31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr ACTING SPEAKER (Mr P. C. Millar) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable 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 1978-79 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:
And your petitioners in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Burns, Dr Jenkins, Mr Martin and Mr Sainsbury.
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 plan to obliterate the traditional weights and measures of this country does not have the support of the people;
That the change is causing and will continue to cause, widespread, serious and costly problems;
That the compulsory tactics being used to force the change are a violation of all democratic principles.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the Metric Conversion Act be repealed to ensure that the people are free to utilize whichever system they prefer and so enable the return to imperial weights and measures wherever the people so desire;
That weather reporting be as it was prior to the passing of the Metric Conversion Act;
That the Australian Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional mile units to be restored to our highways;
That the Australian Government request the State Governments to procure that the imperial and metric systems be taught together in schools.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Aldred, Mr Anthony and Dr Jenkins.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we the undersigned, having great concern at the way in which children are now being used in the production of pornography call upon the Government to introduce immediate legislation:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will protect all children and immediately prohibit pornographic child-abuse materials, publications or films.
And your petitioners as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Martyr.
-I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That this House, recognising that:
1 ) The non-indexation of pensions in May is costing the single pensioner $2.23 per week and a married couple $3.73 per week; and
The confession of the Government that the rate of inflation in the coming year is likely to be static at best; urges the Government to immediately restore the value of the pension.
-I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That this House, noting that no advice has been provided to the Government that for security reasons it should purchase two Boeing 707, 149 passenger international airliners for use by the Prime Minister on his frequent safaris abroad, and which have twice the capacity of the Air Niugini international airline, is of the opinion that:
1 ) The Government ‘s em barkation on a $40m program to re-equip the VIP aircraft fleet is a gross extravagance;
) It represents a wasteful indulgence of the Prime Minister’s desire for luxury air travel; and
The aircraft should be sold forthwith and the proceeds applied towards the restoration of six monthly pension adjustments.
– My question is directed to the
Prime Minister. In view of the growing number of broken promises, can the Prime Minister give an unequivocal assurance to the House that his promise to local government authorities to increase their share of personal income tax from 1.52 per cent to 2 per cent will be honoured or will it go the way of the other broken promises?
-The assumption underlying the honourable gentleman’s question is totally false. I would have thought that the last two or three weeks have made that very plain in debate in this Parliament. We have indicated on many occasions that the commitment to local government will be met in the life of this Parliament. That commitment remains absolute.
– Honourable members may recall that at the conclusion of Question Time yesterday the Chair inadvertently gave two questions in succession to the Government side. To restore the balance I propose to ask a second member of the Opposition for a question.
-Did the Prime Minister tell the National Young Liberal conference on 12 January 1979: ‘The information available to me is that the figure for the Budget deficit should be significantly under $3,000m?’
How is it possible for the Prime Minister with all the resources at his command to understate the deficit by half a billion dollars at that point in the financial year?
– As the honourable member for Bonython knows, throughout both this year and last year questions have been asked of the Government about progress and current estimates about the size of the deficit. Persons along with the Minister for Finance who, in the first instance, receive advice from departments regarding the size of the deficit, give answers on the basis of the information then available. Any answers that have been given either by myself or by the Prime Minister over the past six or nine months about the size of the Budget deficit from time to time are based on the information currently available. The information that I gave to the House yesterday is the latest information available. Equally, statements that I have previously made have been based on information that was then available. If the honourable member for Bonython knows anything about the course of trying during the year to estimate the outcome of the Budget deficit he knows very well that there will be fluctuations and variations. The most important area in which there is likely to be a revenue shortfall this year is in provisional tax and company tax. He knows as well as I do that it is not until the last four months of a year that it is possible to make any more finely tuned estimates about how company and provisional taxes are going. So really the question is a bit of a nonsense.
– I direct my question to the Treasurer. Is it a fact that in this financial year it seems likely that there will be a shortfall of more than $25m, in other words, 50 per cent, in the 1978 Budget estimate for the increase in excise revenue on Australian spirits? Can the Treasurer explain to me the sense in an excise policy which does not achieve its revenue aim on the one hand and which at the same time inadvertently cripples a portion of the grape growing industry? Would he look to maximising his own yield to the benefit of both the Government and the industry?
– On present indications there will be a shortfall in the revenue estimate so far as the excise on spirits is concerned. As to the precise extent, we will have to await the final figures. It could be close to what the honourable member has said. The Government is obviously disappointed that there looks like being a shortfall. I can assure the honourable member that we will take into account what is involved in that result.
– I ask the Minister for National Development: Is it a fact that the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has not been declared because the area of permits Q/4P and Q/5P infringes on the proposed section of the Marine Park? Is it also a fact that the Capricornia section of the marine park cannot be declared until the Government knows where it is going with the report of the Royal Commission into Exploratory and Production Drilling for Petroleum in the Area of the Great Barrier Reef?
– The answers to the two questions posed by the honourable member are, yes and yes. I would like to add to that and say that the Government has not made any decision on this question. I now have prepared a submission which has gone to the Government for decision. I can only repeat what has been said by the Prime Minister and other of my colleagues, that this Government will not allow drilling on the reef, nor will it allow any activity that will in any way damage the reef.
-Has the Treasurer’s attention been drawn to a recent release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics called ‘Price Indexes of Materials Used by Manufacturing Industry’? Can the Treasurer tell the House whether this gives an accurate reflection of the actual cost increases being faced by manufacturers?
– My attention has been drawn to the recent index which is entitled ‘The Price Index of materials used in Manufacturing Industry’. For the 12-month period up to the time it was released, it records an increase of over 30 per cent. This is a very large increase and is the source of some concern to the Government. However, I think honourable members ought to be aware that this index contains, as to 47 per cent of its composition, agricultural products, of which meat is a very large proportion. Whilst I am not in any way casting any doubt whatsoever on the statistical accuracy of the inputs of this index, I think the very strong point ought to be made that, given that almost half of it is composed of inputs of agricultural product price rises, of which meat is the major proportion, there must be some serious question as to whether it is really accurately described as a price index of materials used in manufacturing industry. I think that ought to be understood by honourable gentlemen and by the wider community in assessing the real impact and the real significance of the index.
– I direct my question to the Treasurer and I refer him to the latest blowout of some $700m in the deficit, yet another example of the Prime Minister’s broken promises. What assurances can the Treasurer give that with the need to finance the blowout in this year’s deficit, combined with the imminent need to finance another substantial deficit from next year’s Budget, interest rates will not climb to 10.5 per cent?
-Order! The House will remain silent.
– Shall I start again? Has the Treasurer heard it?
– Are you trying to take all day?
– I heard you. I am anxious to answer.
– Good. You may even deal with facts this time. What proportion of the deficit has been financed by highly volatile Treasury bills and what pressures will this put on the growth of money supply, already almost double the target set in last year’s Budget? Finally, is the Treasurer aware of the consternation in the money market that has followed yesterday’s announcement? What impact will this uncertainty have on interest rates and on investment?
-I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition has asked me this question. It gives me the opportunity to give some additional facts following those I gave yesterday. As honourable members on both sides of the House know, the really important thing is not only the money size of the deficit but also the relative size of the deficit to gross domestic product. I think it is a self-evident fact that a deficit of $3,500m now is a lower deficit than $3, 500m a few years ago -
– Because of the inflation of the Liberal Government.
– If the honourable member for Wills will contain his economic enthusiasm for a moment I will give him a few more facts. In 1972-73, the last Budget for which the McMahon Government had any responsibility, the deficit as a proportion of GDP was 1.69 per cent. In 1973-74 it was 0.58 per cent. In 1974-75 it rose to 4.23 per cent.
I repeat, it was 4.23 per cent. In 1975-76 it rose to 5.02 per cent. In 1976-77 there was absolutely blinding restraint and it came back to 3.29 per cent. It rose to 3.68 per cent the following year. This year, on the basis of a $3. 5m outcome, which I said -
-I am sorry, a $3.5 billion outcome.
– Is there a difference?
-There is a big difference. This year, on the basis of a $3.5 billion outcome, which yesterday I conceded was quite possible as a percentage of GDP it would represent 3.40 per cent. So in terms of blowouts and in terms of big deficits, the Leader of the Opposition still takes the prize. Let us not get our facts wrong about that. In case it is thought that a revenue shortfall is a creature of the last couple of years, let us also see what has happened to the revenue estimates over the past few years. I do not think that it indicates broken promises, as the Leader of the Opposition misleadingly suggests. It represents a pattern which has some significance insofar as estimating and the level of tax avoidance are concerned. Between 1968 and 1973 total receipts in all cases exceeded the Budget estimates by up to 4 per cent. The reason why they exceeded the Budget estimates by such a large amount in 1 973 was the operation of a rip-roaring rate of inflation on an unindexed taxation scale. That is why they exceeded it by 4 per cent in that year. But in every successive year since then revenue has fallen short of the estimates. In 1974 it fell short by 2.7 per cent; in 1975 it fell short by 4.4 per cent; in 1976-77 it fell short by 1.5 per cent; and last year it fell short by 4 per cent. This year, if my prediction of yesterday is correct, it will fall short by 2 per cent. I think that those figures are important and that they ought to be borne in mind by the Leader of the Opposition.
As far as the financing of this year’s deficit is concerned, the Leader of the Opposition is quite correct in saying that there has been a greater movement in and out of treasury notes this year and that the non-bank take up this year is significantly lower than it was last year. Quite obviously the money supply prediction in the Budget of last year is going to be exceeded. There are good and proper reasons for that both in terms of the greater growth and the higher than anticipated level of inflation. I have already given the House chapter and verse the reasons for that. The Leader of the Opposition is really engaging in a form of deception in trying to suggest that those matters are in any way related to the question of promises.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Health. It refers to the proposed inquiry into the cost of hospital administration. Is the Minister aware that the daily gross operating cost per occupied bed in the States for 1977-78 is $128 for New South Wales, $ 1 43 for Victoria, $ 1 1 1 for Queensland, $ 1 46 for South Australia, $165 for Western Australia and $ 1 3 1 for Tasmania? In view of the huge disparity from State to State, does the Minister agree that some States will probably be found to have a highly efficient and non-money wasting system in existence already? Will the Minister recognise merit by undertaking to ensure that the terms of reference take this matter into consideration? Further, does he agree that the great State of Queensland probably will be found to be the State most cost efficient in relation to hospital administration and should not be expected to share pruning to overcome the proven dollar devouring inefficiency in other States, such as the Australian Labor Party governed State of South Australia?
– I am aware of the great differences that apply from State to State in regard to the net operating costs of hospitals. I have some later figures that do not quite put Queensland in the light that the honourable member put it. Nonetheless, I do pay credit to Queensland for having kept its net hospital operating costs down to relatively lower levels. Of course, any inquiry into the hospital system that has the wide-ranging terms of reference to which we hope the States will agree undoubtedly would be seeking to ascertain why there is such a discrepancy between the various States and undoubtedly would come up with findings that would tend to try to translate the best features of the administration of one State into a total approach to achieve more efficiency and rationalisation in this very costly area of administration.
I have obtained some figures, and I have them with me this morning. The net operating costs per occupied bed day for 1979-80 in each of the States are estimated to be as follows: For New South Wales $119.33; for Victoria $142.28; for Queensland $124.82; for South Australia $140.54; for Western Australia $158.25; for Tasmania $155.05; for the Australian Capital Territory $167.32; for the Northern Territory $226.20; the total average for the Commonwealth being $154. I think that people listening -
– Can I have those figures again?
– Would the Minister like them repeated? I will give the figures to him by letter.
– Send me a copy too.
– The Treasurer would also like a copy. What concerns the Government, and undoubtedly it would concern the Australian people, is that we have had this tremendous increase in the net operating costs of hospitals throughout Australia. When honourable members consider that throughout Australia the average net operating cost of every bed is $ 154 a day, I am sure they will appreciate that it is absolutely essential that an inquiry be held into why these costs have been escalating at such a rate.
I think it is very important to ensure that we achieve the best efficiencies possible in the hospitals administration area. It is also important to ensure that we get the best value for the dollar spent in health care because, quite clearly, the taxpayers, the community generally, are picking up the bill. Health costs are going to be paid for by one means or another. People are going to pay for them either through the taxation system or through contribution rates to health insurance funds, or they are going to pay for them out of their pockets. They will pay for them by one means or another. No one will escape the bill, except those who are disadvantaged and those who have pensioner health benefit cards. Of course, those people are entitled to free hospital and medical care. Indeed, all people are entitled to hospital accommodation at no cost to themselves, if they do not wish to have a doctor of their choice treating them in the hospital.
However, to come to the point of the honourable gentleman’s question, which related to administration, from advice I have received I believe that Queensland has exercised tight centralised control over its hospital system. The Queensland Department of Health has exercised positive management and budgetary control over hospitals. For example, it has a centralised purchasing system for its hospitals. The hospitals are staffed according to bed occupancy rates; this does not apply in all the States. Queensland certainly appears to have a cheaper administrative system. The specialists working in those hospitals are paid sessional payments.
- Mr Acting Speaker, I raise a point of order. This is the time for questions without notice. The Minister is making an important statement in answer to a question. I believe that the Opposition would make time available after Question Time to allow this statement to be made. I ask you to request Ministers to keep their replies brief. A complaint was made yesterday from this side of the House that Question Time was being abused by the Ministers of this Government.
-Order! The honourable member has made his point. The Minister for Health is dealing with a matter of some complexity. However, I ask him to bring his reply to a close.
– I conclude by saying that in Queensland the visiting specialists attending to the needs of people in the public hospital system are paid according to a sessional arrangement. Of course, the admissions to hospitals are also controlled by medical superintendents. I think there is a lot to be learned from the Queensland hospital system. The honourable gentleman has some reason to be proud of the fact that the general cost of administration of hospitals in
Queensland is lower than it is in some of the other States.
– I ask a question of the Treasurer which follows the question I asked him a few moments ago and his reply. Is it a fact that in the case of the 1975-76 Budget the present Government quite dishonestly rigged the presentation of the Budget by transferring into that Budget payments amounting to several hundred million dollars that should have been made in the succeeding year? For instance, over $200m of payments to the States under the hospital arrangements should have been made in 1976-77. Is it also a fact that in succeeding years the Government transferred out of those Budgets payments which traditionally and properly had been included in the Budget and that accordingly it reduced the deficit by quite artificial and dishonest means? Is the consequence of that action that a more reliable indicator of the true level of the Budget is a deficit of the public sector? If so, is it a fact that in 1975-76 that deficit, as a percentage of gross domestic product, was 5.5 per cent, but that this year it will be 6.2 per cent- the highest level ever?
– If I were the Leader of the Opposition I would not talk too loudly about the 1975-76 Budget. Let it be remembered that the 1 975-76 Budget deficit was born in the Budget Speech of the honourable gentleman when he was the Treasurer in the Whitlam Government. It was that Budget that this Government took over. It was that Budget which, if this Government had not in early 1976 introduced stringent expenditure restraint, would have resulted in a much larger deficit than the $3,500m which finally turned up in 1975-76. The last part of the honourable gentleman’s question was concerned with the percentage of overall public sector borrowing requirements. I will look at the proposition that the honourable gentleman has put. I will have his statistics analysed to see whether there is any truth in what he says.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs. In a recent edition of the Melbourne Age 33 pages of job vacancies were advertised. Can the Minister relate this fact to the current unemployment figures which are being loudly orchestrated by the Australian Labor Party?
-I thank the honourable gentleman for his question because he has enabled the attention of the House to be focused on the employment record of this Government. A number of people are confused when they see the number of unemployed registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service or the number of unemployed as surveyed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Nevertheless, there is an increasing demand for employment from industry and commerce. It is for that reason that the man or woman in the street continually asks the Government and me: ‘What about the registered unemployed if there are these jobs available in the factories and the shops of Australia?’ The fact of the matter is that in seasonally adjusted terms the number of civilian employees in March 1979 increased by 8,100, that is 3,700 males and 4,400 females. That was the ninth consecutive monthly increase in seasonally adjusted terms- an increase, I inform the House, of 56,200 since June 1978. That increase, of course, matches the Government’s commitment to economic growth as the source of employment growth which will in turn provide jobs for those coming into the work force and those who are presently unemployed.
– Why don’t you go and get seasonally adjusted?
-Order! I have asked the honourable member for Robertson on two occasions to remain silent. If he persists with his interjections I will be required to deal with him.
– Those figures are reflected by the advertisements appearing in the national dailies to which the honourable gentleman has referred. In particular, I am sure that those advertisements reflect the areas where the growth in employment is occurring. For example, in the manufacturing industry the figure was 6,200 for the month to which I have referred. In the wholesale and retail trade the increase was 2,800. In community services the increase was 6,600. It is, therefore, abundantly clear that the economic strategies of this Government must be directed towards a policy of economic growth and, through that, employment growth in dealing with the unemployment situation.
I refer to the situation in the Northern Territory. I was there just before Easter. I experienced the growing confidence of the Territory in its own future in the areas of uranium mining development and tourism. I am sure that there is tremendous potential for tourism in the Northern Territory. I am sure that the recovery in the pastoral industry will be reflected in growing demands for employment. What it will also do, however, is draw people from the southern States to the opportunities which will arise in the Northern Territory. I would think that the Northern Territory is one part of Australia, like my own State of Western Australia, where the future opportunities are boundless.
-Has the attention of the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs been drawn to a paper on the rationalisation of hospitals tabled by the Minister for Health last Thursday which insists on a reduction from 870,000 to 766,000 bed days per year in repatriation hospitals over the next three years? Is it not a fact that as World War II veterans become older they will spend more time in repatriation hospitals and the maximum will only be reached in 1990? Will the Minister make some attempt to prevent this closure of facilities for people to whom we gave a definite undertaking of support when they joined up?
– My attention has been drawn to that paper. It has been the subject of discussion within the Government and also with the Minister himself. The inquiry which is presently under way will be taking into account those factors covered in the report.
-Is the Treasurer aware that his mini-Budget has been well understood?
– IH say!
– It could not be understood by the Opposition. Has the Treasurer’s attention been drawn to the financial strain and anxiety caused to families in the lower income tax paying ranges concerning the increase in hospital, medical, dental and other family charges? Will he therefore consider their situation as well as those on the age pension who require six-monthly indexation when he prepares the Budget?
– The honourable member for Holt raises quite properly the anxiety and concern of the lower income families in our community. I say to the honourable gentleman that the greatest gift that any government can make to low income families in our community or those on the age pension is to have the lowest possible rate of inflation. We ought never to lose sight of the fact that no objective or goal of government can be more important than the controlling and reducing of the cost of living, because the cost of living impacts most severely on those in the community of modest means. The yardstick that should be used to measure the relevance and the equity of government policy should always be the success of the Government in reducing the level of inflation.
We have deliberately designed our health policies and we have borne in mind, in the recent changes that have been made, the position of low income earners. The Minister for Health has repeated what I said in my statement last Thursday night; that is, that the position of pensioners and those adjudged by their doctors to be of indigent circumstances will not be affected one iota. That ought to be understood, not only by the House but by the community generally. I can assure the honourable gentleman that in considering the Budget the position of low income families, the aged and those in genuine need will be kept very much in mind.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Health, is supplementary to that asked by the honourable member for Prospect, who referred to the report on the rationalisation of hospital services tabled a week ago. I ask the Minister whether he agrees that the report warned against increasing the share of hospital care going to private hospitals because it costs taxpayers much more, on account of the increased subsidy to the doctors concerned under the current version of Medibank. Will the Minister assure the House that the $45m hospital acquisition and development project in Australia by the Hospital Corporation of America will not be allowed to proceed in a way that will move the more affluent and the more desperate patients out of a public hospital sector which is being cut by government policy without a corresponding provision for the expansion of nursing home, day care, rehabilitation and community health services?
– The paper to which the honourable member refers is of course a discussion paper. The Government has not committed itself to that paper at this stage. Initially it was released as a discussion paper to the States on a confidential basis to give the States a chance to examine the recommendations that were contained in that paper and to respond to them. Since then, of course, the paper has been tabled in the Parliament. It will provide a basis for general debate and discussion presumably both inside and outside this Parliament. I have no doubt that the inquiry that will be undertaken into the hospital system in Australia will take into account many of the points that have been raised in that discussion paper. Quite clearly, in any review of the hospital system of Australia it would be quite wrong to ignore the private hospital sector, because we are talking about the availability of resources, the availability of beds to the community as a whole.
I firmly believe, however, that it would be very foolish of this Government or of any other government to ignore the importance of the provision of private resources in any hospital or any health area in this country or in any country with a similar economy. If, for instance, action were taken to diminish the role of private hospitals or of those people who are investing money in nursing homes or other facilities for the care of the aged, or those who are ill, the difference would have to be made up by the Government or by the taxpayers of Australia. Most people will agree that taxes are high enough. If the Government were to adopt a deliberate policy of forcing the private sector out of the area of health care or care for the aged it would be a gross mistake- for this Government or any other government. If by some mischance a Labor government should ever get back into office in this country one would hope that it would not be stupid enough to attack the private hospital sector or the private nursing home sector at the expense of the Australian community. The Labor Party, when in government, tried to do that once before. Much to its sorrow it found it could not increase its taxes sufficiently to provide services from the public purse. The Government will be taking into account the desirability or otherwise of allowing an unbridled expansion of the private sector while at the same time we are controlling the public sector. What we need is a proper balance and availability of resources to care properly for those in need, but at the same time we must make sure that we get the best value for the dollar spent in health care in this country.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. In view of the cross allegations being made about who should or should not be accepting responsibility about the industrial disputes that have been plaguing the Kurnell oil refinery in my electorate, and therefore everybody in New South Wales, is the Prime Minister in a position to advise this House whether the Federal Government has been in touch with the Wran Labor Government in New South Wales on this matter and with what effect?
-The Commonwealth, as the Minister for Industrial Relations has indicated, has been very much involved with this particular dispute. We know that it arises from an attempt by a New South Wales union to split from the federal award and to establish a separate New South Wales jurisdiction so that there would be a possibility of leap-frogging in awards from the Commonwealth to the State and greater industrial turmoil in the industry as a whole. One of the very unfortunate points about this situation is that the New South Wales Minister, Mr Hills, some time ago gave, as I am advised, very positive encouragement to the New South Wales union and supported its claim to be under the New South Wales Industrial Commission. That strengthened the industrial arm of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Workers Union and, obviously, encouraged it to take the disruptive tactics that it embarked upon. It was in fact doing this with the positive support and encouragement of the New South Wales Government. This is one of the most disgraceful and irresponsible acts of any government in the industrial relations environment over the last several years. A government took positive action that was going to promote a dispute in a sensitive and difficult industry such as the oil industry.
It makes one wonder why that particular support was given by Mr Hills and Mr Wran and whether there were any arrangements in relation to it. Whatever the reason, whether it was with cause, whether it was with commitment or whether it was just done to try to enhance the New South Wales Industrial Commission, it was nevertheless a grossly irresponsible act designed to lead to industrial disputation and potential hardship for New South Wales and New South Wales industries. Having given that background, I have been in touch with the Premier and have indicated that since the matter has been determined by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and it supported the federal award, and since that clearly has been accepted by the New South Wales Industrial Commission, it is incumbent upon all governments, including his own, to accept those decisions, to support them and to stop taking attitudes which are leading to so much difficulty in a vital and sensitive industry.
-Can the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs say why the debate on the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 2) was adjourned last night and not taken to the vote after the scheduled four speakers had completed their contributions? Will the Minister give the House information about the Bill’s imposition of the customs duty of 2 per cent, a virtual turnover tax, I am sure he will agree, on most goods currently imported duty free, which information is missing from the Government’s second reading speech? What are the main categories of goods involved? Is it a fact that the decision will worsen the startling increase in the cost of manufactured inputs announced last Tuesday? Is it also a fact that the decision will make many of this country’s exports less internationally competitive, with a resulting loss of export income?
– The debate on this measure still has not been completed by the House and there will be ample opportunity to canvass most of the matters raised by the honourable member for Adelaide during the remainder of that debate. As to the part of the question concerning the reason for the adjournment of the debate last night, I advise the honourable member and the House that the Government has received representations from a number of bodies in relation to the Florence Convention, which relates to the free flow of information between countries with particular relevance to printed material, films and the like. The Government believed that it had a responsibility to adjourn the debate so that those representations could be carefully considered. Consideration is being given to them at the moment. We will bring on the debate again as soon as possible and let the House and the public at large know the result of our deliberations and consideration.
-Has the attention of the Treasurer been drawn to statements by Mr Colin Kay, President of the Wine and Brandy Producers Association of South Australia, indicating that the abolition of the trading stock valuation adjustment provisions, by costing the wine industry $3m to $4m next year, will have a severely detrimental effect on red wine production and hence red wine grape growers? Has his attention further been drawn to a report by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics that average farm income in the McLaren Vale-Southern Vales red wine grape growing region of South Australia is expected to fall to $4,500 in 1978-79? Are these assessments accurate? If so, while ensuring that all sections of the community fairly share revenue burdens, will the Government avoid imposing further penalties on industries such as the wine industry which can ill afford to bear them?
– My attention has been drawn to the comments of the gentleman to whom my colleague has referred about the trading stock valuation adjustment.
– Who drew your attention?
– I simply say that my attention has been drawn to them. I will add nothing further to that. The honourable gentleman mentioned the trading stock valuation adjustment. I simply say to him that the Government gave very careful consideration to the impact of its decision on various sections of the business community. I would have to say to him that the Government is conscious that its decision has been seen by some sections of the community as a disappointment.
I think the House ought to bear in mind that the trading stock valuation adjustment concession was introduced at a time when the level of inflation was very much higher than it is now. It was introduced at a time when, in particular, manufacturing industry in Australia needed a sharp and effective stimulus to improve its profitability position. I think that the trading stock valuation adjustment concession has done a great deal over the past 2 or 3 years to tide Australian manufacturing industry and other sections of Australian industry over an extraordinarily difficult time. I have already mentioned that in the case of a large number of companies the concession was not used in quite the way intended by the Government or by Professor Mathews and his committee of inquiry when it was recommended.
In regard to the second part of the honourable gentleman’s question, I will look at the report to which he referred about the reduction of the average income of a section of the red wine grape growing industry in the McLaren Vale part of South Australia. The honourable gentleman has displayed a consistent concern about the welfare of those people since he has been a member of this House. I cannot be more specific than to say to the honourable gentleman that, whatever revenue decisions the Government takes in the Budget, the Government will pay very close attention to the effect of these decisions on the whole community and to individual sections of the community.
- Mr Acting Speaker, for the benefit of the House I wish to clarify the position in respect of a question asked earlier by the honourable member for Fadden. The honourable member cited figures for Queensland that were taken from a discussion paper on rationalisation tabled in this place. In 1 977-78 the daily gross operating cost per occupied bed for the State of Queensland was $111, as the honourable member said. The figures that I gave were the estimated net operating costs per occupied bed for the year 1979-80, and for Queensland the figure is $124.82, as I said in my answer. The honourable member used figures that are in fact two years old, and those figures were compiled on a different basis.
-Order! It is customary for honourable members to approach the Chair and to seek indulgence to make a personal explanation. The honourable member for Wills has not done so. Therefore I am not aware of his intention, and I am not inclined to extend the indulgence to the honourable member.
-Mr Acting Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation because I was misrepresented.
-The honourable member claims to have been misrepresented. He may proceed.
– Thank you. During an answer to a question the Treasurer (Mr Howard) referred to what he called my economic enthusiasm. I want that corrected. It is not economic enthusiasm at all. It is economic cynicism, particularly in regards to his economics.
– For the information of honourable members, I present an agreement on Trade and Economic Relations and Technical Co-operation between the Government of Australia and the Government of the States of Bahrain concluded on 15 May 1979.
– For the information of honourable members I present an interim report by the Superannuation Fund Investment Trust on the management of the Superannuation Fund during the year ended 30 June 1978 together with cash statements in respect of that year in the form of a receipts and payments statement and an investments statement; and, an interim report by the Commissioner for superannuation on the General administration and operation of the Superannuation Act 1976, other than Part III, which deals with the management of the Superannuation Fund, and the superseded Superannuation Act 1922 during the year ended 30 June 1978.
– Pursuant to Regulation 8A(2) of the Papua New Guinea (Staffing Assistance) Superannuation Regulations made on 30 May 1977 under the Papua New Guinea (Staffing Assistance) Act 1973,I present the report on the operations of the Papua New Guinea Superannuation Board and the Contract Officers (Papua New Guinea) Retirement Benefits Board for the year ended 30 June 1 975.
Home Affairs)- Pursuant to section 38 of the Australia Council Act 1975,I present the annual report of the Australia Council for the year ended 30 June 1978.
-Pursuant to section 44 of the Australian Film Commission Act 1975,I present the annual report of the Australian Film Commission for the year ended 30 June 1 978.
– Pursuant to section 42 of the National Gallery Act 1975,I present the annual report of the Australian National Gallery for the year ended 30 June 1978.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment or requests:
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1978-79.
Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1 978-79.
– by leave- I move:
That unless otherwise ordered, the House shall meet next week at the times specified:
Tuesday, 5 June, 2. 15 p.m;
Wednesday, 6 June, 10.30 a.m.; and
Thursday, 7 June, 10.30 a.m.
At this stage I am not sure of the time needed to complete the business of the chamber but I believe it may be possible for the House to rise earlier than the normal 1 1 o’clock closure on the Thursday night. In order to ensure that there is the acceleration of business the Government has allowed for the party meetings and caucus meetings to take place on Tuesday, 5 June. So if there is a chance of rising earlier, it will be possible for the House to do so.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Committee of Inquiry into Public Libraries- Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly- Dental Health Care- Supplies of Aviation Gasoline- Illegal Fishing in Australian Waters- The Burdekin Dam- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park- Taxation.
That grievances be noted.
-Over three years ago, on April Fools Day 1976-I think the date is symbolic- the Horton report, the Committee of Inquiry into Public Libraries, was introduced into this Parliament. This major report did two things. Firstly, it identified the very serious defects in the provision of library services in this country. Secondly, it proposed a 10 year co-operative plan between the Commonwealth, the States and local government whereby these defects might be remedied. On the defects themselves, the report concluded:
Too many areas of Australia are still without public library service, and many public libraries are less than adequate being little more than minimal in terms of stock, staff and therefore performance.
The report pointed out that some 7 per cent of the population was totally unserved by libraries within the area in which they lived. One hundred and twelve local government areas with a population of 8 1 6,000 had no library services. The report identified those Australians who are particularly disadvantaged in the provision of library services. First of all, it mentioned the situation of those living in Queensland and South Australia compared with that of those living in the other States. I am glad to say that in the past three years both the State Government and local government bodies in South Australia have made major efforts to correct at least the most serious defects. Secondly, the report stated that there was inadequate provision of library services for ethnic communities, for the aged, for the handicapped and for Aborigines. I am sorry that there are very few, if any, National Country Party members present in the chamber because country people as distinct from metropolitan dwellers are disadvantaged most. In relation to Queensland the report stated:
There is a lack of qualified staff too, particularly in the disadvantaged areas and specialist fields.
The report, in its 53 recommendations, came forth with what it termed an integrated solution to the problems of public libraries in this country. I will indicate some of the major features of those recommendations. Firstly, the report argued for the development of regional library centres as the best way in which to provide library resources for country people. Secondly, it argued for the development of educational programs, for professional librarians and for paraprofessional staff to fill in the gaps in quality staff. Thirdly, it set down explicit programs to develop library resources for Aborigines, for the blind particularly- neglected groups in the community. It argued for the integration of school and university libraries into the community. Basically the report aimed to ensure growth in the provision of library services and equality of opportunity in the use of those services for all Australians.
As we all realise, such remedies require money. The Horton Committee recognised that the provision of public library and information services should be the collective responsibility- I emphasise the point that it should be the collective responsibility- of the Commonwealth, State and local levels of government and funded in part by each of these levels of government. The Horton Committee recommended a 10-year funding program of not less than $20m annually and recommended more specifically for 1976-77 an explicit Commonwealth funding program amounting to $19,995,000. It argued generally that with the expendititure over the next decade of an estimated 3c a week at 1975 figures for each Australian it would be possible to revitalise the public libraries of Australia.
I want to ask: What has been the fate of this pioneering report since it was brought into this Parliament three years ago? I wish to examine the fate of that report because it illustrates three of the more significant features of the present Government. Firstly, it illustrates the utter inability of this Government to respond to any imaginative and innovative social program. Secondly, it reflects the process of non-decision making that is so characteristic of the Fraser Government for all of its claims; and thirdly, it confirms- if there were any doubt- that we are governed by intellectual pygmies.
Let me prove that by looking in detail at what has been done with this report over the three years. The Horton report was, as I noted, introduced on April Fools Day in 1976. It was introduced by the Minister responsible in this House, Mr Street, in a most perfunctory and cursory speech and no opportunity for debate was provided in this House or in the other place. A fortnight later, on 15 April 1976, it was referred to an interdepartmental working group and on 3 June 1976 the report was forwarded to the State Premiers. These were the only occasions in the past three years that the Government acted with any sense of urgency in relation to this report. I want to make another observation on these actions. The interdepartmental working group was composed of this extraordinary melange of organisations, namely, the Department of Adminstrative Services; the Department of Education; the Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development; the Department of Health; the Department of Industry and Commerce; the Department of Science; the Department of the Treasury; the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; the Australian Telecommunications Commission; the Public Service Board; and the National Library. It is very difficult to escape the conclusion that this cumbersome interdepartmental working group was designed to delay and procrastinate the implementation of the report.
Whether or not it was so designed, it certainly had that effect. In November 1976- six months later- the Minister, Mr Street, reported that the interdepartmental working group was ‘expected to report shortly’. However, in February 1977- three months later- Senator Withers, the Minister who was then directly responsible, reported even more joyous news. He stated: ‘A draft report is in the course of presentation’. Unfortunately, there was then a deterioration because on 31 May 1977- three months later- Mr Street was proclaiming that the interdepartmental committee report was due shortly. The first April Fools anniversary had passed without governmental action. On the same day, 3 1 May 1977, Senator Withers was telling impatient senators to wait until the August Budget.
The next incident in this sorry tale was that ineptitude was added to procrastination. On 16 August 1977 Mr Street misled this House by telling the Liberal member for Angas: ‘The interdepartmental committee has not yet reported’. Unbeknown to Mr Street, the committee had reported to Senator Withers on 1 1 August, some five days before that date. After a period of 16 months the interdepartmental working group had got around to reporting to the Government.
The next stage of the saga occurred on 20 September 1977. Senator Withers told the Senate: The Government has yet made no decision on the Horton report’. Seventeen months after receiving the report it had made no decision. In
October 1977- one month later- senators were getting impatient and Senator Withers was getting pretty stroppy. In what we now recognise as a typical Liberal response he replied to a question on the Horton report with a meandering account of the Khemlani affair and the Iraqui breakfast as though they had anything to do with the report on public libraries in this country.
In April 1978, the second anniversary of the Horton report, a new character enters into the story and that is the present Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Ellicott. On 4 April 1 978 he made the following statement: ‘The Government has not yet made any decisions on the wide range of recommendations of the Horton inquiry’. That is some two years later, the Government still had not made any decisions. Six months later an element of farce enters into the story. The unfortunate Senator Webster, on 18 October 1976 when asked, could not remember when the inquiry had reported, could not recall what action had been taken on the 53 recommendations, and did not know whether they had been pigeonholed. Honourable members are able to read that in the Senate Hansard of 1 8 October 1 975.
In 1979, three years after the Horton committee reported, and after some months of letter writing, the Minister of Community Welfare in South Australia received the following incredible epistle from the Minister for Home Affairs. The letter is dated 24 April 1979 and states:
I can assure you that when the Commonwealth ‘s views are formulated I shall be in touch with you immediately.
I love the word ‘immediately’. Three years have passed and this Government has not yet formulated its views on a major report.
Honourable members might also note that whilst there has been this delay the situation in the libraries continues to get worse. The metropolitan rural discrepancies increase. The disadvantages to rural areas grow. Indeed, in 1978 there was only one library in rural New South Wales open at weekends, while there is a great lack of qualified staff in many of the rural areas. Due to the shortage of capital funds library buildings are falling further and further. This again particularly relates to rural people because the regional libraries which are essential for their provision are not being provided. These inadequacies are growing and nothing has been done. I finish with a quote from the politician in this country who has turned the credibility gap into the credibility chasm. This was the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) speaking in 1969. He said:
A good book, more, a good library, has a material value it is true, but it has a greater value in its contribution to the quality of human life.
I suggest that the Government, presided over by that Prime Minister, do something about the provision of those books and those libraries.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-On the 25th November, 1978, the people of the Australian Capital Territory voted overwhelmingly for there to be no change in the form of local government for the Territory. They spoke in a thundering voice to say that they did not want a locally elected legislative body to order the affairs of the national capital. They said they wanted to continue to be administered by the bureaucracy through the national Parliament and the Executive arm of the national Parliament with advice from a locally elected advisory body. Next Saturday we have an election in Canberra for the House of Assembly. The elected representatives and advisory body are to assist the Minister for the Capital Territory to administer this city of some 220,000 people. As the member for Canberra, I feel it is important at this time, and in this grievance debate, to encourage the Government to adopt policies to make the Cabinet more responsive to the needs of this national capital.
Successive governments through the 1960s and 1970s have shown that the rest of Australia has no special love for the people of Canberra. There has traditionally been a boom-slump syndrome imposed by the sensitivity of the Australian Capital Territory economy to Commonwealth Government marcoeconomic policies and philosophical differences between centralism, big and small government, interventionist policies and social engineering. It is a widely held view that now is the time for the Federal Government to accept the responsiblities inherent in a request from the local residents that it run the Capital Territory taking into account the needs of the 220,000 local residents rather than the prejudice of the people outside this city. Presumably the Federal Government, in agreeing to a referendum on self-government, knew that there was a possibility that people would vote for no change in administrative responsibility. The Government has accepted the people’s decision and concomitantly the responsibility to manage Canberra efficiently. It must now put its mind to ensuring the Territory runs smoothly. It is my firmly held view, as a resident of Canberra for over 15 years, and as one who had raised a family here, worked in the Public Service and also in private enterprise, that the administration of Canberra is far to unco-ordinated. We have numerous government departments with very real and important responsibilities for the day to day running of a Territory which will very soon be half the population of Tasmania. Most do their jobs well, but must battle for resources within their department’s nationwide responsibilities. In many cases there are frustrating conflicts with other departments, jealousies, power plays and unfortunately sometimes inefficiencies.
There appears to be absoultely no overview of the Australian Capital Territory economy for forward planning in other than the bricks and mortar sense. The total Budget allocation for the Territory has only recently been brought together on Budget night in a uniform, if somewhat confused, statement on the expenditure of the Department of the Capital Territory, the National Capital Development Commission, the Department of Education and the Department of Health. This happened only after the most strenuous lobbying by Senator John Knight and myself. I am informed that there is no overview of the Australian Capital Territory economy by economic experts, there is not Cabinet sub- committee of responsible Ministers and there is no standing interdepartmental committee. In other words Canberra has just grown like Topsy, in the administrative sense. This situation is frustrating for people trying to deal with Government, frustrating for people within Government, administratively inefficient and I suspect contributes to the high cost of living in Canberra.
What then is the suggested remedy? The first priority is that the Government establish a Cabinet sub-committee of Ministers with direct responsibility for the State-like and local government-like services within the Territory. Membership of such a committee would have to include the Ministers for the Capital Territory, Health (Mr Hunt), Housing and Construction (Mr Groom), the Minister responsible for the Public Service, and Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson), the Minister for Administrative Services (Mr McLeay), and the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Durack). Such a subcommittee would have the responsibility of establishing a State-like budget strategy for the Capital Territory and co-ordinating expenditure to ensure the best application of resources and most effective delivery of services. It would not have to meet often but it would in effect act as Cabinet would do in a State. It would provide that important second tier of government that we lack in Canberra.
To assist its deliberation and to develop overall policy for the Capital Territory it would be necessary to establish a small policy secretariat with representatives of various departments but which would need to be separated from any one of the interested departments to avoid any challenge of self-interest or special pleading on behalf of a particular department. Staff would be rotated through it on a two or three year secondment. Economic skills would be most important as a priority task and it would be necessary to develop medium to long term policies to break the boom bust syndrome of this city.
Having co-ordinated administration and planning overview the next step would be to set guidelines on how the Government wishes the city of Canberra to develop. A first priority would be to diversify the employment base of what it recognised and criticised by many as a company town. For the sake of our young and for the sake of the whole nation we need a wider frame of reference for those people who administer this country. We should therefore set a goal to reduce the proportion of people employed in the Public Service to 50 per cent over the next ten years. The current percentage is between 60 and 70 per cent as our private sector withers. To do so we would have to establish a broadly based program to develop tertiary and manufacturing industries in Canberra. This would be done by encouraging the development of tourism and technologically based industry. A pre-requisite of this would be the establishment of a revamped tourist promotion board with generous promotional guidelines. We would also need an industrial promotion organisation made up of the private sector, unions and government with a charter to develop and offer incentives to enhance some natural advantages enjoyed by Canberra. A series of tri-yearly rolling programs would need to be developed to ensure the community could plan ahead. This would cover such areas as welfare, culture and sporting grants, civil works programs and growth of the Public Service to include the defence services.
Of immediate priority are:
A commitment to maintain at least a 3 per cent growth rate for the city over the next 10 years.
An announcement of Government assistance to build a large high security international convention centre.
An urgent upgrading of Canberra Airport Terminal facilities and the ensuring that runways can cope with international charter flights.
A commitment to commence construction of the National Museum no later than 1988, when the new national Parliament project will be completed.
Improvement of road and rail access to Canberra from both Sydney and Melbourne.
A decision to proceed with the Casey Defence Forces Academy and the National Biological Standards Laboratory.
Extension of representation in other capital cities of our Tourist Bureau.
Development of a full range of incentives to locate high technology industry in the Australian Capital Territory; and the promotion of Canberra as an ideal city in which to retire with its numerous health and community services, dry, clean climate and high standard of living.
In summary, there is a need for national governments of whatever politicial persuasion to administer Canberra as a city in its own right rather than use it as the whipping boy for interstate prejudice and jealousies. Only positive and well managed forward programs will convince the people of Canberra that there has been a fundamental re-appraisal of Canberra’s role.
– The matter that I raise today is related to health but not to health in the general sense in which we speak about it in this place. My remarks are more related to dental health and particularly to the dental care and health of the young people in our community, the school children. As I am fortunate enought at this great age of mine still to have my own teeth, I know the value of dental care and wholly endorse the school dental scheme which was introduced to bring this sort of benefit to children at the schools, a most appropriate point of delivery for such a service. Quite recently, the honourable member for Murray, Mr Lloyd, who is a rather prolific questionasker, put a question on notice to the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) seeking the following information:
What are the details of (a) capital cost, (b) annual expenditure, (c) number of staff and (d) services provided under the (i) Community Health Program and (ii) School Dental Scheme for each project in each Federal electoral division?
Mr Hunt, the Minister for Health, answered that question fully. Furthermore, he did all honourable members in the House the honour of sending them a copy of his reply, a voluminous document. Reading it through I found some astounding points. For some reason or other- I make no apology for it- I took a political look at the document. One of the documents, which deals with projects approved for funding under the School Dental Scheme, lists electorate by electorate a number of these dental clinics and facilities for mobile clinics. Being of an orderly mind, I started with the federal division of Ballarat, which was the first electorate on the list. In the most recent redistribution, part of the federal division of Ballarat which was in Ballarat before 1977 came to my electorate. I am referring in particular to the areas of Bacchus Marsh and Woodend. I thought that I would have a look at that area and see how many of the schools there had these facilities.
I have been diligent in obtaining this information for the schools in my electorate, as honourable members will find as I proceed with my speech. I found that I had a hell of a job to do in the areas that used to be in the electorate of Ballarat- Bacchus Marsh and Woodendbecause there are no dental clinics at all in those areas. In fact, there is none in the whole federal division of Ballarat, not even one. The answer shown in the document for the electorate of Ballarat is ‘nil’. That was not a very good start, so I thought I would go through this document and I came to the federal division of Bendigo.
– What about the Mallee division?
-The honourable member interjects that I should consider the division of Mallee. I am not referring to the Mallee division because, as yet, my electorate does not take in part of the electorate of Mallee. But if the National Country Party has anything to do with the next redistribution, part of that electorate is certain to be in my electorate, I am sure. Presumably it would be some area that goes along both sides of the Calder Highway. I was also interested in the federal division of Bendigo because, again in the most recent redistribution, places like Romsey, Lancefield, Gisborne, Macedon and Mount Macedon came to my electorate. So I considered the electorate of Bendigo and I thought that perhaps there was some work that needed to be done there in terms of getting dental clinics for the schools. My goodness, there is a lot of work to be done there because in the whole federal division of Bendigo there is only one clinic. It is at Inglewood. Inglewood is a town that is well known to me because my charming wife was born there. I am not going to tell honourable members how many years ago that was. Inglewood is a delightful place some 30 or 40 miles to the north-west of Bendigo. It so happens that Inglewood is a very honoured place in that federal division because it is the only one that has facilities for a mobile clinic. I think the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier) is a very active member because it is only under construction! It has not even been established.
I can see that I have a job to do in Bacchus Marsh, Gisborne, Woodend, Macedon, Mount Macedon and a number of other places. However, having a great deal of persistence, I went through this document further and further. I came to the federal division of Burke. I would like to tell the House that there are six school dental clinics in the federal division of Burke. They are at Broadmeadows West, Coolaroo South, Gladstone Park, Gowrie Park, Moomba Park and Tullamarine. Not only that, there are 19 facilities for mobile clinics in the federal division of Burke but I am not one to brag. In a town that is much larger than Inglewood, Sunbury, which is a thriving and prosperous community as it has been represented by the Australian Labor Party since 1969, there are only two schools. There is the Sunbury primary school and the Sunbury West primary school. As I read through my alphabetical list, I find that both schools have facilities for mobile clinics. Of course, that did not surprise me, although I felt that I had to be fair.
I kept on going through the document until I came to the federal division of Maribyrnong. In the last redistribution parts of my electorate in Keilor and Melton went into Maribyrnong. Looking further down the list I find that Keilor Heights primary school has a dental clinic. There are facilities for mobile clinics at Keilor public school and Keilor Park public school. There are facilities for mobile clinics at the Melton and Melton South schools. Melton has only two schools. In that electorate of six schools, there is one school dental clinic and facilities for four mobile clinics which the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass), a worthwhile member, has inherited. I am sure that he will enhance the situation even further. There was another change in that redistribution and it so happened that part of my electorate went into the federal division of Scullin, which is represented by the honourable Dr Harry Jenkins.
– A very capable gentleman.
-He is a very capable man. He inherited from me in the Lalor and Thomastown area five school dental clinics- one at Lalor public school, one at Lalor East primary school, one at Lalor North primary school, one at Lalor Park primary school and one at Thomastown East primary school. He has two schools with facilities for mobile clinics- one at Norris Bank school and one at Thomastown East school. The rest of the document did not appeal to me greatly because I could not find any parts in it which relate to the point that I am putting. The point I am making is that irrespective of whether the honourable members representing the areas make representations through the Minister for Health or not, they ought to be taken into account. I hope that the Minister, having had this answer prepared for the honourable member for Murray, will read it. I hope that he will look at the disgraceful performance in respect of areas represented by Liberals for a very long time, where there are no dental facilities. I think that the Minister ought to do something about it. I will certainly be putting to him very strongly that facilities be developed in Gisborne, Macedon, Mount Macedon, Romsey, Lancefield, Woodend, Bacchus Marsh and all these other places where at present school children are denied facilities that are available for those who live near the metropolitan part of Melbourne.
This now brings me to something which I am sure the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher) would agree with. I cannot for the life of me see why children who go to school in a rural area some 40 miles from the centre of the city of Melbourne should be denied basic facilities such as dental hygiene, care and attention simply because they live, as in my electorate, in a remote part. That is just not good enough. If that has been the argument in the past, I refuse to accept it. I will pursue the Minister for Health vigorously and urge him to take into account these areas that as yet are without these facilities. I will be urging him to provide them. I am not too sure that I am going to have a lot of success in view of the scurrilous document which was introduced to this House by the Treasurer (Mr Howard) last Thursday night. I was pleased to see that on Tuesday of this week the author of the document came in too, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). All of these cuts that these honourable gentlemen are bringing about are always aimed at those who are in the worst position, the people in the community who are least able to fight back- pensioners, people who require health care, sick people and Aboriginals. In fact, every group in the community that has no clout with this Government. They are not directors of the BHP company, they are not directors of Esso, they are not directors of Utah. They have no clout with the Government and time after time it takes advantage of them.
I am not prepared to come to this House as the representative of the federal division of Burke and sit silently while the Government does a disservice to the people who reside in my electorate. I will use all of my energies to ensure that the
Government faces up to its responsibilities to the greatest asset that Australia has- the next generation of Australians from whom our future leaders will come. These children must be allowed to receive the care and attention that ought to be the birthright of every Australian.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-On 1 7 August last year I made a speech in this place about an impending energy crisis and its effect on the isolated areas of Australia, particularly areas which have no sources of energy other than oil based energy. Of course, my electorate is one of those areas. It has only SOO kilometres of railways and covers a vast area four times the size of Victoria. In many parts there are no roads. Such roads as there are are closed for up to five months of the year during the wet season. In my speech I spoke of future difficulties. I spoke of the need to develop alternative energy resources. I spoke about producing ethanol from cassava and sugar cane. I spoke about producing methanol from coal shale. I spoke of the urgency of this sort of thing being done now, not in the future.
I do not want to sound like a prophet of doom, as in the book entitled Future Shock but a small part of the energy crisis is here now. I refer to the situation regarding aviation gasoline in Australia. Traditionally, 60 per cent of Australia’s supplies of aviation gasoline have come from Abadan in Iran, a refinery which almost went out of production during the crisis in Iran. It has only just started producing oil again. Forty per cent of our aviation gasoline has originated from the Mobil refinery at Altona in Victoria. That refinery was recently rebuilt so as to produce a larger supply. Unfortunately, when it started operating again early this year there were technical difficulties, relating particularly to the quality of the aviation fuel, and it only produced 70 per cent of its potential production. I understand now that those difficulties have been overcome and it is producing at its full productive rate. Because there is a world shortage of aviation gasoline, we are in a crisis situation. The spot prices of aviation gasoline have gone up from $200 per tonne to $500 per tonne. I understand that at present it is most unlikely that there is any available source of aviation gasoline which we can tap.
I represent an area which relies on aviation gasoline for many of its essential services. The same applies in the Northern Territory, parts of Western Australia and parts of western New South Wales. I will quote the situation in my own electorate. Firstly, what services do we have which rely on aviation gasoline. One of the most essential is the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Another is the mail service. Many areas rely on aircraft for mail services. The surveillance of the area by the defence forces depends entirely on aviation gasoline. Supplies, food and newspapers are carried on aircraft. At the moment people engaged in mustering cattle are major users of aviation gasoline. Because of the collapse of the cattle industry over the last few years very few trained stockmen are available. To muster very large areas, station owners are relying on helicopters which use aviation gasoline. They must muster now. They have not been able to do so until recently because of the wet season. As the far north of Queensland is a major supplier of beef and almost the only remaining source of beef in Australia, mustering that area must go on or the price of beef will rise even more than it has and we will not be able to meet our export quotas.
The operators who use Avgas in the far north have been very responsible. They have introduced a voluntary rationing system between themselves, giving priority to such emergency services as the Royal Flying Doctor Service. They are carrying out as well as they can a redistribution of stocks between areas. Bush Pilots Airways Ltd, one of the major operators which uses Avgas for nearly all its fleet, has reduced its schedules in southern areas to concentrate on the northern areas, which are most affected. This is a very responsible approach to a difficult situation. I was informed this morning that the Iron Range aerodrome in northern Cape York is completely out of fuel. That is the only area where fuel can be supplied to aircraft flying over a very large area. There will be no supplies to that area for some days. Yesterday a Caribou aircraft of the Royal Australian Air Force landed at Cooktown to refuel. It took 46 per cent of the stocks at Cooktown in one refuelling. Because of that it is possible that the mail services over a very large part of Cape York, run by a small charter company based in Cooktown, will not be able to operate next week. A huge area of 30 major delivery points will not receive any mail. It is possible that some of the smaller charter operators will go out of business. One charter operator which has $500,000 worth of aircraft and back up services and which employs 9 people has found that for the month of June it can operate at only 54 per cent of its normal operations, which is almost half. It obviously cannot survive for too long if it does not get supplies of aviation gasoline.
I am informed that there are insufficient stocks to ensure totally that emergency services in far north Queensland can be maintained. I believe that this is a very serious situation as there are no alternatives. So we must do something about it. Three oil companies supply aviation gasoline. One is Mobil Oil Australia Ltd, another is BP Australia Ltd and I cannot recall the name of the third. They have worked out an allocation system between themselves which is now in operation. I appeal to those companies to make sure that their allocations go to those areas which have no alternatives. This will mean reducing the supplies of aviation gasoline in the cities. The small aircraft which fly around the cities are not providing essential services. There are alternatives. I ask the oil companies to look very closely at where their fuel is going throughout Australia because we will be short for some time. I appeal for a much stricter and more responsible system of allocation. At the moment this can be done only voluntarily. The Commonwealth has no power to ration this fuel. Therefore, I appeal to the oil companies- they are doing a good job- to realise what the potential emergencies are and do something about the situation.
– It is essential that we have that Avgas there.
-It is essential. I thank the honourable member. I ask the defence forces not to use aircraft which require Avgas if they have to be refuelled in areas where there is a shortage of supplies. This should be possible. I would like the States to look at the allocation of Avgas because stocks are available in some areas and not in others. I ask the States to consider the reallocation of stocks from one place to another. Only the States can do this. I understand that there are stocks in Queensland but not in far north Queensland. I ask for Commonwealth and State co-operation in this very serious matter. To keep emergency services going the States and the Commonwealth may have to help with the cost of the reallocation of stocks throughout very large areas. I am talking about small quantities only.
This is a small crisis on the national scene but it is a major crisis in the isolated areas of Australia which have no alternative means of transport. I hope that this crisis will be widely publicised. I hope that it will help to educate the people of Australia in the problems we will face in the future with fuel supplies because of the world energy crisis. The queues in California are of minor importance compared with the shortage of aviation gasoline in Australia because there are alternatives. I ask for sympathy, understanding and immediate action to try to solve this very difficult problem.
-As the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson), who is at the table, will know and as honourable members on my left will know, one of the many attractions of living in my home State of Queensland is the existence of a superb seaside culture. By that, I mean that the population of Queensland is so strung out along the entire length of the Queensland coast that we are very conscious of the beauties, the dangers and the benefits of living next to the sea. The attractions of such a culture draw hundreds of thousands of southerners from their grey, sullen suburban skies to the sunny climes of beautiful Queensland. But it appears that sunny Queensland also attracts other sorts of people. It is about those very unwelcome visitors that I wish to speak today.
Specifically, the rich fishing areas of the Great Barrier Reef have acted as a magnet to draw to those waters great numbers of Taiwanese fishing boats which recently have assumed proportions of a virtual armada or flotilla. The poaching of clams on the Great Barrier Reef is now a national scandal. It is a poor reflection on this Government that a newspaper has taken more effective action in a matter of a few weeks than the Government has taken in a period of over 20 years of Taiwanese poaching. I refer to the investigations sponsored by the Brisbane CourierMail in the last few weeks. The plundering, poaching and polluting of our northern waters by the marauding Taiwanese has been fully exposed in a series of well researched and well written articles by Mr Bruce McKean. Last week I expressed in this House the opinion that the scale and frequency of the Taiwanese invasion and the indisputable evidence of Taiwanese mother ships suggest that there is a clear conspiracy, a deliberate and concerted effort, to pilfer clams, which is a crime under Commonwealth law. 1 have asked the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) to work in conjunction with his fellow Ministers and to investigate whether the boats operate with a mother ship or with an air base on a neighbouring island. I have not been informed yet of any action that the Minister should have taken pursuant to that request. Nor have I been informed of which Australian companies have approached the Minister to seek approval for Taiwanese fishing licences within Australia’s forthcoming 200-mile territorial waters. The Minister referred to these representations on behalf of Taiwanese fishing interests in his correspondence to certain parliamentarians early in April. Over 3 weeks ago I put to him a question without notice and still he remains silent on which companies are involved. The Courier-Mail, however, has not been silent. In its first investigative article on clam poaching and the raping of the reef its reporter, Mr Bruce McKean, linked the Queensland Butter Marketing Board with the Taiwanese fishing interests. The Queensland Butter Marketing Board paid a solicitor and a barrister to defend the Taiwanese boat captain after he was charged with illegally searching for clams on the reef. The defence lost and the clam boat was confiscated. The then General Manager of the Board, the late Mr George Coombs, tried to buy back the boat for its Taiwanese owners. Mr Deputy Speaker, something smells, and it is not the clams. I commend the Courier-Mail for its no-holds-barred stand against the Taiwanese invasion.
– That should get you some votes.
-The Great Barrier Reef is the last home of the giant clam, which is a delicacy in Asia and a prime target for the Taiwanese poachers. The honourable member for Herbert (Mr Dean) interjects, but he has not done anything about his beautiful Barrier Reef. Clam meat brings $20 a kilogram in Taipei and $44 a kilogram in Hong Kong. As Mr McKean has pointed out, a skilled Taiwanese clammer takes less than 60 seconds to cut out a muscle and destroy a clam which took up to 100 years to grow. Some boats which have been caught by authorities have been holding on board a clam catch of up to 15 tonnes, worth approximately half a million dollars on the Hong Kong market. More importantly, it represents one hundred million years of clam life.
The Courier-Mail articles highlight the problems of tracking down the poachers. Clearly, the most effective way of detecting and catching them is to use chartered local boats and sea planes. Apparently naval patrol boat officers do not know tricky reef waters as well as local game fishermen know them. Royal Australian Air Force Orion surveillance requires that the aircraft visually identify boats. Taiwanese fishermen head for open waters when they see the planes overhead. The charter approach stands up well in respect of cost. The charge for chartering a local sea plane is about $130 an hour while an RAAF Orion costs $2,200 an hour to charter. The Navy itself admits that its patrol boats are slow. There are three patrol boats stationed in Cairns- the Barricade, the Bayonet and the
Barbette- each a 33-metre vessel operated by 1 8 men. They use the most modern charts, but even these are not entirely accurate because great areas of the reef are still uncharted. In some cases, the Taiwanese fishing captains have navigated the tricky waters of the reef more often than have the captains of the Australian naval ships that patrol our coastline and, as a consequence, they know the area much better.
The recent sentence brought down by the Cairns magistrate, Mr B. J. Scanlan, against the captain of the Hae Weng Sheng, is a clear example of the courts following the lead of public opinion. For weeks before the decision the Courier-Mail and the other Queensland media had waged a media war against the Taiwanese poachers. It even reached the point where the Taiwanese Treasurer held an emergency meeting of fishery officials and representatives of the Fishermen’s Association to discuss reports in the Courier-Mail of the great clam war. I am on record as having advocated nothing less than the sternest measures to discourage this wanton plundering. I regret that members of the boats’ crews have to pay the price for the indiscretions and excesses of their captains, the boat owners and the company men who give them their orders. However, I firmly believe that in these blatant cases of premeditated poaching, an example must be made of offenders if the Taiwanese are to be deterred effectively.
Poaching has even reached the stage where Taiwanese captains scuttle or attempt to scuttle their boats as they are being towed in for arrest. Not only will oil spills created by this sort of vandalism create enormous problems for the marine environment, but the removal by the Taiwanese over the last 20 years of a large number of clams must have an enormous effect on the ecological system. Northern Queenslanders have a profound appreciation of the benefits of the reef and especially of the value of tourism to the area. To them, the word ‘Taiwanese’ provokes anger. Clams are the main Taiwanese target. They are a delicacy in the East, where they are regarded as an aphrodisiac, but other marine wildlife and animals are also pilfered. Turtles are a Taiwanese delicacy, and along with terns and gannets and other sea birds which nest on the coral islands, they have been found in the frozen storage bins of Taiwanese fishing boats. Another popular catch is the highly colourful triton shellfish, whose shell attracts prices of up to $100. The triton is the main predator of the dreaded crown of thorns starfish. Clearly, then, the Taiwanese are disturbing and placing in jeopardy the delicate environmental balance of the reef.
In respect of the marine environment, in the time remaining I wish to deal briefly with the statement of the Minister for Primary Industry that applications are to be called for pilot fishing ventures for harvesting beche-de-mer on the Barrier Reef. I refer those uninformed honorable members who do not know what beche-de-mer are to the Australian Encyclopaedia: They are sluggish, more or less sausage-shaped creatures which live on the sea-bottom- not unlike some members of this Parliament; they resemble large worms; they have an absence of external spine; a few are poisonous, but most are harmless; their bodies can assume a variety of shapes; most species can regenerate lost organs, and a few reproduce asexually by spontaneous transverse fission. I hope that honourable members now have some idea of what a beche-de-mer looks like. There may even be a species of the creature in this House.
The point is that the Federal and Queensland governments have now given the go-ahead to reestablishing the beche-de-mer industry. Apart from the economic viability of the proposal, the industry could present environmental problems. In this regard, I implore the Minister to read the 1 977-78 annual report of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
-Order The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The Burdekin River and its tributaries in north Queensland form Queensland ‘s largest river system in terms of the annual discharge of water to sea. Indeed, the Burdekin River system is second in size only to the mighty Murray system. In Queensland the Burdekin River annually discharges to the sea an average of over seven million acre feet of water. That compares, for example, with the Fitzroy River system in Queensland, also a very large system, which discharges some 4.6 million acre feet per annum.
Thus it is that with such a large amount of water flowing annually to the sea, the Burdekin Dam has been a long-held dream in North Queenslanders’ hearts and minds. They see it as a dam which would permit the opening up of vast tracts of land suitable for irrigation and primary production; a dam which would provide water to further encourage development in various townships and cities along the coast of Queensland, particularly the city of Townsville.
The damming of the Burdekin River came to be regarded as an essential development in post-war years, at a time when there were threats and fears of food shortages throughout the world, in particular in Europe; at a time when there was a widespread feeling that parts of Australia would become the food bowl of Europe. Of course, that fear largely failed to materialise, but the development of the Burdekin Dam remains as an unabated point of concern to North Queenslanders. It is regarded as being essential to the development of the TownsvilleBurdekin area. It is regarded as being of such magnitude that it is of State and national significance as well as regional significance.
Over the years, a number of studies have been done on the damming of the Burdekin, its viability and what can be done with the land thereby opened up. The first major report was the Kemp report, which was delivered in about 1957. A continuing problem over the years, however, has been the difficulty of assessing the economic viability of the project. At last this point appears to have been tackled specifically in the latest State departmental assessment, carried out by a committee called the Burdekin Project Assessment Committee, which was delivered to the Queensland Premier late last year. That assessment recommended that initially the Burdekin Dam be built to a size that would hold back 1.75 megalitres of water. This would provide for the opening up of land well into the year 2000- an opening up process in step with the capacity of the country to develop that land and to export the produce from it. On that particular assessment, the development will give an internal return of 10 per cent on invested funding. As I have said, at long last the question of the economic viability of the project has been tackled and proven.
When it comes to the construction of the dam, it is of course the State Government which has the primary concern for and is responsible for the implementation of any decision to go ahead. The Queensland Government is not unnaturally concerned about the response of the Commonwealth Government. In a statement reported in the Townsville Daily Bulletin on 22 May 1979 the Queensland Premier said that he was confident that the Commonwealth would allocate money to help build the dam and the associated hydroelectric plant. Of course, it is only the small dam without hydro-electricity which it is suggested should be proceeded with first by the committee to which I referred. In any event, the Premier felt confident that the Commonwealth would come to the party. The Premier went on to say that a start would be made on the Burdekin dam by his Government even if the Commonwealth
Government failed to provide financial aid for the project.
That newspaper report simply serves to highlight that it is primarily a State responsibility to make a decision about and to go ahead with the construction of the Burdekin dam, just as it is necessarily a State responsibility to be concerned about a whole range of infrastructure developments, whether they be roads, dams, electricity generating power plants or any other such project. The making of that decision is a State responsibility.
It is a little of a surprise to me that the Queensland Government does not seem to have considered the Burdekin dam project as one of the projects that could be financed through the infrastructure financing approved recently by the Loan Council. Queensland, in fact, has been allowed to borrow overseas some $205m for various projects. These include the Hay Point coal loader and electricity generating projects at Gladstone, Wivenhoe and Tarong. But no finance is being made available for irrigation. Certainly none is being made available for the Burdekin dam. One wonders why that project, as it is of such great importance, could not be considered as a suitable project for infrastructure financing.
Quite clearly the State Government does certainly want the Commonwealth Government to come to the party. There is no reason why in future years the project ought not to be put right at the top of the list of priorities for consideration under, for example, the national water resources program. I suppose there is no reason at all why the State Government cannot continue to put up the Burdekin dam as a special case, although that may be going a little further afield than the Commonwealth might wish to contemplate. Certainly, a commitment from the Commonwealth Government, be it through the national water resources program or through some other program, is utterly desirable and essential to the prompt and successful completion of this project. lt is interesting to note the reported comments of the Opposition in relation to the Burdekin dam. In opening the First Session of the Twentyninth Parliament- that is, the Parliament of the then Labor Government- the Governor-General stated, inter alia; that, in co-operation with the Queensland Government, the Commonwealth would press ahead with (yet another) study of the potential of the Burdekin and Bowen Basin. The outcome of that particular study was delivered in about 1 976. It was a joint FederalState committee report but it was, in fact, a somewhat sober document and did not make any particularly firm recommendations about an immediate start on the project. That, I presume, is what prompted the State Government to go ahead with its own further assessment, the results of which were delivered to the Premier late last year.
Apart from that, I have been unable to find any commitment by the Labor Opposition to the Burdekin dam. An editorial in the Townsville Daily Bulletin of 15 May stated that the Federal Labor Party had committed itself to the project. I cannot find where that commitment was stated. I cannot find the source of that particular editorial.
If the Labor Party and the Opposition Caucus were to make a decision in favour of the Burdekin dam I would welcome it. The Burdekin dam, so far as north Queenslanders are concerned, ought not to be considered on any partisan basis. It is an issue that rises above the parochialism of party politics. It is something that north Queenslanders will welcome and something that north Queenslanders hope all major political parties will embrace and endorse.
– What about your party?
-Indeed; I said all parties. The honourable member does not really listen, does he? North Queenslanders know that that longheld dream is not an impossible dream. They know that governments, State or Federal, of whatever political colour, should proceed with the construction of that dam straight away. They grieve that the building of the complete project has not yet been undertaken. They hope that the commitments which at long last may be made will ensure that the project will be proceeded with. They urge that the governments make their decisions immediately so that the construction of the dam can proceed.
– Before I move to the main comments that I wish to make, I would like to make an observation on the remarks just made by the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Dean) and to make clear the Labor Party’s attitude towards the Burdekin dam. We are committed to that project in principle. I have made it clear on a number of occasions when I have been in Townsville that as soon as a cost benefit analysis was completed justifying the project- I said that we would move speedily to that end- we would proceed with the project. What I found rather curious was the proposition implicit in what the honourable member for Herbert was putting. His proposition was that there should be no dispute about the Burdekin River dam; that it should rise above common provincial politics and that, accordingly, as the present Government had made no decision on this matter neither should the Opposition. I am afraid that I cannot accommodate the honourable member for Herbert in such a comforting way.
The matter to which I want to speak today is much more important because once again it goes to the very heart of the issue of the integrity of the present Government. This morning at Question Time in this Parliament two Ministers were asked the same question and gave totally different answers. Their answers were in complete conflict. One question was directed to the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) in this House and the other was directed to the Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster) in the Senate. Both Ministers cannot both be right because their replies are in total, absolute, brutal conflict. One of- the Ministers is obviously telling the truth; one is being candid with the Parliament. But one of the Ministers is not being truthful; one is misleading the Parliament. Those matters have to be established. The matter relates to the declaration of the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park located off Rockhampton. The declaration of this Marine Park will conceivably result in the prevention of oil exploration in those areas of leases Q/4P and Q/SP which may impinge upon the actual area of the Marine Park. That is the crux of a succession of questions which have been asked and some debate which has taken place in the Senate. The Government- the real politicians, the real developers, the devotees of ‘where there is muck there is money’ in the Cabinet, including the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Minister for National Development- quite clearly are pressing relentlessly for the renewal of permits Q/4P and Q/5P.
-Order! I do not think the Chair ought to let references to individual Ministers or any member of this House pass lightly. If the honourable gentleman wishes to refer to Cabinet, that is his own business. I just warn him that he should stick to that general reference.
– I will say: ‘Those members of Cabinet’, and I will not take it any further. The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Groom) and the Minister for Science and the Environment are pressing for the proclamation of the Capricornia section of the Marine Park off Rockhampton. The significance of that is that the proclamation will prevent exploration to the extent that there is an infringement upon the defined area of the Capricornia section of the Marine Park. The argument is whether in fact there would be any infringement and whether the proclamation is being delayed because of this matter. This morning in this House the Minister for National Development was asked this question:
Is it a fact that the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has not been declared because the area of permits Q/4P and Q/5P infringes on the proposed section of the Marine Park.
He said unequivocally yes. In the Senate, however, the Minister for Science and the Environment denied this. He said once again that the problem relates exclusively to constitutional difficulties which have arisen between the State Government of Queensland and the Federal Government. Obviously one of the Ministers is right and one is wrong. On the evidence available it seems to me that the Minister for Science and the Environment is the man who is wrong and who is misleading this Parliament. This comes to the heart of the integrity of the Government. It is incumbent upon the Prime Minister to clarify this situation beyond any doubt as a matter of the greatest urgency. In the Senate on 3 May the Minister for Science and the Environment said:
The reason why the Capricornia Reef has not been declared has nothing -
I stress nothing- to do with the comment made by Senator Wriedt -
That is in relation to whether there would be some infringement on these lease areas- and it has nothing whatsoever to do with exploration in that area. It has been held up purely -
That means the same as solely or exclusively- because discussions are taking place between AttorneysGeneral and Premiers as to where base lines may be finally drawn in relation to that territory.
The Minister also stated:
I can assure the honourable senator that the comment I made is correct. The Capricornia Reef is not declared at the moment due to constitutional problems. So far as I am aware, absolutely no movement is pending to renew exploration permits in that area of the Great Barrier Reef.
That is demonstrably untrue. That is not the statement of an honest Minister. That is a misleading of the Senate- of the Parliament- and a very serious infringement of the responsibilities of a Minister to the Parliament. Let me read again from a letter which has been incorporated in the Senate Hansard of 8 May. It is a letter from the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) dated 22 January this year to the Minister for Science and the Environment. This letter makes it quite clear that the quibble very clearly is about the matter of definition of boundaries and the potential for infringement of oil exploration leases into the potentially defined area for the Capricornia Marine Park. The letter reads in part:
The Under Secretary of the Queensland Department of Mines has advised my Department that the Department of Mines would have no objection to the proposed declaration provided the permittee of Q/4P and Q/5P is agreeable -
My God, this is a great concession. The Queensland Government is acting as the agent of a foreign oil multinational and is telling the Federal Government that the conditions upon which agreement can be established are those acceptable to the foreign multinational oil corporation. The letter continues: . . and only areas which the permittee proposes to relinquish are included. r
If the whim suits the foreign multinational and it is prepared to relinquish the area so that it can be included in the boundaries of the Capricornia area of the Marine Park then it can be included. The letter continues:
There has been no formal contact with the permittee and the official views of the permittee are not known.
Well, for God’s sake, the conservation of an important part of our natural heritage swings in the balance on the whim of a foreign multinational corporation. The Federal Government is told to hold things in suspense because the attitude of the foreign multinational corporation is not known. It boils down to this: The Minister for National Development and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) who, we understand is backing him to the hilt, are presenting themselves in this Parliament on this matter, and elsewhere, as the agents or the representatives, of the foreign multinational corporation. It is not good enough to have the Minister for Science and the Environment wilfully misleading the Parliament in this way. He cannot say that the matter is purely one of discussions between the AttorneysGeneral and the Premiers as to where base lines may be finally drawn in relation to the territory. It is not just a matter, exclusively, as he said in the Senate, of a quibble on constitutional matters. It is a matter of the self-interest of a foreign multinational corporation and the Queensland Government, quite apparently, acting as this company’s representative in this matter. The Minister for Science and the Environment knew that full well on 22 January 1979. The extract of the letter from his colleague, the Minister for National Development, makes that irrefutably clear. Furthermore, on 5 April this year another letter was sent from Senator Webster to the Minister for National Development. The letter states: . . I suggest that your Department provide my Department and the Authority formally with specific details particularly as to the boundaries of the areas over which it is proposed to renew permits.
He has always denied it is a matter of renewal of permits and said he knew nothing about it. The evidence is abundant and irrefutable. The letter continues:
This will enable the Department and the Authority to assess the adequacy of information available to relate the proposed exploration program to areas of environmental and marine park significance.
The dispute is about the avaricious interest of a foreign multinational oil company that wants to carry out exploration on an important part of our national heritage which ought to be preserved. The Minister for National Development has nothing to be proud about in this matter in relation to his conduct. But the Minister for Science and the Environment, no matter how well motivated he might be in the issue of conservation, is misleading the Parliament and the people of this country. He is misleading Australians and ought to be brought to account without any further delay.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– It is very sad to see in this Parliament that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) has to speak during the grievance debate as this is the only time available for back benchers of whatever party -
– How is your mate Ian Smith?
-. . . to express their views. He comes in here and takes up their time when certain facilities are available in this House to enable him to put forward any matter of public importance that he may wish to make.
– How is your mate Ian Smith?
-Order! I will not warn the honourable member for Port Adelaide again. If he refuses to listen to the instructions from the Chair he will be dealt with.
-The Leader of the Opposition deprives his own back bench of their time. That is the essence of his position.
Honourable members interjecting;
-Order! I warn the honourable member for Burke.
– In recent days we have seen many crocodile tears from the Opposition alleging that the Government has failed in its economic policies towards the people of
Australia and the future of this nation. I would like to place on record the comments made by the Leader of the Opposition when he was Treasurer of the Commonwealth, in debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) on 19 August 1975. He said:
This year’s budgetary considerations began, as usual, with an examination of the prospective Budget aggregates. Expenditures were projected to grow much more rapidly than revenues and the prospective deficit was nearly double that of 1 974-75. Clearly, such a deficit could not be countenanced under the circumstances.
In the context of an economy beginning to pick up, a deficit of the order initially projected would have been a prescription for accelerating inflation. Its acceptance would have been tantamount to abandoning concern with inflation, discarding our wages policy, condemning the corporate sector to an attack upon its profitability and threatening the future jobs of thousands of Australians- all at a time when the first signs of improvement in most of those respects are beginning to appear.
We are no longer operating in that simple Keynesian world in which some reduction in unemployment could, apparently, always be purchased at the cost of some more inflation. Today, it is inflation itself which is the central policy problem. More inflation simply leads to more unemployment.
Some might argue that a large deficit could be offset by a tough monetary policy- but this would mean greatly increased interest rates, disruption in financial markets, further depression of business confidence and serious company failures. That is an unacceptable option.
The Treasurer then said:
We therefore rejected a deficit of the order implied by all the expenditure proposals before us.
– Who said that?
-That was said by the now Leader of the Opposition. Obviously, in those days at least he had some concept of fiscal responsibility and probity which now, as Leader of the Opposition, has been lost to the winds. In fact, the Opposition simply takes the view that we need a greater public sector- spend more money in the public sector and somehow all will be well. It is time the Opposition realised the simple aggregates of this situation. In 1972-73, compared with the present financial year 1977-78, receipts from income tax- essentially pay-as-you-earn taxes I might add- have grown from $4,085m to $ 12, 122m. Outlays to the States and local authorities over the same period grew from $2,784m to $8,738m. These statistics demonstrate two fundamental facts and they are these: The people of Australia have been taxed over the years at a level which no longer permits further increases in direct taxation. The only answer to such a situation therefore, is for the Government to accept responsibility to take every action possible to reduce wherever possible its own outlays of expenditure. It can also be stated quite clearly that States and local government today have a greater responsibility, not just in their own local areas but to the entire Australian nation, to pull their weight in making sure that their expenditure is reduced and that the outlays that they do decide upon are in accordance with sound financial and administrative practices. The figures are clear, as I have stated. Federal Government grants have grown from $2,784m to $8,738m. There is absolutely no doubt that the State and local governments now receive from this Federal Government a better deal than they have had since Federation, and that record stands second to none. Responsibility for reduced expenditure cannot be left at the Federal level.
The statistics relating to State and local governments, whether in terms of personnel employed in the public sector or in terms of gross aggregates of public sector expenditure, across the nation, are abundantly clear. At the Federal level we have effectively reduced the public sector in terms of Public Service employees in the last year by some 7,159 positions but at the State and local government levels employment has gone up considerably. The impact in terms of the national aggregates is that whatever cutbacks have been made at the Federal level have been effectively eroded and lost by growth in the total public sector of Australia. This demonstrates once again the very real policy problems which any Federal government faces in its relations with the States in reducing in aggregate terms the government sector of the gross domestic product of Australia. Therefore at the next Premiers Conference I sincerely hope- and I am sure it will happen- that the Federal Government will insist that if the State governments expect further gains in their share of the revenue they must be prepared to account to their constituents and to the people of Australia for the manner in which they wish to spend public funds.
The sad reality of the position is that, whereas in past years national deficits were essentially held by the States and the Federal Government was more or less able to control its total deficit, situation, the position today is that there is not one State within this Commonwealth which is not able to balance its Budget or get extremely close to it. In fact, in the last financial year some States were actually in a surplus situation. The Federal Government of Australia is now in the absurd position of having to absorb the deficits which in fact the State governments had before. That position is not in the national interests of
Australia because as I see it there is some distortion of the situation relating to the actual financial position of the Commonwealth.
The figures are quite clear in a whole range of areas in terms of Federal-State financial relationships. As I noted before, receipts from taxation have gone up considerably. In fact State and local government growth shows that receipts from their financial transactions have risen from $ 1 6.069m to $20.42m over the period 1 972-73 to 1977-78. They do have the money. They have the capacity under stage 2 of the new federalism to apply their own taxation if they so wish, but of course the tendency has been to explain to the people that it is the Australian Government, the Federal Government, that is responsible for taxation. If there is any shortfall of funds in any specific area, whatever it be- libraries, as was mentioned by one of the Opposition members, or some other area of expenditure- it is always the responsibility of the Federal Government, never the State Government’s responsibility. That situation is idiotic. It is statistically not accurate and it must not be encouraged any further.
I want to make one point in terms of taxation. I am particularly concerned that the taxpayers of Australia are at the present time expected to wait at times in excess of two years before taxation appeal tribunals are able to handle their cases where there is conflict between a taxpayer and the Commissioner of Taxation. I would like to draw to the attention of the House the fact that in the United States the procedure in appeals lost by the Taxation Commissioner is that interest must be paid on the sums of money held by the Federal authorities for a specified period of time. I regard this as being nothing more than plain equity. If an individual, or a company for that matter, is found to have breached no regulation under the taxation arrangements I do not see why the Commonwealth or the Commissioner of Taxation acting as the agent for the Commonwealth should be able to retain funds which are not legally theirs.
-Order! It being 12.45 p.m., in accordance with Standing Order 106, the debate is interrupted.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
-Does the honourable member for Herbert want to make a personal explanation?
– I claim to have been misrepresented. In commenting on the speech I made in the grievance debate the Leader of the
Opposition (Mr Hayden) suggested that I had said that because the present Government had not made a firm commitment on the Burdekin Dam I was suggesting that the Labor Party need not make a commitment either. I certainly did not say that. I trust that the Leader of the Opposition simply misheard me. The burden of my remarks was that I was unable to find the source of reported comment that the Labor Party was committed to the construction of the dam. I went on to say that in any event I regarded the matter as being above party politics and I said that I would welcome a decision from the Opposition to make a firm commitment just as I would welcome it from all of the major parties in this country. I was certainly disappointed to note that the Leader of the Opposition further -
-Order! I think the honourable member is starting to debate the question. His explanation is well made, I think.
– I raise a point of order. I submit that the remark that the Leader of the Opposition made was that the import of the statement of the honourable member for Herbert is to the effect -
– I raise a point of order.
-It is a point of order. The honourable member will resume his seat.
– I want to make a point of order on his point of order.
– You cannot. I ask the honourable member for Shortland to state his point of order. I have not got it yet. Would you make it short and sharp?
– I was trying to; you are not helping me. The import of the statement by the Leader of the Opposition was that the effect of the statement by the honourable member for Herbert was -
– He is debating the point. It is not a point of order.
– Will I start again, Mr Deputy Speaker?
-I have not heard anything yet that amounts to a point of order.
– I cannot get to it because you are not protecting me.
-No, that is untrue and that is a reflection on the Chair. If the honourable member for Hotham would keep quiet it would help the Chair. The honourable member for Shortland has been speaking for some time but I have not heard a valid point of order yet. If the honourable member does not make one I will have to ask him to resume his seat.
– My point of order is that the import of the statement by the Leader of the Opposition was that, as he understood the remarks of the honourable member for Herbert, the honourable member did say that he could not get a decision from the Government and therefore the Opposition -
-I do not accept that as a point of order.
-On behalf of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, I present the Committee’s report on the Torres Strait Treaty.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-I seek leave of the House to make a statement in connection with the report.
– When the Committee’s report on the Torres Strait boundary was presented in December 1976 it was stated that there would be many further developments in the area in the near future, for at that time Australia and Papua New Guinea were still continuing their negotiations on the question of a boundary or border between the two countries. The Sub-Committee on Territorial Boundaries, with the approval of the main Committee, continued to monitor developments in the region. These activities were formalised as a reference ‘to monitor current developments on the issue of territorial borders between Australia and Papua New Guinea’. This report complies with that reference examining at some length the possible effects of the Treaty’s provisions on the people who will be most affected by it, namely, the Torres Strait Islanders. The report is really a continuation of the Committee’s earlier report. The Sub-Committee on Territorial Boundaries will continue to monitor events in this region, including the long term effects of the Treaty once it is implemented. The Treaty will probably not become fully effective until late in 1979 or 1980, since ratification cannot take place until legislation has been enacted by Australia, Papua New Guinea and Queensland. Some of the Treaty’s provisions, including arrangements for the sharing of the area’s natural resources, will be the subject of continuing negotiations and co-operation between Australia and Papua New Guinea.
In the course of this inquiry, the SubCommittee heard evidence from a number of departments, in particular, the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Primary Industry and Health. In addition, the Sub-Committee visited the area in July 1978 to gauge the reaction of the people living in the area to the proposed changes in the existing boundary. The full text of the Treaty is attached as Appendix I to the report. The Committee feels, however, that the more important matters covered by the Treaty are: Firstly, retention of Australian sovereignty over all the islands with the exception of Kawa, Mata Kawa and Kussathree uninhabited islands lying close to the coast of Papua New Guinea. The Government resolved the question of sovereignty over these islands- a matter which was discussed at length in the Committee’s previous report on the Torres Strait boundary- by concluding that the islands were never actually annexed by Queensland. A statement summarising the research which led to the Australian Government’s conclusion in this matter is attached as Appendix II to the report. Secondly, the delimitation of the seabed resources between Australia and Papua New Guinea. Thirdly, the establishment of a swimming fisheries resources boundary. Fourthly, the creation of a protected zone for the preservation of the unique environment of the Strait area. Fifthly, the confirmation of fishing rights in territorial waters for local inhabitants of the islands of Aubusi, Boigu, Dauan, Kaumag, Moimi and Saibai which have been retained by Australia under the Treaty, and, sixthly, the guarantee of freedom of movement by Papua New Guineans and Torres Strait Islanders within the protected zone to engage in their traditional activities. One hopes this includes the rights of Australians to visit the mainland of Papua New Guinea for traditional purposes to gather water from wells.
When the Sub-committee visited the Torres Strait Islands in July 1978, the islanders’ representatives voiced vociferous objections to the terms of the then proposed treaty. They demanded: ‘border no change’. The Committee is satisfied that these objections have largely been overcome, mainly because, prior to the initialling of the Treaty, the Government made a concerted effort to explain its terms, provisions and implications to the Islanders. The Committee’s first recommendation is that the Government should also make every attempt to inform the Australian public of the Treaty’s terms and provisions.
The Committee believes that the provisions of the Treaty as finally negotiated are equitable to both countries and have regard for the interests of the parties most affected, and are apparently supported by all interested parties. I would like to emphasise that the provisions of the Treaty to a very large extent incorporate recommendations made by the Committee in its earlier report on the Torres Strait boundary, namely that the Torres Strait Islands should remain part of Australia; that freedom of passage for Australians and Papua New Guineans should be guaranteed in the Protected Zone; that mining and drilling in the seabed should be prohibited until agreement is reached between all interested parties; and that new commercial ventures should not be permitted in the area unless they are compatible with the environment. The Committee has played an important role in this issue. The Committee cannot at this stage assess the long-term effects of the Treaty in the Torres Strait community. However, the Committee feels that the Treaty, when ratified, will have a considerable positive effect on the life style of the Torres Strait Islanders. In particular, the concept, and implementation of the Protected Zone, which encompasses all the reserve islands of the Torres Strait, will provide an opportunity for the indigenous culture of the Torres Strait Islanders to be preserved.
In recent years there have been rapid changes to the Torres Strait culture, due to a massive population shift from the outer islands to Thursday Island. Large numbers of adult males have left the area on a semi-permanent basis to seek employment in Australia as a result of the lack of economic opportunities in the Torres Strait Islands. To a very large extent, the Islanders depend on fishing for their economic future. Fish stocks in the Torres Strait are not abundant and the main commercial fisheries- crayfish, prawns and the various swimming fisheries- are already fully exploited. The Committee therefore feels that commercial fishing is an activity which, when the Treaty becomes fully effective, will require considerable attention to ensure that overexploitation of the limited resources does not occur. At the same time, the Committee recommends that, where possible, the Government should aid the Islanders to establish themselves commercially in one or more of the fisheriesmackerel is one- with room to accommodate them. Again, should exploitation of hydrocarbon deposits discovered in the area become viable in future, the Committee is concerned that the interests, both social and economic, of the Torres Strait community, should be considered in any such development.
These concerns have led the Committee to recommend that in implementing the Treaty the
Government should ensure that the spirit as well as the terms of the Treaty is observed, with particular attention to the application of the Protected Zone provisions and the preservation of the Torres Strait Islanders’ culture. To this end, the Committee recommends, further, that the Torres Strait Joint Advisory Council provided for in Article 19 of the Treaty should be appointed as soon as possible; and that the nomination of the Torres Strait Islanders to serve on this body should be made a matter of priority so that the people of the area can see a tangible expression of the results of the Treaty. Two of the Committee’s recommendations are not specifically related to matters covered by the Treaty, but to two quite serious problems that are beginning to affect the Torres Strait area and community. These are exotic animal and plant diseases and illegal immigration from Papua New Guinea. The problem of animal and plant diseases passing to Australia through the Torres Strait from Papua New Guinea is at present only potential, but in view of the prevalence of certain very serious animal pests in Papua New Guinea, such as the screw-worm fly, the Committee recommends that quarantine procedures in the area should be considerably strengthened. The Committee is pleased to report that plans are already being implemented by the Department of Health to increase animal quarantine activity in the Torres Strait area. In addition, the Committee would like to see the appointment of quarantine staff to the islands and initiation of a program to train indigenous people for surveillance purposes.
Illegal immigration from Papua New Guinea to the Torres Strait Islands and eventually to mainland Australia is a well-known practice, and one which poses a major risk of disease entering Australia through animals brought into Australian territory by Papua New Guineans. Since the Committee heard evidence from the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs on this question last August, the Department has taken measures to identify Papua New Guineans living illegally in Australia. As a result, almost 200 returned voluntarily to Papua New Guinea, and 5 were deported. Another 243 were granted permanent resident status after investigation of their cases. Whilst the Committee was pleased to hear recently that the Department is now confident that the situation is under control, it believes that this control must be continued and strengthened through expanding the number of immigration officers permanently stationed in the area. If practicable, local inhabitants should be employed for the purpose.
Finally, as the Committee agrees that the treaty as signed is a satisfactory document and is in the best interests of all parties concerned, it expresses the hope that ratification will proceed as soon as possible.
-by leavealthough being a member of the Committee which made the report. I wish to place some reservations on record. I refer in particular to Article 23 on page 27 of the report. It refers to commercial fishing. The Torres Strait Islands are spread over an area of about 10,000 square miles, about 140 miles from east to west and 70 to 80 miles from north to south. At the moment the population is probably about 5,000 or 6,000 or a little less. However, between 12,000 and 20,000 Torres Strait Islanders scattered throughout Australia regard the islands as their home. The people of the Torres Strait Islands have no other resource than the sea. The islands are small. For instance, York Island is only a few hundred acres in size and has a population of 500. The people’s only resource is the sea.
The difficulty that I see arising out of Article 23, which deals with the sharing of a commercial fishery, is that it effectively cuts in half the capacity of the Torres Strait Islanders to develop a viable economic base. I have had a long association with the area- prior to the time of the Labor Government, while it was in office and since then on this Committee. I say quite emphatically that governments have not done enough research on the commercial fishing potential of the area. We have not received a considered study of what fish are available and for how long they will be available. Whilst as a nation we have given serious consideration to the subsistence rights of the people of the Torres Strait, it seems to me that their chance of having a viable economic future is seriously prejudiced but, I am prepared to reserve my judgment on the report to see how we go.
However, we do have to face the fact that the Queensland Government will take every possible step to prevent the Torres Strait Islanders becoming independent in the sense I have indicated. I ask all members of the House to give serious consideration to the question. It is a fact of life that although most members of this Parliament have been to Britain, Europe, China and elsewhere, only a handful have visited the Torres Strait. I ask all honourable members to pay close attention to the commercial fishing base upon which the people of the Torres Strait used to rely. As I see it, if the terms of this Treaty are to the advantage of Papua New Guinea then they cannot be to the advantage of the Torres Strait
Islanders. I do not believe that this has all that much to do with Australia or Papua New Guinea. In number, the Torres Strait Islanders comprise one of the smallest indigenous races in the world. I am not absolutely satisfied that they have not been prejudiced by this treaty.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, 1 present the report relating to the following proposed work:
I also present a copy of the transcript of evidence relating to the Committee ‘s inquiry.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– I seek leave to make a statement relating to the report.
- Mr Acting Speaker, the investigation into the proposed work has taken over 12 months. Fifty witnesses were examined by the Committee during eight public hearings and two private hearings. In view of the complexity of the proposal and the length of the inquiry, the Committee decided that the House should be given the opportunity of examining in detail all the evidence placed before the Committee. We have, therefore, arranged for copies of the minutes of evidence of the whole inquiry to be made available to honourable members at the same time as the report is presented. Copies of the evidence, which comprises four volumes, are available in the Table Office for those honourable members who require them.
The basic concept of the Defence Force Academy was to replace the degree stream component of the Royal Military College, the Royal Australian Air Force Academy, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Darling Downs Institute, and the Royal Australian Navy College with a single academy that would provide a balanced and liberal university education in a military environment for officer cadets of the three Australian services, concurrently with a program of professional military training. The institution so created would be both a university and a military academy. The Committee agreed that there is a need for a greater proportion of tertiary educated officers in the Defence Force and that cadets should be involved in a military environment as much as possible during their tertiary studies. There was no clear evidence, however, that the training of cadets of all Services in a common establishment would of itself provide any improvement in the quality of officers.
The Committee rejects the view that association at cadet level will significantly foster interService co-operation and understanding and believes that this objective can be more effectively fostered at a more senior level. Each Service has differing requirements and tri-Service arrangements can lead to unsatisfactory compromises. The Committee believes that each Service should be free to determine its own method of educating officers and there should not be an enforced uniformity of education. The Committee concluded that consolidation of the officer production facilities of each Service is more desirable and justified than the consolidation on a triService basis of the tertiary training of the three Services. The Committee received evidence that there is insufficient use of tertiary education institutes and recommends that full use should be made of these institutes. Based on these and other conclusions, the Committee recommends that it is not expedient to proceed with the construction of the proposed work. The recommendation of the Committee is unanimous.
The Committee has put forward a number of suggested arrangements for the three Services which should be examined as a means of providing cost effective tertiary education towards the training of highly skilled professional officers of the Defence Force. The Committee is of the opinion that the suggested arrangements can be provided at a lesser capital cost than for the proposed Academy, and that recurrent costs can at best be kept as low as those currently obtaining, and probably very close to those estimated for the Academy. In presenting this report, I would like to thank all members of the Committee and the Committee’s staff for their efforts during the protracted hearings and discussions leading to this report. I also thank the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) for his personal assistance to the Committee on the several occasions on which his help was requested. Thanks must also go to the uniformed and civilian officers of his Department who have given the Committee considerable aid. The Committee’s assessor, Mr Alan Harris, formerly First Assistant Secretary, Department of the Treasury, also deserves the Committee’s appreciation.
During the course of this inquiry, it was necessary to draw the attention of witnesses to the provisions of section 32 of the Public Works Committee Act. This section provides amongst other things that witnesses should not be disadvantaged by giving evidence to the Committee. Early in the hearings it was clear that certain witnesses were reluctant to give their opinions to the Committee, based on their own expertise and experience, apparently because of fear of jeopardising their advancement within the Defence organisation. I am aware that undue public criticism of departmental policy and decisions is undesirable in organisations structured in the manner of the three Services, and with the important responsibilities of the Department of Defence and the Services. However, as Chairman of the Committee, I am acutely aware of the Committee’s responsibilities to the Parliament as set out in the Public Works Committee Act. The Committee’s procedures ensure that government or departmental policy and decisions relating to any proposed works are fully presented. Therefore there is no reason that individual witnesses appearing before the Committee at their own request or at the request of the Committee should feel constrained in answering questions put by the Committee in areas where such witnesses have special expertise or experience. I readily admit that, as the hearings in this particular reference progressed, the evidence received from military personnel appearing before the Committee became franker, less reserved and of much greater help to the Committee. These comments are made to draw the attention of the House to a danger which, if allowed to develop, would threaten the authority and capacity of both the Committee and the House effectively to scrutinise expenditure on public works. I commend the report to honourable members.
-I have received letters from the honourable member for Calare ( Mr MacKenzie) and the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) proposing that a definite matters of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion today. As required by Standing Order 107, 1 have selected one matter, that is, that proposed by the honourable member for Calare, namely:
The necessity to restrain welfare abuse and wastage so that those in greatest need receive a more equitable share of the welfare dollar.
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-
-Recently the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen), launched a publication by the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union entitled Australia Ripped Off. When one looks at the system of welfare payments in this country one might well ask whether that publication should not have been entitled ‘Australian Taxpayers Ripped Off. Commonwealth expenditure for health, welfare and education has risen from 25 per cent 10 years ago to nearly 50 per cent at present. When the expenditure on defence, payments to the States and public debt interest are added to this, there remains a measly 15c in every dollar of expenditure available for all the other funding responsibilities of the Commonwealth Government. If the expenditure on health, welfare and education has doubled in the last 10 years, how much further can it go? Should it go up to 60 per cent, 70 per cent or 80 per cent of total Commonwealth outlays, or should it be pulled up now?
In raising this matter of public importance I call on the Government to take further measures to ensure that those most deserving in the community receive most of the welfare dollar and, conversely, those least deserving or not deserving receive less or nothing from the welfare dollar. Inherent in this proposition is that the proportion of Commonwealth expenditures attributable to welfare must be contained and that a more equitable reallocation within the welfare appropriation be made. Let me remind the House that 10 years ago every 10 workers supported 1% welfare recipients. Now the same 10 workers support 2% welfare recipients. Further, the average income earner in Australia is contributing nearly $2,000 a year to welfare services- $35 a week from the average income earner’s taxes. It seems that the Australian disease is one where more and more people rely on fewer and fewer to support them.
No doubt Opposition members- the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) in particular- will bellow with self-righteous indignation on behalf of the unemployed, the sick, the pensioners and the handicapped. I am not castigating these people. I am, however, calling on the Government to examine its regulations and guidelines to ensure that the taxpayers’ dollar is responsibly appropriated to those in greatest need. Does the Opposition agree with the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) who will follow me in this debate, when he stated publicly at Penrith that he could see no reason why ‘a bloke who wants to be a surfie and who doesn’t particularly want to get a job’ should not be sought out and challenged?
- Mr Acting Speaker, I raise a point of order. That allegation was made in this House last week. I made a personal explanation. The honourable member for Calare is lying again.
– The honourable member for Calare is lying.
-Order! The honourable member for Prospect will resume his seat. There is no point of order. If the honourable member for Prospect feels that he has been misrepresented, he will have an opportunity to seek the indulgence of the Chair to explain the misrepresentation.
- Mr Acting Speaker, I raise a point of order. In making his point the honourable member for Prospect used quite unparliamentary language.
-The honourable member for Dundas will be aware that the honourable member for Prospect and the Chair were in some mild oral conflict at the time. The honourable member’s utterances were not heard by the Chair. If the honourable member for Prospect acknowledges making unparliamentary statements, I will ask him to withdraw.
- Mr Acting Speaker, I wish to speak to the point of order. Before you became involved in discussion with the honourable member for Prospect, he did say that the honourable member for Calare was lying again.
-If the honourable member for Prospect acknowledges having made that statement, in the face of the Minister’s remarks, I call upon him to withdraw.
-I withdraw, but I draw the attention of the House to the personal explanation I made the other day. A repetition of the untruth by the honourable member for Calare has just-
-Order! The honourable member will have an opportunity to explain.
– Does the Opposition agree that the taxpayer should continue to fund groups in the community enjoying alternative lifestyles in their communes who obviously have no intention whatsoever of working and who in fact boast openly that those who work are fools? Does the Opposition believe that the work test guidelines should be tightened up or relaxed? Let us look at its track record when in Government. I would like to draw the attention of the House to the explosion of unemployment benefit recipients and payments that occurred in 1974-75, during Labor’s period of office. Mr Acting Speaker, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard two tables showing the rates of unemployment benefits payable and the number of unemployment recipients from 1946 to 1978 inclusive.
The documents read as follows-
NUMBER OF UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFICIARIES AT 30 JUNE
1946-13,989; 1947-16,147; 1948-12,727; 1949-18,210; 1950-19,411; 1951-8,569; 1952-15,586; 1953-36,034; 1954-15,737; 1955-12,629; 1956-16,194; 1957-26,887; 1958-39,568; 1959-27,528; 1960-16,541; 1961-54,254; 1962-46,324; 1963-38,188; 1964-18,129; 1965-12,656; 1966-19,482; 1967-24,002; 1968-21,275; 1969-15,910; 1970-13,043; 1971-19,411; 1972-41,581;
1973-37,945; 1974-32,009; 1975-160,748; 1976-188,423; 1977-250,309; 1978-286,091
– Until 1973, the number of unemployment benefit recipients fluctuated between some 10,000 and some 50,000 persons. In 1974, 32,000 persons were receiving unemployment benefits, but by June 1975 there were nearly 16 1 , 000 people in the same category. This is an increase of some 400 per cent in one financial year. What a dreadful indictment of the Labor Government. To what was it due? The wages hike, contracting job vacancies, or a change in the system of unemployment benefit administration? Historically, some 40 per cent of registered unemployed persons receive unemployment benefits. However, that 40 per cent jumped to 70 per cent in 1975 when the regulations and guidelines for determining eligibility for unemployment benefits were relaxed by the present Leader of the Opposition, who was the responsible Minister at the time. It was he who allowed the huge rise in unemployment benefit recipients and the associated huge rise in benefit payouts. It was he who allowed the work test to be so watered down that unemployed persons could refuse job offers simply because they did not like the particular type of work. It was he who introduced the concept of personal preference being expressed by unemployed persons as to whether or not they wished to take a job opportunity.
It was during his term of office that we saw the quite ludicrous situation develop where people could continue to receive unemployment benefits because their job preferences were quite unrealistic and quite impossible to fill in their particular districts or localities. He allowed people who voluntarily left their jobs to register immediately for unemployment benefits through abolishing the postponement provisions. He introduced advance payments for beneficiaries, leading to a massive over-expenditure of taxpayers funds. He allowed school leavers to be paid benefits for the summer holidays, even when those school leavers had arranged to start in a job after the holidays finished.
I believe that there are two issues of major concern to Australians, irrespective of their party political affiliations. They are, firstly, the whole area of welfare abuse and, secondly, the incidence of political strikes and disputes instigated by a small militant minority.
– Let us have the evidence.
– The evidence is in every country town, every city, every suburb. If the honourable member talks to his colleagues in the clubs and the pubs, he will find that almost every person, irrespective of whether he is a supporter of this side of the House or of the honourable member’s side of the House, is concerned about his tax dollar being misappropriated. He is also concerned that those in the greatest need are not getting a greater share of that tax dollar. I thought that that was an argument and a concern that might have been shared by members of the Opposition.
Opposition members may howl, but they should know that these matters are of great concern to their own people. The average Australian fumes with justifiable anger when he sees his tax dollars supporting individuals who are shirking the system. People in every city, suburb and town know those individuals. Why should the taxpayer continue to support dishonesty whereby people falsify names and collect more than one benefit cheque?
– Why don’t you find them some jobs?
– The honourable member for Melbourne asks why we do not find them jobs. Why does not the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) show some real concern? In the last spring session of Parliament he found time to ask only six questions on unemployment out of 140 questions asked. That is a measly four per cent. Recently, at the rural seminar in Orange, he found time to refer to rural unemployment for only 3 per cent of his speech. He found time in only a measly 50 seconds of his speech to refer to rural unemployment. Why should other more needy people in the community be penalised when single parents are living in de facto relationships, often both being supported by the welfare dollar? How does the family man earning $212 a week and paying $40 a week in tax react when he sees moving in next door four single people who, by pooling their welfare payments, live as well as he does and who do not pay any tax at all? Why should not welfare abusers be tracked down with the same diligence as tax evaders?
The welfare dollar must be more effectively and efficiently administered. Unnecessary duplication between Commonwealth, State and local government instrumentalities must be sought out and corrected. The findings ofthe Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare, which indicate that the welfare system is out of hand and largely unaccounted for, must be considered very seriously indeed by this Government. I believe that the community at large is prepared to accept expenditure cuts across the board. It is also looking for equity in the welfare system. I believe that we must look seriously at the whole area of welfare to ensure that the taxpayer’s dollar is more efficiently and effectively and equitably used. At the same time, we must acknowledge that there are some serious gaps in the delivery of welfare services. There are also some serious inequities within the system. I am the first to admit that young people are experiencing great difficulty in finding full time employment. Under those conditions, it is extremely difficult to apply the work test in the same fashion as it was conceived originally. Naturally, those people looking for work may well find only part time or casual employment. Yet the present regulations actively discourage those people by limiting the amount they can earn to $6 a week, or $3 a week for juniors. On the one hand, the system appears to be exhorting young people to go and find work; on the other hand, it appears to be penalising them for not doing so. In many cases, it is encouraging dishonesty.
There are many other examples where welfare payments, particularly allowances, have not been indexed to account for inflation and remain at the same figure as many years ago. In my own electorate I have seen recently an example where, for the sake of a $5,000 grant to enable an organisation to provide assistance for homeless men, unfortunately the wheels of bureaucracy have turned so slowly that that grant appears not to be forthcoming because of some rather arbitrary requirements and regulations as to the standard of the accommodation required. At the same time, from my own experience I know of many other instances where welfare dollars are being grossly wasted. I would like to take some people along with me to see those homeless men, to see the conditions under which they are living. They would be surprised and, I hope, horrified. Yet in this particular case, it would seem to me that the system has done all in its power to prevent a very small sum of money from being allocated to that project, whilst at the same time actively condoning what would appear to be wastage within the system. Likewise, I wonder what are the prospects in so many areas of aged persons being provided with accommodation.
In country areas we have a number of small fully established hospitals, yet they may have a bed occupancy rate of only 20 per cent or 30 per cent a year. With the reallocation of resources and a better understanding between the States and the Commonwealth many of those hospitals could easily be transferred and converted to very effective aged persons accommodation. There are buildings in existence, such as nurses homes that are no longer required and convent schools that may have been replaced. There are many existing facilities which could be converted to provide aged persons accommodation not of the Rolls Royce type but better than that which they have at the moment. Whilst I believe that some standards must be maintained, the situation becomes quite ridiculous when a project which could house 30 or 40 aged persons in relative comfort cannot be approved for occupation because the corridors are two inches too narrow, because the rooms do not have individual bathrooms or because of some other matter which does not quite conform to the standards and which means that the whole project has to be wasted.
I am not calling for a reduction in the level of the unemployment benefit. Furthermore, I am not calling for a limit to the age at which a person can receive the unemployment benefit. I am, however, calling on the Government to ensure that welfare payments are equitable and fair, that those in greatest need receive the greatest benefit. I suggest that, if substantial savings are made within the welfare appropriations as a result of these and other suggestions, we should seriously consider redistributing those savings to welfare recipients in greater need rather than sending them back to the Consolidated Revenue Fund in the Treasury Department. I am not castigating those people who receive welfare benefits. I am calling for some changes to the system to allow those who are in greatest need to receive the greatest benefit.
-Mr Acting Speaker, by standing up when you called on those honourable members on this side of the House who supported the discussion on this topic to do so, we indicated quite clearly that we supported the spirit and certainly the phraseology of this matter of public importance. I strongly support the proposition that abuse and wastage, whether it is in relation to welfare or any other government expenditure, must be restrained or eliminated, if that is at all possible, so that those who are in greatest need receive a more equitable share of the welfare dollar, or the taxation dollar as a whole. That is the whole point, as far as I can see, of the existence of the Australian Labor Party. That is our aim. We do, in fact, want to help those in greatest need. Let me point out the utter hypocrisy of many of the people -
-. . . sitting opposite. Some of them do not understand, such as the honourable member for Kingston (Mr Chapman). I do not accuse him of hypocrisy because he does not understand, but it does not matter. I am sure that when he leaves this House after the next election he will be able to do a course at some tertiary institution where people earning incomes at a level similar to his own are happily received without having to pay fees and are subsidised in the process of getting better jobs. Let me say quite clearly that the honour.able member for Calare (Mr MacKenzie) who has just spoken and the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) who I think will be following me in this discussion seem to have taken the line that attack is the best form of defence. Day after day in this House we have exposed the utter waste on the part of this Government. We have exposed its failure to deal with tax avoidance and its failure to deal with the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) who wastes money on everything. All honourable members know- I do not want to go through the whole circumstances again- about the whole question of the VIP aircraft. All honourable members know, as it was revealed yesterday, that the Prime Minister employed three chefs so that he could have cooked on those planes the food of three different countries. This is a ridiculous situation.
Surely the people of this country realise where the wastage takes place. I do not think that is the largest amount of wastage, just as I do not believe that the number of people who may be receiving unjustifiably the unemployment benefit or any other social security benefits are the people in relation to whom the greatest wastage takes place. I fear that some honourable members on the Government side do not realise just how many of the policies of this Government are furthering what in theory the honourable member for Calare is trying to avoid. It may be significant to quote from a speech made by Senator Baume when speaking at a symposium in Sydney. His remarks are reported on page 3 1 of the Australian Medical Association gazette dated 12 April. He said:
To understand the pressures which operated . . .
He was talking about politicians having to make painful choices between resource allocations- . . symposium members should accept as a matter of policy that Departments of Treasury and Finance at any level of government had no body of social theory and no element of social morality in what they suggested. They were there to advise government without taking account of the consequences of that advice.
I do not, in fact, believe that that is absolutely true. But Senator Baume is a leading member of the Government party and he believes that that is happening. The honourable member for Calare completely misrepresented me, as did the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) the other day, when he quoted out of context and when he left out parts of sentences of a speech which I had made and which he had taped. He did so without my permission, but it does not matter that he did so. I am not withdrawing any of the statements which I made in that speech. I said that as long as there is widespread unemployment and as long as there are no jobs available for people, there is no point in wasting money on the administration of pushing young people who do not want to work, whether they are surfies or anything else, into jobs because other people who do want to work will not be able to get those jobs. It is a wastage as far as the taxpayer is concerned because he has to pay more often for the older person who has dependants and who wanted the job. It is unfair to the employer because he gets somebody as an employee who does not really want to work.
Honourable members opposite are trying to push some young people- they do not have to be young people- into a job as a punishment because they do not like their appearance and their mode of living. I emphasise now, as I emphasised in that speech, that I am speaking as a taxpayer who does not like paying a lot of taxes. I certainly would not like to support the people who adopt an alternative lifestyle or anything else if there were jobs available. I am sure that that is basically the proposition of the Australian Labor Party- that as long as there are jobs available we are not going to pay the unemployment benefit to people who refuse to take those jobs. If there are no jobs available we are wasting money not only by the payment of the unemployment benefit- it is at a higher level for those people who want to work because often they have dependants- but also in paying a lot of people to force the administration of the payment of the benefit. I make that point quite clear.
Let me now come back to some of the things that have occurred since last Thursday when certain changes were introduced in this House. Let us remember that we heard some talk about odd dollars. The honourable member for Calare made reference to that. Let us look at the matters to which the Treasurer (Mr Howard) referred the other day. When speaking of tax avoidance he referred to one particular scheme with an overhang of tax avoidance of $452m. Yesterday in this House he told us, when he was talking of the short fall in revenue of this Budget and of a total increase in the deficit of more than $750m, that one scheme only was responsible for tax avoidance of $ 180m this year. That is $180m in one year. I point out to the honourable member for Calare -
– What did you do about tax avoidance?
– The honourable member for Calare has never talked about tax avoidance in his life. All he is worred about is the three people who he is going to move into some house in his electorate and who are not going to vote for him. I hope they do not.
Let us be quite clear about what the health changes do this year. The Government has decided that no money shall be paid on the first $20 charged for the ordinary services which are provided by the general practitioner and which the poor people and everybody else in the community have to receive at odd times during their lifetime. We are now talking about the poorer people in the community. The Government is maintaining the payment of all medical fees above $20. Every member of this House should know, if he thinks about it, that the vast majority of those medical fees are payable for the services of surgeons and anaesthetists in relation to operations carried out on private patients.
Let us be quite clear. Standard ward patients do not have to pay. There is no medical charge. If somebody is admitted to hospital for, let us say a cholecystectomy, that is the removal of the gall bladder, the Government pays about $360 towards the cost of the surgery. If the Government has decided to save money and if it thinks that the money ought to go to those in greatest need, surely the average family with a number of children or with a chronic illness in the family has a greater need. Why should the Government subsidise a person who chooses- I emphasise the word ‘chooses’- to go into hospital as a private patient. Such a person would have private hospital insurance yet we subsidise him in such a way that his own contribution will be only $20. The Government’s contribution will be about $360. How can the Government possibly justify that on the basis of greatest need?
Let us look at the changes that have been suggested in relation to declaring patients as nursing home patients. The Government has insisted that from 1 July 1979 every patient in a hospital for more than 60 days, unless he has a special exemption certificate from his medical practitioner, will have to make what is called a patient contribution. In other words, that patient will have to pay $7.25 a day or $50.75 a week from his pension, if he has a pension or from his own income if he has an outside income. When I first considered that proposal I said: ‘I do not think that is terribly fair. It is the first time since Federation that pensioners will be charged for being in a hospital when they are declared nursing home patients. Still, the Government is in strife. It has to save a few dollars towards VIP planes, training chefs, et cetera. Perhaps it can be justified’.
Yesterday we found out from the Department of Health that this arrangement will cost the Government money. It will cost all State governments money, with the possible exception of Tasmania. Until now, patients who were privately insured and who were covered for this new classification were contributing, through their health insurance funds, $40 a day towards their upkeep. Governments, State and Federal which share this responsibility will gain $50.75 a week from pensioners out of a pension which is in the $50 bracket. Yet they will lose $280 a week from those who are insured. The funds will save $280 and the pensioners will pay $50.75. We have been assured by the Department of Health that these arrangements will mean a net loss to the Government. It is a transfer of money from pensioners of $50.75 a week to the health insurance funds. However much honourable members support the health funds, I think that most of them would agree that the funds are not exactly covered by the phrase ‘those in greatest need’. I think that pensioners in many cases, especially those with chronic illnesses, would fall into that category.
The Government has been asked by the honourable member for Calare to move the dollars to those in greatest need. Let us look at education. The only change last year in the education budget was an increase for those schools which were known as Level I and Level 2 schools. They received an increase of $35 and $37 respectively for secondary school pupils. Perhaps that increase can be justified on some basis of equity but surely not on the basis of giving money to those in greatest need. Millions of dollars are involved. On what are we spending money? The High Court building will cost $45m because Mr Justice Barwick, to whom this Government owes a great favour, has asked for certain extensions. Mr Justice Barwick helped this Government get into power.
– You started it.
– It is not a question of who started it. Our proposal for the High Court building would have cost $ 1 1 m. This Government has accepted changes to that proposal which will bring the cost to $45m. The Government talks about saving money and giving it to those in greatest need. What has happened in regard to hospitals in the Australian Capital Territory? This morning the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) gave figures on the net cost of a hospital bed. In New South Wales it was $1 19 a day. In the Australian Capital Territory it was $200 a day. The Calvary Hospital was opened by the Government. I understand that the net cost of a bed in that hospital will be about $400 a day. I will not join the honourable member for Calare in saying that the Calvary Hospital should be converted into an old men ‘s home. He believes that convent schools and, I suppose, churches and church hospitals should be converted into old people’s homes. That is a proposition that has been successfully pushed in the Soviet Union. I am surprised that the honourable member for Calare pushes the sort of proposition that has come into force in the Soviet Union. What I am saying is that this Government has certainly not pushed money to those in greatest need.
Pay-as-you-earn taxation has increased by 47.3 per cent during the three years of this Government. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) received a $50 a week tax benefit in February 1968. He still has that benefit even after the claw-back. Yet the average income earner lost the whole of that benefit. The Prime Minister still receives a benefit of $50 a week. He is one of those in greatest need !
– He gave it up.
-The honourable member for Dundas will undoubtedly tell us in the Parramatta Advertiser next week that he is concerned about the poor. This Government has stated quite clearly that it is not at all interested in the poor.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) referred to hypocrisy at the start of his speech. Reference was made by the honourable member for Calare (Mr MacKenzie) to a document called Australia Ripped Off. That was printed by the Amalgamated Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union. It was supposed to help Australian workers. I have been advised that Australia Ripped Off was printed on uncoated supercalendered gravure paper from Finland. The cover of the document is Japanese. It was imported by a Dutch company. Yet Australian paper was available. So much for the concern and straightforwardness of Opposition members. They should be a little more careful when they talk about hyprocrisy. The honourable member for Prospect also referred to accuracy. He said that when jobs became available a Labor Government would force a tighter administration of the work test. Does that mean that Labor will revoke the 1 973 work test guidelines which it introduced and which provided the easiest way out for nonworkers in the history of Australia at a time before unemployment gained strength under the successive months of its rule? Honourable members opposite cannot have it both ways. They should think a little before they either reinforce that statement or agree to change it.
Today we are not talking about ‘dole bashing’ as many of the newspapers in their editorials and members of the Opposition like to call any attempt to share more equitably and efficiently the resources available to welfare. I do not use the term. I think it is unfortunate and derogatory. However, smear terms are used by the two extremes in this debate. Some people say that everybody is a ‘dole bludger’ unless he is forced to work, and that there should be no benefits. Other people on the alternative side scream that any time anyone questions the efficiency or equity of the present system he is a ‘dole basher’. These two extremes should not prevent people from constructively criticising abuse and recommending changes to improve the efficiency, equity and cost benefit of the welfare dollar to see that it goes to those in the greatest need.
It is difficult to determine objectively what is genuine need as distinct from perceived need or to isolate those who abuse the system. But there is no doubt that abuse of the system does exist. As members of parliament we would all know this because of the repeated complaints from our constituents. Most of the complaints, in my area at least, come from the ordinary working person. He is fed up because after he finishes his day’s work and goes down to the pub at night, he finds somebody who has a spurious welfare claim and has been at the pub all day. It may be that the person abusing the system is the next door neighbour such as a de facto claiming benefits incorrectly. It may be a person who is claiming unemployment benefit while he is working or it may be a person who is claiming multiple benefits. It may be somebody with a phoney invalid pension. These ordinary people are wild because it is their taxes that are being squandered.
However, when these people are challenged to provide the necessary detail for a social security investigation, they usually run for cover for one or two reasons. Either they do not want to become involved or they have that Australian habit of not wanting to ‘dob someone in’. So there is no simple answer to reducing the abuse of the welfare system. We cannot afford, on a costbenefit basis, to have a sufficient number of social security investigatory officers to check out everything. But we must have more and more frequent and significant random checks than we have at present, because it appears that we are not going to have the alternative method of checking abuse that is used in the United Kingdom and the United States and some other Western countries; that is, the use of an identity card system, which would need to be for every Australian, not just those on benefits. The last major check on abuse of the unemployment benefit payment system was made by the last Labor Government. It was instituted in 197S at a time when the Labor Government was becoming increasingly concerned at the abuse following its 1973 easing of the work test guidelines. Of 1 12,000 people checked, 30 per cent were being overpaid or were not entitled to that benefit. That is an indication of how significant the extent of abuse can be. Another check is under way at present.
In addition to these general checks, there are three areas in which the Government can do something specifically. The first two relate to section 107C of the Social Security Act which the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) announced in March was under review. The first relates to strikes. In 1947 the then Labor Prime Minister, Mr Chifley, introduced guideines which remained as he introduced them until 1973, when they were altered by the then Labor Government. The Chifley guidelines for strikes are as follows:
Members of a union which is directly involved in a strike are not eligible for benefit; Members of a union which supports the strike and whose members become unemployed because of the strike are not eligible for benefit; Members of a union which disowns the strike and whose members become unemployed because of the strike are qualified for benefit.
In 1973, Labor changed that policy to provide that: members of striking union(s) at the establishment at which the industrial dispute is in force, are not eligible for unemployment benefit . . . Members of other unions at that establishment who were stood down as a result ofthe dispute will however, be paid unemployment benefit subject to the usual conditions. Persons stood down at other establishments as a result of the dispute will be granted unemployment benefit subject to the usual conditions, irrespective of their union membership.
I strongly recommend to this Government that we return to the Chifley guidelines in relation to strikes and unemployment benefits. The second part of section 107C refers to the administrative guidelines for the application of the work test.
Before Labor lost office in 1975, on two separate occasions and after its 1973 amendment, it tightened or toughened the guidelines. This is an indication of Labor’s concern when in government of the abuse which was taking place. The 1973 amendment brought in the famous situation of the liontamer. A person could indicate a preference for a job which did not really exist and therefore he could not be work tested; nor could a person who deliberately moved into an area where there was no work. This Government has instituted two further changes to the guidelines and a third is in sight. The first of those two, made in January 1976, was really made only on the recommendation of a review instituted by Labor in 1975, once again because of Labor’s continuing concern for abuse of the system. Today there are still anomalies, inequities and abuses and they relate to the question of work testing for casual or seasonal work, the question of work testing for work outside the Commonwealth Employment Service district and the question of the six weeks to three months grace period before any change in status.
These in total amount to unfair discrimination between country and city workers and unfair discrimination between the manual worker and the non-manual worker. This was graphically illustrated, in the last few months in the Goulburn Valley where, during the fruit-picking season, there was no work test required for those outside the immediate district or for those who had a previous white collar occupation or who, as a school leaver, had given a preference for something other than manual work. At that time, 252 Melbourne unemployed voluntarily came to Shepparton to fill some of these vacancies- and all credit to them for doing so- but they were not really required. At the same time that there were over 400 job vacancies in Shepparton, yet with 2,000 people still registered for employment in the Shepparton district, no work test was being applied to these people in an effort to fill those vacancies. Because of the work test guidelines, the CES people were not able to do anything about the matter. In this respect, I refer to a letter which I have received from a women’s organisation in the Goulburn Valley and which reads in part:
It concerns the shortage of fruit pickers in the surrounding fruit-growing areas, more particularly Cobram, whilst the younger unemployed persons registered with the CES at Wangaratta were not even being informed of these potential jobs.
It took a news segment on our local TV station, wherein growers were lamenting the wastage of sound fruit, to bring forward these vacant and above-award paying jobs (albeit temporary) with accommodation and board available, for the consideration of the bulk of the local unemployed. the following morning, I queried the CES as to how this could happen and was told, in essence, that these people had not indicated in their preferences that they could be interested in fruit-picking, nor that they would consider casual work!
That is another thing that needs changing. In the winter of 1976 when dairy farmers in the Goulburn Valley were unemployed, they were work tested for what was known to be a temporary job in Melbourne. So we have to overcome these anomalies and this unfair discrimination. If the Labor Party was really genuinely in support of the blue collar worker it would stand up for him in this unfair discrimination. The third point refers to income testing. The self-employed person is on an annual income test while the wage and salary earner is on a weekly income test. There is a tremendously unfair discrimination against the self-employed person in the determination of that income.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-One can understand from the speeches of the two National Country Party members- the honourable member for Calare (Mr MacKenzie) and the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd)why their party is in such terrible shape in Victoria and why it is coming very close to being eliminated in that State. It is a party which does not understand unemployment. It is a party ruled by prejudice rather than by facts. Any independent observer listening to those two speeches would not have been able to find in either speech a single fact to underline the central propositions being put before this House. There was a great deal of talk about what people may or may not have said about other people. There was a great deal of country gossip- no facts, no assertions based on any kind of evidence.
If this Government is seriously interested in surveying the unemployed or any group of social service beneficiaries to try to discover the number of people who may be, in one way or another, outside the system, it is open to the Government to do so. But what is it doing in terms of its research funds? It is carrying out a second survey- an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey- across Australia to determine the number of people unemployed, simply because it was embarrassed earlier by the CES figures and is looking for a more favourable set of statistics. If the Government is to throw away money on a survey which any social scientist worth his salt in this country will say is not worth the paper it is printed on, how can the Government argue that something is the case when it has not been prepared to put in resources to try to discover the truth?
We have before us a classical blamingthevictim syndrome. I think it is incredibly sad that there are so many people unemployed in this country. At present twice the number of people are unemployed as there were when Labor was in office. Nearly half a million people are unemployed. Yet all we have in the Parliament is a debate dominated by the blaming-the-victim syndrome. It is as if the unemployed are the basis of the problem. A lot has changed since this Government came into power. There has been quite an increase in unemployment. The length of time during which people are unemployed has changed dramatically. Rather than the average unemployed person being out of work for three months the period is now more like 6 months. We are moving to a situation where not just temporary relief, the traditional purpose of unemployment benefits, is needed; much longer term assistance is needed. The rural sector knows a great deal about long term adjustments and long term assistance.
Furthermore, the ratio between job seekers and vacancies has changed dramatically, particularly for young people in rural areas. The number of people looking for a job compared with the number of vacancies is absolutely astronomical. I am sure that in many of the country towns which are represented by the honourable member for Calare and the honourable member for Murray the ratio of job seekers to vacancies is 100 to 1. That is the responsibility ofthe rural sector.
– What about the Coombs report?
– The honourable member for the Northern Territory represents a sector dominated by large scale capital farmers. Some 36,000 farmers in this country have assets of more than $250,000 and they are not doing too much to ensure that the young people in rural Australia are finding employment.
This is a blaming-the-victim syndrome. The Government is attacking the people who are suffering rather than trying to understand the causes of unemployment. We hear a lot of talk by Government members about equity within the range of beneficiaries. We do not hear a lot of talk about equity between various social groups in the community. I ask permission to incorporate in Hansard a table produced by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research which indicates the effects of the tax changes in the 1978-79 Budget on the distribution of the payment of tax between income groups.
The table read as follows-
Source: Estimates of the Institute.
-That table shows that people on incomes of $7,500 are paying, as a result of tax changes in the last two years, 22 per cent more tax, whereas people on $30,000 a year and above are paying 1.2 per cent less. That is the kind of change which this Government has brought about by its tax policies. It has introduced the most regressive tax policies of the post-war period. Yet it says that it is a low tax government. One hears a great deal said by this Government about what it has done concerning tax avoidance. Let me quote Mr B. Pascoe, the President of the Taxation Institute of Australia, who wrote recently:
During the past year or two tax avoidance became big business in Australia. It became a disease which is being allowed to go unchecked. It has reached epidemic proportions. It is perhaps not going too far to say that the taxpaying community of Australia almost went mad in its rush to become a party to tax avoidance schemes.
This has happened since this Government has been in power.
-Rubbish. That is a total misrepresentation. It is longer than two years.
-The Government has done nothing at all about it. This Government is too interested in chiselling the people in this country who are dependent on welfare. It is too interested in blaming the victims.
-I wish to raise a point of order.
-The Government is not interested in producing income justice or tax justice within this society.
-I wish to raise a point of order.
-Order! The honourable member for Batman will resume his seat.
– The honourable member for Dundas wanted to record the fact that he was avoiding tax long before the last two years. That comment may not have been recorded.
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order. I warn the honourable member for Prospect for taking a frivolous point of order. I ask the House to remain silent.
-One can talk about the hundreds of millions -
– I raise a point of order.
-Order! The honourable member for Batman will resume his seat. I call the honourable member for Dundas on a point of order. I warn the honourable member for Dundas against taking a frivolous point of order.
– I am not taking a frivolous point of order. I am asking for a withdrawal of a most scurrilous accusation about me. I ask that it be withdrawn.
– What the honourable member for Prospect has said has offended the honourable member for Dundas. He feels that the remarks are unparliamentary. I ask the honourable member for Prospect to withdraw -
- Mr Deputy Speaker -
– And not to enlarge upon his remarks.
– One can talk about the payment, under this Government, of hundreds of millions of dollars to major corporations within this country. Some $800m was involved by way of tax last year and the amount will probably exceed that figure this year. And honourable members opposite talk about equity!
Let me look briefly at some of the facts concerning the payment of unemployment benefits. The Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) said during the 1977 election campaign- a lot was said during that campaignthat she did not believe there was more abuse of unemployment benefits than any other category of social security benefits. In August 1977 the Government undertook a review of unemployment beneficiaries but the results have not been made public. What has the Government to hide? What lies are there to be uncovered? Since the Fraser Government came into office there are, according to its figures, 170,000 more unemployed and 10,000 fewer jobs. That is on the Government’s own figures. Also, on the Government’s own figures, 98 per cent of the unemployed have no other income. If the Government wants to do some research it should do so rather than come forward with this kind of frivolous discussion now.
The Government is currently running saturation raids on the unemployed, as it did between February and April last year. Last year’s raids provided no statistics about abuse or the number of people who were wrongly taken off unemployment benefits and had to be reinstated. There is no overrun of payments for the unemployment benefit this financial year. On the contrary, payments are in accordance with the estimate that the Opposition made at Budget time last year. It pointed out that on the figures of the Treasurer (Mr Howard) the cost for the number of people expected to be on unemployment benefits would be $900m. That is what it is likely to be.
Since the Fraser Government came to power the average duration of unemployment has more than doubled- it has gone from 13 weeks to 27 weeks. The number of unemployed people for each vacancy has trebled- from 8 unemployed per unfilled job to 24 unemployed per unfilled job. One could talk about the levels of benefits and what has not happened to those benefits since this Government has been in power. Poor people are getting poorer under this Government. There is no suggestion of equity unless it is equity for wealthy graziers who do not need the kind of assistance they quite often get from this Government.
In 2Vi years the number of field officers in the Department of Social Security has gone up by 127. The number of convictions during that time has gone up by 414. Convictions for fraud now represent 0.00003 per cent of pensioners and beneficiaries. How cost-effective is it to put another 127 staff members into the Department of Social Security, at $15,000 each a year, to go around the country looking for people who are cheating on the system? In Vh years only 400 additional people in that category have been located. What has that cost? What has been the return? What does that say about the priorities of this Government? What does it say about equity?
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The discussion is concluded.
– Could I seek the Chair’s indulgence to make a personal explanation?
-Does the Minister claim to have been misrepresented?
– Just a moment. Will we be given the opportunity to reply?
-The Minister may proceed with his explanation.
-On reading the draft answer to a question that was asked of me this morning by the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys), I find that I have misheard the question and my answer is -
– I raise a point of order. I seek clarification. If the Minister is about to make a statement we should have the opportunity to reply to it. This is a very serious matter.
-It has been indicated that the Minister is making a personal explanation.
– I am trying to be totally honest with this House and to correct an inaccurate statement I made this morning. I thought the Opposition would welcome that. The reasons why the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has not been declared -
– I take a point of order. There is a world of difference between the Minister’s making a personal explanation to show where he has been misrepresented and correcting something he has said to the House. We will -
– That is what a personal explanation is.
– That is not a personal explanation. Nobody has misrepresented the Minister. Nobody I know of has misrepresented the Minister. He has said that that is so. The Opposition will give leave for the Minister to make a statement provided it is clear that our shadow spokesman will similarly be given leave to make a statement afterwards.
– Speaking to the point of order, it has been a common practice in this House that when an individual has made a statement in this House in circumstances in which he believes there has been some inaccuracy affecting himself or a question that was asked of him on a matter that was before the chamber, he is given leave, with the indulgence of the Chair, to make a personal explanation. My colleague the Minister for National Development seeks to do just that. It is a common practice in this chamber for that sort of procedure to be followed by a member of this House to enable him to do what the Minister is seeking to do.
– I wish to speak to the point of order.
-Order! I shall rule on the point of order after I have heard the remarks of the honourable member for Robertson.
– This has become a very serious matter. It is a matter which is now being debated in both Houses of the Parliament. For the Minister to seek to make a personal explanation and try to get away with it in that way, denying the Opposition the opportunity to comment after he has misled the House, is outrageous and a denial of the whole democratic principles of this Parliament.
-Order! The honourable member for Robertson will resume his seat. I am about to rule on the point of order.
– Why is the Government trying to stop us from making a statement on it?
-Order! The honourable member for Robertson will resume his seat.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to speak to the point of order.
-I will accept one further comment on the point of order.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I was listening to the discussion and at no stage did the Minister seek from you approval to make a personal explanation. So if he needs to do so he will have to seek it from you.
-I shall now rule on the point of order. It is my understanding that the Minister is seeking to make a personal explanation. I have given him the indulgence of the Chair to enable him to make that personal explanation.
– The reason why the Capricornia Park has not been declared is that the Government wishes to finalise the question of agreement on extending the powers of the States into the territorial sea with the Queensland Government. This question is now moving towards resolution. It will be resolved in a way that will absolutely maintain our commitments to the protection of the reef. It is absolutely true that in correspondence with various colleagues I pressed for a resolution of the royal commission issues concerning research, exploration and production of petroleum in the Great Barrier Reef region, but this has not been the reason for the Government to delay on the declaration of the Park. That purely represents my portfolio responsibilities. The reasons given in the Senate are, of course, entirely accurate. As I said in my answer this morning, I now have a submission in front of the Government and I hope it will resolve the question of the royal commission’s findings. That submission is totally in line with the assurance of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) that the Commonwealth will permit no harm to the reef and no activity to take place which could possibly cause harm to the reef.
I am also informed that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden), in my absence this morning, made some attack on what I said. Any imputation that I was putting a view different to the Prime Minister is totally inaccurate. I thank the House for its indulgence in allowing me to correct the answer I gave this morning. Certainly, in giving my answer this morning, I had no intention of misleading the House.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek the indulgence of the House to take up the matter just raised by the Minister for National Development.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond)Order! It is my understanding that the Minister sought the indulgence of the House to correct a statement that he had made this morning. He enlightened the House as to the reasons why he wished to do so. It would appear to me that there is no necessity for this debate to continue. I therefore call upon the Clerk to call on the next item of business.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, the serious situation has arisen in this House of two entirely different statements being made by different Ministers on the same matter. It is so serious that the Minister has had to come back into the House and deny that what he said this morning was correct. It is imperative in this matter that the Opposition be allowed to make a statement.
– He has not made a statement; he has made a personal explanation.
– What is going on? Does the Government not know what it is doing? Different Ministers are making different statements in different Houses. We have had total contradictions.
-Order! The honourable member for Robertson will resume his seat.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the Leader of the Opposition claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. The Minister for National Development (Mr Newman), in the course of his comments, asserted quite wrongly that I had attacked him this morning, claiming that there was a difference between him and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). On the contrary, I said that there was a concordance of view between him and the Prime Minister. They were taking the real developer’s point of viewthe real politician’s point of view- and that is that our natural heritage did not need to be conserved but rather that it was more important to concede to the pressures of the Queensland Government, acting as an agent for an overseas oil corporation.
– I have been misrepresented, if you do not mind, and I think you ought to allow me to explain quickly.
-I believe the Leader of the Opposition is debating the point.
– The Minister had a fair crack of the whip. What I did point out was that there was a clear difference, and obviously a dispute, between the views expressed in the Senate this morning during Question Time by the Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster) and the views expressed here this morning at Question Time by the Minister for National Development. The Minister for National Development gave a totally contradictory reply to that given in the Senate by the Minister for Science and the Environment to the very same question. The substantial difference is extremely important because it means that either the Minister for National Development or the Minister for Science and the Environment is misleading the Australian public through the Parliament. It is a very serious matter and one that ought to be clarified. Nothing that the Minister for National Development has said this afternoon removes the concern and suspicions which have arisen. There is clearly a significant dispute- a brawl going on within the Ministryabout oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. The Minister for National Development very simply stands for the principle -
– I have to make this point to conclude the point I want to make. He stands for the principle that the boundaries have to be changed for the Capricornia Marine Park so that drilling can take place. That is what this dispute is about.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the Opposition is totally misleading the House. He has sought to make a personal explanation. It is not for him to impute motives or allege opinions or attitudes in respect of any other member of this House. He is not in a position where he can assert that the Prime Minister has a point of view similar to that of the Minister for National Development. I believe it is totally wrong for him to use the time of the House in this way.
-Order! I was at the point of reminding the Leader of the Opposition of that.
Bill presented by Mr Street, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time. (Quorum formed). The purposes of the Bill are, Firstly, to enable the person constituting the Coal Industry Tribunal also to be appointed to the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission or to the Industrial Commission of New South Wales. Secondly, provision is to be made for leave of absence entitlements of the Tribunal to be in accordance with an arrangement entered into between the GovernorGeneral and the Governor of New South Wales, in the same way as the Tribunal’s salary is now specified in an arrangement. As the Act stands at present, if the Tribunal engages in paid employment outside the duties of the Tribunal or if he is absent from duty for 14 consecutive days or more than 28 days in any 12 months, other than on leave approved by the Governor-General or the Governor of New South Wales, he is deemed to have vacated office.
It should be noted that the previous Coal Industry Tribunal, Mr Justice Gallagher, served as a judge of the New South Wales Industrial Commission from 1955 to 1957 and for many years from 1957 as a deputy president of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The provisions enabling Mr Justice Gallagher’s dual appointments were in the Coal Industry Act 1955 and the Coal Industry Act 1957 but those provisions referred specifically to Francis Heath Gallagher. The proposed dual appointment provisions will enable any occupier of the office of Coal Industry Tribunal also to hold office in either the Commonwealth or New South Wales industrial tribunals. The Coal Industry Act 1955 was repealed by the 1957 Act and the personal references to Francis Heath Gallagher in the 1957 Act are to be repealed by this amendment. There is no intention at present to appoint the present Tribunal, Mr David Duncan, to either the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission or the New South Wales Industrial Commission. This amendment simply enables such an appointment to be made in future. Should such an appointment be made, the Tribunal would be required to give priority to coal industry matters, as was the case with Mr Justice Gallagher.
I referred earlier to the Tribunal being deemed to have vacated office if he is absent from duty for more than 14 consecutive days or more than 28 days in any 12 months except on leave granted by the Governor-General or the Governor of New South Wales. It is proposed to specify in an arrangement entered into between the Governor-General and the Governor of New South Wales that the Tribunal should have the same leave entitlements as an officer of the Australian Public Service. It should also be noted that the New South Wales Government has a Coal Industry Act in similar terms to the Commonwealth legislation and both governments have agreed not to take action, without the prior concurrence of the other, to repeal or amend any of the legislation covered by the agreement. This is in a preamble to the respective Acts. I can advise that the concurrence of the New South Wales Government has been obtained. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Street, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purposes of this Bill are to give effect to two machinery matters. The first amendment enables the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs and the Secretary to his Department to be members of the National Labour Consultative Council. This arises from the creation in December last of the Department of Industrial Relations and the Department of Employment and Youth Affairs. The second amendment provides for the name change in December 1977 of the peak employer group from the National Employers Policy Committee to the Confederation of Australian Industry, National Employers Industrial Council. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Fife, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of the Bill now before the House is to give effect to the Government’s decision to provide assistance by way of a bounty to Australian manufacturers of injection-moulding machines, used in the production of artificial plastic goods, and to Australian manufacturers of parts, excluding dies, for these machines if the parts are designed soley or principally for use in the manufacture or repair of the machines. This decision has been made following receipt of advice and recommendations by the Industries Assistance Commission- contained in Report No. 191 of 12 December 1978 on ‘miscellaneous industrial machinery’- that the existing tariff assistance to this industry of 55 per cent ad valorem be reduced to 15 per cent ad valorem and transitional assistance to eligible Australian manufacturers be accorded by way of a scheme providing for the payment of a bounty scaling down over five years from the date upon which the change to the tariff assistance became effective. On 22 May 1979I introduced into this House the necessary tariff proposals to give effect, from 23 May 1979, to the reduction in the tariff assistance to the industry. Bounty will be payable from that date at the rate of 45 per cent of the value added by the Australian manufacturers and this rate will reduce by ten percentage points per annum during the five-year period to which the Act applies.
In deciding to reduce the tariff assistance to this industry the Government took into account the comments made by the Industries Assistance Commission that it could not identify benefits to the community commensurate with such high levels of assistance as provided by a tariff of 55 per cent ad valorem. It is considered by the Government that the reduction in the tariff assistance will lower the cost structure of the plastic products industries- the principal users of the machines- and therefore increase their competitiveness in world markets. In addition, this action should eventually give rise to increased employment opportunities in this Australian industry. On the other hand, the decision to accord the transitional bounty assistance is designed to satisfy two requirements: First, that each process in the production of injection-moulding machines receives the same rate of assistance in order to achieve balanced resource allocation within the industry; second, that the period of the phasing down of the bounty is sufficient to allow the industry to restructure so as to become competitive at a more moderate level of assistance. This is particularly important because of rapidly changing technology in injection-moulding machinery and the time required to restructure production methods in this industry. During the period of the phasing down of the bounty there will be regular and thorough monitoring so that the Government is kept informed of the industry’s ability to adjust to the new assistance arrangements. Officers of the Department of Industry and Commerce will contact industry representatives to establish a regular reporting system.
The proposed bounty scheme differs from the Commission’s recommendations in one respect. Bounty will not be paid on equipment sold for export. The Government has decided not to adopt this recommendation because any exports upon which bounty is paid could be subject to taxes, in the form of countervailing duties, in certain important export markets. The imposition of these taxes would of course negate the competitive advantage derived from any bounty that is paid. However, during the period of adjustment of this industry over the next five years, it is expected that local manufacturers will become more competitive and thus be in a more advantageous position to develop their export markets. The cost of this scheme in the first year of its operation is estimated to be $ 1.5m and information presently available to the Government indicates that the total cost for the five-year duration of the scheme will be approximately $4.2m. Finally, I would add that the Industries Assistance Commission report, which I referred to earlier, has not yet been released. It will be made available when an announcement has been made by the Government on the other products covered by that report. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hurford) adjourned.
– I move:
The proposal is for the construction of facilities necessary to accommodate and maintain the new and larger Fremantle class patrol boats due to start arriving progressively from October 1980 and other small naval ships providing coastal surveillance in northern Australian waters. The proposal consists of the following works:
A jetty and a wharf providing four alongside berths for vessels of size that will normally be based at Cairns and fitted with the necessary services to the berthing points including fuel;
A covered maintenance berth for two Fremantle class patrol boats to allow efficient and effective maintenance and stores replenishment during wet weather;
A store to accommodate items in constant use with a high turnover rate, likely to be required at short notice, or requiring special storage facilities;
A command-administration building;
Miscellaneous small facilities including a small boat shed and ramp, flammable store, security control post, and covered parking for service vehicles;
Site preparation and services.
The estimated cost of the proposed work examined by the Committee was $8. 8m at February 1979 prices. The Committee recommended construction of the work in the reference. Upon the concurrence of the House in this resolution, detailed planning can continue in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
The proposal is for the construction of a new terminal complex to replace an existing inadequate facility. The proposal consists of the following works:
A terminal building accommodating public passenger, airline and concession areas;
Aircraft movement areas comprising an apron, and connecting taxiways;
Roads, car park, drainage and associated engineering services.
The estimated cost of the proposal at May 1979 prices is $4.55m. I now table plans of the proposed work.
-The Opposition welcomes this announcement. I was hoping that there would be time for an Opposition spokesman to come into the chamber to make the same comment in relation to the proposal with which we have just dealt. We are glad that these particular projects are going ahead both at Coolangatta and at Cairns. I hope you will permit me the indulgence of mentioning also the patrol base at Cairns, Mr Deputy Speaker. We trust that the construction of both projects will go ahead with all speed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 22 May, on motion by Mr Fife:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– 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 Excise Tariff Amendment Bill 1979 as they are related measures. Separate questions will, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matters of both Bills to be discussed in this debate.
Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the two measures? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
-As the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Groom) has just indicated, we are debating cognately the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill 1979 and the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill 1979. We are in the Opposition will not be opposing the second readings of these two Bills but, as I will indicate later, we will be moving a second reading amendment to the second of these two Bills. We have comments to make on both of the Bills. In particular, I want to make special reference to the procedures governing the introduction of both Bills. Although we will be moving an amendment to the second reading of the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill, I cannot do so at the moment because the first of the two Bills- the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill- is before us; I will have to do that when the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill is called on for debate.
Before looking at each Bill I would like to make some remarks about the system which allows the Government to change the customs tariff and excise tariff without what I would consider to be sufficient parliamentary scrutiny taking place. The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) is at the table and I welcome the fact that he is able to be in the chamber during this debate. He has heard me speak on this subject before. Perhaps, like water dripping away at a stone, my mentioning these facts time and again will eventually bring about some reform.. The procedures governing changes to the customs tariff and excise tariff are such that a government may implement a change without having to legislate first. This is the result of special provisions which enable quick alterations to the tariff. The Opposition understands that those quick and speedy alterations are necessary. Nevertheless in a moment I will be making suggestions as to how we might better scrutinise such alterations. At this stage I want to put into the record again the procedures which have operated for some 1 5 years.
The system is as follows: Firstly, if the House is not sitting, a notice is published in the Commonwealth Gazette advising that a proposal will be introduced in the House, and new duties are collected forthwith. Secondly, within seven sitting days a proposal is introduced into the House. The third point to note is that if the House is sitting the proposal is introduced and the duties are collected from that time. Fourthly, the Minister then stands in this House and makes the shortest possible speech, stating that he proposes to move an amendment to the tariff in the form being circulated. If the proposal follows a Gazette notice he usually states it is merely putting into effect changes which have already occurred. The debate is then adjourned and the item on the Notice Paper never comes up for debate again. Fifthly, prior to the end of the session, a tariff validation Bill is introduced declaring that all duties demanded or collected up to a certain date are deemed to be lawfully demanded or collected.
The second reading speech on such a Bill always states that it is merely a machinery measure in respect of changes which have already taken place and which the House will have an opportunity to debate in the future. Sixthly, prior to the expiration date in the validation Bill, the Bill to amend the tariff is introduced, that tariff having taken effect on the day on which the duties were changed. The second reading speech of that Bill also refers to the fact that it is merely the formal enactment of changes which have been made long ago. Lastly, the notices of proposals are discharged from the Notice Paper after all this has taken place.
I hope that it is of some use to put that in the record again. I hope that some political scientists who want to see the forms of this House improved- as I and other members on both sides of the House want to see them improved- will note the cumbersome nature of that procedure. The consequence of this procedure is that individual tariff and excise changes are not given the same scrutiny through full debate in the House, as have other legislative changes, even in this sphere of assistance given through bounties. Tariff and excise changes are debated as a group without much detail being given at all. If we can describe it as detail then it is lost in the sheer volume which is given. Such changes only come before this House for consideration a considerable time after the changes have occurred which makes the whole scrutiny process somewhat out of date. In other words, this Parliament is presented with a fait accompli and we are now debating a fait accompli.
I want to voice my concern at this system, as I have already indicated. As shadow Minister in this area, it is my opinion, and that of my colleagues, that full and proper consideration should be given to every tariff and excise change as those changes are implemented. If it is sufficiently important for the Industries Assistance Commission to put time and effort into making individual recommendations, it is good enough for the Parliament of Australia to be involved in the scrutiny process. For example, as I indicated earlier this contrasts with the amount of parliamentary time devoted to the consideration of bounty Bills.
It is most opportune for me to mention that before the Minister for Housing and Construction brought in a couple of construction proposals, the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs introduced a Bill called the Bounty (Injectionmoulding Equipment) Bill 1979. This Bill will come before the House and there will be a full debate upon it. There will not only be a rivetting and shattering contribution from myself but also I know that the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) will probably take part in the debate. We will have a contribution of great import from him. Proper consideration will be given to that bounty measure. Yet something that is equally important, namely a change in the tariff, gets shoved through in a wash such as we are experiencing right now. We have got to contrast the two and given that these are obviously regarded by the Government as being important why is there discrimination against the customs and excise changes and more attention given to bounty changes? Surely the most feasible way of achieving proper consideration is to have a parliamentary standing committee examine and report on each measure.
I am glad to say that that is the form of scrutiny which is being adopted more and more in our Australian Parliament. We have the growth of the legislation committees. There is now talk of us having Estimates committees in the House of Representatives to look in greater detail at Estimates as they come through the Parliament. I hope that this is not only in relation to Appropriation Bills Nos 1 and 2 at Budget time, but also to Appropriation Bills Nos 3 and 4 in about April and May of each year. Surely we should have a similar standing committee to look at these changes? When a tariff or excise change is made I do not suppose there is any reason why, during the recess, the particular committee should not get on with the job of looking at it in detail in order that it is ready to report on the particular change which has been gazetted at the resumption of Parliament.
In summing up I point out that these sorts of procedures which we are operating today regarding tariff changes may have been satisfactory during the 1950s and 1960s when economic circumstances were different from what they are today. They are not satisfactory today. With three quarters of a million Australians wanting a job and unable to find one, with enormous changes taking place in our day-to-day trading patterns and so on- I could mention many other factors which represent such great changes today as compared with the 1950s and 1960s- every Industries Assistance Commission report and the tariff proposals which flow from it is more sensitive in nature than previously and requires closer scrutiny than we have been giving in the past.
Just to emphasise this point, I made mention in a debate only last night of the latest act of folly by this Government and that is the imposition of an ad valorem revenue customs duty of 2 per cent on most goods currently imported free of customs duty. That is a virtual $80m turnover tax. These days the Government appears to be using the customs tariff as a revenue raiser with little regard for the effect that this will have on the level of manufacturing activity, leave alone other activity in the economy. In the last full Budget the Government imposed a special additional duty of 12Vi per cent on certain imported goods subject to quota restrictions. The latest 2 per cent additions to tariff imposes a further levy on imported goods.
The effect of this move will be widespread. Those industries using imported materials as components as part of a production process, will find that their costs of production have risen. This has happened at a time when on Tuesday we had an announcement from the Australian Bureau of Statistics of a 32 per cent rise in the cost of manufactured inputs compared with a 5.2 per cent rise in the previous year to 3 1 March. Further cost increases are being imposed on the manufacturing industry. This will mean that the price of the final product will increase causing an inflationary effect upon the economy. As well, such a move will erode the competitiveness of Australian manufactured goods using imported components. We are going to become less competitive internationally. I thought that we had arrived at a point where there was some consensus between the Government and the Opposition on the need for this country to become more internationally competitive if we are to compete in sending our products overseas, and to compete with countries which are also in the market place.
Further, this move negates the work carried out by the Industries Assistance Commission when making recommendations on the goods under consideration. The ball game has changed. The recommendations, and thus the changes to the legislation we are now debating, must be considered out of date. The Government has been changing the rules regularly. It happily interferes with the entire tariff structure for shortterm political gain, such as revenue raising. We discussed this last night in relation to this 2 per cent imposition, a virtual turnover tax. The Government is inconsistent and irresponsible in what it has been doing in that regard. I sympathise with manufacturing industry which once again is obliged to pick up the pieces after all these measures have been applied.
Let me talk in more detail about the first of these two Bills. The purpose of the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill is to enact tariff changes which have been made in the first half of this calendar year by the customs tariff proposals introduced into this House and which are numbered 1 to 15. They have been introduced at different times since February when the House first sat. I will read from my summary of these proposals so that those who have an interest in particular proposals will know the ones with which we are dealing. The first matter was described as administrative change for dental suction apparatus. In that case no duty rose or fell and I have no further comment to make. The second proposal was administrative change for sublimation transfer paper. Similarly that was not imposing any increased or reduced tariff. It is a different matter when we come to the third point which is fisheries and fish processing. There is a decrease in the duty in that case and it was based entirely on the recommendation of the IAC. Similarly, in relation to the fourth point, jewellery, this situation also applies. The fifth proposal related to timber and timber products. There were both increases and decreases of the tariff in this area and in most cases they followed the Industries Assistance Commission recommendations. The sixth point was files, rasps and drafting changes. There was a cessation of the quota in that case.
The seventh proposal related to inks. In this case, as with timber and timber products, the changes were a bit like a dog’s breakfast- some tariffs were increased and some were reduced but the IAC’s recommendations were entirely followed. The eighth change was made to injection and puncture needles. The tariff was increased on these goods and the recommendation followed completely the IAC report. No change was made to the ninth proposal which related to copper foil. In the tenth proposal, no change was made in respect of orange juice and there was some decrease in the duty on brandy. The eleventh change related to certain paper and paper board on which there was an increase in the tariff. Most of the IAC’s recommendations were accepted. There was an increase and a decrease in the tariff on umbrellas and all the IAC’s recommendations were accepted. The tariff on work trucks was increased and decreased and most of the IAC’s recommendations were accepted.
At this stage I might say that where not all of the IAC’s recommendations were accepted the Opposition has looked at the reasons for this in detail and has accepted the reasons. In the fourteenth proposal, administrative changes were made to the tariff applying to wool fabrics, liquor and tobacco products. The fifteenth change related to tyres and vegetable oils, et cetera. Of course, these products were not all the subject of the one tariff report but they were the subject of the one proposal when the changes were introduced in this House. The tariff was decreased in the case of tyres and all the IAC’s recommendations were accepted. The tariff was also decreased for vegetable oils and most of the IAC’s recommenations were accepted. That completes my remarks in relation to the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill.
I now turn to the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill which is the second of the two Bills being considered in this cognate debate. The purpose of this amendment Bill is to enact the excise tariff alterations moved in the House on 27 February and 4 April 1979. Those changes were made by a measure which was called the Excise Tariffproposals Nos. 1, 2 and 3. The first proposal increased the excise duty on naturally occurring liquefied gas to $ 1 3 per kilolitre. The second proposal set new import parity prices from 1 January to 30 June 1979. The third proposal is complementary to changes being introduced through the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill, the other measure which is the subject of this debate. I wish to deal with that third point. The changes provided for the duty free entry of goods other than alcohol or tobacco that are, at the time they are entered through our ports for home consumption, owned by certain authorities or bodies established for a purpose of the Commonwealth by or under an Act of the Commonwealth. In other words, under that alteration we are extending the duty free status to goods other than alcohol or tobacco where those goods are for home consumption and where they are for a Commonwealth authority. That is all I will say about the third point, except to say that the Opposition has no objection whatsoever to it. Therefore, the rest of my remarks will be about the other two elements of the Bill which I have outlined only briefly and about which I want to say more.
The purpose of the first part of this Bill is to legislate for an increase in the excise on naturally occurring liquid petroleum gas from $12.60 to $ 13 a kilolitre, which is an increase that has been in effect since December last year. This is another example of one of those ex-post valedictions that I was objecting to earlier. Of course, we should have discussed this measure a lot earlier. It has been a fait accompli for six months. We are now dealing with the horse after it has bolted. The Opposition is not opposed to this excise increase as it is designed to offset windfall revenues accruing to the producers of naturally occurring LPG. Nevertheless, the measure should have been looked at in greater detail at the time. Prior to December last year the price of refinery LPG was $83 a tonne while at the same time the price of naturally occurring LPG was only $67 a tonne. Therefore there was a $13 margin. This price differential had resulted in a shifting of demand to natural supplies with quantities of LPG produced in refineries consequently being flared.
This was clearly a waste of a valuable resource which could make a significant contribution to Australia’s liquid fuel requirements and something had to be done about that. That resulted in this $ 1 3 increase in the price of the natural gas in order to bring it in line with the cost of the gas from the refinery so that there would no longer be a gas flare. Because of this situation, in November last year the price of natural LPG was removed from the control of the Prices Justification Tribunal. This move allowed the price to increase to the refinery price of $83 a tonne. At the same time, the excise was increased by 40c to $ 1 3 a kilolitre. Therefore, the increased price became an excise burden and was able to be siphoned into the public coffers rather than provide an increase in profit to the makers which would have been a windfall increase in profit to the refinery owners. This move was undertaken, as I have said, to offset the windfall revenue which would have gone particularly to the Bass Strait producers and which was effective, I repeat, from 1 December last year.
Although we supported this move, I take this opportunity once again to condemn the Government for failing to legislate this change until now, six months after it has become effective. We know of no excuse for the delay. Even though there was no way to find time to debate this matter in this chamber, I draw attention again to the possibility of setting up a standing committee of the House to look at this kind of matter in detail. In that way at least a standing committee could have had some opinion on the matter which it would have reported to this chamber at an appropriate time and upon which a debate might have taken place. Even now the legislation before the House is out of date, as the excise on LPG has since been increased to $14 a kilolitre. So we are way out of date when talking about the $ 1 3 a kilolitre. I draw attention to the fact that on 2 May this year the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) announced that the excise would increase from $13 to $14 a kilolitre because the PJT had allowed the price to increase to $1 10 a tonne. I wonder whether it will be six months hence before we debate a measure which enacts that increase in excise. Enough said about that part of the Bill.
I now move on to the second section of the Bill which allows a change in the price to refineries of domestically produced crude oil. On 1 January this year the price was raised from $12.59 to $13.66 a barrel, but the Government is only now introducing legislation to effect this change. The January price increase was a result of a decision taken in the 1978 Budget to increase the price of domestically produced oil to import parity. The price is set every January and July in line with’ changes in the price of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries marker, light Arabian crude oil. The Government has now decided to legislate for the January price increase which occurred five months ago. Any observers who are knowledgeable about this situation will know that we have had a number of OPEC price increases announced since last January. Once again, this enactment comes far too late. As the Opposition has pointed out on many occasions, this pricing policy is imposing a severe burden on the Australian public by way of rapidly increasing petrol prices and through its effect on Austalia’s inflation and unemployment rates.
If the purpose is to reduce usage- I will come to this point in a moment- the measure is not having that effect. Demand is not price elastic, to use an economist’s term. This policy means that any increase in the official price of OPEC oil is passed on to Australian consumers in full. By this Government’s decision we are locked into oil prices and their effects. We are locked into all the adverse effects of this monopoly situation operated by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. There is no reason why this should have been so. Thirty per cent of our production is local. Of course, we need to conserve oil. We need to be far more thoughtful in our use of fuel in this country generally. But I repeat that price is not a mechanism- not yet anyway- by which to bring about that reduction in usage.
The sole motivation for the introduction of this policy was, we assert, to provide the Government with additional revenue. It is as a result of the Prime Minister’s obsession with the size of the Budget deficit. About 80 per cent of the revenue from a barrel of oil goes to the Government by way of taxes. This money is paid by the Australian motorist and by other users in the form of higher petrol prices. Since June last year the price of petrol has increased by almost 30c a gallon. This hits those who live in the country; it hits those who live in the cities. I am just looking around at the National Country Party benches. I will not mention any names because I am not in the habit of doing so. As I am looking at the Country Party benches I cannot see very much.
– Empty seats.
-Except for empty seats. If members of the National Country Party were here I would ask them why they are not standing up and being counted for the people who live in the country who have very little alternative but to use oil for so many reasons, such as when they travel from their farms to towns and so on. Indeed, honourable members might ask why the Labor Opposition has not got more support from the Liberal Party in drawing attention to the terrible effects that the increases in petrol prices are having, not only for the people in the country but also for the people in the cities and, in particular, for people on low incomes who have no margin from which to pay the increased prices and are obliged to suffer a reduction in their standard of living. The Government argues that these higher petrol prices are necessary to encourage energy conservation. As I have indicated earlier, overseas evidence shows and evidence in Australia shows that higher petrol prices are ineffective in controlling demand. If the Government were really serious about conservation it would have implemented policies designed specifically to limit demand.
The Government argues that the demand for petrol should decrease but, at the same time, it is cutting back on the funds available for the provision of public transport. If the public transport system were made more attractive, it would be one means of cutting down those hundreds and hundreds of cars that each one of us sees in every major city in Australia carrying just one person to and from work each day. If we could do that effectively we would go some way towards conserving petrol, supplies of which are getting smaller. I would like to look a little more at the effects of this policy on the Australian economy. In January this year the Industries Assistance Commission estimated that the Government’s import price policy would increase the cost of living by 2. 1 per cent over the next one to two years. This estimate was made before the recent OPEC price increases. Increasing Australian oil prices alone will push Australia’s inflation rate into double figures. This oil pricing policy will also detrimentally affect Australia’s trading position. The same IAC report estimates that import parity pricing will decrease the incomes of export oriented farm industries by from 6 to 8 per cent in real terms, decrease total exports by 2.4 per cent and increase imports by 0.6 per cent. At the same time, the Government has launched an export drive. These two policies are clearly contradictory. Unemployment will also worsen as a result of” higher oil prices. I have not got the time to trace that through but the Government has pointed out how inflation worsens unemployment.
The IAC estimates that aggregate employment will decrease by 0.8 per cent and rural employment by 2.8 per cent. This is an increase in total unemployment of 48,000 and in rural unemployment of 8,400. The rural sector is hit particularly hard by this policy as there are no substitutes for oil available to this sector for so many of the pursuits of country people. There is not a section of the Australian community that is immune to the effects of higher oil prices. Petrol is not a luxury; it is vital to the welfare of this country. There ought to be measures other than price adopted to conserve it. Australian oil prices are tied to prices determined by an international organisation, one in which we have had no say and over which we have no control. As a matter of urgency, the Government must review this policy before more damage is done to the Australian economy. It is for those reasons that I will, when the second of these two Bills is before the House, move the following amendment:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: whilst not opposing the Bill, the House is of the opinion that the Fraser Government’s crude oil pricing policy has imposed a severe burden on the Australian public by way of rapidly increasing petrol prices and through its adverse effects on Australia’s inflation and unemployment rates and should be reviewed ‘.
That policy should be reviewed. As I have said, I will move that amendment when that particular Bill is before the House. This has been a cognate debate. We are not going to oppose the first of those two Bills. We will move that amendment when the second Bill is before us.
– In speaking in this cognate debate on the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill and the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill, I feel that one of the points made by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford), who has just taken his seat again, and the criticism that he offered of the Government in respect of the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill was a little unfair. When the Australian Labor Party was in government between the years 1972 and 1975, firstly, it did not do anything about the same situation. Secondly, the Bureau of Customs has to be able to move very quickly under the regulations and by-laws it administers. In the clothing and textile area, particularly clothing, a change of fashion can make quite a dramatic difference. I will instance the type of situation which occurred some years ago.
The standard length for a woman’s dress was in the vicinity of 42 inches. For the purpose of classification, a child ‘s dress was 32 inches. Overnight the ‘mini’ arrived in this country. Most males were delighted. But it meant that a garment for a fully grown woman was 3 1 inches or, in a lot of cases, 29 inches. A number of importers decided- I believe quite unfairly- to use the by-law relating to children’s dresses to bring in garments at a substantially reduced penalty and substantially reduced tariff rates. Many millions of garments were involved. In order to obtain the information that is normally necessary before legislation can be put before this House, the then Department of Customs and Excise was given the right to amend a number of clauses and those amendments were debated at the end of a parliamentary session. It had that right to amend a number of things. I appreciate the thought behind what the honourable member put to the House, but I believe it is important to cover the sort of exceptions which I have just instanced. This is a means of ensuring that many Australians will continue in employment, and that their industry will not be wiped out because of unfair dumping or unfair price competition from overseas.
We must realise that we pay very high salaries and wages. Our terms and conditions of employment are among the best in the world- if not the best. Recently I had a comparison between the average weekly wage of the Australian worker and his counterpart in America, the country which is considered to be the be all and end all of the free enterprise system. I found that in this country employers were paying salaries somewhere in the vicinity of $47 a week more. In this general debate on the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill, I feel it is very important to mention at one stage exactly what the situation is in relation to where we stand as a nation in the very vital and very important area of protection.
At a stage when the Government is mid-way through its term of office and we are considering what we should be doing between now and the early part of the 1 980s and what we will be doing in the 1980s in relation to the industries in this country which survive under a certain degree of protection, be it tariff or quota, we should get ourselves into perspective. I think that Australia has been very fair, at the expense of thousands of jobs. There has to be a fine balance between what we as a nation should do for individual Australians who will be employed only through the existence of tariff and quota walls- in other words, protection generally- and what we will do in relation to the developing nations as well as what we will do with our trading partners and what we will do in the general world scene. In making these decisions we also have to take into consideration what sort of industry we have in this country and what sort of expertise has been built up over many years. That consideration should be made right across the gamut of manufacturing industries in this country.
There is a significant contribution to Australia in the form of taxation for government revenue from the allied industries that survive on protected manufacturing industries, such as transport companies, and the decentralised areas of New South Wales and Victoria in particular. The development in my own State of
Queensland outside the highly industrial Brisbane area has meant that a number of small town businesses have been through very difficult times in the last few years because of the state of the agricultural industry. I have met chemists, local store keepers, local transport operators, individual taxi drivers and others living in small towns who have survived the very severe downturn in beef prices and other primary products over the last few years by the very fact that the local manufacturing company producing clothing, textiles and a whole range of manufactured goods has kept them viable and profitable as well as keeping many other townspeople in employment. That has come about because the people employed in those protected industries were paid on a weekly basis and they were able to pay cash for the goods and chattels which they needed whereas the farm industry had to have extended credit.
I am delighted to be a supporter of a government which has presided over the resurgence of the primary production area. The wheat crop this year is the best that this country has ever had. It has been brought about by the very fair- 40 per cent- investment allowance introduced in 1976, which has meant that the plant and equipment that the primary producer is using today is the most efficient and the best in the world. He has been able to put more and more acreage under the plough, plant more and more crops and, at the same time, invest in the type of equipment which will give him the return on the programs that he feels is necessary.
Against that background there is an emotive argument in favour of the free trade approach. I believe that there are sound arguments on both sides. A very simple example is that if the Australian clothing and textile industry were to increase its market share by 3 per cent the employment in that industry would increase by some 7,000 jobs. If that market share were multiplied there would be a very significant increase in the number of people who could be employed. On a number of occasions I have had to disagree with my colleagues in the Opposition. I have maintained for some time that dramatic effects resulted when the Australian Labor Party changed its approach from a protectionist party to a free trade party. Between 1972 and 1975, which was the first opportunity it had had to do something following 23 years of not being in government, it listened to the academic arguments put forward not by people in the market place but by people who were looking at the situation with a slide rule approach. The reduction of 25 per cent in tariffs across the board in July 1973- in every single protected manufacturing industry in this country- meant that thousands of people lost their jobs. I would like Opposition members to stand up and be counted. If their concern were genuine they would say quite frankly that we would achieve the degree of employment about which they claim to be concerned by saying: ‘Let us have some protected industries in this country and let us continue that approach.
Over the last few years I have been involved with a number of fairly important committees which this Government has formed. The most important is the Textiles and Apparel Industry Advisory Council. My colleague from the Opposition, the honourable member for Adelaide, is a representative of his party on that Council. It has been pleasing to see at meetings of the Textiles and Apparel Industry Advisory Council the way in which unions, management, manufacturing industry, consumer advocates, the retailers of Australia and the public servants involved in business and consumer affairs, industry and commerce and productivity all work together to try to achieve the best situation for all Australians. I believe that, over and above the factual situation, the whole scene must be looked at in the broad. It cannot be looked at in a narrow perspective. Far too often, the Industries Assistance Commission has a tendency to look at individual industries in isolation. There is an interrelationship between a number of industries in this country. Major organisations such as ICI Australia Ltd produce significant quantities of synthetic fibre which is used in textiles and clothing. At the same time it is used in vast amounts for webbing in the production of car seats for motor vehicles produced by the Ford Motor Company of Australia and other car producers in this country. All these things should be taken into account when considering the degrees of protection which are necessary. Unless we consider the whole and stop looking at the world through a key hole, we will have a continuing problem and that continuing problem will mean that more and more Australians will lose their jobs. When they lose their jobs those employed will have to pay more tax to provide the assistance which the Government normally gives to these people.
I feel that in this cognate debate I must touch upon the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill. This Bill has brought a number of measures into being. It is a very short Bill. The most important thing I have learnt about it from Government discussions and discussions with people outside is that the liquefied petroleum gas produced in the refineries in this country was being flared off- it was not being used- and the natural gas from Bass Strait was being diverted to home consumption and escaping the excise which the Government quite rightly should receive.
The Government, in introducing this Bill has been very mindful of the fact that that the Bass Strait prices had to be increased to accord with the energy policy objectives which the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) had set down some time ago. The Minister felt that the only way to do that was to remove the anomaly in current pricing. Were he not to do so, there would be an additional profit to the producers. Therefore the Government has decided that it would be appropriate for an increased contribution to revenue to be made by increasing the excise levy on naturally occurring liquefied petroleum gas from the present $12.60 per kilolitre to $ 1 3 per kilolitre. That is an increase of 40c per kilolitre.
A significant energy policy issue arises from the anomolous situation whereby different prices apply to products used for identical purposes. This has brought about a rather wasteful situation in terms of energy use because some LPG, which is produced as a normal part of the refining process, cannot be marketed at the justified price and as a result is being burnt to waste. As I mentioned earlier, it is being flared off. In terms of energy policy, this not an acceptable situation. Quite frankly, I agree with the Minister, who has brought forward this legislation and agreed that this situation should be changed. The Government has also concluded that it cannot allow the situation to continue and possibly worsen, especially because of the energy conservation issues involved and that, in the circumstances, the appropriate course would be to remove naturally occurring LPG from the application of the Prices Justification Act. This will enable the Bass Strait producers to bring their prices into line with the prices for the ex-refinery product.
Part of this Bill also brings to the legislative table a decision- in this regard I look forward very much to the interdepartmental committee’s recommendations- which allows certain government departments and statutory bodies such as the Australian National University, the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Atomic Energy Commission to import certain goods free of duty. I congratulate the Auditor-General for bringing this matter to the attention of the Government last year. The Auditor-General again brought the matter to the attention of the Government this year and the interdepartmental committee has brought forward its interim recommendations. We must have an early report on what should be done to ensure that the present situation no longer continues because other people who are not in that unique situation of being members of a statutory body or a government department are covered very well by Acts which prohibit them from importing goods free of duty except in specific situations. Although this is only a small part of the Bill before the House today, it is a very important part.
A cognate debate on these Bills gives people an opportunity to range rather widely across a number of areas. What we do in this area and in the excise area and the customs tariff area is very important to the Government’s revenue. I believe that those people who are utilisers of things to which the excise tariff applies should be making a contribution towards the Australian economy. If it is necessary to increase charges on occasions, I believe that that is a much fairer way of raising revenue than the alternative method, which is to increase income tax or company tax.
A very difficult situation exists at present which I would like to see changed. A number of people have been given quotas- I emphasise the word ‘given’- which have made them millionaires almost overnight. The people involved in the manufacturing industry of Australia in the main have taken many years to build a successful organisation. They have done it by hard work and dedication, and by gathering around them a team of people who were prepared to work hard. They had a vision and they shared that vision with those people. They went forward to manufacture, to make a profit, to build their factories, their towns and their local regions. But in the last few years we have seen a group of so-called entrepreneurs being given ‘gold stock’ by the Government in the form of quotas. Those quotas have been utilised for the profit of a very small number of people. I think we should review these things in the broad. We must realise that it is our responsibility as a Federal Parliament to take those matters aboard and make decisions which will be beneficial to the majority of Australians and not just to the few.
-Before addressing myself specifically to those parts of the Bills to which I wish to refer, I want to answer some of the distortions of the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Peter Johnson). At the beginning of his speech he spent some time criticising the Labor Party’s industry policy. Obviously the honourable member has not been keeping up with some of the recent statements of the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). The point is that both preceding and following the presentation of the Crawford report, the honourable member for Adelaide, on behalf of the Opposition, went into some detail on the Opposition’s attitude in this area. One of the particular areas of importance which the Crawford report mentioned was the need for specific programs for the assistance of specific industries in Australia. Whilst the Crawford report was generally in favour of some progress towards declining levels of tariff, it recognised that for a variety of reasons, particularly those relating to the regional consequences of lowering assistance to particular industries, there was a need to develop specific programs for those industries in peculiar situations.
As an earnest of our acceptance of this approach, the honourable member for Adelaide and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) jointly announced that the Labor Party would be looking at the creation of a textile and clothing industry authority which would examine the special problems of those industries to see what sort of assistance could be given to overcome the problems. Of course, in the main, those industries happen to be located in areas remote from the centres of population and therefore there are very pressing arguments for giving special assistance to those industries. I think it is quite wrong for the honourable member for Brisbane to reflect as he did on the Labor Party in that way. Our approach to industry policy has been and continues to be a very practical one, and the instance I have just given is an example of that.
However, I want to turn to the second of the measures which are being debated here today, the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill. This Bill is primarily related to the needs of this Government to raise revenue. It is a further indication of this Government’s high tax policies, and that can be seen by looking at a number of important taxation revenue measures. If we compare the performance of this Government in the field of raising revenue with the performance of the former Labor Government, we find that this Government has been responsible for a substantial tax hike. In the area of public authority receipts as a share of gross domestic product, during the three years of Labor Administration the total amount received by the Commonwealth was 24.5 per cent of GDP. Under this Government that share has increased to 26 per cent. That is very definite evidence of the fact that this Government is enthusiastic about its activities in the revenueraising area.
To find the explanation for this enthusiasm we have to look beyond the area of personal income taxation. Of course, there has been a 40 per cent increase in the amount taken by the Commonwealth via personal income tax but in the area of indirect taxation the growth has been even greater. What we have before us is just another measure designed to collect more indirect taxation by way of excise. In the area of indirect taxation there has been a total increase from $4.8 billion in 1975-76 to $7.2 billion. That is an increase of $2.4 billion in the amount of revenue raised by this Government by means of indirect taxation.
It is true that some of this increase can be accounted for simply by increases in prices, Another part of it can be accounted for by increases in sales. More than half of it can be put down to changes in the rates of indirect taxation- changes which have accounted for $1.3 billion extra revenue than would have been collected in the last year of the former Labor Government. If the Hayden levels of indirect taxation were applying now the amount of revenue collected through indirect taxation would have been $1.3 billion less than that collected under this Government.
This Government, by changing its rates, has increased its collections of indirect taxation quite substantially. The serious thing about this is that indirect taxation is far more regressive than is personal income taxation. The level of indirect taxes paid by a particular individual is quite unrelated to his income or his capacity to pay. The move by this Government towards increases in direct taxation represents a penalty on those people on lower incomes. One of the reasons for the need for the Government to enter into this area, despite its claim, to the contrary, is its lack of success in tackling the problem of tax avoidance. I wish to relate a couple of statistics which indicate this lack of success. In the area of personal income taxation we find that the amount paid by those salary and wage earners who pay their tax via the pay-as-you-earn system has increased from $8.5 billion to just over $10 billion in the two years 1 976 to 1 978. That represents an increase of 2 1 per cent.
If we look at the other areas of personal income tax collection- that is, that paid by way of provisional tax- we find that there has hardly been any increase at all. In order for that to make sense, one of two things must be happening. Either there have been no increases in salaries amongst those people who pay their tax via provisional tax arrangements or else those increases in salaries which have occurred in that area have not been reflected in higher income tax because those people are able to avoid income taxation.
Clearly we can reject the proposition that salaries have not increased. If we were to apply the 21 per cent increase revenue which has been ripped off the wage and salary earners to those who pay via provisional tax arrangements we would find that there was at least $500m missing from that area. In my thesis that can be put down only to tax avoidance. The fact that the Government has not been able to get that $500m is one of the reasons why it has had to look to other sources of revenue, particularly to indirect taxation.
The consequence of this has been- particularly in the area of excise on petroleum and petroleum products- for the price of petrol to the ordinary motorist in Australia to double over the last three years under this Government. That has occurred largely because this Government has an obsession about the areas from which it raises revenue. It has chosen to raise revenue in that way rather than in the traditional and fairer ways afforded by personal income taxation. It is all very well to claim that the rate of personal income tax is not as high as it otherwise might be, but the point is that people are still paying it, whether they are paying it via personal income taxation or whether they are paying it every time they fill up their motor cars with petrol.
That is really the reason why the Government has decided slavishly to tie the price of crude oil in this country to the price determined by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The consequences of that have been severe. Not only has it led to an increase in the price of petrol itself but also it is anticipated that its other consequences throughout the economy will be that it will lead over the next one or two years to an increase of more than 2 per cent in the cost of living. This increase is not only represented by increases in prices at the petrol pumps but also it is driven into the prices paid by manufacturers and others. Therefore it is reflected in the prices they have to pay. Partly because of that, the level of employment is being seriously affected. When inquiring into oil pricing policies the Industries Assistance Commission estimated that the consequence of this policy would be to reduce employment overall by about 48,000 jobs. The consequences of that reduction will fall most severely in the rural area. About 8,000 of those 48,000 jobs will be lost in rural Australia. That will mean a decline of almost 3 per cent in the level of employment in the rural areas. It is a serious problem- one which this Government has not been prepared to acknowledge.
In support of its determination to impose OPEC prices on ordinary Australians, the Government relies really on two arguments. The first is the conservation argument, which the honourable member for Adelaide rightly pointed out is really not on. Overseas experience has indicated that there would have to be a much higher price for petroleum than we already have in this country before there would be any significant reduction in the consumption level of petroleum. This is partly because many people just do not have any way of avoiding the amount of petroleum which they consume. It is needed for getting to work and it is needed by the manufacturing industry to provide work. The conservation argument, whilst superfically attractive, does not stand up to close examination.
The other argument on which the Government has relied involves the question of exploration. It indicates that by tying the price of petroleum to OPEC prices and then returning a proportion of the revenue to the producers it is able to provide more funds for oil exploration. The Government’s own department in giving evidence to the IAC oil pricing policy inquiry said:
It is doubtful if the receipt of such windfall profits would of itself contribute to additional development and exploration.
That statement has been borne out. We have yet to see any concrete evidence of an increase in exploration activity in this country as a result of that policy. We can always live in hope. We would be better advised to implement some of the policy decisions of the Canadian Government. It requires that these sorts of windfall profits gained by oil companies be ploughed back into exploration. If we look at the situations in Canada and Australia, which are basically comparable countries, we find that in 1978 only 52 wells were drilled in Australia compared with over 3,000 wells drilled in Canada. So I think the Government has a long way to go before it even begins to justify these prices paid by the motorists for petrol because of exploration.
The other point which has to be made in this context is Australia’s very great problems in relation to its liquid fuels. Whilst at the moment we are producing about 70 per cent of the crude oil which we need in this country- that is, we are importing only about 30 per cent of those we need- we will find that position completely reversed by 1990. That is just over 1 1 years away. We will find that we will be able to produce only 30 per cent of the petroleum products which we, in fact, consume. This will make us very reliant on imported crude to the extent of 70 per cent. Now this is particularly serious in Western Australia where the Western Australian fuel economy already is very heavily concentrated in the area of imported oil. We find that 73 per cent of the consumption of primary energy consumed in Western Australia comes from oil. That compares, for instance, with Victoria and New South Wales where the figure is only about 40 per cent and with Queensland where it is about 55 per cent. At 73 per cent it is far above any of the other States. Nearly three quarters of Western Australia’s energy comes from oil. As I have said, increasingly over the next few years it will have to come from imported sources. So, the consequences for Western Australia from this policy and from this measure which is before the House are, of course, particularly serious. We find as well, if we look at Western Australia, that the projections for the consumption of petroleum liquids over the next 20 years will nearly double. Certainly, a very grave situation is in prospect for Western Australia. It is not being helped by the policies of this Government. All this Government has achieved in this area to date has been to drive the price of petrol through the roofdouble it in three years- with no concrete evidence of the fact that any further exploration is going on in this country or that there is any further prospect of finding local sources of petroleum products.
Of course, we in Western Australia have the prospect of the North West Shelf gas and very much hinges on the success of that project. Western Australian’s are waiting with baited breath to find out whether the feasibility studies in relation to that project are going to indicate the goahead for it. If it does not go ahead then the problems for Western Australia and the Western Australian energy economy will be even more grave than the picture I have already painted.
The Opposition does not oppose these collection of measures but as the honourable member for Adelaide has indicated, it is our intention at the Second reading stage to move an amendment to draw attention to the folly of the policy of the Government in relation to its crude oil pricing policy. The Government through insisting on a slavish observance of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries prices, has placed an enormous and severe burden on the Australian public. We are not saying that the Government should price Australian oil completely independently of OPEC. We have said in the Green Paper that there is a need for the price of Australian crude to be related to OPEC prices. But there is absolutely no need to slavishly observe the OPEC pricing system which has such seriously disruptive effects on the Australian economy. It has to be understood that the real reason for this Government pursuing this policy so vigorously is quite unrelated to the energy policy and is quite unrelated to anything except a desire to raise revenue in any way other than by personal income taxation regardless of the consequences for Australians or the economy as a whole. As I said, the failure of the Government to really come to grips with the problem of taxation avoidance has exacerbated the problem in relation to the Government’s revenue.
– Introverted pessimism has never made any country great and certainly never made people happy. I do not tend to travel down the path of pessimism or despair with respect to today’s debate nor do I intend to invite it. I wish to respond to one or two of the points that have been made by the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Dawkins). They deserve an appropriate response in such a wide-ranging debate. With respect to taxation there was a general criticism of the taxation policies of this Government. I remind the Parliament of little snippets of history. These are always very important. The plain fact is that 23 market or semi-market economies in the world have their taxation levels measured. These are measured in relation to their general national product. These countries are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Australia is one of them. The plain fact is that in all the years they have been measured for only three years has Australia led the world in the rate of taxation increase which it has levied in relation to the national income. It went to the top of the pile. In fact, at the top of the ladder it was under disputation by only one other nation and that was Turkey. We may have given the position over to Turkey now and then. That is a plain fact. The next question which I invite myself to ask is: What were those three years? The years were 1973, 1974 and- can you guess it- 1975. The next question I ask is simply this: Was it foreshadowed by those who were responsible for the Australian management in those years that they would raise taxation of that type? The answer is: No, it was not foreshadowed. In fact, they said that they would reduce it. I merely mention this to the House because I think it is appropriate.
I wish to say one other thing in relation to that matter because it was dwelt on by both the previous speakers. It is unfair that taxation be considered apart from the day or the age in which it is levied. For example, it is totally ludicrous to look at the Australian taxation in 1978-79 and ask why it is not the same as it was in 1 929. There were totally different functions of government that were acceptable. Why is it not the same as it was in 1879 when the Carron Steel Mill began to remake all the economies of the world? It is a totally improper proposition to compare taxation rates over time without having regard to what other countries were doing over that time as well. When the Opposition was in power Australia led all the measured countries of the world except Turkey.
– Yours has gone up.
-Look, in relation to taxation I do not wish to be cruel or nasty, but if all the honourable member’s brains were ink, he would hardly make a full stop. There is one point that ought to be made in respect to oil.
– Tell us how much we spent on Catholic schools between 1973 and 1975.
– That is a totally improper comment and the honourable member for Port Adelaide ought to have more sense than to make a comment such as that.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member for Port Adelaide will cease interjecting.
– The honourable member for Port Adelaide would not make a comma. With respect to oil the alternative to a change in the price of oil is simply that we have some kind of rationing. We cannot escape that other alternative and it is simply there. Immediately we consider that point we have to consider black marketeering, the nature of rationing, and under-the-counter sales. I ask honourable members to remember, above all, that the late Mr Chifley regretted in 1950 and 1951 that he did not discover that fact rather earlier in 1 949.I wish to deal with one of these Bills today and that is the first Bill, the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill. It is designed to validate 15 customs tariff proposals put to the nation by this Government. The 15 tariff proposals embrace 14 Schedules. They include: Paper and paper board; fisheries and fish processing; injection and puncture of needles; inks; jewellery; timber and timber products; plywood and veneer; tyres and tyre cases; umbrellas; sunshades and parts; vegetable oils and fats; animal oils and fats; work trucks and certain mobile machines. These proposals have been put forward by the Government previously and this measure is designed to validate them. A number of questions ought to be asked in relation to the proposal. Those measures are worth of the order of $ 140m. In other words, the tariff proposals that have been put forward are the equivalent of a subsidy to the industries affected of about $140m a year. The principal industries which receive those tariff benefits are the timber and timber products industry, the tyre and tyre cases industry- which receive a net subsidy equivalent on those products of about $30m a year- and of course the paper and paper board industry which receives of the order of $ 16m to $17m. So those three industries receive the lion’s share; they are the principal beneficiaries of the measures now before the House.
I want to look at the distribution of benefits which flow from those industries. First of all, there are 80,000 people plus or minus 1,000 or 2,000 whose employment is assisted and whose employment is retained as a result of the application of these tariff measures. Of those 80,000 people 80 per cent are assisted in three StatesNew South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. I do not argue with that; the House will accept it and the House will support it. What I am saying here is what was said in respect of other tariff measures. We ought to know what parts of the nation and what States of this nation happen to be the principal recipients of the benefits which come from tariff measures, because the benefits are important, they are large and they certainly cannot be ignored.
Let me give an example from a wider field, since this is a general tariff debate. Each year in terms of assistance to industry about $4,500m is distributed by means of the tariff proposals. It is $140m today, $4,500m a year. That was the calculation a year or two ago. The question we asked ourselves, and we immediately ask ourselves, is: Which States are the beneficiaries of that assistance? I would hope that that would be a question to be raised at this year’s Premiers Conference. What is the distribution of the benefits of that assistance? I have done some calculations and I have a table on which I have already consulted with the honourable member for Fremantle. I seek leave to incorporate it in Hansard.
The table read as follows-
– The table attempts to set out as between each State the net subsidy equivalent of the total tariff measures that apply in Australia. It attempts to bring up to 1979, on a very conservative basis, the benefit of that tariff assistance in dollars per person for each State of Australia. I will read to the House the benefits that apply per person in each State of Australia for the year 1 979 as a result of the application of tariff measures. Assuming that between the periods 1973-74 and 1979 there has been in excess of a 7 per cent total reduction in tariffsand it has not been that high- and assuming that there has been only 25 per cent inflation between those two periods- and there has been a much higher rate- the allocation per person for each State is interesting. In New South Wales it is $410 per person. In Victoria it is $570-odd per person. In Queensland it is $211. In South Australia it is $581. In Western Australia it is $245. In Tasmania it is $262.
There is an enormous disparity therefore in the distribution of the benefits of tariff protection. It was that kind of consideration which led the Industries Assistance Commission, which has been referred to repeatedly in this place this afternoon, to examine the interstate effects of these measures. The result is set out in an excellent booklet called ‘Structural Change and Economic Interdependence’ issued in 1977. 1 refer to pages 1 5 and 1 6 of that booklet. The table which I have incorporated in Hansard is derived from Table 2.4 in that booklet which deals with the value added in manufacturing industry in all States. Two points follow from that table. In the outlying States of Australia the greatest proportion of their manufacturing industries is in the least protected sectors. In the south eastern corner, particularly Victoria and South Australia, the greatest proportion of their manufacturing industries is in the most highly protected manufacturing sectors. That led the IAC to comment on page 1 6: ‘Thus, tariff structure effectively subsidies the economies of Victoria and South Australia and taxes those of Western Australia and Queensland’. I merely ask that those matters be considered together with their distribution effects.
The honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) interrupted earlier. He knows probably as well as anybody in this place that his State of South Australia depends to an enormous extent on the benefit it gains from tariff proposals. I am not proposing that Australia should live in a free trade world. A free trade world is a piece of fantasy. I am not suggesting that Australia embrace free trade. You cannot have a free trader Australia in an effectively protectionist world. All I am suggesting- and I hope that this can be taken up at the Premiers Conference in late June this year- is that the effects as between States of tariffs, quotas, bounties and industry assistance, including assistance to the sugar industry, be tabulated, be calculated and be discussed. We are talking about the distribution of well over $5,000m in effective assistance subsidy. It is a lot of money. How large is it, in fact? We should look at the general revenue funds allocated last year at the Premiers Conference, for example. If my memory serves me correctly- and I hope it does- at the Premiers Conference last year, quite apart from specific section 96 grants and the loan program funds the distribution of which is governed by other means, general revenue grants, which is the old taxation reimbursement formula that has been brought up to date by the tax sharing arrangements, amounted to just under $5,000m. That was discussed. That was argued about. That entered into argumentation and disputation at the Premiers Conference, and rightly so. By these means, as has been demonstrated, an effective $4,500m to $5,000m is distributed but that distribution is never discussed. It is considered merely on an industry by industry basis. But it is as important in its effect on the lives of the people in the various States of Australia as any other means. We merely say that the distribution ought to be discussed and ought not to be ignored. I hope that the Premier of Queensland, Mr BjelkePetersen, the Premier of Western Australia, Sir Charles Court, and the Premier of Tasmania, Mr Lowe, will all set their minds to this task. If they were to do it they would be doing something very valuable for Australia and also for their people because that is a part of what one would call true federalism and a valid distribution of the benefits of federalism.
Honourable members in this House might ask: Why be concerned about this matter? Is there anything which impels a member to worry about these matters?’ There is one overriding fact in Australia and it is not the blame of any particular government. Every economic and financial journal in this country knows that the more quickly developing parts of this nation are the outlying parts. They are Western Australia and Queensland. Every calculation indicates that an increasing proportion of Australia’s ability to compete in the world has to come from those States. Those States happen to have mines, rural industries and other industries which compete on the world market.
We know also that probably Australia’s greatest problem is that of the deficit on the international current account. Exports help reduce the deficit more than the product of any other industry. But accompanying that fact is a salutory problem. Although the States I have mentioned are the most quickly developing ones in Australia and are providing an increasing proportion of the real wealth that Australia produces, this is not reflected in an appropriate change in the standards of living of the people in those States. For example, if one goes through the national accounts for 1948-49, when they were first developed in their present form, to 1977-78, a period of 30 years, one finds that those outlying States have consistently had the lowest standards of living throughout that period. They have competed with one another for last place or second last place. They remain in those places today although they have been developing quickly over the last decade and more since coal, iron ore and other industries have been exploited. So there is an imbalance here which needs to be considered.
I suggest that the greatest imbalance that needs to be considered is the effect ofthe contribution of Commonwealth measures on industry in its interstate allocations. I suggest that this problem not be ignored; that no attempt be made to sweep it under the carpet. If it is swept under the carpet then every time somebody walks over it it will become apparent. Every time somebody walks over it it will crackle. Premiers are going to see that they walk over it so I ask that honourable members turn their minds to this problem. Another problem is that quite often the advice available in outlying States has not turned itself to this kind of measure. Advisers have been concerned with the obvious financial transfers, the $4,800m or $4,900m transferred to general revenue funds. That amount is on the top of the table at the Premiers Conference but we want also to discuss those matters that have been, in a sense, under the table. We want all of them taken into account and considered.
I suggest that this be done at the Premiers Conference for another reason. It cannot be done by the Commonwealth Grants Commission because the Commission is concerned with the position of claimant States, only with what is called fiscal equalisation. The Grants Commission tries to bring about some equality in terms of the availability of services in the various States. But it is not going to concern itself with the basic market forces which cause tax to be able to be paid by people in States, or income able to be earned, or employment able to be secured. The
Grants Commission does not concern itself with those matters because it would be outside its ken.
This problem is not a new one but I suggest that it has not been expressed in this form before. It is not one which is going to be developed so as to categorise, lacerate or hurt any government, past or present; it is a real attempt to find a solution to a problem. The problem is there and I believe it cannot be ignored. It will not go away if it is ignored. It is not one which attempts to substitute some old-hat, ethereal, ineffective free trade solution for what occurs. Federalism means that there is an appropriate reward for people in the various parts of Australia for the value of product which is produced in those various parts of Australia. It means it has to be measured as it is measured now, by statisticians. It has to be measured by States. I hope that at the Premiers Conference this year these matters are brought forward for a salutary and healthy discussion. If that occurs, I believe there will be greater benefit for everybody concerned.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Garland) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 24 May, on motion by Mr Fife:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-As foreshadowed by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford), I move:
– I second the amendment.
-The question now is:
That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Motion ( by Mr Garland) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to explain to the House, with your indulgence, that the Opposition decided not to divide on its amendment because of the amount of legislation that there is before the House at present. However, we would like our opposition recorded in Hansard. I know that that will now be done, thanks to you giving me that indulgence.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 28 May, on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate on this Bill is resumed I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill, the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Collection Amendment Bill 1979, the Live-stock Export Charge Amendment Bill 1979, the Australian Meat and Live-stock Corporation Amendment Bill 1979 and the Meat Research Amendment Bill 1979 as they are related measures. Separate questions will, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the five Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the five matters? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
– Five bills are being dealt with in this cognate debate and they are being dealt with in the absence of members of the National Country Party. There is not one member of that party here now that these agricultural Bills have come before us. This is a rather strange, but sometimes fairly typical attitude for them to adopt in respect to farmers. When a mining Bill is before us they are here en masse. With farming Bills they are not to be seen.
The Opposition will be opposing these five Bills. The reason for our opposition is not that we oppose the principle for which these Bills stand, which is the eradication of disease in cattle in Australia, but basically because of the way the levy is raised. I make that point clear at the outset.
The principal Bill is the Livestock Slaughter Levy Amendment Bill. This Bill allows for an increase from $1 to $3 in the amount of the levy collected for the eradication of diseases. The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Livestock Slaughter Levy Act 1964 to increase the maximum rates of levy which may be prescribed for cattle disease eradication and to provide for the introduction of levies in the slaughter of two categories of calves. The importance of animal disease control to the future of the cattle industry cannot be stressed too highly.
Our major export market- the USA- and a number of other countries which are either markets or important competitors for Australian beef are well on the way to eradicating completely tuberculosis and brucellosis. We want to be able to match those countries. In the circumstances, the tempo of the Australian campaign should be maintained or even increased. It is, however, a very costly business; we would not deny that. In the 3 years to June 1979 the Government will have provided grants totalling some $8.5m for the compulsory slaughter of reactor animalsthat is, animals that react to the TB test. Over the same period the Government has advanced $47m towards campaign operations. Recoveries from the disease eradication components of slaughter levies and export charges are estimated at only $28m. The result is that the net advances to the industry over the period have been approximately $ 19m.
The Government has decided that such outstanding advances should bear interest at the long term bond rate from I July 1979. This is a totally new component; it has not happened before. Given the marked improvement in returns to the cattle industry in the past year, I suppose that we can argue to some extent that the industry’s rate of contribution should be stepped up. The Bill reflects that decision. It provides for the maximum disease eradication levy on cattle slaughtered to be increased from $1 to $3. The Government has also agreed to a request from the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation that levies should be introduced on the slaughter of calves. This is a fairly reasonable proposition. It is obvious the the sections of the industry that produce calves are receiving a favourable component from the marketing and promotional activity of the AMLC, and also from the research funded from the slaughter levies. As these sorts of cattle are being slaughtered in increasing numbers, I imagine it is reasonable for them to be contributing towards these costs. The second Bill- the Livestock Slaughter Levy Collection Amendment Bill- is only a machinery Bill that allows an amendment to be made to the Act to the effect that that rate be increased. The third Bill- the Livestock Export Charge Amendment Bill- really refers to amending the Act to include the two types of calves that are being killed.
The reason the Opposition is opposing these Bills is that there is a public health component in the eradication of tuberculosis and brucellosis and therefore there is a real justification for significant public subsidy. An Industries Assistance Commission report of 1975 recommended that the Commonwealth should make a greater contribution towards the eradication than it has done in the past. In our opinion the sizable proposed levy of $3 a head- and increase from $ 1 a head- would be unfair to the smaller States of Western Australia and Tasmania where these diseases have almost been eradicated. The present levy of $1 a head could probably be accepted and should be uniform throughout the Commonwealth, but we believe that the proposed levy of $3 a head is far too high. The Bills propose the imposition of the same charge on cattle exported live. I do not suppose that the Opposition could argue with that. Cattle exported live should help to pay in the same way as cattle slaughtered.
The eradiction of tuberculosis and brucellosis was an 8-year campaign which resulted from a report by the IAC in 1975 and which embraced both the detection of the diseases and compensation for the slaughter of diseased animals. Compensation costs decline in time but detection costs are likely to increase. These costs decline in time because in the first instance many reactor cattle were killed and a lot of compensation had to be paid on those condemned animals. As time goes by the number killed because of reactor tests will decrease, so that that component is likely to decrease. The Commonwealth’s liability is limited to 75 per cent of compensations payments for brucellosis and 50 per cent of payments for tuberculosis. Obviously the proportion of costs paid by the Commonwealth was at its highest level in the early years.
The IAC’s report of 1975 recommended that the Commonwealth pay 15 per cent of the 8-year cost, the industry 60 per cent and the States 25 per cent. That recommendation has not been followed. The figures are quite revealing. At this date the Commonwealth has paid only Vh per cent, which is half the figure suggested in the IAC report, and the industry has paid almost 68 per cent, which is 8 per cent above the figure proposed. The States have paid 25 per cent. The existing $ 1 levy is not yielding enough revenue to pay the industry contribution. The shortfall has been met by a government advance and has been recorded as a debt to the industry trust fund. Until now no interest has been levied on that loan. But the provisions contained in this legislation allow for that to be charged at the long term bond rate from 1 July. The estimated expenditure for 1978-79 is $37.5m. It is interesting to note its source. The industry levy will meet $7.8m of it, the State contribution will meet $8. 7m of it, the Commonwealth loan will meet $ 12. 1 m of it and the Commonwealth grant- that is, the compensation charges- will meet $8.7 of it. Compensation expenditure is now expected to be only $4m. This is the only contribution by the Commonwealth, apart from the loan which the industry is expected ultimately to repay. The proposed $3 levy is estimated to yield $23.26m, which should exceed the current industry expenditure and gradually repay the accumulated debt. The Commonwealth has not yet met its share of the scheme as envisaged by the IAC.
– Hear, hear!
-I am glad that the honourable member for Prospect, who is the shadow Minister for Health, agrees with me. I am sure that he will also agree that the Commonwealth should be contributing a greater share towards the eradication of what is a great health hazard.
There are other points that should be made concerning these diseases. Unless the program is completed by 1984, Australian beef could be banned in the United States of America and other markets because eradication in northern Australia may not be possible. The cost of testing these cattle for these diseases varies widely between States and nobody seems to be able to tell us why this is so. In January 1979 the Australian Agricultural Council endorsed a modified detection plan with more emphasis on trace-back. It was estimated to save more than $30m over five years. That plan has not been implemented and the reason for that is not known. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) might be kind enough to explain that to us.
When the Minister was speaking on the Livestock Slaughter Levy Amendment Bill in 1 977 he had this to say:
In addition the Producer Consultative Group and the Exporter and Abbattoir Consultative Groups provided for in the Australian Meat and Live-Stock Corporation Bill 1977 substitute for the Australian Wool and Meat Producers Federation and the Australian Woolgrowers and Graziers Council for the purpose of recommending to the Corporation rates of levy payable under the Act. The Groups will not recommend the rates for the cattle disease eradication program, which will be set by the Minister.
It is interesting to note that in 1977 the Minister spoke in the context of a producers consultative group being set up. I think it is proper at this stage of my remarks to refer to the failure of the Minister to implement the promise he made in 1977 to set up an elected producers consultative group. This body was to be established under the provisions of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation Act 1977 and was to be in operation by March 1978. It is now May 1979 and it is still not in operation. An interim consultative group was set up to facilitate the commencement of operations in the AMLC. These people were nominated by various producer groups and a firm commitment was given at that time for an elected body to be introduced at the earliest possible time. Many excuses have been advanced since that date, ranging from extreme workloads in the electoral office and a few other reasons. There has been talk of a cost of $250,000. But as yet the consultative group has not been set up. I know that there was some talk about waiting for an amalgamation of producer groups but I do not think that that is a reasonable excuse. It is high time that the 1977 promise was honoured and we will be pressing to see that that happens.
Another very important aspect of the legislation is that in 1977 the point of collection of this levy was altered dramatically. Historically, the levy had been collected at the time the stock were sold by the stock and station agent. The Minister, in his second reading speech, on the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Collection Amendment Bill in 1977 stated:
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Collection Act 1964. The amendments are chiefly intended to simplify administrative procedures associated with the operation of that Act. The major amendment is the repeal of sections 10, 11, 12 and 13 of the Act which provide for slaughterers of livestock to pass the levy back to vendors, provided that the livestock are slaughtered within 30 days from the date of purchase.
There have been many allegations of abuse of this provision. Because of this and the fact that the ‘pass back ‘ has no effect on the collection of the levy, the Government has decided to delete the provision. The levy will continue to be payable by the owner of the livestock at the time when slaughter takes place. Depending upon the method of marketing the livestock this could be a livestock producer. The actual incidence of the levy is likely to vary over time depending upon supply and demand conditions. In times of oversupply of livestock the levy is likely to be reflected in prices paid to livestock producers. In the reverse situation the levy will tend to be absorbed further along the marketing chain.
The important point is that in altering the character of the person who pays the levy the Minister used this rationale:
In times of oversupply of livestock the levy is likely to be reflected in prices paid to livestock producers.
When that decision was invoked in 1977 cattle prices were very low, and I do not think that the industry reacted adversely to the Minister’s rationale. The industry accepted, basically, that when cattle prices were low and there were excesses of meat on the market it was obvious that the levy, which was then $1 a head, could be passed back to the producer in terms of reduced prices. But working on the same rationale, the Minister said:
In the reverse situation the levy will tend to be absorbed further along the marketing chain.
That is very true. In times of short supplies of cattle and enormously high prices such as exist at the moment there can be no justification for the levy being paid by the owner of the livestock at the point of slaughter. Cattle prices have risen to enormous heights, and I am not going to deplore that. As a person who has been active in the meat industry for a long time, I am happy to see that producers are getting a reasonable return for their stock.
– Hear, hear!
-The honourable member for Paterson agrees with me.
– Good, a member of the National Country Party is in the House.
-That is true. Members on this side of the House take a very realistic view of the agricultural industry. We realise the great benefits that flow to the Australian economy generally from improved conditions in the agricultural area. We do not dispute the fact that producers are getting a good return for their cattle. We applaud it. But if it was fair enough to remove the levy from the producers and impose it on the owners of cattle at the point of slaughter when cattle prices were low, is it not reasonable now to put the levy back where it has been historically- with the producer? The producer is making enormous amounts of money on his cattle. Disease eradication programs are set up basically to advantage the producer. The producer loses money if his stock are condemned because of tuberculosis or brucellosis. The cattle die on the farm. But this levy is being passed on to the owner at the point of slaughter. As the Minister said, this tends to be absorbed further down the line, and of course it is. The fact is that local consumers of Australian meat who were paying a levy of $ 1 , worked out on the Minister ‘s rationale, are now paying a levy of $3 because the Government has changed the point of collection. The Government is now asking the consumers who buy meat at the butcher shop to pay a $3 levy to help in the eradication of disease. That is one of the reasons we are opposing this Bill. The first reason is that we think that the Commonwealth Government should be making a greater contribution towards what is essentially a health program, but more importantly, we think that the levy should be placed where it was historically- with the producer of cattle.
I think it is reasonable at this stage to reflect a little on the present state of the cattle industry. In 1973 there was an enormous boom in the cattle industry. Exports were running along strongly and the projections were that export markets would remain strong for the following five of six years. In retrospect, that was bad advice from the Australian Meat Board. Its prediction did not come true and the market collapsed very quickly. The great excess of cattle in Australia fell on to the local market. Consequently farmers were getting greatly reduced prices for their cattle. This was the case in 1977. Cattle that were worth $450 in 1973 were selling for $70 very shortly thereafter. The meat industry, since that time, has experienced a series of highs and lows, a series of peaks and troughs. We on this side of the House are very concerned that the beef industry in particular should develop some sort of plateau so that farmers know almost exactly what their stock is worth. I think that farmers would agree privately that they do not want to get $400 or $500 for their bullocks today and $70 next year. They would like to get a price which is realistic compared with the cost of production and with the effort they put into producing the product. In order for this to happen we have to have real co-ordination between all sections of the industry. Farmers have said to me privately that they are concerned at the very high prices for export cattle at the moment, and of course this reflects itself in the local market.
In the last 12 months the Government, through the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation, has spent a lot of money trying to bolster the local consumption of meat, which dropped alarmingly over the period of high export prices back in 1973-74. We had something like a 60 per cent increase in consumption on the local market in the 12 months up until the recent boom in export prices. The odds are that the export market will not continue for any great length of time. I am not trying to be a prophet of doom. I would like to think that there is always an avenue for our beef both in the United States and in Japan, which are our major markets, and also in the East and, if we can arrange it, in the European Economic Community countries. However, the odds are that the market will collapse. We all know, if we look at this matter realistically, that a strong agricultural lobby is at work in America. It is likely, with a presidential election coming up, that some counter-cyclical legislation could be introduced which would completely reverse the situation. The tail would then fall out of our cattle prices. Bullocks that are worth $500 today might be worth $100 tomorrow. We would then have to try to increase the local consumption again.
It would be much better if the Minister could lean on the AMLC to see that it takes the meat industry by the throat and exerts more influence over the industry to ensure that prices are kept at a realistic level all the time instead of having highs and lows. That would have ramifications right throughout the industry. It would mean that farmers would know approximately what they would get for their cattle. They would know that there would be a reasonable return. Of course we want a reasonable return for producers. With all the problems of national disasters, fires, droughts, locusts and the vagaries of nature that farmers face, of course they are entitled to a handsome return for their work. We do not dispute that, but we do not want to see the fluctuations in markets that have been experienced over the last few years.
In suggesting to the Minister that there is some real lack of logic, for one thing, and morality, for another, in continuing to place this levy on the slaughter of the cattle and, once having done that, increasing it, I point out to him the present local beef market situation. The costs of handling cattle have increased enormously over the last few years. I quoted some figures in the House before and I will do so again. I think that the honourable member for Paterson (Mr O’Keefe) will be pleased to hear them because they relate to prices for killing cattle at the Gunnedah abattoir in his electorate, and in which he has a vested interest. I agree with him that Gunnedah is the most efficient killing centre in New South Wales and the second cheapest. I do not dispute that at all.
Let me refer to the costs of handling cattle that were purchased at Tamworth, killed at Gunnedah and sold at Homebush. One dollar goes to a commission buyer and transport to the works costs $3. The kill charge is $16.65; hide handling costs 52c; cattle compensation is $1.10; the livestock levy is $1.84; the inspection fee is $1.50- that is the State inspection fee- freight and load-out charges are $6; Meat Board charges are $6.32; and cartage to shop costs $5.70. That is, it costs a total of $42.63 just to buy a beast, kill it and sell it wholesale in Sydney. This legislation will increase that cost by $2.
-Is that the average cost per head?
-That is the average cost per head. So we are looking at paying something like $45 to kill one beast. I suggest to honourable members that those people who are handling beef on the local market at the moment are going through a desperately bad time. The exporters have achieved great prosperity; good luck to them. The farmers have achieved enormous prosperity; good luck to them. Let me remind the farmers that when the export market collapses, as it may well do, they will be looking to the local meat wholesaler to pull them out of trouble as they did in the years between 1973 and 1977, by trying to push people to buy meat.
The current prices are going to push the farmers out of business unless someone is prepared to take the industry by the throat and choke some sense into it. The rate of consumption of local beef is going down and, in the long run, that is to the detriment of the industry. Retail meat prices in Australia at the moment are moving up to the level of world prices. The headlines in a Sydney newspaper this week state that fillet steak costs $9 a kilogram and that rump steak costs $6 a kilogram. Those are the sorts of prices that one would pay for beef in Europe. I do not think that the Australian public should be asked to pay those prices.
The solutions rest with the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation, the Minister for Primary Industry and the industry generally. I do not intend to suggest those solutions, but I suggest quite seriously that the AMLC, given the legislative powers that it has, could perhaps enter the export market as a principal exporter. I could not see any reason at all why the AMLC could not take charge of the export sales of meat in Australia or why, depending on the export quotas that apply, it could not on a proportionate basis deal out these orders to the people who have a quota.
We have the situation at the moment where all the exporters in Australia are compering against one another and clawing one another to death to buy the cattle that are available. This is making for enormous prices in cattle and is causing another one of the ebbs and flows, the troughs and waves, about which I spoke before. It would be very much better if we had some sort of plateau level where the farmer could receive a very handsome return on his stock while at the same time providing stock for the Australian local market at a reasonable price. The sooner that happens, the better.
I think that all primary producers believe that the people at the other end of the scale- the wholesale and retail butchers- play a very important part in turning farmers’ stock into money. As I have mentioned before- I think it is worth repeating- the farmer cannot march down to the bank with a herd of bullocks; the bank will not accept it. He needs cash. The butcher has been charged over many generations with the responsibility of turning the farmers’ stock into money. The wholesale butchers want to be at peace with the farmers. This present situation is quite ludicrous. I know of many instances which have occurred in New South Wales in the last couple of months of butchers having been on properties trying to buy cattle. The only way in which they could buy them was to produce the cash. This is a deplorable situation.
The farmers have made so much money out of cattle in the last 12 months that they are not marketing them until the end of June; or, if they do market them, they want to do so for illicit cash. I do not think that this is the sort of proposition that we on this side of the House want to support. I am sure it is not the sort of proposition that the National Country Party wants to support. I am sure that we share the National Country Party’s view that the sooner the beef industry is put back on a reasonable basis- that is, that there is a profit for everyone, that the farmer can look forward to the future with confidence knowing that his cattle will be worth a reasonable amount of money all the time, rather than being worth a lot of money one day and nothing the next- the better off the industry will be.
As I said at the outset, the reason we are opposing these Bills is twofold. Firstly, we think that the Commonwealth should, in line with the Industries Assistance Commission’s report, have a greater input in relation to a matter which is really a health problem- that is, the eradication of cattle disease. All the responsibility for this should not be pushed on to the industry, no matter who is paying for it. Secondly, we disagree with the way in which the levy is raised. We would like to see the levy go back to the producer where it historically belongs. Previously when the producer sold his cattle at an auction the levy was deducted by the stock and station agent from the proceeds. In that way the producer was substantially paying this levy which is imposed basically to advance his end of the industry. The present situation is that the levy is collected from the wholesale butcher or the exporter at the time the cattle are slaughtered. I think this is a totally immoral proposition. As I pointed out, it is backed up by the rationale put forward by the Minister when he altered the historical source of the levy.
Whilst we oppose the Bill, I point out to the House that, because of the volume of business before the House and because of the limited time available at the end of the session, we will not proceed to a division. However, we would like our opposition to these measures recorded very clearly.
– I am very pleased that the Opposition does not intend to divide the House on these Bills because for the life of me I could not understand from the Opposition’s new spokesman on agricultural matters, the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown), what he was complaining about. In fact, for the first part of his speech he seemed to me to be debating in support of most of the Government’s measures. At any rate, I congratulate him on leading for the Opposition in this area. It reminds me very much of a very famous former Leader of the Opposition, the late Arthur Calwell, who once said to the Prime Minister of the time, having dealt with the reason why all Service chiefs belonged to a different order from the one in which they fought during the war, that he appeared to make Minister for Primary Industry the biggest city slicker he could find in parliament whose total knowledge of agriculture was talking to his canary in his flat in the morning and watering his pot plants. I welcome the honourable member for Parramatta -
- Sir William McMahon.
– I hope he succeeds, as Sir William McMahon has, over a long and illustrious period in the Parliament. I think he will need to make his views a little more clear. I must acknowledge that in lieu of a canary and a pot plant, I think of a very prominent Australian race horse. I presume that his vast knowledge of rural matters stems very largely from running that horse on grass and feeding it, as well as perhaps other attributes of which I do not know about the honourable member for Parramatta. However, I beseech him the next time to make a little plainer to those of us of more ordinary mentality exactly why he intends to oppose Bills. I accept the fact that he does not intend to divide the House and I accept the reason given for this, namely, that there is not much time left in the session. In saying that there is not much time left, I hasten to add that he succeeded in speaking for half an hour nevertheless.
I would like to take up one or two of his comments initially. The first relates to trace back as regards the disease eradication program which he suggested, very properly, was the method that should be used once the level of disease on inspection is cut back to reasonable levels. He rather conveyed the view that the Federal Government was at fault because the program was not being used. I remind the honourable member that it is currently being used in Tasmania. Secondly, the honourable member mentioned the abattoirs at Gunnedah: They are abattoirs, I regret to say, which I have never had the pleasure of viewing.
– I extend an invitation to you right now.
– I must ask my friend whether he will have me along one day. I would like to go. My experience in abattoirs is limited to Samcor Abattoir at Gepps Cross in South Australia. That is the biggest disaster of a socialist’s dream that I have ever seen in my life. It has the highest charges for the processing of livestock in Australia today. That abattoir has a record of strike activity and of low productivity. Admittedly it is a service abattoir. That should cause anyone to question those odd critical remarks that the honourable member for Parramatta made regarding the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation a little while ago. It is without question a walking disaster, in spite of a very fair attempt at management by a very competent manager. The system for that service abattoir in South Australia is organised by politicians. Without question it is a walking disaster area for the primary producers. I would not have mentioned this except that in passing the honourable member for Parramatta brought up the matter of the abattoir at Gunnedah.
I return to the Bills which are before the House I do not intend to talk for very long. In fact, I look upon all these Bills really as being in a certain sense possible to debate together. I note that the Government has separated the Bills relating to export inspection charges which will be the next group we discuss from the Bills which are before the House at the moment. It is fair to say- I notice that the honourable member for Parramatta really took the same point- that in times of Government restraint all sections of the community have to bear some of the cost of Budget charges. The rural industry of which I am more aware than other sectors is no exception. I noted that immediately after the mini-Budget two newspapers took the view that the charges levied by the Government on the rural community were purely cosmetic to try to make the mini-Budget look fair. The others dealt quantitatively with the result without offering that sort of comment. The rural weeklies took up the matter in a considerably more vociferous fashion. In some institutions- I emphasise the word some’- some rural leaders played their own form of agricultural politics either to increase their ideas of their importance in the agricultural community or, in the case of one person, to cement a rather dicky situation that he was in with regard to continuing in his job. We are used to these things. However, the vast number of rural organisational leaders took the same responsible view that I feel the whole of this House will take on these Bills.
Of all sectors of the Australian economy, no sector wishes to see the Government cut back on big government more than the rural sector. No other sector would look with more horror at heavy government spending than the rural sector. That is why farmers vote in increasing numbers for the two Government parties. They do not want big government. They do not want all-embracing government action. They do not want to be coerced by a series of government regulations any more than they have to be. I expect that that also explains why there was a singular lack of local interest in the much vaunted Australian Labor Party conference held recently at Orange. The television program which I saw- I expect that it was honest in conveying to me how few people were at the conference- was, of course, blazoned across Australia much to the horror I imagine, of the organisers. Names on the guest speakers list were mainly of those people who would not vote for the ALP under any circumstances. However, it was a good attempt. I welcome in my loftier moments members of all parties who try to take some notice in detail of the problems of rural producers. In that sense I welcomed the Orange seminar, workshop or whatever it was termed.
I return to the point I made earlier. All sections of the community, except those in poor or deprived situations currently have had to bear some of the cost. Export inspection charges have been levied on rural exports, such as processed meat and livestock. Would anyone say that the wool industry, the lamb industry, the beef industry or the grain industry cannot alford to meet an increased share- not the totality- of these costs? I do not think that anyone in his right mind would argue that proposition. I am sure that most thinking farmers involved in those industries would not argue that proposition. To take an opposite point of view would be absurd. Farmers are to be asked to pay, not all, but an increased share of costs currently paid by the taxpayer. Is there any valid reason, other than wishing to control industries centrally- I acknowledge some of the points which the honourable member for Parramatta made- why the taxpayer who is also the consumer should be asked to pay too high a section of the costs we are currently debating? I acknowledge the fine mathematical argument of the honourable member with regard to the increasing costs of selling and processing meat to Sydney abattoirs. That is true. But most of the charge imposed by these Bills is to be borne by the primary producer who can afford it and by the consumer who, hopefully, has other alternatives to beef, if that is the example about which the honourable member for Parramatta asked us to think.
I do not talk as a full time or an entire single enterprise beef producer but as a producer with 800 breeding cows. I would say that the implication of this measure on my cost inputs is absolutely minimal. I would not deny, having sold a cow last week for $450, that I should pay some tax rather than have the taxpayer pick up the major share of these costs, whether they be export or internal. Farmers are having a good year generally both in high production due to fine seasonal conditions and also in export demand with its effect on high prices. Although in real terms any reasonable judgment of future returns could be compromised by increasing costs, farmers know and recognise the need to contain these rises by containing inflation. That, fundamentally, is what these Bills are all about. Farmers know that better than most because they largely sell on the export market. I know that quite well because I have been able to attend at least two meetings in rural areas since the mini-Budget. I do not think that there is much need to go over the implications of the Bills. That has been done adequately by the honourable member for Parramatta. Other matters of concern in this rural package are not mentioned in the Bills currently under discussion. But even when one includes the sort of matter which is not affected by these Bills- I would not like you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to accuse me of lack of relevance in this debate- the onus, or the load, is being borne not only by rural industries which can afford to bear it but also by those very rural industries that individually can best afford to bear it.
I conclude my remarks in very much the same fashion as I frequently do when speaking in States other than my own by saying this: As long as this Government remains in power and as long as I have a committee under me which is as competent as it is and which can help to bolster up its chairman, then there is no question whatsoever that in times of stress or trouble the rural industries of this nation can depend on the Government and on my committee to protect them from adversity. We have already produced schemes which belle some of the wishes of the previous speakers and that is that prices should not fluctuate from the farmer’s point of view. The honourable member for Parramatta knows very well that mechanisms and laws have been introduced by this Government such as the income equalisation deposit scheme, the tax averaging provisions and a wide variety of other schemes which almost remove from the farmers the protection that the honourable member felt they should have. If he was talking about the consumer, that is a different matter. I believe that in the future we have to look to steadying the price to the consumer who, fundamentally, bears the brunt of governments which in their wisdom enter new fields using taxpayers’ money and which on the other hand, have to pay the ultimate price. I think that what I have said is sufficient for a second reading debate. I repeat that as long as this Government and the competent Government parties rural committee exists, there is no fear for farmers in Australia in the future. I think that people on both sides of the party fence will be very pleased at the marvellous returns and conditions which farmers are currently experiencing.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, it is very disappointing when the Chairman of the Government’s Rural Committee can spend only about 14 minutes speaking on this most important industry, the beef industry. We on this side of the House have no problem whatsoever in addressing ourselves to the problems of this great industry. To speak for only 14 minutes, I think, rather insults the industry. It is no wonder that the honourable member for Angas is known as a bit of a disappointment to Roseworthy College as a graduate.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. I wonder whether the honourable member for Werriwa could keep his knowledge up to date. I am now the honourable member for Wakefield.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I do apologise for that, but I have been informed that some of the best graduates of Roseworthy College are on our side of the House. The honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown) has set out the Opposition’s view on this set of Bills. He has also told the House at length what the Industries Assistance Commission report, which was brought down on 10 April 1975, had to say about the question of brucellosis and tuberculosis. What we have largely received from the Government side on this matter is a story about the new-found wealth of the rural sector, how the economy of the rural sector is booming again so rural producers can afford to pay. Really what Government members were saying was that this legislation was part of a package and politically the rural industry had to take its little bit of pain.
We are expressing opposition to these Bills not because of the relative and recent affluence of the rural industry, but because these measures refer to a health matter. They refer to the eradication of disease in the cattle industry, disease communicable to human beings. We feel that in those circumstances there is a strong reason to point to the fact that this legislation has wider ramifications than just being the imposition on the industry of an economic measure. If we were as intellectually dishonest as members on the other side of the House were when in Opposition, we would say that these Bills reflected anti-rural bias because there is a 200 per cent increase in the levy. There is an attack on calves and bobby calves which have been included in the levy for the first time. This increase is designed to raise $23.26m in 1979-80. Talking about the economics of the industry for a moment, I guess what a lot of fellows in the bush are worried about is the fact that the moment an industry improves, the Government- it does not matter which Government- quickly gets stuck into it. The beef industry has picked up over the last four or five months. The moment there is a turnaround after about four or five years of desperate circumstances and negative income throughout the industry, a levy is put on, in this case a 200 per cent increase, which for the first time includes calves and bobby calves. But if there is another downturn in the industry with the price of little calves going down to about 50c or a dollar, there will be no way that producers will be able to afford to pay the levy. Therefore calves will be killed on the spot or they will disappear. Producers simply will not be able to afford to pay these charges. We agree that in those circumstances the Government would have to backtrack quickly on the policy announced in these Bills.
We oppose this legislation mainly on the grounds of inequity. There is a strong argument this way, and the Industries Assistance Commission pointed that out. I will go on to that in a moment. However, why should States which have little incidence of these diseases, tuberculosis and brucellosis, pay? Even within States there are great regional inequities. Some parts of States are virtually disease-free and there are other parts where the percentage of animals affected is relatively high compared with other parts. There is an argument in terms of overall social benefit to the community as a whole. As I said, brucellosis is a health risk to humans. Furthermore, the tax is high- a 200 per cent hike. The Labor Government introduced measures to step up the eradication campaign and it seems to me to be silly at this stage to be trying to milk the industry, trying to get a little more money out of it just because a package is brought in to gain more revenue and just because the industry’s fortunes have not been too bad for four or five months.
Looking at the history of the financial arrangements, we find that in 1969 the Australian Agricultural Council agreed on a basis of financial contributions by Australian and State governments to the foreshadowed national brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign. The Australian Government agreed at that time for the triennum commencing 1969-70 to match the combined expenditure ofthe State governments, to meet all expenditure in excess of $50,000 for eradication in Tasmania and to meet all costs in the Northern Territory.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting for dinner I was boring my audience rigid with an exposition on the history of the brucellosis and tuberculosis scheme. I was also pointing out the wicked anti-rural bias of this Government and saying that it has now discovered a means of taxing bobby calves, and all that flows from that.
– Yes, it is dreadful. I was pointing out the way this scheme was started in 1969, basically by the Australian Agricultural Council. The State Governments then agreed to maintain their contributions at the 1968-69 levels and also to increase them if possible. The Animal Health Committee of the Australian Agricultural Council was to administer the campaign and to allocate the Australian Government contribution between States. For 1972-73, the first year of the next triennium, the principle of equal contributions by the Australian and State Governments was changed. In that year, the Australian Government agreed to make available $3.6m and the States a total of $2.1m. The States indicated it was likely that they would increase their contribution by 10 per cent for 1973-74 and a further 10 per cent for 1974-75. Projections of finance to be provided for future years anticipated further movement away from the equal contribution principle.
In the Budget of 1973, the Australian Government introduced a levy of 0.6c per lb on all beef and veal exports to recoup the Australian Government’s share of finance provided for the eradication of brucellosis and tuberculosis from 1973-74. It is also proposed to have a cognate debate on the next group of Bills and I guess they will have more to say about the levy. It was not intended that the Government would recoup its contribution for tuberculosis slaughter compensation. Apart from that, the levy was intended to recover all of the Australian Government’s contribution over the 3 years from 1973-74. Because of the sharp decline in exports of meat from Australia the levy did not fully recover this expenditure.
In general, with the additional finance available from 1970, new provisions designed to afford a greater degree of control of brucellosis were introduced. Surveys were undertaken to determine the regional prevalence of brucellosis and areas were classified according to the extent of infection. Where prevalence was found to be relatively high, a control area was declared and compulsory vaccination of all female calves was introduced. In Victoria the whole of the State was declared a control area even though prevalence was generally low in all areas. In this case, compulsory vaccination was considered the best and least expensive method of holding the prevalence at low levels until sufficient finance and facilities were available to implement a program of test and slaughter. In Western Australia, by contrast, compulsory vaccination was considered inappropriate for areas of low infection, and in such areas vaccination with the serum 45/20 was carried out only in herds known to be infected. Tasmania was virtually free of brucellosis by the end of 1973 and that is why we are raising one of our objections. If a State is free, why should it pay the levy?
Western Australia and part of the Northern Territory have proceeded beyond vaccination to the test and slaughter stage. New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia indicated in 1975 that the prevalence of brucellosis in some areas of their States was low enough to begin a test and slaughter program. All States, except New South Wales and the Northern Territory, have acted to protect brucellosis free areas. The legislation differs slightly between States but usually requires that a health certificate be furnished with introduced cattle and that there be negative reaction to a diagnostic test. Similar restrictions apply to intra-state cattle movements to free areas except in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. Effective administration of these controls by the State Departments of Agriculture is essential to prevent the spread of the disease, especially in areas where brucellosis has been eradicated as cattle in these areas become highly susceptible to infection.
The success of cattle movement controls in isolating the disease in known areas of infection depends on the quality of the test on which the restrictions are based. Where movements of cattle into disease free areas are authorised on the basis of a test which may yield a false negative, this inadvertently increases the risk of infection. This danger is illustrated by a Tasmanian example. In May 1973, infection was found in an area of Tasmania where there had been no infection for 14 years. The Tasmanian Department of Agriculture stated that it believed infection was introduced in a cow from Victoria which had been tested in Quarantine on several occasions without showing a reaction.
The State Departments of Agriculture in Tasmania and Western Australia have shown that abattoir monitoring is an efficient method of surveillance once the prevalence in an area has been reduced. Under such a scheme, all cattle to be slaughtered carry a tail or back tag to identify the property of origin. Similar schemes currently operate in the Northern Territory and in all States except Queensland where the property of origin of diseased cattle is identified by cattle brands.
A feature of the test and slaughter program in Western Australia is a complementary scheme of certification and accreditation of herds free of brucellosis. This ensures a supply of registered disease free herds from which stock replacements may be obtained. The Western Australia Department of Agriculture says that the scheme provides quite an incentive for registered disease free herds, which were previously infected, to maintain precautions against reinfection. Another incentive for farmers in Western Australia to comply with the eradication program is the withholding of compensation unless there is producer co-operation in the program.
There are wide regional differences, as I have already mentioned, within States except for Tasmania. Again we feel we need to raise some objection because of the equity argument. For example, it was stated in 1975 that in the Western Division of New South Wales the prevalence of brucellosis was well below one per cent while in the Moree watercourse area it was 7 per cent. In New South Wales the average prevalence level is about 2 per cent and in the Australian Capital Territory it is even lower. However, progress towards eradication in the Australian Capital Territory is related to the progress in New South Wales because of unrestricted cattle movement between the two areas. The Victorian Department of Agriculture indicated that the prevalence in that State was somewhere in the range of nil to 3 per cent. In South Australia the prevalence ranges from 0.4 per cent in some beef areas to 3 per cent in some dairy areas. In about 1975-76 the State average was about 1 .8 per cent.
I am quoting from parts of the Industries Assistance Commission report. In 1975 no comprehensive information on brucellosis prevalence in Western Australia or Queensland was available, although it was indicated that in Western Australia it was thought the prevalence was generally low. In Queensland it was thought that the prevalence of brucellosis was greater than 2 per cent along the eastern coast and in the far western areas but in all other areas of the State the prevalence was below 2 per cent. Summing up, it seems we are getting on top of this disease in all those States.
I would like to raise the problem of the taxation formula. Here again, in these Bills we have a beef export charge. It is now on a per head basis but before it was on a per pound basis. I believe it would be better to have an ad valorem charge related to the value of the beast. I regard the export charge not being collected on an ad valorem basis as being a disadvantage. Because the charge is specific the proportionate burden placed on producers increases during periods of low beef prices and reduces during periods of high prices. Consequently, as a proportion of the price, the charge increases during periods when the producer can afford it least and, as price variations are closely associated with income variations from beef production, the charge contributes in a way to the instability of producer incomes.
I believe that an ad valorem tax would be preferable. I accept that there are administrative problems associated with it. Ad valorem taxes are better attuned to capacity to pay and hence are more equitable between producers at a specific time- that is, between those who sell high quality, high price beef and those who sell low quality, low price beef- and more equitable between one period and another; that is, between periods of high prices and the periods of low prices. Ad valorem taxes are more equitable also in that they probably better reflect the levels of benefits received, which are more closely related to the value of export sales than to the weight of meat exported. Finally, and still quoting largely from the report of the Industries Assistance Commission, it did comment on the incidence of taxation, quite apart from its preference for ad valorem taxation. I also prefer ad valorem. It said that the incidence on the dairy and beef industries at that rime was quite different. We can at least say that this Bill does pick up that point and does tax the beef sector.
As I said at the outset, we have some objections to this legislation but we will not put it to a division. I hope that I have explained the reason to the House. Basically it gets back to the matter of equity- the fact that there are inequities as between the States and regional differences in the prevalence of this disease within the States. It seems to me that it is very important to the industry overall, and the export sector in particular, that we finally get on top of these diseases. The Government should not be seen by the rural community as trying to avoid its responsibility in this area. As I also said at the outset, there is also the question of brucellosis being transmittable to human beings. I think there is a logical, sensible argument in terms of taxation, equity and social justice, if I can put it that way, for the Government taking up a fair share of its burden and not trying to pass it on to the industry just because the industry is now going through a period of relative affluence. It is for these reasons that we believe that the Government should look at this matter again.
If the beef cycle- if I can call it that in terms of the high prices at present- goes into a downturn as suddenly as we have seen it come into an upturn, I think the Government will have to think very quickly about the level of taxation it is imposing on the industry. The industry has picked up only in the last four or five months. I do not think we will have the sustainable supply of beef that we have had in the past because the industry has had the stuffing knocked out of it over the last four or five years. For those reasons and the reasons put forward by my colleague the honourable member for Parramatta, who pointed out that there were quite a few recommendations in the Industries Assistance Commission’s report that the Government has not taken up and that the IAC had put forward very strong arguments for the fact that the Government should be involved, we raise some doubts about these Bills.
-The purpose of the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Amendment Bill is to amend the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Act 1964 to increase the maximum rates of levy which may be prescribed for cattle disease eradication and to provide for the introduction of levies on the slaughter of two categories of calves. A major export market, the United States of America, and a number of other countries are on the way towards eradicating tuberculosis and brucellosis. In the past 3 years Australia has provided grants totalling $8.5m for the compulsory slaughter of reactor animals. Over the same period the Government has advanced $47m for campaign operations which, of course, are carried out by the various State departments of agriculture. It can be seen therefore that the Government views the eradication of disease from our cattle herds as being of the utmost importance.
Given the marked improvement in cattle returns, it has been decided to increase the industry’s rate of contribution to brucellosis and TB eradication control. The levy on cattle is being increased from $ 1 to $3 per head. The Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation has requested that a levy should be placed on calves slaughtered. Until now calves under 90 kilograms dressed weight have been exempt from levy. Bobby calves are to be levied at 10 per cent of the rate for cattle. The rate for heavy calves is approximately 35 per cent of the cattle rate. For disease eradication, the proposed maximum levels are, respectively, 30c and $ 1 per head. The levies are to take effect from 1 July next at the maximum levels in the Bill, namely, $3, $1 and 30c per head. This is expected to raise $23. 26m in a full year.
The other four Bills which are being considered in this cognate debate relate to the implementation of the various levels mentioned in the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Amendment Bill. The honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown), whose opinion I respect in relation to matters concerning the meat and livestock industry, has described the levies that have been imposed by the Government in this instance as a bit harsh. The honourable member should remember that when the Australian Labor Party was in power in 1974 and the cattle industry was practically on its knees, it made no effort at all to decrease the levy. Should there be a downturn in the cattle prices, this Government certainly will be prepared to review the levies that this legislation places on the cattle industry. We will reconsider these levies; there is no doubt about that.
The honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Kerin) has stated that the levy of $3 a head for cattle and the smaller amount for calves is a dreadful tax. Considering the prices that are being paid for our cattle at the market today, it is not a dreadful tax. Record sales of beef are being made to the United States of America, Japan, Korea, Canada and Iran. The Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran has agreed to buy 5,000 tonnes of beef from this country. So it is essential that we make sure that the meat going to these countries is free of diseases. Japan will buy 63,000 tonnes of beef between July and December of this year. Recently it was a pleasure for me to be in Japan as part of a government delegation. We met Mr Ota, the Chairman of the Japanese Livestock Board, and questioned him in regard to increased purchases of Australian beef by that country. We could see after a few weeks there that the Japanese housewife was most dissatisfied with paying $A24 per lb for Kobe beef and that she would be pressing the Japanese Government to import more Australian beef, which sells on that market for $A6 or $A7 per lb. This has come to pass. Again, we must make certain that our beef arrives in that country disease free.
Our present cattle herds are down to the figure of 23,935,000. In recent weeks the figure of 26 million head of cattle has been quoted in the Press. This afternoon, I contacted the Australian Bureau of Statistics in Canberra and was advised that its interim figure as at 31 March was 23,935,000 head- that is, in the last two yean there has been a diminution of one third in Australia’s beef cattle numbers. The Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation possibly will be unable to meet the current market demand by the end of next year due to a sharper than expected decline in the national cattle herd. In the opinion of this organisation, even with a moderate rate of cattle herd rebuilding, Australia’s beef production could drop by an estimated 27 per cent in the next two years. In March of this year 884,000 beef cattle were slaughtered in Australia. That is the highest figure since June of last year.
Let us look at what the Industries Assistance Commission had to say when it conducted an inquiry into the eradication of disease. The Commission was asked in 1975 to conduct an investigation, and I think it would be appropriate to quote its findings on disease control in cattle. In respect of brucellosis, it stated:
That eradication is justified on three grounds-
That is what this Government is doing. It is assisting the industry financially, as it has done over the years. It is essential to the industry that Commonwealth Government funds be made available for the eradication of brucellosis and tuberculosis. The fifth finding of the Commission states:
That compensation for full market value should be paid and that 75 per cent of net compensation costs should be met by the Australian Government and the remaining 25 per cent by the various State Governments.
Let me turn to the very serious problems that are facing abattoirs in this country at the moment. With the downturn in cattle numbers the abattoirs are trading at a considerable loss. In my electorate of Paterson there are four major abattoirs located at Mudgee, Gunnedah, Maitland and Aberdeen. The works at Mudgee, Gunnedah and Maitland are local government works, they are service works. They kill on behalf of operators, who get the edible meat, and the works get a killing fee and the non-edible byproducts. Because of the downturn in cattle numbers these works at the moment are finding it very difficult financially to carry on. The works at Maitland normally kill 1,600 to 2,000 head of cattle but that number is down to 600 and the abattoir is working a four-day week. The Cudgegong works near Mudgee normally kill 1 ,700 to 2,000 head of grown cattle but it is down to 430 head a week and is operating on a three-day week. The Gunnedah abattoir, which normally slaughters 3,200 head of cattle, is down to anything from 700 to 1,000 head. This is a serious situation. It indicates that in this country there is a shortage of cattle which is seriously affecting market supplies. This shortage has pushed up the price of cattle on markets. The high prices are due to the reduced numbers of cattle in the United States of America and in this country.
Australia’s present turnoff for slaughter is not much in excess of domestic requirements plus the United States quota, and this will diminish further in 1979-80. Prices are high in the United States because of reduced cattle numbers there, and this is leading to a strong demand for imported beef. This demand will continue for the next two or three years. The United States can and will pay more than any other market for our export beef. The United States quota therefore has first call on Australia’s exportable surplus. Other countries will get only what is left over. The United States has placed stringent hygiene requirements on our meatworks. It is extremely keen on a high standard of hygiene and on the export of disease free carcass meat to that country. Therefore it is extremely important that the program for the eradication of brucellosis and tuberculosis be carried on throughout Australia.
The United States prices are now about 20c per lb above the price in any other market, except the Canadian and Japanese chilled beef markets, where the margin is 5c to 10c. The United States entitlement under the arrangements is now 2 lc to 22c per lb, which is reflected in current market prices. Cattle values are now so high that operators are unable to supply any markets other than those in North America and Australia without substantial losses. Recently a member of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation said that Australia had no hope of filling the export orders for beef, live sheep and live cattle that are currently pouring in from all over the world. He continued:
Just 13 months ago we were literally praying for people to buy our meat, but couldn’t get any orders from anybody.
What a change has taken place! We now have orders for our disease-free meat from the United States of America, Canada, Korea, Japan, as I have already mentioned, and also from Iraq and Iran. Orders are coming in from other areas as well. Today the situation is the exact reverse from that of 12 months ago, to the point where there is no way in the world that we can fill the orders we are now getting. This is a desperate situation for our livestock industry when it is considered that 12 months ago the market was depressed, cattle producers’ costs had caught up with them and they were in dire straits. As honourable members know, the Government brought in a cattle compensation scheme and paid out approximately $117m to assist cattle producers to maintain some sort of viability. But within a few months of the completion of that program the industry is faced with a market situation in which it is having difficulty in fulfilling orders. The Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation predicted that beef cattle numbers would bottom out at 26.7 million over the next 1 8 months, but many people now believe that it will be more like 25 million, compared with the peak of more than 33 million in 1976. A few moments ago it was said that statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that as at 3 1 March the interim figure was about 23 million.
The meat industry missed out by $649 on becoming Australia’s second largest export earner in the seven months to 31 January. Exports of meat and meat preparations earned $868,052,000 in the period, which represents a 43 per cent jump and elevated meat from fifth to third place in the export league. The biggest contributor to Australia’s balance of payments remained metalliferous ores, mainly iron ore. Second on the list was coal, coke and briquettes which rose from $829m to $869m. However, meat now plays an important role in Australia’s export trade. This year it is estimated that meat exports will be worth $ 1,500m to the end of December. Housewives in Australia who want disease-free meat- meat free from brucellosis and tuberculosis- last year purchased 60,000 tonnes of Austraiian beef. I suppose that because of high prices on the market today the housewife will probably think twice before she buys beef and puts it on the menu. But let us look at the situation. Whilst the higher prices at the saleyards were helping beef producers beef was still cheap in Australia compared with overseas. As I said a while ago, Kobe beef was selling at $24 per lb in supermarkets in Japan. A family needs to work fewer hours to buy a pound of meat today than it did 20 or even 10 years ago. It is important to the housewife that she compare meat price movements with prices for other commodities. Beef prices, adjusted for inflation, are 25 per cent lower now than they were at the 1973-74 peak and 10 per cent lower than at any other time between 1966 and 1972. So the Government is wise at this time to bring in these increased levies in order to eradicate diseases, namely, tuberculosis and brucellosis. The Government believes that because of the increased prices being obtained for meat in Australia, particularly beef, that the producers are able to withstand these charges. Furthermore, it is essential that Australia’s meat, both that for export and that for domestic consumption, be disease free. The legislation which is before the chamber tonight is supported by honourable members on this side of the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Adermann) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 28 May, on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-As I mentioned in opening my speech in the cognate debate, the Opposition opposes the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Collection Amendment Bill. To assist the House to get through the business on hand, we do not want to proceed to a division but we wish our strong opposition to these Bills to be recorded. With your indulgence, Mr Acting Speaker, I hope that that has been done by Hansard.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Adermann) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 28 May, on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Adermann) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 29 May, on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Adermann) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 29 May, on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Adermann) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 28 May, on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– May I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill, the Live-stock Slaughter (Export Inspection Charge) Collection Bill 1 979, the Grain (Export Inspection Charge) Bill 1979, the Grain (Export Inspection Charge) Collection Bill 1979 and the Wool Industry Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1979 as they are related measures. Separate questions will, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore, Mr Acting Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the five Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the five measures? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
– If the Opposition were as intellectually dishonest as were the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), the National Country Party and the Liberal Party when in opposition, we would be thumping the table, screaming, ranting and roaring about these Bills and accusing the Government of having an in-built, anti-rural bias. When the Labor Government introduced its Meat Export Charge Bill in 1973- at that time the situation was similar to the present one; beef prices were going through the roof, the export sector had picked up and the net income in the farm sector had risen by $756m to over $ 1,800m- it was accused of anti-rural bias by the Minister for Primary Industry who was then in Opposition. I wish to read from a speech which was made at that time by the present Minister for Primary Industry. 1 shall refer in particular to a speech he made on 18 September 1973 when he was in opposition. He said:
It is a Bill which the Opposition dislikes. It dislikes it because of the Bill’s philosophical foundation and practical shortcomings. The Bill has been drafted with three objects in mind: Firstly, that the meat export industry should pay for export inspection and disease eradication charges when no other export industry pays for such charges. Secondly, that the imposition of a charge on meat for export will divert supplies to the domestic market. Thirdly, that because the industry is affluent at present it should be subjected to a supplementary tax- a tax on profitability. All three points are invalid. The philosophical foundation of the Bill is another reflection of the anti-rural bias of this Government.
That was said by the honourable member for New England, the present Minister for Primary Industry, when the Labor Government introduced a Bill- a levy measure- at a time when the situation in the beef industry was similar to the present one. These Bills which are being debated cognately not only impose a tax on the beef industry but also for the first time impose taxes on the grain exports and on the wool industry with respect to the testing of wool.
The Labor Government was kicked and accused of bashing the rural community. Yet this Government has the gall to say in the House that it is all right to do it now. The honourable member for New England accepted a levy of lc per lb at that time but would not accept the 1.6c per lb levy which the Labor Government proposed. He would not believe that lc per lb was for beef export inspection; he would not believe that that amount would cover the cost of inspection. He would not accept that 0.6c per lb was to be assigned to the tuberculosis and brucellosis eradication scheme. I refer to the speech of the Minister for Primary Industry again. He stated:
If there is to be a levy it should not be lc per lb but about 0.7c per lb.
Unfortunately this is not what the Government is proposing. The Government realises that if it strikes a rate of lc per lb for basic inspection services it will get about $1 5m which can be paid into Consolidated Revenue.
Even worse in terms of the general debate and speeches made by other speakers, the Opposition at that time implied that we were trying to impose a tax which was beyond a measure to recoup the charges for inspection of meat. The honourable member for New England at that time also pointed out our alleged anti-rural bias and used the argument that the levy was geographically selective. He said that it fell on the northern beef growers who were the fellows exporting and that it discriminated against northern Australia. I guess that if that were a valid argument then, we have to ask: Does it still fall on the northern beef producers?
I will again read from what the honourable member for New England, who is now the Minister for Primary Industry, had to say. He stated:
The Opposition sees this Bill as another example by this Government of its lack of concern for country industries; of its lack of concern for exporting industries; and of its lack of concern for the total Australian economy.
Those were pretty hard words. If he meant what he said and if the argument held true then it must hold true now. Of course it was just a bit of nonsense. The then Opposition was irresponsible. It would say anything. But there was a little bit of consistency. When the present Government came into power in December 1975 it lifted the levy in February 1976. What other hypocrisies can we point to? What other aid did the Government give to the beef industry when it came into power? I was very attraced by some of the speeches that honourable members, then in opposition, put forward during the period 1972 to 1975 concerning the plight of the beef industry. They gave it to us book, chapter and verse. What they said about the industry, particularly for the period from 1974 onwards, was pretty true. The fact of the matter is that after coming into power the only positive step which the Government took to aid the beef industry was to remove the levy in February 1976.
In the 1977-78 Budget no mention was made of additional assistance for the beef industry. The line in the Budget appropriation table reading ‘Assistance to Industries’ was left blank. In other words nothing was allocated in that Budget, as compared with $ 1 1.3m in Labor’s last
Budget for beef industry loans. In 1977 the Government decided that it needed an early election. So after the Budget was brought down with no mention of further assistance to the beef industry, the Government trotted out a scheme and it was raced through for electoral purposes. This was known as the beef incentive payments scheme. It was a device to get funds into the hands of beef producers. I accept the administrative problems inherent in that process. The Government selected a scheme which was administratively difficult but other schemes were just as hard to administer.
The Government wanted to put funds into the hands of producers. I think it can be clearly and honestly said that in many ways the Government raced that scheme through because it was an election bribe. If it were an election bribe we can say that the Government panicked. It realised that it had been in government for nearly two years and that it had hammered the Labor Government for three years about doing nothing for the beef industry. Then the Government suddenly found another election on its hands. It wanted an election so this beef incentive payments scheme was raced through. The scheme was set up in about seven weeks and was done in such a hasty manner that it is now subject to investigation by the Parliamentary Joint Committee of Public Accounts. This is as a result of problems which the Auditor-General has found. In the bush where the scheme was applied it was known as: ‘The slap a cow on the bum scheme’, because various means were worked out. If a cow was given a drench or was vaccinated- as long as one did something to the cow- one would get $10. At that stage 90,000 to 100,000 holdings were recorded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as having beef. In October-November 1977 some 750,000 forms were printed and sent out to every beef farmer, every bank and every post office. The countryside was flooded with pamphlets. It was not a bad dodge. But 750,000 forms were sent out for electoral purposes, in a way at taxpayers’ expense. The first 100 cheques were posted out to beef producers with a great fanfare on 30 November 1977.
The scheme has now gone through and is largely wound up. Eventually there were 90,000 claims and some $ 1 1 7m was paid out. So the Opposition cannot accuse this Government of doing nothing for the beef industry but it took the election of 1 977 to provoke it. It did virtually nothing for three years except lift the levy to which it was so philosophically opposed but which it now finds philosophical grounds for reimposing.
When we introduced the States Grants (Beef Industry) Bill in mid- 1975 we were accused of acting too late and only at the behest of the States. The then Opposition was most eloquent at that time in pointing to the desperate plight of the beef industry. We all admit that the beef industry was in trouble. But the Opposition on becoming the Government waited for two years after November 1975 before it did anything and then that was done only for electoral purposes. This was the worst period for the beef industry in Australian history. I think it is hypocrisy if we look back at statements made by the Government when it was in Opposition. If it was wrong to levy for beef in 1 973-74 why is it not wrong now? It is inconsistent for the Government to act in this fashion and I think this inconsistency and hypocrisy needs to be pointed out. We would like to point out with respect to the imposition of this tax- as we pointed out in the previous debate on the other measures that have been introducedthat the moment the industry picks up and gets good, as it has in the last four or five months, it cops it.
We do not know how long the industry will continue in its present buoyant state. I suspect that the female herd is seriously depleted and that we will have a big supply problem even if the price holds up. We do not know the export market. I know that the Government is claiming great success with respect to its forays overseas to gain export markets. The Government went over to the European Economic Community and kicked its head in. We are told that that is good diplomacy and that that is how one gets on well with the EEC. We concede that the Japanese market that suddenly closed up in 1974 has now opened to us and that the problems that were experienced with the American market have got better in recent years. I believed then, as I believe now, that by and large export markets for Australian beef are determined largely by internal politics in those countries and by their own supply and demand situation. We will not analyse the American beef cycle.
When the Opposition was in government I argued that a viable rural industry preferred to pay its own way. It preferred to pay for charges that could sensibly be levied upon it. The charges that we imposed were at the abattoir level. It was an export levy. I could never see how this could be handed back to the producers one way or the other and even when the levy was dropped by the Government in 1976 it was very hard then to find evidence of pass-back or flow-on with respect to this sort of levy. I do not know what influence a levy at a point of export has at the actual saleyard, and whether the producer gains or loses. In keeping with the notion of selfreliance which the rural sector and the beef industry in particular have, I think that they do not want subsidies. What they do want is help and understanding of their problems when they are experiencing a severe downturn. I point out that the Labor Government gave concessional loans and extended that sort of assistance to the beef industry which was largely in keeping with some of the recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission at that time. The industry did not take up the loans at the rate that was expected and this was due mainly to their great doubts about the immediacy of prospects in the future. I do not think we can say that we did not do anything for the beef industry. The Government which came into power in 1975 really failed to do anything for two years except, as I have said, take off the levy of 1.6c per lb.
It is for the reasons I have given that the Opposition does not oppose these Bills. We do accept that the user pays principle is a valid and sensible one. The industry does prefer to pay its own way. There is no outstanding public interest involved where this should be paid by the taxpayer. There do not seem to be any social inequities or inequalities involved. It is simply a tax levied at a certain level to recoup some 50 per cent of the export charges. The levy for beef is estimated to gain something like $16.25m. The levy on grains- the first that the Government has achieved-amounts to $656,000, and $167,500 will be gained from the wool industry in terms of the testing authority.
The Government has achieved a first, but we are saying that it is reasonable for inspection services to be paid for by the industry. I point out that things can be done with respect to some of these inspection services. My colleague the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown), as far back as 18 October 1978, raised the problem of dual inspection services. He pointed out that in November 1976 1,462 Commonwealth and 376 State meat inspectors were employed at export abattoirs throughout Australia. I will not go through the figures. I am sure that honourable members are well aware of the problems experienced with dual export inspection services. People have been talking about them ever since I became a member of this House in 1 972. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) promised an inquiry last December into dual inspection services. We have heard nothing since. We hope that this is not another broken promise. We hope that an inquiry will be made at some time in the future. The Government has achieved a first in levying the grains industry and the wool industry. It has reimposed a levy on the beef industry which was so stringently and strenuously opposed in 1 973.
Let me at this stage canvass some of the issues concerning beef stabilisation. This is another matter that is raised particularly when a downturn occurs in the beef industry. It is also raised when the beef industry is experiencing boom conditions and consumers are starting to pay possibly a lot more for beef. We could go through some of these issues. We all know the problems. The farmers would prefer a stable price regime instead of this boom- bust situation. First we need to discuss the stabilisation measures proposed. They are supposed either to stabilise income or to stabilise price. It is totally absurd to try to stabilise income, particularly in the beef industry, in terms of the product itself. The Government’s income equalisation deposit scheme probably does more to stabilise income than any other measure, including tax averaging and so on.
Moves have also been made with respect to carcass classification. Although the carcass classification scheme helps with respect to other schemes that can be proposed in stabilisation terms, there is no use thinking that on its own it will do much to stabilise the beef industry. The States are putting up different schemes. They seem to have some legislation that promises something but I do not know what they have actually delivered as yet. All sorts of different interpretations have been placed on the State schemes.
The basic problems for the beef industry will remain even with stabilisation schemes. Beef cannot be stored over long periods. We can talk about buffer stock schemes, but it is quite certain that the beef cannot be stored over long periods. It is absurd even to canvass these issues. Any sort of scheme concerning the beef industry is horrendously difficult to administer due to its structure and the fact that the product is perishable and on the hoof. Supply and demand schemes, I believe, are also horrendously difficult. Most of the supply and demand schemes I have looked at eventually seem to me to be not feasible. How the heck can a supply scheme be managed in Australia when the market can be in or out of cycle with the United States? Beef cycles in one country are not of predictable frequency. The feedlot mechanism in the United States, if I can describe it that way, determines to a great extent the availability of beef in that country. Other countries which export to the world markets are almost totally dependent on the weather. Any attempts to administer supply and demand schemes will lead to horrendous difficulties.
Even if the supply of beef could be controlled to let it on to the market evenly, I think that opportunities would often be missed. The production loss in a certain period might be worse than the price and income loss over another period. How would the supply of beef be controlled between producers? The setting up of any sort of price schedule, I believe, would produce black markets, particularly in the southern States. As I said, any buffer stock scheme would have problems with storage because beef is a perishable commodity. It would be totally inapplicable and hopeless to have buffer stock on the hoof particularly when heading into a drought. There is no way that beef can be stored on the hoof heading into a drought. It simply dies.
I think we need to put the situation into perspective. Until the dramatic events of the 1970s, the beef industry had not experienced prolonged periods of low prices and incomes. This industry was rather good compared with others in the rural sector. By and large there was no need for government action; and no government action was asked for. I well remember that in 1973, when the Labor Government inquired into meat prices, the beef industry certainly wanted no intervention in any shape by the Government. Another year or two later it was a different matter.
The beef industry’s independence and the fact that it has not needed government assistance until the 1970s are very much due to its structure. It is due in part to the financial structure of the northern industry, which has large units and the fact that beef is associated with a very diversified farming sector in southern Australia. Buffer stock and buffer fund schemes can be used in the handling of wool and wheat, but stabilisation schemes in other industries are more or less used as permanent price support schemes.
If we look at the other sorts of schemes that are used in the rural sector and apply them to the beef industry we come up against rather profound stumbling blocks. I think it can be said that it is not possible to use the two-price schemes that prevail in some industries. Domestic demand is responsive to price and therefore meat is substitutable internally. A high internal price regime for beef simply cannot be held. It is difficult to keep domestic and export markets separate. The use of such a scheme would be interpreted, quite rightly, as dumping by our trading partners. There are quite a few buffer fund schemes. By and large they come down to two classifications: A point of sale buffer fund scheme and a payment to producers fund scheme. The Bureau of Agricultural Economics calculated that in 1974 to 1977, when the industry was going through its most profound downturn, some $600m to $800m would have been needed to provide a buffer fund scheme to see the industry through that period. Given the financial constraints of the Liberal-National Country Party Government, particularly since it came to power in 1975, 1 cannot see the Government putting forward that sort of money.
Administrative problems are also associated with the point of sale scheme and the payment to producers scheme. If the levy is imposed at the point of slaughter, ownership is a problem. Classification is handy to assess the value of the beef and how much the owner should be paid. As we all know, the farmers in the European Economic Community could give the graziers in Australia plenty of lessons on how to get paid twice for the same beast. The scheme is very difficult to administer. Let us look at the payment to producers scheme. The BAE did some calculations on what would be involved in farmers trying to administer the scheme themselves with checking by others. Farmers would tend to overstate the birth rates and to understate death rates. Hence the only people who would really benefit in the long term, I would assume, would be the pasture protection boards.
I have gone a little beyond the scope of the Bills. I understand that my colleague the honourable member for Riverina (Mr FitzPatrick) will speak on the grain and wool aspects of this set of Bills which are designed to collect about 50 per cent of the export charges. As I said at the outset, we are not opposing these Bills. We feel that the industries not only can afford the payment at this time but also that it is reasonable to impose charges that benefit exporting industries on those industries. My remarks apply also to the other Bills. It seems to me to be a little unfair to reimpose this tax just after the beef industry has been through by far its most severe down turn. It is only just starting to recover. If the Government has to introduce these measures to show that it is acting politically equal with respect to the preliminary or mini-budget, and if the beef industry subsequently has a down turn or finds that it cannot maintain production levels anywhere near what it did in the past, in the last boom, I think the Government will have to very quickly review its decisions.
Finally, I would like to say again that if this Opposition was as intellectually dishonest as the previous government was when in Opposition, we would be declaring these Bills as anti-rural Bills. We would be saying that the Government has an inbuilt anti-rural bias. We would be tear- ing through the country saying that. Strangely enough, those industry organisations that, basically, had our guts for garters in 1973 are not saying much. I saw one Press release from a major rural organisation saying that it is fair enough at this point to impose this levy for that gives the Government a good reason to be able to get stuck into the social welfare area in the Budget to be presented in a couple of months. I hope that the Government does not take that course.
– I would like to refer to a few comments made by the previous speaker, the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Kerin). One of the points that he made when speaking about the beef market and access was that we went to the European Economic Commission and got our heads kicked in. I do not think he has read the statement made by the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland). We have gained real access to the EEC under the multilateral trade negotiations. So much so that both the dairy industry and the fruit industry are saying that everything has been gained for the beef industry at their expense. I do not believe that. But, contrary to what the honourable member said, real access is being gained.
The honourable member for Werriwa also made some comment about dual meat inspection. He made the noise which we all make- that it is a waste of money, that it is inefficient, that it is about time something was done, and we have not heard anything on this subject from the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) for months. Has not the honourable member for Werriwa ever heard of the ‘Modest Member’? The Kelly inquiry is now under way to try to overcome this problem of dual meat inspection. If my memory is correct, I think that one of the reasons why it took so long to get started was the intransigence of the New South Wales State Labor Government. For a long time that Government refused to allow its abattoirs to be included in the inquiry.
Then the honourable member for Werriwa tried to give the impression that we were in Government in 1975. Labor was in Government for virtually all of 1975. That was the period when the bottom was reached in the beef market. That was the period when nothing was done to implement the Industries Assistance Commission report on brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication. That was the time when nothing was done to alleviate the cost of the beef industry. He also referred to buffer fund schemes and the other aspects of the report of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. I acknowledge that it is a dead issue now and that it will remain a dead issue until the next collapse in the meat market. I also acknowledge that objective measurement, meaning classification in this case, is a prerequisite for some form of fund scheme. I want to make this point most strongly: The scheme does work in New Zealand. It has limitations- any scheme has limitations- but it is part of a series of far better marketing arrangements for New Zealand producers than this country has or will have for many years. I do not accept the BAE arguments regarding buffer fund schemes. I believe that we will live to see the day, unfortunately, when there is another collapse in the market and when we will have to do something constructive in that area.
The total increase in the charges in the seven livestock Bills associated with the two series of cognate debates is a very high 198 per cent. On a per adult beast basis it will increase from the present total of $2.20 to $5.82. For dairy bobby calves it is even more severe. I believe that the industry should have been allowed more time to recover financially before imposing these charges. People forget that although the prices received for cattle are now very satisfactory, they have not been at this level long enough for quite a percentage of those in the meat producing industry, particularly beef producers, to have shared in the revival. As other honourable members have pointed out, prices can collapse just as dramatically as they have burgeoned. If prices plummet the Government has a responsibility to remove these additional charges and support the industry. I am confident that a Liberal-National Country Party Government would do this because it very quickly removed the meat inspection charges when returned to office in 1976. Australian Labor Party speakers have referred to this responsibility for the government and have indicated their sympathy. I only hope that they will be more genuine next time than they were in the 1974-75 period when the meat market collapsed.
Now that greater charges have been introduced I believe that there is quite a responsibility for greater accountability and efficiency in the expenditure of those moneys. I believe that the beef producer organisations, or grower organisations generally because grain and wool are included, have the right and the responsibility to see that there is accountability for this expenditure. If a modified eradication program is not introduced- it has been suggested that this could save $34m in the brucellosis schemes- we would want to have some good explanations as to why not. The meat inspection or slaughter charges are about to be levied at the 50 per cent level. I hope that the fact that it has not been brought in at the 1 00 per cent level is a recognition by the Government that the Government does have a public health responsibility in this area- that the 50 per cent is at least some acknowledgment of Government responsiblity. I would hope that this is so. This would be a better guarantee that in future the Government will not increase it to 100 per cent.
A new category has been declared for slaughter inspection charges in respect of bobby calves, that is, small dairy calves up to 40 kilograms dressed weight. This special category, I understand, was introduced at the request of the Australian Dairy Farmers Federation. It feared worse treatment without a special category. I understand that the Federation has complimented the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) for acceding to that request. I am led to believe that it is somewhat disappointed about the increased disease eradication charge, but is happy that it is being applied at the same rate as sheep. That was its request.
I live in one of the most concentrated dairy areas of Australia. Under the Bill a bobby calf up to 40 kilograms dressed weight will be subject to certain charges. I want to remind honourable members that 40 kilogram dressed weight is well above the average for a bobby calf in northern Victoria. The rates, if I have sorted them out properly, are as follows: Commonwealth meat inspection, 18c; Victorian meat inspection, 26c; disease eradication, Commonwealth, 30c; Victorian cattle compensation, about 20c for an average calf at the moment- this will be increased because Victoria is lifting its compensation levels- the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation charges and research, 2.7c; yard dues, a local government charge, 10c. The total for the Federal, State and local government charges is $1.06. I would have to qualify this statement to the extent that I understand the Victorian Government will probably bring in a half inspection charge in line with its recent election commitment. There is also some doubt in all the States as to whether the State charge is levied on calves for domestic consumption.
For calves in the 40 to 90 kilograms dressed weight sector the Commonwealth charge will be $1.37. When that is added to the State charges the total should be slightly over $2. These charges are set at the same level as those for sheep and 10 per cent of the adult cattle rate. However, I believe that this is unfair in respect to bobby calves. A more accurate figure would be 5 per cent of the cattle rate. At the moment the average bobby calf in northern Victoria is bringing about $20. This will fall by at least 25 per cent in July and August when the glut of bobby calves comes on the market. Even last year calves were selling for little more than $ 1 in some instances. At that price there is not much change out of $1.06, and that does not take the seller’s commission and transport into account.
In 1975, 1976 and 1977 thousands of calves were sold in my area for 50c a head. Eventually they were not taken into the saleyards; they were shot. That does not rank very well with a total charge of $1.06 per head. I reinforce the point I made earlier that there is a requirement for the Government to remove charges if there is a general collapse in the meat market. This is even more so for calves. If prices fall, they are likely to fall lower for bobby calves than for adult cattle and they are likely to fall sooner. The bobby calf market in northern Victoria is very fragile. If this happens, I believe that the Government has a responsibility to remove these charges, otherwise it could be charged with being the promoter of wholesale calf shooting. In spite of what I have said, I support the legislation.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Riverina) (9.11)-The honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) is true to the form of the Liberal and National Country parties in trying to cover up for the weaknesses of the Fraser Government. In trying to justify the weakness of the dual inspection system, he claimed that it was caused by the New South Wales Government. This is the old dodge of those parties. It is a shame that we find it in the debate on these rural measures. The honourable member spoke, about the Australian Labor Party’s actions at the time of the collapse of the beef market. I can remember having several discussions on that occasion with the beef producers who came before our rural committee. The measures we introduced at that time met with the approval of the beef producers.
When talking about the collapse of the rural industries, the honourable member should have cast his mind back further to the time when the wheat industry was in trouble. What did the Government do on that occasion? It introduced wheat quotas that were a tragedy. They met with the disapproval of every wheat grower in Australia. Furthermore, he should remember the time when the wool industry was in trouble. What did the Government do on that occasion? It introduced a system of deficiency payments. If the honourable member wants to leave the Parliament he should ask the wool growers whether they want to go back to that system. The performance of the Liberal and National Country parties was shocking. Members of those parties should be the last ones to go back into history, try to distort the truth and say that such and such a thing was caused by the Labor Party. The memories of the people are not so short.
The honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Kerin) has already outlined the benefits and disadvantages of the Live-stock Slaughter (Export Inspection Charge) Bill and the Live-stock Slaughter (Export Inspection Charge) Collection Bill. I support the remarks made by him. I address myself to the Grain (Export Inspection Charge) Bill 1979. This Bill was introduced for the export inspecton of grains- wheat, oats, barley and sorghum. The Bill is aimed at collecting approximately half of the total inspection cost. The Opposition does not oppose this Bill. We believe that it is important in putting high quality wheat, oats, barley and sorghum on the export market. To do this it is important that we have an efficient inspection system. If it is efficient it is of benefit not only to the producer but also to the nation. It seems to me that in those circumstances it is reasonable for both parties to share the cost.
I believe it is important that we put high quality grains on the export market. The Bureau of Agricultural Economics in its forecast entitled Coarse Grains- Situation and Outlook’ tells us that the outlook for 1978-79 for world coarse grain is for record supplies, reduced import demands and continued downward pressure on prices. This is brought about through record world production of 726 megatonnes and a consumption of 710 megatonnes. The carry-over of stocks, excluding those from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and China, is expected to increase to a record level of 88 megatonnes. On the other hand, world trade is expected to decline by 4 per cent to 78 megatonnes or 1 1 per cent of the world’s output. However, it is pleasing to note that the assessment for 1 979-80 is brighter. It is based on an expectation of average seasonal conditions. It must be remembered that the season just past was above average. This will bring about lower production as a result of reduced yields. In addition, it is expected that there will be some reduction in the United States acreage as a consequence of the high world domestic stocks and the low prices of the previous season.
Despite the probability of lower world production and the continued upward trend in world consumption, the record level of opening stocks should prevent any sharp increase or upward movement in prices. This being the case, it is important that the farmers keep up not only the level of their harvest but also the high quality and top condition of the grain when it reaches its destination. Considering the importance of an official inspection system, we should not lose sight of the things that will influence the rate of buying. These are the consumption needs of the buyer, the way the buyer evaluates the future supply and demand development and, of course, the quality of the grain offered. All these things have something to do with the legislation before the House. Early in the week the House debated the Wheat Industry Stabilization Amendment Bill and the Wheat Industry Stabilization (Reimbursement of Borrowing Costs) Bill. We were told that the wheat harvest was worth $2,000m and that it earned $ 1,800m in exports. To get an overall picture of the whole grain situation, I think that we should look at the forecast of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics on coarse grains and give consideration to the whole grain situation at one time. I refer to page 2 of the Bureau ‘s forecast entitled ‘Coarse GrainsSituation and Outlook’. It states:
The outlook for the Australian industry is for a record harvest of 6.4 Mt in 1978-79. With only a small anticipated increase in domestic consumption, exportable supplies are estimated at 3.2 Mt, nearly two and a half times greater than the previous season. The increase in production will be partly offset by lower export and domestic prices. Gross value of production for Australian coarse grains is estimated to rise by 40 per cent to $480m.
It is obvious from that forecast that the nation has every reason to be pleased with its grain production. Regardless of the high quality of the grain that we put on the export market, however, demand will depend on such matters as the combined surplus held by countries such as South Africa, Thailand, Canada, Brazil and the United States, the size of the deficits in other countries, and their ability to pay in terms of foreign exchange. The second reading speech of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) on the Grain (Export Inspection Charge) Bill 1979 sets out the following charges:
Bulk grains, not loaded into shipping containers- 4.5c per tonne.
That seems to be very reasonable-
Bagged grains, not loaded into shipping containers- 25.0c per tonne
Bulk or bagged grains, loaded into shipping containers- $5 per container.
Charges at these rates are estimated to yield $656,000 in a full year. These charges appear very reasonable when one considers our present export earnings and the prospect for developing our grain exports. According to the Bureau of
Agricultural Economics, the consumption needs of East Europe, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan will keep growing over the next few years. It is also intimated that several things could happen in regard to Soviet Union grain production and consumption, and a long-term prediction is hard to make. I think it is worth mentioning that in the last few decades every record crop in that country has been followed by a reduced crop.
Whenever one mentions wheat production, one has to take into account over-the-border sales. In 1977-78, Australian Wheat Board sales for stock feed amounted to 400 kilotonnes. The total amount used for stock feed manufacturing is unknown because of the over-the-border sales, which are estimated to be one megatonne. Even with the High Court decision stopping acrosstheborder sales, this may not be of great advantage to wheat sales because of the low coarse grain wheat price ratio and the record coarse grain crop. It is important that we have an efficient inspection system because overall it appears that Australia has good prospects for increased exports and increased prices for its grain production. The Grain (Export Inspection Charge) Collection Bill 1979 amounts to a machinery measure that provides the authority to collect the charges mentioned in the Grain (Export Inspection Charge) Bill 1979.
I wish to say something on the Wool Industry Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1979. This Bill conforms with the Bills introduced recently to implement decisions outlined in the mini-Budget. The Grain (Export Inspection Charge) Bill and the Grain (Export Inspection Charge) Collection Bill provide extra revenue by charging for inspection in respect of meat and grain. The Wool Industry Amendment Bill (No. 2) makes the same provision in respect of wool. This is revenue that was not previously available to the Government. The main purpose of the Wool Industry Amendment Bill (No. 2) is to provide the machinery to recover half the costs incurred by the Australian Wool Measurements Standard Authority in monitoring and registering wool sampling sites. From those sites samples are drawn for testing by the Australian Wool Testing Authority, an instrumentality established under the Wool Industry Act 1972. 1 think it is important, having mentioned the Wool Industry Act, to consider what the Act was all about. It was designed to set up a statutory wool authority, the Australian Wool Corporation. Its purpose was to bring under single direction the functions performed previously by two separate instrumentalities- the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission. This measure was prompted by the fact that income from wool in 1972 had fallen to $634m, or 13.3 per cent of all merchandise exported. This was probably the lowest ever percentage for wool exports. Prior to that, wool constituted 30 per cent to 40 per cent of our exports and before the 1950s constituted up to 50 per cent of our exports. At the time, the Australian Wool Industry Council recommended that the new body, the Australian Wool Corporation, should be equipped with powers, including the power to acquire compulsorily the total Australian wool clip. In this regard I draw the attention of honourable members to page 42 of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics’ publication on wool wherein it is stated:
The AWC has also renewed proposals for the acquisition of wool destined Tor the export trade. In a recent report, prepared at the request of the Australian Wool Industry Conference, the Corporation has recommended that it should be the sole seller of export wools, although it proposes that the auction system be retained. The support of both the Australian Wool Industry Conference and the Commonwealth Government would be necessary before such a scheme could be introduced.
In spite of this recommendation and the Government’s oft-repeated claim that it does things at the request of the industry, we have heard very little in this House on the question. I mention it here only because I believe that it could have something to do with the sampling, testing and quality of our exported wheat. However, I think it is fair to say that there has been active investigation into the system of preparation and marketing of the Australian wool clip. It is some satisfaction to know that within Australia over the last year there were further developments in wool appraisal, handling and selling. Sales by sample in 1977-78 accounted for three-quarters of all auction sales, and it could be said that much progress has been made.
Unfortunately, as wool growers have put it to me, Ned Kelly is still riding on the train, and I refer to wool broking charges. When the Prices Justification Tribunal report recommended that substantial cuts be made in brokers’ commissions, a lot of disappointment was expressed in my electorate. In spite of this recommendation, brokers were able to wriggle out of it and another inquiry is to take place. As I have said, this was a great disappointment to the wool growers in my electorate, and I hope that the brokers will not be successful in this further inquiry.
Although the Australian Wool Corporation’s limited offer to purchase scheme is operating only for a trial period to test the Corporation’s ability to effect reductions in handling costs through the acquisition of quantities of wool at earlier stages of the pre-auction distribution system, it has already been able to give some rebates to participating growers.
Yet that scheme is to be fully evaluated. This seems to be a step in the right direction and one to which the wool growers are looking for further progress. We do not oppose these amendments. Instead we wait with interest for the further advancement of the measures taken by the Australian Wool Corporation.
-Mr Acting Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Because of the extraordinary circumstances of which the Chair is aware, indulgence is extended to the honourable member for Isaacs to make a personal explanation.
-Thank you, Mr Acting Speaker. I have been told that a speech was made in the Senate this afternoon accusing me of assaulting the Housekeeper of the Parliament. That allegation is completely untrue. I challenge Senator Cavanagh to repeat his statements outside the Parliament. I have been informed that the statement of events made by Senator Cavanagh has been read to and discussed with Mr Pretty by the Secretary of the Joint House Department. Mr Pretty has denied knowledge of all the alleged events. The Secretary of the Joint House Department has denied that Mr Pretty was called before the administration of the Department or threatened. I request Mr Acting Speaker to call Senator Cavanagh before the Bar of this House and to demand he apologises for his false accusations and withdraws totally the charges he has made against me. Secondly, I request Mr President to take appropriate action for Senator Cavanagh ‘s gross abuse of the privileges of Parliament, his false accusations against my integrity and his slanderous statements regarding my behaviour. Thirdly, I request Mr Acting Speaker to ask Mr President to ask Senator Cavanagh to withdraw the innuendoes and inferences falsely made against Mr Ted Pretty in that he has suggested that Mr Pretty wrongly denied the events said to have occurred. Fourthly, Mr President be requested to ask Senator Cavanagh to apologise for the accusations made about a female employee of Parliament House whom he asserted rescued Mr Pretty’ and assisted him into this building.
-The statement of the honourable member for Isaacs is one of a most serious nature. I will consider the matter and report to the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– by leave- I move:
- Mr Deputy Chairman, is the honourable member speaking to the amendments to the Bill before the Committee?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Marrin)The amendments before the Committee at the moment are to the Live-stock (Export Inspection Charge) Bill.
– What I am doing is talking to the Bill as a whole in Committee. If the honourable member for Riverina wishes me to apply my remarks to the amendment I will be very pleased to do so. I can understand the reason for the Government’s introducing these amendments. I think it is a sound move which will allow the industry to know precisely where it is.
Amendments agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report- by leave- adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Sinclair)- by leaveread a third time
Consideration resumed from 28 May, on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Sinclair) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 28 May, on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– by leave- I move:
Bill (on motion by Mr Sinclair)- by leaveread a third time.
Consideration resumed from 28 May, on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Sinclair) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 28 May, on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Sinclair) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 28 May, on motion by Mr Fife:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The purpose of the Excise Amendment Bill is very different from the group of Bills we have just passed. It is to implement the Government’s decision to increase the excise levy on domestically produced crude oil priced at import parity. The increase in the excise will be applicable from 1 July and will be equal to the increase that will, by then, have occurred in the import parity price since 31 December last year. The Opposition does not oppose this move in as much as it is designed to tax windfall profit increases to oil producers. But- I do emphasise that word ‘but’whilst not opposing this move I point out that this represents a complete reversal of policy on the part of the Government. The Government has introduced this policy change contrary to the stance it has been taking on the question of taxing oil companies. Obviously it has introduced this policy without thinking about its consequences and in a way which is clearly contrary to sound economic principles. For this reason the Opposition proposes an amendment to the motion that the Bill be now read a second time. I move:
As stated in this amendment, the move to increase the excise payable on old oil priced at import parity is a complete reversal of policy on the part of the Government. The Government has been condemning the Opposition for saying that a resource tax on oil producers should be imposed. What is this policy before the House if it is not a type of resource tax? It is not properly thought out and it is not based on sound economic principles, but the underlying rationale is the same as that behind a resource tax, about which the Government has been so condemnatory.
How has the Government changed its position on this question? In the 1977 Budget, the Fraser Government announced that the price payable to domestic producers of crude oil would increase gradually to import parity, the Government receiving $3 a barrel excise on that proportion of oil priced at import parity. During 1977-78 that proposition was set at 10 per cent. This financial year it is 20 per cent and it will increase we have been told- although we never know whether what we have been told will ever come about because of the somersaults that have been going- on present indications to 35 per cent on 1 July.
At the time of this decision the Government announced that it was looking at the possibility of introducing a resource tax in order to collect some of the windfall revenue which would flow to the oil companies. But as is known to all informed observers, the Government abandoned this idea of a resource tax. Since then, various members of the Government and, in particular, the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) have argued at length that this pricing decision is encouraging exploration activity. They also said that higher prices must accrue to the oil producers so that exploration will be stimulated. We have heard that cry ad nauseum. The Opposition on the other hand, particularly my colleague the shadow Minister for Minerals and Energy, the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) who unavoidably is not in the House- which is why I am leading for the Opposition on this occasion- while recognising that an adequate return on oil production is necessary for exploration activity, has been arguing that the price payable on oil already discovered is not the price that encourages exploration.
We have pointed out to the Government on many occasions that the relevant price is that payable on any new oil discovery. In 1975 the Labor Government announced that full import parity would be paid on any new oil found after that time. This is the major stimulus to exploration activity. Until now the Government has ridiculed this argument. But I suppose we must be thankful for small mercies. Eventually the light dawns. At last the Government understands.
Let us look at the present situation. The announcement by the Treasurer (Mr Howard) in that infamous speech he made to this House last Thursday night- just a week ago- and this Bill now before the House show that the Government no longer believes what it has been espousing for the last two years. The Treasurer in his statement last week even said that new oil would continue to receive full import parity and thus the incentive to oil search will therefore be maintained’. What a change in stance on this matter. But if, as the Government now argues, higher oil prices are not necessary for continued exploration activity, why is it continuing with a policy which will still force petrol prices up? I had a good deal to say about that this afternoon in a debate on another Bill. Let me make it clear that the Government might be stopping oil producers receiving additional profits but it will continue forcing consumers to pay more for their petrol. Currently Bass Strait producers receive $10.66 a barrel on 20 per cent of their oil production and $2.33 a barrel on the remainder. This is an average price of about $5 a barrel. As of 1 July the producer price will be set at $9.59 a barrel for import parity oil which will then be 35 per cent of production, and $2.33 a barrel on the remainder of production. This gives producers an average price of about $4.20 a barrel.
Although the price of petrol will not go up as a result of this change in excise in this Bill, petrol prices will continue to increase. The Government’s policy on the pricing of oil will still hold. Its policy is wrong. Its policy means that if any increase occurs in the official price of Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries oil Australian oil prices will increase by the same amount. This new excise policy means that petrol prices will still go up but the revenue will go to the Government, not to the oil producers. At the moment the price of oil to Australian consumers is $13.66 a barrel. The difference between this price and that which goes to the producer goes to the Government. The revenue from any increase in oil prices from now on will go to the Government. The Australian motorist will pay the price in the form of higher petrol prices. The producer price will be set at about $4.20 on average but the price to consumers will keep increasing in line with overseas price increases. All this is so that the Government can get more revenue. That is the main purpose of this legislation- revenue raising.
The price of oil is due to increase in July. Price increases already announced by OPEC and further increases expected in June mean that the Australian price is likely to be more than $16 a barrel in July. This increase could mean that petrol prices could go up by 10c a gallon in the near future. The Government might be stopping producers getting any more revenue but it is going to keep getting increased revenue itself. Revenue will continue to come from the Australian motorist and from other users of Australian oil. As I said this afternoon, members of the National
Country Party in particular should be speaking up for those people who live in the country and are obliged to use a lot of oil for their livelihood, and so should the back bench members of the Liberal Party be joining members on this side if they have any spine at all. They should oppose this policy which is hitting to leg those people who need petrol for their livelihood, for basic leisure activities and also those people on lower incomes who do not have the margin to afford increased costs.
Let us look at the way in which the Government is going to tax oil producers. It has introduced a pseudo resource tax which takes no account of the adverse effect this will have on the production of oil. The crude oil levy takes no account of how this tax will affect small producers or how it will affect marginal oil pools. A flat rate levy is an inefficient mechanism for sharing revenue between producers and the Government as it does not differentiate between high and low cost fields. The tax is the same whether it costs $ 1 or $ 10 a barrel to produce the oil. If the cost of production is higher than the company’s set return the oil will not be produced.
At a time when Australia needs all the domestic oil production possible the Government is implementing a tax which will stop some oil being produced. A proper resource tax as advocated by the Labor Opposition would stop this occurring. It would tax more heavily oil which is produced at low cost and not deter production from high cost fields because the resource tax is on profits and the profits have to be made before our form of resource tax is applied to them. If the Government is going to have a resource tax on oil producers, why does it not do it properly rather than having an arbitrarily determined tax which changes whenever the Government’s revenue requirements change? It is the thin edge of the wedge. The Government is collecting revenue in this way. It is hitting the motorist to leg and at the same time deterring oil production in the less economic fields.
The Opposition has stated on many occasions that it would establish sound pricing and taxation arrangements to share oil revenue equitably between oil producers and the Government. These policies would be rational policies based on sound economic principles and would work to benefit both producers and consumers. They would serve the national interest and not the interest of the Government coffers. We would establish ground rules which would not be subject to arbitrary changes, as is the case with the Government’s oil policy. The oil industry is a very high risk industry which should not be subjected to regularly changing ground rules. This policy change we are debating tonight will have a detrimental effect on the confidence of the industry and on exploration activity. The industry’s exploration is based on expectations regarding future returns. Although at this stage the Government has maintained the pricing structure applicable to new oil discoveries, the action of the Government in changing rules midstream in this case will clearly instil within the industry distrust of the Government’s statements and actions for new discoveries. As one industry spokesman is reported last week in a newspaper- and I have read many- said:
Planning for new projects was based on projections of pricing structure for the future. If there was distrust of government action once new discoveries have been made, it was a definite disincentive to explore.
Clearly this policy change will affect company expectations about policy changes in the future and affect industry plans to lessen Australia’s dependence on overseas oil supplies. A further point I would like to make about the Government’s stance on the crude oil levy is that this is not part of an overall energy policy. This Fraser Government has no energy policy. Its attitude is characterised by arbitrary changes in policy as evidenced by this Bill tonight. The Government wants a little more revenue so it grabs it wherever it can. The Government says that it is not going to apply a resource tax. Yet with an eye for the main chance it hops in and grabs a resource tax of this sort- a wrong type of resource tax, a damaging form of resource tax. The Government has failed even to produce a discussion paper on energy policy options. On the other hand we in the Opposition have such a discussion paper. This Government’s promised Green Paper has failed to materialise to date. I believe that it is now being redrafted for the fourth time. The international oil situation will not stand still while the Government decides what to do. I repeat that the Opposition’s amendment sets out in brief form these arguments which I have put to the House. With much pleasure I have moved the amendment.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment, and I reserve my right to speak.
– I oppose the amendment and support the Government’s legislation, the Excise Amendment Bill (No. 2 ). Things have been lost sight of in the fury of the words that have been spoken since the statement of the Treasurer (Mr Howard) on 24
May. This Government has adopted a very responsible attitude on behalf of the Australian people in respect of the supplies of oil which have been discovered in Australia, the existing oil fields and the future oil wells which we know must be drilled because Australia needs to achieve a satisfactory degree of self-sufficiency. Many people believe that this oil exists beneath the Australian mainland and in the off-shore areas around Australia. I believe that the revenue to be gained from this excise- some $166m according to the Treasurer’s statement- will go a long way towards providing the type of infrastructure needed by Australia.
This Bill will provide Australians with their due reward and at the same time encourage further oil exploration. It will encourage oil producers to drain the last drop of oil from every well and oil field that we have at present and those discovered in the future.
Having listened to the rhetoric from certain Opposition spokesmen since 24 May it appears that they do not understand the great difficulties now facing the world because of the current energy crisis. Numerous Opposition speakers have opposed the mining of uranium. Numerous Opposition speakers have justified their actions in the years from 1972 to 1975, and the horrific effects of them upon Australia. This legislation will increase, from 1 July 1979, the existing $18.90 per kilolitre or $3 per barrel excise levy on oil priced at import parity by an amount equal to the increase that will by then have taken place in the import parity price since 31 December 1978. This measure will effectively give to the Australian people, in the form of revenue to the Government, a substantial increase in revenue if prices set by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries increase.
I support this legislation totally because it will ensure that the oil producers at Barrow Island, Moonie and Bass Strait will push as many barrels of oil as possible down the pipelines. Further, there will be a great incentive for people to look for more oil in those regions. It will ensure that oil exploration is continued. The Moonie field in Queensland, the State I am proud to represent in Canberra, is one example. Queensland is a great State. It has many natural, wonderful beauties, not the least of them being the Moonie oil field. That field is now supplying gas to Brisbane. In addition, a substantial amount of light crude oil is produced. That oil is broken down and used in a number of towns in the region. A small cracking plant was built to handle this oil and it is used at Miles and other towns. This may seem an insignificant amount by comparison with the giant oil fields in Bass Strait but it is important.
I believe that the legislation introduced by the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) and the way he has approached the problems of the energy crisis of 1979, on behalf of the Government team under the leadership of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), is what is needed now. For far too long have we heard a great deal of rhetoric from the Opposition. The Labor Party, during its period of office between 1972 and 1975, dramatically changed the progress that had been made in the search for oil over a number of years. Oil is a very important component of the energy problems which the world faces today. I again congratulate the Minister for the stand he has taken and for his speech of 5 April 1 979. 1 urge those who have not read that statement concerning the development and implementation of a national energy policy to do so.
This Government came to office in 1975 and last year 52 oil wells were drilled in this country, double the number drilled during the previous three years. One hundred oil wells were drilled but in 1976 there were only 19. During the next five years about $500m will be spent on petroleum exploration and drilling. Between 83 and 143 wells will be drilled in 1979. Between 60 and 97 will be drilled on-shore in 1 979. Off-shore, between 23 and 46 wells will be drilled in 1979. Even if the lowest figure in each case proves to be the correct figure the number of wells drilled during 1979 will still be the highest for the last seven years.
At present about 62 off-shore permits are current. This Government has issued 28 permits in the past two years. Compare that with the two off-shore leases issued by the Labor Government in the three years from 1972 to 1975. If one does so one realises the short-term thinking of the Labor Government. The Australian people were placed in an unfair position as a result of that type of approach. The Government is now thinking of issuing a further 20 on-shore permits. I am delighted to say that at present there are 70 exploration permits current and they will be in operation for the next few years.
I think that in 1 979 Australia must look forward to the 1980s with vigor and confidence. I believe that we have to be part of the total world scene in accepting responsibility in regard to energy resources. We cannot accept the responsibility of saying: ‘Yes, we are going to take money from major oil producers and use it for the benefit of the people of Australia’. The Government is doing this in the light of the difficult situation that has arisen in Iran in the last few months. If one had asked a few years ago whether there would be a problem about the flow of oil supplied from Iran, I believe most people would have said no. It is very fortunate that these problems occurred in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has the capacity to increase its production of oil by pumping at the well head. It could do so to such an extent that it could overcome all problems if the oil flow from Iran ceased immediately. That is a unique situation. But if the position were reversed- if something of a political nature created problems in Saudi Arabia- no other country could possibly take up the extra production which would be needed to meet Saudi Arabia ‘s current supplies to the world.
I am delighted to be part of a team of people who have adopted the sensible attitude of realising that we live in a changing and difficult world. Huge amounts of money are being earned from oil by certain countries. Aramco, the Arabian and American Oil Co., in Saudi Arabia has a net income of $ 150m a day. That, in anybody’s langauge, is an enormous amount of money. We have heard criticism about the energy policies which have been brought forward by this Government. We have 27Vi per cent of the known uranium sources in the world. It is a form of energy that presents some problems. But the oil burning furnaces that produce energy in certain parts of the world and the coal burning furnaces that produce it in others, including this country, have their problems in relation to pollution of the environment and other matters which people do not like. We have faced the difficult situation presented by the energy crisis by looking at the amount of oil that we are currently producing. Earlier today we passed legislation concerning the imposition of an excise on liquefied petroleum gas. I refer to the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill. Further consideration must be given to the use of that form of energy. The whole energy scene in Australia must be looked at from the window. It cannot be looked at through a keyhole.
Certain people who oppose the policies of the Government have not bitten the bullet to the extent of saying: ‘What are they doing? Will these policies be advantageous to the majority of Australians?’ They should look carefully at what has been said by the Ministry and the advice that has been offered from all round the world. They should consider the amount of time that Ministers have spent overseas making an assessment of the situation. The discussions that have been held on this subject with overseas oil producers have been successful to the extent that today three of the 10 deep sea oil drilling wells in the world are operating in Australian waters. I understand that it is proposed to move a fourth one into Australian waters. This type of exploration does not involve small amounts of money. In the vicinity of $ 10m is the minimum amount that will be required to put down one exploration well in the off-shore region in the north western area of Western Australia. That, in anybody’s language, is a lot of money.
We are offering incentives to oil companies to come to Australia to explore. I am one of those who believe that this country has been blessed with many great riches, not the least of which is oil. I think that we will find further oil fields and that that oil will be utilised to the benefit not only of Australians but also other countries in the region. That is the type of approach that would be adopted by any sensible government. We are in the throes of looking at an LPG situation in the area of the North West Shelf which I understand is to be utilised by the major industries of Japan and other areas, including Australia. That development will cost billions of dollars. We are a small nation with a small population. Under a socialist government we would be looking at the imposition of a higher tax to fund that development and, as usual, we would fall flat on our faces.
Under this Government’s administration an incentive has been given to major oil producing companies in the world. Those companies have huge resources at their backing. We have said to these companies: ‘If you spend your money here on paying our people to explore for and develop our oil resources we will support you to the extent of giving you an incentive to do that’. That is a way in which to attract money from outside the country. That is a way in which to bring in the expertise which is currently lacking in this country. If one looks at what happened during the three years of socialist rule in this country one will see that only two or three wells were drilled. Compare that with what we have had after only a few very short years of good, fair and honest government that looks at the situation properly and gives incentives, lt is very easy for the people who do not know what they are talking about to criticise multi-national corporations. I can only say that the giant oil and mining companies of the world have provided an increasing degree of wealth to this country through company taxation and the personal taxation of their employees.
They have been able to teach skills to Australians. At the same time, they have provided an infrastructure of understanding and communication which did not occur until a few years ago.
I am convinced that this Bill is very important. It indicates clearly to the people of Australia that what we have in the country is to be protected. We will permit development in such a way that we get the right amount of revenue and energy from the different sources that we have in this country at present. At the same time we have taken steps concerning the windfall profits derived from price increases by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Some $166m in revenue is to be derived from the windfall situation which has resulted from increased oil prices flowing from OPEC decisions. The way in which this legislation has been brought down in 1979 will give increased confidence to a number of companies which are yet to be involved in dealings with Australia. We have said that what they find will be theirs and that we will not be increasing our revenue from that. At the same time there will be incentives for them to get out and explore. I feel that this is the way in which we should approach something which is an Australian resource.
I conclude by saying that the criticism that has been made of the Government is very unfair. It has failed to take into consideration that the energy crisis is one of the greatest problems that the world faces at present. Our approach to this matter has been to look at it in a sensible light, realising the impact that it has on every Australian. The Government’s approach has been sensible and mature. We appreciate what will happen as a result of the introduction of the legislation under consideration tonight, which relates to a measure announced by the Treasurer on 24 May. It is indicative of the type of good government that Australia has come to expect. I believe that the events of 1979 have shown that the policy which has been stated by the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) is fair and wise and gives due consideration to an Australia which is going forward under a government which knows what it is doing.
-This Bill implements the Government’s decision to increase the $3 per barrel crude oil levy by the amount which the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries price increases have injected into domestic crude oil prices since 3 1 December last year. We do not object to the extra $ 166m accruing to federal revenue, but we do object to this Government’s folly in continuing blindly to pass on to the Australian economy the inflationary OPEC price rises, rises over which the Government has no control whatsoever. These problems commenced in the 1977 Budget with the announcement that domestic prices for old oil would be phased Up to import parity prices via the formula of 10 per cent in 1977-78, 20 per cent in 1978-79, 35 per cent in 1979-80, 50 per cent in 1980-81, and 100 per cent as soon as possible thereafter. So these percentages of domestic production of old oil have been returned to producers at import parity prices.
Do honourable members recall the reasons given at the time? It was said that increased prices would conserve oil reserves by taxing consumption and boosting exploration. This did not occur to any worthwhile degree. The rate of increase in petrol consumption is down very slightly by 2.3 per cent, but at what price to the economy? The latest Petroleum Exploration Newsletter informs us that over the next six years the Esso-BHP consortium intends to outlay a mere $147m for exploration in the Exmouth Gulf area of Western Australia, which is our most promising exploration area. I have here a table put out by the Australian Petroleum Exploration Association in the PEX newsletter, and I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
– Honourable members will note that 21 companies, headed by Esso Australia Ltd, expect to spend $500m off Western Australia over six years. That works out at only $83m a year, which is not very much. Considering the deep water and the high costs- some $10m per well- not much drilling will be done at that rate. The 1 978 Budget contained the biggest shock of all. We moved to full import parity, with the extra revenue above the 1977 formula accruing to the Treasury. No attempt was made to justify the measure as being conservationist. It was simply a way to obtain extra revenue to solve the Government’s deficit problems. No doubt the Government’s policy has been lucrative for federal revenues and oil producing companies but it has been very tough on motorists and Australian industry. The Government will receive $ 1 ,240m this financial year. Some $780m will come from the excise duty and $460m from the levy.
Esso-BHP windfall profits will be about $300m this year. They would have been $400m next year and at least $550m in 1980-81 under the 1978 Budget arrangements. With the latest levy increase, the price per barrel received by producers will fall to the December 1978 price and will remain at that level. However, the OPEC increases will be passed on to the consumer and will flow directly into government revenue. So the price of old oil to the consumer will continue to rise as a result of the OPEC increases. The rip-off to government and, to a lesser extent, the oil companies will continue in
line with the 1977 increasing percentage arrangements. I expect that in 1979-80 Esso-BHP will still gain $400m in windfall profits and another $500m in 1980-81. So much for the revenue that is being returned to government and to the oil companies.
The Government must consider the effects on the consumer and on the economy. Petrol prices have doubled since December 1975, when this Government took office. The Australian people ought to note that. Average retail prices in Melbourne have risen from 15c per litre to 23c per litre since the August 1977 Budget. That is a rise of 36c a gallon. Last year OPEC decided to increase prices by 14 per cent. The flow-on was an 8.6 per cent increase in the price of local crude oil on 1 January this year. There was to be a further 5.3 per cent increase on 1 July this year, but OPEC subsequently increased that rate to 9. 1 per cent and brought the date forward to April. When will the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) announce the 9.1 per cent flow-on into Australian prices? Is it inherent in the estimate of $ 1 66m extra revenue from the increased levy? If the 9. 1 per cent flows through it will result in at least a further 5c a gallon increase in petrol prices, a 0.4 per cent increase in the September consumer price index figures, a 0.2 per cent contraction in aggregate employment in Australia, a contraction in the gross national product of 0.25 per cent, and a contraction to total exports of at least one per cent. That
will be the effect of passing on the 9 per cent increase.
Has the Minister seen reports of a further likely 10 per cent rise in OPEC prices before 1 July? Will the Minister pass on that increase, together with the 9. 1 per cent, on 1 July? If he does we will face a petrol price rise in July of at least 12c a gallon, some one per cent increase in the CPI for the September quarter, and a corresponding increase in unemployment of 0.4 per cent, or 24,000 jobs. This will occur as a result of just blindly passing on the OPEC price increases. We cannot afford this needless inflationary nonsense. It is not wage increases that are the major inflationary factor in the Australian economy today; it is the unprecedented rise in petrol, diesel and fuel oil prices under this misguided, erratic and inflationary Government. What will the Government do with the revenue? The States are complaining, and no wonder. Last year, including $900m more in petrol taxes, the Federal Government received a massive $2, 150m from petrol and oil duties. Of this only $508m was returned to the States for road programs; only $164m went to New South Wales, the major State.
Let us look at some basic facts about the national and world oil situation. Let me quote an article in the Australian Mining Review entitled Energy Balance to the Year 2000’, written by Frank K. Rickwood, the Managing Director of BP Exploration Company Ltd. The article states:
By the year 2000 about50 per cent of production will have to come from future discoveries if production of say 25 billion barrels . . . per day is to be sustained. Reserves to production ratio was 100:1 in 1950; is at present about 22: 1 and by the year 2000 will have reached 10: 1. By 1985 the world will be using 25 billion barrets of oil per year peaking out at about 28 billion barrels per year by 1991 and gradually declining. The days of cheap energy from oil or indeed any source are over.
Nobody disputes that oil will become scarcer and dearer as physical reserves dry up and nations in the Middle East cut production to conserve their main source of revenue. I remember one of the new oil technocrats in the Middle East in 1974 saying to me: ‘Who will want to live in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia after the oil has gone?’ Those countries will make sure that they have an infrastructure that will survive after the depletion of the oil. We can expect continuing price rises from OPEC. There is no doubt about that. Within 30 or 40 years only the richest and most powerful economies will be able to afford to buy the oil which is left.
-Order! It being 10.30 p.m., I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
- Mr Acting Speaker, I require that the question be put forthwith without debate.
Question resolved in the negative.
-This evening the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Burns) raised in the House the matter of a very serious accusation made against him by an honourable senator. The honourable member for Isaacs denied the charges made against him by the honourable senator and asked me, as Acting Presiding Officer, to take certain action. He asked me to call the honourable senator before the Bar of this House. That is an action beyond the competence of the Presiding Officer of this House. The honourable member for Isaacs asked me to approach Mr President with a view to taking other action as specified. I think that my best course would be to send a copy of the honourable member’s remarks in this House to Mr President with a request that he take such action as he deems appropriate.
-by leave- I listened to the broadcast of the Senate. The President of the Senate read out the statement by the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Burns). My colleague, Senator Cavanagh, has withdrawn and has apologised.
– He has not.
– Order! The honourable member for Isaacs will remain silent.
- Mr Acting Speaker, I did not say a word. I have not spoken at all.
– I beg the honourable member’s pardon.
– I was making the point that the oil producing nations in the Middle East will serve their own best interests and not our best interests by cutting back oil production gradually and trying to conserve their major source of income. Anyone who disbelieves that should read the article in today’s Australian which in turn has been taken from The Economist. It refers to Saudi Arabia’s new oil policy and states:
Recoverable reserves for the four big fields that provide 87 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s present capacity were officially downgraded, greatly reducing the length of time for which higher production levels could be sustained.
Conservation suddenly seemed much more attractive, lt also became clear that the expansion project would be too expensive to be met out of the profit margin allowed to Aramco, about to become State-owned.
The Saudis have no real desire to instal new oil field equipment, much of which might only be used for a few years, to meet oil production targets which would simply speed the depletion of the reservoirs. And- perhaps most decisivelythe Saudis were changing their minds about their desired role in the world oil scene.
Consider our own reserves of two billion barrels. They are meagre indeed. The 70 per cent selfsufficiency level will fall to 45 per cent in the 1980s, unless we find further resources. The major explorer, Esso, estimates that there is about an 80 per cent chance of finding reserves equal to our current reserves; about an even money chance of finding amounts equal to those previously discovered; and only a 20 per cent chance of finding five billion barrels. It is estimated that by 1990 we will need almost one billion barrels a year. So even if the five to one chance comes off, we will still be in trouble by 1990. Obviously, there is a real need to step up oil exploration, conserve oil and start to develop alternative liquid fuels. But that does not necessarily mean full import parity prices to fuel inflation in a recessionary situation. It does not mean handing over $2.5 billion to $3 billion to EssoBHP and seeing only $ 1 50m returned to Western Australian oil exploration.
Let me outline an alternative pricing policy. Simply stop passing on future OPEC rises until the price of domestic crude oil falls to an acceptable percentage of the OPEC price that we wish to sustain. We could abolish the levy, the excise duty and the 1977-78 Budget policy with it. We should then impose a resource tax or a petroleum rent tax on the after-company tax profits of the oil companies at an appropriate threshold level of 10 per cent to 12 per cent of profits to investment, with all further revenues accruing to the Federal Government. Another method now that windfall company returns are pegged in this legislation would be to refrain from passing on OPEC increases until the desired percentage domestic price level is reached. It might be 70 per cent, 75 per cent or 80 per cent. Flexibility is the main point. We could leave the 1977-78 Budget policy in operation and impose a resource rent tax on after-company tax profits accumulating under this system and eventually let the resource rent tax replace the levy.
I know that these matters are too complicated for honourable members opposite, who are interjecting, but if they listened they might get some ideas. If they care to read Hansard tomorrow they might learn something. If the country continues to follow the policy espoused by the Government, I know where it will finish. I invite the Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony), who is one of those seeking to interject, to follow me in this debate and make his points if he so wishes.
Such a resource rent tax would favour the more marginal wells and producers. I quote from an article published in the Australian Financial Review:
The Government’s latest measures are likely to lead to greater support from the oil industry for a resources or petroleum rent tax to ensure minimum returns. As it stands, marginal Australian oil fields have been given the same pricing terms as the more profitable Bass Strait fields.
The Minister for Trade and Resources does not have anything to say about that. Having created an acceptable pricing policy, I am quite certain that eventually we will be forced to establish a national oil corporation, similar to the British national oil corporation, perhaps partially funded by the resource rent tax on existing producers and with powers to raise its own further finance to participate in exploration, development of new wells and the marketing of its own oil. Such a corporation exists now, in case honourable members have not heard, in places such as Britain, Norway, all of the Middle East nations, Japan and Indonesia. Such a corporation could also be free to participate with existing oil companies in exploration and development projects. In this way the Federal government could stimulate and control oil exploration without the craven approach of the present Government. It is content to hand out huge sums to multinational oil companies and then plead, beg and implore them to invest a small percentage of their windfall profits made from the Australian economy by Government decision in their puny efforts at oil exploration. The sobering thought is the message of the multinational company, Esso: ‘The chances are we just won’t find any more major oil fields, so the alternatives become all the more important’.
I suggest that one alternative for an Australian energy policy would be a proper rationalisation of coal production and export because of the possible need for huge tonnages of cheap coal for liquefaction to oil in 20 or 30 years time. A second alternative would be the setting up of an adequate production and distribution chain for liquid petroleum gas. A third alternative would be to get seriously into the production of methanol from natural gas. I suggest that we should consider the construction of a methanol plant in Western Australia as a viable alternative to continuing proposed exports of natural gas. Oil imports are now costing the Australian economy something like $1 billion a year. In five years the cost will probably be $2 billion. Methanol can be mixed with petrol to a 20 per cent blend so it is theoretically possible to cover up to 20 per cent of our requirements by the production of methanol as long as we have gas as a feedstock. It could be that some $500m could be saved in the deficit of the current account and the balance of payments within five years by the production of methanol.
I urge the Government to be very careful about the concept that we can get money to pay for more and more oil imports at higher and higher prices by exporting more and more coal and gas. I am grateful to the Australian Financial Review for publishing a cartoon that makes that point. It shows a Middle East oil Minister talking to President Carter. He is saying: We’ve just solved the oil crisis! You’ll run out of money before we run out of oil.’ One notes that the Minister is showing some interest in the production of methanol from natural gas. He should admit that this would involve a complete ban on further natural gas exports over and above those envisaged for the current North West Shelf project, so that we will retain adequate reserves for methanol production. Instead of moronically passing on price increases by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries and adopting a Micawberish attitude of waiting for something to turn up, the Government should immediately stop the inflationary nonsense of automatically passing on OPEC decisions which have been taken in the interest of other nations.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– by leave- On behalf of the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) I move:
As was mentioned earlier in the second reading speech to this House the purpose of the amendments proposed by this Bill are to give effect to the Government’s decision announced by the Treasurer (Mr Howard) on 24 May 1979 that the excise levy on oil priced at import parity will be increased by an amount equal to the amount that will by 1 July 1 979 have occurred since 3 1 December 1978. The amendment introduced earlier introduces flexibility into the Act to enable regulations to be made to set a separate base figure from the present $18.90 per kilolitre. However, the Government has now decided that it is necessary to provide maximum flexibility in the law to make adjustments to the levy that it may deem desirable in response to fast changing world conditions. In addition, the economies of different size fields may make it desirable to have maximum flexibility to apply different rates of levy if warranted.
Amendments agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report- by leave- adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Ellicott)- by leaveread a third time.
Stuart Highway- ZimbabweRhodesiaInternational Football MatchYouth Unemployment
Motion (by Mr Viner) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-Tonight I wish to speak on a matter that I have raised in this House on a number of occasions. I refer to the sealing of the Stuart Highway. This matter has caused a lot of discontent for some time. This week we were very pleased to see the announcement by the South Australian Minister of Transport Mr Virgo, that in this year’s Estimates he hoped to allocate $4.3m towards the commencement of the project. This has been a very sore point in South Australia. The South Australian Government and anybody else in South Australia who has shown a concern for roads has believed that this was a Federal Government responsibility. In 1974 the then Labor Government introduced a national roads program. Year after year the South Australian Government has requested additional funds so that the sealing of the Stuart Highway could proceed. But in the last three years the Federal Government has cut back in real terms the money provided for national highways.
Mr Virgo said that he intended to allocate $4.3m this year so that the work could be expedited. Last year, following a deputation of members from both sides of the House to the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) in an attempt to get additional funds, the Minister refused to grant them. All he could say to Mr Virgo was: You scrape up another $lm from somewhere’. To provide an extra Sim meant that Mr Virgo had to take that amount from other road programs. To get into line with the wishes of the Federal Minister for Transport, Mr Virgo did so. He allocated an additional $ 1 m which, of course, came from other programs. Certain work is now proceeding on the highway.
When Mr Virgo announced his approach to the project it was announced that the Federal Minister for Transport would travel to Coober Pedy to look at the Stuart Highway. At the same time, he was to have a look at the new railway line being constructed to Alice Springs. However, it rained in that area last week. The Minister could not be set down. Of course, he did not see the worst of the road. They tell me that he flew over a short section of it. The aircraft landed at Woomera. The Minister drove a few miles out of Woomera and then back. I understand that he flew on to Darwin. The whole question of the Stuart Highway has been a sore point for quite some time. Prior to the last elections the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) stated in Alice Springs that the Federal Government would proceed with a program to provide money for this highway. That statement at Alice Springs was highlighted in an advertisement placed in the newspapers throughout Australia by the Road Transport Federation. It said:
After discussing the issue with Mr Sam Calder M.P. and Senator Bernie Kilgariff, I believe it necessary to identify a special fund allocation specifically for the reconstruction of the Stuart Highway.
This would mean, in addition to funds provided to the South Australian Government as part of the National Program and for allocation al their direction, there would be a specific sum provided to up-grade the Stuart Highway over a period of years.
That indicated that the Federal Government was prepared to recognise what Mr Virgo had been saying, that is that there should be a special allocation of funds for the Stuart Highway. But that statement was never honoured by the Minister for Transport. Last year a deputation consisting of the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder), some honourable senators and me met the Minister. Following that meeting a letter signed by three honourable senators from South Australia and myself was sent to him. It stated:
The South Australian Government has spent a further $ 1 8.79m over the last four years on the State National Highway Program, and it is reasonable to expect that this should be reimbursed, provided it is spent on the Stuart Highway.
As the Highway is currently estimated to cost approximately $64m, it is clear that unless more funds are provided it will take 20 or 30 years to complete at the proposed rate of spending.
I think that everybody will be pleased with what the South Australian Minister has said. He now has to get permission from the Federal Minister -
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-This is the first opportunity I have had to rise in this House and congratulate Bishop Abel Muzorewa on his being sworn in yesterday as the first black Prime Minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia by the first black President of that country. I wish him well in the difficult road that lies ahead in binding the wounds of the civil war, achieving peace and securing international recognition of his country. It is a tremendous task but with the personal knowledge that I have of him, I am confident that he is of the calibre and that he possesses the strength of character to overcome the hurdles that face him and his country. I know from personal conversations that I have had with him over the past 12 months that he is aware of the tremendous responsibilities that confront him and his black majority government. As he said when the results of the election were made known:
The people of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia have struck a resounding blow for democracy and freedom.
I am very conscious of the fact that I am not alone in the Australian Parliament in wishing Bishop Muzorewa success. In fact it would be true to say that the overwhelming majority of my colleagues on the Government side support him on his journey through difficult international waters to get international recognition and the effective lifting of trading sanctions against his new black majority government. It is not my intention to pre-empt the report of the three members of this House who were sent to observe the Rhodesian elections on behalf of the Australian Parliament. The pleasure of reading our findings will have to wait until next week when we will be tabling our report. However, it would not be unethical for me to say tonight that I share the obvious pleasure that Bishop Muzorewa must be feeling tonight on the swearing in of his new multi-racial ministry. I repeat part of a statement that I made to the Press before leaving Salisbury a couple of weeks ago. In that statement I said:
Keeping in mind the instant diplomatic recognition of the governments of Afghanistan, Iran and Uganda which have taken power recently without the advantage of democratic elections, I believe Zimbabwe-Rhodesia has a strong case for international recognition, bearing in mind the 64 per cent poll. Such recognition must depend, of course, on a genuine transfer of power in the public service and other government instrumentalities reflecting the will of the new black majority Muzorewa government.
Prime Minister Muzorewa is a great patriot. He deserves encouragement. He is entitled to world endorsement. I pray and trust that the course to recognition is not too long and that under his leadership Rhodesia will move towards peace and a better standard of living for all its citizens of all racial backgrounds.
-On Sunday afternoon next at 3 o’clock at the Ballymore oval in Brisbane in the electorate of the Federal member for Brisbane, Mr Peter Johnson, 30 well conditioned, superbly built athletes will play for 90 minutes in an international rugby game. I refer to the Australia-Ireland international. I should like to pause for a few minutes and tell the Australian Parliament that the Australian team will consist of 10 Queenslanders, four New South Welshmen and one Victorian. Of course people will know that the original side consisted of 1 1 Queenslanders. It is true that those of us who appreciate culture, who realise that rugby is one of the truly great amateur games, will be looking forward to a great game. We will appreciate the strength and co-ordination of big Stan Pilecki, Bill Ross, and John Meadows who comes from Victoria.
We will appreciate the practised expertise of Peter McLean and Garrick Fay in the second row and the foraging ball skills of the Australian captain, Tony Shaw, and Greg Cornelsen as breakaways with the brutal majesty of Mark Loane, the world’s No. 1 rugby lock. We will have the skilled hands of Rod Hauser at halfback, the classical ballet poise of Paul McLean, the first man to be chosen in any rugby team in the world at five-eighth, the jinking sidestepping feet of the centres Tony Melrose and Bill McKid, with the fast swerving runs of Laurie Monaghan and Brendan Moon on the wings, and the very strong unflappable Bruce Cooke at full back.
Honourable members interjecting-
-Order! I ask honourable members not to get off-side.
– It will be a great game and all of us look forward to the best side winning. As a descendant of Irish pioneers I hope that the game will be a classic exhibition of fundamental rugby and that the game will end in a draw. Might I also say how very proud I am to stand in this Parliament tonight and pay tribute to the cradle of rugby in Australia. I refer to my old school, Nudgee College, that well-known, celebrated school with the blue-white-blue colours.
- Mr Acting Speaker, I take a point of order. I believe that the honourable member is misrepresenting the game of football.
-There is no point of order.
-We have in the side Mark Loane, the world’s best lock forward and Paul McLean, who, as I said, would be the first man to be chosen in any rugby side in the world. As well we have Duncan Hall who is a reserve. To think that the once small school that is providing three men for the Australian side next Sunday happens to be my alma mater makes me a rather happy young fellow. The golden thread that will run through the game on Sunday is this simple fact: The Irish side will consist of men from northern and southern Ireland. I know of no other country which is so torn apart by idealism and emotion which can rely on the field of sport to bring its countrymen together. That is a significant thing. No matter how much those men fight in economics, in politics and in the philosophy of life, they are proud to wear the green of Ireland on the sports field.
It concerns and upsets me that ambassadors who roam the world seeking to create peace, that insatiable thirst for a peace that no one has ever yet been able to achieve, forget that one of the great instruments of the achievement of peace is sport. What a pity that we have nations saying that they will not participate in international games because they disagree with the politics of another country. I hope that the lesson at Ballymore on Sunday of goodwill between people of different beliefs, united on the field of sport, will be infectious. I make an appeal to the
Minister whose portfolio covers sport to be conscious of this great game on Sunday. I hope that as the Minister concerned he will send a message of best wishes to both teams.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In the few minutes left I want to talk about peace and security for the people of the western suburbs of Sydney, particularly as regards the question of youth unemployment. The Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) should understand well the problems of the western suburbs of Sydney.
– I have been there, Tom.
-Well, instead of the Minister carrying on this dole bludger plan in accordance with the mentality of his Government he should know that in places like Mt Druitt -
– I have never used that phrase.
-I was not accusing the Minister of making that charge. I was pointing out the dole bludger mentality of Government supporters to the unemployed, particularly those in places like the western suburbs of Sydney. The fact is that in places like Mt Druitt, for every vacancy that occurs there are over 300 people unemployed. It is about time that this Government started to carry out a public works program in the western suburbs of Sydney. It is time that the Government built the Parramatta centre proposed by the Labor Government to house public servants. The land has been acquired and the plans have been approved. All that remains is for the work to go ahead. The centre is needed urgently. It is about time that this Government started to carry out those public works in the western suburbs of Sydney to try to stimulate employment in that region.
-Order! It being 1 1 p.m. the debate is interrupted. The House stands adjourned until Monday next at 2. IS p.m.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
Monitoring of Marine Ecosystems (Question No. 3461)
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I thank the honourable member for his question. The Government has been pleased to receive the report on Oil Spills by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation, and in accordance with normal practice is preparing a statement to the House of Representatives on this report.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 1 May 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I refer the honourable member to the answer given by myself to his question number 3032 (Hansard, 24 November 1978, pages 3582-3).
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 1 May 1 979:
-The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 1 May 1979:
-The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Yes. However in the course of examing the request it was established that the area delineated covered approximately 800 square miles not 100 as represented. Lengthy discussions and on site inspections with the Gordon Downs Group have occurred and representatives of the Group met with the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission and the Aboriginal Lands Trust representatives in March 1979. At this meeting they undertook to define and confirm the area desired, the information being received by the Aboriginal Lands Trust on 1 May 1979.
International Conference on Kampuchea (Question No. 3719)
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 1 May 1 979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
(a) I am not aware of any public comment by the United States on the proposal but in the United Nations Security Council debate on Indo-China in March the United States representative urged those who were considering the proposal for an international conference to elaborate their views how it might achieve its principal objectives.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 2 May 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Government is continuing to give consideration to the action required to comply with the terms of this resolution. At the same time, the Government will ensure that any action taken is consistent with the various established freedoms in Australia.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 2 May 1 979:
-The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
My Department has not commissioned or conducted any opinion polls or surveys since 1975.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 3 May 1 979:
Can he provide figures for prescribed medications per head of population in (a) 1976-77 (b) 1977-78 and (c) 1978-79.
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The number of pharmaceutical benefits per head of population are as follows:
The foregoing figures represent prescribing of benefits under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Excluded are details of private dispensing, hospital dispensing (both inpatient and out-patient) and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits which are not available in my Department.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 3 May 1979:
Has the Department of Aboriginal Affairs had discussions with State electoral authorities, as it has had with the Australian Electoral Office (Hansard, 5 April 1978, page 1 100), with the object of drawing up continuing programs of electoral education for Aboriginals.
No, this has not been necessary because as indicated by the Minister for Administrative Services in his answer to Question 3623 (Hansard, 1 May 1979, page 1716) the Australian Electoral Office is developing a program which, with the co-operation of State Governments, includes information about State electoral procedures.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 3 May 1979:
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 3 May 1 979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
The Indonesian Red Cross has been active for some time in East Timor and Australia has given financial suppOrt to its relief work. The Indonesian Foreign Minister Professor Mochtar was reported in January to have stated that the Indonesian authorites had no objection to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visiting East Timor. Furthermore, I understand that the Indonesian Government has invited the United States Catholic Relief Services to visit East Timor to consider possible assistance to the province. Separately, a number of foreign journalists have been permitted to visit East Timor over the past year.
The agreement between Indonesia and the Netherlands in 1962 to hold an act of free choice in Irian Jaya (West Irian) was put into effect in 1969 with United Nations participation. The General Assembly subsequently agreed to note the Secretary-General ‘s report on it. Following the act of free choice in 1969, successive Australian Governments, and indeed the international community, have regarded Irian Jaya as an integral part of Indonesia.
Aborigines: Alleged Racism in Queensland (Question No. 3837)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 3 May 1979:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 9 May 1979:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (1)1 understand that in September 1 978 the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare (DHEW) began an extensive campaign to promote the seeking of second opinions before surgery, particularly for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. DHEW, through its regional offices, is identifying local organisations such as Professional Standards Review Organisations, Medicare carriers or medical societies who might develop and maintain lists of doctors willing to provide such second opinions.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 31 May 1979, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1979/19790531_reps_31_hor114/>.