31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we the undersigned, having great concern at the way in which children are now being used in the production of pornography call upon the government to introduce immediate legislation:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will protect all children and immediately prohibit pornographic child-abuse materials, publications or films.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Sir William McMahon, Mr Dobie, Mr Hyde, Mr Lusher and Mr Viner.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled the Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the decision of the Australian Government todepart from its1975 election promise, a promise re-affirmed during the 1977 election campaign, that pensions would be increased twice-yearly in line with increases in the C.P.I., will seriously add to the economic burdens now borne by those citizens who are wholly or mainly dependent on their pensions.
Your petitioners are impelled by this fact to call upon the Australian Government as a matter of urgency to review the abovementioned decision, and to determine-
That pensions will be increased twice yearly in line with rises in the C.P.I. as promised by the Prime Minister in 1 975 policy speech.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Kevin Cairns, Mr Humphreys and Mr Jull.
To the Honourable, the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the provision of payments for abortion through items of the Medical Benefits Schedule is an unacceptable endorsement of abortion which has now reached the levels of a national tragedy with at least 60,000 unborn babies being killed in 1977.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will so amend the Medical Benefits Schedule as to preclude the payment of any benefit for abortion.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Bourchier and Mr Short.
Royal Commission on Human Relationships
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 the Report of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships and especially its Recommendations-
Therefore the Parliament has a responsibility to the families of Australia not to adopt this controversial Report and its Recommendations.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
That the Australian Parliament will-
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will take no measures concerning the Royal Commission on Human Relationships Report that will further undermine and weaken marriage, child-care or the family which is the basic unit of our society.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Dobie and Mr Jull.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate and the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled-
The Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That whereas the Fraser Government was elected in December 1975 after promising that pensions would be adjusted instantly and automatically in relation to quarterly Consumer Price Index figures; and whereas that Government subsequently announced that pension adjustments should properly be made half yearly each May and November; it is the current intention of the same Government to legislate for pensions to be adjusted only once a year, and this constitutes a serious breach of generally accepted ethics of democratic government and also deprives many needy pensioners of increases that are essential to their subsistence.
The foregoing facts impel the undersigned Petitioners to request the Australian Government to uphold the principle that the trustworthiness of governments should at all times be above question, and to appeal to the Parliament to prevent the imposition of further economic hardship upon Australian pensioners by rejecting any Bill which has for its aim the introduction of annual adjustments of pension rates.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Gillard and Sir William McMahon.
The Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The Petition of the Undersigned Citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that we are gravely concerned over the extreme weakness shown by our Prime Minister and his Government in his handling of the uranium mining situation in the Northern Territory.
While The Parliament allows a small group of antigovernment advisers to Aboriginal organizations to delay the commencement of mining the great majority of Citizens and business people are being caused financial loss, and being denied the right to participate in a legitimate business.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that permission be given- and not again withdrawn- for mining to commence immediately. byMrCalder.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled, the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That as parents of children in government schools we maintain that it is the responsibility of governments to provide and maintain a public system of education of the highest standard open to all.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the members of this house assembled ensure that the Commonwealth Government maintain a broadly representative Australian Schools Commission to determine; - National priorities in education - strategies and allocation of funds to ensure equality of educational opportunity for all children - allocation of funds for the continued improvement of public systems of education through General Recurrent and Capital Grants to Government school systems and Special Purpose Programs.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Edwards.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble Petition of undersigned electors of Kennedy respectfully showeth-
That we object to sales tax.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that sales tax be abolished and no new tax such as a value added tax be imposed.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. byMrKatter.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representativesin Parliament assembled. The humble Petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth-
That we believe the Federal Government changes to the health insurance system are unjustified, costly and artificially bureaucratic.
The planned abolition of bulk billing will place an unnecessary burden on the poor and the disadvantaged in our community. The decision to reduce the rebate paid from 85 per cent to 75 per cent of the scheduled fee is an attack on real wages.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government should reverse its decisions on these matters and develop proper consultation with the trade unions and the community.
And your Petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Klugman.
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 citizens in rural areas are strongly opposed to the automation of manually operated telephone exchanges which is resulting in loss of employment for telephone operators in difficult economic times and the unnecessary loss of an efficient, personalised telephone service which has proven to be eminently suited to the needs of rural telephone subscribers.
We the undersigned believe that Telecom Australia should be instructed to seek the views of country telephone subscribers before proceeding further with the automation program which is causing unemployment, confusion, discontent and unnecessary expense to country subscribers.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that your Honourable House will call on the Government to halt the program pending a full and open Parliamentary inquiry into the needs and desires of affected subscribers and the full economic and social effects of the automation program on country towns, rural telephone subscribers and Telecom Australia employees.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Lusher.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
This humble petition of undersigned Christian citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrMacphee.
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, the undersigned, support strongly the organised self-help activities of the 250 young unemployed of Bega, a growing sector in this community, and we respectfully petition that funds be made available for a Bega community youth support scheme program soon to be submitted to the federal government.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Sainsbury.
Broadcasting: Radio 3CR, Melbourne
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned citizens of Ballarat respectfully showeth
That radio 3CR Melbourne, be made to adhere to the required standards of broadcasting, as laid down for all other radio stations.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the government will enforce the required standard of broadcasting as laid down for all other stations, on community radio 3CR call on federal government to legislate against incitement of racial hatred and violence.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Short.
To the Rt Honourable, The Speaker, and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned citizens of Ballarat respectfully showeth . . .
We ask our Federal Government to ban circulation and sale of pornographic material and request a Censorship Board thatwill effectively eliminate the flood of corrupt material into Australia.
We ask also that ‘R’ Rated movies be banned completely from Drive-ins and Theatres as they degrade and pervert our youth and are a demoralizing influence in our society.
We are deeply concerned about these matters and we ask our Honourable Members to give them their urgent consideration, and your Petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Short.
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:
-Has the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs noted a report to the effect that Sir Samuel Burston, the President of the Australian Woolgrowers and Graziers Council, is ‘disappointed with the Government’s apparent indifference and inaction over the rejection by Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort Ltd of the Prices Justification Tribunal’s recommendations that woolbroking charges be reduced’? Instead of further weakening the Prices Justification Tribunal by yet more statements promising further emasculation of the PJT, will the Minister cease the indifference, and act to ensure that the PJT’s benefits are passed on directly to thousands of country people and indirectly to other people?
– I have noted the media statement referred to by the honourable member that apparently was released yesterday by Sir Samuel
Burston. It is wrong to assume that the Government is indifferent to this matter. Indeed, I have been in close contact with the parties over recent days and I have been watching the situation extremely carefully. I noted that the honourable member, in referring to Sir Samuel’s statement, omitted to refer to the statement that was issued also yesterday by Sir Norman Young, the Chairman of Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort Ltd. I welcome the statement by Sir Norman Young because he indicated that Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort Ltd does not wish to act in defiance of the Prices Justification Tribunal. I also note that the thrust of Sir Norman’s comment is that Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort Ltd is looking for a final determination by the PJT on all of its charges. This indicates that the company intends to abide by the final determination of the Prices Justification Tribunal.
It is interesting also to note that the Tribunal yesterday announced that it had decided to put to public inquiry very soon proposals submitted recently by Dalgety Australia Ltd and Elder Smith Goldbrough Mort Ltd to vary the prices those companies charge for various woolbroking services throughout Australia. The PJT has also indicated that the inquiry will be wide enough to embrace, if necessary, all aspects of woolbroking charges. The Tribunal will welcome submissions from all interested parties. I can assure the honourable member and the House that this matter is being watched very carefully by the Government, and we will continue to watch it carefully.
-Is the Treasurer aware of the fact that representatives of the building industry and in particular the Housing Industry Associations are claiming that the Government proposes to alter the tax position of sub-contractors for tax purposes as from 1 November 1978? Is he further aware that the latest newsletter of the Housing Industry Association in Victoria claims that this proposal will lead to the total collapse of the building industry as we know it today, and that to have pay-as-you-earn tax deducted for sub-contractors in the building industry would add vast sums to the cost of building and would destroy the independence and the existence of sub-contractors? Are the fears of the building industry justified? Are the new tax arrangements to apply as from 1 November 1978? Will the Treasurer confirm to the House the assurance that he has already given me personally that no changes in the tax arrangements applying to subcontractors in the building industry will be made without adequate prior discussion with the industry?
– I welcome the question from the honourable member for Ballarat because it gives me the opportunity to say a couple of things about this subject and to put to rest much of the misunderstanding and confusion that has been generated in sections of the building industry. Frankly, I am at a loss to understand why it should have been generated. Two things were announced at the time of the presentation of the Budget. Firstly, there were two relatively minor amendments to the existing pay-as-you-earn provisions of the Income Tax Assessment Act to overcome court exposed deficiencies in those provisions. Secondly, the Government announced that it would carry out an investigation as to the feasibility and the desirability of extending the pay-as-you-earn system to sections of the building and construction industry, the purpose in mind being to investigate whether such an extension could suitably occur to reduce the incidence of tax escaping through the payment of cash remunerations. I think honourable gentlemen will be aware of the circumstances in which that can occur.
I want to make it quite clear to the honourable member for Ballarat that at no stage did the Government intend, nor does it intend, that there be a general extension of the pay-as-you-earn system to affect sub-contractors in the building industry from 1 November. I am at a loss to understand how representatives of the building industry could assert that this was the Government’s intention. It may have been possible for the minor amendments to which I have referred to come into effect from 1 November but it was not possible to include them in the omnibus tax legislation that is now before the Parliament. As a consequence, the timing of those amendments will be taken up in the general review to which I have referred.
Of course the Government would not contemplate extending this system in the manner in which the honourable gentleman has described without adequate consultation with those in the industry who would be affected. Indeed, last night I met the Federal representatives of the Master Builders Association and I will be more than happy to meet other industry representatives. I want to make it quite clear that the Government will conduct a very careful and sensible investigation as to whether this type of system ought to be introduced. There are arguments for and against it. Some of the criticisms of it which have been raised have been unfounded. I believe that if those in the building industry who have expressed some of this unjustified concern carefully read the Budget Speech and the accompanying statement and carefully analyse the material I am giving in this answer they will have a better and more sensible appreciation of what the Government has in mind.
– I ask a question of the Prime Minister. In view of the recent assertions in this House by the Minister for Defence and the Prime Minister that Ministers in the former Labor Government would have had full access to all the information in relation to radioactive storage at Maralinga that is available to the present Government, such as the manner in which the half-kilogram of discrete mass of plutonium came into existence, the detailed method of its storage and the physical form of the discrete mass and its potential recoverability, will he advise in what sources that information is available, when it first became available to an Australian government and whether access to these sources could be made available to me today as I certainly have not been able to establish this information from sources available to me? In conclusion, might I therefore thank the Minister for Defence for allowing me access to the Pearce report, which I have carefully considered.
-As the honourable gentleman acknowledged, the Minister for Defence made the Pearce report available to him yesterday, I think very shortly after there was a request for information. The departments are seeing what other documents are in fact available and can be made available to the honourable gentleman. There will be no hesitation in doing that. The only point of relevance in the remark which I made about this matter yesterday and which the Minister for Defence also made was that whatever information was available to us by and large was available to the Ministers of a previous government. There was no implication in that. Obviously on some occasions information comes to Ministers on the initiative of departments and other times at the request of Ministers.
I believe that a number of matters did come before the previous Government- the documents in relation to this matter certainly will be made available to the honourable gentlemanindicating that there was certainly radioactive substance at Maralinga. I should have thought that that would have established the circumstances in which one would have wanted to ask further questions about its very nature. For example, the then Minister for Environment, Dr Cass, received a recommendation from the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council in, I think, 1974 that was designed to overturn an earlier recommendation of the Australian Atomic Weapons Test Safety Committee in relation to handing land back to South Australia. AIRAC had indicated that certain areas- the cemetery areas- certainly should be held by the Commonwealth Government because of the presence of radioactive material. As I am advised, Dr Cass accepted that recommendation and I think very properly accepted that recommendation. But at the same time I would have thought that, having in mind the fact that the recommendation of AIRAC was seeking to overturn the suggestion or recommendation of the Australian Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee, the nature of the recommendations would have caused him to ask questions.
– Such as what? About plutonium?
-The honourable gentleman has asked a question. He might wait until the answer is given. The answer is quite precise. It is completely accurate. The honourable gentleman has been told that the documents in relation to this matter will be made available to him. My colleague, the Minister for Defence, will determine what other documents might also be made available at an appropriate time. Let me get back to the point I was making so that the situation is not confused. I would have thought that in those circumstances a Minister would have asked: ‘Why is AIRAC making a recommendation which overturns the suggestion or the view of the Australian Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee?’ On getting that kind of recommendation it would have been a very natural consequence to ask why.
In addition to that, of course, Mr Barnard was advised of this in a letter from Dr Cass in, I am told, about August 1974. Again I would have thought that Mr Barnard as Defence Minister might have been provoked into asking questions in relation to the matter. Maybe he did ask questions, but may be he did not. I am simply saying that I would have thought that on the basis that enough information had come before Ministers to cause them to ask questions if they had wished to do so. Indeed, I think it is worth noting that if those questions had been asked this matter might well have been further examined and better examined at that time and the problems that have arisen now, in 1978, might well have been dealt with during the term of office of that particular Government. I find it very difficult in the same vein to understand the view that was put by the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party last night. I understand that he quoted Mr Barnard as saying:
I never knew there was any plutonium there. I asked my Depanment what was there and they said: ‘All you have got to worry about is the question of contamination’.
I would be very disturbed if any Minister of this Government, having been given an answer like that, then left it at that and did not ask further questions such as: What is there that will cause contamination? How did it get there? What were the circumstances? I accept absolutely what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said about the former Defence Minister.
– You are doing Barnard a disservice.
– I believe it is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition who did my good friend Lance Barnard a disservice in quoting him in that way, because it plainly established the circumstances in which additional questions should have been asked, and clearly also they should have been answered. I believe that if those questions had been asked and answered whatever needed to be done in terms of investigation at Maralinga would have been done some considerable time ago. If the vigilance had been shown in those days this matter would not have arisen now. It has arisen and this Government, in conjunction with the South Australian Government, is determined to pursue the matter so that whatever arrangements need to be made, if other arrangements are necessary, will be pursued in a forthright and full way.
-I direct my question to the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs. In view of the increasing incidence of acts of extremism and violence exhibited by certain radical organisations and (heir members, can the Minister indicate to what extent governments can be held responsible for such acts, particularly acts of self-immolation and other forms of suicide?
– Several unfortunate instances seem to be before the Australian community at the moment. I think that it should be said first of all that we all share in the distress that the tragic death of Miss Phillips has caused her family. The circumstances and nature of that event, I hope, will be looked at and regarded by other young people who might fall under the influence of such organisations as perhaps being a lesson for them and not such as which would induce them to follow and do likewise. I think it should be said that it is most regrettable that such a burst of publicity has been given to such instances. Indeed, the instance that is referred to in this morning’s Press unfortunately tends to attract notoriety and perhaps tends through publicity to further the cause of these individuals in a way which I believe does not enhance the Australian national interest.
Such organisations generally are acting on the fringe of society. The causes which they pursue are not going to be varied because of any action of either the organisations or individuals that belong to them. Governments are certainly not going to be persuaded because of acts of violence or threats of acts of violence and I think rather that the people concerned are to be pitied and should be helped to the maximum possible degree. In the circumstances of this morning’s instance, I think it would be far better, for example, if the name of the individual concerned had been withheld and every possible effort made to locate and assist that individual rather than give him the unfortunate publicity that flows through the publication of his name. Certainly I hope that he would, having read the publicity, think twice about the threats he has offered with respect to his own life and think whether perhaps he would not be better to give himself up for the sake of his family and prevent the furtherance of an incident such as that which affected the poor Miss Phillips.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question following the one I asked him a few moments ago in reply to which he asserted that Ministers, certainly of the Labor Government, should have asked questions and made sure they were fully informed on the matter of radioactive material stored at Maralinga.
– Indeed, why not? I ask the Prime Minister therefore whether he is satisfied that the then Minister for Supply, now the Minister for Special Trade Representations, had been fully acquainted with all relevant papers and information when he said on 1 4 September 1 972 in this House:
All radioactive waste buried at three places in AustraliaMonte Bello Islands, Emu and Maralinga- resulted from experiments conducted at those places.
Is this consistent with the Prime Minister’s knowledge of the range of information then readily available to the Minister directly involved? Is the Prime Minister satisfied that the then Minister for Supply, now his Minister for Special Trade Representations, had been fully informed on this matter?
– I do not know what the Minister for Supply was told at that time and I have no reason to doubt what he said at that time.
– It is not consistent with the information available.
-The honourable gentleman seems to be misunderstanding the particular circumstances.
– He misled the Parliament.
-The Opposition is seeking to allege that departments have deliberately withheld information from Ministers.
– They must have on this occasion because it is not consistent with the information I now have available.
-The right honourable gentleman will resume his seat. The Leader of the Opposition has asked his question. I ask him to cease continually interjecting while the answer is being given.
– With respect, this place can function only while we have respect in the credibility of the Prime Minister. What he is seeking to assert now is inconsistent with official information available to me.
-The honourable member will resume his seat. There is no point of order here. He does not have the call.
- Mr Speaker.
-Is this a point of order?
– Yes. It is on the evidence and questions that have been answered by the Government that the Minister for Supply at that time misled the Parliament.
-There is no point of order.
-The Opposition is trying to establish the circumstance in which highly honourable public servants of this Commonwealth have deliberately withheld information from Ministers under a previous government. Now that is a very serious charge to make indeed and if the Leader of the Opposition says that what I have indicated is inconsistent with the official advice available to him then let him indicate -
– Available to your previous Government and now available to me. Can’t you understand what I am indicating to you? You gave me a report yesterday.
-Mr Speaker, it would be a great pity to interrupt the morning chatterbox at Question Time. The Leader of the Opposition is seeking to assert- supported by other members of the Opposition- that senior and honourable members of the Australian Public Service have been deliberately withholding information from Ministers. I would believe that overwhelmingly the Public Service of Australia is an honourable one which serves governments of any complexion with a sense of dedication and a sense of commitment. I believe that the Opposition should not make these charges unless it has evidence which it can bring forward. If it has such evidence it will be pursued vehemently and vigorously.
There is only one other point I seek to make, and the documents which demonstrate this will be shown to the Leader of the Opposition appropriately, as the Minister for Defence determines, with whatever other material he believes should be made available. It is not only a question of public servants volunteering information to Ministers; it is also a question of Ministers having the capacity and the vigilance to ask questions that ought to be asked. I believe that I have demonstrated this morning that at least two Ministers had matters put in front of them that should have provoked them to ask further questions about what had caused the radioactivity in certain circumstances. That did not happen, but I am not making charges about it. Why should members of the Opposition make charges about matters of that kind? I believe that it is because they want to get back to the situation in which they allege certain things about highly responsible public servants of the Commonwealth. They are seeking to do that, as is always the case when they make allegations of this kind, from a position of no evidence whatsoever. If they have the evidence, let it come forward and it will be pursued absolutely.
– Will the Minister for Defence allow me to table the document?
-The Pearce document?
-Mr Speaker -
– There is my evidence.
-Mr Speaker, the Pearce document was available to the previous Administration if it had asked for it. It was made available to the South Australian Government in 1969. It was again made available to the South Australian Government in 1 975.
-Mr Speaker, under what Standing Order are you allowing the Prime Minister to speak?
– I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The point I am making is that the assertion to this Parliament of the former Minister for Supply is inconsistent with information available to the Government then in 1972. Either he misled the Parliament or his advisers did not advise him fully.
-There is no point of order. I ask all honourable members, and I especially ask the Leader of the Opposition, to remember that they are entitled to debate matters only when there is a subject before the House to debate. This, is Question Time, which is to be used for asking for information and receiving it. In answer to the honourable member for Grayndler, the Leader of the Opposition by way of interjection raised another issue with the Prime Minister and it is to that that the right honourable gentleman is responding. As a matter of indulgence, I think it ought to be answered.
-Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition was given a document which is a classified document, the Pearce report relating to these matters. As I am advised, that document was passed to the South Australian Government in 1969. It was again passed to the South Australian Government for a second time, independently and separately, as I am advised, late in 1975. It has been in the files of the Commonwealth right throughout. It could have been made available to Ministers, again if they had asked for such a document. The South Australian Ministers and Government surely should have been aware of it because it had been passed to them twice. If the charge is that evidence was withheld from Ministers, how can it have been withheld from them when it was passed to the affairs of another government as well as this Government? I should have thought that that was a charge, that was not sustainable. The suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition, who is seeking to prove his point by tabling the document, is just not relevant to the question of public servants withholding information from Ministers. The Leader of the Opposition has been given the document. He should not seek to misuse it in that sense.
– I ask the Deputy Prime Minister a question which concerns all of us. In view of the events at Maralinga and the problems now of high and low grade nuclear waste disposal, will the Deputy Prime Minister inform the House what progress has been made in any joint discussion with other countries concerning the establishment of an uranium enrichment plant and also a vitrification and calcination plant for waste disposal in Australia? Does he not agree that these two plants would give Australia much better control over her own uranium supplies exported throughout the world, keep Australia in the forefront of atomic science for energy and medical needs, and also demonstrate to the world our deep concern about the disposal of our own nuclear waste?
– It is the Government’s policy that when we get round to mining uranium we should then study the possibility of upgrading uranium by enriching it in Australia. Of course the first step is to get the uranium mined and in sufficient quantities to make an enrichment operation viable. When the Australian Labor Party was in office it commenced discussions with the Japanese on an enrichment program. We have followed up those initiatives, and a joint study is now taking place with the Japanese on the possibility of enriching Australian uranium. There have also been discussion with EURODIF and EURENCO in Europe, which are the two main enrichment groupings of countries which have advanced technology in this area. But I think it is a bit early to come to any conclusions as to whether Australia might enter into enrichment and what form it should take.
On the question of handling waste material, we accept that it is the responsibility of the power generating country to handle in an environmentally responsible manner the waste material that might be produced. It is not the intention or the desire of the Australian Government to have the waste material of other countries stored in Australia.
– I ask the Minister for Industry and Commerce whether he has been made aware of the collapse of yet another travel agency. If so, is it a fact that many of the people involved are pensioners and stand to lose substantial amounts of money as well as having their long planned holiday destroyed? When does the Government intend to keep its promise, made on innumerable occasions since 1971, to register travel agents? As rumoured, has the intended legislation been placed in the limbo of forgotten things, again demonstrating the Government’s utter contempt for the interests of consumers?
-Order! The honourable gentleman will cease arguing the matter. He will resume his seat.
– I am aware of the travel agency to which the honourable gentleman refers. I have sought a full report on the circumstances which have been the subject of Press reporting in recent days. My early advice is that only a small sum of money is involved, but when further advice is to hand I will be happy to provide the honourable gentleman with what information has been obtained. The honourable gentleman is aware that towards the end of last year, against the background of the problems at that time with AUS Student Travel Service Pty Ltd and also on the basis of pressure from the States and industry, the Government did agree with legislation to license travel agents. A draft Bill was circulated on a confidential basis to industry and the States in June of this year. The Government has sought reactions to the legislation.
I must say to the honourable gentleman that the legislation has certainly not been overlooked. It is available now and I would be quite happy to consider providing him with the details of it in confidence. The simple fact is that since the circulation of that Bill very firm reservations have been expressed to the Government by industry, by the Commonwealth departments involved and indeed by a number of the States. I must say quite frankly to the honourable gentleman that I, too, have some reservations about whether the Bill, in its present form, should proceed or whether on a cost-benefit analysis basis there is a need for this type of legislation.
I am informed by my Department that the travelling public has not suffered any significant financial losses for a number of years. Such losses as may have occurred have in fact been borne by the carriers and not by the travelling public. In fact defalcations in the travel industry have been minute compared with defalcations in most other industries. I think the honourable gentleman, because of his earlier experience in the tourism portfolio, will recall that losses suffered by travel agencies since 1970, as I recall the figure, amount to some $2m. This is in an industry where the volume of business amounts to around $ 1,000m each year. Therefore the question that the Government has to answer in respect of this legislation is whether the costs which would be borne by industry because of a significant increase in Commonwealth bureaucracy in this area would justify the Government’s continuing to bring forward the legislation.
Against the background of the reservations expressed by the States, by industry and by the Commonwealth departments involved, I have sought detailed advice from the Travel and
Tourist Industry Advisory Council. The early indication from that Council is that it does not favour continuation of the Bill. When a further and final report is available the matter will, of course, come before the Government. I might say to the honourable member, whose experience and knowledge of this industry I well recognise and appreciate, that if he wants the opportunity to have personal discussions with me that opportunity will, of course, be made available.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The Minister answered a question yesterday indicating that a meeting was to take place at Oenpelli. Has he yet heard reports of the result of that meeting? Can he inform the House as to the present position relating to the proposed Ranger agreement with the Northern Land Council?
– As the honourable member indicates in his question, I informed the House yesterday that a meeting was proceeding at Oenpelli involving the traditional owners of the region and others. I have received a report of that meeting and it indicates that at this stage the traditional owners have not given their consent to the Northern Land Council to enter into the Ranger agreement negotiated between the Commonwealth and the Council’s negotiators. That is disappointing to the Government because our policy with respect to uranium mining is quite clear. I should also make it clear to the House that the issue involved here is not whether mining will proceed but, pursuant to the terms of the land rights legislation, that the terms and conditions of mining must be agreed between the Northern Land Council and the companies involved in the mining. In this case the Commonwealth is directly involved because it is a joint venturer.
Honourable members will recall that yesterday I indicated some of the evidence which is to hand about the web of intrigue which the Labor Party has been weaving over Arnhem Land for the sole purpose of disturbing Aboriginal interests in a way which would lead to frustrating the attempts of the Government and the Northern Land Council to reach agreement. Further evidence has come to hand, and I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition will be very interested in the document which I have in my possession. It is a letter from the Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Dr Doug Everingham, to the Chairman of the Northern Land Council, Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu. Mr Yunupingu, in a written advice to me, has authorised me to release the contents of this letter, because in that advice he says:
The letter was dated 21 September, 1978 and referred to the use of Aboriginals by the ALP for ALP purposes.
I will read what the letter says.
In view of the continued attempts by Labor interests to interfere in the affairs of this Council and to manipulate Aboriginal people, I am prepared to authorise you to use in any way that you see fit the letter from Mr Doug Everingham, M.P., to myself.
It is dated -
-Read it all out.
-I will. I am glad that the honourable member wants me to read it all out because I will do that. It is dated 21 September 1978 and addressed to Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu of the Northern Land Council. Of course, 21 September was the time when the litigation had been commenced in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory and discussions were going on between Mr Yunupingu and other Aboriginals involved in that litigation. The letter reads:
I can understandyour feeling that the ALP maybe using Aborigines for their own vested interests. It is true that some people, most of them on the Labor side of politics, care more about stopping uranium mining or changing the Government in Darwin or Canberra than they do about Aborigines or land rights.
I am not one of them. I hope my speech in the House on 20 September 1978 and on TDT (southern States) will help to persuade you of this.
I have heard that many Aborigines have a mind to remove you on 2 1 December 1 978 from your Chairman ‘s job. I have been thrown out of a job as Health Minister and Parliamentarian in 1975 by a Governor-General and an election and so I guess I know the sort of feeling this could bring about. So in case it happens to you I want to tell you how it affected me.
I was depressed that I had not been able to persuade people of my hard work- the hardest I’ve ever done- my capacities and my good intentions.
Slowly I came to be thankful for the rest. I took a (part time working) holiday for 6 months away from phones with my wife. Some of our (adult) children joined us for part of this time while they were on holidays. I got through half a roomful of papers I’d collected ‘to look at later’ for 30 years. I did a refresher course and worked for a few doctors in my old job. Finally I went back to campaigning and acting like a local representative, at the end opening an office with my local State member to help local people with Federal problems as Federal members do.
I’m sure I’m doing better work and happier with it as a result of the break, and I believe if I’d missed on re-election I would still feel that way in some other job. I’m nearly twice your age, so you will do better than I did in adjusting to whatever you have to do.
If you are in real trouble- I don’t mean just like the drinking charge I read about a few months back, but something that your own people can’t help with- something which might be helped by a white man interested in hearing blackfeller secrets if they want to tell him and willing to tell whitefeller secrets if people want to hear them-then I would like you to think of me as a former family doctor who had a large following of Aboriginal patients years ago, who took time to explain things to them and who would like to be thought of as your friend whether our politics is the same or not.
I look forward to seeing you whenever I’m in the Territory.
With warm regards.
– Let me make it quite clear -
Opposition members interjecting-
-Order! I ask honourable members on my left to remain silent. The outburst of noise does not help the dignity of the Parliament. There are means by which protests can be made.
– Let me emphasise again the first part of this letter, which says quite clearly:
I can understand your feeling that the A.L.P. may be using Aborigines for their own vested interests.
That is what I discovered when I was in Darwin and was prepared to expose at the time. As I said yesterday, it is becoming clearer and clearer as a result of the conduct of the honourable member for Reid and of Labor Party lawyers and members in the Northern Territory that their sole interest is to frustrate uranium mining and it is the most cynical and blatant exercise of political action against the interests of the Aboriginal people that I have ever seen as Minister.
- Mr Speaker -
-Order! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
– I will not resume my seat.
– If the honourable gentleman wishes to raise a point of order he may have the call.
– I am seeking through a point of order to ask for a withdrawal because the Minister -
-Order! The honourable gentleman knows or ought to know that he has no entitlement just to march to the table and start to speak. If he has a point of order to raise and he draws my attention to the fact that he has a point of order to raise I will then call him. The courtesies are easily observed. Does the honourable gentleman wish to raise a point of order?
– Yes. I am asking for the Minister to withdraw the remark he made of me personally that I was interested only in the uranium mining aspect and not the Aboriginal people. That is offensive to me. He named me personally, it is offensive to me and I want it withdrawn.
-Order! I will not call upon the Minister to withdraw because it is not an unparliamentary remark. It may be a remark that the honourable member for Reid denies, but it is not an unparliamentary remark.
-The evidence, of course-
The honourable member for Reid having left the chamber-
Mi VINER-There you are, Mr Speaker -
-Order! The honourable gentleman will make no comment on the actions of the honourable member for Reid.
– The evidence concerning the conduct of the honourable member for Reid speaks for itself. Let me make another point about this letter. As I said, the letter is dated 2 1 September 1978 which is the very day on which there was to be a push by the Labor Party to oust the chairman, Mr Yunupingu. The shadow Minister was aware on that day that the Labor Party was inspiring a push against the chairman, Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu, and to see that someone whom it saw would act in its political interests took his place. As I have said, this is a most blatant, cynical action of a political kind against the interests of Aboriginal people of which I have become aware. What is more calculated to stir up and disturb the Aboriginal people so that they are not able to consider fairly and reasonably the terms of the Ranger agreement?
-I ask the honourable gentleman to draw his answer to a conclusion.
– Against that background, and when all the details of yesterday’s meeting at Oenpelli are received by the Government, we will consider what has to be done. As I said before, we want to be in a position to know that the Aboriginal people have had an opportunity to make a fair and proper judgment on the terms of the agreement reached between negotiators authorised by the Commonwealth and the Northern Land Council. When all those details are to hand the Commonwealth will make a decision, in the light of the land rights legislation and its own policy on uranium mining, as to what its next step should be.
- Mr Speaker, with your indulgence, as Leader of the Opposition I would like to raise quickly a couple of points in relation to the letter that was quoted by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The letter he quoted has been misrepresented -
– I rise to order. On what basis can the honourable gentleman raise this matter during Question Time?
-The Leader of the Opposition has asked for my indulgence. Until I hear what he has to say I do not know whether it is appropriate that I should give that indulgence.
- Mr Speaker, I commence by making the point, which I think will be generally agreed with in this House, that whatever criticisms there may be of the honourable member for Capricornia his genuineness and his sincerity are not in question in these matters. Accordingly I want to quote from this letter. He said that he could understand Mr Yunupingu ‘s feelings that the ALP -
-I apologise for interrupting. However, the honourable gentleman is on his feet with my indulgence. I cannot permit him to continue what he is doing during Question Time. I will give the honourable gentleman the opportunity to speak later with the indulgence of the Chair.
-I ask the Minister for Defence whether reports are correct that Vickers Cockatoo Dockyard Pty Ltd is the only Australian shipyard to have received tender documents for building a replacement for HMAS Supply. As a Minister in a Government allegedly obsessed with competition and prices being determined in the market place, can he advise me why the State Dockyard in Newcastle and any other interested Australian shipyard has not been given the opportunity of tendering for this vessel so as to ensure that the price finally accepted is truly a competitive one?
– In reply to the honourable gentleman, may I say that I appreciate his concern and interest in the general question of shipbuilding. In early 1975, the Government of which he was a member put proposals to, I think, about 3 1 shipbuilding companies throughout the world, including most Australian shipbuilding companies and some overseas companies, inviting the registration of an interest in the construction of an underway replenishment ship to replace HMAS Supply. Subsequently there were but four responses. A Dutch company responded, as did a French company and two Australian companies, one of which was Evans Deakin and Co. Pty Ltd, which subsequently withdrew, leaving Vickers Cockatoo Dockyard Pty Ltd the only other Australian company. After a consideration of the three tenders, a project definition contract was let to the French company at a cost, from recollection, of the order of a quarter of a million dollars.
The Vickers Cockatoo Dockyard Pty Ltd subsequently made a request to the Government for a reconsideration of its position. The Government undertook to do just that but made it quite clear-I emphasise this to the House and to the honourable gentleman-that any further tender from Vickers Cockatoo Dockyard of course would have to be considered on its merits. I am sure that my honourable friend will understand the meaning of the terms ‘merits’, ‘price’, ‘availability’, ‘capability’ and others. It would be obvious to the honourable gentleman that the State Dockyard was not one of the Australian shipbuilding yards which responded to the request to register an interest. I have since been informed that there has been a diminution in the capability of the State Dockyard with respect to a ship of this nature. Nevertheless, having regard to what the honourable gentleman has informed me, I will arrange for the position of the State Dockyard to be reconsidered. Finally, I am sure that the honourable gentleman will realise that this undertaking is given not on the basis that the State Dockyard will in fact be invited to tender but that consideration will be given to its capability and reasons why it did not in the first instance register an interest.
- Mr Speaker, I seek you indulgence now to make a statement in relation to the matter I sought to raise earlier. I can assure you that, without interruption, what I will have to say will be very brief.
-I call the Leader of the Opposition.
-The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) quoted from a very personal letter from a caring man, Dr Everingham, who also happens to be the member for Capricornia in this Parliament, to Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu. The Minister consciously and wilfully misrepresented the intent of that letter. The important parts of the letter which he quoted for his purposes are the first couple of sentences. Dr Everingham- I stress that he is a doctor- said this:
I can understand your feeling that the ALP may be using Aborigines for their own vested interests.
He said that the ALP may be using Aborigines. He did not say that they were. He did not say that they were in anyone else’s view but Galarrwuy Yunupingu ‘s view. Whether he was justified in having that view is another matter. He merely acknowledged the feeling of Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu. The next thing that he said is this:
It is true that some people, most of them on the Labor side of politics, care more about stopping uranium mining or changing the Government in Darwin or Canberra than they do about Aborigines or land rights.
Of course, that is true. It would also be true if he had said that some people, most of them on the Liberal side of politics, care more about promoting uranium mining or changing the Government in New South Wales, at which they are not particularly adept, or elsewhere, than they do about Aboriginal land rights. But that is not a particularly insightful observation. We know that. We know that he is referring merely to some people. I do not wish to say any more on the matter, except this: I think that we should all feel humiliated this morning at the way in which a personal letter from Dr Everingham, who is one of the most caring and feeling members of this Parliament, whose feeling for minority groups and deprived groups is genuine and beyond criticism in this Parliament and elsewhere, and who also happens to be trained in psychiatry, expressing impliedly his concern, because of Ills experience as a professional in that area, for what is happening to Mr Yunupingu.
-Order! I have extended indulgence to the honourable gentleman. I ask him to draw his remarks to a conclusion.
-We all ought to feel humiliated that this personal letter has come to light as it has. The only other relevant observation that needs to be made this morning is simply this: If Mr Yunupingu was in trouble before in holding his position as Chairman of the Northern Land Council, what the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs did -
-Order! The honourable gentleman is now going beyond the area that I was prepared to give him indulgence to speak about.
– What the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs did this morning will guarantee that Mr Yunupingu is in greater trouble and will probably have difficulty in holding his position.
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat.
- Mr Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented by what was said by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden).
Honourable members interjecting
-Order ! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat. I draw attention to the fact that the Leader of the Opposition was speaking with the indulgence of the Chair.
Honourable members interjecting-
-The Leader of the Opposition talked about the House being humble because of what had occurred earlier. I ask the House not to give itself greater reason for humility by its behaviour. I call the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to make a personal explanation.
– The Leader of the Opposition -
– He is the man who fired up the Aborigines in Aurukun.
-The honourable member for Corio will remain silent. He above all people ought to give an example.
Government supporters- Hear, hear!
– And I need no support from my right.
-The Leader of the Opposition, in challenging my action in referring to this letter, implied that I have no interest in Aborigines or in the land rights legislation. Let me remind him of the reports of what I said when I went to Darwin. I said that however important uranium policy was to this Government, it was equally important that our Aboriginal policy was sustained and that the.position of the Chairman of the Northern Land Council was also sustained. We see it as an equality of policy, an equality of interest. What this letter discloses is that the Labor Party has a quite opposite view. The very day on which this letter was written was the day of the intended coup against the Chairman of the Northern Land Council. That intended action was known to the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) at the time he wrote the letter. I was in Darwin to see that the Chairman of the Northern Land Council was not brought down by a coup and that the Northern Land Council was not torn apart by the actions of the Labor Party. This letter discloses that details of the plot in which the Labor Party was involved to take over the Northern Land Council to make it a political instrument of the Labor Party and not an instrument acting in the interests of the Aboriginals of the Northern Territory were known in Canberra on the day on which the action was supposed to take place.
– On a point of order, Mr Speaker, is the Minister making the statement with the indulgence of the House?
– He is making a statement with my indulgence.
- Mr Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs said that I had asserted -
-Order! There is no question before the House to debate. The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat.
– I am sorry Mr Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented by the Minister.
-I will call the Leader of the Opposition shortly.
- Mr Speaker, you allowed the Minister to assert a misrepresentation on my part. I think that the matter ought to be cleared up now before all the people leave the Press Gallery so that there is a consistency in the report of what has occurred here.
-The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
– Pursuant to section 36 of the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation Act 1970 I present the annual report of the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation for the year ended 30 June 1978.
– Pursuant to section 30K of the Industries Assistance Commission Act 1973 I present the annual report of the Temporary Assistance Authority for the year ended 30 June 1978, together with a statement outlining the action taken during the year 1977-78 on reports made to me as Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs.
– For the information of honourable members I present a report by the Temporary Assistance Authority on carbon coated film.
– For the information of honourable members I present a review of the Australia Council’s activities for the year ended 30 June 1978.
-The Leader of the Opposition claims to have been misrepresented and wishes to make a personal explanation. He may proceed.
– A few minutes ago the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) asserted that I had stated that he cares less for Aborigines than he does for mining development. First let me make the point that on the news broadcast of the Australian Broadcasting Commission on 21 September this year the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs was reported as making a threatening, coercive statement. The news item was as follows:
The Aboriginal Affairs Minister told newsmen that the future of Aboriginal land rights legislation was in jeopardy because of recent developments over the Ranger project.
He had been consistently making that statement at about that time in an effort to bulldoze the Aboriginals into signing a document. He is, as is well known in this House and elsewhere, the honourable member for Stirling, better known as the Minister for Mining Development in the Northern Territory. The least of his interests is the welfare of Aboriginal people.
-Order! Has the honourable gentleman concluded?
-That is enough.
-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) has represented my personal letter to Mr Yunupingu as proof that I knew of a coup which was to be engineered by the Australian Labor Party to unseat Mr Yunupingu. There is no basis for that allegation. I had no information from any person within the Labor Party that he was in Darwin of anywhere else or had had any contact with any Aboriginal person for the purpose of unloading Mr Yunupingu. It was common knowledge that Aboriginals were massing and that they were unhappy with the decisions of Mr Yunupingu. It was also mooted- I am sure this came to the ears of the Minister as it came to my ears- that the position of Mr Yunupingu was in jeopardy. That is the whole tenor of my letter, as anybody can see by reading it.
When I spoke of some Labor people possibly putting other interests ahead of Aboriginal interests, I was not implying that Labor people were more inclined to do that than are any other people in the community. In fact, the reverse is the case. I believe that the Australian Labor Party, more than any other party, puts Aboriginals ahead of mining or anti-mining issues or any other issue involved with Aboriginal land rights. I certainly did not imply that any person in this Parliament, any staff member of anybody in this Parliament or any Labor Party person in Darwin was engaged in anything improper or was at all inclined to put other issues ahead of Aboriginal issues. I reject such an implication. I have done so in a further letter which I have written within the last few days to Mr Yunupingu.
- Mr Yunupingu can give it to the Minister, if he wishes, as he gave him my last letter.
-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. My personal explanation is concerned with a statement made by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) during Question Time. The Minister said that in pushing the Labor Party’s policy on uranium I would sacrifice the situation of the Aboriginal people.
– Hear, hear!
– The Minister again says: ‘Hear, hear!’ I have stressed and stressed again that the opposite is the situation. The situation is that one aspect of the Labor Party’s policy, if the Minister would care to read it, deals with the unresolved problems of the Aboriginal people. The Minister should try to understand the environmental aspect of those problems. I might say that before I went to Oenpelli this Minister who represents the Government’s policy on Aborigines had not even been to talk to the people of Oenpelli. I went there in June last year. Now he wants to rush -
-Order! The honourable gentleman is not entitled to debate the matter. He is entitled only to make a personal explanation of the misrepresentation.
– My personal attitude has been that the Northern Land Council and the Aboriginal people should make their own decision free of outside interference. I gave Mr Muller instructions to put forward that point of view to the leader and members of the Northern Land Council to whom we have sent telegrams of solidarity. We did this so that they could make their decision free of outside interference 1 I made my position clear when I spoke on the estimates for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. At this stage I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a letter to the editor of the Australian Financial Review. That letter which was published in this mornings edition of that newspaper also adds to my position. I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted.
-Leave is not granted.
Mr LIONEL BOWEN (KingsfordSmith) Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-I claim to have been misrepresented by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in the course of answering a question during Question Time today. He indicated that in a debate which took place yesterday I had done Mr Barnard, a former Minister of the Labor Government, a disservice. I make this explanation to the House: The Hansard record of 14 September 1972 shows that Mr Barnard asked a question of Mr Garland, the then Minister for Supply and the present Minister for Special Trade Representations in the Fraser Government. The question was about radioactive waste at Maralinga. In the course of his reply to that question Mr Garland said that the radioactive material there was quite safe and it had a half life of some 15 to 20 years. I made the point in the debate which took place yesterday that was not a complete answer; that it was misleading. Obviously that was the situation because the Hansard record of the same date, 14 September 1972, shows that Mr Garland said in the adjournment debate that he wanted to add to the answer he had given that morning.
He went on to say:
We have monitored the areas, we know what is there and we have discovered nothing unexpected . . .
I emphasise the words ‘nothing unexpected’. He went on to say:
I take this opportunity to advise the House as the information I have just given was not available by the end of question time today.
Because allegations were made that Mr Barnard should have done something about the matter, in his defence I said in the course of the debate yesterday that I had checked the position with Mr Barnard who said:
I never knew there was any plutonium there. I asked my Department what was there and they said: ‘All you have got to worry about is the question of contamination. ‘
Contamination, of course, is a little different from plutonium. That is the position.
The second part of my speech of yesterday which was not referred to by the Prime Minister, for reasons best known to him, was in these terms:
I was referring to the present Minister for Defence ( Mr Killen)- knows very well that we were misled in 1972 . . . I spoke to Barnard today-
This is in the same part of the speech- and he confirmed that he had relied on that answer.
That is the answer given by Mr Garland in 1972. That is the position. He confirmed that fact. When I asked him about the answer given by Mr Garland he said: ‘Yes, I discussed the matter with my Department’. He discussed the matter with his Department and he was told that there was no plutonium there. That is the position.
-The honourable member would not know anything about it. The point I am trying to make is that the Prime Minister selects one aspect raised in my speech and not another aspect raised in the same speech. The real issue is that Mr Barnard genuinely relied on the answer given by a Minister of this Government. He checked the position with this Department and was told that there was nothing further to add. He was never told about plutonium. There is no disservice to Mr Barnard. He deserves the highest praise for carrying out his duties. The question is: Why did the Prime Minister not refer to Mr Garland in relation to this matter?
-Order! The honourable member is now debating the matter.
-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– I do. On page 1705 of yesterday ‘s Hansard the Leader of the Opposition ( Mr Hayden) is reported as once again impugning my integrity as part of a campaign, if I may say so, of attacking me personally. He did it on Tuesday and he did it on Wednesday. I do not know what his motives are. All I wish to do is to draw attention to the fact that the attacks are based on inaccurate information, whatever may be their style and their nature and whatever they show about him. The point that the Leader of the Opposition made was that I had written prospectuses for Patrick Partners. Regrettably I did not write prospectuses for Patrick Partners. It may have been better for that firm if I had been in a sufficiently high position to do so. Secondly, I draw to his attention the fact that I did not write the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). Perhaps if I were in a higher position in the Liberal Party to enable me to do that, that too might have been better and we would have won the last election by a bigger majority than we did. I would further take the point that it is objectionable for the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) to claim that having me write the Prime Minister’s policy speeches is worse than having Richard Nixon as an adviser. I suggest to the House that it is improper, unreasonable and personally appalling.
– What is the nature of the personal explanation?
-I am not Richard Nixon. I have a little more hair. I draw the House ‘s attention to the tact that this kind of personal attack based on inaccuracies is becoming a bore and is totally disgraceful.
Mr UREN (Reid)- My personal explanation is with regard to the land purchases in Victoria.
-Is the honourable gentleman claiming to be misrepresented?
– I do.
– You may proceed.
-Mr Allan Hunt, the Minister for Planning in Victoria, is reported in today’s Press as having said that I approved the purchase of land at 5 per cent above the Valuer-General’s valuation which the Victorian Government made to the Urban Land Council. Mr Hunt is trying to mislead the Victorian people. He knows that the program approved a process of the Land Commission program under which the funds made available to the Urban Land Council by the Commonwealth Government did not allow me as a Federal Minister to disapprove the price of individual land parcels. My responsibility was to ensure that the Victorian Government considered its own programs and that the land was the right kind of land in the right place.
The price paid for land acquisition in Victoria was that agreed by Mr Hunt’s own government. Whichever valuations were used were supplied by the Victorian Government agencies and the land was acquired under the Victorian State law.
On any intrusion by me as an Australian Minister, I would have been charged with having involved myself in the internal affairs of the Victorian State Government. In no way did I involve myself. That is why I always maintained a good relationship with the States and I worked on that basis. I allowed them to run their own affairs in their own way.
-I inform the House of the following nominations of senators and members to be members of the Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act: Senators Davidson, Missen and Walters have been nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Senators Coleman and Melzer have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in that House. Mr Kevin Cairns, Mr Falconer, Mr Katter, Mr Lusher, Mr Martyr and Mr Ruddock have been nominated by the Prime Minister. Mr Lionel Bowen, Mr John Brown, Mr Holding and Mr Stewart have been nominated by the Leader of u« /~- - ~~:*: - :« *u: tj—– ni- Opposition in mia Hume.
Motion (by Mr Fife) agreed to:
That leave of absence be given for one month to the honourable member for Phillip (Mr Birney) on the ground of parliamentary business overseas.
– by leave- On 9 June 1978, the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations tabled its Report on its investigations into the Establishment, Operation and Disposal of Wiltona Hostel, Williamstown, Victoria, which at that time was not in use. The Senate Committee concluded that the hostel site was unsuitable for such purposes because of its location and recommended that action be taken to dispose of the property together with the Williamstown Rifle Range. However, the Committee accepted the possible need for the hostel to be used and, in that event, recommended a number of lire safety measures be taken. It also indicated that its use be for a specific interim period.
The need for the hostel to be used results from the Government’s decision to accept 9,000 IndoChinese refugees in 1978-79 in addition to other assisted passage migrants which will require additional hostel accommodation to that already in use. The only suitable accommodation is the Wiltona Hostel and the first intake into the hostel is scheduled for 16 October 1978. All of the fire safety measures recommended by the Senate Committee have been met and these were: Provision of an audible alarm system interconnected with the refinery’s watch room; establishment of suitable evacuation procedures which have been cleared with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Victoria Police; an assurance from the Refinery that only crude oil or heavy fuel oil will be stored in tanks adjacent to the hostel; and adequate patrolling service at the Tank Farm.
No action has as yet been commenced towards the eventual disposal of the hostel property. There are a number of factors which will need to be determined before such action can take place, including: Determination of the interim period for which the hostel will be needed. This will depend upon later Government decisions regarding future refugee intakes in the light of Australia’s International obligations in this regard; determination of the future zoning of the area by the State Planning Authority; the economics of relocating the Williamstown Rifle Range; and determination of the Commonwealth’s future relationship with civilian Rifle Clubs. The Government will be seeking advice from the Victorian Government on future planning for the area and will review the situation when these matters are determined.
-by leave-With the gracious consent of the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young), who is the shadow Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, I would like to say a few words on this matter as the local member for the area in which the Wiltona Hostel is located. As the local member I strongly oppose the re-opening of Wiltona Hostel for migrant hostel purposes. The location of this hostel is totally unsuitable for such use, for environmental reasons, for safety reasons, for social reasons and, furthermore, it will undoubtedly place substantial additional strain on the local community facilities without any apparent additional assistance from the Commonwealth to offset it. The location of this hostel is almost impossible to describe to people who have not seen it. It is in the middle of a petrochemical complex. It is one kilometre from a major oil refinery and is right next door to a major tank farm in which vast quantities of crude oil are always stored. It is directly across the road from an LPG filling station. To the south of it there is a major fuel line. In other words, this migrant hostel was rebuilt in 1970 on modern lines in the middle of the most unsuitable area that one could possibly imagine.
In addition to being in the middle of this petrochemical complex, it is two kilometres from the nearest residential area so it is totally isolated from the rest of the community. It is three kilometres to the nearest shop and four kilometres to the nearest shopping centre. The only transport is an extremely infrequent bus service so that people who are going to be put there will be totally isolated from the rest of the community and put in the most aesthetically unsuitable environment imaginable. Perhaps it could be said that people who are going to be using this hostel- principally Vietnamese refugees- would not be too fussy. I do not think that is the point. The point is that the people are being put in an area which, apart from being aesthetically ghastly, was described by one Melbourne reporter as ‘almost a lunar landscape’. There is also a very important safety problem. This safety issue has been referred to in the Senate Committee’s report.
It is true admittedly that the Senate Committee decided it was worth taking a gamble on the safety issue on advice from the Commonwealth Fire Board. However, I think we must be aware of the fact there is a gamble involved and that the fire brigade authority which has responsibility for dealing with any fires in that area strongly recommended against the re-opening of Wiltona as a migrant hostel; that body is the Melbourne and Metropolitan Fire Brigades Board. I will quote a couple of sections from the Senate Committee’s report on the opening of Wiltona. The Melbourne and Metropolitan Fire Brigades Board said in 1975 in advising the Commonwealth on its view with regard to the reopening of Wiltona:
I am of the opinion that the hostel is too close to the tank farm, that there is always risk associated with such industrial premises and that the area is unsuitable for the hostel.
Again in 1977 the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigades Board representative stated:
It is against all principles of good and safe practice to locate residential developments adjacent to industrial complexes, in particular, tank farms such as this.
In evidence to the Committee the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigades Board representative reiterated those opinions. The Committee’s report states that the representative considered the hostel was unsafe for the following reasons: . . the difficulties of combining the evacuation of residents with the entry of fire brigade vehicles; the problems of reporting a fire from the unmanned tank farm; and the absence of foam producing equipment at the tank site.
Clearly there is a major concern by the body which would be responsible if fire broke out in that area about the location of something like 1,000 people in an area which is highly dangerous. The Commonwealth Fire Board said that the danger would be minimal provided that certain precautions were taken, and those precautions are set out on page 12 of the Senate Committee’s report. They include an audible alarm system to be installed in the hostel interconnected with the refinery’s watch room, procedures to be established for the evacuation of occupants, and an assurance to be obtained from Petroleum Refineries (Aust.) Pty Ltd that only crude oil will be held in or passed through the tanks closest to the hostel. Those conditions have been more or less met by what the Government has now announced.
– Not more or less; completely.
– They have been completely met, I accept that. However, in my view they are inadequate to cope with the problem. A gamble is still being taken with the safety of the people who will be there. In regard to the evacuation procedures, I ask the House to consider this situation: Tn Wiltona in a few days’ time there will be something like 1,000 people, principally Vietnamese refugees, most of whom will not be able to speak English. Evacuation procedures presumably will be advised to them through interpreters telling them what to do if a fire breaks out in the middle of the night. If a roaring fire broke out in a tank farm in the middle of a petrochemical complex one can imagine the panic and chaos that would occur and the impossibility, it seems to me, of expecting any orderly procedures to be abided by, particularly when people cannot give orders other than through interpreters. It is just not a situation which lends itself to orderly evacuation procedures.
I think that we should be quite aware of what is being done. The Government is taking a gamble. It is saying that it is worth spending $600,000 to refurbish Wiltona, and that amount has already been spent, to bring it up to a standard that will enable it to be used as a hostel. It is saying that it is worth spending that money rather than building a hostel somewhere else, that it is worth taking that gamble. Let us be aware that that is what is being done. It is a gamble, and the Government is taking the gamble to save money. In my view, if the Government were at all concerned about the safety of the people, the appropriate procedure would have been to spend that money to build another hostel, which could be used for other purposes later, in an area which is environmentally better and which certainly would be much more suitable on safety grounds. It should also be remembered that Wiltona Hostel is adjacent to the Williamstown rifle range, which is a vast area of land only a few kilometres from the heart of the city that is being used for purposes that are totally unsuitable for such prime land. Constant representations about the need for the area to be turned over to the local community for very necessary use as parkland and open space, and perhaps for residential purposes, have not been acceded to so far by the Government. The Victorian Government has been looking at a plan to turn the rifle range into a coastal park, and for the Wiltona Hostel to be turned into the administrative headquarters for that coastal park. I have written to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) stating my concern about this issue and asking what is being done about the Victorian Government’s proposals, but I have received no answer other than an acknowledgment two and a half months ago.
One other factor that should be mentioned is that in an area where there are going to be an additional 960 to 1,000 migrants there will obviously be a lot more children and those children are going to have to go to local schools. To date, nothing has been done by this Government to inform the local authorities or local schools that any assistance will be forthcoming in the way of additional migrant teachers, additional classrooms or additional teaching aids. It is going to put enormous pressure on the surrounding schools, and there are relatively fewer of them in the vicinity of this hostel. Within a space of several kilometres there are probably three or four schools, which are going to be put under enormous pressure because of the additional students. The Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) has not replied to the various representations made to him for additional forms of assistance to be made available to the schools to ensure that the students who are already there are not put under enormous pressure and that the migrant students receive something like a decent education. This whole episode epitomises the fact that when we get down to the kind of cost-cutting mean-minded approach that this Government has we start to take all sorts of gambles with people’s lives. This episode is a prime example of the way in which that is being done.
-Mr Speaker has received a letter from the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The devastating threat to the future of Australia from Labor calls for nationalisation of the major elements of private industry.
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-
-After the last Federal election, in which the Labor Party was resoundingly rejected by the Australian people, it set up a committee of inquiry to guide it on its future plans and policies. That committee has produced what it calls a discussion paper, in which it argues for nationalisation of the major elements of Australian industry. The most important passage states:
State intervention must therefore be of a different nature than just organising capital more efficiently. Its intervention needs to be of the nature whereby major private firms are taken into public ownership and investment expenditure decisions in those firms made from that position.
This committee is chaired by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) and, I understand, by the President of the Labor Party, Mr Batt, and was formerly chaired by the Leader of the Opposition and the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and former President of the Labor Party, Mr Hawke. The paper commences by stating that the capitalist system is a framework within which they must simultaneously work and yet seek to change. Lest it be said that the paper argues onlyin terms of options, it is clearly directed to enforcing that policy of nationalisation, wherever possible. In its very last words it states: the alternatives are too horible to contemplate.
In other words, the committee considers that our free democratic way of life is horrible. It considers that it must be changed. Those words appear above the name of the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett), who is secretary of the committee. When will they ever learn that that policy will be the ruin of Australia? When will they ever learn that that policy will never be accepted by the Australian people as long as they understand what is before them under Labor policies? Of course, the Labor Party trades in stealth on this issue. We want to find out today which members of the Labor Party will support it, which will say that they do not support it, or are they split down the middle? Which of them support their own platform, by which they are bound? The report links in exactly with the theory of the Labor Party’s economic planning platform as delivered at its national conference in July 1977, a conference which binds every Labor member of this House. The salient points of that platform, which appear in black and white, are these: Labor will intitiate national planning; Labor will set the overall objectives; government will intervene where necessary to reach national objectives; and public enterprise is particularly to be established or extended in the field of banking, consumer affairs, insurance, finance, marketing, housing, stevedoring, transport, and in areas of social monopoly.
– Read that again.
– Public enterprise is particularly to be established or extended in the fields of banking, consumer affairs, insurance, finance, marketing, housing, stevedoring, transport, and in areas of social monopoly. That is allied to the Labor Party’s program of nationalising the major private firms in Australia. What is left? It is quite plain that this program of nationalisation equals socialism of a kind whereby one can properly ask: What is the difference between that program and communism? Where do Labor Party members stand? We know that they are split on the issue and yet they are bound by their policy. We know that they have produced a discussion paper under the chairmanship of their own leader, and formerly under the chairmanship of the leader of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
– Is it an official document?
– It is an official document of their Party. It is a document that prescribes that this alternative should be accepted because the capitalist system is too horrible. What we want to know is how they can possibly justify this to the Australian people. Do they intend to impose it by stealth? We all know that throughout the modern history of Australia they have attempted to impose their nationalist program by stealth. It is the only way in which they can possibly get it through. It is the only way in which they can get around the Labor pledge which every Labor member in this House is bound to take.
When we ask who are the persons who are going to support this, let them stand up and say which of them supports the major private firms of Australia being taken into ownership by the government. We know that the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), a former Deputy Leader of the Opposition, is on record as saying:
Speaking as a person, as a socialist, I would find it immoral to buy a share in a private company that is going to exploit labour.
Wherever a company is going to make a profit then it is exploiting labour.
What rubbish! He has also described the Treasury as the dreaded enemy of the working classes. What further rubbish! What we want to ask is this: Does the Labor Party still abide by its policy to abolish the Upper House? Does it still abide by its policy to abolish State governments to the limits that the constitutional power will permit, or indeed without limits if its platform plank of giving all power to the Commonwealth Parliament should ever obtain public approval? Does it have a policy of arrant and rank socialism of this nature?
One thing that needs to be looked at and this is quite extraordinary is the fact that the Labor Party says in this paper that it is going to nationalise those industries that do all right. It is not going to prop up those industries that are not doing all right. Let us ask honourable members opposite if they have ever told that to the workers at Newcastle and Whyalla the people they apparently were seekingto protect when decisions were made not to give additional support to the ship building industry at those dockyards. What are they going to say to Australian workers in legitimate cases? What will they say about Mount Lyell and what will they say to the workers at Newcastle and Whyalla? They want to see them all sink because of what their doctrinaire socialistic policy says. It says that in England the country that they look to most the British Labour Government should have taken over only the more profitable industries. That Government blames itself for taking over industries that it did not think were as efficient as they should be. Of course what this Labor Party fails to realise is that as soon as a government takes over these industries, be it in England or anywhere else, their efficiency nosedives. They cannot be profitable; they cannot work; and the Government has an absolute economic disaster on its hands. So is this Labor Party going to tell the Australian workers that it is going to follow the British plan of nationalisation in such a way that industry becomes unprofitable and that nationalised industry becomes a massive drain on the national economy, thereby leading to unemployment, to stagnation and to depression? Which Labor Party member is going to support this? At present their national platform binds them to public enterprise in banking, consumer affairs, insurance, finance, marketing, housing, stevedoring, transport, which covers the whole of Australia, and in areas of so-called social monopoly.
Let us look at the other aspect of this question. Let us test where their sincerity lies. Who will be the first in the Labor ranks to stand up and give us the Red list the list of companies to be nationalised; the takeover list? I have here a list of the top 100 companies in Australia. Which of them is to be the first? Is it to be BHP-the top of the list the company about which they are always whingeing, but a company which is investing massive resources in developing Australia, a company that is helping to provide jobs in enterprise and helping to get us out of the troubles that we have? Taking a random sample from the top 100 list of companies, will the Labor Party nationalise Comalco or the Bank of New South Wales No. 5 on the list?
– Banking is on its list.
– Yes, banking is on the list. Is it going to nationalise the Bank of New South Wales, because that is what it is bound to do? Is it going to nationalise Myers or Woolworths? Is it going to tell the housewives that it is going to nationalise Woolworths? Then there is Repco,
PioneerConcreteandAmatil.Whowillbethe first honourable member opposite to tell us that they are going to get at Phillip Morris or at No. 24 on the list, Tooth’s? Who is going to nationalise the breweries? Then there is ReckittColeman, Dunlop, Burns Philip and Grace Bros. Are you being served by the Labor Party? The Labor Party says: ‘Yes, come to us and we will take you over’. It will take over major private enterprise. Grace Bros. is No. 62 on the list. The Labor Party says: ‘We will give you a serve’. What about Cadbury-Schweppes? Let us nationalise chocolates. What about Arnott ‘s biscuits? But this is too serious a matter to take in too light a vein. It is the Labor Party’s platform. It is written.
– It is not the platform.
– It is the platform of a conference of the honourable member’s Party held in July 1977. It states that public enterprise is to be established or extended in those fields. We have the paper. What about Tooheys? What about the Hooker Corporation and Commonwealth Engineering? What about the country vote? Will it nationalise Bundaberg Sugar? What are honourable members opposite going to do? When are they doing to stand up and tell us which of the major private firms are to be taken into public ownership?
The other thing to remember about this matter is that socialism means reduced human freedom. The economy cannot be controlled without controlling human beings, who are still the greatest of all economic factors. The means of production cannot be socialised without socialising men and women. There may be some in this House who think that one can have freedom by way of three meals a day and a roof over one ‘s head and that that is all one needs. But a person can have that in prison. What we want is freedom of our economic system; freedom of our society; freedom for the private enterprise system to develop this country in the way in which it can be developed, contrary to the Labor Party’s statements in three years of government that only the public sector could provide the benefits. That was the great claim of the former Labor Prime Minister.
Let us look at how the Labor Party intends to do this. Indeed, it intends to carry it out by stealth if it can. What proves that is an article by the honourable member for Bonython in the Nation Review a short time ago. He is the secretary of this committee of inquiry. He argued that the capitalist system was the enemy. He said:
As in South Australia the ALP should avoid spelling out the goals in minute detail so that the Party leaders can seize the opportunities of the moment to advance the basic strategy.
In other words, deceive the people; fool the people and get your nationalisation programs in through the back door wherever possible. That is what the secretary of this committee said. It is political mendacity- an essential item for the Labor box of electoral tricks, and yet Labor has the hide to criticise us. It is a demonstration that the Labor Party believes that the interests of the people lie not in the welfare of the people but in their organisation of power for their own aggrandisement. In a democracy the power belongs to the government that will trust the people and will return power to the people. The government must be able to be trusted and the people must know that the deeds of the government are going to equate with its words. We will never know whether the deeds of a Labor goverment will ever equate with its words because even some of the Labor members, with the best of intentions, are prepared to contain, to curtail and to deceive the Australian public and, in some cases, to deceive themselves. One of the Labor Party’s leaders in Western Australia, the Western Australian Leader of the Opposition, has said that he would resign if the Labor Party adopted a policy of nationalisation. He should resign right now because of the Labor Party platform adopted in 1 977 at its convention in Perth.
There is one other thing, however, that we need to look at and that is this: This cancer of Left wing movement in our society has to be combatted positively by Liberal and National Country Party persons. We have to explain our philosophy to the community, particularly to the young who are gullible and who are taken in often by apparently idealistic notions. The words profit ‘ and ‘enterprise ‘ have been made dirty by the Opposition. What we have to point out is that the only way in which a modern Western world can develop is by the use of resources appropriately to assist the people. In order to develop resources we need capital. Capital can be obtained from the private system through profit or by taxation of public programs, which is what happens in socialist countries. Australia has a mixed enterprise system. There is a world shortage of capital. There is a need for development projects in Australia which will provide jobs, which will provide incentives and which will provide the large economic cake that can be divided to provide social justice for all. That is the way to a sound, developed country. That is the way that our theory leads us. It is totally contrary to the way the Labor Party philosophy would lead this country. The dead hand of socialism would lead us to stagnation and depression in the community. There would be a complete and utter derogation of responsibility.
What sort of arguments will be put by the Opposition? Presumably members of the Opposition will try to get out of what is set down in this discussion paper. If they try to get out of it let us remember that they are bound by their platform. Let us remember that if they call it a paper setting out options then they will be saying that the free enterprise option is too horrible to contemplate. Let us find any honourable member opposite who will support it. Let them at least have the courage of their convictions to stand up and say: ‘Yes, we support it’. Let at least one of them stand up and say: ‘I do support the nationalisation of major private firms’, or are they entirely hypocritical? Let at least one of them stand up and say that. Alternatively, let at least one of them be prepared to disown it completely. Either way they are trapped because we know that they are totally split. This issue will haunt them at the next election and in future elections because it is the major domestic issue facing this nation. It is our future. It is a matter of whether we go down the Left road or the moderate sensible road. The Australian people will have this exposed to them at every turn by the Liberal-National Country Party Government.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-We on the Opposition side reject entirely the emotive terms of the matter raised for discussion by the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil)that little partisan alarmist, the smearer who has often come into this Parliament to smear and to exaggerate issues and who has never contributed one original thought in the period that he has been a member of this Parliament. Apparently he thinks that by introducing a matter such as this he is impressing the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). Even the Prime Minister has given up resorting to these old bogies and dragging up these red herrings as honourable members opposite have always done in the past. The honourable member for St George is typical of the mindless Liberal stereotypes who are currently being produced by the Liberal Party- the drones of Australian politics who sit on the back bench, like a pile of Easter Island statues, mute. They know nothing about the real issues of Australia. They are prepared to sit here and mindlessly support anything which the Cabinet brings in.
The kind of debate we have heard from the honourable member for St George is typical of the low standard of debate in this Parliament on any of these issues. He talked about nationalisation as though there is no public enterprise in Australia. He even had the gall to say that one of the platform aims of the Australian Labor Party was to extend public ownership to banking. Yet in this very Parliament his own Government has extended public ownership to banking with the introduction of the Primary Industry Bank of Australia. How does he explain that away? Is that just rhetoric- the introduction of a piece of legislation in this Parliament to establish a new government-owned bank- or am I mistaken? Is it a private industry bank? Look at some of the things in the public enterprise area in which the Government itself has been involved in the past. I refer to the Australian National Line, the Australian National Railways, the Australian Industry Development Corporation and the Australian Wool Corporation. These are all things which have been -
– Are any of them monopolies?
– Oh, shut up for a while. These are all things which have been developed by Liberal-Country Party governments.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I find it offensive to be told by that particular member to shut up.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The House has enjoyed considerable latitude over the last hour or two. I ask honourable members now to observe the forms of the House. Interjections, of course, are strictly out of order.
– The legislation introduced in the last Parliament to establish the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation was proposed by the conservatives opposite. That legislation extends public enterprise into the area of meat and livestock sales in Australia. As well as that this Government supports other public enterprises such as Qantas Airways Ltd, TransAustralia Airlines, Medibank and the Commonwealth Bank to name but a few. Perhaps the honourable member for St George can tell us which of these public enterprises his Governments intends to close down. Which ones will the Government sell up? Will it be TAA, Qantas, the AIDC, the ANL or the ANR?
– Hear, hear!
– We have the interjection Hear, hear’ from a Government member. Let the employees of these organisations realise the real intentions of the people in the Government ranks. This is the kind of humbug which is being spoken by the honourable member for St George. The Liberal-Country Party Government has supported the extension of public ownership and enterprise in many areas of Australian commercial life.
The honourable member for St George clutches at the discussion paper issued by the Labor Party just a couple of weeks ago and evidences this as a major change in our thinking. The point is that this discussion paper arose from a committee of inquiry established by the Labor Party after its last election defeat. In contradistinction to the Liberal and Country Parties when they were defeated in 1972, we are using our time in Opposition usefully to look at all of the issues which affect the Australian electorate and the social and economic fabric, to think about them and to talk about them. We on this side of politics are not frightened to discuss things. We are not frightened of the issues. We are not frightened to publish our thoughts. We are not like the Liberal Party, which conducts its business in secret, which never produces a discussion paper and which of course has never used its time in opposition to do anything other than just attack the Government in office mindlessly with all of the public shibboleths that the Liberals drag up.
The honourable member for St George referred at length to the alternative approach which is dealt with in Discussion Paper No. 6. Let me just quote some of the things that he did not quote. The section headed ‘An Alternative Approach’ reads:
It - that is, government- needs to create institutions that can encourage the level of private investment -
I emphasise the words, ‘encourage the level of private investment’- it considers desirable while engaging in the production of a surplus through its own activities such that it can fulfil its re-distributive goals and provide a social wage without having to create everincreasing deficits … It will also need to redirect resources as part of an overall restructuring plan to generate efficiency in those areas of manufacturing -
Is that something from which the Liberals would resile? The paper continues:
Does this Government resile from that? Let us hear an answer from honourable members opposite. The article continues:
With an expanding mineral sector inevitable, manufacturing associated with mineral refinement could provide necessary new opportunities.
That appears immediately before the quote that the honourable member for St George selectively misused. Of course this whole issue points to the massive level of unemployment under which Australia is currently languishing 6.2 per cent in adjusted terms, but the real level, which would include those people who do not even bother to register for the unemployment benefit, is probably about 8 per cent. Honourable members opposite, especially the honourable member for St George, are completely unmindful of this problem and apparently are not prepared to think about any of the kinds of monetary or fiscal tools which could be available to any government, at present or in the future, to do something about it.
This discussion paper was about some of the tools or proposals available to a government in the future, and let me just read some of the headings in this paper. They include: ‘Structural Problems’, ‘The TariffAnd What To Do About It’, ‘InwardLooking And Its Consequences’, An Alternative Approach’ and ‘Incomes Policy In The Transition’. When have we ever seen this kind of stuff produced by the Liberal Party? When have we on this side of the house ever seen a document produced by the Government’ think tank? There has never been one. The only thing that has ever been done by the people who sit opposite has been to rely upon bureaucrats in the Treasury. John Stone is their think tank. Where John Stone goes they will go. If he gets run over by a bus somewhere in Canberra they are finished; their policy stops. That is the extent of their thinking as a party. They are incapable of any innovative thought. Yet they berate us for attempting to look at some of the problems. We on this side of the House have never at any time resiled from the opportunity of stating where we stand: We stand clearly for a mixed economy in Australia. We have said in the past that this approach of a mixed economy, we believe, is the best technique for wealth creation and distribution a successful undertaking of public and private capital operating in harmony. Let me quote what was said by my leader, who is the only authoritative source on party policy, as recently as his Monday Conference interview two weeks ago. I hope that honourable members opposite listen to this attentively. He said: . . we’re committed, if we become a Government, to administering the mixed economy, an economy which is preponderantly in the private sector. Three out of four jobs are in the private sector. Most jobs which trade unions cover are out there in the private sector. If we can’t make the private sector function successfully then we’re a failure in handling the economy. I ‘ve always argued this . . .
These are the kinds of things which the honourable member for St George fails to allude to. He does not want an authoritative source such as the Leader of the Opposition. He wants selectively to quote from discussion papers. The Leader of the Opposition went on to say: . . allowing companies to renew their capital equipment and to enlarge the scale of their operation. Business has got nothing to fear from the Labor Government, we are committed to making the economy work efficiently and well. We’re also committed to redistribution too, we don’t lose sight of our position as a reform party.
There is a clear statement from the most authoritative source in the Party, the Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, of where my Party stands. That is not to say, of course, that the present private sector operates as efficiently as it ought to or operates in the national interest, because in some cases that is clearly not so. The motor industry is the clearest example of how market forces have distorted an industry and how it is not operating efficiently in the national interest.
– Government intervention is what has distorted the motor industry.
– There is the member for Chrysler over there who is presiding over Chrysler’s demise. Of course, many areas of Australian enterprise are not operating efficiently and market forces do not always correct the problem. At this very moment, because of the Government’s policy of tariff and quota protection, we have resources being channelled into areas of Australian enterprise which are presently over protected and which, of course, ought to be looked at on the basis that resources should be channelled into areas which have the opportunity of efficiency and the opportunity of efficient long run production in the future. Instead of that, with the Government’s policy of protecting some of the soft areas of industry, investment goes into those soft areas when it ought to be directed into other areas. That is the point the paper makes. To correct this problem there must be available to the national Government tools such as exchange controls, export controls, trade practices, the Foreign Investment Review Board, the banking controls and the Prices Justification Tribunal. These are all tools which people from both sides of pontics believe are necessary to regulate the Australian economy and to make it work in a much more socially desirable way that is more akin to the national interest. Ownership, nationalistation, socialisation or public enterprise- call it what we likecan be another tool, and that tool has been used often by honourable members opposite. As I mentioned earlier, the latest example is the establishment of the Primary Industry Bank because the Government had believed that the private banks of this country have not done, in the primary industry sector, the job that ought to be done and has taken the option of using the tool of public ownership to extend public ownership in the field of banking, in just the same way as all the tools I have just mentioned can be used by governments for particular policy aims.
Nationalisation is not an objective of our Party. It is discussed as a tool for the more socially acceptable functioning of the Australian economy. There is a great body of opinion, I think, in most Labor parties around the world, including the Australian Labor Party, which believes that the old cries of nationalisation whereby one seeks to own companies for the profitability of owning them is a thing of the past, that it is not socially useful to channel one’s money into owning other people ‘s shares or buying up their assets and that nationalisation is a clumsy and inappropriate instrument. In some cases, such as the ones I have mentioned, it can be useful but if one looks at any of the utterances of my leader, even going back to his Fabian pamphlet of 1968, one sees that he talks about the constitutional impediments to nationalisation and quotes Aneurin Bevan, who described as sterile purists the people who would nationalise everything in theory and nothing in practice. Those kinds of trite solutions have, I think, been largely discredited. Public ownership is looked at as a tool for redirecting investment and making the economy work in a more socially acceptable way. It is not a case of buying out companies. In terms of national expenditure any government’s operations get down to the kinds of resources available and the kinds of priorities which a government can fix with very limited resources by channelling money basically where its priority is. For us that priority is putting money into social infrastructure rather than buying out lame duck companies to free investors’ funds which, of course, are not returning them an economic rent. We are not going to be in the business of saving companies which are not operating profitably. Just this week in The Economist there was an article headed: ‘Giscard steels himself for nationalisation’, in which the conservative French President Giscard D ‘Estaing is reported to have said: . . between the private steel firms and their longsuffering creditors, mainly the state and state-owned banks . . hinges … the conversion of much of the steel industry’s massive debt, say $9 billion.
Again that is nationalisation to save someone else’s bacon. We are not going to be in that. We see most of our limited resources going into areas where, we believe, they ought to be, that is, areas where we can build up the social infrastructure of Australia.
The honourable member for St George is desperate here today. After last weekend there is no safe Liberal seat in Sydney. Even the seat of Vaucluse has gone to preferences. On the State figures the seat of the honourable member for St George would have gone so far down the drain as far as the Liberal Party goes as to be almost impossible to recover. The same goes for the Treasurer (Mr Howard). On State figures his seat is already in the hands of the Labor Party. Honourable members opposite are really packing death and will resort to any subterfuge whatsoever. This desperate little man from St George, the arrogant ant of Australian politics, is in here doing his best to drag shibboleths across our path. We reject his emotive extremism and the terms of his matter of public importance.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The House is indeed indebted to the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) for raising this matter of public importance. Once again the honourable member for St George has shown what a distinguished contribution he can make in this Parliament and will make for many years to come. On the other side of the coin, what a disappointing performance from the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating), a man who has been referred to as the white hope of the right wing of the Labor Party. My word, his few supporters would be bitterly disappointed with him today, particularly the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen), who is not even in the chamber to support what must be one of the weakest performances ever. As my colleague the honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean) has said, his price has drifted; he has drifted right out of the door.
Honourable members may not yet be aware that the honourable member for Blaxland has been appointed the Labor Party spokesman, would you believe, for Tasmania. He was in Tasmania last week and he made the greatest political mistake of his career, the greatest blunder of the decade, because when in Tasmania he actually attacked the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck). If ever there is a way to political suicide and extinction it is to attack the sincere, hard working and dedicated honourable member for Franklin. I believe that the honourable member for Blaxland sold out the side. He sold out those moderates, those right wingers in the Labor Party, those few genuine Labor men with a commitment to social justice, with the weak speech that he gave in this House this morning. He has meekly aligned himself with the pro-communist, left wing trendies of the Labor Party. What a shameful thing for him to do. There are serious implications not only for the nation but also for Tasmania in some of the comments made by the honourable member for Blaxland. I simply ask: Where does Mount Lyell stand after these comments that he has made?
– He pulled out the plug.
– Indeed he did. What is the future of the Australian motor industry, particularly in the electorate of my colleague the honourable member for Kingston (Mr Chapman) who has been an indefatigable fighter for the motor industry of Australia that virtually got the kiss of death today from the honourable member for Blaxland. It is not often that the general public gets a clear and detailed insight into the ulterior motives and designs of the Australian Labor Party actually to socialise Australia with widespread nationalisation of the private sector and the eventual and total destruction of free enterprise. Usually the hard line procommunist Left of the ALP contains and conceals its ultra-socialist ambitions. In recent times we have seen Labor leaders, such as the former honourable member for Lalor, Dr Cairns, the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) and the present honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) flirting with the private sector, cuddling up to business and industry and murmuring softly: ‘We are your friends. We are not really against free enterprise. We are not really socialists. You can trust us’. I must say to private enterprise in Australia: ‘Do not be deceived, do not be misled, do not be seduced or you will be destroyed permanently and irrevocably. You would not kiss a cobra but that is what you will be doing if you even dialogue with these doctrinaire socialists’.
Is it not a tragedy for Australia that today the Australian Labor Party has moved further to the Left than ever before in its history? That meansand I am forced to say it- that it is now closer to doctrinaire communism under the present Leader of the Opposition than it has ever been in the history of this country. Do honourable members think that people like Ben Chifley and John Curtin could have lived with these left wing trendies? Is it thought for one moment that they would have tolerated the plans that these people have to destroy Australia? I rely on the passages quoted by my colleague the honourable member for St George. I also want to quote from an article by Patrick O’Brien which was published in the September issue of Quadrant. I repeat that the report to which the honourable member for St George referred is the report of a national committee. It is a discussion paper of very great significance to the Australian Labor Party. What was it that Patrick O’Brien had to say about the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett), who was the secretary of that national committee of inquiry? He said:
The most recent proposal for centralisation of political power in Australia has come from Dr Neil Blewett, formerly Professor of Political Theory at Flinders University and now Labor MHR for the South Australian seat of Bonython.
These words are important- was commissioned by the Australian Labor Party to write up the findings of the Party’s investigative report on its structures and policies his views must be credited with serious, critical attention by both students and practitioners of Australian politics.
This is all the more so since Dr Blewett ‘s strategy for centralisation of political power is one of the most illiberal and draconian so far advanced by a Labor spokesman- even more challenging than the schemes of Maurice Blackburn and his colleagues. What Dr Blewett advocates is in fact untrammelled power to central government. His arguments can be summarised in one phrase: ‘All power to the Canberra Soviet’.
Those are very strong words but they are words which must be taken seriously because the implications are serious.
-That is quite so. Let me quote from the discussion paper so that the people of Australia will know exactly what is in the mind of the honourable member for Bonython and the pro-communist left wing socialists within the Australian Labor Party. He said:
State intervention must therefore be of a different nature than just organising capital more efficiently.
The next words are vital. He continued:
Its intervention needs to be of the nature whereby major private firms are taken into public ownership and investment expenditure decisions in those firms made from that position- that is, the position of public ownership.
My colleague the honourable member for St George referred to a list of 100 companies in Australia which could be affected by such a policy. I look with concern to the people of Tasmania because no fewer than four of those 100 companies would comprise between them the main bulk of the private enterprise employment in Tasmania. Where would Tasmania stand if EZ Industries Ltd were to be socialised?
Government members interjecting-
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The honourable member for Denison is quite capable of delivering his speech without the assistance of honourable members on my right. I ask them to remain silent.
-Where would Tasmania stand if EZ Industries Ltd were to be nationalised, if Renison Bell were to be nationalised or if Consolidated Gold Fields Australia Ltd were to be nationalised? I welcome the presence in the chamber of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom), who is a great fighter for the electorate of Braddon and the people of the west coast of Tasmania. Where would we stand if Cadbury Schweppes Pty Ltd were to be nationalised? It is not just a matter of socialised chocolates. We are talking about the jobs of over 1,000 Tasmanians. This is the sort of thing that the people of Tasmania should realise. Last week the Leader of the Opposition and the honourable member for Blaxland made mealy-mouth comments in Tasmania, such as: ‘We love you. We have remembered you after 1975 and 1977 and we have come down to tell you that we are going to give Tasmania a good deal. We will keep Mt Lyell going. We will continue the support’. What did the honourable member for Blaxland say? With a most incredible slip of the tongue he said: We will do it for clearly political purposes’. It is unbelievable that he should say such a thing. The real situation is, of course, that what he said, which is recorded on tape, completely and absolutely cuts across everything he said today.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented by the honourable member for Denison on that issue. Could I make a brief point?
-Order! The honourable member for Blaxland will remain seated. I will give him the opportunity to address the Chair on a subsequent occasion.
– I contend that it is impossible to misrepresent the honourable member. Nevertheless, may I continue. The honourable member is bound by the platform of his Party, which states:
Public enterprise is particularly to be established or extended in the fields of banking, consumer affairs, insurance, finance, marketing, housing, stevedoring, transport and in areas of social monopoly.
Just about everything is included except the Women’s Electoral Lobby. I wonder why his Party did not have an idea about socialising that body?
The honourable member for Blaxland cannot go to Tasmania, South Australia or anywhere else in Australia now and pretend that he is the friend of private enterprise. He has exposed himself today as a man who is now an unashamed prisoner of the Left. He has been taken over by the left wing trendies. He is no longer the white hope of the Right. The honourable member, in his speech today, gave the game away for the decent members of his party, the few remaining men who are not prepared to go along with the socialism nonsense. The House and the nation are indebted to the honourable member for St George for bringing this important matter before the national Parliament today.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I have been misrepresented. I said clearly last November, before the last election, that we would continue to support the underwriting of the operating deficit of the Mt Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd. I said there was a clear political reason in maintaining the mine.
What was meant by the words ‘political reason’ was that there was a need to maintain the mine at Mr Lyell as the employment base for the Queenstown region and the north-west region of Tasmania. That is the clear intent of the sentence. The honourable member knows that. That is the way it reads. The honourable member chose to misrepresent me because he is worried about our intervention in Tasmania.
-Order! The honourable member for Blaxland will resume his seat.
-There is really nothing to reply to in respect of what has been said by the two very reactionary spokesmen who have been put forward today by the Government to speak on this issue. The Government has put forward the two most right wing back bench members whom it could put forward with the exception of the honourable member for Swan (Mr Martyr), who obviously has a sore throat. It just shows how bankrupt the Government is when it has to put forward these two people, who will stand exposed by what I say.
Firstly, let me deal with the remarks of the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman), who has now become Australia’s answer to Martha Mitchell. He talked about the role of the Australian Government, what it should do and how badly off the employees of the major firms in Tasmania would be if the Australian Government were to interfere too much. He asked what would happen to the mining project at Mt Lyell. All back bench members of the Government know what would happen to the mining project at Mt Lyell but for the intervention on a massive scale of the Australian Government. Honourable members opposite had a debate in their party room just a few weeks ago as to whether the Government should inject funds into the Mt Lyell project to keep it viable. The Australian Labor Party was faced with the very same proposition in its term of government. This is now a subject for debate and it ought to be welcomed as such by the people of Australia. Should the Australian Government pump millions and millions of dollars into companies that could otherwise not stand up without taking some equity in those companies? During our period in government we were told that the paper mills in Tasmania would collapse unless a special grant of several million dollars were given to the Tasmanian Government to bolster the paper mills. That grant was made. But again I put it to you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it right for the Government of Australia to use taxpayers’ money to specifically help companies without the
Australian Government getting any equity in those companies? Why should not a matter like that be debated?
The honourable member for Denison said that members of the Opposition would not say anything about South Australia because the honourable member for Kingston (Mr Chapman) said that we are doing the wrong thing by Chrysler Australia Ltd. It might be of interest to both the honourable member for Denison and the honourable member for Kingston, who obviously are not au fait with what will happen in Cabinet next Monday, that Chrysler will be fined between $6m to $ 1 1 m. Who is crippling Chrysler now? That is the sort of fine that will be imposed on Chrysler as a result of a decision that will be taken in Cabinet next Monday because of pressure being brought to bear on this Government by the two major motor car manufacturers- Ford Australia Ltd and General Motors-Holdens’ Pty Ltd. I say to honourable members opposite: Do not waste your time talking poppycock about what funds the Government uses to bolster up failing companies. They should have a thought for what the Government is doing about destroying employment in South Australia.
– You are just a golliwog, Mick.
-It is interesting that the Australian Labor Party is the only Party in Australia that presents documented -
-I ask the honourable member to withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw.
– I did not hear the remark so I do not object to it. It is true that the Australian Labor Party is the only Party that presents documentation for any sort of decent,” rational debate in this country and about where we are going. The honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) and the honourable member for Denison speak in this Parliament as if they were speaking in the 1950s when we had full employment, when companies were operating with a certain degree of protection in the manufacturing area, when the tertiary industries were growing rapidly and when we were not faced with any of the massive structural problems we are faced with today. The Australian Labor Party got together a group of people and asked those people to present the Party with an alternative viewsomething that we could debate in this country and that is available even for members of the Liberal Party to look at and debate to see whether we cannot overcome these problems. The honourable member for St George and the honourable member for Denison take a lot more interest in this subject, although they have a crazy approach to it, than they did last night when they walked out of the chamber like a couple of cowards and did not vote with us to stop pensions being indexed annually instead of twice annually.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to raise a point of order.
-That gets them on their feet.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member for Port Adelaide will resume his seat. The honourable member for Denison is raising a point of order.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I call for a withdrawal of that last allegation. I refute the suggestion that I am or ever have been a coward. I suggest that the imputation made against the honourable member for St George is completely and absolutely dishonourable. The honourable member for Port Adelaide should have the courage to stand up and do things for Australia, and fight overseas as the honourable member for St George has done.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I withdraw the remark.
-Order ! Both honourable members will resume their seats. The honourable member for Port Adelaide has withdrawn the remark. The withdrawal is accepted.
-As I said, the honourable member for St George and the honourable member for Denison were not so vocal last night when, by a massive Government majority vote, $3 a week was taken off every Australian pensioner. But these honourable members this morning talk all this poppycock. I say to them: Tell the children who are sitting in the Gallery now what will happen to their older brothers and sisters and their older friends next year when they leave their educational institutions. One in four school leavers between the ages of 15 and 19 years will be unemployed because the Government says that we must continue in the old style of leaving things as they are. If the Australian Government invested in new industries, if the Australian Government had the resources to establish industries to put people to work, the Australian Labor Party would stand right behind that principle. We do not run away from the fact that the Australian Government might have to intervene in the economy to put people to work. What rubbish honourable members opposite speak about leaving companies alone. If the Government just made one decision, we could dismantle almost every manufacturing industry in this country. If we dismantled the Industries Assistance Commission, which is the Government mechanism by which massive protection is given to manufacturing industry in this country, we would dismantle industries that protect 20 per cent of the work force. The Australian Government is the major mechanism of putting people to work in this country. Yet, honourable members opposite say: ‘Let us keep out of it. Let us not debate these issues. Let us see unemployment grow. Let us see poverty grow. There is no other alternative. There is nothing that we can do’.
But when the leaders of the major Western countries met several months ago in Europe the first thing they spoke about was how to get people back to work. If that means government institutions being used, if it means supplementary government grants being provided to industry or if it means government equity in industry, those things will have to be done. The Labor Party will not stand idly by and watch thousands and thousands more young people in this country be placed in dole queues and be called, as honourable members opposite call them, ‘dole bludgers’. That is their name for young people who cannot get jobs in Australia and it reflects their mental attitude to people who cannot get employment. Members of the Liberal and National Country parties call them dole bludgers. Why do not honourable members opposite tell these people that. Last week this document became available -
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to raise a point of order. I have never used that term in my life. I object to it.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! There is no point of order. I call the honourable member for Port Adelaide.
– This document became available last week. The honourable member for St George almost had an orgasm. He said: ‘Look at this; this will ruin the Wran Government. Wran is going to nationalise all the industries of New South Wales’. There was a massive swing in the voting last Saturday towards the Wran Government. It was the most massive swing that any government has ever received in Australian history. People took no notice of the remarks of the honourable member for St George. They treated the remarks for what they were. This matter is suggested as one for debate. That is how members of the Liberal Party, if they had any brains or any decency, should be treating the matter. But they are not interested in it.
Let us look at the business enterprises of honourable members who sit opposite on the front bench. They are involved in land dealings and with undertakers. There are allegations of bribing candidates and allegations of bribing electoral commissioners. Those are the sorts of business undertakings that honourable members on the front bench of their Party are used to. But the two most reactionary right wing people on the back bench rose in this debate and said that the Australian Labor Party tomorrow will nationalise Grace Brothers, General Motors Holdens’ Pty Ltd or some other company. The Australian Labor Party when next in office will have a duty to clear up the mess that has been created in Australia.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to the state of the House.
-You are out of your seat. The Government has a duty to keep the House going. If the Government cannot keep the House going -
-Order! The honourable member for Port Adelaide will resume his seat.
– The honourable member is out of his seat.
-Order! The honourable member will resume bis seat. Will you resume your seat?
-He is out of his seat.
-Do I have to take action?
-He is out of his seat.
– Will the honourable member resume his seat?
– The honourable member cannot call a quorum when he is out of his seat.
– If the honourable member does not resume his seat I will take action against him.
-He is out of his seat.
– I name the honourable member for Port Adelaide.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to raise a point of order.
– He is back in his seat now.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, you recognised the honourable member for Isaacs when he was out of his seat. On that basis, the point raised by the honourable member for Port Adelaide is a reasonable one.
– There is no point of order. The point I make is that the honourable member for Port Adelaide refused to resume his seat when I repeatedly asked him to do so.
– If the honourable member for Port Adelaide apologises, I am sure that would serve the purposes of the House and a motion would not need to be put.
– I apologise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I draw your attention to the fact that the honourable member for Isaacs -
– I require an unqualified apology. Does the honourable member apologise unqualifiedly?
-I apologise unqualifiedly. What about my time?
– The honourable member will resume his seat. I accept his apology. The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, I claim to have been misrepresented on two counts by the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young). Firstly, he stated, in effect, that I had made public comment on that report prior to the last State election. I made no public comment on that report prior to the last State election. Secondly, he stated that I had failed to oppose the Government’s measure last night in regard to pensions. The imputation was clear that I had supported the Government. That is not so. It is quite clear that I -
– You are a gutless wonder.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! I ask the honourable member for Prospect to withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw.
– I ask him to stand up and withdraw properly.
- Hansard shows the true position-
-Do you withdraw the remark unqualifiedly?
– I withdraw.
– I stand by my comments of last night which appear in Hansard. I did not support the Government and I did not vote on the measures last night. I did not support the
Government in relation to pensions. I explained to the House -
– You little squirt.
-Order! The honourable member for Prospect will withdraw that remark and stand up when doing so.
-I explained to these ill-mannered people last night that as I am elected as a Liberal I would not vote with them but that I would not support the Government and I absented myself from the chamber.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable gentleman claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker. The honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) claimed that I was not, to use his term, au fait with what was going to happen in Cabinet next Monday with regard to the motor industry.
– On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, these are not personal explanations. They are just extensions of the debate. You should not permit them as personal explanations.
-There is no substance to the point of order. As far as I can tell at this stage, it is a personal explanation.
– It is definitely a personal explanation, Mr Deputy Speaker. In fact I am very much, once again to use the term of the honourable member for Port Adelaide, au fait with what the Government is currently discussing with regard to the motor industry.
-The honourable member will come to the point of the misrepresentation.
– I have been very active in my representations on behalf of Chrysler Australia Ltd concerning its capacity to meet the 85 per cent content requirement -
-Order! The honourable member will point out where he has been misrepresented.
– I have been misrepresented in that I have been actively promoting the interests of Chrysler. The honourable member for Port Adelaide -
-The honourable member will resume his seat.
Mr HODGMAN (Denison)-Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable gentleman claim to have been misrepresented?
– I do. I will be very brief. The honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) imputed that I, along with the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil), had in fact supported the Government on the measures last night. As Hansard will reveal, I made it quite clear that I would not support any amendment with respect to pensioners. I deliberately absented myself from the chamber.
-Order! The discussion is now concluded.
Consideration resumed from 1 1 October.
Clauses 1 to 4- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clauses 5 and 6- by leave- taken together.
– I rise to speak against clauses 5 and 6, which of course are the clauses which involve the annual indexation of pensions. I think that there are three major reasons why members on the other side of the House should oppose this particular provision, that is, the provision to reduce pension adjustments from twice yearly to once yearly. Firstly, it would, on the definition offered by the Leader of the Liberal Party, be introducing politics back into pensions. Secondly, it would clearly flout the pledges made by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and others during the election campaigns of 1975 and 1977. Thirdly, if those political reasons are not sufficient, one might appeal to the social conscience of honourable members on both sides of the chamber. Let me take each of those arguments in turn.
First of all, it was, of course, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman), whose tongue is a somewhat undisciplined instrument, who said last night that the Australian Labor Party was playing politics with pensioners. I would point to the irrefutable argument of his own leader, who in March 1977 said:
We are committed to taking politics out of pension increases by giving automatic increases in Une with price rises twice a year.
The definition of the Prime Minister of ‘taking politics out of pension increases’ was a commitment to twice-yearly adjustments. Therefore, if honourable members opposite vote for this provision, then by the definition of their own leader they will be reintroducing politics into the pension field. That is the first point.
Secondly, there is no need at this stage in the debate to quote statements by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle), by the Prime Minister himself or innumerable Liberal speakers during the 1975 and 1977 election campaigns concerning their commitment to twiceyearly adjustments. It is true that of their phrases, particularly those of the Prime Minister, one could use a kind of subtle sophistry and say: Well, he did not quite commit himself to doing that forever. ‘ But the clear implication given to pensioners throughout last year was that twiceyearly adjustments of pensions would continue. That pledge will be broken if Government supporters vote for clauses 5 and 6.
Finally, and this is the most important consideration, is the question of social justice in these matters. I do not believe that the social conscience of the Party opposite is as yet completely attenuated. To introduce annual indexation for pensions is to strike at the real value of the pension. Instead of trailing some four months behind the consumer price index, as they do at the moment, pensioners will be trailing some 16 months behind. For much of the year that will certainly reduce the real value of the pension.
It has been presented to us as a kind of feeble excuse, a kind of subterfuge, that inflation gains by the Government now justify this rather miserly treatment of the pensioner. There is nothing in the history of twice-yearly adjustments to justify the claim that somehow it is related to inflation or to inflation gains. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) pointed out last night, the McMahon Government gave twice-yearly increases in 1971 and 1972 without reference to inflation at a time when the inflation rate was less than that of today. Mr McMahon, Mr Snedden and Mr Fraser, when Leaders of the Opposition, pledged in each election twiceyearly adjustments, again without reference to inflation. If the matter should still be a matter of debate the question was asked in the Senate, I think two weeks ago, of the Minister for Social Security whether twice-yearly indexation had ever been dependent on the rate of inflation. The Minister for Social Security said quite clearly that the policy itself and the introduction of that policy into legislation made no such qualification. So that kind of argument is simply a subterfuge.
I say seriously to all honourable members opposite that if they want to follow their leader and not reintroduce politics into pensions, they should vote against clauses 5 and 6. If they intend to adhere to at least the understanding that pensioners had in 1977, given the series of statements made during that year by Liberal leaders, again they will vote against these clauses. We are not asking for more for the pensioners. We recognise, and I think the pensioners recognise, that the economic situation is an extremely difficult one. All we are asking is that the value of their pensions be maintained.
Sitting suspended from 12.59 to 2.15 p.m.
– I was undecided about whether to say a few words today on this legislation, but I decided to do so in view of some of the remarks that have been made by Opposition members. Honourable members will recall that last week I was very specific in what I said. I said that I opposed my Government in its decision to index pensions on an annual basis. I said also- I was very specific about this-that I was against the means testing of pension increases in relation to people over’ the age of 70 years. There was no beating around the bush on my part. I was very specific in what I said. I must say that I have been very annoyed at some of the occurrences over the last week.
As a member of the Liberal Party- I will always be a member of the Liberal Party- I firmly believe that when I have something to say I am entitled to say it as an individual. On the other hand, Opposition members do not have that right or that opportunity. They are governed by the Caucus. When they come into this chamber they know dashed well what they have to do. They know that they cannot vote in any way other than that determined by the Caucus. I take exception to that. I said last week that it is very easy to cross the floor and vote with the Opposition. There is nothing to it. I have done it before and I can do it again. I thought that the Opposition was going to the extreme when its members said that one of my colleagues was cowardly and that another did not have the fortitude to stand up for what he thought was right. Those two honourable members do have the fortitude to stand by their convictions. Last night they said that they disagreed with what the Government was doing.
– But did nothing about it.
-Just wait a minute. They said that they disagreed with what the Government was doing. They said that they would not vote for the Government. They walked out of the chamber when the vote was taken. They are firmly entitled to do that, just as I did.
– Order! For the benefit of the honourable member for Franklin, the Committee is considering clauses 5 and 6 of the Bill. To this stage I have not been able to establish the relevance of the remarks of the honourable member. I require him to address himself to clauses 5 and 6.
– With the greatest of respect, Mr Chairman, I am addressing myself to clause 4. You have given the Opposition the opportunity to make remarks against my colleagues and friends.
-Order! The Committee is considering clauses S and 6.
-I beg your pardon, Mr Chairman, I am speaking to clause 6. 1 am pointing out that we are establishing the principle of Opposition members being able to say what they like about my colleagues. Apparently they can say that my colleagues do not have the fortitude to vote and that they do not have the intestines to do this and to do that. In the whole history of the Labor Party only one of its members has had the fortitude, if! can use that word, to walk across to this side of the chamber. I only hope that people all over Australia are listening today and are comprehending that the mere act of walking across the floor to vote means nothing. I could do it. Honourable members know dashed well that I could do it. I will defy anyone who says that I do not have the fortitude to do it. No one can say that I have not because honourable members know dashed well that I have. Let us forget about that and let honourable members opposite stop calling my colleagues cowards.
– They are.
-The honourable member knows that is not true. Let us forget about that. I could talk about the years between 1972 and 1 975 when the Labor Party ruined-
– I raise a point of order, Mr Chairman. Whilst we are always interested in the moral speeches of the honourable member for Franklin, the reality is that we are dealing with clauses 5 and 6 of the Bill.
-Order! Is the honourable member rising to a point of order?
– The point of order is that the honourable member for Franklin has not addressed himself to the clauses before the Committee.
– I have already drawn the attention of the honourable member for Franklin to the fact that the Committee is considering clauses 5 and 6. Whilst I do not challenge the sincerity of the sentiments he is expressing, in actual fact they are not related to the substance of the subject matter of the clauses.
-With the greatest of respect- I do respect you, Mr Chairman- I am trying to make the point that we are talking about the pensioners of Australia. We are being accused of not caring about those pensioners. In fact, we do care about them. Many of my colleagues are determined not to vote for this legislation. It is their intention to leave the chamber purely and simply because the Opposition has already accused them of being cowards and of not having the fortitude to stand up and be counted. I am making the point that crossing the floor means nothing, because, with the exception of only one member of the Labor Party who was expelled from that party, no Labor member has ever had the fortitude to cross the floor. I want to continue on this line because it is important that I get this point across.
-Order! The honourable member for Franklin is not addressing himself to the clauses before the Committee. He is free to point out the reasons why he feels bound to act in the way that he has foreshadowed, but he must relate his remarks to the clauses before the Committee.
-With the greatest respect to you, Mr Chairman, I apologise. It is the intention of the Government to index pensions 12- monthly. Many members of the Liberal Party have said in the party room, in public and in this Parliament that they disagree with that proposal. We do not intend to let the matter rest here. We will continue to fight it. But I object to the remarks that were made from the Opposition side this morning in reference to the fact that two of my colleagues walked out of the chamber and did not vote on the legislation. It was said that that action was cowardly. It was said that they did not have the fortitude to stand up and be counted. I am making the point as strongly as I can that no Opposition member has ever crossed the floor, so honourable members opposite should not try to say that members on this side of the chamber do not have courage or fortitude.
-Order! The honourable member for Franklin is now engaging in tedious repetition. I require him to resume his seat. I call the honourable member for Cunningham.
-Having listened to the diatribe from the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) who was pontificating on his lack of intestinal fortitude, I say that it is no wonder -
– I raise a point of order.
– Order! I request the honourable member for Cunningham to withdraw that statement.
– And withdraw it smartly, too.
– Order! The honourable member for Franklin is out of order. He will resume his seat. I call on the honourable member for Cunningham to withdraw the statement.
-In deference to you, Mr Chairman, I withdraw it, even though I do consider that he was pontificating. Having listened to the remarks of the honourable member, I say that it is no wonder that the pensioners, the mothers of children who earn income and the unemployed in New South Wales registered a vote against the Federal Government at last Saturday’s State election. No doubt we will see a similar result in Victoria soon. I believe that in 1980 -
– Order! I draw the attention of the honourable member for Cunningham to the remarks I made a little earlier to the honourable member for Franklin. I require the honourable member to address himself to the features of clauses5 and 6 of the Bill.
-I am about to do that, Mr Chairman. With regard to what the Government has done to pensioners, I just wanted to say that I believe that in 1 980, pensioners will -
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) put:
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman-Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That clauses5 and 6 be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman-Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause 7 (Statement of income to be furnished when required).
-I emphasise to the Committee the reason why we have now decided to take each clause individually. An agreement was reached-
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) proposed:
That the question be now put.
– An agreement was reached with the Minister at the table that we would have an intelligent and rational discussion.
– The honourable member for Bendigo is behaving in a loutish fashion. The Whip is behaving in a loutish fashion.
– Order! The honourable member for Prospect will resume his seat.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman-Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 8 (Receipt of income to be notified).
-I enter this debate with some concern and some regret. I am concerned about the way we are dealing with a piece of legislation which affects the living standards of hundreds of thousands of Australian citizens, all of whom through no fault of their own are living at the lower end of the socio-economic scale. Those living standards are being determined by the legislation with which this Parliament has been dealing in an almost cavalier and reckless manner, both last night and today. The cavalier approach of the Government would have been apparent to any Australian citizen who walked into this chamber last night. Any proper examination of the Hansard will show that in considering this matter the Parliament has nothing to be proud of and, even worse, the Government has nothing to be proud of. One of the reasons why a restive sense has been prevailing in this chamber since this Bill was introduced is the unique situation in which the Government finds itself. The Government has introduced a major piece of social legislation which, as I have said, affects the living conditions of hundreds of thousands of Australian citizens and all it can do is list three speakers- and each of those speakers spoke against the legislation.
– Order! The honourable member for Melbourne Ports will be fully aware that he is not addressing himself particularly to clause 8.
- Mr Chairman, I take a point of order.
-I realise that, sir, but I am bound to say in my defence and with deference to you- and I will come to clause 8- that -
– I require the honourable member to do so immediately. However, I ask the honourable member to resume his seat temporarily. A point of order has been taken.
- Mr Chairman, my point of order is that it is not correct to say that those three speakers spoke against the Bill. The honourable member for Darling Downs spoke in favour of it.
– Order! There is no point of order. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports will address himself to clause 8.
- Mr Chairman, one must look at clause 8 in terms of the general pattern and principle it is endorsing. Clause 8 stands as pan of that general pattern and that general principle which has been enunciated right throughout the Bill and which limits the existing standards and conditions of those who are receiving social welfare payments.
Let us look at that clause first of all in the broad. By ‘in the broad ‘ I mean by way of the political morality which is contained within it. The fact is that in respect of this clause, as with all the other major clauses of this Bill, the Government has broken its convenant with the Australian people. Let us examine the words of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in respect of his attitude towards pension payments generally. On 5 April 1977, the Prime Minister was quoted as saying:
The Fraser Government will continue to exempt pensioners over 70 from any means test.
The report further stated:
Mr Fraser told a questioner that pensioners over 70 were quite happy and secure’ in not being forced to undergo a means test to qualify for a pension.
The Prime Minister was also quoted as saying:
I don’t think we can really get back to the situation where the pension is means-tested over 70.
Let us look at what the Minister for Social Security, the Hon. Margaret Guilfoyle, the working girl’s ‘Margaret Thatcher’, had to say. She said:
I’ve had lots of people say to me ‘You Ve given us dignity because you don’t argue about our rises every six months’.
The reality is that in an election situation the Prime Minister and his responsible Ministers committed every honourable member opposite clearly and unequivocally to the view that if this Government were to be re-elected every pensioner in Australia, no matter what was the level of the pension or the nature of it, would not have his situation made worse. There was a clear and binding covenant that their situation would not be made worse. It is as simple as that. I believe the reason for the restiveness in the chamber, the reason that honourable members on the other side of the chamber have been leaping up to assert matters of conscience and matters of liberty and have been coming into and out of the chamber as though they were caught in a revolving door at Myers, is that there are men of honour on the other side of the chamber, that there are men who regard any contract as being a binding moral obligation. If in the normal course of their commercial and daily lives they say that they are going to buy a car from a gentleman down the street and pay him $500 for it and then they shake hands on the deal their word is their bond.
– I challenge you to name any one of them.
-There are a few who operate at that level, at a personal level. But when it comes to operating at a public level, as far as they are concerned it is perfectly all right for the
Prime Minister of this country to make a statement such as that which he made on 17 July 1976 when he said:
Our Government is a Government of social reform.
The Prime Minister also said in his policy speech:
We stand by our commitment to abolish the means test on pensions.
That was a covenant, an invitation to vote for every one of the honourable gentlemen opposite. The reason for the guilt that now emanates from across the chamber, the reason for the disorderliness that has taken place in the chamber, the reason for some young gentlemen suffering from acute cases of ‘Wranitis’ -
-Order! The honourable member will realise that he is straying rather far from clause 8.
- Mr Chairman, that is only because this Government has tried to gag thus legislation. It has used the guillotine in this place so that the views of pensioners in my electorate and in other electorates throughout the Commonwealth cannot be put.
-Order! That may or may not be the case, but, as the honourable member will appreciate, it is not the responsibility of the Chair to concern itself with those particular issues.
- Mr Chairman, the way I put my argument on this matter is simply this: Clause 8 is part of a whole series of clauses, a number of which have been dealt with and some of which have yet to be dealt with and which, taken together, form part of a total philosphy, a total approach on the part of this Government, which assertion has not been contradicted by honourable members on the other side of the chamber. I am happy to dwell at much length on the implications of clause 8, but when one puts clause 8 and clause 9 together the net result is the same. That result is to put the burden on those people in this community who are least able to protect themselves and who, in an inflationary situation, are most deserving of the protection and the sympathy of this Government. It is these people who are being asked to carry the bag, who are being asked to make sacrifices for the economic incompetence of this Government. It does not matter how I argue the merits or demerits of clause 8. It is a pretty silly exercise when the Opposition, almost to a man, has been gagged. What we are now being told is: ‘Don’t look at the principle. Don’t look at the morality. Look at the clause’. If we look at the clause we see that it is a damnable clause, that it is part of a damnable piece of legislation and all the nonsense and all the procedures that we adopt will not make it any better. This Government has embarked upon a set of procedures in this Parliament which are a disgrace to the Westminster system, a disgrace to this Parliament and a disgrace to this Government. True it is that a few of the younger back bench members, for whatever motive- and I do not question it- have tried to dissociate themselves from the Government on this issue, but what sort of government do we have when we have legislation like this before the chamber, and I am talking about clause 8 because it is no better than the rest of the Bill, and not one member of the Government will come forth to do battle for this iniquitous, immoral and rotten piece of legislation?
– I want to put the record straight in respect of clause 8, which is consequent upon clause 5. It provides for an obligation on pensioners to notify the receipt of income and any other changes in circumstances and is extended to age pensioners aged 70 years and over. What the clause will do will be to make sure that the age pension is going to those in greatest need. For that, as a member of this Government, I make no apology.
The provisions of this Bill and the social welfare policy provide for an expenditure of $6, 602m this financial year, which is an increase of $399m over that of the previous year- a record expenditure.
– But it is mainly for unemployment benefits, isn’t it?
– Unemployment benefits are the ones that have increased.
-Indeed not. We are not talking about unemployment benefits. If the honourable member for Prospect wants to add $ 1,000m to that he can. One then gets to the figure of $7,000m, being the total appropriation for social security this financial year.
I think it is absolute rubbish to talk about the Government applying a means test, if you like. This country has been through a very serious economic situation- let nobody deny that- and its origins lie right with the Australian Labor Party when it was in government. There is not the slightest doubt about that. This Government is attempting to make sure that the resources available to it are going to those in greatest need. To do otherwise when trying to frame the Budget would have been gross irresponsibility. Speaking on behalf of the Government, for that we make no apology.
-The explanation given by the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) does not really sit too well within the Committee. What we have been talking about and what we have been trying to suggest is that the people in the electorate of Batman, a large number of whom have low incomes, a considerable number of whom are social service beneficiaries and many of whom are migrants with families that are divided between Australia and countries thousands of miles away, are not now to receive, under the terms of this Budget, the treatment which was promised by this Government prior to the election. These people should know with some certainty that when a Party goes to an election- an election which it has brought on itself- with firm policies and gives firm assurances on what it plans as a government, assurances such as it gave to Mrs Wilson of the Preston Combined Pensioners Association when it told her that she and the members of that Association could expect to have their pensions indexed twice yearly and that there would not be a means test introduced for people over the age of 70 -
-I am addressing -
– Order! The honourable member for Batman will resume his seat for the moment. The Committee has elected to discuss the Bill clause by clause.
– I am discussing clause 8.
– It is not evident to the Chair that the honourable member for Batman is directing his remarks to clause 8 which refers to amending a paragraph to include the words ‘is not a permanently blind person’. If the honourable member wishes, he may proceed to address his remarks to clause 8.
– Clause 8, as I understand it and as I understood the Minister’s explanation, relates to the requirement for people to supply income statements. This relates to social service beneficiaries such as those to whom I have been referring. The point that I have been endeavouring to make is that people in the electorate of Batman who will be required to supply that information in accordance with the provisions laid down are having a condition placed on them in a context different from that which they had expected, given the promises of the Government in the previous election campaign. It seems to me that in this clause the Government is saying that people receiving a certain benefit will be required to supply certain information. When the Government enters into a contract with people, such as I think is indicated in this clause, then the people ought to be able to expect that that contract should be within the framework of the Government’s election promises. The Government should stick to its promises. When one reflects upon this piece of legislation one has to say, as one has to say in relation to so many of its clauses- this is as applicable to this clause as to any other clause- that the Government is guilty of a kind of treachery.
We have a farcical situation. We on the Opposition side know that this is unpopular legislation. We know that Government members are divided on it. It is being forced through this place in this way in order to prevent the people affected by it being aware of and hearing the debate and being able to see the divisions which have appeared, such as we saw when the attempt was made to guillotine this legislation through the chamber. Clause 8 is important insofar as it at least points to the fact that the Government is now requiring of the people something which is radically different from that which they could have expected in view of what was said in the election campaign just a few months ago.
-Clause 8 excludes blind pensioners over the age of 70 from the provisions of clause 5, as I understand it. The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) argued during his second reading speech that the decision to freeze pensions in accordance with the means test for pensioners over the age of 70 was insignificant. He should not have frozen them for any pensioners over the age of 70. He should not have just included permanently blind pensioners in relation to the indexing of pensions. He said this would only reduce pensions for single pensioners by 50c a week in the dollar for income above $20 and by 25c a week for every dollar earned above $34.50 by married couples. If the amount involved is so insignificant, according to the Minister for Health, why did he do this in the first place? Why did he renege on yet another election promise? Clauses 5 to 8 attack all pensioners and the permanently blind. In this legislation we can see the Government’s viciousness in all its horror. It proposes to index pensions on 1 November for permanently blind pensioners for the year ending 30 June last. This means that pensioners, including blind pensioners- all pensioners for that matter- must now wait up to 16 months for their meagre catch-up indexation payments.
At the very least, single blind pensioners will be robbed of a total of $55 because of the move to yearly indexation and a married blind pensioner couple will be robbed of $93. That is what those pensioners should have received for the last half of the year prior to 1 November 1979. We in the Opposition believe that pension benefits, including those for the permanently blind, should be adjusted quarterly at the first pay-day after the consumer price index figures are announced. The Government, rather than give hand-outs to people on $60,000 or $80,000 a year like the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), should allow pensioners to spend a Utile more!
-I just want to speak very briefly, without any disrespect to the two previous speakers, the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe) and the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West), whose sincerity I do not doubt but whose comments have been totally inaccurate in respect of clause 8, in support of what the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has said. The proposed amendment contained in clause 8 is not, with respect, a matter of substance. It is a consequential amendment. Although I was outside the chamber, I heard many of the remarks of the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding), and I do not doubt his sincerity on the matter. This amendment is consequential upon the passage of clause 5 and does very little except to amend slightly, by broadening the terminology, something which has been the law of this country under the Liberal and Labor governments for over 30 years, that is, the simple proposition that social service benefit recipients are duty bound to notify income and changes of income. Although I do not doubt the sincerity of the speakers, I repeat that their remarks were misdirected. They do not apply to clause 8, which is a consequential drafting amendment only.
– I do not want to detain the Committee, but I would just like to explain to the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgson) what is happening. Because the debate on clauses 5 and 6 was gagged we came to an agreement that we would have a more broadly based debate on clause 8, and I think that the Committee will probably appreciate that that is exactly what has happened. We have been able to get across our point of view and honourable members opposite have been able to put their point of view. I make the point that clauses 5 and 6 involve broken promises and that clause 8 is consequential to those broken promises. I am not saying that there are no arguments in favour of reintroducing a means test for pensioners over 70, but the fact that the Government has reintroduced it amounts to a broken promise. We removed the means test and the Government has now reintroduced it. The same applies to indexation being changed from sixmonthly to yearly indexation. The Government introduced six-monthly indexation in 1976 and is now changing it to yearly indexation. Yearly indexation represents a significant loss of income for a group in the community that can ill afford it. Whatever honourable members opposite say about the group that will not be getting any money because they will not qualify under the means test, they cannot say that the second group is not disadvantaged. Although they qualify under the means test they will be receiving their increases in November of each year based on consumer price index increases between June and the previous June so that by the time they get their increases some 16 months will have elapsed. That is what we are objecting to. Whilst the Government is justifying its actions on the basis of fighting inflation. I reiterate what I said in my speech at the second reading stage, I certainly do not consider it fair, nor does the Opposition, that that burden should be placed on that particular group in the community. It is interesting to note, as everybody in this chamber has noted today, that although many members on the Government side voted in favour of the changes, none of them are prepared to justify them. I exclude the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), whose job it is to justify them and who is well paid for doing so. I do not blame him for doing so but others on the Government side are also reasonably well paid. Why do they not justify it?
– I want to respond to the remarks about indexation. If the inflation rate were still at the level it was at when the Fraser Government assumed office I think that the proposition of the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) that there should be quarterly indexation would be very valid. If the inflation rate were 14 per cent, 15 per cent or 16 per cent, out of sheer equity it would be absolutely imperative to have quarterly indexation, which did not occur in the time when honourable members opposite were in government. However, since then the rate of inflation has dropped. Last year’s inflation rate was 7.2 per cent. The strategy of this Government is designed to bring the inflation rate down to 5 per cent or less, and in accordance with that objective it was felt that in present economic circumstances the impact of yearly indexation would not bear so heavily upon the people as it would had there been a higher inflation rate. I am sure that that is a matter of logic and I am positive that honourable members opposite would understand it.
Against that background I think that there is justification for altering the period between adjustments. I would hope to see inflation come down to far less than 5 per cent, to 2 per cent or 3 per cent; but in an inflationary situation it is the people on the lowest income level, the pensioners and people on fixed incomes, who are the greatest sufferers in the community. They are the people who suffered more than any other people in the Australian community during the Whitlam Government’s term of office.
– Very quickly I want to take up the point made by the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt). It is perfectly fair for the Government to say that indexation should take place only every 12 months- it could even make it every two years or three years- if it is looking at those groups in the community who are on high incomes. But when it is looking at low income groups it is unjust, harsh and oppressive to adjust pensions only every 12 months. Even if one took the most optimistic view of inflation, the reality is that over the course of the next 12 months prices will rise and, as they rise, the standard of living of those people relying on social welfare benefits will decrease. This was not the time to change that policy. With respect to the Minister, I do not believe that his argument holds any water at all.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 9 to 15- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 16 (Condition of grant of benefit).
– I would like the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) to explain to us the significance of the change that I read into Hansard last night. The relevant section of the principal Act as it will read after the passage of this clause is highly legalistic. We would like to hear the reason for the change.
– Clause 16 is a beneficial amendment in that it corrects a drafting error which was detected by the Department of Social Security and which had unintended effects. Without this amendment no person would be entitled by law to a supporting parent’s benefit unless- ‘unless’ is the key word in the existing section 83AAD- action for maintenance has been taken. The amendment will enable a supporting parent’s benefit to be granted if- the word ‘if is now the key word- the Director-General is satisfied that it is not reasonable to take such action.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 17 to 20- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clauses 2 1 to 23- by leave- taken together.
-Clauses 21 and 22 abolish maternity allowances and clause 23 abolishes family allowances for certain persons receiving benefits under prescribed educational schemes. The Opposition opposes the three clauses. The argument against clauses 2 1 and 22 is fairly obvious. The Government has decided to abolish maternity allowances just at a time when a significant number of Australian families will have to contribute towards medical expenses associated with confinements. After Medibank was introduced by the WhitlamHayden Government in 1975 it was possible for persons to be confined and hospitalised without charge. Now charges will again be involved, and those charges are significant.
I agree that to individual families $30 is not a huge amount. But when we take that in conjunction with the continuing reduction in the amount of money available to a family under the family allowance scheme as a result of the nonindexation of family allowances, there is a significant loss of spending money for the family. I speak in particular of young families which are faced with the burden of having an extra child. In this respect the Government’s decision seems to be particularly mean. I am surprised that members of the Government parties have not opposed this proposal to abolish the maternity allowance. The Opposition certainly opposes it.
Clause 23 seeks to abolish the payment of the family allowance for those students who are covered by certain prescribed education schemes. The six schemes are: The Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme; the Adult Secondary Education Assistance Scheme; the Pre-School Teacher Education Assistance Scheme; the Aboriginal Study Grants Scheme; the Commonwealth Teaching Service Scholarship Scheme; and the Post-Graduate Awards Scheme. The Opposition is opposing this part of the legislation because of what appears to be an anomaly. Parents of students have to qualify under a means test before those students can receive these benefits. Yet, these families will be unable to receive benefits in respect of the family allowance. The opposite is true in respect of the betteroff families. These families which do not qualify under the Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme, for example, will still receive the family allowance in respect of their children.
The question of means testing the family allowance was raised in another context in the Budget, and we all know that the Government changed its mind on the question of the abolition of the family allowance as far as the income of children is concerned. I think a fair bit of nonsense was talked about the scheme as proposed. As usually happens when an attempt is made to bring in a fairer scheme, attention is drawn to deserving cases such as widows. In this instance, the deserving case, are newsboys. We all know that there are other sections of the community in respect of which the Government would be quite reasonably justified in abolishing the family allowance. I refer to the case in which the child is being used as part of a tax avoidance scheme and has significant income via a family trust or some othersimilarmethod.Itisverydifficulttojustify the payment of the family allowance to such families. I certainly hope the Government will continue to look for some fairer method of means testing the family allowance. What we are concerned with here is just the opposite. I again emphasise the fact that we are dealing with the abolition of the family allowance in the case of those families which have already passed a means test. However, there will be no abolition of the family allowance in the case of other families whose children are attending tertiary institutions up to the age of 25 years. The Opposition will therefore oppose all three clauses.
-My remarks will be very brief. Last night I indicated my attitude with respect to the maternity allowcance and the opposition I feel as a matter of conscience with respect to clause 23. However, I want to say in fairness to the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) who is at the table and who has shown himself to be remarkably sensitive and responsive to the needs of the community, that I believe he more than perhaps any other Minister would watch closely the impact of the alteration with respect to the family allowance scheme on young persons who are qualifying for assistance under education schemes. I do not think it is any shame on anyone that there can be a genuine difference of opinion with respect to this matter. I am more confident than perhaps I would be in some other cases that in this instance the Minister at the table will monitor the impact of this decision. It is not in my view a matter which would be regarded as a closed book.
I make these remarks quite genuinely because I did not have an opportunity last night, due to circumstances for which I suppose I may have been partly responsible, to pay a compliment to the Minister at the table. I take the opportunity in the same spirit as did the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) to debate this matter calmly and rationally and to say that I believe the Minister will monitor this and other amendments to the social security structure of this nation over the next few months to ensure that unwitting hardship is not caused to sections of the community.
– I address my remarks to clause 21.I ask the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) why he decided to cancel the maternity allowance which has been pegged at $30 since 1943. The Minister in his second reading speech said that costs associated with confinements are now largely covered by health insurance. I do not think that is so under the new arrangements. Later today we will talk about the new misguided health policies. But what about the people who cannot afford to pay private health premiums and simply stay with the general 40 per cent subsidy? Will they be covered adequately in respect of confinements, as the Minister said in his second reading speech? I note that the scheduled confinement fee is currently $176 plus extras? I point out to the Minister that although there is a $20 limit under the new scheme on what the patient will pay, a patient could receive 7, 8, 9 or 10 separate bills in the case of a particularly difficult confinement. We all know that the medical profession has a habit of billing separately in cases such as confinements and major operations. We all know what the situation is.
– If they are in hospital they do not pay it as hospital patients. They pay only if they are privately insured. If they are not privately insured they are not charged for those medical expenses within the hospital; they are hospital patients.
-I think that there will be many costs associated with a confinement both in and certainly out of hospital during the pregnancy confinement, and post-natal periods when the patient will not be fully covered. This is particularly so in the case of patients who are not classified by doctors as disadvantaged people. The Government has left that decision to the doctors.
I conclude my remarks by drawing the attention of the Committee to the $30 maternity allowance which has been frozen since 1943. This allowance should have been indexed. If it had been indexed it would have been worth much more than $30 at the time it was cut out in the Budget. Instead of doing anything to increase the allowance the Government simply abolished it. Were there not other alternatives? For instance, the Government could have considered increasing the size of the family allowance to a decent amount to aid lower income families during a pregnancy and after the birth. The Government could have placed some means test on the payment of the allowance. At least this would have indicated that the Government had some interest in people on lower incomes. Instead of that the Government simply abolished the allowance for everyone. I think the Minister has something to answer for.
– I will attempt to do that. The honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West), of course, makes great play on the fact that the maternity allowance has been in existence since 1943, long before the national health insurance scheme came into existence. The maternity allowance was introduced to help people generally and it was not subject to a means test. No government, including the Whitlam Government- the Government of the honourable member’s political persuasion- saw any necessity to increase the size of that allowance. The purpose of the allowance largely became redundant when the national health scheme was introduced. In regard to the honourable member’s other comment about cost I reiterate that those people who are not privately insured and who receive medical attention or procedures within a hospital, regardless of whether they be associated with confinements, are not eligible to pay for their medical costs. They are charged t’ the hospital and cost shared between the Commonwealth and the States under the normal cost sharing arrangement. Those who are privately insured would, in the normal way, send their accounts to their health insurance fund for payment. I am certain that if the honourable member looks back into the history and the origins of this allowance he will agree that it was introduced at a time when there was no such thing as a health scheme. It came in during 19S3. 1 do not blame the government of the political persuasion of the honourable member for not adjusting the allowance or bringing it up to date because it introduced Medibank- a universal health insurance scheme- which tended to nullify the necessity for that provision.
– I am not one of those who suggest that we should keep a social welfare benefit simply because it is there and has been there for some time, but I am not compelled to think otherwise by the arguments of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt). The fact is, first of all, that the amounts given to mothers on the birth of a child have stayed the same for 30 years. Last year the allocation was $7m. That represented a payment being made to over 200,000 mothers. The argument used by the Minister- it contains a certain amount of logic- is that because of the extent to which a universal health scheme pays the bills for childbirth this concept might be redundant, but what the Minister is overlooking and what those who drafted this proposal have overlooked is that the purchase of basic equipment for the child was part of the original concept. If the Minister goes back and examines the position he will also see that it was built into the original concept that in many cases the period of childbirth, particularly with low income families, would involve some possible loss of earnings to the mother.
I do not believe, in fairness to the Minister, that-we should ever get away from the social reality in this situation. We have been told by the Henderson survey on poverty that those groups most desperately in need of real assistance in this community are not so much the unemployed or the age pensioners but the young families where perhaps the breadwinner is in receipt of a low award wage. The surveys of the Henderson commission of inquiry show that many of those families are living below the poverty line and in respect of -
– Why don’t you be a good socialist and hand back your pension?
– I am trying to argue this matter sensibly and rationally. If I could get even one tiny intelligent comment from the honourable member for Bendigo I would be grateful. If the only comment he can make is a stupid one, he would do better to keep quiet. I know that from the social height which the honourable member thinks he commands it would not occur to him that there are people in the community who actually live below the poverty Une.
– Why do they call him the Bendigo battler?
– The honourable member for Canberra is not in any position to speak -
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I wish to raise a point of order.
- Mr Deputy Chairman -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) -Order! The honourable member for Melbourne Ports will resume his seat.
– Yes, sit down when a point of order is raised, shorty.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order!
– We have this person who came from the Victorian Parliament trying to tell us what we should do. As a true socialist expounding socialist philosophy, why does not he distribute some of that wealth he falsely acquired as a retiring member -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– The problem with the honourable member for Bendigo -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member for Melbourne Ports will address his remarks to the Chair.
– I will, and I will ignore the inane ravings from the little fascist from Bendigo. The situation is that there is still a case which ought to be looked at with some sensitivity -
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I will not have that communist from that side of the chamber call me a fascist.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond)- Order! I suggest to all honourable members that a little decorum would be in order.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, would you ask the comrade on that side of the chamber to withdraw that remark. I took offence at it.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- The honourable member for Melbourne Ports will withdraw the offensive remark that has upset the honourable member for Bendigo.
-If the honourable member finds it offensive, I will withdraw it.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I suggest that the honourable member for Bendigo also withdraws the comment he made about the honourable member for Melbourne Ports.
– Certainly, Mr Deputy Chairman. I withdraw the remark unconditionally, not like that ratbag over there.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order!
– I will ignore the last part of that statement, Mr Deputy Chairman. The point
I am concerned to make is simply this: There is an argument that the Government ought to continue to look at the continuing payment of maternity allowances in order to meet the problems of so many families which in fact get real benefits from it. In my view, the Government has been badly advised on this aspect of the matter. I believe that the Government’s approach to the matter is almost symptomatic of its approach to that which I suppose could be properly called, as it was called when the back bench of the Liberal Party had what we were told was a successful revolt, the newsboys tax. We were told on that occasion that the Government was really out to tax the beneficiaries -
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I raise a point of order. I ask you to direct the honourable member to address his remarks to the particular clause of this Bill which he is supposed to be talking about and not wander all over the place like the inane rabbit that he is.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond)- The honourable member for Bendigo will withdraw that remark. I consider it unparliamentary.
– I withdraw the word ‘inane’. I am sorry, Mr Deputy Chairman.
– The point that I was making related to quite extraordinary circumstances. I can understand why the honourable member for Bendigo is so easily upset. We were told that a government, many of whose Ministers are very experienced in the operation of family trusts they know how they work all sat down and decided that what they were concerned to do was to -
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I take a point of order. I ask you to require the honourable member to speak to the Bill.
-The honourable member cannot ever get one right, so why try? He has not got one right in five years. Sit down, you great idiot.
– Are you talking to me?
– I am talking to the honourable member.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! I call the honourable member for Bendigo on a point of order.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I again ask you to exercise your prerogative and insist that the honourable member speak to the subject matter of the clause of the Bill under discussion, as he should do.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I suggest that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports is ranging far and wide in this debate. He should more closely align his remarks to the clause under discussion.
– I am perfectly happy to do so. The point I am making is that the Government has been badly advised on this matter, just as it was badly advised in respect of another matter which it eventually abandoned. That is the point I am concerned to make. In order to illustrate the point I am pointing out that many of the Ministers of this Government were very fully informed as to the operation of family trusts. They had that working knowledge and they had the best of legal advice. They said that what they were really out to attack was the operation of family trusts and funds in the hands of children. They finished up taxing the newsboys. I suggest that the same kind of looseness of approach that caused the Government to adopt that position, and then finally abandon it as a result of all sorts of pressure from within the Parliament and outside, is the same kind of looseness of approach which characterises the Government’s position on the payment of maternity allowances.
Even at this late stage something could be done. We are not looking at a great deal of money. The amount involved is only onethousandth of the total expenditure of the Department of Social Security. I believe that to abolish the allowance in this way is an exercise in meanness and triteness. Honourable members on this side of the chamber say that as a matter of social judgment, given the problems that beset many young families throughout Australia in 1978, this allowance should not be abandoned at this time. We say that particularly having regard to the fact that the whole question of health benefits and the full flow of those benefits has yet to be worked out in terms of the impact that it will have on the general living standards of young families in this community. I hope that between now and when this Bill is considered in the Senate- even at that late stage- the Minister and the Government will consider the very substantial arguments advanced in respect of this group of people in the community. I am referring to those people who in many ways are least able to afford to carry the burden but who have to carry that burden and the thrust of this Government’s economic policies.
– I want to address myself briefly to this same question of the maternity allowance. History has overtaken the maternity allowance in many ways and its origins are forgotten. The Minister for Health (Mr
Hunt) talked with some validity about the fact that it has remained at this level for some years. I think the probable reason it has remained at that amount is because of that ‘irrespective of means’ section which comes into the question and which deters us, as a matter of equity, from increasing it too much. But, after all, when it was introduced, migration to the country was, frankly, by childbirth. This was in wartime. People covered their medical costs from their private income or were lodge patients or public hospital patients where no fee was charged. Some sort of assessment was made by the social worker from the public hospital office who went around to get some idea of income and said: ‘How much a week can you pay to have your baby in the public hospital?’
Unfortunately the attitude developed that this maternity allowance was a contribution to the expenses of doctors and hospitals. I do not believe that that was the accent at the time. My friend the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) has pointed out that under the present ‘Medi-muddle’ the expenses of confinement and hospitals could be reasonably considerable to some people. I invite honourable members to consider that this allowance is a sort of establishment allowance for families in the lower income groups. When the mother presents herself for confinement she usually is given a list of materials that she is expected to have with her for the confinement itself and for the baby. These include things like combine, safety pins and all the things that are associated just with that confinement period. As well, when we talk about expenses associated with the birth of children, there is the actual establishment for looking after the new born babe. It is a time when expense is high- when a child needs clothing, all the various equipment for feeding and all the various equipment for sleeping. It is a stage in life when growth is at its greatest rate and, consequently, the renewal of this equipment is pretty frequent. If we are looking at the maternity allowance we should be looking not purely at the hospital and medical costs of confinement and childbirth. We should be looking to those problems that are presented to lower income families.
– With the means test.
– I did not say with the means test because I have some feelings about means test with equity. I submit that the majority of people would be benefited by this sort of establishment allowance. I accept the Minister’s comment that no government has shown great incentive in increasing this allowance. Rather than abolishing the allowance, I think it is an area that could well have been reviewed. If the Government wants to change the principles, if it wants to impose a means test, that is a proper decision for a government to make. If it did that sort of thing and the families of low income earners were to be assisted, it would receive far more sympathetic consideration from the Opposition than it would by abolishing it.
My experience of medical practice was in areas of some social and economic deprivation. Because I was practising at a time of health insurance and people were battling to pay their health insurance, I tried to minimise the fees charged so that people did not have to go through the experience of public hospitals. They were living in the outer fringe area and hospitals were not always appropriately situated for them. I regret that the Government is abolishing this allowance. I could have had some respect for the government if it had reviewed the allowance and increased it and perhaps applied some restrictive guidelines to it
– I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a comment from the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) in another place in respect of clause 23 which will aid in the interpretation of the effect of clause 23. It deals with the compensatory $5.25 a week and also gives an assurance that nobody will suffer as a result. Those receiving the allowance now will not suffer as a consequence of the implementation of clause 23.
The document read as follows-
As from 1 January 1 979, there will be no dual payment of TEAS allowance and family allowance. In order to compensate for the loss of family allowance the rates of TEAS allowance for 1979 have been increased by the equivalent of $5.25 a week.
The present rates of TEAS allowance are $1,250 per annum for a student living at home and $2,075 per annum for a student living away from home. In 1979 these rates will be increased to $1,523 per annum and $2,348 per annum respectively.
Where a claim for TEAS allowance is made before 3 1 March in any year, the allowance, if approved, is granted with retrospective effect to 1 January. However, in order to prevent the need to recover any family allowance which may have been paid to the student’s mother over that period, the arrears of TEAS allowance will be paid at the 1978 rates with the increased rates for 1979 applying from March onwards.
The Department of Education will liaise closely with the Department of Social Security in order to prevent the situation arising in which an overpayment of family allowances may occur. The increase of $5.25 a week in the rates of TEAS allowance for 1 979 will correspond to the average amount of family allowances lost.
That the clauses be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman- Mr P. H. Drummond)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause 24 agreed to.
-We of the Opposition oppose clause 25 because it denies payment of the family allowance in respect of a dependant receiving a benefit under the tertiary education assistance scheme. The Minister has glossed over this aspect by saying that TEAS payments will be increased by $5.25 a week. But there was a case for an increase in TEAS payments anyway because they are not subject to indexation. Now low income families will lose again as TEAS payments are means-tested. I will give a hypothetical situation. A family receiving an income of $8,600 a year- that is the threshold of the means test operative in relation to TEAS payments- and having a dependent child receiving a TEAS payment will lose its family allowance. Yet the dependent children of a family with an income of $40,000 a year will not be eligible to receive TEAS payments but will still be eligible for the family allowance. What a terribly anomalous situation that is. The dependent children of a family receiving an income of $40,000 or more a year will be eligible to receive a family allowance but not eligible for a TEAS allowance. The dependent children of a family on an income of” $8,600 or less a year will be eligible to receive a TEAS allowance but will not be eligible to receive the family allowance. Clearly the children in the lower income family should still be eligible to receive the family allowance. Because that sort of situation will arise, we oppose clause 25.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 26 to 44- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clauses 45 and 46- by leave- taken together.
-On behalf of the Opposition I oppose clause 45. Clause 45 is the provision which excludes unemployment beneficiaries without dependants from the benefit of indexation. Therefore their rate of benefit will remain at the present rate of $5 1 .45 a week. It does seem to me that in its discriminatory nature this is a peculiarly vicious provision, but it also seems a rather odd provision to be introduced at the very time when the Government is beginning to admit its responsibilities in relation to unemployment and the unemployed. Another worry about this clause is that the second reading speech introduced in this chamber by the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) does not explain- there is no effort to justify- why this group of beneficiaries alone, amongst all the social security beneficiaries, is to be denied even the benefit of annual indexation. Of all the various categories of social security beneficiaries, why is this group alone to be left out?
Let me see whether I can discover some of the reasons that might lie behind the introduction of this proposal. First of all, what is the difference between a sickness beneficiary without a dependant and an unemployment beneficiary without a dependant? Is the unemployment beneficiary in some sense morally less worthy, or is this discrimination one further piece of evidence to support this dole bludger syndrome which tends to lie behind much of the rhetoric of the Government on this question?
– The only people who use the term are on your side. We never use it.
– I will take the point made by the honourable member for Dundas. I congratulate the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) because this morning he did disavow the usage of this term, but I think it is quite clear to anyone who has looked at the speeches of Liberal and Country Party members over the last years that that disavowal has not been universal. Indeed, last night the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) argued, or appeared to argue, that the justification for the severity of this provision relating to the unemployment benefit was that there were a few parasites amongst the unemployed. The word ‘parasite’ was his. He argued that this justified the kind of treatment that was being dealt to unemployment beneficiaries, namely, their being denied the benefit of indexation.
Does the Government regard this discrimination as being of minimal impact, as in a sense affecting only young people? The Government has produced figures which show that the great bulk of unemployment beneficiariesapproximately 73 per cent- do not have dependants. So this provision affects the great bulk of those receiving the unemployment benefit. They are not just young people. Indeed, figures provided again through the Department suggest that at least half of those people are not young people; that is, people under 20 years of age. So under this provision the great bulk of unemployment beneficiaries will be denied indexation of their benefit. Those beneficiaries are not just young people. Yet this is the Government whose Prime Minister declared: ‘We will be generous to those who cannot get a job and want to work’. Are three-quarters of the unemployed now being denied generosity because they are supposed not to want to work? Is that the explanation for this discrimination?
On the other hand, perhaps the $5 1.45 a week is now considered to be adequate benefit. Certainly it was not so considered by Mr Fraser when he was the Leader of the Opposition in 1974. Then he said that ‘he accepted the principle that as unemployment rose so too should unemployment benefits; that the principle would be designed to protect individuals who quite innocently are caught in the turmoil of a mismanaged economy’. Certainly we are now in the turmoil of a mismanaged economy with rising unemployment. However, the great bulk of the unemployed are to be denied any rise in benefits, a principle enunciated by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) as Leader of the Opposition in 1974.
Again, if you look at the $5 1 .45 , it is some $ 1 4 below a fairly austerely drawn poverty line. A poverty line for single people without dependants is approximately $65 a week at the moment so it is some $14 below that already, below a level of income necessary for the basic requirements for food and shelter, let alone the costs of searching for work. By next month the difference will be over $15 and it is to be unchanged for another 12 months. Even if the Government’s optimism about inflation is correct it will be some $18 below the poverty line in November 1979. Of course some young people are cushioned by their parents against the full effects of this decision. However, this decision will condemn a growing number of Australians to an increasing level of destitution.
Yet the irony is that the people who are being penalised chiefly by this decision are in fact the chief and admitted victims of this Government’s economic policy. The Government now admits, and has done so quite clearly in recent weeks, that a further increase in unemployment is an inevitable aspect of its own economic policy. It is an hypocrisy to say: ‘As part of our economic policy we are going to have an inevitable rise in unemployment. It will be good in the long run for all these people ‘, but to deny the victims of its own economic policy an indexation award granted to every other social security beneficiary it is, to my mind, a monumental hypocrisy in that these victims should now be selected out from all other social security beneficiaries and denied indexation- the one group denied this privilege across the whole range of social security beneficiaries. I say quite frankly to members on the opposite side that if they now vote for this provision and then come along a few weeks later to prate their concern about the unemployed, they will deserve to be treated-I believe the
Australian people will treat them- as sanctimonious hypocrites.
-Members on this side of the House are very anxious to hear an explanation from the Minister or anybody opposite as to why the groups that are listed in clause 45 are to be denied the proper rates of unemployment benefits that will be due to other people in the community. One gets the view that it is not so much the changes based on our experience in the past but rather in anticipation of what is going to happen in 1979, because there is going to be a further explosion in the number of people who will be unemployed under 18 years of age. I would like to broaden a little what my colleague the member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) has said in relation to the families from which most of those under 18-year-olds come. It will be found that the vast majority of the young under- 18-years-olds- there are over 90,000 in Australia at the moment between the ages of 15 and 18 who are unemployed, and that number will grow enormously by early 1979- come from what we call the working class areas of this country.
Their parents are in no position to give further financial assistance to the people who are victims of not being able to find employment. Whether it be a Labor government, a Liberal government or a Liberal-Country Party coalition government, we have no right to discriminate or to start putting the unemployed- as we might do with cattle- into cattle yards and saying that some have greater entitlements than others. This Government has a responsibility to find employment for all those who seek it. If it cannot do so it has the right to look after those people who cannot find employment. For the Government to start trying to put greater economic pressures on to the people who cannot find employment and to try to excuse itself by perhaps coining the expression that they are all dole bludgers in no way denies the responsibility of this Government to find employment for the under 18-year-olds or the over 18-year-olds with no dependants. It denies all the economic pressures that come on to the families as a result of the children not being able to find employment.
Some of them are far from being children. As the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) told us a few weeks ago, by the early 1980s a continuation of this Government’s economic policy is going to see people well into their twenties with little or no work experience. We are not just talking about the under 18-year-olds. The only reason this clause is written as it is is to fit this very wild and mystic economic policy, this Budget that was brought down on 15 August, in order that the Government outlay would not be as great as it would be otherwise. But that is denying in every sense the justice that is due to these people who leave the educational institutions and who are entitled to work. It is not their responsibility to run the country. At the educational institutions it is their responsibility to fit themselves out to go into the work force. Almost without failure each and every one of those young people does just that. That has been the procedure. However, there is now a major breakdown in the transfer of people from the educational institutions into the work force and instead of the Government recognising it and dealing with it with justice, what does it do? It says: ‘We recognise the fact that there is going to be a great deal more unemployment in this specific age group of under 18 years of age but we are not going to assist it. We are going to say that there is very little we can do about it. ‘
In fact, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations said that the Government has to create 130,000 jobs a year for the next five years to get unemployment down to 5 per cent. With its present policies that is a hurdle that this Government cannot jump. Therefore, we can imagine that next year and the year after from 90,000 unemployed under 18-year-olds in Australia today there are likely to be 200,000 under 18-year-olds unemployed in Australia. The people who will have to carry the mental burden of the young people in the first instance not being able to find employment, being at their wit’s ends as to what to do, will now have to carry the economic burden as well; that is going to be placed very firmly in the homes of the people who are already having their wage packets suppressed. This is something which ought to be rejected by every member of this Parliament. It is certainly rejected by every member on this side of the House. It denies a certain and very important section of our community their rights as citizens.
I want to say something more on this because it is becoming increasingly obvious that the attacks that are being made on the unemployed by the conservative forces in this country are bringing about certain results which mean that a lot of young people leaving school do not want to register as unemployed, do not want to receive unemployment benefits because they feel that there is some associated stigma. I reiterate that it is the right of every young person who leaves school to register for employment as soon as he possibly can and to receive unemployment benefits if this country cannot provide him with a job. There is absolutely no stigma associated with it at all. There is a stigma associated with this Government for culling the under 18-year- olds and saying: ‘You are a different section. You are going to be treated differently’. In spite of the fact that there is going to be an enormous increase in the cost of living -
– On a point of order, the freeze was introduced by the Labor Government.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)Order! There is no point of order.
-In spite of the fact that the recently introduced Budget will increase enormously the cost of living for families, the Government ignores the plight of the recipients of unemployment benefits by saying: ‘You will continue over the next one and half years to live on $36 a week. ‘ It ignores completely the further price burdens that have been placed on the community as a result of its own economic policies enunciated in the Budget. As I have said, this provision ought to be rejected. I look forward to honourable members opposite, including the Minister, trying to give some justification for such wilful action against people who are not responsible for their own plight.
-I draw to the attention of the Committee a statement issued by the Australian Council of Social Service which relates particularly to the clause before the Committee. Sometimes people on this side of the chamber are presented as being raving radicals who, when they argue for the rights of the unemployed, for example, are somehow taking a position which cannot be defended on rational grounds, a position which is not supported by groups which have status and standing and which represent all the welfare interests in Australia, certainly in the voluntary sector and partially in the government sector. We are talking about the Government’s treatment of the unemployed, and it is not good enough for the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) simply to reflect on what we may or may not have done three or four years ago. The Government’s treatment of the unemployed is seen by responsible people within the community, by responsible leaders of the community, to be quite scandalous. I want to quote at some length from a statement issued, after the introduction of the Budget, by the Australian Council of Social Service, a body which represents welfare organisations throughout Australia. It summarises the changes that the honourable member for Port
Adelaide (Mr Young) has just described, but it goes on to say:
The result for all unemployment beneficiaries therefore is that the value of the benefits will slip further and further below the poverty line-
They will not just slip further back, but will slip further and further below the poverty line- a level of income necessary for the basic requirements of food and shelter . . .
We are not talking about luxuries; we are talking about the basic requirements of food and shelter. The honourable member for Diamond Valley (Mr N. A. Brown) may smile, but I think members of this Committee ought to be concerned when a section of the community has to struggle for those basic necessities. The statement continues:
The plight of the young adults leaving home in search of work is particularly severe. Reports of homelessness, prostitution, drugs and crime have been increasing. Few unemployed have savings to fall back onto and with the average period of unemployment being 19 weeks malnutrition and a deterioration of health may result.
It is not simply a matter of people not having access to restaurants, nights on the town or gay parties in the Speaker’s office; it is a matter of people suffering from malnutrition. The statement goes on:
It is important to realise also that many unemployed in need will not receive unemployment benefits because of the stringent income test imposed. They together with their spouse may only earn a total of $6 p.w. after which the unemployment benefit is reduced $ for $. Clearly this explains why married unemployed people form only 25 per cent of those receiving unemployment benefits.
All beneficiaries will fall further and further below the poverty line.
ACOSS attached to that statement a table which points out that by November 1979 a single person living away from home will be $34 below the poverty line. I am not talking about a bit of a gap, I am talking about $34. A single person over 18 years of age will be $18.55 below the poverty line developed by Professor Henderson’s institute on the most stringent criteria, which really dealt with bare subsistence. A single person will be $ 18.55 below the line established by that most stringent test, and that is quite scandalous. Under the benefits provided a couple with two children will be $19.30 below the poverty Une. Those figures have not been produced by the Australian Council of Social Service. They have not been produced by Maoists; they have not been produced by radical groups of any persuasion. They have been produced by one of the most responsible bodies in this country. Having looked at this Budget, it has made its responsible assessment. I believe that people on this side of the chamber have a right to be angry, along with the Australian Council of Social Service, about the treatment of the unemployed. From my experience in my own electorate I know that hundreds of young people and hundreds of older people are living what can be described only as extremely miserable lives. The honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) has pointed out that, taken in total, there are many more older people than young people in this situation. They are living in that way through no fault of their own.
I know that at various times people on both sides of the Parliament have sought to stigmatise the unemployed by the term that was used earner in the discussion. The problem we have in terms of the perception of the unemployed is perhaps not so much our perception of them but the perception by the unemployed of themselves. It is not so much that they take a great deal of notice of the odd parliamentarian who stigmatises them through the use of some sort of term but that there is a sense in which they have absorbed within this culture the double standards we have about social service beneficiaries. I think that that is what the honourable member for Bonython was trying to emphasise. We have retained within our system a dual standard, and I recognise that on this side of the Parliament we have to take some responsibility for that. We have one standard for the deserving poor and another standard for people who can be described only as the ‘undeserving poor’. That is what we as a society are doing at the moment to a whole generation of young people and to many thousands of people who have skills and abilities and want to contribute them to their country.
This year we are to spend more than $900m on benefits which are far too low because a government that came to power saying that it had the solution has not found that solution. Senator Guilfoyle was one of the people who believed that the Government of which she was a part had the solution. We all know that the Government has not found the solution. The back bench of the Liberal Party knows that. We know that the Government has not resolved the economic problems which it saw so simply, so simplistically, in 1975. We have been confronted in the Committee today with the aspect of the Budget which deals with the casualties of the Government’s failure, and we find that on this very point the Government is being insensitive. That is why there are only three members of the Government parties in the chamber at the present time. They cannot face up to the fact that the Government in this piece of legislation is singling out sections of the community -
– There are five.
– I am sorry, I correct myself. There are five members of the Government parties present. They cannot face the fact that the Government is being malicious towards those people whose situation at the moment most demands concern. The Austraiian Council of Social Service has drawn attention to the need for that concern. Many concerned people, presumably people employed by the Department of Social Security, are working with unemployed people across Australia. However, one is very concerned when one sees placed alongside that situation an allocation of more than $6m for the employment of additional people to police the unemployed, to try to reduce the numbers of the unemployed by frightening people into a situation where they are not prepared to register for work. This fear tactic, this intimidation of the unemployed, will produce a bitter generation, and whichever government is in power in five years time will have to bear the consequences of the insensitivity and callousness of the present Government.
It is not enough for the honourable member for Murray or for any other honourable member on the Government side to come back and say: Well, what happened three or four years ago when you were in office?’ The reality is that the Liberal-National Country Party coalition is in Government and it will be remembered for what it has not done in this Budget. It will also be remembered for what it has done. There is nothing positive to be said in a situation such as this which is so negative for hundreds of thousands of spurned Australians.
-This is a very important matter, although it is obvious that the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), and this Government do not think so. In clause 45 the Government really exposes itself. Despite the belated, eleventh-hour recognition of the unemployment problem by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), this Government still persecutes the unemployed. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations admitted a month ago that employment in the private sector was falling rapidly and that he held no hope of creating the 650,000 new jobs in five years which his own Department says are required to reduce unemployment to 4.5 per cent. Despite the 413,000 people who are currently unemployed- and that figure is a seasonally adjusted one- there are still less than 20,000 registered vacancies with the Commonwealth Employment Service. Despite these figures, the young and the single unemployed are still being persecuted by the Government. For what other reason has the unemployment benefit been pegged at $36 a week since 1975 when this Government assumed office? If this benefit had been indexed in line with rises in the consumer price index it would now be over $50.
I draw the Minister’s attention to the remarks of the Liberal Victorian Minister for Social Welfare, Mr Brian Dixon, on 30 July last. He said that unemployment could reach 3 1 per cent by 1984. He said that the Liberal Party had greatly underestimated the impact of automation on employment. He went on to say:
At present there are 5.9 million jobs, and on normal growth figures there would be 6.3 million in 1984. But if technological progress is allowed to run its course with no preparation from the Government, the number of jobs will actually drop to 4.3 million.
My purpose in quoting a State Liberal Minister in this matter is to ask this question of the Federal Minister: If unemployment reaches the 31 per cent, as predicted by a State Liberal Minister in Victoria, will the Government still take this attitude towards the unemployed?
– That is hypothetical nonsense. I would not answer a question as hypothetical as that.
– At present there are 7 per cent unemployed and it is about time the Government gave the matter some thought because next year that figure will probably be 10 per cent if its policies are continued. At any rate, clause 45 will now freeze the unemployment benefits of persons without dependants. The amount paid will be only $36 for those under 1 8 years of age and $51.45 for those over 18 years of age. As the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) has pointed out, the Government did not freeze benefits for persons in those categories receiving sickness benefits. The Government not only discriminates between the unemployed- those with dependants and those without dependants- but it goes even further: It discriminates between those receiving sickness benefits and those receiving unemployment benefits. Apparently the Government feels that the unemployed are less worthy than those receiving sickness benefits. Does the Government imply that the unemployed need less, that they eat less or that they deserve less? The Government really exposes itself in this regard. The fault syndrome is still with the Government.
The back bench members of the Government have been saying today that they do not denigrate and have never denigrated receivers of the unemployment benefit. We refute that. I can still see the Prime Minister making his policy speech in 1975, promising jobs for all who wished to work and denouncing those who lived on the Gold Coast while collecting their unemployment benefit. I can still hear the roar of the Liberal crowd- a roar of bloodhounds beying after blood- when the Prime Minister denounced those people.
– Where were you?
-The truth is that the Government still victimises the unemployed.
– You wouldn’t want to be seen there, would you?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)Order! The Committee will come to order. The Committee will hear the honourable member for Cunningham without interruption.
– Government members do not like the truth, Mr Deputy Chairman. The truth is that this Government still victimises the unemployed, because they are the evidence of the absolute failure of the Prime Minister’s promises. They are an albatross around his neck. As the Government fumbles with ihe economic policy, willi the automation crisis and with job pressure from imports, it still wants to give the impression that the unemployed are to blame.
Still this Government goes on and robs pensioners. It pillories the unemployed; it removes the maternity allowance; it freezes veterans’ tuberculosis allowances, and it cuts workers’ wages. This is the same Government that would freeze the unemployment benefits of people without dependants, regardless of their age. It is the same Government that wants to hand back $340m worth of windfall profits this year to the oil companies. It is the same Government which renounces its ability to impose a resources tax or rent tax on super profits of companies which want to repatriate profits overseas to their parent companies. It is the same Government that refuses to tax adequately those companies which are making hundreds of millions of dollars of profit from our most precious non-renewable energy resources. It is the same Government that refuses to act against the tax dodgers, the people who use trusts and would use their own children to. avoid paying legitimate income tax. How pious the Prime Minister sounds when he pontificates about the need to hold the family farm together.
We ask the Prime Minister, the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) and the Government to drop clause 45 and give these people their due. Whether they are young or not they deserve to have their unemployment benefits indexed if the Government cannot provide them with a job. While the Government is about it, it is time it indexed that $36 which those under 18 years receive, which has been pegged at that level since 1975 and which the Government proposes to peg further. But I do not think the Government will do that because it is too mean and it is too vicious. But I warn the Government: In 1980 the mean and vicious ghosts of this Budget will return to haunt the Prime Minister, his shabby Cabinet and his shabby Government.
-Mr Deputy Chairman, perhaps we could just drop the rhetoric and the emotion for a little while and look at a few of the points that have been raised at the Committee stage. I would like to make some points particularly to those members of the Labor Party who were not here in 1974 and 1975.
– Unemployment is twice what it was. It is 500,000 now.
– If the honourable member for Batman would just listen for a moment he might learn something. Honourable members opposite have been critical of our taxing pensions. But who introduced the taxing of pensions? Who started taxing pensions in this country? It was the Labor Government.
Let us look at this question of discriminating against those in certain groups who have the greatest need. I can remember very vividly the question of taxing the aged blind, those 65 years and over, who were in the greatest need perhaps of any group in our community. Yet suddenly these blind people who had been on a tax free pension for most of their lives were hit with the taxation of their pensions. That was done by a Labor Government. We also hear from members of the Opposition that the general unemployment benefit level or sickness benefit level is not good enough. Several speakers have mentioned that matter this afternoon. But if one were to look at the general benefits as a percentage of average weekly earnings at present and compare them with their level when Labor was in power, one would find that today they are the same or at least as good.
There has also been criticism of the freeze on certain benefits. Honourable members opposite were getting a little carried away with themselves until they were reminded that it was the Labor Government which introduced, in its last Budget in August 1975, the freeze on unemployment benefits paid to those under 1 8 years of age. If members of the Opposition are now asking for the reasons for the freeze on this other group, perhaps it could be said that the reasons are the same as those which applied when they introduced the freeze in 1975. 1 clearly remember that at that time there was an absurd situation in which young apprentices were actually receiving less per week than the young unemployed. At that time the Ministers saw the sense of imposing a freeze and they acted. If honourable members opposite want information about why the freeze was imposed and about the different level for the sickness benefit and the unemployment benefit in situations in which there are dependants they could ask their leaders, who were at that time Ministers. If honourable members opposite want answers on the whole range of criticisms that have been made this afternoon they had better check with their own leaders because their own leaders introduced most of these things when they were in government.
-I enter this debate to take up some of the points made by the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) and to say that, given the nature and the dimension of the problem of unemployment as it is in Australia today, nothing will justify to the young people of this community or to those who are unemployed the sorts of specious arguments that have just been advanced by the honourable member for Murray, although I believe that he was well motivated. I hope that honourable members on both sides of this chamber will realise that one of the really significant and great problems confronting not only Australia but also the Western industrialised capitalist society is the problem of unemployment. But it does not do me any good, it does not do the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), who is sitting at the table, any good and it does not do the 10,000 people iri my electorate who are unemployed any good to listen to the honourable member for Murray when his whole argument- we hear it time and time again in this place- was based not on a statement by this Government that it is concerned or that we as a nation have to confront this problem and deal with it now but on the old argument that something was done by the Whitlam Government in 1972 so it is all right for this Government to do it now. The reality of the situation, and I would be the first to say it, is that the Whitlam Government made mistakes and if we as a nation are to solve these problems we have to try to put aside that sort of hopeless, short-sighted political rhetoric.
– What is your remedy?
-There is no simple remedy and anybody who stands in this place and says that it is only a question of turning the lights on and the problems will be solved will be misleading not only himself but also the people of Australia. The sooner this Parliament says as a parliament that there is no simple remedy, that there is a deep and profound economic crisis right throughout the Western world which is affecting Australia, and that when it occurred the Whitlam Government was in office and its great tragedy and its great mistake was that it did not perceive either the nature or the dimension of what was occurring in Western society and continued to try to implement its program unconscious of the fact or unable to comprehend that the great boom in Western industrialised society was over the better it will be. The sooner honourable members on both sides of the chamber abandon the approach of saying that a Labor government did something in 1972 so it is all right for a government to do the same in 1978 the better it will be because there is a deep, significant economic crisis in Australia here and now, and we are not alone in that respect, and the first thing we have to say to ourselves is that there are no simple answers.
I commend the approach of my colleagues, who have taken a very proper and legitimate point- a point that I commend to all honourable members in this place- that it ill-behoves this nation at this time to create a separate category for the unemployed in terms of social welfare payments because, as has been pointed out, of all the groups in this community the unemployed are in many cases, through no fault of then- own, in quite desperate economic circumstances. The fact is that unemployed people receive no fringe benefits at all. A member of parliament who wants to provide someone who is unemployed even with a minimal sort of a job to assist him will find that that person can receive only $6 before financial penalties are imposed. The expenses and the problems that are involved in having to find transport and postal expenses and clothing costs in connection with their work mean that as a social group within the community the unemployed are very much at the bottom of the economic scale. If we are serious in saying that they must be assisted to find work it is perfectly proper for unemployment benefit payments to be indexed in the same way as every other social welfare payment has been indexed. To date we have heard no argument at all from honourable members opposite which rejects this somewhat simple and fundamental principle of human justice.
Again let me say how disappointed I am that the Government is taking what I believe is a short-sighted view. All the economic indicators show that the unemployment situation next year is going to be worse than it is this year. Anybody who has to give advice to young persons who are thinking of leaving school would, if he is sage enough, say that unless they have a job to go to they should stay at school. We know the problems that are going to confront us at the beginning of the next year and into the next financial year are unfortunately going to give us one of the highest levels of unemployment that this country has seen. I do not take any joy from that and honourable members on this side of the chamber do not take any joy from that. I do not believe that the Minister for Health, who is sitting at the table, takes any joy from that. But I do say that we have to ensure that the young people, the family breadwinners and the people who have worked for many years but who. are now being made redundant because of technological change are not placed in the situation in which, as has been pointed out by the honourable memberforBatman(Mr.Howe),manyofthem will be forced to live below the poverty line. Whatever view one takes of the great resources and the great riches of this Commonwealth one is entitled to say that, whatever our capacities or incapacities at government level, that there is no justification for any citizen in this community being forced to live below the poverty level.
We know as a matter of certainty that by the act of supporting this legislation in this form we are going to condemn not merely thousands but possibly hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens to a situation in which in the next financial year they will be forced to live below the poverty line. This is the situation which, as a matter of conscience, we on this side of the chamber reject. It can be a matter of argument as to what the minimum level of the unemployment benefit ought to be, but there certainly can be no argument that it should be indexed. Let me commend to some of the philosophers or economists on the other side of the chamber the views of a man whom I would not say is a prominent economist but whose views would commend themselves to those who sit opposite. It was suggested on 9 September 1974 that as the number of jobless increased higher unemployment benefit should be paid. It was also suggested that the then government should pay the minimum wage of about $80 a week if the number of people out of work reached 250,000. That statement can be found in the Daily Mirror of 9 September 1974. The philosopher, the economist, the scholar who lauded that position was Malcolm Fraser, now the Prime Minister of Australia. I commend that thought to the simple souls that he now leads as a sentiment which, if it would do nothing else short of indexing the unemployment benefit I think that is the course that ought to be followed would provide some measure of economic relief to those hundreds of thousands of decent Australian citizens who want to work, who will not be able to get work and who, if we vote for this legislation in this form, will be forced to live below the poverty level in Australia in 1978. That is not a situation which can rest lightly on the consciences of honourable members of this chamber and it is a position which ought to be rejected when voting on this legislation.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
That clauses 45 and 46 be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman- Dr H. A. Jenkins)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Remainder of the Bill- by leave- taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr Hunt)- by leave- proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
-I would like to take a couple of minutes to recapitulate what is contained in this Bill and to point out what has happened during the debate on this Bill. The contents of the Bill are concerned mainly with changing indexation from six monthly to yearly, reintroducing a means test on pensions for those over 70, the abolition of the maternity allowance and a reduction in the unemployment benefit. I emphasise again that whilst, for practical purposes, no member of the Government parties was prepared to give support to the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), who is at the table, nearly every one of them voted for these changes. I hope that their constituents in their electorates note that before the last election and before the election in 1975 they published leaflets promising certain things but now were prepared to vote for the change from six monthly indexation to yearly indexation, the re-introduction of the means test, the abolition of the maternity benefit and the reduction in the unemployment benefit. I hope that when their constituents see how they have behaved they will take appropriate action with them at the next election.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
– I present for the information of honourable members the interim report of the Industries Assistance Commission on AsbestosShort Term Assistance.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report of the Temporary Assistance Authority on gearboxes, gears and shaft couplings.
– I move:
The Customs Tariff Proposals I have just tabled relate to proposed alterations to the Customs Tariff Act 1966. Proposals No. 27 place before Parliament, as required by law, tariff changes introduced by Gazette notice during the last recess. The changes arose from the Government’s decision on recommendations made by the Industries Assistance Commission in its interim report on carpets, carpeting, et cetera. The effect of the changes is that tufted carpeting, Administer carpeting and certain carpet tiles are dutiable at 30 per cent on and from 5 October.
Proposals No. 28 implement the Government’s decision on recommendations made by the Temporary Assistance Authority in its reports on: Gearboxes, Gears and Shaft Couplings; and Carbon Coated Film. The effect of the changes is that certain industrial gearboxes, gears and shaft couplings will be subject to an additional temporary duty making the total rate of duty 35 per cent. Coated copying film of polyester, propylene and cellulose acetate will attract an additional temporary duty making the total rate of duty on these goods 25 per cent. The new duties operate from tomorrow.
A comprehensive summary of the changes contained in the proposals has been prepared and is now being circulated to honourable members. I commend the proposals to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Klugman) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 28 September, on motion by Mr Adermann:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The amendments proposed in this legislation are numerous and, as I pointed out yesterday, on the Opposition side oppose nearly all of them. The main amendments deal with changes to the pension entitlements of pulmonary tuberculosis sufferers, the majority of whom will be much worse off; the abolition of their sustenance allowance; the introduction of yearly instead of six monthly adjustments to repatriation pensions; and the introduction of a means test for certain repatriation pensioners.
The changes in the pulmonary tuberculosis allowances are significant. Whilst I do not want to go over the whole of yesterday’s debate again I would like to read into the record part of an article written by Padre A. Singleton which I understand will be included in the next issue of a journal called Mia Mia produced by the TB Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Association of Victoria. The article in part reads:
Eighteen months ago, when Government intentions to make drastic changes to the Repatriation Act including the elimination of automatic 100 per cent pension for TB were announced, the first reaction was stunned incredulity. None of us ever thought it likely that any Government, of whatever political party, would take away rights and privileges that had been promised by a previous Government in the days when the community realised that it did have responsibilities towards those whose disabilities were the direct result of war service.
Representations made in the proper quarters seemed to bear fruit, and it was with a sense of relief and thankfulness that the news of not proceeding with the legislation was received.
Now, one election (and two years before the next) later, not only has the proposal been revived; it is also being implemented even before the necessary legislation has been introduced to Parliament and passed. Not surprisingly, the reaction this time is horror.
Later in his article Padre Singleton states:
But, and this is most important for patients from the two wars, even where treatment was effective, and there has been no relapse, it took time sometimes a very long time for the healing process of nature to assert itself. This, of itself, had a most adverse effect, which, in many cases was to prove lifelong.
Because their discharge was deferred through the incidence of TB just at the very time that their contemporaries and fellowservicemen were being rehabilitated and reestablished in their careers after the years of war service, TB patients lost ground. By the time they were ready to re-enter the work force, opportunities had been lost, and in many cases were never to be repeated.
Some missed out on vital qualifications, many found themselves junior to those who filled the vacant posts before they had the chance to apply; and over the years, promotion has left them behind. It is impossible to estimate the statistics of this situation, or to have any real idea of what TB costs its sufferers in terms of prospects and achievements in their trades or professions. Sufficient to say that this intangible is a very real disability, and a permanent one. William Shakespeare is our spokesman for this:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
In addition to the material disadvantages to which Padre Singleton refers there are obviously social disadvantages. For a long time tuberculosis sufferers were treated as outcasts in the community. Of course, this is no longer the case. But they were treated as such because the people who were scared of them were not aware of the relative difficulty of catching tuberculosis compared with most other infectious diseases. Many people who were known to have suffered from tuberculosis now have significant social disadvantages. I assume that most of us know that many people have some sign of tuberculosis infection which never won its fight with the body’s resistance. Yet, people were particularly scared of being in contact with tuberculosis sufferers. I now return to Padre Singleton’s article. The Padre stated:
The bright spot of all of us was the realisation that we had the resources of the Department of Repatriation behind us, and, secure in the promises made at the time, our lifestyle became geared to the 100 per cent pension and its fringe benefits. An offshoot of this was that, because of the right and privilege of full medical treatment for most disabilities, rights were not always exercised, and when various disabilities made themselves obvious, we received treatment, but did not take any action to have them accepted as due to war service, because it seemed so unnecessary.
My comment is that most people were already covered. The document continues:
To have disabilities of long standing accepted as due to war service now becomes much more difficult, because of the long delay, and omission to collect evidence which once may have been available. Where disabilities not due to war service have developed, it may seem fair, on the face of it, to lose entitlement to treatment which we have enjoyed in the past. But every disability, especially those which are chronic, is taken into account in any application to join a health insurance fund; if forced to join such funds now, many will find they receive no benefits from it; because of the exclusion of chronic complaints, health insurance cover will not be available just where it is needed most. If anyone had need to join such a fund years ago, before a present chronic complaint developed, full cover would now be available. Losing a fringe benefit now, means for many that no provision can be made for a substitute.
With the passing of the years, many of the veterans of World WarII are at the stage where retirement is imminent, and the projected changes as regards 100 per cent pension and fringe benefits must have an adverse effect in plans and expectations for this.
The final sentence states:
Populations and politicians change, but not, we sincerely hope and trust, the meaning of integrity.
I think that Padre Singleton has made out an excellent case for the reconsideration of this decision by the Government. The expectation is that the decision will save the Government $3m in the current financial year. The position is a bit rough. I must admit that I had not thought about the final point he made, namely, that difficulties will be caused by persons who until now had no necessity to belong to any medical benefit fund. Now that these people have a chronic condition which is not related to war service- nobody claims that it is related to war service- they will not be accepted by any medical or hospital benefit fund. They will not be able to get cover for that condition, at least at certain levels. There must be many people who now have arthritis and other conditions which it would be difficult to argue are war service related. But if they had not had the benefits of which they are being deprived now, many of them, by necessity, would have had to belong to some private health fund and they now would have been covered for these conditions. Now, they will not be covered because I assume that the funds will not accept responsibility for the conditions in these cases. I hope that the Government will have another look at this proposal before the Bill goes to the Senate. Honourable senators also have been circulated with a copy of this document by this Association. I know that they will look at it and have another discussion with the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs when he returns from overseas or with the Acting Minister for Veterans’ Affairs at the present time. Perhaps some special provision or some contribution can be made by the Government to Medibank Private to ensure that Medibank Private will accept these people as contributors without loss of benefits. I think that such an arrangement with Medibank Private would not cost the Government very much. It may well give these people benefits and, most importantly, peace of mind.
Do not let us forget the reason these benefits were introduced in respect of tuberculosis. We should not forget the reason that tuberculosis was treated differently from other illnesses from which ex-servicemen were suffering. At a time when the medical profession had very little other armamentarium, it accepted that serenity, if that is the correct term to use, in the minds of sufferers certainly helped to cure the condition of the sufferers. All we could do with these people was to put them into sanatoria and hope that they would cure themselves- that their resistance would overcome the bacillus. As we all know, it is now easier to deal with this bacillus. The amount of money involved is relatively small. I appeal to the Government to have another look at the matter.
In passing, I make one other remark which deals with the abolition of the sustenance allowance. This Bill proposes that the sustenance allowance will be withdrawn and replaced by a loss of earnings allowance. It may seem fair on the surface that the ex-serviceman must show there has been a loss of earnings to receive a sustenance allowance. At the present time, an exserviceman is entitled to a sustenance allowance, amongst other things, when he is in hospital and when he is under active treatment by his medical practitioner. But I think that quite often extra expenses are involved for a family when someone from the family is a patient in hospital. There is no loss of income but there is a loss so far as the family is concerned. I have received letters from wives of ex-servicemen pointing out, for example, that when their husbands, who are pensioners, go into hospital they have to employ somebody to do the gardening, mow the lawn and do all the other sorts of things that husbands normally do. I realise also that a saving is involved for the family because the husband does not have to be fed during the time he is hospitalised. But in the case where a sustenance allowance is paid in respect of a patient who is not in hospital but who is at home and receiving active treatment, that saving does not occur and the disadvantage does occur. Again, I hope that the Government will have a look at that aspect of the matter for that purpose.
I have raised these points knowing that in a few minutes I will be moving that the Bill be referred to a legislation committee. I assume from the way in which the daily program is printed that the motion will not be adopted. I wished to raise those points at the meeting of the legislation committee to get some undertakings from the Acting Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and his advisers and to have some discussion on some of the points I have raised. A number of other points also were raised in the debate yesterday. I again appeal to the Minister. Whilst I do not expect him to give me an undertaking now that he will change the proposals, I ask the Government to have another look at the matter before the amending legislation is introduced into the Senate.
– I will not delay the House for very long. However, I am pleased to be able to say to the honourable member for
Prospect (Dr Klugman) that the Government is in a position to respond to one of those matters that he raised. We have received a number of representations, not only from honourable members on both sides of the House and from honourable senators, but also from organisations such as the TB Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Airmens’ Association of Australia. They are concerned that benefits for war veterans with tuberculosis and other pre-existing and chronic conditions may not be payable by private health funds- this matter was raised by the honourable gentleman- because of the exclusion provisions in the by-laws of health funds. This treatment is given at the moment under the existing provisions of regulation 66. This position has been checked with the Department of Health which is the department that approves the conditions under which the funds operate. The health insurance division of the Department has advised that in respect of the new arrangements that commence on 1 November all funds will be obliged to offer basic medical and hospital tables which will not exclude benefits for pre-existing and chronic illnesses.
– Forty per cent?
-That is correct, 40 per cent will be the benefit. We are able to indicate to the honourable gentleman that at least that much of what he seeks was agreed to.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
-There is no substance to the point of order. The honourable member for Newcastle will resume his seat.
– Twenty-nine of them are away. It is no wonder Wran belted the ears off them last week.
-Order! The honourable member for Newcastle will resume his seat.
Bill read a second dme.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
– I move:
In support of the motion I would make only two points. There are two parts of this amending legislation on which the Opposition would like more information as to the actual method of dealing with the legislation, the intentions of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the reason for introducing the changes. The first change, which we have talked about for some time, is the provision that pulmonary tuberculosis be dealt with in the same way as other disabilities. In other words, exactly what is going to happen to those who at present are covered completely and receive a 100 per cent pension. The second change about which I am not quite sure and about which the Opposition seeks information on the sort of money that is involved, the points that will be taken into consideration under the amended legislation and whether there should be further amendments to make it easier for exservicemen to receive benefits concerns the removal of the sustenance allowance, which will be replaced under this legislation by a loss of earnings allowance. The removal of the sustenance allowance is a completely new point. In regard to the loss of earnings allowance there may be all kinds of interpretations as far as loss of earnings is concerned. Can there be a loss of earnings only when persons have been employed? Can it apply also to people who may have been able to receive some money during the time they were hospitalised or under treatment? What about persons who would be able to work but for the condition from which they are suffering? Those are the sorts of questions I would like to put to the Acting Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and his advisers at a legislation committee meeting.
-Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion. Very briefly, I think that the Parliament would understand that if the legislation committees are to operate successfully, and we are trying to co-operate as much as possible to ensure that they do work successfully, it must be accepted that the Opposition does have some rights as to what legislation it feels ought to be presented to legislation committees. We feel quite seriously not only about this measure but also about other measures that have passed through the Parliament in the last two days. We believe that it is essential that the Government recognise the wisdom of the motion put to the House by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), and refer this matter forthwith to a legislation committee, which can deal with it quickly. If that is done the measure can be passed by the Parliament as soon as we resume sitting next week.
Question resolved in the negative.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Motion ( by Mr McLeay ) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– I have no intention of keeping the House for very long, but I do wish to express the disappointment felt by the returned soldiers on this side of the House at the treatment that has been meted out by this Government to those men and women of our armed forces who have served in the number of wars in which we have been involved. The point that I wish to make is that the Opposition has been regarded as being anti-defence and amireturned soldier for a great number of years. I remind the House and the returned servicemen’s organisations that between 1972 and 1975 more benefits were granted to our returned servicemen and women than had been granted for many years previously. One of the Labor Government Budgets- I think it was the 1974 Budgetcontained 23 of the 25 proposals put to Cabinet by the then Minister for Repatriation, Senator Wheeldon, who was a most benign Minister.
– And war service home loans.
-The honourable member for Hughes reminds me that at the same time we did a great deal towards assisting returned servicemen to obtain more value from the war service homes scheme. It was the Labor Government that increased the maximum amount of loan from, I think, approximately $9,000 to $15,000. In the 25 years that I have been in this House my attention has been continually drawn to the war heroes who represent the National Country Party and the Liberal Party. At any main function which is held at Parliament House we see representing the Government our returned servicemen of the Air Force, Navy and Army. They have on their Returned Services League badges and they wear their ribbons on their chests. But when it comes to the real crunch, when it comes to their doing something for our ex-servicemen and women, we find instead that many of the entitlements granted to our returned servicemen and women are being taken away.
In this Bill we have a classic instance of that. The automatic acceptance of tuberculosis as a war-caused disability has been in operation since shortly after the end of the Second World War. Now that benefit has been taken away. Tuberculosis is now put into the same category as any other war-caused disability. I remind you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the House that it is only a matter of 10 years or so since our young men were sent to fight in Vietnam. Some of those young men are likely to find at any time that their lungs have been affected, because the country in which they were fighting is a country which is noted for tuberculosis. We can see what is happening to the refugees who are coming here from those countries. Many of them have to be hospitalised immediately on arrival on our shores because they are suffering from tuberculosis. That is particularly so in the case of those people known as the ‘ boat people ‘.
The same thing could happen to Vietnam veterans who were sent by a government of the political persuasion of the present Government to fight in a war which is now recognised as being a war that should never have taken place and a war into which Australia should never have been drawn. The great humanitarians opposite, the people who wave the flag on every possible occasion and say how wonderful it is that men and women are prepared to sacrifice themselves for our country in time of war, are now taking away the automatic acceptance of tuberculosis amongst ex-servicemen as being war caused. I only wish that honourable members on the other side of the House would realise that the time has now passed when they could say how loyal they were and how wonderful it was that our exservicemen and women had been prepared to go away and fight for our country, while gradually dwindling away the benefits that have been available to our returned soldiers, sailors and airmen.
I remind the House also that during the term of the Labor Government, between 1972 and 1 975, we granted automatic acceptance of cancer for hospital and medical treatment. That had not been done by previous Liberal and Country Party governments over a period of 23 years. I remind the House and all returned servicemen that at the same time as this Government says that it will never abolish the Department of Veterans’ Affairs it is gradually grinding it down by cutting down on the benefits being made available to our returned soldiers, sailors and airmen. This is a classic example of the hypocrisy of the Government not only in relation to our returned servicemen but also in relation to the community generally. Government members do a lot of talking but they are not much good at taking action. The Government has retained the Department of Veterans’ Affairs but it is cutting down on the benefits that are available to our returned servicemen. Just recently the Government introduced a provision which makes it essential that our permanent serving members of the forces serve six years, with a guarantee of extra service, before they are entitled to a loan under the Defence Service Homes Act.
– That was designed for men who served in the field.
– It was designed for no such purpose. If the honourable member for Fadden looks at the history of the defence service homes scheme he will find that he knows nothing about the Defence Service Homes Act or the War Service Homes Act, as it used to be called. The scheme was designed to help people in the forces to get a home, but that scheme has gone by the board over a period of years. We cannot attract sufficient men and women into our permanent Army, Navy and Air Force. One of the reasons why we introduced the three-year period of service in the permanent defence forces as the qualifying period for a war service home loan was to encourage people to remain in the Services.
– You cut out national service.
-Certainly we cut out national service. The present Government has been in office for three years now and it has not reintroduced it. It was a government of the same political persuasion as the present Government which introduced national service training and which introduced also conscription for the purpose of sending our boys to Vietnam. The present Government has not reintroduced conscription and it has not reintroduced compulsory national service training. The honourable member for Fadden should stop beating his gums; he should take some action. I can understand the honourable member for Fadden beating his gums because I found out just recently that he is a great fan of the local pop groups. The Government has shown once again that while it talks about the need to pay a tribute to our exservicemen and women, when it comes to the crunch it does very little about the matter. The only thing in this Bill that can be commended is that it will now allow representatives of exservice organisations to be on the determining authority of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The Government stands condemned for its poor treatment of our ex-servicemen and women in this Bill, the same as it stands condemned for its poor treatment of the pensioners of Australia in the legislation that just recently passed through this House.
– I am afraid I cannot allow the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart) to mislead- either deliberately or accidentallythose people and those servicemen who are suffering or may suffer at some future time from war-caused tuberculosis. For his benefit and for the benefit of those who may have listened to this parliamentary debate, let me put the record straight. The Government has accepted that the current provisions relating to pulmonary tuberculosis are no longer appropriate. They were introduced at a time when tuberculosis was a serious community health problem with limited prospects of effective control. The situation has changed with the introduction of effective treatment methods based on new drugs. In future, new disability pensions for tuberculosis will be granted only for the service related tuberculosis and the level of pension will be dependent on the degree of actual incapacity involved. It has been decided to freeze at the May 1978 cash level the pensions of those who currently receive 100 per cent general rate pension, and they number some 5,900 beneficiaries.
Those on higher pensions will be unaffected until their actual incapacity is assessed at less than the 100 per cent general rate when the freeze at the May 1978 cash level will apply. Those who have had disability pensions frozen will have their incapacity reviewed to assess the actual level of incapacity for tuberculosis and other disabilities. There will be no longer a specific tuberculosis service pension. Existing service pensioners will continue to be eligible for increases in the service pension. Therefore, the new provisions will mean that tuberculosis is placed on the same footing as any other illness or disability in considering eligibility for repatriation pensions. Those servicemen who have war caused disabilities arising from tuberculosis -
– You will have to prove you had a cough in Vietnam.
-Whether it be in Vietnam, Malaysia or Korea, it does not matter. If it was contracted in the period of their service and the disability was caused therefrom, they would receive the same disability pension for tuberculosis as they would for a wound. That is the record. It needs to be placed squarely because I think there is some confusion in the minds of people. I am charitable enough to believe that the honourable member for Grayndler was as confused as anybody on the issue.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment or requests:
Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill ( No. 2) 1978.
Income Tax (Rates) Amendment Bill 1 978.
Income Tax (Individuals) Bill 1978.
Income Tax (Companies and Superannuation Funds) Bill 1978.
Health Insurance Levy Bill 1978.
Debate resumed from 28 September, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Acting Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill, the Health Insurance Amendment Bill (No. 2), and the Health Insurance Commission Amendment Bill as they are associated measures. Separate questions of course will be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. Therefore, I suggest that you permit the subject matter of each of these Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering each of these measures? That being so, I will allow that course to be followed.
-We are dealing with three Bills which have a basic aim to introduce changes to the health insurance system and which were given to this House by the Minister on the night of the Budget. There is one additional change which enables dental practitioners to prescribe drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act. The Opposition has no objection to that. The Bills deal with the proposed changes. Let us be clear what those changes are. As far as hospitalisation is concerned, what is proposed is that from now on as previously, patients, persons, Australian residents going into a standard ward of a public hospital will receive free hospital treatment. This has been the case ever since the introduction of Medibank No. 1 by the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) back in 1975. The only change is that to obtain that treatment until now, ever since the introduction of the levy by this present Government in 1976, people had to pay a 2.5 per cent levy on their income. They will now no longer have to pay that levy, so obviously that is a step in the right direction.
On the question of medical treatment, the position has been that those who were considered to be levy payers, those who paid 2.5 per cent levy or those who did not earn enough to pay the levy, until the end of June this year were entitled to 85 per cent refund of the common fee. Since 1 July, because of the changes introduced in May this year, they have been entitled to a 75 per cent refund and an 85 per cent refund if they are eligible pensioners. From now on eligible pensioners will receive an 85 per cent refund. Those whom doctors consider to be disadvantaged persons will be able to be bulk billed. The doctor will receive 75 per cent. For the rest of the community there will be a 40 per cent refund, again without a levy. It is estimated that this will cost the Government $62 lm in a full financial year. There will be a loss to the Government in revenue of $3 16m due to the abolition of the levy, and the payment of $305m in added outlays in paying the 40 per cent across the board, plus 75 per cent in certain cases.
This Government is not noted for the Father Christmas spirit. We have just debated a number of pieces of legislation which have taken away relatively small amounts of money in the interests of what the Government considers is fighting inflation. It has imposed quite significant restrictions on pensioners and, as we know, on ex-servicemen entitled to repatriation benefits. The total savings have been very small when considering the $62 lm we are dealing with at present. The reason for this was the very great concern of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) about the consumer price index increases. He decided that by the abolition of the levy and the payment of the 40 per cent medical cost there would be a significant reduction in the CPI and the money would be recovered by slugging pensioners and repatriation beneficiaries and by the imposition of a 1.5 per cent tax surcharge across the board. Unless the Government reintroduces the levy in some form next year I predict quite clearly that the tax surcharge will continue and that, if anything, it will be increased in the next Budget. This is a sleight of hand on the part of the Government because the cost to all those who were levy payers will be almost the same. The increase in tax of 1.5 per cent compared with the previous 2.5 per cent -
– There is a one per cent difference.
-It is a one per cent difference, but on the other hand they will get a refund of only 40 per cent instead of the 85 per cent they receive until 1 July. So either people take the risk, as I suggest they ought to do, or they take out insurance, which would make up the one per cent. There will be no benefit for the levy payers and those who are not levy payers will be significantly worse off, provided they are taxpayers, because they will be paying the 1.5 per cent and all they will get in return is payment of 40 per cent of their medical costs. At this stage I wish to foreshadow the following amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Health Insurance Amendment Bill (No. 2):
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: the House is of the opinion that the Bill should be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide-
for the bulk billing by doctors prepared to accept 75 per cent of the common fee in full payment,
2 ) for the bulk billing for eligible pensioners at 85 per cent of the common fee in full payment,
for the payment of a 75 per cent refund for medical bills, and
that the Health Insurance Commission continue to be the paying authority ‘.
I should like to quote now from a statement made by the Australian Medical Association, an organisation with which I do not have the best of relations. However, occasionally I do agree with some of the points it makes, and I think that this is a significant point with which even the Minister for Health, who is at the table, will not disagree. The AMA has stated:
The cost containment debate rages on in the absence of any explicit agreement on how much the community wants to spend on health services, whether the present level is too high or too low, or whether the rise in health costs is too fast or not. The debate is catalysed by irregular but frequent changes to health financing arrangements by the Commonwealth Government of the time, sometimes for reasons of community health and welfare and sometimes to help balance the books. It’s time we sat back and had a calmer look at what’s going on.
That is a quotation from an AMA paper on the cost of health care, and I certainly agree with it. Many many amendments have been made to the health insurance scheme since this Government came to power. It has been in power since 1975 and during the 1975 election campaign the Liberal and National Country parties made a clear commitment to maintain Medibank. The commitment was repeated when the Government made the first changes in 1976. The Bills with which we are now dealing contain the fourth very major change to health insurance organisation in only three years. I think that most of us would agree that making so many changes is not the best way to go about it. Instability has become the curse of the Australian health insurance system. This is the eighth occasion in just over two years on which the National Health Act has been amended and the sixth occasion on which the Health Insurance Act has been amended by this Government. This charade of health insurance policy formulation has left the Australian public understandably confused and insecure.
One of the points with which I would like to deal is the proposition that somehow we are in a state of crisis as far as health costs are concerned.
People tend to respond to what they perceive as crises by jumping up and down and doing things, being seen to be doing things because there is a crisis. They cannot sit back and think about it intelligently and in some detail. We do not know, and we cannot guess and make an absolute statement, how much ought to be spent in this country on health care, basically because we cannot define need. We know that the proportion of the gross domestic product represented by health expenditure in Australia is just about dead average in relation to other countries with which we might reasonably be compared. Doctor Scotton has compared health expenditures for 19 countries, showing how actual expenditures compare with the level of expenditure which might be expected on the basis of relative national income. The big spenders on that basis are the Netherlands and Ireland, with Germany, Italy, the United States of America, France and Sweden also well above the expected levels. The most parsimonious countries are Switzerland, Greece and Belgium, with Norway, Finland and the United Kingdom spending at levels below what might be expected from per capita gross domestic product. Australia is in the middle group, with health expenditure almost exactly as predicted on the basis of actual gross domestic product but noticeably below the prediction in relation to trend gross domestic product. It is worth noting that the method of public financing affects total costs only indirectly, if at all. Countries with very high levels of social insurance are found not only at the lower end of the scaleBelgium, Norway and Finland- but also at the upper end- the Netherlands, Ireland and Germany. The United States of America and Sweden have very similar levels of per capita health expenditure with diametrically opposed methods of national health financing.
Health costs are not in a state of crisis, I emphasise again, in the medical sense of the word. It has been said that the situation is spiralling out of control, to be retrieved only by some heroic intervention, a dramatic change in the course of events or the death of the patient. The Government is reacting as if we are in a state of extreme crisis. On 24 May this year, when the last changes were introduced into the House, the Minister said:
Until an improved data base becomes available, the Government believes that it would be premature to proceed further with the consideration of major adjustments to the health insurance system.
That improved data base did not materialise magically. Indeed, the changes made by the
Government in October 1976 made the availability of precise statistical information all the more unlikely. Yet major adjustments are being made again. One must feel sympathy for the Minister, having to introduce these clumsy changes in the light of his earlier commitment. Clearly, pressure from the Prime Minister has proved to be too much. It is apparent that his leader holds a grudge against the Labor-initiated Medibank, which has won respect for its efficiency and has proved to be a viable competitive public organisation. The Prime Minister’s attitude towards Medibank, an attitude which borders on an obsession, demonstrates that efficiency is to be tolerated only when those who practise it concur with his ideological prejudices. Spite has been the primary motivation in this further move in the dismantling of Medibank, spite because the Health Insurance Commission recommended the retention of bulk billing. The Government’s ideological prejudices against bulk billing are well known to be aligned with those of the private funds. Misleading claims are frequently made by those sources to the effect that bulk billing leads to unnecessary claims. However, the Commission found that not only were there slightly less services per person where a patient was bulk billed but that individual claims were at a substantially lower cost than non-bulk billed claims. The Government was piqued at these findings and the Commission’s recommendations, and I refer now to those recommendations.
The Commission analysed the relationship between billing type and the number of services rendered. An analysis was made of a random sample of approximately 49,000 Health Insurance Commission members on which medical claims had been made. It revealed a total of approximately 160,000 services. So we can see quite clearly that that sort of random sample ought to be statistically very accurate. With a random sample of, I think, fewer than 1,000 persons, all the polls were able to predict the overwhelming victory of the Wran Government last Saturday to the nearest percentage point. Yet the Health Insurance Commission, on behalf of the Government, took a random sample of 49,000 individuals. It came up with the following results:
In each case statistically significant results were obtained. The first analysis . . . showed that for the period under study persons whose services were 100 per cent bulk-billed received an average of 3.12 services, 0.17 less than persons who have 0 per cent of services direct-billed. That is a rate of 5.2 per cent less than for non-direct-billed patients.
I think that this shows quite clearly that bulkbilling was in the interests of the consumer and, I would argue, in the interests of the medical practitioner who was prepared to bulk bill, and in the monetary interests of government. But the Government chose to ignore the advice of the Health Insurance Commission and abolished bulk billing in June this year. Now it has gone to the point of actually destroying the Medibank Standard part of the Health Insurance Commission.
With the reconstitution of the Health Insurance Commission the Government has further restricted its pool of advice. That pool of advice is now restricted, for practical purposes, to the Australian Medical Association, the private funds and to the rather conservative head of the Department of Health. Dr Howells is a very nice gentleman but his attitude on health is certainly interesting for a public servant, because he is completely committed to what he calls the ‘private enterprise environment ‘ of medical practice!
– He is a very distinguished physician.
– He may well be a very distinguished physician, but he has a particular point of view. It is not necessary for me to argue at this point that his view is an incorrect one. All I am saying is that the Government is getting opinions from one side of the fence only, and that is never a good thing. I do not think that the font of wisdom about health insurance is concentrated on one particular side of politics or on one particular side of ideology.
– Wisdom is a very debatable thing.
– Yes, but it is a good thing for the Minister to have the advice of other people. The public and the Medibank employees who face job insecurity will pay dearly for the Government’s ideological obsessions. The changes to health insurance will cost the Government an estimated $62 lm, as I said. There are numerous reasons why financial strife will eventuate and why the processing of the universal Commonwealth benefit by a multiplicity of private funds will become an administrative and costly nightmare. These changes will involve a massive transfer of payments from potential health care expenditure to expenditure on the administration of health care costs. Surely this is a retrograde and an unnecessary step, and an extremely expensive political point.
The private funds have at least temporarily agreed to accept $1.52, as I understand it, as a processing fee for the universal Commonwealth benefit. We have no guarantee that this figure will remain stationary. In fact the reverse is likely. The fee has been based upon that paid by
Medibank to Queensland Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows for processing Medibank claims. It has been estimated that there are 16 additional cost factors which have kept this fee at an artifically low level which other funds cannot match in the long run. Complex claims and overseas claims have been passed on to Medibank, as were claims due for reprocessing and adjustment following rejection. A great number of additional costs such as stationery, branch establishments, printing, courier services, computer programming and photographic costs have been met by Medibank. Queensland Manchester Unity has no general inquiry system. Its selected staff are Medibank trained and it has a network of honorary lodge secretaries who handle gratis claims, collection and checking.
Given this plethora of additional cost factors, it has been estimated that the majority of funds will require anything up to $4.50 in the not too distant future for processing a benefit that, for a general practitioner visit, will be $3.20. These funds will pay out a claim of $3.20 and the amount paid to them will be $1.52. That is at present; it may well rise to what the funds claim is necessary- $4.50. That this fee would escalate to 140 per cent of the actual benefits value is surely a quite farcical situation.
It is evident that, unless Medibank is made the sole processor of the Commonwealth benefit, we will witness an inevitable and an alarming escalation of costs- costs that will not result in any public gains. Costs are not only to be measured in terms of those to the taxpayer who foots the bill for this unnecessary proliferation, but also to those of the low average health standards, who will suffer higher premiums, given the rational movement of the more fortunate away from private health insurance. The average so-called community-based pool of health insurance will be destroyed. This was a method of not only averaging our costs over the community at a given time, but also averaging costs for each family over a lifetime rather than paying most at a time when it has least resources to call upon.
The new system is clearly inequitable. It is a notable retreat from the concept of a universal health insurance scheme that most Australians have approved. The burden of health costs has been shifted from the public to the less readily controlled private sector, from higher to lower income earners and from those in good health to those in poor health. It is likely that the migrants, the Aborigines and the large families who are unaware of the possibility of finding a doctor who will bulk bill them will be deterred from seeking early treatment and thus will need hospital treatment later on, at even greater expense.
In addition, there is the inestimable cost in anxiety to Medibank employees, who, through no fault of their own, have become political footballs and who face the possibility of retrenchment in times of high unemployment. The Government has refused to give these employees any guarantee of security of employment. Of course it has courteously requested the funds to draw additionally required staff from Medibank employees. Knowing the funds’ prejudices against Medibank, however, they may not readily turn to their former employees. Furthermore, given present Public Service staff ceilings, which have been reduced, Medibank employees can only be reallocated to the detriment of fellow public servants. Despite assurances to the contrary, these employees are being left in the dark about their future. Staff reassessments will be made and Medibank employees have been told that they will not know their position until January.
Many significant changes are being made. I think that at this stage, before going further into the general issues, I should give my own advice to persons who are facing a decision as to what they want to do, as they see it, probably before 1 November and, as I see it, before 1 January. My advice is that unless those persons have members of the family who are chronically ill or who are likely to require surgery under private conditions, they should certainly not take out medical cover. My advice is and always has been that persons should not take out what is called ‘doctor of choice’ or private hospital cover; but this is purely a question for individuals. If people feel that they should take out doctor of choice cover, which will give them some limited say in who will be their medical practitioner in a hospital, then obviously they will take out that cover. In passing, I make the comment that this particular piece of legislation will increase the cost of that cover by 75c or 80c a week for a family because of the removal of the subsidy. I am not strongly opposed to the removal of the subsidy. My own view is that doctor of choice cover should not be encouraged. I realise that a significant number of people in the community feel that this is a terribly important point. So, by all means they should take out doctor-of-choice cover.
Turning to the advice as far as medical cover is concerned, everybody will be entitled to a refund of 40 per cent of the common fee with a maximum payment by the contributor of $20 a service. I repeat, there will be a maximum payment of $20 a service and a minimum refund of 40 per cent. Just exactly what will people get? I am looking at the figures for the Hospital Benefits Association Ltd in Victoria which were published today. I assume that the rates in New South Wales will be even higher. The proposition is that to get 75 per cent cover contributors will have to pay $2.70 a week, and to get 100 per cent cover they will pay $4.30. This is purely medical insurance. When funds talk about 75 per cent cover, all they are really giving contributors is 35 per cent cover. They are calling it 75 per cent cover, but 40 per cent of that comes from the Government. It comes out of Consolidated Revenue. So a contributor for medical insurance will pay $2.70 a week for a refund which amounts to approximately the same- about $2.70- for any one visit to a doctor. In other words, a person would have to go to a doctor once a week to come out square. How many families in this country require one visit a week to a doctor? Not very many.
– It depends on the procedure. That may be so for visits to the surgery. But if a person wants to have a skin lesion removed that would not be so.
– But the most expensive payment is $20. How many people would take out any insurance to cover themselves against that sort of a charge? Let us assume that things are bad as far as one family is concerned and a member of the family has major surgery requiring an anaesthetist, an assistant, a couple of tests, all involving an expenditure of $100 or $120. The contributor or his relative is entitled to go in as a standard ward patient, in which case it does not cost anything. But let us assume that the person wants to go into a private hospital or to have a doctor-of-choice bed in a public hospital. Then the maximum expenditure could be $100 or $ 1 50, looking at a very serious illness. In order to get full cover a person has to pay insurance of $4.26 a week, otherwise he is covered for only half. In other words, he has to pay something of the order of $230 a year to get a maximum refund of about $120. How many families have significant surgery in any one year?
– Oh, come on!
-I bet that the honourable member is not going to pay insurance.
– In that case he has less sense than I thought he had. I have heard him speak on other issues and I thought that he was a quite rational sort of a bloke.
-You told them to look around for a doctor who bulk bills.
– Come on! That is scandalous.
-People are entitled to look for a doctor who bulk bills. They ought to be looking for doctors who bulk bill. They ought to be putting pressure on doctors to bulk bill, in which case it does not cost them anything.
– What about the poor guy who is up for $ 1 20 in any one week?
– How can he be up for $ 120? Nobody will be up for $120 in any one week. I am talking about medical expenditure. All I am arguing is that people should rationally look at the proposition. The majority of people in Australia take out unnecessary insurance cover. I am sure that it applies to other types of insurance also, but I am not speaking today on other insurance. If the honourable member for Hotham is an insurance salesman, good luck to him. There is a $ 100 excess payment on car insurance claims. Honourable members opposite are suggesting that people ought to be taking out insurance at a cost of $200-plus a year in order to get a very, very small return. On top of all that, in the case of persons like ourselves who are relatively well off, the actual expenditure on medical service becomes a tax deduction and the Government subsidises it by another 33V4 per cent. However, payments to the health insurance industry are not tax deductible. So it becomes even more unnecessary, unprofitable and more irrational for people to take out medical insurance cover.
May I finish on one final point. If people behave rationally, as I would advise them to do, and if the young people and the people who do not have chronic conditions pull out of the medical insurance funds, the final pool remaining will not be a typical pool and medical contribution rates will increase.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MartinOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
-The three Bills that we are debating complete the changes to the national health scheme which began with some legislation earlier this year. This legislation in turn followed an inquiry and review by the Hospital and Health Sevices Commission under Dr Sax. That inquiry commenced last year and its report, entitled ‘A Discussion Paper on Paying for Health Care’, was published in February of this year. The point I want to make is that many of the final recommendations of that report have been incorporated in this legislation and that there was certainly an opportunity for an input into this document by those interested in health care.
The first two Bills, the National Health Act Amendment Bill and the Health Insurance Amendment Bill, really concern the new arrangements and basically they are relative to the medical aspects of the national health scheme. As I understand it, the new hospital arrangements with the States are still being finalised and are to be announced some time in the future. I hope that these are the last significant changes to the national health scheme for many years. I say that for two reasons. One is that people are confused with the changes introduced in the last four years by both governments. The second is that the new arrangements, to my way of thinking, meet the criteria of what Australians want in a national health scheme. I will detail the criteria. The first criterion is that any scheme be simple and understandable, and the scheme which is coming in is certainly an improvement on the one it is replacing with regard to simplicity and being understood, but because of the confusion in the general public’s mind with all the changes it is most important that the Government has an educational advertising scheme so that people are aware of what the new scheme is, what they may have to do, what their rights are and so on. I know that the Government has embarked on this.
The second criterion is that it continues the universality of the national health scheme. There is the 40 per cent universal rebate with the $20 gap as the maximum payment, free hospital accommodation in standard wards and the 75 per cent and 85 per cent billing arrangements. I believe it can be said that no Australian will be refused health care in this country or will be unable to get it because of his financial position. The third criterion is freedom of choice. Australians have shown consistently that they desire freedom of choice, whether it be with a range of health funds, private accommodation or the different types of hospital accommodation. Even in the days of Medibank Mark I, I think that over 57 per cent of Australians still had private health insurance. That indicates that the attitude of the average Australian is that he wants a range or a choice.
The fourth criterion is that the choice that is being given to him should be available at a reasonable cost. I think that the announcements that are coming out at present indicate that it is within the reach of almost all Australians, if they desire to take advantage of that choice. The fifth criterion is some flexibility in the options that are provided. One of the significant points of this legislation is that greater flexibility is to be given to the health funds with different tables, optional arrangements and so forth. I note the comment of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) in his second reading speech about the safeguards for those who may be presently with a fund which is providing just an optional table which may not include such things as continued payments for the termination of pregnancy so that nobody is caught financially. Also the average Australian will be able to transfer between the various tables in the funds without any waiting period within a certain time scale.
The sixth criterion is the greater accountability that this scheme will bring to the patient and the provider of the health care so that there will be greater acknowledgement and realisation of the real cost of health care and the need in this country to reduce not the cost but the growth rate of health costs in Australia. I believe that the Minister is to be congratulated because it is now becoming apparent that he has significantly slowed the escalating costs of health care in this country. I would hope that these changes will take us further along that path. I will be very interested in the new hospital arrangements when the Minister announces them because 60 per cent of our total health care costs is in hospitals. In other words, the significant area for accountability for health care and value for money with health care is still to come. But I note the progress that the Minister for Health, who is at the table, has already made. We are proceeding with hospital accreditation for the first time. Peer review is on the way but I would hope that peer review includes not only hospitals but also private practice and that the health funds themselves will introduce utilisation review procedures so that they can keep some accountability through their system.
We are looking at the bed-patient ratios in the country. The Minister has already made certain announcements of a better division in the future between chronic and acute beds for patients. I ask the Minister to look hard at a couple of other things which I think are important to the future of controlling health care costs in this country. The first is the output of doctors and other health professionals. I refer not only to those who are graduating from medical schools in Australia because we are already well ahead of the projections and have reached the numbers that were not going to occur for many years. The second is the almost automatic entry of migrant doctors into this country. I come from a country area and it can be said that this is the only way a country town can get a doctor, but time after time a migrant doctor goes to a country town, stays there for 12 months and heads off to the big city. In the long run I am not sure that we are really making progress through this practice. The third point that I put to the Minister is that sooner or later T believe that we will have to introduce a participating doctor scheme in the medical benefits area so that those doctors who genuinely believe in a free enterprise system can be allowed to practice free enterprise medicine but not say that they want it on the one hand and claim from a government on the other hand.
The third Bill, the Health Insurance Commission Bill, is consequential to the first two Bills. It is consequential upon the abolition of Medibank Standard and the Government’s decision to arrange the 40 per cent benefit payment and other payments through the private funds and the Department of Health rather than through the Health Insurance Commission. With this legislation Medibank Private will be removed from the control of the Public Service Board. In the words of the Minister: . . Medibank Private will operate in a competitive position with other health insurance organisations and should be in as flexible a position as possible, having in mind that there is a statutory relationship with the Commonwealth as a Commonwealth authority. -
In other words, a statutory authority similar to Trans-Australia Airlines or Qantas Ltd. I suppose that this is a rather unique Australian approach, with our mixed economy, with a government statutory authority competing with private enterprise. I see nothing wrong with Medibank Private being established or developed on this basis, but there are some questions in relation to this matter. Should the Government have retained the Health Insurance Commission for the Commonwealth payments under the bulk billing procedures and so on? That proposition has certainly been put by the Opposition in its foreshadowed amendment. The Minister stated that there are advantages with the new arrangements. After quite a few hours of discussions that the committee of which I am a member had with the Minister we accepted the particular points that he made.
The next query concerns the necessity for the provision of comprehensive and early statistics on the health care of the nation. It has been a recurring criticism ever since I have taken an interest in this subject in Parliament that there is inadequate data for real or correct decisionmaking in the health care area. One could say that that goes for other areas as well, but I am referring only to health at the moment. I am reassured by the Minister that progress is being made and that part of the arrangement with the health funds is to ensure that this progress on this provision of information continues. The Minister refers to this in his second reading speech and it is included in the legislation.
The next query is whether Medibank Private will be completely independent and genuinely competitive with the private health funds. Once again the Minister has given an assurance that the distribution of assets and liabilities regarding Medibank Private will be fair and businesslike, that Medibank Private will be subject to the Audit Act and that it will generally act as an independent authority. That brings with it some problems for Medibank Private, particularly in the short term. Will Medibank Private be able to compete adequately against the private health funds? I ask that question because the terms and conditions of its employees, including those people transferred to it from the Health Insurance Commission, will be those that are enjoyed by the Public Service. Those of us who have never been part of the Public Service believe that those terms and conditions are more generous than the terms and conditions generally available in the private sector. One could say that they are over-generous, particularly in the case of superannuation. So this will be a burden for Medibank Private.
However, one point of interest in this regard is that the Minister has obtained a new arrangement for Medibank Private. In future, new employees taken on as the inevitable staff rollover takes place will have an option of either taking up Public Service superannuation, which I understand is the basis on which the other statutory authorities operate, or they will have the opportunity to join a scheme which Medibank Private itself will introduce and which Medibank Private believes it can operate more economically and tailor more beneficially to the requirements of its employees. If my understanding is correct, this is the first time that such an option has been provided for a statutory authority.
I want to commend the Minister for the way he has handled this difficult task. I believe that he has successfully negotiated this new scheme, particularly in view of all the changes that automatically flow in legislation and so forth and the discussions he has had with employees of the Health Insurance Commission. Also, I think he should be -
– What is next year’s change going tobe?
– If the honourable gentleman had been here and had listened he would have heard my attitude to any further changes to the national health scheme. It pays to listen sometimes. I also want to commend the Minister on the introduction of a longstanding Liberal and National Country party health policy, namely, giving dentists the ability or the power to prescribe a limited number of drugs. We have been advocating this change for quite a few years and I am glad to see that we have achieved our objective at last.
I have outlined basically the changes proposed in the Bills. The Opposition and other critics of the Government and the health scheme cannot claim that the Government is being mean financially in respect of the proposed changes because it is estimated that there will be an additional cost to government of approximately $620m in a full year. Also, the 2Vi per cent Medibank levy has been abolished. I believe that when we consider this point together with the new tables that are being announced we will see that the public is being given not only a good choice but also a good deal. The views of Dr Richard Scotton, one of the architects of the original Medibank, or Medibank Mark I, are contained in an article written by Claude Forell which appeared in the Melbourne Age of Thursday 17 August. He stated:
With remarkable audacity, the Federal Government, under the guise of abolishing Medibank, has restored it to something approaching its original concept.
Certainly the simplicity and the universality are there. He also commented on other aspects of the changes, including the likely reaction of people to the new insurance arrangements. Many other people, including the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) who opened for the Opposition in this debate tonight, have said the same thing. The honourable member put forward the proposition that a person would be a fool to insure. I would like to put forward a different view and to take issue with the honourable member in this regard. I would like to give a warning to people who might think that they can carry their own insurance. Certainly the Government will pay 40 per cent of the scheduled fee and there will be a $20 gap. Also, there is provision for free standard ward accommodation if that is what people want. But if this sort of attitude becomes prevalent I would think that a number of people, particularly family groups who would not have the financial resources to withstand some of the bouts of illness or accidents that occur from time to time, could be enticed not to insure. After all, that is what insurance is all about- to protect oneself against unfortunate unlikely situations which we hope will never occur but which quite often do occur. I certainly suggest that people would be most unwise not to insure. I believe they should insure. They should work out what appears to them to be a reasonable basis of safety and security, using the insurance principle as they would in other areas of insurance, and then take out the insurance cover that they believe to be necessary.
Many people in this debate who have questioned the need to insure forget another aspectthat is if one does not bother to take out hospital insurance one will not have the doctor of one’s choice when one enters a hospital. The majority of Australians have expressed the view that they want the doctor of their choice when they go into hospital. However, much of the advice that has been given suggests that people should ignore this point. In fact in many cases this point has not been mentioned at all. I hope that the Minister will take this matter into account when advertising the new scheme and what people should take into consideration. If people adopt this ‘carry your own insurance’ approach they should not forget that in making that decision they could be in a difficult situation. Not only will they be reducing their freedom of choice but also they will not have the doctor of their choice when they go into hospital.
I said at the beginning of my speech that I hope this is the last fundamental change to our national health scheme for many years. I acknowledge that possibly there will be some changes or some tightening up in procedures when the hospital arrangements are announced later. That is accepted. However, I hope there will not be another fundamental change for the whole system. Some fine tuning might be necessary because at present we are really only ‘guesstimating’- if honourable members do not think that is an appropriate word I will say estimating- the degree of public reaction. We do not know how much insurance will be handled in the private sector and how much will be handled in the public sector. Therefore the actual government budgetary commitment to the new national health scheme may be somewhat different from that estimated at the present time. If the estimates of the Government are not accurate in this regard- and I do not see how they really can be accurate- maybe the Government will have to do some fine tuning. This will be acceptable if the overall balance of health and health care costs in this country is maintained. I support the legislation and commend the Minister who introduced it in this place.
– I think the first thing to note about the collection of health Bills we are discussing tonight is that they represent the latest flip in a series of flips, flops and contortions- in fact it might well be said that the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) in the past three years has outrivalled anything offered in the Kama Sutra. First of all let us take Medibank 2V4 which was offered in May of this year. It was always a pretty feeble scheme in conception and in fact it has been aborted after four months.
I would like to take up the point made by the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd), that somehow this measure offers a completion of the proposals made in May. I think that if anyone looks at the set of Bills we are now examining, in no sense could they be seen as a completion of the policies introduced in May. In fact they are a series of dramatic reversals of many of the major features introduced in May. Let me just take three of them. The proposals introduced in May and June abolished bulk billing. But in the present proposals bulk billing is restored, admittedly in a somewhat modified guise, after having got the chopper in May. Again, as a result of the May procedures and the June Bills, the basic refund was reduced from 85 per cent to 75 per cent. The latest set of Bills make another major reduction from 75 per cent to 40 per cent in the basic refund. Finally, in the present set of Bills, in addition to the range of optional deductibles which were promised in May, the Australian people have been offered a massive front end and very attractive optional deductible which, as many commentators have suggested, may well make financial nonsense of the whole scheme. The non-insurance Commonwealth segment of the scheme is, in fact, very much a massive front end deductible which, if a major choice is made in that direction by the Australian people, may well create serious financial problems for the present proposals. Thus I think that it is difficult to say this set of Bills represents in any sense a completion of those Bills introduced in May and June. Quite clearly, we have now Medibank 3!£, because I do not really think that the May- June proposals, given their short period of life, deserve to be considered a significant scheme. We now have Medibank 3¥i, which I think has to be judged as an entirely new set of schemes. It is the fourth major change this Government has made.
I echo in many ways what the honourable member for Murray said about the hopes for the stability of the scheme. Clearly, whatever we think about this latest scheme, most of us would say that the Australian people have been so messed about with health proposals in the last three years that we should at least give them a chance of stability. However, the problem is that Medibank Vh had a four or five-month life. It never really got into the real world. The prospects for Medibank 3¥i, if I may dub this latest scheme ‘Medibank 2Vi are scarcely very propitious. I do not think that the prospects for the present scheme are very good. If we look at the conditions under which it arose, we have justification to be worried about its survival. First of all, the latest permutation on the medical provision for this country was not primarily designed in the interests of the health care of the Australian people. That was not the prime intention of the scheme. Medical and health concerns were not uppermost in the original planning of this latest permutation. Indeed, the reaction of the Austraiian Medical Association and the private health insurance insurers when they first heard of the scheme is evidence of that. The chief reason for the present proposal was the exigencies of the Budget- the financial problems faced by the Government in its 1978-79 Budget. The primary purpose originally of this latest contortion was to ensure a compensatory fudging of the consumer price index figures by abandoning the health levy to offset the inflationary effects of the increase in indirect taxes, particularly, of course, the impact of the petrol levy. Indeed, one might say that this Budget was conceived by Howard out of the Treasury rather than by Hunt out of Health. In mid-August these new proposals were unveiled in pretty inauspicious circumstances. I think that the Minister himself would admit that it was fairly messy in those early days. This is clearly evident if honourable members read the Minister’s statement on Budget day. It was a statement of much bewilderment and considerable befuddlement. I think that the Australian was rather kind to describe the Minister for Health the day after as a little woolly in his description of the scheme.
– A little charity does not go astray.
-No, I think that the newspaper was rather kind; I admit that. The problem was that the Minister was not quite sure with what he was landed on 15 August. Of course, had there been full planning of this new scheme, had it arisen very much from the Department of Health rather than from the Budget considerations, we could have expected, along with the Budget announcement, a clear exposition of the new scheme, its machinery, its benefits and its drawbacks. I think that the Minister himself would agree that on 15 August we did not get that. Thus in those first days a whole series of problems surfaced, none of which were satisfactorily answered in the Minister’s Budget day statement. Let me deal with four of those problems because I think that in a sense they have continued with us. First, what would be the effect of changes to Medibank on staff employment within the Health Insurance Commission? It is interesting to note that the circulated copy of the Minister’s statement of that day noted that some of the present employees of the Health Insurance Commission ‘will be surplus to requirements’. By the time the Minister reached the House, this statement had become, ‘some, indeed a considerable number, of the present employees of the Health Insurance Commission will be surplus to requirements’. As the Minister made policy on the run, the wording was changed from ‘some employees’ to a ‘considerable number of employees’. This question was certainly not faced very seriously in the first document. It was admitted that a problem existed there. It is a problem to which we will return.
Secondly, who would act as the agency for the payment of the universal benefit to the uninsured? Again, the Minister’s statement of 15 August was vague but appeared to suggest that the agency would be the private funds, although there was no discussion at that stage of the fees to be charged for such services.
Thirdly, how was the new category, the socially disadvantaged, to be defined? Of course, I notice that the word ‘socially’ has been dropped and the latest version talks about disadvantaged persons’, but it is the same problem- the defining of this category. Again, on this point, essential to many of the bulk billing considerations, the Ministerial statement was silent.
Finally, I return to the point raised by the honourable member for Murray. There is an uncertainty about how long this latest permutation will last. On the whole, the periods of survival have been getting shorter for each scheme introduced by the Government. It appeared from the statements that we have to date that the universal payment of 40 per cent was not guaranteed to last beyond the present financial year, although I am hoping that by the end of this debate we may be able to get an assurance that the survival date will go beyond eight months.
Since 15 August, in the past two months, bits of information have been dribbled forth in a somewhat piecemeal fashion. I think some of the doubts have been resolved but, of course, others remain. Indeed, with some of the responses, new questions arise. I want to take those points I have been discussing to see what the situation is.
– Have confidence, man; have confidence.
– I am hoping that unlike the Minister’s responses to me this afternoon, he will be able to answer confidently for me some of the questions I will ask shortly. I deal firstly with the employment situation of Medibank employees. On 15 August the Minister stated: lt does seem, however, that some- indeed a considerable number- of the present employees of the Health Insurance Commission will be surplus to requirements. We will make every effort to redeploy any surplus staff to the Public Service, to other Commonwealth authorities, to the private insurance funds or elsewhere.
It is eight weeks since that statement was made. Given the answers that the Minister gave to questions asked in the House yesterday, we still have no clear indication as to how many employees will be surplus to requirements. The first question I ask is this: Is the Minister able to tell the House tonight what are the numbers or at least the approximate numbers which will be surplus to requirements? Again, the Minister mentioned that there were to be arrangements to redeploy surplus staff. Let us see whether we can get some specific answer to the question. What exact arrangements have been made to deploy surplus staff of the Health Insurance Commission to other areas of the Public Service? What are the specific proposals which the Minister has in mind? Thirdly, yesterday the Minister made mention of assurances he has received from the private health funds. Again, that is all very well but all very vague. How precise are these assurances? For instance, I ask the Minister Has he received any assurances that former Health Insurance Commission employees will be given preference in employment of new staff by private health funds?
I think that the Minister has a fairly serious responsibility here. The employment problem we are now talking about is very much the result of the flip flops that I originally mentioned when discussing this measure. In May, the types of policy which the Minister was proposing then promised an expansion of employment, primarily because the abolition of bulk billing would require bigger staffs to handle the resulting problems. Of course, the decisions of August implied, as the Minister admitted, a considerable surplus of employees to requirement and thus , a significant retraction. In May and June we have promise of expansion. In August, we have the promise of retraction.
I hope that the Minister for Health will make some use of this debate to clarify for the people concerned the uncertainty which is the direct result of his own contortions. As I mentioned to him a moment ago, I am not overly hopeful as I tried to get some explanation this afternoon as to why unemployed people aged over 18 years without dependants should somehow be specially singled out as the only social service beneficiaries not to receive indexation. I did not get any answer to that.
After some weeks of suspense we know now that the universal Commonwealth medical benefit is going to be paid by the voluntary health insurance agencies. As far as we can understand the initial fee per claim is to be $ 1.52. One of the great problems with that is that the proliferation of agencies involved and clearly the complexities of the process about which the private insurance agencies have made much complaint almost certainly threaten a dramatic rise in that fee. Thus we will be faced, I fear, with an increasing and unnecessary drain simply for administrative processing. I would like some assurance that the kind of strong line the Minister took in recent weeks to keep this fee at $1.52 can be maintained against the kinds of pressures which will inevitably result, firstly, because there is a vast proliferation of agencies making these payments and, secondly, therefore, a very great duplication of resources.
It seems to me that as regards the payment of the basic 40 per cent, a single centralised agency would be a far more efficient and less costly means of doing it. Let me say personally that I object to the drafting of all non-insurers into registering with private funds. We hear much talk from the other side of the House about freedom of choice in these matters, and it is true, of course, that people on Medibank standard like myself now have a wide range of choice, of the private funds. We can register with any of these private funds and I suppose that we can register with Medibank Private which I would encourage most people to do in the hope that one day we may restore Medibank standard.
– You would not want that again. What a mess you made of it before.
– I will return to that point in a moment. Nevertheless, it is now compulsory for people to register with private agencies. The reason I condemn this, apart from my own particular and personal objection, is that the problem of unemployment on the Health Insurance
Commission side could have been partly solved by making Medibank Private or the Health Insurance Commission entirely responsible for the standard payment. At least it would have made easier the employment problems on the Health Insurance Commission side. Throughout the history of the pursuit of an adequate and satisfactory universal scheme the private health insurance agencies have been amongst the chief enemies of these proposals. They are now to be given a public subsidy which is almost certain to grow, given the pressures they are now applying. As some consumer groups have pointed out, how far can we ensure that people who are compelled to register with these agencies are not then subjected to the advertising procedures and opportunities which will be opened up to the private insurers, not through any choice of individuals but because they are compelled to register with a private agency. Some of us see this as a possible Trojan horse whereby, if the basic elements of the central scheme are altered, people will be lined up in the private agencies ready to receive them.
After weeks of hesitation the Minister has come down against providing legislative guidelines for denning disadvantaged persons. The doctor will have the responsibility of defining a disadvantaged person. I recognise and sympathise with some of the Minister’s difficulties in this field. On the other hand I think we should ask: Is the doctor the appropriate person to make this decision? In many ways I am sympathetic with the criticism advanced by Professor Sawyer that the Government is now turning the doctor into a new kind of poor law administrator who has to make a decision about the socially disadvantaged- a field in which he has no particular expertise.
– They have been doing it all their lives.
-And not very effectively.
– Who says that?
– I will give the honourable member some cases in a moment. Of course, it is not surprising that doctors do not do it very effectively because one needs social worker expertise to make decisions about socially disadvantaged persons. It seems to me that the Government is giving the medical profession a task which, neither by training nor by particular expertise, is it well equipped to deal with. One of the worries here, about which constituents have complained to me already, is that doctors may simply make a decision between good and bad payers; that is, those whom they know can be relied upon to pay, whatever their social level, will be dealt with in the ordinary way and somebody who is seen as a bad payer, for whatever feckless or other reason, will be simply treated as a socially disadvantaged person. I think that is a very important point because I think that many doctors may take that way out. The decision will be a judgment not so much of the basic social conditions of the person but simply whether he is a good or bad payer and that may not necessarily relate to the general social situation of the person, although, of course, it is not unrelated. I am glad that the Minister has included in his speech a promise that he has arranged for his Department to look closely at the operation of the new direct billing procedures, particularly as they relate to the classification of the disadvantaged person. I hope that he will give us some details about how what is a fairly difficult operation will be carried out. When he gets a chance to respond to some of these remarks I hope that is another point he will take up.
Finally the Minister, in his Press statements to date, has been reluctant to give a survival date to the scheme. I think we must ask whether it is just to survive so long as it serves the present exigencies of the Budget. Is it limited to the lifetime of this Budget, that is, to a period of eight months? I think that people deserve some assurance on this subject, and here I echo the comment of the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd). I hope that we have reached some degree of stability in the basic concept of the scheme particularly while this Government survives, a period which we hope will not be for very much longer. At least let us hope that while it survives there will be no changes to the scheme. One can see quite clearly that the only changes that will be made to the scheme now will be essentially regressive, that is, a playing around, I fear, with the basic components of it.
I admit that most of the criticisms I have made of the scheme tend to deal with the detail and the periphery of the proposals because, as the honourable member for Murray pointed out, the basic principles of this scheme restore the original concept of Medibank Mark I, at least in concept. We would, of course, want to make adaptions to that in terms of the basic cover, the basic amount paid back. We would like to see a single agency dealing with those who opt to accept the basic cover. But in principle this is a scheme which, unlike the efforts of the past two years, moves back towards the basic principles of the original scheme.
-(Hon. Ian Robinson) - Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In this debate to date I have listened to two members of the Opposition for a total of 50 minutes. I want to comment briefly on two points made by the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) because, quite frankly, they are the only two points which I think are worthy of comment at this stage. One of the most laughable things I have ever heard in this chamber was when the honourable member talked about Medibank Mark 2Vi, I think it was, and how the life of the changes that this Government has instituted is lessening. I say to the honourable member that Medibank Mark 1 was the biggest mess that this nation has ever seen in health care programs. He talked about the day when he hoped to see Medibank standard returned. I thought that members of the Opposition would have learnt at some stage but obviously the socialists of this country will never learn. The other point he made concerned disadvantaged patients. I am slightly in agreement with him, slightly sympathetic to the view he put, and I will talk a little about that later.
I return now to the three Bills specifically under debate because they put into effect the changes announced by the Government in the Budget. I think the point ought to be emphasised that universal cover is provided for all Australians. But it is universal cover which is being instituted in a fashion far different from that in which it was instituted when the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) was Minister for Social Security in 1974. The new scheme provides for medical expenses to be paid to the extent of 40 per cent, with a maximum payment of $20 per service. On the hospital side, every person in this nation will be entitled to standard hospital accommodation and treatment in a public ward. I think that that ought to be emphasised. This is clearly the finest scheme we have seen in this country, the finest scheme to emerge since the dark days of the introduction of Medibank. If I have one regret at this point in time it is that the word ‘Medibank’ is retained. I ask the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) to take that into view in the future. I would prefer to see the word ‘ Medibank ‘ rest in peace. I am sure that most Australians would agree with that point of view, because at this stage we have a noncompulsory and yet universal scheme. In 1974 we saw the introduction of Medibank- the scourge of the nation, a scourge suffered by every nation that has introduced a so-called free health scheme. One has only to look at the situation overseas to realise that there are nations that wish that they could back off. We have been able to do this to date. I said that I have only one regret, and that is that the word ‘Medibank’ is to remain.
I want to look briefly at health costs because they will not go away. Despite the number of changes that have been made- perhaps too many changes have been made to the schemewhat this Government has achieved is a slowing down, a lessening, in the escalation of health costs in this nation. I say to those deliverers and consumers of health care that they must respect the services that we have available. The deliverers, the doctors and the hospital administrators must realise that there is no bottomless pit, that somewhere someone has to pay for the cost of health in this nation. The consumers of health care- that is, all of those people, including myself, who avail themselves of free health care services at the point of delivery- must be made aware that those services at some point have to be paid for. So to the deliverers and consumers of health care I say that they must be well aware of the system we have and not abuse it.
The extra cost of this new scheme to the Commonwealth in a full year has been quite clearly pointed out to total $62 lm, of which $305m extra will be spent on outlays and of which a total of $3 16m will be accounted for in loss of receipts because of the abolition of the levy. One must surely look again at the total health costs to this nation, because they have exploded from approximately $2.2 billion to $6.2 billion in the 5 years from 1971-72. The Minister for Health who is at the table has repeatedly made these figures available so that the people of this country could realise just what is involved. The cost of health care per person has risen from $104 in 1966-67 to $447 in 1976-77. So it has increased more than four times in 10 years. Outlays on health in this Budget are estimated to be $2.9 billion or 10 per cent of the total outlays of almost $29 billion. If we look at the rate of growth in health costs we find that they rose by 20 per cent in 1973-74, by a further 36 per cent the following year, by 27 per cent the following year, and in 1976-77 the rate of growth had slowed down to 19.7 per cent. Those figures are well worth bearing in mind.
I move on now to deal with health insurance in particular. I want to issue a warning in relation to the new attractive rates that have been announced, because it is my belief that when the healthy Australian, and the healthy young Australian in particular, decides that he will not take out health insurance there will be no guarantee that these rates will hold. I accuse the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), the shadow Minister for Health, of encouraging people not to take out health insurance. Tens of thousands of Australians will be unhappy if they do not take out some health cover. Although we have seen fairly attractive rates announced in the newspapers in the last two or three days, I say that there is no guarantee that those rates will hold. Only time mli tell whether these particular health insurance funds can sustain the lower rates that they have recently announced. I believe that very many Australians will opt out. I just say to them that today’s healthy person can be tomorrow’s ill person. That ought to be recognised by the honourable member for Prospect and all those honourable members opposite who are advising people not to take out private health insurance. If I had a message for all Australians, if I could counsel all Australians, I would say that they should investigate the pros and cons and think very carefully.
– Stay out.
-The honourable member for Port Adelaide, of course, is one of the better off people in this country. He receives a large income. He says: ‘Stay out’. I simply say to the people of Australia: ‘Think carefully about it. Do not take the advice of the honourable member for Port Adelaide. Think carefully about it, Australians, and I think many of you will decide to take out health insurance’. To illustrate my point, let me refer to my own personal case. Up to the age of 40 years I had never been admitted to a hospital. Over the past three months I have incurred several thousands of dollars worth of health care costs. I do not know for how many years I have been a member of a health insurance fund, but certainly I have been a member for as long as I can recall. I simply say that today’s healthy Australian might be tomorrow’s ill person.
Let us look at what will happen with the removal of compulsory health insurance. The abolition of the levy of 2.5 per cent will mean a minimum saving of some $150 for a single person or $300 for the family man. That is assuming that he does not take out the health insurance about which I have asked him to think very carefully. Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner I interjected during the remarks of the honourable member for Prospect. I want to make particular reference to two statements that he has made. One was a Press release that he issued here in Canberra on 17 August in which he urged people not to panic. That Press release stated:
The changes would only apply from November 1 and his advice to people in general was to drop private insurance unless they were particularly keen on a ‘doctor of choice’ in hospital.
The Press release went on to state:
Standard ward treatment in hospitals would be free without belonging to any fund and the Government would pay at least 40 per cent of medical fees incurred both in and outside hospitals. Those not taking any insurance should look for doctors prepared to bulk-bill.
I take up the point that people ‘should look for doctors prepared to bulk-bill ‘. What a scandalous state of affairs that is. The man who is shadow Minister for Health in this Parliament is encouraging and inciting people to beat the system. He is inciting people to look for doctors who bulk bill. Indeed, he is inciting doctors to be dishonest. That is what his statement amounts to. He makes no reference to low income or disadvantaged people in relation to whom bulk billing was specifically introduced, as has been stated so many times by the Minister for Health in this debate. Yet the honourable member for Prospect encourages dishonesty in his own profession, the medical profession. When one looks at the number of times that the Labor Party has incited anarchy and lawlessness in our community- I am sure it has incited people to exploit our unemployment benefit scheme- and when one hears a shadow Minister for Health, a man who aspires to be Minister for Health in this country, telling people to look for doctors who are prepared to bulk bill, one wonders what the motives of the honourable member for Prospect are, especially when he stoops to those levels to urge people to seek handouts to which they are not entitled. The scheme was not designed for that sort of thing. On 28 September 1978 the honourable member for Prospect in a grievance debate which took place in this House said:
A sufficient number of people will not be aware of that fact. The private funds will have access to these people’s records and will have their names and addresses and will bombard them with literature encouraging them to take out unnecessary- I repeat ‘unnecessary’- health insurance. The funds make their money on unnecessary insurance.
It surely will be unnecessary for most people after 1 November to take out medical insurance.
I just say that he is encouraging people again not to look after their own insurance. I wonder whether he would take that to the extent of motor vehicle insurance, house insurance or any other form of insurance that people in this country take out for their own protection. As I said earlier, it is a scandalous state of affairs when a man who aspires to be the Minister for Health in this country urges people not to take out insurance.
I want to move on to bulk billing and the bulk billing that is intended for disadvantaged people. My comments are not all-embracing but do cover a fair percentage of the medical profession. It is difficult to get uniformity of approach when one is dealing with professional people and some doctors are of independent means. I believe they will be too stringent in their application- this takes up the point I think that the honourable member for Bonython was making- and of course there will be other medicos who will be too lenient. I want to take to task those doctors in every sizeable community who are known as compo’ doctors. The fellows from the railway yards, the waterside workers and so forth, get to know the ‘compo’ doctor, encouraged by the socialists on the Opposition side who say: ‘Go and see doctor so-and-so, he is the “compo” doctor. He will give you some days off’. I have been too close to the medical profession to think that they do not exist: They do exist. The honourable member for Prospect knows they do exist. Encouraged by the honourable member for Prospect this will create a band of doctors who will be not only ‘compo’ doctors but also will be known as ‘ bulk billing doctors ‘.
-I hope so.
– Yes, you hope so. You admit it and you ought to be ashamed of the fact.
-I hope so. They should all be.
-The honourable member is inviting doctors in Australia to bulk bill. Unscrupulous doctors are easy enough to come by without him, as a member of the medical profession, encouraging them to do so. Word soon gets around in any community that you can go to doctor so-and-so and he will put you on compo for a few days. The word will just as easily get around that you can go to doctor so-and-so who can classify you as being disadvantaged.
-I hope so.
-You ought to be ashamed. That is a scandalous state of affairs.
– If you live in Queensland you are disadvantaged anyway.
-No doubt there are people in our communities who will seek to be classified and indeed will be entitled to be classified as disadvantaged. There is no doubt in my mind that there are honest doctors who will classify them as such, but it is an area of concern to me and I think the honourable member for Bonython has pinpointed that area of concern. However, I would hope that the Minister and his Department would monitor carefully what is going on in this particular area in just the same way that they monitor those doctors who overprescribe or prescribe expensive drugs or drugs that are intended for specific purpose complaints, just as they monitor the number of consultations that various doctors have with pensioner patients. In the same way I would hope that they would monitor very closely to keep under scrutiny the fact that doctors will abuse this privilege that is given to them in relation to the classification of disadvantaged patients. I say that to the Minister and his Department. I hope this is something that will be kept under close scrutiny.
The honourable member for Port Adelaide who is in the chamber at the moment asked the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) a question yesterday I think in relation to disadvantaged patients. Quite frankly, I think it was extremely well answered. Of course doctors know more about the intimate matters relating to patients and their problems than anybody else in this nation, but I see no difference in that respect between an accountant, a bank manager and the Taxation Office.
– The bank manager is entitled to know.
– Of course he is, and the doctor knows more about those particular patients.
– They are being unrealistic.
-That is right. A doctor retains confidentiality. I see no problem in relation to that matter. I want to refer briefly to hospital services. I believe we must have a rationalisation of hospital services in this nation. Approximately 60 per cent of total health costs goes in hospital services. Insofar as the Commonwealth-State hospital agreements are concerned, if State governments want to involve themselves in pork- barrelling or political patronage I say to them that they ought to be prepared to pay for that particular political patronage themselves. I say to the Minister that there are glaring examples, I would suggest, certainly in the State of Queensland.
As a country person first and foremost, having spent 16 years of my young life in the country, I defend the right of country people to have services. However, there are hospitals operating in country areas, sometimes no more than 20 to 50 kilometres away from another hospital with a low occupancy rate. I do not think we can afford this sort of luxury. We have improved transport, improved roads, air transport, yet we see hospitals with 20 or 30 beds with a one-third occupancy rate. I do not believe it is necessary that we should.
I say that we should sustain these hospitals but we have to see a rationalisation of services. It is not only the capital costs of the hospitals, it is the cost of the equipment and the recurrent costs that are helping to feed the tremendous expense that we see today in hospital services in Australia. If we as a Federal Government are going to foot the bill to the extent of 50 per cent of these hospital agreements, it is dme that we took an extremely close look to ensure that our money is well spent. I repeat, I do not deny country people the right to adequate service, in fact there are people in city areas who sometimes have to travel greater distances and for longer periods of time to visit relatives and friends in hospitals than occurs in many country areas. It is just not good enough to maintain a hospital in a country area when it could be closed and the facilities perhaps upgraded in a neighbouring town.
I cite an example in my home State of Queensland. We have the twin towns of Ayr and Home Hill on each side of the Burdekin River, each with a hospital. Is it really necessary for the two towns to have two hospitals no more than a few kilometres apart? I believe that the Minister has moved, is moving and will move more in this direction because if one examines the statistical divisions in Queensland one finds that in the country areas the occupancy rate of the beds gets lower. If one examines the Sax report one finds there is plenty of evidence that the more beds provided the more beds that are filled.
-We have just listened to a sycophantic diatribe in favour of doctors in a hate session against workers. It sits very ill on the shoulders of a government that since 1975 has broken many promises. I might mention broken promises concerning wage indexation, cuts in personal income tax, the pledge to provide full employment and to maintain the value of pensions. Similarly, the history of Medibank and health insurance since December 1975 has been one of a continuous breach of faith. Remember how in 1975 Labor kept its election pledge to provide a basic, cheap, workable system of universal health insurance? It was to be funded by a 1.35 per cent levy on taxable income, but of course the then Opposition defeated that purpose in the Senate. We then had to fund the original Medibank from general revenue. That is how Labor’s first Medibank service was born. In the December 1975 election campaign-after the disgraceful coup, I might add- the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) promised not to interfere with Medibank. Six months later legislation was introduced which broke that promise. We saw then the imposition of a 2.5 per cent levy on taxable income and a subsequent exodus back to the private health funds. Earlier this year the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) released the Sax report and what he euphemistically termed his health costs control program.
– Who called it that?
– I thought that is what it was labelled- the health costs control program. I remember getting so much documentation on it on my desk that it took me a month to get through it. Then the Government introduced the legislation to reduce further the benefits of Labor’s original scheme. We saw the reduction of benefits paid on schedule fees by Medibank and the private health insurance funds from 85 per cent to 75 per cent and the maximum payment on each item was increased from $5 to $ 10. At that time the Minister commenced his hate campaign against Medibank, saying that it was responsible for rising health costs. He said:
In Australia the great health cost explosion began during the term of the Labor Government. It was a cost expansion directly associated with the transfer of health expenditure from the private to the government sector.
Mr Speaker, that is not correct. In the five-year period from 1971-72 to 1976-77 health costs rose from $2,232m to $6,254m. But let us examine the breakdown. Costs rose from $2,232m in 1971-72 to $4,129m in 1974-75, the half-way mark. That is an average increase of 28 per cent a year. But in the two years after the introduction of Medibank, that is 1975-76 and 1976-77, total costs rose from $4, 129m to $6,300m, an average rise of 25.5 per cent a year. So there was a small reduction in the rate of increase after the introduction of Medibank. The Minister was not telling the truth when he spoke to that legislation in May.
– They were preliminary figures and they were quoted as such. I will be quoting the Bureau of Statistics figures very shortly and they will really emphasise that point.
-It is all in the Sax report. The Minister could have worked it out for himself, as I did. In the run-up to this Budget there were numerous leaks- leaks, leaks, leaks, plenty of them- tipping that the Medibank Standard levy and the ceiling would be increased. That did not happen. The Budget contained the greatest surprise and broken promise of all. Medibank Standard was completely abolished and the Government explained that it would pay a 40 per cent subsidy to all, including those who opted out of health insurance altogether and those who remained in Medibank Private or the private health funds. But did this amazing reversal of form originate in a desire to improve health services or in a desire to reduce the consumer price index figures? The Minister has said that the removal of the levy and the payment of the general 40 per cent subsidy will cost the Government $620m in a full year. Is it not amazing that the iniquitous tax surcharge of 1.5c in the dollar- that is, the tax surcharge that wipes out the February tax cuts for those earning up to $240 a week but still leaves $62 a week for those earning $2,000 a week- will raise $5 80m or approximately what will be lost on the other two measures? Of course, that will not show up in the CPI figures. Since we can be sure that the Government’s budgetary deficit problems will continue, there is a clear inference that the 40 per cent subsidy will be wound down, perhaps even abolished, or else the temporary tax levy will become a permanent levy.
– I had not thought of it. Do not put bad ideas into people ‘s heads.
-I would not be surprised if that is what the Minister does. The 40 per cent general subsidy is too low. Certainly the Government will tempt many people to gamble on their future good health and many families may live to regret their gamble if they are struck by significant illnesses. The Opposition’s foreshadowed amendment, and I ask the Minister to take note of it, calls for the payment of a 75 per cent refund for all medical bills, and I will return to that matter later. Clause 9 of the Health Insurance Amendment Bill allows the private funds to set up socalled optional deductible schemes whereby for a reduction in contributions those insured will be asked to pay up to the first $500 of total annual bills. I think that that is more a concession to the Minister’s earlier rhetoric about these optional deductible schemes than a belief that these tables are now necessary. After all, the biggest deductible of all is simply to opt out of the system, to pay out nothing and cop the 40 per cent subsidy. What is the point of the optional deductibles?
– Or find a doctor who will bulk bill.
– Yes. But in either case the Minister is inciting people to opt out of the system, to gamble on their health. As I will show later, it may be cheaper for the lucky ones to do so, but I do have doubts. Apart from the obvious incentive to those people to avoid seeing doctors, and that could be a blow against the concept of preventive medicine, there is another major argument. The concepts are actuarily unsound. The Minister will create separate pools of people taking health insurance. The young and the healthy will stay out and the families, the middle aged and the sick alone will shoulder the cost burden. That is not sound insurance funding, and the Minister knows it.
The Health Insurance Commission’s functions have also been disrupted and the staff now fear for their future employment. Since the Commission will no longer handle bulk billing but will act as the paying authority for the 40 per cent subsidy only for those who register with Medibank Private, many regional Medibank offices will be taken over by the Department of Health. In New South Wales this will include the offices in Miranda, Liverpool and Orange, which have an actual staff right now of 364 people. The Government also proposes to phase out the Canberra operation. The Federal Department of Health has announced a staff requirement of 207 for Miranda, Liverpool and Orange. That means that in those four offices alone- Miranda, Liverpool, Orange and Canberra- 227 people face dismissal when these regional office activities are assumed by the Department of Health after 1 November or, in the case of Canberra, when they are phased out. I understand that the staff of 1 14 at the large Wollongong regional Medibank office and its branches are also most concerned about their future. It is true that these offices and some others will remain as branches of Medibank Private. Mr Minister, they are entitled to ask: For how long? Is it true that they will stand or fall on their ability to register some 65 per cent of people not in private funds for payment of the 40 per cent subsidy?
– I hope they get 100 per cent.
-So do I, but is it true that if they do not get 65 per cent they may be phased out? I would like the Minister to answer that question. We are all entitled to ask why Medibank Private was not allowed to process exclusively the 40 per cent Commonwealth benefit and continue to process all bulk billing claims. The Opposition’s foreshadowed amendment most definitely demands that the Health Insurance Commission continues to be the paying authority for both those measures. The unions involved, that is, the Australian Public Service Unions, the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association and the Federated Clerks Union, have joined us in that demand.
Why is there any need to continue with this charade of support for a chronically ill private health insurance system? Why does the Minister wish to prop up this nonsense, this wasteful duplication that is involved in the support of a multiplicity of private health insurance funds all vying for a limited market? He would not tolerate it in the domestic airlines business. He would not tolerate umpteen competitors with Telecom. He would not tolerate it in the postal services. Is it not true that all these funds now exist simply to fill the 35 per cent gap, that is, the gap between the 40 per cent subsidy and the 75 per cent of scheduled fees, or the 60 per cent gap between the 40 per cent subsidy and the 100 per cent of scheduled fees which is offered by the funds? Certainly there is the added incentive of extra hospital insurance involved, but this is only necessary because of the greed of the medical profession in refusing to work on a sessional basis in hospitals.
Let us face it, people join intermediate and private hospital tables offered by private health funds because they are not confident that their own doctor and specialist will treat them if they are standard public ward patients only. I can advise the House of a personal experience whereby a specialist refused to operate on a sick child because in 1975 I preferred to remain in Medibank Standard which of course offered 85 per cent of medical fees and free treatment in standard hospital wards. I was offered a choice by that specialist of either signing a paper to allow him to charge his full fee for service or of finding another surgeon. The same thing will happen to the people who opt for the 40 per cent of medical fees and the so-called free treatment in standard ward hospitals. What a confusing picture we now see. What a set up!
Let us look at some samples of tables offered by three organisations. In the last few days three funds have announced a 75 per cent return of scheduled fees and $40 per day for intermediate hospital ward cover. For that table, Manchester Unity proposes a charge of $6.40 a week; the Hospital Benefits Association of Victoria, $5.66 a week; and, it is rumoured, Medibank Private will offer $6.32 a week. People can choose one of these tables or they can opt for another table costing about $7.90 a week which offers 100 per cent return of fees paid. You pay you money and you take your pick. If a person has decided which fund he is going to join, he then decides which table he will join. What a marvellous choice a person now has! He can decide whether he wants to stay out of medical insurance altogether or he can decide whether he wants medical cover only and rely on free hospital treatment and thereby pay about $2.70 or $2.80 a week, or he can opt for hospital only cover and pay $4-odd and rely on the 40 per cent subsidy for medical bills. A person has to decide between this conglomeration of different tables. One has to be a Philadelphia lawyer to work it all out. That is a fact. I do not think that I am confused about the matter At least I think I understand what it is all about. I think the Minister understands and there are probably a few people in this House who do, but believe me, there are not many people in the community that can understand it.
As I was saying, perhaps a person settles for the 40 per cent general subsidy and the standard ward treatment in hospitals. According to this list put out by Medibank the scheduled fee is $8.90 for a standard general practitioner consultation. The table rate is $3.40 a week which amounts to $177 a year and 35 per cent of $8.90 is $3.1 1; so, on my rough calculations, it looks as though a person might have to make about 25 visits a year to the doctor before it would be cheaper to join a private health fund. Let us look at some of the other changes. A standard GP home visit is $ 13; an initial consultation with a specialist is $26 and a subsequent consultation is $13; an initial consultation with a consultant physician is $45.50; confinement by a specialist is $176. Then there are all these other charges, such as $130 for an appendectomy. If a person is troubled by a significant illness it could be that he has to attend a number of doctors and specialists at the same time and he will have to pay a maximum of $20 a go on the more expensive items.
Look, enough of this nonsense about choice of tables! Why should we not have just one universal health insurance scheme? We could have one scheme such as Medibank used to be that could pay a basic subsidy and offer standard ward accommodation and perhaps offer extra coverage for medical and hospital treatment. Better still, why not just have one health insurance fund funded by one simple levy, offering medical insurance and offering a full and comprehensive hospital service by doctors in the great public hospitals.
But I should make this point: We in the Labor Party realise that much more is needed than simply to create just another national health insurance fund such as Medibank used to be. We need to challenge the whole concept of feeforservice charges by the medical profession. I might point out that we are not alone in our feelings. I refer honourable members to the feelings of the Australian Hospitals Association which said this in its bulletin of last April:
A good deal of diagnostic medicine is provided on a feeforservice basis. If it can be demonstrated that, other things being equal -
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. Because of the conversation at the table between the Minister for Health and the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) and others I cannot hear the speech of my honourable friend. Could the matter be put right please?
-(Hon. Ian Robinson) - There is no point of order. I draw the attention of the House to the need for silence.
– I was saying that the Australian Hospitals Association said:
If it can be demonstrated that, other things being equal, fee-for-service diagnostic medicine is more expensive than that based on salaried practice, then serious consideration should be given to a complete revision of remuneration methods for diagnostic services.
That is what should be done. We should resuscitate, not wind down, the concept of preventive community health centres. Why can we not develop a system of medical centres staffed by salaried staff who are working for a just and decent salary? Such a concept has already been put into practice by some unions. A centre was established in Footscray by the Butchers Union in Victoria. As I understand it, it is now a publicly run centre. There is also a centre run by the Australian Workers Union in Sydney. Five different unions are acting together in that area. It offers a medical service which will not charge more than 75 per cent of the schedule fee. We need to offer more than just a health insurance scheme. We need to attack the principle of fee-for-service and we need to quietly go about setting up medical centres, getting the young doctors when they come out of hospitals, paying them a decent salary and letting them work for a salary.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I will not take up very much time but I want to refer very briefly to a question which has already been raised but which I think needs to be re-emphasised. It relates to the second situation, that is, medical expenses related to services rendered to a disadvantaged person who has entered into a direct billing agreement with his doctor. The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), in his second reading speech, talked about some of the difficulties that he saw involved in that concept. He said:
On balance I have decided not to specify such guidelines in the legislation. On balance I consider that the relationship between a patient and his practitioner is unique- indeed, quite personal. The term ‘disadvantaged person’ is difficult to define in legal terms, but the specification in the legislation . . . could introduce rigid procedures . . .
I think this matter is extremely important. I think that the legislation clearly is creating a situation which will not be able to last. People say that it would be fine to reach a stable system, and I think in many respects that the concepts underlying the present legislation are much sounder than the concepts that had been originally introduced by the Government. But this proposal reflects some fuzzy thinking. It reflects thinking that just does not grapple with the problems which are involved in the doctor-patient relationship. When one thinks back to the Sax report on health costs one ought to remember that irrespective of what may have appeared in the recommendations the thesis of that report was that if one wanted to do something about health costs then one had to do something about charges by doctors. Repeatedly throughout that report the authors suggested that the fundamental problem in restraining health costs was not the patient but the doctor. I think that on a fair reading of that report one would have to accept that proposition as being central. The present situation is that those persons whom the Minister for Health suggested earlier were ‘socially disadvantaged persons’ are now described simply as ‘disadvantaged persons’. The Minister is quite unable to define what he means, and being unable to define what he means he gives way to the relevant pressure. The relevant pressure about this aspect of the legislation clearly is from the doctor. Because the Minister has not made any attempt, no matter how rough, to define these people the doctor will be in a position in which he will do the defining. A pamphlet distributed under the name of the Commonwealth Department of Health explains the scheme. In paragraph 1 on advice for the disadvantaged it says:
If you wish to, talk to your doctor on your next visit about your personal circumstances. If the doctor thinks it is appropriate, and provided you do not have medical insurance, he can bulk-bill your account and you will not have to pay any money to him out of your own pocket.
The first sentence reads:
If you wish to, talk to your doctor on your next visit about your personal circumstances.
How demeaning! How paternalistic! How wrong is it that a doctor upon whom a person is dependent for health care should have the right to know someone’s personal and financial circumstances! I cannot think of any grounds whatsoever which would justify this proposal. It will, as had been suggested earlier in the debate, lead to the most arbitrary decisions and almost inevitably it will mean that people who on all objective criteria might be described as socially disadvantaged will be the last to take advantage of this modification of the system which has resulted from pressure on the Government to reintroduce bulk billing. I think that it is most regrettable that something as sloppy as this, something as open to misuse as this and something which can lead to paternalism on the part of the medical profession should ever have been included in a scheme which honourable members have said ought to be the basis for a permanent scheme. I really want to emphasise that point.
In conclusion, I think that the sociology of the situation was amply demonstrated yesterday during Question Time when the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) was asked a question by an honourable member on this side of the House about a possible parallel between him revealing his financial circumstances to the public and the situation in which no doubt within the sanctity of a doctor’s surgery Mr Average has to reveal his financial circumstances. Clearly the Prime Minister could not understand the problem because he assumed in a rather quaint way that the relationship between doctors and patients is as it may be in the small country towns of the Western Districts; but 85 per cent of Australians, the overwhelming majority of Australians, live in large cities, where they simply do not form social relationships with their doctors. Where there is a concentration of working people, people who may well qualify as socially disadvantaged, the distance between these people and the medical profession very often is as great as the distance between the most menial person and the Prime Minister. The distance is extraordinarily great. There is no sense of affinity and there is no relationship which constitutes a basis on which such a decision could be made by a doctor with any degree of rationality. I think it is extraordinarily unfortunate and extremely demeaning that people should have to reveal information of this type to a medical practitioner, who very often is drawn from a quite different social group and does not have a personal relationship with the patient. It is extraordinarily sloppy of the Government to bring in legislation of this type which in such a crucial area fails to deal with the sociological realities involved.
-I briefly enter this debate to join issue on the matter which was dealt with by the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe) namely, the operation of clause 15 of the Health Insurance Amendment Bill. I share the view of the honourable member for Batman, that the concept of the Government that a medical practitioner is to have cast upon him the obligation of determining whether a patient is socially and economically disadvantaged and should get the benefit of bulk billing is a concept which is not only impracticable but in many ways I believe socially offensive both to the patient and to the doctor.
– He is bulk billing patients now.
– I do not have any problem and the Minister for Health should not have any problem about the concept of bulk billing. When I raised this matter with the Minister by way of question at a time when the Minister was talking about abolishing bulk billing the Minister said that he saw bulk billing, to use his terms, as almost a one-way ticket to the bank. That demonstrated- and I am bound to say this because clearly the Minister has had a change of heart- a clear misunderstanding on the part of the Minister as to how bulk billing in fact worked. It is perfectly true that some members of the medical profession could abuse that system but from my own experience and watching the situation in the inner industrial area of Melbourne those doctors and members of the medical profession who chose to bulk bill tended to be local general practitioners, men who simply took the view that they were more interested in medicine than in making large sums of money. Frankly, what happened was that the Government became their accountant because they knew that if they rendered a full bill to many of their patients they would never be paid in any event.
– Will they stop bulk billing on 1 November?
– No, but what I say to the Minister is this: In the view of the Government why should that medical practitioner, if he wants to make the legislation work, be placed in the situation of asking questions of patients A and B to determine whether they should be bulk billed but making a casual observation about patient C and saying: ‘Obviously the poor man is so destitute that I do not have to ask this question’? It is a nonsense concept. I share the view expressed by the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe). The view expressed by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) yesterday really related to the fact that in his moments of relaxation the Prime Minister might watch those television shows which deal with the old family doctor operating in a small rural hamlet or in a country town where he is intimately associated with not merely the medical condition of all the people who live there but also their social and economic problems.
The reality of the situation is that in the inner industrial suburbs of Melbourne the trend is towards group practices, apart from the few occasional medical practitioners. Those group practices are highly commercial operations. If someone is ill, the day when one could pick up a telephone anywhere in Melbourne and within an hour or a couple of hours receive a visit from one’s local general practitioner seems to have largely gone forever. What tends to happen is that one receives a visit from someone from a locum service who has no knowledge of the patient, who turns up without any medical records and whose only function is to provide an immediate medical judgment about the state of the patient’s health. He arrives cold and he has none of that intimate personal background. That is the nature of medical practice in the large industrial and metropolitan areas of Melbourne. There may be some exceptions but that is the general rule. If a locum visits a large house under those circumstances does the Minister seriously expect him to conduct some sort of crossexamination as to the economic circumstances of the patient in order to determine whether the patient is socially disadvantaged?
– I will make your prescription out.
– It would be about as good as some of the other points that the honourable gentleman would make.
– He could put a label on the bottle probably.
– He could do that.
– I would see that the ingredients were correct too.
– I do not know that I would trust the honourable gentleman that far. One has to look at the reality of medical practice. I just believe that the situation would be far simpler if this Government accepted the concept of bulk billing and then left it to those members of the medical profession who chose to bulk bill. Some will choose to bulk bill, given the nature of their practices, and some will not. But let then make the choice. It seems to me to be absurd to say that if a medical practitioner arrives at a house at 10 o’clock at night he must make some sort of a judgment about whether the family is socially disadvantaged. It is not going to work. It is going to create just as many problems- more problems- than existed previously. I honestly believe that the great bulk of medical practitioners who chose to bulk bill did not cheat on the system. The Minister has never produced any evidence at all to this House to show that they did cheat on the system.
– How many people -
– The honourable member opposite knows better than any other honourable member in this House that there is a great deal of evidence to show that the fact that it was known that a general practitioner bulk billed meant that many socio-economic groups who are seriously deprived in this community and who would not otherwise have sought medical assistance and advice chose bulk billing and received it. The view of doctors who provided bulk billing in all those cases was that it brought about a general raising of the medical health care standards of those communities. The honourable member who has just interjected was with me when we received evidence on that very matter in an area as remote as Bourke in the middle of New South Wales with regard to the treatment of Aboriginal people. He was told, as I was told, by medical practitioners that the fact that bulk billing was there meant that Aboriginal people who did not have money in their pockets could with confidence go along and get medical treatment.
– How do they get their grog? They have to have money to get their grog.
-Let me write it on to the record. Here is a group of people with a sick child in need of treatment. They go along to a doctor, who says to members of this Parliament that the facility for bulk billing raises the general level of health care of Aboriginal people; and the best that the honourable gentleman opposite can do as a spokesman for the Liberal Party is to say: Where do they get their grog?’ The answer is that they get it in the nearest hotel under circumstances that are far less favourable than those in which members of the Liberal Party in this House got it last night. That is the answer.
– They get it with money.
– They get it under circumstances which are far less favourable than the circumstances under which members of this House got it last night. The honourable gentleman only has to look at Hansard to know what I am talking about.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order! The honourable member for Melbourne Ports will address the Chair and the honourable member for Petrie will stop interjecting.
– It is a pity that the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) chooses to demean this debate in the way he has. I will leave it at that. I simply say this: I take the point that was made by the honourable member for Batman and I want to make one further point. It seems to me to be absolutely extraordinary that Government members have constantly refused, for all sorts of reasons, to adopt a principle whereby members of this Parliament will fully disclose their means and assets on a public register, but are perfectly happy to say to the lower income groups of this community: ‘In order to receive the most basic medical treatment you have to go along and disclose -
– You are pathetic.
– And the honourable member is corrupt. They have to go along to members of the medical profession and disclose all their assets.
– That is not true.
– How else does one determine whether somebody is disadvantaged?
– That is not true.
– I will yield to the Minister and I invite him to inform the House of the precise criteria and the objective standards which a busy medical practitioner has to apply in determining whether somebody is socially disadvantaged.
– Had I laid down a means test, what you are saying would have been true, but that is not the case.
– What are the criteria?
-The criteria are in the second reading speech. Read it.
– I have read the second reading speech. What I am saying is that I find it extraordinary that a government which has refused time after time, and still refuses, to adopt the concept of any form of public disclosure of the means and assets of people standing for public office, of Ministers of the Crown or of senior public servants, still says that for a person to receive basic medical treatment an assessment of him has to be made by a medical practitioner. He might be a perfectly well qualified doctor but what gives him any greater perception to make a judgment about that?
– He is doing it today with bulk billing.
– The concept of bulk billing was a convenience for those doctors who chose to bulk bill completely because it was an accountancy service. That was the reason that many of them bulk billed. To import into this matter the ingredient that the Minister has imported into it creates new criteria. How does the Government expect a medical practitioner to say: ‘The honourable member for Petrie obviously is socially disadvantaged and I will bulk bill him but the Minister is not disadvantaged so I will render him a full fee ‘? I would be delighted if the Minister would inform the House of the sorts of criteria that he expects busy members of the medical profession -
– It would be too difficult for your party to understand.
– The honourable member for Petrie is clearly intellectually disadvantaged. He would be bulk billed by any member of the medical profession from whom he ever sought treatment. I concede that he has no problem. Let us deal with the others who may not.
What I am saying to the Minister is that the system was so much simpler before because the proposed criteria was not applied to members of the medical profession. They adopted a position which worked and worked well. It provided the basis of many community health services. I believe that basically the members of the medical profession who were involved in the previous scheme worked with honesty and great integrity. The Minister has not produced any evidence to this House to show otherwise. I would therefore suggest that to import the kind of criteria that the Minister is importing is to create standards which will not be workable in practice and which will lead to just as many opportunities for those members of the medical profession who wish to abuse the system. In the final analysis the Government’s new scheme perpetuates the concept of some Australians being second class citizens in terms of their right to receive medical treatment. I would suggest that if Medibank did nothing else it abolished that concept. I think the sooner we get away from the concept of some citizens being second class citizens and it is out of the hands of members of the medical profession to determine whether they will be bulk billed the better it will be.
-In accordance with the arrangements that have been made in respect of this debate, I will be very brief. I worked with the former Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, in the administration of the Australian Labor Party between 1967 and 1972, which was before the Labor Party was elected to office and on many occasions during his work with people who were co-opted to Labor Party committees on the subject of health he was horrified at the way in which the private health funds were giving health insurance coverage to the people of Australia. During that period it was found that no fewer than 1,250,000 eligible Australians had no health insurance at all. It became the view of the Labor Party that we could not afford this sort of health insurance coverage, that we could not afford to continue to see so many of the people in the community who were already classsified as disadvantaged not having any insurance and subsequently denying themselves proper health care.
The honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) went to great lengths to explain to us that this matter is all about total health costs and the Government is concerned about the total health costs. He talks, of course, in terms of dollars and cents. No one from the Government benches has talked about the cost to Australia of having people in ill-health, and those people in ill-health grow in number when the people are subjected to the sort of system that the Government is now to initiate. The hundreds of thousands of people on low incomes obviously will not join any health insurance scheme. They cannot afford to. As a result of not being covered for the difference between 40 per cent and 100 per cent of the cost of visiting a doctor many of them will deny themselves and their families the right to visit a doctor.
The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) and Government supporters have had great difficulty in giving to us the definition for what is a disadvantaged person. The dictionary tells us that being disadvantaged is being in an unfavourable condition. This should not be difficult. The Government cannot define what people are disadvantaged, but there are many arms of government that can. The Schools Commission, for one, has told us of the disadvantaged areas of Australia on the basis of its allocation of funds to needy schools. We know where the needy schools are situated. They are situated in all the regions of Australia in which the parents are of the middle or lower socio-economic groups. These are the areas in which the disadvantaged schools, as classified by the Schools Commission, are located. All of those people could be classified by the doctors and should be classified automatically by the doctors as being disadvantaged.
It is pure humbug for Government members to suggest that there is a perfect relationship between the doctors of Australia and the people who visit them. When the Minister for Health announced the new scheme he said that some people may decide to join private health funds on top of the cover given by the Government. On the other hand, some people may decide to stay out and just keep the basic Government cover. Tonight Government speakers have been paranoid about the thought that someone might opt out of joining a private health fund. When the honourable member for Prospect (Dr
Klugman), the Labor Party’s spokesman on health, said that there are many categories of people who would be better off not joining any private health insurance fund people on the other side of the House jumped up and said it was scandalous, it was hypocrisy and that the honourable member was being irresponsible to say such things. I ask the Minister: Is it or is it not a fact that any person not joining a health fund between 1 November and 1 January will be covered anyhow and that if he gets ill during that period he can join a fund and receive the same coverage and if he does not get ill he will save the amount of money involved during that period?
Obviously many people will be better off under this scheme. The honourable member for Petrie was quite right when he said that I am one of a very fortunate group. But I am only one of the very fortunate 124 members of parliament who sit in this chamber because, unless I am greatly mistaken and leaving aside the ministerial allowances, we all receive the same salary. So I am only an equal and members of parliament are in a very favourable situation as far as salaries are concerned. We can easily opt out. There are a number of people in the community who, because of the income they receive, can afford to carry their own insurance. We are not greatly concerned about that group. However, we are concerned about the group who will now opt out because they cannot afford to join an insurance fund and who will subsequently say: We will take the risk but if in the morning our child feels sick and we do not have the money to pay the doctor we will not go to him. ‘ That is the group we are concerned about and that is the group that is not covered by this scheme.
Anybody observing this new scheme can predict with all the certainty in the world that the new scheme will not be alive by next Budget day. Major changes will be made to this scheme by next Budget day. There was no great public outcry about the existing Medibank operations, but the Government had to change the system. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has a pathological hatred for anything that was established by the former Labor Government. In spite of the fact that the people voted for Medibank on three occasions- in 1972, 1974 and 1975, when the present Prime Minister promised to maintain it- it had to be changed. Hundreds of people who now work for Medibank will be displaced. Another result of this decision is that at least 800 people from Medibank all over Australia will lose their jobs. There is no provision to find other employment for them within the Public Service or with any other sta,”»orv authorities. They will lose their jobs because Malcolm Fraser has a pathological hatred for the term Medibank.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the GovernorGeneral recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 28 September, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: the House is of the opinionthat the Bill should be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide-
1 ) for the bulk billing by doctors prepared to accept 75 per cent of the common fee in full payment,
for the bulk billing for eligible pensioners at 85 per cent of the common fee in full payment,
) for the payment of a 75 per cent refund for medical bills, and
that the Health Insurance Commission continue to be the paying authority’.
I would like to take a couple of minutes to explain the difference between this amendment and the present proposal. Paragraph (2) of the amendment refers to bulk billing for eligible pensioners at 85 per cent of the common fee in full payment. That provision is already contained in the legislation but the other three points in the amendment are not. So that the position would not be misunderstood, we included that point in the amendment also. Paragraph (1) of the amendment deals with bulk billing by doctors who are prepared to accept 75 per cent of the common fee in full payment. Basically, that would eliminate the reference to the patient having to be disadvantaged. The Government would continue to pay in this way provided the doctor is prepared to accept 75 per cent of the common fee in full payment. Then all the terrible predictions of the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) would not eventuate; or maybe they would eventuate because everybody would be able to get that kind of bulk billing provided the doctors were prepared to accept that benefit. I think that it is wrong for doctors to have to make a judgment about whether a person is disadvantaged. It is a meaningless term because people can be disadvantaged in all kinds of ways which have nothing to do with their ability to pay 100 per cent of the common fee or 150 per cent of the common fee. I always remember the remark made by Sammy Davis Junior when people were asking him about golf. He was asked what was his handicap. He said: ‘I am a one-eyed Jewish negro’. I take it that that makes him a disadvantaged person but it certainly would not mean that it would be impossible for him to pay the doctor ‘s full fee. The proposition I am putting is that this should not be necessary.
The third point raised in the amendment proposes the payment of a 75 per cent refund for medical bills. In effect, it is a compromise between the scheme being proposed now and the original Medibank scheme. The original Medibank scheme permitted an 85 per cent refund for medical bills whether the doctor rendered his accounts or had patients pay accounts on the spot. In this case, the patient receives a refund of 75 per cent. Honourable members can see the difference between cases one and three in the amendment. In case one, the doctor accepts 75 per cent of the common fee payment in full payment. In the third case, the doctor apparently is expecting a payment amounting to 100 per cent or 150 per cent of the common fee and the patient is able to recover 75 per cent of the common fee.
Finally, the amendment contains the proposition that the Health Insurance Commission should be the paying authority. I think that it is wrong we certainly feel strongly on this issue that the private funds should become the paying authority. This gives them access to the details of a person’s health status because they are the paying authority in respect of that 40 per cent refund. They will be able to advertise selectively to non-contributors the people who are registered with them to persuade them to take out insurance. Honourable members know my. views on much of this insurance. I believe that it is necessary insurance. Therefore, it is wrong that the Government should insist that the names, addresses and all those other personal and intimate health details of contributors should be provided to a private organisation which can receive commercial benefit from that knowledge. I think that is wrong and I am surprised that the Government does not realise that it is wrong. Whatever exceptions there may be to the rule we know about this from another issue that has been before the Parliament in the last few days public servants at least take some oath on the question of secrecy and not using information that comes to them for their personal benefit. Obviously no such oath is taken by employees of the private funds or by the people who are running them.
I think it is wrong that a private fund should know, for example, what is wrong with me, whether I had had treatment for appendicitis, a hysterectomy or whatever. I think that it is wrong on two grounds. Firstly, people would feel unhappy about it but I am referring to the matter on the commercial basis. It gives the funds an advantage in that knowing the claims history they can offer certain types of insurance to particular people. I assume that the intelligent funds will offer their scales and tables mainly to people who have received hardly any of those 40 per cent refunds. Obviously, the funds will prefer to attract young people as contributors I noticed in today’s Melbourne Age or the Australian a reference to the Hospital Benefits Association Ltd offering young people health insurance on a 50c basis. But if people look at what they will get for the 50c a week, they will see that they will get virtually nothing. When I say ‘nothing’, they will receive nothing related to medical benefits for the payment of that fee.
– Ambulance and dental.
– Ambulance and dental services and so on. But this scheme is being promoted as a medical-hospital type of table. I think that it is wrong for the funds to obtain that sort of access to individuals. They can find out people’s names, addresses, ages and health status. That is the reason we are moving this amendment.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
– I want to oppose strongly the amendment moved by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman). He has had a big day today and he is rather half-hearted and tired at this stage. The suggestions contained in this amendment are the most preposterous I have seen in a long time. Before I deal with the points in the amendment individually- I will be very brief- I want to take up a couple of the general points made by some previous speakers in the debate. The Australian Labor Party Opposition seems to me to be obsessed with bulk billing. Honourable members opposite seem to suffer from the no-money syndrome when it comes to going to the doctor. I ask them: How much petrol will they get at a petrol station when they drive in without any money in their pocket? How many bets will they place at the TAB without any money? How many groceries will they get at the supermarket without money?
– We are talking about low income earners.
-They are the same. They buy no meat at the butcher if they have no money in their pocket; they cannot place a bet at the TAB; and they get no liquor at the hotel. But honourable members opposite want them to be able to walk in and get a service from the doctor when they have no money in their pocket. It is about time that honourable members opposite stopped mollycoddling these people and let them stand up for themselves. That is part of the social program of honourable members opposite and it should be thrown out the door. It has been rejected by the Australian people time and again and they will reject it again in the future. It is about time we made these people stand up on their own feet I will take the suggestions in the amendment apart one by one because that is what they deserve. Medibank was introduced by that wonderful architect, the new Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden). He will be the Leader of the Opposition for a while only because there are many vultures waiting to take his place. One of them is the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), who is sitting at the table at the moment. When Medibank Mark 1 was introduced the Labor Government decided that 85 per cent was a fair sort of figure. Now I notice that the first proposal put forward by the honourable member for Prospect in his amendment refers to bulk billing by doctors prepared to accept 75 per cent of the common fee in full. I can say only that he has conceded now that 75 per cent is better than 85 per cent. I take it that he wants to see a greater identifiable cost, although he mentions full payment. I wonder what the Australian Medical Association would think about that. I wonder whether he has discussed it with it.
-I am not representing the Association here.
-He is playing into the hands of doctors all the way down the une. When Labor was in government doctors’ fees exploded by 58.9 per cent in three years. Here again he is playing into the hands of the medical profession. Time and again I have heard members of the Opposition say that the medicos in this country are being paid too much. In this amendment they are playing into the hands of the doctors again. The third point of the amendment deals with the payment of a 75 per cent refund for medical bills. We are going to legislate that the Government pay 40 per cent of the fee and that there be a maximum charge of $20 per service. Once an amount in excess of $80 is reached the Opposition’s proposition is less generous than ours. I do not know whether it has realised it but at $ 100 patients will be paying $25. What is more the Opposition is proposing an open-ended scheme, because the doctor could charge well in excess of the recognised fee.
– The amendment refers to the common fee.
-The Opposition has made no mention of that in the amendment. It has put forward an open-ended scheme, once again playing into the hands of the doctors. I suggest to the honourable member for Prospect that he should withdraw the amendments and redraft them, instead of the Bill itself being withdrawn and redrafted, as he has suggested to the Government.
– I wish to speak briefly to the amendment, particularly to paragraph (1), which deals with the provision for bulk billing by doctors prepared to accept 75 per cent of the common fee in full payment. Clause 9 of the Health Insurance Amendment Bill effectively abolishes bulk billing for all but holders of pensioner health cards and those whom doctors agree are disadvantaged persons. Doctors will receive 85 per cent of the schedule fee for pensioners and 75 per cent for those whom they graciously label disadvantaged. I think this is the most scurrilous aspect of the three Bills. The legislation does not offer any basic criteria to doctors, whilst expecting them to act as unpaid agents for the Department of Health. It does not legislate to set guidelines.
The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) says that the bulk billing arrangements for disadvantaged persons could include persons in such categories as the unemployed, people receiving sickness benefits, migrants, some ethnic groups, perhaps refugees and people suffering from prolonged or severe illness, but there is no compulsion on the doctor or specialist to agree to bulk billing these categories or any other person for that matter. There are some 25,000 doctors and specialists in Australia and we could have 25,000 different sets of criteria. The Minister piously suggests in his second reading speech that the relationship between a patient and his practitioner is unique and implies that to legislate to give basic guidelines to the medical profession could lead to interference with the ‘precious patient-practitioner relationship’. I invite the Minister to tell that to the poor, the sick and the needy.
For a person not covered by private health insurance and who may be in difficult financial circumstances it is made abundantly clear by the Minister that unless the doctor agrees to bulk bill and settle for 75 per cent of the scheduled fee the needy patient will be expected to pay the full amount less the 40 per cent general subsidy. What an impertinence on the part of this Government to expect people in poor circumstances, many of whom had previously been exempt from the levy, to cast themselves abjectly on the mercy and charity of the private medical profession.
It is interesting to speculate why the Australian Medical Association has strongly opposed bulk billing from the commencement of Medibank. During a recent meeting with the AMA executive it was made abundantly clear to me and to those present that the complete opposition of the AMA to bulk billing for the general community was due wholly to its fear that general bulk billing to a central paying authority such as the Health Insurance Commission would mean general acceptance of 75 per cent or 85 per cent of the standard fee and that this would indirectly impose a de facto control of medical fees. That is the reason the AMA is afraid of bulk billing and that is the reason Government members are afraid of bulk billing for the general public. They want to kowtow to the medical profession, and the medical profession has the Government well and truly bluffed. It is to the discredit of all Government members and the AMA that they take this position and place their interests well ahead of the interests of the majority of Australian people. The Opposition’s amendment provides for general bulk billing by doctors who are prepared to accept 75 per cent of the common fee in full payment. It is certain that the Bill will be passed without amendment, but we appeal to the doctors who will make these decisions to show a bit of compassion to the needy people who will be appealing to them.
– Vote for the amendment.
– Government members should cross the floor and vote for the amendment. I remind the doctors in some of the needy and disadvantaged areas where some of the population do it tough, of the old saying that sometimes a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and it may be better to accept 75 per cent than to look for 100 per cent by getting 40 per cent from the Government and looking for the rest.
-The Opposition’s amendment is the shoddiest piece of drafting by the Australian Labor Party that I have seen for a long time. Its previous attempt to amend health legislation was an amendment to the optional deduction arrangement which allowed private health funds an opportunity to opt out of payments for the termination of pregnancy. The shoddy drafting on that occasion forced many members of the Party against their will to vote against providing that option to the private health funds. I know full well that that proposal went against the personal wishes of quite a percentage of members of the party, but the people who drafted the proposal did not think of that.
Let us look at the shoddy drafting of this amendment. I am sure that the intention of the amendment is to make things harder on the doctor and easier on the patient. In fact, it achieves the opposite result. Before I go into the detail of why that is so, I just draw attention, as did the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges ), to the fact that obviously the Labor Party now considers that Medibank Mark I was too generous and too costly- we have always said thatbecause it is proposing to reduce from 85 per cent to 75 per cent the rebate that would be paid. That part of the amendment which provides for 75 per cent of the common fee to be paid makes no mention of a $10 gap payment or a $20 gap payment.
– Listen to him. Talk about sloppy!
– For a change the honourable member should look at what the amendment states instead of shooting from the hip. The 75 per cent provision is supposed to make things easier for the patient. If the honourable member looks at the terms of the amendment he will see that no mention is made of a $ 10 gap or $20 gap maximum payment. Under the terms of this amendment, a person who has an item of expenditure to the value of $100 will be required to pay not $20 which is provided for under our scheme but $25, and he will have to pay proportionately more for services which cost more than $ 100. I suggest that the honourable member look at the wording of the amendment. The second paragraph of the amendment states: for the bulk billing for eligible pensioners at 85 per cent of the common fee in full payment . . .
No mention is made of a $5 gap maximum payment.
-I take a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Paragraph ( 1 ) of the amendment states: for the bulk billing by doctors prepared to accept 75 per cent of the common fee in full payment . . .
How can the honourable member for Murray talk about an extra $25, an extra $50 or an extra $ 100? The amendment says ‘in full payment ‘.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)That is not a point of order.
– Let me explain in simple arithmetical terms -
-Order! The honourable member for Petrie has been interjecting consistently and I suggest that he ceases doing so.
– With due respect, Mr Deputy Speaker, I entered the chamber only about 10 seconds ago.
-I know that, and the honourable member interjected as he walked into the chamber.
– I take a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I entered the chamber no more than 10 seconds ago and I had not opened my mouth until I got to my feet just now.
-I call the honourable member for Murray.
– Let us do some simple arithmetic. Let us take the example of a medical service for which the common fee is $100. Seventy-five per cent of that is $75. There is no mention of a $20 gap or a $10 gap maximum payment.
– The patient pays nothing. Can’t you read?
– Wait a minute. There is no mention of a $20 gap.
– It says: ‘in full payment’.
– If the honourable member for Prospect is so sure about that, what does he say about the third point in the amendment? It states: for the payment of a 75 per cent refund for medical bills . . .
There is no mention of full payment there.
-I accept that one. You were arguing about paragraphs (1) and (2) of the amendment.
– Let us look at paragraph (3) as well. If what the honourable member is saying is correct we do not need a $5 gap maximum payment in relation to paragraph (2 ).
– No gap at all.
-Order! Might I suggest that the honourable member for Murray address the chair and not the honourable member for Prospect.
-Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker, but at least I have the call which is more than can be said of the honourable member for Prospect at the moment. If the honourable member is saying that there is no need for a $20 gap, a $5 gap or a $10 gap maximum, then I suggest that he thinks again. Paragraph (3) of the amendment makes no mention of any of those gaps. There is no mention of adhering to the common fee. Rather than trying to restrict doctors and making them adhere to the common fee the Opposition’s amendment is actually encouraging doctors to charge more than the common fee because it is providing for the payment of 75 per cent of whatever the doctor happens to charge, irrespective of whether or not it is the common fee. The bonanza to the doctors would be unbelievable, not to mention the additional cost to the patient, because the argument put in relation to the first two points in the amendment cannot be applied to the third point. The third point is- I repeat itthat once the fee reaches $100, even if doctors stick to the common fee, the Opposition’s amendment would require the patient to pay $25. The discrepancy will increase the higher the service fee. Under our scheme the patient will pay no more than $20 whether the service fee is $400 or more. I suggest that the Opposition withdraw its amendment.
– in reply- I shall reply briefly to two matters that are of considerable importance to people. The first relates to the staff of the Health Insurance Commission. Several speakers in this debate have in fact raised this problem and have indicated in their addresses to this chamber that the Government is not concerned to try to assist in the redeployment of staff. I want to refute that suggestion. I stated in my second reading speech that the Government accepted that with the abolition of the Health Insurance Commission a significant number of staff would be surplus. We are well aware of the situation and we are concerned about it. Discussions have been held with the various staff associations. Discussions have taken place between the Health Insurance Commission, the Department of Health, the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations and the Public Service Board. They have also taken place with the various staff associations. We are well aware of the problem. I refer those honourable members to what I said in my second reading speech. I stated:
In the first instance they have concentrated on the transfer of staff associated with bulk billing functions to my Department. At this stage I am unable to give any accurate indication of the number of staff who may ultimately be surplus to the requirements of the Commission as this will be dependent on the market share obtained by the Commission. However, the Bill . . . recognises the need for action to be taken and provides for the Public Service Board to be involved in the redeployment of surplus staff.
For the benefit of the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) I give the assurance that that problem is being taken care of in the normal process of negotiations between the staff associations and the Public Service Board. Continuing discussions will be held with the staff associations on this aspect if an adverse situation develops.
I refer to the question of bulk billing and to the definition of a disadvantaged person. The Government has deliberately not attempted to define a disadvantaged person because, in so doing, quite obviously it could compound what is a very difficult problem of identification and in fact could cause hardship. We have broadly outlined in the second reading speech and also in communications with every practising doctor in Australia the fact that we will give consideration to the groups listed in the second reading speech. We will monitor closely the operation of this provision. If honourable members on either side of the House come into contact with people facing difficulties, I and my Department will want to hear about them because we intend to take whatever action is necessary to overcome any difficulties that may result from this provision. I will not forecast now that the provision will cover every situation. I have had assurances from the medical profession through its various representative organisations- not only the Australian Medical Association but also the Doctors Reform Group and doctors throughout Australia generallythat they are prepared to co-operate with this proposal to the maximum extent. If it does not work we will have a look at another means of identification. If we had to introduce a means test there could be nothing more demeaning for people than going to offices of the Department of Social Security to fill out a form and declare themselves as disadvantaged. I think that would be most demeaning. So, there is no way that we will attempt to identify disadvantaged people in that manner.
I give an assurance on behalf of the Government that the matter will be kept well in view. I will be watching it very closely. We have set up a group and I have asked the AMA to provide a representative on that group to monitor its operations in the first six months. I take the opportunity of thanking the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd), the Chairman of the Government members Health and Welfare Committee, for his very constructive speech and for the work that his Committee has done in assisting the Government in the formulation of its policy in the health insurance area. The honourable member for Bonython also raised some questions which I would be prepared to discuss with him privately. I would certainly make officers available to him to try to satisfy his queries in regard to. I think, four important questions that he raised. Since we have reached this hour of the night I would like to conclude the debate on this Bill.
– Could I have the indulgence or the leave of the House?
-! might point out to the honourable member for Prospect that this is supposed to be a cognate debate and there really should not have been a debate in regard to the second Bill at all.
-I have asked because it has been pointed out by the honourable member for Petrie and by the honourable member for Murray that I have left out four words in paragraph 3 of the amendment. It should read exactly the same as paragraphs 1 and 2 where it is a reference to 85 per cent of the common fee. Paragraph 3 should read:
For the payment of a 75 per cent refund of the common fee for medical bills.
If you do not give me leave to include it I would like to have it recorded in Hansard because it is obviously the intention of the paragraph.
-Is leave granted?
That the words proposed to be omitted (Dr Kingman’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The Committee divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! It being 10.30 p.m., I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the negative.
After clause 1 3, insert the following new clause: 1 3a. Section 1 7 of the principal Act is amended by omitting from paragraph (c) of sub-section (1) ‘or an approved organization for the purposes of Part IV ‘. ‘
Section 1 7 of the Health Insurance Act 1973 prohibits the payment of medical benefits by the Commonwealth where a medical service is rendered on the premises of an organisation in receipt of a health program grant under Part IV of the Act. Such organisations include family planning associations. At the present time the family planning associations charge privately insured patients, who then receive benefits from their funds. From 1 November it is proposed to charge patients who would be charged by doctors in private practice. Patients who would be bulk billed by private doctors, that is, pensioner health benefit patients and their dependants and patients classified as disadvantaged, will not be charged. The cost of these services to pensioner health benefits patients and the disadvantaged will be met by means of health program grants. To enable the Commonwealth and the fund benefits to be paid for the charges made by family planning associations and other health program grant organisations where applicable, it is necessary to amend section 17 of the Act. The amendment I have moved achieves that objective.
Amendment agreed to.
-The only amendment the Opposition would suggest relates to clause 15 of the Bill, which proposes the insertion of a new section 20A in the Act. In subsection (2) (c) of proposed new section 20A, reference is made to the person by whom or on whose behalf the professional service is rendered being of the opinion that the beneficiary is a disadvantaged person. It is our belief that it should not be necessary for the doctor to hold that opinion provided he is prepared to accept as full payment 75 per cent of the common fee or, as it is defined in the legislation, the specified fee. The Opposition strongly opposes proposed subsection (2) (c), and were it not for the late hour we would divide on that question.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report- by leave- adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt)- by leave- read a third time.
Debate resumed from 10 October, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I indicate that the Opposition opposes the clauses of this Bill which deal with the removal of the Medibank Standard functions of the Health Insurance Commission. We agree with the other provisions which have been included in the Bill, which are partly machinery matters and partly matters of reconstituting the Health Insurance Commission, but we oppose the removal of the Medibank Standard functions. I have previously dealt with the reasons. We believe that payments ought to be made by the Health Insurance Commission and not by the private funds. That would be the correct way of approaching this change.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt) read a third time.
Motion ( by Mr Hunt) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– The matter I wish to raise tonight is of profound importance to every Australian. It concerns two points: The management of our nation’s affairs and the credibility of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). For almost three years, this Government has been lying to the people about its economic policies, unemployment, interest rates, the illusion of tax cuts, pensions and the professed concern of the Prime Minister for the average Australian family. Above all, it has been lying about its competence. This Government is an incompetent government. The man who leads it is an incompetent Prime Minister. Its incompetence can be detailed on many grounds but I would need much more time than is available to me tonight to do so.
I intend to concentrate on one criterion the massive amount of money the Government has borrowed overseas to prop up the Australian dollar. This Government is driving Australia to the brink of international bankruptcy. Our country is now in hock to foreign banks to the tune of $4. 1 billion. That is what we now owe to overseas countries and overseas bankers. That is how much this country is now in debt to international financiers. It is this Government that is responsible. We have a Prime Minister who talks glibly about good housekeeping and balancing the family budget, yet in three years he has increased Australia’s debt to more than $4,000m. The latest borrowing of another $600m from Japan puts every man, woman and child in the country into hock for $324. The debt will get bigger as the Government continues to knock on the doors of the financial houses around the world. At the moment our international debts are 2V£ times greater than they were in the 1950s and the 1960s. They are four times as great as the level of debt in 1 974-75. The Government glosses over the fact that it is the taxpayer who must repay this massive debt, as well as repaying the interest. Every taxpayer in the country is now in hock to foreign bankers for an average of $830 to pay off the debt.
The House will recall what the Prime Minister said in November 1976 after his Government had devalued our dollar by 1Vi per cent- the greatest devaluation in our history. He said:
Is there anyone here who would say they would sooner put Australia into hock to the tune of $ 1 ,000m than devalue?
Yet that man, the Prime Minister of our country, is now responsible for putting Australia into hock for another $2, 800m since he made that statement. What a hypocrite! Is it any wonder that the people cannot trust the Prime Minister? Not only did the Prime Minister knock 17 1/2 per cent off the value of the dollar two years ago, but he has managed to knock another 4 per cent off it since then. It is devaluation by stealth; it is writing down the value of the dollar by deceit.
Australia no longer has the assets to back up its overseas debt obligations. That is how irresponsible this Government has been. When the Prime Minister and his supporters seized government at the end of 1975, Australia’s overseas debt was about $ 1,250m and official reserve assets were about $2,600m. I think all honourable members would agree that the margin of $ 1,300m in our favour at the time was a very healthy one. But what is the situation today? Today our overseas debts amount to $4, 100m and they will increase to $4,700m when we receive the Japanese loans. In contrast, our reserve assets are less than $3,000m. Simply put, this means that we owe our international creditors $ 1,100m more than we can pay. So that Government members can understand that, let me put it in simple terms: We are overdrawn. As everyone knows, except obviously the Prime Minister, debts should not exceed assets; otherwise the creditors will foreclose, and that means bankruptcy- in Australia’s case, bankruptcy on a massive scale. This Government and this Prime Minister are responsible, with their irresponsible policies and their irresponsible management of the economy, for driving Australia into just such a position. Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a table which shows Australia’s official overseas reserves and debt for the years 1952-53 to 1978-79. Its source is the Reserve Bank of Australia Statistical Bulletin.
The table read as follows-
-I thank the House. The table shows that our average debt per capita of population for the yean 1952-53 to 1971-72 was about $1 10 to $130. In our period of office it was from $96 to $88. But since this Government came to power, the debt per head has increased to $325.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-What we have just heard is quite irrelevant and quite incongruous. I do not think this Government has ever failed to acknowledge that it did have a problem, temporarily, with Australia’s external reserves. What we are trying to do is to dig up uranium, dig up bauxite and dig up iron ore and sell them, but honourable members opposite will not let us. The other night the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) did not hesitate to tip a bucket of condolence on the bauxite operations that we are trying to get going in Western Australia. He acted like a troglodyte. It was a disgraceful exhibition. He was supported in it by the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Dawkins). I think the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) made it quite plain today that there has been a conspiracy to try to stop uranium mining in the Northern Territory. We do the best we can to cut down our overseas borrowings. We do the best we can to bring in overseas investment. Who are the fellows who are stopping it all?
– We are.
– Who are the fellows who are engaged in these conspiracies? Yes, they admit it. I hope that that admission goes into the Hansard record too.
– We do not want to mine uranium: We want to leave it in the ground.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! I ask honourable members not to interject.
-I think a reasonable substitute for these borrowings, in both the short term and the long term, would be to get the uranium, the iron ore and the bauxite out of the ground and to sell them. To attract the foreign investment necessary to finance these new mines we have to have a low inflation rate. We are working on that. We also have to have security of tenure for anyone investing and we have to have reasonable private enterprise. That is why Sir Charles Court is right when he says that the Commonwealth should keep out of iron ore pricing. We in the Federal Parliament sometimes get a lot of advice from the State people. Much of it is good, much of it is proper, and I accept it.
Tonight I am returning the compliment a little to my State colleagues. I think that security of tenure is so vital to rnining investment- to me it is as vital as the stable economic conditions that we must have, such as a low rate of inflation and so on, in this country- that we ought to take cognisance of a mining Bill which is before the Western Australian Parliament at the moment. I know that we cannot say much to affect it one way or the other. But one of the things I am worried about is that this mining Bill seems to reduce security of tenure, which might frighten investors.
– You have been talking to Lang Hancock.
-No. I will tell the honourable member a little story which will indicate why I am particularly interested in this matter. Some years ago some friends of mine had mines taken off them by a Minister of the Party of honourable members opposite.
– Who are your friends?
-He is a man called Pownall. He does not mind being named. The important thing is that this mining Bill is quite specific and it states in sub-clause 147 ( 1 ):
Except as provided in section 131, any party aggrieved by any final judgment, determination or decision of a warden’s court may appeal therefrom to the Supreme Court.
Then we come to clause 151, which states quite specifically:
There shall be no right of appeal under this Part-
b ) in respect of any decision, order or recommendation of the warden or of the Minister upon any application for a mining tenement, the forfeiture thereof, or exemption from expenditure or other conditions;
This is the total of what is represented in this mining Bill. It is all about mining tenements, or forfeitures thereof, or exemption from expenditure, or other conditions. So it seems to me that this is a clause in a Bill which is going to affect security of tenure. As a member of the Liberal Party of Australia - 1 am concerned that the Government in Western Australia should be thinking at all seriously about such a measure. I hope that it will have another think about it. I saw this sort of thing happen under the previous Labor Government.
This Bill is much the same draft as the Don May Bill of 1972. That Bill was copied and became a Bill proposed by the Liberal Government in 1975 which was rejected by the Party organisation. I am hoping that once again the Party will come to the rescue and will see that people, particularly the miners of Western Australia, are given the security of tenure to which they are entided. I hope that this will then have the effect of increasing foreign investment by the hundreds of millions of dollars which are necessary to get uranium, bauxite and iron ore out of the ground.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Today the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch) answered a question which I asked about the registration of travel agents. The answer that the Minister gave left no doubt in my mind, and I firmly believe in the minds of many members of this Parliament, that the intended legislation covering travel agents has been scrapped or at least has been pigeon holed to gather dust until another large travelling agency folds. This is another turnabout, another broken promise. But this one is more blatant than most that have been perpetrated by this Government in the two years 10 months that it has been in government. This broken promise has not only let the tourist industry and the Parliament down but, most importantly, His Excellency the Governor-General, appointed by this Government, has been led up the garden path. If His Excellency happens to be listening I know that he will recall that on his first appearance in this Parliament in his high office, on the occasion of the opening of the 3 1st Parliament on 21 February 1978- a matter of 8 months ago- he said on behalf of Her Majesty:
In the interests of protecting the travelling public, legislation will be introduced to license travel agents.
I suggest that before His Excellency makes any more speeches on behalf of this Government he should obtain a sworn declaration that promises to be made by him on behalf of the Government will be kept.
Let me give the House a brief history of the promised legislation for the registration of travel agents. The first discussion between the Australian Government arid the Australian Federation of Travel Agents on the licensing of travel agents took place in January 1971. This followed publicity given to the question of licensing when the then Federal Minister in charge of Tourist Activities, Senator Wright, called for a report on the organisation of the travel agency industry following an incident involving a charter flight for migrants. That was in August 1970. A Bill was subsequently drawn up for presentation to the Parliament. However, following the transfer of the portfolio to Mr Howson the question of Federal legislation was referred to the Tourist
Ministers Council, where there was little progress for approximately 12 months. In July 1972, when Travel House of Australia collapsed with wide ramifications for the public, four StatesNew South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania- indicated that they would immediately introduce State legislation. The AFTA opposed the hasty introduction of ill prepared legislation, particularly on the basis that the possibility of six differing pieces of State legislation could be chaotic.
Following representations to the respective Ministers all but New South Wales agreed to withhold any action pending the introduction of satisfactory Federal legislation. The New South Wales Government introduced legislation but it has not proved satisfactory. Without going into the details, it has brought with it a number of problems for the industry. Further discussions between the industry and the Australian Government took place over 1974 and 1975 and a Bill was presented to Parliament in the latter half of 1975 by me. The Bill passed through the House of Representatives, but the double dissolution of the Parliament brought progress to a halt. Early in 1976 with the change of government Senator Cotton, the then Minister for Industry and Commerce who became responsible for the Australian Tourism Commission, indicated that if the industry still required legislation for the registration of travel agents he was prepared to reopen discussions, particularly after the collapse of Four Seasons Travel Agency and the near collapse of AUS Student Travel Pty Ltd. The industry agreed that there was a need for Federal legislation and talks had been held with the industry, the industry being represented by the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, the international airlines, the overseas shipping companies and the Australian National Travel Association. I am assured that the following organisations from the travel industry support the introduction of uniform travel agents legislation: The Australian Federation of Travel Agents, the Australian Road Transport Federation, the Australian Hotels Association, the Motor Inn and Motel Association of Australia, MFAHomestead and many others.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I must admit that I hold quite a deal of sympathy with the sentiments expressed by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart) regarding Federal legislation for the registration of travel agents. I must express concern that this week a travel agency business collapsed in Brisbane. The firm of TBS Tours Ltd is now out of business. I understand that a number of people have been stranded in New Zealand. I think we should give credit where credit is due in circumstances such as this inasmuch as the airlines have guaranteed to honour the return tickets of those people. I understand there could be 43 pensioners involved- 43 elderly people who have been stuck in New Zealand. Sure, they will be able to get home but they have lost a good deal of money in the land-content cost of their tours.
One must only hope that there can be some sort of rationalisation within the travel industry and that situations such as this will not be repeated. Certainly the record is not so terribly bad when one considers the amount of business that is undertaken every year by travel agents in Australia. The latest estimate is that that figure is in the vicinity of $ 1 billion. For the past five or six years only about $2m has in fact been lost through the collapse of certain of these travel houses. Unfortunately with the demise of TBS Travel, it has happened once again. One can hope only that some action will be taken so that that sort of situation will not happen again.
Yesterday we heard the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) give a forecast of what is likely to be the future level of air fares between Great Britain and Australia. Indeed, many of us have welcomed the initial move- it must be only an initial move- to introduce cheaper air travel to and from this country.
– It took a Liberal government to doit.
– It did take a Liberal government to do it, and I do not think that we have seen the end of it yet. One can hope only that there will be further attempts in years to come to get the fares down even lower. As airlines become more and more efficient, as more and more people have more and more leisure time, they will be travelling. It should be possible to reduce fares even further. I have no hesitation in expressing my view that Australia even now should still be considering seriously the situation of charter flights to and from Australia. That is not to say that I have any particular brief for Sir Freddie Laker. There are a number of charter operators who are interested in running services into and out of Australia. One can hope only that the promise given by the Minister yesterday, that there would be a review in two years’ time, will come to fruition. I can see that great and positive advantages can accrue to charter operators who, by their very nature, have to promote very hard overseas to generate more and more traffic to this country. They will help alleviate some of the problems that have been faced over the years by the tourist and travel industry. That is one thing to which I think, with the introduction of the cheaper air fares within the next 12 months, we should be looking.
There should be an extra stimulus there to provide that promotion which so obviously will be needed in such a competitive market as the United Kingdom and hopefully, after further negotiations, in that incredibly competitive market of Europe. We will certainly see a great influx of tourists to this country if, in fact, that promotion can be undertaken properly and well. It highlights again the situation of the Australian Tourist Commission which, although it enjoyed an increase of $ 1.2m in its budget allocation this year, will still need quite a deal of money if it is to promote Australia properly, especially if it is to act in co-operation with Qantas in promoting Australia as a future holiday destination.
Around the travel industry today there has been much discussion regarding the statement that was made by the Minister for Transport yesterday. Indeed, a great deal of concern has been expressed by travel agents and tour packagers that the industry might become very quiet until the actual starting date of the new fares arrives. Tonight I would urge that negotiations between the Australian and British governments be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible so that we will not see such a lull occurring in the numbers not only of people coming to this country but of Australians travelling overseas. One would expect that, the new fares having been announced in this part of the world, as I understand they have also in Britain, there would be not too many hurdles to be overcome before they could in fact be implemented. I would urge the Minister for Transport to ensure that the utmost pressure is put on his British counterparts to make sure that those negotiations are finalised and the fares come into operation as soon as possible so that there can be a real benefit to travellers leaving Australia but, most importantly, a very real increase in the number of foreign tourists coming to this land.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I want to speak tonight about the continued misrepresentation by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) of the events surrounding the actions of the Northern Land Council in regard to the Ranger agreement. In the last two days the Minister has continued his hysterical attempts to blame the Australian Labor Party for Aboriginal opposition to uranium mining. His remarks have been nothing short of desperate. He has only himself to blame for the dissatisfaction that there is with the Chairman of the Northern Land Council within the Aboriginal community. He has only himself to blame for the threats made to the Council itself. His attempts to blame the Labor Party are ridiculous. They were criticised by the
Aboriginal members of the Council during the court action which was taken recently. In fact, if one looks at point 9 of the court settlement on 22 September between the Northern Land Council and the Aboriginal representative one finds that the Council dissociated itself with all such imputations. The Minister’s remarks have today been the subject of a bitter attack by the National Aboriginal and Islander Liberation Movement.
-Order! It being 1 1 p.m., the debate is interrupted. The House stands adjourned until 2. 1 5 p.m. on Tuesday next.
The House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 5 April 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Persons who consider they have been discriminated against in their employment on grounds of race or national or ethnic origin may, alternatively or additionally, lodge a complaint with the Commissioner for Community Relations under the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
Finally, such persons who reside in New South Wales or South Australia, may seek redress under the provisions of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, or the SA Racial Discrimination Act 1 976, respectively.
asked the Minister, representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 15 August 1978:
– The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question.
asked the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, upon notice, on 15 August 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Trade and Resources, upon notice, on 15 August 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Trade and Resources, upon notice, on 1 6 August 1 978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 23 August 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 23 August 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 23 August 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 23 August 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Nuclear Suppliers Group: Export Guidelines (Question No. 1833)
asked the Minister for Foreign
Affairs, upon notice, on 23 August 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister representing the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice, on 12 September 1978:
– The AttorneryGeneral has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Apart from the standard fee for solemnization of a marriage as prescribed by item 12 (a) or 12 (b) of the Fifth Schedule to the Marriage Regulations a civil marriage celebrant is permitted to charge an additional fee as prescribed by item 12 (c) as follows: 12 (c) if the marriage is solemnized at a place other than the home of such an authorized celebrant or, in the case of a marriage solemnized by an officer of Australia or of a State or Territory of Australia during the normal hours of duty of that officer, at a place other than the usual place of employment of that officer:
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 19 September 1978:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 19 September 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Department of Social Security: Office at Port Augusta (Question No. 2177)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 2 1 September 1978:
– The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Agreement between Australia and China on Establishment of Consulates-General (Question No. 2199)
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 26 September 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Australian Ambassador on behalf of the Government of Australia, which constitute an agreement between the two Governments for the establishment of Consulates-General in the two countries. The agreement provides for a Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney and an Australian ConsulateGeneral in either Canton or Shanghai.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 October 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1978/19781012_reps_31_hor111/>.