30th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Lucock) took the chair at 2.55 p.m., and read prayers.
-Certain circumstances arose in relation to a matter which, in my opinion, was important not only to the Parliament but also to Australia. In the circumstances the ringing of the bells was delayed.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled, the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That many pensioners who are holders of the Pensioners Health Benefit Card, have suffered undue hardship as inmates of Private Nursing Homes, because the Federal Government subsidy was insufficient to meet the charges as laid down.
Many pensioners whose spouse was an inmate of the Private Nursing Homes suffered poverty in an endeavour to sustain their partner while in the nursing home.
Only in rare cases was the statutory minimum patient contribution as laid down adhered to.
That the telephone was a matter of life and death to many pensioners, but because of the cost of installation of the telephone many are unable to afford the installation.
That those pensioners who have only their pension and very little else to live on and are forced to pay high rents, are in many cases living in extreme poverty.
The foregoing facts impel your petitioners to ask the Australian Government as a matter of urgency to:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Anthony, Dr Edwards and Mr Morris.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth in Parliament assembled. The humble Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That where whole or pan of a deceased estate passes to the surviving spouse it should be free from Federal estate duty.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Sir William McMahon, Mr MacKellar and Mr Les McMahon.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We the undersigned members of the Order of the White Cross, a humanitarian Knighthood for the Defence and Protection of Life and residents of the Commonwealth of Australia by this our humble petition respectfully showeth:
That the undersigned petitioners are deeply concerned with the cruel continuation of the imprisonment in isolation of the former Minister of the Third Reich, Rudolf Hess in Spandau Prison, Germany, being a violation of Human Rights and an affront to the ethics of Humanity and Justice and that the grim fate of the eighty-three years old prisoner must be also the concern of die Australian Government since it took part, directly or indirectly in the Military Tribunal of Nuremberg.
It is a fact that:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that:
The Australian Government is not in agreement with the further imprisonment of Rudolf Hess, being an affront to the humanitarian principle of Australia and that the Government officially protests to the Soviet Union, demanding the release of the prisoner and allow him to spend the very short and last part of his life in the surrounding of his family.
To appeal to the Government of the Soviet Union to forgo their Veto in favour of a release on humanitarian grounds.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Anthony.
United Nations Session on Disarmament
To the Honourable Speaker and members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the spread of conventional and nuclear weapons throughout the world is creating serious tensions and risks and is absorbing an increasing proportion of the world’s resources and energy;
That it is essential to seek alternative methods of national and international security; and to extend non-violent ways of solving disputes among nations.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government and Parliament will:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Fry.
To the Honourable Speaker and members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
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. by Mr Fry.
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 we are concerned about the Commonwealth’s Housing Agreement with the States;
That the Commonwealth Government in renegotiating the Housing Agreement with the States recognise the urgent need for more capital funds for public housing building/ rental programs, and the immense value this has for many thousands of Australian citizens with low incomes;
That the States Housing Authorities are funded in a manner which allows them to determine their own financial and social responsibilities;
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Parliament in enacting a new Housing Agreement with the States does not force the States Housing Authorities to either charge ‘market rents’ or bear ‘market interest rates’ as we clearly recognise that those who rent pay more over their life than those who own their own home, and receive less direct and indirect Commonwealth Government subsidy.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrHurford.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia by this our humble petition respectfully showeth:
That it has come to our knowledge that Mrs Joan Kirner, a member of the Schools Commission, has been subjected to grossly unfair and unfounded criticism for carrying out her duties as a member of that Commission.
That this criticism has been aimed at forcing Mrs Kirner to remain silent when we believe it is her duty to speak out.
That Mrs Kirner has the complete confidence of the Australian Council of State Schools Organisations which body she represents, as well as that of your humble petitioners.
We therefore ask that the Government and the Minister for Education take notice of the splendid work done by Mrs Joan Kirner in her capacity as pan-time member of the Schools Commission.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrHurford.
To the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens (students, parents, teachers) of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the decision by the Government to withdraw all forms of financial assistance to students of non-State tertiary institutions is in total conflict with stated Government education policy.
The decision will result in a shortage of places for training secretarial and clerical students and an inordinate demand upon the State Government education systems.
At a time of severe economic disruption, this action must lead to a serious worsening of the current employment situation, particularly school leavers.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Federal Government will act immediately to reverse its decision.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Hyde.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Objection to the metric system and request the Government to restore the imperial system.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Jarman.
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 Cabinet’s decision to reject the Council of the Australian National Gallery’s proposal to purchase the Georges Braque painting Grand Nu, ignores the knowledge and experience of the Council’s members.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Council of the the Australian National Gallery be granted the right to purchase major works of art within the Gallery’s budget without Cabinet intervention and that Cabinet revoke its decision to reject the Council’s recommendation to purchase the Grand Nu.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Morris.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the existence of a system of double taxation of personal incomes whereby both the Australian Government and State Governments had the power to vary personal income taxes would mean that taxpayers who worked in more than one State in any year would:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that a system of double income tax on personal incomes be not introduced.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Morris.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That 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. by Mr Sinclair.
-The Minister for Transport undoubtedly will be as delighted as I was to notice that a week ago, after five years delay but in a sudden spurt of activity, the Queensland Government put through the Queensland Legislative Assembly a Bill to permit the Australian National Line to trade between Queensland ports, as all other shipping lines had always been able to do and still can do if they have the initiative. I ask the Minister How soon will he introduce the companion Federal Bill to permit the ANL to provide services which will greatly benefit the economy of Queensland ports and their hinterlands and the economics of the ANL? I take the opportunity to ask the Minister also: How much longer will it be before Trans-Australia Airlines can extend its services between Perth and Darwin to Port Hedland, for which the High Court cleared the way in its decision of 1 7 December last?
-Only this morning I spoke to the Leader of the House about the introduction of a complementary Bill which needs to go through this House to facilitate the capacity of the Australian National Line to trade intrastate along the Queensland coast. Subject to the legislative procedures of the House, the Bill will be passed during this session.
– It will not be opposed.
-I appreciate the fact that it will not be opposed. I am pleased to see that the Labor Party is joining us in a bilateral approach on this matter. Insofar as Trans-Australia Airlines and its operations up the west coast of Western Australia are concerned, that matter has been before an arbitrator. I understand that the arbitrator has finished hearings on the matter and has yet to bring down an adjudication on it. When that is done I shall be able to notify the House of the result.
– While the Treasurer was overseas, particularly while he was attending top level discussions at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, was he able to gauge international reaction to certain public statements made in Australia speculating upon the strength and standing of the Australian dollar and the possibility of a further devaluation of the Australian dollar?
-The irresponsibility of the public comment made by the honourable member for Oxley was sharply exposed in this House by the honourable member for Denison. It is right that the honourable member for Deakin should again draw attention to the potential dangers of speculation of that type, irresponsibly conceived, and public dialogue about matters which are very sensitive indeed to financial markets. I take the opportunity on returning from abroad to deplore in the strongest possible terms statements made recently by the honourable member for Oxley which, I believe, have been designed to weaken domestic and international confidence in the Australian economy and to promote very unhelpful and irresponsible speculation about the exchange rate. The honourable member for Oxley appears to have deliberately set out on a campaign to knock Australia because of the personal publicity which that might provide for him as a former Treasurer in the former Administration.
I inform the House, and in particular the honourable member who posed this question, that the statements made by the honourable member for Oxley were subject to very sharp criticism indeed by a number of influential businessmen and bankers abroad during discussions while I was at the International Monetary Fund in Washington. In spite of what the honourable member for Oxley has said, I am happy indeed to inform the House and the honourable member for Deakin that investors and businessmen with whom I spoke overseas are certainly far more confident now than they had been before about the strength of this country’s economy and the strength of our economic prospects for the period ahead.
-I direct my question to the Treasurer. Is it a fact that the Reserve Bank currently charges a hedging rate of 7 per cent on forward cover transactions? Did that rate fall by only 0.S per cent following the announcement by the Acting Treasurer that Australia was to borrow $ 1,700m from overseas to bolster Australia’s reserves of foreign exchange? Is it a fact that the so-called grey market rates which apply to private deals through hedge brokers for invisibles and capital items are higher than the official rate? Does this hedging rate represent the amount by which the dollar is over valued and the risk associated with covering that over valued currency?
– The honourable gentleman, in the absence of the honourable member for Oxley, is again seeking to exercise in this House the destructive activities in which he has been employed previously and which, I believe, are to be deplored by all Australians both in this House and elsewhere. The honourable gentleman’s campaign is utterly destructive in its objective. I say to the honourable gentleman that I will not join with him in a dialogue in this House which is designed by him and by the Opposition to achieve no purpose other than the knocking of Australia. That is what it is all about. Those members of the Opposition who are so vocal at the present time about the problems of unemployment in this country might do well to heed their own words of criticism in relation to the progress of the Australian economy, particularly as it relates to the external position. The honourable gentleman knows full well that that position is sound. If the honourable gentleman seeks to take some debating point about the effluxion of time between the statement made by the Acting Treasurer and the events to which the honourable gentleman draws attention, he- I was about to say that he should be the first, but he would not be the first; he would not even be the last because he does not understand these situationsshould understand that there has been insufficient time for private sector foreign exchange dealings to have had any basic effect as a consequence of the borrowing program. I invite the honourable gentleman to have at least a modicum of responsibility in these sensitive areas. If he is intent again on this destructive campaign, let him play that game, but this
Government and these Ministers will not join with him in it.
-Following his visit to the United States to attend the International Monetary Fund conference, can the Treasurer tell the House what prospects there are for renewed investments by American companies in Australia? Are there any statistics available which may show the extent of such planned investments?
– I am happy to inform the honourable member for Barker and the House- I hope that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition might welcome what I am about to say to himthat, according to a recent report of the United States Department of Commerce, capital expenditure by mining and smelting affiliates of United States companies in Australia is planned to increase by almost 50 per cent during 1978 and total capital spending by all United States affiliates in Australia is expected during the same period to rise by approximately 25 per cent. These increases are the first of any magnitude since 1971. They reflect-this is quite different from the views held by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition- a high level of international confidence in this country’s economic prospects and also directly in the economic policies which are pursued by this Administration.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. He will recall that in his electorate talk last Sunday he acknowledged that inflation is commonly measured by an index of consumer prices. I ask the Prime Minister Did the Treasurer claim in his 1976-77 Budget Speech that inflation would be reduced to single digit figures by the beginning of this financial year? Has not the Consumer Price Index for the last three quarters represented annual inflation rates of 14.4 per cent, 13.6 per cent and 13.4 per cent respectively? How can he assert that the Government is beating inflation when double digit inflation still prevails?
– According to the consumer price index, the March figure was 2.3 per cent; the June figure was 2.4 per cent. There is no way in which the honourable gentleman can convert those figures into double digit figures for an annual rate.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Is it true that no Sydney mail has been received in the Hunter Valley portion of the Paterson electorate and the electorate of Lyne since 26 September last? Is it a fact that at the moment 974 bags of mail for the area, containing 324,000 articles, are held at Redfern, and 139 bags for the region, containing 60,000 articles, are held at Newcastle? Is this causing great hardship to private citizens, business and local governing bodies? Are cheques totalling millions of dollars due to business houses, local government and pensioners held up in this situation? Is it caused by a ban imposed by postal workers at both Redfern and the new mail sorting exchange at Newcastle? Have workers at the Newcastle exchange refused to load mail for private contractors plying in the Hunter Valley to towns between Newcastle and Murrurundi and to towns between Newcastle, Taree and Gloucester? Will the Minister inform the House of the action which has been taken by the Government to overcome this very serious situation?
-It is true that there have been substantial backlogs of mail, particularly for the areas which the honourable member for Paterson and other honourable members represent. I have no doubt that the figures which he mentioned are accurate. I do not have all of them in mind. A substantial amount of mail has been delayed. The problems are two-fold. Newcastle was the first centre opened under the decentralisation program. It was opened only two or three days ago. Bans were placed upon that centre. I say to the honourable member that the Postal Commission and the Government are quite determined to have a decentralisation program which will avoid all the problems which we have had at Redfern for too lengthy a period. Indeed the Commission is now looking at other possibilities in Sydney because we are sick and tired of the inconvenience caused by the attitude of the Redfern postal workers. The bans at Newcastle and Redfern have now been lifted. That mail is starting to flow. The honourable member mentioned a problem concerning a mail contractor. That is on the Murrurundi-Newcastle run. The unions agreed to the contract. It was understood and agreed, but now bans have been placed upon that. There will be a meeting in Sydney this afternoon. I hope we will resolve that issue because both the Federal Executive and the State Executive of the Australian Postal and
Telecommunications Union are being cooperative in this instance and are trying to talk common sense to the workers.
-My question also relates to the statement by the Prime Minister in his electorate address on Sunday last that in the last financial year production increased by 3.5 per cent. Is it a fact that between the June quarter 1976 and the June quarter 1977 gross domestic product rose by 1.4 per cent rather than 3.5 per cent? Is it also a fact that real household disposable income per head fell by 3.7 per cent during the last financial year? Does he not agree with the honourable member for Mackellar and many other commentators that there can be no salvation through stagnation and that these figures suggest that the economy must be stimulated to promote economic recovery?
-As the Treasurer has made plain on a number of occasions, in the last financial year gross national product- nonfarm product-increased by 3 1/2 per cent, whereas in the last year of the Labor Government there was a contraction in actual production in Australia. I think I said in the House yesterday that one index and one index alone can indicate a reduction in total disposable household income. The Consumer Price Index with Medibank included does that. But we know that for very good reasons the Medibank element should be excluded from the Consumer Price Index.
-The honourable gentleman asks ‘why?’. I think it is well known that the Commonwealth Statistician took the Medibank element out of the Consumer Price Index. Because Medibank was paid for in a different way he arbitrarily put it back into the index. Every other index available indicates quite plainly that total disposable family income rose throughout last year.
Mr Moore having addressed a question to the Prime Minister-
-The question asked by the honourable member for Ryan covers a policy matter of the Opposition. That is not within the responsibility of the Prime Minister. But the effect that it would have upon an economic development program in comparison with the program of the present Government is within the responsibility of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister can answer that part of the question.
-There have been-
– I take a point of order.
-These points of order are being taken merely to prevent an answer being given -
-Order! I call the honourable member for Corio.
- Mr Acting Speaker, it has always been the practice of the House that a question cannot be asked of a Minister relating to a statement or policy which is not a responsibility of the Government. The Prime Minister may find on this occasion that the circumstances are advantageous. However, if you rule that he may answer and that procedure is allowed the same ruling would have to apply to the Standing Orders which allow for questions to be asked of other honourable members. That would mean that front bench members of the Opposition could be asked to comment on government policy. Their responsibility to the House would be exactly the same.
– Order! I point out to the honourable member for Corio that I have already indicated that that portion of the question which covers the policy of the Opposition is out of order. The Prime Minister cannot answer it. But the Prime Minister can answer that part of the question relating to the economic policy of the Government.
– I take a further point of order, Mr Acting Speaker. Because of your ruling, there is absolutely nothing left in the question. The question revolves around statements attributed to the Leader of the Opposition. Because of the way you have ruled, there is nothing left in the question. Perhaps you should ask the honourable member for Ryan to ask it again.
- Mr Acting Speaker, I draw your attention to page 288 1 of the House of Representatives Hansard of 7 November 1973. Commenting on a similar intervention by the honourable member for Adelaide, Mr Speaker Scholes said:
The honourable member will resume his seat. I want to impress upon those honourable members who take facetious points of order in order to get their point of view broadcast at the time that I will take action against them if they continue to do so in the future. I can assure honourable members of that. That was purely and simply a facetious remark.
I suggest that the intervention by the honourable member for Port Adelaide was specifically within that category.
– In regard to the point of order raised by the honourable member for Corio I have said that that portion of the question asked by the honourable member for Ryan which requests the Prime Minister to comment on a policy statement of the Leader of the Opposition is out of order.
That aspect is not the responsibility of the Prime Minister. As I understood it, the honourable member for Ryan also asked the Prime Minister about the relationship of the subject matter referred to with the policy of the Government.
– No, he did not.
-Order! The honourable member for Ryan will repeat his question.
Mr Moore having repeated the questionMr ACTING SPEAKER- Order! I rule the question out of order as it ceases to be in order at the point where it seeks comment on a statement by and a policy of the Leader of the Opposition.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs a question relating to the fostering of Aboriginal children under the laws of a State or the Commonwealth when the child’s home is unsatisfactory and the child is taken from the parents for the child’s safety. I ask: Firstly, does the Department of Aboriginal Affairs seek to give the unsatisfactory family suport, counselling or supervision at any point? Secondly, is the child fostered, if possible, to a satisfactory Aboriginal family, having regard to the overtones from the past in taking an Aboriginal child from his own race? If it is wise to foster the child to a European family, are steps taken for the child to maintain some contact with Aboriginal people?
– As I am sure the honourable gentleman is aware, my Department has no direct responsibility for the fostering of Aboriginal children. Fostering and the care of children is exclusively the jurisdiction of the various State agencies. However, I can inform the honourable gentleman that my Department has been working for some time in attempts to get a national policy towards the fostering of Aboriginal children. There has been a movement in some States for the establishment of Aboriginal organisations which will work in this field, but of course they must be registered with die appropriate State bodies. We are endeavouring to promote the idea that Aboriginal children should not be taken away from their natural parents unnecessarily and that in general circumstances Aboriginal children should be fostered with Aboriginal parents, accepting, however, that in appropriate circumstances white parents may provide a suitable home for Aboriginal children.
At recent meetings that I have had with State Ministers responsible in this area, those Ministers have agreed that their officers will co-operate with mine in seeking to formulate a national approach to the fostering of Aboriginal children. I sponsored a national seminar on the fostering of children and on juvenile delinquency among Aboriginal children which was held in Sydney several months ago. Work is continuing on the results of that seminar which was almost wholly an Aboriginal seminar, and I hope that out of that will come standard policies across Australia which the States will implement and with which the Commonwealth can co-operate.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is customary before a GovernorGeneral vacates office for the Parliament to be given an opportunity of formally farewelling him and indicating appreciation and esteem?
Opposition members interjecting-
– I thought that the question would produce that reaction. Will the Prime Minister ensure that a suitable opportunity is available to farewell Sir John and Lady Kerr as I am sure that very many of us here would warmly welcome the opportunity to extend such a formal farewell?
– It is customary for a parliament to show appreciation and esteem on the occasion of the retirement of a Governor-General. The honourable gentleman can be assured that an appropriate opportunity will be provided on this occasion. Several weeks ago a date was set for some time on 8 December for the swearing in of Sir Zelman Cowen.
-Is the Prime Minister aware that Mr Dixon, the Victorian Minister for Social Welfare, has called on the Federal Government to pay unemployment benefits to men and women who have been stood down because of the power dispute and stated that any decision to abolish these payments would cost the Victorian Government $7.6m a week. Is it also a fact that the Myers inquiry recommended that the Director-General of Social Security should be relieved of the responsibility for interpreting section 107 (c) ( 1) of the Social Services Act and that his discretion in classifying the terms ‘direct participant’ and ‘strike’ should be limited, not extended? Can he assure the House that the Government will heed Mr Dixon’s plea or has he once again put his policy of ‘salvation through stagnation’ ahead of the welfare of the unemployed?
-This matter comes within the responsibility of the Minister for Social Security. I shall answer the question. A decision will be taken on the return of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations after his discussion with the National Labour Consultative Council. He will be reporting back to the Minister for Social Security and the Government and an announcement will be made some time in the next day or so.
-Is the Minister for Health aware of the disability facing people in isolated rural areas of Australia in meeting high costs of travel and accommodation when they are referred by country general practitioners to specialists in distant cities? In view of the fact that the Government recognises the disadvantages suffered by isolated children in respect of education, and has done much in that area, will the Government also act to assist those very deserving people who have to travel long distances to receive medical care? There is no way for these people to obtain specialist attention other than by travelling to capital cities and having to meet the cost of accommodation.
-The Government has been considering a range of policies designed to minimise the disabilities of people living in isolated areas of Australia. This consideration would include policies relating to health services. The honourable member will recall that in the recent Budget under the family medicine program the Government announced an incentive scheme for young post-graduate general practitioners to encourage them to go to rural areas to practice at least for a period in the hope that they will settle in rural areas and thus help to overcome some of the manpower shortage that exists in these areas. I have written to the State health ministers seeking their co-operation under the hospitals cost sharing arrangement to share the cost of travel and accommodation as well as hospital and medical attention in a case where a patient is removed from one country hospital to another location to receive more expert medical attention.
I believe the States, which are now $640.5m better off as a result of the Fraser federalism policies, should be playing a greater role than they have played in the past in looking after the health, education and other welfare aspects of the people who live within their States. We are concerned about the very serious problem that confronts people living in isolated areas in which a general practitioner may refer a patient from a country town to a specialist in another centre or a city. We are looking at the possibility of trying to assist them in terms of their accommodation and travel in order to minimise the burden they are carrying. I think that that is only fair because today, under the universal health insurance scheme, people pay the same amount of levy if they are levy payers or the same premium if they are privately insured as people in the metropolitan areas. Therefore they should have equal access, if it is at all possible, to medical services in this country.
– My question, which is directed to the Prime Minister, concerns an answer given by him during Question Time yesterday in which he claimed that only by using the full consumer price index, including the Medibank element, as a price deflator is it possible to demonstrate a drop in total disposable family income during the last year. Has he ever looked at table 6 in Statement No. 2 of the Budget Papers which contain statistics regarding the movement in real household disposable income since March 1974? Is he aware that these statistics have been calculated using the implicit price deflator for private consumption rather than the consumer price index and that they show that the level of real household disposable income in the June quarter of this year was less than it was in the June quarter of 1976 and was below the level of any quarter since June 1974? In view of those facts will the Prime Minister now acknowledge that he misled the House yesterday and that his policies are indeed reducing the living standards of the Australian people?
-The honourable gentleman should well know that the policies of this Government are not reducing the living standards of the Australian people. The policies of family allowances, tax indexation and tax reform which have been introduced by this Government are of historic importance to all Australians. If the honourable gentleman is concerned about reducing the living standards of the Australian people I suggest he should turn to his own administration. According to Commonwealth Employment Service statistics, in the three-year period from December 1972 to December 1975 the level of unemployment rose by 140 per cent as a direct consequence of the Labor Government’s policies. In one year, from January 1974 to January 1975, the number of people unemployed increased by 190,514, or 157 per cent. The honourable gentleman should look at himself.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. If the present Government were to adopt the economic policies proposed by certain spokesmen which have recently attracted some Press publicity what would be the effect on unemployment in Australia?
– The unemployment level would most certainly rise because inflationary expectations would again be unleashed. That would lead to a massive loss of employment in the private sector of the Australian economy of the kind which I have just indicated occurred as a result of Labor Government administration over three years. The Opposition has indicated that it would abolish the investment allowance and the mining concessions which are designed to promote investment, and therefore jobs. It would take away private company taxation initiatives which are very much needed to assist small companies in particular. We have also been advised that it would reintroduce the same tariff policies, such as the 25 per cent across-the-board tariff cut which added so much to the level of unemployment right around Australia and which led directly to the export of tens of thousands of jobs. The Labor Party said that it would return to its old policies. It has made that plain. The Leader of the Opposition has made that plain. If those policies were applied in Australia a disastrous situation would be created. We need to understand that 100,000 jobs were lost in manufacturing industry under the Labor Government and mining investment and exploration virtually stopped. The rest of the world turned its back against Australia.
Much of these effects have been reversed over the last 20 months. There is now greater stability, inflation is very much down and employment has been stabilised. The rapid increase in the level of unemployment that was the hallmark of the Labor years has certainly stopped. Special protective measures in the textile, clothing and footwear industries and for the motor industries have led to a much better situation in those areas. Changes to the Industries Assistance Commission which, under Labor, had become the job export authority will do much to provide extra confidence for Australian industries. One would have thought that honourable gentlemen opposite were not only enemies of the Australian farming community but also enemies of manufacturing industry and enemies of employment in Australia because it was their policies which did so much to undermine the strength of the Australian economy. Just to mark what has happened, the inflow of foreign investment in 1976-77 was $826m compared to $128m the year before. I think those figures give an indication of the change in confidence in Australia.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question supplementary to that asked by the honourable member for Gellibrand. I ask the Minister whether he disputes and repudiates table 6 in statement 2 of the Budget Papers which shows that the standard of living of the Australian community had in fact fallen during 1976-77?
– I would certainly want to check the honourable gentleman’s interpretation of any table.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Without in any way attempting to downgrade Australia’s concern with human rights, can he guarantee that relations with Indonesia will not be allowed to be dictated adversely by any campaign conducted in Australia in relation to East Timor?
-First, I would like to assert that despite everything that has been said on this subject raised by the honourable member and every development that has taken place, Australia’s relations with Indonesia have remained fundamentally sound. We have spoken in the plainest language of the great importance of the Australian-Indonesian relationship. We have described the need to sustain and cultivate this relationship, having become after three decades what might be described as a constant factor in our foreign policy. We have pointed out that the present Government regards this relationship as one of the most important and substantial strands in the whole complex web of Australia’s foreign relations. Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is a matter, I would have thought, on which all parties should agree. I do not think anyone who makes a rational study of Australia’s on-going contacts and exchanges with Indonesia could justifiably deny that the relationship is extremely viable, dynamic and expanding. Looking beyond the ill-advised appeals that have been made by a vocal minority either to break off or at least greatly reduce the scope of the relationship, the extensive range of activities over which we have built up flourishing contacts with Indonesia in both the public and the private sectors are living evidence of the health of the relationship. In summary, therefore, I would reaffirm the strength and the soundness of our relations with Indonesia and express my confidence that it is a relationship that is destined to continue to develop rather than to wither away or be dismantled merely because of disagreement over a single issue. There has been no turning away from this relationship in the past two years and there should be no turning away from it in the future.
– For the information of honourable members I present the annual report of the Australian Council on Awards in Advanced Education for 1976.
– For the information of honourable members I present die monthly reports of the Darwin Cyclone Tracy Relief Trust Fund for May, June, July and August 1977.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report of the Industries Assistance Commission on polyethylene coated paper and paperboard for the manufacture of containers (by-law).
– I have received a letter from the honourable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Prime Minister’s constant and dangerous misrepresentations about the state of the economy.
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-
-Misrepresentation is no novelty from this Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). It has characterised his career.
– Order! I suggest that the Leader of the Opposition be careful in phrasing certain comments which he is making.
-People learn to discount what he says because it is distorted or inaccurate. But when he apparently uses partial and misleading information as a basis for policy making, when deception becomes a foundation for economic policy, then the Prime Minister’s propensity ceases to be merely a self-destructive quirk. It becomes a clear and public danger. No government can make sound policies unless those policies are based on the facts. Any government which continually misrepresents the facts will come to believe its own falsehoods and to make policy based on its own self-deception.
Last Sunday the Prime Minister delivered his weekly electorate talk. It was a catalogue of distorted, misleading and inaccurate statements. I am not referring to its wilder flights of rhetoricjust the clear, identifiable, verifiable misstatement of facts. The public will not be hoodwinked for one minute by these misrepresentations. The public can read; they can think. Most important of all, they can check the Prime Minister s assertions against their everyday experiences. When the Prime Minister asserts, as e did on Sunday, that we are beating inflation or when he says that the unemployment situation is improving, the only reaction from the people is a belly laugh. Whom does the Prime Minister think he is kidding? It is certainly not the people. It is instructive to examine his statement in some detail. He says: ‘We are beating inflation’. To sustain this assertion he uses the implicit price deflator. In the first place he knows, or should know, very well that this is a very erratic and unreliable indicator of the true rate of inflation. It has an inbuilt tendency towards inaccuracy because it includes the effects of all the provisional and preliminary judgments about economic activity during the previous quarters. It is invariably revised in succeeding quarters. It varies widely and unpredictably from one quarter to another.
The Prime Minister knows all this very well. But simply because the June quarter showed a very favourable and scarcely credible figure for the implicit price deflator he uses this to bolster the untenable claim that inflation has been reduced to 9 per cent. But in any case, the trend shown by the implicit price deflator is not downwards but upwards. Inflation is not going down; it is going up. At annual rates the implicit deflator rose by 9 per cent in the last six months of 1976. So far so good. But it rose by 12 per cent in the first six months of 1977. Thus, according to the Prime Minister’s own chosen indicator, inflation is going up. This is double misrepresentation. The measure itself is misleading and the Prime Minister’s use of that measure is scarcely honest. The Budget Papers give the lie to the Prime Minister. In Statement No. 2 the table shows that the implicit deflator for gross nonfarm product rose by 8.9 per cent in the second half of 1976 and by 13.1 per cent in the first half of 1977. So, far from falling, the rate of inflationby the very indicator chosen by the Prime Minister himself- is increasing rapidly. It is a gross misrepresentation to assert that the implicit deflator shows a fall in the rate of inflation.
It shows precisely the opposite. I come to the second misrepresentation. The Prime Minister stated:
Inflation is commonly measured by an index of consumer prices. We are doing much better with this index too. In the first half of this year, inflation, as measured by the CPI was also running at an annual rate of around 9 per cent.
There were three sentences with three tries at misrepresentation- a perfect score.
In the first place, the CPI is not merely a ‘commonly used ‘ measure- it is the principal measure of inflation. It is the one index which shows immediately the impact of inflation upon ordinary Australian households. It is the measure used by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission for the purposes of wage and salary indexation. It is the measure quoted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development when describing Australia’s rate of inflation. Secondly, the CPI does not show that inflation is going down; it shows the opposite. Thirdly, it does not show an annual rate of ‘around 9 per cent’; it shows an increase of 13.4 per cent. The CPI increased by 13.4 per cent in the year to the June quarter this year. In the year to the June quarter last year, the rate of increase has been 12.3 per cent. To hide the truth, the Prime Minister attempts to use incomplete or misleading parts of the CPI. He excludes the effects of hospital and medical charges- as if these were irrelevant to the cost of living for every Australian.
It is plain that inflation will show another spurt in the September quarter. Forecasters estimate the CPI increase will probably be between 3 and 4 per cent for the quarter. Food prices, which comprise 2 1 per cent of the CPI, increased by 4.4 per cent between May and August 1977. This is higher than in the September quarter last year, when the increase was 3.1 per cent, and much higher than in the September quarter of 1975, when the increase was 1.6 per cent. There has been no indication of a slowing down in the rate of wholesale price increases. The effect of devaluation will be an important factor in the . September quarter price increases. If the voluntary wage and price freeze had any impact on prices through delays in price increases, then that would have depressed the June quarter figure and would therefore increase the September quarter figure. An increase of 3 to 4 per cent for the September quarter would mean that the rate of inflation has been 14 per cent or more in the year to September. In these circumstances- circumstances of which he must be thoroughly aware- it is a grotesque misrepresentation by the Prime Minister to argue that the rate of inflation is falling, when such an appalling increase is underway.
The Prime Minister said: ‘Our record so far in reducing inflation is unmatched in the Western world’. Again, misrepresentation. The truth is that the average rate of inflation in the OECD countries in the year to July, the most recent month for which figures are available, was 9.5 per cent. In Canada the rate is 8.4 per cent; in Japan, 7.7 per cent; in the United States, 6.7 per cent; in Germany, 4.3 per cent; in Australia, 13.4 per cent. So much for a matchless performance by this Government.
Then there was gross misrepresentation about unemployment. He said that unemployment had ‘slightly improved over the last couple of months’. True, he acknowledged in passing that it was too high. The truth is, of course, that the Prime Minister knows that by any real test unemployment is not falling; it is rising. It will continue to rise dramatically and catastrophically. It will exceed 400,000- nearly 7 per cent of the work force- next year. He did not mention that there are 328,000 registered unemployed- 64,000 more than at the same time last year- 36 per cent higher than in October 1975. Of the work force 5.3 per cent cannot find jobs; one in twenty of the work force is unemployed. The gap between registered unemployed and registered vacancies widened sharply last month. One in six of young people aged between 15 and 19 years in the labour force cannot get jobs. We now know that just as the Prime Minister fudges with die inflation figures, he wants to fiddle the unemployment figures. Because the CES figures show the grim truth, he wants some other set of figures that might be dressed up and made more palatable.
What an exercise in futility! Australia’s unemployed are not statistics, they are fellowAustralians; they are human beings. They are, in increasing numbers, young people from all groups and classes and regions and sections of our community who are being deprived of work and hope and self-respect at the very threshold of their working lives. All the statistical juggling and fiddling in the world cannot hide the truth. In the three years of my Government the number of employees increased by nearly 200,000.
After two years of the Fraser Government, there are 14,000 fewer wage and salary earners than there were in 197S. This is the achievement of a government, whose Prime Minister proclaimed on Sunday: ‘Australia today is back on the road to economic health’. Here is yet another misrepresentation. He stated:
There has been a solid and steady recovery in production. In the last financial year, production increased by 3.5 per cent
The truth is that between the June quarter 1976 and the June quarter 1977, gross domestic product rose by a mere 1.4 per cent- a fraction of the Prime Minister’s figure. Worse, in the first six months of 1977, gross domestic product actually fell by 0.3 per cent. Further, one of the major components of national income- industrial production- has been falling in each month since January 1977. In June this year it was below the level in November 1975. So, the truth is that the level of output of Australia’s manufacturing sector is now below the level it had reached when this Government took office. The Prime Minister said:
The key ingredients in the national economy are responding positively to our policies.
Far from stimulating recovery, the Government has forced contraction on the private sector. As a result, business confidence continues to be depressed. There is no response, no confidence. So much for the Prime Minister’s ‘emerging signs of recovery*. Again the Prime Minister asserted:
Consumers too are gaining confidence and are willing to spend more of their incomes.
The truth is that the most recent survey by the Melbourne Institute of Economic and Social Research, conducted at the end of July, showed that its index of consumer sentiment was lower than at any time since 1974 except for one timeand that was in March of this year. The Institute reported:
Measures to reduce real incomes are being reflected in consumer attitudes.
The Institute is referring to the fact that real disposable income per head fell by 3.7 per cent between the June quarters of last year and this year. This is the reality behind the Prime Minister’s boast that people are spending more and saving less. They have to save less, because they have less to save. The average wage rate for adult males fell by 2.6 per cent in real terms in the past year- the first time Australians have experienced a real drop in standards of living since the war.
On Sunday, in a speech of a few minutes, the Prime Minister perpetrated not less than seven major mis-statements of fact. Indeed I have been altogether too charitable, for there is scarcely a line in the statement which does not contain some egregious error, misrepresentation or distortion of fact Almost everything he had to say about the Australian economy in 1975 and the earlier part of 1976 when our policies were still operating, was false.
I am not concerned with that. What I am concerned about, and what the nation must be concerned about, is not merely that we have a Prime Minister who misleads and misrepresents; the misrepresentations are so transparent that they fool nobody. The real cause for concern is that the economic policies of this Government are clearly based on these misrepresentations and stem from this refusal to face the facts: The grim fact about unemployment, the grim fact about this Government s failure to reduce inflation, the grim fact that this Government is destroying any hopes of real recovery with its policy of ‘salvation through stagnation’, which, as the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) predicted, has led ‘to a long-term low-grade depression’. Nothing in the life of the honourable member for Mackellar in the Liberal Party became him like the leaving of it. ‘He nothing common did nor mean upon that memorable scene.’
What hope can there be of recovery, what hope can there be for the unemployed, what hope can there be for school leavers when economic policies are based not merely on false doctrines but false information about the situation? The Australian economy will never recover as long as it has a coalition of confusion, led by a merchant of misrepresentation. The first requirement for recovery is to accept responsibility for managing the whole economy effectively. Inflation and unemployment must be tackled together. It is monstrous that the whole burden of the fight against inflation should fall upon the unemployed, particularly the young people of Australia. The first step is to end the misrepresentation and to face the facts about the disastrous results of this Government’s economic mismanagement.
– It is unbelievable that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) should choose to challenge the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and this Government on the state of the economy. It is well recorded that the actions of the Whitlam Government brought Australia to the brink of economic disaster. I am sure that all Australians will remember and will continue to remember those disastrous years from 1972 to 1975. In that Government the right hand never knew what the left hand was doing. It commenced operations with the tremendous legacy of $4 billion left to it by the McMahon Government when it went out of power. Yet today the Leader of the Opposition is prepared to suggest that this Government has mismanaged Australia’s economy- that is, the money and the assets of all the Australian people.
The Leader of the Opposition has put forward many statistics which he says show that the Prime Minister has attempted to deceive the Australian people. I will put forward those same statistics and show how the Leader of the Opposition is also attempting to deceive the Australian people. Let me run briefly through some of those indicators by which the Government’s performance is judged. The Leader of the Opposition said that the Government does not have inflation under control. Yet during his reign the level of inflation reached as high as 16.9 per cent. All the indicators show that the inflation rate is now down to 10.2 per cent. In fact the figure for the last June quarter shows clearly that inflation is now just over the 9 per cent mark. The latest figures for the consumer price index are due to be released next week. The Leader of the Opposition will not have very long to wait and I think he will be somewhat at a loss to explain those figures. In his speech on the 1974 Budget, the Leader of the Opposition said:
Our policies are now beginning to work. Price increases are now slowing down as government policies take full effect.
When he took office at the end of 1 972 the inflation rate was 3.5 per cent. During his term of office it reached a maximum of 16.9 per cent. Yet in 1974 he had the hide to say that his Government ‘s policies were then commencing to work.
The Leader of the Opposition also mentioned production figures. Somehow or other, he indicated that production figures showed that things in Australia are degenerating. Let us look at the
E reduction figures. The best way to judge them is y the increases in the gross national product, that is, the total sales or the total production of Australia. In 1974-75 the gross national product of Australia-under the management of the present Opposition-fell by 0.2 per cent. Yet in 1975- 76 it increased by 2 per cent and in 1976- 77- a figure with which the Leader of the Opposition appears to be unhappy- the gross national product of Australia increased by 3.5 per cent. Yet under his management in one year it went backwards. He thinks that is not a clear indication. It is a clear indication that the Australian economy has turned the corner and is progressing forward. This Government is not resting on that laurel. It knows that much has still to be done, and it will do much more to make sure that the Australian economy continues in its upward tendency.
Let me look at another sound indicator- an indicator that was not mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition. I refer to company profit. Members of the Opposition appear to think that company profit and profitability are dirty words. They do not realise that that is where taxation comes from. That is where all the money to provide all the social welfare programs comes from. Without company profit and profitability there would be no tax by which programs of social welfare, health and education can be provided. In 1975 company profit amounted to 12.9 per cent of the gross national product- a fairly low figure, so low that it was very difficult to extract from it sufficient funds to spend on government programs. Yet in 1 977, when the economic management of this Government became apparent, the figure has increased from 12.9 per cent to 14.5 per cent of gross national product. That is another clear indication that the economy is certainly on the road to recovery.
Let me look at some of the other indicators that define clearly what is going on. Retail sales are a reasonably fair indicator of how the consumer is spending his money and the confidence that the Australian people have in the economy. Let me read from the latest statistics on retail sales. They are dated 6 October. The seasonally adjusted value of retail sales increased by 1.3 per cent in August, following only minor increases of 0.1 per cent in July and 0.4 per cent in June and an average monthly rate of 0.7 per cent for the 1 1 months ended June 1977. So the average monthly rate of increase in retail sales is 0.7 per cent. Yet in August, only a short while ago, the increase in retail sales was more than double the average. I think that is a fair indication of how things are going under this Government.
Let us look at the number of motor vehicle registrations. That area has received a lot of publicity lately. It is said that the motor vehicle industry is in the doldrums. Let us look at what has been happening in recent months in that area. In August registrations of new motor vehicles totalled 37,100, at a time when people were saying that motor vehicle sales were at a low level and at a time when they were trying to suggest that the number of motor vehicles sales indicated the depressed level of the economy. That is the average number of motor vehicle sales for any month. Average sales had been achieved in August. Let us look at another firm indicator, that is, private dwelling commencements. To get private dwellings built one needs finance. Housing finance approvals by all significant lenders totalled $446m in July, compared with $444m in June and an average monthly level of $430m. Therefore in July, the latest indicator that we have, the availability of finance or finance approved for building homes was $ 16m more than the average monthly level.
Let us look at some of the export statistics. It is well known that Australia has had a disastrous run on its dollar and that the Australian currency has been weakened by irresponsible rumours fuelled by members of the Opposition, particularly the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden). The latest figures show that Australia had record exports at the end of August and that they exceeded imports by a record $139m. The Australian dollar is not in trouble. Our excess of exports over imports has been quite healthy. There is no problem.
I turn now to news that has come out in the last two days. I refer to the New South Wales Budget. It is obvious from the news in the newspapers that the New South Wales Government has come up with a budget that could be described only as popular. There have been no increases in taxes. There has been a generous increase in educational expenditure but what is not acknowledged in any of the publicity is the fact that the New South Wales Government is able to achieve these results through the generosity of this Government. Through its federalism program the Government has increased grants to all States by 18 percent. Yet the New South Wales Government is taking all the pats on the back for its Budget and not saying one word of acknowledgment of the success of the federalism policy of this Government. That is another indicator that the economy is healthy. At the same time as bringing down the deficit we are able to be generous and put money in the hands of the tate governments, regardless of their politics, for distribution to the Australian people.
In the few minutes of speaking time left to me I shall touch on unemployment. I have not left this subject until last because we care about it least Unemployment is most important to this Government. The Government realises that next to inflation it is the next important thing to be done. We are striving continually to overcome this unsatisfactory situation. The Leader of the Opposition said that unemployment has increased alarmingly under this Government. I suggest that he is wrong. I admit that there has been a minor increase in unemployment but I refer honourable members to the unemployment figures when the Leader of the Opposition came to power in 1972. Let us look at the 12 months after the Labor Government came to power and its policies began to take effect. In one of his policy speeches the present Leader of the Opposition said that one of his main aims was to reduce unemployment This was when unemployment was only about 100,000 people. Between August 1974 and August 197S the Whitlam Government was able to create a record. It doubled unemployment. It went from 140,000 to 270,000. In 1976 it was just on 300,000. Admittedly, it is now about 350,000. But since this Government has been in power it has been slowing down the rate of unemployment Very shortly the people of Australia will see unemployment start to fall. I shall read what the Leader of the Opposition said in his 1972 policy speech regarding unemployment. It is laughable. I might add that he said this when unemployment was only 100,000. He said:
Labor’s first priority will be to restore genuine full employment -
Yet during its time in office it took unemployment up by 300 per cent. After the Leader of the Opposition made a statement about restoring full employment, unemployment rose from 100,000 to 300,000 under his Government’s control. Yet the Leader of the Opposition is prepared to say that this Government has deceived the Australian people. The Australian people know well who has deceived them. It is not this Government. This Government has the hard job of restoring the economy after the massive mess it was left in. I notice that the Leader of the Opposition has now left the chamber. Obviously he cannot take the hard facts. He cannot take the truth and he has left the chamber as a result. He spoke about fellow Australians being human beings. We know that our fellow Australians are human beings but the Opposition has no idea of this. I know that it will never be able to get back into power. The Australian people will never again wear the disaster that they wore for three years from 1972 to 1975. The Australian economy is sound and the future for Australia looks good.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– It is a disgrace to the institution of this Parliament for the Liberal-National Country Party Government to put up a new back bencher to answer a matter of public importance raised in this House by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam). This is no reflection on the honourable member for Barton (Mr Bradfield) whatsoever. I am devoting attention to the institution of this Parliament. The present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), when he was Leader of the Opposition and since, has talked about the importance of the Parliament. I and many of my colleagues have supported the concept that we should upgrade the Parliament. It is only if we do so and treat it with proper respect that we will get respect for this institution and for our form of parliamentary democracy. But that is not happening. Censure motions are ignored by the Government. A matter of public importance on a grave issue such as charging the Prime Minister with misleading statements- a matter sufficiently grave for the Leader of the Opposition himself to raise it- is replied to by somebody who joined the Parliament only recently and who, with respect, is not expected to stay any longer than the term of this particular Parliament.
Wo accept that the Prime Minister cannot answer these charges himself. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition has an appointment right now. He has asked me to express his apologies for not remaining in the chamber. But the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) is in the chamber. Why is he not answering this grave charge? Is it because he does not want to?
– He wants to be Leader.
– I suppose that is true. He wants to be Leader. I should have thought that if he wants to be Leader he might have gained more respect from those behind him if he had been prepared to defend the present Leader.
– No, you do not do it that way.
– Perhaps not That is not the way in which the present Prime Minister did it, admittedly. He did it by more underhand methods. But the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKeller) was also in the chamber. I have not heard that he wants to be Leader. Why did he not enter into this debate? The Minister for Construction (Mr McLeay) is here. They have all given time to be in the chamber yet this chamber is treated with such disrespect that no one Minister would answer the grave charge from the Leader of the Opposition. Instead, the honourable member for Barton has done so. He did not answer the charge in any way. He harked back once again to the previous Administration. He sounded like the old worn record which we hear so often churning out the old destructive message. The Government is not applying itself to the grave dangers and the grave recession which our economy is in at present.
Australians are learning fast that they have a Prime Minister whom they cannot believe. That is what this motion is all about- the great tragedy for our country of the Prime Minister’s misleading and damaging statements in his broadcasts and elsewhere. One of the misleading statements was highlighted by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) in question time today. We are learning from these misleading and deceptive statements the sad truth that they illustrate the failure of our present leaders to face facts squarely. How can we find the right solutions to our problems or, more accurately, how can they- I point to government supportersfind the right solutions if they are not facing squarely the sad facts about the ill health of our economy? They are not diagnosing the problem correctly. Because of that they are not giving the right prescriptions.
I can bring up particular statements in the Prime Minister’s broadcast referred to by the Leader of the Opposition without mentioning any one of the seven raised by the Leader of the Opposition. I start off with the first sentence: ‘Australia is back on the road to economic health’. Who believes that? What person in an objective position believes that we are anywhere near the road to economic health? That is a deception it is nonsense. I do not like being pessimistic about our economy. I do not like crying doom. But I repeat that, unless we face the facts squarely, we shall not choose the correct policies. Honourable members opposite should go out and talk to any businessman. They do not need to talk to somebody who normally votes for the Australian Labor Party. Let them try to persuade a group of businessmen that we are on the road to economic health. The businessmen will laugh, as indeed they are laughing at these sorts of deceptive statements put over in electorate broadcasts in Wannon. The facts just will not bear out the contention. It is depressing that the chief executive of our nation is misleading us all and is seeking to mislead the Australian electorate in this way.
Let me cite one commentator to prove my assertion about the attitude of businessmen. In the Melbourne Herald of Thursday, 6 October, ‘Australia “Blind” to Crisis’ is the claim made in the headlines. The article states:
Australia was facing an economic crisis, the Victorian director of the Australian Institute of Management, Mr Ron Gilchrist, said today. ‘The tragedy is that few people perceive it as such’, he said.
Mr Gilchrist said that he personally was not anticipating more than a one per cent growth in GDP in 1 978.
Though industry’s cash flow, aided by the investment allowance and stock valuation adjustment, and now recovered, investment was likely to remain well below historical levels.
I repeat that we on this side of the House have pointed out ourselves that, by investment allowances and stock valuation adjustments, we are getting enormous profits which are recorded in our daily newspapers every day, but these are not leading to investment. Honourable members opposite have come to the wrong conclusions about what is going on in this economy and, therefore, they believe that there will be an investment-led recovery. That is complete nonsense and it shows just how wrong they are in their diagnosis. Following that, it shows that they are giving the wrong prescriptions. Mr Gilchrist is just one example of what the business community thinks about present policies. The article goes on:
Mr Gilchrist said, ‘For the forseeable future, the market is just not there. We are in a new ball game. ‘If we are to generate sufficient aggregate demand to absorb unemployment, we shall have to look for areas other than private investment to provide it.’
I repeat that we shall have to look to areas other than private investment to provide it. More and more businessmen are coming to the realisation that, with the structural problems we have in our economy today, it will be only by public sector stimulus that we will achieve that return of consumer confidence and, with that, the return of business confidence and the investment which will be the only means of returning this economy to the health that is required. The article goes on further.
Mr Gilchrist said, ‘Reduced investment means unemployment. It means that industry will be unable to satisfy demand in the future. ‘In turn, when consumer demand is stimulated, unemployment will be barely affected due to import substitution.’
Those are the words of Mr Gilchrist, who is the Victorian director of the Australian Institute of Management, which is not an organisation which supports the Labor Party. I assert that, until April 1976, our economy was moving in the right direction. This was due to the balanced policies in the Hayden Budget. But from the time when this Government attempted to mutilate the public sector and when it did not accept that it is the public sector’s job to stimulate the private sector and indeed to create jobs itself, unem- ployment has been growing to unprecedented levels. Let us take the end of September figures. We find that there are now 82,1 18 more people unemployed than there were at the end of September two years ago when Labor was in power. These are the results of the wrong diagnosis of what is going on in the economy ana a completely wrong prescription. Until we have a return of the expansionary policies-brought about in a modest way, because we cannot allow inflation to take over again- we will go on having the growing unemployment brought about by this Liberal-National Country Party Government.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-It has been disappointing to hear the same old nonsense brought out yet again. The complaint from the Opposition that members of the Government front bench once again did not reply to a matter of public importance in almost identical terms to half a dozen that have been introduced fruitlessly in the last little time is a nonsensical objection. The facts are that the matter before the House is such a vital matter that five members of the Opposition have bothered to attend. This matter, which was put to us as being of such major moment that Government front bench members should reply to it, has no effective support from the Opposition. I think it is worth while to deal not only with the diagnosis but also with the solution that has been presented by the Opposition. ( Quorum formed).
Before an additional audience was brought in kindly by the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James), I was pointing out that the solution that Opposition members have to this problem is as nonsensical as their solutions have been in the past. They are simply talking about increased public sector spending, the formula that failed last time and which will certainly fail again. The question to which they do not have an answer is where the money is coming from. Let us get back to the allegation that the Government is deceiving the people. That is an absurd allegation. The matter proposed for discussion here today is totally nonsensical when one considers that the person who raised this matter of public importancethe Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam)- was the person who said in May 1974:
Employment is high, profitability is high, trading is good and business expectations for the future are that this situation will continue.
-Who said that?
-That was the Prime Minister at the time, now the Leader of the Opposition. That statement was probably the greatest piece of economic deception that this nation has met from a man of so-called responsibility. After that statement was made, we had a situation in which the unemployment rate trebled and the gross domestic product actually fell. This leads me to the general question of unemployment which has been raised by the Opposition today. Some really serious mis-statements have been made, which clearly set out to distort the situation and to smear this Government. The facts are very simple. There has been a significant increase in the number of people at work since this Government came to power. This is the conclusion one must reach if one looks at the figures honestly and compares them with the figures for comparable months during the term of the Labor Government. Even members of the Opposition who are amateurs when it comes to dealing with statistics- I suppose one could include the former Prime Minister, now the Leader of the Opposition, in that category as a rank amateur- surely should be able to understand that employment trends change during the year. I seek leave to incorporate some statistics in Hansard.
– What statistics are they?
-These are statistics of employed people. I have cleared the table with the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford).
– Who prepared the statistics?
-Is leave granted?
-The table has been cleared.
– It was shown to the honourable member for Adelaide when he was at the table a while ago.
– I have not seen them.
-These statistics show the number of employed people -
-Order! We had better clear up this matter. Is leave granted?
– I do not know. I have not seen them.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise to order. The honourable member in charge of the debate on this matter of public importance has left the chamber. The Opposition makes arrangements and then opts out of them. That is typical of the Labor Party.
-Order! That is not a point of order. I ask the honourable member for Adelaide whether leave is granted.
– There being no objection, leave is granted.
-The statistics clearly show that when we compare the latest available figures with the figures for the same month in 1975 when the Labor Party was in power we find that there has been an increase of 175,000 in the number of people at work under this Government. This is a totally different picture from the proposition so falsely put by the Leader of the Opposition.
It is very disturbing to see that the man who ruled over the actual decline in the number of people at work- -
– And the decline in production.
– And the decline in gross domestic product, as the honourable member for Berowra points out. It is disturbing to see that that man who presided over those declines in 1975 can make such false accusations against the present Government. The statistics clearly show that in May 1975, which is roughly the middle of the year when the normal distortions are not evident, there were 5,710,000 people at work. The latest available statistics for employed persons show that in May 1977 there were 5,885,000 people at work. This means that there were 175,000 more people at work in May 1977. So the he that is being spread that there are fewer people at work under this Government must, I believe, be nailed. We must look at the real reasons for the modest 20 per cent to 25 per cent increase in the unemployment rate that has taken place in the two years of this Government.
We should remember that under the previous Government the unemployment rate trebled from 1.35 per cent of the work force to 4.13 per cent of the work force. Since then the rate has edged up to 5.37 per cent. I submit that the statistics clearly indicate one thing, namely, that the number of people coming on to the work force has increased at a faster rate than the number of jobs available. What a dramatic difference. At least the number of jobs available has been going up, if one has an honest interpretation of the figures. I submit that the Leader of the Opposition does not have either the capacity or the will to interpret those increases honestly.
– Or the wit.
– I am not certain about the wit- he has lammed out of here already. The serious problem in respect of unemployment is recognised. The Government is concerned about it. The Government’s policies are aimed at getting rid of unemployment in the only effective way, and that is by ending a situation in which workers are priced out of their jobs. The statements made by the Prime Minister have been clear and to the point. They have been consistent and accurate. They demonstrate that the economy is recovering because the inflationary situation is improving. The Reserve Bank publication which was leaked clearly indicates that to be true.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The discussion has concluded.
Notice of Motion
– Notice has been received from the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) that at the next sitting he will present a broadcasting and television amendment Bill.
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the committee has duly reported to Parliament: Construction of an analytical laboratory at Pymble, N.S.W.
The proposal is for the construction of a laboratory complex to accommodate the Commonwealth Government Analytical Laboratory in New South Wales including facilities for chemical analysis and physical testing, bacteriological testing, administration, support activities and site services. The estimated cost of the proposed work is $6.82m at May 1977 prices.
The Committee in recommending the contruction of the proposal made the following recommendations:
Additional security arrangements estimated to cost $20,000 should be provided.
An examination should be made as to whether there be charges between departments for services undertaken by analytical laboratories.
The Government accepts the recommendation that additional security arrangements be provided and consideration will be given to this aspect in the development of the project. The question of whether there should be charges between departments for services undertaken by the analytical laboratories is under consideration. Upon the concurrence of the House in this resolution, detailed planning can proceed in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Report on Passenger Motor Vehicles
Debate resumed from 6 October, on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the House take note of the paper.
-The latest report of the Industries Assistance Commission and the decision of the Government have the general support of the Opposition. The car industry is a most complex industry. It has been the subject of a multiplicity of reports, government decisions and inquiries. The industry still faces many problems that it has faced since its inception and especially since it became such an important factor in manufacturing industry in Australia. It is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the massive investment in the industry in Australia and the confidence shown in the industry by all those who participate in the manufacture of cars in this country. It is also important because of the massive employment opportunities that it provides for our labour force. At a time when this Government has showered on Australia a situation in which 5Vi per cent of the work force is unemployed, we should not be fiddling with those industries which provide jobs for Aus.tralian people. When we consider that we are talking about an industry that employs directly 44,000 employees we can see the seriousness of decisions which affect this massive industry.
Although it was not indicated by the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) last Thursday when he made his statement, in recent times the Industries Assistance Commission has come in for a great deal of criticism about the way in which it looks upon our industries and the way in which resources ought to be spread and more efficiently used. In the tie-up in the terms of reference of this inquiry the Government, of course, laid down that 80 per cent of the market for passenger cars in Australia should be left for local manufacture. In that way the hands of the Industries Assistance Commission were tied in relation to reports which had been brought down from 1965 onwards. None the less, the LAC has taken time out to point to the cost to the Aus.tralian consumer and to the Australian taxpayer of the massive protection which is given to the Australian automobile industry. I want to talk a Utile later about what I believe to be the problems in relation to international trade that this presents to us and the responsibilities that this thrusts upon the major manufacturers in this country which I do not believe they have lived up to in the past.
The Industries Assistance Commission has been the vehicle with which this Government has been able to solve the problem. I think we ought to pay due regard to the LAC for the job it has done in trying to devise means by which 80 per cent of the local passenger vehicle industry can be left to Australian manufacturers while trying to accommodate the tens of importers who have set up distributorships throughout the country and who are trying to maintain a level of imports that would enable them to continue with cost efficiency those dealerships which were set up on the basis of past imports.
The big problem for the industry for the foreseeable future, whether one is a local manufacturer or an importer, will be the market. When one compares the Australian market with the massive markets of the Japanese it is very easy to see that the Australian domestic market provides for the industry a never ending headache. When one looks at the Nissan or Toyota companies of Japan producing millions of vehicles a year and exporting 40 per cent or 50 per cent of the vehicles they make, and then look at the five manufacturers in Australia- we are going to have five manufacturers- who are trying to share a market of 450,000 vehicles, one can readily understand that the unit cost in Australia is going to be a lot more expensive for the consumer than in almost any other part of the world. The domestic market is not going to climb in the immediate future. There may be some steady growth in the domestic market but there will be no enormous growth pattern next year or perhaps in the next 10 years. So the problems we have faced over the past decade may intensify as a result of increasing from three manufacturers in Australia to five because that figure of 450,000 vehicles, which is the figure that the LAC worked upon, represents the new plan to the end of 1 977 and for 1978 and 1979.
In respect of the latter recommendation of the LAC- that perhaps the Government ought to abolish the quota system at the end of 1979- seeing that the submissions to the LAC continually referred to the need for long term decision making as far as the industry is concerned, the Government of the day- this Government at the moment and one formed by our party in the not too distant future- is going to have to make decisions which will give greater lead-way in the manufacturers and importers involved so that they are able to make long term decisions. It is not in the interests of Australia and our development for us. to change our decisions in relation to this massive industry year by year. To do so not only offsets the investment projections of the various companies but also makes life very difficult for the thousands of people who are involved in employment in the industry.
The motor car industry has been the subject of a number of reports and, contrary to this report, the LAC has recommended in previous reports an enormous lowering of the protection that is given to the industry but, as I say, its hands were tied. I want to refer to some of the things that the LAC said to try to highlight the difficulties with which this industry will be faced. It is not just the imports into this country which have been presenting difficulty. The IAC has referred also to buyer resistance because of the high price of vehicles in Australia, which is now building up and which also has been a great barrier to locally produced vehicles. Unless the industry is able to do something about that, and one cannot see it getting the economies of scale needed to enable it to do so, and one cannot see any breakdown of the wage indexation that has applied generally in Australia for the past two years, one would have to predict that that buyer resistance is going to be consolidated. The IAC has taken time out to refer to it and I think people following the industry and governments which may have to make decisions in relation to it ought to be cognisant of the fact that this sort of thing is likely to continue.
In relation to imports, and the reasons that this report was called for, the attention of the Government was drawn to the fact that whilst the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) had made statements to the effect that 80 per cent of the passenger vehicle industry should remain in Australian hands, in the early part of 1977 that had not been the case. In fact well over 20 per cent of new registrations had gone to imports. There were a number of reasons for this. The IAC pointed out those reasons on pages 9 and 10 of its report and I want to quote them. They were:
The November 1976 devaluation, which led to a rush on imported vehicles and the consequent depletion of importers’ stocks; the lining of quotas in December 1976, allowing importers to increase the relatively low levels of stocks held throughout the two-year period of quotas; and Volkswagen switched from assembling to importing vehicles and substantially increased its cbu imports in the first half of 1977.
So there was a variety of reasons which the Government ought to have been able to monitor to ascertain why the 20 per cent quota was not being adhered to. One can see that if quotas are taken off the 20 per cent will become part of history and imports will take a much larger proportion of the Australian market.
I also want to refer to some of the submissions of the people who went before the IAC. I know that a lot of the argument of those companies revolves around the fact that if they have a greater part of the market they will be able to be more efficient in their own operations and will be able to keep more people employed. One of the importing firms put before the IAC a copy of a study of the impact of imported vehicles on the economy of the United States and the American consumer. I want to make very quick reference to it. The IAC report states:
One of the findings of the study was that the imported automobile industry generates at least as many American jobs as would exist if that industry were eliminated and its sales of new cars were replaced by an equal number of domestically produced cars. It also found that on balance the imported automobile industry probably provides a net increase in employment in the USA.
It is a very important study and it has not been brought before this Parliament. It relates to one of the things that is ignored. In relation to the total manufacturing industry in Australia, as I said earlier, the direct employment opportunities total 44,000 but people involved in importing cars into Australia also employ 11,000 people. When the Government makes a decision to lift quotas it gives the green light to importers to set up dealerships and to employ more people and perhaps to make long term decisions which they believe they will be able to live up to. Putting quotas back on burns all those bridges and has all the companies involved rethinking their position in Australia. A study of the American market and the reasons put forward by Mazda in its statement to the IAC ought to be studied more by this Parliament because one can predict with all the certainty in the world that this will not be the last discussion on the automobile industry in our lifetime in Parliament. It will not be very long before we have this matter before us again. There are also a number of reasons given to the IAC that ought to be taken into account in relation to the car industry. I want to refer very briefly to what the IAC said about the high cost of the industry to the Australian consumers. It said:
The high cost nature of the Australian market for passenger vehicles is confirmed by details of prices of similar vehicles in other major vehicle markets. While varying design rules, import duties, sales tax rates, freight costs, dealer margins, et cetera, prevent the precise calculation of price differences, the evidence indicated that similar vehicles sold at retail prices of up to SO per cent below the price in Australia.
The Commission noted in its 1976 report that investment decisions were being made which would increase the cost disadvantages of local producers against imports. Although GMH submitted that developments undertaken in the past 12 months, including the supply of components to other manufacturers, will result in lower costs and an improvement in its competitive position, other evidence indicated that the costs of some local manufacturers will increase as they are required to increase local content in accordance with the provisions of the plan.
Time does not allow a completely detailed review of the Industries Assistance Commission report to the Parliament which I think is necessary. I make some reference to the important submission of the Vehicle Builders Employees Federation of Australia because I believe that is the major union of the industry. Over the past few months it has been holding a series of seminars on the industry and making known its attitude to the industry. Quite recently the general secretary of the Vehicle Builders Employees Federation, Mr Townsend, and its South Australian research officer, Mr Len Hatch, addressed a meeting at which they put forward concrete and constructive proposals about the back-up structural adjustment programs which will be needed to give the employees in the industry the confidence required.
In reference to what I said earlier about the responsibilities of the industry, I say this: It seems to me that the industry, with all the protection that is given to it, has some responsibility to give the people working in it the security to which they are entitled. Governments of the day have always had to carry the can for the automotive industry which employs thousands of people during economic boom periods but lays them off with a week’s notice when any type of economic recession comes on the scene. It seems to me that the American system under which people must be given three months to six months notice before they are laid off from the industry because of redundancy is the sort of plan which ought to be looked at in this country.
The Vehicle Builders Employees Federation in its submission to the Industries Assistance Commission drew attention to industrial disputes which take place in the motor industry in Australia when compared with most other advanced countries. The union says that the industry ought to have a great deal more industrial democracy and that little work is being done to improve the working environment. There can be no doubt that when stood alongside the industry throughout the rest of the Western world, the Australian industry has a poor record. This industry is given a great deal more protection than any of the other industries with which it can be compared. I think it has a direct responsibility to its employees which it has not live-d up to in the past. If it wants to have protection given to it by the various governments in Australia then it should live up to its responsibility.
The last matter I mention relates to our trading position. The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) referred to the difficulties he has had with respect to our relations with Japan because of sugar and beef. (Extension of lime granted). In the re-arrangement of the imports which are taking place in regard to accommodating the two major manufacturers here, namely, Ford Motor Co. of Australia Ltd and General MotorsHolden’s Ltd, by giving them a quota and by acknowledging the reversal of Volkswagen Australia Pry Ltd from an assembler to an importer, the two firms which have suffered most are Nissan Motor Co. (Australia) Pry Ltd and Toyota Motor Co. Ltd. This means that millions of dollars of their exports to Australia W111 be affected. Obviously they will think in terms of their national interest. According to -the submissions which were put to the Industries Assistance Commission by representatives of those two firms, it was their understanding that in coming into the plan their exports to Australia would not be affected. Now they have been affected very drastically. There has been a huge drop in their quota for 1978. Obviously the Deputy Prime Minister will have to justify this situation on future trips to Japan.
-I welcome the opportunity to comment on the Industries Assistance Commission report on passenger motor vehicles and on the Government’s decision concerning that report. The Industries Assistance Commission report was produced as the result of a reference from the Government in accordance with its current policy of ensuring that 80 per cent of the Australian market for passenger motor vehicles is to be retained for local producers. The Commission was requested on 13 July 1977 to report on what additional action was necessary and for what period to ensure that the policy was fulfilled. The Commission reported on 12 September. The Government announced its decision on this report last Thursday, 6 October. While awaiting this report the Government reimposed quantitative restrictions in the form of quotas to ensure that local producers were restored to an 80 per cent share of the market. These quotas were removed at the end of 1976 in accordance with the Government’s manufacturing plan which involved the entry of Toyota Motor Co. Ltd and Nissan Motor Co. (Australia) Pty Ltd to local manufacturing. The decision was announced in April 1976.
Additional import restrictions were instituted in the context of the disruption faced by the industry in adjusting to a new Australian content plan, the establishment of two new manufacturers under that plan and the generally depressed economic environment. As part of the adjustment process some plan entrants have continued to import substantial quantities of vehicles to complement models produced in Australia under the plan. I welcome the Industries Assistance Commission recommendation that quantitative import restrictions should be continued until 3 1 December 1979 and the Fraser Government’s adoption of that recommendation.
The recommendations and the Government’s decision are both justified. The motor vehicle manufacturing industry in Australia faces specific problems of a short-term nature as a result of Toyota and Nissan establishing themselves as local manufacturers. Notwithstanding the very generous protection provided for the industry by this Government in the form of a 45 per cent tariff on imported vehicles, additional assistance is justified in the short term to enable the implementation of the manufacturing plan. Honourable members should be reminded that, briefly, this plan involves an average 85 per cent local content for Australian manufacturers who thereby obtain duty concessions on the remaining 15 per cent of the components with a 45 per cent tariff on fully imported vehicles. From the beginning of 1980 all five manufacturers will be operating under this plan. Therefore they have adequate opportunity to adjust their operations and to overcome short-term problems in the interim period..
The 85 per cent plan provides the opportunity for rational development of the industry from then on. Because of the improved economic climate which will exist by then as a result of the continued sound economic management of the Fraser Government, the industry should be capable of operating on the basis of the 85 per cent content plan by 1980 without additional heavy protection in the form of quotas on imports. Hence, the Industries Assistance Commission has recommended that quotas cease as from 31 December 1979. The Government has not accepted this recommendation. It has reserved its decision on longer term quotas until 1979. I believe the Government must make its decision on the issue of quotas for the long term before 1979, preferably as soon as possible. The Government must not be trapped into deferring decisions which are necessary for the long-term welfare of the motor vehicle industry and for the growth of the Australian economy by short-term problems and immediate decisions which are needed to overcome those short-term problems.
There is a clear need for a stable policy for the motor vehicle industry with a clear indication of how long any additional assistance might last. There is evidence of considerable disruption to the activities of manufacturers, importers, material suppliers and other interests, resulting from the likelihood of import restrictions being imposed or discontinued at short notice as market conditions change. Until a clear statement is made uncertainty, disruption and lack of rational investment will continue to be a feature of the industry and its market. Therefore, any scheme for continued additional assistance in the long term must be made public as soon as possible and in as much detail as possible. It should be subject to the minimum of change for its duration.
– Hear, hear!
-I am glad for the support of the honourable member for Moore in those comments. The manufacture, importation and distribution of motor vehicles require substantial investments, employ large numbers of people and in many cases, necessitate long lead times. The disruption caused both to manufacturers and to importers by off-again on-again restrictions is substantial as are the problems which can result from lack of knowledge of the present or future basis of any quantitative restrictions.
The Industries Assistance Commission report highlights a number of significant problems in continuing excessive protection for the motor vehicle industry in the long term through quotas on imports. Import restrictions limit supplies, raise prices and restrict the consumer’s right to choose an imported product rather than one made locally. If locally manufactured products become increasingly less competitive with imports or if the size of the market is growing, quantitative restrictions will progressively increase the assistance to the industry, unless they are adjusted to take account of these factors. Import restrictions shelter the industry from long term adjustment pressures and encourage uneconomic investment which will worsen the competitive position of the Australian industry. Import restrictions accentuate inflationary pressures.
Importers have an inducement to increase prices to take advantage of the excess demand created for imported vehicles and in such a highly protected market local manufacturers do not have the same incentives for cost control and resisting wage demands. Import restrictions could have a detrimental effect on Australia’s trading relations. If import quotas are allocated according to historical market share, potential importers and those wishing to expand their businesses are penalised. Also, as we are aware, administrative costs of quota restrictions can be substantial. Quotas based on past performance have the largely unavoidable effect of rigidifying the market as it was in the period before quotas were applied. There is no practicable scheme of import restrictions for this industry which would not result in some inequities between companies.
The Industries Assistance Commission has recently been condemned by some for ignoring the employment aspects of its various recommendations. Whatever the situation in past reports, this report gives detailed consideration to employment aspects.
While the Government’s aim in the implementation of its policies is to maintain levels of employment in the motor vehicle industry, it is by no means certain that the continuation of quantitative restrictions will maintain levels of employment in the motor vehicle industry. Employment in 1977 was lower than in 1976 as a result in part of the decline in demand for passenger vehicles. Any further decline in demand will also lead to further reductions in employment. In addition, the eight companies manufacturing or assembling vehicles in Australia have varying employment patterns and a significant switch in demand for vehicles produced by GMH, Ford or Chrysler to Nissan and Toyota vehicles could also lead to a reduction in total employment in the industry.
Apart from employment by manufacturers, a substantial number of people are employed in the distribution and sale of passenger vehicles, both locally produced and imported. The operations of smaller importers and their dealerships are relatively labour intensive and their improved viability as a result of the increased quota allocations should make a contribution to the maintenance of employment levels. Certainly in the longer term if their capacity to market vehicles is restricted by the long term maintenance of import restrictions in the form of quotas their capacity to provide employment will be restricted It is worth noting a recent report published in the United States, entitled ‘The Imported Automobile Industry: A new assessment of key aspects of its impact on the US economy and the American consumer’. One of the findings of this study was that the imported automobile industry generates at least as many American jobs as would exist if that industry were eliminated and its sales of new cars were replaced by an equal number of domestically produced cars. It also found that on balance the imported automobile industry probably provides a net increase in employment in the United States of America.
The IAC report also highlights the overall impact on the economy of the continuation of excessive protection in the long term. Excessive protection will result in significant and pervasive cost increases throughout the economy, which will reduce employment opportunities outside the passenger vehicle industry. Previous assistance measures have already resulted in Australian consumers paying in absolute terms much higher prices for cars than consumers in most other developed countries. Estimates made by the Commission in its 1976 report indicated that the net subsidy equivalent of the assistance provided by the tariff of 45 per cent and the local content plan was equal to $337m per annum. The subsidy equivalent of quota assistance cannot be so easily measured. Other Australian industries, as well as individual consumers, are major buyers of passenger vehicles and their capital and operating costs are also raised by excessive assistance measures. Evidence from one company indicates that up to 50 per cent of sales of passenger vehicles are made to other than private motorists, although the proportion would be smaller for most other companies.
A further indication of the inflationary effects ‘ of higher vehicle prices can be gained from an analysis of the consumer price index. Between December 1974 and December 1976 the contribution of increased motor vehicle prices, in percentage terms, to the increase in the consumer price index was about 8.6 per cent; that is, about one-twelfth of the increase in the consumer price index in that period is directly attributable to increased vehicle prices. Quantitative import restrictions ensure that the level of assistance provided to the industry increases as its cost position against imports worsens. This additionally will not help to maintain Australia’s good relations with its trading partners.
When we are considering this issue it should be recognised also that the market-sharing policy and the restrictions currently imposed have not been an essential part of the Government’s long term plan for development of the industry. The Government’s recent White Paper on manufacturing industry has stated that sectoral marketsharing policies are intended to provide only short term support and are subject to certain conditions. The following quote from the White Paper indicates this very clearly:
In recognising the possible need for policies for particular sectors however, the Government is not setting out to establish a list of key industries’ which would be accorded special treatment of an ongoing nature in order to insulate them from pressures of change. Rather the approach envisaged is one of providing support for a defined period during which real efforts should be made by industry itself to improve its structure and efficiency, thereby helping it to achieve a better and more certain long term outlook.
By 1 January 1980 the two new manufacturers, Toyota and Nissan, will be operating fully under the 85 per cent content plan and the existing manufacturers should have had adequate opportunity to adjust their operations. By the end of 1 979 assistance by means of direct import restrictions will have operated for about four and a half years and the operation of restrictions beyond this time would be inconsistent with the Government’s policy of providing such assistance for a defined short term period. Therefore I support the contention of the Industries Assistance Commission that at that time the continuation of quantitative restrictions on the importation of motor vehicles should be discontinued.
The Government must recognise that the motor vehicle industry must compete in the long term on the basis of the 85 per cent content plan and the 45 per cent tariff on imported vehicles. This 85 per cent content plan provides the opportunity for long term growth and stability. Excessive protection and continued changes to policy will not achieve this. In the long term a government which is committed to free enterprise must encourage any industry to face its market realities. Rigidifying the market through quotas ignores economic and technological change and changing consumer preference. I am confident that the industry, and in particular Chrysler Australia Limited, can compete in the long term on the basis of the 85 per cent content plan and can compete without the excessive protection which is provided by the imposition of import quotas.
I commend the Industries Assistance Commission report and I commend also the Government ‘s decision on that report with regard to the short term extra assistance to be provided. But I urge the Government to take a very close look at the long term situation of this industry and to provide assistance in the longer term purely on the basis of the 85 per cent content plan which was established and introduced last year. As I said, I believe the industry can compete in the long term on that basis. That was a 10-year plan- a plan looking to the future. I believe that that is the plan that should be continued.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I support the remarks made by my colleague, the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young). I do so in the context that for a short period I was responsible for the car industry in the sense that it fell within the portfolio known as the Manufacturing Industry port.folio. I can think of nothing more difficult than trying to get for the Australian people the ultimate benefit of having a viable car industry.
We support what is contained in this Industries Assistance Commission report because it refers to one matter which ought to be emphasised, namely, the Government’s policy that 80 per cent of the market should be preserved for the local producer. So that gives a definite direction in government policy. The IAC has had to make recommendations on the basis that if that is to be the case restrictions have to be placed on import quotas. As my colleague and others have asked, where will that lead viably in the long term? We do not really see the solution by looking at what happens in other countries. It Will be noted that this IAC report, which is an effective one, indicates that employment in the car industry is declining. I am making this speech in the context of representing a plant at Pagewood where probably 1,000 or more employees have been stood down in circumstances which everybody would say have nothing to do with the car industry. But, m one sense, they do, because it is noted in another part of this report that the stocks of the local producers- I refer to page 1 1 of the report- are at their highest level, ranging from two to four times normal stocks, and reflect the reduced market for passenger motor vehicles in 1977.
There is an economic problem as well, and that is reflected in the fact that in many cases there is buyer resistance to the sort of vehicle which is being produced. These circumstances give the major producers the ability to lay off employees. So these circumstances are not doing much damage to the employers at this stage, particularly those in my electorate. However, one wonders what will happen to the employees- 1,000 of them- who have no chance at the present time of obtaining employment from any other source. The situation would not be helped by anyone saying that it would have been avoided if there was stability in the industrial scene in Victoria. That is not so. There is instability in the car industry. That is the issue.
We must not ignore the fact that the IAC made a recommendation some time ago. Back in 1974 the IAC recommended the immediate abolition of the local content plans and the long term duty rate of 25 per cent on both vehicles and components. Of course, when the Martec Group analysed those recommendations it said that if it had been implemented employment in the motor vehicle industry would have fallen by tens of thousands by 1980. Chrysler and many component manufacturers would be out of business; imports of built up cars would be closer to 400,000 by 1980 than the Commission’s estimate of 190,000; no Japanese producers would be encouraged to make substantial investments in Australia the residual automotive technology, skills and facilities in Australia would stagnate; and Australia’s automotive exports would effectively have no future. So that is the position. An intelligent Industries Assistance Commission was allegedly saying that that would be the solution and another very expert body was saying that if the IAC criteria were applied there would be a poor result.
Nobody, could say that such a result would be a worthwhile benefit to the people in that industry. The point made by the honourable member for Port Adelaide is that we have to examine, whether it be in this industry or in any other industry, what the extent of government involvement should be in the creation of new technology. I have had an association with the motor vehicle industry. It must be borne in mind that we do not own any segment of it. If anyone asks Chrysler, Ford or General Motors what they want to do for the Australian nation, he will find that their interest is very limited indeed. They say that there is to be no Australian equity. That is the first thing we ought to remember. They say: ‘We are doing you a good turn because we are creating jobs for people who otherwise would not have them’.
That ought to be put in parenthesis, because the turnover of employees in the motor vehicle industry is very great indeed. It does not provide a very satisfactory job environment. Unfortunately in the main the migrant is put on to the production line. The Jackson report points out that these people are the unhappiest workers of all. In the main they remain in their jobs for less than 12 months. The turnover of employees in the motor industry is quite fantastic. But it was a waste of time talking to those big manufacturers on that basis. In many cases it would be found that the decision to lay off workers in one or two plants as a result of some slow down in production was made not in Australia but in Detroit. Directions were given as to how those plants would maintain their profit flow. If the market was becoming saturated, workers had to be laid off; that was the obvious thing to do.
I am saying that we in Australia have very splendid technology and very good inventiveness. Pritchard’s car is one example of that. Everingham’s car is another example. The electric motor car is a further example. We cannot get Australian technology on to the American production line. The Americans always take the position of looking only at what is invented in their own country; they do not look anywhere else. The situation in Japan is very much the same.
Apparently we will be discussing IAC reports every year or two in the context of how we can try to maintain a viable motor industry. But we will find that we are maintaining a motor vehicle industry which is producing a product which is not as good as that which Australians should be allowed to be put into production. Of course, if we could put Pritchard’s steam car on the production line and if we could create a large export market for it, we would have a very viable car industry. At the present time- this is not stated in the report- it is well known that the people who produce cars in Australia are very keen to move their operations off-shore because in that case the labour component in the price of a car would be so much less. They will do that very soon.
So we seem to be building up a protective base for people who own the industry but who have no real interest in the employees. What is needed in this country is very close and urgent consultation between the people who have the technology and the inventiveness, and also some capital, and the employees and the unions so that a new co-operative effort can be worked out whereby we put into production a good Australian car which perhaps would be a nonpollutant and which would use less petroleum than do the cars produced at the present time. In fact, if some of the theories are right, such a car would not use any petroleum at all but would run on alcohol which could be produced or, in fact, grown. These are the things which we ought to be exploring.
There has been no real improvement in some of the technology which we are forced to buy at the present time. It is a waste of time our continuing to discuss how viable our car industry will be after 1979 or 1980, because if the big manufacturers decide that they do not want to produce here we will have no viable car industry. A very important consideration of one of the big manufacturers is that because of its high cost of production and its low volume of purchases- less than half a million- it really cannot afford to replace its plant and equipment. If its production run is, say, only 100,000 motor vehicles, it cannot be competitive. The Nissan and Toyota plants in Japan can produce 1,000 vehicles in one shift. They pay their employees $ 14,000 a year. So one can see that they are competitive in more ways than one. They are using up to date technology and they also have a large export market. It would be worth while the Government having a look at what ought to be done for the car industry in Australia, particularly from the point of view of the employees in that industry.
My colleague the honourable member for Port Adelaide mentioned as the most vital question in Australia today that of structural adjustment. In other words, how we are going to look after our work force which is made redundant by companies which perhaps do not update their technology? We do not owe one cent to the American producers or to the Japanese importers. We buy the cars, and that is a good profit for them. It is not good enough to say that they are creating some jobs for our workers because, quite frankly, I think that with government intervention in the Australian car industry we could produce better cars and more opportunities for our employees. We could provide them with a better working environment and pay them more than they receive at present. That could be achieved if we worked on this basis.
– They are getting too much for doing nothing now. What is wrong with you?
-I think that is an outrageous statement to make. I hope it is repeated in the honourable member’s electorate. He says that Australians working on the car production line are getting too much.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! I remind the honourable member for Darling Downs that interjections are out of order.
-I do not mind the interjection, Mr Deputy Speaker. It just shows the heartlessness of the man. If he had ever been on a car production line and received the paltry pay given to the migrants who are brought into this country he would realise the situation. Of course many other people in this country are in dire straits, but do not take it out on the people who are working in the car production factories. Have a few brains and look at what is happening from the point of view of those factories. We do not own any part of them. I ask the Government and the honourable member for Darling Downs: What is wrong with being Australian for once in your life? Stand up and back something Aus.tralian, on the basis that we will bring in technology. If we get an export market, which we could if we had a suitable car, we would have a viable industry. The alternative is nothing at all.
The car industry will not be maintained here on the present basis. It will not be a viable proposition for the people here. They are interested only in profits. Look at the ownership of the car manufacturers in Australia. General MotorsHolden’s Pty Ltd is 100 per cent overseas owned; Chrysler Australia Ltd is 97 per cent overseas owned; the Ford Motor Co. of Australia is 100 per cent overseas owned. AMI Ltd, a component manufacturer, is 50 per cent Australian owned. It gets the spin-off. We do not see an opportunity for Australian manufacturers to go to America and start an industry there. We would be crushed overnight. We would not get in. We have no chance of entering the Japanese market because the Japanese have their own views about who will manufacture in their country. We could have a market for a worthwhile car of the type I have mentioned. It would need a lot of technology behind it.
What do we have? A paltry $ 100,000 is given on the basis that it might assist the man to produce a. car. It would not produce even the first cylinder of the car. What must be done, through the Australian Industry Development Corporation or equivalent bodies, is that money must be given for worthwhile Australian technology so that the car can be put on a production line. If the manufacturers here are not interested in it they would have a competitor. As a Minister I had the difficult task of saying to General MotorsHolden’s and Ford: ‘What about, together with the Japanese, going to Chrysler and using the 4-cylinder plant in South Australia to make all your 4-cylinder engines?’ Ford said: ‘We will not do it. We will import them’. General Motors said: ‘We will not do it. We will make them ourselves’. As a result we tried to get Chrysler and the Japanese to do it. It would have made Chrysler viable. That result has not been obtained either. We will not get anywhere with an industry that makes its own arrangements on the basis that it will continue to make profits.
We have a social problem with the people who are made redundant and who have lost their jobs. It is said here repeatedly that the consumer is paying through the nose for a high priced product indeed because of the protection that has been given. Quite frankly, we could say to all these workers that they need not work at all, that we could give to them all the money that is being paid in protection, and we would not be any worse off. We ought to recognise the fact that we are retarding our own technology by allowing overseas interests to mastermind what should be produced. There have been no new rapid improvements in car technology here.
We are now running into the situation which is well known in which we could be short of petroleum fuel. These overseas interests would not have any compunction at all in closing down the factories here. It would be only a small percentage of their capital investments throughout the world and of their markets. While we are not anti-Japanese, anti-American or anti-European, we must be pro-Australian for the first time in the car industry. Let us look at Australian inventiveness and technology and ability to put a car on a production line. We drift on each year reading the periodical IAC reports which, to some extent, are good. To the extent of being a political feasibility, they are hopeless indeed. Nobody can say that we cannot give job opportunities to people in the car industry unless we provide alternative employment. The only way to do it is for the Government, together with the enterprising groups in Australia which have capital and inventiveness, and together with the work force, to say: ‘There is an opportunity for you here. We could use your skill’.
– Look at pages 39 and 40 of the report.
-Pages 39 and 40 of the report do not indicate that solution at all. This is the problem which we have. The issue is whether we leave it to the free market forces. The Government cannot get away with that in this country. That is the point. We will have no industry left. I make this final point. We welcome the report, but it is a stop-gap measure. The issues at which I want a government to look, whatever government it is, is how we can guarantee a viable motor car industry in Australia. It can be done. It requires government initiative and government intervention.
– I believe that the Australian community at large welcomes reports put out by the Industries Assistance Commission in relation to industries. I believe it is generally accepted that the reports are unbiased or as unbiased as we get here. Therefore the Government must give very serious consideration to the reports that are put out from time to time. The honourable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr Lionel Bowen) was a Minister in the previous Government which affected the cost of production in this country during the period that it was in office more than the cost has ever been affected in history, and I hope it will not be repeated. The explosion of the cost structure in Australia as a result of the reckless economic policies introduced in the days of the Whitlam Government has made the cost of protection of Australian industries so much greater than it would otherwise have been and so much greater than it ought to be. That is one of the problems we are facing today. Despite the amount of protection that is given to secondary industries, to the car industry in particular, that amount of protection is not in itself sufficient to retain the 80 per cent of the market that we want to preserve for local manufacturers. That is one of the reasons why we have quotas. That is something which we must not forget. We must continue to remind the Australian people of that fact.
The explosion of the cost structure at that time is the greatest cause of unemployment in this country today. It is the greatest cause of the problem that we face in maintaining a viable industry. Take, for example, the shipbuilding industry. All that this Government was asking of the industry, all that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) asked for, was a period free of industrial strife which would enable the Government to consider the whole area of building ships in Australia. The Government could get no assurances that there would be no industrial strife during that period. That was one of the factors which prevented the Newcastle State Dockyard from being given assistance. The cost to the Australian community of building a ship here, by comparison with the cost of importation of a ship, was such that the Government felt that it was too high a price to pay and that we should look at some other avenues to see whether the cost to the Australian community of giving employment to people generally throughout this country could be reduced to some extent.
It is true, as the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith said, there is buyer resistance. Buyers realise that the cost of Australian manufactured cars, by comparison with imported cars, is too high. It is a quickly escalating cost. Anyone who has had to buy a car in recent times has found that despite rising costs generally the price of cars has risen higher than the price of anything else. I do not think the price of anything else has risen higher than the price of cars. That is because of the cost involved. It is an extremely heavy cost. I have a car which is about five years old. I would have to pay for a similar new car double what I paid for it. I paid thousands of dollars for it in the first place. So thousands of dollars extra have to go into a new car. No wonder there is buyer resistance. One of the reasons for it- we must never forget this- is that the cost structure in this country has risen so steeply. It is still flowing on, despite the best efforts of this Government.
There is a very strong feeling in rural areas in particular that exporters as a section of the Australian community are carrying an unduly high burden of the cost of protection provided to Australian industries. I realise- I think most people realise-that it is essential that the Government retain industries in Australia because of the degree of employment that they provide. We have no other option. We must consider very carefully the areas in which we can best utilise the tax returns to this Government in order to provide employment. I think it is reasonable to draw attention to the fact that there is a great deal of imbalance. My friend the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) drew attention to the problems confronting people in rural industries who are receiving very poor returns. We should be maintaining a better balance between rural exporting industries and protected manufacturing industries.
I strongly suggest that more government assistance by way of reduced government charges should be applied in order to reduce the crippling costs borne by those rural exporting industries. There are ways of doing it. One measure which I believe would assist very greatly in this direction and which is fully justified would be the reimplementation of fuel price equalisation and a full equalisation when the scheme is reintroduced as well as the reintroduction of the old scheme. In discussing and considering the protection of industry we should look at the protection of aU industries in this country. We are losing employment in our rural industries as a result of the high cost structure and the impossibility of making profits under the present conditions. There is another way that assistance to the rural industry could be enhanced. That is by a review of telephone charge zones with a view to their expansion in rural areas to allow more local access calls and to include a local call to the nearest main business centre. When the Government is looking at the establishment and protection of industries that should be considered very carefully.
There are problems related to the employment of people in this country. We know of them. There are many facets to them. The report from the Industries Assistance Commission on passenger motor vehicles has caused reaction among representatives of dealers who handle imported vehicles. Recently I received a telegram from a dealing organisation. I shall read it to the House for honourable members to see the many angles that the Government has to take into consideration. It stated:
A Datsun Dealer Meeting in Brisbane on 10 October attended by 236 representatives of 60 Queensland and Northern Rivers dealers, viewed with concern and disbelief the recommendation by the I.A.C. that the Datsun quota of fully imported passenger vehicles is slashed by about 30 per cent.
Following our Government’s agreement with Nissan manufacturing in Australia, dealers were required and did expend their investment and facilities for the sale and service of Datsun vehicles. Fully imported passenger cars in a volume at least equal to that previously enjoyed are essential to support Nissan by taking and selling increasing numbers of the less profitable locally manufactured vehicles.
We cannot understand the reasoning behind the recommendation that would penalise Nissan who is investing many millions of dollars in this country and would favour the companies which have chosen to adhere solely to the import and build-up of passenger cars with no contribution to the employment of Australians in the manufacturing segment of our industry.
The meeting resolved to seek your support in ensuring that our Government disregards the IAC recommendation and provides sufficient quota to enable Datsun dealers to receive no less imported vehicles than previously and supports a company which is encouraged to invest in Australia.
That telegram sets out the position from another angle. It is one of many angles that the Government has to take into consideration. It is certainly very important from a national point of view, as well as from the point of view of the beef industry, that we have regard to our trade balance with Japan. We are not trading with Japan as successfully as we would like and we are not being given the consideration by Japan that we ought to be given. But surely we have to consider the importance of the Japanese markets to our beef producers. The question of restricting imports from Japan cannot be taken lightly. The beef industry certainly needs the Japanese market. We are not getting the share of” the market which we ought to be getting. The newly appointed Australian Meat Board should examine that angle. But it will be handicapped if we restrict our imports from Japan.
The Government has to decide- I agree that this is a very difficult problem- the relative merits of the arguments from various sections of the community. That is what the Government is doing. This was set out in a joint statement issued recently by the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) and the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, Mr Wal Fife. I welcome Mr Fife’s appointment to that port.folio. I am pleased to see him in the chamber for the debate this afternoon.
– He is a very good Minister.
– I agree with my friend for Capricornia; he is a very good Minister. The joint statement read:
The Ministers said that the Government had accepted the Commission’s recommendation that quantitative import restrictions on passenger motor vehicles should be continued until 31 December 1979. Senator Cotton and Mr Fife said that the Government considered that continued restrictions were necessary to prevent severe disruption in the local industry. The Ministers said that the Government believed that unless import restrictions were continued the local industry’s market share would fall below the level of 80 per cent which the Government regarded as necessary to avoid disruption. However, the Government did not accept the Commission’s recommendation that the market sharing policy be terminated on 31 December 1979. Any arrangements necessary to ensure that market disruption does not take place after that date can only be determined during 1979.
I believe that this is a fairly well balanced view of the Industries Assistance Commission report. The statement refers to a number of other matters. However, I quote the last paragraph. It stated:
The Ministers also said that the Government had accepted the Commission’s recommendation that no additional action was necessary in respect of imports of unassembled passenger vehicles which are assembled outside the motor vehicle plan. The Ministers said however, that the Government did not favour any significant expansion of investment in assembly operations outside the plan and imports of unassembled vehicles would therefore be closely monitored.
We have a very real problem in deciding the real balance. I emphasise again that in looking at assistance to industry we have neglected to give to primary industry the -amount of assistance needed to enable people to survive and to be ready purchasers of the vehicles produced in this country. Unless the Government fully accepts that responsibility we will have problems not only in employment in the rural industry but also in the provision of export income which is vitally important to the economic welfare of this country. I commend the Government on giving serious consideration to the report of the Industries Assistance Commission. I hope it will consider the various factors I have raised. It is vitally important that Australia has a balanced development. That is one of the policies of the Party which I am proud to represent in the Parliament.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 4 October, on motion by Mr Newman:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The housing of the Australian people has always been one of the great visions of the Labor Party. It is a vision which goes back to 1944 and the report of the Commonwealth Housing Commission. This report is one of the great documents of Australian politics. Its guiding light was Walter Bunning who went on to become a line architect after creating this report. Despite his fame as an architect there is no doubt in my mind that this report is his finest achievement. It is a warm and human document which based the problems of post-war housing firmly on the needs of people and communities. The vision of the Commonwealth Housing Commission report was centred on a massive public housing program but it also included much else. It developed a wide range of proposals for public transport, community development, public participation and land use control. It had all the planning controls that were necessary but in the end the restrictions on money for housing by the Menzies Government, the Holt Government and the McMahon Government did not allow the inter-related programs of urban and regional development to proceed.
If these proposals had been adopted Australia would have had a full-scale urban and regional development program 20 years ago. It is a tragedy that the great vision was allowed to fade away. The Chifley Government was able to introduce only the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement before it was defeated in 1949. The conservative government which followed watered down the great welfare scheme and scrapped the other proposals designed to reinforce it. Urban and regional development was handed over to the private sector. The provision of welfare housing was thrust upon the States. The end result has been the gradual collapse of welfare housing and the serious plight of the housing industry which is revealed by an analysis of the measure before the House.
The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) would like us to believe that the Government is maintaining the level of spending on welfare housing. If we look carefully at the figures we find that this is not the case. Gross advances to the States have increased by a small amount in money terms. Increases in repayments of advances and interest payments more than absorb the small increases in gross advances. In 1977-78 gross advances to the States rose by $ 15m but the net funds which the States could use after meeting the debt service costs fell in money terms by $2m. In real terms this amounted to a cut of 1 1 1/2 per cent. I seek leave of the House to incorporate my first table in Hansard.
– It is usual to show it to the Minister at the table first.
-Is leave granted?
– If the Minister had been here earlier he would know that authority was given by the Minister who was previously at the table.
-Leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
-I do not want to become personal. In the present economic context there is no reason for a cut of this size. The number of people on the waiting lists for public housing remains at record levels. One hundred thousand families throughout Australia are still waiting for housing, and that is a conservative figure. The waiting time in New South Wales is more than 2½ years. In Tasmania it is two years. This points up the urgent need for public housing. Yet we find that the total number of houses built by the State housing authorities and those financed through the Home Builders’ Account is declining. Again I seek leave of the House to have my second table incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
– We can expect further increases in the waiting lists because the level of unemployment is rising. Interest rates remain at punishing levels and the Government has slashed the funds available to the States for public housing. I refer to the latest report of the Indicative Planning Council for the Housing Industry. It predicts that the actual completions in 1977-78 will be only 135,000, which is well short of the desirable level of 154,000. Last year the level of completions was 142,000 and the desirable level was 148,700. That means that in two years government policy has produced a shortfall of about 25,000 dwellings. It must mean over-crowding and a lack of adequate standards of shelter for Australian families- in other words, lower living standards.
At the moment it is possible to increase spending on public housing without heating up the inflationary pressures in the building industry. This could be done in a responsible way, as shown in the IPC report. There is no stress or pressure on either men or material. They are both available. If anyone wants building materials they are available. The men are available to work. Those are the two major questions involved. The fact is that no stimulus is being provided by the Government. It should be made available particularly for this sector of the housing industry. If one looks at the situation under the Labor Government, when there was a recession in the building industry, one will see that Labor stimulated the public sector in order to assist the home building sector. The industry has the capacity to build 15,000 more homes than the forecast level for 1977-78.I am talking about the present time. The Indicative Planning Council, which is giving advice to the Government, represents the industry, the trade union movement and other sectors. There is a great deal of surplus capacity in the home building sector. Until it is put to work, the level of unemployment will increase and further resources will be lost to it.
I turn now to make some comments about the impact of monetary policy on the housing market. The Minister should listen to what I have to say. He stressed that the level of lending by banks and building societies was approaching the high level of 1 975-76. Either he ignores or he is ignorant of the fact that over the past two years the cost of the land and house package has increased by at least 20 per cent to 25 per cent. If we are to achieve the same level of activity in 1977-78 as we achieved in 1975-76 this lending will need to be increased by at least 20 per cent to 25 per cent to make up for these higher prices.
The Minister also neglects to mention the shift that has taken place over the last two years in the source of funds for housing. In the June quarter of 1976 about 30 per cent of loan approvals were made by the permanent building societies and the finance companies. In the June quarter of this year those institutions were handling 40 per cent of the approvals. This increase was due to a decline of about 10 per cent in the share of the approvals provided by banks.
Savings bank loans incur interest rates of about 9 to 10 per cent. Money from building societies and finance companies incurs an interest rate of about 12 per cent. There has been a marked shift in the borrowing patterns to the higher interest sector of the market.
Higher interest rates are reducing the borrowing capacity of those who want to buy their own home. With repayments at 25 per cent of income, a home buyer on the average weekly income of $198 could borrow $24,000 at the savings bank interest rate of 9lA per cent. He could borrow only $20,250 at the building society rate of 12 per cent. This policy of forcing a home buyer into the higher interest rate bracket lifts the already high deposit gap by more than $4,000.
The Minister referred to directives made by the Reserve Bank of Australia to the financial institutions which are aimed at getting them to lend on a basis reflecting regional variations in the capacity of the industry. Both the Government and the Reserve Bank ignore the basic fact that those institutions do not have the resources to analyse where the capacity is under-used and where the need is greatest. The Reserve Bank should join with government agencies to do this essential research. Based on this research, firm indications could then be given to the institutions on where funds should be directed. The directives ignore another important fact. More than 40 per cent of housing finance is provided by institutions such as finance companies and building societies which are confined to a particular State in their operation. They lack the ability to shift funds around the country at will to fulfil a Reserve Bank directive. For these reasons the Minister’s remarks about monetary policy are more likely to mislead the House than to inform it.
The Minister referred to the negotiations which are going on at present in relation to the new Commonwealth-State housing agreement. There are many flaws in the Fraser Government’s proposal and I want to draw attention quickly to some of them. Public housing is not an isolated scheme. We are moving back to the situation we had under the old conservative governments of Menzies, Holt, Gorton and McMahon in the 1950s and 1960s when the Commonwealth’s role was to look after the CommonwealthState housing agreement but when the Commonwealth was not responsible for the inter-related services involved, about which I spoke earlier. That is the sad situation that continues under this Government. The Department, which is now under the administration of this Minister, was set up by the Labor Government. It was a department which gave muscle and understanding to the whole interconnected relationship of urban and regional development.
Now the Department has the strength of a powder puff within the Fraser Government. The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, who is at the table, is little in stature and little in authority and that is the measure of his influence in the Fraser Government. This is a sad situation. This is why no real advance will be made in this respect.
Public housing is not an isolated scheme. It is a part of a government’s total welfare program. A uniform minimum standard should be applied without regard to where people live. This is done with pensions and unemployment benefits. Why can it not be done with housing? Under the proposed new agreement, minimum standards are left to the States. This will only maintain existing differences between the States and widen inequalities. I suggest that this minimum standard should be that a tenant pays no more than 12 per cent- and I stress that percentage- of household income or he should pay the market rent, whichever is the smaller.
According to the latest household expenditure survey- and again if the Minister’s department is not obtaining this information, I will do the work for him- the average household spends 10.7 per cent of income on housing if it has no children and 11.3 per cent if it has. There is no reason why poorer families who are being looked after under welfare housing should be forced to pay more for their shelter than is paid by the rest of the community.
With the move to market rent it is inevitable that higher income tenants will be forced to private dwellings. Housing commissions will be left with lower income tenants many of whom will have to claim rental rebates. The States will face heavy repayments of these rental rebates. In effect, the Fraser Government wants it both ways. It wants to claim credit for getting higher income tenants out of welfare housing and it wants the States to pay for it. This puts the States into an impossible bind. The States should look very carefully at the burdens of this proposal before they accept it in its present form.
I turn now to the home builders account which I have mentioned previously. The provision of home purchase finance under the proposals applies an escalating interest rate scale for repayments. The scale starts at 5 per cent and rises by half a per cent a year. This is much too steep a scale. It means increases in repayments of around 10 per cent in the crucial first two years of the debt. I know that the Minister and the officers in his Department want to try to get over that problem. I admit that the solution to the serious housing problems in this country is extremely difficult to find and it is getting more difficult as the days go on. The Minister knows that the main problem for young home owners is to get a foot on the ladder to home ownership. We know that, in the past, a person earning up to about 95 per cent of* average weekly earnings could register under the old scheme and the present scheme for the allocation of a housing commission dwelling. I know that the Government proposes to wipe the limit of 95 per cent. Further problems will be created if this action is taken. We know that single income families, particularly those living in the western suburbs of metropolitan Sydney, are faced with grave difficulties. Even single income families earning up to 1 35 per cent of average weekly earnings find they cannot meet the monthly repayments on a house. That is why it is necessary not to increase the interest rate at too steep a rate. I believe that the rate should be increased gradually.
I might say that in certain respects I believe the Government is approaching this problem in a more intelligent way. I know that some of the recommendations originally made by the Australian Housing Corporation are sinking through even the denser Government members of Cabinet and at least I think some understanding of the situation is coming through. So, I am saying quite clearly that a steep rise in the interest rate will prove too difficult a problem for house owners to overcome. I believe that some conciliation should take place and that the interest rate scale should be phased in probably during the first two years and, when a home buyer gets his foot on the ladder to home ownership the rate could then be gradually increased.
Repayments should be geared to incomes or capacity to pay as is the basis of Labor’s home loans programs. I proposed the deferred mortgage repayment scheme when we were in government. The scheme was put forward in the last Budget of the Labor Government in 1975-76 and later the Australian Housing Corporation recommended its expansion. The Bill before us is the first inkling that this Government is to take any cognisance of such an approach to the proposition. A deferred mortgage repayment scheme has been used successfully by building societies and other organisations in Britain for many years.
The Australian Government cannot rely on the lending institutions to vary the repayments because they do not have the resources to adjust repayments to individual needs. It is disturbing also that the new agreement will provide for an increase in the financial resources available to the private sector through terminating building societies. This will occur both in terms of an increased share of total funds and in terms of the generation of additional surpluses for re-lending. This shift to the private sector ignores the basic fact that the provision of welfare housing is a public responsibility. I stress that point. Much is said about wanting to solve problems in the private sector. But there are some areas in the public sector that need to be looked after. The financing of welfare housing should not be considered in a way which contributes to profit in the private sector.
Furthermore, the new proposal eliminates vendor financing and the means test for those eligible to get financial assistance. As I pointed out earlier, under the present scheme the means test for eligibility is 95 per cent of average weekly earnings. In a way I support the Government s decision to abolish the means test if enough money is to be made available to those who really need it most. But I question whether this will be the situation under this new proposal. Because vendor financing and a means test will be eliminated, the numbers of those eligible for cheap housing finance will be increased. Changing the home builders account share of the total allocation of funds from 30 per cent to 40 per cent will not be enough to cope with the additional applications. Until the Commonwealth gives some commitment to funding the higher demand, these changes can only mean bigger and longer waiting lists for those in urgent need of housing.
The Government should have another look at the relativities among the States which flow from the new agreement on the basis of need. Advances per head of population in Queensland under the existing agreement in 1977-78 are less than $19. In Tasmania, they are more than $61. The national average is $28.50. There is no obvious reason why, on a per capita basis, Tasmania should get three times as much as Queensland for housing.
The final point I want to make is that as a result of this Government’s approach to urban renewal. This field got only token funding in the 1977-78 Budget. The Government expects that the flexibility given to the States under the new agreement will encourage them to direct funds to urban renewal. I hope that if the Minister is convinced that it is important to get into urban renewal he will listen to my words because I have had more experience in this area than he has had. I experienced a struggle within my own Cabinet. I won a victory over Woolloomooloo and that was some achievement The Minister knows that the Glebe, Woolloomooloo and Emerald Hill were great achievements. They were a great step forward. I understand that the Minister is just as proud of that achievement as we are.
– It is my understanding that when he goes around Australia he says that he is quite proud of those achievements. The Government expects that under the new agreement the flexibility given to the states will encourage them to direct funds to urban renewal. The direct financial cost to the states will be too high for the States to move into urban renewal in this way. To give the House an example, the Glebe estate cost $ 1 7.5m in 1 973-74 for a total of 750 properties of which 710 were residential. Applying a conservative estimate of 30 per cent for price rises over the past three years that represents about $30,000 a dwelling in current prices. The cost of rehabilitating a dwelling is about $16,000. I understand that the last dwellings rehabilitated at Woolloomooloo cost about $14,000. At present day costs the cost per dwelling can be between $44,000 and $46,000. The cost of the Woolloomooloo renewal which the Labor Government sponsored was of the same order.
By comparison, some of the newer housing estates in the outer areas of Sydney are offering land and house packages at around $30,000. That is a terrible price to pay but that is the situation. That illustrates the direct cost burden involved and it is highly unlikely that the States will be willing to go into urban renewal in a bold way. Urban renewal will be neglected and great opportunities will be missed. We want more Glebes, more Woolloomooloos and more Emerald Hills. We do not want the Commonwealth opting out of the renewal of inner city dwelling areas or handing this field over to the private sector. This would mean that lower income earners would be forced out and the affluent would take over. I do not need to spell out to the Minister or to the House that the affluent are moving into former working class areas like Carlton in Melbourne or Paddington in Sydney. Those are just two examples.
Urban renewal makes sound economic sense because it allows proper use to be made of long standing urban services. Inner city areas which are renewed are serviced already with schools and hospitals, many of them working well below capacity. There is good public transport and the basic services of water, sewerage and electricity already exist. In the outer suburbs all these facilities and services have to be provided, some at very high cost to the taxpayers. The burden is being transferred to people living in the outer areas, particularly under the Fraser Government’s new federalism. The burden is being transferred to the ordinary ratepayers.
The only solution to the problem of urban renewal is for the Commonwealth to work together with the States and local government as we did with Woolloomooloo. We must look at the direct and indirect costs involved in a cooperative basis with the Commonwealth contributing to the direct cost. Only in this way can our resources be applied efficiently to the inner cities so that they can be re-created as living areas for lower income earners.
In the last few seconds I have in which to speak I want to stress this situation again. I believe that the new proposal to allow and encourage the States to move into the field of urban renewal is not good enough. It is like saying that they are free to do what they wish without being able to do so. If we are to do the right thing by the States and if we are to rehabilitate our great metropolises, particularly Sydney and Melbourne but other parts of Australia as well, it is very important indeed for the Commonwealth Government to be a partner. Governments should co-operate and there should be agreement on such things as zoning areas, as we did in the case of Woolloomooloo. That project involved a conservative New South Wales Government, a conservative city council and a Federal Labor Government but the three bodies worked together in a spirit of co-operation. I believe that one day the redevelopment of Woolloomooloo will be a great economic boom. Resources would have been misused if that area had been kept for commerce and there had been over-centralisation. I hope that in the coming discussions the Minister will listen to some of the criticism from this side of the House.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
-The House is debating the States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill 1977. The purpose of this Bill is to obtain the approval of Parliament for the payment to States of advances amounting to $390m in 1977-78 and also of advances equivalent to one-half of that amount during the first six months of the year 1978-79. It also authorises the Treasurer to borrow moneys for the purpose of making these advances. This Bill moves into the area of the CommonwealthState Housing Agreement and the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States for the provision of welfare housing and assistance to the States in the housing area. The Commonwealth Government, in the year that expires in June 1978, will have provided $l,734m to the States for home loans for low to moderate income earners. More than 300,000 houses have been constructed for rental or sale since the Agreement was first introduced in 1 945. Concessional home loans for financing the purchase of private homes were introduced in 1956. More than 150,000 families have received these loans. In total, about $4 billion has been provided to the States under the Agreement for which the Bill provides funds. One must assess in this context the total ambit of the Housing Agreement. I draw the attention of the House to an editorial which appeared in the Australian Financial Review on 15 February this year. The editorial states:
Federal Housing Minister Kevin Newman has picked an unpopular but necessary argument with the States in his attempts to reform the Federal-State housing agreement.
It goes on to say:
Mr Newman claims that welfare housing benefits are being misused and the whole system exploited. The only thing the Minister is guilty of is understatement.
The traditional form of welfare housing in Australia is that the Federal Government channels money to the States, which then use housing commissions as construction and allocation agencies.
The problem is that once a person gains a housing commission unit he is literally set for life. The rent remains static while the family’s income naturally rises over the years.
It is interesting to note that the article goes on to state:
Of the 183,000 housing commission tenants in Australia only 5 1,000 would be classified as poor.
The Henderson Commission of Inquiry into Poverty pointed this up very clearly in its inquiry as to who should be entitled to benefits under the Housing Agreement-benefits that give assistance to families of poor circumstances. The simple and eminently reasonable proposition being put by the Fraser Government is that those housing commission tenants who can afford to pay market rentals should do so. Those still on low incomes should be subsidised and the net effect should be to protect the real poor in housing commission units while making more money available to commissions to increase the housing stock for others in need.
I refer the House also to a Press release that I saw in the Australian on 14 February this year in which it was stated that families earning up to $500 a week are paying only as little as $25 a week for rental under this Agreement. The negotiations that are taking place at the moment to redraw the Housing Agreement are of particular interest to those who seek to provide shelter or accommodation for their families. Under the guidelines that have been agreed to by the Commonwealth and the States under the CommonwealthState Housing Agreement, it is proposed that the States will receive funds at a basic interest rate of 4Vi per cent per annum but they will loan to agencies at an escalating interest rate, commencing at 5 per cent in the first year but increasing by half a per cent in each subsequent year until a rate equivalent to the long term bond rate is reached. This is where funds are provided for the home ownership assistance scheme and are normally provided to the public through the terminating building societies. The States, under this proposal, can decide which individual borrowers they will choose and they have an ability to adopt a number of flexible lending practices such as interest escalation, deferred repayments or income geared or second mortgage loans.
The Agreement provides a great flexibility and opportunity for State governments to provide services at a level at which the community is most in need. It is interesting to note in fact that as years have gone by under this Agreement the percentage of average weekly earnings that have been set aside for the payment of interest or repayments under the terminating funds or the home ownership assistance program have declined quite significantly. In 1936 the average loan was $5,300. The repayment per week on the loan which was over 31 years was $6.71 a week. This comprised about 19 per cent of the average weekly earnings when the loan was made but today it is only 3.6 per cent of the average weekly earnings. In loans made in 1976, the average was $18,000. The average repayment was $24 a week, which is about 14 per cent of average weekly earnings. The House will see that those people who received loans in early years and have spent some time repaying these commitments are now paying at a very low rate compared with the rest of the community. Many of these families and individuals benefit greatly by the very generous arrangements that were adopted in earlier years.
In addition, the concessions for home ownership have increased by the introduction of the housing loan interest tax deductibility for new home builders, the new Homes Savings Grants Scheme- both of which were introduced since the present agreement commenced. But a very significant factor in the proposed Agreement will be the ability of States to accrue funds that they receive from houses which are purchased. Any surplus which the States gather will be put into a home purchase assistance account and, subsequently, re-lent to home seekers. On calculations, this indicates that the States will have a much greater capacity to provide on-going assistancevery substantial assistance- to those seeking to purchase their own homes but whose means are limited. To be eligible for a terminating building society loan, the Government proposes to remove the present means test which was set at 95 per cent of average weekly earnings. This was an arbitrary test and in fact families that were only slightly outside the 95 per cent suffered by not being able to receive a loan. The Government will be encouraged to have regard to family incomes, the size of houses and the assets of the intending borrowers, thus ensuring that assistance is directed properly to those most in need.
I turn now to the sale of dwellings. The restrictions that were formerly placed on the housing commissions and the housing trusts for the sale of their housing stock will be removed but, under the conditions of the Agreement, they will be allowed to sell for cash at market or replacement price. This will again allow funds to be returned to the Home Purchase Assistance Fund and it will allow stocks to be replaced very simply by the housing commissions and trusts. This mechanism should ensure that waiting lists are not unnecessarily extended and that market prices will permit the States to repurchase existing dwellings in established neighbourhoods, perhaps next door to a house which has been sold, so that the diversity of housing stocks and their siting within particular cities, whether in the fringe areas or the inner city areas, will be maintained.
In the rental housing area the Government has moved to strike an agreement which is both equitable and fair. Each State will be free to decide which agencies can participate in a rental program. Under the present program the housing commissions or trusts are the major agents. The changes will make it possible for the States to allocate funds to voluntary or charitable housing groups or to local government where those agencies are better able to assist in providing housing services. This is a most flexible and thoughtful approach to the new Housing Agreement. The Bill which we are debating is providing funds for part of this program. Indeed, after June 1978 the first six months of the new program will be covered by this Bill.
Eligibility to obtain rental housing has been based on a means test of 85 per cent of average weekly earnings. It is proposed that this specific test will be removed to allow some of the existing anomalies I have mentioned to be done away with. However, rental rebates will be paid to those tenants who are on lower income. Many of these tenants are reliant upon Commonwealth social security and welfare payments and, indeed, are in need of assistance in providing a home for their families. In some circumstances, however, as I have mentioned already, long term tenants are paying very low rents for dwellings located in inner suburbs yet their family circumstances and income might have changed dramatically. Therefore, it is the intention of the Government that those people who fall outside the guidelines will pay full market rental. The States will be encouraged to charge full market rental for accommodation and the rental rebates will be given to those individuals who are most in need.
The new Housing Agreement will be a giant step forward for the Government and for those people seeking to provide their families with accommodation. The Australian Financial Review has clearly set out some of the benefits which will flow from such a scheme. But the Federal Government spends more than $900m a year on housing and spending of this magnitude should constantly be evaluated to ensure that the taxpayers’ money is being allocated in a fair and efficient way but in such a way that it flows to those people genuinely in need. This is the objective of the proposed Agreement. It is interesting to note that when the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) first announced some of the details which he wished to discuss with State Premiers the Labor States were most reluctant to join in with what should be an objective for all political parties, that is, the provision of housing for those people genuinely in need rather than a continuance of support for some individuals who should not be receiving the very great benefits which are obvious under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement.
The various programs which the Government has introduced will support the initiatives being taken in home purchase and ownership and the rental of housing accommodation. To set the whole housing industry in context in relation to this Bill and the assistance that will be applied to individuals, one needs to refer to the Government’s economic policy for the building industry. Inflation is still seen by the Government as the key element in budgetary strategy. The strongly expressed view of the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) is that real wages are still too high- I think that most honourable members on this side of the House would agree with this- in relation to productivity gains made during the past year. The Government believes that this can best be rectified by the normal processes of conciliation and arbitration so that wage restraint will be followed up and a necessary backup is felt to limit and control money supply. This is because without an accommodating increase in the money supply wage increases will be very difficult to finance.
If a wage restraint policy is successful in reducing real wages, with some growth in overseas demand for exports the balance of payments can be expected to improve. Indeed, it is improving. This would remove any downward pressure from the exchange rate and would also assist with movements in interest rates and other factors related to the building industry. The matter of interest rates is one that is being watched by many individuals. The strategy for lowering interest rates must be linked with the lowering of inflation. If inflation is brought under control as economic circumstances permit, so interest rates will fall. Even a modest reduction of interest rates would provide some stimulus and assistance for the housing industry. I am very anxious to see that the Government pursues its stated objective, which has been expressed on a number of occasions, of decreasing interest rates so that those people seeking to purchase homes can do so with ease and with benefit to them and to their families.
Over the past 12 months the housing industry has performed above what was expected this time last year. Approximately 140,700 homes were commenced and 144,400 homes were completed. The forecast last year was that 148,000 homes was the desirable level of construction but the feasible level was set at 138,000 homes. The actual construction was 144,000 homes. This was about 104 per cent of the feasible goal set by the Housing Industry Indicative Planning Council last year. The actual completions represented 106 per cent of the recommended goal and 1 10 per cent of the forecast. So in fact this Government has delivered more than it set out to deliver and more than was recommended by the Indicative Planning Council. I think this is an indication of the Government’s concern for the building industry- its concern for people wishing to purchase their own homes.
It is interesting to note that on 4 August statements appeared in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald to the effect that building projects worth a total of $966m were completed in the Sydney and South Coast areas in the 1976-77 financial year. This represents in terms of value an increase of 61 per cent over the previous year. How is that for performance? All new buildings, homes, and flats, as well as alterations and additions to existing homes, are included in those figures. The number of jobs completed was 30,248, an increase of 34 per cent on the 1975-76 total. The President of the Sydney Water Board, Mr Walder said that the figures did not show all the money spent on construction. There was an increase of 34 per cent in actual jobs completed and an overall increase of 61 per cent m the Sydney area. Those are official Water Board figures. Within the Parramatta region, Parramatta experienced the biggest building boom of any local government area in Sydney, except Blacktown and Campbelltown. Those areas which are showing the stress of increased population are responding very well to the policies which are being put forward by this Government. It is interesting to notice that today in a further release from the Commonwealth statistician there is an indication of increased lending by building societies.
-The House is debating the annual States Grants (Housing Assistance) Bill. The purpose of the legislation is to give effect to the fifth year of a housing agreement which was negotiated by the Australian Labor Party Government. I think the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) in fact acknowledged in his second reading speech, and would acknowledge at any time, that this agreement has had a great impact on housing in Australia. Its introduction was timely in that it provided an incentive for public housing at a time when the private sector was degenerating, principally as a result of the policies which prevailed before 1972. There is no need for me to enunciate the fact that when the Labor Government took office a problem of an unusual variety was prevailing in the housing area in Australia. It was principally associated with the fact that the previous Liberal-Country Party Government ad failed to understand that a proper, effective relationship should have been maintained between manpower, money and material.
There was a massive expansion of money. Everyone can recall those difficult days in 1972 immediately following the election of the Labor Government when it was impossible to get tradesmen at reasonable prices, when bricks, timber and white metals were in short supply and when houses were taking longer to build. It was necessary at that time to try to regulate the scene. The Labor Government moved into the area of public housing. It was not easy to redress the anomalous situation in which the Government found itself at that time. It takes a long time to train tradesmen and to bring the supply of tradesmen up to the flow of money which has been generated. But we recognise that if low interest money was made available the States would be anxious to do what they could to overtake the back-log in public housing. It was at that time that extended negotiations took place with the States. I heard the previous speaker the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) talk about the fact that a new agreement is in offing and indicate the displeasure of the Labor Government States with the terms of that agreement. An agreement means what it says. It is either an agreement or it is not.
I sincerely hope that the Minister has been as successful in getting some acquiescence or some understanding about the housing scene from the State Housing Ministers as I was in negotiating the previous agreement. I shall go through the figures. Soon after our election in 1972 we provided $6.6m to take up the slack. We brought the 1972- 73 figure to $169.8m. In the next year, 1973- 74, there was an increase of 26 per cent, to $2 18.65m. In 1974-75 the figure went up, I think from memory, by 70 per cent, to $3 18m. That was almost double the figure provided by the Liberal Government in 1972-73. That fact probably needs some emphasis. In 1974-75 the Labor Government just about doubled the allocation which the Liberal Government had left as a legacy. In 1975-76 the figure went up to $364.6m. Actually, it was $375m because $ 10.4m had been provided in the previous year. In 1 976-77 the allocation went to $375m. Now we have a figure of $390m. That is history. I do not suppose people who are waiting for a house are concerned about that. But they are concerned about the new agreement which the Minister has been negotiating and which was the subject of his Press release on 15 September of this year. It is No.P77/30.
I comment on my understanding of some aspects of the new agreement. It is very important for people to understand that without a Commonwealth-State housing agreement, without a public housing arrangement, many people in this country will be unable to obtain a house either for rent or for purchase. So this is important legislation for the little people of Australia. The new agreement which is in offing undoubtedly has some virtues. In my view it has some shortcomings too. In the first instance, as I understand it, it will be a three year agreement instead of the five year agreement which is about to expire. I think that is unfortunate. The States like to feel that they can understand the- scenario which will prevail for the next five years so that they can prevail in forward planning, in the acquisition of land and in the many other related matters. I do not have to go into them in detail. If the States are to depend on builders in the private sector to build houses it is imperative that those builders should get some understanding about continuity of work. This even effects the apprenticeship system in the building area, the sub-contracting area and the like. No one is going to take on apprentices unless he understands there is a schedule of work ahead. I think it is unfortunate that the Minister apparently has failed to negotiate a five year agreement. That will have some deleterious consequences. I wish I had more time to spell out the potential in that respect.
– We will move for an extension of time.
-I will not get it so I will just carry on. The second factor is that as yet there is no indication as to the amount of funds which will be allocated. We will never know the real merits of this agreement until we see the extent to which the Government will put its money where its mouth is; in other words to the extent that it backs up the whole matter. I understand that the States are now to be free to set their own standards. Whether this is a virtue, only time will tell. If governments are to be free to set poor standards by using subsidised money which comes from the taxpayers, I think that is unfortunate. For example, is the Minister quite indifferent as to whether States might build high rise buildings which have anti-social features and which are bad places in which to rear families? If he does not care about that, that is a retrograde step. If he does not have much concern over the fact that one State-there is always a State which is at the lower end of the scale in terms of standards- wants to build little unimaginative fibro boxes with a lack of insulation, poor construction quality and on bad subdivisionsI have seen such developments which are especially in evidence in Queensland- where in many instances the roads have not been sealed and kerbed with guttering, where sewerage has been lacking, where there has been a deficiency of town planning considerations, relationship to employment opportunities, communication, schools, pre-schools and the like -
– Is that in Brisbane?
– The honourable member for Darling Downs is from Queensland. He ought to know. It is regrettable if he does not. If the Minister does not believe it is important to get value for taxpayers’ money, I think he is letting the side down. The next feature is that it is intended to take away the provision which limits the number of houses to be sold. All Liberals, of course, think it is a virtue to sell everything. But the fact is that there is a lot of virtue in holding a stock of housing authority homes, especially in inner city areas.
If the number sold is not limited- some of the States are prone to engage in a selling process- it has the effect of forcing the unfortunate taxi driver, the waitress, the lift driver and so on, out to the perimeter of the cities where they are often required to pay something like $5, $6, $7, or even $8 a week in public transport fares. These are the people who least of all can afford to pay such fares. So I think that is a bad factor.
The previous Agreement did put a limitation on the number of houses which were to be sold. I might say that that was not achieved as a result of Labor doctrinaire standover tactics. Liberal Housing Ministers acquiesced with it. A former Minister for Housing and a former Treasurer, Leslie Bury, strongly advocated that proposition. So did the Director of Housing in New South
Wales and many other people. They just understood that, if all the houses were sold off in order to get the quick quid, people would be forced out to the perimeter areas and that the replacement costs would be very considerable indeed.
Another intention declared by the Minister is to lift interest rates on money borrowed to construct rental housing from 4 per cent to 5 per cent. That would result in rent increases. I do not regard that as being a virtue. Many people who live in State housing authority homes throughout Australia will be very gravely concerned about that declared intention. We are told that there will be no restriction on sales at all. I have covered that point. As there are other matters I wish to deal with, I will not have time to go into that matter any further. Housing sales will be at market value or replacement costs. Rents are to be raised to the market value. I know that there is a proposal in relation to rent rebates, but the details of that have not been spelt out. In fact, the details are to be left to the States to work out, and we know the indifference displayed by some States, especially Queensland where a very peculiar system operates. The Minister seems to be quite content to let people become the victims of the determination that anybody might make in that regard. I contend that that is another very serious omission and mistake that he is about to make.
I think all honourable gentlemen will understand that there is a Home Builders’ Account which provides funds to build houses for sale or to enable people to purchase houses from terminating building societies. There is to be a change m the interest rates arrangement. At the moment interest rates have been limited to S.5 per cent. People whose income does not exceed 95 per cent of average weekly earnings have been able to get their home loan at an interest rate of 5.5 per cent. But the Minister’s new proposal is: The interest rate will be 5 per cent in the first year and will escalate at the rate of 0.5 per cent per year up to the ruling bond rate. I am not sure what the bond rate is at the moment. It is a little more than 9 per cent. This is where the Labor Government first came in. When the Labor Government negotiated the Housing Agreement it found that the Liberals had left behind a situation in which the interest rate which the States had to pay was 1 per cent less than the bond rate. That is to say, at the present time the interest rate paid is 1 per cent less than the current bond rate which I said before is a little more than 9 per cent. We fixed the interest rate at 4 per cent for 53 years.
-You put up the interest rate.
-Now it is proposed, if I can say something over the noise of this jackaroo who incessantly interjects for the want of something sensible to say, that the interest rate escalates by 0.5 per cent every year until it reaches the ruling bond rate. I am referring to those people who get loans under the Home Builders’ Account. As I understand it, that is a proper analysis of the situation. The Minister says: ‘Under my proposal repayments on an $18,000 loan those paying the lowest rate would be about $24 a week in the first year but would rise to $38 a week after about 10 years if the bond rate remains at its present level’. I do not know that that is such great news for the people concerned. I would like to hear that proposition justified. It is a backward step, and it will cause very grave concern throughout the community.
The Minister also says: ‘The rate of interest would not remain fixed but vary with movements in the bond rate’. I emphasise those words. He says: ‘This would enable end borrowers to benefit from any reduction in the bond rate’. Conversely, the antithesis of that proposition is that, if the bond rate is increased the interest rate will go up. Every honourable member knows that there is one aggravating feature that concerns every person in Australia who borrows money to purchase a home, and that is the fact that when they negotiate a building loan they expect it to be repayable at the rate of interest negotiated. If they negotiate the loan at 7 per cent they hate to see that interest rate go up to 8 per cent, then 9 per cent and then 10 per cent.
– What if it goes down?
-Order! I suggest to the honourable member for Darling Downs that he saves his remarks until the time when he makes his speech.
Mr LES JOHNSON So now this very undesirable feature which has caused great problems and anxiety for so many people is to be transferred from the private sector to the public sector. The Minister will have to justify that move as well.
Another contention, of course, is that we will be removing from the legislation the provision that people who have access to the Home Builders’ Account are not to earn more than 95 per cent of average weekly earnings. The Minister is going to give the States the right to make those subsidised funds available to more affluent people. Unless he gives much more money, let me make it clear that that proposal will have the effect of increasing the queue for building funds; the more affluent people will joint the rat race with the less affluent, and the most needy people will probably be the ones who will be unable to demonstrate a capacity to repay, even though they would be just as suitable as tenants as some other people. Of course, their chances of getting a housing commission home can only diminish. The present means test confines eligibility for a loan to people who earn 85 per cent of average weekly earnings. That provision is to be removed, provided that the States ensure that assistance is directed to those most in need.
I have endeavoured to give some kind of summary of the legislation which has been introduced by the Minister. Overall the housing picture under this Government is proving to be disastrous. Expenditure on the aged persons homes scheme has been considerably mutilated. Last year’s expenditure on that scheme was $42.4m; this year it is to be $50m. Of course, the promise made by the Minister was that $22 5m would be made available over three years for aged persons homes. I strongly doubt whether this Government will allocate $ 1 30m to that program in next year’s Budget. Aged people are going to suffer. We have had problems in regard to growth centres and area improvement programs; the national sewerage program has been abandoned. The land commissions and urban land councils have been run down; the scheme for defence service homes has been interferred with. They are referred to as veterans’ homes now. Housing in the Australian Capital Territory was allocated $20.9m in the 1975-76 Budget; only $ 14.4m is allocated in the present Budget. Expenditure on Aboriginal housing has been reduced from $40.9m to $35m. Total expenditure on- housing has declined in real terms by more than 30 per cent in the last two years.
It is no wonder that the Minister at the table is called the ‘undertaker’. He has abolished the Australian Housing Corporation. Everything he has put his hands on has turned sour. Everything he has done seems to involve a process of eliminating Labor’s programs.
I sincerely hope that what I have said tonight might encourage him to have a second thought about the proposed Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement because the obligation that every party in government in this country has is to look after the underprivileged so far as housing is concerned.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-This debate deals with both the closing stages of the present Commonwealth and State Housing
Agreement and, as indicated in the second reading speech of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman), policies and objectives for future housing. In this Bill we are dealing with the allocation of $390m to the various States under the provisions of the 1973-74 Agreement. Each period of living gives birth to new phrases and words epitomising the pressures being exerted in that era and the solutions to the pressures so exerted. For housing the in phrase is ‘The Affordable House’. What does this mean? What are the consequences? What do we do to avoid housing which is dear, of monotonous design, small and generally not meeting the requirements and aspirations of the community? Why is it that only 20 per cent of young couples are now buying homes? A few years ago 80 per cent of families were committed to housing mortgages. What has happened that people cannot find the deposit to put on a new home?
We of the National Country Party submit that people still want to own their own homes. If the Commonwealth does not develop in association with the States a housing resources policy we could end up with a commune or caravan type community on the outskirts of our cities and towns. People are becoming fed up with paying rent. I reject the approach of the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) who believes that there is some great value in people continuing to pay rent rather than owning their own homes. People will purchase caravans rather than pay rent, for at least they will end up with something of value and not have thenfinancial resources eroded through years of rental payments. The Government and the Minister are to be congratulated on getting at the kernal of the matter- the housing cost inquiry presided over by Mr E. Eyers, to inquire into all matters affecting the cause of inefficiency and unnecessarily high costs. It is to be hoped that all sections of the Australian community- the purchaser, the builder and the provider of services- will give evidence to the inquiry so that answers to the affordable house are readily forthcoming.
As there will be a new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement next year it is appropriate to state in this debate a few basic principles of housing. The Commonwealth and the States cannot solve all the problems of housing. Commonwealth funds provide 9.2 per cent of housing funds in Australia, made up of 6.39 per cent for owner-occupied new dwellings, 0.69 per cent for other classes, and 2.12 per cent for terminating building societies. The savings banks are by far the largest providers of finance for home building. In 1975-76 they provided 124,473 housing loans for a total allocation of funds of $2, 177m, for an average loan of $16,726. In 1976-77 they provided 106,740 loans for $2, 105m, for an average loan of $18,709. In 1975-76 the trading banks provided 45,286 loans for $804m, for an average loan of $14,775. In 1976-77 they provided 41,218 loans for $806m, for an average loan of $15,639. In 1975-76 the building societies provided 71,880 loans for $l,594m, for an average loan of $21,553. In 1976-77 they provided 64,510 loans for $ 1 ,580m, for an average loan of $24,072.
It is to be hoped that the infamous attitude of certain Australian Labor Party spokesmen in the Queensland Parliament will not destroy the building societies. They sought to erode the rights of Queensland people to obtain loans from building societies by adopting a most undignified and reprehensible approach.
– A culpable approach.
-I am most grateful to the honourable member for La Trobe for his comment. The action of the Labor Party in Queensland was such as to create a most unfavourable environment. Quite obviously an analysis of the figures which I quoted indicates two things. Firstly there has been a decrease in the number of people granted loans to purchase their own homes and, secondly, the loans have become greater. In essence, more money is being made available by a great government to fewer people. One cannot come up with any conclusion other than that the average Australian is demanding greater standards, and his expectations in housing are higher. Mr Acting Speaker, you will recall the saying of a previous Labor Minister for Housing in this Parliament: ‘Let them have smaller homes’. Possibly people were satisfied previously with a carport. Now they are requiring garages. Previously they were satisfied with a wardrobe in a bedroom. They now plan for and expect ensuites. There is more demand for housing finance than can be satisfied by the market.
It is pleasantly refreshing to report that fixed costs during the last 12 months have not increased to any marked extent. It is true to say that they have been relatively stable. Additionally we now find in the market place that builders will build at a fixed cost. No longer do they religiously require rise and fall clauses in various contracts. Unfortunately there has been a decline in the total number of houses built in the last year. In 1976-77 over 140,000 new dwellings were completed in Australia. This was some five per cent below the desirable level on an Australia-wide basis. In effect, we were approximately 8,000 dwellings below the desirable level on a long term housing goal basis.
Housing is like the economy. It cannot be turned on and off at the pleasure of the controlling authority. We need long term planning. There have been changes in demographic patterns of which one must take cognisance in housing policy generally. It is to be regretted that there has been an investors’ loss of confidence. There is not as much speculative building now as we have witnessed in the last decade.
Unfortunately, unimproved land is very scarce in the metropolitan areas of Sydney and Melbourne. We find changing requirements of the population. People are now demanding housing in areas which are accessible to transport, work and recreation. Our population forecasts have not been as accurate as we could have reasonably anticipated following the results of inquiries a few years ago. There is absolutely no possibility of our reaching a population of 20 million by the year 2000. Possibly it will be closer to the 15 million mark.
In the Bill I note with some concern that out of the total allocation of $390m only $39.8 lm is being made available to Queensland.
– It is not enough.
– The honourable member for Maranoa says that it is not enough. I wholeheartedly agree with him. One must question how this figure has been arrived at in accuracy and in fact. At page 47 of the report of the Indicative Planning Council for the Housing Industry we find that the total net migration increase to Queensland on an average basis for the projected migration era 1975-80 will be 16,000 people each year. Net migration consists of the sum total of net overseas and net interstate migration. Queensland leads the way, as it does in many things, with that net migration increase of 16,000. The next highest State is Western Australia with 14,700, whilst New South Wales, obviously under a Labor government, will have a net loss of 9,700.
– We are well in front.
-We are out in front by the length of the straight. One finds great difficulty, therefore, in equating, on these figures, the allocation of the present amount to Queensland. This anomaly must be corrected in the new scheme. Of course one cannot anticipate the guidelines and the parameters of this scheme, but one hopes that there will be a disciplined ap,roach which will iron out anomalies between States plans and principles. In all previous plans Queensland has been discriminated against. No doubt this followed the application of a system and policy which were and are manifestly unjust and unfair. Queensland has not received its just share of either loan or housing funds. Funds have not been allocated on a per capita basis but rather on an historical happening.
In the immediate post World War II era because of the State Labor government’s policy of using reconstruction funds rather than loan funds Queensland receives only 13.35 per cent of total loan funds whilst it has 15 per cent of the population. Similarly, because of the marriage arrangement of distributing Commonwealth housing funds between States on a loan program policy basis, Queensland with 15 per cent of the population receives just under 10 per cent of housing funds. Translated into homes this is equivalent to denying a home to approximately 1,000 Queensland families. The per capita average for the various states for the three years 1974-75 to 1976-77 is as follows: New South Wales $25.58, Victoria $26.45, Queensland $18.47, South Australia $45.30, Western Australia $30.87 and Tasmania $58.82. The Australian average is $28.06.
– What was the figure for Queensland?
– The figure for Queensland was only $18.47. Queensland, therefore, has every possible reason for feeling discriminated against. On behalf of my Queensland colleagues I submit to the Minister that this must end. It is to be hoped that when the new Agreement is finalised recognition will be given to past injustices so that they will not continue for the future. The Labor Party under its Treasurer, the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), did naught to remove the anomaly and correct the injustice. Obviously, the honourable member for Oxley cares naught for Queenslanders. It was he who denied Queenslanders 1,000 homes a year- $22m for housing. We are dealing with his Agreement, not ours. Let us hope that we show more concern for Queenslanders than he did.
The new Agreement should update policy in two specific areas; firstly, restriction on sales and, secondly, eligibility. People by and large desire to own their own homes. State governments should not be shackled with restrictions on how many homes are to be leased or sold. Let the States monitor the position themselves. People who, through progress up the economic ladder, are able to purchase a housing commission home in which they have resided for some years should be able to purchase that home at fair market value. They have probably established a garden and made it a real home in an area that suits them where they like to live. The money obtained from the fair market sale could be used to build more houses for initial rental and possibly later purchase by families on lower incomes. The present qualification for rental is for those earning up to 85 per cent of average weekly earnings and 95 per cent of the same earnings for purchase through co-operative building societies. I am concerned about the other people just above those parameters who can neither save enough for a deposit on a home for purchase nor meet the interest and redemption payments.
If we are genuine- I submit that the Government is- about meeting the aspirations of Australian people for housing we must extend the umbrella of housing to cover these disadvantaged people. By doing this there could be a twoway beneficial flow. Because these families would have access to cheaper finance there may not be quite so pressing a need for mothers to work to pay for the home with resultant benefits to family life and greater opportunities for work for our unmarried young people. The allocation of $39.8 lm to Queensland is for the provision of welfare housing. This, as stated earlier, is only a relatively small part of the overall housing requirements of the Australian nation. The Commonwealth Government has a specific responsibility in homes for the aged, Aboriginal housing and defence service housing. I reject the reasoning of the honourable member for Hughes who drew attention to some of the problems of housing for aged people in Australian society. The reason for this is that his Government promised a lot but delivered nothing whatsoever. With regard to defence service homes it was his Government which brought in a waiting period of 1 1 months for people requiring a defence service home loan. Our Government has updated the policy so that at present a person who is eligible for a loan and is building his own house on his own piece of land obtains that loan immediately.
It is to be regretted that no government has seen fit to encourage aged people to stay in their own homes by providing a similar allowance as is granted to people who obtain a supplementary rent allowance. I hope that the Minister in his final negotiations with the States can come up with some type of arrangement whereby elderly people who desire to live in their own home can be given a similar supplementary allowance to enable them to carry out the ordinary running repairs to keep their home in a satisfactory condition. This would help government finance in that less money would then be required to provide accommodation in aged persons homes. I know the Minister’s great concern to keep people happy in their own environment and give them a choice of remaining among their friends rather than having to go to an aged persons home.
Few would disagree with the view that special consideration must be given to the people who are termed low income earners. Similarly, if one accepts this point of view one must, in logic, accept that if through some change in circumstance an original recipient of assistance obtains a greater wage he should be placed in no greater financially advantageous position than anyone else on a similar income. Accordingly, one cannot question the priorities which will be implemented in the new Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement referred to by the Minister in his second reading speech. I congratulate him on a well-documented logically argued approach. The aim of the Government in the new Agreement will be to increase the opportunity for home ownership for all Australians. It will have as the heart of the agreement, as has been the heart of all such agreements, the provision of cheap money for the States to build rental housing for those most in need. It will be part of the federalism proposals wherein the States will be masters of their own destiny with limited interference from the Commonwealth authorities. It will channel subsidies from the common taxation pool towards those greatest in need.
This is surely simple justice and must receive the approval of us all. The annual repayments will still be over the present period of 53 years. Interest rates on loans for rental construction will be set at 5 per cent and the States will be asked to move their rents to market value. The rental rebates, however, will be provided by the States to those who need assistance. The States will be restored to their proper place in the overall sphere of things. In relation to home builders it is to be a stipulation that there will be an escalating rate of interest for those who participate in the scheme until the ruling bond rate is reached. Any revenue accruing under the terms of the Agreement will be retained by the States to grant more assistance in housing areas generally. State governments can allocate finance to local government if local government expresses a willingness to enter the housing field for community group purposes.
No matter how grandiose the plans of man are in the overall planning area little will be achieved if we have insufficient working personnel to do the actual construction work. One cannot but be alarmed at the low level of apprenticeship intake in the building area in recent years in some States. Wastage of apprentices, the general lack of output through go slow tactics and guerrilla methods by industrial agitation have all added to the problem. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a table depicting the building industry apprenticeship intake for the period 1971-72 to 1975-76.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
-I thank the House. Obviously there will be a slack period during which tradesmen graduate from apprenticeships. We cannot do anything about past results at present. However we must ensure that there are adequate apprentices each year to meet the demands placed on them through the requirements of housing and building generally. We need a steady stream of apprentices rather than the peaks and troughs of apprenticeship intake depending on the activity in any one given period. Additional means of achieving these objectives must be established in conjunction with the Commonwealth Rebate for Apprentice Full-time Training scheme. The new proposals have obviously emanated from a desire to allow people options in housing. ‘The Affordable House’ is one which we must measure not only in the financial sense but also in the sense of being personal and deinstitutionalised. We must maintain and ensure a freedom of choice in the community at large for housing which adequately reflects the 20th century living conditions.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not think that there could have been a dry eye in the House by the time the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) finished his speech. I listened intently to his address and I began to be a bit disappointed. I thought that he was not going to take a sideswipe at the trade unions during the course of his address, but he did not disappoint me. In the dying moments of his speech he did not neglect to make mention of guerrilla tactics and he also told us that there has not been any training of apprentices. Indeed he had a table incorporated in Hansard to show that. If there is to be any injury done to the building and construction industry in this country the honourable member should be looking not at the trade unions but at the present Government because the Bill that is before us now provides $390m to the States for housing. If the honourable member were sincere and genuinely concerned about the housing industry in the States and about apprenticeship training that goes with it, he ought to be honest enough to admit that this year the Government that he supports has not provided as much money as it should have provided.
If he were sincere about this matter he would have told the House and would not have left it to me to tell the House that the Government should have provided another $22. 5m this year, which would have just provided the same amount of money as last year, on corrected figures, for housing. Therefore the Government that he supports has provided less money this year for welfare housing that it provided last year. Last year it actually spent $375m. Irrespective of what the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) cares to tell us in his economic jargon, the inflation rate over that year has been more than 10 per cent. So by adding another $37.5m to that figure we get a total of $4 12.5m. That is the amount that should have been provided, not the $390m that is being provided.
The honourable member for Darling Downs referred to Queensland as being a great State in regard to housing but he should read some of the statistics that are provided by an interested body in this field, the Housing Industry Association. Certainly this money is being made available to the States so that they can provide housing. I think it will be interesting to go through the statistics State by State and see what is actually happening in each State. For example, in New South Wales where there is an Australian Labor Party Government, the number of houses approved for government ownership for the year ended June 1977 increased by 145 per cent over the previous year. Let us have a look at what happened in the previous year when there was not a Labor government in that State. The number of government owned dwellings completed in the year ended June 1977, which must have been started in the year before, decreased by 56.2 per cent. So one can see what happens when there is a change from a negative Liberal government to a progressive Labor government. One goes from a decrease of 56.2 per cent in completions under a Liberal government to an increase of 145 per cent in approvals under a Labor government.
There is a Liberal Government in Victoria, and what do we find there? We find a decline in approvals for government ownership by 22.9 per cent over the previous year. In the same year completions of government owned houses declined by 20.7 per cent. In a State such as Victoria with a Liberal Government and with no impediment we find a decline in completions and approvals of houses for government ownership. Queensland is a very interesting case. The honourable member for Darling Downs should listen carefully to this. Last year completions of government owned houses decreased by 29 per cent, but this year there happens to be an election in Queensland and what does that wily Premier of Queensland, the crookedest crook of all the Premiers of Australia, do? He promptly ensured that there would be an increase of 82.6 per cent this year.
– I take a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have no wish to interrupt my good friend but his statement concerning the greatest Premier in Australia is personally offensive to me and I ask that he withdraw his remark.
-Will the honourable member withdraw?
-Will the honourable member tell me what he said?
-I said that the Premier of Queensland was the crookedest crook of all the Premiers of Australia.
-The honourable member will withdraw that remark.
-This is using up my time. I have made my point, and I withdraw. In the Labor controlled State of South Australia there has been an increase in approvals of 16.5 per cent and an increase in completions of 3.9 per cent. The honourable member for Darling Downs vaunts the. way in which the Premier of Queensland cares to go about his business but few people in New South Wales would agree with him. Apart from the fact that this Bill does not make sufficient funds available for welfare housing in any of the States, it does not make funds available that are comparable with those of last year. Let me quote some of the comments made by the Housing Industry Association concerning the situation of the building industry in New South Wales. It says:
Builders are still operating below capacity.
If the Government is quite sincere about the unemployment situation m Australia, a matter that does not seem to be giving it great concern, it seems to me that the giving of greater impetus to the housing industry would have such a multiplier effect that a great deal of this problem would be corrected. But again the Government is giving less money this year to the States for housing than it gave in previous years. On the question of labour this august body says:
All trades are readily available.
We all know that. With the 400,000-odd people out of work, of course all trades are readily available. It says:
The lack of work has caused a decline in apprentice demand and this is likely to continue. 1978 will see very few builders prepared to train apprentices because of the cost. There are any amount of boys looking for apprenticeship in the industry, but most will not be successful.
What an indictment that is of the Government of this country. When the Government has the opportunity to pump money into the housing industry to get the housing industry back on its feet, we find that sort of comment being made- not by some communist shop steward -
– Do not shout.
-If the Minister has sensitive hearing that is not my problem. The Government has the opportunity to do that and the Housing Industry Association has taken the opportunity to tell the Minister- he has read these comments- how he can get apprentices back into the industry and how he can get tradesmen back to work. What does the Minister for Housing do? He recommends to his Prime Minister, the greatest penny pincher of all time, that the actual money to be made available for housing in Australia should be cut this year. The Minister pretends to have some sort of a hearing defect. He has more than a hearing defect. On the question of housing prospects the Housing Industry Association says:
The market looks like remaining very much as it is now for the next three months. The inability of many people to afford a housing loan will mean a continued low level of activity.
That is axiomatic. The way to overcome this problem is to go into it and look at it, but the
Government is playing with it. The Association says:
There is a desperate demand from lower income earners to own a home, as rental prices are increasing sharply.
Those are wise words, words that we all know to be true. What does the Minister do again? He reduces by $22.5m this year the amount of money that should be made available for welfare housing. That is in the State of New South Wales. I have already mentioned that in Victoria, government approvals for welfare housing declined by 22.9 per cent. Does the Minister know- I very much doubt whether he does- that there are 6,000 people on the waiting list of the Housing Commission of Victoria? How much money is the Federal Government to give to Victoria this year? In the first instance it is giving Victoria $101,759,000 and allocating another $50,000 for the next six months.
– No, look at it again.
-It is $101,759,000. Have I got it right this time?
-The Minister can smile because half of the money that has been paid to Victoria under this legislation in the past has been misappropriated by the inept, incompetent Victorian Government and put into the pockets of shonky real estate agents. It has gone in shonky real estate deals in Victoria where the Housing Commission of Victoria has bought land and paid outrageous prices for it, all at the expense of houses.
I again point out that the figures accurately show that government approvals up until June 1977 declined by 22.9 per cent. They would not have declined if the Government of Victoria had built houses on the land instead of lining the pockets of real estate speculators. The completion of government owned houses was 20.7 per cent lower and the completion of other dwellings was 59.1 per cent higher in the year ended June 1 977 than in the previous year.
The Minister does not like to hear these figures. But the figure of 20.7 per cent in 1977 would not have applied if there had been an honest government in Victoria, if there had not been a crooked Liberal government that set about lining the pockets of real estate developers. The Housing Industry Association stated:
Many builders have retrenched staff to reduce overheads.
Is that not great? There are 6,000 people wanting houses. Six thousand people are on the Housing Commission list. But builders have to retrench staff to reduce overheads.
Why cannot this Government provide money to Victoria? Why cannot it speak to its Liberal counterparts down there to make sure the money is used for housing and not just to prop up shonky real estate companies? The Association also states:
The timber industry, in particular, has dismissed numbers of employees and some mills are expected to close down.
That has happened in the federal division of McMillan. Mills are closing down all around the timber areas of Victoria. Of course, the people who live in these small towns that rely on timber milling are suffering great hardship. The Association also stated:
Brick manufacturers have large stocks.
There is no shortage of building materials, no shortage of labour and no shortage of skill. Yet the Government cannot provide the money to make sure that the people who need the houses get them.
This is interesting- the Association states:
Reactions to the recent Federal Budget have been quite negative . . .
They are not my words but the words of the Housing Industry Association. I repeat what the Association said:
Reactions to the recent Federal Budget have been quite negative- as far as the housing industry is concerned it was a ‘non-event’.
The Minister might like to speak to the lowly positioned Deputy Government Whip who is trying to interject but that is what was said by the Housing Industry Association. The Association also said:
A reduction in interest rates is a key issue for the future. Even a relatively small decline would at least be a selling point.
These are the sorts of questions that have to be faced up to by this Government. Even to maintain the relativity of funds available this year compared with last year would require, I repeat, another $22.5m.
What is the Government trying to do? Honourable members have spoken against people renting houses. The honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh), if I remember correctly, made the point that everyone in Australia wanted to live on his own little one-fifth acre and have his own little house. There is no evidence to suggest that is the case. The real position is that people are not given a choice. They either buy a house or they live with relatives. I have already made the point that the cost of rentals is forcing people into buying houses. Accommodation that is built for rental in
Victoria takes the form of either 20 storey concrete buildings or houses in some obscure country town where there is no need for housing. But under the arrangement a percentage of housing must be built for rental. But is this housing built in areas in which people live and in which they want to rent houses? The answer to that question quite simply is, no.
Is the attitude of the Minister to continue to be that of his supporters and colleagues in this House who believe that people want to live on one-fifth of an acre of land in their own little house and thereby, of course, make the provision of services that much more expensive, or is his attitude more one towards medium density housing? The Minister is not going to answer that question. In fact he is not going to say a word about it because it is a lot easier to duck responsibility. It is a lot easier to be a Minister in this place under the so-called new federalism and to pass money to the States and then to say: ‘But the States have the responsibility of doing this ‘. .
I have already drawn the attention of the House to the crooks in Victoria, the crooked Liberal Party in Victoria. This contention can be clearly supported by so much evidence. I mention, for example, the purchase of a briquette depot in Altona. It was intended that houses would be built on this area. But nothing could be done with it. One would have to sink piers 56 feet before one struck bottom. Money has been given to the crooked Liberal Government in Victoria to buy that land. How does the Federal Government know what the Liberal Government of Victoria will do with this money? How does the Federal Government know that the State Government will not go out and buy another quarry on which to build houses?
The Minister holds up a piece of paper that mentions something about defence homes at Craigieburn. The Minister has his people mixed up. I was not the Minister for Housing in the last Labor Government. Craigieburn happens to be in my electorate at the moment.
– Where did the money go?
-I do not know where the money went. But the Minister can raise that question. He can do so easily. I would like -
– I think it might be a good idea if only one member of the House made a speech. The honourable member for Burke is officially making a speech at the moment and nobody need help him.
-I agree with you 100 per cent, Mr Acting Speaker. I am one of those sensitive people who responds to provocation. I have never been used to this before I came to this place. I do not want to be put in the position of having to tolerate the jackasses on my geographical left who are provoking me.
– I know that the honourable member for Burke is a very peaceful individual.
-This is why I suggest that nobody help the honourable member to make his speech.
-Thank you. I am gratified by your confidence in my ability, and I am sure that it is reciprocated. The Minister has drawn to my attention a piece of paper that mentions something about Craigieburn. If that is his problem, I guess he will say something about it when he responds to this debate. But rather than side-tracking the whole issue I want him to tell me before he responds how he is going to stop these crooks in Victoria, these Liberal crooks in Victoria, from running away with the money we are pumping into that State for housing? The Minister can shake his head, but as I have already indicated there has been a decline in government approvals up to June 1977 of 22.9 per cent. There has been a decrease in buildings completed of 20.7 per cent, all in the area of government housing. The Minister can also tell us why the Victorian Government bought land in flood prone areas, in old brick dumps and in other places with good hard earned cash? He can tell us how the Victorian Government managed to pay three times as much for the land 20 days after it was first bought. He can also tell us why there has been a real reduction of $22.5m in the amount of money made available to Victoria this year for welfare housing.
-Mr Acting Speaker-
Motion (by Mr Donald Cameron) proposed: That the question be now put
That the question be now put
– I do not want to call for a division but may I have my dissent recorded in accordance with the appropriate Standing Order?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Motion (by Mr Newman) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
-Mr Acting Speaker-
Motion ( by Mr Bourchier) proposed: That the question be now put. Mr Bryant- May I have my dissent recorded? Question resolved in the affirmative. Original question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a third time.
That the question be now put. Mr Bryant- May I have my dissent recorded? Question resolved in the affirmative. Original question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 1 1 October. Second Schedule.
Department of Aboriginal Affairs
Proposed expenditure, $90,774,000.
– I want to take a few minutes to talk about what is now called the National Aboriginal Conference and to remind the Parliament of the original concept behind the establishment of this body which in the initial stages was called the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee. Until 1972 when the Australian Labor Party became the Government very little had been done over the years to advance the cause of the Aboriginal people. One or two previous Ministers, such as the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), had made an impact but that was the first time that the Australian Parliament and the Australian Government had established a Department of Aboriginal Affairs with a Minister for Aboriginal Affairs responsible for that subject alone. As the Minister at that time I realised that one of the greatest difficulties one faced in arriving at proper policies and appropriate procedures in Aboriginal affairs was the difficulty of consultation with and consideration of the views of the Aboriginal people.
After some consideration I decided that the best thing to do was to convene a conference of Aboriginal people representative, as far as I could make it so, of all sections of the Aboriginal community- people from the Northern Territory tribal situations, people from the urban situation and prominent Aboriginal people. Honourable members may be interested to learn how one goes about such a task. There are some 400 communities in Australia in which Aboriginal people are to be found. Some of them comprise three or four families; in others, such as at Maningrida, Papunya and Yuendumu and so on in the Northern Territory, there are upwards of a thousand Aboriginal people or more living in communities of their own. We took first of all the advisory committee that the previous Minister had established, then prominent Aboriginal people such as the late Harold Blair, Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls and so on, members of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, and other people who represented their communities. Some 70 people gathered here in Canberra to consider the problems. I want to make it clear that the idea was that this was to be the unit which was to be the direct line of communication between the Minister and the Aboriginal communities.
Over the last three or four years, but particularly since the first election was held for membership of what is now called the National Aboriginal Conference in late 1973, 1 have heard it said that the National Aboriginal Conference, or national congress, whatever name it was called for the time being, has been a failure. If it has been a failure that failure should not be visited upon the Aboriginal members themselves. They had extraordinary difficulties to cope with. They were new to this kind of task. It was the duty of the responsible Ministers to establish a communication system- a continual communication system- with the Aboriginal people. The representative principle is difficult to establish in such a situation. In the end there was simply a division of Australia into 41 electorates and members were elected to represent those electorates. This was not a totally satisfactory technique because, for example, people in central Australia who live in communities 500 miles apart could not possibly adequately represent one another but it was the best thing to do in the circumstances. I do not believe that the amendments that have been made to the idea are going to work any better. In fact I think there are inhibitions in the system. There are impositions, such as the executive group which will be a part of it, which will, I think defeat its purpose.
I want to say a word in support of the general principle of direct representation by the Aboriginal people in the consideration of their own policies. I do not believe this idea has been a failure. I do not believe its members have failed. They have acted in the same way as we do. Each one of us has different techniques in our approach to the business of being representatives of people. Some people are more successful than others in public appearances but that is part of the system.
I hope that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) will take this concept to himself, that he will make sure that he establishes direct communications with the Aboriginal members who are spokesmen for their communities. I hope he will no longer talk about the National Aboriginal Conference, as it is now called, being a failure. It is our duty at this end to establish an effective communications system.
Nothing has been more of a whipping boy than the Aboriginal programs of the last four or five years. It has been so easy to say that money has been wasted, that programs have been at fault, that it has all been a total waste of time. It has not. The fact that there are so many Aboriginal people now able to speak in public, to act in the public domain as self-assured citizens, is a measure of the success of the campaigns of the last ten or fifteen years to advance the cause of the Aboriginal people.
I come now to the procedures and policies adopted by this Government immediately on its return to office. It had attacked very vigorously the programs and the expenditure of the Labor Government. The first approach was to reduce that expenditure. I believe that that was a serious error. It was an abdication of the responsibility to the people of Australia and to the Aboriginal people in particular. I cannot quite understand why there seems to be so much underexpenditure in the Budget that I see before me as apparent from the figures I see in Appropriation Bill (No. 2). Perhaps even in housing inadequate effort has been made. I put it to the Minister that he should not let himself be deterred in any way by these criticisms. Many of them will flow from people whose approach, unfortunately, is racist. I am not going to suggest that the people of Australia are racist in the sense that I think that the people in southern Africa are, but I do know that Australians place a heavy premium upon behaviour. People who do not behave according to the norms are likely to come under heavy fire.
Aboriginal people who for two centuries have been deprived of a proper place on this continent as a result of our arrival here ought to have special consideration showered upon their needs. I must express my bitter disappointment at the collapse of so many programs around Australia over the past year or so. As a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs I see so many programs which have been launched come to a relative standstill. One does not have time here tonight to discuss them. In so many ways the programs have come to a point of stagnation and have caused disappointment and frustration to the Aboriginal people.
Last night an honourable member mentioned the matter of the turtles in the Tones Strait. One has almost continually to get the record straight. Back two or three years before we came into government- about 1970- when the honourable member for Mackellar was the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, a proposal was put to him to develop a turtle growing program in the Torres Strait. A small amount of money- I think $30,000- was put aside in the first instance to do that. It was to be an experimental exercise. Unfortunately, the person who became in charge of the program, operating through the Australian National University, saw an opportunity to expand the enterprise beyond his capacity to control it. By the time we came into government $400,000 or more had been committed. I think about $200,000 was allocated in the previous Budget and was transferred about the time we came into Government.
I visited the Torres Strait. I could see immediately that the project was not going to work. I do not have time tonight to expound the arithmetic on it, but honourable members only have to read the records I tabled before the Joint Committee on Public Accounts to find out how misled we all were. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs was misled in its predictions and prophecies. The governments were misled in applying to the task so much funds so generously, one might say. So when I see in the Budget Papers an amount of $ 1.05m allocated for ecology, I wonder whether the Minister has really applied himself to the task of seeing whether we are going to get value for that money. I recognise the difficulties in the Torres Strait of maintaining economy.
Mr DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– Strangely enough, I agree with what the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) said about the new National Aboriginal Conference. It could well be an even worse representative of Aborigines than was the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee. I support the honourable member’s request that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) should speak directly to the traditional Aborigines. I add that the Minister should speak to them and not to thenadvisers. He probably will then find some real home truths coming through. In this Appropriation Bill (No. 1) $90.7m is allocated to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, which is a rise of $3.8m on what was actually spent last year. The overall allocation for Aboriginal programs in 1977-78 represents an increase of 9 per cent, or $15m.
We have heard much about grants-in-aid and money for housing, health, education, employment, welfare and so on for Aborigines. We see that in 1976-77 grants-in-aid for the Northern Territory totalled $18m and in 1977-78 the amount allocated is $22. lm. So this Government is taking very seriously indeed the matter of aid, help and assistance in every direction to Aborigines. This reflects the Government’s overall policy. We hear so much about this from the Opposition. Its members seem to think that they are the only people who have ever seen an Aborigine. From their past performance I would think that until their three years in government very few of them had seen an Aborigine.
The national employment strategy of this Government is to raise effective levels of employment for Aborigines. We see in the Bill that the allocation for town management and public utilities this financial year is $4.3m higher than it was last financial year and includes the Community Development Employment Projects, which are very well meaning and well thought out. I should like to see them proceed. This financial year we have an estimated expenditure of $5.6m for those projects. This program is in keeping with the Government’s national employment strategy to raise the level of employment among Aborigines.
We have heard the Minister say that Aborigines want to work. I think they fall within the same category as anyone else. If one did not have to work and could get away with not working, whether one was black or white, it would be questionable, to say the least, whether one really wanted to work. But it is far more soul destroying to Aborigines to be paid to sit down and not work than it is to pay social security benefits to white people. A white person knows in his heart of hearts whether he is bludging or whether he is genuinely in need of those benefits. We know that many of them are and I am not knocking them for that. But for most Aborigines the payment of what is called ‘sit-down money’ is not in their best interests and they know it.
In spite of the government programs and the money made available for Aboriginal work programs- the allocation under division 120.4.04 of the Bill for employment and the allocation under division 120.4.07 for town management and public utilities which have been increased by $1.2m and $4.3m respectively- we have heard of cuts in town council spending, with attendant unemployment. What is the reason? We have already put this question to the Minister and he has provided a very sound answer. But I wonder whether this was a genuine error on behalf of a white Administrator or the advisers and /or the Department. If so, it is confusing and tragic to have people willing to work being told to go on the dole because of government spending cuts in this area.
I am not critical of the Minister because he righted this situation very quickly. But I am try-‘ ing to get to the heart of that story. When it went around the Aboriginal communities it did a tremendous amount of harm. If the reason is political there should be a serious appraisal of the activities of those people responsible. I know that the situation which existed at Bathurst Island, Melville Island and Croker Island has been righted. But many people in those areas, especially at Bathurst Island, previously would not apply for the dole. Then, when they were confronted with the situation they hoped that their council would be able to get the money and set them to work to use that money. These are very real people about whom I am speaking. It is very gratifying to note that the Minister got on to this situation which was occurring at Bathurst Island. It was very serious but it has been corrected. The National Aboriginal Conference was mentioned earlier. I see from division 120.3.05 that $475,000 has been appropriated for election expenses for this body. That is part of a total of $978,000 which will be provided to run the National Aboriginal Conference election later this year and also to run the new concept- the National Aboriginal Conference- for the rest of the year.
The previous speaker, the honourable member for Wills, a former Minister, said that this was a worthwhile organisation. That maybe the opinion in some areas but I have been from the Arafura Sea to the Macdonnell Ranges in the last few weeks. Many traditional Aboriginals have told me that they do not want either the National Aboriginal Conference or its predecessor the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee. To have such a body looking after their affairs cuts directly across the concept of what they understand. They do not want that any more. They previously told both governments, that is the Australian Labor Party Government and our own Government, that they did not want two large land councils. I have not been in those areas ^eliciting these remarks. These people told me that straight off the cuff. They hit me with it right between the eyes. The Tiwis are not alone in their protestations with regard to a single land council.
Why do we inflict these unwanted organisations and people upon the real Aborigines? They are beginning to come to the people who live in this area and to ask: ‘Why are you forcing these people on us? We have certain people put onto us but we do not want them.’ That is why they have asked the Minister to go and speak to them. I am certain he will go because he is a very sympathetic and understanding man. The real Aboriginal people do not understand this concept. They do not want it. They do not understand why they receive the dole instead of being able to work. People who do not truly have Aboriginal interests at heart are not wanted by the Aboriginals. They do not want people who do not understand their interests. Why, through these advisers, are we doing this? In relation to the appropriation, I ask the Minister: Where do we find the appropriation for the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and the medical service which the Congress purports to provide?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Mr Deputy Chairman, the Treasurer -
– The honourable member for the Northern Territory knows all about it. Why do you not listen to him?
-Here he is again, old ocker.
– Did you -
-Oh, shut him up.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! I have given the call to the honourable member for Hughes. I would like to hear what he is about to say.
-The Treasurer (Mr Lynch) in his Budget Speech stated:
Overall expenditure on programs of direct assistance to Aborigines in 1977-78 is estimated to be about $ 176m compared with $ 1 6 1 m in 1 976-77.
Then, in a Press statement on 17 August, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) stated:
Expenditure on Aboriginal programs in 1977-78 would rise by $ 1 5 m or nine per cent to $ 1 76m.
The Government has once again broken its promises to Aboriginals by reducing expenditure on Aboriginal assistance programs in this year’s Budget. The Government has allocated only $ 171m for these programs in this financial year when a total of $178m was allocated last year, that is $153m in the Budget and $25m subsequently. That figure was $13m less than the amount provided in the Hayden Budget in real terms. Expenditure on Aboriginal assistance programs has been slashed by 27 per cent in real terms over the last two years. Substantial cuts in funding for Aboriginal Affairs include: Housing, down by 3.81 per cent in real terms; education, down by 8.9 per cent in real terms; employment, down by 0.1 per cent in real terms; enterprises, down by 10.5 per cent in real terms and legal aid down by 0.9 per cent in real terms. These areas are important in many ways, but perhaps they are most important in providing jobs for Aboriginal people in Australia. These cuts will cause greater hardships and unemployment among Aboriginal people.
Further, the 1977-78 figures in relation to the adjusted Hayden Budget figures show decreased support for education, health, social security and Aboriginal programs. As a proportion of total Commonwealth Government outlays, spending on Aboriginals has dropped from 0.89 per cent in 1974-75 to 0.66 per cent in 1977-78, that is the lowest proportion since 1972-73. Real per capita expenditure by the Commonwealth on Aboriginals has dropped by 31 per cent, from $909 in 1974-75 to $625 in 1977-78. The proposed 1977-78 Commonwealth expenditure on Aboriginals is the lowest in real terms since 1973-74, and in real per capita terms it is the lowest since 1972-73. Nominal expenditure by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in 1977-78 will be the lowest since 1973-74 and in real terms it will be the lowest since 1972-73. Real per capita expenditure by the Department in 1977-78 will be $440, which is a drop of $6 1 or 12 per cent on the previous year and a fall of $273 or 38 per cent from the 1974-75 peak of $713. That is the lowest real per capita expenditure since 1972-73.
Expenditure by the Department in 1977-78 will rise by only 2.4 per cent, from $121m to $ 123.9m, compared with an increase of 10.5 per cent in total Government outlays. Of the $ 14.5m overall increase in direct Commonwealth expenditure on Aboriginals, $ 11.6m is allocated to Commonwealth departments other than the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Nominal grants to the States by the Department in 1977-78 for Aboriginal assistance programs will be almost equal to the amount provided in 1973-74, that is about $32m, a drop of 41 per cent in real terms in four years. I mention something about Aboriginal housing because I am anxious to get these figures on the record. Proposed expenditure of $35.3m in 1977-78 by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs on Aboriginal housing will be $5.5m less than the amount expended in 1976-77 and 45 per cent less in real terms than the corresponding 1974-75 expenditure, that is a cut of almost one-half in three years. Over the same period grants to the States for Aboriginal housing have been cut by 60 per cent in real terms. I shall now say a word about Aboriginal health. Expenditure by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs on Aboriginal health has been cut by 1 1 per cent in real terms over the past three years and expenditure on education has been cut by 12 per cent.
What I have said is in very sharp contrast to the commitments made on 28 November 1975 in the course of the election campaign. The then spokesman on Aboriginal affairs, the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott) said, amongst other things:
Spread the word that there is absolutely no truth in Labor Party rumours about cuts in Aboriginal affairs budget. Under a Liberal-Country Party Government Aborigines will be better not worse off Urge Aborigines to vote LiberalCountry Party on December 13.
I wanted those figures to go into the record. I wish to add a little more to what I have said about Aboriginal health because I believe that that is an area to which added emphasis needs to be given. Expenditure allocations were cut by $lm in 1976-77, yet the actual expenditure for the year was only $ 18.6m ‘compared with the $20.5m allocated for that year. The allocation for 1977-78 is $2 1.7m, which is almost the same amount that was spent in 1975-76, two years previously.
I wish to give some additional figures in relation to Aboriginal housing. Allocations for Aboriginal housing have been seriously cut from $40.9m in 1976-77 to $35.3m. Theoretically that was because of a desire for greater cost effectiveness. But it represents a decline in cash terms of 11.6 per cent, being a reduction from the $45m allocated in the 1975-76 Budget. That is a decline of 37 per cent in real terms from the allocation in 1975-76. 1 understand that those figures will take some digesting, but it is important that they go on the record. We now see emerging Aboriginal people with discernment. I think there has been a tendency to hoodwink them by means of good public relations activities, whereas in fact Aboriginal living conditions are degenerating in many ways.
The time made available to honourable members in considering the departmental estimates is very short. One of the matters that concerns all honourable members, 1 suppose, is the level of Aboriginal unemployment throughout Australia I know that it concerns the Minister. There is some argument as to the steps that are being taken, understandably, because some people contend that they are discriminatory. In August 1973, the number of Aborigines registered as unemployed was 3,053; in August 1974, the number was 5,080. Subsequently it has gone up. I will not have time to spell out these figures in detail. In August 1977- these are the latest figures available- the number of Aborigines registered as unemployed was 12,224. We are told that 50 per cent of Aboriginal people throughout Australia are now unemployed. That is a most disastrous situation. I just do not accept the proposition that sufficient is being done about that situation. I do not wish to say anything further about it. I hope that the Minister in his reply will answer those matters I have put to him.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I wish to make a few comments on the estimates for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. First of all, I back up the statements made by my colleague, the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson), who referred to the decrease in real terms in the amount of money being allocated to Aboriginals. Although the figures in the Budget Papers indicate that the allocation is being increased, it is certainly an increase of a small amount. If we go back to the amounts allocated two years ago during the term of office of the Labor Government we find that in comparison the allocation for last year represented a very considerable cut. Of the amount cut, $2 5 m was restored, but it still left us $8m short of the allocation made under the previous Labor Government. Of course, by the time inflation is taken into account, that decrease in the amount of money available for Aboriginal affairs drops considerably. In fact, if we take into account the inflation rate of approximately 24 per cent that occurred over the last two years we find that the decrease is quite considerable.
What can we see as a result of these cuts in the allocation of money to Aboriginal affairs? My colleague has already mentioned a matter that concerns me greatly and that is the large increase in the number of Aborigines who are unemployed. That situation is the direct result of these cuts in government expenditure. The amount of money allocated to the number of special works projects which provide employment for Aborigines in various country areas, of course, has been cut drastically with the result that town councils, district councils and so on that were able to make use of these special works projects now find these doors closed to them and the direct result is that large increase in Aboriginal unemployment which my colleague mentioned.
I refer to the matter of Aboriginal housing. Some months ago I put a question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) about the number of Aboriginal houses which will be made available in my own electorate of Grey. According to the figures which were given, the number is to be cut in half. That is a big blow to those people who are trying to overcome one of the serious problems facing the Aboriginal peoplethat is, the adequate housing of them. When we realise the work that has been done by the many building societies that have been established and the consequent availability of money for the purchase and the erection of homes, we can understand the way they feel about the cuts that have taken place. I have received telegrams from a number of people in my electorate in which I have been asked to protest to the Government about these cuts, because it is quite obvious that the work that they have been trying to do will be nullified by the action of the Government in cutting back the amount of finance available.
I wish to raise a few matters connected with Aboriginal affairs in my electorate during consideration of the estimates for this Department. Quite some time ago a pre-apprenticeship training scheme was established in Port Augusta, in conjunction with the Port Augusta College of Further Education. The aim of the scheme was to teach young people the basics that would be required if they were to go on to take up an apprenticeship. I have a copy of the syllabus and the type of preparation that these young people are given, and it is quite good. I can assure the Minister that these lads are being advantaged, and it certainly gives them a good grounding in the taking up of an apprenticeship at a later stage. In the statement which he issued some months ago on the employment of Aborigines, the Minister said:
The Commonwealth Government will take specific measures itself to increase employment for Aboriginals in Commonwealth departments and authorities.
In the Port Augusta area a major Commonwealth instrumentality- I refer to Australian National Railways- trains apprentices. I know that the Minister has given me a reply to a question on this subject, but I certainly hope that, with the co-operation of his colleagues, some arrangement can be made whereby apprenticeships are made available to some of those lads who take part in the pre-apprenticeship training scheme so that they can have the opportunity of taking on these apprenticeships and taking their proper place in society. I ask the Minister to give that matter his closest attention because it is a proposition which is worthy of support.
There is another matter which I have taken up with the Minister. Up to date I have received no reply in relation to it. A medical service has been established at the Davenport Reserve. That medical service has been financed mainly, I understand, from money provided by the Redfern medical service. Indeed, in order to keep the project going they wrote to me some time ago asking for my support in their approach to the Minister for funding for their activities. I have been absent from the Parliament for quite some weeks, but up to date I have received no reply which indicates whether they are to receive that financial support. I urge the Minister to give serious and sympathetic consideration to providing this medical service with the finance necessary to allow it to keep going, because it is providing a very necessary medical service in that area.
It would certainly be missed if it were to go out of operation. It is felt that that may happen if it does not receive that financial support from the Federal Government. Again I ask the Minister to ensure that sympathetic consideration is given to allowing that service to continue. As an indication of what it has been able to do, I point out that in the last 12 months it has treated more than 2,500 patients in that area. I think that that suggests that the work in which that medical service is engaged is important. Again I urge the Minister to give it his consideration because, if he does not and it goes out of operation, that will create a large gap as far as the provision of medical services for these people is concerned. Incidentally, I can add that the service is mainly voluntary at this stage. Apparently there is a doctor who does a fair amount of work for it. Again I trust that it will receive the necessary support.
One other matter concerns me. I refer to the statement by the Minister last May regarding the Commonwealth Development Employment Projects scheme. There are a few points about this scheme on which I would like some clarification from the Minister. One is that in the statement mention is made of the basis upon which the money would be made available. The basis is the amount of unemployment benefit that would be paid in a particular area. This might mean that the amount would be allocated to the particular administrative body in that area or to the council. It would allocate the work. That would certainly mean that a number of people would be employed full time. I assume that they would receive award wages. The amount available would certainly mean that it would not be possible to employ all the people.
If we use the amount of unemployment benefit as the criteria for the amount of money available, one thing that comes to my mind is the question of the legality of this action. If the scheme is operated in such a way that a person who would normally be eligible for unemployment benefit finds himself without employment after the allocation of jobs at these settlements, are such people still entitled to unemployment benefit? I would like the Minister to clarify this point. If they are not, it appears to me to be a denial of rights to Aboriginals. I think it would be a big step backwards as it would mean that we would be creating discrimination, et cetera, amongst those people. Although the scheme has been highlighted by quite a number of people, I would hate to see in the operation of this scheme some steps which were backward steps. Whilst I agree that it is a lot better to provide finance which would provide work for these people than everybody to receive unemployment benefits, these people operate on a cash economy now. I think it would be tragic if we had half of them working and receiving money and the other half receiving nothing at all. I trust that the Minister will clear up that point when he replies.
If that is the way in which the scheme is to apply, I again question the legality of this type of operation. If a person in our community satisfies the criteria for eligibility for unemployment benefit he gets paid that benefit. If the system is to operate any differently in the areas where the CDEP system is operating, that could be described only as discriminatory and something that I think should be rectified. I appreciate that the Minister has gone to some trouble in trying to work out a scheme to overcome the unemployment problem amongst Aboriginals. I feel that it has grown during the last 18 months or so. I trust that if we use this scheme it will be augmented with grants which will ensure that all those people who are eligible to work on the reserves and settlements can find employment. I trust we will not have a situation in which half will be working and receiving money and the other half will not be receiving unemployment benefit. I think that is about all I have to say on this matter other than to express my concern about the operation of the scheme.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I have listened with interest to the comments made by honourable members in this debate on the estimates of my Department. Whilst I welcome many of the comments made by honourable gentlemen and their inquiries, such as those of the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis), there are a number of points that I should not only clarify but rectify. I refer particularly to comments made by members of the Opposition. So I would like to take a little time of the Committee to deal with some of them. Some mention has been made of the matter of funding for the Department this year and of the funding of programs administered by my Department and other Commonwealth departments. I think a comment made yesterday by the honourable member for Casey (Mr Falconer)one which I have made on a number of occasions -ought to be drawn to the attention of the Committee, and that is that the value, the worth, of programs funded by my Department is not to be measured in terms of money alone. I think it is fair to repeat that statement because I am firmly convinced that it is correct. I said in an address to the National Press Club on 7 July of this year, which was very close to National Aborigines Day:
The status and role of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs should not be measured simply in terms of the money it spends.
Many members of the Opposition delude themselves into thinking that they can measure what a government is doing in the field of Aboriginal affairs by looking at the total amount of money either appropriated or expended. Of course that was the great fallacy of the former Administration. It pumped so much money into Aboriginal affairs so quickly, without having laid the foundation of properly planned and administered programs, that it did far more damage than the value of the money itself. So, when this Government came to office and was given the responsibility of funding special assistance for Aborigines, one of the first things that we were concerned to do was to get control of the administrative base upon which programs were implemented because we were convinced that we would get real value only if we had well planned, well thought-out and soundly administered programs. I feel quite sure that during the last 20-odd months we have put the house in order; we have achieved the objectives that we set out to achieve by way of sound administration, well thought-out and well planned programs.
So we have that foundation upon which we can expect that the appropriations will grow consistently and will fulfil those objectives that we all want to achieve. I indicate the way in which the Government approaches the matter of growth in expenditure by comparing the actual expenditure last year with the estimated expenditure for this year by way of the appropriations that the Government has made. I run down those figures very quickly within the totals of expenditure in 1976-77 of $161.5m and the appropriation for estimated expenditure for this financial year of $ 176m. That is an estimated increase of $15m. For health, expenditure last financial year was $ 18.3m. The appropriation for this financial year is $23.3m. For education, expenditure last financial year was $36.4m. The appropriation for this financial year is $43.3m. For employment, expenditure last financial year was $5. 5m. The appropriation for this financial year is $7.3m. For housing, expenditure last financial year was $40m. The appropriation for this financial year is $35m. For town management and public utilities, which provide a very significant source of funds for employment, the expenditure last financial year was $3 1.3m. The appropriation for this financial year is $34.7m. For legal aid, the expenditure last financial year was $3. 7m. The appropriation for this financial year is $3. 8m. For cultural, recreational and sporting activities the expenditure last financial year was $639,000. The appropriation for this financial year is $775,000. For enterprises, the expenditure last financial year was $4.2m. The appropriation for this financial year is $5.9m. For welfare, the expenditure last financial year was $2.6m. The appropriation for this financial year is $3m. General expenditure last financial year was $ 17.7m. The appropriation for this financial year is $ 18m.
So there has been a steady increase in key areas. There has been a downturn in the appropriation for housing. I remind the House that funding for the Aboriginal Loans Commission for housing started off at $5m. An additional $2m was provided in that financial year. We increased the amount last year to $10m. That was a quick and substantial injection of funds into an area providing the basis for loans for home ownership in order to provide the Loans Commission with a substantial pool of money which will become a revolving fund. There has been a re-ordering of priorities in respect of these figures. That seems to be forgotten by Opposition members. Part of the on-going administration is to evaluate programs and re-order priorities. One of the significant things we have done in the reordering of priorities is to ensure that Aboriginal organisations receive proportionately a bigger part Of the Budget. In terms of our policy of selfmanagement and self-efficiency we believe that more funds should be directed through Aboriginal organisations. This is a consistent pattern of the handling of finances by this Government.
Comments were made by a number of speakers about the unemployment situation amongst Aboriginals. This is a real and disturbing problem. As a Government we do not resile from that, nor from the problems which it brings. It was for that reason that I put down in this House on 26 May a statement on a national employment strategy covering the whole field of private employment, government employment, urban employment, rural employment and employment m the remote communities. It was out of our consideration of the problems facing Aboriginals in remote communities, in particular, where the ordinary labour market is not readily available to them that we devised the Community Development Employment Project scheme. Regrettably, as I have previously pointed out to this House, there has been a suggestion from the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs casting doubts upon the legal validity of that scheme. There is no question about its validity. It is designed to cater for a particular problem in the remoter communities. It has been enthusiastically welcomed by all the communities which have been approached to take part in the scheme. Nor can there be any suggestion that in its operation the scheme will amount to a denial of any rights which Aboriginals have as citizens. There can be no suggestion that there is an intention to disentitle them to unemployment benefits. The essence of the scheme is that Aboriginals do not want to have sit down money. They have seen within their own communities the social destruction that that kind of money can bring. They wish to work for an income. This scheme has been designed to provide work for those who wish to work. In those places where the scheme is in operation the ordinary work test on unemployment benefits. will apply.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) decried this Government’s efforts in the land rights field. The full justification for what we have done in this area comes from the second report of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry. In considering how it would ameliorate the impact of mining on Aboriginal society the inquiry pointed out that through the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act introduced by this Government, Aboriginals were provided with a uniquely favourable factor which could be used to ameliorate and modify the impact of mining on Aboriginal society, providing Aboriginals not only with a land base but also a social base through which they could work for themselves and the Government could also work for them in co-operation with them. Regrettably, both the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) show no understanding of the significance of the establishment of land councils and the role of the Northern Land Council in respect of the mining of uranium and the working out of the Government’s commitment to implement the Ranger Inquiry recommendations in respect of Aboriginals. Whilst they speak in terms of what the Government ought to be doing, they speak in terms of the old days when governments were looked upon as the protectors of Aboriginals. What we have done through the land councils is to provide Aboriginals with a body which can work in their interests. The land councils will negotiate with the Government or the mining companies as the case may be.
In private conversation with officers of the land councils, particularly the Northern Land Council, and in addressing their executives and full meetings I have assured them that the Government will work in consultation and cooperation with them. When a question arose the other day about the Government’s intention with regard to consultation over the mining of uranium I sent a telegram to James Golaroi Yunupingu, the Chairman of the Northern Land Council. It said:
I tried to telephone you this morning without success because I wanted to reassure you on the Government’s intentions to consult with traditional owners through the NLC on matters involving Aboriginal interests following uranium mining decision. I confirm that the situation remains as I have previously discussed it with you.
That reassurance and that commitment stand. There will be a full measure of consultation with the Northern Land Council. The Leader of the Opposition also spoke in regard to the Borroloola land claim now before His Honour Mr Justice Toohey, the first Aboriginal Land Commissioner. That claim, incidentally, is the first traditional land claim in the history of Australia. It is a hallmark in social advancement for the benefit of Aboriginals. I inform the Leader of the Opposition that there was no Cabinet decision such as he suggested. The Government will be appearing before the Commissioner along with a host of other parties. We will be providing information to the Commissioner which will be relevant to his considerations.
I thank the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock) for drawing to the attention of the Committee the importance of the Government’s national employment strategy, and, in particular, the CDEP scheme. I particularly wish to mention my colleague the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron). He has shown how Aboriginals can be involved in schemes not specifically designed for them but for the benefit of all Australians. The honourable gentleman has brought an Aboriginal on to his committee looking at youth unemployment in his electorate. He is the first member of this Parliament to do that for Aboriginals, taking advantage of the initiative by the Government in the area of youth unemployment. The honourable member for Casey properly pointed out the significance of Aboriginal health. I was interested to hear him speak from his own studies and experience of the need to have health programs geared to the community level.
In the speech to the National Press Club from which I have already quoted I referred to the initiative which is being taken by my Department in this area- something that we have called the community based health program. In that speech also I pointed out that part of that program will be to utilise the traditional healers within traditional Aboriginal society. I said also in that speech that I believe that what must be done, and done urgently, is to enlist and train more Aboriginals as field health workers- I emphasise the word ‘field’- that is, health workers working out in the field amongst the communities and not necessarily in the clinical sophistication of hospitals.
The honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) mentioned the National Aboriginal Conference. This Government appointed a committee of inquiry, three out of four members of which were Aboriginals, to look at the old National Aboriginal Consultative Committee. They found, for themselves, that Aboriginals regarded the old NACC as a failure. It had not come up to expectations and it was not doing what Aboriginals themselves wanted it to do. As a result of that committee report the Government has committed itself to a new national body, the National Aboriginal Conference, for which elections will be held throughout Australia on 12 November, except for Queensland where those elections will be held on 19 November.
As I have told Aboriginals everywhere, the Government takes this new body seriously and will provide it with the means, through its own secretariat and its own staff, to conduct its own affairs. In addition we will be establishing a
Council for Aboriginal Development which will be the formal advisory body to the Government. I might say that with the land rights legislation, with the national employment strategy and with the National Aboriginal Conference and the Council for Aboriginal Development, we have made three major steps in advance of our programs for Aboriginal self-management and self-sufficiency. With the firm foundation of administration and forward planning and with the foundation of funding which we have now established, I am quite sure that Aboriginals will be able to look forward with confidence to the success of the programs that we have already started.
-Mr Deputy Chairman, there are a few-
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) proposed:
That the question be now put.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I wish to have my dissent recorded under Standing Order 193.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Armitage)That dissent will be recorded.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs
Proposed expenditure, $30,565,000.
-Mr Acting Speaker, I seek leave to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes, I most certainly do. It has been drawn to my attention that on the radio program PM this evening a statement was made that in the joint party room this morning I was called a communist. I just want to say that at no time in the party room today was I called a communist. If this statement appears in the Press tomorrow I will have no alternative but to sue.
The Parliament -Commonwealth Brickworks -Estate Duty Electoral Division of Melbourne Ports-Storm damage to Sunraysia District -Morals in Society
Motion ( by Mr MacKellar) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-This evening I have made a number of attempts to address the Parliament. One attempt in particular was on the subject of housing but of course I was unable to do that. We ran out of time. Why did we run out of time? Because today a handful of members of this Parliament chose to have a party in the dining room-
– I take a point of order, Mr Acting Speaker. I think that the honourable member for Wills is disgusted because he was not invited.
-That is fair enough. The sitting of the Parliament commenced three-quarters of an hour late. We were deprived of four or five participants in the Estimates debate.
– If you had been invited we would have been an hour late.
-I only hope that the stay here of the honourable member for Bendigo, for whom I have great admiration, is as short as the speeches he makes. Over the past 18 months his greatest contribution has been to gag honourable members. This House had determined that it would meet at 2.15 p.m. on Tuesdays. It determined last night at its rising that it would meet at 2.15 p.m. today. No announcement was made to the effect that it would do otherwise. I am not sure that I would have approved even if the announcement had been made. I am not too sure that I approve of the interruption of parliamentary work by official luncheons. The situation is that a handful of members of this Parliament treated the Parliament with contempt. We lost three-quarters of an hour of debating time. That is the first point I wanted to make this evening. The other one concerns a matter that was raised by the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (MrSainsbury).
– A good member.
-I do not know what he is good at. He is a pleasant young man. I heard on a news broadcast yesterday morning a suggestion by the honourable member that that the Commonwealth Brickworks in Canberra should be disposed of to private enterprise. Do honourable members know why he wanted it disposed of to private enterprise? Because the brickworks in Queanbeyan had ceased production and had gone out of business. I suppose it had gone broke. So because it had gone broke the honourable member wants similar people to take over the Commonwealth Brickworks and close it down too. The Commonwealth Brickworks is a public utility owned by the Government, controlled by a board of directors to whom the Canberra community should be deeply grateful for the dedication it shows. I know that some of the directors are not of the political persuasion of the party to which I belong but I want to say, as an exercise of public acknowledgement of thenwork, that they apply themselves to it in as dedicated a way as could be expected from anyone. They have created a brickworks here in Canberra which is one of the most modern in the world, which can produce bricks as cheaply and as efficiently as anywhere, and the service provided to its customers is as good as or better than can be obtained from anybody else in this town.
I hope that nobody in this Parliament will support any suggestion other than that the Commonwealth Brickworks should be conducted in the way in which it is being conducted. It is a publicly owned enterprise belonging to and serving the community. I hope that those honourable members here who have some sense of proprietary and perspective in these matters will remember that a very large proportion of Australian industry is publicly owned. I instance the Commonwealth Bank, Trans-Australia Airlines, Qantas Airways Ltd, and authorities concerned with power, telecommunications, railways and so on. This is part of the way in which we do things. Often it is essential that we keep some of this public enterprise, even from the point of view of those people who are so dedicated to private enterprise, as it is a window into the system. Therefore I hope the Government will take whatever steps it can to advise the honourable member for Eden-Monaro that he ought to leave good things alone and concentrate on trying to straighten out his own Party which is in such continual disarray.
-In the period since this Government came to office it has introduced many reforms, especially in the field of taxation. There is, however, one aspect of taxation which I wish to raise tonight in which the Australian government has not taken what I believe would be a just initiative. I refer specifically to the area of estate duties. The first Act introduced in Australia to collect death duties was the Victorian Probate Act of 1870. This Act and the Acts which followed were designed to ensure that a privileged few could not accumulate wealth. The death duty Acts were attempts to redistribute unearned wealth. Today, over a century later, I would submit that they have not achieved the intended result. They have led instead to some members of society engaging professional estate planners in an attempt to ensure that estate duty is kept to a minimum or completely avoided.
Estate duty, rather than achieve a positive result, affects most those who can least afford to pay a lump sum payment. In many cases it comes at a time of emotional crisis and adds further to the burden of those who have lost a loved one. We all know that governments must obtain revenue from some source, and it is true that Federal estate duty contributes to this revenue. In the year 1976-77, Federal estate duty receipts were $76m. The total receipts from all sources of taxation, however were $ 19,497m. As a percentage of overall income, estate duty is comparatively small, and the hardship imposed is in many cases great. Abolition of estate duties would, I submit, be a further step by the Government in bringing equity into the taxation system. Estate duty can mean hardship for widows, especially those who have stayed at home to care for their families. It can mean they have to sell a family home or live at a reduced standard of living. Husband and wife can work together for many years to buy a home to raise a family, and then find their thrift and hard work penalises the remaining one. Estate duty can also have a very severe effect on those who run small businesses, and those on the land. The effect on those on the land especially is made far worse by inflation and increased property values.
Until recently both State and Federal governments have levied death duties. The States, however, are generally realising that these duties, which are expensive to collect, create delays in administering estates, are unequal in their operation, and impose hardship on those least able to cope with estate duty. In my own State of Victoria, the State government has as its policy abolition of probate duty as soon as possible. The Government has abolished probate duty on all property passing to one spouse on the death of the other. In this year’s Victorian Budget, it was announced that as from 1 January 1978, duty would be abolished on property passing to the children of the deceased. In Queensland the Succession and Gift Duties Abolition Act 1976 abolishes succession duty as from 1 January 1977.
In Western Australia the Government is committed to ending death duties on estates of people who die after July 1, 1980. In that State legislation has already been passed to abolish death duty on all property passing to a surviving spouse. The South Australian Government has abolished duty on any property derived from a deceased person by his spouse. There have also been concessions made to unmarried brothers and sisters who share a home. In New South Wales no duty is payable by a surviving spouse where the deceased died domiciled in New South Wales on or after 1 December 1976. In Tasmania estates passing from husband to wife which are valued at below $1 13,000 are exempt from duty and real estate bought in Tasmania is free of death duties.
The State governments are gradually moving toward abolition of estate duties, and it will be unfair if the Federal government benefits from these moves which are designed to assist taxpayers. Estate duty will no longer be a debt in the estate for the purpose of assessment of Federal duty, which could increase in a number of States. Federal estate duty does not achieve a levelling effect. It affects many who can ill afford this added hardship and this Government would have taken a further important step in establishing an equitable taxation system if it abolished Federal estate duty.
– I have been a member of this place since 195 1 and I hope that I have served with some distinction. In fact I think in the whole history of the seat of Melbourne Ports there have been only three members and I have served longer than any of them. I have decided not to nominate in the series of ballots that are being conducted by my Party. I would like to say that here in the full face of this Parliament but I must say I do so with some regret. I am now 6 1 years of age and I calculated not so very long ago when I reached the age of 60 that I had actually had in total more than 30 years in parliament.
– Valuable years to society.
-I hope they were valuable years to society. I must say I hope there will be no election for about a year and that I will still be around for a while to make some contribution. I issued a statement tonight in which I said that after careful consideration I had decided not to contest the next election. If I might say so, this is a pretty difficult decision to make. But to all of the people on the other side of the House, some of whom may not be here if an election is held very shortly, I say that it is nice to have had 26 years in this place and there is something to be said for choosing a good safe seat. It is not always easy to do this. And once one has done it, it is not always easy to stay in it.
I must say with some regret that I think things are changing somewhat. At least my Party has had a pretty good record when one looks at it. It has been pretty rare that a sitting member who has done his job has been ejected. I think that is a fairly good rule to follow. I must say with all humility that if I had decided to stand again, I might have had the privilege of another few years here. But contemplating the matter one way and another I just felt I should not contest the seat again. I made this decision with some regret.
At the moment I happen to be a member of three committees of this Parliament.
– You could handle six.
– I could not handle six- one of the difficulties is being able to handle three. Sometimes I find that I have to make up a quorum for two committees at the same time. It is about time this Parliament decided what course it will follow. Even tonight at this interesting stage I doubt whether a quorum is present. When one considers what happens after Question Time when everyone disappears I think it is about time we began to reconsider our function. If we are to have committees- and I think they are significant in the system- we ought to change the rules a bit. This is not my resignation speech; it is simply my assignation tonight to say that I am not going to be the member for Melbourne Ports after the next election. I appreciate the opportunities I have had while I have been here and I am going to be just as useful, I hope, in the last year or so as I have been in my 20-odd years as a member.
I still think that parliamentary government is the best kind of government that has yet been devised. However I do believe, and I said this the other evening, that we have to make certain institutional rearrangements, not constitutional changes, so that the system will work better than it is working.
– You have another five minutes in which to speak.
-I understand that I am to be given the indulgence usually accorded to senior statesmen and may take another few minutes of the time of the House. I am most grateful.
-Order! Might I just say, in the circumstances and in view of the feeling of the House, that the Chair will ignore the fact that the lights on the clock have gone out so long as the honourable member does not continue speaking until about 6 a.m. tomorrow.
-Mr Acting Speaker, you may be a continuing Presbyterian but I am a Uniting Presbyterian. At least there will be concord on this point. In my view the parliamentary system is the best system yet devised. There is some responsibility on us, the people who are members of this place from time to time. I have had a fairly long life, circumstantially, and some of the other honourable members here may not be as fortunate. I think there is more agreement or concord about most of the issues that come before us than there is disagreement. I find that we do better in committees than we do in the totality of the system. Over the years I have been a pretty good attender in the House when the business of the House is being dealt with but once that curious circumstance called Question Time finishes most honourable members vanish for the rest of the day.
– Some vanish for the day and night.
-Well, day and night if the honourable member for Riverina must say so. Where they go and what they do is a bit beyond me. I believe that we have to do more committee work in this Parliament. We have more committees now than we have ever had and I think that they do better. After all, what is worse than having embalmed in Hansard something that one has said to five or ten people? Do honourable members imagine that anybody else outside takes any more notice of it than honourable members do inside?
– You are a masochist.
– I think it is masochism in some respects but it is a masochism that honourable members can avoid by leaving the chamber. However it is something that continues to happen. Somebody has to stay in the chamber and sometimes somebody, oddly enough, wants to call a quorum at odd times- what for, I do not know. Friends, I simply say this: Parliament is still the best system and we ought to acknowledge it. I will not say anything about the events of 11 November 1975 but I will say something about them in the next 12 months if I continue to be a member of this place. Nevertheless, there are far more things that we agree upon than we differ upon. The other day I was reading a book that impressed me very much in my fife. The book is entitled Religion and the Rise of Capitalism and was written by R. H. Tawney who was a great socialist. He headed one of the chapters of that book with this quotation:
The Lord was with Joseph and he was a luckie fellowe.
When I looked at the more modern translation of that verse it was as follows:
Yahweh was with Joseph and everything went well with him.
I think that is a much different interpretation of the word ‘lucky’ than that awful travesty The Lucky Country makes of it. Well, the meaning of words changes according to time and circumstances and we are here to make this country a better place than each of us found it.
-Eight days ago the Sunraysia district in my electorate and parts of New South Wales experienced its worst hail storm since the inception of irrigation in 1887. The whole of the Red Cliffs Irrigation Settlement and the Red Cliffs township was battered by gale force winds and areas of Bird woodton, Mildura South and Mildura East were affected also. Some 600 horticulturists farming some 4,000 hectares have been affected and the great majority of these will have no crop in 1 978. The information that I have given is sufficient to indicate the gravity of this problem. These estimates relate to dried vine fruit crops and do not include losses in citrus crops, vegetable crops, cereal crops, housing and structural damage on horticultural properties and damage to housing and commercial premises in the Red Cliffs township. Taking into account all these factors and assuming a crop value of $700 per tonne, it is expected that the total damage will exceed some $20m.
The Council of the Shire of Mildura decided that its ratepayers required some immediate reassurance about financial commitments and it resolved at its meeting on Thursday night to remit rates on affected properties for the financial year 1977-78. The Council in these disastrous circumstances, has given a lead to the community and our governments and this remission of rates will not only be of considerable assistance to the affected ratepayers but will also encourage government and semi-government authorities to offer similar assistance. The Council could well face a total remission of some $250,000 for these properties. This decision mirrors the Shire Council’s concern for the welfare of all families living in its district.
Severe storm damage occurred in the Red Cliffs township and many houses and commercial premises were damaged. Some Millewa farmers lost their cereal crops but no definite figures are yet available. Total rate remission may reach at least 15 per cent of the Council’s rate income for 1976-77 and the loss of this rate revenue will have repercussions throughout the Shire.
I commend this initiative by the Council, taken so quickly after the disaster. It is an immense support to the growers and it shows a commendable appreciation of the psychological effects of the disaster upon the people of the whole community. I believe that special funds should be available to compensate the Council and to enable it to bring down a responsible budget. The effects of this disaster will be felt throughout the Sunraysia community. The growers can expect no income in 1978 but they will have to work their properties to ensure a crop in 1979. They will have to meet all normal working costs and all normal household expenses.
The dried vine fruits industry merits special consideration. It is far more susceptible to the vagaries of weather than any other rural industry and growers are required to meet far more immediate costs in order to bring their properties back into production. Undoubtedly there will be a downturn in commercial activity in the Sunraysia district because of the loss. The employment situation must become worse as a result of this disaster. It is vital for the growers to remain on and work their blocks if they are to bring their properties back into production. Their particular situation must be looked at sympathetically by the Department of Social Security and I am appreciative of directions given already.
It is the unemployment problems that will be caused in service industries, commercial houses and for permanent workers on blocks which are of immediate concern. It is hoped that consideration will be given to making special grants available to local authorities to reduce the impact of this disaster as much as possible. It must be stressed that the problem will remain with this community for the whole of 1978. There will be forthcoming submissions from the Australian Dried Fruit Association resulting from resolutions carried at a mass meeting of 800 people at Red Cliffs on Monday night. They relate to direct assistance that can be provided from the Commonwealth Government, outside the arrangements that exist under the national disaster relief legislation. The response from State and Federal governments will have a profound effect upon the future viability of families, the dried fruit industry and the Sunraysia region of my electorate.
– Having regard to the circumstances this evening and as I am the only member in the chamber this evening who was privileged and honoured to be a member of this House when the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) joined us- I was privileged to be a member of this House when his predecessor, Mr Holloway, was a member of the Nineteenth Parliament- I feel I should make some comments. I feel that at least some of my colleagues on the back bench- the members of the front bench are singularly absent on this occasion- would like me to make some comment in reply to the expression by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports to the House a few moments ago. I say with great conviction that I know of no man who has sat in this Parliament and enjoyed the affection and respect of all members of this House more than has the honourable member for Melbourne Ports. Perhaps there have been many men over the years who equally have been so favoured but I repeat: I know of no man who has more enjoyed the respect and affection of members of this place. He has always conducted himself with the utmost compassion and tolerance. Even in matters that one may associate with that distinguished profession of accountancy, he has found, with people singularly dull like myself, the ability to be forgiving.
I well recall over all these years- since 1952 when he came to this place- his recognition of the rights of people to express their judgment and his hope that their beliefs would see fulfilment and that they would have, as he has in common with us all, the conviction that this country will maintain its heritage and proceed into the future with a safe and secure standard of living for all of the people whom he represents, and whom I and all my colleagues on both sides of the House represent. I well recall his distinguished service on the Public Accounts Committee. I remember from time to time- with his old and very charming friend the former Speaker, Mr Cope- the advice which was related to motor car transport. I always remember that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports was one who said with great sagacity that there was never a reason for pursuing those things that might be more deep than they should be for the average man in this place. I feel that I should say to him on this occasion- I am the only person in this chamber tonight who was here when he arrived- that we wish him well in his future retirement and we would be grateful if he would extend our very best wishes to his distinguished and wonderful wife and family. I am honoured indeed to speak on this occasion- by chance only because some of my senior colleagues are not here. In making those comments, I know I speak for all honourable members.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Darling) ( 10.54)- I wholeheartedly endorse the remarks made by the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) about our wonderful friend the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean). I rose tonight to ask the Parliament to give some consideration to the morality level of our society. I believe that there is some evidence to suggest that it could be sinking. I refer to articles which I have taken at random from the newspapers. An article in the Sunday newspaper states:
A police surgeon and police officers urged women rape victims this week not to report the attacks to the law.
Their call comes in a startling, damaging attack on Australian police methods.
One senior CIB sergeant said that he would not let his own daughter tell police if she were raped.
Another article in the same newspaper is headed: ‘Great Grandad Sam and the Schoolgirl . . . Illicit love in a garden shed’. A further heading states: ‘Sexy trio bed down at the Forum. It’s birds, boys and more birds in triple bill’.
That is the type of thing one finds in ordinary papers. Of course, unfortunately we are also confronted with it on television programs when we go home at night and want to sit down to watch an evening’s entertainment with our families.
I particularly wanted to mention a newspaper called Campaign which has a heading ‘Exploring your lifestyle’. I believe this newspaper is put out by a society called the Gay Liberation. If honourable members were to read the newspaper they would find that it was not very offensive, but unfortunately a lot of pictures contained in it are revolting. If these newspapers were at the newsagents one would not have to purchase them if one did not want to do so. What I am concerned about is that this issue was given to me by a Catholic priest. He objected to the fact that this was posted to a convent. I ask any Minister of the Government who has a responsibility in these matters to examine the circumstances. I am not saying that the society itself posted it to the convent but the convent received it in the post. I think it is going a little too far when people’s freedoms are abused in this manner. If a person does not want to buy these newspapers he does not have to do so, but when such a newspaper is posted to a convent I think it is going a little too far. I ask those in authority to examine this matter to see whether they can keep up the standards of our society.
– I am a newcomer to this House, having been a member of the House for only two years, but I do have -
– You will be here for a long time.
-I thank my honourable friend but I ask him to give me the opportunity to speak. I have had a rather longer association with Parliament House and with the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean). I was in this building in the mid-1960s as a private secretary to a man whom I respected very much indeed- the late Harold Holt. In that capacity, 1 had the privilege and the opportunity to see at first hand the work done in this Parliament by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports. At that time- in the mid-1960s- the honourable member for Melbourne Ports was held in the highest regard, I think, by all members of this Parliament, regardless of their political persuasion, for his diligence, his common sense and, above all, his integrity.
As an officer of the Federal Treasury later and during the period when the honourable member for Melbourne Ports was the Treasurer of this country, I had the honour- I did regard it as an honour- to serve him in an advisory capacity. Again, his diligence his common sense and, above all, his integrity were all too apparent and were a very great benefit, I believe, to the government of that day. Since becoming a member of this Parliament, I would like to say without any qualification, all other new members of this Parliament have received nothing but encouragement, help and very wise advice from the honourable member for Melbourne Ports. It is something that I know all of us have appreciated. It is something for which we will always remember him with great kindness and respect. In my view the honourable member for Melbourne Ports is an illustration to all of us on both sides of this House of what parliament and a true parliamentarian should be about. I know that in all his work the honourable member has been supported over many years by a very lovely, loyal and patient wife. I should like to wish the honourable member for Melbourne Ports and his wife a very long and happy retirement. I know it is a little way off but perhaps we will not have another opportunity to wish him well. I say this with all sincerity.
-Order! It being 1 1 p.m., the debate is interrupted. The House stands adjourned until 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Public Service Matters, upon notice, on 16 August 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
(a) During the period 1 July 1973 to 30 June 1976 approximately 11,000 women employed under the Public Service Act have made use of the provisions of the Maternity Leave (Australian Government Employees) Act 1 973.
From what I have said it will be clear that there are deficiencies in the available statistics on the use made of the parental leave provisions and their cost. The Public Service Board is proceeding to improve the content and nature of its statistical information in this area.
asked the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Public Service Matters, upon notice, on 16 August 1977:
Will he be outlining the situation concerning legal aid for Mr W. F. Toomer in preparing his case for presentation to the inquiry established by the Public Service Board to look into the grievances of Mr Toomer.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The honourable member will recall that, in answer to his question without notice on 1 June 1977, 1 indicated that arrangements were being made for Mr Toomer to be given legal assistance in relation to the preparation of submissions he might wish to make to the inquiry into his case.
Immediately after the announcement of the inquiry (the statement tabled by me in Parliament on 1 June 1 977 refers), Mr Toomer was asked to contact the Public Service Inspector in Perth in order that arrangements for legal assistance might be made.
Mr Toomer subsequently did this, and was told by the Public Service Inspector that the arrangements envisaged the provision of assistance by a solicitor, as required, in connection with the preparation of submissions Mr Toomer might wish to make to the inquiry. The Public Service Inspector also advised Mr Toomer that the Australian Legal Aid Office in Penh would, if necessary, assist him to obtain the services of a solicitor.
Mr Toomer indicated to the Public Service Inspector that the would need to consider the matter, mentioning that he had been dealing with a lawyer in Melbourne.
Mr Toomer has not since been contacted by the Public Service Inspector on the question of legal assistance, although he did discuss the matter in a general way with Mr R. Perriman, one of the officers undertaking the inquiry.
I understand Mr Toomer has now completed his appearances before the inquiry, and I can only assume that he decided not to pursue the offer of assistance.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 23 August 1 977:
Are there any estimates available for the potential saving in petrol in Australia if a 100 km/hour absolute speed limit were imposed.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
So far as I am aware, no. It might be added that the USA legislated for a lower absolute speed limit in 1973 (55 mph or 88 kph). There is considerable controversy about the resultant fuel savings, but one official report indicates that the saving was between 1.1 and 1.8 per cent.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 6 September 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
1 ) The Department has seven libraries, whose purpose is to meet the specialised transportation information needs of users in Departmental offices, located as follows:
asked the Minister for the Northern Territory, upon notice, on 7 September
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
(a) The lessees of Pastoral Lease 668, Gimbat, are W. A., G. H. & M. I. Gunn, and C. G. Savill.
(a) Pastoral Lease 668, Gimbat, expires in the year 2012 with the lessees being eligible to apply for renewal between the years 198 1 and 2002.
(a) The total land rental on Pastoral Lease 668, Gimbat, is S 1 ,025.60 or $0.80 per square mile.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 7 September 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 7 September 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 8 September 1977:
Which commercial television and radio stations transmitted the broadcasts on uranium by the Prime Minister on 28 August 1977 and the Leader of the Opposition on 4 September 1977 and at what time did each do so.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The following table shows the commercial television and radio stations which carried the addresses on the subject of uranium by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on the 28 August 1977 and 4 September 1977 respectively, together with the times of each broadcast.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 1 5 September 1 977:
– The answer to the honourable member ‘s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 October 1977, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1977/19771012_reps_30_hor107/>.