion by Mr Ellicott
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– This piece of legislation is somewhat short in the drafting context, but the Schedule to the Bill amends some 66 enactments of this Parliament. The Opposition does not oppose the measure; it just wishes to make some comments. The amendments are of a rather minor nature. For example, they omit the words ‘Police and Customs’ and substitute the words ‘Business and Consumer Affairs’. They virtually update the present enactments to coincide with the administrative changes that took place when the new Government took office in December last. It has been put to us in the Opposition that perhaps it would be helpful if we could agree that we did not have to make changes so frequently as we do. Perhaps some Prime Ministers of the present and the future might agree that they might not change the titles of their ministers or departments as frequently as Prime Ministers have. If they did, it would not involve so much legislative work here. It is thought that the Acts Interpretation Act, particularly sections 19a and 19b, might be streamlined to cater for legislative alterations following administrative changes, thus avoiding the need to enact amending legislation. As the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) said, there are some doubts. For example, section 19b refers to the position when there is no longer a Minister. Of course, changes can take place with a Minister remaining.
The Bill seeks to amend certain Acts, and the amendments will be backdated to 22 December 1975 with the exception of the amendments to 5 Acts. These include the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act. The reason for this exception would be that that Act did not come into operation until 1 July last. Another is the Child Care Act 1972. By order of 23 June 1976 administration of that Act was allocated to the Minister for Social Security. As the amendments proposed to that Act refer to the Department of Social Security, it is appropriate that they should operate only from the date when that Department began to administer the legislation, that is, 23 June last. The Cities Commission (Repeal) Act, like the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975, had not been proclaimed to commence when the new order was established on 22 December 1975. It came into operation on 19 January 1976. The amendments proposed to the National Health Amendment Act relate to the definitions of ‘contributor’ and ‘dependant’. The Bill re-makes these 2 definitions in exactly the same terms but so as to take account of the fact that the Bill also inserts a definition of ‘Department’. The Bill also seeks to substitute ‘The Minister’ and ‘the Minister’ for ‘A Minister’ and ‘a Minister’ throughout section 4 of the Roads Grants Act 1 974.
The amendments are as specified in the Schedule to the Bill. They involve substitution of the department currently administering the relevant legislation for the department that used to administer it, the substitution of the description ‘Permanent Head’ for another more specific description such as ‘Director-General’, and the substitution of references to the ‘Minister’ for references to Ministers by another title, for example, ‘Attorney-General’. There are some exceptions to the scheduled amendments. In relation to the Atomic Energy Act 1953, the amendment seeks to leave out the words ‘the Territory of Papua and the Territory of New Guinea, or any of those Territories’. The subsection goes on to provide that before giving any such approval the Minister shall confer with the Minister administering the Norfolk Island Act 1957. As to the Continental Shelf (Living Natural Resources) Act 1968, the Bill substitutes a definition of ‘Australia’ which does not include Norfolk Island and the Coral Sea Islands Territory and substitutes a definition of the ‘Australian continental shelf which does not include the continental shelves adjacent to Norfolk Island and the Coral Sea Islands Territory. If the amendments contained in the Bill are made, Norfolk Island and the Coral Sea Islands Territory will still be covered by the legislation. The only difference will be that for the purpose of the Act they will be treated as external territories and not as part of Australia. The reason for the continued inclusion of the Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands in the definition of ‘Australia’ is that under other legislation that Territory is deemed to form part of the Northern Territory.
In relation to the Homes Savings Grant Act 1964, the Bill seeks to remake the evidentiary provision of section 31 (1) so that it covers the
Secretary of the Department of Housing and Construction and the Secretary of the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development as well as the Secretary of the Department of Housing. In relation to the National Health Act 1953, ‘Director’ is defined several times in this Act for the purpose of particular parts of it. The Bill gets rid of that repetition by repealing some definition provisions and replacing them with one definition. Section 32 of the Science and Industry Research Act 1 949 requires the approval of the Minister for the exercise of any power or function by the organisation which exclusively affects Papua New Guinea or Norfolk Island and requires the Minister to consult the Minister for External Territories before giving such approval. The Bill seeks to repeal section 32, thus recognising the independence of Papua New Guinea and the fact that there is no Minister for External Territories. As the Opposition sees it, that summarises the legislation recommended by the Attorney-General. The Opposition wishes the Bill a speedy passage.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Ellicott) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 19 August, on motion by Mr Eric Robinson:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Opposition does not oppose this Bill, which brings television station licence fees into line with those of broadcasting stations, after a delay which was brought about in order to assist television stations with the introduction of colour television and also to compensate for the loss of revenue due to the phasing out of cigarette and tobacco advertising. The Bill will bring about an additional $624,000 in revenue and, apart from the phasing out of the fee differential between broadcasting and television stations, does not initiate any other action. It is interesting to note that in the second reading speech of the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) one of the reasons given for the delay in bringing television stations into line with broadcasting stations was the encouragement of local content. I would have thought that that was a lost cause. It would appear that local content is rapidly declining, although from my observations over the last few weeks I think there will be some transfer of a local content program from the Australian Broadcasting Commission to commercial television, I Would imagine at considerable profit to both organisations.
A very successful publicity campaign is being conducted at the moment by the Chairman of the ABC in order to achieve very high ratings for a program which will certainly appear on commercial television as soon as its sale can be arranged. I wonder whether honourable members opposite will protest about that program being shown on commercial television stations alongside such epics of drama as The Box and Number 96. I wonder whether private enterprise instincts will override their moral judgments, which they have expressed recently in relation to taxpayers’ money being used in this .way. If money is to be made out of this program on the commercial stations, that is a different kettle of fish altogether. The Opposition does not oppose this Bill. It looks forward to the revenue from licence fees collected by the Treasury being increased by the means I have just outlined.
-In supporting this Bill, I state first of all that the Minister for Post and Telecommunication’s .(Mr Eric Robinson) has shown some foresight. Apparently he anticipated that some television stations, particularly those away from the more favoured intense areas, were going to have difficulty in surviving. The Minister’s second reading speech indicates that there are 48 commercial television stations in operation and that for eleven of those stations there will be no increase in licence fees under the new scale. It is interesting to note that the turnover or gross income of four of those stations is below $500,000. Obviously the Minister saw that there would be difficulties in the continuing prosperity of those stations. Might I refer to what the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) just said about that much discussed program Alvin Purple.
– Keep it clean.
-To keep Alvin Purple clean would be quite a project. I may have certain capabilities, but they do riot extend that far. I imagine that the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, in putting this film on the market, appreciates the fact that those people controlling the commercial stations which are sufficiently prosperous to take on a series such as Alvin Purple have achieved that prosperity by being very astute businessmen. I am quite confident, as no doubt he is, that the commercial stations will reject the program. I agree with the honourable member for Corio when he puts Alvin Purple in the same category as The Box and Number 96. All I can say about Number 96 is that it must have a great publicity officer. I was in the picture show business, where people know what is a good film and what is a crook film. This would not be put on as a support film in Kajabbi, and that is a little town hundreds of miles from anywhere. The program No. 96 has been referred to as an epic produced by our Australian producers in a dingy little building. We have the scope to make magnificent films. We could make, a series such as Rush which would sell anywhere. Any cinema in Australia would grab at it.
I am pleased that the Minister has come into the House because I wish to put forward a proposition which I hope will receive his support. Because the Minister is present I repeat that I support the Bill, which is far-sighted, looking to the future. I said before that the Minister when he framed this Bill must have anticipated that the television stations which are away from the intense areas would have difficulties ahead of them, and I commend the Minister for taking into account their financial problems. Television stations in remote areas normally start telecasting at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, and by 10 o’clock at night, when the viewer is just getting warmed up to watch a good movie, the transmission ends. I would suggest respectfully that when we achieve the prosperity which the Government is rapidly bringing about, although not as rapidly as one would like, we could be a little more extravagant than we are being now. I refer to licence fees and such like- anything pertaining to the economy of these stations which will permit them to telecast over a longer period.
One of the reasons I have spoken on this Bill is to put in a plug for that particular aspect of the operations of commercial television stations, that is, that they be provided with financial conditions within their structure- I do not mean actual handouts- that will encourage them and permit them to telecast for longer periods. I commend ABC television to the infinite degree in regard to the presentation of its documentaries; their content is another matter. I wish we had more time to discuss that aspect. However, the ABC’s presentation is second to none; it is superb. What a pity it is that the people who plan that presentation have such a slanted, peculiar and weird attitude towards life and towards Australianism.
I will give one example of an area in which there is obviously a breakdown in communications between those who plan our programs and the people for whom that entertainment is provided- It may mean that some day there should be a second ABC television station. Maybe the people who live in the more thickly populated areas like gardening programs, but do they like them to the extent of having televised in the afternoon of last Sunday week three such programs on ABC television? If you do not like ABC television in my little old home town you do not watch television; you cannot switch to any other channel. The only other channel is Coppermine Creek and you can throw yourself in it. After watching 3 programs on gardening during one Sunday afternoon that was the thought that occupied the minds of many of us. Quite seriously, where is the planning in that sort of programming?
I am sure that the Minister will give my argument his utmost sympathy. I suggest that in the future years or maybe in future months when the economy of this country becomes more buoyant than it is at the moment and we can begin to think of giving some sort of assistance to commercial television stations we should in fact encourage them and give them the sort of financial encouragement that will permit them to telecast programs for longer periods. Alternatively, our ABC program planners should come out into the great outback where we depend entirely on that medium for our entertainment and give us a little more variety. I remember one afternoon when we saw the Duke of Edinburgh being sworn in for something or other, and the program ran for exactly an hour and fifteen minutes before he was sworn in. No doubt people from the electorate of the honourable member for Swan (Mr Martyr) in Western Australia would have some comment to make on that. We commend and support the Bill. We again ask the Minister- this is the third time that I have said it, and it will be the last: When conditions permit please give to television stations in areas other than the thickly populated areas support which will permit them to telecast for longer periods. The Minister has shown foresight and we commend him for it.
– It was not my intention to enter this debate, and I shall not delay the House for very long, but I could not help being provoked by some of the comments made by the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) who has taken on the role of expert in almost every field that comes up for discussion in this House. He makes the comment that although perhaps the Australian Broadcasting Commission television has very good presentation the people who reach such a fine level in their presentation are so warped in their attitudes in the type of program that they present that they should not be allowed to do it. Licence fees, which are under discussion, are of very little relevance to the production and presentation of television in Australia. I suspect that since 1956 we have been subjected by commercial television stations to the worst television viewing in the world. The competition provided by the ABC to the type of programs that have been presented to us by commercial television is the only thing that has kept us a little sane.
I am astounded when someone talks about being offended by watching Graeme Blundell running nude down the street in Sydney in a television program. Such people sat silent for so many years in this House without condemning many of the imported programs which perhaps did twist the minds of many of the young people who were forced to watch them on other television stations. A far more severe test should have been put on commercial television stations in regard to their standards of production. A far more severe test should have been put on those commercial television stations when their licences were renewed. We allowed in this country a greater monopoly over the television stations than would have been allowed in any other country. We allowed our television stations to fall into the hands of the monopolies which already owned the newspapers and the radio stations.
I do not think our record on television is something of which we can be very proud but I do think that each of us ought to think about the field in which we play a part. Obviously we have the right to pass comment on those matters which affect the Australian community. But we are acting like those people outside the House who think they know a lot more about the Parliament than those of us who serve in it when we play the role adopted by the honourable member for Kennedy and say that everything in the ABC must be crook. I do not complain about ABC radio on the occasions when I listen to it while travelling through the country areas. It seems to me that its programming fits the pattern of country areas. It informs the people about what is happening in that particular region and that seems to me to be a legitimate exercise. Nevertheless, it may be, or it may turn out to be, far more in favour of the political tones that would be expressed by the honourable member for
Kennedy than by me, but I tolerate it. However, it seems to me that to interfere with the creative talents of a lot of Australians is a step in the wrong direction and perhaps a suppression of the creative ability of the Australian people. Perhaps it may lead in turn to what happened immediately after the war in the 1950s and 1960s when a great deal of our Australian talent found its way overseas.
Thanks to the Whitlam Labor Government we have seen the creative arts revitalised. We should continue to encourage and support them financially. We should not set ourselves up on a pedestal and think the whole world has crumbled because we do not happen to like one specific television program. I cannot recall hearing in the two-and-a-half years that I have been in the Parliament any honourable member opposite raise the matter of the programs that have been shown on the commercial television stations. I cannot recall the honourable member for Kennedy taking time out either in general debate or in the adjournment debate to criticise or to put forward his views about the programs which he mentioned. I have never watched them; I have no intention of watching them. That is my own judgment. I do not intend to try to tell the viewing public and the creative people of Australia that I know more than they do about what they should be creating or what the viewers should be watching. They make their own judgments. The situation in relation to the people who watch television or listen to radio has changed over the years. I think a far greater test ought to be applied to the owners of television stations, not the creative people who make the programs which are shown by those stations.
-I hope that I will be able to confine my remarks to the BUI more than did the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young). The purpose of the Television Stations Licence Fees Amendment Bill is to bring the scale of licence fees payable by our commercial television stations into line with those payable by our commercial broadcasting stations. The same scale of fees was applicable to broadcasting and television stations from 1964 until 1973 when the fees payable by broadcasting stations were increased by the Whitlam Government. At that stage very strong representations were made to the Government to maintain the existing scale for commercial television stations. To this the Government agreed. That request was made so that the financial effects of the phasing out of cigarette and cigarette tobacco advertising could be assessed and so that the increase in the Australian content of programs and the introduction of colour television could be assessed. That position has now been reviewed and the Government has decided to increase the scale of fees- a scale, I point out, that has not been increased since 1964. 1 have asked the Opposition for permission to incorporate in Hansard the new scale of fees payable. I seek leave to do that.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
-I must admit that I have some apprehension about this legislation, particularly as it applies to country and regional television stations. Admittedly the overall industry does appear to be doing reasonably well at this time. I suggest that it appears to be that way because of 2 factors. Firstly, we have had the recent introduction of colour television, and secondly, there has been, I believe, an increase in advertising by many companies in an endeavour to offset the economic downturn and reduced consumer demand. The latter factor had not applied in country areas. With the removal of cigarette advertising revenue, regional stations are expressing serious concern. Cigarette advertising was placed as to 80 per cent on a national basis and as to 20 per cent on a local basis. It will be very difficult to replace this national advertising with local advertising. It will be much more difficult to find national advertising to replace the national advertising that has been lost.
Many smaller regional stations are facing a continual struggle to gain a sufficient audience to obtain sufficient advertising revenue to cover costs and to stay in the business of providing a comprehensive local service to their communities. Already many provincial stations have amalgamated within the limitations imposed by the Broadcasting and Television Act, in this fight for survival. Additionally, new initiatives have been taken to establish groupings amongst provincial licensees to present to advertisers market areas of acceptable size. These measures have been undertaken to ensure a continuance of the revenue that is so necessary in order to service the areas granted under the respective licences. I must also make the comment that, although dollar revenues have risen generally within the industry, the value of those revenues has declined. The plateau system of charges, which I have had included in Hansard and which were struck some years ago- the percentage scale of charges- has not been altered even though the value of the earnings has changed. Regional stations have real difficulties in meeting the requirements of their viewers. I ask the Minister to take note of these problems that are peculiar to regional stations.
– It was not my intention to speak on this Bill, but after hearing some of the claptrap that has been spoken in this House, not only today but also during the debate last night, I felt that I should make a contribution and see whether I could set the record straight on some of the aspects that have been touched upon. After 0Vi years in the commercial television business, covering all facets of it, and, prior to that, about 3 years in the radio business, I trust that some of the people on the other side of the House will take some note of the comments I intend to make in the next couple of minutes.
The commercial industry- especially the country station- was grateful for the leeway that was given so that it could make up the time and cost involved in the implementation of colour television and the eradication of cigarette commercials from the air. I agree with previous speakers that in some of the country areas there are supreme difficulties in physically keeping the stations on the air. We must remember that the commercial television stations in the country provide a local service; that is the all important thing. The Australian Broadcasting Commission! am not criticising it here- provides a fine service in country areas; but because of its networking arrangements it has not the facility to provide the local content, the local news and the local information that can be provided by the country stations. So it is essential that we maintain our country television stations as viable enterprises so that they can be of real service to the country people.
The controversy regarding Alvin Purple has been raging. Quite frankly, I do not think that technically it is a terribly good production. It is a program that certainly will attract big audiences in its early stages, purely because of the publicity that is involved. The same technique was used, as the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) mentioned, with No. 96 and The Box. The network with which I was connected was involved in those programs, and I know how these processes work. Publicity certainly gets the program on the air, but the program must have appeal to maintain its continuity. Those programs have been on for some time. I understand that their ratings are down now. I am not sure how much longer they will be with us. The situation with regard to Alvin Purple is interesting because it is one of the most expensive half-hour comedy productions ever produced in this country. It has cost the ABC more than a million dollars to produce the 13 episodes. That is a lot of money, for a television production when one considers the cost per head of population in this country. One wonders whether the ABC would not have been better advised to go into something that was perhaps a little more constructive.
We heard the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) talk about the standard of Australian television. I would dare to go so far as to say that Australian television is some of the finest television in the world. If people travelled overseas and saw some of the programs provided by networks in other countries, I am sure they would agree with that. It is interesting to note, when we talk about the business of Australian production, that in England the local content is only 48 per cent, whereas in Australia we are heading for a percentage of well over 60 per cent. If we are to be completely and utterly realistic about television production in Australia, the first thing we have to realise is that we have to get rid of that content quota, because the greater the content quota the less money there is in the whole television cake to provide quality production. This is where we are missing out. In Australia we have not the money with which to make quality television production. We are improving. With the facilities and the resources we have available, most television networks are doing a fine job. I include the ABC in that remark. As I said once before in this House, if we are to be fair dinkum about Australian production we have to forget the quotas; we have to look at the amount of money allocated to television programs; and most importantly, we have to look towards supplying an overseas market. This is the way we can get our money back. The ABC has proved that it can do it with joint production. It has done it with programs such as Rush, which has proved immensely successful overseas. I think Rush is a program of which we in Australia can be justly proud. It is a fine program. We can see just what revenue the Australian film industry is starting to bring into Australia at the moment. It is good to see that this industry is continuing to be supported. It will become a much more viable enterprise as these overseas sales are made and as we make a real impression on the overseas film industry. In the field of television, I believe that we have to forget the idea of providing huge quantities of Australian programs and to look at starting to make a little quality.
We have heard screams coming from all sorts of organisations, including Actors Equity, about the amount of work that is available in Australia. We see the figures that appear in the newspapers every so often about the number of actors who are unemployed. I put this proposition to the House today: Many of the people who claim to be actors who are out of work could not act their way out of a paper bag. One member of Actors Equity who is out of work at the moment is Bob Hawke. He had to join when he appeared in a television production. The actors in Australia who are of quality and who have proved themselves are getting a lot of work. Somebody mentioned the situation of Graeme Blundell who is involved in the Alvin Purple controversy. In how many productions has he appeared in the last 2 years? He has more work than he can handle. He is doing exceptionally well. Unfortunately, because of this rash of Australian television productions and the cheaper kind of production, people came into the industry who really have no right to be there and who really cannot produce the goods well enough to be able to stay there.
There is another aspect of Australian television productions at which we should be looking. This is one of the real causes of some of the problems that we have with quality productions in Australia today. We have the actors; we have the technicians; we have the production people now; we have the directors- all of whom are competent and do a very good job. But one area in which we are particularly short of talent is writing. There is a very real shortage of good writing talent for film and television here in
Australia. That is one area that we should be promoting. That is one area that we should be encouraging in a very real way. So, let us clear the air. Let us get rid of some of the claptrap that has been talked over the last few days. If we are to be fair about it, let us get down to looking at producing quality programs and not quantity of programs.
– in reply- I thank honourable members for their contributions. I apologise to the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) for being unable to be here to listen to his speech. I assure him that I shall read his comments carefully and take note of them. I am not going to talk about the television industry or the broadcasting industry. As honourable members are aware, an overall inquiry is going on at the present time. The results of that will be known to me in a matter of a few weeks. I hope that I will be in a position to bring something to the Government within approximately a month and, flowing on from that, to bring something into the Parliament later this year. This BUI, of course, flows on from the Budget. It is part of the Budget. It brings licensing fees for television stations into line with fees for radio stations. I want to tell honourable members that the revenue which Will be received under this legislation will, broadly speaking, cover the costs of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. The purpose of imposing fees is to ensure that the cost of administering the commercial broadcasting system is covered largely from within the industry.
May I say to the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter), the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher) and the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Ml) that I listened carefully to their comments, particularly in regard to smaller stations in country areas. I am aware of the problems. We were sensitive to them when it came to fixing these fees. In a large country like Australia it is essential to have as adequate a system possible in the smaller centres. This Government is interested in doing that. I appreciate the views put forward by those honourable members. They will be taken into account not only by me but also by others who have an administrative responsibility.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
BUI read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Eric Robinson) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 19 August, on motion by Mr Eric Robinson:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-This Bill is part of the legislative program resulting from the Governments policies and strategies in 2 areas. The first area is Federal-State relations and the second is the Governments economic and Budget policy strategy. The Government’s much vaunted new federalism policy seems destined to follow many of the governments other so-called initiatives, namely, down the path to mangled confusion. The uncertainty that the future holds for Federal-State relations probably will rival the confusion and uncertainty which have surrounded and unfortunately still surround the Government’s changes to Medibank. We must remember that the Government’s chopping and changing over the health insurance plans followed an election undertaking promising to leave Medibank basically unchanged. We had the Medibank Bills before us in this House earlier this afternoon. I wonder what further changes will be made during the passage of those Bills through this Parliament. On the other hand, the federalism policy which is very much a part of this BUI is supposed to be a brand new deal. One can imagine the problems which will face this Government in implementing a new deal if the Medibank fiasco is an example of how something which is basically unchanged comes through this Parliament.
To date the Government has introduced only the initial stages of its federalism policy. Basically it has replaced the old general purpose revenue formula with a designated percentage of income tax. Already the differences between the federalism policy theory and its practise are becoming very clearly evident. In theory the new federalism policy is supposed to place the States in a better financial position because it will give them access to a growth tax, namely personal income tax, and because it will give them greater freedom in making decisions because there will be an increase in the untied grants at the expense of tied grants. The reality, on the other hand, is quite different. Although total general revenue assistance grants based on personal income tax entitlements and special grants have been increased in 1976-77 by 20.3 per cent on the figures for 1975-76, the increase has been more than offset in real terms by the paltry 5 per cent total general purpose capital funds. These capital funds are the main subject of this Bill. With an exhibition of the sleight of hand with which this Government has become quite expert, the Federal Government gives the States more revenue and freedom with one hand and takes them away with the other. It is all very well to give the States more financial assistance grants money and to urge them to spend it as they see fit, but what freedom do the States have if it is virtually preordained that they have to use this money to make up for real decreases in the other grants which were given to them previously?
The truth of the matter is that the new federalism, which we have heard so much about, is a sham. The Federal Government has decided that public sector spending must be cut back. The States have no alternative but to go along with it. For the next 12 months the States in aggregate will be placed in a worse position than they were in before. In fact, they have been placed in a no growth situation. Total payment to the States and local government, when adjusted for Medibank prepayments, have risen by 12.6 per cent on the figure for 1975-76- barely in line with the rate of inflation. Without the Medibank adjustment there has been a real decline of 5 per cent in funds going to the States because the increase is only 7.2 per cent with an inflation rate, admitted in the Budget documents, of over 12 per cent. This means that the States will have to reduce the services they offer, or if they happen to want freedom to follow policies different from Federal Government policies they will have to impose additional taxes. This is the sort of freedom of action that the new federalism offers the States- the freedom enjoyed by that fellow who languished somewhere between the devil and the deep blue sea.
I now outline other aspects of the Government’s federalism policy which promise much but which yield very little. The tax sharing agreement was supposed to reduce the demeaning haggling which occurred in the past at Premiers conferences. It has not to date reduced that haggling and it will not do so. The arguments will be over the size of the percentage rather than the betterment factor or some part of the formula. State Premiers have already pointed to the need to push up the percentage in the future because they realise how tax indexation will reduce the growth in revenue they have been used to receiving in the past. The spectacle which ensued after the States discovered that estimates for tax receipts this financial year were lower than the amount of revenue actually received should convince anyone who needs convincing that the new system does nothing to overcome the conflicts of the past. The Federal Government keeps open the options of imposing special tax surcharges to which the States will now have access. Nobody has explained how the States will react to this. The administrative problems with implementing State tax surcharges after stage one have not been spelt out. The future of specific purpose grants has not been detailed. There are still more questions about the ultimate form of the Government’s federalism policy than there are answers to what has happened. The steps taken so far have done nothing towards bringing to fruition the theory of the policy which sounded so magnificent during the election campaign. All that has happened is that total funds to the States have been reduced in real terms. The States will have to decrease their provision of goods and services that many people, especially in our cities but also in the countryside, see as important to them. If they do not do so, they will have to impose additional taxes which must have the effect of exacerbating the inflationary problems.
As I said earlier, this Bill is the legislative expression of sections of two of the Government’s major policy stances. Firstly, there is the federalism policy which I have been discussing and, secondly, this Bill is part of the Government’s overall economic strategy which is contained within the Budget which is still before this House. During my reply to the Budget I stressed that this year’s Budget was excessively restrictive and was not what was needed in an economy in at least the embryonic stages of recovery, even if we accepted that it was at that stage. It has become clear that the Budget has been framed on the premise of an economy firmly on the way to recovery and around a massive gamble, the gamble of a private sector recovery unparalleled in recent times. The justification for this gamble has been the Government’s argument that noninflationary recovery can be achieved only through the private sector. However, as each new indicator reveals, despite what the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) said in answer to a question I asked in the House today, there are no firm signs of recovery whatsoever and it is becoming more and more evident that the Budget was framed on a view of what the Government wanted the economy to look like at this stage rather than what the economy actually does look like at this stage.
The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) for instance, in an address to the United Farmers and Woolgrowers Association conference on 9 July 1976 gave his version of the state of the economy. He said that he saw ‘a number of leading economic indicators pointing to recovery’. He also said that although there were conflicting signs amongst the indicators, positive indications were more widespread. Despite the emergence since then of 2 sets of unemployment figures showing a further weakening of the labour market, despite such indicators as retail sales figures being down, motor vehicle registration figures being down and so on- in spite of all these things and the great number of indicators pointing to the absurdity of the presumption of a firm recovery underway- the Government has persisted in bringing down a Budget, of which this Bill is a part, which gives virtually no aggregate stimulus to the economy. It is a Budget completely inappropriate for the circumstances.
It is almost as if the Budget was all wrapped up in May when the Government perhaps did most of its considerations on the economy and it decided to ignore any developments after that. The Government came in on a wing and a prayer and things just are not happening the way the Government hoped they would. I do not want to set out to be a prophet of doom. I am only suggesting that the indicators are equivocal. I wish we had strong evidence of recovery, but we do not. No amount of looking through rose coloured glasses by the Government will give us some hopes of recovery. What we need is economic action. That is what is required and the States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill would have been an ideal vehicle for the Government to start with this action.
Within a week of the Budget being brought down, economic commentators were describing its strategy as tottering. Within 3 weeks of its being brought down, we had rumours of a minibudget, which are still rife around the place. There were rumours of the Treasury already having told the Treasurer that his Budget would not work. We have to look only at the Sunday Telegraph of last Sunday to see the reports of strong rumours from a stable which is very much in the Government’s pocket of a mini- budget being prepared already because of the gross miscalculation of this Government in framing the present Budget now before the Parliament. While some of these rumours may be lacking in credibility, they all point to the same general feeling, namely, that the Government must do something and that it is not doing something about unemployment and the grave state of the economy.
I have often stressed the view that the Government’s preoccupation with deficits and with a desire for balanced budgets had strait-jacketed economic policy in this country. The Government has refused to use the government sector as countries throughout the world have used the government sector, that is, as a lever to help the economy out of recession. Everyone who urges this step is described, as I have been, by the Treasurer as arguing for higher, not lower, unemployment and as a proponent of government spending excesses. This is not so, as more and more people, including people within the Treasurer’s own party are coming to realise. I commend the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) in particular for what he is saying and, I hope, for the influence that he may be having along these lines. People are coming to reaslise the truth of what we in the Opposition are saying in these matters.
The Government identifies the rise in government expenditure in 1974-75 and also in 1975-76 as one of the base causes of our problems. It refused to acknowledge that the increases in public expenditure were a reaction to and not a cause of high unemployment. Obviously, if the Government’s analysis of the cause of the problem is wrong, its remedies for the ailment will be ineffective. I repeat that in advocating modest increases in government spendingselective stimulatory expenditure- I am not advocating the printing of money, an increase in the growth of the money supply or an increase to such an extent that will raise interest rates. But I am asserting that there could be more government spending in this country at this time with a higher deficit without having to resort to increases in the money supply or increases in interest rates. I draw to the attention of the Government the many informed commentators on the capital market of this country who are saying just that.
The Government defends its policies with the cry that inflation must be brought down before sound economic recovery can be ensured. It makes no concessions to the entrenchment of dis.tortions and the permanent structural imbalances which will emerge in an economy where policy is directed only to one goal to the exclusion of all the others. The Prime Minister himself has spoken of the high cost of unemployment- $600m permanently lost each year for every 1 per cent of unemployment. Yet the Government fails to come to grips with this problem. It fails to face up to the fact that its attempts to release resources from the public sector to the private sector are merely releasing those resources to further unemployment. The economy must be brought back into a path of definite recovery. The longer we are in recession, the more extreme the problems associated with recovery will be.
A depressing scenario of mini-budgets, overly quick reflation and boom and bust conditions is already beginning to emerge. What confidence will investors have now if they feel that minibudgets will be introduced in the Parliament in November, February or whenever? The Government has the solution in its own hands. It must admit that it has erred. It has been erring in the ways I have outlined since it slashed government spending early in January. It must admit it has erred. It must admit that its Budget was far too restrictive. It must begin actively to encourage recovery. Granted, the Treasurer talks of confidence and recovery with consumers increasing their spending. But surely in view of the Government’s policy of reducing real wages, this must be regarded as absurd. In fact, I go further than that to state that surely the indicators of increased saving within the community rather than spending and the indicators of retail sales figures must lead one to this conclusion.
Since the beginning of this year- indeed, since I took over as Labor spokesman on the economy- I have consistently put the view that the 1975-76 Budget- the one brought down in the Parliament this time last year- pared government expenditure to the limit compatible with recovery and that the Government’s cutbacks would worsen and not improve the situation. I have argued that public spending can and should be used to get the economy moving. In doing this, I have been mindful of the need to control the money supply to a reasonable growth rate. I have been mindful also of the fact that we must not force up interest rates. But I have not been mesmerised by deficits. They have been recognised for what they are and have been in recent times- an indication of a shortfall in receipts due to recession. That was the explanation for the deficit in the past financial year.
The Labor alternative to the restrictive policies of the Government is as I shall now outline. We want a program of selective stimulatory expenditure, that is, the Government spends money in those areas where capacity is under-utilised and where resources are under-employed. The Bill we are debating here this evening would be an ideal vehicle for this expenditure. We all know that the building and construction element of public outlays has a greater impact on economic growth than any other form of government spending. Economists call it a big multiplier effect.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), who will follow me on behalf of the Opposition in this debate, will concentrate on the fact that what the Government has done in this Bill has been to reduce the real level of funds for the construction industry. Employment in the building industry fell by 50 000 or 1 1 per cent between May 1975 and May 1 976. In New South Wales alone, at the end of July there were 6124 unemployed skilled building and construction workers. This compared with 3698 at the end of July 1975. In the skilled metal and electrical category 52 15 people were out of work at the end of July. These are the categories of productive workers whom the Government is prepared apparently to see stay idle because it refuses to follow the path that the Opposition has suggested. Because of its preoccupation with cutting back the public sector, these idle resources stay idle.
Much has been said about the problems of the young unemployed in recent days. The Opposition brought forward an urgency motion on this subject only yesterday. We hope that the rumours that the Government may have something in the pipeline devoted to overcoming this tragic situation are correct. As I have said, even the Government now seems to admit that something must be done. This great social as well as economic problem is an ideal target for selective government expenditure. A graphic impression of the seriousness of the problem is gained by looking at the statistics for leavers from schools, universities and other educational institutions. In 1976, 9400 persons returned to school because they could not find work. One in seven of those who did enter the work force were still unemployed last May. Not only can we reduce unemployment by this selective expenditure, but we can train the young people and provide for the future skilled workers who will help to prevent widespread bottle-necks when the economy eventually recovers. I repeat: This problem of the young unemployed is not only a social problem; it is an economic problem. We in the Opposition believe that eventually recovery will come to this country in spite of the Government’s policies. When that recovery comes skilled young workers will be required. Now is the time for selective government spending in this specific area.
I have concentrated on the uses to which funds which are made available to the States in Bills such as this may be put in generating employment. This does not mean that we are ignoring inflation as a problem. Levels of unemployment can be lowered without exacerbating inflation. The most dangerous element emerging in the continuing fight against inflation is the Government’s antagonistic policy towards the unions and its moves towards the abandonment of indexation. Widespread industrial unrest and wage demands are definitely not what is required at present, but the confrontation policies of the Government as opposed to the co-operation policies of the Opposition are what is leading to this situation. For sound and sustained econmomic recovery, slow but sure and ordered progress is required. Wage indexation and cooperation with the unions brings order to the economy while the use of selective government expenditure of the type which this Bill makes available can ensure that faint signs of recovery are strengthened. Recovery itself will bring a restoration of the profit share and help to alleviate inflation as unit costs fall. The picture which will emerge if the Government continues to ignore calls for selective increases in State grant funds are grim indeed. The Government must admit that its Budget over-estimated the strength of recovery. The only alternative view is that the Government has a vested interest in continued recession. The consequences of that are horrible indeed.
It is for these reasons that I move an Opposition amendment in the following terms:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: ‘whilst not opposing the second reading of the Bill the House is of the opinion that-
it reduces in real terms the funds available to the States;
it forces the States to reduce the services they provide and /or to impose additional taxes;
it results in an increase in the number of people out of work;
it fails to stimulate the non-residential sector of the building and construction industry, and
it fails to provide sufficient funds for selective stimulatory expenditure to revive the Australian economy’.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
-Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner I moved an Opposition amendment to the States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill (No. 2) 1976. 1 explained how the Bill was part of a reduction of funds for the States in real terms; how it is part of a Liberal-National Country Party strategy to force the States to reduce services and/or to increase other charges; how it does nothing for the grave problems of unemployment and a sick economy; how it could be used so well for the alternative Opposition economic strategy of making available further selective stimulatory investment funds right now to get our economy moving again.
I want to illustrate briefly one of the points contained in the proposed amendment by referring to the South Australian State Budget brought down last night in the South Australian Parliament by the Premier and Treasurer of South Australia, Don Dunstan. Contrary to some of the thinking that apparently exists around this House, that Budget illustrated very clearly the points I make about the State governments being forced either to reduce services or to increase charges. Incidently South Australia, as most people know, is better off than any other State in Australia as far as its funding is concerned, due to good management during the time of the Australian Labor Government when arrangements were made with the Australian Government for it to take over the South Australian Railways. This has meant that a big drain on that State’s funds over previous years no longer exists. Of course the same thing applies to Tasmania which had the wisdom to hand over its railways at the time.
In spite of this improved position the funding of the South Australian Budget this year was extremely difficult. This was mainly due to the inadequacy of funds made available under the Bill before the House now. Indeed, $15m of funds had to be transferred from the revenue account to the capital account in the South Australian Budget in order to save so many of the projects, particularly in the building of schools and other public works, from being mutilated to a greater extent than they were. No area in the South Australian Budget shows an increase of expenditure funds in real terms during this current financial year, 1976-77. This is an example of services being reduced. But in addition to that, in order to allow a reasonable highways fund to exist during this current financial year the South Australian Labor Government has been forced to increase motor registration charges and other charges made by the Highways Department in order to make ends meet. This is a specific example, in the State which is best off financially, of the claim being made by the Labor Opposition in this Parliament tonight that the lack of funding by the Australian Government is forcing a position on the States of either reducing their services or, in this case, both reducing services and increasing charges.
The story in the South Australian Budget in relation to specific purpose grants in particular is a sad one. I know that the Deputy Leader of the
Opposition who will follow me from this side in the debate will be particularly interested in the severe cutback in urban public transport appropriation in the South Australian Budget. Unfortunately, as I speak full details of that Budget have not reached this House and I am unable to illustrate more but I hope that from what I have said the House will note just how that part of the Opposition’s proposed amendment is well borne out by the experiences in South Australia last night.
I mentioned earlier in my speech that I condemned the Government under the heading of this Bill not only in relation to its Budget strategy but also under the whole umbrella of so-called new federalism. As I understand it, the architect of new federalism is none other than Senator Carrick, now Minister for Education. I take this opportunity to draw to the attention of this House the absurdity of statements he has made lately about the responsibility being on State governments to ensure that there is more public investment to reduce unemployment in Australia. We have gone the full circle. We have heard conservatives both inside the House and outside it extolling the virtues of leaving a gap that private enterprise would fill in order to employ people and therefore reduce the rate of unemployment. Now we find, of course, that inevitably the Government has had to move away from that position, suddenly realising that that cannot be its scapegoat because private enterprise is not filling the gap. So the Australian Government, instead of spending money as it has the power to do, is suggesting that State governments ought to do so. Anybody who has any knowledge whatsoever of the funding of State governments, realising how they cannot enter into deficits other than by using trust funds temporarily, will understand the absurdity of putting the responsibility on the States. I support the amendment.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill (No. 2) 1976 would usually be regarded as a fairly innocuous Bill but it is quite clear that the spokesman on Treasury matters for the Opposition, the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford), has taken the opportunity in this debate to give us another run over his conception of economic management of Australia or another little look in at the way in which he would fabricate a budget. For a few moments I shall resist the temptation to join him completely on these issues except to say this: It is incredible the extent to which the Opposition is wedded to the simple proposition that if public expenditure rises as quickly as possible that is good; if public expenditure does not rise as quickly as the honourable member would like to make it, that is necessarily bad.
The whole philosophy and tenor of the honourable member’s speech was based on the simple proposition that this Bill is unsatisfactorythe Opposition dares not vote against it, of course- because it does not propose to increase public expenditure quickly enough. I am fascinated not only at some of the honourable member’s mathematics but also at his sense of history forgotten. When one looks, for example, at what was allocated to the States under this sort of legislation in previous years it is quite clear that what is given to States has to be considered in a two or three-year period. One does not always draw the line at a budgetary time, or as at 13 December, and hope that the whole of the past before that date would be forgotten. If ever there was an experiment that public expenditure itself was the way to reap economy harmony in Australia that experiment was indulged in for 3 years and that experiment was rejected because in fact it failed.
The honourable member for Adelaide and his colleagues were responsible for introducing a new word into the Australian language. It is not the word ‘stagflation’, which has been used quite often- perhaps ad nauseam. It is not the word ‘slumpflation’, which also has been used. The new word which they introduced and whose effects we all felt is ‘negflation’ They were able for the first time in Australia, by means of public expenditure which is what this Bill is about, to secure a negative rate of growth, negative productivity, rising unemployment, rising prices and rising inflation, all at the same time. It is from that stance that the Opposition has said that this Bill is unsatisfactory and has moved a quite unctuous and meaningless amendment. I do not want to be unkind to the honourable member for Adelaide; I will resist the temptation not to deal further with his statement later.
The substance of this Bill is very important because it deals with the preservation of the States. It is quite obvious that the Australian Labor Party, which does not want the States to exist as viable, powerful and respected entities, wishes to see this Bill rejected. It certainly finds much fault with the Bill. This Bill puts into operation 2 promises made by the Gorton Government in 1970 in respect of State debt and loans negotiated on behalf of the States. The first promise was that within a 5-year period $ 1,000m of State debt would be wiped out. The carrying out of that promise was completed last year. An amount of $ 1,000m of State debt has been wiped out. The Bill also puts into operation the second promise made in 1970, which was that those capital works requiring expenditure in respect of which the States can recoup no revenue should not be part of a Loan Council program requiring repayment with interest by the States. This Bill deals with that second proposition. About $450m of the total loan program is to be made available to the States under this proposition, which is designed to preserve and retain the States as visible, viable and respected entities in Australian life.
I will recount history again for one moment. Between 1945 and 1970 there developed a problem which was exacerbated year by year, whereby the debt of the States rose and the debt of the Commonwealth declined. This problem reached a peak in 1970. The debt of the States rose for a number of reasons. They included the dearer money that had to be negotiated on behalf of the States, the fact that Commonwealth works were funded out of revenue while State works were not so funded, and the advantage of internal treasury bills. This meant that over that period of time the Commonwealth reduced its net debt by more than $3,000m and the States increased their debt by more than $8,000m. It was that trend which legislation similar to this Bill in 1970 was designed to reverse. That process is still being implemented. This Bill, in fact, is reversing that trend.
While this legislation is an essential part of federalism, I ask the House to look at federalism in 2 ways- in a vertical sense and in a horizontal sense. Both of these senses are appropriate and both deserve to be considered. A vertical responsibility exists between the Commonwealth and the States in terms of federalism because, as the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has said over and over again, the States will be required to be honest and to be responsible for raising the funds which they desire to spend. I know of State Ministers who will say that they want any amount of money to do something, but they do not want to have any responsibility for raising the money. Of course, they also have a very fixed view as to the nature of a Budget deficit that ought to be negotiated by the Commonwealth while giving the States that money.
– They are flash politicians.
– They are in all States and if they arrange their electorates cleverly they do very well. This measure deals partly with the vertical responsibilities of federalism. I still have some doubts about the precise way in which some of the horizontal responsibilities of federalism deserve to be negotiated. There should be an equal effect on States as a result of the operation of legislation determined in this place. There is always room for argument in this area, and I hope that some propositions with regard to this matter will be put in this House. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) who does not respect the very nature of the States, would not be interested in the proposition that there should be an equal deal for all States of the Commonwealth. It would be foreign to his thinking because, as he would admit, he is completely a centralist. This proposition is outside the parameters of his thinking in this area; it is in another paddock.
I will put this proposition in racing parlance. In the sense of vertical responsibilities the Commonwealth can be regarded as the chief steward on the race track and when the 6 States go around the track the Commonwealth wants to make sure that they weigh in at the right weight and not four or five kilograms short. In the horizontal sense the Commonwealth can be regarded as the chief starter and when it starts the race the gates open equally for every State. This measure attempts to deal with that second proposition. It also hopes to deal, together with other measures, with that second proposition. So in the time ahead the second aspect of federalism will have to be negotiated, looked at carefully, and re-negotiated.
I was fascinated with the cry of pauperism that came from the Opposition. This cry of pauperism, especially in regard to South Australia, is rather odd, because it is so far from the truth. South Australia has done very well in terms of receiving funds from the Commonwealth over recent years. A lot of money raised in other parts of Australia has been and is being paid to South Australia to enable that State to withdraw from the Grants Commission. It is on that basis that South Australia has been able to bring down a Budget which has been a product of the very preferential treatment given to that State by the Commonwealth in recent years. I refer to a speech made in the Legislative Council of South Australia by the Hon. D. H. C. Banfield, a member of the Labor Government, on 10 June this year. No doubt he is a friend and colleague of honourable members opposite. This statement comes from a member of a government in a State which says it is short of money. In a speech on Appropriation Bill No. 2, speaking on behalf of the Government Mr Banfield said:
Now, in early June, it is clear that the estimate of surplus made in February was a significant understatement and that on recent trends we may expect a surplus as high as $50m.
That amount was not all raised in South Australia. Further in his speech, Mr Banfield had this to say:
At the moment, perhaps I could sum up by saying that it seems that all of the favourable influences to which I referred in February are turning out to be even more favourable than was forecast then, and that many State revenues have been very buoyant despite a general slackness in the economy.
Those State revenues are supplied predominantly and overwhelmingly by the Commonwealth. If a State cries pauperism in this respect 6 weeks after a Minister in its own Upper House confesses to a surplus of more than $S0m, it should have another look at its arithmetic. This is a very complex matter, and it certainly has not been understood by the Government in that State. When one looks at the position in the other States one sees quite clearly that the States have not been denied funds and have done relatively well. My own State of Queensland had a surplus. New South Wales did not have to draw on its loan funds in order to support its revenue deficit to the extent that it thought it would be required to do. Neither have a number of other States, including Tasmania, had to draw on their loan funds for this purpose. So the Commonwealth supplies the funds. The States have not been doing too badly at all. I would have hoped that the honourable member for Adelaide at least would have acknowledged that fact. I regret that he has not seen fit to do so.
I return to the other point which I was making earlier. I have made this point before and I think it needs to be made again. The funds in this Bill are part of the normal loan program. They will not be available as loans to the States but effectively as grants to the States. The division of those funds between the States follows the division of funds between the States that traditionally has been made by the Loan Council. The division of funds that traditionally has been made by the Loan Council has not been based particularly on equity; it has been based very much on historical grounds.
Loan fund allocations are somewhat difficult to alter without the consent of all the States. When a third of those funds- over $400m- is to be made available in terms of grants, without the obligation of repayment, it is of very great benefit indeed. But when those funds then are made available as between the States according to the proportions determined by the Loan Council, almost historically, there is no attempt whatsoever to determine that the principles of horizontal equity are followed in the determination and distribution of those funds.
I congratulate 2 States for having done very well in this Bill. Western Australia has done very well, according to the schedule to the Bill.
– I would say that it has. A State election is coming on.
-South Australia also has done very well. Historically that is the way in which it works. That was a very foolish statement by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. If anything indicates that he does not understand what this is about, that statement reflects it. It has nothing to do with an election. I said that the distribution between the States had almost its own historical lore. I would only ask that when the distribution between the States is being considered in terms of the new federalism policy so that the burdens and the benefits are distributed equally, the new arrangement concerning the Council of Inter-governmental Relations will result in the careful consideration of the distribution of these grants, which are increasing in size and which are increasing in proportion. As far as I know they are not considered precisely by any other authority- certainly not in terms of the Loan Council.
There is one other point that needs to be made. As this legislation exists under the umbrella of federalism, I hope that consideration also will be given to an appropriate distribution of the effects of the monetary policy so that when there is either an expansion or a contraction, or there is any severe alteration in the amount of money or the volume of money available in Australia, that expansion or contraction will operate as between the States so that there is neither a greater credit squeeze in one State of Australia than another nor a greater expansion of the volume of money available in one State than there is in another. That requires, above all, the following of one simple principle. If taxation powers and taxation obligations are to be given to the States, there has to be an appropriate determination of monetary policy to follow the administration of those taxation powers and those taxation obligations.
During the period in which the present Opposition was in power we saw that the fiscal policy was raining on a different track all the time from the monetary policy. That was the cause of some of the very great errors that were made, and they were defended by the now shadow Treasurer when honourable members opposite were in government. Fiscal policy and monetary policy were running in completely contrary directions. The then Government was spending like mad while it was squeezing money like mad. All I am saying is that if federalism is to work adequatelyit can be made to work adequately- there has to be by the Government and the Treasury and by the Reserve Bank, which would take their advice, an awareness of the effect of monetary policy in each part of the Commonwealth.
I turn finally to the absurd amendment that has been moved by the Opposition. The amendment concerns itself with several things. It alleges that this Bill reduces in real terms the funds available to the States. It does not It helps to increase the total funds available to the States by over 15 per cent. There is not going to be that rate of inflation this year. It is not going to cause the denudement of any essential services by the States. The State of South Australia has already indicated that that will not be the case. I come to the final insult. The amendment says that the Bill will result in an increase in a number of people out of work. This is part of an allegation that has been made by supporters of a government that was able over a period of 1 8 months to secure the greatest continued drop in the Australian labour force that had been able to be secured at any time since the Depression. Over a period of 18 months, during which the available work force was to increase by over 250 000- nearly 300 000- honourable members opposite were able to reduce the number of those actually in work by nearly 100 000. Yet here they have produced a totally meaningless amendment which they hope will absolve them from everything that occurred prior to 13 December.
This Bill deserves to be supported. It is part of an obligation that was first undertaken in 1970. The distribution of some of the funds as between the States in this Bill is not a major matter of concern. I hope that it will become a matter of concern when the federalism principles are finally worked out. But, above all, while the Opposition has moved an amendment to this Bill, it would never dare, even with the greatest sarcasm possible, to vote against the Bill and follow what would be the significant meaning of its amendment.
-I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). I say at the outset that the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) plays a Jekyll and Hyde role in the Liberal Party of Australia. He is extremely critical of the policy of the present Treasurer (Mr Lynch). He, together with the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr William McMahon) and the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), is extremely critical of the actual policy of this Budget. I want to clarify one matter that he mentioned. The honourable member used a jargonistic term to describe me. He said that I was a centralist. The honourable member is well aware that I am not a centralist. I never have been a centralist and I hope that I never will be one. I believe that the real hope of this Parliament, this Government and democracy as a whole lies in the decentralisation of power and in getting power back to the grass roots level of the people who have a real understanding of the situation.
– Onto the streets.
– I do hope, unlike many honourable members in this House, that the people will in fact involve themselves in the democratic processes of this nation. If they have to protest in order to express themselves then they must do so. They must have an understanding of the situation. They just cannot stand by and allow a ruthless government to use its power in the violent way in which this one has used its power in the past and will use it in the future. They have to be vigilant at all times. That is why I am not a centralist. I am an anti-centralist.
I believe that the solution to the problems of this nation will be achieved only through the 4 levels of elective government, namely, the Australian, State, local and semi-governmental authorities acting in a spirit of co-operation with the people and working as a team. That is the only way in which we can in fact overcome the grave problems facing us. As Minister for Urban and Regional Development, I had a major role under the Whitlam Government. Neither Mr Hamer nor Mr Bjelke-Petersen can say that I, as a Minister, adopted a centralist role or a role of authority. I worked in a co-operative spirit, as did my officers, to try to make some progress and to achieve some understanding. I challenge honourable members opposite to say that I did not in fact play that role to try to bring about a spirit of co-operation in an endeavour to solve our problems. The honourable member for Lilley, who used the jargonistic term ‘centralism’, has very little understanding of what it means. He said that this legislation was brought in because of the power that had been accruing to the central government. Under the conservative governments- the Menzies Government, the Holt Government, the Gorton Government and the McMahon Government- there was a move towards greater centralisation of power.
Between 1950 and 1970 the Commonwealth debt remained static but the cost of servicing it increased by about 50 per cent because of increased interest rates. During that time the States’ debts increased by 700 per cent, the debt of local government authorities by 2000 per cent and the debt of semi-government authorities by 2800 per cent. The honourable member for Lilley talked about relieving the burden on the States. The latest figures available show that between 1970 and 1973 the burden on the States increased more than at any other time. The Australian Government share of the national debt dropped from 27 per cent in 1940 to 19 per cent in 1970 and to 14.9 per cent in 1973, with virtually all this fall occurring in the last 10 years. The States’ share of the debt dropped from 56 per cent to 45 per cent and then to 40 per cent over the same period. But the semi-government authorities’ share of the burden soared from 1 1 per cent in 1940 to 36.9 per cent. It outstripped the burden of the Australian Government. This is what we want to examine in regard to the debt situation.
There are only a couple of points I want to waste on the honourable member for Lilley, but it is important that we understand and analyse the position of a critic of the Liberal Government’s policy. In cutting up the national cake this year favouritism was shown to the Western Australian Government. Table 7 on page 69 of Budget Paper No. 7, dealing with payments under the national sewerage program, shows that in 1975-76 New South Wales received $43.2m. This year it will receive $ 19.9m. Victoria received $35.5m last year, $ 17.5m this year. The honourable member’s home State, Queensland, suffered badly. It received $14m last year and only $1.3m this year. But Western Australia received $ 12.5m last year and $9.3m this year. Why? Cutting back on the sewerage program creates more unemployment. Is it just by chance that an election is coming up in Western Australia? A severe cut in Western Australia ‘s allocation would have affected the electoral chances of the Government there. Consequently there was a manipulation of the figures by this centralist government under the guise of so called new federalism. The Labor Government cut up the national cake in a co-operative spirit with the States and it did not set any arbitrary figures. The figures are there for all to see. I ask all honourable members to check Budget Paper No. 7 at page 69.
The honourable member for Lilley talked about government expenditure. Of course the Labor Government used government expenditure to create a sewerage program because this area had been neglected for so long by conservative governments. Only 50 per cent of Perth was sewered, and in Sydney and Melbourne one in six families did not have their home connected to sewerage works. Today, even with a record number of houses built under the welfare housing system, there are 108 000 people waiting for houses. Yet the amount of money made available this year is the same as Labor’s contribution 2 years ago- Because the whole cost structure of housing has risen between 25 and 30 per cent, fewer houses will be built this financial year. The Labor Government set out to develop a selected growth centre program to try to overcome the overcentralisation of Sydney and Melbourne that occurred during 23 years of negative conservative government. Aid to local government was an outstanding Labor achievement, as were land commissions. South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania entered into agreements with the Australian Government on land commissions. It was only the ultraconservative Government of Queensland that did not benefit from land commissions. The Minister Assisting the Treasurer (Mr Eric Robinson) knows that when there is a resurgence of home building land prices will spiral in Queensland more than in any other State.
In this Bill we see just one more component of the Fraser Government attack on the States and the people under the guise of new federalism and economic necessity. This Bill appropriates a grant component of this year’s Loan Council program for the States. The program in total amounts to $ 1,356m, of which the grant component is $452m. This is an increase of only 5 per cent for both borrowings and capital grants in the program over last year. The Treasurer was at great pains in his second reading speech to say that a 5 per cent increase in the 1976-77 State Government Loan Council program was being unfairly criticised by many States and many Australian people. He went into great detail to try to perpetuate the myths and misrepresentations for which this Government is well known by comparing the decrease in expenditure of around 7 per cent in real terms in this program with the increases in this and other programs under the Labor Government. The Treasurer is a very negative Treasurer. He is a plastic man. Nothing can alter the fact that whatever he says the States, semi-government authorities, local government authorities and the people are much worse off because of the Government’s policies and priorities.
In total, all payments to and for the States and local government, whether by way of Loan Council borrowings, revenue snaring or specific purpose payments, have increased in cash terms by only 7 per cent over last year’s expenditurean expenditure which was reduced by the so-called savings introduced by the Fraser Government between January and May this year. There has been an increase of only 7 per cent when inflation has been running at 12 to 13 per cent, and that is a conservative figure. The Government is confronted with a balance of payments problem. It is feasible that it will not be able to hold off devaluation. If devaluation comes about it will magnify inflation in this country in the next financial year. The present estimated inflation rate of 12 to 13 per cent will be swamped. Inflation will be much greater than that.
There is a decrease in actual money flowing to the States, from whatever Federal Government source, of 5 per cent in real terms. The Fraser Goverment claims that its federalism policy will make the States equal partners in the federal system. This is nonsense. What the federalism policy means under the Fraser Government is that the Government can wash its hands of all involvement in helping the States and local government to provide the basic everyday services required by the people. The Government’s federalism policy will not make the States equal. It will lead to inequalities between the States. In time, the States will be forced to raise their own charges to provide the goods and services people desire. That will lead to inequalities between the States and make them less powerful partners in the federal system than they are today. In time, the wealthy States will be able to improve the goods and services they provide by comparison with those provided by the smaller and weaker States. They will be able to provide services which the smaller States will not be able to provide.
The Loan Council program for the States is one of the main avenues by which the States fund their own capital works programs, and it is on that basis that the effects of this Bill should be considered. As I have already said, there has been a decrease of 7 per cent in real terms in the Loan Council program, and the State’s capital works programs will suffer to that extent. The decrease in the Loan Council program will lead to a reduction in the provision of basic public goods, and the building and construction industry will be the first to feel the pressure on the States. I will deal later with the question of Mr Hamer ‘s Budget and how he has cut his programs. This Government has argued that it has done well by the States, but it should read the Hamer Budget because the message there is load and clear. Essential public works have been cut.
Let us look at the reduced spending by this Government in other areas that directly affect the States’ capital works programs. For instance, last year the national sewerage program allocation was $113m. I made a commitment to the State Ministers that that $1 13m would be maintained in real terms, and that this year the States would receive something like $130m. Instead, the amount has been cut back to $50m. The amount allocated for growth centres, which seek to counteract the overcentralisation of Sydney and Melbourne, has been cut from $84m last year to $19m this year. Grants for land commissions have been reduced from $64.6m last year to $ 15.1m this year, and area improvement programs assistance to local governments in direct grants has been reduced from $17m last year to $500,000 this year.
Let me examine some of the details of the Hamer Budget. Mr Hamer is the favourite State son of the Treasurer and of the Prime Minister. What are the main features of the Victorian Budget? Funds for the construction industry have been cut, sewerage programs have been cut, as well as allocations for the Australian Assistance Plan and welfare housing. Overall, there has been a 2 per cent cut in real terms in general works and services programs. The sewerage program in the State of Victoria has been cut from $30.97m in the last financial year to $13. lm in this financial year, and that has many implications. In the short term, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works will have to cut its day labour force from 5500 to 3500. Two thousand employees will lose their jobs as a direct consequence of Fraser’s new federalism. In the long term, the cuts mean that Melbourne has no hope of being fully serviced by 1982, and I doubt whether there will be a full sewerage service in Melbourne by the year 2000. One can imagine the effect of pollution on the Yarra Valley and Port Phillip Bay. Those areas will become sewers as a result of Fraser’s new federalism policy. We have heard for so long what Premier Hamer was going to do about the pollution problem in Port Phillip Bay, but the problem is going to be prolonged and aggravated because of the policies of the Fraser Government.
As a result of the Hamer Budget, school building will decline. The allocation has been decreased from $45m last year to $44m this year. In real terms, that is a reduction or 12 per cent. There is no hope of providing Victorian children with the school facilities to which the Schools Commission thinks they are entitled. This year the grant for welfare housing is a measly $98m. While Premier Hamer admits that the industry in Victoria is capable of building 5000 homes -
– I raise a point of order, Mr Acting Speaker. Standing Order 80 prevents any member in this chamber from referring to members of Parliament by a title other than the name of their electorate or their position. I object to the constant references to ‘Fraser’. It is either ‘the Prime Minister’ or ‘the honourable member for Wannon
-I think the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has been referring to the Fraser Government, which is the correct term.
– Victoria is capable of building 5000 homes this year but only 2750 will be built. Therefore, living standards in Victoria will suffer. This measure and the measures of the Fraser Government’s new federalism are a sham. The States will suffer greatly, and no State will suffer more than those States’ which are conservative, particularly the State of Victoria. If one examines the Budget introduced’ today by Premier Hamer, it will be seen that a great deal more unemployment will be created because the public works program has been cut. .’
– Order! The honourable gentleman ‘s time has expired.
-The honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) said that he would not spend very much time rebutting the comments made by the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns), but he spent about 5 minutes asserting that he was not a centralist. He is a humanitarian, and he has proved to us that he is a centralist by the constant notion that somehow or other it is Federal Government money we are talking about and that the States are going to be the beneficiaries of it. In buoyant times, all 7 governments can share the good times, and in hard times such as we are now having all 7 governments have to make sacrifices and practise- self denial, and that is what we are talking about. In his second reading speech the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) made it clear that this Bill authorises the payment of capital grants to the States in 1976-77 totalling $452m. That is the amount which was agreed upon at the June Premiers Conference, so it does not really behove the Opposition in this Parliament to criticise the amount agreed upon, by the 7 governments. These grants represent a continuation of arrangements which were initiated by the Liberal-Country Party Government in June 1970. They provide that portion of State governments’ Loan Council programs should take the form of interest-free non-repayable grants in lieu of what would otherwise be borrowings by the States. The effect of these grants is to relieve the States of debt charges which they would otherwise have to pay, and accordingly the grants have a substantial beneficial effect on the financial position of the States. Of course, in adverse economic times the States feel that, relative to other occasions, they are not as well off as they might be. But the grants were introduced to help the States finance works such as schools, police buildings and the like from which debt charges normally are not recoverable. The States are entirely free to apply these grants as they choose, and no terms and conditions are attached to them in this Bill.
After reciting the history of the grants, the Treasurer observed in his second reading speech that over recent years payments to the States had outstripped the Commonwealth outlays. He also stressed that, at the request of the States, this Bill reverses the Labor Government’s emphasis on section 96 specific purpose grants. The emphasis of this Bill is on general purpose untied grants. This will enable the States to do their own housekeeping and to assess their own priorities. Under the federalism policies of this Government, the State governments are to be accountable to their own constituents for the money which they cause to be raised and which they spend. In these difficult economic circumstances, the States are asked to assess their own priorities and do their own housekeeping. To their great credit, the States have responded to that challenge. Reference has been made to the Premier of South Australia, and certainly he has responded most commendably. In exercising their responsibilities, the States are part of the Commonwealth of Australia and therefore they must assist in resolving our economic problems. They all have shown a greater willingness to do so and a realism which could well be copied, with results, by the Opposition.
This Bill raises matters which are basic to the functioning of the economy. The States all accept that the essential assumptions of this Budget’s strategy are more valid than assumptions and assertions to the contrary. I discussed that strategy last night, and I think it is relevant to this Bill to consider the prospects of recovery in the economy, because our economy has been very sick and it is important to consider the prognosis. The Treasurer indicated in his Budget Speech that there were some signs of recovery. He was cautious, but he said that there were some signs. He pointed to growing private consumption spending in some areas, increased capital spending on plant and equipment, an end to build-up of business stocks, and a strengthening of export growth. Without exaggerating the significance of these signs, I suggest that they are a source of hope and, coupled with this Budget- this Bill’s part of that strategy- should help considerably to restore business confidence. A further encouraging sign is the increased demand for packaging paper, which is always a sign of anticipated orders for a wide range of industries.
I must stress that I am talking only of a start to re-investment. Companies have been paying dividends out of capital for too long to become profitable in a short time. Many companies have become adjusted to working with a lower inventory/sales ratio. This is a very important fact which the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) pointed out yesterday- a fact from which he and his former Government can take no comfort. Companies certainly are not optimistic about orders, and therefore the restocking process will be slow; but it has started. Confidence also should receive a boost from the knowledge that interest rates will not rise and should soon fall. It should be possible to fund the deficit from borrowings from non-bank sources, with the result that interest rates are likely to fall during this financial year. That, of course, will be of benefit to the States as well as to the rest of us. Indeed, long term interest rates already are declining after having virtually doubled during the 3 years of Labor Government.
Even if average weekly earnings rise by a little more than the 12 per cent budgeted for, the Budget estimate of a 20 per cent rise in profits in current price terms should be realisable and should be incentive enough for a beginning to investment programs. In the words of one of Melbourne’s most responsible and respected firms of stockbrokers:
Time may show that the most important contribution of this Budget is the creation of an environment which is very much more favourable to reasonable reward for reasonable effort in the private sector- an environment which was certainly lost in the three years up to December 1 975.
What the Treasurer has achieved and what the Premiers in conjunction with this Government have achieved by the June Premiers Conference is similar to what has happened in the United States. By similar policies the Treasurer has reduced the supply of money without inducing a credit squeeze or a strong upward movement of interest rates. In short, the climate for business confidence and investment now exists and it is up to industry to take advantage of it.
The honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland) and the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore) have both referred to the excellent work done by the Reserve Bank of Australia during the Labor Government’s maladministration They also have observed that the President of the Australian Labor Party, Mr Hawke, is a member of the Reserve Bank Board and must be taken, therefore, to have endorsed the Bank’s remarks. It is noteworthy that the Bank supports the Treasurer totally in his drive to reduce the deficit so sharply. Moreover, the Bank seems even more adamant than the Treasurer that the money supply should grow at a rate which is less than the rate of increase in prices and wages. It makes it clear that the exchange rate will be threatened unless the growth in money wages is reduced. Significantly, it also acknowledges an incipient recovery in the economy. Nonetheless, forward orders and seasonally adjusted figures for industrial production for the period May 1975 to July 1976 testify to the deep-seated nature of our economic ills- the ills which this Government inherited.
Apart from the groups which believe that they should have received government aid prior to others, the principal criticisms of the Budget have rested on the continued unemployment levels and on the apparent attack on real wages. In respect of employment levels, there is a general recognition that unemployment will not fall substantially until inflation is reduced. Nonetheless, there is a widespread view that a higher deficit could have been tolerated in order to stimulate jobs in the building and construction area, especially in New South Wales where unemployment is highest. That, of course, is relevant to this Bill and may be relevant to future discussions between the Premier of New South Wales and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser).
The Treasury believes that any higher deficit would put upward pressure upon interest rates; but, if the deficit were increased by up to $500,000,000 in order to fund selected works programs, such as schools, hospitals and roads which are needed and which will employ people, I believe that the business community would be no less likely to invest and the consumer, being less afraid of unemployment, would be even more likely to spend. That is a matter of judgment, and that comment of mine, which is a view shared by many people on both sides of this chamber, is not a criticism of the Budget. In fact, in terms of the overall strategy of the Budget, it is a mere quibble; but, of course, in human terms it is a very serious matter for those persons who are concerned. It affects not merely tradesmen or labourers in the building and construction area but also architects and engineers who not only are rapidly becoming unemployed but also are leaving Australia, thus depriving us of creative energies, skills and potential export earnings.
In contrast to some honourable members opposite, the New South Wales Premier, Mr Wran, is to be commended for his responsible reply to this Budget. Like the other State Premiers, he is determined to effect more efficiencies in the State administration and to cut services further, if necessary, rather than aggravate inflation by increasing State charges and taxes. It would not be surprising, however, if some special relief had to be given to New South Wales as time goes on and as further Premiers Conferences are held.
Unemployment continues to be a worry for all Australians. We recall that, when he was Minister for Labor and Immigration, Senator James McClelland, a man who acted realistically and responsibly, predicted that the outcome of Labor’s policies would be 400 000 persons unemployed. I mention that merely to rebut the squalid accusations from some honourable members opposite who say that the present Government is seeking to create unemployment. On the contrary, the Fraser Government has been holding the employment situation steady and has prevented Senator McClelland ‘s prophecy from being realised. All but 16 000 of the 230 000 school leavers of last year had been employed by the end of June this year. Contrary to the cheap politics being made by the Opposition, no one in this Government takes any joy out of the continuing high unemployment, especially the huge problem of youth unemployment. I hope to say more about youth training programs when debating the estimates of the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations.
The unemployment figures, it must be seen, are slightly better than they were at this time last year, if one takes into account the number of persons on Regional Employment Development schemes last year. Budget projections indicate that approximately the same number of persons will be unemployed at this time next year. By then, however, the economic recovery should be evident beyond any question and the employment situation should improve thereafter. As employment prospects improve, however, more people- especially married women- will register for employment, and to some extent this will distort the unemployment figures. We do at least have the hopeful sign of an increase in overtime. In fact, in the year ended June 1976 there was a 60 per cent increase in overtime. That adds to the real disposable income of those employed, but unemployment will not be reduced substantially until inflation is reduced and industry is working at near full capacity once more.
Much has been said recently about the Budget strategy being aimed at a reduction in real wages. In fact, the strategy aims at reducing the growth of money wages relative to prices. In 1973-74 wage increases so exceeded price increases that many of our current difficulties began then. Of course, they were aggravated by exchange rate adjustments, the 25 per cent tariff cuts, and the profligate public spending of which we have heard so much in this chamber. Mr Hawke recognises that the wages explosion of 1973-74 caused serious problems. He acknowledged that recently on the television program Monday Conference. He has urged the trade union movement to be content with the maintenance of real wages. Presumably he sees the necessary increase in profits being made through productivity gains. Desirable though it is that profits increase via increased productivity, it is inconceivable that in the present economic circumstances they can do so without some price increases. Consequently it is a delicate matter of judgment whether real wages can be maintained and prices increased- albeit to a minimumwithout seriously threatening the exchange rate. Despite the arguments of those who say that our currency is overvalued, there is no doubt that it has devalued against key currencies by floating downwards and that further devaluation would be inflationary. I do not believe it to be in the national interest for us to devalue.
At the same time, I do believe that it is desirable for real wages to be maintained as much as possible. Critics of the Budget have said that a reduction in real wages is called for by the Budget. They have asserted that wage earners, therefore, would be more inclined to save than to spend. That is, however, an unsubstantiated, although very plausible, assertion. In response it can be asserted incontrovertibly that when real wages grew at phenomenal rates in 1973-74, savings grew correspondingly. None of us has worked out why savings rise to record levels year after year, nor have we discovered how to unlock those savings and how to stop people squirrelling. In those circumstances it seems to me that we are better to try to encourage an investment led recovery, ask the business sector to accept the responsibility and hope consumer spending will follow soon afterwards. Certainly if investment levels return to a level of confidence as a result of strategies adopted by the Government, consumer spending will follow. Investment in new plant and equipment is the key to our recovery. Such investment will increase both productivity and employment opportunities. Industry must now avail itself of the investment allowance and wage earners must be patient.
If those in employment can minimise their wage demands, those unemployed will have a greater chance of gaining a job. In economic terms, each wage increase granted at a time of high inflation begins to erode itself by causing necessary price increases. Wage earners are then no better off and the unemployed are even worse off. Real wages can only really increase when we return to greater productivity and improvement. That brings us back to the need for investment. Whenever a Budget forecasts maximum wage increases, the forecasts have a habit of becoming minima, thus adding to the inflation in grave economic times like these. It is therefore responsible for the Treasury not to encourage average weekly earnings to rise beyond 1 2 per cent in this financial year. I would be surprised, however, if it does not expect a rise slightly beyond this figure. This may explain its caution regarding growth in gross domestic product. I share Treasury’s caution in this regard because I think it is asking too much of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to do better than to appear to be maintaining the real value of existing wage levels.
It is hard to expect rank and file employees to understand the economic argument to which I referred earlier and to see that they may not be able to gain real wage increases just because they get a money amount of wage increases. Economic instability did follow the dramatic increases in wages compared with profits in 1973-74, but the restoration of that stability will be slower than the creation of the instability, precisely because the process cannot easily be reversed. In truth, I cannot believe that the Treasury expects real wages to be reduced; hence its cautious and responsible growth and recovery predictions. A common interpretation of Treasury strategy is that it argues that unemployment helps restrain inflationary wage costs. General observations such as that are fraught with danger.
For years many economic commentators have relied on the famous Phillips curve to postulate that if there was a pool of unemployed, wagecost inflation would be reduced. It is generally accepted now that that proposition is no longer true. Apart from the political odium of such cynicism and the cost to revenue of $500m in unemployment benefits, no government would be seeking to develop a pool of unemployed to reduce wage demands. The fact is that inflation has not struck uniformly. It has not hit in any uniform fashion each sector of industry. There are still pockets of over-full employment, especially in the skilled trades, and there are many categories of unemployment which are well above the average. Many of those who are unemployed have not been members of active unions and so union leaders in other employment categories do not always accept the adage which was enunciated by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) that one man’s pay rise is another man’s job. The fact remains that even in areas where -
– A very wise statement.
– It is a wise general statement but in fact it is ignored by many. The fact remains that even in areas where employers cannot resist over-award claims- because of the borderline nature of the operation, under capacity and a shortage of skilled workforce- the impact of the general level of wages is such that in some other area of employment someone else is retrenched or is not replaced on leaving his employment. It is a difficult matter of union education, and in the case of some of the more militant union leaders it is a point which only the rank and file can really impress upon them. The pressure for the payment of the Medibank levy by some militant unions upon employers with limited capacity to resist at present provides an illustration of how the general level of wages may rise beyond the guidelines of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and to the detriment of the employment situation.
It is commonly accepted that the September quarter increase in the consumer price index will be comparable to the 2.5 per cent movement in June, and that the December quarter will provide the Budget and the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission with a real test. Both will have to meet that situation then and it would not be responsible for me to speculate on that now. Suffice it to say that between now and any wage case in the new year which will seek to apply the December quarter movement, the Budget will have had a chance to work and critics of the Budget will be then able to be judged on their criticism. The Budget strategy will then have restored business and consumer confidence, I believe, although again we should be careful not to treat those terms as though they have any more uniform application than the principles flowing from the old Phillips curve. In fact, business confidence and consumer confidence apply as disuniformly as the Phillips curve does now. Thus, those consumers with secure employment prospects will start to spend money when they detect more overall confidence, despite the fact that in certain job categories unemployment may remain high. Business will make correspondingly disuniform investment decisions until the recovery in certain sectors of industry stimulates recovery elsewhere.
Nonetheless, no one should be under any delusions. There will not be a complete economic recovery for 18 months to 2 years. That is the magnitude of the ills which this Government has inherited. During that period the strategy adopted consistently by this Government will need modification as community responses demand. The general strategy must be administered with flexibility. Thus, for example, while the relationship between inflation and unemployment is undeniable, it must not be viewed too strictly. When the supplementary statements to the Budget assert that jobs are expected to expand at a rate slower than the rate expected for the expansion of the workforce, there is a clear need for flexibility to assist school leavers and categories of unemployed to find jobs, even if the means of creating jobs slows down still further to a rate below the rate of economic recovery.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-If I may say so, Mr Deputy Speaker, you have been very indulgent to the previous speaker. I would at least like to indicate the title of this Bill. It is to grant financial assistance to the States in connection with expenditure of a capital nature and to authorise the borrowings of certain moneys by the Commonwealth. My friend who has just spoken is comparatively a new boy to this place. Nevertheless, I think it is pretty rough, candidly, if the honourable member can make what is really a Budget speech on what is a specific Bill. I would like to confine myself as far as possible to the terms of this Bill and to put it in what I think is its rather narrow perspective. I would like to begin with much the same 2 paragraphs as my friend began with, although he got a long way away from them in the end. I quote from the second reading speech of the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson):
The effect of the grants is to relieve the States of debt charges which they would otherwise have to pay, and the f rants accordingly have a substantial beneficial effect on the States’ financial positions.
I would like to take those latter works of his and say that I dispute that this measure has any very substantial beneficial effect on the States’ financial positions. If I may go further and quote the next phrase, as did my friend:
The grants were introduced to help the States ‘ finance works such as schools, police buildings . . .
At least I admire the conjunction. I suggest that the less you spend on school buildings the more likely you will have to spend on police buildings. It is a magnificent juxtaposition of the incongruous, to use Haslett’s phrase, if I may, and the like which has not been described beyond that point.
I think it is time we got a little perspective in this House about the financial measures that come before it. One thing that the House is presently debating is Appropriation Bill (No. 1 ). I suggest that within a few minutes of the House disposing of that it will go on with Appropriation Bill (No. 2) which it will appropriately dispose of, probably without debate.
– Do you think it will get through the Senate?
– I would hope so. I have no great respect for the Senate in financial matters. I hope that sometimes people will read section 53 of the Constitution intelligently and will not allow for the implication of words that are not there and will not distort the meaning of words that are there. My understanding of the section is that when it says that in all other matters the Senate has equal powers it means in the paramountcy of financial matters that it has no powers and to my mind that is the sensible interpretation. But the highest legal luminary, if I may say so, is lending credence to the belief- because the words are not there- that the Senate may not reject a money Bill, therefore the words could be there. The honourable member for Holt (Mr Yates), who is interjecting belonged to the Mother of Parliaments- the House of Commons- which long ago sensibly established which House should have paramountcy in financial matters. When a House starts to invoke in 1975, and carries into 1 976, powers that were discarded nearly 200 years ago in the Parliament on which we model ourselves I think it is time that this House asserted its rights against the other place.
– Order! The honourable member did mention earlier that I had been very indulgent. I intend to be indulgent. If the honourable member would keep to the Bill, as he has suggested other speakers should do, I would be very pleased.
– I will keep to the Bill in this respect, that it provides in one column for a sum of $452m and in another column for a sum of $226m which add up to the grand total, as is described specifically in clause 6 of the Bill, of $678m. First, I would like to put that total in the perspective of total Commonwealth expenditure of $24 billion- $24,000m. Again putting this in perspective, Appropriation Bill (No. 1 ) provides for a total expenditure of $7.5 billion, or to be precise an amount of $7,502,130,000. Appropriation Bill (No. 2) provides for total expenditure on the capital account, and if I may say so, separated again only for the reasons that the Senate has been more strenuous in defending what it thinks are its rights against the House of Representatives in that it separates what are called ordinary annual expenditure and capital expenditure. The sum in that Bill is $ 1 ,725,446,000. Out of a total of $24 billion the 2 appropriations amount to $9.2 billion. If I may say so, that is the only sanction this Parliament, in both places, gives in a total expenditure of $24 billion. To those who are prepared to defend what another place did on a recent occasion I say that all you do in these 2 Bills is basically to legitimise the payment of money to people whom you cannot sack, payments to the defence forces which you do not want to reduce, but the remainder goes on independently of either House. I again think this is one good reason why section 53 needs reassessment.
In relation to this measure- and I come back to this- does anybody candidly believe that the measure that is now before us has the effect which the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) underlines- a substantial beneficial effect on the States’ financial position? Let me look at the voluminous material that is provided with the Budget papers. I think a lot of people have read it. One of the annual Budget documents- it has been given now for a good number of years- Budget Paper No. 7 headed ‘Payments to or for the States and Local Government Authorities 1976-77’. It shows on page 6 the grand total of funds for States and local government authorities on a net basis estimated for 1976-77 at $9,077m. If I may say so again, the amount of $452m shown in column 2 of this Bill is 5 per cent of the total. I hope some honourable members will read the curious clause in this Bill, clause 6 (2 ). It reads:
The aggregate amount of moneys that may be borrowed under sub-section ( 1 ) is reduced by the sum of the moneys
These words are carefully in brackets - (if any) borrowed by the Treasurer in accordance with subsection 6 ( 1) of the States Grants (Capital Assistance) Act 1976 . . .
Apparently all honourable members opposite are sitting there piously substantiating the Treasurer’s belief that this measure will ‘have a substantial beneficial effect on the States’ financial position’. As the apostrophe is placed after the s it means all the States. Candidly I suggest this is nonsense. What we are getting in this House is confusion over bookkeeping. Would anybody suggest that if this measure were not before us there would not be some difference in some of these other categories of expenditure? But because it is nicely segregated- and I think segregation in this country as in another place is confusion rather than illumination honourable members opposite are saying patronisingly, ‘We are bearing the interest burden for the States’. If the Government did not do this it would have to give the States more money under some of those other categories rather interestingly described in this document as ‘specific payments’, ‘general revenue assessment’ and ‘general purpose capital funds’. I suggest we ought to get away from humbug in these debates. I think the honourable member for Balaclava could well have spent his time debating the substance of this measure rather than preparing a speech he was not able to make or has yet not been able to make on the Budget.
This legislation is a very small part of the totality of government expenditure. It may be a significant contribution to the starved States but I can think of no more humbug at the moment than this doctrine that has been called new federalism. I happen to believe, and believe quite categorically, that uniform taxation is the most sensible thing ever introduced as far as Australia is concerned.
-I thought the honourable member would not have needed to ask that question. At least it makes it so that any individual in Australia whether he is in Tasmania, the northern parts of Western Australia, Queensland or in the electorate of the honourable member, given the same economic circumstance, makes the same total contribution in terms of what is regarded as the most equitable tax of all- personal income tax. If the honourable member needs to ask why, I would like to know what the contrary explanation is. I suggest to honourable members opposite that at the moment the States, upon which they are trying to foist this system, are anything but satisfied about the likely consequences.
– But they want it.
– If my friend wants to argue this, I am prepared to talk quietly and privately to him at a later stage. In my limited time, I affirm what I said earlier, namely, that uniform taxation in my view is the most sensible thing for Australia. I do not think we can get away from this in the tax field any more than we can in the economic field. We heard a lot of talk yesterday about a wage policy. In the finish, that boils down to how we divide the total economic product equitably between those who are employees and those who are employers. There is no easy final answer to that, nor is there any easy, simple answer to what the States should get out of the total financial cake which I believe is most sensibly collected in a single hand at the Australian level.
I repeat that the measure before us now is a piece of bookkeeping. It is no more and no less than that. The Treasurer’s pious declaration that it has a substantial beneficial effect on the States’ financial position is incorrect. I hope that any other honourable member who follows me in this debate will not talk about the employment level and what happened somewhere else, but will justify the statement that this measure has a substantial beneficial effect on the States’ collective financial position. I would suggest this is nonsense. The States will never be satisfied. Nobody is ever satisfied when he does not have to collect but only has to spend. When I was a student many years ago in the Melbourne University when this sort of thing was emerging, my lecturers used to describe something they called the vicious principle. The vicious principle was that those who spent money should be responsible for collecting it. I think that this would be the case in a working federal system. I hope that this is what this Parliament is about. If I may go back to where I began, let me say that I am not quite sure that the Senate is deeply appreciative of the intricacies of a federal system. But in a federal system, the acknowledgment is that God in his infinite wisdom- if there are believers in this place- did not bestow economic resources quite equally among all the States. The federal system is one of the means of using the strength of the stronger to help the deficiencies of the weaker.
– My friend opposite said that this is socialism. I cannot see anything wrong with that as a principle. Candidly, I believe that the whole of democratic government in the finish is about equity and fair sharing. We can get into all sorts of interesting debates, when there are not extreme poverty and extreme wealth, as to whether direct taxes are necessarily the best form of raising revenue. I would be interested some time to discuss that thesis. Nevertheless, the game is about equity. I am sorry that the previous speaker, the honourable member for Balaclava, has now left the chamber. He referred to the subject of currency devaluation. I happen to have been a former Treasurer. I believe that the present Treasurer could come into the House tonight and emphatically deny that he was going to alter the exchange rate but tomorrow he might have to do that. I do not think that is the situation. But on the other hand, I do not think it is a thing that should become the subject of speculation in the community. I believe that what we take as the sensible interpreter of economic facts in Australia, the Australian Financial Review, has been very recreant in its treatment of this sensitive issue. I believe that even sacred cows can occasionally tread on the wrong toes and the wrong people can be advantaged by speculation concerning changes in exchange rates. I think that, if anything, the speculators lean in the direction of the wrong distribution of the total social product.
As far as this measure is concerned, I do not think that the thesis is proved that it will have a substantial beneficial effect on the financial situation of the States. The elements are still the same. The States have a variety of needs. They are like everybody else. They have to do more than they have the resources to provide. But we happen to be the ones handing out the money.
-The debate on the States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill has been an interesting one, maybe more interesting for me personally because I have the opportunity of following a renowned economist in the person of the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean). Tonight I would pay tribute to him for giving once again to this House another disciplined speech. However, it was a speech tinged with just a certain element of bitterness. I want to say publicly that when the forces of the Left finally get his number and he departs from this chamber and is replaced by Mr Robert Hawke, it will certainly be to the detriment of this Parliament. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports has brought a distinguished outlook to this Parliament. But I was astounded by bis approach. He said that the contribution by a central government of $452m free of interest- which would be roughly 8 per centwas of no importance. I am not accustomed to talking in terms of millions of dollars. But I would have thought that that would be of some significance to the States. I am glad to see that the honourable member is agreeing with my outlook. As an admirer of his I was slightly disappointed. He stood up for decency and honesty.
He was unwittingly replaced as Treasurer when things were not going too badly. Things rapidly slipped downhill when he was replaced by the radical element in his Party.
He referred to humbug federalism. It astounded me to hear that remark from a distinguished gentlemen. I would have expected it from the honourable member’s successors in the Treasury portfolio, but I was somewhat aghast when he supported the amendment. I say this because to my mind an analysis of the amendment motion for the second reading of the States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill moved by the shadow Treasurer expresses somewhat implicitly that the reason for the opposition to this Bill is that the measure will reduce inflation. The Opposition did not add this particular rider to its amendment but one cannot but place that interpretation on the various premises that have been noted in the amendment. How any member of a political party, in the difficult economic climate we are facing today, can move an amendment in the national Parliament criticising a government because it is endeavouring to overcome the great economic ill that faces usinflation is beyond my comprehension.
– They do not understand.
– I should have thought that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports would understand. I know that the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) will be upset when the in-fighting in the Labor Party succeeds in removing the honourable member for Melbourne Ports and replaces him with the de facto Leader of the Opposition, Mr Bob Hawke.
Traditionally, a States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill has been one of the Budget Bills brought down following an initiative of the Liberal-Country Party Government at the June 1970 meeting of the Australian Loan Council. The reason for the initiative are very well known; there is no need for me to spell them out here. But in an era where responsibility and respectability are now once again the vogue after 3 years of extravagance and puffery, it is appropriate to have those 1970 principles once again enshrined in Hansard. Good principles are worth emphasising because they lead to a growing awareness among the people of the fact that the upholder of those principles, in this instance the Federal Government, is cognisant of the balanced government we have in Australia as between Federal, State and local governments.
The capital grants under this Bill are primarily designed to ease the interest burden on the States in financing their capital works such as schools, police stations, forestry activities, court houses, some hospitals- those that are excluded from the Medibank arrangements- children’s homes, orphanages and dams- all items for which debt charges are not normally recoverable. This is a most worthwhile consideration as roughly half of the interest burden of State government Budgets is not recoverable by charges on trading funds and trading accounts.
This principle of capital grants as part of the total Loan Council program initiated by the Liberal-Country Party Government in 1970 is being continued under this Budget proposal wherein one-third of the total program of $l,356m agreed to at the June 1976 Premiers Conference is being made available as a grant. Previous legislators were alarmed at the trend that had evolved wherein the debt of the Commonwealth per head of population was decreasing in comparison with the position of the States which was continually increasing. This was an intolerable trend in a Commonwealth which was designed on the basis of a partnership between the Commonwealth, the States and the people. Public debt and net public debt are not readily identifiable aggregates because of the vagaries of categorising important areas of State debt- for example, advances for housing made by the Commonwealth to the States under housing agreements. Other examples are specific purpose capital payments made to the States on terms and conditions involving the payment of interest and the repayment of capital to the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth also issues securities overseas on behalf of its instrumentalities and makes loans to private corporations from domestic fund sources. For the purposes of comparison, on a yearly basis, Budget Paper No. 6, table No. 8, at page 27, details the position.
Government securities on issue is a precise legal and financial concept, and an examination of it reflects the effectiveness of the government of the day as the occupier of the Treasury bench. The fiscal policies of the Whitlam Administrationan Administration void of responsibility, barren in economic policy and lacking in essential will to develop and maintain dignity in existenceled to a massive issue of securities per head of population, that is debt, from $441.12 per head in 1975 to $660.19 in 1976. This is a record debt per head of population in Australia since Federation. We as a nation were obviously being consumed by economic cancer. Fortunately during these crisis years there were Premiers like the honourable Joh Bjelke-Petersen from Queensland who were aware that the Labor Administration was catapulting us into the bottomless pit of disaster. Joh BjelkePetersen showed economic restraint, exercised balanced judgment and, not withstanding the centralised forces that tried to destroy him by making him bankrupt, was able to marshal his resources to such an extent that there has been an improvement in the debt per head of population from $893.43 in 1975 to $848.94 in 1976 in the States which followed his example. One can recall vividly the hyprocisy of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) when he was the Prime Minister. His behaviour at the June 1974 Premiers Conference evidenced this hyprocisy. At that Conference he made a plea to the States for restraint. He promised them that the Federal Government would be alongside them as they all tightened their belts to fight off accelerating inflation.
-Who said that?
– The Leader of the Opposition said that in June 1974. What a friend and ally. He was alongside them all right- tightening the belt and choking them through financial strangulation while he went merrily on his way at home and overseas spending recklessly the public purse. His policy in regard to the States inflamed inflation as the States had to implement compensating increases in State taxes and charges to counter the huge building cost increases fuelled by the central Government’s monetary policy. Obviously he said one thing and meant another. This statement is particularly clarified when we recall the infamous Arab loan dealings- conduct which lead to a great act of courage and statesmanship from a great Australian, the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, who acted completely correctly in fact and in law in allowing the Australian people to be the arbiters in the matter.
The Leader of the Opposition tried to bypass the Loan Council, using the excuse that a loan for 20 years was for temporary purposes. The Loan Council is constituted under the Financial Agreement between the Commonwealth and each of the State governments. Under the terms of the agreement, borrowings by the Commonwealth and State governments, except for temporary and defence purposes, are subject to approval by the Loan Council. This is one of the conditions. Conditions must be observed. Conventions must be upheld. But this view is not shared by the Leader of the Opposition. The present Government is vastly different. In this Bill recognition is given to this. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch) has freed the tied hands; the States are able to be masters of their own destiny. They are able to use a greater proportion of their total Commonwealth finance as they see fit. The people on the spot are able to make the decisions. They can decide what is urgent and what is not, what is necessary and what is unnecessary. Specific purpose assistance and its associated control and directives have been diminished. In their place the sovereign States now receive general purpose untied funds. Quite obviously we on this side of the House believe in the proposition that not all wisdom resides in Canberra.
Inflation control was the keynote of the Budget address. The States are being asked in this Bill to play their part as partners to harness the continued upward push of trends which erode the real value of the dollar. The Commonwealth is not the overlord in this fight; it relies on cooperation not coercion, sacrifice not spending, and responsibility not rashness in its relationships with the States to build a sound base of both justice and interdependence in economic management. Therefore the net increase of S per cent provided by this Bill, in the allocation this year of $ 1,356m as compared to last year’s allocation of $ 1,291m, allows the States to join the Commonwealth in restricting expenditure and gives encouragement to the States to pursue the ceaseless battle to get better value for each dollar expended. It should be realised that costs in the general building industry have increased by more than 20 per cent in the last year.
One, of course, must repeat what has been stated already, because it is so very important in the overall strategy, namely, that local government will have an allocation of $ 140m to help it carry out its many and growing responsibilities. There will be an increase of $643.4m or 20.9 per cent, as compared with 1975-76, in the States’ estimated entitlement under the personal income tax sharing arrangements. Under our Government the State and local governments rightly will be restored to the eminent position they previously enjoyed in the hierarchy of rule.
Local government in future will require very special study. The allocation of finance on a per capita basis and a needs basis has to be applauded. But the problem of local government is much deeper than that. The time is ripe, I submit, to ease the burden on property owners of being the principal providers of finance for the operation of local councils. The proposition possibly had some validity in the early days of settlement; but times and circumstances have changed. Property owners ought to have the yoke made somewhat lighter. Rates have to be paid in good years and bad- when the floods come and when the rains do not come, and when rust and disease wipe out a whole crop or herd.
Statistics reveal that a new class of relative poor is emerging in our society, and that is the class of the small landholder and farmer whom time has passed by. His income is well below the basic wage, but in many instances he is levied huge sums of money to provide amenities such as swimming pools, community halls and art centres. Parallel with his declining position is the continually improving position of many young people who receive good wages and conditions and who use, and in some instances abuse, public amenities. They are not called upon to contribute in the direct sense to local government, although they are in a position to own motor cars and to use roads. Quite obviously times have changed, but our outlook in keeping the burden of financing local authorities on property owners is still based on the horse and buggy era- the days when property owners were considered wealthy.
Our young people quite often are criticised unjustly, but I have been impressed by the ready way they respond when trust is placed in them. Of course we who represent rural electorates are fortunate that we represent the young people who are still very close to pioneering stock and who have not been subject to all the pressures from the metropolitan areas. The young people to whom I have spoken recognise the validity of the argument that where facilities are provided by local authorities they, even though they are not property owners, should be sharers directly in the financial repayments.
Specific purpose grants are referred to in the Bill and deserve comment. The particular one to which I wish to refer is for conservation- both soil and water. There are problems in certain dam completions in Queensland- an area where, because of the great response of the rich soils to irrigation, water is looked upon as liquid gold. There is much conjecture as to whether dams are to be the responsibility of the States under our proposals for doing away with Canberra control of resources and income and meddling in State affairs; but cold hard implementation of inequitable revenue sharing arrangements has to take into account water resource projects that are almost completed or commitments that have been made.
I refer to the Monduran and Kinchant Dams and Stage 2 of the Leslie Dam at Warwick. The enormous benefits which will flow from the completion of these dams cannot be disregarded. Their early completion will maximise the potential of these areas. Over the next few months other speakers on this side of the House will comment, no doubt, on the first 2 dams I mentioned. Therefore I want to confine my comments to the completion of Stage 2 of the Leslie Dam. This Dam, which can be completed at an estimated cost of $4.3m, differs from most other dams insofar as the project is not designed to increase irrigated production in the area but is intended to reduce an expected fall; that is, the project is in effect a loss avoidance scheme.
The major benefits of the scheme thus take the form of a reduction in the future decline expected in crop production due to smaller supplies of water provided by the aquifers in the upper Condamine River basin. The farmers in this area already are heavily committed in capital investment, machinery, irrigation equipment and techniques and land. The soil is among the most fertile of the arable lands of the world and grows all types of cereals, grains, seeds and oilseeds almost to perfection. Double cropping is practised extensively without any deleterious effect on the soil texture and condition. Stage 2 of the Leslie Dam when completed will make available sufficient irrigation water to allow the cropping of 4757 hectares.
This scheme is a special scheme and unless its completion is expedited the economy of the whole area will collapse. Irrigation is both its base and its prop. It also will save pumping costs for certain riparian landholders and allow other farmers to take advantage of irrigation. The aquifer system in the area is of the utmost importance, and investigations are being carried out by the Queensland Irrigation and Water Supply Commission into the feasibility of artificially recharging the system. From investigations carried out up to the present time, a real return of 10 per cent is considered to be the order of magnitude of the most likely outcome. This project has been delayed for too long, and it should be completed as a matter of urgency.
I support the States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill (No. 2) and reject completely and out of hand the amendment proposed by the Opposition. If it were accepted by this Parliament we would have absolutely no future; I doubt that we would have a present; instead of walking on bitumen we would be walking on egg shells.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. I call the honourable member for Angas.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, this Bill -
– No, I am next.
– I am sorry; I thought I got the call.
-Order! A point of order is being raised by the honourable member for Hunter.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I sent advice to the Deputy Speaker who was in the chair before you that I would be speaking and I understood, through an intermediary, that I received his concurrence. I hope that I have not upset any arrangement.
– In view of that I am certain that the honourable member for Angas will defer to the honourable member for Hunter.
– Certainly, Mr Deputy Speaker.
-I thank the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) for his courtesy. The purpose of the States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill (No. 2), as we know, is to authorise payment of capital grants totalling $452m to the States in 1976-77. 1 was elated to hear the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) say in his second reading speech, at the second paragraph on page 2:
The grants were introduced to help the States finance works such as schools, police buildings and the like from which debt charges are not normally recovered.
The Treasurer then went on to the details. I intend to submit in this debate that this Parliament is entitled to have a look at the States, how they run their affairs and how they operate their laws, particularly their company laws. I submitted to the Parliament some time ago that a shadowy company in Sydney called Parkes Developments Pty Ltd had obtained money from the New South Wales Police Superannuation- the New South Wales State Superannuation Board -
– Get it from the police and you are doing well.
– I do not know how the honourable member would know that. Parkes Developments Pty Ltd obtained from the New South Wales Superannuation Board, at a minimum interest rate, money to build the new police headquarters in College Street, Sydney. The Police Department occupied the building and the company rented it to the Department at a charge of approximately $1,000 a week- after obtaining the money from the New South Wales Government at a very low rate of interest.
The matters that I intend to submit to the Parliament are financial matters of grave importance to the investing public in Australia. There is evidence that in the past the New South Wales Government manipulated things in favour of Mafia-type organisations that have been able, through our present company laws, to fleece the Australian public of millions of dollars. This organisation has been controlled mainly by a set of gentlemen who migrated to this country from Hungary. One of them started out as a septic tank salesman and could be described as the largest sewer rat of them all. He is none other than the infamous Alexander Barton, who is in Paraguay as an absconder from justice. These gentlemen were able to obtain millions of dollars by way of loans from the New South Wales State Superannuation Board to build office buildings in Sydney and then rent them or sell them back to the New South Wales Government, which was controlled at the time by the Premier, Sir Robert Askin. Many of these gentlemen were knighted by Sir Robert. He is now on the board of a company, by favour of one of them, but certainly not for his expertise.
One of these gentlemen, namely a Mr Charody, accompanied Sir Robert on an overseas journey, and while behind the Iron Curtain in Budapest these gentlemen quartered Sir Robert in a luxury hotel used as the headquarters of the Shah of Iran when he visits the country. They gave Sir Robert Askin, the top New South Wales Liberal, top drawer treatment. This Mafia empire was apparently started by the flotation of mining companies, mostly set up in the office which was once controlled by the New South Wales Attorney-General, Sir Kenneth McCaw and which is still known as McCaw, Johnson and Co. These gentlemen even gave 5000 shares at par, at 10c a share, to the New South Wales Premier and 10 000 shares to his lieutenant, Mr Waddy, M.L.A., in a company called Gem Exploration. What a gem! It is reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of Wednesday, 8 April 1970, that both these gentlemen did very well out of the deal.
-So did you.
– The honourable member would not say that if he knew my financial position. In fact, they made a monster of a killing on the Sydney Stock Exchange. The firm of McCaw, Johnson and Co. was employed almost exclusively in forming dozens of companies for these gentlemen. Sir Peter Abeles, featured in today’s Press as returning to Australia from Italy, was able to cop a fortune out of a worthless mining company known as Halls Peak. Another of these gentlemen, described by his friend, Mr Abeles, as ‘ my son ‘, to which he replied ‘ I am your stupid son’, a Mafia term, was a close associate of
Alexander Barton and is now before the courts in Sydney. This same gentleman was reported in the Sydney Press as having been arrested in Norfolk Island with 1.8 million -
Mr Sullivan What?
-Australian dollars. This gentleman was arrested with $1.8m stacked on their sides. I understand that the police fingers got tired counting the dollars. They locked the money in a cell and could not sleep during the night in case someone got away with the money. This gentleman had in his possession on Norfolk Island $ 1.8m in a suitcase. This same gentleman was described by his close friend, Mr Abeles, in 1972 as a beachcomber.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I am asking the Government to make sure that these gentlemen are not allowed to leave the country until the taxation authorities are satisfied that they have met all their obligations to them and the charges that have been brought against them by the New South Wales Corporate Affairs Commission are completed. There is mounting evidence that these gentlemen are preparing to flee the country. We learnt from the Press the other day that one of the persons to whom I have referred, Mr Csidei, was granted bail of $10,000 by a magistrate because he wants to go overseas. He is the man who was on Norfolk Island with $1.8m in a suitcase. He was on his way to New Zealand to an untold destination.
This is the State in respect of which I have asked questions in the past concerning the way in which it runs its affairs. The New South Wales Corporate Affairs Commission has not completed its inquiries and there is mounting evidence that these gentlemen are preparing to leave Australia. One is facing no less than 67 charges by the Corporate Affairs Commission. Alexander Barton is starting to sing. He has said he will talk if he is brought back to Australia. I believe if he is encouraged to come back now he will reach heights unprecedented by the Great Caruso. He will sing about some of the top Liberals in the State of New South Wales and in the Commonwealth. He will fill the Sydney Opera House if he is allowed to talk. He will fill the docks of the Criminal Court in Sydney and the honourable member for Phillip (Mr Birney) will not be short of a brief for many years to appear before the courts and defend these people.
– We have heard that smart business from you over there. All the days of our lives in this Parliament, ever since you have been sitting here, we have heard garbage and muck.
This Parliament has been denigrated by men like you.
– You go back to where you came from, out there.
– Order! The honourable member for Phillip will resume his seat. Is the honourable member taking a point of order?
– Yes, I will take a point of order.
– Will the honourable member get round to the point of order?
– The point of order is quite clearly that whether or not a person has been accused of a crime, this Parliament, I would hope, all the days of days life, would stand for the principle that any such person is presumed to be innocent until such time as he is proven guilty.
– Order! There is no substance to the point of order.
– And this man over here -
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.
– . . . this dishonourable person would accuse a man of a crime before he has been charged before a court.
-Order! The honourable member is not raising a point of order. Before I call the honourable member for Hunter to resume his speech I would remind him that the Bill before us is entitled The States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill. I presume that the honourable member for Hunter is attempting to take the point that whilst the Australian Government grants money to the States, that money should not find its way into other people ‘s hands.
– That is correct, and I am pointing out how these people run their financial affairs.
– I ask the honourable member to speak to the Bill.
– I take a point of order. By way of an addendum I will agree with the sentiments that the Chair has expressed in this House tonight.
– Apparently some people have a touch of sensitiveness about this matter. If Alexander Barton comes back to Australia and sings he might incriminate certain people and they may be close the the honourable member for Phillip.
– I take another point of order. If I did represent him, I would take the case on the basis that he is innocent until he is proven guilty. That is why this Parliament is sitting here tonight and will always be sitting, please God, for the rest of our lives. The honourable member for Hunter presumes that he is guilty. I presume that he is innocent.
-Order! Unless the honourable member for Phillip resumes his seat I will be forced to take certain action which I am loath to do. If the honourable member for Phillip claims that the honourable member for Hunter is making imputations against his integrity and honesty, I suggest that the honourable member for Hunter should withdraw those imputations.
– I was not making such imputations, but if the honourable member for Phillip interprets my remarks in that way I certainly will withdraw them. If one can give credence to reports that have been issued almost daily in the Sydney Sun by Terry Hays in Paraguay, Alexander Barton is prepared to sing louder and clearer than those wonderful and talented Hungarian singers who visisted Australia last year, namely Elizabeth Hazy and Gyorgy Melix.
– On a point of order, I think he should be speaking to the motion.
– I am speaking to the motion. I am talking about the financial affairs of the States.
– As long as the honourable member for Hunter maintains that text in his speech he will be in order, but he is getting slightly astray.
– I would not put the Chair in an embarrassing position by asking it to rule in my favour if I considered that I was wrong. The Government should do all in its power to see that Barton is encouraged to come back to Australia so that the public can get a clear look at how New South Wales has run its financial affairs in the past. I am certain that if he comes back to this country he will unearth the real ‘Godfather’ who has been masterminding the company frauds in Sydney over recent years. At present there are companies under invesigation in Sydney that have losses totally over $300m. If we can restore -
– I rise to another point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I say again that the honourable member for Hunter is not speaking to the motion. He is digressing completely from the motion that is before the Chair and is once again denigrating the character of people who are presumed innocent under the laws of British justice until such time as they are brought to trial.
– That a point of order. We are bound by the Standing Orders.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to speak to the point of order. I am one of the few honourable members who have been in the chamber throughout the entire debate on this Bill. The Chair has decided during this debate that as long as the matter being spoken of by those taking part in the debate relates to a State administration for which funds are being made available it is in order to debate that matter. Many speakers in this debate have ranged wide under that heading. I believe that the honourable member for Phillip is doing nothing but take the time of the honourable member for Hunter, who is quite properly talking about a matter of administration that is within the responsibility of the States.
– I shall give a ruling on this matter. I understand that the debate has been fairly wide-ranging.
– No, it has not.
– I am informed by the Clerk that it has been fairly wide-ranging. Whilst the honourable member for Hunter is straying slightly from the terms of the Bill, I think he is attempting to make a point, as he said before, about grants made by the Australian Government to the States. I call the honourable member for Hunter.
– The Bill also provides for the payment of capital grants in the first 6 months of 1 977-78 up to an amount equal to one-half of the 1976-77 amount pending the passage of legislation to authorise the grants. If confidence could be restored to our stock exchanges there would be less need for money to be obtained from the Commonwealth or for American dollars or petrodollars to be sought. The workers of this country have over $ 13,000m in savings accounts earning very low rates of interest. They are afraid to invest until confidence is restored. Every endeavour ought to be made promptly to catch and gaol the company crooks before they get out of the country. One must agree on the evidence available, including Alexander Barton’s statement in the Sydney Sun of 30 August 1976, that there has been a massive cover-up by several Sydney businessmen. It is up to this Parliamentthe national Parliament- to enact sound company legislation in Australia. We should be showing the States the way.
The Bank of New South Wales must accept its share of guilt over the affairs of the Barton companies. The Bank of New South Wales has been foolish enough to lend its name to the prospectuses issued by many of these crooked companies. It certainly gave Mr Barton every assistance, as was stated in the last Barton report issued. We should use the Commonwealth banking powers to make it obligatory that banks do not lend their names to the issue of company prospectuses unless they are satisfied as to the bona fides of the parties issuing prospectuses.
The honourable member for Phillip spoke in this Parliament tonight as if he were addressing a criminal court jury. The national Parliament is the people’s Parliament and the people are entitled to know the things that I have disclosed tonight. I hope that this is still a country of free speech. A desperate and feeble attempt has been made tonight by the honourable member for Phillip to suppress me from disclosing the activities of this bunch of international crooks. He is a oncer in this Parliament. He will not remain here very long. I would not like grossly to offend him, but he should go back to the place whence he came immediately before he entered this Parliament.
– I rise to another point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am sure that it was anticipated by every honourable member present in the House. I would be recalcitrant in my duty if I did not raise such a point of order.
– I ask the honourable member for Phillip to come to the terms of his point of order.
– The point of order is this: The honourable member for Hunter has been talking so much twaddle.
– I interrupt to say that that is not grounds for raising a point of order.
– I have not been a member of this chamber for very long. I may go ere long. But all he has done since he has been in the Parliament is to grow old and fat.
– Order! Unless the honourable member states the grounds of his point of order I will ask him to resume his seat.
– The point of order is well taken.
-Order! The honourable member for Phillip has taken exception to the last remarks of the honourable member for Hunter. I do not think that exception can be taken to them because all the honourable member for Hunter said was that the honourable member for Phillip should go back to that honourable profession from which he came. I do not think that he can take exception to that.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, that is obviously a remark that must be withdrawn because there has been no suggestion from either side of the Parliament that I should do so.
– I rule that the remarks made by the honourable member for Hunter were not offensive. Honestly, I cannot see anything offensive in them. I cannot uphold the point of order.
– I think that the previous speaker- the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James)- brought a most enlightening and entertaining vaudeville element into this debate. I understand from most impeccable sources that he is suffering from the disability of having one crushed leg. I think that we should recognise that the excruciating pain from which he is suffering may have clouded his vision somewhat as to the substance of this Bill and the substance of this debate. I have noticed in standing order 60 that, by the indulgence of the House, an honourable member who is unable conveniently to stand by reason of sickness or infirmity may be permitted to speak while sitting. At one stage I was so filled with compassion that I nearly moved that that concession be granted to the honourable member.
I think it is pertinent and relevant that I should return to the substance of the States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill. I support the Bill and oppose the amendment. The Bill gives effect to the allocation of a total of $452m to the States under the Loan Council program for 1976-77. It represents an interest free non-repayable grant covering a third of the Loan Council program for 1976-77. It represents an interest free nonrepayable grant covering a third of the Loan Council program, being in total $ 1,356m for the current financial year. The Loan Council program is a major source of funds for capital works in the States. It provides assistance against debt charges and non-revenue producing works, such as schools. As such, in spite of what some previous speakers have said, I do consider it to be a significant contributor to State finances. The Bill also provides the States with the opportunity freely to apply these grants as they choose, which is unlike the situation under the previous Administration in relation to which there were substantial strings and disabilities attached to such grants.
The Bill is indeed consistent with our federalism policy, the most significant component of which is Stage 1 of the tax sharing formula, whereby an increase of 2 1 per cent on last year’s allocation has been made in this Budget. This is one of the most significant developments that have occurred in Commonwealth-State relations since Federation. It provides a guaranteed base for funding for the States and alleviates the undignified scramble and hassle over funds that we have seen regularly over the years at Premiers Conferences. The States will in fact receive $93m more than they did in 1975-76 under the former Government’s formula, including the increased betterment factor, which would have been 3 per cent. Overall, the allocations to the States under the tax sharing formula represent 33.6 per cent of the personal income tax collections. That is a highly significant figure. It is the largest proportion of tax collections in the Budget. I would agree wholeheartedly with the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) on the vicious principle. In fact, the vicious principle is embodied in stage 2 of the tax sharing formula about which he said- or his mentor said- that those who pay should also have to collect. I think we can compliment the NSW Premier, Mr Wran. Rather we should have been able to bring that to his notice during his pre-election campaign.
Another component of the federalism formula is the provision of specific purpose payments under section 96 grants. These cover, of course, a wide variety of areas such as education, health, homes for the aged, housing, industry assistance, etc. There has been over recent years a very substantial increase in special purpose grants. In 1974-75 this increase amounted to about 90 per cent and in 1975-76 about 40 per cent. However, under our federalism arrangements, these extremely forward looking and most significant arrangements, it is not the Government’s policy to dictate to the States in the minute detail that we saw under the previous Administration. We believe that there has been excessive duplication and wastage. It is relevant to go back to the Prime Minister’s statement at the June 1973 Premiers Conference. He said:
From now on we will expect to be involved in the planning of the function in which we are financially involved. We believe that it would be irresponsible for the national Government to content itself with simply providing funds without being involved in the process by which priorities are met and by which expenditures are planned and by which standards are met.
However, it went a lot further than that. It went a lot further than simply being involved in the process by which priorities are met. In fact, we saw a situation developing in which the Australian Government in Canberra did all in its power to remove many of the sovereign and constitutional powers of the States as part of an insidious campaign, a declared campaign, to destroy the functions and powers of the States. The centralisation of government power in Canberra can be gauged by examining the following 4 matters: the Labor Government’s control over revenue raising resources, especially income tax; its control and tying up of Federal grants for a variety of purposes; its takeover of traditional areas of State responsibility; and its moves under the guise of regionalism to discount the power and rightful responsibilities of the States.
There has been some criticism by various commentators and the States of the 5 per cent increase in the Loan Council program of 1976-77. It is very easy to make the Commonwealth the continual whipping post of the States, which continually scream and look readily to the Commonwealth for excuses for their own inefficiencies or their own inadequacies. The States must accept responsibility for economic recovery and reduction in inflation, in partnership with the Commonwealth. We have heardand I indeed welcome- statements by the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Wran, that he is prepared to give the Budget a go in the interests of both New South Wales and Australia. We have seen Commonwealth outlays to the States increase in 1975-76 by 30 per cent, compared with an increase in other Budget outlays of 17 per cent. The annual growth rate in the States in 1 975-76 was in excess of 20 per cent, far in excess of Commonwealth growth rates. In fact, it is somewhat ironic that many of those States that are complaining bitterly now are the ones which during the recent election campaign made wild statements as to their financial position. This does not line up with the tenor of the arguments they are putting now.
Another major platform of this Government’s federalism policy, and a unique and innovative platform, is the direct funding of local government. This is in fact the first time that local government has direct access to the central tax pool. The allocation in this financial year of $140m is 75 per cent higher than it was in the previous year, when $80m was allocated. The significant factor is that these grants are untied. This level of funding is equivalent to about 1.6 per cent of personal income tax collections. This figure is not as high as the Australian Council of Local Government Associations would like to see; nevertheless it relates to about 20 per cent of rate revenue collections. It more than covers the rate of inflation. It is hoped that this will allow local government rates to be held and stabilised to some extent. As I said earlier, this is an untied funding allocation, unlike many of the allocations by the previous Government. Under the previous Government we went through an extraordinary situation of finding so many different schemes under which funds could be obtained from the Commonwealth Government. There was the Area Improvement Program, the Australian Assistance Plan, the Program of Capital Assistance for Leisure Facilities, the Regional Employment Development scheme, the Regional Organisations Assistance Program and a host of others. No wonder some enterprising journalists decided to publish a book on how to get money out of the government. Possibly the publishers will have large stocks of the book which they cannot sell at the moment.
The Commonwealth has undertaken to borrow on behalf of local government and also to grant directly to local government and so by-pass the States. Of course, this was so under the previous Government. Honourable members will remember that this was put to a referendum in 1 974 and was lost. I think it was indicative of the creeping centralism and the desire by the previous Government to take over most of the functions of the States and certainly many of the functions of local government. I wonder how long it would have been before the Commonwealth Government would have been looking at how it could become involved in garbage collection, licensing dogs or some other minute detail that is traditionally and responsibly the role of local government.
A further aspect of the federalism policy is the creation of an advisory council for intergovernmental relations. It is this council which will ensure ready co-operation and collaboration between the 3 tiers of government. It will pay due recognition to the importance and the role of local government in the 3 -tiered system. Regrettably, I believe that local government possibly will not be as well represented on this advisory council as it should be. Of the total of 19 members on that council, local government will have three. I believe the Premiers should pay due regard to this and allow a higher representation, either directly or indirectly through State representatives of local government. A further point of concern is that apparently the Premiers at the last Premiers Conference were not particularly in agreement with the idea that local government be allowed independently to initiate items for the agenda of the council for intergovernmental relations and thought that initiatives would have to come through the Premiers Conference. If this is so I deplore it, as it is in fact downgrading the rightful role, responsibility and representation of local government on that council.
I think it is worthwhile to pause and to consider some of the problems of local government, particularly the problems that have arisen in rural areas and for rural councils. The honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) brought to the attention of the House just recently the terrific difficulties that local government is facing in relation to its capacity to raise rate revenue from people who have been extremely hard hit by the current rural economic situation. He also pointed out present injustices whereby many people utilising local government facilities do not have to pay one cent towards rate revenue. I believe that a new system of rating must be examined and introduced as a matter of some urgency, particularly for rural councils. The expectations of the community in relation to local government have risen enormously. New fields have been opened up, whether they be in the provision of welfare, social services or paramedical services, or in the field of recreation. Local government, of course, has a major role to play in road construction and road maintenance. In New South Wales particularly that has become more significant since in many areas railway stations have been closed and railway spur lines and networks shut off. The funding for rural local roads is in a desperate situation, and it is a matter that I believe should be canvassed further in this Parliament. To conclude, I believe that the provisions of the Bill before the House constitute an integral component of our federalism approach. The Bill complements the tax sharing facility to the States and the facility of specific purpose grants. I therefore wholeheartedly reject the amendment and support the Bill in its entirety.
-I wonder how one so young as the honourable member for Calare (Mr MacKenzie) can be so archaic in his attitudes. I have listened with some interest to the debate as it has proceeded over the last few hours. We have heard from honourable members opposite a continuing stream of abuse related to the suggestion of government enterprise and government expenditure, as if there were something evil or wrong in the fact that governments do things. On the other hand, honourable members opposite towards the end of a speech suddenly come to the memory that they also have constituents whom they represent and that they should do something about them, as was the case with the honourable member for Calare. He spent the first 12 or 13 minutes of his speech attacking government expenditure and any initiative from Canberra, and then pleaded with this House to do something about local government. Of course, he did mention that one of the great advantages that this Government is conferring upon the country is the reduction in government expenditure. I do not know what the people of Bathurst feel about that as a result of the fate flowing to them from the treatment of growth centres and everything that goes with it.
In the few minutes remaining in this debate, I want to say something about the role of capital works and the problem of capital works in the Australian governmental scene. We have no adequate system of deciding national priorities in many areas. There has developed, unfortunately, over the years, a confrontation program between the States and the Federal Government. In my capacity as Minister for the Capital Territory during the period from 1973 to 1975 1 attended a number of ministerial conferences. On the whole, when we were around the table- in camera, as one might say- we established some rapport. We arrived at conclusions about transport, nature conservation or health programs in which we did not see much political difference. But as soon as we came out into the open there was no doubt that the non-Labor States spent a great deal of time doing their best to embarrass the programs that the Labor Government was implementing. That had a strangling effect upon many projects that the Labor Government had in mind. This Parliament has to take an initiative as far as priorities are concerned.
I come to the question of how we are to raise the finance to fund capital works. Figures taken from the 1975 Budget indicate that the total expenditure envisaged in that Budget was $22,000m. Some $ 17,000m of that was for the actual running expenses of Australians. Some $ 19,000m was the actual income anticipated. On any sort of normal budgeting arrangement for normal people, it would have been said that there was a surplus of $2,000m. The $5,000m difference between the $ 17,000m for current expenses and the $22,000m for total expenditure was the contribution from the Federal Budget towards the general capital works of Australia. Any reduction in that contribution is a reduction in the standard of living of future generations. We have to find a way of funding those works more satisfactorily, because governments are the fundamental performers in respect of the quality of life in this continent. Australian governments supply most of the transport systems, fund them and develop them. If this Government cuts off supplies of funds for capital works for railways, roads, ports, harbours, airports and so on, the next generation will suffer. The communications systems of Australia- television, radio, telecommunications and so on- are totally in the hands of governments.
Any reduction of government effort is a reduction in the quality of life and the capacity to produce in the future. The same can be said of education and most other facilities. The question of the streets in municipalities was raised by my friend from Calare. He represents country municipalities of great productive capacity. I represent 2 municipal areas in the city of Melbourne, both with great industrial capacity. Nearly every street in Brunswick and most of the streets in Coburg should be rebuilt to bring the area up to the sort of standard we expect in such a city. The funds to do that will flow only from Canberra. They will flow only from initiatives taken here. Somehow we have to find a way of tapping the enormous wealth of this country.
– This sounds like your last speech.
– The honourable member for Bendigo is a one-and-a-half oncer. At the first wave of discontent we will have to put him on our Hansard list, and I will do that quite happily. The fact is that behind every Australian lie more resources than lie behind any other people on this planet. I would suggest that honourable members opposite do some arithmetic. It needs only eight grade arithmetic to work out the tonnage of coal, iron ore, etc., and the productive capacity of the factories that lie behind each citizen. The problem we face is that honourable members opposite have not the wit, the wisdom or, I am afraid, even the will to try to determine how they are going to tap this wealth and use if for the people of this country. Future generations are going to look back at us and say: ‘What was wrong with that lot?’ They will be able to point to the guilty men opposite and wonder how on earth the people of Australia had so much folly as to send any of them here. I will conclude on that note because I have made an agreement with the ‘Minister for very little communication * to sit down in time for him to carry on with the business of the House.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Eric Robinson) read a third time.
Aid to Indian Sub-continent- Aged Persons Accommodation- Industrial Relations- Overseas Aid
Motion (by Mr Eric Robinson) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-I rise tonight to speak about a question asked by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Sullivan) of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), who is in the House tonight. The question related to the export of cattle to the subcontinent of India under the scheme proposed by the organisation known as For Those Who Have Less. It would appear that some clarification is needed in regard to the scheme submitted by Mr Len Reid, who is the chairman of the organisation. Firstly, only good productive animals will be sent. From the very inception of its gift consignments the organisation has always maintained certain standards of production. Secondly, the farmers would be paid on values pertaining to today’s markets for such animals. That would approximate an average of $100 to $120 per head according to breed and age. Transportation and marshalling costs would bring the total amount per animal to $500 landed on the subcontinent.
It would be the suggestion of the For Those Who Have Less organisation that one charter flight per week be arranged, which would be able to carry approximately 200 head. Owing to climatic conditions that would be desirable only between the months of October and February. Therefore it could be envisaged that during that period some 5000 cattle could be flown in for the cost of $A2.5m. Those cows and heifers would be sent only to farming co-operatives and government farms which have the facilities and farm management to ensure their success. In that regard the organisation would work with the organisation called Action For Food Production, which is a large Indian non-government agency and which has the technical and administrative ability to handle large numbers of animals from Australia. Volunteer staff from the Society would be responsible for marshalling at this end. It would handle the quarantine requirements and so on, and its members personally would supervise the distribution of the cattle at their destination. The organisation has trained livestock specialists who are continually checking out its projects throughout the sub-continent and can ensure the success of such a program. Indeed, I have personally seen these projects in Bangladesh and in the sub-continent countries. There is no doubt that they are well supervised indeed.
Should some initiative be taken by the Commonwealth Government to send these stock to the Indian sub-continent it would provide an immediate market for the farmer and restore confidence in the dairying industry. The present idea of paying a subsidy of $10 to slaughter an unwanted animal would appear to be a negative approach. By sending some of the more productive cattle to these countries, Australia could well become the leader of an international effort to restore social equality, stability and justice in a hungry world and help to bridge the enormous gap which divides the nations of the world.
The alternative is that we do nothing- continue to subsidise cattle shoots and leave our more productive cattle, which are surplus to requirements, to die in the paddocks because it is uneconomical for the farmer to feed them. That, of course, does not help anyone. It does not help the farmer who has no outlet for his stock or even one of the 10 000 children who starve to death every day on the sub-continent because they have no milk to drink. This organisation called For Those Who Have Less has received funds from Germany, Canada, America and Ireland to meet the transportation costs on 500 head of cattle to India, which indicates that the people in those countries are more concerned about our surplus cattle than we are in Australia. If we took action along the lines I have just mentioned it would help the cattle producers in this country and at the same time help the starving millions on the sub-continent of India. I commend the suggestion, as presented, to the Minister for Primary Industry.
– I rise tonight to express the gratitude of my electorate, particularly the aged people of my electorate, to the very generous, the very sensible and the very just decisions of the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) in respect of the aged persons’ homes policy. I am overjoyed, as I would imagine any sensible member of this House would be, at a program which over 3 years, will provide $225m for aged persons’ homes. It represents the restoration of a policy which collapsed under the previous Administration. It collapsed when in fact it was cancelled, halted, because of a mixture of incompetence and uncertainty on the pan of the previous Administration. The electors of Macarthur have every reason to be very pleased with the Minister for Social
Security and her Department, and certainly with the Government ‘s policy.
The allocation to Macarthur, which honourable members will know has a very large population of pensioners and aged people, has in fact been generous. Of course, it ought to be generous because when one looks at the neighbouring electorate of Werriwa, which is represented I believe by someone of some significance in the Party opposite, and at the electorate of Cunningham, which is represented by someone who used to have some significance also, one notes that those electorates, when compared with the electorate of Macarthur, for some curious reason appear to have many more aged persons’ accommodation units provided so far. As a result, I know that my constitutents will be overjoyed to learn that they are catching up and that in the current year $lm is being allocated for aged persons hostels in Nowra and in Kiama, that next year $2.5m will be allocated and in the following year almost $3m will be allocated. The impact of those allocations will be to increase the number of units of accommodation for aged persons under the relevant Act from 3 10 to 782 units. A further 120 accommodation units have been approved but are not yet scheduled into the 3 year plan which will result in a total of approximately 900 aged persons’ accommodation units being built in the electorate of Macarthur because of this Government’s generous, sensible and just program.
That program represents a trebling of the initial number of aged persons’ accommodation units in my electorate. By making these announcements now in relation to the sensible and proper course which is to be undertaken, the Government, in addition, is effectively guaranteeing the capacity of the organisations which build these aged persons’ accommodation units to borrow against them. They can now immediately start to develop their projects.
– Not a guarantee.
-They can now plan ahead without the degree of uncertainty and hysteria which took place during the running of the scheme by the previous Government when all of a sudden the tap was turned off. There was no water left, except that on the brain of the honourable member opposite who interjected. There was in fact a dripping tap, and perhaps there still is in one corner of the chamber opposite. The fact is that now they will have the capacity to plan ahead. Because the Government has established very clearly what amount of money will be made available, these projects can go ahead now, even though the money will not in fact be allocated for one year in some cases and for 2 years in other cases. This is a magnificent indication of self help.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I well know how the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) managed to write the prospectuses for Patrick Partners, having heard that story. It was a magnificent achievement, a great breakthrough. I think there was a little bit of literary exaggeration in what he was trying to put forward. The Budget papers for this year- and why go past them- show that the allocations for aged persons’ accommodation have been reduced by $2 7.4m. Such is the nature of the generosity of this Government that we find a reduction .in those allocations of $27.4m. Quite clearly if less money is being made available then fewer units are going to be built and less accommodation is going to be provided. That figure represents a reduction of more than 25 per cent on the allocation last year. But more significantly than that, this year costs are expected to increase by at least 12 per cent. So there will be a quite phenomenal reduction in the allocations to various community organisations for the provision of accommodation for the aged.
Let us look at another aspect of this magnificent gesture of generosity. When in government we introduced an arrangement whereby we provided 80 per cent of the capital cost of accommodation for the aged under the Aged and Disabled Persons Homes Act. That has been changed. The legislation has been altered. The honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) says it was done by us. I know that he has some trouble following simple debates because they are convoluted by Ministers on the front bench. That was changed by the present Government to two to one; that is, only twothirds of the cost is now being met so the whole arrangements have been made tougher for the voluntary agencies which are catering for the aged. There is much less money available in spite of mounting inflation and not only that- the ratio of support has dropped back to what existed before we came into government.
Let us look at another aspect of accommodation for the aged, something which has not been heralded by the Government and will not be trumpeted by any supporter on the Government back bench in this debate tonight, or in any other debate. They will try to avoid responsibility. We introduced the system whereby voluntary organisations maintaining nursing home accommodation for the aged could, if they wished, enter into an arrangement called deficit financing. That means simply that, where there was a shortfall between the income collected by the voluntary agency and the actual outlay, we met the difference. The arrangements which have been adjusted under this Government result in substantial cutbacks for various voluntary agencies. The honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) of course is a particularly aggressive defender of the way in which the cutbacks have occurred.
– That is correct.
– I am glad to hear that the honourable member for Petrie endorses the cutbacks because they have resulted in people being discharged from employment in nursing homes conducted by voluntary agencies. This has resulted in a lower standard of services being provided, not through any fault of the people employed in voluntary agencies, not through any want of education, but because the money is not available. These are the people who are penalising the aged and who have the effrontery to stand up tonight and claim that there have been magnificent gestures.
The honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume), whose grand achievement was to assist in the writing of prospectuses for Patrick Partners, has been bringing those special skills of deception and misrepresentation into the Parliament tonight to make a completely humbug claim in the provision for aged persons accommodation.
– I take a point of order.
-There is no need for the honourable gentleman to take a point of order. The honourable member for Oxley knows that he must not impute dishonesty to any member of the House. I suggest that he withdraw the remark.
– I willingly withdraw it and suggest that the skills of deception and misrepresentation were unknown in that case.
– I take a point of order. That was no withdrawal.
– I think that is quite true. The honourable member for Oxley will withdraw the remark.
-Of course I shall withdraw.
– I would like to draw the attention of the House to a number of matters of fact relating to the aged persons homes problem. Last year, and I ask the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) to deny this, letters were sent to nearly all aged persons’ trustees and establishments in Australia, saying that the program for aged persons had been indefinitely deferred. In common parlance, it was being kiboshed and hundreds and hundreds of applications that were pending were indefinitely deferred- were stopped. Between that time and the time that the former Government went out of office, there had been no revival whatsoever. Those are the facts. The next fact is that we as a government started from scratch and the amount of money that is being allocated this year is a total allocation, whatever the figure may be, over and above what the Labor Party was operating on at the end of last year.
Indeed, the Congregational Church Homes Trust project at Rockdale was within one week of actual commencement. The builders had been obtained, hundreds of thousands of dollars had been expended in obtaining land, old people had been evicted from the homes that were purchased in order to be demolished to build the new premises which were to house those elderly persons. Subsequently the trust had to try to find some of them and get them to go back into those premises. Larger amounts of money were expended on architects’ fees with the approval of the former Labor Government. The trust was led right up the garden path. The Council’s approval had been obtained and the magnificent project was all set to go. Within about one week of the final approval, without the slightest warning, without any real consultation at all, along comes a letter from the director of the department. I have not got the files here because I did not expect the effontery of the honourable member for Oxley but the files will show that the term ‘indefinitely deferred’ was used by the direction of the Minister at the time, the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson). In recent correspondence and in statements in the local Press in the St George area it was stated that the locals warmly welcomed phase 1 of the Government’s present project and none other than the honourable member for Hughes went into print making some criticisms.
He was the person who presided over the terrible situation in which these home grants were indefinitely deferred and not revived, to the great distress of the ladies who had made arrangements to try to move into the new premises. How would you like to be a lady approached by the trust which says: ‘We have Council approval; we have the land; we have the architects. We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars; we are expecting approval next week. How about coming into one of our homes? We would like to buy the land; we need to get the premises?’ the next thing is that you make arrangements to leave, or the land is purchased and you have to leave. The next thing you are faced with is that you are out on the street because a heartless Labor Government kiboshed these things and forced the Trust to defer it indefinitely.
It was all part of the simple problem in which the Labor Party, having been faced with its incredible economic incompetence last year, suddenly produced a complete volte face. To get out of its troubles it produced the harshest, cruellest and most conservative Budget in Australia’s history, the dreaded Hayden Budget. As well as that Labor gave the pensioners another load. I have letters still coming to me from persons who have a small amount of superannuation. A typical case is that 2 years ago they may have paid tax of about $6 or $7 a year. Under the dreaded Hayden Budget in one case it is $177 a year. I would have dozens of letters from persons about this matter. I know that the present Government is very worried about it and is doing its best to give close attention to these serious problems following the fact that we had to inherit the Hayden Budget. Labor ripped off the old people unmercifully in every possible way through panic measures following its total and complete bungling. I will speak on the other matter I had in mind the next time I get the opportunity in this House.
– The honourable member’s time has expired.
-If that should occur I will make it a point of not being here. You would have to be a masochist to listen to that sort of thing. This evening I would like to draw attention to the incredible lack of understanding of industrial relations by the people who lead for the other side of the House in these matters. There has been an incredible attack on the fundamental principles of our conciliation and arbitration system to such an extent that there is a goading of industrial organisations into taking action that I believe is the that last action that the unions or their members wish to take.
We have heard a lot from the other side about the way in which inflation has developed. When one examines the very springboard of inflation and deals with 3 fundamental questions of where it started, one can hark back to the McMahon Budget strategy. The McMahon Government tried to buy itself out of trouble during 1972 irresponsibly with the undervaluation of the Australian dollar, the subsequent influx of overseas capital and the exploitation of Australian resources. That was the springboard. If honourable members hark back and if they are honest about it- that is pretty difficult for a few members on the other side- they would in fact -
– I raise a point of order. I do not think it is right for the honourable member to say that we have been dishonourable in this matter.
– There is no point of order. The expression was used collectively, and therefore it accords with the forms of the House.
– In respect of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act I must refer just to one matter, of Qantas Airways Ltd v. Amalgamated Workers Union and others, No. 2778 of 1975. Reference was made to individuals who clearly came within the provisions of the Act. The late Commissioner Chambers spelled out clearly and unequivocally the first obligation of people involved in industrial matters. He said that the role of the Commission was not to become the regulator of the economy in a compulsory arbitration system but to pursue at length the conciliatory provisions of the Act. They were very wise words. They were followed over a long period during my experience with the Commission. Those who have had any experience whatsoever- and there are none on the other side- would have to agree with that statement.
The matter I have referred to has been before the Commission on 2 occasions. In the past 12 months there has been a long series of negotiations to try to arrive at a conclusion that would be compatible with the interests of both parties. The employers took action within the terms of the Act to refer the matter to a full bench of the Commission. That was resolved in the spirit of conciliation. In the last week or so the Government has again gone back just to pour petrol on the flames to ensure that this dispute will not be resolved and that the unionists will be forced to take some industrial action because they cannot be satisfied within the conciliatory operation of the Act. I put it to honourable members opposite that if they demand control of workers and the price of their labour the Government should control prices. I have not heard one word from Government supporters about controlling the prices of food and commodities that govern the standard of living. Why are not people opposite honest about this? Why do they not say something about that? Would any business sell its product at a price below what it costs to produce the product? Just work it out. Why are you not fair and equitable about this?
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-My colleague the honourable member for Paterson (Mr O’Keefe) earlier in the debate raised the matter of livestock as a form of foreign aid provided by Australia, particularly to the Indian subcontinent, and I want to refer to another aspect of the same matter. One issue which has received considerable attention over the past few months is the potential for increasing the canned meat component in Australia’s foreign aid programs. Although Australia has previously indicated to the World Food Programme of the Food and Agricultural Organisation in Rome its ability to include canned meat in its pledges, an apathetic attitude has been encountered. Due to the importance, both to the Australian livestock industry and to the meat canning industry, the president of the National Meat Canners Association, Mr Peter Barnes, recently visited Rome and in company with Australian Embassy officials had discussions with World Food Programme officials. The visit proved most successful, with officers indicating that the usage of canned meat could feasibly be increased from 5000 tonnes per annum to about 15 000 tonnes per annum provided it was included in a program running for three to five years. The acceptability of canned meats as an aid commodity item was recognised. The type of canned meat most suitable for inclusion in World Food Programme requirements- and it could reasonably be assumed that this would be applicable for other avenues of aid- is beef luncheon meat with cereal, with a beef content of 70 per cent. In simple terms, on current cost indications it could be expected that the f.o.b. cost to the Government would be in the vicinity of $lm per 1000 tonnes of product. It has been assessed by the National Meat Canners Association that the Australian meat canning industry currently has excess capacity readily available to allow an increase in production by about 25 000 tonnes per annum of the required product.
It is worth mentioning that during discussions in Rome the point was accepted by the World Food Programme officials that canned meat represented the only practical form of giving meat as an aid item, and that whilst meat protein costs four times as much as wheat protein, meat protein contains 5.7 times as much lycine, one of the essential amino acids, than wheat protein. Therefore, a combination of the 2 products represents an excellent nutritional package. This point appears to be most significant bearing in mind the current problems concerning wheat production. At a time when there is an over supply of both cattle and canning capacity, and bearing in mind the recently announced increase in total aid, it would appear to be to Australia’s advantage to make an increased commitment to supply canned meat under Australia’s contributions to all foreign aid programs. A stockpiling of product to cover future commitments could be a worthy consideration. The benefits to the Australian meat and livestock industries in general would far outweigh any negative considerations.
Australia has normally channelled 8 per cent of its total aid through the World Food Programme. By comparison, Canada places about 40 per cent of its aid through this medium. As the World Food Programme is the most appropriate body for the disposal of canned meats, it would seem appropriate that the Australian Government should under the circumstances be encouraged to extend the proportion of its total aid which could be channelled through the World Food Programme organisation. There is a good deal of debate about the form that Australia’s foreign aid should take. I think this suggestion is worthy of consideration by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) and the Government. There is over production. It has been mentioned by some people that the sort of product we have in excess in Australia is not the product which is required by the people of the Indian sub-continent, but it is quite likely that the product which is surplus to Australia’s requirements could be processed into canned meat in the form I have been talking about tonight. I commend the suggestion to the Minister and to the Government for their consideration.
– Firstly, let me commend both the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) and the honourable member for Paterson (Mr O’Keefe) for their implicit denunciation of the shortsightedness of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) in his conception of foreign aid programs and his reluctance to follow the most creative programs they have developed this evening. In addition- and I want all honourable members opposite to hear this - ( Government supporters interjecting)
-The honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) is no slouch in the field of numeracy. He had the misfortune to be followed by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), one of the men who in this chamber commands the greatest respect for his dedication to the development of serious policies in relation to social security. There was a joke contribution also by the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) whose contribution was, I think, regrettted as much by members on this side as was his appointment to the Board of Trustees of the Australian War Memorial in preference to those of his colleagues who were much more qualified such as the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham), a fellow who served in a real war in which we were united.
I just want to say to both the honourable member for Macarthur and the honourable member for St George that if they look at the real amounts expended in 1975-76 they will see that in that financial year the expenditure was so much greater than the foolish projections of their Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) when she takes averages back to 1954 and then erects figures on 25 per cent of that average. It is a most extraordinary fiddling with figures. If honourable members opposite are silly enough to believe that that pie in the sky will save them from the wrath of the aged persons whom this Government has so grievously deceived these past 9 months they are very, very foolish indeed. My words apply especially to the honourable member for St George whose electorate borders on my electorate and whose everyday deceptions are becoming known to his constituents and those in border constituencies.
-Order! It being 1 1 o ‘clock, the debate is interrupted. The House stands adjourned until 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.
House adjourned at 1 1 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Italy, Republic of South Africa, Austria, Belgium, Luxemburg, France, Federal Republic of Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Greece, Rumania, Yugoslavia.
Meat and meat products imported from any of these countries must be canned, and must be certified as having been heated throughout to a temperature of at least 100° C. There is no quarantine risk with fully tanned leather.
Apart from fish and reptile skins, all untanned (or not fully tanned) hides and skins must on arrival be directed to an approved tannery for treatment. Untanned bovine hides may not be imported from any of these countries.
Wool, hair and bristle, may be imported from these countries subject to approved treatment prior to export, or to treatment on arrival in Australia.
Other animal products, (e.g. feathers, biological (laboratory) products, bones) may be imported but only under strict quarantine control and subject to such specified treatment as may be necessary.
It should be noted that the following may not be imported from any of these countries:
Domestic animals, bovine semen, uncanned edible poultry products (including eggs), milk and milk products, animal casings, stock food of animal origin, fertiliser of animal origin.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
However, the extent to which the medical profession will take up the challenge remains to be seen and subsequent Government action will be determined accordingly.
I am sure that the medical profession in considering the various forms of peer review will investigate the systems prevailing in the U.S.A. and other countries. For the reasons I have set out previously it would be inappropriate, however, to impose a system on the medical profession in Australia merely on the basis that it appeared to function satisfactorily overseas.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice:
– The Minister for Administrative Services has provided me with the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
During the period from April 1 976 to June 1 976, inclusive, there have been 1 1 transits of the Suez Canal by Soviet naval or naval-associated ships. This total comprises three transits by combatants, three by auxiliaries and five by other naval or naval-associated ships. The figures for March 1 976 were included in the answer given to Parliamentary Question No. 43 on 29 April 1976. (Hansard, page 183S)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
– The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
The Australian Bureau of Statistics does not prepare estimates of the population in electoral divisions for the years in which no census is conducted. It is therefore not possible to relate my Department’s estimates of the numbers of age pensioners in electoral divisions to Bureau of Census population estimates for electoral divisions for the intercensal years.
Special travel arrangements have traditionally been a matter for State Authorities and the Federal Government has found over the years that the best way in which it can assist all pensioners in this regard is to provide across the board increases in pensions.
During this financial year in the Electorate of Batman two projects for aged persons’ accommodation will be funded. These projects, which are estimated to attract grants in the vicinity of $893,000, will provide nursing home accommodation for 77 aged persons.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice:
– The Minister for Eduction has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
I draw the honourable member’s attention to my answer to Question No. 907 (Hansard, 25 August 1976, page 595).
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
How many and which eligible organisations receive salary subsidies under the Homeless Persons Assistance Act.
– The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
The following sixteen organisations are currently receiving salary subsidies under the Homeless persons Assistance Act:
New South Wales
The Salvation Army, ‘Foster House’, Sydney; The Salvation Army, ‘Samaritan House ‘, Sydney; Central Methodist Mission, East Sydney; Sydney City Mission, ‘Clifton Lodge ‘,
North Sydney (2 positions); Glebe House Ltd, Glebe; Newcastle City Mission, Georgetown.
Hanover Welfare Services, Community Houses, Melbourne; Hanover Welfare Services Counselling Centre, Carlton; Hanover Welfare Services Day Centre, Carlton; Hanover Welfare Services, ‘Old Gordon House’, Melbourne; The Salvation Army, ‘Gill Memorial Home’, Melbourne (2 positions).
Society of St Vincent de Paul, Brisbane (2 positions); Society of St Vincent de Paul, Rockhampton.
The Salvation Army, ‘Tanderra Hostel’, Perth; Central Methodist Mission, Mt Lawley.
Society of St Vincent de Paul, Hobart.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
– The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 8 September 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1976/19760908_reps_30_hor100/>.