31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden) took the chair at 2.15 p.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 Mr Dobie, Dr Edwards, Mr Hodges, Mr Martin and Mr Stewart.
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 Jarman.
To The Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth-
That 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 the 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 Hunt and Mr O’Keefe. Petitions received.
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 respectfully showeth
That Radio 3CR Melbourne, be made to adhere to the required standards of broadcasting, as laid down for all other radio sta tions.
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 to racial hatred and violence.
And you petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Macphee and Mr Shipton.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble Petition of We the undersigned citizens of Australia respectively showeth-
That because this Budget will further increase the number of persons unemployed, because it reduces the average worker’s spending power by $ 1 0 per week, because it will reduce the incomes of pensioners, because it is unfair in placing a greater burden on the poor rather than the rich, and because it is driving this country into a depression.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that
The Federal Government withdraws this Budget and provides Australia, within this Session of Parliament, with a revised Budget that increases the level of economic activity in Australia, lowers unemployment, removes the burdens placed on the disadvantaged, and revives business and consumer confidence in the future of this potentially great country.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Clyde Cameron.
Royal Commission on Human Relationships
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Report of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships contains a most important analysis of many crucial areas of personal and social life within Australia.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that Parliament will take immediate steps to adopt the Report and make further evaluation of the Recommendations with a view to adopting and implementing procedures that will assist many who are presently disadvantaged and prejudiced in the area of personal and social relationships.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Haslem.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House will request the Fraser Government to abandon its present restrictive economic policies in favour of the expansionary alternative Budget outlined to the House of Representatives by Opposition Leader Bill Hayden on August 22, as this alternative Budget would reduce the cost of living, boost employment and generate strong economic growth.
Your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Humphreys.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
This humble petition of undersigned Christian citizens of Australian respectfully showeth that:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Keith Johnson.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble Petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth-
That 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% to 75% 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. byDr Klugman.
Royal Commission on Human Relationships
To the Honourable 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 MacKenzie.
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 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 under-signed Petitioners to request the Australian Government to uphold the principle that 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 Pensioners in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Eric Robinson.
To The Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that the sales tax as applied to articles handmade by artisans is unfair.
An artisan is a handcraftsman, or a handcraftswoman, who exercises a non agricultural activity, revolving around the transformaton of materials with his own handwork or that of his family.
On craft, above all, the accent must be on design, practicability and quality, where the craftsman must perforce pay highly for his raw materials and time must not be a conditioning factor in the making of an article.
This petition seeks the objective examination of the existing sales tax Acts in respect to persons seeking to earn their living by the labour of their hands alone.
Every day, skilled artisans are being forced out of their livelihood, not by the competition of machine made goods, not by high prices of materials, but by the injustice of antiquated Sales Tax Laws. The artisan, thus taxed out of his living, will then go onto unemployment benefits, or worse still, to prostituting his craft by sacrificing his professional integrity, forcing him to lower his standards of workmanship in order to conform to existing laws.
We therefore request that a Sales Tax exemption be created immediately for all handcrafted articles.
We also request that the current exemption limit of $1,400 and $1,000 respectively referred to in items 100-(1) and 100-(2) of the Sales Tax (Exemption and Classifications) Act 1935-1967, be immediately raised to a realistic figure, in line with current living standards and from then on to be periodically reviewed so as to keep pace with the Australian standard of living.
Your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Shipton.
– As indicated to the House yesterday, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) is to undertake discussions in the United States of America concerning the counter-cyclical beef legislation passed by the American Congress. During his absence the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann) is acting as Minister for Primary Industry and the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) is acting as Leader of the House. Until the return of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock), Senator Carrick will act as Minister for Foreign Affairs and will be represented in this chamber by the Minister for Defence ( Mr Killen).
I also inform the House that the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch) will depart tomorrow to represent Australia at the inauguration of Pope John Paul II. The Minister later will be having discussions in Britain, the United States and Japan and is expected to return on 5 November. During his absence the Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee) will act as Minister for Industry and Commerce.
-Has the Minister for Transport had an opportunity to consider a report today that Qantas Airways Ltd is applying discrimination against Jewish passengers? Is there any evidence that Qantas has done such a thing? If so, what action has the Minister taken or what action does he intend to take? Will he outline clearly the Government’s attitude on such a matter?
-I will take the last part of the question first. I was distressed to read in the Melbourne Age the story that Qantas had acted in this manner and had imposed limitations, apparently on a religious basis, on the carriage of Australian citizens. I sought a full report, through my Department, from Qantas to find out exactly the full implications. I am able to tell the House that the action flows out of the Chicago Convention on Civil Aviation which gives to each country complete sovereignty over the air space above its territory. In other words, each country has unfettered sovereignty to make arrangements or pass laws relating to the operation of air services into or above its country.
A number of countries- Australia includedare parties to the International Air Transit Agreement which allows scheduled aircraft to fly through their air space without prior intergovernmental agreement. Syria is not a signatory to the Agreement. Qantas overflies Syria on several of its services between Australia and Europe. A condition of the overflight arrangements is that at least one Qantas service travelling in each direction should land at Damascus each week. Syria has imposed travel restrictions which prohibit either entry or transit to persons holding Israeli passports, or passports containing a declaration that the passport is valid for Israel, or a visa for Israel, whether valid or expired, and passengers of Jewish faith of any nationality. A number of other Arab states have somewhat similar travel restrictions to those in Syria. A number of other countries also impose travel restrictions under their domestic laws. Israel, for example, follows a similar course. It refuses admission and transit to nationals of a country of the Arab League.
– That is not the same thing. You are talking about Arabs. The other matter is about religion. It is an entirely different situation.
– I am explaining to the House, absolutely accurately, the procedures that are involved in this matter. This question raises a serious issue. There can be discrimination against Australian citizens of a particular faith, and that is of concern to the Government. It is for that reason that I have sought from Qantas a fuller explanation. I point out to the House that the measure is not new. It has been in operation now for at least five years.
– You are not blaming us again, are you?
– It was in 1 969, wasn’t it?
-We are checking to find out exactly when it was introduced. The record shows that the measure has been in operation for at least five years. I am unable to confirm when it was introduced. I am not implying for one moment that the Opposition was party to this measure. I am pointing out the fact that this is not new; it has been in operation for a number of years.
I make the point that Qantas has a heavy responsibility to protect the passengers it carries. It is important therefore that passengers who are not acceptable to certain countries, irrespective of faith, religion, colour or anything else, at least be properly informed of the risks they run if they insist upon being carried by Qantas under such circumstances.
– Will the Minister make a statement to the Parliament when he finds out more information from Qantas?
– I will be happy to make available to the House any further information as it comes to hand.
-I preface my question to the Prime Minister by reminding him of the statement he made in this House on 21 Septemberthat the Government had demonstrated its commitment to the Northern Land Council under the land rights legislation and that the Government’s policies in relation to land rights would be maintained and continued. Is it a fact that under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act the Northern Land Council must be satisfied that traditional land owners understand the nature and purpose of the draft Ranger agreement and as a group consent to it? Is it also a fact that any Aboriginal community that may be affected by the signing of the agreement has been consulted and has had an opportunity to express its views to the Land Council before the Council decides whether to sign the agreement? Can the Prime Minister say which Aboriginal communities have been provided with details of the draft Ranger agreement in their own language or in a simplified English form? When were these details provided?
– This matter concerns the responsibilities of the Northern Land Council under the Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. I am fully confident that the Chairman and the officers of the Northern Land Council are fully aware of their responsibilities under that Act and that they will carry them out.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Transport. He will be aware of the cheap air fares operating across the Atlantic Can he say whether the open slather approach on the Atlantic route will lead to a further lowering of the price of airline tickets for flights across the Atlantic from London to the United States?
– I am unable to say whether the open slather approach to which the honourable member referred can lead to a further lowering of air fares across the Atlantic. I think it is important to point out that the cheaper air fares across the Atlantic have been negotiated between the British and the American governments. It is not an open slather in terms of setting the price. The price is determined by the two governments. Those airlines which are operating on the route are operating on a point to point basis between London and, say, New York directly. The other on-carriers have certain restrictions placed on them. It is interesting to note that the very basis of our cheap air fare proposals that I outlined in the House last week is quite similar in terms of what we are seeking to negotiate, that is, a point to point fare which all countries and all airline operators agree is the best means of providing the cheapest possible air fare.
-I direct my question to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I refer to the fact that the Australian Embassy has again been withdrawn from Beirut. Accordingly I ask: Is it a fact that large numbers of the Lebanese population are now displaced, that a large part of the city of Beirut is uninhabited and that the Lebanese people are fleeing their homes to the countryside or to other countries, particularly Cyprus? Noting that there are 150,000 people of Lebanese origin in Australia, with perhaps 500,000 relatives in Lebanon, and in view of the Government’s concern for refugees elsewhere in the world, will the Minister advise at what stage Lebanese people would be considered by the Government to be refugees?
– I am not able to give an entirely up-to-date account of the situation in the city of Beirut. I can rely only on reports that have come to me such as those which are available to the honourable member. As I understand the situation in the city of Beirut, it is very serious indeed. As he said, a great number of people have been displaced and are moving out of the city to other places in the surrounding countryside and also overseas. Yesterday the Prime Minister and I received a deputation of leading Australians of Lebanese origin who placed before us their views of the situation. I think they went on to see the Leader of the Opposition after they had spoken with the Prime Minister and me. Obviously their views were taken into account.
I think the Government’s continuing response in relation to situations of this nature would provide not only the Lebanese community butother Australian residents with confidence that we would react positively and humanely to situations which may occur. The people of Lebanon do not come within the strict definitions laid down by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but this of course did not stop us from acting in the past when a particular situation confronted us.
All I can say is that the migration officers were moved on the considered advice which said that their own personal safety was in some danger because of the situation in the city. At this stage I pay tribute to the Australian officers and to the locally engaged staff who continued to work under very difficult and arduous conditions in the migration office in Beirut. Obviously the Government is very concerned with the situation that has developed in Lebanon. We hope that talks which are taking place at present will bear fruit. Obviously we would like to see a cessation of the fighting, the hostilities, in that country. We are monitoring the situation very closely indeed. I think our past record demonstrates that if it is necessary to act we will.
– I direct my question to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Resources. In view of the increasing importance of China as a market for Australian products, can the Minister indicate what steps the Government is taking to encourage the development of further trade with this country?
-The Government is very much aware of the importance of the Chinese market. In fact, in the year just ended our sales to the People’s Republic of China have doubled to $400m and it is now our fourth largest export market. The Chinese market, of course, has been a very important market for Australian wheat for many years, but a demand is now developing for minerals, other types of grains, manufactured goods and technology. This is in response to the new regime’s policy of greater industrialisation and more international trade. Last week I was visited by the Minister for Foreign Trade, Mr Li Chiang. The week before that the Vice-Minister for Metallurgical Industry, Mr Hsu, visited me. Two other missions visited Australia in the two previous months, all reflecting the interest of China in forging closer links with Australia.
In a week’s time I will be leaving with a mission to visit China for a period of one week. With me I will be taking a very distinguished group of Australian business and industry leaders. This will give these people the opportunity of meeting their counterparts and also becoming involved in the new trading environment that is building up in China. It is to be noted that the people I am taking with me are representing not their own individual businesses but particular industry groups.
The businessmen’s group includes Mr Espie, President of the Australian Mining Industry Council, who will be leader of the group; Sir James McNeill, Chairman of Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd; Sir Samual Burston, President of the Australian Woolgrowers and Graziers Council; Professor Badger, Chairman of the Australian Science and Technology Council; Mr Neville Blyton, President of the Australia/China Business Co-operation Committee; Mr Eather, past president of the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation and General President of the Queensland Grain Growers Association; Mr Gough, Deputy Chairman of the Trade Development Council; Mr Harris, Chairman of the Australian Sugar Board; and Dr Hughes, Chairman of the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation.
These people will be having discussions in China and assessing the future prospects for trade in commodities and technology and for developing closer economic ties between the two countries. I think that the standing of the businessmen who are coming with me indicates the importance that they and I attach to the mission that is going to China and reflects the concern that Australia and this Government are showing in developing the best trade links possible with a country where there is obviously immense potential under its new policies.
– In the course of the Government’s pre-Budget deliberations, did the Treasurer consider the question of tax exemption for a new reading device for the blind called the Optacon, as he promised to do in his reply to my question on notice No. 1308? If the Optacon has not been included in the list of items receiving tax exemptions, will the Treasurer say on what advice he was acting in refusing tax exemption? Will he also inform the Parliament whether all Braille typewriting machines are exempt from tax?
– The possible exemption from sales tax of that particular device was amongst a large number of requests for exemption received by the Government over the year leading up to the preparation of the Budget and it was listed for consideration. As I think the honourable gentleman is aware, no decision to exempt it was made and, as a result, no such decision was announced in the Budget. Perhaps the honourable gentleman ought to bear in mind that successive governments have taken the view that assistance for disadvantaged people and for aids and devices which assist those who are in a disadvantaged position is best provided on an explicit basis rather than through the taxation system. I think the honourable gentleman would be able to find quite a large number of examples where governments of both persuasions have taken the view that if some special assistance is needed it is better for it to be given on an explicit basis rather than through the taxation system. As to the second part of the question about Braille typewriters, I frankly do not know the answer to that. I will find out and let the honourable gentleman know.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Transport. It refers to the so-called walkout by the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Mr Hawke, and other union representatives from a meeting of the National Labor Consultative Council following the action of the Department of Transport against ACTU Jetset Travel Service Pty Ltd. Can the Minister inform the House what link, if any, there is between Mr Hawke ‘s position as President of the ACTU and his involvement in ACTU Jetset? Does the Minister see any conflict in Mr Hawke having both interests?
-I think that the President of the ACTU finds himself in an extraordinarily embarrassing position. He is trying to direct or be part of a commercial operation called ACTU Jetset Travel Service Pty Ltd and as President of the ACTU he is taking part in a number of governmental industrial relations matters. For Mr Hawke blatantly to use the second forum in his capacity as President of the ACTU as a means of protesting- I suppose he would like to call itagainst his failures in the ACTU Jetset field I think demonstrates what the President of the ACTU is all about. It was a blatant misuse of his position as President of the ACTU, and he ought not to engage in commercial practices that lead him into these embarrassing positions. I ask the question: What attitude is he going to take to his position on the Reserve Bank Board? Are we going to see a repetition there of these activities? I think that Mr Hawke has a duty to decide whether he wants to represent the trade union movement properly, as he ought to do, or whether he is going to carry on trying to get some commercial advantage in his position by tying up with private enterprise and then, as appears to be the case, organising some kick-back arrangement through his organisation and giving it industrial muscle by wearing the cap of President oftheACTU.
Mr Hawke has a very simple answer to these problems. All he has to do is honour the undertaking he gave to the Press at large that he would tell us by telephone all about where this money is coming from. It is a simple matter. If he can tell us where this money is coming from the matter will be resolved. Is it coming from the members’ own dues? If so, it is proper and legal. If all trade unionists are happy to pay a subsidy to those who get air fares and trips overseas that is their business. I would be the first to say ‘well done ‘. If the money is coming through some other arrangement, for example through a foreign owned airline, when Mr Hawke, as the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, should have regard for the 10,000 Australian employees of the Australian airline, I think that there are many questions that he needs to answer. I would have thought that Mr Hawke would be the first to be demanding some sort of assistance to make sure that Qantas Airways Ltd, which is a very well liked and competent international airline, would be properly supported. I have to express my total disappointment at the approach Mr Hawke takes to this question. It seems ambiguous to say the least.
– I ask the Treasurer: Does the Government intend to introduce into Parliament a consolidated foreign investment statement? Will the statement detail, among other things, specific and rigorous criteria relating to the process of naturalisation, a policy announced by the Treasurer some time ago but then with only scant attention to the mechanics? If the statement is to be made, when will it be introduced into the House?
-I think that the honourable gentleman is aware of the statement I made early in June. Perhaps it did not fit the criteria of being a consolidated statement but it was not scant in the sense that we did not spell out at that time the basis of the changes.
– You will have to amend the legislation, won’t you?
-I will consider whether there is merit in making a further statement to the House about the changes in the foreign investment policy.
The honourable gentleman will know that in my statement I indicated that we were considering procedural changes relating to certain aspects of our foreign investment policy and that some further consultation, particularly on legal implications, was needed. The Leader of the Opposition, by way of interjection, asked me whether any legislation was involved. No legislation is required for the guidelines. Possibly some technical changes to the Foreign Takeovers Act will be required. As both honourable gentlemen would know, the substance of the policy changes did notaffect the Foreign Takeovers Act but rather the foreign investment guidelines. I will seriously consider the honourable gentleman’s question. The Government has no desire whatever to inhibit debate on foreign investment and welcomes the Opposition’s interest in the subject.
Mr Hodges proceeding to address a question to the Minister for Health-
-Order! The question is out of order.
– Does the Treasurer agree that it is not enough to block specific tax avoidance schemes while other schemes can be devised almost at will in the form of artificial or contrived financial transactions? As section 260 of the Income Tax Assessment Act has been emasculated by judicial interpretation, will the Treasurer consider introducing an amendment to provide that when the Commissioner of Taxation or the court is of the opinion that the transactions, dealings or financial affairs of a taxpayer are artifical or contrived, the tax liability of the taxpayer concerned may be determined according to the commercial realities?
-The Government has under consideration at present the possibility of amending the provisions of section 260 of the Income Tax Assessment Act. The honourable gentleman would not want me to relate the history of that particular section. Simply put, through progressive interpretations it has been given a more reduced meaning than was originally intended when it was inserted. Whilst I am happy to say that the Government is considering very seriously a possible re-write of section 260, it is not an easy matter and it ought not to be assumed, given interpretations of revenue statutes, that it is simply a question of re-arranging some of the words of section 260.I simply conclude by saying that the Government welcomes the interest of members of the Opposition in a subject about which they did nothing for three years when they were in government.
-I direct a question to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Resources. I refer to the importance of live cattle exports in the economic recovery of the beef cattle producing regions of Australia. Will the Government take all possible steps further to promote live cattle exports and the development of markets for this purpose and to ensure that industrial disruptions such as those which occurred in Brisbane yesterday will not be allowed to impede in any way tins important trade?
– I think anybody who read the newspaper reports of what occurred at the wharves in Brisbane yesterday would be appalled that there are elements in the community who think that they can determine what other people do with their produce. For them to use violence in an effort to intimidate and to stop those delivering the cattle to the wharves from doing so is a clear indication that the law should be called upon to defend the interests of people who own that property.
On behalf of the Government, I welcome the opportunity to be able to sell more Australian livestock overseas. I believe that a combination of sales can be made, either in the form of killed and processed meat or in the form of livestock. All of this is to the benefit of the cattle industry in Australia. That industry has been through a gruelling period of about four or five years, and only now are there encouraging signs. I believe that if that industry is to last on a long term and secure basis it needs to develop both from the point of view of slaughtered stock and livestock.
Opportunities exist throughout South East Asia for the development of the livestock industry. There have been immense benefits from the development of live sheep exports to the Middle East. That has been of immeasurable importance to the States of South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia. I would hate to think that some elements in the community intend to try to determine what our trading policy will be, simply for the purpose of looking after their own vested interests.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Transport. Has the Australian National Railways Commission made a firm decision to discontinue the Ghan passenger service between Port Augusta and Alice Springs? Has this proposal been submitted to the Minister for his approval? Does he intend to support such a decision? What discussions have taken place between the Australian National Railways Commission and the unions involved- unions whose members will be seriously affected by such a decision?
– I have to admit that the honourable member is one step ahead of me. I am not aware of any proposal to close the Ghan railway service at this point. I rather believe that it will continue to operate until the Alice SpringsTarcoola standard gauge link is completed. Having said that, I will make further investigations into the matters raised in the honourable member’s question and give him a considered reply.
– My rephrased question to the Minister for Health is this: Is the Minister aware of conflicting public statements regarding the need for people to maintain private health insurance and not merely to rely on the Commonwealth medical benefit after 1 November? What is the Minister’s advice to Australians in relation to the taking out of health insurance after 1 November?
– I am aware of conflicting statements that have been made by certain public figures. The honourable member for Prospect, for instance, advised people last week not to insure privately unless they had a history of chronic illness or unless they were parents of large families. I regard that as being a totally irresponsible statement. I support the statement made by the New South Wales Minister for Health, Mr Kevin Stewart who, although a Labor man, is adopting a far more responsible position in this issue than are members of the Opposition. It is a matter for decision by the individual. The compulsory element of the present arrangements will go out of existence after 1 November. But at a time when health insurance premiums, particularly for the medical table, will fall, I think it would be most unwise for those people who are presently privately insured to drop their health insurance cover, thus losing their entitlement to choose their doctor for medical services in hospital and thus being eligible to receive only 40 per cent of the schedule fee.
A lot of people may not understand that if they decide to insure themselves for a doctor of their choice in hospital unless they also take out private medical insurance they will be eligible to receive only the Commonwealth benefit. Where a number of medical procedures are involved, people might have to pay a considerable amount unless they insure for the difference between the Commonwealth medical benefit and the basic 75 per cent or the 100 per cent cover. I think people need to bear that point in mind. Those people on higher income levels undoubtedly will be able to bear the cost; but people on lower levels of income or people who are likely to have a history of medical problems- nobody can forecast whether one is likely to have a series of health problems- would be wise to take the precaution of either maintaining their cover or taking insurance. After 1 November levy payers will receive the universal medical benefit of 40 per cent. If they want to maintain the present level of benefit, that is, 75 per cent with a maximum payment of $10 for a medical service where the schedule fee is charged, they will need to insure for the gap. I think the advertising program in which we have engaged will enable people to make a wise decision. I caution against the giving of irresponsible advice between now and 1 November.
– I address a question to the Treasurer. It concerns the recent announcement that the interest rate on loans from the new Primary Industry Bank of Australia will be payable at the bank overdraft rate of 10.5 per cent for amounts below $100,000 and 12.5 per cent for larger sums. In view of the Government’s election promise that this bank would provide long term loans at concessional rates of interest, will the Treasurer explain why such a high rate of interest has been set when 37.5 per cent of the Bank’s funds are to be supplied from income equalisation deposits at only 5 per cent interest? Even if the other 62.5 per cent of the Bank’s funds to be borrowed from the public were subscribed at the semi-governmental authority rate of 9.25 per cent the average interest cost of the Bank’s funds would be only about 7.6 per cent. Is this substantial difference between borrowing and lending rates accounted for by the imposition of charges by the trading banks for processing loans financed by the new Bank? If so, what are these charges; if not, who will receive the benefit of the abnormally large interest differential?
-The interest rate that has been announced in respect of the Primary Industry Bank ought to be seen first in the context that the Bank will be providing a refinancing facility. Secondly, it ought to be seen in the light of the fact that one of the principal purposes of the Bank is to make available much longer term loans to primary producers than is the situation at present. Bearing in mind those two points and also the rate charged for loans of a comparable magnitude by banks at present, I think it is quite fair to claim that the interest rate that has been established is better than might otherwise have been the case. The Government, through the use in part of income equalisation deposit funds, has given to the Bank a facility to provide a concessional rate. Naturally, the question of what is a concessional rate will vary from time to time, according to what is available elsewhere in the banking system. The Government believes that, taking all of those things into account, and particularly the fact that the Bank will meet a longheld desire on the part of the rural community to consolidate indebtedness and obtain longer term loans, the Bank will make a major contribution to improving the financial facilities that are available to Australia’s primary producers.
-I ask the Treasurer whether he is satisfied with the workings of the Australian capital market. Is he satisfied with the mechanism of the Australian Government’s raising within that market? Is he satisfied that we are using adequately the rising levels of domestic savings in Australia? If not, would he advocate a review of the workings of the Australian capital market?
-The honourable gentleman will be aware that in their 1975 policy speech the Government parties indicated that they saw merit in an inquiry being made into the Australian capital market. It would be a very foolish Treasurer, living in a Utopia, who would say that he was completely satisfied with the functioning of any capital market. The question whether, and in what form, an inquiry into the Australian capital market would be appropriate is under consideration at present. When I am in a position to give the House further information on that subject I will be happy to do so.
-I draw the attention of the House to the fact that we have in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery today a former, very well respected and liked member of this House, Speaker Cope.
Honourable members Hear, hear!
– I ask the Prime Minister: Will he ensure that the House is informed of any significant development in the efforts to secure, first, a stable cease-fire in Lebanon and, subsequently, a formula for a just and lasting peace after these years of unprecedented bloodshed and suffering? Will the Prime Minister advise what initiatives his Government has taken and/or contemplates; for example, at international forums designed to pursue these objectives? Finally, will the Prime Minister assure the House that Australian representatives will act promptly to ascertain the areas of humanitarian relief most needed by Lebanon in her present circumstances and seek to respond generously and promptly?
– I think it is generally agreed that the assistance which has been provided by Australia in the past has been generous and prompt. I will ask my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to reply in full to those aspects of the question that relate to the past, so that the honourable gentleman can be fully informed. My colleague, the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, has also indicated the Government’s view concerning the future. What is happening in The Lebanon is tragic and touches very closely the lives of more than 150,000 Australians who have a very large number of relatives in that country. In the discussions that were held yesterday I indicated that we would look again to see what initiatives might be open to Australia in international forums to promote a settled peace, a lasting settlement in that area. One point of view that was put to us yesterday by the delegation was that if even a cease-fire could be obtained that would be a very considerable advance upon which one could build. The difficulty of the situation is recognised and, plainly, the limitations of what Australia alone can do were recognised. But I did undertake that we would examine the resources available to the Australian Government to see what it might be possible to do to advance a cause in the Lebanon, which I am sure would have the support of all honourable members of this House.
– My question is to the Minister for Transport. If an overseas carrier such as Qantas Airways Ltd or Air New Zealand Ltd is not prepared to institute a direct Tasmania-New Zealand air passenger service, is there any substantive reason why the Federal Government should not license a willing Australian domestic airline operator to institute such a regular air passenger service?
– I must say that the honourable member for Denison is a great one for promoting the interests of Tasmania. He never ceases doing so. The difficulty I have had with this proposition- it has been put to me for some time- is that I have yet to meet an interested carrier who would like to start up a service between, say, Hobart and New Zealand. That has been the difficulty to date. Knowing the persuasive manner of the honourable member for Denison, it may well be that he could talk a domestic carrier into commencing such a service. I should draw his attention to one further difficulty that lies in the way of such a proposal; it would need to receive the approval of the New Zealand Government. I am able to assure him that I personally would be delighted were he to succeed in convincing someone to start such a service.
-I ask the Minister for Defence: Were three officers of the Naval Technical Services Division of the Department of Defence who prepared a report critical of the Division’s operations interviewed late last year by a senior officer of the Department of Defence? Have these officers been moved from their then positions to less important positions because of their activity in preparing this report? Has a further witch-hunt relating to this report, sponsored by the Prime Minister’s Department, been commenced in the last week since publication of articles by a well-known journalist? Finally and most importantly, what action has been taken within the Department of Defence to meet the criticisms contained in that report, which I understand are substantially valid?
– In reply to the honourable member for Corio may I begin at the beginning, as Mr Minogue, a former member of this House once said, because that is where it all began. It was in January 1975 that the General Secretary of the Association of Architects, Engineers, Surveyors and Draughtsmen of Australia wrote to the Secretary of the Department of Defence concerning the relationship between professional engineers and technical officers. It was a courteously worded and persuasively worded letter. It concerned the relationship between those two groups. Some of the technical officers expressed the view that their career prospects were being interefered with in a variety of ways. A committee was appointed. The central feature of its terms of reference was to consider what all of us would describe as a demarcation dispute. I want to emphasise that it was to deal with an organisational matter, a demarcation dispute.
I notice that some journals with a powerful sense of giving free wheeling translations have described these officers as being senior officers. I will deal with that first assertion. One of the senior officers has five levels of officers over him; another officer appointed to the committee has nine levels of officers over him, and the third, 13 levels of officers above him. The committee was appointed to consider the central feature which was what I describe as a demarcation dispute. The members of the committee commenced their work in or about August 1976 and completed it in June 1977. The dates are of that order- June or August, one or the other. The report was very substantial and, speaking for myself, I thought the committee took an inordinately long time to consider that central feature. I would hardly describe the report as a dazzling display of relevance. The report considers, among other things, strategic concepts and equipment acquisition. Even William Shakespeare gets a mention. What would honourable gentlemen think, in terms of relevance, if a panel of stewards at Randwick who were inquiring into the running of a horse expatiated on the workings of the Lambeth Conference?
Two of the officers involved have been moved but not in any form of reprisal. One has been promoted and one has stayed where he is. There has been no witch-hunt as such. There is a great reluctance on the part of people these days to look critically at something that is written. This report contains hearsay piled upon hearsay, assertions made without proof, and evidence- so called- given by people with absolutely no qualifications whatsoever in the field. How would the honourable member for Prospect feel if I were to suggest to him that I should perform an appendectomy upon him? I do not think he would face that with any sense of relish.
One of the other charges made is that the report is secret. Copies of the report were passed to three professional associations. I will not say how the report went out to the outside world. All I can say is that it has been given a thoroughly undeserved reception. The last thing I say is this: If we were to see written down on a piece of paper the old saying that the best jockeys are in the members stands, the best boxers are in the bleachers and the best parliamentarians are in the Press Gallery, speaking for myself I would certainly look critically at the last proposition.
– Pursuant to section 5 of the Parliament Act 1974 1 present proposals for the erection of a cooling tower at the rear of Parliament House, Canberra, and police guard boxes within the Parliamentary Zone. I intend to give notice of a motion seeking the approval of the House to the proposals under the terms of the Act.
– I raise a point of order. Mr Speaker, I ask for your guidance. My understanding of the Parliament Act is that matters which are to be made the subject of motions are usually considered by the Joint Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House which is charged with the responsibility, on behalf of the two Houses, to consider matters which come up under the Parliament Act.
– Both these matters have been considered by the Committee. In fact there seems to be a shortfall in the terms of reference for the Committee for the matters to be raised. The President of the Senate and I, having made the decision, raised the matter with the Committee and communicated to the Prime Minister the concurrence of the Committee and requested him to launch a motion in this House. It is pursuant to that that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is presenting the proposals and later will be moving a motion.
– Is it possible to ask that in future where such action is taken the House will have the report of the Committee? It is a committee of both Houses and it ought to report to them.
-My understanding is that the proposal will incorporate the report. Is that not so?
– I believe that to be so.
-I will check that aspect and make sure that the report is made available to the House.
– For the information of honourable members I present a statement by the Minister for Education on programs of the Schools Commission for 1979.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report of the Industries Assistance Commission on conditions for eligibility for bed sheeting bounty.
- Mr Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented.
-The honourable gentleman wishes to make a personal explanation? He may proceed.
– In reading the Hansard record of the adjournment debate in the Senate last night I saw the contribution of Senator Keeffe. I wish to correct two statements in particular which he made in his speech. As recorded at page 1349 of the Senate Hansard, Senator Keeffe read into the record a copy of a document drafted by Mr Alex Bishaw, the manager of the Northern Land Council, and presented by him to what is known as the Red Lillies meeting which was held near the Arnhem Highway on the 1 1th and following days of September 1978. At page 1350 Senator Keeffe is reported as saying in respect of a certain part of Mr Bishaw ‘s document:
That has obviously been written at the instigation of the Government.
I refute that statement. In fact, the first time I saw Mr Bishaw ‘s document was when I read it in Hansard. Furthermore, and more importantly, page 1351 of Hansard records that after having read from a document which was read out to the meeting of the Northern Land Council at Red Lillies by the Chairman of the Council, Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Senator Keeffe said:
That was written by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in collaboration with the Prime Minister of Australia.
Senator Keeffe then went on to make some extremely disparaging remarks. I inform the House that that document was not written by me, nor so far as I am aware, was it written with the collaboration of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). It was the document of the Chairman himself. Again, the first time I read that document was when I read the Senate Hansard this morning.
-The honourable member for Shortland has indicated to me that he wishes my indulgence. About what matter does he wish to speak?
-Mr Speaker, I seek indulgence in relation to the space made available to members and staff within and outside this building. I think you are well aware of the very cramped, antiquated and disgraceful conditions which are available to some members of the Parliament. An example is the room which at the moment I occupy as a shadow Minister. Following the appointment of an additional member of staff, I have to fit three people into a room measuring 10 feet by 12 feet. I understand from inquiries I have made that there is no prospect of any additional space becoming available in the House. I ask you, Mr Speaker, on behalf of all members of this House who are in similar situations, to explore the possibility of space being made available to the staff and members of this House at either the former Hotel Canberra or the former Hotel Kurrajong as a temporary measure pending the development of other activities you have in mind.
-I will do so. I should indicate to the honourable gentleman, as I indicated on an. earlier occasion to the House, that in association with the President of the Senate I have put a proposal to the Executive Branch of Government on behalf of the Legislative Branch of Government that the Executive Branch make available to the Legislative Branch space which is at present unoccupied. That proposal is being considered. The matter has been under consideration for some considerable time. My understanding is that the Executive Branch of Government wishes not to decide any single aspect on its own but prefers to consider associated matters; for instance, the construction of a new and permanent Parliament House. I am waiting, I must say anxiously, for a reply from the Executive Branch of Government. I am aware that members and especially members’ staff are being housed under circumstances which would be against the law if it were not for the fact that the law which applies outside cannot reach into this Parliament. I will look into the matter.
– by leave- Honourable members will recall that, in November 1976 when introducing amendments to the Prices Justification Act, the then Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs stated that the Government would be closely monitoring the effects of the operations of the Prices Justification Tribunal to ensure that the Government’s objectives were being met. Those objectives are that no unreasonable administrative restraints are placed on economic recovery and that the PJT’s operations are practical, clear and within the framework of Government policy. Consistent with that intention and with those objectives in mind, the Government has reviewed the role and functions of the Tribunal. It has given particular attention to the balance which should be struck between the costs of the PJT’s operations and the need to provide for inquiry into and surveillance of particular prices.
As pan of that review, I have held consultations with a broad cross-section of the community, including the trade unions and business, and have examined submissions made to me by interested persons and organisations including consumer groups. Representations received ranged from suggestions that the PJT be abolished to views expressed by the unions that the PJT be retained essentially in its present form.
The Government has decided to retain the PJT. However the Government has become increasingly concerned at the cost which the operations of the PJT represent to business and ultimately to the consumer, particularly at a time of keen competition between traders. In view of this, further changes will be made to the PJT’s operations in the interest of freeing the business community from unnecessary regulation. The proposed changes will further reduce the emphasis on price notification in the PJT’s operations, while maintaining its capacity to inquire into and keep under surveillance prices in specific areas. The present system of prior notification of price increases by companies imposes a regulatory cost on business which is disproportionate to the advantages it provides. The Government proposes, therefore, to remove the requirement for companies prescribed on the basis of turnover to notify their price increases to the PJT.
There is, however, a value in retaining a modified form of price notification to ensure adequate price surveillance for goods and services that have been subject to inquiry by the PJT. The Government has decided therefore that the notification provisions will only be applied, for a limited period, in cases where the PJT, following a public inquiry, decides particular companies or groups of companies should be so required. For these companies, the PJT will have a discretion to require notification for a period of up to 12 months, or a longer period should the Minister so approve. This provision will enable the PJT to monitor the company’s pricing behaviour closely following a public inquiry. The public inquiry function of the PJT is at present limited to determining whether prices charged or proposed to be charged by companies are justified. The PJT will retain this function.
In addition, it will be able to undertake inquiries, as directed by the Minister, which will not necessarily be confined to the question whether the prices under inquiry are justified. The PJT’s present examination of charges for beef marketing and processing, which is being undertaken outside the provisions of the Prices Justification Act, is an example of the type of wide ranging price examination the PJT will be able to undertake. The amendment will allow such examinations to be conducted as public inquiries at which witnesses will be free to debate issues with the full protection of the Prices Justification Act.
Whilst the PJT will retain its capacity to initiate inquiries into company prices, the Government sees a value in establishing a pre-inquiry consultative process which would be analogous, in a sense, to the pre-determination conference held under the Trade Practices Act. A pre- inquiry process will provide an opportunity for the company concerned and interested parties to make submissions on the question whether an inquiry ought to be held. Apart from this, a preinquiry process will allow the PJT to obtain basic information about the company or the industry concerned without using the public hearing for this purpose and, in certain cases, may establish that a public inquiry is not necessary. The decision whether to proceed to a public inquiry will be subject to approval by the Minister in respect of inquiries initiated by the PJT. Where the Minister initiates an inquiry, he is currently required to specify to the PJT not only the goods or services which are to be the subject of the inquiry but also the companies which are to be covered. In future it will be open to the Minister, if he so wishes, to nominate the goods or services concerned, leaving it to the PJT to select the companies to be taken to inquiry.
The price freeze provisions of the Act will be amended to provide the PJT with a discretion to allow an interim price increase to a company under inquiry. The existing provisions are unduly restrictive and can prevent companies from recovering legitimate cost increases for up to four months in certain cases. These provisions will not apply in respect of inquiries initiated by the Minister which do not require the PJT to consider the justification of the prices under inquiry. Present time limits for completion of inquiries by the PJT will be made more flexible by allowing the Minister to specify the time for completion of inquiries initiated by him and by allowing the PJT to extend the time for other inquiries with the consent of the company concerned.
The confidentiality provisions of the Act will be modified so that companies may claim confidentiality in respect of documents and submissions containing secret formulas or processes.
If requested, the PJT will not disclose information which, in its opinion, would damage the competitive position of a company, unless the PJT considers it in the public interest to do so. A provision will be included in the Act to allow the Minister to issue general directions to the PJT as to any matter which should be given special consideration by it in the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers. This provision will ensure that, notwithstanding its statutory independence to arrive at its own findings in particular cases, the PJT’s operations will be placed within the framework of Government policy.
In order that early effect may be given to the Government’s decisions, I shall be writing to the Acting Chairman of the PJT requesting that the PJT consider using the exemption procedures of the Act to release companies from the notification provisions unless they have been subject to public inquiry within the past year. It is intended to amend the Act as soon as possible.
The Government is fully aware of the significance of its decision to retain the PJT. Before reaching that decision and the other decisions I have outlined, the Government gave ample opportunity for views to be put on the matter. Full and careful consideration has been given to these views. The overall effect of the changes to the PJT will substantially reduce the cost to business of servicing its regulatory requirements. They will also maintain the PJT’s ability to undertake inquiries where evidence indicates that prices need to be examined. I present the following paper:
Motion (by Mr Nixon) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
-by leave-The Opposition condemns the policy decisions announced by the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) in his statement as a further weakening of the Prices Justification Tribunal. In fact, I go further. I believe that there already has been a de facto abolition of the PJT. The decisions announced in this statement add up to another nail in its coffin. Let those people in the Liberal and National Country parties opposite who said in their campaign for the 1975 Federal election that they would abolish the PJT have the courage of their convictions. We would have some respect for them if they openly carried out the wishes they expressed in that campaign. But we have no respect whatsoever for them achieving their purpose of abolition by using the back door. Cynically, through their Minister, they announced today- and I quote the Minister’s statement:
The Government has decided to retain the PJT.
Let me state quite clearly on behalf of the Opposition that in the form in which the PJT is being retained it will be even more useless than it has been since the Government started meddling with it two and a half years ago. It was already relatively useless in the form in which it had existed to date, since the Government started meddling with it. Now uselessness is being compounded by these changes that have been announced.
All wage and salary earners of this country have reason to feel very angry about the changes that have been made and are being made to the Prices Justification Tribunal. Their income increases are subject to scrutiny and the Fraser Government does not want them even to be reimbursed for past cost increases. They are obliged to go to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to justify their increases. They do not get even indexation automatically. They have to listen to submissions put before that Commission by the Fraser Government seeking to limit their income increases. They have to listen to ministerial speeches made day after day around this country blaming them for all the country’s economic ills. But no justice whatsoever is meted out by this Government. It blames only wage and salary earners. There is no equity in the way that it tackles this problem. There is no exhortation even to other income earners in the community. In particular, and we see it from this statement by the Minister, there is the emasculation- indeed, the de facto abolition- of the only body in our community which has scrutiny over prices.
Today’s announcement has two main effects. Firstly, those under scrutiny are lessened in number. In fact, there is no longer any automatic need to notify on a turnover basis. Only those few who become subject to an inquiry after getting the permission of the Minister for such inquiry, and I will come to that in a moment, are obliged to notify their price increases to the Tribunal. There is inequity in this, patent inequity. It is discriminating in as much as costs to the particular companies under scrutiny are then compounded by the very people who are scrutinised by the PJT having to add to their costs the automatic notification. So we are going to find this discrimination in one industry vis-a-vis another or one company vis-a-vis another within an industry. Not only are we going to find the initial discrimination based on pork barrelling, as there will be in this new set up; we are also going to find that discrimination compounded. As a consequence, there will be enormous pressures to do very little because the PJT itself will realise that any company or industry it brings under scrutiny will have its costs compounded by it then being obliged to go on notifying its prices.
The second effect to which I have already alluded is that the Tribunal will be open to Government decision-making. No longer is it to be an independent body, acting without fear or favour. I believe that it will become a porkbarrelling tool of this Fraser Government. Does anyone imagine that the pre-inquiry consultative process which the Minister has announced in his statement will be anything less than an opportunity for interested parties to put pressures on their government? In short, the Tribunal will no longer be an independent body. It will come directly under the scrutiny of the Minister, under the direction of the Fraser Government. This is a bad day for the man in the street because the balance has been tilted further in favour of big business and against his interests. I hope that he will rally, particularly through trade unions and other consumer groups, to condemn the Government not only for what it has done in the past in emasculating the PJT but for what it is doing today in putting another nail in the Tribunal’s coffin. This is an important body; it is under even greater threat. We need it to survive so that a Labor Government, when taking it over, can reform it and make it a worthwhile institution in our community.
I have suggested that already the weakening has taken place, and I want to take these few minutes to go through the litany of things that have been inflicted to date on this independent tribunal by the Government. Let me mention the number of people who are surveyed and the decrease in that number, the number of people who are obliged to notify the Tribunal and the decrease in that number. It has gone from bad to worse. Let me draw attention to the ministerial speeches made around this country that have weakened the authority of the Tribunal. Let me also mention that this Tribunal has had only an acting chairman for months and months. We have heard no excuse whatsoever about why the Government has not done what it should have done and appointed a chairman to the Tribunal. Let me mention the sort of staff cuts that have taken place in the Tribunal. Two years ago it had 160 staff. Today is has only 90, with only two in the research department. Can we have any reason at all to feel anything but cynical about the Government suggesting that it is retaining the Tribunal? It is retaining it as nothing more than a piece of window dressing, for reasons that I will come to a little later.
Let me also mention, and this is recent news, the explicit backing given to companies by the Fraser Government against this independent tribunal, the Prices Justification Tribunal. I need mention only the recommendation of the Tribunal to Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort Ltd to reduce its commission charges. That recommendation has not been carried out by Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort Ltd, although a similar recommendation has been carried out by every other company. I state my concern that the Minister did not take the opportunity in this House last Thursday, in answer to my question, to back the Tribunal against Elder Smith and ensure that the authority of the Tribunal was maintained in that case. But no, another nail was put in the coffin through a lack of fortitude, a lack of backing for the Tribunal by this Government. Since then we have seen announcements in the various newspapers of this country that telegrams have been sent to the Government by oil companies seeking exemption from the Tribunal’s scrutiny. Here we have another case of the pocket of the man in the street being hurt by increased oil prices in favour of big business, of the man in the street not getting the backing that he should get from his Government, or from the Government that occupies the Treasury bench at the present time.
I can cite case after case backing absolutely our charge that this weakening has been going on in the two and a half to three years of this Government’s existence, and today’s announcement is a final nail in the coffin. Incidentally, before I forget to mention it, I want to. draw attention to the fact that the announcement made in this House by the Minister in the last half hour has either been leaked by the Government to the Press or, once again, has found its way accurately into the Press in the last few days. We had the story in the Age by Michele Gratten last Friday, followed up by one by Andrew Kruger in the Sydney Morning Herald, and I think another story in the Australian on Saturday. The Government has reason to feel ashamed that it cannot keep decisions like this to itself until they are announced properly in the Parliament. Rather, we find them being leaked to the Press or the Press getting hold of them at an earlier time.
I have mentioned my belief that the two main announcements made today, the two main policy changes, amount to a further weakening of the PJT. I would like to go on and point out that all we are going to get from now on is ad hoc inquiries. Then, after the Minister has been put under great pressure by those who are the backers of this Government, those who feed this Government with funds, after all those pressures have been applied, he still has to make a decision in favour of a Tribunal hearing. Who in this House or in the community believes that there will be many hearings after all those sorts of pressures have been put on the Minister? It should be noted that this statement announced the policy change that interim price increases can take place. The Tribunal will make its inquiries in an atmosphere in which the prices have already been increased so there will be extra pressure against the interests of the man in the street and pressures in favour of business to see that the particular price increases are allowed by the Tribunal. This is another way in which the Tribunal is being weakened.
All the factors which I have outlined to the House add up, as I have suggested, to this being a black day for the man in the street. His pocket will be hit even further. No independent tribunal will exist in the way it should in this community to look after his interests against the interests of those who have the power to put up prices. There is a need for a strong independent body. Competition should ensure the lowest possible prices in many sectors. The Australian Labor Party does not intend that there should be expensive inquiries or surveillance where there is proper competition, but we have to face the fact that competition does not exist in many sectors of our economy. Such surveillance and inquiries as the Prices Justification Tribunal has been carrying out are needed very badly so that the lowest possible prices can be applied.
I have mentioned the cynicism- the hypocrisy- of the Government in pretending that such a tribunal continues to exist. Part of that window dressing is to put into legislation the use of the Tribunal in matters such as the fuel equalisation scheme. Of course it is essential that we have such a tribunal. There should never have been any question that it should be abolished. The Government has ensured that the window dressing is there but the substance is not. The Tribunal will continue to exist but in a very weak form. It will not carry out the duties that it should carry out. The Australian Labor Party does not believe that the Tribunal is absolutely perfect. We did not believe that it was even at the time that we lost government. We believe that there are needs for reforms in the way the Tribunal works. I personally am not in favour of its present quasi legal method of working. I believe that there is a great deal of merit in following the ways of working of the Prices Commission in the United Kingdom. These options will be before the Labor Party in the decisions it will take about the form of tribunal that will exist when it comes back into government. That is not to say that we do not strongly support the need for such a tribunal.
We also believe that the Tribunal needs better guidelines than it has been given hitherto. We agree that business should be free to the greatest extent possible from any unnecessary regulation or cost. We do not believe that the Tribunal has to be emasculated in the way that this Government has emasculated it in order to free business from unnecessary regulation or cost. It would be far better if the Government set about to coordinate the information that the Tribunal is seeking from business with that which other bodies, such as the Trade Practices Commission and the Industries Assistance Commission, are seeking. If that information were co-ordinated it would be less costly for business to supply it. In short, I return to the point I have already made. This is a bad day for the man in the street and a good day for business. The dividends that big business require from the Government which it finances are coming home in this case. The former regulations were necessary to achieve the lowest possible prices. It is a sad day. The Government should be condemned for emasculating the Prices Justification Tribunal further.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hodges) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr Fife)- by leave- agreed to:
That Mr John Brown be discharged from attendance on the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and that in his place Mr Kerin be appointed a member of the Committee.
– I present the official report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-by leave- In July of this year I had the honour to lead a delegation representing the two Houses of this Parliament to India and Sri Lanka. Because of commitments I had in Australia, regrettably I was not able to lead the delegation on its visit to Bangladesh. My colleague in the other chamber, Senator Chaney, assumed leadership of the delegation for its visit to that country. I express my gratitude to him for accepting this role at short notice. I am pleased to report to the House that all members of the delegation acted with great distinction throughout the tour. They were fine ambassadors not only for the Australian Parliament but also for those people they represent as members and senators and for the parties they represent. The members of the delegation were Senator Chaney, who has since been appointed Minister for Administrative Services, Senator K. J. Martin, Senator E. A. Robertson, the honourable member for Barton, Mr J. M. Bradfield, the honourable member for Bonython, Dr N. Blewett, and me, accompanied by my senior private secretary, Mr Justin Standwix. Mr A. J. F. McDonald, an officer of the Parliament, acted as secretary to the delegation.
The delegation was both a fact finding and a goodwill mission. Its purpose was three-fold: To observe the political, social, economic and cultural circumstances of these countries and to develop a greater awareness of their implications; to see how aid from Australia was being used, to make contact with the people involved in aid projects and to study ways in which Australian aid can be most effective; and to further goodwill and friendly relationships with our neighbours, and, particularly, with parliamentary colleagues in the region. I believe that our report will show that the mission achieved its aim. It records observations made in the individual countries visited and sets out the recommendations of the delegates which will now be transmitted to appropriate Ministers and other responsible authorities for action.
Throughout the visit we were received with every kindness and courtesy. On behalf of Mr Speaker I expressed the Parliament’s thanks to the parliaments and governments of the host countries and to the various authorities, community organisations and commercial interests involved with our visit. I would also like to express our thanks to those who were responsible for the organisation of the visit, the heads of the Australian missions and their staffs in the countries visited, the officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra and the Legislative Research Section of the Parliamentary Library which provided us with a very comprehensive brief. I also mention the sterling assistance and support provided by Mr McDonald during the tour and by Mr Ferguson prior to our departure.
Finally, I wish to thank my colleagues of the delegation for their hard work and ready cooperation which ensured the success of this important mission.
-by leave-As a member of the delegation I second the thanks of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) to our hosts and, of course, to the Australian high commissions and embassies whose members contributed very much to the success of the tour. I take this opportunity to say that there is often much criticism in Australia about parliamentary delegations of this nature. I say first of all to those critics that the period spent in India was approximately one month in mid-summer. The official day began usually no later than 7 a.m. and often earlier. It usually did not finish before 10 o’clock in the evening. That was an experience which suggests that people work very hard on these delegations. I think we need to stress to the public the work involved in many of these delegations.
Secondly, particularly in relation to a delegation to India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, it is very difficult for most Australians, certainly most Australian politicians- this includes myself- to make the imaginative jump between the nature of our society and the nature of the societies they are visiting.
I think it is almost impossible to understand the problems that these countries face simply by reading books about them. Certainly for me- and I do not think I lack imagination entirely- the revelation of the problems on the ground of these countries will fundamentally alter my attitude to our role in that particular area. It seems to me that that is extremely valuable.
Finally, I wish to say that I think there has been a neglect by Australia of the Indian subcontinent. In many ways in the 1950s and 1960s we worked out, often rather tragically, our relationship with South East Asia. In the 1970s we have done an enormous amount towards working out our relationship with China, but it does seem to me that there has been a neglect of the Indian sub-continent. I hope that in the decade ahead we will turn our attention to that particular area. Certainly from our experience we can say that there is an enormous amount of goodwill for Australia in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India. I think it is important that in the years ahead we give substance to that goodwill.
-Mr Speaker has received a letter from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The failure of the Government to meet its promise to reduce interest rates by two per cent over 12 months.
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-
– Next month a year will have elapsed since the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) gave a firm undertaking to the Australian community that interest rates would be reduced by 2 per cent over the ensuing 12 months as a result of government policies. That promise has not been honoured. There is a month to go before the full timetable is exhausted. That promise will not be fulfilled by the time that timetable has been exhausted. Indeed, I go further and suggest that in the course of the year- I am talking of the fiscal year and not the calendar year- at best the Government may have been able to achieve some shaving of the long term market rates but I suspect no further sustainable, sensible reductions in the short to medium term market rates. In short, in spite of the Government’s efforts to rig the market by conscripting adjustments in interest rates through institutions such as banks, all that it has achieved is a distortion in the money market. It has not been able to bring about the sustained reduction that it promised. So we have another promise dishonoured. Let us not be under any illusion about the quality of that promise, or of its firmness. The Prime Minister in early December last year- this was not the first time he made such a statement- was reported in the Age in these terms:
A reduction of interest rates by 2 per cent in the next 12 months was forecast by the Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, yesterday.
The report went on to quote him as saying this:
It is a target that can be and will be achieved.
The report continued:
He said he was talking about rates that directly affected people, such as bank lending and home lending rates.
So there are no doubts about two scores at least. One is that he was talking about housing mortgages, amongst other things, and the other is that he was talking of a 12-monthly period henceforth from that date. He was not talking about something that was to have retrospective effect, as he seeks deceitfully to imply from time to time. The Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Country Party (Mr Anthony), with rustic charm, went further and was reported in a newspaper article in these terms:
Interest rates would come down 2 percentage points in the next 12 months or he would eat his hat, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Anthony, promised in Bathurst yesterday.
He had better get out his hat. I have no doubt it will be the same hat that he is always talking through at Question Time in this House. The fact is that interest rates did not come down. Nor is the present Treasurer (Mr Howard) immune from criticism in this respect. In a Press statement he issued on 29 November last year he criticised observations I had made on the previous day when I pointed out the impossibility of achieving sustained reductions in interest rates of the order defined by the Prime Minister and his colleagues with the maintenance of the Government’s then economic policies, especially in relation to money control. I have been proved to be right. In his Press statement the Treasurer had this to say:
Mr Hayden has sought to ‘muddy the waters’ on the question of interest rates in an effort to detract from what is, and what will continue to be, one of the Government’s major successes on the economic front.
It is a success that never quite came off. I mention only out of charity and to indicate that we should not be too harsh in seeking to hold him to predictions he makes at earlier dates, that he also said:
Mr Hayden ‘s suggestion that the Government has to set a deficit target of $3,000m is nonsense and reveals a lack of understanding of the processes of economic policy.
The deficit was $3,333m. I will not embarrass the Treasurer by quoting him further. The point I am making is that we have before us another dishonoured promise. It is buried in the same graveyard as is the promise that unemployment would fall from February this year; that there would be tax cuts- we were never told that there would be substantial tax increases five months after the cuts were introduced; that Medibank would be preserved; that there would be twice annual indexation of pensions; that the Government was firmly committed to the preservation of means test-free pensions; and that concessional credit would be available through a primary industry bank. All of those promises, and many others as well, are buried in the graveyard of dishonoured undertakings made by a government which was reckless to achieve office and which was indifferent about its credibility and integrity before the Australian public. A simple principle can be applied where this Government is concerned, and it is this: It makes a promise and it does the opposite. I indicated that the
Government has been significantly, if not spectacularly, unsuccessful in achieving the reductions in interest rates that it undertook would come about as a result of its policies at the time of the last election. With the indulgence of the
House, I seek leave to have a table incorporated in Hansard.
The table read as follows-
-As this table shows, there is no doubt that some reduction has been achieved but it has been nowhere of the order which was promised. Certainly at this late stage it indicates the impossibility of the Government’s fulfilling that promise. What is the effect of this dishonoured promise on the average housing mortgage? How does it sum up as a cost, the cost of another broken promise to the community? If we take the average loan made through a building society, we are looking at something of the order of $26,000 with interest repayments at 1 1 per cent. That works out to be $3,087 in the course of a year in interest payments. In fact, if the Government had achieved a 2 per cent reduction from late last year when it said that this timetable applied, the interest rate would be 9V£ per cent. So the mortgagee effectively would be paying $2,750, or $337 less than he or she is actually paying. That is the sort of cost which has to be borne each year by the average housing mortgagee as a result of another broken Fraser Government promise.
What does that mean in terms of all housing mortgagees in this country? Let us take the average at being an additional cost of $300. The fact is that a quarter of a million loans were taken out last year and the average loan from a building society is over about five years. The conservative cost of this dishonesty to the community, to home mortgagees, is $300m. It is the $300m housing lie of the Fraser Government which was consciously put forward to win government but it was done so in the full knowledge that it would be impossible to achieve, given the thrust of the money management policies of the Government.
Really, the dishonesty is far worse than that. In fact, the Government has made housing dearer. It has eliminated the mortgage subsidy which we introduced. The effect of that can be easily gauged if we take the average loan available to a person on $7,000 a year, namely, a loan of $15,290. As a result of the abolition of that subsidy that person will be paying $7.20 a week extra. He or she would have to have an effective reduction of 2.3 per cent in interest rates to offset that imposition; that is, apart from the promise of a 2 per cent reduction in interest rates which was given by the Prime Minister. A person with a family income of $8,000 a year and with an average loan of near enough to $ 1 7,500 will be paying $6.77 a week extra as a result of the abolition of that benefit we introduced. That subsidy was given to people to reduce interest repayments that they would have to undertake. For it to be offset would require a reduction of 2 per cent in interest rates.
There was no suggestion in the policy speech last year that these sorts of reductions would take place to offset any benefits from an adjustment downwards in housing interest rates. It is on the same scale of dishonesty as the promise of tax cuts which resulted in tax increases. Finally, let me quote the case of a family with an income of $10,000 a year and an average size loan of $21,800. That family would be paying $5.64 a week extra as a result of the loss of the benefit of the housing interest mortgage subsidy. It would have to have a reduction in interest rates of almost 1.5 per cent to offset the disadvantages that the Government has brought about.
Let me take another aspect of the matter. This is a high interest rate government. This is an important fact which has been lost sight of by many people. The real rate of interest is the crucial factor in determining so much of the business behaviour in the community. The real rate of interest is the difference between the actual rate of interest which is charged and the consumer price index or some other relevant index of inflation. In 1975 inflation was running at the end of the year, according to the CPI, at about 14 per cent. Interest rates through savings bank mortgages were running between 9 per cent and 10 per cent. Effectively there was a negative rate of interest of 4 per cent. In financial terms it was an advantage to hold a mortgage because effectively one was paying much less than the real cost of the money. In 1978 the consumer price index will be about 6 per cent and the savings bank overdraft rate will be about 10 per cent. Effectively, there is a positive rate of interest in real terms of 4 per cent. That is the position right across the board with so many interest rates.
I repeat that it is important because it is the real rate of interest which determines the people’s behaviour in the commercial world. This Government has applied the highest real rate of interest that has applied in this country for many years. It is not being generous when it proposes to reduce interest rates by 2 per cent because effectively interest rates are biting harder than they have bitten for many years. There has not been any fulfilment of the undertaking to reduce interest rates by 2 per cent. Can interest rates be reduced sustainably? No, not while present policies persist. If we look at the whole thrust of the Government’s aim from the Budget papers, we see why that is so. M3, the broad measure of the money supply, is supposed to increase, according to Government objectives, by between 6 per cent and 8 per cent. The Budget papers also show that in the fiscal year costs are expected to increase by about 6 per cent and growth is expected to increase by 4 per cent. The latter figure at least is far too optimistic, but let us not quibble about that. A total movement of 10 per cent is expected. The difference between the increase in the money supply and that 10 per cent is between 2 per cent and 4 per cent. That represents the squeeze on real money supply requirements in the community as against what the community would need to sustain its established level of activity.
Let us have no nonsense in the improvement in the velocity of money. There is a limit to the extent to which the velocity of money can improve. In any event the evidence so far has been that the velocity movement does not increase as fast as is necessary to offset the squeeze by the contraction in the money supply. The whole thrust of the Government’s money supply control in fact is to restrict further that rate of increase. That means very simply that interest rates cannot come down in any sensible way. Why? Again the law of supply and demand applies. Just as oranges and cheese have their price, so too does money. Its price is the interest rate. If money is in abundant supply, interest rates are low; if it is in short supply as a consequence of government policies interest rates go up or they stay up. To argue, as the Government suggests, that interest rates can come down while it maintains these policies is similar to believing that water runs uphill. It is against all the physical forces of which we are aware. Similarly, market forces that are regulated by the Government in the way in which they are being regulated are against interest rates coming down in a sustainable manner.
Let me point out another factor. M3 in the quarter to August 1978 increased by 17 per cent on a seasonally adjusted basis, as advised by the Reserve Bank of Australia. I acknowledge the serious limitations of the seasonal adjustment for quarterly figures for the money supply. But it represents a trend and gives some insight into the dimension of that level and rate of increase. The Government set itself a target of a 6 per cent to 8 per cent increase in the money supply in the course of the fiscal year. In that period already there has been an increase of the order of 1 7 per cent, but it could be considerably less. That means very simply that if the Government intends to seek to achieve an 8 per cent increase in the money supply, let alone a 6 per cent increase, it will have to maintain rigid controls over the money supply in the remainder of this year. It will have to reduce dramatically the rate by which that money supply increases. Of course it just cannot achieve that sort of objective that it has set itself.
The Prime Minister will seek to wriggle out of this situation of embarrassment that he has caused for himself through his reckless undertaking- an undertaking which was adopted in the full knowledge that it could not be fulfilled- by blaming overseas forces. That, too, is as dishonest as all of those other statements for which he has been responsible and about which he has been exposed already, no less than a year since they were made to the public. The dishonesty of the objective has been exposed by a forecast of the Department of Trade which appeared, as well as in other newspapers, in the Canberra Times of 30 November 1977. An article pointed out that there would be a balance on current account deficit of $2,520m. That forecast was almost right. With that drain on the external account the Government clearly is in no position to be increasing the volume of money that is necessary if interest rates are to be brought down.
I would dearly have wished to raise a number of other factors in this debate to indicate how thoroughly dishonest and unsustainable is the Government’s promise. It was undertaken cynically; it was undertaken to deceive the public; and it was undertaken to abuse the trust of the Australian community. The Government is exposed now for what it is. It cannot achieve the objective that it set itself. This is a dishonest government; it is a government that lacks credibility; and it is a government that does not deserve the trust and confidence of the Australian community.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– One can debate many subjects with the Opposition and have a hearty exchange but there are few subjects to which I respond with more enthusiasm than a debate on the question of interest rates. If ever there was a party, both in government and more latterly in opposition, which demonstrated a disinterest in the level of interest rates in the Australian community it is the Australian Labor Party. I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House in reminding it of the level of interest rates that prevailed in December 1 972 and the long-term bond rate of 1972 and December 1975, because some of the honourable gentlemen opposite might interject that those dates were a few years ago. Having but fleetingly reminded the House of just what the Whitlam Government policies did to the level of interest rates during its three years in office, let me ask the House to consider for a moment what the Hayden alternative Budget which was delivered less than two months ago would have done to the level of interest rates in 1978.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) gave us some definitions of the forces which are applied to the level of interest rates. He said correctly that interest is the price of money. He said that it has a fair bit to do with supply and demand. I do not have any quarrel with that point. Of course what he did not say was that one of the areas in which the Government can affect in a very dramatic way the level of demand for money is the size of the demand that the Government itself makes on the provision of funds. He was completely silent about that point. Also, he did not say that the size of the Commonwealth Government’s deficit does have some impact on the level of interest rates. He did not acknowledge, as he should have, that low deficits ease pressure on interest rates, that high deficits increase them. He did not remind the House that his alternative budget provided, on his own admission, for a deficit of some $3,500m or $3,600m. On our calculations I would argue that it would be significantly more, if only because of the unexplained gaps regarding the commencement dates of his resources and capital gains tax, and of his withdrawal of corporate tax concessions.
Therefore if, as he argued only a few moments ago, the present monetary and economic policies of this Government make it impossible for interest rates to come down he must, by definition, be arguing that his alternative policy would force interest rates up. I would agree with him in that regard, because his alternative policies would force interest rates to go up very significantly. They would greatly increase the demands of government upon available loan funds and, under a Hayden alternative budget, there would be a significant increase in the long-term bond rate and, as a consequence, on private sector and other interest rates which affect the Australian people.
Therefore, let us at the very outset get one thing clear. It is the Australian Labor Party that, by its deeds in government, by its alternative protestations in Opposition, is shown to be the high interest rate party in this country. Let there be no cavilling whatever about that. The Australian Labor Party, in its policy formation, is indifferent to the level of interest rates and the cost of money in the Australian community. That ought to be clear both from its performance in office and also from its alternative proposals whilst in Opposition.
It is worthwhile to remind the House of just what has been achieved since this Government took office in regard to interest rates. As honourable members well know, it inherited an interest rate structure that had suffered significantly from the economic policies that had been followed by the Whitlam Government. I remind the House that since the middle of 1977, a period of slightly more than 12 months, the long-term bond rate has declined by more than 1.5 per cent. In the same period, the rate on Australian Savings Bonds has fallen by one per cent. Rates on borrowing and lending by major housing mortgage lenders have generally fallen by 0.5 per cent. The bulk of that fall occurred in Feburary of this year, after certain actions regarding official rates had been taken by the Government.
For illustrative purposes I remind the House that recently the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd announced a debenture issue with a long-term rate below 10 per cent. It was the first such corporate issue since 1973 that had been below 10 per cent. I repeat: It was the first such corporate issue since 1973 that had been below 10 per cent. Those facts, as opposed to fantasy and rhetoric, demonstrate one thing: That the policies that have been followed by the Government have created market conditions in which reductions in interest rates have not only occurred but have done so on a sustainable basis. If indeed, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, it is all a question of supply and demand; if indeed it is all about market forces, then by his own definition this Government has followed policies which have produced much lower interest rates. The runs are on the board. Whatever he says about fine tuning over periods of time, the fact is that we have achieved these reductions during those periods of time.
The House does well to remember his words of only a few moments ago, that it is all a question of market forces, of supply and demand. If indeed that is the case, we have created, by his own definition, the circumstances in which the forces of supply and demand and of the market have made possible those reductions in interest rates. The Leader of the Opposition was pessimistic about the prospects for further reductions in interest rates. I do not share that pessimism. I believe that the policies of this Government make further reductions possible. Out strategy is very much committed to creating circumstances in which further reductions can and will occur. We have made no secret of our view that the level of interest rates in this country is still too high, and we are prepared to follow policies which will make it possible for those rates to fall.
The Leader of the Opposition quoted certain things that the Government had said. I remind him of a few of the things that he said towards the end of last year and in the early part of this year. On 1 December he said, in The Policy Makers program- he will remember it well because it was in the course of a debate that he had with me at the time:- ‘They . . .’ meaning interest rates ‘. . . can’t come down . . . The market forces won’t allow them to come down . . . The Government has sought to rig the market just to get it through the election.’ I repeat: ‘The Government has sought to rig the market just to get it through the election.’ In February, following a reduction in some official interest rates, we saw the beginning of a general movement downwards in bank interest rates. Of course, the Leader of the Opposition could not restrain himself on that occasion either. On I February 1978, in a PAf broadcast, when being questioned about the downward movements in interest rates which had followed the official movements down, he said, . . The Government is trying to impose cosmetic changes which just can’t be sustained unless the Government changes its whole pitch of economic management.’ What he was saying in February 1978 was that the interest rate reductions then under consideration could not be sustained. The truth of the matter is that those interest rate reductions have been sustained and will continue to be sustained. There was no question of cosmetic changes occurring. They represented real reductions in the level of interest on housing loans and were thoroughly responsible and thoroughly sustainable.
Therefore, we should take with a fairly large grain of salt some of the remarks that have been made, both before the last election and when interest rates fell earlier this year, by the Leader of the Opposition. If indeed, as he says, it is all a question of market forces, of applying the appropriate policies in order to get interest rates down, the results that we have achieved show that the Government is applying policies which are conducive to bringing down the level of interest rates in Australia.
The Leader of the Opposition also placed considerable emphasis upon remarks that had been made by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) regarding downward movements in interest rates. During the course of the election campaign the Prime Minister did, of course, make predictions regarding movements in interest rates. Those predictions were responsibly made at the time. They were made against a background of a continuation of policies. If the Leader of the Opposition is serious about the cause of lower interest rates in Australia he ought to look at the policies which are being followed by his party, the alternative Budget strategy that he presented in August of this year. Stripped of all the rhetoric and partisan exchanges on this subject it is simply a question of determining those policies which are more likely to lead to a reduction of interest rates. I put it as strongly as possible to the House that the Opposition’s proposal for a Budget which would involve a deficit, in our view of over $4,000m, which would involve a significant increase in the demand made by government on available funds, is a prescription which is totally opposed to the cause of lower interest rates.
This Government, rightly in my view, has put a very heavy stress on the level of the Budget deficit. From time to time we have been accused by our opponents of being obsessed with the size of the deficit. The Leader of the Opposition knows as well as I do that the level of the deficit is highly relevant to the cause of interest rates in Australia and that it was in the period when Budget deficits in this country increased very dramatically and therefore increased the amount of money that governments borrowed from the public that the level of interest rates went up. In the long term, unless governments are prepared to grapple with and to bring under control the size of their deficits it will not be possible to have lower interests on a sustainable basis. Whether one looks at the experience of this country or countries overseas, the same story is to be found.
The Government relishes a debate on interest rates because members of the Opposition demonstrated by their deeds when in government, and most recently in the last two months through their alternative Budget, that they do not have a commitment to the cause of lower interest rates in Australia. If they did, on their own definition, they would pursue different policies. Because the Leader of the Opposition has said that the question involves a matter of market forces he ought to recognise that his alternative Budget presented a prescription which would not bring about the conditions for lower interest rates. This Government has identifiable achievements in the area of reduction of interest rates and its policies can produce further improvements.
-Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
-Despite the enthusiasm of the Treasurer (Mr Howard) all he has done today is indulge in a general speech on interest rates. I remind the House of the terms of the matter of public importance which are:
The failure of the Government to meet its promise to reduce interest rates by two per cent over 12 months.
We are not debating generally the question of interest rates and who has the best policy or anything like that; we are debating the Government’s promise. The Opposition wants to bring home to the Australian people that here again is another broken promise. The Treasurer spoke about what hypothetically would happen given a certain situation, given the implementation of the alternative Budget of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden). The Treasurer is avoiding the question of the matter under discussion; that the Government has failed to honour yet another promise. The Treasurer quoted the Leader of the Opposition with respect to the Policy Makers program on 1 December last year. I must point out that in the Age of 3 December 1977 the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) was reported as saying:
It is a target that can be and will be achieved.
The target was a 2 per cent reduction in interest rates. That was on 3 December, so the promise held. What has happened in 1978? What the Leader of the Opposition said at that time has been proved to be true. While the Government was trying to jawbone down the banking community and the permanent building societies all responsible commentators at that time were saying that it was economic nonsense. One could quote Sir John Cadwallader of the Bank of New South Wales at that time or Mr Cameron of the Australian Bankers Association. Even on 30 June this year The Australian Housing Industry Association when making a submission to the Government stated:
We are of the view that the recent 0.5 per cent reduction -
In interest rates- has had the effect of inhibiting the mobilisation of funds for housing. The Association therefore further recommends that interest rates applicable to the housing market remain at current levels until such time as market forces warrant a change.
What the Leader of the Opposition was saying at that time was accurate and remains as accurate today. A more recent statement was made by Mr Cameron, the Director of the Australian Bankers Association Research Directorate. He said that there was some prospect that the availability of finance could be reduced if a reduction in housing interest rates occurred in isolation from market trends. He said further
The cost of housing finance is geared to the cost of mobilising funds for housing- to interest rates paid on deposits.
So what the Leader of the Opposition was pointing out on 1 December was an economic verity. It was the same on 1 February; it is the same today. What we are talking about today is the question of another promise broken by the Government. Last November and December on several occasions the Prime Minister said that interest rates would fall. Specifically, he said that they would fall by 2 per cent over 12 months. This was made a promise during the 1977 election campaign. The 12 months is now nearly up. Interest rates have not fallen, and this has been pointed out today by the Leader of the Opposition, particularly in the table that he has had incorporated in Hansard. Even on 20 August this year in commenting on the Budget the Prime Minister, in praising this most brutal document for a generation, said that the Government’s policies had slashed inflation and created conditions in which interest rates can continue to fall. He stressed that interest rates are a key to economic recovery. Of course he did not mention at that time the breaking of his earlier promise or, more importantly, that the Government was carrying out policies which would prevent interest rates from falling from the time of the Budget on.
We want to draw the attention of the Australian public to the process of government in this country in which promises are consistently broken. A while ago the Treasurer indulged in a bit of semantics. He was saying that what the Prime Minister said were predictions. We interpret predictions as promises. More and more the Australian public is interpreting promises from this Government as lies. It is one thing in politics to make promises which circumstances prevent one from keeping. That is unfortunate. It is one thing in politics to make promises which one has no intention of keeping- the kind of situation we had after the 1975 election when the Prime Minister said that his election promises were inoperable. That is cynicism. It is another thing in politics to make promises which one knows one cannot keep. This kind of promise is the promise on interest rates. That is just plain dishonesty.
The reason for the Prime Minister’s lack of credibility in the area could be lack of economic literacy. I think we can wipe out that explanation because the Government has access to advice by the Treasury, the Reserve Bank and all the other people that we have access to in the wider community. Perhaps it just sounded nice to have this in the policy speech. After all, he got away with broken promises before. Let us look at the very basics in this matter. Very basically, the Government’s promise of lower interest rates is incompatible with its money supply strategy. The real money supply is hardly moving. It has hardly moved over the past 18 months and it is probably now at the lower end of the Budget’s prediction of 6 to 8 per cent. The Government has stuck with its money supply strategy. Therefore interest rates cannot come down without other effects on the economy which the Government seems to wish to avoid. For example, if interest rates come down, given our balance of payment situation, a way out could be a devaluation of the Australian dollar. Again if one works circuitously through that course it leads to higher interest rates. Devaluation does not seem to be on; otherwise we would not be borrowing so heavily abroad.
If the Government were serious about reducing interest rates it would need to introduce a package of measures, which it clearly does not wish to. It wants to stick to this inflation first, money supply tightness strategy. That is its choice, but let us not kid ourselves on what this strategy implies. This sort of package would not just involve tampering with the Australian savings bonds rates and other interest rates and cajoling the private banks but would have to involve the stimulation of demand and an increase in the money supply. The Treasurer has clearly indicated that this is just not on. Just as the Government has broken its promise on lower interest rates for the Primary Industry Bank and slugged the public on the question of non-tax deductibility of housing loan interest payments it has broken its overall policy promise on a general reduction of interest rates. The Leader of the Opposition has clearly demonstrated that. It is clear that now in this situation- given the promises- the Government cannot bring down interest rates by the promised 2 per cent over the next three weeks. That is why the Treasurer has had to argue in general terms. He cannot live with the truth of what is contained in this matter of public importance.
Those in the money markets, those with detailed knowledge of finance, know that the long end of the bond market may come down, but little hope is held of any reduction at the short end of the market at least until the end of next June. The Government is not being honest. It has said that the deficit has to be held in check so that inflation can decrease, interest rates can decrease and employment will increase. Last year the deficit blew out by $ 1 100m and inflation came down, but employment decreased. If the deficit blows out again this year as it surely will due to the fiddling in the Budget calculations, again interest rates will not be able to fall. The September figures show that the deficit will be $3,500m, despite what the Government says. The Government is sticking to its money supply strategy. The Budget hopes for 6 per cent inflation, a 4 per cent increase in gross national product and a 6 to 8 per cent growth in money supply as measured by M3; that is, a contraction of 2 per cent to 4 per cent in real terms of the money supply. Given normal supply and demand relationships, I do not know how the Government can argue that the cost of an item will fall when its supply is falling. Perhaps the shortfall could be made up by an increase in velocity, but this again pushes interest rates up.
It has been calculated that if interest rates dropped two per cent bond holders would make a capital gain of $6 on every $100. This conflicts with the Government’s policy of trying to stimulate the private sector. All the Government is doing is stimulating people who have enough money to put into bonds. That is not bringing about investment. The Government clearly does not want people to get out of paper. The Budget mentioned the attractiveness of Australian interest rates to overseas investors and hoped that some funds would flow in. We have a balance of payments problem as does the United States, but it will not be reducing interest rates. If the interest rate in Australia dropped by 2 per cent, domestic funds would flow to the northern hemisphere and overseas funds would not flow in. As we are borrowing heavily overseas already to avoid speculation on the Australian dollar and to meet commitments, it is perfectly obvious that a reduction of interest rates by two per cent is not wanted by the Government because it is incompatible with its policies towards our balance of payments position.
A reduction of 2 per cent in interest rates is incompatible with both the Government’s internal money supply strategy and its external policies towards balance of payments. Interest rates are not fixed by soothing Sunday night radio talks to the electors of Wannon nor are they gleefully manipulated as the income tax rates were in the present Budget which, of course, represented another broken promise. Interest rates are linked inextricably with other aspects of our economy’s working, and in economists’ jargon it is always dangerous to try to fix too many nominal magnitudes. The Government cannot reduce interest rates in the short term. I hope I have shown that it promised to do so when it knew it could not.
-We have heard again today from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) yet another negative tirade which was full of unsubstantiated smears, innuendoes and deliberate mistruths which have now, sadly I am afraid, become the trademark of the honourable gentleman. For example, he spoke about broken promises on tax cuts, a promise which he knows as well as I know has not been broken. The level of income tax since the last Federal election -
– I raise a point of order. Is it in order for the honourable gentleman to say that the trademark of the Leader of the Opposition is deliberate untruths? I find the remark offensive. I think it should be withdrawn.
-I ask the honourable member for Ballarat to withdraw that reflection on another member of this House.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, if you so wish, I withdraw. The tax cut point that the Leader of the Opposition made, however, is totally incorrect. So also is the point that he made about the Primary Industry Bank rates which are generally acknowledged now with very few exceptions as being concessional and meeting the promises that the Government gave to the rural sector when the legislation was introduced. I can refer to other examples of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition to support what I said about truth. Although it may not be his trademark, a lot of people are getting sick and tired of the deliberate distortions and misleading statements which are made on a regular basis by him.
I was astonished that the Opposition has raised this subject today as one for serious debate given the Labor Party’s performance on interest rates when it was in government. The very words of the matter of public importance show yet another misleading approach by the Opposition. The matter of public importance claims a failure by the Government to meet its promise to reduce interest rates by 2 per cent over 12 months. Firstly, despite what the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Kerin) may say in trying, in a tortuous fashion, to equate predictions with promises- the most odd equation I have heard for a long time- what was said on interest rates was not a promise; it was a confident prediction based on the effects of the Government’s economic policies. Secondly, I think that the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) related to the end of 1978, and that period, of course, is not yet up. Once again the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition generally are being misleading in the words used in this matter of public importance.
Let us look at the actual record. The long term bond rate has come down by more than 1 Vi per cent since August 1977. That is a good record. There has been a very worthwhile fall in government bond rates. With 2Vi months of 1978 still to go, the fall will not be far short of what the Prime Minister and the Treasurer (Mr Howard) predicted late in 1977. The fall in official interest rates has led to an easing in private sector rates. The Treasurer in his remarks cited some of the falls which have occurred. I think that they bear repeating. The rates on longer term finance company debentures have fallen by up to 1.5 percentage points. Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd recently announced its debenture issue with a long term rate below 10 per cent, the first such corporate issue below 10 per cent since 1973. One could quote other examples from the Treasurer.
It is interesting to compare the quite significant rate reductions since August 1977 with the movement which occurred while Labor was in office between 1972 and 1975. In that period government bond rates rose by approximately 75 per cent, interest rates on savings bank housing loans rose by about 50 per cent and the trading bank overdraft rates rose from 7% per cent to 1 1 Yi per cent- again a rise of about 50 per cent. Why did these increases occur while Labor was in office? They occurred simply because the economic policies which Labor pursued had the inevitable effect of pushing inflation, and with it of course interest rates, to unprecedented levels in Australia. Our whole cost and price structure became incredibly distorted with the disastrous consequences we remember all too well. Unemployment in 1975 rose more than at any other time in our history. The economic engines of the nation were grinding to a halt; indeed, they were going into reverse. Let no one in this House forget- certainly no one outside this House should or will forget- that when Labor was in office interest rates in this country went right through the roof at a tragic cost to every Australian- the employer, small businessman, young married couples seeking to build or buy a home, the workers and the housewives. The Government’s achievement in working towards a correction of this disastrous situation and a return to economic stability and sanity has been remarkable.
What hypocrisy, what mealy-mouthing, for the Leader of the Opposition to come into this chamber and whinge and whine about whether the interest rate reduction in the past 12 months or so has been of the magnitude of 2 per cent or 1 per cent. He knows full well that had Labor still been in government this nation would now be flat broke as it nearly was in December 1975 after three years of Labor’s economic vandalism. The Leader of the Opposition was the economic architect for the latter part of that period. The Opposition well knows- as do the people of Australia- that interest rates have fallen in the past year only as a result of sound, steady, responsible and courageous economic management by the Fraser Government.
Of course, as the Treasurer acknowledged, not all that we would like to be achieved has been achieved. Unemployment remains a major problem. Inflation is still too high and so are interest rates. Economic growth is not moving ahead quite as fast as we would like either. But we on this side of the House do not hide these facts. We try to do something constructive about them, through investment allowances, export expansion grants, training and retraining schemes, and reductions in taxation, to name just a few measures. All of these positive stimulatory measures have been taken within the overall framework of reducing the Budget deficit. If the Budget deficit is not reduced there is no way in the world that further significant interest rate reductions will be possible.
What did the Leader of the Opposition propose in his recent alternative budget? He proposed measures which would have increased the Government’s Budget deficit this year by $ 1,750m to a figure of $4,600m. What would this have done to interest rates? It would have put them right back in the area of ‘cloud cuckoo land’ into which they soared while Labor was in government. Despite what the honourable member for Werriwa might say, all responsible economic commentators agree with this. Even Mr Hawke agrees with it. As a member of the Reserve Bank Board, he subscribed to the Bank’s recent annual report which among other things said:
In present circumstances, achieving an appropriately restraining overall domestic policy environment without putting stress on the balance of payments, and on domestic interest rates, requires a balanced mix of policy in which the Budget deficit is held under tight rein.
I challenge the Leader of the Opposition to state just where he does stand in relation to interest rates. I doubt that he could give a consistent answer. Everything about his performance during his period as Leader of the Opposition, particularly his statements on economic matters, has been consistently ill-conceived. He has, I am afraid, become a destructive knocker. He has joined his other colleagues on the benches opposite in being completely negative in his approach to economic matters. We have not heard one responsible, constructive suggestion from the Opposition in the life of this Parliament. Today’s performance by the Opposition and the hypocrisy with which this so-called matter of public importance was raised and argued is yet another example of the speciousness of the Opposition’s overall economic performance. What we need is an Opposition which can assist the Government and the rest of the community in getting Australia back on the rails. Regrettably, we do not have such an Opposition.
-The discussion is concluded.
Consideration resumed from 1 7 October.
Department of National Development
Proposed expenditure, $49,967,000.
Department of Trade and Resources
Proposed expenditure, $ 1 1 8,890,000.
Department of the Special Trade Representative
Proposed expenditure, $462,000.
Proposed expenditures agreed to.
Department of Industry and Commerce
Proposed expenditure, $ 1 9,554,000.
Department of Business and Consumer Affairs
Proposed expenditure, $ 103,942,000.
Department of Productivity
Proposed expenditure $ 125,506,000.
-I am leading for the Opposition in the discussion on these estimates. I want to remind the House that the problems facing the Australian economy are structural as well as cyclical. Earlier, in the debate on the matter of public importance, we heard quite a number of facts and arguments in relation to the cyclical aspect but when it comes to discussing the role of the Department of Industry and Commerce it is important to have a look at the structural aspects. The problems confronting the economy in general and manufacturing industry in particular in the structural area are; firstly, that insufficient jobs are being created to accommodate the 130,000 people coming into the work force each year and those who are currently unemployed; and secondly, the difficulties which increasing balance of payments problems mean in terms of interest rates, recessions and so on.
Associated with these problems has been a decline in both the relative and absolute size of the manufacturing sector. I would like to draw to the attention of the House some salient statistics in that regard. For instance, in the 1960-61 financial year 29 per cent of the total gross domestic product at factor cost was attributable to the manufacturing sector. The latest figures that I have available to me show that by 1974-75 the percentage of GDP attributable to the manufacturing sector had fallen to 22 per cent. A similar story can be seen if one looks at the proportion of total employment in each sector. In 1960-61 the manufacturing sector was responsible for 28 per cent of total employment. By 1974-75 it was responsible for only 23 per cent.
The main questions are: Does the decline of manufacturing really matter? Should any new policies be adopted to affect the trend? The Australian Labor Party believes that the answer to these questions is a definite ‘yes ‘. This is very pertinent in discussing these Estimates because we have to look at errors of omission as well as errors of commission. We say ‘yes’ to that question about the manufacturing sector mattering for a number of reasons. The first reason that I want to draw to the attention of the House is that the balance of payments problems are long term and cannot be resolved by hopes of increased capital inflows and increased exports of our minerals, even if we do have appropriate macro economic policies. The second reason why we answer ‘yes’ to that question is that the services sector cannot in our view be relied upon to the degree it has been relied upon in the past to provide the jobs for those no longer required in manufacturing because of the impact of new technology upon the tertiary sector. That impact includes the many new computers and word processing machines that are coming on to the market.
It is generally believed now- I have seen no evidence to contradict this belief- that the tertiary sector is the sector which will feel the enormous impact of the technological revolution, so we cannot expect it to take up the reduction in employment in the manufacturing sector that has applied hitherto. The third reason why we answer ‘yes’ is that it is our belief that restructuring up into resource based primary industry, whilst important, will in itself not provide a sufficient number of jobs in the 1980s to ensure that sufficient jobs are being created to allow the 130,000 net increase in the work force, to say nothing of the half million people who are unemployed, to be given jobs. In summary, the continuation of past trends and the reliance upon past policies, given current circumstances, inevitably will mean long term unemployment. The Fraser Government, in our view, must take more of a leadership role in this matter than it has taken hitherto if these grave challenges are to be met. I make the point, in colloquial language, that it is later than we think. The Government, in our view, is not tackling these problems with sufficient urgency.
Let me emphasise some of the policies, and the principles on which they should be based, which we in the Australian Labor Party believe are necessary. The first is a need to revitalise existing industries and to restructure up into new activities in manufacturing, in which our country, Australia, has an as yet unutilised advantage, rather than to go on merely restructuring down, as has happened hitherto. We know very well on which areas we do not want to concentrate. The Industries Assistance Commission is telling us about them very readily. We are not learning as readily as we should to which areas our resources should be applied so that new jobs can be created.
The second principle to which I believe it is very necessary for the Department of Industry and Commerce to apply its mind, as indeed should the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs because of its responsibility for the IAC, the Prices Justification Tribunal and the Trade Practices Commission, and as should the Department of Productivity also, is that government planning designed to complement market forces in fostering revitalisation and restructuring up is so vital and is preferable to clinging to a belief that unaided market forces will resolve industry’s problems. Thirdly, we believe that in this world of change we ought to be anticipating changes in these departments when government applies its policies, not merely reacting to change after it has taken place. So I hope that instituted in these departments will be more programs anticipatory rather than reactive in nature.
The fourth principle on which the Labor Party would be building its programs for these departments is one of encouraging change by positive means, by carrots, by such things as export market development allowances, which I believe have to be more generous than the existing ones, by industrial research and development allowances, by help from such bodies as the Australian Industry Development Corporation involving themselves in these areas. Those changes have to be encouraged by carrots rather than sticks.
Hitherto the philosophy has been: ‘Let us use Industry Assistance Commission reports as a basis for reduction of tariffs and inevitably resources from one area will end up in another area and new jobs will be created’. That is just not happening. Our unemployment has already reached half a million, and we have no prospect whatsoever at the moment of creating enough jobs to be able to cater for the 130,000 net new people coming into the work force.
What reaction do we get from the Government to these problems as I have briefly outlined them, and what are the plans for the Department of Industry and Commerce, the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs and the Department of Productivity? I sum them up in this way: These departments, under this Government’s guidance, continue to espouse- and the Estimates reflect this-that business stability resulting from the fight against inflation will create the environment necessary for creating jobs and reducing unemployment. I assert categorically that such a policy just will not work. It is not good enough to just sit back and wait for things to happen, hoping that an environment of lower inflation will allow it to happen. I only have to point to the 1930s as an example of low interest rates and low inflation not leading to the necessary increased investment to create new jobs. We are relying far too much on macro-economic policies, which are putting the hd on the economy now and working against the creation of new jobs.
My second point about the present policies, which I emphasise, is that they display little concern for reversing the trends in the relative size of the manufacturing sector. All of this adds up to the main point that I want to make in the last half minute that is available to me, and that is that there is not enough government involvement in industry and commerce in the way that we would like to see it, in that partnership which we would like to build up. There is no way that the present staff numbers in the Department of Industry and Commerce, for instance, could allow the liaison that we would want. Certainly a start has been made in the Industries Assistance Commission. The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) knows that I play my part in this area and welcome the creation of industry advisory councils; but much more of that sort has to be done.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-We are dealing with the estimates for three departments- the Department of Industry and Commerce, the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs and the Department of Productivity. These departments have a profound contribution to make in the solution of the greatest single domestic problem faced by Australia- in this I agree with the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) unemployment. I disagree with the honourable member opposite about whether these departments are doing anything about the subject in a constructive way. The origins of the problem of unemployment in particular, of people looking for their first jobs, and a realistic assessment of its future extent were canvassed in the House by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) in his most significant statement on 14 September last. I certainly welcome the Minister’s statement as an essential component of our understanding of the problem and as a necessary step towards a national consensus on a strategy to regain full employment.
The Federal constitution of the Liberal Party of Australia, agreed at the foundation of the Party in 1945 and still in force, includes this objective:
To have an Australian nation … in which constant employment at good wages is available to all willing and able to work.
Throughout the years of Liberal government from 1949 to 1972 that objective was met. It remains the objective of the Liberal Party in its second period of office since 1975 to restore once again a situation where jobs are available to those willing and able to work. Most of the public debate on this subject has been in the areas of fiscal and wages policy. This is not surprising as the three Liberal Budgets of 1976, 1977 and now in 1978 have had to be concerned with reducing inflation and interest rates and re-establishing a stable climate for individual security and business planning and investment. Whilst this difficult task is necessary to solve the problem, it has never been seen by the Government as sufficient in itself. With much less public controversy the Government, through these three industrial departments, has been facing up to the need for Australian industry to change from a relatively sheltered domestic industry to one with a world outlook.
Our great extractive industries and most of our rural industries have always had to operate in world markets. It is now the turn of Australian manufacturing and service industries to do the same. As one who has spent most of his working life in business enterprises both here and overseas I am confident that we have the capacity to bring about the necessary change and succeed. Provided we concentrate on the things we can do best, on our natural assets and on the skills and energy of our highly educated population, we can transform our industries and capture world markets. Only a small extra percentage of a large world market can provide many jobs and much added prosperity for a country small in numbers such as ours.
In this task the management of technology will be our friend, not our enemy. Technology is a tool. It is a slave, not a master. It is up to management, both in business and in the public sector, to ensure that technology benefits mankind. Technology must be harnessed to eliminate drudgery, to provide jobs that are more interesting and to add to our leisure. The application of technology will add to unemployment only if we fail to share out equitably the work that remains. This kind of adjustment has been going on since the Industrial Revolution, and despite some recent hysteria there is no reason why we cannot sensibly agree on ways of sharing the work and the benefits of the particular kinds of technological advance available to us now. I personally applaud the way in which the Government is approaching the problem of industrial change.
Unlike the Labor Government, which plunged into sudden across-the-board changes in tariffs and exchange rates, causing disruption in certain industries, this Government has given the most affected industries, such as textiles, clothing and footwear, a breathing space in which to adjust. Through the Department of Productivity the Government also has established three-way working parties consisting of employer, union and the Government representatives to examine in an atmosphere of confidentiality and cooperation, not in a political climate, ways in which such industries can be updated to meet Australia’s particular needs. On a totally nonpolitical basis the Department of Productivity, in addition, has set up various forms of assistance and advice to businesses, large and small, to enable them to improve their efficiency, their safety, their marketing capacity and ultimately their ability to grow and provide more employment.
I also pay tribute to those trade union officials who have given of their time and energy to improve these programs. In the limited time I have available I cannot describe the programs, but I can assure honourable members that if they care to examine the range of practical handbooks for business they will be astonished at the degree of help provided by the Department of Productivity, an extremely energetic and imaginative department. It does not attempt to operate in a political manner but attempts to promote innovation and bring about enduring benefits for Australian industry. It has already been busy since its establishment by this Government looking into the real problems of technological change, well before the recent burst of interest in the subject in the Press. Although the cumulative effect of most of these productivity programs is substantial, they apply to individual businesses or industries.
On a broader scale, the Government is tackling systematically the underlying problems of industry and the work force. Professor Bruce Williams is to report shortly on the role of our education systems in equipping people for work. Sir John Crawford is about to report on the best way to assist the restructuring of manufacturing industry. Both those studies are of fundamental importance and will give industry, educational establishments and governments, both Federal and State, clear guidelines for immediate action. In the meantime, the drive for innovation in manufacturing industry and its orientation towards world markets will be boosted by the increase in industrial research and development grants from $13.7m last year to $24m this year, and by the increase from $30m to $38m in the export incentives under the new and more effective export market development grant scheme.
I do not have time to detail all the programs established by the Government in its determination to help industry undergo its painful problems of readjustment and grasp the new opportunities of domestic and export markets. All this work, which is going on quietly behind the scenes without political clamour or rancour, shows how Liberal Ministers get on with the job and express their practical concern for those seeking jobs now and in the years ahead.
– I would like to be as confident as the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton), who has just resumed his seat, that the Government is in fact dealing with technological change and that it is approaching a position where the effect of that change on the community is capable of being managed. All the evidence is that we are in a substantially laissez-faire situation relative to the long-term effects of technological change, and the Government has neither the capacity nor the inclination to deal with those who are displaced by that form of change. It is one thing to suggest that we can train the future work force to take up the positions that will result from those changes; it is another thing to try to bury or forget that section of the work force which is being permanently displaced from employment and skills into which they entered many years ago on the basis that they could anticipate confidently that they would spend their working lives in those industries. Persons of 45 years of age and over with obsolete skills are becoming permanently unemployed, with little prospect of finding alternative employment.
The judgment of the Government is that those people should be treated as some sort of criminal or as being unwanted. Thus it passed legislation in this House last week to freeze their wages if they are not married- those wages being unemployment benefit- for a period of 1 8 months. So not only are they disadvantaged because of circumstances beyond their control but also the Government has decided that it will apply financial penalties to them as well. That is in sharp contrast to what the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) had to say when he was in Opposition. He indicated quite clearly in public statements that it was his opinion- his opinion not as Prime Minister but as a member of the Opposition and spokesman on labour at that stage, I think- that the persons who were displaced by long-term economic downturns of technological change should not be asked by the community to bear alone the costs and responsibilities that arose from a change in their circumstances. He actually said that he believed that the community should be responsible for paying those persons at least 80 per cent of the minimum wage. The difference between his statements in Opposition and in government is that he is now reducing below what is considered to be a very minimal level of pension persons who are single- and not necessarily young, because there are a large number of older people in this category- to a sub-standard and frozen income of $52 a week.
I want to raise one or two matters relating to the Department of Productivity and the general initiatives being taken in areas where Australian technology is capable of competing internationally but where the Government has given minimal or no assistance to promoting the commercial use of Australian technology. I start with the Nomad aircraft and the coastal surveillance decisions which involve at last one of the departments in these estimates as a customer and another as a marketer. I also raise the question of the Australian Government Engine Works in Melbourne, which is under threat of closure, the general situation of the design and development capacity of Australia’s electronic industries, and the substantial lack of support for the end products of those industries. In this place there has been some debate on the Nomad. A Government members committee, as opposed to the Government, has indicated that the aircraft should be utilised more fully as a reconnaissance aircraft to maintain surveillance, for civilian and defence purposes, of the Australian coastline.
The Government in its original specifications and in a substantial proportion of the existing specifications has virtually written the Searchmaster version of the Nomad out of this area. The aircraft is capable of doing a job on a longterm basis, as is at least one other aircraft substantially made in Australia, but in this case an Australian-designed aircraft, in a superior manner to those aircraft which will obviously be preferred under the terms of the proposals put forward by the Government. A change of mind brought about by a public outcry and some concern expressed in this House will allow the Nomad aircraft to be considered, and I emphasise considered, for three of the aircraft jobs in the coastal surveillance area. I do not think that that will help Australian technology in any way. Any other country with aircraft as capable and as suited to the role for which they are required would give support to its own industry, its own design capacity, and would utilise that aircraft in a role where a government requirement exists and would look upon that as an investment. We are seeking to sell this aircraft to other countries and have done so successfully in at least two instances. It must be disheartening for the marketers of the aircraft that they cannot point to support in tangible terms from the Australian Government and from Australia for the aircraft for the role in which we are seeking to tell other people that it is admirably suited. The Australian Government has passed a vote of no confidence in it.
The Australian Government Engine Works is a different problem. Removal of large engine capacity repair and maintenance in Australia will substantially reduce our response to and ability to deal with defence needs in this country. It is a facility which, irrespective of its economic base, provides skills that are essential to our national wellbeing and to any defence effort that we may have to mount in the future.
I make the point that the Government has a responsibility in this area. It cannot continue, without serious damage to the total technological structure of the nation, to pass off industries on the basis that in the short term it is cheaper to buy things outside Australia for use by governments than it is to support and maintain skills.
That reflects the attitude which has now seriously inconvenienced a number of industries in the subcontracting phase where no apprentice training or addition to national skills has taken place over a long period. Hence Australia has been left with an inadequate supply of skilled persons in many industries. It is a short term benefit to forgo the cost of maintaining skills or providing new skills but it is a long term technological loss to the country which cannot easily be replaced.
I raised those three matters because I think that, particularly in the case of the Nomad, they reflect an attitude which has to change. We have to be proud of our own capacity to do things. That needs some support at least at the government level. The last matter I want to raise is the electronics industry. Australia has, over recent years, almost totally wiped out the Australian electronics industry. One of the few areas in which real design and development capacity exist is the Weapons Research Establishment. It is not under the control of any of the departments we are discussing but it reflects the general national situation. A number of weapons have been developed. Australia has been one of the countries which have been very tardy in purchasing the results of that research. Either the projects have been badly advised in the first place or the Australian Government has not given support to the final products of skills. The end result is that we lose the skills.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman)-
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In discussing these estimates I want to look at the current economic position and refer in detail to the great possibilities for change and advancement which lie before us. I believe that the Budget strategy is correct. It is based on the fact that the basic economic fundamentals have to be put right before we can expect a true long term recovery. We must continue to eradicate inflation. It is encouraging to note that the Budget strategy has been widely accepted. Mr Burrell, the President of the Australian Chamber of Commerce, after the Budget said:
Business fully supports the Government in its determination to maintain this approach.
The annual report of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade stated:
The inescapable conclusion is that the industrial countries can only move towards increased growth and employment . . . by reducing their inflation rate to the levels experienced in the mid 1 960s.
Some have argued that the Budget does not properly take account of the serious problem of unemployment, but what are the real alternatives to those undertaken in the Budget? The Government could increase the deficit and throw money at the unemployment problem in the form of public works programs. The problem with this approach is that it would be contrary to the Budget strategy and would lead us back to the sorts of problems we faced in 1974-75. It has taken us three yers to overcome those problems. I do not believe that the Australian public considers that that is a course which can be adopted. There are no easy answers to unemployment.
I believe that this Government has had greater foresight in moving to overcome the problems than has been recognised or for which it has been given credit. Given that the Budget is soundly based for long term economic recovery, what are the problems facing Australian industry and the employment prospects therein? What is the Government doing about them? Nearly two years ago, this Government set up the Department of Productivity in order to overcome the problems it foresaw could arise. I believe that the foresight shown in setting up this Department and the work that it has done together with the Department of Industry and Commerce and the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations could well herald a brave new era for Australia. Clearly, the effects of rapid inflation, rapid increases in wages, decreases in profit margins and the oil crisis have meant that industry has had to become more efficient. Faced with the problems of rising costs, Australian industry has had to endeavour to reduce unit costs; that is, to increase productivity.
Alternatively, industry could seek greater protection from overseas competition but the problem with protection in general is that it is geared to the lowest common denominator. In other words, often it is geared to keep the most inefficient company in the industry going, causing a misallocation of resources. Therefore, the Government has been concentrating on forward planning to find ways to assist industry to improve productivity, both through cost saving measures as well as by endeavouring to obtain greater co-operation between employer and employee to the advantage of both. It is this cooperation which was the subject of the statement by the Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee) on 12 July. It outlined the Government’s view on employee participation. The main points in that policy are that employee participation should ensure that in the management of any enterprise, both employee goals and organisation goals are seen as important and mutually interdependent.
This interdependence, together with the introduction of appropriate measures, can lead to labour management co-operation. It must be encouraged. The policy should encourage greater effectiveness and an improved quality of work life for the employee.
The employee participation policy should also lead to a workable program in the interests not only of individual employees but also of management, shareholders and consumers. Clearly, it will enhance productivity but there are other factors to consider such as the effects of improvements in technology. Following the recent Australian Telecommunications Commission dispute, Opposition members started jumping up and down as though they had just discovered that technological change could affect future employment prospects, but this Government, in setting up the Department of Productivity, had this in mind two years ago. Our ability to compete, both here and overseas, will depend on the implementation of new technology. This is why the Government has increased by 75 per cent to $24m the allocation to industrial research and development.
Unfortunately, instead of looking to the future with ideas for a great new Australia, many people seem to be terrified of technology. They show a pre-industrial revolution mentality that these new-fangled machines must mean that people will be put out of work permanently. Technology has important economic and development ramifications. The retraining programs run by the Government aim to minimise any dislocation which may be caused in the work force. There is little doubt that technological improvement is essential and is an employment creator. The organisation of tripartite discussions between unions, management and government in the footwear, clothing, textile, forging, tyre, tanning and white goods industries is proof of the Government’s application in practical terms to the solving of the structural, technological and other problems facing these industries.
The Australian economy has been through an extremely difficult period. It has now been set on a steady course. The next five or ten years will see some of the most rapid changes to the structure of our industries, working conditions and hours of work such as has not been seen in this country since Federation. For example, perhaps we will not have weekends as we have them now. The Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch) recently said:
A system of staggered holidays throughout the Commonwealth would seem to offer considerable economic benefit. I am aware that this problem has been under consideration by governments for some time and that little progress has been made to date. There may not be a quick and easy solution. However, I consider this matter should be accorded a much higher priority by governments and industry.
There are enormous benefits to industry and tourism by such a change in our working conditions. More recently, the Minister for Productivity floated the concept of a 14-day fortnight in which we might all work a total of, say, 10 days. We would not all work the same 10 days, nor would they be consecutive, nor need they be days of the same duration. It is these ideas which are thrown up for the consideration of the Parliament and the people of Australia that I believe will lead to a better Australia for all Australians.
We are a relatively highly educated, resourcerich and competent country. If we can shake off this dreadful confrontation mentality- that is. employee versus employer; unions against the rest of Australia- I believe that this Budget will set the basis for the greatest advance ever in our life style and our standard of living. These new ideas must be debated in this Parliament and outside it. It would certainly lift the tenor of the Parliament if the Opposition were to come forward with some positive suggestions.
The work being done in the departments which are the recipients of these appropriations must be added to by serious consideration being given to how the tax system ought to be futher restructured. Should a further investment allowance be implemented and, if so, where and in what form? Should there be futher export incentives and, if so, how should they be provided? Should there be increased research and development grants and where should they be channelled? These are the sorts of problems which need to be confronted by this Parliament and answers to them need to be found. I am now more confident than ever that on the foundation of this Budget, together with deep consideration of these brave new ideas and, at long last, a general recovery in the rural sector, this country is poised to stride forward into the 1980s. However, there is an overwhelming need to work together in the best interest of all Australians.
-I listened with interest to the remarks of the honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter). His speech was almost like a guided tour through Disneyland. It was out of touch with reality in regard to the actions which the Government ought to be taking, in his opinion, and is not taking. He spoke euphorically as if there is no conflict between the goals of employers and employees. He spoke about co-operation between employer and employee. Surely the honourable gentleman must know that the aims of both are quite incompatible in a number of areas. If he were quite sincere in what he said, namely, that there is co-operation in this area, I do not suppose we would need the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. If there had been complete cooperation, the workers and the unions over the years- indeed, over the centuries- would not have had to strive as hard as they had to strive in order to obtain paid annual leave, to obtain paid sick leave and to maintain an earning rate which would enable them to purchase the goods that they make.
The honourable member also spoke about staggered working hours, staggered working days and staggered working weeks. That is not a new concept. For most of my life I worked in the milk industry. It is an industry which operates seven days a week. I never quite knew when the weekends arrived. We worked six days straight and had one day off. The day off rotated through the week, so I did not have the same day off each week. I might add that a very large section of our community works in this way. I refer to people who drive trains, buses and taxis, as well as waiters in restaurants and all sorts of other workers who provide us with services when we are not working. That sort of proposal has not done much towards solving the problem in the past. There is a great deal of doubt in my mind as to whether such a proposal should be introduced in the future.
I believe there is a great need for job creation programs. There can be no doubt about that. We are considering the estimates of three departments, namely the Department of Industry and Commerce, the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs and the Department of Productivity. I had hoped that these estimates would provide the vehicles for job creation programs. Unfortunately, our friend from Barker threw a nice big bucket of cold water over that one too, because he said that there is no need for the Government to throw money at the unemployed by expanding its public works programs. If I correctly wrote down his remarks, that is what he said. It would seem to me that the expansion of the public works programs is the very priming of the pump that is needed, as Keynes explained to us. It would certainly stimulate a very large section of the community.
The honourable member made the point that the Budget strategy was widely accepted. I do not think that the electors of Werriwa, or the electors who went to the polls quite recently in New South Wales, or, I am sure, the electors in the Ballarat province who will go to the polls on Saturday week, are quite as confident about the success of the Budget strategy and the acceptance of it as is the honourable member for Barker. The need for job creation programs is a very real one. I have already mentioned the expansion of public works programs in this regard but the Government can take the initiative in a number of other areas. Unfortunately we are saddled with a government which professes to be a free enterprise government and which believes that there should be no government interference in the market place, that the mysterious forces of the market place will take care of everything. With the exception of the troglodytes who are in government in this nation, that is known in every country to be bunkum. It has not worked anywhere. There is not a government in the world that does not intervene in the market place. As long as this Government maintains this lofty attitude of non-interference we will have the sort of stagnation that we have at the moment.
We hear some pretty strange ideas. Quite recently the Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee) produced a document entitled ‘Productivity Profile’. I cannot find the appropriation for that publication in the estimates for his Department; I suppose some appropriation has been made for it. I read in the blurb that accompanies the document- I am reading from Volume 1 , No. 1 -that this is to be a regular news letter to unions and to industry. It will be of great interest to them and, we trust, provide some sort of a stimulus for them. The first page of the document is headed ‘Message From the Minister’. I am just wondering how much the Minister for Productivity knows about the subject, because the very first sentence reads:
Productivity improvement is a concept not generally understood by employers, employees, the unions or the community.
There is nobody left who does understand it. He says that employers do not understand it, the employees do not understand it, the unions do not understand it and the community does not understand it. I do not know who understands the concept of productivity improvement. Perhaps only the Minister himself understands it. He went on to say in the document:
Governments, management and unions, pre-occupied with short-term solutions to problems in industry -
I am not sure that that is altogether true; I am not sure that unions are as interested in the problems of industry as they are in ensuring that the employees in industry receive a fair share of their contribution towards productivity- have given productivity improvement little attention as a means of solving medium and long-term problems.
The next sentence is a real boomer. It states:
Yet the production of more goods and services at a lower or constant unit cost- which is what productivity improvement is all about- is the key to a rising standard of living for all Australians.
What a lot of bunkum that is. He is saying that if we gear up our factories, put in more machines, work longer hours or do all the things that are necessary- if we use more resources and produce more goods- somehow or other, mysteriously, we will all enjoy the benefit of a rise in our standard of living. Somebody forgot to mention what happens at the other end of production. I am referring to what is called distribution. What I am saying is that there is little point in manufacturing goods and storing them in warehouses. That will not improve the standard of living of anybody. If goods are manufactured in greater volume and at a lower cost, markets have to be found. It seems a very sad state of affairs- I believe that in Australia we are seeing only the tip of this iceberg- that because of all the goods that are manufactured around the world the markets are almost completely saturated in terms of those who can afford to buy the goods. There is a vast market in the world; there is an enormous number of people who need goods. For example, one would not have to be a super salesman to sell refrigerators in South East Asia, but one would have to be something of a water diviner to be able to find people with the money to pay for them. So there is this problem of distribution and it is a real problem.
My honourable friend from Barker spoke about investment allowances. That is great! We already have half a million people unemployed in Australia. He is suggesting that we make it very attractive to industry to put in more labour saving machines so that it can employ fewer people. That seems to me to have been the philosophy adopted by this Government over the last three years. It is not the solution to the problem. I am not a Luddite; nor do members of the trade union movement say that technology should not advance. In fact, one would find that members of the trade union movement, more than anyone else in this community want technology to advance quickly. They have a philosophy similar to that which I hold, and that is that man was not born to work but was born to have the work done for him. In the past he has used animals and machines to do his work. That is why he has intelligence. That is why he does not walk with his elbows on the ground. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the complete production of goods by machinery.
Again we come to the question of the distribution of wealth that is created. With the use of machinery this will be no less a problem. Whether the work is done by men or machines, there is a need for that wealth to be distributed equitably in the community. We all know what will happen under the capitalist masters. They will accumulate all of the funds and leave the rest of the community to struggle along on social welfare. Their philosophy will destroy them because they are the people who say that we should not be taxing these people and that everybody who earns a dollar ought to have the right to determine how he will spend that dollar. If they think the people who own the methods of production are philanthropists they have another think coming.
The whole question is very complex. It will need a resolution very quickly. If the industrialised countries do not solve this problem the army of have nots will get larger and larger, not only in Australia but around the world. I am completely satisfied that those people are not content to sit under oak trees, twiddle their thumbs and think about the matter. The time is coming when they will act; and they will act in concert. All of the dreadful things that will happen between now and the turn of the century will be on the heads of those people who at the moment are doing nothing about solving the problem that confronts this and other industrialised countries.
-This Committee is examining and discussing the estimates for the Department of Industry and Commerce along with those of quite a few other departments. With regard to the estimates of the Department of Industry and Commerce, I particularly wish to discuss the allocation of funds and the effort and influence given by this Government to the small business sector. Many references have been made in this chamber in relation to small business and its problems. What is first needed, I believe, is a simple and acceptable definition of small business. In conformity with the policies and programs of our conservative parties in the promotion of the private sector and its importance in our total economic plan, a simple definition of small business must be: those enterprises where an individual contributes not only capital but also his or her own personal effort and management.
These factors are important because the great danger facing small business today comes from its absorption by big business, public companies and public utilities, often because of insufficient capital and managerial capacity. Without personal and private involvement that allows the expansion for fullest usage of the necessary resources of finance and labour, there will be no small business, no competition and less service in the areas for which it presently caters. Costs are a constant problem. Labour costs especially increased out of all proportion to profits earned- in fact, their increase was at the expense of profit- in the 1970s. Relief in respect of labour costs can be achieved in two ways. Firstly, relief can be achieved by the Commonwealth’s continual representations before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission against automatic consumer price index increases as in its three years of office.
It should be an established fact that either the real value of labour has to decrease or productivity has to increase if labour costs are to be afforded by small business. The encouragement of productivity is not an exploitation of labour; it merely involves doing something more simply, more quickly and with more satisfaction. Often productivity can be achieved with less physical exertion. I believe the Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee) set this out very well in the statement that he made recently. The Commonwealth has given the initiatives in this area. It requires the full support of the States and employer groups in returning wages to a level which is comparable with profit in order to instil incentive and motivation into industry and small business. The second way of achieving relief lies in the negotiation of a seven-day week award in industries that can utilise labour services on a sevenday week basis. Service industries, communications, tourism, accommodation and restaurants would use more labour if the ridiculous penalty rates could be eliminated. I am sure that businesses of the type that I mentioned would respond with a suitable expansion if relief could be offered in this respect.
There must be recognition in trade unions of the fact that they would have more members as a result of a reduction of penalty rates in the terms of the award. It is my sincere hope that in this one respect reason can prevail to assist a vital recovery in the small and large business sectors. The Commonwealth has shown its preparedness to assist in taxation incentives. The stock indexation valuation adjustment and the investment allowance are two examples of this assistance. The Government should go further and remove the barrier that limits private company liquidity by omitting Division 7 of the Income Tax Assessment Act which provides for the retention allowance. A statement by Mr John O ‘Brien the manager of Breville, appeared in Rydge’s of June 1978. The journal quotes Mr O’Brien as saying:
Here we are, an Australian-owned company battling against the multi-nationals. We’ve got to pay an undistributed profits tax.
I can’t leave money in the business because if I do I have to pay 70 cents in the dollar. If a multi-national doesn’t pay a dividend it pays 46 cents in the dollar.
If we were able to leave money in the business, we’d be able to expand, employ more people, do a better job.
I think this is reference enough to the necessity to assist in this regard. The acceptance also as taxation deductions of accounting provisions, even at the expense of a rising rate of company tax, will be a further relief. Most importantly, it will be equitable and will provide uniformity between accounting principles and taxation. Grants for research and development this year have increased to $24m within the budgetary allocations. They should be of enormous benefit to industry and commerce, particularly the smaller business that does not have the financial backing for a good practical idea or invention. The allocation of $4.24m to the Australian Tourist Commission, if it is allocated and spent properly, can materially assist small business in an industry which is progressively being taken over and dominated by larger business. This estimate is an increase of $1.4m over the expenditure in the previous year and is a significant acknowledgment by this Government of the need to assist and foster tourism.
Much is often mentioned about the Commonwealth’s role in financing small business. People who mention it often have visions of unlimited funds being allocated to all comers with no need for them to prove viability or provide adequate security. The aspects of viability and security in any accountability must be paramount. We have not been elected custodians of the taxpayers’ money just to squander funds on enterprises that neither are viable nor offer security. However, by the judicial use of guarantees to recognised small business lending authorities we can promote those businesses that are or will be viable, or we can offer them some security. In this way the Government can help make a business profitable and progressive. After all, that is what we as a government want- to be a partner through taxation in a profitable business. This means of guaranteeing finance to organisations by lending money to the small business sector is possibly the best way of doing it. This support cannot and should not be given in the form of another government authority drawing finances from consolidated funds at attractive interest rates.
The Commonwealth Development Bank is an already established authority with a charter to lend to small business, which does not fulfil this extra vital role in financing small business. The Primary Industry Bank of Australia which was especially set up to make money available to primary producers will not bridge this gap in financing the area where there is insufficient security. So a duplication of these institutions will not be successful. I will say a word about trading banks. The article in Rydge’s states:
John O’Brien says the company could not have grown as it has without going overseas for money. One of his ‘whinges’ is the lack of competition among Australian banks.
We borrow more money unsecured overseas- just on our name and reputation- than we can borrow locally with the total business secured. We have lines of credit in Germany and Hong Kong. We take an exchange risk but the interest rate is half.
Perhaps the trading banks could look at that probable explanation of Mr O’Brien. Small business suffers from the inactivity or lack of support from local government as much as anything else. Perhaps this might indicate a lack of my appreciation of the massive disincentives offered by payroll tax, insurances, rail freights and licensing by State governments. This is not so, because I recognise that States could assist small business materially in many ways by a relaxation of the many penalties or burdens that small business suffers at the hands of State legislators. I acknowledge, however, that in many ways States are more active and possibly do more in the areas of consultancy, financing and the availability of land. Relief from death duties and gift duties in my State of Queensland has helped to keep family enterprises together. In fact, the closer State liaison is with small business, the better will be the recovery in small business. State governments can get on with the more personal aspects of assistance and incentives provided the Federal Government sets a healthy economic and taxation climate in which small business can respond. Over the past several months the aspect of local government authorities’ activities in small business has been brought more forcibly to my attention. For instance, the unreasonable standards now set by building bylaws as to wind resistance, fire precautions, parking, provision for roads, kerbing and channelling make development costs far too high for the limited privately financed enterprise or, as an alternative, too dear to rent.
Town planning for businesses and services to provide a community invariably leads to too many businesses competing for too little, or for a limited market, so no one earns a profit and many go bankrupt. More care should be exercised in laying down the various by-laws and there should be limited acceptance of business approvals, to ensure that businesses do not reach saturation point. Only local governments, by regulating the quota, can exercise this discipline.
It is no protection or consolation to a consumer to have prices forced up by unnecessarily high building costs and rentals, or to see a business bankrupted by too much competition. Rates, fees, licences and other taxes should be charged bearing in mind their reasonableness and fairness to the businesses that provide the main arteries of community life.
Lastly, the origin of small business has been one of people seeing an opening for a market, believing that they have the specialist background to fulfil that need, and then proceeding to fulfil it. In this situation there is a margin for the gamble or the chance. No government can legislate against a person taking that chance in business. The persons themselves can keep the gap of chance as narrow as possible. They can provide back-up resources in finance, laws and regulations from within the private enterprise system. If they fail in taking these precautions there is little that anyone can do to prevent an eventual bankruptcy. However unions and local, State and Federal governments can assist in many of the ways that I have mentioned. These estimates allow the Federal Government to assist in an appropriate manner, but recovery and the health of small business depend on the co-operative effort of everyone; the most important effort being that made by the individual himself or herself.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I wish to direct attention to the sums which, in recent years have been expended by governments on tourism. For this year the amount allocated is $4.2m. For 1973-74 the figure was $3.67m. In 1975-76 it rose to $6.645m and then declined to $5.877m in 1975-76 and $3.732m in 1976-77. What happened was that the funds allocated to tourism declined quite substantially when this Government came to power. The only funds now available for tourism are those which are set aside for the Australian Tourist Commission. In the last three years no funds have been available for the development of tourist attractions, for low-cost accommodation, grants for participation in tourist developments, or for the promotion and development of domestic tourism. Therefore, although I applaud the Government for giving a substantial boost to the funds available to the Australian Tourist Commission for the promotion of Australia overseas, we are still not taking this industry seriously enough, in my view and in the view of the Australian Labor Party. The $4.2m is still a relatively small amount.
I digress slightly to point out that what is not recorded in those funds is the considerable amount that was spent under the Regional Employment Development scheme for the development of tourist facilities. That may have been in an unplanned and ad hoc way. Nevertheless the expenditure of a considerable amount under that scheme did improve the quality of tourist facilities throughout Australia. That was mostly in the years 1974-75 and 1975-76. Unfortunately, the detailed figures are not available. They were never broken down into categories, but I would be surprised if the expenditure did not run to some $3Om or $4Om
We simply have not taken tourism seriously enough. I am delighted to see in the chamber my friend and colleague from the Government side, the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Jull), who has done an excellent job of chairing the House of Representatives Select Committee on Tourism. It will soon be bringing down its report. The Government’s response to it will be the true test of whether it intends to be serious about tourism. I would agree that no government has taken it as seriously as I believe it ought to be taken. The previous Minister for Tourism, Mr Stewart, did an excellent job and did lift considerably the stocks of the Department of Tourism. He was beginning to get a good program under way when the present Government took office and began to cut it quite savagely and virtually ignored any planned program for growth in the tourist industry. I do not wish to sound repetitious, but I make the point that over the years we have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into industries that we know will not in the long term be viable. We have done that in both the primary and manufacturing sectors by way of tariffs, subsidies, protection and all sorts of grants to business. We all know that growth is occurring in the tourist industry everywhere in the world, but Australia has not picked up its percentage of that growth. For nine years I have argued in this place: Why not put our money into the area where we know there will be growth? We know that there will be an inexorable climb in leisure time, recreation and tourism. We should invest our money there rather than in industries that we know are declining in their potential to employ people, to produce quality goods in competition with other countries.
We know that the tourist industry is labourintensive. We are becoming increasingly aware that many of our industries, in both the primary and the manufacturing sectors, progressively will employ fewer and fewer members of the work force. We know what computerisation is doing. Tourism is an industry which, in some countries such as Spain and Greece and countries nearer home such as Fiji and New Zealand, is a major industry; yet we have virtually ignored it. The result has been that we have not appropriated the funds required to develop Australian tourism and to ensure that we create a large number of new jobs for those sections of the work force that are most affected by the present recession. I refer to married women, the young, the ethnic groups and the unskilled, who could be easily placed in such an industry. I repeat, we are not taking it sufficiently seriously. Since a matter of privilege is involved I cannot state what the recommendations of the Select Committee will be, but the test of whether the Government is serious about tourism will be whether it implements the majority if not all of those recommendations.
One of the problems faced by politicians in regard to tourism is that every community sees itself as the potential tourist Utopia, the potential tourist haven of the world. Regrettably, that cannot be so. There just is not room for every town, village and major area to become a major tourist attraction. We have to be selective. It takes courage. The minute one selects an area, the representatives of a neighbouring or other area who belives their area has equal claims, jump up and down and beat their breasts. The result is that in State and local government areas, instead of saying: ‘We will concentrate on area X or area Y and make that a major quality tourist development’ we spread around what little funds are available and make no impact at all. I happen to represent an area that is a major tourist area. I would not put it forward as the number one tourist area in Australia. It is a beautiful area and has a lot to recommend it, but I would say that Australia’s greatest tourist attraction is Queensland, the northern and Great Barrier Reef area.
Another of our great tourist attractions- there is not a vote in this area- is Ayers Rock. Tasmania, for a number of reasons other than that it has great tourist potential, does in fact need tourism. It does not have a lot of other things going for it in the economic sense. I could enlarge on that. There are a lot of other such regions, but we have to start to develop quality tourist attractions in these areas. Many of us have now been overseas- as most Australians have now been overseas- and have seen the quality of development that is occurring in Fiji, the South Pacific, New Zealand and in other parts of the world. We realise that Australia is being left a long way behind. We have to start to do things to change that.
I have mentioned before the need to assist the private sector in the tourist area. One can argue that the private sector ought to be left to its own resources. As I have said before, if some industries are to be selected for assistance tourism should be one of them. Therefore, in what ways should it be assisted? I believe that the best way is to provide a depreciation allowance for the accommodation sector. It is a problem that in Australia we do not provide a depreciation allowance on buildings. In most cases that is probably justified but when we are talking about tourist accommodation- hotels, motels- we have to realise that the hotels which are built today are out of fashion in 20 to 25 years time. Yesterday’s luxury hotel is mediocre today. It has lost its appeal. We have to start to encourage the entrepreneurs in this area to invest money, to pull down their old buildings that are 25, 35 or 40 years old and to build new ones. We have to look once again at the question of regional flying. I know that I am a bit of a pain in the neck on this question because I keep repeating that there is a need to allow our domestic airlines to link up with international nights in the South Pacific area. I also make a plea for some proper training colleges so that if we are to go into the tourist industry in some depth we have people of quality properly trained throughout our education system.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– Anyone reading Hansard would be forgiven if he thought a mutual admiration society existed between the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) and me. We seem to follow each other in debate frequently these days and the subject usually seems to be tourism. Once again tonight I find that I am very much in agreement with much that he has said. It is true that tourism has been neglected to a great extent in Australia in previous years. I would like also to direct some of my comments this evening to the appropriation that has been made to the Australian Tourist Commission and indeed to the tourist industry generally. I take the honourable member for Robertson to task on one point though. It is true that after 1975 the funds allocated to the Australian Tourist Commission decined somewhat, but I think it is also worth pointing out that at that time the responsibility of the ATC for the promotion of domestic tourism was finished. To a great extent much of the money that was allocated for the promotion of domestic tourism was not taken into account in further Budgets.
I was one of the first, I think, to congratulate the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch) when we learned that in this year’s Budget there had been an increase of $ 1.2m for the Australian Tourist Commission for its program in this year. This was the largest ever increase in funds for the ATC and will be used to a great extent for the promotion of Australia overseas. However, some aspects of that allocation are a little worrying. When the chop on the ATC came a couple of years ago staff ceilings were imposed. The ATC originally had a staff of some 130 odd personnel. I understand that that has been cut back now to less than 70 people and the new staff ceiling is around 64 people. One of the problems is that the ATC will find that with this extra money to spend on overseas promotion it will be short of available personnel and will not be able to spend the funds wisely. I hope that the Minister for Industry and Commerce will examine this in detail. Obviously if we are to recognise tourism and the need to promote Australia overseas we must have the available expertise and staff who can put that program into operation.
Overseas promotion is especially important now. Already we have seen the start of the introduction of cheap air fares between the United Kingdom and Australia. Many members of the tourist industry have already said that this will mean an increase in the number of Australians travelling overseas. I think that is true. But the overseas experience must be taken into account too, and once again especially the experience of Great Britain. It found that in a matter of a couple of years after the introduction of the Laker type fares on the North Atlantic route and to other points in Europe the number of tourists who entered Britain as a result of cheap air fares increased by 50 per cent, and Britain went into the black.
We are establishing some form of cheap air fares. I do not necessarily think that they are the best options available or the best fares that could have been negotiated and I will be speaking a little more about this later tonight. Once we have established the principle of cheap air fares we have to realise that we are in a pretty tough market in Great Britain and that we will have to allocate a great deal of those funds for the Australian
Tourist Commission into the promotion of Australia as a holiday destination. We will be vying with the United States of America at many points in Europe. We have seen some startingly cheap fares between Britain and other points in Europe available for holiday makers. There was just one last area that posed a problem of high air fares; that was the route between Britain and Scandinavia. Within the last fortnight the fare on this route has been dropped to a low figure. For less than £50 now excursion tickets are available on this route as well. So we are going into a tough market in Britain. But if we are to take the full benefit of cheap fares we must establish the principle of bringing overseas visitors into this country. Otherwise we could be in trouble with the number of Australians travelling specifically overseas.
I believe that the tourist industry is now starting to get some form of recognition from the Government. To a great degree for many years it has been a Cinderella industry. I think government should take some blame for that but I think the industry itself is also to blame. It is a fragmented industry with a number of industry bodies which do not necessarily speak with the one voice. There needs to be greater cohesion between those industry bodies to put forward their problems to government and indeed to the public as a whole and to undertake programs of educating the public and government on the needs and requirements of what potentially could be a great industry for Australia. As a potential employer the tourist industry is almost boundless. In recent years we have seen a great deal of unemployment in the industry because of the problem of high penalty rates. The honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) alluded to this tonight.
It is a sad situation not to see one mention of penalty rates in the latest submission to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission for the re-negotiation of the hotels award and the accommodation industry award. One wonders, with all the noises that are coming from the industry at the moment, with the number of complaints that it is making about what high penalty rates are doing to it, whether it is really serious about tackling this problem that certainly is causing a lot of difficulty, and indeed unemployment, within the industry. Of course it will be another two years before a new award can be negotiated for those industries. All partiesgovernment, the industry and the unions- need to sit down to talk about this severe problem to see whether there is some way that we can overcome the problems that penalty rates are posing to the industry. The award rates in the industry are in fact quite low. Nobody is expecting the workers in that area to take any less money than they are getting now. But a lot of hard-nosed decisions have to be made by all parties to make sure that it could be a viable proposition for more and more people to be employed in the industry. It is a service industry; a 7 days a week, 24 hours a day industry. That is one of the problems. If a new award can be negotiated to cover all those conditions certainly the potential for future employment is very great indeed.
The increase in the allocation to the Australian Tourist Commission this year is a recognition that the industry has some potential and that it can be exploited. Although the portfolio of the Minister for Tourism was dropped some years ago and the functions of the Department of Tourism were placed within the responsibility of the Department of Industry and Commerce, perhaps there is even greater need to bring forth that aspect of responsibility of the Department of Industry and Commerce so that tourism can get the recognition from government that it rightfully deserves.
The $4.24m, as I said a little earlier, will be spent primarily for promotion but there are staff needs apart from those I have already mentioned in relation to staff ceilings. One of the biggest problems the Australian Tourist Commission faces overseas I believe is a lack of co-ordination between it and other government departments. I cite as an example the situation that exists as far as visas to Australia are concerned. As honourable members would realise, people coming to Australia have to apply for visitors visas. It is not possible at this stage for visa application forms to be issued by the Australian Tourist Commission. It can hand out pretty brochures but when it comes down to the nitty gritty of finally hooking a tourist into coming to Australia it cannot deliver the goods.
– Al Grassby nearly got hung for trying that.
– My remarks relate only to application forms; the Australian Tourist Commission would not physically issue the visa. Obviously that must be done through the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. On a recent visit to London I saw the Australian Tourist Commission in operation. The Austraiian Tourist Commission Office has a staff of three or four. It is an incredible situation. The office is established on the fourth floor of a building just off Piccadilly. I understand that the offices are shared with some Arab companies and that security is very tight. It is almost impossible to walk through the front door of the building without a security clearance to get into a lift to go up to the fourth floor to speak to the staff of the Australian Tourist Commission. Once I did I found three or four people working extremely hard. They were answering dozens of telephone calls requesting information about Australia. Many of the calls were coming from travel agents and people organising tourist packages who were asking for application forms for visas to visit Australia. These cannot be obtained from the Commission. The callers have to be directed to Australia House which is further down The Strand. We should be looking at the little things like this now, before the influx comes upon us, if we are serious about promoting the Australian tourist industry. I personally congratulate the Government for the initial recognition of the Australian Tourist Commission and the initial increase in funds. However, it is not enough. We are still fairly small fish in the world of international tourist promotion. Obviously, as the years go by, the allocation must increase if we are to get out and sell Australia as a tourist destination and take our rightful percentage of the international tourist dollar.
Proposed expenditures agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
Department of Primary Industry
Proposed expenditure, S 109,256,000.
-Primary industry is one of the most volatile and, I suppose, most important areas of Australian activity. I want to speak in this estimates debate about one specific matter which I think needs clarifying. I want to speak about it without the rancour that has been evident in relation to that matter in the last couple of days. I raise the question of the United States legislation relating to beef which was passed through the United States Congress on the last day of the sittings of the Congress prior to the mid-term elections which are due to take place on Melbourne Cup day.
The fact that this legislation was to be passed and was before the Congress has been known for at least a year. The details of what was likely to happen have been known for at least four months. I believe, from the limited association I have had with the industry, and I am certain that the Minister would agree, that the agricultural attaches in Washington representing Australian primary producers are very competent and provide the Government with adequate and accurate information. To me that means that they would have provided the Government with the information that this Bill was likely to be passed, especially in view of the large majority in the Congress. Counting votes on the Hill in the United States is a professional art which competent people can predict to within a very small number of votes in relation to most pieces of legislation.
I merely mention that. I also mention, because these matters are important, the methods by which legislation becomes law in the United States and the disabilities that exist in that area. I think we are being made the subject of a public relations exercise. The passage of legislation through the United States Congress under all circumstances except the circumstances which exist at the moment means that that legislation becomes law unless the President takes positive action to veto it. I say that it becomes law under all circumstances except the present circumstances because there is another circumstance. The Congress adjourned after the passage of this legislation. The so-called ‘in pocket’ passage of legislation whereby the President does not in fact lend his name to the Bill by signing it but returns it unsigned to Congress within the specified period, and whereby the Bill automatically becomes law, does not apply if the Congress has adjourned. The Bill cannot become law under those circumstances. Therefore it is not necessary for the President to veto the legislation and thus take the odium of that action for the legislation to be rendered impotent, if not defeated.
At least three months ago it was fairly common knowledge that this Bill would be passed. An election was coming up. Congressmen in the United States, like their counterparts in most other countries, like to show their electors that they are looking after the interests of their electors. In this case the legislation conflicts with what the President would suggest is the national position. I think it is safe to say that the President will not sign the legislation. It will then lapse and the Congress will have the opportunity if it so chooses to pass the legislation after it has safely navigated the election on Melbourne Cup day. I think that ought to be put on the record because I think it is likely to happen. I think it is most unlikely that the President will veto the legislation. I think that is almost certain. I think it is common knowledge in Australia; I think it would be common knowledge among those people in this Parliament who take the trouble to acquaint themselves with the realities of American politics.
If there was any doubt that that situation was likely to occur the responsibility rested with the Government to send the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) to Washington to put
Australia’s position while the Bill was actually before the Congress, before it was passed. If the President does intend to pass the legislation the place to be is on the Hill lobbying the people who will pass the legislation, thus causing whatever damage the legislation would do the the Australian beef grower. This is the second occasion in two years when such a situation has occurred. If there is a problem the responsibility of the Government is to be on the spot when the discussions take place and when the decisions are made.
– I interrupt the honourable member for Corio for a moment. He would have sufficient experience to realise that the Chair is extending considerable latitude to him in this estimates debate. I would appreciate his bringing his remarks closer to the matter before the Committee.
-There are substantial portions of the estimates for the Department of Primary Industry relating to the beef industry. Those estimates cannot be met if the conditions applying to the industry are not the favourable conditions anticipated at the time of preparing those estimates and at the time the Government prepared the legislation. The second instance I intended to raise was the dispute which took place over the Australia-Japan sugar agreement. I think the Committee would agree that that also is a matter of concern to the Department of Primary Industry and that it is covered by the framework of debates which take place in this chamber on these estimates. If it is not covered by these estimates we will go about the method of determining relevance in a quite different way and we will have quite different debates. I submit that this industry is important. What I am trying to do is to discuss rationally the matter without the rancour that has come into the debate.
Last year when the Australia-Japan sugar agreement was under threat and also similar agreements with Korea and Malaysia were also under threat as an indirect result, no senior Australian Minister went to Japan to discuss with the Japanese political segments- the ministries- the problems which existed, which were clearly political and had nothing to do with the marketers of sugar or with the processors or importers in Japan. They were political problems brought about by actions of the Japanese Government, which required a response at a political level from Australia. In this instance the same situation has occurred. I am not in a position to know, but I am certain the advice to the Government from our representatives in Washington is that there is no prospect of the Bill which was passed last week becoming law. I hope I am correct about that. If I am correct, what is now taking place is a public relations exercise. If I am not correct- if that advice has not been given to the Government- then I think it is incumbent on the Government to indicate why senior political representations were not made directly to the United States prior to the passage of the Bill. That is where the action is and that is the place to state our case.
Mr Chairman, the time for debate on these estimates does not allow me to extend my contribution much beyond what I have already said, but I think that Australian beef growers will appreciate the position being put honestly and openly to them. I do not think they will be fooled by what looks like a very shabby public relations deal. The Government either neglected its duty before the passage of the Bill or knows now and knew then that there was no serious intention for the Bill to become law and that it was in fact being passed at the end of a session of Congress to meet the political requirements of congressmen from certain areas of the United States.
– If the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) would excuse me, I would think that his effort to drive home a small political wedge in the matter upon which he touched was probably unworthy of the lofty tone he tried to engender into the remainder of his remarks. Furthermore, I think he displayed an abysmal lack of knowledge of the American political scene. The United States Senate is very likely not to adopt the same measure as does the House of Representatives. Everybody knows that when the Houses of Parliament there start to play politics the American President is likely to veto the Bill concerned.
In the few minutes I have available to me tonight in the debate on the estimates for the Department of Primary Industry I wish to touch on a matter of very great concern to me and, might I add, the only matter in the Budget about which I hold any concern. Apart from this one matter, I think the Budget is an excellent one. I refer to the brandy industry. The action of the Government in raising the brandy excise by 83.6 per cent consistent with the increase in excise on other spirits is of course, in my opinion, quite crazy. To take this action when there is currently a large surplus of grapes is, I think, both stupid and unfeeling; but to produce a situation in which no grapes are likely to be purchased by brandy producers for two years is, frankly, crazy.
The brandy industry has taken Vh years to recover from the frightful knock it took from the
Whitlam Government, which increased brandy excise by 231 per cent in four steps over 11 months. Since then the industry has been trying to adjust its stock to balance the vastly diminished consumption caused by measures visited upon its industry by the Australian Labor Party while in government. This year, after slightly more than Vh years of effort, it finally succeeded. Since the Budget, the industry is now posed with an increased excise that I have just described, and it is likely that brandy producers will not be able to buy any further grapes for upwards of two years while distillers adjust their stock level down once again. This is at a time when many varieties of grapes grown in my electorate and elsewhere throughout Australia are in surplus. I can only describe the action of the Government as I have described it already.
The Government must introduce an excise differential in favour of brandy if it is remotely interested in the income of grape growers and the current surplus of grapes. I think it is proper to pause there and state quite clearly that historically excise has been increased in times of cyclical upturns in production which have not been matched by an increase in demand. In effect, excise increases have been used by sensible governments in the past, so far entirely governments of the colour of the present Government, to aid in soaking up over-production when it occurs. The reason for this is that wine cannot be stored economically. It is far too bulky a commodity. Spirit, in this case brandy spirit, can be stored economically. Increased excise has been the traditional method of dealing with cyclical surpluses which occur every 15 years or so in this integrated industry.
Mr Chairman, you and I will remember looking with horror some years ago at the Coombs report to the Whitlam Government. But even Dr Coombs pointed to the success of the mechanism of altering the brandy excise rates so as to establish a differential for brandy and ensure the future of this integrated industry. In his infamous report he said:
In 1934 this action taken by the Government was successful.
Let us be fair to the Opposition in relation to the brandy excise. Members of the Opposition are hardly able to hop up and down and speak on behalf of the brandy industry when it was the Labor Government that started the demise of the industry. Therefore, it is up to those members of Parliament who are prepared to take a rational view of the situation to look carefully at the matter. Brandy excise must be adjusted in a judicial way, so that governments are able to even out the cyclical downturns that affect growers’ incomes. It has been used in this way to help stabilise the industry. When the Liberal Party was in opposition we performed ferociously when the Whitlam Government increased the brandy excise and removed the excise differential. Injustice to the members of the present Opposition I must say that now we are in government we have done nothing at all to take away the penalty that was imposed. One must be fair; I admit that. I hope I am fair. Certainly the differential between the rate of excise on brandy and the rate of excise on beverages with which it competes has not been altered by this Government to the detriment of brandy, as happened under the Labor Government. In 1973 that differential was 62 per cent in favour of brandy as against Scotch wisky Every time governments, with the best of intentions no doubt, wish to raise revenue by increasing all excise duties the percentage differential in favour of the Australian brandy industry shrinks. The quotas on imported brandy being left aside, the differential is now down to about 1.5 per cent as against 62 per cent in 1 973.
It is about time that honourable members on both sides of the Parliament realised that the wine and brandy industry is a totally integrated industry and that any signs of governments or the processing industry are visited straight back throught all the channels to growers in the form of a reduced income. It is about time they realised that this is so and that governments cannot determine how much excise should be imposed on alcoholic beverages just by looking at bottles on a shelf. This first revelation came about during the days of the Whitlam Government. I am both disgusted and disappointed that the Government whose side I am on has failed to recognise that the industry is totally integrated and has failed to recognise the effect its action will have on growers’ incomes. If this ludicrous situation is carried through to the ultimate degree for the want of revenue, we will put entirely at risk a complete industry in which there is heavy investment.
On another occasion when I have more time and I have marshalled the figures, as I nearly have now, I will explain to the Parliament that the Government has in fact taken action that is totally counterproductive. Because so little brandy will be sold over the next two years it is very doubtful whether the Government will gain revenue of any consequence from its action. I imagine that many Government members are aware of this possibility, but the fact is that the Government has increased the excise on brandy. I will be very surprised if my forebodings tonight do not turn out to be entirely accurate. Statistics from 1952 and 1953 would mirror the same situation that I predict. Then the Government was forced to take action after having caused much misery. This self-sufficient industry contributed $30m to the Federal coffers last year, but if the current situation persists, in a few years it will contribute nothing. I can only describe the Government’s action as unintelligent, boneminded stupidity, no matter which way one looks at it. I am not concerned much for Government revenue, but I have a very great concern and respect for growers of brandy grapes and view with horror the fate they are likely to suffer over the next few years if no charge is made.
-In division 494 of the estimates for the Department of Primary Industry an amount of approximately $36m is set aside for the Bureau of Animal Health, which includes provision for export meat inspection services. I am not about to criticise the fact that we are using this amount of money to provide the excellent inspection service we have for export meat I wish to direct my remarks to the absolute stupidity of the dual inspection service we have managed to proliferate in Australia. Whilst it is not costing the Commonwealth money and therefore would not really lower these estimates, I think it is worth pointing out that the costs of the State inspection services, which really are not necessary, are borne in the long run by the industry generally. Of course, that reacts against the amount of money that the producer gets back for his stock. The inspection service we run is an excellent one, and I suggest that anybody eating meat in Australia or meat exported from Australia is certainly eating meat that has undergone the highest degree of inspection service in the world.
The facilities that have been provided by the industry in Australia in terms of killing centres, freezing works and packing works are the best in the world, and anybody who has travelled overseas and looked at the meat industry would know that to be true. I know that many of the regulations our inspectors are forced to insist upon are unnecessarily foisted upon us, principally by the United States. If one saw the conditions with which we are made to conform in order to export meat to America and then saw the conditions under which meat is sold in America, one would be staggered at the difference. Our conditions are very much better. I ask the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), within the confines of his constitutional abilities, to try to do something about removing this anomaly that is costing the beef industry in particular so much money.
Meat inspection is carried out to ensure that consumers are supplied with wholesome and hygienically prepared products. It can also be an efficient means of undertaking other related tasks such as recording animal diseases at the point of slaughter, and grading and classification. The meat inspection service has two broad functions. Firstly, there is the policy and regulatory function such as the development of standards, registration, et cetera, for both export and domestic markets. Secondly, there is the operational inspection function which includes the physical inspection task, disease recording, training of inspectors, and so on. However, there are some characteristics which do lead to problems and these have arisen because of duplication. Home consumption standards are the responsibility of the States, and the standards differ between the States. Export standards are the responsibility of the Federal Government. Importing countries lay down stringent requirements about the preparation of meat intended for their markets and specifically require national government supervision. Of course, they get that in Australia.
Exports represent a significant part of the total production. Over 50 per cent of veal, beef and mutton and around 70 per cent of the total slaughterings are processed by registered export abattoirs. There are also significant volumes of interstate movements of meat and meat products, and unfortunately that leads to another duplication. For instance, meat sent from Victoria to New South Wales attracts an inspection charge. Basically, no inspection is done but certainly a levy is put on which in the long run is passed on to the consumer and in the short run is passed back to the producer. So this dual Federal-State system of inspection has evolved and many problems flow from the present division of Federal and State responsibilities and from the separate meat inspections. As well as the duplication of staff, these include the additional staff employed due to the requirement for State branding of produce from export works placed on the local market, even though the export standards are the highest in Australia, and separate veterinary groups devising and recommending standards. Commonwealth veterinary officers in charge of export works do not have the normal supervisory control over State employees working as part of a joint team. Friction occurs between the staff due to differing entry requirements, rates of pay, grading structures, and terms and conditions of employment between the States and the Commonwealth, although the inspectors in each system work side by side in most instances. Separate amenities blocks have to be provided by the works for the inspectors at each export works, which of course adds to the cost of the final product. Then there is the difficulty of separate services for the recording on a national basis of animal diseases.
In November 1976 there were 1,462 Commonwealth and 376 State meat inspectors employed at export abattoirs throughout Australia. Federal expenditure on meat inspection services was around $ 19m in 1974-75, of which salaries of about $ 1 5m formed the greater part. State costs were about $6m. It is likely that total Federal-State meat inspection services currently cost around the $40m mark. Following the Industries Assistance Commission report, the Commonwealth export levy of lc per lb was removed in 1975-76. Commonwealth inspection of export products is now a free service; in other words, a subsidy to the export sector. The Commonwealth currently recoups the cost for inspection of meat for domestic consumption from some States, but that is estimated to be only about $ lm. All the mainland States except South Australia charge inspection fees for all meat placed on the domestic market, regardless of whether processing takes place at domestic or export abattoirs. The State charges are designed to recoup the cost of the State meat inspection service, yet in some cases the charges are for work carried out by the Commonwealth. In other words, the Commonwealth is providing a free service but the States are charging the people who are putting the meat through the abattoirs for a service they are not even providing. The revenue to the States from these charges amounts to about $ 10m per annum.
An investigation of the cost to the Commonwealth and the States and the recoupment by the States revealed a number of anomalies and inconsistencies, including the Commonwealth performing work for which some States receive fees. The allotment of Commonwealth and State inspectors at joint export abattoirs is not in the ratio of export-local production. Costing is complicated because export standards are higher and more costly to administer than domestic standards. Anomalies arise in Commonwealth recoupment because of different approaches to meat inspection between the States. State fees are complex and subject to change and they differ between States. Additional charges apply to meat moved between States. The anomalies suggest that a more simple and equitable approach needs to be devised which would provide equal treatment to all abattoirs, whether domestic or export. It would remove the hidden subsidies to some States and reduce the administrative cost to governments and the meat industry, and that is basically my complaint. The dual inspection service does not add anything. The inspection conditions that are applied by the Commonwealth are the most stringent in the world. Our hygiene standards are the best in the world and meat exported from Australia has the lowest bacteria content in the world. Australian people eat the best meat in the world, prepared in the best way and inspected in the best way. The cost of adding a State inspection service to what is already the most adequate inspection service in the world is a ridiculous and unnecessary cost that is being borne by both the consumers and the producers. I suggest to the Minister for Primary Industry that earnest endeavours be made between the Commonwealth and the States to have this ridiculous anomaly removed because it does nobody any good.
– I would like to congratulate the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown) on his contribution to this debate. I believe that he has opened up a matter of deep concern to the rural industries, and I trust that what he has said tonight will not be taken lightly by the Acting Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Adermann), who is at the table, or by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). I can assure the honourable member that, on the basis of what he has said, he has a tremendous amount of sympathy from me personally and I should think from this side of the Committee. It is a matter that should be looked at in the detail that he would like to see.
It should be a matter of concern to primary producers in my State that only about 6 per cent of the national rural research effort is spent in Western Australia, which produces 1 6 per cent of the gross national rural production. I must stress at the outset that it is not mere parochialism to urge that funds be spent in greater proportion to the value of the State’s production. Much of the money used for rural research comes from growers’ levies, particularly in regard to wheat and wool, and surely they are entitled to receive value for money. At present Western Australia is getting only one-fifth of what it might expect from an allocation of growers’ levies on a production value basis. Further, it must be emphasised that in this vast country, with different soil and climatic conditions, research done outside our rather isolated State may well have no application to our rural problems. For example, it has been estimated that only 28 per cent of research by the Australian Wool Corporation in 1975-76 was fully relevant to Western Australia and 40 per cent was quite irrelevant. Western Australia, if anything, requires special consideration in the provision of research funds because its agriculture is still in a pioneer phase. The value of overall production doubled in the five years between 1971 and 1976. Of the 15 million hectares of agricultural land, seven million have been brought into production in the last 20 years. By the year 2000 a 25 per cent increase in cleared land and a 30 per cent to 40 per cent increase in livestock in the State is estimated, provided, of course, that proper research facilities are forthcoming.
Western Australia’s rural industries are very much export based. They accounted for approximately 20 per cent of national rural exports in 1975-76. While the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation budget for agriculture is between $50m and $60m per annum, only $ 1.5m is spent in Western Australia. Three of its divisions, plant industry, entomology and product processing, are not represented in Western Australia. The State Department of Agriculture undertakes 75 per cent of the rural research and 80 per cent of its funds is supplied by the State. The State’s population limits the size of the Department of Agriculture and institutions such as universities can only do so much. This may well accord with the realities of a small population and the pattern of Federal-State relations but not with economic realities. In particular, the light soils of Western Australia demand sustained long term research. That is not recognised by the Industries Assistance Commission in its attitude to flexible financing.
In 1975-76 Western Australia received 1 1 per cent of Commonwealth extension service grants, another shortfall by any production standards. Western Australia produces around 35 per cent of the national wheat crop. In 1 977-78 it received 21 per cent of Wheat Industry Research Council distributions. The shortfall in this respect is less apparent as 2 1 per cent of the funds are allocated to special research in the Australian Capital Territory and the grower levy of 1 5 cents per tonne is distributed in the State of its collection. Nevertheless, the three smaller wheat producing States, South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, are, to some extent, being subsidised. However, the Wool Research Trust Fund operates differently from its wheat counterpart insofar as both grower levies and the matching Commonwealth contribution are pooled with no provision for the grower levy to be spent in the State of collection. Western
Australia, with nearly 25 per cent of the nation’s wool production, normally receives only 9 per cent of the Australian Wool Corporation’s grants. That is less than Queensland receives although it has one third the number of sheep.
The research funds of smaller agricultural industries tend to operate on a similar basis to that of wool research. In such fields as dairying, chicken meat, poultry and the meat and pig industries, Western Australia’s share of research moneys is invariably far below its percentage of national production. This direction of research funds away from Western Australia results basically from the fact that funds tend to flow to those States with existing large research staffs and facilities, regardless of production. This was actually the declared policy of the Wool Research Trust Fund in 1962. 1 also note that the relatively satisfactory allocation of wheat research funds may be related to the fact that Western Australia is represented on the Wheat Research Council. No such representation exists on the other bodies.
I reiterate that there is some feeling in Western Australia that the CSIRO does too little agricultural research in a State with so high a productive potential. It is not sufficient to argue that the research it does in other parts of the Commonwealth will assist Western Australia. Regional studies have regional application. What is disturbing is the trend for the CSIRO to wind down rural research in Western Australia as the Division of Land Use based in Perth is more concerned with environmental and recreational aspects. The inadequacies of research in a vital sector of national primary production need no further elaboration. There is a basic requirement for a greater degree of direction by State-based bodies. I have explained already that 75 per cent of Western Australia’s rural research is in the hands of the State Department of Agriculture. Certainly there should be a general application of the principle that moneys obtained from grower levies should be spent in the State where collected and allocated by committees with grower participation and control. Moreover, matching Commonwealth contributions should be allocated by committees in each producing State but without the requirement that all available funds should be spent within the State. Thus, projects with a truly national character in other States would receive support.
To give effect to these principles eight Federal laws would require amendment. Allocation of research funds on this basis, using 1975-76 data, would give Western Australia an extra $ 1 .5m per annum. If export earnings and future potential were taken into account Western Australia would receive substantially more than this. To allow the continuation of a situation in which a vital sector of Australia’s primary production is deprived of its rightful and necessary share of research funds is hardly desirable and, to my mind, not creditable. The Acts that would need amending are those controlling the Australian Chicken Meat Research Committee, the Dried Fruits Research Committee, the Australian Meat Research Committee, the Pig Industry Research Committee, the Poultry Research Advisory Committee, the Dairying Research Committee, the Central Tobacco Advisory Committee and the Australian Wool Corporation. One does not have many opportunities to speak in this House so I do not raise this matter lightly. It appears to me that in all equity the wealth producing State of Western Australia, in this matter in particular but also in some other matters, does not receive the consideration given to some of the more populous States.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Riverina) (8.38)-The Estimates for the Department of Primary Industry total $109,256,000, a small increase on the amount appropriated last year, but the primary producers in my electorate fear that the actual amount spent in 1978-79 will be less than that spent in 1977-78. They fear this because of the slow progress in allocating the funds appropriated. Last night the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher) spoke on the estimates for the Department of National Development. He appealed to the Federal Government and State governments to make a genuine effort to preserve the Murray River for future generations. I make a similar appeal tonight, not only for future generations but also for this generation. Many primary producers in my electorate fear that any benefit they will gain from this Budget will be wasted unless something is done urgently in regard to the salinity in the Murray River.
In answer to a question that I asked the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) following the introduction of the Budget, the Minister informed me that $2. 26m was provided in the Budget for the elimination of the salinity problem. One of the items included in that appropriation was the tube wells at Wakool. The people in that area are in pretty serious circumstances. They have pointed out to me that their fear is that the year will pass and this money will not be spent because there is no clear indication of when the work will commence. I ask the Minister to make a clear statement on this matter and to ensure that the member concerned receives a copy of the statement first. I think it only democratic that a member who represents an area should not be put in the position of being told, as we are sometimes, of a news report in some newspaper way out in the bush. We are sometimes put in the situation of being asked about a matter and not knowing anything about it. I do not think that is democratic. I believe that more attention should be given to this matter.
Whether we are satisfied with the appropriation or whether we think it is being reduced, I do not think that is the main issue. What the man on the land is concerned about is that the general policy matters covered by this appropriation make his farm more productive and viable. In other words, are things getting better or worse for those directly concerned with our primary industries? To answer that question I think we should look at the publication entitled: Rural Industry Information Papers of March 1978. In paragraph 2 at page 9 under the heading ‘ “BAE Trends”. Extract from March 1978 Issue’ that publication states:
Aggregate farm income in 1977-78 is forecast to decline by 6 per cent to $ 1,900m. If the rate of inflation were assumed to be around 8 per cent in 1977-78, then real income per farm is estimated to fall by 1 1 per cent.
I point out that an estimated fall in farm income of 1 1 per cent indicates a pretty serious trendone that would justify the Government providing more assistance to our primary industries. The primary producers in my electorate have told me that unfortunately their income is falling at a rate much faster than that estimated by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. Whether one believes that the BAE trends are right or whether one takes more notice of the primary producers, I think one should remember that this forecast was made before the Budget was introduced. Of course the trend would be much worse in regard to fall in income for primary producers if one were to include the added cost resulting from the fuel price hike. I suggest that those people who think that the March issue of the publication Rural Industry Information Papers is not uptodate should have a look at the first birthday edition of the National Farmer dated 18 September to 14 October. An article headed ‘Farm viability shock’ states:
Thirty per cent of Australian wheat/sheep and 25 per cent of high rainfall zone farms face severe financial difficulties in the near future according to a Government document.
The report, a study by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, contrasts sharply with the optimistic outlook for the farm sector espoused by the Federal Government.
It presents a horrifying scenario which shows that in spite of some improvement in farm product prices, the sector will continue to suffer intense pressure to adjust and that many farms will go to the wall, while others will diversify their investment resources out of agriculture or take off-farm jobs.
It confirms farmers’ own expectations of the future in two national Farmpolls which showed that at least a quarter of producers believed they will be off their property within ten years, while a massive 38 per cent of the sector continues to exist purely on income earned off the farm.
That is a very tragic outlook for our farming sector. I believe it is a matter to which the Government should give every attention, and in those areas in which it can stop this drift, it should do so.
I refer now to the 65 per cent ad valorem tariff on imported orange juice and the decision of the Industries Assistance Commission to replace it with a 20 per cent duty. The growers have told me that they need to receive at least $100 per tonne to remain viable. If this IAC report is endorsed by the Government they will have to compete with this imported juice and they will have to sell their fruit at $67 per tonne. That would ruin many of the towns from Renmark down to Leeton and Griffith as well as other towns including Wentworth. The Sunraysia area would also be ruined. I believe that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) is aware of this situation because he has recently announced that the “65 per cent tariff will be continued until February. That is not sufficient for the citrus fruit producers to be confident of the future. They have to plan for the future.
I have been told that the citrus growers of Australia have provided evidence and internation to the Industries Assistance Commission and made submissions to it. The growers were dismayed when the draft report came out, because no notice seemed to have been taken by the Industries Assistance Commission of any of the submissions of the growers. The feeling was that it was all a public relations exercise to cover up the already pre-conceived ideas of the commissioners whose basic philosophy was to reduce tariffs and to produce cheaply no matter what the circumstances. I ask the Government to look very closely at this matter because this industry is closely connected with the dried fruit industry.
It was gratifying to hear the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Giles) speak tonight on the brandy industry, because that industry is also closely connected with the citrus industry and the dried fruit industry. They are interrelated industries. Some of the growers devote 50 per cent of their blocks to wine grapes, a small area to the growing of dried fruit and another area to the growing of citrus fruit. I wish to refer once again to the publication National Farmer. An article headed ‘Brandy Tax Storm’ states:
There is mounting anger and frustration among the thousands of small family grapegrowers of the South Australian Riverland as they face another year of poverty and hardship.
I inform the Committee that that problem extends much further than South Australia; it reaches into my electorate and it rightly concerns people in the Riverina area. I ask the Government to have a good look at these matters and to take every precaution to see that the situation is not made worse for the man on the land.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Martin)
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The Department of Primary Industry does not fit the ordinary pattern of government departments in that most of the significant decisions are made outside the Budget context. I will give some examples of that. Last year the major decision in regard to government assistance to agriculture was the decision of September in which more than $100m was provided in short term assistance to the beef industry. Of course, that decision was not recorded at all in the Budget documents. Stage 1 and then stage 2 of the Government’s proposals in relation to the dairy industry were introduced outside the Budget context, and the only recognition of that is the actual cost to the Government of those decisions. The wheat stabilisation scheme proposals will be implemented outside the Budget period, and the decision on the first advance payment for this coming season, which is being made now, once again is outside the Budget period. The revised marketing report on wool will be considered outside the Budget period, and the decision by the Government in relation to the reserve price on wool also falls into that category. One could mention a whole range of agricultural industries. What I am saying is that in looking at government assistance to primary industry, if one looks only at the Budget Papers, one is seeing only a minor part of what the Government is doing to assist agriculture.
I believe that generally this Government has a good record in providing stability and minimum price arrangements for agriculture. That is so despite the combination of a world commodity recession, the Labor Government’s anti-rural policies and also the Labor Government’s induced wages explosion which created so many difficulties for farmers. For example, in 1975 the cost price index for agriculture rose by a staggering 30 per cent. We have now reduced this annual increase to the rate of inflation, about 7 per cent or 8 per cent. That is a tremendous achievement to assist agriculture. The big announcement associated with the Budget concerns the new Primary Industry Bank of Australia which will commence business in the immediate future. Its introduction completes a major policy plank of the party to which I belong. Its proposed establishment has been included in our policy for many years and it has been in the joint party policy at least since the 1975 election policy speech.
I believe that much of the criticism of this Primary Industry Bank stems from a misunderstanding of the difference between concessional interest and low interest. Concessional interest means a lower interest rate than would otherwise be charged on a commercial basis for long period loans. ‘Low’ means exactly what it states. The Government has never said that the interest rate would be low; it has said that it would be concessional. There is a difference. I think the criticism of interest rates will soon be replaced by a criticism that the bank is not providing enough money for all the applications that will flow in once it announces that it is ready to receive applications. The bank will be swamped by applications for the $50m that initially will be raised. Time will be needed for this bank to develop fully. We as members of parliament will need to watch closely the operation of the bank so that the purpose which we intended is in fact carried out.
Also in the 1975 policy speech the joint parties supported the introduction of a young farmer establishment scheme. I acknowledge that the setting up of the Primary Industry Bank must have priority over that scheme but there is still a need for it even if the Primary Industry Bank is able to assist many young farmers with their first farm purchase. New Zealand has had a rural bank for many years but it decided that it was not sufficient to provide funds for the first farm purchase of the number of young people who wished to enter agriculture so that agriculture would remain dynamic. New Zealand introduced such a scheme some two years ago. The Government parties have not forgotten the need for a young farmer establishment scheme. Much work already has been done on alternative proposals. I want to make the point that as far as I am concerned the Government will not be allowed to forget that it stated that it supported the concept of the introduction of that scheme.
A number of major decisions affecting several primary industries will be made this financial year, the year covered by the Budget about which we are talking tonight. The recent High Court of Australia decision confirmed the basis of wheat stabilisation under the current scheme for the coming harvest. In the autumn session of next year, I would presume, new legislation will be introduced for the next five-year stabilisation scheme. I believe that legislation should maintain the authority of the Australian Wheat Board as the sole seller of wheat on both the domestic and export markets. The Wheat Board and the Government should consider why many growers elected to sell their crops outside the Board. There appear to me to be two significant reasons. Firstly, the level of the first advance or initial payment and, secondly, the failure to receive promptly grain delivered by growers, particularly off-grade wheat.
The Bureau of Agricultural Economics submission to the Industries Assistance Commission in its inquiry on wheat stabilisation proposed an interesting way to improve the initial payment and provide a government guaranteed minimum price. I believe this concept is worth serious consideration by the Government and the industry. After 18 months of debate and discussion the canned fruit industry last week presented to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) a proposal for an acquisition scheme for all canned fruit which is produced in this country. This would prevent the unnecessary price cutting which, for a number of years, has bedevilled the industry and reduced grower returns without improving total sales. Any legislation which might be introduced in the autumn session will be too late for the coming harvest. It is important that the industry work together this season and not return to its usual practice of price cutting so that we can get through the season and have the acquisition legislation brought in next autumn.
With respect to the dairy industry the IAC draft report on cheese has been made public today. The Government’s reaction and decision on this report will be very significant for the future of the dairy industry in this country because cheese is seen as the growth sector of the industry. Cheese is subject to increasing import competition which now makes up 14 per cent of total consumption. Much of that imported cheese is subsidised. The IAC has recognised the value of the cheese industry and the unfair competition by recommending a more than doubling of the import protection from the current $90 and $96 a tonne to $200 a tonne. It also recommended that New Zealand cheese be included in that protection. This will present some problems with the New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement. But I believe the Government has to grasp that situation because imports from New Zealand are increasing rapidly and causing much of the problem. When one looks at the amount of agricultural products that New Zealand allows us to sell it, one sees that the list is far smaller than our imports from that country.
In addition, for the dairy industry this is a bountiful season throughout Australia and national production is up by about 10 per cent. There is tremendous pressure on the butter industry at present because the quota of 96,000 tonnes to receive underwriting support will probably be surpassed by a total production of about 110,000 to 115,000 tonnes. I hope the Government administers the special quotas flexibly to lift the quota from 96,000 tonnes to about 100,000 tonnes. Dairy industry organisations have a great responsibility this year to decide that if they do not like the present stage 2 arrangements they will have to put forward a viable alternative. One should always remember that the Australian Dairy Farmers Federation recommended the current scheme. There is also the stupidity of some State governments in either lifting the freeze on dairy licences or recommending that they be lifted because of the brief boom in the industry at the moment. The pressure on the industry will continue for years ahead. The licences are completely unnecessary and new entrants will be ill-prepared for possibly a tougher period ahead. There are other important matters concerning agriculture, including wool marketing, the question of increasing vegetable imports and the problem of increased fuel costs for country people. This year will be very significant for agriculture and agricultural decision making by government and primary industry organisations in this country.
-In speaking to the estimates of the Department of Primary Industry, I do not think there is much in this Budget from which the rural producer can take heart. It is just as well that throughout Australia at present the season looks good. I know that in my electorate crops are coming along well and it seems to be a good season. But that is no thanks to the Government. There are many areas in the Budget in which the farmers receive no comfort at all. In many areas they will feel the effects for quite some time. A few months ago members of the Government were trumpeting around the country stating what a great benefit the fuel pricing subsidy would be. Under that scheme transport costs of fuel were subsidised. Despite all that trumpeting, the Budget reversed the whole process and increased the price considerably, which more that wiped out any benefit that was received as a result of the fuel subsidy.
I represent the more outback areas of South Australia. Those people received minimum benefit from the subsidy. But they were hit hard again when the new pricing scheme came in. To quote an example, the people in Ceduna received a 0.72c a litre subsidy but when the new price came in the price of petrol went up by about 3.5c a litre. So there was no comfort that they could have got out of that. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) stated at a Press Club luncheon here a couple of weeks ago that the increase in the price of fuel as a result of the Budget would be cushioned by the fuel subsidy. I do not think that there is any balance whatsoever there because, as I have just noted, in one area which is 500 miles by road from Adelaide they received 0.72c a litre subsidy and the increase amounted to 3.5c. So there was no comfort for the rural producers there.
The report of the Industries Assistance Commission on crude oil pricing policy estimated that primary industry accounted for 19.5 per cent of Australia’s total petroleum consumption. Since the additional cost for Australia as a whole would be $800m, the primary producers would suffer an additional impost in fuel costs of some $160m. The superphosphate subsidy amounts to some $40m a year and if we add $160m or $ 180m in fuel costs we see how the farmers have been let down the drain.
I wish to refer, as did the honourable members for Wakefield (Mr Giles) and the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Fitzpatrick), to the excise on brandy. Probably South Australia has been hardest hit because it produces more brandy than does any other State. It accounts for approximately 85 per cent of Australia’s brandy production. I would like to quote from a summary of comments made by the Australian Wine and Brandy Producers’ Association on the effect of the 1978-79 Budget on the brandy industry generally. The Association states that it will result in a reduction of Australia brandy clearances of 39 per cent in a full year and in excess brandy stocks. That point was made also by the honourable member for Wakefield.
The Association states further that in 1979-80 no production would be required. It points to a worsening of the already serious grape surplus which has hit the River Murray areas over the last few years. The Association states that the impact on the South Australian Riverland region, which produces 85 per cent of Australia ‘s brandy grapes, will be catastrophic; that brandy distillers and grape growers have made long-term investments and cannot quickly change to other wine production. That point was also brought out by the honourable member for Wakefield, in whose electorate most of the brandy production in South Australia occurs.
The Association also notes that the effect on government revenue will be insignificant and requests the Government, pending the outcome of the IAC inquiries, to reverse its Budget decision. I do not know why the Government did not wait, before placing this additional impost on the brandy producers, until the Industries Assistance Commission brought down its report. It would have been much fairer to the industry. A reference to the IAC submission appeared in today’s Adelaide Advertiser in an article by political reporter Greg Kelton. The article reads:
The South Australian Government makes this recommendation in a submission to the Industries Assistance Commission inquiry into the wine grape industry which will hear evidence in Sydney today.
The submission also recommends steps to restore the percentage price differential between imported spirits and Australian brandy to the level existing before August 1 973.
The article goes on to mention quite a few other matters and quotes from the submission as follows:
To help alleviate some of the problems facing the wine and grape industries, the Government requests that excise on Australian brandy be reduced to $12.50 . . .
The differential of $6.79 or 35 p.c. created between Scotch whisky and Australian brandy would create a similar percentage differential to that prior to August 21,1973.
In conjunction with this, it is requested that all bulk imported brandy be held in bond in Australia for a period of two years as is Australian brandy . . .
The Government therefore requests that any further taxes, excises, levies, et cetera, that are contemplated, be deferred for at least a period of five years and that, if and when any future imposts are contemplated, advance warning be given to the industry so that it has adequate opportunity to adjust.
Certainly, it is a bit late in the day but I do hope that the Government will examine this matter further. It is hitting hard the South Australian Riverland areas and areas such as those of the honourable member for Riverina and the honourable member for Wakefield. The honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) spoke of the establishment of the Primary Industry Bank in rather glowing terms. I do not think that people in the rural industries think of it in those terms. He made the excuse that the Government had never said there would be low rates of interest; rather, that they would be concessional rates. They are, of course, 10.5 per cent up to $ 100,000 and 12.5 per cent for sums greater than $100,000. 1 recall last session asking a question of the Minister concerning concessional rates of interest and the Minister’s replying that they would be at somewhere about the level of overdraft rates. Perhaps the honourable member for Murray was referring to an article in The Cattleman, which states that according to the union’s national director, Mr Barry Cassell, bank rates -
– What a source!
– I know that he is not a friend of the honourable member. He said that the rates had jumped from 10.5 per cent to between 13 and 14 per cent. I suppose that if one is facing those sorts of interest rates 10.5 per cent and 12 per cent become concessional interest rates. The Government certainly took in the rural producers on this matter. I have spoken to rural organisations in my electorate and know what they think of the Primary Industry Bank and the rates of interest that have been announced. The whole matter was projected in the 1975 election campaign. The Government did not give effect to its promise. But just prior to the 1977 election, legislation to establish the Bank was introduced. It was hurried through so that the Government could go to the people in 1 977 and say that it had established this particular Bank. Not long after the Government was returned to power- last session- it decided that it had been a pretty rushed sort of legislation and began altering the whole set-up of the Bank. The Government had been under pressure from the private banks right from the word go; in that those banks did not want another bank muscling in on their territory. So the Government established a board, the majority of whose members come from the private banks. Thus it is now called a bankers’ Bank, and most rural producers realise that it is such. The Government altered the name of the bank from the Rural Bank to the Primary Industry Bank. That was quite reasonable. The previous name was pretty confusing. Anyhow, it resulted in something that is just another bank, a bankers’ bank, and I doubt that the rural producers will feel that they are going to get much out of it.
In my own meetings with members of the United Farmers and Graziers Association, and the Stockowners Association, in South Australia I have been able to explain my views on this matter. Quite a number of them have agreed with me as to the value of this Bank; that it is merely another bankers’ Bank; that the same thing could have been achieved by extending the franchise of the Development Bank. That bank is already a rural bank in the sense that quite a large percentage of its lendings are in rural areas. If you were to take away the lender of last resort provision you could use that Bank to give extended credit to rural producers.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr MartinOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The Government’s rural policies have recognised the important part that our rural industries play in the Australian economy, and I believe have shown a commitment to ensuring that we will continue to have a strong and healthy primary sector. Part of the funds allocated in this appropriation go to the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. Some of the BAE’s work is to look at the economic significance of events in rural industries. It has been responsible for documenting many of the adjustments which have occurred in the relative mix of inputs in the farm sector. In so doing the BAE has helped to identify and quantify the rising costs which the farmer in recent years has been forced to suffer. We should remember that farmers do not have assured wages, that they have no guarantee of prices for their produce on world markets, and that by and large they have no way in which cost increases can be passed on to the consumer.
Of concern to farmers has been the recent increases in fuel costs arising from the world parity pricing of Australian oil, which is part of the Government’s energy policy. The increases in the cost of domestic crude oil, and therefore fuel, are intended to establish realistic attitudes in the community regarding fuel usage.
The policy aims to encourage energy conservation, to enable alternatives or substitutes such as natural gas to compete with fuel derived from our valuable crude oil; to remove the distortions in the domestic marketing of some petroleum products- namely, imported furnace and diesel oil- and to increase the prospects for discovery and development of new oilfields.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Chairman. The honourable member appears to be quoting from the Government’s energy policy. I was not aware that there was an energy policy. Could the speaker identify the document from which he is reading? Is it an official government document indicating the Government’s policy on energy?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Martin)-
That is not a point of order.
– It is unfortunate that the Opposition has not read the statements made by the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) in this House. The policy also aims to provide funds for research into other energy matters. We should remember that the potential energy problem facing Australia is mainly in liquid fuels for transport, not in electricity or heat generation. Australia is rich in black and brown coal reserves as well as uranium, but none of these will fuel our cars, planes and tractors unless expensive conversion technology is applied. The importance of petroleum products as a cost to the rural community has been examined by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. In the Quarterly Review of Agricultural Economics, a BAE publication, the point is made that there were increases of about 47 per cent in fuel costs on wheat industry products between 1973-74 and 1975-76. That fuel represents about 10 per cent of total cash costs on cropping properties. By 1975, when economic conditions had deteriorated significantly, with declining prices received and rapidly rising input costs, producers tried to reduce their inputs to keep costs down and at least maintain a minimal income. Because modern farming systems are dependent on petroleum products, these input costs could not be avoided.
The Bureau survey suggests that petrol, distillate, oil and grease account for over 90 per cent of fuel expenditure in the pastoral, wheat-sheep and high rainfall zones. Petrol assumes the greatest importance in each of the zones, accounting for something like 6 1 per cent of total fuel expenditure in pastoral zones, 52 per cent in wheatsheep areas, and 63 per cent in high rainfall zones. This is very important information because it shows the inflexibility of fuel use in the rural community. Additionally, there is a real problem in South Australia, and doubtless in other States, because there is not the widespread discounting in the country that exists in the city. So it appears that country users are almost the only people in Australia paying the full price for petrol. Honourable members will be aware that in most cities discount fuel is now available at a large number of outlets. Currently in Adelaide fuel is selling for about 19.9c per litre for super grade whilst the Prices Justification Tribunal’s recommended wholesale price in most capital cities. is about 20.3c per litre. In other words, petrol is selling at service stations for less than the PJT has recommended as the maximum price at which it should be supplied by the oil companies to the service stations. So in fact the oil companies’ real wholesale price for super grade fuel in the city is about 1 7c per litre. Further, it is fast becoming clear that because the discount price is so widely available it is in fact the real price and does not really constitute a discount at all.
However, the real problem for country consumers and travellers in the countryside is that this real price, or so-called discount price, is not available outside city areas. Clearly there is a need for country prices to reflect properly the additional costs of marketing fuel in the country. The sorts of costs which are relevant are the costs of transport, distribution and maintaining fuel outlets with lower gallonage throughput than in city service stations. In other words, account has to be taken of the dis-economies of scale. So we have fuel being supplied to service stations in the city for about 1 7c per litre for super. The Federal Government, under the freight subsidy scheme, pays freight costs which are in excess of 0.88c per litre. Therefore 0.88c per litre is the maximum freight cost the oil company has to pay. We then have to allow for distribution costs and the relatively higher per litre costs involved in maintaining the facilities in country areas where the throughput is less. I hope that the oil companies can explain that I am wrong, but it is my contention that they are ripping off the country consumer.
I refer now to some examples. Victor Harbour and Murray Bridge are towns within 40 miles of suburban fuel outlets selling super at 19.9c per litre. But the price for super in Victor Harbour and Murray Bridge is between 24c and 25c per litre. This is in effect a mark-up of about 5c per litre above the city price. The retailer is buying at about 2 1 c per litre, again about 5c per litre above the cost to the city retailer 40 miles away. I just cannot see how the oil companies can justify this mark-up of about 20c per gallon. I cannot see that the costs of servicing the country areas are that much. Certainly many farmers obtain bulk fuel at somewhere around the wholesale price, but my statement stands that I cannot see how the mark-up between city wholesale and country wholesale or city retail and country retail can be justified.
In case I am accused of picking bad examples, the prices in other towns in my electorate are about the same. Super petrol in Mount Gambier costs between 24.9c and 25.4c per litre. In Naracoorte for the same quantity of the same grade the price is 25.6c; in Kingston it is 25.5c and is Meningie it is 25.7c. Here is an interesting example- in Pinnaroo it is 25c and in Lameroo, where the oil companies say the freight cost is higher, the price is lower at about 24.4c per litre. The retailers have tried to get a more equitable deal but the oil companies will not be in it. The BAE has shown that farmers, because of their reliance on fuel as such an important input cost, are bearing the brunt of this apparently discriminatory pricing policy. I believe that the farmers deserve an answer.
I accept the Government’s energy policy and the need for parity pricing. Further, the Government has introduced the first stage of freight equalisation. I now believe that it is high time for the oil companies to explain why country people have to pay so much for fuel. I am pleased that, according to Press reports, Mr Frank Pryor, the Acting Chairman of the Prices Justification Tribunal, announced yesterday that a public inquiry would be held dealing not only with oil company applications for price increases but with the whole basis of petroleum product pricing. I strongly suggest that interested groups, including rural organisations, make their views known to the Prices Justification Tribunal in order that this discriminatory situation may be overcome.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of Transport
Proposed expenditure, $31 1,581,000.
– Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1978-79 provides for expenditure of $31 1,581,000 by the Department of Transport in the performance of its responsibilities in the current financial year. I deplore the very limited opportunity provided by the Government to discuss the Budget. The second reading debate on this Bill was cut short, obviously in an endeavour to protect the Government from more stringent criticism of the inequitable provisions that the Budget contains.
– Come on, knock if off.
– The honourable member for Bendigo did not want to speak. Many members on this side of the chamber were prevented from speaking because the debate was curtailed. In this discussion on the estimates of the Department of Transport, $3 11.581m, a bare 90 minutes is allowed; that is five speakers from this side of the chamber and four from the Government side, each speaking for ten minutes. The time provided is totally inadequate and makes a mockery of what once was intended to be an analytical examination of Government outlays in transport in 1978-79.
I congratulate the Department of Transport on the effort it has made on this occasion to provide more detailed background information on proposed expenditures. The first explanatory notes provided to the Senate Estimates Committee ran to 78 pages. As if with foresight of questions to be raised the Department prepared a later set of supplemental explanatory notes to the Committee which increased the total to 103 pages. Much more pertinent information has been provided. I commend the Department and
I suggest to the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) and to the chamber that another step forward would be to make a set of the explanatory notes available to all members and senators as soon as they are published. I think that that is in the interests of good government and the institution of Parliament. I commend the Department of Transport for the step it has taken. I think it has shown a lead. I sincerely believe that in the interests of Parliament we could have a more rational discussion if the information were made available to everybody.
In brief terms, the total transport appropriation for 1978-79, while increasing in cash terms by $39.93m to $9 17. 16m, actually decreased by 3.3 per cent in real terms when compared with actual expenditure in 1977-78. Road funds will decrease by one per cent in real terms compared with 1977-78. The increased air navigation charges for commuter aircraft of 15 per cent, higher rentals for airport premises and added revenue of $7.7m from airline operations in a manner yet to be detailed, all superimposed on top of increased cost of fuel, mean that a further substantial increase in domestic air fares will occur this year. At last year’s election $70m was promised by the Government over a period of five years to upgrade mainline railways. Only $3m is provided this year. This means that the remaining $67m must be provided over each of the remaining four years- that is, at a rate at least of $16.75m a year- if the promise does not join the long list of promises already broken by this Government.
– Knock it off.
-Who woke you up? Already in the urban public transport area the major undertaking of the Government to provide $20m this year to the States on a needs basis has been deferred- to use the Government’s euphemism. The $40m provided in the Budget represents a decline of 46.2 per cent in real terms compared with 1976-77.
I return at this stage to aviation matters, in particular to the air safety situation. The Committee will recall the vigorous debate we had in this chamber on 16 August. In the course of that debate- this is recorded at page 356 of Hansard- the Minister said:
There was no spokesman from my office, and there has been no suggestion that pilot error was involved.
In this case the Minister was referring to a near miss at Brisbane. He continued:
The honourable member for Shortland clearly does not want to believe the facts. He is prepared to say anything in order to get a headline and denigrate officers of my Department - and so it goes on.
– Hear, hear!
– I am pleased the honourable member agrees. Subsequent to the Minister’s statement I again checked and found that the reporter had checked not with one officer or spokesman but with three different officers of the Department. The Minister had to make an apology to the Melbourne Herald. I am glad that the Minister is happy about that. It is what he should have done. It shows the inaccuracy of what Government members, including a senior Minister, say. In that debate I made particular reference to general aviation and private pilots. I suggested at the time that one of the facts that had been put to me in previous weeks was that there had been a deterioration in standards of private pilot licensing and that this had contributed to the increase in the number of flying schools. The point was made that no chief flying school instructor would be too tough when business was quiet and competition was just down the road. If he did he would not stay in business. At that time I had no figures. Since then I have been able to obtain some from the Department. I seek leave to have a table containing those figures incorporated in Hansard.
The table read as follows-
– The Department, through the good offices of the Minister, has supplied me with some information. In the ten years to 1 978 the number of flying schools increased by 53 to 1 9 1- an increase of 38.4 per cent. The interesting thing is that Victoria, where the spate of incidents occurred recently, stands out alone in the rate of increase. In Tasmania the number of schools increased by 25 per cent. The number of schools in the Northern Territory remained stationary. In Victoria there was an increase of 1 12 per cent, from 25 to 53 schools. In Western Australia there was a decrease of 8.3 per cent. In New South Wales the increase was 8.5 per cent. There was no change in the Australian Capital Territory. There was an increase of 56.5 per cent in Queensland and 63.6 per cent in South Australia.
I know that since the debate of 16 August the Minister has taken some positive steps to seek alternative sources of information on air safety. I hope that those steps will bear fruit. I hope the Minister will act in the same vein as he did in the debate. I would like him to examine the figures on private pilot licensing and give serious consideration, from the Opposition’s point of view, to the introduction of annual licensing and examination of private pilots. I do not put that as a political point; I put it on behalf of the community. I think, from the information provided to me that grounds exist for this matter to be looked at. I put this to the Minister in the same vein as previously. I ask him to continue with his previous line of action and to look particularly at private pilot licensing.
I turn now to domestic fare increases. I made the point in recent weeks that there had been a 27 per cent cumulative increase in domestic air fares in just over two years, with more to come. I refer the Minister to his statement on the July increase of 6 per cent. On that occasion he said that the increase in association with projected traffic growth was less than had been sought by the airlines, but because of the suggested traffic growth the 6 per cent was acceptable. He refused to say a word about the more recent increase of 5 per cent which he had reduced from the 7½ per cent application of the airlines. He has adopted an ostrich-like attitude. It was a farce when the airlines announced the fare increase. The Minister refused to announce it; the airlines had to announce it. The airlines could not say anything until the Minister approved it. The Minister knows that that is true. He can smile, but they are the facts.
Let us be clear: It is the Minister’s responsibility, and his alone, to approve air fares. He cannot abdicate that responsibility. Of necessity, the Minister relies on recommendations from the Department. I put it to the Committee that we need to examine the capacity of the Department to vet those applications. I do not believe that the Department has the manpower or the skilled personnel to carry out an analytical examination of all the operations of Ansett Transport Industries and Trans-Australia Airlines in the few weeks that are available to it from the time the fare increase application is lodged until the pressure comes upon the Minister to make a decision. In my view we need men who are skilled in the accounting world and in the private sector if there is to be a thorough examination. The Minister knows that under the air navigation regulations he has powers of complete access to all the records of airline companies and he should, in our view, establish a public justification process where those applications for increases are subject to the same public examination and justification as are applications for steel increases by the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd. This will get the monkey off his back and give the public the opportunity to see what resources the Department -
– What an awful thing to do.
-I am being kind to him.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Martin)-
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Tonight I focus my attention to the area of civil aviation generally. Many people welcomed the announcement last week of the cheaper air fares which are to apply between Australia and Great Britain. One can hope for the sake of the Australian travelling public and indeed for the future of the Australian tourist industry that this is but a start of what may be an even greater review of the scale of fares that operate between this country and other parts of the world. There has been a lot of speculation as to what the fares might ultimately be. I suppose that at the beginning of this speech I should declare myself- as I have publicly in previous months- as a great advocate of the bulk charter arrangements. I am definitely not necessarily holding the flag for one Sir Freddie Laker, but the concept of bulk charter traffic to and from Australia is one that holds a lot of attraction particularly for the development and future of the tourist industry.
I must say that I hope that the fares that we heard announced last week will not be the be-all and the end-all of the introduction of cheaper air fares to and from Australia. Quite obviously those fares even now are rather high compared with some of the other fares that are operating around the world. We can in this debate get ourselves very tied up with the de-regulation argument and an analysis of what really has happened in relation to the North Atlantic. There are some questions which I think should be asked of the department over the next 12 months as to exactly what will happen. Although the statement by the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) was quite clear, that these air fares would operate between any Australian city and London on British Airways and Qantas Airways Ltd services, there are a number of other questions that I think should be asked.
At the moment I am receiving many representations from packagers and tourist agencies who feel that they need a little more enlightenment on just what is going to happen early in the year in relation to fares to other destinations around the world. It is at this time of the year that many of the packages used by those agencies are being constructed for sale over the Christmas period. At the moment they are complaining that they do not really know what is going to happen, with the exception of the Australia-United Kingdom run. They do not know whether the fares that exist now will be able to be used as tour basing fares, just when the likely date is to be of the announcement of fares between other points of Europe and other points of Asia; what exactly will happen to other legs in an all-inclusive tour; whether or not the airlines already operating the Australia-London route will be able to sell a cheaper range of fares to and from those points; and what stop-over rights will be allowed to passengers on those particular tour basing fares. Obviously this confusion is fairly well founded at this stage. I am sure that the Minister will be making every effort to have a speedy resolution of some of those questions.
We have seen recently some aspects of the aviation industries and the travel industry that are not terribly attractive or terribly healthy for a viable industry. I do not refer specifically to the ACTU-Jetset affair, as it has been called, because already the Minister has pointed out that that particular case is one of several. I think during this coming year some very serious attention will have to be paid to the area of the air navigation regulations that covers the situation of commissions that are paid by airlines to travel agencies. Although adjustments were made in recent years to the air navigation regulations it would seem that they have not been completely successful in stopping a number of the practices that have been followed. It would seem to be fairly common knowledge in the community at the moment that all international airlines, including Qantas, operating in and out of Australia are in fact paying some sort of overriding commission. These overriding commissions take various forms. It would seem that the ‘legal’ way out is the payment of subsidies to travel agencies by the international airlines for advertising purposes. Admittedly the correct percentage commission that should be paid by an airline to a travel agent is usually in the vicinity of about 10 per cent but it is not uncommon to hear of overriding commissions being paid to the tune of 16 per cent, 22 lA per cent- which I believe is one of the fares quoted by one of the major packagers that has been discussed lately in this Parliament- and I even have heard stories of 32 per cent being paid in overriding commissions.
Obviously it would tend to lead people to believe that perhaps the prices of air fares to and from Australia have indeed been too high if this area is available for these overriding commissions to be paid. I suppose the move by the Minister to introduce just a Qantas-British Airways duopoly on the Australia-London route may be one way of cutting off these overriding commissions. I wonder if it really will. We know of the record of some international airlines and of some of the devious methods they get up to in providing cheap and competitive fares to operate between various countries. We wonder whether the new fares will stamp out this practice which ultimately must result in a worse service for Australians. We can look back to the early 1970s and to the history of Travel House of Australia Pty Ltd. That situation was certainly tied up with kickbacks and other arrangements with a foreign airline. I believe the travel agencies are looking for a lead from the Government really to clamp down on this practice in the long term in order to have a viable industry and to have guidelines by which they can operate. If that particular section of the air navigation regulations can be tightened up in the next 12 months it may stamp out the practice of overriding commission and other kickback payments which I understand are often paid through foreign banks. They are not necessarily paid here in Australia and quite often they are very hard to trace. Although I have no evidence to substantiate this, I understand that many of these transactions are going on through a bank in Hong Kong. We would have trouble in tracing them if that is in fact the case. This is an area which I believe must be cleared up. I must congratulate the Minister for his initiative this morning when it was suggested that should a domestic carrier be willing to start up a Tasmania-New Zealand service he would be pleased to hear from that carrier.
– From Tasmania to New Zealand. I understand that representatives from two domestic airlines already are in the building tonight making application for those particular fares.
This brings up a point that was raised by the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) this afternoon, that maybe we should be looking for more flexibility in all our planning, both domestic and international. If we can get a concept of a circle route between the South Pacific countries, New Zealand and Australia that can be very much to the benefit of everyone. Certainly in recent years the international travel market has been restricted to the triangle around Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. Some of the far flung States have not been getting their percentage of the international market. An example is my own State of Queensland which I understand has a 4 per cent share of the international market into Australia. Obviously there has to be room to move here even when the point to point fares come into operation.
I believe that probably more people would come into cities such as Brisbane if these cheaper air fares became available. But Brisbane of course is not the capital of the tourist industry in Queensland. There is a great deal of attraction for overseas visitors to areas such as the Great Barrier Reef. I must express my disappointment that we have not seen any reaction whatsoever from the domestic carriers to the situation of the proration of international air fares. I believe that the tourist industry and the decentralised tourist areas of our State certainly urgently need some sort of proration from the domestic carriers if they are to take full advantage of the international market. As I said, these new fares operate only to those gateway cities of Darwin, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. They do not operate to places such as the Great Barrier Reef, Ayers Rock or Tasmania. Tasmania is one State that urgently needs every tourist dollar on which it can possibly lay its hands. I understand that tourism is now that State’s second biggest industry and that the time might not be too far away when it becomes the State’s biggest industry.
If we can see a greater input into the planning of the Department of Transport from the tourist industry and from departments within this Government which have a part to play in the development of that industry, I believe that we can develop a more innovative fare structure, internally and externally, which will be very much to the benefit of the tourist industry as a whole. Australia’s share of the international tourist dollar is .07 per cent. Tourism is the world’s second biggest industry. Really we are not taking full advantage of that industry and of the contribution that it can make to the national accounts and to employment. I would urge that more input be given by the tourist industry to the decisions that are made in the 12 months to come and indeed, in the years to come, so that we can achieve a balance for our aviation industry, a fair deal for Australia’s travellers going abroad and also for travellers coming to visit this country.
– I welcome the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) back to the Committee. I hear that he had a very bad session tonight on television with a fellow by the name of Hawke. We welcome him back and trust that he is still in one piece. I would like to raise a point of procedure concerning discussions on the various departmental estimates now that this House has moved into the legislation committee era. Over the years we have seen the way time has been restricted in discussions on departmental estimates. Almost year by year it has been contracted until today the situation is almost a farce whereby we have only 10 minutes each in which to make a contribution. Each of us may pick out some particular hobby-horse, speak to it and that is the finish of it. So far in the debate on the estimates for the Department of Transport there have been two speakers, one from each side, and they have both dealt with a different subject. I am the third speaker, and the subject with which I wish to deal is different again.
Mr Deputy Chairman, I think you will find that this will be the procedure. I strongly suggest that the Government consider referring estimates to committees comprising members who are really interested in a particular subject who can sit around a table and question the Minister and departmental officers about various aspects of the Estimates. I think that is a new stage that has to be reached in the consideration of Estimates. The practice of nine members, five from one side and four from the other, speaking for 10 minutes each on the estimates of a department has become a farce.
What I wish to bring forward tonight is the matter of shipping. This country, through the Australian National Line and private shipping lines, has moved into most areas of international shipping. Australia is represented in most of the freight lines engaged in container shipping. ANL has the wherewithal to move into the bulk trade with two 120,000 tonne and two 140,000 tonne bulk ships. The only area not covered is the transport of Australia’s imports of crude oil. When the Australian Labor Party was in government it had reached an advanced stage in planning to set up a fleet of 60,000 to 70,000-tonne tankers to carry 40 per cent of our total crude oil imports. Unfortunately, when the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) became Minister for Transport, one of the first decisions he took was to cancel that policy of transporting 40 per cent of our crude oil imports in Australian tankers. I do not think I should allow this to be forgotten with no action being taken on it.
I raise the matter again tonight because I believe an excellent case can be made for the Government to give encouragement and the all clear to Australian shippers to get on with it. I know that ANL, R. W. Miller and Co. Pty Ltd and Howard Smith Industries Pty Ltd are all interested in going into the international tanker trade. The Minister, when he was in opposition and when he became the Minister again, was critical of the suggestion that Australia should have its own tankers. He drew attention to the great cost that would be imposed on the Australian transport industry as a whole. The Budget contained an announcement by the Government that it would move immediately to import parity levels for crude oil. It was forecast by the Treasurer (Mr Howard) that this would represent an increase in the cost of fuel of 3.5c a litre. I believe that since the Budget was presented the increase has been 3c a litre and that another 0.5c is due to be added in a very short time. So the increase of 3.5c a litre forecast by the Minister will be achieved before very long.
What would be the cost of using Australian tankers to import crude oil? On very reliable information I believe that the shipping industry has presented a case to the Minister which shows that Australian tankers are capable of carrying crude oil to Australia at an additional cost of 0.148c a litre. This Government is not prepared to agree to Australian tankers. I will develop a case which will show that it is possible for the Government to recover the whole of that cost by way of taxation, et cetera. The Government has made a policy decision which has imposed upon the motorist and the community as a whole an extra fuel cost of 3.5c a litre. Yet it is not prepared to agree to Australian companies, which are most anxious to move into the overseas trade, carrying crude oil at an increased cost which I believe I should repeat and repeat. It is such a minimal amount that it should be brought to the attention of the outside public. The additional cost would be 0. 1 48c a litre.
As I said, I can develop a case that would show that the additional operating cost for each 60,000 to 70,000-tonne tanker under Australian flag conditions would be between $lm and $1.5m a year. Personal income tax contributions by the Australian crews would give the Government revenue of about $500,000 a year. Contributions in company profit tax would be about $400,000 a year. The State would get in payroll tax about $70,000. So approximately $970,000 would flow back into the Australian economy if Australian crews were manning Australian ships.
I therefore ask the Government to reconsider its decision. I believe it is important at this stage that Australia make a decision to move into the tanker trade. When the Labor Government was looking at the establishment of an Australian tanker fleet, 60,000 to 70,000-tonne tankers cost approximately $18m each. The same ships today, one to two years old, can be brought on world markets for between $8m and $12m. This is the time to buy. Average freight rate assessments at the moment are at rock bottom. The price of overseas tankers on the open market is ridiculously low. I am not saying that we should build tankers in Australian shipyards at this stage, even though I would like to see that. If these tankers are bought now and freight rates start to move up- there is nobody to say they will not move up- Australian companies such as R. W. Miller, Howard Smith, Ampol Australia Ltd and ANL will be in a much more favourable position to consolidate and retain at a lower level the freight rates on crude oil imports to this country. If they are given permission to buy tankers on the present market they will buy at the right price. They will have to go to the Prices Justification Tribunal, which I hope will still be in existence, to justify any increase in freight rates based on the capital investment. Now is the time to establish our own tanker fleet. Everyone in the shipping industry will tell the Government, as I know spokesmen for the industry have told the Minister on previous occasions, that this is the time.
The trade unions are co-operating with the ship owners. Agreement has been reached between the trade unions and the shipping industry. The trade union movement will accept the manning of Australian ships by Australian crews on conditions comparable to those on ships of other developed countries. There will not be overmanning as there has been in the past. The manning will be similar to that on the ships of other developed countries. I believe the ship owners have been told that if they buy ships the Australian unions will man those ships under conditions applicable on the ships of other countries. Australian ships will have reasonable manning. It will be possible to buy ships at a reasonable price which will guarantee fair and reasonable shipping rates.
What must be borne in mind is that every major country in the world today has a requirement concerning the shipment of crude oU imports. For instance, France requires 50 per cent of its crude to be imported in French ships. Other countries have their own national shipping lines carrying a substantial percentage of their crude imports. All we need is that this Government pick up the policies that were in existence under the former Labor Government, which had reached an advanced stage in introducing Australia ‘s own tanker fleet.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) -Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Tonight, unlike other speakers, I wish to speak about roads. Grants to the States for roads have maintained their values in real terms. In 1977-78 the allocation to the States for road works was $478m. For 1978-79, the current financial year, it has been increased by some $30m to $508m, an increase of nearly 7 per cent. I would like to take New South Wales as an example of the situation pertaining to road funding in Australia at the moment. The allocations for New South Wales for the various road categories show that for rural arterials the allocation was $ 19.2m, for rural locals $27.6m, and for urban arterials $30.7m, making a total of $77.5m. I remind honourable members that in New South Wales not one cent of State funding is allocated to rural local roads. The total cost of rural local roads is borne by the Commonwealth and by the ratepayers of the various local government councils concerned.
I have used those three categories as examples for a specific purpose. Of all the States, New South Wales is the only one that to my knowledge has still not provided its priorities to the Commonwealth for approval for funding. All other States provided that information within the normal period of time. Some four months of the financial year have expired and still New South Wales has not indicated to the Commonwealth its priorities for approval for funding. One might well ask why. Concern has been expressed right throughout New South Wales by local government councils in telegrams similar to the one I have here from the Blayney Shire Council in my electorate protesting that no advice has been received from either Federal or State sources of the amount or basis of rural local road grants in New South Wales, despite the passage of time. Without being too cynical, we should recall that only recently there was a State election, and I suggest that the New South Wales Minister might have found it rather embarrassing to put forward his priorities. They would have shown up all too clearly the fact that the New South Wales Government provides no money whatsoever for rural local roads, that very important area of road funding that provides funds to councils for employment and provides service to rural dwellers. It would have been embarrassing when the New South Wales Government went out of its way to woo country electorates in an attempt to win a number of them. I think it is worth recording that despite the very substantial swing to the Government in New South Wales only two country seats were lost by the coalition Opposition.
– Very narrowly.
– As my colleague from Macarthur reminds me, they were lost by a very narrow majority. It is also worth noting that some of the seats the New South Wales Government was almost assured of winning, so it believed, were not held. This was due partly to the fact that people in electorates such as Bathurst realised that one of their great problems, namely, the condition of the roads, was not being dealt with in the way it should be by the New South Wales Government. To my knowledge, there is still no word about whether the New South Wales Government wishes to have an allocation of some $77.5m for its roads program, and I think that that is a situation that needs to be noted by the community and by members of this House. The time is long overdue for us to try to find some formula whereby the shilly-shallying and fiddling that goes on with the States over Commonwealth road funding was prevented. We have seen this fiddling time and time again when funds have been allocated by the Commonwealth for certain road categories. There have been delays and there have been transfers within that incredibly mysterious system of accounting within State governments. In many cases, the funds that we wanted allocated for certain categories have not been so allocated. I need not pick out New South Wales as the only guilty State in this regard. Other States, namely, Victoria and to a lesser extent Queensland, are also guilty.
I come now to a situation which I believe is very serious, and I refer to the state of Australian roads at the moment. I hardly need to remind honourable members of the critical need for standard roads in Australia- for trade, for decentralisation, for defence, and for various other purposes. A situation has been developing for many years where the alternative to our road network, namely, the railways network, is hopeless to say the least. More and more heavy transport vehicles are using our more and more inadequate road systems. This results in a serious breakdown of road surfaces, which has been accentuated even further by the wet weather conditions that have prevailed in the last few months. Road safety standards are being very seriously eroded, and it will not be very long before there is a major accident involving school children or a bus or whatever it might be which can be attributed directly to the bad state of our national roads and highways. I have doubts about whether we can effectively maintain our road networks, let alone find the funds to construct new highways and new arterial roads or to upgrade those that we have at present.
It is rather ironic that in many other countries which have a much smaller geographical distribution of population than Australia, and I refer to many of the European countries and Japan, they have vastly superior road networks in spite of the fact that at the same time they have vastly superior railway networks. Australian roads are approaching a disastrous situation. As I have mentioned, this is due to the long distances and low traffic volumes of our roads. It is due partly to the inadequacy of our railway systems. It is very much due to the disastrous decline in road funding experienced during the regime of the Commonwealth Labor Government. It is also due to the very real need for this Government to restrict expenditure to try to overcome some of the enormous economic difficulties it inherited when it came into power in 1 975.
I think it is time for a thorough review of road funding. I suggest that it is well and truly time for an inquiry to be undertaken into current and possible future sources of road funding in order to determine the funding needs of the various road categories, including the maintenance and upgrading of existing roads and the construction of new highways and arterial roads. It is time to look at the taxes and charges collected by all levels of government to see whether a higher proportion of those charges should be allocated to road construction and maintenance. It is time to see whether we can utilise more cost-efficient methods of constructing and maintaining roads, and I refer particularly to the use of private contractors and private sources of funds from which we could get much better value for dollars expended as far as output and productivity are concerned in relation to road construction and maintenance.
Lastly, we should investigate fully the cost benefit relationships of financing the construction of new highway networks, urban freeways, and major developmental roads or tourist roads by loan funds raised either in this country or overseas, to be repaid partly or wholly by the imposition of road user tolls. The concept of tolls has not been accepted in Australia for a number of reasons that I have not been able to determine, but it is a system that has been widely accepted in many overseas countries. Personally, I believe that if high standard roads, both intercapital and intra-State, were to be provided, the users would not object to covering the cost of those roads through a toll system. Technology is available throughout the world, particularly tunnelling technology, which would enable us to provide high standard roads. I believe that if we could apply a user-pays principle through tolling some of our road networks, we could release some of the limited funds that are available to upgrade and reconstruct the very badly deteriorated urban and rural arterial and rural local road networks.
-The area of urban public transport can be added to the long list of broken promises that characterise this Budget, the first since the election which the Government won last December. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said in his policy speech:
In 1978-79 we will expand existing programs to provide a total of $60m annually for the next five years to improve urban public transport.
Nothing could be clearer than that. However, in the Budget the initial advance which the Treasurer (Mr Howard) announced for urban public transport was not $60m but $40m. The Government had promised $300m for urban public transport over a three-year period. It will not reach this target. However, the target was not based on need. The Bureau of Transport Economics estimated in its background study ‘Urban Transport Capital Requirements 1977-78 to 1979-80’, that over a three-year period the estimated economically warranted capital investment for State capital city public transport projects, in 1974-75 prices, was $l,054m and that, given the present state of planning in the States, they could spend at least $62 9m in that three-year period. The Government’s commitment was not based in any real sense on the Bureau’s research. Its actual commitment indicates that it has no commitment at all to urban public transport.
The reaction of Mr Cox, the New South Wales Minister for Transport, speaking on behalf of the
Government which has won two elections- the last overwhelmingly- at least in part, on the basis of its transport policies, summed up the view for the States. He said:
Talk about trying to get political mileage virtually out of nothing . . . in his 1977 policy speech the Prime Minister promised $60m annually over five years. . . . The New South Wales share was to have been S 14m per annum plus a share of $20m to be determined on a needs basis, the expectation of New South Wales being $6m per annum. This year the needs component is dropped and New South Wales is to get only the $14m basic grant. What an insignificant contribution when it is considered that New South Wales is providing $207m this year in its $ 1,000m public transport capital investment program. In addition $442m has been provided in this year’s State Budget to meet the deficits of the various public transport enterprises for which the Commonwealth makes no direct contribution.
The Commonwealth Government is contributing in New South Wales to what can be virtually described as the odd project. Its contribution to the overall problems of urban public transport is quite minimal. Similarly in Victoria, the Commonwealth contribution is towards the purchase of a few trains and trams, the upgrading of a small portion of one railway line and is a minimal contribution to the even more horrendous problems faced by public transport in that State where the Government has nothing like the New South Wales upgrading program.
My own electorate, located as it is in the northeastern corridor of Melbourne, illustrates in a not untypical way the great failures of the public transport system in the urban capitals of Australia. A recent study undertaken by Region 14, a regional organisation of councils involving six municipalities, Diamond Valley, Eltham, Heidelberg, Northcote, Preston and Whittlesea, demonstrates that each of these municipalities faces major problems with the public transport system. The whole corridor has 300,000 people. In that corridor the study identifies 14 disadvantaged areas in terms of deficiencies in public transport services. These problems include the extensive sections of the Hurstbridge railway line, which will remain unduplicated after the current McLeod-Watsonia duplication is completed, funded under the first part of the Labor Government’s urban public transport program, problems of obsolete signalling facilities on both the Hurstbridge and the Epping lines and the almost total lack of east-west public transport services north of Bell Street in this corridor, a major factor in the present situation of very high levels of unemployment in fringe areas of the City. At page 55 the report states:
The outstanding feature of transport services in the region is their absence. While the rail and tramway services provide relatively high quality travel on a radial basis from the city, there is a tremendous lack of services of the circumferential nature. The lack of east west bus services is illustrated by the fact that the bus service across Bell Street is the northern most route providing a cross regional service. The alternatives for people dependent on public transport and living north of this route and wishing to travel across the region, are travelling south and then changing journey across, and then north again by train or bus, or take the train to Clifton Hill and change rail lines.
The report also documents in detail a number of other problems. Almost nowhere in that corridor is there any proper co-ordination between different modes of transport so that people involved in changes from train to bus are inevitably suffering waiting periods, sometimes of an extensive nature, rarely with proper provision for shelter. There are no proper transport interchanges except perhaps at Northland shopping centre where the service is geared completely to shopping trips and not at all to the journey to work. People, the report suggests, almost need a research assistant to interpret timetables and to plan journeys. The selection of routes for public transport tends to be highly arbitrary in nature and after-hours services, that is, services of an evening or at a weekend, are next to impossible. In other words, there is evidence which is provided in this report of what could only be described as a transport poor society, people who are deprived proper access to community facilities because they are earless.
There is about the growth of cities a kind of profound irrationality which reflects the madness of the underlying economic system. We have allowed our cities to be built to serve the interests not simply of large scale capital, but of capital which has not even the vaguest sense of social responsibility. Thus we have shopping centres like Northland which are designed not to assist people with their purchase of goods in the most convenient way, but rather with the maximisation of profits to the total indifference to social and human factors. These vast inhuman and insensitive retailing deserts represent the visible evidence of the harshness of capital and the exploitation of the city for the gain of the few. Large scale housing developments like Mill Park which is currently being built and is projected to house 20,000 people are constructed in isolation from any rational transport planning. These not only contribute to suburban amnesia but, in addition, are enormous generators of car traffic which drifts through the intermediate and inner suburbs without any regard for the external effects and the traffic blight that is caused.
– What would you recommend?
– The honourable member would not understand. The major institutions such as hospitals, which abound in this corridor, are allowed to develop without the slightest consideration for public transport services, and even Latrobe University was built on the assumption that students and staff would make their way there through intermediate suburbs in the private car, and public transport was totally neglected. All these problems, all this irrationality, cannot be blamed on the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) and on this Government, but it has in the main been Liberal governments in Canberra and in Victoria which have lacked the concern and interest and the will to seek to impose order on the urban environment. In the name of free enterprise they have permitted land use and then transport chaos and the concept of planning has been absolutely and completely minimal. This criminal neglect, this irresponsible pandering to business and real estate investors, is now leaving a legacy of almost insuperable problems.
The wise, the wealthy and the powerful are now deserting the suburbs and moving back into the intermediate areas of the large cities because they can see the coming impact of the energy crisis and its implications for urban transport. The outer suburbs are facing a monumental transport crisis which will not be easily solved because of the land use patterns that have been established and the preference for single dwelling units. The solution to the transport problems of Australian cities is certain to be enormously costly and require new forms of planning and much stronger constraints on living patterns.
The policies of the Whitlam Government on urban planning have never been more necessary. The study from which I have quoted is such a legacy, being a study undertaken with the benefit of Commonwealth funds provided under the Transport Planning and Research Act. The funds under this Act have now been reduced by $2m in this Budget. There is no doubt that public transport has an important future in Australia. If we are concerned about the issue of energy- the Government claimed that it was when it raised the price of oil to world parity- then public transport has a crucial role. World parity prices will generate additional revenue for the Government. It is important that these additional funds be channelled into programs that will contribute to the solution of our long term energy problems. It is to be hoped that the Minister will ensure that the commitment to $60m annually is restored at the first opportunity and certainly within the next Budget. Perhaps in the light of world parity prices, the Minister might also begin to press for a larger share of revenue for urban public transport programs as well as for inter-city system upgrading, such as lines serving provincial cities in Victoria.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond)- Order! The honourable gentleman’s time has expired.
-Tonight I wish to talk about an alternative to petroleum, a quiet revolution which is going on in Austraiian industry and transportation. Its name is liquid propane gas. LPG started as a by-product of petrol, but ironically it is shaping up as a real alternative. Because it is cheaper, clearer and more plentiful than petrol, many industries and company vehicles are being switched to LPG. New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland are switching slowly but surely. Many taxi companies and freight firms are leading the way. Victoria has approximately 2,000 trucks and 500 taxis which have been converted to LPG. Perhaps that is because the Bass Strait field is easily able to supply the whole of Victoria. Many Victorian taxis are already powered by LPG without the passenger being any the wiser.
With the new fuel costs, it is imperative that conversion to LPG be encouraged by the Government. Incentives must be made available to car manufacturers and others to convert to LPG. Our refineries are at near capacity production. So even if every second car on the road wanted to convert, we could not keep up the supply. A spokesman for the Victorian Road Transport Association said that there were just enough LPG outlets to enable a gas powered semi-trailer to run between Sydney and Melbourne. That is an absolutely atrocious situation. Mr Alan Lang, the president of the Australian Taxicab Association, estimated that approximately 500 cabs in Melbourne had converted to LPG. Cab drivers are businessmen and if they can see that gas is cheaper, they will go for it. The position industry-wide is not so clear because the taxi industry subsidises its radio operations from petrol sales. If those sales are reduced, the industry will have to find another way to pay for its radio operations.
One of Sydney’s largest municipal councilsNorth Sydney- has converted its fleet of 27 trucks to LPG. The council’s engineer said this week that the council had saved approximately $200 a year per vehicle since converting to LPG, thus saving ratepayers well over $5,000. The council’s switch to LPG was part of the clean air program it started about four years ago. The advantages of using LPG powered trucks ranging from 2 tonnes to 8 tonnes far outweigh any disadvantages. He listed the good points. I think it is important that people of Australia realise that there are good points. We seem to think that just because LPG is not talked about, and is not made available to the majority of Australians, we should shy away from it.
Its use results in a reduction in exhaust pollution. It produces about 60 per cent less pollution than petrol driven engines. The increased life of oil niters, carburettors, batteries and spark plugs results in a saving of 25c a gallon, using our old imperial measurements. The cost of conversion is approximately $500 to $600 for each vehicle, but that cost has to be paid only once. For the cost of about $75 the conversion kit can be switched to another vehicle. Conversion is remarkably simple. All that is needed is a gas tank, usually of about 15 gallons capacity, a converter to reduce the gas from high to atmospheric pressure, and a mixer on top of the carburettor. So conversion is very simple. A converted vehicle can usually run either on petrol or gas, selection being by means of a switch on the dashboard.
Sometimes I think it is absolutely ironic that car manufacturers offer as options a choice of gearboxes, differentials and different types of upholstery but they never offer as an option an LPG powered engine. I think it is most important that we as politicians should begin to talk about LPG. About 90 per cent of our production is exported to Japan. We all talk about shortages of fuel and petrol that will occur in the 1980s but we do very little about it. So I just place that thought on record, and perhaps other honourable members can join in the debate at a later time. It is imperative that we begin to look for alternatives, because our transportation vehicles have to be powered. If we have shortages in the supply of one type of fuel we have to make absolutely certain that we can come up with alternatives.
– It is much cleaner.
-It is much cleaner. Of course, by the use of LPG the pollution level is reduced, and that is most important in the areas of public transport and so on. Australia is one of the world ‘s largest producers of LPG but exports most of its production. As I mentioned, about 90 per cent of our production goes to Japan. A royal commission into the use of LPG- honourable members will probably be aware that that resulted in the Collins report- recently was critical of the huge volume of LPG exported to Japan. Gas production in Bass Strait during 1 976 by Esso-BHP was a staggering 1.9 million tonnes, of which 1.8 million tonnes was exported to Japan. Domestic consumption was a mere 433,285 tonnes.
The Director of the Australian Institute of Petroleum said this week that Australia’s biggest reserves of LPG were yet to be tapped. Most petroleum sources do not see LPG as being a viable alternative to petrol for the average motorist because it would take about four years to recoup the cost of conversion. We have to look at the future and to make absolutely certain that the people who make these sorts of statements realise that we could have shortages in the 1 980s. The cost of privately installing a high pressure tank above ground would be prohibitive. Regulations forbid highly explosive gas being stored close to a dwelling or footpath. Those sorts of obstacles are being put up, but they should not be. For example, on the Continent one can drive from one country to another filling up one’s car with LPG at a petrol station. So these alternatives are available. We have to make certain that they are utilised. We have to make certain that people involved in transportation are made aware of LPG.
For some years the larger petrol companies saw LPG as being a threat to their petrol sales. Today in the United Kingdom and such countries as Belgium, Holland, Italy, West Germany and Spain it is marketed from its own pump alongside petrol. It is advertised almost as extensively as is petrol. For example, many people who travel to the United Kingdom say that they can cover as much as 10,000 miles in travelling around. Most people cover about 10,000 miles when they travel overseas. They say that by using LPG the reduction in cost is such that their holiday is made far more attractive. If that can be said of the United Kingdom, surely to goodness with the highest rate of production of LPG per head of population in the world, we should start to utilise the LPG that we have available and we should make certain that in powering our motor vehicles we utilise the alternatives to petrol which is causing trouble now and will cause trouble.
-Until recently the record of Australia’s long aviation history has been one of which the industry and the authorities could be proud and one which had inspired confidence in air passengers. However, incidents which have occurred this year have impressed upon the minds of technicians, travellers and authorities in the industry the alarming fact that the only thing standing between Australia’s good record and a disastrous record- that is, the only thing barring a major catastrophe- has been the conditional factor of luck. Some accidents have come so close to being complete disasters that luck surely must have played a major part in their avoidance.
This view was expressed by the chairman of the General Aviation Sub-committee of the authoritative Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, Mr John Colwell. In a paper he has written Mr Colwell states that air travellers and taxpayers are paying exorbitant fares for what he refers to as Australia’s ‘straightjacket’ approach to aviation. Certainly, on the basis of miles per accident, which I think is a reasonable means of assessment, Australia is far surpassed by the United States where in the 10 years to 1976 there were 22 domestic air accidents. Three of those accidents resulted in loss of life, totalling 45 people. In the same period Qantas was involved in three accidents which resulted in no fatalities. The domestic accident rate was 0.74 accidents per 100,000 hours, whilst the Qantas rate was 0.39 accidents per 100,000 hours. Therefore expressed in terms of hours flown per accident it means that our domestic carriers had an accident every 135,000 hours and Qantas had an accident every 256,000 hours. The comparatively impressive record of Qantas is attributable, according to Mr Colwell, to good crew training and engineering. Apart from that, what must be taken into account is the low exposure experienced by Qantas to potential accident situations. The greatest risk periods for aircraft occur in the few minutes before and during landing and during and immediately after take-off. Mr Colwell says:
Qantas, with its average sector time of 4.S hours, has much less exposure than the domestic with their typical one hour sector time. Offsetting this in part is the fact that Qantas has to operate in areas of the world where air traffic control and airport facilities are, to say the least, substandard.
Mr Colwell believes that air traffic controllers in the United States of America which, incidentally, despite its dense traffic boasts the best air safety record in the world, have an extraordinarily relaxed approach to their work. Their gargon is disarmingly direct and simple compared with the verbal, bureaucratic and procedural bind of controllers in this country. I wish to point out that Australian controllers should not be held responsible for this condition. I should not be so bold or superficial as to suggest that America’s air safety record is the upshot of the casual attitude of its controllers. It may, however, be one contributing factor.
Other conditions that might be responsible for America’s apparent ability to cope much better with its huge bulk of traffic in terms of both safety and efficiency may be related to training, industrial environment, procedures and culture.
Colwell, I think, makes a rather contentious point when he implies that procedures of air traffic control in America rely more on the judgment of controllers than on rigid procedures. Of course this is hard to swallow in any bureaucratic outfit. What makes more readily acceptable sense is Colwell ‘s observation that at busy airports where there are large numbers of general aviation movements many of the controllers are also pilots. They remain in the same location for a long period and, as a result, gain the respect of and a good rapport with the operators on the field. Industry-wise, they receive encouragement to remain in the same place. They do not have to move to get more money.
Further, Colwell adds that, unlike the situation in Australia, in the United States there seems to be no reluctance or instinctive mental block about paying proportionately high salaries for high levels of competence and skill, not to mention enormous responsibility. It appears that often controllers at major airports in Australia are quite junior. Promotion is conditional on movement and, as the job of approach controller is the most coveted, most ambitions are directed to attaining that position. Controllers are paid to follow established procedures. There seems to be a restraint on the exercise of judgment and the assuming of responsibility for that judgment because most controllers spend little time at the general aviation airport. Because of the current hangups and restraint, rapport between air traffic control and the operators is relatively poor, despite well intentioned efforts by people on both sides.
I should point out that the subject of these criticisms is the procedure and policy, not the people involved. The Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) has rejected a public inquiry. In his speech in this House on Wednesday 16 August 1978, he said that he entirely rejected the idea of a public inquiry. Several breaths before that comment he had proclaimed:
It is the Government ‘s policy to maintain aviation safety at the highest possible level.
We surely ought to be aspiring to the best air safety record in the world. It ought to be attainable. We have not reached that level. Obviously if the Government is serious in its stated intention, an inquiry would be held to determine why the expenditure of public moneys for the procurement of private planes for the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is somehow more acceptable than spending a trifle on an inquiry which would result in a higher level of safety.
The Minister has provided various statistics which gloss over the human factor, the loss of life. Air safety is related entirely to the protection of human life, yet the Minister produced selective figures on the number of people killed or injured in aviation accidents. He did not provide us with a comprehensive table of accidents, preferring instead to pick and choose the figures that he quoted in order to establish his case and then, as he called it, place things in their proper perspective by saying that we should contrast the air record with the carnage on the roads. The Minister referred to a political campaign which was orchestrated through the media to undermine morale and cause concern in the minds of the travelling public. How paranoid can one get? The Minister apparently is oblivious to the always tenuous, sometimes turbulent, relationship between the media and the Opposition, which is characterised by equal measures of mutual disdain and suspicion.
Furthermore, to suggest that anyone would be causing this sort of consternation for political gain is spurious and ought to be beneath a Minister of the Crown. By his attack on the Australian Federation of Air Pilots, it is the Minister who is playing politics. He has admitted a reduction since 1975 of 558 staff of a 1978 total of 6,078 people in the technical and operational sections which are the sections in the Department most closely concerned with the implementation of safety aspects. The Minister should indicate the reason for the removal of each member of the staff from those sections. Saying that reductions or removal came as a result of improvements in efficiency, technology and economics, as the Minister did in the Parliament in August, simply is not good enough. In fact, it is downright misleading if compared with a statement issued by the Minister’s office in mid-July this year in which he stated as a reason for the reduction in air safety related areas that air safety specialists who resigned or retired took time to replace because of the training that is needed. Which is it to be? Have the people in those sections of the Department been displaced by technological change or have they retired or resigned and failed to be adequately replaced, which to my mind indicates poor planning and lack of foresight?
Motion ( by Mr Viner) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I wish to draw the attention of the House tonight to the critical situation that is faced by the Sydney City Mission with respect to the continuation of the training scheme it has been running for unemployed youth in Green Valley at Miller. The Department of Employment and Industrial Relations approved this scheme, the Vocational Employment Training scheme, as a pilot program. It commenced on 9 January 1978 and had its first intake of trainees early in March. This group has now passed through the program; the excellent course was completed on 13 October. Of the 43 students 41 have been placed in employment and the other two students soon will be. It has proved to be a most successful scheme which has been well thought out and well executed. The Sydney City Mission applied to the Government for another allocation in the light of its experience to train another 120 people.
To summarise the present situation that is so urgent and critical, the Government has knocked back this application. Staff will have to be dismissed and the 120 people will not be trained. The Government is taking the view that it should handle all such training schemes and not fund outside bodies. Some representatives of the Mission came here today and I must say, in all fairness to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street), that he spent an hour with them to see what help he could afford. An investigation is being carried out to see whether the Mission is eligible under the terms of the Employment Program for Unemployed Youth scheme which is administered by the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick). However, I must stress that the EPUY scheme is not equivalent to the VET scheme.
The scheme put up by the Sydney City Mission was unique. The program itself was specially aimed at preparing people who have been disadvantaged or disabled by educational, social, economic or physical circumstances to live productively and independently in the community. The aim of the program was to effectively increase their vocational motivation, interest and readiness for work and ability to cope with life; to prepare them for gainful employment and to assist them in matching their newly-acquired skills to jobs; to help them towards self-management, to help them towards a sense of responsibility in appropriate social and vocational roles. This was achieved by providing a three-strand program of vocational training, life skills training and remedial education. It is a very unique program.
The Government is saying that the EPUY scheme is equivalent. But if we look at the ones that are operating in the Liverpool area we see that these are only for durations of six to 12 weeks. The VET scheme is more equivalent to the National Employment and Training scheme than to anything else, but there are real differences in terms of the people being helped. The NEAT scheme, particularly, relates to people able to avail themselves of technical college and higher education which has been in operation prior to the present unemployment situation occuring. The Special Youth Employment Training program, which is another scheme, is in fact I think more of a subsidy for employers. This excellent scheme conducted by the Sydney City Mission does not really fit the criteria but is doing an excellent job with a specific group of people. The Government cannot let it wither on the vine. The Government will not set any precedent by reallocating funds for the continuation of the scheme, and it knows that it is a very successful and viable program. The Government or the Department had adequate time to tell the Sydney City Mission that the scheme which runs for 32 weeks, would not be continued instead of leaving it to the end to tell them.
The Government will argue that the scheme was costly. Indeed, the first pilot program scheme did cost a fair amount of money per trainee, but the new program involves about half of that cost. The 120 people that were to have been trained in the coming period- if they had not gained employment for the next year- would have represented a saving to the Government of some $103,000 in terms of the unemployment benefit. So the scheme is an excellent one and it is worthy of re-examination. I hope that this application is not knocked back irrevocably, that the interview today with the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) has not been to no avail. The people concerned also endeavoured to see the Treasurer (Mr Howard) but he was unavailable. They also tried to see Senator Carrick. The scheme should not be allowed to wither on the vine. It is doing an excellent job in dealing with a specific group of people and must be allowed to go on.
– I want to speak about a matter which was raised in this Parliament today and which should be of grave concern to it. I refer to the report in today’s Age which states that Qantas Airways Ltd has acceded to a Syrian Government order that Jewish people be banned from that airline’s weekly flights to London via Damascus. The report stated further that a woman had been refused a seat on a Qantas flight between London and Tullamarine via Damascus because she was Jewish. It also stated that the reservation staff of the airline in Melbourne is not allowed to book Jewish people on the Damascus flights. I regard this as an appalling state of affairs; it is contrary to all that this country stands for. It is fundamental to our own Constitution that no person shall be subjected to penalties or to any form of discrimination based on his religious beliefs. But the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) agreed in the House today that this Qantas arrangement did just that. In other words, the Governor-General of Australia cannot travel on a particular scheduled flight of an airline which is wholly-owned by the Commonwealth of Australia. His position in this regard is the same as that of all of the Jewish people whom I represent in this Parliament, and I deplore this situation.
But, of course, the principle spreads far beyond the realm of any single religion. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that Israel follows a similar course. Not only is that irrelevant; it is incorrect. The Minister stated that Israel refuses admission to nationals of countries of the Arab League.
I would say, as did Senator Wheeldon in another place today, that a state of war exists between Israel and Arab League countries. That explains Israel’s position in this regard. Syria is the great friend of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. It does not recognise Israel’s right to exist and is a barrier to the fulfilment of the Camp David Accord. If, in this context, the Arab League countries also will not accept those who have Israeli passports, that may be understandable in the present political situation of the Middle East. But that is not the point. The point is that Qantas has agreed to a proposition that people of the Jewish faith, whether they be from Israel or Australia, or of any nationality, cannot join one of its scheduled flights. I find that disgraceful, a breach of the spirit of our Constitution, and totally against the basic freedoms that we in Australia applaud.
I make another point in relation to the Minister’s comment on this matter; Israel has not said that no Arab is allowed into Tel Aviv. There are many Arabs in Tei Aviv. As Senator Wheeldon stated, the Israeli authorities-
Therefore, I say that it is both irrelevant and incorrect to attempt to justify the actions of Qantas by certain actions taken by airlines in the Middle East. This is Australia and we in this Parliament are responsible for our international airline. In my view, it is not good enough to argue that agreements such as this are based on the practicalities of the real world, such as the safety of passengers in Damascus, the travel costs of failing to maintain landing rights in the Middle East, and so forth.
In my opinion, the question of principle should override these considerations, and Qantas and this Government should not adhere to such agreements, even if we have to forgo our travel rights in these areas. Our major responsibility is to ensure that people of Jewish faith in Australia and elsewhere are free to practise their faith without being subjected to any forms of discrimination or hindrance. We must take firm action to ensure that this basic freedom is preserved. I call on the Minister for Transport to do away with this quite preposterous agreement which Qantas has entered into. We, Sir, in this Parliament are responsible for the Qantas airline. The airline has stated quite clearly in its annual report that we are responsible for the agreements that it enters into. I certainly do not understand why Qantas should be able to undertake agreements which are totally contrary to the foreign policy of this country and totally contrary to all the basic freedoms that we have long cherished. We shall no longer be able to hold our heads high in the international arena, as citizens of a free and democratic country, if we go along with agreements such as this and do not take the action which all of the people of this country would applaud, the Jewish people of this country in particular.
– I raise for the consideration of the House and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) the question of the non-appointment of Mr David Anderson as the first Secretary-General of the National Aboriginal Conference. Mr Anderson, a Victorian, is an Aboriginal. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology and sociology from Monash University. He was an elected member of the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee from 1973 to 1977 and executive member for information and communications in 1 976-77. He is currently a lecturer in Aboriginal Affairs and Sociology at Christ College, which is part of the State College of Victoria in Melbourne. I have known him well, as I think has the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) since 1972, and would have considered him very well qualified for appointment as the Secretary-General of NAC.
The chronology of this curious nonappointment is that the job was advertised on 27 May. On 12 June David Anderson submitted an application giving his home address as 53 Eliza Street, Black Rock, 3193, and his work address as Christ College, State College of Victoria. His application was acknowledged on 14 June. On 8 August the NAC executive held a meeting that was presided over by the Acting Administrator, Mr Gregory McNamara of the Public Service Board. A tape recording was made of the proceedings. It was quite a long tape because the meeting went through all the people who were short listed. The significant part of the transcript is that part where Mr McNamara says of the applicants:
Others withdrew because of commitments or other prior job positions, job applications which they had. A couple were disappointed because they did withdraw.
I am quoting literally; obviously there is something wrong with the transcription. The transcript reads further:
One person, David Anderson, of Black Rock in Victoria, was contacted; however David is overseas and obviously, because of the terms of reference of filling the position, cannot be contacted. That was one disappointing aspect.
The reality of the situation was that Mr Anderson was never overseas and assures one that he was never contacted. On 3 1 August, at a meeting of the Aboriginal Advancement League, he met some people who told him that, on grounds of his being overseas, he had not been appointed. On 13 September he received in the mail two letters both dated 6 August- that is to say, it had taken something like six weeks for the letters to come from Canberra to his address at Black Rock. Both were formal letters saying that unfortunately he had simply not been appointed or not been considered. His assertion is that he was never spoken to, never approached, never called in to an interview, although I would have thought that of all the applicants he was obviously the one best qualified in every regard.
I would like these questions which I raise to be answered by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, who is at the table: Was a letter or telegram sent or a telephone call made to David M. Anderson to give him the opportunity to be interviewed for the NAC positions? If not, why not? Who appointed Mr McNamara of the Public Service Board to act as co-ordinator to the NAC? What are Mr McNamara ‘s qualifications? Why did Mr McNamara inform the NAC secretariat positions selection panel that David Anderson was overseas and could not get back in time and had been given every opportunity but had not responded to attempts to contact him? Can Mr McNamara produce any proof that he received any such information from or about David Anderson? Is it not true that the NAC panel wished to have an Aboriginal person fill the position of Secretary-General and considered Mr Anderson to be the only suitable applicant? I quote from a transcript of the deliberations of the selection panel:
He is the only Aboriginal we’ve got in Australia today with the qualifications of that top position.
Is it not true that it was only because of his supposed absence from the country that the position was offered instead to another person, a nonAboriginal person? I think this is a very serious matter and I would be grateful if the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs would make an appropriate response.
-Tonight I want to bring to the attention of the House a matter which has not attracted much publicity in the media up to date but which I believe is of vital importance to the future of education in Australia. I refer to the current High Court challenge by an organisation named Defence of Government Schools, or more commonly known as DOGS, against the Federal Government’s right to fund independent schools in Australia. The matter has a long history but somewhat surprisingly appears to raise its head mainly during election campaigns. As the House may be aware, there is to be a very important State Government by-election in my electorate on 28 October. Whether this latest flurry on the matter is due, as the publication News Weekly claims in its 1 1 October 1978 issue, to the existence in the ranks of DOGS people such as Bill Hartley and John Halfpenny is something I am not competent to judge.
The present situation goes back to 1973 when a group of Victorians obtained the Victorian Attorney-General’s fiat to seek to invalidate in the High Court the validity of the Commonwealth Acts under which grants are provided for non-government schools. The action is being taken on the basis that section 1 16 of the Constitution prohibits such payment. The plaintiffthat is, DOGS- made no serious attempt to prosecute the action until early 1977. I understand that there were serious technical defects in legal documents originally lodged by DOGS and that no serious attempt to rectify this problem was made until early 1977. Since then, after the statement of claims was brought up-to-date, there have been a number of developments mainly directed towards the parties attempting to reach agreement on matters of fact preliminary to the issues of principle being considered by the court.
It may be of interest to the House to have a brief account of the two major moves which DOGS has made towards establishing facts which it regards as relevant to the action. Firstly, DOGS requested in 1977 that the Commonwealth agree to discovery, production and inspection by the plaintiff of documents in the Commonwealth’s possession relative to the case. The documents sought were principally those related to the administration of the Acts under challenge and which would demonstrate the means of transmission of funds to nongovernment schools; secondly, whether various characteristics of non-government schools could be established in a way to support DOGS claim. In May 1978 counsel for DOGS sought the defendant’s agreement to a draft agreement of facts pursuant -
- Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order. I do not want necessarily to disagree with the thrust of what the honourable member is saying, but to date all he has canvassed are the issues that are before a court. I am not certain that we are in a situation in which we are infringing the rights of the court in this matter. I am not certain as to the state of the application. The honourable member obviously has more knowledge than I have. If he were to be making some general point in principle that would be admissible but the -
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.
– You do not want to hear me?
-No. The honourable member is taking up a point with the Chair in this case, not with the honourable member for Ballarat. I regret to say that I am unaware of any court case that involves the issues that the honourable member for Ballarat is discussing.
– With great respect to the Chair, you have not been listening. The thrust of the honourable member’s whole reference has been litigation before the courts. If the case is not at an early stage- upon his own statements it is notthen it is clearly sub judice. I draw the attention of the Chair to that fact. I feel we are in a dangerous area and I believe that the procedures of this House ought to apply.
-I will listen carefully.
– Without progressing with that matter any further I want to assure the House and all people involved with independent schools throughout Australia that my understanding is that the Federal Government will -
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Riverina) (10.47)-In 1975 when the Fraser Government and its followers wanted to justify refusing the Labor Government Supply it convinced the people that borrowing sums between $2,000m and $4,000m was irresponsible. It claimed that such sums equalled what Australia had borrowed in 50 years. Since 1975 the Fraser Government has borrowed or arranged to borrow $2, 700m and has been forced by the financial situation of the States to let them borrow directly overseas. The difference is that whereas our late friend, Mr R. F. X. Connor, wanted to borrow money to buy back the farm the Fraser Government wants the money to bolster the dollar and to make Australia an attractive place for foreign investment- in other words to sell off the farm. The Treasurer (Mr Howard) said:
It is entirely appropriate that a country such as Australia should on official account borrow substantial sums from overseas in conformity with the type of economic strategy that we are now pursuing at the present time.
What was reprehensible in 1975 to the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has now become respectable policy. No wonder the Prime Minister’s popularity is waning. No wonder people feel let down by their politicians when the national Government displays such hypocrisy. Fortunately not everyone feels that he cannot trust his Government. Last Saturday week the people of New South Wales showed what they thought of their Labor Government. The Prime Minister tried to claim that the magnificent win was due to the image of Mr Wran, which must be partly true of course. Surely the Prime Minister is not so thick skinned to believe that the worst Budget since World War II had little to do with the New South Wales victory of the Australian Labor Party.
The economy is stagnating. People are storing away savings at a record rate. Our foreign reserves of currency, indicating our trade position, are at their lowest ebb in four years and unemployment is still rising. Is this the promise come true of people who claim to be economic managers? The Budget changes have been forced on the Government by its own back bench. The Government’s own back bench members are throwing out the Budget Estimates and taking away any credibility the Government had for handling financial affairs. According to official figures, the Government is already in the red to the tune of $2,500m in its own financial dealings, after only three months of the financial year. It is no wonder the Government was forced to take back the tax cuts that had worked so well in getting it re-elected. There is a need in Australia for a government that is firm and fair with everyone equally, a government such as the government that runs New South Wales, a Labor government that will protect the little person whether wage earner, pensioner or businessman. Labor’s numbers in Federal Parliament are small, but I am proud that we have a number of men and women who have the ability and understanding needed to lead Australia when the time comes. Let all Australians take heart from the New South Wales election and remember that the people are not the fools that this Government paints them.
-There has been something on my mind for quite a few months. I want to get if off my chest tonight.
– Hot air.
-No, it is not hot air. After listening to my good friend on the other side I was loath to get up and speak. The petrol industry in Australia at the moment is in chaos. I feel extremely bad about a situation in my home State of Tasmania. I seem to feel responsible for it. As honourable members will realise, the Prices Justification Tribunal fixes the maximum wholesale price for petrol in every capital city in Australia. It does not vary greatly. Three months ago I drew attention to the fact that the price of petrol in Tasmania was about 5c a litre above the price in Melbourne. I said that this cost the economy of Tasmania about $1 lm to $12m. I said that it was unfair and unjust. After that the oil companies- I do not know whether it was to have a good shot at Bruce Goodluck or notintroduced certain schemes in Tasmania that brought the price of petrol down. Unfortunately many good service station proprietors were forced out of business as a result.
The oil companies brought the new scheme in under the guise firstly of rationalisation; secondly, in pursuit of volume sales; and thirdly, to seek entry into the retail market. I am afraid that the oil companies did so with scant regard for the proprietors and to the stability of the industry in the State over the last 20 years. The oil companies have been making a maximum profit in Tasmania. The oil companies have introduced the new scheme under the pretence of the three factors I have mentioned. It is a most unsavoury practice. The honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys) will agree with me on this. The oil companies came into the retail trade and started self service pumps in certain regulated service stations. The oil companies said that this was to reduce the price of petrol. Unfortunately it was not to do that. It was to get control of the market, the wholesale market and the retail market.
I know that businessmen go into this business with their eyes wide open. I know that they are lessees of the oil companies. They are also very vulnerable. They need protection. I have been saying to my Government, and to governments before incidentally- they are all to blame- that they have allowed the oil companies to take control. We can see what is happening at the moment. Mr Wran is angry about the oil companies in New South Wales. He said that the price of petrol was going up and up. Three years ago the people of New South Wales were paying about 5c a hire more than they were paying in Victoria. They were unaware of the discounting that was occurring all over Australia. Do not let the Labor Government tell me anything about the oil industry.
– You are talking about ACTU-Solo.
-ACTU-Solo was virtually a parasite on the larger oil companies.
– You cannot say that.
-I can say it.
-Order! The honourable member will address his remarks through the Chair.
-I am sorry. I get back to the important point. I clear my conscience once and for all. I acted in good faith. I said that the people of Tasmania were paying far too much for petrol. The oil companies have answered my call. They have come in firstly with the idea of rationalisation; secondly, to pursue volume sales; and thirdly, to enter the retail market. Unfortunately this is occurring at the expense of good, honest and decent vulnerable businessmen who have been forced up against the wall because of the lack of protection. I know that my Government is looking seriously at the problem. I know that it will introduce legislation. I hope that in the long term it will protect these poor vulnerable people against the monsters of the oil companies.
– I enter the adjournment debate very briefly to support the views and the principles expressed by the honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean) so that at least two views are before the Parliament to indicate the way the explanations given by the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) in the Parliament today are regarded as unsatisfactory. I believe, as does the honourable member for Perth and I feel many other honourable members in this House, that there are no second class citizens in Australia. When our own national airline offers a service to the people of Australia or any person wanting to fly overseas, we are not going to be stood over, intimidated or forced to accept the principle that Australian citizens will be refused the right to transit on our own international airline by virtue of their religion or place of origin. I believe that the maintenance of that principle is a matter of primary concern to this Parliament.
I appreciate the fact that Qantas Airways Ltd is concerned to maintain an air fleet and is concerned with the problems that are imposed upon it by nations which state that if Qantas wishes to fly over their air space it has to land at least once a week on their terms. I can understand all these problems but it does seem to me that it is far more important for this Parliament to say clearly to the Minister for Transport so that he will say to Qantas that, given the nature of Australian society- it is a nation that has people drawn from many origins and religious beliefs, or none- as a nation state operating internationally there is no way we will accept a position where we will be told that any Australian citizen who seeks to fly out of Australia to anywhere in the world will have his rights restricted by the views of another nation state in terms of its perceived view of a religious belief or of a political belief. I believe that that principle is far more important than the administrative problems of Qantas.
I do not believe that this Parliament can do anything other than express, in the strongest possible terms, to the Minister for Transport that it believes that no person should be refused passage on Qantas flights on the basis of his religion or his origin in order to comply with the attitude of foreign governments. I appreciate the view expressed by the Minister for Transport today that Qantas has an obligation to ensure the safety of its passengers, but when we have to choose between the safety of passengers and those nation states that say that a Qantas flight cannot land at their airports because an Australian citizen is on board who happens to have a belief in the Jewish faith -
– How do they know that? How do they determine that?
– I do not know how Qantas determines that. I do not know what happens if a Qantas flight arrives in the country and has an Australian national on board -
-Order! It being 1 1 o ‘clock, the debate is interrupted.
– That is a pity. The other clock shows that I have at least a minute left.
– I am sorry. I interrupt the debate when it is 11 o’clock, not when the time for your speech has finished. I ask the honourable member to resume his seat.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, at some stage can we have the clock adjusted? I was watching the other one.
– I require the debate to be extended.
-The debate may continue until 11.10 p.m.
– The debate is to be extended for 10 minutes. I have only a minute remaining.
– It is against Standing Orders for the honourable member to continue speaking. From 11 o’clock onwards only the Minister may speak.
– Can the Clerks at the table adjust the clocks so that honourable members will not find themselves in the sort of situation in which I find myself?
– I call the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.
-Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) (11.1 )- The honourable member for Lalor (Mr Barry Jones) raised in the adjournment debate tonight the matter of staffing the National Aboriginal Conference secretariat position of Secretary-General. The same matter was raised by Senator Missen in the adjournment debate last night in the Senate. I would like to take this opportunity to present to this House the background to that appointment. I have asked Senator Guilfoyle to make the same information available to the Senate. The NAC interview panel for the NAC secretariat consisted of the following persons: Mr Jim Hagen, the Deputy Chairman of the NAC and chairman of the interview panel; Mr Lyall Munro, a member of the NAC; Mr Bill Bird, a member of the NAC; and
Mr Greg McNamara, a senior officer of the Public Service who was to act as adviser and secretary to the interview panel in a non-voting capacity. I emphasise that he was to act in a non-voting capacity. All the other members of the panel, Messrs Hagen, Munro and Bird, being members of the NAC, are Aboriginals.
The interview panel met in Canberra on 19 July 1978 to short-list candidates for all positions within the secretariat from all applications received. Mr D. Anderson, of 53 Eliza Street, Black Rock, Victoria was included in the short list of candidates for the Secretary-General and Executive Officer positions. Information concerning Mr Anderson’s availability was required by the interview panel whose NAC members- I emphasise the point that they were NAC members- volunteered the additional information that they thought he was going overseas on a study tour. Despite this information the panel decided to include Mr Anderson on the short list for both positions for which he applied, to write to him and ask him about his availability and to arrange, if possible, an interview. A letter was sent to Mr Anderson on 21 July 1978 by Mr McNamara, acting on instructions from the interview panel. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the letter sent to Mr Anderson by Mr McNamara.
The document read as follows-
I refer to your application for the position of SecretaryGeneral and Executive Officer in the National Aboriginal Conference Secretariat.
The Interview Selection Committee has asked me to write to you concerning your availability for interview for the above positions. In your application you stated that you would not be available until the ‘end of October’. The Interview Committee is commencing interviews in Alice Springs on 26 July 1978 and will visit every major city conducting interviews for the Secretariat positions. The Committee will be in Melbourne on 3 August 1978. If you are available would you please contact the NAC Interim Secretariat on Canberra 89 6252, reverse charges, to arrange an interview time.
Additionally, the Committee has requested that you outline in detail your availability arrangements, as the successful occupant for either position should be available to take up duties from September 1978. Would you please convey this information when advising on your interview availability.
Yours faithfully, (G. N. McNamara)
PSB Adviser NAC Interim Secretariat Canberra. 21 July 1978
– No reply was received by Mr McNamara or the NAC regarding Mr Anderson’s availability for an interview. The interview panel, which followed similar action for all candidates, did not interview Mr Anderson as no reply had been received. The findings of the NAC interview panel were presented to the Executive of the NAC in Adelaide on 9 August 1978 for consideration at an in-camera session. Mr McNamara, acting in his capacity as secretary, was asked to present the interview panel ‘s findings to the Executive. Each NAC member of the interview panel added his own comments to McNamara ‘s summation. It is important for the honourable member for Lalor to appreciate the significance of the two meetings that I have mentioned and that at the second meeting, on 9 August 1978, Mr McNamara reported events which had taken place at the first meeting on 2 1 July.
Mr Anderson has been sent a photocopy of the letter sent to him by the interview panel on 21 July 1978. The clerical error associated with the letters sent to Mr Anderson informing him that he had not received an appointment to either of the positions he applied for is regretted. The date the letters were dispatched was 6 September 1978, not 6 August 1978 as indicated. Mr Anderson stated that he did not receive these letters until 13 September. Ms Lois O’Donoghue, Chairman of the National Aboriginal Conference, states that the NAC wanted the most suitable person for all the secretariat’s positions. The interview panel was looking for the best applicant regardless of whether or not that applicant was an Aboriginal. The appointment of a man of Mr McE wen’s calibre to the Secretary-General’s position was evidence of the importance placed on the secretariat by the NAC executive.
-Order! The Minister’s time has expired. As there is no other Minister present in the House and if the Minister wishes to continue, Sessional Orders enable him to do so until 11.10 p.m.
– I would like to continue my remarks.
-The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs may continue.
-The selection of all staff for the NAC secretariat is, and has at all times been, a matter for the NAC itself. In conclusion, all appointments to the National Aboriginal Conference secretariat have been completed. The secretariat is currently operating and servicing the National Aboriginal Conference. Mr Deputy Speaker, I think that earlier I mentioned 2 1 July 1978 as the date of the first meeting; in fact, it was 19 July 1978.
-The debate having concluded, the House is adjourned until 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.
House adjourned at 1 1.7 p.m.
The following notices were given:
Mr Viner to move That, in accordance with section5 of the Parliament Act 1974, the House of Representatives approves the following proposals:
Erection of a cooling tower at the rear of Parliament House, Canberra.
Erection of police guard boxes within the Parliamentary zone.
Mr Viner to present a Bill for an Act to amend the Maternity Leave (Australian Government Employees) Act 1973.
Mr Viner to present a Bill for an Act to amend the Superannuation Act 1976.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 7 June 1 978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 8 June 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 23 August 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Average Weekly Earnings: Effect on Revenue Collections (Question No. 1888)
asked the Treasurer, upon notice, on 23 August 1978:
What was the shortfall in revenue in 1977-78 resulting from the overestimate in the 1977-78 Budget projections of the rise in average weekly earnings during 1 977-78.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The increase in average weekly earnings assumed for the purpose of the 1977-78 Budget revenue estimates was 10.5 per cent. The present estimate of the increase in average weekly earnings in 1977-78 is 9.75 per cent. It is not possible to state the precise effects of this difference on revenue collections, but had an assumption of 9.75 per cent been built into the 1977-78 Budget estimates, the revenue estimate would have been lower by approximately $ 1 10m.
asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 14 September 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The guidelines are set down in Appendix 1 of my recent Ministerial Directive as follows:
Objective- To ensure the provision of accommodation in accordance with expressed Aboriginal wishes, in a form, manner and location which enhances their ability to pursue a lifestyle of their choice. (The form of accommodation, in accordance with expressed Aboriginal wishes, may range from rudimentary shelters to conventional housing, including prefabricated types).
Guidelines- It is essential that the objective of any proposed housing project be set by the Aboriginal community and that its terms be discussed and agreed with the community concerned. In particular, the community should control decisions on the planning and design of houses and in the implementation and management of the project.
Grants to Aboriginal Committee at Aurukun and Mornington Island (Question No. 2136)
asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 20 September 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 20 September 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 27 September 1 978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Computers (Question No. 2228)
asked the Minister for Special
Trade Representations, upon notice, on 27 September 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 27 September 1 978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Special Trade Representations, upon notice, on 27 September 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 28 September 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 28 September 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 October 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1978/19781018_reps_31_hor111/>.