31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. Billy Snedden) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we the undersigned, having great concern at the way in which children are now being used in the production of pornography call upon the government to introduce immediate legislation:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will protect all children and immediately prohibit pornographic child-abuse materials, publications or films.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Cohen, Mr Dobie, Dr Edwards, Mr Fry and Mr James.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The Humble Petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectively showeth:
It would be a disgrace to the fine spirit of these heroes if we thought of saving their lives. ‘
Major Kamiya the prosecutor at the Japanese Court
Martial who made the above comment went on to say, inter alia-
These heroes must have left Australia with sublime patriotism flowing in their breasts and with the confident expectation of all the Australian people on their shoulders.
As we respect them, so we feel our duty of glorifying their last moments as they deserve, and by doing so the names of these heroes will remain in the hearts of the British and Australian people for evermore. ‘
A specially commissioned March called ‘The Forgotten Heroes’ was played for the first time by the Band of the New South Wales Police Force.
Your Petitioners humbly pray that the members, in the House assembled, will take the most urgent steps to approve the conferring of the medal on the men of ‘Jaywick ‘ and Rimau’ on behalf of the people of Australia to honor the memory of these gallant men so that future generations of Britain and Australia will know and admire what these men did and their memory will remain in the hearts of the British and Australian people for evermore.
And your Petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Cohen and Mr Street.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled the Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the decision of the Australian Government to depart from its 1 975 election promise, a promise re-affirmed during the 1977 election campaign, that pensions would be increased twiceyearly in line with increases in the CPI, will seriously add to the economic burdens now borne by those citizens who are wholly or mainly dependent on their pensions.
Your petitioners are impelled by this fact to call upon the Australian Government as a matter of urgency to review the abovementioned decision, and to determine-
That pensions will be increased twice yearly in line with rises in the CPI as promised by the Prime Minister in 1975 policy speech.
And your petitioners in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Everingham and Mr Peter Johnson.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
This humble petition of undersigned Christian citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will every pray. by Dr Jenkins and Mr Macphee.
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 $10 per week, because it will reduce the income 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 Martin and Mr Wallis.
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 stations.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will enforce the required standard of broadcasting as laid down for all other stations, on community radio 3CR call on Federal Government to legislate against incitement to racial hatred and violence.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
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 undersigned Petitioners to request the Australian Government to uphold the principle that the trustworthiness of governments should at all times be above question, and to appeal to the Parliament to prevent the imposition of further economic hardship upon Australian pensioners by rejecting any Bill which has for its aim the introduction of annual adjustments of pension rates.
And Your Petitioners in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Anthony.
The Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament Assembled.
The Petition of the Undersigned Citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that we are gravely concerned over the extreme weakness shown by our Prime Minister and his Government in his handling of the uranium mining situation in the Northern Territory.
While the Parliament allows a small group of antigovernment advisers to Aboriginal organisations to delay the commencement of mining the great majority of Citizens and business people are being caused financial loss, and being denied the right to participate in a legitimate business.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that permission be given and not again withdrawn for mining to commence immediately. by Mr Calder.
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. byMrDobie.
To the Honourable, The Speaker and The Members of The House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
We mothers of Penrith and the Outer Western Suburbs feel most vehemently that a childrens hospital should be established within this area, operating on the same principles as Royal Alexandria Hospital, Camperdown, allowing mothers to remain with their children for the duration of their hospitalisation. If a Childrens Hospital were not feasible then we would submit that Nepean Hospital should be extended to provide these facilities, ‘
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Klugman.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth- We object most strongly to the gradual increase of air traffic over our area during the past two years and we are horrified at the suggestion that we should be obliged to suffer more and heavier noise pollution as a result of the extension of Kingsford Smith Airport. If a strong case can be argued for increased airport facilities for Sydney, then every signature here is a vote against that increase being any extension of Kingsford Smith.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that there be no extension of Kingsford Smith Airport, Sydney.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Les McMahon.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of Electors of the State of Victoria respectfully showeth-
That ex-servicewomen who enlisted during World War II have been discriminated against in the interpretation and administration of the War Service Homes Act 1918-1971, Defence Service Homes 1972.
Whilst on enlistment they were prepared to serve in any area, ex-servicewomen who did not actually serve outside Australia are at present debarred from Defence Service Homes rights.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that immediate action be taken to grant Defence Service Homes rights to all wartime ex-servicewomen, whether married or single and without restriction as to dependants, and your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Staley.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Geelong respectfully showeth:
That unemployment in Geelong has increased to such an extent that there is an increasing incidence of physical and mental ill-health and social problems of a large number of unemployed people.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
That the Australian Parliament will:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your Honourable House will take the immediate steps necessary to relieve the distress of the unemployed; or disillusioned unemployed people in the face of a continuation of the low-profile media coverage of their problems, widespread indifference, and politically motivated degradation, will stimulate radical groups that resort to anarchy and terrorism as has occured in other nations where the underprivileged have been similarly treated.
And your petitioners are in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Street.
To the Honourable, the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respecfully 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 Yates.
– I ask a question of the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the statement on mineral exports made in this House on Tuesday by the Deputy Prime Minister. I ask: Does the statement fully and accurately represent the policy of the Government? Did the Prime Minister agree with the text of the statement and, more importantly, does he still agree with it? Finally, is the policy enunciated therein already under threat of change?
-The Deputy Prime Minister made the statement in relation to these particular matters within the responsibility of his own portfolio and in accordance with existing policy. I think it is clear that a principle is involved in these matters; that is, a recognition that in certain circumstances when dealing with a unified buyer situation, which occurs in a number of countries overseas but not in all, there is a need for the Australian negotiating arm to be strengthened and that that cannot occur if Australian companies are to be in a position in which they can be picked off one after another and undermined. It is that kind of situation that the Government clearly is concerned to reinforce and to strengthen. I should mention- I would not expect the honourable gentleman to be aware of this, but honourable members on this side of the House, I am quite certain, are aware of it- that in our minerals and energy policy statement in 1975 there was the sentence: ‘Controls will be exercised where co-ordination is desirable to match buyers acting in concert’.
– Is that the policy statement that says that there will be jobs for everyone? Which one is that?
-Order! The honourable member for Port Adelaide will remain silent.
-That indicates very clearly the nature of the circumstances in this matter. The statement of the Deputy Prime Minister -
– The selected works of Malcolm Fraser.
-Order! The honourable member for Port Adelaide will cease interjecting.
– It is not unusual for members of the Opposition to ask questions but then to be quite uninterested in the answers. That is as may be. If they do not like the answer, it will still be there and it will still go into the record.
It is perfectly plain from the statement of my colleague the Deputy Prime Minister that there will need to be administrative guidelines in relation to the exercise of the policy. In the spirit in which the Government undertakes its own business, draft guidelines will be issued by my colleague the Minister for Special Trade Representations. They will be a matter for discussion and modification. I know that my colleague the Deputy Prime Minister will be wanting to undertake further discussions with the industry on his return from the present trade mission. There have already been extensive discussions in relation to these matters and a number of notable Australian entrepreneurs in this area have advised me that they believe very seriously that the kind of action that the Government has in mind is necessary for the protection of Australia ‘s national interest.
– I address a question to the Acting Minister for Trade and Resources. Will the Minister inform the House of the guidelines he will raise in his discussion with the Premier of Western Australia on Saturday regarding the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement on the export of iron ore, coal and bauxite? Will he reaffirm that that statement does not contravene the States’ rights philosophy of the Government or its basic Liberal philosophy? Can he assure the House that we accept in principle the discipline of all market forces and not just those which defy the laws of gravity?
-So far as the policy announcement is concerned, draft guidelines have been prepared, as the Prime Minister said, together with a letter which would be addressed to all relevant mining companies. I table the letter and the draft guidelines. In the course of the preparation of these documents, of course, my colleague the Minister for Trade and Resources, who is overseas at the moment leading an important trade mission, was consulted, and he endorses the general thrust of the draft. As far as my visit to Sir Charles Court is concerned, I am looking forward to that discussion when I am at home in Perth at the weekend.
– Will you be coming back?
– Probably earlier than the honourable member. I think that a great deal can be achieved by a careful and rational consideration of the documents that have been tabled and I believe that the honourable member for Perth will find the answers to his other questions contained in them.
-I direct a question to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. Is the Minister aware that the funds for legal aid in Victoria are no longer available for any cases at all and that there is a backlog of some 2,400 cases awaiting assistance? Is the Minister also aware that there will be no legal aid for criminal representation in Victoria? In view of the parlous situation in which the people of Victoria find themselves, what does the Government propose to do about the matter?
– I am not aware of the particular allegations made by the honourable member. I will refer them to the Attorney-General and provide an answer to the honourable member as soon as I am able to do so.
-Does the Minister for Transport have any further information concerning the Cessna light aircraft which was reported missing during the weekend on a journey from Moorabbin to King Island and in relation to which a transcript of the radio communication with the radio control centre was released? Can the Minister tell the House what was the location of that aircraft on the last fix and what is known to have happened?
– This is one of the few times in the Parliament that I am caught short for words. I really cannot give any information at all about the mysterious disappearance of the aircraft that has not already been publicly stated. It is quite clear there was a perfectly rational and normal conversation held between the pilot of the aeroplane and the service facilities staff prior to the point of disappearance. That conversation has been recorded and something comparable to it has been replayed on radio and television broadcasts. It remains a mystery. At this point all I can say is that after several days of searching we have downgraded the search. We have one Beechcraft Baron aircraft still searching the area and we have taken the other aircraft off stand by. All I can say is that it is a mystery and looks like remaining a mystery.
– I direct my question to the Treasurer. Is it a fact that the abandonment and amendment of a number of tax proposals, the apparent Budget underestimate of the expenditure on unemployment benefit and the now admitted overestimate of employment growth in the coming year will ensure that the Budget deficit will rise above $3 billion?
-The nature of the question indicates a misapprehension on the part of the honourable member for Bonython as to the effect of the announcement I made yesterday about the Government’s decision not to go ahead with the proposed foreign tax credit system. The impact of that decision on the revenue for 1978-79 would at most have been quite insignificant because, as the honourable member realises, most of the effect of the tax would have been in the company tax area and that would not have impacted, in a net sense, until the following year. I believe the honourable member has fallen into the error of a number of commentators in this area by making assumptions, too early in the piece, about the likely course of the Budget deficit for the current financial year. As the honourable member ought to know, it is a mistake to try to calculate the annual result on the basis of quarterly figures. The Budget estimates were prepared on certain assumptions that were set out in the Budget Papers. I believe that the Budget estimates were responsibly and professionally prepared and I am confident that, given the inevitable areas of imprecision that are involved in calculating revenue and expenditure in preparing any Budget estimates, the situation is on track.
As a result of the post-Budget decisions on taxation of certain pensions and the withdrawal of the income test on the basis of the child ‘s income, there have been quite deliberate additions to the size of the Budget deficit. On recollection and subject to checking, those two proposals of themselves amount to slightly over $30m. The revision of the taxation of lump sum annual leave payments from the full rate of tax to a marginal rate of tax has no impact at all in revenue terms in 1978-79 because the original estimates were prepared on the basis that PA YE deductions at the standard rate only would occur. I think the honourable gentleman, like many other commentators in this area, is trying to exaggerate the situation and is trying to create unhelpful uncertainty where such is not justified.
Mr Stewart proceeding to address a question to the Prime Minister-
-Order! The honourable gentleman will be out of order if he persists with the question in that sarcastic fashion.
Mr Stewart continuing to address a question to the Prime Minister-
– Order! The honourable gentleman is asking a question which is out of order under the Standing Orders. He is arguing the issue; he is suggesting the answer; and he is using satirical terms. The question is out of order. I call the right honourable member for Lowe.
– I take a point of order. My question commenced ‘Is he’. I continued: ‘If not, will he’. I intended to continue by saying ‘Does he’. I am seeking information. I feel that -
-The honourable gentleman should consult the Standing Orders. I have already ruled that the question is out of order.
– My question to the Prime Minister is supplementary to two questions already asked from both sides of the House. It refers to the statement of 24 October by the Minister for Trade and Resources relating to the export mineral industry. Is the Prime Minister aware that the statement involves fundamental Government policies and Liberal political philosophy? And, as the statement has been made without parliamentary or party discussion, is he prepared to treat the statement as a provisional Green Paper and not as a definitive declaration of policy? Would he treat this matter along the same lines and with the same results as those adopted by the Treasurer with reference to the taxation of overseas subsidiaries of Australian companies?
-The statement by my colleague the Deputy Prime Minister is a definitive statement of policy. But I would point out that it is the administrative arrangements within that policy which will have a great deal of importance for companies, for Australia, for the preservation of the free enterprise system, for the negotiation of contracts and the areas where government movement is necessary to strengthen the arm of Australian negotiators. The administrative arrangements that have been tabled by my colleague who is representing the Deputy Prime Minister are, I think, very clear. They are draft guidelines and they were telexed to the Minister who was still in Hong Kong last night. The head of the Department of Trade and Resources discussed this matter with the Minister either last night or this morning and the broad thrust of the administrative guidelines have the approval of the Minister for Trade and Resources. Those guidelines, which I indicate are draft guidelines, are available for discussion. They will be discussed with Sir Charles Court. They will be discussed with the industry. Meanwhile, they provide a basis under which the coal industry will be able to operate because there are negotiations under way at this very time in respect of this industry. The Government has information available to it which indicates very clearly that, in the negotiations coming forward which will involve 80 per cent of existing contracts for the export of coal over the next period ahead, there is very real need in what is basically a buyers’ market to strengthen the negotiating arm of Australian exporters. I am quite certain that all honourable gentlemen in the House would want the Government to do what it properly can to achieve that.
– Has the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs been invited to attend the Northern Land Council meeting next week? If so, by whom and on whose initiative and authority was he invited? Was it by officers of the Northern Land Council, the executive or the full Council? Would such attendance breach the court settlement of 22 September between the Northern Land Council, Dick Mulwagu and Johnny Marali No. 1? Would it prejudice free discussion by the Northern Land Council of the draft Ranger agreement? Can he say whether Northern Land Council members will have free access to legal advice of their choice during the meeting as provided for by the court?
– The honourable gentleman, as shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, again shows his ignorance of just what kind of a body the Northern Land Council is. It is an independent autonomous statutory body created by the
Government’s land rights legislation. It is therefore in a position -
– I raise a point of order. I object to the Minister referring to my ignorance on that point which I am perfectly aware of. I ask that he withdraw it.
Honourable members interjecting
– May I clarify that point. The point I am making is that I am perfectly aware of the constitution and authority of the NLC. I am not ignorant of it, I object to what the -
-Order! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat. There is no substance to his point of order.
– I object to the fact that he said I am ignorant.
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. He may object to the Minister’s saying he is ignorant but the Minister is not using an unparliamentary expression.
– From what the honourable gentleman has said, he shows that he is ignorant of the fact -
-Order! The Minister will continue with his answer.
- Mr Speaker, let me put it another way. I inform the honourable gentleman that under the provisions of the land rights legislation there is express power in the chairman to call a meeting of the Northern Land Council. I was invited by the chairman to attend a meeting of the NLC next week. As I understand from the chairman, that meeting is being called in response to the resolutions of the Oenpelli meeting where discussions were held with traditional owners. Those resolutions asked the chairman to do two things: firstly, to call a meeting of the Northern Land Council to inform it of the views expressed by the traditional owners and, secondly, to get in touch with me to ascertain the Government’s response to the resolutions of the Oenpelli meeting. Therefore, the chairman has invited me to go to a meeting of the Northern Land Council to tell the Council of the Government’s attitude. That is what I will be doing.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Is it a fact that only nine cattle are exported alive for every 1,000 cattle killed? If this is so, how can it be claimed that meat workers’ employment is in any danger from live cattle exports? Will the Federal Government, if requested, combine with the State governments to introduce complementary legislation to ensure that legitimate livestock export trade be allowed to proceed?
– I have no knowledge that would deny the statistics contained in the honourable gentleman’s question. Certainly I know that the number of live cattle exported is a very small proportion of cattle slaughtered within Australia- certainly a much smaller proportion than for the live sheep export trade. Two matters are involved. The live sheep export trade has been a matter of great contention. The employment consequences in the abattoirs is one thing but there could be employment consequences in the trade overall in a number of other areas. There is no doubt that over recent times the profitability of the live sheep export trade to the Middle East has sustained employment on farms and in country towns in a way that would not have occurred if that market had not been available. So it is not necessarily a question of whether or not it leads to employment; it might be a question of where the employment is created by a particular trade.
Quite apart from employment aspects- this applies whether it is in relation to cattle, sheep or wheat exports or exports of manufactured products- it is wrong for any group of people or any union to take to itself the decision that producers, the owners of products, will not be allowed to sell them overseas in a certain way. If there are political or strategic reasons that should cause a government to make that kind of decision, that is something for which a government should be answerable. But it is certainly quite unacceptable to this Government to have any trade union or any other group of people outside the ambit of government- making that kind of determination and, as a consequence, limiting Australian exports. Limiting Australian exports weakens an overall financial position where otherwise it would be strengthened. It is taking a power to a limited group, in this case a trade union, and it certainly ought to be opposed.
I believe that this Government is months, if not years, ahead of the Queensland Government in legislating in relation to these aspects. I am delighted to see that the Queensland Premier now realises that these matters are important. I am delighted to see that he is concerned to act and to join the Commonwealth, which advanced itself along this path a considerable time ago. The amendment to the restrictive trade practices legislation was designed very considerably with the preservation of our export trade in mind. It has been used on a number of occasions, and used successfully. Because there have been some doubt about some aspects of the use of section 45D, the section most likely to be relevant to the protection of this trade, my colleague the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs at a later hour this day will be introducing further amendments to the legislation, designed to clarify the intention of the legislation, and particularly of the section, to maintain its effectiveness in disputes of this kind. Let me say only that I do not know of, and I have not seen or had, any communication from the Premier of Queensland; but I am delighted that he is taking these matters seriously and I am delighted that he has decided to stand with the Commonwealth and support the right of producers to export.
-I direct a question to the Prime Minister. In view of his frequently stated concern that the highest standards of probity and integrity are not only observed by his Ministers but also seen by the public at large to be observed, will he therefore table in this House, before it goes into recess tonight, the statement of pecuniary interests which he received from the Minister for Primary Industry in response to his circular letter to all Ministers in January 1 976?
– In directing a question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, I refer to a recent statement by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on the subject of Lebanon. I ask the Minister to explain to the House the current status of the Australian Embassy in Lebanon, firstly, in respect of the provision of assistance to Australian citizens and, secondly, in respect of refugees from Lebanon, both within and outside that country?
– Yesterday I had occasion to describe a speech by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition as misleading, mediocre and mendacious. One would need to go to Roget to exceed the description of what he said in regard to our Embassy and the situation of refugees in Lebanon the day before yesterday. I quote from what he said, as recorded at page 2185 of Hansard:
The Australian Embassy has withdrawn from Lebanon. We have no quarrel with that. The Minister is entitled to be concerned about his staff. But to where has the Embassy gone? It has gone to Damascus. The Minister must surely be aware that a Lebanese refugee might just as well try to visit the moon as visit Damascus, the capital of Syria. Why was the Embassy not withdrawn to Cyprus, where many of the refugees have gone?
The facts are: Firstly, the Embassy has not been withdrawn. Secondly, so far as going to Cyprus is concerned, there are at present some 3,000 to 4,000 Lebanese in Cyprus. Many of them have been there for some time. I am advised that none of them have approached our High Commission; so it is presumed that those who wish to go to Australia already hold visas issued in Beirut. Thirdly, as to his statements that going to Damascus is equivalent to going to the moon and that those who are fleeing the tragedy of Lebanon cannot get any assistance, I inform the Deputy Leader of the Opposition of the following: Since the migration office opened in Damascus last week, some 420 applications have been received from Lebanese. This would represent approximately 1,400 persons. None of the applicants have complained about their need to apply in Damascus. None of them, they say, have experienced any problems in crossing into Syria. In fact, the attitude of the Syrian border officials has been described as very helpful. I suggest to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that he check his facts; that he get a new speech writer; that, having checked his facts, he start to rethink his attitude to the Middle East; and that, when he is rethinking, he does a genuine rethink and does not simply rearrange his prejudices.
-I ask the Prime Minister a question. I refer the Prime Minister to his strict view, demonstrated in the past in events concerning the present Ministers for Special Trade Representations, for Industry and Commerce and for Finance, that a Minister should either step down or be suspended if his affairs or conduct come under official investigation. The honourable member for Macarthur would know a great deal about this from personal experience, of course.
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition will ask his question.
– In view of the sharp difference between these precedents and the practice in the present case of the Minister for Primary Industry, I ask: Is the Prime Minister prevented by the terms of the coalition agreement between the Liberal Party and the National Country Party from insisting on the suspension or resignation of a National Country Party Minister without the approval of the leader of that party. If so, -
-Order? I rule that the question is out of order because it asks about matters for which the Prime Minister is not officially responsible in the Parliament. I have constantly ruled that inter-party arrangements are not matters for the Parliament.
– I have no objection to answering.
- Mr Speaker, with respect I put to you that the issue at stake is proper conduct in relation to matters affecting the probity and integrity of Ministers and the standards that are laid down by the Prime Minister. If it so happens that there are arrangements or agreements -
-Order! I have ruled that the question is out of order. The question was stated before I ruled it out of order. I had to listen to it first. The Prime Minister has indicated that he wishes to answer the question. I ask the Leader of the Opposition to resume his seat.
– If the Prime Minister is prepared to be as co-operative as this, may I conclude the final point?
-I ask the honourable gentleman to resume his seat.
-There are no such arrangements.
– Is the Treasurer aware of expressions of concern within the community about the possible introduction of a broadly based indirect tax? What is the current state of the inquiry into such a tax proposal which is being conducted by the Taxation Office? Has the Government made any decision on this issue?
– I am aware of expressions of opinion made by some business groups regarding the possible introduction of either a value added tax or a retail turnover tax. Because the situation has been unfortunately misrepresented by some spokesmen for some industry groups I make it quite clear to the House that the Government has made no in-principle decision one way or the other as to whether a broad based indirect tax should be introduced. We have decided that an inquiry should be conducted initially by the Taxation Office in consultation with various interest groups. Then, if the Government decides in the light of that inquiry to take the matter further, a discussion paper will be produced in order to provoke further community response and comment.
I think it would be unfortunate if consideration of such a fundamental issue- that is whether there should be a shift in the mix of taxation in our community- were prejudiced by too vehement a criticism in reaction from those who hold views strongly on one side or other of the argument. I think it is important that a matter such as this should receive a thorough examination. I know some in the community view a retail turnover tax with a great deal of trepidation. Equally, there are others in the community who see a situation where personal taxation is lower and indirect taxation is higher as a very desirable state of affairs. I think it is important, in looking at our taxation system, that as far as possible we get away from the situation where taxation policy is looked at only at Budget time within the inevitable pressures of revenue adjustments that are involved at Budget time. I believe there is great value in having an examination out of the context of Budget preparation of the type of taxation system that we ought to have. I hope that the current inquiry produces a fair and representative response from the community, thus enabling the Government to take an informed decision after a balanced consideration of competing points of view.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister. What efforts have been made by his Government to redeploy staff from Medibank, particularly in view of his election promises of 1975 and 1977 with respect to Medibank? Will he consider intervening to ensure that the Public Service Board redeploys Medibank staff? Is his Government willing to increase the offer of lump sum payments to employees to make such payments more realistic and more equitable in relation to the income maintenance provisions already agreed to and passed by the Public Service Arbitrator? Has his Government’s publicity been making it clear that Medibank Private still exists and that people can register with Medibank Private for the universal benefit?
– I will answer that question. I can assure the honourable member that discussions are going on right now between the Public Service Board and Public Service unions- the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations, the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations, amongst others- to see that the redeployment of Medibank staff is done fairly and equitably and that those who can be placed in employment in the Public Service will find positions. In fact, I was involved with my colleague the Minister for Health in discussions with union representatives and Public Service Board officers the other night on this subject. I expect that, with the further talks that will proceed- I think there are to be talks tomorrow- in the end a satisfactory solution will be reached.
– I direct my question to the Acting Minister for Trade and Resources. I refer to recent answers to questions in the House about European Economic Community subsidised sugar exports and Australia’s reaction to them. What is the basis for the recent complaint by Australia to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade which concerns that practice of subsidised exports of sugar by the EEC?
-The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade does not prohibit the use of subsidies on agricultural exports but, consistent with the fundamental principle of GATT, the Agreement stipulates that subsidies should not be used to gain more than an equitable share of the world market. In respect of sugar the Government believes it is quite clear that the European Economic Community has committed a breach of its contractual obligations under GATT. Consistent with Article 16, Australia has asked the contracting parties to undertake an urgent examination of the matter and to make prompt recommendations.
The facts are simply stated: The Community is expected to export some 3.6 million tonnes of sugar this year at a subsidised expenditure of approximately $US830m. The Community’s share of the world free sugar market has gone up from about 7.8 per cent in 1975 to not less than 22.4 per cent this year. In other words, it has nearly trebled its share of exports to the world free market. At the GATT Council meeting which took place in Geneva about 10 days ago- I was present in Geneva at the time- the Australian request received overwhelming support. A number of other countries have fully associated themselves with the Australian complaint. I hope there will be speedy action in GATT to resolve our complaint.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services. Will he table in this House a list of the names of all passengers who have used Commonwealth Government cars in the Sydney area during the past year on the authority of the Minister for Primary Industry?
– I will consult with my colleague, the Minister for Administrative Services in the other place, before giving an answer.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Transport. In order to clear the confusion amongst some ethnic groups concerning the implementation of the new air fare policy, will the Minister clarify whether there will be some discrimination against ethnic groups? Should Qantas decide not to service a particular port, will the national carrier of that country still have the right to apply for services to Australia? Will foreign airlines not presently servicing Australia be able to apply for landing rights provided they produce a suitable fare? Will agreement for these landing rights be handled on a government to government or airline to airline basis?
– The honourable member has asked a series of questions and I will see whether I can provide a full answer now. If I miss out on providing some of the information sought I guarantee to supply it later. I refer first to ethnic passengers who are concerned to get to ports to which the national carrier does not operate. If, for example, somebody wanted to go home to Sweden and under the new air fares arrangement we were able to arrive at an agreement on a point to point cheap fare basis with Germany- I suppose that Frankfurt would be as close a port as any- that ethnic passenger would be able to get a two sector fare out of Sydney or Melbourne or whatever was the departure point and fly on the cheap air fare from that point to Frankfurt and then continue on to Sweden using whatever service was convenient for him to use. In other words, a two sector fare is available to any passenger leaving Australia and picking up the cheap point to point fare to any destination. That is the first point I make in answer to the question.
As I said yesterday, what we are seeking to do is arrive on the European range at a cheap air fare regime with all the carriers that are coming into this country or to make some arrangements with their governments in respect of fares. For the carriers who are presently not coming to Australia- I think that this was one of the questions asked by the honourable member- the situation will be as it exists now. A judgment will be made at an airline to airline level whether there is any desire for a mutual exchange of services and whether there is enough traffic on an end to end basis to justify it. If this is thought to be so, the matter then gets into the government arena and a bilateral agreement, if none exists, can be signed by the two countries. That answers two of the questions. I think I missed -
– What happens if Qantas drops out of a service?
– If Qantas drops out of a service on any route in respect of which a bilateral agreement exists with Qantas, of course we would look to encouraging the national carrier from the other country to remain in service on stream to Australia. I still would be seeking to obtain the new air fare regime with that carrier so that a cheap air fare would exist on that particular route.
– I am not too sure what the honourable member is specifically getting at but I will give a general reply. If he likes to put that proposal to me again later I will have it examined. As a general reply, I am sure the honourable member is aware that the effluent control in that area has been the subject of quite a deal of investigation. All the States, whether directly through Ministers or through the River Murray Commission, have been involved in that investigation. There has been an environmental impact statement prepared as well. On the results of all those investigations and the advice put in front of me based on the results of those investigations, I am satisfied that proper controls are being exercised on effluent going into the river. The only other thing that I would say is that the New South Wales authority that is in charge of pollution control will be responsible for issuing and supervising the licence. I believe that arrangements have been made for the South Australian representation on the River Murray Commission to be consulted on the terms of that licence.
-Is the Minister for Post and Telecommunications aware of the very considerable concern expressed by regional television stations at the recommendations of the satellite task force? Will the Minister allow further time for discussion of the task force report, as requested by both the regional television stations group and the media workers’ council? Does the Minister have any further information on the proposal to lease Intelsat facilities on a pilot basis?
– I can understand the concern expressed by regional television stations about some of the recommendations in the report of the task force. I would emphasise that no government decisions have been made with respect to that report in relation to a domestic communications satellite for Australia. Because of the importance of these subjects the Government has made them a matter for public debate and public comment and has allowed a period until the end of this year for formal submissions to be made to the Government on issues arising out of the report. I understand that copies of the report are unavailable as they have been sold out due to the rush for them. In that event I believe that it is appropriate that some extra time be sought and I will consider whether some extra time could be allowed for formal public submissions to the Government on these very important matters. I emphasise that if the Government finally decides to go ahead with this, it will be anxious in the months and years ahead to maintain communication with all people interested in and affected by important decisions like this.
As to the question of the possible conversion of part of our remote area television programs to Intelsat by way of leasing Intelsat facilities in respect of certain repeater and translator stations, I can inform the honourable member that technical tests are under way. I will be visiting Moree on Friday of next week to witness some tests of the transmission to see whether it will be possible to consider converting part of our remote program to Intelsat facilities. This is an exciting possibility but it must be technically feasible if it is to be considered by the Government. I emphasise again that no decisions have been made although technical tests are well under way.
-I direct my question to the Prime Minister. Is it a fact, as reported in the latest Reserve Bank Statistical Bulletin, that Australia’s overseas borrowings of $4, 100m now exceed our official reserve assets by over $ 1,000m? Is it also a fact that every Australian man, woman and child now owes overseas financiers over $280? Is it also a fact that this liability will increase to $325 per head when the latest Japanese loans of $600m are received? Finally, how does the Prime Minister harmonise this situation with his statements at the time of the 1976 devaluation that he would not allow this country to be even $ 1,000m in debt to overseas’ financiers?
-As far as I can recollect without checking the quotes that the honourable gentleman has made from the Reserve Bank Statistical Bulletin are correct. This matter was the subject of a debate in this House a couple of weeks ago. I think that when the honourable gentleman quotes figures he ought to bear in mind that after the completion of the full three sections of the yen raising- that is, the two private placements and the public bond issue- the percentage of the overseas debt in relation to gross domestic product will be 5 per cent compared with 6.5 per cent 10 years ago and that the interest liability will be about 0.3 per cent, which is broadly equivalent to what it was 10 years ago. If the honourable gentleman wants a sensible examination by this House of the question of overseas borrowings, he ought to bear in mind that it has been the practice of this country to borrow significant amounts in an orthodox manner on official account over a long period. The reasons for our overseas borrowings are well known by this House and understood by the international business community. The capacity of this country to borrow large amounts on very favourable terms is testimony to the high regard in which we are held in international financial circles and a vote of confidence in the policies of this Government.
– On 10 October the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) asked me a question concerning the committee rooms which are available for use by legislation committees. The size and shape of committee rooms 1 and 2 in which the legislation committees meet are not really suitable for the deliberations of these committees. They are, however, the only rooms available. The accommodation of committees will be taken into account when formulating next year’s parliamentary budget. For this purpose I have instructed officers of the Department of the House of Representatives to report on the question of better facilities and more suitable furniture.
Honourable members will be aware that, owing to the shortage of committee rooms, the existing rooms must cater for all types of committee hearings and room arrangements which are suitable for all committees are difficult to achieve. The House has three committee rooms. These, added to the six situated on the Senate side, make a total of nine rooms available for use by senators and members. I am sure honourable members will agree that this number is inadequate to meet the needs of both parliamentary and party committees as well as the occasional need by individual Ministers and members for larger rooms for meetings. Honourable members will be aware that for some time the Executive Government has been considering the question of parliamentary and ministerial accommodation as it affects both this building and the future use of other buildings near Parliament House. As yet I have received no information that the Executive Government has reached any decision.
Mr HOWARD (BennelongTreasurer)Pursuant to section 24 of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975 I present the annual report of the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the year ended 30 June 1978.
Mr HOWARD (BennelongTreasurer)Pursuant to section 24 of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975 I present the annual report of the Australian Statistics Advisory Council for the year ended 30 June 1978.
– For the information of honourable members I present the interim annual reports of the Australian Institute of Criminology and the Criminology Research Council for the year ended 30 June 1978.
– Pursuant to section 44 of the Australian Institute of Marine Science Act 1972 1 present the annual report of the Australian Institute of Marine Science for the year ended 30 June 1978.
– For the information of honourable members I present the annual report of the activities of the Department of Science for the year ended 30 June 1978.
Mr LIONEL BOWEN (KingsfordSmith) Mr Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented.
-The honourable member wishes to make a personal explanation. He may proceed.
-Thank you. At Question Time today the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) accused me of dishonesty and lying in respect of a statement about Lebanon.
-Order! I must correct the honourable gentleman. Those words were not used.
-He used the word mendacious’, and the dictionary definition of mendacious is ‘dishonest and lying’. I think it is unbecoming of a Minister to do that. He also directed those remarks to a member of my staff who is in no way able to answer for it. I think it is a cowardly attack. I accept responsibility for everything I said and I want to make this explanation: On 24 October the Minister made a statement in respect of Lebanon and I replied. I accept the fact that at the time I made the reply he had to be absent from the House, but it is only today that he has confirmed the situation to which I then virtually adverted, which is that the migration office had in fact gone to Damascus. He has confirmed it today, but he could well have answered earlier, namely, later in the day on 24 October.
The other matter I wish to raise is this: When the Minister was overseas last week I received a deputation from Lebanese Christians in Australia who were very concerned about the Lebanon and also concerned about the fact that the migration office had gone to Damascus. They felt that that would not be appropriate in respect of the relatives about whom they were concerned. There was validity in the statement which I made in the Parliament on that matter.
-Order! I have given the honourable gentleman considerable licence, but he is now arguing the matter.
-I just make the point that it is a question of my lying, being dishonest or mendacious. The facts are that members of the Lebanese community in Australia were concerned that facilities could not have been provided in Cyprus. Finally, the Minister again said that no applications had been made from Lebanese people in Cyprus. That is false. For example, Mr Sarroff has made application to my office today in respect of these Lebanese relatives in Cyprus. To that extent, the Minister is incorrect.
- Mr Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented.
-Does the honourable gentleman wish to make a personal explanation?
-He may proceed.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker. Firstly, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) said that he adverted to a situation. He did not advert to it. He stated it as a bland factual situation that the embassy had closed.
– That is not a personal explanation.
-If the honourable member would stop stroking his platitudes and listen, he would be better off.
-Order! The Minister for Foreign Affairs will resume his seat. The honourable member for Port Adelaide will remain silent.
– Will this prancing show pony get on with the job?
-Order! The honourable member for Newcastle will remain silent.
-He has all the gyrations of an intellectual cripple. He cannot be held responsible for his statements.
-The Minister will proceed with his personal explanation.
– We are talking about a tragic situation. The facts are that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that the Embassy had been withdrawn and it had not. Consular officers are still operating in the Australian Embassy in Beirut and assisting those Australian citizens who seek such assistance. If the honourable member had been expressing the concerns of members of the Lebanese community in Australia that would be one thing. He did not. He put his viewpoints forward and stated them as facts.
-Order! The honourable gentleman is arguing the matter.
-The honourable member said that I misled the Parliament. I did not. I put the facts before the Parliament, which is contrary to what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has done.
Mr LIONEL BOWEN (KingsfordSmith) Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable gentleman claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) said that I said he misrepresented the facts. The complaint is that he said I am lying. That is the position. In addition, he said that a member of my staff is lying which I think is a very weak effect.
– You were wrong.
-No, let us get the position clear: The migration office did go to Damascus. We get that admission today.
– You said the embassy had closed.
-The Minister made no reference to anything the other day.
-Order! The matter will cease. I think that each party has made his position clear.
-I just want to make the point that the word ‘mendacious’ -
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.
- Mr Speaker -
-Order! The Minister will resume his seat. I point out to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that I have ruled that the discussion of the matter which they raised will cease. I mean that formally and informally. I call the Minister for Special Trade Representations.
-Mr Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented.
-Does the honourable gentleman wish to make a personal explanation?
-He may proceed.
-During Question Time on Tuesday, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) quoted a passage which he said that I made in a speech on Monday. I have checked and found that there is no such passage in my speech.
-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable gentleman claim to have been misrepresented?
Mr STEWART I do.
-The honourable gentleman may proceed.
-Mr Speaker, during Question Time today you ruled a question I asked as being out of order. I have looked at the Standing Orders and I really cannot find any reason why the question should have been ruled out of order, except perhaps on the grounds of Standing Order 144(f) which states that questions should not contain ironical expressions. I have looked at the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary and I have found that the word ‘irony ‘is defined as follows:
A figure of speech in which the intended meaning is the opposite of that expressed by the words used; usually taking the form of sarcasm or ridicule in which laudatory expressions are used to imply condemnation or contempt.
My question was-
-Order! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat. He is not making a personal explanation; he is arguing about my ruling. There are forms in the Standing Orders which the honourable gentleman can use to challenge my ruling. I will not hear the honourable gentleman any further on a personal explanation.
– by leave- I wish to inform honourable members that the Government has decided to legislate for the creation of an Aboriginal Development Agency which will embrace the present functions of the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission and the Aboriginal Loans Commission, and take over from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs the administration of its Enterprise program. In addition, the Government will be looking to the Agency to put forward new kinds of programs designed to contribute to the self-sufficiency of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities.
In company with the decision to create a new Agency, the Government has also, in accordance with the joint parties’ policy statement of 1975, decided to establish an Aboriginals Entitlement Capital Account. This decision flows from the 1975 policy statement of the Liberal and National Country parties which recognised ‘the problems flowing from the past dispossession and dispersal of the Aboriginal people and the community’s resulting responsibility’. The new Account will be used to fund the operation of the statutory authority. It would receive all the funds currently available to the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission, the Aboriginal Loans Commission and the Enterprise vote of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Additional funding will be considered in the 1 979 budgetary context.
The creation of this Agency and the establishment of the Entitlement Account represents a significant initiative in Aboriginal affairs and will result in a major new statutory authority. The excellent work of the Land Fund Commission and the Loans Commission will be carried forward and could well be extended into new fields. In addition to funding from Government sources, the Agency will be in a position to develop projects through co-financing arrangements with bodies such as the Aboriginal Benefits Trust Account of the Northern Territory and by the underwriting of normal commercial loans. In accordance with the Government’s commitment to the policy of self-management, the Agency will be expected to develop into a wholly Aboriginalrun and staffed body. It will create opportunities for the development of Aboriginal staff training programs which are not feasible under present arrangements.
The Government has been conscious for some time of the benefits of bringing the developmental activities now conducted separately by the Land Fund Commission, the Loans Commission and by the Department together under the administration of a single agency separate from the Department. Co-ordination of all activities designed to assist in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander economic development, which are at present conducted by three separate entities, will greatly improve their effectiveness. The Agency will assist in the development of land that has already been acquired for Aboriginals, the development of land granted under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act of the Northern Territory, and the stimulation of Aboriginal business enterprises throughout Australia.
The Agency will be specially designed to assist in programs leading to self-sufficiency. It will, for example, have the flexibility to provide a combination of grant-loan funding in those situations when neither a loan nor a grant is in itself appropriate. In establishing the Agency, the Government will be in a position to learn from the experience gained by the operations of the Papua New Guinea Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Whilst these banks would not provide an exact model for the new authority, their experience and method of operation will be closely examined so that the very best features of their operations can be utilised in the new arrangements.
It has been pointed out to me on a number of occasions by Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders that economic projects need not only financial assistance from Government sources but also technical assistance in the implementation of projects. This point has also been forcefully made by members of the Government parties and the Opposition. It is not sufficient simply to provide Aboriginals with money and then leave them without expert assistance. The new authority will be geared to provide such assistance. It will work through existing functional authorities and may employ its own expert staff.
It is the Government’s intention to involve Aboriginals in the planning of the Agency. The Government will seek comment from Aboriginal bodies such as the National Aboriginal Conference as well as from the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission and the Aboriginal Loans Commission before the legislation is prepared for consideration by Parliament. I will formally consult the Council for Aboriginal Development on the principles to be embodied in the legislation.
The decisions which I have announced constitute a break through of substantial significance for the Aboriginal people and will greatly assist in their drive towards self-sufficiency. The new agency will provide a means through which Aboriginals may determine their own needs and priorities and participate in decision making affecting their economic, and thus social place in the community at large. I look forward to the support of honourable members on both sides of the House in developing this new agency. I present the following paper:
Australian Aboriginal Development Agency- Ministerial Statement, 26 October 1978.
Motion (by Mr Groom) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
– With qualifications which I will briefly outline, the Opposition supports the concept. As the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) has acknowledged, many of these principles have been put forward for some time by members of both sides of the Parliament. We are concerned that the creation of an Aboriginal Development Agency should not be just a cosmetic operation to kid Aboriginal and Islander people into believing they will have real selfmanagement, if the Department of Aboriginal Affairs is to retain the power of veto in significant areas. We are particularly concerned that a veto could operate for an indefinite time and at several levels and that the Department and the Australian Aboriginal Development Agency will be frozen in their rather impotent stance vis a vis the States, particularly Western Australia and Queenland where it seems that State controls over Aboriginal affairs are repeatedly given priority.
There are many questions left unanswered in this brief statement and it is probably not appropriate that a great deal of information be provided at this stage before the consultations with Aboriginals envisaged in the Minister’s statement have taken place. There are particular points that I think need clarification. First of all, the statement seems to imply there will be three sources of funds. This is not strictly correct because the Land Fund Commission is normally regarded as being incorporated in the Enterprise vote in any case. The Minister is talking about $ 10.6m, some of which is already committed to enterprises which are currently operating under the Enterprise vote. The Minister does not guarantee that he will continue funding even at present levels. He says only that additional funding will be considered in the next Budget. Qf course, we know that already.
I admit that Aboriginal consultation and decision making should take some priority before the Government is committed. But we think that it is high time that some commitment was made whether the rather planned disaster areas floated by while so-called experts such as the turtle farming, the crocodile farming, the emu farming and the oyster project which are currently operating, should continue to eat up the funds of the Enterprise vote despite the setting up of an Aboriginal controlled agency. That has not been spelt out.
There have been cutbacks in the amounts available to Aboriginals for almost every purpose, if we allow for inflation, since the Hayden Budget of 1975. The Minister’s statement is in Une with the Government’s practice of saying that it will do something and then consulting with Aborigines after the event. We would like to be assured that some consultation will take place beforehand. The Opposition acknowledges that these principles have been put forward, to a large extent, by Aborigines. Nevertheless, it is dangerous to be committed too far before it is acknowledged that these statements and proposals have come from the grass roots level. A typical example, of course, is the Ranger negotiations, which resulted in a complete reversal following prolonged, difficult and detailed negotiations, because the grass roots involvement was not present at the beginning. I trust that early steps will be taken to see that when the Minister and the Department consult with the bodies he mentioned- the National Aboriginal Conference, land councils and so on- feedback is accepted right down to grass roots level and that it comes back, particularly in the continuing development of this Agency. The feedback from the grass roots level should be heeded and should have effect because if it does not Aborigines will continue to cop out of the decision-making processes as has been their traditional role, taught to them by bitter experience over the years.
We would like to know that there will be some continuing commitment to funding, at least at the present level. We believe that when the Government is planning development projects of an ongoing kind, it should realise that this Agency deserves some sort of commitment, at least on a rolling triennium basis such as has been adopted for education commissions and research authorities. The Minister mentioned cooperative efforts with sources of income other than Federal. He mentioned particularly the Aboriginal Benefits Trust Account. We would like to know whether this means more government control over the Aboriginal Benefits Trust Account or is this co-operation to be completely voluntary? We would like to know whether the Agency will have any independence in raising loan funds and negotiating borrowings, comparable to the independence of State governments, local governments or semi-government institutions. I think that it is high time that the Government started to look closely, if it has not already looked closely, at the question of a treaty of commitment such as has occurred with indigenous people on other continents- a commitment to provide at least for several years, possibly 20 years, a defined percentage of gross national product or mineral income, or both, as a recognition of the need to repay the indigenous people for the priceless assets that we have taken from them in the pursuit of profits, destroying the land which is the basis of their culture and their social structure.
In the past, there have been some fairly scandalous delays in allocating Aboriginal Land Fund Commission funds. The Government appears to be very reluctant to give this Commission priority over mining interests or any other interests that they want to purchase, for example, a pastoral lease. This is evidenced by the years of delay in approving the purchase of the Bing Bong pastoral lease until the occasion when -
– That is not true.
Dr EVERINGHAM The Department knew about it at least two years before it was purchased by Mt Isa Mines Ltd. It failed to acquire it before the mining company bought it. To me, that is a scandalous delay that has not been explained by the Government.
There is also a growing queue for housing funds. The number needing Aboriginal housing is growing faster than the houses are being provided. It may be that extra funding in this particular field in the Budget may overcome the backlog but I am very dubious about that. Many people are not putting their names on the waiting list because it is so long. The moment that need is met at a faster rate, it is quite likely that more people will put their names on the list. We wonder whether playing around with current funds for the Aboriginal Loans Commission also will lengthen waiting lists for urgent needs. Some commitment might have been made to giving sympathetic consideration to Aboriginal requests which I have no doubt will come very early in the piece for prompt delegation of administrative authority to local communities and councils. This could be negotiated and discussed with the Aboriginal bodies within particular limits or levels for particular communities just as, for example, the States are given funds of which certain proportions are allocated to local authorities.
In the same way, some Aboriginal agencies should be able to delegate the use of funds to other organisations without having to get detailed approval in every case from the Department. For example, it would be nice to know whether the Government would prevent this Agency setting up the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Panel which the Government dissolved this year against the wishes of Aboriginal organisations. It was against the wishes of just about every organisation with which I have consulted or had contact and against the wishes and the advice of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. It was no doubt discontinued as a money-saving exercise but the evidence seems to be that it will have the reverse effect because this was a highly economical procedure.
We would like to know whether more or less Aboriginal freehold land will be acquired. Will the land councils be recognised and funded in North Queensland and in northern Western Australia?
We would like to know whether Aboriginal co-operatives will be fostered further and helped to become more self-sufficient, to widen their activities and to undertake, eventually, local government functions and decision making in the educational and vocational fields and in health services supervision. To what extent will this be helped, inhibited or co-ordinated with the new Agency? These are questions that cannot be answered in advance. At least, we would like some government commitment to the principal of self-management, self-determination and an Aboriginal majority on the organs which make these decisions.
In summing up, we would also like to be assured that consultation with Aboriginals will not be confined to their representatives in European-designed organs such as the National Aboriginal Conference, the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission and the Aboriginal Loans Commission, as was the case with the first Ranger negotiations. We would like to know that this is not just a cosmetic exercise, that the Agency will have real power and that in fact powers will be transferred from the Department. The Public Service Board structure is so rigid that it actually destroys Aboriginal confidence and very often is counter-productive. We hope that the present system will be phased out rapidly in favour of this Aboriginal-controlled exercise and in line with the concepts of commission which the Labor Party in office used very widely to achieve progress, community participation and feedback from the grass roots level. Such commissions which came within the responsibility of my portfolio at the time were the Hospitals and Health Services Commission, the Australian Capital Territory Health Commission and the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission. Other commissions which did not come within my responsibility were the education commission. Of course, in years gone by, we have seen similar involvement with housing commissions and all sorts of bodies that are not constrained by this terribly stifling departmental procedure or mechanism. The Public Service Board hand too often has killed Aboriginal selfmanagement, Aboriginal self-confidence, the development of their independence and the restoration of their dignity and self-respect.
Debate (on motion by Mr Bourchier) adjourned.
– by leave- For some time the Government has been concerned that the operation of the means and needs guidelines of the Australian Legal Aid Office, which were fixed in 1976, has become increasingly severe. This has been because there have been rises in wages and in pension rates without changes in the guidelines. The result of this has been that many persons who would have been eligible for legal aid in 1976 are not now eligible, and legal aid is being refused to persons in real need.
The Government has given this matter close consideration, as a result of which I now announce certain changes. These changes will apply to all decisions to grant legal aid made by the ALAO on and after 30 October 1978. Some of the changes will effect savings which will allow the guidelines to be significantly liberalised in relation to the permissible disposable income. For the information of honourable members, I table two papers: One titled ‘Means and Needs Test and Contributions Guidelines’ and the other titled ‘Solicitors’ fees in Matters under the Family Law Act 1975’.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I now outline the changes. The first change relates to eligibility for aid in dissolution cases. At present a sum in excess of $2m is being spent each year on dissolution cases referred by the Australian Legal Aid Office to private solicitors. The need for legal aid is not as urgent in dissolution cases as in many other family law proceedings, such as custody, access, maintenance, property settlement and injunction matters. The funds that are at present being provided for dissolution cases can be put to better use in these other areas. In future, therefore, aid will not be granted for dissolution of marriage proceedings unless circumstances exist which, in the opinion of the Australian Legal Aid Office, render it imperative that the marriage be dissolved and the applicant is in a position of special hardship. It is envisaged that those special circumstances would arise only on very rare occasions. The procedure to dissolve a marriage is now very simple and it is believed that most people will be able to handle the work themselves, with assistance where necessary from the Family Court staff. In addition to that assistance, lawyers of the Australian Legal Aid Office will be available to advise and assist.
Another change relates to the contributions payable by assisted persons. At present the ALAO requires contributions to be paid in only about one-third of the cases. This is because the guidelines at present provide that a contribution of less than $25 will not be required. The Government believes that all assisted persons should contribute, except where it can be demonstrated that payment of a contribution would impose a real financial hardship. Accordingly, a minimum contribution of $20 will be imposed in all cases, subject to such demonstrated hardship.
A court fee of $ 100 is payable to the Family Court in respect of proceedings for dissolution of marriage, but where the applicant has been granted legal aid for those proceedings the applicant is exempt from payment of the fee. As legal aid will no longer be generally available in dissolution proceedings most persons instituting proceedings will in future be required to pay the court fee. This change will not, however, operate where it would impose a substantial hardship on persons instituting dissolution proceedings. The Family Law Regulations at present provide for the fee to be not payable where the Registrar of the Family Court is satisfied that payment of the fee would impose substantial hardship on the applicant, and that provision will remain.
Solicitors who act for clients who are in receipt of legal aid from the Australian Legal Aid Office are paid 90 per cent of the fees payable under the Family Law (Costs) Regulations. In future those Regulations will not apply to matters receiving assistance from the ALAO. Payment to solicitors in such cases will instead be on the basis of a special legal aid scale which I shall now describe. Under the new scale a fee will not ordinarily be allowed for time spent by a solicitor in court waiting for a hearing to commence or resume or time taken in travelling to and from the court. This is expected to result in an annual saving of $500,000 to the Australian Legal Aid Office.
The basic composite amount in the new scale will now cover all necessary steps in the action, including, among other things, all conferences, preparation of affidavits, attendances at courts on mentions, adjournments and attending at court on the hearing of the matter for one hour. It is recognised that in some matters the work done by the solicitor, if costed on the present basis, would attract fees in excess of those payable under the new scale. But many matters are settled or otherwise concluded quickly and easily and the real value of the solicitor’s work does not justify full payment on the present basis. Under the new scale cases where solicitors are underpaid will be counterbalanced by cases where payment of the basic composite amount is more than generous recompense for the work involved. In these matters solicitors are to ‘take the rough with the smooth ‘.
Where the hearing of a matter goes beyond one hour, the present hourly rate of $36 paid by the Australian Legal Aid Office will continue to be paid. However, if the hearing lasts a day or more some reduction in the flat hourly rate should be made. Therefore for a hearing lasting one day of an additional four hours the maximum extra payment will be $132. For additional hearing days the payment will be $36 per hour with a maximum of $90 for a half day of three hours and $ 140 for a full day.
Generally speaking, the conduct of proceedings in courts of summary jurisdiction should be well within the competence of solicitors and it should not ordinarily be necessary to brief counsel in these proceedings. Also, in the Family Court and other superior courts much of the work can properly be handled by solicitors. Therefore, in future, aid will not be provided to brief counsel unless approval has been given by the Australian Legal Aid Office. Approval to brief counsel will not ordinarily be given, except for contested hearings in superior courts.
Where counsel is briefed in a matter in a court of summary jurisdiction it should not ordinarily be necessary for the instructing solicitor to attend court. The new scale accordingly provides that fees will not be allowed to solicitors for attending courts of summary jurisdiction to instruct counsel. In other courts a solicitor who instructs counsel in court will receive a fee of $30 per hour, with a maximum of $75 for a half day of three hours and $120 for a full day. But only half of these fees will be payable if an unqualified clerk instructs counsel.
It is realised that in some cases, for example, long defended actions, fees calculated on the basis of the new scale may not provide adequate remuneration for a solicitor. If a solicitor considers that substantially more than the usual amount of work was involved in a particular matter, the Australian Legal Aid Office will give consideration to payment of additional fees if full details of the additional work are submitted.
The savings which will result from the changes that have been announced will enable the permissible disposable weekly income to be significantly increased. The present guidelines permit a disposable weekly income of $40 for a person without dependants, with additional allowances for dependants. With the savings resulting from the changes it has been possible for the Government to raise the amount of the permissible disposable weekly income by $12. This brings the permissible disposable income for a person without dependants to $52. The adjustment of $12 will flow through to persons with dependants, but there will be no change in the allowances for dependants.
It is desired to encourage as far as possible the settlement of ancillary matters under the Family
Law Act, that is, custody, access, injunction and property settlement matters. By this means not only will legal aid funds be saved but also the burden on the courts will be reduced. It is proposed therefore that legal aid for custody, access and injunction proceedings will initially be granted by the Australian Legal Aid Office only up to the filing of a defence. Further aid will be considered on submission of copies of pleadings and any other relevant material so that the merits of the matter can be assessed as far as possible. Aid for property applications will initially be granted up to the stage of a conference under regulation 96 of the Family Law Regulations. Further aid will depend upon the outcome of the conference.
The Law Council has offered assistance and co-operation in regard to the implementation of these new guidelines. Arrangements are being made for officers of the Australian Legal Aid Office to meet with representatives of the law societies in each State, except Western Australia where legal aid is now administered through a statutory commission. These joint on-the-job committees will have the task of keeping under review these new provisions and considering whether further changes can or should be made to them from time to time. I present the following paper:
Legal Aid: Revised Australian Legal Aid Office Guidelines and New Scale of Solicitors’ Fees- Ministerial Statement, 26 October 1978.
Motion (by Mr Groom) proposed:
That the House take note of the papers.
– This ministerial statement on legal aid is deplorable. Legal aid means giving rights to people. The Government is approaching legal aid on a penny-pinching basis. Because it has run out of money people will get less legal aid. The situation is as simple as that. There will be less legal aid for everybody in Australia. People will be denied their rights. Equality before the law and equal access are basic human rights. If one happens to be poor or in any way underprivileged from the point of view of financial resources, one will not get that human right.
Further, there seems to be a two-pronged attack by the Government. The first prong attacks people who want to get some legal aid. Now they will have to make a contribution anyway. This is another Medibank operation. People will be obliged to pay. The second prong is an attack against the profession. It has to make a charitable contribution. That is the situation. We are aware that the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) some time ago approached the
Law Council of Australia. He asked that its members take less. He suggested that they accept 80 per cent of their normal fee. They had asked for additional funds. The reply was: ‘No, I will give you no funds. You ought to take less’. These people have to work in a profession where they have to maintain their standard of living. Does the Government think that they will not look at their income? Would that not be their first priority? Those skilled in the law will think about their needs and their ability to attract service for people. Nobody will be available for those who really cannot pay or who can pay only some segment of a fee. It is no good taking the view that by making the lawyers take less, the money will go further. There will be less legal aid. If honourable members talk to people in the profession they will be told that legal aid is in a mess now. It is a hopeless proposition. We are bogged down with a whole lot of regulations. Nobody knows where they are.
– How much would you spend on it.
-The honourable gentleman would be aware of the situation in Victoria where there is no money at all for legal aid. A question was asked about this matter today. There is a backlog of 2,400 cases in Victoria alone with no money available for legal aid. In 1975 the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said: ‘We will ensure that no person is denied legal aid because of lack of means’. That is a hollow promise. He has not maintained legal aid even at the standard which was available in 1975. Let us look at the suggested increase in the means test in relation to disposable income. For a person with two dependants, the maximum disposable income will be $77. It was $95 in 1975 which is three years ago. Let us look at the situation which is developing here in relation to what the Government is doing. Honourable members will say that legal aid is not to be refused to people in real need. But it will be refused because they will not be able to make the first contribution of $20.
Again the Government has talked about legal aid being concerned with the real problems in family law. Those problems are there. At the present time that is where most of legal aid is going. They are basic problems. They are human problems. People have to worry about their future, the future of their home, their children and their maintenance. What is the Government doing in relation to this provision? Now, everybody will be obliged to pay the $ 100 fee which is the required fee for dissolution of marriage. But this provision will now apply virtually across the board. People will not be able to get out of paying it. Then we have the Government saying: We will save a bit of money by not allowing any legal aid when there are merely dissolution proceedings ‘. There could be some grounds for argument in that proposition but we have to look at the situation of people needing advice on their rights and what they are about when it comes to what the Government calls dissolution.
But I come to the other point of what this is all about and that is found in the statement that the profession has to ‘take the rough with the smooth’. That means that people who need advice will get all the rough part. There will be no question of any smooth part for them. If one is involved in litigation there are very few velvet arrangements when it comes to results. It is a question of rights. There is also usually the question of adversary combat. There is no question of getting any smooth ride, but litigants will get nowhere at all if they cannot be represented. For example, in Victoria in criminal cases no representation at all is available and one is opposed by the State and all its resources. How can honourable members say that that is fair and reasonable and that the Government is helping people in the community? The Minister made the specific statement:
It is desired to encourage as far as possible the settlement of ancillary matters under the Family Law Act, that is, custody, access, injunction and property settlement matters.
The encouragement is that one will not get any legal aid after a certain point is reached. That is the point at which the defence has been filed. But once the defence is filed merely means that there is a defence. If there is a defence, there is a contest. Once that happens there will be no more legal aid because of a gun-at-the-head arrangement. The Government is saying: ‘Unless you settle now you will get no more legal assistance’. Does anybody in his right mind or anybody in the legal profession think that that is the way to approach legal aid? Is not that the very time that one would want some legal aid? That is when the adversary situation will develop. The questions would be: Who is to have custody of the children? What about the injunction? What about access?
This is no way to approach these problems. With that approach the situation is a complete sham. The Government will just say to people: You will have to settle your matters. We do not care about the justice of the situation. You will not get any legal advice after this because no money is available for you.’ So we get to the ridiculous situation that once a defence is filed that is the end of legal aid, unless one can make some special pleadings. We know what chance that will have. The Australian Legal Aid Office will be inundated with all sorts of special cases. In relation to property applications, initially legal aid will be granted up to the stage of a conference under regulation 96. Everybody knows that the Government is saying: ‘Look, you can have a conference about it. We will look at the situation up to that point but if you do not agree that is the end of it. There will be no more legal aid’. That point has been made in the statement. What is the Attorney-General about? As has been said, it is like a humorous situation where he is trying to come in a revolving door behind somebody and finish up in front of them. It cannot happen.
If the Government is going to reduce the effective amount of money for the greater growing need, it will give fewer people aid. The situation is as simple as that. We believe that legal aid is an important financial priority and an essential priority in human terms. The Government’s contemptible meanness has not only caused political embarrassment but has also denied people their rights. I come back to the fundamental principles. The profession would be able to help if it had some clear understanding of where the Government was going with its policy. But this is a Department of the Treasury policy. It is a Budget revenue concept. A small amount of money will be eked out each month and that will have to do. Litigation and human rights do not run to a time table with a monthly allocation from the Treasury. But that is the position clearly evidenced in Victoria and it is apparent in every other State.
Really, the Government does not want to have a bar of legal aid. It has opted out of its responsibilities. It wants to give the whole lot to the States and to the profession. It wants to give no money on the basis that that would save some money. This year the allocation to the private profession is less than it was two years ago. The whole allocation has not been looked at properly. A legal aid commission ought to be advising the Government as to what should be spent on legal aid. There should be some clear advice as to what should be done. A commission should be established to identify the needs of the people. It should be a question not of how much money has to be spent but of what are the needs of people. These people are the unemployed and the underprivileged. They are likely to be prosecuted by people like officials of the Government. They could be on the end of a summons which the Government issues. They have to defend themselves with their resources against the resources of the Government. The Government does not put in a penny but it demands that such people do when they fight for their rights.
The Government says: ‘We have provided a court for you’. But of what value is the court if the people do not have the legal assistance to meet what they are up against. That is what the situation is about. Every lawyer will tell honourable members that. It is not a case of sitting down in the pleasant arrangement that one might think exists in any office. It is a question of combat and rights, skill and ability to get justice determined by somebody who is impartial. The Government would send somebody in who has all the resources and money and it would leave out somebody who has no resources at all. The Government talks about it in this fashion: Everybody has got to find some money. There is massive unemployment. The situation is that many people have only part-time work, many people are paying high rents and many people have very little disposable income. How in the name of fortune are they going to meet their responsibilities? It is a disgraceful situation. I do not think anybody in Australia would agree with the statements made by the Minister today.
It is nonsense for the Minister to say that the Government is going to be really looking at people in need. Each person who is now a candidate for’ legal aid is in desperate need, and all that has happened here is what I said earlier would happen. The Government is abandoning its responsibilities. It could not care less about its responsibilities in this area and it will be held to judgment at the next election regarding its promise in this regard. The Government must bring forward a clear and an intelligent suggestion in regard to the moneys which are needed. It should establish the independent commission. It should not abandon the people to the States because of this dreadful Fraser mentality of new federalism. In this concept it is going to mean no money at all. The Government never wanted to become involved in legal aid. It was asked to carry on a Labor program, but it is now abandoning that program and the people who are desperately in need.
Debate (on motion by Mr Bourchier) adjourned.
-! did indicate to Mr Deputy Speaker that I wished to make a personal explanation which relates to Hansard. I note an error in Hansard. It is in the report of the Legislative Committee dealing with the Export Expansion Grants Bill. It is at page 8 of Hansard of 25 October, and Hansard has attributed to me a statement dealing with the export expansion grants and talking about a meat company. The statement was made by the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume). I would ask that Hansard correct the fact that my name appears there as the person who made the remarks. I think the honourable member would acknowledge that he made this statement.
-I am sure that the correction will be made.
-I have a second point. It is that the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland) said I had misrepresented him in quoting a speech. He referred to a question I asked of him in which I said he had made these remarks. In answering the question he did not talk about the remarks in the sense that I was incorrect or otherwise, but today he said that I was incorrect. I must acknowledge the fact that I was incorrect. The remarks were made by his colleague the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife). The remarks were accurate. The Minister was not the right Minister, but he did not deny it at the time.
Motion (by Mr Fife) agreed to:
That the House at its rising adjourn until Tuesday, 7 November next at 2. 1 5 p.m. unless Mr Speaker shall, by telegram or letter addressed to each member of the House, fix an alternative day or hour of meeting.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
– I present the report of the Select Committee on Tourism, together with the transcript of evidence and the minutes of the proceedings.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– I ask for leave of the House to make a short statement.
– The Committee was first appointed in December 1976 and since then has become acutely aware of the potential and problems of the Australian tourist industry. Since it was first appointed the Committee has met on 6 1 occasions, including 24 meetings during this Parliament. Thirty-six public hearings have been held at which 204 witnesses, representing 94 organisations appeared before the Committee. The
Committee also conducted 32 inspections and on a further 3 1 occasions held informal discussions with representatives of the tourist industry.
The Committee was required under its terms of reference to identify the short and long term issues facing the tourist industry, as well as examining the roles and responsibilities of the various levels of government and the industry, in the promotion and development of tourism. The Committee was also required to consider the economic significance of tourism, the influence of the various modes of transport and the adequacy and availability of statistics.
This report is not an enthusiastic and unequivocal endorsement of the local tourist industry. Rather, I would consider it a recognition of tourism as an industry. In this respect the Committee has concluded that the maintenance of the stable economic conditions is of paramount importance not only to the tourist industry but to all industries.
The Committee has concluded that the tourist industry is of considerable economic significance and deserves greater recognition. The Committee was not able to make a definite statement on the economic significance and has recommended that this be a matter for further study. The advisers to the previous committee, Dr Pigram and Dr Cooper, prepared a paper for the Committee on the economic significance of tourism in Australia. The advisers estimated that the direct turnover from tourism in 1974-75 was $3,300m while direct employment was 263,000. The estimates by the advisers have been subject to criticism, but they give some indication of the scale of the industry. The Committee considers that the paper prepared by the advisers is a valuable first step in the attempt to establish the economic significance of tourism in the Aus.tralian economy.
One of the achievements of the Committee has been to create greater awareness of tourism in the community. The Committee has concluded that in the past tourism has not been given proper recognition and has recommended that the Department of Industry and Commerce be renamed ‘The Department of Industry, Commerce and Tourism’. While this recommendation has a certain cosmetic appeal, it does at the same time, give tangible recognition of the industry.
The Committee considered whether tourism has special features in comparison with other industries. A special characteristic of tourism is that it does provide employment opportunities for unskilled and pan-time workers. It is also an industry which can have a significant effect on the balance of payments. While tourism is unlikely to have a dramatic effect on community health and welfare, it is in a unique position to foster and develop the community’s knowledge of Australia and the Australian heritage.
Tourism can contribute to regional development and decentralisation, it has been, and will continue to be, a major stimulus to sustained growth in many non-metropolitan areas of Australia. It has an advantage over many other industries, in that while it is labour intensive, it has distinct growth prospects.
The Committee has considered the potential of tourism and has concluded that its ability to achieve its potential will depend on the development of Australia’s tourist attractions; the aggressive promotion of these attractions by both industry and government at home and overseas; the introduction of more innovative air fares and the approval of more air charter flights from selected overseas destinations.
Road transport will have a significant influence on the development of tourism. The motor car will continue to dominate domestic transport, accounting for over 80 per cent of all trips, while aviation will probably increase its share of the market.
The dominance of the private car will require a massive up-grading of the Australian road network. The Committee has recommended the compilation of a priority list of tourist roads and that additional funds should be made available by Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments to upgrade those roads. Roads of particular concern to the Committee are the Stuart Highway, the Bruce Highway and the Alpine Way.
The Committee was also concerned with the need to ensure that the transport and tourism policy arms of government, co-operate in the development of policies for air transport and has recommended the establishment of a standing interdepartmental committee on air transport. When the Department of Transport first appeared before the Committee in March 1977, it suggested that $850 would be the best available return air fare between Australia and Europe. However at a later hearing, the Department advised it no longer holds this point of view. I consider that one of the achievements of this Committee is that since the Committee commenced its inquiry, there have been reviews of both international and domestic aviation policies.
One of the witnesses who appeared before the Committee was Mr, now Sir Freddie Laker. At the time he appeared before the Committee in May 1977, he had not yet launched his TransAtlantic Sky Train. The Committee was impressed by Mr Laker’s concept of low fares aimed at the budget conscious traveller. This Committee can see no reason why the recommendation of the previous Committee for a trial series of charter flights along the lines proposed by Sir Freddie Laker has not been implemented. The previous Committee stated:
This Committee considers that as a first principle promotion of travel to and from Australia can only benefit from the availability of cheaper air fares and that none of the views put to the Committee on the disadvantages of chaner flights of the type proposed by Laker, have been substantiated by experience.
This report was finalised prior to the release by the Minister for Transport of the International Aviation Policy Review. However, the Committee would hope that the follow-up to the Review would be a matter for the proposed standing committee on air transport. I am particularly pleased to note that the review of the international civil aviation policy concluded that bodies concerned with both tourism and transport should closely monitor the results of any change in the international fare regime.
The Committee has considered the introduction of the departure tax announced in the recent Budget. Indeed, the Committee would claim credit for raising such an issue. I suspect that it was the publicity given to one of the Committee’s hearings which may have provided the idea for the tax. The Committee would, however, suggest that the funds raised by such a tax should be used for the promotion and development of Australian tourism. If this is so, the carriers should have the responsibility for the collection of the tax.
The Committee is also concerned about the development of Australia’s national tourist attractions, particularly those where there is a Commonwealth responsibility. Two attractions are of particular concern to the Committee. The first is Ayers Rock, where the Committee considers that the lack of clearly defined administrative arrangements has hampered the development of this national attraction. The Committee is concerned at the delay in commencing the proposed tourist village and the delay in the preparation of the plan of management. The situation which has arisen in respect of Ayers Rock is not one which can be overcome by a massive injection of Government funds. Rather, there is a requirement for some heads to be knocked together. The Committee was also concerned about the Great Barrier Reef. The Committee has recommended that the staff ceiling for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority be lifted to a level where zoning procedures can be completed within 25 years. The Committee was told that with the present staff it may take up to 100 years. It also recommends that funds be made available to allow the Authority to provide interpretative facilities for tourists at the major destination areas adjacent to the Reef.
The Committee has considered the role of the Australian Tourist Commission and envisages an expanding role for that organisation. The Committee suggests that there is a need for an increase in promotional activity by that organisation. However, it does not suggest a substantial increase in staff. The Committee has also suggested that the ATC should involve itself in domestic promotion without, of course, detracting from its overseas promotion which should remain its primary activity. The ATC should undertake umbrella campaigns in consultation with the State and Territory governments aimed at persuading Australians to holiday in Australia.
The Committee suggests that the major role for States is in domestic promotion and that there should be greater emphasis on the establishment of regional organisations. The method of assisting the regional organisations varies from State to State and the Committee would suggest that the States discuss these differences in the hope that they can learn from each other’s experiences. The Committee has acknowledged the role of local government as being crucial to the development of Australian tourism. The Committee does not, however, consider that an accommodation tax is not an equitable method of spreading the costs of tourism across the community.
The Committee has identified 26 issues facing the industry. Certain issues have been resolved while others require action by various levels of government. The Committee has recommended the introduction of depreciation allowance for income-producing buildings, as well as recommending changes to the investment allowance. The Committee has been particularly concerned with the requirement for an international traveller to retrace his steps on tours within Australia as well as with the possibility of Australians being able to combine an international holiday with a domestic holiday. The Committee has recommended the designation of Townsville as the site for an international airport and that there be a study conducted of the desirability of the designation of a Tasmanian airport as an international airport. The Committee also recommends that the Minister for Transport announce, as soon as possible, a specific timetable for the upgrading of Brisbane Airport.
A particular issue which has been raised at nearly every hearing of the Committee is that of penalty rates. The Committee has concluded that the penalty rate structure prejudices employment opportunities, as well as providing a positive competitive disadvantage to the Australian tourist industry. The Committee recognises that wages and conditions are determined within the framework of an established industrial system which includes the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The Committee has recommended that the Government establish a tripartite working group to inquire into and report on the normal hours of work, penalty rates and related working conditions. The Committee, however, was at a loss to understand why employers have not sought a restructuring of the penalty rate provisions in current negotiations before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.
The Committee has suggested that the industry needs to consider carefully its own role in development of tourism. It has concluded that the majority of operators in the industry are not aware of the need for a well financed industry organisation to promote the industry to government, to other industries and to the public at large. It has also been suggested that the industry needs to recognise the interdependence of its various sectors.
It has not been possible in this tabling statement to comment on all of the conclusions and recommendations of the Committee. However, these are set out in the report. In concluding, I would claim that a major achievement of the Committee has been that attention has been focused on the tourist industry. However, it is up to the industry itself to recognise that, in the main, its future depends upon its own efforts. I would like to express my thanks to the Chairman of the Committee in the previous Parliament, Mr Duke Bonnett, whose assistance and guidance in the early stages were invaluable. I also pay a most sincere tribute to the members of my Committee, in particular to the Deputy Chairman, the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart) whose detailed knowledge of the tourist industry has been of great benefit to the Committee and to me personally. My thanks also go to the other members of the Committee who were prepared to contribute their time to the inquiry. Each member was able to contribute a particular expertise. The honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) is well known for his knowledge of transport, the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) was particularly concerned with environmental aspects; the honourable member for Ballarat (Mr Short), the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Sainsbury) and the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Ian Robinson) were particularly concerned with decentralisation; while the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Bruce Goodluck) who was concerned particularly with Tasmania, was able to make a valuable contribution in respect of local government. The report is a unanimous one. There were many issues on which the Committee, by virtue of long deliberation, was able to arrive at a consensus. The Committee has asked that I express its appreciation to the staff of the secretariat- Mr Phil Bergin, Mr Alan Kelly, Ms Virginia Greville, Ms Ann-Marie Nagle and Mrs Lyn Coutman- who provided the back-up support to the Committee.
-by leave-I endorse most of the remarks of the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Jull) and would like to pay tribute to him for the excellent job he did as Chairman of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Tourism. I have said often in this House that committees of the Parliament are the best way of getting things done for the good of this nation. It has been my experience on other committees, such as the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Road Safety, that members of parliament with different philosophical and ideological positions, after sitting around a table examining a problem, inevitably come to almost identical conclusions. So, I am a strong advocate of committees. The important thing about committees is that governments act upon their recommendations. Honourable members on the Committee came from quite different philosophical positions. We may have had some differences of emphasis and on one or two things we may have disagreed, but overall the members of the Committee agreed completely with the report. It is now up to the Government.
There has been talk about the promotion of tourism in this country for years and years- at one stage everyone was in favour of tourism; it was like motherhood- but the test is whether something will be done about it. I pay particular tribute to the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart). I think it is recognised in this Parliament that no other Minister has done more for the tourism industry than he. The present Government has made some severe cutbacks in the area of tourism but, hopefully, it is now taking a new look at this move. It has the opportunity to redeem itself by pressing ahead with implementing the vast majority of the Committee’s recommendations.
I now point to some of the problems that we, as a committee, had. The main one, which was alluded to by the honourable member for Bowman, was the difficulty of quantifying in economic terms the value of the tourist industry. This is a difficulty because in most other industriesfor example, the wool industry, the wheat industry or the motor vehicle industry- it is fairly easy to quantify what is involved in the industry.
It is fairly easy to quantify what is involved in these industries. One can get figures which show that so many cars are manufactured and so much steel is used but tourism is a vague, amorphous industry. We all recognise that accommodation is part of the tourist industry but how much of transport is tourism; how much of the restaurant, hotel and entertainment trades is tourism; how much of the retail trade is tourism- in some areas it would be almost 100 per cent while in other areas it would be virtually nothing with a grey area in between- how much of the service industries, including barbers, medical services and so forth is dependent on tourism? The point made by the Treasury was that much of it was not a new industry but merely a shifting of expenditure from one part of the country to another. I give the example of a person who eats a steak on the Gold Coast. That is not necessarily an extra expenditure because if he had been in his home town of Melbourne he might have eaten steak there. That is one of the difficulties that the Committee faced. I fully endorse the need for further studies in this area.
Quite clearly tourism is a big industry. Although it is difficult to specify exactly where and what it is, it is big and it is a growth area. I have hammered that point in this place year in and year out. It is evident to anybody looking at the figures for tourism that it has grown enormously over the past 10 to 20 years. We are entering a period of greater leisure, shorter working weeks and longer leave and it is obvious that there will be more tourism. Therefore, if we are going to find jobs for the increasing number of people who are seeking employment- the young, the unskilled, the ethnic groups and women who are finding it difficult to get jobs in the system- it is essential that we direct our resources to those areas that show potential for growth, instead of propping up industries that we know are on the decline. I will not pursue that point too much at this time.
Something that I do not think has been mentioned in this debate is the enormously important effect of tourism on decentralisation. Everybody is in favour of decentralisation but very little has been done about it, particularly, if I may say so, by this Government. There are many towns in Australia today which depend to an enormous degree on tourism for their growth. It is an excellent form of decentralisation. If there were no such thing as tourism what would happen to places like Cairns, Maroochydore, Noosa, the Gold Coast, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Gosford- Wyong, which is in my own electorate, Alice Springs, Albany in Western Australia and, of course, Tasmania? I believe that if there is one State in Australia that should receive special consideration in the area of tourism because of its many other problems, it is Tasmania. I predict that its future is as a major tourist attraction for Australians and international visitors. The only way we can achieve that for Tasmania is by providing special arrangements, special travel concessions, special subsidies and special grants to get development under way. It has everything going for it. It is a beautiful State but it is disadvantaged in so many other areas that it should receive special consideration. I would like to draw out several points from the Committee ‘s report and to add to something about which I have expressed concern in speeches both in this House and outside. Point 9 of the conclusions and recommendations of the report of the Committee states:
The Committee concludes that there is a requirement for greater co-operation among the State governments, local governments and developers to prevent badly planned ribbon development on the coastline.
We have to be brutally frank about a lot of the development that has taken place in Australia. It is poor quality and it is ad hoc. I recently described it in a speech as ‘Parramatta Road by the sea’. All along the coast of Australia cheap, shoddy, fibro, fast-food development has occurred. A lot of it is fading and ugly in comparison with what we are competing with in Fiji, Singapore and Bali. Let us face it; it is quite ugly. As a nation we have to see that this sort of cheap, shoddy development ceases and that there is instead quality development. I believe that there is room for government involvement in relation to point 10 of the conclusions and recommendations of the Committee. It states:
The Committee concludes that proper interpretive facilities are an important tool in the education of tourists and in the management and control of tourism in natural areas.
I have always been concerned that when people go to a large number of Australian tourist areas, such as the Great Barrier Reef, some of our national parks or Ayers Rock, they see the natural scenery or The Rock or the Barrier Reef but they do not really comprehend what is going on. They do not understand the geography, the geology, the Aboriginal culture or the ecosystem that provides a myriad of flora and fauna. I think it is vital for Australians, not only for their enjoyment but also for their education, that there should be proper interpretive centres to explain in an audio-visual way what is going on. Small museums would probably be a better description than interpretive centres. They could give the tourists an understanding of the community they are visiting.
I commend the Committee for its strong recommendations regarding domestic tourist promotion. I refer to the work done by the honourable member for Grayndler as Minister and to the very successful promotion that was undertaken during his term as Minister. It was called Australia- a land of things to do’. Australia suffers from competition from other exotic tourist resorts and I can understand the appeal for people in Australia of countries of a different culture, a different language and different food. Those are some of the attractions of travel. I hope that Australians can mix their travel by visiting the very exciting places in Australia. I think that we need to tell Australians more about what is in their own country. Of course, the need to promote Australia overseas goes without saying. I have already spent considerable time in the past discussing the departure tax. The Opposition did not oppose the introduction of this tax but we urged strongly that the funds procured from the departure tax which, from my recollection, will be approximately $ 10m in the first year and $ 13m in the second year rising to something like $20m in a few years, and which is the sort of funding that would be needed in’ the tourist industry should be used to do the things that will set it on the right path. I have never advocated the tying of taxes directly to a particular area of expenditure but I think that in this case it could be a reasonable guide to what we expect the Government to spend on tourism. Point 34 highlights the need for quality convention faculties in Australia. Australia is missing out a great deal in this enormous convention trade that is growing all around the world. All sorts of industries and associations, such as doctors and lawyers who can afford to attend conventions by writing off the cost against their tax, are now travelling the world. The bigger conventions- those that require faculties for two or three thousand peopleare sidestepping Australia and going to other parts of the world. We need to look at really top quality convention facilities. I suggest that this could be considered for a State like Tasmania, where a large scale convention facility could be located. Then we would have the opportunity to attract these very large conventions and also, of course, the spending that goes with them because the people who go to such conventions are usually of some means.
I take issue with only one thing on which I have some disagreement with the Committee. I do so not because I am a member of the Labor Party. I was unconvinced on the question of penalty rates. When I became a member of the Committee I was convinced that there was an argument that we should be talking to the unions about penalty rates. I thought that there was an argument for a flexi-week. I will be honest: When I listened to the employers and heard them put their case they convinced me that they were wrong. I am afraid that I was not convinced at all that there is a case for the abolition of penalty rates. We asked the employers for the average earnings of the people they employ. We asked what the average steward took home and what the average cleaner in a motel took home. I am going back now about 12 months, but at the time the average weekly take-home pay for a steward was around $ 1 80 to $200 and for the average cleaner in a motel around $130 to $145. When I asked the employers whether that was not about what they would expect the average Australian to take home, their reply was: ‘I suppose it is’.
Quite frankly, the tourist industry has no right to expect that the employees in that industry should take home a lower wage just because it is the tourist industry. There is no reason in the world why Australians working in that area should expect to get $20, $30 or $40 a week below what they would get if they were working in the car industry. I still have an open mind, but I am totally unconvinced by the arguments that the employers put. It is all very well for them to say: ‘Look at what they pay in Fiji or India’. No one surely is suggesting that we should lower our wage rates to those paid in those countries. I point out that when one goes to those countries one finds that the costs there are just as high as, if not higher than, the cost in Australia. In India the average income is probably about $100 a yearnot a week- yet the cost of staying in the Hilton and other international hotels is still as high as, or higher than, the cost of staying in such hotels in Australia. Quite frankly, I think that there is a bit of a con act going on here.
I point out something that the honourable member for Bowman pointed out, that is, that the industry has not bothered to make any submissions to the arbitration courts. I think he described the industry as gutless. I saw one newspaper story which said that the industry is all talk. There may be a solution in that it could offer people employed in the industry a higher flat rate so that wages could be evened out. I was going to use a crude expression, but I will just say that we are spitting into the wind if we think that the trade unions are going to accept lower wages for one section of the Australian work force. That is just not a goer. That was my only disagreement with the Committee in some 400 or 500 paragraphs; and that is not bad. I wanted to mention a number of other things very briefly, such as support for international airports at Townsville and Hobart. One could go on and on. It is a very exciting report. I congratulate all those honourable members involved with it. I thank them for the pleasure of working with them, it has been a delight. I hope now that the Committee can look forward to these recommendations being implemented by the Government.
-by leaveFirstly, I congratulate the Chairman of the Select Committee on Tourism, the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Jull), the Deputy Chairman, the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart), and all the other members of the Committee on the work they put into this excellent report and thank them for tempering my somewhat enthusiastic parochialism. I think that one has to be very constructive and to think of the general scene throughout Australia, particularly in relation to the tourist industry. A couple of the remarks of the honourable member for Bowman were, I think, most significant. He said that we should be acutely aware of the problems of the tourist industry. There are many problems. He also mentioned that 263,000 people are employed in the industry.
I was very impressed with the remarks of the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen), particularly in relation to Tasmania. I think that there was a general awareness by members of the Committee that, because of Tasmania’s isolation, its peculiar problems and the fact that industries there are finding it very difficult to survive, we have to look for something else; and the tourist industry is the answer. Tasmania is a beautiful island. It has everything going for it. The fact that some 400,000 people visit Tasmania in a year indicates that it has tremendous potential.
– It should be more.
-I agree; it should be more. I think the matter was summed up beautifully by the Chairman of the Committee and by the honourable member for Robertson. I refer now to the two significant recommendations of the Committee in relation to Tasmania. The honourable member for Robertson said that there should be an international airport in Hobart. I think that the recommendation is for an airport of international standard in Tasmania. Therefore, I say to the people of Tasmania, if they are going to argue about whether we should have a casino in the north, that they had better make up their minds very quickly. There is a casino in the south which generates a tremendous amount of side benefits to the people of Tasmania. People visit there and are able to spend their money there. So the people in the north had better make up their minds whether they want a casino and whether they are going to get into the tourist industry and cop the dollars. That is the important thing.
– What about the north-west coast?
-My friend the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, who is at the table, mentioned the north-west coast. Of course, that is in the north. That is a beautiful place. So I say to the Minister: Let us get into it and make certain that we attract people to Tasmania before others jump in’.
The other recommendation in relation to Tasmania is that it should be recognised as a tourist island. I think that is most important. I congratulate all the members of the Committee on being so vocal on the fact that Tasmania’s problems should be recognised. I only hope that the recommendations of the Committee will come into force; that the Minister will take notice of and implement the important recommendations which will assist the tourist industry of Australia. I mention another couple of points very briefly. I believe that we should promote Australia. We should keep the dollars in Australia. We should see some of the places in Australia and not go overseas. Therefore, I commend the recommendation that the Australian Tourist Commission look to domestic promotion. Of course, we have to look to overseas promotion, but let us get stuck into Australia. Let us keep the dollars in Australia and make certain that people see Australia. I have not seen many places in Australia. I would like to see some of the places that were mentioned before the Committee. I am just one. There are others just like me.
I would Uke to talk about domestic air fares. They are far too dear. We should fight and make absolutely certain that they are reduced to enable people in remote areas to visit other parts of Australia. It is dashed near as dear to travel to Western Australia as it is to go to the United Kingdom; and that is ridiculous. So we need to take that on board. I would like to commend the members of the staff too. I think that they did an excellent job and they backed up the Committee. Once again, I offer congratulations to all members of the Committee.
-by leave-This is the final report of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Tourism. An interim report was produced by a previous committee chaired by the former member for Herbert, Mr Duke Bonnett. The fact that this Committee has been operating over a period of three parliaments is an indication that the Committee did a great deal of work. It is fitting to mention that from the inception of the Committee until the presentation of this report to the Parliament there were only two changes of membership of the Committee. The honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) resigned from the Committee and his place was taken by the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones). The other members of the Committee remained on the Committee for the whole time, with Mr Bonnett ‘s position, on his retirement, being taken by the well known, well loved honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck). During the course of his membership of the Committee, we were able to keep his youthful exuberance under control. The Committee worked harmoniously and well. The Chairman of the Committee, the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Jull) assumed office after Duke Bonnett resigned and he worked assiduously during the whole of the time that he was Chairman. I feel that this report is the first substantial recognition of tourism in this country. Australia, to me, has a vast potential in tourism, both domestic and international. What needs to be done is for Australia and Australians to sell Australia. That necessarily means that we must have co-operation from the Australian Government, State governments, local government and industry.
The point that was highlighted to me and I think to other members of the Committee during the course of all our hearings was that until the time this Committee started its deliberations, each sector of the tourist travel industry thought that it was the industry. Each State government thought that only it had tourist potential. Each local government area thought that only it had tourist potential. I believe that this report will convince local government, the State governments, the Australian Government and the various sectors of the industry that tourism can become a unified industry. The various sectors of the industry need to recognise that they are part of a whole industry and that they will need to cooperate with each other. There is one point in the report that I desire to mention. It appears at page 2 in the final chapter of the introduction. Paragraph 10 states:
The Committee records its regret at the lack of cooperation received from the Australian Council of Trade Unions which declined to make a submission. The Committee had expected that the Australian National Travel Association (ANTA) would have been more involved in the earlier stages of the Inquiry. The situation regarding the delayed appearance of ANTA before the Committee is commented on in Chapter 1 3.
We have a situation in which on the one hand the employees representative was not prepared to appear before a House of Representatives select committee to give guidance, advice and information on penalty rates, part-time work and casual work in this travel and tourist industry- a 24-hour a day, 7-day a week industry. The Committee, either through the secretariat, the previous Chairman or the present Chairman, approached the Australian Council of Trade Unions on no fewer than four occasions. On no occasion did the ACTU take up the invitation for a representative to appear before an all party House of Representatives committee and to express his opinion on penalty rates and working conditions in the tourist industry.
On the other hand, the Australian National Travel Association, the employers representative, dillydallied over a long period before presenting a substantial submission to the Committee. The Chairman of the Committee, mentioned- it is also mentioned in the reportthat the awards in certain sectors of this industry are at present under consideration. Despite the fact that employers repeatedly told Committee members of the economic difficulties caused to them by penalty rates in the industry because it is a 7-day a week, 24-hour a day working industry, none of them has bothered to raise the question of penalty rates in the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission or before an arbitrator. It is not up to this Parliament or to a select committee of this Parliament to become a wage fixing authority. It is up to the people in the unions and on the employers side to decide, through the conciliation and arbitration machinery, the wage rates and working conditions which should apply. I conclude my remarks by congratulating and thanking the members of the Committee for working together so harmoniously. I hope the
Government will give both the House of Representatives and the Senate an opportunity to examine thoroughly and debate this report.
-by leave-I would like, very briefly, to say how pleased I have been to be a member of the Select Committee on Tourism and to reiterate the statements of appreciation already made for the work and the chairmanship of the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Jull) and before him, in the previous Parliament, Mr Duke Bonnett who was then member for Herbert. They have both been tremendous chairmen and I think that the Committee has benefited greatly from their leadership. I should also like to pay a tribute to the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart) who has been Deputy Chairman of the Committee throughout its deliberations. What I believe is an excellent report owes a great deal to the honourable member’s experience and wisdom during the course of our deliberations. Like the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen), I appreciated the completely bipartisan approach to the Committee’s work displayed by all members of the Committee, regardless of their political allegiances. The end result we have produced as a Committee bears pretty full testament to that.
I would also like to express my thanks to the Committee staff, as other honourable members have, for their untiring efforts and capable assistance. I would particularly like to thank Mr Phil Bergin, the Secretary of the Committee; Miss Virginia Greville; Mrs Lyn Coutman, and, in the early stages of the Committee, Mr Allan Kelly. The report is a large document which reflects the work of many months input by many expert witnesses. It contains a great deal of information on tourism which I believe has not previously been brought together in any comprehensive manner in Australia. That in itself makes the report an important document. It also contains many conclusions and recommendations and one obviously has not the time to go into all of these today. However, there are two or three that I would like to highlight because I believe these were the most important parts of the report.
Firstly, I mention the conclusion that tourism in Australia is a major industry even though, as we fully recognised and discovered in our work, tourism is very difficult to define with precision. However, it is a major industry and has considerable economic significance, particularly, as the honourable member for Robertson pointed out, in non-metropolitan areas. In Australia I believe we have to create a much greater awareness of the value and the very great national signifiance of decentralisation. In my electorate of Ballarat, tourism has provided a great impetus to development. It has done so in many other areas of Australia. I would like to emphasise the importance of tourism- I believe it is highlighted in the report- in the development of employment opportunities and productive activity, particularly in non-metropolitan areas. I believe the conclusion that the wages structure in the industry, particularly the penalty rate system, is a major factor inhibiting the development of the industry in Australia both in terms of tourist facilities and employment is very significant. Virtually every witness who appeared before the Committee made this point. Like the honourable member for Robertson, I do not think this point was fully developed in the sense of bringing out a conclusive analysis. Therefore, I hope the Committee ‘s recommendation that a study be undertaken into this whole area by a tripartite working group is taken up as a matter of urgency and that the study, as the report recommends, be made available to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.
I believe that the question of international air travel is also of great significance for the future development of the tourist industry in Australia. Without going into detail, 1 simply endorse strongly the comments the Chairman of the Committee made about giving charter nights a go in this country. I am not at all convinced that the arguments against opening up international air travel in Australia to some greater competition than we now experience have been explained in any conclusive way. I believe the recommendation that the Department of Industry and Commerce be renamed the Department of Industry, Commerce and Tourism is of importance. This may not seem to be a recommendation of great moment but such a change would have very real significance because it would have the effect of government giving specific recognition to the importance of the industry to Australia.
I will not take up the time of the House any longer other than to say that I hope that the Committee’s recommendations and the content of its report will increase government and community awareness of the significance and value of tourism to Australia. We have a great country and we have a responsibility to use it wisely and to enjoy it. We have a responsibility as a community and as a government to encourage that. I believe and firmly hope that this report will be a significant contribution in that direction.
Sitting suspended from 1.2 to 2.15 p.m.
-by leave- I join with other members of the Select Committee on Tourism in expressing my appreciation and congratulations to the two men who have occupied the position of chairman of that Committee for the work that they put into it. They were both good chairmen, in my opinion. Likewise, I express my appreciation to the Deputy Chairman for the amount of work that he also put into the Committee. He has had vast experience in this field, due to the fact that he was Minister for Tourism in the Labor Government. Last but not least, of course, I express appreciation for the work performed by the staff. They were always helpful in assisting members of the Committee to research information when it was required.
I would like to deal with several recommendations of the Committee’s report. First of all, I deal with the recommendation concerning hours of work, penalty rates and so on in the tourist industry. From my point of view, it is not the responsibility of this Parliament or of any of its committees to make decisions apropos these items. The tourist industry has an organisation and its members, either directly or indirectly, are all parties to awards that cover the labour they employ. That avenue is open to them. They should exercise their rights in the courts if they consider that the hours of labour, rates of pay and conditions in general are a disadvantage to their industry. The place to test these issues is the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and not a committee such as the Select Committee on Tourism. So much for that recommendation. The Committee placed a lot of emphasis on it, but in my opinion, did nothing about it in the place that counted.
Tourism in Australia is a matter on which, I believe, the government of the day has to determine its priorities. If it is desirous of using a particular national advantage to expand a district then it should be the prerogative of the Government to exercise its power over Treasury to assist the industries, the groups and the committees in particular areas that they want to develop. I have listened to much talk about the cost of transport in Australia. But when I compare it with the cost of transport overseas, I get a different result to that which has been referred to by honourable members here today. I am not talking about the cost of travelling overseas but of internal transport costs. If we look at Australian aviation costs and compare the cost of flying between cities in Australia with the same sort of travel overseas- in Europe, for example- we find that a lot more is paid for inferior services overseas. The same can be said about rail transport. Sure, there may be a better system of rail transport in Europe than there is in Australia but one certainly has to pay more for it.
As the report stated, so far as road transport is concerned, the family car will be the main mode of transport. We accept that as a fact. Why does the industry not get out and use the advantages that it has with transport costs. It should get out, use the advantages and advertise them. When one compares the price of fuel in Australia with the price of fuel in Europe, one finds that Australia has a great advantage. These are the issues that the tourist industry should be pushing instead of whinging and moaning about the cost of transport. What I am concerned about is that major airport developments could take place in cities. However, economic evaluations of such projects would show that they are just not on. If the Government proceeds with these airport developments which people in particular cities and States desire, then the Government should accept the responsibility and not expect the rest of the transport industry in Australia to carry the cost of building those additional airports. Airports cost money and someone has to pay for them.
What I am saying is this: The Government should determine its priorities. It should decide whether it wants to develop a particular locality. If it does; it should put the money into that particular project and not expect the industry as a whole to carry the burden. I do not want to spell out specific airport projects. I am talking about them in general because there has been a lot of airy fairy talk in this place and in other places about where international airports should be built and what international air routes should be provided. Just remember one thing: The more these big aircraft put down and the more places they call at, the more it will cost and the more that will have to be charged in fares. I think these aspects need to be taken into consideration.
In the whole area of transport there is a great need in Australia for the establishment of an interstate commission. It was unfortunate that a certain event occurred on 11 November 1975 when the then shadow Minister agreed to the setting up of an interstate commission. I was then Minister for Transport. The then Oppositionthe now Government- agreed that included in the responsibilities of an interstate commission would be an evaluation of all these projects and ideas that people have. It would have determined the value of transport, what charges should be made and what rates should be imposed. In conjunction with the tourist industry, there is a need for an interstate commission to evaluate all these sorts of projects so that the government of the day can determine its priorities and decide what it wants to develop.
During the Committee’s inquiry we discussed an airport departure tax. I am sorry to say that this Government has introduced an airport departure tax which will be used for one purpose only- that is, for revenue raising. All of the revenue from the departure tax will go into the Treasury. It will just be another tax whereas the Committee said- I have no objection to the Committee’s recommendation- that the proceeds of an airport tax should be used to develop and expand the tourist industry. In my opinion that was a worthwhile recommendation. The industry was making a positive contribution but that contribution now has been cut off and this tax is just another source of revenue. I think the Government has to give serious consideration to the Committee’s recommendation and should put the Committee’s recommendation into effect instead of saying- I am sorry that I was overseas when that particular Bill came before the House so I could not debate it- that the Select Committee on Tourism has made this recommendation. Of course the Committee made that recommendation but not for the purpose for which the Government has used it; as a source of revenue.
We have an understanding that we will deal with these matters briefly. In conclusion, I should like to refer to the question of accommodation. The industry complained continuously to the Committee about accommodation. The industry should get out and sell the fact that good accommodation is cheap in Australia. If one compares Australian accommodation costs with accommodation costs overseas, one finds that we have very cheap, good accommodation in Australia.
-It is very good, cheap accommodation. I think that in his contribution the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) said that when one compares the cost of accommodation with Asian accommodation one wonders how the heck they determine their prices. I agree with him. Recently, as a member of a parliamentary delegation overseas, I paid up to $50 a day for accommodation. For similar accommodation in Australia one would not expect to pay any more than about $ 1 5 a day. So the industry should get out and sell these facts because they are a means of popularising Australian tourism, of popularising visits to
Australia. I conclude my remarks by saying that I believe that basically this is a good report. The Committee has done a lot of work on it. In particular, the two chairmen and the Deputy Chairman have put a heck of a lot of work into it and a lot of their experience has been written into it.
-by leave- As one who was a member of a tourism committee which preceded the appointment of this Select Committee on Tourism, I congratulate the Committee on the work it has accomplished under the chairmanship of the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Jull) and his predecessor, the now retired member for Herbert, Mr Bonnett. This Committee was really a very high powered committee insomuch as it also had the advantage of having as members the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart), who is a former Minister in charge of tourism, and the previous speaker, the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones), who is a former Minister for Transport. They, along with the other members of the Committee, made it a well balanced committee.
I have always believed that Australian governments, whether they be of Liberal or Labor persuasion, badly underestimate the value of tourism to this country. Every government indulges in exercises of nipping half a million dollars here or a million dollars there off various areas of government expenditure; yet they continue to play a very minor role in assisting the very important industry of tourism. Some countries rely almost totally on tourism to survive. Tourism, if examined, can be found to provide great wealth for a country with something to offer and, if exploited properly, can bring about almost a balance of payments. Some countries regard tourism as the means of putting the icing on their cake. Yet we in Australia continue to approach the subject in a most unprofessional manner. If we were to take away from this continent the wealth of Queensland- I am not being parochial- and of Western Australia, Australians would realise that Australia was not such a lucky country any more. We virtually live in a fool’s paradise brought about by our great mineral wealth. I am quite certain that if the wealth in those two States did not exist we would be far more desperate in exploiting, and would need to exploit, the opportunities which are available in this area.
Australia is a long way away from much of the rest of the world. Therefore we have an immediate disadvantage. But what we should be doing is at all times setting about to make it as attractive as possible and as economical as possible for people from other parts of the world to come to Australia. American tourist package deals usually offer four days in Tahiti, four day in New Zealand and four days in Australia. Australians say: ‘Tut, tut! How can you expect to see Australia in four days?’ That is a very unreal attitude, because when people live on the other side of the world they do not want to go back home and just say: ‘I have been to Australia for twelve days’. There is something about people that makes them want to cram in as much as they can. That American market is a very specialised market. We should be directing our efforts very much to the European market, whilst of course paying close attention to the American market.
The honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) indicated his open mind on the subject of penalty rates and the effect they have on the industry. The honourable member for Newcastle indicated a view that it was none of the business of this Parliament or of the Committee. Despite the previous speakers’ comments, I venture to offer a view. My view is based on the vast changes which have come about in the field of service in Australia in more recent years. At one major motel in Canberra a person cannot get an early morning wake-up call before 7 a.m. because there are simply no staff on duty between about 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. At one very major hotel-motel in Brisbane there is now no room service available between the hours of 8.30 p.m. and 7 a.m. I was speaking to the owner of a very well known hotel in Sydney who came into the hotel one Sunday evening to examine personally the high cost he incurred in providing porter service. He worked out that on that Sunday evening it cost him almost $9 per house guest simply to have someone carry the guests’ luggage to their rooms. That high cost was brought about by penalty rates.
Whilst the honourable member for Robertson has stated that he has an open mind on the subject, what I believe has happened is that a lot of the people in the industry have simply cut out service, or cut it right back to a very bare minimum during these particular times.
– They have done away with jobs; that is what it is all about.
-The honourable member for Canberra is showing remarkable insight insomuch as he underlines the fact that jobs have been done away with. But tourism can offer almost a new hope for tomorrow in terms of job opportunities if we in Australia grasp the nettle and develop tourism properly. Tourism is very much a service industry and, if we went about it sensibly and even reconsidered the question of penalty rates and the actual effect these rates have had, maybe we could provide another 50,000 jobs in this country for our fellow Australians. Australia, the smallest continent in the world and the largest island in the world, has a lot to offer the world. I am quite convinced that all governments of all political persuasions have not really done a very good job in the field of tourism.
Finally, I want to refer to the Stockmans Hall of Fame. This is an historic building which is going to accommodate much history of this country by way of a collection of items which have been used in the past by country people. My friend the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) is not here at the moment, but he was vitally connected with this project.
– He is in it.
-The honourable member for Denison suggests that the honourable member for Kennedy is pan of that museum, which I think is most unfair. Here we have an example of limited foresight insomuch as a decision has been made to place a $6m museum in a country town called Longreach. I have nothing against Longreach. The only problem in relation to practicalities is that it is hundreds and hundreds of kilometres from the sea. Here is something which would be an attraction to overseas visitors, yet at a time of very high internal air fares we are putting it hundreds and hundreds of kilometres out of the way.
I notice that a Mrs Katter made the announcement about this museum. I am not suggesting that it is a family arrangement, but a Mrs Katter seems to be connected with the project. So I make a plea to the honourable member for Kennedy to consider the suitability of a place called Boonah which happens to be in my electorate. It is situated in the hinterland of Brisbane and the Gold Coast in the Fassifern Valley. The Gold Coast is represented by my colleague, the honourable member for Mcpherson (Mr Eric Robinson) and it is a most popular tourist area. Brisbane is a city of today and tomorrow. Hundreds of thousands of people visit there. If the Stockmans Country Hall of Fame were only 70 or 80 miles from Brisbane or 90 miles or so from the Gold Coast it would ensure not only that this $6m investment was a viable proposition financially but also that people from all over Australia and- more significantly for the wealth of this country- from all over the world would see this country’s humble beginnings. Certainly they are far different from the picture which is portrayed in the American produced western movies. But Australia has its true West. I submit that proper consideration should be given to placing this museum or Stockmans Hall of Fame in Boonah. That would be more realistic than having it in the town of Longreach, hundreds of miles from centres where people could have access to it.
– Where is Boonah?
-My Victorian friend asks me where Boonah is. I will see him after I conclude this speech. I wish to conclude where I began and that is by congratulating the Committee on its work. Australia and the Parliament have been well served by its efforts.
-by leave-I would like to be associated with the remarks made in the chamber today concerning the report of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Tourism which has been presented to the House. I congratulate the Chairman, the previous Chairman and the members of the Committee who have served since is was first established. As was mentioned earlier, it submitted an interim report and now, of course, it has submitted a final report. A tremendous amount of work has been involved. As a member of the Committee at both stages I am more than pleased to have had the opportunity to work with fellow members of the Committee. They have worked on this very important task of identifying the problems and needs of the tourist industry and on the report which has been submitted to the Parliament.
It will be recalled that when the Chairman spoke on the report earlier today he identified some 26 issues facing the tourist industry. I was interested to hear the remarks of the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) concerning some of the disabilities of the industry in respect of costs and particularly the cost of labour. Subsequently, of course, the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) expressed a somewhat contrary view. Nevertheless, the facts remain that employment in the tourist industry, which was assessed in New South Wales during the period to the end of the previous financial year, fell no less than 28 per cent. It fell to that extent because of the effect of penalty rates and high wages. Of the people employed in the industry, 6,500 found that they had lost their jobs because of the effect of this extraordinarily high level of costs on the industry. Of course, these costs apply to the various sectors of the industry, whether they be motels, hotels or other tourist attractions.
Mention was made earlier of services within the industry. Because of this disability, even the very essential tourist information centres in many localities are no longer open at weekends. This is simply because of the extraordinary cost associated with penalty rates which have to be paid to maintain service in respect of these facilities which are absolutely essential if tourism is to continue to expand and if service is to be provided for those who are taking advantage of the more liberal leave provision that is available these days in industry, in the Public Service and, for that matter, in all sections of the community. As a consequence, these people find it desirable to take their families within the country and to travel fairly extensively. They are entitled to service and they are entitled to it at a reasonable cost. I hope that some of the information that has been unearthed by the Committee, its findings and its recommendations in respect of this matter will be taken very seriously indeed.
I do not dispute for one moment the view of the honourable member for Newcastle that this is primarily a matter for the conciliation and arbitration commissioners. I remind the honourable member that in order to get a reasoned decision there has to be, firstly, a recognition and, secondly, a participation on the basis of at least some degree of well meaning and goodwill on the part of the employee and the employer. This must happen if we are to resolve the industry’s most difficult problem- that of the cost of labour employed- and to provide the necessary services for all sectors of the industry. There are many other matters to which I would like to refer but time constraints make that somewhat difficult this afternoon.
Of course, .one of the great difficulties confronting the industry at this moment is the availability of capital for further expansion. But there are encouraging signs with the trend towards lower costs and the reduction in the inflation rate. Certainly, on the drawing board now there are many proposals to expand the tourist industry. I have no doubt that, given a continuation of the Government’s policy in respect of the de-escalation of inflation and the holding down of costs, this industry can again take off to the advantage of the whole Australian economy. One of the very encouraging indications for the future is the assessment made recently which disclosed that the growth anticipated in overseas tourists coming into this country within the next five years is about 8 per cent. On those figures alone there will be a very tremendous input into the economy of Australia and into the economy of the tourist industry.
People in the centres that will be visited, whether they be the great Gold Coast which was referred to by the previous speaker, or whether they be places in my own area on the North Coast of New South Wales which has one of the highest throughputs of tourist flow of any region in Australia as a consequence of growth rate in development, Will certainly look forward with anticipation to what can come from the field of overseas tourism. There are many other very significant areas that have been referred to in the report and in this brief debate today.
I know that my colleague, the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher), has a particular interest in regard to yet another of the important regions of Australia. Of course, major attractions are important whether they be the Opera House, Ayers Rock or some other feature of interest to tourists. I want to take issue with the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Donald Cameron) who was somewhat critical of my colleague, the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) in respect of the choice of the location for the site where the National Country Hall of Fame will be established. I do not think the member for Kennedy had any direct responsibility in the selection of the site, but I know that he worked very hard indeed to bring about a favourable decision relating to this very unique proposition. However, when the member for Fadden suggested that Boonah might be a suitable place, I think he could be getting his boundaries a little mixed up again. One cannot site these sorts of things in every location to suit each individual. Although I am a New South Welshman, because of the very nature of what is proposed, I acknowledge immediately that it is appropriate for it to be in western Queensland; that it is a project specifically to recognise the Australian stockman. The National Country HaU of Fame therefore needs to be on the broad plains somewhere in that part of Australia, and I am sure the choice is one that will get that support.
There is so much that could be said in respect of a subject so broad, so important and so vital to the future of Australia. I am pleased to have been associated with the Committee, with its work, and again I offer my congratulations to all who worked on it, in particular the staff who worked so hard to ensure that this report finally came into this House.
-On behalf of the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation I present the report of the Committee entitled ‘Oil Spills: Prevention and Control of Oil Pollution in the Marine Environment’, together with the transcript of evidence and extracts from the minutes of proceedings.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-I ask for leave of the House to make a short statement.
-The report just tabled is the second report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation established in the 3 1st Parliament. The inquiry upon which this report is based was commenced in the previous Parliament. The Committee recognises that land-based oil pollution contributes significantly to the pollution of the ocean. Some 41 per cent of oil entering the ocean is estimated to come from land-based sources. The Committee concentrated on spills from shipping, off-shore drilling rigs and shore-based facilities. Pollution arising from such sources releases, on a world-wide basis, over 2 million metric tonnes of oil into the marine environment. In Australia, this is an area where effective Commonwealth action could be undertaken.
The problem of pollution of the marine environment by oil is, unfortunately, already common in Australia. Reports of marine pollution, both international and Australian, continually reminded the Committee of the topical nature of the subject throughout the course of the inquiry. Australia is not well prepared to cope with a major pollution incident, yet ship-sourced oil pollution, accidental or deliberate, is already a major environmental problem and the Committee believes that as Australia’s reliance on imported oil products increases so will the problem. Concern not only centres on the fact that the volume of tanker traffic will multiply but also that the size of the vessels themselves will increase. Honourable members will recall the incidents involving the tankers Torrey Canyon and the Amoco Cadiz and the disastrous consequences of a mishap involving such huge vessels and the spillage of thousands of tonnes of oil. The Committee recognised that economic factors may eventually bring super tankers to Australian waters. Authorities must carefully assess the environmental implications before allowing such vessels to operate. The decision to allow such super tankers should not be based solely on economic considerations. The provision of alternative methods of unloading vessels also requires consideration. Existing draught limitations in the major Australian oil ports such as Botany Bay and Westernport Bay would mean that extensive dredging programs are necessary to accommodate super tankers and the use of restricted facilities may itself pose risks to these vessels.
The environmental impact of marine oil pollution is difficult to predict not only because our knowledge of marine ecology is imperfect but also because there are no effective means of evaluating the physical factors which affect an oil spill such as tidal and wind movements. Information is essential if assessments of damage are to be made and strategies for the treatment of future oil spills are to be formulated. Evidence suggests there is little information available on the marine environment. The entire marine ecosystem is extremely complex and very little has been done towards understanding the functions and relationships of this system.
Because of the scant data available it is not surprising that there is a lack of public concern over marine pollution. Researchers have reached widely differing conclusions about the dangers of oil pollution and many authorities pay little heed to the problem unless there is evidence of immediate physical effects among marine animals.
It is well established that major oil spills have a disastrous effect on the marine environment. Oil is a conspicuous pollutant. It has a dramatic effect on marine life, sea birds, foreshores and pleasure craft. Beyond this initial emotive response the level of concern diminishes. At present little is known of the long-term effects of oil. Much of the information that is available is based on projections from overseas data; data which is not necessarily valid for Australian conditions. The Committee was concerned that the attitudes of some authorities charged with responsibility of combating oil pollution were as potentially dangerous as the pollution itself. Much of the effect merely involves the dispersal of the oil as rapidly as possible without consideration of the additional environmental damage involved in the wholesale application of toxic dispersants.
The Committee believes that environmental authorities must be given the opportunity to become more closely involved in the monitoring and clean-up of small routine oil spills. There is an urgent need for expanded research programs into marine environment and ecology. Existing facilities which are at present underutilised, for instance those at Lizard Island, Heron Island and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, located south of Townsville, could play an important initial role in the development of programs without incurring otherwise prohibitive establishment costs. The aim of the program would be to encourage research in all States and develop a comprehensive body of data on the marine environment.
Accidental pollution incidents such as the Ekofisk oil rig blow-out and the tankers Torrey Canyon and Amoco Cadiz are spectacular and release large volumes of oil. These spillages can usually be attributed to negligence or equipment failure. While it is likely that such incidents will never be entirely eliminated improved training techniques and maintenance programs would reduce them.
The Committee believes the greatest source of oil pollution, and hence the greatest danger, arises from the deliberate discharge of tank and bilge washings from all shipping. Discharges are numerous and constant and, while prohibited by Commonwealth and State legislation and the terms of international conventions, this type of pollution is difficult to detect and occurs as pan of everyday operations. Approximately 1.5 million metric tonnes, or 25 per cent of all oil entering the oceans is estimated to come from such discharges.
The Committee was concerned that while efforts are being made to improve methods of combating oil spills, not enough emphasis is being placed on methods of preventing spills. The Commonwealth plays an active role in the formulation of international conventions designed to limit marine pollution yet Australia has ratified only four of them. It is totally inadequate that the majority of these conventions, some dating back to the 1960s, have not been ratified.
The safety of shipping was considered in some detail and the Committee has made several recommendations dealing with this aspect. The relationship between improved shipping safety and the reduced probability of damage giving rise to an oil spill is obvious. It is for this reason that the Committee considers improvements necessary in charting and the provision of navigation aids. Many of the maps in use are based on readings obtained since 1944. Other areas may be charted on the basis of much earlier and potentially inaccurate data. Chans in the area just south of Cairns are based on information gathered around 1911. While relying on such charts vessels regularly navigate in the Torres
Strait and Great Barrier Reef areas assuming an under-keel clearance of a mere 1.5 metres. The inherent danger to the Great barrier Reef because of this situation is enormous.
The Naval Hydrographer is presently working to a timetable of 45 years to bring navigational charts up to accepted international standards. The Commonwealth has a responsibility to ensure that the program is completed as soon as possible and every effort should be made to upgrade the facilities associated with and available to hydrographic work.
The Department of Transport is responsible for the provision of navigation aids along Australia’s coastline. On the evidence presented to the Committee there are areas where aids could be usefully improved and the Committee has recommended accordingly. The Committee believes that there are areas where consideration could be given to the introduction of compulsory pilotage. In hazardous areas where detailed local knowledge is required for safe navigation the use of pilot services would significantly reduce the risks posed to vessels. Although implementation of such a scheme is made difficult by existing conventions concerning freedom of passage in international waterways the Committee recommends that the Commonwealth, at an international as well as national level, encourage the acceptance of compulsory pilotage.
Safety aspects of the existing 500-metre prohibited zone around oil and gas production platforms in Bass Strait were also considered by the Committee. The existing prohibited zone is supplemented by a 2.5 nautical mile cautionary zone around such structures. However, the infringement of this zone does not constitute an offence. The Committee appreciated that shipping movements in the area are moderate but the possibility of a collision and consequent pollution cannot be ignored. The extent of the existing prohibited area is limited by international convention. The Committee believes that to ensure the safety of off-shore structures the Commonwealth Government should make representations at an international level to have the restricted zones around Australian off-shore platforms extended to a distance of 2.5 nautical miles.
The effectiveness of current surveillance procedures in the prevention and detection of oil pollution depends directly on the capacity of the surveillance system. Adequate surveillance is hampered by the lack of resources and the extent of the Australian coastline. These inadequacies will become more apparent with the introduction of the Exclusive Economic Zone. The Committee is not convinced that the enormous cost required to upgrade significantly the system to provide effective anti-pollution surveillance is warranted. The Committee has noted the potential for the use of satellite imagery to detect oil pollution and has recommended that the use of these satellites be monitored to determine their suitability for Australia. The ‘fingerprinting’ of oil cargoes and ballast with coded plastic pellets, to simplify the identification of polluting vessels was considered. Sweden has unilaterally introduced a trial scheme which has led to a significant decrease in pollution incidents. The Committee considers that the likely impact of the introduction of a similar scheme in Australia should be examined.
Surveillance and detection will not of themselves limit the extent of pollution. It is up to the responsible authorities to take effective action against identifiable polluters. The imposition of substantial fines, as allowed under existing legislation, will promote sensible attitudes to the retention of waste oils and will dramatically reduce routine’ pollution. To cope with the eventuality of an oil spill Australia has developed the National Plan to Control Pollution of the Sea by Oil. The aim of the scheme was to develop strategies to combat oil pollution and to marshal stockpiles of anti-pollution equipment. The National Plan is an effective program but it is limited. The resources available are adequate to deal with day to day problems only. However, the Committee believes that these resources would be inadequate to prevent the contamination associated with a large scale oil spill. The development of the National Plan was an important step towards combating marine pollution but further consolidation and development are necessary.
The existing Plan, under the management of the Department of Transport, is planned and equipped to deal with the possibility of shipsourced pollution. The responsibility for dealing with pollution from off-shore rigs rests with the Department of National Development. The Committee is concerned that fragmentation of the responsibility to deal with oil pollution could cause unnecessary delays in the event of a major rig blowout. The Committee considers it appropriate that the Department of Transport, as controller of the National Plan, prepare contingency arrangements to cover off-shore rigs.
Similar inadequacies in planning exist in relation to co-operation with the oil industry. The industry accepts responsibility for pollution abatement around industry facilities but in the event of a major spill the National Plan would be called upon. Again the Committee is concerned that there are no formal arrangements to coordinate the National Plan with the Oil Industry Marine Oil Spills Action Plan. There is no organisation for planning the use of equipment or for transporting it to the spill site. To ensure that adequate measures exist to cope with oil pollution the formulation of joint arrangements providing for a common philosophy, training and exercises, and equitable financial contributions are required. Although not coming within the scope of terms of reference the Committee believes that a real need exists to consider the extension of the National Plan to include the possibility of pollution by other hazardous substances.
The Committee took evidence from 93 witnesses representing Commonwealth and State departments and instrumentalities, local government bodies, private industry, community groups, marine biologists and private individuals. All State governments participated in the inquiry by providing written submissions or by making officers available to speak to the Committee. The findings and recommendations within the report cover a wide range of matters and reflect the Committee’s recognition of perceived omissions or inadequacies in our scientific knowledge or administrative procedures. The adoption of these recommendations, it is hoped, will go some way to better preparing for that eventuality.
I wish to pay tribute to the staff of the secretariat. Too frequently we take for granted the valuable efforts of dedicated staff. The bulk of the research undertaken for the inquiry was carried out by Mrs Lyn Simons and Mr Jeff Lamond who were ably assisted by the clerk to the Committee, Mr John Cummins. I also acknowledge the work of Tarda Gorman who was involved in much of the typing associated with the inquiry and the report. On behalf of the Committee, I extend thanks to these people. Finally, I pay tribute to the members of the sub-Committee and, in particular, the honourable member for Latrobe (Mr Baillieu), who chaired the sub-Committee at one stage during my illness, the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Simon) and the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe). I commend the report to the House.
-by leave-I echo briefly the comments of the Chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation, the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges), in relation to the staff of the Committee. We must recognise that standing committees such as this are able to do the work that they do very much because of the staffing back-up. In this case many aspects of the inquiry were opened up because of the interest and expertise of the staff. From my point of view it was a very interesting inquiry in the sense that it was the first one in which I have participated and in many respects it illustrated some of the problems associated with environmental protection within modern highly industralised societies.
The first observation I make very briefly is that one of the things that the Committee established was that there is no way that this country can be properly prepared for or be able to deal economically with a major oil disaster of the type mentioned, such as the Amoco Cadiz disaster. That eventuality is, in a sense, associated with the acceptance within the community of the need for large-scale oil tankers, The advent of the super tankers does not mean that that danger is diminished; rather it means that the possibility of a major catastrophe becomes ever so much greater or, at least, that the scale of a catastrophe involving a super tanker is so much greater. In a sense, what I am saying is that one cannot resolve the problem finally whilst one accepts the need to transport large volumes of oil on the seas.
The second interesting point is that very early in our inquiry we were shown a chart which established that the origin of more than 40 per cent of the oil pollution affecting the sea is landbased. Whilst the Committee did not pursue that matter- it would have meant another inquirythis evidence suggests that the problem of oil pollution is very much related to a particular type of industrial system and is not easily dealt with without dealing with the system as a whole. The third point which needs to be emphasised concerns a problem of which the Committee became very much aware, particularly in relation to the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait areas, namely, the controls that exist over shipping and the knowledge about shipping, particularly tanker movements. We were told in evidence in Queensland that the clearance between the bottom of the ocean and some of the large tankers gets down to about three or four feet. When one remembers that approximately 25 per cent of all major oil spills are caused by bottoming, it can be seen that close to what is perhaps the most important natural asset that exists in Australia we could have a major disaster. There is no compulsory pilotage. Ships are being navigated from charts which, in some cases, apparently date back to the time of Matthew Flinders, and there are inadequate navigational aids. The situation that we looked at in Queensland is very serious and the section of the report which recommends various measures in relation to this problem ought to be taken extremely seriously by the Government.
Another issue that arose and which is typical in the environmental area is that the solution to or the means of dealing with a problem creates an even more serious problem. The use of dispersants is touched upon in the report. The Committee is guarded about their use and recommends that the use of dispersants be restricted to special situations because of the additional impact that the toxic effect of dispersants creates over and above the impact of the oil. I think that it is important to look at those sections of the report which deal with the question of penalties and to note that the Committee found that in the various States not terribly harsh penalties are being imposed. A fine of not more than $50,000 has been imposed for ships emitting oil spills and in no case has anything like the full penalty actually been imposed where an oil spill has been traced to a particular ship. The report suggests that there is a need for the whole question of compensation to be taken much more seriously. For that to occur international action is required. I draw the attention of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) to recommendation 12 of the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation in relation to oil spills. It states: the Commonwealth Government take immediate steps to ratify the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage 1969 and the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage 1 97 1 .
Finally, it must be recognised that we are dealing with an international problem. Australia ought to be taking the lead in this area as there is no other country which has a more extended coastline than Australia and which is more vulnerable to catastrophe associated with a major oil spill. It is odd that we are not one of the first countries signing such a convention. I commend the report to the House. The inquiry has been a very valuable exercise and the recommendations, if adopted, could do much to mitigate the effects of oil spills.
-by leave-I too welcome the tabling of this report in the Parliament this afternoon by the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation. I thank those honourable members for their co-operation in the preparation of the report and for the work that went into it. It was a substantial undertaking which has been going on for some considerable months. Although we are pleased to see the end of it in one sense we are pleased also that the matter has been drawn to a conclusion and the report introduced. I recommend the report to honourable members and to a range of interested people. In the speaking time available to me I would commend particularly a number of innovations that have been introduced into the report. In addition to the conventional recommendations that are a normal part of these parliamentary reports, the Committee decided to record a number of findings. These, of course, are simply matters of fact and substance which the Committee has identified during the course of the inquiry. In addition a catalogue has been provided for Ministers so that they can readily identify those sections of the report for which they have particular responsibility. This is in line with the procedures announced by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) whereby Ministers will be required to give consideration to particular elements of parliamentary committee reports which are brought to their attention and on which they will be required subsequently to report to the Parliament.
The inquiry has resulted in the co-operation of a large number of people, not only the staff of the Committee who, of course, have given their usual excellent service, but also representatives of industry and other interested people who, I believe, have made a genuine attempt to improve the safety and environmental precautions within the industry generally. The one finding to which I would draw attention is that the Committee believes that the risk of a major oil spill in this country is increasing largely as a result of the volume of maritime activity associated with the transport of oil and petroleum and also because of the size of vessels and equipment handling the products. It must be recognised that Australia is not really in a position to deal with a major oil spill at sea. In order to put that remark in perspective, it must be recognised that no other country really has the capacity to deal with such a catastrophe. The point that can be drawn from this is very clear. It will require the co-operation of everybody involved in the industry and beyond to see that such a catastrophe simply cannot occur. The emphasis needs to be on prevention. The opportunity for cleaning up, dispersing or even recovering a major spill is almost nonexistent. I think that this is the point which the Committee has brought home most particularly in the report. Successful prevention will require the co-operation, interest and dedication of a wide range of resources and services. It is to this area that I will be looking particularly to see that certain contingencies are tightened and certain directives are given by government.
The one other point that I raise is that some evidence was given to the Committee that the masters of ships still persist in washing tanks at sea. This procedure is used when ships are carrying ballast that needs to be emptied in order to take on another product or simply when tanks that have been carrying petroleum or oil or similar products are being cleaned for domestic purposes with the waste and the washings being deposited at sea.
– How are you going to stop that?
– I can think of no more serious example of environmental vandalism than this irresponsible conduct. An honourable member asks how it can be prevented. I reply by saying that the Committee gave serious consideration to that problem and has made certain comments and recommendations in respect of it. The honourable member for Griffith and other honourable members would recognise that it is an extraordinarily difficult task to trace such irresponsible people who would engage in this activity. Certain measures can be takenhonourable members will understand that I will not go into them at this stage- which I think will break some new ground in ensuring that that activity no longer takes place. I am pleased and proud to have been associated with the inquiry. I thank all honourable members and others who co-operated to make it such a success.
-Mr Speaker has received letters from both the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) and the honourable member for Indi (Mr Ewen Cameron) proposing that definite matters of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion today. As required by Standing Order 107 Mr Speaker has selected one matter, that is that proposed by the honourable member for Robertson, namely:
The abrogation by the Fraser Government of its national responsibilities for environmental matters.
Before calling upon honourable members to rise in their places, I caution the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) against interjecting while the Chair is addressing the House. I therefore 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-
– Surreptitiously and deceitfully, the Fraser Government is washing its hands of any responsibility for the Australian environment. On taking office in 1975, the Prime Minister showed his total lack of concern for the environment by placing the portfolio in the hands of a man who was a raw novice in politics, the present Minister for National Development (Mr Newman). His performance was pathetic enough as he watched his Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development being dismantled before his very eyes. The millions of Australians concerned that this country could become a hole in the ground through the efforts of environmental gangsters like Lang Hancock were momentarily tricked into believing that the Fraser Government had some concern for the environment by its decision to end sand mining on Fraser Island.
The Fraser Government was re-elected and started to show its true colours. The Minister’s concern for the environment during the previous two years was rewarded by his being appointed Minister for National Development- in other words, the spokesman for the mining companies. In his place the man least likely to stand up to the bullying tactics of the Prime Minister was appointed to oversee the protection of the environment. Another Tasmanian had to be appointed to the Ministry and, faced with the unpalatable option of Senator Rae, who has a lot of ability but is disliked by the Prime Minister, and the ratbag rump of dissidents who make up the rest of Tasmania’s representatives, the Prime Minister chose the affable but ineffectual member for Braddon (Mr Groom) as Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development.
Within a matter of weeks the Minister had buckled under to pressure from the Queensland National Country Party to withdraw the Government ‘s display on Fraser Island because it did not show a ‘balanced’ view of sand mining on Fraser Island. But this was small fry compared with what was to happen in the future as the Government planned the destruction of Kakadu National Park through uranium mining and the abdication of any responsibility for Perth’s water supply, Western Australia ‘s famed jarrah forests, the Corio Bay fish habitat reserve near Yeppoon, the Great Barrier Reef and the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act, which was the only bastion left to protect
Australia’s environment from the ravages of the ecological piranhas that care not one whit for Australia ‘s heritage if they can see a profit in it. I have already dealt with the destruction of Australia’s finest natural wilderness area in the debate on the uranium Bills introduced in the autumn session of Parliament .
The Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development has suffered the most severe cutbacks of all departments. Its effectiveness has been seriously undermined. In 1976 it had a staff of over 1,000. There are currently 550 staff, and this number is to be reduced to 500 by next June. Its own Secretary, Mr Lansdown, has referred to the Department as ‘a dying institution’. The cuts go much further than could be justified on a cost-saving basis.
The Government currently is trying to opt out of its responsibilities under the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act. The Act was introduced by the Labor Government in December 1974 in response to a record of indifference by previous governments, State and Federal, to environmental matters. The Act was hailed as the most important piece of legislation concerned with the protection of the environment to come before the Federal Parliament. The Ranger inquiry clearly supports this claim. It should be remembered that the Act, although maligned by conservative forces, has operated merely to alter the basis on which projects go ahead. Only in the case of Fraser Island has a venture actually stopped under the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act. It has increased environment consciousness among companies presenting proposals to government.
In December 1975, the Liberal-National Country Party spokesman on environment and conservation, the present Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), stated: ‘We will continue to support the Environment Protection Act’. Not one public inquiry has been called by the Fraser Government under this legislation. We can see where the pressure is coming from when we read the pamphlet produced recently by the Australian Mining Industry Council and urging the Government to hand control of the environment back to the States. The States have the prime responsibility for the environment and it was because of the irresponsible attitude of Premiers Court and Bjelke-Petersen that the Australian Government found it necessary to enact legislation which used its powers in foreign trade and investment to prevent their worst excesses. Now this Government wants to abrogate its responsibilities by making arrangements with the States. The Federal
Government will sidestep its national and moral responsibilities for the Australian environment.
On 20 March, in a letter to the New South Wales Premier, the Prime Minister raised the question of a statutory framework for intergovernmental legislative arrangements for environmental assessment to cover on-shore and off-shore proposals. Details were sought from the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development by the New South Wales Government. It appears, however, that his Department has been left in the dark regarding this matter. The Prime Minister’s proposal for a statutory framework is interesting in the light of statements by the Queensland and Western Australian Governments. Queensland has said that it will not sign any agreement with the Commonwealth because it opposes what it calls Federal interference’ in the environment. Western Australia says that it does not intend to introduce complementary legislation. We know only too well the record of these two governments in environment protection. Virtually every Australian would shudder at the thought of areas of national environmental significance such as the Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island and the world’s only jarrah forest being left to the whims of these State governments. Such representative environment areas are a national resource, not simply a State resource.
There are few better examples of this Government’s and this Minister’s craven fear of the States and this Government’s total lack of concern for the environment than its refusal to take any action whatsoever over the Iwasaki Sangyo company’s proposal to build a major tourist development at Yeppoon in Queensland. Here is a perfect example of where the Australian Government, and the Minister in particular, could have used the power of the environment protection legislation to force some changes to the project that would have made only marginal difference to the concept itself but would have minimised risk to the environment of the Corio Bay area.
A lot of rubbish has been talked about the Iwasaki proposals and has clouded the real issues of environmental concern, civil liberties and the Australian national interest. If we were examining this project simply on its tourist potential, there is no doubt that it has considerable merit, not the least of which is the considerable number of jobs it will create for Australians during the construction stage and when it is operative, as well as the boost it will give to Australian tourism by being a quality development, which we lack in this country. It will be a complex of hotels, motels, fiats and villas, a golf course and other sports facilities, a wildlife park, a marine sanctuary and a bird sanctuary on the existing wetlands. Opposition to the project has ranged from genuine criticisms in respect of the dangers to the local environment to the possible infringement of civil liberties and the reasonable demand that projects of this nature should have some Australian equity.
I have not time, in a debate of this nature and with the limited time at my disposal, to deal with all the erroneous charges that have been levelled against the Farnborough project. I have visited the area twice and have had discussions with the company, the Capricorn Coast Protection Council, the local fishermen’s association, the Yeppoon Chamber of Commerce, the Queensland Conservation Council and the Queensland Trades and Labor Council. I am convinced that the issues that are important narrow down to about the following: Firstly, the danger to the marginal mangroves at the head of Fishing Creek which is the breeding ground for the banana prawn and the local fishing industries. The present plan proposes an international village of some 600 acres in size right at the headwaters of Fishing Creek,
Secondly, the incredible decision of the Queensland Government to overrule its own Beach Protection Authority by reducing the distance from the high water mark where development could occur to 50 and 80 metres from the normal 150 metres. Thirdly, the confusion that still exists about whether people have access to the beaches at all times. Fourthly, the total lack of Australian equity in the project.
Fifthly, the lack of consultation with local and community and conservation groups both now and in the future. These matters could all have been resolved- perhaps not 100 per cent but sufficiently to allay some of the worst fears about the project.
Let us look at what the Minister’s own Department had to say about the project. I am quoting from a document that was leaked to the Melbourne Age. The document was a report on the draft environmental impact statement on the resort and was signed by Mr H. Higgs, Director of Environment. It was a document that finally was provided for Cabinet. In part it stated:
A range of fresh and salt water wetlands habitats, supporting a diversity of bird, terrestial and marine lifeforms, are found on the site. With the exception of the International Village and Marine Park proposals, elements of the built environment do not directly affect the wetlands. Mangrove communities fall almost entirely within the Fish Habitat Reserve of Special Lease areas … the wetlands are vulnerable habitats to a number of life forms sensitive to changes in surface and groundwater hydrology, including water quality characteristics and alterations to available freshwater drainage and sewage treatment and disposal proposals are therefore critical to maintenance of those wetland habitats.
Early on the document had stated:
The adjacent swamplands and Corio Bay are a significant waterfowl habitat and a refuge for international migratory bird species, as well as a major nursery of the fish and crustacean stocks of the Yeppoon-based commercial fisheries.
The most devastating indictment of the Government and the Minister’s incredible abrogation of its responsibilities are contained in the comments made by the Department of Primary Industry on the report. Paragraph 90 stated:
The Department expressed concern about the environmental consequences of the resort proposed with respect to the marine nurseries of Fishing Creek and Corio Bay. In particular, it recommended consideration of relocating the International Village and the Marine Park southwards, further assessment of drainage and sewage effluent impact on Fishing Creek and elaboration of proposed methods of controlling insect pests.
There, in the simplest of language, is the recommendation of the Department of Primary Industry- not exactly the most revolutionary department in the Government. It has not suggested abandonment of the proposal- just some minor alterations. What did the Minister do? He did absolutely nothing. What did the Government do? It did absolutely nothing. It was so mesmerised with fear by the Queensland Premier, who in turn was terrified that Iwasaki Sangyo might not proceed with the project, that it decided to do nothing at all. The most incredible part about the Government’s refusal to use its power is that, from discussions I have had with the Iwasaki Sangyo company, including discussions with Mr Iwasaki himself, both in Australia and Japan, I have every reason to believe that if it had been asked to move the international village south a couple of kilometres and restrict development to 150 metres from the high water mark, it would have accepted the change. However, there was no pressure exerted on the company to do this. Had the Minister insisted on these changes, he would have done the Queensland Government and the company a favour. Neither change would have spoilt the resort proposals in any way but would have reduced the number of critics and opponents of the scheme. By doing this the environment would have been protected a great deal more than it is presently being protected.
I will pass on to another matter. There has been considerable debate in Western Australia over the decision of the State Government to permit the mining of the jarrah forests to obtain bauxite. We recognise that there are differing points of view about the damage to the forests and, equally importantly, the threat to Perth’s water supply. It is difficult to assess from the mass of technical and scientific evidence what will occur. The problem is that if the conservationists are right and the mining companies are wrong, irreparable damage that can never be reversed will be done. There has been a call for a public inquiry similar to the Ranger and Fraser Island inquiries. Sir Charles Court went off his head at the prospect of a federal inquiry- mind you, Mr Deputy Speaker, he does that fairly regularly these days- with the result that there was not a squeak out of the Minister or the Government. If mining is to be given the green light then it would lead to a delay of perhaps 12 to 18 months. The bauxite will still be there. If the inquiry were to support the worst fears of the conservationists, a disaster would be avoided. It is worth waiting for a little longer to ensure that a disaster does not occur.
Finally, let me say how appalled I am, as are millions of Australians, that this Government has refused to give an unequivocal answer to my repeated request that the Government should not permit oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. Should the Federal Government give approval to the Queensland Government to permit drilling on the Reef there would be an outcry that would make the Fraser Island controversy look like a teddy bears’ picnic.
– As the honourable member for Griffith rightly interjects, the outcry would be world-wide. We would see an environmental fight the like of which has not been seen in this country. The Federal Government is abrogating its responsibilities for environmental matters and the last vestiges of what could be called a national environment policy is being dissipated. Its attitude is causing great concern to the majority of genuine people who have an interest in the environment, conservation and quality of life issues. This is a Government which has shown blatant contempt for the environment and consistently yielded to vested interests. It will mouth platitudes about its concern for the environment when politically expedient, but one can be assured in these instances that its interests lie elsewhere.
– It is certainly pleasing to hear the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) at last speak on an environmental issue. He commenced his speech by making some personal attacks on individuals. I think that he should perhaps question his performance in his shadow portfolio and ask himself whether he has been sufficiently active. Since he has had the job he has been almost totally silent on environmental issues. I know that he has disappointed many people with his rather passive approach to the issues involved. However, I welcome this opportunity to say a few words about the things the Government is doing in the area of the environment and conservation and to explain to the House some of the actions that have been taken.
I believe that, as a government, we are showing real concern for the environment and we have acted sensibly and responsibly to protect it. The Government has developed a comprehensive framework within which its policies and programs are being refined to protect and enhance the environment. Responsibility for the environment does not rest only in the hands of the Federal Government, as the honourable member implied in some of the comments he made. Of course, the other spheres of government around Australia have a role to play as well and I think it is clear that we recognise that proper role. The responsibilities of the Commonwealth Government are exercised by a number of agencies. They include my own Department, the Australian Heritage Commission, the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Office of the Supervising Scientist.
It was interesting that the honourable member raised the general issue of the environment. However, from my recollection he did not raise at all the issue of uranium. A great deal of the work which is being done at the moment by the Government’ concerning uranium is to ensure that the general public of Australia and those directly involved are properly protected once we commence the mining and export of uranium from the Alligator Rivers region. The Government’s basic approach is to co-operate with the other spheres of government in improving environmental protection while, at the same time, striking a proper balance between conservation and economic growth. Environmental protection is only one of a number of human values. At times there are competing human values and that has to be recognised. Jobs are important. Employment is important. The livelihood of people is important. These things must be properly recognised.
The Government is not the captive of any interest group, whether it be any kind of commercial lobby or a group of radical environmentalists. The Government is independent and objective, but most of all it applies common sense. It is no one’s puppet. It does not pander to any extremists and there are extremists on both sides. There are extremists who want to develop at all costs and extremists who want to stop development at all costs. It is important to strike a balanced stance and the problem is that once a balance is struck the Government is open to criticism that it is anti-conservationist. That is a misunderstanding of our approach. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Government is proud of its record in the field of environment and conservation.
Let me deal with some specific issues. The Government accepted the recommendations of the Fraser Island environmental inquiry and decisions have been taken since then. At this stage, I do not want to go into that issue in great detail because it is well known to those people who have an interest in the environment. The Government has accepted the recommendations of the Ranger uranium environmental inquiry. A package of comprehensive legislation has been brought down to give effect to the Government’s decision on uranium. This legislation implements administrative and regulatory arrangements which were foreshadowed when the decision was first announced in August 1977. There are three important elements in this package, all of which were overlooked by the honourable member for Robertson in his speech. They are the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act, The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Act and the Environment Protection (Nuclear Codes) Act. The second reading speeches on the Bills describe their nature and what the Government will be achieving with these important pieces of legislation. Following that legislation, stringent environmental controls will be imposed on uranium mining operations.
The Government is co-ordinating and supervising appropriate environmental protection arrangements in the region concerned in the Northern Territory through the Office of the Supervising Scientist. Already, in this Office, research work is under way in this area and on-site facilities have been established. At the present time a field research station is being installed. The Government is co-operating with the States in developing uniform codes of practice to apply to the uranium industry around Australia. The Northern Territory Government has co-operated in examining existing ordinances in the Northern Territory for the control of uranium mining and in bringing forward amendments as necessary.
We have finalised the establishment of the Australian Heritage Commission and the register of the National Estate is now under way. We have finalised the formation of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Again, we have finalised the establishment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the associated consultative committee established under that Authority. We have announced the establishment of an independent inquiry into whales and whaling. We have continued to apply the provisions of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act. I believe that Act is still being administered very effectively and that is recognised by companies and by proponents of proposals around Australia. As a result of the operation of the Act, they are very much more aware of the need to be concerned about the environment and protecting the environment.
We have, of course, already recognised the role to be played by the States in administering that sort of legislation and procedures of that kind. We have negotiated draft agreements with four States on arrangements which are mutually acceptable for assessing the environmental impact of projects. There is a move among the States, which I think has resulted from the Federal legislation, to have appropriate legislation or procedures so that they can assess properly and adequately projects to determine the impact those projects might have on the environment.
– What about the EIS on the Iwasaki project?
– The honourable member mentions the environmental impact statement on the Iwasaki project. Despite what was suggested by the honourable member for Robertson in this debate, that matter was examined very carefully indeed. The stance that one takes on these proposals depends upon one’s attitude. There are members opposite like the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys), who I think it is fair to say, are totally opposed to development and totally concerned with the environment. What one needs is a balanced and common sense approach. Following on our examination of the Iwasaki project a number of quite stringent conditions have been opposed on the proponent of the project.
The other matter mentioned was the bauxite project at Wagerup in Western Australia which is being undertaken by Alcoa of Australia ( WA) Ltd. The honourable member for Robertson said we have been silent. He does not understand what has happened. A great deal of work has been done by a number of officers on that project to assess carefully its impact on the environment. There has been a joint operation in assessing that project under the agreed arrangements with
Western Australia. But, again, very strict conditions have been imposed to protect the environment. I believe that these conditions would satisfy any one with a genuine realistic interest in the environment.
The issue of oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef has been raised before in the House and I have said that we will not allow any action to take place in the area of the Great Barrier Reef which might cause serious and permanent harm. I think that point should be noted. In response to broad responsibilities for pollution abatement and the assessment of the state of the environment, the Government has sought to establish consistent nationwide approaches through the Australian Environment Council and the Council of Nature Conservation Ministers. A recent example of Commonwealth support has been the establishment of a secretariat to under-pin the work of the AEC’s Advisory Committee on Hazardous Chemicals which is a very important area. Other important considerations include motor vehicle emissions, noise, and waste management. We have continued to support air quality activities including the continued development of the National Data Centre within my own Department, the acquisition and deployment within the States of three mobile monitoring units, instrument development and site selection studies for the establishment of a national baseline station in Tasmania- a very important project- in accordance with an international commitment and our international responsibilities. This station will form part of an international network. It will be one of a small group of similar stations in appropriate sites around the world.
We continue to support research and education in the field of air pollution. We have established consultative mechanisms with the packaging and chemical industries in order to ascertain the effects of various government policy options on these industries. We have commenced examination of the potential for achieving national objectives for recycling and waste management, preferably through an appropriate national body. We have joined with the States in a program involving studies of specific soil erosion problems and development of a collaborative policy-oriented soil conservation study with a view to determining priority national needs in this field. My colleague the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) has a key role to play in that area and on that subject.
We have supported other research activities including the ecological survey of Australia and the assessment of the environmental consequences of specific energy decisions. We have continued to support international environmental activities through the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the Environment Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and regional bodies such as the Economic and Social Commission for the Pacific (ESCAP) and specialist meetings such as the United Nations Conference on Desertification. So, we certainly remain extremely active in fulfilling our responsibilities in the area of the environment.
I think it is worth noting that, in this financial year, there is an increase in the allocation for those areas of the environment in which the Federal Government is involved. It should be noted that last financial year the amount spent totalled $7. 355m and in this financial year the amount being spent on these activities has increased very substantially to $10,669,000. The approach that we have adopted is one, as I say, of balance and common sense but with the necessary sensitivity. As I mentioned, there are competing human values. This is not a one-way exercise. We cannot say that the environment and the protection of the environment is all important. The environment I think should be seen in a broader sense. We are concerned with people’s life styles. We are concerned with their livelihoods. An important part of that concern is certainly their jobs and their incomes.
The Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act is being administered effectively. It is having an impact on decision-making around Australia. Proponents of projects are very much conscious of the need to show concern for the environment. In literally hundreds of cases special conditions have been imposed as a result of that Act and the administration of that Act. So, I believe there is no substance in the points made by the honourable member for Robertson. We remain very conscious of our responsibilities and we are administering the programs in this area very effectively with proper concern for the environment.
The debate is concluded.
Bill reported from Legislation Committee with amendments.
Ordered that consideration of the report be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
Bill presented by Mr Nixon, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to authorise the Treasurer, on behalf of the Commonwealth, to guarantee loans raised by Ansett Transport Industries (Operations) Pty Ltd to finance the purchase of its tenth Boeing 727-200 series aircraft. This aircraft is scheduled for delivery in May 1979. The Boeing 727-200 series aircraft has now been in operation for a number of years and it has proved to be a most suitable aircraft for Australian conditions. In comparison to the earlier 727-100 model, it is noticeably quieter, provides greater passenger capacity and is less demanding on energy resources. This aircraft type will still be useful in meeting the airline’s needs, even if it were decided, at a later date, to upgrade the aircraft fleet of the domestic airlines by the acquisition of the larger wide-bodied jets.
The Australian National Airlines Commission, Trans-Australian Airlines, which operates the same number of Boeing aircraft as Ansett, will not require a Commonwealth loan guarantee on this occasion, as it has indicated its intention to finance its tenth Boeing 727-200 aircraft from its own internal resources. Both Ansett and TAA have sought to acquire the additional aircraft to meet the anticipated long-term increase in demand for domestic air traffic and older-type aircraft in the fleet will be progressively disposed of to keep fleet capacity and demand in balance.
The proposed Government guarantee will be limited to an amount of $US 11.12m or its equivalent. This amount represents 80 per cent of the estimated total cost of the aircraft and associated equipment. The proposal will not involve the Commonwealth in any expenditure. It will merely create a contingent liability for the Government to the extent of the outstanding balance of the loan. Australia’s aviation industry has been recently subject to some of the most comprehensive reviews in its history. As honourable members will be aware, I recently tabled the report of the review of Australia’s international civil aviation policy. Following Government consideration, negotiations have now commenced which I expect in the near future to lead to greater opportunities for all to use international air travel at the lowest possible cost.
On the domestic scene the reports of the domestic air transport policy review committee have been released and I am looking for public reaction to the recommendations contained in the reports. These views will be taken into account before decisions are finalised. The domestic airlines have already shown some speed off the mark in their reaction to the reports. Since the release of Part I which covers trunk route services and the two-airline policy we have seen a number of innovations with regard to domestic fares. An example is the introduction of stand-by fares on selected sectors for a trial period in order that their operation, and potential for further extension throughout the airlines networks, may be assessed. A further example is the extension from 1 November 1978 of the advance purchase excursion domestic fares to Canberra and Darwin so that all capital cities and Launceston will be eligible for this concession. I look to a further extension of concession fares wherever it is practicable to do so.
The first meeting of the Aviation Industry Advisory Council was held in September this year. This body has been established to provide advice on policies, plans and programs relating to industry and to act as a forum for discussion of important matters which are the joint concern of the industry and the Government. Certainly after only one meeting the value of AVIAC has been clearly demonstrated to me and I look forward to the role it will play in developing Australia’s aviation industry.
Honourable members will recall that the domestic air transport policy review committee concluded that the two-airline policy should be continued although with some significant changes. Negotiations are now proceeding with the airlines on the review recommendations with a view to finalising changes to the airlines agreements which will of course be brought before this Parliament for ratification in due course. However the airlines obviously must continue to modernise their fleets to meet customer demand. Adequate forward planning is essential and the commitments to the industry involved in this legislation are an integral part of that process. I am sure that honourable members will agree with me that the Australian airlines are making a significant contribution to the development and welfare of this country, with an air safety record equal to the world ‘s best. I commend the Bill.
Debate (on motion by Mr Morris) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Howard, and read a first time.
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Primary Industry Bank Act 1977. Honourable members will be aware that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) and I have announced that the Commonwealth has agreed to assist the Primary Industry Bank by making available to it $30m from the Income Equalisation Deposits Trust Account at an initial interest rate of 5 per cent. This Bill, which is largely machinery in nature, will facilitate the use of the IED Trust Account for that purpose.
There have been a number of significant developments relating to the Primary Industry Bank since legislation on this matter was before the House earlier this year. The Primary Industry Bank of Australia Ltd was incorporated under the New South Wales Companies Act on 28 July 1978; it has an initial paid-up capital of $5. 625m shared in nine equal parts between the Commonwealth, the seven major trading banks and a combination of four State banks. A general manager and other staff for the Bank have been appointed and operational policies and procedures have been established. Information on various detailed aspects has already been released by the Bank, which expects to be in a position to commence lending operations shortly.
The Bank was granted an authority to carry on banking business on 21 September 1978 and Part III of the Primary Industry Bank Act 1977, which brings the Bank under the provisions of the Banking Act 1959, was proclaimed to come into operation on the following day. The banking authority was granted subject to two conditionsone in effect restricting the Bank to a refinancing role in respect of loans to primary producers and the other restricting it to refinancing loans with a minimum term of eight years.
The Minister and I have also announced that loans made by the banks and refinanced by the Primary Industry Bank will carry maximum interest rates to end borrowers of 10.5 per cent per annum for loans less than $ 100,000 and 12.5 per cent for loans of $100,000 and above. These maximum interest rates- and indeed all aspects of the financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and the Bank- will be subject to review from time to time- at least annually in any event- in the light of general interest rate developments, budgetary considerations and any other relevant factors.
Without entering here into detailed commentary on the debate that has already been engendered on the question of interest rates there are three points that I would like to make very briefly. First, the interest rates- I refer particularly to the 10.5 per cent- are concessional in that they are lower than would be possible in the absence of government financial assistance and lower than those generally available to primary producers from commercial sources for longterm loans. The fact that long-term loans will be available to primary producers at what are in effect short-term rates is highly significant given the benefits that accrue from access to such loans. Secondly, although the interest rate to be charged on the IED funds, at 5 per cent, is equal to the rate paid to depositors, it needs to be borne in mind that the effective return to depositorsand the cost to the Commonwealth- is much higher than the 5 per cent because of the accompanying tax benefits. Thirdly, the IED funds, although they will represent an important source of funds to the Bank, will be supplementary to market borrowings by the Bank on which rates much higher than 5 per cent will, of course, need to be paid. The establishment of the Bank and the provision of considerable government assistance enabling long-term borrowing with interest rates below those that would apply under commercial conditions brings to fruition the coalition parties’ election commitments in this area.
I turn now to the specific provisions of the Bill. The Commonwealth’s power to make funds available to the Bank from the IED Trust Account is provided by section 8 of the Primary Industry Bank Act 1 977. The amendments in this Bill will enable that power to be used flexibly and in such a way that the interests of IED depositors are fully protected. The Bill provides, in clause 3, for amendments to section 8 of the Act by the replacement of the existing sub-sections (2) and (3) and the addition of three new subsections (5), (6) and (7).
The existing sub-section (2) provides for loans to the Bank from the Trust Account. The proposed new sub-section (2) expands the provision to make it clear that such loans can be made in either of two ways- by investing funds standing to the credit of the account on deposit with the Bank or by paying moneys out of the account to the Bank. The Government proposes to make available the $30m referred to earlier in this speech in the former manner, that is, by placing funds held in the account on deposit with the Bank. Such transactions from the Trust Account are classified as a financing item more specifically, as a negative financing item- rather than as an outlay. Of course, that in no way alters the fact that the assistance represents a very real transfer of funds from the public sector, adding to the Government ‘s overall financing task.
The proposed new sub-section (3) is very similar to the existing sub-section of that number, with some drafting changes to take account of the proposed new sub-section (2). The proposed new sub-section (5) ensures that any funds paid to the Bank from the Trust Account are repaid to that account rather than to the consolidated Revenue Fund. The proposed new sub-section (6) authorises payments from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the IED Trust Account in order to remove any possibility of a situation arising where there were insufficient funds available in the Trust Account to meet obligations to IED depositors as a result of the provision of IED funds to the Bank. In other words, this provision is designed to safeguard the position of IED depositors. The proposed new sub-section (7) authorises the repayment to the Consolidated Revenue Fund of any funds made available from that source to the Trust Account under the preceding sub-section.
I take this opportunity to explain to the House how the available $30m of IED funds will be provided to the Bank. It is not envisaged that the funds will be deposited with the Bank in full from the outset. They will be allocated to the Bank in portions through the course of 1978-79 and beyond, as necessary, in such a way as to permit the Primary Industry Bank to lend to banks at maximum rates of 9 per cent in respect of loans below $100,000 and 1 1 per cent in respect of larger loans. This in turn will permit the banks to lend within the maximum rates of lO’/i per cent and 2Vi per cent that have also been announced. The maximum effective margin for the banks of 1.5 per cent will cover administrative costs and risks over the full period of the long term loans. Suggestions that either the Primary Industry Bank or the prime lenders will be able, through these arrangements, to make undue profits are quite wrong. I expect to be in a position to give further details at a later stage when formalities have been completed under sections 7 and 8 of the Act. In that connection I mention that later in these sittings I will be submitting a report to Parliament as required under section 10 of the Act. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Dr Cass) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Staley, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill provides grants for 1979 to the States through Commonwealth specific purpose payments in respect of government and nongovernment schools. In addition, the real level of 1978 funding, provided through Schools Commission programs, is maintained by adjusting recurrent grants for increases in salaries and wages which have occurred throughout the present grants period. On 17 October, the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) announced that the Government had accepted the recommendations contained in the report of the Schools Commission for 1979. The report had been prepared pursuant to the guidelines to the Schools Commission for the 1979-81 triennium which the Minister for Education announced in the Parliament on 9 June 1978. The approved cost of the 1979 programs, in estimated December 1977 prices, is $63 1.6m.
In the Bill, provision is made for the continuation in 1 979 of the programs that have operated under the present legislation for both government and non-government schools. The general resources programs are general recurrent grants, including short term, emergency assistance for non-government schools catering for country children, and building and equipment grants. The specific purpose programs are for child migrant education, disadvantaged schools and students in disadvantaged country areas, special education for handicapped children including children living in institutions, services and development and special projects.
The conditions applying to short term, emergency assistance grants to non-government schools catering for students from the country have been modified in the Bill. In 1979 systemic schools will be eligible for assistance. In addition, grants may be made where a school catering for country students finds itself in an emergency situation for reasons not directly related to those enrolments. These changes will allow more adequate consideration to be given to the situation of such schools facing temporary difficulties.
Until now the child migrant education program has operated as a part of the general recurrent grants program. From 1979 it will be a separate program and the main purpose of the program, namely the teaching of English as a second language, is emphasised in this Bill. The Bill provides for the introduction of the new multicultural education program in 1979. Both government and non-government schools will benefit from the program which, in 1979, will focus on the teaching of community languages. The two new schemes for the encouragement of school-level evaluation projects and for the promotion of choice within government schools are to be administered as sub-programs of the special projects program. The adjusted grants of $205,500 for each scheme are incorporated within the overall allocation of $3,908,000 for the special projects program.
Details of the 1979 allocations for individual programs and States are given in Schedules 1 to 9 of the Bill. The grants specified in these schedules have been adjusted to June 1978 prices, except for the non-government schools general recurrent program which includes some allowance for estimated future cost increases. After these adjustments the estimated cost of the 1979 programs is $662. 3m. The grants for 1979 will be further adjusted in subsequent legislation for cost movements to the end of 1 978 and for increases in the salaries and wages components of recurrent grants during 1979. The Bill also adjusts the salary and wages components of recurrent grants for 1978 from December 1977 prices to June 1978 prices. In accordance with established practice, the non-government schools general recurrent program also includes final provision for cost increases to the end of 1978. The additional cost of these adjustments is $8. 7m. Amending legislation will be introduced in the 1979 autumn sittings of the Parliament to finalise the adjustment of 1978 grants. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Cass) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Fife, and read a first time.
– I move:
The main purpose of this Bill is to amend section 45d of the Trade Practices Act 1974. The amendments the Government is putting forward are designed to prohibit persons from engaging in certain conduct for the purpose and having the effect of preventing or substantially hindering overseas and interstate trade or commerce. Conduct of the kind to be prohibited strikes at the heart of the prosperity of Australia, and affects us all. As a trading nation we are dependent upon our sea and air links. It is vital that these links remain open so that we can export and import our goods at times most favourable to our seasons, to our economy and to our balance of trade. The disruption of overseas trade adds to the cost burdens borne by all of us. Similarly, the costs to business and to the Australian community of a hindering or prevention of interstate trade or commerce are enormous.
The Government is determined to legislate in the most effective way it can to deal with conduct which prevents or substantially hinders Australia’s legitimate trading and commercial activities. Since July last year, provision has existed in the Trade Practices Act, under section 45d for dealing with certain types of boycotts. The changes to section 45d proposed by this Bill will enable more effective action to be taken in respect of boycotts. When my predecessor introduced into this Parliament in May 1977 the Trade Practices Amendment Bill which inserted section 45d into the Act, he stated that the Government’s views regarding the problems of boycotts were based on two fundamental principles. Firstly, that the Government considered that boycotting the commercial activities of particular persons is generally undesirable conduct, on which the Trade Practices Act should take a firm line. Secondly, the then Minister said that the Government believed that it is essential that the Trade Practices Act should take an evenhanded approach to boycotts and apply, so far as possible, to both business and employees alike.
This Bill embodies those two fundamental principles. Firstly, experience in dealing with boycotts since the enactment of section 45d has shown that more effective provisions are needed to enable persons and, if necessary, Governments to take prompt and firm action to stop boycotts disrupting trade and commerce. The measure I am introducing will complement the firm line already taken in the Trade Practices Act. Secondly, the measure is, so far as possible, even-handed. It will apply to business and to employee conduct. Purely consumer boycotts will, however, remain exempted. I draw to the attention of honourable members the fact that employee boycotts of the kind dealt with in the Bill, the dominant purpose of which is substantially related to such things as remuneration and conditions of employment, remain not prohibited by the Act. The provisions deeming trade unions to have engaged in the boycott also remain applicable and individuals remain not subject to the pecuniary penalties of the Act for a contravention of the amended section.
Clause 4 of the Bill deals with the new prohibited conduct. That clause also provides that it is a defence to that conduct if the conduct is not a contravention of other sections of the Act, or that the dominant purpose for which the defendant engaged in the conduct was to preserve or further a business carried on by him. Clause 5 of the Bill prevents the imposition of more than one pecuniary penalty provided under the Act. Clause 6 redrafts the current provision in the Act which permits the Trade Practices Commission to grant authorisation for section 45D conduct. The Government believes that this legislation will be widely endorsed as being a positive and proper step to enable persons and Governments to deal quickly and decisively with crippling boycotts. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Cass) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr MacKellar, and read a first time.
– On behalf of the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr Ellicott) I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to introduce new citizenship provisions into the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955 to extend Australian citizenship to any person, not already an Australian citizen, who was ordinarily resident on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands immediately before their transfer to Australia, who is now ordinarily resident in Australia or an external Territory and’ who wishes to take up Australian citizenship. The Bill is an integral part of the Government’s comprehensive program for the advancement and welfare of the Cocos people. This amending legislation was foreshadowed in a statement I issued jointly with the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs on 6 July 1978.
Under the existing legislation persons who were over 2 1 years of age at the time Australia accepted responsibility for the Islands on 23 November 1955 had a choice of making a declaration to become an Australian citizen in a period of three years and six months from that date. This provision expired on 23 May 1959. Persons who were under 21 years of age at 23 November 1955 were able to make a declaration to become an Australian citizen two years after that person attained or attains the age of 21 years. The value of this provision expires on 22 November 1978. Persons born in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands after 23 November 1955 are automatically Australian citizens. The present Cocos Malay population on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands is about 270, of whom about 140 will become eligible under the proposed provisions. In addition, approximately 180 Cocos Malays now resident in Western Australia and Christmas Island would become eligible. The Cocos Malay Interim Advisory Council has been consulted and supports the proposal. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Klugman) adjourned.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
Consideration of Senate ‘s amendments.
Schedule 2 to the Principal Act is amended-
Senate’s amendment No. 1-
At end of paragraph (a) leave out ‘and ‘.
Senate’s amendment No. 2-
After paragraph (a), insert the following new paragraph: “(aa) by omitting from paragraph 7 ‘privately insured persons ‘ and substituting ‘ hospital insured persons ‘; and ‘ ‘.
Senate’s amendment No. 3-
Leave out ‘in such manner as the Minister determines ‘.
Senate’s amendment No. 4-
At end of clause, add the following new sub-clause: “(2 ) Subject to section 8d of the Health Insurance Commission Act1973, the payment of claims referred to in subsection (1) shall be made in such manner as the Minister determines.”.
– I move:
The first amendment relates to clause 40 of the Health Insurance Bill (No. 2) 1978. It amends the head of agreement contained in schedule 2 of the Health Insurance Act 1973. Clause 40, paragraph (a) of the Bill amends paragraphs 7 and 8 of schedule 2 and replaces references to privately insured persons with references to hospital insured persons. However, paragraph 7 also contains a reference to privately insured persons and it is necessary that this term be substituted with a reference to hospital insured persons. The amendment passed by the Senate provides accordingly and it is accepted by the Government.
The next amendment relates to clause 43. Clause 42 of the Health Insurance Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1978 which was passed by the House of Representatives on 12 October 1978 related to the payment of claims for Medibank standard medical benefits outstanding as at 1 November 1978. It provided for the repayment of such claims to be made in such a manner as the Minister for Health determines. The Senate has amended clause 10 of the Health Insurance Commission Amendment Bill 1978 which inserts new part 11B and which relates to the additional functions of the Commission. This amendment which is acceptable to the Government specifically provides in proposed new section 8D that the Commission will meet, until a date to be proclaimed, claims for medical benefits referred to in clause 43 of the Health Insurance Amendment Bill No. 2 (1978). Clause 43 of the Bill considered by the Senate was clause 42 of the Bill passed earlier by the House. Consequent upon the amendment made by the Senate to the Health Insurance Commission Amendment Bill 1978, it was necessary for the Senate to amend the Health Insurance Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1978 to ensure that the provisions of clause 43 would be subject to new section 8D of the Health Insurance Commission Amendment Bill 1978. The amendment provides accordingly and is accepted by the Government.
-The Opposition does not oppose these amendments although the Committee will recall that we opposed many clauses of the Health Insurance Amendment Bill when it was before the Committee some two weeks ago. There have been 16 separate amendments to the Bills dealing with health insurance since 1976, when the present Minister assumed responsibility for that portfolio. I do think that the Government should slow down a little and have a look at the legislation to see whether it can divide it into separate pieces of legislation. The Health Act seems to deal with anything from nursing homes to pharmaceutical benefits and many other items. The position is not so bad with the Health Insurance Act. It ought to be possible to separate them so that ordinary individuals can follow what is going on. The situation does illustrate again to my mind the haste with which the Government introduced the latest modification. It did not really look at the Acts in sufficient detail. I am sure that within a short period of time- three months or so at the most- there will need to be more amendments. Some of them will be because of actual alterations in government policy and some of them because the amendments were not completely thought through. I cannot point to any of them. If I could I would.
However, I believe the position does illustrate the bad aspects of having so many different amendments made. I emphasise that 16 separate amendments have been made. I am not referring to the present case with four amendments to the legislation. On 16 separate occasions a large number of amendments were introduced. They introduced a whole host of changes to the Health Insurance Act, the Health Act and the Health Insurance Commission Act. I appeal to the Minister to slow down a bit, to go for a holiday and then see what happens. The people of Australia may become used to one particular kind of health insurance for just a few months before they have to be exposed again to masses of advertising, masses of public relations work from different funds and different government departments. I suppose the people who are mainly pleased with the amendments are perhaps those public relations firms and newspapers which are able to publish these full-page supplements or advertisements, fully paid for by the funds, advising people on taking out unnecessary insurance cover.
Amendments agreed to.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
Bill returned from the Senate with an amendment.
Consideration of Senate’s amendment.
After Pan IIa of the Principal Act the following Pans are inserted: “PARTIIb- ADDITIONAL FUNCTIONS OF THE COMMISSION “8c. (1) In addition to the functions conferred on it by Pan IIa, the Commission shall perform such other functions in relation to health insurance as the Minister may, from time to time, direct by writing signed by him. “(2) A direction received by the Commission under subsection ( 1 ) shall be set out in the report of the Commission under section 42 with respect to its operations during the year in which the direction was received. “8d. Where the Minister has given a direction to the Commission under section 8c requiring the Commission to perform a function specified in the direction, the Minister may, on behalf of the Commonwealth, enter into an agreement with the Commission under which the Commonwealth agrees to pay to the Commission such administrative expenses arising out of the performance of the function by the Commission as are provided for by or under the agreement.
Leave out proposed sections 8c and 8d, insert the following sections: “‘8c. The functions conferred on the Commission by this Pan are in addition to the functions conferred on the Commission by Part IIa. “ ‘8d. Until a date to be fixed by Proclamation for the purposes of this section, the Commission shall receive, deal with and, on behalf of the Commonwealth, pay claims for medical benefits referred to in section 43 of the Health Insurance Amendment Act (No. 2) 1978. “ ‘8da. ( 1 ) The Commission shall perform such functions in relationto health insurance as are prescribed. “ ‘(2) The regulations may prescribe the manner in which the Commission is to carry out a function prescribed under sub-section (1 ). “ ‘8db. (1) Where a function is prescribed under section 8da, the Minister may, on behalf of the Commonweath, enter into an agreement with the Commission under which the Commonwealth agrees to pay to the Commission such administrative expenses arising out of the performance of the function by the Commission, or the performance of the function by the Commission insofar as it relates to an objective specified in the agreement, as are provided for by or under the agreement. “‘(2) The Minister shall lay a copy of each agreement entered into under this section before each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the entering into of the agreement.”.
The Health Insurance Commission Amendment Bill 1978 is being amended. The amendment is to clause 10. The Health Insurance Commission Amendment Bill 1978 was passed by the House of Representatives on 12 October 1978. Since that time some concern has been expressed at the very wide powers of direction conferred on the Minister by the provisions in the legislation passed by the House. These powers were contained in clause 10 which inserted new Part IIB Additional Functions of the Commission. This Part provided for the Commission, in addition to operating Medibank Private, to perform such other functions in relation to health insurance as the Minister for Health directed. Provision was made for the Minister, on behalf of the Commonwealth and the Commission, to enter an agreement concerning the payment of administrative expenses to the Commission arising out of the performance of additional functions at the Minister’s direction.
New Part IIB was included in the legislation to enable future government objectives in health insurance to be implemented through the Health Insurance Commission. For example, the Government may wish to establish on a pilot basis a health maintenance organisation in a particular area in which the registered organisations have not shown interest. Specifically, it was to allow initially for the payment of Medibank Standard claims for medical benefits outstanding at 1 November 1978 to be paid by the Commission after that date. The Government has considered the views put forward that, used irresponsibly, the provisions originally contained in the Bill could, for example, enable any Minister administering the Act from time to time, to place Medibank Private in a more competitive position, to the detriment of other registered organisations, and has accepted that the provisions conferring comprehensive powers of direction on the Minister in new Part IIB should be deleted. Accordingly clause 10 was amended in the Senate to provide that the Commission, in addition to operating Medibank Private shall under proposed new sub-section 8D until a date fixed by proclamation, receive and deal with and pay Medibank Standard claims for medical benefits. It is envisaged that, following the proclaimed date, further outstanding Medibank Standard claims would be met by the Department of Health. Proposed new section 8ad ( 1 ) refers to the performance of such other functions in relation to health insurance as are prescribed by regulations. The regulations may also prescribe the manner in which such functions are to be performed. Provision is still made for the Minister on behalf of the Commonwealth to enter into an agreement concerning administrative expenses incurred by the Commission associated with its performance of prescribed functions as provided in amended Part IIB. It is reasonable that the administrative expenses of the Commission in performing government initiated functions should not be a cost borne by Medibank Private, having regard to its competitive position with other registered organisations. However, proposed new sub-section 8DB (2) provides that any such agreement shall be placed before Parliament within 15 sitting days of the entering into of the agreement.
The Government believes that the above amendments will permit the full disclosure of any additional government initiated functions in relation to health insurance to be performed by the Commission and the arrangements between the Government and the Commission in the performance of those functions. The amendment would still enable future government initiated proposals in relation to health insurance to be pursued through the Health Insurance Commission. The amendment is accepted by the Government.
-There is no need for me to tell the Committee that the most important event that has happened since this legislation was passed by the House of Representatives is the New South Wales election. A swing of about 25 per cent to the Labor Party occurred at that State election on 7 October this year compared with the figures at the Federal election at the end of 1977. When this Bill was introduced into and passed by this chamber, proposed new section 8c ( 1 ) read in part: the Commission shall perform such other functions in relation to health insurance as the Minister may, from time to time, direct by writing signed by him.
The Government was perfectly happy to have that sort of provision in the legislation because it could see itself having a Minister in charge of this legislation for a considerable time to come. Suddenly, on 7 October, the sky collapsed. The Government started to look in more detail at the kinds of powers that were being given to Government Ministers under the legislation. The health insurance funds put very strong pressure on the Government in the intervening couple of weeks to amend the legislation to make it impossible for a Minister to give directions to the Health Insurance Commission instead of introducing regulations which, of course, have to be passed by both Houses of the Parliament. The Liberal Party and the National Country Party in New South Wales could see before 7 October that they had no chance of gaining control of the State lower House and all their efforts were concentrated on maintaining control of the upper
House. The is exactly what the Government is hoping for in respect of this legislation so that when it loses control of the lower House and, therefore, government in 1980- hopefully that will occur earlier- it still will have control of the Senate- it has a large majority there at presentand will be able to revoke any direction given by the Minister to the Health Insurance Commission. The reason that the Government wants to be able to do that was clearly stated by the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) when he said: . . provisions originally contained in the Bill could, for example, enable any Minister administering the Act from rime to time, to place Medibank Private in a more competitive position to the detriment of other registered organisations . . .
This shows an obvious caving in by the Government to the private funds, the so-called other registered organisations. I am pleased that the Minister accepts the likelihood of a Labor Government succeeding this Government. Hopefully, directions given by a Minister in a Labor Government will be passed. The fact that they would have to be given by way of regulations, which are required to be laid before the House for IS sitting days, should not prevent reasonable directions being given to the Health Insurance Commission. In principle, the Opposition supports the proposition that Parliament should be supreme and, therefore, will not oppose the Senate ‘s amendment.
– I wish to refute what the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) had to say. I have not had one health insurance fund make representations to me on this issue. However, a number of Government members- quite a small number- members on the Government parties’ Health and Welfare Committee brought this matter to my attention. Once this matter had been brought to my attention, I became extremely concerned that the Bill would confer such inordinate power on a Minister. For example, he could furnish an instruction to the Health Insurance Commission without that instruction ever seeing the light of day until such time as the Commission reported to the Parliament. The Parliament would have no right to debate the issue and would have no powers of rejection or acceptance. As a result of my discussions with those who brought the issue to my attention I took the initiative and made every effort to ensure that proper procedures would be adopted and proper respect be given to the Parliament. I hope that the way in which this provision has been redrafted becomes a blueprint for all ministerial prerogatives and powers relating to statutory corporations and bodies in this country. I think it is a model piece of drafting as it now stands. As it stood before it certainly left a lot to be desired.
Amendment agreed to.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
Department of Defence
Proposed expenditure, $2,329, 1 85,000.
-I support the proposed expenditure for the defence of Australia but recommend that it be increased. In Australia at present there is a developing consciousness of our defence needs. People are becoming more and more concerned about defence matters. Some of their concern has arisen from events which are not specifically related to defence, such as the incursions that have occurred to the north of Australia, the drug runner who came into Australia and was pursued by a Royal Australian Air Force Hercules aircraft, and small vessels of a type that do not pose any defence threat coming to Australia. These events have pointed out in the minds of Australians the defence needs of this country and particularly the need for surveillance of our coastline and surrounding waters.
I commented on the need for greater surveillance activity in my earlier speech in the Budget debate. I spoke about the need in the immediate term to develop a specialised coastguard organisation which could fulfil that role. I do not believe that it would be an appropriate role for our defence forces. There are many things which a surveillance organisation would be called upon to do which do not require the level of equipment sophistication that is needed by our defence forces in their specific defence role. There are a number of police-type activities required in surveillance which, I believe, it would be unwise to hand over to defence personnel. So, my view is that a coastguard organisation is the type of operation we should be working towards for the surveillance of our coastline. Such an organisation would have defence significance and that is why I mention it in the context of the estimates for the Department of Defence. A coastguard operation, with personnel properly trained and equipped, would be a very valuable reserve or back-up force in any defence emergency. It could be very quickly upgraded for a specific defence role if need be. So, from that defence point of view, I believe that a coastguard organisation will be very desirable in this country in the near future.
I make some comments about defence policy. At present the defence policy of this country is bogged down. I cannot see that any clear strategic assessments and strategic objectives are being fulfilled in our defence policy. I get the impression that the Government and the Defence Department are bogged down in assessments, surveys and feasibility studies of various items of equipment- studies which have been going on in some cases for many years. One can hardly say that the five-year program set out in the 1976 Defence White Paper is proceeding full steam ahead. I echo the sentiments of the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) who made an excellent speech on this subject yesterday when he said that one would have expected that when that White Paper was drawn up, it would have been based on a realistic, strategic and economic assessment. If that is the case and a realistic assessment was made at that time, we can hardly say that the progress that has been made in the two years since then has matched that assessment. One wonders whether the Government and its defence advisers have come to a new assessment of our defence needs.
In the equipment field, decisions which have been deferred repeatedly are deferred again. In addition to the TFF matter there are other matters that are awaiting some decision; whether the aircraft carrier will be replaced, trainers for the Royal Australian Air Force and trucks and artillery for the Army. Innumerable studies have been revised and revised again. This seems to have the function of keeping staff employed but it does not seem to result in any concrete decisions. The problem, as I see it, is that as all these decisions are deferred so is the final day when decisions must be made. What is likely to happen then is that either the replacement costs will be bunched into one enormous bill at one time or the Defence Force will be forcibly reduced by economic pressure from one which has a limited but useful capability at present to one which has no capability. I believe that we must start making some decisions on very important procurement matters. They are not necessarily decisions with immediate budgetary consequences but ones which can at least start the process rolling for Australian industry to gear up to the known decisions and attitudes of the Government and which can enable forces to be trained to take delivery of new equipment.
Quite often it is said that we are too small a country to provide all the defence equipment we need. That is certainly the case. In this country we cannot produce a couple of dozen Fill bombers certainly at any reasonable price but surely, if adequate notice were given to Australian industry and proper planning and consultation were undertaken with our allies and neighbouring countries in the region as to what we can supply and what they need, Australian industry would have the capacity to plan and put forward designs which would have a reasonable chance of being accepted on any basis of international competition. As a country we must be well equipped to do those things which we may be called upon to do in the region. We certainly cannot base our defence policies, our procurement policies, on the easy assumption that any action that we take will be taken in conjuction with great and powerful allies. One has only to look at a few events which have occurred near Australia’s borders in recent years to come to the firm conclusion that there may be matters that we will have to deal with ourselves.
I do not want to suggest, from the examples I give, that I am taking sides in this debate or branding anyone as the enemy but one has only to look at the occurrences in East Timor and at some of the troubles which are occurring along the Papuan New Guinea- Irian Jaya border- let me say that I believe that many of the reports of those disturbances are highly exaggerated; nonetheless there is some basis for the disputes that are occurring there- to come to the conclusion that we are living in an unstable area of the world where we may be required to take action on our own at some stage in the quite near future. It is not a matter of saying that there is no foreseeable danger to Australia. These things can blow up at any time and we may need to take action on our own in the foreseeable future. In respect of the particular examples that I have given, we certainly cannot assume with any confidence that the United States of America or any other major power would be prepared to intervene in any problems that arose in those areas. If we feel the need to take action, if we feel the need to take a foreign policy attitude which, to be effective, needs a defence back-up force, we will need to have the capability to do it ourselves. I believe that in this respect we have to consult a great deal more than we do with our near neighbours to find out what Australian industry can provide in the way of defence equipment so that we are looking not only at providing trucks or training aircraft for the Australian forces but also at supplying equipment to friendly neighbours in our region, thereby providing the production runs which will be necessary for the development of a viable and economic Australian defence industry. Defence policy has very real economic and employment consequences for Australia and it must not be regarded as some alternative to economic development policies. Defence policy in this country is very much wrapped up with our economic development.
-This defence vote is for $2,329,185,000 or $6.38m per day. Are we getting value for our defence dollar? I do not believe that any member can be very sure of the answer because I think we lack the means of evaluating how appropriate the expenditure is. The Lalor electorate includes the Royal Australian Air Force bases at Point Cook and Laverton and a significant proportion of my electors are Service personnel and their families. The RAAF academy at Point Cook is the largest tertiary institution in my electorate and it performs very valuable work. I am very much opposed to changing the existing arrangements by the proposed establishment of Casey University and I welcome the 12 months deferment of this project. There is much dissatisfaction about living conditions and inadequate maintenance in Service accommodation, especially in the West Sunshine area where houses are leased from the Victorian Housing Commission. I invite the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen), through his proxy at the table, in the course of his pastoral duties to inspect Service housing with me.
In approaching Budget estimates for the Defence Department the Parliament is uniquely disadvantaged. In an area which demands a high level of technical expertise, a Parliament composed of generalists is extremely disadvantaged by the prevailing curtain of secrecy. This Parliament is very poorly informed about defence matters. We are the worst informed legislature in the free world in relation to such matters. This is partly a survival of the paternalist approach to government in Australia refined to the status of a major art by the late Sir Robert Menzies. During the Menzies era the Parliament was told very little about defence and the Australian community was told even less. This is standard operating practice in the Defence Department which likes to clutch its secrets close to its collective breast, even excluding the Minister for Defence from scrutiny on occasion. I am concerned for example that we know so little about Pine Gap and that the reasons for erecting a curtain of secrecy about it appear to be so threadbare. The curtain hides Pine Gap, Nurrungar and Northwest Cape from Australians; not from the rest of the world. I endorse the words of the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) yesterday. In
Australia the operation of the D-notice system prevents newspapers and the media from referring to Pine Gap, although anomalously it can be referred to in books published here and in imported periodicals. I feel confident that the Russian intelligence is far better informed on Pine Gap than we are as a Parliament. So the elaborate secrecy apparatus operates only to the south-east and not to the north-west. It is an instrument of self-deception, and the Minister ought to be prepared to let the Australian Parliament know what appears to be well known overseas. I will quote just briefly from Richard Hall’s recent book The Secret State. On page 185 he says:
Just as Soviet satellites are able to monitor all the DSD stations on Australian soil so too have they been able to keep abreast of the operational details of Program 647, which has been widely written about in the US, as have the laser hunter-killer functions. Further, in the SALT discussions the two superpowers have exchanged information on their verification capacities, so Moscow knows infinitely more about the Australian-based facilities than the average Australian member of Parliament.
As noted in the chapter on DSD, secrecy becomes an end in itself unrelated to the real world. From the first announcements of Pine Gap and Nurrungar, Australian governments, in conjunction with the US, have clumsily confused the issue by evasion and outright deception. Pine Gap was called from the start ‘Joint Defence Space Research Facility’ while Nurrungar was called ‘Defence Space Communications Facility’; as has been seen, such passive titles don’t convey the operational diversity of the roles of the two stations. But the Australian Department of Defence bureaucrats, having decided on the ‘research’ cover, one hardly likely to have deceived the Russians, have never faltered under any government.
There is a collective secrecy mania in the upper echelons of this Government which I believe encourages a paranoid view of the world. Let me illustrate this with a vintage example from Richard Hall’s book. On page 236 he prints the full text of a report entitled ‘World Oil: Recent Developments’. The document heads off with these hair-raising warnings:
This document contains CODEWORD material and can be made available only to those specially authorized and listed as such
Office of Current Intelligence Note No. 2/ 1975 JIO AUSTRALIA WORLD OIL: RECENT DEVELOPMENTS AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT DOCUMENT Not to be released to any other government except Britain and NZ only Joint Intelligence Organization Department of Defence, Canberra, ACT TOP SECRET TOP SECRET UMBRA
UMBRA is the code word used to designate reports or analyses which contain material derived from the Defence Signals Division. Then there is this stern warning:
To be kept under combination lock and never removed from the office unless transmitted in accordance with the regulations.
What follows is a banal document which reaches the astounding conclusion that increases in oil prices by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries will increase fuel costs! We did not need to be protected from that. That could have been read, without any need to break a combination lock, in any contemporary issue of the Economist, the Australian Financial Review or the National Times.
– You would get that even in or Daily Mirror.
-Indeed, yes. Yet the professionals in the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation felt impelled to regard the disclosure of such information as a grave infringement of national security. I suspect that the Department of Defence shares this view and might be inclined to put every desk calendar under a top secret classification.
There has been a remarkable change in Australian attitudes towards defence and foreign policy. Ten years ago defence and foreign policy were among the most contentious and most bitterly divisive issues in Australian public life and in the Parliament. Until 1972 the prevailing philosophy in Australian government policy was forward defence’. There was a fear of a third world war and the view that the best place to confront the enemy was a long way from Australia. Then, in 1 972, came the election of the Whitlam Labor Government. I think, perhaps, in retrospect, that one of its most remarkable achievements- I think that this would be recognised in Tasmania- was in making Australian foreign policy and defence policy bipartisan. There was a recognition in Australia that many of the factual assumptions on which our defence policy had been based were simply not sound.
From 1972 to 1975 the Ministers for Defence- the Hon. Lance Barnard, a distinguished Tasmanian, and the Hon. Bill Morrison- put forward the doctrine of ‘continental defence’. That was the official designation given to the policy between 1972 and 1975. The policy of the present Government, which is expressed in its White Paper of November 1976 called ‘Australian Defence’, is essentially a policy of ‘self-reliance’. That self-reliance policy is almost indistinguishable from the ‘continental defence’ policy put forward by the Labor Party. I draw to the attention of the House a very interesting and worthwhile book entitled The defence of Australia- fundamental new aspects, edited by Robert O’Neill and published by the Australian National University in 1976. Dr O’Neill writes that there are two major points to be made about Australian defence. He writes:
First there is no basis for continuance of a forward defence policy- Australia must now plan to defend herself by forces based essentially on Australian territory. Second Australia has to assume prime responsibility for her own defence in situations of regional conflict and, probably, in higher level contingencies.
So much is agreed ground between major participants in the debate on Australian defence policy. However the direction in which Australia should move from this point is very much open to dispute- is it to a nuclear strike force, a long range conventional maritime strike force, a ‘200 mile moat’, Fortress Australia’, or any combination of these? How far do we rely on allies? What sorts of equipment look to be viable for the 1980s and 1990s? What son of defence infrastructure will Australia need to sustain chosen strategic posture? In all of these and many other areas the field for contention is wide.
I believe that we ought to be spending much more time in the Parliament discussing this range of options. We can cast an informed vote in this Parliament only if we understand the range of contingencies that face Australia. I hope that the Minister will make sure that we have more time for discussion.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Armitage)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I relate my remarks on the defence estimates particularly to divisions 234 and 235, which deal with equipment and stores. There is an estimate in excess of $600m for this financial year; that is to say, it is going to cost this nation over $ 10m a week for equipment and stores for our defence forces. If we as a nation are to possess a selfreliant defence capability, in my view we must also have a defence industry policy. At the moment we have neither. This Government, like many others, has been faced by huge increases in the costs of the latest defence equipment. The Army’s new Leopard tanks, which were made in Germany, cost over Sim each. The Navy’s FFG7 frigates now under construction in the United States cost over $207m each. If, as generally tipped, the Royal Australian Air Force’s new fighter is to be the FI 5 Eagle we are looking at an outlay of $20m each. The costs are huge and, on one view, are appropriate for a super power. The broader policy question which has been raised by other speakers in this estimates debate is whether these types of purchases necessarily represent the best value for our money. That is a question which I believe we as a parliament have to pursue on another occasion when there is more time, but I certainly share the views which have been expressed by other speakers from both sides of the chamber with respect to these defence estimates.
I raise these cost factors now simply to point out the huge outlays involved in the purchasing of expensive and sophisticated overseas hardware which may be more than appropriate to our immediate defence needs. Certainly they come at a time when there is no coherent Government policy aimed at developing a technology and a capacity for our own defence industries. What is more important, from my recent experiences in dealing with the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen), I doubt quite seriously whether the internal bureaucracy of the Department of Defence is capable of assessing or is responsive to the development of a significant input for the formulation of a manufacturing policy related to defence industries. Perhaps one swallow does not make a summer, but I want to indicate to the Committee my experiences in this matter.
On 17 August 1978 I raised during a Grievance Debate the future of the Australian Government Engine Works at Port Melbourne. This engine works specialises in the production of low frequency marine engines. I will not repeat the arguments that I produced on that occasion. I indicated the importance and the history of this marine workshop. Suffice it to say that an all party parliamentary committee- I refer to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence which reported in October 1977- made a specific recommendation in respect of the engine works. At page 191 of the report it is stated:
The Committee recommends also that the possible retention of the Australian Government Engine Works at Port Melbourne should be included in the expert group’s field of examination- The Committee stated quite categorically: that in the meantime no disposal or leasing action should be taken that would jeopardise the ability of the AGEW facility to produce large diesel engines. The Committee regards retention of that ability to be just as important as maintenance of hull construction ability and would fully support any negotiated arrangement with an appropriate overseas firm that would ensure continued operation of the facility.
I believe that when an all party parliamentary committee makes a recommendation of that kind, it is not good enough for the recommendation just to be put to one side and for any department to say: ‘We will go ahead and close down the engine works. It does not matter’. It matters a great deal, having regard to the relationship that ought properly to exist between parliamentary committees, members of this Parliament and relevant Government departments and bureaucracies. There are two departments involved: The Department of Industry and Commerce and the Department of Productivity. I believe that the Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee) has been responsive to the suggestions that these engine works ought to be maintained. Part of the problem is that there is a view within the Defence Department that says: ‘Well, while we might like to see these engine works retained, we do not believe they have any immediate defence relevance’.
– What about the patrol boats?
-Well, that is the Department’s view. It may be a well informed view. It may well be a considered view. In the light of the fact that it seems to predominate over the recommendations of the all-party parliamentary committee, and the fact that it is a view that affects substantially the future of a very important factory in Port Melbourne- it certainly affects a large number of people who, over the years, have built up technologies and skills which I do not want to see dissipated- I asked the Minister for Defence, very properly and respectfully, I believe, to make that file available. I do not know whether the bureaucrats in the Defence Department regard government files as eggs they have to sit on and hatch or whether they believe they ought not to be made available to members whose constituents are vitally affected. I wrote to the Minister on 26 September, within a month of raising the matter in Parliament, asking for the relevant files to be made available. On 9 October I actually got a reply acknowledging my letter and stating that the Minister would examine the matter. My problem is that, apart from this letter of acknowledgement, there is no indication that the file will be made available.
Last week there was a leaked report written by the Minister’s favourite journalist in his favourite newspaper, which indicated that an internal Defence Department report reviewing naval technical services had severely criticised the national defence preparedness of the Navy. Amongst the allegations made in that report- I point out that it is an internal Defence Department report, not a Labor Party report or a Liberal Party reportwas a statement that, firstly, the Navy was not aware of local shipbuilding capabilities. Secondly- this is one of the specific examples cited- one Canberra based engineer was engaged in problem solving on patrol boat engines who had never seen a real patrol boat, let alone an engine. I ask the Minister: Is that fact? Are these allegations true? Either that statement is made in the report or it is not. If it is made, it is a matter of fact, it is a serious allegation and it ought to be answered. Certainly, from my point of view, and I can assure the Committee that my view is shared by other honourable members, the facilities of the Australian Government Engine Works ought not to be lightly disbanded.
The suggestion that within the Defence Department there is not the capacity to make the recommendations that the Australian Government Engine Works is of defence relevance is very serious indeed. It is either true or false. If it is false, the Parliament should be informed of that at the earliest possible time, but if it is true-
– There is no final decision on it yet, is there?
– No. I am concerned to see that whatever capacity exists or whatever facts are on those files ought to be made available to me or to any other honourable member who is concerned to examine the position. The Defence Department cannot have it both ways. If it says the Australian Government Engine Works does not have a great defence relevance, obviously there is nothing in the file that can be classified. If the file is made available then the basis of the Department’s recommendations and reasoning can be fully examined. I believe that my request- other members may be interested in this matter- ought now to be regarded as a matter of some urgency and seriousness by the Minister and his Department. I assure the Committee that I propose to pursue this matter because, like many other honourable members in this place, I am far from satisfied that we as Australian citizens are getting the best value for our dollar in terms of this country’s defence preparedness.
– Firstly, I would like to apologise for and explain the absence of the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen). This morning after Question Time the Minister, accompanied by senior officers and service personnel from the Department of Defence, left for Indonesia where he wil be until the end of next week. He asked me to thank at least those honourable members who participated in the debate which he heard yesterday, which I now do. I do not know whether he would want me to thank those honourable members who participated in the debate today. I think perhaps he may not.
I just want to make a couple of observations, particularly in respect of the work which was referred to by nearly every member of the Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence which has been sitting in Canberra in recent weeks and receiving quite a deal of media attention. When I was a back bench member of the previous Liberal Government, I was a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. In 1971 or 1972 a Subcommittee was set up to investigate matters relating to the Indian Ocean. I remember the complement of that Sub-committee. It consisted of Mr Fairbairn, Mr Street, Senator Sim, and I think Senator Wheeldon from the then Opposition, and me. The Sub-committee took evidence from experts- people who really were recognised experts in their field. Some were academics, some were service people and some had had service overseas in foreign missions. Right throughout the sittings of the Sub-committee and subsequently when the report was presented to the Parliament no Sub-committee member tried to score a political point. So good was the work of that Sub-committee that I understand the document is still in demand and is still printed. It was the report of the Sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence relating to the Indian Ocean and was published in 1971 or 1972, if any honourable member would like to look at it. It concerns me that so much of the time of the Parliament and certainly so much space in the media is devoted to criticism of officials of the Department of Defence or ‘bureaucrats’ as they have been referred to in this debate giving evidence before the subcommittee.
Before I say any more on that point, I refer to a couple of matters that were raised by honourable gentlemen who have participated in this debate. I had better deal with these matters now before the honourable gentlemen leave the chamber. In particular I thank the honourable member for Casey (Mr Falconer) for what he had to say about the need for stepped-up civil and military surveillance. I would like to expand on what he said. It is not generally realised in the community that there has been a very significantly increased effort in surveillance around this country, not just military but civilian as well. On 9 July, the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) issued a Press statement which gave a great deal of detail. Very briefly, I would like to mention a couple of points contained in the Press statement. First of all, Mr Nixon, said the new program involved the introduction of daily air searches of northern coastal areas between Geraldton and Cairns by civilian aircraft on charter to the Commonwealth. He said it involved the extension of aerial surveillance by Royal Australian Air Force long-range maritime patrol aircraft- that is the Orion- to cover the 200 nautical mile fishing zone and other special requirements. He pointed out that there was an increase from seven to nine in the number of Royal Australian Navy patrol boats directly available for civilian surveillance and enforcement. Of course, there are 15 new patrol boats on order.
The Minister referred to the use of three special radar equipped aircraft to be chartered for special customs response. He referred to improvements in the surveillance and intelligence collection which would improve and extend existing voluntary reporting systems and encourage wider general public reporting. I think every member of the chamber will have received a copy of a pamphlet put out by the Australian Coastal Surveillance Organisation. I think it would be useful if honourable members distributed the pamphlet around the country. It is possible for someone who sees something that he believes is of interest, whether it be related to customs, drugs or some other surveillance problem, to ring directly to a central authority in Canberra at Government expense. I think this indicates the Government’s awareness of the need to increase our surveillance program. The impact of the new program can be seen by the fact that there will be about 27,000 military and civil aircraft flying hours dedicated to civil surveillance. In the year to 30 June last only about 5,000 such hours were flown. So there is to be a very steep increase in the amount of surveillance.
The honourable member for Lalor (Mr Barry Jones) was good enough to invite me to accompany him on an inspection of some service homes. I did not hear where these homes are located but obviously it will be somewhere in Victoria.
– In Lalor itself; around Sunshine.
– I will be very pleased to do so. I think that, while we are on the subject of housing, I ought to place on the record that the Government has adopted many of the recommendations of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure. There has been, albeit slow, quite a deal of improvement in service housing in that we have been able to dispose of much of what are very poor quality apartments in particular and houses. The honourable member may know of such housing in Melbourne and Sydney. A positive effort is being made on behalf of the Government to update the quality of service housing. I would be pleased to take the honourable member up on his invitation.
I was a little less pleased about the honourable member’s reference to some other matters, particularly his reference to Mr Richard Hall as an authority on defence matters. The honourable member used material contained in that gentleman’s book to attack the Department of Defence and the Government. My recollection is that Mr Hall was a Press Secretary to one of the Labor Ministers. He might have even been Mr Whitlam ‘s Press Secretary. I do not know whether I personally would regard Mr Hall as an authority on defence matters. But if it suits the convenience of the Labor member to quote him, I suppose that is fair game. This is getting fairly close to a technique that I believe is used in this place all too often. I refer to the technique of manufacturing a story about an individual which is then referred to in the media as a fact and because it is referred to again and again it is seen as the truth.
– There is no individual referred to.
– This is the sort of technique that is used which frankly I deplore, as I am sure does the honourable member.
The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) spent some little time also making what I thought was perhaps an unnecessarily severe attack on officials of the Department of Defence. It is not until one has a lot to do with officials of this department that one can begin to understand their quality. It is easy to stand off and be critical. The honourable gentleman said that he had written to the Minister seeking a file. I think the date he said he wrote was on 26 September. He said he received a reply on 9 October. That does not appear to me to be too unreasonable. After all, it takes a couple of days for a letter to go one way and a couple of days for the reply to go the other way.
– I still haven’t got the file.
– The honourable gentleman has had a response. This is a recent request which will have to be put to examination. The honourable member will receive a substantive reply as I am sure everyone who writes to a Minister does.
The honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) expressed concern when speaking in the debate yesterday at what was being said by witnesses to the sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. I equally share concern. He said that he as a Government member would keep an open mind. I would hope that all members of the sub-committee will keep an open mind because so far as I am aware up to date the only principal witnesses who have given evidence- certainly those who have been reported- have attacked the Department of Defence. It would seem to be reasonable to wait until all witnesses appeared before the Committee before we make any assessment. I am concerned because at this stage there seems to be no balance in the evidence that is being given. Certainly there is no balance in the reports.
Much of the criticism of the Department of Defence, the Government and the Minister, comes in my view at any rate from people who have given evidence of dubious relevance. Take as an example the industrialists who have given evidence before the Committee. They feel -
– You could hardly say that their evidence is of dubious relevance.
– The evidence is of dubious relevance because it comes from people who have a grievance in that they have not received government contracts. Some other people who have given evidence can be regarded as academics. But academics have no experience of and no responsibility for the handling of public money. One witness, who appeared before the subcommittee was a class 9 clerk in the Third Division of the Auditor-General’s Department. I do not know what the Department thinks about that. The next thing we will have one of the tea ladies from the Attorney-General’s giving evidence and then being reported in the media as being an authority. I am talking about the way in which this sub-committee is being misused in my view by people who only want to use it as a forum for pushing a political line.
I will not delay the Committee any longer. I regret the behaviour not only of people who have appeared before the sub-committee but also of some members who have used the subcommittee as a forum. Some members of the sub-committee, even before it had a single witness from the Department of Defence, sought to act as judge, jury and executioner. I hope that the standard of performance of people appearing as witnesses before that Committee improves. It would be a good thing if the standard of debate coming out of that sub-committee was a little less parochial.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
-I wish to make a personal explanation.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman)Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. As the only member of Sub-Committee C of the Joint Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee in the chamber at the present time, as one who levelled some criticism at the Department of Defence for its lack of cooperation with the Committee during the debate on the Defence estimates, and in view of the remarks of the Minister for Construction (Mr McLeay) here today when he said that some members of that sub-committee were being parochial and, inferred we were being political -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! Was the honourable member specifically named by the Minister?
– I am just indicating where I was misrepresented. I want to make it quite clear -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! Was the honourable member personally mentioned by the Minister?
– The Minister spoke about criticisms by members of that sub-committee in this House. As one of the members of that subcommittee I want to make it quite clear that it is exceptionally apolitical in the real meaning of the word -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member will confine himself -
– As a member of that subcommittee I say that the criticisms came from both sides of the Parliament about the lack of cooperation.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN -Order!
– From the Department of Defence. Both sides of the Parliament -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN -Order! The honourable member, as a Deputy Chairman of this House, knows quite well that he was not personally misrepresented.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I am very sorry. The Minister mentioned what members of that sub-committee said in the House. I happen to be one of those members who did speak. The Chairman of that Committee and the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) were also present.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.
Postal and Telecommunications Department
Proposed expenditure, $178,1 80,000.
– I am particularly pleased to be able to enter this debate today because only last week several very important developments in telecommunications were announced in Western Australia. I do not want to sound parochial but in my view the confidence that Telecom Australia has shown in Western Australia is very well founded. Anyone who regularly traverses this continent and visits Western Australia is well aware that in that State there is a feeling of confidence and optimism regarding its longer-term economic future. Our wealth is very substantially based on export industries.
– It did not do so well the other day.
– We have a minimal reliance on protection. In answer to the honourable member for Moore, I might add that we like to stand on our own feet and we view, with great concern, statements such as those that were made by the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) on Tuesday. We seem to be a repository for all those things that the world needs and will continue to need in the foreseeable future. I refer to energy supplies, mineral resources and food. The exploitation of these resources has important implications for the development of telecommunications in Western Australia. I say that for several reasons. First, much of the wealth which is generated in our State comes from relatively remote mining and rural sectors. Secondly, much of this produce is the subject of international trade which, so far as we are concerned, can best be left to the companies, the market and the State for negotiating purposes only within very broad guidelines. Thirdly, this kind of economic development has greatly increased the commercial links of Western Australia with the eastern States. I say that because this development is and will be undertaken by the private sector. But the very nature of the Western Australian economy requires a substantial public infrastructure presence, particularly in the field of telecommunications.
I would contend, therefore, that on a per capita basis, Western Australia requires a greater commitment of funds by Telecom than any other State on an intrastate, interstate and international basis. So, I am very pleased that Telecom has recognised this priority by the very substantial future funding it has committed to Western Australia. The State manager of Telecom said only this week that on a population basis Western Australia would receive a bigger part of the $923m that Telecom will spend nationally next year than any other State. I should like to list a few of the Telecom projects which are listed for Western Australia. Last week, the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley), who is sitting at the table opened the Wellington Telecommunication building, a major development, in the city of Perth- a $2 1.5m project which will give - i Mr Hyde- Is that in your electorate?
-Yes, that is in my electorate and I am very proud of that particular project that Telecom has undertaken. That project will give the people in Western Australia the best possible telephone service, both nationally and internationally. In the years ahead, this building will house modern equipment representing an investment of over $ 1 00m. The bulk of this sophisticated equipment will be made by Australians in Australian factories. This is an example of how 1 technological advance can help create employ- : ment and can have positive employment effects. I will deal with that sensitive issue a little later.
It was also announced last week that more than $ 16m will be spent by Telecom in the next few years with the establishment of new headquarters in Perth. This will help overcome the present problems of administration with staff being housed in a number of separate locations in the city. Also in the current financial year, Telecom will spend close to $ 100m in Western Australia, just on new works to provide new services. This includes a new $2m building at Hamersley, expenditure of $8.5m on enlarging country telephone exchanges and expenditure of $ 17.4m devoted to the growth of the rural trunk network. It is these developments in our more remote areas which are absolutely vital to our future development. It is reassuring to know that Telecom has recognised that it must begin longterm planning for the North West Shelf gas project and further expansion in the North West generally as exploration and development increases. I list these expenditure items because many people are always ready to criticise bodies such as Telecom. I just want to say that I congratulate them on the confidence they have placed in Western Australia. I believe that that confidence is well placed and any developments which help to bring the eastern States closer to Western Australia I am sure will be to the great advantage of the eastern States.
On the vexed question of technology and employment, I think some comment should be made, particularly since Telecom recently was the centre of a national debate on this issue. The resulting strike cost Telecom about $20m. Telecom has come under great criticism because it adhered to certain restrictions regarding staff numbers. I think it is sensible of Telecom to follow its present staff policies. It is essential that Telecom, which has a presence in almost all commercial and public enterprises in Australia, keep its cost down. Therefore, the prices of its services have basically been kept to 1975 levels. This policy of holding prices down quite obviously increases the demand for Telecom’s services. I have been advised that Telecom expects a 9 per cent increase in demand by Western Australians next year for its various services. This demand and the maintenance of relatively low costs of communications for industry generally will indirectly and over the longer term do more for employment, particularly in the private sectorthe major employing sector in Australia- than any short-term expansive manpower policy undertaken by Telecom.
I have already mentioned the direct employment benefits which will flow from the massive equipment investment of Telecom in future years. There are other benefits also which flow from technological advances which the Aus.tralian taxpayers should understand. It was not until 1930 that one could telephone across the Nullarbor but now- this is of great consequence to Western Australians and to expatriate Western Australians- it is possible in off-peak times to telephone the eastern States at a charge of 36c a minute. That is cheaper in current money terms, than it was in 1949. So if we take into account the declining value of money over that period, it is a very massive cut in real terms. That is a great social benefit to the many Western Australians who have their families split among the various States.
To those who decry technological advances and the fact that Telecom makes profits, I point out a few facts: Firstly, Telecom is required by law to finance a great deal of its capital requirements from its own resources- in other words, not from the Budget and the taxpayer. Of course, many taxpayers do not have phones. So, I think that is equitable. Secondly, Telecom, by its present policies and the use of its own resources, is able to contain the costs of its basic services which have not changed since 1975. In fact it recently has reduced telex charges and next month will proceed with reductions in subscriber trunk dialling charges as promised by the Government. Thirdly, Telecom is able to proceed, with a minimum of political interference, to develop the telecommunications structure of Australia along these professional lines. This has great social advantages for the remote and sparsely populated States, such as Western Australia, and in the long term will have positive employment effects due to the containing of the costs of Aus.tralian industry.
It is essential that Telecom profits be understood in this context. Its recently announced profit of $ 185m has been ploughed back into the business and is a major reason why basic Telecom charges again will remain unchanged. That is a very significant achievement in times of relatively high inflation. In real terms, of course, these profits and the technological advances that they permit mean that the containing of basic charges is really an effective cost reduction- and this has been occurring since 1975. I think that Telecom should be congratulated on that.
There is one other matter that I want to raise. It concerns another area of the Minister’s responsibility. I refer to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. A number of my constituents have written to me expressing their concern regarding the number of television shows, and more particularly the station promotion in relation to them, which by any standards would be considered to be not suitable for children but which are shown, if not during official children’s viewing time, certainly during the earlier part of the evening when many older children are viewing. I am aware that the Tribunal does have regulations on these matters and that these are observed; but I think that some tightening up could occur. I am informed by the Tribunal that there is no strict definition of ‘children’ by age classification. I think such a definition would be very difficult to formulate, but surely some clearer definition is required to meet the specific critical viewing times allotted to different audiences.
Finally. I say that those censored ‘R’ films which are shown from 8.30 p.m. onwards are shown too early in the evening. Many children are watching television at that time. I think an X’ classification should be placed on those films and they should be shown from 10 p.m. or some later hour onwards, much later than the present time of 8.30 p.m.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman) -
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean) mentioned that the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) had been to Western Australia and that Western Australia had welcomed him. I can assure the Minister that when we get television in the outback areas of the western pan of South Australia we will issue him with an invitation to visit us and he will be made most welcome. But, of course, it is quite likely that by the time those areas get television the Minister will no longer be the Minister for Post and Telecommunications.
I rose to speak in particular about the question of television in these outback areas. I have mentioned this matter on a number of occasions in this chamber. It is a matter that is continually a hot political question in the area that I represent, the western part of South Australia. It has been the subject of approaches and petitions; but to date, I am afraid, we have not received a great deal of definite information on the matter. Despite what has been done in the past, just prior to the last general election we did receive a Press statement on this matter from the present Minister’s predecessor- and there is a pretty long story about that Press statement too- in which it was mentioned that translator or repeater stations would be established in six areas in South Australia up until 1981. But the Eyre Peninsula area was left out of that program. I issued a Press statement criticising the Government for omitting the Eyre Peninsula area. That area consists of towns of approximately 500 to 800 people. All the country in between is occupied rural areas. But they were ignored in this program.
Prior to the election, a certain South Australian senator and the Liberal candidate who was opposing me came out with a statement that I was being a bit mischievous in this matter, that the then Minister for Post and Telecommunications had promised that television would be provided in the area within 12 months. After the election was over I spoke to the present Minister for Post and Telecommunications and he gave me some sort of an idea about the future plans for the area. It is quite obvious that the Government was well out when it said that this area would have television within 12 months. I am afraid that some rather embarrassing questions were asked about the Government’s statement, and they are still being asked. It is quite obvious that it will be some years before television is provided. I took the matter up further with the present Minister and in answer to a question he said:
The Minister went on to explain just where it was intended that those stations would be placed, but he word was that the precise terms were still to be determined.
One of the local councils decided to take up this matter with the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). It received a reply from the Prime Minister which reads in part:
You will appreciate that the project planned for the extension of television services to the Eyre Peninsula/Spencer Gulf area is not only a most costly undertaking (approximately $2m), but also involves the design of technical parameters which are of some complexity.
In the current economic climate, it has been necessary to schedule the commencement of this project in the 1979-80 financial year, and it is anticipated that the necessary work will possibly carry through until mid- 1 982.
So it will be about mid- 1982 before these areas receive their television stations. The people of Eyre Peninsula are still without television. They have been given the run-around long enough. They were completely left out of the program announced prior to. the election last year. When criticism was levelled at the Government for the omission of Eyre Peninsula from the announced program, a Liberal senator, realising the possible political effects of this on my Liberal opponent, gave an assurance that he had been given information by the then Minister for Post and Telecommunications that certain areas of Eyre Peninsula would have their television services within 12 months. As I have already shown, such information subsequently was found to be completely incorrect.
The whole matter of these television services is still well up in the air. A program has been given by the Minister and by the Prime Minister, but the whole thing is still very vague. We now have the possibility of a communications satellite which will involve a long lead time should the Government adopt such a program. It could put the whole question of the provision of television services to Eyre Peninsula, where, I repeat, no such services exist at present, back into the melting pot. I trust that the Minister, when replying to this debate, can give the people of Grey who are now without television some definite indication of what the Government intends to do in the event of it either adopting the satellite system or relying upon the existing terrestrial system. When can the people of the area be given a definite program for the introduction of television service? Quite a lot has been said about the possibility of the use of a satellite system and the service it could provide to people in these areas. A report on this matter mentioned that if the Government decided to go ahead with this system a lead time of 6Vi years would be involved. Assuming that it will take a couple of years to make a decision and 6’/i years to complete the project, this could throw the whole thing back into the melting pot. I hope that the Minister will be able to make a comment on that point because I can assure him that it is the hottest political question in this area. As I said, when the Minister comes over to South Australia to switch on the television stations, provided that he is still the Minister he will be made most welcome.
There is one other matter that I would like to raise. It deals with something that has been causing some concern of late to those people who are interested in sport and who are used to seeing major sporting events televised by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. My complaint is that on an increasing number of occasions major sporting events have not been televised to country areas by the ABC. A most recent example was the Wimbledon tennis final- the world’s most famous tennis final. It has been the usual thing in the past for the ABC to televise this event, but this year the country dweller was denied the privilege of seeing it because metropolitan-based commercial interests were able to obtain exclusive rights to the event-. When I raised this matter with the ABC I was informed that it was not prepared to pay the price required to those commercial interests. I was also informed that the decision had been made at the commissioner level. I do not know whether the figure was too high for the finance available to the Australian Broadcasting Commission or whether the price required from the commercial interests was exorbitant, but the end result was that country people for the first time were denied the opportunity to see the Wimbledon finals. Even the small commercial television channels were not able to show the event. When I inquired about the reason the simple answer was that the price required was beyond their sponsorship capabilities and was, to use their words: ‘Way out of our league’. In relation to that point I refer to the Australian Broadcasting Commission annual report in which some comments are made on this matter of sporting rights. The report states:
The rising cost of rights to provide coverage of major sporting events on television continues to concern the Commission. Competition from commercial television stations is now much stronger than before.
The ABC is endeavouring to hold costs in this matter as in all other areas of its activities. For this reason, the ABC’s ability to secure the rights to televise major national and international sporting event, to an Australia-wide audience is at growing risk.
The effect of this process is that the ABC is subject in, for instance, the case of the 1978 Wimbledon tennis championships to criticism for not televising events in some States and many country areas not covered by the commercial television networks when they purchase exclusive Australian rights.
The Commission’s position on this matter was stated in our last Report to Parliament. We hope that, as a result of submissions made at ministerial level, early action will be taken to preserve the ABC’s ability to televise the major sporting events on an Australia-wide basis, as an important part of the national service.
The people in those areas certainly have the same hope. Surely the powers that be should have some authority to ensure that country people have the privilege of viewing such events. After all, if they are lucky, they may have an
ABC service and a commercial channel to watch. But many have only the ABC. This applies not only to television but also to radio. As was mentioned earlier, many have no service at all. Whilst I appreciate that sporting bodies want to maximise any financial gain from the telecasting of particular sports, I hope that they will also give consideration to the non-metropolitan dwellers. They live in areas which have produced a disproportionate number of our top class sports men and women. I hope the Minister will take this matter seriously and discuss it with the interests involved. I feel that the country dwellers are missing out badly when compared with their city cousins. The city dwellers have four television stations which they can watch. One is an ABC station and the other three are commercial stations. As I mentioned earlier, in the fortunate country areas there may be one ABC station and one commercial station. In many areas there is only the ABC and in other areas there are no stations at all.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In relation to the estimates for the Postal and Telecommunications Department, the first area about which I would like to speak this evening is the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I realise that at the moment this is quite a sensitive area. It is true that the Press is giving much credence to some of the cries of the Australian Broadcasting Commission Staff Association in regard to the cuts in expenditure to the ABC. I think it is fair to say that at the moment the morale of rank and file members of the ABC has probably never been at such a low ebb. I know that in some respects the staff cuts have been quite savage. I think the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) could do the ABC Staff Association and the people of Australia a great service if, in some way, he could examine just where those staff cuts or fund cuts are being made. It seems to me that if a full investigation were made of the areas of the cuts some interesting things would come to the surface.
I think we can all probably cast our minds back to the first cuts which were made when there were screams about certain television and radio programs not being allowed on the air because of lack of funds. It was said that many of the creative people within the Australian Broadcasting Commission would possibly lose their jobs because of the lack of funds. It has been very interesting to notice just exactly what has happened. There have been program cuts. There has been a non-replacement of ABC staff in certain areas, especially in those creative areas. This is the area which is of concern to me. I think an investigation would probably show that, in fact, there have not been too many staff adjustments in the area of the management of the ABC and, in particular, the area of middle management. I think that is an area which deserves some very close examination. It would also be interesting to find out what the designations were of the staff members who have not been replaced. This is where my fear is. It would seem a great pity if the creative members of the ABC staff- there are a great number- found themselves out of an industry which, I believe, has great potential, at the expense of some people in middle management, the calibre of whom I think is often doubtful.
I spend quite a deal of time speaking to members of the ABC staff in Brisbane. I realise many of the problems they are facing at the moment. In fact, in Brisbane at present the Commonwealth Police are conducting a major investigation into the activities of some of the middle and upper management people at the ABC. One hopes that that will be a full investigation and that if there is any doubt as to some of the activities which allegedly have been going on in that area that they will be cleared up to the fullest extent. This situation helps to add to the lack of morale in the ABC at the moment. I believe that even with these staff cuts more emphasis can be placed on local production. There are people within the rank and file of the ABC who can still make a very great contribution to the future of what can be one of the finest broadcasting and television organisations in the world. If the Minister can possibly initiate some sort of investigation into where those staff members have been laid off and not replaced, that could do a great service in helping to resurrect the morale and the ability of ABC staff members to make their contribution to the national broadcasting service.
The second area that I would like to mention briefly- I notice the honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean) mentioned it in his contribution to this debate- relates to public hearings of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. I believe that at the moment we have four people who serve on the Tribunal. But as a result of changes in the legislation, with the establishment of frequency modulation radio stations, with the establishment of public broadcasting stations and with the renewal of licences for television and radio stations, one can see that members of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal have a tremendous job ahead of them. One wonder whether it would be an opportune time at the moment for the Minister to consider the possible appointment to the Tribunal of temporary members so that we do not have an over-work load for the present members of the Tribunal. More importantly we should not have a situation where the fate of” the licence for a radio or television station- whether it be commercial, public or FM- could hang on the whim of one member of the Tribunal. I think it is important that there be more than one member at any public hearing. Perhaps the appointment of part-time people to the Tribunal could help overcome that situation.
The third area at which I would like to look this evening is the very vexed area of citizen band radio. On a number of occasions I have spoken in the House about the problems of CB radio. Unfortunately, those problems are still very much with us. One hopes that there can be a continued co-ordination of effort by the Minister for Post and Telecommunications and the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) into controlling just what type of equipment is coming into this country. Despite the fact that CB radio sets have to be Licensed we still find substandard equipment is being sold on the market. Many people who operate CB radio unfortunately are not taking terribly much notice of the licensing provisions. I understand from my investigations that the renewal rate of CB licences is in the area of 25 per cent. I wonder whether we got anywhere near the 100 per cent licensing figure when those licences first came in last year.
Recently the Minister at a conference in Hobart foreshadowed some changes to the regulations that govern the use of citizen band radio. He said one thing which on the surface has a lot of potential. I hope that later in the debate he may be able to explain the situation a little bit better to us. The situation is that in future there is a possibility that one licence may be issued for up to five sets. The only matter that worries me in that regard is the control of the spectrum. It would seem to me it is going to be very hard indeed for the licensing inspectors to have any control over a situation where five sets are available off that one licence; where just a mere sticker on a set is enough to say that that set is legal. I believe it is going to open up a whole nest of problems once again and in an area so precious as the frequency spectrum perhaps we should have greater control than that. I believe that we have lost control of CB radio. I do not quite know how we are going to get that control back without a massive increase in the number of radio inspectors. Their task is not an enviable one at the moment. It would probably take hundreds and hundreds of inspectors scattered around the country to bring the CB radio problem under control.
The other matter that I believe must be cracked down upon most fiercely is the conversion of CB radio sets; this is certainly going on. A number of newspapers and publications advertise quite blatantly that certain firms and companies- especially in Sydney- will undertake to convert a normal CB radio set from its original number of channels up to 40 channels and beyond 40 channels. One even mentioned introducing 400 channels. I understand from my conversations with the Wireless Institute of Australia that there are sets operating at the moment in Australia which have opened up to 800 channels. I do not know how the devil we are going to get any control over that sort of situation. Quite frankly, CB radio is developing into an awful mess in Australia. I think it is a sad situation when we have to admit that the Australian CB radio operator is probably not as responsible as his counterpart in the United States of America. We know what tremendous problems the United States has had, but it seems to be getting worse and worse here. I have listened to some of the monitoring tapes that have been made of CB radio operators who are not operating just in the neighbourhood or indeed within their State or across Australia but internationally, which is a problem. Perhaps it makes us appear rather stupid on the world scene. Some of the material they are operating, with, the phone jacks that they are using in other countries to get themselves patched through all over the world, causes a great problem indeed. I think a great deal more investigation must be carried out very soon if we are to have any semblance of control over the particular spectrum that is involved.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Riverina) (4.57)-In dealing with the estimates for the Postal and Telecommunications Department, whichever way one looks at the Budget- whether it is in relation to the estimates for primary industry or roads and transport or any other estimate- one is hard pressed to find any joy for primary producers, miners and other people who live in inland Australia. As the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis) has so eloquently pointed out, nothing has caused greater concern to these people than the lack of proper television services, telephones and postal deliveries. Although the Government has acknowledged so often that these matters are important, it seems to have done very little about these matters. It appears to me that these matters have been neglected in this Budget. Yet, as the honourable member for Grey has pointed out, the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) and the Government are well aware of the importance of communication to people living in inland Australia. The honourable member for Grey, and other members with country seats, have pointed out that the lack of television is continually being brought to their attention. It seems to me that the Government refuses to provide a standard that it could well afford.
I am concerned on another matter that the honourable member for Grey has raised tonight, which is that the Government has found a new dodge to escape from the people’s cry for justice with regard to the provision of television and proper telephone services. We have now a dim promise that some time in the distant future we will have a national communications satellite and that this Will solve the communications problems for people living in isolated areas and that television and telephone services will be provided at a greatly reduced cost. An examination of the reports would indicate that nothing is further from the truth. I refer to Telecom’s submission in January 1978 to the Government’s Task Force on A National Communication Satellite System. At page 22 it states:
Remote area telecommunications (including TV reception).
Estimates suggest that there are about 5,000 isolated homesteads and some 40-50 isolated communities- mainly Aboriginal and Islander settlements- without telephone service and which it would be very difficult and expensive to provide with telephone service by normal terrestrial techniques. Satellite technology could provide a full range of telecommunications service in such localities although the cost would be substantial. Assuming the provision of such services in 5,000 locations, the capital cost has been estimated to be of the order of $40,000 per subscriber$20,000 for the ground equipment and $20,000 for each subscriber’s share of the space requirement, main control stations, et cetera.
The question is this: Who is going to provide the $40,000 for each of the 5,000 isolated homesteads, which of course amounts to a total of $200m? We have heard that Mr Packer may be interested in providing a satellite. However, I think he would be more interested in providing this service to Sydney or Melbourne than he would be in providing it to these 5,000 isolated homesteads.
In May I asked the Minister a question regarding the extension of television coverage in the western division of New South Wales and, in particular, to Wilcannia and Ivanhoe. I am still waiting for the Minister to send me the letter he promised and a firm statement on when this work will commence. The people in my electorate have waited for too long already for television. The dim promise of a national communications satellite in the future is not good enough. If this satellite is possible, let us have it by all means, but if we examine Telecom’s performance we would be foolish to think it would provide it at this cost to the isolated areas. Two cases in my electorate point in the opposite direction. I refer to the Pan Ban-Pooncarie area where the settlers and primary producers lost all their telephone lines in a bushfire. I now refer to the minutes of a meeting of telephone subscribers from that area. It was held on 3 August 1978. One paragraph in particular gives some idea of how they look at things. The paragraph states:
The meeting reconvened at 3.10 p.m. and questions arising from the subscribers’ discussions were answered. Members of the group had budgeted for the 1 97S payments arrangements and had sought disaster relief through Lieutenant-Colonel Sullivan, M.P. When no bills were received they had assumed help had been given to them. They would now have to budget again as all were recovering from the recent drought in the area.
The people have gone through a bushfire and have gone through a drought, and Telecom seems to be putting the pressure on them. I ask the Minister to look at that matter to see whether some assistance can be given to these people.
The next case is the one with which the Minister is more familiar. It relates to the AnaranchWentworth area. The fact is that since 1911 the people have privately erected and maintained the telephone connections to the exchange at Wentworth. The telephone lines provided a good service. However, the New South Wales Electricity Commission decided to erect a 220 kv power line from Redcliff to Broken Hill, to be phased in in February 1979. The residents met the Electricity Commission and in February 1977 agreed to allow the Commission access to their properties provided no interference occurred to existing services or facilities, including telephone facilities. Everyone in that area was very surprised and hostile to hear a radio announcement in July 1977 that the existing single earth return telephone lines would be rendered useless by the energising of the New South Wales Electricity Commission power line. Alarm expressed by these people to the Commission was passed on to Telecom which, unfortunately, had assured the Electricity Commission that it had no objection to the power line route selected.
The subscribers in the area were bulldozed into making a decision. They had a choice between being included in the new service or being disconnected. In some cases, and through no fault of their own, they were forced to pay another $16,960. They already had a service. It was because the New South Wales Electricity Commission and Telecom had agreed that the line could go there that their line was declared obsolete. These subscribers were told that they could make an alternative payment of $500 annual rental for 10 years but there was no guarantee that the rental would not be increased at the end of that time. I led a delegation to see the Minister for Post and Telecommunications about this matter. He was very courteous- he is a very charming chap to meet- but he still has not given us any undertaking in writing that this will not be the case and that the $500 rental, or part of it, will come off the principal. The people are still waiting on a letter from the Minister. I have raised this matter tonight to ensure that he does not forget it.
Surely the Commission has some responsibility to recompense these subscribers for the cost of the present systems, which are still in operation. These systems have been termed substandard by Telecom but no alternative was offered at the time of their erection or updating when it was essential for these subscribers to have a telephone service. These privately-owned sections, some of them up to 70 miles in length, no doubt will have to be pulled down at great expense to the property owners. These people are now saying that it was a false promise, and I think it was, that was bandied about in regard to a satellite communications system and they ask whether the present system used for the Anabranch Exchange will in turn be classed as obsolete once this telecommunications satellite system becomes available.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman)-
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
-In the brief time available to me to speak to the appropriation for the Postal and Telecommunications Department, I want to mention a number of issues concerning the operations of the Australian Telecommunications Commission. This week Telecom announced a profit of $ 185m for 1977-78. 1 remind the Committee that this profit represents a return on capital- Telecom’s capital being some $6.6 billion- of 2.7 per cent. I think it might be appropriate for Telecom to determine that it will refer to this so-called profit in different terminology because the total extent of that profit of $185m is returned to the organisation in the form of capital and asset investment. Telecom is the largest employer in Australia. I believe that it has shown an efficiency of service across the board that has given it a reputation of being a large semi-government authority that has been able to produce a service without subsidy or subvention from the Treasury. In fact, next month we will see substantial reductions in charges, applying particularly to the nonmetropolitan areas of Australia. I hope that that reduction in charges will continue and also that cognisance will be given by Telecom to the disabilities that are experienced by people who live very great distances from the capital cities.
The reductions so far have applied to the areas closest to the capital cities. I am sure that many of my colleagues, including the honourable member for Riverina (Mr FitzPatrick) who is in the chamber, would agree that the reductions in charges should apply, at least initially, to those areas which are suffering the greatest disadvantage from telecommunications charges. Tonight I mention two issues that relate to the rights of Telecom subscribers. The first issue concerns a dispute that may occur concerning the charges for metered calls. I recognise that in at least 80 per cent or more of the disputes that arise, the fault can be traced to the subscriber. There are numerous cases where subscribers do not recognise that there has been a change of circumstances in their family or in their business where there could have been an increase in the number of calls for which charges are levied. Nevertheless, when one looks at the final analysis, the subscriber has no right of redress in the event of an ultimate dispute on metered call charges. Telecom says that there are some options available which can solve this problem but, in fact, the options are not real.
One of the options is to install subscriber trunk dialling unit meters whereby a check can be made of the calls that originate from a particular service. These meters are not widely available and they cannot be used in every case because they have to be related to certain technical facilities within exchanges. The second option that is provided by Telecom is a rental service whereby a key is installed so that the use of the telephone can be controlled. Again, I do not believe that that is a substantial option. The third option is that if there is a dispute it is suggested to the subscriber that he should book his calls through the trunk system. That surely negates the whole philosophy of providing an STD system. One example, I think, is worth referring to, but I will not identify the person concerned in this debate although I think it is a worthwhile example. One particular subscriber whose case has been drawn to my attention had the following telephone accounts: In November 1975 the charge for metered calls was $28.35- honourable members will see that he is not a very heavy user of the telephone service- in May 1976 his account was $32.3 1; in November 1976 it was $28.80; in May 1977 it was $37.80; in November 1977 it was $35.64 and in May 1978 it was $191.88. There has been no change whatsoever in his circumstances. Obviously there is something wrong in the State of Denmark. There must be some technical error whereby that type of account can be sent out for metered call charges. The reply that I received from Telecom is rather interesting. It states:
Following your representations further investigations were carried out and, although no faults were found, it has been decided that the account should be adjusted to a figure more in keeping with the normal account . . .
Whilst I certainly welcome the flexibility shown by Telecom in being able to take cognisance of the previous pattern of charges, nevertheless it opens up a number of matters of concern. Telecom has a very effective method of checking calls on a recording system which, of course, is not freely available to the subscriber, so the subscriber has to accept the word of Telecom that its equipment is in order. I think that the solution might be more easily found- I know that it has been suggested- if a system were to be instituted whereby local calls can be metered and, if they can be metered, they can therefore be charged for. At one stage I placed a question on notice requesting information about the capital cost that would be required should Telecom decide to institute a metering system on local calls whereby after six minutes, for each three minute part thereof calls could be charged at the unit call rate. I was advised that the capital cost of taking such a course of action would be some $45 m and that the additional revenue so gained in one year would be $38m. I suggest that we might be able to apply the user-pays principle right across the nation so that people who make local calls can be charged on a time basis, with the revenue gained thereby being used to offset the very serious disabilities experienced by country people in regard to their telecommunications charges.
A second case concerns the rights and freedoms of the individual- subscriber. The Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) would be well aware of a case that arose last week in which a particular company decided that it would promote certain advertising revenue sources by producing a cover which could be applied to a telephone directory. It sought legal advice and its solicitor determined that under the by-laws of the Australian Telecommunications
Commission it would not be breaching the law because the by-laws related to covers which could enclose rather than be adhered to the cover of a telephone directory. The particular by-law states:
A directory supplied free of charge or sold by the Commission, shall not, without the written consent of the Commission, be enclosed in covers in or upon which advertisements are displayed.
The by-law goes on to state that if that is the case, the subscriber is liable to a penalty of $20. The company went ahead on that legal advice to produce this type of promotional material whereupon the Australian Telecommunications Commission expanded the by-laws to include that type of cover. I am not advancing the case of this particular company but I think that it raises an issue of significance in that we need to look at the capacity of the Commission to make by-laws, apparently without reference to the Minister. If honourable members look at section 1 1 1 of the Act they will find that the Commission has very wide powers to make by-laws. For example, the Commission may make by-laws with respect to the establishment, maintenance, operation and provision of telecommunications services and facilities- a very wide spectrum of responsibility indeed- and with respect to the terms and conditions governing the provision to or use by any person of telecommunications services or facilities. I suggest that the Commission look at those by-laws because, if it were to enforce that by-law in relation to the individual citizen who has a telephone directory in his own home, how on earth could it insist on rights of entry? I believe that it would infringe the rights and liberties of an individual citizen to enter his home to inspect the cover of his telephone directory to see whether it is covered or has adhering to it particular promotional material with advertising on it.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– Time and the Whip will not allow me to spend the time I would like to spend on answering all the questions raised by honourable members in this debate. I say at the outset of these brief remarks that I am grateful to honourable members for what have been in all cases helpful remarks made in the course of this estimates debate. I will consider all the remarks that have been made and just single out a few for particular mention here tonight. The honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) on the whole, I think, had his points dealt with across the table by way of friendly interjection when he spoke the other night. So I will not take any more time with them.
The honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean) spoke of the importance of telecommunications to a State such as Western Australia. That is absolutely undenied. Developments in the telecommunications field, culminating recently in a new building to house up to $185mworth of important equipment, underline the commitment of Telecom Australia to the development of telecommunications services and all that they can mean in the thriving community of Western Australia. The honourable member for Perth raised also a question about whether what are called ‘X’ rated or, to put in another way, censored ‘R’ films should be shown on television at night when children might be watching it. It is true that, in developing a new series of program categories for television companies, the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal suggested in its recent report that censored or cut ‘R’ films could be shown in a category called the ‘X’ category after 10 o’clock at night. It also made a number of other recommendations. The Government in recent days has asked the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal to review its decision about showing ‘X ‘ movies after 10 o’clock at night.
The Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal has indicated to me that he will be happy for the Tribunal to have another look at that matter and to take into account the sorts of views which were expressed by the honourable member for Perth and which have been expressed by many other people in the community who feel that there is a need for television stations to be aware of the fact that television shows are being seen by children, sometimes with and sometimes without parental supervision, and that whilst one might wish in an ideal world that parents could be left entirely free to decide on their own children’s viewing habits, in the real world there is a social responsibility on government and, therefore, on broadcasters to take decisions about when, for instance and in particular, violent material can be shown on television when children might be viewing it.
The honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis) mentioned the Eyre Peninsula. I was delighted that he said that I would receive a warm welcome in the Eyre Peninsula when I was able to deliver the goods. I have had a very warm invitation extended to me by Senator Jessop who also has taken a great interest in matters related to television in the Eyre Peninsula. We take those matters seriously and I say quite clearly to the honourable member and to the Committee that the future provision of television in the Eyre Peninsula is not back in the melting pot, as he feared it might be. I make it absolutely clear that the Eyre Peninsula is included in the three-year program. The task force report will not affect this. The task force report in no way will affect the three-year program. The task force report is a very important report, but it is looking at the possible provision of domestic communications in Australia by our own satellite a number of years ahead. It would be the mid-1980s before one could see any sort of action, even granted that the Government made fairly early decisions on that task force report.
We are at the moment in the middle of a quite interesting and indeed exciting consideration of the possibilities of leasing Intelsat facilities for part of this so-called remote area program. I am sure that all honourable members, including those opposite who have raised these matters today, will agree that, if it is possible within that program to provide, through leasing international satellite facilities, the sort of immediate television which can be provided that way, it is a better option than simply to proceed with repeaters and translators, as originally promised. So we are looking at whether we cannot do even better than we promised at the last election. Far from backing off from our promise, it is my hope, if technical tests make it possible, that we will be able to provide an infinitely better national television service in these remote areas of Australia, which, I certainly admit, we promised to do in the last election campaign. We are hoping to do as we did with regard to reductions in long distance telephone rates, where we exceeded the promise that we made at the last election- an almost unbelievable circumstance. We hope that in this area too we will be able to do a little better than we promised.
The honourable member for Grey has drawn attention also to the very important matter of the telecasting throughout Australia of major sporting events. Traditionally, of course, the Australian Broadcasting Commission carried these sorts of events to the far corners of Australia where television existed. It is a fact of life that in recent years sport and the televising of sport have become a very commercial business. Those involved in the development of sport are looking to commercial sponsorship and naturally have an interest in it. This means that the commercial television stations in some cases are managing to get the contracts for the televising of major sporting events. Whilst I well understand that process, I believe that it is important for television interests in this country- both commercial and national television interests- to work together so that, if for instance the commercial stations get the right to televise a major sporting event and cannot cover the whole of Australia with their television stations, there should be discussions and arrangements with the national service for the provision of television in areas where the commercial stations will not reach. If it is the other way round and there are areas where the national service is not reaching but the commercials are interested, I would hope that they likewise would be able to come to some arrangement. These decisions are for commercial and independent bodies to make, but I believe that there is a community interest in the great sporting events of this country and some of those on the international scene which we traditionally enjoy watching being carried throughout the length and breadth of Australia.
The honourable member raised also with me the question of the Government’s commitment to the provision of improved conditions where individuals have to erect private telephone lines or what are called part-privately erected lines. I say quite simply that discussions with Telecom are well advanced with regard to manual exchanges which are not due for conversion within two years and where Telecom provides eight kilometres of free line to subscribers. The discussions are well under way to see whether this provision cannot be extended in the way that we extended our commitment in the case of automatic exchange telephone lines or those due for a conversion to automatic exchange. That provision was extended recently from 12 kilometres to 16 kilometres. The matter is under very close study. I have had a number of discussions with Telecom and it will be receiving a report on this matter at its next meeting.
The honourable member for Bowman (Mr Jull) discussed a number of things. He raised the question of Australian Broadcasting Commission staff ceilings. I make it quite clear to the Committee that I understand the concern of the ABC about the difficulties which it faces because of the projected staff ceilings which were advised by officials to the ABC recently. I can see that there would be difficulties if those ceilings were adopted as a matter of government POliCy. I agreed that there would be a review of ABC staff ceilings to begin at the end of September. This review is under way. I have the matter under discussion with officials and with the Government. I am not yet ready to announce the result of those discussions. I certainly accept the proposition that if those new ceilings were imposed, the ABC would be faced with very real difficulties in the provision of basic services within its charter. The honourable member for Bowman also raised the question of whether we can look at providing some temporary membership for the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. I will consider that matter. He made the point that at public hearings for licence applications or licence renewals there should be more than one member of the Tribunal in attendance. Certainly with respect to major inquiries, that is a fair comment and is accepted by the Tribunal.
The honourable member also raised the question of citizen band radio. CB radio has been a source of constant administrative difficulty to the Government oyer some time. It is obviously fair to say that CB radio is also a source of oral graffiti to many people who use it. I suggest that the great majority of users of CB radio wish to use it and do use it legally. At the moment, we are looking at a number of measures. I made recent statements about those measures which are designed to introduce more order into the arrangements relating to CB radio and to provide, therefore, less anarchy. I might isolate just a couple of matters. We are looking at the control of the importing of sets which are illegal to operate within Australia. It seems to be quite unfair to allow importers to import, sellers to sell and buyers to buy equipment which it is not lawful to operate in the interests of the proper management of the radio frequency spectrum in Australia. We are well advanced in discussions for ultimately drawing up regulations to prevent those sorts of imports.
We are looking also at the question of sale. We will be providing for a licence to cover five sets which seems to be more sensible administratively and fairer to the consumer than the previous position where it was necessary to have a $25 licence per set. We are also looking at the question of licensing at the point of sale. I am interested in getting comments from interested members of the community and the Parliament about this matter because it seems to me that there might be a great deal to be said for providing for licensing at the point of sale in order that the many people who have been able to escape licensing will find it rather more difficult to escape. We are still in the process of appointing a number of new inspectors, again to aid in the management of this important new area of community life. I believe that this will help also.
The honourable member for Riverina (Mr Fitzpatrick) suggested that in the Budget we have neglected rural people. He is normally a very generous fellow. I think that he was a little ungenerous there because certainly in the areas of Australia Post and Telecom a great deal has been done to improve the provision of services in rural areas throughout Australia. Of course, I instance this exciting new program under which the Government is committed to a three-year program for the provision of television for the first time in the most remote areas of Australia. The program will cost over $8m. It is, I think, an indication, among a number of other things, of the Government’s seriousness about improving services for country people. No one denies that in many pans of Australia country people are underprivileged in terms of communication services. It is true that I was sent a letter by the honourable member in May. I have indicated to him that we are not fobbing him ofT and we are not backing off from the commitment. The reason I am not yet ready to announce final details and timing is precisely because we are looking at the possibility of using this leased INTELSAT facility to provide better television, maybe even in some pans of his electorate.
I had a delightful meeting with the honourable member and his friends from his electorate about the Anabranch- Wentworth issue. This is being examined as part of the Commission’s study to improve local call access zones. The honourable member also raised the question, I think, fairly, of the $500 option instead of facing a capital cost where subscribers have to pay part of the cost of the installation of telephone lines. I make it quite clear that the $500 is an alternative to a capital cost. It is not a question as to whether it will come off the principal. I would have thought that it would be quite unfair, when a person has paid what would amount to the full capital cost and maybe a little interest, for that person to go on paying again and again. I am sure that Telecom would understand that point.
Finally, the honourable member for Calare (Mr Mackenzie) raised the very vexed question of overcharging. The problem in this area is that we are looking at the issue after the horse has bolted and after the overcharging has occurred. The position we face is that there is no way a subscriber can necessarily convince Telecom that his case is right because obviously the subscriber, with the best will in the world, has difficulties in obtaining proof. Equally, it is very difficult and perhaps it may be said in some cases there is no way that Telecom can convince a subscriber that it is right. That is why Telecom has been looking at new alternatives. That is why the question of automatic message accounting is under consideration. I will ask Telecom to produce a full report on the possible introduction of automatic message accounting in Australia. We want to know all the arguments. We want to know the costs before any decisions are made by Telecom. I certainly will ask Telecom, when it possibly can, to produce a full report on its introduction.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Proposed expenditure, $78,604,000.
– I direct my remarks to division 175 which concerns the operation of the Australian Legal Aid Office. I begin by expressing my condemnation at the altered guidelines for the operation of legal aid announced in this chamber today but outlined earlier to the Australian people by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) in the Senate. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in his 1975 policy speech again entered a clear and unequivocal convenant with the Australian people. On behalf of himself and his party and all honourable members opposite he said:
We shall ensure that no person is denied legal aid because of lack of means.
– You would not take that too seriously.
-Except I believe that the average Australian citizen is entitled to accept the word or should be entitled to accept the word of his Prime Minister. No one was forcing the Prime Minister when he made that statement. It is an important reflection on the general trend and the general attitude of this Government. The altered guidelines constitute a mean and contemptible breach of that promise. It means that thousands of Australian citizens are currently being denied their legal rights. The new guidelines mean that legal aid will be more difficult to obtain. The Government and the Attorney-General are aware of the seriousness of that situation. The figures are presented at page 296 of the Hansard of Senate Estimates Committee B. At the end of September, the stockpile for Victoria amounted to $245,629. That is, citizens whose legal rights and whose applications had been approved and had been dealt with were simply awaiting an allocation of funds. When one compares that figure of $245,629 with the November allocation of $205,000 the new allocation for November will be $40,000 short for dealing with present applications. That virtually means that the people in Victoria are being denied legal aid point blank. By the end of October there will be a backlog of between 1,500 and 2,400 cases. That is placing an intolerable burden on voluntary legal services.
People on criminal charges because of a lack of means are not being represented at all and that, I believe, represents a fairly serious restriction in terms of civil rights and civil liberties being dealt with in accordance with the due process of law. It also means that many other citizens who find themselves in the process of litigation against corporate structures, local government bodies and statutory authorities and who need legal aid will also be considerably disadvantaged.
– How would you go yourself in providing legal aid?
– Any time the honourable member wants it I would be only too happy to assist him. If one looks at the new guidelines one finds that their effect has been virtually to destroy the real concept of legal aid. In 1975 under the Whitlam Government the income guidelines were $60 disposable weekly earnings plus $20 for the first dependant and $15 for each additional dependant. Under this Government that has been reduced to $50 plus $15 for the first dependant and $10 for the second and following dependants. Thus in 1 975 a person with a disposable income of $95 and two dependants qualified for legal aid. Now the cut-off point is $75. In that time wages have increased and social security payments have increased despite the attitude of this Government.
In evidence given to Senate Estimates Committee B it was pointed out that a large proportion of even the existing allocation of fundsand there has been no significant increase- is absorbed by increased legal fees and charges. There have been increases in the cost of documents such as birth certificates which a couple of years ago in Victoria could be obtained for $ 1 but which now cost $10. There has also been an increase in legal service fees. Stamp duties have gone up. However, there has not been any substantial increase in the overall Budget allocation. The cut-back is not merely in terms of those persons who are entitled or who were formerly entitled to receive legal aid. The cut-back is more significant than that because what funds there are have to be spread further by virtue of increased legal fees.
It has to be conceded that the guidelines drawn by the Government are now so narrow that even those living below the poverty line in Australia do not necessarily qualify for legal aid. I ask the Committee to consider the enormity of that position.
– Not correct.
– My honourable friend the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) is a man of some sympathy in these matters. I refer him to a statement made at page 299 of Senate Estimates B on 13 October. Senator Evans put this question:
Is it any longer possible to say that a person whose sole income is derived from social service benefits or who satisfies the updated Henderson poverty test would, generally speaking, now be granted legal aid?
That is a simple and a direct question. What was the answer by an officer of the AttorneyGeneral ‘s Department? The officer stated:
The short answer to that is no. This whole matter is now being looked at in the Attorney-General ‘s review.
I invite the honourable member to consider the enormity of that statement. Citizens who through no fault of their own are living below the poverty line in Australia will no longer automatically qualify for legal aid as a result of the action of this Government to refuse to honour its promises.
– That is not right.
– I am told by honourable gentlemen sitting opposite shaking their heads that it is not right. Are they suggesting that officers of the Attorney-General’s Department deliberately misled the Senate? Are they suggesting that when an officer provided on behalf of the Government is asked a simple, blunt and direct question at a Senate Estimates committee that officer is either so casual or so careless that he gives an answer which is either deliberately false or untrue?
– That was the position at that time.
-Of course that is not the situation. The honourable gentleman is bleating because he is guilty. He knows what.this Government has done to legal aid.
– You don’t know what you are talking about.
– I will be delighted to hear what the honourable gentleman has to say. I am prepared to accept the fact that when a responsible officer of the Attorney-General’s Department gives an answer to a Senate Estimates committee that answer is truthful and accurate. I believe that is what happened. If one looks at the situation one-can see that guilt has motivated the honourable gentleman and that is why he is bleating and screaming. Wherever one looks, the priorities of this Government are sadly out of context.
It has been conceded again by the AttorneyGeneral’s Department that over 80 per cent of funds allocated for legal aid are expended in the family law jurisdiction. It is now proposed there be severe cutbacks in the operation of that jurisdiction. People will be provided with a level of legal aid until such time as the defence is filed and then a determination will be made, whether they will continue to receive legal aid and, if so, the extent of it. It is bad when someone is encouraged into a litigation process on the basis that they will be receiving legal aid and then to chop off that legal aid half way through those proceedings. This is what is going to occur in the area of family law. What an extraordinary thing it is for the Government to be changing the guidelines in respect of the operation of family law when only a few weeks ago we established an all-party parliamentary committee to look at the operation of family law. I would have thought that the rights of people to legal aid under the Family Law Act are a major factor.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Hon. Ian Robinson)- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I am bitterly disappointed in my honourable and learned colleague the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) because he had been, with respect, quite negligent tonight in the preparation of his brief. The first point I make is that the figures and evidence he quoted have now been superseded and those figures and those statements are no longer applicable.
I support and the Government supports these guidelines for one very simple reason: The guidelines will release an additional Sim worth of legal aid for the pensioners of Australia. I am staggered to find the -Australian Labor Party opposing a proposition which in essence takes legal aid from the rich and will give more legal aid to the poor. I will knock this argument right on, the head here and now because, whilst the honourable member was quite correct in saying that $40 was too low, the figure has now been increased as a result of these guidelines to $52 a week disposable income. That is not just gross disposable income. It is net disposable income because one deducts rent, mortgage payments, hire purchase commitments for household goods and furniture and municipal rates. I suggest that, if one adds up these items one is talking about a person with a gross weekly income in excess of $100 and not a figure of $75 that was quoted by the honourable member.
Despite the fact that any alternation to the guidelines will cause hardship in some quarters, I made my position abundantly clear as chairman of the Government Members Law and Government Committee. I made it abundantly clear in the party room and I make it abundantly clear tonight that I support the new guidelines because they will release an additional $lm worth of legal aid to the pensioners of Australia. I believe they need it. I am staggered that the Labor Party is opposing what, on the face of it, is a very fine move in the question of social justice which will give legal aid to people who at present have been denied it. It absolutely staggers me. I refer to the speech of the Attorney-General when he said:
The present guidelines permit a disposable weekly income of $40 for a person without dependants . . .
It is true that that figure has been frozen for some three years. That is something which I think all of us regret but it is a fact of life due to the economic situation which has applied in this country over the last 3 years. There are, of course, additional allowances for dependants and I will deal with them in some detail. The AttorneyGeneral continued:
With the savings resulting from the changes it has been possible for the Government to raise the amount of the permissible disposable weekly income by $12. This brings the permissible disposable income for a person without dependants to $52.
In the case of dependants the situation is that for the first child $15 a week is added, for each additional dependant the amount of $10 a week is added. Of course, that also covers the wife. The adjustment of $12 will flow through to persons with dependants. There will be no change in the allowance for dependants.
I think it important, in view of the grossly misleading comments of the honourable member for Melbourne Ports to refer to seven items of expenditure which are deducted from the gross income in order to come up with what is described as the disposable weekly income. First, income tax is deducted; secondly, superannuation contributions are deducted; thirdly, one half of any board paid by the applicant is deducted; fourthly, and this is unlimited, rent or mortgage payments for the dwelling house in which the applicant resides are deducted; fifthly, municipal rates and water rates for the dwelling house in which the applicant resides are deducted; sixthly, maintenance payments to spouse and children of applicants are deducted; and, seventhly, payments under hire purchase agreements and credit sales contracts for household goods and furniture used by the applicant in his own home are deducted. I repeat: If those amounts are totalled a situation will arise where gross income would exceed $100. I now say categorically- I have checked this out and I invite the honourable member for Melbourne Ports to check it outthat any person living below the poverty line in this country as a result of these changes will now be entitled to legal aid. He was quite right when he said that some time ago that was not the situation but as a result of the progressive social justice reform of this Government in these new guidelines, that situation is now altered.
The second thing I say to the honourable member for Melbourne Ports is this: Approximately three months ago the Women’s Electoral Lobby in Hobart organised what turned out to be a most useful seminar on legal aid. A point which emerged which I believe the people of Australia ought to know is that the legal aid guidelines in Australia are the most generous in the Western world. I will repeat that, Mr Deputy Speaker, because we checked the figures with the United Kingdom, we checked the figures with the United States of America and we even had a check of figures, for example, in a country such as France. The legal aid guidelines in Australia today are the most generous in the world. I want that on record. I invite any member of the Australian Labor Party- Senator Evans or anybody else- to disprove the facts that I have now put before the Committee. It does not necessarily mean that everybody is content, least of all the Attorney-General, with the current situation.
For the second time this year tragically we find a situation where funds have been exhausted in Tasmania. They are currently exhausted in Victoria. But I think, on the other side of the ledger, it should be pointed out that in the other four States the funds are not so exhausted. There are undoubtedly problems in Victoria and Tasmania at which we should look. If that implies some criticism, let me simply say that I will be inviting those involved in the administration of the scheme in Tasmania and members of the legal profession in my State to confer with me in the hope that we might come up with some explanation of why this is happening. I do not let the legal profession escape unscathed in relation to this matter because these guidelines have been brought in because the legal profession refused to accept a reduction to 80 per cent. The incredible fact is that in State schemes operating in Victoria and in Tasmania the profession accepts 80 per cent for State legal aid but it will not accept it for Australian legal aid. I have no doubt that I might incur the wrath of some of my colleagues at the Bar in Tasmania who will say: You are out of the profession at the moment’. I might be going back, one does not know but I do make this point: We did legal aid work at 50 per cent barely ten years ago.
– We used to do it free of charge.
– My honourable colleague, the honourable member for Diamond Valley, used to do it for free as did many members of the profession. I do call upon the profession to regain its conscience and to make a genuine contribution. I do not believe it is right that members of the profession should look to legal aid for making their livelihood.
– Hear, hear!
-The Attorney mentioned this the other night. I am pleased that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports agrees with me on that as indeed does his colleague the honourable member for Lalor (Mr Barry Jones). I am told that in the United States of America it is not uncommon for practitioners in big firms to take leave for a couple of years and go out into the community to assist legal aid through neighbourhood legal aid schemes. I believe there are many retired members of the profession who could make a valuable contribution. I knowindeed, I believe that many of my colleagues in all States would know- that there are many young members of the profession who cannot get into firms. There is an employment problem in the profession. I urge them to take a year off to go into the Fitzroy Legal Aid Service or any of these worthwhile organisations in order to give the community the benefit of their training.
I make the point- I think it is a valid point to make because the Attorney himself has made itthat legal aid has been frozen for three years due to economic circumstances in this country. Had the inflation rate been applied, the budget this year would have been $ 1 6m not $ 12.2m, so there is a gap of some $3. 8m. Under these guideline changes, we will pick up $lm of that. If, as I believe may be the situation, the Attorney-General puts a further submission to the Government for an extra allocation in the autumn session of Parliament, I simply want to place on record that he would have the entire and very strong support of the law and government committee and, I believe, of members on both sides of the chamber. I am grateful for the fact that the honourable member for Melbournre Ports did concede a genuine concern on my part. We must always remember that every extra dollar we spend this financial year is a dollar that will have to be raised by taxes next financial year to foot the bill. That question, I believe, has to be borne in mind because if we do not bear it in mind we are totally irresponsible. I refer to the presence in the chamber of my distinguished and learned colleague, the honourable member for Phillip (Mr Birney), who has drawn to my attention an incredible editorial in today’s Sydney Sun under the heading: ‘The Poor Must Pay’. When talking about legal aid it goes on to say:
For the poor, it is now a little harder to remedy situations which affect their daily lives.
But the rich can afford to hire divisions of lawyers to do battle for them.
I just want to say to the editor of the Sydney Sun that in the amendments we are bringing in which he has condemned in his editorial $lm worth of additional legal aid will be made available to the pensioners of Australia. Lastly, I talk about the $20 fee. I do not like it. The Attorney-General does not like it but it has to be brought in. Let it be administered humanely. I remind the House that if a man does not have $20 it is not to be levied. If he finds it difficult to pay it in one sum, I see nothing wrong with him being given the opportunity of paying 50c a week if necessary. If it is good enough to pay $20 to see a doctor, surely it must be good enough- unless the situation is so trivial as not to render any account- for some payment to be made. I place on record that I believe the amendments with respect to the divorce provisions are reasonable. I remind the Committee that they do not relate to any divorce cases involving custody; they simply relate to any case other than one where it is imperative for a divorce, where there are two people who want to be separated. I commend the Government.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Hon. Ian Robinson)- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) who has just resumed his seat has, in the short time he has been here, gained a reputation for being a two bob each way merchant. Tonight, he showed that loudly and clearly. In his speech tonight he launched an attack on the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding). If a comparison is to be drawn between the two in their knowledge of the law- I know where I will put my money. I am not a betting man but I would put my money right on the nose of the honourable member for Melbourne Ports. After the great dissertation that the honourable member gave us he tried to discredit the very sound and well placed argument of the honourable member for Melbourne Ports. These changes in the guidelines for the Australian Legal Aid Office will disadvantage a lot of people in our community. The honourable member for Denison tried to justify the changes but he could not explain how the imposition of $20 before anybody gets a start will not disadvantage people. I do not know whether the honourable member lives in an affluent area; but, if he lived in an area like Burke, he would know that there are a lot of people in a lot of trouble, who -just do not have $20 in their pockets.
I move on from that point and quote from the speech made by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack). The Attorney-General said:
Accordingly, a minimum contribution of $20 will be imposed in all cases . . .
– Read on.
-I am surprised at the honourable member for Denison. He is a man of the law and a person knowledgeable in the use of the English language; yet he continues to shout down people in this chamber who express a view contrary to his own. As a simple layman in this area and probably the best truck driver in Australia, I explain to him that my knowledge of the English language happens to be greater than his. I quote the AttorneyGeneral’s words to him:
Accordingly, a minimum contribution of $20 will be imposed in all cases subject to such demonstrated hardship.
– Ah; yes.
-Hang on. The honourable member went through a great song and dance about disposable income. He seemed to think that a gross income that exceeded $ 100 a week was a pretty good deal in this country. Let me remind the honourable member that a person can earn $ 100 a week in this country and still starve. Yet the honourable member thinks that $ 100 a week is a great deal.
The reason why Lionel Murphy, now His Honour Mr Justice Murphy, a judge of the High Court of Australia, introduced this set-up when he was Attorney-General- it was opposed by the conservatives and Tories who sat opposite us- was that he knew as well as we in the Labor Party knew that there were people in our community who were being denied justice because they had no shekels in their pockets just as there were people in our community who were being denied health care because they could not afford it. Those who sat opposite us then and who sit opposite us now adopt exactly the same course. It seems to me that the profession is the thing that counts. It would seem also that the basic human rights of equality before the law and equal access to the courts cannot be attained without an adequate system of legal aid. That is axiomatic. The honourable member for Denison can shake his head until it falls off, but he cannot deny that that is the truth. Let me put a little piece of simple, home-spun philosophy to him. He would not know of the very large number of people in Australia who, needing legal assistance, in the past would not have been prepared to go near a practising lawyer because they could never be sure how much it was going to cost them.
– He has done so much work for the poor, too.
-He may have done something and he may not have done something; however, that is for the court to decide. A man cannot be adjudged guilty or innocent because he has no funds available to him with which to obtain advice or representation. So, if justice is to prevail, access to people who are able to give advice, not judgment, ought to be free. I know people who have spent time in prison but should not have spent time there. They are people who have accepted fines in a magistrate’s court but should not have accepted them. Those fines would never have been imposed had reasonable legal representation been available to those people. But it was not available and these people were always afraid of the lawyers. They were afraid to go near them because they could never be sure how much it would cost them in the long term. In a pragmatic way they said: ‘It is probably cheaper to cop 10 days in the can or to pay the fine than to pay what it would cost me for legal representation, and I may not win anyhow’. These sorts of things are not understood by those on the other side of this chamber, and they ought to be. If they were, those on the other side would know that what I am saying is the truth.
The honourable member for Denison made this comment: ‘These measures are saving the Government a million dollars a year in the administration of the Australian Legal Aid Office ‘. He then went on to say -
– I did not say that.
-The honourable member can read it in Hansard, because I copied his words down as quickly as I could write them while he was speaking them. The honourable member said that $lm worth of legal aid would be made available for the pensioners of Australia, meaning an extra million dollars worth of legal aid for the pensioners of Australia. Does he mean by that that the pensioners of Australia are now being denied legal aid because the Government is not prepared to make the extra funds available? Is that what he means by that? It seems to me that the honourable member is hoist with his own petard. In endeavouring to play both ends against the middle, the honourable member for Denison has made these foolish statements. It is an attribute for which he has been noted since he came into the Parliament. I also point out to him that as at this minute there are 1,500 to 2,000 people in Victoria who have been told that their cases cannot proceed because of lack of funds. Is that not lovely? There are 1,500 to 2,000 people in Victoria who have been brought before the courts and are not in a position to defend themselves. Yet they have been told that they cannot receive representation because of the lack of funds. Their rights have been suspended. I think everybody- that is, everybody except the honourable member for Denison- knows that justice delayed is justice denied.
Curiously enough, quite a number of my friends are lawyers. I am not prejudiced against anybody. They have come to me and said: ‘If you have people in your electorate who are in trouble, refer them to me’. Why should the people in my electorate go cap in hand to a lawyer who is prepared to act for them at no cost because he believes that they cannot afford to pay him? Why should the people in my electorate have their dignity stripped from them in this way by accepting charity? I am very pleased that there is an office of the Australian Legal Aid Office in my electorate. It was opened by Kep Enderby when he was Attorney-General. I was present, when it was opened. It was a great day. Since that time the people of my electorate have had proper representation, and now the Government wants to take that away from them. It is going to have a hell of a fight it it tries to close that office in Glenroy; I can tell it that now. There is no way in the world that I would agree to people in my electorate going back to the position of having to go cap in hand to lawyers or, alternatively, having to go to the various legal aid services where all they get is deferred payment. They do not get any free service out of the lawyer organisations in the States. They get the services and have their payments deferred, but they have to pay for them in the long run. As far as I am concerned, there will be a retention of the legal aid service as it exists. This Government stands condemned for cutting back funds in this area. The honourable member for Denison stands condemned in the eyes of the community for supporting the Government in its actions.
Having destroyed the arguments of the honourable member for Denison, there are a couple of other matters that I want to raise. In reading through the estimates, I And that in 1977-78 we provided $9,950,000 for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, our own home-grown keystone cops organisation. Those guys spent all that; so this year we are going to provide them with $12,552,000. As far as I can work out, that is a 33 W per cent increase on what ASIO received last year. Does that mean that men from that Organisation can now go to ACTU Jetset Travel Service Pty Ltd every Saturday morning and clean it out? Is ASIO going to put on more spoofs in order to go there and clean out that travel service? Nobody has explained why we need a one-third increase in our spy force.
– It is overtime for Saturday morning work.
-As I am reminded by my friend, the honourable member for Lalor, it is probably for overtime for Saturday morning work in going and cleaning up the ACTU Jetset Travel Service. I think an explanation ought to be given of why these extra funds -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Hon. Ian Robinson)- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) may be the best truck driver in Australia, and indeed he probably is; but he must have obtained his driving licence under false pretences because he seems to have some difficulty in reading. Mr Deputy Chairman, you will recall that, when the honourable member read the part of the guidelines as stated by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) relating to the contribution of $20 to be made by legally assisted people, the words he read out from the guidelines were as follows:
A minimum contribution of $20 will be imposed in all cases as a matter of course.
The honourable member for Burke did not go on to read the remaining part of the guideline which is as follows: unless the applicant can demonstrate that this would impose a real financial hardship.
In other words, if an applicant for legal aid found it an impossible financial burden to pay the $20 contribution, then that person would not be required to pay. That person would receive legal aid completely free. I suggest that that is a further demonstration of the quite humane attitude that the present Government takes to legal aid.
The brings me to the second matter I wish to mention about legal aid. It is a matter upon which the honourable member for Denison (Mr
Hodgman) touched. It is the large area of legal aid which is not usually recognised by the public at large- the voluntary legal aid given by the profession. In the old days, before a wideranging legal aid system was established, members of the profession used to perform a lot of legal aid work completely free. They would do it without any problem whatsoever if a client had an injustice which he wanted to have rectified and could not afford to pay. Lawyers are not money lenders or hire purchase companies. They are not doctors. They are concerned with seeing that clients obtain justice, They are not concerned with whether they make additional money. I know from my own investigations that if the honourable member for Denison had been paid one-quarter of the fees to which he would have been entitled as a result of all the free work he has done, he would be as rich as Croesus. He would be able to retire and live on his investments instead of serving here and performing an estimable public service as an indefatigable fighter for the people of Tasmania.
With respect to other matters falling within the estimates of the Attorney-General’s Department, I wish to draw attention to several matters affecting the administration of justice at the federal level. The first of these is the Commonwealth statutes. I recently received the 1975 volume of Commonwealth statutes so it seems that the publication of the statutes is three years behind. The consequence of this delay is that practitioners and all others who require access to the law are severely handicapped in not having the current statutes in a convenient form. It is a fundamental principle that the law should be readily accessible. But it is not readily accessible where the statutes are produced in volume form three years after the legislation is passed by the Parliament. I hope that a serious and sustained attempt can be made to bring the publication of the annual collection of statutes up to date.
Of equal importance is the need to consolidate many Commonwealth statutes which have been amended many times, especially in recent years. Some of them have been amended so frequently that it is now a major exercise to understand just where the present statute law is contained before one can even commence the struggle of understanding its provisions. Two prominent candidates for consolidation are the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and the Income Tax Act. Sir John Moore at a recent conference described the Conciliation and Arbitration Act as a lawyers’ nightmare. I would have thought that that was a very mild criticism considering the abundance of amendments to that Act which have been made in the last five years. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act is, more than most other Acts, an instrument which has a regular, practical application and which must be available in a comprehensive form. It is simply failing to meet its proper purpose when it is scattered around like some statutory jigsaw puzzle as it is at present.
The Income Tax Act is also in desperate need of consolidation to make it even remotely comprehensible. I hope the Government will give attention to consolidating the Commonwealth statutes. While it is doing so it should consider the Victorian system of frequent consolidations of individual Acts in loose folder form which, amongst other attractions, enables new Acts to be inserted in a continuous consolidation. These matters are important because access to the law is important. It cannot be said that anyone has access to the law contained in the Commonwealth statutes while they are in their present state. Attention should also be given to improving the quality of the drafting statutes. I appreciate that this is easy to say but difficult to put into practice. It is only when a draftsman starts to put a simple proposition onto paper that he realises just how difficult it is to put that proposition into words. Despite that qualification, the unavoidable conclusion is that a lot of Commonwealth drafting is difficult to comprehend. Undoubtedly the prize again must go to the Income Tax Act which is now a wilderness of confusion.
Most ordinary citizens, and even some lawyers and accountants who have to advise on taxation matters, have great difficulty in understanding some amendments to the Income Tax Act, particularly the most recent ones. I suspect that some of the amendments made recently do not mean anything at all. Legislation should be plain, clear and straightforward. I hope that a serious and sustained effort will be made to improve the clarity of Commonwealth drafting and to simplify the language used.
No contribution to a debate on the AttorneyGeneral’s Department would be complete without a favourable reference being made to the Law Reform Commission and to its chairman, Mr Justice Kirby. The work of the Commission constitutes the most substantial contribution to law reform in the history of Australia. It has stimulated discussion in public, as well as in the profession, of a wide range of subjects where there is great scope for reform. The Commission must be commended for its work. However, there is a gap in the machinery of law reform which should be remedied. We have the Commission, its research and publications, public debate- perhaps too much of that on occasionsand Government consideration of its proposals. To get law reform past all those stages to the position where the reform is translated into legislation and becomes law seems very difficult at present. I believe that we must exert ourselves in the Parliament to bridge the gap and to find some workable machinery to have the worthwhile achievements of the Law Reform Commission put into legislative form without excessive delay. When we achieve that we will have a practical and commendable system of law reform in operation in the Federal sphere.
As one example of this I point to the time when the Australian Law Reform Commission reported on criminal investigation in 1975. The draft Bill lapsed in November 1977. It has been under close examination since then and it is now time to promote another Bill which will substantially implement the Commission’s recommendations. The Commission is presently working on references relating to defamation, debt recovery, insurance contracts, class actions, privacy, Aboriginal customary law, lands acquisition and sentencing. One can see from that list of references that the Commission at the moment is at the forefront of law reform in Australia. It has the scope, if we provide the consequential machinery, for major reforms of the law in this country.
– I enter this debate to bring to the attention of the Committee the general disarray of the legal system which is operating in Canberra at the moment. I have no doubt that the shortcomings in Canberra would be at least as bad in many other parts of Australia and possibly worse. The system tends to function to the disadvantage of unprivileged people, the very people who are in need of the protection of the law. Obviously something is very wrong with the profession when so many members of the Government give up the profession and their lucrative practice to become politicians. This, of course, includes my colleague the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem) who was once a member of that profession and who decided to enter the honourable profession of being a politician. Only last week reports appeared in the Canberra Times relating to delays which occur in the setting down of cases for hearing in the Court of Petty Sessions. The chief magistrate, Mr Kilduff, attributed -
– Who appointed him?
– He was appointed by the Australian Labor Party Government, and an excellent appointment it was. He attributed these delays to staff shortages, inadequacies in the administrative arrangements between the courts and the Attorney-General’s Department and the hopeless situation in respect of legislative reform and amendment. Mr Kilduff instances two cases in that week which had to be put over until next year because of insufficient staff at the court. In the same report he said that he had been corresponding with the Attorney-General’s Department for a number of years about the general decline of justice in the Australian Capital Territory but that no meeting had taken place between himself and the Attorney-General’s Senior Private Secretary even to discuss the matter. What a disgusting state of affairs that is.
The Attorney-General (Senator Durack) subsequently accused Mr Kilduff of exaggeration. He claimed that there was sufficient staff and accommodation for the five magistrates and the two special magistrates. According to the Canberra Times, the President of the Australian Capital Territory Law Society, Mr Harper, did not share that view, nor did the President of the Bar Association, Mr Peter Sheils, nor did the President of the Police Association, Mr Peter Neil. They have all called for some action to be taken to alleviate the staffing and accommodation situation in Canberra. Clearly, the Attorney-General is out of touch and is out on a limb in his view that Mr Kilduff is exaggerating the poor state of justice in the Australian Capital Territory.
By way of illustration- there are plenty of them- the Family Courts are particularly disadvantaged, with two judges sitting, reportedly doing the work of five. The probation system is under severe strain due to lack of personnel, at a time when extra calls are made on staff resources. Further, because we have no corrective insitutions for juveniles in the Australian Capital Territory, the remand system is under strain, with young people who may wish to appeal against committal to New South Wales institutions having to wait up to 5 1 days for their cases to come before the court. The problem of education for these young people was the subject of a report undertaken by the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority recently. Only yesterday, as reported in the Canberra Times the AttorneyGeneral admitted that the backlog of legal aid cases would get worse, which will mean increasing difficulty for those who can least afford it.
In my electorate office we see- I am sure all members see this- many cases of hardship brought about by delays particularly in the area of compensation. I have one case of a single parent who has been waiting for a settlement for five years. In that time he has had to bring up a teenage family. He has gone into debt and has had to live on the poverty line waiting for this settlement; just at the time when he most needed a settlement he has not been able to get it. His family has grown up in the meantime and he is still waiting. Only last week I had a constituent who came to me as her son had been killed in a fatal accident 2V4 years ago. She had been to a solicitor to make a claim but after 2V4 years nothing appeared to have happened. She took the matter to another solicitor. He told her it was now too late to make a claim. This is just plain irresponsibility and I have referred her to the legal aid claims people. I believe we have all had these cases of compensation which have gone on for years and years. I think it is the same throughout the country.
There are other delays of course, particularly in the drafting of legislation for the Australian Capital Territory. I understand there is an establishment of six draftsmen in the AttorneyGeneral’s Department. At the moment two of the six positions are vacant and are being advertised, leaving four draftsmen to handle all the legislative drafting for the following departments: Department of the Capital Territory; the Department of Education; the Health Commission; Treasury; the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs and the AttorneyGeneral’s Department. Even with a full quota of six officers it is quite apparent that the work load of these departments cannot be adequately handled with the present staff.
There are many examples of legislation which has been outstanding for many, many years waiting for an enactment in the Australian Capital Territory. There is the dentists registration legislation which calls for the registration of dentists’ assistants. There is the ordinance to permit donor transplants; we have been waiting for that for years. People still have to go to Sydney for those operations. There is legislation concerning motor vehicles’ safety harnesses for vehicles which concerns many parents; that is long overdue. There is mental health legislation which has been in the drafting stage for three years. Further, there is legislation to prevent abuses by the medical profession in the dispensing of methadone to heroin addicts. All of this legislation is urgently needed and people have been waiting for years for it. A working party was set up to review the legislation concerning harsh and unconscionable contracts, but no new legislation is as yet forthcoming.
The daddy of them all is the shops and factories legislation in the Australian Capital Territory.
This has been kicking around in the Department for the past 25 years- 25 years for legislation to give adequate control of health standards in shops and safety standards for workers in factories. Nor has the Department of the Capital Territory been able to enforce the lease purpose clauses for residential leases in the Australian Capital Territory. It appears that any major legislation now takes up to three years to be implemented. Another matter of concern is the lack of availability of copies of existing legislation. Between 50 and 60 Australian Capital Territory ordinances are not available to the public. We have been told each year that these will be available next year. We have had the same story this year that by next year we are going to get the new issues of all these 50 or 60 ordinances that are not available.
I would like to draw attention to a rather unseemly incident which occurred in Civic Square, Canberra, last Saturday morning. For a considerable time now it has been established practice for various political groups and other organisations interested in public issues to set up stalls in the Civic Centre and display their wares. It is literature which they put on tables. It is not thrust under people’s noses, but it is there for people to read or to purchase if they so wish; it is not material which competes with private business. There are all sorts of groups including the Australian Independence Movement, the AntiUranium Movement, the Campaign for Independent East Timor. All of these groups have been there from time immemorial and it has been an established practice. However, last Saturday a young man from the Australian Independence Movement stall was arrested after being questioned as to whether he had a hawkers licence. I ask the Government or the Minister whether it is now the Government’s policy to use ordinances to control hawkers licences and to restrict freedom of political expression in Canberra. This is what happened last Saturday morning. This type of action is to be deplored as an infringement of civil liberties. It is an arbitrary restriction of free political expression and I hope the Minister does something to see that it does not happen again.
In conclusion, I would submit that the legal system as it operates today in Canberra, and I think in many other parts of Australia, serves the property and vested interests much more effectively than it serves the interests of individual citizens, particularly if those citizens happen to be people who have limited financial resources, if they happen to be new Australians or Australian citizens who may have language difficulties. I believe that the Attorney-General has a very heavy responsibility to see that these entrenched injustices are removed and not perpetuated.
-There is one point which I do want to mention as the first non-lawyer speaking to these estimates from this side of the chamber. In terms of the new arrangements that are proposed in relation to legal aid, some people benefit and some people do not benefit, but it has to be emphasised and made quite clear that as a result of the new arrangements, the new benchmarks, there will be up to $lm extra available in terms of legal aid to pensioners that had not been available before. The Opposition has forgotten that sometimes what some people have others are unable to receive. A mere rudimentary sense of justice- that is all that guides me- would cause me to make that point.
The Law Reform Commission has been treated very well by governments since the legislation was passed by the Parliament. The treatment it has received is reflected in the estimates. In a period of a little over three years it has received allocations that have increased from $380,000 to over $800,000 this year. No other areas of government- almost without exception- have received that kind of treatment, and that has occurred under more than one government. What it really means is that the Law Reform Commission has a very significant task to perform, but it also has very great responsibilities.
The Chairman of the Law Reform Commission also has very great responsibilities. It is for that reason that the Chairman of the Law Reform Commission is given the courtesy title of judge’. Mr Justice Kirby has retained that courtesy title. That has done two things. It has added some prestige to the Commission and it has given some responsibilities to Judge Kirby. We know that originally he was appointed to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and the relationship of that body to the Constitution in terms of the courtesy title of ‘judge’ is not as direct as it is in other areas of the law. So, the Commission has a special relationship to the judiciary and I am anxious that Judge Kirby does not overstep the very significant position and title that has been conferred upon him.
My researches, rudimentary as they are, have indicated that there always has been a distinction between the capacity of ordinary citizens and of members of the judiciary to sit in this place or in the House of Commons. My researches have indicated that although originally the inability of members of the judiciary to sit in this place was related to the matter of parliamentary privilege, of more recent times in the House of Commons it has been made quite clear that it was in order to retain the independence of the judiciary and the position of the judiciary as being quite free from party political controversy. It is a convention that we accept without any distinction whatsoever. So it is on that basis that the Law Reform Commission in its reports, having searched the evidence and pursued its methods of consultation, is rather passive. It makes its report to the House through the Attorney-General. In its 1977 annual report on page 24 the following appears:
The Commission will continue to experiment with new methods of public consultation to ensure that its proposals are thoroughly aired in the Australian community before the Commission reports.
The words ‘before the Commission reports’ are important. I presume that they were chosen, as with the resolution under which the Commission was set up, in order that the Commission should not proselytise its decisions or its views but rather that it should receive views and explain them. Were it to do otherwise, it would be claiming a position for itself, and Judge Kirby, as Chairman of the Commission, would be retaining a position for himself that no other member of the judiciary in this country can take for himself. So, I am anxious that the original intention be preserved. I imagine that most members of this House would be anxious that it be preserved too. So, it was with some concern- and I am not expressing a view as to the issues involved- that I read that Judge Kirby after the New South Wales elections when opening a fund raising appeal in Sydney made three comments upon matters of contemporary political moment which I do not think he should have made. Other members of the judiciary would not have done it.
-What did he say?
– He referred to three matters. He referred to the call that was made by some churchmen in New South Wales before the New South Wales elections. We will recollect that a call was made by a number of churchmen to the people in that State to consider what they might do. I am not entering into the merits of the argument and the nature of the call that was made, but I do not think it was appropriate then for Judge Kirby to say in respect of that call that this test before an election of the conscience of a politician and the conscience of the electorate when voting for members of parliament represented an undue pressure on politicians.
This is almost the only time when the electorate has a right and a capacity to know what the budding parliamentarians are about. It has an obligation to test their propositions both against the values of the electorate and against what they think should be done for the State as a corporate entity. So, Judge Kirby, when he made that comment upon churchmen in New South Wales, was overstepping the mark and should not have used his position as Chairman of the Law Reform Commission to do it.
He made two other points. He spoke about the pressures that play in respect of conscientious objection to membership of a union. There are many views taken on that matter and there are many shades of opinion which exist in relation to it. Those shades of opinion vary in various States of the Commonwealth. It is a matter of quite contemporary political interest and I do not see that Judge Kirby was in the position where he should have raised that matter at that time. There are other methods which are available to him. The Law Reform Commission publishes discussion papers on a variety of matters. Other members of the judiciary do not have that right, do not do it and are not charged with that responsibility. Why then should he go beyond what his immediate discussion papers are about? The third point that he made was in respect of conscientious objection or the value of conscience in relation to the law. He referred to the conscientious objection provisions relating to military service. That matter was of significance some years earlier; it was bound about with quite significant controversy. Views were fairly and validly held on various sides of that conflict. However, it was not appropriate, given the charter that the Law Reform Commission has and given the position that Judge Kirby has, for him to raise that matter at that time.
The Law Reform Commission has received very great support from governments, far greater support than have other avenues of government expenditure. The fact that it has received that support means that it needs to be very careful indeed not to step over into the area of proselytising or arguing its case and it needs to interpret very carefully what the term ‘the modernisation of the law, the testing of current opinion as to what is equity and justice in particular cases’, means to the Commission. To any extent, therefore, that the Commission or its head would step over into the area of current policy in replacement for its current discussions or current analysis would do the Law Reform Commission a disservice. I have aired this point of view in this place because the Law Reform Commission needs to be preserved. It needs to be given the respect it is due and those who overstep the mark place it in some considerable jeopardy.
– I rise to speak about one matter in particular which is affected by the incapability of the Attorney-General’s Department to carry out the functions for which it is responsible. Last January, female members of the armed services were granted equal pay but they still have not been paid and my understanding is that they are not likely to be paid for some considerable time and will be lucky to be paid this financial year moneys which are due to them and on the payment of which decisions have been taken. The reason for the delays is that the Attorney-General’s Department has as yet not found time to draft the necessary regulations to provide for the payment of equal pay to those female serving officers.
I think the system is cumbersome. But that is not the responsibility of the Attorney-General (Senator Durack). It is the responsibility of somebody else and it ought to be looked at very closely. The inability to draft regulations within a period of over nine months in respect of conditions of service which have been granted by the appropriate authorities and agreed to by the Government has resulted in what I think is an excessive delay. If the workload in the Department is such that the Department does not have the capacity to undertake this task or if more urgent tasks are continually placed on the draftsmen thus denying them the opportunity to undertake this particular job, some arrangements should be made whereby automatic or temporary alterations to the regulations can be made. It is a serious matter. I think that most people would object to waiting that period of time merely for a formal act to take place. The drafting and presenting of regulations have nothing to do with the decision-making process. It is a matter of putting words together in order to enable salaries to be paid to persons who have already been granted those salaries and who have an entitlement to receive them within a reasonable period of the granting of that salary change. In my opinion a delay of nine months is not reasonable or anything like reasonable. I ask the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) to take up the matter with the Attorney-General in view of the very considerable dissatisfaction among female Service personnel- with very great justification, if I may say so.
It is not my intention to raise other matters but I want to refer briefly to one other matter, that is, the question of legal aid. The decisions which have now been made by the Government in this area, following decisions made in the last three years, have restored the legal system to a position where one’s legal rights are related directly to one ‘s capacity to meet the cost. I think that that is an unfortunate situation. It means that many thousands of low income earners in the community will be taken to the cleaners by unscrupulous operators. They will have no opportunity to take the necessary legal action which would enable them to obtain their legal rights from the financial institutions and those who, as part of their normal business practice- I say that quite clearly- defend unethical and sometimes illegal practices by forcing the maximum and excessive use of the courts so as to raise the cost of challenging those practices beyond what the ordinary person can reasonably risk in case he loses the legal point. I think that legal aid was an important step forward in the administration of justice in this country and in making the law available to all people on an equal basis. Its diminution, which now has almost reached the stage of destruction, places the law back where it was before legal aid became an important Commonwealth operation; that is, those who can afford the law can exploit those who cannot purely by the use of the courts and by raising the cost of litigation to levels at which most members of the community cannot afford the risk.
– I wish to reply only briefly. I must thank honourable members on the Government side of the chamber for their contribution because I think that when people read Hansard tomorrow or in following days, they will see the quality of the contribution from government supporters in contrast to what is really a stereotyped and rather hysterical, but not unexpected, reaction by the members of the Opposition to the statement on legal aid presented to the Senate yesterday by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) and by me, on his behalf, in this chamber today. The honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) and the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) quite properly pointed out that within the guidelines announced in the statement an additional $lm will become available to pensioners. The honourable member for Diamond Valley (Mr Neil Brown), quite properly took the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) to task for not quoting in full from the AttorneyGeneral’s statement with regard to the contribution of $20 to be made by applicants for legal aid. As the honourable member for Diamond
Valley quite properly pointed out, the full quotation referred to the fact that the $20 contribution would not be required in cases of real financial hardship. In other words, an important element of discretion is available to the Australian Legal Aid office in those cases where it is established to its satisfaction that the applicant cannot make the contribution by reason of real financial, hardship. I conclude my remarks by referring to a Press release issued this evening by the Attorney-General in answer to allegations raised by the shadow Attorney-General during Question Time today and again tonight by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) concerning an alleged backlog of cases in Victoria. In the Press release the AttorneyGeneral has shown emphatically that the allegations are incorrect. I refer honourable members to that part of the Press release which indicates that the legal aid backlog will be eliminated. It states:
The Attorney-General, Senator Peter Durack, Q.C., said today he had taken steps to eliminate a backlog in legal aid cases, which had accumulated in recent months.
The Attorney-General said that as of yesterday (25 October) the total backlog of 1,259 cases- which had been approved but which had not been able to be committed to the legal profession for attention- had an estimated value of $333,684.
Figures for each State were-
Victoria- 755 cases at an estimated value of $2 1 3,630;
I seem to recall that this morning the shadow Attorney-General referred to a backlog of 2,000 to 2,500 cases. The Attorney-General has given the true position that 755 cases are involved. The Press release continues:
New South Wales-95 cases valued at $2 1 ,4 1 2;
Queensland- 245 cases valued at $66,892;
South Australia- 60 cases valued at $ 1 0,020;
Tasmania- 1 04 cases valued at $2 1 ,730;
Northern Territory- Nil.
Honourable members will be pleased to note the figure for the Northern Territory. The Press release states further:
Senator Durack said he had now directed that commitment funds be made available to each State to completely offset this backlog.
I believe that following the comments that have been made by Government supporters and the statement put out tonight by the AttorneyGeneral the public will be aware that the accusations and allegations made by the Opposition are completely unfounded, that the AttorneyGeneral, in the new guidelines, has proposed a continuation of the legal aid scheme that will meet the needs of all genuine cases where legal aid assistance is required.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Remainder of Bill- by leave- taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Viner)- by leave- read a third time.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment or requests:
Dried Vine Fruits Stabilization Amendment Bill 1978.
Dried Vine Fruits Levy Amendment Bill 1978.
Defence Service Homes Amendment Bill 1978.
-I present the fourth report of the Publications Committee sitting in conference with the Publications Committee of the Senate. Copies of the report have been circulated to honourable members in the chamber.
Report- by leave- adopted.
Debate resumed from 15 August, on motion by Mr Howard:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Bill before the House, the Appropriation Bill (No. 2), is a very significant and traditional Bill which, unlike the Appropriation Bill (No. 1), is not debated at great length. Nevertheless, it is important because it is the vehicle for the approval of funds for the Government’s public works program. The Opposition does not oppose this Bill. I point out that it involves the appropriation of an enormous amount of money-$ 1 , 593,902,000.
– How much?
-That is $1.5 billion, in round figures, for expenditure on the construction of public works and buildings, the acquisition of sites and buildings, advances and loans, plant and equipment and grants to the States under section 96 of the Constitution. It is appropriate, therefore, that this legislation should command the attention of the Parliament at least for a reasonable period of time. The Bill, in my view, is significant because it epitomises the very essence of the Government’s economic philosophy; that is to say, a large amount spent on public works, on the one hand, can have the effect of stimulating the economy and a diminution of funds, on the other hand, can have the converse effect. If there were to be any major Government initiative to stimulate Australia’sflagging economy, it would involve expansion of the public sector of the economy. Yet the main thrust of the Budget is to hobble the public sector, to contract the economy and to curtail the public works program. The Budget, which we have been debating now for some weeks, was to this effect. Under the Budget Government revenue increases by $2,588m but total outlays increase by only $2,067m to $28,870m; that is to say, more than half a billion dollars effectively is taken out of the economy by virtue of those substantial figures, figures of utmost significance in the Budget.
It seems to me that the Government’s economic obsessions are three-fold and they are very much in evidence in the legislation before the House at the moment. There is, firstly, the fixation of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) with inflation, a fixation that he pursues with great and unrelenting fanaticism. Economic devastation and disaster can be the order of the day, but the Prime Minister persists. His pride is at stake, and that is paramount. It is more important to him to retain an unrelenting rigidity in his attitude to inflation than to relent even one iota for the purpose of reducing the very serious and worrying trend of unemployment in this country.
The second obsession is with the deficit. If the deficit for this financial year were to be retained at 4.3 per cent of gross domestic product, which was the figure last year, instead of being allowed to fall to 3.4 per cent of gross domestic product, an extra $ 1 billion would have been available to stimulate the economy. In other words, the stimulus to the economy from the deficit has been seriously reduced. Then there is the third obsession. This involves a prejudice against the public sector of the economy, a prejudice against public works, the worshipping of the holy cow, the private sector, and certainly a prejudice against the Public Service. Of course, the Public Service knows its friends in the present situation. Never before has there been such a feeling of insecurity and uncertainty about the future and about employment prospects as that which pervades the Public Service at present in almost every department around Australia. What a disgraceful state of affairs it is that people who set out to serve this country with great devotion are relegated to this inferior and degrading status. Public Service staff ceilings are to be reduced further under this Budget because the works program, which is the subject matter of this Appropriation Bill, is to be curtailed under so many significant headings affecting the well-being of the people. We are going to see staff ceilings reduced to bring total staff reductions to 13,250 since the Fraser Government first took office; and we are only in the middle stanza. The trend and the tendency are still going on.’
Some of my contemporaries opposite have the same attitude as I have. I am not disparaging them all. I am talking about the thrust of the Fraser Government’s policy. If anybody has to figurehead this undesirable trend, the Prime Minister has to be the man to accept responsibility for this policy. It is not the policy that is being pursued by progressive countries in the world. It is not the policy that is being pursued by the Government of West Germany whose President has been in Canberra recently and which is put up as a kind of example to the mixed economies of the world of how to run things efficiently. The Public Service of that country is not being undermined, retarded or sabotaged; it is not having its morale destroyed. If We just glance at the Schedules to this ‘Bill, we will see the frightening ramifications in terms of employment. The employment of many people in the public and private sectors is threatened. We are not talking just about the public sector. When we cut public expenditure we are dealing a very serious blow to large elements of the private sector, which logistically uphold, support and back up the public area.
Let me mention a few examples. There are 26 major items in this Appropriation Bill, amounting to this $l,593m program. Twenty-six departments are involved. The Department of the Capital Territory is mentioned in Schedule 2. We see that expenditure in respect of that Department is cut from the 1977-78 appropriation of $212.1m to $171.8m- a massive cut here in the Australian Capital Territory. The expenditure last financial year of $ 159.3m for the Department of Health has been cut to $95.4m.
– That is a $60m cut.
-Indeed. That amount of $95.4m covers capital works and services programs for the Department of Health and payments to the States. As the member for Parramatta reminds me, there is a curtailment of roughly $60m under the health program.
Let me deal now with the Capital Works and Services item and the Payments to or for the
States item for the Department of Social Security. I will not cite the figures in respect of the total expenditure of the Department of Social Security. I am referring to the works component carried out by the Federal and State authorities. Expenditure in this area is down from $68. 7m to $60m. Expenditure in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has decreased from $2 5. 8m to $ 13.1m. Is it any wonder that the Returned Services League is turning sour on the Government? The last bastion, if we like to term it such, of traditional support for the Government is going from under. By jove, just imagine the position of an ex-serviceman dependent on improved hospitalisation under the repatriation or veterans’ affairs program. Just imagine, for example, the position of an ex-serviceman dependent on a defence service homes program. Would not that serviceman be a little concerned with a government that was slashing expenditure on veterans’ affairs from $25.8m to $13. lm?
– Is that some more of their broken promises?
-Obviously. This is an important Bill from many points of view.
I want to make another point: This Government has set out to cause the terminology ‘public sector of the economy’ to be regarded as a dirty kind of terminology. It wants to make public expenditure unpopular in the minds of the people. I think that is regrettable. That is what this Appropriation Bill is all about. Insufficient funds are being made available for these public purposes. I want to refer to the Parliament for its consideration this publication I hold in my hand. It is a study in resource allocation by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It is called Public Expenditure Trends. It shows the extent of public support for the economy in Australia on the one hand as against the economy of comparable OECD countries. It contains a summary which deals with the proportion of public expenditure compared with gross domestic product averaged over the three years 1974 to 1976. In Australia, it was 32.8 per cent compared with the OECD average of 41.4 per cent. So Australia is dragging the chain. In Australia the extent to which the public sector is invoked to bolster up a difficult situation is poor compared with the position in other countries. Only in Japan and Spain was total public expenditure less than it was in Australia. In Japan, total public expenditure was shown as 25.1 per cent of gross domestic product. In Spain, it was 25.3 per cent.
In all other countries with which Australia is comparable, a higher proportion of gross domestic product was used for public expenditure. For example, Canada spent 39.4 per cent of its gross domestic product on public expenditure. The Federal Republic of Germany spent 44 per cent. That is supposed to be a country that inspires the Prime Minister. I hope that figure inspires him. I repeat that in Germany 44 per cent of the gross domestic product is spent on public expenditure. That is the country with the incredibly low level of inflation. Our Prime Minister is saying that if money is spent in the public sector the whole situation will be aggravated. Of course, what he is doing with this obsession is undermining the economy and developing mass unemployment which wil make Australia- this is among the OECD countries- the country with the most potential having the poorest possible result. I repeat again that Germany spends 44 per cent of its gross domestic product on public expenditure. The Netherlands spends 53.9 per cent of its gross domestic product on public expenditure. Sweden, which is not doing too badly in the scheme of things, spends 51.7 per cent, the United Kingdom 44.5 per cent and the United States of America, the land of free enterprise, 35.8 per cent which is about 3 per cent higher than the amount being made available in Australia
Government spending increased in all OECD countries during the last 15 years. The table before me shows that in Australia during those 15 years- from 1962 to 1975- government expenditure, expressed as a proportion of gross domestic product, increased from 24 per cent to 32 per cent. The expenditure in other countries such as the United States of America and Canada increased steadily above our level. Government expenditure in Germany, the United Kingdom and Sweden increased to the level of 49.4 per cent.
What we are really talking about in respect of this Appropriation Bill is its inadequacy and the fact that that inadequacy wm contribute to and aggravate even further the serious unemployment position in Australia. Is there any point in talking about the unemployment figures? Everybody knows them today. We know that the Budget, with this Appropriation BUI being a significant part of it, wil expand the level of unemployment by at least an additional 100,000 in the financial year that is under consideration. The position in general terms was that we had 6. 1 per cent of the full-time labour force out of work at 30 September 1978. Some 324,200 people, who are part of that full-time labour force in ordinary circumstances, and 5.9 per cent of the part-time labour force- another 59,000 people- making a total of some 383,700 people are out of work.
-That is nearly 400,000.
-Nearly 400,000 people are out of work. Many people say that over 600,000 people are out of work because some people do not register as being unemployed. I do not want to get involved in that argument. Heaven knows, the subject has been bandied around a great deal. Perhaps we cannot bandy it around enough. Perhaps that is what the Parliament of this nation is all about- giving the people an opportunity to have jobs, get their houses and live decently. Yet, on that fundamental obligation and responsibility this Government has been found inadequate.
Let us look at the effects of this Appropriation Bill on employment in the construction industry. The industry is affected very significantly by the Bill which will finance the works program of the nation. We can see the figures in respect of unemployment creeping up steadfastly from 1975. They are very serious figures. At the present time, 119,000 people in the construction industry, other than that part of it which applies to the building of houses, are out of work. This labour force that has been trained at great expense in a country that has so much to do is standing idle and unemployed principally because this Government has failed to do two primary things. One is to give the private sector a reeling of inspiration. The second is actually to facilitate the effective operation of the public sector. Gross private fixed capital expenditure in the construction industry is in a parlous state. Without going into the figures, the effect is this: The expenditure, expressed in 1974-75 prices, in the building and construction area- other than housing- for 1974-75 was $l,943m. In the financial year 1977-78 it declined to $l,610m. In those two years we saw a fall of $333m in the gross private fixed capital expenditure in the construction industry, other than housing. They are serious matters to contemplate. Other figures we can look at will frighten us even further.
I would Uke now to look closely at the sections of the appropriations that have been seriously curtailed. I have mentioned that the appropriation for the Department of the Capital Territory has been chopped back from $2 12m to $171m, to use round figures. I see that the building works vote for the Australian Capital Territory is down from $638,000 to $410,000. 1 see housing loans in the Australian Capital Territory are down from $9.5m to $8.9m. I see expenditure under the National Capital Development Commission Act is down from $196m to $155m. No wonder there is an unemployment problem in the Australian Capital Territory. No wonder the Housing Industry Association and the Master Builders Association of the ACT are throwing up their hands in despair. No wonder when one drives around Canberra one sees houses and units with For sale’ and ‘to let’ signs in front of them. It is no wonder that one hears stories of deteriorating property values. Here, in Canberra, where there is no chance of the Federal Government engaging in any buckpassing and where the Federal Government has unfetted responsibility, we see a deterioration in momentum.
If we turn to the appropriations for the Department of Health we find that expenditure is down from $195m to $95.4m. The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories has been cut from $6. 5m to $4m. Heaven knows what that is all about! I would be surprised if enough services radiate from the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories to justify that reduction of expenditure. The school dental scheme is listed under several headings. For example, the vote item ‘School Dental Scheme- Grants for Capital expenditure on training facilities’ is down from $243,000 to $40,000. The item ‘School Dental SchemeGrants for running costs of training facilities’ is down to $4.2m from $6.6m. The scheme was a great Labor initiative. Work under the scheme was to take place over a prescribed period of years so that every school child received adequate dental care. There were to be teams of hygiene therapists to go right around this country. Yet we find this massive cut from $6.6m to $4.2m in the running costs of this program. The item School Dental Scheme- Grants for capital expenditure on clinics’ is down from $8.2m to $5m.
I now turn to the community health program. People who live in Canberra know what this program is about. They know about the wonderful facilities that are in Canberra which again are the result of a Labor initiative which was to spread out from Canberra right through the country. This program would have had employment generating capacity as well as health qualities. That program has been cut from $79m to $5 1.3m. Just imagine what could happen if we took up the leeway and used the money to get the building force working throughout Australia. If we just maintained the level of last year’s expenditure there would be an enormous difference not only in terms of employment opportunities but also in overtaking the inadequate facilities that prevail at the present time.
The legislation also contains an appropriation for the Hospitals development program. I think the Treasurer (Mr Howard) or the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) ought to explain this figure. Whereas last year $44.5m was spent under this item, no provision is made at all in the current financial year. The total drop in the capital works and services and payment to or for the States divisions under the Department of Health provisions is $63.8m compared with last year.
So it goes on. Expenditure for the Department of Social Security is down from $68.75m to $60m. I am appalled to note that in this Year of the Child the appropriation for childhood and associated services is down from $53m to $42m. Apart from reductions in works and services I suppose we have all been a bit disturbed to learn that the program which provided maternity allowances and which stood for 66 years in the face of wars, depressions and everything else, is to be eliminated in the Year of the Child. Even grants to or for the States in respect of the capital costs of senior citizens centres have been cut. There has been an actual drop in the childhood and associated services vote of $9,047,000 over last year’s appropriation. So, the total drop in the appropriation for capital works and services of the Department of Social Security is $8. 7m.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs appropriation is a similar story of disaster. In this area, expenditure has been reduced from $25. 8m to $13. 1m. There have been cuts in funds for repatriation blocks at mental hospitals under the building and works vote. Expenditure for defence service homes is down from $22m to $ 1 0m.
-You told us that.
-I notice that the honourable member for Barton nods his head with some enthusiasm. I do not know what he responds to ex-servicemen who tell us that they have to wait for the best part of a year before their application for a loan is dealt with. Of course servicemen have now been told that instead of having to serve for just three years they now have to serve for six years and sign on for another three years to be eligible for a defence service home loan.
In any event, in general terms and in actual dollar terms the building and works vote under the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has been cut by close enough to $412,000. That is not a big figure in itself. The plant and equipment vote has been cut by $387,000 and the Defence service homes vote, as I have mentioned, has been cut by $12m. The total drop in expenditure is $ 12.695m. The contents of this appropriation
Bill, normally regarded as a fairly innocuous piece of legislation, are symbolic of the program of a government which has lost its verve, any objectivity and any idea as to how it can assist. The Government has virtually abdicated its role. It is a private enterprise government- a laissez faire government- which is prepared to say: ‘We will leave things to the private sector’. But it so happens that things do not always synchronise in the private sector to the extent that is necessary to keep people in employment and to keep us progressing towards higher living standards. In that kind of situation where spontaneity is not there, one needs government initiatives. That is what governments are all about. Instead of abdicating from responsibility for the economy and instead of curtailing public works programs, the Government should move in with its moderating influence. We have found a government that has actually thrown away the very weapon that it could use to wage war on the lethargic state in which we see the economy today. This is a tragic scene; we have a tragic Prime Minister. The people know it is tragic. That is why we have seen a succession of adverse public reactions against this Government. We have seen what happened in the Werriwa by-election and in the New South Wales State elections. That is what will happen in the Ballarat by-election in Victoria. We saw the same result in local government elections last Saturday. I think that this applies to your own electorate of Scullin, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I conclude simply by saying that this legislation is a disgraceful measure in that it demonstrates that the Government has no confidence or enthusiasm about the powers with which it has been equipped by the Australian people to get on with the job of stimulating our economy. The sooner that people realise there is no future in the Fraser Government, the better it will be not just for the present generation of Australians but for all those young people in whom we have our hope. All those young people will have no future unless there is a decent public works program and a decent public sector in the Australian economy. If there is not, we can wrap up the whole show and give it away.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-by leave- I refer to a statement 1 made which appeared at page 1324 of Hansard of 21 September. I said:
Watkins Ltd, a major construction firm, is pulling out of the Territory entirely.
I received today a telex from Mr D. G. Watkins, the General Manager of that firm, in which it is stated:
Please be advised that this statement is totally incorrect and Watkins Limited never has or does not intend to withdraw from the Northern Territory now or in the future.
I hasten to take this earliest opportunity to correct my statement in view of this assurance because of possible damage to the firm at a time when the private sector, particularly the construction industry, is in difficulties in the Northern Territory as described, for example, yesterday by the Treasurer for the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.
– I support the Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1978-79. The honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) spent 30 minutes picking out those programs where there has been a slight decrease in expenditure. I suggest that if he had picked out the programs where there had been increases he would have spoken for a couple of hours. If one looks at the total expenditure involved in this Bill for this financial year one will find that it exceeds the allocation for the previous financial year by $330m. The total appropriation is, of course, almost $1.6 billion. A strong point that I would bring out is the fact that of this $1.6 billion almost $700m is for payments to the States under section 96 of the Constitution or as specific purpose grants. That amount alone has increased by $220m over the previous year. This Bill involved public works programs and, of course, grants to the States.
This Appropriation Bill identifies many payments for programs which are administered by the States. I would like to spend some time referring to these particular programs. I strongly believe that the Australian public incorrectly feels that their State governments often are the generous providers of goods and programs, not the Federal Government. The money really comes from the Federal Government. State governments are not backward in putting forward this incorrect public opinion. Many instances of this type of attitude are evident. In particular, in recent weeks during the New South Wales election campaign all sorts of claims were made that money was coming from the New South Wales Government when, in fact, it was provided through the generosity of this Federal Government.
Some of the items detailed in this Bill are funded through the generosity of this Government, but are to be administered by various State governments. An amount of $34m is allocated for programs under the Aboriginal Assistance
Act; SS.2m will be used for apprentices in State government establishments; and there will be a contribution of $2.5m to the Commonwealth Games which will be held in Brisbane. I particularly mention the last item because it is often claimed by members of the Opposition that this Government does not provide any money for sport. Yet this Government already has contributed $2.5m for the Commonwealth Games to be held in Brisbane in 1982. That money will be administered by the Queensland Government.
Other projects administered by the States will be funded directly by this Government. The blood transfusion service will receive $6.6m. The honourable member for Hughes spoke about the school dental scheme. If he adds up the four figures involved, he will find that a total of $ 18.9m will be spent this year on the school dental scheme. Admittedly, that is a little less than the expenditure for last year but the amount of money spent does not necessarily measure how good the program is. How the money is spent is what counts. Grants for community health programs total $5 1.3m. In my electorate, which is very close to the electorate of the honourable member for Hughes, a marvellous community health establishment at Peakhurst is funded by this Federal Government. An amount of $5 1.3 m will be paid to such establishments.
Let us consider some of the smaller items. An amount of Sim will be allocated for drug education; $6. 7m will go to the various State governments for water resource treatment in rural areas; and $1 1.9m will be provided for research grants. Research grants are given to various people at universities in the community. If one looks at a list of recipients of research grants one finds that many of them are carrying our research into solar energy. I make that point because it has been said by members of the Opposition that this Government is doing nothing about solar energy. Honourable members may recall that about 18 months ago one State Premier promised a grant of $lm to one of the universities in this country. The university never got it. The only place from which researchers are likely to get grants for research into solar energy is this Government. The honourable member for Hughes said that this Government is not concerned about pensioners. An allocation of $4m is proposed for senior citizens centres; $ 10.4m for home care services and $42 m for child care and associated services.
Let us have regard to some of the items in this Bill that involve direct Commonwealth Government expenditure, not expenditure administered by the States. At least the Commonwealth should get some recognition of such expenditure. The honourable member for Hughes asserted that the housing industry was not doing well in Canberra. An amount of $8. 9m is proposed for the Australian Capital Territory housing authority. The not insignificant sum of $3 16m is to be allocated for direct advances for housing to the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development.
I now turn to the immigration and ethnic affairs. The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) was in the chamber a short while ago. Money is provided for translator and interpreter services; for establishment costs for the Institute of Multicultural Affairs; for settlement services for refugees coming into Australia; and for the special broadcasting service for our new settlers, a service well known in the communty. They are examples of the generosity of this Government. Another small but important item concerns the ‘Project Australia’ campaign for which Sl.lm is provided. This campaign will be tremendously important for the future of Australian industry. I ask honourable members to cast their minds back a few years when a similar campaign was conducted. It was called the ‘Buy Australia ‘ campaign. The ‘Project Australia’ campaign to be launched shortly will assist Australian industry. Directly related to this campaign is the export expansion grants scheme for which an allocation of $20m is proposed in this Bill. The honourable member for Hughes did not say anything about that because it is a direct increase of $20m. This is a new scheme and, of course, there has not been any previous expenditure. So, that is the generosity of this Government. There has not been an overall increase of $330m provided for in the Bill. That amount is certainly not to be sneezed at.
I come back to some of the other comments made by the honourable member for Hughes. He spoke at length of expanding the public sector and I know that that is the policy of the Opposition. He gave figures in respect of other countries that were expanding their public sectors. But what he neglected to tell honourable members in this chamber and what he neglected to tell people listening to the broadcast of these proceedings was that expanding the public sector meant taxing people who were not in the public sector to keep the public sector going. I do not decry the public sector. We have some excellent public servants in Australia. The public sector is important to Australia and so is the private sector. But what people have to remember is that already in Australia today there is a ratio of one public servant to every three people in the work force. That perhaps is a good ratio but we have to remember that that one public servant is maintained through taxation taken from two people in the private sector. So if one were to be stupid and increase the public sector to a ridiculous proportion it would be extremely difficult for those people in the private sector to meet the cost through taxation.
The honourable member for Hughes referred also to staff ceilings. I want to remind the people listening to this debate tonight that there have not been cuts in the staff ceilings of the Public Service. There have not been cuts in the number of people employed in the Public Service. Yet the newspapers write all the time about staff cuts. They should look at the statistics put out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and find that month by month there have been increases in the number of employees in the public sector. I think that that should be so. But what they are misinterpreting is the fact that we are holding those increases to a sensible level. There have never been any staff cuts. Sure, there are staff ceilings, but those ceiling levels are higher than those of previous years.
The honourable member for Hughes spoke also about unemployment. I have the greatest sympathy for people who are unemployed. The honourable member for Hughes mentioned in particular unemployment in Canberra. If he looks at the unemployment figures, he will find that Canberra has a lower rate of unemployment than has any State in Australia. Of course it is still too high, but nevertheless, it is the lowest rate. Another fact that he did not mention was that the Australian Capital Territory has a much greater participation rate of people in the age group available for work than has any other part of Australia. Its participation rate is 10 per cent higher than that of any State of Australia. So the honourable member picked the wrong horse when he talked about unemployment in Canberra.
In concluding my remarks in support of this Bill, I agree with the honourable member for Hughes that there is a tremendous amount of expenditure involved. The amount of $330m is a significant increase on the allocation for the previous year. The Government has done a good job in the present climate of restraint, at a time when we are trying to give back money to the taxpayer through tax reforms. But if we were to be stupid about it and increase the size of the Public Service as the Opposition wants us to do, and thereby increase substantially this type of budget, this public works program, then there would be a tremendous burden on the Australian taxpayer. The sensible thing to do is to keep these programs going and expand them at a sensible rate. That is exactly what this Government is doing. I have great pleasure in supporting the Government on this Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Viner) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 21 September, on motion by Mr Ellicott:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The main purpose of this Bill is to implement the recommendations of the Remuneration Tribunal as to the salaries and allowances paid to judges and persons of judicial status. There is also an opportunity taken by the Government in this Bill to make an amendment of a technical nature to section 1 7 of the Remuneration and Allowances Act 1973. The Opposition has no objection to the changes made by this Bill. In fact we will go as far as to say that we support it. Due to the lateness of the hour and the desire of the Government to get this Bill through the House I will leave my remarks at that.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Viner) read a third time.
Motion (by Mr Viner) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-Last night during the adjournment debate I spoke about the problems facing the city of Whyalla. Of course honourable members are confined to only five minutes’ speaking time during the adjournment debate and last night I ran out of time. I was saying that this Federal Government had not done much to try to help this city. Perhaps I could recap some of the things that the Government has not done to help. In the first place, it was not prepared to do anything to assist the shipbuilding industry in that area. The South Australian Government established a working party to investigate other areas in which workers could be provided with alternative employment in the event of closure of the shipyards. Of course this Government rejected that concept, too.
Responsible people in Whyalla endeavoured to get Ministers to visit that city so that they could put their case to them. But what happened? A former Minister, now Sir Robert Cotton, had promised to go to Whyalla and have discussions with the town council but he was shifted to other areas. The present honourable member for Flinders (Mr Lynch) took over his portfolio. He did eventually visit Whyalla and while he was very sympathetic the final result was that the Federal Government decided that it would not support the submission of the South Australian Government working party for the provision of a railway rolling stock plant at Whyalla to provide services for that area. Taken all round, the people in the area got very little support from Liberal Party politicians and from the Liberal-National Country Party Government.
Last year, a sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence brought down a recommendation with regard to the shipbuilding industry. It recommended that the Whyalla and Newcastle shipyards be retained as a defence back-up. The Whyalla city council invited senators from both sides to visit Whyalla to discuss this recommendation with them. Three Australian Labor Party senators, three Liberal Party senators, the State members and I turned up at that meeting. At the meeting all senators agreed that they would support a move in the Senate for the adoption of the report. But I am afraid that when this matter was brought on for debate in the Senate the Liberal Party senators not only voted to gag the debate but also voted against the proposition. They turned their backs on what has happened in that area.
The State Government has been doing its utmost to try to assist. It has agreed to the establishment in the area of a clothing manufacturing plant which has provided employment for quite a number of women. It has been open only a short time but it has filled a little part of the gap. Of course, that certainly does not involve all the problems. One of the hopes for the area is the development of other industries. One industry in particular is listed among those to be considered by the Australian Loan Council here in a couple of weeks ‘ time. I refer to the Redcliff petrochemical project. This project will require the approval of the Federal Government for South Australia to borrow approximately $185m for the infrastructure of the project. We certainly hope that the South Australian Government will receive the approval of the Loan Council for this purpose. The main use to which Redcliff will be put will be to manufacture various chemicals out of the by-products of the Moomba-Gidgealpa gas fields. It will also help to overcome Australia’s balance of payments problem. It is estimated that the products of the petrochemical industry will save Australia $200m a year in overseas payments. Unless something like this happens the wet gas coming out of the Moomba gas field will flare off into the atmosphere. Unless something is done to utilise that resource it will be gone forever. I know that the operators on the field are very anxious that this resource should not be wasted and that it should be utilised. It can be utilised if the Redcliff project commences. The Redcliff project will also assist in overcoming unemployment problems. Workers can be transported from Port Pirie, Port Augusta or Whyalla- particularly from Whyalla where there is a high rate of unemployment. Work can be found in that area for those unemployed people.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Tonight I raise an issue which has worried me for some time and that is the control of the prescribing of narcotic drugs in the Australian Capital Territory. Today I was telephoned by a chemist who gave me the following case history. This morning a young man came to him with a prescription for 50 methadone and 30 Mandrax tablets. The young person said that he had to have the tablets because he was going before the court at 10 a.m. on a driving charge and almost certainly would have to go to gaol. He had to have the tablets to take with him to gaol. The chemist decided to check out the situation. On inquiry he found that the young person had presented the following prescriptions in Canberra over the last couple of weeks: on 15 October, 50 methadone tablets; on 22 October, 25 methadone tablets; on 23 October, 25 methadone tablets; on 24 October, 30 methadone tablets; on 26 October, 50 methadone tablets; on 1 8 October, 25 Mandrax tablets; on 19 October, 25 Mandrax tablets; on 22 October, 12 Mandrax tablets; on 23 October, 13 Mandrax tablets; on 24 October, 20 Mandrax tablets; and on 26 October, 30 Mandrax tablets. I am also able to report that all the scrips were written by the same doctor, who presumably charged the Australian taxpayer the applicable consultation fee.
– What is his name?
– On making further inquiries of the chemist I discovered that there are at least two doctors in Canberra who are known to be specialists in writing such prescriptions. Interestingly enough, one chemist who has a shop almost adjacent to the surgery of the doctor who wrote the prescriptions referred to earlier, is said to have sold between 20,000 and 30,000 such tablets over the last 12 months.
– Give us his name.
– I do not suggest that there is anything illegal in the writing of the prescriptions. I am advised that the laws covering such things are very lax in the Australian Capital Territory. However, it is hard to imagine that even in these days of permissiveness and understanding this situation is commendable. Obviously, if some chemists will not dispense on such prescriptions and many doctors will not prescribe, there is disquiet among the professionals. It is clear that drug addicts need to have certain tablets to assist them to get off hard drugs such as heroin. But this should be done in a controlled and regulated way, not by a doctor who seems to specialise in this service with the assistance of the friendly chemist next door. I appeal to the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) to arrange quickly for the Poisons and Narcotics Drugs Ordinance to become law in the Australian Capital Territory so that the prescribing of drugs to people who are addicted can be regulated. I would be happy if the Minister would inform the House as soon as possible of the following: When will this ordinance come forward? Can any action be taken to dissuade doctors from acting in such a cavalier manner? What is the total consumption of methadone tablets in the Australian Capital Territory compared with other areas of Australia? Honourable members opposite have asked me to name the doctors and chemists concerned. I have thought deeply about that but it seems much more responsible simply to indicate that if I hear continuing rumours of this practice I shall take the opportunity to name them in the House.
– I want to raise a matter which is of concern to a number of people in my electorate and, I am certain, to a number of people in other areas of Australia. With the change in the arrangements in the hospital and medical insurance funding and the abolition of standard Medibank, a number of areas in which there are Medibank centres which previously dealt with the standard Medibank and pensioner medical services have had their staffs placed in some jeopardy because they are rendered surplus by the changed arrangements. Also, the Government has made a decision that in future the Government’s own section of the health scheme will be handled by the private medical insurance companies rather than through the Government’s own network. This will be funded by a payment from the Government to the private funds.
In Geelong some 25 people are employed at the moment in processing and collating claims under the standard Medibank arrangements. Their jobs are on the line. It appears that the Government has no intention of doing anything to give them the opportunity to become part of the Public Service. This change, taken for political reasons, is to wipe out employment which had developed and was thought to be permanent by those who entered that service. In some instances, and on an almost totally arbitrary basis, personnel from Medibank were given the opportunity to transfer directly into the Department of Health without any entry requirements as officers of the Commonwealth Public Service. That is to take place, and the offer is made only in one or two locations in each State.
The other staff will be rendered surplus by the change and by the Government’s decision to hand over the work done by these people to the private health funds under arrangements which will mean that contributors to the private health funds will, in fact, pay for the processing of a substantial part of the Government’s section of the health scheme. The Government insisted on an arrangement with the private funds whereby a certain amount would be paid per registered government health fund recipient. That amount was considerably lower than the funds had claimed. The Government would be looking at that to achieve a reduction of costs. However, the costs will be borne by those people who are contributing to private funds; the cost of the noncontributors will be added to the contributions of the contributors so that the Government has successfully arrived at the situation whereby it has transferred out of its own revenue costs which will have to be borne by those people who do take out private insurance. They will be contributing also on behalf of those who do not take out private insurance.
I am concerned that the Government has made no effort, and apparently is unconcerned, about the future of the people who are to be displaced in the Medibank offices around the country, a number of which are to be closed other than for private Medibank health insurance operations. These people were employees of the Commonwealth. Their jobs still exist, but they have been transferred by the Commonwealth for political and economic reasons to another source. I think it is time the Government made a clear statement on their future and also made it possible for them to apply for permanent positions in the Public Service where those positions are available. In the case of my electorate and the electorate of the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) where a similar situation exists, employment for females in clerical jobs is non-existent. We have about 1,000 registrations for each vacancy every month. I would suggest that the Government should look towards giving these people the opportunity to become permanent employees in the Public Service in the same way as other people within the scheme are being given that opportunity.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The honourable gentleman’s time has expired.
-On Tuesday, 24 October, during the adjournment debate the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) raised as a matter of concern various reports on the Australian Broadcasting Commission about the formation of a so-called Ku Klux Klan in the Northern Territory. In that speech he referred to the story in the Press. I understand that in the Press it is called a ‘beat up’, that is, something peculiar happens and then a major matter is made of it. It is the sort of thing that usually happens in the Northern Territory in January, I understand, but there must have been a dull week as it was reported this week. After having drawn the attention of the House to this matter during the adjournment debate, the honourable member for Prospect was interviewed yesterday on the AM program. I have gone to the trouble of getting a transcript from the Parliamentary Library of what was said. Like the honourable member for Prospect, I am not one of these persons who go around criticising the so-called media. The term ‘media’ is used in the pejorative sense. When somebody wants to criticise the ladies and gentlemen of the Press they usually say that the media do this or they do that. I like to use the word ‘Press’ even though it is not strictly correct in terms of radio and television or what they call the wireless these days.
I think what really upset me was what happened after the honourable member had corrected the story. He had made it clear that the gentleman appeared in the ABC’s studios in Darwin wearing a sheet or whatever. I may be mistaken, but, in addition to the AM and PM programs on which this story was covered, I believe I heard it as a lead item on the ABC news. I may be mistaken on that, but that is my pretty clear impression. I have not been able to get a transcript of the ABC’s news broadcasts over the last few days. When I heard a lead item on the news about the Ku Klux Klan being in Australia and having something like 170 members I was very gravely disturbed, as I think any reasonable citizen would be. The honourable member for Prospect exposed the story, to my mind, beyond refutation in his speech on the adjournment. The following morning I believe he did so also on the AM program. I quote from towards the end of the interview:
Geoff Duncan: Wasn’t it fair enough for the ABC though to record the comments of somebody overseas in America and run that as a story, a man who made claims?
Dr Klugman: No because that’s exactly what a beat up story is, you start off with an untruth and you get somebody else to comment on that untruth.
Geoff Duncan: You’re saying it wasn’t checked out properly?
Dr Klugman: It wasn’t checked out at all. Not only not checked. Now it’s wrong of the reporter to do that and I think it is wrong of the people who are in charge of that program. They have some responsibility towards the public.
By the end of that time, having known of the adjournment speech and of this interview, and having heard the report myself, I was totally convinced that the matter was utterly at rest. However, the person who has the major power in these matters, who is the compere of the program and who had been involved in previous reports on it, said this:
Kel Richards: It should perhaps be pointed out that in connection with this so-called untrue story a Northern Territory police constable is today facing five departmental charges.
We go on to the next story. The clear impression given to all the people listening to the program who had not heard what had gone on before and did not know what the learned doctor had said during the adjournment debate, would be that somebody was being charged in connection with this serious allegation of a widespread organisation. It was meant to be misleading. It is quite clearly wrong and it is using a particular power of the compere of a program to mislead in a way which I believe is quite serious. I do not often become upset about these things because I have been involved in the organisational side of politics for a long time. I also have a very clear understanding of the way in which the Press has to work. The members of the Press work under extreme pressures and have great difficulty in getting things to air or into Press at the right time. When something has been very clearly aired and is then presented in a totally misleading fashion, I think it is important to draw it to the attention of as wide an audience as possible.
-Without a great deal of preparation, but noting that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) is at the table, I want to draw to his attention the fact that a large number of people in my electorate, which is certainly not in Queensland, have been quite consistently writing letters to me as the local member about the situation at Aurukun and Mornington Island. 1 think it is quite clear that many of the people who have been writing these letters are associated with the Uniting Church in Australia. I guess that their interest in part stems from the fact that through the Press of the church they have become very much aware and kept aware of the developments that have occurred during the course of this year. I think that they are very much aware that the Federal Government made certain commitments at the time that legislation was introduced and prior to the various agreements- some might say dealsthat were entered into between the Federal Government and the Queensland Government about guaranteeing the people at Aurukun and Mornington Island what was euphemistically described as self management.
We know that in the period since the Queensland legislation was introduced the people in that area have been placed in the very situation that they have said consistently- to my understanding, certainly since 1968- that they do not want to be in, and that is under the control of the Queensland Government. Consistently since that time, as I understand it, they have been putting forward three priorities. Firstly, they want to secure title to the reserves which we remember were abolished by the Queensland Government in its desire to frustrate what the people understood at that time to be a very strong intention of the Federal Government. Secondly, they did not want in any sense to be under the control of the Queensland Government.
When the local council made that clear we remember that it was removed by the Queensland Government. Thirdly, they wanted to have a form of management which suited their situation as they understood it.
The constituents who have been writing to me understand that the Aboriginal people are not only no closer to those objectives which they have been speaking about and they have been articulating over a long period of time, but the impression of these people who are, admittedly, distant from the scene, is that the Aboriginal people are further away from those objectives than perhaps they have ever been and that the Federal Government which was speaking with a great deal of commitment in March and April is sounding more and more like a government which is very weak-kneed on the issue indeed. I believe that there are many people in electorates around Australia, including people who normally do not support the political Party that I represent, who are very shocked and very dismayed at the attitude of this Government to land rights. Perhaps the clearest way in which I can draw attention to what an increasing number of church people are feeling is to refer to what Senator Bonner described as a very important document.
– They, like sheep, have gone astray.
– I have never appreciated the honourable member’s sense of humour. It was a document put out by the catholic bishops for the education of Catholic people who, in parishes throughout Australia, will be studying this document. I want to quote some of the things which that document said because if one measures the Aurukun situation against that document one can see what this Government is not. The document states:
History cannot be reversed, but the Australian community which enjoys the fruits of economic development founded on the misappropriation of land cannot remain impervious to shame, nor uncommitted to the just demands for restitution and compensation. Perhaps, even more urgently, that sorry history must not be repeated, as in differing degrees has happened at Weipa in North Queensland, and Gove in the Northern Territory.
The document goes on to suggest that the whole question of Aboriginal land rights has to be put over and against the tendency of the Australian community to put economic interest- mining interests- over and against the interests of a particular people. We well know that in the Aurukun situation we have the question of bauxite -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– And in the Kakadu situation we have the question of uranium.
-Order! The honourable member will not persist in talking after being called to order.
-There is a particular kind of commercial radio licence which is held by two radio stations, 2CT in Campbelltown which serves a large area of the Werriwa electorate as well as certain sections of the Macarthur electorate, that being the cream of the area it serves, and 3CR in Melbourne. Both of those radio stations have a kind of licence which purports to limit their capacity to broadcast normal commercial advertising. As I understand it, the restraints on advertising by these radio stations are incapable of being enforced.
I am led to believe that the requirements of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal on commercial matters can be ignored by those radio stations, as they have been ignored by radio station 3CR on matters of taste in the presentation of programs. It is unfortunate that not only is radio station 3CR justifiably in serious trouble but also radio station 2CT is in serious trouble. I played a small but nonetheless energetic part in getting radio station 2CT its licence in its present form. The board of that radio station has sacked the general manager and tonight in Campbelltown there is a meeting of concerned citizens. The staff of the radio station has resigned and the station at present is being run by amateurs who are sympathetic with the board’s problems. I do not wish to take sides in this dispute although it has been alleged that the State Australian Labor Party member for Campbelltown is playing a prominent role through some of his associates on the board in an endeavour to coalesce a certain political attitude within that board structure. Whether those accusations are correct, I do not know and do not wish to take a position on it, but the allegations have been made to me by other members of the Australian Labor Party.
What is evident is that this kind of licence is producing a disastrous situation in the two areas in which it has been granted and I suggest that the experience of these two radio stations clearly should indicate to the Broadcasting Tribunal and to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) that this kind of licence should never again be issued and that steps should be taken to alter the nature of these licences so that these stations can either become fully commercial stations and, therefore, fully answerable to the requirements of the Act in other matters, or become non-commercial. I fear if they are made non-commercial that the very good community service which is provided by radio station 2CT in Campbelltown would not be able to be proceeded with because the station would have no money. There is no doubt that there is a requirement for funds for such a station providing such an outstanding community service and I commend the board and the former staff members of 2CT upon the job that they have done in providing that service to sections of my electorate. However, I regret that there was a tendency for some of the management of 2CT to regard the radio station as an 18-hour a day juke box which is not what I was seeking when I, with the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Kerin) when he was the honourable member for Macarthur, supported the initial application for that licence.
It seems to me that we face serious problems in coping with this special kind of radio licence. I hope that the matter can be resolved and that the suggestion of political interference in 2CT is proved groundless. I would regard that as a most distressing and disturbing element. I understand that the board is united in its opposition to the methods adopted by the previous management but I do regret that it does appear that the former management was correct in ignoring the requirements on the Broadcasting Tribunal, because, I am told, those requirements on advertising cannot be effectively enforced due to the bad nature of the Act. It is an Act which does not do what it purports to do. I hope that the Minister will take note of those remarks.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In the short time available to me I raise a matter that is within the province of the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). I have great respect for the Minister. She has visited the electorate of St George on numerous occasions and has approved of programs of great benefit to the electorate. However, there is an anomaly that needs attending to. As honourable members will know because it has been mentioned in the House before, in May approval was given for graduates of some child care certificate courses to be regarded as equivalent to a nurse for the purpose of payment of recurrent subsidies under the Child Care Act. However, for historical reasons, the only persons who qualify under the Act are those who went to the Penrith, Newcastle or North Sydney technical colleges. Since the establishment of the course at those colleges a number of other colleges have established exactly the same course. However, graduates from those colleges are not eligible for payment of the subsidy. The Roslyn Hall Child Care Centre in Rockdale has employed a graduate from the Bankstown Technical College and, except for the technicality, would have qualified for payment of the recurrent grant. Unfortunately, that, graduate is not qualified under the Act. Graduates from other colleges, such as the St George Technical College, also do not qualify under the Act.
I understand that the reason is that the Preschool Association of New South Wales has some right under the Act to determine from which colleges the qualifications will be recognised. It seems to me that this situation should be changed immediately and that the approval should be granted to all persons who have passed the equivalent course at any technical college in Sydney. I do not know why we have not been able to solve the problem before this. It appears that there may need to be changes to the Act. Perhaps the Solicitor-General could advise whether the present Act would legally enable my suggestion to be carried out. I again draw the attention of the Minister to this matter and ask that it be rectified as soon as possible.
– in reply- In the adjournment debate on 24 October, the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) read to the House a letter which was sent to him from Mr A. C. Morris of the Aurukun Aboriginal community. I wish to address some remarks both to the comments of the honourable member and to some of the contents of the letter.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! It being 1 1 p.m., the debate is interrupted.
-I require that the debate be extended.
-The debate may continue until 1 1.10 p.m.
-In his letter Mr Morris stated that he is expected to continue the administration of Aurukun but that the Queensland Government has not reimbursed the Church and has refused to contribute to his salary. Whether the Queensland Government will reimburse the Church for its expenditure and whether the Queensland Government will contribute to Mr Morris’s salary is, of course, entirely a matter for the Queensland Government and not for the Commonwealth Government. From the beginning Mr Morris has been employed by the
Church. I would point out, however, that the Commonwealth, by an arrangement made earlier this year with the Uniting Church in Australia. has paid to that Church the sum of $240,000 to allow it to continue its work within both the Aurukun and the Mornington Island communities. That money was provided on the basis that if and when the Queensland Government reimbursed the Church for its expenditure in administering the needs of the community, the Church would reimburse the Commonwealth the $240,000 it had provided. That was the clear basis of understanding between the Commonwealth and the Church and it is known to the Queensland Government.
The Uniting Church no doubt is financing salaries and other expenses from other funds at its disposal while it continues in an administrative capacity. I point out that the Church has not requested any more money from the Commonwealth than the $240,000 already provided. I understand that the Church is in the process of preparing its accounts so that it may submit them to the Queensland Government to seek the reimbursement it understands it will receive. I would go further and say, in response to some of Mr Morris’s comments, that I am not aware of any decision by the Queensland Government not to reimburse the Church when it submits its accounts in due course. Mr Morris makes a comment about the Queensland Department of Health taking over responsibility for the health centre at Aurukun. I understand from the Queensland Minister that his Department will be taking over that responsibility, with the agreement of the community and the community council, but that as yet no date has been fixed for the handover.
Mr Morris says that the Commonwealth Government is sitting back and forgetting about Aurukun and starving the local community company of funds. That company is an incorporated body which the Commonwealth has been funding for a number of years in order to support a policy of Aboriginal self-sufficiency in a number of projects within the community. I point out to the House that my Department has programmed a total expenditure of $355,652 for Aurukun, which is additional to the payments the Queensland Government will be making through the Department of Local Government for the ordinary administration. The bulk of my Department’s grants are being paid to the Aurukun community company. In addition there is provision totalling $81,400 for grants to the several decentralised or outstation groups. An amount of $85,000 has been provided for work on the airstrip, representing half the cost of the work, which is being carried out under the supervision of the Department of Transport. Quite obviously this work will provide substantial employment opportunities for the Aurukun people, as will the housing and other projects supported through the community company.
The House will see that funding for the Aurukun community is provided through two avenues; firstly, through the Community Council or the Uniting Church, as I have indicated and, secondly, through the Aboriginal people’s own company. To date some $220,000 has been paid this financial year for Aurukun projects, including $75,000 to the Department of Transport for the work on the airstrip which I mentioned previously. I do not know that money is not being provided for wages for the people. Indeed from the figures that I have indicated, quite obviously money is being provided for wages.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The Minister’s time has expired. If no other Minister is seeking the call, the Minister may speak for the remainder of the time until 11.10 p.m.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I would add, in response to Mr Morris’s letter, that a submission along the lines which he sets out in his letter has been made to my Department seeking additional money for the company. It was handed to one of my departmental officers earlier this month. Not unnaturally, since then my Department has been examining the proposal. It came to my Brisbane office on 11 October. There has been no delay in the consideration of that submission but it will be considered in the same manner as any other submission sent to my Department. Provision has been made already for the Aurukun company to review its organisation and operations in view of its increased responsibilities. Furthermore, my Department’s Queensland Regional Director has made arrangements with the Department of Social Security for regular visits to be made to Aurukun and Mornington Island to ensure that those people entitled to social security benefits, including unemployment benefits, are able to apply for and receive their entitlements. It is certainly not true to say that the Aurukun community is being starved of funds by the Commonwealth, as the figures I have mentioned to the House clearly indicate; or is it true to say that there is no allocation for Aboriginal wages in the grants to the company.
Mr Morris said that I had promised the people that a Council election would be held before the end of this year. When I met with councillors in Canberra- it would be a couple of months ago now or thereabouts- I explained to them the statutory timetable which would have to be followed by the Administrator in order to enable an election to be held. There is a 30-day period within which the rolls are open. There is another 30-day period within which nominations can be received. Following those two periods the election is held. I said to them that quite obviously those statutory procedures had to be followed before the election could be held. Honourable members would be interested to know that it is intended to amend the Act to allow for an election before the statutory date for local government elections in Queensland; that is, before March 1979. I know from my own discussions with the Administrator and from advice given to me by my Department that the Administrator, together with the Community Council, is actively having the rolls completed to enable the election to be held as early as possible.
Mr Morris makes a comment on mining. I must say to him and to the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) that it is misconceived. If they read the special local government Act for these two communities they will see that it contains a most important provision which gives to the community shire councils the power which was previously vested in the Queensland Director of Aboriginal and Islander Advancement, as trustee, to deal with mining within that community. Thus, for the first time in Queensland, Aboriginal communities will be able to deal with mining companies which wish to explore or develop their land. On the other hand, I point out that the agreement with the Aurukun Mining Associates, ratified by the Queensland Parliament and challenged before the Queensland Supreme Court and the Privy Council, has been held to be valid and naturally must stand.
-Order! It being 11.10 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Tuesday, 7 November next at 2.15 p.m. unless Mr Speaker shall, by telegram or letter addressed to each member of the House, fix an alternative day or hour of meeting.
House adjourned at 11.10 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 19 September 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I refer the honourable member to the information provided by the Prime Minister on 1 7 October 1 978 in answer to question No. 2090 (Hansard, 17 October 1978, page 1972).
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Science, upon notice, on 28 September 1978:
What changes have been implemented or are planned in CSIRO energy research initiatives or priorities as a result of the Energy Review Committee report.
– The Minister for Science has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
In reporting its findings to the CSIRO Executive in September 1977, the Energy Review Committee (ERC) identified a possible shortfall in the supply of liquid fuels for transport as the only major energy problem that Australia was likely to be facing in the foreseeable future. As this conclusion confirmed the Executive’s previous assessment of the energy field, no new initiatives or changes in the Organisation’s research priorities have occurred since the ERC completed its report. Instead, the Executive has continued to accord a high priority to energy research and has endeavoured to redeploy resources from lower priority areas into those activities with the potential to avert or alleviate the short-fall in liquid fuels that is predicted to occur in the next decade.
asked the Minister, representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 1 1 October 1978:
How many persons in receipt of social security fringe benefits became ineligible for those benefits following cost of living rises to the rates of social security benefits and the Government’s failure to index the fringe benefits means test level during (a) 1975-76,(b) 1976-77 and (c) 1977-78.
– The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
The fringe benefits income test relates to income other than the pension. Therefore increases in the pension rates have no effect on pensioners ‘ eligibility for fringe benefits.
Statistics are not collected on the number of pensioners who lose eligibility for fringe benefits. However, the proportion of age, invalid and widow pensioners and recipients of wife’s pension eligible for fringe benefits has remained fairly constant in recent years despite the income limits not having been indexed. The proportion at the end of each financial year was (a) 1975-76, 79.1 per cent; (b) 1976-77, 80.3 percent; (c) 1977-78, 80.2 percent.
Primary Producers in receipt of Unemployment Benefit (Question No. 2467)
asked the Minister, representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 1 1 October 1978:
How many farmers in each State and category of agriculture have been in receipt of unemployment benefits during each week of the last 12 months.
– The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Statistics of the number of primary producers in receipt of unemployment benefit are collected on a four-weekly basis. The following tables show the number of primary producers receiving unemployment benefit at the end of each fourweekly period during the past twelve months, by State and by category of primary production:
asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce, upon notice, on 17 October 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 October 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1978/19781026_reps_31_hor111/>.