30th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully show us:
That due to the new information on whale communication, behaviour and intelligence, and to the depleted state of most of the great whale stocks and the uncertainty associated with whale population estimates, that commercial whaling is no longer acceptable to the vast majority of Australians. It is urged that immediate steps be taken to end this activity.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray,
Petitions received. by Mr Dobie and Dr Edwards. Petitions received.
Royal Commission on Petroleum
The petition of certain members of the Service Station Association of New South Wales Limited, and certain members of the motoring public of N.S. W. respectfully showeth:
That the Federal Government give every consideration to implementing the findings of the Royal Commission on Petroleum.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honour- able House will take action to ensure that the needs of the motoring public and the retail petroleum industry are given every consideration.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray,
Petition received. by Mr Dobie. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That because television and radio
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
That the Australian Government will amend the Broadcasting and Television Act, in relation to both national and commercial broadcasters, to legislate
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray,
Petition received. by Dr Edwards. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in the Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia showeth:
That the Charter of the United Nations clearly precludes it from interference in the domestic affairs of a country or from obstructing the free transmission of news and information between individuals and between nations.
That the United Nations, in apparent illegality, has imposed many restrictions and sanctions upon Rhodesia which has been remarkably free from the bloodshed and turmoil of Northern and Central African lands, even to the extent now of actively encouraging armed conflict against the legally elected Government of Rhodesia.
Lord Graham as Minister of External Affairs and Defence has said: ‘International Communism is our enemy. All this talk of political advancement and majority rule is no more than a smokescreen in the early skirmishes of an assault upon the whole of Africa . . . It is even difficult to see this enemy because it is not merely attacking us, but on a broad front is attacking the whole world order, its standards, its law and order, its moralities, its Churches, its patriotisms, its philosophies, and even much of its learning . . .’
That Communist Chinese infiltration in much of Africa over many years, and Cuban communist troops reported to number 25,000 are dominating nearby Angola, and possess modern missiles etc.
It is urgent that Mozambique, now under communist domination and which has a common border with Rhodesia, does not receive any further aid from the Commonwealth Government of Australia, which has benefited mainly, the terrorist guerilla movements that are responsible for the deaths of many Rhodesian people.
It is urgent for the Australian people to determine for themselves, the actual facts of the Rhodesian struggles.
It is urgent that the Senate and the House of Representatives in the Parliament assembled, will observe common justice and proper humanity by inviting only authorised representatives of the present Government of Rhodesia to Australia, to do what they have been deprived to do previously, present their case fully and publicly so that this can be examined and tested, without interference, and so that the eventual impact on Australia’s own security and defence alliances can be gauged with better accuracy,
Your petitioners request urgent action to be taken immediately.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray,
Petition received. by Mr MacKellar. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia in
Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia, respectfully showeth:
That the public library services of New South Wales are inadequate both in quality and quantity and the burden of provision is placed too heavily upon local government.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your Honourable House will ensure the implementation of the recommendations of the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Public Libraries as a matter of urgency.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray,
Petition received. by Mr Morris. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That although we accept the verdict of the Australian people in the 1975 election, we do not accept the right of a Governor-General to dismiss a Prime Minister who maintains the confidence of the House of Representatives.
We believe that the continued presence of Sir John Kerr as Governor-General is a cause of division among the Australian people.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will call on Sir John Kerr to resign as Australian Governor-General.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray,
Petition received. by Mr Morris. Petition received.
– I ask the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development: Did he receive a deputation from the Confederation of Australian Sport yesterday? If so, did he give a firm assurance to the deputation that he would be recommending to the Treasurer the re-introduction of a program of assistance for national sporting bodies or did he, as reported to me, cluck around like a broody hen?
-I take exception to the description, although I understand the honourable member’s interest in this matter. I would like to put one thing into perspective first of all because I think people have lost sight of what is being spent on sport and recreation at present. The Confederation’s assessment of what is happening is a bit on the low side. This Government is still supporting the Capital Assistance for Leisure Facilities programs begun by my honourable colleague over there and they will cost at least $ 10m, as I recall the figure, and we are spending over $ 1 m on a range of other sporting and recreational facilities. Because of the general tax sharing and financial arrangements that we now have with the States under federalism, the States also have some capacity to help and I am advised that that capacity is in excess of $5m. I paint that picture to show what assistance currently is going to sport.
Returning to the honourable member’s question, I did receive the delegation- a very strong and persuasive delegation. It put certain propositionssix, I think- and the basis of them was that we should support national administration of sport, coaching administration for national organisations and international events both here and abroad. They are the basic proposals they put to me. I expressed sympathy- I did not cluck, I do not think- and was most precise in saying that the general thrust of what the delegation was recommending was pretty well in line with what the Government was thinking about and with what was recommended in the Bailey report. The honourable member for McMillan also has presented a very comprehensive report which the Government has welcomed. Everybody realises the problems that the Government has at the present moment and the strictures it has on expenditure. I promised that delegation that we would look carefully at what it put to us. We will do that in the Budget context. The delegation will have to wait until after 15 August to see whether it has succeeded.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Defence. I refer to disquieting reports of the build-up of the armed forces of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Insofar as this can be done within the limits of intelligence security, will the Minister have prepared for the information of honourable members a report showing the increase in the conventional armed forces of the Soviet Union during recent times and the nature, extent and location of Soviet armed forces distinguishing, as far as possible, between conventional and non-conventional weaponry? Will he also include any available information as to the proportions of the Soviet budget and national income being devoted to preparations for war?
– Observing the constraints to which the honourable member has referred, the answer is yes. I am sure my honourable friend will be aware that the reliable literature on this subject is immense. For example, there are the
Adelphi papers prepared by the Institute of Strategic Studies in the United Kingdom, a body whose work is readily accepted as being of substantial and high authority. It is my recollection that the former American Secretary for Defence, Mr Rumsfeld, presented to the Congress a 200-page report on this very subject. I repeat that observing the constraints mentioned by the honourable gentleman I shall see that such a report is prepared.
– I direct a question to the Treasurer. I refer him to last month’s review of business statistics. Is it true that retail sales, new motor registrations and building approvals were down in the last quarter? Further, in the face of this massive vote of no confidence from the Australian consumer, does the Government plan, through tax cuts or other stimulatory expenditure, to revive consumer confidence?
– Before answering the question I should like to offer, with your indulgence, Mr Speaker, our congratulations to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Opposition on their re-election. I am sure that it is a marriage blessed in the heavens and not one of convenience or a de facto arrangement. It is good to see Bib and Bub back in the saddle again. If they are not Bib and Bub, maybe they are Sancho and his donkey. Anyway, I congratulate the honourable gentlemen on their return.
– I suggest that the honourable gentleman should deal with the question asked.
– Thank you, Mr Speaker. Of course you are absolutely right about that. Certainly, the Government has no intention whatsoever of stimulating the Australian economy at the present time for the reasons I have made very clear in this House in recent months. In terms of the specifics of the honourable gentleman’s question, the value of the retail sales figure fell by 0.7 per cent in seasonally adjusted terms during April, following rises of 1.3 per cent in March and 2. 1 per cent in February. As I have made clear on other occasions and as has been emphasised by the Commonwealth Statistician himself, not too much weight should be put on one month’s provisional figures because they are subject over a period to substantial revision. The honourable gentleman will note the wide fluctuations which have taken place in the provisional estimates in recent months. They underscore the need for cautious examination. On the retail sales side, the figure, seasonally adjusted for the 3 months ending April 1977, was 1.6 per cent higher than for the 3 months ended January 1977. If we look at personal consumption over a slightly longer period, the December quarter national accounts indicate that the figure rose in real terms by 2.2 per cent in the half year to December 1976 and was 3.9 per cent higher in the recent December quarter than in the same period a year earlier. Motor vehicle registrations, are being very closely monitored by the Government. I have answered questions on the automotive industry before, as has the Prime Minister himself. My colleague, the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, commented on the housing figures yesterday.
Overall, there is no sense of concern by the Government in relation to economic activity at the present time, on the basis of the best estimates which are available, but those estimates lack absolute precision. We still hold to the view that growth in non-farm gross domestic product will be around the 4 per cent mark, give or take some marginal movement either side of that figure. I remind the honourable gentleman of figures I have quoted before as to the strong points of the Australian economy. Certainly there are areas of unevenness now as there have been before and as there will be in the future. But the Government holds to the view that economic activity is on track with its overall Budget estimates.
-Will the Minister for Defence tell the House when HMAS Stirling, the naval base on Garden Island in Western Australia, will be manned by defence personnel and in operation?
– The present intention is to seek to commission the facility in the year 1978. The honourable gentleman will be aware that the Government acknowledges that, plainly it has a 2-ocean responsibility, and that, in order to discharge that responsibility, it is essential that the facility at HMAS Stirling be put into operation. Some $45m or $50m has been invested in the facility. The Government is most anxious that the facility be commissioned. I say that that is the program for 1978. The Treasurer is doing everything possible to see that that program will be met. He is approaching it with the same sense of anxiety as I am.
– I ask the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations a question. The question concerns the review of the Commonwealth Employment Service which Mr
– I understand from Mr Norgard that he has finished the report. I have not yet received it. It may be ready at the end of this week. The report will then have to be printed. I anticipate being able to make it public, when sufficient copies have been printed, about the end of June.
-I direct my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. The Minister will be aware that tariff quotas currently applying to imports of orange juice and orange juice concentrates terminate on 30 June. Have any further decisions been taken to provide a level of assistance to the citrus industry that will effectively maintain returns to growers?
– The honourable gentleman would know that the Temporary Assistance Authority has made recommendations to the Government. My colleague, the Minister for Business and Consumer affairs, and I released a statement yesterday identifying the Government’s determination on those recommendations. The present level of protection and quotas will apply until 30 June, as the honourable gentleman’s question suggests. Thereafter, there will be a change in the basis of assistance. Quotas will not continue. But the basic tariff on imported citrus juice will be at a rate of 65 per cent which is set out in the statement in some detail.
The industry itself is one which does suffer because of low wage competitors, particularly in Brazil and Mexico. There are problems in the industry. The Government has been concerned that local citrus growers should receive adequate protection. Yet they would need to know that the level of protection that is now being provided while, with the elimination of quotas, not as high as it was, is still of a very high order indeed. It reflects something of the Government’s concern that producers in the citrus area generally are unable to resort to alternative forms of economic activity. The Government believes that in the acceptance of these recommendations there will be adequate assistance for the citrus industry to continue in spite of whatever levels of additional citrus juice might come into Australia. Of course, there will be a reference to the Industries Assistance Commission on the long term protection that should be provided. I understand that its report on that reference can be expected sometime within the next 12 months. In the meantime Australian citrus producers can be assured of the Government’s concern with their very real problems.
– I call the honourable member for Burke.
Honourable members- Hear, hear!
-In typical genial fashion, Mr Speaker, I ask a question of the Treasurer. Did the total employment of wage and salary earners in Australia in seasonally adjusted terms fall by 5000 between March 1 976 and March 1 977 when the adult population grew by over 1 50 000? Does that show that unemployment and the numbers of people who have withdrawn from or not entered the work force are growing? Did Professor John Neville, who is one of Australia’s leading macro-economists, estimate recently that the 1976-77 Budget was likely to have a contractionary impact on the Australian economy of about 9 per cent in comparison with the previous Budget? Does that suggest that the Government’s policies are contributing directly to the reduction of employment opportunities?
– I congratulate the honourable gentleman on joining the front bench. I wish him longevity in that position. I hope that he will be there for many years to come. The honourable gentleman has rightly asked a question of concern to both sides of the House. It related to the level of unemployment in Australia. I have previously, as have the Prime Minister and other senior Ministers, expressed concern at the level of unemployment in this country. The Government yields to none in its concern for those who are genuinely unemployed at the present time. If the honourable gentleman is seeking to analyse why the level of unemployment remains high then far be it from him to look to the last Budget. It would be a more appropriate exercise for the honourable gentleman to ask himself and his colleagues why they still continue to prosecute the case for full wage indexation in Australia, because it is the high level of wages that has effectively priced many Australian workers- male and female, young and old- out of jobs in this country. To the extent to which the level of wage indexation as determined by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission remains high, the turnabout in the labour market will be slow and not as forthcoming as this Government would require. I point out to the honourable gentleman that as I move around the factories of this country -
Opposition members- Oh!
– It might come as a surprise to honourable gentlemen opposite but, as the son of a former fitter and turner, I am not unacquainted with the factories of this country. I also say to the House in passing that I am a former branch president of a trade union in Australia and I have no reason to want to keep that quiet. As I move around the factories of this country I am constantly being informed by many employers that they are continuing to shed labour because of its high cost. Of course, one of the reasons why many employers are putting in new plant and equipment at the present time is that they have the deliberate intention of seeking to pare their labour force. That is a matter of regret to the Government. The facts are clear. The honourable gentleman and his colleagues ought to accept the responsibility for having destroyed the concept of full employment in Australia. If there is any party in this House that stands indicted for its policies in relation to unemployment it is the Australian Labor Party, because the Labor Government put more people out of work than any other government I can recall. If the honourable member, who has yet to gain some experience in his new position, wants to know who pushed the work force out onto the streets and caused a problem both in economic and social terms he ought to look in the mirror and accept the truth as he sees it.
– Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware that the Victorian Minister for Agriculture has this morning sent telegrams to Federal members of Parliament claiming that some provisions of the dairy industry Bills differ from what was agreed to by the Australian Agricultural Council? I particularly ask the Minister this question arising from the telegram: Were undertakings given that UHT milk would not be included, that any levy money collected would by returned to the State in which it was collected, and that table cream would not be a prescribed product? Will the Minister inform the House whether the nasty accusations made by the Victorian Minister are true or untrue?
– Several Victorian members of this Parliament have spoken to me this morning about the telegram that they have received from the Minister of Agriculture in Victoria. I really am at a complete loss to understand the purpose of his message. He either must have been asleep at the relevant stages of the meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council or he is in some way carrying on a bit of dream world thinking that because he had a particular message which was understandable and in which he believed every other member of the Agricultural Council necessarily supported it. It so happens that Agricultural Council is one of those meeting of Federal and State Ministers for which there is a transcript of proceedings. I should like to assure honourable gentlemen that contrary to the assertion in that telegram, the transcript of proceedings of the Agricultural Council will show that certainly a strong point of view in respect of UHT milk was put by Victoria and Tasmania but that a majority of the Agricultural Council- New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia- held a contrary point of view. On page 50 of the transcript I said that on the basis of the majority recommendations in the legislation as it was introduced into this House I would provide for the market milk levy to apply to UHT milk if it should be so decided by a majority of the Agricultural Council on any occasion. It is also interesting to note that the Victorian Minister included UHT milk within his own dairy industry authority legislation. Having said that in some way we were acting contrary to an Agricultural Council decision, which is wrong, he also included UHT milk in his own legislation in a way which apprently recognised the very point that the majority sought to make.
The second matter concerns the distribution of the proceeds of the market milk levy. It was agreed at Agricultural Council that, where there was a normal arrangement between distributing milk authorities in 2 States for milk or any milk product to be delivered in another State, the levy, if it were to be decided by Agricultural Council that it should be applied, then with respect to that product proceeds would be returned to the State of production. In this way the normal arrangement could be respected. In other circumstances the distribution of a levy would be made only on the recommendation of a majority of Agricultural Council. It is certainly true that Victoria disagreed with that majority decision. But Mr Smith must recognise that within Agricultural Council as indeed in other ministerial forums there is a necessity for a majority of
States to come to some arrangement if any program is to be implemented. In this instance, Victoria was alone in adopting the position it did. There are major problems in coming to unanimity when the offending State is a party to the decision, on the other hand where a majority of States decide that the levy should be applied -
-Order! I ask the right honourable gentleman to resume his seat. The question, as asked, related to a telegram. I, therefore, permitted the question to be asked. Had it referred to a debate in the current session, it would have been out of order. I suggest to the Leader of the House that, in dealing with the telegram the honourable gentleman is now covering an area which was capable of being traversed in the debate in the House yesterday. I, therefore, ask the honourable gentleman to bring his answer to a conclusion.
- Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. In fact, the telegram is not related specifically to the matter which you have just raised. The telegram canvasses issues which arise from a meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council. These issues are not completely contained in the legislation in our House. They appertain also to legislation in the Victorian Parliament. It is for that reason that I am making reference to them.
– Very well. I ask the honourable gentleman to deal with the matter as expeditiously as possible.
– The whole ambit of the Victorian legislation illustrates that there are problems in trying to divorce the effect of selling one milk product- UHT milk- from anothermarket milk. That legislation and the legislation which was passed through this House are designed, to the maximum, to try to ensure that the dairying industry in all areas of Australia is advanced to reasonable profitablility. Unfortunately, there are problems in different States and regions. The assertions made by the Victorian Minister of Agriculture in the telegram to which the honourable gentleman referred are wrong. They are not in line with the agreements reached at Agricultural Council. I suggest that the Minister of Agriculture in Victoria might well revert to the minutes of the meeting of the Agricultural Council in order to confirm his recollection before he makes incorrect assertions by way of telegram to honourable members in this place.
– Has the Minister for Health been informed of any attempt by Medibank Private to supply dental, optical or other paramedical benefits as do other private health funds? If not, why is Medibank Private disadvantaged in this way in its competition with other funds? Why has no action been taken to supply such services to those who contribute to Medibank through the levy?
– I informed the House some time ago that a committee had been set up by the Health Insurance Commission to examine what additional benefits Medibank Private might be able to offer its contributors after experience of operation by the fund. As the honourable member knows, I have not at any time intervened or interfered with Medibank Private. I have preferred to allow it to operate in complete competition with other private funds in the field of health insurance. In due course the General Manager of the Health Insurance Commission will be making a public announcement of the result of its inquiries and deliberations in relation to additional benefits which will be available from, I think, 1 July of the next financial year. It could well be that Medibank Private will be in a position to offer a much greater range of benefits to its contributors for the premium which they are now paying.
– What about levy payers?
– The levy payers will still receive the benefits that they are receiving at the present time, that is, 85 per cent of the medical benefits and also full cover for hospital accommodation and medical services in hospitals in standard wards, but not paramedical services.
-The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations will recall that the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration recommended that an inquiry outside the Public Service be made into the grievances of Mr Toomer, quarantine inspector of Port Hedland, Western Australia. Can the Minister advise the current position in relation to such an inquiry?
– I am happy to be able to report that after question time I will be tabling a statement regarding the establishment of an inquiry into what has become known as the ‘Toomer case’. I pay tribute to the persistence of the honourable member for Canning in his efforts to get such an inquiry established. As the honourable member said, the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration recommended the establishment of an appropriately constituted board of inquiry outside the Public Service to inquire into this case. Legal advice is that such an inquiry as envisaged by the Royal Commission cannot be conducted properly unless the body conducting the inquiry is vested with powers to compel attendance of witnesses and production of documents and unless that body and the people appearing before it have protection from liability for defamation. Apart from a royal commission, there is no body independent of the Public Service which would have such powers or in respect of which there could be such protection.
The Government does not believe that the formal processes of a royal commission would be appropriate for an inquiry concerned with an evaluation of personnel and administrative issues. But there are provisions in the Public Service Act under which such an inquiry can be established. It will be conducted by Mr R. J. Perriman, at present a First Assistant Commissioner in the Department of Veterans ‘ Affairs and by Mr G. P. Temme, Assistant Secretary, Department of Defence, who will deal with the legal and administrative matters as they affect the Defence Forces. I emphasise that neither of these officers has had any prior connection with the case. Finally, I inform the House that, again due in no small measure to the efforts of the honourable member for Canning, arrangements are being made for Mr Toomer to be given legal assistance in relation to the preparation of submissions he may wish to make to the inquiry.
– I direct a question to the Acting Prime Minister. I preface it by reminding him that the Bailey inquiry which examined the proposed transfer of a large number of health and welfare services from the Federal Government to the State governments specifically commented that this transfer could be implemented successfully only if agreements were entered into concerning financial and other administrative arrangements. I ask: Is it true that no agreement was reached with any of the State governments prior to the decision to dump the Australian Assistance Plan in their laps and that most of the State governments also opposed the transfer of responsibility for legal aid embodied in the Legal Aid Commission Bill before the House because there are no guarantees about the future funding of the program? Do these decisions mean that the Government has decided to ignore Mr Bailey’s recommendations and proceed to abandon its responsibility for community health -
-Order! The honourable member is arguing the issue. He will resume his seat. There has been enough of the question asked to permit an answer to be given. I call the Acting Prime Minister.
– I will take note of the question and give the honourable member a reply.
– Is the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs aware of an Australia-wide campaign being waged by various building unions to force builders of modular homes to employ their workers under an award which relates to on site builders rather than the awards applicable to employees in a factory situation as is the case with employees building modular homes? Is he aware that as part of this campaign the Electrical Trades Union is engaging in a secondary boycott through inducing its members employed by State electricity authorities not to connect power to newly constructed modular homes? Is the Minister aware also that in the City of Ballarat alone some 300 jobs are at stake as a result of these actions and that throughout Australia as a whole the number of jobs at risk runs into thousands, particularly in nonmetropolitan areas? Is this secondary boycott action the type which the recent changes made to the Trade Practices Act in this House are designed to cover? If so, would the Minister advise the modular home companies concerned to take the necessary legal action in the interests of the jobs of thousands of employees throughout Australia?
– In effect, the honourable gentleman asked me to give a precise yes or no answer to whether the facts of a particular situation are fitted by the legislation in question. I cannot do that for reasons which the honourable gentleman will understand. I am precluded, for very good reasons, from expressing a legal opinion on the operation of the legislation. I can inform the honourable gentleman that in general terms the provisions in question in the Trade Practices Amendment Bill are designed to cover secondary boycott conduct which has a damaging effect on the activities of corporations. I think it is relevant that the honourable gentleman drew attention to the fact that the consequences as he sees them of this particular secondary boycott are to put at risk the jobs of 300 people in the constituency which he represents. That is one example, amongst a number, which the introduction of these provisions has brought to light. It is quite significant that since the provisions were inserted in the legislation, and this particular clause has become a matter of public debate, the instances of secondary boycotts which have been brought to the attention of myself and other honourable members has been quite significant. It does underlie the basic need and the reason why the provision was inserted in the legislation.
-My question is addressed to the Treasurer and is supplementary to that asked by the honourable member for Burke. It concerns the Government’s promise to reduce unemployment. I ask: Is the Treasurer aware that the number of people unemployed, as recorded by the Commonwealth Employment Service, has increased by 55 000 in the last 12 months? Is he also aware that over the year to March 1977 the number of employed wage and salary earners declined by 5500 while at the same time the population aged fifteen and over increased by approximately 200 000, thereby implying a very substantial increase in unemployment? In view of those figures, will the Treasurer now concede that his Government has failed totally to fulfil its promise to reduce unemployment? Finally, will he answer the question instead of indulging in convoluted irrelevancies?
-That was a very nasty sort of question and I am surprised that the honourable gentleman has raised it in that form. I must say to the honourable gentleman that if he wants to know what the level of unemployment in Australia is he ought to know, as the shadow Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, that he does not look at the Commonwealth Employment Service statistics. In fact, he should hearken back to what his former colleague, the honourable member for Hindmarsh, said about Commonwealth Employment Service statistics in relation to the level of unemployment. The honourable member for Hindmarsh said:
The CES statistics have never purported to be accurate statistics of the number of people out of work. They have never purported to be any more than representative of the number of people who have registered for employment.
I should have thought that that was a point of some substance which has been argued in this House on a number of occasions. I can only assume that the honourable gentleman is seeking to pump-prime the politics of unemployment in Australia. If that is the case, I am disappointed in the honourable gentleman, who has had considerable experience in the industrial relations movement in this country.
I will repeat what I have said before. Of course the level of unemployment in Australia is too high. The honourable gentleman, and members of parties on both sides of the House, should see that as a function of the level of wage determination handed down by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. It is a fact of life that as the price of labour goes up a number of employers are forced into not paying that price. They will neither put on workers, in many cases, nor will they continue with the size of their existing work force in areas in which the market is very competitive. If the honourable gentleman has any concern whatsoever for those in this country who are genuinely unemployed, then I invite him to recast the policies of his own Party in relation to wage indexation. It is wage indexation which has been a cause of the problem of unemployment in recent years. I do not wish to harp on the politics of the matter, but if the honourable gentleman wants to know about the sorts of policies which have caused unemployment, let me take him back to the year 1974-75, when his Government increased spending by 46 per cent, the consumer price index increased by 16.7 per cent, and his Government forced 200 000 Australians out of work and into the ranks of the unemployed. That is the record of the honourable gentleman and his colleagues in government. Finally, the sort of policies that are now being prosecuted by the Leader of the Opposition- one has to have regard only to the text of his Press conference yesterday- represent the same old tune on a very worn record: More inflation and more unemployment.
– I ask the Attorney-General: Is he aware that I have been under investigation by the Commissioner for Community Relations because I referred to a group of people within a particular race for identification and apprehension purposes? As my allegations subsequently have been proved correct and no malice was intended on my part, does my experience testify to the fact that the Racial Discrimination Act can in some instances work against the freedom and rights of everyone? Will the Minister consider altering the Act in order that a person who genuinely believes that he or she is being wrongly subjected to investigation has some recourse by way of appeal to someone other than the Commissioner for Community
Relations against that investigation by the Commissioner who at present has sole discretion in determining whether someone is to be investigated?
-In answer to the honourable member’s speech, may I say that I am after all the Attorney-General and the adviser to the Commissioner for Community Relations. Therefore I do not want to comment on anything raised about the honourable member’s personal involvement in this matter or on the legality or otherwise of it. I am sure that the honourable member would not want me to trespass in that area. Later today I will be introducing into the Parliament a Bill to establish a human rights commission. Associated with that measure will be amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act. I can only say to the honourable gentleman that in the course of preparing those amendments I will take into account the point that he has raised. Under the Racial Discrimination Act as it is presently framed the Commissioner for Community Relations on receipt of a complaint which has, of course, to come from the person aggrieved or affected by the incident complained about, does have the power to refuse to entertain a complaint on certain grounds.
It is not explicitly stated, and perhaps it should be explicitly stated, that where he is of the opinion that the complaint does not constitute a complaint under the Act he ought of his own motion be able to decline to proceed with it. My inclination is to think that he has that power now but it would be better if it were stated expressly. As I understand the honourable gentleman’s question, he wants to have some right of appeal in relation to the matter. In that respect, again I can only say to him that I will give attention to it when considering amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs about a matter which, he will be aware from what has been stated and asked in this Parliament and in several of the State parliaments, is causing a great deal of public concern. He will know that the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission is required by the statute establishing it to prepare and submit to him a report on its operations during the financial year as soon as practicable after the end of the financial year. He knows of course that he is then required to submit that report to the Parliament within 1 5 sitting days. I ask him: Has the Commission yet presented the report for the financial year ending 1 1 months ago? If it has, why has it not been tabled? If it has not, why has it taken so long to prepare that report?
– There has been some unfortunate delay in the preparation of this report. I believe that a copy will be in my hands so that I am in a position to table it tomorrow.
– My question is directed to the Acting Prime Minister. I refer to the recent increase in activity in Australia of members of the KGB, with particular reference to the defection in Melbourne of KGB agent Cheshev Is it a fact that Canberra based KGB officials Mr Raina and Mr Voskresensky flew to Melbourne carrying firearms and met with Mr Cheshev in an attempt to dissuade his defection? Is it a fact that Mr Raina, First Secretary at the Soviet Embassy in Canberra, is one of 105 KGB officials who were expelled from London in 1971? Further, why has he been permitted to enter Australia and to engage in activities similar to those found to be a security risk in England? Will the Government make an investigation and, if these activities are found to be detrimental to national security, will the Government deport any KGB agents considered a security risk?
– I am not in a position to answer the honourable member’s question. I have no information concerning the question that he asked me. I shall make some inquiries. If there is information that the House should have I shall see that it is given.
-Is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs aware that the Murawina Aboriginal Child Centre at Chippendale in my electorate of Sydney has been waiting for months for promised funds to continue its excellent work? Does he appreciate that the centre is established in a disused factory with the only outdoor play area for the children the dangerous streets of Chippendale. Will he take action to see that the promised funds are made available immediately?
– I am aware of the situation concerning the Murawina pre-school centre. As a matter of fact, I had discussions yesterday with 2 persons directly concerned with it. I was advised then that the owners have given notice to the preschool centre to vacate the premises within the next 2 months. I have assured the people concerned that in any new premises that they are able to obtain the Department of Aboriginal Affairs will support them by way of operating costs and so on, as we presently do. I have before me a proposal for a new building for the preschool centre and a hostel for young Aboriginal girls undergoing education- a very imaginative proposal but one which will cost a considerable amount of money and take some time, about 1 8 months, to complete. Whether the amount of money concerned- over $500,000- will be available is something that I have to determine within the priorities of next year’s Budget.
-During a reply to a question asked by the honourable member for Lang I said that $10m would be spent on Capital Assistance for Leisure Facilities programs this year. I was in error; it will be $7m with a carryover of $5m.
Pursuant to the provisions of the Coal Industry Act 1946 I present the annual report of the Joint Coal Board for the year ended 30 June 1976 together with the financial statements and the report of the Auditor-General on that report. Due to the limited numbers available reference copies of this report have been placed in the Bills and Papers Office and the Parliamentary Library.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the third annual report of the National Committee on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation 1975-76.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the report of the Industries Assistance Commission on Certain Sheets and Plates of Iron or SteelTariff Quotas.
-I wish to make a personal explanation on the ground that I have been misrepresented.
-The honourable gentleman may proceed.
-During question time, the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) in answer to a question said 2 things which represented a misrepresentation of the facts. He alluded to me as the ‘former colleague’ of the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis). I am still a colleague of the honourable member for Gellibrand. I have a great admiration for him as the honourable member for Gellibrand knows. To suggest that I am no longer his colleague is a gross misrepresentation of the fact.
I wish to allude to another misrepresentation. The Right Honourable the Treasurer, I think one has to call him, said that I had made a statement to the effect that the Commonwealth Employment figures did not reflect accurately the state of the unemployment situation in Australia with the inference that the defect in the correct reflection of the situation was to exaggerate the true position. It is true that I said that the Commonwealth employment statistics do not reflect accurately the unemployment situation. I did not say that the reflection was one of under-estimation. However, I said that the number of people who register are not always people who are out of work because it is not against the law for a person to register for employment with the Commonwealth Employment Service even when he is still working. I asked the present Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) a question which he certified on 6 May this year. I asked him -
-Order! The honourable gentleman is moving away from correcting the misrepresentation.
-No, I am dealing with the difference between the Commonwealth Employment Service figures and the real figures.
– The honourable gentleman is arguing the issue. He is entitled to say only where he has been misrepresented and correct the misrepresentation.
– I am coming to that now. In answer to the question that I asked the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, he gave a reply that proves that I was misrepresented by the Treasurer.
– The honourable gentleman is arguing. He used the very word that shows that he is arguing when he said that it proves his point. The honourable gentleman has made his personal explanation.
-No, I have not. No, I have not been allowed to make my -
-The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
– I move that I be heard. I move that the honourable member for Hindmarsh be heard.
-No such motion will be received. I call the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs.
– I take a point of order. I have moved a motion that I be heard.
-I will not accept the motion.
– Then I move dissent from your ruling.
-There is no ruling from which to move dissent.
– I ask you to rule whether I am in order in moving the motion.
-The honourable gentleman is approaching the Chair. He will return to his seat.
– I shall ask it from there. Am I in order in moving that I be heard?
-Standing order 6 1 states:
When two or more members rise together to speak the Speaker shall call upon the member who, in his opinion, first rose in his place; but it shall be in order to move, that any member who has risen ‘be now heard’, or ‘do now speak’ and the question shall be put forthwith and determined without amendment or debate.
That circumstance does not arise. The honourable member cannot move a motion that he be heard and I will not accept such a motion.
- Mr Speaker -
-The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
- Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. My point of order is that I was on my feet. I therefore was still under call when I moved that the honourable member for Hindmarsh be heard.
-There is no basis on which the honourable member can so move.
-Then, Mr Speaker, I move dissent from the ruling which you have just given.
-There is nothing to dissent from. I call the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations.
– For the information of honourable members I present a statement concerning an inquiry into the case of Mr William Frederick Toomer, an officer of the Department of Health in Western Australia.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a brief statement. I have not had the opportunity to read the statement which the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) has tabled. But based on an answer given at question time, which I would assume is a correct summation of the statement, I am a little concerned that the Royal Commission indicated an independent inquiry. I think I should point out to the Minister that there was a departmental inquiry 3 years ago into this same matter.
The consequences of the subject matter are of extreme importance, not only to the Public Service which I think is a side issue and the Department of Health which I think is also a side issue in this matter, but also to the effective operation of quarantine in Australia. That is what is under question in the Toomer case; that is, whether or not there is an effective means by which quarantine can be carried through. Toomer ‘s argument and dispute are with senior officers of the Department of Health in Western Australia whom he claims have subverted effective quarantine operations in that State. He has some support from other quarantine officers. A Public Service inquiry by senior public servants, irrespective of their association with the case concerned and /or their association with the department concerned, is still a Public Service inquiry where the senior officers’ peers are inquiring into their activities and the activities of an extremely junior operative in the field who is arguing for some independence of action in the face of direct orders from his superiors.
A number of honourable members of this House would be aware of the Toomer case. Most would have received correspondence on it. I feel that there must be some doubt about the results of any inquiry irrespective of, as I say, the integrity of the officers where senior officers of one department are inquiring into the activities of senior officers of another department. I suggest that a satisfactory result- and the previous inquiry which was conducted was far from satisfactory; hence this inquiry arises- can be achieved only by an inquiry which can be seen to be completely free of Public Service influence. The pure operations within the Public Service would tend to have senior officers looking on their peers as being the persons likely to be the right people in this situation.
This matter is more serious than merely a Public Service matter. It is not a matter of employment. It is a matter of the structure, operation and effectiveness of quarantine in Australia which, I think the Minister would agree, is one of the most important things for a very substantial industry within Australia. The Minister has already indicated that this inquiry has been established. I have hoped that some other formula could be established which would overcome the legal difficulties which prevent an independent inquiry into the Royal Commission report being conducted or a Royal Commission being conducted. It may even be that we would have to use the device of a select committee of this Parliament to do the job, but I think that that would be a cumbersome and ineffective vehicle in this type of case. If necessary, I think a royal commission ought to be appointed with broader terms of reference because this matter is too important to take any risk of there being any form of whitewash in the operation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
-On behalf of the Standing Committee on Expenditure, I present the report of the Committee on accommodation for married servicemen.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-by leave-This is the first report of an inquiry made by the Expenditure Committee. It is the first of 2 inquiries of Government programs that the Committee has examined. In the Committee’s view there is an urgent need for a complete overhaul of the programs that provide accommodation for married servicemen. This is the basic conclusion the Committee has reached after a most comprehensive investigation into the subject.
The Committee believes that such accommodation is not being provided in the most economical ways. Firstly, many houses are being constructed by the States when private builders could have built these houses at significantly lower costs-about $Im less in 1976-77; secondly, the purchase of many more houses from the market would have resulted in further reductions in Budget outlays; and, thirdly, the failure to minimise hirings- that is, leasings of private accommodation- has prevented outlays from being held to their lowest level. As a result of this, Service rents are higher than they should be.
The Committee expresses great concern at the proposed 40 per cent increase in rents, some of which was avoidable as the earlier comment indicates. We are of the opinion that there will be further significant rent increases in the future. Service rents are below market rents but the gap is closing and if significant increases continue the Committee warns that more and more servicemen could rent on the market rather than from the defence stock on a value for money basis, thereby leaving the Commonwealth to foot the bill of dead rents payable to the States.
After considerable deliberation we have reached the conclusion that there was not much to be gained from simply patching up the existing scheme. Our basic recommendations are aimed at the discontinuation of most plans for the construction or acquisition of housing for use by married servicemen; and the introduction of explicit rent allowances on a permanent basis. There are also recommendations for the Commonwealth to divest itself gradually of the existing defence stock by selling the stock it owns and returning other stock to the States. While this stock lasts we recommend that the rent concession servicemen receive- that is, the difference between market rents and defence housing rents- be set in a rational way so that they will not be eroded by massive rent increases which are, to an extent, the result of uneconomic decisions on building or acquiring defence housing. The rent concessions and the rent allowances would reflect the housing related disabilities servicemen suffer.
Under our proposals many servicemen would have the freedom to choose the type, quality and location of the accommodation they require for their families. Servicemen would benefit particularly because the defence housing stock is generally below standard. The proposals also would be more economical and would result in short term reductions in Budget outlays of about $ 1 3m in 1977-78 and $59m in 1978-79 and 1979-80 combined. This week the Committee will be examining several other areas with the intention of announcing further inquiries to commence immediately. I commend the report to the House.
-by leave-As Deputy Chairman of the Standing Committee on Expenditure, I wish to be associated with the presentation of the Committee’s first report, which relates to accommodation for married servicemen. I merely ask the Government whether it will put this report under immediate study and take action to implement the recommendations because the Committee did find that there is room for improvement in the system of providing accommodation for married servicemen. If a parliamentary committee is to operate as we did, I believe that the Government owes it to that parliamentary committee immediately to investigate the reports that are presented.
– I have received a letter from the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The publication and distribution of a booklet entitled The Little Red Book for Social Change describing methods of attacking the democratic Australian society by violence and sabotage and enclosing target lists of prominent persons and premises in Australia.
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-
– In about December of last year a booklet entitled The Little Red Book for Social Change was published and distributed to parts of the community. At the time the Communist newspaper Tribune reported that the booklet had been widely distributed to political and community groups. The booklet deals, in its own words, with illegal actions. It states that all such actions as far as the Establishment is concerned are called terrorism regardless of the methods used or the objectives. It states that illegal struggles are motivated in various ways and that the ones with which it is concerned are those carried out generally in the vanguard of a wider movement. The booklet also states that revolution is not on the agenda for Australia at this time but radical activist groups must engage in practice- it is called revolutionary practice- to precede a revolutionary situation. The booklet is published by Radical Activist Publications. No further name is given and no further address is given.
I understand that since that time the booklet has come to the notice of some persons whose names are appended to the booklet in a list of prominent persons and places in Australia to be the subject of terrorist activity. The places include American bases in Australia and the persons on the list include most American diplomats in Australia and the heads of nearly all the large, prominent corporations as well as many other public figures who are well known in the community. Some publicity was given to the booklet in about February of this year. I understand that a report on it appeared in the Sunday Observer in Melbourne. Since that time corporations in particular have been wary of acts involving their companies that might be the result of sabotage.
In the recent past I have spoken about the matter to the executive of a company who does not wish in any way to have publicity for himself or his company. I have been told that there are suspicions that bomb hoaxes and minor sabotage have taken place in the company’s premises. It is difficult for the company actually to find out what has occurred in any situation. The booklet states that activists carrying out these activities must ensure as far as possible that they appear to be the work of ordinary common criminals so that any particular group activity cannot be found out. I am told that premises were recently burnt down, that there are certainly strong indications that this action was arson and that there are suspicions that it was carried out in order to attack the company concerned. Regardless of whether that is so and whether that could be proved to be the case, the fact is that companies are concerned about these matters, that they are taking security protection measures and that, as I understand it, they are linking with the proper authorities in order to try to track down the groups that may be indulging in this type of activity.
I would like broadly to outline the types of activities referred to in the booklet and then to deal with one or two specifics. Firstly, the booklet attacks the whole capitalist system and says that it is in its death throes and that something must be done to take it over. Secondly, it says that radicals need practice in breaking the law for several reasons. They need to be prepared for the possibility of revolutionary situations and they may need to defend themselves, whatever that means. The booklet rejects ordinary political activity. It rejects the strike, it rejects writing to newspapers, it rejects the parliamentary system and it rejects being members of pressure groups as any means of obtaining change in the community. It states:
The only way things can be changed is by action.
It continues: . . . effective mass action also includes illegal aspects.
The book then goes on with a tirade against the United States of America. On each page there is printed a clenched fist in the well known activist power salute style. The booklet then talks about the need to resort to illegal means. It states:
Where laws are framed to protect the self-interest of a small privileged group, there is no reason why the dispossessed, the disenfranchised and the oppressed should feel bound by these laws.
It then points out the value of political violence. It states:
Guerilla warfare, insurgency and individual acts of political violence have always been the weapons of those who cannot command armies or wield naked power in other ways.
It commends the activities of the Baader Meinhoff group in Germany. It commends the activities of the Weathermen in the United States. It states that, even if there are no concrete results from political violence, at least such action brings to the imagination of the people the cause for which the persons concerned contend.
The booklet then sets out a number of arguments from the establishment against direct action. I think that honourable members would be well familiar with the radical activist arguments and familiar with the ordinary principles of law and decency which would condemn the suggestions proposed in the booklet. The booklet then goes on to deal with ‘Left Arguments Against Direct Action’. In particular it condemns Mr Hawke, the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions who, it says: . . . equates the ‘terror from the left’ with right wing repression, and constantly uses the mass media to broadcast this distortion.
It says that the Left has become in fact a pawn of the system. It condemns such leftist arguments as the claim that illegal acts are not the answer to the problem, that illegal acts are counter productive, that illegal actions alienate the people and that illegal actions are part of ‘left adventurism’. All these leftist arguments are condemned because the booklet claims that the only real activity is to carry out illegal actions.
The booklet says that illegal actions have to be carried out in a carefully planned way. It says that ‘armed mass action against the State machine’ is not possible and that there must be selective activity. The booklet then points out:
Even if some of the suggestions appear to be mere pranks, it must be remembered that there is value in merely ridiculing the system.
It says further
Illegal actions can only be carried out by relatively small groups of people, and may or may not be part of a mass movement.
The booklet then goes on to detail a number of specific types of activities that can be carried out. First, it says that activists must maintain strict security. It says that activists must be careful in dealing with the police. They must be careful in their timing. The booklet then goes on to deal specifically with the types of actions that ought to be taken against individual personnel. It states:
Action taken against individual company executives . . . can be far more effective.
It points out that company executives should be subject to workers’ demonstrations outside their homes. It says further:
Even more effective was the use of araldite in the locks of car, office and house doors.
It states that unionists working in most of these companies can generally be contacted for information about the names and addresses and the premises and stores associated with these companies. One would hope that no self-respecting unionist would involve himself in this type of activity.
The booklet states that information about these matters must be obtained. It said that this information can be obtained from outside the organisations. A number of other techniques are set out such as telephoning companies on behalf of others and ordering goods so as to foul up the accounts and computers. Cutting telephone cables is described as a method of causing trouble to companies. It said that this action is ‘not difficult’. A method is set out. There is a recommendation for the cutting of electricity wires. The booklet explains how to immobilise switchboard in buildings and how to immobilise services to companies in particular. The booklet says:
You should consult with maintenance staff, servicing either a particular building or connected with a relevant utility and find out the details of service ducts and positions of distribution points.
It sets out the need to know where the main switch for the lifts is situated and how to block sewer pipes. There is a special section on how to activate sprinkler systems. The booklet contains comments on how to cause traffic jams if one wants to go to the next stage.
The booklet gets even more serious in its suggestions for damage to construction machinery by using carborundum in the sump or sugar in petrol tanks. The book then comes to the use of explosives- that is, for potential use in blowing up installations. The booklet says:
It is most important to remember that the use of explosives is not a matter for unskilled people.
The booklet says that it is relatively easy to get hold of explosives. It adds: . . . make sure you get plenty of practice.
There is always a serious dilemma in raising matters of this type. There is always the fear that they will be over-publicised. It is important that we should not be complacent about possible threats from within our community. Nor should we over-react. It is not my purpose to attract undue publicity to this document in such a way that people would be inclined to follow its suggestions. But one important matter does arise. The Tribune claims that the methods set out in the document are in many cases amateur. It says that they outline extremely stupid and dangerous guerilla activities. As I understand the writer in the Tribune, he is saying that the activities could be dangerous to the perpetrators themselves. One must warn anyone who has in mind carrying out some of these activities that there could be danger to the individuals concerned.
The booklet goes on further to talk about ways in which businesses can be caused financial disruption. It states: phoney advertisement posters can also be printed giving false prices.
It points out how to sabotage vehicles and how to indulge in ‘symbolic theft’ as has happened in America. It says that ‘good publicity campaigns’ have been conducted in other countries by stealing and delivering goods to the poor. It then deals with smoke and fire. It says that this is an effective way to mobilise buildings. The booklet then has a disgraceful paragraph on the use of chemical warfare. It refers to the use of chlorine and the spreading of defoliants on the gardens of those executives of companies that are involved in the chemical field. It then suggests that such action should be taken in respect of the Russell Hill defence complex in Canberra.
The Tribune states that these types of suggestions are extremely stupid. One of the incendiary suggestions is for explosives to be used in confined spaces. It points out that this is not even mentioned in the booklet. The Tribune gives a clear denunciation of the techniques set out in the booklet, although it appears to rely on its own expertise in these matters. The Tribune claims that the booklet could be in fact the work of agents provocateur. We do not know from where this information is coming.
The book states finally that after the use of some of these activities, including the leaking of information by public servants and the losing of names in the system, there must be a move to major criminal acts. Targets are set out. These are American bases in Australia. The distributed photostat copy has a special sheet showing the target list. This list has been blown up by a printer because the original list was too small. The target list includes the names of a large number of prominent persons in the community, including public servants, journalists and businessmen.
– Is the PM on the list?
– The Secretary of his Department is. So, too, are the secretaries of a number of departments. At this stage I seek leave to table a copy of this booklet.
-Is leave granted?
– Leave is not granted for the reasons that we have explained.
-Leave is not granted.
-What I put to the House is this: In these circumstances it is important to find the source of publication and distribution of this booklet or of this type of booklet. The Parliamentary Library received a copy anonymously. It is the only original that I have been able to locate. The security and police forces of the States should be aware of the need to find out carefully what is occurring. The community has an interest in some cases in proscribing or censoring publications of this sort. Normally I do not like to suggest that any document should be banned. But this document may very well infringe against various crimes acts. I suggest that the publication and distribution of this document should, by agreement between federal and State authorities, be proscribed and banned.
– The Opposition does not wish to give this publication any credence, any authority or any publicity whatsoever. For that reason we are amazed that the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) has gone to the extent of suggesting that this matter should be debated as a matter of public importance in the House without first sending it to the Government so that it can investigate the author, the distribution and all aspects associated with it. To dare to endanger the lives of people and property as this document would- if it were tabled it could then be circulated to the community- to encourage deranged minds and other people to attack the persons and property mentioned in the document is the height of stupidity.
-It will not be tabled.
-It will not be tabled because we refused leave. I do not know whether the Attorney-General is trying to defend his colleague. The honourable member is the Attorney-General. The proper thing for his colleague to do would be to give the document to the Attorney-General to investigate so that he could take some action. I make it clear that the Australian Labor Party has no philosophy which in any way supports this sort of action. We spend our time in relation to all actions in society in opposing violence but still trying to get betterment for society. Honourable members on the Government side often give great credence to anarchists and others on the basis that the publicity is helping the Government. They are doing nothing but destroying this nation and this is a typical example. The honourable member has come in here and moved a motion on a matter of public importance in relation to an illegal document which preaches violence. All he is doing is trying to say that it is a worthwhile proposition. Do not honourable members discuss these matters in their Party room with some intelligence? Do they want to go on with this sort of nonsense because the title of the document includes the words ‘Little Red Book’, and they think that it has some connotation with China or something of that nature?
I ask honourable members to be practical about the situation. By all means, have the matter investigated and deal with the authors of the document, but at least protect the poor, unfortunate persons who are named as the targets. For that reason we want nothing to do with the motion. We think the proper and wise course would have been for the honourable member to do his duty by referring the document to the proper law enforcement agencies so that they could take action. To bring the matter in here gives it unnecessary publicity and heightens the situation which we have always mentioned here. By all means, we should discuss matters of public importance in the Parliament which can be dealt with on a democratic basis. But to bring in every publication from a deranged mind on the basis that a service is being done to the people is ridiculous. He is endangering people and their property. I am amazed to think that the Government has encouraged this debate.
Mr NEIL (St George)-Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) who has just spoken said that I had not drawn this matter to the notice of the authorities. I have provided a copy of this document to the authorities, to the Attorney-General’s Department. I also said in my speech that the publication is unknown. That is the information that was made available to me. I have been told that the authorities were not able to locate the persons concerned. Information on the matter is available in the Parliamentary Library and that was one of the aspects to which I referred. It has been referred to in previous newspaper reports. That is why I did not seek to have the document publicised further by incorporating it in Hansard. That is why I sought to have it tabled after a reply from the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Ellicott) that the author could not be found. I raised the matter as a matter of public importance, I believe, in a responsible fashion.
-The discussion is now concluded.
Bill presented by Mr Street, and read a first time.
This Bill is to extend the operation of the Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act until 1 January 1978. 1 had expected that I would be introducing this Bill as part of a legislative package that would set before the Parliament the precise nature of the arrangements of the Government proposes for the stevedoring industry. Because of the legislative program, however, it is simply not possible to introduce that legislation this session.
This is unfortunate for, since November of last year when I outlined to the House the Government’s position on future arrangements in the industry, a very great deal of work has been done. I intend to outline in this speech the decisions which the Government has taken. It will be my intention to introduce early in the Budget session the legislation which will clear the way for the introduction of new arrangements in the industry.
I told the House last November that provided the industry could place before the Government a viable alternative to the present regulatory arrangements applying to the industry under the stevedoring industry legislation the Government would be prepared to discontinue its direct intervention in the industry through the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority. I outlined a number of requirements which the Government considered were essential to any new arrangements that might be devised by the industry. I also said that an essential first step would be to ensure that the size of the labour force in the industry was reduced to a level properly attuned to efficient stevedoring operations. Let me outline briefly for honourable members what has taken place since November.
First of all, Mr Justice Robinson of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission chaired a conference of the parties which resulted in a special redundancy program being introduced into the industry for a limited period. Under that program which was endorsed by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission special benefits accrued to waterside workers who left the industry by the end of March this year. This resulted in some 900 men opting to leave their employment in the industry in addition to more than 300 who left the industry in 1976. Since June 1975, the number of waterside workers has been reduced by almost 3000, including 2100 who have accepted voluntary retrenchment. The cost of this in paying benefits to waterside workers has not been light. By the same token, it represents a recognition by all parties to the industry that the level of the labour force has had to be reduced. I am pleased to say that the reduction has been achieved without disruption. I shall come back to redundancy later in this speech. In December 1976, I convened the National Stevedoring Industry Conference under the chairmanship of the former President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, Sir Richard Kirby. This Conference was attended by representatives of the employer body covering the conventional and terminal areas, the National Industrial Council, by the Waterside Workers Federation, the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd, the Australian National Line and officers of my Department, including a representative of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority.
In addition, the Conference invited a wide range of other parties with an interest in the industry to consult with it. Their views are reflected in the report of the Conference and obviously influenced many aspects of what the Conference put forward to me. The Conference met from late December until early April and accomplished a great deal of detailed work in putting before me a viable alternative to the statutory arrangements applying in the industry. I take this opportunity of expressing my warm appreciation to Sir Richard Kirby for accepting my invitation to chair the Conference. He took on this task at considerable inconvenience to himself and to Lady Kirby. The report outlines a framework which would involve the industry taking responsibility for managing its own affairs.
The report will now be available publicly. It presents to the Government detailed arrangements for: future distribution of labour within the industry; periodic adjustment of labour; procedures for the transfer of labour between employers; arrangements for the introduction of a supplementary labour scheme in the major ports in addition to that which already operates in smaller ports; consultative arrangements to allow all relevant interests to have an effective voice in the industry’s affairs; the setting up of a committee structure at the national and port levels to manage the new arrangements; adding labour to and removing it from the workforce; and improving industrial relations. These are all subjects to which the Government attaches particular importance. I laid down certain requirements about them in my second reading speech of November last. The Conference spells out its proposals in detail as to all of these matters and then sets out how it believes the remainder of the total framework should be developed. I was particularly pleased to see that the Conference placed much emphasis on preparation of the industry for the new arrangements and I know that already the industry has been pursuing in even more detail how the arrangements should be implemented and how both sides of the industry should obtain the best possible appreciation of what is intended. The fact that I am not now introducing the legislation that would permit the new arrangements to operate has a particular advantage in that connection. It will enable the industry to go even further in developing this all important task of preparation.
Let me make some observations about the significant features of the Kirby report. One of the most difficult problems associated with the present arrangements has been to devise a method- acceptable to all employers- of determining company quotas to ensure equitable distribution of labour between ‘operational’ employers. The aim of the Conference has been to overcome this problem. The present system whereby labour in the major ports is employed in a pool would be abolished and that labour distributed to employers in the port. It has devised a method of determining the appropriate labour strength of conventional stevedores in accordance with a mathematical formula based on labour usage over the previous 12 months. There is provision for quarterly reviews of the labour strength of conventional stevedores with adjustments according to variations in relative employment levels of the respective employers. The proposed method of determining labour strengths is designed to ensure that no employer gains an unfair advantage and that the labour is distributed equitably and in accordance with the relative volume of business. Because of their more stabilised labour requirements, the Conference has recognised the special needs of terminals and depots so that they are not included in the automatic review and adjustment of labour strengths. The Conference has recognised the special needs of Newcastle and Port Kembla. It has developed a scheme involving part of the labour force remaining in a pool administered by the employers organisation.
The Conference proposes that all surplus labour of any employer should be made available for use by all other employers in the port. This is an entirely new concept and has the full support of the principal parties, including the Waterside Workers Federation. It represents a gain of some magnitude and should result in substantial savings to the industry. The new arrangements provide for the establishment of a supplementary labour force in the major ports in addition to the existing arrangements for supplementary labour applying in the smaller ports. This availability of additional labour will go a long way towards meeting port shortages during temporary periods of increased labour requirements. In turn, this should reduce delays to vessels needing labour. In times of continuing shortages of a temporary nature the industry will also be able to increase the available hours of work of the entire work force by the addition of an extended shift per week and the extension of all shifts to complete vessels which are to finish and sail. This represents a valuable increase in the hours of work when they are most needed.
The Conference has developed a detailed scheme for dealing with recruitment and redundancy in an orderly fashion. It has established, for example, a system of port quotas and interport transfers. In light of experience in recent years the Conference proposes that voluntary means be employed to separate surplus men from the industry. The employers, however, have reserved their right to seek compulsory redundancy arrangements when the current terms and conditions contract in the industry expires in May next year. I have already spoken of the large number of men who have left the industry by voluntary means in recent years. The Government will watch with very great interest the operation of the voluntary redundancy arrangements. The federal and port co-ordinating committees proposed by the Conference as a means of ordering relationships between the parties in the industry at the port and national levels will be essentially consultative in nature. They are intended to achieve agreement between the parties for the management of industrial affairs while primary responsibility for administrative arrangements rests with the employers. The Conference has recognised that, because of the nature of the matters with which these committees will be dealing, they should be established by legislation. The Government will introduce legislation to achieve this.
Of very great significance to the Government was the need to ensure improved industrial relations in the industry. It is true to say that relationships in the industry have improved significantly over the last 10 years but the Government wants the industry to put even more work into this. I am pleased to note from the Kirby report that it recommends the appointment of port conciliators whose task it will be to settle job disputes. The Conference was assisted in its consideration of this matter by Mr Justice Robinson and Commissioner Neil. The Conference recognises the need to have the port conciliators appointed by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Anyone who knows of the past history of this subject will see this as a major step forward. We will legislate to enable the Commission to appoint the port conciliators.
Throughout the report the Conference recognises the role to be played by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. It accepts that with the withdrawal of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority the jurisdiction of the Commission should be widened so that it may deal with such matters as entry of labour into the industry, the transfer of labour, determining the size of the labour force, redundancy and supplementary labour forces. The Government will introduce legislation next session to widen the jurisdiction of the Commission to accommodate these matters. This will bring a new dimension to the work of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The Government recognises what has been done by voluntary means to reduce the size of the labour force. We shall therefore include in the legislation a provision that the Commission may not award compulsory redundancy. The legislation will, however, contain a mechanism which will enable the Commission to make such an award if situations should emerge which show that the industry itself is not capable of settling issues of this nature by voluntary means.
The report recognises that there should be opportunities for interests associated with, but not directly involved in, the industry to consult with the industry and Government as to the affairs of the industry. Thus, it proposes the establishment of the Stevedoring Industry Consultative Council with broad terms of reference and wide-ranging membership going well outside the parties directly concerned in the industry. The Government has accepted this proposal in principle and I shall move to establish the proposed Council after proper consultation with all those interests whom the report suggests should provide the standing membership of the proposed Council. I would add that the concept of the Council is that it would consist not only of the standing members. There would be every opportunity for other interests in the community to join in the Council ‘s discussions as the need to do so arose.
The Government has concluded that the report of the Conference has covered adequately the matters that I raised with it. I believe significant gains will have been made with the introduction of the arrangements that the Conference has put forward. While the Conference was carrying out its work a consultant to my Department was also working on the proposed details of future funding in the industry. Honourable members will be aware that by long standing legislation of this Parliament there are established central funding arrangements to meet costs associated with the operation of the industry. I refer here to the Stevedoring Industry Charge Act which imposes a tax on each manhour of employment of waterside workers with the proceeds of that tax going to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority. In a detailed report the consultant, Mr Neil Stevens, suggests a future financial framework. His report is now available as a public document.
Some of the main features of his report are that he envisages the creation of a cental funding body for the industry; proposes the introduction of a levy on tonnage to secure recovery of what is commonly called the ‘industry deficit’ so that payments for long service leave may be secured; proposes that any ultimate surplus in the funds of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority should go towards reducing the industry deficit; proposes that the Authority’s financial assets and/or liabilities should be taken up by the proposed central funding body; and proposes revised man-hour levies mainly to meet obligations of employers in the smaller pons and the provision of payments by employers to the Stevedoring Employees Retirement Fund. A notable feature of Mr Stevens’ report is his suggestion that there be continued central statutory funding arrangements. The Government has accepted this recommendation in the interests of public scrutiny of the large sums of money that will be involved. It therefore will legislate to set up a Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee by statute to oversight the distribution of funds to be derived from statutory levies to which I will come shortly.
The Committee will have corporate status but its members, to be drawn from the Association of Employers of Waterside Labour, the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd, the Australian National Line and the Waterside Workers Federation, will not be full time functionaries. Moreover, it will be able to make arrangements with the Association of Employers of Waterside Labour to provide the necessary administrative backing for its operations. Its accounts will be subject to scrutiny by the Auditor-General and it will be required to produce an annual report to me for presentation to Parliament together with a statement of its audited accounts. We shall also legislate in the Budget session for a revised system of stevedoring levies. These levies will be imposed on manhours of employment for the purposes that I have outlined already and by a combination of a special surcharge on man-hours as to bulk cargoes and on tonnage of cargoes handled by waterside workers in order to recover the socalled ‘industry deficit’. We will make special provision for the interstate trade by instituting a reduced rate of tonnage levy on cargoes loaded by waterside workers in connection with that trade. We shall introduce legislation to impose these levies and to govern the collection of them.
Two further pieces of legislation will need to be introduced. The first of these will be a Bill to amend the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. This will be necessary to make adjustments to Division 4 of Part III of the Act, which is a special division under which the Commission exercises jurisdiction as to the stevedoring industry. It is a division which now deals with the traditional areas of work of waterside workers and we propose to maintain that in the amending legislation. Thus, the special provisions of the current Stevedoring Industry Act as to certain bulk handling work and stevedoring work in ‘industrial undertakings’ will continue to be excluded from the operation of Division 4. We shall also include provisions designed to preserve the concept of the special position of the bulk handling companies which are now in the Stevedoring Industry Act. I must emphasise, however, that the very fact that we shall be repealing the current stevedoring industry legislation which regulates the industry will not make it possible to preserve that concept by the same legislative techniques.
I mentioned earlier that we would expand the jurisdiction of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, and that will also be done within the scope of Division 4 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. It will be under this Act that we will establish the proposed federal and port coordinating committees in the industry and permit the appointment by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission of port conciliators. Finally, there will be a need for legislation to repeal the considerable number of Stevedoring Industry and Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Acts that have been passed since 1956. A Bill will be introduced to achieve this, with suitable transitional arrangements included in it.
I regret that time has not permitted the introduction and passage of this total parcel of legislation. However, as I have already said, it is our intention to introduce it and secure its passage very early in the Budget session. I do not expect that this will have much, if any, effect upon the introduction of the new arrangements that the Government has endorsed. Indeed, in the coming months the parties will be able to spend time on the all-important task of preparation of the industry for those new arrangements and attending to the enormous amount of detailed work required. The regulatory scheme in relation to this industry has now operated for 35 years; the dismantling of it is no mean task. Every effort must be made to ensure the smoothest possible transition from the old to the new. The new arrangements must be given time to work themselves in, and it would be a mistake to judge them too quickly after their introduction. Their introduction will represent a bold step. The Government will encourage them to succeed. It will therefore be watching their operation with keen attention and it will want to assess how they have performed after a reasonable interval. It is in these circumstances that the Government will, by appropriate means, institute a review of their operation 12 months after they have been introduced.
There are two further things that I wish to say to the House. First, I want to place on record my appreciation of the work that has been done in the Kirby conference by the parties to the industry and all those other parties who took the time to have discussions with and place views before that conference. The conference wasted no time in getting its work done and producing its report. That was undoubtedly due to the spirit of cooperation amongst all those who took part in it. I again express my special thanks to Sir Richard Kirby. I also wish to pay tribute to the officers of my own Department for the tremendous personal contributions they have made towards working out a better structure for the Australian waterfront. They have been absolutely untiring in their efforts, far beyond what could reasonably be expected of them.
On earlier occasions I have emphasised the concern that I have for the staff of the Authority and its Director in having to cope with what must be, to them, a period of strain. The Authority still has its functions to perform. It is performing them under increasing difficulties, and the fact that it will now have to continue in operation for some months to come will not ease the situation for it. I express my thanks to the staff of the Authority and to the Director for carrying on their work under these difficulties. I assure them, however, that in all that I have been doing to develop the new framework I the industry I have been most conscious of the need to keep the Authority’s staff informed and to reduce, as far as possible, any delays in the introduction of those arrangements. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Keith Johnson) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Street, and read a first time.
This Bill is a companion to that to amend the Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act which I have just introduced. The Bill would extend the life of the Stevedoring Industry Charge Amendment Act 1975 until 1 June 1978, pending the introduction of the program of legislation which I have outlined in my second reading speech on the Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Amendment Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Keith Johnson) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Ellicott, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to establish a Human Rights Commission in Australia. The major purpose of the Commission is to ensure that Commonwealth and Territory laws, acts and practices conform with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Bill will give individuals a specific right to complain. It will vest in the Commission functions under other Acts, such as the Racial Discrimination Act, relating to human rights. Before elaborating in greater detail on the different aspects of the Commission’s work, I would first like to outline some matters that affect the Government’s proposals. At an international level, human rights issues have been and continue to be of great significance to Australia. Recently we were elected as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. On 18 December 1972 Australia signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Government’s aim is that Australia should ratify the Covenant as soon as this is practicable.
On the domestic level, human rights questions are obviously of concern to the whole of Australia. With this in mind the Government attaches great importance to joint discussions and arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States. Both the Commonwealth and the States have their own areas of interest and it is important that there should be collaboration and co-ordination if human rights activities are to be carried out in the most effective manner. It is important that the human rights which Australians enjoy should be defined in such a way by the respective governments that the people in each State and Territory have substantially the same rights. There is a growing complexity of laws in Australia dealing with privacy and with discrimination of grounds of race, colour, sex and marital status and other laws. I do not suggest that identical laws need to be formulated but a basic aim which we should have in this area is to ensure that the human rights enjoyed by all Australians are substantially the same.
One fundamental issue which has arisen in this area is whether the protection of human rights should be by way of a Bill of Rights. Such a Bill was introduced into this Parliament by the former Government. The Bill prompted a debate on whether it was the correct approach and opinions have been sharply divided on the issue. The Government has adopted the view that this is not the correct approach. There is of course a real question as to whether such a Bill would be valid. Even with the benefit of the decision of the High Court on the scope of the external affairs power in the seas and submerged lands case it must remain open to real doubt whether the High Court would uphold its validity.
What are more significant however are the serious implications which such a Bill would have for our federal system of Government and our legal system. Because of the operation of section 109 of the Constitution, a Federal Bill of this kind would have the effect of introducing an entrenched Bill of Rights for the States although not, I should add, for the Commonwealth. It would bring about a fundamental change in the distribution of power between the Commonwealth and the States, and in the jurisdiction of federal and State courts. It would mean that all Commonwealth and State law, whether statute or common law, would have to be read subject to the Bill of Rights legislation. It would in some areas change dramatically the operation of State law, even procedural law. The exercise of jurisdiction by State courts would be affected in so far as their procedures did not comply with the Bill of Rights. Some State laws might even disappear leaving a vacuum or leaving the courts to fill the vacuum by judicial- type legislation. It is extremely doubtful whether the confusion and friction which this would produce is justified in the public interest particularly if there are other methods available of protecting human rights.
Furthermore I believe it is fundamental in a democracy that our basic human rights should be defined by Parliament and not by judges. A Human Rights Bill of this character introduced by the previous Government would have left to judges a great field of judicial legislation as they defined in the judgments in particular cases the specific meaning to be given to the broad statements of principle contained in the Bill.
What is needed in a community such as ours is a basic commitment to human rights. It is the strength of this attitude which will in part determine the sense of justice which the society possesses. If there is no positive commitment, forces in the community inevitably will treat the individual as less than human and without the respect which every true democracy must have for the individual. The forces that intrude on basic human rights can of course be the very forces that serve the individual in other respects- the Public Service, large corporations, trade unions and the like.
The Government is committed to preserving human rights in this country. It does not however agree that it is necessary to have a Bill of Rights in order to do so. It does however believe that there should be administrative machinery, such as that involved in the establishment of a Human Rights Commission, through which our commitment to human rights can be demonstrated and constantly pursued. In the Government’s view, there should be a case by case approach to human rights. This approach would deal with areas where human rights in Australia are not basically recognised or which need clarification or codification or would deal with instances where it is demonstrated by the complaints of individuals that existing laws or practices fail to observe basic human rights. The Criminal Investigation Bill is a clear indication of the Government’s attitude. The privacy reference to the Law Reform Commission is another.
The question might be asked whether the obligations that would be imposed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights would require the introduction into Australian law of a Bill of Rights or Bills of Right. In the Government’s view no requirement is made in the Covenant for action of this character. It is clear, I think, from the provisions of Article 2 of the Covenant that, while States Parties must provide effective and enforceable remedies for violations of rights recognised by the International Covenant, appropriate measures, other than legislative measures, may be taken. In particular, the provisions of the common law and procedural safeguards may be relied on. Moreover, the debates in the United Nations make it clear that judicial remedies are not necessarily the only remedies to be available for the protection of rights. Remedies determined by administrative authorities may be relied on, provided that the remedy is an effective remedy. Article 2 of the Covenant makes it clear, I think, that an emphasis should be placed on the development of processes to respond to individual complaints. These processes may be provided not only by legislative measures and common law and procedural remedies, but also by remedies of an administrative and executive character.
It is also important to bear in mind that there are a number of mechanisms, safeguards and procedures, both general and specific, direct and indirect, that have important implications and influences on the provision of remedies for human rights of an administrative or executive character. The safeguards involved in Australia ‘s system of representative and responsible government, the independence of the judiciary and the procedures adopted by our courts, the freedom of the Press and the possibility of parliamentary or ministerial investigation or other inquiry are important factors in the maintenance of human rights in this country. To these factors may be added the processes that have been established for the operation of ombudsmen, for the review of administrative decisions and for the provision of legal aid. The activities of non-governmental bodies concerned with civil liberties also play an important role. These are examples of the pressures that exist within our society to ensure that infringements of human rights are provided with a remedy.
There also has been a movement towards the introduction of legislation on specific matters, such as racial discrimination, discrimination on grounds of sex or marital status, criminal investigation and invasions of privacy. In addition, increasing attention is being given to the inclusion in legislation of qualifications and safeguards, where possibilities of intrusions into human rights may arise. The Commonwealth Government is of the view, however, that supplementary procedures should be established, to operate on a systematic and comprehensive basis, if the obligations contained in Article 2 of the Covenant are to be fulfilled. The Human Rights Commission proposed by this Bill will play an important part in these supplementary processes.
Late last year I announced proposals for the establishment of a Human Rights Commission as a joint Commonwealth-State venture. Under this proposal, the Commission would have had power, among other things, to examine and report on Commonwealth and State laws and practices that were inconsistent with the International Covenant and it was proposed that individuals would be able to bring complaints affecting them to the Commission for investigation. It was proposed that reports of the Commission would be made by the Commission to all governments and it would then have been a matter for the relevant government, State or Commonwealth, to take any legislative or administrative action that might be appropriate to provide a remedy for any violation of the Covenant.
Consistently with the notion that the Commission should be established as a joint Commonwealth-State venture, I proposed that the Commission should be subject to the direction of a body, called the Human Rights Council, in relation to that pan of its work that related to the examination of State and Commonwealth laws and practices. I proposed that the Council would be empowered to lay down criteria to be taken into account in determining whether laws or practices fell within the scope of the International Covenant and that the membership of both the Commission and the Council should consist of State, as well as Commonwealth, members.
I said earlier that, in achievement of these objectives, the Commonwealth attaches great importance to joint discussions and arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States. Accordingly, there have been discussions with the States on this matter and I anticipate that further discussions will be held shortly. However, most of the States have indicated that at this stage they would not propose to join in a scheme that involved functions relating to State legislation and State practices being vested in a Commonwealth commission. Having regard to these discussions, the functions of the Commonwealth ‘s Commission as set out in this Bill will be limited to Commonwealth and Territory laws and practices. The Bill will be left to lie on the table of the House for public comment and further discussions will be held with the States to establish a foundation for Commonwealth-State co-operation on a basis satisfactory to all parties.
I turn now to a description of the provisions contained in the present Bill. Clause 3 of the Bill defines ‘human rights’ to mean rights and freedoms recognised in the International Covenant or in any other relevant international instrument specified by the Minister. The words ‘act or practice’ are defined to mean acts and practices in a Territory or engaged in by or on behalf of the Commonwealth or under a Commonwealth or Territory law. The word ‘enactment’ is defined to mean a Commonwealth Act, an ordinance of a Territory or a law made under an Act or ordinance. Clause 7 provides that the Commission is to consist of a chairman and six or more other members, not exceeding ten. The chairman is to be a judge or a legal practitioner. The precise composition of the Commission has, at this stage, been deliberately left undefined as it is a matter upon which submissions would be welcomed.
The functions of the Commission are set out in clause 8. The main functions of the Commission will be as follows: The Commission will report on laws, acts and practices that may be inconsistent with the International Covenant and on laws that should be enacted or other action that should be taken by the Commonwealth in relation to human rights. When requested to do so by the Minister, the Commission is to report on action that needs to be taken by Australia in order to comply with the provisions of the International Covenant or any other international agreement relating to human rights specified by the Minister. The Commission is to have functions under other Commonwealth Acts- such as the Racial Discrimination Act- or under a State Act that vests functions in the Commission. The Commission is also to have functions relating to the promotion of human rights and the coordination of programs of education and research undertaken by the Commonwealth.
Clause 9 is a very significant clause. It provides that the Commission is to inquire into and report on an act or practice that may be inconsistent with or contrary to the rights and freedoms recognised in the International Covenant when a complaint in writing is made by an individual to the Commission, when the Commission is requested to do so by the Minister or when it appears to the Commission to be desirable to do so. The Commission is to have a discretion not to inquire into certain matters, such as frivolous, vexatious, or trivial complaints or matters that could be more effectively or conveniently dealt with by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
I have said that this Bill will be left to lie on the table of the House for public comment. One of the matters to which consideration could be given is the possibility of adding to the functions of the Commonwealth’s Commission. For example, where an investigation takes place on complaint by an individual it may be thought desirable to vest in the Commission conciliation functions in respect of alleged infringements of the rights recognised in the International Covenant. Consideration also needs to be given to whether the Commission or a tribunal should be able to make orders that would have the force of law.
Clause 10 of the Bill provides that the form of examination and inquiries is to be at the discretion of the Commission. Under clause II. where it appears to the Commission that an act or practice is inconsistent with the Covenant, the Commission is to give the person responsible a reasonable opportunity to appear before the Commission and to make submissions. Under clause 1 2, the Commission is to have power compulsorily to require the answering of questions or the production of documents. The width of this clause is a matter for discussion and I envisage that the provision might be revised to exclude a greater range of documents from its operation.
Clause 13 provides that, where the Commission finds that an enactment is inconsistent with the Covenant, it is to make recommendations in relation to the amendments required to the enactment. The clause also provides that where the Commission finds that an act or practice is inconsistent with the International Covenant, it is to serve notice of its findings and recommendations on the person responsible and is to report on the matter to the Minister. The report to the Minister is to state whether the person responsible has taken or is taking any action as the result of the findings and recommendations of the Commission. The Commission is to furnish an annual report, which is to be tabled in Parliament. Most of the remaining clauses deal with administrative matters.
The procedures that will be established by this BUI to be followed by the Commission will have a number of advantages, and at the same time avoid some of the difficulties, of a Bill of Rights. The procedures will involve the adoption of the principles contained in the Covenant as a guide to legislative and administrative action and will permit flexibility to adapt to new situations as they arise. They will prompt the introduction on a systematic basis of legislation in Parliament dealing with specific problems with a particularity and comprehensiveness that could not be achieved by means of judicial interpretation of general guarantees. They will also prompt administrative action on matters that might be too minor or detailed to warrant specific legislation. In addition, the procedures will avoid the emphasis on expensive and excessive litigation that often accompanies a Bill of Rights. The procedures will establish a yardstick against which intrusion into basic rights can be measured, but will at the same time preserve the parliamentary role of determining matters of policy and settling the content of the law. The Bill will thus evidence the commitment of the Commonwealth Government and Parliament to the introduction of practical measures for the maintenance and promotion of basic human rights.
I have already emphasised the importance of achieving wider Commonwealth-State agreement in this area. To this end discussions are to continue between the Attorneys-General. One of the matters which I hope will be discussed is whether a declaration of human rights based on the Covenant and the principles already embedded in our common law could be drawn up for adoption by all governments and parliaments in the Commonwealth and whether, based on such a declaration, a system to enforce human rights can be established in every State and Territory of the Commonwealth. I wish to make it clear that the Government is not wedded to the precise terms of this Bill and will be prepared to propose amendments based on the results of these further discussions with the States and the representations of members of Parliament and the public if they could lead to the adoption of a more comprehensive system than the Bill presently contains.
Mr Deputy Speaker, the espousal of human rights can have a very hollow ring about it especially in the mouths of people like politicians, social scientists and would-be demagogues. It is very easy and a great satisfaction to the individual and community conscience to make lofty speeches and engage in spirited demonstrations about human rights. What is difficult is the pursuit of those rights for the benefit of the individuals for whom they are intended. Recently a group of squatters occupied a building in a Kings Cross street in my electorate. They did so in pursuit of the principle of low cost housing for people in the inner city. The building was opened by them to any homeless person who wished to sleep there and as time went by many chronically disturbed alcoholic and disabled people moved in. The squatters, feeling they had made their stand for human rights, for principle, then moved on leaving these people to fend for themselves. But the tragedy is that most of these people can not fend for themselves. They could be described as the rejects of a welfare system supposedly set up to care for them. At present they are partly being looked after by a 19 year old unemployed girl. I understand her main concern is what would happen to them if she had to accept a job. The nearby Wayside Chapel and a couple of doctors in private practice who assist at the Chapel are also struggling to help these people. Bill Crews, Director of the Wayside Chapel’s crisis centre, has written this:
When one of our doctors was first called there, he was shocked at what he saw. Indescribable filth, sickness and poverty. He warned us that if something wasn’t done Sydney could have an outbreak of plague from that place. He was a former medical superintendent of a hospital so he knew what he was talking about. He treated one person for double pneumonia and personally drove one young resident to hospital because she was haemorrhaging badly, only to have the hospital release her three hours later.
Our Crisis Centre bathroom has become a first aid post for these people. Here they are bathed, deloused, and their scabies and skin disorders are treated. Our small bathroom has to be sterilised after every visit as we have to use it, too.
It is time the hollowness of much that it proclaimed in the cause of human rights is once more exposed. What these people need is not the empty proclamation of human rights by radical squatters but the care of a society and individuals in it committed to the practical application of those rights. The problem of our time is not our incapacity to proclaim or understand basic human rights. The radicals are wasting their time. It is surely obvious to the most reluctant conservative that the winds of change are blowing in the trees in every field of human endeavour, challenging us all to a fresh appreciation and a stronger devotion to basic human rights. The real question is whether we as a people and as individuals have the will, the sense of commitment, the courage, if you like, to live out these principles in what we do. In this sense it is no different to the challenge that has confronted mankind since human life began. May this Bill at least symbolise our determination to respond to this challenge. I commend this Bill to the House.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, before moving for the adjournment of the debate might I make this observation -
– This is not a speech on the second reading, is it?
– No, it is an observation before moving for the debate to be adjourned. The Bill has been brought in. The Opposition cannot debate it now. Of course it will be some months before we get a chance to discuss it. I do not think that is fair from the Opposition’s point of view. I welcome the electoral speech the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott) made in respect of problems in his area. In the spirit of conciliation I say that I hope that State governments will co-operate to the extent that we get effective legislation. At this stage, I have only just seen the legislation. I do not want to see the Human Rights Commission as just a graveyard for complaints. I have a feeling that all we will ever be able to do for State governments is to write them a letter, and not even know the contents of what we are doing. I hope that in the recess the Attorney-General can improve the Bill as a result of the deliberations he proposes to have with State Attorneys-General.
Debate (on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen) adjourned.
-On behalf of the Minister for the Northern Territory (Mr Adermann) I move:
The purpose of this motion is to enable us tomorrow to proceed to Government business instead of the normal General Business items. It is the Government’s firm intention to enable a debate on the nuclear safeguard statement of the Prime
Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and, at that time, to initiate a debate on the second Fox report. For that reason I am anxious to maximise the opportunity for private members to participate in that discussion. To achieve that end and still encompass the rising of the Parliament in the time envisaged, I seek the support of the House for this motion.
-The Opposition is not opposing this motion. We feel that it is important that time be made available for a debate on the nuclear safeguard statement and that it is a more important and urgent proposition for debate at this stage than the General Business item which stands in the name of the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young). For that reason, and because we are aware that there is not sufficient time to debate both matters, we are not opposing this motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 26 May, on motion by Mr Howard:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– May I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill and the Customs Tariff Validation Bill (No. 2) 1977 as they are associated measures. Separate questions will, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of both Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering both measures? I shall allow that course to be followed.
-The Customs Tariff Amendment Bill and the Customs Tariff Validation Bill (No. 2) are machinery measures to bring about final legal authorisation of measures which have been operating for a considerable period. Therefore, they are hardly a subject for any protracted debate. There are, however, very important matters in the areas covered by this legislation and other consequential actions which arise from it which are of extreme short and long term importance to
Australia, its relations with other countries and the social fabric within the country itself. Recently the White Paper on Manufacturing Industry was presented to the Parliament. It is a disappointing document. It contains a lot of words but very little on which manufacturing industry can hang its hat as a proposition for future development. Statements have been made outside the Parliament, especially by the Minister for Overseas Trade (Mr Anthony), relating to long and short term protection. This week he made a statement indicating that we should look forward in the not too distant future to a progressive reduction in tariffs on a wide range of Australian manufacturing industries. This must be the ultimate aim of the Government. Although the manipulation of tariffs or changes in bounties provide some temporary relief to some industries, they do not appear to have any real effect in solving the problems of industry.
Manufacturing industry in Australia is in serious difficulties. It is an unattractive form of investment for new capital even when that investment is subsidised heavily by Government tax concessions. It is a declining area of the Australian work force. It is a cost factor which must be taken into consideration within the community itself. Every industry which it is necessary to protect in order to maintain employment costs the community money. There are no criteria that I know of which can be properly applied to the cost of protection vis-a-vis efficiency. The most empty statement I have ever heard by an economist is that we should be cutting down tariffs in order to eliminate inefficient industry and transfer workers to other forms of employment. No one can tell us what the other forms of employment are. No one, to my knowledge, has set out reasonable criteria for an efficient industry. Some of our industries in Australia which are in diabolical trouble are and have been in the past amongst the most efficient in the world. Because we have a different standard of living and different social norms their cost structures are different from the cost structures of other, possibly less efficient, producers of the same product.
Other advantages and circumstances apply to this situation. There are more social problems in the textile industry in Australia than there are basic economic problems when the problems are considered from a flat policy point of view. Obviously a great number of our textile operators have been less than efficient for a considerable number of years. I can see no reason why any entrepreneur would invest money in establishing a modern textile industry in Australia. It has been a dicey operation, almost a year to year proposition, at least for the last 20 years. The long term prospects are not improved by anything contained in the White Paper. Certainly the pressures in the foreign affairs and overseas trade areas have not assisted.
These are areas in which we have a very substantial decentralised industry content and no alternative forms of employment. If we follow the economist’s proposition and let these industries go to the wall because they are high protection and therefore high cost industries, what are the social or economic consequences for the nation? The Government has said that propositions such as Albury-Wodonga are low priority expenditure areas. More than likely that is true. But if we cut industries out of the country or large provincial areas- that is what reductions in tariffs or increases in quotas will do- these communities must look elsewhere for employment. No one has yet found alternatives. There is none. The honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) is one of those who are able to establish that there are more efficient forms of production. He is not able to tell us what they are but he is able to establish them in his own mind. He is a very modest man but, I think, not very practical in this area. It would be nice if our industries could be made more efficient.
I wish to deal with a couple of other matters directly within the portfolio of the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard). I point to the inconsistencies which exist to the disadvantage of sections of industry such as the textile industry vis-a-vis the clothing apparel manufacturing industry. Within the guidelines for by-law entry there is a general code that if an Australian manufacturer can supply the goods required they cannot be imported. On the surface that appears to be a reasonable proposition. It does not apply to everyone. Certainly it does not mean necessarily that the goods will be supplied by the Australian manufacturer who can supply them. I use as an example a firm within my own electorate which makes fashion goods. I am sure that it is the same with many other firms. It is seeking to import certain materials for the manufacture of the clothes which it sells in competition with imported clothes using exactly the same base materials. That firm is not able to import the material concerned because what is deemed to be- and what is not- a suitable substitute is available within Australia. When I say ‘what is not a suitable substitute’ I mean that it is not a suitable substitute because the retailer who is going to sell the final item, is not prepared to accept garments made out of the substitute. Therefore, the fact that the substitute is available does not give the manufacturer any opportunity to sell his goods because if he makes his goods out of the substitute, the retailer will not buy them. If the retailer will not buy them, there is not much point in running the machines.
The point I make here is that the manufacturer of the material is able to prevent the import of that particular item. The Australian manufacturer, who says that he could make a suitable substitute, does not get access to that order because the order is not made. But the importer of garments is able to import garments containing that material and the manufacturer, who would be competing with him if he were able to obtain the same material, is not able to say: ‘I could provide those garments with a satisfactory substitute material involved ‘. So he is the meat in the sandwich. One set of producers is able to veto another manufacturer in another area. But in a third area, the second manufacturer has no rights whatsoever. It is an inconsistency in the operation of policy. It is something for which I should like to hear an explanation. I do not think one could be given. I am quite aware we can always put up the substitute argument that garment manufacturers could import everything if they were able to do so. There is a certain inconsistency in this area. I think that one of the problems is that the departments concerned in this area are understaffed and are not able to meet the demands which are growing in those areas because of the problems of our manufacturing industries.
The White Paper which has been brought down, I think, does little to solve the long term problems. If we do not have a situation, especially in textiles and some of the other manufacturing areas, where long term investment takes place, those industries will gradually decline and go out of business. There is no question that if the existing tariff quota structures remain and no long term guarantees or long term programs are brought in, there will be that gradual close-down of a few firms each year. Certainly I think that no person not in need of psychiatric examination would invest large sums of money in modern plant.
I make one other point. One manufacturer in my electorate invested considerable sums in carpet manufacturing equipment and, I think, had one of the most efficient operations in Australia, if not in the world. He has virtually been put to the wall. He has not gone to the wall as yet and I would not want it to be understood that that is the situation, but he has been placed in a position by other manufacturers in Australia of almost being non-competitive.
-I hope that the honourable member for Wakefield will listen. This manufacturer has been put in a position of being noncompetitive by other manufacturers in Australia who have not gone to the trouble of making their plants as efficient as they could because they have gone into the importing business. I think that we now have enough carpet in Australia to carpet the farm of the honourable member for Wakefield. So, where an Australian manufacturer has put himself in the position of taking every step possible to become efficient, he still has been under-cut by his competitors within Australia who have been able to import rather than take the trouble to improve their own plants.
I do not want to spend much more time on this matter, but I think that it is a problem which is complex beyond imagination. Australia has a basic work force which we either keep employed or find other means of maintaining. We cannot go back to the proposition of the 1790s, which was pull down the houses, cut out the poor laws and if you do that they will not breed any more of those illiterate workers whom we have to pay to feed. That is not a proposition. I think that the problem mainly is that we are not breeding enough workers. But the facts of the matter are that employment opportunities in Australia are in serious decline. As I understand it, manufacturing industry now employs less than 22 per cent of the available work force and is declining fairly rapidly. Other areas of employment are not opening up to match that decline. If we are not able to devise alternative sources, these efficient areas of production about which we hear such high and mighty statements- they usually are made by people who are not looking for jobs or who are not seeking to provide the industries in which the jobs will be found- we must take those steps necessary to maintain the areas of employment which we have. The Government appears to be dependent upon expansion of employment in manufacturing industry in order to reduce the unemployment factor in Australia. I think it is a forlorn hope because I do not think that the position of manufacturing industry has been adequately thought out. The White Paper gives me the impression that it is a document which was arrived at more by compromise than by actual thought-through policies. I think that most likely would be the result of any consideration of this problem. I doubt whether anyone could convince a group of people that they had the right formula for what I think is an insoluble problem. That is the Minister’s responsibility not mine, fortunately.
I think that the White Paper serves little to assist in this area. At the moment I think that there is most likely need not only for an ongoing review of tariffs, which appears to take an almost impossible term, but also a proposition whereby the various forms of protection in Australia and the reasons for that protection, whether it be to protect employment or to foster a new industry, should be set out actively and accurately. Also, other forms of protection should be examined very carefully. But there have to be positive guidelines which will encourage people to invest in industries which, at the moment, are in serious decline. I can see no way in which capital will go into those industries in the near future.
-The textile industry is in decline and will continue to decline unless something more positive is done. I am sure that the Minister is aware of the problems of the motor car industry which apparently this year expects to sell 30 000 vehicles less than last year. This is at a time when we have 2 new manufacturers moving in to open operations in a market which most likely is big enough for efficient production for two and, at the most, 3 local manufacturers.
– A monument to government intervention.
– It may well be a monument to government intervention. The motor car industry is one of the few areas of constant employment at the moment and that situation is about to go into reverse. If the honourable member for Wakefield can tell me where the 90 000-odd people in the motor car industry, including those employed in the industry in South Australia, are going to work if they are displaced from that industry, I would be extremely interested. No one who talks about more efficient areas of production has yet been able to say where or what they are. Certainly I do not think that we will be putting those people displaced from the motor industry into the rural industries which, in the main, are relatively efficient but which provide a very poor return to those who are efficient. The Opposition does not oppose these Bills. I pose certain problems to the Minister; I do not offer solutions.
– I eagerly take the opportunity to discuss the White Paper which burst upon the country last week. I think the best comment about it was made by Tony Thomas of the Age who said that the Green
Paper went into the operating theatre, was vasectomised and emerged amiable but impotent. Really, the comment was made in the kind of splendid English to which I aspire; but I could not come up to that standard. It is pleasing, however, to be able to say something nice about the White Paper. As I say, it is intensely disappointing in its shallowness- it says a bit here and a bit there. But it has some sound things to say and at last it spells out something that all economists, all rural people, but very few politicians, have been game to face up to, and that is, that in the long term Australia would benefit by a gradual lower.ing of tariff barriers.
I have been saying the same thing here in a halting way for 20 years. People used to sneer at me and say: ‘You are only a little Australian. You do not believe in the development of this great country of ours’. That kind of abuse would be heaped on anyone who said what the whole world knew, that is, that to deny ourselves of the best and sensible use of our limited resources would be a policy of utter despair. At last the Government has come to recognise in a cleareyed manner that in the long term it cannot continue to support a system of high protection that has become almost the laughing stock of the Western world.
So at least this pathetic little document has some attributes. It says that in the long term we must face the challenge of change. I think that the last time I spoke about this matter I spoke about the challenge of change being put in America in the form of a comic description of the railways being likely to supplant the canal system. I will not go over that again, although it is a splendid story. At least the Government has girded its loins and said that we have to face the inevitability of change. Two days ago the Acting Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) said exactly the same thing in a news commentary. He said that we must face the inevitability of change and that we must have more imports so that we can have a better standard of living. It has been a long and painful battle for me to get that into the head of the Government. I repeat that almost everybody else in the country realised that it was an inevitable progression. We have got there painfully, but at least we are there.
That is about all I can say that is nice about the White Paper. There are 2 glaring omissions from it. One of them is an almost tragic one. In this White Paper of 83 pages in length there is one small paragraph that spells out the great problem that we face in the world with regard to relationships between the underdeveloped and the developed countries. I will read it because it ought to be exposed. It reads:
There are also persistent pressures on Australia to provide our trading partners with greater opportunities to sell their goods in the Australian market, particularly from those developed countries in the Asian and Pacific regions, and particularly for industrial products directly competitive with the products of local industry.
That is a pathetic exposure of how little we are concerned with the greatest problem that Australia and the developed world faces. This matter received the attention of the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton). During the weekend, as he left our shores, he had something to say about it. I will quote from the Press release about it that I obtained from the Minister’s office this morning. It reads:
Australia has a very, very small market for clothing and textiles with a population of only 1 4 million people. Per head of population we are the biggest importers of clothing and textiles in the world.
That statement attracted my attention. I have shown the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) a table that I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard. It is a table that the Minister for Industry and Commerce included in a paper that he delivered at the Hilton Hotel on 17 May. The table shows clearly that Australia has imported more per head than some other countries.
-Is leave granted for the incorporation of the table in Hansard? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows- (Speech by Minister for Industry and Commerce to Malaysian Trade, Investment and Tourism Mission, Hilton Hotel, 17 May 1977)
– I have been fortunate to get the table from which the previous table was taken and have found that there are quite surprising omissions from the first table compared with the table from which it was taken. I have shown that table to the honourable member for Corio and he has agreed that it should be incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted for the incorporation of the table in Hansard? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
Compiled at request by the Statistics Group of the Legislative Research Service from information supplied by the Department of Industry and Commerce.
– It shows the quite startling omissions. I am not going to go through them in detail because they can be properly absorbed only by an examination of the tables as they will appear in Hansard. This is really like catching the bishop in bed with the housemaid. The Minister went on to say that per head of population we are the biggest importers of clothing and textiles in the world. As I have said, it is like catching the bishop in bed with the housemaid when one finds upon referring to the same table as the table from which the first figures were taken that the figures per head of population for textile and clothing imports are $56.6 for Australia, $58.9 for Canada, $88.5 for Finland, $1 16.1 for Austria, $ 1 5 1 .4 for Norway, and $ 1 59.9 for Sweden.
– For what?
– For the imports in American dollars per head of population of textiles and clothing. I repeat that it is the same table as the table from which the original figures were taken. There must be some explanation for it. I do not think that it is fair to ask the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard) to give it because it is not his work. But there has been a startling misuse of figures. They are not my figures; indeed, they came from the Parliamentary Library. But they are the figures from the table from which the Minister quoted the original figures. There must be some explanation. I would be very glad to hear what it is.
The other glaring omission from the White Paper is that there is nothing in it about reconstruction. It is easy to talk glibly about the desirability and sense of having a system of reconstruction. The Australian Labor Party tried to do it when it was in office and it did not work too well. I do not pretend that it would be too easy. But there is not a sensible, weighed word in the White Paper about doing something that we know is necessary. The honourable member for Corio mentioned in his speech the necessity for sensible reconstruction. I repeat that I know that it is not easy, but at least it should not be backed away from, as it has been in the White Paper.
The third concern that I have about the White Paper, as I think the House would be well aware, is that it is sound about the long term but when it comes to the short term it illustrates the kind of myopic vision of the Government and the Minister in particular about the short term advantages that one gets from employment. I sit here and listen to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, for whom I have a great deal of respect, say that we are going to create jobs by increasing tariffs.
– I never use that expression.
-Frequently the Minister talks about creating employment. I think he used the word ‘jobs’ the other day, although it may have been the Acting Prime Minister. I do not want to be critical, but the argument always is that this will create employment. The kind of justification for increasing the cost burden throughout the community and making the inflation problem more difficult to handle is said by other people to be that it creates jobs. The Minister, being a lawyer, would use a grander word and say that it creates employment. Just let us have a look at this proposition. I know that in so many cases we can lose employment. I would like to refer to the transcript of a Four Corners interview on 19 March between a boatbuilder and Mr John Temple. I will not go through the entire interview. However, it spells out how the exact opposite can result from increases in tariffs. Mr John Temple said to the boatbuilder:
It sounds as though you are telling me that the Australian structure is going to be the end of the Australian boatbuilding industry.
The boatbuilder replied:
Exactly. They changed the Tariff Board to the Industries Assistance Commission and I don ‘t really know what industry they are assisting. They are certainly not assisting us. We would have an advantage over imports if they abolished all tariffs. If there was no tariff on boats or imported material we would have an advantage over the importers.
This is the other side to the proposition that tariffs create employment. It is about time that the whole community, and particularly the Government, faced up to the fact that employment created in one industry is always at the expense of employment in other industries. The Government seems to have a blind spot in its understanding that a price has to be paid. We are all familiar with, and at last accept, the expression that there is no such thing as a free feed. Someone has to pay.
The employment opportunities of the chap who works further down the production line behind those who makes fibre glass for the boat building industry, may find that his employment opportunities are diminished because of the tariff on fibre glass. This point was made in the Four Corners interview. What we should recogniseand this is something that the Government is always admitting- is that the real problem we have to tackle is inflation. Some people seem to think that inflation is something that happens to tyres. The cause of inflation is the gradual rise in prices. As soon as we allow competition to stop, the price of imported goods automatically will rise and this will increase inflationary pressure. Anyone who has a few kids will know what I am talking about if he buys a few babies’ clothes or something like that. I see that the honourable member for Swan (Mr Martyr) is looking very expectantly in regard to what I am saying. He would be an expert in this field. When people talk about inflation they really have to face up to the symptom of continually rising prices. This is the kind of thing that we ought to Took at.
The Minister has an almost pathetic belief in what he puts forward. I certainly pay tribute to his sincerity. He believes that he is creating employment when all too often the employment gained in one industry is bought at the expense of the economic health of the community in general and in a great many cases in respect of user industries.
– You must weigh the overall benefits against the costs. You do not say enough about the benefits.
– The honourable member for Berowra says it is a case of weighing the overall benefits against the cost. That is what we ought to be doing. We nearly always look at this matter from the point of view that we will create employment by putting on a tariff or a quota of some kind. We should remember above all else that a price has to be paid and that this price is frequently paid in the form of increased inflation. By creating employment we will by increasing tariffs, in the long term make our problems worse.
The Government recognises the inevitability of change. It has some quite brave things to say about this subject in the body of the White Paper. But it says that in the short term it must take emergency action. Its justification for doing this is to create employment. We ought to remember that change will be carried out over a long period of time. The Government is talking expectantly and confidently about carrying out this change over a series of short periods. I have an uneasy feeling that tariff reductions will never actually occur. Attitudes in this area are very much like those in respect of parliamentary salaries. Many people recognise that it is time that the level of parliamentary salaries was increased. However, everyone agrees on one thing, namely, that the time for an increase is not yet. They agree that this is not the proper time. The Government recognises with a clarity and frankness that I admire that in the long term we shall have to face up to the problems of an economy that has to change. If the economy does not change it will become like a proverbial bucket of worms that ceases turning and the results will be disastrous. The Government has at last faced up to its long term responsibility. What I dread is that actions it takes in the short term will inhibit the necessary changes that will have to take place in the long term.
As you will know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I have been a member of this place for a long while. For a long time now I have been ramming down the throats of members of this place the plea that we have to change in the long term, that we have to have a lower system of tariffs so that we can use our limited resources to the best advantage. No one has ever come to me and said that we should do this now. They say: ‘Oh, this is quite impossible but you are right, of course, in the long term’. Everyone else has recognised for a long time the need for change. Now at last the Government recognises it too in the long term. I hope that the actions it takes in the short term do not inhibit the changes about which it speaks so wisely being implemented in the long term.
– I believe there is a very simple and clear explanation as to why we are losing people and putting them onto the unemployment lists. This explanation will become clear when the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) looks at the problems which face this nation, particularly the problems facing the textile and outer wear industries. We have 14 million people in this country. Our population has not increased dramatically in the last 5 years.
I have some figures relating to the 3 areas of imports- men’s outer wear, women’s woven apparel and knitwear excluding tops. In our great wisdom we allowed 3.5 million units of men’s outer wear to come into this country in 1975. In 1976, with even greater stupidity, we allowed that number to increase to 6.4 million units. This represented an increase of 83.5 per cent. In 1975 4.7 million units of women’s woven apparel entered this country. In 1976 the number of units increased by 1 7 per cent to 5.5 million. In 1975 3 million units of knitwear, excluding tops, entered this country and in 1976 this number increased by 68.5 per cent to 5.1 million units. These are not my figures. They are figures that I have researched based on the Import Watch Figures of tariff quota items produced only for the Department of Industry and Commerce. I have compared the imports for the 6 months to December 1976 with the imports for the same period in 1975. To make the situation even worse, it is believed that importers since receiving quotas in February will be bringing in the majority of the full year’s allocation in the first 6 months of the quota period. This will result in an over-supply situation in the next few months. It will create a false short fall in supply in succeeding months. Every time we increase the importation of garments which could be produced in this country, we are creating a situation which is guaranteed to lose our fellow Australians jobs. We are doing this with a great lack of concern for those people who have invested their life and their life’s work in this industry, for the communication which they have built up with a group of employees over 20 and 30 years and also for the investment of considerable moneys over a period of time. We are putting ourselves in an invidious situation.
We are the joke of the rest of the world. I suggest that we should compare ourselves with our major trading partners to see who have protection and who have quotas. Japan, United States of America, the European Economic Community, Sweden, Canada and Britain have protection and quotas. Sweden tried to free trade for a few years but it found out that that was a disaster and it brought down quotas like we have never seen before. In Australia 40 per cent of our manufactured goods are made in this country while 60 per cent of our manufactured goods are imported. America has a ratio of 85/15 and the European Economic Community has 90/10. I could go on. We are the laughing stock of the world because we are the highest importer, per head of population, of overseas garments. Every time we increase a quota and every time we decrease a tariff we affect our industries which are efficient and which are considered to be the best in the world. Let us take the example of a man’s shirt produced in Australia. It is produced in half the time that it takes in Hong Kong.
There are 2 courses of action to be taken in this area. The first is protection and the second is free trade. I shall paint the bleak picture of the course which is being advocated by a minority of unthinking and unfair members who are not concerned with the future of industries within Australia. They are free traders. Free trade means that we will destroy not only the people who are being protected but also the industries supporting those protected industries. Contrary to popular opinion, not all people involved in the protected industry area are in actual fact being protected. A number of protected industries are serviced by Australian industries which do not have any protection whatsoever. If we went ahead and free traded we would destroy those industries and the industries which service them. That would mean that we would have a huge unemployment problem for which the Australian taxpayer would have to pay. If we look at the amount of money provided to a man with 2 children- the figures have been frequently quoted by various people in this place- and at the amount of money which it is claimed by various people in this place is the cost of protection, we find that it is far more expensive to pay a person unemployment benefit, service his family with the $7.50 allowance per child, and supply the free services which are provided under the social welfare program than it is to have a protected industry. When people are in a situation of paying taxes, they are making a contribution to the Australian community. If they do not have a job they do not contribute and are not involved.
We cannot compete with cheap Asian countries. We do not have a wage rate of $6 or $10 for a 44-hour week. I suggest that those people who are advocating free trade should put their money where their mouths are and advocate publicly in this place and in their electorates that we should reduce the amount of money being paid to Australian workers and increase the amount of time that people are actually working, and we will see how long they survive in that type of environment. Basically, that is what they are trying to do.
-That is what your Government does all the time.
-I congratulate the honourable member for Prospect, who is interjecting, on his move to the front bench. If there was a club for lucky mugs and big shots, he would have life membership. Because of the situation in Australia, every day under the free trade policies which are being advocated Australian brand names, which every honourable member has used in his lifetime, are disappearing. We have a commitment to world markets. If we compare our commitment to those countries with whom we are trading at the present time with those countries which I mentioned previously, we will see that we are in a position which is creating untold problems every time we allow cheap imports to arrive in this country.
The alternative to that situation is protection. What does protection really mean at this time? Let us look at the situation since July 1973 when the then Australian Labor Party Government stupidly, unfittingly and thoughtlessly introduced a 25 per cent tariff reduction. We have eliminated the inefficient sector of Australian protected industries. People now manufacture with efficient machinery, with efficient methods and with an efficiency which I, as an Australian, am proud to observe. I see this when I go to various factories and look at the types of plant and equipment which they have. But we have now got to the stage where we cannot go any further because manufacturers have cut down and have cut as many corners as possible. It has got to the stage, which was recently reported by the Textile Council, where employment in the industry is continuing to fall by some 1200 people per month. The increase in unemployment in this industry from January 1976 to June 1977 will be nearer 20 000 people with many more people working part time. There is a strong possibility of the retrenchment rate increasing.
I shall cite some figures which are taken from a survey summary of the employment and production of various firms. Again, 1972-73 is the base year so I shall take that year. The rate of production was 100 per cent and the level of employment was 100 per cent. In 1973-74 the rate of production was 95 per cent and the level of employment was 95 per cent. That is when the Australian Labor Party’s 25 per cent tariff reduction started to bite. Following that, in 1974-75 there was a 70 per cent rate of production and a 76 per cent level of employment. In 1975-76 the rate of production went to 55 per cent and the level of employment to 65 per cent. In 1976-77 the level of production is 33 per cent and the level of employment is 44 per cent. For the 6 months January to June 1977, with the forecast orders for May and June available, the figure is down on 1976 by 38 per cent in relation to production and the figure for January 1 976 is down on the figure for June 1 975 by 37 per cent in relation to employment. The figure for April 1 977 compared with the figure for June 1 976 is down 3 1 per cent in relation to employment.
We have a situation where we can ensure that strong industries in this country maintain employment. We can ensure that the firms which are left after the decimation of the last 4 yearsthat is since the July 1973 decision by the then Government- will immediately increase employment if we say to them: ‘You gentlemen have a future’. That future can be clearly enumerated by stating that we will give those firms or industries an opportunity in the next 3 years to operate in an area which will involve protection.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
-When we were elected to government on 13 December 1975, we unfortunately inherited a vast number of economic problems including the highest level of unemployment that Australia has ever seen since Federation.
– It is bigger now.
-It is not bigger now, actually. One of the problem areas we inherited after the series of mismanagement decisions which had been made during the 3 years of the socialist rule in this country was the garment and textile area. The private final consumption seasonally adjusted quarter ended graph which is freely available from the Parliamentary Library and other areas shows how the problem faced by the people who are involved in this area of protected industries in Australia was compounded. Since 1971-72, consumers have made slight economies in their expenditure on tobacco and alcohol to the extent of 0.3 per cent. Since 197 1-72, the dwelling rent component has grown significantly from 12.9 per cent to 15.3 per cent of private consumption. Expenditure on household durables has expanded from 7.5 per cent to 9 per cent of private consumption. Some economies in expenditure on motor vehicles have occurred since 1971-72. They amounted to about 0.4 per cent. Expenditure on other goods and services has been maintained.
On the other hand, significant cuts in private consumption have occurred since 1971-72. Food expenditure has declined from 18.7 per cent in 1971-72 to 16.8 per cent in 1976-77. Expenditure on clothing and footwear has declined from 9.2 per cent to 8.2 per cent over the same period. These points indicate most strongly that whilst consumers have been forced to increase or have voluntarily increased their expenditure in certain areas they have been prepared to make significant economies in 2 areas. One encompasses the area of clothing and footwear. Again, the long term nature of the decline in the proportion of private consumption expenditure devoted to clothing and footwear provides clear indication that this pattern of consumer spending will not be altered in the short term. These factors relating to the psychology of expenditure by individuals in the community, taken in conjunction with the shape of the demand curve for clothing and footwear, together with the consideration of the other factors referred to earlier, provide the basis for my assessment that the demand for clothing will continue at depressed levels and that there will be no sustained lift in demand for footwear or clothing during the balance of 1977 or the first half of 1978.
Anybody involved in the area of garment, textile and apparel manufacture realises that the bigger the production run is the cheaper is the unit produced. What has happened in a number of areas is that through the increase in imports the amount of production runs which a manufacturer could undertake has decreased. Consequently, there has been an increase in the price of the Australian made goods out of all proportion to what the normal cost would have been if the industry had a guaranteed protected section of the Australian market. This is terribly important. The figures I cited in the early part of my speech indicated that if the importation of outer knitted garments was increased by 60 per cent to 80 per cent, we would be taking away from the Australian manufacturer the potential orders which he would normally have achieved. It is vital, therefore, that we give the Australian industry an opportunity to operate sensibly with a fair degree of protection which will ensure that the future of the industry and the future of the Australians employed in it will be faced with confidence.
Some people have said that if this occurred, we would have a problem in that the industry would not get back on its feet because certain areas of the industry are incapable of rejuvenating themselves. I would like to put the relevant facts that have been given to me in a survey which was undertaken during April 1977. Some 40 companies replied to a questionnaire. These companies ranged from small organisations to large organisations. The first question asked in the survey sought the number of employees required to be re-employed to achieve full plant loading, the existing capacity utilised and the times required to bring plant back to full capacity. These are 3 very important areas. We have heard previously in the Parliament and in this debate today the assertion that if industry protection were provided we would not actually increase the number of people employed. I can put the lie to that immediately. In total, some 40 returns were completed satisfactorily and were analysed. The results were as follows: In respect of employment and re-employment to achieve 100 percent plant loadings it was found that as at 3 1 March 1 977 the companies surveyed employed 5890 people. The additional staff required to achieve 100 per cent plant loading for these companies was 226 1 people. The percentage increase in staff needed to achieve plant loading was 38.4 per cent. I turn to deal with the plant capacity utilisation. The capacity not being used as at 31 March 1977 was 36.8 per cent; the capacity utilisation as at 3 1 March 1977 was 63.2 per cent. The correlation between the unused plant is strong and provides substantiation of both figures. The capacity utilisation figure derived from this survey also correlates strongly with the capacity utilisation figure of 63.8 per cent derived from the broader base state of the industry survey dated March 1977. This again substantiates the accuracy of the information.
In regard to the time required to reactivate unused plant, the survey showed that the weighted average time required to re-employ sufficient staff to achieve full plant loadings was 8.95 weeks. I believe that these results clearly show that within 8.95 weeks there could be an addition of 36.8 per cent production capacity. These survey results clearly indicate that with normal lead times- that is about 12 to 14 weeks- local industry could expand operations to meet higher levels of demand from the retail sector. Should the retailers for once play the game- I must admit that in this area they have not been playing the game over the last few years- it could give local industry the lead time normally given to overseas manufacturers, which is 9 months. If this were done, plant capacity could very comfortably be brought into line with demand and we would decrease the number of Australians who are currently unemployed. They would be re-employed and we would be doing something which we should have been doing for some time.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Support is given to the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill and the Customs Tariff Validation Bill (No. 2) which we are debating at the present time. I have been amazed that the Australian Labor Party Opposition has produced only one speaker in the debate. Of course, this may be due to the fact that during the period of the Labor regime unemployment in Australia really increased substantially. When it introduced a 25 per cent tariff cut across the board this had a serious effect on employment in industry in this country, particularly in the textile industry. In my electorate of Paterson we have the big Bradmill textile mill at
Maitland, where employment went from something like 1300 people down to 600 people. Employment at the mill declined because of the tariff reduction, which apparently was not researched properly. If it had been, I feel sure that the tariffs would not have been reduced and the beginning of unemployment in this country would have been severely curtailed. There are men and women employed in these industries who have given a lifetime of service. They are now in their forties and fifties, and it is extremely difficult for them to gain employment elsewhere if they lose their jobs in these industries.
The honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) is a real free trader and is always very interesting to listen to. However, I am afraid that if we allowed a surfeit of overseas goods to come in without any tariff protection for our own industries we would have 3 times more unemployment than we have at present. It was interesting to hear the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Peter Johnson), who is a protectionist, speak on the need for protection of efficient industries in order to create employment in Australia. It is my opinion that we must protect efficient industries in this country and protect industries which are of national importance to Australia. I believe that the Government should have the tariffs constantly under review, and I have no doubt that the record of government action in this direction over the past three or four months would prove that that is being done.
The manufacturing industries have played and will continue to play an important part in Australian economic and social development. Over the years, manufacturing industry has created employment and utilised skills by producing industrial materials, machinery and equipment. It has contributed to national security and has provided the economy with a diversified base. It is important to note that one-fifth of the Australian work force is employed in manufacturing industry, and that means 1 300 000 people. The great rural and mining industries are very important to this country, but they cannot complete employment wise with our manufacturing industries. They are industries which bring into this country great amounts of export income which is very valuable to the economy, but I repeat that even though they are very important they cannot compete for employment with manufacturing industries.
Faced with wage rises and other cost increases, many enterprises have reduced their work force, lowered their levels of Australian content, and switched to imported supplies. The number of off-shore manufacturers has increased, and there are now many Australian manufacturers who, because of the cheap Asian goods coming into Australia and the increased cost of wages here, have found it necessary to go off-shore and establish factories in places like Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. That is a serious situation from the point of view of industry in Australia. Since May 1974 100 000 fewer persons have been employed in the manufacturing industry than were employed previously. Investment in new manufacturing industries is at a very low ebb indeed, and when one examines the figures one finds that very little activity is taking place in the provision of investment in manufacturing industries.
Some speakers in this debate have referred to the White Paper which was produced by the Government and brought down in the House last week. Many industry leaders are disappointed with the White Paper, as are some members of Parliament, but it represents the first record of manufacturing industry made available in this country for 37 years. While it does not offer any positive solution, it provides a great amount of valuable industrial information which will be of importance and assistance to industry in Australia. I think it is necessary to enumerate the main features of the White Paper and the Government policies enunciated in it. Those policies are:
Generating a wider and fuller understanding in the community of the significance of the changing environment for Australian manufacturing.
Ensuring that, in times of economic downturn, manufacturing has adequate support so as to alleviate economic and social disruption, and minimise the erosion of employment opportunities.
In the longer term, encouraging future development in activities which have the best prospects for expansion without the need for excessive support from consumers or taxpayers and providing a basis on which business can plan for the future.
The policies enumerated in the White Paper are very important. While the Paper does not provide any immediate relief or largesse to the industries concerned, nevertheless it is a very valuable guide and will be of great assistance to them.
I want to speak now about the Customs Tariff Validation Bill. It has been passed over without any debate, and indeed history shows that such Bills are very rarely debated. I believe that that is dangerous. The validation Bill refers to tyres, the olive industry, monochrome television receivers, and certain electronic components. I want to refer briefly to the validation Bill and what it means. It relates to customs tariff proposals Nos 1 1 to 14. The Customs Tariff Validation Bill (No.
The rate of duty for tyres used on passenger cars, utilities, trucks and buses, was increased by the addition of a temporary duty of 10 per cent, or, if higher, $0. 10 per kg to the then existing rates of 15 per cent, or if higher, $0.17 per kg (general) and 6 per cent, or, if higher, $0.08 per kg (preferential).
The IAC has recommended in its draft report that the 25 per cent duty on tyres for passenger cars, utilities, trucks and buses should continue but that it be reduced to 20 per cent over 3 years. The tyre industry is very important to this country. It is one of the important manufacturing industries, and I point out that 7.5 million tyres are produced annually in Australia. There are some 12 000 people employed in this industry which sells $200m worth of” tyres each year. It has $194m in funds employed in the industry and is a vital and valuable industry to this country. It is under threat from overseas imports, particularly from Japan. The importation of tyres into this country from Japan is on the increase. I appreciate that Japan is one of our great customers for practically every primary product and metal produced in this country, nevertheless, I feel that we should be watching our tyre industry which is vital to us and would be vital in times of national emergency or war. We should keep our eye on it and ensure that it is given a certain amount of protection providing it is efficient. At present there is 71.3 per cent local manufacture of tyres and 28.7 percent comes from overseas.
Customs tariff proposal No. 12 relates to a reference to the Industries Assistance Commission on matters relating to Australia’s participation in multilateral trade negotiations conducted under the auspices of the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The IAC was asked to look at goods in the customs tariff in respect of which, firstly, the general tariff rate exceeded the preferential rate, secondly, the general tariff was 10 per cent ad valorem or less, and the general tariff rate was free but the goods were subject to primage. It was asked to make recommendations on any possible reduction in tariffs. In all, the IAC found that the British preferential margin could be eliminated by a reduction in the general tariff rate for 690 items, that the British preferential margin could be reduced by a reduction of the general tariff rate for a further 115 items, and that both the British preferential and the general tariff rate could be eliminated for 94 items. The IAC refrained from recommending a reduction in duty if the effect of such a reduction would be to affect adversely the local industry. This is good to know. This proposal will reduce tariffs on some of the items in respect of which a reduction was recommended by the IAC in its report.
Tariff proposal No. 13 resulted from the IAC’s report dated 3 December 1976 on the Australian olive industry. It is not a big industry but it is important to a sector of rural producers. The IAC found that the olive industry is small in terms of output and resources employed, there being probably fewer than 20 growers for whom olive production provides a significant proportion of total farm income. The local industry produces mainly green olives and supplied 70 per cent of this market in 1974-75. Stuffed olives are not commercially produced but there is a small local production of black olives. Imports of green olives were mainly from Spain in containers exceeding 4.6 litres. Previous duties range from 2c per litre to 103c per litre, the rate depending on pack size. In general the smaller retail packs attracted higher rates of duty. The IAC noted that the different levels of protection based on pack size had tended to encourage the domestic production of small packs. To correct the resource misallocations between production of the different pack sizes, the IAC recommended a general ad valorem rate of 1 5 per cent for imports of green olives and a minimum rate of 5 per cent for black and stuffed olives. So, this is a little industry which has been assisted.
The last proposal relates to monochrome cathode ray picture tubes. Less than 50 people were employed in the manufacture of monochrome cathode ray picture tubes in June 1 976. Most of this production was of replacement tubes, a market which was expected to decline in the future. As a result the commission recommended a 35 per cent duty for cathode ray tubes used for replacement for 3 years and a 5 per cent duty for cathode ray tubes used for the manufacture of receivers, a market which is now not supplied by Australian producers. The IAC expected that there would be negligible effects on employment from the implementation of these recommendations. Those are the features of the second Bill.
Manufacturing industry has a great effect on employment in Australia. It is important that it is efficient, and that it can be encouraged and given protection particularly from countries where the labour force is paid very low wages. I mentioned earlier the textile industry. Honourable members will be interested to know that the wages paid to textile workers in countries such as Malaysia, Hong Kong and possibly Korea are as low as $Ausl2 a month. This factor must have a very serious effect on the industry here because those countries can undercut our price on garments and textiles. So, it is absolutely essential that, providing our industry is efficient, it be protected.
– in reply- Compared with similar debates on like measures earlier in this session of Parliament, there has been nothing completely new advanced in this debate. I would like to thank those who have contributed in their normal robust manner to this debate. Inevitably the general range of tariff assistance to manufacturing industry was canvassed. I wish to say specifically in reply to the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) that, if ever there was a glorious example of an Opposition running away from enunciating a policy on manufacturing industry, we had it today. The Opposition put up one speaker who said that the problem was terribly difficult and was almost insoluble but that he did not purpose to offer any solutions to it because it w;i . not his job. That was a measure of the interest of the Opposition in the problems of Australian manufacturing industry. It is a measure of the depth of thought which it gives to problems of tariff assistance. It is a measure of the bankruptcy of the alternative Labor government.
Most of the contributions to this debate came from the Government side. But I would be less than frank if I did not say that there were some shades of difference in the opinions expressed on this side of the House in the debate. I thought that the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) was less than charitable about the Government’s White Paper on Manufacturing Industry. I know he holds his views very sincerely and articulates them extremely well, but his criticism of the White Paper on Manufacturing
Industry, like some of the criticism that has come from people outside this place with which the honourable member for Wakefield would not normally find himself identified in a philosophical sense on this issue, has been less than reasonable. Nobody denies that no matter what sort of White Paper was produced by the Government on manufacturing industry it would draw criticisms from some quarters because the truth is that it is impossible to prepare such a comprehensive document on such a problem laden sector of Australian industry without pleasing some sections of the community and displeasing others. The present great dilemma for the Government- and it is a dilemma that was evidenced in the White Paper and would be a dilemma for any government composed of any group of people- is that there are short term and long term problems in manufacturing industry.
– You have come around to our point of view.
-I do not know what the Opposition’s point of view is because at no stage since I have had ministerial responsibility in this place for manufacturing and industry assistance matters have I heard any attempt at an articulate statement from the Opposition or where it stands. The Opposition has been given opportunity after opportunity and we simply get a litany of individual complaints from honourable members opposite such as the honourable member for Corio who said that one of the companies in his electorate has been treated differently by the administration. However, there has been no articulate policy.
The White Paper on Manufacturing Industry is the first attempt for decades to lay down a comprehensive approach by the Government to the problems or manufacturing industry. The White Paper acknowledges that there are short term and long term problems for manufacturing industry. Inevitably during a debate such as this a difference of opinion emerges regarding the reconciliation of the points of view. I find myself in agreement with many of the things that the honourable member for Wakefield said. Of course, as the White Paper indicates, in the long term there must be greater emphasis on those industries which can operate effectively with lower levels of protection, those industries which by reason of the natural protection that they enjoy can operate and compete effectively. That is a proposition that is acknowledged in the White Paper. I acknowledge it. I think it is not seriously contested. But I think the differences in points of view arise regarding the question of change and the rate of change. Nobody denies that manufacturing industry is going through a period of structural change. Nobody ought to deny that the structural change into which manufacturing industry entered in the early 1970s coincided with a catastrophic increase in the domestic cost structure of manufacturing industry and also unhappily coincided with a riproaring careless approach to tariff adjustment that was adopted at various stages by the previous Government.
I suppose the real question on which there are differences of opinion on this issue in this place is to what extent the problems of manufacturing industry in recent years can be attributed to the general economic problems of Australia and to what extent they can be attributed to the inevitability of change that we all accept throughout the community. I put it strongly that the real problems of manufacturing industry in Australia arise from the fact that the domestic cost structure of this country has become so much of a burden for Australian industry that it has made an enormous contribution to its uncompetitiveness. My difference of opinion with those who might criticise the White Paper is simply that I do not believe it is realistic to ignore the fact that, notwithstanding the inevitability of change, there are short term problems for Australian manufacturing industry that must be catered for in a sensitive manner.
We must take account of the fact that there are employment consequences of tariff decisions. There was a lot of talk during this debate as to whether by adjusting a tariff we can create jobs. I have always believed- I state it again- that we cannot ignore the employment consequences of individual tariff decisions. It is an undeniable fact that certain tariff decisions have resulted in reductions of employment in certain industries and that the people who have lost their jobs in those industries have not found alternative employment in other industries.
The can of worms theorem depends for its efficient operation on the worms being constantly and efficiently lubricated. Unfortunately the worms have not been well lubricated in recent years in Australia because of our depressed economic conditions. It is cold comfort to people whose jobs are threatened by disruptive tariff changes, violent changes, for somebody to suggest that in a more perfect economy it would be possible for them to transfer from one area of employment to another. Nobody can deny that the tariff changes that were introduced in 1 973 had a very disruptive effect on labour intensive industries in Australia. I do not think one could find any honourable member on either side of this House who lives in a constituency in which a large number of the voters are employed in labour intensive industries who would seriously deny that proposition. There is absolutely no doubt that the employment consequences in terms of the immediate threat to job security in so many of our labour intensive industries is dependent upon the manner in which the change is managed, the rate of change and on there being a more predictable approach to the question of tariff protection.
I think it is fair to say to the House that the system of allocation of quotas which was referred to in this debate is not without a great deal of complexity. I should inform the House that the Government has had under consideration for some months the question of the administrative operation of the quota system. It will be of interest to the honourable member for Wakefield to know that the Government has been looking at the administrative side of the operation of the quota system and that I hope to have available to me in the near future the results of that examination. It is an important and difficult subject and it is of relevance to this debate. I conclude by thanking those honourable members who have contributed to the debate, particularly the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Howard) read a third time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Howard) read a third time.
– For the information of honourable members I present a report by the Industries Assistance Commission on orange juice.
Debate resumed from 27 May, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-This is a sort of maiden speech from this position for me. I should like firstly to thank my colleagues on this side of the House for putting me on the front bench and I should like to pay tribute to the previous spokesman on health from our side. Like him, I shall try to be rational in my approach to the topic. I think that in a democratic system the Opposition has an obligation to try to improve the running of government. Hopefully when we come up with rational arguments it is up to the Government to take them into consideration, at least to look at them and possibly to take some notice of them if they are considered to be worth while.
The Health Insurance Amendment Bill deals with a number of points but the main one arises from the extra expenditure on pathology services which has become very noticeable in the last few years. I think it is reasonable to say that it is not due to changes in the health insurance set up in this country following the establishment of Medibank. It is really based on technological changes in medicine, especially pathology. The same sort of thing is likely to occur in other medical specialised areas. The main change in pathology was the invention and widespread distribution of what is called the multi-channel analyser. Instead of having to employ qualified people to perform many tests on the blood, urine or other substances of the human body an analyser was invented which could perform 12 or 20 tests simultaneously. A large capital investment was involved for the people who brought those multi-channel analysers. Obviously the people who bought them wanted to get the capital investment back. They wanted to show a profit on it if at all possible. That occurred not only in private enterprise medicine, but also, to some extent, in hospitals and similar institutions.
In answer to a question asked yesterday by my colleague, the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass), the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) showed that he was aware that similar problems were likely to arise in radiology where computerised axial tomogram scanners are coming into use. Their cost is somewhere between $500,000 and $750,000. The people who buy them will obviously try to show a profit on them. They will be looking for people to scan. Articles in the United States refer to CAT fever, that is, computerised axial tomograms, spreading in the medical profession in some of the American States. Obviously, we have to be aware of this from the point of view of any damage it may cause to patients and from the cost point of view as much of the expenditure would be paid for by the Commonwealth Government. Another likely contender in the technology field for the taxpayers’ money is ultra sound equipment which is now being introduced. It can do all kinds of tests on human beings. I assume that the machinery will be quite expensive. As long as we have the fee for service system the refunds will be significant.
I predict that within a reasonably short time there will be further amendments to the Health Insurance Act to deal with other aspects of medicine which have been affected by new technology.
The reason the Government became alarmed is that expenditure for pathology has increased from $22m in the half year ended 1974 to $5 3m in the latest half year for which we have figures. I am not sure whether the figures are completely comparable but, in any case, they show a great increase. The Government set up a working party which made certain recommendations. To a large extent this amending legislation is designed to bring about changes recommended by the pathology services working party. The Opposition does not oppose the contents of the Bill and certainly supports very strongly its aim. We have some reservations about some aspects of the legislation, as to how effective it will be and whether it is the most appropriate way of dealing with the problem. The Government in trying to deal with the problem has opted for the abolition of bulk billing for pathology services for all except eligible pensioners and their dependants. The Minister in his second reading speech did not seem completely confident that this legislation will make a great difference, and I have reservations. I think there would be a temptation for pathologists to carry out unnecessary tests when the patient is not aware that the tests are being carried out. In regard to bulk billing the Minister said:
Moreover, few patients are able to sign, as they are supposed to do, the bulk-billing form after the pathology services have been performed, and certify that the services itemised on the claim form have been performed.
What will be the change after 1 August 1977? The change will be that following the examination of a blood specimen the patient, with the exception of the pensioner and his dependants, will receive an account from the pathologist on which there will be a large number of item numbers and a total figure- let us say it is $75. Obviously, the patient when he then signs the form applying for the refund from Medibank or any of the health funds really does not know any more as to whether the tests were necessary or whether they were really performed. If the tests were not really performed, we are dealing with fraud. Two separate issues are involved. There is the possibility of fraud if it could be shown- I am not aware of any cases- that pathologists have claimed for services which were never performed. If that is the case, obviously the people concerned ought to be charged with attempting to defraud the Government or the health fund.
There is a second and just as important point in relation to the total amount of money involved, and that is the performance of unnecessary tests. The more tests a pathologist performs on a particular specimen, the greater his income and the larger his actual net profit. Let us not forget that pathology services are ordered by other doctors. Generally the patient does not appear at the pathologist and say: ‘I should like to have a series of liver function tests’. He goes to his general practitioner or specialist and the doctor orders a certain number of tests. That is where the difficulty arises. There have been allegations, as we all know, of money passing between some people providing private pathology services and the doctor ordering the services, encouraging him to order unnecessary services. The legislation deals with this practice. It actually prohibits it and imposes substantial penalties. I am not sure whether increasing the penalty from a gaol sentence of 6 months to one of 5 years makes much difference. If people are prepared to go to gaol for 6 months I do not suppose going to gaol for 5 years makes that much difference especially to professional people who, in addition, lose their registration. Maybe there is some evidence showing that increasing the maximum penalty will make a great difference in stopping doctors from being dishonest, but I am not aware of it.
Let us now consider the sorts of screening tests which have been carried out which many of us regard as unnecessary. The main thing is, as the Minister pointed out, that in many cases there is no indication that the patient is not well. We are dealing with healthy people. There have been reports of health studios being financed or owned by medical practitioners who also provide pathology services. People enrol in such health studios and, instead of having to pay for the services available at the studios with their own money, they are charged less because the owners of the health studios also perform all kinds of what we would consider to be unnecessary tests on the people concerned. The money for those tests is being paid by Medibank, the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia, the Hospital Contribution Fund or whichever fund operates in a particular State.
– Are you talking about health studios?
-Yes, I am referring to health studios. I cannot see clearly the benefit to any person who organises treatment unless there is a kick-back. For example, tests are allegedly being performed on whole footfall teams and whole clubs, including their supporters. Services, marginal to the purposes for which the studios were established are provided also. I know that the Minister came to a health studio in Parramatta when it was established. I wrote to him expressing some reservations. He agreed with my reservations. The sorts of services which are provided -for example, a complete check-up- are provided for apparently healthy people. Statistically it has been found that one in fifteen of these healthy people has a positive test. By ‘positive’, I means that something abnormal is found in the test. Only a small proportion of that number has a condition which can be treated. So, we finish up with approximately one or two in one hundred who may have some complaint which can be treated. I cannot completely argue to my own satifaction that, if the test were to pick up some condition in somebody and something could really be done for that person, even if it is one case in 100, the expense could not be justified. Perhaps the money to carry out the tests has been well spent. I am not sure in my own mind. It is a question of how much one values human life and the ability to live a pleasant life if one is treated for something that may later come against one if the condition were not treated. I think it almost becomes a philosophical argument. We know what kind of money is involved but we do not know what kind of unpleasant things would happen to people whose high cholesterol levels, triglycerides or whatever it may be have not been picked up earlier. In any case, I am not sure that any of the things we are proposing to do under this legislation will prevent this. It may be suggested to us by a doctor, a friend or anybody else that we go to one of the routine checking organisations for a complete overhaul, including all the pathology and radiology tests, even though there were nothing wrong with us, and that those tests finally could cost us either nothing or $5. We would get an account which we would then have to render to Medibank or whatever our health organisation was. I am not sure that there is any great difference between that and bulk billing or that the abolition of bulk billing will prevent that practice. It will obviously make people more aware of what amount of money is involved, but I am not sure just what proportion of our population really wants to save the Government or a health fund money. How many of us would say: ‘I am not going to have these tests costing $120 because that is what it will cost the Government. It is a bit rough that I should be costing the Government $120.’? I think that the people who would refuse the tests on that basis would probably be fairly exceptional people in our community.
What I should like to argue also on the question of bulk billing is that we have only a gut feeling that bulk billing in fact increases the use of pathology services. It should have been possible to get statistics in relation to this. As honourable gentlemen probably know, Medibank, Medibank Private and, as far as I know, the HBA in Victoria are the only insurance funds which provide for bulk billing. Therefore, we have a group of people insured with funds which provide bulk billing. We have a large number of people in the community- I am not sure of the figure, but it is something approaching SO per cent- who are not covered by funds which provide for bulk billing. It therefore should be possible to compare the figures as to the number of pathology services used by people belonging to non-bulk billing organisations and the number of pathology services used by others. We have not those figures. I understand that the figures should have been available from the funds in April. They have not become available. I understand from the Minister that they may not be available for some months.
– About August.
– As the Minister says, until about August. It is a pity that we have not before us the figures which can clearly demonstrate the facts in relation to carrying out this sort of exercise which is quite expensive for Medibank. This means that a large number of extra people have to be employed. An administrative cost of the order of $ 1 m or more is involved. When the estimate from a government department is $lm, it means that the figure will probably be $2m. But we do not have figures supporting the charge.
I think there are many debatable aspects about doing tests, even when people are admitted to hospital. For example, many tests in teaching hospitals are carried out not because they are terribly important for the patient, but because this is best from the students’ point of view; the students should have a complete knowledge of all patients’ biochemistry, blood count and so on, even though those facts may not be relevant as far as the treatment of the patient is concerned. Therefore, a large number of tests are carried out in hospitals, not to the benefit of the patient but for the training of students. I suppose that is one of the aspects we also have to be concerned about. It is because these sorts of tests are carried out in hospitals that I should like to devote just a few minutes to the other change that has been introduced in this legislation, that is, the payment of fee for service for pathology work, performed in public hospitals, basically by salaried staff in the hospitals. There has been a suggestion that agreement should be reached between State Governments, the Federal Government and the pathologists in the hospitals concerned as to what proportion of the money received for the pathology services performed in each hospital should go to the pathologist and what proportion should go to the hospital.
-We think about 60:40 or 70:30, negotiated hopefully on a uniform basis.
– Yes, I understand that. But I have some reservations. We are dealing with a person employed by a public hospital. I do not like criticising salaried doctors. We are dealing with people who are on a salary. All the facilities are provided by the hospital. The staff carrying out the tests is provided by the hospital. How can we really justify that that person, on top of his salary, should get also 20 per cent, 30 per cent or 40 per cent or whatever it may be of the money collected from Medibank? After all, even if the pathologist does the test himself- and in most cases he will not be doing the test himself- he is doing it in time which is being paid for as part of his salary at the hospital. I can see great difficulties arising and more attempts to perform unnecessary tests on a captive population, because, let us face it, in a hospital the patient is a captive. He does not really get a choice whether he wants to have a test performed on him. That is why I have some reservations about that point. At the same time, I can see the argument on the part of the pathologists. Basically, they would like to get a piece of the action too. Private pathologists are making a lot of money. If we do not offer an incentive to the pathologists employed on salaries in public hospitals, they will leave the public hospital, set up a pathology service opposite the hospital and perform the tests there. I think that it is a great pity that some other solution cannot be found which does not depend on fee for service.
One of the other reservations that I have about this legislation concerns the question of privacy. We will be now insisting under this legislation on both the provider of the pathology services and the referring doctor keeping a record of basically the reason why the pathology service has been performed. I can see no objection to that aspect of it, but I am not really happy about the proposition in the legislation whereby, providing an officer of the Department of Health claims on oath that there is reasonable suspicion, for example, the referring doctor is receiving some benefit out of referring patients, his place can be raided and all kinds of material can be obtained. I have reservations about that sort of thing.
I am not an expert on the law and I do not know whether this provision applies in many similar sorts of situations, but I think we have to be particularly careful as far as medical privacy is concerned that patients do not feel that their histories and records can come into the possession of governmental organisations and can be used for the purposes of prosecutions. Many people consider their illnesses or complaints to be a highly private problem which they would feel very loath to have exposed in a court of law as part of the evidence by the Government against an offending medical practitioner to have their private complaints to the doctor aired in a court of law. I am not referring to a complaint that they have against a doctor; I am referring to the complaint that was the reason for their visiting the doctor. I am surprised in a way that there has been no objection from the Australian Medical Association and other medical organisations on this point. I am not sure whether they have seen the legislation. The legislation was introduced only towards the end of last week, but I am really surprised that there have been no objections on the part of the medical organisations about this matter.
I would like to recommend very strongly one feature of the legislation that has nothing to do with the matters in the rest of the legislation; that is, the provision for health program grants. Clauses 13 to 18 broaden the scope and purpose for which health program grants may be given. I think it is important that further attempts be made to develop and to encourage health maintenance organisations. None has been set up in Australia so far. I think it would be difficult to set up such organisations in Australia compared with the United States of America. But I think it is important from the point of view of both the patient and the public purse for those of us who are concerned about health care delivery to look at some alternatives to the present methods of health care delivery and the health maintenance organisations are obviously one of those alternatives. I think that an important function for the Government to carry out is to encourage them to start up in Australia so that we can look at them in operation.
Additionally money will be made available to develop and evaluate new and, hopefully, improved health care delivery systems. Again I think it is important not only to develop them in the first instance but also to evaluate just what are the benefits and whether they are real benefits. I am one of those fairly sceptical people who would like to see some evaluation. I am lucky in that my electorate is possibly the only electorate in Australia in which there is a community health service that, amongst other things, attaches one or two trained community nurses to every primary school in the electorate. The aim of doing so is to try to prevent certain conditions from arising, to pick up disabilities in children and their families early in the piece and to save money in the long run on health costs. It should be easy to do that because costs in teaching hospitals in New South Wales, for example, are now approaching $1,000 a week for each bed. That is a fantastic figure. The cost in the ordinary hospitals is of the order of $ 100 a day or $700 a week.
– It averages out at $130 a day throughout Australia.
– That works out at $910 a week. A nurse or sister has only to keep one patient out of hospital all the time and it would be well worth doing because obviously the cost of providing that nurse or sister would not anywhere near approach $910 a week. At the same time we have to evaluate the matter. I keep fairly close contact with the community nurses in my area because I am interested in their work and I know that some of their work in a sense is unnecessary in that there are other schemes in operation that in effect prevent them from doing the sort of thing that they ought to be doing. They are being used to make it possible for pensioners to claim domiciliary nursing benefits. As honourable members know, there is a scheme whereby a person over a certain age who has 2 nursing visits a week at home can get an extra $ 14 a week in his pension. To qualify for this additional benefit a person has to have 2 nursing visits a week, which are not easy to obtain. I have been told by some of the nurses in my area that it has been calculated that the cost of a visit is something like $20. So there is a cost to the State Government or the community health scheme of something like $40 to enable the Commonwealth Government to pay $14 a week to somebody.
The people who make those nursing visits are being used to put drops into people ‘s eyes and to do all kinds of things that do not really require nursing assistance. The only reason why nurses are being called in to do that work is because unless a person has the signature of a nurse saying that she calls twice a week that person cannot collect the extra $14 a week. So that person’s daughter rings up and insists that a trained nurse come in and put drops into that person’s eyes. I think that is a completely irrational way of using the ability of the trained personnel and is a completely uneconomic way of approaching the matter. Having said that, I realise that if we do not have some restrictions on the domiciliary nursing benefits the net result would be that every smart pensioner would claim an extra $ 1 4 a week in his pension We may be prepared to pay an extra 14 a week in pensions, but I do not think it should be done on the basis that some pensioners are smarter than others. I think it should be done on a more rational basis. I conclude by commending the basic aim of the legislation and warning the Minister for Health that it will not necessarily stop all the abuses and that the abuses are likely to spread to other aspects of medicine, especially where the technology is further developed.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I want to comment on a point that was made earlier by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman). If my memory serves me correctly, he expressed some doubt whether a patient would be likely to want to save the Government certain expenditure- he used the sum of $100 or $120- on pathology tests if there was any doubt as to whether those tests should be carried out and said that the patient would be inclined to say: ‘Go ahead and complete those tests’. I suggest to the honourable member that this Government has made certain amendments to the Medibank scheme introduced by the Labor Government that have gone partly along the way towards alleviating that situation. But in my view there must be a larger patient contribution and until such time as we call for a greater proportion of the cost to be met by the patient we will have people giving their authorisation to the performance of the tests and services that they would think about very seriously and deeply if they had to pay a greater proportion of that cost. I believe that this is a case of easy come, easy go. Something for nothing is rarely appreciated.
This Bill is a fairly complex Bill- some 27 pages- to amend the Health Insurance Act. In my estimation it is one of the most important amendments to the Health Insurance Act that has even been brought into this Parliament in the 3 years that I have been in this place. The amendments contained in the legislation are designed to continue services to the public. The public, in my view, will lose nothing as a result of the amendments. Services will not be diminished. Yet the amendments will tighten up the scheme and effect certain considerable cost savings. The genuinely ill patient and the scrupulously fair doctor have nothing to fear. I commend to honourable members the detail that is contained in the second reading speech of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt).
The Government continues to recognise the value of pathology tests in the pursuance of good medicine and improving the health of Australians. Modern technology and procedures in medicine demand access to pathology tests. If a doctor is to diagnose a complaint or to eliminate any suspicion he may have at the time of his first consultation or at subsequent consultations or if he wants to confirm the preliminary diagnosis he has made, it is often necessary to carry out pathology tests. Indeed if he suspects a serious complaint he will want accurately to pinpoint the nature of the condition. So it is essential that blood, tissues, urine, faeces, spittle or any other exudation or by-product from the human body be subjected to tests as are deemed necessary by doctors or specialist doctors.
I want to emphasise that the Government recognises the need for the operation of a modern efficient pathology service. The aim of this Bill, as I said earlier, is to maintain the accessibility of that efficient service to the public at large and to contain costs. We have seen a tremendous rip-off by the medical profession and certain individuals particularly in this area. We must have the correct utilisation of services which means the elimination, if not in full at least in part, of the abuses that have been practised in the past.
I want briefly to refer to the pathology services working party that was set up in April 1 976. This group released an interim report in July of that year. A number of its recommendations were implemented by this Government in October last year. In particular if one looks at the membership of the group under the chairmanship of Dr Sidney Sax one finds that only 2 other members were from the Commonwealth Health Department. One was from the New South Wales Health Commission, two were from the Australian Medical Association, one was from the Royal College of Pathologists and one was from the Society of Pathologists which is made up of pathologists in private practice. I mention this point because there is a tendency in our community today to label governments as being under the control of bureaucrats. Here we have a working party that is comprised of four people from outside in the free enterprise world of medicine, three from the Commonwealth and one from a statutory authority of the New South Wales Government. This is a balanced group whose membership is not weighted in favour of the Federal Government or of the free enterprise system. The working party is to meet again next year to review the situation and the reports that it has produced to date. I sincerely hope that the working party will continue to operate in its present capacity and advise the Minister in a probing and investigating way.
I want briefly to mention the cost of health to Australia because I do not think it does any harm to remind honourable members and the public what is involved under the heading of health. This area can be divided mainly into 2 sections. Funds provided by the Commonwealth in this financial year have been budgeted for to the extent of $2,909m, or some 12 per cent of total Government outlays. When we add to that the substantial amount of funds that are provided by the States, it is not hard to see that the health of this nation is costing the Australian taxpayer a considerable amount. Of course, in addition to that social welfare costs another $6 billion or 25 per cent of Government expenditure. Therefore Australians really pay very dearly for their health and social welfare. I mention this because we must ask ourselves the question: Are we getting value for money, and is it possible to effect savings without impairing or diminishing the services available?
In regard to the Bill that is before us today, I think it must be agreed that the amendments to the Act are designed to reduce exploitation of what is already a very lucrative profession. I want briefly to refer to the medical profession. Fortunately, most members of the profession are highly ethical and honest. But many who would have the community believe they are of high repute and adopt impeccable medical standards are nothing short of scoundrels. They are worse than the bank robber or the housebreaker who steals valuables. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They operate under the cover of a highly respected and ethical facade and exterior that one associates with the medical profession. Like the bad apple in the case they tend to make all the profession bad or suspect. Fortunately the reputable, who are by far the majority, headed by such organisations as the Australian Medical Association, the various pathologists ‘ groups and the General Practitioners’ Society are determined, along with the Government, to stamp out any immoral practices. I applaud the leaders of these bodies for the part they have played in participating in the working party and the cooperation they have shown this government and the Minister for Health.
Let me illustrate the seriousness of this rip-off by quoting what has been said by such reputable people as Dr Vince McGovern, the president of the Royal College of Pathologists. An article headed ‘Too many tests: pathologist’, which appeared in the Age of 26 March 1 977, stated:
Taxpayers would save $30 million a year if pathologists were barred from Medibank ‘s direct billing service, the president of the Royal College of Pathologists, Dr Vince McGovern said yesterday.
Dr McGovern said some doctors had fallen into the habit of ordering too many pathology tests.
By direct billing Medibank for the tests some large scale pathology services could disguise the size of their bills. ‘At present many pateints do not know what pathologists are charging’, Dr McGovern said.
I go a little further and quote what Dr McGovern said in the Medical Journal of Australia of 5 March 1977. He said:
For some years the Royal College of Pathologists of Australia has been campaigning for legislation to curb abuses in pathology services. These abuses have now grown to the extent that the cost of non-hospital pathology to Medibank is increasing alarmingly.
One could search the medical journals of this country and quote numerous similar instances. I want to congratulate the Minister for Health who, on a number of occasions both inside and outside of this House, has deplored the actions of a number of pathologists for introducing this legislation and showing that this Government is prepared to act to right a wrong that was created by the former Labor Government. I think that point ought to be emphasised. The Minister has taken a deep interest in matters of this nature. He should be congratulated for not diminishing the services and for introducing legislation to prevent exploitation and rip-offs that I believe were encouraged by the previous Government.
I want to bring to the attention of the House a conversation that I had with a general practitioner in my electorate. I am sure that this man does not bear any malice because I have known him for many years. He was quite genuine in his approach. He told me of a case in which one of his colleagues treated a patient for minor staphylococcal infection. This was not a serious infection by any means. There was no prior treatment of this patient. The infection was not known to be difficult to heal. The patient was given some ointment to put on the infection. He was told to come back in 2 days. On returning the patient was sent to a pathologist for extensive blood tests. After no fewer than 5 visits to this general practitioner costing tens of dollars-my friend the doctor assessed the cost to be of the order of $200 to $250-the patient’s complaint was acclaimed by his doctor to be finally under control. That sort of situation arises time and again in this nation. Every day there is exploitation of the so-called free schemes in the health field.
Some exploiters, because they pay high personal income tax, believe they have a right to rip off the system. Those in this category justify their actions by claiming that they are returning 66c in the dollar to the Government in tax. After a time they cease to suffer from pangs of conscience and any qualms they may once have had seem to disappear. If one looks at the various kickback schemes which operate in relation to pathology tests, one can only say that they are to be deplored. I refer to the increased utilisation of pathology services in this country. If we look at the figures for the half year ending 31 December 1974 we note that something like $22.3m was expended under the medical benefits pathology service section. In 2 years during the 6 monthly period ending 31 December 1976 the figure had increased to$53.1m.
– Have you any suggestion how to get some of this money back?
– The money which has been ripped off through the system to date cannot be returned to the Government. We can only hope that the measures introduced in this Bill will prevent similar occurrences in the future. I recognise that costs have increased in that period. But when we look at the figures we see that the increase to the nation has been 138 per cent. We have had a slight increase in population and there has been an increase in fees. It is an astronomical increase in the figure when it is considered that it is as high as 138 per cent. I refer to the abolition of direct or bulk billing provisions which are provided for in the Bill and return to the pathology services working party report on direct billing for pathology services.
One of the pleasing features in the report is that all major associations of the medical profession are opposed to bulk billing. The Royal College of Pathologists of Australia, the Australian Medical Association, the General Practitioners Society of Australia, and the Society of Pathologists in Private Practice have all recommended and been a party to the report recommending the abolition of bulk billing except for eligible pensioners and the dependants of those eligible pensioners. The report also refers to the fact that people must be personally liable for part of the cost. Indeed, the cost should be identifiable on a form which is provided to the patient.
I have some doubts about Medibank as it exists as a medical benefits organisation in the private health insurance system. I would like to see a greater patient contribution. In my view that contribution is far too low at the moment. Even as recently as yesterday I had some discussions with people from the Australian Dental Association. They referred to some points in relation to the dental scheme which is operating in our schools today. I believe that the system of providing services free of charge means that we tend to mollycoddle people from the cradle to the grave. I would encourage any system whereby the public pays a greater proportion of the costs of any services provided in the nation today.
I refer, finally, to the penalties which are being increased in this legislation. I sincerely hope that members of our judiciary will take note of the seriousness of the breaches and that where breaches are serious high penalties will be imposed. The penalties are to be increased from a maximum of $500 and 6 months gaol to $10,000 and 5 years gaol. If a severe breach is there, I believe it should be met with a high penalty. It is my impression that this is good legislation. It will allow the continuance of the services and, at the same time, effect considerable savings for Australia.
– I make a few comments on some of the points contained in the second reading speech of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt). I shall not cover all the aspects in the Bill. The first significant point is that the legislation is essentially an attempt to try to stop- so it is claimed- abuses under Medibank, particularly in the area of pathology services. So, the Minister recognises that the initiative for the rendering of unnecessary pathology services lies with the requesting practitioner. I repeat: The initiative for the rendering of unnecessary pathology services lies with the requesting doctor. Amen. I agree. I am glad the Minister and the Government have acknowledged that it is not the patients who initiate unnecessary services, but doctors.
It is not the patients who are abusing Medibank because I have yet to see the patient who can go along to a doctor and say: ‘I think I will have my appendix out next week.’ It is the doctor who makes that sort of decision. The patient comes along complaining of a pain in the belly. The same principle applies to any form of treatment, by and large, of which we can think. The patient attends because he feels worried. That is the only indication a patient need have for attending a doctor. What happens after thatwhether the patient is sent home with a reassurance or a bottle of medicine, or admitted to hospital for a whole lot of expensive tests such as these pathology tests or finally an operationdepends solely on the clinical judgment of the doctor as to whether it is necesary.
At last the Government is acknowledging something which I have been trying to say for a long time. The excessive services rendered under Medibank, everyone claims, are due in the main solely, I think, to doctors and not to patients. I think any patient has a legitimate right to attend a doctor if he feels worried. So, in order to try to police this excessive servicing or excessive pathology services which are rendered on patients, the doctors will have to give an account or a justification for ordering tests. The benefit will not be payable unless the doctor has determined it, the test has been done by an approved pathologist or pathology service, and the request by the doctor is in writing. To enable someone to check up on it later on that paper work has to be kept for 18 months, but I shall come to that later. It covers the possibility of verbal requests in emergencies. Those aspects have to confirmed in writing. All this information has to be kept for 18 months. It must be available for inspection by a group which I shall now dub the ‘health police’. That is a new body which will be introduced. If they demand access to records, those records will have to be turned up. Failure to hold these records will be punishable. That is a typical Lib- . era Party approach to these matters. The way to stop anything is not to look into the reasons for it but to try to treat the symptoms by imposing penalties on whatever the symptoms might be. In this case if one can prove overuse by calling for the records one can do something to the person who initiated the overuse. But, by the time the health police get around to it, it will be a long time after the event.
In my view it will be very easy for the referring doctor and the pathologist to confuse the issue. There is no doubt that records will be inadequate. It will be a very diffiicult job for the health police to prove that the services were in fact unnecessary. To try to get over the problem of bodgie pathology services we will have a new section which allows for the drawing up of common forms of undertaking to be given by persons who wish to become approved pathology practitioners. In other words, we will approve pathologists. I agree. We ought to approve of all members of the medical profession on the basis of peer review. Perhaps the Government will eventually come to that. At least this is a start and we welcome it. Those who are approved will have to adhere to an accepted code of conduct. Hopefully this will preclude the offering of all sorts of incentives to other doctors freely, for example, to recommend pathology services unnecessarily. That is all very well. I do not object to that. I quibble with the suggestion that bulk billing for pathology services will be stopped because that is one way of stopping this abuse.
The Minister claimed that one of the problems in this situation of bulk billing was that no contact existed between the patient and the pathologist. I would like to suggest that when it comes to the rendering of fees there is not much contact between the patient and any doctor anyway. I think it is very rare for the patient to sign the appropriate voucher, even with his general practitioner, after the general practitioner has put in the details of the service for which Medibank will be bulk billed. I bet the common practice in the vast majority of cases is that the patient automatically signs a bit of paper. If honourable members say that the patient should not do that I agree with them. The fact is that we are all human and we are all rather timid before someone who to us appears to have a lot more authority. Very few patients, in my view, will ever ask a doctor to fill in the form beforehand. It is an unreasonable expectation of people as patients. So quite frankly, if the patient does not have the chance to vet the whole bill before signing it with the pathologist, I point out that the same difficulty prevails with every other medical service. I do not believe that this will really save very much.
I have no comment to make about rip-offs. My colleague the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) went into that in relation to these large patient profiles offered by health clubs of all sorts. That is a rip-off which I suggest will occur not only with Medibank but also with private funds if they offer this same service. To confirm what I am saying, I point out that the Minister stated in his second reading speech:
At present the Health Insurance Act provides for the establishment of medical service committees of inquiry . . .
They will inquire into the: possible rendering of excessive professional services which attract medical benefits payable by Medibank.
Bully! We have had that for a long time. In fact, we had it before Medibank was introduced in respect of the pensioner medical scheme. Years ago, the government of the day- it was a LiberalNational Country Party Government- set up a committee to look into excessive rendering of services for pensioners, and some doctors were caught. This legislation acknowledges what I have again claimed all along, that is, that the abuses have nothing to do with Medibank. I have just mentioned that they applied to the pensioner medical scheme. This legislation will now extend to benefits payable by private medical benefit organisations. This is because the abuse has been going on in the private medical benefits fund area for years. The point about Medibank is that it has more easily enabled everyone to recognise that the abuse has been going on. When we start getting the statistics from the private health funds, we will obtain better confirmation. But thank goodness, the Government is not intending to wait for them. It has taken the hint and has recognised that it is happening anyway. So the legislation will encompass private funds without waiting for the statistics.
The legislation will cover not only the usual medical services; this Bill permits pathology services to be covered as well. Certain penalties are provided if people break undertakings. For example, they can lose recognition as approved pathologists and so on and they may well be held responsible for paying back medical benefits paid out incorrectly. I think that may well prove to be difficult because this may be many months after the event. Once again, this new function of checking on whether referrals for pathology services have been abused will apply as with all other medical services. It will apply, as I said before, not only to Medibank patients but also to private medical benefit organisations. I am wary of the Government’s recognising the Australian Medical Association as the only body to be consulted in choosing members who are to be appointed to appropriate committees. I do not know of an alternative group. I share the Minister’s anxiety about dealing with the Society of General Practitioners. I must admit that I would not want to have much to do with that organisation. The Minister must also recognise that perhaps only 50 per cent of the medical profession belongs to the AMA. So I think it may be necessary for the Minister at times to consider people who are not recommended by the AMA but who may have come to the Minister’s attention because they may be people doing worthwhile work in the field and who know something about the matter. In other words, the Minister should not be bound by what the AMA recommends. However, I am sure that the Minister will not be.
In respect of abuses, the legislation states that failures will not become indictable offences, that penalties will be increased and so on. That is all very well if we take this sort of policeman approach. I do not think it will work but it may work marginally. There is a paragraph from the Minister’s second reading speech which worries me. He states:
By agreement between the prosecution and the defence and subject to the court being satisfied that it is proper to do so, less serious offences can be dealt with summarily by a lower court and a lower penalty imposed.
I have noticed a trend in regard to the prosecution of people who are abusing the system. I do not know what penalties have been imposed on patients who, after all, have committed minimal offences. Usually, they have botted on the system for a very negligible amount of money. In some cases doctors have made hundreds of thousands of dollars in rip-offs. Yet none of those doctors has yet been penalised to an significant extent other that having to pay minor costs. The claim was made by one judge, as I recall it, that the doctor had suffered professionally. He got away with a couple of hundred thousand dollars in the process. He can afford to be a good boy in the future. I hope that the possibility of reducing penalties, if one wants to go for the penalty approach, will not be considered too frequently. I think that at least some of the abusing doctors need to be hit hard, if this is the approach one is to take. My view is that I think there is an alternative approach, and I will come to that later if I have time.
As a more positive approach- I am now turning to what I want to talk about in this Bill- the Minister has indicated that clauses 13 and 18 will broaden the scope and purpose for which health program grants may be given. In the first place, the Bill will facilitate the establishment of health maintenance organisations and it indicates how
Medibank patients can be covered. I want to consider the general proposition of health maintenance organisations. A lot of information has come from that well-known communist country, the United States of America. This is because it has these sorts of organisations. There are salaried doctors in that country. I should not say that too loudly; people will become worried. Salaried doctors are usually communist doctors. As I say, these organisations are fairly popular in the United States of America. They have been dubbed health maintenance organisations. I simply want to say to the Minister: Beware; analyse the literature carefully. Not all health maintenance organisations are successful.
I will put it another way: Not all health maintenance organisations are communist. It is only the communist ones that are successful. Of course, I am exaggerating to make my point. I will put my remarks in less abrasive terminology so that members of the Liberal and National Country parties can better understand them. Honourable members opposite need not take my word for it. They can read the literature for themselves. The health maintenance organisations which provide a better service at a lower cost with a lower hospitalisation rate, a lower hospital utilisation rate, a lower operation rate and a lower mortality rate are the ones where the doctors are paid salaries. The health maintenance organisations where the doctors are paid on a fee for service basis are going bankrupt as quickly as the other benefit funds, unless they get up to all sorts of devious tricks to exclude people with chronic illness and so on so that finally the American Government picks up the tab with its medicare scheme for the underprivileged or the chronically ill. The same sort of thing could happen in this country also. Honourable members opposite should not be fooled. I applaud the encouragement of health maintenance organisations as long as we are aware of the fact that the key factor is this: An organisation with doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, home visitors, physiotherapists, pharmacists, dentists- the lot- is a comprehensive health care organisation where the staff, and that includes the doctors, are paid salaries to provide the service necessary. If we allow bastardised versions of the lay type- I say ‘lay’ because they are not professionals but non-medical professional members of these organisations- if we allow salaried doctors who are on a fee for service basis, it will not succeed. What incentive is there for the doctor to allow the other professional staff to treat a patient? If the doctor does not see the patient he does not get his fee. That is the incentive for over-utilisation. That is the reason why, if we have fee for service doctors in these units, the patients will have to go through the doctors. We will not save a damned thing. The strength of these organisations lies in the staff as a whole acknowledging that in certain circumstances patients do not have to see the doctor. The doctor is there to help the whole team look after the patient in the best possible way, which does not mean that the patient has to see a doctor on every occassion. That is just a little warning homily from me.
The other provision authorises the payment of health program grants to enable the development and evaluation of new and improved health care delivery systems. I am very pleased that the Minister has read the draft health policy of the Labor Party, which was circulated a few weeks ago, because that is the very thing we are on to. It is time we got facts to back up my biased prejudiced claims about fee for service medical practice. We need to ask what is going on in the health care area, where the service is being provided, in what conditions and for what sort of demands, what is the basis of the staffing of whatever the system might be. The honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) made a lot of the abuses of Medibank and how Medibank encouraged over-use. But he had not read the Minister’s speech, because that speech indicated that the legislation will cover the private health funds. The Labor Party did not invent the private health funds. It was a good Country Party member, I think, Sir Earle Page, who first introduced the concept of voluntary health insurance systems. I am not quarrelling with it. Medibank simply extended and tried to improve the efficiency of that system. We accepted it. Our motivation was based upon a very well known report which was not commissioned by us but by a Liberal government. The Nimmo report indicated the abuses and inefficiencies and inadequacies of the voluntary health insurance system. All that Medibank tried to do was to improve that system.
The basic fault in all the health care systems in most of the Western countries is that no government thus far has approached the problem from the point of view of the provision of health services, health care. The approach has been from the point of view of how to pay for the services, irrespective of whether they have been necessary or not, irrespective of whether they have been good, bad or indifferent. We did not initiate this. If anyone is to blame it is this Government, but I am not blaming it. We have all fallen in. The approach has been: How do we pay for it? Let us set up a better insurance system. Comrades- if I may address honourable members opposite in that way, because their Government is guilty, as we were- you brought in the voluntary health insurance system. We tried to overcome its deficiencies by perhaps nationalising the health insurance system to make it more efficient. Honourable members opposite may quarrel with that, but the defect is that the health insurance system, subsidising the fee for service remuneration of doctors and others providing health services on a fee for service basis, inevitably encourages over-use, inevitably reduces and not improves health standards. There will be no measuring because with any measuring one finds a tendency to reduce the services.
If I might conclude with a very eloquent illustration, some years ago in the 1950s the Royal Newcastle Hospital decided to look into the indications for operations. It decided that every bit of tissue removed had to be referred to a pathologist. The results were graphed and they found at the beginning that 10 per cent or 12 per cent of the tissue was normal. In other words, unnecessary operations were being performed. Simply by measuring and graphing, at the end of about 18 months the incidence of normal tissue removal had dropped to 3 per cent. That is my point. If we measure we will reduce unnecessary services. We will not get measuring techniques if we have fee for service because fee for service clearly cuts down on the services doctors can render. We reward doctors for treating patients, not for keeping them well, on a fee for service basis.
-I speak on the Bill in a somewhat humble position. I think that I am the only person to speak on it who is not a member of the medical or paramedical profession. I. suppose, in the words of the previous speaker -
– Doctor Modesty.
– He has not spoken yet. To get back to the Bill, I must say that I did not expect to hear communism mentioned or comrades called to arms.
– It brought me from 6 miles away.
– Back to the Bill again -
-1 would suggest that we come back to the Bill.
-I wonder if the whole House could come back to the Bill. I rise to congratulate the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) for showing the initiative that he did last year in incorporating this inquiry. I think that all speakers today have agreed that it was an intelligent approach to a vexed problem. I may not agree with my colleague the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges); I am perhaps closer to the previous speaker, the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass), in relation to the abuses evidenced in private funds as well as in Medibank. Some fairly fundamental issues have been brought forward in this Bill, and I wish to speak to them briefly. Firstly, I think it is important that we should be instituting some form of control which requires surveillance by the profession itself. This is a principle which we should carry beyond the medical profession and into other Bills that are before the House at the present time. It has much to commend it, and I think it is at least worth a trial in this instance.
I was intrigued to hear the honourable member for Maribyrnong refer to the new group of health police. Perhaps he was exaggerating again, but I do believe that the success of the control of the use of pathology services is going to come only from an intelligent and adult appreciation and survellience by doctors of themselves, whether they are members of the Australian Medical Association or not. I believe that the use of indictable offences is a most essential weapon in the control of abuses in this regard. The extent and size of the abuses that are known to many of us in this House in the provision of pathology services is extremely high. I do not believe that they are light-hearted and I do not believe that they have been entered into carelessly. I believe that many of the major abuses in the provision of these services have been premeditated and have a very serious aspect to them. I hope that the increase of penalties will not only be a deterrent but that the people who will be examining them will enact and use some of these higher penalties.
The confusion about the use of pathology services was clearly highlighted during the week in the paper released by Professor Blacken of the University of New South Wales. He commented that he believed the junior doctors in the hospitals were now incurring costs of up to $1,000 a day each in their prescribing of technical services, including pathology services. I have spoken to several doctors since Blackett’s announcement appeared in the newspaper on Saturday. It is interesting that the older the doctor the calmer and more critical he is of the overuse of technical services. It seems to be that the younger the doctor the more aware he is of the use of technical services such as pathology and all those other magical new things which have been introduced in the last 20 years. I had one case put to me only yesterday by a very senior doctor at Prince Henry Hospital. He told me that with all his years of experience he had decided not to have certain tests done on a seriously ill patient and gave instructions to this effect. However, one of his young registrars or residents, whatever the junior doctor is called, decided to carry out certain tests despite the instruction from the senior doctor. Those tests revealed an aspect of disease in the person that had not been readily recognisable earlier. I am not a medical rnan and cannot describe it but the senior doctor, when apologising to the resident, said that one of the great problems in the medical profession today was to determine when to use and when not to use technical services. I am as critical as anyone in this place of the over-use of pathology services but I hope that the controls embodied in this Bill will not frighten off the enthusiastic young doctor from deciding to have a thorough examination made of patients such as myself.
-I would even include in that the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly). I do not want to protect him from it either. I suggest that the only people who can properly administer and control the use of pathology services are those in the medical profession. If some of the statements made by the 2 speakers from the Opposition side prove that there is inefficiency in the use of doctors in this surveillance technique, so be it. The point is that the working party will be meeting again next year and I hope that by then it will have some data to help it determine what roles and roads it should follow in the control of this matter.
I congratulate the Minister for having taken a broad outlook towards not only the provision of this medical service but also in respect of other aspects of his Ministry. I also congratulate the members of the working party and in particular, publicly from this place, to thank Dr Sugarman on a personal basis. He lives in my constituency and is known to me. He has had a very large practice in pathology and I compliment him. I suppose that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, would be very much aware of him too because he would be in your district. The professionalism of this man and ho doubt of others on the working party who presented this working paper is enough to give us non-professionals confidence. Despite the scoundrels to whom the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) referred, and no doubt they are there, and despite the type of people in the medical profession to whom the honourable member for Maribyrnong referred- but I cannot use the word he used- the quality of the work of other members of the medical profession these days has given me confidence in that profession.
– in reply- In closing the debate I would very much like to thank those honourable members who have spoken for the constructive contributions they have made. I say that sincerely because all honourable members have approached this Bill, as they have approached most legislation relating to health, in a constructive and sensible manner. I particularly thank the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass), the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges), the honourable member for Cook (Mr Dobie) and those members of the health and welfare committees on both sides of the House who have no doubt given due attention to the legislation. The honourable member for Prospect made a point with which I do not disagree when he said that Medibank in itself was not the cause of rip-offs in the medical area- undoubtedly rip-offs were going on before Medibank was introduced- but Medibank may in some way have accentuated or accelerated the degree of rip-offs. What the Health Insurance Commission has been able to do is establish at least to some degree the extent of the rip-offs taking place. We as a result have some mechanism with which to come to grips with the problem. Quite frankly, the Australian community has every reason to be concerned with the extent of the increase in expenditure that is taking place in the health field.
Debates in this place in the last decade and debates outside the Parliament on health, as the honourable member for Maribyrnong said, have generally been on how we can help people pay their ever-rising health care bills. I was disturbed the other day to see some figures which the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) produced showing that health care costs in this country over the last 3 or 4 years had increased at the rate of 9 per cent in real money terms. That must be a disturbing picture to any economist or anybody interested in health administration. Associated with this rapid increase in costs have been abuses. There has been over-use of medical services and rip-offs. The pathology area was one which was brought to our attention by the Medibank Review Committee last year and, as honourable members have acknowledged, as a result we set up the pathology working party. Its recommendations were designed to come to grips with this real problem. One of the pleasing aspects of the whole exercise has been the degree to which the professional bodies in the medical profession have co-operated with the Government and the community in helping to arrive at a rational approach to stemming the degree of abuse in the pathology area.
The honourable member for Maribyrnong and the honourable member for Prospect questioned whether the abolition of bulk billing for all but pensioners and their dependants would reduce the level of abuse in the area. We have no hard evidence at this stage to suggest this but the indications following the examination of a number of sample cases were that there was a link between the degree of abuse and bulk billing. I said in my second reading speech: . . . there is a substantial correlation between the provision of large patient profiles or health screens, largely consisting of pathology services and bulk-billing. In many cases there is no indication that the patient is not well and these large profiles or screens are fostered only in a situation where the patient has nothing or little to pay. Such profiles and screens with benefits in each instance in excess of $75 were responsible for some 25 per cent of the total medical benefits expenditure on pathology services in September last. The figure in New South Wales, for instance, where this practice is more common, was nearly 40 per cent.
Undoubtedly one of the reasons for the abuse of bulk billing in regard to pathology services is that there is very little, if any, contact between the patient and the pathologist. This allows the patient to sign the bulk billing form. Few patients are able to do what they are supposed to do and sign the bulk billing form after the pathology services have been rendered certifying that the services itemised on the claim form have been performed. We estimate that the cost of abolition of bulk billing for pathology services will be of the order of $750,000 a year because of the additional staff that will be required within the Health Insurance Commission. However, we feel as a result of the investigations undertaken that this will be a good investment in terms of trying to save public funds. I was told only yesterday that 3 doctors currently under prosecution have been responsible for claims for benefits of the order of $800,000. So certainly it is possible for very high costs to be run up if there is any weakness in the system or any incentive in the system that encourages people to abuse it. We hope that the abolition of bulk billing in this area will tend to moderate this area of abuse.
The question of health screening to which the honourable member for Prospect referred is under continuing study by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the medical benefits advisory committees, and the Australian Medical Association itself. The new schedule will substantially reduce benefits payable for screenings. I think that in due course I should receive a report from the NHMRC on the advisability of continuing to pay health program grants for medi-checks and other forms of health screening. I have a very open mind about the question. I am inclined to believe that if one can save the life of one person in 100 by such checks it is worth it. But in terms of cost benefit analyses it may not be worth it. It is just a question of how one looks at it. I do not have a hard and fast view but I await the report with some interest so that we may be able to take a rational decision in relation to the matter.
In relation to the question of privacy, in proposed new section 16a (3) there is provision to allow the Minister to request the pathologist to produce specified requests in writing. These requests in writing should not contain medical information. That information should be on a separate note. The requests in writing are to be similar to specialist referral notices. However, honourable members would be aware that section 130 of the Act provides very strong secrecy controls on departmental officers. The decision to have pathologists keep requests in writing rather than to send them on to the patients and the patients then to submit them with the accounts when claiming medical benefits was designed to make administration easier for the pathologists in sending out accounts. This is the reason for pathologists holding requests in writing for 18 months rather than the health funds holding them. But I take the point that it is necessary to preserve the privacy of the individual. Of course honourable members will recall that last year I indicated that we had referred to the Law Reform Commission this whole question of privacy as it affected universal health insurance in Australia to ensure that the measures that were then in practise in Australia were sufficient to protect the privacy of the individual and if they were not we wanted recommendations from the Commission on how to tighten up the area if necessary.
In respect of clauses 13 to 18, honourable members opposite mentioned their support for the idea of extending the function of health program grants. The Government is anxious to see one or two pilot health maintenance organisations established in Australia so that we can see them in operation. We wish to evaluate the operation and to see research into and development of alternative health delivery schemes in this country. We want to see them and evaluate them. If they have a role or a purpose in Australia, if they provide more efficient health care delivery there may be an opportunity for us to take advantage of them. But in no way do we intend to spend great lumps of money in this area.
The honourable member for Maribyrnong indicated that in his view the whole fee for service system in the health care area is wrong; that it has created unfortunate misallocation of resources; that it is creating a degree of abuse; and that it is doing nothing to try to overcome this very real problem which should be the core of debate on health care costs in Australia. That is his view. It is a view that is not shared across the country but it is a view that needs to be respected. If there are alternative health schemes that could in fact reduce costs and at the same time maintain a degree of incentive and the efficiency of the medical profession and practice in Australia let us have a look at it. At this stage I would commit the Government only to undertaking research ino alternative health delivery schemes before we commit great wads of public funds to alternative systems.
The honourable member for Cook made a very important point; that is, that we ought to be careful that in introducing legislation like this we do not dissuade doctors, particularly young professionals coming into the field, from undertaking essential diagnostic tests for patients. In other words, what we need is a balance. We want to be sure that doctors when undertaking diagnostic services are doing so in the best interests of the patient rather than themselves. I think that the honourable member’s point needed to be registered in the Parliament and I thank him very much for bringing that point to account.
I conclude by advising the Parliament that on the whole question of investigation into the diagnostic area I have asked my Department to advise on the establishment of a committee to consider, and make recommendations to the Government on, appropriate methods of dealing with medical benefits an the adjustment of revenue flows in the public hospitals, taking into account the current developments, future developments and high technology diagnosis. This would cover in particular computerised axial tomography scanning, developments in ultra sound and similar activities, but without limiting the committee’s role to these aspects. In particular, I should like to see such a committee requested to make investigations into suggestions to alter the basis for determining medical benefits, for example, by defining more precisely what constitutes a minimum service for which fees are payable or by excluding capital costs in computing an appropriate benefit. It could also investigate some form of regulation of procurement and installation of unit such as may be achieved by certificates of need which several American States have applied to capital investment in beds and expensive equipment. The theory is that because such investment generates costs to be met by the community it is proper for the community to decide where and when such investments should take place. Medical benefits would then be paid only in respect of approved units. It could also inquire into arrangements existing between specialists and hospitals concerning the sharing of income arising from diagnostic services performed by the specialists on private patients and hospitals using hospital equipment.
I should like to see once again the AMA, the Royal Australian College of Physicians and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and the Society for Medical and Biological Engineering join in a working party to examine that whole area so that we do not get behind as we have in respect to the pathology area. I know that the reputable people- they constitute the majority of professionals in the field- are most anxious to ensure that bad medical pratice in Australia does not become a feature of our whole health care system. I thank the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) for reminding me that the clock is ticking on. I thank honourable members for the valuable contributions that they have made to this debate. I am sure that the amendments that we make to the Health Insurance Act will reduce a great area of abuse in the provision of pathology services.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Motion ( by Mr Hunt ) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
-I shall not detain the House for long. I should like to make just 2 points. The honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) gave an example which proved to be exactly the opposite to what he was trying to prove. He proved the point that the honourable member for Cook (Mr Dobie) was making. He referred to a person who apparently had a superficial staphylococcal infection and had to come back for repeated visits which cost the health fund or Medibank a considerable amount of money. This is exactly the sort of condition which it could reasonably and rationally be argued should have been sent for a pathology test to identify the organism causing the infection and its sensitivity so as to find out what antibiotic should have been given to that person. The patient would have been saved all those visits. That is why it is important to distinguish whether a doctor is ordering tests on people who are sick and have a condition or whether he is just ordering screening tests on apparently healthy people. I think that screening tests can be justified. I agree with the Minister on that point. We have to be conscious of the fact that obviously we will get a much poorer return if we screen 100 people who are well than if we screen 100 people who are sick. How will the Minister decide what cases he will refer to the committees of inquiry? Will they be cases connected only with Medibank or with other health funds?
– In both cases. That is important. Otherwise, because of the changes to Medibank last year, a much bigger proportion of people will be covered by Medibank in certain areas because it is a disadvantage to belong to Medibank for those on higher incomes whilst it is an advantage to belong to Medibank for those on lower incomes. Therefore, if the Government was to work out the number of accounts rendered on Medibank for pathology services for, say, 1000 people living in a particular area, it would get a completely unreasonable picture.
In my early days of practising medicine I joined a practice with a number of partners. I had to do the relatively difficult work of going out to see the sick patients in the home because that was the job of the junior partner. I was investigated by a member of the Department of Health because the cost of my prescriptions was 25 per cent or 35 per cent higher for the general area than were those of the other doctors in my practice. They were not aware- when I explained to them they accepted my statementthat I was ordering antibiotics at that time because I was seeing people who were too sick to come to the surgery. Obviously, they received more active and expensive treatment than people who were seen in the surgery for more routine examinations. It is important to remember that we do not want to embarrass doctors into a position where they will not order necessary tests because they are worried about being investigated. Perhaps it is more unpleasant to be investigated if one has a completely clear conscience than if one has a guilty conscience. I am not quite sure which is worse. We do not want to stop doctors behaving in the correct manner by the threat of investigation. Investigation ought to be used in a sparing manner and only when we are fairly sure that somebody is not working according to the general conditions laid down under this legislation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 27 May, on motion by Mr Ellicott:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– We have just listened to a debate about the advantages of health and Medibank and what they can do for society. We are now to talk about legal aid or, in my view, the lack of it. Any citizen can be brought into bankruptcy and destroyed mentally as well as physically and no aid will be offered to him. This is a comparison which bears consideration. Any one of us can be the subject of litigation. In the pursuance of our own legal rights we can be denied legal assistance on the basis that we are deemed to have means. I think it is about time that the legal profession started to organise itself in some fashion so that it gets the benefit of the service it offers to the community as well as some of the supportive services which back up other professions. In this day and age people in this country need competent legal aid and legal assistance. This Bill offers no legal aid or assistance. It establishes a Commission, but what a toothless tiger that Commission is.
At the outset, I indicate that the Opposition proposes to move that the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for 2 fundamental factors,
Mr Deputy Speaker, you would be impressed if I referred you to the previous debates that took place in the Parliament when the Labor Government introduced the Legal Aid Bill in 1975. It was the subject of debate on 9 October 1975. It was introduced in July 1975 and allowed to lay on the table so that people could consider it and make submissions in respect of it. The Government of the day agreed that that should happen. The present legislation is being rushed through.
We understand that there are to be State commissions that wish to commence operation on 1 July. The Opposition has been inundated with literature, protests, telegrams and letters from all interested people saying: ‘Why not let us have a look at the Bill? Let us understand its contents. Let us make submissions. We might want to improve the legislation’. The Opposition agrees with them. On its quick summary of the situation, the Opposition thinks that the Bill ought to be withdrawn and redrafted.
I have a letter from the Australian Council of Social Services indicating that it is concerned that the Bill is being rushed through the Parliament because there has been no time for comment or discussion. The letter states:
The Bill was presented to Parliament on Friday last but it has not been possible to obtain a copy until today.
Naturally there is concern. Another aspect of concern is the type of legal aid that ought to be available to people. It will not be available within the ambit of this measure or the finances that will flow pursuant to its enactment. I have a telegram from the Fraser Island Defence Organisation. It states:
Respectfully urge that you seek amendment to section 6k of the Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission Bill to depoliticise the determination of environmental legal aid by allowing the Commission to consider environmental groups applications on merit without a waiting reference by Attorney-General.
I mention that telegram at this stage only because we intend to propose a new section 6 in the committee stage.
On 9 October 1975, the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott), now the present Attorney-General, made a very good speech about legal aid, how it should be considered and the problems involved. I remind him of what he said on that occasion. Firstly, he said it was about time that the Government woke up and got on with the job of getting a proper and effective legal aid Act. That was his message in 1 975. That is not what this legislation provides. The Attorney-General has made some effort. But the legislation is not in conformity with his views. He felt that the national Government’s responsibility in legal aid lay only in respect of Commonwealth matters. He inferred that legal aid really ought to be a State matter. I shall go into that in detail but that was the tenor of his statement on that occasion.
He referred to the Sackville Committee which I shall mention in detail later. It produced an excellent report which everybody at the time applauded as a worthy report on how to establish a commission and consider legal aid and its problems. Let me return to the speeches of 9 October 1975. At that time the present Attorney-General said:
For instance, the Law Council has suggested that the Law Commission should be independent of government.
I could not agree more. But this Bill goes no way towards making it independent of government. It is a Commission completely dependent on the Attorney-General with all his advantages or disadvantages.
– As was your Commission.
-As was ours. But just because somebody makes a mistake, the Attorney-General should not want to adopt the attitude that he proposes to continue to make that mistake, particularly when he makes a speech which I am giving him some credit for, in which he says that the Commission ought to be independent of government. Why do you not agree with that?
-Well, if you look at your Bill you will see that you do not. In his speech, the Attorney-General made the point that we cannot have a bottomless pit for legal aid. I think that is reasonable. Nobody wants a bottomless pit; we just want a reasonable hollow from the point of view of being able to guarantee that there will be substantive legal aid where there is a substantive claim. At the present time the means test applying to legal aid virtually means that a person has to be in dire poverty to get any benefit. That means that a person cannot get legal aid for a number of important matters such as environmental issues or the issues he might want to contest as regards a local planning scheme where a council says: ‘You are going to be zoned out of existence’. That person would have to put his life saving on the line to try to prove the plan was an illegal act.
The Attorney-General made the point in his speech that it is important that respect be given to the contribution made by the legal profession. We are all interested in the legal profession. Those of us who are pan of it applaud the fact that those involved do a lot of work and get very little recognition and often very little reward. They are much maligned. There is always deemed to be too many of them in politics. Whether or not that is a valid indictment of the profession, I do not know. But there are never too many of them in the courts or not enough good ones in the courts. There are far too many people in the courts or subject to litigation who are without any legal assistance. Sackville clearly showed that position. The Attorney-General makes the point that the legal profession has made a valuable contribution. He says: ‘If you want to talk about legal aid in every sense, you have to be careful of the finance ‘. He then says:
For instance, last year in the Australian Legal Aid Office, approximately $6m of work was promoted.
This is in 1975. He went on:
That work had not yet been paid for. The appropriation of $7m in this year’s Budget represents money that has already been spent in the sense that the work has been undertaken. That money is for fees that the Government must pay . . . This year, of course, more work will be undertaken. The bottomless pit of legal aid which must be watched is this problem of keeping a rein on expenditure . . .
Now that is where we come to this Bill. This Bill represents a complete rein on expenditure. In fact, I suggest that expenditure has come to a halt. I understand now that there are Treasury restrictions. Treasury dominates this Parliament make no mistake about that. Whoever is in power is subservient to Treasury.
– Treasury did not dominate the Attorney last year.
-It did dominate the Attorney last year.
– Your are wrong; you are very wrong.
-Would you be patient for just once? The Attorney has said: ‘Well it is marvellous. We have appropriated $ 17.5m for legal aid in the last year’. Of course I am advised that most of that work was done in the previous year- as the Attorney would recognisebecause the work has to be done before it is paid for. Do you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that many of the accounts are now 10 months overdue and that there is no money to pay them and the Government talks about being effective. A recent report states that the Legal Aid Office in the Australian Capital Territory in 1975 had unpaid accounts of approximately $7,000. How many more millions of dollars are owing?
– What is your source of information for that? Have you got a public document?
-I have no public document and I am not in the witness box, but as a practising lawyer, you would know that the accounts have to be rendered and the work has to be done before the account is rendered. You know that there is not enough money to meet the commitments. You may query and check whether you are up to date in the payment of your accounts and I suggest that you would not be. I suggest that you need a lot more money than the amount of money Treasury gave you or in fact agreed to give us. Eighty-five per cent of all work done in legal aid is Commonwealth inspired or directly related to Commonwealth legislation. I repeat that it is 85 per cent. There is also a fair amount of work in addition to that. But what is happening in this Bill is the destruction of the Australian Legal Aid Office. We set it up. It had a lot of merit. But let us return to the speeches of 9 October in this House, particularly to that by Mr Macphee, the honourable member for Balaclava. He applauded the fact that we were creating a Legal Aid Office and a Legal Aid Commission that guaranteed some stability and guaranteed continuity in the field of legal aid and that the national Parliament would be involved in legal aid. Nobody wants duplication of services. Nobody wants an overburdened administrative cost structure. But let us not abdicate the field. We set up an effective system called the Australian Legal Aid Office. Most of this Bill is designed to transfer all those offices out of existence into State administration. Most of the clauses in this Bill have nothing to do with legal aid. The great proportion of the Bill talks about protecting the rights of officers- the Officers Rights Declaration- when they become State officers. Already Western Australia has been encouraged to establish its Commission. It has done so in a legislative form, but the Commission itself does not exist. I am told that there is no understanding of what that State’s finance is going to be, when it is going to start, where the Commission’s premises are to be or any of these necessities because this is a rushed measure. South Australia has virtually been told that it had better do something about establishing a Commission or it might not get any funds at all. I think the New South Wales Attorney-General is in the difficult situation where he is asking himself: ‘Am I to establish a Commission, not knowing that I am to get sufficient funds? Therefore, why should I establish such a Commission if I cannot get a guarantee of funds?’ So, running through the whole theme of this -
– You are stretching the truth, I am sorry to say.
-I am not stretching the truth. Would you please make your remarks during your reply? The point I am trying to make is this: The Attorney-General knows very well that the States provide a number of legal aid services, but that if they are to do the AttorneyGeneral ‘s work for him, they will want to be paid for it. They do not want to be given a sum of money and told: ‘Do the best you can’. They are not going to accept a proposition on that basis, nor did the Attorney-General ever suggest that it was going to be the proposition, although he did have some worries about it. He was obviously frugal in his approach in October 1975. The Attorney-General was applauding the contribution made by the profession and the fact that there ought to be an independent commission. He seems to have vacated the independent commission position.
I want to draw honourable members back to the fact that we in this national Parliament could pass a very good Bill on legal aid. It would be to establish the Commission. It would also be to embrace the existing State work and, if there were State commissions already in existence, to embrace them as well. But we would have to guarantee sufficient finance to meet the needs of legal aid. The Government has the situation so cabined, cribbed and confined that a person has to be completely impecunious to get any advantage in the way of legal aid. All these other actions, whether they relate to restrictive trade practices or environmental issues, are no longer to be funded. The best the Government can do is to fund the poor and to do some urgent work in respect of family law matters. Let us look at what Sackville was saying about planning, as recorded at page 42 of his report. He said that the system of legal aid should be planned and should involve an ALAO establishment, but that it should not be limited to that. Nor should we limit it to that, because the talents of the profession have to be utilised, and they can be utilised in a number of ways. He went on to say:
While we support the planning of legal aid at a national level and the existence of a Federal salaried service . . .
There should also be legal services through other avenues and other agencies. For example, the Fitzroy Legal Service is an excellent one. That service is using the talents of the profession organised on the basis that they can help the community. Funding should be given to them.
– I have done so.
-You did so to the extent that Treasury allowed you to. You know that I put submissions to you to guarantee that the Fitzroy Legal Service would get adequate funds.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Order! I suggest that the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith direct his remarks through the Chair.
-I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker.
-The exchange across the chamber is rather disturbing to everyone.
-I notice that you have directed no comments to the worthy Attorney-General, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I shall bow to your stringencies. I would be grateful if you could give me some verbal protection.
– I shall.
-The point I want to make is that the report of the Sackville Committee states that there ought to be a national level and there ought to be a community level. It should be recognised that the States are doing excellent work as well. At page 43 of the Sackville Committee’s report is the real kernel of the matter. It reads :
The Australian Government should establish the Legal Aid Commission as a truly independent statutory body to plan and administer the expanded system of legal aid services, to the extent that the Commonwealth has constitutional power to do so. There is general agreement that visible and effective independence from government at all levels is essential if legal aid services are to guarantee full and effective representation to all citizens whose rights are infringed or whose interests are threatened and if salaried lawyers are to be protected against any suggestion of improper pressure or interference in their activities. In our view the most satisfactory method of promoting the independence of the Australian Legal Aid Office is to vest the basic responsibility for the formulation of policy affecting the Office in a broadly based Commission.
For the reasons to which I have drawn attention, we do not have that in this Bill. One should have a very close look at the functions of the Commission. Clause 6 of the Bill states those functions. Clause 6(a) refers to ascertaining the need for legal aid and to making recommendations to the Attorney-General. Clause 6(b) refers to making recommendations to the AttorneyGeneral. Clause 6 (d) refers to reporting to the Attorney-General upon the functions of the legal aid commissions of the States.
– What about sub-clause (c)?
-Clause 6 (c) refers to the collecting of statistics. I have no objection to that. Clause 6 (e) relates to furnishing to the Attorney-General such reports as the AttorneyGeneral requires. Clause 6 (f) relates to making recommendations to the Attorney-General. Clause 6(h) relates to advising the AttorneyGeneral. Clause 6 (j) relates to reporting to the Attorney-General, as requested.
Surely that has nothing to do with the position of the Sackville Committee concerning the establishment of an independent commission. It is a complete abrogation of the position that the Attorney-General put forward when introducing the Bill when he said that we want an independent Commission. We are to get a Commission, but there is some query about how effective it will be. Professor Sackville himself was anxious that it be a wider group, which guaranteed that it would not be dominated by the law societies or the private practitioners. The private practitioners themselves do not want to dominate the Commission, but the Bill is drawn in such a fashion that they could so dominate it. According to Professor Sackville, the Commission should comprise members of the profession, officers of the State law societies, users of legal services, groups or oganisations with experience and other persons with special knowledge. He said that non-lawyers should constitute at least onequarter of the membership of the Commission. We would like to see that spelt out in clause 5 but it is not there at the moment.
This Bill establishes a Commission and gives the Commission functions, but it gives no guarantee of independence and it certainly gives no guarantee of funding. It is drafted on the basis that there is to be close liaison with the States, which is to be welcomed. It is also drafted on the basis that the States are to take over the provision of legal aid services and the States are not prepared to accept that burden because they do not know what it will cost them to do so. Obviously there would be no argument from a State point of view if the States were guaranteed adequate funds. Many of them are already running very effective legal aid services and as honourable members know, they are running effective legal aid systems that were introduced by State governments of various political colours. They are effective but they are not adequate. Obviously there is a great need for them to get more assistance.
Let us look at what we should be doing in this Bill from the point of view of the Commonwealth’s position. We should be establishing a legal aid commission that is representative of the States, the community groups and others. We should be guaranteeing the continuance of our own shop front services because they have built up an expertise whereby they can at least look at a person’s problems and readily say whether there is a need for legal aid. The profession itself does not have the opportunity all the time to be looking at whether people should have legal aid. There is an effective role there for an Australian legal aid office organisation.
The ALAO was a career structure that was getting a lot of expertise and giving great value to the people. People felt no inhibitions about walking into the ALAO to find out whether they had any rights, but they cannot get the same service if they have to walk up to some private practitioner. There is no guarantee that the private practitioner will be available because he will have other obligations. He will not be available full time to give legal advice on legal aid matters. He will have to be pretty active to cater for his own welfare and earn his own income from the point of view of work in the courts or elsewhere. The ALAO is a very good front organisation for offering legal aid services to people, for giving advice, for representing people in the courts and, if that could not be done, for getting the private profession to help. There is no suggestion that in the creation of a legal aid structure we are trying to establish a monolithic creature that will deny the profession of the rights as they exist. The idea was to co-ordinate and get some understanding between the State and Federal governments as to how best to operate, bearing in mind that each government has different responsibilities under the law.
One can understand how it is the Commonwealth’s responsibility to provide adequate legal aid in the field of family law matters, but it should not be restricted just to that field. The restrictive trade practices legislation, consumer protection, environmental issues and other matters are all matters that are coming before the Federal Parliament now and people are entitled to receive legal aid in those areas as well. As I have said, simply because one has some means should not mean that there is no assistance. One would be denied justice if that were the situation.
The States have done very well in this field. If one looks at the third party insurance schemes one sees that the compulsory insurance guarantees the payment of legal fees. The insurance premiums for workers’ compensation guarantee the payment of legal fees. Under the suitors’ fund in New South Wales appellants are always guaranteed their costs, irrespective of whether they win or lose. There is an insurance factor in that respect. But when one comes to examine the national Parliament one sees its dreadfully frugal, Scrooge approach. It says: ‘All you are going to get is an appropriation of money and that will have to meet the needs of legal aid’. We are going to give everything back to the States to do because they will have to pick up any excess expenditure. That is not good enough. The Government knows as well as I do that that is the position.
We could run an effective legal aid system. It would guarantee the permanency of the Australian Legal Aid Office. It would guarantee that assistance would be given to organisations such as the Fraser Island Defence Organisation and the others involved in environmental issues. It would guarantee that the community groups also would be funded. It would guarantee that the State commissions also would be funded. It would guarantee assistance to individuals where the profession itself established that they had a cause of action. It could all be done. It would not be going beyond any constitutional power so to do. It would not mean that we would have to go off and build our own buildings and put our own people in them. We could work in conjunction with the States. We should be able to do it. But we should guarantee the independence of the Commission, we should guarantee the permanence of the existing structure and, above all, we should guarantee the provision of sufficient funding for all the needs.
It is just not good enough for the AttorneyGeneral to bring in a Bill in a rushed fashion and to say: ‘I have done well. I am carrying on negotiations with the States. Western Australia already has legislation’. I might add that that is all it has. It does not know what is to happen to its staff, where they are to operate, for whom they are to work and what sort of funding is to be available. South Australia has a Bill, but it is a reluctant Bill. South Australia does not know whether it is to get sufficient funding. It is just not good enough for the Attorney-General to say: ‘That wretched fellow in New South Wales will not come to the party. He is trying to run his own business’. Maybe he can do it. Maybe he can do it on the basis that he will be better off doing it all himself. If he can it will be a great tribute to Frank Walker. But it will mean that he will be picking up a lot of the work that should be the responsibility of the Federal Parliament and the subject of Federal funding.
Sackville said as much in a number of ways. He said that legal aid covers a multitude of people and a multitude of circumstances. Just look at one, namely, children in the courts, the problems of youngsters appearing before the courts and their inability to get adequate legal aid. Let us give high praise to the magistrates and others who give assistance in that area. Let us talk about the duty solicitors who do excellent work. The Commonwealth does not make any contribution towards this part of the legal system.
– It is not a Federal responsibility.
-Oh, here we go again. It is not a Federal responsibility! Is the honourable member going to suggest that the payment of child endowment or meeting the needs of migrant children or Aboriginal children are not our responsibility? Are we to be so confined and restricted that we have to segregate the Australian people in terms of whether or not they are a Federal responsibility. That is what is wrong with this country. We run this country on the basis that one belongs either to 6 little countries or to the Commonwealth.
Sackville pointed out the areas of need. He spoke about the law of consumer credit. Look at the number of people who have been fleeced as a result of not being able to obtain legal assistance on the question of their liabilities. Look at the number of people who have been fleeced by developers who have been able to get away with their money in respect of land sales and subdivisions because they have not had adequate legal protection. Look at the Aboriginal problems and the number of pleas of guilty that have to be made by Aboriginal people without any legal representation. Look at the question of social security and the need for some effective legal representation in this area. Migrants in particular require legal assistance. Homeless people do not have refuge from the law. We need to look at the whole question of poverty and the criminal justice process.
Our courts are very busy. Our law enforcement agencies are very busy. We have to remember that the legal profession is always in the process of defending people against laws that we pass. Against them is the whole weight of a government that has no doubt from where it will get its funds. The poor unfortunate defendent or accused is anxious to guarantee that he will win otherwise he may go bankrupt. What sort of a wretched system is that? As the House knows, the talents of the profession are used and could be better utilised to prevent litigation. It is important that people be compelled to get legal advice before they sign away their rights on documents such as a contract for the sale of land, a hire purchase agreement or a consumer credit book purchase. As the time available to me has almost run out, on behalf of the Opposition, I move:
I hope that the Attorney takes notice of the amendment and withdraws the Bill which has been introduced so late in the session. I hope that we are presented with a better Bill.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
– It is a pleasure to be able to follow the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) in this debate and to commend his speech to careful reading by all honourable members because the points I am about to make will come through with the most certain clarity. The honourable member spoke about the question of need. He spoke about identifiable people who are denied legal aid in one form or another. He said that we have a responsibility to try to provide a scheme or system of aid that will meet those needs. Yet he fails to recognise the fundamental point that, whilst the Commonwealth has some powers, there are large areas in which the Commonwealth has no power. One ends up with a situation in which the Commonwealth with its limited powers is able to offer a scheme to some people and ignores others.
The whole purpose of this legislation and the scheme behind it as well as other legislation that this most reforming Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) has brought forward is to provide schemes that will meet the needs of the whole Australian community on a genuine needs basis. It is not fair to deny aid to some people in the community and to make available to other people a greater amount of assistance simply because they are the only ones whom the Commonwealth is able to assist. Yet, that has been the case. The policy of co-operation with the States and of development of a scheme to meet the whole needs of Australia- and ‘needs’ is the operative word- is I believe one of the most progressive reforms that we have undertaken in office. If there are minor problems in the way of proceeding to that path, let us work cooperatively to overcome them. Let us not ignore them.
It is a great disappointment to me to see moved on behalf of the Opposition an amendment which I can describe as no more than a ‘motherhood’ amendment because it says absolutely nothing at all. Like everything else, the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith defends legal aid, speaks favourably about it but does not look at the difficulties that arise.
The honourable member spoke about the problems that the States have in funding a cooperative legal aid system. He asked: ‘What about the problems the States have in putting money into this system?’ Yet he ignores the problems of the Commonwealth which as responsible parliamentarians we must acknowledge are as great as the needs of any State to protect the moneys that are raised from State or Commonwealth taxpayers. The Commonwealth and the States have individual responsibilities. It is not good enough for the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith to try to protect State interests in relation to funding and to say that the States really have no responsibility, or that they have limited responsibility, and that the Commonwealth has a blank cheque.
While I am speaking about a blank cheque, I might mention that the honourable member attempted to say that legal aid schemes in the Australian Capital Territory were short of funds because of some activity of the Commonwealth Government in responsibly watching funding. I heard him refer to a sum of $7,000 by which this year the Legal Aid Committee of the Australian Capital Territory was short and unable to pay. I refer the honourable member to the annual report of the operations of the Legal Aid Committee of the Australian Capital Territory for the period ending 30 June 1975 which was tabled in this House only a few days ago. In schedule B of page 2 of the report the following statement is made: ‘(2) (a) Unpaid accounts on hand for legal assistance- $7,126*. In other words, in 1975 the same amount of money that the honourable member has alleged to be outstanding today by way of unpaid accounts was outstanding when the Labor Government was in office. Therefore there is no validity in the points raised by the honourable member. This shows how specious his speech was in relation to these questions.
There is an urgent need for this legislation if we are to develop this co-operative scheme- and several States are ready and willing to go- to be able to enter into the new arrangements by 1 July. It is important that this Bill be in operation before the end of this sitting. It is important that we develop a scheme which maintains the benefits that have been achieved through the operations of the Australian Legal Aid Office. The Attorney made reference to this in his second reading speech. He commended the work carried out by salaried officers and said that the provision of legal aid through salaried officers ought to continue. He mentioned the gain that had been achieved through the shop front, duty lawyer and mobile legal service systems that this Government has introduced. It is intended that these advances be continued.
The fundamental aspect of this legislation is that it recognises the constitutional limitation on the functions that are available to the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has no express powers to be able to legislate for legal aid. The only powers that it has are incidental and relate to people such as Commonwealth public servants, immigrants, social service beneficiaries, students and servicemen, in respect of whom it can legislate. These people do not make up the bulk of people in our community. They make up a large number but not the bulk. The Commonwealth also has a legislative function in respect of the family law area, among others. The fact of the matter is that we can develop as has been shown by experience already, a first and second class legal aid system. Those who have the privilege of being a particular class of person, are eligible to go to the Australian Legal Aid Office. Others are not. They have to be despatched somewhere else. The problem is that we have a variety of schemes. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a schedule which will demonstrate this situation. I have shown it to the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith previously. It is a schedule of legal aid available in New South Wales.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
-That document demonstrates the great variety of legal aid which is available and the limitations imposed upon its various forms. There are 4 pages describing legal aid available from the Australian Legal Aid Office, in New South Wales Commissioner for Legal Aid Services operating under the Legal Assistance Act, the referral scheme and other schemes operated by the New South Wales Law Society. Like most taxpayers honourable members must wonder what I am taking about. If honourable members wanted to walk in and get legal advice which applied to a particular situtanon they would almost need to be lawyers to know to which organisation to go for legal aid. The diversity and different systems available through which the member of the public who needs legal aid presently is unable to find his way demonstrate the great problem.
Of course, when we go back through the history of the development of the Australian Legal Aid Office, we come to some very easy to understand points. The previous Government was anxious to develop a scheme for which it would get the credit. It was not a good scheme but it was a scheme which provided some sort of legal aid. The Government found that the scheme was restricted in those areas in which it could operate. I refer honourable members to a report by Mr Roman Tomasic who writes for the Law Foundation of New South Wales. He wrote an article on legal aid called ‘Australian Legal Aid: Policy Advisers and Governmental Initiatives’. He wrote it at the time the Australian Labor Party initiatives were proceeding and in relation to the reports which the Labor Government had initiated when it was in office such as the Sackville report about which the honourable member op- posite spoke. At page 45 of the report the author ad this to say:
It is remarkable that it was thought fit to establish any enquiry into legal aid at all, if such apparent bureaucratic fiat as the widespread growth of the ALAO was to be allowed to operate without the support of adequate preliminary research data.
The approach adopted was one which seemed to accept that the type and role of new institutions was readily apparent to all. Thus, Senator Murphy, when opening the Blacktown office of the ALAO confidently asserted that: ‘We all know that there are substantial areas of unmet need on the part of ordinary people for access to the law and the legal process.’
I think the author demonstrates by his comments that the reports which were initiated and which dealt with need were really brought in to close the stable door after the horse had bolted. We had already established an Australian Legal Aid Office and the Labor Party was seeking afterwards to justify the needs basis. I shall cover one other aspect in relation to this legislation. There has been some criticism of the Bill by the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations. Of course, CAGEO in its resolutions of which honourable members were advised on 2 1 March, indicated that it would have no truck with this item of legislation. The motion passed at the CAGEO Federal Executive stated:
Expresses its total opposition to any scheme, financed from Commonwealth funds, for the establishment of Legal Aid Services which would involve the staffing of any Legal Aid body or bodies in any capacity other than as officers or employees under the Commonwealth Public Service Act.
That was the view adopted then. If honourable members read the material made available by one of the groups constituted within that peak council, namely, the Australian Government Lawyers Association they will see that those people find in this legislation- I think quite unfairly- a design to dismantle the Australian Legal Aid Office as part of our federalism policy. The Association goes on to castigate this legislation for that reason. When looking at the objections raised by people in the Commonwealth Public Service who are concerned about this legislation- I believe the major critics of it- one can only come to the conclusion that they are being very unreasonable in the views which they are putting. In part IV of the legislation, from clauses 20 onwards, there are a large number of provisions which have been designed to protect the interests of existing employees. If one goes through those clauses one finds that the existing employees of the Australian Legal Aid Office who will be transferred to State commissions will have their rights protected.
In clause 21 (2) (a) salary is protected and in clause 21 (2) (b) provision is made in relation to leave of absence for recreation and on account of sickness. In paragraph (c) long service leave is mentioned and paragraph (d) deals with superannuation. In clause 23(1) the right of re-entry by way of transfer or promotion is covered and a subsequent clause deals with reappointment to the Commonwealth if the employee is dismissed by a State commission. Yet there are arguments based upon loss of career opportunities. The only basis upon which I could see that argument advanced is in relation to the large number of Commonwealth employees who are legally qualified. There are some 600 in number. Of that total 150 will be transferred in various proportions to State commissions. Unless some agreement is reached by the Commonwealth which protects their rights, those people who are transferred to State commissions will have a right to apply not for 600 positions but for only 450 positions. They can seek these new positions by way of transfer or promotion. While that is some diminution of the right of transfer or promotion- I believe there is some loss of an existing right- it is a very minor loss when we look at the number of opportunities which remain. Of the 600 positions some 150 are lost. If we take the position further we find that if a person is in New South Wales or Victoria where the larger proportion of the Australian Legal Aid Office staff already work, that proportion of loss of opportunity will be even smaller. The honourable member for KingsfordSmith spoke about substantial advances achieved in relation to needy people requiring legal aid, but in my analysis there are large numbers ineligible under the existing framework. The honourable member for KingsfordSmith established the need and I believe I have established the inadequacy of the existing framework. In relation to those needs which will be met by this legislation, I believe the loss of career opportunity is very small price in comparison. In fact, I am very disappointed that those people who hold themselves out to be salaried officers of the Commonwealth, who meet the needs of needy people, will put themselves so much before people who are in genuine need and who are not able to avail themselves of the service provided now.
-In rising to support the Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission Bill I firstly commend the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Ellicott) for the manner in which the Bill has been presented following discussions and negotiations with the Law and Government Committee. The matter has been under careful consideration for a period of over 12 months. The only matter which I feel has caused some concern in the community is that the actual legislation has been available for inspection for only a comparatively short time. Legislation under pressure, particularly technical legislation, requires careful consideration. Perhaps it would have been better if a little more time had been available but due to the sittings of the House this is not possible. Nevertheless, the legislation has my total support. I say from the outset that the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen), in my respectful submission, gave a very negative and disappearing performance in his speech on this Bill. It seemed to me, with respect, to be a disparaging speech, particularly in regard to the efforts of the profession. The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith can make a good speech. It is a very great pity that on this occasion he did not take the opportunity to show a more dazzling form instead of being so negative, disappointing and disparaging.
I come from a State which I believe has the proudest record in legal aid in Australia. Possibly, its record is equalled only by the State of South Australia from which “you come, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was delighted to note that the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith saw fit to quote certain extracts from the excellent paper by Professor Ronald Sackville in the Law and Poverty Series of the Australian Government Commission of Inquiry into Poverty. I shall quote very briefly from some parts of the paper dealing with legal aid in Australia. Reference was made to the Tasmanian scheme. Professor Sackville was kind enough to note the similarities between the scheme we had and the scheme which operated in South Australia. In his report presented in 1975, Professor Sackville said:
The history of the legal aid scheme run by the Tasmanian Law Society resembles that of the system in South Australia: both have developed from schemes initiated by the profession as a public service and operating at low rate of return to practitioners.
Those are important words. I repeat that both schemes, that in Tasmania and the one in South Australia, developed from schemes initiated by the profession as a public service and operated at low rate of return to practitioners. The report goes on to state:
The Legal Assistance Act 1 954 made provision for the operation of an ‘approved scheme’ run by a law society incorporated under the Tasmanian Law Societies Act 1887 and approved by the Attorney-General, this legislation, which is virtually identical to that now in force, provided for the remission of fees payable to the State by assisted persons, but the finance devoted to the scheme was limited to grants made by the Tasmanian Parliament, and the dividends paid to solicitors were low. Despite this, the ‘public service’ history of the scheme is still apparent: legal aid work is distributed relatively evenly among all practitioners, and participation in the scheme is generally regarded as a professional duty.
In the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s in Tasmania it was not uncommon for legal practitioners to take legal work for no fee at all. So it can be seen that the origins of the legal aid scheme in our State were on the basis of public service and not fee or reward. In 1 954, the scheme provided dividends as low as 30 per cent of the normal fee.
I indicate that to honourable members at a time when we hear complaints about the level of legal aid availability in Australia today. In some cases the fees are based on the fee scales operating in the Australian Capital Territory. When Aboriginal legal aid first came into effect and applied in Tasmania and I was briefed by the Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, I found that the fee payable to me in Tasmania was based on the Canberra fee scale which was higher than I would ever have charged in a fit. Yet, had I done that work under the State legal aid scheme, it would have been done for perhaps 50 per cent or 55 per cent of the fee payable. I say that in the overall context there is some validity in what the honourable .member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock) said, that is, that in some areas the money spent has not gone to the greatest area of need and that in some ways regrettably legal aid has reached a situation of actually causing increases in fees in States where previously the fees were on a reasonable level. The higher fees charged in the more affluent States forced up the fee rates in other States. That certainly would not have been the wish of any Attorney-General, be he a Labor Party or Liberal Party AttorneyGeneral.
I see this Bill as effecting 2 main purposes. Firstly, it establishes a Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission which will review the operation of the States’ commissions. Secondly, and fundamentally, it will preserve the rights of those presently employed in the Australian Legal Aid Office operation throughout Australia who transfer to State or Territory commissions and who may at some future time wish to transfer back into the Commonwealth Public Service. I will deal with the first proposition, namely, the formation of the Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission. I believe it is completely compatible with our federalism policy that where a series of State commissions is being established there should be a Commonwealth Commission to overview the operation of the States’ commissions. The amendment of the shadow Attorney-General, the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith, and the remarks he made in his speech seemed again to be echoing the claim that in some way the Commonwealth is opting out of its responsibilities, that in some way” the Treasury was applying the big nulla nulla and that this Attorney-General and presumably others who follow him would not be able to stand up to the Treasury and secure a proper appropriation of fees for legal aid.
– That is right.
-The honourable member is completely wrong. I put it to him- it is a matter of public record for those who take the trouble to check it out-that in this financial year 1976-77 the present Attorney-General was able to squeeze out of Treasury a sum of $ 17.9m, which was approximately $5m more than the Treasury was prepared to give him in the first place. If I embarrass the Attorney-General, I regret that. But the fact is that he single handed batted up Treasury from an allocation of$12m to $17m.
– Not enough.
-The honourable member says ‘Not enough’. Can he not give a man praise when he brought a 43 per cent increase in expenditure for legal aid over what the Whitlam Labor Government was able to find in its 1975-76 Budget. I think that a 43 per cent increase in expenditure in one year is not a bad effort. For the honourable member to suggest that the Attorney-General was in any way cowed or intimidated by Treasury is bordering on the libellous.
Does the honourable member for KingsfordSmith seriously think that we will establish a Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission and then opt out of the field? People have been running round the country saying, as the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith has been saying, that the Commonwealth is opting out. They have done the Attorney-General and this Government a grave injustice. I wonder whether the AttorneyGeneral can give us figures showing how much the Commonwealth has put into the scheme this year and how much all the States have put in this year. They we will see who is pulling their weight. Then we will see who is carrying the load. It is completely and absolutely unjust for the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith and his puppet Attorney-General in New South Wales to suggest that we are opting out of the scheme.
In the remaining time available, I wish to mention the rights of those people at present employed in the Australian Legal Aid Office and what will happen to them. We have been fortunate in Tasmania to have had fine directors of legal aid and fine staff in the Australian Legal Aid Office. The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith starts to grin. Let me take him to task on one thing:
– You are a beneficiary.
-On the contrary. The honourable member knows very well that I cannot be. I would forfeit my seat.
– Oh, come on.
-The honourable member knows very little about the Constitution. He has not even read it.
– You will not hold your seat for very long.
-The honourable member can live in hope as I live in hope. We will see who was right when the election is held. However, he is interrupting the speech I am trying to finish in order to give the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) an opportunity to enter the fray. The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith did the profession a very grave disservice when he said that if he went into a private solicitor’s office he could not receive the same legal aid service as he would receive at the shop front of the Legal Aid Office. That might be true in the rest of Australia but it is not true in Tasmania. I do not believe it would be true in other States either. I do not think that the honourable member is entitled to make that claim. There are legal practitioners right around this country who, unlike some of the rip off merchants in Sydney and other big cities, are the people -
-Yes, the honourable member knows all about them. They are prepared to give public service and are prepared to give a better service to those in most need. I want to say here and now that I believe the legal practitioner has the greatest professional duty.
The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith made an unfortunate and disparaging slur on the private profession which has given many hours of service and service worth many millions of dollars to the people of Australia, particularly those in need. I would be less than frank if I sat down without congratulating the AttorneyGeneral on one matter of basic principle which I have held since 1974 to be fundamental. It is a principle for which I have badgered and battled, which the Law in Government Committee put to the Attorney-General and which he accepted in principle. I refer to the basic right for legal aid to be available to the children of Australia. I believe that the children of Australia have been the most legally oppressed minority in this country. To have the Attorney-General of this Government acknowledging that those people who in the past have not been given legal aid as of right represents the acceptance of a principle and I believe that this Attorney-General will be remembered and admired for many years to come. I support the Bill.
– Let me say at the outset that there has never been any suggestion from this side of the House that the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) would be involved in an affair similar to the disgraceful Greenwood affair in Queensland. He does know about the Constitution and he knows about taking briefs from the Crown. In addition, when he said that things were so rosy in the garden in Tasmania, I thought it might almost be that an apple a day kept the lawyers at bay. He then went on to acknowledge that at least the Australian Legal Aid Office in that State had fulfilled a very useful function indeed.
I might as well start off in this debate by reverting to the speech of the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) in the debate on the Legal Aid Bill 1975. The honourable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr Lionel Bowen) was characteristically kind to the Attorney-General when he drew upon some of the elements in that speech which attracted his support, elements which he saw as being absent from the piece of legislation before the House at the moment. The Attorney-General started out exhibiting his great interest in legal aid by pointing to some sinister conspiracy being evidenced by the fact that all Australian Legal Aid Offices established to that date had been established in Labor electorates. If that so offended the Attorney-General, he is now to blame, because since he has been Attorney-General no more offices have been established. If he has his way, no more will be established. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) when he was Leader of the Opposition in August 1975 made a firm commitment on behalf of the Liberal Party and the National Country Party. He said that when they got into government, and he knew they were coming in soon, they would abolish the Australian Legal Aid Office. They have done that. That is what is effected in this piece of legislation. What do we see erected in its place? This
Bill, which runs to about 2 1 pages, has one page which deals with the functions of the proposed new Legal Aid Commission. What are those functions? Are they to provide a legal service? No. That is why the Opposition is opposing this Bill and that is why I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith. The Government is doing away with an existing legal aid service and establishing nothing in its place.
Listening to the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock), with his constant talk of eligibility, reminded me of the mealy mouthed language which flows so often from counter clerks in social security offices, who are only keen to administer the rules. We saw this same mad obsession with so-called ‘Federal persons’ in the offering of the Attorney-General last time, and that was over 2 years ago. At that time the Attorney-General was concerned to limit the funds provided by this Parliament for legal aid to so-called ‘Federal persons’. He went even further and limited it to actions arising under Acts passed by this Parliament. No amount of talk about the funds appropriated by this Parliament and the funds appropriated by State Parliaments is to the point. Before we had the Australian Legal Aid Office there had never been in Australia a commitment to provide a national legal service, to provide legal aid on any coordinated basis right around Australia, to make Australians equal before the law. This Legal Aid Commission legislation is designed precisely to abrogate that responsibility. The AttorneyGeneral knows that in pursuing the so-called federalism policies of the Government he might eventually be able to limit the real amounts of money that are made available by this Parliament for legal aid. Not only does he want to limit the amounts of money in dollar terms but he also wants to limit the effectiveness of this aid.
– You are talking through your hat. You don ‘t know what you are talking about.
-Harken to the idiot son of the Establishment. The honourable member for Parramatta was quite unable to understand what this legislation does. It does not provide that citizens can go ino a one-stop legal aid centre, there to obtain legal advice and legal assistance on all questions. The Legal Aid Commission is empowered to make recommendations to the Attorney-General on the provision of legal assistance in Commonwealth matters, and it is those words ‘in Commonwealth matters’ to which we take great exception. They will mean that although now a person may not go to an Australian Legal Aid Office and be turned away because he is not an eligible person, because he is not a migrant or a pensioner or a student, it may be that he will be turned away because he is not applying in relation to proceedings under a Federal law. The Attorney-General, wrapped up in legalism, will therefore say. ‘Get out of here and go to a State office. ‘ Of course we on this side think it would be desirable to go to one shop to get all these services, but that will not happen because the Attorney-General knows that this legislation provides for him to give directives in relation to the provision of legal advice in Commonwealth matters. A person could go in and find that in relation to the matter about which he is concerned a completely different standard applies as to whether assistance will be offered. That standard can vary on several bases. It can vary according to the means of the person. That is, we could have separate means tests according to whether someone is categorised as a Federal person or not or whether his clash with the law arises under Federal laws or not. We could also have the directives given in relation to classes of matters.
One of the things that concerns the Opposition in this matter is that we ought to have equality before the law for all Australians. If someone is affected by a disturbance in his environmental amenity, for instance, because a pipeline is being built somewhere, he should not be concerned about whether it is a pipeline constructed by a gas corporation chartered by the State or a pipeline chartered by this Parliament. He ought to be able to get advice and assistance on the same basis. But this legislation will allow the Attorney-General to give directives which will mean that State commissions may have to apply different standards to the same people in relation to what are substantially the same kinds of proceedings. That is the important thing.
The honourable member for Parramatta cried crocodile tears about the fact that the Australian Legal Aid Offices were not able to provide a service to everybody. We too deplore that fact, and if the Government had come here today with a piece of legislation which remedied that defect we would be supporting it. But it has not. It has perpetuated the defect and has gone even further because of this mad obsession with Federal persons and with the so-called limitation of Federal power. In the debate in October 1975 the Attorney-General sought to postpone any consideration of legal aid on the basis that a High Court challenge had been mounted. The Attorney-General knows very well that that challenge was mounted because of the fiat of a Tory
Attorney-General in Victoria. It was being sustained by the proxies of the Opposition at that time in the Parliament, and for that purpose he was seeking to postpone the granting of legal assistance to Australian citizens. What a shabby piece of argument that was. The AttorneyGeneral, who was then just the honourable member for Wentworth, went on to say that of course a Federal Parliament which passes laws creating rights, duties and obligations, has a real consideration in relation to those citizens who are enforcing those rights. What a curious limitation. What a narrow view about the way in which we ought to provide funds from this Parliament. Before 1973 no attempt was made to provide fair legal aid services throughout Australia.
I want to talk about the limited objectives of the Attorney-General and the extent to which they are effected in this piece of legislation. If one looks at it, all it does in relation to the provision of legal aid services is establish a Federal Commission which can make recommendations for grants of money to State commissions. It does not go beyond that, and to that extent I believe that the second reading speech of the AttorneyGeneral thoroughly misrepresents the whole scheme of legal aid in Australia, especially the stage it has reached in terms of his agreement with the States. The Attorney-General said that there will be formal agreements between the Federal Government and the State governments in relation to the provision of legal aid. Why are the elements of those agreements not included in this legislation? When the Labor Government introduced the Medibank legislation, when it decided to provide free hospital services throughout Australia, it introduced into the Health Insurance Act a schedule of heads of agreement which had to be included by the Government in the agreements it concluded with the States. On this occasion, if the Attorney-General and the Government were genuine in suggesting to us the elements that they want to see included in these agreements, they would include them here in this Bill as a schedule so that the Parliament could pass judgment upon whether all the elements which ought to be included in these kinds of arrangements had been addressed. But we do not have that at all. What we have is a piece of legislation establishing a commission which can fund State legal aid commissions. It cannot even make recommendations in relation to the provision of financial assistance to any other legal aid bodies, notwithstanding its power to make reports on such services.
We must remember the prospective element which the Government insists it will include because at every stage of this speech, the AttorneyGeneral is dealing with agreements that have yet to be concluded. Even m respect of Western Australia and South Australia he concedes that there are amendments thought to be desirable by the Government which he wishes to put to those States. We are buying a pig in a poke. The agreements have not been made with the States and there is no agreed way of providing legal aid services throughout Australia at the moment. The Attorney-General would do very well to own up to that fact.
One of the basic elements of the provision of legal aid introduced through the Australian Legal Aid Office in 1973 was that salaried lawyers had a role to play in the provision of that aid. On the part of the Government that was a substantial new commitment which has never been undertaken in several States. All we have now is the Attorney-General’s undertaking that he will conclude satisfactory arrangements with the several States. There is nothing whatever in this Bill which provides for that. In the Health Insurance Bill the Parliament laid down the rules by which the Government had to abide in concluding agreements with the States. In this Bill we do not do that, and when the AttorneyGeneral now assures us that he is impressed with the necessity for the provisions of legal aid through salaried officers I wonder how sincere he is. I believe his more genuine feelings might have outed in his speech in October 1975 when he sought to stigmatise salaried officers as bureaucrats. He talked about bureacuratising the provision of legal aid. That is an emotive word. It represents that Public Service bashing mentality which is so shallow.
At that time the Attorney-General tried to raise a couple of points about the provision of legal aid through salaried officers that caused him concern. He said that he was concerned about the independence of the profession. However, there are no guarantees in this legislation about the independence of the profession or about the way in which State commissions have to be organised. There is nothing whatever about those matters in this Bill. The record of State governments in relation to authority, I believe, has been extremely bad. Imagine a Queensland government agreeing to establish a genuinely independent legal aid commission whose officers would go out fearlessly and, where necessary, on behalf of their clients challenge the actions of that government. I wonder whether we will ever see anything of that sort established under agreements which the Attorney-General tells us he proposes to conclude but which are not referred to in this legislation.
The Attorney-General finally deals with a subject that also is of concern to the employees of the Department for which he is responsible, and that is their career prospects. It may be easy for the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock) to talk about the ‘small loss of career opportunity’. Perhaps the distribution commissioners will ensure that he has his career opportunities kept open to him; I do not know. But I think that his was a very cavalier way in which to talk about the career prospects of any Federal civil servant. The undertakings of the Attorney-General in this regard are not given effect to in this legislation. All the legislation gives him authority to do is to preserve officers’ rights declarations. In relation to career prospects the Attorney-General merely says that he will try to conclude arrangements with the States on these questions. Professor Sackville had something to say about career services on page 38 of his report on law and poverty in Australia. He said:
A further threat to independence is created if service in a salaried legal aid office is a stepping-stone to promotion in other departments of government. Steps must be taken to guard against such a possibility, which would create grave doubts about the ability of the salaried service to resist the intrusions of government into the lives of the poor.
That was the feeling of Professor Sackville. It may well be that certain salaried lawyers in the Australian Legal Aid Office will want to keep open the prospect of going to other branches of the Attorney-General’s Department or to other legally oriented jobs in the Australian Public Service, but I believe that the overwhelming concern of most of these people is their ability to maintain an effective nation-wide legal aid service. We can identify different categories of matters that are always dealt with by legal aid officers. Family law is clearly one. People develop expertise in family law.
There is the suggestion that a person who might by reason of experience or special expertise have qualified for promotion, might be denied it because in the earlier part of his career he was located in a small State such as Tasmania or Western Australia where a senior position was not available, where the abilities of this person to continue to provide legal aid for his clients were not able to grow as they ought to grow. Other examples fall to mind. Clearly migrants are people who are of special concern to the Federal Government and who for obvious reasons are unfamiliar and ill at ease in going into a solicitor’s office. Very few solicitors are from the same kind of background. Very few solicitors speak their language. Special skills developed in relation to languages and knowledge of cultural backgrounds ought to be freely translatable. If a person has had experience in working in, say, Greek or Italian communities in Melbourne why should not that person go to assist a national legal aid service in Sydney or Brisbane or one of the other big cities where a similar client group can be identified? The same kinds of considerations arise in relation to pensioners and other social security matters. At the moment, of course, there are no rights possessed by anybody but the hope is that this Parliament eventually will create rights for social security beneficiaries and if that does happen the enforcement of those rights will become a special area of law.
-Do you refer to rights of appeal?
-They will be.
-But they do not exist at the moment.
-You did not create them.
-We created social security appeals tribunals but this Government has done nothing except take technical points on that also. Special client groups can be identified throughout Australia and the ability of lawyers in a national service to work with them and for them ought to be enhanced. That will not be possible under this Bill. It is very unlikely that it will be possible under the arrangements which the Attorney-General tells us he is going to try to conclude. We will wait and see. I tend to doubt it.
When one goes beyond the ability of these people simply to service clients there is another good reason for establishing a national service, and that is the pooling of experience that would come with these people. The provision of legal aid goes beyond dealing with the individual cases of clients. It also gives a window on to an area of law which is not served by the large influential law firms in the country, which is not seen to any great extent by the eminent counsel in the country. To the extent that it could bring that expertise to bear it could create pressure for reform in those areas. Why should we go back to this crazy system of insisting that if some reforms are necessary in the area of bail law for indigent people and in the area of tenant law for poor people we ought to go on a one-off basis looking at the question differently in each of the 6 States? What absolute nonsense. For all these reasons the Opposition will be opposing this Bill. The prospect of persons going into a one-stop legal centre is attractive, but when they get there they will find that according to who they are and what their concern is they will be dealt with under different rules. That is a fundamental flaw in this legislation.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I am pleased to associate myself and my Party and particularly the State of Queensland after the comments made by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam), with this legislation. In the main this Bill establishes 2 denned areas. One function of the Australian Legal Aid Office is to operate in conjunction with the States and Territories to establish the Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission. The Bill also provides for the preservation of the rights of staff of the Australian Legal Aid Office to transfer to State and Territory commissions. This Bill, when read in conjunction with the second reading speech of the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott), clearly protects the rights of existing officers. This was an area of great concern to officers of the ALAO. The Attorney-General has explained this and so has the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock). One should not try to misinterpret what has been said. The AttorneyGeneral has clearly stated that in no way will the services be curtailed or will the officers be disadvantaged.
Different State ministers have voiced some concern. Surely they can all see that this transfer is being carried out in a spirit of co-operation. There are people in our community who claim that private practice can service all of Australia. During the course of my address I hope to prove that the ALAO salaried service solicitors complement the private practitioners. I can prove beyond any doubt that if we were to abandon the Australian Legal Aid Office, especially the mobile lawyer service, a great number of people would be be seriously disadvantaged.
Let us look at what has been achieved since the Australian Legal Aid Office was first introduced. I pay due credit to the then AttorneyGeneral for implementing this scheme but at the same time I must criticise the siting of some of the offices. For example in Queensland why is one office sited at Ipswich and none at Toowoomba? When we study where these offices were opened why do we find that they were sited in what were strongly held Labor seats, with the exception of the offices at Alice Springs and
Tamworth? The balance were in seats that the Australian Labor Party reasonably expected to control. One could argue that the now Opposition was playing politics with the Australian Legal Aid Office and that these offices were opened for purely political reasons.
When we look at the funding of the Australian Legal Aid Office we find that on 25 July 1973 the then Attorney-General, then Senator Murphy, announced the establishment of the Australian Legal Aid Office, which was to incorporate the existing Commonwealth Legal Service Bureau. The Government of the day appropriated $2m to the States on a per capita basis to supplement their existing legal aid schemes. In 1974-75 the Australian Legal Aid Office expended $4.08m which included $0.68m for payment of referrals to the private legal profession and a further $1.1 7m to existing legal aid schemes in the States. In 1 975-76 the Legal Aid Office expended $ 11.53m including $6.37m for payments for referrals and an additional $lm for grants to existing schemes. Let us now look at what this Government allocated for the year 1976-77. Our allocation amounts to $ 17.95m, an increase of $6.42m. And this is from a government which honourable members opposite claim is in fact dismantling the Australian Legal Aid Office. This year the Australian Legal Aid Office will make payments of some $9.55m to private legal practitioners as against $6.37m in 1975-76.
I should now like to pay particular attention to an office I know only so well; that is the office situated in Rockhampton, central Queensland. I ask the Attorney-General to bring this especially to the attention of the Queensland Minister when he is consulting with that Minister about setting up the Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission within Queensland. This office is run by Mr Roy Roebuck who is certainly a credit to the Public Service. I have much pleasure in placing the achievements of this gentleman and this particular office on record. Mr Roebuck has always believed that it is his role to serve. So he commenced a service that has made his name a household word in the central west and in most of central Queensland. The service is known as the ‘Mobile Lawyer Service’. There are other mobile lawyer services operating in Australia. In the Northern Territory one is operated from Darwin to Gove, Darwin to Katherine and Alice Springs to Tennant Creek. In Tasmania one is operated from Burnie to Queenstown. In New South Wales a small one operates out of Lismore and an additional one operates from Sydney to Orange. During the course of this year both Lismore and Orange will have full-time officers sited in those towns and will in fact become regional offices. Once again, so much for our Government dismantling the Legal Aid Office!
I should like to return to the service that operates in central Queensland. The mobile lawyer service commenced in August 1975 when a visit was paid to Longreach and Winton. These 2 towns were selected because of their pure isolation. Longreach is some 830 kilometres from Rockhampton and Winton is a further 192 kilometres north-west from Longreach. The only other opportunities people of this region had to make contact with a member of the legal profession were visits by representatives of a Brisbane firm who visited approximately once a month. To give the House a better appreciation of the value of the central Queensland legal aid office I point out that there are only 3 solicitors practising between Rockhampton and the Northern Territory border and in the north-west there are only an additional two, and they both practise at Charters Towers. So, if we look at inland Queensland excluding Mount Isa, we find that we have a grand total of 5 solicitors. So honourable members can well imagine the value we place on the mobile lawyer service.
The mobile lawyer service visits a great number of cities, the major ones being: Maryborough, Bundaberg, Gladstone, Blackwater, Emerald, Alpha, Barcaldine, Winton, Longreach, Clermont and Biloela. The lawyers concerned spend approximately VA weeks a month travelling around and visiting these centres. In 1975-76 the 4 lawyers attached to the Legal Aid Office at Townsville interviewed some 3787 people and referred 525 for a referral expenditure of $156,724. The 3 lawyers at Ipswich personally interviewed 4195 people and referred 904 cases for a referral expenditure of $225,156. The staff at Mackay interviewed 1825 people and referred 285 for an expenditure of 88,834. At Rockhampton, where in the main we had only one practising lawyer, he interviewed 2907 people and referred 863 for an expenditure of $190,271. This clearly indicates how busy the office is and how valuable the mobile lawyer service is throughout the region of central Queensland. If we update our thinking and look at Maryborough, which is covered by Rockhampton, we find that in January of this year- operating only for half days- the mobile lawyer service interviewed some 34 people and had to turn ten away. On 2 1 and 22 February, once again operating only for half days, 37 people were interviewed and 6 people had to be turned away.
I must admit that I am amazed to hear talk of how other offices are to be upgraded, particularly at Alice Springs in the Northern Territory for example. The officers handled 780 personal interviews and referred 219 cases for an expenditure of $72,000. It is reported now that this office will be upgraded. This is certainly upsetting a great number of people in the regional offices. One could go on and cite many more anomalies that exist. I trust I have proven to the House the value of services such as the mobile lawyer service. In many regions the same type of service could be commenced- for example, in Townsville. There could be a service between Townsville and Mount Isa, a distance of 1000 kilometres where there are only 2 practising solicitors. They practice in partnership at Charters Towers which is about 120 kilometres from Townsville. The service could also be extended in the Mackay region so as to include the fast developing townships that exist on the new coalfields. This is an area which is completely unserviced at the moment. If persons anywhere in the area require the advice of a legal practitioner they are forced to travel to Rockhampton or Mackay.
Whilst not trying to be over critical of the officers employed by the Australian Legal Aid Office, I stress that if more people were motivated by the fact that they are there to serve the people of the region and build up a relationship within the community they could achieve far more than some officers appear to be achieving right now. I am sure that the Legal Aid Office could be further expanded without costing the taxpayers of Australia a great deal more in remuneration etc if more officers could be encouraged to try to achieve the high standard now being set by the Rockhampton office. That is what this Bill is all about.
I feel that I could be neglecting my duty if I did not also pay a very special tribute to Mr Neil Whaite who is now assiting Mr Roy Roebuck in manning and running the central Queensland office. I further state, in all sincerity, that what appeared to be a political move in the first instance is now growing and flourishing under the direct guidance of the Attorney-General who has encouraged discussion within regions and has sought the advice of officers of the ALAO. I feel that the Attorney should pay particular attention to the Ipswich-Toowoomba area in the southern regions of Queensland for example. I am pleased to support the Bill before the House. I condemn totally the moves made by the Opposition this afternoon to denigrate the Office of the Attorney-General, and also the officers of the
Australian Legal Aid Office. Members of the Opposition have missed some very fine points.
Original question put:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The House divided. (The Deputy Speaker-Mr P. E. Lucock)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Sitting suspended from 6.5 to 8 p.m. - In Committee
Clauses 1 to 4- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
In sub-clause ( 1), at the end of paragraph (c) add ‘one of whom shall be engaged full-time in the provision of legal aid services’.
The Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) can see from that amendment that the Opposition supports the establishment of a commission which, according to the Bill, will be constituted of a chairman, a deputy chairman and 2 commissioners nominated by the Attorney-General. We are suggesting that one of those 2 commissioners shall be engaged full-time in the provision of legal aid services. I think that the Attorney-General may well agree that when we are talking about the Commission at this stage we are not saying that it will be dominated by lawyers. In fact, from my own point of view, I do not think that the lawyers want to have a commission dominated by members of their profession. I think that they would find it much more helpful to themselves if they were merely to have representations on the Commission.
Consumers, if we look at the situation in the context of that word, recognise the value of the legal profession. There can be no suggestion that the profession itself has ever been a rip-off society, as was suggested in the second reading debate. I find that quite wrong and quite offensive because the legal profession virtually would have the greatest number of bad debts of any profession in Australia and those bad debts will never be paid. But I think that Professor Sackville ‘s report had value in that it suggested that public opinion would expect a Commission of this type to be representative of a community group and all groups interested in legal aid. He also suggested that non-lawyers should constitute at least one-quarter of the membership of the Commission. He suggested further that people who were users of legal aid services or who were experienced in legal aid services should be on the Commission.
We would like to strengthen the clause by saying that when people are nominated by the Attorney-General, they should be people who are engaged full-time in the provision of legal aid services. So on that Commission there would be people readily aware of all the problems associated with the provision of legal aid services. That in no way cuts down the concept of a commission; it merely gives what I would call public support in that it would clearly recognise that people on the Commission comprise not only members of the profession, but also people interested in social welfare, social services and other areas. The Commission would also have on it somebody really involved in the provision of legal aid services. I need say no more.
– We are talking about clause 5 which deals with the constitution of the Commission. I think that the Opposition has moved an important amendment. It talks about the persons who ought to be on the Commission. At the moment it is perfectly clear that the Attorney-General contemplates that every one of the commissioners, excluding perhaps the commissioner appointed by the Australian Council of Social Service, should be a lawyer. There is no requirement in this clause that any commissioner appointed should have any connection with legal aid services either as a practitioner in that field, or as a representative of a client group. We on the Opposition side feel that that is a very grave deficiency.
A couple of other points arise in relation to clause S. The amendment which the Opposition proposes relates only to paragraph (c) of subclause ( 1 ) of clause 5 which relates to the 2 commissioners nominated by the Attorney-General. We suggest that at least one of these commissioners ought to be engaged full-time in the provision of legal aid services. I think that in relation to paragraph (d) one is also entitled to have reservations. Whilst it is perfectly clear that the wording of the paragraph would permit of commissioners who are not resident in States, it is very clear from the second reading speech of the Attorney-General that he contemplates that they should be commissioners from the States. He spoke of 2 members nominated under that paragraph being drawn from ‘each State’. In fact the whole scheme of legal aid which the AttorneyGeneral is laying before us now relates in addition to 2 Territories for which this Parliament at the moment has responsibility which it cannot escape. It seems to me that there could be commissioners from those jurisdictions. The are very likely to have a more complete experience of legal aid which they ought to be able to place before the Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission than are commissioners merely from States, especially those who will be suggested by State Attorneys-General.
I therefore look to the Attorney-General’s response to the amendment moved by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bo wen) and in particular his response to the suggestion of the Opposition that there has been no consideration in the constitution of the Commission of the interests of client groups, particularly as recommended by the Sackville report. In addition, I seek his response that in relation to the constitution of the Commission and those nominations from the State AttorneysGeneral, he will have regard to persons resident in the Territories.
– The Government does not accept this amendment. But may I say that the fact that the Government does not accept this amendment does not necessarily mean that the matter will be rejected. A number of amendments and submissions have been made in relation to this Bill. They will be considered along with this proposal, but at this stage the Government does not accept this amendment. If the amendments are ultimately considered desirable to go into the legislation assuming this Bill goes through both Houses, those amendments will be brought forward in the next session.
I think it is worthy of note that in the Legal Aid Bill that was brought forward by the Labor Government in 1975- this is apposite to the amendment and to the attack of the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) on the non-independent character of this Commission-there was established a board of management. It was proposed that that board of management would control the delivery of legal aid services throughout the Commonwealth. In other words, that board was going to control the legal aid offices. What did that board consist of? It consisted of a chairman, a director and one other member. Not only that, it was to be subject in its policy to the control of the executive. So here we have an indication of what a Labor government would do it if were going to control legal aid. It was going to control legal aid through a board which consisted solely of lawyers, a board that was to be controlled in effect by the Attorney-General of the day. That Labor Government was not alone in its attitude in relation to this matter because such thoughts are harboured at this time by the Attorney-General of New South Wales, as is evident from his views as to how a legal aid commission should be run. Such a proposition is not one that the Commonwealth Attorney-General accepts because a basic notion is that a legal aid commission ought to be independent; it ought to stand apart from government.
I agree with the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) that a citizen who comes along with a claim against the Government ought to be entitled to independent legal advice through either the salaried service or, if it be an appropriate case, committal to the private profession. But let there be no nonsense about this question of independence insofar as the Opposition is concerned because it had its chance in 1975 and the production was a miserable one from the point of view of having an independent commission. That was part of the thrust of the speech that I made on 9 October 1975 and that is one reason why the bill was attacked. We attack it now on the same basis.
Our commitment to legal aid has been clear and decisive. Since we came to government, funds of a considerable magnitude have been expended on legal aid. Any consideration of the figures reveals that there is no reason for this Government to have anything but pride in relation to the matter. If one looks at the figures one will find that the expenditure in 1973-74 was $2.5m, that in 1974-75 it was $5.6m and that in 1975-76 it was $ 12.5m. The estimated expenditure this financial year is $ 17.97m. That is the expenditure on legal aid apart from the Aboriginal Legal Service. If one throws in the amount of $3.7m for legal aid for the Aboriginal Legal Service in the current financial year, one comes to an amount of approximately $2 1.677m as the estimated expenditure this year. The expenditure of $ 17.97m on what might be called the Australian Legal Aid Office area represents a 43 per cent increase over the expenditure the previous year, which was approximately $ 12.5m. That $ 12.5m was basically fixed in the Hayden Budget of August 1 975. So it is a lot of nonsense to talk about this Government not being committed to legal aid and not being prepared to provide funds in relation to it.
It has been suggested that there has been some reduction in the amount of legal aid provided. Let me give some figures in this respect. During the year ended 30 June 1976, the Australian Legal Aid Office committed 45 700 matters. Up to the end of April of this year from 1 July of last year it had committed to the private profession 40 900 matters. One can therefore anticipate that, by the end of this financial year, approximately 48 000 or 49 000 matters will be committed. That is 4000 or 5000 matters more than the previous year. That in itself represents approximately a 10 per cent increase in the number of matters committed. So again let there be no charge against the Government of failing in its decision and its intent to provide legal aid.
The shop front advice also has continued to be provided and to be provided on the basis that anybody who goes into the Australian Legal Aid Office is given advice. If the matter requires further attention, the question then arises whether it is a matter for Federal legal aid and it is dealt with accordingly. That has been the basis upon which the matter has been dealt with right through; that is to say, the same tests are applied by this Government in that respect as were applied by the previous Government, as I understand it. We have continued the duty lawyer services, subject to one qualification and honourable members opposite might well understand why this has happened. In New South Wales the duty lawyer services provided through the Australian Legal Aid Office have had superimposed on them duty lawyer services provided by the State of New South Wales in certain courts of petty session. That is the very sort of duplication that we have been talking about and that we have been trying to avoid. But we have maintained the duty lawyer service where it was. Honourable members might like to know that recently we opened up 2 further offices in New South Wales- one at Orange and the other at, I think, Lismore.
– Areas of tremendous need!
– Areas where there is need. Just because the honourable member for Grayndler comes from the electorate of Wentworth but has a seat that embraces Leichhardt, where there is a legal aid office, for some reason he does not think that the people who live in Orange or in other country districts need a legal aid office. They do. Let me point out to him that Mr Walker, the Attorney-General of New South Wales, would like the Federal Government to provide funds to open up duty lawyer services in all the country courts of petty session. Why does he want to do that? It is because he feels that there is a need for those services in New South Wales.
I have dealt with the subject of independence and I have dealt with the subject of the amount of funds being provided. The Opposition’s claims were absolute nonsense. Let me make it clear that I do not think that honourable members opposite really speak otherwise than with their tongue in their cheek. I think that they understand what the Government is about but politically they do not like what the Government is doing and therefore they attempt to denigrate it at every turn. What the Government is about is entering into agreements with the States to establish legal aid commissions. We are in the process of close negotiation with Western Australia and South Australia. Tasmania, through its Attorney-General, recently indicated its interest. Even New South Wales and Queensland have indicated their interest. But we are in close negotiation with Western Australia and South Australia.
It is the intention that those agreements will provide for the Federal funding of legal aid, that they will commit to the States an undertaking by the Commonwealth to provide funds and that those funds will maintain a level of legal aid of the character that exists at the moment. When I say ‘of the character’ I mean of the character. I mean of the character of shop front legal aid offices. I mean of the character of retaining the salaried service. It is said that this Bill ought to have some guarantee about salaried officers being in legal aid offices. That is like asking for a guarantee that doctors be guaranteed in a hospital agreement. Of course there will be salaried officers in a legal aid service. There is no debate about that and there is no question about it- just as there have to be doctors in hospitals. Salaried officers are part of the delivery of legal aid services and there is no question about that proposition.
The basic purpose of this Bill, apart from establishing the Commission, is to fulfil the undertaking that was given that the salaried officers would be provided for in the transfer so that their terms and conditions of salary and employment would be no less favourable. That is exactly what is provided for in Part IV of this Bill. It provides a framework within which those staffing arrangements can be agreed on with the States. Once this Bill is passed through both Houses it will enable me as Attorney-General to formulate agreements that can be discussed with the staff on a minutial basis, that is to say on a detailed basis, so that they will be able to understand precisely what will be happening if they go across to a State commission.
Therefore this Bill, far from being a breach of any undertaking, represents a fulfilment of an undertaking by this Government to provide a proper framework within which the staff can be transferred. I have already indicated in my second reading speech that we will attempt to negotiate an arrangement between the States and Territory commissions so that there can be a transfer of staff between the commissions, that is to say, a transfer from New South Wales to Victoria, or whatever. That is a provision that will be found in the ordinance. The Attorney-General of South Australia has already indicated to me that he will put such a provision in his Act. The same request will be made and the same firm view will be put to the Attorneys-General of the other States. I hope that at the end of the day that provision will be well and truly there.
The purpose of the earlier part of the Bill which establishes the Commission is well known. We have been talking about it for about 1 5 or 1 8 months. The Commission is to have a monitoring function. It is not basically a commission intended to deliver legal aid services. Its aim is to take an overview of the activities of State and Territory legal aid commissions, to keep statistics about them, to work out whether they are operating efficiently, to determine whether a method of delivering legal aid which has not been thought of ought to be put before those who are actually running these commissions and to see whether inefficiencies are creeping into legal aid services. All of these things are designed to be looked at again by the Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission. As I have said, it is not a commission intended to deliver legal aid services. It is very much a monitoring commission. When it is looked at on that basis, honourable members, I suggest, will readily see that clause 6, which is the subject of consideration, provides an adequate basis for membership, namely, a chairman, a deputy chairman who will be full-time and involved in legal aid, 2 commissioners nominated by the Attorney-General, two by the States, one by the legal profession, in effect, and one from the client people to whom the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) referred. Therefore clause 6 is quite adequate. There is one other matter to which I would like to refer. It has been suggested that -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable gentleman would be a little out of order if he discusses clause 6 as we are now dealing with clause 5.
– I am sorry. I meant clause 5. I was looking at the wrong clause.
– You would not want to do that in court.
– The honourable member should not trouble himself about that. Judges are lenient. In fact, they are more lenient sometimes than Chairmen of Committees.
– That is a reflection on the Chair.
– There is no reflection; none at all. I think that there has been a degree of disbelief on the part of the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith and other honourable members opposite about the Government’s commitment to legal aid. In closing my remarks I want to refer to some figures and to compare what the Commonwealth is putting into legal aid with what the States are putting into legal aid.
– Give us the figures.
-I think that I have already given the Committee the estimated expenditure by the Commonwealth for this year. It is $ 17.9m plus $3. 7m for Aboriginal legal aid, making a total of $2 1.67m.
– You have not caught up with Medibank yet.
– I ask honourable members opposite to listen to what I have to say. The amount expended by the States on legal aid this year is approximately $ 13m. So out of a total of approximately $34.5m the Commonwealth provides $2 1.5m. So it is that the Government’s commitment to legal aid is a very strong and committed one. I hope that we will not hear any more of this nonsense from the Opposition in relation to the commitment of the Government to legal aid.
– I must rebut some of the things that have been said, even though the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) has said that he may well accept our amendment to clause 5. We want to applaud the Attorney-General for that. But he made some reference to the fact that the previous legislation was not in accordance with what he would regard as independence of a commission.
-Well, it is not.
-The honourable gentleman says that it is not. I want to mention three factors. The Bill was introduced prior to the release of the Sackville report. The Bill did not have the benefit of the Sackville report. The Opposition’s amendments are in line with the Sackville report. In regard to the independence being preserved, I take note of the fact that there was to be a board of management which was to be free and unfettered. It was not to be subject to any government interference. I know that the board of management certainly would be likely to assert its independence because of the professional independence of the lawyers who were appointed by the Governor-General. Also the policy directions with which the board disagrees must be published in the annual report of the Australian Legal Aid Office. So we can see that there was some effort to control in an expert fashion matters that would be in the interests of legal aid. To suggest that this was deleterious may well be so but -
– Would you have a look at clause 13?
-I am looking at clause 13, and there are other clauses. The independence of the Office is safeguarded in the following ways: The board of management comprises persons who are likely to insist on freedom from improper pressure; its top management consists of lawyers appointed for a fixed term; its lawyers are confirmed in their professional status and are subject to the jurisdiction of courts in relation to their professional conduct. So much for that.
I do not want to get into a position in which my remarks are out of order, Mr Deputy Chairman, but I believe that I am entitled to rebut the question of money. I understand that the present restriction of $lm a month virtually still applies. This restriction creates enormous problems. Admittedly, more money has had to be given to legal aid because of the amount of money that has been expended. I do not want to go back into that argument. It is very interesting to note that one of the problems which led to the necessity for more funds was what is called liability for certificates issued and not yet presented for payment.
– What are you reading from?
-I am putting 2 matters. I said in earlier discussions that the provision of Sim a month means that the Government is restricting legal aid to a budgetary provision. Officers are restricted to the monthly allocation which they could well utilise in 3 weeks of a 4-week period. If a person was to seek legal aid in the final week of the month the officers would have to say: ‘Come back next month, we have run out of our allocation’. Further, there is no clear cut certainty as to how much money will be involved in respect of legal aid. A case which is the subject of legal aid can go on for a long period of time once it commences. Accounts are not always rendered at the appropriate time. As a result a backlog of payments can be created. The Attorney has had to obtain more funds to meet the backlog. The point I am making is that there is no guarantee that more money will be given to legal aid. In my view the Attorney is still limited to $ 1 m a month.
Admittedly the allocation of $lm a month is the result of a Treasury direction to a previous government. It is interesting to look, for example, at the Legal Aid Committee of the Australian Capital Territory which was the subject of some comment. If we look at the balance sheet for 1974 we see the liability for certificates issued and not yet presented was estimated to be $ 144,000. We would call that debts yet to be rendered or accounts yet to be rendered. In 1975, a year later, that estimate had gone to $326,000. Therefore there is this problem which was mentioned. But the Attorney-General has to deal with it. I understand he has dealt with it on the basis of clearly giving directions: Officers were not to be committing themselves to all sorts of expenditure which would be uncontrolled. There had to be stringencies. But it should not be assumed that because the Government has increased the amount from $12m to $17m, in fact, it has given so much money that everything is in order. I understand that that is not the position.
A lot of the money is to be utilised in meeting the payment of accounts for legal aid rendered, perhaps from the prior year. That is my point. We raised the matter in the detail only because it comes to the fundamental issue about which we were speaking. If the Government is going to run legal aid but restrict it to a Treasury allocation, there is not the independence which we seek. That is not in accordance with what we would call an effective scheme. State governments may be putting in only a certain number of millions of dollars, but they have a limited budget. The Attorney-General would be the first to recognise that in New South Wales the profession makes a pretty substantial contribution to legal aid From its own funds, apart from the other assistance it gives. So a fair amount is going into legal aid but the profession admits that so much more could be utilised. The profession is short of funds.
– There is federal legal aid as well as State.
-Yes, there is federal legal aid as well as State aid. The problem we have is to get rid of this nonsense about how much money is provided and the legal aid office cutting its cloth to meet that amount while looking at the needs of the people. The Government’s means test is so restricted that virtually only pensioners, and only some of them, can qualify. This goes against all the other issues which we mentioned to the Attorney-General such as environmental issues where environmentalists and other groups want to get legal aid, and they need it. The finance will not be available if we run legal aid on the basis mentioned by the Attorney-General. I welcome the fact that the Attorney-General supports our amendment, or he thinks he can, because we here have no objection to the clause.
– I did not say that. I said I would consider it.
-I said that the Minister thought he could support it. That is quite an impressive record from our point of view.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Before I call the honourable member for Grayndler, I comment on the fact that the Attorney-General, for reasons of his own, opened up clause 5 considerably because he had not taken advantage of replying to the second reading debate. I allowed him to do so. Likewise, I allowed the honourable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr Lionel Bowen) to reply. I would like honourable members, from now on, to keep as far as possible- apart from passing reference- to the clause under discussion.
– I propose punctiliously to confine myself to the clause under consideration, as is my wont. In relation to clause 5 which is affected by the amendment circulated, by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) I completely back up everything he has said about the red herring drawn across our path by the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott). If there is one person in this place who can read legislation, it is the Attorney-General. He knows very well that in talking of a management committee in relation to the Australian Legal Aid Office, he is talking about something completely different from a legal aid commission which the Labor Government proposed to establish under its Legal Aid Bill. Honourable members who sit behind the Attorney-General may not understand this but there is no excuse for the Attorney-General not to understand. Of course, the Government constitutes a management body which is to administer the Legal Aid Office differently from the Commission which was charged- as the Commission to be established under this piece of legislation is not charged- with giving funds to all legal aid services throughout Australia.
Very briefly, I shall address some remarks to clause 3, sub-clause (3) which deals with financial assistance. I suppose that could be the only provision under which the Attorney-General was permitted a wide ambit for his remarks. He referred specifically to a situation about which I know something. He talked about the duty solicitor scheme administered through the Australian Legal Aid Office. If the Attorney-General knew anything about his portfolio he would know that that scheme is a farce. The members of that Office are so overworked that duty solicitor work at courts is a luxury which they are able to pursue very occasionally. The Attorney-General was kind enough to instance the Legal Aid Office in my constituency with which I am familiar.
– I am sure they would like to hear you describe it in that way.
-The AttorneyGeneral might listen because I will be telling him something he ought to know. He talked about the Leichhardt branch of the Legal Aid Office. Occasionally it provides for the duty solicitor scheme at the Glebe Court of Petty Sessions. It provides no assistance at the Newtown Court of Petty Sessions and it never has. That vacancy has been filled by the Public Solicitor scheme which the Attorney-General sought to deprecate in a most narrow and partisan fashion. I cannot imagine to which constituent the AttorneyGeneral needs to appeal in the State Council of the Liberal Party that he was so intemperate in his remarks about the Attorney-General of New South Wales who filled up a gap which ought to have been filled long ago. The Attorney-General on the other side of the table has allowed himself smugly to remark that the Attorney-General of New South Wales sought assistance for a duty solicitor scheme at every country court house in rural areas of New South Wales. Then, to suggest that in some way the New South Wales Attorney was being hypocritical is absurd. If that need exists and it can be established to the satisfaction of the Attorney-General, why does he not fund it? In 1975 in his speech on the Legal Aid Bill he stated: . . . there is a limitation on the legal assistance or legal representation which can be aided by a federal legal aid office.
I put it to you, Mr Attorney, that there is no limitation on the legal assistance and legal representation which can be provided by a federally funded legal aid office. On that basis all the remarks you have made tonight are offensive to the persons whom I represent, my constituents whose hopes are turned away when they go to a source of information which was never available before 1972.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member might remember that he is addressing his remarks to me and not personally to any other honourable member of the Committee.
– Of course I do.
– Why do you not comment on some aspects of the clause in the Bill?
– I shall extend my remarks to the definition in sub-clause (2) because the eminent police court lawyer is interjecting from the back. Because some of us have never sought financial advantage from this sort of practice, that is supposed to be some disadvantage. I suppose that next it will be a disadvantage, Mr Deputy Chairman, if we give legal assistance to pursue corporate criminals in the insurance companies based in Melbourne which are cheated by their management and which are managed by the great families of this country. We on this side of the Committee will not put up with that. The financial assistance offered by the Parliament is a matter of record. Before 1972 it was nil. After Senator Murphy established the Legal Aid Office in 1973, it was expanded greatly. When the Attorney-General- my remarks relate to the definition of financial assistanceimposed a means test which was mean beyond belief, he upset the hopes and aspirations of many persons who had never had access to the courts of law in this country before.
– I really must say a little. What the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) has just said is completely and utterly wrong. It has been proved to be wrong by the fact that in the last year 45 000 matters were committed and this year 49 000 matters will be committed. How he can say that people have been disappointed as a result of any adjustment in the means test, I just do not know. It is just not correct.
– Are there more people? Are there more migrants? Are there more students?
– The honourable member has made bis speech. I suggest that he should just keep quiet.
– Why do you not be honest about it.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member for Grayndler must not reflect personally on any individual member in the Parliament. I warn him not to do so in future.
-I shall endeavour to speak through you, Mr Deputy Chairman. The honourable member referred to the fact that I have previously referred to the duty lawyer service in New South Wales being duplicated. As far as I am aware I was not talking about the court at Glebe or at Newtown. I was talking about other courts at Fairfield, Bankstown and Blacktown where, I understand, the Legal Aid Office has been providing a duty lawyer service for a long time. It is still providing that duty lawyer service. A public solicitor service was put in those courts by the State of New South Wales. That duplicated the Australian Legal Aid Office duty lawyer service. That is the fact. I am not presenting any fiction to this Parliament. It is an effrontery for the honourable member to suggest that I am trying in any way to debase the officers of the Australian Legal Aid Office. They have studiously and with great vigour performed their duties and have provided duty lawyer services in those courts. It was not necessary for the Attorney-General of New South Wales without the knowledge, by the way, of the AttorneyGeneral of the Commonwealth, who provided through his Government funds for some pilot services to be set up, to terminate those services and also duplicate Australian Legal Aid Office services. This is what I am trying to stop. All I have sought to do in the last 18 months is to have a discussion with the Attorney-General of New South Wales that would enable us to work out a rationalised system of legal aid.
Clause agreed to.
The functions of the Commission are-
to make recommendations to the Attorney-General and to legal aid commissions of States and Territories concerning the provision of legal assistance by those legal aid commissions in respect of Commonwealth matters and, in particular, to make recommendations as to-
to determine applications for the provision of legal or financial assistance by the Commonwealth in Commonwealth matters in which the Commission is authorized to do so by an Act other than this Act or is directed to do so by the Attorney-General;
– Clause 6 provides the main purpose of this Bill. It talks about the functions of the Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission. I move:
Omit the clause, substitute the following clause: ‘6. The functions of the Commission are-
to finance, co-ordinate and provide legal assistance in Australia including the establishment of legal aid offices and agencies and the employment of staff, and to make grants to schemes or agencies which seek financial assistance or support;
to enter into agreement with the States for the establishment of Legal Aid Commissions in such States provided the Commission is satisfied that the composition of such State Commissions comprise people who adequately represent the range of groups and individuals with an interest in and a contribution to make to the formulation oflegal aid policies;
to make an annual report to Parliament as to the extent of funds required by the Commonwealth and the States to meet the needs of legal aid and to effectively provide legal assistance services;
to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of legal aid schemes which seek government finance and to consider proposals from groups, organizations and individuals within the community seeking funds to establish new legal aid services to formulate policies under which students within university law faculties or other educational institutions may be involved in legal aid services;
to collect and publish statistics concerning the operation of schemes for the provision oflegal assistance in Australia;
to liaise and co-operate with Legal Aid Commissions and States and Territories and other bodies providing, or interested in the provision of, legal assistance;
to undertake research into all aspects of legal assistance including new methods of financing and providing legal assistance and aspects of law affecting disadvantaged individuals;
to finance educational programs and advertising campaigns that would be effective in promoting an understanding by the public, or by sections of the public that have special needs in this respect, of their rights, powers, privileges and duties under laws in force in Australia;
to determine applications for the provision of legal or financial assistance by the Commonwealth;
to advise the Attorney-General on the provision of legal assistance or financial assistance in any Commonwealth matter referred by the Attorney-General for advice; and
to advise the Attorney-General as to such other matters relating to the provision of legal assistance as the Attorney-General requests or the Commission considers appropriate.’
This amendment virtually substitutes a clause in lieu of the existing clause 6. I again invite the Committee to look at the Sackville report, particularly at page 47, where it suggests what ought to be the functions and powers of a legal aid commission which would be an independent legal aid commission. I will quickly traverse the amendment which has now been circulated. We propose a commission which would have no governmental interference and which would have no restrictions imposed on it due to finance. The first paragraph of the clause states that the functions of the Commission are:
There is no question there of having to make recommendations to the Attorney-General or of being subject to the Attorney-General’s compliance with Treasury directions. We get the independence and we get the funding. Paragraph (b) is pretty important. In this paragraph we want to help the Attorney-General in his discussions with the State. It states:
There would be no suggestion that the States would want to indicate how they would run their commissions. Those commissions ought to be representative of the community and other people as Sackville recommended in his report. Paragraph (c) is important for the Parliament. It states: to make an annual report to Parliament as to the extent of funds required by the Commonwealth and the States to meet the needs of legal aid -
Honourable members will not find such a provision in this Bill, and that is very important. Paragraph (d) states: to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of legal aid schemes which seek government finance -
That is in accordance with the Sackville recommendations and is a very important provision. The paragraph goes on to state: . . . to formulate policies under which students within university law faculties or other educational institutions may be involved in legal aid services;
That is a very helpful and instructive provision. It is ancillary to the provisions granted to the medical profession under which medical students have an opportunity to learn in a hospital. The same opportunity is sought for the legal profession. The students can be involved in actual case work and preparation. Again, that was a Sackville recommendation.
Paragraph (e) talks about statistics and paragraph (f) talks about liaison and co-operation not only with States and their commissions but also with other bodies which are interested in providing legal aid; that would pick up the Fitzroy community services. Paragraph (g) refers to research and paragraph (h) to the financing of educational programs to inform members of the public of the rights, powers and privileges of which they may avail themselves. Paragraph (i) makes provision for the determining of applications for the provision of legal or financial assistance by the Commonwealth. That is an all embracing clause which would pick up all the environmental issues such as the Fraser Island group or other groups which have an interest in getting assistance for matters which would not come within the normal ambit of the legislation. They would be covered in that paragraph. The residue of the proposed clause states that the Attorney-General himself may also get advice from such a commission and its functions. I have no doubt he would welcome it. We are not trying to deny him that.
Honourable members can see that the amendment we have moved to clause 6 gives an independence to this Commission. It has a wide ranging function. It in no way inhibits or restricts it. It gives the opportunity to enter into arrangements with the States as well on the condition that their commissions are representative of the same individual rights and obligations that would apply under State law and State needs. We need not be bound by the fact that the States might try to take money and appropriate it in a fashion for the commissions that are not representative of the needs of the people in those States. I think that this is a very worthwhile proposition to consider. It is strictly in accordance with the Sackville report. It contains no limitation as to funds. It contains a limitation as to needs. It seeks to bring about the position that the Parliament itself would be informed by an annual report about what ought to be the funding arrangements. So no Treasury official or Treasury Department can say: You do not want to create this open-ended cheque, this bottomless pit or this dreadful situation. We are dealing with people ‘s rights and obligations.
As I said at the outset of my second reading speech, the very need of these people for justice in many cases is denied because of their inability to finance their legal rights. Nobody in Australia could object to this proposition the Opposition has put. It has nothing going against it. We have Sackville to support it, apart from the normal intelligence and applications as to how best to run a legal aid commission. As I said at the outset, the functions of the Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission under the Bill as it stands at the present time are completely subservient to the Attorney-General. The Commission will be bound hand and foot to him in regard to what it can do and, of course, would act in accordance obviously with the directions he would get from the Treasury as to how much money is to be available. Most of the provisions in the existing clause 6 are not satisfactory for the reasons I mentioned at the outset. I see no reason why any responsible government would not accept the amendment which I have moved.
– The amendment moved by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) goes to the very heart of the objections of the Opposition to this piece of legislation. The Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) said in his second reading speech that the Bill he was introducing set out the Federal Government’s contribution to the provision oflegal aid in federal areas. If honourable members look at clause 6, which deals with the functions of the Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission, they will see that it has nothing to do with the provision of legal aid. There is no suggestion at all that the Commission ought to plan or direct the provision oflegal aid in Australia anywhere. The paragraph to which the Attorney-General gives most attention is paragraph (b) of proposed clause 6 which seeks merely to give the Commission power to make recommendations in relation to the matters there set out. I think it is important that the Committee at this stage should consider what those matters are.
The first thing it is necessary to understand is that every one of the matters is restricted by this definition of ‘in respect of a Commonwealth matter’. Again, we see this blinkered, conservative, knee-jerk response. Instead of seeing a problem and planning a way to solve it, all the Government ever sees are obstacles. On this basis the Government seeks to identify persons whom it is not able to assist and areas in which it is not able to assist. It seeks to make things as complicated as possible. My friend, the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock), is frowning. I want to repeat to him what it was that the Attorney-General said in introducing this legislation. He said:
The legislation which establishes the State and Territorial Commissions will require them to have regard to the recommendations of a Commonwealth Commission in providing legal aid in the Federal area.
That is, these State commissions are to have regard in a mandatory way to the recommendations of the Commission with which we are dealing in paragraph (b) of clause 6. What can those recommendations cover? The first thing and the most important thing and the threshold thing for any person who goes into a Legal Aid Office is the means test and his eligibility. If one looks at the explanatory memorandum circulated by the Attorney-General, one will note that under item (ii) of paragraph (b), where he talks about criteria, that is meant to cover means tests. We know the record of this Government in relation to means tests. It has been to limit them. However much the Attorney-General might talk about the dollar amounts now being expended by the Federal Government on legal aid, he would concede that the means tests have been tightened and that persons who were formerly able, under the guidelines established during 1973 and 1975, to qualify for free legal advice and assistance or for legal assistance subject to a contribution, are now no longer able to get such assistance.
This goes to the very heart of access to our legal process in Australia. If a person is to be means tested out initially, that will limit any rights that can be granted under any schemes in relation to which this grand Commission of the Attorney-General’s makes recommendations. What will happen to someone in a serious matter say a criminal charge, who goes into a legal aid office administered by one of the State commissions and is given an initial means test form to fill in? He might be told that he is eligible on the assumption that the offence comes under the State Crimes Act. But then it is discovered that the offence comes under the federal Crimes Act and therefore he is not eligible for assistance. That is what will happen. That is what is contemplated. The Attorney-General has planned this legislation so that the Commission merely has powers to recommend and the funds provided at any time by the Federal Government can be cut off and controlled because the attorney is able to direct State commissions as to the means tests which they must apply in relation to so-called federal matters. What an artificial distinction.
I suppose that the best example is in relation to the drug laws. Everybody in this country knows that young people now are living in a very difficult time and are subjected to influences to which none of us were subjected when we were growing up. Whether the police choose to charge a person under a federal or State law is very likely a matter of whim, of what it suits them best to do in relation to the prodecures under which they can detain a person or the evidence on which they can charge him. The AttorneyGeneral knows that one of the reasons why the police seek to lay charges under the federal law is that it is easier to get a prosecution because of the evidence they need to offer. What difference does that make to anybody in the Australian community whose child, who may well not even be of voting age or may be only 18 or so, goes into an office and is told: ‘We would be able to assist you under the State-administered means test but not under the federal test, which has been recommended by the Commission or in relation to which the Attorney-General has given us a direction under the agreement that the State concluded’. The Attorney-General has said that that is what he is going to do. What an unsatisfactory situation that is, and those are the kinds of offences where it will occur. It could happen in other important areas, in areas of environmental law, I instanced earlier cases where the physical amenities of people are interfered with. They do not care whether the expenditure is incurred by a State or Federal Government. They do not know anything about that. Honourable members know that the first thing they have to do whenever a constituent comes in to see them about a problem is identify the compartment of our governmental system into which the problem fits. People do not care about that, so why are we not concerning ourselves in the Federal Parliament to establish a system of legal aid which will ensure that funds are available across the board?
I want to revert briefly to the area of criminal jurisdiction to which I referred earlier. If we are looking to rationalise this system across Australia, I can see grave dangers. The AttorneyGeneral deprecated the provision of legal aid in New South Wales. In relation to the public defender scheme there, the provision of legal aid for serious crimes is very generous, possibly one of the best schemes in Australia. I can see that offences which are roughly similar will qualify under State guidelines as to the means test and the eligibility of applicants but would not qualify under the guidelines presently administeredpresently administered, mind you- by the Australian Legal Aid Office. For all those reasons, the amendment moved by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith becomes absolutely vital It provides that the Commission shall be charged with the provision of legal aid services wherever possible. We might run into constitutional limitations, but let us face facts. It might be just as easy to conclude arrangements with the State governments whereby they make a reference of their powers, wherever there is any lacunae, to the Federal Government to fill up that gap. That could be just as easy.
In relation to the way in which State commissions which are funded on the recommendations of the Federal Commission go about their business, the proviso contained in proposed paragraph (b) of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith addresses the problems of community involvement. I think honourable members would have to concede- the Attorney-General was half-obliged to concede it- that this matter is not sufficiently addressed in the present constitution of this Commission. There is one other matter to which I want to refer briefly. The AttorneyGeneral ought to acknowledge that the power of recommendations in relation to financial assistance and provision of legal assistance goes only to the way in which that assistance is given by State commissions. In relation to organisations like the Fitzroy Legal Service, all that the Federal Commission will be able to do is make a report on these kinds of services. If we allow this legislation to go out of the Federal Parliament if we allow ourselves to wash our hands of a concern to establish proper legal aid, if we do not direct the Attorney-General as to the matters he must address in the agreements he says he is going to conclude with the States, we will have been deficient in our duty to all our constituents to provide that every Australian, wherever he lives from the north-west of Australia to the furthest reaches of southern Tasmania, gets the same access to legal services in Australia.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The amendment really serves to highlight the difference of approach between the Opposition and the Government. The Opposition seems to think that money comes out of the air, that the Government can set afloat some commission which will finance legal aid. I do not know where the money would come from, but perhaps we had better ask the Opposition. The Labor Government knew in August 1 975 when it formulated its Budget that it had to restrict legal aid. In fact, a decision was made at that time or thereabouts not to proceed with the opening of some 20 or 30 legal aid offices. I am blamed for closing them down, but the fact is that the decision was made in 1975 by the previous Government, the Labor Government. Why was it made? It was made because the Government realised at that time that its profligate spending could not go on any longer, that it had to stop. So it applied the test to legal aid as well as to other areas. The only problem was that in some areas- not in legal aid but in other areas- the Government did not apply the brakes soon enough. For honourable members opposite to talk about setting up a commission that is going to finance legal aid is a lot of nonsense, when we consider the reality of the situation. Where is the money going to come from? There is only one place it comes from and that is the Commonwealth Treasury, and the taxpayer has to pay for it. The reality which the Opposition does not seem able to face is that in the end it comes back to the Australian people.
We have taken the view that people in need ought to get legal aid, and we have done out best with the funds available to provide it. The statistics show that the number of people who will get legal aid this year is 10 per cent greater than the number last year. That is a fact, and it is an important fact to bear in mind. Where does the money come from? It comes from the taxpayer. We also should bear in mind that legal aid can be justified in one sense for every citizen. Consider a man earning $ 1 5,000 a year. If he is faced with an action which involves losing his home or a fight over his home, in order to have that fight that man may well have to find legal funds totalling, say $8,000 or $10,000. He might be a man with four or five children, perhaps only two. Yet it would be impossible for him to run the risk oflegal proceedings because if he has to pay the bill, if he has to pay the costs of the other side, he may well and truly lose his fortune, those funds and assets he has put together over a period of years. It is just not on- let us face it- to provide legal aid in this country to people who are getting, say, $15,000 a year. We cannot afford it. It is a bottomless pit if we look at it in that way.
At this stage of our development legal aid can be provided only for people in real need. That is what the Government is about and that is what the means test is designed to achieve. On the other hand, as I have said before, the private legal profession does have a contribution to make, with the Government, towards providing legal aid. I gather that one of the things the Opposition would like to do is provide all legal aid through a salaried service.
– That has never been said and you know it.
– That seems to me to be implicit in what the Opposition is saying sometimes. This would be quite impossible and, what is more, would leave untapped the great resouces that the profession is prepared to provide. The private profession, from the point of view of making its contribution and becoming involved, has to have representation, and substantial representation, on legal aid commissions. In saying ‘substantial ‘ I do not necessarily mean 70 per cent or 50 per cent; I mean substantial. A guarantee of our good faith is contained in the Legal Aid Ordinance which I have presented in respect of the Australian Captial Territory. It provides for all the things that the Sackville report basically recommends. It provides for the administration of legal aid by an independent commission comprising people who have what the honourable member for Grayndler referred to, I think, as client interests, the Australian
Council of Social Service, and a representative of the Legislative Assembly as well as of the legal profession. I am considering a submission whether there ought to be a staff representative on that body. That submission is supported by the Law Society, by the Legislative Assembly and, I think, by the Australian Council of Social Service.
Needless to say, I will give very careful thought to the proposition that there ought to be a member of staff as well as a director on the commission. In other words, we have faced up to the recommendations in the Sackville report and, with regard to the delivery oflegal aid, have provided the framework in the Australian Capital Territory for a commission which has all those incidents about it.
This amendment to which we are referring contains an interesting admission by the Opposition, that is, that after all it is an effective way of setting up State legal aid commissions through which legal aid can be dispensed. If those commissions are set up there has to be a division of funding- the States putting in funds and the Federal Government putting in its funds- pursuant to an arrangement and according to the demands for services in the various areas. We cannot have a bottomless pit. We just cannot have a commission which says that the Government this year will provide $60m for legal aid. It is just not possible or practicable. I am surprised that the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) with his close knowledge of service in government would put forward the proposition that it could be. Such a body would be let loose in an area and no responsible government could possibly approve such a commission. In those circumstances, the Government has no other course than to reject this amendment.
– But there is an annual report on funding.
-The honourable member says that there is an annual report on funding. I assume that all that means is that it will indicate what money the Government has to provide. However, it does not indicate what money the Government can provide consistent with its other liabilities, and that is the point I make.
- Mr Deputy Chairman-
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) put: That the question be now put. The Committee divided.
That the question be now put. The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman-Mr G. O’H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment negatived. Clause agreed to.
Remainder of Bill- by leave- taken as a whole.
– I address my remarks in relation to clause 7 dealing with the powers of the Commission. Of course the clause does not spell out anything. The Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) mentioned earlier in the Committee stage that he thought a satisfactory way of reviewing the framework of legal aid in Australia -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! I ask honourable members not to stand in the aisles. I require to hear what the honourable member for Grayndler is talking about.
– It is that Government again.
– It is not altogether confined to one side of the chamber either. The honourable member for Chifley will behave himself and try to help his colleague.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Chairman. I apologise to Government supporters for keeping them busy on the abolition of the Australian Legal Aid Office and such questions as the provision of legal aid. I want to draw the Attorney-General’s response on these points because he has not responded at all to these 2 points. In his second reading speech he set out what he thought was the framework for federal funding of legal aid. He said that the first element was the conclusion of an agreement with the States; the second element was the requirement that the States would have to have regard to the recommendations of the Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission we are now establishing; the third element was that there ought to be a Commission member on State commissions. The Attorney then made a commitment to salaried staff. We see that nowhere in the legislation. I assume also that a concommitant of that would be that the staff be independent of the State governments. The bulk of the Bill deals with the rights of the existing staff of the Australian Legal Aid Office, in relation to which the Attorney-General said that the States will be asked to make provision to allow staff to transfer between commissions. None of this is included in this legislation; none of it is included in clause 7 relating to the powers of the Commission.
The Attorney-General’s response to this claim- despite the imbecility of the people who sit behind him he does have a bit of intellect- is that the introduction of an ordinance in relation to the Australian Capital Territory which sets out this framework is a satisfactory way of assuring this Parliament that these matters have been attended to. It is not a satisfactory way. In such circumstances all that remains for this Parliament is to disallow an ordinance if it is not satisfied. In relation to the agreements with the
States there is not even provision that they be tabled here for our information, let alone that we in any way can be assured as to the subject matter or the contents of those agreements. I have not the slightest doubt that the Attorney-General will not respond to these remarks because he knows that what I am saying is the truth. He knows that his second reading speech is a shabby pretence and that all he is intent on doing is dismantling this Office as quickly and smartly as he can and concluding with the States the best arrangements he can for the provision of the least amount of Federal finance possible.
Remainder of Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr Ellicott)- by leave- put: That the Bill be now read a third time. The House divided. (The Deputy Speaker-Mr P. E. Lucock)
Question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 3 1 May, on motion by Mr Nixon:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The States Grants (Roads Interim Assistance) Bill 1977 has been presented by the Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee) on behalf of the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) who is absent overseas. The Bill in form is a short one and the Opposition does not oppose it. It is, however, a significant Bill for a number of reasons. Firstly, the haste with which it has been presented and is now being debated indicates the contempt that this Government has developed for the parliamentary process. Whilst I appreciate the courtesy extended to the Opposition by the Minister for Productivity in making available a draft copy of the Bill last Monday evening and the advice given to me by the Minister for Transport last Friday afternoon that the Bill would be introduced, the point is that the subject of how to fund the next road triennium was under consideration when this Government seized power 1 8 months ago.
The Bill was introduced yesterday. Only a brief time has been given to discuss it- a matter of hours before the Parliament rises for the winter recess. There is no valid reason for the Government’s long delay in presenting the Bill and for allowing such little time for its consideration. Secondly, the Bill, because it provides only temporary financial arrangements for road funding, is clear evidence of this Government’s failure to develop and to maintain a sound, responsible and conciliatory relationship with the State governments and the respective State Ministers in the full area of federal funding of transport initiatives. Thirdly, and most importantly, it is obvious from this Bill and the telex advice sent to the States in the last few days, setting out the principles to be followed in the major road funding legislation to be introduced in the Budget session, that the progressive concept of an integrated national transport budget has been abandoned by this Government. The Bill before us then is an interim funding measure pending the introduction of the principal legislation.
Honourable members will recall the Minister’s announcement of 25 February this year that $475m would be made available for 1977-78 to the States over the range of categories of road construction and maintenance, 1977-78 being the first year of the next triennium. The States are unable to fund the first quarter of next year’s programs from their own funds, hence the $1 18.5m being provided in this Bill will meet that need. The amount of $ 1 1 8.5m is one-quarter of the $475m announced by the Minister and is apportioned to the States as follows: New South Wales, $38. 45m; Victoria, $24. 725m; Queensland, $25m; South Australia, $ 10.1m; Western Australia, $ 15.05m; and Tasmania, $5.425m. In each case the amount provided to each State represents exactly one-quarter of the full allocation for the year as has been announced by the Minister.
The Minister for Productivity, who is at the table, in his second reading speech, stated that extensive discussions had been held with the States on future road funding. As I have already mentioned, those talks have not been conciliatory or in fact very fruitful. From the view of the States, the Minister has taken his own decision, irrespective of the cases put by the States. I ask honourable members to look back at the record of those discussions. Discussions were already in progress on the next triennium and an integrated transport budget when this Government came to office 18 months ago. However, 13 months later- that is, in December 1976- a special meeting of the Australian Transport Advisory Council was held to discuss funding for the next triennium. It broke up into a name-calling shambles without decisions being made. A Commonwealth and States officers committee had already been established to develop arrangements for that integrated transport budget, yet under this Government it has not achieved anything worthwhile. A second Australian Transport Advisory Council meeting was held in Hobart on 25 February this year to resume discussions on future road funding. Whilst it was meeting, the Minister released in Canberra, without the knowledge of the States a statement setting out the $475m that would be made available. The States have a reasonable claim when they say that the ATAC meeting in Hobart was an insult to the States and that the Minister’s decision was a unilateral one, without their views and arguments having been considered. A week later, a third ATAC meeting was held to enable the States to put a case for reconsideration of their claims and the $475m announced by the Minister. This meeting also broke up in disarray amid dissention and, again, name-calling. This then is the quality of the so-called consultation and discussion that has taken place at the last 3 Australian Transport Advisory Council meetings that were the lead up to this legislation and the proposed legislation in the Budget session. Unfortunately, it is evident also from the arranged questions to the Minister in this chamber and his answers- I emphasise that they were arranged questions and prepared answersthat the Minister delights in denigrating and intimidating State Ministers. He has said at the table that he is proud of it. His is hardly a record of co-operative federalism, of harmony and consultation between State governments and this Government, which is what is so essential to ensure that priority transport needs are met and that the taxpayer gets value for his dollars- the dollars that governments spend.
However, the acrimony that has developed in this Government’s financial relations with the States goes to the core of the gigantic problem it has created by trying to force increased financial responsibility onto the States through its policy of coercive federalism. Because of the magnitude of the moneys expended on transport by all governments and the major share that road expenditure forms of that expenditure, it is fundamental to this Government’s federalism objectives that the States be forced to accept a greater share of responsibility for road funding. That is what the ATAC arguments have all been about. By tightening the tap on State road grants, the Government hopes to force the States into the position where they will have to reintroduce a State income tax.
Because this legislation is interim legislation, it is to be expected that there be broad powers for the Minister to ensure that funds to be made available during the period July to September 1977 will be utilised in the manner proposed to be set out in the principal legislation later this year. Again, as the Minister stated in his second reading speech, the Bill contains some general provisions which have the effect of allowing, by the exercise of ministerial discretion, the proposed arrangements to operate virtually as if the legislation to be introduced in the Budget session had in fact been passed. The Opposition cannot comment on the principles of that new legislation until it is presented to this Parliament and can be examined. But the Opposition will be vigilant to see that the Minister’s discretionary powers being provided in this Bill are not used for the pork-barrelling exercises for which the National Country Party is so renowned. This Bill, then, is a stop-gap measure made necessary by the Government’s own tardiness and its deliberate obstinacy and argumentativeness.
I turn now to the broader aspects of road expenditure and the importance of a national approach to priorities in transport expenditure. Because of the manner in which our relatively small population is dispersed across our vast continent, it is vital to our standard of living and our export and import industries- primary, secondary and tertiary- that the massive public investment in transport modes be utilised efficiently so as to give value for money and to ensure adequate transport services. This places a much greater financial burden per capita on Australians than, for example, people in the United States and the United Kingdom. In Australia there are about 9 times as many miles of road per head of population as in the United Kingdom and 3 times as many as in the United States. In Australia there are about 2V4 times as many miles of railway tracks per head of population as in the United Kingdom and about twice as many as in the United States. The impact of this is highlighted when we recall that the population of the United States is about 15 times that of Australia; hence the importance of ensuring that transport investment and expenditure is used in a rational, responsible and efficient manner.
More recently, the need to ensure energy conservation further emphasised the need to have a national approach to transport- an approach that should and could be developed in a cooperative and consultative way with the States, given goodwill on the part of this Government. Transport services are responsible for approximately 27 per cent of our total energy consumption. Of that 27 per cent, a major share, approximately 56 per cent, is used by various forms of road transport, be it trucks or private motor vehicles.
The Australian Labor Government recognised the importance of an integrated transport budget and the establishment of co-operative planning procedures. It initiated work on the preparation of an integrated transport budget aimed at providing, amongst other things, a reference framework for resource allocation within the transport sector and to integrate federal financial assistance for roads and urban public transport. The
States were attracted to these responsible initiatives and, but for the change in government, I am confident that the legislation for an integrated transport budget would have now been operative. Instead, we have before us a piecemeal form of legislation which will ensure a continuance of the ad hoc funding of roads which created the shameful state of our roads systems by 1972, after 23 years of successive conservative administrations.
– Can you not do better than that?
– It is enough to upset somebody like you. Under those conservative administrations, many vital decisions on transport expenditure, especially on roads, were made on the basis of political opportunism instead of on economic rationality and safety. How else could Australia’s major national highway, the Hume Highway, have been allowed to deteriorate into a goat track with a consequent heavy and unnecessary loss of human life? It was the Australian Labor Government that accepted that the Federal Government should bear full responsibility for a national highway system and provided funds to reconstruct the Hume Highway. This Government has been forced into following the Labor Government’s lead on national highways. The Hume Highway provides also an excellent example of the need for an integrated approach to transport expenditure and the need to consider public investment in railways as well as roads where they are competitive and /or complementary.
Fifteen months ago the Minister for Transport tabled the report of the Bureau of Transport Economics on the evaluation of options for the upgrading of the Melbourne-Sydney rail link. That report showed that upgrading the link by the introduction of centralised traffic control and the construction of more and longer crossing loops could be done at a cost in 1973 prices for the New South Wales section of $2.4m with a calculated rate of return on the investment exceeding 30 per cent and for the Victorian section of $ 1.52m with again a calculated rate of return on the investment exceeding 30 per cent. So for something like $7m in current prices one could have expected a return of over 30 per cent on the investment on that upgrading of the rail link. The report went on to state:
The social benefit to cost ratio of upgrading the SydneyMelbourne rail link, ignoring congestion effects on the Hume Highway if the rail is left in its present state, is expected to be in the range of 1 .7 to S.2, depending on the discount rate and traffic growth.
The Minister’s response and this Government’s response to that report has been to leave it to the
States, despite the national importance of the investment in upgrading the Hume Highway and in upgrading the rail link. This is probably the best national example of the need for coordination in transport investment and for examination of the public investment in each of the two modes of transport instead of it being left to one level of government- whether it be the Victorian Government or the New South Wales Governmentto try to find a priority in its Budget and for the Federal Government to be doing another thing in its way and established on its set of financial priorities. The strange thing as far as the taxpayer is concerned is that his money is being spent in this respect by three different governments in three different ways and he is not being given service as efficient as he should be getting, and is providing competition rather than coordination between the two modes.
I advert now to the Press release that the Acting Minister made today. In a section of that Press release the Minister points out that the Commonwealth’s appropriations for 1978-79 and 1979-80 will be maintained at a real level at least equal to the $475m which it has already been announced will be made available for 1977-78. I have already related to the Parliament the reaction of the Australian Transport Advisory Council to that proposition and how it was determined. But I want to relate that amount of $475 m, if that is to be established as the real level of expenditure on roads, to the expenditure during the previous triennium. If one takes into account the fact that the 1975-76 indexation grant of $64m was something like one-half of what was recommended as an indexation grant by the Bureau of Roads and the 1976-77 indexation grant of $35.8m, which is to be compared with the $157m recommended by the Bureau of Roads as the appropriate indexation grant, and adds those together one will find that the amount for the coming triennium will be substantially less in real terms than the amount for the previous triennium. I have not taken into account in the figures I have mentioned the fact that, given the projected inflation figure for the corning year, it would seem that the $47 5m will be a reduction in real terms of something like 8 per centsomewhere between 7 per cent and 8 per cent. So the garden is not as lovely as the Acting Minister seeks to point out in the second paragraph of this morning’s Press release. In effect, there is to be a substantial reduction in real terms in the coming triennium as compared with the previous triennium.
I move on now to a later paragraph of his statement which relates to this Bill. It is appropriate because it is an announcement on the legislation. In a later paragraph- I am taking it out of context- the Acting Minister said: … I must repeat that funding for roads is a responsibility of all 3 levels of government.
I think that is like a motherhood statement. Everybody is aware that the 3 levels of goverment make a contribution.
– What is the percentage?
-You would not know.
– Tell us the percentage.
-For New South Wales it is 64 per cent. You can dispute it if you like.
– What is it for Australia?
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! I would suggest to the honourable member for La Trobe that he should leave his reply until the stage when the Chair calls him to make his speech.
-Thank you for your protection, Mr Deputy Speaker. The responsibility of the 3 levels of government is taken for granted. But the statement, if one looks at it in that context and without reading all of that paragraph, implies that there is an irresponsibility on the part of governments other than the Federal Government. What has to be taken into account is the capacity of the other 2 levels of government to raise the funds that are needed and the priorities of the other 2 levels of government. I do not think that it does anything to achieve the kind of objective that we want to achieve in relation to transport for one arm of government or one level of government to hive out of the discussion and say: ‘It is up to the other 2 governments to find the money that is needed. This is all we are providing. You find your own’.
I want quickly to advert to the response of the leading Conservative Premier of Western Australia, Sir Charles Court. What was his reaction to the announcement about the allocation of the $475m? He accused the Federal Minister for Transport, Mr Nixon, of juggling road figures and said that he had adopted a carping, critical attitude over road funds. I repeat again for the benefit of the honourable members opposite for Western Australia that he also said:
It is time that Mr Nixon and some of the West Australian Federal members of Parliament realised that Western Australia has urgent road needs and will continue to fight for more road funds, and fight hard.
That was his response to what has been presented to the Parliament as a generous grant for the coming year. Mr Rafferty, the Minister of Transport in the other Conservative State Government- the Victorian Government- said when speaking after the third ATAC meeting that the States had seriously to consider withdrawing from Council meetings, which were a farce and an exercise in futility. He went on to say:
We have been concerned for some time about the complete lack of consultation with the States by Mr Nixon.
I think that the reference to the way in which the Press release of 25 February was released in Canberra while ATAC was meeting in Hobart is a very clear example of the lack of consultation. The Minister for Transport in New South Wales had this to say in the New South Wales Parliament:
The Prime Minister wrote to the Premier saying: ‘Make certain that you reach the quota that has been set for New South Wales-$ 1.47m’.
He went on to say:
That is an intolerable situation particularly in view of the so-called new federalism policy emanating from Canberra. The Federal Government is adopting standover tactics to try to get the Labor Government of this State to change its position. It refuses to do so.
There we have the 2 most populous States in our federation and the most isolated State in our federation, which have a major responsibility for roads and a major need for road maintenance and construction, all echoing the comments of each other. Surely the Government, if it is seriously to consider the problem of transport in this country, must take some notice of that. Surely that is not a party political presentation from the 3 gentlemen concerned. I do not have time to look at the position in each of the States, but I do want to say in detail as far as New South Wales is concerned that the Prime Minister told New South Wales that it should spend $147m whereas its expenditure was in excess of that figure. New South Wales has consistently pulled its weight in road funding and has always spent well in excess of the quota. The Commonwealth, in contrast, has consistently fallen short. The estimated total expenditure on roads in New South Wales by the New South Wales Government from all sources in 1976-77 will be $ 189m. This is greater than the Bureau of Roads recommendation of $ 186.8m and over 40 per cent more than the quota required under the Roads Grants Act. The Commonwealth grant is $ 137.3m or only 76 per cent of the Bureau of Roads recommendation of $ 180m. For 1977-78 the forecast total expenditure on roads in New South Wales through all State sources is expected to be in excess of $200m. This will be about 85 per cent of the Bureau of Roads recommendation of $238.6m and, again, 35 per cent more than the $ 147.7m now proposed. This is contrasted with the Commonwealth grant of $153m or only 64 per cent of the Bureau of Roads recommendation of $238. 6m.
State road funds in New South Wales are already providing for rural areas, with about 75 per cent going to country areas. The proposals for 1977-78 Commonwealth grants will mean that about 72 per cent of the $153.8m will go to rural areas. Naturally, in the framework of the State budget and its road construction force this will cause a serious imbalance in its internal funding and deprive high need urban areas of essential road development. On the other hand, the national highway emphasis of the proposed Commonwealth grants, without providing urgently needed funds for mainline upgrading, which I mentioned earlier, and other areas of public transport, will further add to the State’s financial burden. Here again we come back to this contradiction, this idiocy of different governments spending the same taxpayer’s money each in competition with each other and without regard to the overall objective which ought to be to provide adequate and efficient transport services, particularly interstate transport services. On the one hand the Federal Government will be spending more money on one mode of transport. On the other hand it refuses to participate in funding for railway line upgrading because it sees that as the responsibility of the States. It may well be the responsibility of the States. I am not disputing that. What I suggest is that a transport system as important as the link between Sydney and Melbourne ought to be above the petty politics of State and federal confrontation. The objective of the Federal Government ought to be how it can best provide the kind of system that is needed, how it can best improve the quality of highway that is used, how it can best ease the burden on that highway and how quickly can it do it. As I mentioned earlier, much of the problem could be eased for something like $7m. There is no doubt that there has been obstinacy on the part of this Government. There has been a deliberate confrontation approach by this Government because of the Minister’s performances in this place. The Minister prides himself in being able to intimidate and agitate the State Ministers. Because of that kind of approach the majority of Australians are not getting the kind of services that they need.
The freight charges being imposed are probably higher than they would be if the rail services were improved as has been suggested, if there were some sort of co-ordination in respect of expenditure on road and rail and if there were goodwill between State governments concerned and the Federal Government. I suggest to the Minister that he should take up this matter. He should not treat the matter simply on the basis of avoiding a relatively small expenditure. This matter should not be left to the States. It is important from a national aspect that the Federal Government should take the initiative. After all, it was the Federal Government that took the initiative and called for the Bureau of Transport Economics study on the Melbourne line to Adelaide. The Bureau’s report on this line is very similar to its report on the Melbourne to Sydney line. There is in this case a need for someone to take the initiative. It is preferable that the Federal Government should take the initiative by inviting the States to participate in consultation and co-operation so that something can be done. By taking this action we could then provide some sort of relief in respect of road systems.
In conclusion I point out, as I said earlier, that the Bill is a stop gap measure. The Opposition hopes that the Minister will not use his discretionary powers provided under the Bill to do other than would be clearly set out in the terms of the principal legislation when it is introduced. It is unfortunate for the interest of transport in Australia that the Government has seen fit to use transport as a means by which it hopes to be able to pressure the States into introducing State income tax. Federalism has nothing to do with transport. This would be a most unfortunate action irrespective of which government was in power. Transport items which involve relatively large sums of money always seem to come in for one of the early chops when the Treasurer is doing his snipping and cutting because it is relatively easy to take out a small number of items and a large amount of money in this area. I hope that in the coming Budget the allocation for transport will not be cut back in the same severe way it was in the current Budget.
– It never ceases to amaze me that Opposition members want to engage in a debate on federalism with every Bill that comes before this House. In fact they take the opportunity to attack federalism. I am not really surprised that they do so because I know as well as they do that the policy of federalism, for which this government stands, is the ultimate frustration to all the socialists on the other side of the House who aspire to control from Canberra everything that takes place in this country. The most pompus action of which I can possibly think is that of a Minister who believes that he, by some divine right, has the power to control all federal funding programs, in fact funding programs that extend right through State programs into local government. It is believed that this power even includes the location of streets in a municipality. That is exactly the attitude of the Opposition in this Parliament in respect of road funding. Honourable members opposite displayed this attitude when they were in power. Now that they are in Opposition they are going back over the same old ground. They are not looking at the merits of the Bill; they are not looking at the merits of the road funding programs; they are trying to turn this debate, as they do every other debate, into an attack on federalism.
What did we have from the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) who spoke for the Opposition? We had 35 minutes of the dullest, most repetitious and cynical speech that I could imagine. All he did during the course of his speech was to knock and criticise everything that the Government has done. He did not put one word of policy into his speech. He did not say what the Opposition in this Parliament would do in the same circumstances. It was a speech devoid of policy and of any meritorious comment.
– He has got Charlie Jones breathing down his neck.
-I must say that that was on my mind too. I thought that at least the Opposition has done one sensible thing- it has reelected the honourable member for Newcastle to the front bench. In other words, Charlie is coming back and the sooner he comes back the better because then at least we might get some policy from the Opposition. We might get some sort of comment which goes somewhere towards discussing the matter that is before the House at the moment.
– Not that he was much better.
– We can only hope for an improvement in the quality of commentary we get from the Opposition on road funding. I asked the honourable member for Shortland by way of interjection when he was making his speech and talking about the breakdown of funding to tell the Parliament what was the breakdown between the Federal States and local government funding. The honourable member floundered. He could not tell me. He did not know what the facts were. I shall tell him. In regard to road funding programs within Australia 40 per cent of total moneys are federal money, 40 per cent comes from the States and 20 per cent comes from local government. That is how the road funding programs are made up on a national basis. That shows the balance that exists between the 3 tiers of government.
What the Opposition, of course, overlooks is the very vital role that local government has to play in the sphere of road building programs. After all, local governments know what the ratepayers in their municipalities want. They know what the priorities are. We had a different situation in the days of the previous Government. The honourable member for Shortland had the hide to talk about what happened before 1972. Let us look at what happened between 1972 and 1975. In 18 months rampant inflation put road building costs, in many areas, up 300 per cent. What happens when engineers have to do their costing for their road building programs? Where does the taxpayer’s dollar or the ratepayer’s dollar get to? It is absorbed in the inflation which resulted from the rampant spending of the Australian Labor Party Government and novel and cavalier attitude which it had to funding and to economic programs.
I was speaking before to some constituents from the electorate of Holt. Earlier tonight those people reminded me that in 1973 when the Minister for Urban and Regional Development came to that constituency they took him around to look at the programs. At that time the honourable member for Holt (Mr Yates) was the Liberal Party candidate. He knew what was going on. The Minister came down to look at the Berwick by-pass road. He was driven around the place and he said: ‘This is a serious situation. We will fix that.’ He went away. He left the local municipality thinking that he would wave a magic wand and within the term of that Government the by-pass road would be built which would divert the Princes Highway from the town. But what is the position today? I was reminded by the constituents of the honourable member for Holt that the highway still goes through the middle of the town. The traffic builds up so that people have difficulty crossing the road; and the situation is chaotic. The former Minister visited there and told the local municipality how he would get it fixed. But this was typical. It illustrates how the Labor Government with its socialist techniques was controlling matters from Canberra. It wanted to make decisions as to what would be built and what would not be built.
– No credibility.
– My colleague talks about a matter of credibility. Credibility went out the window. The Labor Government could not possibly fund that project. Still, the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) came in tonight and was prepared to filibuster in this Parliament by talking for an hour and a half about amendments which he knew were fictitious. He knew that we could not find more money to spend on legal aid. Yet he was prepared to come in here tonight and argue, until the breath had gone out of him, that we should increase the funds for legal aid. But I ask: Who cut back the money provided for legal aid? Was it this Government or the previous Government?
– It was the previous Government.
– That is right. The previous Government cut the money back. It sacrificed the people who needed legal aid. I get back to funding for road programs which is the subject matter of the Bill which is before us tonight. It is an interim Bill. It takes the funding program through for another 3 months while the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) discusses with the States the subsequent formula for the distribution of road funds. What does the Opposition expect us to do? Does it expect us to run the State governments and local government out of funds, to run them short of money and to throw them into further disruption? What an extraordinary attitude to take!
This Bill is quite clear in what it seeks to do. It provides money so that these programs can go on during the parliamentary recess. When we come back for the Budget session of Parliament a Bill will be introduced covering the next 3 years of road funding programs. That is entirely in keeping with the Government’s policy. It gives some predictability to State governments and local government and to highway and road building authorities so that the dollar will at least go somewhere towards meeting the requirements and so that these authorities can plan ahead and make the decisions which need to be made at a State government and local government level. This will see that we get the best value for the dollar spent.
At a time when the Government is faced with very severe restrictions in the budgetary sense in relation to what money can be appropriated, I do not want to stand here and boast about how much money will be spent. But the fact is, as the Minister has stated in his second reading speech, in the year we are about to face, namely 1 977-78, there will be a significant increase in the amount of Federal money provided for road building programs. I ask honourable members to contrast that situation with what the Opposition did when it was in government. The value of the dollar spent on road programs decreased so rapidly that many road building authorities were thrown into utter confusion in what they could do with the funds.
We are increasing the amount of money for this year from $436m to $475m. The Opposition spokesman, the honourable member for Shortland, does not recognise that fact. If we were to listen to him, he would have us believe that the amount of money has been cut. Of course, the situation was the opposite. There has been a significant increase. Let us look at the areas in the road program where the biggest increases have taken place. This illustrates the difference between the attitude of this Government to the efficient use of taxpayers’ resources and the attitude of the previous Government. We have funded local government through the urban local road programs. This is a vital series of programs in every municipality and in the outer metropolitan electorates of Melbourne, Sydney and elsewhere in the other capital cities as well. It is a vital issue in every electorate. The urban local road programs were put into the greatest jeopardy during the term of the previous Government.
In the coming year, we have an increase of nothing less than 93 per cent in the urban local road programs. This Government believes in funding these programs and road authorities so that they can get out and get the work done. How else will we get sealed roads such as those heartbreak streets, as they are called, where the residents have the greatest difficulty in access to and from their property. There are potholes everywhere. The graded roads cannot be maintained. We have taken the step of increasing that allocation of funding by nothing less than 93 per cent. What does the Opposition say to that action? The Opposition spokesman does not recognise the fact of that increase. He is prepared to overlook it. If we look at the rural local roads program we see a similar allocation is provided for rural shires. The amount represents an increase of 78 per cent. Because the honourable member for Shortland has talked for so long, Government members will have to reduce the time for which they speak. The point is- I have laid it clearly on the table- that this is an interim measure -
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. That is an untrue statement. I ask the honourable member to withdraw it. The business of the House is in the charge of the
Leader of the House, not the Opposition spokesman on transport. If he wants to waste his own time -
-The statement is not one which needs to be withdrawn. I think the honourable member for Shortland has clarified the point.
-I am glad the honourable member for Shortland has some conscience about what he did. He knows the pressure on the House to get the business through. Does he want to keep us here until 2 o’clock in the morning? Does he want us to come back on Friday and next week? Government members have business to do in their electorates. He knows he filibustered to try to stop Government members from talking. Why did he do that? It was because he did not want to hear what Government members had to say in support of this Bill. Nothing made it more clear to me that the Opposition does not want to hear what the Government has in the program which is contained in this Bill. It is the reverse of what the Opposition sought to do over the 3 years it was in government. The Government has had to bring in these Bills at short notice in order to keep this program going so that we can catch up some of the backlog which has existed as a result of the inflationary trend in the last 3 years. The taxpayers’ dollar which was spent was so devalued and the amount of road which could be built with the given funds was so decreased that we had to introduce this interim measure. I support the Bill.
-The States Grants (Roads Interim Assistance) Bill has been introduced for the purpose of providing funds to the States so that road works can be continued for the first 3 months of the next financial year. The amount allocated for this purpose is a quarter of the total which has been announced for the next financial year. At present payments to the States are allocated under the National Roads Act and Roads Grants Act. Appropriations under these Acts terminate on 30 June, 1977. New legislation and appropriations will have to be confirmed to cover Commonwealth assistance to the States for the 3 year period to June 1980. Funds are allocated to each State for particular categories of roads from national highways to local urban roads and one category covers minor improvements traffic engineering and road safety.
National roads are elegible for 100 per cent Commonwealth funding and the Commonwealth Government requires extensive documentation from the States regarding these so that it may decide priorities for this work. State roads programs must be approved by the Federal Minister who may approve a program of allocations to local authorities as an alternative to a program of projects. Detail for these programs need not be as comprehensive as for the national road projects. Commonwealth funds are to be used for the purposes of improving or maintaining the road network and salaries, including payroll tax, are eligible items of expenditure in this category.
Each State is obliged to spend a certain amount of its resources on roads on its own system of priorities. This ensures that the Commonwealth grants for improvement of road faculties do not relieve the State completely of its financial responsibility in this regard. The amount allocated to Queensland under the provisions of this Bill is $2 5m. This represents one-quarter of the $ 1 00m which it is proposed will be the full allocation for the 1977-78 financial year. The Commonwealth Government by means of this Bill is indicating its continuing concern regarding its responsibility to roads throughout Australia. The categorisation permits all forms of State government to submit proposals to the Minister for approval so that everything from a national highway to a boat launching ramp and access to it may be considered.
It is only to be expected that, notwithstanding the Government’s actions in allocating funds in this manner to ensure a continuation of work in this essential area, there will still be criticism by various levels of State goverment, including local government authorities and individuals. It is amazing that people in this country can call for a reduction of income tax and other forms of taxation on the one hand and then expect that the Government can hand out money indiscriminately on the other. We hear calls for increases in the scope of social service payments of all kinds and various organisations call for money to be spent on improvements and rectification of many aspects with which they are concerned. I am sure that the Government would be very happy to be able to meet all the requests made to it, but it also would be very happy to hear suggestions as to how the additional money should be found. It is all very well for people and organisations to luxuriate within the confines of limited responsibility but the Federal Government must maintain the solvency of the country and cater for the requirements of the society in the broad.
It is totally unreasonable to insist that the Federal Government should fully cater to all the demands made upon it unless it is simultaneously accepted that the additional revenue be obtained in a ruthlessly indifferent manner so as virtually to absorb totally personal incomes and consequently deny Australians the opportunity firstly to retain as much of their earnings as might prove an incentive to their endeavours. It is often argued by those with sectional interests and responsibilities that revenue raised from a particular source should be mainly returned to that activity from which it was raised. Hence we have the periodic and frequent demands for a full allocation to roads from the revenues derived from taxes on road transport, petrol, vehicle sales tax and the like.
It must be borne in mind continually that such taxes are essentially a simple means by which governments gather the revenue to discharge their administrative responsibilities to all areas, many of which yield little if any direct revenue to government. Therefore it must be realised that to argue for a maximum expenditure on roads from moneys raised within that area would be tantamount to beer drinkers insisting that the $700m derived from beer tax should be spent on bigger and better breweries and longer bars. To emphasise the point further, it could be argued likewise that death duties should be applied to increase the death rate.
The allocation determined by the Commonwealth Government for road assistance to the States demonstrates a continuing awareness of the need to maintain a major national asset consisting of 835 000 kilometres of existing roads, particularly considering the serious economic situation confronting the Government on its ascension to office. Hopefully the day will arrive when by dint of new enthusiasm Australians will apply themselves with increasing energy to developing the incredibly great resources with which this country is blessed. At such a time the Government will find itself in the happy position of being able to accommodate fully the requirements and ambitions of all the parties applying themselves to their special responsibilities. In the meantime, if the people of Australia would wish the Government to divert moneys from one or more areas of expenditure to another one, they should make their attitude abundantly clear.
In brief, it must be realised that the cake is only so big and the slices to be of benefit cannot be ridiculously small. Those who seek to share the nation’s resources should clearly indicate the priorities of government expenditure in the fields of roads, transport, communication, social security, welfare, health, defence and education. It is sobering to recognise that at a Federal Budget expenditure level of $24,000m, the Government is locked in to an 80 per cent continuing commitment. Such a commitment leaves very little latitude for tax relief when at the same time calls for additional government spending show no sign of diminution.
– The States expect an openended cheque, too.
– Indeed, as the honourable member for Darling Downs says, there is an unending demand for moneys from States and local government authorities with little, if any, regard of the total capacity to meet such demands. This Bill, in common with other legislation the Government brings before the Parliament, carries the hallmark of responsibility and administrative competence in a difficult fiscal situation. I commend the Bill to the House.
– in reply- I would like to make a couple of comments in reply to the remarks made by the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris). Firstly, I would like to repeat to the House the assurance that the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) will use the discretion specifically given to him in this Bill. The assurance to be given is that the spirit of the Federal-State agreement will be abided by. That has been made clear to the States. It has been made clear to the House in the second reading speech on the Bill and I repeat it once again.
I agree with the point made by the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu) when he said that the Opposition this evening has certainly been devoid of any alternative policy. I might observe that attacks on the Minister for Transport certainly are no substitute for a policy. Likewise, we know it is a fact of life that in Federal-State negotiations on any subject there is a fair amount of rhetoric from the States for their own political reasons as they perceive them. Like the honourable member for Shortland, I wish this were not so. We certainly would like to see more harmonious discussion between the Federal and State goverments. But unlike the honourable member, I would not rise and repeat those attacks as a substitute for a policy because the inescapable fact is that the States have agreed to the substance of the matters contained in this legislation and those foreshadowed in the legislation to be introduced in the Budget session.
The honourable member for Shortland said that the Government had been guilty of haste in introducing this Bill. He said that the Bill itself was hastily drawn and introduced and, in fact, that the Government had delayed. Since coming to office, the Government has given its full attention in this area of administration to discussions with the States through the Australian Transport Advisory Council. In approaching those discussions, we have adopted the spirit of federalism which we have advocated. In accordance with that spirit of federalism, the States have been given a full opportunity to communicate between themselves and to come back to further meetings. The honourable member said that the Parliament had not been given an opportunity to discuss this Bill, except in some haste. I make it clear again that this is interim legislation and that the Parliament will be given ample opportunity to discuss the matters in full when the further legislation is introduced in the Budget session.
The honourable member for Shortland also commented on the triennium discussions and said that they were well advanced. He then went on to make some comments about the desirability of having an integrated transport budget. He raised the kinds of complex questions which have been occupying all 7 governments of Australia in this area. Because they are complex problems it is hopelessly optimistic to say that they could have been resolved in the last 18 months or that they could be resolved quickly in the next triennium. It is for this reason that the new legislation when it is introduced will incorporate the wishes of the States as well as the Federal Government as far as their thinking has now gone. If it is the wish of the States that the legislation contain some specific provisions or strategy planning, that can be achieved. If not, we must look to another day for that amount of progress to be made.
In respect of the comments concerning the meetings of the Australian Transport Advisory Council, allocations were announced following those meetings but the allocations were in the nature of proposals. The States were advised that they were proposals and were given the opportunity to comment on the fact that these were proposals for consideration by all governments and ultimately by the Federal Government in respect of federal funds. The Minister for Transport did accept many of the comments that were made in respect of the proposed allocations. The honourable member for Shortland commented on a Press release in respect of an ATAC meeting. Again, the Press release contained a reference to the proposed allocation of $475m for 1977-78 to road categories in each State. State Ministers were advised by letter handed to them at the same time as the Press release was made that these were proposals for discussion.
– How many were changed?
-That was not the honourable member’s comment. His comment was that there was something mysterious and autocratic and mischievous about the nature of this Press release. In fact the Press release was combined with the letters which were given to the Ministers. The Commonwealth contribution in the total for the triennium 1974-75 to 1976-77 was $ 1,233m, and the Commonwealth grant in real terms for the 3 years 1977-78 to 1979-80 will be $ 1,425m. I draw attention to the Press statement and to the second reading speech, to which the honourable member referred, to show that it is the Government’s intention to maintain this amount in real terms, at least over that triennium.
In respect of the comments by the honourable member for Shortland about the State’s funds for roads, the Commonwealth’s share of the total roads expenditure increased from about 32 per cent to approximately 36 per cent between 1970 and 1975. The States’ share during the same period decreased from about 33.5 per cent in 1970 to 30.3 per cent in 1975. It is an insupportable argument to say that there has been a squeeze on the States in respect of the Federal contribution. That is demonstrably not so. The total funds from the Commonwealth in the 1974-1977 triennium amounted to $ 1,233m, as I have said. Contrary to what has been said by the Opposition, the States have welcomed the changes introduced by the Government since it returned to office. One very important point to be made, and it supports the point made by the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu), is that almost immediately after coming into office this Government, through the Minister for Transport, dropped the demand of the previous Government that the Commonwealth should approve the expenditure in respect of all urban arterial programs. The previous Government, with its centralist policy, insisted on approving the urban arterial programs, whether they were to be funded from State funds or from Commonwealth funds. In fact, as part of its federalism policy, the present Government dropped that requirement, and the situation now is that the Commonwealth, in the spirit of co-operative federalism, simply wants to know where the States wish to spend Federal money. That is the nature and spirit of the legislation which has been introduced, and of the legislation which will be introduced for the next triennium in the Budget session.
Reference was made by the honourable member for Shortland to the Bureau of Roads. I should again stress to him that the Bureau is an advisory body. It is only one of many advisory bodies to government It is the Government which has to decide ultimately on the resource allocation. The Bureau is not asked to consider comparisons between transportation, education, health, welfare and other priorities of government. It is up to the Government to assess all of the advice it gets and to make its own decision. While it is all right for the shadow Minister for Transport to say that transport never gets enough, so too do shadow Ministers for all of the other spheres of government make the same claim. In the end, of course, it is the Government which has to be accountable for the money it raises and the money it spends.
In conclusion, I should like to reiterate that the Government does intend to introduce legislation during the Budget sittings which will provide section 96 grants- non-repayable grants- for road works over the 3 years from 1977-78 to 1979-80. The Government has decided that the Commonwealth’s appropriations in respect of those road works will be maintained at a real level at least equal to the $475m which it has already been announced will be made available for the financial year 1977-78. It is important to recognise that this represents a very substantial commitment in the light of the extremely difficult budgetary problems which the Commonwealth Government has faced since returning to office. Commonwealth road funds are available for use by the States on a number of road categories. The Commonwealth Government provides substantial assistance to the declared national highway system, as well as assisting with the rural and urban road networks. State Ministers are well aware, as the Opposition is aware, of how the funds are to be allocated within each State to particular categories in 1977-78. Perhaps I should add that the proposed legislation will certainly provide for transfers of funds between road categories, for example, in those instances where demonstrated State priorities prove to be overriding considerations. I should reiterate and emphasise that local government road needs will continue to be an area of major interest for the Commonwealth Government, and certainly there will not be any backing off from these priorities.
As I have said, legislation will be introduced in the Budget sittings for an appropriation of funds for 3 years, and under that legislation the States will be required to fund a quota of roads expenditure from their own resources. One can only repeat that the funding of roads is a responsibility of all 3 arms of government. The State quota is a minimum amount, as far as we are concerned. The Commonwealth Government sees no reason why State governments should not exceed the quota if they wish. If many of them believe all of the rhetoric which they espouse, then they certainly would exceed their quotas. It is of course a matter for the States to work out their own priorities, in the same way as we must balance transportation priorities with other priorities in the federal sphere. This is interim legislation. It is to ensure that the funds are available to the States for the first 3 months of the next financial year. It will certainly meet the cost of the Commonwealth’s contribution to road programs in Australia. It has been welcomed by the States, and I believe that the Opposition has shown in this House an absence of any alternative POliCY with regard to this important legislation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Administrator recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Macphee) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 3 1 May, on motion by Mr Newman:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Opposition welcomes the changes introduced in the Bill presented to the House late last week. It is important as far as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is concerned, and in respect of the method of accepting conditions, that justice must not only be done but must also appear to be done. I believe that that is one of the most important points in the administration of the Department. It was one of the reasons why the Labor Government introduced the giving of what are now called ‘reasons for decision ‘. It was important to show the applicant why a certain decision was made and to help him contest that decision rather than have the original method prevail where the applicant received just a letter saying, ‘I am sorry; we have reviewed the case completely but the original decision stands’, of whatever the result may have been.
Last week my Party’s welfare committee had a lengthy and very interesting discussion with Mr Justice Toose and Mr Kingsland, who is Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Mr Justice Toose carried out the independent inquiry into the repatriation system which concluded in June 1975. The issue raised by Mr Justice Toose which is relevant to the legislation before us is the lack of uniformity in the presentation of cases and in the action of the repatriation boards. What Mr Justice Toose reported and what those of us who have been interested in repatriation for some time as a result of helping constituents or ex-members have been aware of is that some deserving ex-members do not get benefits and do not have certain conditions accepted while the cases of others whose conditions have been accepted and who possibly get pensions may not be as deserving or as clear cut. I think it is bad when legislation does not make it obvious to an ex-member why he does not receive benefits which another ex-member is receiving. It is easy to make decisions on these matters soon after discharge, and we are dealing mainly with people who served in the Second World War, but it is much more difficult some 30 years later to connect a disability with service, especially if the ex-member has not received much treatment in the intervening time or has not received treatment through the Department and then decides, having reached a certain age, that he would Uke to have his condition or conditions accepted and possibly receive a pension.
Even though my Party introduced the practice of giving reasons for decisions, I noted when we met Mr Justice Toose last week that some of the people on the boards who give these decisions are not exactly highly trained to make the decisions or to give reasons for them. It reminded me of a case in which I am involved. I am helping a widow who, following the death of her husband, has not been accepted as a war widow. She does not live in my electorate but when I was in medical practice before entering Parliament her husband was a patient of mine. I have looked at his file and wish to refer to some of the points from it because I think they are relevant and hopefully will draw the Minister’s attention to the case. Her appeal was heard on 26 May and I hope she has been successful. I have taken a lot of trouble in this case. I have certain expertise in these matters and had the right as his medical practitioner to look at his medical files which in other cases would not be made available. I hope that the point I am making will be treated seriously by the Department and the boards.
To summarise his condition, he had an accepted disability- an anxiety state- and died some years ago, basically from a stroke or a cerebral haemorrhage which was caused by hypertension. The aim of the exercise on behalf of his widow is to connect the anxiety state with hypertension which has been accepted as the cause of death. In the reasons for decision, the people who rejected the applications had this to say:
The Commission having considered all the evidence notes that there is no conflict of medical opinion on the point that the member’s accepted disability may have aggravated his hypertension.
In other words, his anxiety state aggravated his hypertension. They then went on to make an important point which I am sure is wrong and Mr Justice Toose, when I showed it to him, agreed with me. They said:
However, this relationship does not constitute ground for relating the member’s death to his war service. Aggravation by an accepted disability or by the treatment for an accepted disability is not the same thing as aggravation by the conditions of war service and it is the latter which the law provides as ground for granting a war pension.
This is obviously not correct because, if taken to its logical or illogical extreme, it means the wife of that a person who, for example, underwent a surgical operation for an accepted disability and died during that surgical operation would not be able to claim that she was a war widow because her husband had not died from his accepted disability but from treatment for his accepted disability. The reason I have made that point is that I argued on 2 points in favour of having that exmember’s condition accepted. One point was that his anxiety state aggravated his hypertensionand this is accepted- and the second point was that it is generally accepted that the drug amitryptyline which he was given as treatment for his anxiety state can cause sudden hypertension. So there were 2 obvious reasons for that person’s death. One was that his condition aggravated the hypertension and caused death and the other was that the treatment for his condition caused his death. The Repatriation Commission in its reasons for decision said that neither reason complied with the law relating to the granting of war pensions. I was pleased when I showed the reasons for decision to Mr Justice Toose and Mr Kingsland that they did not agree with them. The Commission in its reasons for decision continued:
Moreover, Dr Klugman does not say that hypertension was caused by anxiety state but says that it could have been precipitated by it. This implies to the Commission that the cause of hypertension was something other than anxiety state, which was merely a precipitating factor and that hypertension would have occurred in this case irrespective of whether the member had had anxiety state.
This does not seem to be a logical reason for knocking back the application. I have raised this case with the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack), having been reminded of it by the unfortunate death of Senator Greenwood and the later decision by a government instrumentality- I am not sure which instrumentality it was- to accept the proposition that stress had caused or aggravated hypertension and that, therefore, his widow was entitled to certain benefits. I am not querying for one minute that Senator Greenwood’s widow was entitled to those benefits. What I am querying is that the wife of this ex-member whose case I have outlined is not entitled to a benefit.
The important point to remember relative to this legislation is that not only are ex-members not clear in their minds about the legal position but also some of the boards are not clear about it and certainly do not seem to be clear about it when giving reasons. It is a question of untrained people presenting the cases in many instances with the cases being presented inadequately, as Mr Justice Toose pointed out. He said that they were presented inadequately in a proportion of cases. I am not saying that it is necessary to have special training in order to present a case. If the case is clear cut obviously there is no need for the person presenting it to have special training, but legal and /or medical training would certainly be helpful in many cases.
If one is a sort of medical detective it certainly helps when one gets hold of the file of the case, which is often 100 pages thick. I enjoy doing this. I have a look at the file and I can relate the condition a person has at present with some episode during his Service life. However, it is unfair that people have to rely on the possibility of a person with medical training being prepared to spend a considerable amount of time going through files. I think it is necessary in some ways to ensure that the cases are adequately prepared. I shall come back to that later when dealing with the question of appeals. Lawyers are excluded from appearing before the appeals tribunals. I am in 2 minds about the question of lawyers appearing. I can see arguments in favour and against. Mr Justice Toose, as the Minister for Environment Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) who is at the table knows, recommended that lawyers ought to be allowed to appear in appeals. He put forward what in some ways may be a superficial argument: That it seems ridiculous that a person can be represented in an appeal by a disbarred lawyer but he cannot be represented by a practising lawyer. I am not sure whether that by itself is a good argument but there certainly ought to be argument in this Par.liament on the question of the appearance in appeals of lawyers.
I understand that yearly there are some 15 000 new cases for acceptance of disabilities or applications for pensions. The peak is expected to be reached in about 1985. These cases would certainly involve a large number of lawyers and a very high cost if we provided lawyers for each one of them. On the other hand, is it fair that people do not get the best representation in what may be a very important issue to them? Proposed new section 47 which is inserted by this legislation involves the onus of proof. One of the points that even some of the boards did not realise was important was the question of the onus of proof and the fact that a prima facie case was necessary. Applicants cannot just go to the Repatriation Commission and say that they served in the armed forces between certain dates which were eligible dates, that they now suffer from whatever the conditions may be and that it is up to the Commission to prove that that condition was not caused by war Service. Some sort of prima facie case had to be established. That seems reasonable enough to me. The difficulty that arises later is in deciding just how strong that case has to be to be accepted as a prima facie case by the Commission or by the boards. The Department is worried that if lawyers are allowed in there would be too many appeals because there would be a tendency to ‘give it a go’. No matter how bad the case an applicant may have he would have nothing to lose with free legal advice and somebody to appear for him. Everybody would have a go. In the summary of his report at page 20, paragraph 83, Mr Justice Toose stated:
The Act should be amended to provide that the relevant personal files should be available to a claimant, or his authorised representative, for inspection at any stage of the claim, with a discretion in the Commission to withhold the records from the claimant in special circumstances.
I think that may well be one way of getting around the difficulty of too many appeals. When people come to me and want to make an application for a particular condition to be accepted and ask for my help I say: ‘No, I cannot really help you in the first instance. I suggest that you make your application. I cannot get your medical records as a medical practitioner until your case is on appeal. Once you appeal I can have a look at your medical file and possibly supply some supporting evidence’. The person then appeals on the basis that new evidence will be provided. I do not really know when the appeal is lodged whether new evidence will come to light because I have not seen the file. I can see it only after an appeal has been lodged on the basis that new evidence will be provided. After that I have a look at the file. If I can find new evidence the person goes ahead with the appeal. If I cannot find new evidence the appeal just lapses. That seems to me to be a ridiculous method of operation. An applicant has to go before a board and then has to appeal. To me there does not seem to be any good reason why the relevant medical file cannot be provided to the claimant or his medical practitioner, for example, so that he can advise him at an earlier stage of the claim whether he could reasonably and rationally argue that he is entitled to whatever he is applying for. I think they are important issues.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, justice must not only be done but must also appear to be done. I am sure that many of us, whatever our previous backgrounds may have been, since we have entered Parliament have received representations from a number of people who have felt that they have been unfairly treated by the Repatriation Commission. They may or may not have been unfairly treated but the difficulty is to convince them. I think the first step which we took some years ago on the question of providing them with reasons for decisions was a step in the right direction. I think these proposed changes may be additional steps in the right direction. I hope that at some stage the Minister will also consider introducing a system- I am not sure whether it would require the introduction of legislation; I think it would be just a direction to the Department- whereby the personal files can be made available to the claimant.
I note that in the report by Mr Justice Toose he said that the Act should be amended. It may be necessary to amend the Act to provide that information at an early stage of the procedures. I am pleased that the Government has finally started introducing legislation arising from Mr Justice Toose’s report. It is a very lengthy report. It makes many points. I am sure not all of us would agree with all the points but I think basically what we are all concerned about is that the people who served in the armed forces and suffered by reason of that service should be given the benefit of any doubt on compensation, and, secondly, that the Department is run in the most efficient fashion so that money that could be going to ex-members as a benefit in compensation is not wasted in unnecessary appeals and the sort of paperwork that is carried out in the Department of Veterans ‘ Affairs.
I make a final point that is probably only marginally relevant to the legislation before us but it is relevant in improving the efficiency of health care delivery which is given by the Repatriation Commission or by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and that is the question of the use of the repatriation hospitals. I have been informedthis is relevant to the discussion on pathology services we had this afternoon- that Concord Repatriation Hospital, which is the large repatriation hospital in Sydney, has large pathology facilities which are not being used because of disagreements with pathology laboratories in other hospitals and with private facilities. The other hospitals are controlled by the Health Commission of New South Wales. It seems to me ridiculous that we have certain facilities at a repatriation hospital which have an ability to do extensive tests fairly cheaply and which are not operating. New facilities may be created in State hospitals nearby in the same district when other facilities are idle. I hope that the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development will take my message back to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs to decide whether the Commonwealth Government, especially as it now underwrites State hospitals by SO per cent under the Medibank arrangements might get together with the States and save a considerable amount of money by combining services available in Commonwealth and State hospitals. On behalf of the Opposition, I commend the proposed legislation.
-The proposals outlined in the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill 1977 are indeed welcome. They are important measures and should assist in greater efficiency in administering the Act. What also pleases me is the fact that the proposals were developed from the conclusions and recommendations of the independent inquiry into repatriation conducted by Mr Justice Toose. His report is one of the most meaningful I have ever read. Veterans’ organisations were consulted for their opinions before the amendments were decided upon. This latter point is in keeping with government policy which I introduced in 1974 that no changes would be made to the Repatriation Act without prior consultation with ex-service organisations and which we have adhered to since then. The honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) mentioned repatriation boards. It is gratifying to see that arrangements are made for returned service organisations to be represented on the boards and to be known as services members. To me, this representation is extremely important. I stress the point with all ex-service organisations that when they draw up a list of names for submission to the Repatriation Commission in order that that body may choose the services members, the list should be compiled carefully and the names submitted should be given the most searching consideration. I say that because it is necessary if the ex-servicemen appearing before the board are to receive fair and just consideration.
The clause which states that a board shall consult and co-operate with the Commission is an important measure and must assist in determining the merits of any appeal. The decision of the Government to discontinue the present system of appointing boards on a State basis with activities limited by State boundaries, which I always thought was damn stupid, and to replace this system by appointing boards at large with no territorial boundaries is, I feel, an excellent one. The decision to vary the constitution of the boards or, in order words, rotate the membership of them must serve in the better interests of the working of those members. This will add to the knowledge and experience of board members which must reflect to good advantage in the understanding of the claims before the board. I am pleased to see that neither the Minister nor the Commission is authorised to direct a board with respect to its consideration or determination of a particular claim or application. This has been spelt out very clearly in clause 15 (5) of the Bill. While I doubt that this practice ever took place, some people were of the opinion that a Minister could influence the decision of a board. As I have said, I am very pleased that this misconception has now been dismissed loudly and clearly.
Mr Justice Toose was correct in his findings that many claims in the past have been presented in an inadequate fashion, as the honourable member for Prospect also said, resulting mainly from a misunderstanding of section 47 of the Act. Iii some instances this created a feeling of distrust and injustice towards members of a board by some claimants. The proposed section 47 contains provisions for the benefit of the doubt and onus of proof which previously led to varying interpretations of these important measures. I still say that it was a most unsatisfactory situation. The amendment to this section will rationalise and simplify the benefit of the doubt provision. The fact that the board must be satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that insufficient grounds exist for the granting of a claim lifts a great cloud from the board’s process of determination. The way I read it, a claim will succeed if, after weighing all the evidence, a state of doubt still exists.
It is also particularly gratifying to see that in future boards will take into account any difficulty which may exist because of the lapse of time between service and the lodgement of a claim and accept that there is a possibility that medical records may never have been kept or may have been lost according to circumstances and that witnesses may no longer be available or a claimant may not have reported a disability during service. These situations have arisen as most of us in the House know. In fact, in my own unit it was practically impossible to keep adequate or up to date medical records in the early part of the war. The clarification of this part of section 47 will ensure that, in future, claimants can be assured that justice will be done. I have a great deal of pleasure in supporting the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill 1975.
– I congratulate the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) for his consistent and well informed involvement in these matters. Likewise, I congratulate the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) on his ascension to front bench rank and the manifestation of his enduring interest in repatriation matters. The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) is at the table.
– He is an old digger.
-He is an old digger. He is often referred to in this place as ‘the undertaker’, the man who is involved with the dismantling of Labor policies. However, tonight we can hardly attribute that term to him. He has ministerial responsibility in the House of Representatives tonight for one of the recommendations of the Toose inquiry. There were some 300 of them. We have before us a recommendation which is not without significance but it is only one of the three hundred. The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development is certainly incapable of being regarded as a radical or a progressive. He will not accelerate the processes of change. He could not turn back the clock on these recommendations but he is certainly not putting it forward with any great enthusiasm. 27Services The Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill arises from the recommendations of the Toose inquiry. His Honour, Mr Justice Toose, prepared a large report of 3 volumes, containing many recommendations. Hopefully, as his inquiry was initiated by the previous LiberalCountry Party Government, supported by the successive Whitlam Government and sustained by that Government in its period of office at great expense, there will be universal enthusiasm about the recommendations which have been made. I am sure that the ex-servicemen of this country look forward to the implementation of many of these recommendations in the Budget session. I cannot help but feel that as important as this particular range of recommendations is, they represent a sop in many respects compared with the great weight of recommendations that have been made.
– They are only minuscule.
-Minuscule is a good way to describe what is before the Parliament as against what could be before us if this Government would just give effect to the great import of these very fine proposals. His Honour’s inquiry was commissioned on 27 May 1971 by the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr William McMahon) who was then Prime Minister. As I have said, it was sustained during the Labor Government’s period of office. His Honour Mr Justice Toose presented this first report in June 1975, nearly 4 years later. There has been speculation about the cost of the report. Some people say that it amounts to some $5m. We hope to get value out of that endeavour. I do not even begrudge the amount if it is going to mean the correction of injustice in respect of the exservicemen of this country or, as we now use the American jargon, the veterans of this country. So we are dealing with the first range of reports arising from all these recommendations.
Without overdoing it, let me just summarise the amendments. The Bill proposes changes in the method of appointment of Repatriation Boards and Seamen’s Pension Committees. It requires them to co-operate and consult with the Repatriation Commission. Another factor is that these territorial limitations that have applied in respect of the boards are to be removed. I think that is a good thing because there will be some cross-fertilisation of attitudes, criteria and philosophy. Members of the National Country Party are trying to interject. I think that I am probably supporting what they uphold in this matter. I do not mind their interrupting because I find it stimulating. If they keep it up I shall take my full 20 minutes. All I am saying here is that the evidence tends to show that these Boards have settled into a pattern of recommendation which throws up parochial considerations and matters of that kind. I am very delighted to say that there is going to be an abandonment of those territorial limitations by the boards.
Another matter of very great importance which I was debating 20-odd years ago in this Parliament concerns the contentious section 47 of the Repatriation Act. I well remember the then honourable member for Balaclava, Mr Justice Joske, and Dr Evatt taking a very great interest in this matter and the Returned Services ‘s League bringing forward to this Parliament the Queen’s Counsels’ views on the interpretation of section 47 of the Act, which sets out the onus of proof provisions. I think that this is still of very great concern to the ex-sericemen of this country or the veterans as the United States Government members like to call them. In paragraph 8.14, his Honour said:
The structure should be altered in the manner indicated in the following paragraphs.
He went on at great length. I could quote those great volumes over a long period but he said, in effect, that repatriation boards should be abolished. Now they are not being abolished. He said:
The initial determination of claims should be the responsibility of the Commission using suitably qualified persons.
He went on to quality his definition of ‘suitably qualified persons’. He was not just talking about nominees of the RSL. It is lovely to be able to bring these fellows onto the boards and all that, but His Honour was making the point about the competence of people- and a very important point I think he made. He said:
The initial determination of claims should be the responsibility of the Commission -
I point out that he said the Commission and not the boards- using suitably qualified persons.
He then went on about the composition of the board. He said that the board should be comprised of:
Departmental officers of wide experience with salary classification at or about class 10, third division in the Australian Public Service.
All he was saying, in effect, was: We have had some jobs for the boys. I am not disparaging those men who came in from the RSL. The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development is shaking his head. He should not shake his head; I am not disagreeing with him. He is not disagreeing with me. What is the Minister going on about? He wants the best of all worlds. I am simply reminding him that His Honour, who took voluminous evidence about this matter from the RSL and so on, has made this point in a very convincing way. It is all right for the Minister to nod his head in a benign way as though everything I am saying is wrong. But he is concerned, I am sure. The Minister will concede that His Honour is concerned with the wellbeing of the ex-servicemen of this country and he is saying that their problems in respect of the administration of the boards’ affairs would be better in the hands of these people whom he has described. They are to be the people with wide experience and with salary classification of class 10 level in the Third Division of the Australian Public Service. I make the point; that is all. I do not have to agree or disagree with it. But it is notable that the Government in its recommendations, is disagreeing with it. That is the only point I am making. I think it is an important point to make.
At present the Act provides that there shall be a 3 -tier structure for the determination of claims- the repatriation boards, the Commission and the Appeals Tribunal. There are 3 boards in New South Wales, two in Victoria and part-time boards in the other States. They sit for 6 hours a day 4 days a week. Each board has a senior departmental officer as chairman and includes representatives of ex-servicemen’s organisations. His Honour used some figures in connection with the boards. There are later figures in the annual report. But let me talk about the figures applying to the boards which His Honour used. He said that in 1973-74, the boards determined 18 500 claims and had a total 25 185 claims for action. Of the 18 500 claims, 13 348 were disallowed and only 5 296 were accepted. I have here some figures which show that the same kind of figures applies to the Commission. I do not think that the House wants me to burden it with these details. Honourable members can look them up in the report. Would honourable members like me to give them the figures?
– Why not? Go on.
-I am happy to cooperate. I just make the point that the same type of figures applied to the boards as to the Commission, the entitlement appeal tribunals and the assessment appeal tribunals. His Honour said in paragraph 8.5 of the report:
Throughout the inquiry there has been a great deal of evidence criticising the determining authorities.
He went on to say that the criticism had come from within the Department and from medical practitioners, from within and without. It had been important and almost overwhelming criticism. Of course the issues were to this effect: Whether the determining authorities were independent, whether they had appropriate status, whether there was inconsistency in interpretations and in their decisions and whether there should be any appeal. His Honour said:
After consideration in some depth of the past experiences of the board system in Australia, the submissions received and the operation of comparable determining structures, both within Australia and overseas, I am strongly of the view that the initial determination under the repatriation legislation should be placed in the hands of the Commission and function in this respect through suitably qualified persons, acting individually as delegates.
That has not altogether been the effect or the essence of the recommendations that have been made. There has been a compromise. I am not against compromise by any means. I believe that this might be a reasonable solution. But it is interesting to note the extent to which there has been a departure from the recommendations. The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development is again shaking his head, but when the stage is reached where he has to reply he cursorily skates over all this sort of thing. He does not look seriously at anything. He has just to get the business through the Parliament. We know him here as the undertaker. There will not be any proper and effective comment from him about this very important matter which affects the ex-servicement of this country. It is a very vital matter.
I am pleased to see that there is to be an amendment to section 47 of the Act. I paused just then because I thought for a moment that I was about to be gagged. I am especially encouraged by the enthusiasm of the National Country Party of Australia but certainly not by the Liberal Party of Australia, which is hardly in evidence in the House at the present time. There is to be a new provision concerning section 47. This is a fantastic subject. All the eccentrics about the rights of ex-servicemen can get their teeth into this subject. We did it for many years. What is the Minister’s interpretation of what is to be done? In his second reading speech the Minister said:
The determining authorities will be required to grant a claim or application or allow an appeal unless they are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that there are insufficient grounds for granting that claim or application or allowing that appeal.
In relation to the great debates that we have had here over section 47 of the Act, I can remember Dr Evatt -
– You can remember Dr Evatt!
-I think that the exservicemen of this country regard Dr Evatt and a former Attorney-General, Senator Spicer, as well as a former honourable member for Balaclava, now Mr Justice Joske, as the great freedom fighters about section 47. I have given some figures tonight about the massive incidence of rejections of claims by the repatriation boards, tribunals, assessment bodies and so on. Those of us who meet our constituents know that the exserviceman has been very disillusioned. There is this massive incidence of rejection. The onus of proof provisions of section 47 are extremely important. Nobody would disparage that contention. It is fortunate that the people whom I have mentioned- Spicer, Evatt and Joske- have brought a great deal of enlightenment to bear on these matters. Dr Evatt, as he was then, referred in Hansard in the 1955 to the judgment of Mr Justice Denning in the case of Miller v. Minister for Pensions in 1 947 when he said:
Where the cause of the case in unknown or imperfectly known -
As Dr Evatt pointed out, that happens in so many cases- the only proper conclusion is that the Minister cannot discharge the burden of proof, because the unknown cause may be a cause incidental to war service, and for that purpose the evidence must reach the same degree of cogency as is required in a criminal case before the accused is found guilty.
Dr Evatt said:
He means that it must be accepted unless one can say, as a jury must say before convicting a person, that the condition could not have had anything to do with war service, and be sure of that beyond a reasonable doubt. That is the statement of the principle.
Many of the ex-servicemen who come into our offices are unable to document their claims because the years have passed by and the witnesses have passed by. I have been to Operation Grand Slam and Operation Nutcracker- the military exercises- and I have gone into the regimental aid post tent where the whole simulated exercise is supposed to be effectively monitored. I remember George Jones, a former honourable member for Capricornia, saying to a colonel: ‘Where is the statement and the file about the condition of the man who busted his knee in this simulated exercise?’, and there has been nothing. That happens even in contemporary times. Even in 1974- it might have been 1971 or something like that- it is still not being done in relation to simulated battles. No wonder some of the exservicemen who come into our offices are unable to substantiate their cases. The colonel passes the responsibility down to the major, the major passes it down to the captain, the captain passes it down to the lieutenant and the lieutenant passes it down finally to the sergeant, who says: ‘Where is the record? Where are the details?’ In a few years that man will turn up with a claim for osteoarthritis of the knee or something like that and the evidence will not be available.
Let me say simply that I think that section 47-1 have done some study of this mattermight be being crystallised at the moment. It might put beyond contention some of the claims that people are making in respect of conditions that they sustained in the service of their country. I am not here to disparage this legislation. I think that in sweet reason it is something that has to be acknowledged as a worthwhile element of progress. I am only sorry that the major recommendations of the Toose report- some 300 of them- are not being received with the same enthusiasm from the Liberal-National Country Party Government. The Opposition supports the legislation. I hope that the ex-servicemen of this country will benefit from it.
– It is not my purpose tonight to go through the whole of the report of the Independent Inquiry into the Repatriation System- the Toose report. However, I have been challenged by the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) to say a few words. There are a few things to which I should like to make reference, but at the commencement of my comments I should like to ask the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) what he really meant when he said that he could look at a medical file only after an appeal has been lodged. I hope I heard him correctly and that this is not a case of discrimination against those people who are not medical practitioners. I believe that the Repatriation Department in the main is fairly helpful when it comes to making available the histories and various bits of information that members of Parliament want in the preparation of a case on behalf of their constituents.
I commend the honourable member for Her7 bert (Mr Bonnett) who, in his usual form, covered the subject matter very well indeed and did it in such a few well chosen words. I believe that in his 5-minute speech he said possibly much more than the honourable member for Hughes said in his 20-minute speech. It is just as well our Standing Orders permit only 20 minutes for the making of speeches on some of these issues. After all, it would be very easy for one to commence by picking up the Toose report and speaking at some length on it simply by talking about the statistics in it. The only statistic I want to mention in complimenting Mr Justice Toose on his preparation of the report is the figure he mentioned at the tail end of his opening when he said that approximately 4300 individuals were contacted. That proves to me that at least the inquiry did something, that it was prepared to concentrate its efforts in the preparation of a very satisfactory report.
I do not intend to go through all the issues that have been mentioned. The honourable member for Hughes said that there are something like 300 recommendations in this report. Surely the honourable member for Hughes has been here long enough to appreciate that no government would just automatically accept all the recommendations in the report of an inquiry that has been continuing for many years and that has come to light with 300 recommendations. What I like about this legislation is the fact that the Government has started to accept some recommendations of the Toose Committee. I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to study some of the other recommendations so that in turn some day it will be able to recommend many more of them to the Parliament.
As I said, the legislation before us tonight covers quite a deal of ground. I will mention 2 matters, namely proposed section 47 to which the honourable member for Hughes referred and also to the Toose Committee’s recommendations in respect of the assessment of incapacity which I believe to be a very vital section of the report. Paragraph 1 14 of the report states:
Broadly, assessment of ‘disablement’ for the purposes of paying war pension should measure the total effect of service-related disabilities upon the member. Economic loss should not be adopted as the sole basis for providing compensation under the legislation.
Paragraph 1 15 states:
The assessment of ‘disablement’ should be based primarily on the level of impairment arising from service-related disabilities and, in addition, should also take into account the following:
pain and suffering;
This is one consideration which is often overlooked when people talk about repatriation matters. The paragraph continues:
Paragraph 117 states:
Special Rate pension or its equivalent, for total and permanent disablement is properly payable irrespective of the age of the member, so long as he satisfies the requirements of the legislation.
Paragraph 127 states:
The present war pensions structure should be replaced by a new structure incorporating two separately identifiable components, namely:
a ) disablement pension; and
b) income supplement.
Paragraph 128 states:
The disablement pension should comprise a single scale, with the top level pension payable for total disablement expressed as Rating 100. Lower levels of pension for partial disablement should decrease in regular shifts expressed as fixed proportions of the rating for total disablement.
This is a matter about which I have thought and on which I have had very strong views for a long, long time. I recall very vividly many years ago when I was a new member in this place making a comment in relation to the difference between the 100 per cent pension and the totally and permanently incapacitated pension. For the benefit of honourable members who are not familiar with this matter I point out that there was a very big variation between the 2 rates. I was trying to emphasise this difference to the various Ministers and various members in the chamber. However, I did not meet with a great deal of success. The former honourable member for Bass came to my aid and supported the principle. The only way that I could express the big variation in the 100 per cent disability rate and the TPI rate was to say that ‘I could not see how a person could get sicker than 100 per cent sick’. Senator McKellar eventually accepted the principle that the TPI rate and the 100 per cent rate were too far apart. The then Government introduced an intermediate rate. We now have a situation where the intermediate rate, which was normally expected to be below 100 per cent, is now to be higher than 100 per cent. I belive that Mr Justice Toose made a very valid point when he recommended that eventually disability must be based on 100 per cent. Sooner or later we will be able to sort this matter out.
I agree with the honourable member for Hughes that proposed section 47 has created much feeling and heart-burn. The Minister for Evironment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman), who is sitting at the table, represents the Bass electorate. The Minister’s predecessor and I thought along similar lines in respect of some of these matters. I note with interest the concern shown by the former member for Bass and the fact that the present legislation is being guided through the House by the present member for Bass. I compliment the Minister at the table and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack) for accepting the recommendations of the Toose report. The provisions of section 47 have always been an issue amongst many ex-servicemen. People, of course, become confused when we start talking about the benefit of the doubt rests with the exserviceman or appellant. In actual fact, the interpretation is whether there is any doubt in the minds of members of the tribunal. I will be interested to see how this provision operates when the legislation becomes law.
Proposed new section 47 (2) states:
The Commission, Board, Appeal Tribunal or Assessment Appeal Tribunal -
This is important-
Section 47 ( 1 ) of the principal Act, in part, states: . . . shall not be bound by technicalities or legal forms or rules of evidence and shall give to the claimant, applicant or appellant the benefit of any doubt.
If one studies these 2 provisions closely, one can see where the weakness lies. I am very grateful to and I compliment the Government for having introduced this measure. It has been one that has been bugging many people for along time. There is no doubt in my mind that it will not be long before the Government considers other recommendations in the Toose report. I am sure that we will be debating other repatriation measures in the not very distant future. I conclude by saying that I compliment the Government and I certainly support this Bill.
– in reply- There are a few matters that have to be taken up. First, may I congratulate the honourable members for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) and Wimmera (Mr King) who, as everyone knows, have a deep interest in these matters. Over the years they have exercised much determination and action which has produced the sorts of amendments that are in front of us tonight. If I can just indulge in a little nostalgia, I might add that the interest shown by Lance Barnard, my predecessor in this place who was mentioned by the honourable member for Wimmera, in repatriation matters was well known. To take the association even further, Lance Barnard’s father was one of the original Repatriation Ministers. If not the first Minister for Repatriation he was probably very close to being the first. Therefore, that association has gone on over many years. I hope that it may go on for many years yet.
– It certainly will.
-Thank you. I refer to the matter raised by the honourable members for Wimmera and Prospect (Dr Klugman) in respect of the availability of medical records. I am advised that the situation is this: If a member claims for a disability, the Commission will do all in its power to help the person making a claim, or the person helping to make a claim, by providing information and so on. It would be administratively very difficult to provide extracts of medical records in respect of each claim that was submitted. The honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) went through statistics and pointed out the volume of work to which the Commission is subjected. I think that is a reasonable position to take. But when the person then goes to the position of making an appeal, the Department makes available an extract of his records so that that appeal may be prospered in the best way.
– You might save yourself appeals if you gave it out earlier.
– I see the point the honourable member is making but the real issue is whether there is enough time and enough personnel to meet the demand which would be generated by letting that happen. I think the present system is one which will exist for a long time. Probably it is a practical system as well. The honourable member for Prospect brought up the matter of legal representation at hearings before tribunals. I think the Minister in the other place has made this very clear, but I reiterate it. If the Government accepted ex-servicemen’s views that this would reduce informality and increase costs, such representations would be limited to hearings chaired by a presidential member of the tribunal and then only with his consent. This course was preferred because such hearings generally involve the establishment of some important matter of principle.
The honourable member for Prospect raised the matter of sharing facilities in our repatriation general hospitals. I think he was talking in particular about pathology. In fact, this is something of which the Commission is well aware and is intent on introducing. In the honourable member’s State of New South Wales at the repatriation general hospital at Concord there is a fandegree of co-ordination between the New South Wales Health Commission and the hospital, not only in pathology, but also, as I think the honourable member will be aware, in the new casualty department which has been opened there. We agree with that. The Commission is intent on trying to produce the sort of position about which the honuorable member was talking.
I shall deal with a few points made by the honourable member for Hughes. I suppose if I am known as the undertaker around here the honourable member for Hughes must surely be known as the magpie. I have never known a man to speak for so long about so little. He was making the point about the recommendations of the Toose report that repatriation boards should be abolished and replaced with another arrangement. That certainly was a recommendation made by Mr Justice Toose. But what the honourable member for Hughes did not mention was that in paragraph 69 Mr Justice Toose made the provision that if boards were not abolished there should be a different set of recommendations. The reason why the Government did not accept the recommendation of Mr Justice Toose that repatriation boards should be abolished was simply that there was a tremendous weight of criticism made by various ex-service organisations. I mention two. For example, I have an extract here from the Returned Services League. It states that the proposal to abolish the Repatriation Board was strongly opposed. It went on to state:
It was agreed for the sake of uniformity that the Board should be made clearly and directly subject to the oversight by the Commission providing the extent of the Commission ‘s control is the subject of a very careful analysis or interpretation.
Again, commenting on the Toose Report the Australian Services Council stated:
The Council after considerable consideration and discussion is firmly of the opinion that repatriation boards should be maintained with complete autonomy. Such boards provide an element of veterans’ representation in the environment in which applications are considered. It has some elements of the jury system. It has overall been most valuable and reassuring to ex-servicemen. The Council considers that training and support for board members should be provided.
Thus from that sort of comment and from others which were made the Government decided on the recommendation made in paragraph 69. In the second reading speech we made it very clear that in accepting the Board we made the provisions that before members of the Board commence the task of determination they should be subjected to training programs. We will be doing that. Secondly, it was suggested that rotation between States’ boards and board chairmen and members should be actively pursued. We will be doing that. The very thing we have not done is found in the first recommendation which he made, namely, that boards should be made clearly and directly subjected to active oversight by the Commission. The reason why we have not done that was made clear in the second reading speech. It was that in view of the Commission’s positions as the first appellant body above boards, such oversight by the Commission could be seen to weaken the independence of the board as initial determining bodies. Therefore we rejected that recommendation. I hope that answers the query raised by the honourable member for Hughes in relation to this being some sort of compromise. It was not. It was taking a direct recommendation from Mr Justice Toose which he posed as an alternative to his original recommendation. The hour is late and I am sure everyone would like to get on with the matter.
– No, keep going.
-Can I? I am being encouraged.
-The Minister may not be encouraged from the Chair.
– The Government appreciates the comments made from both sides of the House tonight about the legislation which we have introduced. I agree with all those things which have been said. I think the amendment to section 47 will make quite a deal of difference to the way in which the Act is administered and the way in which justice is done to ex-servicemen and women of Australia.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Newman) read a third time.
Consideration of Senate ‘s amendments. Clause 6.
Section 36a of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-section (2) and substituting the following sub-section: ‘(2)Where-
Senate’s amendment No. 1-
At the end of the clause, add the following sub-clause: “(2) Section 36a of the Principal Act is amended by adding at the end thereof the following sub-section: ‘(5) A notice for the purposes of sub-section (2) given on or after 24 May 1977 in respect of a change in the ownership of, or in the interests of persons in, property, being-
a share or stock in the capital of a company;
a debenture, note or other security issued in respect of a loan to a company; or
any other chose in action, does not have any effect unless the persons giving the notice establish to the satisfaction of the Commissioner that the change in ownership or interests occurred before that date.’.”.
Senate’s amendment No. 2-
In sub-clause (4) leave out ‘section 6’, substitute ‘subsection 6 (1)
– I move:
That the amendments be agreed to.
The amendments are directed to new tax avoidance arrangements that have been devised with the intention of frustrating the limitations on the operation of sub-section 36A (2) of the income tax law that were agreed to by honourable members when the Bill was debated in this House. They are related to the conditions under which all the taxpayers concerned in the formation, variation or dissolution of a partnership, may elect under sub-section 36A (2) to value trading stock owned by one or more of the partners at cost or replacement price for taxation purposes, instead of at market value.
Under an amendment made in clause 6 of the Bill as passed by this house, such an election may be made only where the market value of the trading stock is greater than the cost or replacement price adopted by the former owner or owners in their income tax returns. That amendment, which is necessary to prevent a misuse of the new trading stock adjustment, will also bring to an end a number of tax avoidance arrangements designed to generate tax deductions when trading stock is acquired after its true value has been reduced.
Since the Bill was introduced in this house, however, other arrangements have been adopted by some tax planners to get around the proposed amendment. In a typical scheme, all the issued shares in one or more private companies holding accumulated profits are acquired, ostensibly for share-trading purposes, by a partnership of which some members are individuals in receipt of high incomes. The accumulated profits are then paid by way of dividend to a separate company, the shares in which are also held, and later sold, by the partnership. Section 36a is invoked so that no taxable profit arises on the sale for full value of the shares in the separate company. The shares in the other private companies are also sold at their true value but, having been stripped of their profits, a tax-deductible loss is created. The end result is that substantial amounts of other income earned by individual members of the partnership are wholly freed from tax.
The amendments to the Bill made by the Senate on the motion of the Government will preclude an election being made under the section in respect of transfers of interests in trading stock comprising company shares and securities or other choses in action. The amendments will not, however, withdraw any rights to lodge elections under section 36A in relation to transfers of interests in such property if it is established that the transfers took place before 24 May 1977, the day on which the amendments were foreshadowed in the Senate.
-The Opposition does not oppose these amendments which originated in the Senate. In fact, at the time certain amendments were moved in this chamber- it was when the income tax legislation relating to the Mathews’ proposals was being debated- I made the point on behalf of the Opposition that some tax avoidance schemes would still escape the provisions which were then being passed. Only within the next few days advertisements appeared in the Australian Financial Review which you, Mr Deputy Chairman, probably saw but which I will read to the Committee. One advertisement stated:
Minimise your income tax. Yes, you can. Whether you are an idividual, a company, a trust you can still benefit by belonging to a partnership using a section 36a election. Contact-
I will not on this occasion read the name of the company. Another advertisement stated:
The recent amendment narrows the section but does not repeal it. Time is of the essence to ensure success.
Time was of the essence because by the amendment introduced in the Senate on 24 May at least another loophole was closed.
Having said that, I want to repeat what I said at the time when last minute amendments were passed by this chamber relating to retrospectivity, namely, that the changes that have been made to section 36a of the Income Tax Assessment Act will cause hardship to genuine people, particularly primary producers in partnerships and particularly where a death has brought about a termination of that partnership. I should like to raise again the possibility of more sophisticated amendments than the ones brought before this chamber on the previous occasion when this Bill was before us and the ones which have been presented to us by the Senate now. I should like to see more sophisticated amendments which would still allow the benefits which were given to genuine people under section 36A but at the same time close off the great tax avoidance schemes- that is the very nicest way we can sum them up- to the ungenuine people, to those with very high incomes who are doing nothing more or less than entering into arrangements to prevent themselves paying their just taxes. Honourable members on both sides of the chamber believe in the principle that those with the ability to pay should pay. It is wrong that we should require such complicated legislation as this to close off these loopholes.
I draw the attention of the Committee to the valuable work done by Mr Eric Risstrom, the Secretary of the Australian Taxpayers Association, in putting forward detailed proposals on how the Act could be amended so that the genuine people could still be allowed the benefits with the ungenuine people prevented from getting them. At this late hour I am not very keen to encourage the Minister Assisting the Treasurer (Mr Viner) to get to his feet again, but perhaps on a future occasion when the legislation is again before the House the Minister will bring forward the sort of amendments that Mr Risstrom had in mind.
I repeat that particularly where there is a death in a partnership, especially a farming partnership, now that section 36A has been removed in this way, there sometimes will be tax losses which will be passed on to individuals who will then be unable to make use of their tax rebates. I wish this particular amendment were not coming through the Committee at such a late hour and I could go into more details and explain the alternative proposals. But because of the lateness of the hour I shall merely make those few points and hope that something better, can be done in the future and that some more sophisticated amendments which will allow what I have suggested to happen will be introduced.
I end on this note: Having suggested more sophisticated amendments, I do so with qualifications because the Income Tax Assessment Act already is a jungle. Those people who know it and try to work at it will realise that it is an impossible Act. Many hundreds of people of great ability are making livings out of finding loopholes in the Act and many other very able people are doing nothing more than seeking to plug those loopholes. When those talents could be used for a more productive purpose it is a pity that they are being used in this way. I make a suggestion that perhaps all honourable members on both sides of the chamber could think about, that is, that we should adopt a procedure which applies in Norway and, I understand, also in Italy. This is not a Labor Party policy; I am just putting forward a suggestion that honourable members on both sides should think about. I suggest that the taxable incomes of each person in this country should be available for any other person who cares to go to the Taxation Office to witness. Perhaps this would provide a deterrent to people seeking to pay less than their due desserts. We all know that if some people get away with paying less than they should, particularly the wealthy who indulge in these tax avoidance schemes, all the rest of us have to pay more if we are to obtain the same benefits. It is worth while to think about adopting such a procedure. Perhaps if our taxable incomes were available for scrutiny then such an industry, which takes up the time of so many valuable people, would not prosper in the way it does.
– I should like to make just a few comments in respect of this Bill. I ask the Minister Assisting the Treasurer (Mr Viner) whether he can furnish me with some information. What is the operative date of the amendments which have been made by the Senate. I ask that because when the original Bill which contained amendments concerning section 36a of the Income Tax Assessment Act come into this House it had an operative date of 1 July 1 976, 1 think. Representations were made to supporters of the Government and members of the Opposition by Mr Eric Risstrom. He put rather a forceful case, so much so that the Government in fact did bring down amendments to make the operative date 21 April 1977. I should like the Minister to advise us of the operative date of the new amendments to section 36a. I should hate to think that the tax avoiders about whom I spoke on another occasion when this Bill was before the House would be gleaning further benefits to which, quite frankly, they are not entitled. Rarely do I commend the Government, but on this occasion I commend it for bringing in these amendments. As Senator Withers said in another place:
The amendment is intended to prevent the new trading stock adjustment being misused for tax avoidance purposes.
I commend to the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) that action should be taken, but not only in respect of amendments to section 36A. There are other provisions in the Income Tax Assessment Act which are being misused, if I may use that word, for the financial benefit of people who in reality do not need them. They are obtaining these financial benefits only at the expense of somebody else. To the extent that the Government has decided to close off one of these additional loopholes, I commend it.
I also commend to the Government the thought that it should have a further look at a lot of the other tax avoidance schemes which are still available and ask the Taxation Commissioner to bring down at a very early date some recommendations for closing off of those tax avoidance schemes. As the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) said when speaking to this Bill, there are still many tax avoidance schemes which have not been closed off and there are very shrewd tax consultants, very shrewd tax advisers, whose sole role is to save money for their clients at the expense of the ordinary taxpayer, who can ill afford to pay more. I commend to the Government that it should as a matter of urgency ask the Taxation Commissioner to look at this matter. Knowing the procedures which operate within the Taxation Office, I am certain that the Taxation Commissioner would be only too willing to suggest further amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act which would further close off some of the loopholes still in existence, and not only in respect of section 3 6 a.
I suggest to the Minister at the table that he should take up with the Treasurer the problem of taxation avoidance generally. I am informed by people who should know that prior to the closing off of the loopholes in regard to section 36A, the cost to revenue of the misuse of these provisions in the Income Tax Assessment Act was something like $200m a year. If $200m a year is lost to revenue, it means that very beneficial projects cannot be implemented. The tax dodgers are getting away with it, and other people in the community are not receiving the benefits to which they should be entitled in respect of social services, education and so on because the revenue is not there. I suggest to the Minister at the table that he should take up with the Treasurer this very important issue of tax avoidance so that these tax avoidance schemes can be closed off.
– For the information of the honourable member for Banks (Mr Martin) who has just spoken, I point out that the measure now before the chamber is to come into operation on 24 May 1977, that being the date on which the amendment was foreshadowed in the Senate. The consequence of that is that the measures outlined in clauses 5 and 6 of the Bill originally introduced in this chamber will operate as from 21 April 1977, that date being chosen so as to remove altogether any element of retrospectivity. So any of the new schemes which were engineered by the tax planners after the date of the first amendment in this chamber will have only from that date until 24 May in which to become operative. It may well be that there was little opportunity for it to become operative because the transfers of shares could not have taken place within the stipulated time. The iniquity of the tax avoidance schemes which have now been closed off by the Government is that they were not real losses that were being used to offset earned income but manufactured losses- a totally artificial situation.
I am pleased to see that honourable members opposite are as willing and as anxious as the Government has been to close off this loophole. I take the point made by the honourable gentleman that the Government needs to be always concerned to close off loopholes of this kind, because where high income earners avoid paying tax it necessarily imposes an unfair burden on other genuine taxpayers within the community. The Taxation Office does have under consideration at the present time a review of the Act with respect to tax avoidance schemes and, in due course, will be reporting to the Government.
Amendments agreed to.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
Consideration of Senate’s amendments.
Section 22 of the Principal Act is repealed and the following sections are substituted:- 2lA.(l) . . .
Senate’s amendment No. 1-
In proposed Section 2lA(3)(b) after ‘21 ‘insert ‘(l)’.
Section 29 of the Principal Act is repealed and the following section substituted:
Senate’s amendment No. 2-
In proposed Section 29 (6) leave out ‘(5)’, substitute’(4)’.
– I move:
That the amendments be agreed to.
These are simply what might be called drafting amendments. I do not think that I need say anything more about them.
– I certainly agree that the Senate’s amendment No. 1 seems to be just a drafting amendment. It does not present any problem. Consistent with my practice of always taking a keen interest in what is put before this chamber, I should like to refer to the Senate’s amendment No. 2, which refers to clause 18 and, in part, states: . . . leave out ‘(5) ‘.substitute ‘(4)’.
I am not certain why this amendment is to be made. Proposed section 29 (6) will then state:
Notwithstanding sub-section (4)- it was previously ‘sub-section (5 ) ‘- the Tribunal may entertain an application . . .
I am somewhat interested in proposed section 29 (4) which, in part, states:
Proposed new sub-section (4) says that if the Tribunal forms an opinion it need not deal with an application while under proposed new subsection (5) it can have regard to any other matters which it considers relevant. This leads me to wonder why in the name of fortune we are worrying about proposed new sub-section (6) which says that the Tribunal may entertain an application if it is of the opinion that there are special circumstances. To make my point clear, why have that provision if we also provide that the Tribunal can form an opinion that it will not entertain an application? Why say later on that it may form another opinion? I do not see what the provision is driving at and therefore do not see the need for proposed new sub-section (6).
Thursday, 2 June 1977
– I think I follow what the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) is putting but I certainly do not think it means that we should leave out proposed new sub-section (6) at this stage. It seems to cover a situation where proposed new subsection (4) does not operate.
– Proposed new sub-section (6) says that notwithstanding sub-section (S), the Tribunal may entertain an application referred to in that sub-section. This means that the Tribunal still forms its own opinion.
-It can still entertain an application if there are special circumstances to justify it doing so. Under proposed new sub-section (4) it might refuse to entertain an application.
– Why could it not form that opinion under (4)?
-It might. Proposed new subsection (4) covers certain denned circumstances. There is no doubt that proposed new sub-section (6) in the form in which it has gone through contains reference to ‘sub-section (5)’. It should have read ‘sub-section (4)’ and that is the purpose of this amendment. If it turns out to be redundant, I will be surprised. But should it do so, I certainly will take account of the matter.
Amendments agreed to.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
Consideration of Senate’s amendments.
Senate ‘s amendment No. 1 -
In sub-clause ( 1 )( d ) after ‘ it ‘ insert ‘ was ‘. Clause 13.
A statement or further statement furnished under this section in respect of a decision shall be deemed to be part of the record of the decision for the purposes of an application under section 5 in relation to the decision.
Senate’s amendment No. 2-
Leave out sub-clause ( 8 ).
– I move:
That the amendments be agreed to.
The first amendment is to clause 5 sub-clause ( 1 ) paragraph (d). I think it is fairly clear that it is a drafting amendment. The second amendment is to clause 13 and is that sub-clause (8) be left out. Sub-clause (8) provided that a statement or further statement provided under clause 13 for the reasons for a decision is deemed to be part of the record of the decision for the purpose of reviewing that decision. This provision originally was inserted in accordance with the recommendation of the Commonwealth Administrative Review Committee. However the view has been taken that the sub-clause is unnecessary. It is similar to what we were discussing on the previous Bill. The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) was correct. The provision made in clause 5 sub-clause ( 1 ) paragraph (f) will enable the court to review a decision for an error of law regardless of whether that error appears on the record. The Kerr Committee had proposed as a ground of review that there was an error on the face of the record. A statement or further statement furnished under clause 13 could be taken into account by the Federal Court for the purpose of determining whether a division involved an error of law without the need for specific provisions.
Judicial Review Bill
Indeed having regard to the form of paragraph 5(1) (0. sub-clause 13(8) could give rise to difficulties of interpretation and it was therefore moved in the Senate that the sub-clause be omitted.
– The Opposition agrees with the amendments. The first one is purely a drafting one and the second one, I think I must agree, is in accordance with what the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) has said. Paragraph (f) reads: ( 0 that the decision involved an error of law, whether or not the error appears on the record of the decision;
All that sub-clause 13 (8) is saying is that it shall be deemed to be part of the record. I do not think there is any need to have sub-clause (8) and I agree that it should be deleted.
Amendments agreed to.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment:
Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill 1 977. National Labour Consultative Council Bill 1977.
House adjourned at 12.6 a.m. (Thursday)
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 9 March 1977:
What is the percentage of (a) single women, (b) married women under 20 years of age, (c) married women from 20 to 30 years of age, (d) married women from 30 to 35 years of age, (e) married women from 35 years of age to 45 years of age and (f) 45 years of age and over, included in the total employees of the Australian work force.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has advised that:
Estimates derived from the February 1977 Labour Force Survey show that the total number of employees in Australia in February 1977was4987 700.
Estimates of female employees by age and marital status as a percentage of all employees are not available in all of the age groups requested. However, the following table, derived from the February 1977 Labour Force Survey, shows percentages for the nearest available age groupings:
am asked the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, upon notice, on 9 March 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The answers to questions (2), (3) and (4) have been provided by the Department of Social Security.
New South Wales, 28; Victoria, 10; Queensland, nil; South Australia, 12; Western Australia, 1; Tasmania, 5; Australian Capital Territory, 2; Northern Territory, nil; total, 58.
It is understood that in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia the processing by Child Welfare Authorities of adoption formalities for a number of other children has been completed and the applications are awaiting processing by the Courts.
Under Section 6 of the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act, the Minister for Social Security is the legal guardian in Australia of children who come within the provisions of the Act. This applies to children only after they arrive in Australia and after they have been granted resident status. In practice, the Minister delegates the function of guardianship to the Chief Welfare Officer of the competent State or Territorial authority, who in turn arranges for the custody of the children with foster parents with the view to adoption. The Minister remains their guardian until they reach the age of 18 years or are exempted from the provisions of the Act for other reasons, including adoption, marriage or departure from Australia.
It would not be appropriate to provide the names and addresses of the people caring for children awaiting adoption, as these children are in a similar position to those who have already been adopted and release of such information is specifically excluded by State and Territorial adoption legislation.
asked the Minister for Overseas Trade, upon notice, on 10 March 1977:
What action has been taken to obtain a reduction of the United States tariff on imports of raw wool since December 1975.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
There is a long history of discussion between the Australian and United States Governments on the question of a possible reduction in the United States duty on raw wool imports and, since December 1975, every appropriate opportunity has been taken to pursue the matter further. The interest of the Australian Government in this matter is well understood by the United States Government.
The matter was raised in April 1976, during a visit to Australia by the then United States Secretary for Agriculture, Mr Earl Butz, and has since been discussed between Australian officials and officials of the United States Department of Agriculture. During my visit to the United States last month I took the opportunity to re-emphasise to the United States Secretary of Agriculture, Mr Robert Bergland, Australia’s continuing interest in a reduction in the wool duty.
The matter is also being pursued in the context of the Multilateral Trade Negotiations currently under way in Geneva. Under the notification and consultation procedures adopted for agriculture in the Negotiations, Australia has notified U.S. barriers to agricultural trade on a number of agricultural commodities, including the tariff on raw wool. Consultations were subsequently held in Geneva and the matter will be pursued further as the negotiations progress.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 10 March 1977:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The precise cost of extending medical benefits arrangements to cover orthodontic treatment for these cases is not known. Medical benefits are, of course, payable under the present health insurance arrangements for medical services rendered by medical practitioners and approved dentists.
Butter Exports from European Economic Community (Question No. 412)
asked the Minister for Overseas Trade, upon notice, on 17 March 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
It is hoped that the EEC will be able to contain its butter restitutions to more realistic levels in the future.
In this regard, it is of some interest that Australia recently sold 6000 tonnes of butter to the U.S.S.R. and New Zealand sold 3000 tonnes. The prices for both these transactions are believed to be above those for the EEC sale.
asked the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 23 March 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Medibank Claims at Broken Hill, Mildura and Whyalla (Question No. 506)
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 23 March 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
(a) Claims submitted through Medibank’s Broken Hill office (which handles only the receipt, pre-assessment checks and subsequent dispatch of claims for processing) average 200 per week. This figure includes claims submitted by some of Medibank’s agent chemists. A further three agent chemists submit claims direct to Medibank at a combined rate of 32 per week.
Broken Hill-not available; Mildura-$24.16; Whyalla-$ 10.87.
The above figures relate to cash-paid claims only. Since no cash payment facilities are provided at Broken Hill the information is not available in relation to that office.
The differential in the value of claims between Mildura and Whyalla is possibly explained by the fact that claims lodged at Mildura average two and a half line items per claim whereas at Whyalla the average is only one point four line items per claim.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 19 April 1977:
Can he provide details of (a) tonsillectomy, (b) appendicectomy ad (c) hysterectomy rates per thousand of population for (i) Australia, (ii) Canada, (iii) the United States of America and (iv) the United Kingdom for the latest years for which information is available and for the latest comparable year.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 June 1977, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1977/19770601_reps_30_hor105/>.