30th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.) took the chair at 2.15 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr SPEAKER- I have to inform the House that we have present in the gallery this afternoon the Speaker of the Parliament of Singapore, Dr Yeoh Ghim Seng, who is accompanied by the Senior Minister of State for Communications, Mr Ong Teng Cheong, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, Mr Ahmad Mattar. I also inform the House that the SecretaryGeneral of the United Nations Conference on the Habitat, Mr Enrique Penalosa, is also in the chamber. On behalf of the House, I extend a very warm welcome to those gentlemen.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be forwarded 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 Bryant, Mr Les Johnson, Dr Klugman, Mr Morris and Mr Antony Whitlam.
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 Byrant, Mr Garrick and Mr Les Johnson.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in the Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That the decision to withdraw the Australian Trader from the Tasmanian service
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will move to restore the Australian Trader to the Tasmanian service.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr 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 electors of the Commonwealth respectfully showeth:
Whereas your petitioners respectfully request consideration be given to:
Both of the above being without the prerequisite of referral by a medical practitioner.
Therefore your petitioners pray your honourable House to legislate accommodation of these matters under the provisions of Federal law.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Anthony.
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:
Objection to the metric system and request the Government to restore the imperial system.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Anthony.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government take all necessary and urgent action to ensure the continuation of service from each of the Community Health Centres and make such finance available to allow the establishment of such Centres in permanent accommodation.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Nixon.
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 undesigned persons believe that-
The $300 limit on income tax deductibility in respect of personal residential land and water rates is unrealistic and is a discriminatory income tax penalty.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take steps to see that the aforesaid limitation is removed entirely or substantially increased.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Connolly.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We the undersigned, citizens of the Commonwealth by this our humble petition respectfully showeth:
That Medibank has proved to be the cheapest and most efficient means of bringing health care to Australian citizens and that the citizens of Australia have received Medibank as a great and valued social reform.
That Medibank has proved itself to be a far superior system of health care than was offered by the private funds prior to July 1975.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will observe the promise made by the Prime Minister in his policy speech that ‘We will maintain Medibank and ensure the standard of health care does not decline. ‘
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Garrick.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectively showeth:
That the decision of the Government to introduce a 2.5 per cent levy on incomes to finance Medibank and to offer private health insurance as an alternative to Medibank.
Your petitioners call upon the Australian Government:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Garrick.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That distress is being caused to social security recipients by the delay in adjusting pensions to the Consumer Price Index months after goods and services have risen, and that many medications, formerly a pharmaceutical benefit, must now be paid for.
In addition, State Housing Authority waiting lists for low rental dwellings for pensioners become never less, and funeral costs increase ever greater.
Your petitioners call on the Australian Government as a matter of urgency to:
Adjust social security payments instantly and automatically on announcement of increases in the quarterly Consumer Price Index.
Restore pharmaceutical benefits deleted from the free list.
The States Grants (Dwellings for Pensioners) Act 1974, eroded by inflation, be updated and increased to overcome the backlog.
The funeral benefit be updated to 60 per cent of a reasonable funeral cost. This benefit when introduced in 1943 at 200 shillings ($20.00), was seven times the pension at that time of 27 shillings ($2.70) per week, or more than twice the basic wage of 97 shillings ($9.70).
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Garrick.
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: The undersigned persons are concerned that:
The proposed Government income equalisation deposit scheme will give substantial income tax concessions to those who are not genuine primary producers.
We call upon the Government to restrict the proposed scheme so that only genuine primary producers will benefit.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Groom.
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 minimum of 65c 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 fulfils all the publicly announced criteria for amnesty he is permitted to remain in Australia as a resident. by Mr Innes.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We, the under signed 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. The humble Petition of the undersigned electors of the Division of Kennedy respectfully showeth: that ( 1 ) we have been without a television service since the introduction of television into Australia in 1 956,
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House will take action which will require the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to take immediate steps to provide the electorate of Kennedy with a television service, where it is not now provided.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Katter.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the new Government during the recent election campaign, promised lower taxation and more money in people’s pockets.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray-
That the House of Representatives will take immediate steps to prevent the introduction of Television and Radio licence fees, the imposition of a tax levy for Medibank and the introduction of higher charges for drugs dispensed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Klugman.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble Petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth: that; the Budget will increase unemployment to unprecedented and crisis proportions at a time when hundreds of thousands of Australians, especially school-leavers, young workers and apprentices, are without work; the Budget completes the dismantling of Medibank as a simple, effective universal health insurance scheme, providing basic coverage for the total community; the Budget, by its heavy cuts in urban and transport programs, will worsen the quality of life available to many Australians; the Budget will compel state governments to reduce their services and increase charges; the Budget reduces spending on Aboriginal affairs by 30 per cent and returns expenditure on Aborigines to pre- 1972 days; the Budget seriously disadvantages migrant groups, most notably in employment and health, and leaves room for concern over the future of ethnic radio; the Budget, despite the government’s earlier rhetoric about defence threats to Australia, continues to hold the size of the armed services at present levels; and the Budget, despite all the above, still cannot be expected to reduce Australia’s annual inflation rate below twelve per cent;
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the 1976 Budget be redrafted to provide for economic recovery within the guide-lines laid down by the Australian Labor Government’s 1975 Budget.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr 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 that 50 000 people were partially or wholly maintained by the State Dockyard.
That stability is at present in jeopardy, as a new ship is required within the next few weeks if serious unemployment and hardship is to be avoided.
That the previous Government’s plan for the building of a graving dock in Newcastle should be continued as proper ship repair facilities are a vital factor in the maintenance of a viable shipbuilding industry.
That the Government’s election pledge to restore business and 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.
Mr MALCOLM FRASER (Wannon-Prime
Minister)- I inform the House that the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) is indisposed and for the time being the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) will act as Minister for National Resources and the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard) will act as Minister for Overseas Trade.
-I give notice that at the next sitting I shall move:
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. I preface it by reminding him that he has not yet provided me with the full answer that he promised 5 weeks ago to provide to my question without notice concerning a report of exceptionally high infant mortality rates in Aboriginal communities in Queensland. Has his attention been drawn to the report by Professor Hollows that health services for Aborigines in Central Australia are appalling and that eye, ear, nose and chest diseases together with other systemic disorders are present in an alarmingly high proportion of Aboriginal children and adults? Since Aboriginal health funds were reduced in the Budget and since announcements following the Government’s consideration of Mr Hay’s report did not specify any grants for Aboriginal health programs, has the Government decided to make additional provision for those purposes?
-The honourable gentleman’s sense of timing is very good. In fact, it was only about half an hour ago that I was looking at the draft reply to that earlier question which he mentioned. It contained one or two errors of fact but a reply should be available within a day or two. As to the other matters, I state that my attention has been drawn to the report. At this stage I would say only that the Government has done a great deal to prune the administrative elements in terms of the funds that are going to Aborigines. We have done this to make sure that funds that are allocated by this Parliament to be spent get where they are needed to assist Aborigines. It is our view that a good deal was wasted or spent misguidedly along the way. That was the purpose of the reviews. Also, I remind the House that we have in any restrictions on personnel and staff ceilings emphasised that over-the-counter services to people- obviously, this includes the delivery of health services- are not to be prejudiced as a result of staff ceilings that have been imposed on all Commonwealth departments and statutory authorities. The particular matter that the honourable gentleman raised will be examined by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.
– Did the Minister for Foreign Affairs, during his recent visit to Europe, have official discussions with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Supreme Commander, General Alexander Haig, and the SecretaryGeneral of NATO? Bearing in mind our association with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, I ask: Is there any likelihood of a more formal association between Australia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation?
-I did visit Brussels 2 weeks ago, primarily to hold talks with the European communities. The economic relationship Australia has with the European Economic Community is, of course, of great importance. We do have divergent views on many issues and these views have not altered. However, the Government decided that it should broaden its relationship with the Community, not merely because of the strategic importance of Europe, but because the Community is acquiring a significant international personality in its own right, distinct from its individual members. For example, as a community it is increasingly represented in international forums. Therefore my talks there were aimed at broadening the relationship. As a result, there will be a round of official talks in Canberra early next year.
Whilst I was there, I took the opportunity of talking with Ministers and officials of the Belgian Government as well as with those people the honourable member suggested in his questionthe North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Supreme Commander, General Haig, and SecretaryGeneral Luns. There was no intention beforehand, nor as a consequence of those talks is there any intention of Australia’s seeking any formal ties with NATO. But the visit provided me with an opportunity to exchange views on a broad range of matters. After all, the strategic importance of Europe remains undiminished. It is still the most vital and sensitive area in the global balance. Indeed, western Europe is one of 2 pillars of the Atlantic alliance and its performance in that respect is important, not only in itself but in its effect on the performance of its partner, the United States of America. I value the discussions I had with General Haig and Secretary-General Luns. But I repeat: There is no intention on our part to seek any formal ties with NATO.
-I refer the Treasurer to an answer he gave me last Wednesday in response to a question without notice. I ask: Of the $7,000m of investment intended by companies or processed by the Foreign Investment Review Board since December 1975, what proportion will actually eventuate? When will the facts regarding these investments be announced? What proportion of these projects will be financed by new capital inflow and what by reinvestment of retained profits?
-The honourable gentleman should be very much aware that the aggregate figure that I pointed to of some $7 billion worth of new investment over the various areas which were the subject of reference in the question is not a figure that can be broken down for public consumption by reference to the companies concerned. Many of the negotiations which have taken place are matter of confidence between the Government and the companies concerned. I can give some thought as to whether it is possible to indicate a broad analysis of the type of information which the honourable gentleman seeks. But of the $7 billion, my recollection- I put it no higher than that- is that approximately $2,000m would represent a flow of funds from overseas for purposes of capital development here. I will need to check that figure immediately after question time but the honourable member can take it on the run that it is around $2,000m. These investments are of course heavily in the resource area. The list certainly includes announcements by companies which have been the subject of public reference on the financial pages of the major newspapers of this country and a number of other projects which are matters of confidence between the Government and the companies concerned. As I think I mentioned when the honourable gentleman raised this matter with me during the course of last week, the Government certainly appreciates that it is not a question of an inflow overnight. It will, of course, be slow, but the economic recovery which the Government is looking forward to is a recovery which is sustainable, and that does not allow the prospect of a quick overnight take-off.
– I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs: At the recent South Pacific Forum meeting did all countries agree to the establishment of a 200-mile exclusive economic zone? Will Australia act unilaterally before the next conference on the Law of the Sea Convention?
-The short answer to the first part of the honourable member’s question is yes. There were, of course, basically 2 purposes for my being in Suva last week. The first was to attend the formal opening of the headquarters of the South Pacific Bureau for Economic Cooperation The second was to attend a meeting which continued over 3 days discussing matters relating to the Law of the Sea Convention. All Forum countries agreed to the concept of a 200-mile exclusive economic zone. All countries, including Australia, also agreed not to act on this until after the sixth session of the Law of the Sea Conference is convened in May of next year. I regard this consensus as a very important development as progress at the last Law of the Sea Conference was, to put it mildly, disappointingly slow. It is therefore of the utmost importance to those who are interested in seeing a convention adopted that the negotiating momentum be not lost during the period between now and May of next year, for there is a distinct need for states to bring about the development of a political will and to influence others if there is to be a successful negotiation of the Law of the Sea Convention:
The Government therefore believes that a multilateral convention providing for, among other things, a 200-mile exclusive economic zone is preferable to a unilateral declaration at this time. However, I should state that should the session in May of next year not succeed the Government will feel bound to consider acting unilaterally in regard to a 200-mile exclusive economic zone. I repeat, however, our earnest desire for a widely supported multilateral convention and say that a series of unilateral declarations before the conference could pre-empt the possibility of a successful outcome of the sixth session of the Law of the Sea Conference.
– I ask the Minister for Health whether it is a fact that more than a decade ago Professor Ida Mann of the University of Western Australia discovered a cure for trachoma which almost eliminated trachoma at that time from Aboriginal children. Is her method or any better method being applied in the Northern Territory? Can any action be taken to recruit doctors to work temporarily as a task force, as they do in the north of Western Australia, without committing them to joining the Commonwealth Public Service, to attack trachoma and other health problems among Aborigines in the Northern Territory?
– I am sure that the honourable member for Fremantle ‘s interest in the matter has been stimulated by a long experience of and concern about trachoma amongst the Aboriginal people and also a report by Professor Hollows which was referred to in the Canberra Times today at some length. The honourable member would be aware that the Government is currently financing a scientific investigation of trachoma and the effect it is having upon Aboriginal people. In fact, $570,000 has been provided by the Commonwealth through a health program grant to the Australian College of Ophthalmologists, which is currently carrying out this work. I have no knowledge of the report to which the honourable member referred but I will make it my business to see that it is available to the research workers doing this work. I am sure they would have taken it into account; if not, I would hope that they do so. I would like to table in the Parliament a response to the article on this subject published in the Canberra Times this morning. Whilst I completely agree with the remarks of Professor Hollows about the adverse effects of living conditions on the health of Aboriginals -
– Do you want the statement incorporated?
– May I incorporate it?
-Is the Minister asking for leave to incorporate a statement in Hansard!
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
I completely agree with Professor Hollows’ remarks about the adverse effects of living conditions on health of Aboriginals but strongly disagree with his remarks on health services in Central Australia. The Department of Health provides a comprehensive health and medical service to the area, serving the needs of both Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals. The Rural Health Services which provide for the care of Aboriginals are very active within the communities and community health nurses do visit camps wherever they may be to seek out and treat those in need.
The following points on the situation in Central Australia must be made clear:
It is unfortunate therefore that Professor Hollows has seen fit to make remarks concerning health services in the Northern Territory which can only serve to discourage loyal and dedicated people who have worked so hard and have achieved so much in this difficult field of endeavour.
Although his remarks on living conditions are very similar to statements which have been repeatedly made by my Department to Parliamentary Committees, his attitude towards health services will certainly not encourage recruitment of staff to the services working for the advancement of Aboriginal health in Central Australia which is our primary objective.
– I strongly disagree with the remarks about the health services in Central Australia. We are very concerned about this matter and I am sure that as a result of the inquiry being undertaken now there will be some benefit to the sufferers from this dreadful disease.
I will take up with my Department the honourable member’s suggestion that we try to enlist medical practitioners to adopt a task force approach to trying to overcome the trachoma problem in the Northern Territory. I will ask my departmental officers to have an early discussion with Dr Ida Mann and we will have a very close look at the recommendations she has made in the hope that they are feasible and that something can be done to arrest the problem in the Northern Territory.
-Does the Minister for Post and Telecommunications agree that it is absurd to suggest that legalisation of citizen band radio would be a significant threat to the public telephone and telegraphic system? Does he also agree that it was unfair of a Mr Wilkinson of the Management Branch of the Department of Post and Telecommunications to imply that citizen band radio would only be used by people engaged in serious crime? If this is the justification for retaining the existing law making the use of citizen band radio illegal, should the use of telephones, motor cars and even bicycles be made illegal because they are sometimes used by criminals?
– The whole question of the use of citizen band radio is very complex and I have asked the Department to give me a full report on it.
– Why do you not enforce the law?
-If the honourable member listens for a moment he will be better informed. An official in the Department has been working specifically on this matter. We do not want to have the same problems that are faced in other countries, particularly the United States of America. The honourable member for Sturt mentioned Mr Wilkinson of my Department. I am not aware of the full content of Mr Wilkinson’s statement but I regard him as a very competent official. He is aware of the malpractice that can occur if equipment of this type is used improperly. We are looking at the matter and I hope to have a report very quickly. I think we could probably have a Green Paper on this subject so that the Parliament can have a full discussion.
– I address my question to the Treasurer. Is it a fact that the deficit at the end of the first 3 months of this financial year was $2,276m as against $l,887m for the same period last year? Has the Government’s decision to defer quarterly company income tax payments been mainly responsible for this disruptive growth of the deficit as well as the money supply? What other factors have been responsible for this surprising deficit?
– There is nothing surprising in the record of Government financial transactions for September. The honourable gentleman correctly quoted the figures. There was a deficit of $820m for September and a deficit of some $2,276m in the September quarter. The honourable gentleman adverted to the significant factor which has led to that figure being reflected in the financial transactions for September. It is- I repeat what he said- the suspension of the payment of company tax for that quarter.
– Should we multiply the figure by 12 as you did last year?
– If honourable members want to trade points about the deficit, the honourable gentleman’s multiplication process is best evidenced by the fact that in the December quarter last year when we took over government the deficit of the Labor Government was $4 billion and heading towards a much higher figure. That will indicate the extent of mismanagement which, in part, underlay the whole of the Opposition’s approach to the deficit when it was in government. Before the intervention of the honourable gentleman I was about to say that whereas company tax collections amounted to $505m in the September quarter of last year, which was the equivalent of 20 per cent of the annual total, collections for the same quarter this year amounted to only $37m which is equivalent to 1 per cent of the Budget estimate for the year as a whole. This certainly reflects the Government’s decision to suspend quarterly company tax against the background of the problems, which, at the time the Government was taking that decision, were reflected by the private sector. I warn the Opposition against any simple process of taking the figure for one month and multiplying it by twelve. The Opposition can say what it likes in Opposition because it is no longer in government.
- Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. Is the Treasurer, by his comments, in order in reflecting on his own intelligence?
-There is no substance in the point of order.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Transport. On 10 October the Minister announced the approved beef roads program for Queensland up to June 1977. Only one short section, from Mungana to Highbury, was included in the program in the Gulf and Cape York Peninsula areas in my electorate. The Minister will be aware of the very urgent need for sealed all-weather roads to open up this vast and productive area. Will the Minister give an indication as to when roads in these areas will be included in the beef roads program? Can he give an assurance that priority will be given to beef roads in the Gulf and Peninsula areas in the next program?
– At the commencement of the 1974-77 program $24m was made available for the beef roads program. As I understand it, at that time consultation between the Queensland authorities and the then Department of Northern Development decided which roads would be included in that program. I understand the honourable member’s concern in this matter because it appears that certain sections of roads in the Gulf Country were included in previous programs and then, all of a sudden, excluded from the 1974-77 program, leading to the situation which he has described. The reason given for the exclusion of the roads in the Gulf Country was that the Queensland authorities and the Department of Northern Development apparently decided that resources could be better spent in the brigalow country. For that reason a program was designed for beef road construction in the brigalow country to the cost of the program described by the honourable member. There will be no reconsideration of this matter until the end of this 3-year program. I assure the honourable member that every consideration will be given to his request in a future program.
– I direct my question to the Treasurer. In a speech to the Victorian Division of the Securities Institute of Australia on 10 September, did the Treasurer claim that rises in stock market indexes indicated that not only was the economy on the mend but also that business confidence was rising? In view of the major falls in recent weeks, does this indicate both failure of his strategy and a decline of business support for his policies?
– The question is, of course, nonsense. I put it to the honourable gentleman in a quiet way -
– You are contradicting yourself.
– If the honourable member will listen for a moment I shall provide him with some of the facts which will lead to his elucidation of the issues concerned. The stock market, of course, varies by the day. I do not carry in my mind the figures as at the last time the market closed but at the close of business on 13 October the fact was that the market was down some IS per cent on the peak of the cycle around the August period.
-What the honourable gentleman ought to understand, and also the honourable member who is interjecting, is that nonetheless it is some 7.2 per cent higher than it was a year earlier. Much of the momentum is caused -
– What has been the inflation rate during that time?
– Much of the momentum is caused by external factors and I would have thought that the honourable gentleman and his colleagues who traditionally always argued the impact of external factors on the Australian economy would be aware of that. I instance the fall in metal prices and the concern in markets around the world about the United States election. Clearly our own market is not immune to those trends. I do not believe there is need for concern about the movements that have taken place in the market place.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Is the Minister aware that there are a number of residents of private nursing homes and their families in my electorate who are facing severe hardship because of the present level of subsidies for nursing homes? Has the Minister received the report from the committee investigating the problem and can he give the House any indication of when details of the report will be announced? Can the Minister assure the House that nursing home patients will not suffer severe financial difficulties as the fees in private nursing homes continue to escalate?
– As I have said on numerous occasions I am aware of the influence that inflation is having on the fees faced by patients and the relatives of patients in nursing homes and I can assure the honourable member that the matter is the cause of deep concern for the Government which, as the honourable member knows, has established a committee of inquiry into the care of the aged and the sick aged. In order to ensure that the maximum benefit is achieved from the work of this and other committees which have been responsible for undertaking reviews of this and associated areas, the Government has decided to consider the individual reports concurrently so that action can be taken on an integrated comprehensive basis. We expect those reports to be to hand during November and I would anticipate that the Government would be taking a decision on them as soon as possible. However, I assure the honourable member and all honourable members who are concerned about the problem that we are aware of it. We are most concerned and will endeavour to do something about it in a rational way.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister concerned that reports of the personal behaviour of certain of his Ministers may place them in the position where the conduct of their official duties may be impaired or national security compromised? In particular, has he recently expressed his concern about these matters to the Minister for Defence?
– I think the honourable gentleman has deserved his own condemnation.
-I direct a question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Did the Minister’s recent announcement regarding increased aid to South Pacific countries involve a 3 or 5-year rolling program? Did it merely increase the amount or was there an endeavour to change the nature of the aid programs?
-The announcement I made to the South Pacific Forum last week provided for $60m to be allocated in bilateral aid over the 3-year period 1 976 to 1 979. That is in fact a fourfold increase over the previous 3-year period. It reflects the importance that we attach to the Pacific Island entities and flows from a comprehensive review undertaken by the Government of the aid requirements of those South Pacific countries. The 3-year rolling program will therefore permit planning by recipient countries beyond a single budgetary year. The funds being made available, in the stages of $ 15m in this financial year, $20m in the next financial year and $25m in the following financial year, are being allocated in accordance with the relative populations and needs of the South Pacific countries.
The program forges new initiatives as far as our aid programs outside Papua New Guinea are concerned. For example, firstly, the continuous forward programming already referred to will allow recipient countries to allocate their resources and budget beyond one particular financial year. Secondly, the decision to meet, where appropriate, a significant portion of local costs is a new venture so far as aid is concerned. Thirdly, the Government has indicated a willingness to provide grants to island governments to strengthen developments banks and related financial institutions which should assist small entrepreneurs, farmers, fishermen and the like. There is, furthermore, a willingness to consider making grants to island governments to assist them financially and to share in joint ventures with Australian companies. It is well known that in many instances a particular country may be interested in a joint venture with an industry but does not have sufficient funds to meet the 50 per cent, 5 1 per cent, or whatever other shareholding they may desire. Where appropriate the Government will take steps to see that funds are made available if there is a project that we feel could be supported.
Finally, as a further initiative, a special provision within the $60m has been made for nongovernment organisations within the cost of the development program over and above what is being allocated.
– My question which is directed to the Minister for Health refers to the dispute between the Government and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia over the payment of chemists’ fees following the May 1975 report of a committee on pricing arrangements composed of representatives of the Guild and of the Government and over the appointment of an independent arbitrator to decide on the appropriate level of fees in the future. I ask the Minister whether there have been any recent developments in this unfortunate matter and, if so, whether he can inform the House as to the likehood of any early settlement of the outstanding points of disagreement?
– The Government has been concerned about the dissatisfaction, as between the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and successive governments, that has prevailed for years. The honourable member will recall that in 1972 Sir Kenneth Anderson, the then Minister for Health, came to an arrangement with the Guild. The present Government, when coming to office, inherited a number of unresolved issues arising out of an inquiry which was headed by Sir Walter Scott. The Government made an offer to the Guild earlier in the year. It was not accepted by the Guild. Indeed, it responded by issuing a High Court writ. The case was set down for hearing on 28 September. Both the Guild and the Government agreed to withdraw the case until February, thus giving both parties a further opportunity to enter into discussions. I had discussions with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia late last week. I expect a response from the Pharmacy Guild some time in the next two or three days. I do not want to go into details of the offer, but the Government is disposed to offer to the Guild, on certain conditions, to amend section 99 of the National Health Act to provide for an independent arbitrator to determine unresolved issues that come before the joint committee on pricing. I hope to be able to make an announcement before the end of this week and I hope that we will achieve a resolution of what has been a very unfortunate set of circumstances between successive governments and the Guild.
-I direct my question to the Minister for Health. Is it a fact that all those doctors who bulk bill for their patients will soon receive a total income increase of 22’h per cent? Will this result from the Government’s recent decision to allow them to charge for the 1 5 per cent gap between the Medibank rebate and the scheduled fee, in addition to the Vh. per cent increase which all doctors will receive from I
January next? Do these increases indicate an attitude of responsible restraint or will they aggravate wage earners subjected to wage indexation and increased tax and health insurance charges?
-The Government decided that under the modifications to Medibank which came into effect from 1 October doctors would be able to charge up to the 15 per cent but no more than $5 as a moiety for services rendered. We have asked the medical profession, as the previous Government did, to accept the scheduled benefit as payment in full for services rendered to pensioners. We believe that the medical profession generally will accept that proposal. It was felt that there was some sense in having a moiety for services rendered by doctors because it identified to patients the fact that services were in fact being rendered at a cost. The whole thrust of the modifications that we have made to Medibank has been designed to try to bring a sense of responsibility to the providers of health care and also to users of health care. We have seen a rapid escalation of health costs in Australia; indeed we have seen that happen around the world. Clearly there must be a limit to the amount we can allocate to meet health care expenses.
In respect to the increases that the doctors have decided to charge as from 1 January next year, honourable members will understand that the Commonwealth Government has no power over the determination of the fees that doctors will charge. I have appealed to the Australian Medical Association and to the profession as a whole to exercise restraint in the setting of fees for the next year, commencing on 1 January 1977. The profession announced that doctors would increase their fees by 7½ per cent. For the whole of the year that increase was well within the bounds of the plateau indexation concept and I thought it was a very reasonable increase indeed. Notwithstanding that, I am mindful of the fact that while the Labor Government was in office doctors’ fees rose by over 60 per cent in 2Vi years. I hope that the medical profession has seen the need for restraint and will settle down to its professional task and show restraint, as other sections of the community are showing restraint. I have every confidence that the medical profession will do that. It was not intended that provision of a moiety should give doctors additional income. The provision was designed to bring about a general sense of responsibility as between providers and users of health care.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Are various student organisations such as the Overseas Students’ Service organising distasteful demonstrations against our most distinguished visitor, the Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew? Will the Minister reassure the Prime Minister that the majority of Australians are fed up with the regular disgraceful behaviour of a relatively small minority of students in this country? If it can be established that students from overseas are among those employing these hoodlum tactics, will the Government consider sending them home forthwith? Finally, do any of these student organisations receive financial assistance from the Federal Government? If so, will the Minister consider taking steps to cancel altogether this form of assistance if the students cannot observe decent standards of behaviour?
-The honourable member has asked a series of questions. I confirm that, as I have read in the newspapers, students are demonstrating against the Prime Minister of Singapore. After all, this is a relatively open society and there is nothing I would do to prevent such demonstrations. As far as I am concerned, Mr Lee Kuan Yew has adequately dealt with matters such as this, and it is within his purview to say whatever he wishes in regard to those demonstrations. They are not supported by the Australian Government. I would have to say to the honourable member that I am not even aware of the identity of the students. Therefore I would not know whether they are recipients of Australian Government funds. It would certainly not be my view, despite the strong implication contained within the question, that students should be sent home merely for demonstrating. It seems to me that Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew can adequately handle any differing viewpoints that are put to him, either in sessions such as Monday Conference or within his own jurisdiction in Singapore, without any needless interference by me.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Is it a fact that in 1974, the latest year for which figures are available, the average rate of interest earned by all life assurance companies was a mere 6.63 per cent, in a year when even savings bank investment accounts earned 7 per cent, the long term bond market paid 9.5 per cent and inflation exceeded 16 per cent? Is it a fact that last year nearly $ 1 in every $4 paid in premiums, or an amount of approximately $325m, went to cover operating costs of life assurance companies? In the public interest, will the Prime Minister consider setting up an open public inquiry to investigate and report on the operation of and benefits available from life assurance companies and to recommend measures for achieving a more realistic return for holders of policies and a less extravagant and costly and more efficient method of operation?
-There are many holders of life policies of different kinds who believe that they have been well served, certainly well served before the inflation started by the previous Administration. Also well known are the circumstances in which the previous Administration sought by various taxation measures to make subscriptions to life policies unattractive to the average Australian and therefore to cut off that kind of self-support and that source of funds for investment purposes in Australia. What the honourable gentleman quoted may or may not be facts. If they are facts, they will be on the public record and he will be able to check them.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Health, is supplementary to the question asked early this afternoon by the honourable member for Bowman regarding the committee appointed to inquire into the high cost of nursing homes. Is the Minister aware that the delay in the presentation of the report until next month may mean that it will be too late to assist many hundreds of pensioner patients who will be forced from nursing homes due to the fart that they can no longer meet the fees for their accommodation? Is he also aware that some nursing homes will have to close, leaving many pensioners without any alternative accommodation? Will he consider taking immediate emergency action pending a final decision on the report of the committee?
– I would like to reply to the second part of the question first. I hope that the proprietors of private nursing homes will not take any precipitate action. We hear these threats from time to time. Indeed, some nursing homes may be in a situation in which they are finding it difficult to continue. I am not impressed with threats that proprietors of private nursing homes might be making at a time when the Government is close to receiving a report from the committee of inquiry into the aged and sick aged. The Government will consider the possibility of making retrospective payments when the report of the committee of inquiry is being considered. But I certainly do not wish to commit the Government, to take any decision or to commit myself here at a time whilst I am awaiting that report. I do not want to pre-empt any of the recommendations which that committee might be inclined to make. I can assure the honourable member that the Government is very concerned and anxious about the problem. All I can do is give him an assurance that the Government will treat it in a compassionate, considerate and expeditious manner as soon as we have the report to hand.
– For the information of honourable members I present a report prepared by the Hospitals and Health Services Commission entitled Health Transport Policies for A ustralia.
- Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable gentleman claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes, I do. My attention has been drawn to articles firstly in the Melbourne Age dated 13 October by Mr Allan Barnes, secondly in the publication Inside Canberra dated 1 5 October and thirdly in the Melbourne Sun of 16 October by Mr Laurie Oakes regarding a statement that I issued last week concerning changes within my Department. Among other things, these articles allege and/or imply that Mr Nicholas Parkinson was appointed Secretary of my Department against my wishes and at the direction of the Prime Minister. This is totally incorrect. I nominated Mr Parkinson to the position and the Prime Minister and Cabinet later concurred. I make this statement not merely to correct inaccurate reporting but to reaffirm what I regard to be a fundamental principle, namely, that a Minister is vested with authority, subject to Cabinet approval, to nominate his permanent head. Mr Parkinson was my personal choice. It ought also be noted that Mr Peter Henderson was my choice to be acting secretary until Mr Parkinson returns from Washington.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) agreed to:
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until 3 p.m. tomorrow.
-On behalf of the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation, I bring up the report of the Committee on trafficking in fauna in Australia.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– 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 on trafficking in fauna in Australia which has just been tabled is the second report of the Committee established in the 30th Parliament. The inquiry on which this report is based was commenced by the Committee in the 29th Parliament but the double dissolution prevented it being completed. The Committee ‘s investigations were extensive and farreaching. During the inquiry it took evidence in 5 States, inspected Customs operations in Sydney and travelled thousands of miles throughout northern Australia. The report contains 16 recommendations which, if implemented, will ensure the effective management of Australia’s unique wildlife and will ensure its preservation for the enjoyment of future generations.
The report is primarily concerned with the plight of Australia’s birdlife. Due to their size and relatively simple management requirements, birds are the most suitable of all fauna to keep in captivity. This naturally means that the greatest demand by animal fanciers is for birds. The Committee did however consider the problem of trafficking in other fauna such as mammals and reptiles.
The Committee has during the course of this inquiry been most alarmed and disturbed at what it has uncovered. We were totally unprepared for the revelations concerning the thriving commercial activity of smuggling Australian fauna. A most unsavoury criminal element is involved which profits by millions of dollars a year as a result of its ruthless exploitation of Australia’s wildlife. The Bureau of Customs indicated that an estimated 80 per cent of birds smuggled out of Australia die before reaching their final destinations. It is rare for Customs officers to find that all of the birds are alive even at the point of departure. It is impossible not to be disturbed at the scope of these activities and the cruelty being inflicted upon the animals involved. Of further concern to the Committee is that illegal entry of drugs, pornography and immigrants may also be involved. Some evidence was given that once aircraft and shipping have transported their cargo of fauna, backloadings of these other illegal cargoes are made.
The criticism made continually throughout the inquiry was that Australia’s strict export regulations have been responsible for the demand for our wildlife overseas, and have created the climate for commercial exploitation and smuggling as it exists today. The Committee considered the arguments for and against the liberalising of Australia’s export policy, and while applauding laws that protect Australian fauna, found it anomalous that, on the one hand, some parrots and other fauna are destroyed in their thousands as pests, yet on the other hand interested organisations and individuals overseas are denied the right to obtain the same animals.
The Committee has therefore recommended that Australia’s export policy be relaxed to allow the export of common wild birds and birds that are bred in aviaries. The Committee considers that the export of the fauna should be under strict government control. We consider that by depriving the illicit overseas market of birds commonly available in Australia and depressing their prices overseas, a substantial portion of the smugglers market would be removed. This may result in increased demand for species which remain unavailable, but the Committee considers that this problem could be overcome by intensifying and rationalising control and enforcement. It is envisaged that the export operation will be economically successful, and that the profits derived could be usefully channelled back into conservation programs.
Similarly, the Committee has recommended that a limited controlled export of Australian mammals and reptiles be allowed. We also examined the export policy relating to the koala, platypus and lyrebird and could find no sound biological reasons why the export of these animals is totally prohibited. We have recommended that the policy be brought into line with that of other animals. I reiterate that the trapping and exporting of native fauna should be conducted only under strict government supervision, and that due regard must be taken of sound conservation principles. The protection and survival of the species of fauna concerned should be the primary concern, not satisfying the demands of collectors.
The Committee received evidence that large single shipments of fauna are smuggled out across the northern borders in light aircraft and boats. The Committee inspected Cape York Peninsula and the north west coast near Broome and Derby and saw disused airfields, beaches and mud-flats that could be used for these smuggling operations. The Committee was amazed at the ease with which boats and aircraft can enter and depart these areas of Australia undetected. We believe that this makes it easy for the illegal export of fauna and the import of drugs, pornography and other illegal cargoes. The Committee was informed that some of these areas are inspected by Customs officers only once or twice a year. We were impressed with the attitude and dedication of those officers we spoke to in these areas, but cannot see how more than just a superficial control can be exercised with present staff and available equipment.
The Committee concluded that facilities and staff need to be upgraded, and has recommended that the Bureau of Customs be provided with aircraft, patrol boats and support facilities. In reaching this conclusion the Committee took account of the role of the Department of Defence in northern surveillance. The Committee noted that while the Department of Defence co-operates with Customs, there are sometimes delays between requests for assistance and the time patrol boats and aircraft are on station. The Committee believes that the declaration of the 200 nautical miles resources zone will dramatically reduce the Department of Defence ‘s ability to meet requests for assistance from Customs.
The Bureau of Customs told the Committee that enforcement of Australian regulations is hindered by the attitude of some foreign governments, which take no steps to prevent the entry of fauna illegally exported from Australia. The Committee has recommended that steps be taken to encourage all countries involved in the transport or sale of fauna to become signatories to the International Convention on Trade in Endangered Species.
I now turn to the internal situation. The Committee was told that, while international smuggling is large, it is only a small proportion of the vast illegal movement and trade in native fauna within Australia. While fauna management legislation is comprehensive, control of trafficking is severely handicapped by the absence of complementary legislation between States and the unco-ordinated machinery of CommonwealthState relationships. In many cases penalties are inadequate and are no real deterrent to illegal activities.
The Committee considers the solution lies in the introduction of uniform or complementary legislation in each State and Territory. It sees the most effective method of achieving this uniformity as being for the Australian Government to examine and revise Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory fauna legislation and encourage the States to examine and revise their own legislation. The Committee further believes that the question of adequacy and uniformity of legislation should be discussed by the Council of Nature Conservation Ministers as a matter of urgency. New and comprehensive legislation will be of little value if it cannot be enforced. We have therefore recommended action that would enable Commonwealth and State fauna services to be upgraded.
The effects of trafficking on fauna populations is difficult to assess, but the Committee believes that alteration of habitat constitutes a greater threat to the existence of endangered species of native fauna than commercial exploitation. The report contains 3 recommendations which, if implemented, would ensure that no species becomes extinct through loss of habitat. During the course of the inquiry the Committee was made aware of the lack of detailed scientific data on populations and distribution of indigenous fauna. We believe that effective management and conservation measures are restricted because of this lack of information. The Committee therefore recommended that funds be provided for the biological resources survey and other similar studies.
In conclusion, I want to pay tribute to my SubCommittee colleagues in the 29th Parliament- to the honourable member for Scullin, Dr Jenkins, who was formerly the Sub-Committee’s chairman and also the Chairman of the Standing Committee, and to Mr Tony Lamb. I also pay tribute to my Sub-Committee colleagues in this Parliament- to Dr Jenkins once again and to the honourable member for Mallee, Mr Fisher, who unfortunately, due to illness, is absent from the House today. I know that Mr Fisher would want to be associated with the report and, if present, would be making some comments on it. I also pay tribute to the secretariat of the Committee, which has shown great dedication to the task. I thank its members for the courtesy they have shown to the Committee and their attention to detail for and on behalf of the Committee. I refer in particular to Mr Phil Busch and Mr Peter Reece, who were clerks of the Sub-Committee in the previous Parliament, and to Mr John Cummins, who was assisted by Mr Roger Lee. Finally, I make special mention of the Secretary of the Committee, Mr Maude Adamson, who at all times has given great attention to the Committee and its needs.
-by leave-I have been concerned with this inquiry from its inception in the last Parliament. I should remind honourable members that often such inquiries are started on a very emotional basis. The alarmist reports of destruction of fauna within Australia and the reports from the United Kingdom authorities of mass deaths of birds resulting from attempts to smuggle them through Heathrow Airport brought s very emotional aspect to this investigation in its early stages. In such circumstances it is difficult for a committee of the Parliament to get down to a more objective examination of such a matter. But after interviewing a variety of witnesses, some from government departments and some who were concerned with bird breeding and trading, it was even more difficult to determine the extent of these practices. With the evidence it received the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation could not but be convinced that it was considering a multi-million dollar business. Even more difficult than determining the extent of the practice was the difficulty in substantiating many of the charges that were made. Certain it is that in such a simple sounding subject as fauna trafficking there is a very large criminal element.
The Committee in its examination had occasion to examine the nature and extent of airport and harbour surveillance for Customs purposes. Given the number of passenger movements and commercial shipping movements through those areas it is difficult to see how adequate protection can be given against smuggling not just of fauna but of anything. As the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) mentioned, an examination of the north and north-west of Australia reminds one of the extent of the coastline, the vastness of the hinterland, the ease of approach by aircraft and boats to those areas and the multiplicity of tracks which will carry 4-wheel drive vehicles, which are a normal means of conveyance in those areas and which do not arouse suspicion.
I ask honourable members and others who consider the report not to get emotional as a result of the Committee’s recommendation for relaxation of the export policy with regard to our native fauna. I know that it is an emotional subject. The honourable member for Petrie emphasised that any such relaxation or export policy should be under strict control and, more particularly, that such export should be based on a sound harvesting policy, which is quite possible when the biology of the animals is known. Another fact that was obvious in this inquiry was the difficulty experienced by authorities in responding to information received. There is a strong reluctance, I think in government departments to disseminate means of transport such as launches and aircraft all over the place, but the Committee was convinced that the special requirements of the Customs authorities for transport facilities warranted the provision of particular aircraft and launches suitable to the task. I am sure that this will be another point on which there will be much argument and discussion but I ask those concerned to realise why it is so necessary that we have an ability to respond. There certainly is an apparent link with other smuggling activities such as drugs. No less important than the external factor is the high rate of internal traffic in fauna. This arises in many ways from the differing legislation in States and Territories. At least we, as a national Parliament, should accept our responsibilities in areas over which we have the power to legislate. We should set an example in the regulations that should be used for harvesting and keeping animals.
Finally, I want to emphasise 2 other comments made by the Committee. These comments have been made before by other committees of this Parliament. The destruction of habitat is the greatest threat to the preservation of our Australian fauna and this matter must be carefully watched if it is not to be the reason why we lose so many of these birds, animals and so on. The other factor- it has been emphasised before on many occasions- is the paucity of biological surveys in Australia. I urge that this be considered as a matter of urgency. The biological survey progam should be accelerated. It might sound as if I am being emotional in saying this but I remind honourable members, for example, of the medical research done during wartime in producing alkaloidal substances. This would have been much more easily attained if there had been wider biological surveys of flora in this case. I join with the Chairman in thanking my colleagues on the Committee, in both the last Parliament and this Parliament. I also thank the staff who showed so much interest and did so much hard work in assisting honourable members to prepare the report.
Discussion of Matter of Public Importance
-I have received a letter from the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government’s admission through the Treasurer’s Financial Times speech last week that it has caused an unnecessary postponement in economic recovery.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places-
-The simple truth is that the Liberal-National Country Party Government has blundered in the economic policy it has applied to our economy in the last 10 months and Australians are suffering unnecessarily as a consequence, particularly those Australians among the vast number of unemployed. As each day passes it becomes clearer that the conservatives of our country have not only outraged our Constitution and our political stability but also have damaged our economic recovery. Now we have had the admission of the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) that this is so. In his Financial Times conference speech last weekend he said:
Clearly, for a variety of reasons including the slow-down in the rate of public expenditure, economic performance overall during the September quarter has been somewhat weaker than in the June quarter.
How much lower should those figures get? National income statistics show that the quarterly rate of growth fell from 3.6 per cent in the March quarter of this year, when the Australian Labor Government’s policies were still applying, to 0.6 per cent in the June quarter when the Fraser Government’s policies took their toll. We are now told that the statistics for the September quarter are going to be lower still. They have not yet been announced. The Treasurer is preparing us for the worst before he scoots off abroad for another overseas trip to escape the wrath of this Parliament when those figures are announced. Is it to be a trip to Germany this time or are we raising our loans in the United States of America?
The unemployment figures tell the same story. In seasonally adjusted terms they dropped from October of last year, a year ago this month, when Labor’s policies were applying, to March of this year when the policies of those who were born to rule, in their estimation, those who grabbed power on the excuse that they could manage the economy better, took over. In raw figures, unemployment dropped in January through to May, and then turned for the worse, increasing each month through to August, with no perceptible movement in September. Many other indicators tell a similar story- the civilian employment figures, the shocking slump in industrial production, the motor vehicle registration figures, the retail sales figures and so on. The Treasurer grabbed for one hardly very significant straw when the July instalment credit figures were released but one swallow does not make a summer. What is the story today on the release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics of instalment credit figures for August? Instalment credit granted fell by 5.4 per cent in August. In fact, in the household and personal sector, the fall was 10.9 per cent. In answer to a question on 2 1 September the Treasurer pointed to the July rise in this indicator as reflecting increased activity by consumers. Clearly that activity was very shortlived.
It is my duty to point out these hard facts to the nation. Let us hear no more of this absurdity that I and my colleagues are talking down the economy. Clearly our purpose in making these points is to draw attention to the wrong economic policies which are being applied, have been applied and will continue to be applied, because we want the policies changed. What are these policies? I refer to the slashing of Government expenditure, the provocation of wage and salary earners by deliberately setting out to reduce real wages, the threatened close down of industry such as the shipbuilding industry, the failure to reduce interest rates as promised, the false talk of reducing taxes while at the same time imposing the harsh health taxes in the form of the Medibank levy or subscriptions to the other funds. These things are just part of the story. It is our jobindeed it is our duty- to point out these facts. We want a change of policy to our alternative Budget strategy- the lowering of indirect taxes, the stimulation of spending where there are unemployed men and women and other resources, a more realistic wages policy. I refer to the things I have been talking about for months and which were expanded in a package put forward last week by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam).
Regrettably, in the rest of my contribution is this debate, I have time only to talk about one area, the slashing of Government expenditure. The cuts in Government spending have been quite unnecessary. Their purpose has been political in nature, not economic. Their magnitude in the current Budget being debated in this House is as much as 8 per cent overall. Almost without exception the spending cuts have had no economic justification. They have caused hardship and have added to unemployment. Spending cuts have had these disastrous effects: Firstly, there is the direct adverse effect on unemployment in the public sector. People who would otherwise be employed by the Government are now unemployed because of the false ideology of our political opponents. These people could be and should be gainfully employed in the public sector. If they were allowed to be active their efforts would add to the gross national product of our nation and to the standard of living of all of us. Their not being employed in many instances adds to social costs ant? hus to inflation. Postponed road improvements, less efficient railways, holdups in Customs, and so on, are all social costs which add to the burden of inflation as well as to the burden of unemployment. I visited the Treasurer’s electorate of Flinders yesterday. There the rate of unemployment is very bad indeed and the cuts in transport and sewerage works are disastrous.
The second adverse effect of the cuts of Government spending is in the private sector. I refer to the employment and efficiency of private firms and other units in the private sector. Much of the Government’s spending is inevitably carried out by companies, partnerships and individuals in the private sector. They rely on the Government for their contracts. Therefore many of them are suffering unnecessary hardship because these contracts have dried up. The Government is not spending so people have no work. Every alive politician in this chamber and in the Parliament must have examples in his district where this situation applies.
Let me give but one example in my electorate of Adelaide. Bradford Kendall Ltd relies for 80 per cent to 90 per cent of its production on railway rolling stock work. Because of the national Government’s- that is the Fraser Government’sharsh economic policies that company’s orders are drying up fast. Employment at Bradford Kendall in the Kilburn suburb in my electorate has been reduced from 220 to 100 in the past 6 months. This is not as a result of anything which happened during the Australian Labor Party’s term in office. It is due directly to stupid Liberal Party and National Country Party policies. Moulders are unemployed. Pattern makers are unemployed. Storemen are unemployed. Some of these family men with homes, wives and children to keep, have been employed at Bradford Kendall for up to 25 years. They have relied on government contracts. In certain cases these are State government contracts, but does anyone suggest that the State governments are not carrying out what the present Liberal-National Country Party Government wants?
The Prime Minister and the Treasurer sought to score political points by drawing attention to the fact that even Labor governed States have fallen into line and are dancing to the economic tune of the national Government. So the results of that economic tune, the adverse effects of the disastrously wrong economic policies, can be placed fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the conservative national Government. When the New South Wales Government fails to place an expected contract for railway rolling stock with Bradford Kendall Ltd in Adelaide, it is because the New South Wales Government is carrying out the economic policies of the national Government. The New South Wales Government is being kept short of funds, stupidly, by the national Government. Its loan works program is not what it would want that program to be. But this is being forced on it by the present national Government, politicians in the national Parliament and their conservative advisers outside the Parliament.
I point out again what was said by implication earlier. When railway rolling stock is not made by a company which has the capacity to do so, the tragedy for Australia is not only the effect on the lives of those Australians who were employed by that firm and who are now unemployed; the railway system of this country is impaired. It is not as efficient as it would otherwise be. This adds to costs. It adds to inflation. The Treasurer should ask people in his electorate, as I indicated earlier, particularly in Frankston and Mount Eliza, what they think of their railway system. We could call it the public squalor of Flinders.
I must make another point before leaving the subject of the disastrous effects these unnecessary cuts in Government spending are having on public spending. The point is this: One or two Liberal Party politicians in this chamber have sought to try to place some blame on the State governments for not doing all that they could do to create employment because those State governments have run small surpluses in their published budgets. This is either the height of ignorance or the height of cynicism. These Liberal politicians do not do their own credibility or their own honesty any good when they make these points. State governments are not like Federal governments. They cannot indulge in deficit spending over long periods. They are bound to seek to balance their budgets each year, prudently, they should be showing a surplus at this time of the year so that there are funds in reserve for those unexpected eventualities when unexpected situations arise during the financial year.
The third disastrous effect of the cuts in government spending has been on the psychology of the people. With other policies the Government has adversely affected that psychology. Australian people are feeling uncertain and timid about the future. Instead of spending they are squirrelling away their incomes when they are fortunate to have incomes which are not being used for sustenance. They are placing their incomes in savings and other deposits. We must unlock those savings. Whether we like it nor not, we are living in a system which requires consumer confidence and which requires people to spend steadily if there is to be a demand for goods necessary for business investment which itself is absolutely essential if unemployment is to be reduced. All this slashing of spending, all this talk of belt tightening, the talk of no soft options and the failure to give the Australian people the feeling that the Government wants to reduce unemployment, that it is dinkum about it, have led to the timidity and the uncertainty which is found in the minds of the Australian people. All this leads to that squirrelling away of incomes in savings accounts. I assert that it is unemployment and not so much inflation which is the great cause of that uncertainty. I assert with confidence that this Liberal-National Country Party Government’s policies have heightened this uncertainty.
It is no good the Treasurer saying: ‘Ah, but my budget has not yet had time to work ‘. His Budget has merely been a continuation of the wrong policies inflicted on the Australian people since the Fraser Government took over. His Budget has had an adverse psychological effect. Also, I make it clear that to advocate a recovery policy, as Labor does and will continue to do, is not to abandon the fight against inflation. We have these twin problems of inflation and unemployment. They must be tackled together. Labor’s modest proposals tackle both problems together. Indeed, recovery will help in the fight against inflation. This point is brought out succinctly in the Australian and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd report on Survey of Business Indicators which states:
The irony is that strong economic recovery, with its attendant productivity lift, would be a potent force reducing cost pressures- particularly when allied with a sound working relationship between management and unions- as highlighted in the improved performance recently achieved by Japan, Germany and the United States of America.
There is no joy in rushing to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and
International Monetary Fund meetings for succour and support as the Treasurer has done recently in order to find support for his policy. The Treasurer is falsely using quotations of others in seeking to give his policies support. The countries he cites are higher up on the recovery ladder than is Australia. They have already used the policies Labor advocates to get higher up that ladder. It is urgent that we have a mini-budget adopting the policies which Labor has been advocating for some months in the present economic circumstances. The Treasurer has admitted in the Financial Times speech that his policies have led to a pause in that recovery. We accept that recovery eventually must come in this country. All this Government has done by its policies in the past 10 months has been to postpone that recovery. I trust that we will have policy measures to improve the economic performance of this country. I trust that we will have a minibudget in the new year. The Treasurer must change his policies. He has admitted that those policies are wrong.
– This debate, supported by the Opposition’s 2 shadow treasurers- if I may say so, the Bib and Bub of the Opposition’s economic portfoliois a further reflection of the Opposition’s inability to come forward with a workable economic policy. Despite what the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) has said, the Opposition has spent the best part of a year pursuing a totally negative and destructive campaign which has been designed to talk the economy down. Incidentally, Mr Deputy Speaker, the so-called 5-point economic plan put forward by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) last week cannot disguise the fact that the Australian Labor Party is not prepared to adopt a responsible attitude towards the solution of this country’s economic difficulties. I shall quickly outline some of the more irresponsible statements made by the honourable member for Adelaide as nominal spokesman for the Opposition on economic matters. Earlier this year, on 1 1 February, he issued a statement about Australian savings bonds which stated:
It constituted the start of a vicious credit squeeze.
As the honourable member knows that never eventuated. I could have told him that at the time had there been an opportunity for discussion. That kind of statement can only give rise to concern and uncertainty. On 3 August the honourable member for Adelaide stated:
The Government is, in fact, dismantling manpower programs.
The fact is that the Government has greatly improved such programs. I instance the new relocation assistance scheme, improvements to the National Employment and Training scheme and the inquiry into secondary education and training. On 1 7 August the honourable member said:
The new federalism means that the States will be starved.
Far from being starved, the States have been prepared to get behind the Federal Budget and to reduce taxes and charges in line with the Government’s overall anti-inflation strategy. It was the Labor Premier of New South Wales who said that whatever reservations he may have had about the Federal Budget he was prepared to back it for the good of Australia. It is a matter of great regret that the Opposition in this Parliament is not prepared to talk in like terms. Consistent with its performance in government, the Opposition is completely divided on economic matters. Its proposals are vague and imprecise, contradictory and confused. It is impossible from day to day to know whether the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), the honourable member for Adelaide or the Leader of the Opposition is speaking on behalf of the Australian Labor Party.
-Or Mr Hawke.
– Or, as my colleague reminds me, Mr Hawke, a gentleman whose comments ought to be and will be recorded in the course of this debate. We know that the honourable member for Oxley puts together and distributes questions for members of the Labor Party to ask during question time. I am not sure whether he gives them to his colleague who is the nominal shadow Treasurer. It is hardly surprising that the Labor Party in its wisdom has decided to have 2 Treasurers should it return to government. Apparently there will be one Treasurer for short term economic management and another Treasurer for long term planning. I can imagine that Mr Whitlam cannot determine between the two. Apparently we are to have a Treasurer for the week and a Treasurer for the month and that would be par for the course for the Labor Party whether in government or in Opposition.
One of the major defects of the Labor Party was its complete incapacity to work as a team in formulating and implementing economic policy. The past few months have shown that the Labor Party has not changed its ways. Let me put that on record so that the public will know just where the Labor Party stands. The honourable member for Adelaide has said that the Labor Party would abolish the investment allowance and some of the other subsidies that have been given to business. The honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) has said that a future Labor government would consider introducing a tax on windfall profits. The honourable member for Oxley is reported on 7 September as having said that Labor’s policy is to provide between $500m and $600m to State and local governments for various expenditure programs. Each of these proposals has been put forward as a policy statement on behalf of the Opposition. It is curious that none of them was included in the Leader of the Opposition’s so-called 5-point economic plan.
Let me turn now to the speech given by the Leader of the Opposition last week. The Labor Party’s new 5-point plan without any doubt would bring about a sharp increase in inflation and lead consequently to further unemployment. This House always needs reminding that the Labor Party is the party of the unemployed. It produced the present situation and this Government is setting out to resolve it. In the first place, the Opposition’s plan rests on full wage indexation for the majority of wage and salary earners. This factor alone, and one does not need to be tedious about its application in the Australian community, would prevent any decline in the rate of inflation during the present financial year. Secondly, the plan involves, and I quote from the Leader of the Opposition’s speech, ‘a net addition of around $500m in government outlays’. Not only does the Leader of the Opposition apparently now advocate the addition of $500m to the deficit by way of spending but also he has planned some very expensive concessions on the receipts side of the Budget. A per cent cut in sales tax covering, as the Leader of the Opposition said, ‘a wide range though not the entire range of schedules’, would cost several hundreds of millions of dollars. A reduction in the rate of company tax of even a minimal 2’/4 per cent would cost about $170m. More generous income tax rebates and a reduced health levy would again involve some hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. In short, the Leader of the Opposition apparently is calling for well over $500m worth of reduced receipts and a consequent addition to the deficit of over SI billion.
Part of the plan is direct control over incomes and prices. As to the income part of the plan I could hardly do more than quote from the Melbourne Age of 1 6 October where it said:
Mr Hawke is also quoted in the same Age article as saying that he understood that the Australian Labor Party had not discussed the issue. One can only ask who is it who determines economic policy on behalf of the Opposition. Is it the Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Adelaide, the honourable member for Oxley, the Australian Labor Party or the gentleman who presently leads the Australian Council of Trade Unions? Even in Opposition the Leader of the Opposition cannot generate the support he desperately seeks. He continues to lead a house divided unto itself.
Given the fundamental imbalance between profits and wages at the present time, any proposal to combat inflation by price control amounts to nothing less than economic madness. The monetary implications of the huge increase in the deficit that is proposed are frightening. That is a subject about which this Opposition is completely confused. After all, the honourable member for Adelaide endorsed the Government’s monetary strategy when he said that Labor’s policy would ‘allow the money supply to grow at a rate sufficient to accommodate a recovery in economic growth and a declining rate of price increases’. He went on to claim that if the deficit was ‘funded by the issue of government debt the money supply need not increase’ and added that ‘such borrowing may require an increase in the rate of interest on government securities ‘. However, that was said some time ago. More recently, according to yesterday’s Age,- the honourable member for Adelaide apparently has completely changed his mind. He is reported as having said:
Labor’s alternative strategy was to increase public spending, introduce a wages and incomes policy and a monetary policy aimed at reducing interest rates.
The fact is that the Opposition cannot have it both ways. The Whitlam 5-point economic plan would lead either to a massive credit squeeze or to a highly inflationary increase in the rate of monetary growth. It is clear that the Opposition has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing from its time in government. The fact that this discredited policy has been dressed up in a new form of gimmickry under a 5-point plan cannot disguise its outdated and unworkable basis. In short, the Leader of the Opposition has come forward with the same old discredited big spending, big deficit approach that was tried and found wanting in Australia in 1974 and 1975. Beyond that it must be said that it has been repudiated not only by the Australian electorate but also by every international meeting of finance Ministers during 1976.
This Government rejects the claim that its policies have caused an unnecessary postponement of economic recovery. The economic strategy being pursued is, on the contrary, a necessary precondition for economic recovery. As a result of the Government’s economic policies the Australian community can look forward to a resumption of real economic growth and a decline in the level of inflation. More precisely, it is expected that the gross non-farm product will grow by about 4 per cent in 1976-77 as a whole and that the rate of inflation will be less than 10 per cent at the end of the financial year. As I have repeatedly emphasised, the rate of recovery will be slow and gradual. Not every indicator can be expected to move ahead at the same time and at the same pace, nor can a resumption of economic growth be expected to take place in a steady step-by-step process through each quarter. The pace at which recovery takes place in Australia will be determined in large measure by the rate at which inflation is brought down and that will in turn rest importantly on the extent to which wage and salary increases can be restrained.
I emphasise also that many of the indicators are encouraging even though they are necessarily mixed at the present time. Let me illustrate that point. Gross domestic product at constant prices and seasonally adjusted rose by 3.4 per cent in the half-year to June after a fall of 1 .4 per cent in the December half-year, and consolidated in the June quarter. Company profits increased by 1 8.9 per cent in the half-year to June after a small decline in the previous half-year. The profit share of companies was 13.5 per cent in the 6 months to June compared with a low of 1 1.8 per cent recorded under the previous administration. The savings ratio declined from 16.2 per cent in the first half of 1975-76 to 14.3 per cent in the half year to June. Exports continued to grow at record rates. Housing lending has been buoyant. I direct the honourable gentleman’s attention to the latest statement on housing finance for owner occupation released on 1 9 October. Business confidence is reflected in decisions since the Government came into office to undertake major investment proposals amounting to almost $7 billion.
Nevertheless, as I said last week in a speech in Sydney, the Government has not sought to hide the facts. The unemployment market has been sluggish, retail sales have been relatively flat and there continues to be an uneven pattern reflected in indices on industrial production. These things do not mean that economic recovery is not taking place. They mean simply that recovery will be an uneven process in the early stages. The important point is that Government policies are directed towards recovery. This is well endorsed by current international thinking.
The recent annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank group demonstrated that the Australian Government is on the right track and gave very strong support to the approach that has been taken in this year’s Budget. There is now widespread agreement that control of inflation is the fundamental prerequisite for sustained economic recovery and progressive growth in employment. It is also accepted that a continuing reduction in the inflation rate can only be achieved by the application of an adherence to restraining fiscal and monetary policies. In short, the views expressed at the IMF and World Bank meetings have strengthened the consensus that emerged at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ministerial council meeting earlier this year. They reflect just how much out of step the Australian Labor Party is with world opinion. There are a number of quotations that can be taken from both the OECD and the IMF meetings which give very clear endorsement of that view.
Finally, the honourable gentleman referred to the electorate of Flinders. I wish he would go there more often. He is always worth 10 000 votes to me when he does. His homework on the electorate is consistent with his homework on the national economy. The honourable gentleman might be very surprised to know that unemployment in my electorate at the present time is significantly less than it was at the same time when the honourable gentleman and his colleagues were in government. The present Government, for its part, completely rejects the motion before the Chair.
-In response to an observation or two made by the Treasurer (Mr Lynch), I can assure him that whoever might influence the formulation of economic policy in the Opposition, it is neither Billy Wentworth, Billy McMahon nor Kevin Cairns. I am sure that the Treasurer wishes he could say the same so far as the formulation of Government economic policy is concerned. Indeed, confronted with the formidable presence of such people, who at least understand what they are talking about in respect of economic policies, I am assured by reliable sources that the Treasurer wishes he better understood the sorts of things he faithfully, if with a want of understanding, reproduces from the Treasury from time to time.
The Treasurer is determined to win the fight against inflation with slogans. He is determined to refloat the economy by inflating his rhetoric. He is also equally concerned to travel abroad as much as he can in the hope that when he returns one day all the problems that are amassing in front of him will go away. He is the natural heir to the economic principles of the 1930s- Australia’s Herbert Hoover of the 1970s. In an address to the Financial Times Conference on 1 3 October the Treasurer generally larded his comments with selective favourable statistics for the first half of this calendar year. Then he comes clean at page 7 of his speech, as was pointed out by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). The Treasurer stated:
Clearly, for a variety of reasons, including the slow-down in the rate of public expenditure, economic performance overall during the September quarter has been somewhat weaker than in the June quarter.
He could have come cleaner still and confessed that there is a tougher year ahead of the Australian community, a much tougher year financially, and that in fact by giving aggregate figures for the last half of last financial year recently concluded- that is to June- he in fact hid a decline in economic performance in the community. For instance, he could have quoted the Australian and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd index on factory production which showed that factory production was increasing and reached a peak in March of this year and that since then there has been a succession of declines in output. He could have quoted motor vehicle registration figures which tumbled 14.5 per cent in July and then 9 per cent in August. This is evidence of the decline that has set in in the economy, following the policies that the Government has implemented. The Budget is only the latest of a succession of economic policies which the Government commenced initiating soon after assuming office towards the end of last year.
He could have quoted the statistics on production from the Bureau of Statistics for August this year. Five of the nine statistics quoted were down, while eight of the same nine increased in August of 1975. He could have quoted the July job vacancies, again from the Bureau of Statistics which is a far more reliable indicator. These vacancies were 27 per cent down on the same month for the previous year. The statistics from the Bureau of Statistics indicate that the figure for August seasonally adjusted unemployment was 294 500 compared with 274 000 for the same month of last year. Therefore the position has deteriorated considerably. He could have indicated the situation in relation to total civilian unemployment. The latest figures provided by the Bureau of Statistics indicate that in June there were 4 719 000 people in the work force compared with 4 753 000 for June of last year. Not only has the unemployment position worsened but also the number of people in the work force has actually declined. So the deterioration is not simply a matter of increasing numbers in the work force; it is a matter of erosion in economic activity. This has come about following the sorts of policies that the Government has been pursuing since it came to office.
The Treasurer is keen to quote figures for real growth in the economy for the first half of 1976, but he could as the honourable member for Adelaide did, have disaggregated them on a quarterly basis and indicated to the Australian community that in the first quarter there was a real rate of growth of 3.6 per cent following the momentum built into the economy subsequent to the economic policies initiated last year. He could then have indicated that for the second quarter, following the policies initiated by his Government, the rate of growth had slumped to 0.6 per cent. He could have indicated for instance, retail sales for July, which increased by 0.6 per cent at a time when inflation has increased by at least one per cent in that month. In other words, retail sales are declining. The fact is that the momentum in the early part of the first half of this calendar year followed steps which the Labor Government initiated towards the last half of 1975. The sort of momentum that we have been responsible for has been snuffed out by a combination of altogether too severe fiscal and monetary measures which the Government has introduced. It is clear from the Budget statements of the Treasurer that the Government intends to lower the rate of economic growth, that it intends higher unemployment, that it is aiming to bring about a situation of prolonging economic stagnation, which as a simple interpretation means tough times for business and the community generally over the 12 months ahead. For instance, Budget Statement No. 2 shows that on an annualised basis output for the second half of the last financial year increased by 6 per cent but output for the full financial year that we are currently in is projected to increase by only 4 per cent. That is a substantial winding down in economic activity on the part of the Government.
The economic strategy signalled in the Budget warns that there is going to be more of the same bitter medicine to come for the Australian community. The Government strategy has been too severe on public expenditure. For instance, capital expenditure is to increase by less than 6 per cent this year when costs are expected to increase by at least 12 per cent in real terms. That means a substantial reduction, a reduction of something like 6 per cent in capital expenditure in the economy. This will affect quite adversely the construction industry in its many aspects. The Government’s economic strategy is too severe on the States and the States, like the Australian Government, are an important source of expenditure in the economy, and public expenditure is as important as private expenditure in a healthy economy. In an economy that is severely underemployed, as ours is at present public expenditure is even more important than private expenditure because public expenditure gives the momentum to the overall level of activity in the economy and maintains the level of existing activity in the private sector.
Cut back severely public sector spending and one cuts back overall economic activity and worst of all one sets back the private sector of the economy. That is what the Government is doing. That is what the Government is responsible for when it cuts back severely, as it has, allocations to the States. For instance, last year we increased allocations to the States by more than 32 per cent; this year, at a time when inflation is expected to equal about 12 per cent, allocations have increased by only about 9 per cent. Loan Council allocations last year increased by 16 per cent; this year by about 5 per cent. This has a substantial contractionary effect on the level of activity in the economy. I repeat, with the greatest emphasis I can muster, that the private sector is the sector which will be most severely set back because of this. When the governmentsFederal, State and local government- spend public money, for instance, for sewerage works or to buy railway wagons or to construct roads, they immediately inject into the economy a widespread level of demand. That demand very largely is being met by the private sector. The people who fabricate equipment need the money for sewerage works, the engineering works that manufacture railway rolling stock, the people who supply the necessary goods and services and commodities require it to build roads and most of all, the people need it to do those sorts of jobs to increase employment in the work force.
This economic strategy is too severe on consumersan increase in taxes of 24 per cent this year indicates alone a substantial reduction in consumer spending. The Medibank tax in a full year will reduce consumer spending by $800m. That is the equivalent of 160 000 $5,000 cars, 1 600 000 $500 refrigerators, 26 000 $30,000 homes. That is a dramatic reduction in the capacity of people to spend in the course of this year. This economic strategy for which the
Treasurer is responsible is unwise, will lead this country into disaster and must be reversed at the first opportunity early in the new year.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) and the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden)- as my colleague said, those 2 great rivals for the mantle of Opposition Treasury spokesman- feel obliged to say their own thing notwithstanding that that gets them involved in contradicting each other, and indeed in contradicting themselves. Nothing that they have said in support of this matter of public importance changes my original rejoinder when I saw the terms of it. My rejoinder is: It is the Opposition that would postpone recovery not just for a quarter- we heard a lot about the September quarter from the honourable member for Oxley just a moment ago, he had a selective look at statistics relating to that quarter- the Opposition would postpone economic recovery not just for a quarter or for 6 months, but for years. That is the point that I should like to get over in the short time at my disposal.
It is true we are going through a difficult transition period, a tough period the Opposition chooses to call it. But that is necessary to set the foundation for lasting recovery. The honourable member for Adelaide had a good deal to say about the control of inflation versus reducing unemployment as priorities. That entirely misses the point. We focus on inflation because inflation is the principal cause of unemployment and is the whole drag on economic recovery. So to restore full employment and growth in the economy, which it our overriding aim, we have to get inflation under control. That is the setting against which we have to look at what the Opposition has put forward. It has been put forward by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) last week, with the honourable member for Adelaide agreeing at least to this extent, that there has to be a sizeable increase in public spending.
– Knock ofl” a few more notes.
– I shall come back to what my colleague the honourable member for Wakefield said about printing notes. There can be a difference of opinion as to whether the total of Government spending should be precisely at the level set in the Budget or, say, of the order of $100m to $200m more. There is a flexibility inevitably in our program. We recently announced additional spending in relation to Aborigines and increases in the Tertiary Education Allowances Scheme. With that flexibility there needs to be scope for additional spending of the order to which I referred. But beyond that, higher Government spending is not on, if resolutely we are to get on top of inflation. And this Government intends to do that.
The overall deficit now, through its impact on money supply, is pushing towards the limit of what is practicable in the context of a responsible counter-inflationary monetary management. Push it any further, with the resultant deficit, and the easing of interest rates- the honourable member for Adelaide pressed for this in a different context, contradicting himself, as I said- - would be impossible. I want to underline that conflict not just as a debating point vis-a-vis the honourable member for Adelaide. It is quite fundamental. The truth has to dawn on the Opposition that while it is easy to print money- this is my reference to the comment of my colleagueone cannot print jobs. That is the essence of it. We have to balance what can be done in the fiscal area- Government spending and taxation- - with what can be done in the monetary area. If we push ahead with $500m or more of extra Government spending and on top of that cut sales tax, reduce company tax and personal tax, as was suggested by the Leader of the Opposition the other day and again by speakers here today, we are talking of such an increase in the deficit and potentially the money supply that an upward hike in interest rates in order to try to limit its inflationary effects would be unavoidable. As a recent issue of the Economist has put it, if one goes for fiscal ease- that is the big spendup and an excessive deficit- the monetary squeeze has to be all that much bigger and tougher. True, many countries are running some son of a deficit at the moment. But referring to a survey of 7 major countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development the Economist notes:
The two with the biggest deficits as a percentage of gnpItaly 10 percent, Britain 5% percent -
– How are they getting on?
-How are they getting on? I return to the quotation. The Economist report continues: are experiencing the biggest inflations, and so are having to impose the biggest degrees of monetary stringency . . . and therefore face the biggest eventual recessions.
That is the point. Who is postponing economic recovery? The program that the Australian
Labor Party is proposing is precisely the program that the Economist says causes countries to face the biggest eventual recessions.
– The Opposition wants us to follow Britain down the road to ruin.
-Indeed, and this Government is not going to let that happen. The article in the Economist concludes with words to the effect that a country that wants to control inflation while limiting unemployment, which is what we want to do, would do better balancing its Budget with conservative fiscal policies while making money cheaper for investment, rather than the other way round. That is what we are doing. It is inevitable that inflation must be decisively beaten and be seen to be beaten before interest rates can be significantly reduced and thus speed up the investment revival, among other things, which is the essential basis for sustained recovery and economic growth. We are moving in that direction. Let me take this opportunity to stress to the Australian people that the recent change in the interest rate on Australian savings bonds from 9.2 per cent to 9.5 per cent was not a general increase in interest rates but an adjustment of that rate back to the situation which prevailed before the period of monetary tightness. Up to April the rate was 9.5 per cent; in April it was reduced to 9.2 per cent to avoid taking in too much money during the period of financial stringency. It has now reverted to that level of 9.5 per cent. It is the Government’s objective, as and when inflation is beaten, to get it down below that figure.
The other major point which has been put forward by the Opposition and on which I will conclude is that there should be ‘full’ wage indexation, so-called. Of course, it is difficult to disagree with the proposition that employees ought to be able to hold on to what they have. But I ask: What about the unemployed?
– Who speaks for them?
– Who speaks for them? In 1974-75 there was an increase in real wages of the order of 12 per cent- two or three year’s progress rolled into one, as Mr Bob Hawke himself put it. But the cost has been 300 000 unemployed. The Government therefore argues that we have to take hold of this process of wages chasing prices and get inflation under control with a view to getting unemployment down and fostering economic recovery. I believe that the vast majority of the Australian people recognise the futility of that process of wages chasing prices and support us in our endeavour.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The discussion is concluded.
APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 1) 1976-77 In Committee
Consideration resumed from 14 October.
Department of Science
Proposed expenditure, $ 1 67,694,000.
-The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) recently announced that there would be an overhaul of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. He sugar-coated the pill with a number of compliments, but it would appear from the terms of reference and from the composition of the committee of inquiry, with the exception of Professor Birch, that it is more of a keelhauling process than a mere overhauling. In point of fact, it is an examination from top to bottom of the functions of the CSIRO. While Professor Birch is a man of undoubted eminence and ability to chair such a committee, when it comes to the question of the huge and broad problems of scientific administration and policy the 2 men associated with him, whatever their eminence in their respective fields, rather remind me of Oscar Wilde’s definition of fox huntingthe unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.
More seriously, there are very serious problems associated with science and the approach which must be made to it. The Chairman of the CSIRO, Sir Robert Price, has put the best gloss that he can on things with his recent statement that changes which had taken place in the 1970s had made the organisation even more aware of the need for more effective external relations with official bodies and community groups, particularly industry, departments of State, universities and the Australian Science and Technology Council. He might have added to that a little more tolerance for the approach made last year and the actions taken last year by the former Government in respect of coal hydrogenation and general questions of petroleum research. The problems are undoubtedly manifold, and I would be the last, and churlish indeed, to deny that the CSIRO has great achievements to its credit, graduating from the requirements of primary industry into other fields, and with considerable distinction, but with a certain professional reservation which can best be described in the words of the report of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration, in which the Chairman said:
This distrust of the bureaucracy by scientists is traditional and pervading. Basically it seems to derive from a fear that non-science’ values will override the scientist’s ethos, thereby emasculating the creativity of science work and rendering the scientist schizoid, alienated and uncreative.
The Coombs report goes on further:
Throughout the evidence before us -
That is the Royal Commission- and the studies we have sponsored these themes recur with fugue-like repetition and diversity.
That is correct. There are many problems in relation to science and they take various forms. Of those, the most important is some line of demarcation between the necessary abstract seclusion to which a scientist may be entitled in certain parts of his work and its very definite economic relationship. I can well understand the real motivation behind the proposed keelhauling. It is nothing more or less than this: Treasury wants better value for money than it is getting. It may be entitled to have that, but by the same token a better balance must be struck than has hitherto operated between pure science and applied science, or technology, as it is better known.
The problems as I see them are these: First, there is scientific integrity, or what might be called the ivory tower complex. Next there is the other extreme, which is obviously the motivation behind the present Government’s terms of reference to the committee, that is, financial accountability, with the dessicated calculating machines of the Treasury wanting to know just how much they will get and how quickly they can get it. Then there is the other professional problem of progression in rank, and here one cuts across the inhibitions of the Public Service Board. Next are the general questions, and regrettably former occupants of the Science portfolio have not exercised their powers of direction. As the Opposition sees the picture, the powers of direction and some definition of the relative urgency of scientific research are very urgently needed in Australia. I will say more about that later, in the limited time that I have available. The use of those objectives, or the results of research associated with them, in matters of applied technology is something that certainly needs the closest examination.
In relation to research and development grants, debates in recent years will reveal that it has been a matter of distributing largesse to those least entitled to it. Some of the biggest firms in Australia, those least in need of having their research expenditure supplemented, have been among the greatest recipients of government aid. Again, there is a very wide field of associated interests, such as defence scientific research, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Bureau of Mineral Resources. Here we come to one of the tragedies of science in Australia. I have had the comment made to me repeatedly by representatives of overseas interests that they were astounded at the ready availability of information on Australia’s more valuable resources. In other countries, this information would be classified. In Australia, it has been given away in the most foolish possible way.
Finally, I mention another problem, that is, the future role of the Australian Science and Technology Council. Yet another is of equal importance. I refer to the extent to which the multi-national overseas companies are already in control. They just gravitate automatically to the high technology areas where they can extract the maximum profit with the minimum of labour content. I broadly favour the terms of the recommendations contained in the Coombs Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration. Page 321 of the report gives a virtual charter for the future of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. The Organisation ought to exist. There ought to be a Minister in charge of science. There must be a Minister in charge of science and a Minister with powers of direction. The remedies are contained in the report. I think they are very good remedies and the Royal Commission ought to be congratulated on them. There needs to be some break up of many of the functions of CSIRO. There are other valuable functions that it will continue to discharge. But there is a need for a co-ordinating committee, which the report recommends, composed of representatives from the various deparments which have scientific interests. At the present time, ASTEC is the only controlling device that exists. The Coombs Royal Commission report recommends as an alternative the possibility of the Prime Minister’s Department continuing to control science because of its universality and the ultimate returns that are available from it. In that event, there would need to be an assistant Minister. I think it would be best if there were a separate Minister. The alternatives are adequately posed in the terms of the report.
As to some of the priorities that are urgently needed, a very obvious one for a country with an import bill of $700m a year for liquid hydrocarbons is obviously coal hydrogenation. Good work has been done by CSIRO into one technology, the flash pyrolysis of coal. I do not think it is the one that will be economically most effective.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) -Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In our discussion of the estimates for the Department of Science, I wish to talk about the satellite program that is envisaged. The Government has indicated its support to Japan for a Japanese geostationary meteorological satellite which will be launched in 1977. This represents a significant harnessing of scientific development for man’s good. Australia is taking part in an international atmospheric research program. It will be linked directly to the first global experiment of the Global Atmospheric Research Program called GARP This is a very important and significant scientific development. As I have said, we are harnessing science for man’s good. We are taking advantage of new ways to solve problems in the world. The Space Projects Branch of the Department of Science has received an allocation for a control station which will be located in the Australian Capital Territory. It will be one of 3 control stations that keep this geostat satellite in the atmosphere. A receiving station will be built in Melbourne at the Bureau of Meteorology to receive this information. It will be important information for the tracking of cyclones- finding out where they are coming from and when they may form. We will be taking advantage of information made available as part of the information explosion in the world today.
The major powers have international satellites whizzing around the world. Doubtless, there are spy satellites. Others may know more about us in Australia than we know about ourselves. We have to think about this seriously. This meteorological program is a first step. It shows that satellite information can be used for the acquisition of knowledge for the good of man. Satellite information, as part of the information explosion, can be used in other areas apart from weather. It can be used to search for resources, to gain knowledge of resources and to gain information about crops -one’s own crops and the crops of others. I suppose that it is perfectly feasible, with all the satellite information in the world, for someone to sit down and analyse what is happening in relation to the world wheat harvests and to predict whether there will be feast or famine, to predict what will happen to prices and to take action. These are the sorts of things that can be used for good. These matters are very important when we consider that there has been an explosion in relation to the knowledge of the world environment. There is more awareness of the world environment today. The satellite program is important in increasing that knowledge.
As I have said, this particular satellite can and will be used for weather forecasting. But there are other developments in which I hope Australia will participate in the satellite area. I personally hope that Australia can participate in what is known as the Landsat program. The Landsat program is a satellite program of NASA- the National Aeronautics and Space Administration- in which foreign countries have been invited to participate. I think that 2 satellites have been launched already under the program and another is planned to be launched. They continually scan the earth and provide data on the resources and the environment. Information provided from the photographs taken can, in fact, provide resource evaluation and management information to enable disaster assessment, and perhaps mitigation to take place, and the production of maps. Other fields that can benefit from the technology of the NASA Landsat program are agriculture, which I have mentioned already, geology, hydrology and general land use.
The Commonwealth Government has taken advice from every State government in Australia on the Landsat program. There is very great interest in it throughout the land both from an agricultural sense and a general planning sense. The Australian Science and Technology Council which the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor) referred to a few moments ago is currently looking at this information and preparing a report for the Government. It is my hope that that report will be favourable and that then the Government can act. I see both this meteorological satellite program and the Landsat satellite program as just the start of where we are going in the use of satellite information. For defence purposes we must know at least as much about ourselves as others do. Perhaps we need to know as much about some others as they know themselves. At least, we need to know as much about others as third parties know about them. Knowledge gained from satellites has an important defence significance and can influence foreign policy. The implications of this information explosion are enormous. In fact, they can be quite frightening, it is my hope that the Government’s White Paper on defence will in part refer to the place satellites and satellite information have in the defence of this country.
In the time remaining to me I would like to refer to another aspect of the Department of Science, namely, the Antarctic, because the Department of Science has general responsibility in this area. With the Law of the Sea Conference continuing and with the possibility of a 200-mile economic zone, this has significance not only for the territorial continent of Australia but also for the territories in the Antarctic. There are many resources there. I do not wish to talk about the mineral resources but I shall briefly mention some of the marine resources, particularly a marine organism which is an important source of protein called ‘krill’. I understand that currently the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Japan have developed techniques for harvesting and processing this product commercially. In fact krill paste can be bought in Moscow at the present time. With the potential of the economic zone and with the Law of the Sea Conference influencing European fishing nations, it is pushing some of those nations towards the Antarctic and towards our territories there. This raises a question that we will have to face in the future. I understand, and I trust I am correct, that in fact the British and Norwegians are fishing for krill in the Antarctic at the present time. The USSR certainly has large fishing fleets there.
I think it is interesting to look at what is happening in the Antarctic. It is not generally recognised that the Russians have 4 bases there, three of which are recognised as being on Australian Antarctic territory. Those bases are Mirnyy, Vostok and Molodezhnaya. It is also interesting to note that those bases on our territory are in fact supplied by the Soviet Union by way of Africa. I understand that initially the planes, that the Soviet Union used- it has planes regularly coming and going from the area- would have flown through South Africa but probably today they fly through Mozambique. I think that in this country we should be well aware of the co-operation that is taking place in the Antarctic. We should also consider what our posture must be in relation to the exploitation of all resources there, both marine and mineral.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) -Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The reference I made to air pollution under the estimates for the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development, leads me to refer to the same matter under these estimates for the Department of Science. Honourable members who have examined the departmental estimates will see, for example, that the appropriation for the Australian Baseline Air Monitoring Station is some $90,000. Those who take the trouble to look at the 1975-76 28th annual report of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation will have read with interest the comments on atmospheric pollution contained on page 42 of the report. The report comments:
Research by several CSIRO Divisions is helping to provide the chemical insight needed by industry and pollution control authorities to improve their assessment of particular problems and to develop more effective control strategies.
The report goes on:
Increasing industrialization threatens the existing chemical composition of the atmosphere. The recent growth in the burning of fossil fuels is releasing chemical substances in quantities which may corrode building stones, stunt development of vegetation, endanger health or even affect climate by scattering and absorbing radiation entering and leaving the earth.
Now that covers quite a wide field. Obviously a great deal of work is being done in methods of detection, about which the report speaks in some detail. The report refers to a mechanism which causes the formation of photochemical smog. In other words, there is considerable expenditure for the monitoring of air pollution and for the measurement of air pollution. I spoke previously of a case of some 14 years’ duration. Admittedly the industry involved was a valuable industry producing non-ferrous metals but it plagued the area in which it was situated with increasing air pollution. Local government was quite ineffective in handling the problem. State government action was quite ineffective. Yet despite all this expenditure on monitoring and experimental work, we find that the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) is reported as saying at page 1924 of the House of Representatives Hansard:
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 having 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.
The Minister further says:
The criticism of the poor old honourable member for Scullin was misdirected completely.
Well, ‘poor’ I may be, but I contest the use of the word ‘old’. I prefer ‘middle-aged’. But at least I am intelligent enough to know that the Minister is completely washing his hands of this particular matter. He could not care less. If we are to expend large amounts under these estimates on monitoring of air pollution, on further developing methods of detection and on developing methods of understanding the chemical and physical processes that go on with this pollution, considering that the other two levels of government have shown themselves quite unable to cope, surely the national government has a responsibility to take initiatives to prevent the shocking effects of this pollution. Otherwise what we will see is more and more expenditure on more and more monitoring, on more and more development of sophisticated detection techniques while the Australian population chokes to death on the aerial effluent.
We are in a fortunate position in this country. The problem has not developed as far as it has in some overseas countries. I mention the United States. Those who have seen the problems that exist there in the large industrial cities can sympathise with the action that must be taken. Yet understandably there the national government has taken initiatives in this matter, not only in the sense of developing some of the processes we have, but in other areas. I refer to Time magazine of October 1 976 which refers to some of the penalties that can be applied in this area. It refers to a $13. 2m fine to be paid by the Allied Chemical Corporation for discharge of waste. Admittedly in this case it was not discharged into the atmosphere but into a stream. So it is no use the national Government washing its hands of this matter. Surely when the other levels of government have shown themselves completely unable to cope with the matter we must show the initiative. It is my turn to burn the Minister because I do not think he can wipe off this problem of air pollution by saying that a particular case was referred to. That particular case is representative of many such cases. It is represented by the smog that one sees accumulating over the great cities in Australia. Honourable members will realise the nature of this problem which has increased in recent years.
I should now like to raise a query on a much quieter note. The honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor), in concluding his comments on the estimates for this Department, referred to the question of .the hydrocarbon fuels that are being imported and which play so large a part in our economic set up. I wonder whether we are paying sufficient scientific attention to the use of such fuels in various areas. If we use these fuels in the domestic area- I just take this area as an example- what measures are we taking to ensure that they are burnt efficiently and that the energy they produce is used for the purposes for which it should be used?
I was led to comment on this by a recent report of a project being carried out by the Centre for Environmental Studies at Princeton University. A unit from the Centre, working inside homes, has measured the efficiency of the use of fuels and electricity and showed that some simple processes are quite capable of increasing tremendously the efficient use of the energy delivered to households. Such things as insulation around furnaces can, for a very small outlay, prevent wastage of energy. I do not want to bore the Committee by going through all the various methods that have been demonstrated in the domestic circumstance, but I feel that there should be some investigation on this subject so that we are not wasting a material which is very expensive and a drain on our economy. That applies even to our own fossil fuels such as gas. If we use gas in the home we will get a greater energy benefit from it than if the same amount of gas is burnt in a power plant. Gas produces only one-third as much electrical energy when burnt in a power plant as it would if it was used naturally in the home. I offer these comments because of my concern at the expense to the community and the waste of available energy.
-I want to make some comments on the estimates for the Department of Science and take up some of the points brought forward by the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor), who has led for the Opposition in this debate. I was interested in his comments about the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and his reference to events that were made public when he was the Minister for Minerals and Energy in the Labor Government. He referred to the integrity of research scientists and their work and to what they obviously believed was political influence. Speaking generally, he made the comment that he detected a distrust of bureaucracy. I suggest to him that this distrust of bureaucracy should perhaps better be expressed as a distrust of political influence. I think that where socialists are in command of government there is a far greater intrusion of politics into scientific programs than in countries which are generally accepted by definition as democratic nations. I believe that if one takes the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as the classic illustration one will see enormous evidence of political influence in that nation. This is also evident in the People’s Republic of China and in similar countries. I believe that the reference by the honourable member to this matter stems from the fact that the leaders of the CSIRO took the view that the Labor Government was seeking to impose upon them certain restrictions and influences which they regarded as improper. I thought it was made clear to the interested public at that time that this was a resentment of political intrusion.
The honourable member for Cunningham also referred to nuclear policies and to the problems that Australia faces in future in relation to fuels for energy. He referred to the Bureau of Mineral Resources. He told the Committee that one of the things that impressed him at the time of becoming the Minister was the way in which overseas companies coming to Australia made it clear to him that they were very surprised that information which they believed should have been classified was made freely available to them. This may have been the case when he was the Minister but I suggest to him that until 1 972 no specialised information- geophysical, geological or other scientific information- provided for the Australian Department of National Resources or the Bureau of Mineral Resources by a particular company acting under a Permit to Explore a lease or a licence issued by the Commonwealth Government was revealed by the Bureau or the Minister unless the company had acknowledged that this was a reasonable proposition. The company was considered. I can remember a situation in the 1960s that involved the Western Australian Petroleum Company. Evidence was taken from the company at that time and certain complaints were considered which the company wanted to have discussed before information it had given to the Bureau a decade before was revealed. As it turned out, in the long run it was in Australia’s interests that people who were seeking to further programs of development should have available to them prior information even if it was a decade old and rather obsolete in order that they could consider their own programs. At that time this was done. But the fact remains that Australia has never taken confidential information from overseas companies in Australia and made it freely available without any question of confirmation from the company that provided the information, without ministerial consent or without the company agreeing to this being done. Naturally enough, the National Mapping Council and organisations which provide general facilities provide them for all who operate within the country. To the best of my knowledge, since my association with these organisations for the last 25 years or so, this has been the case.
I will make a few comments on the references to nuclear energy. Some of the words of the previous speaker, the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) are germane to this. I believe that in debating the estimates of the Department of Science we should say something about the appalling effect in the community of the gross misrepresentation at the present time, and the guessing about the future effect of nuclear energy on the environment. I am firmly convinced that when the 170 nuclear stations which are being built around the world today are functioning properly they will provide more and more power for people all over the world. From that power, that energy, will come the resources that will uplift the large sections of humanity which today are depressed. I think there is no other way in which the living standards of these people will be elevated. In my opinion this gross misrepresentation does Australia little good. References to future threats to the environment and to genetic effects ought to be considerations for the future. When one considers the programs for the development of nuclear energy, and even the testing of nuclear weapons, in the People’s Republic of China, for example, one must say that that country does not appear to have been terribly concerned about its own people living within the area of Lop Nor and in the northern sections of Mongolia. China does not seem to have been too concerned about the effect on the people of Japan. The Russians do not appear to have given too much attention or concern to the effect of their nuclear program upon the Chinese. After the French went away from the South Pacific we had the Australian Government of Mr Whitlam going through a series of most extraordinary political manoeuvres which could only be described as a sort of political comic opera.
The fact of the matter is that whilst other nations are going to develop their nuclear capacity Australia is going to be hindered by people. One cannot help getting to the stage of wondering what are the motivations behind this line of conduct. The fact is that Australia will lag behind. If Australia does not have the ability to develop nuclear energy, in the future Australia will suffer unnecessarily. Most -people, including a number of leading Australian scientists, accept the view that within the next 40 or 50 years solar energy will be significant. Therefore I suggest that it is only in the next 40 or 50 years that Australia’s nuclear capacity can be at its optimum in providing for the development of the country.
I have put these views to the Committee in the hope that it will look at the Department of Science as a department that ought to be expanded and developed. I hope that in due course it will take medical research under its wing because I believe that that area of scientific development is one that can only be given a small amount of time and consideration within the Department of Health. Within an expanded Department of Science I believe that our medical research foundations would prosper and be of greater advantage to the Australian community.
Mr CONNOR (Cunningham)-Mr Chairman, I wish to make a personal explanation.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) -Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, I was misrepresented by the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham). The honourable member referred to a statement I allegedly made about scientists being timid of the bureaucracy. He twisted what I said. If he had paid more attention to my comment he would have realised that I was quoting a specific statement in the report of the Coombs royal commission. As for a reference to nuclear energy, I made none. I said that there was a relationship with the Atomic Energy Commission which needed to be improved but I made no other reference to nuclear energy. As for certain other remarks he made, I dismiss them as being of no consequence because I fear he is a political lightweight.
-As part of the inquiries of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration an expert task force studied the organisation of science at the government level in Australia. Part of the recommendations of the report of this task force was a call for the abolition of the Department of Science as a separate entity and the incorporation of many of its functions in other departments. Since that report was published in 1975 the Department of Science has become embroiled in a degree of controversy unprecedented in its previous 3 years of existence. Unfortunately this controversy has surrounded the ramifications of what is supposed to be a bureaucratic fight for survival rather than an analysis of the major rationale for the existence of the Department of Science.
Arguably, a Department of Science which does little besides administer scientific funding programs has very little claim to survival. However this does not mean that there is no call for a section of government to be actively involved in the formulation of national science policy. The report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development entitled Science, Growth and Society defines science policy as ‘a deliberative and coherent basis for national decisions influencing the investment, institutional structure, creativity and utilisation of scientific research’. The undeniable, if indirect, links between science and technology demand the extension of a science policy to include technology as well. The extent of the usefulness of a national science and technology policy will be governed, of course, by the degree to which it is ‘a deliberative and coherent basis’ for national decision making.
During the debate on the estimates for the Department of Administrative Services, I outlined proposals the Australian Labor Party is considering for the establishment of long term planning mechanisms for the Australian economy. Part of the process involved is the identification of national goals and the means of achieving them. An integral part of this process is the development of national policies in significant areas. The need for a national economic policy is virtually unquestioned. The same cannot be said, but it is being questioned, about the need for a national energy policy or indeed a national policy on science and technology.
My colleague, the shadow Minister for National Resources, recently foreshadowed moves that the Australian Labor Party is taking towards formulation of a national energy policy. It is built on the policies and work of the previous Minister for Minerals and Energy in the Australian Labor Government from 1972 to 1975, the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor). The need for a national science and technology policy is equally significant and the then Minister for Minerals and Energy in the Australian Labor Government, now shadow Minister for Science, is working on this subject. Recent reports, such as that of the Jackson Committee on manufacturing industry, have highlighted the necessity for the incorporation of a national science and technology strategy in to national economic planning. The Jackson Committee found a significant cause of the malaise affecting manufacturing industry to be a lack of investment for the provision of new capital stock- insufficient investment in research and development.
A national science and technology policy could and would provide the means for avoiding such a circumstance arising. In this context a national science strategy becomes integrally associated with one of the basic problems of the
Australian economy- resource allocation and employment. In times of recession the long term is often sacrificed for the expediency of the present. Research and development, being the stuff of the future rather than the present, is high on the list of those areas where we are told cuts are unavoidable. I refer to those cuts in government spending by this present conservative Government which the country is now suffering. The glaring lack of any real national direction in technology became starkly evident recently in the Government’s original decision to remove a grant to the Australian Design Council. The very fact that this grant was restored 20 days later is an indictment of the process which led to the making of the original decision, the removal decision.
The Labor Government recognised the importance of science and technology for the future development of Australia in its decision to set up a separate Department of Science. Nearly 4 years from that time an evaluation of the role the Department has had in the evolution of national science and technlogy policy is called for. The Department’s estimates, which we are debating now, tell us that in 1976-77 an average employment of 47 persons is expected in the policy division. However we know very little of their work and little of their relationship with the Australian Science and Technology Council. Dr Peter Pockley, writing in Nature, discerned that the Department’s annual report for 1974-75, published in April 1976, contained ‘only the blandest information on matters of policy and planning’.
There is a place for a body within government structure to exist alongside the science council charged with giving science policy advice. Alternate sources of advice are important in the development of all policies. Science and technology are no exception. Access to the workings of bureaucracy is always difficult but in this instance the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) has the perfect mechanism for outlining the policy development occurring within his Department. He need turn no further than the Government’s policy on science and technology released before the last election. The gentleman who is now Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of 2 December 1975 as promising that a Liberal-National Country Party government would make a science statement to Parliament each year. We know that the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) tends to regard election promises as promises to be made rather than to be kept but it is hoped that this promise is honoured. I doubt that it will be.
All interested people would also hope that such a statement would be an indication of the formulation of a real science and technology strategy and not a facile exercise of cataloguing where research dollars were spent. Such a statement would be a real opportunity for the Minister for Science to prevent what has become a worrying trend to the scientific community in recent months, so I am told. I refer to the steady erosion of the credibility of his Department. It is with great regret that I point out that the Minister’s tendency to use question time as an opportunity to regale the Senate with his newfound knowledge on obscure scientific oddities hardly demonstrates the intrinsic worth of the Department. Neither does the holding of meetings of the entire Department to warn against leaks to the Press or to check up on flexitime. Unquestionably, the talent residing within the Department is capable of taking an active part in policy formulation. But the time has come when it must be seen to be doing so. Maybe then a real national policy on science and technology can be developed and made to work. Perhaps in the future manufacturing industry will be able to work in a framework where its efficiency is not steadily undermined by insufficient input from new technology and where Australian firms will not have to worry about the added cost of paying vast sums to overseas countries to obtain the technology the future will demand.
-One of the major commitments to Tasmania by the Whitlam Government which had not been honoured as at 13 December last year was to transfer to Hobart the Antarctic Division of the Department of Science. I speak about the transfer of that Division and in so doing I pay a tribute to the previous honourable member for Denison who put forward the suggestion in early 1973 that, consistent with the Government’s platform of decentralisation, it would be a very good move if the Antarctic Division were transferred from its several sites in Melbourne, Victoria, to southern Tasmania. The previous honourable member for Denison, Mr John Coates, put this proposal forward in 1973. It was recognised by the then Minister for Science and accepted. Regrettably, however, delay immediately commenced to ensue. It was not until early 1974 that Cabinet- that is of the Whitlam Governmentapproved in principle the transfer of the Antarctic Division to Hobart. For some reason which is very hard to understand, having made that decision Cabinet did not act to put the decision into effect.
In April 1974 during the election campaign the then Prime Minister, Mr E. G. Whitlam, when he spoke in Hoban reiterated the commitment and congratulated the then honourable member for Denison, Mr Coates, on putting forward the suggestion which his Government had accepted. Having regained office on 18 May 1974 the Whitlam Government proceeded to put the Antarctic Division file in the too-hard basket and nothing transpired. No funds were allocated in the 1974 Budget. No action was taken by the Whitlam Government to give effect to the commitment which it had given to the people of Tasmania. In early 1975 I commenced making what was a series of regular monthly contacts with Canberra to find out when the plans for the proposed transfer of the Antarctic Division would be placed before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Public Works. As the records of one of the Committee’s officers will show, I telephoned practically every month from January 1975 until September 1975. For some reason, somehow, somewhere, the transfer was allowed to go to sleep and to gather dust. It was not until about September 1975 that it became quite obvious to me that a stalling action was taking place and that the Whitlam Government had no intention of honouring the commitment which it had given to the people of Tasmania, and, in particular, to the electors of Denison.
In the meantime the Government had acquired property at Kingston, not far from where I live. The property was left growing grass and feeding a number of cows. Apart from the fact that a sign was on the property stating that the Antarctic Division would be constructed there, no action took place. In September 1975, finally, the Whitlam Government decided to move. A reference was made to the Public Works Committee. That Committee was due to sit in Hobart in the first week of November last year. In the meantime, the constitutional crisis blew up. Mr Deputy Chairman, you will recall that at that time air fares and expenses for committees of the Parliament were curtailed. Accordingly, the Committee did not come to Hobart. The events of 1 1 November intervened, there was a general election, and the Fraser Government was elected. I was in the State Parliament when the idea was put forward by the former honourable member for Denison in this House. The proposal was applauded by all political sections of the Tasmanian community. A very good idea put forward in September 1973 was allowed to remain fallow by the Whitlam Government. As I say, the promise was not honoured despite the fact that a period of nearly 3 years had elapsed.
In view of that situation and of the fact that it was necessary in the present economic situation for the present Government to announce a deferment of the transfer of the Antarctic Division, considerable speculation arose a few months ago as to whether the present Government intended to honour the commitment made by the previous Government. I shall summarise the position so that nobody is in any doubt. I refer to a question asked by me and an answer given by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) which is recorded in Hansard of 1 8 May at page 2094. It states:
– Can the Prime Minister inform the House whether any decisions have been made by the Government on the transfer of the headquarters of the Antarctic Division to Hobart?
– So that there could be no equivocation about this matter, I had it raised in Cabinet this morning. The Antarctic Division will be transferred to Hoban. It will not necessarily be transferred to the site that has in fact been chosen- I understand that there is some doubt about the wisdom of transferring it to that site -
That is the Kingston site- but it will be transferred to Hoban; there is no doubt about that. Because of the measures that my colleague the Treasurer will be announcing in detail on Thursday, the honourable gentleman will understand that there are some financial stringencies upon us at the moment.
This was, in fact, 2 days before the 20 May statement made by the Treasurer (Mr Lynch). The Prime Minister continued:
Therefore the transfer will not be taking place forthwith or in the forthcoming financial year -
That is 1976-77- but it is going to take place.
I applauded that statement at that time and I applaud today the firm resolve of this Government to honour that commitment and to transfer the Antarctic Division to Hobart. The question has now arisen: What is the appropriate site? Is it that site which has already been acquired at Kingston or is it a site which was then not available but which is now available, namely, the premises of H. Jones and Co. Pty Ltd on the Hobart waterfront? In view of the fact that I am well aware that this matter is being considered at ministerial level at the present time, it would be inappropriate for me to speculate as to which site is likely to be chosen. However, I know that the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) accompanied by Dr Philip Law, Sir Frederick White and myself, made an inspection of both sites in May this year. I understand that next week in Hobart when the Constitution Convention is being held an opportunity will be taken by at least one Minister, and possibly others, to inspect the 2 competing sites. As I have said, the site at Kingston is not far from my home. It is a very good site. It is not far from North West Bay where, in future, it may well be that a conventional port will be established. It is equidistant from North West Bay and the University of Tasmania. The Jones and Co. site is almost exactly the same distance from the University of Tasmania in travelling time as is the Kingston site. Both sites commend themselves. I have a personal preference but the fact I am most happy about is that the base will be transferred to Hobart and that this Government will honour a commitment made but not honoured by the previous Government.
– An honest Government.
-That is so. I thank my colleague, the honourable member for Darling Downs, for the comment he has made because when our Government makes a commitment it honours it. I feel sorry for my predecessor, the previous honourable member for Denison, who firmly believed in this project and was shamefully let down by the previous Administration. I feel fortified, by referring to the passage in Hansard which I have quoted, that our Prime Minister and Cabinet will not let down the people of Tasmania and that the transfer of the base will take place. For those reasons I commend the Minister for Science and his Department on the work they are doing. I am confident enough to express the view that work will commence on the transfer of the Antarctic Division to Hobart next year, that is during 1977-78. It is a first rate decision and one for which this Government should be applauded. I will be the happiest person in Australia when the transfer takes place and we see that Division in Tasmania where it rightly deserves to be.
-There is no doubt that there is still much to be done by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation not only on the question of coal hydrogenation but also, and even more importantly, and good work has been done by it in the field, on the question of solar energy in respect of low grade heat. The definition of low grade heat is generally the heating of water up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the real work is still to be done. Good as the achievements of the CSIRO have been in solar energy, the main is still to come and instead of worrying about insolation or the heating of small bodies of water on housetops by solar radiation, the bigger problem is the use of the greatest heat sink on this planet the depths of the oceans and what is known as the heat gradient or the difference in surface and bottom temperature of great ocean depths. Much work has been done in this field and that is the ultimate solution for solar energy in relation to insolation of water.
There is another field also where attention is urgently needed. I refer now to solar batteries. Here there is real work that can be done and achievements that can be quite quick. No one realises, for example, that solar batteries energise the satellites which are now in orbit around the world. Most people do not realise that in the more remote areas of Australia a considerable proportion of the telephonic equipment is energised by similar solar batteries. Hitherto other elements have been used but there has been a very substantial break through in what is termed silicon technology and the commonest and cheapest form of silicon is silicon dioxide or common beach sand. Whilst the technology at the present time is costing somewhat between $10 and $15 per watt, the break through has occurred which will enable silicon dioxide of lesser purity to use the variations or aberrations of molecular structure for that purpose.
The photovoltaic cell, to give it its correct name, together with the temperature gradients of the ocean are together two of the most efficient ways of quickly and reasonably utilising solar energy. Just to temper the enthusiasm of the many conservationists who look upon solar energy as being the immediate as well as the ultimate solution of mankind’s problems, it would chasten them to learn that, for example, in respect of water heating whilst in Darwin 90 per cent of a household’s hot water can be obtained by solar energy and the balance by an automatic thermostat, in latitudes such as in Tasmania it is below the 55 per cent mark. Those are the hard realities. Nevertheless we in Australia undoubtedly are in an ideal situation.
Reverting to my former comment in respect of coal hydrogenation, is a matter of some urgency, and I have stressed many times in this House and repeat again the relationship of the three great members of the hydrocarbons family solids, liquids and gases.
– There are good deposits in the Darling Downs.
-Exactly, and I will be referring to those in a moment. The tragedy is that the Queensland Government has allowed the multinational oil companies, who now do not call themselves oil companies but rather energy companies, to go there. Look at the deposits in the Darling Downs. For a distance of about 300 miles in a north westerly direction from Toowoomba in the Walloon coal deposits or pods as they are known, most of the licences and leases are either in their own names or in the name of puppet companies- members of the great multi-national oil companies. They are in already. Whilst I was a Minister I was able to stop the leak outward but at the present time there is a very substantial leak. The Darling Downs deposits are undoubtedly the best material for coal hydrogenation in Australia. They have about a Vh per cent hydrogen content. If you can inject hydrogen under pressure at the appropriate temperature- up to 14 percentyou have liquefaction. Instead of coal being reserved for that purpose it is starting to go to Japan and for this reason the Japanese, and we give them full marks for their astuteness, wanted to gasify that coal. They are going to purify it first and there is about a 32 per cent ash content in it which they will leave behind in Australia as excess shipping. They will take the coal to Japan, gasify it there and feed that gas under their power boilers- boilers that were designed for use with fuel oil. It is an incorrect use and it is a use that I stressed to some of the interested companies was entirely improper and scientifically incorrect.
The honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) made reference to thermal efficiency in the use of resources. Here he is undoubtedly correct. The whole tragedy of mankind today is that very few people and certainly most governments have not even a passing acquaintance with the laws of entropy or the laws which relate to the utilisation and transfer of heat and energy. Thermal efficiency is a matter that will determine largely the future living standards of mankind. Possibly it will even transcend in importance food requirements. When we gasify coal of appropriate types, and not all coal is capable of gasification, we have thermal efficiency of somewhere around 60 per cent. There is also a residual coke which can be used as a boiler fuel. Generating power by coal-fired power stations, which is about next on the list in terms of thermal efficiency amongst the more popular energy forms, has an efficiency down to about 32 per cent or 35 per cent- at the outside no more than 38 per cent. However, by the time that electricity comes through, with transmission losses and the inefficiency of the ordinary electric lamp, the ultimate thermal efficiency of an electric globe is of the order of 5 per cent. The ordinary neon fluorescent light has an efficiency of the order of 20 per cent and it ought to be used.
Of course, there will come a day, and it may not be as far in the future as people might think, when because of its importance the use of coal in open grates for ordinary heating purposes will be a criminal offence. It is the residue of one whole geological area, the carboniferous area. Our potential in Australia is to supply our own needs of energy from coal for at least 350 to 400 years. What we are sending to Japan in the form of hard coking coal is very important for Japan and there are substantial reserves for us, but when we come right down to the nitty gritty which will be the order of the future, there is no known alternative to the conversion of hydrocarbons from one form to another, in particular the hydrogenation of coal, for the purpose of providing liquid fuel, which is vitally essential when we get outside electrification of railways and the like.
-In speaking to the appropriations for the Department of Science I would like to make some comments on some of the areas for which those appropriations are sought, the first being the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. The CSIRO, of course, has enjoyed very many notable achievements in its long history in this country and has provided enormous benefit not only to rural industry but also to many other sectors of industry in this country. Many people attempt to apply a cost-benefit type of analysis to the CSIRO which I think is unfair to the Organisation. One example of work carried out by the CSIRO is the development and application of the myxomatosis virus in the control of rabbits. It is easily seen that it is almost impossible to apply a value to the benefit that has accrued to the whole nation in respect of the work carried out by the CSIRO in this area. However, I support the Government’s announcement that there will be an inquiry to cover the general philosophy, organisation and management structure of the Organisation, the efficiency of its research programs and its revenue raising potential. There is a need for continual review of institutions such as the CSIRO. I think it can generally be acceded that many sacred cows sometimes do become infertile and need to be culled.
The appropriation also covers the Institute of Marine Science and particularly the new research vessel which has been commissioned for 1977-78 and the completion of laboratories in North Queensland in 1977. The Bureau of Meteorology, of course, is an organisation of specific interest to a person such as myself representing a rural electorate. Australia is a continent that is extremely vulnerable, in terms both of commerce and of its very livelihood, to weather conditions. Only in the last weekend we saw the disastrous effect that weather conditions can have in Canberra and Queanbeyan.
I am pleased to see that Australia is participating in the global atmospheric research program, the so-called GARP program, which will involve the establishment of a satellite receiving station for the GARP satellite. Mention is also made of the Landsat program, which is an off-shoot of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration program in America. I would like to make a comment on this program because in my opinion it has particular relevance to rural industry. The United States has invited other countries to participate in the Landsat program. Participation in the program has been offered to Australia but to date Australia has not yet committed itself to providing a satellite receiving station. A Landsat satellite continuously scans the earth providing data on resources and the environment. Its products are extremely useful in resource evaluation, management, disaster assessment and mapping. A colossal amount of information can be gained from the Landsat program in respect of agriculture. This information has been used to scan continuously the state of crop growth in most countries. By this method some countries have gained, in my opinion, a pecuniary advantage by finding market outlets for their crops.
The Landsat project, through its infra-red photography, can assess on a very large scale the metabolic status of many crops throughout the world. It can identify disease. It can also predict yields. I think these are matters that should be of particular interest to my colleagues the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) and the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh). We should use this program to advantage to make sure that we can compete with the other major grain exporting countries that have this information. For the sake, I understand, of some Sim to $1.5m Australia could participate in that program. Further enormous benefit would be gained by the use of information in the areas of flood control, the placement of roads and the placement of water storages. Anyone who has seen the Landsat photographs of the Gulf country in Queensland during a time of flood would realise the enormous potential benefit of subscribing to that program.
The appropriations also provide moneys for the shared commitment with the United Kingdom of the construction and operation of the Anglo-Australian telescope at Coonabarabran in New South Wales. I point out to honourable members that the CSIRO radiotelescope at Parkes in my electorate has become notable only in the last week for some leading investigations and research findings of world importance. I am referring particularly, of course, to the recently discerned quasar. It is interesting to speculate that in many cases the Parkes radio-telescope is operating on the fringe limits of observation as the bodies the operators wish to observe are moving away faster than the speed of light so that it is not possible to detect them.
I would like to spend some time discussing the broader subject of Antarctica. Australia has a long and illustrious history both in exploration and in research in that continent, but many consider now that Australia’s role in Antarctica is at the cross-roads. The appropriations provide for a holding situation as far as Australia’s commitment to Antarctica is concerned. The appropriations cover a level of research activity in Antarctica which will be similar to that in the previous financial year. More importantly, the Government has instituted studies of Australia’s longterm policy options in Antarctica as a necessary prelude to determining the level and nature of and arrangements for future programs. The honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) mentioned in his speech the move, now ratified, of the headquarters of the Antarctic Division to Hobart. I also mention that the Government has produced a green paper titled Towards New Perspectives for Australian Scientific Research in Antarctica’. Our policy in respect of Antarctica is at the cross-roads because many conditions and agreements under which Australia was a signatory to the 1959 treaty are now under challenge. These agreements related to territorial claims. They related to the basis on which research was conducted. They related to exploitation and the use of the Antarctic continent for both strategic and commercial purposes. Nations such as Sri Lanka have already challenged Australia’s entitlement and territorial claims in the United Nations. A Russian base, Leningradskaya, has recently been completed within the Australian sector. Many nations are moving through research and actual operation to abort the provisions of the treaty in a number of areas. I shall refer to these briefly in the limited time available. Firstly, the resources of Antarctica are enormous. We have to look at Antarctica in terms of its potential for providing protein for the world. Antarctica has an enormous potential for this through its resources of krill the little shrimp that live in the Antarctica and sub-Antarctic waters. They are the shrimp on which the whale population thrived prior to being killed out.
– It is like plankton?
– Yes. It has been estimated that an annual production of 200 million to 300 million tonnes could be supplied from this source. It is notable that a number of countries, particularly West Germany, Russia, Japan and Poland are doing oceanographic surveys of the size of krill resources in Antarctica.
Other resources in the Antarctic which I do not have time to canvass at length include minerals and energy resources. Hydrocarbons have been found within the Antarctic continent and on the shores around it. Minerals such as iron and manganese have been found. Coal also has been found. We have to look at the ice itself as a potential resource, particularly in view of the fact that two-thirds of the world’s fresh water is locked up in the continental ice cap. We have to look at the inherent dangers of not understanding fully the status quo of the ice cap in Antarctica. I refer, of course, to the possibility of climatic change causing an increase in the melt rate. This would, of course, have enormous implications for life as we know it in our seaboard countries. I think it is not sensational to speculate on what could happen in that continent if nuclear waste were to be stored there. I think we should look at the enormous value and benefit that we can obtain by participating effectively and strongly in the Antarctica program and providing the necessary finance grappling with some of the problems of transport. 1 refer particularly to the question whether we should build Antarctic vessels with our own resources. We should examine in very close detail what Australia’s role, policy and commitment will be in the light of some of the challenges and changes that will face us in the near future as far as our involvement in the Antarctic continent is concerned.
– I wish to speak briefly on the estimates of the Department of Science and I express my thanks to the Committee for allowing me to do so. I have noted some criticism in magazines that I have read of the inadequacy of scientific research into the fishing industry off the coast of Australia and in Antarctica. I learned today that Russian scientific authorities have offered to allow our scientists to go on their modernly equipped oceanographic ships to explore the fishing resources in this part of the world around the Australian coast. I hope that if this invitation is acceptable to the Government, we will take it up. This would relieve our Government, our country and our taxpayers of the burden of obtaining their own expensive oceanography ships to carry out the research. I think we must admit that the Soviet Government is far more advanced in this field than we are, and possibly more advanced than many countries are. I should like to think that the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) will take an appreciative view of the invitation to the Government, if it has been officially forthcoming, and would take up the offer if it has been made to allow our scientists to accompany the Russians on their modern scientific ships.
I read recently that the Soviet Embassy had extended an invitation to the Australian Antarctic Division to use all the Russian facilities in the Antarctic, including refuelling and maintenance for our helicopters carrying out scientific surveys in the Antarctic region. I think it would probably be unfair of all of us not to express our thanks in this regard in the national Parliament to the Soviet Government for offering its facilities at its Antarctic base to our scientists at our base in Antarctica. I have no hesitancy in expressing my personal gratitude to the Soviet Government for this very kind offer of which I understand the Australian Antarctic Division availed itself.
– I thank very much all honourable members who have in the main constructively debated the estimates for the Department of Science and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. As honourable members on both sides of the House have said these are 2 very big and important fields that will increase in importance in future. I thank the officers of the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) who have been in the advisers gallery. We have taken note of those things that have been said and of those suggestions that honourable members have amalgamated postal workers union, be brought to the attention of the Minister in another place.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Postal and Telecommunications Department
Proposed expenditure, $ 1 5 1 ,294,000.
-The first thing I should like to say is that the title of the Department is in fact a misnomer. The Department’s estimates substantially deal with the broadcasting side of telecommunications and only a very minor part of the estimates relates to the postal and telecommunications areas. I think it would be in the best interests of both the Commissions and public understanding of the current role of those Commissions if the title of this Department were altered, possibly to the Broadcasting and Communications Department. That is really what the Department is all about. It deals in a limited fashion with advice to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) relating to the 2 Commissions, but they are very much a subsidiary section of the Department’s operations.
It would be easy to spend the whole of the 10 minutes allocated to me in this debate to dealing with the problems which currently surround the Australian Broadcasting Commission and broadcasting in general. It is unfortunate that at a time when we are considering these estimates the Committee has not been given the benefit of being able to examine the Green Committee’s report on broadcasting which I understand has been before Cabinet but no decisions have been taken. I am not in a position to comment on these recommendations of the Committee, or on the basis of the inquiries which led up to them because we have not seen the report. Apparently the Government at this stage has not been able to make up its mind on the substantive recommendations that were made.
Quite obviously there are other areas of broadcasting. The Opposition and I think a lot of people would be concerned at the general publicity which has been given in recent months to ABC news bulletins and other programming. It is just about time that this sort of controversy ceased so that confidence in the independence of the Commission could be re-established, or established, and that all people could be confident that the Commission is not being subject to forms of political direction.
– Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!
– I would not be surprised. The matter I wish to deal with primarily in the short time available relates to the Telecommunications Commission. Few members of this House would not have been in receipt of complaints relating to the size of accounts people receive for their telephone metered calls. It is always insisted that the meters are accurate. In fact it is suggested that where they are defective they are more likely to record a lower unit call rate than in fact takes place. This unfortunately does not satisfy a person who, having been used to receiving $60 bills for a period of time, suddenly finds himself with a bill of the order of $300 to $400. In one case I recently received representations about a bill of $800 for metered calls alone. Despite the assurance of the Department there is at least some doubt about the continuing accuracy of meters. I understand that a system is available to meet this problem. Installation of it was suggested in 1973 and would have been the responsibility of the Government of which I was a supporter. This was deferred, almost certainly on Treasury advice I would imagine, because of the cost. My understanding is that the cost now would be about 4 times what it would have been at that stage but that it is intended that the system will be applied to telephones which are connected to the overseas dialling system. I suggest that if there is an economically viable system which could provide a record of local calls similar to that which is available for trunk line calls that system should be installed. I think that some of the doubts which are expressed are real. I think it is unfortunate that officers of the Telecommunications Commission, Telecom, are placed in a position where they are not able to establish the validity of their claims that the charging methods are accurate.
The other question that arises is the alternative which is available to the subscriber. In one recent case which was taken up with me the person concerned indicated that she had decided that she would utilise exchange services for all trunk line calls in order to prevent a recurrence of an unverifiable bill for metered calls. The bill for metered calls went from $240 to $890 in that period, and obviously the lady involved was somewhat concerned. The other aspect of that matter is that having had a large account and wishing to avoid a similar occurrence, because she decided to use the exchange facilities she was also charged an additional amount for using those facilities. Where some doubt has been expressed about an account and the person concerned endeavours to record exactly what calls have been made and to keep the calls within economic limits- and with STD it is very easy to go over those economic limits- a penalty is applied. Even though there is some cost to the Department, that penalty appears to be unjustified. I hope some consideration can be given to installing the AMA system generally and not just for overseas subscriber dialling. It would provide officers of the Department with a ready answer to complaints received. It would also give confidence to persons who are wrongly chargedand there are some- and who have no way of checking. Someone now has to make a guess of the actual call rate, and this gives the subscriber no confidence in the system.
One other matter which I wish to raise and which is becoming a problem within the telephone system relates to people charging calls to numbers from which they are not calling and to which they have no right of access. It is difficult for anyone to establish that this practice is taking place, but it is occurring increasingly. It is not unusual for an exchange not to call back but to connect immediately. That is very simple to do. I have come across a number of cases where this practice certainly was occurring. Usually the calls are charged against organisations or persons who would normally have a fairly substantial telephone usage, when it does not automatically show up. By this means calls can be and are being made and charged against persons for whom no responsibility should exist. I think it is an area where some corrective action should be taken.
Finally, I want to make one other point. Before the Minister came into the chamber I said that I thought the title of his ministry was a misnomer. The estimates show quite clearly that his Department is the department of broadcasting and communications, and I think that a retitling would act as a public relations exercise to establish that the Postal Commission and the Telecommunications Commission are in fact separate corporations and not ministerial departments. That action could well be taken with advantage to both of the Commissions, the community at large and perhaps the Minister as well. In my opinion, it is important that the Commissions should operate as separate entities and be seen to operate as separate entities to the extent that that is possible. We all understand and acknowledge the control exercised in relation to funding. The control which the Treasury exercises over the funding of the Commissions we do not understand. It is not understandable, and I would suggest is very bad for the business practices of the Commissions.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) -Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In answer to the honourable member ibr Corio (Mr Scholes), I must say that I sympathise with him on the question of overcharging. However, I would remind him that this is one of the problems that has to be faced with any automatic device. It is subject to fault. Like the honourable member, I have had numerous complaints about this matter, but I am inclined to liken it to a motor car. When it is faulty it invariable slows down or even stops. It does not speed up, or only very rarely. This evening I want to speak on the estimates for the Postal and Telecommunications Commissions. No nation can operate efficiently or develop high standards in commerce, industry or welfare without a speedy and efficient communications system. Australia relies heavily on the competence of the Postal and Telecommunications Commissions.
The system having been established, the next step is to keep the service as cheap as possible. Unfortunately, this coalition Government inherited raging inflation. Postal and telephone charges were already high, with a lot of talk in the air before we took office last December of more rises. Yet in the short space of less than 12 months the Government has, in my opinion, given birth to some important economies in communications. Commerce and industry have benefited by cheaper bulk postage rates, country people have been helped by cheaper mail boxes and private postal bags, and the installation of free telephone lines has been extended from 8 kilometres to 12 kilometres for subscribers being connected for the first time to automatic exchanges. This will mean a saving of up to $1,280 for many subscribers. I think it is important to note that in the past when subscribers had to make a contribution it was on the basis of $160 per half-kilometre or part thereof. I should also point out that as far as the Commission is concerned, this is a very nominal charge, particularly in these times of high and increasing prices. Although this extension is a great breakthrough for people residing in the outback areas, there is still a lot to be done to help those people who are beyond the 12 kilometre limit. However, the provision has brought about a big reduction in the number of subscribers who will have to make a contribution.
As a result of some of the items I have just mentioned it will be apparent that, unlike Labor when it was in office, the coalition Government’s policy is to help people in all walks of life. The Government wants to end that vicious discrimination which Labor inflicted on country people and begin to heal the breach between city and country people which was fostered by the Labor Party in its 3 years of office.
– They are vicious.
-They certainly are vicious. I come now to the question of who should pay for community services such as communications. I am most emphatic that the user-pays principle introduced by Labor is a crime against some people. If followed through to its logical conclusion, it would mean charging a letter postage rate of 50c or even 55c in some cases, if one considered an area at the back of Bourke. High charges would operate and, at the same time, no doubt a fairly poor service would be provided because of isolation. It has always been my policy and that of the Party to which I belong to try to reduce the burden on trunk line users. Why does a business man living 100 or 200 miles from the city have to pay more for a telephone call to transact some of his business than his opposition residing in that city? Why does he have to pay more even to contact his local member of Parliament? The answer is that that is the penalty he must pay for living away from a highly populated area. Naturally, the cost of the service is more expensive or, if one preferred it, one could say that it is less profitable to the Telecommunications Commission.
The Government’s policy is to amend this injustice as soon as it possibly can, and that raises the question of subsidies. After listening to a number of speeches made in this chamber over recent weeks, I believe that the people of Australia are starting to realise that there are many forms of subsidy and that many thousands of people are getting indirect forms of assistance which in some instances could be classed as a form of subsidy. I exclude the primary producer, who has been on the receiving end of such accusations for a long time. This is why I claim that the people who reside outside a metropolitan area are entitled to postal and telephone services equal to those provided for people living in a metropolitan area. The introduction of decentralised mail sorting centres is now starting to give that service to the people. Once completely in existence, the mail deliveries will be more or less equal throughout a State. I was interested to read a statement put out recently by a State manager of Australia Post, Mr Page, in which he said:
Mail posted at country places (Monday-Friday) by the local mall closing time will receive: next working day delivery in Melbourne city and suburbs next working day delivery at all destinations in the same mail centre area, or an adjoining mail centre area second working day delivery at all other Victorian destinations and interstate capital cities.
This is a wonderful break through for many people residing outside metropolitan areas and, no doubt, for those people who are interested in posting mail in the metropolitan areas to country destinations. Of course, it will cost more to deliver letters to a destination some 200 miles or 300 miles from the point of postage than it costs to deliver them just over the road or around the corner in the metropolitan areas. But if we want to maintain equal service to all people, this is one way that service can be given without implementing the principle of user pays.
I think that we can agree that in an economic system characterised by protection, particularly to secondary industry, we can quite responsibly consider some assistance for the Australian Telecommunications Commission and the Australian
Postal Commission. If members of the Opposition disagree with this principle, let them be consistent and remove all types of protection, be they subsidies, tariffs or whatever. Overall, the growth rate in the Telecommunications Commission this year is expected to be in the vicinity of 8 per cent. Telephone services are expected to rise by about S. 1 per cent, local telephone traffic by about 5.8 per cent, trunk traffic by 1 1 per cent, the telex network by 14 per cent and the DATEL services should jump by a mighty 6 1 per cent.
A feature of the massive expansion- and the reason we have been able to introduce these new measures and give better service- is the control of labour costs. Instead of continuing the staff growth rate of 3 per cent as we have seen in the past few years it is our intention to cut it to less than half of one per cent this year. Yet postal delivery points will increase by about 150 000. There will be 15 new post offices established and contraction on 39 new postal buildings will be started this year. Certainly, deliveries will be upgraded. Honourable members can see that in the short time we have been in office we have already moved the area of postal and telephone services into the 20th century and away from the old smoke signal stanards of Labor’s 3 dark years of irresponsibility and incompetence. I am reminded of an old cliche that is well know to most of us. As a child I was always told, ‘If you have a problem and want some information ask a policeman and he will guide you’. So far as I am concerned, I have now reached the stage now where I can say: ‘If you want information regarding Commonwealth matters the right place to go is to the Post Office’.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
-Today at question time the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) raised a question in which he referred to another person. I was unaware of the nature of the question until it was asked. I was surprised by it. I do not want to be associated with it. The person to whom the honourable member referred remains high in my personal regard for him now, as he did before the question was asked, although my political opposition to him remains undiminished.
– I should like to make a few comments regarding the estimates for the Postal and Telecommunications Department. Of course as a member for one of the larger country electorates, this matter of communications within the electorate and the problems associated with communications is probably one of the points most raised with me in my dealings with the country areas. In the first place I feel we must applaud the actions of the previous Government in which it divided the functions of the former Postmaster-General’s Department into Telecom Australia and the Australian Postal Commission. Both have adopted a more efficient approach to the areas of responsibility allotted to them. Although they commenced operations by increasing rates for the services they provided in order to place their operations on a more viable level, they have adopted a more businesslike approach and have endeavoured to increase the service they provide to the community. I am sure all honourable members would agree that the decision of the previous Government was a wise decision and is one which will bring great benefit to the community, provided that their charges are kept within reasonable limits. An indication of the confidence of the Australian people in Telecom Australia can be gained by looking at the results of the recent loan and how quickly that loan was taken up.
I should like to make a few comments regarding the Australian Broadcasting Commission. There are many today who are concerned at possible interference in the operation of the ABC. Whilst this interference is denied by the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson), it will be a sorry day if and when the ABC loses that independence that has characterised its operations in the past. As a member representing a large country area, in the many trips that I make round the electorate I find that once we move away from the more closely settled areas, it is not possible to pick up the commercial radio stations. But no matter where one travels in the electorate, there is a very strong chance that one will be able to tune into the ABC rural stations. Those stations have many programs of a nature adapted to those areas. I am sure that the operations of the ABC are appreciated for this reason.
I for one have always admired the ABC for the service it provides to the more remote areas of Australia. There is also the service provided by Radio Australia. However, I do hear criticism in that the listeners in those areas are confined to one program. I do not know of the technicalities or the cost involved, but I feel that an investigation should be carried out to see whether an alternative program can be provided so that the more remote areas can have a choice of a second program. I would certainly appreciate any comments the Minister may have on this particular point when he replies. Certainly the people do not have a choice. The young people may dislike the type of programs on those particular rural stations. I feel that a choice is something to which the country people are entitled.
Another matter in connection with the operation of the ABC concerns country television coverage. Recently a decision was taken to establish a television station at Leigh Creek. Although I understand it will operate from videotapes, at least it will provide the people of the area with a television program. But this service was only made possible by the actions of the South Australian Government and the Electricity Trust of South Australia in conjunction with the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, following strong representations to the effect that they were prepared to make a considerable financial contribution to the cost of the television station at Leigh Creek.
Since entering this Parliament some 7 years ago I have continually raised the matter of the provision of a television service to the Eyre Peninsular of South Australia. While much has been said, the fact is that there is still no sign of service being provided to this area. Whilst the eastern part of Eyre Peninsular receives a service from the ABC and a commercial channel, and a small low powered ABC transmitter at Ceduna, it is a fact that the vast hinterland of Eyre Peninsular is denied this facility which is provided to over 95 per cent of other Australians. Replies to my representations have always referred to the cost involved, the number of people involved, the low topography of the area and other matters. But established towns such as Streaky Bay, Wudinna, Minnipa, Elliston, Poochera and the farm areas that these towns service are still without a decent television service. However, having waited so long to receive this facility which is considered the norm by 95 per cent of the Australian population, surely it is time for some definite plan to be adopted to ensure the extension of television services to this area in my electorate. I have placed a question on notice to the Minister on this matter. I hope that he can give me some favourable answer as soon as possible, indicating that plans are being implemented to provide that service in the foreseeable future.
Another matter of great concern that is continually being raised with me is the installation of rural telephone services. I know that most members from country electorates are also concerned about this matter. This problem has probably been more emphasised by the policy to replace the old manual telephone exchanges with the more modern automatic exchanges- a change that has necessitated the need for a much higher standard of telephone line and which has resulted in a higher cost in the laying of those lines.
In 1970 the former Liberal-Country Party Government introduced a policy that allowed for the construction of 15 miles of free telephone lines. This policy was described to me by a high Postmaster-General’s Department official as a policy that the Department would never be able to carry out because of the lack of material, resources and finance available to the Department at that time. However, the result was that because of the policy announced the number of applications increased considerably. What the applicants were not told at that time was that it would be 5 or 6 years before they could get that telephone service. The Labor Government reduced the distance for free telephone lines to 8 kilometres. But even though it came in for criticism from some quarters, at that time it did allow a greater spread of resources per applicant.
The Government has decided to increase the distance of free telephone lines to 12 kilometres. But this only relieves the position marginally for those applicants living up to 30 or 40 kilometres away from the nearest telephone exchange. Of course it only applies in those areas that have an automatic telephone exchange or where an automatic exchange can be anticipated within the next few years. Where only manual exchanges exist, the distance for free telephone lines is still only 8 kilometres. I am aware of the cost involved and how much it costs per kilometre to put these lines in. I am aware that the $320 per kilometre that Telecom Australia charges applicants does not cover the cost of laying the telephone line. But it is a fact that those applicants living a considerable distance from the exchange have a considerable financial problem in having the telephone connected. I am aware of all the factors involved and I can appreciate the problems. I certainly cannot offer any immediate solution to the problem. However, from my limited knowledge of the technicalities, it is obvious that one of the fastest growing areas of technical progress is in the field of telecommunications. I hope that the advance of this technology will allow for the provision of a telephone service to the more remote areas at a rate that does not place such a burden on the applicants in those areas.
I noted that the previous speaker mentioned telephone calls from country areas to members of Parliament. I fully agree with the remarks made by the honourable member. If a constituent in a country area wants to ring a member, he has to make a trunk call. That does not apply everywhere but in South Australia most country people have to use a trunkline. Three of the 4 country members in South Australia have thenFederal offices in the capital city. So if a country dweller wants to ring his Federal member, it is necessary to make a trunkline telephone call unless he lives in the electorate of Grey. The same situation applies in the case of senators. The only South Australian senator whose office is in the country is Labor Senator McLaren. He lives outside the Adelaide metropolitan area. I feel concern for these people on the subject of rural telephones. I know the cost involved. I do not know what can be done about it but I certainly hope that some examination will be made to see whether some of the burden that is placed on these people establishing rural telephone services can be lifted and whether in some way or another they can be assisted.
-In this debate on the estimates for the Postal and Telecommunications Department I wish to raise the matter of Australian Broadcasting Commission programming. I accept the need for a small reduction in the funds available to the ABC from the Government in this Budget compared with last year in accord with the expenditure restraint which is required to reduce the Budget deficit we inherited from the previous Labor Government. That is essential if we are to overcome Australia’s major economic problem of inflation. That economic thrust should receive the highest priority. However, within the funds allocated to the ABC it is important that the ABC carefully evaluates its expenditure. The role of the ABC as a national broadcasting service is to benefit the listening audience by providing programs of value to it. Funds should be allocated to programs on that basis.
I particularly wish to direct attention to programming changes which affect Adelaide. The tradition has developed for the ABC’s Radio One network to present its own separate program in each capital city. As a result, in Adelaide programs such as Remember, presented by Bob Caldicott, Saturday Date, presented by Ian Beattie and Music to Midnight, presented by Geoff Hiscock, have become institutionalised and popular among Adelaide audiences which listen to radio station 5AN. Apart from the personalities involved and the quality of the musical program presented, these programs are popular for another important reason. Local production allows local flavour to be incorporated in these programs. Such programs have a capacity to reflect the moods and preferences of the local community. Local people are involved in preparing these programs and, therefore, know how the local community ticks. They know the items which would be of interest to the listening audience and can plan their programs on that basis. Local program content and production also generates work in the local community. It provides an outlet for local talent and an opportunity for that talent to be used creatively. Hence there are several important reasons favouring the retention of local programming.
I am therefore concerned that the ABC has decided to abolish local programming on Radio One throughout Australia as from 3 1 October. In Adelaide this affects particularly radio station 5AN. In the evening time slots local programs will be replaced by network programs, that is, programs broadcast from one location in Australia nationally right around the country. Hence local content will be lost. This is of some concern to communities like Adelaide which have their own local identity. This change has been made allegedly on the basis of cost saving and to make more efficient use of resources. However, savings- for example, in overtime penalty payments to the five or six people who will be redeployed in other areas- should be balanced against the extra cost of using an interstate landline which will be involved in networking. I am informed the overall net savings to the ABC’s operations in South Australia will be approximately $10,000 per annum in a total expected allocation of approximately $10m. That represents a saving of approximately 0.1 per cent.
While saving money is extemely important in the current economic and budgetary circumstances, I urge the ABC to have a close look at the situation in cost-benefit terms. It could well be that the benefits lost to the community of Adelaide and the ABC in that community far outweigh the relatively minor cost saving in this instance. Radio station 5AN may have only a small minority of the total radio listening audience in the evenings; however, an important role of the ABC is to provide for the taste of such a discerning minority. It would be a great pity if this minority, which prefers the local programs of the ABC to commercial stations, were to be lost to the ABC as a listening audience because of the abolition of local programs. In fact, with the abolition of local programs on 5 AN we may well find there is an audience with no place of refuge.
The second network of the ABC, Radio Two, which is represented in Adelaide by radio station 5CL, has for a long time operated on a national relay basis. Therefore, on Radio One there is a place for local content. I understand that under the new scheme one program a week- a rock music program on Monday nights- will be produced for the national relay in the Adelaide studios of the ABC. However, inevitably that program will have a national flavour. This is not an adequate substitute for current local programs. It will not make up for the loss of local identity which will occur with the abandonment of local programs. If I may paraphrase him, Sir Charles Curran, the Director-General of the British Broadcasting Corporation, said: ‘Radio exists to serve the community in which it exists’.
I believe that programs produced within the community to which the particular radio station broadcasts are an important part of that service to the community. Hence there is a particular need for local content. I therefore implore the ABC to look again at the distribution of resources within its total budgetary allocation to see whether extra funds can be found to allow the local evening programs to continue in Adelaide. Alternatively some arrangement should be made to allow some continuation of local content in another form. If such a review shows continuation to be impossible in the short term, I urge that local programs be re-instituted in the future when more resources become available as a result of the improvement in the economy which will occur because of the sound economic management of the Liberal-National Country Party Government. The benefits which flow from local program content to the community with a local identity, such as we have in Adelaide, to the ABC operating within that community and to those who work in the ABC are such that its provision deserves the highest priority.
-Tonight I wish to refer to 2 matters. The first is the application of the telephone charges prevailing within the Sydney telephone charge area to Campelltown, which is within my electorate. It is conventional, boring and usual for honourable members to get up and say that it would be a nice idea if the local call charge rate were applied to their electorates, particularly when they are found around the fringe of cities. That is a dull, boring and usual occurrence. The point that I want to put to the Committee is that there is a special reason for the Government’s giving very serious consideration to the case for the inclusion of at least part of Campbelltown in the Sydney telephone area.
The reason is that Campbelltown is, in fact, a growth centre. There is a large section of the area within the Macarthur growth centre which is within the Sydney telephone directory and there is a section of the growth centre outside it.
Regrettably, the dividing line between the Sydney telephone area and the subscriber trunk dialling or trunk line area runs through the middle of the industrial estate being created at great expense to both the State and Federal governments. In fact, one corporation which has agreed to develop a large industrial complex within the Macarthur growth centre has had to go to the absurd limits of purchasing a small section of land at the northern extremity of the industrial estate on which to build an administrative tower. It just happens to be across the magic line dividing the Sydney telephone area and the STD area.
This absurdity is compounded when it is recognised that unless there is a large degree of industrial and commercial development in a growth centre like Macarthur, unless one provides job opportunities inside the Macarthur growth centre, unless one gives the massively increasing number of residents in Campbelltown the opportunity of getting jobs near to home rather than simply adding to the strangling of the roads and the congestion in the trains taking people from Campbelltown to Sydney, and unless one does something positive about creating job opportunities in the Campbelltown area one is subverting and defeating the whole object of having a growth centre.
There is no doubt, as I mentioned earlier, that sections of the industrial estate being developed in the valley leading down to Campbelltown, at Minto, are within the Sydney telephone district. However, it is impossible to convince businessmen that they should face the added expense of moving into a subscriber trunk dialling area because of a few kilometres when we are endeavouring to encourage them to fill that industrial estate which is being developed at the mutual expense of the State and Federal governments.
No one has denied the merit of bringing jobs to Campbelltown, of bringing jobs to the people, of diminishing the burden being placed now upon the transport systems. In fact we cannot have coherent development of such a growth centre so close to Sydney unless we can provide jobs in the area. I submit that there is no prospect of attracting industries to Campbelltown, there is no prospect of attracting commerce there, commerce being inclined to use telephones more than industry, unless we have a degree of flexibility about where this telephone area should end. The present Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), in one of his more expansive and, I submit, less coherent moods, in 1972 promised the people of Campbelltown that given a Labor
Government, which they were then given, Campbelltown would be included within the Sydney telephone district or else a telephone receiver could be inserted- I am not quite certain which orifice he had in mind- with vigour.
– What happened?
– I have not seen a telephone receiver in any of that honourable member’s orifices. Despite that promise there was no attempt in the past 3 years to bring Campbelltown into the Sydney telephone area. One is accustomed to that kind of promise being ignored by honourable members on the Opposition side. I must say, with respect to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson), that we on the Government side made no such promise and gave no such undertaking. As we are providing an immense amount of money to develop the Macarthur growth centre, to provide industry and commerce there, we should look at the reality of encouraging businessmen across a magic line which happens to be drawn, I think, 38 or 39 kilometres from the General Post Office in Sydney. In Melbourne you can go 41 kilometres from the GPO and still remain within the Melbourne telephone area. If only that same largesse which expresses itself in our southern neighbour were extended to the industries of Campbelltown rather than to the suburban elites of the Mornington Peninsula we would be able to include the Minto industrial area within the Sydney telephone area. I suggest that when people want to draw little lines they should look at the situation of Mount Eliza, which I believe is 41 kilometres from the GPO in Melbourne, and at Campbelltown, which is 41 kilometres from the GPO in Sydney. I wonder what the magic difference is. I wonder what were the special considerations which enabled the Labor Party to break its promise to Campbelltown, a promise which enabled a temporary aberration to take place in 1972 and a Labor member to occupy the role of the honourable member for Macarthur on the basis of a broken promise.
In the few minutes remaining to me I want to switch to another matter, the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The ABC has been subjected to a lot of criticism, much of which I believe is unfair although some of it is fairly accurate, on the matter of pornography and so on in television. I believe the problem could be largely resolved if we had a much more coherent method of restraint- I use the word ‘restraint’ rather than censorship- in the ABC. At the moment in the commercial area there are only 2 restraints in terms of censorship on television programs. They are that something may appear up to 8.30 p.m. or after 8.30 p.m. That division is an artificial and absurd one. The people likely to be corrupted, influenced, excited or whatever it is that happens to people who watch Alvin Purple -
-Bored it may well be. These people do not magically change at 8.30 p.m. All the children who may be influenced or other people who may be badly excited by the nude form do not magically go to bed at 8.30 p.m. I submit that the ABC and the Minister for Post and Telecommunications at least should consider the introduction of another category. Just as there are several categories for films, why should not the ABC and the commercial stations be subjected to the same principle of restriction instead of separate principles? Why should there not be 3 principles, one operating up until 8.30 p.m., one operating between 8.30 p.m. and 10 p.m. for mature audiences and another from 10 p.m. for restricted audience participation? I cannot see why the same principles applying to the film media should not be applied to the television media. I believe that in that way we probably would get a lot of problems off our chests. Who would care if Alvin Purple appeared after 10 p.m.? The rating would be lousy anyway.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I will give what might be called a slight measure of support to some of the remarks about the Australian Broadcasting Commission made by the temporary member for Macarthur (Mr Baume), the temporary member. It is true that during most of its existence it has been beleaguered in one way and another. There are always those people who think that the things it shows are things it ought not to show and so on. I can recall an occasion when the manager in Canberra received a very abusive and eloquent letter from some benighted soul south of Canberra who complained that it had shown the Australian Rules final instead of the Rugby final. It will always be under that kind of assault.
On the question of pornography, decency, good taste and such things, I hold an open mind as to what is what. On the whole I think that aesthetics, good taste and good judgment in these matters should prevail but there is no way you can define the subject. In the debates for and against censorship that occurred in this Parliament over the years, I usually took the line that there is no way in which you can have an effective censorship except that which relies upon good taste. My own view is that there are lots of things I do not want to look at. I do not think they ought to be inflicted on me and they ought not to be publicly displayed. But is television public or private? In most cases it is looked at by people who have the power to switch it off or to switch to something else. I am often offended by the language of my colleagues, even some of those who sit on this side of the chamber. I think that many words used to describe situations are unnecessary in view of the scope of the English language. I might also say that most of the things I consider obscenities are also inaccurate when used as metaphors. Therefore I hope there will be continuing pressure upon people in the public media to use good taste.
I want to say a word or too on behalf of the retention of the scope, style and size of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I think it was a major retrogressive move to reduce the scale of its activities, to look upon its operations as having to come under the system of cuts and restrictions that presently prevails. The ABC has a particular role; it is part of the freedom of information system in Australia. In a political sense it provides one of the few objective commentaries that there are. I use the word ‘objective’ in that sense. The ABC does not necessarily find the truth or always strives to find it but it has no political row to hoe. I believe it is important that the Parliament should exercise its authority over all those involved in the Australian Broadcasting Commission to ensure that its standards are retained. I regret the fracas some time back when the new Chairman chose to intervene in the program Alvin Purple. I have never watched that program. I think it comes within the area in which the highest authority has to leave the matter to the people who run the show but lay down guidelines from time to time. As far as I understand the situation, the restraints and cutbacks in recent times on the Australian Broadcasting Commission and its failure to expand in accordance with the inflationary value or non-value of money, represents a very serious blow to Australian cultural institutions, to the standard of our entertainment and to the development of such things as our film industry.
I regard the program Power Without Glory as a first-class production. I cite that as an example. I occasionally saw programs like Rush and others with varying degrees of entertainment value. 1 believe that the employment of people in the industry is important. The expansion of the opportunity for Australians to participate in cultural exercises of this sort fills a major social need. I think we have reached the stage in our society where the non-manufacturing part has to be developed. It is unfortunate that so far no formula has been developed by which we can obtain funds for this section of society except through the general run of the public purse. These areas are so important to our future affairs that we ought not allow them to be interfered with.
I shall raise two or three other matters in the 5 minutes I have left. First of all, I shall deal with the Post Office. The postal and telecommunications systems are part of the organs of democracy. The capacity to communicate across the continent and throughout society is very important in a democratic society. Over the last few years we have all been associated with policies which have been developed and which have imposed upon the Post Office financial policies which are irrelevant to its needs and slightly aberrant in the way they have developed. At the present moment I cannot see much chance of reducing the cost of postage although I think we could easily develop a better formula for arriving at what we ought to charge. I suggest to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Robinson) that he place before the Australian Postal Commission the idea of a local postal system. In the area which I represent, a major industrial area, we often want to post articles to a lot of people, as does everyone else. The 1 8c postage is, of course, a very great restriction upon the freedom and passage of information. I suggest that there ought to be a local postage charge. If one posts an article inside the postal delivery area so that it does not have to leave that post office, one should be charged something like 6c.
– Two cents.
– I think it should be 6c or 7c. I agree with the honourable member for La Trobe who is perhaps temporary but, for the moment, a useful member. As I understand the situation it costs 2c or 3c once we pop a letter in the letter box and it gets into the system and is delivered. During my ministerial presence in this place I was in charge of Norfolk Island where there is a penny postage system. It paid its way. Letter boxes were at the post, office. One put one’s letters in the post box and they were delivered into those letter boxes from which people collected their letters. Norfolk Island would be about the size of the average Melbourne suburb in area. I do not think we have applied our minds to the question of reducing these costs.
– Did it have a union?
-There are plenty of unions there. Norfolk Island was also well governed during that time. The other matter relates to telecommunications. I hope there will be a continuing program in the reduction of telephone charges. I wonder what is the actual return upon the coaxial cable between Melbourne and Sydney. Thousands of conversations go along it most of the day. People are being charged a certain rate and so the return to the telecommunications system must be extravagant in the extreme. I understand that despite everything else this section is still paying a profit. I come to the point where I think that the financial structure of the Post Office is some sort of a relic of the past. I can recall when the Post Office was first required to pay interest upon capital advances. My colleague from Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) said on that occasion: ‘This is the triumph of Treasury doctrine over common sense ‘. I believe that principle is well established. Perhaps something near $2, 000m has been spent on the capital works of the Post Office. Much of that amount has been paid for out of taxation by people who have gone before us. Many of them have long since died. Yet, for some mysterious reason it was decided that it was commercial practice to apply to those capital works some notional interest burden and so lay that burden on the system.
It seems to me from my observation of the systemI am not really a participant in the capitalist enterprise world- that that is not the way in which commercial enterprise works. Let us look at Broken Hill Pty Ltd and at its total capital involvement. Honourable members will find that some of that capital is share capital upon which the company pays a dividend as the directors decide; some of it is loan raisings upon which the company has to pay a fixed interest return; but a big proportion of it is cost free capital which the company has acquired either through appreciation of assets, sales of assets, or the ploughback of profits. This situation applies equally to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Ltd which was the home ground of Sir James Vernon. How is it that we allow what appear to me to be noncommercial principles to be applied to government operations as if they were commercial principles?
– Free enterprise.
– I have been saying this a long while. Perhaps it is starting to fall on more receptive ears. The more idiotic the principle, the more idiotic become the charges which flow from it. I understand that the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, who is at the table, is a tycoon of some sort in his own right. He would understand how he runs his business enterprises. He understands how to make money. I hope he will start to reverse the trend of the Post Office.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I shall address myself to one aspect of the estimates for the Postal and Telecommunications Department and that is ethnic radio. A large number of people in Australia are understandably worried about the future of ethnic radio which was one of the Labor Government’s most popular and welcome initiatives. Unfortunately, the present Government’s record in relation to ethnic radio is one of procrastination and double-talk and reflects no credit on the Government at all. It is hard to know whether the Government is being deliberately deceitful over this important matter or whether it is unbelievably incompetent. It has long proclaimed a commitment to ethnic radio. In the House on 23 March the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) stated:
The experiment has been extremely successful.
One need not go to Eton to work that out. The Minister continued:
If one looks at the sizes of the audience of various radio stations, whether conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Commission or by commercial companies, one must appreciate that both the ABC and the commercial operators are envious of the audiences commanded by the ethnic radio stations. There is a potential audience of over 400 000 people in both Melbourne and Sydney. A high proportion of those people listen to ethnic radio. I commend the initiative; the experiment has been a success.
He went on to say that there was no question of whether ethnic radio would be placed on a permanent basis. The question was merely one of the form it should take. They were very fine words. But as a wise old man once said: ‘Actions speak louder than words’, and in this case the gap between the rhetoric and the practice could hardly be wider. Ethnic radio has been totally neglected by the Government. In the Budget, funding for ethnic radio was provided only until the end of September 1976. We find on page 95 of Hansard for 1 7 August the following words:
By that time it is intended that plans will be announced for longer term ethnic broadcasting.
No one was very happy with that suggestion because no one likes to have this sort of uncertainty hanging over him. The Government had already shown on a number of occasions that when it defers matters under a smokescreen of fine protestations of goodwill, it is usually seeking a way to shelve those projects on the quiet so as to attract a minimum of hostile reaction from people it has hoodwinked. We feared the worst and, as I said at the time, if the Government meant to put an end to ethnic radio it should at least have the guts to say no. Nothing that has happened since that day has given me cause to retract that challenge. We waited for the promised long term plans and when they came, what did they amount to? There was the incorporation of ethnic radio into the Australian Broadcasting Commission, an organisation already reeling under the indiscriminate savagery of this mean-minded penny-pinching Treasurer, the individual who determines not only the policy of the Department of Foreign Affairs but also the policy of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Now it is time for him to determine the policies of the Department of the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson). I would never have thought so. It is a shame.
The various ethnic communities, and also we in the Labor Party, were understandably critical of this arrangement. It left many questions unanswered. It left the future of access station 3ZZ undetermined. It gave no indication whether ethnic communities would still have access to ethnic radio, nor was it immediately clear how ethnic radio was to be financed. Was it to be financed from the ABC’s already pitifully small budgetary allocation or would an additional appropriation be made for ethnic radio? It was only after sustained questioning in this House that we obtained an assurance from the Minister for Post and Telecommunications who is, incidentally, looking very sheepish at the moment, to the effect that additional funds would be made available for this year and that thereafter ethnic radio funds would be included as part of the allocation for the ABC. Again we waited. We waited up to and beyond the date when the budgetary appropriations were due to run out. Still nothing happened and now, finally, we are told that nothing will be done until December. I would hate to be holding my breath until the Government made a decision. No wonder the ethnic people are angry. No wonder those involved have been frustrated to the point of taking industrial action.
The Government has been guilty of either duplicity or immense incompetence. One of these 2 explanations has to be right because no other could be right. If it is duplicity, the Ministers involved deserve the scorn of all fair-minded Australians. To string so many people along with false promises which the Government had no intention of keeping is shameful and cowardly in the extreme. If its sin is incompetence, the- Ministers concerned have a catalogue of bungles for which to answer. Firstly, the Government has shown a total disregard for the feelings of ethnic communities. The Government’s delay in reaching a decision on the future of ethnic radio and its subsequent refusal to find funds for ethnic radio within the framework of the ABC for the next 12 months has caused confusion and concern among the migrant communities. With no assurance of funds in the long term, ethnic broadcasters have been hampered in the planning and preparation of programs. Secondly, the Government has displayed contempt for the opinions of ethnic peoples. There can be little public confidence in recommendations arising from a secret- they are all secret and I am wondering what they have to hide- inquiry. It was another inquiry held in a vague air of secrecy. The inquiry should have been conducted by a board including representatives of ethnic communities and professional broadcasters. Why could the Government not have done that? The only reason is that it had something to hide.
It may be, as the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs maintained in this House on 16 September, that some 250 submissions from individuals and ethnic groups were received, but the Minister completely begged the question when he went on to state that these submissions with very few exceptions recommended that ethnic radio be funded by the Government. A terrible thing! Of course they did, but not as part of the ABC. What the ethnic communities wanted was a statutory ethnic broadcasting corporation. It is to the credit of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and he also advocated this alternative. However, it is to the Government’s complete discredit that it allowed the important issue of ethnic radio to become the football in a power play between that Minister and the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Now some mischievous Government backbenchers have sought to misrepresent arguments of this sort as an attack on the ABC. They are not, as those honourable members well know.
The ethnic communities were legitimately worried about what sort of access they would have to ethnic radio once it became part of the ABC. They were worried about the degree of political interference which would occur in the ABC under the control of the Government’s newly hand-picked censor. And well they might be worried. The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs on 16 September guaranteed that ethnic communities would be given access to the programming and direction the programs should take. I say to the Minister: Do not patronise the ethnic people. They want details of the administrative arrangements which will facilitate access and guarantee freedom from political interference, not bland unsubstantiated assurances. This is normal. If one wants any reference to what might well be the acceptance of the communities, one only has to refer to my Press release on this matter. The Government must reverse its shoddy procrastination on ethnic radio. The delays have gone on long enough. If the Ministers concerned cannot put up they should resign and let someone do the job properly. The ethnic people have been insulted and put off long enough. It is time the Government realised this and took the necessary steps to provide ethnic radio with the funds and administrative machinery which it needs to function properly.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-It is disappointing to follow a speech which in my view talked up an issue far more than was ever warranted. It was a most pitiful display and, I regret, designed very much to appeal to people purely on an emotional issue and to make it appear that other honourable members in this place have no concern for people of ethnic origin. This is from the same man who I am reminded once used the term to describe one of his colleagues in this place, simply because of his ethnic origin- ‘Afghan camel driver’.
– You are a liar.
– Order! I suggest that the honourable member for Melbourne withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw it. However, I take a point of order. Mr Chairman, the remark attributed to me was not one that I made and I ask the honourable member to withdraw it.
– The honourable member for Melbourne has a right at the end of the speech of the honourable member for Parramatta to make a personal explanation to show where he has been misrepresented. Perhaps at this point, in view of what the honourable member for Melbourne has said, the honourable member for Parramatta might withdraw the reference.
– In view of his sensitivity I am certainly prepared to do that.
– I must pursue this matter -
– You are a show-off.
– The honourable member who interjected might show off in any other place than this. I have an unqualified objection to the remark; I would like an unqualified withdrawal.
– I suggest that the honourable member for Parramatta make an unqualified withdrawal of the statement.
-Most certainly. I do not wish to drag this out. I believe the point that I made before I made the remark is correct, namely that this issue is being talked up in a way that is totally unbecoming. We know that arrangements have been made by the Government. We know that it is a rational approach and that this is something the ethnic communities themselves want. It is an approach that they have supportedto have access -
– That is a lie.
– . . . to the ABC. It is technical -
– I withdraw.
– I suggest to the honourable member for Melbourne that he restrain himself.
-The point I make is that these ethnic groups have made their position public through their own statements that we have all seen. They have made the point that they support the merger with the ABC to give them access to its special resources and equipment and to give them the advantages that that organisation through its long experience in the field will be able to offer. I do not wish to say anything more about that issue because I want to talk about several other matters that are within the responsibility of the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson).
The Minister has responsibility for 3 statutory corporations. Honourable members will be aware that the Minister is unique in that a very large number of employees who are within the ambit of his ministerial responsibility are not directly responsible to him. Rather, we have established separate statutory corporations to assume that responsibility. These corporations are responsible directly to the Parliament. Fairly recently we established the Australian Postal Commission and the Australian Telecommunications Commission. We also have the various statutory broadcasting corporations. One of those corporations to which I propose to refer specifically later on in my address is the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
In the postal area we have seen, notwithstanding the change and the establishment of a statutory corporation, the continued blackmail by monopoly power in the work force of the statutory corporations of government. One of the most disappointing things to me- and I expressed this view when the corporations were established- is that the views of the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) were not followed when he suggested very seriously as a Minister of the Crown at the time that the security of tenure offered to employees of government ought to be examined in the development of statutory corporations. We see today the blackmail that is being exerted by means of the monopoly power of the trade unions over the Postal Commission through the unions being able to hold up the mails of the country. This sort of behaviour is not unique to this Government. As I look through my files I find that this was something that troubled the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) when he was Postmaster-General in the previous Government. I refer to the time when the honourable member endeavoured to make the Post Office as it then was, more efficient by the development of regional and decentralised sorting services throughout the metropolitan area. We saw the continual tie-up of mail and the attempt to use monopoly power by those who work in a particular situation where they have their own capacity to hold up an essential national service. These people work for a national organisation against which nobody else is able to compete.
I want to draw to the attention of honourable members an advertisement that appeared in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. The advertisement suggests that the New South Wales branch of the Australian Postal and Telecommunications Union has brought about substantial delays in the mails in Sydney. I want to support the Minister and the Commission in the action they have taken to endeavour to get the mails moving. I wish to draw to people’s attention that the reason for this strike is not that people are being dismissed but rather that the employees believe that not enough people are employed to make their load easier. That is the position, notwithstanding the substantial fall-off that we have seen in the amount of mail being processed. There have already been some offers to these people in terms of conciliation in which the Commission has offered to employ some additional staff but not the numbers that the employees want. This was not an unreasonable approach, but still the employees have rejected it.
I cannot speak in such glowing terms about the second corporation- the Australian Telecommunications Commission. Again this is a monopoly organisation because nobody else can operate in competition with it. During the time of the previous Government there was some competition from the red phones. However, that competition was eliminated. However, I want to draw the Minister’s attention to the difficulties faced by people who live in the metropolitan areas of Sydney and Melbourne in respect to the replacement of a most convenient buying guide, which was about 1 ¥i inches thick and covered the whole metropolitan area of Sydney, by 4 buying guides, one of which relates to my own western region of Sydney. The buying guide for each region is almost as thick as the original one. The reason for the separate publications is that the Telecommunications Commission, through its advertising organisation, has been able to obtain a great deal more money, I dare say, from advertisements which appear in these fancy volumes each of which, as I have said, is almost as big as the volume that used to serve the whole metropolitan area. This change has brought about a great deal of criticism which I believe is justified. The Minister has indicated in correspondence to me that the matter is being reviewed. I do not think this is good enough. I believe that the Minister has to make a firm announcement that we are going to get rid of this multiplicity of volumes as quickly as possible.
In the time that is left to me I want to say something about the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I urge the Minister, after his discussions of reports that I understand are available to the Government, to see that one organisation is responsible for all standards in relation to all broadcasting. I believe very strongly that the standards imposed on commercial organisations ought to be the same standards as those that apply to a government-run organisation.
– I want to take a few minutes to talk about a portfolio about which I had some knowledge in my earlier career. I have listened with some interest to what has been said this evening. I have heard most of it before. The solutions are not easy. Nevertheless, some of the aspects that were mentioned by the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock) are worthy of some consideration if one looks at them from the consumer point of view. I well remember the problem of having to talk to an advertising agency about what was then known as the pink pages having to go through a particular agency- in other words, the private enterprise sector. I often thought at that time that there was some motivation behind the splitting of the business directory into a number of volumes. The motivation seemed to be that this increased advertising revenue and therefore the commissions were greater. We went through that hassle at that time but obviously the Commission in its wisdom has again taken up the position that it needs a multiplicity of books. It is difficult to get people to change their views. But I am convinced it would be cheaper for the consumers, certainly in some States, if we did not have so many volumes.
The Post Office will possibly always have difficulties until a better understanding is developed between the administration and the work force. If one looks at the psychology of the Redfern Mail Exchange one can see that the development of that enterprise was not successful in its concept because the work force there felt that they were not being looked after, or were not involved in the administration. Possibly in the whole aspect of industrial relations in this country we should put less emphasis on hours of work and more emphasis on productivity. Perhaps some incentive should be given to workers who have to perform tedious work. I am certain that in many cases the results would be much better to set a productivity level that could easily be achieved than to expect workers to stay at monotonous tasks for many hours. A clear indication of the effectiveness of this sort of method used to be seen in what was known as the old parcels section of the Post Office. From my understanding of the arrangement the people working there were able to leave when they had finished their work- and what was wrong with that if they carried out their jobs efficiently? When the staff were moved into the Redfern complex these officers had to stay there as long as everybody else. Therefore there were hostilities. Wages are not high and the work is tedious. The opportunities for promotion were rare and the officers really did not see any personal interest being taken in them. Any successful businessman will say that it is in his own interest to be involved in the work force and to look for the ideas of the staff on how best to run the business from the point of view of the public. It can be done, but it cannot be done from afar.
I had an opportunity to speak to the staff at Redfern on many occasions. I would say that one can build up a relationship and a goodwill. I am not suggesting that the Minister now has to do that. He has commissioners who involve themselves in the work. There is no doubt that by discussing the problems one can get satisfaction and understand them. But to remain aloof from them and to leave them to somebody else further down the line and to expect results with all the clashes of personality and all the bitterness that has built up over the years is not realistic.
I rose to speak on something which has developed and with which I have become involved in the news media, namely, something that is called bugging of telephones. I am not suggesting there is a cure for this. Radio station 2UE quite worthily and with some experience has been carrying out a survey as to the sale of appliances that can be used for the interception of conversations, whether they are by telephone or otherwise. I think the station is doing a splendid job. It has ascertained that these appliances are readily on sale in all capital cities at a relatively low cost. Some of these appliances have been found in telephone equipment at the pillar box, in the handsets or somewhere else. No tapping of the phone is involved, so members of the telecommunications staff are completely exempt from these comments. In fact, they have been the ones who have been able to find the devices.
The question that arises in the public mind is: What legal system can one develop to prevent this sort of interception? There is an Act of this Parliament called the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act which clearly says that anybody who listens to or records by any means any telephone conversation is liable to a penalty of $1000 and 2 years gaol, or anybody who divulges any communication is liable to a penalty of that nature. Certainly from the point of view of national security we have to have an opportunity at times to come in on a conversation providing we get the permission of the AttorneyGeneral or the Prime Minister. But we are talking about these devices being on sale. In some cases it will be argued that we do not have the power to control them, and I think that might be right. Certainly if they are used in respect of telephone installations that would be a breach of the Act. But how does one find the culprit?
It appears that it might be worthy of some investigation by and consultation between law enforcement bodies of the Commonwealth, together with those of the States, to see whether there could be some effective control on the sale of these appliances and whether they should be sold only to those who would be entitled and licenced to use them. As the Minister would know, under the Wireless Telegraphy Act we licence people to use radio waves in the megahertz bands. Other people cannot do it. It would follow that perhaps these same people would be entitled to use these appliances but anybody else certainly ought to be the subject of surveillance to determine who is buying them and what they are being used for. Of course these devices could be used for the interception of conversation without using an appliance of the Telecommunications Commission. This would then come under State law, I should think.
There is some doubt about where the law starts and ends from the point of view of the Commonwealth. The Constitution merely states that the question of telephonic or telegraphic or other like services are the responsibility of the Commonwealth. The question is whether such devices come within that ambit. There was a case in 1936 called Brislan’s case. The judgment clearly said that the Commonwealth would have the power to look at any matter which was the subject of electronic transmission of the voice. It may be that we can cover the whole field. What I am saying is this: It is clear that the public is concernedparticularly people carrying on business, people who have confidential information, people who have information that can be marketable- to think that a conversation could be the subject of interception by an appliance either placed in a room or placed in a telephone set. It is not satisfactory to say that there is nothing we can do about it.
I think now that the sales of the appliances are so rife, and that is known now to people in Sydney particularly, something should be done to control the sale of those devices. It would seem to me that people selling them should be licenced and people buying them should be licenced, and that would be the only way in which we could try to get some control. It follows that, as people engaged in the invasion of the privacy of others are now licenced, usually by State governments, the use of these appliances and telephonic communication equipment also ought to be the subject of surveillance. By that method we would reduce the number of people using those appliances. Certainly they can be hand made and these could not be effectively controlled. Nevertheless those that are on sale and those that are imported ought to be known.
I suggest to the Minister and the Telecommunications Commission that through its law enforcement agency there be some urgent consultation with the appropriate State AttorneysGeneral and also the Federal Attorney-General to determine whether some method should be developed to enable the spirit of the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act to be maintained. That is, people would be entitled to the privacy of their homes or their businesses, and to the privacy of the information they have in the course of their businesses and not have it used against them or misused and abused as it may now be with the interception by appliances that can be purchased. Otherwise we will get to the position where the technology outruns the law and the law appears to be weak and ineffective. I ask the Minister to give the matter sympathetic and urgent consideration.
-I rise to support the estimates for the Postal and Telecommunications Department. When we look at the record for the first 12 months of operation of the Australian Postal Commission we find that in its operations it had a trading surplus of approximately $32m. This resulted in part from improved efficiency and better than expected business, economic and industrial conditions. Since the change of government in Australia confidence has been restored and no doubt this has had a beneficial effect on the first year’s operations of the Postal Commission. It is interesting to note how the Commission is going to dispose of this surplus. I understand that there are 3 ways in which it will be disposed of. Firstly, the capital borrowings of $3m made in 1975-76 will be repaid. Secondly, the subsidisation of 1976-77 rates on registered publications will not be needed while the present rates apply. This is very good because the rates of postage on registered publications have given us considerable problems as members of the Parliament. Thirdly, the application of the balance will be considered against progressive 1976-77 operating needs of the Commission.
I should like to have seen this trading surplus applied to a reduction in the postal rates. We have the highest rate of postage in the world. As I mentioned, surely some of this surplus could have been applied to lower postage charges all round. Business and the public are having problems with a high postal rate and a very dear communications service. As a result the postage service is not being utilised in many instances. Postmasters in my electorate and in other areas in which I travel in Australia indicate to me that the volume of their business has fallen off by as much as 20 per cent. I agree with the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) that surely a local postal rate could be charged for letters being posted to post office boxes in cities and in country towns where all the sorters have to do is to sort the letters into a box. I know that the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) who is at the table has introduced certain reductions in this postal field but I feel that they are not big enough and that where letters are posted to box numbers consideration should be given to applying a lower postage rate.
We are experiencing far too many strikes in the mail services of this country, and it would be fair to say that the mail services cannot be relied upon. Strikes frequently occur at the Redfern Mail Exchange, and I understand that at the present time over 5 million postal articles and thousands of parcels are held up at this centre. Employees at the exchange are on strike on far too many occasions, and I wonder whether some means of bypassing the exchange could be found and a better postal service achieved.
When the matter was taken up with the postal workers union, one union official at the exchange said that the strikes were caused through lack of staff. That could be so, but it is impossible for honourable members and for the public to judge. The concern of the postal union for the alleged staff shortage is a great deal worse than the shortage itself. For poor service, one could substitute no service at all. If the union expects sympathy from other quarters it had better think again. It has a long and lamentable history of industrial trouble-making and of denying to the public the continuity of an essential service. The New South Wales union is at odds with its federal counterpart, which has ordered it to lift the bans, and in Melbourne yesterday the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission handed down exactly the same decision. It needs to be borne in mind that the duty of the Postal Commission is to run the service on businesslike lines and to keep charges to the public as low as possible. That is being made more difficult by the apparent reluctance of the postal workers to work overtime and also their insistence on higher staff levels. The New South Wales president of the union claims that it is part of the union’s policy to have a showdown with the Government. His union is certainly provoking that showdown.
It is interesting to learn that at 30 June the staff of the Postal Commission had decreased by 48 1, or 1 .5 per cent, to 32 598 employees. On the capital side, new post offices and works throughout Australia are to be programmed, and these are estimated to cost $10,503,000 in 1975-76. In my electorate of Paterson we have been battling to secure a new post office for the Beresfield area, which is growing very rapidly, and its neighbouring suburb of Woodberry. I am delighted to know that $2 10,000 has been provided in the estimates for a new post office at Beresfield to serve both Beresfield and Woodberry, which have a combined population of 7000 to 8000 people. It is good to know that capital works are still going on to provide post offices for this country.
I should like to say a few words about the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s performance in the Paterson electorate and the great difficulties being experienced by television viewers in the Hunter Valley due to the translator station which has been built just out of Aberdeen on Rossgoll Mountain. There is frequent interference with the service and poor television reception. As the Minister for Post and Telecommunications would know, I have made constant representations on this matter and the Department’s engineers have investigated the problems associated with the poor television reception, particularly at Murrurundi, Merriwa and Cassilis. Up to the present time, nothing has been done to rectify the problem. The people have television sets and they expect a good television service. I ask the Minister to look at this matter to see whether some action could be taken to give the people of the area good television reception.
In regard to the Telecommunications Commission, it has 37 million telephone services, a staff of 87 461 and a projected budget of $2, 100m. It is indeed a tremendous undertaking. There are still some problems with the installation of telephones throughout my area, but when the matter is raised with the engineers concerned we are advised that there is a shortage of cable and a shortage of staff. Again, I would ask the Minister to see whether these problems can be overcome and more telephone connections provided, because people in country areas are disadvantaged without the use of telephone services. It is pleasing to note that the Telecommunications Commission has increased the line distance installation from 8 kilometres to 12 kilometres, at a cost to the Commission. When the LiberalCountry Party was in government in 1 972 its policy was to connect telephones up to 1 5 miles from the local exchange. However, the new increase in the distance will save primary producers an average of $ 1 ,280 per person.
– I wish to raise tonight an issue reported in the Australian Financial Review this morning which shows the duplicity of the Liberal Party and is an admission that, by nefarious means, it has control of a radio station which is supposed to be an independent station. The headline to the article reads: ‘Liberal Party wants Control over 3XY programs’, and of course 3XY is a radio station in Melbourne. The article states:
The Liberal Party in Victoria is hoping to exercise complete control over the program content of radio station 3XY in Melbourne when the present agreement with the station’s operator, Efftee Broadcasters Pty Ltd, expires in May 1 978.
The article goes on:
Station 3XY Pty Ltd is owned by Sir Magnus Cormack (chairman) -
Of course, Sir Magnus Cormack is a former President of the Senate and is at present a senator-
Mr S. M. L. Guilfoyle (executive director)
The article states later on that he is the husband of the present Minister for Social Security- and Mrs Audrey Reader and Mr H. Murray Hamilton.
Those people whose names I have just read are the licensees. The article continues:
Efftee Broadcasters Pty Ltd, which operates the station under an agreement with Station 3XY Pty Ltd -
I have already read the names of the owners of that station- is owned SO per cent by broadcasting station 2SM, 35 per cent by Sims Consolidated, and IS per cent by David Syme and Co. Ltd.
The basic issue I want to bring out is contained later in the evidence set out. I submit that an agreement between station 3XY- I have already stated who the owners of that station are- and Efftee Broadcasters Pty Ltd- I have already stated who owns that- is contrary to the Broadcasting and Television Act. If one reads carefully the evidence contained in the article, one will see that that is the crunch of the issue. Mr Guilfoyle, as I said, is the husband of the present Minister for Social Security, Senator Guilfoyle. The article also states:
Mr Guilfoyle said the notice was served because Efftee had broken the terms of the agreement by allowing paid ALP advertisements to be broadcast before the last Federal election.
Before that, the article states:
Mr Tadgell also suggested Station 3XY had, in February this year, served notice on Efftee to terminate the operating agreement as a means of extracting more money.
The article goes on to state, and I repeat it once again:
Mr Guilfoyle said the notice was served because Efftee had broken the terms of the agreement by allowing paid ALP advertisements to be broacast before the last Federal election.
As I understand it, it is contrary to the Broadcasting and Television Act for any radio station -
– Which section?
– I have been a director of a radio station; so I have some knowledge of the position. It is contrary to the terms of the Act for a radio station to refuse an advertisement from a party along those lines. That is, where it is bringing a deliberate political content into the issue and refusing to receive the advertisement, it is acting contrary to the terms of the Act if the matter deals with politics. In this instance there was a specific agreement entered into which provided that the station should not accept advertisements from the Australian Labor Party. In fact if we take the matter further we find some very interesting bits of information. It is disclosed that by arrangement with the Liberal Party the company operated from some of the space at the Party’s Albert Street premises. We also find out that, asked about the philosophy station 3XY would like to project if it had a 51 per cent interest, Mr Guilfoyle said:
They would like to think of ‘ political education ‘ -
In other words, trying to influence the minds of young people in favour of a particular political philosophy- rather than the hard core politics.
The station has in mind, apparently, political education rather than hard core politics. He said that there should be continuing emphasis on Australian content and that the station would like to get involved with community projects. All this is admitted by the husband of the present Minister for Social Security. Mr Guilfoyle also said that in his opinion the program content is a matter for the Party to decide- the Party being the Liberal Party of Australia. But, as I have said, the whole crunch of this issue is that there was an agreement between Efftee Broadcasters Pty Ltd and 3XY Pty Ltd, with Sir Magnus Cormack as chairman, Mr Guilfoyle, the husband of the present Minister for Social Security as the executive director and Mrs Audrey Reader and Mr H. Murray Hamilton as owners. I do not know the politics of the last two people. I have not been able to check that out yet. But they admit through the whole of the evidence that it is basically a Liberal Party station and that there is an agreement which, I submit, is contrary to the Act which states quite unequivocally that it shall not accept advertisements from the ALP. For that reason, according to Mr Tadgell, who, of course, is a Queen’s Council appearing for Efftee, apparently in February of this year they had served notice on Efftee to terminate the operating agreement as a means of extracting more money.
I suggest that this is a matter which needs full investigation. It is a very serious issue that a station of this nature is deliberately adopting an attitude when it is supposed to be an independent station. At least the other radio stations in this country are frank about their political colour. But in this instance the radio station has gone straight in and quite deliberately under a nom de plume, it may be said, operated on behalf of the Liberal Party. Now the owners want a 51 per cent shareholding because 50 per cent of the shareholding is not sufficient for control. But the basic thing is that the owners entered into an agreement which is contrary to the Broadcasting and Television Act.
– I want to thank honourable members who have contributed to the discussion on the estimates for the Postal and Telecommunications Department. We have experienced the operation of the Australian Postal Commission and the Australian Telecommunications Commission- autonomous commissions- for well over 12 months now. While the coalition Government parties had qualifications and reservations about setting up the Commissions, experience with them is demonstrating that it is a system that can work well for the benefit for the Australian community. Marketing initiatives have been taken over the last 6 months. The reduction in the postage rate for bulk postage has been referred to already. We are looking, as much as possible, to reduce costs in the rural areas. Australia is a very large island continent. The communications system must necessarily be extensive and expensive and we are looking continually at possibilities for a reduction of costs. This is an across the board attitude.
I listened carefully to the contribution of the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) with regard to industrial relations. This is the key area in which there can be much improvement, where we can get improved productivity and where we can hold down prices and costs in the future. I do not want to say anything which would in any way add to the problems of the Redfern mail exchange. I would state simply that I hope common sense prevails as we move towards a particularly important time in regard to mail services throughout Australia. I also took note of the honourable member’s comments about interception and they will be looked at.
One or two speakers mentioned the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I again want to saythis is repetitive and I do not know how often I have to say it for it to sink into some minds- that the integrity and the independence of the ABC is not at risk. It is not under threat. But when we have a national broadcasting service which, after all, costs the Australian taxpayers about $ 170 m a year, if we add the total cost of the budget plus the engineering services, it is only reasonable that there be real scrutiny. I would hope that we get a greater capacity for objectivity and excellence. I think that we really expect objectivity and excellence of the ABC. The ABC can be reassured of its independence.
There were 2 speeches tonight which were more fictional than factual. The first one by the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) concerned ethnic broadcasting. He well knows that the coalition Parties are committed to the permanent funding of ethnic broadcasting throughout Australia. But we are not going to get into a system unless we are certain it will work for the benefit of all the ethnic communities throughout Australia. Unlike our predecessors, we do not go off half-cocked. We had a close look at the system. We had a far reaching inquiry. We decided- it was a joint discussion and a joint decision by my colleague, the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar), and I- that we believed it was in the best interests of Australians and of the ethnic communities generally if we set up a separate unit within the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
It will be a separate unit in a similar way to Radio Australia. There have been 1 or 2 problems in discussing with the Commission the exact way in which the system will work. In the meantime, the funding will continue. The funds which have been made available in the period whilst we have had this trial will continue to be available. I would expect to reach agreement with the Australian Broadcasting Commission in the next few weeks. In my discussions with representatives of the ethnic communities at the end of last week, they also appreciated and accepted the sincerity and the determination of the Government to maintain a proper system.
Another speech to which I wish to refer was the irresponsible one made by the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage). Of course I suppose an irresponsible speech from him was not unexpected. In regard to 3XY I wish to tell him that I read the newspaper as well as he does. The matter does happen to be before the Australian Broadcasting Control Board at the present time. Although the honourable member for Chifley may think it is proper to make comment on it, I do not intend to do so other than to say it is a continuing hearing. I do not think that anybody on either side of the Parliament really wants to start talking about funds that are available to political parties from broadcasting companies. I would have to acknowledge that the most successful Party to achieve funding from broadcasting would of course be the Australian Labor Party. Do I need to remind the honourable member for Chifley of the contribution of-is it $400,000 a year?
-I think it is $500,000.
-Is it? Well, I think it is about $400,000 from 3KZ in Victoria. Do I have to remind the Labor Party about 2K.Y and the New South Wales Labor Council and 2HD in Newcastle. I do happen to know in quite substantial detail the contribution by 4KQ in Queensland. What I want to say to the honourable member for Chifley is that when he raises these issues he has to accept that he is on very slender ground. With regard to this other hearing, I think it is a matter for the Broadcasting Control Board. It is an indepenent authority and it will come to the right decision in accordance with its responsibilities under the Act.
One or 2 comments have also been made about the Green report on the broadcasting system. I received a copy of that report about a week or two ago. The report is now in the hands of the Ministry. There is a submission from me to the Government about the structure of the broadcasting system. I expect a decision from the Government concerning that in the relatively near future. It will be in the interests of the broadcasting system if we have a very close look at it. A lot of initiatives have been taken in recent years and the relationship between the various bodies that constitute the broadcasting systemthe public, the commercial and the national systemneed to be looked at. They have been looked at. The Government will arrive at a decision before long and when it has done so, the report will be made available.
Finally, I should like to thank honourable members for their contributions to this discussion on the estimates for the Postal and Telecommunication Department. The various points that have been raised by honourable members will be closely looked at by officials of the Department and myself. Where necessary, answers will be given to any matters raised.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Proposed expenditure, $54,6 1 7,000.
– In the space of the 10 minutes available to me to discuss the estimates for the AttorneyGeneral’s Department I wish to refer to several matters which are of importance. The Constitutional Convention will be taking place in Hobart next week and I do not wish to canvass in detail what will be the problems in a legal sense of trying to get agreement as to how best we should amend the existing Constitution. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that we should be putting to the Australian people a brand new Constitution- a complete alternative- rather than trying to go through the difficulties of amending words in a section and deleting other sections. I think it would be thoroughly confusing.
I can well understand now why the Convention has been going for so long because it is difficult to get agreement on any one matter. But I think it would be very important to suggestand I will be urging this on my own Party- that we do submit to the Australian people an alternative Constitution which would clearly show that the House of Representatives is the paramount House of the people in respect of money bills, that there is room for a Senate and that if there were difficulty between the 2 Houses in other than Supply there would immediately be a joint sitting and there matters could be resolved. We could then get some stability into this nation. At the present time we are still in a poor economic plight, in many cases due to lack of confidence and lack of certainty which can be directly related to the events of 1 1 November last. We cannot afford a repetition of that occasion because I am convinced that it would lead to chaos and anarchy. The fortuitous circumstances of having 2 1 Bills stored aside may never be available again yet we could still get the same set of circumstances whereby there could be a blockage of Supply and complete anarchy in this country.
I think the Constitution has to reflect the fact that our forefathers considered that the House of finance is the House of the people and that the Government is entitled to remain in office for 3 years providing it has the numbers in that House. The other day the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott), in answer to a question, was anxious to say that there was discretion in GovernorsGeneral. I still disagree on this point. The Attorney-General referred to the fact that Sir Samuel Griffiths had given an opinion. Let me remind the Attorney-General that that opinion was not accepted by the then Governor-General. He acted on the advice of the Prime Minister as all Governors-General should, whether in the past or in the future. Perhaps we may have a constitution that can avoid having the problems associated with that position.
I should also like to remind the AttorneyGeneral that one does not have to agree that what Labor members thought was right in 195 1 is necessarily good law. To that extent, they had no right to suggest that Governor-General McKell was wrong. I think he was perfectly right. He took the advice of the then Prime Minister,
Mr Menzies, and what he said was perfectly correct. So if we stick to precedent and GovernorsGeneral are able to act on the advice of Prime Ministers we will not get into difficulty. We should bear in mind the article to which the Attorney-General referred, the first sentence of which clearly indicates the difficulties that can apply and which may well encourage some degree of discretion when there are Prime Ministers who have sustained or who are about to sustain a defeat in the popular chamber. When there are those sets of circumstances which applied on 3 occasions prior to 1910 because of the plurality of parties in this House there has to be some discretion as to who could govern if those Parties started to separate and join with other segments.
There is no precedent at all to suggest that any Governor-General should take advice from a Chief Justice without the consent of a Prime Minister. There is plenty of precedent to show that a Governor-General should always act on the advice of the Prime Minister. Let me make it clear: In 1914 Sir Munro Ferguson said in respect of this particular case that he was exercising only a theoretical discretion. In 193 1 Sir Isaac Isaacs said that he had no discretion to act. That is clearly the position as recently supported by Mr Justice Jacobs in the Territories case. So let us make it very clear that we do need a new Constitution. We ought to take out of the present Constitution all the archaic provisions such as section 59 which provides that Her Majesty may disallow any law within 12 months. No Australian could possibly imagine that that section is still in the Constitution. Nevertheless, we have such provisions. I should like to see a set of circumstances under which the Australian people could vote de novo on what the Constitution should be like on the basis that when they elect a House of Representatives it ought to be able to govern, and on the basis that a Senate has certain duties and if there is a conflict other than on money Bills it can be resolved without a double dissolution. Then we will get some stability.
Let us look at some of the problems of the Attorney-General as regards legal aid, which seems to be a very difficult problem indeed. I am sympathetic to his cause to the extent that he says we need an effective legal aid system. I again remind him of some of the matters that have already been mentioned prior to this, namely, the domination of the Treasury theory that a dollop of money, a lump sum of money, allocated in advance has to be sufficient. It is nowhere near sufficient. I am reminded that the present legal aid allocation has been virtually eaten up by family law problems. I understand that 80 per cent of the legal aid allocation in South Australia goes to family law problems. The figure is something like 70 per cent in New South Wales.
It is true that the States are doing as much as they can. The Opposition thinks that it is important to have an effective legal aid commission. If possible, we should have one centre in each State, or one centre in various areas or regions of a State, to which a person needing legal aid can go and get advice, whether it be at a Federal or State level.- But that legal aid should be funded by the Australian Government and should not be subject to the plurality of divisions and the difficulties of funding.
I am quite convinced that the State AttorneysGeneral would readily co-operate with the Federal Attorney-General on the basis that if the funds were provided they would be happy to run the system. It is no good trying to do it on the cheap with the Commonwealth Government saying that it has some money and it wants the States to operate the system because the States would wind up having to bear the brunt and facing the difficulty of finding finance themselves. They are trying to do their best. They have not adequate resources. They do not have access to the national monetary funds of the Treasury. In many cases they are relying on interest from the trust accounts of solicitors to try to keep the funds going. It is important that the private practitioners be directly involved in legal aid.
One other matter which gives me grave concern is the reference in the Estimates to the fact that the Aboriginal Legal Aid Service will now be funded by an allocation of $3. 7m, which is deemed to be sufficient. I can well understand the Aboriginal Legal Aid Service now being very dismayed to receive from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs a set of criteria on a draft basis as to how it should spend that $3.7m. It must amaze you, Mr Deputy Chairman, to see, for example, that if the service has appeared for one person 4 times in a year it cannot appear for that person any more. I think it is outrageous. If one has been convicted in a court of summary jurisdiction and wishes to appeal the case should be judged on its merits. I well know that in Sydney it was often standard practice to suggest -
– That has nothing to do with my department.
-I accept that. But it is mentioned in the estimates for the AttorneyGeneral’s Department that $3.7m is available for legal aid. I do not want to take the AttorneyGeneral to task but I would like him to look at the issue. He might be able to influence his colleagues to accept the view that an effective legal aid scheme ought to be on the basis that Aborigines get as much money as they need to run a proper legal aid service. In the guidelines now suggested Aborigines are encouraged first to explore the other legal aid services available in the States. In other words, if they can get the poor, unfortunate State instrumentalities to pick up the tab for them they must do that first. The Aborigines are saying that to be dominated in this sense means that they lose their integrity, their individuality and their ability to run their own legal aid system. We want to try to establish among the Aboriginal people that they have a role to play in this community. They are members of an underprivileged group. They need to have confidence to make their own decisions. In legal aid matters it is not good enough for their attitude to be downgraded by the fact that it is subservient to somebody else’s view. There has been a monetary allocation of $3. 7m.
– A blank cheque.
-It is not a blank cheque. Let us have some balance and discretion. The honourable member would be the first to agree with me when I say that it is ridiculous to say that one should not have the right of an appeal from a summary conviction unless perhaps the responsible Minister approves and that one should not involve oneself in family law matters because they are deemed to be of a lesser priority. It is certainly ridiculous to take the view that if a State legal aid service is available one should go to it first. This is wrong in concept. I want the Government to have a serious look at it because people are objecting. How will the Government justify its attitude to the Australian community if the Aboriginal people say they are getting out of legal aid altogether because of what the Government has done?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman) -
Order! The honourable gentleman’s time has expired.
– I want to take up first of all the remarks made about the Constitutional Convention. There is a certain amount of piety about the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) when he approaches this matter and I think it is quite unbecoming in this important debate. While he says that it is desirable that we have a rational discussion on this subject, he immediately postures a position for himself and his colleagues which presupposes that the position they took last November was absolutely correct and that we ought to ratify it now. That is what he is saying. I do not accept that for one minute, nor would any honourable member on this side of the chamber. The honourable member was talking about having a rational discussion. I will enter into a rational discussion about the matter, but let us not try to enter into a rational discussion and make it appear pious which is how it would be. Honourable members opposite are the ones who want a rational discussion, but they are immediately presupposing that their position is absolute and correct. They are forgetting the judgment of the people of Australia at the ballot box.
– We were not judged on Supply.
-Honourable members opposite were judged on all the issues. Year after year they talk in this place about mandates on a whole range of issues which probably have never even been put. If the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith were to tell me that the withholding of Supply was not mentioned at the Australian Labor Party meetings during the last election campaign perhaps I would take some notice of him. But the fact of the matter is that the only issue ever mentioned at the Labor Party’s meetings and rallies was the issue of the withholding of Supply. Labor supporters spoke about it. They argued about it. They put it up as the issue. That is all they talked about and they were judged on that issue. The honourable member says piously that we should enter into some rational discussion on the basis that we automatically and as a whole accept his position, assume that it is right and work from there . There will be no rational discussion until Opposition members are prepared to acknowledge that there are other points of view. If we are to arrive at a position where we cannot be put in a factual state where there is no money available, there are other means by which that can be achieved. We can achieve it by noting the way in which our Constitution was structured and its very purpose of holding together a community which has quite diverse interests. The reality is that if we are to hold this country together, and if we are to be able to get rid of the continual discussion we hear from groups in some parts of Australia of secession, we can do so only so long as there is a position in the Constitution which guarantees the participation of these groups in the Commonwealth. That is what the honourable member wants to forget, to pass over, when he says that we ought to have some sort of referendum de novo which will resolve the matter. He is assuming that the great bulk of people in New South Wales and Victoria can out-vote the rest of Australia on putting in a form of Constitution which will entrench the interests of the people he and I represent. I find that difficult to take and difficult to argue. The honourable member will not get any agreement on the propositions he puts forward if they are based on that proposition.
– You will not even try.
– I want to enter into a rational discussion but I do not accept your point of view as the starting point. I would like to deal with the important subject of legal aid. I compliment the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) on the fact that additional funds have been made available for legal aid this year. I compliment him on his endeavours to get the States to discuss a rational legal aid program for the whole of Australia. I do not accept the proposition advanced by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith that we ought to use our money to obtain control of the legal aid that the States offer already. In legal aid debates previously in this chamber I pointed out the multiplicity of aid programs in my own State of New South Wales. Perhaps it is important to mention them again so that people will understand the breadth and the number of organisations one can approach for legal aid. You can go to the Law Society of New South Wales which has a number of programs. You can go to the Public Solicitor. You can go to the Courts of Petty Sessions. There are certain referral centres. There is the New South Wales Commissioner for Legal Aid Services who offers legal assistance. The number of organisations offering legal advice is so diverse, the number of offices you can go to for legal advice is so numerous, that it is little wonder that people do not know where they are going, that they do not know where to look and have to shop around before finding that they probably cannot get any aid at all. It is because there is this multiplicity of organisations and structures, each of which has to be supported and maintained, that legal aid becomes so expensive.
I would like to draw to the attention of honourable members the limited number of Australian Legal Aid Offices that now exist, with the amount of money we are allocating, in comparison with the large number of facilities already existing, particularly in New South Wales. Honourable members should look at a question on notice asked by Senator Coleman which appears a page 1 1 8 1 of the Senate Hansard of 1 3 October. In reply to that question, Senator Durack, representing the Attorney-General, said that in New South Wales there were legal aid offices in Sydney, Bankstown, Blacktown,
Fairfield, Leichhardt, Newcastle, Ryde, Tamworth and Wollongong. Honourable members would know, if they looked at the front page of the telephone directory, how many Courts of Petty Sessions there are where a qualified legal aid officer in the form of the Clerk of Petty Sessions is available to assist people. If one adds to that the officers of the Public Solicitor and each of the public authorities I have mentioned, the Law Society and so on, and each of the solicitors who is entitled to offer advice and then seek assistance from the Law Society scheme, one appreciates the width of that service and how narrow is the service that we offer in comparison.
The legal aid we offer is sectional. If one presupposes that in some way it is better it means that some people are entitled to first class legal aid because they come within a particular class of persons- they might be public servants, migrants, pensioners and so on- and others get second class legal aid. I am not pre-supposing that the State offers second class assistance but on the assumption that one system is first class and the other is second class the balance of the people have access only to that second class aid that is available. The importance of legal aid cannot be underestimated. Vinson v. Hornet in 47 ALJ records the importance of legal assistance in influencing the outcome of proceedings.
In this debate I would like to emphasise the importance of getting the co-operation of the States and the States entering into meaningful negotiations with the Attorney so that we can rationalise the complex legal aid systems we have at the moment because they are not helping Australia and they are not helping the people who are deserving of that aid. Secondly, I would like to compliment the Attorney on moving to establish the Family Law Council and in seeking advice on the Family Law Act. I believe that already there are good reasons for the Family Law Act to be reviewed. Finally, I would like to direct the attention of the Attorney to an article by D. C. Pearce on the privileges committees of the Australian Parliament which appeared in the Federal Law Review. I ask him to take careful note of that article and the very well reasoned suggestions the author makes that there ought to be an Act of Parliament setting out the Parliament’s privileges and providing for an independent method of assessing when there has been a breach of privilege.
– I have looked at the estimates of the Attorney-General’s Department with a great deal of interest to see what kind of priorities the
Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) has set for himself during his tenure of office. The AttorneyGeneral is a unique man. He is one of the 2 holders of that office who have resigned from a non-political public office to go into politics. He is certainly one of the persons with the greatest legal background who has ever occupied the office of Attorney-General. Therefore it is very interesting to look at the sorts of things he has been interested in developing in his tenure of this portfolio. I went back to the debates of last year to see what interested him in the debate on the Attorney-General’s estimates in 1975. Not surprisingly, at that time he indicated that he wanted to talk mostly about the enforcement of the law on the Constitution. What he said was very bad law and very bad politics and in the course of saying it he took a few side swipes at Sir Isaac Isaacs which, of course, also was the habit of one of his Liberal-Country Party predecessors as Attorney-General.
The present Attorney has been regaling us here constantly for the past several weeks and has sought to revive debate about the events of last November, something which the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) and all honourable members on this side of the House are only too keen to do. In the course of last week the Attorney-General replied to a question, solicited from the most obscure corner of his back benches, by referring to a precedent’ when he was talking about an article in a learned journal. That was pretty extraordinary for an Attorney-General as steeped in the law as the present Attorney-General is.
During the Estimates debates last year a great many speakers talked of legal aid, particularly the achievement of the Labor Government in establishing the Australian Legal Aid Office. Not surprisingly the present Attorney-General did not refer to that office. That could have been because at that time, in the same debate on the same Budget, his Leader, the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), had pledged to abolish that office. That is one pledge by the Prime Minister that we can all heed. It certainly is one that we can believe he will put into action. He certainly will abolish the Australian Legal Aid Office; his Attorney has set about doing it for him.
Before I get off the point about the Constitution, I am delighted to see that in at least one item appearing in these estimates there is a reduction in cost, attributable no doubt to these constitutional affairs. In division 170.2.1, relating to the High Court travel expenses, including car hire for the Chief Justice, there is a reduction of $50,000.I assume that this is because cars are not going to be waiting around Admiralty House quite so much this financial year as they were last financial year.
Returning now to the subject of legal aid, this was traversed in the most absurd fashion by the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock). He talked about the magnificent legal aid facilities provided in the States. Before the Labor Government came to power and established the Australian Legal Aid Office in 1973, legal aid hardly existed in this country. This was the result of 23 years of LiberalNational Country Party governments in this Parliament which said that legal aid was no concern of the Federal Parliament. We still will not find a commitment from this Government or from the Attorney General to fund indefinitely the legal aid commissions which he urges the States to establish. The record of the LiberalCountry Party governments in the provision of legal aid was absolutely lamentable. The Australian Legal Aid Office was the most popular of institutions established by the Labor Government. This was established in every poll. What is much more important is that its need was established by the number of persons who came to it for assistance. That very fact established its need and showed its usefulness. It was an unqualified success.
What has been the record of this Government in setting about dismantling the Australian Legal Aid Office? One of the first acts of the Attorney General was to impose a harsh new means test on those people who were seeking assistance. The amount of disposable income in their hands was reduced to $40. The effect of that reduction, combined with inflation, is to reduce by about onethird the amount of means available to persons who formerly were eligible for assistance under the Australian Labor Party Government from the Australian Legal Aid Office. So straight away the AttorneyGeneral denied access to a great many needy people who had taken their problems to this office.
Also, one of the AttorneyGeneral’s first acts was to stop the expansion of offices for which this Parliament had appropriated money in 1975 and for which every member of the Liberal and National Country Parties who then sat in the House and in the Senate had voted. Immediately the AttorneyGeneral held up the expansion of these offices. In my State of New South Wales no fewer than 10 offices which it was projected to open last financial year were, in the mealy mouthed words of the AttorneyGeneral, postponed. In fact, they will never be established. At the same time, the staff which was to be recruited was not recruited. This is the record of the AttorneyGeneral in setting about dismantling the Australian Legal Aid Office. Yet, if we look at these estimates, we will find a peculiar thing and that is that the cost of forms to be used by the Australian Legal Aid Office has doubled this year. That cost has doubled precisely because where this office is established, it is having to waste its time administering this ridiculously harsh and unconscionable means test which the AttorneyGeneral has imposed.
Last year the AttorneyGeneral reduced by over $2m the amount available for payment to private practitioners for cases referred by the Australian Legal Aid Office. The Attorney exhibits the most extraordinary casual attitude to the whole question of legal aid. He never misses an opportunity to deprecate the inactivity, as he terms it, of the AttorneyGeneral in New South Wales, Mr Walker.
-We hear from honourable members like the honourable member for Parramatta and the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil), who is interjecting, of the wonderful facilities available for legal aid in New South Wales. Those honourable members must be joking. It is true that in New South Wales the facilities available are much better than they are in any other State. But they are still an extraordinary mish-mash. As the Attorney General reluctantly admitted the other day, by far the most important element of funding for legal aid in every jurisdiction throughout Australia is the provision of funds appropriated by this Parliament.
– Stolen from the taxpayers.
-The honourable member for Swan interjects by saying: ‘Stolen from the taxpayers’. It makes no difference whether the taxes are collected by this Parliament or by State parliaments. The same amount is payable to meet the same needs if we acknowledge them as genuine and legitimate. Quite plainly the honourable member for Swan does not. The Attorney exhibits the most casual attitude. He has said that it is none of his business whether this matter was on the agenda for the meeting of AttorneysGeneral held last week. He thinks it rests with the New South Wales Government to bring this matter up. This is not a matter just for New South Wales. It is important for every jurisdiction. The honourable member for Parramatta quite absurdly and I think to the great embarrassment of the AttorneyGeneral talked about the number of schemes available in
New South Wales and the sources of advice. To his credit, one of the things he talks about is the need to rationalise the number of places to which one needs to go to get legal advice. The Attorney-General knows how absurd it is to talk about this multiplicity in any way helping people. It confuses them. It ensures that legal aid delivery is that much less effective.
One of the other things the Attorney-General has done about the Legal Aid Office which is even more sinister is in relation to the costing records maintained by the Legal Aid Office which kept a track of the cost of the matters being handled and which showed quite clearly the effectiveness of salaried services in delivering legal aid. These records have been discontinued. Even if we accept it as an ideological assumptionas the colleagues of the Attorney-General on the back benches do- that somehow private legal aid is better, let us look at the performance of the Government in the Australian Capital Territory where it cannot dodge the responsibility. In the A.C.T. the appropriation for the Australian Capital Territory Law Society’s legal aid scheme has been cut by one-third. The record of the Attorney-General is just not good enough. In legal aid he has cut off the vision of greater equality before the law for huge numbers of people.
Let us look at what else he has done. He has imposed a $60 fee, a divorce tax, a revenue opportunity out of people’s misery. It would have been a great deal more if there had not been an uproar as a result of the leak of his intentions. His intention was to impose the fee on every Family Court application, not simply on those for dissolution of marriage. But he was stopped by a prior news leak. The Attorney-General abuses his office by giving phony legal opinions in relation to agreements with the States such as the agreements about hospital operating costs and the railway transfer for South Australia and Tasmania. This is quite deplorable.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Armitage)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The Committee is debating the estimates for the AttorneyGeneral ‘s Department. Regrettably, in 2 substandard speeches Opposition members have taken us to the events of last year. I shall very briefly dispose of one or two matters mentioned by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen). He suggested a completely new Constitution in the context of claiming that the actions taken by the Austraiian Labor Party last year were correct. The fact is that the actions taken by the Governor-General last year were correct. All commentators agree that the GovernorGeneral had power to do what he did. That has been endorsed by the electorate. Let us ask what would happen under the proposals of the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith. He suggested a completely new Constitution. There may be some sort of an argument that there is a constitutional deficiency in some place or another in the Constitution which needs looking at. But to suggest a completely new Constitution is, in the reality, something which would not be achieved, looking at the record of referendums in Australia. Surely the honourable member is expecting pigs to fly before he would expect a completely new Constitution to be agreed to. That is not an efficient suggestion. Strangely enough, the honourable member confirmed the supremacy of the Senate because his solution, in the case of difficulty, was to call for a joint sitting.
What happens when a slim majority is held in the lower House by the party in power but a larger majority is held by the other party in the Senate? When a joint sitting is held the numbers are such that the lower House proposal is rejected. So the honourable member has affirmed the primacy of the Senate. I think this is an extraordinary suggestion coming from the shadow Attorney-General who affirms a solution which provides for the primacy of the Senate. It is either that or he cannot add to ten. He has also suggested that unless his proposals are put into operation there will be chaos and anarchy. I say this: Despite the claims by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) when he was Prime Minister last year about rage and, in effect, backed up by his Deputy with talk about going back to the streets, as he said earlier this year, and claims about chaos and anarchy, the good sense of the Australian people saw us through that phase. The good sense of the Australian people would see us through similar, if regrettable, circumstances should they recur. It is quite clear that the honourable member for KingsfordSmith is wrong in his suggestions that there is no discretion in the Governor-General in the circumstances as they applied last year.
One matter which needs looking at from the point of view of constitutional amendment relates to the tenure of office of the GovernorGeneral. It is perfectly clear that given a repetition of the circumstances of last year probably any Labor Prime Minister, and certainly the last one, would do his utmost to get rid of the GovernorGeneral. It has dawned upon the Australian people that that would be totally at variance with out attitude to the Constitution. The GovernorGeneral must be out of the realm of politics. To have him dismissed by a Labor Prime Minister, as would have happened if the honourable member for Werriwa could have got away with it, shows the lengths to which the Labor Party would go.
The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith talked about the precedent where a GovernorGeneral took advice from the Chief Justice with the consent of the Prime Minister. I do not want to deal with individual cases but, with the greatest respect, I thought that under our constitutional system, including the conventions under the Constitution, the judiciary was independent. I believe the judiciary in this country is independent and that it will retain its independence. The suggestion that the Chief Justice should seek the permission of the Prime Minister to carry out some act is totally at variance with 2000 years of British and subsequent Australian constitutional history and development. It is totally at variance with the independence of the judiciary which has been sustained and supported over many years of constitutional endeavour. These people have not the first, second or last notion about constitutional proprieties or about how our system has developed, how it has served the people or how to obtain a proper system in the future. They have not the slightest understanding of these principles. The speech of the shadow AttorneyGeneral was incredibly substandard and he just does not have the mettle to make an AttorneyGeneral in the same vein as our present Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott).
I move now to the achievements of the present Attorney-General. He has involved himself not in matters of esoteria but in matters pertaining to the people- legal aid and family law courts in particular. Some Attorneys-General with backgrounds of the highest eminence such as his might be inclined at times to look at matters from a more academic viewpoint, but our AttorneyGeneral understands the problems of the people and has embarked on a calculated and coherent policy in the interests of the people of this nation. What is holding up legal aid at present is the reluctance of the New South Wales and other governments to agree to the establishment of a legal aid commission. It is quite obvious that there is some role for a salaried scheme and one would not say that there should not be a salaried scheme. However, it is also quite obvious that there is incredible duplication in the systems, and the sooner the New South Wales AttorneyGeneral comes to his senses or gets his Cabinet to agree on some action the sooner the people of that State can have a proper legal aid system through the Commonwealth funding process and our new federalism program.
It is not true to say that legal aid did not exist in New South Wales for 23 years. In fact, under a Liberal government for 1 1 years in that State we had a progressive legal aid system. It is not perfect and there are a lot of faults and I will refer to one or two of them in a moment. However, there is a great deal of overlapping and confusion. If there were a legal aid commission in that State, if the State Attorney-General would take up the Commonwealth offer and obtained funds from the Commonwealth much of the problem could be solved. There is one matter I want to mention about legal aid and that is the increasing tendency of the bureaucracy to involve itself in the decision-making process on whether a case should be given legal aid. There are too many complaints coming forward that the bureaucrats- people who may never have been in a court room for 5 minutes or who have never conducted a case; and there is no substitute for experience- are knocking back people on the ground that they do not have a substantial cause of action. In some cases they are knocking back people despite counsel ‘s advice that they have reasonable prospects of success. Some bureaucrat sits behind a desk, bangs the paper with the sign or whatever they put on it saying that they do not think the client can succeed.
Many injustices occur in life and one of the few places we can get them solved is in the courts. In the days when legal aid was given free by the profession and in the days before the salaried scheme started, although it was not a perfect scheme, there were times when lawyers took up the cudgels and fought cases year after year until clients got justice. Now, of course, we have a system in which the bureaucrats are saying in many cases, contrary to the advice of counsel or solicitors: ‘We do not think you have a good enough case’. There are many occasions when somebody with overwhelming economic power can push his position over that of another person. There are cases in which one party is worn down after many years of struggling and has not the confidence in himself to push his case. He may have lost documents. He then goes to a lawyer who can sit down and say: ‘This is what we will do’. The first task is to give the client confidence in himself and then to take it from there. But the bureaucrats sit back and say: ‘We do not think you can win so you get no money’. This is happening not only in the Australian legal aid system but also to an extent in the law society schemes and other schemes. Bureaucracies get too many lingers in the pie.
The sooner we get to a salaried scheme which enables one to go in and get general advice followed by a transfer to the profession which can handle these matters, subject to a reasonable means test, and fight in the interests of the clients in the true traditions of the law, the sooner we will get back to a really vibrant legal aid system. The same comments apply to the family courts. The sooner the States adopt family courts the better. In New South Wales we are back to what happened before 1970 when people had to go to the Equity Court for some custody matters and to the Divorce Court for other matters. There were 2 separate hearings. Now, following the High Court ruling, we have State and Federal hearings. The only answer is one court.
I congratulate the Government on its efforts recently when looking into penalties for drug offences and the like. There are many people in the community who wish the Attorney-General well in stamping out criminal activity. I noted with approval the recent speech of Archbishop Stylianos, on behalf of the Greek community, pointing out the crime rate in this country and the law-abiding nature of Greeks here. I hope that migrants coming to this country will see that this Government has its heart in ensuring that every law enforcement agency has full facilities with which to do its job.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) -Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– It was not my intention to deal in this debate with those matters which arose at the end of 1975 but as the poor man’s Kevin Murray has touched upon them perhaps it would be as well if I said a few words about what I thought were the injustices of what occurred in 1975 because it goes beyond the pleasure which is reflected in the faces of the 91 honourable members who sit opposite. The actions that were taken last year by the Governor-General which brought about the downfall or sacking of an elected government have since 11 November split the Australian community and those who think that this is to the benefit of the Australian society are gravely mistaken. On 1 1 November next they will be reminded of how the people feel about it, not just members or supporters of the Australian Labor Party but a lot of people around this country who think that what happened last year was not in the interests of the country and do not want to see it recur. They want to see the Constitution altered so that it cannot recur.
Whilst there has been a lot of emotion about the dismissal of the Whitlam Government and the handing over on 1 1 November to a party which at the time had a minority of ten in the House of Representatives, the people’s House, the debate from now on will be about an alteration of the Constitution. This is the only way by which we can constructively avoid what occurred in 1975. Honourable members opposite are gravely mistaken if they think that the majority of people in Australia endorse those actions and hope they occur again. There is an additional political feature about what occurred in 1975 and whilst the glee that shows in the faces -
– That will not happen again because we will not govern badly.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) -Order! If the honourable member for Bendigo insists on interjeting I will have to deal with him.
– Any of the major political parties in this country can win an election if it can choose the time to go to the polls. That is what occurred last year. The Liberal Party selected the time and the Governor-General carried out the execution. It is for that reason and no other that the numbers in this House are 9 1 to 36 now. I do not think the people of Australia want to see that recur.
The only other matter I want to touch on- it is additional to what has been said by my colleague, the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam)- concerns legal aid. What this Government is doing, although it has not said so, is trying to completely dismantle Australian Government involvement in the provision of legal aid for the people of this country. It is not just the Government’s stand on legal aid which continues to astound me but also its failure to understand the need for legal aid and the number of people who require it When the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) said that the system in New South Wales under a Liberal government worked very well for 1 1 years he was talking absolute and utter nonsense. The Vincent report shows how many people appeared in courts in New South Wales without legal counsel. The Australian Labor Government did not set up legal aid because it was not required and when it did set up the Australian Legal Aid Office throughout Australia about 100 000 people went into those 29 offices. They were not people who previously had been to private solicitors. They were people who if they had been previously caught up with the law would have gone into courts undefended, and we all know what happens to people who go into courts undefended. We know their record compared with the record of those who have legal counsel.
The provision of the Legal Aid Office is something which any party with any decency would want to take to itself and spread among the people. We do not have a community of people on equal salary. We do not have people of equal status in the community. We have a wideranging group of people within society. There are many people who are not looked after. We introduced Medibank so that everyone would have some kind of health coverage. We instituted the Schools Commission so that every child could have a decent education. We instituted the Australian Legal Aid Office so that every citizen in this country would have the right to be legally represented. So when the honourable member for St George makes his puny defence of the Government and the Attorney-General he ignores completely what was told to us in the Vinson report. Therefore I will quote from the report so that the honourable member can get it into his thick head. The report stated:
The alarming extent to which accused persons are not represented by lawyers in courts of summary jurisdiction has been recently documented for New South Wales by the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. The Bureau examined 28816 Petty Sessions cases during the first 6 months of 1972. From this sample were excluded all those with a previous criminal record, leaving a sample of 10 559 first offenders. Legal representation occurred in 3294 or 3 1.2 per cent of these cases. There was found to be a clear association between legal representation and securing a less severe penalty. It was found that those who were legally represented had 6 times the likelihood of obtaining an outright acquittal than those unrepresented. The unrepresented had a greater likelihood of being fined, and had 3 times as much chance of being sentenced to prison.
So there are people in this country who have suffered far greater penalties than they would have if they had had legal representation. The fact is that the systems that have applied in our States have not met the responsibilities they were supposed to meet. The only way that we could overcome this problem was first of all to establish, consolidate and broaden the availability of the Australian Legal Aid Office.
The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), when Leader of the Opposition said in this Parliament during the Budget debate of 1975 that the Liberal Party in government would abolish the Legal Aid Office. In a debate that took place at the end of 1975 the present Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) said: ‘Let us send this to a committee. We are not quite sure whether those 100 000 people that sought legal aid in our legal aid offices were really correct, whether they really needed this assistance.’ We hear no such talk about a committee now. All we hear is talk of the Attorney wanting to sit down with the Attorneys-General of the various States to talk about setting up a commission. What has been the result of that? The result has been completely negative. While people are being fined and sent to prison we have this Government sitting around and saying that it wants to talk about it.
The people of Australia were asked to express their opinion about the existence of the Legal Aid Office in a commissioned opinion poll conducted by Australian Nationwide Opinion Polls. People were interviewed all around this country and were asked what they thought were the advantages of the Australian Legal Aid Office. In a document commissioned by the Legal Aid Office itself ANOP pointed out that 53 per cent of people believed that the Legal Aid Office would assist the financially disadvantaged; 17 per cent said the office would be able to advise on a wide range of legal matters; 10 per cent said that the availability of legal advice should be made more convenient. How many people do honourable members think were unsure about the role of the Legal Aid Office? Five per cent of people thought this. Also, 95 per cent of people interviewed had some view about the constructive contribution that the Australian Legal Aid Office would make. They were asked what was the disadvantage of legal aid offices existing throughout Australia. A total of 71 per cent of all the people that were interviewed said that there were no disadvantages in having an Australian Legal Aid Office available. There would hardly be any other political issue on which the community’s political consciousness was as great as it was oh the issue of the existence of legal aid offices. But here is the Government in its traditional role of conservative-thinking people. It says: ‘Do not interfere with the relationship between doctor and patient; do not interfere with the relationship between solicitor and client’. People are appearing in the courts undefended. There are community groups that on some occasions want legal representation to fight the Government. But they are being denied these facilities because of the Government’s backwardness, because of its reactionary policies. The Government ought to read what the people of Australia thought about the Legal Aid Office. There can be no equivocation on this matter. At the first opportunity a Labor Government has of coming back into office, legal aid will be established throughout Australia.
– When we came here tonight I thought we were going to have a constructive debate from the Opposition. I thought that members of the Opposition would have a look at the estimates. But still it came back to the old thing; they cannot get over 11 November last year. They still want to come back to it. Last week I quoted something about what was said in 1951 in respect of the double dissolution that took place then. Members of the Opposition had been complaining for weeks, indeed for months, about the Chief Justice giving advise to the GovernorGeneral. When it suited them in March 1 95 1 the Labor Party said that Mr McKell, as he then was, ought to seek the advice of the then Chief Justice, Sir John Latham. We know that in September 1970 Mr Whitlam said that the Senate was going to reject the Budget. Of course, we know what happened last year.
It is the same old story- this continuous coming back to the use of principle for the sake of expediency, and that is the history of the Labor Party. Look at these great men of principle! For instance, do honourable members know that some of these men of principle live in my electorate? They live in their penthouses in Darling Point and Paddington. These are the men who will not go out to the people whom they claim to serve. They get up in this Parliament and mouth principles. These are great principles, indeed, for them to mouth. Why do not those men go out and live amongst their people? Why do they not go out to Werriwa? Why do they not go out to Eastern Creek, or wherever it is, that Mr Wran serves? Why do they live in their penthouses at Darling Point and claim to be the ones who serve the people? It is time that these people were revealed; it is time that they were unmasked.
The only reason this country was brought to the edge of chaos last November was that we did not have a statesman in our midst. We did not have a man who was prepared to keep the Crown out of politics. Let me just read to the Committee what a statesmen said about the independent discretion of the Crown. This is how a statesman acts. Churchill in 1944 said:
This is one of the exceptional occasions when the Prerogative of the Crown comes into play and where in doubtful circumstances the Crown would refer to other advisers. It has been done on several occasions. I must make it absolutely clear that it does not rest with the Government of the day. It would be most improper on my pan to use any language which suggested that I have the power to make such a decision.
He was talking there about a decision for a dissolution of Parliament. Let me take a man from the other side of politics in England. I refer to Clement Attlee, another great statesman and a man who knew what was right. In 1952 Attlee wrote this:
The monarch has the right to grant or refuse a Prime Minister’s request for a dissolution of Parliament which involves a general election. This is a very real power. It means that there is always -
I ask honourable members to listen to this-
Someone other than a party leader who is available to take action in critical times.
That was what happened on 1 1 November because the then Prime Minister had become so terribly irresponsible at that time that the Governor General had to dismiss him. Let not any one of us on either side of the House forget what happened on 16 November. If we want to test the irresponsibility of that Prime Minister I ask honourable members to think what happened on 16 November when the former Prime Minister tried to involve the great Labor Party in getting Iraqi money from overseas. Honourable members should think about that because it shows the level of desperation to which he had been driven at that time.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) -Order! It being 10.30 p.m. in accordance with the Order of the House of 18 February 1976 I shall report progress.
-I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I require the question to be put forthwith without debate.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr P. E. Lucock)
Question so resolved in the negative.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) -Before calling the AttorneyGeneral, I would remind honourable members that speakers in the Estimates debate have been heard in comparative silence and to date the debates have been very fruitful. There was a very noisy scene just before the division was called, and I would remind honourable gentlemen of the decorum of the House.
– It is a matter of considerable regret that we had to have a division because it is not the Government’s policy to interrupt the adjournment debate. I should have been well finished by this time had the matter gone on. It is very unfortunate that it has happened in this way. However, so be it. I can understand that honourable members opposite might not want to hear the answer to the vicious attack that was made earlier this evening. I wish to refer to what Mr Justice Evatt said about the discretion, because it is of tremendous importance. Undoubtedly Mr Justice Evatt was a very great judge of the High Court, and we know that subsequently he became Leader of the Opposition. He was at times AttorneyGeneral and Minister for Foreign Affairs. In 1939 he said about the 1914 incident: . . Lord Novar undoubtedly accepted the rulings of Sir Samuel Griffith and Sir Harrison Moore to the effect that, in relation to all applications for a single dissolution, the GovernorGeneral of the Commonwealth not only possesses a right, but is under a duty to come to an independent judgment having regard, first to the parliamentary situation, and then to all the surrounding circumstances.
That was quite clearly Mr Justice Evatt ‘s opinion, writing while he was a judge of the High Court.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN -Order! The honourable member for Grayndler will cease interjecting. He raised this subject earlier in the debate, as did other members of the Opposition. This has been a very open debate, and I believe that the AttorneyGeneral should be heard in relative silence, as were other honourable members.
– The honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) referred earlier tonight to phony legal opinions. The phony legal opinions which have been given in relation to this matter are those which have sought to uphold the attitude of the former Prime Minister, the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr E. G. Whitlam). That is where the phony legal opinions have come from. The good opinions have come out of the mouths of the great lawyers of this century, including Mr Justice Evatt. The important thing to note is that he stated this opinion while he was justice of the High Court. What a lot of cant it is, what a lot of humbug it is that a chief justice, like the present Chief Justice or Sir Samuel Griffith, should be attacked for giving advice on a matter like this while he was a justice of the High Court. Mr Justice Evatt wrote a complete book on the subject and that is the conclusion to which he came. Honourable members opposite ought to stop this nonsense and humbug about the matter because the basic situation is quite clear. The Governor General has a discretion. If one looks at the Constitution, it is made quite clear in the language that is used. The fact is that the GovernorGeneral exercised that discretion and, as I pointed out earlier, he had to exercise it because the Prime Minister of the day was not prepared to act in a responsible manner and keep the Crown out of politics. That is what it was all about. The .then Prime Minister was not prepared to act responsibly.
The, honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) has given up. He said: ‘It is no use having a constitutional convention. We ought to rewrite the Constitution.’ For goodness sake, what sort of Constitution would the Opposition come up with? It would abolish the States for a start. That is clear enough. It would abolish the Senate and it would put all power in one unitary parliament in Australia. Obviously, that is Labor philosophy. It was an impossible position ibr the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith to put forward. If I understood correctly an article I read recently, he said that there could be an Act of Parliament without the assent of the Senate. What nonsense it is if he did really say that. The Parliament consists of the Queen, the House of Representatives and the Senate. It says so in section 1 of the Constitution. It is elementary constitutional law. Before there can be an Act of Parliament, there must be the assent of the 3 elements. Of course, it is quite clear that at least four of the seven of the High Court Justices have said that the Senate has power to reject Supply. That is without doubt. This question is now past. Judicial opinion has been expressed and is quite clear.
I proceed to deal with other subjects that were mentioned tonight because we do not want to be here until 12 o’clock. Much was said about legal aid. I can understand that last year the then Government needed some legal aid. Therefore, honourable members opposite should be very interested in the subject. They certainly needed good legal advice. Obviously, they did not get it from the Australian Legal Aid Office. The Government is not in the business of dismantling the Australian Legal Aid Office. In the Budget this year, the amount provided for legal aid has been increased from approximately $12m to $ 16.2m. Is that the action of a government that is in the business of reducing legal aid? Is that dismantling the Australian Legal Aid Office? I have said before in this place that when the Legal Aid Office was set up by former Senator Murphy, he placed officers of the Legal Aid Office in the empty spaces of a number of buildings around this country and said to them: ‘Go ahead and dispense legal aid ‘. He put the officers in a situation in which there was a complete misunderstanding between them and the local legal profession. I am happy to say that in the past 9 months I have been able to get to the situation where there is complete sympathy and understanding between Legal Aid Offices that I now administer and the private legal profession in the various cities of the Commonwealth. That is because of the work that we have done. When I became Attorney-General, there was still a situation of complete mistrust between the Legal Aid Office, the salaried service, and the other elements of the profession.
It is very interesting to see that the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr E. G. Whitlam) has just entered the chamber. The question now arises about the reduction in the legal aid vote last year. The honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) alleged that the reduction in legal aid last year amounted to $2m. Obviously, he does not understand how the legal aid system works. That was not a reduction at all. It simply meant that bills were not put in for legal aid rendered by the private profession. Honourable members will forgive me for thinking that a person of the honourable member’s intelligence probably understood that and was misrepresenting the position. It has been explained to him before. I hope he now understands it. His whole speech was a complete farrago of falsity and complete innuendo. He was misrepresenting the position in relation to legal aid in this country. At the moment I have detailed discussions under way with representatives from Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria and I am about to start discussions with representatives from Queensland and Tasmania in relation to the setting up of Legal Aid Commissions. I have explained to honourable members before that we have not been expanding the legal aid offices because we do not want to forgo the options that will be available to a Legal Aid Commission when it is established.
I have mentioned already that a shocking situation exists in New South Wales. What is happening there at the moment? The Government of New South Wales, instead of sitting down with us and rationalising services, is going ahead to set up duty lawyers in about twenty or thirty centres around that State. What the State Government should be doing is to see what lawyers are available in the Legal Aid Office, in the Public Solicitors’ Office and in the Public Defender’s Office to see whether we can work out a rationalised system. I do not want to get into an antagonistic position with Mr Walker, the New
South Wales AttorneyGeneral, on this subject because I do not believe that this is a subject which should be intensely political. I think that honourable members on both sides of the chamber accept the proposition that there should be a commitment to legal aid by the Federal Government as well as by the State governments. It is no answer whatsoever for honourable members opposite to say that the Federal Government should provide all the funds. It is a co-operative venture and the fact is that the Australian Legal Aid Office can dispense legal aid only in relation to federal matters. That is well known. There is a constitutional limitation. Of course, the fact also is that a court action was started last year in Victoria to prevent the Legal Aid Office from operating. One of the bases of that court action was to suggest that there were matters upon which the Office could not dispense legal aid. There is a constitutional problem.
What we are seeking to do in our area is to combine the State function and the Federal functions through one instrumentality. One hopes that one can come to some amicable arrangement with attorneys like Mr Walker in New South Wales over these matters. Extra offices will not be set up in the immediate future pending Mr Walker giving some consideration to that matter. Some complaint has been made about the basis upon which we have conducted the Australian Legal Aid Office. Mr Deputy Chairman, may I say this: We are continuing the operations of the Australian Legal Aid Office and applying the same sort of principles that were established by the Labor Government in relation to the funding of the Office. There are 2 things in legal aid that are significant. First, there is the means test. The Labor Government introduced the means test last September. That was in force at the time we came to power. The Labor Government also arranged a commitment to legal aid on the basis of $lm a month. Those 2 things have been continued. It is a lot of nonsense for the honourable member for Grayndler and the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) to rise in this chamber and say that we have in some way dismantled the Legal Aid Office or that we are not funding it on a proper basis. What we are doing quite clearly is continuing in exactly the same way what was done by the previous Labor Government. The Government is not dismantling the Australian Legal Aid Office. I have found that there are extremely mischievous people on the other side of politics who are only too anxious to spread the rumour or the suggestion that we will abandon the Australian legal aid officers themselves. That is completely untrue. If any legal aid officers are listening tonight I want them to know that in the negotiations I am undertaking I am seeking to preserve the position of all salaried legal aid officers. So in the takeover by the States the situation clearly will be that those officers will be protected and will have at least the same conditions as they enjoy at the moment.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I wish to reply briefly -
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) put:
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman- Mr P. H. Drummond)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
House adjourned at 11.10 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice:
-The Minister for Education has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice:
-The Minister for Education has provided the following reply to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice:
-The Minister for Education has provided the following reply to the honourable member’s question:
The aftermath of Cyclone Tracy prevented a similar survey in the Northern Territory but officers of the Department believed that the needs of Northern Territory schools were similar to those revealed by the A.C.T. survey.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice:
How many names have been removed from the Commonwealth Electoral Rolls in each State in each of the last 5 years where (a) an elector’s name was notified to a Divisional Returning Officer as being a woman over the age of 18 years whose marriage had been registered in the State during the month preceding such notification, (b) after each election, for either the Parliament of a State or of the Commonwealth, an elector had failed to vote at the preceding election and had not responded to a letter from the Electoral Office seeking an explanation for the elector’s failure to vote and (c) the Electoral Office discovered that the address of the elector had been changed notwithstanding that he or she had continued to reside within the same sub-division or had continued to reside in the same Division for the purpose of sections 39(3) and 39B of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918-1975.
– The Minister for Administrative Services has provided me with the following answer to the honourable member’s question: (a), (b) and (c) Statistics regarding the removal of names from the Commonwealth Electoral Roll are not maintained in terms of the detailed breakdown sought by the honourable member.
The general position is that an elector’s name is not removed from the Roll solely because of marriage or failure to vote. However, where information suggests that an elector has left his or her enrolled address, (and there is no information which suggests that the elector is still resident within the Subdivision), formal follow-up procedures including notification to the elector at the enrolled address are followed in order to maintain the integrity of the Roll. If these steps do not confirm that the elector is still a resident of the Subdivision, then his or her name is removed from the Roll for that Subdivision.
asked the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Commonwealth and State Government Departments and Instrumentalities.
Apprentices employed by local government authorities and public hospitals are not separately recorded by the State apprenticeship authorities, but are included within the statistics on private sector apprentice employment.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Mr R. Cobden: Travel from Canberra to Sydney (Question No. 1078)
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice:
Was a Mr Richard Cobden in possession of a TAA Canberra to Sydney flight ticket on 20 May 1976 that enabled him to travel from Canberra to Sydney on that date and which was charged to the High Court of Australia; if so, why.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I am informed that on 19 May 1976 a warrant was issued by the High Court Registry, Sydney, for Mr Richard Cobden to travel from Canberra to Sydney with Mr J. Mollison, Acting Director, Australian National Gallery, to attend and
am asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice:
The Future of the International Training Institute (Question No. 1118)
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
am asked the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice:
What has been the cost of terminating or re-negotiating the lease of each diplomatic, consular, immigration and trade post which has been closed this year.
– The Minister for Administrative Services has supplied the following information:
Accommodation costs for leases terminated or renegotiated in regard to diplomatic, consular, immigration and trade posts closed during 1 976 are as follows: ‘
When were they appointed.
What are their terms of reference.
When will they report.
– The Minister for Education has provided the following reply to the honourable member’s question.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Whilst tentative approaches have been made by several bodies expressing interest in HMOs, to date no firm proposals have been received. Consequently, there has been no investigation into the feasibility of specific proposals.
Mr Walker has correctly recognised that health costs have now reached a level where alternative approaches to the provision and financing of health care warrant careful consideration.
Mr Walker’s ideas essentially involve a system of bonuses in the form of reduced contributions and/or extra benefits for patients who keep healthy through preventive care, and additional benefits to doctors who keep their patients healthy and out of hospital. These proposals, as with all proposals which aim at quality care while containing costs, are being watched with interest.
am asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice:
-The Minister for Education has provided the following reply to the honourable member’s question:
In my statement I announced that-
The Government has decided not to proceed with the reintroduction of tuition fees for higher and second degree students or for overseas students in tertiary institutions. It took this decision after careful consideration of the detailed implications of the proposed measure. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch) had already indicated in his Budget Speech that the Government had no intention of reintroducing fees for Australian tertiary students undertaking their first degrees.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice:
– The Minister for Administrative Services has provided me with the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
am asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
On what dates and from what sources did the Government receive the information which the Minister for Environment. Housing and Community Development gave on 21 September (Hansard, page 1211) but which he himself could not give on 7 September (Hansard, page 775) about the countries through which the New Zealand Rugby Union team had travelled to South Africa.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I have been advised by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development that the information given by him on 21 September was obtained on 21 September as a result of research by his personal staff in anticipation of the matter being raised during the discussion of a matter of public importance on that day. The additional details given on 21 September were not available to the Government on 7 September.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi and Benin (Question No. 1248)
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Needless to say the Government deplores religious persecution, wherever it may occur, and will look to appropriate opportunities to make this known, in the manner demonstrated above. However, it appears that no worthwhile result would be achieved by seeking to make further representations to the Malawi authorities, the Malawi Government having now been advised at an official level of the concern being expressed in Australia regarding reports of persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in that country. In these circumstances representations by the Australian Government would inevitably be rejected and, as the senior Malawi officials pointed out, would be regarded as an intrusion into a domestic legal matter.
– On 23 September, the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) addressed a question to me in relation to a number of chemical manufacturing plants which had allegedly ceased operation in Australia in the last few months due to opposition from dumped imports and the influences of Australia’s new Customs Valuation System. At the time, I undertook to have the matter investigated and further advise the House as follows:
I am now informed that four chemical manufacturers have in fact recently ceased production of eight particular chemical commodities within their industrial ranges. However, each of the companies has advised that the decision to cease production in a particular area was an exercise of normal commercial judgement. Factors such as consumer preference, market shrinkage, the high cost of raw materials and wage escalation were said to be instrumental in the decisions. My Department did not receive a request for antidumping action to be taken in respect of any of the commodities concerned, nor was there evidence of any erosion of tariff protection due to adoption of the new valuation system which only came into effect on 1 July 1976.
The honourable member also asked whether antidumping action could be taken if values under the Brussels Definition of Value were in excess of those in the country of origin.
Anti-dumping action could be taken if the prices paid for goods by the Australian importer are less than the normal values in the country of exportation. Local industry would have every justification to seek anti-dumping action if material injury was being caused to the industry by such imports.
At the time of introduction of the new valuation system which became operative on 1 July 1976, I announced that provision had been made for access to a special tribunal of the Industries Assistance Commission for industries which could demonstrate that their level of protection had been eroded as a result of the change in the valuation system. To date, no references have been made to the special tribunal.
asked the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
(a) Australian citizens on the Islands in possession of valid passports are entitled to enter Australia without restriction and no statistics are kept of their arrivals.
am asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice:
What sums were paid by the Schools Commission in direct assistance to government schools and under each program for non-government schools in the years 1974 and 1975 in the electoral divisions of Chifley, Macarthur, Macquarie, Mitchell, Parramatta and Werriwa.
– The Minister for Education has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
The information requested in respect of 1974 can be found in the Report of the Schools Commission, July 1 975 entitled Financial Assistance Granted to each State in 1974 States Grants (Schools ) Act 1 973-74’.
The following tables set out the information in respect of 1975.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 October 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1976/19761019_reps_30_hor101/>.