30th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and 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 Les Johnson, Mr Morris and Mr Antony Whitlam.
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 Traderto the Tasmanian service.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Morris and Mr Antony Whitlam.
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 Speaker and the members of the House of Representatives in the Parliament assembled, this humble petition of the citizens of Western Australia will showeth that the people, particularly the children in the town of Laverton, are disadvantaged by not being able to view television transmissions.
Your petitioners humbly pray that the House can bring about the introduction of television services to the town of Laverton for the benefit of the whole community.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Cotter.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Austrlia respectfully showeth:
That the plan to obliterate the traditional weights and measures of this country is causing and will cause widespread inconvenience, confusion, expense and distress.
That there is no certainty that any significant benefits or indeed any benefits at all will follow the use of the new weights and measures.
That the traditional weights and measures are eminently satisfactory.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the Metric Conversion Act be repealed, and that the Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional and familiar units to be restored to those areas where the greatest inconvenience and distress are occurring, that is to say, in meteorology, in road distances, in sport, in the building and allied trades, in the printing trade, and in retail trade.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Crean.
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 Dr Edwards.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in the Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
We support the Australian Dairy Farmers Federation in asking the Federal Government to underwrite manufactured dairy products to the extent of providing a farm gate price of a mimmum of 65 cents per pound butter fat.
We stress the need for immediate action if a viable dairy industry is to be retained.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that this underwriting provision be implemented urgently. by Mr Groom.
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 an amnesty was announced for all illegal migrants and that whereas Mr Ignazio Salemi, an applicant for amnesty has been denied amnesty.
Your petitioners humbly pray that the members in the House assembled, will take the most urgent steps to ensure:
That as Mr Salemi fulfills all the publicly announced criteria for amnesty he is permitted to remain in Australia as a resident. byMrlnnes.
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 about the future of the Australian Assistance Plan.
We your petitioners do therefore humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government support the Australian Assistance Plan:
We believe the Australian Assistance Plan should continue because we believe the Australian Assistance Plan helps to make people self reliant and more aware of what they can do to help themselves. In this it is anti-buraucratic and contrary to the idea of the welfare state which encourages dependence on Government.
We believe the Australian Assistance Plan should continue in such a way as to give all citizens the opportunity to participate through a Regional Council for Social Development in their region.
We believe the idea encompassed in the Australian Assistance Plan is an effective way for citizens to work cooperatively with all levels of Government.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les Johnson.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia by this our humble petition respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les Johnson.
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:
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- 1 972 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 Morris.
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 that50 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 faculties are a vital factor in the maintenance of a viable shipbuilding industry.
That the Government’s election pledge to restore business and employment 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 in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That at the beginning of March this year Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Andrew Peacock, announced in relation to the torture of Dr Sheila Cassidy that the Australian Government was opposed to the use of torture in Chile. He went on to say that the Government ‘had previously supported resolutions in the United Nations condemning the use of torture in Chile and will continue to support resolutions calling for the improvement in respect for and observance of all human rights in that country’. However apart from the resolutions the Australian Government has done very little to oppose the brutal repression carried on under the junta.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House urge the Government to
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrUren. Petition received.
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 sheweth:
That whereas Vorster’s white minority government in the Republic of South Africa continues to deny basic human rights to the Africans, Asians and Coloureds who together form the great majority of the South African people;
That whereas the Vorster government has swept aside United Nations demands for an end to apartheid and for the cessation of armed South African rule over the former United Nations trust territory of Namibia (South West Africa);
That whereas the world is currently witnessing the slaughter of Africans, many of them school children, who are protesting against apartheid;
Your petitioners therefore most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will take the most urgent steps to:
Implement a total economic boycott of South Africa;
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Young.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. In answer to my Deputy last night he stated that his Government’s policy was to see that aid gets through to those in need in East Timor by providing aid through the Indonesian Red Cross and by talking with Indonesian officials concerning refugees and family reunion. I use his precise words. I now ask: Did he ascertain during his discussions in Jakarta what proportion of the territory of East Timor is accessible to the Indonesian Red Cross and to Indonesian officials and what percentage of the population of East Timor can be contacted by the Indonesian Red Cross and by Indonesian officials?
-The honourable gentleman asks for precise proportions and precise percentages. I do not really think that he would expect the Government to have that detailed informaton.
-My question is directed to the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the Minister advise the House whether an invitation was extended to him to appear on This Day Tonight this week together with the Leader of the Opposition? If so, will he also advise the House why he did not appear on that program?
-I thank the honourable gentleman for that question. It is of interest. The Leader of the Opposition has been making a great deal of to-do about supposed interference by the Government or by the Commissioners of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in programs and program planning. I was invited to participate on This Day Tonight the night before last to discuss the situaton in Timor. Having received the request, my office then received a call from the ABC to say that, as the Leader of the Opposition would not appear on This Day Tonight unless the Prime Minister appeared, the invitation was therefore withdrawn in regard to my appearance. I regard it as a totally reprehensible action by the Leader of the Opposition that he should seek to intrude into the programming in such a way. He apparently believes that the only way in which he can ensure that his own status is maintained is to arrange for others to appear only on the condition that time is allocated for him in accordance with their appearance.
In addition to the matter of the program, I regard the inference in this morning’s AM program that members on both sides of this House had enjoyed a very good dinner last night as being totally reprehensible. It might well be that there are very few in this community who realise that members of this House normally have only between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. in which either to attend committee meetings or to have a meal. I regard any inference that members of this place were other than in a sober state last night as being not only very poor but also totally inaccurate.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. I refer the Treasurer to his comments at the Financial Times seminar in Sydney yesterday in which he admitted that the employment market is sluggish, that retail sales remain relatively flat and that there is an uneven pattern reflected in indices of industrial production. I ask: Is it true that he also stated that the facts would not be inconsistent with the Government’s strategy? In view of the fact that his Budget calculations assumed a projected real growth rate of 4 per cent, which industries does he now expect to contribute most to this growth process?
-The Government believes that the estimated growth in gross non-farm product as put down in the Budget Estimates will be achieved. The Government’s economic strategy is on track insofar as the Estimates which are contained in the Budget Papers, particularly those in Statement No. 2, are concerned. Nothing that I said to the Financial Times economic conference yesterday causes the Government to shift in any way from the aggregates which are contained in the Budget Papers nor from the central economic policy which the Government has outlined. I think the honourable gentleman would be the first to understand that this country has gone through a period of unprecedented recession, with high rates of unemployment and inflation and with a depression in business activity of a type which the country has not before experienced. The honourable gentleman and his colleagues should be the first to recognise their responsibility for that situation.
The simple fact of life is that this country now is clawing itself back to a position of economic responsibility. Part of what I said to the Financial Times conference, and it has been repeated by senior Ministers, was that the economic strategy which the Government has put down will take time to have its full impact and therefore the success of the Government’s economic strategy should be seen over the longer haul. It is ridiculous that some people should look at the Budget some 8 weeks after it was brought down and make judgments now as to whether it is achieving its objective. The Government’s strategy is right on track, according to international economic opinion, whether that judgment is based on views expressed at this year’s Ministerial Council meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or the more recent meetings of the International Monetary Fund- the World Bank- in Manila.
-Has the Minister for Health seen reports of claims by Mr Hawke, made yesterday in Melbourne, that Medibank will collapse under the Federal Government’s health insurance system? Will the Minister assure the House that the revised Medibank scheme is a viable one?
– The honourable member for Tangney has drawn my attention to these rather exaggerated claims by Mr Hawke who clearly is indulging in an extravagant exercise of misrepresentation of the real position. There is no way in the world that Medibank will break down under the revised health insurance arrangements. It appears that most people have made up their minds. It appears that somewhere of the order of 70 per cent of the people have decided to insure privately either with Medibank Private or with another fund of their choice. Mr Hawke is not known for always being terribly responsible in the statements he makes about this matter. It was quite inaccurate for him to make the statement he made. Probably it was designed to create panic. The transition on 1 October went very smoothly indeed. The majority of the Australian people have made up their minds and made their choice. I refute the statement made by Mr Hawke about Medibank.
-I ask the Acting Foreign Minister a sober question without notice.
– I ask that the Leader of the Opposition -
-Remember you are being broadcast.
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition will remain silent.
– I take offence. I am glad the Leader of the Opposition is sober. I sometimes wonder. I take offence at the words that the honourable gentleman used, both then and in his question, and I ask that he withdraw them.
-Order! Quite clearly an innuendo was contained in the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition. Strictly it is not offensive and he would not be called upon to withdraw those words because they relate to himself. However, the innuendo was clear. I cannot call upon him to withdraw those words but I ask him to obey the practices of the House and cease such innuendoes.
-I ask the Acting Foreign Minister a question without notice. Has consideration been given to establishing an Australian Embassy in Damascus in order to reinstate facilities for processing immigration applications from persons fleeing hostilities in the Lebanon?
-Preliminary negotiations have been entered into. I will inquire as to the present rate of progress and advise the House when a decision has been taken upon this matter.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Does
Telecom, as a matter of course, transmit any messages received from unauthorised or pirate radio stations outside Australia to addressees in Australia? On what basis does Telecom receive messages from unauthorised or pirate radio stations in East Timor? Who pays for the reception and conveying of the messages received by Telecom from East Timor which are conveyed to addressees in Australia? Finally, if public money is used to pay for the service could Parliament be provided with a list of the principal addressees who have received these messages?
– There is an outpost radio station in the Northern Territory which is part of the communications system in that area. It is true that messages are received from East Timor. They are sent in telegram form to the addressees. Telecom Australia makes it perfectly clear that it cannot vouch for the authenticity of the messages. They are addressed to people like the Queen, the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, the late Chairman Mao and maybe the Leader of the Opposition.
– You have not delivered them.
-We probably could not find the honourable member. He might have been out of Australia for a fair bit of the time. We do not charge for these telegrams. There is only a handful of them and it would be rather inappropriate to collect the charges from some of the addressees. We pass the messages on. If they are of use and value to the people concerned they are entitled to the value they get from them.
-My question, which is addressed to the Treasurer, relates to capital needs in education and the guidelines given to the various commissions. In relation to the Universities Commission, did the limitation of $30m for capital expenditure draw the reply that a number of urgent works would have to be omitted? With regard to colleges of advanced education, did the guidelines indicate that they would have only half the money they needed for their realistic needs in 1977 when compared with 1976? Did the guidelines for the schools indicate that they were $50m short of a reasonable estimate to improve inadequate facilities? Bearing in mind the massive unemployment in the building industry, will the Treasurer urgently reconsider the guidelines in order to give to the various commissions sufficient capital funds to meet the needs about which they have already advised the Government.
-This is a matter which falls within the jurisdiction of my colleague the Minister for Education. I shall refer the question to him for a considered response. As I understand the position, the $30m in capital funds approved by this Government for 1977 compares, in fact, with only $2 8m which was approved for 1976 by the honourable gentleman’s government when in office. That was a cut of $32m on expenditure in 1975. The honourable member will know that these figures, of course, are given in terms of constant prices. The previous Labor Government, went to the unprecedented length in the context of the 1975-76 Budget of withdrawing funds for 25 university building projects from the approved 1973-75 triennium program which was then in legislation.
I understand that no funds were provided by the previous Government for new building projects in universities until the second half of 1976. This has led to a large carry-over of commitments into 1977 and beyond. Because of this the Universities Commission has been unable to recommend the commencement of any major new projects in 1977. I shall refer the question for a more detailed response to the honourable member. In relation to the areas of inadequacy to which I have adverted, the honourable member should accept responsibility. Of course, the House is very much aware that in a period of very tight budgetary conditions and overriding stringency in expenditure, education is one area which will see very real growth during the period ahead.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Construction and refers to claims by sections of the building industry and the timber industry in New South Wales that building in that State is lagging. Has the allocation of funds for housing and other sections of the construction industry resulted in a short-fall in New South Wales? What is the present outlook for housing and general construction in the capital works sector in New South Wales?
– I acknowledge the representations which have been made for some time by the honourable member for Cowper. I would remind him in relation to the building industry in northern New South Wales- particularly the timber industry- that last week or perhaps the week before in response to a question from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition I was able to demonstrate that building approvals for the private sector were improving very much. Yesterday the figures for building commencements in this country were released and so far as I am aware have not been reported anywhere in the Press. They show a significant improvement in the construction industry in Australia at the moment and I commend all honourable gentlemen to a study of those figures. A comparison of the total value of non-dwelling building commencements for the June quarter, the most recent figures available, with the previous March quarter shows that there has been an increase from $422m to $5 80m. In the private sector, and I believe that this is very significant, there has been an increase from $236m to $30 1 m, a 28 per cent increase. This is the highest since June 1974. In the June quarter the private sector had more than half the total number of commencements, or 52 per cent.
Compared with this time last year there has been an increase of 15 per cent in the nonresidential sector. I think it is reasonable to say that the Government’s economic policies and Budget strategy certainly are working in the construction industry and this, I am sure, will be of interest to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The pattern is consistent in New South Wales where we all thought there had been a rather more severe recession than there had been overall. In the June 1975 quarter, the total value of building commencements in New South Wales was $3 70m. In the June quarter this year the total was $375m. That is hardly a recession. The figures for the non-residential section are highly significant to the question asked by the honourable gentleman; in June 1975 the value of commencements was $162m. That dropped to $75m in December last year, or by more than half, and I have no need to remind the honourable gentleman who was in government over that period. This figure recovered to $146m in the June quarter, an increase of 93 per cent over the December quarter and 52 per cent over the March quarter.
Taking the time of the House for another moment or two, it is worth while breaking up the non-residential component into private and government sectors. The value of the private sector work in the non-residential component in June 1975 during the period of the previous Administration was 40 per cent of the total or $66m iri New South Wales. At the same time this year the value of private sector commencements was 66 per cent of the total. If that does not reflect success for our policies I do not know what does. My final point is that the price increase in building materials in the last quarter is the lowest since January 1973, which was before the boom. I would say to anybody anywhere in this country, and in particular in New South Wales, that now is the time to build.
– My question is for the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware that it was his Government that encouraged the Industries Assistance Commission to use the draft report procedure so that there could be an opportunity to test the IAC’s tentative conclusions at further public hearings. Does the Prime Minister realise that the Government’s action in announcing the Government’s decision on some aspects of the IAC draft report on the performing arts before the final report is received jeopardises the draft report procedure? To avoid this, would the Prime Minister want the public hearings on the draft report to continue and would he advise interested parties to continue to give evidence?
– I would certainly advise interested parties to continue to give evidence. I am, of course, aware of the purposes of a draft report. Indeed I thought that yesterday I drew attention to it- to enable people to say what they think of the basic recommendations in any particular report. One of the things that was concerning me, as I think the honourable gentleman would know, is that the reference to the Industries Assistance Commission had been put in hard and fast economic terms without any expression of Government opinion. I believe it would be of considerable use to the IAC and to all those who would be seeking to give evidence to know that the Government believes that the arts generally do need support from governments, that these are matters that cannot just be based on hard economic terms and realities and that if a nation is to develop this side of its character and characteristics, governments have a particular role to play. I think, especially since there was no element of this in the reference to the IAC when that reference was sent from Williamsburg, at least the Commission at this stage of its hearings on this particular matter ought to be aware of these considerations. Whether the Commission takes note of them, of course, is a matter for its consideration. But I do not regard the general procedures as being breached in any way. I do not regard the Government as having taken any decisions on the particular report. I merely regard the Government as having exhibited its continuing and long-standing concern for the arts and its determination to continue, in its judgment, an appropriate support for the arts.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister. Following his recent discussions with the Indonesian Government, will he please inform the House what action, if any, the Government intends to take to restrict or inhibit the actions of the few members of the Fretilin Party in Australia, or those who may wish to visit Australia in the future?
-Any movements into and out of Australia will be judged on the normal criteria which have always applied.
– I ask the Treasurer a question. Has the honourable gentleman’s attention been drawn to the comment in the Australian Bulletin of Labour, published from Flinders University, that he has been badly advised about the relationship between Australian and United States wages? Was he aware when he was making a comparison of United States and Australian average weekly earnings that the United States figures included females and juniors and the Australian figures only males? Is the Treasurer aware that the average wage in the United States is still 25 per cent higher than the average wage in Australia? In the light of this information, will the Government cease misleading the Parliament and the nation about wage relativities as a basis for its policy aimed at reducing real wages?
-The inference behind the honourable gentleman’s question is, of course, absolute nonsense. I would have thought that his earlier experience as a member of the former Administration would have made the position perfectly clear. If members on both sides of the House are to agree that inflation is the No. 1 problem facing Australia surely there can be no disagreement with the central proposition that a very important part of the inflationary process in recent years has come directly from the wagepush phenomenon. That is a proposition that we have argued before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. We will continue to do so until such time as there is an acceptance by the Commission and all the major parties in the industrial jurisdiction of the fact that increasing money wages today are directly pricing many Australian workers out of jobs and making greater the gap between the wage earner and the non-wage earner.
Specifically in response to the question of the honourable gentleman, the Flinders survey and the Government’s submission to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission are based on different comparative data. A number of points in both the submission to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and the Flinders approach are drawn from different premises. I have a series of notes which I can provide to the honourable gentleman after question time which will show him the differences which can arise in this matter. I should say to the honourable gentleman that the central point in the Commonwealth’s submission was the emphasis which the Commonwealth placed on the divergent rates of growth of wages in Australia and those in the United States. The Australian experience of recent years has been directly out of kilter with the United States experience and with earlier Australian experience. I should have thought that there would be no doubt whatsoever in this House that, if one looked at the facts, one would agree that increasing money wages at the present time are directly pricing Australian workers out of jobs
– That is absolute nonsense. Why don ‘t you go to South Korea or the Philippines?
– The honourable gentleman asks me why I do not go to the Philippines. He may be unaware of it, but I have just returned from that country. I might also say to the honourable gentleman -
– I don’t think anyone else knew that you were there either, including the people at the conference.
– On a point of order, Mr Speaker, I ask: Is it appropriate for the barrage of interjections from the Opposition front bench to continue?
-The Treasurer will proceed.
-I will conclude on this note. In response to the honourable member for Port Adelaide, I inform him that I have just returned from the Philippines. I had discussions in that country with a number of Australian businessmen, as I have when visiting other countries around the world. I was informed by Australian businessmen in the Philippines- the phenomenon is true of Indonesia and of Singaporethat they had sited a number of major operations off-shore because of high wage costs in this country. They recognise that in that process a large number of Australian jobs had been exported overseas.
-My question is addressed to the Minister for Environment, Housing and
Community Development. Will American nuclear powered warships be visiting Gladstone harbour for rest and recreation following naval exercises? Is Gladstone equipped to handle visits by nuclear powered ships? Is there a naval nuclear ship safety organisation in the area? If not, will the Minister stop the entry of nuclear ships to Gladstone?
– It is not my responsibility to comment on the sort of question the honourable member has just asked. That would be the responsibility of the Minister for Defence. But if there is to be any visit of an American nuclear powered ship to Australia, the procedures and the consultations that I have described previously in this place and in response to questions on notice from the Leader of the Opposition will apply.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications by referring him to the recent announcement by Telecom Australia that push button telephones would be available to subscribers at an initial cost of $50, with a recurring annual cost of $24. I ask the Minister: Why has it been necessary for such a large cost to be placed on this new and most modern telephone?
– The figures that the honourable member has cited are correct. The Australian Telecommunications Commission has made these new touch telephones available but at additional cost.
– Touch is the right word.
-Marketing initiatives can be looked at in many ways. My understanding is that there is a very limited supply available. In the first instance they are being made available in Adelaide. Additional costs are involved in the change-over. I would expect in the future as these phones become available and become more normally used by Australians that we would not have the disparity in cost.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Transport. I do so as the member of this House representing the area where undoubtedly the best apples in the world are grown. For the information of honorable members who may not know where that is, it is Orange in New South Wales. Is the Minister aware that Tasmanian apples can be quite satisfactorily shipped to mainland markets as dry cargo rather than refrigerated cargo? Can he assure the House that Tasmanian apple growers will not enjoy a competitive advantage by shipping apples to Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane under the freight equalisation arrangements as they may apply to dry cargo space?
– I do not propose to join in the partisan argument about the quality of apples. But I will join in the argument about the freight equalisation scheme. The freight equalisation scheme was introduced so that growers of apples, growers of other produce and manufacturers of goods in Tasmania would not be disadvantaged by the extra freight charges they incur. The freight equalisation scheme, as the term implies, means that freights ought to be equal. In other words, it was not designed so that there would be an advantage one way or the other. The basis upon which the freight rates for apples were determined by Mr Justice Nimmo was that apples would be carried in refrigerated containers. Tasmanian apple growers, being fairly shrewd people, soon learnt that they could send their apples as dry cargo at a cheaper actual rate and still claim the full subsidy rate. I suppose that it is a normal commercial operation. I do not blame them for it. As I have said, the freight equalisation scheme was not designed to give Tasmanian apple growers an advantage. Therefore, I have to review the rates so that a proper subsidy rate is set for the dry cargo rate as distinct from the refrigerated container rate. This means that apple growers are able to send their apples either way at an equalised freight rate and not with any disadvantage or advantage.
-I direct a question to the Attorney-General. Is the subject of legal aid, specifically the provision of federal funds for the establishment of legal aid commissions, an agenda item for the meeting of attorneys-general commencing tomorrow? If not, why has he not placed it there?
-I have no doubt that I will be holding some discussions with some attorneys-general during the course of the meeting. The general question of legal aid commissions has passed beyond the stage where I am talking to the attorneys-general collectively. Discussions are under way with a number of attorneys-general. I have already indicated that in relation to New South Wales I am waiting for Mr Walker to reply to my suggestion that we might set up a legal aid commission in New South Wales. I am only too anxious to talk to him but he will not be there tomorrow. When he replies, we will get on with the job. Generally speaking, the question will not be raised as an agenda item, but I will want to talk to some of the Attorneys-General about the progress of arrangements in relation to legal aid commissions.
-I direct my question to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. Does the Conciliation and Arbitration Act provide that fines and penalties imposed by unions by reason of the fact that a man works in accordance with his award are an offence? Has the Industrial Court, in the appeal of the Federated Moulders (Metal) Union of Australia and Aylen, recently upheld a decision of a South Australian local court that union imposed fines for non-attendance at stop-work meetings during normal working hours were illegal because of Section 188 of the Act? Is this not an important case in upholding the right of an individual employee to assert his right to work free from coercion? Would the Minister encourage union members to look to their legal rights vis a vis extremist union leadership?
– Yes, my attention has been drawn to this recent decision by the Industrial Court which relates to a case heard in an Adelaide magistrate’s court along the lines outlined by the honourable member in which a union attempted to fine one of its members for working under the terms of an award some 2 years ago. The magistrate ‘s court found in favour of the unionist concerned- Mr Aylen. The union then appealed to the Industrial Court which upheld the decision of the magistrate. This case does highlight the protection afforded by the Conciliation and Arbitration Act to individual unionists against actions which might be taken against them by the union or members of it in relation to various activities of the union or union members.
In addition to section 188 of the Act which, as the honourable member says, refers to a union member working to the terms of an award, I also draw the attention of the House to sections 140 and 141 of the Act which provide protection to individual members against union rules or actions imposed under the rules which may be oppressive, unreasonable or unjust. If a union member feels that by taking an action under these provisions he would suffer financial hardship, it is of course open to him to approach the Attorney-General for financial assistance to pursue his case. These provisions have been written into the Conciliation and Arbitration Act over many years. They provide very important protection to individual people against actions which may be taken against them. I commend the honourable member for drawing the attention of the House to some of these provisions and the considerable protection they afford to people who believe that unjust action has been taken against them.
– As it is 5 weeks today since the Prime Minister announced the terms of reference of the Committee of Inquiry into Education and Training, how much longer will it be before he can announce the names of the chairman and members of that Committee?
-The appointment of one or two people in the total membership still has to be finalised. One of the people originally approached later found, or believed, that his workload was too great and we wanted to be able to announce the total membership at one time. I believe it will be announced within the next day or two. I will certainly be very disappointed if it is not.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Transport, relates to the continuing strike by Connair Pty Ltd pilots in which the Australian Federation of Air Pilots appears to be playing a significant part. Because the jobs of many people other than pilots and representatives are at stake and the Territory outback is being made to suffer badly as a result of this irresponsible action by the AFAP, I ask: What is the situation regarding the continuing operation of Connair? Is the Minister aware that Connair is the major single source of nongovernment employment in Alice Springs, Central Australia, and that the strike will seriously affect the unemployment problem in the town?
– Following meetings between the Australian Federation of Air Pilots and Mr Connellan, the general manager of Connair, with me on Monday, the Federation’s President Captain Smithwell, agreed to go to Alice Springs and to put certain propositions before the pilots of Connair in respect of this matter. Regrettably, as I understand it, Captain Smithwell has not yet undertaken the trip. I understand further that there have been only one or two casual conversations, not by Captain Smithwell himself, but apparently by the industrial officer of the Federation with one or two pilots throughout the Territory. My understanding is that the pilots in the Territory are of the view that Connair should be able to crank up again with a status quo prevailing, that is, on the normal salary range- and with another application to go before Mr Justice Coldham on a different ground- with no retrenchments being made by Connair in the process.
As Mr Connellan pointed out to the Federation the cost of the strike to Connair will be in the region of $160,000. That figure is calculated as of Monday. Obviously more cost will be involved as each day goes by. Connair does not believe that it will be able to start up again in exactly the same form. It may have to go through some restructuring because of the absolute cost involved in the strike itself. At the same time an interdepartmental committee is looking at the air demands in the Territory for services. The committee is to report back to us some time after Christmas. It would be improper of me as Minister to refuse Connair the right to set about restructuring its airline to meet what it believes to be the needs and to demonstrate to the IDC that it is capable of carrying on into the future.
The House will know that the Federal Government already has lifted the subsidy set by the previous Federal Government from $300,000 to $550,000 to keep Connair in the air until the IDC reports. It would be impossible for the Government to subsidise the strike to the extra tune of $160,000. At this point it is very much a commercial matter for Connair to decide whether it will start up again. I can say nothing about that that will assist the situation. It is a matter for commercial decision by Connair if the pilots do go back to work. I am quite sure that the federation has not placed the facts clearly and properly before the pilots in the Northern Territory as it promised me it would do. I am disappointed that Captain Smithwell has not undertaken his visit to Alice Springs. I wish he would do so, as he said he would in his conversation with me on Monday. It looks very much at the moment as though Connair will not fly again. Therefore other arrangements will need to be made throughout the Territory. I have received calls from several missions and stations expressing concern at the lack of services. I have taken up with the department what alternatives ought to be undertaken in the Territory to provide air services should Connair not be able to recommence operations.
– I ask the Minister for Defence: Is Australia monitoring closely Russian naval presence in the Indian Ocean? If so, will the Government’s recent decision to drop seasonally adjusted figures for unemployment mean that the resources of the Australian Bureau of Statistics can be mobilised to calculate and to seasonally adjust monthly counts of Soviet naval forces?
– This comes from a wellseasoned Minister for Defence.
– The honourable member for Oxley, who interjects, has many endearing qualities, but intelligence I fear is not one of them. I say to the honourable member for Batman in famous language: Be of good heart; you will be protected.
– Why do you want to protect him?
– The Prime Minister asks me why I would want to protect the honourable member. I put him in the fauna class. As to what happens with respect to monitoring intelligence activities I say nothing whatsoever by way of affirmation or by way of denial, but I say this: It is upon the wreckage of the government led by my honourable friend from Werriwa that we are endeavouring to rescue this country.
– Is the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations aware that the Ford Motor Co. of Australia Ltd in Melbourne requires additional employees for its plant? Is he also aware that that firm is unable to meet its labour requirements, even though the vacancies have been extensively advertised? Will the Minister advise the House what assistance can be given to this company and other employers of labour which want additional employees and which cannot satisfy their requirements?
-My attention has been drawn to this matter. The vacancies at the Ford Co. are for assembly line workers who have to be adult males and physically fit. It is a type of job which in the past, when we had large or reasonably large migrant intakes, was to a large extent filled by migrants. A further relevant factor is that the unemployment situation in Victoria has been steadily improving over recent months. The unemployment level in that State now is considerably lower than it was a year ago. Furthermore, actual shortages of labour are starting to appear in the metal, wood and furniture trades in that State. The Commonwealth Employment Service has been in constant touch with the company in an endeavour to fill the vacancies, but it has not yet been able to do so. This is yet another example of an increasing number of cases that are coming to the attention of the Government. There is apparently conflicting evidence of employers in areas with relatively high numbers of people registered for employment being demonstably unable to get vacant positions filled. It is for that and other reasons, as I announced some time ago, that a complete review is to be undertaken of the operations and procedures of the Commonwealth Employment Service. I anticipate that that review will be under way in the very near future.
-On behalf of the Select Committee on Specific Learning Difficulties, I present the report of the Committee titled Learning Difficulties in Children and Adults, together with the minutes of the proceedings.
Ordered that the report be printed.
- Mr Speaker, I seek leave to make a short statement in connection with the report.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-The report I have just tabled concludes the inquiry by the Select Committee on Specific Learning Difficulties. You may recall, Mr Speaker, that the motion to appoint the Select Committee resulted from your initiative as Leader of the Opposition. The motion received the full support of the previous Government and was seconded by the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam). The Committee was reappointed in May of this year. In the course of the inquiry we visited and took evidence in all States and mainland Territories and examined over 400 submissions. We undertook inspections of schools and educational facilities and consulted a variety of individuals and organisations concerning aspects of the investigation. The Committee was informed of a variety of causes and contributing causes to the problem of under-achievement in schools. We were invited to recognise certain disabilities as constituting a special class or category of specific learning difficulties. It was submitted by some witnesses that our inquiry should be concerned with this category to the exclusion of many other factors known to affect learning. We concluded that the inquiry could not be satisfactorily discharged by focusing on a narrow class of disabilities. We resisted the temptation to define specific learning difficulties because we considered that such a definition would only lead to the establishment of yet another category of special needs within the area of special education.
A classroom teacher will, in the course of a normal career, encounter a very wide range of ability in children. If the problem of underachievement in schools is to be contained then the answer lies in training the teachers to be able to cope with the learning difficulties that children have.
Teacher training, in the past, has not provided schools with teachers adequately trained for this task. Our report established quite clearly that the basic training of teachers is not specific enough in essential areas such as teaching the basics of reading and maths. Teachers can qualify by completing courses of three or four years’ duration often providing them with a liberal education and yet not equipping them adequately to actually teach the skills of reading and numeration to children. Moreover, many of the courses offering provide very inadequate instruction for teachers in the skills of diagnosis and identification of learning difficulties. Courses do not provide them with the range of techniques to deal with the learning difficulties they do identify. In many cases basic subjects are optional and teachers can qualify without receiving a sound background and thorough grounding in the fundamental skills of their craft. Our report recommends strongly that course requirements should ensure that all teachers receive a basic training. In-service training and teacher development programs are essential if those teachers already qualified are to be able to obtain the additional skills to enable them to meet the challenge of new initiatives and directions in educational policy.
It came to us quite strongly from all quarters that the classroom teacher must be the key in any attempt to overcome learning difficulties. There is no way that sufficient specialist remedial teachers can be provided to deal with all the problems children have. But these special services will exist to support and assist classroom teachers, not to relieve them of the responsibility of the child with problems.
Our report discusses many facets of a complex problem. We conclude that better information is required about the nature of literacy and numeracy problems and their incidence. We recommend strongly that there be regular national surveys similar to the study conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research in its report Literacy and Numeracy in Australian Schools. We examined the evidence submitted to us concerning the adequacy of current resources and current measures to meet the existing problems. We conclude that current measures are not adequate and proceed to examine how new approaches which might improve the situation can be taken. The primary school is the place where learning difficulties should be recognised and treated. The evidence we received indicated strongly that the longer difficulties remain unrecognised and untreated the more severe they became and the less amenable they became to treatment.
We conclude that the trend to integrate a wider range of handicaps within regular education is a policy that should be supported. There should be pilot studies and evaluative procedures to ensure that integration benefits all children in the school, including children with learning difficulties, those who are average and those who are gifted. The policy needs to be acceptable to and understood by parents, teachers and others directly involved.
The Committee identified a persistent and intractable problem in our secondary schools and concluded that school policy must become more flexible and responsive to the real needs of adolescents. Secondary teachers need to take greater responsibility in the corrective teaching of students and in their welfare. We discuss adult literacy problems and make recommendations for provision of more services to enable those in the community with literacy problems to seek assistance to overcome them.
It will naturally be concluded from our report that funds for education and associated services will need to be gradually increased over time, if all the improvements that are foreseen are to be realised. It should not, however, be concluded that we are advocating an immediate increase in governmental spending on education. There was evidence that much can be achieved within the parameters of current funding. Many of the changes now envisaged are dependent on changes in attitude and policy rather than on the allocation of additional resources. The basic thrust of our report is towards improvement in the quality of existing services than on the founding of new institutions or the creation of new categories of special need. There is clearly room for administrative improvement in the delivering of services particularly in those areas where medical, educational and welfare services overlap. There is some evidence that there are too many teacher training courses. The time may well have arrived for the Commission on Advanced Education to examine this matter with a view to rationalising existing courses particularly as the need just to produce enough teachers appears now to have been met.
In the report tribute is paid to many people who have assisted the Committee. The Committee was fortunate in its original Chairman, Mr C. R. T. Mathews, former member for Casey, whose understanding of the issues from the outset of the inquiry meant that sources of information for the Committee were quickly located. Dr Elkins and Dr Maggs, our educational consultants, provided assistance and advice in both Parliaments. The Committee relied heavily on their knowledge, experience and expertise. Reference is made in the report to the study on Literacy and Numeracy in Australian Schools undertaken by the Australian Council for Educational Research. This important survey- the first national survey of achievement in literacy and numeracy ever conducted in Australia- resulted directly from a request by the Committee to the Australian Council for Educational Research. I pay tribute to Dr Keeves and Lt-Col. Bourke who conducted the survey. Professor Dunn in particular, and the members of the Education Research and Development Committee, supported this project and contributed to the design of the survey as well as providing the financial support.
I am grateful to the members of the Committee for the support they have given me during the present Parliament. In view of the substantial body of evidence accumulated by the first Committee, the task of completing the inquiry within the time specified by the House was daunting. All members of the Committee responded in a very positive way to this challenge. I particularly thank the members of the original Committee who again served on the Committee in this Parliament- Mr McVeigh, Mr Innes and Mr Hyde and also the new members of the Committee and the former members of this House who were members of the Committee. I know that the members of the Committee would have me compliment and express the appreciation of the Committee to Mr Nairn, the clerk, Mr Kelly, Mrs Grimsley, Ms Larkin, Ms Scheetz and Mrs Mackay. The contribution and hard work by staff members was vital to the success of the reports. Tribute must be paid to those citizens of Australia who responded so positively to this Committee’s request for submissions. Detailed papers, often carefully researched, were received from education departments, universities, colleges of advanced education, professional workers in the fields of education, medicine and the therapies. Hundreds of letters from individuals either as teachers, parents or concerned and interested citizens contributed a very essential human perspective.
There was widespread complaint by parents about the lack of communication between teachers and parents. Many parents complained of a lack of parent counselling or avenues of advice on sources of remedial help for their children. It was apparent that parents not satisfied with the services provided or who could not get access to those services were faced with a confusing variety of alternative avenues of help. These problems will not be solved until relationships between communities and their schools improve. This improvement should occur at the point of most immediate contact- the school itself. The extent of learning difficulties in Australia was such as to cause the Committee concern. A reevaluation by schools, parents and administrators of the aims and objectives of education is needed. This will involve continuing evaluation of the educational needs of migrant and Aboriginal communities, recognition of the important contribution that parents can make to their children’s education, the needs of isolated schools and communities, and the importance of cooperation between doctors, medical workers, teachers and parents of perceptually handicapped children. Broadcasting media, book publishers and public libraries could all make an important contribution to a community effort to assist those in the community with literacy problems and to reinforce the learning process. I commend the report to the House.
- Mr Speaker, I seek leave to make a statement.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-At the outset I join with the previous speaker, the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) in the outline which he has given on the activities and work of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Specific Learning Difficulties. Mr Speaker, I think you must take a great deal of credit because it was on your initiative that the Committee was set up to deal with such an important subject. I am sure that a lot of work has been involved in the report which has been presented. I feel sure that the contributions which will result and the debate which will ensue will be worth every ounce of our effort and of your initiative. When the Committee started off there was a problem about the terms of reference and about the scope of the Committee ‘s research and activities. It is pleasing to note that the terms of reference were broadened to take into account, such factors as the failure to achieve, issues such as physical handicap, varying socio-economic levels, the culturally deprived and other factors which could contribute to the terrible situation where an individual, no matter where he comes from or whatever his walk of life, is deprived of the advantage of education and of the right that he has to achieve his maximum potential.
As far as the report is concerned, I do not want to rehash or to recapitulate the statement which was made by the Chairman of the Committee, the honourable member for Mitchell. I think he has generally covered the areas which need to be covered at this stage. I understand that the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) has given an undertaking to the Chairman that the House will be afforded an opportunity to debate the report at some time in the future. I think this is terribly important. I am sure the issues which are raised will motivate the minds of honourable members in the House. The recommendations ought to be considered very seriously. If there is an objective approach to the matter I am sure something of great value will be achieved. In passing I note that it is a pity that no research has been done in this area. This is probably the first time research has ever been undertaken. It is a tragedy that we spend millions of dollars on educational research but probably that money is ill-directed at the time and in the way it is spent. I think the report contains a reference to this matter.
I think the issues which will ensue certainly will make good reading for those who are interested in the work which was done by witnesses who contributed over the long hearing. I pay tribute to the other members of the Committee. I have served on a number of committees both inside and outside the Parliament. It was a pleasure to work with the Chairman. Everybody, irrespective of his political party, contributed to the maximum. The report, I believe, is a credit to the Committee and to the staff of the Committee. I believe that the debate which will ensue will be of credit to the Committee. The Committee was worth every effort that was put into it. The report will be a contribution to the very important subject of specific learning difficulties.
- Mr Speaker, I seek leave to make a statement.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-Briefly, I want to be associated with the remarks of the 2 previous speakers, the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) and the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) in relation to this report. It is true that a large tree from a small acorn has grown. You, Mr Speaker, are to be complimented on planting that small acorn. This was a challenging task. It was good to be a member of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Specific Learning Difficulties which at all times was dedicated to bringing in a report which itemised the problems and suggested methods as to how those problems could best be overcome. I believe that many members gave outstanding service and I would like to place on record one instance which to my mind indicated the concern of all members for this subject. My remarks concern the previous speaker in this debate, the honourble member for Melbourne (Mr Innes). On one occasion he literally flew around the world to make up a quorum at a meeting. That action should not go unnoticed. The effort of the honourable member for Melbourne highlights the attitude of the committee.
In conclusion, I want to make the record absolutely correct. The chairman of the committee in his remarks, and I know the great pressure he has been under, inadvertently omitted the name of one of the foundation members of the Committee, the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson). I want the record to be factually correct and to include the name of the honourable member for Sturt who was an original member of the committee. Following his selection as an Opposition shadow Minister he had to resign from that committee. I know that he resigned the commission with a great deal of feeling because of his own intense personal interest in the problem.
The problem is a great one. One of the things I shall always remember is the great trauma of people who cannot read a simple notice on a bus. We on the committee became aware of this trauma. I can assure you, Mr Speaker, that the committee inquired into a great and serious problem, a problem that one has to experience to learn how serious it is. I want to compliment the committee’s staff, a wonderful group of people. At all times they were pleasant and co-operative and, in this modern era, are to be complimented on their application, diligence, sheer hard work and competence.
-I seek leave to speak on the same subject.
-Is leave granted? There being no contrary voice, the honourable member for Prospect can proceed.
-I will not go through all the formalities but will join with other members of the committee and agree with the comments they have made. However, I would like to draw the attention of the House to one of the depressing aspects of the committee’s report and that is the lack of information and detail from New South Wales in comparison with the information and detail received from all other States. This is especially important since the committee was set up, as you will recall, Mr Speaker, as a bipartisan committee following a motion moved by you when Leader of the Opposition in this House. Nonetheless, the then Minister for Education in New South Wales, later to become the Premier, Sir Eric Willis, insisted that his department should not co-operate with this committee. It was a pitiful example of the bloody-mindedness of a Liberal Premier when dealing with a committee of this House in which the Australian Labor Party had a majority. I am hopeful that this will not happen in the future.
-I seek leave to make a brief statement.
-Is leave granted? There being no contrary voice, the honourable member may proceed.
-This report will add to the research, knowledge and debate on this subject and show the way for action from governments, educators, teachers, and parents in the area of learning, literacy and numeracy. I would not like to see a move away from so-called progressive education. In the word ‘progressive’ are a lot of things. Some of them, such as the colour method of teaching that confuses teachers and parents, will be rejected. However, this report will show the way for a lot of progressive things to be done. Another area that the report refers to and makes specific representations about is that of education for migrant children and I acknowledge the special interest that the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) takes in this subject. The Committee’s comment that it would like to be sure that departments of education make a great effort to recruit teachers, preferably from the relevant ethnic groups who are proficient in minority and migrant languages, who can converse with school children from ethnic minorities in their own language and with understanding of their background, is something that all governments should take into account.
The third and final area I want to refer to is that of children’s television. Whilst this subject is mentioned only in the fringe of the committee’s report, it does contribute to the value of the report and is a subject that was studied. There are advantages and disadvantages of children’s television as a teacher. The advantages are: The conveying of information earlier than other media; the audio-visual potential to convey all aspects of a subject; and its ability to enlarge the environment of viewers. The disadvantages of television as teacher are: The viewer cannot set his own pace, or request repeats or reviews; the concreteness of the medium inhibits the formulation of abstractions and generalisations; and, television is already established as a fantasy/entertainment medium. I also refer to the report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board for it is relevant to this subject. These 2 reports need to be read together in considering children’s television as a learning medium.
Mr CADMAN (Mitchell)-I seek leave to make a short statement in order to make a small correction to comments that have been made.
-Is leave granted? There being no contrary voice, the honourable member may proceed.
-The New South Wales Government was approached to make a submission. It did, and appeared before the committee.
-I grant an indulgence to myself to thank members of the committee for proceeding with this work with which I was so interested. I will be very pleased to read the report. I am glad that the social and mental lives of people will be contributed to so much by the report.
– Before we move on to the next report, I would like to move that the debate be adjourned.
-The Minister for Immigration is trying to assist me. However, the statement that was made by the honourable member for Mitchell was succeeded by a series of statements also by leave and there was no motion that the House take note of the paper or anything of that kind at that stage. There earlier had been a motion that the report be printed and it was passed.
– Some honourable members feel that they would like this debate to continue. Could the Minister move that the House take note of the paper and we will adjourn the debate?
– If the Minister wants to move that the House take note of the paper he may.
– I apologise for having the incorrect form of words. I move that the House take note of the paper.
– I move that the debate be adjourned.
-Let us put this in perspective. There was a motion passed to print the paper, so it will be printed. The honourable member for Mitchell made a statement by leave as did the honourable member for Melbourne and other honourable members. There was a series of statements. The honourable member for Melbourne said that there had been an undertaking given by the Leader of the House to the honourable member for Mitchell that in the future this matter would be debated. At that time it was apparent to me that there would be need in some way for a debate to be initiated in the future. The Minister can seek leave to move that the House take note of the paper.
Motion (by Mr MacKellar)- by leaveproposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
Debate (on motion by Mr Innes) adjourned.
-On behalf of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence I present the report of the Committee on dual nationality. I seek leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-First I wish to place on record an acknowledgement of the great cooperation of members of the Committee and especially Mr Higgins, the Secretary to the Committee and the people who gave evidence before the Committee and provided us with information.
I wish to make some brief observations on the report I have just presented.
The terms of reference were: the international legal and diplomatic aspects of the situation of Australians possessing dual or plural nationality’.
It is an unfortunate fact that the subject of dual nationality with the attendant disadvantages and inconvenience it causes to many people, is well nigh impossible of unilateral resolution by Australia. Whilst there appear to be some who gain advantage by virtue of their dual nationality, there are others who suffer disadvantages and sometimes hardship by this situation. It is with those who suffer hardship that the Committee’s sympathies lie. While the report points to the near impossibility of gaining a resolution of problems arising from the conflicting domestic nationality laws of nations it has suggested some courses of action which it hopes the Government will seriously consider and which, if adopted, may at least alleviate some of the difficult situations which now exist.
The Committee supports the longstanding Australian policy- a policy consistent with obligations under the convention concluded at The Hague in 1930- that every person should have one nationality only, but recognises that the holding of dual nationality by some Australian nationals is inevitable while the difference in various domestic nationality laws continue. 2. (a) Machinery should exist for the receipt and investigation of complaints by dual nationals of harassment or other forms of invasion of privacy by persons claiming to represent their former countries.
I thank the House.
-As Chairman I present the 161st report of the Public Accounts Committee.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-I seek leave to make a short statement.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-The 161st report of the Public Accounts Committee comprises 2 Treasury minutes relating to previous reports of the Committee. These reports were the 152nd report which dealt with expenditure from the
Advance to the Treasurer for 1973-74 and the 154th report which related to expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund under the Appropriation Acts 1973-74. In the 152nd report the Committee made reference to the fact that it had found evidence of clerical errors, inefficient estimating procedures and delays which caused expenditure to be charged to the Advance to the Treasurer when provision should properly have been made in the Additional Estimates. In the 1 54th report the Committee found it necessary to refer to cases of unsatisfactory estimating or administrative performances that resulted in shortfalls in expenditure. The Committee is pleased to note from the Treasury minutes that action has been taken by Departments to overcome these inadequacies and that the conclusions of the Committee have been brought to the notice of the appropriate officers.
The Committee also found it necessary in the 154th report to comment adversely on the quality of written submissions and the inadequate briefing of some witnesses who appeared before the Committee. The Committee was also critical of departments in regard to the late submission and the content of supplementary submissions. The Treasury minute states that a Treasury circular has been issued directing the attention of departments to the necessity for evidence tendered to the Committee to be of the highest quality, and to the Committee’s requirements regarding supplementary submissions. The practice of presenting Treasury minutes is the result of an arrangement made between the Committee and the Treasurer before the presentation of the Committee’s first report on 10 March 1953. The arrangement is that the Committee forwards a copy of each report to the Treasurer for consideration immediately that report is tabled in the House. His reply, in the form of a Treasury minute, is then examined by the Committee and included in a later report to the Parliament. The 161st report is one of these later reports. Before preparing its minute, the Treasury consults the departments concerned and obtains their views on the recommendations and conclusions of the Committee. Essentially the Treasury minute system ensures that Committee recommendations are acted upon and informs members of the steps taken to meet their proposals. I commend the report to honourable members.
-I have received a letter from the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr
Innes) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The failure of the Fraser Government to provide the facilities necessary to meet Australia’s stated obligations to the Lebanese people in general and particularly to relatives of Australian residents.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places-
– I rise to bring to the attention of the House and the Australian people the tragic plight of many refugees from the unhappy state of Lebanon and the Fraser Government’s shoddy record in relation to these people. The chronology of our Government’s record with relation to the current Lebanese situation was outlined in a recent speech in this House by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam), and that record will establish facts of relevance to some of the points I will make later.
Operational difficulties began occurring in our Beirut office soon after open conflict broke out in Lebanon in March 1975. As I have indicated, that sequence of events was outlined in the Leader of the Opposition’s speech. The Australian Government closed our Embassy in Beirut on 28 March and on 1 April the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) issued a statement in which he made the point that Australian missions existed in Cairo, Athens, Nicosia, Ankara and Tel Aviv and that special arrangements were being made to post an immigration officer in Damascus. This officer duly commenced operations on 9 April. Five days later the Minister announced a relaxation of normal travel documents and medical requirements in relation to applicants from the Lebanon.
By 20 May criticism of the Minister’s performance had so built up that he felt constrained to defend himself by claiming that Australia had done more to assist Lebanese wishing to migrate than any other country, and cited the officer in Damascus by way of example. On 26 June that officer was withdrawn to Nicosia and on that day the Minister made an announcement to that effect and because 26 June was a Saturday the announcement duly got no media coveragewhich was just what the Minister wanted. On 9 and 15 September the Minister announced initiatives to speed up the processing of nominations submitted in Australia for close relatives of Australian residents- that is those covered by category A. On 23 September the Minister announced that reinforcements would be despatched to our Nicosia office bringing the total staff to nine, including one medical officer.
I have just returned from the Middle East. In the past few weeks, I have visited most major centres of Lebanese refugee concentrations. I can assure this House that beneath the comforting veneer of Press reports emanating from the Minister’s office is a reality of serious and continuing bungling on the part of the Fraser Government, particularly the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. These are the farts. At present about 75 per cent of all Lebanese migrants are entering Australia via Nicosia, where our office has recently been strengthened by the arrival of the Waterman task force. That is just as well, because the situation in Nicosia when I was there was chaotic. Long periods of delay during the processing of visas were par for the course, and compared most unfavourably with the operations of the Canadians, who were managing to get visas processed in about 5 to 15 days, a fact on which the Minister should reflect before he makes grandiose statements about his Government doing more than any other government to settle Lebanese refugees.
I have here a number of case studies. Without going into a great deal of detail, I should like to mention one or two. A father and his family applied in Damascus in May 1976 before that post was closed. They were nominated by a brother and sister of the father. In a Syrian application, a man and his son were sponsored by the father’s brother, who is an Australian citizen. All the family belongings in Lebanon were destroyed. The application was finally rejected. A family currently in Nicosia was sponsored by a brotherinlaw of one of the parents. The date of application was March 1976, and those people are still waiting. Those are just samples picked at random from the sad catalogue of delays and questionable rejections I have in front of me of cases taken from Athens, Nicosia, Cairo and other places.
Why have these delays occurred? Is it the fault of the officer involved? Certainly it is not. Before the Fraser Government undertakes any more of its sneaky tricks in testing out tried and true Labor men with spurious offers of knighthoods, it might consider supporting and rewarding some of the hard-working officers in our undermanned posts in the Middle East who have faced up to the daunting tasks imposed upon them by this Government without complaint and with considerable skill and fortitude. Men like Brogan in Nicosia, Stuckey in Cairo, and Cameron, who was our Damascus officer, deserve nothing but the highest praise. The fault lies squarely with the Government, which has allowed these posts to remained undermanned after the need for rapid upgrading had become more than obvious. The longer the crisis lasted the more the scope of the operation in Nicosia grew, and each week twice the number of applications that could be handled were received. The Department knew that. Why did not the Minister act?
The crisis ran longer, and so too did the plight of the Lebanese presenting themselves become more serious. When the crisis began it was those with money who left first. Increasingly, those who are seeking entry have undergone hardship and, until recently, many were destitute. Many were understandably emotional. The officers were frequently threatened and the police were called more than once. The Department knew that too. Why did not the Minister act? Finally, the tragic situation in Nicosia was compounded by the lack of a medical officer. No wonder that the processing of visas was such a timeconsuming business when X-rays taken in Nicosia had to be sent to London for interpretation. In the meantime, the applicants sat and waited and the less well off saw their savings gradually dwindle until they were left with nothing. That situation was known to the Department. Once again, why did not the Minister act.
Finally the Minister did act. When it became impossible to keep the lid on the situation by issuing more bland Press releases, and prompted finally by pressure from a sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, he acted, and relief has arrived in Nicosia in the shape of the Waterman task force under the direction of Mr Waterman, who is a very skilled and experienced officer. The relief will be very welcome. But even there questions need to be asked. For instance, what will be the duties of the medical officer in relation to posts other than Nicosia? Will he be based full time in Nicosia? If so, what does the Minister have in mind for our other under-staffed posts at places such as Cairo and Athens? Will they be getting the support of that medical officer? If not, will they still be expected to battle through as best they can and continue to go through the long arduous processes to which I have referred? The Lebanese people need an answer to those and other questions, and so does the Parliament.
I want to pass now to the central point in my case against the Government. It is not merely unfortunate but tragic that the Government’s policies to date have largely assisted those who least need assistance. I am not suggesting for one moment that they should not be given consideration, but the Government’s actions have bypassed those who need assistance most. I want to spend the rest of the time available to me in detailing how this situation had occurred. In the first instance, those who reached Nicosia first and had their visas processed with a minimum of fuss tended to be more wealthy. Those who arrived subsequently were still those with some money, for it costs money to cross to Nicosia by boat- f Stg 100 a trip. Many of those people had their savings eroded while waiting for their visas to come through. Furthermore it is a fact that, in general, Lebanese Moslems are poorer than Lebanese Christians. It has proved difficult, though not impossible, for Moslems to get to Nicosia because in order to reach a point of embarkation there are some hazardous routes to travel.
Finally, the Cypriot authorities have now moved to tighten up the entry arrangements. People without funds are no longer being landed because the Cypriot authorities are understandably worried about becoming involved in another refugee operation before they have had an opportunity to clear up their own. To pass into Cyprus now one must be in possession of at least £Stg 100 to get across on the boat and to have means of support. This is having the effect of splitting families and is solidifying a situation which denies access to Australian authorities by those without any financial clout. If that is the case, where do poor refugees go? That question is answered simply. A number of them would go through Damascus if they had the opportunity to do so. It is natural that they should do that because Damascus is the closest large centre of population outside Lebanon and it costs much less to walk or catch a bus to Damascus than it does to fly or sail into Cyprus.
It has been estimated that as many as half a million Lebanese may be in Syria. What has Australia done to meet the plight of Lebanese refugees in Syria, which has by far the largest single pool of refugees and those most in need of international assistance? Let us look at the record of our efforts in Damascus. We sent one officer to Damascus, an unfortunate young man named Cameron, for whom I have nothing but boundless admiration. Mr Cameron was established in the foyer of the Netherlands Embassy. There he toiled around the clock, processing a tiny part of the large number of applications for entry into Australia, while outside the Embassy gates thousands of refugees fought and brawled amongst themselves in an attempt to gain entry. Finally, the Syrian authorities and the
Netherlands Ambassador were forced to take a stand, and who could blame them? But the Australian Government can be blamed. Why was Mr Cameron not sent reinforcements before the situation got out of hand? Why were we not told the truth about the closure of the post? It is nonsense to say that the post was closed because the Lebanese-Syrian border was closed. It was not. The border was closed in the main only to Palestinians, and I know of at least one person who has moved effectively backwards and forwards across the border. I have evidence from him if my smiling friend at the back, the honourable member for Evans (Mr Abel), wants to read it.
The closing of the Damascus post was a cruel and callous act and reflects no credit on the Minister. It should have been reinforced before the situation got to be more than the authorities could put up with. It was a monumental blunder, and we of the Opposition call on the Government to re-establish the post as a matter of extreme urgency. We on this side of the House have never had much faith in the Government’s miserly obsession with cutbacks. When its penny pinching results in tragedy, the situation is intolerable. We notice that the Baghdad post is about to be opened. We call upon the Minister to stop big-noting himself at the expense of other people’s suffering. We call upon him to examine his priorities. Is the establishment of a $500,000 mission in Baghdad any more important in his view than reactivating the vital Damascus post? No indication was given that the establishment of the Damascus post was temporary, and it is not known how many Lebanese fled to Syria only to find the Australian post gone. What we do know is that only those relatively well off got to the Australian posts in Nicosia, Cairo and so on. The closing of the Damascus post virtually put an end to the entry to Australia on compassionate grounds. Not only has the Government reduced the scope of compassion as a ground for entry, but true compassionate cases are no longer likely to reach an Australian post. The question must be asked whether the Government has deliberately contrived the situation.
This sorry record could have been averted if the proper administrative arrangements had been made at the appropriate times and if the Minister had not raised Lebanese hopes unduly earlier in the year with his confident assertions about the families and relatives of Australianresident Lebanese. In true Anglo-Saxon xenophobic blindness, the Minister overlooked, with tragic consequences to those involved, the vastly different concept of family which we have in
Australia to that which prevails in the Lebanon where the term ‘family’ frequently applies to the extended family rather than the immediate family circle which we take it to mean in Australia.
I have said some harsh things about the Minister today but in essence I believe him to be a man of good will. I ask him not to play fancy parliamentary games as he did in his speech on the Appropriation Bill when he chose to answer criticisms made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) with an irrelevant diatribe about Vietnam. The case I have put today is based on observations made at first hand. 1 want answers to the specific questions I have raised. In conclusion, I reiterate that the Damascus post must be re-opened. Are we to continue to have the Treasury dictating the foreign- policy and immigration policy of this country? I ask the Minister to examine carefully other aspects of this refugee policy. He must close the communications gap between himself and his task force. He must reconsider the task force’s December deadline. Finally, he should begin to think about how this type of regional refugee problem should be faced in the future because his ad hoc crisis reaction approach to this problem has resulted in disaster.
– The contribution we have just heard from the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) is a classic example of being wise after the event. It is very easy for anybody in this House, with the full knowledge of the present situation, to stand up following an escalating series of events and accuse another person or governments of not taking appropriate action at appropriate times. What one forgets is that when one is reacting to a situation, one does so with the knowledge that is then available. Let me point out to the honourable member and to the House as a whole that the reaction of the Government has been constant and consistent and it has sought to overcome the problems as they became known to us. In fact, when we read the honourable member’s speech, I believe we will see that he has quoted me as making a number of statements in relation to the Lebanese situation all of which demonstrate a continuing concern, and a continuing reaction and a continuing humanitarian approach to those people who have found themselves in this tragic situation.
I agree very definitely with one aspect of the honourable member’s speech, namely that part of it in which he congratulated the officers who have been concerned with processing the applications not only in Nicosia but also in Damascus and other posts and who have been working under extreme difficulties in many cases. I remind the honourable member and the House of the extreme difficulties under which officers have been working in Beirut prior to the evacuation of our embassy in March of this year. I have seen the cables coming back from that post detailing in very graphic style the extreme difficulties and dangers under which officers worked. I agree with the honourable member that those people concerned deserve the utmost congratulation.
I do not believe that the charge can be substantiated that the Government has a shoddy record in relation to this problem. If one looks at my statements in relation to the Lebanese situation, one sees that they commenced early this year on 15 January when the Government made a decision that visitors from Lebanon who did not wish to return home because of the civil dispute there could apply to extend their stay in Australia. At that stage the fighting was escalating in Lebanon and the immigration staff in Beirut was reduced. However, we undertook to keep the situation under constant review and that occurred. On 14 April special arrangements to process applications by Lebanese people were announced. The position in Beirut did not allow the return of Australian embassy staff and we announced the co-ordination of migration action in the area from Athens.
The honourable member has mentioned already the temporary establishment of an immigration office in Damascus. That took place on 8 April. The honourable member has made great play of the work of the officer in Damascus and the fact that he was recalled. I believe that the honourable member and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) have been unfair in this matter. When this decision was announced it was understood that it was in the nature of a temporary operation. All of us at that time hoped that the situation in the Lebanon would stabilise and that there would be a resumption of normality. If one looks at the statements of honourable members on both sides of the House one finds that this is the case. We could not anticipate that the fighting would escalate in the way it did. As I say, the measures were taken in the hope that the situation would return to normal in the shortest possible time. The officer who was established in Damascus was located in the Royal Netherlands Embassy. I reiterate my thanks to the Dutch Government for allowing us to take that action.
The principal difficulty was that while the Syrian authorities agreed to our approaches in
Damascus as a temporary, informal and very low-key operation, they indicated that continuation of the activity would need to be formalised in accordance with usual diplomatic procedures. In late June advice was received from the Syrian authorities that it would not be possible to extend our immigration activities in Syria beyond the end of June. Clearly, the question of Australian diplomatic representation in Syria must be resolved on the basis of a wider range of issues rather than the need just to maintain a shortterm immigration operation, and that an operation to process applications from people outside Syria. Only today in response to a question without notice in the House the Acting Foreign Minister (Mr Sinclair) has given an indication that some action is being undertaken in relation to a permanent presence in Syria.
Bearing in mind the explanation I have just given to the honourable member and the House, I think the action taken by the Government can now be seen, particularly in view of the situation at that stage, as being responsible. It was also in line with the situation which the Canadians had established. They had centralised their Lebanese operations in Nicosia earlier that year. The honourable member said- he is parroting the phrase of his Leader- that I announced the change on a Saturday so that it would not be reported. That is a gross slander. The fact of the matter was that I was in Athens at that stage. I had discussions in Athens with officers concerned with the Lebanese situation. It was decided that the operation should be centralised in Nicosia. I made the statement that the new arrangements should be made public as soon as possible. The fact that ‘as soon as possible’ meant that it was released on the Saturday bore no relation to any attempt to conceal what we were doing. There was a public statement. There was no attempt whatsoever to conceal what the Government was doing. In fact, an announcement was also released to the Arabic and Lebanese newspapers. I believe that this again clearly refutes any allegation that we were seeking to conceal what had taken place.
On 20 May I made an announcement before I left for overseas that special staffing arrangements had been made at Australian posts in Athens, Nicosia, Cairo and Ankara. This conditional and continued response went on as the situation unfolded. On 26 June the statement I have referred to was made. This reaffirmed that posts in Athens, Ankara, Cairo and Tel Aviv would continue to receive applications from Lebanese seeking to migrate as part of the special arrangements for Lebanese migration during the present emergency. A decision was taken as part of a continuing review designed to assist Lebanese eligible under special guidelines to come to Australia.
On 13 August another statement was again made. This was a reaffirmation of instructions to posts on guidelines applicable including the waiving of health requirements where applicable- again a special response by the Government to the situation in which people seeking to escape from Lebanon and managing to escape from Lebanon were finding themselves. A total of 854 persons had already been approved under the special arrangements, all of whom were outside normal family reunion and occupational criteria. The Department continued to approve applications because of compassionate circumstances at the rate of approximately 2500 a year. This was in addition to the significant number of visas being issued on the basis of normal family reunion criteria. At that stage and previously this action was acknowledged and appreciated by the Lebanese community leaders in Australia. On 9 September again there was a reaffirmation that applicants in difficult circumstances would be dealt with as speedily as possible.
Since 1 January 1976 visas covering more than 2200 Lebanese have been issued. In the month of August 590 persons were issued with visas. Of these visas, 505 were issued in Nicosia alone. That was the stage at which an announcement was made that a senior officer had been sent to Nicosia the previous weekend to investigate and report on the most effective way in which the Lebanese immigration operation could be organised. The first report of that officer, Mr Waterman, had been received and an urgent submission was made to Cabinet. As I say, the Cabinet discussed that as a matter of urgency. Again a further statement was made reaffirming the special staff arrangements at posts in Ankara, Nicosia, Cairo and Athens. On 15 September the special projects for Lebanese community representatives to travel overseas and to be involved in the presentation of nominations to Australian posts and to arrange group movement was announced.
Now this did not just occur overnight. This was the result of a continuing series of consultations and meetings with the Lebanese communities in Australia. Some 3000 relatives had been nominated or were being nominated. Obviously there had to be some cut-off date for this particular program and it was announced as being 30 September. On 23 September I made a statement in the House concerning the new initiatives and the establishment of a task force. As the honourable member has already stated, that task force went to Nicosia as a matter of urgency and is already operating there. It has already had a significant effect in cutting down the waiting time for people wishing to come to Australia.
The honourable gentleman suggests that somehow the Lebanese community has not been appreciative or has regarded what the Government has done as being less than forthcoming, less than a strong reaction to the situation as it developed in the Lebanon. I should like to quote some of the community leaders in the Lebanon. A media release on or about 2 1 May states:
Mr N. G. Farah, President of the Australian-Lebanese Association of New South Wales, today said that the reports of a statement attributed to Mr John Saroff … did not reflect the true situation that exists between the Lebanese community and the Australian Government.
The Minister of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the Lebanese diplomatic representatives in Australia and the Australian-Lebanese Association have been in close contact throughout the crisis in Lebanon and many measures have been taken to assist the plight of the Lebanese who have been unable to flee Lebanon.
The criteria for entry into Australia has been extended on compassionate grounds and additional staff added to existing immigration offices surrounding Lebanon and a special immigration office has been established in Damascus with the sole purpose of assisting the Lebanese who have fled to Syria.
The present situation in Lebanon precludes direct assistance being given to those persons still in Lebanon.
This is recognised by Mr Farah. The release goes on:
The Immigration Department and its officers are working under most difficult and extreme conditions and are dealing with people who have been subjected to considerable shock and stress and there is no doubt that there are some cases of hardship that are still being encountered.
The Government has acted in response to particular cases when those cases have been brought to its attention and has shown a willingness to adjust and modify procedures to assist persons for compassionate reasons.
The Lebanese community is grateful for the assistance already given by the Government and looks forward to further steps being taken by the Government in the future if the need arises and it is practical to do so.
The South Lebanon Association of Australia wrote to me on 29 September, saying:
Your statement last week in Parliament and to the Media about the easing of the regulations governing entry to Australia for the Lebanese refugees was received by our executive, as well as by the members of our association, with great appreciation.
This attitude on your part indicates that you and your Government have a clear and true understanding of the problem.
We would like to express our people’s gratitude and our desire as executive of the South Lebanese Association to fully co-operate with the various government departments in solving any problems that might arise in the process of the settlement and adjustment of the newcomers to Australia.
We would like to thank your department officials as well, for the help and co-operation they extended to us.
I have a telegram from the Australian Egyptian Association which states: we also support your humanitarian arrangements for the Lebanese refugees to come to Australia.
I also have a letter from the Maronite Archbishop of Australia, Saint Maron ‘s Cathedral in Sydney, dated 8 October 1976 which states:
I wish to thank you for the sympathetic compassionate and understanding manner in which you have dealt with the problems of the Australian Lebanese and the effect of the current disturbances in Lebanon on the community living in Australia.
The community as a whole is not unmindful of your personal efforts in obtaining from Cabinet the wonderful concessions which have been implemented and which have eased the anguish and uncertainty in the minds of the Australian Lebanese community in general.
They are just some of the letters I have received in relation to this matter. I believe they clearly give the lie to those who would suggest that the Australian Government has been less than compassionate and has not understood and taken action to overcome this problem which, as I have said on a number of occasions before, is of great concern to members on both sides of the House.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
-Until the last 3 or 4 minutes of the speech of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) I thought that he was approaching this topic in the way it should have been approached. We are talking about a human problem. The very fact that the Minister gets a few letters from leaders of the Lebanese community in Australia does not indicate that what this Government has done meets with the approval of those people in my electorate, in the electorate of Grayndler, in the electorate of Melbourne or in other electorates that are represented by Labor members. With regard to the opinions expressed by the leaders of those organisations who, I dare suggest, are absolutely right-wing controlled, they do not see those people the way we see them in our offices. In our offices we would see more ordinary Lebanese in a week than they would see in a month.
The Minister, in his approach at the beginning of his speech, was subdued. It was an indication that he, as an individual, had recognised that the Government had failed to measure up to the efficient standards that Australian administration generally holds. I am not blaming any of the officers in our overseas posts. There were too few of them to handle the task that was imposed upon them. The Government was too slow to react to the situation that had developed in the Lebanon. The Minister suggests that when the office in Beirut was closed and an operation was opened in Damascus, the Government believed that the conflict in the Lebanon was only going to be short-term.
– I did not say that. I said that we hoped it would be short-term.
-Then on the basis of hope, the Minister put in a temporary operation in Damascus and advised all members of this Parliament on 1 April that that office was open. We advised our constituents that if they could get their relatives to leave the Lebanon and travel to Damascus their applications would be processed. We told our constituents exactly what had been told to us. Between 1 April and 25 June- I suggest that was the date the office was closed; the Minister made his statement on 26 Junehundreds of Lebanese relatives had travelled to Damascus. They were being bled dry with food and accommodation costs. Then on 25-26 June the Syrian office was closed. We then had to tell our constituents that it was no good going to Damascus; that they would now need to go to Nicosia.
The change in policy at that stage took even the Minister’s own office by surprise. I can produce several examples but there is one in particular. I refer to a letter signed by the Acting Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs on 1 July which came to my office informing me to advise the sponsors that if their relatives went to Damascus their applications could be processed. My staff rang the Minister’s office on 6 July, 20 July and 4 August asking for an amendment to that letter so that we could advise the constituents correctly. An amended letter finally arrived dated 26 August. The changes in policy made by this Government have been too slow; they have been imprecise; and they have not been firm.
– Do you think we have not tried to help? Would you at least admit that we tried to help to alleviate human suffering?
– I appreciated the subdued approach that the Minister took in this matter. I took his subdued approach as a recognition that he had suddenly decided that it was necessary for Australia to do more for the people who had escaped from Lebanon than had been done. Again I say I am not blaming the small numbers of staff who had to operate in some of these countries.
Why is it that we cannot make arrangements to have an operation, temporary perhaps, opened again in Damascus while the negotiations for the opening of an embassy in Syria still continue? In Damascus there is a similarity of language. More Lebanese nationals are in that country. There is easier access from the Lebanon to Damascus. The people escaping from Damascus may be able to pick up accommodation with some of their Lebanese relatives or friends who are already in Syria. To travel to Nicosia costs a lot and is sometimes impossible. Now the Cyprus authorities are controlling the flow of Lebanese into that country. The honourable member for Melbourne said that £Stg 100 would be needed to make that trip. Some of my constituents have told me directly that when the Lebanese got into Nicosia the cost of accommodation and the cost of food was almost sending them broke. They borrowed from their relatives and friends in Australia. They have borrowed from banks. They are putting themselves into a financial situation from which it will take years to extricate themselves.
All the time members on the government side are saying that they are doing their best. We on this side of the House are saying that they have not done enough, they have not done it quickly enough and they have not been precise enough. It is a human situation. I suggest that the Government would not have reached the stage it has reached now had it not been for the fact that members of the Opposition had been continually harping on the topic. From my own personal point of view I wrote to the Minister earlier this year asking for guidelines. I had discussions with his senior officers and asked for inside information as to what I should tell the relatives of people in Lebanon who were coming into my office in droves- 50 to 100 people a weekwanting to bring out brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and other relatives. I could get no definite guidelines. I was being led up the garden path. I finally brought the matter into this House on 24 August when I asked a question without notice. I made a speech in this House on 9 September. I made another speech in this House on 14 September. The honourable member for Melbourne asked a question. The honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam), the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) raised the matter. It was not until later that the Minister came down with what perhaps is a genuine, determined attempt to do something about the Lebanese refugee situation.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I believe that there is no monopoly in compassion. I am not prepared to be told that the Lebanese do not come to my office, that they go only to the offices of the honourable members of the Opposition. I am not prepared to be told by the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) that he is such a brilliant Arabist that he recognises only the rich Christians are able to get here and the poor Muslims are not. A remark like that in this place does nothing else than damage international relations and damage relations between the Lebanese in this country. I am absolutely appalled that the Opposition spokesman should say such things. Unfortunately, if I may say so with respect, the part of his speech referring to his own investigations were excellent, but once he started turning to hints given to him by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) it is no wonder he found himself in serious trouble. Members opposite would do very much better if they made their own speeches and did not listen to what the Leader of the Opposition wanted them to say.
– He probably wrote the speech.
-No, he did not. The honourable member is too intelligent for that. The honourable member says that he has visited 8 centres. He has been to Nicosia and has seen the offices and the conditions. He was fortunate to get to Damascus. That was a very good and sensible move for him to make.
The honourable member’s main charge against the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) is that the Minister could not foresee whether peace or truce would exist between the Christians on the one side and the Palestinians and the Syrians on the other. The Minister is not a magician. He had to do his best at the time. Listening to the speeches of honourable members one would imagine that not a single person got a visa in the crisis at Damascus. One would think that the gates were jammed, that there was brawling and that nothing was done. I think the honourable member should be very careful. During those critical moments an officer issued 516 visas. I have also all the figures in front of me of what has been happening in Cyprus. As I have plenty of time I will read to the House the exact statistics I have been given by the Minister. There were 8390 applications received between April and September 1976. There were 3029 visas granted between January and September 1976, of which 1526 were granted between August and September 1976. So the system has been working fairly well so far. In the week ending 1 October 1976, 169 visas were granted.
I have in front of me a list of the names of my own constituents who have made applications in relation to their relatives now in Nicosia. They are not wealthy people. They live in Doveton, Noble Park and North Dandenong. What was the honourable member for Melbourne talking about when he referred to wealthy people coming in. He was just trying to make some political capital out of nothing. Mr and Mrs Hindi have made application for their son to come to Australia. They live at Lot 43, Fay Court, Noble Park. A Mr Abbejabber wants to come to Australia. An application has been made on his behalf by a relative, Mr Hajja, who lives at Flat 12, Samaria Street, North Dandenong. Some rich Christian Lebanese he! An application has been made concerning a Mr Miasri by his son, who lives at 11 Rawden Drive, North Dandenong. The Jabbour family is now actually in Nicosia waiting to come to Australia. The mother and father were bazookaed out of their house and the children fled. The whole familyeight of them in all- is now in Cyprus waiting for permission to leave for Australia. Honourable members may think that of all the cases passing through my office nobody has ever reached Australia. May I assure honourable members immediately that Mr Annis Mondous, who lives at 42 Fugiosa Street, Doveton, which is not the West End area of Holt but which is a very fine area, arrived safely last week.
A few minutes ago I received a telephone call from a Mr Palazzolo reminding me that his daughter, Mrs Taweel, had arrived from Cyprus yesterday with her 4 children. She spoke to me on the telephone. She had one simple thing to say to me and to the Minister, namely: ‘Thank you very much for what you have done for our family’. We realise that there are some other families that are going through great difficulties. I and others who are connected with the Lebanon realise that the Minister and the Government are doing everything in their power to assist those people. We have said that our policy, to be certain, is that we will help in bringing about family unity. The spokesman for the Opposition in this time of Winnie the Pooh reminds me of Eyeore upside down sucking Lebanese thistles. He has the whole story the wrong way round. The sooner he realises that the Lebanese people are extremely thankful for the work of the Department and the Minister the sooner further progress will be made. I am not saying that in every aspect the work we have done has been as we would like it to be. But, after all, one has only to travel to the Middle East at the present time to find out how difficult the situation is there. On behalf of the Lebanese people in my electorate and on behalf of the many migrants, from Mauritius and from Sri Lanka and other parts of Asia, I thank the Government for the work that it has done to assist in bringing about family unity. They thoroughly applaud and admire the work of this Liberal-National Country Party Government.
-The discussion is now concluded.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
Mr SINCLAIR (New England-Minister for
Primary Industry) ( 12.45)- I move:
The purposes of this short Bill are to obtain parliamentary approval for the agreement entered into between the Commonwealth and the States in an exchange of letters between the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Premiers during September 1976 to extend the fruit growing reconstruction scheme until 31 December 1976 and for the provision of up to a further $lm to assist in the removal of canning fruit trees in Victoria and South Australia. The scheme, which commenced on 14 July 1972, provides assistance supplementary to the main rural reconstruction scheme to meet some of the special needs of the horticultural industry. It provides financial assistance to orchardists who are in or are threatened by financial difficulties to remove surplus fruit trees and either leave the industry altogether or diversify into some other form of production. A subsidiary benefit of the scheme is that the removal of surplus trees has helped to bring the industry’s productive capacity into closer alignment with the market for its products.
The scheme offers 2 forms of assistance- clear fell, for the grower who is predominantly a horticulturist, who is in severe financial difficulties and who wishes to remove all his fruit trees and leave the horticultural industry; and partial removal, for the grower whose property would become viable if some or all of the fruit trees were removed and the land put to an alternative use, but who lacks the financial resources to withstand the short term effects of the removal of the trees. Assistance under the scheme is provided by way of a loan which is converted to a grant after 5 years, conditional on the recipient not replanting specified fruit trees within that period. The scheme is restricted to fresh apple, fresh pear, canning peach, canning pear and canning apricot trees. The scheme was originally to have operated for one year, up to 30 June 1973, but has been extended on 2 occasions- to 30 June 1974 and then to 31 December 1975. The initial provision of $4.6m was sufficient to meet the demand for assistance through the 2 extension periods, so that no additional funds have been required.
Fruit growing reconstruction was referred to the Industries Assistance Commission in July 1974 and the future of special reconstruction measures for the fruit growing industries after 3 1 December 1975 was held in abeyance until the Commission had reported on this reference. The Commission issued an interim report on fruit growing on 30 October 1975 in which it recommended that the expiry date for applications to be lodged for assistance under the scheme be extended to 31 December 1976. The Commission confirmed this recommendation in its final report issued on 16 January 1976. The Government considered the Commission’s recommendation on the extension of the scheme and decided to adopt it. At the time, some $ 1 . 1 m of the original $4.6m provided by the Commonwealth for fruit growing reconstruction had not been committed. After examining the industry position, the Government decided that no further funds would be needed. Subsequent representations by the Victorian and South Australian governments on the severe over-supply position of canning fruit varieties, especially canning pears, led the Government to reconsider the financial needs of the scheme. A careful assessment of the likely needs of the 2 States indicated that an additional $lm would be needed if the maximum use was to be made of the fruit growing reconstruction scheme before it expired on 3 1 December 1 976. Accordingly the Bill authorises the provision of $lm to assist in the removal of canning fruit trees in those 2 States.
The terms of the scheme allow a 6 months period for the removal of trees after closing date for applications. The fruit growing reconstruction scheme will thus continue to provide assistance until 30 June 1977, but such assistance will be only in respect of applications lodged before 31 December 1976- the date of expiry of this scheme. This final phase of the fruit growing reconstruction scheme will, I believe, go a long way towards assisting those fruit growers now in necessitous circumstances to adjust their undertakings to changed conditions and will make a very real contribution to aligning Australia’s production of apples, peaches, pears and apricots with the market available ibr those products. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hayden) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 7 October, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point” of procedure on this legislation. Before the debate is resumed on this BUI I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill, the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill (No. 2), the National Health Amendment Bill (No. 3), the Health Insurance Amendment BUI (No. 3) and the Handicapped Persons Assistance Amendment Bill as they are associated measures. Separate questions will, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest, therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the 5 Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the 5 measures? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
The Opposition also will be moving an amendment to the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill (No. 2) but that will be done later in accordance with the forms of the House. I would point out, however, that the amendment associated with the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill (No. 2) is very similar to the amendment I have just moved in relation to this Bill.
I shall go through the main points which cause the Opposition some concern and indicate why we feel concerned. Firstly, there is a feeling among members of the Opposition that inadequate steps have been taken to protect the income of pensioners adversely affected by provisions in this legislation. Honourable members will recall that several years ago the Liberal and Country Parties, then in government, introduced amendments to the Social Services Act which resulted in superannuation payments being treated optionally, at the instance of the recipient, in one of two ways for means test purposes. Either they could be treated as income or, according to a formula, they could be capitalised. It was- left to the pensioner to determine which was more favourable for him. In some instances one procedure would be more favourable than the other and vice versa.
The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) referred in his second reading speech to people who can exercise this option. I want to take up that matter and illustrate the concern of my colleagues. It is true that those people who would otherwise be disadvantaged because of the change in the means testing, which now is based on income alone, will receive a pension increase. On the other hand it is also true that they will not receive any further pension increase until the excesses of income for means testing purposes are eliminated, according to the means to apply as a result of these changes, over a period of time.
Let us consider the case of a person with an excess of income of $6.25 at November 1976- that is an excess arising because of the change which he was required to follow in respect of means testing being converted solely to an income basis. In the past, such a person was capitalising his superannuation for means test purposes. Assuming a 7 per cent increase in the consumer price index for the first half of this financial year, the September and December quarters, according to the new formula which would be applied, this would mean an increase in pension of about $2.50 a week for a married person for May 1977. In turn this would mean that that person would then have an excess of $3.75 which would have to be eliminated for means testing purposes before any pension would be paid under the new arrangements. Therefore he would receive no increase for May 1976.
If we then assume that for the first half of the next calendar year, the March and June quarters of 1977, the consumer price index increase is about 5 per cent, such a person still will have about $1.75 excess to be eliminated by the time of the November 1977 pension increase before he starts receiving any increase in pension. Accordingly, if I am correct in my quick reading of the Minister’s second reading speech, the recipient in those circumstances I use as an illustration will go well into 1978 before getting any increase in pension payments, and perhaps beyond. That will be determined by the rate of increase in inflation in the future, into 1978 and beyond.
It might be suggested by some unkind people that a projection of a 7 per cent increase in the consumer price index for the September and December quarters of 1976 is unreasonable. After all, the Government is implying that at the very least it is going to make a substantial impact on inflation in this country. A little later I shall seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a table which shows that the Department of Social Security is projecting an increase in the consumer price index of 7 per cent for that period. I presume that the Department has taken advice from the Treasury. So we can expect a fairly high rate of inflation for this financial year. In other words, contrary to what the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) has been advising the Australian community and in spite of the very high social and economic costs which are going to be imposed on the community, with record high post war unemployment in January and February 1977, prolonged economic stagnation, business failures and so on, the Government is going to make very little impact on inflation. Judging by the sort of figures that the Department of Social Security is working on it is clear, by implication, that inflation by the end of this financial year is going to be little better, if at all, than for the financial year just completed. That is a rather dreadful outlook for this country. The evidence I will produce a little later will substantiate what I say. I am not making my own projections and the implications are clear- the Government has been much less than candid in the economic forecasting it has been disseminating in the community.
To get back to the main point I was making, many members of the Opposition think that the new arrangements will adversely affect many pensioners. They will be adversely affected because henceforth they will not be able to adopt the more favourable of the options- to capitalise superannuation payments or treat them as income. It has been suggested by some of my colleagues that some sort of proviso might be written into the legislation to ensure that these people are not disadvantaged in any way and do not lose out on pension increases that they would otherwise have received in the future. That seems to be a not unreasonable proposition and I recommend it to the Minister and to the Government. I sincerely trust that over the succeeding weeks before this Parliament rises at the end of this calendar year the Minister can advise the Government accordingly and that the Government can respond sympathetically to the proposal that a proviso should be written into the legislation so that these people will not be disadvantaged because of this change -
– They will not be disadvantaged.
– … and so that they will be able to get pension increases in future and not have their pension payments frozen for an extended period, as I explained a little while ago before the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) came into the House and decided to display his profound and deep insight into this subject. We are all aware of the quality of his understanding. Another matter which concerns the Opposition relates to unemployment and sickness benefits but iri view of the time I suggest that the sitting be suspended.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I had completed making the point that the Social Services Amendment Bill now before the House proposes to amend the relevant Act in a number of ways and that one such way would result in a number of people being disadvantaged compared with the sort of treatment they would have had before the change. I referred to people on superannuation who had been able to exercise an option, that is, whether they had their superannuation payments treated as income or whether they capitalised them for means test purposes. In some instances one course was more advantageous than the other. Rather than disadvantage many of these people I suggested that it was the view of many Opposition members that a simple proviso should be written into the Act to ensure that these people do not miss out on future pension increases to which they would have been entitled had there not been this change in the means test provisions. I sincerely trust that the Government will accede to that perfectly reasonable proposition.
Immediately before the suspension of the sittings I indicated that the next point I wanted to make was in relation to unemployment benefits, specifically that young people under 1 8 years of age received no increase in the unemployment benefit. By the time of the next Budget, August 1977, 2 years will have elapsed without any increase having been provided for these young people. Conceivably none will be provided then either. Too much has been made of the so-called dole bludger in our midst. When I was Minister for Social Security I was conscious of the.fact that some people, and not too many of them relatively, will abuse any system and that the more we try to toughen up a system to catch the person who abuses or misuses the system the harder we make it for decent responsible people who have a need for that benefit, a need arising from no fault of their own. They desperately need that assistance. I would make the point in passing that it has always appeared to me that in a sustained period of high unemployment as we have been through and will continue to be in the midst of for some time yet it seems anomalous to talk about people being work shy. There are no jobs available to offer them. Especially there are no jobs available to offer young people.
Young people are disproportionately represented among the unemployed. They suffer the most protracted periods of unemployment. When one moves away from the major metropolitan centres the situation becomes even more serious. For my part I would sooner have young people at the beach enjoying the surf and a little of life, perhaps living together and sharing costs, on unemployment benefits and having that healthy distraction than standing around on street corners frustrated, increasingly alienated from our society and in some instances being encouraged because of their alienation to indulge in some form of social behaviour. I do not want to make too much of that point because it is so easy to get a headline, and it would be disreputable to grab it in such an easy way when the instances of what I have referred to are quite rare. Too much was made of the dole bludger in the past and the Government cannot justify continually discriminating against young people below 1 8 years of age deriving unemployment benefits on those grounds in this way. Perhaps there could be a different rate of benefit but there should not be a freezing of the payment altogether in the way in which it has happened in the recent Budget.
Consider the situation of a young person in rented accommodation living in a large city away from his or her family and being out of work. That young person has to meet the full cost of board and on top of that the cost of moving around chasing up employment. The rate which is available under this Bill, which does not change the unemployment benefit- it is a rate, if my recollection is correct, of $36 a week- will not leave such people with any surplus at all in many cases. In too many cases it will leave them in debt and I do not like it. I think it is most undesirable and unfortunate that so many young people will have this experience in life. It will lead to anger and alienation from our society and that is not a desirable objective.
There is fair evidence of some jiggery-pokery going on in this area we are talking aboutunemployment benefits. In a remarkable arrangement of the Budget figures we find that this year the Government proposes that total expenditure on unemployment benefits will be reduced by $49m from the level that applied last year, in spite of several factors. It proposes that this will transpire in spite of the fact that the unemployment benefit will be increased, in spite of the clear evidence in the Budget statement that unemployment will climb to post-war record heights in January and February of the new year, in spite of the fact that in the first 3 months of this financial year there were 71315 more people on unemployment benefits than in the comparable period last year, and in spite of the fact that already unemployment benefit payments are $18m above the payment rate for the comparable period last year. Quite frankly, there appears to be some falsification here. It is not falsification for which any public servant would be responsible. It looks like political diddling of the books and I suggest that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) ought to clarify this in the interests of the integrity of the Ministry, the Government, the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), who in this House represents the Minister for Social Security, and the Minister for Social Security herself.
The next matter that concerns the Opposition is the supplementary benefit which is paid to people of extremely limited means, as assessed for social security benefit payments, and who have to pay rent. The rate is $5 a week. There is no proposal to increase that rate. For many of these people that is disastrous news. A succession of reports on poverty in the Australian community has confirmed that among the most needy people of those identified as being relatively poor are those of very limited means paying rent for their accommodation. Nearly 90 per cent of all age pensioners, 43 per cent of invalid pensioners, 29 per cent of widow pensioners and over 63 per cent of women receiving the supporting mothers benefit are in receipt of supplementary assistance. That is, they are paying rent and have extremely limited means. They are amongst the most needy in the community. Many of them are supporting children and it is regrettable that the Government has not seen fit as a matter of common justice to provide some increase in this payment.
The history of supplementary benefits under Liberal-National Country Party governmentsconservative governments- has been a sad one. There have been long periods of neglect. For instance, from 1957 to 1964 inclusive supplementary assistance remained at $1. From 1965 to 1972 it remained at $2. There was little movement until the Labor Government assumed office. We are also concerned at the absence of any indexation of dependants’ allowances and I take up the thread I laid down a few moments ago. There are many people, with dependants, in receipt of social security benefits who are among the most needy in this community and it is a most inglorious chapter in the social security history of this country that so little is being done for these people. It might be argued by the Government that the new system of family allowances will overcome that and that there is no need for adjustment. I will deal with that later, but by and large people are not better off in real terms as a result of the new system of family allowances. To the extent that they have to pay any Medibank levy they are decidedly worse off than they were under previous arrangements.
Let us look again at the dependants’ allowance for children. We increased it to $5 in the 1973 Budget- the first Budget we presented- to $5.50 in the 1974 Budget, to $7 in the May 1975 period and to $7.50 in the 1975 Budget. It has come to a dead halt now. The fact is that children have never counted for much in monetary terms under Liberal -National Country Party conservative governments. Again I quote from a table included in the Department of Social Security’s annual report for 1974-75. Allowance for the first child stayed at $1.15 from 1951 to 1960 inclusive. It then went to $1.50 and stayed there until 1967 when it was lifted to $2.50 and stayed at that figure until 1971. That is a clear record of neglect of the needs of the more needy people by and large in the community. It is in contradistinction to the attention we devoted to that area. The orphans’ benefit which we introduced is retained at $11 per week. I thought there would have been sufficient justification for increasing that amount.
Another point that concerns me is the failure of the Government to carry out its election promise to legislate for immediate and automatic increases in pensions and benefits in line with the consumer price index. This is a very important objection which we raise. I draw the attention of honourable members to a statement made on this topic in December last year at the time of the federal election campaign. The Hon. D. L. Chipp, who was a spokesman for the coalition parties, issued a Press statement on Liberal Party, letterhead dated 8 December 1975. It states:
Both parties have undertaken to increase pensions in line with the Consumer Price Index. We propose to bring in legislation which will allow increases in pensions to be made instantly and automatically -
Those words should be stressed and underlined in Hansard - as soon as the new index is announced. This will eliminate the procedures now necessary of having to debate a Bill in Parliament in order to increase pensions.
The system we had, of course, was one that did take a little time because it was related to average weekly earnings. Historically the benefits related to average weekly earnings would be of a much higher order because with very odd exceptions they always have moved at a faster rate than the consumer price index. Delay arose solely because average weekly earnings statistics are delayed a few months before they come out. Consumer price index statistics have a delay of no more than two or three weeks on average at the completion of a relevant quarter. Under the proposals in this legislation there will certainly be automatic adjustments but the adjustments will take place, for instance, in November and will be in accord with movements in the CPI in the March and June quarters earlier in that year. The next adjustment will take place in May and will be in accord with movements in the CPI in the September and December quarters of the preceding calendar year; that is, in each case there will be a delay of about 5 months before the adjustment takes place in the pension rate.
One might well reflect on the necessity for such an extensive delay. It is just a crude exercise designed to save money. I have a table which shows, for instance, the additional cost if the pension increase was paid from the first pay day in August 1976. In such a case the cost to the Government would be nearly $60m. I also have the figure for the May 1977 increase in pension based upon a departmental projection of the Department of Social Security of an anticipated increase of about $3 a week in the standard rate and $2.50 a week in the married rate. Instead of introducing the increase in February 1977, by delaying it until May the saving would be nearly $78m. That is what the pensioners are going to be made to pay, and made to pay most generously in terms of pension payments of which they are deprived because of the meanness of the
Government; a meanness which cannot be justified in any way at all; a meanness which for many pensioners will mean struggling along a little longer on a very inadequate living standard at a time of extended high inflation. I seek leave to have the table entitled ‘Cost in 1976-77 of Pension and Benefit Increases’ incorporated in
Hansard. It is a table prepared in the Department of Social Security for internal use. I have externalised it.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
-I would like to mention in passing what I regard as a defect in the Opposition’s amendment which has been circulated in my name and which to save time, I have not read out. The points that I have been covering are the points that are enumerated in the amendment. I repeat, I would like to point out what I think is a defect, namely, the new means test arrangements where the means test will apply in terms of income only and not in terms of one’s assets. It is suggested in the second reading speech of the Minister that this follows Professor Henderson’s recommendations contained in the poverty inquiry report which he submitted to the Government. But his recommendation on the means test covers more than merely applying an income based means test. A key part of his recommendations was that a capital gains tax should be introduced. Such a move is desirable. I would prefer myself a net worth tax because such a tax would be more comprehensive and simpler in its functioning. Such a tax is very common in most industrialised countries. Such a tax, I repeat, is a thoroughly justifiable one.
I think that questions about moral responsibility arise in the new means test. There is the question of equity. A situation can arise in which a person with property worth very large sums of money can, because of the means test, receive a pension. It is not inconceivable that some people may have property that will be worth a million or so dollars as a result of capital appreciation following the urban sprawl, the conversion of land from rural use to residential use. This is the sort of gain which can be and often is made. Why should the rest of the community be required to pay tax to subsidise that sort of person, to provide him with a pension? Again, why should a young couple in difficult circumstances, raising a family with all the debts and liabilities that come at that stage of life and on a very modest income, be required to contribute a proportion of their income tax to pay the pensions of those people who, if they realised on their assets, would be in a handsomely adequate position?
One can think of a whole range of dodges which can be developed so that one does not have income coming in although one has substantial assets. For instance a private company reinvesting to improve the capital worth of the company and avoid any profit flow. The principals might even employ their family and pay very inflated incomes to them to avoid profit flow. A company might even get to the point of bringing in- and this may be probably quite unlawful but hard to detect- some system of kickbacks to the family. There is a whole range of possible abuses that can be, and because they can be will undoubtedly be, adopted as a result of this change. There should have been some provision for a capital gains tax or net worth tax as Professor Henderson recommended in his report to avoid this sort of inequity.
I will cite the example of family allowances to relate the point that I made earlier; that is, that people are better off because of the new family allowances system. Previously we introduced a tax rebate which was worth $3.85 a week for each child. If that had been indexed for this year, as it would have been if this benefit had been left in the system of taxation, the amount would have become $4.35 a week this year. That would mean with child endowment for the first child a total payment of $4.85 as against a payment under the new arrangements of $3.50. Therefore a family with one child will be $1.35 a week worse off as a result of the new family allowance. Again in the case of a family with 2 children the indexed tax rebate with child endowment would have been $10.20 against a family allowance of $8.50. Therefore a family of this size is $1.70 a week worse off. The figures continue in that way as a result of indexing the tax rebate and relating it to child endowment. In all cases, families are worse off each week, and if they are paying Medibank tax on top of that they are considerably worse off.
In the period during which the Labor Government was in office many initiatives were taken in the field of social welfare and many improvements were made. Overall, responsibility for social welfare loomed much larger than was the case with any previous government of the previous two decades. As a proportion of gross domestic product, we took total outlays from 4.4 per cent in 1971-72 to over 6.0 per cent. When Labor was in Opposition it acknowledged the responsibility and when it came into Government it discharged that responsibility. There is mounting evidence that the present Government will seek to unwind that commitment which we entered into for the benefit of the community.
-The honourable member for Oxley has moved an amendment. Is the amendment seconded?
– Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker, I second it and I reserve my right to speak later in the debate.
-My contribution to this debate will deal with the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976. 1 intend to be very brief as I do not wish to delay the passage of this very important Bill through the House any longer than necessary. It is sufficient for me to say that the proposed increases in repatriation pensions are most welcome, covering as they do the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner, the intermediate rate pensioner, the general rate pensioner, the war and defence widow’s pension and the Service pension. Perhaps the most important section of the Bill is that which provides for the automatic adjustment of repatriation pensions twice yearly, in May and November, in accordance with the increases in the consumer price index. The records will show that the automatic adjustment of pensions is something I have been trying to promote for some years. The previous Labor Administration would not accept the proposal in its entirety, and each question on the matter that I put to the Minister of the day received a negative reply, and well I remember it.
I commend the present Government for its acceptance of the proposal of automatic adjustments to pensions and for the promptness with which it has introduced the necessary legislation. The important part about it is that it will serve to take all pensions- both those dealing with Service personnel and those dealing with personnel on the civilian side- completely out of the political arena. Never again can the matter of pension increases become a bargaining point to win votes from the electors during a pre-election Budget or at election time, a procedure which I believe reduces the dignity of the pensioner quite callously and unnecessarily. I first brought up the matter of automatic adjustments to pensions in order to stop the practice of making pensioners political footballs during my maiden speech in this House nearly 10 years ago. It is with a tremendous amount of satisfaction that today I support the Bills presently before the House and again congratulate the Government on introducing them.
– I think it might be appropriate at this time to read the words of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) to the motion for the second reading. The amendment states:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: while not opposing the Bill, the House deplores the inequities which arise from the Government’s failure to-
I should like to go through those points in some detail, starting with the proposition that we put that the Government is saving money at the expense of pensioners in the matter of immediate and automatic increases in pensions and benefits in line with the consumer price index. According to the second reading speech by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman), this is what the Government proposes to do:
In May of each year the standard and married rates of pensions and benefits will be increased by the percentage increase in the consumer price index for the immediately preceding September and December quarters.
Whilst the Minister is correct when he refers to those quarters as the immediately preceding September and December quarters, they are not the immediately preceding quarters. The December and March quarters are the immediately preceding quarters. The Minister went on:
In November the rates will be increased by the movement in the consumer price index for the preceding March and June quarters.
Again, what should happen is that the rates should be indexed on the basis of the June and September quarters. The September figures are available by the middle of October and there is no reason why the rates cannot be increased by the full amount in November. When trade unions go before a tribunal seeking wage indexation a decision is made on the last quarter. It is not made on the quarter finishing S months before, as it is the Government’s intention to do with pensions. It is interesting to note that in the Government’s own Budget papers there is a forecast of a $3 increase in the single rate pension beginning in May next year. That is the forecast now. The increase on 1 November will be $2.25 and the next increase is estimated to be $3. Since it will be tied to the increase in the CPI, the Government predicts a 33 per cent increase in the inflation rate. I do not mean that there will be an inflation rate of 33 per cent but an increase of 33 per cent in the inflation rate. The increase will rise from $2.25 to $3 to compensate pensioners for the increase in the CPI during the September and December quarters of this year. So the
Government does not believe its own propaganda about inflation going down. The Government itself predicts an increase of 33 per cent in the rate of inflation during the current half year.
The other point I wish to raise relates to the fact that benefits are not being indexed. The only thing that is being indexed is the actual pension. The automatic adjustment provisions will not apply to unemployment and sickness benefits payable to persons under 18 years of age. I am not necessarily arguing that unmarried persons under 18 of age should receive the same unemployment or sickness benefits as are payable to older people. What I am saying is that there ought to be a percentage increase and that at some stage a decision must be made as to whether the actual amount is adequate. The persons under 18 years of age ought to be entitled to a percentage increase in the same way as everybody else. The next point is that there will be no automatic adjustment of mothers’ and guardians’ allowances. There will be no adjustment to supplementary assistance and allowances, benefits for children or, most importantly, what is now called the family allowance, or child endowment. We come back to the basic trickery in social security under this Government. The honourable member for Oxley, who led for us in this debate, pointed out that every tax paying family in Australia is worse off this year because of the changes. The indexed amount of rebate would have been $4.35 in the case of the first child plus 50 cents for child endowment. The family would have received $4.85 net benefit during each week for the first child. Now, the amount will be $3.50, a loss of $1.35. A family with 2 children would have received $8.70 as tax rebate plus $1.50 as child endowment for the 2 children, a total amount of $10.20. But they will receive $8.50 as a family allowance for 2 children, a loss of $1.70. The family with 3 children would have received $13.05 as a tax rebate plus $3.50 as child endowment, a total of $ 16.55 compared with the new family allowances of $14.50, a net loss of $2.05. For 4 children, there is a loss of $2.65 a week. This is the case with all tax paying families in this country.
In addition to that, the important point that people must realise is that there will be no indexation of child endowment or family allowances. Yet, as you well know, Mr Deputy Speaker, the Government has given an undertaking to index taxation and related areas such as tax rebates. When I raised this point before, Government supporters said that the Government at no stage claimed that it would index tax rebates for dependent children which were increased from $200 to $226. In fact, it is quite clear from the Budget Papers that the Government did that. It did so for the purposes of calculating zone allowance. If honourable members opposite look at the Budget Papers, they will see quite clearly that the $200 child rebate was increased to $226. But that has been withdrawn. It was allowable only to people living in certain zones of this country.
I would like to raise very quickly a point that has been dealt with repeatedly in the House. I admit that it was the case under our Government also. The Minister spoke of it in his speech. Certain amendments are being introduced in the legislation. I refer to the change in the definition of dependants, spouses and so on and to the question of de facto relationships. I am one who supports a differential pension rate for single and so-called married people. I think an excellent argument can be made, and always could be, that it is cheaper for 2 people to share accommodation and facilities in a home than it is for 2 single people living separately in different places. It is reasonable to have a lower so-called married rate of pension. However, I see a difficulty in this area. It must be unpleasant, I am sure, for all except the voyeurs in the Department of Social Security- hopefully, there would not be many of them- to enforce the rule and to check on the actual relationship of people. The honourable member for Sydney (Mr Les McMahon) and other honourable members have repeatedly raised the point about checks on aged pensioners who were living together to see whether they were living in a man-wife relationship or just living together.
My point is that that difficulty ought to be overcome. It is quite ridiculous that a lower rate of pension is paid for 2 people living in a manwife relationship compared with 2 people just living together not in a man-wife relationship. If 2 people are living together- they may be brothers, sisters or friends- they save expenditure, the premise upon which we base our argument that the married rate ought to be lower than the single rate. Many of these ridiculous arguments about checking up on people could be overcome by changing the legislation so that it is not a question of a single pension rate or a married pension rate but whether 2 people are sharing accommodation and expenditure.
– De facto.
– It does not have to be a de facto relationship. It could be 2 women or 2 men living together. For example, the honourable member and another member of the National Country Party could lose their seats after the next election. They would be entitled to live together. It seems to me to be unreasonable to make a distinction on the basis of a sexual relationship that may or may not exist. It is completely irrelevant to the expenditure need of the 2 people concerned.
Another point I would like to raise is that there will be no payment of unemployment benefit to school leavers coming on to the labour market now until February 1977. The Government has decided not to pay any unemployment benefits for school leavers until February of next year, even though they will be hitting the labour market almost from now on, as I understand it, and certainly from November. For 2 or 3 months while they are looking for jobs, those people who cannot find jobs will remain dependent on their parents and on any money they can borrow or otherwise obtain. They will not be entitled to the unemployment benefit. To my mind, that provision has never been properly explained by the people who introduced it. I hope that some explanation will be given either by the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) who represents the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) in this House or by the Minister for Social Security when the legislation comes before the Senate.
I deal now with the change in the means test and the new income test to determine pension entitlements. I can see arguments in favour of it and I can see arguments against it. On a number of occasions, I have successfully appealed on behalf of some of my constituents who were ineligible to receive an age or invalid pension on the basis that the means assessed- not income- were too high. People who own 5-acre or 20-acre properties in parts of my electorate find that they are unable to subdivide or to sell any of those properties. Yet, the calculation of their means was done on the basis that only a small part surrounding the house was counted as being part of the property. It was limited to the house or what was necessary and the rest was considered to be the property. Such people were then rejected as ineligible to receive a pension. I must say that in every case in which I have made an appeal to the appeals tribunal, the people concerned received a pension and the means, as assessed, were altered to income only. In that sense, the legislation is a step in the right direction. I agree with the honourable member for Oxley that some people will try to get around this provision. The Minister says that this is a recommendation in the first main report of the Henderson report on poverty. He is not being completely honest when he says that. While Professor Henderson did recommend that, the recommendation was part of another exercise. He recommended that there should also be a capital gains tax or some other tax dealing with the people whose actual property increases at a large rate although they still are eligible for social service benefits.
The question of superannuitants is a special one. It is difficult to explain. As those people who have followed the argument know, it is a question of following changes made to the legislation in about 1971 or 1972. People receiving superannuation or annuity were able to change that income to a capital sum for purposes of deciding the means test eligibility. Obviously, the capital sum decreases as a person gets older. If that person were receiving $20 or $30 a week by way of superannuation, the capital amount on which this was based would be greater when the person was aged 61 than when he was aged 68 because the number of years for which the amount would be paid would be less as his age increased. Therefore, such a person may have been originally eligible for the pension or would become eligible at some earlier time than the time at which the actual means test disappeared, age 70. If the Government removes this choice, a significant number of people will be worse off. We have estimated the number to be of the order of 30 000 immediately. Of course more will be affected each year. What the Government proposes is not to take away the pension from anybody who would be adversely affected but to freeze that person’s pension at the current amount. So if that person’s pension really decreases by, let us say, $8 a week because of the new means test, he will not lose that $8 a week. He will continue to get his present pension but he will not get any increase in his pension, even though there are rises in the consumer price index until that increase amounts to $8.
I think it is a bit rough on the people concerned. The Government will certainly get a lot of people objecting very strongly about this matter, and, from their point of view, justifiably. In addition, those people have just recently been hit with a significant increase in taxation. Many of them did not have to pay tax under our scheme but they now have to pay tax because the age limit has been removed. Also in many cases of course they now have to pay the Medibank levy or if they want to insure themselves for intermediate wards, for example, they have to pay a significant amount. These people will be significantly worse off. I wonder whether the Government really thought the position through when it made its decision on the changes to the means test. That point is covered by paragraph (e) of our amendment which states:
It was originally our intention to move some amendment to prevent the freezing of pensions but it is not possible for us to do so because it would mean an increase in expenditure on the part of the Government. Those honourable members who are familiar with the forms of the House will realise that we are not able to move amendments which increase the total expenditure by the Government.
So in summing up, I just hope that some of the people on the Government side- some of the backbenchers- who possibly have not thought the position through might think about it again as they did in the now famous case of funeral benefits for pensioners. Again, a relatively small number of people are significantly disadvantaged. They are the people on superannuation who benefited under the present scheme. However, every pensioner is adversely affected by the fact that pensions will not be paid at the highest rate in line with consumer price index increases but at a rate some 8 or 9 months behind the actual current rate. I therefore appeal to Government supporters to have another look at the matter. I do not expect them to do anything about it in this chamber. But they might have second thoughts when the Bill goes to another place and put pressure on the Government to have another look at it.
– I am astounded that such an experienced parliamentarian and politician as the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) would leave himself so open to criticism in the manner in which he has moved the amendment that is before the House. The fact that the honourable member for Oxley was a former Treasurer and a former Minister for Social Security indicates to me that all of these matters that he raises in this amendment should have, indeed if he were genuine in his approach, could have been implemented when he was in government. Let us not forget that the Labor Government was in office for 3 years. Yet I do not recall any of these matters having been dealt with when the honourable member for Oxley was Treasurer of the then Whitlam Labor Government. We may well have added perhaps an amendment that the Government deplores the previous Government and the previous Treasurer and former Minister for Social Security in not implementing measures outlined in the amendment of the honourable member for Oxley. Indeed we might have had another amendment deploring the previous Government’s failure to hold the Budget deficit to the figure budgeted for, thereby plunging the nation into a tremendous debt. We hear this fine talk from the former Treasurer about what this Government should be doing at the moment. Let us look at his record and the track record of the Government of which he was a part. The deficit that was budgeted for in 1974-75 was $570m- not an unusually large deficit. The Whitlam Labor Government year finished up with a deficit of $2,567m. These figures are factual.
– What is your deficit?
-Well, the mere fact that the Government of the day has budgeted for a deficit of $2.6 billion is largely a result of the bungling of the previous Administration. Let me go a little further. The deficit that was budgeted for in the year that the honourable member for Oxley was Treasurer was $2,798m. When the Fraser Government took office in December last this deficit was heading for a figure in the vicinity of $4.7 billion. It could not have been held anywhere near the budgeted figure of $2.8 billion. It was only with careful planning and restraint that we showed in the remaining months of government that we were able to reduce this deficit to $3.5 billion. I repeat: These are factual figures. The honourable member for Oxley should be the last person to stand in this House and condemn or criticise this Government.
The honourable member for Oxley has been misleading this House. I should just like to quote some of the things that he has said because he stated in his speech that it was Australian Labor Party policy that pensions be maintained at 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. It may well have been Labor Party policy at one stage but I shall quote from the 1975-76 Budget Speech of the honourable member for Oxley. I ask honourable members to remember that he stated that the Australian Labor Party’s policy was to maintain pensions at 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. He said:
The standard rate of social service pensions and benefits will be increased in the Spring of 197S by the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index between the December quarter 1974 and the June quarter 197S; and again in the Autumn of 1 976 by the increase in the Consumer Price Index between the June and December quarters of 1 975.
That quote is from the Budget Speech of the honourable member for Oxley when he was Treasurer in the Whitlam Labor Government. Therefore the Labor Party and the Labor Government had the same policy as we have today and that is, to increase pensions in accordance with movements in the consumer price index. Let us look a little bit further at what he has had to say in relation to this amendment when he talks about immediate and automatic increases. Automatic increases were in my Government’s policy but not immediate increases. The honourable member for Oxley has put forward a rather spurious argument.
I also wish to take up a point that was made by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman). He talked about no unemployment benefit being paid to school leavers until February of next year. I suggest to the honourable member that it is the duty of parents to look after their children once they leave school. Surely to goodness they cannot expect to be rid of the responsibility of their off-spring just because the school year has ended. I would have thought that it would have been the wish of every parent- it surely is in my own case- to look after his children immediately they leave school, and indeed, for as long as is necessary until such time as they find their feet. Who would suggest that any parent should discard a child immediately that child has finished his or her education? Perhaps the honourable member for Prospect would be a party to that sort of thing, but certainly I would not. Enough of the remarks of the Opposition.
These Bills abound with initiatives of the Fraser Government. I want to talk about some of them. I do not want to waste any more of my time dealing with the unimportant matters that have been raised by the Opposition. I want to look at pension increases and at the increases that flow on to unemployment and sickness benefit recipients. These are automatic adjustments despite, as I said earlier, what is being claimed by the Opposition. The adjustments are automatically made in accordance with movements in the consumer price index. The single rate pension is up $2.25 to $43.50 a week and the married rate pension is up $4 to $72.50. These increases will be payable from 1 1 November next. Unemployment and sickness benefits will increase by the same amount except for recipients who are under the age of eighteen.
Let me look at what the honourable member for Oxley had to say in the Budget Speech he made when Treasurer in relation to those people under 18 years of age. He said:
There will be no change in the rate of unemployment or sickness benefit payable to persons under 1 8 years of age.
That was a move made by the Whitlam Labor Government when the honourable member for Oxley was Treasurer in this House. Surely we must provide incentives for young people to work, to pay taxes, fares, and a Medibank levy or voluntary health insurance fund payments. A person in the 16 to 18-years bracket in receipt of payment for services rendered would be not much better off than someone receiving a single rate benefit of $43.50 a week if the benefit were to be increased from the present $36.
I want to look at the total outlays from the Lynch Budget in the area of health and social security. It is interesting to note that some 25 per cent of total outlays go to social security and welfare. The amount is about $6. 1 billion and that of course does not contain the $2.9 billion or 12 per cent of Budget outlays that is the responsibility of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt). Something like 37 per cent or $9 billion of a total Budget outlay of $24.3 billion- a lot of money- is spent in the area of social security, welfare and health. These adjustments to pensions and unemployment and sickness benefits will be automatic. No legislation will be required for the adjustments in future. They will occur in May and November; in May as a result of movements in the September and December quarters in accordance with consumer price index movements; and in November in accordance with March and June quarter movements. This is a tremendous breakthrough for these low income and disadvantaged people. It is security for pensioners that has not been known in this country before. Of course there is inbuilt protection for the pensioners in cases where the consumer price index may drop. Who knows, in the future it may well drop; but this will not mean a reduction in pensions.
I want to talk a little about the new income test for pension entitlements. I believe this is another extremely important initiative of the Fraser Government. The test will be operational from 25 November this year. Previously people who were thrifty, people who decided that they did not want to live off the Government as they got on in years and who were unable to fulfil job opportunities, were penalised. Consequently vast numbers of people in our community decided that they would sell their assets. How many honourable members can recall people coming to them and saying that they had better sell such and such and go for a trip, that they had better spend their money so that they could become eligible for the pension? We have now removed the necessity for these people to do so. All governments should be committed to removing anomalies. Firstly, the anomaly has to be recognised. Secondly, a plan has to be put into operation for its removal. Rectifying anomalies is usually a costly process and they cannot always be removed in a short time.
Let us look at an example of a person or a married couple who meet the age criteria for receipt of a pension. They may have an asset in property, perhaps of $100,000. It may be a cattle property or a grazing property that they cannot realise on. It may be a piece of vacant land, the value of which has dropped. The market at present is depressed and the people cannot sell or, if they did sell, they would lose a great portion of their capital. The income from the property may be nil or, perhaps, let us say, $50 a week. These people cannot receive a pension under the present system because of the high value of their assets. Yet they get little or no return from that asset. At the moment one could well ask the question: How do they live? Many people today are finding it very difficult to live because they have assets that are not earning them any appreciable income. They are finding it very difficult even to exist. The initiative of the Government with its new income test will allow these people to receive a pension.
Let us look, for example, at 3 pensioner couples. Example A, we will assume, is a married couple living in their own home which is valued at $50,000. They have no other assets. They will receive the full pension of $72.50 a week and of course will receive the fringe benefits that go with it. The fringe benefits will cost the Government many dollars a week in the case of a married couple. Let us look at another pensioner couple. We will call them pensioner couple B. They live in their own home which is valued at about $20,000. They have another $30,000 invested at 10 per cent. They have an income of $3,000 a year or approximately $60 a week. Their pension would be about $60 a week. They would receive no fringe benefits. They would be forced to pay a Medibank levy or to take our private health insurance fund cover. Let us now look at pensioner couple C. Let us assume that they are in rental accommodation. They may pay $40 a week. They have their $50,000 nest egg invested at 10 per cent and have an income of some $5,000 a year or $100 a week. They would receive a pension of approximately $40 a week but would receive no fringe benefits. They also would have to join Medibank or a private health insurance fund. The 3 examples I have given show that the couples concerned are placed on a fairly equitable basis. Their assets are similar but of course they have decided to have their assets in different forms. One couple’s only assets are their home, personal effects and perhaps a car- a total value of $50,000. Another couple lives in rented accommodation and the other in a cheaper home with the remainder of the $50,000 invested. We find that their assets are the same yet the anomalies which previously existed have been largely removed.
I want to look a little further at the income test. A study of the changes made shows that no fringe benefits apply when the weekly income of a single person exceeds $33 and in the case of a married couple $57.50. If we look at the amounts that can be earned without interfering with the full pension rate we find that the single person can now receive up to $107 a week and still retain a small pension and a married couple can receive up to $ 179.50 and still retain a small pension but, once again, without receiving fringe benefits. The rate of pension diminishes but does not cut out until those figures are attained.
– There is no change in that.
-That indicates just how much the honourable member for Prospect knows about the legislation that is before the House. After the age or invalid criteria are met the new income test only applies. I believe that this is the most generous method of determining eligibility ever introduced by any government in this country. This Government is a compassionate government, but the Opposition would have the people of this nation think otherwise. It is a government that does care for people. Indeed, if one were to have a look at the record of the Liberal and Country Party governments over the period of some 23 years in office one would find that the initiatives for nearly all of the major benefits that apply today were taken by a Liberal-Country Party government.
I want to use up the remaining few minutes of my time to talk about the handicapped child ‘s allowance. It is currently at $ 10 a week and is to be increased by $5 a week to $ 1 5 a week.
– Who brought that in?
– I am not criticising the government of the day which brought in this benefit. I applaud the benefit.
– You were telling us about all of your benefits over 23 years.
-I am not being critical. I am just telling the House and the nation that I applaud the introduction of this benefit. I think that most honourable members in this House would know people who have handicapped children and would know the great strains, stresses and extra burdens that those people have to carry. This benefit is payable to the parents or guardians of those unfortunate handicapped children who are under the age of 16 years. I believe that the increase in this respect is a much needed increase. It is a 50 per cent increase- from $10 a week to $15 a week. I believe that it is desirable, if at all possible, that these children be kept in the atmosphere of the family home and not be institutionalised. I believe that most of the parents of these children would prefer to keep their children in their own homes if at all possible.
The Handicapped Persons Assistance Act benefit is currently at $3.50 a day. It is to be increased by $1.50 to $5 a day. It is payable to eligible religious, charitable and voluntary organisations and to local government bodies which provide approved residential accommodation. There has been a significant increase again in this area. Currently- I think that this was stated in the second reading speech of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman)- 86 homes or 1400 handicapped children are covered by this Act. I am sure that honourable members will agree with me when I say that many of these homes could not operate and others would operate with great difficulty but for the subsidy. This is yet another humanitarian program that is supported by this Government.
It gives me great pleasure to support these Bills. I hope that in future debates members of the Opposition will refrain from being so critical of the tremendous outlay that is involved in these Bills and that will be of great benefit to the low income and disadvantaged people of this nation.
-The House is presently dealing with 5 Bills in a cognate debate. One is a social services Bill, one is a repatriation Bill, two are health Bills and one is a Bill concerning handicapped people. It would be very difficult for me to fit into the short time available an effective account of my attitude to all of these Bills. I think it is unfortunate that we do not have more time to debate these very important measures. I intend to use up some of my time on the Social Services Amendment Bill, which has 5 main objectives. They are an increase in the standard and married rates of pension, adjustment of the standard and married rates of pension and benefits periodically; the introduction of an income test for pensions, replacing the previous merged means test; an increase in the rate of the handicapped child’s allowance; and a new arrangement to pay unemployment and sickness benefit on a fortnightly rather than weekly basis. That is the essence of the legislation that I want to speak about.
I believe that the Social Services Amendment Bill is a hotch-potch of benefits and broken promises, which is contrary to what the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) has indicated. It demonstrates that the Government lacks real philosophical objectivity in the area of social welfare. Much could be done to redress that situation. I think it needs to set up some kind of instrumentality or some kind of panel to work out where it is going because there are very real inconsistencies in what it is doing at the present time. For example, the Social Services Amendment Bill provides for increased pensions and benefits for some categories of recipients and denies the same increases to other recipients who are equally as worthy. The honourable member for Petrie would find it very hard to reconcile that situation.
The pension increases which reflect the rise in the consumer price index are being paid grudgingly and belatedly. Pensioners are suffering a 5 months to 7½ months lag in receiving the cost of living adjustments. If they were workers out on the job with a bit of political clout behind them there would be uproar in the country, but they happen to be age, invalid and widow pensioners. So this Government is prepared to take advantage of them and to allow that lag to occur in respect of the adjustment that follows the CIP movements. The new income test for the determination of pension entitlements represents a debauched version of the recommendation made by Professor Henderson in his first main report on poverty and opens the door for a whole new ball game of abuse and exploitation of the new scheme. Some benefits are contained in the new proposal, but it is also wide open to exploitation. The people who are going to exploit it most are the more affluent people- the people who are most effectively represented by honourable gentlemen opposite. The pension increases proposed are in respect of the consumer price index movements for the March and June quarters of 1976, but they will not take effect until 1 1 November. This means that the Government is lagging VA months in paying the increase occasioned by the CPI movement in the March quarter and 5V4 months in paying the increase occasioned by the CPI movement in the June quarter. Obviously that lengthy delay will seriously and deleteriously affect the purchasing power of pensioners. I was not in the House at the time, but I heard the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) mention the sum of, I think, $78m in this respect. I ask the honourable gentleman whether that is the figure he mentioned.
-That is the figure for the saving in the first half of 1977 by paying it in May instead of February.
-The honourable member has verified the enormity of the amount, of which pensioners are to be deprived. There are probably VA million to 1% million pensioners who will be the victims of this sleight of hand, of this failure on the part of this Government to honour its election promise. To redress the situation the differential should be paid retrospectively to the actual date on which the consumer price index movements were announced; that is, the increase for the March quarter should be payable back to at least April when the CPI figures were announced and the increase for the June quarter should date back to the July announcement. I put that seriously to honourable gentlemen opposite. It is not a matter of what has happened before. It is the role and prerogative of government to reform. Since the era of indexation has emerged in this country, all of us have become more aware of the need periodically to update benefits.
This should apply to pensions as much as it should apply to average weekly earnings in Australia. If this has not been discovered before that is no reason why, in 1 976, the government of the day ought not to acknowledge this principle. The honourable member for Petrie is loud in his opposition to this and that should be noted by the pensioners in his electorate. There are many pensioner organisations strongly advocating the course I have just put to the House. There are many thousands of pensioners, hundreds of thousands, who resent the fact that the Government has deprived them of benefits which are their just due. All pensioners will recall the election policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on 27 November last when he said:
The real value of pensions will be preserved.
He went on to say:
Spending on essential education, health and welfare programs will be protected against inflation.
That was the promise made by the Prime Minister of this country, yet we find that indexed pension increases are lagging Vh months behind the scheduled date of increase while that same inflation factor is allowed insidiously to eat away the real value of pensions. The Government is deliberately withholding these indexed increases.
I want to mention an anomaly concerning dependants. In my view, if it is good enough to have the objective of preserving the value of pensionsnot that it has been fulfilled altogetherwhy not seek to preserve the value of allowances paid to the dependants of pensioners, pensioner’s allowances generally. There are a number of them. The allowance paid to dependent children is to remain at $7.50 a week. The guardian’s allowance in respect of a child under 6 years is to remain at $6 a week. Other categories of allowances are to remain at $4 a week. The supplementary benefit paid to the most needy of eligible pensioners who pay rent is to remain at $5 a week. If there is anybody who deserves consideration it is the people I mention. All these people have a justifiable grievance against the Fraser Government which continues to display callous indifference to their circumstances.
I want to mention the case of certain recipients of unemployment and sickness benefits. There is no increase in single unemployment or sickness benefit payable to persons under 18 years of age. Honourable members opposite will seek to justify that situation because it has not always taken place automatically in the past. However, it is time they recognised that they now form the Government; they have to take responsibility for these matters. This situation may not present great hardship to all young people, especially those with families capable of supporting them, but for many others very real hardship results. After all, a young man of 18 years wears the same kind of shoes, the same kind of clothes and eats the same if not more than his father, and if he wants to travel to look for a job he pays the same fares. Obviously he will need the same kind of increase. Maybe there is a case to distinguish between people who are in an effective family dependency situation and those who are not, but honourable members opposite ought to take on board the fact that a large number of young unemployed and sick people are very seriously disadvantaged as a result of the ommission of increases in this legislation.
I also want to talk about the new income test to determine pension entitlements. This has been a political issue in this Parliament for decades. I remember that back in the 1950s a former honourable member representing Port Adelaide, Mr Bert Thompson, was probably the first person to discover that there should be some comparable relationship, on a ten to one ratio, between assets and income. He discovered at that time that insurance companies would allow a pensioner to divest himself or herself of assets for the purpose of gaining income. The effect of the system was that if a pensioner put $1,000 into an insurance company, he or she, in consideration of the expected remaining period of life, would be paid $100 for that $1,000 each year. So a ten to one ratio- or interchangeability- was established which facilitated the concept of the merged means test. There is nothing new in what is being proposed at present. The new income test to determine pension entitlements is a concept attributed, in the second reading speech of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman), to Professor Ronald Henderson. In his speech the Minister said:
Honourable members will recall the comments made by Professor Ronald Henderson in his first main report on poverty where he considered that the existing means test which determines eligibility includes ‘a treatment of assets which is a relic of far less generous days’, and he recommended that the treatment of asset incomes for pension purposes should be no different from the treatment of other incomes.
That statement in fact is a half statement. It leaves a great deal of Professor Henderson’s comments unstated. In order to put the matter right I ask the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) for leave to incorporate in Hansard that portion of Professor Henderson’s report headed ‘Conversion from a means test to an income test’. I might say that the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) did give me approval to do so.
-Is leave granted?
-Leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
Conversion from a means test to an income test
The present pension means test includes a treatment of assets which is a relic of far less generous days. Briefly, rather than take the actual income from assets, the total value is worked out and 1 0 per cent of it is added to any other income the pensioner may earn. The expectation was that pensioners would have to run down their assets (except their house and car, which were exempt) before becoming eligible for pension. However nowadays this practice merely stands in the way of the rational integration of the pension means test with other income-tested benefits and with the income tax. Accordingly it should cease. The treatment of asset incomes should henceforth be no different from other incomes.
One argument against this step is that the special treatment of assets discouraged people from holding assets idle, waiting for capital gains to accrue. This suggests that capital gains should at least in principle be included in the revised definition of private income for pension purposes; and that they should in practice be included when large in amount. Pension practice should seek to follow changing income tax definitions in this matter.
A further result of this change would be that the means test for the widows pension, which at the moment is slightly different from the age and invalid pension means test in its treatment of assets, would now be on the same basis- a desirable simplification. This is in line with our general recommendation that pensions be awarded under the same conditions to all disability groups eligible for them.
-I thank the House. The significant omission in the Minister’s reference to the Henderson report is the reference to the need to include consideration of capital gains or assets in respect of which only income is calculated for means test pension purposes. I will read just a portion from the chapter of the Henderson report headed ‘Conversion from a means test to an income test’ to illustrate. Professor Henderson said:
One argument against this step is that the special treatment of assets discouraged people from holding assets idle, waiting for capital gains to accrue. This suggests that capital gains should at least in principle be included in the revised definition of private income for pension purposes; and that they should in practice be included when large in amount. Pension practice should seek to follow changing income tax definitions in this matter.
So it is obvious that the Minister has conveniently left out the fact that Professor Henderson has strongly advocated that a capital gains consideration should be incorporated into this new means test concept.
It is as plain as a pikestaff that the system proposed by the Government is open to abuse and that more credence should be given to Professor Henderson’s proposals. Take the case of a person who is holding a substantial acreage of land and waiting for urban development and whose property valuation is soaring. That person is going to get the full pension. At some later stage that land will become urbanised and the pensioner, his family or his estate, will get a windfall. Take the case of a pensioner who holds substantial shares in a family company whose share value is increasing and where the dividends are being withheld. One day the inevitable windfall must manifest itself but in the meantime that pensioner has had that benefit accrue to him.
There is no need to involve little people in the consideration of capital gains for means test purposes. Professor Henderson never suggested that. But to ignore the fact that there are cases of blatant rip-offs indicates either naivete or irresponsibility on the part of this Government. Under this legislation the Fraser Government is harbouring such racketeering and the taxpayers, in the end, are left to pick up the tab. This of course is at the expense of other pensioners who, except for those rip-offs, would probably be able to receive greater benefits. Let me look at the position of superannuitants under this legislation. Many people receiving superannuation who have accepted the invitation to capitalise their superannuation will be penalised. At present the annual rate of superannuation is given a capital value and is treated as property rather than income in the assessment of pension entitlements.
This arrangement is to terminate and many superannuitants will have their pensions calculated solely on an income basis. Reduced pension entitlements will result in many instances and these will be given effect to by withholding future pension increases until the difference is absorbed. In other words, this new income test is bad news for some of the most thrifty retirees who have contributed through superannuation to their well being in retirement. In the words of Lincoln, which I saw on my desk calendar several days ago during a period of intense research: You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift’. The Government should take some note of that thought. The Government’s decision in this matter is an abrogation of its obligation to ease the means test.
Let me now mention fringe benefits because a matter worthy of note is that the means test used to establish eligibility for fringe benefits and the things that go with it remains unchanged. When I refer to ‘the things that go with it’, although the fringe benefits of pension entitlement mainly apply these days to the pensioner medical service and postal concessions, other authorities such as State and local governments also use the pensioner medical card, the piece of paper which indicates that the holder can receive fringe benefits, for the purpose of local government concessions, that is, rate rebates, and for transport concessions. However, the test for fringe benefits remains unchanged. Married pensioners who are unable to qualify for a pension of at least $30.75 a week and single pensioners who are unable to qualify for a pension of $38 a week do not qualify for fringe benefits. This fringe benefit means test remains geared to the pension means test as at 27 September 1969 with adjustments for pension increases to 26 September 1973. It is time it was looked at seriously by the Government. .
– What did you do?
-The honourable gentleman opposite always wants to know why we did not do it. Let me tell him that if I had time I would be listing what we did. One of the things we did was to increase in 3 years the rate for single pensioners by 93 per cent and for married pensioners by 87 per cent. We had a very enviable record in these matters and it is one this Government would do well to emulate.
– I wish to give my support to these 5 cognate Bills and to totally reject the amendment to the Social Services
Amendment Bill moved by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden). I am sure that this House will agree that there must be no argument that the most significant change in the social security benefits area has been the amalgamation of child and student endowment into a single family allowance. This change by the Liberal-National Country Party Government is one of this country’s most significant social reforms. It is now in operation and with the large increase in rates it will benefit in particular large families with low incomes. Those in most need will derive the most benefit. The changes will be of particular assistance to Aboriginal families.
Our Government is committed to maintaining the real value of pensions. A decision has been made to increase pensions automatically every 6 months in line with increases in the consumer price index. The honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) spoke about a broken election promise. We never promised to legislate immediately to increase pensions but we did promise to adjust pensions automatically in line with increases in the consumer price index. The honourable member for Hughes adds lie to his own argument because in the Budget Speech for 1975-76 delivered by the then Treasurer, the honourable member for Oxley, we read:
The standard rate of social service pensions and benefits will be increased in the Spring of 1975 by the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index between the December quarter 1974 and the June quarter 197S; and again in the Autumn of 1 976 by the increase in the Consumer Price Index between the June and December quarters of 1975.
Not only did the former Government not legislate for immediate increases but it delayed increases to our pensioners for a significant time. The decision that has been made to increase pensions automatically will mean that from the first pay day in November the single rate of all pensions will be increased by $2.25 to $43.50 a week and the married rate will be increased by $4 to $72.50 a week.
We have also decided to abolish the separate property component in the means test for pensions. This is another election promise of our Government which has been rapidly carried out. The honourable member for Hughes has made some criticism of this amendment but I believe that it is a significant social reform particularly for rural areas. As a result of this change there will be a greater cash flow in rural communities and they are certainly in need of it. The method of assessing the property component in the past was discriminatory and has not been realistic. For instance, for every $ 10 of the property valuation the pension was reduced by $1. This meant that it was equivalent to a 10 per cent return on an investment. We all appreciate that in rural areas at the present time 60 per cent of people have negative incomes and I am sure that in 98 per cent of these cases it would be totally unrealistic to expect a 10 per cent return on an investment.
Reduced incomes and depressed sales in agricultural areas mean that people are not able to take advantage of the value of their assessed property. Property is a means of earning income and a family’s livelihood, not only at present but in the future. We cannot expect people to sell off what is an income producing asset if the pension is not available to them. These persons are now subject to a means test based on a combination of income and income from property. Many people, particularly those in rural areas, will gain from this overdue reform. It has been an injustice that the means test has been based on a notional return from property even though actual returns from such property often fall well short of the notional return.
It is significant and important for the Australian community to realise that the total outlay on social security and welfare in this Budget has been increased from $5,0 12m in 1975-76 to $6, 187m in 1976-77. This is a 23.5 per cent increase. It is also significant that it is 25.4 per cent or one quarter of the total appropriation in the last Budget.
I wish to turn now to a very important Bill, the Handicapped Persons Assistance Amendment Bill. This Bill has 4 main purposes. It gives effect to the Government’s decision to increase the rate of handicapped children’s benefit. The handicapped children’s benefit is payable to an eligible voluntary, religious or charitable organisation, or local governing body, which provides approved residential accommodation for handicapped children who are engaged in training programs. The Bill also provides for the rate of this benefit in respect of each physically or mentally handicapped child under 16 years of age to be increased from $3.50 to $5 a day with effect from 1 November. Claims for payment of this benefit are submitted monthly in arrears by the organisation. Currently this benefit is being paid to 86 homes in respect of 1400 handicapped children.
The Government has also decided to increase the handicapped children’s allowance from $10 to $15 per week. In addition, an amount of $30m comprising $2 7m for continuous commitments and $3m for new projects is being provided this year under this Bill. In 1977-78 an additional $ 10m will be provided for new projects as well as an amount for continuing commitments. In the third year, 1978-79, provision for new projects will be doubled to $20m in addition to providing for continuing commitments. Therefore, over these 3 years a total of $ 121m will be provided under this program.
The Government is also providing $ 1 4. 1 m this year for the operation of the Commonwealth
Rehabilitation Service which provides rehabilitation treatment and training to disabled people. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing the amount of handicapped assistance appropriated for handicapped people.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows- .
-I believe that it is of utmost importance that the community, through the Government, provide assistance at the family level for children requiring constant care and attention. There has been some criticism, mainly through lack of understanding, that there has not been an increase in payment to handicapped children but in fact there has been a transfer of resources from the organisational level to the individual level. This is simply not true. I think if one looks at the annual report of the Department of Social Security for 1975-76 we can see how this confusion arises. The report states:
It became apparent quite early in the year that the amount appropriated for expenditure, bearing in mind the unprecedented demands for assistance, would not be sufficient to meet the need in the event that all applications received could be approved.
As a consequence I believe that the Department was realistic in introducing a system of priorities for the funding of capital projects. The report continued:
Naturally the maintenance of existing handicapped persons’ welfare services became of paramount importance to the Department and full attention was given to this essential pan of the program rather than, with a few well deserved exceptions … It was realised that this policy would place considerable financial burdens on the organisations which needed assistance.
A substantial increase in expenditure on salary subsidy as a result of extending the area covered by the subsidy to training centres and residential accommodation for handicapped children, and to activity therapy centres, was to be expected. However, the extent of the increase … has had the effect of limiting the amount of funds available for other forms of subsidy, in particular the further development of many capital works.
I think that the tremendous expenditure that was incurred in relation to salaries and staff subsidies can be emphasised by pointing out that in 1974- 75, 19 per cent of the appropriation in this area was represented by staff and salary subsidies. In 1975-76 the subsidies accounted for approximately 52 per cent of expenditure. This year the proportion spent on subsidies will increase to 66 per cent. Therefore, it is extremely difficult in meeting these recurrent costs to put an equivalent amount of money into capital expenditure. While the total allocation in 1976-77 is the same as in the previous year, and given the increased allocation for staff subsidies, the result, as pointed out, will be a reduction in the development of capital works.
The honourable member for Oxley and the honourable member for Hughes were very critical of the Government’s initiatives and as a result an Opposition amendment has been moved. I have already mentioned that there has been no broken promise by introducing automatic increases in pensions and benefits. This action has been taken in line with our policy. The former Government did not promise and did not carry out an indexation of dependants’ allowances to meet increases in the cost of living. The former Government did not say, and neither did we, that it would provide for the automatic adjustment of unemployment and sickness benefits for those people under 18 years of age. I once again refer to the Budget Speech made in 1975- 76 by the honourable member for Oxley when he was Treasurer in which he said:
There will be no change in the rate of employment and sickness benefit payable to persons under 1 8 years of age.
We believe that there should be some incentive for young people when they leave school to attempt on their own initiative to obtain an occupation. I do not believe that putting these people immediately on unemployment benefit is the way to go about providing this incentive.
Paragraph (e) of the Opposition’s amendment refers to the protection of the incomes of those pensioners adversely affected by the provisions of this legislation. This is being done by the Government. There will be no loss of benefit by any pensioner as a result of this legislation. There will be no reduction in the benefit provided by these changes to the legislation.
I wish to congratulate the Minister for Social Security and the Government for responding rapidly to the welfare needs of our community. However, I believe that there are one or two points in this legislation, particularly as it refers to handicapped persons, that the Government should reconsider and re-assess. Because of the huge content of the appropriation in salary and staff subsidies there will be a very critical need, particularly in the smaller organisations, for the purchase of equipment. I hope that the Government will assess this matter and provide room for increasing expenditure in this area which is so vital in servicing the needs of handicapped people, particularly in our institutions.
Over the last 12 months I have made several recommendations and representations to the Government and the Minister on some issues. One to which I would like the Minister to give consideration is extending the criteria under which domiciliary care benefits are paid. I believe that by restricting this benefit to people beyond 65 years of age we are in fact creating some hardship for people with very severe difficulties but who are not at this age level. I also believe that in areas where nursing services are not always available we are discriminating against people in need of some form of benefit. I believe that the Department could have a look at providing some payment of this benefit if the need for it was certified by a medical practitioner.
The last point I wish to mention is the payment of unemployment benefit to primary producers. Our Government for the first time responded to the crisis situation in many rural areas and among many self-employed people. The Government broadened the criteria which for the first time allowed many of our people in financial difficulties in rural areas to participate in unemployed benefits. But there is one situation that has developed in recent weeks that is causing me some concern. I refer to the Sunraysia and mid-Murray areas of my electorate where dried fruit producers have had an additional criterion placed on the eligibility application which indicates that any producer with a property in excess of 17 acres is automatically ineligible. I have written to the Minister and to the Departments on this matter. I am quite sure that in having a look at this peculiar situation some changes will be brought about that will allow these people on dried fruit properties to be eligible for unemployment benefit under the same income test and the same work test as any other people in our community. I believe that it should only be necessary for an applicant applying for unemployment benefit to prove that he has insufficient income for the maintenance of himself and his family and that he is available for full time employment. I hope that the Minister and the department will have a look at this problem with a view to alleviating the difficulty it is causing in part of my electorate. I totally reject the amendment moved by the Opposition and give my support to these Bills. I believe that they will mean significant improvements in social welfare and social security protection for the Australian people.
– in reply- On behalf of the Government, I thank honourable members for the contribution they have made to the debate on the Bills before the House. The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), who made a constructive contribution to the debate, critical of some aspects of the legislation, could have conceded some credit to the Government for having made generous advancements in certain areas, particularly in relation to the Social Services Amendment Bill (No. 3). Much of the current hardship among disadvantaged people is due to the inflationary problems that were generated by 3 years of the former Labor Government, problems the Government is trying to attend to at the present time. I say that in all sincerity. No one doubts the intense interest of the honourable member for Oxley in social security and the welfare of pensioners and disadvantaged people. I can assure him that this Government is also most anxious to ensure that what resources are available at this critical time are addressed to people in the areas of greatest need.
I want to address myself briefly to the amendment moved by the honourable member for Oxley on behalf of the Opposition. It states in part: while not opposing the Bill, the House deplores the inequities which arise from the Government ‘s failure to-
The amendment then lists a series of points from (a) to (e), and I would like to go through those points one by one. The relevant item in the Government’s policy speech reads as follows:
Protect benefits from erosion by inflation through automatically adjusting benefit levels every 6 months, according to movements in the Consumer Price Index.
It will be noted that the word ‘immediate’ does not appear. Paragraph (b) of the amendment calls for the indexation of dependants’ allowances to meet increases in the cost of living. There was no reference in the Government’s policy speech to indexation of dependants’ allowances. However, the rate of a wife’s pension and additional unemployment and sickness benefits payable in respect of a spouse are being indexed.
The third point in the amendment deals with the increase in the supplementary benefit. This refers to the supplementary assistance of $5 a week which is payable to pensioners who pay rent and who have little or no other means apart from their pension. The policy speech contained no direct reference to an increase in supplementary assistance, but the Government does recognise the needs of people in this area and certainly has it in mind. Paragraph (d) of the amendment deals with the automatic adjustment of unemployment and sickness benefits for those under 18 years of age. In the autumn of 1975 the former Labor Government decided not to increase the rates of unemployment and sickness benefits for unmarried persons under 18 years of age. That decision was confirmed in the 1975 Budget and has been followed by the present Government. So both parties when in office have followed the same procedure in this area.
Paragraph (e) refers to the protection of the incomes of those pensioners adversely affected by provisions in the legislation. The legislation provides that no pension will be reduced or cancelled solely as a result of the change to the new income test. In practice, this will mean that pensioners who would otherwise be adversely affected will receive the increases provided for in the Bill on 1 1 November and their pensions will not be reduced or cancelled because of the new income test on 25 November. Pensioners affected by the savings provision in the legislation will thereby enjoy a higher rate of payment than they would be entitled to under the income test. They will continue to enjoy that rate until subsequent statutory increases entitle them to a higher rate. I think that the Minister for
Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) and the Government adopted a sensible approach to try to ease any difficulty which could arise as a result of the change to the means test. Those people who will be affected by the provision, those people who are currently earning more than 10 per cent on their assets, will be covered by the Bill, which ensures that such pensioners do not have their existing pensions reduced as a result of the change from the present means-as-assessed system to the new income-only test. There could have been a great deal of hardship if the savings provision had not been included in the legislation.
I hope that that answers the complaint made by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), who saw in this process a great deal of hardship as inflation continued and who felt that pensioners would not derive an indexed benefit from it. Clearly, such people are in an area of higher income, and the Government has endeavoured to ease any burden of hardship that would flow from an immediate adjustment which would automatically reduce their entitlement. As I said earlier, the Government has had difficulties in a very serious deficit situation. In spite of the adverse economic climate, the significant initiatives provided for in this legislation allow for a generous extension of $222m in a full year, which will directly benefit more than 1.85 million people. The total expenditure this year in this area will be of the order of $5,1 78m, which is a 32 per cent increase over the financial year 1975-76. I think the legislation achieves a great deal in a very difficult economic environment.
I conclude by saying that the legislation does 5 specific things. It increases the standard and married rate pensions and benefits. It makes provision for the implementation of automatic adjustments of standard and married rate pensions, and so on, in May and November of each year, and that honours the election promise made by the Liberal and National Country parties. It introduces an income test for pensioners, replacing both income and assets, and so brings great equity to people who may have fairly high assets but very little disposable income. People living in country areas particularly, and indeed in city areas, have been greatly disadvantaged because of the former provisions. So a great anomaly has been removed by this amendment to the legislation. The rate of handicapped children’s allowances has been generously increased to try to overcome the impact of inflation, which is affecting families with handicapped children.
Of course, the existing procedures for the payment of unemployment and sickness benefits in fortnightly instalments have been validated.
The honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher) dwelt on that aspect of the legislation dealing with the Handicapped Persons Assistance Act 1974, an Act which came into operation during the time of the former Government. I think it is fair to say that all parties when in government show a great inclination to recognise the difficulties suffered by parents who have handicapped children.
– Who brought that in?
-I just made the point that the Labor Government brought it in in 1974, and I give it credit for having introduced such legislation. I also give the Minister and the Government credit for having increased the allowance from $3.50 a day to $5 a day in respect of each handicapped child in approved residential accommodation. The Government has maintained the Commonwealth grants subsidies at the rate of $4 for $1 for capital works, equipment maintenance and rent. A subsidy amounting to 50 per cent of salaries for staff has also been maintained. I think that indicates the sense of compassion and concern felt by all political parties for people and who are so afflicted. The long term program that has been developed by the Department of Social Security in respect to capital assistance over the next 3 years will, I am sure, go a long way towards overcoming some of the deficiencies that exist at the present time. I will refer some of the detailed points raised by honourable members to the Minister for Social Security in another place. No doubt, she will respond in detail to the honourable members concerned. I thank all honourable members for the contributions that they have made to the debate. I conclude by saying that for the reasons I have enunciated, the Government rejects to amendment that has been moved by the honourable member for Oxley on behalf of the Opposition.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
– It is encouraging to know that 1 1 November this year will have some redeeming features for the pensioners of Australia. The new rates of pension prescribed by the Social Services Amendment Bill will then be payable. By and large, of course, that date will be known as the anniversary of a disgraceful event in Australian history, a disgraceful event which has very much struck a blow at the hopes of pensioners. It was very interesting during the second reading debate to hear the contributions from honourable members like myself who are relatively new in this place. I refer to honourable members such as the honourable member Petrie (Mr Hodges) and the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher), who talked against the background of expectations aroused during the 3 years of Labor Government, expectations aroused for pensioners throughout Australia. During the bad old days of the 1950s and 1960s-during the 23 years of Liberal-National Country Party government neglect of pensioners to which the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) referred- when persons really had to fight for these issues before they were taken for granted, these things were not looked at so simply. Expectations rose very sharply during the last 3 years. The honourable member for Petrie, to his intellectual credit, did not try to obscure the record achieved by the Labor Government in regard to pensions. He argued large economic issues. He argued questions about the size of the deficit and problems like that. But he did not deal with the real achievements of Labor during its 3 years of office. The inescapable fact is that when Labor came to power pension payments represented less than 19 per cent of average weekly earnings. When the Labor Government was dismissed by the Governor-General, they represented 25 per cent of average weekly earnings.
– That is a lie.
– That achievement is a considerable one. It is one for which the honourable member for Oxley can take particular satisfaction and recognition. There is no -
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I rise to order. I wish to withdraw that inoffensive remark which I made. But is it in order for the honourable member for Grayndler to tell blatant untruths and to claim that the Labor Government increased pension payments to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings when the figure was only 20.9 per cent?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! No point of order arises in terms of this debate. I call the honourable member for Grayndler.
-The honourable member may not be aware of that fact, but certainly the pensioner organisations of Australia are. They came to have their expectations in some way realised under Labor. Now they are seeing them frustrated. In the last election, the Liberal and National Country Parties’ election promise was quite explicit. It was that they would index pension payments every 6 months. They stated that they would do so quickly to reflect movements in the consumer price index. The Government is not doing so. If honourable members look at clause 8 of the Bill and the mechanism the Government is inserting there, they will see that there is a considerable time lag. It is a time lag to which honourable members on this side of the chamber have made reference. It is one that means a loss of real income to pensioners. Everybody knows that in May the March quarter figures are published for the movements in the consumer price index. Pensioners are certainly aware of it. They know that the Government is not performing on its election promise in this area.
– We are working on your father’s time-table.
-The honourable member interjecting made a particularly great mark on pension matters in this place when, along with all the other Liberal and National Country Party members sitting in this chamber, he voted to abolish the funeral benefit for pensioners. That is a matter of record.
I move on to some of the more disagreeable elements in this Bill. Honourable members on this side of the chamber have referred to the fact that there is no increase in supplementary assistance. Supplementary assistance is a benefit which of itself identifies those most in need. It identifies rent-paying pensioners with very limited means indeed. They are the persons to whom we ought to be directing the resources of this country, especially in times like these, when those resources are very limited. If we are talking about need, they are the people who need help the most. There ought to be some consideration for them. There ought to be some indexation of this kind of assistance as well. It is not simply good enough to talk about basic rates of pension and to introduce an imperfect mechanism for indexing them and to ignore these other significant benefits in the Social Services Act.
I suppose there is no other benefit which is more ignored by the Government members than the additional pension benefit for children. This is the second occasion during the life of this Parliament upon which the basic rate of pension has been increased and upon which the Government has shamefacedly ignored the very real need to increase this benefit. This is a benefit which, during the period of the Labor Government, was increased from $4 to $7.50. It is a benefit which is of real use in the community. It benefits nearly 300 000 children and some 150 000 pensioners who qualify for the additional pension benefit for children. But to judge from the record of this Government, we can expect to see the amount of this benefit remain frozen for the whole of the 3 years of the life of this Parliament. That will mean that whereas during the period of the last 2 Parliaments we saw that amount move in 3 years from $4 a child to $7.50 a child- nearly double- we will see the amount remain static during the time of this Parliament. That is simply not good enough.
– You taxed it.
-The honourable member for Denison interjects. He really ought to be quiet. Labor did not tax that benefit. The Government is proposing to tax it. If the honourable member wants to broadcast that to the people of Australia, I am only too pleased to do it on his behalf. The additional pension benefit for children was not taxable under any legislation introduced by the Labor Government. It is now taxable under legislation introduced by the Liberal-National Country Party Government. The record on. this is very clear. If we look at all the elements, as we are in our discussion of this Bill in Committee, we will see that they do not redress the particular deficiencies pointed out during the second reading debate by honourable members on this side. The mechanism to index pensions is imperfect. Honourable members opposite ought to own up to it. They ought to acknowledge especially that, even if for some narrow economic reason, for Budget stringency or whatever it might be, they cannot live up to their election promises. But do not pretend that you are trying to perform on your election promises, because clearly you are not. The pensioners will not be gulled. They will not be fooled. Honourable members opposite take great pleaure in talking about how they do not wish pensioners to be used as a political football. Pensioners, like everybody else in this country, are part of the marketplace for politicians to pitch to. Pensioners never had it so good as under Labor. It is quite demonstrably the case that no matter how much one does for them it is unlikely that huge numbers are going to switch their allegience to Labor.
We are not putting this case on a narrow partisan base; we are simply putting it as a matter of justice. We believe that honourable members opposite ought to perform on their election promises on the basis that some few people may have been tricked by them and they ought to act as a matter of justice. They ought not to put persons who have worked all their lives and who are now in retirement and dependent upon their pensions for their livelihood in a worse positon than wage earners who are having their wages adjusted as a result of recent movements in the consumer price index. An increase should not be delayed for those who are in most need. Especially, too, honourable members opposite ought to look at those pensioners who are most in need.
As I said before everbody in receipt of suplementary assistance has a special need. This is clear from the very nature of the conditions by which this kind of benefit is granted. It is not good enough for the Government to talk about indexing pensions when it also does not index this kind of assistance. Not only does the Government not index this kind of assistance, but it blitherly ignores the need to adjust it from time to time. The same kind of consideration applies to the additional pension benefit for children. These benefits are of assistance to an enormous number of people. As I said, this number is increasing. There are nearly 300 000 children who are direct beneficiaries of this kind of benefit. Yet on 2 occasions in this Parliament the Government has failed to increase this benefit. We have the blithe statements that issue from the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) on every occasion when this matter has been raised and in particular last May when he said: ‘Well, Labor never increased it every time.’ Well perhaps Labor did not do so, but at least during its 3 years of government it did increase the benefit. It increased it significantly, it increased it from $4 to $7.50. It almost doubled the benefit. During this Parliament the Government looks as though it is going to be content to let the benefit remain as it is. This will not be good enough.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The last century has seen a great change in social attitudes. At the turn of this century we had a great lack of social justice. The pendulum has swung the other way and a Liberal Government has presided over much of that period in Australia ‘s history in which that has occurred. However, we have reached a stage where the economy, because of unrealistic attitudes on the part of some governments, notably the previous Government, has been under tremendous strain. Despite that strain, this Government has managed to provide a record amount under this Bill for the needy people in our society.
I wish to mention 4 matters. One relates to this question of the the actual promise of the Government before the last general election which must be looked at carefully. Our policy speech said that we would protect benefits from erosion by inflation through automatically adjusting benefit levels every 6 months according to movements in the consumer price index. There was a rise in November of last year, there was a rise in May of this year and there was a rise again in November. We are keeping meticulously to the promise to adjust the benefit every 6 months. The last rise last year was pursuant to the Labor Government. I shall quote the words of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) when he was running for election in 1 972. He said:
All pensions will immediately rise by $1.50 and thereafter every spring and autumn the basic pension rate will be increased by $1.50.
And so on. He would not even define the increases as every 6 months. He wanted increases every spring and autumn. We have maintained a program and for what it is worth, the word ‘immediate’ does not appear in the benefit. We promised an increase every 6 months according to movements in the consumer price index.
I wish to mention one of the problems that arose out of the last Labor Government Budget. It relates to the terrible treatment of aged tax payers. Some years ago the Liberal Government introduced an age allowance. This was a very satisfactory way of assisting many elderly persons in the community who live on the pension and who also have a small amount of supplementary income. The present position is that those persons have to pay tax. Why is it that they have to pay tax? Well, in 1973 the Labor Government introduced a tax on pensions. Oppsistion members nowadays go round talking about the way we are taxing pensioners. The fact is that they taxed the pensioners. They taxed the widows and they taxed the elderly people. They attempted to justify themselves by saying that it was in consideration of their promise to abolish the means test. But what they did of course was to break that promise immediately and abolish the means test only for those of a certain age group. That age group is now down to those of 70 years of age. But the great mass of people who understood that this promise was to apply to those over 65 years of age were left in the lurch.
These were the people who found that the abolition of the means test did not apply to them, and yet they were paying tax, and paying a vicious tax.
The age rebate still applied for a short time under the Labor Government. The Labor Government changed the name from age allowance to age rebate. According to my researches the Labor Government then got rid of it in about 1975 but it is very hard to find any mention of it in its Budget papers. It seems to have sneaked through in a clandestine way in some subsidiary statement. Honourable members will find it very difficult to find. Of course what happened was that this year, at the end of the financial year, thousands of aged taxpayers throughout Australia suddenly found themselves faced with gigantic tax bills. The third effect of the Hayden Budget was to increase incredibly the marginal rates of tax for low income pensioners. Once a person started to pay tax and at the level at which tax applied, and once a person got over the level of the rebate- $540 now indexed to $610 thanks to this Government- that person found himself paying marginal rates of tax in the 60-odd per cent bracket. This has already been verified by the Taxpayers Association.
The problem that arose for this Government when looking at this year’s Budget was that a clandestine means had been used. There was insufficient proper warning for the aged people who were starting to find these difficulties because the position came about at the middle of this year. What this Government is facing is the awareness of the problem which I hope we will be able to do something about in the next Budget. In one case the matron of a nursing home rang my office to say that their patients of 90 years of age, some of whom have to pay tax for the first time in their lives, have been shocked and their treatment has been affected. They are horrified at this new situation. There is a widow of 90 years of age in my electorate who will have to pay this tax and will have to fill in the forms. That is a great shock for her also. Some elderly people have not paid any tax for 25 or 30 years. Others have not paid tax at all in their lives. Many of these widows are finding that they also have to pay tax on their deceased husband’s estate. The Labor Budget was the most unconscionable, harshest, ferocious and indeed worse than conservative Budget that this nation ever experienced. The honourable member for Oxley is leaving the chamber because he cannot face the truth of it all.
– You are a hypocrite. You extended it.
– The Labor Government taxed the pensioners and removed the age rebate. It also increased the marginal rate of tax.
– You have extended it.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member for St George will resume his seat. The House will come to order. Some honourable members have already made a speech and it is only fair that they should listen to other honourable members.
– Thank you, Mr Deputy Chairman. The important point, for the benefit of the honourable member for Prospect, is that one could hardly find out how it was happening. There was no clarion call to the nation. The problem has now come upon this Government. Some of us who have elderly pensioners in our electorates were able at late notice to bring this matter to the attention of the Government. Indeed the Minister for Post and Telecommunications and Minister assisting the Treasurer (Mr Eric Robinson) came to the electorate of St George before the last Budget. He sat down and spoke to some elderly people in my office. They told him exactly what the situation was. We introduced income tax indexation fully this year to help those people to some extent. We have brought in the income test and the other benefits in these Bills. If there is one thing that I hope this Government will look at- I have had a very good hearing from the Treasurer- it is the problem of aged taxpayers. I know of the case of a lady writing to a newspaper. She stated:
My husband is 67, 1 am almost 60, and we are invalid pensioners. Because my family no longer needed my attention I decided to work one day a week. I thought this would take tension from my husband, and we could replace our worn out washing machine, repair the TV set, paint the house and perhaps have a holiday, etc.
Rising in the dark on a cold morning isn’t easy. Nor is standing in an over-crowded train to the city. After being on my feet all day I would return home to prepare the evening meal. None of this worried me.
Labor members are laughing at this story. The honourable member for Prospect and the honourable member for Oxley and their clan are all grinning. The lady continued:
None of this worried me. I was ‘pulling my weight’ and keeping active. However, the Income Tax Department brought me down to earth. I owe it over $64-
She is worried about that. She cannot pay it. She says that she will take it easy from now on. The Labor members smile. The honourable member for Prospect in his former profession would not go out of the door for $64. This is a huge sum of money for this poor elderly person to have to pay.
In conclusion I raise 2 other matters. I would like the Government to consider in the future the serious problem of those people who care for elderly people in their own homes. The New South Wales Council on the Aging, of which I am an executive member, produced a very good report on this matter recently. Many people in Australia of 60 or 70 years of age themselves are looking after parents of 80 or 90 years of age. The actual assistance to these people is not sufficiently generous. These people are saving the Government and the taxpayer a fortune. They look after people who otherwise would have to go into various homes and the like. I would also like the Government to consider in the long term- it cannot be done in our present situation- the indexing of pensions according to a realistic and sensible cost index followed by a productivity index. I do not know that the consumer price index is entirely accurate in some areas. The matter would have to be worked out carefully. It could not be done at present.
It is proper that the people who built this country should be able to share- when it is opportune to do so- in the wealth of the country. Public opinion would be assisted if there were a gigantic strike on the wharves or other unions were on strike and productivity were going down. If one and a half million people saw that their pensions would not necessarily rise next year because of the destructive attitudes of trade unionists the pressure of public opinion would bring about a more moderate and sensible idea. This would get this country on its feet again and back where it should be.
-In the circumstances one could say with some subtlety and delicacy that the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) has indulged in humbug. He observed that the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) charged generous fees of his clients, but at least his clients went out healed. The clients of the law practice of the honourable member for St George paid extravagant fees and still went to jail. The only people who celebrated him were the warders at Long Bay. They saw him as a guarantee for employment. The only people who spoke well of the honourable member were members of the Criminal Investigation Branch in Sydney. He guaranteed that they would be successful.
The facts are that the Government of which the honourable member is a supporter has extended the taxation of pensions. The tears that he has dropped seem to be scarcely genuine in the circumstances. We did have difficulty in explaining to the public, according to our intentions last year, what our tax scheme was to be. The reason was that the Treasurer in the provisional government that followed the liberation- whatever you might like to call it- last year cancelled all of the advertising which we intended to undertake to explain to the people why and how the new tax scheme would work. The new tax scheme is considerably more generous than the earlier ones. The honourable member might like to recollect that this Bill which amends the Social Services Act in fact freezes pension payments for many people. Those people on superannuation, for instance, who had elected to treat their superannuation as capital for means test purposes, will in a great number of cases find that although they received a pension increase this year they will not receive a pension increase on subsequent occasions when pension increases take place. It may be well over a year before their pensions increase. Does the honourable member cavil about that? Does the honourable member intend to complain about tens of thousands of pensioners in this country in receipt of superannuation who had elected under the existing provisions of the Social Services Act to capitalise on their superannuation payments so that they could get a more generous pension payment? They no longer will be able to do so. They no longer will be able to receive pension increases after the next one. The will not receive them at least until several pension increases have taken place. Does the honourable member for St George intend to stand up and read letters from his constituents complaining about that in the near future? Does he intend to stand up now and complain on their behalf in anticipation of the way in which their pension payments have been frozen? His Government froze those pension payments. He is part of that Government. He is supporting and defending that action and he will go out and try to pretend that payments have not been frozen. This has happened all right, and the pensioners in his electorate will be the ones who will pay.
What about the people who now pay a double Medibank tax because they are making maintenance payments? A person who is separated from the spouse and paying maintenance pays his Medibank tax on his full income and provides his spouse with maintenance and the spouse in conditions where tax is applicable- there will be many such cases- then pays tax on the maintenance payments. Does the honourable member intend to stand up and complain about that?
– At the full family rate.
-They will both pay the tax and as the honourable member for Corio points out they will both pay the tax at the fully family rate if they have dependants, as many of these separated partners from a failed marriage do. These are some of the inequities for which this Government is responsible. The honourable member has ample opportunity to do something about them. He should be a little consistent. The genuineness of his complaints could ring a little more compellingly if he balanced his complaints by pointing out the inequities that have now crept in, if that is what he calls them.
Let us look at the taxation of pensions. It is a very simple matter to terminate the taxation of aged pensions if it is the intention of the Government to do so. The honourable member is a supporter of the Government. Has the honourable member influence? Or is he just a cipher in the Party meeting rooms meekly going along and agreeing with all of those things which are being done because he is hoping, by being a mee-too, tooting behind the powerful people in the Cabinet such as the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and one or two others, that somewhere along the way he will get caught in the slipstream and be dragged into the Cabinet as a reliable cipher for what the Prime Minister and others want to do. He is not complaining in this Parliament about any of the problems which will flow from the Bill before the House. I challenge him to address himself to the very real things that will flow from this Bill, the things which will disadvantage people in his electorate, the things that will cause pensioners in his electorate to write to him. These things will affect the good solid middle-class people on superannuation from the areas he would be interested in- particularly since his is a swinging electorate. Why has he not complained that for so many of them their pension payments as from November of this year will be frozen until well into 1978? For so many of them effectively this will mean a reducation in their living standards. In real terms if they are not receiving increases in their total living standards quite clearly they are being disadvantaged.
Let me move to one other point that I want to discuss. I have spent some 5 minutes discussing the honourable member for St George and that is about 10 times more than he deserved in terms of the quality of his presence in the Parliament. I want to talk about family allowances. I mentioned a little earlier that we find it thoroughly unacceptable that the Government has topped the practice that we initiated of regular increases in payments for dependent children of people entitled to social service benefits. We recognise the compelling power behind the findings of so many poverty inquiries in this country and especially the findings of Professor Henderson. These findings show that people on pensions with dependants and with limited resources of their own are among the most needy in the community. We overcame much of that.
If one looks at a poverty scale concerning the period in which we were in government one will find overwhelmingly that most pension payments for individuals- the single person- for the family unit of a husband and wife and for the larger family units, including those with dependent children, were at or better than the poverty line by the time we had completed our term of office. That was no mean feat because there had been so much neglect in the past. It looks as though the news is bad and the future is bleak for families because there is no intention on the part of the Government to increase the payments for dependants. There is to be no indexation of that. Does the honourable member for St George cavil at that? Is he going to complain or does he take it for granted that the poorer people in parts of his electorate- there are some of them- do not deserve support because they tend to be the people who more significantly vote Labor? Does he conclude that because those people are so well treated by Labor governments they will vote with even more determination for Labor in the future and accordingly does not intend to waste his time on them? If that is not the explanation, what is the explanation for ignoring them.
Let us not have this nonsense that the new family allowance system overcomes this problem. It does not. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a table which takes into account the tax rebate system which we introduced and which represented a significant redistribution of resources to families, indexed with the personal tax indexation figure of 13 per cent plus the cumulative child endowment for different size families, and which shows that under the new arrangement families are worse off financially than they would have been if the old system had been retained.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
-The table shows, for instance, that a family with one child is $1.35 a week worse off, that a family with 2 children is $2.70 a week worse off, that a family with 3 children is over $2 a week worse off, that a family with 4 children is $2.65 a week worse off, and that a family with 5 children is $2.50 a week worse off. Yet the honourable member for St George will have the cheek to go out and tell the needy people that they are better off, that they never had it so good. If they are paying the Medibank tax, as undoubtedly they will be, they will be even worse off again by as much as $6 to $8 a week in the cumulative effect. Where does the honourable member for St George stand and whose interests does he really represent here? Does he represent his own self seeking interests within the Party of which he is a member or the people who really need determined and honest representation from him in this Parliament? He has had a chance to prove his credentials and to establish his integrity and so far he has failed to do so.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-This Bill, which gives effect to the budgetary initiatives in the welfare field, continues the principle which this Government has enunciated since taking office, that is, that welfare should be based on need. That is the whole rationale behind the family allowances scheme. Members of the Opposition often accuse this Government- indeed all Liberal-Country Party governments- of neglecting the welfare aspects of governmental responsibility. They have done it again today. History proves otherwise.
I refer all honourable members to the results of a recent study by the World Bank, which investigated and compared the equality of income distribution of many countries throughout the world. The statistics at present are incomplete and include data for only 81 of the 142 member countries of the United Nations. Nevertheless, the data which has been gathered around the world and which is in the process of being assessed by the World Bank shows Australia to have the most equal distribution of income of any comparable country in the world. It is very interesting to note that there is greater equality of income distribution in Australia than there is in most of the communist countries in Eastern Europe, and they are countries where there have been great sacrifices of individual liberties in pursuit of an egalitarianism which cannot be matched by that achieved in a democratic system such as our own. Other nations which are often thought of as having a reputation for income equality, such as Denmark and Sweden, in fact have their income distributed much less equally than it is distributed in Australia.
It is very significant that the World Bank figures are dated as at 1967-68. In other words, this achievement was not the result of government by Australian Labor Party governments; it was the product of 1 8 years of successive LiberalCountry Party governments. This does not mean that the ideal welfare goal has yet been achieved. That goal is still before us. In a world of great poverty and great income inequality Australia’s achievement, although great, is set against poor comparisons and praise of income equality is of no comfort to those who still live in poverty in this country. For that reason, I support the thrust of this Government’s policy to implement its welfare programs according to a ‘needs’ rather than a ‘rights’ basis.
Despite what the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) has said, I think the family allowances scheme is a prime example of this approach. I believe that the family allowances scheme, which was introduced earlier this year, provides for the most massive redistribution of income in our recent welfare history. This scheme, which is incorporated in the Budget allocations, is perhaps the most significant antipoverty proposal put forward by Professor Henderson in his Commission of Inquiry into Poverty in Australia. I say that because the Henderson Commission’s report clearly showed that the greatest incidence of poverty in Australia occurred in large families whose breadwinners were earning the minimum wage or a little more. The family allowances will help greatly to alleviate the circumstances of these people.
With regard to this Bill, I am very pleased that at last a government has decided to make pension increases automatic. This was promised by the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr William McMahon) in his election policy speech in 1972. It was reiterated by the then Leader of the Opposition in the federal election campaign of 1974. In October 1975, the Liberal and National Country Parties’ welfare policy stated the need for ‘protecting benefits from erosion by inflation through automatically adjusting benefit levels every 6 months, according to movements in the consumer price index’. This Government has now implemented those promises. I have already spoken at length in an earlier debate on the pros and cons of adjusting the pension to movements in the consumer price index and I will not elaborate further on this matter. At this stage I wish simply to state that by making these adjustments automatically the Government has provided an element of security to the pensioner which has been lacking in the past. No longer will pensioners have to rely on ad hoc, irregular changes to their income which have often in the past been dictated solely by political expediency. It should also be stated that should the unlikely position ever be reached where there was a decrease in the CPI there would not be a decrease in the pension. So all future adjustments will be not only automatic but also positive.
There are 2 other points that I would like to make in this regard. I stated in an earlier debate on social services that consideration should be given to finding a price index of more relevance to pensioners than the present consumer price index. The consumer price index is a quarterly measure of variations in retail prices for goods and services representing a high proportion of the expenditure of wage earner households. These wage earners, according to the Henderson Commission, are much better off than pensioners. Their pattern of expenditure is not the same. Professor Henderson stated that a rise in food prices, for instance, would be much more serious for the pensioner than its weighting in the
CPI would indicate. I was therefore disappointed to learn, in answer to a question that I placed on notice, that the recently published preliminary results of the 1974-75 household expenditure survey, which was undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, did not contain separate expenditure details relating to age pensioners between the ages of 65 and 69 years. I ask the responsible Minister to investigate the possibilities of collecting more specific information in future surveys, particularly with regard to the pensioners in this age group for whom the pension is either the sole or the major source of income.
The other matter that I wish to mention in this regard is that the concept of making automatic adjustments of pensions according to movements in the consumer price index should not prevent the Government from periodically reviewing the adequacy of the base level of the pension. I think it is important to preserve the real value of pensions against inflation, as we are now doing, but it is equally important to assess what is the appropriate level to be preserved. As real community living standards improve over the longer term it will be necessary to adjust the real level of the pension at regular intervals in order to ensure that pensioners enjoy with the rest of the community the fruits of increased productivity and economic growth.
There is another matter related to pensions which is of great importance to many of my constituents. Like the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil), I have had many pensioners in my electorate approach me and complain that on the income they received in 1975-76 they have been required to pay taxes for the first time and that in some cases they are liable for quite sizable lump sums, which they are naturally finding very difficult to pay. I would also like to address myself to this problem. I have undertaken some preliminary examination of this matter and I have asked the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) and the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) to look at the question. But one thing has become clear. This question of pensioner tax liability is one of the lesser known and unfortunate aspects of the previous Labor Government’s welfare policy. The President of the Australian Pensioners League in Western Australia was quoted recently in the Press as having said:
We think the taxing of the old age pension in any shape or form is the lowest form of legislation that could ever be possibly conceived.
It was the Labor Government which introduced the taxation of pensions. No doubt this, together with its decision to abolish the age allowance, was related to its intended moves to abolish the means test. However, the failure fully to implement this latter aspect of its package, together with the indexing of pensions and many superannuation payments to pensioners, has meant that many pensioners have been lifted over the income taxation threshold. In the absence of an upward movement in the base tax rate many pensioners are now liable for tax payments for the first time.
The various measures taken by the Labor Government in this area, to which I have referred, have impacted on the pensioner in an indiscriminate way and presently are causing much hardship to many pensioners. There is no doubt that the Labor Government was responsible for this hardship. The honourable member for Oxley asked why this Government has not done something about it. He was the Treasurer of this country for some time but he did nothing about it. He introduced it but when he found out what it was doing, he did nothing. Anyway, it is of little consequence to the affected pensioners how the blame is apportioned. I am pleased that the Government is now looking at this problem and I hope the position will be rectified in the near future. I support this Bill and I totally reject the amendment moved by the honourable member for Oxley.
– There is no amendment before us.
– The amendment was before us before we reached the Committee stage. I refer to it because of the matters raised in the Opposition’s amendment and about which the Opposition did nothing while it was in office. Its performance was disgraceful.
-It has been an astounding afternoon. I suppose one can understand that new members who have been here for only a short time, and who have very limited prospects of being here much longer, are not going to take the trouble to research the facts of situations. I refer especially in this context to the honourable member for George.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles) - Order! Does the honourable member mean the honourable member for St George.
-Yes, I meant the honourable member for St George. I doubt that I have ever heard a speech which contained so many inaccuracies, but what surprised me most of all was that the honourable member engaged in such a reckless attack upon his own Government. I would have thought that his electoral situation is precarious enough. I think it very unwise of him to put himself in a difficult position with his own party so that his pre-selection might be in doubt as well. He attacked the fact that in the statement by the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) on 20 May last, the famous economic statement, the announcement was made that for the first time in Australia’s history all pensioners’ income was to be subjected to taxation. The honourable member for St George and the honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean) were very agitated in their expressions of concern about the Treasurer’s announcement.
The history of this matter, as the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) indicated already, is that when the means test was lifted by the Labor Government in respect of pensioners over 70 years of age, as a prelude to lifting the means test for pensioners generally, the sensible view was taken that if wealthy or affluent people were to receive pensions which were free of the means test those pensions obviously should be subjected to taxation. Is the honourable member for St George, the noisy, boisterous and sometimes rude and vulgar member for St George, going to contend with that when wealthy people receive an age pension, that pension should not be subjected to taxation? I doubt that even he would suggest that course.
It was the intention of the Labor Government to then go ahead and extend the concept of the means test free pension to people of 69 years of age by 1 July this year. Regrettably the coup of 11 November prevented that happening. Of course, by this time we would have gone on to the second phase and eliminated the means test in respect of people of 68 years of age. But clearly, there is a need to subject aged pensions to taxation when those pensions are free of the means test. I understand from the interjections of the honourable member for St George that he does not want that to happen. If that does not happen it would mean that ordinary working people will be paying more taxation to enable rich people to receive age pensions. The honourable member had better make his position very clear. What he is saying is in opposition to the Government’s announcement of 20 May that all pensions should be subject to taxation. It was not the Labor Government which subjected invalid pensions or widows’ pensions to taxation; it was the Government which the honourable member for St George supports.
I want to refer to some other matters for which the Government has to bear responsibility. I am especially concerned about the attack on the recipients of the unemployment benefit. No one has been more stigmatised and harassed during the period that this Government has been in office than the people receiving the unemployment benefit. A new strict work test and screening process has been introduced. Younger unemployed people are forced to move away from their homes to take jobs or are deprived of the benefit. A 6-week waiting period for benefit has been introduced in respect of people who voluntarily terminate employment. This is rigorously applied regardless of the circumstances. I know of one case of a girl who was the subject of overtures by her employer and decided she could no longer tolerate the situation. Even in those circumstances she was penalised because she Volutarily terminated her employment. Even the failure to receive award conditions or an employer’s immoral behaviour to a female employee do not constitute a defence against this embargo. To continue receiving unemployment benefit applicants are forced to periodically hand deliver income statements to the local Commonwealth Employment Service office. There have been organised mass raids on unemployed people and the Commonwealth Police have briefed departmental officers on investigation and interrogation techniques. The number of staff assigned to field work detection of the so called dole bludger has been increased. In addition, it is a favorite pastime of Government spokesmen to cast doubt over the worthiness of women to receive supporting mothers benefit. In some States there has been a rash of complaints against prying investigations by field officers about the nature of relationships which supporting mothers have with male friends.
In so many other respects there has been a very serious assault. The Fraser Government, after almost completing its first year in office, appears to have set a strategic course designed to make welfare a dirty word in the community. Community resentment has been fostered against the poor, against the unemployed and against the supporting mothers I have mentioned. Undoubtedly the best example is the Government orchestrated campaign against dole bludgers. There have been blatant attempts to convey the idea that the poor are poor because of their own behaviour, that the unemployed are all bludgers and that all supporting mothers are promiscuous. The fact of the matter is that there has been a multi-pronged assault against the concept of welfare since this Government has been in office. The first assault came in the area of pharmaceutical benefits, and I am pleased to see the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) at the table. There were no fewer than 168 benefits struck off the free medical list. Prescription charges were increased from $ 1 .50 to $2.
– Milk substitutes.
-That is probably the worst example. Asthmatic children are deprived of milk substitutes, and despite the incessant petitioning that has been going on in this Parliament for months nothing has been done to redress that grievance. Subsidised pharmaceutical benefits were abolished, resulting in the costs’ of benefits rising from 75c to $2. We well remember the fiasco about hearing aids. A charge for hearing aids was announced and then withdrawn under pressure 5 days later- an unnecessary exercise demonstrating lack of planning.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! I remind the honourable gentleman that the debate is on the Social Services Amendment Bill and that he should return to it after a passing reference.
-On all these matters we have seen a policy of curtailment and cuts and now in respect of the measures before the Parliament we can see that the Government still has this obsession against underprivileged people. Worse still is the Government’s decision to subject all pensions to taxation, and the honourable member for St George who sits there in his back seat should take away that look of cynicism and accept responsibility for a development which has caused a great deal of concern and deprivation among a large number of people.
– I have an amendment to clause 32 which reads in part:
After section 83C of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: 83ca. (1) For the purposes of sections 83a and 83b, a reference to a prescribed person shall be read as a reference to a person whose annual rate of income equals or exceeds the prescribed rate of income applicable to him.
In clause 32, after ‘to a person’, insert ‘(other than a person who is permanently blind ) ‘.
The purpose of the amendment is to correct an ommission when the Bill was drafted. When clause 32 of the Social Services Amendment Bill (No. 3) was drafted it was overlooked that the limits specified do not apply to blind persons. These pensioners are entitled to funeral benefits irrespective of their income, and this has been the position since 1954. The amendment preserves the present position.
While on my feet there are a couple of things I want to say. I have been astonished to hear some of the speeches made by members of the Opposition, who clearly are to trying create the impression, when we are on air, that the Fraser Government is making the word ‘welfare ‘ a dirty word. That is a lot of rubbish. In the last 2 pension increases announced by this Government there has been a total increase of $4.75 a week in the single pension and $8 a week in the combined married pension. The unemployment benefit and the sickness benefit have been increased except in the case of unmarried persons. The truth of the situation is that in this year we will be spending no less than $5, 178m which is a 32 per cent increase spent what was spent by the former Government. So what a lot of rubbish we have heard. I would not have bothered to get to my feet to talk on this matter except that we happen to be on the air, and I do not want people in Australia, pensioners and others, getting the impression from some of the irresponsible speeches that have been made that this Government is out to cut the ground from under pensioners and underprivileged people in this country.
This Government’s whole purpose and thrust has been to direct the subsidies and help to those in most need in our community. The modifications which were made to Medibank direct the whole of the subsidy basically to underprivileged people and those on lower incomes. If ever there was an egalitarian approach to a health insurance system we have adopted that approach and the Opposition cannot deny it. Most socialist economists would agree, but for political reasons honourable members opposite will not accept it and try to delude the people as they have tried to do here today.
-We have had from members of the Opposition, in particular the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), a presentation by sleight of hand of statistics designed to confuse the public. The honourable member for Oxley spoke in particular about the family allowances. He expressed concern that in this Budget the Government had not increased the level of benefits available to children of pensioners. I want to point out that the Government increased the benefits available to those children by 50 per cent. The allowances under the family allowances scheme were made available not only to taxpayers, as were the rebates under the Labor Party’s rebate system, but to all families with dependent children. As a result, 300 000 families with 800 000 children will receive family allowances in circumstances where those allowances in no way replace a tax benefit, because they were not taxpayers. A large number of those 300 000 families are the families of pensioners. We are all aware that the family allowances scheme is one of the most significant changes in the social welfare system ever made in this country. Those benefits will provide to thousands of families in Australia a form of income that was not previously available.
-I rise to order. I was wondering where the family allowances appear in any of the 5 pieces of legislation that we are debating now in the Committee stage. Surely there is some point when debating in the Committee stage -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles) - Order! I think the honourable member has stated his point of order. There is a certain amount of relevance in the point of order, I must say. However, if the speech refers to overall payments I think it has some relevance to the debate.
– I found it necessary to make reference to the family allowances scheme as a whole to expose the dishonesty of the honourable member for Oxley in the manner in which he tried to deceive this House when presenting figures which implied that pensioners with dependent children -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! I think the honourable gentleman should withdraw the words ‘ tried to deceive this House ‘.
– I withdraw that remark. Anyone who closely examines the figures presented by the honourable member for Oxley will be surprised to find that they do not bear out the contentions he was making to this House. In the few remaining minutes available to me I want to draw the attention of the Committee to the significant change being made in the means test. It is sought to replace the means test with a income test. The Liberal and National Country Parties in their policies speeches and their policy documents undertook to make an examinaion with a view to: ,
Consolidating all existing means-tested pensions and benefits into one base rate income-tested benefit and standardising means tests to provide a uniform income test.
That was a promise and it is given effect to in this legislation. The document went on to say: »
The test would be structured to minimise work disincentive, with benefits appropriately tapered as other earnings increase.
What this legislation does is take the first step. It replaces the old means test with an income test only and this will be of great benefit to a large number of pensioners. It will place them in a situation where their real incomes as a consequence of pension increases rise and where they will not be prejudiced as a consequence of the escalation in the value of assets that are not income earning or where they are locked into assets which have a very low yield.
What I wish to do is to draw the attention of the Committee to the need to examine the possibility of converting this new income test into a guaranteed income scheme. What I am concerned about is that as a consequence of the interaction of the means test and the taxation structure, the marginal rates of tax of those 2 tests combined do have a disincentive effect. This has come about because the previous Government, the Labor Government, introduced taxation on pensions and in doing so failed in any way to show any sensitivity with regard to the importance of the level of income from which tax is first payable.
– I rise to order. The honourable member is out of order. He is incorrect in that the present Government has greatly extended taxation on pensions.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! There is no point of order.
– Age pensions were made taxable by the previous Government. As I was saying, that Government lacked any sensitivity or understanding of the importance of pitching the level at which tax was first payable to take account of the past situation. Hundreds of thousands of pensioners for years have believed that their pension income was free of any claw back by the Government either by way of means test or tax if they earned $20 a week in the case of a single pensioner. When the Labor Government introduced taxation on pensions, tax assessments for which are now being received by many pensioners, it set the level at which tax became payable at a figure considerably less than a pension of $20 a week.
– What are you going to do about it?
-What are we going to do about it? We have already done something about it. We have significantly changed the tax system by indexing the rate scale. Let me point out that many pensioners believed they would receive a higher tax bill as a consequence of increased pension due to the liabilility of pensions to tax. In fact those pensions now will not attract a higher rate of tax because we have indexed the rate scale. The rebate system now gives to a pensioner a rebate of $620 a year in place $540 a year.
I urge the Government to examine closely the need to merge carefully and blend together the impact of the tax structure with the income test. I would like to see the income test replaced by an income tax test. I want to bring to the attention of the Committee the manner in which the marginal rates accelerate for pensioner taxpayers as a consequence of the amalgamation of the impact of the means test with that of the taxation system. I can best to that by asking that there be incorporated in Hansard 2 tables which I have had prepared. The tables indicate that at some levels of income means tested pensioners pay a marginal rate of tax in excess of 100c in the dollar and at other levels of income- not very high levels- they in fact pay a marginal rate of tax of 64.75c in the dollar. This is as a consequence of the fact that the Labor Government when in office failed to adjust the rebate system-
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Is the honourable member seeking leave to have the documents incorporated in Hansard?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Does the honourable member mind if I deal with this matter now? Is leave granted?
– No. It may not be right- we will have to have a look at it.
-That indicates that the Labor Party is prepared to break an agreement. I spoke to the Leader -
– I cannot get a word in. Leave is granted.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN -There being no objection, leave is granted.
The tables read as follows-
-I urge the Government therefore to avoid lower negative income retention rates for pensioners and ask that it examines the effect of fluctuations in the marginal tax defect of the pensioner tax scale. In conclusion, I urge the Government also to ask the Department of Social Security and the Taxation Office to get together and to devise a common form so that pensioner taxpayers can present one form for tax purposes as well as for pension purposes.
– I will take just 2 minutes of the time of the Committee. There is much argument today on the part of the Government that it is better to have the proposed system of a changed means test to one of converting to or eliminating the question of capital. In 1972 a government not very dissimilar from the present Government, as I understand it, led by the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr William McMahon), introduced the proposition that superannuitants should be able to capitalise their superannuation. The opposite viewpoint is now put. It was argued by that Government in 1972 that 46 500 pensioners at that stage would benefit from capitalising their superannuation. Capitalisation of this sort is now prohibited under the proposals of the present Government.
It seems terribly reasonable and rational to me- I challenge anyone on the other side to deny- that if 46 500 pensioners benefited by capitalising superannuation, about, the same number will now be disadvantaged and will suffer from this proposal.
– It will be greater because the number of pensioners has grown.
-I know it will be greater. In 1972 46 500 pensioners allegedly benefited by capitalising. The honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson), who pretends to support pensioners in the area that he represents, argues that the opposite should be done. Surely if they benefited then the opposite will happen now and they will lose those benefits. That is obviously so because as the Minister for Health who introduced this legislation, and who is now at the table, has pointed out, there will be a large number of people who will be worse off under this proposal. To prevent this happening the Government has undertaken not to reduce people’s pensions but to freeze their pensions at the present value. Pensioners will still suffer because their pensions would have gone up next May and the following November. The honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) shakes his head. I would be very interested to hear how he can possibly argue that that is not true. It will be interesting to hear anyone on the other side argue that the 46 500 people who received the benefit will not suffer if the benefit is removed. That is exactly what will happen. Pensioners will receive their present level of pension. They will not receive an increase in the rate of pension even though this Government, as pointed out earlier thus afternoon, estimates that the inflation rate will increase by 33 per cent during the next 6 months. Although this will be the increase superannuitants will receive no benefits from the Government. It is all very well for the honourable member for Sturt and the honourable member for Denison to smile about this. We have previously heard the honourable member for Denison refer to all the old people in his electorate as ‘plonkos’. It took him some time to get away from that.
– That is a deliberate lie.
-I will be happy to hear any honourable members opposite -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member will resume his seat for a minute. The honourable member for Denison will withdraw that remark.
– I will, Mr Deputy Chairman.
-I will be very interested to hear the Minister or any honourable member on the Government side explain to me how people who benefited from something that was done 3 or 4 years ago by the then McMahon Government will not suffer when it is proposed to do the opposite.
– I think there has been a pretty full debate on this matter and, in view of the program ahead of us on the other Bills, I think I should endeavour to close the debate at this stage so that we can move on to other matters of concern. The honourable member or Prospect (Dr Klugman) has again raised the point about pensioners who are currently earning more than 10 per cent on their assets. The point he takes arises as a result of the improvement of the means test provisions which will benefit a great number of additional pensioners in this country. As I said earlier, this provision ensures that in the process those pensioners do not have their existing pensions reduced as a result of the change from the present means-as-assessed system to the new income-only test. I concede that there will be some disadvantage amongst those people.
– How many will be disadvantaged?
– I have not got the numbers but I can find out. No doubt the Department of Social Security would have the numbers available. If not, I am sure the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) will provide the information for the honourable member. An additional 30 000-odd pensioners will gain as a result of the change to the means-as-assessed system, and the Government has ensured that in the the transition period the effect of the new means testing arrangement is minimised. I move:
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)-The question now is that the Bill as amended be agreed to.
-I seek leave to make a personal explanation.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Does the honourable member ‘ claim to have been misrepresented?
– I do. The honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), who is in the chamber but not in his seat, said a few moments ago that I had called the people of Hobart plonkos’. I responded by saying that that was a lie, and at your direction, Mr Deputy Chairman, I withdrew that statement. I wish to say that at no time have I ever referred to the people of Hobart as ‘plonkos’. I invite the honourable member for Prospect to look at Hansard of 19 February, where he will see a reference in my maiden speech in which I said that I was not ashamed to claim some of the battlers and plonkos of Hobart as my friends. I suggest, with respect, that the honourable member for Prospect ought to speak the truth and not misquote other honourable members.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill reported with an amendment; report- by leave- adopted.
Motion ( by Mr Hunt)- by leave- proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– I know it is unusual for members of this House to speak in the third reading stage of a Bill, but I want to express my pleasure at the fact that the Bill has reached this stage and that shortly there will be an increase in the amount of the nation’s wealth which is expended on caring for those in need of social welfare. Following the heated debate which has ensued this afternoon, I wish to make the point that the Liberal-National Country Party Government has greatly increased the amount of money available for social welfare. Last year in the Hayden Labor Budget a total of $5,0 12m was outlaid on social security and welfare. The Bill before the House increases that amount to $6, 187m.
– I rise on point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. For someone who is as assiduous about misunderstandings of the Standing Orders as the honourable member for Griffith, he should understand that at the third reading stage he cannot make a second reading speech. He must apply himself strictly to the meticulous detail of the Bill. The honourable member is certainly not doing that. While I would not have objected to him speaking in the Committee stage, I will certainly object if he moves away from that principle in the third reading stage.
-On the point of order raised by the honourable member for Oxley, at the moment there is an amended Bill before the House. Therefore the flexibility of the honourable member who is speaking is increased a little because the Bill has been reported as amended. However, I suggest that the honourable member for Griffith keep his remarks short and as close to the Bill as possible.
– I will do that, Mr Deputy Speaker. I said a moment ago, and this was within the confines of the Bill, that in the last 12 months there has been an increase of over $1 billion in the amount allocated for social welfare. This has been done by a Government which, according to Opposition speakers, has no care or concern for the less privileged in this nation. I will let my argument rest there because I believe that that fact says far more than all the hot words which have been uttered this afternoon by honourable members opposite.
Question resolved in the Affirmative.
BUI read a third time.
Debate resumed from 7 October, on motion by Mr Newman.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Speaker, to save the time of the House, I move:
The matters to which the amendment refers are issues which were canvassed extensively by me and other Opposition speakers in the second reading stage of the Social Services Amendment BUI (No. 3). I also observe, to save time later, that there are other cognate matters which wil successively come before the House following the Repatriation Acts Amendment BUI. They are the National Health Amendment BUI (No. 3), the Health Insurance Amendment BUI (No. 3) and the Handicapped Persons Assistance Amendment BUI. In the Opposition’s view, all of the matters covered by these Bills were adequately canvassed at the second reading stage of the Social Services Amendment BUI, so there is no need for me at least to direct any further discussion to them.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– Yes Mr, Mr Deputy Speaker.
-The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.
– The Government is opposed to the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) for the reasons that it was opposed to the amendments moved to the Social Services Amendment Bill. Clearly, the Government is carrying out its election promise to introduce automatic increases in pensions and benefits in line with the consumer price index. At no stage did the Government say that it would carry out an immediate automatic increase. That is the point. A word has been added to the amendment moved by the honourable member for Oxley which throws an entirely different light on what was intended and what was said on this issue by the Liberal and National Country Parties. I addressed myself at some length to this matter in the debate on the Social Services Amendment BUI. The Government does not accept this amendment because it believes that it is completely out of line with our election policy.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
– I have an amendment to clause 19, which reads in part: 123ab. (1) For the purposes of section 123a, a reference to a prescribed person shall be read as a reference to a person whose annual rate of income equals or exceeds the prescribed rate of income applicable to him.
The amendment to clause 19 has been criticised already. The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) would have a copy of it. A permanently blind person is at present eligible for an invalid pension free of the means test under section 28 (2aa) of the Social Services Act. The same principle applies under section 87 (1) (a) of the Repatriation Act in respect of a permanently blind service pensioner. It is necessary that clause 19 of the Bill be amended to exclude a permanently blind person from the meaning of a prescribed person’ under the proposed section 123ab of the Act. Eligibility of a blind pensioner for fringe benefits has never been dependent upon his means. The amendment which I have moved will maintain that position.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report- by leave- adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt)- by leave- read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 13 October, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 13 October, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time
That resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 7 October, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt) read a third time.
Bill presented by Mr Lynch, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to authorise arrangements under which revenue from Commonwealth personal income tax collections is to be shared between the Commonwealth and State governments. The tax sharing arrangements with the States represents a central element of the Government’s federalism policy. They replace the financial assistance grants which the States received under the States Grants Acts. The present Bill, accordingly, provides for the repeal of that legislation. In addition to the arrangements for sharing personal income tax collections with State governments, a share of Commonwealth personal income tax revenue is to be provided as untied assistance for local government. A Bill in relation to the arrangements for local government will be introduced immediately after the Bill before us now, and I propose that the 2 Bills be debated cognately. Federalism policy and the tax sharing arrangements central to it were, of course, the subject of Premiers conferences in February, April and June this year. The Premiers welcomed the concept of a genuine, wholehearted federalism.
Support of federalism means of course, support of the Australian system of government, with each sphere of government- Federal, State and local- fulfilling its rightful role. Support of federalism means support of a proper distribution of powers and functions of government between these 3 spheres so that government may be responsive to the needs and preferences of the community and of individuals. Such a system of government can benefit from the input of local knowledge and talent and provides protection against excessive concentration of power. The centralist philosophy of the former Whitlam Government was, of course, directly contrary to this. The high objective of the Government’s federalism policy is, therefore, to assist effective and responsible government in the Federal, State and local spheres.
The tax sharing arrangements represent a significant step towards ensuring that the States and local government will have improved resources and greater flexibility with which to meet their particular responsibilities. This is not to say that the arrangements provided for by this Bill, and the Local Government Bill to be introduced hereafter, will complete the restructuring of financial arrangements between the spheres of government in Australia. For one thing, the policy, in fact, provides that the States should not be immutably tied to any one tax or set of taxes as their main source of revenue. If there are significant changes in the pattern of taxation, the States, and, indeed, local government will be free to argue for appropriate changes in the arrangements.
Under the tax sharing arrangements with the States provided for in this Bill the States will receive a specified proportion of the personal income tax collections made under Commonwealth legislation. On the basis of current estimates, the effect of the arrangements will be this year to provide the States with $643m or almost 2 1 per cent more than they received as financial assistance grants in 1975-76. On the basis of the same estimates, the States’ entitlement in 1976-77 would be $89m more than the States could have expected to receive this year under the old financial assistance grants formula. As the economy grows, the States’ revenue under these arrangements will, of course, also expand, as in the case, for example, with State payroll tax and stamp duty. Moreover, the tax sharing arrangements, which in the second stage will provide for State surcharges and rebates, will increase the States’ flexibility in determining the pattern and level of their revenue resources.
The basic elements of the tax sharing arrangements for which this Bill makes provision may be summarised as follows:
Each year, commencing in 1976-77, the States are to receive 33.6 per cent of a base amount- referred to as the ‘ base figure ‘ in the Bill.
The base figure is to be net personal income tax collected in the year excluding the revenue from the Medibank levy and any other special surcharges or rebates which might be applied, in appropriate circumstances, by the Commonwealth.
Irrespective of what the base figure may prove to be in any year, the Bill provides for guarantees that the States’ Stage 1 entitlements in any year will be no less, in absolute terms, than in the previous year.
The bill also provides for further guarantees that the States’ Stage 1 entitlements will be no less in any of the first 4 years, that is, the years 1976-77 to 1979-80, than the amount which would have been yielded in that year by the financial assistance grants formula as laid down in the States Grants Act as last amended in 1 975.
The total entitlement for all States is to be divided between the States so that the States’ per capita entitlements will bear the same relationship to one another as the relativities in the financial assistance grants in 1975-76.
The arrangements as a whole are to be reviewed at some time before 30 June 1981, that is, before the end of 5 years from the commencement of the new arrangements.
I turn now to the clauses of the Bill. Clause 4 sets out the definitions and is, of course, basic to an understanding of the Bill. In particular the definitions set out in clause 4 are central to the concept of the base amount to be shared with the States. Net personal income tax is, of course, defined as net of refunds of personal income tax made during the year and excludes company tax and withholding taxes on interest and dividends.
Net Personal Income Tax’ as denned in the Bill is the same as the revenue item ‘Income TaxIndividuals’ shown in Statement No. 4 attached to the Budget Speech and in other Budget Papers. Clause 5 provides the necessary authority to deal with any special Commonwealth surcharges or rebates and is directly relevant to the determination- of the ‘base figure’ and provided for in clause 6. Any such actions would not, of course, be taken without due notice to the States. Clause 6 provides for the Commissioner of Taxation to determine the ‘base figure’ for each year, while clauses 7 and 8 authorise the payment to each State of its share of 33.6 per cent of the base figure, or the guaranteed entitlement, whichever is the greater.
In clause 7 the Bill employs the term ‘adjusted population figure’ in relation to each State as defined in sub-clause 4(1). This concept is used to calculate each individual State’s share of the total entitlement for all States as prescribed under clause 7. Honourable members may find helpful in this regard Table 6 in Budget Paper No. 7, ‘payments to or for the States and local government authorities in 1976-77’. Clause 9 provides for the determination of State populations by the Australian Statistician. Clause 10 provides that the Statistician’s determination in this respect and the Commissioner of Taxation’s determination in regard to clause 6 shall be conclusively presumed to be correct. Clause 13 of the Bill makes provision for review of the tax sharing arrangements as a whole before 30 June 1981. The advances and appropriation authority provided in clauses 1 1 and 12 respectively are of a machinery nature similar to those in other legislation providing for financial assistance to the States.
There are some points of understanding between the Commonwealth and the States relating to the tax sharing arrangements which appropriately are not specifically provided for in the Bill. These are documented in Budget Paper No. 7. They include, importantly, agreement that the 4 less populous States will continue to be free to apply for special assistance grants on the recommendation of the Grants Commission in addition to their entitlements under the tax sharing arrangements. The Commonwealth has also given certain undertakings in relation to reviewing the arrangements when there are changes in Commonwealth tax legislation which have effects on the States’ entitlements of such significance as to warrant such a review. I should also mention that it is intended to make legislative provision for arrangements to periodically review the relativities between the States in their
Stage 1 entitlements. The precise nature of these arrangements is currently subject to further report by Commonwealth and State officers and consideration by governments. It has already been agreed, however, that advice in relation to this review will be sought from an independent body and that the first such review will be made before 30 June 1981.
There are some general points I wish to make before concluding. The benefits to the States, and local governments, of the tax sharing arrangements are, I believe, already apparent. I have referred to the very large increase in general revenue funds which the States will receive under the provisions of this Bill- almost 2 1 per cent more than the amount of comparable funds in 1975-76. General revenue assistance for local government under the tax sharing arrangementsthe subject of a separate Bill- will be 75 per cent up on comparable funds in 1975-76. Overall, payments to the States and local government in 1976-77, including the State governments’ Loan Council programs, are estimated to total $9,077m. This represents an increase of 12.6 per cent over 1975-76 after taking into account hospital prepayments, or 14.6 per cent after excluding non-recurring payments made for unemployment relief in 1975-76. As honourable members will know and appreciate, that rate of increase substantially, exceeds the planned rate of increase in the Commonwealth’s own outlays as proposed by me in the Budget presently before the Parliament.
State and local government funds from Commonwealth Budget sources are estimated, therefore, to increase overall by a significant amount in real terms this year. Importantly, and in keeping with the Government’s federalism policy, the general purpose funds, which are increasing relatively rapidly this year, are available to the States and their authorities to allocate according to the priorities which they themselves determine. Unlike our predecessors we have and will emphasise general untied assistance for the States and for local government. We entirely reject the notion of the Whitlam Government that Canberra knows the business of the State and local governments better than those governments themselves.
In concluding I wish to record the Government’s appreciation of the co-operative and constructive attitude which Premiers have brought to the discussion and development of the tax sharing arrangements which are embodied in this Bill. I believe they very considerable progress in the implementation of the total arrangements which this Bill represents is in large part due to the understanding and flexibility which Premiers have shown in their approach to the matter. It is a demonstration that federalism can work effectively. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hurford) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Lynch, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to provide for the sharing of personal income tax collections between the Commonwealth and, through the States, local government. It is, therefore, complementary to the States (Personal Income Tax Sharing) Bill, which has just been introduced, which provides for the sharing of income tax collections with the States. As I said in connection with the other Bill, the tax sharing arrangements to apply between the Commonwealth, the States and local government were decided following extensive discussions between the Commonwealth and the States this year, and represent a central element in the Government’s federalism policies.
Under the new arrangements provided for in this Bill, the Government will provide $140m in untied general purpose assistance grants to the States in 1 976-77 for distribution to local government/This is an increase of 75 per cent above the level of general purpose assistance provided to local government in 1975-76. In the present very difficult budgetary circumstances, this large and significant increase is clear evidence of the Commonwealth’s determination to do what it can to ensure that local government authorities throughout Australia have sufficient funds to effectively undertake their important functions.
In 1977-78 and each subsequent year the amount of general purpose assistance provided to local government authorities will constitute a given percentage of the previous year’s personal income tax collections so that the level of general purpose assistance provided to local government in any year will be known with certainty very early in that year. Very importantly, the amount of such assistance will grow as personal income tax collections grow. The percentage of 1.52 per cent included in the Bill flows from the arithmetic, and was obtained by expressing the level of assistance provided in 1976-77 as a percentage of 1975-76 personal income tax collections, in line with the agreed arrangements.
I want to emphasise, however, that the Government regards the figure of 1.52 per cent as a minimum percentage. It is subject to review. I also take this opportunity to announce that, although it is not provided for directly in the Bill, the Commonwealth has decided it should provide a firm guarantee that the total entitlement of local government authorities as provided under this Bill will, in any year, be no less in absolute terms than in the previous year. This guarantee is, of course, similar to that provided in the States’ Entitlement Bill. I believe it will be greatly welcomed by local government authorities throughout Australia. The $140m of general financial assistance to be provided to local authorities in 1976-77 will be distributed between the States on the basis of the distribution recommended by the Commonwealth Grants Commission and agreed to by the Commonwealth and the States at the June Premiers Conference. Details of the amount to be provided to each State for on-passing to local government in 1976-77 are set out in clause 5(1) of the Bill.
The percentage distribution recommended by the Commonwealth Grants Commission will also form the basis for allocating the assistance among the States in years subsequent to 1 976-77. Details of each State’s percentage allocations in years after 1976-77 are set out in clause 5 (2) of the Bill. Clause 12(2) of the Bill, however, requires that before 30 June 1981 the Commonwealth Grants Commission be asked to enquire into and report to the Government whether any change is desirable in these percentage allocations. The details of how the general purpose assistance is to be distributed to local government are set out in clause 6 of the Bill. The assistance to be provided will consist of 2 separate components, a weighted per capita componentcommonly referred to as element A- and an equalisation or ‘topping up’ component- commonly referred to as element B. The weighted per capital component- element A- is required under the Bill to comprise a minimum of 30 per cent of each State’s allocation of the total level of assistance, though each State will be free to distribute a greater percentage in this form if it so desires. The States are also free to determine whether to distribute this portion of the assistance as a straight per capita grant or whether to include a weighting for other factors such as area or population density.
After the initial period, the equalisation component of the assistance- element B- is to be distributed having regard to the recommendations of the States’ local government grants commissions or their equivalent; the Bill requires in clause 6(3) that local government grants commissions be established in each State by the end of 1977-78. Clause 4(b) of the Bill further requires that local government should be represented on each of these commissions, that local government bodies be able to make submissions to the commissions, that the hearings of the commissions be held in public, and that their reports are to be public documents. The Bill provides in clause 6(2)(b) broad guidelines for the operation of local government grants commissions and for assessing equalisation grants. In the final analysis, however, it will be for the States themselves to determine the detailed criteria to be adopted in the assessment of the equalisation grants to individual local government authorities.
Clause 12 ( 1 ) of the Bill requires that there be a review of the arrangements I have outlined above before 30 June 1981. In this regard I mention the overall review of the tax sharing arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States provided for in the States (Personal Income Tax Sharing) Bill 1976. A further matter which needs to be emphasised is the arrangements for the payment of the assistance to local government authorities. Clause 6 ( 1 ) of the Bill states that these moneys are to be provided to each state for on-passing to local government in the form of a single lump sum when the Minister has been notified of the detailed allocation of the assistance among local government authorities in a State and the Minister is satisfied that the allocation has been made in accordance with clause 6 of the Bill.
These arrangements should be of great assistance to local government authorities; they should result in a substantial increase in their funds early in their financial years, this being a time when their liquidity is traditionally tight because the bulk of local government rate payments occur in the latter half of their financial years. Many local government representatives have raised this matter with me and I feel sure that they will endorse the payments arrangements that are provided for in the Bill.
Some further details of the legislation to which I would direct attention are, firstly, that the definition of personal income tax collections is the same as the definition used in the States (Personal Income Tax Sharing) Bill 1976 and, secondly, that a ‘local governing body ‘ is defined in clause 3 to be a local governing body established by or under a law of a State, other than a body the sole or principal function of which is to provide a particular service, such as the supply of electricity or water. This definition is consistent with the definition used by the Commonwealth Grants Commission under the previous arrangements which applied to the distribution of general purpose assistance to local government.
I also take this opportunity to draw to the attention of the House the improvements in the status and financial standing of local government which have taken place since this Government came to office. I have already outlined the provisions which will apply under the Local Government (Personal Income Tax Sharing) Bill 1976, which is now before the House. As mentioned previously, under this scheme local government will receive in 1976-77 an increase of 75 per cent over the level of general purpose assistance provided in 1975-76. Furthermore, the assistance to be provided to local government under these new arrangements will be known in advance, which will assist local authorities with forward budgeting, and will be untied, which will allow local government authorities to allocate resources in accordance with their own assessment of priorities. The inclusion of local government in the new tax sharing scheme accords it the status of a genuine partner in our federal system. This Bill recognises and foreshadows a new deal for local government throughout Australia. I commend it to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hurford) adjourned.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
-I have received advice from the Leader of the Opposition that he has nominated Mr Bryant to be a member of the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Mr Young.
Consideration resumed from 13 October.
Proposed expenditure, $54,6 1 7,000.
-Mr Deputy Chairman, I suggest that, in lieu of the proposal that the Committee next consider the proposed expenditure for the AttorneyGeneral’s Department, it should next consider the proposed expenditure for the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Armitage) -Is the suggestion of the Treasurer agreed to? There being no objection, that course will be followed.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
Department of Employment and Industrial Relations
Proposed expenditure, $ 144,832,000.
-The estimates for the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations for 1976-77 are somewhat spectacular in one respect and that is that the amount allocated for expenditure this financial year is only half what was allocated in last year’s Budget. The estimate this year is $145m compared with $292m last year. That sensational slashing of the estimates for this Department has been brought about largely by the abolition of the Regional Employment Development scheme and the non-substitution in this Department’s estimates, or those of any other department, of another form of job creation program. In this year’s Budget only $350,000 has been allocated to the RED scheme compared with $123m actually spent last year on it.
The Opposition regards this matter of the nonexistence of a job creation program in the estimates for this Department this year as a very serious one indeed. It is something we have mentioned in other debates and I will not go into it in great detail. However I make the point that we think there is an obligation on the Government to provide a job creation program. Indeed, we need a number of different job creation programs and their non-existence is a disgrace to this Government. There are 2 reasons for saying that. Firstly, the level of unemployment is so high that it is almost immoral for the Government not to introduce some form of job creation program. As all honourable members know, unemployment is now 1 8 000 higher than it was at this time last year when the then Opposition was blocking Supply, largely on the basis that it was upset about the state of the economy and thought that it could run it better. Now we have 18 000 more people registered as unemployed this year than last year and that level of unemployment is not likely to go down in the foreseeable future. Recently there have been Press reports that the Department has estimated that in January we will have up to 400 000 people registered as unemployed. ,
Apart from the level of unemployment, which is a very important factor and a very important argument for the restoration of a job creation program, there is the fact that this Government promised to introduce job creation programs. It promised this at the last election. In its employment and industrial relations policy it promised a systematic attack on unemployment. Instead of a systematic attack on unemployment we have had a systematic attack on the unemployed by various means which I do not have time to trace now. The Government, as part of its supposed systematic attack on unemployment, said that it would introduce a five point program. The fifth point in that program was the introduction of relief work programs, as it called them. It then spelt out the ways in which it would introduce relief work programs. In fact they have not been introduced. Therefore this Government has broken an election promise by not introducing a job creation program. There is also the very compelling argument that in view of the high level of unemployment such a program should be provided. I remind the Committee that most other countries with economies comparable to our own have such programs. Even the United States of America has a long history of job creation programs. It still has them in operation. We are very exceptional in not having such programs and I think the Government has a lot of explaining to do in this regard.
The National Employment and Training scheme was introduced by the previous Labor Government. This present Government promised at the last election that it would vigorously implement retraining programs. In fact it has provided $40m in this year’s estimates for the NEAT scheme, the same amount spent last year but $ 12m less than the sum allocated by the Labor Government. In fact the vigorous implementation of training schemes has resulted in quite the opposite situation existing to what one would have expected from looking at the Government’s policy last year. As a result of the decision of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) to slash the training allowances for people under the NEAT scheme we have 5000 fewer people under NEAT in September this year than in September last year. That is a very substantial difference- 5000 fewer in September this year than in September last year. In passing, I would make the point that the NEAT scheme now has a special youth implement scheme. It was introduced at long last by the Government after we told it that it should do something like this to assist unemployed youth in this country. We have expressed our reservations about that scheme but in passing I would emphasise to the Government that there is a need to monitor it. We support the idea of this program; indeed, we say that the scheme should have been more generous. However, we do say that the Government must ensure follow-ups to make certain there is no abuse of the scheme. Reports have come to us suggesting that people have been dismissed from a job in order that someone else can be employed under this program. If that is happening it is a very serious matter and I ask the Minister to make sure that his Department monitors the program to stop abuses of that kind.
The Commonwealth Employment Service has come under some attack from the Government in various ways. Perhaps the attack has not been terribly severe but there has been some criticism from the Minister and from the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), both of whom seem to have implied recently that it was not doing the job it ought to do. The Minister has now announced that he is going to have an inquiry into the Commonwealth Employment Service. The CES has had to battle with a very big rise in the number of unemployed in the last 2 years. It also has lots of new staff members and they have not been properly trained. The result is that there has been a very substantial dilution in the level of expertise in the Service. In the Opposition’s view the Commonwealth Employment Service should not be criticised. It is battling with difficulties, particularly in view of the low level of training of its people. It needs a proper training program and greatly increased capitalisation. A computer system needs to be provided so that we can have an efficient job placement service. This cannot be done without computerisation in the Service.
There are two other matters I would like to mention quickly in the time left to me. One of the minor cuts in the estimates of this Department involves a cut of $137,000 in the Department’s information service. In itself that cut is not very big but I would like to point out one example of incredible mindless penny-pinching which is involved in this exercise of cutting $137,000 off the vote for the information service. The Government has scrapped a booklet known as the Career Guide for School Leavers which is published for each of the States. The practice was to place it in the libraries of all secondary schools in this country. That comprehensive booklet was the only booklet available which contained information on a wide variety of job choices and the basic requirements of each choice. It has now been scrapped as a result of the Government’s cost cutting program, therefore depriving school-leavers of an important means of assistance in deciding what career would be most suitable for them. I regard this as a most reprehensible action, particularly at a time when there are 90 000 unemployed young people desperately needing vocational guidance with another 200 000 to come on to the labour market at the end of this year.
I want to mention finally the National Committee on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation which was formed following ratification of Convention No. 111. This country is bound by the Convention to monitor discrimination in employment and occupation, it having ratified that Convention. This Committee, and the State committees, are quite crucial in ensuring that there is no discrimination in employment and occupation but they have not been able to meet for months. The National Committee has not met since 12 May and it cannot meet because its chairman has not been replaced. The Minister simply has failed to replace the chairman. The same thing applies to the State committees; they have been out of action since 30 June. Here we are in the middle of October and we still have not got chairmen for these State committees. This means that all the complaints about discrimination in employment and occupation are coming in to the staff of the committees but they cannot be processed by the committees. If this Government really believes what it said in its policy speech last year about how it believed in abolishing discrimination in employment and occupation, the Minister should immediately appoint a chairman of those committees and allow them to meet and reduce the massive backlog.
-The honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) has indicated something of the magnitude of the range of problems which the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) has at the present time. However, I want to concentrate my remarks on some of the future problems which are certainly with us now but are of a more structural kind. Although the Government faces many huge problems, some of which are inherited and some are structural, they will continue unless realistic action is begun now and taken in a concerted fashion over a number of years. None of the problems facing this Government is more difficult than that of restructuring our manufacturing industry which provides over 20 per cent of jobs in the community and causes many others to be created in tertiary industry. Even when we have a new mining boom, and it is generally acknowledged that this Budget will produce that result, neither the mining industry nor those parts of tertiary industry which service the mining industry can be expected to provide a huge number of jobs. The mining industry will provide building and construction jobs and employs more people than is commonly acknowledged. Nevertheless, it is a capital intensive industry and cannot provide jobs on such a scale that we can afford to run down our manufacturing industry and imagine that we will not have a chronic unemployment problem.
In the debate on the estimates for the Department of Industry and Commerce I outlined my views on the future of the manufacturing industry. Suffice to say for the purpose of this debate that I believe we must have a restructured manufacturing industry in order to solve the unemployment problem of which we are all now too painfully aware and to provide jobs of the kind to which Australians aspire. The most important problem for the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations is to establish machinery for retraining, machinery which should be governed by a tripartite council consisting of representatives of the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, unions and employers. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations is aware of the problem and does not need to be told how urgent and essential is the early establishment of retraining programs. He is very well aware of the need for improved training and retraining. He has demonstrated in discussions with his State counterparts the need for improved apprenticeship training. That has been acknowledged by all 7 governments. Apprenticeship programs must be made more relevant to the aspirations of school leavers and the needs of industry and this matter is, of course, one of top priority to the Government.
Likewise, the concept of adult apprenticeship and other re-training programs must be launched by the Government after the closest possible consultation with unions and employer organisations. The unions always have always opposed adult apprenticeships for reasons related to job security. Our economy has now reached the stage where adult apprenticeship or re-training is necessary in those areas where we can create more jobs. Apprenticeship and other forms of initial training should not be continued on a large scale in work categories where job opportunities are declining or where it is foreseeable that they will decline. Information on that subject is available from many sources but should be marshalled by industry councils being established by the Department of Industry and Commerce and serviced by the tripartite secretariat to which I referred in the debate on the estimates of that department.
Employees in Australia, whatever their occupation, must expect that they will need to be retrained or frequently to update their knowledge on the job. This will be done to varying extents, a fact which has been reflected already in our wage structure and will have to be reflected more in the future with relativity adjustments. That is a problem beyond the power of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. However, the Minister will be able to influence employers to recognise that they will have to revise their systems of work if they are to attract and retain a work force which will derive job satisfaction from its work, thereby reducing job turnover, absenteeism and industrial disruption. As a consequence of that, productivity will increase and it will be an increase which is essential to the wellbeing of all Australians.
Capital investment is a key to improved productivity and the economic strategy of this Government has had as its core measures designed to stimulate investment in manufacturing industry. Investment decisions will be made by industry on the basis of market studies. Such studies will point to new areas for manufacturing. These new sectors of industry will require new skills. It is a very interesting fact that the labour intensive processing and assembly areas are both the most costly and the most dull. Virtually we have had a concept of dullness money in Australia as well as dirt, danger and height money. Because of increasing improvements in the educational standards of school leavers, our newly inducted employees aspire to jobs other than the dirty, dangerous and dull. This is why there are job vacancies in parts of our manufacturing industry and that thousands of persons who are registered for employment refuse to take jobs for which they are qualified or would soon be qualified with a short period of on-the-job training. This is a serious structural problem which the Minister and the Government face. It is not just a problem for the Minister.
The famous White Paper of 1945 on full employment aimed at providing a job for everyone who wished to work. That was a huge advance on what has existed previously. In 1945 it was said specifically that society expected its government only to provide its members with a job but not necessarily the job of their choice. Now people are saying that within the limits of their talents and education they should have the job of their choice. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) therefore have a joint task every bit as difficult as that of the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) in seeking to reduce inflation and restore economic growth. Their task is a joint task. They must establish tripartite machinery for ensuring that the community’s wishes are understood and they then must devise policies to meet these wishes as best the economy can afford.
To the extent that these vital matters have been debated in our society, there have been 3 very important strands of thought. One has been termed the quarry mentality. By it it is said that we can export our minerals and our rural products and import our manufactured goods. The holders of that view may on occasion allow us to have some tariff or other protection for manufacturing for defence purposes but otherwise they do not believe that manufacturing has a place unless it can be competitive internationally and does not require protection. What the unemployment figures would be if that mentality prevailed one would hate to think. I am prepared to accept that the day may come when we pay people not to work. Then it would be a privilege to and it would not be a social stigma not to work. If that day comes we certainly would have developed a creative leisure ethic to complement the then modified work ethic. With well over half of our population under 30 years of age and technology advancing at breathtaking, and jobtaking, pace that day may come sooner that many now contemplate, but it is not here yet.
Another strand of thought seems somehow to assume that manufacturing industry can go on operating as it has done for the last generation or two and that we will resolve our unemployment problems that way without doing anything to restructure manufacturing industry and create new jobs. A study of our cost structure, trade patterns and employment market shows that that is not so. I mentioned some of those reasons earlier.
The third strand is the one which I endorse and is the one that can be discerned from the Jackson Committee green paper. In short, we need a restructured manufacturing industry which will employ people in satisfying jobs in industries which are essentially competitive internationally but which may from time to time and perhaps always require some protection.
This is easier said than done but it is the big challenge before us. It is about time we had a general debate on that matter instead of nit picking over small short term considerations. In this regard the joint task of the Ministers is the most crucial of all for the Government. Short term protection, of course, is needed to preserve jobs pending retraining and investment pending re-investment and the re-investment will be in areas such as mineral processing. A perpetuation of high levels of protection and the importation of another generation of factory fodder is not the answer. That would only postpone these extremely difficult questions until they became impossible. Moreover, the immediate and intermediate cost burden would be more than even our generously endowed economy could sustain.
Just as the Government must protect jobs in the short term by tariffs, quotas, design rules and standards, it must make it clear to employers and employees that high levels of protection cannot be continued indefinitely because of the burden they impose on our export earning industries, which include the manufacturing industry. Meanwhile the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations is to be congratulated for having begun to tackle the youth employment and retraining problems. The magnitude of his task is compounded by the categories of hidden unemployment of which he is well aware, but that problem will not even emerge until he has solved his present problem of getting those who now are unemployed back to work in jobs, however temporary, before they retrain for something else.
-I must say I fully agree with what the honourable member of Balaclava (Mr Macphee) had to say about the need to realise- I think this in effect is what he was saying- that structural changes are occurring in the economy which are having a dramatic impact upon employment opportunities in secondary industry and in primary industry, and that there is a need for debate on this matter to continue and for inquiry to find a solution. However, I was a bit disappointed when he once again lapsed into an advocacy of free trade. I find I cannot agree with him on this point because in these days of very high unemployment there must be protection for jobs and protection for industry. I believe that that protection should take the form of tariffs or subsidies or whatever means are available to assist industry.
The main issue I wish to speak about tonight is juvenile unemployment. I have the latest unemployment figures for my electorate based on information supplied by Commonwealth Employment offices at Blacktown, Mount Druitt and Penrith. My electorate also takes in a little bit of the Parramatta area, and a part of the Penrith area would not come into my electorate. So basically the figures relate to the number of unemployed in the Chifley electorate, which is located in the outer western suburbs of Sydney. The total number of unemployed for the whole area at the present time, from the aggragate of figures from those 3 offices is 7167 people. Of that number 46.3 per cent represent young males and young females. Last month the figure, which I mentioned in the House last month, was 45. 1 per cent. In other words, the proportion of the total number of unemployed represented by young people increased last month from 45.1 per cent to 46.3 per cent. I think most people would agree that the number of unemployed young peoplealmost half the total number- in an area in the outer western suburbs of Sydney is extraordinary. These young people come from what in basically a working class area. They are referred to as juveniles. I do not agree. I think they are young people.
I was very pleased to be in a position to assist a new organisation started by the young people themselves, which is called the ‘Get-a-Job Youth Employment Service’. This organisation first started in my area and it is spreading to various other areas throughout the State of New South Wales. I believe that it will soon be moving interstate. The young people who started the organisation were themselves unemployed and wanted to help themselves. They went to the Department of Social Security to ascertain whether they could still receive their unemployment benefits if they started this organisation, on the understanding that they would still be eligible to be put into a job by the Commonwealth Employment Service. The Department unfortunately at the time said no, they could not. I made approaches to the Director-General of the Department of Social Security and eventually a meeting was arranged between the young people and Mr Dowell, the Director in New South Wales, who I must say treated the whole matter in a most sympathetic and realistic manner. As a result the young people were allowed to retain their unemployment benefits while they ran this organisation. But at the same time they had to undertake that they would be available to take any job offered by the Commonwealth Employment Service. As it happens, young Sandra New who was a driving force in that organisation now has a job. It has been able to get a number of jobs for a number of people. Sharon Rogers is now running the service.
I have a copy of the third report of the service which was issued 3 months after its inception. I think it is worthwhile noting some of the points made in it. I mentioned that 46.3 per cent of the 7167 people unemployed in my area where there are 3 unemployment offices are young people. This year in the municipality of Blacktown alone from the various high schools in that area- with the exception of the Dunheved High School about which the service did not inquire because it thought the school was only in its third year when in fact it was in its fourth year- there are 2070 young people in either year 10 or year 12 who will be coming on to the labour market at the end of this year. There are 2070 young people plus another 83 students who are not sure about their intentions. Included in those who are staying at school after year 10 or year 12- these are the findings of an excellent survey conducted by the service and even if it did not find jobs for people the service is worth while in itself- is a large percentage of students who intend returning to school simply because of the uncertain situation in the labour market. Third monthly report of the Get-a-Job Youth Employment Service states:
From our experience in talking with young people many of whom have attempted to remain in school whilst lacking the ability to adequately cope with the system and who have eventually ‘dropped out’, we can see very real dangers occurring as a result of such decisions to remain at school.
A student who cannot cope with the system will be unhappy and his self-esteem and self-confidence must naturally suffer;
That is referring, of course, to the young people who should have left school after fourth year secondary or year 10 but instead decided to remain at school simply because they could not find a job. In other words, they stay at school and at least do something rather than leave school, go on the labour market and be unemployed. The report continues: the teacher, who will have no choice but to spend extra time with ‘problem students’ will be unhappy, causing him anxiety and frustration, and those students in the class who do have the ability and capacity to cope, will also be unhappy for they will possibly be required to work at a slower pace than would otherwise have happened.
The facts are these: If a student has the capacity to go on to tertiary education it is logical that the student should go on to year twelve. If a student in the normal circumstances does not have the capacity for tertiary education, that student goes out and finds work, goes into a trade, attends a technical college and so on. But if we force that student into a situation in which he has to undertake study for which he is not qualified- let me put it that way- and for which he does not have the capacity, tha? student will end up with considerable social problems, lack of confidence and so on. This will affect that student throughout his life. It will have a ‘definite impact upon the personality of the student. We also have to consider the situation when that student finally leaves school because employers will naturally employ those of a younger age since the awards provide that a lower wage can be paid. When those young people finally come on to the labour market a year or two years later, they will find it all the harder to obtain employment. The people in this group are doing a wonderful job, for which everyone has to admire them. They are finding jobs for young people and they are doing it in their own way. They have already found many jobs for young people, although there are very few vacancies out in the western areas. They have to battle and interview employers to get jobs for the young people whom they represent. I believe that this type of organisation needs support, and I think that at this point of time the Federal Government should be considering making Federal finances available to assist them.
-Firstly, I should like to congratulate the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) for the way in which he has tackled a most difficult portfolio. I believe that honourable members on both sides of this chamber would agree that the Minister has taken over one of the most difficult portfolios in the Ministry and, by his diligence and conscientious performance, he has won the confidence of both the trade unions and the employers throughout this country. I believe that the performance of the Minister has given us confidence to look forward to a more rational climate of debate in the industrial scene. I congratulate the Minister on his performance.
In speaking to the estimates for the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, I wish to highlight the allocations that have been made for payments to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority. Looking through the figures, it will be found that in 1974-75 the actual payment was $22.4m, in 1975-76 the payment was $3 7.3m, and the estimate for 1976-77 is $25m for the 6 months ending on 31 December 1976. At that rate, the full annual payment would be $50m. I believe that the taxpayers of Australia have every right to ask where this money is going and why it is increasing at such an exorbitant rate. If I were an ordinary chap working in a factory and paying my taxes each week out of my weekly pay packet, I believe that is the sort of question I would be asking.
I think we need to understand that the problems on the waterfront and the payments that are made to waterside workers through the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority date back some years, but the problem was accentuated in 1 968 following the Woodward report, which recommended that there should be permanency of waterside labour. I realise that the Waterside Workers Federation had campaigned vigorously over a number of years for permanency for its members. People would agree that in most jobs a worker has every right to expect a permanent job, but the Woodward inquiry’s report and the agreements made as a result of that report made conditions on the wharf such that very few people were prepared to leave their employment or to accept what would be a normal turnover of labour. At that time there was quite a revolution both in shipping and on the waterfront, particularly with the advent of roll-on roll-off ferries instead of the conventional type of shipping. With the modernisation of equipment in any industry we accept that, with the more mechanised equipment, there will be a lesser requirement for labour, and the waterside is no different from any other industry. But because of the conditions of employment and the contracts of employment, waterside workers simply did not leave their employment nor was there any way in which they could be asked to leave. The net result was a build up of what might be termed surplus labour requirements on the waterfront.
The situation has reached the point of insanity at this stage. In addition to payments made by the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority, $20m a year is being paid to finance idle time, that is, time not being worked by the waterside workers. Waterside workers throughout Australia work and average of 20 hours a week. We need to look not only at the allocation in the Budget to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority but also to the deficit account of that body- it is $21m in the red- due to this build-up of idle time that is being paid to waterside workers who are working an average of 20 hours a week. The Minister has said in earlier statements that he expects the Government to withdraw from the financing of or involvement with the waterfront. If that happens that $21m deficit also will have to be financed out of the taxpayers’ fund.
A program was introduced following the release of the Woodward Inquiry report under which waterside workers were asked to leave their jobs on the waterfront voluntarily. This year 300 waterside workers have left their empolyment on the waterfront and it has cost the Australian taxpayer an average of $10,000 for each man who has left. The stage has been reached where it has been estimated conservativelythose estimates vary depending on whether one reads the report of the Waterside Workers Federation or of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority- that 1500 men are surplus to the industry. If redundancy contracts are maintained for those 1500 surplus waterside workers, it is expected that the taxpayers will be asked to pay between $15m and $20m simply to ask these workers to leave thenjobs.
I do not deny that a waterside worker who may have worked a lifetime on the waterfront is entitled to some redundancy payment. But the taxpayer has every right to ask where his money is going; he is also entitled to ask why shipping rates are so high and what contributed to those shipping rates. It is important to point the bone not only at the Waterside Workers Federation and the waterside workers. I believe it was very significant that the Prices Justification Tribunal highlighted what has been happening in James Patrick and Company Limited, where $650,000 was paid as an annual payment to 5 directors in addition to all the company’s normal salaries and other payments.
– We pay the freight.
– As my colleague the honourable member for Franklin said, this is all adding to the cost of shipping freight rates. I was interested to read in today’s Australian Financial Review the comments of the President of the Waterside Workers Federation, Mr C. H. Fitzgibbon, which were reported as follows:
While the federation would hope that common sense and justice would prevail, we must prepare organisationally for the possibility that that will not be the position.
-It is planning a national strike.
– As my colleague the honourable member for Denison said, the Waterside Workers Federation is planning a national strike which would have enormous connotations for the nation and its economy. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr Fitzgibbon when he says that common sense should prevail in this matter. I think the Australian people would believe that common sense would not dictate that a national strike at our ports would be the logical approach. I think common sense would indicate that the taxpayers would have grave reservations about being asked to pay between $40m and $45 m to ask surplus waterside workers, most of them would be over the age of 60 years, to leave their jobs. I wonder how many workers in other forms of employment- how many farmers who are finding difficulty in making ends meet at this stage- could expect the Government and the taxpayers to finance their difficult situations to that extent.
I believe that if we are to get the economy moving again, the portfolio of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations will be crucial in either allowing this country and its economy to get moving again or in deciding whether the militants are to be given permission to prevail and to prevent that from happening. I believe that the way in which the Minister is conducting his portfolio and the confidence that he is engendering within the trade union movement, within industry generally and throughout the nation, will provide a climate for common sense to prevail in industrial relations and will allow the economy of this country to be put back on a common sense plane.
-It is not my intention to enter into an in-depth debate with the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr). There will be an opportunity for this at a later stage if the very sad picture he painted for us tonight is true. If that position eventuates I believe it will be necessary for this Government to do something about that situation before the end of this parliamentary session. The honourable member has not been in this place long enough to know that the matter about which he speaks was the subject of legislation brought into the Parliament by the previous Government in an endeavour to correct the position. It was rejected by the then Liberal and National Country Party controlled Senate. When the Bill comes forwardI believe that the Government will need to do something very quickly about the positionthere will be time to get into that whole matter in greater depth and to point out the fallacies of the argument put forward tonight by the honourable member for Wilmot. He was doing what most honourable members on that side of the chamber do, that is, engage in his puny bit of union bashing. It is just as well that he is not a heavyweight. The honourable member carries about the same weight as a feather. I am sure that the Waterside Workers’ Federation of Australia would regard him with the same son of contempt.
It is a pity that honourable members opposite do not have the industrial wisdom of the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee). If they endeavoured to make constructive contributions to this debate as did that honourable gentleman the very real problem confronting the people of Australia- the unemployment situationwould receive proper discussion. It is not easy to resist the temptation to behave like a political yahoo, as honourable members who sit opposite behaved when they sat in Opposition. Time without number, they rose in the chamber simply to mouth the phrase that Australia is now suffering the worst unemployment and the worst inflation in 40 years. Inflation is running at a higher rate than it was before 1975. Unemployment is also at a higher rate than it was before 1975. 1 have heard no refutation by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) to the story that was carried on the front page of the Australian Financial Review on Tuesday, 5 October 1976 under the headlines: New employment scheme under study as Government warns jobless could hit 400 000’. That figure includes school leavers who will be on the employment market at the end of this year.
This brings me to take up the point that the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) raised tonight and which was followed up by the honourable member for Balaclava. If there was an ounce of wisdom or an ounce of understanding of the real problem by honourable members opposite, they would take up this argument rather than the puerile argument put forward by the honourable member for Wilmot in his attempt to do a bit of union bashing. Need exists in Australia for greater consideration to be given to the creation of jobs. The honourable member for Gellibrand made this point very well. What we are looking at now is the tip of the iceberg. The investment allowances that have been allowed in other parts of the Budget will only encourage industry to mechanise. If industry mechanises, there will be less requirement for people. This in turn will bring about a reduction in the requirement for the number of people working in industry. It will not bring about a reduction in the creation of wealth except that the wealth will go to those who invest the capital, not those who need it- the consumers. That is an economic problem that has to be looked at.
It seems to me that the Government is making no real attempt in the area of job creation programs. As my honourable friend from Gellibrand pointed out, it has certainly cut out the Regional Employment Development scheme. There is no doubt about that. There is a drastic reduction in the funds available for that scheme. If the Government is serious in its attempt to restructure industry in Australia and to make the wheels of industry turn again, clearly there are people who need to be retrained to do work other than the work they are accustomed to doing. If that sort of thing is necessary, it seems to me that things like structural adjustment programs are just as necessary. Yet in the estimates at which we are looking the funds available for structural adjustment assistance have decreased from an actual expenditure of almost $8.3m last year to an incredibly low $150,000. That is the sort of priority that this Government places on structural adjustment assistance for workers who will need to be retrained to go into other industries. It does not care. It is more interested in providing new machines for the factories.
I deal now with the relocation scheme. We are told that if a person does not take a job where there is a job going- the Government will pay the fare to get there- he will lose his unemployment benefit. For the information of honourable members who have not read the estimates, the amount spent on that sort of project last year was nearly $29,000. It was $28,903. This year a token $1,000 is made available. Clearly the Government will not go too deeply into that matter. The funds available for the NEAT scheme as it is known- the National Employment and Training scheme- by which people not necessarily engaged in industry are trained at community expense to take up other work which is sometimes more lucrative or sometimes more fulfilling are the same as they were last year, $40m. There has been an effective reduction in the amount available because over the last 12 months the inflation rate has escalated. Therefore, there is clearly no intention in the mind of the Government to look at the real problems that beset the community. There is no attempt at long term planning. There is this blind, faithful hope that the free enterprise system will get the whole show back on its feet and that without guidance, proper research or decisions taken by individuals, it will not fail.
One of the problems besetting the area which I represent, the electorate of Burke, is the employment of young people. I heard this matter mentioned in the chamber tonight. It is an important one. This drops into the long-term planning situation. Clearly the people who will be required more in industry and in all fields in future will be technical people. Technical people will be required more than labouring people, unskilled people or semi-skilled people. That brings us to the whole question of apprenticeship training. To salve its conscience, the Government has made some funds available to employers to encourage them to take on apprentices. I rely on the words of the Government. Nobody will ever doubt those words! Its members are honest people who never tell untruths to the nation! They might break a few promises! In 1973 industry took on 42 000 apprentices. This year the intake slumped to 32 000. They are not my words, they are the words of Mr Tony Street, the Minister, who will go down in history as the Minister for Unemployment and Strained Relations. In practical terms, this reduction means that one employer in four has stopped taking on apprentices or has reduced his intake by one-quarter. That is not the sort, of thing about which the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) should smile. It is serious. It is very serious for the people who are leaving school this year. He seems to think there is some sort of amusement in the situation. I have yet to be convinced that there is. I am sure that the people who are seeking apprenticeships, the young people who leave school, will find it a lot less humorous than the honourable member for Denison does.
The Government is not doing very much in an area in which it can help, because of the ceilings that it has placed on staff. I refer to the position of Telecom. I quote from a journal called the communication worker which is put out by the Australian Postal and Telecommunications Union:
For example, as a consequence of staff ceilings, a Fraserian tool of economic madness, Telecom Australia’s intake of apprentices this year has been slashed. Clearly, no consideration has been given for the future demands of the industry, much less for the feelings and aspirations of the kids looking for jobs
In no way can the position be stated more succinctly than that. That is the real problem. We are going to have this bottleneck, this shortage of tradesmen in the future because Telecom is not now engaging apprentices. It will break the heart of a large number of young school leavers and provide them with no opportunity for employment.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-With my accounting background, one of the nicest things to have in my hand is some figures because figures always tell a story. When we look at the appropriation for the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations we find a story in the figures shown there. If we look at the figures for the administrative expenses we find they are down. We have a saving in administrative expenses. That saving goes toward the efficient running that our Government is capable of performing.
I should like to pick out just the odd item from this Budget apart from increases in some very necessary expenses- those expenses that give a return to the people and to Australia and which are not wasting the people’s money. I refer to increased expenditure for studies of productivity action and increases in fares for assistance to persons seeking employment in other areas. All these things go towards helping the people whom the Opposition claims we do not want to help. There is one particular thing in the Estimates though that so far has passed unnoticed. I was reminded of it when the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) used the words ‘puny union bashing’ and tried to suggest that the Government is anti-unionist. We are certainly not anti-unionist. We want unions to be truly representative of their members. We want unions that can do the right thing and that can improve the wages and working conditions of their members. To back up that statement I refer to Appropriation Bill (No. 1) wherein an allocation is made at page 66 for the Australian Trade Union Training Authority.
– That is not enough. We need more than that.
– Well I can tell the honourable member that the allocation is twice as much as his Government gave last year. His Government allocated $ 1 , 1 30,000 for that item last year and this year we have allocated $2,49 1 ,000. That is an increase of 100 per cent. So if the honourable member is saying that we do not care about unions, I can assure him that there is something in the Budget to prove that we do care. Only today I have been out talking- I know that many other Government supporters have been out talking also- to the ship builders down from Newcastle. I had great pleasure in going out and talking to those people because like other Government supporters I want to hear the other side of the story. I want to hear what their problems are. Although I might not agree with everything they are suggesting, I a; ree with a lot of things they are suggesting. I appreciated having the opportunity to talk to those ship builders from Newcastle today. I should like to put on the record here and now that they are out there doing a very good job for their union. They are decent people and they are prepared to put their case on behalf of their members. I admire that sort of thing.
I should like to talk about the continual suggestion that we are down on dole bludgers. In every group of people anywhere in Australia there is a bad minority. We do have some dole bludgers. I have met plenty of them, but I have met a lot more people who are not dole bludgers but who have been in the unfortunate position of being out of work. Many of my own friends are out of work and I sympathise with them. We are sympathetic towards people who are out of work. I would like to dwell for one moment on a survey that I conducted in my area. It tells a very interesting story that conflicts greatly with some of the figures that we read on the economy today. I recently canvassed 64 businesses in my electorate of Barton. I have here a list of all their comments and all their names. The results are rather staggering considering present unemployment. Out of the 64 businesses, 26 or 40 per cent of them still have job vacancies. It is also very interesting to note that out of the 64 only 7 admit to having recently retrenched people. I might add that these retrenchments have taken place and have already been recorded in the job figures. The companies concerned do not intend to retrench any further. It is also interesting to note that out of the 64 only 2 have the feeling that further retrenchments will be necessary. Twenty-six or 40 per cent of them have job vacancies still available, but only 2 think that further retrenchments will be necessary. This is fact that shows that the economy is on the mend.
I come back to the- I hate using the termdole bludgers. They are a very small minority of the unemployed, but a very small minority that gives a bad name to all those genuine people who are out of work and people who want to work. Let me read some of the comments that have come from some of these companies. I will run down them quickly. The first one states:
People sent from CES not prepared to work.
Another one states:
Has had labourers sent from CES who say they don ‘t want a job.
They go on: . . have tried CES and found them hopeless.
Another one states:
Usually try through CES but feel only 50 per cent want to work.
Another one states:
People sent from CES ‘absolute dregs’.
These are not my comments and I do not necessarily agree with that strong terminology. These are the comments obtained from a survey of businesses. Let me read another one:
Have tried CES . . . no response.
I am happy to say that the next two I shall read are good ones because I think in many cases the officers of the Commonwealth Employment Service are trying as hard as they can. The first one states:
When heavy work load, get people from CES. Have no problem.
The other states:
Have a contact at CES and are quite happy with their service.
Then we come to another bad one, which states:
People sent from CES don’t stay.
It goes on and on:
Got bad results from CES.
Had to phone CES three or four times to get someone suitable. Don ‘t blame CES. Feel workers are not genuine.
Have approached CES. Six people sent- four didn’t turn up -
These are the people, a minority group, who are giving the genuine people a bad name. It goes on:
People sent from CES don’t turn up.
It is quite consistent. Another one states:
Many sent from CES were not really looking for work.
This is a good one:
Got a good storeman through CES.
In another case a company advertised and sought a labourer through CES. The fellow who turned up had been out of work for 9 months. He was offered $5 above the award but wanted $15, so he would not take the job. He had been out of work for 9 months. Another one states:
Don ‘t use CES any more. People sent from them were not looking for work.
Another one states:
People from CES last one day only (don’t really want job).
Another good one states:
Find CES quite good. Got 5 unskilled workers this week.
This small minority group that through unemployment has got into the habit of not wanting work is spoiling it for the good people. I think we have to tighten up security. We have to find this small minority group. We have to utilise our facilities better to find jobs for the majority of people out of work and who genuinely want to work.
-I commend the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee) on his very thoughtful contribution earlier tonight. It is a very great shame that more of these contributions are not made in debates instead of the mud-slinging that goes on. I would like to get the attention of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street). I am pleased that he is at the table. I want to talk about present and future unemployment in Australia. Whatever is said politically about what will happen to the economy, it may be that the present Budget strategy will work, and it may not. We do not know, and anybody who says that he knows is either a fool or a liar or both. Hopefully the strategy will work. My own guess is that unemployment will be pretty severe for the next 6 months at least and probably longer. Let us hope that we can have a rational debate about unemployment schemes.
I am pleased that this Minister is responsible for employment. I think he is one of the more reasonable Ministers and a man who is likely to listen to ideas. I recognise the constraints that are placed on the Minister because of the philosophy of the Budget. I would like to see a scaled down Regional Employment Development scheme so that areas of high employment receive treatment. It is my own view that the RED scheme with its flaws- I intend to detail those flaws- is the best scheme yet devised to combat unemployment in areas where it is severe. I think the scheme left more socially useful things for the community after it was finished. I hope the Minister will agree that there was very unfair media coverage of the RED scheme. One or two projects that were sloppy got unfair publicity and that tended to spoil the public’s view of the whole of the RED scheme.
I think that of those present in this Parliament now many would privately agree and some would publicly agree that the RED scheme gave enormous benefit to their communities. I particularly commend members of the National Country Party for the way in which they co-operated on the scheme. I think the important thing is to recognise its strengths and its weaknesses. I have been examining for many months its strengths and weaknesses. I am about to release a paper which gives a reassessment of the scheme. I worked probably more than any other back bencher at a grass roots level on matters involving the scheme and I believe that we can help the Department by showing it the mistakes of which it may not have been aware. I am quite happy to do so. Most of the flaws that occurred were inevitable because the scheme was a new initiative. It is easy to criticise new initiatives. I recall the old cliche: ‘A person who never made mistakes never made anything’. Basically one of the problems was the mistake of the previous Cabinet in not recognising- accepting the prediction of the previous responsible Minister that unemployment would rise- that the RED scheme ought to have been introduced in Australia at a time when it could have been tested and the flaws eliminated. The Cabinet made a mistake. I believe the mistake was understandable. The Cabinet was not able to see the likelihood of high unemployment occurring in 1974-75. I think we ought to look at the problems that the scheme faced and try to eliminate these problems in a future RED scheme.
I hope the Government will give some thought to a scaled down scheme. What were the sorts of problems that were faced with the RED scheme? It was extremely difficult to produce fully costed and designed projects that fitted the criteria of being socially useful and economically viable. The community simply was not ready. It was announced one day; projects were approved a fortnight later. It took time to produce the sorts of schemes that the Minister had in mind. Many projects initially were approved that were not intended- such projects are kerbing and guttering and footpath paving. The scheme started very quickly and it suffered from the particular problem of not having had some advance planning.
There was insufficient staff at the Department of Labor and at the Commonwealth Employment Service. This was simply because of the constraints being placed on the Public Service by the Government at the time. I felt immensely sorry for the departmental people who suddenly had to cope with this enormously big project, without extra staff in some cases, or less staff. This was equally true at the local level. The scheme never had the inspection that had been planned. I believe that too many areas were included in the scheme which was initially intended, as I said before, to solve unemployment in particular areas where it was really high. It finished up being an unemployment scheme for the whole nation, and I believe that that was wrong. I can understand the sorts of worries that the Government had about solving unemployment. I think we all recognise that it should have been localised- I am talking about six, eight or ten areas in Australia where it is really high- at that stage with a minimum budget.
It took time for councils and non-government bodies to understand exactly what the scheme was all about. They just did not believe me when I went to my local council, and it was months before I was able to get the message through to all the private organisations, sporting clubs and so on. I believe that there should be a limit on each grant. I think that a mistake was made in saying that we should just pay double whatever the wage content was. We should have said: ‘That is the amount you are getting and that is it. There will be no increased costs’. We found, particularly after the scheme had been going for some months, that hundreds of applications were made. I think that only in very special circumstances should extra costs be granted in any future RED scheme. This is one way of stopping the open-endedness of the previous RED scheme. I believe that every organisation, except in very special circumstances, should make a contribution. There were cases with the RED scheme where groups that had bank accounts of $ 10,000 or $ 1 5,000 of their own money put aside for a project made application under the RED scheme and received a grant for the total cost of the project. They got full taxpayers’ money and kept their own money for something else. I think that that was wrong. There was not one of them that I knew of that was not prepared to put in a minimum of, say, 10 per cent into a project.
Unfortunately, a lot of mythology surrounded the RED scheme. It was a knocker’s paradise. The. pub know-all was able to sound off, usually wrongly, in a grossly untrue or deliberately malicious manner. Wrong projects were approved and there were wrong priorities in some cases. For instance in my area there are some golf clubs. Unfortunately, golf has a silvertail image. I was a very keen golfer.
– But it employed people.
-It did employ people but there was a lot of criticism about golf clubs. I think the scheme lost because of that. Tennis clubs did not have the same image. I am not joking; I am being quite serious about this. I think that little mistakes like that often cause considerable criticism. Social priorities, of course, are a subjective judgment. The problem was that applications were dealt with in the order in which they were lodged. For instance, a low priority scheme in social value, say a tennis complex this again would be a subjective judgment- may be lodged in January and a high priority scheme, say in aged persons nursing home, may be lodged in March or April. The machinery was such as it ran through the pipeline that the tennis court one would be approved before the nursing home. The public criticism would be ‘You are mad. How can you make a judgement of this nature?’
There was jealousy between groups. One surf club would get it and one would not. One tennis club would get it and one would not. One council or one area would get a drainage scheme and another would not. That was unfortunate. It caused problems. I think that that could easily be overcome by looking at areas and applications in toto, not singly. A package deal should be prepared for a whole community. The regional council, the Federal member of Parliament, the State Council, the State member of Parliament and the local community should get together and say: ‘We will spend $3m in this area over so many months. We will have a package of projects which includes a full range of things that covers all the activities in the community’.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I rise to support the estimates for the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations. Before entering into my speech proper I would like to comment on some of the remarks that have been made by previous speakers. The honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) said that the rate of inflation in Australia is higher today than it was in 1975. That is not so. When the Liberal and Country Parties handed over government at the end of 1972 inflation was running at the rate of 6.8 per cent. In 1973 it rose to 9 per cent; in 1974 it rose to 14.6 per cent and in 1975 it rose to 17.8 per cent. It was one of the highest rates of inflation throughout the Western world. In 1976, under the present Liberal-National Country Party Government, it is down to 15.4 per cent, according to the latest figures available, although I understand that in fact it is now of the order of 12 per cent. The honourable member for Burke also mentioned the reports that are coming in from the Industries Assistance Commission. Who introduced this procedure? The former Labor Government did. The present Government has shown that it will not readily accept the IAC submissions, as is evidenced by the amount recommended for expenditure on the arts. This Government will sift the recommendations that come forward from this body.
The honourable member for Barton (Mr Bradfield) spoke about the dock workers from Newcastle. They work very close to my electorate. Many of them reside in the Newcastle suburbs of Beresfield and Woodberry, which is in my electorate. I feel that there is now a sense of responsibility on the part of the dock workers at Newcastle. The previous shop stewards were not responsible men but the present ones are responsible men. I would like to see the Newcastle State Dockyards given the opportunity of building some more ships. As the honourable member for Barton has said, members of the dockyard unions are here today in a responsible manner and are not causing any problems. I would like to see them given such an opportunity because I feel that, with the responsible shop stewards that they now have, they would give us productivity and do a good job of work.
– Say it in the Party room.
– I have said it in the Press and on television. I am not afraid to say it. That is known in the north of New South Wales. It is known in my electorate.
The honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) said that he hopes the present Budget strategy will uplift the economy of this country. It is already doing that. The economy of this country is improving at the present time. The rate of inflation is down and confidence is being restored. The latest unemployment figures indicate that the economy is on the mend. I remind honourable members that this Government inherited from the previous Labor Administration the greatest number of unemployed in this country for many years. In 1974 there were 120 959 people unemployed, which represented 2.06 per cent of the work force. In 1975 there were 246 094 people unemployed, which represented 4. 1 5 per cent of the work force. That indicates that under the Labor Government the unemployment situation in Australia certainly worsened. We inherited this huge unemployment problem, and we have to use every endeavour to improve the situation. In 1974, under the Labor Administration, 266 998 unemployed persons were registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service. In 1975, the year in which Labor lost office, unemployment rose to 328 705. That was the situation the present LiberalCountry Party Government inherited from the previous Government. In 1976 unemployment was running at 264 000 and it is improving all the time. In my electorate, which is a very diversified one with a considerable number of industrial projects in the lower portion of the electorate, the unemployment figures are improving. They improved in August and again in September. I have the latest figures which show that unemployment has been reduced by over 200 people.
I congratulate the staff of the Office of the Commonwealth Employment Service in the city of Maitland. It is doing a wonderful job and is making every effort to secure employment for young Australians. It has set up a special office with a special officer to deal with young people between the ages of 15 and 18 years who are unemployed, and it has been an outstanding success. It has been in operation for only approximately a fortnight but over 200 young people have availed themselves of this wonderful service and many of them have secured employment. So I congratulate the manager and his staff at the office of the Commonwealth Employment Service in Maitland for the wonderful job that they are doing there.
This Government is doing all it possibly can to assist unemployed persons. It is good to see the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) sitting at the table. He is an indefatigable worker. He is giving his absolute best to improve the situation. The Government has introduced a scheme to pay $58 a week to employers for each unemployed person who is being trained, whether it is in the private or the public sector. This subsidy is considerably greater than any of the subsidies that are normally payable under the National Employment and Training scheme. Under the scheme applications are invited from young people, aged from 15 to 18 years, who left school in the preceding 12 months, who have been registered for employment with the CES for not less than a total of 6 months during this period and who are registered with the Service at the time they apply for training. This is a splendid scheme and it is now being availed of by these young people. I feel that as the months go by it will help materially in solving the unemployment problem. Another scheme which has been brought forward by this Minister and his Department provides assistance for people who have lost their employment in one area and have found employment in another State or in another area far away. Assistance is being given by this Government to help them to meet the cost of setting themselves up in their new employment. The assistance includes meeting the fares, up to the value of approved economy class public transport costs, for the journey for the applicant to travel to the new area for employment or training or interview; for the applicant and spouse, if any, to travel to the new area for one exploratory visit to examine living conditions and return home; for the applicant and or his family to move to take up residence in the new area; and if the applicant moves to employment ahead of his family to allow him or her return visits to the family. This is humane treatment. This assistance will be of tremendous value to people who have been displaced in one area but can secure employment in another area. Allowances for in-plant training and living away from home are to be increased under the National Employment and Training scheme. These schemes are proof positive of the efforts of this Government to assist people to get jobs.
Under the former Whitlam Labor Government my electorate experienced very severe unemployment. It experienced unemployment because someone in that Government did not do his homework in regard to the introduction of a 25 per cent tariff cut right across the board in the textile industry. This industry employs 120 000 people in Australia and is mostly located in decentralised areas like Maitland, Wangaratta, Cessnock and other country areas. The people in those areas lost their jobs as a result of cheap Asian goods coming into Australia at a time when we had problems.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I was interested to note that the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) said Hear, hear’ while the honourable member was speaking. When the 25 per cent cut in tariffs took place I think he was one of the people who applauded that cut. Subsequently he got wise. We are discussing the estimates of the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations. Both areas covered by this Department are critical, now and in the long term, for the planning of any government and for the welfare of the community at large. I want to deal with problems which it appears are being overlooked or which, perhaps, are being transferred. This evening the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee) made fairly extensive reference to the fact that we are neither looking at nor tackling the structural problems associated with the future of the employment market of Australia. I do not believe that any amount of talking or wishing can bring about a situation whereby the manufacturing industry, in both the private and the public sectors, can take up the young people who are now coming on to the job market. It cannot employ them at all, let alone employ them in the manner in which we have trained them to be employed. I think both points are relevant.
The manufacturing sector is a declining sector of the labour market. More and more its production is becoming subject to technological progress. Automation is the vital word. Our industry has to be efficient and competitive and. a lot of it is not. I think we can acknowledge that fact without saying that our industry should be forced to compete in circumstances where competition is not possible.
I was concerned at some remarks made earlier this week by the Treasurer (Mr Lynch). He said that he had spoken to Australian businessmen in the Philippines and he indicated pretty clearly that he thought the type of labour relations and wage restraints in that country would be beneficial to Australia. Wages in the Philippines are pegged by martial law decree, and have been for 3 years. The average wage there is about $4.80 a week and civil liberties for employees do not exist. Foreign firms which go to the Philippines are offered benefits to establish their businesses there. There is almost no taxation; there is free land and assistance in setting up the plants. I would point out also that the inflation rate in the Philippines, despite the fact that practically no wages are paid, is almost no different from that in Australia.
Australia’s structural employment problems have been developing over a fairly long period and will not be solved quickly. They did not arise last year or the year before; they have been arising over the last 10 or 20 years. Automation or mechanisation first moved into areas where most junior females and males seeking work in what is generally termed the clerical and administrative area would seek work. It is also true to say that non-metropolitan areas are traditionally weak in employment opportunities. Therefore, with mechanisation, computerisation and other processes in offices there has been a considerable decline in job opportunities. In fact these things have almost wiped out job opportunities in most provincial areas. Some moves were made last year artificially to create jobs in some of those areas.
– It worked well.
-It did not get the opportunity to work.
– It had 3 years.
-A lot of things can be done in 3 years but this was not one of them. I suggest that the Government of which the honourable member is a supporter cannot do it in 3 years either. It is a long term structural program. As I said, efforts were started last year and, if I may say so, a State government of the same colour as the honourable member’s party was more responsible for delays than anyone else. The problems in provincial areas are great. I think the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations who is at the table is as aware as I am of the long term problems which Geelong- a city in which we share electorates- has with both young boys and girls seeking jobs in the category which I have already mentioned. I do not know the solution. Certainly, it is not in seeking to transfer those young people into the capital cities. I think that as a long term or short term solution that would have a disastrous social consequence. It denudes areas of young people, especially trained young people who become the next generation. Unfortunately, at the moment that appears to be the only solution to their employment problems.
A number of specific cases, I think, ought to be raised. One of them is in relation to the terms under which unemployment benefits are made available for juniors, especially junior females. The terms, as they are set out at the moment and as they are administered, leave junior females open to pressure which should not be allowed or applied to persons seeking employment. If a person offends his employer- there is no appeal against what is an offence against the employerthe person concerned is fined 6 weeks unemployment benefits. If that person is living alone and paying for accommodation he is placed in economic jeopardy because he has 6 weeks without income. I suggest to the Minister that he must have within his Department cases where female employees especially, and I suggest junior males, have made complaints to his Department because they were asked to carry out functions which were not properly part of their employment. They should not have been requested to do so. This gives an employer too much leverage over his employees. While I acknowledge that that is the Government’s normal position, I believe that there should be some independent person who is completely outside the departments and who can examine quickly any case of this nature which comes forward.
There is a tendency for unemployment benefits to be stopped for very little reason at all. The problem for a person whose unemployment benefits are stopped is that under the guidelines that exist, although that person may win the appeal, he is without money for something like 4 weeks. If he is in a situation of independent support his position is jeopardised, he is not independent and not able properly to defend himself in society. I raise one other matter which I think is of some consequence. Recently the Minister announced a new retraining scheme for school leavers who had not had any substantial employment since leaving school at the end of last year. I am aware that one of the real problems is lack of training among a number of juniors. Unfortunately, the terms of the scheme require 6 months’ unemployment since leaving school. This condition tends to react against the person who has genuinely been seeking and taking any employment available. The person who left school last year, who has had serious employment difficulties but who has scrounged around and got enough employment so that he could work a sufficient period but who has not had a total of 6 months employment, is denied this retraining. The person who has not tried so hard is seriously disadvantaged in relation to training which may assist him for the rest of his life.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– in reply- In the time available I would like to make a few comments on various issues which have been raised by all honourable members on both sides of the House who have taken part in this debate. The honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) referred to the Regional Employment Development scheme and I remind him that the RED scheme was terminated by the Labor Government last year some months before it went out of office at a time when the number registered for employment, including those under the RED scheme, was higher than it is this year. His main criticism seemed to be that there was no RED scheme this year when unemployment is at its present level. I merely remind the House that it was his Government which cut out the scheme when unemployment was at a level higher than it is now.
He then went on to refer to the National Employment and Training scheme and the fact that there were some 14 000 people, I think he said, under the NEAT scheme at its peak, or what one might term the height of the abuses of that scheme. Certainly the previous Government moved to contain the worst of those abuses before it went out of office and the numbers under that scheme then tumbled by half in 4 or 5 months. When the Labor Government went out of office there were some 7000 people in the scheme and I am pleased to tell the House that the number in the NEAT scheme now is considerably more than that and that we are getting a very good response to the increased subsidies which are now made available for in-plant training.
The honourable member also mentioned what he felt was an undesirable thing happening in relation to the increased subsidies recently announced for young people getting special training under the NEAT scheme. He suggest that employers were dismissing people in order to get the cheap subsidised employment. I agree with him that it is a highly undesirable thing if that happens and if the honourable member can provide specific examples of that I shall be happy to have them investigated.
He also referred to the Commonwealth Employment Service and the great pressure under which that Service has been put as a result of the increased number registered for employment and looking for work, and the increased work load under the NEAT scheme. He referred to the difficulties the Service has experienced in this regard. I am well aware of those difficulties and of the tremendously difficult problems under which the CES has had to work. That is why among other things I have announced the inquiry into the CES and its terms of reference and I hope to announce within the next few days the name of the person who will be undertaking the inquiry.
The honourable member also referred to the scrapping of the career guide for school leavers. I can assure him that that is not so. In those States where such a career guide has been produced before- that does not apply in all States because in some States it is done at State level- for this coming year we will be producing a career guide, though perhaps it will not be in quite as good a presentational form as it was. I am referring here to Tasmania particularly. Following the very forceful representations of the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) and the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) and others there will be a career reference guide produced. As I said, perhaps it will not be in quite the same form as it has been but it will be produced. Thereafter we intend producing a national career guide for young people with each State having a supplement to it. We believe that this will provide a first class career reference system to operate from next year.
-Not this year?
-This year those States which have produced a guide in the past will still be producing one. Next year there will be a national guide plus State supplements.
The honourable member also referred to discrimination committees. I think that I answered a question asked by the honourable member in the House. Finding chairmen for these committees, including the national committee, has taken longer than I would have liked and longer than I had expected. But I am on the point nowgenuinely within a few days I would hope- of announcing the appointments to all of those committees. I am anxious that they should get busy on what has become a considerable backlog of work. The honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee) made a most sensible and thoughtful speech on the restructuring problems of Australian manufacturing industry, and the need for some permanent machinery for retraining. Some interesting suggestions were made.
– It is a great challenge but I do not think you will do much about it.
– We have already done more about it than the Labor Party ever did. We have shown more imagination in our training scheme than the Labor Party ever did. We are at present engaged with the States in upgrading apprentice training in Australia to make it more relevant to what are rapidly changing circumstances. The honourable member for Balaclava referred to what is one of the major problems, namely, the need to get acceptance of adult gained qualifications in the trade union movement. I would hope that there would be a more enlightened attitude to that appearing in the immediate time ahead.
The honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) referred to some self-help youth employment organisations. I welcome the efforts made by such organisations. I remind them that the services of the Commonwealth Employment Service are there to help them. The CES would be only too pleased to give its services and add its knowledge to these organisations. The honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr) referred specifically to the problems of the stevedoring industry, and more particularly to the problem of payments for idle time and the accumulated deficit. He said that he was worried that the taxpayer would probably be called upon to fund this deficit. I can assure him that the Government does not intend that to happen, although it may be necessary for some underwriting of the accumulated deficit to be undertaken. But we envisage that deficit being met, as it should be, from within the industry itself. The honourable member drew attention to what are acknowledged to be really major problems on the Australian waterfront. It will require patience and tolerance on the part of all parties to get a proper solution that is fair to those in the industry and to the Australian taxpayer.
The honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) referred to the increasing mechanisation of Australian industry and that as a result there would be less people in work. I merely make the point that people are required to make the machines themselves and that technology provides jobs. Perhaps it provides jobs of a different kind but certainly history has it that techonological improvements provide jobs that almost inevitably require a higher or different degree of skill to those which the machines themselves replace. He also referred to the Regional Employment Development scheme. I remind him again that the Labor Party abolished the scheme and that the unemployment level during the time his party was in power increased from 136 000 to 328 000 people. The honourable member expressed concern for young people. I share that concern but it is a concern that he failed to express when his party was in government. Unemployment among young people was 80 000 when Labor came to power and 152 000 when it went out of power. I did not hear the same expressions of concern from him then. He referred to the shortage of skilled tradesmen. I have already mentioned the need to increase apprentice training. I remind the honourable member that during the time his Government was in office the cost of training apprentices rose by something like 40 per cent. Of course, as a result of that rise, employers have been more reluctant to take on apprentices.
The honourable member for Barton (Mr Bradfield) commented on a very interesting survey in his electorate, drawing attention to the fact that areas with relatively high figures for those registered for employment also had the conflicting situation where employers were unable to fill vacancies. This is yet another example of a situation to which I have referred at question time in this House. Again, it draws attention to the need for a review of the operations and procedures of the CES. The honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) mainly spoke about the RED scheme. I do pay tribute to the honourable member for Robertson for the assiduousness with which he pursued projects in his electorate when this scheme was in operation. He has made, I understand, an interesting analysis of this scheme when referring to some of its pluses and minuses. I will certainly be glad to have a look at that when he has finished it. Unfortunately, it fell to my lot to inherit the mess that was left and the mess that had to be cleaned up with the winding-up of the RED scheme. I think that the honourable member for Robertson has very much underestimated the problems, the difficulties and the shortcomings of the scheme.
The honourable member for Paterson (Mr O ‘Keeffe) rightly drew attention to the huge increase in the numbers of those registered for employment under the Labor Government. I appreciate the honourable member’s comments on behalf of the CES in Maitland in his electorate and his support for the new schemes under the NEAT system for subsidising the employment of young people and the relocation scheme to enable people to move from areas where they cannot get a job to areas where job vacancies are available to them. The honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) referred to the structural problems again in the work force and the special problems of provincial areas. I agree with him about the special difficulties involved there. That again is one of the reasons we have instituted a full-scale inquiry into the relationship between education and training and the transferring from the educational process to the work place. The honourable member for Corio also made reference to the terms under which unemployment benefits are paid. I merely remind him that proper appeal provisions are available for those who feel that they have been unfairly treated. If he has specific examples of those who he believes have not had proper acknowledgment of their problems in that respect I will be happy to investigate them for him.
The debate itself has illustrated the diversity and complexity of this portfolio. I think most honourable members would agree on that point, even though they may not agree with everything else that has been said tonight. It is a difficult portfolio, especially in times such as these. I appreciate some of the constructive suggestions which have come out of this debate and I assure the honourable members who have made them that they will receive due consideration by me and by my Department.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development
Proposed expenditure, $61,769,000.
Department of Construction
Proposed expenditure, $ 1 88,273,000.
-This is the first time we have discussed the Estimates of the new Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development. The backbone of that Department is the previous Department of Urban and Regional Development. When it was first amalgamated with the Department of Environment and also with the recreation section of the previous Department of Tourism and Recreation I thought it was a forward move by the Government. Environmental matters have an interrelationship with urban and regional development because everything is connected to everything else. In other words, there is so much interconnection that it is necessary to have an overall planning organisation. When one looks at the Department in a deeper context one notes that there are grave weaknesses in it. Formerly the Department of Urban and Regional Development was not only a major co-ordinator in urban affairs; basically it was set up to look at the economy, not with a broad brush approach or a macro-approach, as the economists say, but in a detailed way. There was the microapproach. In the years that the Labor Government was in office we drew up a budget for urban and regional development, one of the most important documents of that time. We were able to show within the Budget context where the money within our urban community was being invested. That concept has been diminished in the new Department because some of the great economists who were making a real contribution to this nation have left the Australian Public Service and have transferred overseas. One man in particular, Dr Michael Keating, was an outstanding public servant. He has gone back to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris. The Labor Government had brought him to this country to work in this very important Department.
The sad thing about this Department is that it has no major say in economic priorities. Its Minister is not even on the Cabinet’s economic committee. For a department to be involved in the whole matter of urban development and investment in urban affairs and yet have no say in the investment priorities is utter foolishness. It is the Government’s priorities which determine those things. Another grave weakness arose in the setting up of this new Department. In its last 6 months the Whitlam Government took the property section from the old Department of Administrative Services and placed it with the former Department of Urban and Regional Development. Another aspect which should be mentioned is that the new Department does not have the same influence on roads policy, particularly in urban and regional affairs, or on transport policy. If major cities are to be planned there has to be a consideration of its impact on land use, transport use and property use.
For too long the Commonwealth has been building projects such as the Spring Street development in Melbourne and the Phillip Street development in Sydney. If the people working in those buildings want to do any shopping, even though they are near the heart of the city they have to walk half a mile or a mile to make any purchases. They work in isolated boxes of granite, glass and tile, right away from real living. The Department of Urban and Regional Development, together with the property section of the Department of Administrative Services, discussed the location of office developments with its State counterparts. Such liaison is very important in the development of a city. For example, we were able to discuss with the planning authorities in New South Wales and Victoria the location of Commonwealth employees and so assist in the planning and development of Sydney and Melbourne. Through discussions in Sydney, instead of developing the Wooloomooloo site near the central business district, we were able to plan the first development at Parramatta and other developments were to follow at a later date at places like Penrith, Liverpool and Campbelltown. In Melbourne we entered into discussions with officers of the Hamer Government and were able to discuss with them the placement of 18 000 Commonwealth public servants out of the central business district to such areas at Watsonia-Epping, the Dandenongs, Broadmeadow and Sunshine. This planning would have achieved 2 things: It would have taken the pressure off the central business districts and in both Sydney and Melbourne it would have located office buildings and job opportunities in areas which needed greater opportunities.
If employment opportunities are to increase they will increase in the white collar industries and the tertiary industries and not in the blue collar industries. The blue collar industries are not growth industries. We wanted to plan our metropolises, particularly the major metropolises of Sydney and Melbourne, which had created so much havoc over the years. This would have affected our transport system as the road and rail services would have had to have been upgraded. For example, let us consider the situation in Sydney, which stretches 20 miles north, 20 miles south, 35 miles west and 35 miles south-west. As most of the people work in or near the central business district, most of the transport in the morning goes out of the central business district empty and the transport that comes in again at the peak period is packed to the hilt with workers. The reverse situation occurs in the evening. Therefore, no matter how much the urban public transport systems are upgraded, those systems cannot be made efficient.
It is a matter of planning. At the same time, development has to occur in the right areas. That is why we created sub-metropolitan centres in the areas that I have mentioned. For example, job opportunities that could be created in Parramatta would mean that people would not have to move each morning into the central business district but would move from west of and east of Parramatta to Parramatta. All the people would not be going in one direction in the morning on the transport service; people would be travelling in both directions.
This was our rational solution but regrettably that has now gone by the board. The real muscle, the real pressure and the real drive on economic issues- the real resource allocation issues- have been taken away from this new Department. It is now a powder puff department and has no real authority. Even the Minister who administers it, the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman), is a junior Minister who is not even a member of the Cabinet and consequently not on the Cabinet Economic Committee. It is with great regret that that brave and wonderful body of public servants, those bright young men who came in to do so much to try to brush away the social inequalities of our urban communities, have been sold out completely by this Government. This Government has withdrawn completely from urban and regional development.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-On looking at the Budget in general and broadly at government activity, the departments that we are discussing have probably attracted more attention and more public comment than even the Department of the Treasury. I point out to honourable members that the Government is committed to a style of philosophy different from that of the previous Government. We believe that the people are capable of achieving things for themselves. We do not believe that the benevolence of government can be expressed in the form in which the previous speaker, the honourable members for Reid (Mr Uren), expressed it. We believe that such action as arranging for people to receive more of their own funds so they can make their own decisions and show initiative and enterprise will make an important contribution to the future of Australia.
The value of the $ 1 ,050m in tax cuts made this year is significant in areas which are most important. I do not know whether honourable members opposite appreciate the massive tax harvesting that took place under the previous Government. Although many programs were initiated and thought worthy by the previous
Government, they were not asked for by the community. However, they were accepted by the community because it was thought that this was manna from heaven. However, people quickly realised that it was their money being redistributed by a centralist Government here in Canberra. Tax collections doubled in 2 years. Now, as the inflation rate comes down and people are receiving some of their own funds, we are achieving a stability and a sense of security for families and people who have benefited by some of the previous Government’s programs. Indeed, those programs were not all bad. They were not all bad in intention. It was just that we could not afford as a nation to adopt or control that sort of practice in the development of Australia.
The Henderson report on poverty in Australia pointed out very forcefully the effect of inflation on the average family and its effect on deprived families- families with real poverty. The report showed what inflation does to them and how it erodes their security. But even with the socially and economically important objectives of the Budget, there have been very significant achievements in the 9 months of this Government. I think that if honourable members carefully examine the expenditure of the departments we are now considering, they will see the thrust of the new Government and the concern of the new Government. There is no way to my mind that there is an incapacity, because of particular circumstances, to deliver the goods that the previous Government delivered or that there is a lack of concern or a lack of intent on important matters. There are different priorities and more overriding priorities, priorities that will have far more long term effects upon the community and upon Australia as a whole.
I would like to point out to the Committee some of the benefits that have been brought forward by the Government in this Budget and particularly within these estimates. Payments to the States for welfare housing are up by 10.4 per cent. In the last Budget of the previous Government there were massive cuts in welfare housing. This year, the cuts have not been made. There has been an increased commitment to the States for welfare housing. Together with this, a homes savings grant scheme has been introduced. It will allow a first-time home buyer to have a better capacity to bridge the deposit gap, something that was denying them the opportunity to own their own home. In addition to this, there has been a modification of the tax deductibility for interest paid in the purchase of one’s home. This is a modification that is sensible and thoughtful. The deduction is confined to the first home and for payments made during the first S years of purchase. These 2 programs- the homes savings gram scheme and the tax deductibility of interest payments- joined together will produce and are producing a very significant effect in the Australian community. The homes savings grant scheme commenced payments in January of this year. The Australian Heritage Commission has been established and proclaimed. It is now performing an important function in the areas of the Australian heritage and the Australian estate. Grants for sport and recreation and for assistance to young people have also been increased in this Government’s program. They are positive and thoughtful, and they create a benefit to the community.
I feel that I should touch on the Department of Construction. The Minister provided some interesting figures for the Committee. He showed by his figures that for the first time for 1 8 months the total projected expenditure on buildings other than dwellings has been over $580m. That was for the June quarter. The emphasis on where the money is going and the stimulus provided by this Government are best demonstrated by my reading the figures for the December quarter, the March quarter and the June quarter. For the December quarter last year in the private sector the figure was $ 191.1m. It got better in the March quarter. It was $236.2m. For the June quarter it was $30 1.7m. It is a significant improvement. I know the Committee appreciates the apparent trend. I hope the trend will be maintained. I feel confident that it will be. I know that the Minister and the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development are concerned about the area of dwelling and non-dwelling construction in this country. The sewerage program was mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I point out to the Committee that the States now have a greater capacity to set their own priorities than they did previously. If they feel that sewerage programs or housing programs are important, with their increase of 15.3 per cent in taxes returned this year, I am sure that if they are thoughtful and sensible they will set their priorities and not do as the Premier of New South Wales is committed to do- talk about control of all sorts of investment in the building and construction area. That is what he is about.
What is the future for Australia under a coalition government? What is the future in the areas of environment, housing and community development and construction? The importance of the Commonwealth is confined, to my mind, to certain areas. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke about the economic factors. Despite his talk about economic factors, what happened to some of the growth centres established by Liberal-Country Party governments? We did not call them growth centres. We called it a program of decentralisation. What happened to places like Wangaratta and Launceston when those tariff cuts were introduced? All over the country those tariff cuts produced massive and very important changes to the structure of Australian society. Despite the Deputy Leader of the Opposition’s comments about his economic knowledge and his economic advice, he could not prevent that from happening. I know the present Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development is more thoughtful and more effective in what he seeks to achieve.
The background of race and skills of migrant families coming to Australia needs to be known by local and State governments. Federal cooperation in this area will fit in very nicely with our federalism policy. There is the capacity to monitor, to appraise programs that are adopted across the nation, to provide advice and information if sought, but always to seek in our activity to provide some sort of challenge or some sort of stimulus to other levels of government. The challenges for the future are there in these departments, particularly in the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development. It seems that there is a potential to build an area of concern and real achievement around a total way of life, about the home, about the community and about the environment. That has not been achieved before in this nation. I think the Minister and his Department look forward to this challenge. We should be looking at minimum standards of achievement in the areas of environment, community development and housing.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The estimates for the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development show how the Fraser Government has downgraded the range of initiatives taken under the Department of Urban and Regional Development by the Labor Government. In 1974-75 expenditure was $378m. In 1975-76 it rose to $408m. For the current financial year the estimate is $256.2m- a drop of $152m. That, in itself, speaks volumes. The present Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman)not a bad fellow in many respects- is suffering the indignity of presiding over the Australian Government’s abdication of its responsibilities. It is winding down initiatives and systematically erasing from the statute book the record of the Labor era of initiatives and reform. It is very sad that this Department is the biggest loser in money terms among all Commonwealth departmentsand many of them have lost a great deal of money in this Budget. A positive approach by the Government to its obligations could advantage the environment, housing and quality of life of present and future Australian generations.
The honourable member who preceded me talked about how people wanted to get their tax money back and the like. But no matter what they get back in terms of their tax money, they are unable to provide road systems, for example, transport systems, sewerage services and other public services. Only governments can do that. It is this Government’s abdication in that area which is going to cause enormous deprivation. I think of the housing area. The coalition’s manifesto on housing which was dramatically unveiled last November promised assistance to home buyers, expanded opportunities for special and disadvantaged groups, provision for rental accommodation, lower interest rates, flexible mortgage repayments, stabilised land costs and access to housing finance on reasonable terms. Now there is a cavalcade of broken promises if you ever saw one. The hopes of homeseekers have been dashed and destroyed by sheer government inertia. Finance for State welfare housing programs has been reduced in real terms by 13 per cent in this Budget. Finance for Aboriginal housing has fared even worse with a reduction of 1 5 per cent.
Tax deductibility was referred to by the previous speaker. Tax deductibility for mortgage interest rates is now only to be available for the first 5 years of home ownership. Most of the people who have been receiving this benefit are now going to miss out from here on. The Australian Housing Corporation which was designed to assist homeseekers to bridge the deposit gap and meet repayments is to be abolished altogether. The $25m that had been allocated for it has been dissipated. The growth centre program also referred to by the previous speaker is barely kept alive on a $19.1 m budget compared with $60m under Labor. The Land Commission objectives of assembling cheap land for homeseekers have been stultified by a Budget reduction of more than $33m. Broken promises just litter the landscape in the area of housing, urban affairs and construction.
-Yours is a recipe for inflation.
– The Minister for Construction is interjecting. The promise which he made and which the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) made on behalf of the present Government was clear and concise. This is what the Treasurer said:
Economies can and will be made in Government spending without disrupting essential programs or programs for which contracts have already been let.
The sequel to that promise was the announcement of the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) in May last that contracts worth $60m were to be cancelled. I do not think the Minister would cavil at what I am saying. Next we have the question of sewerage also referred to by the preceding speaker. The Budget reduced expenditure on sewerage by half- a 50 per cent reduction on the national sewerage program or a 70 per cent reduction in real terms. Then the pipeline construction program was cut by 43.4 per cent. The total capital works program was slashed by $ 127m. They are figures which are explicitly set out in the Budget papers. No wonder the construction industry is languishing. No wonder armies of building tradesmen are out of work. No wonder young building apprentices are losing their jobs in droves. No wonder this year’s apprenticeship intake is down by close to 10 000, and that hundreds of young school leavers line up for every job that is available. Even the Minister’s own Department has the poorest record in respect of apprenticeship intake in living memory. So we have these hypocritical attitudes on the part of honourable members opposite. Look at what the Real Estate Institute of Australia had to say in its newsletter of 18 August in respect of housing. It said:
Non-dwelling construction activity has slumpted dramatically and the bottom may not yet have been reached . . . The only light on the horizon is for States to alter their priorities and initiate capital works from their untied funds but even this would involve a considerable time before public sector non-dwelling construction picked up.
That is a very different story from the one put by the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman).
– Who are you quoting?
-I am quoting the Real Estate Institute of Australia and its newsletter of 18 August, which must have been sent to the Minister. It says:
The Budget has no additional incentives for home ownership.
It also says:
It was disappointing that the Budget did not recognise the serious lack of investment in residential rental property. There were no incentives, such as a depreciation allowance, for this form of investment.
So it goes on- 4 pages of it. It is an indictment of this Government from what is traditionally the friend of the Government- the Real Estate Institute of Australia. With cruel cynicism, a gigantic confidence trick has been mounted in mouth watering terms about masses of money for a 3 -year rolling program for aged persons homes. In fact, project subsidies have been reduced from $4 for $1 to only $2 for $1. The allocation has been slashed from $70m in Labor’s last Budget to only $45m. This broken promise leaves languishing a backlog of 700 aged persons homes projects valued at $340m for 25 000 waiting aged persons. This new, naive Ministerdecent enough as he is- is having the wool pulled over his eyes about these matters. This Minister, who can account for himself in terms of verbosity, does not appear to know that his Department and all these great public services are being slashed.
I have referred to the expenditure on growth centres being slashed from $72m to $3 9m. The Glebe estate allocation has been cut in half. The Minister knows what that is about because he has received on the subject a deputation of which I was a member. So it goes on. The National Estate program has been mutilated. The area improvement program has been cut from $15m to $600,000. It does not matter what one looks at, whether it is essential conservation programs, air quality monitoring programs, soil conservation studies or the Botany Bay environmental project. Every one of those Budget estimates associated with the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development and the Department of Construction has been the subject of some savage curtailment. I express concern that the public area for which the Minister is responsible is being denied and that many people and many communities will be deprived of the opportunity of a decent way of life. The quality of life is to be impaired because of the sacrifices which the Minister has allowed to occur.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-We have just heard a speech from the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson), who has delivered of himself an irresponsible submission. All this afternoon and this evening we have heard Labor members suggest that more money should be spent on this program and more on that. They do not then add up the cost of their proposals and publicly say to the Australian taxpayer that they would like that money taken out of the pockets of the Australian citizens. This Government succeeded in a major tax reform- tax indexation. If Labor had continued in office and retained its tax structure as it was, the Australian taxpayer would have paid $ 1,050m more in tax. The honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson), who has just spoken, has been spending money here tonight as if it grew on trees.
In the few minutes available to me this evening I want to talk about urban development. There is a growing awareness of the importance to the well-being of the Australian community of having a coherent strategy for urban development. I am pleased to see in the estimates that the Australian Institute of Urban Studies is to receive a grant of $50,000. This Institute has done a remarkable service for the Australian community in playing a significant part in making people within the community, in government and in business understand the significance of urban development. There are yet many more who need to be convinced. There has been a tendency in the past to identify an immediate problem and to seek to cure it. There needs to be an examination of the urban issue in order to prevent problems arising.
The central concern of urban policies should be people; people are the life blood of our cities and towns. They are created by people, for people. They exist to fulfil human needs. It is vital that all- I emphasise ‘all’- decisions which have a spatial implication should take account of their effect on people and the way in which they live. Many of the decisions of governments, business enterprises, community groups and individuals affect the character of our cities and suburbs. Some have a direct effect but there are many more whose effect, though indirect, has a much wider impact. The interdependence of all social and economic systems and groups which make up our society is increasing. Unfortunately there has been a time lag in the recognition of the implications of this interdependence. All decision makers, legislators and administrators, as well as citizens, are coming to recognise the importance of these interrelationships between economic policies, social policies, social security policies and welfare programs and those decisions which appear to have a direct spatial implication. Many of the decisions, though they appear to have no direct spatial implications, have significant indirect consequences. Sometimes the indirect consequences are far more significant than those that have a direct impact.
The failure of the Labor Government to achieve a satisfactory standard of economic management caused more urban problems than some of its programs sought to resolve. We heard the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) and the honourable member for Hughes talk about the importance of urban programs but those programs are brought to nought if there is not effective economic management. Labor, while in office, brought the Australian economy almost to ruin. It had policies of hyper-inflation. As a result of those policies interest rates escalated as the inflation factor was built into the interest rate. High interest rates made it difficult for people to purchase their own homes, to save money and build up in real terms a sufficient amount to bridge the deposit gap. This made it difficult for State and local governments which have the prime responsibility of providing the social infrastructure, the roads, the sewerage systems and the schools. As State and local governments had to borrow more money to meet inflated costs of the public investment they needed to make to satisfy the communities’ demands so they found they were having to pay higher and higher rates of interest.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) talked at length about the sewerage program. He would be aware that some of the State governments found that the money that the Labor Government offered became such a burden that they were unable to accept all that was offered. The burden came about as a consequence of the fact that State sewerage and water authorities were required to borrow money at high rates of interest. When they built that additional cost of servicing that new debt into their rate structures they found the added burden to be imposed upon the ratepayer was excessive and beyond the level which the ratepayer could reasonably afford.
I urge all members of this chamber to acknowledge the correctness of the views of Barbara Ward, that urban development should not be the residual consequence of policy initiatives but must be the outcome of a positive policy. I feel sure that the Minister, in directing his department, will demonstrate this Government’s capacity to have genuine, positive policies that ensure that urban development takes place in a rational and sensible fashion. Urban development needs to be attuned to people’s needs both now and for the future. There must be this understanding of the effect of decisions upon the way in which our cities and towns grow. It is important that those who have riot previously been aware of the impact of their decisions should be made aware. It is also important that we develop a national settlement strategy and have urban goals so that we know where we are going in terms of the development of our major cities and smaller towns about the country. There must be communication and meaningful co-operation between governments. Not only must it be between governments in a federation, the three spheres of government- Commonwealth, State and local- but also there must be greater cooperation between the vertically organised functional departments within a government. Likewise, all levels of government need to have a higher degree of co-operation with business enterprise, community organisations and individuals. I am seriously concerned about the adequacy of the techniques now used to achieve co-operation and co-ordination in urban decision making. I urge upon the Government that an early opportunity we do everything we can to improve those processes.
– I wish to speak on a matter affecting the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development. I acknowledge the interest of that Department in the monitoring of pollution in our environment. I acknowledge its involvement in the worldwide process of monitoring. I acknowledge the interest that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation shows in the measurement of pollution relative to this program. But it is not much use measuring pollution if there is not a back-up that can do something about it. At the moment it would seem that in the industrial situation there is none.
I would like to cite an example very close to home. Recently a petition of 299 residents of Keon Park was gathered objecting to pollution and noise emanating from the premises of Nonferral Pty Ltd. This problem has been exercising the minds of the Preston and Whittlesea councils since 1962. The particular industry is in the electorate of my colleague the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson). It processes nonferrous metals. It plays an important part in recycling many of these metals and is a valuable enterprise. But since 1962, when I represented that area in the State Parliament, it has been a constant headache at all levels of government. Since then the company has installed a chimney stack so that the fumes can be carried off at a height which does not- at least should notaffect the nearby residents. Bag filters also have been installed as part of a dust collection system in response to the agitation of the residents and the action of the Preston and Whittlesea councils.
The powers of the councils to deal with the matter have proved to be quite inadequate. Although prosecutions have been obtained under the nuisance section of the Health Act in
Victoria the penalty of $40 imposed under the Act could not pose any threat to the continued emission of these fumes from Nonferral. The State Government, through its Environment Protection Authority, has proved unable significantly to abate the nuisance. Fourteen years after the problem became evident the residents of the area still suffer from fumes which affect their eyes and nose, soil washing on the line, peel paint off houses and cars and cause the loss of trees and the absence of birds and wildlife from the area, together with noise pollution. The municipal and State governments have been unable to give the residents relief.
This is an obvious field in which the Federal Government must take some action to regulate the use of toxic or indestructible materials not only by the development of an adequate monitoring system, which is being attempted at the moment, and of standards of air quality, but also by carrying out a program in conjunction with the State which would allow action to be taken to stop this pollution when it is identified. On the same lines, it is not only a matter of atmospheric pollution but also a matter of noise pollution. Unless the 3 levels of government get together on this matter these sorts of nuisances will persist. While I recognise the program of monitoring that the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development is interested in, it is no good having that program unless there is a back-up to it.
In the couple of minutes left to me I move to another area, the area of community development, that is associated with this section of the Estimates. I refer to the effect that the changes that the Government has brought about in funding local areas of community development has had in my area- on the Preston City Council at any rate- despite the assurances that were given by the Victorian Government that no council would receive less than it received last year. The effective reduction in what can be used in that community, allowing for the drop of $15,000 in the finance available and an inflation rate of 14 per cent, represents a drop of 18 per cent in the community development work which can be done. The political effect of the withdrawal of the funding of the regions for community development has been the loss of worthwhile community involvement and a return to an institution-type government with decisions being made without consultation with the community. However, in the area to which I am referring- region 14- the support for regionalisation is so strong that all the committees set up under the previous
Government’s program are continuing to operate, despite the withdrawal of funds. The withdrawal of those funds has meant that projects such as the South Western Elderly Citizens Club and the Reservoir Branch Library, the sites for which were acquired from these sources, will have to be deferred indefinitely. The abandonment of this program has meant a real loss to the’ area. In deference to the Government’s desire to get this particular section of the appropriations through I will not delay the Committee any longer.
– Having listened over the last 40 minutes to the remarks of at least 3 members of the Opposition, I feel that I must reply. Tonight we heard from the Opposition the usual catalogue of misrepresentation and exaggeration. Not much of what was said has any basis in fact. It is very difficult to come to grips with such a wide variety of exaggeration and to accept it as proper criticism. Let me state the case for the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development and Government policy as succinctly as I can.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)-It being 10.30 p.m. in accordance with the order of the House of 18 February 1976 I shall report progress.
-In accordance with the order of the House of 18 February 1 976I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I requiry that the question be put forthwith.
Question resolved in the negative.
- Mr Chairman, I refer now to housing. Let us be clear as to what this Government is about in its housing policy. Over the last 2 years in the area of public housing under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement Act there has been a vast increase in the money made available to the states. It is in the order of 70 per cent. This Government has maintained that level of funding, but there is more to it than that. The arrangements now made under our federalism policy have allowed to the 6 State Governments about 15 per cent extra in the amounts available to them, either through the tax sharing arrangements or loan arrangements, which they may spend in any way they wish. At the Housing Ministers conference of several months ago one of the things that I put to the Housing Minister was that they should use those untied grants and loans to increase the amounts of money that they make available for public housing. I am pleased to say that some of the States have done just that. The only other thing I want to say about public housing under the Act is that it should be made clear that, contrary to what the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) said, an extra $ 10.4m has been made available to the States.
As to environment, I am afraid the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) is a bit difficult to come to grips with because he spoke in irrelevancies. The issues that he spoke of have nothing to do with issues of concern to the Federal Government. I understand his point of view, but the limits of my responsibilities under the Environmental Protection Act are accurately described. Matters of national significance come under my orbit and they will continue to do so, as I have made clear in this House on many occasions. What I can do for the honourable member for Scullin is to talk to my counterpart in the State and perhaps take up the particular issues with him.
As to the matter of growth centres, the areas in which the last Government exhibited its extravagance- indeed where its spendthrift attitudes were most evident- were in the funding of growth centres. We did not have one; we had three- none of them proven; none of them shown that they would succeed. This Government was not prepared to accept those extravagant programs of expenditure. When we talk in those terms we mean the dollars that you and I and all honourable members and the rest of the nation pay in tax. We were not prepared to accept those expenditures without close scrutiny. This has been made clear in this place on many occasions, and on one occasion in discussion of a matter of public importance brought forward by the Opposition. When we have examined these programs and have estimated what really should be put into them in the most effective and economical way, we will then announce those policies. I hope this will be done soon. I regret that there has been a hiatus in those growth centre areas where people are waiting for us to make this pronouncement. As I have said, I hope we will be able to make it soon. But let it be clear that we have not abdicated our role in this area; we are merely assessing it. I turn now to sewerage programs, the depth of the ignorance of the honourable member for Hughes, I am afraid, was displayed tonight when he talked about sewerage programs. We hear talk about money spent uneconomically and inefficiently. If there was one program on which money was spent without regard to the effect it was the sewerage program. I could go on at length to explain why I say that but I shall isolate a couple of factors. It was quite abundantly clear that the money went to communities which least deserved it. Communities which did the least to help themselves were the communities which received the money. In addition, landowners who did least to improve their own lots increased the capital value of their assets because the last Government provided money to put on sewerage. It did not cost them anything but it cost the rest of the taxpayers of Australia a great deal of money. I could go on about inadequate’ costing and pricing policies but I will not. Again, after scrutinising this policy and this program area we were not prepared to accept what was going on. That does not mean that we have left this area alone; it means that in future policies will be efficiently directed in the proper manner.
Mr Deputy Chairman, you will note the noises coming from the front bench behind me. I could go on at length about the misrepresentations of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) and by the honourable member for Hughes, to single out just 2 honourable members. The criticism of the poor old honourable member for Scullin was misdirected completely. Let me just make this point clear -
– The people in the Launceston area will be pleased to hear that we have another useless Minister for the Environment.
The DEPUTY .CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member for Scullin has made his speech. He might have the courtesy to give someone else a chance.
– It has been made clear by honourable members on this side of the chamber that one of the reasons we now face an inflationary situation in this country that has hardly been equalled before, and the unemployment that goes with it, is the unrestricted growth of public expenditure in which the last Administration indulged. We are not prepared to accept that situation. We have made it very clear that we intend to rein in the growth of public expenditure so that we may repair the damage done by the last Government- that is, we want to reduce inflation and to produce employment. One of the areas in which the previous Government’s policies led to exorbitant growth in public expenditure was the area of urban and regional development, growth centres and the rest. We have reviewed all those programs. The program that will be announced in the next few months will show that we are not only concerned about these things but that we will spend money wisely, economically and efficiently.
– In the 60 seconds or so that are left for me to speak I would like to say to the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson), who took part in this debate and for whom I have the highest affection, that I think his memory has deteriorated since he was in government. I think I quote him accurately when I say, briefly, that he said that this Government has the poorest record in respect of apprenticeship intake of any government in this country. I realise that the honourable member has been out of touch with apprenticeships, housing and all the other aspects of his former portfolio since he has been in Opposition. I think I should place on record the fact that when the honourable member was the Minister the ratio of apprentices to tradesmen was 1 : 1.77. Today it is 1 : 1.6. On 30 June 1971 when our parties were previously in government there were 547 apprentices in my Department. On 30 June 1973 when I think the honourable member was the Minister- I can see him nodding- there were 492 apprentices. On 30 June this year the number was 664 apprentices. So our record vis-a-vis apprentice training is infinitely better than that of the previous Labor Administration.
I want to make one other point in the 30 seconds that are left to me. The figures quoted by the honourable member for Hughes in respect of non-residential commencements in this country were quite out of date.
– I did not quote anything.
– The honourable gentleman says that he did not quote anything, but he did. He quoted figures supplied by the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales. I asked him whether that is what he was citing as his authority. He said yes. These were Real Estate Institute figures of 18 August. I tell the honourable member that at the moment the value of private, non-residential buildings commenced is the highest since the June quarter 1974 and represents a 28 per cent increase on the value of commencements in the March quarter. I do not wish to take up any more time of the House because I realise that we have important business to be discussed in the adjournment debate.
Proposed expenditures agreed to.
Tourist Organisation-The ParliamentDepartment of TransportSkyways Airlines Pty Ltd
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-Last night in the finest tradition of John Buchan, who wrote those first-class spy stories which we used to read when we were kids, the honourable member for Phillip (Mr Birney) spoke to the House about Soviet submarines. In fact, it was a hot spy story of such magnificent proportions that the whole House was hushed and shocked at the allegations which he made. For example, he said:
This dimly-lit ship hove to some distance away. As the cruise ship drew near its engines were stopped and its lights turned off with the exception of navigation lights. Lifeboats were lowered into a choppy sea and were eventually seen to pull away in the direction of the other vessel until they disappeared into the darkness.
He went on to state:
At approximately 3 a.m. the same morning, a crashing and banging noise was heard to come from the side of the ship- to the mental anguish of passengers- and this time a submarine was sighted dose by.
I have here the monitor of a radio bulletin. It is quite interesting. I shall read it. It states:
A submarine which reportedly rendezvoused with the Russian cruise ship, Fedor Shalyapin, was probably a humpback whale, the Marketing Manager of CTC Lines, Stan Higgs-
He does not sound like a Russian- said today. He said the humpback whale is an enormous creature often mistaken for submarines. Mr Higgs was replying to claims by Federal Liberal back-bencher Jack Birney that last month the ship met another surface vessel late at night in the Tasman sea and with a submarine early the next morning.
Mr Higgs said it wasn’t unusual for ships to transfer crews at night, and if the Russians were doing anything clandestine it seemed peculiar they would do it with 700 passengers on board. He says it happens on ships all over the world, but because this is a Soviet ship people think there must be something nefarious about it.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. The company CTC Lines does not own the Fedor Shalyapin.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– I am concerned as to whether this story is true. I am not saying that it is true. What I have read is only a monitor of a radio bulletin. But if the story is true it can have a tremendous impact upon the reputation of the honourable member. In fact, he could even be sunk with a story such as that. If the honourable member was given this information it is obvious that he has been misled by someone. That person could even be a Soviet agent. I believe that as the integrity of the honourable member is at stake a full inquiry needs to be undertaken and I would suggest -
– I rise to order. Is this an adjournment debate or time for bedtime stories? This is the most unimportant trivia I have ever heard in my life.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)There is no point of order.
– There should be a full inquiry into this matter by the Speaker or the Privileges Committee, and perhaps I had better get the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation along to give them a hand. I thought it important to bring up this matter tonight so as to protect the good name of the honourable member for Phillip. I think this matter needs full and proper inquiry.
-Tonight I want to put a suggestion to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that consideration be given to changing the voting procedures in this House. There have been 2 occasions in recent weeks when as a consequence of the manner in which debate has proceeded we have had successive divisions, one after the other. I suggest that once again the question of mechanical counting of votes of this House be investigated, but I suggest that in the meantime the Standing Orders be altered to provide for different arrangements in the event of procedural motions. I suggest that where there is a procedural motion and the Speaker declares as to the manner in which it is carried, the Standing Orders should provide that a division can be called but that in the event of the division confirming the Speaker’s declaration as to the result, a sanction similar to that imposed on a member who calls a quorum when there is in fact a quorum present should be applied. I do not for a moment suggest that this should apply to substantive motions, but I do not see any reason in the case of procedural motions why this House should not investigate ways and means of expediting its procedures. Honourable members who wish to cast their votes on a substantive motion and have them recorded by way of division should be able to do so, but where we are voting on procedural motions I suggest that the procedures of the House could be much improved if the idea I have put forward were examined and adopted.
-Last Tuesday the Committee of the Whole discussed the estimates for the Department of Transport. Traditionally Parliaments are the watchdogs of the exchequer and the protectors of the public purse. This is enshrined in section 83 of the Constitution which states:
No money shall be drawn from the Treasury of the Commonwealth except under appropriation made by law.
Traditionally examination of the Estimates has been the function of the Committee of the Whole. It is that Committee which should provide the opportunity for the Parliament to examine in detail the proposed expenditure and the reasons for the items of expenditure proposed. On Tuesday the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) made a farce of that examination. During the debate I sought from the Minister supporting information on various items of expenditure. Not only did he refuse to supply the information sought for the Parliament but in an intemperate outburst attacked me in his usual blundering and blustering way for having dared to seek information on items of transport expenditure. I do not mind his personal abuse and outbursts but I do strenuously object to his refusal to tell the Parliament why he is seeking $874. lm of taxpayers’ funds. Clearly he regards the Parliament as being irrelevant, as does his Government, but the people of Australia expect the Parliament to seek out the details of how and why their money is to be spent. I ask him for information on the $50,000 and $83,333 paid to Connair Pty Ltd in 1974-75 and 1975-76 under division 655.3.08. He did not know the answer. He blustered his way through it. He could have provided the information. After all, there was a Cabinet decision and he is a member of the Cabinet. Surely as a member of the Cabinet he ought to have been aware of the reasons for the expenditure. In his blustering way he suggested that we look it up in the Parliamentary Library. But if he had known the information he could have supplied it; if he did not know it he could have sought it from the 5 advisers behind him at the time. Up to this point the Parliament still has not been told. I believe this is because of his increasing incompetence. We saw the farce last weekwhat was said now appears in Hansard- when the Minister was asked a Dorothy Dix question.
He is one Minister who could not answer a question unless he wrote the question himself. His colleagues cannot ask questions unless they have been prepared by the Minister.
– I rise to a point of order. The honourable member for Shortland is implying that the Minister for Transport has prepared a question and the answer. I suggest that the honourable member -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member for Evans has been in the House long enough to know that that is not a point of order. While the honourable member for Shortland has introduced new subject matter into his speech and the figures that he used perhaps had to be used to establish relevance I would ask him to make sure that he does not revive the debate that took place yesterday on the estimates for the Department of Transport.
-I will not advert to the debate. I was going to refer to the Press release that went out on Tuesday when the Minister called for the minimisation of employment opportunities for pilots. He later claimed that he had corrected that and the word should have been ‘maximisation’. The Minister has today released another Press statement relating to the Adelaide to Crystal Brook rail standardisation project, which states:
There is an urgent need for the Government to determine the future direction of the Adelaide to Crystal Brook project
Surely after all these years the Minister knows the distance between Adelaide and Crystal Brook, or is the line to be re-drawn?
What I say to the Parliament is that all Ministers have a responsibility to provide the Parliament with information, particularly in relation to money matters. It is not their prerogative to deny that information, particularly in discussion of the estimates. I refer the Minister again to page 1 352 of Hansard which records that I sought information which he has refused to give. This is information to which the Parliament is entitled and which I ask him to supply to the Parliament and the people of Australia in order to justify the expenditure that is proposed by this Government.
-Air services in the north-west of New South Wales and the facilities available at Mascot airport are causing concern to Skyways Airlines Pty Ltd and to the passengers that use this air service. Skyways Airlines Pty Ltd operate a service from Goondiwindi to Gunnedah, Quirindi and Sydney and also from Wee Waa to Gunnedah, Quirindi and
Sydney. Years ago these ports, particularly Gunnedah and Quirindi, were serviced by East West Airlines Ltd. East West Airlines pulled out of their service and Skyways Airlines approximately four to five years ago took over the service and have provided wonderful travel facilities for people residing in these areas.
Skyways Airlines have been informed by the management of Trans-Australia Airlines in New South Wales that no longer will the airport facilities at TAA’s terminal at Mascot be available to it. These facilities include booking facilities, lounge facilities and boarding facilities. Skyways’ management has been asked to use flight facilities on the far eastern end of the airport. This will cause considerable problems for people using this service in making bookings, boarding aircraft and departing from Mascot airport. The present facilities are extremely good at the TAA terminal in which Skyways has an office. I cannot understand why this action has been taken. Apparently East West Airlines Ltd, which is a magnificent company, operating from the Tamworth airport a service to Sydney which I and other members of this Parliament frequently use, feels that Skyways Airlines Pty Ltd may be taking some of its passengers, because East West Airlines provides a car service from Gunnedah to Tamworth to take its passengers to catch a plane there.
However, this is most unjust. It is unrealistic and it is unfair to Skyways Airlines Pty Ltd and those people using its splendid services. Representations have been made to the Minister for Transport, Mr Nixon, concerning this matter and his good officers have been requested to interview TAA and possibly the Department of Civil Aviation to see whether this decision can be reversed. If we are to sponsor and encourage private commuter air services in New South Wales they should be given every facility at Mascot for their aeroplanes and for their passengers. Skyways Airlines Pty Ltd would have its aircraft at Mascot airport in the unloading and loading area for no more than possibly half an hour a day. I do hope that commonsense and justice will prevail and that Skyways Airlines Pty Ltd will be able to use the facilities of TAA at Mascot airport.
– I should like to join with the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) in condemnation of the honourable member for Phillip (Mr Birney) in his remarks and criticism of a friendly and world power in the forum of this House last night. He is only too ready to criticise me from time to time when he says that I abuse Parliamentary privilege. I have never abused Parliamentary privilege as the honourable member for Phillip did last night. A backbencher who is unable to get his name in the Press has got to resort to one of the lowest acts that a member of this House has resorted to for some time. I call on every member of this House -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! Considering that the hour is late and we have been delayed a little I ask the honourable member for Hunter to rephrase his remarks and to continue in a slightly different vein.
-I will endeavour to do that. The remarks of the honourable member for Phillip were completely unjustified against a friendly and world power whose balance of trade with Australia has been about six to one in our favour over a period of 10 years. I call for support from every member of this House, particularly the members of the National Country Party whose leader was in the Soviet Union quite recently to negotiate further trade for the country people of Australia. The honourable member for Phillip last night launched an attack which is unbecoming of a former eminent Queen’s Counsel of the Sydney Bar. He used the words ‘the Russian ripoff’. One would expect- and I strongly suspect- that he has been retained by the Conference Shipping Lines overseas to try to destroy the popularity of the Russian tourist ships in this country. The Russian tourist ships are hired by agents of the Shaw Savill Line, a reputable shipping company for more than 80 years. They are the agents of some of the Russian ships that operate tourist activities outside the Australian ports. They are responsible for the conduct and the tours. All the Russians do is to supply the ships.
The honourable member for Phillip should be praising the induction of Russian tourist ships to Australian ports which provide cheap holidays for Australian workers. Apparently some of his inebriated constituents who admit that visibility was bad and who probably overindulged in vodka and intoxication- getting rid of some of their ill-gotten gains around the gambling clubs at Bondi- are responsible for this furphy which the honourable member for Phillip took, hook line and sinker. He should be ashamed of himself. I ask him to apologise to the Soviet Ambassador tomorrow for his completely unfounded allegation.
-Order! The debate having concluded, the House stands adjourned until 2. 15 p.m. on Tuesday, 19 October.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (1), (2) and (3) No. The demonstrations against the Governor-General are by a very small proportion of the community which seeks any opportunity to express its particular point of view in this way. The demonstrations and, I might add, the recent irresponsible statements by the Leader of the Opposition, are to be deplored and, I believe, are quite unacceptable to the great majority of Australians.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
What economies have been recommended by the committee established to examine economies in the construction of the new Tarcoola-Alice Springs Railway.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I have not received the recommendations of the committee established to review the construction standards and costs of the Tarcoola to Alice Springs Railway.
Area Improvement Program (Question No. 1133)
am asked the Minister for
Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions is as follows:
1 ) The honourable member would no doubt be aware of the procedures associated with applications for assistance under the Area Improvement Program.
Soon after the Federal election, the Government undertook a review of all existing expenditure programs as part of the Commonwealth’s effort to restrain public expenditure in the national economic interest.
On 20 May 1976, the Treasurer announced that the Government would not pursue the funding of projects uncommitted by formal instrument at 23 December 1975. The above list represents those amounts uncommitted under the Area Improvement Program.
New South Wales-$ 120,000.
This program together with other related programs of community assistance, is under the terms of reference of the task force reviewing programs in the health/welfare/community development areas.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The visit also allowed me the opportunity to have fruitful discussions on a number of other important transport matters in Yugoslavia, Britain and Russia. In Belgrade, I had discussions on aviation issues; in London I had wide ranging discussions on current British Transport policies and matters of common interest including the Concorde and High Speed Train project; while in Moscow and Leningrad, I discussed shipping, urban transport and bilateral air transport matters.
Belgrade (Yugoslavia), Toulouse (France), Gothenburg (Sweden), London (United Kingdom), Leningrad and Moscow (Russia).
am asked the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Dr D. F. McMichael (Acting Chairman), DirectorGeneral of Environment
Sir Charles Barton, O.B.E. E.D., Co-ordinator-General of Public Works, Queensland
Dr J. T. Baker, Director, Roche Research Institute of Marine Pharmacology
The appointment of Dr McMichael was made by me in exercise of my powers under Section 1 5 ( 1 ) of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1 975, on 26 July 1 976.
The appointment of the other members was made by His Excellency the Governor-General in pursuance of subsection (2) of Section10ofthe Act, on 22 July 1976.
The following have been appointed to the Great Barrier Reef Consultative Committee:
Mr L. F. Backen, Commonwealth Department of National Resources
Mr J. D. Ballingall, Queensland State Fishermen’s Council
Mr A. G. Bollen, Commonwealth Department of Primary Industry
Mr J. F. S. Brown (Chairman), Queensland Confederation of Industry
Dr D. W. Connell, Australian Conservation Foundation
Mr P. B. Eccles, Commonwealth Department of Transport
Mr P. L. Ellis, Queensland Co ordinator General’s Department
Dr M. Gilmartin, Australian Institute of Marine Science
Mr E. J. Hegerl, Queensland Conservation Council
Mr J. H. Izatt, Queensland Game Fishing Organisation
Mr P. J. Killoran, Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Islanders Advancement
Dr P. Mather, Great Barrier Reef Committee
Professor J. D. Ovington, Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service
Mr A. J. Peel, Queensland Department of Harbours and Marine
Dr G. W. Saunders, Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service
Professor K. P. Stark, James Cook University of North Queensland
Mr J. Wilson, Queensland Department of Tourist Services
Mr J. T. Woods, Queensland Department of Mines.
The appointments were made by me in exercise of my powers under Section 22 of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act, 1 975, on 2 1 September 1 976. The Authority nominated Dr McMichael to represent it on the Consultative Committee.
asked the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs, upon notice:
In view of the 75 per cent increase in Federal Government aid to local government via State Governments, what machinery has been, or is intended to be, established by each State for the distribution of this money to the various local government bodies in the State.
– The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Funds are intended for two distinct purposes- a per capita grant to all local government authorities to be known as Element A, and an equalisation grant, Element B, for those Councils whose special needs are not adequately catered for by Element A. State Governments will allocate a minimum of 30 per cent of the funds available to local government under Element A and may, if they wish, introduce some weighting within Element A to take account of differences in area and population density.
Establishment of machinery to distribute funds is only necessary for the distribution of the equalisation component. States have agreed to establish State Grants Commissions to handle this. It will be necessary for Commissions to be established by statute before 1978-79.
New South Wales already had a Local Government Grants Commission prior to the introduction of the Government’s Federalism policy.
Tasmania passed legislation to establish a State Grants Commission in June 1976, while Victoria and South Australia have both introduced legislation to do so. Western Australia has established a Local Government Grants Committee and Queensland has an Interim State Committee, but neither of these bodies has been established by statute.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
Has the Queensland Government ever applied to the Federal Government for the construction of an extra 2 traffic lanes to augment the existing Hornibrook Viaduct linking the City of Redcliffe with the Brisbane suburb of Brighton.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Under the Roads Grants Act State Governments are responsible for the preparation of programs of road projects for which they seek Commonwealth financial assistance.
During the three years 1 974-75 to 1 976-77 covered by the Roads Grants Act the Queensland Government has not included any project to augment the existing Hornibrook Viaduct in the programs submitted for Commonwealth financial assistance.
However, I am given to understand that the Queensland Government now intends to build a second bridge across Hays Inlet linking Brisbane and Redcliffe entirely from State funds.
Road Construction from the Fuel Tax Revenue (Question No. 1170)
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
RAAF Vehicle Allowance Claims (Question No. 1200)
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Members submitting claims have been instructed to provide documentary evidence in the form of accommodation receipts and where possible to have their passport stamped at the border. In the absence of acceptable documentary evidence, a Statutory Declaration is required.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
1 ) The number of members is (a) 7, (b) 7, (c) 9 and (d)
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 October 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1976/19761014_reps_30_hor101/>.