House of Representatives
20 March 1979

31st Parliament · 1st Session

Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden) took the chair at 2. 15 p.m., and read prayers.

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The Clerk:

– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:


To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:

That restoration of provisions of the Social Security Act that applied prior to the 1 978-79 Budget is of vital concern to offset the rising cost of goods and services.

The reason advanced by the Government for yearly payments ‘that the lower level of inflation made twice-yearly payments inappropriate ‘ is not valid.

Great injury will be caused to 920,000 aged, invalid, widows and supporting parents, who rely solely on the pension or whose income, other than the pension, is $6 or less per week. Once-a-year payments strike a cruel blow to their expectation and make a mockery of a solemn election pledge.

Accordingly, your petitioners call upon their legislators to:

  1. . Restore twice-yearly pension payments in the Autumn session.
  2. Raise pensions and unemployed benefits above the poverty level to 30 per cent of A. W.E.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Anthony, Mr Lionel Bowen, Mr Cadman, Mr Fife, Mr Howe, Mr Hunt, Mr Les Johnson, Mr Roger Johnston, Mr Jull, Mr Killen, Mr Lusher, Mr Les McMahon, Mr Martin, Mr Millar, Mr Scholes and Mr West.

Petitions received.

Medical Benefits: Abortions

To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:

That the provision of payments for abortion through items of the Medical Benefits schedule is an unacceptable endorsement of abortion which has now reached the levels of a national tragedy, with at least 60,000 unborn babies being killed in 1977.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Honourable Members should:

Amend the Medical Benefits Schedule so as to preclude the payment of any benefit for abortion.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Armitage, Mr Baume, Mr Burns, Mr Cadman, Mr Dobie, Dr Edwards, Mr Howard, Mr Hunt, Mr Jull, Mr MacKellar, Mr Martin, Mr O’Keefe and Mr Staley.

Petitions received.

Medical Benefits: Abortions

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 present provisions of payment for abortions through items of the Medical Benefits Schedule is an unacceptable endorsement of abortion which has now reached the level of a national tragedy with at least 60,000 unborn babies being killed each year.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Honourable Members should:

Request that legislation be introduced in order to prevent payments for the unnecessary destruction of unborn children.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Braithwaite, Mr Hodges, Mr Killen, Mr Millar, Mr Moore and Mr Thomson.

Petitions received.

Medical Benefits: Abortions

To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:

The undersigned citizens of Australia humbly pray that you reject the motion to be moved by Stephen Lusher MHR which proposes: “to remove items from the standard medical benefits table which currently permit medical benefits for abortion “and “to cease the funding of medical benefits schemes through which claims for termination of pregnancies can be made”.

Your petitioners humbly pray that you support: a woman’s right to choose abortion as a claimable item under all health benefits schemes.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr N. A. Brown, Mr Hunt, Mr MacKellar, Mr Les McMahon and Mr Uren.

Petitions received.

Commonwealth Employees Compensation

To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of electors of the State of N.S.W. respectfully showeth:

That compensation benefits payable to injured Australian Government employees and Defence Forces personnel under the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act 1971 should be increased as a matter of urgency in view of the financial plight of recipients, particularly those suffering long term incapacity and because of the significant increase in the cost of living which has occurred since compensation payments were last adjusted; and

That statutory provision should be made for the automatic adjustment of compensation benefits.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr FitzPatrick, Dr Klugman, Mr Les Johnson, Mr Les McMahon and Mr Morris.

Petitions received.

Commonwealth Employees Compensation

To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of electors of the Territory of A.C.T. respectfully showeth:

That compensation benefits payable to injured Australian Government employees and Defence Forces personnel under the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act 1971 should be increased as a matter of urgency in view of the financial plight of recipients, particularly those suffering long term incapacity and because of the significant increase in the cost of living which has occurred since compensation payments were last adjusted; and

That statutory provision should be made for the automatic adjustment of compensation benefits.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Morris.

Petition received.

Pornographic Publications

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:

  1. To prevent the sexual exploitation of children by way of photography for commercial purposes;
  2. To penalise parents/guardians who knowingly allow their children to be used in the production of such pornographic or obscene material depicting children;
  3. To make specifically illegal the importation, publication, distribution and sale of such pornographic child-abuse material in any form whatsoever such as magazines, novels, papers or films;
  4. To take immediate police action to confiscate and destroy all child pornography in Australia and urgent appropriate legal action against all those involved or profiting from this sordid exploitation of children.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will protect all children and immediately prohibit pornographic child-abuse materials, publications or films.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Dobie and Mr Martyr.

Petitions received.

West German Pensioners

To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of certain citizens respectfully showeth:

That due only to the fact, of becoming Australian citizens, we were disqualified from receiving our West German pension. In our case, we are not speaking about a true social pension, as the amount of compulsory and voluntary contributions, governs the amount of pensions to be received. German citizens, residing in Australia permanently, receive this pension. All we have done, is acquired the citizenship of Australia, which we proudly made the home of our children, and we cannot believe, that this disqualifies us, from a pension, to which due to our contributions we are entitled.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that an amicable agreement will be reached, between our gracious Government and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Aldred.

Petition received.

Taxation: Tax Agents

To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble Petition of C. R. George and Associates, 3 1 Alfreda Avenue Rosanna respectfully showeth:

THAT current requirements of the Commissioner of Taxation for the lodgment of Income Tax Returns by Registered Tax Agents restricts the trading of such agents to a period of 8 months in any fiscal year. The demands by the Commissioner for lodgment of Income Tax Returns before the 28th February following the tax year is an imposition and a restriction, limiting the trading from twelve to eight months.

Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the law should be amended to permit any registered tax agent to trade for a full year and lodge Income Tax returns to the close of the respective tax year.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Aldred.

Petition received.

Local Government Finance

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:

  1. That the area of Bilby Street and Thompsons Road, Lower Templestowe has inadequate drainage systems.
  2. That an investigation into drains in this area is the responsibility of the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works and the City of Doncaster and Templestowe City Council.
  3. That action is urgently needed to improve the drainage systems for the residents of this area.

Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House urge the Government to provide funds to local authorities to improve the drainage system so that no further flooding occurs in this area.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr N. A. Brown.

Petition received.

Australian Broadcasting Commission

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 say we are concerned about the deteriorating standards of A.B.C. radio and Television programmes.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that Parliament take immediate steps to appoint an independent inquiry into the A.B.C. which:

  1. Investigates the practical experience and qualification of the commissioners to perform their duties.
  2. Determines the effects of staff ceilings and reduction of funds, in real terms, on standards.
  3. Thoroughly reviews the organisation to determine its present effectiveness.
  4. Ascertains if any external or internal censorship exists.
  5. Makes recommendation to reduce censorship and improve the efficiency and standards.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Cass.

Petition received.

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 its Recommendations-

  1. contain matters of substance which ought to be pursued.
  2. result from a wide range of submissions made by Australians from all walks of life.
  3. identify many problem areas requiring attention.
  4. have been given media coverage which grossly distorts the contents.
  5. have thus far been ignored in Parliament

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:

That the Australian Parliament will-

  1. debate the Report and its Recommendations.
  2. make provision for rational public debate on the Report and its Recommendations.
  3. encourage its members to support such public debate in their electorates..

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will implement such measures to maintain the Commissioners’ ‘belief in the right and integrity of the individual to make free choices in the context of human relationships, and to have access to the knowledge and skills which give such a free choice meaning ‘.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Cass.

Petition received.

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-

  1. Have been widely condemned for its support of unAustralian, anti-family, anti-child behaviour and morals such as incest, promiscuity, abortion, pornography, homosexuality, prostitution and brothels, etc.
  2. Have been strongly criticised by the medical profession for the absence of any medical practitioner on the Commission or on its staff of 3 1 persons, and for the Commissioners action in rejecting or ignoring relevant medical evidence.
  3. Have been discredited as irresponsible in adopting a new definition of the family, i.e., ‘a varying range of people living together in relationships of commitment’, which has effectively confused the real meaning and intentions of the Report where it refers to the “family” ‘.

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-

  1. Simply receive the Report and not adopt its Recommendations.
  2. Set up a Select Parliamentary Committee along the lines of the New Zealand Select Committee to conduct a public inquiry into the ways and means of supporting and strengthening family life and providing adequate protection for children from physical and sexual abuse before as well as after birth in accordance with the U.N.O. Declaration of the Rights of the Child as part of Australia’s support for the Year of the Child.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will take no measures concerning the Royal Commission on Human Relationships Report that will further undermine and weaken marriage, child-care or the family which is the basic unit of our society.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Dobie.

Petition received.


To the Honourable the Speaker and the Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.

The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully sheweth that we the undersigned wish to protest in the strongest possible terms the Government’s decision to abolish the twice yearly review of pensions.

That this decision will cause untold hardships for people on fixed incomes who will now be a full year behind rising prices.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House will request the Government to reintroduce twice yearly pension reviews in line with the consumer price index. by Mr Hodges.

Petition received.


To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:

That we believe the Federal Government changes to the health insurance system are unjustified, costly and artificially bureaucratic

The planned abolition of bulk billing will place an unnecessary burden on the poor and the disadvantaged in our community. The decision to reduce the rebate paid from 85 per cent to 75 per cent of the scheduled fee is an attack on real wages.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government should reverse its decisions on these matters and develop proper consultation with the trade unions and the community.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les Johnson.

Petition received.

National Natural Disaster Insurance Scheme

To the Honourable, the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of we, the undersigned citizens of Australia, respectfully showeth:

That the Government’s decision not to proceed with a National disaster insurance scheme will cause financial and personal hardship to people living in the country and city who are victims of natural hazards such as floods, land slip and tropical cyclones. That it is impossible to obtain adequate insurance cover for natural disasters from existing private insurance companies.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that:

The Federal Government reconsider its decision and honour its promise made in March 1976 to establish a National Natural Disaster Insurance Scheme.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les Johnson.

Petition received.


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 we believe that all people have the right to quality education, and that it is the responsibility of Government to ensure that sufficient funds are allocated to enable all who wish to exercise that right, to do so.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:

  1. That education expenditure on post-school education and on Government schools be substantially increased.
  2. That any ‘supplementary’ or ‘comprehensive’ loans scheme proposal for post-school students be rejected, not only because it would force the most needy into debt, but because it completely abandons the principle of education as a right. Your petitioners believe that the full or partial replacement of a means-tested grants scheme with such a loans scheme would erode the quality and accessibility of education in Australia.
  3. That Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme allowances, and all social service benefits, be increased to 120 per cent of the ‘Henderson Poverty Line’, this being defined by the Poverty Inquiry as the level of poverty ‘ (currently $77.60 per week).
  4. That TEAS and other student allowance schemes, and all social service benefits, be fully and automatically indexed quarterly to movements in the Consumer Price Index, or equivalent needs-based index.
  5. That all students accepted for study at a post-school education institution, subject to a means test on personal income, receive the TEAS allowance, and be given ‘independent’ status.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Barry Jones.

Petition received.

Refugee Policy

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 object to the flow of Vietnamese refugees into Australia for the following reasons-

  1. We have fought to keep Australia free and for Australians and are now inviting these people to take over our country.
  2. We are concerned at a possible population explosion of Vietnamese in Australia.
  3. With the scarcity of jobs we cannot allow these people to land uncontrolled on our shores and take the jobs that Australians should have.
  4. A continued influx of Vietnamese will lead to a lowering of the standard of living in Australia.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that a referendum be held on the refugee policy.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr McLean.

Petition received.

Medical Benefits: Abortions

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 Item 6469 of the standard Medical Benefits Table is the means by which payment is made for the slaughter of thousands of unborn babies every year.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government should ensure that Item 6469 is removed from the standard Medical Benefits Table.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Sir William McMahon.

Petition received.


To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:

  1. That in his 1977 election speech the Prime Minister supported by a majority of Members of the House of Representatives gave an undertaking that in exchange for electoral support he would guarantee the retention of twiceyearly adjustments of social security pensions in accordance with movements in the Consumer Price Index.
  2. That this undertaking of the Prime Minister and a majority of the Members of the House of Representatives has been repudiated causing severe hardships to pensioners.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives will take action to require those members who have not honored their undertaking, to resign from the Parliament in order that the people of Australia can choose Members who will represent the wishes of the electors and who will honor any undertakings they gave.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Scholes.

Petition received.

Broadcasting: Radio Station 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. by Mr Shipton.

Petition received.

Medical Benefits: Abortions

To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. A petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:

That access to medical abortion services needs to be available to all women regardless of their economic means, as despite contraceptive services, unwanted pregnancies still occur and socio-economic problems are grounds for legal abortions in New South Wales. To ensure that access to legal medical abortion is not denied to poor and underprivileged women.

Your petitioners most humbly pray that parliament should: Maintain item 6469 unchanged on the medical benefits schedule. by Mr Uren.

Petition received.

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Prime Minister · Wannon · LP

– I inform the House that the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) and the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) are currently attending an Association of South East Asian Nations meeting in Indonesia. They are expected to return on 22 March. During their absence the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) is acting as Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) is acting as Minister for Transport.

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Notice of Motion


-I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:

That the House overwhelmingly rejects, censures and condemns the blueprint for a socialist Australia exposed in Canberra on15 March 1979 at the National Press Club by the Leader of the Opposition; and, further, that the House expresses the opinion that any implementation of the Hayden tax proposals will inevitably lead to higher taxes, more unjust taxes, a reduction in national productivity, destruction of personal and corporate initiative and incentive, higher inflation, bigger and more authoritarian centralist government and substantially reduce employment opportunities for the workers of Australia.

The motion will be seconded by the honourable member for St George ( Mr Neil ).

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– I direct a question to the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs. Were 50,000 more people registered as unemployed at the end of February 1979 than at the end of February last year? Has the number of unfilled vacancies registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service declined by 1,100 over the last year? Do the respected seasonal adjustments of Dr Alan Hall of the Australian National University show that unemployment rose in real terms by 14,000 during the month of February? Do these factors show clearly that there has been not only a severe deterioration in employment opportunities during the last year but also a marked worsening of the labour market during the last month?

Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs · STIRLING, WESTERN AUSTRALIA · LP

-I can say that the first figure quoted by the honourable gentleman is correct. I will check the second figure and let him know. As to his general thesis, there are clear signs within the community of a growing number of civilian employees being taken up, in particular by private industry. I refer to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ most recently issued civilian employees series, which shows that on a seasonally adjusted basis the increase in December was 20,400 persons- the sixth consecutive monthly increase. That followed an increase of 17,000 in November. The total civilian employment was 4,757,400 at the end of December- the highest seasonally adjusted figure since October 1974. The increase for the six months from June to December 1978 was the largest increase since the 6 months of June to December 1973, whilst the December figure was 57,000 higher than that for June 1978, of which 33,000 was contributed by the private sector.

We on this side of the House recognise that the answer to the employment situation in Australia is growth in the private sector- growth of employment opportunities and growth of jobs in the private sector. All our economic strategy is directed towards controlling and bringing down the rate of inflation so that the private sector can expand and provide jobs for those people who are coming into the work force and in order to cut down the level of unemployment. With those figures behind us- I do not wish to exaggerate and the Government does not wish to exaggerate, but to express the situation realistically- I think that the Government can properly tell the people that there are hopeful signs of an improving economy and an improving employment picture. The adverse trends which we have seen for so long- since the days of the former Labor Government- and which we were left with when we came into office, have started to turn around. I hope and I expect that they will progressively get better.

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-Has the Minister for Defence seen reports in the media to the effect, firstly, that the DDG class destroyer with all its sophisticated weaponry could not sink a 63-year-old barge off Sydney recently and, secondly, that the FFG patrol frigates currently on order from the United States of America have been referred to as ‘cheap kill’ ships because they can be knocked out by a rifle bullet or shock from an underwater explosion? Are these reports true? If not, can the Minister assure the House that these ships form a credible part of our naval defence? If this is the case, will the Minister be gracious enough to inform the media- I understand they are known by that name in this country- of a story about a Dutch admiral and a broom and an English admiral and a whip?

Minister for Defence · MORETON, QUEENSLAND · LP

– I must say at once that I appreciate the characteristically thoughtful question that has come from the honourable member for North Sydney; further, that I am not altogether surprised that he has asked the question. That relieves me of an obligation to deal with the more boisterous parts that reside in the honourable gentleman’s question. As to its first part, my inquiries disclose that two sailors were having a discussion with a journalist in a hotel. At what hour of the day that discussion took place I am not in a position to say; but whether it was late or early in the day, obviously there was some guilding of the lily. As a consequence of that discussion, that journalist’s paper ran the caption ‘Hobart Couldn’t Sink a Barge’. Speaking for myself, I would not like the HMAS Hobart to open fire on my house or on any barge that I happened to be on.

As to the second part of the honourable gentleman ‘s question, which is the more serious one, relating to the allegation concerning the patrol frigate which is being constructed in the United States of America being described by an American senator as a ‘cheap kill’ ship, I suppose that the United States Senate suffers from exuberance of spirit no less than the Australian Senate. I put just that question to the leader of a United States naval team here in Australia recently and he described to me a shock test that had been conducted with one of the United States patrol frigates. The test consisted of exploding 15,000 lbs of TNT within 500 feet of the ship. The explosion was on a barge weighing about 7½ tons. Apart from one or two very minor interruptions to the ship’s system, the ship was able to get under full power. Its intrinsic defence capability, its intrinsic offensive capability, were not disturbed. The United States captain gave me a photograph of the explosion. It was a most spectacular explosion. This has been described as a ‘cheap kill’ ship that could be stopped with a bullet. Speaking for myself, my sense of respect for this place and for the Standing Orders prevents me from describing the allegations as I would wish. I can describe it only as a spectacular and sanguinary piece of nonsense.

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-I ask the Minister for Finance: Did he say on Melbourne radio station 3AW on Friday, 9 March, that married women are responsible for much unemployment among males? If so, did the Minister mean that when a woman marries she should no longer want employment? Is it the Government’s aim to ensure that there are jobs for all married women who want work or does it have an alternative aim?

Mr Eric Robinson:

-I thank the honourable member for the question because it will enable me not to take up the time of the House with a personal explanation. The report in the newspaper of what I was supposed to have said was utterly inaccurate. I did not say what is reported. I did say that there were now in the work force many more women than there had been some years ago and that the structure of the work force had changed completely. I went on to say that some jobs which normally would have been available to males were now occupied by women in the work force. I further said that women have a right to work, for whatever reason. If they choose to work they have a right to do so. To suggest that I blamed women in the work force for the loss of job opportunities for males is utterly inaccurate. I did not say that and to suggest that I did is an utter misrepresentation of my remark.

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– Has the Prime Minister seen recent reports stating that economic indicators are tilting in the wrong direction? Is this an accurate assessment of current economic conditions in Australia?


– It might be wishful thinking on the part of some people, but that certainly does not depict accurately what is happening in Australia at the present time. I have seen the reports relating, as I understand it, to what the Leader of the Opposition said at the National Press Club. In a sense, the reports surprised me because only a very short while earlier the Leader of the Opposition had been indicating that there were some strengthening signs in the economy and he seemed to be more realistic about the matter. Perhaps he finds it more natural to try to spread doom and gloom, and now he has jumped back to an earlier stance. He did indicate that inflation has jammed at 8 per cent. Of course, under Labor it did not jam; it went from 4½ per cent to 17½ per cent over the year to March 1975. It soared, and under the policies that Labor followed it would have stayed at high levels. If those policies were ever reinstated inflation would again run to very high levels.

The Leader of the Opposition said also that unemployment was soaring. My colleague the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs has indicated the true position in relation to that, but under Labor unemployment did soar. It increased by 200,000 in one year, when, through quite foolish policies, Labor laid the groundwork for all the damage that has been done to this economy. Now there are the first signs of a growing employment base, increasing overtime and a better registration rate for new vacancies. The reformed prophet of doom has lapsed. He is back to gloom, doom, despair, doubts and uncertainty. No doubt the Leader of the Opposition feeds on a diet of bad news. If that is so he is going to get very thin and he will starve.

Official figures and surveys from authoritative bodies indicate that there is now more optimism throughout the Australian community than there has been for many years. Only last Sunday the Confederation of Australian Industry and the Bank of New South Wales survey had more encouraging news to reinforce the trends and the information that has become available to us over the last three or four months. For the first time in about six years a majority of manufacturers have predicted an improvement in business, thus reinforcing the views of the Metal Trades Industry Association when it came to see us in Canberra three or four weeks ago. Employment is also strengthening in a way that it has not done for a very long time. Overtime is up and exporters are forecasting greater penetration into export markets. There is, of course, concern about continuing wage restraint and about absorbing the four per cent increase which was granted before Christmas. There is a continuing need for wage restraint. If the Leader of the Opposition wanted to say something constructive in relation to the economy, he could at least emphasise that matter. Earlier Australian Labor Party Treasurers have been prepared to talk about the need for wage restraint. I am not too sure that the present one is.

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– Is the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs aware that both sets of official unemployment figures understate the real level of unemployment, due to the fact that persons who withdraw completely from the work force when unable to find a job are not counted as unemployed? In this connection has the Minister’s attention been drawn to the Australian Bureau of Statistics May 1977 survey of persons not in the work force which showed that 210,000 such people wanted a job but had given up hope of getting one and, having dropped out of the work force, were not counted as unemployed? Will the Minister acknowledge that, even if there has been no growth in the number of these hidden unemployed since this survey- despite the continued rise in official unemployment figures- the real level of unemployment is now over 660,000 or ten per cent of the work force?


– I have noticed that some members of the Opposition try to inflate the unemployment figures by referring to the hidden unemployed. We all know that the Australian Bureau of Statistics adopts internationally accepted standards of measuring the number of unemployed in the community. On that basis, in February 1979, the estimated number of unemployed persons looking for full time work was 381,100 or 7 per cent of the full time labour force. Nothing that the honourable gentleman says can take anything away from the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures. We also know that for a variety of reasons, personal, family, social and economic, some persons who have not been in the work force for a long time may want to come back into the work force, or people who have been in the work force, again for the variety of reasons that I have mentioned, may decide not to try to obtain work. I think the Opposition would be much better off adopting the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures as the standard measure of unemployment in Australia.

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– My question is directed to the Minister for Industry and Commerce who will recall that in June last year legislation was enacted to extend the charter of the Commonwealth Development Bank. This enabled it to lend to all kinds of businesses, thereby removing restrictions which previously confined its lending to the rural, tourism and industrial sectors. Can the Minister advise whether this action has resulted in any increased lending to the small business community?

Minister for Industry and Commerce · FLINDERS, VICTORIA · LP

– The honourable gentleman’s interest in the small business sector of Australia is very well known to both sides of the House. I am pleased to be able to inform the House that there has been a very significant lift in lending by the Commonwealth Development Bank since the charter of the Bank was extended in June of last year. In the period 1 July 1978 to 7 February 1979 there was a 70 per cent increase, from $9.6m to $ 1 6.3m, in non-rural loans approved by the Bank when compared with the same period last financial year. More than half the increase was accounted for by new lending to businesses previously outside the scope of the Bank’s lending charter. I might say that most of the Development Bank’s lending to business undertakings is for the small business community. In addition, I say to the House that the trading banks have, with the approval of the Reserve Bank of Australia, reviewed the guidelines applying to term loans to emphasise the availability of such loans to the small business sector and have extended to 10 years the maximum term of these loans. I assure the House that the Government is very much concerned to ensure the availability of finance to the small business sector of the Australian economy.

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– I direct my question to the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs. Is it a fact that statistics released from the Department of the Treasury and the Australian Bureau of Statistics in relation to work force participation rates show that those rates have fallen between November 1975 and November 1978 from 62.7 per cent of the available work force to 60.5 per cent? If so, is this the equivalent of a drop in the work force of about 230,000? Is it a fact that this drop represents a substantial addition to the real level of unemployment and is a fairly accurate measure of the hidden unemployment which is additional to the officially disclosed unemployment levels revealed by both the survey of the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Commonwealth Employment Office?


– Like the honourable member for Gellibrand, the Leader of the Opposition is attempting to inflate the measure of unemployment within the community. I say again to the Leader of the Opposition that although the participation rates are important in assessing the character and structure of the labour market they do not represent the level of unemployment in the community as measured by the internationally accepted standard used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The Government recognises that as economic recovery gathers momentum there is likely to be an increase in participation rates because more people will be attracted to try to obtain work. That is one of the statistics which we will be looking at very carefully during this year because it will affect not only the level of the growth in employment but also the level of unemployment.

As has been noted in the latest statistics put out by the Bureau and the Commonwealth Employment Service, overtime on a seasonally adjusted basis worked in January 1979 increased by 0.12 hours from 2.99 to 3.1 1 hours, the first month in which seasonally adjusted overtime has been in excess of three hours since September 1974. The Opposition cannot gainsay that fact. That indicates that there is increased production by the existing work force in our factories and in our workshops. As I have said before, we will be watching very carefully to see when that increased productivity turns into increased employment. In other words, the point is expected to come some time during this year, with continuing recovery in the economy, when employers will need to put on more employees.

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-The Minister for Trade and Resources would be aware that Australian mineral stocks are currently at their highest level for six years and are, according to the Sydney metals and minerals index, some 70 per cent above the level of a year ago. Will the Minister please tell us what are the implications of this for mineral development in Australia?

Deputy Prime Minister · RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES · NCP/NP

– I also was very pleased to read in the newpapers that the minerals and mining indices had hit the highest point for the past six years. The mining index is really a barometer reflecting the interest and the confidence of Australian and overseas investors in the Australian mining industry, and this situation is due to a number of factors. First and foremost of course would be the confidence that the Gover.nent’s policy, of stabilising the economy and basically getting the rate of inflation under control, has given to people who are prepared to invest in the mining industry. Secondly, it reflects the revised appreciation rates and the forms of assistance we have given to encourage people to get out and develop the mining industry. Thirdly, it also reflects the improvement in world mineral prices, particularly the prices for non-ferrous metals. Fourthly, I believe it is a reflection of the successful conclusion of the negotiations for long term contracts with Japan for coal and iron ore. The total value now of all our long term contracts for iron ore and coal for this year is $2.8 billion. That gives an enormous degree of security to those big industries. Fifthly, I think one can say that there is a tremendous amount of development now taking place. Approximately $7 billion worth of mineral development has either started or is about to commence in Australia. This represents renewed activity. Again, that is reflecting itself in the upsurge in certain mineral prices.

Lastly, I believe that the international crisis surrounding the future supply of oil is starting to highlight Australia’s energy resources. The prospects for the North West Shelf look quite conclusive now. It should be able to enter into long term arrangements for the sale of liquefied natural gas. There is abnormal interest in Australia’s steaming coal prospects. Since the Government announced the go-ahead for the uranium mines at Ranger and Nabarlek there has been greater confidence that Australia will proceed with uranium development. All round, it is little wonder that the stock exchange is reacting in the way it has reacted. It is doing so because of the way in which the Government has handled its policies in relation to getting more investment into the mining area.

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-I refer the Minister for Housing and Construction to an answer given by the Acting Minister for Housing and Construction on 7 March that the Government hoped that the boom years would never come again in the building industry and that the Government should be given credit for reducing building costs. Statistics released today show that the annual inflation rate on home building materials has risen from 5. 1 per cent to 6.8 per cent in the last four months. For other building materials the rate has increased in the same period from 6 per cent to 8 per cent. Is this part of the Government’s strategy to ensure that there will never again be a boom in home building? Does the Minister now acknowledge that the Government is failing in two areas, firstly, the building of homes for those in need and, secondly, job security for employees?

Minister for Housing and Construction · BRADDON, TASMANIA · LP

– I am aware of the answer which was given by my colleague the Minister for Administrative Services on 8 March in response to a question asked in the House during my absence. Following that answer the Minister sent a letter to the Leader of the Opposition explaining the danger that there is in using figures from the unhealthy and artificial boom period which existed in the latter part of 1975. Frankly, I agree wholeheartedly with the comments made by the Minister in his answer. There has certainly been a real improvement in the non-residential sector of the building industry in recent times. In the non-residential area of the private sector there has been a considerable increase in activity. In real terms there was an 8 per cent increase in 1977-78. The forward indicators suggest that this sort of trend will continue into the current financial year. If one looks at a particular sector of the private section of nonresidential building- the contract civil engineering sector- one will see that a remarkable increase of 28 per cent in real terms occurred in 1977-78. Once again, that sort of trend is continuing. We believe that there will be a modest increase in the public sector in the current financial year.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition mentioned the figures released today as building price indices. There was a 1.5 per cent increase in the index in the housing area for February 1979 and a 1.9 per cent increase in the non-housing area. The increase in the 12 months to February 1979 was 6.8 per cent. The increase in the year to October 1978 was 5.1 per cent. There has been a modest increase on the earlier figure. I think that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition should prod his memory back to the period in 1974-75 when his party was in government and recall the 21 per cent increase in the cost of building materials in the financial year 1974-75. I think we should compare the figures that we are seeing now with the figures that existed then. Control of inflation remains a primary aim of the Government. We believe that the control of inflation is one of the important things we can do for the building industry- both the home building industry and the non-residential sector. I have no doubt that we will do very much better in that area than did the Australian Labor Party.

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– Has the Minister for National Development seen Press reports attibuted to the Leader of the Opposition criticising the Government ‘s oil pricing policies? Would it be responsible policy, and would it ensure greater stocks of petrol for future generations of Australians, if petrol prices were reduced?

Minister for National Development · BASS, TASMANIA · LP

– I have seen reports in today’s Press of comments made by the Leader of the Opposition. I am amazed at the timing of the Leader of the Opposition in issuing that Press statement. At a time when the world is seriously concerned and worried about where its energy supplies are to come from, at a time when this country is grappling with its own problems with Middle East oil supplies, at a time when newspapers are announcing that President Carter is having a summit meeting of advisers to adopt the decontrol of oil prices, the Leader of the Opposition gets up to his cheap political tricks and issues that statement. This chamber should understand that that is what that statement is all about. Nobody likes paying more for his petrol. Equally, nobody likes to be without petrol. In a nutshell, that is what Australia’s choice is. We have adopted a domestic pricing policy which has been well considered and designed.

Mr Young:

– Which is a rip-off.


– Look, your policies on energy are so stupid -


Opposition members interjecting-


-That if it started to rain petrol now-


-Order! The Minister will resume his seat. He will realise that if he addresses other honourable members directly instead of through the Chair there will be an outburst such as we have just had from my left. I ask the Minister to answer the question and not to take notice of interjections. I ask honourable members on my left to remain silent. I call the Minister.


– I apologise, Mr Speaker. I was about to say that if it were raining petrol you fellows would be out there lighting bonfires to celebrate. Our domestic oil pricing policy has very important benefits for this country. First of all, it will help to reverse the trend which artificially low prices bring with motorists and industries squandering precious motor spirit. Secondly- there can be no question about this- in contrast to the Labor years when exploration and development almost stopped dead in this country, there has been a complete turnaround. You may smile but you well know that that statement is true.


-Order! I ask the Minister to obey -

Mr Bryant:

– He thinks he is running an orderly room.


– I warn the honourable member for Wills. I ask honourable members on my left to remain silent and I ask the Minister to observe the rules of the House. I will not ask him to do so again. I call the Minister.


– I was running through the benefits which have accrued to this country because of our pricing policy. I will go through them again. First of all, in 1978 there were 53 exploration wells drilled in this country. The prospects are that in 1979 we could have up to 140 wells drilled. Given present consumption rates, we have improved the oil reserves of this country by about three years. Despite all that progress we still have to pay for oil imports. Presently we pay about $ 1,200m a year. That figure will rise in the near future to $2,000m a year. If we had followed the policies of the Australian Labor Party that situation would be much worse. We would have been wasting our petrol at ridiculously low prices, we would have had no incentives for exploration and we would have been scratching around to find the foreign exchange required to import more and more oil. This House is entitled to know the Labor Party’s policy on energy pricing. We are entitled to know whether that policy is to reduce prices. If that is what is intended by the Labor Party we can say goodbye to exploration incentives, goodbye to proper conservation and goodbye -

Opposition members- Goodbye, goodbye.


– It is remarkable how the Opposition does not like the facts or the truth. This Government has a vigorous energy policy in place. Pricing is an integral part of that policy. It is about time the Leader of the Opposition stopped whingeing and made a contribution to it.

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– As part of that contribution I ask a question of the Minister for National Development. I refer to his Government’s 1977 Budget decision to phase in import parity for producers of old oil. I stress those words ‘old oil’. I refer to the justification used by the Government for that policy, namely, that it would lead to an increase in economically recoverable oil resources. I ask: Will the policy increase revenue to producers at a cost to Australian motorists over the period 1977-78 to 1980-81 by more than 100 per cent compared with previous expected revenue? Is the policy expected to increase oil reserves by between 400 million barrels and, at the most, 600 million barrels, or between 20 and 30 per cent? Does the Minister agree that the Australian community, especially the motoring public, has to pay a very high price- one which is out of all proportion to the gain in reserves- as a consequence of this policy?


– The Government makes no apology for the revenue that it gets from the crude oil levy. We have said that many times and I say it again now.

Mr Hayden:

– That wasn’t quite the question.


– I will get around to answering the honourable gentleman’s question. I am making the point from the very beginning of my answer that it was a tough decision to make. We took it because it was the only way in which to have a basic building block for an energy policy. I will repeat that at any time and in any place that these fellows over there want to debate the matter.


-Order! The Minister will cease referring to other members of the House as these fellows’. I ask the Minister to conform with the practice of the House.

Mr Keating:

- Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. I point out that we have belted hell out of the Minister all week and he is trying to square off today.


-The honourable member for Blaxland will resume his seat. He knows that there is no point of order.


– I can only repeat what I have said in the last few minutes: The oil pricing policy results in very great benefits for this country. Its effects are enormous. It effectively increases exploration. It increases the development of existing wells. I cannot think of a better example of that than the $700m which will now be put into the development of Bass Strait. If that development has the potential to expand our reserves substantially- by about 20 per cent if the honourable gentleman is right- I for one welcome it with all the enthusiasm that I can muster. That will help a conservation policy. It will certainly ensure that when we make economic decisions about the alternatives that we have available, whether they be the production of oil from shale, oil from coal or the production of ethanol from agricultural production, we will be able to make those efficient decisions based on proper criteria.

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-My question is directed to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. I refer to the answer given by the Minister two weeks ago on the matter of a draft determination by the Trade Practices Commission relating to arrangements between newspaper publishers and newsagents in New South Wales. In view of widespread interest in this matter by newsagents and other operators of franchise businesses throughout Australia, can the Minister inform the House what steps the Government has taken or will take to intervene in the case? In particular, what steps will be taken to protect the interests of the many small businesses involved in this industry?

Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs · FARRER, NEW SOUTH WALES · LP

– It is a fact that the Government became concerned following the release of the Trade Practices Commission’s draft determination on 5 February in relation to the system that deals with the distribution of newspapers and magazines. Honourable members will recall that the situation is that if that determination becomes a decision, the present system will cease to exist. This would provide a disadvantaged situation for the Australian public and also for the many small businessmen to whom the honourable member refers. Following the consideration of this matter the Government decided that I should call together the parties who were applicants to the Trade Practices Commission to see whether a revised scheme could be determined and agreed upon between them, one that the Government might be prepared to support before the Trade Practices Commission.

During the past few days discussions have taken place between a senior official of my Department and representatives of the newsagents and publishers with a view to devising a revised scheme. Those discussions were successful and yesterday all of the parties, including the Government, reached agreement. This morning an official, on behalf of the Government, went before the Trade Practices Commission and indicated the Government’s support for the revised scheme. It will be a matter for the Trade Practices Commission to determine. I do not want to say any more in relation to the matter that is before the Commission at present other than to indicate the reason for our intervention. Questions have been raised in relation to this matter and I want to make it clear to all members of the House and to the public generally that the Government regards the present efficient system of home deliveries and the general distribution of newspapers and magazines as representing a public benefit. For this reason we believe it was necessary, in the public interest, to intervene and we have intervened in the way I have indicated. I must say that there has been general support from both sides of the Parliament for the action the Government has taken.

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– My question is directed to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Having regard to the 76 outback towns which it is proposed will receive Australian Broadcasting Commission television broadcasts via satellite during 1979-82 under the remote areas program, could the Minister inform the House which of those 76 towns at present has an adequate telephone service; what he defines as an adequate telephone service; the cost, in 1979 dollars, in extending terrestrial television broadcasts via repeater and translation stations to the 76 towns as originally proposed and approved; the cost of extending satellite telephonic communication to the 76 outback centres as compared with the cost of adding telephonic capability to the terrestrial television broad band stations originally approved; the earliest date at which the integration of the 76 towns into the terrestrial broad band television and telephone network could be achieved; the earliest date at which the 76 towns will receive satellite television and have a decent reliable telephone service, whether by satellite or terrestrially; the difference in signal quality between satellite and terrestrial television and telephony; and, finally, the effects the Government’s commitment to ABC broadcasting via INTELSAT will have on the timetabling of Telecom’s general terrestrial expansion program?

Minister for Post and Telecommunications · CHISHOLM, VICTORIA · LP

- Mr Speaker, can I thank the honourable member for that question? I would think that the people who live in the remote parts of Australia, right through the outback of this country, would be astonished to find the Labor Opposition in this Parliament against the extension of television services to areas of Australia which presently have no television service.

Mr Innes:

– I take a point of order. It is obvious that the Minister has not understood the question. The Opposition is not opposed to this as the Minister indicates. The question clearly relates to the quality of service that will be received by people in remote areas.


-The honourable member has made his point. There is no point of order.


-There is no. great effort in understanding the honourable member’s question. I would add to what I have already said by saying that the fact of the matter- no amount of Opposition mumbo-jumbo can confuse this- is that the satellite proposal which the Government has approved is no more expensive than the earlier and vastly inferior proposal that we should extend the service by way of repeater stations. So in the satellite proposal we have a proposal to provide real-time television to areas of Australia which at present have no television whatsoever. Many of those areas, of course, already have some form of radio-telephone communication or are linked in some other fashion with the telephone communications system of this country. Some are without the sort of modern telecommunications system which this Government desires to see achieved in those areas. The Australian Telecommunications Commission has underway a $300m program for the provision of automatic telephones throughout the outback of this country which in the space of about ten years will provide first class automatic telephones to virtually the entire Australian community.

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-Is it a fact that the Minister for Post and Telecommunications is proposing an immediate inquiry into the operations of the Australian Broadcasting Commission? If so, will the inquiry have the powers of a royal commission? Is the Minister prepared to name the person from the United Kingdom whom he favours to head the inquiry?


– Honourable members will know that it is not the practice for Ministers to comment on matters which are currently before the Government.

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– Can the Minister for Primary Industry indicate the contribution to the dairy industry of the selective underwriting arrangements which the Government introduced last year under the stage 2 marketing arrangements? Does the position concerning underwriting vary between the States? Has the 96,000-tonne butter quota which is part of these arrangements been increased following requests from the dairy industry?

Minister for Primary Industry · NEW ENGLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES · NCP/NP

– I think it is very appropriate on a day when we are still looking at the benefits of Operation Farmlink that there is in this House reference to one of those ways by which the contribution of the Federal Government has significantly improved the lot of one sector of the rural community which otherwise would have been seriously disadvantaged. Tragically over the last 20 years thousands of dairy farmers have been forced to leave their farms because of changing economic circumstances. Recognising not only the impact of changing market conditions but also the consequences of the season last year, perhaps more in southern Australia than elsewhere but throughout Australia, the Federal Government introduced selective underwriting instead of stage 2 of the changed marketing proposals recommended by Sir John Crawford. The impact of this selective underwriting has been that dairy farmers are now significantly better served than they otherwise would be.

The Victorian Government has finally come down with its proposals to supplement the Federal Government’s underwriting. At the time the Federal Government introduced its scheme it proposed that there should be a scheme available on two alternative bases. If the Victorian Government had taken up that offer it would have been possible for all dairy farmers in Victoria at the time of the announcement of the Federal Government’s underwriting to take advantage of the full 80c proposal on the basis laid down by the Federal Government. Regrettably that was not to be. The Victorian Government has only just now announced a modification to the underwriting which, whilst in some ways going against the general direction of the overall underwriting assistance, will certainly provide further economic aid to those in the dairy industry who will benefit from that lift in the underwriting arrangements.

The final part of the honourable gentlemen’s question related to the overall availability of butter quotas. Of course, part of the purpose of the underwriting has been to restrict the production of those dairy products which are uneconomic. As a result of selective underwriting it has been possible to reduce significantly the volume of butter produced and thereby transfer production into other sectors which are more saleable, notably cheese, casein, wholemilk powder, and so on. However, as a result of changing availability the Government has now decided to lift the butter quota from 98,000 tonnes to 101,000 tonnes. That additional 3,000 tonnes will be made available on an equitable basis to all dairy factories producing butter on the understanding that at least 50 per cent of the additional quota is sold before the 30 June this year for domestic table consumption.

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-For the information of honourable members I present the report of the Fifth Conference of Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers held at Parliament House Canberra from 28 August to 1 September last. Limited stocks of the report are available from the Table Office and copies have been placed in the Parliamentary Library.

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Minister for Industrial Relations · Corangamite · LP

– Pursuant to section 30 of the Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee Act 1977 I present the report of the Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee for the period 5 December 1977 to 30 June 19781

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Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs · Farrer · LP

– For the information of honourable members I present a report by the Industries Assistance Commission on certain discontinuous yarns of polyester and polyester viscose by-laws.

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Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs · Farrer · LP

– Pursuant to section 7 of the Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations Act 1976 I present the annual report of the Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations for the year ended 3 1 August 1978.

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Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs · Farrer · LP

– Pursuant to section 30B of the Industries Assistance Commission Act 1973 I present a report by the Temporary Assistance Authority on dental alloys.

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Minister for Home Affairs · Wentworth · LP

– Pursuant to section 42 of the Australian Film and Television School Act 1973 I present the annual report of the Australian Film and Television School for the year ended 30 June 1978.

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– Honourable members will recall that, as a result of an initiative taken by the

Commonwealth Heads of Government at their meeting in Jamaica in 1975, it was decided that the second Monday in March should be set aside each year as Commonwealth Day to mark the existence and significance of the Commonwealth. On the occasion of Commonwealth Day 1979,I received a message from the Honourable Dato’ Musa Hitam, the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The message in summary is:

The Commonwealth, an association of free nations, is committed to the cause of world peace and understanding through programmed development. The ability of the Commonwealth to surmount problems of the present turbulent world will surely be its greatest challenge. Individual nations tend to measure their international relationships in terms of the benefits that will accrue to them. It is in the wider area of universal peace and understanding that the resources of the Commonwealth should be committed.

The year 1979 is the International Year of the Child. In this year I urge the peoples of the Commonwealth to strive to create a world where there is hope not despair, knowledge not ignorance, and peace not confrontation, for the generations to come.

It is important that Commonwealth parliamentarians be sensitive to the needs of other peoples so that the objective of the Commonwealth in promoting peace and understanding is truly a shared desire of the peoples of the member nations. It is only with an absolute commitment to this objective by the peoples of the Commonwealth that the organisation will be able to move with confidence towards its attainment.

May Commonwealth Day be a reminder of our responsibilities.

I am sure that honourable members concur with the sense of the message and, with the concurrence of the House, I shall inform the Chairman that his message has our support.

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Assent to the following bills reported:

Patents Amendment Bill 1979.

Pay-roll Tax (Territories) Assessment Amendment Bill 1979.

Excise Amendment Bill 1979.

Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill 1979.

Foreign Antitrust Judgments (Restriction of Enforcement) Bill 1979.

Dairy Produce Sales Promotion Amendment Bill 1979.

Defence Force (Retirement and Death Benefits Amendments) Bill 1979.

National Fitness Amendment Bill 1979.

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-On behalf of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, I present a report of the Committee entitled ‘Aboriginal Health’, together with the transcript of evidence and extracts from the minutes of proceedings.

Ordered that the report be printed.


-by leave-The standard of health of Aboriginals is far lower than that of the majority of Australians and would not be tolerated if it existed in the Australian community as a whole. This is the strongly held view of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs after lengthy inquiry. The rate of Aboriginal infant mortality is three to four times higher than the rate for Australia as a whole. Many more Aboriginals than non-Aboriginals are admitted to hospital and remain there for longer periods. The most common Aboriginal conditions treated in hospital are related to the physical environment. For example, in Western Australia, the incidence of these conditions is eight times higher for Aboriginals than for non- Aboriginals.

When innumerable reports on the poor state of Aboriginal health are released there are expressions of shock or surprise and outraged cries for immediate action. However, the reports appear to have had no real impact; the appalling state of Aboriginal health is soon forgotten until another report is released. For my part, I certainly hope that that will not be the fate of this report. The Committee found that the low standard of health apparent in the majority of Aboriginal communities can be attributed largely to the unsatisfactory environmental conditions in which Aboriginals live; to their low socioeconomic status in the Australian community; and to the failure of health authorities to give sufficient attention to the special health needs of Aboriginals and to take proper account of their social and cultural beliefs and practices.

There are two main thrusts in the report which I have tabled today. They are aimed at improving the health of Aboriginals. The first thrust is to improve the physical environment in which Aboriginals live. In this regard, the Committee has recommended that action should be taken to provide clean and adequate water supplies; to eliminate the sanitary pan system; to upgrade housing for Aboriginals living in towns and on the fringes of towns; and to develop effective consultation between Commonwealth and State departments and local authorities to determine responsibility for the provision of community services.

The second thrust is to involve Aboriginals in the decisions which affect their health and in the delivery of their health care programs. The Committee believes that Aboriginal communities have the right to determine the type of health services which best suit their individual needs. Therefore, the Committee has recommended that a task force should be set up to place before every community the full range of alternative health care services. This might include medical services run by Aboriginals themselves, such as the 1 1 Aboriginal-controlled medical services in urban areas throughout Australia and the three services in traditional areas. It might include hospitals and nursing services administered and staffed by missions, as has been the case in so many communities over a long period. It might include health services run by State and Territory health authorities, such as we see particularly in the Northern Territory, and general and specialist practitioners. This might mean that communities will change arrangements for services, but this will be done only after all the information has been objectively placed before them. Some communities want control of their services; others are hesitant for a variety of reasons. But if they make the choice themselves it will be far more meaningful to them.

In the meantime, the Committee recommends that the full range of programs should be maintained and, where appropriate, support for them should be increased. The Committee found a consensus among representatives of health authorities throughout Australia that Aboriginals should participate to the greatest extent possible in their own health care programs and should be fully consulted on all matters concerning their health. In practice, the level of such involvement is generally low. The Committee recommends that Aboriginals should be involved in all stages of the provision of health care services and that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) should assess the number of Aboriginals required, the time it will take to train them to assume responsibility for the health of their people and, to this end, to develop, in consultation with the relevant Ministers, suitable training programs.

Throughout this very lengthy report there are many other recommendations and suggestions for improving Aboriginal health. The report which I have presented is the culmination of the work of two committees. In the Thirtieth Parliament a former member, the honourable Kim Beazley, raised in this House the matter of the poor state of Aboriginal health as a matter of public importance. Subsequently, this matter was referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. During the Committee ‘s inquiry it conducted 26 days of public hearings in all mainland States, the Northern Territory and Canberra. The Committee also held extensive discussions with Aboriginal people in 20 communities throughout Australia.

The Committee acknowledges the assistance given to it by its specialist advisers, Professor Max Kamien, of the Department of Medicine at the University of Western Australia, and Dr Jan Reid, a medical anthropoligist. I briefly mention also the excellent relationship that I had on the Committee with my Deputy Chairman, the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding), and the many other members from both this and the other side of the House who served on the Committee. I mention also the clerk of our Committee, Mr Clive Boorman, who assisted in the preparation of this, his tenth report. He has given outstanding service to the committees. He was ably assisted by Chris Shrosbree and Bjarne Nordin as well as Mollie Cranswick, who spent so much time typing for this report- a lot more than had previously been the case because of some of the economies which we had to effect. It is a great pleasure to be able to present this report after this length of time. I regard it as a report which will be memorable in terms of parliamentary committee reports. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.


-by leave- I join the Chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock), in commending the Committee’s report on Aboriginal health to the House and to the public. Like him, I hope that the report will be acted upon more effectively than previous reports of its kind have been. Like him, I stress that one of the major glaring deficiencies in the field of Aboriginal health is the physical environment- so much so that, as the Chairman pointed out, the figures collected in Western Australia indicate that the incidence of conditions related to the physical environment treated in hospital is eight times higher for Aborigines than for non-Aborigines. Let me explain what is meant by the term ‘physical environment’. It means situations about which governments can do something. It does not mean only the provision of fresh water supplies, the elimination of the sanitary pan system and the improvement of housing, although it does mean that to a considerable extent.

I stress the Opposition’s concern about the fact that although in the last Budget there was a slight increase in one aspect of funding for Aboriginal affairs- namely, housing- there was a decrease in real terms in the funding of other aspects. In spite of that increase in the allocation for Aboriginal housing, if expenditure for this purpose continues to be allocated at that rate it will take 30 years to make up the back log of housing for

Aborigines that is required today. That backlog is getting worse year by year. At the present rate of spending the backlog will get worse and not better because houses will deteriorate and Aboriginal communities will increase in number at a faster rate than the rate at which the housing is being provided. So I stress that as far as the major environmental health problem is concerned, this Government has a major responsibility to regard this problem in the way indicated by the Chairman. He said that it is a problem that would not be tolerated in the general community and is one which should not and must not be tolerated for a deprived section of our community. Australia is judged not by what we say about Malaysian aeroplanes or about the export of merino rams or about almost any other question that has to do with defence or foreign affairs. We are judged in other nations by the way we treat our ethnic minorities, particularly our indigenous people. That judgment is that Australia does not care, Australia is racist, Australia is discriminating. I am most disappointed in recent statements from the Department and from the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) which indicate that the priorities remain not in favour of Aborigines but in favour of mining. Senator Chaney released a Press statement which said:

While mining is important to Australia, some consideration should be given to the Aborigines, who have been kicked around for so long.

That does not reassure me that the Government has changed its priorities, and I think it is high time that it did so. The World Health Organisation, along with many other authorities and most people who have studied the environmental problems of deprived communities, particularly indigenous minorities, has said that it is essential that those communities determine their health care priorities and take a major part in planning and decision-making. This report confirms and supports that view, but still it is not being carried out. Almost daily, and certainly weekly, objections are coming on to my desk, and I have no doubt on to the Minister’s desk, about how Aborigines are being required to tolerate more bureaucratic interference, not from Aboriginal organisations but from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the Department of Health and others. We have to start reversing that trend. We have to start putting consumers in charge of health services, not only for Aborigines but for everyone. Professionalism has gone mad, bureaucracy has gone mad, to an extent where one can say almost that doctors are a health hazard and health departments are a health hazard. We have to start getting back to the consumer.

I have one regret about the wording of the report. I was unable to attend the final meeting, but I think that the members of the Committee would have accepted this criticism. Whilst in the body of the report there is stress on the need for land rights and the central importance of land rights for Aborigines to regain their self-identity, which is essential to achieving a healthy life, a healthy community and a healthy individual, that was not listed among the principal recommendations of the Committee. I want to put on record, and I believe that this view is shared by the other members of the Committee, that we see land rights as being essential to the ability of Aborigines to return to their source of spiritual refreshment and social cohesion, that is, the land with which they identify in a very complex and important manner. They must have the ability to control that land to an extent that will enable them to restore their ancient rituals, which reassure them of their relationship and theninterdependence with their traditional land, and in many cases with the land of their ancestors, even when they have long departed from it because of the pressures of the white occupation of their nation.


-by leave- I second the remarks made by the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock). It must be appreciated that the report, however long, cannot cover fully the subject of the health of Aborigines. The submissions made to the Committee stand two metres high and it listened to evidence from hundreds of people. The Committee put recommendations, but it will be up to the departments, both State and Federal, to carry them out. The responsibility for the health of all Australians lies with the Federal and State health departments and always has. They must be held responsible for the terrible situation of Aboriginal health. Many other Federal and State departments have responsibility for areas which impinge on Aboriginal health, and they also must take responsibility for the existing situation. It it felt that the health of Aborigines would not be as bad as it is if all Federal and State departments and authorities had accepted over the years their full responsibility and seen Aborigines as part of a total community, albeit a disadvantaged group. The Committee has recommended that the Federal Government make very clear its commitment to Aborigines and make extra efforts to ensure that all Federal and State departments and authorities accept their full responsibility.

I wish to make some other points to indicate the direction in which I believe further work should go. The emphasis of all further work on Aboriginal health must be towards prevention. Only in isolated cases is there any indication that that is the policy or the practice. Make no mistake, there is a backlash against the Aborigines, or more particularly against the payment to them of large sums of money. We must be careful to treat them as we treat other Australians, and that is one reason to use existing departments of health, even if they have to make some adjustments, rather than introduce new schemes responsible to committees or to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. There seems to be no overriding case for splitting the responsibility of State or Commonwealth health departments because Aboriginals are involved. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs should be a co-ordinating body and a funding body. It should not be doing anything that other departments or authorities can or should do. The fact that another department or authority is not doing its job well enough in relation to Aborigines is not a reason for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to take over that function. It should be the ombudsman of the Aborigines to ensure that they get a fair go from all authorities.

We must look to co-operation with the States to ensure the proper use of federal money given to the States for the welfare of the Aborigines. Responsibility must be allocated definitely, and again I come back to everyone accepting his responsibility. Much thought will have to go into arranging the organisation structures in Aboriginal communities if we expect them to play their role in Australia. We must appreciate that the structure within a clan and the very limited interclan structure are not good enough for the jobs that we expect of Aboriginal communities. At the same time, we must look to the future and realise that the only way in which the Aboriginal communities can fit into the Australian community is by adapting to our organisation structures. The task now is to find the intermediate structures that will bridge the gap in culture and time. We must remember that self-determination is not self-government. Self-determination can take place only within the laws of the land- Federal, State and local. Whilst we can look to the needs of the people as expressed by the people, that is often not enough.

One of the serious deficiencies we found in our travels related to the assessment of programs and progress. This lack of assessment applied to all areas in which money was spent on Aborigines.

There seemed to be no cost evaluations, no comparison between aims and action, and generally no figures on which to base assessments. This probably starts with the absence of definite objectives for programs and anyone with overall responsibility for projects. One could easily arrive at an opinion that more and more money is spent on Aborigines, with the feeling that money must help. Statistics are important, but the lack of them should not be used as an excuse for doing little or nothing. Aboriginal health is bad. We can all see that and we know most of the reasons why. We should get on with the job of preventing ill health now. Statistics, evaluations and assessments will follow. There have been a vast number of reports on Aboriginal health and on most aspects of it. In fact, I believe 1,100 books have been written on the subject. Searching for the reasons why we are still beset with the problems of ill health, one must eventually focus on commitment or lack of it. Federal and State health departments have always been responsible for the health of Australians and that includes Aboriginals. Those departments must accept that they have done a terrible job. Now they should re-assess the situation, accept their full responsibility and get on with the job.

Melbourne Ports

-by leave- I address my remarks to the report presented to the House by the Chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock). The Committee spent many months on this important matter of Aboriginal health, it examined many documents and heard many witnesses. The recommendations of the Committee are in the report and they can be examined- by all honourable members. I simply remind the House that this report deals with matters of life and death, that is the life and death of Aboriginal citizensAustralian citizens- in our community. As the Chairman has pointed out, an all-Party parliamentary committee has found that the levels and standards of Aboriginal health which operate in Australia today are such that they would not be acceptable to any part of this community. They should not be acceptable to this Parliament, and they would not be if Australia, as a community, had not placed itself in a cultural and mental attitude over many years, believing that the health of Aboriginal citizens was less relevant than the health of the dominant white groups in our community.

I believe the success or otherwise of this report and its many recommendations will have to be judged not in terms of what the Committee has said, but in terms of what action the Government proposes to take. In relation to past reports presented by committees looking at various aspects of Aboriginal health I think it is true to say that some of the recommendations contained in those reports have been implemented, but many have not been. The Committee’s expression is that despite recommendations made by past committees on the problems of alcohol and the effect that alcohol has upon Aboriginal communities, not enough has been done. Recommendations have been ignored. I simply place on record my appreciation of the collaboration that the Committee received from all its members, staff and professional advisers. I serve notice that as a member of that Committee I propose, in the future life of this Parliament, to pursue the recommendations that have been made in this report. I shall do my best to ensure that those recommendations are adopted and implemented by the Government.

page 874


Discussion of Matter of Public Importance


– I have received a letter from the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The Government’s inequitable taxation policies.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places-


-The Opposition raises this matter of public importance because it is greatly concerned at the Government’s actions in regard to taxation since it has been in office. Those actions have brought about a severe redistribution of the tax burden from high income earners to low and middle income earners. Furthermore, it is clear from recent statements by Government spokesmen that the Government will continue and accentuate this trend towards increased inequity in the distribution of the tax burden. Let us look at the past actions of this Government in respect of taxation and the effect that this has had on the equity of the tax burden. In regard to tax indexation, this Government came into office saying that it would implement full tax indexation. It has never implemented full tax indexation. In 1976-77 the figure was 90 per cent of full tax indexation. In 1977-78 it was 80 per cent of full tax indexation. In 1978-79 it was only 35 per cent of full tax indexation. There was clearly in this period a total failure to implement the policy of full tax indexation. To be utterly fair, in respect of the 35 per cent, the reason given was that the Government was introducing income tax cuts.

It is certainly true that those income tax cuts were introduced, but they were introduced in a way which was extraordinarily inequitable in their incidence. The tax cuts meant that persons on ordinary wages and salaries received very little benefit, while those on high incomes received very substantial benefits indeed. For a person on average weekly earnings the gain from those tax cuts which came in during February 1978 was $3.30 a week. For a person earning $2,000 a week the gain was $111.80 a week. There was a tremendous difference, depending on where one was on the income scale. Forty per cent of the benefit of those tax cuts went to the top 10 per cent of taxpayers. So tax cuts were heavily loaded towards the high income earners and gave very little to ordinary taxpayers in this community.

But those tax cuts, which had featured so much in the 1977 election, did not last very long anyway. They were quickly wiped out for many taxpayers as from November 1978 by the introduction of a tax surcharge of 1½c in the $1 which, as I say, totally eliminated the benefits of the tax cuts for 55 per cent of taxpayers. All those with incomes between $1 14 a week and $238 a week had all the benefits of the tax cuts wiped out by the income tax surcharge which all Australians are currently paying. But high income earners retained most of their large tax cuts. A person earning $2,000 a week received this marvellous tax cut of $1 1 1.80 a week. From the tax cuts he had a tax surcharge of only $49.50, leaving him $62.30 better off as a result of this total package of the tax cut and the imposition of the surcharge. So quite clearly as a result of this combined tax cut and surcharge there was no benefit for the vast majority of taxpayers but a very substantial benefit for high income earners. The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research in its third quarter 1978 edition of the Australian Economic Review summarised this situation in these terms:

Taken together, the income tax changes announced in the last two Budgets constitute a remarkable exercise in redistribution of tax burdens.

That is indeed the situation. There has been a tremendous redistribution of the burden to give a much lesser burden to high income earners and an increased burden to large numbers of wage and salary earners. As well as the income tax cuts and surcharge, there were also indirect tax increases which severely affected the equity of the tax system because everyone in the community whether he is a millionaire or a pauper pays the same amount for a litre of petrol, a packet of cigarettes or a glass of beer. If governments raise taxes by large increases in indirect taxes then that is inequitable because it destroys the equity of the tax system. It destroys income distribution unless it offsets income distribution by some other measures. Honourable members will recall that this Government, in its last Budget, introduced very large increases in taxes on alcohol and tobacco products and on crude oil which fed through into petrol prices. All Australians are paying these increases regardless of their incomes. People on the minimum wage, pensioners, people on low incomes are paying the same amount as members of Parliament and even more affluent people in the community. At the time of the last Budget we calculated that for the ordinary person the increase in the price of petrol would cost $1.80 a week on average and cigarettes, tobacco and alcoholic drinks would cost something like another $2 a week which, on top of the loss through the income tax surcharge, meant a very severe reduction in the living standards of a large number of Australians. But of course for people on high incomes the incidence of the impact of this increase in indirect taxes on their Jiving standards is nowhere near as severe as it is for low income earners.

Also, we have the failure of this Government to act in relation to trusts. This matter has been the subject of some discussion recently in the House. So I do not need to mention it in any detail. But it is important again to point out in this context that the Government’s failure to act in relation to trusts other than in a peripheral way means that the equity of the tax system is being destroyed. Indeed, as I have mentioned in the House previously, the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation in Melbourne made that very comment in a letter to the Australian Taxation Office when he said that the failure to act effectively against family trusts was destroying the equity of the tax system as between the incidence of taxes on businessmen and that paid by wage and salary earners. The wage and salary earners cannot avoid the payment of tax by using family trusts whereas businessmen have that capability if the Government allows them so to do.

If one looks at what has happened to the payasyouearn tax payments over the last couple of years and the tax paid by the nonpayasyouearn taxpayers one sees a tremendous difference in the increase in the tax burden. Between 1976-77 and 1978-79 the pay-as-you-earn taxpayers are budgeted to pay an additional 2 1 per cent in taxes to the Federal Government. Nonpayasyouearn taxpayers will pay only an additional 3 per cent over that period. Quite clearly one can see that the non-pay-as-you-earn taxpayers- that is the professional people and the businessmen- are using some device to escape the payment of income tax and, on the evidence, that device overwhelmingly is the use of family trusts, service trusts and trading trusts. This Government is failing to take the action required in respect of trusts, despite the fact that it has been recommended by the Taxation Office and the Asprey Committee. The failure to act against family trusts in this way destroys this Government’s credibility as a government which is really concerned to eliminate tax avoidance and so increase the equity of the tax system.

Another factor in the past actions of this Government which is important is the abolition of estate and gift duties. The House will recall that the Government introduced legislation last year to abolish all federal estate and gift duties by the middle of this year. Estate duty was paid by only 12 per cent of estates. So it did not affect more than one in eight of the total number of estates. Only the wealthy were paying estate duty and they were able to avoid much of it. But it was not affecting the vast number of estates in this country. Only one in every eight was taxed in that way. Yet this Government abolished that tax and in abolishing it it clearly has no intention to replace it with any other tax on capital. The approach that the Labor Party took at the time that was done was to say that the Government, by abolishing this tax on capital, was leaving Australia as the only country in the Western world without any taxes on capital and was taking an extremely inequitable decision. This Government has again reduced the equity in the tax system by abolishing all taxes on capital.

I say again that Australia will be the only country in the Western world which will not be levying a tax on capital as from the middle of this year- that is, apart from the vestiges of probate which will be levied by some of the States. I ask the House to take note of the fact that a number of countries levy not only estate duties or inheritance taxes, which can be combined and called capital transfer taxes, but also wealth taxes and capital gains taxes. These countries levy all three: Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Many countries levy at least two of those- that is, estate duty and a capital gains tax. They include the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and France. Canada levies only one, a capital gains tax. New Zealand levies estate duty. But Australia will levy none from the middle of this year. The fact is, as the Asprey Committee showed, that it is totally inequitable to have no taxes on capital. Surely if the Government removes estate duty it should then introduce some other form of tax on capital. The Labor Party has suggested the introduction of a capital gains tax. That was put forward recently by me and by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden). This Government is totally opposed to the concept of there being any taxes on capital. It wants the wage and salary earners to pay all the taxes. It does not want the people who earn the capital gains or who own the wealth of this country to pay any tax because of their ownership of that wealth. This Government wants to levy all the taxes on the wage and salary earners. We say that is totally inequitable and that we need to have taxes on capital, such as a capital gains tax, so as to have an equitable tax system.

It is also a fact that this Government will need to raise substantial additional amounts of tax revenue in the next financial year. This will be necessary for two reasons. Firstly, the fact is that the deficit for 1978-79- the current year- is blowing out. It is not going to be reduced by $500m, as the Government has estimated. Indeed, in an article in the Melbourne Age yesterday the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) is reported to have admitted that the Budget deficit is blowing out. On top of that problem, which means that the Government will not be reducing the deficit by much at all, if anything, from last year’s figure, it has made various promises to abolish various taxes in the next financial year. It has promised to abolish the coal expert levy, which is worth $93m. It has promised to reduce the crude oil levy by the amount by which it will allow Australian producers of crude oil to increase the proportion of Australian crude oil which is priced at import parity. That would cost $110m. It has promised full indexation of personal taxes next year. That was promised in the 1977 Budget. That would cost $500m. It did promise initially to eliminate the income tax surcharge. That would cost $570m. The elimination of death duties, to which I have referred, will cost $50m. This Government promised in the 1976 Budget to implement full stock valuation adjustment over three years, and that three years is up as from the next financial year. That will cost another $350m if the Treasurer (Mr Howard) and the Government keep their word.

This Government will have to find very substantial amounts of additional revenue from somewhere else because it will be forgoing all of this revenue if it sticks to its promises. It may not stick to its promises. Indeed, it is quite likely on this Government’s past record that it will not stick to its promises. This is particularly true in respect of the income tax surcharge. The Treasurer and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) have on numerous occasions failed to give the House or the country an assurance that there will be no income tax surcharge next financial year. I challenge the Treasurer to say in his reply to me in this debate that there will be no income tax surcharge next financial year. Do not just give us the line about the income tax surcharge legislation running out on 30 June. We all know about that. What we want to know is whether the Government will reimpose it next year. On all the facts of the situation, given the promises that have been made, given the fact that the deficit has blown out and given the fact that this Government will not apply alternative, fairer and more equitable taxes, I say that this Government will have to reimpose such a tax in terms of its own economic logic, and that means that it will be again imposing additional tax burdens on the wage and salary earners- the vast bulk of taxpayers who cannot avoid taxes and about whom this Government does not seem to have much worry.

The fact is that the Government has forgone the possibility of introducing a capital gains tax. It opposes the idea of introducing a resources rent tax, which would be utterly fair- that is, taxing the super profits of mining companies. The Government opposes the idea of introducing a petroleum revenue tax to take away from the petroleum producing companies the enormous profits which the Government’s crude oil pricing policy will give to them over the next several years. The Government refuses to take measures in respect of tax avoidance on family trusts, which would increase equity in the tax system. It refuses to impose higher taxes on high income earners who could afford it given the extraordinarily generous treatment that they have received vis-a-vis the other taxpayers over the last couple of years. The fact is that this Government is a government that will increasingly impose the burden of tax on the ordinary wage and salary earners because it refuses to think of alternative taxes and refuses to think of fairer and more equitable taxes which would enable it to meet its revenue raising objectives without destroying the equity of the tax system.

Treasurer · Bennelong · LP

– In opening the debate for the Government I think it is worth while reminding the House of the thinking of the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis), who led for the Opposition. The honourable member is the Labor Party spokesman who, at Labor’s conference of economists in Brisbane in 1978, said:

If Labor does not gain office next election -

And I can understand his thinking along those lines- then by 1983, when we could next hope to gain office, we would face a mammoth task in rebuilding the public sector and maybe an equally mammoth task in convincing the electorate that it should pay a higher level of taxation to enable us to do so.

The honourable member for Gellibrand was doing two things on that occasion. Firstly, the honourable member was acknowledging the transfer of resources from the public sector to the private sector under the Fraser Government which, of course, is correct. Secondly, he was acknowledging that in order to effect a re-transfer of those resources a future Labor government would do as the Whitlam Government did between 1972 and 1975 and allow significant increases in the overall burden of taxation paid by the Australian community. That is the quality of the economic and taxation thinking of the honourable member for Gellibrand who proposed the discussion of this matter of public importance on behalf of the Opposition. We ought to keep that fact in mind as this debate proceeds. This debate is an attack upon the equity of the taxation policies followed by the Fraser Government. The honourable member for Gellibrand in his speech accused us of favouring the rich and penalising the poor. He accused us of distorting the taxation system in favour of the more well off in the community and against the interests of the less well off.

In the brief time available I will recapitulate for the benefit of the House the record of this Government in the area of taxation. The Government’s taxation policy contains many significant elements. One of the most significant was the introduction of tax indexation. It was introduced in the first year of the Fraser Government notwithstanding that the election commitment in 1975 was to introduce tax indexation during the lifetime of the first Parliament. The honourable member for Gellibrand did not acknowledge that we had accelerated the implementation of tax indexation in 1976. The great virtue of tax indexation is that it forces governments to be more direct and honest about changes in the taxation system. It forces governments to legislate openly for increases in taxation as well as to legislate openly for decreases in taxation which, I think all members of the House would agree, all governments like to be able to do from time to time. The great virtue of tax indexation is that it forces governments to be more open about what they are doing with the taxation system. No longer under tax indexation will a leader of a political party in Australia be able to say what the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Whitlam, said at Blacktown in 1972. These words ought to be recalled whenever there is debate about the comparative equity of the taxation policies of the Liberal Party and the Labor Party. In that memorable speech Mr Whitlam said:

The huge and automatic increase in Commonwealth revenue ensures that rates of taxation need not be increased at any level to implement a Labor Government ‘s program.

He uttered those words after he had unveiled an extravaganza of commitments from the Labor Opposition. He knew well that the impact of the high inflation that that program would unleash on the progressive taxation scale would, without the need for the Government to admit that it was increasing taxation, produce a huge and automatic increase in taxation collections. The only way that that can be stopped is to index the taxation system. The indexation of the taxation system prevents the stealth of inflation on a progressive taxation system. If the honourable member for Gellibrand or the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) believed in the fairness of the tax system for the ordinary wage earner- that 90 per cent of the Australian community who pay 3 3 tec in the dollar taxation- they would realise the equity, the justice and the responsibility of tax indexation. That was the first major reform of this Government.

In 1977 we greatly simplified the progressive taxation scale. We removed the seven steps and replaced them with three steps. One of the great benefits of that has occurred in the area of overtime work. How often did members on both sides of the House hear the complaint that a man on average weekly earnings who was able to work some overtime was disinclined to do so because of the higher tax bracket into which he would be pushed when he earned only a modest additional amount through overtime? The introduction of the standard rate system in 1977 means that a person can move from the average weekly earnings to about $16,800 a year without entering a higher tax bracket. That is a significant reform. It is a significant equity not for the wealthy or the affluent but for the average wage earner of Australia. It ought to be borne in mind.

We have reduced the overall burden of personal tax notwithstanding the increase in the last Budget. No one can deny that. The honourable member for Gellibrand did not deny it; the

Leader of the Opposition has not denied it. The net cost to revenue of half indexation and the rate scale reforms, even taking into account the 1 Vi per cent surcharge, will still be about $700m in the current financial year. Some $3, 000m more would have been collected in 1 978-79 if the scales we inherited in 1975 had been left unchanged. I know that the honourable member for Gellibrand might think that that is not a fair thing to say because he would claim that if Labor had stayed in office it would have introduced tax indexation, lowered the tax scales and made the thing more equitable. That is what he said the last time we debated the matter. Perhaps he has a different riposte. I can only make assumptions about the Labor policy according to what Labor people say when in government and according to legislation initiated when Labor is in government. The truth of the matter is that if those Hayden scales had stayed in place through the years that we have been in government we would be collecting $3,000m more in this current financial year. That is a sizable leak in anybody’s language. Indeed the great bulk of that would not have been paid by that privileged section of the community- the high income earners about whom the honourable member for Gellibrand waxed so fervently- but would have been paid by the average wage earners of Australia.

We have given significant concessions to the business community of Australia. We make no apology for that. We happen to believe that the profitability of the private sector is to the benefit of the entire Australian community. The business community of Australia had been brought to its knees by the end of 1975. Both large and small businesses needed assistance and incentives. We were prepared to give them. For my part, I make no apology for such things as the investment allowance. We have encouraged exploration of energy resources. I believe that more than ever the pricing policies that this Government has adopted with respect to crude oil have been demonstrated to be correct. They have encouraged a greater sense of conservation and exploration. They could well be emulated in other parts of the world.

The fact is that an individual on average weekly earnings pays $9 a week less than he would have paid under the Hayden scales in 1975. Personal tax collections this financial year will experience, for the first time in 10 years, a fall in real terms. There will actually be a reduction of about .3 per cent in the total volume of personal tax collections in 1978-79. 1 remind the House that that is the first occasion over the last 10 years that a fall of that kind has occurred. We should contrast it with the increase that occurred on one occasion of over 20 per cent in personal tax collections during the lifetime of the Whitlam Government. That surely is proof positive of the discipline which is imposed on governments through tax indexation and the other measures that we have introduced. The abolition of death and gift duties, taxes which wreaked considerable hardship on significant sections of the Australian rural community and the small business sector, shows that this Government has not only a defensible taxation record but also a record which has improved the equity of the tax system.

Nowhere is the Labor Party on weaker ground than when it talks about tax avoidance. This is its real Achilles heel. One would have thought that a party which is so concerned about high income earners, that upper bracket of income earners, when in government would have done something about the level of tax avoidance in the community. Perhaps we can refer again to that memorable tome, the Blacktown address of 1 972, and see what the then Leader of the Opposition had to say on the subject of tax avoidance. He said:

The rates for which the wealthier sections of the community including companies are liable are already high enough.

That is an interesting contrast with what the honourable member for Gellibrand is saying now. I will pass over that because it is not central to the point that I am about to make. The Leader of the Opposition continued:

The loss which the revenue suffers at this level is not because taxes are too low but because tax avoidance is too easy.

He then went on to say:

A Labor Government will close the loopholes. To do this we will set up a permanent expert committee on taxation to expose the loopholes as fast as lawyers and accountants discover them.

We all know how many loopholes were closed by the Whitlam Government between 1972 and 1975. We all know about the expert committee that was set up. We all know how serious successive Labor Treasurers between 1972 and 1975 were about the widespread tax avoidance, which is an affront to the average wage earner in the Australian community and which ought to be resented by people on low incomes who have no opportunity and no incentive to engage in that sort of activity. That is why this Government has done something about tax avoidance. The Australian Labor Party is embarrassed by our activity in that area and it is now engaged in some kind of eleventh hour repentance on that subject. On account of its own inactivity, it is trying to get in on the bandwagon and is urging the Government to do further things. The Labor Party knows our position on tax avoidance. We have acted and we will continue to act. So far as clamping down on blatant tax avoidance is concerned, no areas are quarantined by this Government. That has been made clear in the past by both me and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). The Labor Party is extremely vulnerable in the area of tax avoidance. It has attempted to discredit the performance of this Government over the past three years in the area of taxation. We have committed ourselves to a program of reforming the taxation system. We have not only reduced taxation; we have restructured the system.

Our taxation system is a complicated system. It still contains numerous inequities and I do not for a moment suggest that the job is anywhere near finished. But there has to be a sense of realism. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition seems to lack some realism in some of the alternative proposals he has put. One of the proposals that intrigues me a great deal was outlined in his National Press Club speech. In that proposal- I think it is proposal number 5 but it might be number. 4- he said that he would restructure the taxation scale for the top 2 per cent of income earners. That is a very interesting proposition. I would like to know how he intends to do that restructuring. If he were to restore the maximum marginal rate to the 65 per cent level of his last Budget, the additional revenue resulting from that would be no more than $50m. If he were to push that marginal rate up to an unprecedented level of 70 per cent, a little more than $ 100m would be raised. Yet in that same speech the Leader of the Opposition was talking about raising an additional $ 1,000m. Just what does he have in mind?

Mr Willis:

– Not just from that.


-Not just from that, I appreciate that. But we would have a few problems with the next year effects of those other four or five measures. I am questioning the arithmetic of those five propositions in respect of a 1979-80 Budget. The proposal is unspecific. The proposal is vague. It is silent as to the level and as to the quantum. Indeed, it is the sort of proposal that has not been thoroughly thought out.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The Minister’s time has expired.


-Despite what the Treasurer (Mr Howard) said, it is not the Australian Labor Party which is the high tax party in this country; it is the present Government parties. The fact is that the figures are unassailable. In the Labor years- that is, 1973-74 to 1975-76- total Federal public authority receipts as a percentage of the gross domestic product registered 24.8 per cent. But in the years of the present Government- 1 976-77 and 1978-79- the percentage rose to 26.1 percent. In another area, total personal income tax receipts as a percentage of total Federal receipts was 46 per cent in 1973-74 and rose to 50 per cent in 1977-78. Take the situation regarding payasyouearn income taxes. Those taxes as a percentage of total wages and salaries in 1973-74 totalled 18.2 per cent. They rose to 2 1.6 per cent in 1977-78. The total taxation revenue in Australia rose from $10.8 billion in 1973-74 to $23.8 billion in 1978-79. That is a rise of 120 per cent. But the total inflation rate rise since 1973 has been much less, 78.6 per cent. With regard to the individual situation, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has said that a taxpayer earning $220 a week is better off now than he was under the previous Labor government. This statement is just not true. After 1 November 1979 that person earning $220 a week, with a spouse and dependent child, will pay tax of $38.82 per week. Under the Hayden tax system introduced in 1975 the same taxpayer would pay $35.69 a week. Even if the rate scales had been only partially indexed, as the Government has done, he would be paying $3.13 less in tax a week.

Everything this Government does in the taxation field is inequitable. We should look at its record in the last Budget. We should look at its taxes. It imposed increases in indirect taxation. It increased tariffs on imported goods subject to quota by 12.5 per cent. What about the broken promise when it reverted to half-yearly tax indexation? I understand that action cost taxpayers approximately $500m. Let us remember the 1.5 cents in the dollar surcharge. That has cost taxpayers- that is wage and salary earners- $600m. Let me repeat that surcharge ought to be seen in relation to the so-called tax cuts of February 1978. It ought to be repeated that the combination of those two decisions means that a person earning $238 per week does not benefit whilst a person earning $500 per week is $ 1 5 per week better off. Let us also examine the effect of the oil levy- the biggest Budget ripoff of all. I understand that $l,238m will revert to government revenue as a result of the oil levy and of the increased excise duties, which account for $700m of that $l,238m. Of course, that does not include the windfall profits to the oil companies as a result of that Government decision-$327m, rising to approximately $700m by 1981-82.

It is no secret that this Government is in trouble over containing its deficit. Mainly because of the increase in the number of unemployed the Budget outlay of $785m for unemployment benefits will most certainly blow out to at least $950m. What will the Government do? Will it retain the 1.5 cents in the dollar surcharge after all or will it reduce the 40 per cent general health subsidy as an alternative? Whatever this Government does we can count on the fact that it will be inequitable. The Treasurer seriously considered a retail turnover tax and a value added tax on goods and services. That was predictable because consumer taxes basically are inequitable. But what is the Government doing to ease the personal income tax burden? How much longer will family trusts be allowed as a means whereby the rich escape their tax obligations? The average wage earner shoulders the brunt of tax responsibility. Ordinary people cannot afford the luxury of a tax haven offered by a family trust. As income splitting devices, such tax avoidance schemes save the wealthy perhaps $100m annually. If one takes the example of $50,000 being distributed to five beneficiaries in this way, the Treasury would receive a total tax of just in excess of $10,000. If the full amount were taxed as a single person’s income, the Treasury would have raised $22,470. So in the hypothetical exercise $12,245 in tax has been avoided. We know that this sort of tax avoidance is happening all the time. If the Government is serious about containing tax avoidance it will do something about the use of family trusts as income splitting devices.

The Prime Minister constantly misrepresents the position of the Opposition, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) and the shadow Treasurer, the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis), regarding the imposition of a capital gains tax. As the shadow Treasurer has said in this debate, we are the only Western industrialised nation which does not impose a tax on capital. The United States of America and the United Kingdom certainly raise revenue from such a tax. I understand that in the United Kingdom the first £5,000 of capital gains are subjected to tax at 50 per cent of the going rate and at the full rate thereafter. When one considers what was put forward by the Leader of the Opposition with regard to a threshold of $200,000 accumulated wealth before a tax can be applied to capital gains, one can see how very reasonable is his proposal in comparison with the situation which pertains overseas.

While I am speaking on this subject I might as well talk about a wealth tax, because 5 per cent of Australians own 46 per cent of accumulated wealth. Obviously, the Government is reneging on its responsibilities by avoiding the imposition of a resource rent tax on exploitation of our precious non-renewable energy resources. Such a tax could be implemented at an appropriate threshold level as a profit percentage against total investment and at a fixed level on profits thereafter. Perhaps coal is the perfect example of a resource in relation to which such a tax could be equitably imposed, but oil would be another important resource.

Let us examine quickly the reasons for the imposition of the Government’s oil import parity policy. It is said that that policy has been imposed for two reasons, namely, to conserve crude oil and to encourage further exploration. There is no real evidence to suggest that it has been over-successful in either of those two areas. Despite windfall profits of $300m this year to Esso-BHP- it is estimated that that company will receive $700m in 1981-82 and perhaps between $3,000m and $4,000m over the next six to eight years- it has allocated only $143m for exploration in our most promising area, namely, the Exmouth Gulf in Western Australia. It is time that we broke the nexus between the oil prices of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the price of domestic crude oil. Unless we do that Australian consumers will be paying the penalty. We should have a flexible oil price policy which provides for the imposition of a resource tax and perhaps the payment of direct rebates from the Federal Government to the oil companies for exploration actually undertaken. The Treasurer- let me refer to him as Fraser ‘s razor- is out to slash the incomes of wage and salary earners while the wealthy batten on tax avoidance, the use of family trusts and the absence of capital gains tax. We need a democratic tax system which serves the people and the nation, instead of a system devised by elitists to benefit the few to the disadvantage of the many.


-The honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) has aptly used the United Kingdom economy as an example of the tax scales that we ought to have in this country. I think that he ought to pay a visit to that country. Even better, perhaps he should talk to some of the people who come to this country from the United Kingdom to try to get away from that desperate economy. This matter of public importance was raised by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis). Apparently he has all the answers. I must admit that this is a change because on 30 June last year he said:

There is considerable uncertainty within the Party as to what course we should now adopt.

I do not know whether that uncertainty has now been resolved. There still seems to be some confusion in the ranks opposite as to exactly what are the proposals. He went on to say:

This -

That uncertainty- is a reflection not only of the disillusion that accompanies loss of government and electoral defeat but also of the recent realisation that economic issues are far more complex than seemed previously to be the case.

I wonder whether he has learned anything. If he has, I wish he would tell his leader because in a speech made in Canberra last week, on 15 March, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) came up with proposals which were the rehashed proposals which the Australian Labor Party tried to implement when it was in power. Those proposals did not work then and they will not work now. In that speech delivered on 15 March the Leader of the Opposition said:

A dollar of income is a dollar of income no matter how it is earned.

That is terribly reasonable, is it not? He does not say what sort of income that is or where it comes from or, in fact, how that income is to be treated. In that speech he called for a capital gains tax and he said:

We are proposing an exemption from the tax for gains on assets below $200,000.

In other words, if the Labor Party were elected to office it would have a capital gains tax but it would not tax gains from capital assets when those gains were below $200,000. I ask the Leader of the Opposition: Who will be taxed? If I have a farm which is worth $400,000 and I want to sell it will I sell it all in one year? No, I will split it up and sell it in two years.

Mr West:

– You misunderstand the proposal.


– It has never been explained. It is all very well to say that we are always misunderstanding these proposals but why does the honourable member not explain the current proposal for us? Honourable members opposite stand up in this chamber and tell us what the general proposal is, but they have never set the specifics of the proposals. Their leader does not know. Perhaps the honourable member for Cunningham has not read his speech delivered last week. In that speech he said:

Capital losses could perhaps be carried forward . . .

Will they or will they not be carried forward? The business community, Australian businessmen, want to know.

Mr Willis:

– You will find out before the next election.


– We will find out, will we? The honourable member says that we will not win the next election, he says that we will find out. But in the Age of 6 May 1 978 Mr Wran said:

I think we can forget the possibility of a national Labor Government for these two elections, say six or seven years.

He does not agree with Opposition members. Who does agree with them? They cannot agree on economic policy and they cannot even agree on whether they will win the election, and they will not. I will continue with what the Leader of the Opposition suggests. He suggests the imposition of a capital tax. He does not really know what it means. In his speech he went on to say:

To retreat would be to dump the interests of the ordinary people of Australia, to sell out on the average citizen . . .

What does that mean? I think he means that he wants a capital gains tax to be imposed and that he wants estate duty to be brought back. A report in the Australian on 1 1 May 1978 had this to say about estate duty:

An Opposition attempt to withdraw the Bill abolishing estate duty was defeated in the House of Representatives yesterday.

The Opposition clearly wants estate duty to be brought back. I remind honourable members that it was this Government that abolished Federal estate and gift duties. It abolished these duties on assets passing between spouses, between parents and children and between grandparents and grandchildren. The duties will be abolished altogether afer 1 July this year. Let me read again those words of the Leader of the Opposition:

To retreat would be to dump the interests of the ordinary people of Australia . . .

That is, to retreat from a capital gains tax and an estate duty tax. He is not the only person who is saying that. On 10 May 1978 the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) said in this place: . . the re-imposition of death duty, the introduction of a wealth tax or a combination of all these actions is something to be determined in the years ahead.

He is not quite sure what should be done. I am not quite sure for whom he is speaking. I think he is speaking for the Labor Party. But apparently it is to the advantage of everyone that these taxes be imposed. The Leader of the Opposition said that the Government is dumping the interests of the ordinary people by not imposing them. Let us look at some of the cases in relation to which these taxes do apply and see whether they are really in the interests of the ordinary citizen.

This year a person was killed in South Australia. South Australia is one of those Labor States which still imposes succession duty- the sort of thing a Federal Labor government wants to introduce. I wish to read from the Adelaide News of 7 March a front page article about one of these ordinary citizens whom the Labor Party does not want to hurt. The article stated:

A couple whose daughter was knifed to death by her husband face a bill of nearly $2,000 . . . to pay for her death duties.

For Sid and Joan Ellis, of Alberton, it is a bitter sequel to a night of horror when their daughter, Stephanie, died.

Her estate is valued at about $ 1 1 ,000.

The couple now have to pay $2,000 in death duties. The article continued:

We are not wealthy people and to us the money the State plans to take is a vast sum, ‘ Mr Ellis said today.

It may well be that since that time the Premier of South Australia, because of a State by-election, has tried to get the tax removed in this particular case. However, a tax of this sort will have this effect right throughout Australia. The Leader of the Opposition is saying: ‘estate tax will not hurt the ordinary citizen, we will not hurt those sort of people’, but such a tax does, and that is the whole point.

What about the other taxes that the Opposition would impose? In the speech to which I referred earlier the Leader of the Opposition said:

We will not retreat from our commitment to implement a resources rental tax.

Of course, the Opposition also wants to impose a petroleum revenue tax. The honourable member for Cunningham said that this would be a good thing. He also went on to say that nothing had happened under the energy policy that this Government has implemented and that there have been no benefits flowing from the tax concessions that the Government has given to the petroleum industry. The honourable member for Cunningham just does not know what is going on. He should get out of this place and take a look round the country. The removal of the tax has had the effect of increasing the exploration. I ask the honourable member for Cunningham: How many exploration wells were drilled in 1975 when his Party was in power? He says that the previous Labor Government was terrific and did all the right things. How many wells were drilled then? About one well was drilled. I ask the honourable member to tell me how many wells were drilled last year. Fifty-two wells were drilled last year. The honourable member has no idea how we are to meet our oil needs. It is estimated that between 83 and 140 wells will be drilled in 1979. It is anticipated that shortly there will be seven off-shore rigs operating in Australian waters, the highest number ever. Australia has an energy crisis, but what is the Leader of the Opposition saying? He has said:

If the rate of profitable return is higher than necessary to encourage risk investment then the developer should pay a rental charge for the additional benefit he derives from his monopoly rights.

At what rate would that be? How would we determine that profit rate? Who would fix the rate? We know what happened when the Labor Government talked of fixing such a rate, it scared all investment out of this country. Is that the way to resolve our energy crisis? Our self-sufficiency rate has increased under this Government and we look like being able to sustain our consumption levels for another three years because of the discoveries that have taken place under this Government.

It is not just in the general area that this Government has dramatically assisted the private sectors and the economy of Australia. The Government has also given real assistance to specific sectors such as the rural sector. The previous Government took away every incentive available to rural industry. The Labor Government did not want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg but it plucked the goose until it did not have a feather to fly with. In fact, the Labor Government then left it out in the cold until it nearly froze to death. The Labor Government took off the superphosphate bounty. We put it back on. The Labor Government abolished the fuel equalisation scheme. We brought it back. The Labor Government imposed an export meat inspection charge costing $25m. We took it off. We gave incentives to the farmers to produce. The Labor Government refused to extend unemployment benefit to primary producers. We extended unemployment benefit to those people. The Labor Government reduced -


-(Hon. Ian Robinson) - Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The discussion is concluded.

page 882


Second Reading

Debate resumed from 1 March, on motion by Mr Fife:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs · Farrer · LP

- Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill and the ministerial statement concerning the Prices Justification Tribunal as they are associated matters. Separate questions will, of course, be put on the Bill and the motion to take note of the paper at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of this Bill and the paper to be discussed in this debate.


-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering these matters? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.


-The House is debating cognately the Prices Justification Amendment Bill 1979 and a ministerial statement concerning the Prices Justification Tribunal. The Bill, to which I will be applying most of my attention, further emasculates the Prices Justification Tribunal and renders it even more impotent than it is now. The Tribunal is impotent now mainly because of the alterations already made to its structure by the Fraser Government. The Opposition is not only totally out of sympathy with some of the major effects of this Bill- I shall talk more about that later- but also will go further and seek to decline to give the Bill a second reading in this House. In other words, I shall be moving an amendment to that effect later in my speech.

As it is some weeks since the Bill was introduced, let me go over the aim of the Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to put into effect the Government’s decision to make the changes to the operations of the Prices Justification Tribunal that were announced on 18 October last. The stated aim of the Bill is to modify- I pause there because ‘modify’ is a very modest and inaccurate word; I would say ‘emasculate’ would be more appropriate- the operations of the PJT so as to have three effects. The first effect is substantially to reduce the cost to businesses of servicing its regulatory requirements. I pause to say that the Opposition believes that is a good aim but there are other ways of achieving that aim. There are ways other than those that are contained in this Bill. The second aim is to ensure that the PJT’s operations are within the framework of government policy. The legislation does no such thing. I assert and I will show that it hinders some of the stated aims of the Government. The third aim of the Bill is to improve the capacity of the PJT to inquire into prices that need to be examined. We would welcome the achieving of this aim if this were the true position. But, of course, the achieving of this aim should have been sought in a way other than by this legislation, which will lead to the emasculation of the PJT.

Let me say something about the nature of the amendments which are contained in the legislation. The cost cutting goal- the first of the aims- is to be achieved by those amendments which repeal the requirement which makes it mandatory for prescribed companies, which are generally those with an annual turnover exceeding $30m, to notify the Tribunal of proposed price increases. No longer are these companies obliged to notify the Tribunal. Amendments relating to the first aim restrict the notification of proposed price increases in the future to those companies which have been subject to an inquiry, and then only where the PJT decides that it is warranted and only for a maximum period of 12 months. The amendments also seek to reduce the costs in theory by instituting a pre-inquiry procedure which ‘will allow the PJT to obtain basic information about the company or industry concerned without using the public hearing for this purpose and, in certain circumstances, may establish that a public inquiry is not necessary’. Further, under the first aim, there are amendments which provide the Tribunal with discretion to allow an interim price increase to companies under inquiry, since prices are frozen until the Tribunal presents its findings at present, and strengthen the confidentiality provisions so that the Tribunal can only disclose information which it deems to be in the public interest. All those amendments weaken the prices justification system still further and lead me to the charge, which I repeat, that it is even more impotent than it was.

In relation to the second goal, the coordinating goal, we have amendments seeking to achieve this by, firstly, making the decision to proceed with an inquiry subject to ministerial approval; secondly, allowing the Minister to set time limits for Tribunal-initiated inquiries; and thirdly, making provision for the Minister to issue general directives to the Tribunal. The third aim- which I call the functions broadening goal- is achieved by those amendments which, firstly, broaden the Tribunal’s function to cover inquiries other than just prices justification inquiries and, secondly, better equip the Tribunal to conduct inquiries into pricing practices within industries as distinct from within companies. So much for the aims.

Let me elaborate on the Opposition ‘s attitude. The Opposition is vigorously opposed to this Bill because we recognise that the amendments represent the final nail in the coffin of the Tribunal and that we are witnessing its de facto abolition in this Bill. To explain this position I need to give some background by setting out the original nature of the Tribunal’s operations, by outlining the rationale for a PJT body, by surveying this Government’s history of what I call malign neglect of the Tribunal’s role and, lastly, by establishing the destructive effects of these major amendments of which I have reminded the House. For the record and for the sake of comparisons, let me remind the House of what the Prices Justification Tribunal was formed to do under Labor in the period from 1973 to 1975. The PJT was established, I remind the House, on 1 August 1973. The requirements of the original Prices Justification Act apply to all companies whose turnover in Australia in the previous 12 months exceeded $20m. They were required to notify the PJT if they intended to supply goods or services at a price higher than the price at which they were supplied during the preceding month. Companies were also required to notify the PJT of the price of any new goods or services not previously supplied by these companies. The penalty for not notifying the Tribunal of these changes was set at $10,000. There were amendments to the Act in 1974 during the period of the Labor Government and these gave the PJT power to inquire into and report on the prices charged by any companies, irrespective of turnover, so enabling inquiry into both retail prices and the prices of imported goods.

Another feature under Labor was that upon receiving notification of a proposed price increase the PJT had 2 1 days to decide whether the notified price seemed justified. The procedure as amended in those 1 974 amendments to which I have referred was then for the PJT to notify the company of any lower price it considered justified. The company then had seven days to inform the Tribunal whether it accepted the lower price or preferred to proceed to a public inquiry. Another feature was that if the PJT did not notify the company of a decision in the allotted time or if it notified it that no further inquiries were needed, the new prices could operate. If further inquiries were necessary before the decision was made on the justification of the new prices, the prices were required to remain at the previous level until after the inquiry and until after the publication of the report. A penalty of $ 10,000 was laid down in the event of this provision not being fulfilled. I have a final few points about the Tribunal. In the days when it was effective and meant something, if a public inquiry were held a report had to be sent to the Minister within four months of the notice of public inquiry being served on the company and the Minister had up to 14 days to consider the report. The company had a further two weeks to advise the Minister of the price at which it intended to supply the goods or services. Furthermore, there was no compulsion on the companies to accept the Tribunal’s findings. That was the position.

Now let me remind the House of why that was the position. What was the rationale for a prices justification policy? The major reason for the establishment of the Tribunal falls under three headings: Firstly, an effective PJT was seen as an essential ingredient in any wage-prices package or anti-inflationary policy. The acceptance of indexation by the trade union movement of this country had been premised on the understanding that a body such as the PJT effectively placed companies in a position of public accountability which paralleled unions’ requirements to justify their members’ wage levels before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Thus effective prices justification policies were deemed necessary not just because they might make some independent contribution to the containment of inflation but also because wages policies were unlikely to be accepted- in fact they just would not have been accepted at that time- if prices policies did not exist. The trade unions are unlikely now to accept that their wages should be determined in significant part by arbitration while firms are free to set prices without reference to any public authority.

The second heading for the rationale is that irrespective of the rate of inflation it was accepted that governments must pursue policies designed to safeguard against possible abuses of market power. However, trade practices legislation cannot be used to eliminate market power entirely, especially in the relatively small, isolated and dispersed Australian market conditions where economies of scale are possible in many industries only if production is concentrated in the hands of a few firms possessing appreciable market power. The position might be quite different in the United States of America, for instance, with its enormous market of over 200 million people. In that country there need not be a monopolistic or oligopolistic situation where there are one or perhaps two or three companies in a particular field. Here it is justified on the grounds that we need economies of scale but that justifies even more the need for a public authority to scrutinise what those people in those monopolistic and oligopolistic positions are doing. Whilst the existence of some degree of market power would be a fact of life, a PJT body is required to perform the role of an economic watchdog by exercising surveillance over prices and by preventing possible abuses by companies possessing market power. If there were true competition, I repeat, there would be less rationale for this particular body, but in so many cases in this country there is not true and effective competition and, therefore, there is such a need. The third reason I give under this heading of the rationale is that there was growing public pressure- and there still is that pressure- for large corporations to be socially answerable for their actions in most fields, including the prices field. It was felt that a body such as the PJT could and should provide greater public awareness and knowledge of the workings of the economic system. They are the three points which go to make up this rationale.

The strength of these arguments for a prices justification body is as powerful if not more powerful today than in the early 1970s. There are a number of reasons for this and I want to include some of them. Firstly, inflationary forces are on the increase at this time. Food prices rose by more than 12 per cent during the last year. The prices of electrical installation materials increased by 16 per cent. Materials used in manufacturing now cost 22 per cent more than they did a year ago. Those are just some of the facts relating to the pressures of inflation right now. Secondly, corporate profits are booming. An Australian Financial Review survey of 200 listed companies has shown that 76 of them reported profit rises of more than 25 per cent. Thirdly, market power will increase in many segments of industry as mergers take place. We read in the business pages of each of our newspapers that they are taking place now as industry rationalises and adjusts to become more competitive internationally. Of course, this has been argued by the Crawford Study Group on Structural Adjustment and in other areas as being something good. Lastly, importance is placed upon the social responsibility of firms during a period of adaptation and change to the new structural and technological circumstances of the 1980s. While there is this growing market power there is even more reason why we should have bodies like the PJT as watchdogs for the community over that market power in the private sector. On the face of it, even the Fraser Government appears to accept the persuasiveness of these arguments for a prices justification body. To be more accurate, perhaps I should have said that it pays lip service to that idea. The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife), in his October statement, grandstanded in this way:

The Government has decided to retain the PJT.

In his second reading speech he stated that the Government wished both to ‘ensure adequate surveillance of prices and improve the capacity of the PJT to inquire into prices that need to be examined.’ They are the words but they are not matched by deeds. This was the lip service. If only the real intentions fitted the words we would have cause for less alarm than I have and which I express now.

However, let us look at the deeds. A survey of the Government’s record in dealing with the PJT and a closer look at the effects of the amendments contained in this Bill expose this stance, this window dressing of the Minister, for what it is. I sum it up as a cynical, calculated attempt to retain the shell of a body ‘serving a valuable industrial relations role’- those are the words of the Minister to a recent meeting with businessmen- while effectively destroying any positive contribution which such a body could play in the fight against inflation and in the fight against the abuse of market power. Working people in this country are not as gullible as the Minister or the members of the Government would wish. They realise that the amendments in this Bill which are now being debated put the final nail in the coffin of an effective prices justification body. They realise that prices in Australia no longer will be subject to any effective public scrutiny. The wage earners will be expected to bear the brunt of this Government’s anti-inflationary policies.

The Opposition’s conclusion that this Bill represents the de facto abolition of the PJT is the combined result of a number of points. Firstly, there is an appreciation of the Government’s attitude towards the PJT, as I have indicated to the House, and secondly, there is an understanding of the destructive effects of the major amendments in this Bill. It is for those reasons that I wish to move this amendment on behalf of the Opposition.

That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: the House declines to give the Bill a second reading as it is of opinion that-

  1. 1 ) by abolishing the requirement for notification of prospective price rises it represents the final destruction of the Tribunal’s ability to fulfil its original function of ensuring that unjustified price rises are not imposed on the community;
  2. it is contrary to the Government’s supposed basic objective of reducing inflation and is especially inappropriate at a time when inflation is gathering pace;
  3. ) the introduction of such legislation at a time when the Government is continuously emphasising the need to prevent wage increases, and is currently seeking means to more effectively implement that policy, demonstrates utter insensitivity and naivety in regard to industrial relations and total disregard of equity; and
  4. 4 ) by greatly increasing the power of the Minister to direct and restrict the Tribunal, it destroys its independence and renders the Tribunal subject to considerable political influence and control in its day to day operations’.

I now wish to say more about the attitude of the Government to the PJT. Following a muchpublicised promise by the Liberal Party and the National Country Party when in opposition to abolish the Tribunal, the attitude of the Government can only be described as a series of deliberate attempts to wind down the full time continous prices justification role of the Tribunal. I wish to consider the following actions- I refer to them as a seedy list of reprehensible actionswhich this Government has undertaken in its three years in power. Firstly, there were the 1976 amendments to the Act which substantially modified the nature of the Tribunal’s role and considerably reduced the number of firms subject to the surveillance of the Tribunal. Next, there were the staff cuts, with the average number of persons employed by the Tribunal falling from 138 in 1975-76 to 1 19 in 1976-77, to 107 in 1977-78.I am informed that the number employed on 30 June last was down to 99. There is then the failure to appoint a permanent chairman until last week or the week before last following the resignation of Mr Justice Williams. The appointment of Mr Colin Conron came 16 months after the resignation of Mr Justice Williams. There was then the continued uncertainty over the future location of the Tribunal; was it to be Melbourne or Canberra? What does that do for morale? There is then the undermining of the morale of Tribunal members and staff in another way- by repeated PJT bashing in ministerial statements. For example, on his first day as Minister, on 1 August 1976, the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, acting on Cabinet instructions and following lobbying by media interests and by Colgate-Palmolive Pty Ltd, in the middle of a PJT inquiry sent a telegram purporting to instruct the Tribunal to abandon the central issue of that inquiry; namely, whether that company’s high advertising costs justified its prices. This was a blatant and intimidatory attempt to interfere in the conduct of that inquiry. I know how central that issue was to that inquiry. As a former chairman of the Joint Committee on Prices during the period 1973 to 1975 I realised, after an inquiry by that Committee into the soaps and detergents industries, how to such a great extent advertising is wasted and adds to the cost to the consumer.

I wish to add to this seedy list by referring to the Government’s silence over the Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort Ltd challenge over woolbroking charges last year. For the first time in the history of the PJT a firm- in this case Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort- failed to comply with the findings of a PJT inquiry. For a long time Australian woolgrowing organisations have been discontented at the inefficient and inequitable charges levied on them and their members, the farmers and woolgrowers of this country, by woolbrokers. Despite the clear recommendation of the Tribunal, the Minister has done nothing to try to get Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort to lower its charges. In fact, it has been encouraged not to do so. Last in this seedy list is the Government’s failure to reappoint Mr Michael Long as a full time member of the Tribunal. That is a not too subtle warning to other members whose time for reappointment is approaching. Not coincidentally, Mr Long was the member in charge of the inquiries into the prices charged by both Colgate-Palmolive and Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort.

I now come to the effect of these amendments. The amendments contained in this Bill clearly represent another, perhaps final, step in the Government’s deliberate plans to wind down the full-time, continuous price monitoring role of the Tribunal. Consider the effects of the three main amendments. The effects of the decision to drop the requirements for prior notification will be significant. Effective prices justification is not possible if there is no requirement to notify the Tribunal of intended price rises. The Tribunal is left driving blind. No mechanism is left for the effective monitoring of price increases before and as they happen. It is misleading for the Minister to argue that the Tribunal ‘is well equipped to carry out an on-going price surveillance role’. Another point in relation to this is that the prior notification process is- or was, if this Bill is passed- an important form of discipline on firms by forcing them to consider whether their price increases are in the public interest and can be justified. It has a great moral effect on them. It makes firms ask themselves whether they are acting responsibly in setting prices. In addition, prior notification enables the PJT to detect and usually stop many unjustified price rises. An examination of the PJTs annual report indicates a high rate of amendment by firms of proposed price rises- in most years in over 10 per cent of notificationsfollowing PJT consideration of their prices.

Another point is that the implication is that firms can charge unjustified prices first and that only later can action be taken. It will not be much consolation for customers who are overcharged to learn that an inquiry is to be held into the firm concerned, as those customers will not get a refund of the extra prices they were charged and paid in the meantime. If companies implement price increases prior to the Prices Justification Tribunal making a decision which recommends a lower price than the implemented price rise, it creates the problem of rolling back prices. The prices have already been increased; how difficult it would be to roll them back.

The rolling back of price rises creates enormous problems for the company concerned and its customers. Additional and unnecessary accounting and administration costs are involved, which add to cost structures and the inflation rate. Further, in cases in which a company’s customers are retailers to the public and are outside public price scrutiny, there is no guarantee that the retailers will roll back the retail price accordingly. The extent to which this occurs will unnecessarily add to inflation. The poor old customers- the ordinary Australians- are not being served properly by this Government by measures such as this. They are the mugs who are hit to leg because the Government is watering down the prices justification regime in this country.

Another point about the effects of these amendments is that the PJT was established and has remained in existence, in part, to demonstrate that companies must publicly justify price increases to the public, just as wage and salary earners must justify wage and salary increases before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. I mentioned that point earlier. The ability of companies to increase prices prior to or during PJT scrutiny is inconsistent with the procedures of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Union wage claims are not implemented pending Commission consideration; nor should company price increases be implemented prior to those price increases being justified.

Finally, I make the point that the Minister claimed that the additional cost incurred by companies in notifying the Tribunal of intended price increases is sufficient justification for removing the notification requirement. However, by now companies have organised their accounting and confidential records to provide the required background information for the Tribunal. So I assert that the additional cost incurred in providing information for future notifications is minimal. Further, if companies are pricing efficiently, the required information should be produced and available to the company. If none of those points relating to the cost to the company applies- if they are not valid- I assert that there are other ways of cutting the costs to business of essential notification. I assert also that the Australian Labor Party is hell bent on ensuring that those costs to business are reduced. Those costs, if not reduced, end up in higher prices. We want those unnecessary costs to be reduced. But other procedures could be followed. One would be to standardise the information requirements of the various government agencies. We have plans to see that this happens when we take over the government of this country shortly.

In summary, the amendments removing prior notification effectively will cripple the Tribunal’s role as a prices justification body. I believe that there can be no denying this. The effects of the decision to increase ministerial supervision of the PJT’s operations will further limit the independence and effectiveness of the Tribunal. This means that the Tribunal’s future activity will be increasingly politicised. Not only is the Minister given the right to make the final decision on whether to go ahead with an inquiry but also, firstly, he is not required to give his reasons for not giving approval to go ahead to the public inquiry stage and, secondly, he has the power to issue directives to the Tribunal about any matter to which he wishes the Tribunal to give special consideration. The Minister’s power in this field is unlimited and it is sinister that this is so. The Minister is likely to use those powers in a onesided manner, as happened in the ColgatePalmolive Pty Ltd case, in which the Minister said that advertising costs should not be looked at but that wage costs should be looked at.

The effect of the decision to give more emphasis to price inquiries than to prices justification inquiries must be treated with a good deal of suspicion. Again, the powers of the Minister are unlimited. We may see him directing the Tribunal to establish the level of prices which would be charged if, say, workers were paid at only award rates or if workers did not receive penalty rates. The potential for abuse of the PJT and the potential for undermining its independent position, upon which its reputation depends, is unlimited. I have indicated that the Labor Party would wish to make some reforms to the PJT but now that the PJT has been emasculated we cannot talk about just reforms; we have to talk about reasserting the position of the PJT, reforming the PJT so that we will have adequate price surveillance in this country. I would have liked to have said more but my time has expired.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. Is the amendment seconded?

Mr West:

-We are engaged in a cognate debate embracing both the ministerial statement on the Prices Justification Tribunal of 18 October last year and the Prices Justification Tribunal Amendment Bill. Towards the end of this debate a Minister will move that the Prices Justification Amendment Bill be referred to a legislation committee. Under those circumstances, I do not intend to take up a lot of the time of the House in debating the Bill now. We will have another go at it- if I may use that term- in the legislation committee stage and, subsequent to those considerations, we will be able to make further comment on the Bill in this House. But I make one or two points which I think it is appropriate for me to make. When certain people- for example, members of the Opposition- criticise the Prices Justification Amendment Bill, one ought not to allow that criticism to be made without looking at the history of the people or the party making the criticism. It is only fair that this should be done. I want to go over the history of the Prices Justification Tribunal for a few minutes. I do not want to talk for more than 10 minutes.

The Prices Justification Act was brought into operation in 1973. After that it went through a number of turbulent periods, especially under the Labor Government. The course of the considerations and decisions of the Prices Justification Tribunal was changed very radically indeed. Therefore, when honourable members opposite come into this House and say that they want stability with respect to the Tribunal, that they want certainty as to its decisions and that they want little alteration to what has applied in the past I ask those honourable members to look a little further into the past than one or two years ago. I ask them to look at what happened under their Administration. The Prices Justification Bill was brought into this House with enormous fanfare. It was to be the principal means whereby the inflation rate and the price increase part of the inflation rate were to be determined. Encouraged by that, the Tribunal operated in a particular way until the end of 1974. So those honourable members who criticise the Tribunal ought to face up to certain facts about what happened in the past. They see only virtue in forgetting the past and only give advice when looking at the future.

To illustrate this point, I divide the operation of the Tribunal into two periods. I think it is appropriate for me to do so. The first I call the vindictive period, which extended from the inception of the Tribunal to the end of 1 974. It was the time during which any price increase proposed by a corporation was to be bashed down. All proposed increases were considered to be unjustified. Recollect the concern that spread around the country. The Tribunal said: Tariffs have been cut by 25 per cent. Wage costs went up enormously during the 1973-74 year. Therefore we want to see those reduced trade barrier costs transmitted into prices. There was a very significant and very successful attempt to bash industry with regard to legitimate price rises. But what was forgotten all the time was simply that the Prices Justification Tribunal only ever applied its concern to a portion of the Australian economic system. It applied itself to corporations. Partnerships and unincorporated enterprises were not involved. State enterprises were not involved. The cost of money was not involved. Interest rates were not involved during that period. Statutory corporations were not involved with respect to their price rises.

It has to be acknowledged that during the first 18 months the Tribunal’s operation was very largely a propaganda exercise. It was a propaganda exercise that was totally inappropriate because industry was winding down; it had lost all confidence. Jobs were being lost at the greatest rate that they had ever been lost, except during the 1944-45 period. So that was the method of operation of the Prices Justification Tribunal during its first 18 months. Those who now criticise the Government did not raise a whimper, did not say a word during that time. It was propaganda, and when I think of propaganda I can think only of Kingsley Martin’s definition that you cannot propagate propaganda unless you have the proper geese. That was the way in which the Australian electorate was looked at then and the propaganda was the so-called virtues of the Prices Justification Tribunal. Then what happened? Things went down, so towards the end of 1974 the Prime Minister at the time wrote to the Tribunal and asked it basically to reverse its processes. It had made a mistake. It is much easier to wreck than to build up, so the Government asked the Tribunal to take into account profitability, et cetera. From the end of 1974, on the advice of the Prime Minister, the Tribunal abruptly changed course. What stability do we see in that arrangement? What stability do we see in that set of circumstances? People come here and say that the notification procedure has been altered, that notifications do not have to be made in the same quantum as before, and that that is an enormous change. I ask them to look back a few years to the far more significant changes which resulted from the uncertainty that prevailed during the first years of operation of the Prices Justification Tribunal. We had the vindictive period and then the repentant period of the Tribunal’s operation.

Let me deal with one other point, that is, the argument with respect to wages. It is said that because an Arbitration Commission adjudicates on wages, ipso facto it is appropriate that a Prices Justification Tribunal adjudicates on prices. In relation to that argument, as stated by the then Government in July 1973, one should know that trade barriers and the re-allocation of resources in industry have a far greater effect on prices than does an attempt at prices justification or price control. That has always been the case. Let me state the argument again: The Arbitration Commission deals with wages, therefore a Prices Justification Tribunal has to deal with prices. There is just one error in that proposition. When an Arbitration Commission or a State commission adjudicates on wages it guarantees that every person in employment will have wages of a certain size, that it will be illegal for those wages to be below a certain size, no matter to what award or wage they apply. But when a Prices Justification Tribunal adjudicates with respect to prices there is no guarantee as to profitability. There is no guarantee that a firm is going to continue in operation. There is no guarantee that that firm will not go out of business.

To try to make the equation that the Arbitration Commission considers wages, therefore a Prices Justification Tribunal has to consider prices, is to forget the nature of the Australian economy with which we deal, to forget that there is no equation in that kind of argument. Those who propose that kind of argument have been caught up in some of their own propaganda. Wages do have an effect on costs. That is one of the factors that has an effect on costs, and an Arbitration Commission gives guarantees as to wages. In that regard, one has to look only at the migration of the textile industry throughout the world, and this is the unstated assumption of the Opposition’s argument which it dare not face. The textile industry throughout the world is in the process of migrating from countries which have low costs to countries which have lower costs. Japan built up her surpluses through the textile industry but her pre-eminence is in the process of being taken over by Korea and Taiwan. As those countries build up their surpluses and their costs rise, they are in the process of being taken over by the Philippines and Thailand. I have no doubt that as they build up their surpluses the industry will migrate further to southern India. That fact, which is an unstated assumption of what we talk about in terms of the Arbitration Commission and the Prices Justification Tribunal, ought to be examined by those who criticise the present procedures.

I merely want to mention one or two points made by the Minister, and I will be exploring these in the legislation committee. The Tribunal is going to be able to engage in public inquiry measures of a wider nature than it does now. The other principal provision of this Bill relates to the alteration of” the notification process. At page 3 of the Minister’s second reading speech he said:

Arising from its surveillance of prices, the PJT will be able, at any time, to recommend a public inquiry into any company or group of companies.

That also means that consumers can write in and request an inquiry. It means that a request for an inquiry can come from this place. When I look at the number of motions on the Notice Paper, I cannot be persuaded that members of parliament will be reluctant to indicate that there ought to be an inquiry into a particular company or group of companies. So those procedures can continue, but perhaps in a rather more orderly manner. In this process a pre-inquiry procedure will be established in respect of prices justification inquiries when they are initiated by the Prices Justification Tribunal. This pre-inquiry process itself can be a virtue because the process has to be notified in the Gazette. Under proposed clause 10 of the Bill, investigations have to be made as to the circumstances of a pre-inquiry process and, after due investigation, that process can either proceed or be stopped short. That is the advantage that can occur in the circumstances. The motor vehicle spare parts inquiry went on for about six months and caused a lot of hurt in the industry. Some of it was justified; a lot of it was unjustified. The terms of reference were widened by the Minister at the time, and I understand that the New South Wales Government is continuing with an inquiry relating to the motor vehicle spare parts industry.

This process is a sensible one. It enables the Prices Justification Tribunal to take an initial look. In terms of the processes, the House of Representatives Committee on Expenditure, which is the only committee that has a continuing role in this respect, adopts the same principle. If we want to look at a particular aspect of government activity for which expenditure is appropriate, we examine and evaluate it for some months and then decide whether or not to proceed further. There have been cases in which you have been involved, Mr Deputy Speaker, when after an initial long examination period it was decided not to proceed further with an inquiry. This is a commonsense procedure which I hope the House will have the good sense to applaud. I turn now to page 5 of the Minister’s speech, and I ask him to clarify this point:

A provision is included in the Bill to allow the Minister to issue general directions to the PJT as to any matter which should be given special consideration by it in the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers. This provision will ensure that, notwithstanding its statutory independence to arrive at its own findings in particular cases, the Tribunal’s operations will be placed within the framework of Government policy.

I merely ask the Minister what he really means by that. What Government policies does he have in mind? I am not disputing that there are appropriate circumstances.

Mr West:

– A good question.


-It is a fair question to ask, and it would be answered very fairly too. A set of particular economic circumstances may be developing with a calculated rate of growth of demand in an industry which would cause an inquiry to be altered. Tariff processes may be developed at a particular time. There may be exchange rate alterations on which a Minister could not indicate his intentions but which might cause the Government to consider that an appropriate inquiry ought not to proceed. It is unfair to suggest, as has been suggested, that that power and the other power of the Minister means that the Government would engage in carpetbagging or logrolling. I am not suggesting anything of that kind. But I hope the Minister can elucidate the general circumstances under which the framework of Government policy would be judged in relation to an inquiry by the Prices Justification Tribunal. There is one other point to which I refer and it is found in the second reading speech of the Minister. It states:

In this regard the PJT will undertake a program of inquiries into prices within industries which are major component groups of the consumer price index or which have a significant impact upon the level of prices in other industries.

Will the Minister explain what he means by that? I could give some examples but I know that they would not be appropriate. One recollects that in the past when some State governments utilised price control powers very widely, they often kept the prices of particular items down so that an automatic cost of living adjustment in terms of wages would not occur. That was when the old C series index had far less items in it than has the consumer price index at present. It was in the days when potatoes, meat and onions were of far greater weight in that index than they would be in the consumer price index. Will the Minister indicate what he has in mind in this respect? It would be appropriate to do so in order to alleviate the difficulties of those who depend on inflationary indices to determine what is happening with respect to the Australian economy.

I have spoken longer than I intended. Further details can be explored in the legislation committee hearing. The Prices Justification Tribunal ought to be used wisely. It can help industry and if industry has to be resuscitated to develop as quickly as possible so as to have a pulling effect on employment, then the PJT in this form may be a small price to pay in order to have a greater rate of growth of demand for labour. Above all we ought not to return to the previous days in which the Prices Justification Tribunal was used as a rapier to both lacerate, scarify and unnecessarily hurt the corporate sector of the economy. It is important and it needs to be important. But above all one cannot make a judgment upon what these proposals are now without remembering the incredible about-change which occurred during the initial years of the operation of the Prices Justification Tribunal.


-This is legislation to extract the last remaining teeth of the Prices Justification Tribunal. After flirting with the idea of abolition, the Government, in the words of our amendment: ‘Seeks to direct and restrict the Tribunal, destroy its independence and render it subject to governmental influence and control’. Rarely has a Minister’s second reading speech been so blatant in obscuring the Government’s real intentions under such an effusion of euphemistic generalities. The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) said that the Bill would ensure adequate surveillance of prices and improve the capacity of the PJT to inquire into prices that need to be examined. I cannot see how this is so. The previous legislation was ineffective enough as it was. In 1973 and 1974, 87 per cent of the total number of notices of proposed price increases were approved without public inquiry, and only 10.9 per cent were approved at a lower price than originally notified. In 1975-76 these percentages were 84.9 per cent and 9.4 per cent respectively.

The original Act was passed in 1973 by the Federal Labor Party Government which was then concerned with checking inflation resulting from exorbitant profiteering and price increases. It was felt that a Prices Justification Tribunal, backed by power of public inquiry, could successfully reduce unwarranted price increases. A secondary reason was the possibility of forcing less efficient firms to improve production processes, as an alternative to simply raising prices as a means of retaining their profit levels. Let me relate the powers then given to the Tribunal. Companies with a turnover in excess of $20m a year were obliged to notify the Tribunal of intended price increases. There was a penalty of $10,000 for failure to do so. The PJT could then accept the increase, recommend a lower increase, or opt for a public inquiry. The inquiry was to be conducted within three months and a further two weeks was allowed for Ministerial consideration of the findings. Although there was no compulsion to abide by the PJT decision, surprisingly there was little if any evidence that the companies involved ever flouted the decisions.

Let us now look at what the Minister blandly proposes in his misleading statement that the powers of the PJT will be broadened and strengthened. No longer will companies be required to notify the Tribunal of intended price increases. Notification will be limited to those who have been subjected to a public inquiry and then only for the next 12 months after that inquiry. The Tribunal apparently is to be permitted to initiate inquiries based on its own surveillance. But there is a Catch 22 situation whereby a consultative process involving the Tribunal and the companies concerned must take place first to decide whether such an inquiry is necessary. If the PJT decides to proceed to inquiry it must first seek approval of” the Federal Minister. Further, the Minister can determine the time for completion of such an inquiry. Confidentiality provisions, in the words of the Minister: ‘Will be tightened to protect the competitive position of companies under review’. All of this is aimed at protecting companies from public scrutiny. What about protecting the public from unwarranted price increases?

The effect of all this is to make the PJT a creature of the Fraser Government and, to some extent, of the companies also. The effect, firstly, of a company not being required to give prior notification of price increases; secondly, of the Tribunal being compelled to indulge in a consultative process; and, thirdly, of the need for Ministerial approval before an inquiry commences, places the Tribunal in a much weaker position than before. Once a company decides to increase prices, the Tribunal is on the defensive right from the start. Any action it subsequently takes must be justified. This would be after the horse has bolted. The Tribunal is in the impossible position of having to justify intervention to prevent price increases which are an accomplished fact. So we see the following Gilbertian scenario developing. Let us imagine that petrol refineries increase their prices, and the Tribunal considers that those increases may be unwarranted. The Tribunal then undergoes a consultative inquiry with the petrol companies. It then goes to the Minister for approval. Given the present need to pass on Federal Government instigated price increases for crude oil, such approval probably would not be forthcoming.

If we ever got to a public inquiry into a heavy price increase for a major commodity, companies could then tender evidence and claim confidentiality. The Tribunal again is on the defensive if it wishes to make public any argument posed by the companies, an argument that might be entirely specious. This charade must be extremely gratifying to companies which have already raised prices or which intend to do so in future. It certainly prevents any full public scrutiny of a company’s marketing and pricing operations unless a PJT inquiry is decided on and approved by the Minister.

Even then the confidentiality clauses may be invoked by the company and of course the Minister retains overall power. He can prevent any inquiry by withholding approval. He can limit the inquiry by deciding the time limits. There is also provision for the Minister to issue general directions to the PJT regarding matters to which it should give special consideration. So the Tribunal does become a creature of the Government. It becomes servile to the Government’s policies. The Tribunal loses its statutory independence. It cannot call major companies to public accountability. It loses any bite it may once have had. Its emasculation is complete. It retains purely an independent surveillance function. It is there in name only; a powerless symbol of what might have been.

One reason for this legislation compounds the bias the Government shows against trade unionists. It relates to companies which agree to improve wage and conditions outside the so-called Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission guidelines. I said that the Minister will have power to instruct the Tribunal to investigate firms’ pricing structures at his own discretion. Perhaps the Minister sees the threat of such a government-instigated inquiry as a secondary offensive instrument against trade unions which have successfully negotiated wage agreements. By this means will the Government attempt to achieve outside the Commission what its own ineffective economic arguments have failed to achieve within the Commission?

Another reason that the Government has not abolished the Tribunal is that it wishes to retain the illusion of price control so that it can justify its further savage attacks on wages. The Government’s equation for economic recovery- that is, wage cuts equals lower inflation, higher profits, more investment and ultimately more jobs- is a fallacy. Reductions in real wages have certainly taken place. The national average wage is about $25 a week less than it would have been if the 1975 promise by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) not to interfere with wage indexation had been fulfilled. Even that repository of economic wisdom, the Australian Financial Review, which has consistently advocated wage cuts, now admits that productivity over the last couple of years has increased quite rapidly and that any real labour cost overhang has been eliminated. I remember easily illustrating in this place last year that the Treasury assertions regarding a 5 per cent wage overhang were not sustainable. At least we have now disposed of that economic nonsense. But we can still expect this Government to oppose any flow-on of the 4.3 per cent increase in the consumer price index to the last half of 1978.

Real wages are certainly well down and profitability is rising. Look at the profits of the petrol and oil companies. Have a look at Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Limited with its $ 1 6 1 m profit for the last half year. Why then is the Government still attacking justifiable wage increases while simultaneously removing all semblance of effective mechanism against rising prices? How long must we wait before the other half of the Prime Minister’s equation is proven? That is, when will the unemployment figures start to fall? If ever Australia regains full employment it will not depend upon attacking wage increases required to compensate for spiralling prices. It will depend upon national acceptance of a wages and prices policy which is acknowledged to be necessary to protect the living standards and consumer power. Perhaps this can be best achieved by simple quarterly adjustments of the full CPI increases to at least a ceiling of the national average wage. But full employment will also depend upon the restructuring of national tax policies required to redistribute income and to ensure revenue is available to expand public sector activity. Recovery will also certainly depend upon adequate price restraint to protect purchasing power from dissipating into the bottomless vortex of increasing prices.

Despite Government claims to the contrary, prices and inflation are escalating once again. The December CPI index of 2.3 per cent was higher than expected, which meant that inflation was 4.3 per cent for the last six months of 1978. The latest news is that prices of manufactured goods are surging ahead. Food prices in January showed the highest monthly increase for 18 months. It is certain that the CPI figure for the March quarter will approach or exceed the 2.3 per cent registered for the December quarter. Not only is inflation jammed at an annual rate of 8 per cent plus but it could very well be higher during 1979. Now is the time to streamline the PJT procedures and to strengthen its powers. The present Government’s attacks on the Tribunal are most inappropriate in the present economic climate.

It may be that by encouraging exorbitant profitability in some business areas the Government is encouraging the replacement of existing labour with expensive new technology to produce products for an export market- a market that could be somewhat less that expected. It may be that the jobs so lost will be a permanent minus in the overall domestic consumption scene. This is not an argument against modernisation of industry or the principles of export incentives and long term controlled reductions in tariffs on selected imports as advocated in the Crawford report. But it is a warning against allowing some industries to force Australian consumers to pay for their industrial restructuring via heavy increases in domestic prices. Lower wages and higher prices will mean lower living standards and increased industrial turmoil. This will be the price of the Government’s wages and prices policy.

The PJT has been subjected to criticism from industry and the present Government. It is alleged that the PJT often operates in a vacuum without clear guidlines or purpose and that it often duplicates, contradicts or impinges on the activities of the other economic regulatory authorities, that is, the Trade Practices Commission or the Industries Assistance Commission. This may or may not be so because this Government has produced no evidence either way. In support of the legislation the Government simply tells us that the Tribunal is deficient and it canvasses no options other than to emasculate and destroy it. There is a case for reform, amalgamation with the IAC or the Trade Practices Commission or perhaps the integration of all three. The role envisaged for the PJT was obviously to protect the consumer public from price exploitation by producers of goods and services. The Trade Practices Commission had even wider jurisdiction in protecting the community from restrictive trade practices, excessive monopolisation and undesirable company mergers, resale price maintenance and price discrimination by producers and wholesalers against retailers. The main role of the IAC is obviously to determine what levels of tariffs and imports are in the national interest.

There is much valid criticism of the way in which these three authorities may be proceeding without proper knowledge of the role, policies and activities of the others. For instance, if the IAC decides to reduce tariffs on an imported commodity there should be clear liaison with the PJT to ensure that the price savings are passed on to the consumers instead of being absorbed to some extent by importers and retailers as unfortunately occurred in 1973. The PJT also should work with the Trade Practices Commission to receive proper data regarding current restrictive trade practices which may be contributing to increased prices. The PJT, unknowingly perhaps, could have been reinforcing restrictive trade practices and locking some industries into such practices. One could extend liaison on these matters to the IAC because it is often requested to pass on restrictive trade practice costs to consumers via continuing increased tariff assistance. As one economist puts it: ‘For some industries the tariff wall is a barrier behind which a few Australian corporations engaged in restrictive practices’. The fact is that Australian industrialisation occurred behind tariff walls which switched demand from imported goods to domestically produced goods. With unemployment at postwar record levels, tariff reductions must and will be long in coming and difficult to obtain but unwarranted prices increases and blatant profiteering in local products must not set the pace for unwarranted maintenance or the future imposition of higher tariff levels. Why is the Minister not considering how these problems can be solved instead of seeking to destroy and emasculate the Prices Justification Tribunal? An overview authority should be established to ensure that these three major commissions work within overall policy frameworks.

Another alternative could be to combine the operations of the three commissions into a major trade agency. Perhaps it could be a federal trade commission with branches handling the areas currently covered by the Prices Justification Tribunal, the Industries Assistance Commission and the Trade Practices Commission. This Government, unfortunately, has no imagination. It makes no attempt to solve the problems of excessive profiteering, monopolisation and industrial restructure. All this Bill does is weaken one branch of economic policy- the PJT. No doubt we can expect further attacks soon on the Industries Assistance Commission and perhaps on the Trade Practices Commission.

This Government talks about restraining inflation but destroys its own anti-inflationary weapon. It emphasises wage restraint but encourages price increases. It makes no attempt to force its own statutory commissions to act together to formulate economic or industry and manpower policies. This Bill is hopelessly biased towards those who would maximise profits against the majority interest of the community. It should be withdrawn and legislation should be devised to strengthen, not weaken, Prices Justification Tribunal procedures.


-The word ‘profit’ seems to be a very dirty word today. Everybody seems to decry it. Unfortunately we need profit and profitable organisations to provide employment opportunities and to greatly improve the present Australian economy. I support the measure introduced by the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife). I know that he has given it very careful thought. There are flaws in it, admittedly, but I think it would be far better for me to outline briefly and concisely what the Bill will do. I believe that the people of Australia will then make up their minds exactly what the Minister is trying to achieve.

The Prices Justification Tribunal was established by the Labor Government in 1973. 1 can understand the reasons and the motives behind that action. In November 1976 the LiberalNational Country Party Government introduced amendments to the Act designed substantially to reduce the number of companies which must notify the Tribunal of their price increases. The obligation to notify price increases now applies only to companies with annual turnovers of $30m or more as against the previous figure of $20m. In addition, a company that is a subsidiary of another company is no longer required to notify the Tribunal of price increases unless it has an annual turnover of $5m or more. A number of amendments were also introduced relating to the notification requirements and to the granting of exemptions. When exercising its discretion regarding exemptions from the notification of price increases the Tribunal was instructed to consider the following: Firstly, whether the company was in a position substantially to control the market for goods and services supplied by the company and, secondly, whether the prices charged by the company during a substantial period had been fair and reasonable. When a company does not implement an approved price increase within 90 days it must notify the Tribunal should it wish to apply the increase at a later time. Previously the time limit was 30 days. The Tribunal was also instructed in these amendments to have due regard to the need for the company to achieve a level of profitability that is sufficient to enable the company to maintain an adequate level of investment and employment.

The Prices Justification Amendment Bill of 1979 was presented to the House on 1 March 1979. The general effect of the amendments introduced will be that the PJT’s role will be changed from one of checking notified prices to conducting industry inquiries as directed by the Minister. I agree with that. The 1976 amendments will also be largely superseded by the 1979 amendments. The changes proposed include the following: Firstly, companies no longer will have to notify price increases; secondly, companies will be able to claim confidentiality in respect of documents and submissions containing secret formula or processes; thirdly, companies will be able to request that the Tribunal not disclose information if a company considers that the disclosure of that information would damage its competitive position unless the Tribunal, in the public interest, sees fit to release the information; fourthly, the Act’s price freeze provisions are being amended to give the PJT discretion to allow an interim price increase to a company under inquiry; fifthly, the Minister will have the power to set time limits by which the PJT must complete inquiries initiated by the Minister; and, sixthly, the Tribunal will have the power to undertake, as directed by the Minister, inquiries into matters other than whether the prices under inquiry are justified. Most importantly, the Tribunal no longer will be able to initiate inquiries. In future, the PJT will have to hold a pre-inquiry conference with relevant parties before it approaches the Government for approval to undertake a public inquiry.

Mr West:

– Shame.


-Public inquiries are costly and sometimes exhaustive. By the time the inquiry is completed the market and the competitors have changed so dramatically that the PJT findings are no longer relevant to the situation which pertained previously. It is an absolute waste of money. One honourable member interjected and said: ‘Shame’.

Broadly speaking the Bill seeks to modify the operations of the PJT by reducing the emphasis on price notification and by broadening its inquiry function. It replaces the present price notification requirements, which are based upon the size of the company, with selective notification of price increases for a limited period by companies following public inquiries by the PJT. The PJT will concentrate its resources in the area of price surveillance to make absolutely certain that the pricing of goods and services is continually under surveillance. It also will make certain that public inquiries are carried out when necessary and when the Minister feels that they are necessary. Surely that is absolutely imperative and important. The Tribunal will be equipped to carry out an on-going surveillance role- not just today, but tomorrow as well- and make certain that price surveillance in the future continues.

The Tribunal will utilise the regular channels of information such as representations from consumers. It is important that the consumers have a say because they are the ones who are purchasing goods and services. It is not much use having an inquiry today and six months later finding that, because of changed circumstances and different market situations, a whole new ball game applies. The consumers sometimes realise how the prices of goods and services fluctuate so dramatically. It is important that their information be used and that the PJT draws on that bank of information, and also on the pricing behaviour of companies, which should be revealed to the PJT at every given opportunity. The surveillance will enable the PJT at any time to recommend a public inquiry into a company or group of companies. Public inquiries will underpin the Tribunal’s surveillance role and highlight areas needing further inquiry. The Tribunal at present is limited in the course of its inquiries in determining whether the prices charged or proposed to be charged by companies are justified. This function will remain. The Bill will allow the PJT to conduct public inquiries which do not involve price justification. These inquiries will consider matters such as the structure of prices within industries and how they are established. The decision about whether to proceed to a public inquiry will be subject to approval by the Minister in respect of inquiries initiated by the PJT. The capacity which exists for the Minister to refer for public inquiry matters arising from wage increases outside wage indexation guidelines and allegations of excessive prices will be maintained. However, it will be open for the Minister to confine a reference to the industries to be covered by an inquiry, in which case it will be for the Tribunal to select the companies to be taken to the inquiry.

The Bill amends the price freeze provisions of the Act to provide the Tribunal with a discretion to allow an interim price increase to a company under inquiry. I have mentioned that point previously. It is significant and most important. It is not my intention to dwell too long on the functions of the PJT. Of course it is absolutely necessary that we have an efficient PJT to do the surveillance work so as to make absolutely certain that the consumers of Australia are paying a fair and just price for their commodities. It is also extremely important that we have a Minister who will do his own surveillance work, who will watch carefully, and who will make absolutely certain that the PJT is not just another waste of public moneys but an organisation which is going to be useful and an organisation which is going to be beneficial to the consumers of Australia. It can be argued at times that the PJT, because of its complete lack of resources, is unable to cope with some of the massive companies that we have in Australia which, sometimes to the detriment of many Australians, are able to vary their price in a degree which is very easy to cover up and can substantiate in certain areas why they should be charging certain prices. I know that at this very time the Minister has initiated, through the PJT, an inquiry into the oil industry. I for one and many others have said for many years that the oil industry, because of its complexity and because of the difficulty of determining its marketing aspects, needs surveillance and needs to be looked into very closely and carefully. I know that the Minister has heeded that advice, not just from me but from many others.

Some of the members of the Opposition have been quite hypocritical tonight in talking about controlling prices and making absolutely certain that the consumers of Australia are well guarded and well cared for. They did not say very much during the period when a certain oil company was supplying ACTU-Solo Enterprises Pty Ltd with petrol far below the wholesale price. They did not say a word about that. But that was to the detriment of many Australians. A few people in the very heavily volumed areas benefited as a result of that but they benefited to the detriment of many country people. I can see one of my friends smiling in the corner. He knows exactly what I am driving at. The PJT fixed a maximum wholesale price but nobody knew the minimum wholesale price. The oil companies were able to move up and down. They charged one price to this one and another price to that one. They charged ACTU-Solo to the detriment of many thousands of Australians. So when honourable members talk to me about the PJT they should not try to tell me that it has been to the benefit of all Australians. What the Minister is trying to do tonight with his amendments to the PJT is to give all Australians a fair access to a commodity- I have used the example of petrol- in a fair and just way. Putting aside the fact that petrol is going to be a precious commodity and the talk of conservation, the PJT, under the careful scrutiny of the Minister, will look into the oil industry and make absolutely certain that the oil company giants will be called to justice for the first time and that the motorists and the consumers of petrol in Australia will be given a fair and just go.


-A very wise man, educated in parliamentary matters, once told me that one could always tell how weak and feeble a Bill was going to be by the number of times the Bill’s clauses began with the words ‘The Minister may’. Judging by that test, this Bill is well and truly feeble. The Prices Justification Tribunal until now was merely emasculated, just a eunuch. Now the Minister has gone one better and made it completely incapacitated. By introducing this Bill, the Government is essentially having the best of both worlds. The Government is, on the one hand, doing something which has proven to be quite rare and foreign to its nature- that is, it is honouring an election promise. It has been a while since we have seen this Government do exactly that. That promise was to abolish the Prices Justification Tribunal, and to all intents and purposes that is precisely the effect of this Bill. On the other hand, the Government is seen to be retaining the bare bones of the PJT in order to appease the lobby that has worked so diligently to have the Tribunal preserved. For that lobby, this Bill must be the last nail in their coffin.

As well as attempting to alter the Tribunal in order to make it completely useless, the Government has aimed its assault at the individuals who try to make the PJT work. The latest example of that tactic has been the Government’s failure to renew the commission of Mr Michael Long. Mr Long’s unpardonable offence was to exercise sound and impartial judgment in a number of inquiries, particularly in relation to the treatment of advertising. Mr Long compounded his felony by participating in one of the few PJT inquiries which actually recommended a cut in prices. Half-way through last year, the inquiry into wool broking charges recommended lower wool broking commission rates. Now, in the midst of inquiries following as a consequence of that decision, Mr Long has been compelled to resign. I understand the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) has declined to comment on the reasons for Mr Long’s sacking, but they are clear enough now. I challenge the Minister to stand up in this Parliament and refute the allegation that Mr Long was sacked because he was just too effective. In Mr Long’s case, independence and tenacity have been repaid with retrenchment.

I also challenge the Minister to stand by his statement to this House that the trade unions, in their discussions on the fate of the PJT, expressed the view that the PJT should be retained only in its present form. I suggest that the unions were not even happy about the PJT in its present form. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has displayed unrelenting insensitivity and complete bias in his approach to the dual policy matters of wage restraint and inflation. If we accept the need for wage restraint, and the desire to give effect to such a policy, then we must be prepared to compromise and accommodate. But, of course, conciliation is not part of the Prime Minister’s armour. He should have bargained wages against prices, using an effective PJT as a lever to ply unions with his wages policy. Instead, he inveighs long and loud about wage increases when, in fact, real wages have fallen. At the same time, he opens the door to companies for unrestrained price hikes. How can he reconcile the two unless, of course, it is his intention to antagonise wage earners and their unions.

The total elimination of the Prices Justification Tribunal as an effective prices control body or even as a public surveillance body comes at a time when economic indicators are pointing to a renewed bout of price rises. It is worth noting that these indicators followed predictions which members of the Opposition had been making for some time. The Opposition made the point as early as 17 January this year that prices of basic inputs in our production processes are inflating at an incredible rate. The index of materials used in manufacturing industry has increased by almost 20 per cent in the 12 months to October 1978, with the use of non-imported materials rising by an extraordinary 28.3 per cent. The full effects of these increases are only now being realised. Already the index of prices of manufactured articles has risen from an annual growth rate of 7.3 per cent at this time last year to 9.4 per cent in November 1978 and 10.7 per cent in January 1979.

Meat prices, like those for other rural produce, are sky-rocketing. Food prices rose by more than 12 per cent during last year and are set for a much larger increase this year. I made the forecast a month ago that beef prices would rise substantially and shortages would occur in the number of cattle available for slaughter. At the time I was told by the President of the Australian Cattlemen’s Federation that I was politicking, but even he could not deny the basic truth in the prediction. Prices of those commodities which last year fell prone to the Government’s horrendous 1978-79 Budget have further aggravated the inflationary trend. As well as that, we are all keenly aware of the pressures from abroad and from within which are pushing up petrol prices. The clearly discernible rise in the consumer price index is worrying many business observers. We would find that it worries a good many people on the Government’s back bench and in the Ministry, if they were prepared to admit it. Of course, it hardly needs to be said that a revitalised inflationary spiral is viewed with fear and alarm by those on fixed incomes- incomes which this Government has callously ensured remain stagnant.

I will spare government members from a recital of the Government’s miserable record in the area of pensions and benefits adjustments. It is a record about which I know that many of them are deeply concerned. I cannot emphasise too strongly the point that the pensioners of this country are now incensed about the fall in the real value of their pensions since this Government was installed. Those pensioners have indicated that they will become openly rebellious when renewed inflation further undermines their buying power. In the face of new price inflation, the Government has had the nerve or the stupidity to remove even the nominal restraint on prices which previously applied. At the very least, it could hardly be seen to be good public relations. After all, the PJT was only a shell of its former self. Ever since the 1976 amendment it has been a toothless paper tiger.

I found out just how powerless it was when what seemed to be an unnecessary increase in beer prices was recently foisted on the Brisbane public without any notice, let alone investigation by a public body. I commented at the time that increases in beer prices should have been referred to the PJT. Judging from the coverage that the statement received in the media, most of the journalists and the public strongly supported the suggestion. The increase followed a hard and bitter strike by brewery workers in Brisbane which sent many families broke and many mouths dry.

After weeks- almost months- of confrontation the workers received a few extra dollars a week. The brewery decided in a matter of a few minutes simply to raise the price of its product. How convenient it would be for every wage earner if he could increase his salary so easily.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.


-Before the suspension of the sitting I was explaining how the brewery workers of Brisbane after weeks, almost months, of confrontation received only a few extra dollars in their pay packets and how the breweries decided in a matter of a few minutes simply to raise the prices of their products. I also explained how convenient it would have been if every wage earner could have increased his salary so easily. There were aspects about the breweries’ profitability and general status that made one question whether the cost increase to the breweries should have been passed on to the consumer and so I suggested such a rise ought to be reviewed by the Prices Justification Tribunal. Of course, this Government’s 1976 amendment to the Prices Justification Act ensured that companies such as the breweries involved in the Brisbane price rise would fall outside the PJT’s net.

The obligation to notify price increases was made applicable only to companies in the $30m annual turnover bracket. In fact this reduced by over one half the number of companies notifying the PJT of their intention to raise prices. Now, as my colleague the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) has already pointed out, there is no longer even the need for companies in any bracket to notify the Tribunal of price rises; that is except for companies which, under section 1 7B, the PJT has determined to be ‘prescribed ‘ companies which must notify the Tribunal of price increases ‘for a period of up to 12 months or such longer period as approved by the Minister’. If any action is to be taken by the Tribunal it will have to be following an increase, and the possibility of reversing such a rise would be at best remote.

The main provisions of this Bill will repeal sections 4 and 5 of the principal Act; that is, the legislation will strike out all references to the requirements that companies must satisfy in order to be included within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction. One must wonder whose price rises are to be or not to be reviewed? I suggest that is the burning question. The answer to this question is contained in the text of the amendments to sections 16 and 17 of the principal Act. Specifically, proposed new sub-section 16 (3) states:

The Tribunal shall conduct such prices justification inquiries as it is required to conduct by notice given by the Minister under section 17 and may, with the approval of the Minister, conduct such other prices justification inquiries as it thinks fit.

The impression left from a cursory reading of that proposed new sub-section would suggest that the Tribunal can conduct inquiries as it thinks fit. A closer reading indicates that the PJT moves entirely at the behest of the Minister. In all the Bill there are something like 2 1 references such as ‘The Minister may’, or ‘with the approval of the Minister’, or ‘The Minister, in his discretion’. It does not take a legislative genius to see who is going to pull the strings or call the shots. Part (4) of the Opposition’s amendment makes plain our complete rejection of the greatly increased power of the Minister ‘to direct and restrict the Tribunal’ subjecting it to ‘considerable political influence and control in its day-to-day operations’.

The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd lobby and the oil companies which are raping this country- and I know that the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) agrees with that description- are the real winners. The PJT may be still alive but I suggest it is not kicking. What a welcome relief it will be to oil companies- especially Shell- not to go through the rigors of public investigation and scrutiny. No longer will they be required to provide the public with details of their excessive service station rent increases and other underhanded aspects of their business management. Last year I called on the PJT to give greater regard to the exorbitant rents which some oil companies were imposing on small garage lessees, including increases of up to 300 per cent. The reason, of course, that these increases should be taken into account is that, by raising rents, the companies are in effect making garage owners either put off employees or push up prices. The oil companies increase their revenue without going to the PJT for approval.

That was only one of a number of standard ways the oil companies could circumvent the Tribunal and end up ripping off the consumer. I heard the honourable member for Franklin refer to how the oil companies have been ripping off the consumers for years. Now they do not need any fancy footwork. They need only to rely on their sizeable contributions to the coffers of the Liberal and National Country parties to buy them all the influence they require. The Minister and his Government have brought this Bill into the Parliament to bury the Tribunal, not to praise it. The Opposition’s prediction will come true.

These changes to the PJT will weaken the Tribunal and open the doors to inflation.

Mr Ian Robinson:

-The Bill before the House is one of great significance. It is somewhat surprising to find that the Opposition is making a very lame attempt to criticise this legislation. The broad purpose of the Bill is to modify the operation of the Prices Justification Tribunal by reducing the emphasis on price notification and by broadening the Tribunal ‘s inquiry function. The legislation is the result of a very great deal of experience not only on the part of the Government but also industry, the community interest and, of course, every section and facet of Australia’s business community. The purpose of the legislation is to update the requirement so far as this field of administration is concerned.

The Bill replaces the present price notification requirements which are based upon the size of the company with selective notification of price increases for a limited period by companies following public inquiry by the PJT. The PJT will in future concentrate its resources in the area of price surveillance and public inquiry. The reasons for this have been clearly outlined to the House by the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife). Of course, the situation has been very clearly analysed and explained during debate upon this subject over the past two years in this House.

The Tribunal will also utilise the regular channels of information such as representations by consumers, user industries, commercial information and the official price indices and reports in the operations that are proposed under the changed system. The PJT, of course, will retain its powers to require any company to furnish information about its prices should this be necessary and will therefore be well placed to examine price movements and to maintain close surveillance over prices of particular significance to the economy. The Tribunal will be concerned directly in the field of surveillance and will take into account trends in price movements under the consumer price index.

Of course, what we have heard this afternoon and this evening from the Opposition is a very one-sided approach to the argument. It is onesided because, as stated by the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphries), we cannot have our cake and eat it too. He referred to concern about inflation. In fact the figures which he quoted showed that there was a great deal of concern that the rate of inflation was again moving slightly upwards, from 7.3 per cent to 9.4 per cent. He then mentioned the figure of 10.7 per cent for January. The question is: Why? It is certainly not because of any impact that the operations of the PJT could have. It is directly related to the demands for wage increases. It is directly related to the pressure that has been put upon industry and upon the manufacturing sector by the militant trade unions. I am sure that the honourable member for Griffith and many others are very conscious of this, but, as they have always done, they are using this avenue of escape from real responsibility. No doubt we will hear the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) very shortly putting once again a case for a rigid price control mechanism and he will say that this is justice because of the need for indexation. But he still cannot have it both ways. No matter what case is put, unless there is recognition of the ingredients of the economic approach, all of these matters fall to the ground, just as they did in 1973 and 1974 when, of course, we had a referendum by which the government of the day sought powers over prices from the people of this country. The people of this country did not accept the proposition. Yet the Opposition is still trying to convince the community that there is some validity in this approach.

On the other hand, the Government quite properly is updating this legislation so that it will serve a proper purpose- a purpose of protection where protection is necessary and a purpose related to leadership in terms of eliciting information about what is happening in a particular industry or industries so that there will be an understanding of the needs of that industry or industries in respect of the capital outlayed and the employment provided, and a fair and reasonable price for whatever the commodity might be for the general public. Many of the inquiries have been demanded by people who have been fierce in their demands because they felt that there was some injustice somewhere. Sometimes those demands have come from the Government side of the House and sometimes from the Opposition side of the House or from outside lobbies. I can recall in the last six months a great deal of interest in an inquiry into the beef industry in Australia. What did we find? When a very detailed and close examination was made of many of the allegations that had been floated in headlines around Australia we found that many of them turned out to be baseless. But in the process of the inquiry a lot of useful information for the industry itself, for the consuming public and for the Government was laid open to scrutiny.

This is the kind of work that is proposed under the changes that this amendment to the Act will provide. I believe that this is the right and proper way to deal with the situation at a time of economic difficulty when we must foster industry and employment and at all costs ensure that there is viability in the face of the difficulties that are created by another section of the community. I refer again to the militant sections of the trade union movement.

Mr Bryant:


Mr Ian Robinson:

-There are groans from the Opposition side the moment that this point is mentioned. Yet a moment ago we heard trenchant criticism of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and the oil companies. Certainly we believe in a certain amount of surveillance in these directions. Where there is a multinational interest, of course there needs to be some degree of surveillance. We need information because of the relationship, very often in an international sequence of events, of government policies or the general interests of the total community, whatever they happen to be. But at the same time there has to be a fair assessment of what is happening to capital invested and to industries which are endeavouring to operate and which need a viable climate in which to do so. This cannot be looked at in isolation. So I say to the Opposition that the amendments it has proposed today again fall far short of a balanced view of this total situation that this Parliament could take in terms of the attitudes of both sides of the House. We see again a one-sided approach. In fact the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) really once again brought out of the cupboard his economic theory that if we have price control and wage indexation, all is well. I remind the people of Australia that we had a sample of that in 1 973, in 1 974 and into 1975 when we saw 18 per cent inflation rates.

Mr Bryant:

– What price control was there in 1973, 1974 and 1975?

Mr Ian Robinson:

-We saw inflation rates of 18 per cent. Yet there was operating at that time the very same proposition contained in the amendments put by the Opposition to the House today. By way of interjection the honourable member for Wills said that his party did not have price control. Of course, it did not have price control on the terms that it wanted it. It tried to get price control from the people and did not get it. But the Labor Party still used the PJT in the way that it believed was an answer to the spiralling costs which we were finding in industry in this country and which were then passed on to the consumer. It was not an answer at all. It was a fiasco, as I said a moment ago.

Labor’s form of price control, which it is again trying to foist on this Parliament and on the community at large, is nothing more nor less than a hoax that is couched in terms that, I suppose, some might believe have validity. But, on close scrutiny, they certainly do not. There is a suggestion that the Government’s action is letting industry off lightly and that industry by and large is being given an open order by the Government. Of course, that is totally wrong. When the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs presented to the House the proposals we are dealing with, the Press of this country quite clearly reported and quite properly indicated that industry would face price probes. I refer to the Age of 2 March. If one looks at the Australian of 2 March one sees the headline ‘Tribunal to review industries’. In the Canberra Times there appeared the headline Tribunal to look at industry groups’. There is no question as to what the impact of the legislation is. There is no question at all as to the attitude of industry. Some industries perhaps would like to avoid this kind of scrutiny. The Government is not giving any open order to any section of industry at all. In fact it is doing what is practical and proper in the present economic situation to bring commonsense into what has been in many directions an ineffective operation that has required a lot of updating.

Of course, when the Leader of the Opposition speaks in a few moments there is no doubt at all that he will continue this feeble fight to retain an old scarecrow- an old scarecrow that did not work and that did not frighten anyone when it was created by the Labor Administration. It has not been possible to utilise it since that time in any really worthwhile or effective manner, and the speech by the honourable member for Adelaide really admitted this. He failed completly to explain any useful result from the work of the PJT under the administration of the Labor Government during its occupancy of the treasury bench. Yet he told this House that we were taking something away and that this would affect the community. He went so far as to say that we have been lax and that the Government had given directions in the matter of the soap and detergent industries when there was one terrible fiasco soon after this Government came to power. He well knows that what he said this afternoon about that matter was totally inaccurate, totally wrong and totally misleading. If one goes back to a little before that time one recalls that certainly the issues were raised by the Joint Committee on Prices. When the matter was properly examined and elucidated it was found that some of the assertions by the honourable member for Adelaide and some of his colleagues at that time were totally wrong. Yet we hear them continuing to repeat these old catch cries that do not have validity.

I said earlier that the scarecrow, as it can quite well be described, failed to achieve anything. It did not protect the crop- the crop being the growth of industry- so that it could produce and be nurtured so that there would be a benefit for those engaged in a particular industry, those who have invested in it, the work force that it employs and, of course, the consuming public, which, after all, has a very big stake in whatever we do in the field of industry and commerce. So tonight we find the Opposition again bringing out of the cupboard this rather worn out scarecrow. I am afraid the Leader of the Opposition will have the same sort of trouble that Pickering has with him in trying to make something out of what is not really there. I suggest that the amendments to the legislation proposed by the Government will advance further a sensible and progressive approach to the matter of a reasoned balance being achieved between economic policy, feasibility in terms of industry surveillance and useful assistance to industry, the Government and the community as a consequence of investigations which turn up information of value to determine what is best and to make suggestions in the matter of what will benefit the interests of the nation.

This has been seen to a very large extent recently in the car industry. The manufacturing sector of the Australian motor industry has been a very vexed question in recent years. With the advent of the proposed world car, Australia is able to take advantage and get a foot in the door in what will be in the next decade, certainly in the first five years of that decade, a most exciting development for Australian industry. Australia will have one of the four 4-cylinder factories in the world operated by the General Motors organisation. Australia will export two-thirds of the production from that factory to Europe and other countries. That is the sort of industrial development that Australia needs. We can have it only if we have sensible instrumentalities in this country that can deal with inquiries into industries and sections of industries and report effectively on them. This legislation will greatly assist in that field. It is a new ball game for this country in the international scene as far as the development and progress of industry is concerned. We do not want to see it hobbled and held back by the administration of legislation which has become outdated and which has become merely a means of inhibiting the orderly, progressive development of business and industry in this country.

I am sure that in the Committee stage there will be the opportunity to scrutinise some of the details which arise in the legislation in terms of particular clauses but, by and large, the legislation is a forward step. It is a tribute to the very hard work that has been put into this complicated matter by the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, who brings a practical view to these matters, who is able to consider the views of the average man in the street against those of. industry and commerce and who, as a consequence, is able to give leadership in this field that is quite outstanding. It certainly leaves far behind what we saw in the early days of the creation of this very doubtful monster which the Government is now endeavouring to turn to good use for the benefit of the total community.

Leader of the Opposition · Oxley

– This Bill proclaims the virtual extinction of the Prices Justification Tribunal. Henceforth it will have all the curiosity value of a stuffed specimen in a museum case, but not much else.

Mr Hodgman:

– Look who is talking.


– The honourable member for Denison interjects. He too may end up stuffed and mounted, but not for his performance in this House. The Prices Justification Tribunal is the victim of the sustained, systematic destruction of its authority and functions by an unremittingly hostile government. Its independence has gone the same way as that of the Industries Assistance Commission and the Temporary Assistance Authority is going. The shame of it is that the Prices Justification Tribunal has been effective. It has been beneficial in protecting the public interest. That is demonstrable and I will produce some of the evidence later. The most obnoxious part of this legislation is that it is the legislation of a string-pulling government. That has enormously disturbing implications. For instance, it is up to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs to approve an inquiry, to set inquiry time limits and to issue general instructions to the Tribunal. In fact, the Minister completely and effectively hobbles the Tribunal. The whole process has been highly politicised. How can there be any confidence in the general community, especially in the industrial section of the community, in an institution that has been so thoroughly politicised as this institution will have been as a result of this legislation?

Once the Bill is enacted the Tribunal will be required to act only at the direction of the Minister, in accordance with notice from the Minister or with the approval of the Minister. Simply stated, the Tribunal has been converted from a stern but fair sentry of public interest to a feather duster in the hands of the Minister. Let us look at another objectionable aspect of the legislation. The legislation will repeal the obligatory requirements of notification for prescribed companies where price increases are involved. The prescribed companies are those earning more than $30m, as defined. In 1976 it was more than $20m but the dismantling of the effectiveness of the Prices Justification Tribunal has been under way for several years. The legislation will limit cases where future increases will have to be notified or followed through. That will effectively leave the Tribunal blind. It is like night flying with an instrument panel out of action. The remarkable aspect of this is that it occurs at the time of a most rapid increase in unemployment, rising inflation and booming profits. How can there be confidence in the work force of the community when, on the one hand, the prices control instrument is being dismantled and, on the other, the income control instrument is being retained and profits seem to be booming. Booming profits and booming unemployment seem to be the twin successes of the Government.

Let us look at some instances of that. The profits of Goliath Cement increased by 52 per cent in 1978. W. R. Carpenter had an increase of 76 per cent; Actrol- a merchant and manufacturing group- increased its profits by 80 per cent; and Hoyts Theatres had an increase of 193 per cent. For the first half-year in 1978-79, Simpson Pope increased its profits by 28 per cent; Email by 32 per cent; Dunlop by 38 per cent; and Nylex by 48 per cent. So profits are booming. These are in addition to other profit rate increases which are quite phenomenal and which I have recently quoted in this place and elsewhere. The political success of a government at a time of economic difficulty, like that Australia has been experiencing in recent years, is as dependent upon its ability to achieve and retain the confidence of the community as it is on any other factor. In turn, that means achieving and retaining the confidence of the work force of the community. There can be no confidence in either the work force sector or the households in the community when profits are booming, unemployment is booming inflation shows every sign of taking off again and interest rates are going up but the price control mechanism is being dismantled.

The Prices Justification Tribunal has fallen foul of an unremitting campaign of attrition by an antagonistic government. In 1976 the first clear assault was commenced against the Tribunal. The obligatory notification procedures were amended in a substantial way. Retail trade was no longer required to undertake obligatory notifications. The result was that notifications to the PJT fell from 7,739 in 1976 to 2,244 in 1978. In 1979, as a result of this legislation, notifications will be half the 1978 level, if we are lucky, and that is less than one-third of the 1976 level. So in this area the authority and functioning of the Tribunal has been contracted rapidly. The confidence of the Tribunal has been undermined enormously. Staff cuts have resulted in a reduction in staffing from 160 to 90. The Chairman and two other members have been lost to the Tribunal and there is now no permanent chairman. The responsibilities of a fourth member of the Tribunal have been reduced to those of an advisory member. Retirements from the Tribunal due to ill-health amongst senior saff have not led to any replacements. Accordingly, the Tribunal reported in 1977-78, as strongly as it was able, given the restrictions that are imposed on public authority bodies:

The loss of these experienced people and the absence of replacements created difficulties for the Tribunal.

It added:

Nor was the Tribunal assisted by the uncertainty which prevailed in 1977-78 concerning its future role.

So there has been a four-pronged sustained attack against the Tribunal. Its area of responsibility has been eroded and now has been virtually eliminated. Its capacity to function has been depleted enormously. It has been left in an uncertain state about its future and is grossly understaffed and intimidated, as the refusal by the Government to reappoint Mr Michael Long as a full time member of the Tribunal clearly indicated to all members of that institution. All of this has added to the demoralisation and debilitation of this important authority. I am not suggesting that the Prices Justification Tribunal is faultless, but there are more pluses for it than there are minuses. It has served the community well and the shortcomings could have been repaired easily. Let me give some evidence of the benefits the community has derived from this institution. In the 1973-74 annual report it pointed out: … the 12.2 per cent of price notices which were reduced after public inquiries or negotiations amounted to a total saving, on an annual basis, of about $253m.

That is not to be sneezed at. It did not stop there. The Tribunal has been successful in controlling more fairly the transfer payment policies of the transnational corporations in this country such as Kellogg (Australia) Pty Ltd and the Nestle Company (Australia) Ltd, as outlined in its 1974-75 report. Of 26,000 notifications between 1973 and 1978, 16 per cent were amended downwards. That is a significant rate of price adjustment in favour of the public. The 1978 report shows that 20 per cent of notifications have been withdrawn or lowered- the highest proportion yet, although admittedly on a much depleted level of notifications. Then there are the more spectacular results that the Tribunal achieved, which presumably the Government has forgotten about or, and this is more likely, prefers to ignore. The stevedoring industry inquiry provided clear benefits to importers and exporters and contributed somewhat to controlling the level of costs flowing from this area. Of course, we recall the sensational disclosure that one director of a stevedoring company had collected $lm in fees in three years. These are not unimportant achievements on the part of any institution serving the public. Those and other cases are clear evidence of the way in which the Tribunal, with all of its faults, on balance has contributed more benefit than disadvantage to the community. To the extent that there have been problems, the response should have been to repair those shortcomings rather than seek to use that as a justification for completely eliminating all the benefits contributed by this institution.

Let me give some more cases. It was the Prices Justification Tribunal that was able to expose a 300 per cent to 400 per cent mark-up for a significant range of farm machinery, with some mark-ups going as high as 1,000 per cent. It was the Tribunal that was able to disclose mark-ups cumulatively up to 250 per cent on motor car spare parts. Those are things which have affected all of the community. All of the community, but more specifically the farm sector, has gained enormously as a result of the action of the Tribunal, yet all the reward it gets is to be dismantled by the Government. I do not believe that the Government is going to be successful. This is not the first occasion internationally that efforts have been made because of vested interest pressure to destroy some sort of price supervising or overview body such as the Prices Justification Tribunal. A wide range of countries has these sorts of bodies, including the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and New Zealand. I repeat that some of them have tried to dismantle these overseeing bodies, only to find that they had to resassemble them hurriedly as a face-saver, usually with another name, in the light of experience and as a result of community reaction. The United States of America had a Cost of Living Council which was abolished in 1974. It was replaced rapidly by a Council on Wage and Price Stability. In the United Kingdom there was a National Board on Prices and Incomes. It was abolished in 1971 and reestablished in 1973 as the Prices Commission and Pay Board. In Canada the Government abolished the Prices and Incomes Commission, only to re-establish it three years later as the Anti-inflation Board.

Let me give some recent hard evidence of public gain as a result of the Prices Justification Tribunal. The first instance concerns Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort Ltd. It will be recalled that the practices of the pastoral broking companies were explored by the Prices Justification Tribunal. As a result of that investigation the Tribunal recommended that the commission rates for handling wool being imposed by the pastoral companies were excessive and could not be justified on any reasonable financial or economic grounds. Accordingly, recommendations were made as to an appropriate level of commission charges, which represented a saving of some $4. 5 m for the whole of the woolgrowing industry.

Mr Hyde:

– What is it doing now?


-That is not unimportant, and the honourable member for Moore (Mr Hyde), who is from Western Australia and from the Liberal ranks, interjected an objection about the role of the PJT. He ought to reflect on the disproportionately high level of benefit out of total benefit contributed by the Tribunal’s inquiries that has gone to the farm sector. The Prices Justification Tribunal exposed the unjustifiable practice of the pastoral companies in crosssubsidising from the commission derived from profitable work on the wool side the unprofitable operations in warehousing and accordingly, by subsidising at unprofitable rates, ensuring that no real competition developed in that area from new sources. What they were seeking to do was to tax growers and accordingly consumers to preserve an oligopolistic advantage for the few people who are already in the industry. That cannot be justified, and the public interest was thrown out of the window as far as the Minister was concerned. He ignored the efforts of Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort to stand the Prices Justification Tribunal on its head in a clear assault on the authority and role of the PJT and in complete derogation of any sense of responsibility to the general community, but more especially to the farm sector.

Let me deal with the second case, which relates to petrol pricing. The oil companies have been doing a great deal of whingeing about the level of prices for petrol. The approved PJT wholesale price for petrol is 21.44c a litre or 97.47c a gallon. Until 6 February the oil companies in Queensland were wholesaling to retailers from their outlets at 20.5c a litre or 93.2c a gallon- considerably below the approved PJT price. The evidence from this is that the PJT is not so austere after all. It is quite reasonable in its prices, and in fact, for all the whingeing of the oil companies, as a result of their own decisions they wholesaled at a price considerably below the level approved by the PJT as the maximum. Since 6 February, however, it has still been possible to obtain super-grade petrol at the right price, if one is lucky enough to get to the right sources, through certain outlets in Brisbane, and oil companies are behind the arrangement. Several of the oil companies are using what are called jobbers as fronts for their activity. They are wholesaling at 20.39c to 20.5c a litre, which means that the oil companies are selling to the jobbers at between 18c and 19c a litre. In simple terms that means that the prices at which the oil companies are wholesaling to these jobbers is some 2c to 3c a litre, or 9c to 13c a gallon, in approximate terms, below the level set by the Prices Justification Tribunal. Some questions arise from all of this, because I am quite convinced that it is an improper practice and that it would be appropriate for the PJT to investigate what is happening here. It has happened in Queensland and it has happened in other States.

I repeat that on 6 February oil companies in Queensland terminated the discounting, wholesaling pricing practice they had been following. On 13 February that action was followed nationally and the significance of that is that on 13 February the oil industry conference was held. The Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) attended that conference. I am reliably advised that once he was certain that petrol supplies were assured for Australia, he made it quite apparent that he was unconcerned about the matter of pricing. Accordingly, the oil producers of this country terminated the discounting practice, and the result is that the price of petrol has gone up and Australian motorists are paying more. Let me put that into monetary terms. The oil producers lifted the prices of petrol as I pointed out. They were selling it at some 9c to 13c per gallon below the PJT recommended price before they terminated that discounting arrangement. The consequence of that is that they picked up a cool $150m on the five to six billion litres that were formerly discounted, and Australian motorists had to pay for it. That is why the Opposition believes that the Prices Justification Tribunal has an important role to play and why we are certain this is an inappropriate time to be dismantling it. The Opposition firmly believes that this is further evidence of the influence of powerful vested interests in conflict with, and overriding, the public interest.

What is all this evidence of? It is evidence that the PJT approved a wholesale price which was generous; that the whingeing of the oil companies was unjustified; that motorists are now being pillaged once again by the oil companies with the compliance of the Government; that there is no action from the Prices Justification Tribunal and there will not be as a result of the amendments now before the House; and that the Minister for National Development through his compliance was a party to this conspiracy against the Australian motorists. These cases I have cited show that in the case of the brokers versus the growers, the growers won the battle but the brokers won the war. In the case of the oil companies versus the motorists, the motorists won the decision from the umpire but the oil companies had the rules re-written, and that is the advantage of having a government in your pocket. The fact is that this legislation takes the bark as well as the bite out of the Prices Justification Tribunal. The Minister’s second reading speech did not give a new lease of life to the PJT. It was a dirge, formalising the end of what has proved to be an extremely helpful body protecting the public interest. It was far from perfect, but it could have been improved. We have been better off with it, just as we will be worse off without it, or at least we will be worse off with it in its crippled state after this Bill is enacted. Its demolition represents a great victory for powerful vested interests close to the Government, but well removed from the public interest. The evidence is clear and irrefutable. In the absence of the PJT price increases would have been greater, inflation would have been worse, adherence to wages policy would frequently have been fickle, industrial harmony would have been less, community confidence in pricing and commercial practices would have been at a lower level and market power abuses would have been greater.


-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.


-If the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) is expecting the

Prices Justification Tribunal to keep prices and inflation down in this country, heaven help the country if he should ever become Prime Minister. The record of legislative fiat in keeping prices down is not good. In fact, it has always, without exception, failed. There is a long record going back at least over 5,000 years where attempts to force prices down, or up for that matter, in the face of market forces, has failed dismally. I want to read to the House one or two statements from history assembled for me by an organisation called the Centre for Independent Studies which is a small liberal group in Australia trying to emulate what the Fraser Institute of Canada has done, and what the Institute of Economic Affairs has done in England. I cite ancient Egypt and the historian Levy from the book Wage-Price Control which states:

Under the Lagid dynasty . . . there was a real omnipresence of the State . . . The State . . . intervened by employing widely all its public law prerogatives … all prices were fixed by fiat at all levels . . . Control took on frightening proportions. There was a whole army of inspectors. There was nothing but inventories, censuses of men and animals … estimations of harvests to come … In villages, when farmers who were disgusted with all these vexations ran away, those who remained were responsible for absentees’ production . . . (one of the first effects of harsh price controls on farm goods is the abandonment of farms and the consequent fall in the supplies of food). The pressure . . . applied extended, in case of need, to cruelty and torture.

Eyptian workers during this period suffered badly from the abuses of the State intervention of the economy, especially from the ‘bronze law’, an economic theory which maintained that wages can never go above the bare necessities for keeping workers alive. The controls on wages set by the Government reflected the prevailing economic doctrine.

After a period of brilliance’, Levy concludes, ‘Egyptian economy collapsed at the end of the third century B.C., as did her political stability. The financial crisis was a permanency . . . Workers, disgusted by the conditions imposed on them, left their lands and disappeared into the country . . .’

All honourable members know what the country is like around the Nile Valley. We go on a little further and discuss Chandragupta’s explanation of the difficulties of keeping down the price of prostitutes in India, how it would not and could not work. Or we can discuss a speech from Lysias addressing a jury. In this book we have this oration:

But it is necessary, gentlemen of the Jury’, he urged, ‘to chastise them -

That being the people who had raised their prices above the legislative level- not only for the sake of the past, but also as an example for the future; for as things now are, they will hardly be endurable in the future. And consider that in consequence of this vocation, very many have already stood trial for their lives; and so great are the emoluments which they are able to derive from it that they prefer to risk their life every day rather than cease to draw from you, the public, their improper profits … If then, you shall condemn them, you shall act justly and you will buy grain cheaper; otherwise, the price will be much more.

In Greece, the death penalty did not manage to make the merchants of that country keep the price of grain down. In Rome, poor Diocletian is described by Gibbon in this book as follows: . . the emperor ventured on a very dangerous and doubtful step, of fixing by legal authority, the value of corn (grain). He enacted that, in a time of scarcity, it should be sold at a price which had seldom been known in the most plentiful years; and that his own example might strengthen his laws (he sent into the market a large quantity of his own grain at the fixed price). The consequences might have been foreseen and were soon felt. The imperial wheat was purchased by the rich merchants; the proprietors of land, or of corn (grain) withheld from that city the accustomed supply, and the small quantities that appeared in the market were secretly sold at an advanced and illegal illegal price ‘.

It goes on to describe how, with the use of the army, Diocletian was unable to enforce laws that would maintain the price of anything and how the steps resulted in wholesale bloodshed but not in price stability.

Germany, after the Second World War, probably had the most effective price control the world has ever seen. The price control was obeyed because the German people at that stage were disheartened. There was a strong sense that they ought to stay with the rules that were put down by their new conquerors. The black market accounted for only about 10 per cent of the goods that were traded. However, that 10 per cent accounted for 90 per cent of the money supply. This led to the development of what was called the compensation trade. Everybody knew that to get cement he must offer coal. The price that had been determined by the price fixing authority roughly equated one ton of cement with one ton of coal. But that was not a natural market and there was no way it could be maintained. One ton of coal was worth roughly half a ton of cement and so the traders threw in roughly half a ton of potatoes to make up the difference. In fact probably the only reason that Germany did not starve during those three years was that the people abandoned money and went outside the system of controls. The reason that half of Germany took off and its economy expanded rapidly while the other half did not was that the controls were abandoned.

Putting fiscal controls on a market economy is like squeezing a balloon. If the public demand is not able to be expressed in the items that are controlled the public will bid up the prices of other things so that average prices are not depressed. If it is felt that the price of those goods should reflect some return that is acceptable to both the buyer and the seller we will get changes that are not reflected in the legislated price; we will get a change in quality. I am sure many honourable members will recall how the quality of goods under price control during the Second World War fell. If the price was not able to be changed the quality, the terms on which the goods were bought or the place or terms of delivery were changed. In fact even in war time when there is a strong incentive upon people to comply with the rules laid down by their government it has not been possible to determine prices by legislative fiat.

It might be thought that I have been advocating that the Prices Justification Tribunal ought to be abandoned. In fact, I am not. There is a large non-market sector in the Australian economy. I believe the Tribunal ought to be retained and that it ought to be given a brief to look at that part of the Australian economy where there is not a market, where there is not competition and where prices are not determined by market forces. I suggest that the brief might be widened so that the PJT can look at the pricing practices and the efficiency of such organisations as the Australian Postal Commission, the Australian Telecommunications Commission, the Australian National Railways Commission, the Australian National Line, Qantas Airways Ltd, the Commonwealth Development Bank and the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It might look at those marketing authorities that owe their existence to the legislative fiat of this Government. I refer to the Australian Wheat Board, the Australian Wool Corporation and the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd. I think that there is a place for a surveillance body but only in circumstances where there is not a market.


– I enjoyed the speech of my friend the honourable member for Moore (Mr Hyde) with its historical allusions. I think that today where we have complicated structures and where market forces are not operating perfectly bodies such as the Prices Justification Tribunal serve an important purpose. The Tribunal was not aiming at perfection or absolutism. Its recommendations were never mandatory. This side of the House believes in the sort of market structure where the exercise in the justification of prices by firms acts as a check on indiscriminate pricing policy. No one can seriously suggest that in today’s economy, today’s market structure- much of Australia’s market structure is one of oligopoly- prices are set by market forces. It has long been known in literature on industrial organisation and prices that there are all forms of pricing dependent on the industry under examination.

It is relatively easy to identify what are known academically as three degrees of price discrimination. Price discrimination itself can arise only due to an imperfect market. There are all sorts of pricing policies by firms in all sorts of industries. Pricing can be on the basis of cost plus a mark up. There is basing point pricing, focal point pricing and predatory pricing. It depends on the market structure one is examining. The honourable member for Moore also referred to the fact that he believes the PJT should look at some of the administratively controlled areas of pricing such as the Australian Telecommunications Commission. I guess that one could look but all one could do would be to pass another value judgment on what the level should or should not be. I basically believe, with respect to some of our commodity boards, that the overseas market sets the prices. In many of the international commodity markets a greater degree of market forces operates than internally.

I do not think that the PJT ever set out to achieve perfection in pricing; it set out to deal with the real world. The Government has taken the decision yet again to amend the Tribunal. For the life of me I do not know why the Government has not abandoned the PJT as was promised in one of the election campaigns. The stated aim of this Bill is to modify the operations of the PJT so as to demonstrate the Government’s concern that the Tribunal in its operation should not add unduly to business costs or inhibit investment. That seems to me to be the main rationale. The Government does not want the PJT to add unduly to costs while at the same time the Government wants it to ensure adequate surveillance of prices. The Government wants to improve the capacity of the PJT to inquire into prices that need to be examined. That is fair enough but waffly.

The cost cutting goal which I think is the main criterion of the Government will be achieved by these amendments which we are debating. To achieve this cost cutting goal we will repeal the requirements which make it mandatory for prescribed companies to notify the Tribunal of proposed price increases. The Bill will restrict notification of proposed price increases to those companies where the PJT decides that it is warranted following an inquiry and then only for a maximum period of 12 months. The amendments make the decision to proceed with a public inquiry subject to ministerial approval and provide the Tribunal with discretion to allow an interim price increase to companies under inquiry.

The amendments will strengthen the confidentiality provisions so that the Tribunal discloses only the information which it deems will be in the public interest. The amendments allow the Minister to set limits for Tribunal-initiated inquiries and make provision for the Minister to issue general directives to the Tribunal. If the rationale of these amendments is to not add unduly to business costs I think that a body which has been likened to a gummy ewe has had its jaws eliminated, as many speakers have already said tonight.

The changes that the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) has announced to the PJT should be seen against the background of the totality of the economic policies of the Fraser Government. The basis of these policies is confusion. The Government does not have a coherent economic strategy encompassing fiscal and monetary policies, a protection policy, a wages policy, government regulation of and assistance to industry and trade practices or a prices policy. Thus at present we have efforts to reduce real wages but, in contradiction, restrictive fiscal and monetary policies, and now emasculation of the Prices Justification Tribunal. As a consequence of the lack of a strategy, the Government responds to diverse pressures ranging from its own dogmatic ideology to the pushes and pulls of every powerful institution and interest group in the society. This can be seen clearly from the Government’s attitude and from statements by its spokesmen to the PJT.

On the one hand there is the Government’s and perhaps the Treasury’s ideological opposition to the Tribunal and the push for abolition from some firms which feel threatened by it, that is, the firms which have difficulty justifying their prices- for example, the wool brokers of recent times. On the other hand, the Tribunal is actively supported by the trade unions and workers generally who see it as providing some equity in the community, counterbalancing the rigid wage controls to which wage earners are subject. Similarly, the Department of Industrial Relations and the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Street) recognise the important industrial relations and economic effects of this trade union support and so to a large degree support the PJT. In between these attitudes there is the basic apathy to the Tribunal amongst the broader business community, which feels it provides some legitimacy to its activity, mollifies the unions and affects only a few large firms in any case. All this can be set against the background of deepening economic recession and mounting unemployment to which the Government has few answers. As this recession and the wrongheaded policies of the Government continue, the resulting electoral backlash is forcing the Government to take further muddled measures. Thus we have a series of changes to the PJT, tax laws, controls on mineral exports, protection, social welfare measures and so on.

I believe that it is an indication of the political bankruptcy of the Government that all it can think of doing is abandoning economic policy, which the changes to the PJT amount to in this area. The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, in his statement of last October, spoke of present ‘keen competition between traders’. Is there keen competition between the two main wool broking firms, in the steel industry and in the soap and detergent industry? Of course there is not, yet these are the sons of firms that gain from the changes announced by the Minister. The Government glibly talks of promoting competition yet it fails to recognise that in many industries in Australia and throughout the world competition is severely curtailed or non-existent. This arises through the nature of the financial and industrial processes involved. To grow big is often the only way to survive. In Australia’s limited market we have grown up to have an oligopolistic market situation, if not a monopoly in many of our basic industries. In such situations Government intervention is required to ensure that the public interest is protected. It is reasonable to debate the details of that regulation; it is not reasonable to debate this principle. Yet this is what the Government is doing.

The Government is abrogating its responsibilities to the Australian community. The Minister’s only justification for these changes is the cost to business of the PJT procedures. Yet the types of large firms covered by the PJT are precisely those which least feel such costs, as they all have highly developed bureaucracies quite capable of handling the load. The companies concerned have to inform all their subsidiaries, agents, customers and the like of price changes. Where is the extra cost of informing the PJT? Firms have to analyse rationally to themselves the reasons behind the price changes; otherwise there would be internal confusion. What extra cost is there in providing some of this information to the PJT? These are issues that the Government ignores as it falls for the propaganda sweeping the world against government regulation without properly thinking through the implications of the changes it makes. This Government, despite its rhetoric, is not even interested in promoting competition, as can be seen from its policies regarding air fares and, more recently, rent-a-car facilities, and the Minister’s decision last year to stop the trade practices action against the banana cartel. When this Government speaks of promoting free enterprise, it means featherbedding the powerful vested interests that support it. In contrast the Opposition regards increased competition as an important means of ensuring that the public interest is served through the economic system. However, unlike the Government, the Labor Party sees the faults in the present economic system and is committed to attempting to rectify them.

The particular aspect of the Minister’s statement that most clearly shows how the PJT is to be nobbled is the section relating to the notification provisions. With no compulsory prior notification of price increases the PJT cannot perform the functions it was set up to do. Moreover, the 12-month limit on compulsory notification after inquiries is far too short to enable the Tribunal to have the information required for another inquiry in the future. There can be no proper surveillance for such a short time span. Clearly, any firm trying to avoid justifying its prices will just wait until the 12 months is up and jack up its prices again. To do anything about this, the Tribunal would again have to go through the procedure of gaining ministerial approval, conducting the time-consuming preinquiry consultative process mentioned by the Minister and then holding another public inquiry, just to affect the firm’s behaviour for only another 12 months. We are now left with a body that is occasionally to look at the price structure of certain industries. What it can do about such price structures is clear- nothing. However, it can do even this only with the approval of the Minister, giving this Government a chance to succumb, as it usually does, to lobbying by big companies. The Minister succumbed to such pressure in the case of the trade practices action against the banana cartel. Inevitably, he will do it again.

Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs · Farrer · LP

– in reply- During my second reading speech I covered the reasons why the Government has introduced this amending legislation. There is no need for me to go over all the points that I made at that time. However, I think it is necessary, in the light of some of the statements that have been made by members of the Opposition, to remind the House that the Government has decided to retain the Prices Justification Tribunal because it believes that it is necessary to have a price surveillance body in Australia. Contrary to what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) and by other Opposition members, this will be a viable and useful body. In the area of price surveillance it will have much work to do in the interests of the Australian community and the Australian consumer in particular. As a matter of fact, when I listened to the Leader of the Opposition I gained the impression that he had not read the second reading speech, nor had he read the recent Press reports. He referred to a number of issues in relation to the petroleum industry which he felt ought to be looked at by a viable PJT. The matters to which the Leader of the Opposition referred have been looked at recently by the Prices Justification Tribunal. The Shell oil company currently is under inquiry by the PJT and the decisions that are taken by this particular inquiry will flow through to the whole of the oil industry. Either the Leader of the Opposition is ignorant of the present position in relation to this inquiry or, alternatively, he sought to mislead this House and the Australian community.

I indicate again that this Government is determined to do what it can to ensure that Australian business is not overregulated in the interests of viable and profitable Australian business. Unless Australian business is profitable it is not going to be able to carry on and it is not going to have the capacity to employ people. Employment is a matter that is given a great deal of lip service by members of the Opposition. So we do need profitable business in the interests of the whole of Australia. I believe, and the Government believes, that overregulation in this area can be costly to business and, as a result, costly to the consumer and costly to the public. That is why we have sought, on the one hand, to retain a viable price surveillance body and, on the other, to ensure that the cost to business and through business to the community of having this body is kept to an absolute minimum.

During the debate the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) directed a couple of questions to me. The first question was in relation to the type of general directions that the Minister might give to the Prices Justification Tribunal from time to time in relation to the need for that Tribunal to give special consideration in its performance or functions. The honourable member for Lilley postulated some areas in which these directions might be given. The examples he gave were proper examples, but I give one or two more. It is possible that the Minister will find it necessary in the future to indicate to the Prices Justification Tribunal government policy in relation to the need to restore the profitability of an industry. It may be necessary for the Minister to indicate government policy in relation to the restructuring through tariff or some other form of assistance, of a particular industry. It may be necessary also for the Minister to indicate policy aspects concerning wages. For example in 1977, as the Minister responsible for the prices justification legislation, I approached the PJT and asked it to ensure that costs incurred by companies outside wage indexation guidelines were not passed on in prices.

The honourable member for Lilley also asked me a question in relation to the following statement in my second reading speech: the PJT will undertake a program of inquiries into prices within industries which are major component groups of the consumer price index, or which have a significant impact upon the level of prices in other industries.

As I recall what the honourable member for Lilley said, he was concerned to know why the Government intended that the PJT would undertake such a program. The reason is that these areas are important price areas for the whole of the community and the Government believes that they should be looked at by the Prices Justification Tribunal. It is the Government’s intention to bring this matter to the attention of the PJT as soon as this legislation has been proclaimed.

The honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys) and, I think, the Leader of the Opposition made reference to a former member of the PJT, Mr Michael Long. It was asserted by the honourable member for Griffith that Mr Long had been sacked by the Government. I regard that assertion as offensive to Mr Long. I am sorry that the honourable member for Griffith is not in the House now because I believe that his remarks, implying that Mr Long had been sacked, were quite offensive to that former member of the PJT. He served the Commonwealth for a period of five years as a member of that Tribunal. The fact of the matter is that his five-year appointment expired and he has not been reappointed by the Government. The Government has looked at the structure of the PJT and, as is well known, Mr Conron has recently been appointed Chairman and, in the near future, two other members will be appointed to the Tribunal. That will give a total of five members, with the two members who have served for some time and who will be continuing in their posts.

The Government’s aim was to provide a capacity for some members who had had a period of service to remain with the PJT and, at the same time, to be able to bring in from outside new people with new ideas and a fresh approach to the activity. Members of this House will recall that when the terms of several members of the Industries Assistance Commission expired recently the Government adopted the same policy; namely, to ensure, from the point of view of continuity and from the point of view of retaining experience, that some members of the IAC who had served for a period of years were reappointed and that a capacity was reserved to allow new members to be appointed to the IAC. This matter has received long and careful consideration by the Government. The measure before the House is in the best interests of the community. It will ensure that there is a price surveillance body, well equipped and capable of keeping price movements within the community under surveillance and of recommending appropriate action to the Government. The amendment which has been moved by the Opposition will be opposed by the Government. I reaffirm the support for the Bill which I gave during my second reading speech.

Amendment negatived.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Motion (by Mr Fife, on behalf of Mr Sinclair) agreed to:

That this Bill be referred to a legislation committee for report by 29 March 1979.

page 908


Ministerial Statement

Consideration resumed from 18 October on the following paper presented by Mr Fife:

Prices Justification Tribunal- Ministerial Statement, 18 October 1978 - and on motion by Mr Nixon:

That the House take note of the paper.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

page 908


Second Reading

Debate resumed from 27 February, on motion by Mr Viner:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Smith · Kingsford

– The legislation before the House is amending legislation entitled the Jurisdiction of Courts (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 1979. This Bill amends some 19 Acts of the Parliament and also, by way of a Schedule, amends a further 26 Acts. In other words, it is a very technical and machinery type of Bill which relates directly to the fact that we now have a Federal Court. The

Opposition does not oppose the Bill. The Bill completes the task begun in 1976 with the passing of the Federal Court of Australia Act in the amendments to the Judiciary Act. At first glance, the Bill appears to be a fairly terrifying mishmash of provisions. However, there is some reason behind the apparent madness. The Bill is required to provide rationalisation of the system of federal jurisdiction as it has existed since the creation of the Federal Court in 1 976.

The Australian judicial system is complexnecessarily so. At least, however, we do not have the highly undesirable features of a dual system of courts as operates, for example, in the United States of America. We welcome the fact that the High Court is to be relieved of original jurisdiction invested in it by statute. The only exception is to be the jurisdiction of the High Court to act as a court of disputed returns under the Commonwealth Electoral Act. The High Court, as the pinnacle of the Australian judicial system, should be free to concentrate on its role as a constitutional court, a court for settling intergovernmental disputes and an appellate court in important cases. Of course, the High Court of Australia also has original jurisdiction invested in it under the Constitution, namely, under section 75. For example, the High Court has original jurisdiction where the Commonwealth is suing or being sued. By creating a statutory right to proceed in State and Territory courts in these cases, it can be expected that people will normally take advantage of this right rather than proceed in the High Court under its original jurisdiction. This is particularly so, as under the Judiciary Act the case can be remitted to the appropriate State or Territory court.

The difficulties created by separate jurisdiction, Federal and State, has long taxed the minds of Attorneys-General, Solicitors-General, governments, members of the judiciary and lawyers. I think that, with certain exceptions and perhaps fairly understable differences of philosophy, everyone have been concerned with the same end, that is, a rational court system for Australia. However, over the years we have seen some strange reversals in attitudes on this question. The example that most readily comes to mind is that of a Superior Court. This was first floated by Sir Garfield Barwick when he was Attorney-General, taken up by Sir Nigel Bowen when he was Attorney-General and vehemently opposed by the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott) when he was SolicitorGeneral, as it was by the Liberal-National Country Party in Opposition in 1975. In fact, it became one of the infamous double dissolution

Bills of 1975. Yet in 1976 the Liberal-National Country Party Government, under the honourable member for Wentworth as AttorneyGeneral, created the Federal Court- a slightly watered down version of the Superior Court.

It may seem to some people that the obvious solution to dual jurisdiction would simply be for the Federal Parliament to invest Federal jurisdiction in State courts. However, this is not as simple as it must sound. Many areas of Federal law require a specialist jurisdiction and a specialist court. The great problem with Federal Parliament vesting Federal jurisdiction in State courts is that it can lead to fragmentation. That occurs in both procedural and administrative matters as well as matters of interpretation. The Parliament, therefore, loses control over the question of procedure and administration. This is not a question of a centralist grab for power. It is simply a recognition of a fact which militates against what might otherwise be seen to be a solution to the question of dual jurisdiction. The position of the High Court as the apex of State and Federal courts gives Australia a built-in advantage of uniformity which the United States of America does not have. The ultimate answer, of course, is the creation of a single system of courts. It is a measure which has support across party lines.

At the Constitutional Convention in Perth last year the entire Commonwealth delegation supported the idea of a unified system of courts to be created by agreement between the Commonwealth and the States. Of course, the question to be asked is whether such a Commonwealth-State agreement could ever take place in reality but we say that it is worth giving a try. Of course, the Constitution would have to be amended to give effect to those agreements. However, such an amendment would provide a measure of ongoing flexibility which a fixed constitutional amendment based on some ultimate solution could not.

Until we have a unified court system we need co-operation at a different level to provide at least a rationalised judicial system. This involves the Commonwealth investing State courts with Federal jurisdiction and the States being prepared to invest Federal courts with State jurisdiction. When one looks at the problems evident in family law, one has to wonder whether the Commonwealth and the States can ever co-operate. For example, in 1 976 the High Court decided in the case of Russell v. Russell that this Parliament, the national Parliament, does not have power to deal with all the matters involved with the custody of children and matrimonial property. The obvious solution, of course, would be a reference of power from the States. Since 1976 New South Wales and South Australia have been prepared to make the reference. Tasmania is also prepared to do so, as is Victoria, although belatedly. Queensland is vehemently opposed, as one would expect, to any referral of power. However, unlike Western Australia, Queensland has not yet moved to establish a State Family Court.

The Family Court in Western Australia is operating very successfully, due very much to the efforts of its Chief Justice, Mr Justice Barblett. I make that point because I would not want it thought that we are opposed to the setting up of State Family Courts. That provision is already contained in the Family Law Act and we have no intention of removing it. However, the success of the Western Australian State Family Court solves only half the problem, that is, the jurisdictional problem. It does not solve the problem of the content of law. In 1975 this Parliament decided that the whole subject of family law relating to custody and property should be the subject of one Federal law. The rationale for that decision remains and the States should accept it by making a reference of power. The enforcement of the law can, if they wish, be through a State Family Court.

Inevitably, with both State and Federal jurisdictions, the question arises as to how the division of responsibilities should be made between State and Federal courts. The Attorney-General (Senator Durack) said in the Senate that specialised jurisdiction or jurisdiction which is not likely to give rise to such litigation should be vested in a single court, which is normally the Federal Court. We would not quarrel with the wisdom of that proposition. However, there is another proposition which I believe should generally commend adherence which may give rise to conflict with the Attorney-General’s statement of principle, namely, that areas of law which are related and likely to arise in conjunction should be able to be dealt with by the one court. The practical operation of these principles is likely to give rise to difficulties. For example, trade practices is a highly specialised body of law. Yet it is an area which is likely to arise often in conjunction with the laws of the States, whether they be the new consumer protection laws or the existing sale of goods legislation. The decision which has been made is to invest jurisdiction under the Trade Practices Act in the Federal court. I think that this decision is undoubtedly the right one, as trade practices is a highly specialised and, in

Australian terms, a relatively new body of law. It is essential to maintain uniformity in decisionmaking under the Trade Practices Act as it has such a vast potential.

I wish to deal briefly with some of the other issues raised by the legislation. Jurisdiction is to be vested in Territory courts in matters in which jurisdiction is currently vested in State Supreme Courts but not in Territory courts. The Opposition welcomes this as being consistent with the status of the Territory courts. The limitation of appeals to the High Court is a matter of concern but in view of the ever-increasing work load of the High Court, it is regrettably necessary. The fact that appeals lie in many taxation cases is acknowledged as a mistake following the 1976 legislation. We could take the view that anything which limits the number of appeals to the High Court in taxation matters should be welcomed in view of the annihilation by the High Court, particularly under the present interpretation of Their Honours, of the legislative intent of the Income Tax Assessment Act. However, we live in hope that the judicial attitudes of the High Court will change and it is appropriate that the High Court should retain jurisdiction to hear appeals by leave or by special leave. Various amendments are consequential upon the enactment of the Judiciary Amendment Act and the Federal Court of Australia Act in 1976. These are of a technical tidying up nature and the Opposition has no objection to them. We support the legislation.


– It is always a pleasure to follow in a debate the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen). Once again, he has demonstrated a capacity to address himself to a very significant Bill, the Jurisdiction of Courts (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, in a fair and impartial manner. I pay tribute to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, as I have on previous occasions, for the manner in which he has approached legislation of this nature. To those people at home around Australia who are listening to the broadcast of the proceedings, this debate might sound very much like a dry lawyers’ argument. The fact of the matter is that it is not. The matters raised in this Bill are matters of great concern to every citizen of this nation because they affect the basic legal rights of every man, woman and child in Australia. I can think of no more apposite phrase with which to commence my remarks than to say that any Act which changes the jurisdiction to which a person should have right of access is an important Act in the Commonwealth of

Australia. From time to time there may well arise situations in respect of which a change of jurisdiction could seriously limit the opportunity of the ordinary citizen to have his or her right determined in a court of law.

I must say from the outset that I support the Bill. It was a matter of regret that I was not able to speak on the principal legislation in 1976. The Jurisdiction of Courts (Miscellaneous Amendments) is consequential legislation which basically follows the pattern which was accepted in 1976. That pattern, as the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner), who is at the table, will confirm, was basically to take away part of the jurisdiction of the High Court of Australia and to vest that jurisdiction in either the Federal Court of Australia or the State Supreme Courts. Under this consequential legislation this jurisdiction is extended to the Territory Supreme Courts.

Accordingly, I think I would be doing less than applying myself to the matters before the House if I did not make some reference to the second reading speech of the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, who represents the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Durack) in this House and who, of course, in his own right is a distinguished counsel from Western Australia. I want to refer to some of the matters which the Minister raised and to consider them briefly in the context of our Federal system of courts. The Minister in his second reading speech was at pains to emphasise four basic points which are to be effected by the passage of this legislation. They are:

  1. The reorganisation of the federal judiciary by the creation of a new federal court to replace the Federal Court of Bankruptcy and the Australian Industrial Court;
  2. the relief of the workload on the High Court of both appellate and original jurisdiction;
  3. a more significant role for the State Supreme Courts in the administration of the federal judicial power; and
  4. the creation of a federal appellate jurisdiction in significant areas of federal law and the provision of a court of appeal from Territory Supreme Courts

Those were the four basic objectives of the 1976 legislation. I think it would be fair to say that there were some people, particularly people in outlying States, who viewed the 1 976 legislation which this Bill continues, with some apprehension in that it did appear that access to the High Court of Australia could well be limited to those who had the convenience of living in Melbourne and Sydney and access to Canberra when the High Court of Australia is permanently based in the Australian Capital Territory.

Mr Donald Cameron:

– And a lot of money.


– Indeed. A lot of people in Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania were concerned that the High Court was being, in essence, converted into an exact replica of the United States Supreme Court which is permanently based in Washington. It is somewhat like a legal Taj Mahal. Everyone goes to Washington if he can afford it to have his case determined by the United States Supreme Court. This has not been the practice in Australia. Indeed, it was the expressed, and publicly expressed, view of Sir Owen Dixon, Australia’s greatest Chief Justice of the High Court, that the High Court of Australia should travel into every State of Australia and should be accessible to the citizens of Australia whether they live in Hobart, Rockhampton, Brisbane or Bunbury.

The die is cast. The High Court of Australia is to be permanently based in Canberra. There is nothing that any of us can do to change that decision. I do not intend to speak at length on this measure. However, I believe that the views I express will be accepted by honourable members on both sides of the House. I want to make the very earnest plea that it will do no good to this Commonwealth and no good to the people of Australia if the High Court of Australia hibernates in Canberra in some sort of legal Taj Mahal. I believe that the High Court of Australia is the people’s court. Constitutionally it is the pinnacle of our legal system. I believe it would be the wish of at least some members of the present bench of the High Court that after the High Court takes up permanent residence in Canberra it will, nevertheless, continue to visit the outlying States on a regular basis. If someone is to say that is not to be so, let me put my question clearly and bluntly on the line. If the High Court will not move from Canberra, if someone has some idea that the High Court will be permanently based in Canberra, the Commonwealth Government, whichever party is in power, will have to pick up the tab to enable litigants from Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania to get to the High Court.

If this is not done we will find that within the space of one or two years the High Court will become the province of the rich and the privileged in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra- the companies and corporations which can easily afford to travel to High Court hearings in Canberra. But what of the litigant? What of the ordinary citizen? What chance will he have if he has to travel from north Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania or South Australia? His travelling expenses could outweigh the legal costs or, indeed, the amount which was in question.

Mr Donald Cameron:

– What about a Queenslander using a Sydney-based lawyer in a Queensland case?


-That may limit his costs somewhat. But I think one may find- and I do not want to defame the Sydney bar and the Minister is very careful not to look at me when I make this comment- that the costs of the bar in Brisbane are considerably less than those in Sydney. I will not comment further on that. I want to make the point- and I know the Minister, because of his practical experience in his lengthy and distinguished career at the bar in Western Australia would recognise and, indeed, accept what I am saying- that the High Court must never become inaccessible to the ordinary man whether he lives in one of the major population centres or whether he is sensible enough to live in one of the more beautiful and less populated States of Australia.

Having made that point might I say that it would be churlish of me not to make some comment upon a matter which has interested lawyers in this country for at least the last decade and to which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred in his speech. I refer to the question of whether we should have a single system of the administration of justice in this country; in other words, whether we should have a single system whereby, for example, all courts were Federal courts. I want to say that the argument has been canvassed by many distinguished and eminent jurists and lawyers and for my own part I prefer the view which has been expressed publicly on this question by Sir Laurence Street, the Chief Justice of New South Wales. I believe it would be a tragedy for Australia if we were to have a situation in which State Supreme Courts were to go out of existence. I would challenge as a matter of law whether they could be legislated out of existence in any event. But suffice it to say that I believe State Supreme Courts are an integral part of our Federal system and for my own part I could not accept that there should be a single unitary Federal system.

I am well aware that arguments have been raised in good faith by persons on the other side of the fence who have said: ‘Look, by retaining Supreme Courts in addition to the Federal court system there is duplication, confusion, added cost and so on’. I do not think anyone in his right mind would dispute the fact that Federalism is an expensive system of government to operate. It is certainly far more expensive than a one-man centralist dictatorship, which is a very cheap form of government, but for the preservation of basic rights and for a country as widely diverse as Australia the Federal system in my judgment is the only system. It is one which I wholeheartedly support. Therefore, like Sir Laurence Street, the Chief Justice of New South Wales, I enter the debate to issue a word of caution. Those who on the face of it believe that a unitary Federal system of courts is the answer might well be unwittingly inviting a course of action which represents a disservice to the Commonwealth of Australia and to the individual residents of the States of the Commonwealth of Australia.

I want to pay a tribute to those judges and in particular to the Chief Judge of the Federal Court of Australia, Sir Nigel Bowen, for the manner in which that court, since its inception, has integrated into the Australian legal system. I make these comments with some slight embarrassment because the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, who is at the table, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition know full well that not a single Federal Court judge has been appointed for the State in which I reside. I have heard it said that there is not sufficient work to justify the appointment of a Federal Court judge for Tasmania. I find that hard to believe and I might suggest to the Government, with all due respect, that the reason that there is not a lot of Federal Court work in Tasmania is probably because there is not a Federal Court judge available in Tasmania. What is happening is that Federal Court work is being done on an agency basis in Melbourne, Sydney or Canberra. Somehow it does not seem to me to be right that there should be a Federal Court of Australia with judges appointed from every State in Australia except Tasmania.

Whilst I am on that subject, might I say that it still does not seem to me to be right that for 79 years a man from Western Australia, South Australia or Tasmania has not been considered appropriate for appointment to the High Court of Australia or has not been prepared to accept such an appointment. I am prepared to concede a fair amount of legal acumen to those who are in practice at the Bar in Melbourne and Sydney and to those who sit upon the Supreme Court Benches of New South Wales and Victoria. I find it incredible that in 79 years of this Commonwealth no Western Australian, Tasmanian or South Australian has ever been appointed to the High Court of Australia. I leave that point with the Minister because I have no doubt that he is as acutely conscious of it as I am. I am not going to get involved in an argument as to the number of judges who have been appointed to the High Court of Australia from Victoria compared to the number appointed from New South Wales. I simply make the point that we have six States in this Commonwealth of Australia and that so far, for 79 years, the entire High Court Bench has come from only three of those States.

I conclude by making a plea that the operations of the 1 976 principal Act and this amending Bill which is passing through the Parliament at present be kept under the closest review. I read in the Minister’s second reading speech of the need to relieve the High Court of Australia of its very severe work load. I have some second-hand knowledge of the world load of a judge of the High Court of Australia because I served as associate to one of Australia’s greatest judges, the right honourable Sir Victor Windeyer, in 1962 and 1 963. 1 have no doubt that the work load has increased since those days. In the desire to weaken the work load, however, let us not limit the right of access of the ordinary Australian to the highest court in the land, whether he be Liberal or Labor or whether he be rich or poor. This is not the question. Access to the High Court of Australia by every man, every woman and indeed every child, where an action is brought on behalf of a child, should be unrestricted. It is by that means that the High Court remains close to the people so that it is the people’s court in every sense of the words. If we isolate the High Court and set it up as a legal Taj Mahal in Canberra we will limit its activities to technical points of law for the rich and we will have taken away from the people of Australia something which was guaranteed to them in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia- something which is theirs.

I want to see a situation in which, when we move into the 21st century, the High Court of Australia will be close to the people, and in which it will sit in Queensland to hear Queensland cases, with Queensland counsel, and with Queensland litigants able to sit in the court and listen to what is being done with their cases. The same should apply to Western Australians, Tasmanians and South Australians. I do not want to see the High Court become isolated. I do not want it to become a court to which the ordinary man and woman will not have access. To that extent, in giving my support to this Bill, I urge that governments, regardless of party affiliation watch carefully to ensure that there has not been created a situation in which the highest court of the land has become a court which is inaccessible to the ordinary man, woman and child. On the same basis- I know that the Government of which I am proud to be a member takes this view- let us not by Federal legislation do anything which will take away the traditional and substantial role of the State Supreme Courts. They are important. I believe that State Supreme Court judges are closer to the people than are either High Court judges or Federal Court judges, and that is no reflection on the two latter categories. It is simply a reflection of my belief that State governments are able to appoint men and women to sit on State Benches who are closer to the people in those States, and it is right that people in South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia should be tried literally by their peers within the States.

This Bill was basically the product of the former Attorney-General, the distinguished and most honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott), a man for whom I and all members of this Parliament have the highest regard. It has been brought forward by the present AttorneyGeneral, strongly assisted by his Western Australian colleague in this House, the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs. It has passed through the government members’ law and government committee, of which I have the honour to be chairman. My colleague the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Donald Cameron), who sits alongside me, has the honour to be a member of that committee. We wish the Bill well but we hope that it will be kept under review and that an assurance will be forthcoming that nothing will come from this legislation which will deny justice to anybody in this country.

Mr Donald Cameron:

– At this late hour my comments will be relatively brief. I want to refer to the clause of the Bill in which the Government claims to be correcting what is described as an accidental error which occurred during the passage of the principal legislation in 1 976. That relates to the right of appeal on taxation matters from the Federal Court to the High Court. This amending Bill proposes that an appeal from the Federal Court to the High Court shall be only by leave of the High Court. As all honourable members in this chamber, including the honourable member for Cook (Mr Dobie), are aware, the present situation is that it is a matter of right for a citizen to appeal to the High Court in an income tax matter concerning a sum in excess of $20,000. The honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman), who has just resumed his seat, mentioned my membership of the Government members’ law and government committee which considered this Bill last year. At that time I expressed my concern about this alteration. I bow to the fact that a vast majority of honourable members on both sides of the House accept that this is not a real problem, but I want to state that we are taking something from the people. We are taking away from them their automatic right of appeal to the High Court in income tax matters concerning sums in excess of $20,000. We are now giving the High Court the right to grant leave.

I am the only layman on the Government members’ law and government committee. All the other members are lawyers and it is quite an occasion to watch them at work in the committee’s meetings. However, the matter that concerns me most is that the High Court might commence to adopt the attitude that it has already dealt with a matter and appeals to the High Court, which are at this moment an automatic right, will not be granted. Only recently the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Sir Garfield Barwick, completely reversed his decision on territorial representation. My colleague the honourable member for Denison can confirm that. Just because they are judges and just because they are beyond criticism by this Parliament or members of this House does not mean that they are infallible. We are taking from the High Court of Australia the heavy work load associated with appeals on income tax matters, I hope that at all times it will display a preparedness and a willingness to reconsider principles which have been considered in the past.

By his very description the Commissioner of Taxation is a most remote person who is empowered with enormous power. What the Taxation Commissioner says is beyond political interference. He possesses great strength. The only way alterations can be made to decisions of the Commissioner is either by alteration of the taxation laws or by a challenge to the Commissioner’s interpretations through the courts. The Taxation Commissioner is not known by anyone throughout the country for having a big heart. My friend the honourable member for Cook (Mr Dobie) nods his head in total approval. Because of all the power vested in the Commissioner we have to ensure at all times that there is a counter-balancing protection for John Citizen. Up until now it has been the High Court. After this Bill has completed its passage through this Parliament the top level will be the Federal Court and then by leave only to the High Court. I repeat an earlier plea to the judges who constitute the highest court in this land: ‘Remember that you have changed your minds in the past and just because you have handled a case previously does not mean that you should say no on the next occasion that you are asked to review a matter’.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Third Reading

Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.

Bill (on motion by Mr Viner) read a third time.

page 914


Second Reading

Debate resumed from 6 March, on motion by Mr Viner:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Smith · Kingsford

– This Bill seeks to amend the Family Law Act. It is a matter which the Opposition supports. The Family Law Amendment Bill is designed to make necessary changes to the Family Law Act so that an Institute of Family Studies can be established. The Bill also makes several relatively minor but nevertheless important amendments to the Act, resulting in the main from the recommendations of the Family Law Council. The Family Law Council has submitted two annual reports. We are very thankful for the fact that it has been able to furnish information as it sees it relating to family law. As would be appreciated, the Opposition has a free vote in this matter but the comments I am putting forward are virtually a consensus about what the Opposition feels is a very acceptable piece of legislation.

The major purpose of the legislation is to cure deficiencies in the Act which have prevented the Institute of Family Studies from coining into being. It is a matter of regret that the Institute has not been established as was intended by the Parliament in 1975. The Act has been in operation for three years and the studies over that period would have been invaluable. It is a pity that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Family Law Act, which was set up to review the Act, does not have the benefit of the researches and studies that would have been available had the Institute been in existence for those three years. Nevertheless, the importance of the Institute can be seen by looking at its charter. Broadly, its functions are to promote the identification and understanding of the factors affecting marital and family stability in Australia, with the promotion and protection of the family as the natural and fundamental unit in society, and to advise the Attorney-General in relation to the making of grants for purposes related to the functions of the Institute and the supervising of the employment of the grants so made. It is to be hoped that the Institute will shortly be operating and the necessary appointments will be made.

There are several other relatively minor amendments which this Bill proposes. Most of them deal with the recommendations of the Family Law Council through its two annual reports. Before I deal with these amendments I want to make it clear that I do not consider that the establishment of the parliamentary joint committee in any way inhibits action being taken to implement the recommendations of the Family Law Council. To adopt that approach would be to negate the value of the excellent work which has already been done by that Council. Belated recognition has been given to the recommendation of the Family Law Council in its first report that persons who commenced actions under the Matrimonial Causes Act should be able to take the benefit of the operation of section 9 (2) of the Family Law Act. It is desirable that this should be done. However, it is an example of how slow the wheels of law reform turn under this Government that this action has been taken in 1979 whereas the Act came into operation in February 1976. 1 should think that very few people would be able to take benefit of this provision now whereas a number might have been able to do so if the amendments had been made 12 months ago.

One of the most significant amendments being made by this Bill is the amendment to section 62 of the Act, which deals with conferences and reports by counsellors and welfare officers. This provision will be amended so that a conference can be ordered with counsellors or the court can order a report on the welfare of children to the marriage. The court can make these orders whenever the welfare of the children to the marriage is affected. The amendments are to be commended but the problem lies in whether sufficient facilities are available in the counselling area as well as whether there are enough counsellors and ancillary staff for the intended beneficiaries- namely, the children of the marriage- to gain what obviously are the intended advantages of the amendments. Clearly, the evidence is that there are too few counsellors and that they have insufficient facilities. Unless urgent action is taken by the Government these resources are likely to become even further over-stretched. Counselling is an area which should be given high priority. It should always be borne in mind that there will be satisfaction between parties to family law matters only when adversary proceedings can be avoided.

The Opposition welcomes the fact that the discretion of the courts to set aside maintenance orders is being liberalised. At present the provisions are too narrow in that maintenance agreements can be set aside only on the grounds of fraud, duress, the giving of false evidence or the suppression of evidence. The new provisions will allow the setting aside of maintenance agreements whenever there has been a miscarriage of justice. The concept of miscarriage of justice is one that is well known in law and one that allows much greater flexibility than the narrow concept at present in the Act. Another amendment is that being made to section 96 of the Act, and this stems from the second report of the Family Law Council. It is encouraging to see that the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) has been able to act upon at least some of the recommendations with a degree of promptness. The particular recommendation was that all appeals to the Family Court from courts of summary jurisdiction should be dealt with as complete de novo hearings and that the Family Court should have unlimited power to hear further evidence in such appeals. We also welcome the fact that the Government has accepted the recommendations of the Family Law Council in its second report for the repeal of section 83 (6). The repeal of this provision and the insertion of a new section 83 (6) will allow courts to reduce or discharge maintenance orders within a period of 12 months from the making of the order.

There are other very minor amendments, including a provision to allow the garnisheeing of wages of Commonwealth employees. A number of matters have been put before the Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act relating to the effectiveness of garnishees. They are not always effective. There are some difficulties in enforcement, not the least being the stigma related to the employer knowing that there is a garnishee, which could have a bearing on an employee leaving his place of employment. I hope that when the Committee brings down its recommendations we will be looking at alternative methods of enforcing maintenance orders, particularly through bank orders, where the stigma of garnishee might not be so obvious. Nevertheless, the Opposition has no objection to the amendments and we support the legislation.


– I do not intend to detain the House with a lengthy statement on the nature of the amendments introduced by Government, which have the support of the Opposition. However, I will speak briefly to the Family Law Amendment Bill because I am Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act. These amendments have the intention of affecting some of the provisions of the Act which our Committee was charged with considering. Of course, very early in the peace when the Committee commenced its deliberations it had the opportunity of speaking with representatives of the Family Law Council. We became very much aware, as indeed all honourable members would be aware, of the need to act in certain areas in which there is no dispute between members or political parties and where there is a need for urgent action. This Bill is designed to pick up those sorts of questions and deal with them, and to enable the Family Law Act to be more effective, as far as there is substantial agreement. Some of those matters have been alluded to already.

So far as the activities of the Committee on the Family Law Act are concerned, I want to report to honourable members that, as I have said when making statements at the public hearings which the Committee has held already, there has been a very large degree of public interest in the Act as it now stands. We have received well over 400 submissions, many of them from individuals who feel somewhat aggrieved at the operation of the Act. A committee of the Parliament finds it very difficult, without acting as a court of law and hearing both parties, to try to review individual cases. It would be a very game committee that would attempt to act in such a way as to review individual cases, and that certainly has been the approach of the Select Committee on the Family Law Act. We have held public hearings in Canberra. We have heard from the AttorneyGeneral’s Department and will be conducting further public hearings this Friday to deal with other Government departments that have made submissions. We had the opportunity of conducting public hearings in Sydney last week, and there was a large number of submissions from interested parties.

The Committee already has taken the unusual step of approving for publication a large number of submissions. Some 50 submissions which were published about two weeks ago will be available shortly in a Hansard form. Last week in Sydney we agreed to the publication of a further 54 submissions and they also will be made available in Hansard form. People can consider them and make further comments and observations that might be helpful to the Committee in considering the sorts of recommendations that members of the public are making to it. At this stage the position is that the Committee has received something of the order of 100 substantive submissions which it will be examining carefully. We will be endeavouring to maintain our program, which requires us to report to the Parliament at the end of this year, if that is at all possible.


-Having listened to the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen), I intend to be very brief on this matter. I agree with the comments made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and I listened with interest to the remarks made by the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock). I am pleased to hear that the Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act is looking at these matters with objectivity. Much as one may try to maintain a position of neutrality, if I can call it that, anything connected with family law brings with it a very deep feeling of involvement with all parties, whether it be the petitioning husband or the respondent wife or vice versa. I am pleased to know that the Committee is considering the matter with such objectivity. I am expressing now a personal view on the basis of cases that have come into my office involving heart-rending stories of a spouse, either male or female, where problems have arisen over the custody of children. In my view, it is extremely difficult to get away from that feeling of involvement with both parties, particularly where the welfare of a child is concerned.

It must be extremely difficult for the courts in their wisdom to decide matters of care and control of children, be it with the mother or the father. Quite obviously, the welfare of the child is the most important issue. It is also extremely difficult when there is discord between the parties and feelings get out of hand. I am pleased that in most of the decisions that have been brought to my attention the judges who have been appointed to this jurisdiction have shown a great degree of objectivity in deciding what is to be done for the welfare of the child. The counselling services that are so ably provided under the Family Law Act seem to have a great bearing on the decisions reached finally by the judges, and in my experience it is only rarely that there are appeals from a decision of a single judge to the Full Court. Those cases generally occur when either party, be it the husband or the wife, maintains an intransigent position. Where that situation arises, the damage done to the children cannot be calculated. In all the circumstances, the review of the existing provisions of the Family Law Act is being made at a time when that is most necessary. If there is any way in which the intransigence of either party can be minimised it should be considered. I hope that the Committee will be looking at that matter because the deleterious effects on children should be uppermost in the minds of both parents. I conclude on that note. I commend to the Committee a study of these matters. There is nothing more heartrending than to see a child’s life destroyed by intransigent parents.


-I find that I am in agreement with the comments which have been made by each of the speakers. I commend the Chairman of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Family Law Act which is reviewing that Act, on the manner in which he has begun the operations of the Committee and given members a lead as to the way in which the hearings will be conducted: I have not had an opportunity as yet of going into the recommendations of the Family Law Council in detail, but I have had the opportunity of observing the whole trend of the approach to this matter by the Family Law Courts. Regrettably I am coming to the conclusion that the title should be: The Destruction of the Family Law Courts. The measure of achievement and the whole keynote of the approach to this matter seems to be how quickly can a marriage be dissolved and just how many dissolutions can be put through in half an hour. I am not exaggerating. I sat in the Family Law Court last week and saw seven marriages dissolved in something like 20 minutes. The honourable member for Swan (Mr Martyr) attended a hearing, and it is to his credit that he was so emotionally moved that he walked out of the court room. It was not a matter of his weakness, but it was a matter of his being present at what was a tragic bitterness being expressed by two people.

I hope that out of this examination of the whole of these procedures and the whole of the attitude to marriage will come some solution whereby the stability and the sanctity of marriage can be restored. We do not have a proud record in this nation, and we are getting the backlash from the ease with which we are presenting divorce to the people of Australia. The backlash is the delinquency, the lack of opportunity, the tragedy of young people who are thrown into that particular position where maybe they will see their father this week, maybe they will never see him again. Maybe they will see their mother this week, and maybe they will never see her again. We saw a child minding centre in those courts. Not one member of that Committee was not moved by watching those children playing with grandmothers or with other people who were accepting the responsibility of parents who could not get along. I am not suggesting for a moment that where there is an irretrievable element in a marriage that it can be solved. If it is irretrievable, one must accept the consequences. But surely to God there can be some preparation for marriage, some seriousness in regard to this step which will introduce a greater permanency into this very sacred union between two people. I repeat that this country does not have a proud record in this matter. I think that the greatest achievement of the Family Law Council would be if it were to come forward and do as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) has suggested and that is to at least recommend to the Government that more counselling facilities be made available.

The Committee has already had some association with a magistrate who comes down from the bench and sits at the table with the two people involved in the divorce proceedings. He requests their counsel to sit in the back of the court while he quietly talks to the people involved in the hope that there may be some element whereby he can restore that marriage. This man is becoming famous, and strange to relate his court is the most popular one in New South Wales. I make no apologies for what I say. I may be called reactionary or old fashioned. I do not give a damn about that. I think this nation rests on the sacredness of the family. This Joint Parliamentary Committee must accept the responsibility of trying to probe deep enough into this matter and of coming forward with recommendations which are not just concerned with property settlement or the custody of a child- a chattel to be handed to a mother or a father. That is totally unacceptable and, my God, this nation will pay the price unless this responsiblity is accepted by the Committee. I am not concerned by the sneering smiles of some members of the Committee or of others who might regard my contribution as being somewhat odd. That is my attitude and it will never change. It is a good Committee. I do not think there is a person on it who does not have a very deep sense of responsibility and who has not had experience in the ways of the world. 1 do hope that somewhere among those recommendations will be a solution to this very serious and disastrous problem which this nation has and that is the ever increasing number of irresponsible divorces. I speak not of the irretrievable ones, but the irresponsible ones.

Mr Donald Cameron:

– I wish to support the previous speaker, the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr

Katter) and indeed the speakers before that, in the concern that they have expressed about the numbers of marriages which have broken down in this country. I think it is timely to remind the House of the members of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Family Law Act which has been referred to. The Chairman is the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock), and the members are Senator Coleman, Senator Davidson, Senator Melzer, Senator Missen, Senator Walters, the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, (Mr Lionel Bowen), the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown), the honourable member for Lilley in Queensland (Mr Kevin Cairns), the honourable member for Casey (Mr Falconer), the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding), the previous speaker the honourable member for Kennedy, the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher), the honourable member for Swan (Mr Martyr) and the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart). I take this opportunity to express the view that if the final report of the Committee is going to be taken seriously, then that Committee must continue to recognise that, as a nation, Australia has accepted the concept of irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a reason for divorce.

I hold the view that very few Australians would be advocates of the old expensive days, under the previous divorce system, when the bitterness and hatred which existed would be resurrected. There are some people, of course, who correctly point out that when it comes to custody of the children a case has to be presented in relation to who has been responsible for the breakdown of the marriage.

The previous speaker, the honourable member for Kennedy, put his finger on the soft spot when he said that one of the problems in Australia today is that marriage is so easy, and that there should be far more marriage preparation. When people say that it is their right to marry and that they do not want the State interfering, I counter that argument with the view that if there are children and if a partner- the breadwinner- disappears, then there will be a call upon the Australian taxpayer to support those children. By virtue of that safety valve being there and with a peace of mind as far as the public is concerned, there is more than a passing obligation to ensure that before one enters into marriage one does so with a better attitude than: ‘If it does not work, I can get out with 1 2 months notice ‘.

I distinctly remember in this very House in 1975, when this side of the Chamber was in opposition, moving an amendment to the Family Law Act that the period of separation should be two years and not one. Regrettably, that amendment was defeated. Some honourable members expressed the view that if a marriage is dead, it is dead. I accept the validity of that. But I believe that if people have entered into a life long contract, two years is not too long to wait. I further express the view that many marriages would come together again if the period required for separation were in excess of one year. The generation of the previous speaker probably had as many rows and differences as occur in marriage today. He is smiling, but not acknowledging or denying this suggestion. But in those days divorce was not easy, and so often the partners worked at patching up the differences. Today the only patching up that is done is working out who will share the goods that are left over.

Australia, as has been correctly stated by the honourable member for Kennedy, will at its very peril ignore the difficulties that exist in marriage today. We are seeing a sizable part of the new generation growing up knowing only one parent. The acting male principal of a school in my electorate that I visited late last year said to me: ‘Mr Cameron, if you can use influence to have a male teacher posted to this junior school it will be beneficial ‘. He went on to explain that in one street nearby there were 14 homes. Regrettably only one home in that street had a normal family situation; the other 13 homes were occupied by single parents with children. All the children knew in terms of the male sex were ‘uncles’, in some cases ‘uncles’ who came and went in great numbers. It was his view that it was important for the balanced attitude of these children that influence was exerted on them not only by female teachers but also by male teachers. That example is certainly unusual, but that situation exists from one end of this country to the other. The Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act has an important role to play. I am sure that all members of this House who have a responsible attitude will be wishing it well and hoping that it will accept some of the changes which -

Mr Keith Johnson:

– Marry the girl and make her an honest woman.

Mr Donald Cameron:

-The honourable member is alluding to the fact that I speak as a single man. That is correct. Often when a person is standing away from a problem he sees much more clearly than those caught up in the middle.


– I enter this debate briefly to raise two points. Firstly, I remind the House that, like the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Donald Cameron), I moved an amendment to the Family Law Bill when it was before the House. The point that I wanted to emphasise in the amendment was that families in which breakdowns occur and divorce follows fall into two categories- those which have no children and those which have children. In those cases where there are children, 12 months separation provides a presumption to the court of the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. No one seems to take account of the fact that the children may have an interest in whether or not the court should proceed to accept the irretrievability of the breakdown. My amendment sought to place the onus on the court to be satisfied of the irretrievability of the breakdown where dependent children were involved. I hope that the Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act will consider this matter. I did not contend by the amendment that questions of fault should arise. I contend that there needed to be some party, some advocate or some concerned person with responsibility for the interests of the children. In so many cases before the family law courts, because the parties to the marriage- the husband and the wife- are concerned about their own emotional conflicts, their property disputes and their personal interests in custody or access to children, not enough emphasis is placed upon the interests of the children in having a proper relationship with both their parents. Therefore I hope that the Committee, in its examination, will deeply study the interests of children.

The second point I raise and which I hope the Committee will consider is the title of the Family Law Act. I do not believe it should be called by that name. The title creates the impression that the only concern of governments for families occurs where breakdown has occurred or is occurring. The courts then deal with the breakdown situations that are irretrievable. In some circumstances they try to find ways and means of identifying the fact that the breakdown situation is not irretrievable. But the courts are often trying to cure a situation where cure, other than the granting of a divorce, is impossible. The future of the children is then resolved in the best way possible in the difficult circumstances.

Governments need to have a concern for families from their formation. Governments need to have a concern for families to ensure that economic or emotional stresses and strains are not placed on them so that the families can cope with the complex society within which we live. The unit with which all of us associate the most is the household unit or, for 95 per cent of the population, the family unit. It is the family to which the majority of individuals turn in time of need. They turn to the family for emotional support. They turn to the family in time of sickness. They turn to members of the family in times when they need someone who is more than a friend. So, if the future of the nation is to be guaranteed and assured we want to make certain that as many Australians as possible have strong family ties and emotional support which will enable them to pass through life in a meaningful, happy and satisfying way. If governments by their policies put stresses and strains on the household unit and on the family they will create more work for what we today call the Family Law Court.

I come back to the second point I made. I do not believe the court should be called the Family Law Court. That name implies that society as a whole is concerned only with the well being of the family when it has reached a breaking point. Therefore I ask the Committee to look at this question of the name of the legislation that governs the court that deals with marriages that have broken down. I urge the Government- I will not have time to pursue the point this evening- to develop a full and comprehensive family policy which concentrates on preventing families from breaking down rather than having to cure the circumstances that have brought about a breakdown and then to provide for the outcome of that breakdown through a heavy burden on the rest of the community by way of economic and other support to children of broken homes.

Debate interrupted.

page 919




-I wish to make a short statement. As the House is programmed to debate a motion tomorrow about which there is great public interest and as honourable members may wish to express themselves and vote as a matter of conscience free from party alignments, I wish to make some brief comments about the conduct of the debate. The Chair will give honourable members the opportunity to express their views or to move amendments in order that the House will arrive at a conclusion which meets with the agreement of the majority of honourable members. I propose that members will be called so as to alternate different views. It would help if members let me know any views they have formed already as distinct from the power of persuasion their colleagues may possess. An amendment to the original motion as proposed has been foreshadowed. If it is moved and seconded I shall put the question in the form that the amendment be agreed to. The House will be aware that that is a different way of putting such an amendment but I think it would serve the interests of the House to do it in that fashion.

This question will be clear to members and to those who may be in the galleries to listen to the debate, and, if negatived, will allow a further amendment to be proposed to the original motion, if that is the will of the House. It will also be in order to move an amendment to a proposed amendment. In such a case the question put by the Chair will deal with the first amendment as if it were a distinct question and with the second amendment as if it were an ordinary amendment. Accordingly the question will be put that the amendment to the proposed amendment be agreed to, which must be disposed of before the question on the primary amendment is put to the House. I remind honourable members of the rule that they may speak once only to a question before the Chair. Honourable members speaking after an amendment to the original motion has been moved will be regarded as speaking concurrently to the original motion and the amendment. Those who have already spoken to the motion, if they receive the call, will be confined to discussion of the amendment. Finally, I hope that honourable members who have amendments to move will circulate them as early as possible. This will allow the House to assess alternative propositions and will possibly help the Chair in allocating the call.

page 920


Repossessions by Department of the Capital Territory- Herbicides- Department of Social Security- Employment Statistics- PensionVisit of Chinese Deputy Prime Minister


-It being after 10.30 1 propose the question:

That the House do now adjourn.


-For some time I and many other honourable members have been concerned at the manner by which legal processes are used to repossess or seize people ‘s private property and sell it by public auction in order to satisfy legal debts incurred. On the face of it the legal process may seem reasonable from the point of view of commercial interests which seek to protect their economic viability. If the goods were sold at somewhere near their full market value these processes could be seen as reasonable. But we all know that this is not the case and that more often than not the goods are sold by auction for a mere fraction of their true market value. The costs of cartage and advertising are deducted from the net return with the result that the citizen loses an essential household amenity and there is only a marginal reduction in the debt.

I shall cite a couple of typical examples that have taken place in Canberra recently. I cite the case of a woman who had just finished paying off a freezer worth $800. It was seized by the bailiff to satisfy a debt of $400 and sold at auction to a single bidder for $80. The cost of advertising and transport was deducted and there was a net reduction in the debt of $48. So the lady lost her freezer, for which she had just finished paying, to satisfy another debt and had only $48 taken off the debt. Yesterday I had the case of a gentleman who had a tip truck with a new value of some $60,000. It was only a couple of years old, was in good shape and was valued on the market at $30,000. A hire purchase company sold it for $15,000 to satisfy a debt of $23,000. The man, unfortunately, also had a mortgage on his home and the home was sold to satisfy the debt. So he lost his business, his truck and his home because he could not meet this debt.

Disturbing as this may seem, it was even more disturbing to find that not only are private commercial enterprises indulging in this perfectly legal practice; now government departments are getting into the act. The Department of Capital Territory, seeking overdue water rates, seems to aspire to become a pacesetter in this insidious process of seizing people’s household goods. Recently a warrant was issued for the bailiff to seize a woman’s washing machine. This lady happened to be a pensioner whose husband was on the dole. He had been made redundant. The proposed action was to satisfy a debt of $200. If the washing machine had been auctioned it probably would have been sold for $50. Fortunately I was able to make some arrangements, through the sympathy of a bank manager, to lend her the money to pay the debt and she was able to keep her washing machine. Today I had the case of a warrant having been issued to seize a lady’s lounge suite and to auction it to meet an overdue water rate debt of $80. We know how much second-hand lounge suites are worth. It probably would have been sold for $10 or $20 and the debt would not have been satisfied. She is a single parent with a dependant son who is awaiting an accident claim. She is the victim of circumstances over which she had no control yet here we have a government department exercising the due processes of the law in a very unsympathetic manner.

I suppose there is some moral justification for a hire purchase company that has to pay for the goods but water is not something that the Department of the Capital Territory has to manufacture. It is a natural resource; the Department only has to reticulate it. I think we should not see the Department of the Capital Territory as an overbearing sort of landlord which kicks people when they are down. The Department should be seen as a compassionate and sympathetic landlord. I appeal to the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Ellicott) to exercise his discretion to see that his Department does not pursue people to the point of seizing their goods to satisfy debts for overdue water rates, and to see that his Department does not act with undue haste in handing over delinquent debts for collection by the due processes of the law as administered by the Deputy Crown Solicitor.


-In the limited time available I desire to bring to the attention of the House a situation which is developing with effective and economic agricultural sprays popularly known as 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. Pressure is being exerted by overseas chemical companies to eliminate 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T in favour of a more expensive chemical, one for which there is a greater profit percentage to those companies. Local firms providing spraying services are most concerned at this possible turn of events which, if it takes place, could increase farmers’ costs considerably. The chemical 2,4-D is the great price leveller for other chemicals on the farm scene and is used for weed elimination by country councils throughout our land to control the weeds in the various lanes, highways and byways.

There are many expensive chemicals available to replace 2,4-D. People are awaiting the right market reactions. The chemical companies would dearly love to have 2,4-D removed from the market place so that the much dearer materials could be used. Farmers’ already burdensome costs would rise very dramatically overnight because 2,4-D is the most widely used chemical of any on the Australian market. Honourable members can imagine the cost surge of weed control for the nation’s statutory weed control authorities. We should consider the increase in Australia’s import bill for these new chemicals. We should consider the effect on our highly volatile grain export industries. These new chemicals are usually American and, should 2,4-D be banned, would be used throughout the world. This is a serious situation which should be looked into by the Department of Primary Industry and the various agricultural departments in the States of Australia. The banning of 2,4-D will increase our farmers ‘ costs considerably. If it is banned such action will be detrimental to agriculture generally.


-I wish to make a plea tonight on behalf of that section of the community which already has been bashed heavily enough by this Government. My plea to the Government is in respect of what is happening throughout the whole of Australia at the present time. The computer of the Department of Social Security currently is churning out millions of queries to age pensioners, invalid pensioners and others in regard to the rebate which to date has been granted to them in respect of their telephone rentals. In my view this Government has reached the lowest depths possible. It is bashing the underprivileged once again.

Mr Keith Johnson:

– It always does it.


– I agree with the comment of the honourable member for Burke: The Government always does it. The pensioners of this country already have been bashed enough. Why is this Government still bashing them? Is it a government of bashers? I do not know whether this Government wants to be labelled the same as the bashers in Queensland. Surely to God this Government does not want that. I repeat, this Government can reach no lower depths than the depths it has reached already. The iniquitous decision of this Government to reduce from sixmonthly to once-yearly the indexation of pensions- age, invalid and others- was a low enough act.

Mr Keith Johnson:

– It was shameful.


– It was a shameful act. But what the Government is doing now is more shameful. Does the Government want to take away the only joy that age pensioners have at the moment? They do not have much joy at the present time as a result of the bashing they have received from this Government. The only joy they have is the means of communication with their families by telephone. In my electorate persons of up to 87 years of age are being denied the privilege, if it can be called that- I maintain it is not a privilege but a right which this Government should grant to them- of communicating with their families. These people are too old to get out. Does this Government want to take from them the only right or privilege that they have? What about the invalid pensioners- the paraplegics, those people immobilised at home? Does the Government want to take from the invalid pensioners the right to communicate with their families, with their children.

Mr Keith Johnson:

– Of course it does.


-Of course it does. This Government has reached the lowest depth it has ever reached. I make a plea to this Government to reconsider its decision. It is obvious, even to a blind person, that the decision made by the Department of Social Security was approved by this Government. This Government is even bashing the blind people. Who will it bash next? If this Government is not thrown out of office before very long, what other iniquitous measures will it introduce? Further iniquitous legislation has been introduced into this Parliament. I refer to legislation concerning the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Obviously one of my colleagues will raise that issue tonight because the legislation is iniquitous. We will have in ASIO a body that is similar to the Central Intelligence Agency.

Mr Keith Johnson:

– Worse than the CIA.


– In some respects it is worse than the CIA. It is more secretive even than the CIA. I thought the CIA had reached the lowest depths possible. However, in this country ASIO is reaching much lower depths. The next action that this Government is likely to take is to have ASIO tap the telephones of the pensioners to see what they are talking about with their children. There is nothing that this Government would not do. If the people of Australia do not throw it out very soon it will do even worse things. I finish on that note.


-When the House last met I was asked quite vociferously by various members of the Opposition to incorporate in Hansard statistics which I had. I now seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the statistics on employed persons by age to which I was referring on that occasion.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-


– The reason I have incorporated these statistics is to detail the significant improvement in youth employment which has taken place under the present Government and to dramatise the comparison between what happened under the Labor Government and what has happened under the present Government. I draw the attention of the House to the statistics and to what they reveal. In particular they reveal that, after the presentation of the first Labor Budget in 1973, the deterioration in the situation was appalling. For example, the statistics show that in 1975 10,000 persons between the ages of 15 and 19 years lost their jobs. The number of young people employed in August 1973 was 637,000. By August 1975 that number had fallen to 615,000. The impact of Labor’s first Budget and its successive Budgets was fairly evident. The reason I have the figures for August is that they are the only revised figures which are available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Let us compare those figures with what has happened under the present Government. I think that members of the Opposition will recognise that in January the level of youth employment is generally depressed; certainly it is lower than the level in December. By January of this year the level of employment for persons between the ages of 15 and 19 years had reached 660,000. That represents an improvement of something like 44,000 over the level of youth employment in August of the year when the Labor Government went out of office. In particular this trend was seen in the statistics for males.

Lest the Labor Party claims that it is unreasonable to compare January figures with, say, figures for August, let us look at the figures for August. One can see that between August 1975 and August 1978 there was an increase of 15,000 in the level of youth employment. But more significantly, by December of last year we had a record number of young people employed. That level was far above the level which existed under the previous Government. Something like 44,000 more young males were at work in December 1978 than were at work in August 1975. As a result, compared with the situation before Labor came to office, a record proportion of people aged between 15 and 19 years was in the work force.

The figures dramatise the fact that under this Government the level of youth employment has recovered dramatically from the disastrous fall that took place under the Labor Government. They demonstrate clearly that our policies of generating youth employment and of introducing special schemes administered by the Department of Employment and Youth Affairs- I am glad to see that the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) is in the House tonight- have worked to such an extent that we now have record levels and improving levels of youth employment. I am concentrating on youth employment because the Australian Labor Party keeps talking untruthfully about the unemployed generation. The fact is that we have more youth employed than it ever had. We are continuing to find more jobs. Our policies have brought about increasing youth employment. The statistics show quite clearly that the policies of the Labor Party brought about declining youth employment. Under the Labor Government more and more youths lost jobs; under this Government they are getting jobs.


-I wish to raise a matter which, although not quite the same, is in the same vein as that raised by the honourable member for Banks (Mr Martin). Quite clearly the Government has a revenue problem. It is seeking to cure that revenue problem by raising funds based on next year’s taxes, by harassing those people in our community who receive the very lowest incomes, by seeking to deny those people on the very lowest incomes benefits which they have received for some considerable time, and also by another device which I think is dishonest. That device is, without real reason, to prevent persons from receiving various forms of benefits and to tell them that they must appeal or re-apply for those benefits. The result usually is that that person receives no income for three to four weeks. That means a saving to the Government but it can mean tragic results for the family concerned because the income of that family is cut off for no reason whatsoever.

In fact, there are circumstances in which that loss of income results purely from disagreements between departmental officers and the person applying for benefits. Such disagreements could arise because the manner of the person concerned was not acceptable to the officers of the Department. Unfortunately, departmental officers are acting under the direct instructions of Government ministers who have made it quite clear that they expect the toughest possible interpretation to be placed on every set of regulations and welfare provisions. They are not concerned about the people involved; the Government is in a deficit situation. It is not game to tackle its friends to raise funds; it is raising them from people who can least afford to fund its extravagances.

There is one other matter which concerns me greatly. Over a considerable period we have had expressed in this House- this is the appropriate place to do it- complaints relating to the nonpayment of twice yearly adjustments to pensions. In fact, that represents a fine on every pensioner in Australia of $100 a year. So $100 a year is being ripped off pensioners.

Mr Bourchier:

– That’s rubbish.


-The Government’s Budget Papers indicate that it will save $27m by not making twice yearly adjustments to pensions. Are the Budger Papers telling lies or is the honourable member for Bendigo doing so? The fact is that the Government will save $27m. We have debated in the past the matter that I want to deal with tonight. Honourable members opposite do not have the courage to stand up to their convictions and they do not have the courage to stand up for the platform on which they were elected. We all know that. An election is pending in the State of Victoria. The Victorian colleagues of Government members- they include one person who attends Cabinet; he is not a Cabinet Minister- are telling pensioners that if they are re-elected the pensioners once again will receive twice yearly pension adjustments.

Mr Bourchier:

– Name him.


-He is Secretary to Cabinet. The honourable member can work out who he is. That is a false statement. The Victorian Parliament does not make twice yearly pension adjustments anyhow.

Mr Barry Jones:

– Was that Mr Gude?


– It is a gentleman whose name sounds something like that. The fact is that pensioners and old people, who are desperate to get the money on which they need to live and who have been betrayed by people who stood for election on false promises, are clutching at straws and are being offered hope that cannot be realised. Any member of a State government who makes such statements is deliberately misleading people who may not understand the differences between the Commonwealth Parliament and State parliaments. It is one thing for a person to say that he supports a proposition and that he will use his influence in the party to have it implemented, but it is a totally different proposition for a person to say that he will do something which he knows damned well he cannot do.

Mr Bourchier:

– That is what Mr Wilkes has been saying all the time. He knows damned well that he cannot do it because he is controlled by the left wing of the socialist movement.


-I do not know whether the honourable member for Bendigo -

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.

Mr Scholes:

-Mr Speaker, I have to make a personal explanation. The honourable member for Bendigo has said -


-Order! The honourable member for Corio will resume his seat. He is not entitled to make a personal explanation without seeking the approval of the Chair.

Mr Scholes:

-Mr Deputy Speaker, under the Standing Orders I am entitled to make an explanation of a matter in relation to which I have been misrepresented. The honourable member for Bendigo has done that. I refute what he has said. I will leave it at that. But I am entitled to do that under the Standing Orders.


-The honourable member for Corio is correct in saying that he is entitled to make an explanation, but he must seek the leave of the Chair so to do. He failed to do that and was called to order.


-When Madam Chen Muhua, a Chinese Deputy Prime Minister, attended a Press conference in Canberra last Wednesday week she was asked a very important question by a very distinguished member of the Press Gallery, Max Hawkins. The question she was asked, which was not reported in the Press, was: As China is having difficulty with respect to the payment of her overseas loans and overseas trade, what arrangements does she intend to make in relation to her modernisation program? The answer she gave consisted of three parts. Firstly, she indicated that China intended to engage in compensatory trade, which meant that those countries selling goods or technology to China would be expected to buy back the products resulting from the manufacturing process in China. Secondly, she expected that payment would be made by means of the export of non-ferrous metals. Thirdly, she expected that some of the loans would carry with them either a reduced interest rate or payment holidays.

All of these propositions are very important because they concern Australia. Australia has been invited and induced to engage in increased trade with China. Therefore, I suggest that a statement should be made setting out the conditions of trade between Australia and China as part of her modernisation program. I will illustrate this point very briefly. China is reported to be negotiating overseas loans amounting to between $30,000m and $40,000m. She has foreign currency to the extent of about $4,500m. Quite clearly that amount of foreign exchange will not pay for that level of loan or the level of trade which she proposes to undertake. There are already reports that China is proceeding very slowly with negotiating arrangements for paying back money invested in steel making and in many other overseas investments in China.

For example, evidence already exists that she has not sufficient oil with which to pay for investments in China. I cite one example. The British have been exporting underground coal technology for China’s mines. The first proposal was that Britain ought to buy back some of the coal which would be developed as a result of the use of that technology in China. The British Government made it quite clear that that would not happen. But that indicates the extend of the problem which China has and will have in meeting a number of her commitments. For example, Thailand wanted to negotiate for oil in return for increased trade with China. The Thai Prime Minister stated in Moscow very recently that the oil from China is not available to pay for Thai exports to China.

Therefore, I suggest that a statement ought to be made by the Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony) and the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) setting out the terms of trade between Australia and China as dictated by China’s lack of foreign exchange appropriate to the amount of trade that she desires for her modernisation program. That statement ought to include several elements. It ought to indicate the goods that would be accepted back by Australia by way of compensatory trade. Unless that statement detailed the goods that would be accepted back, those goods could intercept goods that are normally transacted between other nations- for example, the Association of South East Asian Nations- and Australia. So the direction of that trade would help to determine Australia’s foreign policy to the disadvantage of nations already trading with us. Secondly, the prices for goods engaged by means of barter or compensatory trade ought to be indicated. They are not the same as prices nominated for goods in normal multi-lateral trade.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Trade and Resources should indicate also the way in which the new arrangement will fit into Australia’s foreign policy. Bilaterialism in trade has always been a means whereby the foreign policies of the countries in partnership have been determined by the events in the recipient country. Bilaterialism in terms of Australia’s foreign trade should be looked at very carefully because it can help to determine the direction of Australia’s foreign policy under the guise of being a boost to our own trade. The British Minister, Mr Varley, who has recently been in China, will issue a statement on the nature of Britain’s trading agreement with China in view of the fact that Australia has played a leading part in encouraging and in helping the modernisation program in China. A similar process ought to be undertaken in this country as soon as possible.


Order! It being 11 p.m., the debate is interrupted. The House stands adjourned until 2.15 p.m. tomorrow.

House adjourned at 11 p.m.

page 927


The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:

Uranium (Question No. 2683)

Mr Uren:

asked the Minister representing the Minister for Science and the Environment, upon notice, on 26 October 1978:

  1. 1 ) Which aspects of the mining, milling and transport of uranium does the Government propose to regulate through mandatory codes of practice.
  2. What are the specific codes of practice which the Government proposes to institute.
  3. When does the Minister expect to have formulated each proposed code of practice.
  4. Will proposed codes of practice be made available for public comment; if so, what will be the period of time, after proposed codes are available to the public, in which submissions will be accepted.
  5. 5 ) Will the proposed codes of practice and any comments from interested persons be subject to independent assessment; if so, will the results of any assessment be made public.
  6. Does the Government propose to approve by order, under the Environment Protection (Nuclear Codes) Act 1978, the Code of Practice on Radiation Protection in the Mining and Milling of Radioactive Ores as it is presently constituted; if not, in what aspects will it be amended.
Mr Groom:

– The Minister for Science and the Environment has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:

  1. 1 ) The areas to which the Government accords priority in establishing nuclear codes of practice were spelt out in Second Reading Speech on the Environment Protection (Nuclear Codes) Bill on 10 April last year. They are radiation protection in the mining and milling of radioactive ores, the transport of yellowcake and the management of wastes from the mining and milling of uranium. Other codes will follow as appropriate. If any State perceives the need for a code relating to a particular activity it will be able to initiate action through the collaborative process.
  2. See (1) above.
  3. Under the Environment Protection (Nuclear Codes) Act nuclear codes of practice will be developed through a statutory process of consultation with the States and the Northern Territory. Discussions with the States and the Northern Territory are underway with the immediate aim being to agree on uniform codes of practice to apply in the three areas of concern identified in ( 1 ) above. Good progress is being achieved in the meetings, aimed at reviewing and developing codes, between the Commonwealth and States.
  4. Section 8 (a) of the Nuclear Codes Act makes provision for public comment on proposed codes of practice or variations of existing codes: An appropriated period for submission of comments on a proposed code would be set at that time.
  5. 5 ) In the final analysis the process of formulation of codes is a matter for discussion between the Commonwealth, the States and the Northern Territory and any decision relating to further assessment would be determined by consultations between Governments.
  6. The Northern Territory Legislative Assembly has already given legal effect to the 1975 Code of Practice on

Radiation Protection in the Mining and Milling of Radioactive Ores through Regulations under the Mines Regulation Ordinance. A review of this Code is presently under way with a view to establishing an agreed suitably updated code for promulgation by the Commonwealth and implementation by all State governments under appropriate legislation.

Government Contracts (Question No. 2808)

Mr Clyde Cameron:

asked the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice, on 16 November 1978:

Does the answer of his immediate predecessor to Question No. 1634 mean that a tenderer for a Government contract has never been able to amend the amount of his tender after tenders have closed by phoning the officer holding the delegation to approve the tender; if not, when was the change made and what are the details of that change.

Mr McLeay:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

I am advised that it has not been the practice to permit tenderers to amend the amount of their tenders after tenders have closed by phoning the officer holding the delegation to approve the tender. I am further advised that there has been no recent change in departmental practices in this respect. There are instances, from time to time, where information of various kinds is conveyed initially by telephone, then confirmed in writing. These instances could include cases where:

a tenderer has made an obvious clerical error and is invited to confirm the bid. In that case no indication would be given as to the suspected error and the confirmed bid would be accepted only if there was no doubt concerning the intent of the original bid. A possible example would be a misplaced decimal point in a unit price quotation.

tenders have to be revalidated because the original validity period has expired. Normally only the recommended tenderer would be invited to revalidate his tender. In some cases, where it is apparent that the price order of tenders may be affected, Departments may also invite other tenderers to revalidate their offers.

a tender has already been determined to be the lowest suitable tender and the tenderer offers a price reduction to the Commonwealth prior to the order being placed.

If the honourable member considers there is evidence of irregularity in purchasing procedures I shall take the necessary steps to have the matter concerned fully investigated on receipt of details.

Employment Statistics (Question No. 2900)

Mr Lloyd:

asked the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, upon notice, on 1 7 November 1978:

What was the (a) average income and (b) percentage unemployed for the work force of (i) Canberra, (ii) Sydney, (iii) Melbourne, (iv) Brisbane, (v) Adelaide, (vi) Perth and (vii) Hobart for the latest period for which figures are available.

Mr Viner:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. The most recent statistics which the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has available on average income from all sources relate to the year 1973-74. However, estimates of the average weekly earnings of full-time employees in August 1978 are available. The estimates, which are preliminary and subject to revision, are as follows:
  1. The percentage of the labour force unemployed in January 1979 in each capital city statistical division and in the Australian Capital Territory, derived from the ABS monthly labour force survey, is shown below:

Asbestos (Question No. 2997)

Mr Kerin:

asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 23 November 1978:

  1. 1 ) What statistical information is available with respect to people affected by asbestos caused disease in the Australian community.
  2. How many diseases are caused by asbestos and what are they called.
  3. How many persons are affected by each of these diseases.
  4. What information is available on the dangers of the use of asbestos in Australian industry.
  5. Are asbestos products identified with respect to the possible health hazards from their use.
  6. What health regulations apply with respect to persons employed in asbestos mining in Australia.
  7. Is a register kept of current research in Australia on (a) asbestos caused diseases and (b) safe alternative products.
  8. What is the expenditure of Commonwealth and State public health authorities on the treatment of asbestos caused diseases.
Mr Hunt:
Minister for Health · GWYDIR, NEW SOUTH WALES · NCP/NP

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. 1 ) Information on asbestos-caused diseases in Australia is only available in relation to the disease asbestosis. The only statistics available are:

From time to time reports of the various workers ‘compensation authorities contain some statistical information that might assist the honourable member. However the information is limited and, as the various authorities do not compile their data on a common basis, the information is not readily or totally comparable.

  1. Diseases caused by asbestos are asbestosis, some cases of bronchial carcinoma, and mesothelioma of the pleura and peritoneum.
  2. Apart from the statistics on asbestosis, above, it is not possible to obtain information on the asbestos caused incidence of these diseases, since data on disease incidence normally specify only the nature of the disease, not the cause.
  3. State occupational health authorities, the Australian Asbestos Association and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC) make available a wide range of information on asbestos. The following NH&MRC publications are examples:

Model Asbestos Regulations.

Occupational Health Guide-ASBESTOS.

Membrane filter method for estimating airborne asbestos dust.

Code for the handling of asbestos by small users.

Code of practice for handling consignments of asbestos fibre in Australian ports and container terminals.

  1. No. However, some States are considering legal requirements for the identification of asbestos products.
  2. Relevant health provisions are contained in State mining acts.
  3. (a) No.

    1. No. However, the NH&MRC has established an expert subcommittee to examine and report on risks to human health caused by exposure to asbestos or products containing asbestos. Consideration of possible alternative products can be expected to form part of the total review by the subcommittee.
  4. This information is not readily available, and would require detailed costings to be made in respect of individual identified cases.

Indexing of ‘Hansard’ (Question No. 3107)

Mr Morris:

asked the Minister for the Capital Territory, upon notice, on 24 November 1 978:

  1. 1 ) Does his Department or any agency under his control prepare an index of Hansard.
  2. What is the form of each index.
  3. 3 ) How recent is each index.
  4. To what persons, departments or agencies are the indexes made available.
Mr Ellicott:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

I refer the honourable member to the answer provided by the Prime Minister to question No. 2638 (House of Representatives Hansard, 21 November 1978, page 3156) and also to questions No. 3065 and No. 3082 (House of Representatives Hansard, 20 February 1979, page 130).

Aircraft Safety (Question No. 3133)

Mr Morris:

asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 20 February 1979:

  1. Did he state in answer to Question No. 2478 (Hansard, 16 November 1978, page 3002) that his Department was attempting to determine the reason for the apparently incorrect distance measuring equipment indications in a DC-9 aircraft on 7 June 1978.
  2. If so, has his Department completed its investigation of the incident: if not, when will it be completed.
  3. Will he provide the Parliament with the results of the investigation.
Mr Nixon:
Minister for Transport · GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA · LP

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (l)and(2)Yes.

  1. As stated in my answer to the honourable member’s previous Question No. 2478, the distance measuring equipment at Sydney Airport was checked immediately the incident was reported and was found to be operating normally. Both airborne equipments in the DC-9 were subsequently tested. One equipment was found to be faulty and was replaced. No fault was found on the other equipment and it was returned to service. No further incidents involving the Sydney DME system have been reported.

Australian Cold Coin (Question No. 3147)

Mr Lloyd:

asked the Treasurer, upon notice, on 20 February 1979:

When will the Australian gold coin announced in April 1978 be produced by the Mint.

Mr Howard:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

The question incorrectly implies that the issue of an Australian gold coin was announced in April 1 978. At that time I indicated that the Government was investigating the technical and legal aspects of the possible issue of a gold coin, and that any action on this matter would depend on a number of factors including the nature of any legislation that might have to be introduced to give effect to any Government decision. The matter is currently under active consideration and I shall be making an announcement as soon as I am in a position to do so.

National Estate Program (Question No. 3209)

Mr Les Johnson:

asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1979:

What sums were granted under the National Estate program for programs or projects in the electoral divisions of (a) Hughes and; (b) Cook during; (i) 1977-78 and; (ii) 1978-79.

Mr Ellicott:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. and (b) Nil.

Royal Commission on Human Relationships (Question No. 3216)

Mr Chapman:

asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1979:

What responses has he received from the Premiers concerning their views on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships (Hansard, 1 March 1978, page 269).

Mr Malcolm Fraser:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

As you are aware, I wrote to all Premiers on 24 February 1978 and to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory on 1 August 1978 to seek their comments on the recommendations made by the Royal Commission on Human Relationships. I pointed out in my letter that many of the recommendations contained in the Report fall within the jurisdiction of the States.

The only substantive reply received to date has been from the Premier of Western Australia who wrote on 26 October 1978 with a detailed submission on the results of the examination of the Report in Western Australia.

The Premier of Victoria advised me on 29 June 1978 that he had set up a special task group to examine the Report and to co-ordinate the views of State Departments. It is expected that Victoria will also forward a submission.

I have been advised that the recommendations contained in the Report will be examined by the relevant State authorities in Queensland and South Australia, and any comments that these States wish to make will be sent to me when this examination has been completed.

On 3 August 1978 the Acting Premier of New South Wales advised me that the Government of New South Wales will have regard to the Commission’s findings, research and recommendations.

No reply has been received from the Premier of Tasmania, nor from the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory.

Importation of Non-Metric Measuring Devices (Question No. 3223)

Mr Chapman:

asked the Minister representing the Minister for Science and the Environment, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1979:

  1. 1 ) What consultation occurred between the Government and affected industry during the period between the Minister’s statements of 3 October and 29 December 1978 concerning the regulations banning the importation of nonmetric measuring devices.
  2. Was a comprehensive list of exemptions available from the Department before the regulations were gazetted as indicated in the Minister’s statement of 3 October 1978; if not, why not.
  3. Why were the regulations gazetted on 29 December 1 978 when industry was closed down for the holiday break.
Mr Groom:

– The Minister for Science and the Environment has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:

  1. 1 ) There were a number of informal and written inquiries about the content of the Regulation but the main consultation took place prior to 30 October as indicated in the press statement.
  2. Yes. A number of queries both oral and written were received both by my office and my Department and answered on the basis of the list.
  3. The Regulation was gazetted as soon as a satisfactory draft had been prepared.

Science and Technology Agreement with China (Question No. 3234)

Mr Barry Jones:

asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 21 February 1979:

  1. 1 ) Is an agreement for scientific and technological cooperation being negotiated between the Peoples’ Republic of China and Australia similar to that which has already been signed between the Peoples ‘ Republic of China and the United States of America.
  2. With which countries does Australia have similar agreements either (i) in force or (ii) under negotiation.
Mr Peacock:
Minister for Foreign Affairs · KOOYONG, VICTORIA · LP

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. 1 ) During the present visit by Chinese Vice Premier Chen Muhua, a mutual desire by both countries to conclude a science and technology agreement was expressed. Officials will shortly be negotiating the draft text of this agreement
  2. (i) Australia has agreements for scientific and technological cooperation with the Federal Republic of Germany, India, the Soviet Union and the United States of America. (ii) Except for the proposed agreement with China, no other science agreements are at present under negotiation.

Sankey Litigation

Mr Malcolm Fraser:

-On 20 February 1979 (Hansard, page 14 the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) asked me a question, without notice, concerning certain aspects of the recent case, Sankey v Whitlam and ors. The Attorney-General, with whom rests the responsibility to decide such matters, has informed me that, in his view, there was a serious legal doubt as to whether he had power to take over the committal proceedings. Had he attempted to do so, still further litigation could have ensued. Apart from those considerations, the Attorney-General reached the conclusion that, as the matter had been before the Courts, including the Supreme Court of New South Wales and the High Court, over a long period, the proper course, in the public interest, was not to take over the proceedings.

I am advised that by letters dated 24 January 1979 the Attorney-General informed the solicitors for the informant and the solicitors for the defendants that it would not be appropriate for him to take over the proceedings. Neither the Attorney-General nor I have any knowledge of how Mr Sankey financed the proceedings.

Radioactive Waste (Question No. 1732)

Mr Les Johnson:

asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 16 August 1978:

  1. 1 ) Will he provide in detail the scientific evidence upon which the Government is relying to support the Government’s claim that the technology exists for the safe management and safe permanent disposal of highly radioactive waste.
  2. What studies has the Government undertaken or does it intend to undertake to determine which methods for the handling of high level waste (a) are safe and permanent and (b) can be used on a commercial basis.
  3. Will the Government provide the Parliament with the studies and reports referred to in part (2).
  4. Do any of the methods for the handling of high level waste upon which the Government is relying involve reprocessing.
  5. If so, how does the Government reconcile this reliance with the expressed assertion that Australia is making its uranium available to the world nuclear fuel cycle in order to prevent reprocessing.
Mr Newman:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. 1 ) See answer to question No. 1218 (Hansard,15August 1978, pages 3 14-315).
  2. As Australia has no nuclear power program and consequently does not generate significant quantities of high level radioactive waste, there is no need for Australia to invest large sums in studies on high level waste disposal. Significant programs are being undertaken by countries with nuclear power programs, such as the United States, France, the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany. The Government does, however, maintain up-to-date information on overseas developments by representation on international bodies, such as the Nuclear Energy Agency of OECD and the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation (INFCE). On the recommendation of the National Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Council (NERDDC) a grant of $63,000 for 1978-79 has been approved to support the research by Professor Ringwood of the Australia National University on the Synroc Process to convert highly radioactive waste liquids to solids suitable for long term storage and ultimate disposal. This research will be undertaken in co-operation with the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC).
  3. As information becomes available to the AAEC and the Department of National Development it will also be made available to the Parliament.
  4. The need to develop methods to treat and handle highly radioactive liquid wastes does not arise if the spent reactor fuel elements are not reprocessed.
  5. See answer to (4) above. On 25 August 1977, the Prime Minister said that, by taking the decision to export uranium, Australia could slow the movement towards the use of plutonium as a nuclear fuel. Australia has reserved its position on reprocessing while this is under study internationally. The Government has never said it intends to prohibit the reprocessing of Australian uranium. In seeking consent or discretionary provisions on reprocessing in bilateral safeguards agreements, it is reserving the right to decide the conditions under which the reprocessing of Australian supplied material might take place.

Westinghouse Electric Corporation (Question No. 2694)

Mr Keith Johnson:

asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 7 November 1978:

  1. 1 ) Has the Attorney-General ‘s attention been drawn to a report on 26 October 1978 of a court case in the United States of America involving the Westinghouse Electric Corporation filing false statements with the United States Government.
  2. If so, can the Attorney-General give an unqualified assurance that the foreign official referred to as allegedly receiving bribes from the giant Westinghouse Electric Corporation is not an Australian.
  3. If not, will the Government institute an inquiry to determine that no Australian official is involved.
Mr Viner:

– The Attorney-General has provided the following answers to the honourable member’s questions:

  1. Yes.
  2. and (3) I am informed that no Australian official was involved in the case to which the honourable member has referred.

International Telephone Calls (Question No. 2807)

Mr Clyde Cameron:

asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 16 November 1978:

What were the costs of international telephone calls placed by:

Heads of Branches at:

The Australian High Commission in London;

) The Australian Em bassy in Washington; and

b ) The Heads of Mission at:

The Australian Mission to the United Nations in New York;

The Australian Mission to the United Nations in Geneva during:





Mr Peacock:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

Records of international telephone calls by Branch Heads in either London or Washington are not readily available. Because of the scope and nature of the collation of the data required, the lack of staff resources and the Government’s restraint on overtime expenditure it is not possible for the figures to be obtained unless it is at the expense of work of a higher priority.

I am advised that the cost of international calls made by the Heads of Mission at the Australian Missions to the United Nations in New York and in Geneva are respectively:

International Air Fares (Question No. 2852)

Mr Morris:

asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 16 November 1978:

  1. 1 ) Have negotiations between the Australian and United States Governments on lower air fares on the Pacific route commenced.
  2. If so, where are the negotiations taking place.
  3. What is the name, classification and employing agency of each member of the Australian negotiating team.
  4. Is he able to say what is the classification and employing agency of each member of the United States negotiating team.
  5. 5 ) What is the timetable for the negotiations.
  6. Which Government agency chairs the negotiations.
Mr Nixon:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: ( 1 ), (2) and (5) Air service negotiations between the Australian and United States aeronautical authorities were held in Canberra from 4 to 1 4 December 1978.

  1. Mr J. Rowland (Leader), First Assistant Secretary, Department of Transport. Mr T. Grant, Director, Department of Transport. Mr T. Brosnan, Director, Department of Transport. Mr H. Tscheppera, Acting Director, Department of Transport. Mr G. Lund, Foreign Affairs Officer, Department of Foreign Affairs. Mr I. Booth, Treaties Section, Department of Foreign Affairs.
  2. Mr R. Brown (Leader), Office of Aviation, Department of State. Mr S. Rederer, Assistant Chairman, Civil Aeronautics Board. Mr J. Jones, Deputy Chief, International Aviation Division, Department of Transportation. Mr J. Horneman, Chief, Pacific and Far East, Bureau of International Aviation, Civil Aeronautics Board. Mr J. McMahon, Bureau of Pricing and Domestic Aviation, Civil Aeronautics Board. Mr M. Churchill, Commercial Attache, Embassy of the United States, Canberra, Australia. Miss L. Ray, Assistant Director, International Services, Air Transport Association.
  3. Department of Transport.

The Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company (Question No. 3020)

Mr Hyde:

asked the Minister for Finance, upon notice, on 23 November 1978:

  1. 1 ) What are the terms of the agreement with the State of Tasmania to provide moneys to The Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company.
  2. Will he table the agreement in the Parliament, which must approve the moneys.
Mr Eric Robinson:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. 1 ) Under the terms of an Agreement dated 1 November 1977 the Commonwealth and Tasmania undertook to share on a $ 1 for $ 1 basis the cost of Mt Lyell ‘s cash shortfall in respect of the period 15 August 1977 to 8 November 1977. On 30 June 1978 this Agreement was amended to extend assistance to Mt Lyell in respect of the period 9 November 1 977 to 30 June 1978 with Tasmania remitting payroll tax payable by the Company in that period and the Commonwealth meeting the balance of Mt Lyell ‘s cash shortfall. This amendment also provided for assistance on account of certain capital equipment expenditures necessary for the Company’s operations. A further amendment is being finalised to provide assistance on a similar basis in respect of the period 1 July 1 978 to 30 September 1978.

A separate document is being developed to include arrangements between the Commonwealth and the State for the twenty-one month period, 1 October 1978 to 30 June 1980. The arrangements in relation to this period are for the Commonwealth and Tasmania to meet Mt Lyell ‘s cash shortfall on a $1 for $1 basis and for Mt Lyell to contribute funds to meet the cost of certain new road and mine vehicles. To date the State has not made any payments to Mt Lyell in respect of this period and, unless the current improved copper price situation is reversed, it is expected that payments will not need to be made to Mount Lyell.

In view of the repayment provisions in the Commonwealth/State Agreement and in view of the current conditions in the copper industry, the Commonwealth is pursuing with the State the question of the repayment of Commonwealth advances provided to Tasmania on account of the Mount Lyell operations from 15 August 1977 to 30 June 1978.

  1. I expect shortly to be able to table copies of the agreements which the Commonwealth and Tasmanian Governments have executed on the provision of assistance to Tasmania for Mount Lyell.

Chrysotile Corporation (Question No. 3021)

Mr Hyde:

asked the Minister for Finance, upon notice, on 23 November 1978:

  1. 1 ) What are the terms of the agreement with the State of New South Wales to provide moneys to Chrysotile Corporation.
  2. Will he table the agreement in the Parliament, which must approve the moneys.
Mr Eric Robinson:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. 1 ) The detailed arrangements for the Commonwealth to provide a repayable grant under Section 96 of the Constitution to the State of New South Wales in respect of assistance to the Chrysotile Corporation of Australia have yet to be concluded in a formal agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales. The agreement will give effect to the Commonwealth’s decision to offer assistance of up to $1.4m to New South Wales in the form of a repayable loan on account of the operations of the Chrysotile Corporation from 1 October 1978 to 31 December 1979. It will include provisions concerning the New South Wales Government’s offer to contribute similar assistance and the Commercial Bank of Australia’s undertaking to accrue, for this period of assistance, interest on loans made to the Chrysotile Corporation prior to 1 October 1978.
  2. Drafting of an agreement is proceeding and, when this process is completed, I will approach the New South Wales Government concerning the possibility of tabling the document.

Public Servants on Long-Term Sick Leave (Question No. 3044)

Mr Clyde Cameron:

asked the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 24 November 1978:

How many full-time employees of the Australian Public Service were on long-term sick leave as at 31 December (a) 1970, (b) 1971, (c) 1972, (d) 1973 and (e) 1974.

Mr Viner:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

I am advised by the Public Service Board that statistical collections for the numbers of staff on long-term sick leave commenced in 1975. Statistics relating to staff on sick leave before that date were not centrally recorded and maintained. Having regard to the various changes in administrative arrangements over the past few years, it is doubtful if at this stage departments which have had major administrative changes would be able to reconstruct their records accurately to enable comparative statistics for years prior to 1 975 to be determined.

Importation of Aircraft (Question No. 3076)

Mr Morris:

asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 24 November 1 978:

  1. 1 ) On what occasions have exemptions to the Government’s policy in regard to the importation of aircraft over 5,700 Kg been granted.
  2. To whom have such exemptions been granted and what were the reasons in each case.
  3. Why does Part 1 of the Report of the Domestic Air Transport Policy Review dated March 1978 not accommodate circumstances in respect of which these exemptions have been necessary.
Mr Nixon:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. Recommendations concerning the importation of aircraft are fully canvassed in Part 2 of the Domestic Air Transport Policy Review ( Recommendation 14)

Importation of Aircraft (Question No. 3078)

Mr Morris:

asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 24 November 1978:

  1. 1 ) Does the Government support the recommendation contained in Part 1 of the Domestic Air Transport Policy Review, dated March 1978, that the Government should continue to control the entry or aircraft into Australia through the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations to maintain the two airline policy as a general principle for as long as required.
  2. Does he believe that control over the import of aircraft into Australia in any case would be desirable regardless of the continuation of the two airline policy.
  3. Does he believe it to be sufficient that control over the import of aircraft into Australia depends upon legislation for which he is not responsible.
  4. Would he have expected the Review Committee to have addressed itself to this matter.
Mr Nixon:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. 1 ) and (2) The questions pertain to matters currently the subject of negotiation with the domestic trunk airlines. Accordingly it would be inappropriate to comment on the Government attitude at this time.
  2. The Customs Act defines the control over all imports. This Act is administered by the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. Regulations under the Act prescribe import conditions that are required to be met. In the case of aircraft, permission is required of the Secretary to the Department of Transport before an aircraft can be imported. I consider these arrangements are satisfactory.
  3. The Domestic Air Transport Policy Review Committee recommended the Government should continue to control entry of aircraft through Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations.

Young Liberals of Victoria Travel Grants Scheme (Question No. 31 19)

Mr Morris:

asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 24 November 1 978:

  1. 1 ) Have Commonwealth Police visited the travel organisation associated with the Young Liberals of Victoria Travel Grants Scheme in connection with his Department’s exercise of its responsibilities under Air Navigation Regulation 106a; if so, when did the visits occur and where were they made.
  2. What were the results of the investigations into the Young Liberals of Victoria Travel Grant Scheme and associated organisations.
  3. Are legal proceedings to be instituted against the organisations concerned.
Mr Nixon:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. No.
  2. and (3) Inquiries by my Department have produced no evidence to warrant legal proceedings in respect of allegations concerning the travel organisation associated with the Young Liberals of Victoria.

Aboriginal Lands Trust of New South Wales (Question No. 3124)

Dr Everingham:

asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 24 November 1978:

  1. 1 ) Did Mr K. Martin, Regional Director, Eastern Area of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs state on or about 12 May 1 978 at North Sydney at a meeting with other officers of the Department and officers of the Aboriginal Lands Trust of New South Wales, that the Trust was crippling or strangling his office’s administrative capacity with reports, funding applications or paperwork generally and such an active policy could result in financial strangulation of the Trust, or words to that effect.
  2. Did Mr Martin withdraw this statement on a request by Mr Ian Kingsley, Administrator of the Trust.
  3. Have some communities been omitted from funding of essential services this year at the same time as other communities have received direct funding in lieu of funds made available to them as they were last year through the Trust.
  4. Have earlier undertakings that no discrimination would be exercised against the Trust for town maintenance and public utilities funding which this year averages $782 per Trust managed dwelling, compared with $2,093 per selfmanaged dwelling, been dishonoured.
  5. Did Mr J. H. Imre write to the Trust Chairman on 20 September 1978, stating that any suggestion by himself or other officers of the Department that the Trust did not spend rental income from the La Perouse Reserve on maintenance or improvements was unintentional and withdrawn unconditionally.
  6. Has the Trust broken off communications with the Department until adequate explanation of funding cuts is given.
  7. Will he ensure that (a) communities suffering misappropriation of funds or other difficulties are given the option of funding through the Trust if they prefer such an arrangement and (b) the Trust has full and frank explanations of funding changes and the role of Government policy in bringing about those changes.
Mr Viner:

– The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:

  1. ) and (2) No. As indicated in Mr Viner ‘s reply to Question No. 2289 (see Hansard, 18 November 1978, page 3007), Mr Martin did not promise or threaten ‘financial strangulation’ of the Aboriginal Lands Trust at the meeting in May between officers of the Department and of the Lands Trust. I am informed that Mr Martin did comment at that meeting that the flow of paper work from the Trust to his Area Officers could delay the dispatch of grants to Aboriginal organisations. When the Administrator of the Trust, Mr Ian Kingsley, apparently misunderstood Mr Martin’s comments, Mr Martin explained and I understand that Mr Kingsley accepted the explanation.
  2. Yes. Some communities are able to meet recurrent costs from rentals charged. In all other cases, grants are being made either directly or to the Trust to help meet these costs.
  3. No. The figures cited for expenditure on reserves per dwelling are not accurate. My Department calculates that the average expenditure under its ‘town management and public utilities’ program per dwelling on reserves managed by the Aboriginal Lands Trust this year is approximately $1,200, compared with approximately $1,650 per dwelling on reserves where the housing is managed by Aboriginal organisations. The difference reflects the fact that there is more new construction being undertaken by Aboriginal housing associations on reserves where they are responsible for the housing and this entails expenditure on the provision of sewerage, water and electricity services under the ‘town management and public utilities ‘ program.
  4. Yes.
  5. I understand that the Trust resolved on 23 November to ‘cut off all consultations with the officers of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs concerning financial matters until such time as the Aboriginal Lands Trust receives a meaningful reply to its request to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs for its full funding program for New South Wales’. The Department remained willing at all times to continue discussions. I met with representatives of the Trust on 7 December and again on 16 January, when the Trust agreed to resume discussions.
  6. (a) All communities on land held by the Trust have the option of managing their own affairs or having the Trust manage them.

    1. The arrangements for transferring responsibility from the Trust to communities have been discussed with the communities and with the Trust and continuing close consultation will be maintained.

Airport Car Rental Services (Question No. 3142)

Mr Burns:

asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 20 February 1 979:

  1. 1 ) Is it a fact that TAA (a) is no longer inviting in-flight bookings for Avis but is specifying Hertz, the company it has recently taken over and (b) has removed all Avis promotional material from its terminal buildings and other facilities.
  2. Is it also a fact that the Avis airport contract does not expire until 30 June 1 979, and that every Avis car rented on airports represents a financial contribution to consolidated revenue.
  3. Will he take any action in the matter.
Mr Nixon:

– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:

  1. 1 ) (a) I understand that the TAA in-flight invitation is for the booking of a Hertz car, but that bookings for other car rental firms will be accepted on specific request. (b)No.
  2. The present Avis contract which expires on 30.6.1979 provides for payment of an annual base amount plus an additional fee in respect of all car hirings at the airports at seven capital cities and Launceston.
  3. The question of in-flight announcements by TAA is one for the Commission’s commercial judgment and does not impinge on the Commonwealth’s contractual arrangements with Avis. I have sought and obtained assurances from TAA to the effect that the Airline would do nothing which could be regarded as a breach of the letter or spirit of the present car rental contract resulting in a reduction of revenue to the Commonwealth from that contract. As the honourable member will know, tenders have been called for new contracts for 5 years from 1 July 1979; these will provide for 2 national operators and a third on an airport by airport basis.

Department of Transport: International Conferences (Question No. 3167)

Mr Morris:

asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1979:

  1. What is the name and classification of each of the officers of his Department who attended:

    1. the International Conference on Tanker Safety and Pollution Prevention in London in early 1978; and
    2. the International Conference on Training and Certification of Seafarers in London in June 1 978.
  2. What was the itinerary of each officer from departure to return to Australia.
  3. 3 ) What was the total cost of:

    1. travel
    2. b ) accommodation and
    3. c) other expenses for each officer and each conference.
  4. By which airline(s) did each officer travel.
Mr Nixon:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. 1 ) (a) Mr R. M. Taylor, Deputy Secretary, Surface Operations and Mr P. R. Holmes, Director (Class 11), Coastal Services Division attended the International Conference on Tanker Safety and Pollution Prevention in London in February 1978.

    1. Mr L. N. Ethenon, First Assistant Secretary, Marine Standards Division and Mr R. L. Saunders, Principal Examiner of Engineers. Marine Standards Division attended the International Conference on Training and Certification of Seafarers in London in June/ July 1978.

Between the 28 April and the 13 June 1978 Mr Saunders attended training courses, inspected training facilities and attended the conference of Principal Examiners of Engineers of British Commonwealth countries.

  1. (a) R. M. Taylor-$2,946; P. R. Holmes-$ 1,880; L. N. Etherton-$2,946; R. L. Saunders-$ 1,325.

    1. R. M. Taylor-$543.85; P. R. HoImes-$426.l6; L. N. Etherton-$931.44; R. L. Saunders-$1,428.36.
    2. R. M. Taylor-$358.40; P. R. Holmes-$276.82; L. N. Etherton-$882.70; R. L. Saunders-$1,55 1.64.
  2. Trans Australia Airlines and Qantas Airways Ltd.

Doctors’ Accounts (Question No. 3191)

Mr Les Johnson:

asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1 979:

What measures has the Government taken, or does it intend to take, to ensure that all doctors’ accounts sent to patients include (a) the actual service which the service item number represents and (b) the scheduled fee recommended for the service.

Mr Hunt:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. Doctors are requested in the Notes in the Medical Benefits Schedule Book to show on their accounts the Schedule item number and a description of the service. In practice, my Department has not received complaints that doctors in general do not provide sufficient such information to enable benefit claims to be assessed.
  2. As regards the inclusion of the Schedule fee on the account, in my answer to Question No. 2701 (Hansard, page 139), I stated that this would require special enabling legislation and that this would require an examination to be made of the constitutional validity of the proposal. The Commonwealth Government has no plans to take such action, as the level of fees charged by doctors is a matter for State regulation, the Commonwealth having no powers in this regard.

Medical Services at Sydney Airport (Question No. 3215)

Dr Klugman:

asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1979:

  1. Has he investigated claims by the New South Wales Doctors Reform Society, contained in its recent submission to his Department, that medical services at Sydney Airport are dangerously inadequate.
  2. If so, will he take positive and speedy action to rectify this situation.
Mr Nixon:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. 1 ) The Minister has received a submission from the Doctors Reform Society on medical facilities at Sydney and other airports.
  2. The proposals of the Doctors Reform Society are being considered: any action to be taken will depend on the result of this consideration.

Pathology Services: Bulk Billing (Question No. 3274)

Dr Klugman:

asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 28 February 1979:

  1. 1 ) Has his attention been drawn to an article entitled Health Department Warns Pathologists on Bulk Billing’ published in the Medical Letter, No. 199 of 22 February 1979.
  2. If so, is there any substance in the claim that there was not one laboratory operating within the letter of the law.
  3. Does he intend to introduce a relevant change in legislation, but not before May as claimed in the article.
Mr Hunt:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. Yes.
  2. and (3) Arrangements have been made for a review of current bulk-billing arrangements after they have been in operation for six months. This review will be carried out in May 1979. Included in the review will be an examination of procedures for bulk-billing for pathology services. Pending the review I think it reasonable that current arrangements in respect of bulk-billing procedures by pathologists (for those patients who may legally assign benefits) should continue.

Commonwealth Motor Vehicles (Question No. 3278)

Mr Scholes:

asked the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice, on 28 February 1979:

Are special air circulating car seat pads issued to Commonwealth drivers on a special occasion basis only; if so, why.

Mr McLeay:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

It is the policy for Coolaride seats to be issued to all drivers, upon request. An instruction to this effect has been re-issued to management concerned.

Diplomatic Representation in Oceania (Question No. 3284)

Mr Jull:

asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 28 February 1 979:

  1. In which countries in Oceania does Australia have diplomatic representation.
  2. What is the status of each post.
  3. How many Australian nationals are employed at each post.
  4. When were each of these posts established.
Mr Peacock:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. Australia has resident diplomatic representation in Western Samoa, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, New Zealand, the New Hebrides and New Caledonia, and non-resident diplomatic representation in Tonga and Tuvalu. In addition, the following posts have reporting and visiting responsibilities as indicated below:
  1. ) The status of each post is given below:

Australian High Commission, Apia (Western Samoa)

Australian High Commission, Honiara (Solomon Islands)

Australian High Commission, Nauru (Nauru)

Australian High Commission, Port Moresby (PNG)

Australian Consulate-General, Lae (PNG)

Australian High Commission, Suva (Fiji)

Australian High Commission, Wellington (New


Australian Consulate-General, Auckland (New Zealand)

Australian Consulate-General, Christchurch (New Zealand)

Australian Consulate, Vila (New Hebrides)

Australian Consulate, Noumea (New Caledonia)

  1. The number of Australia-based staff from all Australian Government Departments at these posts is given below:

Apia (3); Honiara (4); Nauru (3); Port Moresby (42); Suva (17); Wellington (18); Auckland (4); Christchurch ( 1 ); Lae ( 1 ); Vila (3); Noumea (4).

  1. The dates on which these posts were established are given below:

Apia: September 1977

Honiara: January 1975

Nauru: August 1968

Port Moresby: November 1972

Lae: September 1974

Suva: March 1964

Wellington: December 1943

*Christchurch: May 1957 (Trade Commissioner Post)

Vila: January 1978

Noumea: August 1940.

Aboriginal Newsletter’ (Question No. 3296)

Dr Everingham:

asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 28 February 1979:

  1. What proportion of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs’ newsletter is produced by or for Aboriginal authors or organisations.
  2. Will the Minister make a section or supplement of the newsletter available as an organ of (a) The National Aboriginal Council, (b) the Institute of Aboriginal Studies and/or (c) the Council for Aboriginal Development.
Mr Viner:

– The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:

  1. 1 ) Aboriginal Newsletter is produced by the Department using items originating from many sources around Australia, including Aboriginal organisations. It is distributed to Aboriginal organisations and communities and to other interested in Aboriginal affairs.
  2. The Department welcomes items relating to the activities of such bodies as the National Aboriginal Conference, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies and the Council for Aboriginal Development, and arrangements could be made to distribute information material from those bodies with the newsletter. The Charter of the National Aboriginal Conference provides for the Executive of the Conference to prepare and distribute a newsletter. I am informed that the Executive plans to produce four issues a year, the first to appear within the next few months. The Institute of Aboriginal Studies publishes a Newsletter twice a year.

Melbourne Flight Service Centre (Question No. 3311)

Mr Morris:

asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 1 March 1979:

How many officers of the Melbourne Flight Service Centre took sick leave during the periods

1 January 1976 to 1 January 1977,

2 January 1977 to 1 January 1978, and

2 January 1978 to 1 January 1979.

Mr Nixon:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. 35 officers,
  2. 35 officers, (c)5 1 officers.

Melbourne Flight Service Centre (Question No. 3312)

Mr Morris:

asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 1 March 1979:

  1. How many officers of the Melbourne Flight Service Centre worked overtime during the periods (a) 1 July 1977 to 30 June 1 978 and (b) 1 July 1 978 to date.
  2. What was the average overtime worked in (a) hours and minutes and (b) days, for each officer during the same periods.
Mr Nixon:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. 1 ) (a) 44 officers worked overtime; (b) 55 officers worked overtime.
  2. (a) 143 hours 18 minutes, 184 hours 5 minutes; (b) 20.4 days, 26 days.

Apprentices (Question No. 3314)

Mr Morris:

asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 1 March 1979:

  1. 1 ) Has his attention been drawn to a report entitled ‘Canberra Reprieve for Sacked Apprentices’ in the Age of 16 February 1 979; if so, is there any substance to the report.
  2. How many apprentices employed by his Department were dismissed at the end of their training because of staff ceilings imposed by the Government on various sections during (a) 1976-77,(b) 1977-78 and (c) 1 July 1978 to date.
  3. Will further apprentices employed by his Department be dismissed at the completion of their training during 1978-79; if so, (a) how many and (b) by which sections are they currently employed.
Mr Nixon:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. I have seen the report to which the honourable member’s question refers. The apprentices referred to in the report are not, strictly speaking, employees of my Department They commenced their trade training in the Department in 1975 under the Additional Apprentices Scheme administered by the then Department of Labor and Immigration. The object of the scheme, which is now administered by the Department of Employment and Youth Affairs, who pay the apprentices concerned, was to use Commonwealth Government trade training facilities to train apprentices for industry (not to provide tradesmen for Commonwealth Departments, who have their own apprentice programs). All participants in the scheme clearly understood at the outset that Departments providing the training would not be offering positions at the completion of the training period. In the circumstances it can not be said of those apprentices who leave the Department at the completion of their training to take up jobs in industry in accordance with the aims of the Scheme that they were dismissed. Several of those whose training is complete have been placed in industry and my Department has agreed with the relevant Unions and the Department of Employment and Youth Affairs to an extension of the training period to allow further efforts to be made in assisting with the placement of the remainder. The Commonwealth Employment Service is also assisting in this regard.
  2. See(1) above.
  3. See(1) above.

Australian National Railways: Computer (Question No. 3325)

Mr Morris:

asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 1 March 1979:

  1. 1 ) What will be the location of the computer system, peripheral devices and control software for which tenders were invited on page 47 of the Commonwealth of Australia Gazetteof February 1979.
  2. ) What will be the function of the computer system.
  3. by what means are the tasks to be performed by the computer system at present performed.
  4. Will any persons presently employed by Australian National Railways become redundant following installation of the computer; if so, (a) how many and (b) what are their classifications.
Mr Nixon:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. The computer system and associated items will be located at Adelaide, South Australia.
  2. The computer system will be used in the recording of payroll, freight revenue, costing, stores accounting and train operating statistics.
  3. Although some of the tasks to be performed are presently carried out manually, the majority are already computerised.
  4. No.

Prime Minister’s Motor Car (Question No. 3327)

Mr Morris:

asked the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice, on 1 March 1979:

On what date and for what price was the Prime Minister’s Mercedes car (a) bought and (b) sold.

Mr McLeay:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. The Mercedes-Benz was purchased by the Department of the Capital Territory on 13 July 1973 for an amount of$9,898.
  2. Public tenders for the sale of this vehicle were called on 28 February 1 979 and close on 27 March 1 979.

Motor Cycle Number Plates (Question No. 3353)

Dr Everingham:

asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 6 March 1979:

  1. 1 ) Did the motor cycle on which his son was televised performing duties on the property called ‘Nareen’ bear a number plate with the prefix Z.
  2. If so, does this indicate the ownership of the motor cycle.
Mr Malcolm Fraser:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. 1 ) No. The television film shows a motor cycle bearing a KZ prefix.
  2. The number plate indicates that the motor cycle is privately registered in Victoria.

Social Security Conspiracy Trial

Mr Viner:

– On 6 March 1979 (Hansard, page 607) the Deputy Leader of the Opposition asked me, as Minister representing the AttorneyGeneral, a question without notice concerning proceedings in the social security conspiracy trial. The Attorney-General has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:

Three of the defendants in what has become known as the social security frauds matter, to whom legal aid has been granted by the Australian Legal Aid Office, have taken proceedings in the Supreme Court of New South Wales for certain orders in respect of certain rulings made by the Magistrate in the preliminary proceedings. The rulings affect all of the defendants in the preliminary proceedings.

The prosecution has agreed that the proceedings before the Supreme Court are to be regarded as representative proceedings. If the orders sought are made by the Supreme Court, the prosecution has undertaken that they will have effect in relation to all defendants in the preliminary proceedings should they so wish. For this reason, there is no purpose to be served by the other defendants’ instituting similar proceedings. Accordingly, and in terms of the guidelines under which the Australian Legal Aid Office operates, legal aid has not been provided by the Office for the purpose of the institution of those similar proceedings by any of the other defendants.

The Attorney-General informs me that he is unaware of any instance of interference by the Australian Legal Aid Office with the conduct of individual cases by private practitioners to the detriment of the defendants. The Australian Legal Aid Office, which is providing legal aid to a number of the defendants, is wholly independent of and separate from the prosecution.

Royal Commission on Electoral Boundaries

Mr Viner:

-On 22 February 1979, the honourable member for Hunter asked me the following question, without notice:

I ask the Minister representing the Attorney-General whether he can say what were the costs to the Australian taxpayer of the appearance of the honourable member for Fadden, the honourable member for the Gold Coast- I mean McPherson- and Senator Withers at the recent McGregor royal commission of enquiry into allegations of electoral boundary rigging. Can the Minister say what was the anticipated cost saved in not calling the Prime Minister before the commission?

The Attorney-General has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:

The Commonwealth has paid the following legal costs incurred by the honourable members of Fadden and McPherson in respect of their appearance before the Royal Commission:

Mr Cameron;$4, 1 80.00

Mr Robinson;$70,398.62

Senator Withers was not represented by legal counsel before the Royal Commission.

The last part of the question does not call for an answer.

European Economic Community: Framework Commercial Agreements (Question No. 3233)

Mr Barry Jones:

asked the Minister for Trade and Resources, upon notice, on 21 February 1979:

  1. 1 ) Can he advise of the nature and dates of framework commercial agreements that the European Economic Community has made with other countries (e.g. China and Canada).
  2. Has Australia entered into similar agreements; if not, why not.
Mr Anthony:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. 1 ) The European Economic Community has concluded only one framework commercial agreement. This is the Framework Agreement for Commercial and Economic Cooperation between Canada and the European Communities’ which entered into force on 1 October 1 976.

The Agreement provides a framework for Canada/Economic Communities economic co-operation, covering trade, investment and industrial co-operation. The Agreement gives each side most-favoured-nation status without providing tariff or customs preferences. The European Economic Community also has a large number of preferential and non-preferential trade agreements. The trade agreement with China, which entered into force on 1 June 1978 and provides for most-favoured-nation treatment, falls into the latter category.

  1. 2 ) Australia already has trade agreements where it is considered desirable to establish formally the trading relationship on a bilateral basis. In the case of developed market economy countries whose trading relations with Australia are governed by mutual GATT membership it has not generally been considered necessary to negotiate formal bilateral arrangements. Exceptions to this rule are Japan, New

Zealand, Canada with whom Australia has entered into trade agreements for special reasons.

In the case of the European Economic Community considerations concerning a trade agreement have been set aside pending a satisfactory response to our substantive trade complaints.

Ministerial Document Service (Question No. 3350)

Mr Willis:

asked the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice, on 6 March 1979:

  1. 1 ) For what reasons was the distribution of the Ministerial Document Service reduced.
  2. What criteria are now used for determining who may and who may not receive the Service.
  3. 3 ) What sum will be saved from the reduced distribution.
  4. Is this policy consistent with the Government’s commitment to open Government.
Mr McLeay:

– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

  1. The distribution of the Ministerial Document Service (Daily collation of Ministers ‘ and Opposition Leaders ‘ statements) has not been reduced since it began in February 1976, although in the course of continuing review some addresses are culled from the mailing list from time to time.
  2. One copy is supplied to each recipient within the following categories:

Senators and Members

Commonwealth Parliament Offices

Permanent Heads of Commonwealth Government departments

Public relations/information officers of Commonwealth Government departments

State Parliamentary libraries

National and State libraries

Australian overseas posts

Diplomatic representatives in Australia

Federal secretariats of political parties and major employer/employee organisations

Media not represented in the Parliamentary Press Gallery

  1. Savings are achieved by restricting the distribution to eligible recipients within established categories rather than by reducing the distribution.
  2. Yes. The daily collation issued by the Ministerial Document Service comprises only statements that have already been made public. These statements are also published weekly in the Commonwealth Record, which is made generally available on subscription through the Australian Government Publishing Service.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 March 1979, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.