31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable, the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives, of the Australian Parliament assembled.
The Petition of certain citizens of New South Wales.
Dismay at the reduction in the total expenditure on education proposed for1 980 and in particular to Government schools.
Government schools bear the burden of these cuts,11 .2 per cent while non-Government schools will receive an increase of 3.4 per cent.
We call on the Government to again examine the proposals as set out in the guidelines for Education expenditure1980 and to immediately restore and increase substantially in real terms the allocation of funds for education expenditure in 1980 to Government schools.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Hunt, Mr Lusher, Mr MacKenzie, Mr Martin, Mr Morris, Mr O’Keefe 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 a grave threat to the life of refugees from the various States ofIndo-China arises from the policies of the Government of Vietnam.
That, as a result of these policies, many thousands of refugees are fleeing their homes and risking starvation and drowning. Because of the failure of the rich nations of the world to provide more than token assistance, the resources of the nations of first refuge, especially Malaysia and Thailand, are being stretched beyond reasonable limits.
As a wealthy nation within the region most affected, Australia is able to play a major pan in the rescue as well as resettlement of these refugees.
It should be possible for Australia to: - establish and maintain on the Australian mainland basic transit camps for the housing and processing of 200,000 refugees each year; - mobilise the Defence Force to search for, rescue and transport to Australia those refugees who have been able to leave the Indo-China States; - accept the offer of those church groups which propose to resettle some thousands of refugees in Australia.
The adoption of such a humane policy would have a marked effect on Australia ‘s standing within the region.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Burns, Mr Jacobi, Mr Jarman, Mr Roger Johnston and Mr John McLeay.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled.
The Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the National Women’s Advisory Council has not been democratically elected by the women of Australia;
That the National Women’s Advisory Council is not representative of the women of Australia;
That the National Women’s Advisory Council is a discriminatory and sexist imposition on Australian women as Australian men do not have a National Men’s Advisory Council imposed on them.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the National Women’s Advisory Council be abolished to ensure that Australian women have equal opportunity with Australian men of having issues of concern to them considered, debated and voted on by their Parliamentary representatives without intervention and interference by an unrepresentative ‘Advisory Council’.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Braithwaite and Mr MacKenzie.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the plan to obliterate the traditional weights and measures of this country is causing and will cause widespread inconvenience, confusion, expense and distress.
That there is no certainty that any significant benefits or indeed any benefits at all will follow the use of the new weights and measures.
That the traditional weights and measures are eminently satisfactory.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the Metric Conversion Act be repealed, and that the Australian Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional and familiar units to be restored to those areas where the greatest inconvenience and distress are occurring, that is to say, in meteorology, in road distances, in sport, in the building and allied trades, in the printing trade, and in retail trade.
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 Burns and Mr Fife.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Honourable Members of the House of Representatives.
This petition of citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will take urgent steps to concur with the wishes of a majority of the electors at every polling place in Australia at the 1967 referendum by resumption from the States of the major traditional Aboriginal land areas and reserves and former reserves as at 31.3.78, to become federal Crown land pending prompt determination of freehold title for Land Trusts and eventually for defined community co-operatives.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Graham.
Military Ties with the Association of South East Asian Nations
To the Honourable, the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth that:
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Australian Government will undertake.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Holding.
To the Honourable, the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the work undertaken at the occupational therapy (woodwork) section of the Rosemount Repatriation Hospital, Windsor, in Brisbane, is of great value to participating patients.
Your petitioners regret that: the department of veterans’ affairs has deliberately discouraged the use of the occupation therapy woodwork section at the hospital in order to downgrade the facility and ultimately to close it, repeated appeals from patients at the centre, from ex-servicemen’s associations and from other members of this parliament to reverse this policy have been unsuccessful;
And because the alternatives offered are unsatisfactory, your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House will request the government to review its decision not to replace the former woodwork instructor at Rosemount Repatriation Hospital, and to effectively close the woodwork facility, jeopardising the therapeutic value of the work undertaken there.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Humphreys.
To the Honourable, the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the recent United Nations decision confirming the delegation of the discredited Pol Pot, Khmer Rouge Regime as the legitimate representatives of the people of Kampuchea will in no way lead to a resolution of the Kampuchean conflict by peaceful means, and Australia’s de facto endorsement of the Khmer Rouge Regime is to be strongly condemned.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that this house will call on the Government to recognise the legitimacy of Kampuchea’s former head of state, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, and to direct the Australian delegation in the United Nations to urge that body to adopt the proposals advocated by Prince Sihanouk since the beginning of1979:
A Geneva conference to discuss the conflict, with representatives from all participants in the Kampuchean civil war along with five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, countries of the Indochinese peninsula, and members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN); an internationally supervised ceasefire; general elections open to all parties in the Kampuchean conflict.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Humphreys.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble Petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
There is a definite limit to the quantity of Australia ‘s mineral resources.
Accordingly our resources should be managed and developed under Australian ownership and control.
Publicly owned trading enterprises and corporations have been established and operated for the benefit of Australians since Federation.
The Commonwealth Banking Corporation, Trans Australia Airlines, Housing Loans Insurance Corporation, Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation, Australian Wheat Board, were all designed to operate to the benefit of our Nation as a whole under public ownership.
The Fraser government’s irresponsible proposals to sell off our Nation’s interest in the Ranger Uranium Mine, the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation, and to dispose of other successful statutory corporations such as Trans Australia Airlines, would be contrary to the Nation’s interests.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives will reject outright proposals of the Fraser government to sell the Ranger Uranium Mine, the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation and Trans Australia Airlines.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr James.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of the City of Nunawading in the electorate ofDeakin respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia per medium of the Minister for Social Security give all directions to ensure that necessary action be taken without delay.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Jarman.
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 objection to the Metric system and request the Government to restore the Imperial system.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Jarman.
To the Honourable the Speaker and the Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we strongly oppose the increase in Marine Radio Licence fees for the following reasons:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the government will not only reconsider the increased licence fee, but consider a reduction of same in the interest of safety.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Charles Jones.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble petition of electors of the State/Territory of New South Wales Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Act1 977 should immediately be repealed because:
It provides unfettered power to Ministers to suspend, stand-down and dismiss Commonwealth Government employees and places them in a markedly disadvantageous position as compared with all other Australian workers.
Its use places Commonwealth Government employees in direct conflict with the Government as it circumvents the arbitration tribunals and denies appeal rights.
Its use will exacerbate industrial disputes and inflame industrial relations in the Commonwealth area of employment
The International Labour Organisation has condemned the Provisions of the Act as being incompatible with the rights of organised labour in a free society.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Keating.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled.
The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth: that the price of LPG in Victoria has risen by $80 per tonne since November 1978 as a result of Federal Government policy thereby causing hardship to country consumers using LPG for cooking, heating and hot water and to decentralized industries using LPG for industrial purposes.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
that pending the establishment of a fair price in accordance with Clause 2 above and to provide some immediate relief to country consumers:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Nixon.
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 there are Australian Aboriginal children living under conditions of inadequate nutrition in a background of poor housing, hygiene, and overcrowding that amounts to a Third World enclave in the midst of affluence’ (see also the Report from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs ‘Aboriginal Health’ 1979); that such a state of affairs is intolerable in our country; that only an effort on an unprecedented scale could create conditions that would give these children the rights set out in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will make generous funding available for the specific purposes of: making a real improvement in the health, housing, education, employment and welfare of the Aboriginal people, doing so with due regard for the needs, hopes and aspirations of the Aboriginal people themselves; providing increased help, encouragement and opportunity for Aboriginal people to train as nursing aides and in other paramedical roles, and as fully qualified nurses, doctors and social workers; providing increased health education for Aboriginal people in ways that are acceptable to them. by Mr Ruddock.
To the Honourable the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth that:
The petition of the undersigned citizens respectfully prays therefore that the government will take strong action to ensure that this and future anti-smoking campaigns are not hindered by tobacco producers or their advertisers.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrUren.
– Can the Prime Minister inform the House whether every Minister who has been dismissed or suspended from his Ministry has been treated in the same manner in relation to the availability to him of ministerial staff and the period for which he continues to receive his ministerial salary or ministerial expenses?
-The circumstances of different Ministers have varied and have been judged on their merits. For example, my colleague the Minister for Finance voluntarily stood down. He did not receive his ministerial salary during that time but he remained a Minister. I think access to staff and car continued; and I believe it ought to have, under those circumstances. For a Minister who has resigned, the normal settling out period is two weeks. Those circumstances prevail. They are prevailing for the former Minister for Primary Industry and I think there is no option but that that course should take place.
– I refer the Minister for Post and Telecommunications to the recent increase in marine radio licence fees which has disadvantaged, in particular, volunteer coastal patrols in my electorate. Will these increased fees be reconsidered?
-There are a number of anomalies and oddities in the situation relating to radio communication fees throughout the entire system. These have grown up over very many years. I have asked for a full review of radio communication fees to be undertaken in my Department and for there to be full discussion with affected community groups in the process of this review. It is a complex task and will take some time. The position relating to marine licences is an urgent one and is being treated as a matter of priority. We do need, for instance, to consider the differences between personal and leisure use of these facilities and the use for professional and other related services, and, in particular, the position of those users who are concerned solely with the saving of human life. I can assure the honourable member that that sort of consideration will be of prime importance in the review.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. Did the former Minister for Primary Industry say that in reaching agreement on the Japanese fishing agreement proper consultations had taken place among the Queensland Government, the Queensland fisheries organisations and the responsible Commonwealth authorities? Has he been informed that the responsible Queensland Minister has denied that consultations took place? Did the consultations take place or did they not? Finally, does the Minister include among the responsible Commonwealth authorities with which he says the Government has consulted the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, in whose backyard the Japanese will be fishing?
-The fact is that consultations are still taking place on this matter. I have nothing further to say.
– The Minister for Finance will be aware of the announcement by the Treasurer in June in connection with proposed alterations to section 26E of the Income Tax Assessment Act regarding subsidised housing rentals. Can the Minister advise when the proposed amending legislation will be brought before the House? Is he aware that the Taxation Office is not issuing assessments on incomes of taxpayers involved in the sugar milling industry for the year ended 30 June 1979 for the reason that it is awaiting the amending legislation? Will the Minister act by issuing instructions to the Taxation Office to hasten the legislation and to proceed to issue those assessments for the year ended 30 June 1 979?
– The honourable member for Dawson was perfectly correct when he said that the Treasurer was having the matter of section 26E looked at. My understanding is that the review is virtually completed. I cannot give the honourable member an assurance as to when the legislation will come before the Parliament but I will bring his question to the attention of the Treasurer on his return at the weekend. My understanding is that no assessments at all have been held up by the Taxation Office pending consideration of this issue. If the honourable member does have any complaints, I would be grateful if he would advise me or the Treasurer and we will see that the matter is handled satisfactorily. One finds that some people want to get their assessments as quickly as possible in the hope of getting a refund. On the other hand, a lot of people hope that the assessments will be as late as possible because they know that they will have to pay a lot of money. But, if there are any complaints, please let us know. The Taxation Office assures me that no assessments have been deliberately held up.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Is it true that the Government is about to fund another advertising campaign on behalf of the private funds and the Australian Medical Association to encourage people to act irrationally and take insurance cover for treatment as private hospital patients? Especially in view of the increasing gap between the AMA’s suggested charges and the maximum amount recoverable from the funds, is this not a real insult to the intelligence of the community? Is it not true that the admission of patients into hospitals as private fee-for-service patients costs the Commonwealth Government more than it is saving due to the funds’ small contribution to hospital costs? Is it not also true that the proposed advertising campaign on behalf of the funds and the AMA, if it is successful, will therefore cost the taxpayer additional large sums of money?
– The honourable gentleman imputes to the Government and me motives for engaging in an advertising campaign to awaken the Australian people to the fact that no Commonwealth benefit is payable for medical fees up to $20 as from 1 September. I would be very concerned indeed if a significant percentage of the Australian people were unaware of that fact. The Commonwealth Government will meet the schedule fees for medical services over $20, but as from 1 September fees up to $20 will not be subsidised, except for pensioners with a pensioner health benefit card or disadvantaged patients. Of course, disadvantaged patients can have their medical services billed direct to the Department of Health.
There is certainly no intention on the part of the Government to advertise on behalf of the funds, the Australian Medical Association or anybody else. The campaign is designed purely and simply to warn people of the facts. I would feel very guilty indeed if people went on thinking that they would continue to be covered for 40 per cent of the schedule fee up to $20 and found when they submitted their accounts that they received no benefit for fees for general practitioner consultations, et cetera, up to $20. The whole purpose of the exercise is to warn people of that fact. If people want benefits they will need to take out private medical insurance.
– What if they can ‘t afford it?
– Disadvantaged people who cannot afford private insurance will have their services billed direct to the Department of Health, as is the practice at present. There is no great complaint about this scheme. It is working very well. Services are being direct billed to my Department. In fact the number of services that are being direct billed now is not much different from the number that were being direct billed prior to 1 November last year when bulk billing was available to all people. It is quite idle to say that doctors are not direct billing disadvantaged patients. Of course they are.
I make it very clear that the Australian people would be very wise indeed to maintain their health insurance. If they want the right to choose which doctor treats them in hospital, of course they will need to maintain their hospital insurance. That is a matter for the individual. Clearly the individual has shown a great disposition to choose his doctor. That is a matter for people generally to decide, but I do advise people either to maintain their medical and hospital insurance or, if they are not insured, to insure.
-Has the Minister for Special Trade Representations noted the recent announcement by the United States Government that up to 25 million tonnes of grain will be made available by the United States to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics? What impact does he expect this announcement to have on the world wheat market and on Australia’s prospects for selling wheat?
-That United States action had been expected for some time. It is not expected that it will have any significant impact on the market. In fact, the prices of wheat and other rural commodities are reasonably firm at present. The firm wheat prices have probably been caused by the reduced Russian grain production this season. In fact, Australia has made significant sales already, including three million tonnes to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which has to be supplied by the middle of next year. The Australian Wheat Board has been selling very strongly, particularly in the Middle East. It has sold over 1.5 million tonnes of grain to
Egypt, about 0.5 million tonnes to Iran and over one million tonnes to Iraq so far this year. I spoke to Ministers in Baghdad last week, and they indicated that there is considerable potential for growth in the wheat trade with Iraq and also for trade in many other commodities.
I think we can say, and the House should recognise this, that these firmer prices are very welcome indeed. They are needed by many rural communities. They help not only the Australian balance of trade but also many regions and rural industries which have not had things very easy for some years but which now have a chance to rejuvenate. With our wheat harvest estimated at 1 5 million tonnes for the coming season, I think it ought to be said that all Australians have a responsibility to see that the crop is harvested and exported, and that Australia continues its long standing reputation as a reliable supplier.
-The Acting Treasurer will recall that in August of last year the Treasurer announced a Dutch guilder loan at an interest rate of 8V4 per cent, which he described as representing terms which the Government regarded as satisfactory. Is it a fact that during 1978-79 adverse exchange rate variations added more than $49m to Australia’s public debt to the Netherlands? Does this mean that the effective interest rate on these loans for last year was in excess of 20 per cent? Does the Treasurer still regard such terms as satisfactory to the Commonwealth and the people of Australia?
-Over the past few years it has been necessary for the Australian Government to borrow abroad, although the necessity to do that has diminished and is likely to diminish further with the responsible fiscal policy which this Government has been developing. There will be need again during this year to borrow overseas. We are all well aware of the effect that currency fluctuations have throughout the world, but Australia’s credit rating is such that we borrow at the best possible rates overseas, and will continue to do so.
– Has the Minister for Foreign Affairs responded to reports suggesting that Australia is considering the possibility of providing a contingent in a multinational force to police the Sinai both during and after the Israeli withdrawal in accordance with the terms of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty? What is the
Government’s attitude towards the establishment of this force and Australia’s possible involvement in it, particularly following the disbandment of the United Nations Emergency Force in the Sinai, to which Australia previously contributed?
-A unit of 45 Royal Australian Air Force and three Royal Australian Navy air and ground crew personnel, known as Austair, which has operated four Iroquois helicopters as part of the United Nations Emergency Force in the Middle East since June 1976, is being withdrawn to Australia this month. The Minister for Defence and I issued a statement on this issue the night before last. The withdrawal is part of the general withdrawal of UNEF, whose mandate lapsed on 24 July this year and which will be totally disbanded by the end of this year. There has been some suggestion that the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation in the Middle East, known as UNTSO, may be expanded to assist in the arrangements at present being finalised to monitor the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai under the terms of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty signed in March this year. I had discussions on this matter last week. The possibility of involving UNTSO in this monitoring operation has met with considerable resistance from some quarters. It seems at this moment unlikely to be agreed to in the immediate future. However, if it were to be agreed to ask UNTSO to assist in monitoring the Israeli withdrawal, and if there were a request for Australian participation in the expanded force, the Government of course would be prepared to consider providing such a contribution. If the request were to come before Austair has completed its withdrawal from the Middle East, obviously consideration would be given to reviewing the decision for the unit to withdraw.
– I ask the Acting Treasurer whether the Moscow Narodny Bank is increasing its activities in Australia, even to the extent of lending $550,000 to one person. If so, what action has been or will be taken to ensure that Australian property acquired with loans from foreign owned and controlled banks will not be subject to mortgage agreements which provide that, in the event of failure to honour the loans, the property would be subject to foreign takeover?
- Mr Speaker-
– It is a meeting of areas.
-Obviously the Opposition knows that I come from Queensland.
– From the Gold Coast too.
-Yes. I am very proud to come from the Gold Coast. I am really not aware of the development of the Moscow Narodny Bank. I have read that it has been active in Australia and in Asia. I certainly have no knowledge at all of any individual loan which it may make. Rules are applied by the authorities in this country regarding overseas borrowings, but I cannot possibly help the honourable member with any detail on any one borrowing.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government is prepared to consider a proposition that the Constitution be changed by a simple majority of voters. What effect would such a proposition have on the various Australian States?
-The Government is not prepared to contemplate that kind of proposition. It needs to be understood that this federation is a compact between six States. The States entered into the federation under certain terms and circumstances. The States that are smaller in population believed that in a country as large as Australia they would need some protection against the capacity of those in New South Wales and Victoria to change the Constitution to suit themselves at the expense of those in South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania. Therefore the provision in the Constitution that one needs not only a majority of voters but also a majority of States is a very real safeguard and a very real protection for the less populous States. It is a protection that the Government believes is appropriate to Australia’s circumstances. The Government believes that it remains appropriate to Australia’s circumstances.
I think it is worth noting that at the biennial conference of the Labor Party held in Adelaide every member of the Labor Party, Federal and State, including the Federal President of the Labor Party, Mr Batt, who I understand comes from Tasmania, was committed to a change in the constitutional procedures so that a simple majority alone would alter the Constitution. I believe that that represents a complete sellout of the interests of the smaller States. I find it very difficult to understand how a senior Minister in the State Labor Government and the President of the Australian Labor Party could actively support such a proposition and be committed to its implementation, as must every State Labor Premier, as must every State Labor politician and as must every Labor politician in this Parliament. It certainly represents a denial of the interests of the smaller States. It is significant to note that the President of the Australian Labor Party, a senior Minister in the Government of Tasmania, Mr Batt, was a principal architect of this kind of constitutional change. It shows the kind of double standards in which the Labor Government in Tasmania deals and which were revealed very plainly when it introduced its last Budget. That Budget showed the total hypocrisy of the charges that the Tasmanian Government laid against the Federal Government as a result of the last Loan Council meeting. The greatest condemnation of the Tasmanian Government came from its own voice when it introduced its own Budget.
– I direct my question to the Acting Treasurer. The question relates to the recent moves by the United States Federal Reserve Board to reduce sharply the rate of growth in the money supply and to increase interest rates. Does the Acting Treasurer expect that this action will result in increased private capital outflows from Australia, with consequential balance of payments problems and a reduced rate of growth in the money supply? Is it a fact that already there has been an increase in higher interest rates in Australia as reflected in the bank bill rate? What steps, if any, is the Government taking to prevent these overseas events from precipitating a general increase in interest rates or a credit squeeze in Australia?
-Of course the Government is aware of the decisions that have been taken by the Federal Reserve in Washington. It watches with great interest, as every Australian government obviously does, decisions that are taken in the United States. It would be fair to observe that we are pleased to see that policy decisions in the United States are designed to have a greater degree of fiscal responsibility and to bear down upon inflation. Movement in interest rates has occurred only in recent weeks in the United States and the movement of capital is being monitored very carefully. Interest rates in the United States have increased. The effect which that may have internationally, including Australia, is being and will continue to be watched very carefully. Finally, I am sorry to disappoint the honourable member, but there is no prospect of a credit squeeze in Australia.
– Can the Minister for Transport advise of any further developments in the relaxation of parallel scheduling by Australia’s domestic airlines? Can he also advise whether such a policy has any beneficial effect on the airlines servicing the main regional centres of Australia?
-The House will be aware that Ansett Transport Industries Ltd announced that it was proposing to break the parallel scheduling between Melbourne and Canberra and Canberra and Sydney. Discussions on this vexed question have been held between Ansett Transport Industries Ltd, Trans-Australia Airlines and me. Indeed, the airlines have done a considerable amount of work on the breaking of parallel scheduling throughout the trunk routes of Australia. I welcome the introduction of this first step in the breaking of parallel scheduling, but I am looking to the airlines to advance the proposals, copies of which I have seen, as quickly as possible. There is no doubt that parallel scheduling under the two-airlines agreement is the most vexed question in the minds of the travelling public. The sooner the breaking of parallel scheduling comes about, the happier the community will be.
-I refer the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs to an explanation he gave on 30 August this year in which he said that migrants coming to Australia fell into four categories- family reunion, refugees, those entering by virtue of the Tasman agreement and persons who were selected because of their occupational skills. The Minister will recall saying that those in the last group are selected in areas where there is a strong and continuing demand for their labour skills in Australia. In view of the high unemployment level amongst recently arrived migrants, will the Minister confirm that, under the Numerical Multifactor Assessment System selection process, persons who fall into this last migrant category are still being selected primarily because of labour market demand for their skills?
– The four categories are as I stated them. It probably would be more precise to say that the fourth main category is that of the independent applications. In relation to the selection of people in the independent classification, under the Numerical Multifactor Assessment System attention is paid to occupation and the skills and qualifications that people have and the relationship which that has to demand in Australia. That is continuing; but, under the NUMAS scheme, there is flexibility which allows the entry to Australia of people who score particularly well under the NUMAS selection system; those are outstanding migrants who may have occupations which are outside those classified in the information given to my Department by other Commonwealth departments. What we are seeking to do is to have a selection system which brings to Australia migrants who are most capable of settling in successfully and playing a real role in the development of this country. We need to have flexibility in the assessment and selection system and that is being provided by NUMAS.
-Is the Minister for Health aware that student nurses in New South Wales have been told that they will not obtain jobs after graduation? Can the Minister advise whether this is correct? If not, what is the position?
– I have received letters from student nurses in New South Wales complaining that, although they will be completing their examinations on 16 October, they have no indication of any job opportunities within the hospital system in the State of New South Wales. Unfortunately, I have no direct responsibility for the employment of nurses, whether they be student or graduate nurses in New South Wales. That happens to be a responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Health in New South Wales, who has been engaging in a quite extraordinary propaganda campaign. I would be the last one to want to get into a slanging match with Mr Stewart. But I am afraid that the truth must be told. The New South Wales Minister has, in fact, received 1 4 per cent more in -
– How much?
– Fourteen per cent more in Commonwealth funds than he received last year. The New South Wales Government is receiving a greater percentage increase than any other State in this Commonwealth. In fact the New South Wales Government is receiving $54.2m more this year than it received last year for its hospital system. But the New South Wales Minister happens to be making the most noise of all Ministers in the Commonwealth. Obviously his policy is that the more one gets the louder one screams. I ask honourable members to listen to what I have to say about what he has chosen to do. Are all honourable members listening?
– He even threatened to close half the hospitals in the Gwydir electorate.
– Yes, he even threatened to close half the hospitals in the Gwydir electorate. Oh, no; he is carrying it too far! He is going ahead to open the new units as Westmead, Liverpool, Gosford and Albury, but as he is opening these new units he is closing other units m the central -
– You told him he had to.
– Oh, no. We are having a national inquiry into hospitals. I thought that he would have shown more political sense and a little more understanding of the problems had he waited until that report -
– What about the people of western Sydney?
-Let me finish. Mr Speaker, I appeal to you for protection. Mr Stewart should have waited for the recommendations of the national inquiry into hospitals before creating such insecurity amongst the nursing staff of New South Wales. I am sorry that I cannot do much about the situation. I have done all I can do. We have given New South Wales 14 per cent more than it received last year to maintain services at existing levels during the course of that national inquiry. If the New South Wales Government chooses to open new units and close existing units, that is the responsibility of the New South Wales Government. I am afraid that Mr Stewart must face up to his own responsibilities and take the blame for his own actions.
– I ask the Minister for Health: Is it a fact that doctors’ fees will increase from 1 November? Did a tribunal headed by Mr Justice Ludeke which investigated doctors’ fees recommend an average increase in fees of some 13 per cent? Is the Minister aware of reports that the Australian Medical Association is recommending that general practitioners ignore the tribunal ‘s findings and that they raise their fees by between 19 and 23 per cent? Is the Minister taking any action to enforce the findings of Mr Justice Ludeke? Finally, what other section of the community is able to treat with contempt what the Prime Minister continually refers to as the umpire ‘s decision ‘?
– The Leader of the Opposition of course is well aware of the constitutional limitations on the powers of the Commonwealth Government in controlling fees, salaries and wages. In fact there have been a number of referendums at which the people have been invited to give additional powers to the Commonwealth to enable it to control wages, salaries, prices, et cetera. On each occasion the people have overwhelmingly rejected the transfer of that power to the Commonwealth Government.
– The States have.
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition will remain silent.
– The consequence is that the Commonwealth has no power to set doctors’ fees.
– Ask the States. They will do it if you ask them. They have in the past.
-The Commonwealth Government has done precisely what the Labor Government did about three or four years ago.
– That is not true.
– lt had private fee inquiries under Mr Justice Ludeke.
– We had the States apply price fixing in the States.
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition asked his question. I ask him to hear the answer in silence.
– He must not misrepresent what happened in the past.
-There is opportunity at a later stage for the honourable gentleman to make a personal explanation.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker. When the Leader of the Opposition was Minister for Social Security he had ministerial responsibility for the setting up of inquiries into doctors ‘ fees. It could have been the honourable member for Capricornia. I am not sure. But the Labor Government did hold private fee inquiries to establish fee-for-benefit levels. During the period that the Whitlam Government was in office we had a 94 per cent increase in doctors’ fees-for-benefit levels.
– How much?
– It was 94 per cent. We had a great explosion in doctors’ fees during that period. We are still paying a very high price for that Government’s extravagant policies. The Commonwealth Government has not power over the fees that doctors charge. We do have power to set fees for benefit purposes and we rigidly adhere to that. I am well aware that the New South Wales Government is having an inquiry into the issue. It will be a matter for the State governments to take whatever decisions they think proper in regard to the fees that -
– Will you approach them? I did.
-You did, did you?
– Yes, I did and we got it working in New South Wales and South Australia.
– Aren’t you worried about the patients?
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition will remain silent. I ask the Minister to ignore the interjections.
-The Leader of the Opposition of course presided over the greatest explosion in health costs that this country ever saw. When I became Minister for Health health costs in Australia were exploding at the rate of 36 per cent per annum. I am afraid that the Opposition’s record in the area of health is disastrous and the Australian people are paying a very high price for it today by way of either taxation or health insurance premiums.
- Mr Speaker, may I have leave to ask you a question?
-The honourable gentleman is entitled to do so. I am not sure whether I will welcome it. I will find that out when I hear it.
-Mr Speaker, do you recall the discussions at the Fifth Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth held in this chamber last year in relation to the need for the absolute independence of the Speaker from the Executive? I mention also, Mr Speaker, the important role you have undertaken in relation to the matter. In view of the sincere interest of this House now and of all future Speakers from whatever political party, will you inform the House, either in reply to my question or by a statement afterwards should the answer be long, of the progress you have made in your endeavours to ensure that the office of Speaker shall be seen to be neither under the shadow of the Throne nor under the pressure of the Executive?
-I am very anxious to see in this national Parliament the adoption of the Westminster convention in relation to the independence of the Speaker. I have made it clear that whilst I advocate that cause I would not be the beneficiary of it, if it is seen as being of benefit to anybody. Pursuant to that, I circulated to all members of the Parliament a paper describing the convention, the reasons for it and the way in which it works. That paper has been made available to all members. Since then, I have also given to all members a copy of a pamphlet entitled ‘Speaker Seeking Re-election’ which was issued by Mr Speaker Thomas in the United Kingdom when he stood for re-election. Many members expressed great interest in that.
I think the next stage, which I am about to undertake, is to circulate a paper on the necessity for separating parliamentary action from organisational action. I will distribute that to all members next week and from that members will be able to see the course of actions that lie ahead. It would be possible for the Parliament to adopt part of the convention and for the organisational parties, at a later stage as they choose, to adopt the remainder of the convention. That paper will be available next week. Shortly thereafter I will ask the party leaders for the response of the parties.
– The Minister representing the Attorney-General would have noted the recent speech of the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police on the inadequacy of the present criminal law enforcement system in Australia. Is the Minister aware of the alarming increase in organised and serious crime in Australia and the international problems caused by overseas organised crime operating in this country and Australian organised crime operating overseas? Will the Minister give urgent consideration to the establishment of a national crime commission to monitor crime on a national level and to provide advice to governments about measures to overcome the problem and the resources needed to do that? Will he raise this suggestion at the next meeting of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General?
– I thank the honourable gentleman for his question because the presence of organised crime within Australia or the role of Australian organised crime overseas must be a matter of concern to the nation. The honourable member will appreciate, however, that the control of organised crime is primarily a responsibility of the States. The Commonwealth for its part is watching very closely developments within the States for handling this problem. There are no immediate plans for the establishment of a national crime commission. I point out, however, that the Commonwealth has cooperated with the States in the establishment of the Australian Institute of Criminology, which has a clear interest in this area.
Other steps taken by the Commonwealth to counter the development of organised crime are referred to in an answer given by the AttorneyGeneral to a question asked by Senator Puplick. For the information of the honourable member, it appears at page 782 of the Senate Hansard of 19 September 1979. I think the AttorneyGeneral would feel that before referring the possible establishment of a national crime commission to the Standing Committee of AttorneysGeneral the question whether the Institute of Criminology could fulfil a role would first need to be considered. I will refer the honourable gentleman’s question to the Attorney-General.
-I preface my question, which is directed to the Minister for National Development, by referring to a question that I asked the Minister on 25 September with regard to nuclear wastes and the negotiations going on between the Australian Government, the Western Australian Government and the West German Government about the storing of nuclear waste in Western Australia. In reply, the Minister said:
The Australian Government’s position on this matter is very clear. The Government would not adopt a policy of allowing nuclear waste from overseas to be dumped in this country.
I ask the Minister: Why?
– I would have thought that the answer was perfectly obvious. I have nothing to add to the information that I have given the honourable member already.
-I ask the Prime Minister whether he has had private discussions with the Catholic bishops on the report on unemployment prepared for them by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. Have there been any developments as a result of those discussions?
-The Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs and I did have discussions on that document with representatives of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and with three Catholic bishops. I regarded the discussions as useful and constructive. I hope that the concern that is expressed in the document is something which all members of this House would share. I was at some pains to explain how the Government, through the development of its own policies and through the initiatives that my colleagues are examining at present, has provided manifest evidence of the Government’s own concern for those who are unable to obtain employment at present. I put the view that the solutions that were proposed in that document were unlikely to succeed, but that view does not challenge the concern and the thought that has gone into the document.
As honourable members would know, the solutions advocated relate very much to specific proposals for job creation. They would involve the abandonment of the work test which, at one level, could involve an estimated potential cost of $26,000m because if there were no work test everyone of employable age not in work would presumably be entitled to receive the unemployment benefit. The cost of that proposal would clearly be very great indeed. Under those circumstances there were some considerable problems with the solutions proposed in the document.
I had concentrated at some length, as I did before the National Youth Conference held by my colleague the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, on the problems of transition from school to work. I had paid some attention to the degree to which I believe the current school system has failed many students in Australia. There has been a bias in the school system for far too long towards academic training.
– Why don ‘t you look at yourself?
-That is fine for those who want -
– These are the people you describe as colonial drongos!
-Order! I ask honourable members on my left to cease interjecting. There is no need for it. The question has been asked and the answer should be heard in silence.
– I was making the point that the current school system, especially at the higher secondary level, has failed a significant number of students in Australia over recent years. There has been an academic bias. That is fine for those who want to go, and are suited to go, on to a university or a college of advanced education, but for those who have different talents that is not necessarily the right approach. If somebody is given a sense of failure by not being able to pass those academic tests, if somebody is more vocationally orientated in his skills and natural aptitudes, I think it is very unfortunate indeed -
– Join the Country Party.
-That is the attitude of honourable gentlemen from the Australian Labor Party towards those who work with their hands as opposed to those with an academic bent of mind. I think that the time has come in Australia to assert very strongly that there is as much dignity, honour and selfsatisfaction for those who work with manual skills -
– Because you do not work with your mind, do you suggest that you work with your hands?
-Order! I ask the Leader of the Opposition to cease interjecting and I warn the honourable member for Batman not to do so.
– I think it is time that we asserted in this country that those who seek to work with their hands, those who have manual talents and skills, those who seek trade skills, have as much honour and dignity within this nation as those who seek to work with an academic bent of mind. It is not a question of difference in quality; it is a difference in kind. It is very unfortunate indeed -
Opposition members interjecting-
– I would have thought that honourable gentlemen from the Australian Labor Party would show some concern for a very real problem amongst a large number of young people at the present time.
- Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. Does it take until 1979 for the Prime Minister to understand that working people have dignity? Is that the point of his answer? What a stupid, puerile, infantile thing to say.
-Order! There is no point of order. The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
-The point is a very plain one. The modern secondary school has done much to promote academic training, but I believe that it has also done a good deal to diminish the dignity, thrust and enthusiasm that people might have for other kinds of skills. If students who are not suited to academic work and later university or college training are given a sense of frustration and failure in the current secondary school system, that is doing those students a very grave disservice. That is the thrust of what I said at the National Youth Conference. It is also the thrust of much of what I said in the discussion with Catholic bishops and one or two representatives of the Catholic Commission. It is something to which my colleagues, the Minister for Education and the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, are giving a great deal of attention at present.
If young men and women in Australia leave school with that sense of frustration and because the nature of training at school is one of the causes of unemployment- I emphasise that it is only one- they have difficulty in getting work, the sense of frustration and lack of achievement can only be compounded. The problems of transition from school and the nature of work at school are of great importance. They need reexamination, as the Williams Committee of Inquiry and others have pointed out in recent times. For anyone to suggest that in that kind of discussion I categorised all unemployed people as dull is a very significant and severe distortion of the total thrust of what I said. I believe that that allegation and suggestion should not have been made.
– Pursuant to section 49 of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation Act 1 977, 1 present the interim annual report of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation 1979.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the annual report of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the annual report of the Department of National Development 1 978-79.
– I claim to have been misrepresented at Question Time.
-If the honourable gentleman wishes to make a personal explanation, he may proceed.
– At Question Time the Minister for Health ( Mr Hunt) made a number of misrepresentations. Firstly, he claimed that there was an uncontrolled explosion in medical fees during the period of Labor Government when I was Minister for Social Security. The fact is that the fees to which he referred were established after a proper inquiry by an independent tribunal presided over by Mr Justice Ludeke. The only way in which those fees could have been reduced below the level recommended by the umpire- to use the words of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser)- would have been to have rejected the findings of the umpire. I believe that that would have been an intolerable proposition in the Australian community. It is important to note, however, that as a proportion of gross domestic product, expenditure on medical servicesthat is, the total cost of medical fees- now is higher than it has ever been in the history of this country.
The next matter referred to by the Minister was that there is not power to fix medical fees. There are two observations there. Firstly, this Government opposed a referendum which, among other things, if it had been carried would have provided power to fix those fees.
– I raise a point of order. The question of whether or not fees could be fixed by government and whether the Constitution provides for it is not a matter on which the Leader of the Opposition was personally misrepresented. It is a matter of debate on an issue that was raised at Question Time.
-The honourable gentleman is giving an explanation as to why he was misrepresented.
-The thrust of my point is that the Minister claimed that things were not done and implied that they should have been done- if we are going to raise questions on this matter. The second matter is that authority does rest with the States, as you would understand, Mr Speaker, and we did resort to that authority, through co-operation with some of the States, and fees were fixed on a number of occasions in that period. Finally, the Minister referred to the greatest explosion in health costs having occurred in that period when I was Minister for Social Security. In fact, the figures provided by the Minister and all figures I have quoted so far have been provided by him in answer to an extensive question I put to him on notice which was answered on 21 August 1979. That answer shows that, as a proportion of gross domestic product, total expenditure on health, in spite of the Government’s cutting back substantially on capital works, is the highest it has ever been in this country.
-The honourable gentleman is now going into debate.
-With your indulgence, there is one other matter which I would like to raise and have on the record. You may recall, Mr Speaker, that on one or two occasions in the past I have been rather direct, if not blunt, in making some criticisms of your conduct of affairs of the House.
-I did notice.
– I think the record ought to bear balance. When it is appropriate commendation ought to be expressed. I would like to put on the record commendation of the way in which you handled the very difficult affairs of this House on the Wednesday and Thursday of the last sitting week before last week’s recess. That was a very difficult period and if it had been conducted by you in any way short of the standard that you set, it could have created a great deal of disruption. On that basis, I feel I am obliged, given my earlier comments, to put that matter on the record.
– I thank the honourable gentleman.
– I present to the House, on behalf of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney), his statement of the report of the Aboriginal Land Commissioner on the Uluru and Lake Amadeus Luritja land claim.
-I claim to have been misrepresented the other evening during the adjournment debate. May I make a personal explanation?
– The honourable gentleman may make a personal explanation.
– In the House I claimed, on behalf of my elector, that the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) had failed to notify her of her husband’s deportation order. The Minister said in his reply:
I would like to make some points in relation to the contribution of the honourable member for Holt. He said that the family was not informed. That is patently not so. The family was informed.
Earlier he said:
I also directed . . . that Mrs Grunau and the children be offered passages to West Germany at Commonwealth expense in the event that Mrs Grunau elected to accompany her husband with their Australian-born children.
This morning I received a statement made by Mrs Grunau by way of statutory declaration. It reads in part:
I affirm the statement that I made to my Federal Member of Parliament and which he repeated in Parliament; namely: I have never had an official letter or communication from the Department of immigration concerning my husband’s deportation.
– Where is he?
– I do not think the honourable member needs to interrupt. The matter is too important. The statement continues:
Today, I have still not received any official communication from the Minister whatever, firstly concerning my husband ‘s deportation and secondly that according to the Minister, the Commonwealth was prepared to offer me and my Australian born family passages to West Germany at Commonwealth expense if my husband was deported . . .
The statements I made in the House were true and correct in every way that I could possibly make them. I claim to have been grievously misrepresented.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
– In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969 I present the report relating to the proposed work:
Crop adaptation laboratory for the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation at Black Mountain, Acton, Australian Capital Territory.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-Mr Speaker, when I made my personal explanation I meant to seek leave to have the statutory declaration incorporated in Hansard so that there could be no mistake about the matter. I now do so.
– Does leave need to be granted by this side?
– I asked whether leave was granted. Any one voice can refuse leave, but there was no contrary voice.
The document read as follows-
STATUTORY DECLARATION OF KAYLENE GRUNAU
Springvale Legal Service
Co operative Limited, 5 Osborne Avenue, SPRINGVALE, Vic, 3171. 10th October,1979
I, Kaylene Grunau of 3 Moonah Court, Doveton in the State of Victoria home duties do solemnly and sincerely declare that
I am an Australian citizen and was born in Warragul, Victoria on1 7th December,1945.
I married Johannes Paul Grunau born14th October, 1 938, in Numurkah, Victoria on 28th December,1 964.
There are three children of the marriage, namely:
Sally-Ann Patricia-born 29.1 .1 966
All these children were born in this country and are Australian citizens.
My husband is currently in Townsville Prison and is due for release on 5th November,1979.
At my husband’s trial in Cairns, Queensland, in 1975, the question of my husband’s deportation was discussed but no decision was made.
Towards the end of1977, I was contacted by a Mr Belford of the Department of Immigration in Melbourne, with a view to determining whether or not I would be prepared to have my husband return to myself and our family upon his release. I answered that that was my wish. I heard nothing further from the Department.
In August, of this year, after receiving correspondence from my husband I became confused as to his eventual release date from prison. Accordingly, on Thursday, 27th September, 1979, I telephoned the prison and spoke to the acting Welfare Officer. He told me that the release date had been fixed for 5 November,1979. I was also told that there was a letter from the Immigration Department saying that a deportation order was pending. This was the first notice I have had of any proposed deportation other than when it was first mentioned at the trial in1 975.
I affirm the statement that I made to my Federal Member of Parliament and which he repeated in Parliament, namely: I have never had an official letter or communication from the Department of Immigration concerning my husband’s deportation. Today, I have still not received any official communication from the Minister whatever, firstly concerning my husband’s deportation and secondly that according to the Minister, the Commonwealth was prepared to offer me and my Australian born family passages to West Germany at Commonwealth expense if my husband was deported to Germany.
It is my fervent wish that my husband be allowed to continue to live in this country and to join me and his family at our home in Doveton, Victoria. It is in this area that my children attend school and that my own relatives all live. I do not speak German nor do any of my children and I have no relatives in that country. For me to follow my husband to that country as a result of his proposed deportation would result in much hardship to my family.
And I make this solemn declaration conscientiously believing the same to be true and by virtue of the provisions of an Act of the Parliament of Victoria rendering persons making a False Declaration punishable for wilful and corrupt perjury.
Declared at Springvale in the
State of Victoria Mrs K. A. GRUNAU this tenth day of October
One thousand nine hundred and seventy nine
Commissioner of the Supreme Court of Victoria
– With your indulgence, Mr Speaker: I would be somewhat reluctant to set a precedent that we would agree at any time to incorporate statutory declarations in Hansard. Such declarations could reflect on members or on circumstances to which we could object. The honourable member for Holt (Mr Yates) showed me this statutory declaration before Question Time and I looked through it. It merely declares the position of the woman and her relationship with the Department of Immigration. Personally, I have no objection to its being incorporated in Hansard, but as I said, I should not like it to be thought that we were setting a precedent that we would agree at any time to a statutory declaration being incorporated in Hansard at the request of any member.
– On a point of order, Mr Speaker, I believe that the position under the Standing Orders is clear. Whenever a request is made to have something incorporated in Hansard- such request must be made in each case- any member in the House can refuse leave. Since this is a matter in which the member has a difference-
– Have you read it?
– Just let me explain. Since this is a matter which -
– You have granted leave but you have not read it?
-The honourable member for Port Adelaide will remain silent.
– The honourable member is a frequent interrupter, Mr Speaker. I was about to say that since this is a matter in which the honourable member has expressed some disagreement with a member of the Government I agreed to incorporation of the document because I did not want the honourable member to think that there was any reason not to go into the matter. I am quite sure that my colleague will take an opportunity at an early time to make a statement on the matter.
– I will respond to both points. Firstly, the Minister has explained why he agreed to grant leave. Secondly, I think the point made by the honourable member for Port Adelaide is quite valid. That point is that a precedent should not be adopted. I point out that the proper practice for any member wishing to incorporate a document in Hansard is to approach both the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition through the Minister in charge at the table and the shadow Minister in charge at the table and ask for their concurrence to incorporate the document. It takes only one voice to refuse leave and therefore if there is any doubt either side can refuse leave and enter into a discussion with the person seeking leave so that a proper examination can be made of the document in order to avoid any deleterious matter being included inadvertently in the Hansard report.
– I have received a letter from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government’s failure to fulfil its responsibilities to guarantee all Australians the right of free assembly.
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-
– A number of trade unions in Western Australia have already been fined and a number are facing charges. Unionists have even been arrested without warrant and incarcerated for having attended meetings, which action in Western Australia is contrary to the law. There is no doubt that governments can pass bad laws. We have a very bad Government in Western Australia when it comes to the question of human rights. The issue for this national Parliament is to look at its responsibilities in respect of legislation to protect the rights of Australian citizens. We have had the spectacle of a national strike because unionists have been arrested without warning and subsequently fined for having attended a meeting of their trade unions. If such legislation is allowed to persist in this country which means that people can be incarcerated or fined simply because they have expressed their democratic rights it will lead to a very fascist-like domination of the trade union movement and many other movements.
In this particular case the people involved held a meeting to discuss the rights of their fellow trade unionists, an action which the Conciliation and Arbitration Act well encourages. It is quite ridiculous to think that the national Parliament will abdicate its responsibilities when we can have a complete confrontation with the whole of the trade union movement in Australia. The trade unions are entitled to confront this Government; they are entitled to call further national strikes if this repressive legislation remains. The difficulty that we face in this Parliament is that the Government has done nothing about this matter.
The history of the case started in last June when two union officials attended a meeting and, following that meeting, were arrested when they got to Perth. The union officials concerned were Mr Carmichael and Mr Marks. They had attended a meeting at Port Hedland to address their fellow unionists in respect of an industrial relations seminar. They missed their flight back to Perth, so they went to Karratha to address a meeting of 200 workers on a vacant lot. Their appearance was not scheduled; there was no interference with anybody else, but because they attended that meeting the police took the names of the people at the meeting. When Carmichael and Marks arrived at Perth they were arrested for having broken the law.
The reason I raise this matter of public importance is that following that incident there was a national strike. Because the whole nation was brought to a standstill the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) thought that he might as well try to do something about it- and so he should have. A discussion was held between Australian Council of Trade Unions representatives, the Prime Minister and representatives of the Western Australian Government about the problems with the law. It was agreed that there would be a review of the law not only by the Commonwealth Attorney-General (Senator Durack) but also by the Attorney-General of Western Australia, Mr Medcalf. A report of this review of the law has now been produced by these two distinguished gentlemen. It is the most facile review of the law that I have ever seen. All it has done is to give a documentary indication of what the laws are in respect of the States and the Territories. There is not one mention of Commonwealth law, not one mention of the international covenant, and not one mention as to what the Commonwealth could do by way of legislation in this field. So we have this so called review of the law. If we are honest about the situation, we must admit that the real issue is that the Western Australian Government has deliberately set out on a course of action to cause industrial chaos not only in Western Australia but also throughout the length and breadth of this land. We know that an election is coming up in Western Australia. Perhaps it is a good policy on the part of Sir Charles Court to have more confrontation, because he might get more votes; but such a policy is disastrous for democracy in this country.
Mr Deputy Speaker, you and I know that if we are to present the issue of democracy for the Association of South East Asian Nations to consider we ought to set a good example. The leaders of those nations would be delighted to think that they could institute a system of law under which unionists cannot assemble at any meeting and if he does so he will be gaoled. That is the very antithesis of what democracy is all about. To have a review of the law by two gentlemen just to tell us what is the present legislation is running away from the issue. That is what the Prime Minister has done in this case. Having had a review of the law nothing else happened, except for the statement made by Sir Charles Court, the Premier of Western Australia, that the Prime Minister, ought to keep out of the matter. He said it had nothing to do with the Prime Minister because it was a matter solely for Western Australia. This is the sort of confrontation which arises when there are hoodlums in power who have no idea of their responsibilities.
There were further discussions last week between the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Street) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions on what should be done. It is reported that the Minister said as recently as this week that the Federal Government has no power to achieve changes in the Western Australian laws on public assembly. That is not right. It is wrong in law and it is important that the Australian people, the trade unionists and particularly the people of Western Australia know that the laws in Western Australia contradict the principles of human rights and the principles upon which the laws of public assembly should be based. Australia has already entered into an International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is a covenant to which the Australian Government has subscribed, and Australia is a member of the Human Rights Commission. Article 19 of the covenant clearly states:
Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of all frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
Article 2 1 states:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of this right . . .
Article 22 states:
Everyone shall have the right of freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
Most importantly, article 50 says:
The provisions of the present Covenant shall extend to all parts of federal States without any limitations or exceptions.
That is the position. I also mention High Court decisions from three cases- the Burgess case, the Seas and Submerged Lands case and the second New South Wales airlines case. For some time it has been said on judicial authority that the national Parliament has the power to legislate in this area, and it has done so. In the Burgess case, which dealt with aeronautical control and regulation, the High Court decision established that the national Parliament has the legislative capacity and, indeed, the duty to legislate in these areas. It has not done so in this case, and that is because the Prime Minister has walked away from the situation and because the Minister for Industrial Relations says he does not think he has any power. It is also because there has been a review of the law by a Federal Attorney-General in which that matter is not even mentioned. We are left in the situation where there will be strike after strike in Western Australia and national strikes throughout the country because of this abdiction of responsibility. The judges presiding over the Burgess case stated:
It would seem clear, therefore, that the legislative power of the Commonwealth over ‘external affairs’ certainly includes the power to execute within the Commonwealth treaties and conventions entered into with foreign powers.
Execute within the Commonwealth treaties and conventions’, they said. That is now established. At the present time we are not talking about treacherous people or traitors. We are talking about people who want to assemble to discuss their problems and, because they have done so, a number of them have been arrested and fined and a number of others are facing further charges because they just attended the court where these matters were being heard. Yesterday, a magistrate at Port Hedland imposed fines against five unionists on charges laid under State laws of assembly, and the men have 14 days in which to pay those fines. Arising out of that, another 1 1 or 12 people have been arrested. The numbers are now escalating enormously because no Australian worth his salt will accept this sort of legislation.
We have to look at what sort of people Australia has as police commissioners. There are a few problems when one looks at what has been said by the present Police Commissioner in Western Australia, Mr Leitch. Mr Leitch has indicated his views on a number of matters over a long period. For example, in 1975- shortly after his appointment- he wrote an editorial in the Police Journal warning Australians to beware of the Left being dominated by the Fretilin forces in East Timor which threatened Australia. Two years ago when there was a demonstration against a politician he said that the reds were everywhere; they were not under the bed, they were in it. So there is this sort of personal approach to the question of administration of justice.
Under the Western Australian laws of assembly, one has to apply to the likes of the Commissioner of Police for approval to assemble. The Opposition wants to make very clear what happened at the original meeting in Karratha, Western Australia, on 1 1 June. The local union convenor, Don Bartlem, orally asked permission from the local police to hold a march. The police replied that the application had to be in writing and had to be lodged one week before the event. It was pointed out to the police that only a week before the Seamen’s Union had marched in Port Hedland after getting permission, on virtually the same day, from the Police Commissioner in Perth by means of telex communication with the Port Hedland office. But the officer in charge of the Karratha police refused to send a similar telex. Traditionally, in the Pilbara region industrial meetings have been called at short notice, as one can imagine. Are we likely to cause any traffic jams or confrontation when calling meetings in the Pilbara? The whole issue with which we are dealing appears to be that the Pilbara has been singled out for special attention.
After the original arrest of Carmichael and others, and in the wake of the subsequent widescale public protest, police said they would not make any more arrests on the spot but would issue summonses. However, they have abandoned that practice and are again making spot arrests and holding trade unionists in the police cells and opposing bail in court. We have the spectacle of the Police Commissioner giving all sorts of information to the media, particularly on the question of opposing bail. He held a Press conference to abuse the unions because they were seeking an adjournment of the case. He stated that he would oppose bail. It looks as though Mr Leitch will be the successor to Sir Charles Court as the Premier of Western Australia. The man has certain duties to perform so we cannot altogether blame him for this position because he has to work under an outrageous, bad and vague law that Sir Charles Court and his ilk have put on the statute books in Western Australia. It is this Parliament’s duty to legislate in this field; it has an obligation to do. It can so legislate, according to section 109 of the Constitution, which states that Commonwealth law supersedes State law.
It is essential that this be done not only because of present industrial matters in Western Australia but also because it would help in Queensland in regard to street marches, and it would help in Western Australia from the point of view of Aborigines having equal voting rights. There are plenty of other matters which could be mentioned. Something must be done urgently about this situation. The Prime Minister, who found time to talk about the problem and then walk away from it, must return to the issue, get hold of his Attorney-General and his Minister for Industrial Relations and tell Sir Charles Court where he can get off in regard to this legislation. He should indicate clearly that the people of Australia, no matter whether they are members of the Salvation Army or of any other group, are entitled to hold a meeting. The Prime Minister should also state that, on the basis of ordinary democratic rights, they are entitled to hold a meeting and should not be refused those rights because somebody grabs hold of a law and says: Look, you have to get permission but we will not give you permission; so if there is a meeting, you will be arrested’. Even if a group obtains permission to have a meeting, under section 52 of the Police Act in Western Australia, any police sergeant can issue directions to disband a meeting. So, whilst permission might have been obtained in the first place, the meeting can be disbanded by a police officer coming up and saying that it may not any longer be held. How long can this sort of legislation last in a democracy?
One final point that I would like to make is that when the Police Bill was first introduced in Western Australia in 1976, the Minister for Health said it was ridiculous to suggest that six building workers who walked off a site could be arrested. He said: ‘I have never heard so much rubbish in my life because that is not what the Bill says’. In 1976 a Government member said that the Bill did not say it. It has taken three years for this thing to come to light. It has come to light because there has been a connivance and collusion between the Premier and the Government of Western Australia and the Police Commissioner to deny Australians their rights. No national Parliament of integrity would allow that situation to continue.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-This matter of public importance brought forward by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) is the most cynical political charade brought before this House in many years. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has demonstrated his incompetence on matters of international law, constitutional law and domestic law. The matter of public importance is a smokescreen for the socialist, centralist attitudes that the Labor Party seeks to impose upon the whole of Australia by uniform laws and conditions which are totally contrary to the constitutional provisions of this country. It is totally contrary to the sovereign rights of individual States to deal with legislation in accordance with the procedures of their parliaments. The matter of public importance is also a complete smokescreen to cover the true situation in all the States, including the Labor States where the law applies provisions very similar to those of Western Australia. It is also a smokescreen to cover the Leftist activities, supported recently be the Labor Party at demonstration after demonstration throughout Australia abusing the right of assembly, particularly by criminal actions of assault and violence at assemblies and more particularly in assaults upon the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and even assaults upon Lady McMahon. (Quorum formed).
I have outlined the five ways in which this matter of public importance brought forward by the Opposition is a complete political charade. I shall now deal with the first point raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition which was related to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I listened very carefully to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and I was absolutely shocked to hear him say these words to this Parliament:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognised and no restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of this right.
The honourable gentleman was quoting the Convenant. He failed to quote the Covenant in full. He deliberately left words out. He must have. I will read Article 2 1 of the Covenant in full:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order … the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition sought selectively to leave out the major portion of that part of the Covenant and he sought to mislead this House completely. There can be no other reason for his not quoting Article 2 1 in full. That absolutely discredits the whole of his argument and it shows the political nature of this false attack upon the Government.
The next thing that he failed to do was to quote in a frank and proper manner the Assembly Laws Review by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) and the Attorney-General of Western Australia. He claimed that in that review, which was set up following consultation with the Prime Minister so that the Commonwealth and State Attorney-General could consult together, there was no mention of Commonwealth law or power. That statement is totally and utterly false. It was a review of current laws of the Commonwealth, the States and the Northern Territory. On pages 1, 2, 3 and 4 it deals with the Australian Capital Territory ordinances and laws and the laws of the Northern Territory. On page 4 there is a specific chapter dealing with Commonwealth law. So much for the second of the totally false statements of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
The third matter which he failed to point out in his attack upon the Western Australian legislation was that there are very similar provisions in other States. I do not intend to go into the merits of the matter in respect of the Western Australian legislation because that is a matter for the sovereign State of Western Australia. The honourable member failed to inform the Australian public that in New South Wales- a Labor State- there is law providing for an offence of unlawful assembly. Under section 545C of the Crimes Act of New South Wales there can be unlawful assemblies of five or more persons. In Western Australia the number of persons is three or more. What is the practical difference? The Deputy Leader of the Opposition fails to mention that a Labor State has this law of unlawful assembly in respect of five persons. He also fails to mention that the Labor State of Tasmania has laws of unlawful assembly very similar to those in Western Australia. Similar laws existed under the legislation of the former Labor State of South Australia.
He also fails to mention that in the Labor State of New South Wales there is a law relating to riot of persons who assemble together. He also fails to mention that in all States there are laws regulating marches and assembly. In New South Wales under the Wran Labor Government’s new Act that is yet to be proclaimed there must be an authorisation of a public assembly. Written notice must be served on the Commissioner of Police of any intended public assembly. That written notice must include particulars of the time, date, venue, size and purpose of the assembly. Where the assembly is in procession details of the route and any stopping places must be given. Why does the Deputy Leader of the Opposition not mention this law of New South Wales passed afresh recently by the State Labor Government. He does not mention it because the entire argument he put forward was a cynical political charade. In New South Wales seven days notice must be given before an assembly is held. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition complains about notice having to be given in Western Australia. In New South Wales and in other States notice must be given. In New South Wales seven days notice must be given but the Commissioner of Police may go to the court if he does not agree with the request. If less than seven days notice is given, the organiser of the march must go to the court. So much for this attempt to attack the Government in that regard.
When he was complaining about the situation in Western Australia he also failed to mention that the responsible unions have not supported the left wing unions in that State. Mr Ivan Sands, the head of the moderate group of trade unions, secretariat in the Pilbara, has said that all these confrontations are to use his words, ‘completely contrived’. The extreme Left has been wanting confrontation. He pointed out that the confrontations have come about because permission to hold these assemblies had not been sought by the union persons concerned. The unions had not sought permission and therefore the police had not given permission and therefore for all intents and purposes the unions have been in breach of laws similar to those that apply in the Labor States. One must remember that the threats of blackmail by the Labor Party in respect of national strikes are no more and no less than that. The Federal Government certainly has an interest in trying to see that national strikes are brought to an end, but it should not do so by interfering in the sovereign rights of individual States.
Let us look at what has happened in Western Australia. The Western Australian left wing unions have torn the Pilbara asunder on industrial matters. Only recently the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland) took the German President to Pilbara. While the German President was there he found that there was a strike on. He was able to look only at closed-down machinery. It was not operating. This is what was seen by the German President whose country is our second biggest customer for iron ore. Our largest iron ore customer is Japan. That country and many other countries are getting sick and tired of what is happening as reflected in our industrial record. We are not able to say to the world that our undertakings to supply contracted raw materials are completely safe.
What is happening in Western Australia is the result of nothing more than left wing intimidation and blackmail attempts to bring the economic interests of this country to a standstill. Certainly this Government has a responsibility in this respect and will not stand by allowing this blackmail by the unions to continue. However, it is most important to note that the laws in Western Australia are a specific matter for the
Government of that State. What the Deputy Leader of the Opposition failed to mention further is that the Commonwealth has no power to legislate in respect the rights of public assembly in a State. That is essentially a State responsibility. The argument by which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition sought to invoke the provisions of section 109 of the Constitution is completely and utterly erroneous. No power exists for the Federal Government to seek to impose upon the States uniform Commonwealth legislation relating to the ordinary criminal laws of that State. Again, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition seeks to try to make false capital out of the matter. Certainly, these matters should be debated. The proper forum for criticisms or debate on this measure is the Western Australian legislature. There has been democratic debate there. I am informed that the West Australian newspaper which previously criticised the West Australian Government has now commended that Government. Again, I make it plain that I am not buying into the circumstances of the case or the legislation. That is a matter for the Government in Western Australia.
The next point to which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred was the Police Commissioner of Western Australia. I think it is disgraceful that he makes an attack on a police commissioner who cannot defend himself. Let us look at the Labor State of New South Wales where there is no police commissioner. The situation there is one of utter scandal. We see the depths to which the administration of justice has deteriorated in New South Wales under the Attorney-General, Mr Walker, who has become the John Mitchell of Australian politics.
The last point I mention is the way in which the smokescreen has been thrown up to divert attention from the left wing and Labor-inspired activities of people who seek to abuse the democratic rights of others in this country by false and fake assemblies. The old rent-a-crowd groups are back. At every one of the most recent demonstrations, the same people have been present time after time. Their names and addresses have been taken by the police. We have seen the same people at the Timor demonstrations, the same ones at the uranium demonstrations, the same ones at the unemployment demonstrations and the same ones in Tasmania. We have also seen that the people who committed crimes of blackmail and intimidatory acts of throwing things at the Prime Minister in Sydney, in some cases, were the same people who did the same thing in Hobart.
What a disgraceful thing it was when one of the most respected ladies in the Australian community, Lady McMahon, the wife of the right honourable member for Lowe (Sir William McMahon), was spattered with vegetables and fruit in Sydney recently by these people, these left wingers, Labor inspired in their attempts to deny completely the ordinary right of procedure and law in Australia. They have no sincerity and no commitment. To the extent that there are young people involved in these demonstrationssome of them may be sincere- the sinister aspect is that they are being manipulated by the Labor Party for its own political ends. The hand of the Australian Labor Party is discernible. Many union officials are involved in these demonstrations. As we found out the recent demonstration of the Unemployed Workers Union carried out in Canberra was one in which they circularised young people and said:
Bring . . . tomatoes, eggs. … Mr Fraser will be opening the conference. We will greet him . . . rally;
They will greet the Prime Minister with tomatoes and eggs- law breakers. That is utter complete intimidation. Then we find out that the whole business was organised by a Mr Sorrensen who, until very recently, was a staff member of the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) who is a former Deputy Leader of the Opposition. What an utter disgrace- hypocrisy!
To sum up, this motion is a political charade. It shows the Deputy Leader of the Opposition’s complete incompetence on international law, on constitutional law and on domestic law. It is an attempt to impose socialist centralism. It is a smokescreen for the cover-up of the law in the Labor States and a smokescreen for left wing agitation and criminal activities inspired by the Labor Party. The Australian people can see through this and they will not have a bar of it. The Labor Party will be judged on this issue amongst others at the next election and will be totally and completely rejected by the Australian people.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The discussion is concluded.
-I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. I know that the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) does not approve of me personally but that does not matter. He said that I misled the Parliament. He referred to article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I did say:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognised. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right . . .
He then went on to say that I should have read out:
I would not have thought that that applied in this case.
Secondly, in respect of my representations about the fallacy of what he said, the law in Western Australia does not give any rights of appeal. In accordance with the covenant there has to be a right of appeal to a judicial authority. So, there was no misleading on that issue. Again, he said I misled the Parliament when I failed to refer to the fact that the Commonwealth AttorneyGeneral (Senator Durack) and the Western Australian Attorney-General had referred to the laws of the Commonwealth in the Australian Capital Territory. My reference was to the fact that they failed to refer to the Commonwealth powers in international law, not under section 109 of the Constitution, but under the external affairs power in accordance with the case of Burgess or the two-airlines case or the seas and submerged lands case. There is no mention of it at all in the whole review of the law.
Thirdly, he said I failed to mention State laws in other States such as New South Wales. The law we are debating is a law unique to Western Australia and applies to meetings in that State. It is unique in respect of meetings. If a person wants to have a meeting in Western Australia, he or she has to get the permission of the Police Commissioner. To that extent I did not misrepresent the position.
– I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I did not misrepresent the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) on Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It does not contain any mention of a right of appeal. The other matters I will not canvass. What I do take exception to is the statement by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that I do not approve of him personally. In relation to matters in this House, I hold no personal view about any member of the Opposition. I have no personal attitude towards the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on this matter at all. I debate the matters solely in respect of the issues. The Parliament is a place for hard and proper argument. I have met the honourable member on many occasions at social and other gatherings in our electorates. I have co-operated with him in matters involving more than one electorate and I am happy to do so. In the Parliament I will attack the Opposition on issues. I make no personal reflection on the Deputy Leader of the Opposition at all. I am sorry he thinks that way. There is no substance to his claim.
-I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. Speaking on the Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill last night I said:
The honourable member for Hindmarsh should know that in1964 -
I should have said 1965 - when I introduced the Bill relating to the deregistration of the waterfront unions, I put in a clause exactly identical with this clause. Not a word was changed.
The honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) said:
The right honourable gentleman is wide of the mark when he says that a section -
I did not refer to a section, I referred to a clause- was written into the Act in respect of registration -
I was not concerned with registration; I was concerned with deregistration- in identical terms -
I emphasise the word ‘terms’- to the clause about which we are now talking.
I was fortunate enough to be able to get a copy of the Act from the relevant authorities within the Parliament. I am glad that my colleaue the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) is here. He ought to know almost as much as I do about this matter. Under the heading ‘Declaration by Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission’ Division 2 of the Act states: (1.) The Minister may apply to the Commission for a declaration under this section. (2.) Upon such an application, if the Commissioner is satisfied that the conduct of the Federation (whether in respect of its continued breach or non-observance of any award or any order by the authority in force under the Stevedoring Industry Act1956-1965 or its continued failure to ensure that its members comply with and observe such an award or order or in any respect), or the conduct of a substantial number of the members of the Federation (whether in respect of their continued breach or non-observance of such an award or order . . . (a) prevented or hindered the achievement of an object of the . . . Act . . .
I will not go any further than that- the Commission shall make a declaration to that effect.
Division 3, section18 states:
Where a declaration is made under this section-
That is exactly what I said. If I can turn now to the Bill that was before the House. Clause 16 states:
After section 143 of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: 143 a. (1 ) Where, on application by the Minister -
And this is just the same in substance- a Full Bench is satisfied that-
Sub-clause (2) which is the critical sub-clause states:
Where a declaration is made under sub-section (1 ) by a Full Bench in relation to an organisation or members of an organisation, the Governor-General may-
) at any time within the period of 6 months -
The same period- after the making of the declaration, by order in writing under his hand, direct the Registrar to cancel the registration of the organisation.
It is so close that I find it incredible that a statement like that made by the honourable member should have been made. There it is, and those are the facts. 1 was advised immediately after I spoke in the House, by the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Street) that the present Bill was based upon the Bill introduced in1975. Therefore, I am glad that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, have given me the opportunity to put the facts before this Parliament so that it will know exactly what happened.
Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Kingsford-Smith)-I claim to have been misrepresented in the light of the recent remarks made by the right honourable member for Lowe (Sir William McMahon). I was a member of the Labor Government which he said was responsible for identical legislation to that which obtained in the explanation that he has now made. The question was that a colleague of mine in that Government, the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron), challenged the right honourable member for Lowe as to whether it was identical. The explanation now given by the right honourable member for Lowe is that it is identical. The great distinction between the legislation last evening which the right honourable member has still not indicated -
-Order! I feel that the honourable gentleman is rather stepping outside the matter of a personal misrepresentation.
-We were members of a government that was impugned as not having done anything about a matter. The distinction I want to draw is that the legislation last evening empowers the Government to apply for deregistration. The former law entitled the Commission to apply for deregistration. That is the distinction that the right honourable gentleman has not adverted to.
– I seek leave to make a personal explanation.
-The Chair is of the mind that the matter has been canvassed to the satisfaction of the protagonists and to the satisfaction of the Chair.
– It has not been canvassed to my satisfaction. The honourable gentleman has liberally misrepresented the position and I believe that this was by accident.
-The right honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
Bill presented by Mr Nixon, and read a first time.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill is a machinery Bill to amend the Air Navigation (Charges) Act 1952, which imposes charges on aircraft for the use of aerodromes, airways facilities, meteorological services, and search and rescue services provided, operated and maintained by the Commonwealth. The purpose of the Bill is:
Honourable members will be aware that the Government has long been concerned to ensure that there is an adequate level of cost recovery in the aviation field, as was first enunciated in1 961 . Initially no target date was set for the achievement of this objective. But with the increasing gap between costs and revenues and against the background of our economic strategy, the Government has decided that the burden of these costs in the major sectors of operation should be transferred from the general taxpayer to the users of the infrastructure. In1 977-78 the cost of facilities and services provided for the industry as a whole exceeded revenue by $84.8m whilst in1978-79 the deficit increased to $96.8m and the recovery rate was 60.2 per cent. As the costs of the international sector of the industry are presently fully recovered the deficit is entirely due to the domestic sectors made up of trunk, rural airlines and general aviation operations. The airlines agreement under which the two major domestic airlines operate limits the rate of increase in any year on ANCs payable to10 per cent.
Honourable members will recall that a similar situation obtained last year when air navigation charges were increased and the two airlines agreed to waive their rights under clause 8 of the 1961 agreement and to permit a15 per cent increase in ANCs for that year. I am pleased to say that the two major airlines have again agreed to waive their rights to permit the 25 per cent increase proposed by the Government this year.
Honourable members will also be interested to learn that the criteria for the allocation of costs and revenues to the various sectors of the industry for the purpose of cost recovery are being reviewed by my Department and the industry under the auspices of the Aviation Industry Advisory Council. This review is aimed at ensuring that costs and revenues are allocated equitably and reflect the use of facilities by operators in each industry sector.
Provision is made in the Bill also for a 20 per cent increase in the rate of ANCs for the commuter and other general aviation sectors of the industry. This proposed increase in no way preempts the current general aviation study. Rather, the decision recognises the deficit between costs and revenue in these sectors, of over $70m in 1978- 79 and expected to be about $80m in 1979- 80. Honourable members will appreciate the magnitude of this burden when it is realised that in1976-77 when the deficit was $55.8m, this represented an average subsidy of about $44 for each hour flown by general aviation aircraft or about $12,000 a year for each general aviation aircraft that was registered as at 30 June1 977.
These average figures, of course, distort the true situation and I have no doubt that the General Aviation Study will show many operators, especially those in remote areas, are at near full cost recovery. The Government is also very conscious of the pressures which have been placed on this part of the industry as a result of world wide shortages of avgas, and has indicated that when the cost recovery matters flowing from the General Aviation Study are being examined close consideration will also be given to the ability of the operators to pay. The effect of the increases in the rates of ANCs for the domestic sectors will be to increase revenue by $4.1m, which with increased revenue as a result of growth will result in a total increase of ANC revenue of$l 1.6m.
The Bill also includes some other matters aimed at a more equitable payment for the cost of provision of facilities. The alignment of the rates of ANCs payable by international charter operators with those payable by international airline operators will more directly relate the charges to the usage made of facilities and services. The increase in the interest rate for unpaid ANCs brings this charge more into line with similar charges in the commercial sphere. The increase in the rate of ANCs for foreign private and aerial work aircraft is designed to bring these charges into Une with those faced by equivalent Australian aircraft. It thus facilitates, the prompt registration of aircraft imported for permanent use in Australia by removing any possible benefit for aircraft owners in continuing foreign registration and thus paying lower ANCs.
Finally, the Act presently provides for any refund of ANCs for general aviation aircraft to be made to the person who paid them. This is inequitable in a situation where an aircraft has been sold and a refund is subsequently sought but cannot be paid to the existing owner of the aircraft. The amendment proposed rectifies this inequity. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Morris) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Killen, and read a first time.
– I move:
The primary purpose of this Bill is to rationalise in a beneficial way the provisions of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits and Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Acts relating to Class C invalidity retirees from the Defence Force. Both Acts incorporate a three-tiered invalidity structure broadly reflecting the extent to which a retiree is handicapped by his retiring disabilities in gaining and maintaining civil employment. Invalidity classification on retirement and subsequent reclassification procedures are based on an assessed percentage of incapacity in relation to civil employment. An assessment of 60 per cent or more attracts a Class A pension; 30 to 59 per cent a Class B pension; and less than 30 per cent a Class C benefit which, depending on the member’s length of service, may comprise either a lump sum payment or a pension.
As the DFRDB Act stands at present a Class A or B pensioner reclassified C who loses his pension status is ineligible for further reclassification even though a subsequent reduction in his capacity for civil employment may occur through deterioration in the disabilities he had on retirement. Clause10 of the Bill seeks to rectify this anomaly by opening the way for further reclassification where appropriate. A minor amendment to the DFRB Act, effected by clause 4, makes it clear that similar arrangements are to apply in respect to comparable DFRB invalidity retirees. Invalidity retirees with 20 or more years effective service who are initially classified C on retirement receive a pension in lieu of the normal lump sum benefit. In essence they receive pension for their long service rather than disablement which, because it attracts only a C classification, is invariably of a minor nature. The view has long been held that as they receive their pensions calculated on a length of service basis they should be permitted access to the commutation provisions in the same way as normal age retirement pensioners.
Clause 9 of the Bill provides that access; but for future initial Class C invalidity pensioners only. In practical terms they are to be treated as normal age retirement pensioners for commutation and various other purposes specified in the legislation, including the calculation of residual pension, reversionary benefits and annual pension increases. Obviously enough, there can be no question of any subsequent invalidity reclassification in their case. I should explain that there are very sound practical reasons for not extending the commutation option to existing initially classified Class C pensioners. They devolve from the effects of annual pension adjustments. Retrospective commutation opportunity must carry with it retrospective decrease in pension. And the effects would be most severe on those who chose not to commute. Only part of their pensions would be increased in the future.
In summary, the Bill reflects initiatives favoured by members of the Defence Force which are consistent with the basic benefits philosophy of the DFRDB Scheme. The amendments proposed do not, in any way, take away or reduce the rights of existing invalidity pensioners. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Morris) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Killen, on behalf of Mr Hunt, and read a first time.
– I move:
My colleague the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has ministerial obligations and I present this Bill on his behalf. I state that to avoid the possibility of rumour taking on some firmer form.
In July 1977 the Government decided there should be an independent inquiry into the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission’s operations and capital works program. The inquiry was carried out jointly by Mr J. B. Reid, Chairman of James Hardie Asbestos Ltd and a director of Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd, and Sir Gustav Nossal, C.B.E., Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, and Professor of Medical Biology at the University of Melbourne. The report of the inquiry was tabled in this House in May 1978. The Bill now before the House reflects the Government’s general acceptance of the report’s recommendations. It is proposed that the amendments will come into effect on 1 July 1 980.
The Bill contains a number of amendments to the present Act which were recommended by the inquiry. The principal amendments will have the effect of, firstly, expanding CSL’s role to enable it to produce non- biological, as well as biological, pharmaceutical products; secondly, clearly distinguishing CSL’s commercial activities from the national interest activities, that is those carried out at the direction of the Minister, with the Commonwealth meeting the cost of these national interest functions; thirdly, allowing an increase in the number of commissioners; and fourthly, making a number of machinery amendments to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the authority. I draw the attention of honourable members to clause 10 of the Bill which sets out the new functions of the Commission. A major change in the Commission’s functions is the removal of the restriction that the Commission may produce, or undertake research into, only biological products.
The Reid-Nossal report recommends the removal of the biological restriction for a number of reasons. They include the lack of scientific precision in classification of products as either biological or non-biological. This is due to recent major advances in molecular biology permitting the production of some biological products by non-biological means. The production of hormones is an example of this process. In addition, there are many biological and non-biological products which have very similar therapeutic goals, and CSL should have the freedom to produce the most effective product. CSL does not have this freedom at present.
Whilst some biological products, such as penicillins and vaccines, are most beneficial and cost effective medical tools, the production of biologicals represents the less profitable segment of pharmaceutical manufacturing. The Government accepts the view that CSL should be empowered to enter into the commercial production of certain prescribed non-biological products. This will also allow CSL to keep abreast of developments in molecular biology. Clause 10 of the Bill also authorises CSL to produce, buy, import, supply, sell or export any prescribed pharmaceutical product. Clause 3 dennes ‘pharmaceutical product’ as one for therapeutic use, and ‘therapeutic use ‘is given the same meaning as it has in the Therapeutic Goods Act 1966. 1 should emphasise that CSL will not be free to produce any therapeutic products. The Bill provides that CSL can engage in commercial activities only in relation to a pharmaceutical product that is prescribed in regulations made under the Act which are of course disallowable by the Parliament, or a product which comes within a class of pharmaceutical products so prescribed.
The national interest functions of the Commission are those functions it carries out at the direction of the Minister. For example, the Minister may determine that the Commission undertake research aimed at developing a particular vaccine, or that it maintain a reserve production capacity or hold reserve stocks of a particular product for use in a national emergency. The present Act limits reimbursement of the costs incurred by the Commission in conducting national interest activities to the extent of the Commission’s overall financial loss in any particular year.
In recent years, CSL has made a net trading profit on its commercial activities which has been used partly to offset the cost of national interest activities paid to CSL through the Budget. This arrangement disadvantages CSL in the highly competitive market situation, because the net effect is to require the Commission’s commercial activities to have, as a first charge, the cost of national interest activities. The new arrangements, as provided in clause 24 of the Bill, will mean additional expenditure in the short term, but the longer-term benefits are considerable. As the costs of national interest activites will be met by the Commonwealth, CSL will not be required to allocate costs arising from its national interest activities against its commercial activities. Consequently, it is envisaged that there would result:
Greater profitability by CSL in its commercial activities, and therefore greater return on capital to the Government; lower pressure for price increases for pharmaceuticals; increased prospects for export growth and thus greater profitability; and lower costs overall through higher volume throughput from export growth.
At this stage it is not possible to estimate the benefit in monetary terms of these advantages. This would not begin to accrue until at least the year after the introduction of the new arrangements.
Under clause 10, the Commission’s functions include the operation as a reference centre where so determined by the Minister. I intend that the present arrangement whereby CSL operates as a World Health Organisation reference centre for blood grouping, influenza and brucellosis should continue. However whereas at present CSL meets the operating costs of this activity from its commercial operations, this Bill will provide for the Commonwealth to meet this cost, or the cost of such other reference centres as are determined. In allowing for an increase in the membership of the Commission, the Government is acting on the Reid-Nossal report’s recommendations. At present the number of com.missioners is fixed at four, excluding the director. The inquiry considered that the Commission should have available to it a wider range of management, technical and research advice, and therefore recommended that the provision relating to the constitution of the Commission be amended to enable the appointment of up to eight commissioners, in addition to the director.
The Bill also includes a number of provisions designed to assist in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of CSL. These include provisions relating to the financial aspects of the Commission’s operations, to procedures for audit and keeping of accounts, to the remuneration of the director and other commissioners and provisions enabling the appointment of an acting director where necessary, and relating to appointments of staff of the Commission. I reiterate that the Government, in putting forward the measures contained in this Bill, is seeking to implement the recommendations of the independent inquiry into the CSL Commission’s operations and capital works program. In doing so the Government is acting in the belief that there is a continuing need for the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, and for this important national asset to be as efficient, progressive and innovative as possible. Mr Deputy Speaker, I commend this Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Morris) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 22 August, on motion by Mr Nixon:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-This Bill amends the principal Act, the States Grants (Roads) Act 1977, to provide for an additional $38m to be paid to the States in 1979-80 for roadworks and increases the minimum quotas to be spent by each of the States from their own resources. Schedules one to 10 of the Bill detail the categories of road works for which the grants are being made to the States in each year. Schedule 11 specifies the minimum amount each State must contribute from its own resources for the same period. Whilst the Opposition does not oppose this Bill, I will move at a later stage an amendment highlighting the massive increase in taxes and excise being ripped off road users by this Government and the low provision for roadworks in1979-80. The Government ignores the vital place the road industry has as a component of the national economy- the ability of road construction and maintenance to provide decentralised employment and to conserve scarce fuel resources.
The Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) has claimed that the increase of 7.5 per cent in 1979-80 compared with the amount available to the States in1978-79 will maintain the level of road funds in real terms. This statement is incorrect. The provisions for1978-79 and1979-80 are calculated on the basis of Treasury forecasts of price movements in non-residential building and construction during the coming year. The 1978-79 increase in Australian Government grants was 7 per cent but the inflation rate for that year was 8.8 per cent. This year, according to the Treasurer (Mr Howard), prices are expected to rise by more than 10 per cent, but the inflation adjustment for road grants is to be limited to a rise of 7.5 per cent. The Government’s own experts from the Bureau of Transport Economics have reported that over the five-year period 1974-75 to 1978-79, the Australian Government’s expenditure on road construction and maintenance fell in real terms by about 6 per cent. This deficiency was offset by an increase in State-sourced expenditure of 39 per cent and by a rise in local government’s share of expenditure of 7 per cent.
In introducing the States Grants (Roads) Bill 1977 to the House, the Minister promised at least to maintain the real value of the $ 1,425m provided for in that legislation. This clearly he has failed to do. The promise of indexation has turned out to be a smokescreen to absolve the Government from responsibility for the real deficiencies in the Australian road system. The States have to some extent succeeded in overcoming the low overall level of Australian Government roads grants. In real terms, Commonwealth contributions fell by 1.4 per cent a year from1974-75 while State spending grew by 8.5 per cent per annum and local government spending grew by 1.8 per cent. But the shambles in road funding extends to the system of allocation at the State level. State categories do not always match those of the national Government. Victoria, for example, has 12 categories. Of the $134m supposedly going to local government authorities, the Australian Council of Local Government Associations suspects that between $25m and $30m is ‘going missing’ somewhere. The situation is further confused in instances in which State statutory authorities such as the Hydro-Electric Commission in Tasmania and the Forestry Commission in Victoria perform substantial roadworks.
The Minister has refused to approve Victoria’s 1979-80 arterial and local road programs until that State puts its house in order. In a news release dated 24 August1979, the Minister stated:
I have sought further information from the State Minister so that I am able to satisfy myself that Councils will be fairly treated … I want to ensure that the Local Government authorities get the 7.5 per cent increase consistent with my announcement or know the reason why’.
A submission by the municipalities within the Victorian Country Roads Board, Geelong Division, stated:
While a variation between the State and Commonwealth Government road classification system exists, confusion and delay in funding must remain. The present system can only slow the bureaucratic process and must surely be costly.
These municipalities pointed out the serious anomalies resulting from the tying of the classification system to Australian Bureau of Statistics districts. This approach places the Shire of Werribee, for example, wholly within the Melbourne urban area. Consequently, all its roads are classified urban, whereas this is far from the real situation. Conversely, the city of Colac, a major centre with a population of10,000, has all its roads classed as rural.
While this system exists, specific requests for a variation in certain areas are meaningless. For example, any statistical data relating to rural local roads would be irrelevant while they include extensive urban road systems where the road construction costs are considerably higher because of the higher design standard required. A complete review of road funding arrangements is urgently needed, together with a thorough examination of the entire category system and the methodology of distribution within those categories. Whilst I have mentioned the assessment of the Australian road system report of the Bureau of Transport Economics, it is essential that national priorities are not lost within the State allocation systems. Finance must reach those projects it is intended for. The States and local government have persistently criticised the announcement of annual funding levels in each year. Consideration, therefore, should be given to the advisability of introducing extended funding periods for roadworks. A system of rolling grants may well be the answer. These could extend over a longer period rather than three years as at present, with mid-term reviews of projects and programs.
The continuing decline in federal road funds is quite unjustified in the light of the exorbitant sums at present being extracted in fuel excise and levies from the pockets of Australian motorists by the Fraser Government. From 1975-76 to 1978-79, the Australian Government grabbed an extra $ 1,104m in petroleum products excise and the crude oil levy alone from the pockets of road users. This is an increase of 111 per cent on 1975-76 bringing total receipts from those sources to $2, 101m in 1978-79. This year’s Budget estimates that the levy and excise will yield $2,979m. This is a further jump of 42 per cent in this year and is equivalent to $430 a licensed driver per annum or, in simpler terms, an equivalent of $8 for an average licensed motor vehicle driver every week. Recent research by the Legislative Research Service of the Parliamentary Library shows that a Toyota Corolla, a car which is generally regarded as one of the more economical cars, now costs about $17.50 all inclusive to operate over a trip of 100 kilometres. In 1976, only three years ago, the same car would have cost only $13.85 for the same journey. But not all motorists can make do with a Toyota Corolla. If the motorist needs a larger vehicle, a Holden Kingswood for example, to carry his family or to tow a trailer or if his job requires it, he would now pay $22.64 for that 100 kilometre trip. Three years ago all his costs would have added up to only $ 1 8.60.
The point is that many Australians cannot do without a motor car. In effect, they are locked into the automotive society. A survey by the National Roads and Motorists Association of work travel habits in South Sydney, Botany, Bankstown, Auburn and Warringah released in
November last year showed how heavily workers rely on cars to reach their jobs. In these five suburbs 82.2 per cent of respondents normally travelled by car to work; 87.9 per cent of them then parked their cars in a company car park. Few of these motorists were irrevocably wedded to the idea of car travel. Some 70 per cent said that they would use public transport if more were available, but they simply had no reasonable alternative. If one counts those who do use public transport, or who cycle to work, one finds that 95 per cent of respondents relied solely on roads to travel to work.
Those who are frequently the most dependent on the motor car or on road-based public transport are the lower income earners who live in the types of suburbs surveyed by the NRMA. In Botany, craftsmen, tradesmen and unskilled labourers accounted for 45 per cent of those surveyed while only 7 per cent were in managerial positions. In Bankstown, the figures were 46 per cent and 3.3 per cent respectively for each category, with a further 3 1 per cent occupying clerical positions. The figures are broadly similar in the other suburbs studied. Perhaps the most telling evidence is provided by a single sentence in this report which was based on research conducted in the workplace:
Some companies were unable to distribute all their questionnaires because employees could not read or write English.
Lately in this House, the Opposition has been attacked by the Government for its stand on the price of motor car travel resulting from the great petrol tax rip-off. Remember that 70 per cent of those questioned by the NRMA who drove cars to work would have changed to public transport if they could. But as Mr H. W. Dixon of Adelaide University stated, to the Australian Transport Research Forum in April this year:
Fixed route public transport can never solve the transport problem in existing cities. It will always be a compromise . . .
The type of city growth that has lead to this situation was in most part not the work of Labor governments. We have seen conservative governments slash public transport of funds, slash transport planning and research funds, and more lately scrap the Department of Urban and Regional Development at the very time when its existence was of vital importance.
The Opposition makes no apology for defending in this House the victims, frequently with low incomes, who have no alternative to the car yet who must pay an exorbitant price to use one. In such a situation any claims that the petrol price hike is intended to conserve fuel resources is a farce. It is not so intended. It is nothing but a back door revenue raising measure by a government of economic ignorants which hits out viciously at the defenceless members of society.
Another group suffering extreme hardship as a result of the Fraser Government’s petroleum pricing policies is the truck drivers. I could give no more poignant illustration of their plight, and how it affects us all, than to read from a letter that I received recently from one of my constituents. It reads:
Did you know that every week there is an average of 10 trucks involved in accidents on the roads between Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney? Have you asked yourself why?
When an interstate driver mortgages his house and land to buy a truck and then sees the price of everything needed to run it escalating, he drives himself beyond the normal limit of endurance. He loses concentration, reflexes falter, his eyesight blurs, but the thought of losing his home drives him on. To what? An accident, nervous breakdown, physical exhaustion, mental problems. The list goes on.
If fuel prices rise, so do air fares, taxi fares, government transport; freight rates? THEY STAY THE SAME. They haven’t changed in the last 10 years. Trucks have increased their price at least SO per cent, fuel 300 per cent, tyres 50 per cent, wages 100 per cent, cost of living?
Just recently we saw a terrible example of the dangers warned of in this letter. On Friday, 14 September, two semi-trailers collided head-on on the Hume Highway near Tarcutta. Then the semi-trailers following swerved to avoid the accident and also collided head-on. Molten metal flared from the burning funeral pyre like lava from a volcano. Only one prime mover was recognisable. Three men were killed and three more were admitted to hospital.
The potential for such horrifying accidents is constantly with us. The truck driver from whose letter I quoted spends his first week of every month working to pay his loan commitments. Week two earnings go toward payment of maintenance, tyres, and insurance. His third week’s efforts may be alloted towards his wages and tax. But the fourth week is spent paying that driver’s crippling fuel bill, a bill he estimates to have leapt by 300 per cent in 1 0 years.
I remind the House that from 1975-76 to 1 978-79, the Australian Government grabbed an extra $ 1 , 104m in petroleum excise and the crude oil levy alone from those who must- and I emphasise must- use our roads. Where is this revenue going? It is not going to provide alternative means of transport where it may help solve the problem. It is not going to fund research into alternative means of transport. Nor is it going towards improved roads which can simultaneously boost the economy, provide jobs and conserve fuel resources, and which were used by 95 per cent of workers surveyed by the NRMA as they travelled to work. Commonwealth expenditure on road construction and maintenance has now declined to the equivalent of 24.18 per cent of federal revenue from petroleum excise and the crude oil levy and will further decline to 1 8.33 per cent in 1 979-80.
The economic incompetence of the Fraser Government is abundantly obvious in its approach to investment in Australia’s transport network. Australia’s transport routes are the economic arteries of this country. In the year ending 1976, the BTE estimated that almost 79 per cent of freight tonnage moved by road in Australia. Road based passenger transport accounted for 90 per cent of passenger kilometres travelled in the same period. The BTE estimates that over the period of 1974 to 1979, travel on national highways and rural arterial roads increased from 25,363 million to 32,482 million vehicle kilometres, a rate of growth of 8.6 per cent per annum. From 1 974 to 1 977 travel on urban arterial roads increased by about 8.4 per cent to 52,595 million passenger kilometres or 48 per cent of all road travel in Australia.
Australia’s road system is, then, of paramount importance to the national economy. It is the clear responsibility of the national Government to oversee the proper maintenance of this national asset. And yet, equipped with its Premiers’ plan’ mentality, obsessed with short term cost cutting no matter what the long term cost, the Fraser Government is again jeopardising our economic future by neglecting essential investment, as did conservative governments during the Great Depression of the 1 930s. This Government’s economic thinking is crippled by shortsightedness. A recent British White Paper entitled ‘A Policy for Roads’, states:
Better roads can improve the efficiency of transport and through it, of industry and commerce . . . There can be no doubt about transport’s importance to the economy.
In Australia, however, instead of adopting the methods used by a housewife in the management of her budget, this Government would be well advised to do what business does- plan investments for the future and pursue investments which will return the greatest benefit, in this case to the entire nation. The BTE shows that the pursuance of its warranted program of rural arterial roads construction would yield benefits between two and three times the cost. These benefits include not only the saving of human lives and monetary savings in vehicle operating costs, accident costs, time and road maintenance but also less tangible gains such as reduced dust, delays and losses in production. Any investment yielding a return two or three times its cost is a good one, especially if it is to the lasting benefit of the Australian people. At the annual conference of the New South Wales Shires Association in June this year the NRMA said:
Because of the dispersal of its major towns and cities over very wide distances and its greater dependence on road transport as a result, Australia could be expected to be one of the world leaders in the development of its road transport facilities.
But as a nation, we have not faced up squarely to the need to develop an efficient road system to cater for our growing needs.
A good example of the inactivity of the present Government is the slow progress made in the construction of a coastal route between Marlborough and Sarina in Queensland. Mr Deputy Speaker, you may have some knowledge of that. This link is a declared national highway, and thus the full responsibility of the Australian Government. It was designed to avoid the old inadequate inland route. It was the Australian Labor Party Government that, after 23 years of conservative neglect, accepted full responsibility for national highways. It was the Labor Government that took action to construct the coastal route between Marlborough and Sarina. But what has happened since 1975? In 1977, the BTE report said that 93 per cent of this segment’s route was deficient in width whilst only 15 kilometres of the total length of 214 kilometres had been sealed. Today, much still remains to be done before the coastal route reaches a satisfactory standard. Much of the bridgework is incomplete, as is the sealing of the pavement. My colleague the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys) will report in more detail at a later stage on the inactivity of the present conservative government in this area.
Another victim of federal financial restraint is trunk road 51 between the Australian Capital Territory and the New South Wales south coast at Bateman ‘s Bay. Like the northern route out of Brisbane it is an important tourist road in addition to providing access for business and commerce. Each weekend it receives a heavy battering as Australian Capital Territory residents rush to the holiday resorts on the coast or for a normal weekend’s recreation. A considerable number of Australian Capital Territory workers commute to their jobs each weekday via this road. It enjoys, therefore, a somewhat special relationship with the Australian Capital Territory. Again, a recently released survey by the NRMA reveals that the route is generally sub-standard. The pavement is generally below the desirable width, shoulders and pavement edges are regularly in poor condition. Less than one percent of the New South Wales distance is edge marked, despite a British East Sussex Council trial in 1976 which reduced injury crashes and total crashes by 40 per cent to 60 per cent in the first 12 months. Examination of crash statistics for the road shows that the crash and injury rates are generally above the State wide averages whilst the urban crash and injury rates in Queanbeyan are particularly high. Ninety-five per cent of the rural distance consists of only two lanes, and 42 per cent of the rural distance is marked as unsafe for overtaking. Human nature being what it is, drivers are only too likely to take risks and attempt to pass where they ought not to with the predictable results.
The local authorities responsible for the road, namely, Eurobodalla, Tallaganda and Yarrowlumla shires and the Queanbeyan City Council, are attempting to improve the road within the constraints of finance. In the order of $lm is due to be spent on it in 1 979-80. But as I have already pointed out, the Australian Government is increasingly evading its responsibilities in the roads area. In 1974-75, the Commonwealth was contributing $25 per head of population to New South Wales, the New South Wales Government $30 per head and local government $45 per head. From that base the State’s allocation has risen over four years by $ 1 8.68 per capita and the local government allocation by $ 1 1 .28 per capita but the Commonwealth has contributed only $8.93 extra per head in that period. That is less than half of the additional amount found by the State of New South Wales. It is not good enough to say that New South Wales is free to reallocate its priority from this road to that. It has, as do all the other States, innumerable trouble spots. The Mount Ousely coal road, the Hume Highway, the Sydney arterial system, all demand attention.
Another road which stars frequently in the long running saga of Commonwealth road funding neglect is the ill-fated Stuart Highway. Like the Marlborough-Sarina route it is a classified national highway and, again, is the full responsibility of the Australian Government. Again the initiative was seized by the Labor Government when the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) requested in September 1974 that a study of alternative routes for an improved highway be undertaken. Following this investigation, the present Minister advised that route 3 was to be adopted. On 25 November 1977, the former Deputy Leader of the Country Party, the former Minister for Primary Industry, provided an official statement to the Mayor of Alice Springs, Mr George Smith, that if elected to government, the coalition would provide special funds for the construction of the Stuart Highway. He indicated that these funds would be additional to the grant allocations for national highways in South Australia and that they would be specifically earmarked for the Stuart Highway.
Sitting suspended from 12.59 to 2.15 p.m.
-Prior to the suspension of the sitting I was referring to the statement that the former Deputy Leader of the Country Party had made to the mayor of Alice Springs on 25 November 1977. At that time he said that if elected to government the coalition would provide special funds for the construction of the Stuart Highway. He indicated that these funds would be additional to the grant allocations for national highways in South Australia and that they would be specifically earmarked for the Stuart Highway. Naturally the question is: What happened to those funds? The answer is: Nothing, because they were never provided, and because the legislation does not provide for specific funds to be earmarked in the way that was indicated by the then Minister for Primary Industry, and his statement has not been supported by the Minister for Transport or by the Government since. It has simply been added to the list of broken promises.
Not only have no special funds been scheduled into the two States Grants (Roads) Amendment Bills put to this House since route 3 was declared, but South Australia has found its overall level of funding severely cut back. Since 1974-75 South Australia has taken a cut in real terms of $ 10.45m or 37.5 per cent in its total grant. It is quite unreasonable to expect the South Australia Government, irrespective of its political complexion, to step in and to take on the Commonwealth’s responsibilities. The deplorable state of the Stuart Highway remains as a glaring reminder of the present Government’s incompetence and broken promises, its continuing failure to accept its fair share of responsibility for road construction and maintenance in this nation. The development of adequate transport infrastructure is essential to the health and efficiency of the national economy and thus to the provision of employment for the Australian work force. Road construction and maintenance also has the ability to generate many jobs directly. The Bureau of Transport Economics has calculated that payments to labour, direct and indirect, constitute 64. 1 per cent of total resource costs going to roads. That is to say, 64. 1 per cent of resources committed to roads goes to paying labour working on the road itself and in associated industries. The road construction industry is a major consumer of quarry materials, petroleum products, ready mix concrete, concrete products and metal products. Money spent on roads generates activity in all those industries. As the Geelong area shires pointed out to the BTE in their submission:
Any increase in funds made available for roadworks will not only improve the road system but will also provide an excellent avenue for the relief of unemployment. Road works are labour intensive with an average of 40 percent in funds-
Here the councils mean direct payment to workers. Their statement continued: being spent on employment of labour. The provision of additional funds will therefore serve a twofold purpose . . .
Earlier I made the point that in certain cases, conventional public transport as we know it cannot hope to fill the gap left by declining availability of motorised transport, and that, like it or not, we are for some years yet committed to a basically automotive society. Research may provide us with an alternative means of propelling our cars and trucks, if that research also is not stifled for lack of funds. But good roads on which to run them will continue to be of high priority. It must be recognised that certain road development schemes not only contribute to the overall well-being of the economy, and promote employment both directly and indirectly, but also have the ability to conserve scarce fuel resources.
In a draft discussion paper circulated by the New South Wales Urban Transport Study Group entitled ‘The Fuel Economy of Light Motor Vehicles in Sydney’, factors affecting fuel economy are dealt with in two categories, namely, vehicle characteristics and traffic and road characteristics. Evidence presented under the first heading of ‘Vehicle Characteristics’ further destroys the Minister’s arguments relating to the effect of emission control devices, but that is a story for another day. Average traffic speed of a particular trip or for a particular section of roadway is seen as the single most important traffic variable affecting fuel economy of light motor vehicles. Surveying recent research done in this area, the paper concludes:
All researchers concluded or assume that the single most important traffic variable for predicting fuel economy or fuel consumption is predominantly low speed urban traffic . . .
This explains 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the variation in fuel economy attributable to traffic and road characteristics. The paper cites one study which estimates that congestion at below 24 kilometres per hour accounts for 1 5 per cent of present fuel consumption in Sydney hence, the paper states, traffic management schemes such as queue and cruise’ have been proposed to reduce fuel consumption and, even more significantly in urban areas, emission of pollution.
Energy saving improvements such as clearways, left hand turn lanes, computerised traffic signal sychronisation and turning signals in urban areas, the removal of persistent sharp curves and the extension of passing opportunities through the construction of dual carriageways or climbing lanes in rural areas are all projects of relatively small magnitude. Much could be done in this area by an expansion of funding- of the Minor Traffic Engineering and Road Safety Improvements Program. MITERS has been shown by the BTE to be the category whose real funding level since 1974-75 has most significantly fallen short of the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads warranted level. Yet the types of works provided for under MITERS have the potential to reduce community costs substantially in terms of travel time, resource use, pollution, death and injury.
In summary, when we look at the policies of the present Government on roads, they neglect to take up the employment opportunities that expanded road construction and maintenance offer, they often neglect to take up the energy opportunities offered by expanded expenditure on road funding and they neglect to take up the opportunity to improve the level of transport efficiency in this country that would flow from improved and essential road systems. In effect, what is happening is that the motorists of Australia, year by year under this Government, are paying more and getting less in the quantity of road works than can be undertaken from the funds provided by this Government. In conclusion, I move the following amendment which summarises the points I have put:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
Whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House is of the opinion thai the level of funds provided in the Bill for road purposes in 1 979-80-
demonstrates that the Commonwealth’s share of expenditure on road construction and maintenance, expressed in real terms, has seriously declined since the Fraser Government came to power and will further decline, whereas Federal revenue from fuel taxes and levies has more than doubled in the same period and will further increase;
ignores the urgent necessity to accelerate road construction and maintenance programs designed to improve the quality of the Australian road system as a vital component of the national economy;
fails to pursue policies designed to increase employment opportunities, and
does not develop a responsible transport energy conservation program ‘.
I commend the amendment to the House.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak at a later hour this day.
– I will be supporting the State Grants (Roads) Bill, which provides a total of some $508m to be made available to the States for road programs on the condition that a further $48 lm is contributed by the various State governments. In doing so, I will be rejecting the amendment moved by the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris). The honourable member ranged fairly widely in his remarks and mentioned such matters as energy policy generally, fuel efficiency and various other engineering factors associated with the whole transport scene. I think it is probably quite appropriate that some of those matters should be raised in the course of this debate because it is very much on the mind of every Australian and certainly every Australian motorist.
I was a little shocked to hear this week that a constituent of mine who manufactures a fuel saving device for installation on motor vehicles, both as original equipment and as extra equipment, had run into certain marketing difficulties as a result of publicity which had come from certain sections of the Trade Practices Commission- I think more particularly the consumer protection division. I speak of the firm of Davies Craig Pty Ltd, which has developed a radiator fan device for the motor car. Quite simply, I believe the principle is that this device is electrically operated on a thermostatic control. It does away with the conventional radiator fan which is driven all the time by a fan belt. This device is electrically operated and cuts in when the temperature of the engine is sufficiently high.
The difficulty is that certain other devices have been claimed in advertisements to be energysaving devices. Tests conducted by the Department of Transport have shown that certain devices which are intended to save fuel have been what might be called shonky. I think these devices relate more to certain fuel systems and spark plug performance and that sort of thing. I raise this matter in the context of roads and transport generally because the device developed by Davies Craig has been shown to improve fuel efficiency by as much as 10 per cent. I think that is very important in the context of transport. It accomplishes this, I gather, simply by ensuring that an internal combustion engine does not become too cool. An engine which is running below its -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! I must ask the honourable member to be relevant to the Bill.
– Just to finish this short statement, I believe that the technology involved seeks to ensure that the internal combustion petrol engine does not become too cool because as the temperature goes down, fuel consumption goes up.
– That is not related to the Bill.
– It may not be related directly to the Bill but I think these are important issues to be raised when this Bill is being debated, particularly as they were canvassed by the honourable member for Shortland. He made a thoughtful contribution to the debate.
By way of response to the honourable member for Shortland I should like to touch also on the question of fuel pricing policy. He dwelt on that issue for quite some time. I think it is something that should be discussed in this Parliament, not every now and then but quite frequently because it is a matter which is on the mind of every Australian motorist. It is certainly on the mind of the Australian Government. We have now reached a situation where, like it or not, Australia cannot get away from the various world influences in the energy crisis. In fact, that crisis has taken on deep implications for Australians and particularly for Australian motorists.
Although I suppose it is some small comfort, Australians do not always realise even today that, together with the United States and Canada, we pay amongst the lowest prices in the world for petrol. The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries actually quadrupled the world price of crude oil in1974 and the Australian price for oil products and crude oil has remained relatively low since that time due to the supply of our crude oil at less than half the world price. In the context of this Budget- this is a Budget Bill- we are moving towards what is known as an import parity pricing policy. There is nothing very descriptive in those words. Probably to the average motorist who might be listening to this debate and contemplating the rather unsavoury prospect of having to refuel his motor vehicle in the not too distant future, import parity pricing does not really mean much except that when we pull up beside the bowser we will have to pay a great deal more for our fuel.
In response to the honourable member for Shortland, I should like to address myself for a moment or two to this question: Why should Australia price its crude oil at or close to the world parity price? Why indeed should Australian motorists pay more for their petrol, given that so much of it is produced on our own doorstep? It is a well known fact that some 70 per cent of our crude oil is produced domestically. Of course, the greater part comes from the Bass Strait areas but contributions are made from Queensland and off Western Australia as well. If we were to continue to sell our crude oil or to make it available at some price which is unrelated to the world trends in energy instead of moving towards world parity pricing, certain very obvious things would happen. 1 think they have to be realised.
Firstly, of course, the supplies of petrol which have been squandered in the past would continue to be squandered. Reserves would soon be exhausted, exploration would cease and Australia would become totally dependent on the oil-producing Arab states. World parity pricing- if I can be excused for using that terminology again- is designed to encourage conservation of liquid fuels and to promote the use of alternative energy sources. Perhaps even more particularly than that, it is designed to stimulate oil exploration and commercial development. It is absolutely inevitable that we will have either to pay the world parity price for our own domestic crude oil or pay for imported crude oil. Virtually no other options face Australia and Australian motorists. I just make it clear, although there is no joy in it, that in the former case we would be encouraging exploration for and development of our own resources whereas in the latter case we would become dependent on foreign suppliers. Either way we are faced with paying something approximating the world parity price for petrol. That is the situation in a nutshell and it does not help when Opposition spokesmen try to portray the energy problem in any other way. I suggest that to do so is not the most responsible position to adopt. I might add that the Opposition has no alternative energy policy in this regard. To that extent I believe that the present position is bipartisan.
– That is totally untrue and you know it to be untrue.
– The honourable member for Shortland says that that is untrue. I do not stand here and try to make untrue remarks. I believe that no significant alternative energy policy has been developed by the Opposition in this Parliament. No member of the Opposition, including the honourable member for Shortland, has ever stood up in this Parliament and spelled out an Opposition energy policy which is significantly different from that adopted by the Fraser Government.
– That is totally untrue and it is typical of Fraser lies.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, would the little man at the table withdraw that little remark?
-Order! The honourable member for Shortland will withdraw.
– I did not recognise Mr Fraser as being present, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I withdraw anyway.
-Order! The honourable member will withdraw without qualification.
– I withdraw.
– I cannot imagine what provoked the honourable member for Shortland to come out with a remark like that. I do not believe that I was being unduly provocative. I am not trying to make a hard-hitting political speech; I am trying to discuss some of the very relevant issues regarding energy policy. I think it ought to be possible for the Australian community to develop some sort of bipartisan sensible, logical approach to dealing with the energy dilemma that we are faced with. If the Opposition is not prepared to participate in that sort of discussion, I can say only that it will be judged on that attitude at the next election. It will be devastated just a little more than it was at the last Federal election.
I turn now to some of the more specific elements of the States Grants (Roads) Amendment Bill that we are presently debating and make particular reference to the importance of this legislation for local government. If I may be parochial for a moment- I am sure that I will be excused for that by members of the Opposition- I shall refer to some of the things that have taken place in the Federal electorate of La Trobe during the period of the Fraser Government, starting with the financial year 1976-77. 1 do this with a great deal of pride because I have been making representations to the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) consistently during that period on behalf of the City of Knox, the Shire of Sherbrooke and the Shire of Lilydale. I am grateful to the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) who is sitting in on this debate today and who is chairman of the Government members’ transport committee. He has given me tremendous support in this area, making representations to the Minister on the need in these fast growing outer metropolitan municipalities. I believe that the program that has been adopted within those municipalities is very significant indeed. If we look at the years 1976-77 to 1978-79 under the headings Urban Arterial Roads’, ‘Urban Local Roads’ and the ‘Minor Traffic Engineering and Road Safety Improvements Program’, we find that a total of no less than $5,189,000 has been dedicated solely within the electorate of La Trobe.
– As the honourable member interjects, that is a wonderful result. It says nothing of the fact that certain municipalities in the area still believe that the funding level should be higher. I think the matter has to be seen in the context that the Federal Government does not have an insatiable supply of taxpayers’ money to allocate to these programs. At a time when it is a necessary element of economic policy to restrain government spending to some extent and to give some form of tax relief, I believe that it is very significant that we have been able to participate with the local councils throughout Australia, particularly those in the electorate of La Trobe. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that is the most important electorate I will say, in Victoria. I was going to say in Australia but because you are a Queenslander you might take exception if I were to cover the whole nation in that statement. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a summary of Commonwealth road funds to local government in the La Trobe electorate between the years 1976-77 to 1978-79. These figures are sourced from the Department of Transport.
The table read as follows-
– I compliment the Minister for Transport on the extent to which he has been able to fund these programs. He has also been able to make certain funds available on quite a significant scale for land purchases for certain freeway systems which may be developed in the future. I speak particularly of the Healesville and Scoresby freeways. I have very mixed feelings about the whole subject of freeways but I believe that it is necessary at this stage at least to keep one’s options open regarding the future development of freeways. I think that the whole question of motor vehicle development, use patterns of motor vehicles and private transport arrangements generally is very much up in the air at the moment. I know that a lot of work is going on in the development area in producing alternative forms of motor vehicle systems such as the electric car and various other systems. These alternatives may have some considerable effect in the future, but those sorts of results are not upon us at the present time. I believe that in the meantime the sensible, judicious thing for the Government to do is to see that the options are kept open for the development of freeways if, in fact, they should be required in the future. One matter in relation to which we can be quite certain, Mr Deputy Speaker-it is something which is unarguable- is that as and when freeways have been developed through areas which have been built up and developed, the disruption caused to people by that development has been quite horrendous. Consequently I support the sums that have been made available through the local municipalities and the Country Roads Board in Victoria which allow us at least to keep our options open. As time is fairly limited I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a summary of major Commonwealth works and projects in the La Trobe electorate during the same three years to which the previous table referred. I have described the terms of the list to the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris).
The table read as follows-
-I thank the House. I believe that this legislation is very timely and I think that it is good news particularly for local government. It shows the Commonwealth’s dedication to a philosophic structure regarding road funding which gives due regard to the role of the Commonwealth, the role of the State and more particularly the role and influence of local government. Many of these decisions on the priorities of road funding are made at local government level. I simply pose the question: Who best knows the needs and the requirements within any individual municipal area than those elected representatives who are living and very often working in those municipalities every day of their lives? I believe that it is not a question of a Commonwealth government of any political persuasion laying down how such funds should be spent at the local government level. There was a tendency for this sort of attitude to creep in under previous administrations. I am pleased to see that in the true spirit of federalism the Fraser Government is restoring that position.
The other important aspect of Department of Transport funding which I will mention briefly is the funding that is being put into the transport, planning and research assistance area. Whether we are talking about motor vehicle systems, road planning or road engineering, I know that a lot of work is being done around the country but I do not think it is particularly well co-ordinated. There is a need, because of factors of safety, efficiency and other reasons, to see this work stepped up. I am pleased that the Minister has made an allocation to that area. I believe that it is work that is urgent and that will be valuable. I compliment the Minister in taking the attitude of ensuring that there is some reduction in the duplication of research projects going on in the road development programs and of encouraging initiatives which make better use of the investment in transport systems. I do not speak only of private investment; I am thinking more particularly of public investment by governments at all levels.
This is very timely legislation. I think that it is a further stage in a very worthwhile series of funding programs which the Fraser Government has introduced and which I know are appreciated particularly by the States and more particularly by local government and the municipal areas in the electorate of La Trobe.
-In debating the States Grants (Roads) Amendment Bill I have to say that I think the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) who led for the Opposition in the debate would have the warm approval of every motorist in Australia when he made several salient points by way of the amendment which he moved on behalf of the Opposition. I will not take the time of the House to read out his amendment; it will appear in Hansard. He expressed concern that there has been a decline in real terms in the funds made available for road purposes in Australia. He instanced the fact that revenue from fuel taxes and levies has more than doubled and that the legislation before the House ignores the urgent necessity to accelerate road construction and maintenance programs throughout Australia. He related that factor to the economic situation; that is, the need for economic development and the like. Of course motorists know that they are being ripped off under this Government and they know that they are getting insufficient in return. That is the essence of this legislation.
If I have time I will deal with the matter which I thought the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu) raised inappropriately in the context of this legislation, namely, the whole queston of the Government’s fuel policies. If ever there is an area where a Government has expressed its absolute inadequacy and failure, it is in this area of the provision, storage, conservation, refining and exploration of petrol. Under every one of those headings this Government is found wanting. The people of Australia are already suffering and they are bound to go on experiencing very great inconvenience and personal financial loss because of the bumbling and fumbling of the Government and the inadequate fuel policies which exist to this very day. I will give honourable members some information in that regard, time permitting. The purpose of this legislation is to amend the 1977 principal Act to authorise the payment to the States of extra funds for road construction and maintenance in line with price movements. There is an argument to be put about all of that. The principal Act provided for a basic grant of $475m in each of the three financial years from 1977 to 1980.
In his second reading speech on the principal Act, the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) gave the undertaking that the States had been advised of the Government’s intention to maintain the basic grant to each State for 1978-79 and 1 979-80 at an amount equivalent in real terms to 1 977-78. There, of course, is the bone of contention. The Minister stated that the index factor selected by the Government was to be based on: cost movements on an annual basis in line with movements in the national accounts implicit price deflator for private investment “in other building and construction” ‘.
The Labor Opposition, of course, was criticial and remains critical of the Government’s use of this particular prime movement indicator. We think it is a hoax. As the Government has given an undertaking to maintain the real value of funds allocated for roads, it is more appropriate for the Government to allow increases in line with the actual price increases in road maintenance and construction. The former Bureau of Roads, an independent authority, which, incidentally, was abolished by the Fraser Government in 1977, in its 1975 report provided statistics which unequivocally illustrated that the cost of roadworks has risen at a greater rate than the index used by the Government in this legislation and higher than the rate of inflation measured by the consumer price index. Let me give some examples. From 1970 to 1975, the road price index rose by 13.6 per cent; the consumer price index rose by 4.9 per cent; and the implicit gross fixed capital expenditure deflator rose by 10.6 per cent. From 1973 to 1975, the variations are more marked still. The road price index rose by 23.3 per cent; the consumer price index rose by 1 4.8 per cent; and the implicit gross national expenditure deflator rose by 15.8 per cent.
Road maintenance and construction costs have risen at a faster rate for a variety of reasons including price rises in bituminous products following rises in oil prices. The Bureau of Roads, in its 1975 report, summed up those increases by stating:
Road costs increased some 62 per cent between 1971-72 and 1974-73 compared with 40 per cent in the consumer price index.
The present position shows that road costs continue to increase at a higher rate. The Government’s implicit price deflator for private investment in other building and construction rose by only 6.6 per cent in 1978-79. The Budget estimate on the rate of inflation as measured by the CPI, as all honourable members know, is over 10 per cent. Estimates of the increased cost of road maintenance and construction vary but, if the New South Wales Department of Main Roads’ estimate for last year of 10 per cent is an indication, it is clear that last year’s allocation did not maintain the real value of allocation for roads. With growing labour and petrol costs, it is unlikely that increased costs can be contained to less than 10 per cent for this year.
I think the House would be interested to know the views on this matter of the official journal of the Australian Road Federation. The journal is called Road News. In the September 1979 edition, this independent journal was critical of the Government as I am critical of the Government. The article states:
The 1979-80 Budget Speech disclosed that inflation for the year to June 1 979 was 8.8 per cent.
The 1979-80 Budget Papers stated ‘The Government has announced that road grants will again be maintained in real terms in 1 979-80 when $S46m, an increase of 7.5 per cent on the 1978-79 grants, will be provided’. The 1979-80 Budget Speech showed that the promise is, once again, to be broken.
The Treasurer announced ‘for 1979-80 as a whole, the CPI is presently estimated to increase by a little over 10 per cent’.
It is a fact that over the last few years, promises and performance in the area of road funding have continued to diverge. There has been no real growth in road funds and the Government has failed to meet its pledge to ‘maintain the value of these grants in real terms’.
That, as I say, is a quotation from the official organ of the Australian Road Federation magazine Road News. I do not think anybody for a solitary moment would contend that that organisation and its journal are pro-Labor. It has always sought to impress itself as an impartial, neutral, factual and honest body. As the real value of Federal Government allocations under this legislation is not maintained, a cutback in much needed roadworks throughout Australia will result. Heaven knows, the condition of our roads is evidence enough for all to see. My colleague, the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys) has passed me a Press release by Mr Russell Hinze, the Queensland Minister for Main Roads, which refers to the Bruce Highway in Queensland. This is not being stated by the Labor Party; it is being said by the Queensland Minister for Main Roads. The Press release states:
It would take 70 years to finish the Bruce Highway on present Federal Funding levels.
The Press release goes on to state:
Millions of dollars are wasted, lives are lost and tremendous disruption occurs every year on this section of the highway, caused by Federal Government neglect.
– If the Government will not give him the money, perhaps he can borrow it from the Moscow Narodny Bank.
-As the honourable gentleman appropriately, I think, interjects on this occasion, Mr Hinze can probably borrow it from the Russian bank as seems to be the trend and the fashionable inclination in Queensland at present. What a sorry state it is that that is the last resort for Australians. I just mention that one highway. There are highways all over this country, as every honourable member knows, which have been neglected and which are death traps. The Hume Highway and the Pacific Highway are glaring examples. One can look at the inadequacy of that great road going to Gosford and Newcastle. One has to weave one’s way through these areas in single lanes. Highway No. 1 weaves its way through the suburbs of Newcastle. We fight our way through great traffic bottlenecks at Hornsby, in the face of total indifference by this Government. When we go down to Wollongong, we see the coal trucks running several a minute, I think, through the main streets and through the death traps of Mount Ousley. Week after week we hear of some horrendous accident in that part of the country. We bring deputations down here to the Minister for Transport and he tells the Mayor of Wollongong and his aldermen that the Commonwealth has no obligation in this matter. He passes the buck to the States. That is not good enough.
We remember the days when a Government in which the present Minister for Transport was a Minister accepted responsibility in regard to roads that earned export income. That, of course, was in regard to the beef roads. But now that we have a new emphasis on exports in respect to coal, we find an entirely different attitude. We find the Government showing total disinterest in the needs of the great coal producing cities and towns in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia. So I believe it is a matter of very real concern that, although the Federal Government has this obligation to increase allocations to improve roads, it has failed to do so. The Government has dramatically increased the federal tax received from motorists by its petrol pricing policy. The Government has failed to continue special road projects and assistance to the States in relation to specific roads primarily used by export industries. I have already referred to the coal industry. A number of agricultural industries, such as the beef and wheat industries, are similarly affected. The practice of declaring national commerce roads has virtually been abandoned by this Government. That is an admission by the Minister.
The Government stands to gain in extra tax in one year alone from motorists around Australia- farmers and people living in the bush are more affected than inner city residentsalmost $3,000m. That is the amount in the great tax rip-off. Motorists will pay $2,023m tax during 1979-80 because of this Government’s decision to set Australian oil prices at ruling world prices in order to achieve world parity, as it has been described. This is 70 per cent more than was taken from the Australian motorist last year. When coupled with the crude oil levy it represents 1 1 per cent of the tax collections. It is no wonder that the price of petrol at the present time has reached $1.30 a gallon on average throughout Australia.
This rise, due to specific government policy to set Australian crude oil at world prices has pushed the cost of petrol to levels that we never thought were possible just a short time ago. The Federal Government takes 42c of every dollar paid by Australian motorists. The other beneficiaries are the major oil companies, refineries, and wholesalers, who together receive 33c. The oil producing countries receive11.5c and service stations13.5c. So everyone is having a go at the poor old Australian motorist. But it is this Government which is doing it unfairly and unnecessarily and is giving the green light for others to have a go as well.
– What is your policy?
-Well, I will tell you what my policy is, firstly in respect of the matter to which I have referred. The Federal Government should be obliged to return to the States a greater amount based on the sums taken from motorists. There does not seem to be any ambiguity about that. That is where we stand. That is an aspect of the official policy of the Labor Opposition. By this legislation the State of New South Wales is to receive just under $1 77m. The Federal Government’s share of the New South Wales motorists’ petrol dollar is estimated at $675m. In other words in one year the Commonwealth takes in petrol tax from New South Wales motorists $498m more than it returns. The honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu) has been very loquacious in interjecting throughout this debate and my contribution to it. Does he regard that as a fair proposition? The figures that I have just mentioned are typical of the situation prevailing throughout Australia. I will repeat those figures. In one year the Commonwealth takes from New South Wales motorists $498m in petrol tax more than it returns in terms of assistance in maintaining and improving roads, or improving safety on roads throughout that State. In the years prior to and including1978 the return to New South Wales has dropped from 60 per cent to 38 per cent. This year’s allocation to be authorised by this Bill has further reduced the percentage return to 26 per cent.
It has to be said that the New South Wales Government has kept its allocations above the minimum amounts required by Commonwealth legislation. Last year approximately $300m was allocated by New South Wales for road programs. That was $ 136m more than the Commonwealth, which takes an enormous tax bite from the motorists, as I have already described to the House. The Commonwealth also has an obligation to maintain roads essentially used for export purposes. This constitutional obligation gave rise to special funds being allocated in the 1950s and 1960s and I cannot see any reason why this Government, of the same political persuasion of governments in those times, has suddenly seen fit to change its attitude about this matter.
If we take the period of 1971-72, when the Liberal-Country Party was in office, $ 10.1 m was allocated when beef exports were valued at $389.3m and represented 7.96 per cent of total Australian exports. When it comes to specific allocations for roads used by the coal industrythat is an industry that I represent as my electorate stretches right down through those well known coal mining areas of Bulli, Corrimal, Helensburgh to within a few miles from Wollongong- I just have to make the point that a far more realistic attitude is necessary from this Government in regard to providing assistance for those areas that are so adversely affected by the damage caused to roads by coal trucks. It is not good enough for this Government to ignore that problem, as it has been doing for solong. In general, the Government must stand indicted and condemned because all the figures show that proper priority is not given to the need to improve Australian roads.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-This amending Bill allows the Commonwealth to maintain the real value of funds to be made available for State road programs under the original Act of 1977. The maintenance of this real value involved an additional $33m in1978-79 and the $38m further appropriated in this Act. The total for the three years of the States Grants (Roads) Act has been $475m in 1977-78; $508m in 1978-79; and in 1979-80 it will be $546m. This increase in1 979-80 represents a 7.5 per cent increase on last year’s grant and will be the final adjustment before the Act terminates on 30 June 1980. With the last expenditures under the present Act the Commonwealth must now look at the three-year program for the three years to 30 June 1983. To this end the Bureau of Transport Economics has already presented its assessment of the Australian road system. This was presented in May of this year and incorporated three reports. Some people have suggested a separation at a ministerial level of the different functions of transport. Our future transport requirements are such that I believe it is vital that transport decisions be made from one portfolio.
The future will require greater rationalisation between rail, road, sea and air modes of transport and will not require these to be separated.
In all areas, particularly those of rail and road, the needs are so great, the economies so necessary, and fuel prices are so real, that rationalisation is absolutely necessary. In spite of the fears expressed a few years ago that an absorption of the Bureau of Roads into the Bureau of Transport Economics would lead to a biased assessment of need, there has been an excellent assessment made of the current road situation by the Bureau of Transport Economics. An acceptance of this assessment, particularly by my own State of Queensland and local government authorities, reflects its impartiality and thereby its worth. Road needs in the future will be determined by three main items. Firstly, the availability of fuels, influencing road speeds, which I notice is part of the amendment by the Opposition; secondly, the weights carried on the road surfaces as we presently have them; and, thirdly, rationalisation to effect the best economic use of funds for roads.
There is certainly a close relationship between road speeds and fuel consumption. Some surprising facts have come to light from experiences in the United States of America where the road speeds have been reduced to 55 miles per hour. I refer to some of them. The United States is saving about four million gallons of petrol a day, or about 1.5 billion gallons each year, by this reduction in speed limits. By driving at 55 miles an hour US motorists are saving about $900m a year. Most cars can get about 20 per cent more miles per gallon at 55 miles an hour than at 70 miles an hour.
That refers to straight economies. But look at the other benefits of reduced road accidents and injury. The probability of a fatality in a crash roughly doubles with a speed increase from 45 miles an hour to 60 miles an hour and doubles again at 70 miles an hour. The lower speed of 55 miles an hour has reduced by about 50 per cent total fatalaties and injuries. This has resulted in a saving of 4,500 lives a year. The American Medical Association stated that paralysing spinal cord injuries have been reduced by 60 per cent because of this slackening of speed. That is why I bring in the argument that we have to look at this aspect also.
If fuel consumption is affected by maximum road speeds, as it has been in America, road surfaces of the future must be suitable to speeds of, say, 55 miles an hour and not necessarily speeds of 60, 80 or 100 miles an hour. The onus is currently on the States, and the States must bear this onus more responsibly, to determine the weights to be carried on road surfaces, particularly where alternative rail and sea transport are available. Too often we see our already substandard road surfaces destroyed by prime movers and trailers, particularly in unfavourable climatic conditions such as when the roads are water saturated or cooking in summer heats. Examples of inadequate road surfacing in major development and mining areas are clearly in evidence in my area of central Queensland, where roads are deteriorating at a great rate under excessive weights and unfavourable climatic conditions. States must set standards of weights complementary to road surfaces now in existence. We must project present road assessments into the future to ensure that these aspects and other changing conditions are planned for and to ensure that whatever our financial ability is there is no duplication and the best value is given for the funds spent, small as they might be.
I wish to bring to the attention of the House the road situation in my State of Queensland, particularly the national highways there. Others have already commented on the Marlborough to St Lawrence section. In 1974 when the Commonwealth, under the Labor Government, assumed responsibility for national highways perhaps few States in Australia had greater need for improvements in their national highways than Queensland. This was because of its vast decentralisation program. Figures produced for me by the Parliamentary Library show that the length of declared national highways in Queensland is 3,922 kilometres. In the other eastern States, New South Wales has 1,335 kilometres and Victoria 690 kilometres.
– They are only little pups of States.
– As far as roads are concerned, yes. That figure of 3,922 kilometres is about three times greater than the figure for New South Wales and about six times greater than the figure for Victoria. I also understand that national highways in Queensland were in a worse situation when they were taken over. In fact Queensland must be the only State on the eastern seaboard that boasts a section of national highway which is only a dirt track. The road from St Lawrence to Marlborough on Highway No. 1 stands as evidence of this although work and plans are urgently going ahead to rectify the situation.
Expenditure on national highways in the current year under this amending Bill is of interest in view of the statistics I have just given. The total amount spent on construction of national highways is $1 75,77 1,000-$67,474,000 in New South Wales, $29,886,000 in Victoria and $34,484,000 in Queensland. Maintenance of national highways has received a total appropriation of $29,886,000, with $9,081,000 for New South Wales, $3,449,000 for Victoria and $9,310,000 for Queensland. The total appropriation for commerce roads is $17,823,000, with $4,598,000 for New South Wales, $5,977,000 for Victoria and $3,219,000 for Queensland. Total expenditure in these areas is $223,480,000, with $81,153,000 going to New South Wales, $39,312,000 to Victoria and $47,013,000 to Queensland. These figures reflect a greater weighting to population than to needs. The maintenance figure for Queensland is the only appropriation greater than those of the other more populous States and possibly reflects the lack of capital works on Queensland national highways, which indicates a greater deterioration of its surfaces and a need for more maintenance.
The length of highway in Queensland in comparison with other States would automatically require this extra appropriation at all levels. Recently I did my own assessment on the section of Highway No. 1 between Townsville and Mackay. On 397 kilometres of highway my assessment was as follows: There were 28 kilometres in the course of reconstruction, 54 kilometres which required reconstruction, 98 kilometres which required major maintenance and 2 1 7 kilometres had a fair surface requiring minimum maintenance. The other sections of the highway in my electorate reveal a worse position, particularly the section between Mackay and Rockhampton, which includes the infamous section from St Lawrence to Marlborough. The recommendation of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Tourism confirms that this highway needs upgrading to cope with the tourist potential of the north.
The point of my comments in regard to Queensland is borne out in the 1979 assessment by the Bureau of Transport Economics, particularly table 6.19 on page 153 of part 1 of the assessment. The table does not argue for grants in excess of those given between 1974-75 and 1978-79; it merely shows the distribution among the States of funds available. It shows that funds available at 1971-72 prices, if appropriated on an economically efficient road expenditure basis, would have given Queensland $2 13m more of the $2,125m available from 1974-75 to 1978-79. But the actual funds given to Queensland were $4 10m instead of $62 3m. All other States benefited from Queensland’s loss. This is evidenced in that table. There are many qualifications to the figures shown in this table which discount to some extent the recommendations or the findings that were made. But it is important that that assessment places emphasis on needs more than on population. It does not argue for more expenditure; it purely assesses the funds made available and how they should have been distributed compared with how they were distributed- basically on a per capita basis.
In any Bill of this kind it is essential that any weighting in the distribution of funds be in favour of needs and value of industries and exports and less in favour of population, or indeed there should be no weighting at all in that regard. The maintenance of roads, the need gradually escalating with the inability to reconstruct, needs to have a greater emphasis and we need to take into account once again the length, the use of the roads by heavy traffic and the extreme climatic conditions experienced in the areas involved. The arguments I have just put forward support the figures in table 6.19. If greater funds in real terms are to be allocated in the Bill Queensland would of course expect its share. Whilst the States argued successfully in 1976 for the absorption of the previous beef roads into the category of rural arterial roads, the experience of the three years since has been that the same impetus has not been given to these roads as formerly but that there has been an actual transfer of funds previously allocated towards the old rural arterials with a lessening of support from the States. I believe that the category should be re-introduced to ensure completion of these very necessary arterials through country Australia and to make sure that funds are not diverted to other roads.
Any new road grants Act must be seen as an opportunity to get greater State and local government involvement. All governments and local authorities have an ability to contribute to what are in fact their own road systems. But in the past some have shown a reluctance to contribute to the same extent as others. Let me refer to some research figures on roads expenditure for the year 1975-76 for the three eastern seaboard States- New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. In New South Wales and Victoria the Commonwealth’s contribution was the lowest. In New South Wales the State’s contribution was the highest and local government’s contribution was the second largest. In Victoria expenditure by the State Government was lower than local government expenditure. But in my own State of Queensland the largest contribution was made by the Commonwealth Government and the local government contribution was higher than the State ‘s contribution.
– Why would not the State Government of Queensland give more money to roads?
– A member of the Opposition complained about the amount that goes to the States and local government authorities, but the new federalism policy has not resulted in a greater input of finance at the State and local government levels. Obviously under the federalism policy the States have a greater ability to finance State and local government services and roads play a part in providing the most important of these services, namely transport and communications.
– You have to be kidding.
– I am fair dinkum about that. I would say that in the country- the area that the Labor Party is not interested inimproved roads represent the greatest service that we can provide for our people. I am most definite about that.
In this debate a good deal of comment has been made by other speakers about improving the conditions of our roads. I referred earlier to the section of the northern highway between St Lawrence and Marlborough and I believe that my comment was justified. In support of my observation that the States should do more in this regard I point out that, following representations, the responsible Queensland Minister promised an additional $5m a year for a speedy completion of this section to bitumen standard. So far as north Queenslanders are concerned, this commitment is not only welcomed but also is absolutely necessary. Although the Labor Party takes credit for its declaration in 1 974 of this section of road as part of the national highway system, an enormous amount of planning, finance and work was required to bring that declaration, which did not cost Labor anything, to reality. Honourable members should bear in mind difficulties such as bridging many coastal streams and getting the work under way from a standing start in an area so isolated from major community centres.
Whilst I do not argue for the establishment of a federal roads construction authority, as did the Whitlam Labor Government, I do feel that the
Commonwealth should have some say in the expenditure of funds. I have argued for a more efficient expenditure of funds so that we will get more mileage for the same expenditure. While private road construction contractors are going out of business for want of contracts, too much of the taxpayers’ funds seem to be spent by State Government authorities. If the State authorities are to plan, supervise and finance capital works they should not also be the constructing authority. Better economy, better roads and speedier construction would result from a separation of the construction work from the other duties of State authorities.
Opposition members have commented on the wonderful piece of legislation that Labor introduced in 1974. 1 will comment on that to indicate what the Labor Party would do for rural Australia. In respect of the total grants divided between the States, there was actually a decrease from the first year of the scheme, 1 974, to the last year commencing 1 July 1976. The decrease amounted to about $9m but was at a time when inflation was running at 15 per cent to 17 per cent. The main point I want to bring to the attention of the House is the extent to which the Labor Party was prepared to reduce expenditure on the development of rural arterial roads. Labor Party supporters have talked about commercial roads and other roads. The Labor Party’s legislation provided for an allocation in the year commencing 1 July 1974 -
– And increased national highways.
– It is in the book.
– Read the other paragraph. Put both sides.
– I am talking about rural arterial roads. An amount of $40m was allocated in 1974 it was reduced to $3 lm for the year commencing 1 July 1976. In respect of the construction and maintenance of rural roadsthese are the roads used by people out in the country who do not get the best of service- the allocation dropped from $59.7m in the year commencing 1 July 1 974 to $46.9m in the year commencing 1 July 1976. There was a reduction of $13rn at a time when the rate of inflation was between 15 per cent and 17 per cent. That is the record of the Labor Party on road grants.
The Opposition has moved an amendment in respect of the amount of fuel tax and excise income distributed for road construction and maintenance. It is an accepted fact, as was pointed out at Question Time yesterday, that the
Labor Party also agrees that there is no connection between the amount of excise received from motorists and the amount of expenditure on capital road works or maintenance. The members of the Labor Party should take that into account when they vote on their amendment. I have much pleasure in supporting the Bill. I have raised those other points for the information of the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) so that when a new Bill is being formulated they can be borne in mind.
-It gives me much pleasure to second the amendment moved by the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) on behalf of the Opposition. I am very disappointed that I will not have my full 20 minutes in which to speak. The Government intends to cut off the debate and I will have to reduce my speaking time to allow my friend, the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis), to have a few minutes in which to speak on this subject. I am glad the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) reduced his speaking time by three minutes to allow the honourabe member for Grey the opportunity to speak later.
I will not take up the time of the House by talking about what the honourable member for Dawson has said but I take this opportunity to let the honourable member know what his colleague in the State Parliament of Queensland, the Minister for Local Government and Main Roads, Mr Hinze, has been saying about the Federal Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon). I might add that the Minister is not even in the House at the moment. It is absolutely ludicrous that a Minister is allowed to hold down two important portfolios- the Country Party portfolios of Primary Industry and Transport. It is absolutely disgraceful that he is not even in the House when we are debating this most important issue. I hope that the National Country Party members will note that. Why do they not appoint the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Millar) instead? He would make a great Minister.
– We increased the amount for rural arterial roads.
-The honourable member does not even care about the people in his electorate. It is no use his interjecting. I did not interrupt the honourable member’s speech because I thought he wanted to give the honourable member for Grey a few minutes in which to speak, but he is too lousy even to do that now.
Let me repeat what the Queensland Minister for Local Government and Main Roads said: . . Mr Nixon’s announcement of Queensland’s allocation for this financial year was a masterpiece of fiddled figures and juggled words. the Government was treating Queensland motorists like a milking cow.
I noticed that our Queensland colleague did not talk about the poor old Queensland motorists and how the Minister for Transport and the Federal Government are treating them. The Queensland Minister for Local Government and Main Roads also said that the Commonwealth Government is thieving $ 1,200m from Australian motorists under the guise of energy requirements. Whilst I have not much time for the Queensland Minister for Local Government and Main Roads, Mr Hinze- I could give him another name- I do think he is on the ball when he criticises the Federal Minister for Transport. Let me talk a little more about our great Minister for Transport and Minister for Primary Industry.
– Hear, hear! We agree that he is great.
-Oh, yes, he is a great man. He does not even know how to answer questions. On 6 July1979 in a statement issued concurrently with the release of the Bureau of Transport Economics report entitled ‘An assessment of the Australian road system 1979’, the Minister said:
Commonwealth Government allocation for roads is to be determined in the overall budgetary context as one of a range of expenditure programs for which the Government is responsible.
It is almost as though the budgetary context is something which the Government has no control over or responsibility for. The Minister does not have to come into this House and make statements like that. It is the standard apology of all Ministers who preside over the most fundamentall and far reaching cuts in expenditure that have ever been imposed by an Australian government. Superficially it is reasonable to say that expenditure on roads must lie within the context of Budget priorities, but the Government’s priorities are of its own making. They are determined by its own Cabinet of which the Minister for Transport is a senior member. The decisions on priorities are totally dominated by the economic obsessions of this Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). So when the Minister for Transport says ‘We must spend within the Budget context’, he means that his Prime Minister’s outdated, one-eyed economic obsessions have forced him to ignore the real needs of his portfolio.
Let us look at the expenditure and revenue components of the Budget. We find that government revenue gained from the excise on petroleum products and oil- otherwise known as the petrol tax- has increased from $1,1 12m in 1976-77 to $ 1,336m in 1977-78 and to $2,096m in 1978-79. For the same period, road expenditure increased from $434m to $47 8m and to $508 respectively. While this year’s roads appropriation is $546m, revenue from the petrol tax for this year is estimated to be a minimum of $2, 100m. Of course this figure escalates every time the world price of oil increases.
I hope that the Government is considering providing service station attendants and service station proprietors with the same privileges as those received by our Federal public servants because this Government has made those service station attendants and those service station proprietors more successful tax collectors than the public servants in the Taxation Office. While businessmen and men of the medical profession are daily coming up with tax avoidance schemes and are confounding the bureaucrats of the Taxation Office, people cannot avoid the petrol tax. About the only tax avoidance scheme that the Opposition can recommend to the motorist is that he sell his car. That is the only way in which he will be able to avoid paying petrol tax. But of course, as we all know, all the statistics show that petrol consumption has not fallen as a result of the petrol tax. The Government’s claim that the petrol tax is an energy conservation measure is demonstrably untrue. It is simply a convenient, expedient and indirect form of raising revenue and of ripping off taxpayers regardless of means or their ability to pay.
At the same time, the oil companies are reaping windfall profits. Esso-BHP receives $5.12 a barrel from its Bass Strait field whereas its production costs are a mere $1 a barrel. Its profit therefore is well over 400 per cent. This would not be so bad if guarantees were attached to the effect that the oil companies would reinvest in Australian exploration. But we can rest assured that that is not likely to happen. By following world parity pricing policies, which even officers of the Department of National Development have discredited, the Government is charging refineries $18.66 a barrel. It is taking $13.54 from each barrel. It is a secret and iniquitous tax.
While the Government and the oil companies reap this harvest of petro-dollars, road grants to the States, represented as a percentage of total budgetary outlay, continue to fall. They fell from 1.983 per cent in 1975-76 to 1.72 per cent in 1979-80. The figures for road funding, expressed as a percentage of the gross domestic product, are just as damning. In 1972-73, the Commonwealth allocation to the States was 0.69 per cent of the GDP. By 1976-77, this amount had declined to 0.54 per cent, representing for that period a shortfall of $2 5 6m. That amount has further declined to 0.54 per cent in 1977-78 and to 0.50 per cent in 1978-79. Against that, let us measure the increase in national expenditure on roads during the previous Labor Administration. During Labor’s term of office, the amount rose from $3 16m to $433.5m. Queensland’s allocation leapt from $50m to $89m under the Labor Administration. In the four-year period of this Government, the expenditure increase has been a miserable 24 per cent- no real increase whatsoever.
The present minister for Transport has continued to ignore the report of the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads which declared that, for the 1979-80 period, $7 13m should be expended on roads. This is a far cry from the $546m which has been made available. At page 208 of the report, the Bureau clearly states that all projects in a five-year program between 1976-77 and 1980-81 would yield discounted benefits greater than the discounted costs of the undertaking. In other words, benefits would outweigh costs.
I will have to cut short my speech but, before I conclude my remarks, I point out the alarm that has been brought to the attention of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) by Alderman Ardill, who is chairman of the Planning and Traffic Committee of the Brisbane City Council. Alderman Ardill wrote to my leader about this matter. I shall read part of what he wrote:
Is there any action that you can take to shame the Federal Government into spending more money on urban arterial roads?
At present, we are most alarmed at the lack of funding for the vital cross-connection from the Ipswich Highway to the Pacific Highway at Garden City, which will be needed for the Commonwealth Games in 1982.
Mr Russ Hinze is reported as stating that there is now real doubt that roads to carry traffic to Brisbane’s 1982 Commonwealth Games would be ready on time. Mr Hinze has said that the Federal Government will not be giving the Brisbane City Council any money to finish those roads in time for the 1982 Commonwealth Games. That is absolutely disgraceful. The Federal Government does not even care about the 1 982 Commonwealth Games. It does not even care about the people who will be coming to Australia for the 1 982 Commonwealth Games. I am sorry to have to cut short my speech but I do so with honour and pleasure to allow my friend, the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis) to say a few words on this matter.
– I wish to take just five minutes to raise three matters which relate to the administration of road funds between the Commonwealth and the States. There are three difficulties which I believe need to be rectified because the end user, the road user, is suffering as a result of these complications and difficulties between the Commonwealth and the States and, in particular, the State of New South Wales. The first difficulty is where there has been some substitution regarding categories of roads. To some extent that aspect has been rectified but over past years there has been a tendency by various State Ministers for Transport to try to siphon off funds that have been allocated to a particular category and to use them in a separate category. There have been instances in some States where funds allocated by the Commonwealth to rural arterial road categories have even been used for purposes such as outer suburban freeways.
The second area of difficulty concerns delays in providing information. There have been extraordinary delays by New South Wales State Ministers in providing the information that the Commonwealth requires as to which projects are to be funded under the State’s priority program. For example, in the 1978-79 year, the Commonwealth Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) sought this information from the New South Wales Minister for Transport by 1 April 1978. He did not receive the information on rural arterial roads until 3 1 October 1978- some seven months late. He did not receive the information on rural local roads until 9 October- virtually the same period of delay. This of course imposes great difficulties not only on road construction authorities in the State but also on local councils which wish to know what their allocations will be so that they can forward budget and draw up their engineering programs for particular projects. While that delay in 1978 may have been associated with elections in New South Wales, even worse, it would now seem that the same situation is applying this year. As of eight days ago, the Commonwealth Minister for Transport still had not received advice from New South Wales as to its roads program, either for rural local or rural arterial roads, for the 1 979-80 year. It would seem that once again both the road building instrumentality in New South Walesthe Department of Main Roads- and the local councils concerned still do not know what their share of the cake will be.
The third area of difficulty is the capacity with which various States, although they have been appropriated funds for specific road projects, apparently can change their mind. There is one project in my electorate which relates to a trunk road between Bathurst and Sofala where the State sought approval for a total program amounting to $3m for the upgrading of a particularly notoriously bad and dangerous section of steep incline on trunk road 54. But, as it turned out, the State, having been given approval in the year just past for an initial expenditure of $24,000 out of that total of $3m, changed its mind, and no funds at all were expended from that program on that section of hill. The Commonwealth Minister advises me that he does not have the ultimate authority to require the States to abide by the bids and priorities which they submit. This places the Commonwealth in an extremely difficult situation. It has to take in good faith the priorities sent to it by any State government. When it approves of those priorities it often finds that the State government, perhaps in association with its road building instrumentality, changes the program. The people who are looking forward to having a particular section road realigned or at least upgraded so that it will be considerably better than it has been for many years are extremely disappointed. I believe that there should be some renegotiation of the arrangements with the States so that this situation does not occur.
Finally, there are two areas that need to be looked at in relation to the negotiation of the new roads agreement to apply from next year. One is the tremendous and urgent need for the restoration and upgrading of existing roads which have fallen a long way behind the necessary requirements. That has happened over a number of years. We should look seriously at the proposition whereby road funds are acquired solely from annual revenue. Surely we should look at the possibilities of using loan funds so that the capital costs of major road projects can be spread over succeeding generations who will be using those roads. I do not believe that we have examined closely enough in this country the concept of using tolls as a means of financing major new road developments. Tremendous advances in technology, particularly tunnelling, have been made. An area which is close to my heart is a new crossing of the Blue Mountains. I believe that it would be feasible to examine seriously the possibility of a new road on that route, using tunnelling technology and financing part of the capital cost out of toll revenue.
-First of all I thank the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys) and the honourable member for Calare (Mr MacKenzie) for cutting their speeches short to give me the opportunity to say a few words. I think it is absolutely disgraceful that a member who represents 12 per cent of the land area of this country and who probably has in his electorate the largest number of unsealed roads of any electorate in Australia and the lowest number of internal air services should have the time in which he is allowed to speak cut back. This is something of which the Government cannot be very proud. I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris), our shadow Minister. I am sure that it covers most of the problems that we see in this Bill.
I refer to the national roads program and, in particular, how it affects the Stuart Highway in South Australia. Under the States Grants (Roads) Act the States are eligible for full financial assistance from the Commonwealth Government for approved construction and maintenance works on declared national highways. On the basis of the acceptance by the Commonwealth Government of the full financial responsibility for the development of national highway systems it follows that funding for the construction of the Stuart Highway should be provided by the Commonwealth Government. However, an examination of Commonwealth Government national highway construction grant allocations to South Australia shows that these grants have been inadequate to meet the urgent national construction expenditure commitments in this State. In 1974-75 and 1979-80 the national highway construction grants allocated, in both current prices and 1979-80 prices, were as follows: In current prices $ 1 6.2 1 m was allocated in 1 974-75. In 1979-80 $ 17.34m was allocated. In 1979-80 prices $27.85m was allocated in 1974-75. In 1979-80 $ 17.34m was allocated. One can see how far these allocations for national roads are falling in value. The South Australian Highways Department road price index has been used to convert the road grant allocations to 1979-80 prices. It is evident that in 1979-80 prices national highway construction grant allocations declined from $27.85m in 1974-75 to $ 17.4m in 1977-78. This is a decline in the level of funding of$10.45m or 37.5 percent.
That decline in Commonwealth Government grants to South Australia for national highway construction reflects the Commonwealth Government’s policy of reducing its financial responsibility for road works. Thus, for example, in 1979-80 prices Commonwealth Government road grants to South Australia have declined from $70.7m in 1972-73 to $47.27m in 1977-78. This is a decline of $23.43m or 33 per cent. As a result, the Commonwealth Government road grants as a percentage of total Highways Department receipts declined from 54.8 per cent in 1972-73 to 47.1 per cent in 1977-78. An examination by the Bureau of Transport Economics of the financial contributions to road works by level of government for Australia as a whole also shows the decline in the financial responsibility for roads by the Commonwealth Government. The percentage share of road funding by level of government was determined for the years 1974-75 and 1978-79. A projected share for 1983-84 was also determined. This indicated the following trend: In 1974-75 the Commonwealth Government allocated 32.2 percent. In 1978-79 it allocated 27.3 per cent. In 1983-84 it is estimated that it will allocate 23.1 per cent. The State contribution rose from 26. 1 per cent to 35.9 per cent in that period. The local government contribution decreased from 41.7 per cent to 41 per cent. From those figures we can see that the Commonwealth’s share is dropping back considerably.
It is of relevance that the decline in the real level of road funding by the Commonwealth Government has taken place over a period in which the real expenditure needs have been growing. Successive Australia-wide road surveys undertaken by the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads in conjunction with the State road authorities have reflected the growth in real road expenditure needs. In particular, these surveys have shown that, as a result of inadequate funding, the backlog of identified and economically warranted road improvement projects has been increasing. On the basis of the assessed backlog of warranted road expenditure and an assessment of future warranted road expenditure needs the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads recommended in its 1973 and 1975 reports on roads in Australia that the Commonwealth Government increase in real terms the level of road grants from year to year. In addition, in its 1975 report the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads recommended that the Commonwealth Government’s share of total road funding for the last financial year should have been 40.8 per cent. However, as I have already shown, the actual share is only 27.3 per cent.
It should also be noted that the inadequate financing of roads by the Commonwealth Government is taking place in a period in which motorists are making very significant and increasing contributions to Commonwealth Government revenue in the form of petrol taxation and domestic crude oil excise. For example, in 1979-80 the total amount contributed by the motorist to Commonwealth Government revenue in petrol tax and crude oil excise for the whole of Australia is expected to exceed $3,000m. However, Commonwealth Government road grants to all States amount to only $546m or 22 per cent of the total estimated collections from motorists in petrol tax and crude oil excise. It should also be noted that the cost of the Stuart Highway to which I shall refer later of $67.3m is only about 2.7 per cent of the estimated revenue collection from motorists in 1 979-80. As a result of the inadequate road funding by the Commonwealth Government, it was necessary in South Australia to divert considerable State road funds from urban and rural arterial road expenditure needs to meet national highway expenditure commitments. These commitments had been undertaken on the expectation, based on previous trends and the recommendations of the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads, that the Commonwealth Government would increase in real terms national highway construction grants. However, as I have already shown, national highway construction grants in 1979-80 prices decreased from $27.85m to $ 17.4m.
I refer to the State Government and Commonwealth Government contributions to national highway expenditure for the years 1974-75 to 1978-79. In those years the total Commonwealth Government contribution to South Australia for national highway construction was $82. lm. The State contribution was $16.2m, 19.7 per cent of the Commonwealth Government contribution. We have to remember that the national highway programs are wholly the financial responsibility of the Federal Government. But despite what the Commonwealth Government has contributed, the State of South Australia, out of its other allocations and at the expense of other road allocations, has spent $ 1 6.2m of its own. It is relevant that on 25 November 1977, the then Deputy Leader of the Country Party and Minister for Primary Industry provided an official statement to the mayor of Alice Springs, Mr George Smith, that if elected to government, the Liberal Party would provide special funds for the construction of the Stuart Highway. He indicated that these funds would be additional to the grant allocations for national highways in South Australia and that the funds would be allocated specifically for the construction of the Stuart
Highway. As we all know, no such additional funds have been provided.
Quite recently, the former Minister of Transport in South Australia announced that his application for approval to spend $4.35m on the Stuart Highway in the next financial year had been approved by the Federal Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon). But we now find that there could be some change of policy because of the change of government in South Australia. In the Adelaide Advertiser last week an article headed ‘Darwin link a priority- Fraser’ stated:
Sealing the Stuart Highway was a national priority, the Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, said yesterday.
It was his Government’s objective to get more funds into the project, he said after a 30-minute meeting with representatives of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Road Transport Federation.
The article continued:
Mr Fraser said bulk funds, not grants for specific projects, were given to the States and added that the Stuart Highway situation ‘could cause the Government to question that policy.’
That is the first time we have seen any break at all. Previously approaches have been made to the Federal Minister by deputations of members from both sides and by deputations from various industry organisations asking for a special allocation to be granted to South Australia to allow the Stuart Highway sealing to proceed at a much faster rate. At the present rate of funding it will take 12 to 1 5 years for it to be completed. All previous approaches to the Minister have been rejected. We hope that, because of the Prime Minister’s statement, there may be a change of policy. However, it is rather ironical that in the many years that the Labor Party was in office in South Australia it always received a fiat rejection of any requests for additional funds to be provided to it for sealing the Stuart Highway. Now there is a change of government. As we see in a few other areas, the Federal Government now seems to be taking a softer approach to South Australia.
With reference to the Stuart Highway, there have been a lot of stunts, a lot of politicking and a lot of grandstanding by senators and other people who claim that they are interested in that part of South Australia. There has been a bus trip up the Stuart Highway, but the bus broke down. There was a visit by the Minister and other parties but unfortunately they could not land at Coober Pedy because it was wet- although I personally know a man who landed a Piper Navaho at Coober Pedy after the Minister said he could not land. There have been all these stunts and I think it is about time that all this bunkum stopped. The Government should get behind the people who want to see the highway sealed. It should provide the finance so that instead of having to wait 10 or 12 years for this major highway to be sealed the work can be done in five years. The present State Government says it can be done in that time. But if it can be done in five years under the present Liberal Government in South Australia, why is it that for so many years the Federal Government rejected applications for further funds to enable the work to commence? It is about time that we forgot all the politicking, all the grandstanding and all the bunkum about the Stuart Highway that has gone on in the past and provided the finance so that the job can be completed with a reasonable time- I would say about five years.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– On a point of order, I ask whether the Minister is to respond to the debate.
-(Hon. Ian Robinson) - The question has already been put and agreed to. There is no point of order.
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 22 August, on motion by Mr Howard:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Bill now before the House involves two amendments to the Local Government (Personal Income Tax
Sharing) Act 1976. The first amendment increases the annual percentage of net personal income tax collections allocated to local government from 1.52 per cent to 1.75 per cent. The other amendment enables periodic reviews by the Commonwealth Grants Commission of the relative State shares of the total funds allocated to local government under the tax sharing arrangements. The background of the Bill is that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) promised in his 1977 election speech to lift the share of personal income tax collections provided to local government authorities from 1 .52 per cent to 2 per cent within three years. Last year nothing was done towards fulfilling this objective. One wonders whether this undertaking was going the way of other innumerable election promises. However, in the second year of the three years some progress has been made towards this target.
The speech of the Treasurer (Mr Howard) in introducing this Bill contains several severely distorting misrepresentations. At no point did he acknowledge that the consequence for local government of the Government’s federalism policy has been a slash in payments to local government. Indeed, he tried to give exactly the opposite impression, as he did also in a reply to a question supposedly without notice on 13 September. The fact is that the real level of funds for local government has been severely reduced by this Government since it came into office. In 1975-76 total payments to local government authorities by the Commonwealth were $345m. In 1976-77, the first year in which the Fraser Government decided the allocation, this allocation from the Commonwealth to local government was reduced to $277m, some $70m less than the amount for the previous year, and in real terms a reduction of 28 per cent. The principal reasons for the severe reduction were the cessation of grants for employment programs, the ending of various urban development programs such as the area improvement program, and the winding back of the national sewerage programs.
All those programs were of great benefit to local government. The Regional Employment Development Scheme was much criticised at the time, but it was an important program in terms of both providing necessary jobs at a time of considerable unemployment and assisting local government to achieve the fulfilment of projects which ordinary funding did not allow to be undertaken. So it had that dual advantage. Despite the Opposition’s criticism of the RED scheme it was indeed a very helpful scheme for local government. It is interesting to see that only today the Municipal Association of Victoria was reported as calling for the restoration of the RED scheme or for the introduction of a similar scheme. I think that is highly significant. Local government is being squeezed for funds by this Government, as I will demonstrate clearly in a moment, and it realises the enormous benefits in terms of looking after the unemployed. Grants to local councils enable them to employ people on worthwhile local projects.
The area improvement program is an example of some of the urban development programs which have been cut off by the Fraser Government. That was an extraordinarily beneficial program as it did not cost a great deal of money- for the areas in which it applied which were basically the western suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney, both of which are very deprived areas. As my electorate is in the western suburbs of Melbourne, the so-called deprived west, I am very much aware of the benefit that that program had in improving the area, not only aesthetically through such things as tree planting programs, but also in terms of recreation facilities of all kinds in the area and making it a more tolerable place in which to live. The national sewerage program was a tremendously beneficial program for outer suburban areas, quite clearly increasing the standard of living of those who benefited from it. Its cut back is to be deplored. So in the first year of the Fraser Government we had substantial cut-backs in worthwhile programs and that meant that we had a substantial cut-back in total funding to local government. The Treasurer claimed in his second reading speech:
One of the aims of the Government’s Federalism policy is that State governments and local authorities should have maximum independence and flexibility in determining their priorities and carrying out their functions.
How can they possibly have maximum independence when the funds made available to them are so sharply reduced? Throughout the last four years, including the current financial year, funds from the Commonwealth to local government have remained for below the 1975-76 real level. In 1979-80, the current financial year, the real value of Commonwealth Government payments to or for local government authorities is budgeted to be 20 per cent less than in 1 975-76, the last year of the Labor Government. That is, the purchasing power of funds made available to local government by the Commonwealth will be one-fifth lower this year than four years ago. That is a clear example of what the Government’s new federalism policy really means. In reality, new federalism is an attack on State and local government. The Prime Minister and his ministry apparently have a doctrinaire belief that no matter what the value of services provided for State and local government, the resources used for providing those services should be reduced.
It is a reasonable development that more of the total Commonwealth payments to local government should be in the form of general purpose or untied payments which local government can use as it wishes. We support that tendency which began in 1974 because it should facilitate the growth of autonomy for local government. But that is of little consequence if the total payments to local government are being reduced, because local government then has no flexibility in deciding how to use the funds. All funds have to be used for simply maintaining existing services insofar as that is possible. It is important to look more closely at the situation. This estimated 20 per cent real fall in total Commonwealth payments to local government over the last four years assumes that this financial year $ 133.5m will be made available through the States for roads. This assumption has to be made because the actual allocation is decided by the States since the Commonwealth makes block grants to the States for roads and the States then decide what proportion of that grant they will make to local government for it to expend on roads. On the basis of an increase of 7.5 per cent on last year’s allocation, which is the generally indexed amount for roads this year, the figure of $ 133.5m seems to be a reasonable estimate. If we therefore make that estimate for the expenditure on roads this year, we see what the total payments by the Commonwealth to local government authorities in this country will be this year. That is an amount of $383,409,000 which, as I said, will be 20 per cent less in real terms than the 1975-76 allocation. At this stage I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which shows Commonwealth Government payments to or for local government authorities for the years 1975-76 to 1979-80.
The table read as follows-
-I thank the House. The table shows the total payments year by year, the payments as a proportion of income tax receipts in the previous year, total payments at 1975-76 prices in each year and the percentage change in the real allocation since 1975-76. If we look at total payments as a proportion of income tax receipts we see that in 1975-76 total payments to local government from the Commonwealth represented 4.5 per cent of income tax receipts in the previous year but that this year, 1979-80, total payments will represent only 3 per cent. That is a very substantial reduction. Indeed, in two of the preceding years the proportion was less than 3 per cent. It is up slightly this year as a result of the increase in the proportion of the revenue-sharing grant from 1.52 per cent to 1.75 per cent, which is included in the Bill now before the House. In terms of the proportion of income tax, which is one way of measuring the size of the grant, it is down considerably on what it was under the Labor Government. Then we see that in the first year of the Fraser Government there was a 28 per cent reduction in real terms and that this year the reduction represents 20 per cent.
As I mentioned, those figures include an estimate of the amounts which will be made available to local government for roads. If we exclude roads from the total payments, other Commonwealth Government payments to local government this year are budgeted to be $249m. This is less in absolute terms than the funds made available in 1975-76, which amounted to $270m. So this year, if one leaves aside roads, the total payments by the Commonwealth to local government for all other items in absolute money terms are some $2 1 m less than they were in 1 975-76. In real terms that represents a fall of one-third. That is, the purchasing power of Commonwealth Government payments to or for local government authorities, excluding payments for roads, will be 33 per cent lower this year than it was in 1 975-76. 1 seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which shows the Commonwealth Government payments to or for local government authorities excluding payments for roads.
The table read as follows-
-I thank the House. I will not go through this table in detail. It is compiled similarly to the previous table and shows total payments as a percentage of income tax receipts in the previous year for each of the four years involved and shows the movements in the real size of the allocation, excluding the allocation for roads. As I have mentioned, this year there is a 33.3 per cent reduction in the allocation compared with the allocation in the last year of the Labor Government. Even if we exclude the allocation for the Regional Employment Development Scheme, which of course was a substantial payment to local government in 1975-76, and look just at the rest of the allocation, we see that total Commonwealth payments to local government in the period from 1975-76 to 1979-80 increased by only 8.9 per cent compared with an inflation rate of some 39 per cent. If we exclude the allocation for roads and the Regional Employment Development Scheme, we see that in actual money terms there has been a rise of only 2.4 per cent in that time. Of course, if one takes account of inflation that represents a very substantial reduction indeed. There can be no doubt from these figures that contrary to the myth which is perpetrated by the Treasurer and other Government spokesmen about the benefits of new federalism for local government, the reality is that there has been a substantial reduction in the real value of payments to local government by this Federal Government. There is no gainsaying that fact.
This has a very important impact on local government. It means that as assistance from the Commonwealth to local government is being reduced, local government is being forced back to its own resources and, therefore, it has to reduce services or increase its own revenue raising potential- that is, it has to increase local government rates. As all honourable members know, local government rates are a substantial imposition on people- particularly low income home owners- and it is an undesirable trend for there to be a continuing rapid rise in the level of those rates. That is what this Government’s policies are forcing on local government. If Commonwealth Government payments to the States for local government are continually cut back, it is inevitable that they will have to increase rates at a considerable pace, and they also will have to chop back services which they otherwise would have wanted to provide. Over the period 1975-76 to 1977-78-1 could not get figures for later years- the total amount of local government rate revenue increased by 27.5 per cent in just two years. That 27.5 per cent increase in two years of rate revenue gathered by local government was forced on it by the fact that there has been this substantial cut back in assistance from the Federal Government.
In his second reading speech, the Treasurer forgot to make any mention of the total funds made available to local government. He talked only about general revenue grants. Even here he made a mistake, when he claimed that general revenue funds increased by 145 per cent in the three years to 1978-79. As the Budget Papers show, that general purpose assistance for local government increased by 125 per cent, which is rather less than what the Treasurer claimed. It is true that the Treasurer has noted his mistake in this House since then- a mistake which my office drew to the attention of his Department. Also in his second reading speech the Treasurer says that the increase in 1979-80 will be 26.3 per cent, but he neglects to mention that the real value of this increase, even on a conservative estimate of the rate of increase of the public sector deflator of 8.5 per cent, involves a figure of only 13.9 per cent. It is simply deceptive misrepresentation to describe this increase in funds only in money terms, and it is a neglect to mention the effects of inflation in eroding the real value of those funds.
Another aspect of the Government’s new federalism policy which is disturbing in its effects on local government is that local government shares only in income tax receipts, not in total tax receipts. Total budgeted tax receipts are higher this financial year as a proportion of gross domestic product than in any other year during the last decade. This year the Government will receive 24 per cent of national income as tax receipts, compared with an average 22.7 per cent during the three years of the Labor Government. However, there is a danger for local government that it may not share in this higher tax revenue in future because the Government claims that it wants to reduce the proportion of income tax in total tax. In fact, last year there was a slight fall in the percentage of that income tax comprised of total tax, due of course to the sharp rise in indirect taxation through the crude oil levy. It is for this reason that the Labor Party’s platform undertakes to ensure that in any year in which the real value of Federal net personal income tax collections declines, a Labor Government would maintain the real value of a two per cent share of personal income tax receipts for local government.
Local government would be quite justified in being critical of the approach of the Fraser Government. The fixed proportion of personal tax revenue would not provide as much real revenue for local government as some other system which considered need and allowed for cost inflation and real growth, along the lines of the Whitlam formula for the States. Perhaps there would be value in involving the Commonwealth Grants Commission in a regular review of this kind.
The second part of this Bill is simply a machinery amendment. The present Act could be interpreted as providing for one review only of the proportional distribution between the States of the tax sharing funds for local government. One such review by the Grants Commission was made in 1976. Therefore, the Bill is being amended to make it clear that the question of the distribution of tax sharing funds for local government between the States can again be referred to the Grants Commission. Presumably, this amendment is being moved because of Government uncertainty about how to distribute funds for local government among the States. The Grants Commission special report on financial assistance for local government, presented in May to the Minister for Administrative Services (Mr John McLeay), recommends that funds be distributed simply on the basis of population, and that this approach be maintained for several years. The Grants Commission does not want to have to review regularly the basis on which funds are allocated to the States. It wants a stable basis which provides predictability to the States and local governments.
Apparently the Government has not been able to make up its mind about this proposal. It would clearly have some disadvantages; some States would lose and some would gain. The conflict is intensified when total Commonwealth funds for local government have been so sharply reduced. Although the Grants Commission’s proposal has the advantage of simplicity, it gives too little weight to equity. Greater attention should be given to needs. The Commonwealth Government must quickly make a decision so that State grants commissions can get on with the job of deciding on an equitable distribution of their allocation for local government bodies in the States. The present basis of distribution by State grants commissions involves not less than 30 per cent of total funds being allocated amongst local government authorities on a population basis, the remainder being allocated on a needs basis.
Given the significance of many aspects of needs, such as differences in revenue raising potential and differences in existing facilities, in demography, topography and geography, this proportion must not be raised. Indeed, in the Opposition’s view it would be quite wrong to increase this allocation of funds on a per capita basis because the higher that that proportion becomes the less that is available for distribution on a needs basis. It is the Opposition’s view that there should be a very considerable allocation on a needs basis because it is the councils which cover areas of low income which have the greatest problems as well as the least potential for raising revenue. It is therefore highly desirable that a large proportion of this Commonwealth Government assistance to local government comes in this form of a needs allocation. There would be good case for making this per capita distribution not more than 30 per cent of total funds rather than the present provision of not less than 30 per cent of total funds.
The Opposition does not oppose either of the amendments proposed in this BUI. However, it is disturbed that for the fourth year the Government has decided to continue to depress funds made available to local government. There is a severe imbalance in local government finance. On the one hand, local government has only one main source of tax revenue- rates- and on the other hand, the services expected from local government have been increasing. Many local government services are particularly labour intensive so that, when their funds are reduced, the number of people whom they can employ is also directly reduced. In June 1975, local government employed a total of 141,000 people. By June 1979, local government employment had fallen to 127,500. That is to say, as a direct effect of the Commonwealth’s severe reduction in the funds made available to local government, there has been a decline of 13,500 in the number of people employed by local government.
Earlier this year the annual conference of the Australian Council of Local Government Associations passed a number of resolutions supporting the concept of the establishment of unemployment relief schemes. The Council prepared a detailed proposal, at the Government’s suggestion, and sent it to the Government. Not only did the Government take no action on the suggestion but, in the last Budget, it severely cut the funds for the existing inadequate employment programs. The Australian Council of Local Government Associations ‘ proposals draw attention to the needs of the adult unemployed. The Council stated:
Without in any way wishing to play down the especially urgent and worrying aspects of the significant numbers of unemployed juniors, Local Government believes that Governments must take concrete steps to improve work prospects for the 54 per cent of total unemployed who fall into the adult range. Many of these unemployed adults are financially responsible for an entire household. Consequently, the impact of being without work for the adult breadwinner would be greater than for many juniors especially those young people with the financial and emotional support of their own families.
The Council ‘s proposal went on to note: that in most communities throughout Australia, there are pressing needs for public works programs and community services which are unlikely to be met in the foreseeable future from the resources of local councils or voluntary service groups.
The proposed funding for the scheme is 50 per cent from the Commonwealth, 30 per cent from the States and 20 per cent from the sponsoring local authority. The scheme would involve local government authorities submitting projects to State and Commonwealth co-ordinating committees, which would evaluate the projects in the light of criteria which the Council suggests. The detail has been prepared with considerable care. This is a refreshing and responsible proposal by local government. The Council of Local Government Associations must be disappointed with the complete neglect of the proposal by the present Government. However, the ideas will be of value to the next Labor Government for, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) has said several times, Labor is committed to the introduction of a new employment program. Such programs are used in most industrialised countries. They are a minimal response of any government genuinely concerned about unemployment. As I mentioned earlier, the Municipal Association of Victoria only yesterday called for the restoration of the Regional Employment Development Scheme as a further demonstration of local government’s concern about the need for such funding.
Local government services are essential to the wellbeing of the community. As well as the traditional local government services, in the last couple of decades many services have been added which are very important to particular groups of people. Child care centres, welfare services, senior citizens’ centres, various recreational facilities and public libraries are vital in supporting people at particularly vulnerable times of their lives or in ensuring more satisfying leisure activity. Such services are best provided by local government which is attuned to the needs of local communities. Viewed in this light, the Commonwealth’s arbitrary attack on local government finance is inhuman. Doctrine is more important than compassion for this Government. There is a real danger not only that local government will be forced to restrain severely growth of community services such as education, welfare, recreation and cultural activities, but also that public works of various kinds will be allowed to deteriorate. Professor Henderson’s Committee of Inquiry into Poverty has recently reported:
It is clear that in countries where welfare services are advanced- England, Holland, Sweden and Denmark, for instance- local councils are playing a more and more important and responsible part in the process.
This involvement is natural because local government is close to people. The report of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration stated:
There is a clear advantage in using local Government bodies in many areas since in administering their own locally based programs they are likely to develop a more intimate understanding of the needs and demands of the local people than is possible for a centrally based administration.
For this reason the Labor Party platform adopted at the recent Adelaide national conference stated:
In addition to its commitment to general revenue assistance and by revenue sharing, Labor is committed to assisting local Government by special purpose grants to be allocated on a needs basis. These grants will absorb a number of existing special purpose grants into a series of broadly based grants with greater discretion at the local level. These special purpose grants will give priority to regional and community development activities, and programs to alleviate the growing unemployment problem.
Many innovative schemes were introduced by the Labor Government and by local governments. Since 1975 these schemes have been cut back or even abolished and no new programs have been introduced. Yet the need in the employment area in particular is increasingly desperate. Labor, when in government, took a number of important initiatives to lift the powers and financial resources of local government. This orientation is continuing. For example our platform emphasises that the next Labor Government ‘will seek the support of local government for the inclusion of a local government representative on the Loan Council and for power of the Australian Government to borrow on its behalf. There is a need for clearer definitions of the authority and responsibilities of local government. Perhaps the report following the current study by the Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations will assist in this task.
Under the present Fraser Government concern for local government has plummeted. Financial support has fallen. Little ministerial consideration has been given to local government. The emphasis has been on cutting back, dismantling and reducing rather than on responding intelligently to the needs of local communities. The Government has talked of setting up a unit within the Public Service to work with local government. Despite the announcement of setting up such a body there is no evidence that anything has been done.
A change from the present negativism and lethargy is required. The Commonwealth and local government together should be seeking cost-effective means of responding to the needs of local communities. Much of the initiative should come from local government. The role of the Commonwealth is to assist local government and to facilitate to the maximum extent possible the realisation of the aims of local communities in achieving a more fulfilling life for their members. An aspect of this is finding ways of increasing the financial resources of local government. This Bill is a mean response to that objective.
– The purpose of the Local Government (Personal Income Tax Sharing) Amendment Bill is to legislate to increase the proportion of personal income tax revenue available for local government, and that is a very desirable measure indeed. The Treasurer (Mr Howard) said in his second reading speech:
One of the aims of the Government’s federalism policy is that State governments and local authorities should have maximum independence and flexibility in determining their priorities and carrying out their functions. Accordingly, the Government has placed emphasis on the provision of untied’ funds to them through giving them access to a share of personal income tax revenue.
This is a desirable piece of legislation not only in terms of the principle which it espouses but also because of the increase in the funds which will be available to the local councils after the passage of this legislation. The Treasurer mentioned in his second reading speech that the implementation of this legislation will mean an increase of no less than 23.6 per cent on the amount made available last year to local government under this personal income tax sharing scheme. Insofar as the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) is able to draw attention to what he maintains is a situation which is not as generous for local government as the Government asserts, I merely say in reply that that is certainly not the view of local government itself. I believe that the experience of all honourable members would be that the view of the local councils is that they are now in a much better financial position than they have been directly as a result of the income tax sharing schemes which this Government has introduced.
For those reasons I support the Bill and the scheme which it implements because, as I have already said in passing, it cements the role of local government as a true partner in the federalism system. There are two important features of the scheme which deserve particular attention. The first feature is that the money made available under this scheme is provided for local government purposes. The money is not made available to be spent on other purposes but on local government purposes. They are the words from section 5 of the principal Act which implemented this scheme in 1976. Consequently if any money appropriated is not spent by local councils on local government purposes that would be a very serious matter indeed. The money has been appropriated for local government purposes and it is supposed to be spent on local government purposes.
In my view it is quite reasonable to draw attention to any expenditure by local government authorities which is not expenditure on local government purposes. We do not wish to control local councils; in fact, we have no power to control them. But it is reasonable and appropriate that attention should be drawn to particular cases, if in fact expenditure is being made on non-local government purposes. That is the first feature that deserves particular attention.
The second feature to which attention should be drawn is that the money involved is taxpayers’ funds. They are not the normal funds of local government raised by the traditional means by which local government raises funds, namely, ratepayers’ revenue. Rather they are funds which come from the general body of taxpayers’ funds. Consequently, when local governments spend money appropriated under this scheme they should remember that they have a heavy obligation on them to spend it wisely. Why do they have that heavy obligation? They have it because they are dealing not only with the traditional sources of local government finance, namely ratepayers’ funds levied on properties, but funds paid by the whole body of taxpayers in Australia. There is, therefore, as I say, a heavy obligation on councils to spend the funds wisely, conscious of the fact that what they are spending is taxpayers’ money.
When we look at those two features of the scheme we will see that there is the potential for a conflict. On the one hand, funds are being appropriated to local government in a form of untied grants to spend as they will on local government purposes, but on the other hand, there is an obligation- a clear obligation- on councils and other local government authorities to spend the money conscious of the fact that they are dealing with taxpayers’ funds, money raised from the whole body of taxpayers in the country. There is, as I say, a potential for conflict there. I want to illustrate briefly by reference to one municipality in Victoria the manner in which that potential for conflict is manifested and takes on a really serious embodiment. The Council of the City of Doncaster and Templestowe in Victoria must be, I think, endeavouring to rival the Great Gatsby as being the last of the big spenders. It has just recently embarked on yet another extravagant program. It proposes to appoint a supremo to be called a chief executive officer, at a salary of $40,000 a year.
– How much?
-The honourable member for Mitchell asks in a tone of surprise, which I can well understand, how much. The answer is $40,000 a year, plus other perquisites. So it is really $40,000 a year plus perks for a supremo with the grand title of chief executive officer who, of course, is virtually a town clerk. One can register surprise at that and quite legitimately say: ‘Is this reasonable for the council to spend what is, in effect, taxpayers’ money on a new position of that nature at such an exalted salary?’ Indeed, when one compares that salary with some of the other salaries being paid these days to quite senior public officers one can be, and is, even more surprised. Some of these officers include the Chairman of the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation, the Chairman of the Australian Dairy Corporation, the Chairman of the Prices Justification Tribunal, the Chairman of the Trade Practices Commission, the Managing Director of the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation and the Public Service Arbitrator. All of those office bearers receive salaries of less than $40,000 a year and they are all handling and are involved with enormous sums of money. Many of them have large staffs and the influence of their decisions, of course, is far more wideranging than decisions made by local councils and other local government authorities. This is an outrageous expenditure. It is extravagant. There is no justification for it. It is merely, I would suggest, an attempt by one council to take its activities quite beyond the range of traditional local government activities and into the twilight zone of some very new and rarified fields which have hitherto not been the proper province of local government. Indeed, it is unfortunate when one sees a council spending money on that sort of activity, when, as is the case with this municipality, it cannot even perform its normal municipal functions properly.
As I say, this is an outrageous waste of money. Any local council now receiving funds under this scheme should be prepared to accept that sort of criticism and reply to it as a matter of substance. It can, of course, say that it is receiving untied grants and that it can spend the money as it wishes. But with the scheme that we have it is only fair and reasonable that reasonably balanced criticism of that sort of expenditure can be made of a local government council which engages in that sort of activity. It is up to the council then, of course, to reply and defend its position. That is an illustration of the way in which the conflict which I have referred to can take on a real embodiment.
One may then ask what are the solutions to that sort of conflict. I think that there are probably three solutions. The first solution is, of course, the solution which the Government articulates and which it articulated when this scheme was introduced- that is, the sanction of electoral retribution. If councils spend money on wasteful projects, as this council clearly does, then, of course, they run the risk and must run the risk that the ratepayers, the electors in the municipality, will take their quite justified vengeance at the first suitable opportunity. The second solution is that one is quite justified in looking at the needs allocation of an individual municipality. If one looks at the expenditure reasonably and fairly and comes to the conclusion, as one must with this municipality, that it is a waster, a big spender spending money on wasteful projects which probably do not properly come within the definition of local government activities anyway, then in my view it is quite reasonable to say that perhaps, this council should have a lower allocation on the needs basis than it presently has. That is quite a reasonable conclusion to come to.
– What council is it?
-Doncaster and Templestowe Municipal Council in Victoria. I have already mentioned it by name. It is the Municipality of Doncaster and Templestowe. The third solution to this conflict is to draw attention, as I am endeavouring to do now, to the actual expenditure itself, in the reasonable expectation that citizens who are paying taxes funnelled, in part, through the scheme we are concerned with in this legislation, will know the way in which their funds are being spent. It is quite reasonable to draw to their attention the fact that their funds are, in this case, being wasted. It is quite reasonable to draw attention to comparable salaries between, on the one hand, those being paid by the municipality and, on the other hand, those being paid by some of the office bearers that I have mentioned already- people in very responsible positions handling large sums of money and making decisions which have wide-ranging implications. It is quite reasonable to draw attention to those. One hopes that the municipality will either defend its position or, one would hope, see the light of reason and be a bit more restrained, a bit more sensible and a bit more responsible to the taxpayers of Australia who are now, under this very desirable scheme we are dealing with in this legislation, paying taxes to provide funds for local government.
-The Bill which is now before the House is an amendment to the Local Government (Personal Income Tax Sharing) Act 1976. The historical position of local government in relationship to the national Government was that moneys were first made available directly under a Labor government. I was the Minister between 1972 and 1975 responsible for local government. I am pleased that, in fact, this Government has continued the tax sharing relationship with local government. But what I want to be very critical about is that the total amount that is given to local government has actually been cut by this Government, particularly in the special purpose grants. I will be incorporating later in Hansard tables showing the decrease in actual total revenue that the national Government is giving to local government authorities. If we are to work seriously towards an equitable and efficient system of democratic government in Australia, it is essential that we try to achieve a mutual respect and co-operation amongst the three levels of government.
I have stressed, both when I was the Minister and now as the Opposition spokesman on this matter that the only way we are going to solve the problem of urban and regional affairs, and particularly matters of local government, is that we have got to get a spirit of co-operation between the Australian, State, local government and people’s organisations. We have to break down the barriers of difference between the different levels of government. We have to break down the differences between the public servants carrying out the responsibilities of government at those levels and overcome their isolation. If we work together in a co-ordinated plan a great deal of progress can be made in this field. It is sad that the present Administration has withdrawn both financial and physical support from local government.
Local government is and should be one of the most active and responsible levels of government in Australia. It should be at that level of government where people participate most immediately in the process of improving the environment in which they live and in exercising some control over the decisions that affect where their families reside, where their children go to school and the grass roots of their environment. Local government is geographically close to the people. It should also be close politically. For many years local government was the Cinderella of the system. Its importance was dismissed and its needs were neglected. Since 1973 there has been a welcome recognition of the significance of local government. Since 1973, when Labor was in power, there has been a gradual shift towards an expansion of general purpose assistance to the States and local government. This is allowing local government to consolidate revenue anc to allocate its spending in a more autonomous way. Local government bodies clearly appreciate the thrust of these changes and most appear willing to accept the responsibility of their belated recognition.
But this Federal Government has reverted to the role of the rich step-sister, it has been superficial, it has been aloof, and it has been inequitable in its treatment of local government as a whole. It has not increased the total funds of local government; rather it has reduced and restricted them. It has not developed co-operative relations with local government in the sharing of ideas and experimentation with programs; rather it has reduced inter-governmental relationships to the mere flow of money and a few other sectional interests. It has not promoted equity through its financial relations with local government; rather it has allowed the principle of equalisation to collapse and the entrenched inequalities to grow. This Government has failed to establish clear policy criteria for the funding and operation of local government. It has failed to understand the complexities and the subtleties of inter-governmental financial and co-operative arrangements which are needed if we are to get at the real social problems that are being created in this country. This Government has lacked the imagination to see how specific programs at local government levels can work to resolve some of the many problems that people face in their cities and towns, including the problem of unemployment.
Let us look at the matter of funding. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing total Commonwealth payments to the States for local government from 1975-76 to 1979-80.
The table read as follows-
– The table shows that the total payments to the States, excluding payments for roads, in 1979-80 has been reduced by 33 XA per cent in real terms from the 1975-76 level. These payments in 1975-76 totalled $371m and in 1979-80 total $248m. In 1975-76 payments to the States, including payments for roads, totalled $476m and in 1979-80 totalled $382m. So there is a substantial reduction in both fields. In 1978-79 this Government is making available only two-thirds of the amount that was available to local government under the Labor Government in 1975-76. Total payments, including payments for roads, have been cut by at least 20 per cent over this period. The table also shows that the total payments for local government made up 4.5 per cent of total individual income tax revenue collections in 1975-76 but only 2.7 per cent in 1978-79, and that the percentage in 1979-80 is to be 2.9 per cent. If we exclude payments for roads and the Regional Employment Development Scheme, the payments for local government have fallen from 2.2 per cent of individual income tax revenue collections in 1975-76 to 1.9 per cent in 1979-80.
General revenue assistance for local government has doubled from $79.9m in 1975-76, or $1 10.8m in today’s prices, to $221. 7m in 1979-80. General revenue assistance, as a proportion of the total individual income tax collection, has increased from one per cent in 1975-76 to 1.73 per cent in 1979-80. It appears that there has been a substantial increase, but I stress that, as set out in the table, the specific purpose grants have been substantially cut. Therefore, the real overall total is much smaller.
There are two points to make about the effects of the shift towards an increased proportion of individual income tax revenue going to general purpose assistance for local government. Firstly, there is some evidence that a subsidisation of local government revenue raising effort is occurring. Individual income tax collections are playing a larger role in financing government activities, whilst property taxes are playing a smaller role. On the basis of equity this trend requires investigation. I stress that local government authorities should look very deeply at that position. Secondly, the decline in specific purpose payments is serving to remove the contact between levels of government. In this regard, the urban renewal report of the former Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development in 1978 stated:
Although there is some support for block grants, there is surprisingly considerable support for some types of specific purpose grants. Firstly, it is felt that very often a specific grant brings with it a level of interaction with the Commonwealth on associated policy issues so that apart from establishing a project, the grant facilitates the exchange of information and even changes in policy and administration at the local or Commonwealth level. Secondly, specific purpose grants help in superseding well established but inappropriate priorities at the local and State levels.
I think I have clearly spelled out that that was the situation under the previous Administration, particularly under my Administration, and even when the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Groom) had responsibility for community development. Since that time there has been a further erosion, which is regrettable. No one level of government can solve the existing complex problems alone. There has to be interaction and mutual assistance between the levels of government. Joint involvement of different levels qf government is beneficial to all. If we are to solve the problems of government we have to work in co-operation with one another. At the same time an innovative program specifically funded by the Federal Government can initiate fresh approaches at the State and local government levels. If there is financial and moral support from the Australian Government, there is a greater determination on the part of the State governments and local authorities to get on with the job. The best way for the Federal Government to see how well its policies are being implemented is for it to get more closely involved in projects with other levels of government and obtain feedback from the people. That is the whole basis of a government. We need the strength and support of the people to give effect to the operation of local government.
The urban renewal report also suggested that it is often easier to get the participation of community organisations when specific program allocations are made. These projects can help pay the necessary costs associated with setting up and maintaining a contact centre, gaining and distributing information and travelling. General purpose assistance to local government should be built up to at least 2 per cent of total income tax collections by the Federal Government. But on top of that there is an important place for specific purpose payments initiated both by local demands and by Federal and State authorities or agencies. There is a need for national and State strategies to tackle widespread problems even though they have regional and local characteristics. Co-ordinated humane planning is required to resolve some of the many problems that we see in our cities, towns and rural communities.
The honourable member for Paterson (Mr O’Keefe) knows that when I was a Minister I had close co-operation with the Hunter Valley regional authority, which has been starved by the present Administration. We need that cooperation. We need to appreciate the lack of basic social and cultural facilities and community services for youth, the aged and for non-English speaking groups. There are many other problems. There is a need to improve the physical environment where people live by the establishment of parks and gardens, the planting of trees, the improvement of transport services and the rehabilitation of land for recreational purposes.
Projects such as the West Auburn Botanic Gardens in an industrial area of Sydney, the Central Gardens in Merrylands and the rehabilitation of land along Henry Lawson Drive in the Bankstown Council area are just a few examples of the co-operation that can be built up among Australian, State and local governments. These are only some of the projects in the Western Suburbs of Sydney. But what about other suburbs in other parts of Australia? In every capital city the same argument could apply. Areas have been made much more beautiful and gentle places in which to live. For too long the Western Suburbs of Sydney had been denuded, developed and exploited. We need to make those areas gentler places to live in. These are employment-creating projects and they enhance the environment in suburbs which otherwise would be desolate. This is so much the case in the Western Suburbs of Sydney. It is humanely and economically senseless to spend $ 1,000m this year on welfare payments to unemployed people while there is so much important socially useful work that needs to be done and which could provide gainful and satisfying jobs for the unemployed.
I will never forget that when I was a Minister a man wrote to me to say that helping to build the gardens in West Auburn was the most rewarding employment he had ever had. I commend to anyone a look at the beautiful garden that has been created in West Auburn by the Auburn Council in co-operation with the Australian and State governments. It is a great credit to the people in the area. The project was undertaken only with the initiative and drive of a Labor government. The same thing will be done again by a Labor government in the future. It is surely more sensible and humane to provide people with decent incomes in return for on-going, useful and creative work. The health of the economy could not possibly be made worse by such a move but it could be made so much better.
Specific purpose payments also fulfil another important function. They can help to equalise the distribution of funds among local government authorities. At present the population of local government areas varies between 67 and 696,740 people-nearly 700,000. The geographic area varies between 1.04 square kilometres and 330,429 square kilometres. The age and income mix of the populations vary. The revenue raising capacities of local government authorities are unequal. Cost structures vary according to the geography, geology and topography of an area and the range of functions performed by local government bodies varies State by
State. That is what the equalisation principle is all about. There has to be some way of ensuring equity in the distribution of local government finance, otherwise inequalities will be entrenched. This Government has shirked its responsibility to develop an equitable system of local government finance. The Act allows all Federal payments to the States for local government to be allocated on a per capita basis. In Western Australia 80 per cent of general revenue assistance at present is allocated in this way.
The Commonwealth Grants Commission, in its special 1979 report on local government finance, argued that the per capita formula denied the equalisation principle. The same Commission in the same report then recommended that an unweighted per capita formula be adopted as the basis for financing local government through the States. This self-contradictory Commission criticised this Government for failing to establish clear policy criteria for applying the equalisation principle. This confused Government has now decided to run away from the problem rather than confront it rationally. This Bill before the House puts the onus back on to the Grants Commission. What an amazing merry-go-round of buck passing and confused thinking by this Government. Let us consider the implications. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which shows the effect of introducing the Grants Commission proposal for unweighted per capita funding.
The table read as follows-
-I thank the House for that kindness. The table shows that four States- New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania- will get a small share of total payments to the States under the scheme. What will this mean for a sparsely populated local government area in North Western Queensland? What will it mean for the municipality of Marrickville in Sydney? How equitable or efficient will it be? What will it mean for the coordination of functions among local government authorities? All we have is a shotgun load of unanswerable questions. The Government’s income tax collections this year will -
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The purpose of this Bill is to increase the annual percentage of net personal income tax collections allocated to local government under the Local Government (Personal Income Tax Sharing) Act 1976 from 1.52 per cent to 1.75 per cent. In November 1977 the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) announced that the share of net personal income tax collections allocated to local government would be increased to 2 per cent by 1980-81. This Bill is a major step towards fulfilling this promise. There is no doubt that in the next Budget local government’s share of income tax will be of the order of 2 per cent.
Under this legislation approximately 950 local government councils throughout Australia will benefit. An amount of $22 1.74m will be made available to local government under this legislation. The share to New South Wales will be $80,929,752. The funds, of course, cannot be made available to local government councils until this Bill is passed. This Bill is a very important measure particularly in view of the announcement already made to local government bodies about the sums of money that will be available. This news has come at a vital time. Town clerks and shire clerks throughout the land are preparing their estimates and budgets for the 1980 local government financial year. These grants have become a vital part of local government finance and are of great assistance to the councils. This year’s allocation will mean increases of 2 1 per cent to 24 per cent on last year’s allocations. I cannot agree with the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) who said that local government councils in the Hunter Valley area are being denuded of funds. Two provincial cities in the area will receive large amounts under this legislation. Those provincial cities are Maitland and Cessnock. The increases range from 2 1 per cent to 24 per cent right across the board.
The funds allocated in this Bill far outstrip the amount of $79.9m made available by the Labor Government in its 1975-76 Budget. This LiberalNational Country Party Government has high regard for the financial needs of local government- the third tier of governmentwhich is, of course, the form of government that is closest to the people. Great changes have taken place in this third tier of government over the past 25 years. Gone are the horse and buggy days when councils were mainly concerned with the maintenance of streets, kerbs and gutters and other incidental operations. Today people living in local government areas require up-to-date facilities such as parks, sporting ovals, swimming pools, baby health centres, libraries, aerodromes, water and sewerage systems and many other facilities. This means, of course, that local governments require increased funds to provide the facilities. Local government is endeavouring today to provide social services facilities in setting up a complete service to help pensioners and others who need social service assistance. District nurses are accommodated in facilities through finance provided by local government.
A host of other facilities is financed by this third tier of government. They are financed by an outmoded method and it is necessary that local governments receive additional funds to enable them to carry out their programs. The only source of income for local government comes from the rates on the unimproved capital value of land. In many areas councils conduct abattoirs, gas works and reticulating electricity stations. Local government has made a great contribution to the Australian meat industry and many country abattoirs which are controlled by local governments are extremely successful.
– Some are awful.
– That might be so. That depends on the management, the flow of stock and a few other matters. Honourable members know the works that the honourable member for Paterson is connected with and that is a most successful one. The services which are provided by local government have to a large degree lightened the financial burden of both State and Federal governments. It is only fair that a share of the general taxation revenue should be allocated to the third tier of government. In short, it is reasonable that some portion of the huge funds collected by Federal tax gatherers should be returned to the local areas for the development of amenities that are so essential in our communities. Members of the National Country Party have advocated this action for many years. Only in the past five years has positive financial help been forthcoming. Indeed, under the Fraser-Anthony Government this financial assistance has been greatly increased.
The next Budget will provide additional funds by increasing the share of personal income to 2 per cent as I previously mentioned. Action by this Government will go a long way in overcoming the huge burden placed on ratepayers. Ratepayers are being assisted with these untied funds. The shire councils and municipal councils receive the funds from Federal sources but as they untied the councils can use the funds for whatever purpose the councils determine. This system has been a great boon and it has developed into a very important part of the financial structure of local government. Of course, local government does receive other Federal funds such as road grants. This present Government has a responsibility for funding this third tier of government. Under the Constitution local government was solely the responsibility of the various States but, realising the financial plight of local government, the Federal Government has come to its rescue.
As one who has served on a local government council for 35 years I have seen the tremendous changes that have taken place in this field, as I mentioned a while ago, from the horse and buggy days to the present mechanised era. Possibly there may be areas in which this third tier of government is endeavouring to do too much. I think we must admit that. However, as community demands for increased facilities and modern amenities are the order of the day local government is faced with increased financial commitments. It is the real leader in providing opportunities for the decentralisation of industry and commerce. It is pleasing to observe that both State and Federal governments are making loan funds available to enterprising people who want to establish decentralised industry in our country areas. Loan funds are made available to approved applicants. In New South Wales the Wran Government which succeeded the previous Liberal-Country Party Government makes available funds for decentralisation. Of the total costs of decentralisation, 60 per cent is put up by the State Government, 30 per cent by the company or person proposing the operation and 10 per cent by the local government authority. A considerable amount of decentralisation funds has been made available to various towns and cities on this basis. This system has been in operation now for quite some years. Many councils have taken advantage of the funds and are making progress in the decentralisation field throughout our shires and our municipalities.
This legislation shows that the present Federal Government has full recognition of the problems which face local government. Over the past 20 years, loan funds have been made readily available to local government. But is must be realised that these loan funds have to be repaid when the loans expire. Of course interest also has to be paid and this means that an added burden is placed upon the ratepayers. Loan funds have not been the problem facing local government. There have always been plenty of loan funds available to local government. However, the availability of taxation revenue for this third tier has been lacking until the last few years when Federal governments realised that assistance is essential for local government to survive and to give relief to ratepayers, who, of course, make the major funds available for their local operations. As mentioned before, the grants that are being made available under this legislation are untied. They will be made to councils in the years ahead. This legislation has, of course, the full support of members on this side of the House.
However, one must be concerned at the great amount of coal traffic at present in the Newcastle-Singleton-Cessnock area. The Hunter Valley mines are providing great amounts of export coal which are shipped from the port of Newcastle. The coal is carted to that port mainly by road transport. Certainly the New South Wales Department of Transport does carry a lot of that coal on its railways, but in the main, it is carted by road transport. This coal traffic will place a very heavy burden on the provincial cities of Maitland and Cessnock as well as on the shires of Singleton and Muswellbrook. Hundreds of coal trucks are travelling on that highway every day and it is only reasonable to assume that there will be a great increase in the wear and tear of such roads. Local government in that area must get assistance to help maintain this essential traffic which is bringing in export income to our nation. The shire councils and the provincial cities in that area are very concerned at what is taking place. They are happy to see the coal being exported and to see the activity and the employment that is taking place in the Paterson electorate, but they know that in a very short space of time great funds will be required to carry out maintenance on these roads.
The honourable member for Reid said that it was essential that the three tiers of government should co-operate with each other. I think that all members of this House would agree on that. I have no doubt that when the honourable member for Reid was the Minister with responsibility in this field, he did his best to provide funds for local government in New South Wales and, as mentioned by him in his speech, for the Hunter Valley. Just the same, the grants that are made available under this tax sharing Bill provide increased funds of up to 24 per cent throughout this area. This Government has certainly provided increased funds and the honourable member for Reid must be aware of this. The facts and the figures are there for him to see. There has been no cut whatsoever to local government funds to New South Wales from this Federal source. Of course, as a government, we have provided additional funds to the State Government of New South Wales to allow it to bear its share of responsibility to local government and to roads in the local government area. This Bill has my full support.
-My regard for the value, the integrity and the importance of local government is not necessarily borne out of my experiences as a Labor alderman currently sitting on the Parramatta City Council; rather is my high estimation of this tier of government a measure of my evaluation of the important services delivered by local government and their direct effect on the lives of the ratepayers. I feel that this is a realistic evaluation of the pertinent facts about all city, municipal and shire councils. Local government is unquestionably the most direct, the most personal implementation of the system of parliamentary control under which we in Australia live. My estimation of the efficacy of this, the third tier of government, has fortunately been shared not only by the present Labor Opposition but even more importantly, in a contemporary sense by the Whitlam Labor Government of pleasant recent memory.
In reflecting on the recent past, I find a great deal of satisfaction in examining the role of the past Labor Administration in the area of local government and great comfort in recognising the firm support which my party, as a government, supplied to this most important area of government activity. Let me proudly cite a number of major achievements in support of local government which emanated from the Whitlam Government, a most concerned and sensitive administration. In 1973, direct financial support was provided for local government in the national Budget as part of a firm, coherent and expanding program. It was a major breakthrough in major government financing which no national government, not even the present insensitive regime, could ever possibly turn back.
There were other initiatives and, as an alderman, I am sure that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, will allow me the indulgence of mentioning some of them as they surely establish the Labor Party’s credentials as a firm supporter of the role and function of the third tier of government. We sought to have local government representation on the Loan Council. But history will show that we were frustrated by some of the then Premiers. As a government, we amended the Commonwealt Grants Commission Act to provide local government with the right to approach the Commission directly for equalisation grants in the same manner as had been open to the less wealthy States since 1933. There were also the benefits of the area improvements programs, the national sewerage scheme and the eligibility of urban local works for Australian Government financial assistance. Money was also provided for recreational needs and tourism as well as for pre-school and child care services. We subsequently sought the co-operation of local government in developing an employment creation program- the redoubtable Regional Employment Development Scheme of which the present Labor shadow spokesman in this area, the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), spoke quite proudly in his speech a few moments ago.
The honourable member cited a few of the things that his Department was responsible for in the western suburbs of Sydney where of course I am a resident. He gloated- I think that would be the word to use- and gloated quite justifiably of the efforts which were made in this way to make the area what he described as a more gentle area in the western part of Sydney- an area which formerly was deprived and sparsely covered with trees. The honourable member for Reid mentioned the central gardens in Merrylands which happens to be on the border of my electorate. It is in the electorate of the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), but I like to think that I have a share in it. I visited it last Saturday for a family festival and what a delight it is to be able to go to an area like this which was once a brick pit and which is now a veritable Garden of Eden where people can go in their thousands on the weekend to enjoy the pleasures of the open air, the trees, the gardens, the waterfalls, the ponds and the wildlife that were never there before the advent of a sensitive administration in the Federal sense that was prepared to consider local government as a most important partner in the servicing of people as far as government is concerned. I pay credit to the then Minister for Urban and Regional Development, the honourable member for Reid, for his great efforts in that regard. In that regard, and in lots of others, we recognise by direct contact with local government the crucial role that local government contributes not only in its established spheres of administration but also in influencing the performance of the national economy. As you would remember, Mr Deputy Speaker, the RED Scheme not only provided these facilities for people to have a more enjoyable lifestyle, but also provided some necessary employment opportunities when they were most wanted.
The present Government has trumpeted loud and long about the alleged merits of its much heralded new federalism. This policy, unveiled by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) three years ago, was announced as the centrepiece of this Administration’s philosophical approach to government. It was alleged to signal a new deal in financial security for local government. The new federalism is not a new deal for anyone other than the Prime Minister, who is determined to shift the odium for his budgetary paring to somebody else. Certainly local government has gained nothing under new federalism. Rather it has lost a great deal.
For almost 40 years since uniform taxation was introduced the States have been guaranteed a steady and increasing volume of general revenue. The Prime Minister has effectively ended that system. In its place has been imposed a system which does not guarantee a specific income but which is dependent entirely on the level of Commonwealth income tax receipts. Everybody in the community would be aware of this Government’s obsession with indirect taxation, which is, of course, regressive in its nature. Because of the Government’s policies income tax as a proportion of government revenue is a diminishing factor. If local government finance is tied to income tax receipts it also has to be a diminishing factor. We all know that income tax is a fluctuating amount. The States’ position is eroded if the relative importance of income tax is reduced, as it has been, and if that of indirect tax is increased. The relevance for local government in the new federalism context is that less funds for States means in turn less funds from the States to local authorities.
Using the 1975-76 Budget as the base year and working on allocations to local government as a proportion of the previous year’s income tax receipts, in every succeeding year under this Government local government has suffered very badly. Under the Whitlam Government local authorities fared very well. As a result of funds made available under the Regional Employment Development Scheme, which both generated jobs and supported the private sector, how much better off we were, How much we could use a healthy dose of both these things at present- that is an employment producing scheme and an increase in funds to local government. The Fraser Government at the time of the 1977 election made a solemn pledge to increase local government funding to a 2 per cent share of personal income tax collections in the life of the Parliament.
This year’s Budget increases that share to 1.75 per cent. This is allowed for in the Local Government (Personal Income Tax Sharing) Amendment Bill, which we are debating at the moment. Last year’s share was 1.52 per cent. This year it will be 1.75 per cent. What a big deal! What about the Government’s election promise of 2 per cent?
A table produced by the Parliamentary Library puts the lie to this Government’s claim of its largesse to local government. The table shows, among other interesting facts, that under the Labor Administration in 1975-76 the actual payments to local government as a proportion of personal income tax collections stood at 2.44 per cent when income tax was relatively a higher percentage of total government revenue than it is at the moment. Local government’s share of income tax collections was 2.44 per cent in 1 975-76 compared with a projected amount of 1.75 per cent this year. Under the Fraser Government in 1976-77 the proportion shrank to 1.63 per cent. In 1977-78 it shrank again to 1.61 per cent. In 1978-79 it shrank again to 1.56 per cent. This year, so the Treasurer (Mr Howard) proudly boasts local government will get 1.75 per cent of income tax collections. What a splendid record of deceit and humbug!
-Order! The honourable member had better watch his choice of words.
– What a splendid record of deceit and sham! Are those words more acceptable, Mr Deputy Speaker?
-The honourable member may proceed with his speech and I will judge.
-The promise was 2 per cent of collections. It shrank, as I have said, to 1.56 per cent. It has now climbed to 1 .75 per cent. So much for the new federalism. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard the table produced by the Parliamentary Library to which I have just referred. I showed it to the Minister who was previously at the table. He agreed to its incorporation.
The table read as follows-
-The alleged generosity of the Government is revealed as a cruel hoax. The Labor Party is dedicated to supporting local government authorities in a positive financial way to perform the very important tasks and functions to which it is committed. The list of tasks and functions to which local government is committed in Australia is rather a large catalogue. I will mention some of those tasks and functions. In the health area local government authorities normally provide early immunisation services to children. They provide immunisation against poliomyelitis amongst other things. They also provide emergency home care and local nurses. Local government authorities provide the community with building inspectors so that people can be sure that they can walk down the main street or any street in their municipality and not have a building fall on their heads. They are responsible for the maintenance of parks and gardens and for a great many local roads. They provide kerbs and gutters and free libraries.
– This is fascinating.
-I am glad that the honourable member is fascinated. People in my electorate are very concerned with these sorts of things. They are concerned that funds should be available from the Federal Government to see that the services that may not interest the honourable member too much but which certainly interest the bulk of the Australian people are continuously provided. Local government bodies provide swimming pools and sports facilities, to which I will refer in a moment. One of the most important services provided by local government is Meals on Wheels. I am sure that even the honourable member for Higgins has this service in his electorate. If he does not have it he should have. We certainly have this service in Parramatta. If ever a service provided by any form of government was important it is Meals on Wheels. I should not have to relate to people what this service involves but I will do so anyhow. In every community there are people who are getting old and who are perhaps sick and lonely. Often times they live in a room on their own. Local government authorities provide these people with a hot meal every day. It is not only the provision of a hot meal which is important. These old people look forward to the angel of mercy- if I may use that term- who knocks on their door once a day and provides them with not only a hot meal but also some company. For the most part these people live on their own and they are lonely. Often times they are in a despairing state. I doubt whether anybody could deny the efficacy of this service. It not only provides people with a meal and some company but it also manages to keep them out of what would be their alternative state, either a hospital ward or a nursing home.
The cost to government of providing these sorts of facilities would run into hundreds of dollars a week. The cost of providing a meal under the Meals on Wheels service in Parramatta is $2 per meal per day. That is not an insubstantial amount but in terms of what it provides who could quibble about $2 a day to keep an old person out of hospital, alive and healthy with some daily cheer? The present Government saw fit to reduce what was already a fairly low subsidy for Meals on Wheels of 50c per meal to 30c per meal per day. What sort of insensitive, uncaring, unthinking government could decide on that policy? The service costs local government $2 a day. The Commonwealth Government was contributing 50c a day towards the service but it saw fit to reduce that contribution to 30c If ever there is an indictment on this Government for being an insensitive, uncaring, almost inhumane group of people this surely is it. Government members are not only insensitive but for people who claim to be the great economic managers they cannot even see how badly based their theories are. The alternative is to provide people with a hospital ward bed or a bed in a nursing home at a cost of hundreds of dollars a week. They could not realise that the provision of $2.50 a week for five hot meals was a small enough amount. They had to reduce it to $1.50. 1 am sure that the people of Australia realise what an uncaring government this is in other areas but let them also know what it has done to the Meals on Wheels service. In my local government area the cost of Meals on Wheels is over $100,000 a year. We are glad to pay it. The ratepayers are glad to put up the money to pay for this service. The contribution from the Commonwealth Government is about $18,000 a year. Local government contributes the other 80 odd thousand dollars. I hope that the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) or Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) will look at this anomaly and realise the bad economics of the Government’s decision, if not the bad humanitarian aspects and do something about it.
I turn now to sporting facilities. In my local area there is a very big shortage of sporting fields. Last Sunday I visited a park where a Greek soccer club was having its annual picnic day. This is the first year we have been able to provide these people with a ground for their kids to play soccer on. We gave them a disused garbage tip, some soil and some turf and they have made their own beautiful ground. This club has 14 teams of young children, both boys and girls, playing soccer. We were not able to provide them with sporting facilities because money is not forthcoming from this Government at a sufficiently high level for the local council to provide the necessary funds. The Government’s allocation for sporting purposes in the 1978-79 Budget was $ 1 .9m, representing the princely sum of 18c per person per year in Australia. This Government, which can find only that small amount of money for an overall sports allocation, managed to find $2m to fund the Menzies Trust -
– What about local government revenue?
-That is exactly what we are talking about- the percentage decrease in money made available to local government to provide these facilities. I implore the Federal Government to start thinking about providing funds in a more generous fashion.
– Local government has got its own base.
-I am not concerned with you. I am concerned with kids in my area who cannot get a ground to play football on because of the niggardly attitude of the Government. The Government can find $2m to fund the Menzies Trust and you have the gall to tell us -
– Rubbish- absolute rubbish!
-Order! The honourable member will address his remarks through the Chair and screaming interjections, I advise the House, are out of order.
-I am speaking about the Menzies Trust which the Government instituted. That is fair enough. He was a substantial figure in Australian history and is entitled to be remembered. But the reason for which this Trust was set up- to promote sport and good healthseems to me to be quite specious. Whatever did the late Sir Robert Menzies, of pleasant memory, do to provide anything in the way of sporting facilities for the Australian population? It was not until the late Mr Frank Stewart became the Minister for Tourism and Recreation in the Whitlam Government that anything of a substantial nature was done to help local sporting bodies provide sporting facilities. In one year the Labor Government allocated $25m to sport. That amount has now shrunk to less than $2m in this Budget. It means that local bodies, such as the Greek soccer club that I was speaking about, cannot gain access to funds to provide facilities so that children can be healthy and strong.
We have a national health budget of something like $7,000m, yet this Government can see fit to provide something less than $2m for sport. If only one-half of one per cent of the health budget- that is $35m- could be devoted to providing sporting facilities through local government, think what an advantage that would be in a cumulative sense to the national health of this country in providing young people with sporting facilities, be they jogging tracks, cycling tracks, football grounds or any other sort of sporting facility. What a wonderful effect this could have on the nation’s health. The $7,000m that we are now spending on health each year could be reduced. But can the Government see the efficacy of this point? Apparently not, because I have mentioned it two or three times and have received absolutely no response from the Government. It may be all very well for the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) to sit there and laugh. He is probably fairly well provided with the funds to get himself to the local golf course or bowling club, but what about all the young people who cannot get a facility on which to play sport when their parents cannot provide the money?
– Your council should have provided them.
-My council provides it to the full extent of its capabilities but because of the cutback in local government funds, because of the niggardly, inhuman and insensitive attitude of this Government, this happens to be the situation. We cannot ask our ratepayers to pay more rates in order to provide the facilities.
To sum up, this Bill is a specious one. The Government promised that 2 per cent of personal income tax would be devoted to local government. After four years it has reached 1.75 per cent. Whey does the Government not honour its promises? It has broken every other promise. For God ‘s sake, let it try to honour this one.
– I was surprised at the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown) finishing with those intemperate remarks at the end of his speech, although I realise he was getting on to difficult ground when he tried to justify the performance of the Parramatta Council. As an alderman on that Council, it seems to me that he has a extraordinary approach to municipal responsibilities. Although he is an elected representative of that body he seems to think that the way in which municipal facilities are provided is for him to come bleating to the Federal Government trying to wring more money out of it for the sporting ground and facilities he has been speaking about. I am surprised that the honourable member for Parramatta can combine the duties of a Federal member of Parliament with the duties of a local alderman.
– He does not do either properly.
-Maybe he does not. No doubt the ratepayers will judge him on that in the future. He does do a good job in this Parliament but I cannot see how he can possibly do a full days work on his local responsibilities. The purpose of this Bill is to increase the annual percentage of net personal income tax collections which are allocated to local government under the Local Government (Personal Income Tax Sharing) Act introduced in 1976. The particular measure that we are debating lifts the amount payable to local government directly from the Commonwealth from 1.52 per cent to 1.75 per cent of personal income tax collections.
– Honouring a promise.
– As my friend the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) comments, it is a further stage in honouring the Government’s 1977 election commitment in which it said quite unequivocally that we would allocate 2 per cent of personal income tax revenue to local government during the course of this Parliament. One of the aims of the Government’s federalism policy- I will come back to that matter in a moment- is for State governments and local authorities to have maximum independence and flexibility in determining their priorities and carrying out their functions. Accordingly, the Liberal-National Country Party Government places emphasis on the provision of untied funds, that is, funds which can be used by local authorities as they deem fit rather than having it spelt out for them by the Federal Government.
As a result of the tax sharing arrangements which the Government has introduced since 1976-77, untied funds made available to local government have increased very substantially indeed; in fact, by a total of 1 45 per cent in the three years to 1 978-79. There is good reason to believe that the amount will increase by in excess of 20 per cent again this year. For some extraordinary reason, members of the Opposition still say that that is not a fine record for local government funding. I am not exactly sure what they mean when they say that, but successive Opposition speakers have been critical of the Government for not providing sufficient funds or sufficient increases in funds to local government. One is prompted to ask whether the Federal Opposition is in fact saying to the Government that it should raise the level of personal income tax in order to provide more funds for local government. If one looks objectively at what the Opposition has been saying, one can only draw the conclusion that the Australian Labor Party is stating as a matter of policy that the Government should increase personal income tax-
– Or increase the deficit.
– Or increase the deficit. I believe in this case that the Opposition is not advocating an increase in the deficit. Goodness knows, the deficit is high enough now. I believe that what the Opposition is saying is that personal income tax levels should be increased. The Australian Labor Party may be a high tax party. It certainly showed in the years it was in government that it had an almost insatiable demand for taxpayers’ funds. But I say quite unequivocally on this Government’s part that we will not be increasing personal income tax levels. It is the determination of this Government to reduce income tax levels and that will manifest itself on 1 December when the new tax scales are brought in. A person earning $200 or so a week, with a wife and dependant child, will be $10 a week better off from that date than he would have been under the tax scales introduced by the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) when he was Treasurer in the Labor Government.
– I don ‘t think that you-
– It is no use interjecting and trying to contest that issue. The fact is that Federal income tax revenues last year would have been up by $4,000m if we had not taken steps during the course of this Parliament to make reductions in the income tax scales. Let me make it perfectly clear and put it beyond any doubt that this Government rejects the call by the Opposition to increase personal income tax scales in order to boost still more the funds given to local government. I should like to comment on a couple of other suggestions that have been made by Opposition speakers in this debate. In the process of calling for increases in funding for local government, they mentioned some of the schemes that the Labor Party advocated and implemented when it was in government. I refer particularly to what is known as the RED Scheme. That was the Regional Employment Development Scheme.
– It was a good scheme.
– The honourable member for Parramatta interjects to say what a good scheme it was. I simply pose to members of the Opposition this question: If the RED Scheme was half as marvellous as they claim it was, why did they abolish it? Why was the RED Scheme thrown out of the window in the last year of the Whitlam Government? The present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) when he was Treasurer, abolished the RED Scheme.
– Because of crook Country Party councils.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member for Grayndler will remain silent.
– He is very sensitive about it. He has his colleagues in the Parliament today calling for the reintroduction of the RED Scheme. He was not in the Parliament at the time and he may not be aware that the RED Scheme was thrown out by a Labor Government. It was thrown out because the spending was out of control.
– It was thrown out by the present Leader of the Opposition.
– It was the crook Country Party Councils.
– I warn the honourable member for Grayndler.
-It was thrown out by the present Leader of the Opposition, because it was a vote buying exercise. All I can say is that as a vote buying exercise it did not do the Labor Party much good. The hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money that were squandered during that period on the RED scheme did not buy the Labor Party one vote in the1975 election. It was not part of Labor Party policy in the 1977 election to reintroduce the RED scheme. It was a spending program that was completely out of control and nobody knew it better than the very recipients of the funding program- the local governments themselves. During the course of those years, they all said one thing and it came out loud and clear. They said: ‘We will take the money while we can get it but we know that the Commonwealth cannot continue to provide funds in this way indefinitely’. As I said, it was the present Leader of the Opposition who abolished the RED scheme. So, let us not have any hypocrisy on this question from the Opposition.
Of course, the Opposition has come up with an alternative. As the matter has been raised, I think it might be in proper context for me to discuss it for a moment. In the Budget debate, the Leader of the Opposition said that a Labor government would introduce a community service corps. At that time he did not set out any definite details as to what the service corps might do, how it might be funded, the cost or anything else; but he did make those elements clear to the Parliament this week. Two days ago when he was speaking on a matter of public importance the Leader of the Opposition spelled out what was implied by the community service corps which a Labor government would sponsor. This has implications at the local level because clearly the sorts of work programs that might be carried out under such a scheme would involve a large content of local administration. Let me make clear what the Australian Labor Party is saying in the context of a community service corps. The Leader of the Opposition stated that he believed that a community service corps would provide 50,000 jobs a year. That is a significant number of jobs. At a time when any person is out of work, every member of Parliament should be thinking about ways in which to provide more job opportunities. But let me go a little further. The Leader of the Opposition also said that he envisaged spending $100m on this program. If we do our sums, we will find that this is effectively an allocation of $2,000 a year for every one of these 50,000 people. Put another way, it is roughly $40 a week.
Despite that, he went on to add that he envisaged that the young people who would take part in such a project would be paid at the award rate and covered under award conditions. I should just like to know how the Opposition reconciles those two positions. If ever I heard of a scheme which should be brought to the attention of the International Labour Organisation, it is the one proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. Here we have a situation where he is asking for local funding programs under a community service corps- that is exactly what it is- to pay young people to work for what he calls award wages and the wage turns out to be $40 a week.
– He doesn’t know what it is like to be on a low income.
– He may not know what it is like to be on a low income but the fact remains that, if ever I heard of slave labour, it is what is being advocated by members of the Opposition. They should hang their heads in shame at coming into this Parliament and playing on the emotions of the young unemployed in that way. They say that they have a program to deal with unemployment and when they try to spell it out it is shown to be a farce. It is one of the cruellest hoaxes of which I have ever heard in relation to the young people of this country and it will be taken into account by the electors of this country.
As I said earlier, this Bill is really part of the federalism policy. I know that if there is one thing that distinguishes members of the Government parties from members of the Opposition in this Parliament it is their attitude to the federalism policy. We might well pose the question: Why are members of the Opposition so het up about the federalism policy? It is because they are centralists. Labor is a centralist party with centralist views which believes that the spending programs in this country should be controlled from this Parliament in Canberra.
– Hear, hear!
-I thank the honourable member for Parramatta for his interjection. He confirms those views. It is on the record. If ever there was a time when he should have been silent it was then. He came in with an interjection to confirm that he and his party have a centralist approach to government. I want the people of Australia to be perfectly clear on that matter. If there is one thing which is felt universally around this country, it is the view that not all the wisdom in the world resides in Canberra. There is a role in this country for State governments and local governments and it is the federalism policy that recognises that position. The honourable member for Parramatta walked right into the trap- come in, sucker! He walked right into the trap and he pinned his philosophy as being one of a centralist organisation. These are the sorts of issues that the electors of this country look at when they come to casting a vote in a federal election. They have tried it in the States and they are doing it in the Commonwealth. The Federal Opposition in this Parliament stands for the devastation of local government and that view has never been better expressed than the way in which it was put by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) who was the Minister for Urban and Regional Development in the previous Government. Today the honourable member for Reid recounted his proposals for regional councils in this country. Effectively, he said to individual councils: ‘We do not trust you to make your own decisions. Although you may be the elected people for your area, you do not have the capacity to decide your priorities for funding programs’.
– We know best!
– He said: ‘We know better than that. We, as the Commonwealth Labor Government, know better than that. ‘ Referring to the councils, he said: ‘You must now form into regions and put up your proposals for Commonwealth assistance through the regional council’. Instead of a local municipality being represented by the local people, the councils would have to go to a regional forum and argue the issues out with councillors who had no particular interest in or representation of that local municipality. It is the same old unification proposal dressed up in new clothing. Any student of Australian political history should know the Federal Labor Party’s view on unification. It is not even original. It is the old provincial arrangement dressed up in new clothing. Opposition members were not even smart enough to dream it up for themselves. They went and looked at the old South African provincial system.
– It was apartheid.
– It was not apartheid then. They looked at the old South African provincial system and they said: ‘This federation is not for us. The system they have in South Africa is better’. They had the gall to come in here and adopt such a policy.
– It is in your records; you cannot get away from it. It is all there. I know that you are not a student of political history: I know that you are not very effective as a local government representative -
-Order! The honourable member will address the House through the Chair.
-I would suggest that the Opposition look at its regional proposals, and it will see that it is the old provincial proposal. The regional maps that were drawn up by the honourable member for Reid when he was the Labor Party Minister for Urban and Regional Development are the same maps that were drawn up 60 or 70 years ago under the old unification platform of the Australian Labor Party. There is no difference in the maps that they drew up. That is the history of this situation.
That illustrates once and for all which is the party that believes in a federalist approach, which is the party that believes there is a role for State and local governments and which, on the other hand, is the party that believes in a centralist approach to the whole question of government. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind about what the people of Australia think on that issue. They might have criticisms of State governments and of councils, and at times they might even have criticisms of Federal governments. What one cannot get away from is that people at the local level feel they have an opportunity to influence local decisions through council elections and by taking an interest in their municipality. If there is one thing they will not stand for it is having a Commonwealth government of any political persuasion telling their council how it shall spend the money of ratepayers and taxpayers. That is the whole nub of this debate. It has been made patently obvious again today not only by the speeches of Opposition members but, bless their little hearts, by their interjections as well.
I conclude by saying what I wanted to say earlier, that we should look at the issue of personal income tax sharing for local government as it affects the electorate of La Trobe. If one looks at the money that has been made available to the Shire of Lilydale and the Shire of Sherbrooke, as well as the City of Knox, it will be seen that the most dramatic increases have taken place in Federal Government funding. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which shows the actual amounts provided by the Fraser LiberalNational Country Party Government for municipalities in the electorate of La Trobe.
The document read as follows-
-I thank the House for allowing that document to be included in Hansard. What a change that document shows to the situation that prevailed in 1975 when, in the last year of the Whitlam Government, the money provided to the City of Knox- through the honourable member for Reid who was the then Minister- was so miserable that the Council passed a resolution that it ought to be sent back. That is the stage from which we have come. It was an insult to fund the City of Knox at that rate because it would have meant more and more demands on ratepayers. Instead of that, this Government has taken steps to give local councils some security and predictability about where they are going with their funding. This is the sort of policy that the people of the electorate of La Trobe understand because they read about it in the local press, they see the figures and they know how much good it is doing them. I am delighted to support this latest development in a major program of the Fraser Government for due recognition of the role, significance and need for funds by local government.
-When one listens to the outpourings of the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu) it is obvious that he has had no experience in local government.
– Six years.
-He has had absolutely none.
– I wish to take a point of order. I have been involved in local government. The honourable member should know.
-There is no point of order. The honourable member for La Trobe will resume his seat. I call the honourable member for Grayndler.
-There are none so deaf as those who will not hear. As the honourable member for La Trobe would know, I said that he has had no experience in local government. He may have been on a council for six years, but he lacks any experience at all. He has demonstrated that to the House this evening. Honourable members have heard what the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown) has said. He is a man who has spent many productive years in local government, and he knows what local government is about. Now we have shamed the honourable member for La Trobe and he is about to run out of the House because he cannot take it any longer. He has learnt nothing and he will continue not to learn anything. Mr Deputy Speaker, some years ago I attended the New South Wales Local Government Association annual conference here in Canberra as a delegate from the Marrickville municipal council. I was pleased to hear the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) allude to that council during his speech today, because what happened with that council was a great demonstration of what occurs when councils apply themselves to working their way towards getting money from Federal governments under some of the very good schemes that the Whitlam Labor Government introduced for local government between1972 and1975. The honourable member for La Trobe waffled on for quite some considerable time about the Regional Employment Development Scheme and what a waste it was. The reason some RED scheme money was wasted was because of the incompetence on the part of some councils. Some of the councils which got money from the RED scheme went a long way towards upgrading their municipalities. They would not have been able to do that from general revenue funds received from rates and charges.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! I ask honourable members on my right to remain silent. In common with other members of the House, the honourable member for Grayndler has a right to address the House in silence, and I ask honourable members to maintain decorum.
-They cannot stand the truth. It gets at them all the time; they cannot stand it.
-The honourable member for Grayndler might assist by being less provocative.
-When one listens to the sort of rubbish that comes from the other side of the chamber it is difficult not to be provocative. As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, what Gough Whitlam said at that conference received the standing applause of all the delegates. I might add that most of those delegates were people who were not affiliated with our side of the political fence. In part, Gough Whitlam said:
I believe there is a real and pressing casefor decentralisation of authority and that local governments will best perform many governmental functions in such critical areas as welfare, culture and the environment. The challenge which we face now is to make arrangements to balance public functions at each of our three levels of government with the financial resources to discharge them effectively.
Some months later Gough Whitlam was elected the Prime Minister of Australia and swiftly started to implement those programs. There now appears to be a general agreement that local government is the most appropriate unit for the planning, administration and delivery of a wide range of community welfare services and facilities because it can take account of the different needs, values and preferences of individual communities and because it is the political unit closest to the communities being served. As long ago as 1950- the honourable member for La Trobe and his colleagues will be happy to hear this- the then Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies agreed that a conference should be held to examine the financial relationships between the various tiers of government and acknowledged that local government was the third arm of government. Members on the other side of the House should carefully consider what I am about to say because one can remember all the promises they made when they were in Oppositionpromises easily made then and forgotten on the day of the election. The Liberal-National Country Party Opposition in its October 1975 social welfare policy speech, under the heading of ‘Local Government and Community Participation’, provided:
A Liberal and National Country Party government views local government as the focus for service delivery, since welfare services provided at the local level will be very responsive to users’ needs and wishes. Local governments have the advantage of: small size and proximity to the people; political accountability and responsibility; unequalled knowledge of local conditions and problems; the capacity to mesh together voluntary . . . services . . .; considerable potential for enhancing citizen participation . . .; the ability to co-operate with one another . . .
A Liberal and National Country Party government will assist local governments to utilise these inherent advantages and potentialities effectively to meet the contemporary need for citizen participation and welfare provision by:
ear-marking a fixed percentage of personal income tax . . .
seeking to have States Grants Commissions consider the diverse welfare needs of local government in allocating them equalisation grants.
It went on to speak about support for the Australian Assistance Plan. As soon as the LiberalNational Country parties came to government we saw what they thought of the Australian Assistance Plan: It went out of business. We are now seeing what this Government thinks about local government because it is very quickly trying to take away special purpose grants and the other means of assistance to local government in achieving some sort of equalisation of services in this country. I have indicated already that Sir Robert Menzies acknowledged the financial difficulties of local government as early as1950, but the conference that he proposed did not take place. An inquiry into valuation and rating in New South Wales never occurred.
Between 1949 and 1970 the public indebtedness of local government authorities in Australia increased by 845 per cent and their interest bill increased by 1,931 per cent. During that period the Australian Council of Local Government Associations in a number of ways endeavoured to get central and State governments to agree to provide assistance to local government. The Labor Government’s and the Australian Labor Party’s awareness of the responsibilities and the needs of local government and the role that local government had to play in the overall structure of the federation was reflected in the action that we took when we were in government. In1973 the Labor Government broadened the role of the Commonwealth Grants Commission to inquire into and report upon the applications by local government authorities for financial assistance from the Federal Government. We proposed to provide local government with representation on the Australian Loan Council and to provide local government with access to borrowed funds at the Commonwealth bond rate of interest instead of the higher semi-government rate.
This proposal was rejected by the State Premiers at a special Premiers Conference in October 1973. This proposal would have served as an important incentive to assist local government authorities to provide social welfare and other services which are most needed in some of the less fortunate municipalities and shires of this country. The proposal that the Labor Government put forward- namely, that the Constitution be amended to enable the Commonwealth to make general financial grants to local government- was defeated at a referendum. It was defeated because of the baying and the yapping of some of the less foresighted people in local government- people probably of the ilk of the honourable member for La Trobe- and these inexperienced councils who could not see beyond their noses and their own petty little bureaucracies. The vision the Australian Labor Party had for local government was to make it a proper partner in Australian federalism. The view of the present Government is that it should be reduced once again to the poor step-daughter who has to come begging for assistance not only to the States but also to the Commonwealth Government.
We proposed that local government organisations should be eligible for a number of grants from various government departments. Unfortunately the present Government has reduced the avenues from which local government can obtain direct grants. These areas included child care, assistance to Aborigines and care for the disabled and aged persons. Those are the changes that were brought in by the Whitlam Labor Government to help local government to meet the needs of its constituents. Since the change of government in1975 that commitment to making local government an effective partner in the system has been reversed so that local government has become a passive recipient of Federal and State government largesse. For example, the Grants Commission, in its first report in1 974 and in its second report in1 975 on financial assistance to local government, set out individually the grants to local government authorities in Australia so that local government and governments of Australia could see where the money was going.
However, in1976 the Grants Commission Act was amended to provide for the Commission’s recommendations in respect of financial assistance for local government purposes to be made on a State by State basis. That is what this Government thinks about local government: it does not even let local government have a look in. The Commission’s special report in 1976 took the form of percentage shares to each State as the proportions they should receive of the total funds to be made available by the Commonwealth for local government purposes. The Commission in its report said:
Except insofar as the Commission could have regard to submissions previously made, it was not in a position to make contact with or seek evidence directly from local government authorities . . . Because the Commission was not in a position to make direct contact with individual local government authorities, it was not able to assess the needs of individual local government authorities. It followed that any changes which might have occurred since 1974 in the position of individual local government authorities were not taken into account.
So, since this Government amended the Grants Commission Act in 1976 the Commission has not even been allowed to inquire from local government authorities what they thought they might like to receive from the Government.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
-Prior to the suspension of the sitting we were discussing a local government tax sharing agreement with the Commonwealth. I was outlining how this Government had reduced the role of local government and the funds available to local government under the present arrangements. In fact, this Bill ensures that local government will become even more a creature of the States under which it was originally constituted. Sections 6, 7 and 8 of the Act refer always to a payment of amounts to a State. This continues in this vein of ensuring that local government is, once again, a poor sister to the federal system of this country. The most interesting section of this Act is section 9, which provides: . . that, if the Minister informs the Treasurer of the State that he is satisfied that the State has, with respect to the whole or a part of that amount, failed to fulfil the conditions applicable under those sections to that amount, the State will repay to the Commonwealth such sums as the Minister determines, being a sum not exceeding the amount in respect of which the Minister is so satisfied.
The import of that additional condition is that some States may, if they so decide, not even pay any of this tax sharing money to local government at all. In fact, if they do not they just have to pay it back to Consolidated Revenue. I put it to the House that that is not a way for this Federal Parliament to agree to enter into a relationship with local government. It is not in the spirit of the Government’s own policy speech in 1 975. It is not, indeed, in the spirit of the statement made by Sir Robert Menzies in 1950. In particular, it is not in the spirit or the word of the great reforms for local government that the Australian Labor Party brought forward between 1972 and 1975. In fact, there is further evidence of this Government’s attitude to local government in the Budget Papers. On page 107 of Budget Paper No. 7 the Treasurer said: . . the degree of influence exerted by the Commonwealth over the particular amounts paid to local authorities varies considerably among the different programs as does the availability of information relating to those amounts. In some cases the amounts passed on to local government authorities are wholly at the discretion of the State Governments.
I put it to this House that there should be some sharing in this. There should be a sharing of responsibility between State, Federal and local governments. This is just a program to ensure that local governments stay in vassalage. The Commonwealth Government has failed local government. In fact, the Commonwealth Government Grants Commission has also failed local government. Local governments saw that Commission as being a great way of participating in the federal system. In fact, the Grants Commission, in its special report, states:
Recommends Option A which is to distribute in proportion to the respective unweighted populations of the States. Its reasons are that all other options entail analyses and decisions of a highly complex character -
Is that not a shame? The report goes on:
I would think that, if the Government is considering reasonably looking at the proposals to extend money to local government, it should expect some sort of return from local government, some input from local government into that decision-making. The commission in the long run says that because of Government policy it has been forced to avoid the necessity to make direct contact with and obtain information from local government authorities within the States. What a perilous situation we are reaching. This recommendation centralises a process of personal income tax sharing distribution. It seems to have been formulated in fear of the present policy of the Government, which does not encourage direct contact between the Commission and individual local government authorities created under the laws of the States. It is very much at variance, in fact, with Mr Justice Else-Mitchell’s statement in 1972 when the Grants Commission was originally set up. He said:
The present centralised policies which have been to reduce local government to a state of vassalage and councils to the role of mendicants need drastic re-appraisment.
This formula does not take into account cost structures which vary according to size, geography and a range of functions and responsibilities undertaken by local government bodies. The Commonwealth Grants Commission proposals about income tax sharing preclude local information, prevent local government representation and income tax sharing on a per capita basis and are an equalisation principle in name only. The Commonwealth Government is indeed exercising a double standard. It is not being sincere when, on the one hand, it says that it wants local government to participate and, on the other hand, it says: ‘Well, of course, you can participate only if you go cap in hand to the State governments’. In fact, some of the Commonwealth payments made direct to local government authorities as eligible non-profit organisations have been increased, but in the final analysis there has been a great reduction in the funds available.
The present Government’s policy showed through when it would not make funds available to local government to implement the Galbally Committee recommendations on migrant services. I put it to this House that most of the areas in Australia that are taking due account of the impact of migration schemes have been areas where some sort of assistance has been provided by local councils. They are in the forefront of ensuring that Australia is converting to a multicultural society and this Government fails to support them. In fact, it specifically precludes any assistance to local government under that section of the Commonwealth Government funding arrangements.
All Commonwealth special service grants to local government have been decreased. Child care is an area where this is most obvious. Between1975 and 1976, $ 13.7m was allocated to local government under both grants to State governments which were to be passed on to local government and direct grants to local government -
– The last Labor Budget.
-That is right. As my colleague the honourable member for Hughes says, the last year of the Labor Government. It was the best result that Labor ever got. Under the present Government, in1 977-78 it is down to $10m. The figure shows what the present Government thinks of local government. It has reverted to the inadequate pre- 1972 policies. The position for local government under these arrangements has been well documented. Even in this early stage of tax sharing arrangements real income to local government is declining. In fact, my colleague, the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), pointed that out very ably here this afternoon. The only way of making local government a full participant in the federal system is to adopt policy strategies which stress co-operative intergovernmental relations which encourage local government to take initiatives in planning, administration and the delivery of community welfare program services and facilities which ensure an adequate and continuing income with which to provide for these responsibilities. When one considers the services provided by local government, it is obvious that this third arm of our federal system requires sympathetic assistance from the Federal Government. Local government cannot rely on rates and per capita grants as the way into the financial arrangements of the1980s. We need to bring back the jewel in the local government crown of special purpose grants and a sympathetic Federal government to allow that flexibility. I am sure that a Labor government would do that. I would hope that the present Liberal National Country Party Government would live up to its1975 campaign promise to make local government a partner in the Federal system.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
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 Garland) read a third time.
– I wish to make a personal explanation.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Does the Minister claim to have been misrepresented?
– I do. This morning the honourable member for Holt (Mr Yates) obtained leave to make a personal statement about the deportation order I have signed in respect of John Paul Grunau. It has been confirmed that Mrs Grunau- or at least a person purporting to be Mrs Grunau- telephoned the Townsville Prison when she was told of the decision to order the deportation of her husband. On 27 September a woman who identified herself as Mrs Grunau spoke by telephone to an officer of my Department located in Townsville. That officer confirmed the advice of the Prison authorities in relation to the signing of the deportation order and informed her that Mr Grunau was able to apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a review of my decision.
As I made clear in my statement to the House on 9 October1979, part of my decision in respect of the deportation of Mr Grunau was that Mrs Grunau, and the children of Mr and Mrs Grunau, should be offered passages to the Federal Republic of Germany at Commonwealth expense if Mrs Grunau elected to accompany her husband with their Australian-born children. That decision was made when I signed the deportation order on 13 September1979.
If I gave the impression that that information had been conveyed to Mrs Grunau I now make it clear that that was my decision and that this matter was not discussed with Mrs Grunau during the telephone conversations with her. The honourable member for Holt will receive official advice of my decisions including this offer of passages for Mrs Grunau and the Grunau children.
Bill presented by Mr Garland, on behalf of Mr Hunt, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill embodies the Government’s Budget proposals for improvements in Social Services pensions and benefits. It demonstrates the Government’s determination to continue to provide for those in need, notwithstanding the necessity to restrain Government expenditure. The proposals will add to reforms which have already benefited low income families generally. Honourable members will recall that the current family allowance scheme brought increased assistance to some 300,000 families with 800,000 children who, simply because of their low incomes did not benefit fully, or at all, from the previous system of tax rebates.
The main provisions of the Bill are:
Other matters dealt with in the Bill, to which I will return later, include maintenance payments made on behalf of pensioners in benevolent homes, entitlement to double orphan’s pension, entitlement to unemployment benefit in cases of industrial action, postponement of unemployment benefit, and the effects of compensation awarded for the same incapacity as that for which sickness benefit has been granted.
The Bill provides for twice-yearly indexation of pensions and benefits. Indexation increases will be made in May and November of each year. The next increase will come into effect on 1 November1979 and will be paid on pension pay day 8 November. I will refer to details of this increase a little later. The following automatic indexation increase in pensions and benefits will occur in May1980. The additional cost of providing twice-yearly indexation in respect of Social Security pensions and benefits is estimated to be $51m in 1979-80.
Under the existing indexation provisions of the Social Services Act, the following payments are automatically indexed in November each year on the basis of the percentage increase in the consumer price index between the two preceding June quarters: Age, invalid and widow’s pensions; wives’ pensions; sheltered employment allowances; the supporting parents’ benefit; the unemployment benefit for persons aged 18 or more with dependants; the unemployment benefit for married persons aged 16 or 17; the sickness benefit for all persons aged 18 or more; and the sickness benefit for married persons aged 16 or 17. All pensions and benefits now indexed once annually will continue to be indexed under the proposed twice-yearly indexation provisions. These adjustments, as appropriate, will apply also to special benefits.
In November 1979 the basic single rate of age and invalid pensions, the sheltered employment allowance, the unemployment benefit for persons aged 1 8 or more with dependants, and the sickness benefit for all persons aged 1 8 or more, will be increased from $53.20 to $57.90 a week. The same increase will apply to the widow’s pension and the supporting parent’s benefit, to bring the basic rate for those payments to $57.90 a week also. The combined married rate of pension or benefit will be increased from $88.70 to $96.50 a week. These increases reflect the full 8.8 per cent increase in the CPI between the June quarter 1 978 and the June quarter 1 979.
The Government will maintain the free of income test pension currently payable to those aged 70 years or more. The rates are $51.45 a week for single pensioners and $85.80 a week for married pensioner couples. People in receipt of these pensions may be eligible for a higher rate of payment depending on how much incomeexcluding pension- they receive. A single pensioner who, just before his 70th birthday, is receiving a reduced pension at, say, $30 a week because of the income test will, on attaining 70 years of age, immediately become eligible for an increase in his pension to $51.45 a week. Similarly, a married man aged 69 with a wife aged 66 receiving reduced pensions, say, at $30 a week each, because of the income test will, when the husband reaches 70 years of age, have his pension increased to $42.90 a week, but his wife will continue to receive a pension subject to the usual income test provisions until she reaches 70 years, whereupon her pension will also be increased to the basic free of income test pension rate.
Action will be taken to identify all pensioners who may be eligible for a higher rate and to invite them to test their eligibility for an increase if their income is below the relevant limit. I will return to that matter in a moment. With the concurrence of honourable members I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table setting out the rates of pensions that will be payable to pensioners aged 70 years or more.
The table read as follows-
– The new rates of pension and supporting parent’s benefit will come into effect on pay day 8 November 1979. The new rates of unemployment and sickness benefit will operate in respect of payments due on and after 1 November 1979.
Fringe Benefit Income Limits
As the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) indicated in his ministerial statement on 21 August, one area of great concern to pensioners has been the income test limits for pensioner fringe benefits. Commonwealth fringe benefits available to pensioners holding pensioner health benefit cards include access to bulk billing of medical fees, a range of free pharmaceuticals, access to free optometrical consultations and hearing aids, a one-third reduction in telephone rentals, and some reductions in fares on Commonwealth rail and shipping services. In addition, State governments and various private organisations provide assistance to these pensioners.
At present a pensioner loses all of these fringe benefits if his private income reaches $33 a week for a single pensioner and $57.50 a week for a married pensioner couple. These amounts are higher in the case of recipients of sheltered employment allowance and where there are children. Whilst it is difficult to calculate the value of fringe benefits to the individual pensioner, it has been suggested that, on average, they could be worth up to about $ 10 a week. The income limits for fringe benefits have been fixed for some time. Some pensioners have lost entitlement to fringe benefits as a result of increases to their superannuation or war pension over which they have no control. Accordingly, the Government has decided to amend the Social Services Act to increase the fringe benefit income limits to $40 a week for single pensioners and $68 a week for married pensioner couples. Increases for recipients of sheltered employment allowance will be slightly higher in order to maintain the prevailing differential between the limits for this group and pensioners. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table setting out the current and proposed fringe benefit limits.
The table read as follows-
– I thank the House. It is estimated that some additional 25,000 pen sioners and recipients of sheltered employment allowance with 5,000 dependants will qualify for pensioner health benefits as a result of these increases. Action is being taken by the Department of Social Security to identify those cases where departmental records indicate that a pensioner over 70 years of age could be entitled to a consumer price index related increase. Where the position is not clear a letter will be sent to the pensioner or pensioner couple concerned indicating the relevant income limit below which a CPI related increase or fringe benefit entitlement will exist after 1 November 1979 and these pensioners will be invited to test their eligibility for a CPI related increase and/or fringe benefits if their incomes are below the appropriate limit.
As the Minister for Health also indicated in his ministerial statement of 2 1 August, the Government has for some time been aware of differences in the treatment of sole parents receiving class ‘A’ widow’s pension and supporting parent’s benefit. When we came to office, there was no specific assistance available to sole fathers and supporting mothers were not eligible for the full range of pensioner fringe benefits. They were not eligible for pensioner health benefits. In November 1977 this Government introduced the supporting parent’s benefit which replaced the supporting mothers’ benefit and extended eligibility for assistance to sole fathers on essentially the same basis as for sole mothers.
We have now decided to extend eligibility for pensioner health benefit cards to supporting parents subject to the liberalised pensioner fringe benefit income test outlined above. The extension involves amendments to the National Health Act and the Health Insurance Act. As a result, Commonwealth fringe benefit assistance for supporting parents will be exactly the same as that for class ‘A’ widow pensioners. The rates of pension and benefit are already the same.
It is estimated that some 56,000 supporting parent beneficiaries, including 2,500 men, with 96,000 dependants will qualify for pensioner health benefit cards. As a result their health costs will be reduced significantly. This will be of special assistance to those with young children, particularly children suffering from chronic illnesses. Eligibility for fringe benefits provided by State government and other organisations is usually restricted to holders of pensioner health benefit cards. The extension of these benefits to supporting parent beneficiaries and to pensioners with private income between the existing and proposed income limits of pensioner health benefits eligibility will be a matter for the States and other responsible bodies.
A wife’s pension is payable to the wife of an age or invalid pensioner where the wife is not qualified for such pension in her own right. Payment is subject to the income test. As I have already indicated, wife’s pension will be extended to women who are in benevolent homes and to women with no children or who are under 50 years of age where their age or invalid pensioner husbands are in benevolent homes. Benevolent homes are approved as such by the
Director-General of Social Services under authority contained in the Social Services Act. Another change in relation to wife’s pension is that the standard rate in lieu of the married rate will be paid where the living expenses of a married couple are likely to be greater than they would otherwise be by reason that they are unable, as a result of the illness or infirmity of either or both of them, to live together in a matrimonial home- for example, where either or both partners enter a benevolent home, a nursing home or hospital. The proposed changes for wife pensioners will place a married couple in the same position as a couple who are both age or invalid pensioners.
Maintenance of Pensioners in Benevolent Homes
Consistent with the proposal which the Commonwealth has put to the States and the Northern Territory that the hospital cost-sharing agreements be varied to provide for charges in respect of nursing home type patients in recognised hospitals, it has been decided to bring the contribution which pensioners in benevolent homes make for their maintenance in line with the contribution which the Government has adopted as a desirable objective for hospital patients generally. Under current arrangements pensioners in benevolent homes retain up to $18.75 a week from their pension including supplementary assistance for their own use. The balance of the person’s pension is paid direct to the benevolent home for his maintenance. Under the new arrangements, which will come into effect on a date to be proclaimed, the contribution made to the home for persons entering benevolent homes will be increased to $54.95 a week to bring it in line with the contribution by patients in non-government nursing homes. This will leave a pensioner receiving supplementary assistance with $7.95 a week for his own use.
A savings provision has been inserted in the Bill to ensure that when the new arrangements come into effect no existing benevolent home pensioner will be paid an amount lower than that which he is receiving. The savings provision will provide that any subsequent increases in pension will be applied towards the maintenance of the pensioner until such time as the amount of maintenance equals the contribution by nursing home patients. I should emphasise that the proposed deduction from pension will in no way reduce a person’s total pension entitlement. It will merely mean that a greater amount than that which is currently deducted from pension will be paid to the home for maintenance purposes.
Family Allowance, Double Orphan’s Pension Handicapped Child’s Allowance
At present, family allowance is payable in periods which commence on the fifteenth day of one month and end on the fourteenth day of the next month. Payment is made, for the whole period, to the person or approved institution having the care of the child on the first day of the pay period. This can mean that a person or institution having the care of a child for the greater part of a period but not the commencement, receives nothing by way of family allowance in respect of that period. Broadly stated, the conditions for payment of family allowance apply also to double orphan’s pension and handicapped child’s allowance, but handicapped child’s allowance is not payable to an institution. Consequently the absence of a child from the family home for a few days covering the commencement of a family allowance period can result in the non payment to the parent or guardian of amounts of $47.70 and $65 a month respectively. To correct this the Government proposes that, where a child moves from one person to another or enters or leaves an institution, entitlement will be decided on the basis of the number of days for which a child is in the care of the person or institution.
In respect of a handicapped child ‘s allowance, the absence of a child from the private home for a short period can be disregarded and payment continued uninterrupted provided family allowance continues to be payable to the parent or guardian. However, under existing conditions if a child enters an institution to which family allowance is payable the parent or guardian loses handicapped child ‘s allowance. It is proposed to amend the law to enable handicapped child ‘s allowance to be paid to the parent or guardian where the child is in an endowed institution for a temporary period. However, as at present, the handicapped child’s allowance will not be payable where handicapped children’s benefit or nursing home benefit is paid to an institution.
Double Orphan’s Pension
Mr Deputy Speaker, in order to qualify for a double orphan’s pension a person must be caring for a child, other than a child he has adopted, both of whose parents are no longer living, or one of whose parents is deceased and the other is not able, because of specified circumstances, to support the child. Honourable members will be aware that some people have travelled overseas to adopt children under the laws of other countries or to bring children to Australia with a view to adoption under Australian law. Overseas adoptions may not be recognised under Australian law. While there is no barrier to payment of a double orphan’s pension where a child, Australian born or otherwise, is awaiting adoption in Australia, it has never been the intention to pay the double orphan’s pension for any adopted child, including those adopted under the laws of another country. The proposed amendment in this Bill will ensure there is no doubt about this.
Unemployment Benefit- Industrial Action
It is a condition of eligibility for unemployment benefit under section 107 of the Social Services Act that the claimant must satisfy the Director-General that he is unemployed and that his unemployment is not due to his being a direct participant in a strike. In the interpretation of this provision successive governments have followed two basic principles: Firstly, the Government cannot permit unemployment benefit in effect to become strike pay; secondly, responsibility for sponsorship or support of a strike by a trade union must be accepted equally by all members of that union.
Doubts have been expressed as to whether these principles are fully supported by the existing law. It is for this reason that the Act is being amended. The Bill provides that unemployment benefit will not be payable to a person whose unemployment was or is due to industrial action by him or by members of a union of which he is a member. The disqualification for unemployment benefit will continue while the industrial action is in force but will no longer apply after the industrial action has ceased. Industrial action will include not only a strike but also such action as bans, go-slow tactics or other unauthorised limitations on the performance of work. However, the definition expressly excludes bans, limitations or other restrictions on work which are authorised by the employer of the person concerned.
The Bill provides that the rate of unemployment or sickness benefit for a married person shall be at the unmarried rate plus additional benefit for children, if the spouse is not or would not be qualified for unemployment benefit by reason of taking industrial action. The Bill also provides that special benefit will not be payable to a person in respect of a period for which he is not qualified for unemployment benefit as a result of industrial action.
Unemployment Benefit- Postponement
At present the Director-General has the authority to postpone for such period as he thinks fit, the date from which unemployment benefit shall be payable where: Firstly, a person’s unemployment is due, either directly or indirectly to his voluntary act which, in the opinion of the Director-General, was without good and sufficient reason; secondly, a person’s unemployment is due to his misconduct as a worker; or thirdly, a person has refused or failed, without good and sufficient reason, to accept an offer of employment which the Director-General considers suitable. Provision is made in the Bill for postponement of unemployment benefit for a minimum period of six weeks and a maximum period of 12 weeks in these circumstances.
Sickness Benefit and Compensation
When a person receives compensation in respect of the same incapacity and in respect of the same period for which he is qualified to receive sickness benefit the benefit otherwise payable is reduced by the extent of the compensation payment. There is no dual payment of benefit and compensation unless the rate of compensation is less than the rate of sickness benefit. In these cases the amount of benefit paid brings the person ‘s total income to the maximum rate of sickness benefit otherwise payable. In the usual case it is intended that sickness benefit should be paid only until such time as the person receives compensation. In the event of a lump sum award covering the same period for which benefit has been paid and being in respect of the same incapacity, the amount of benefit paid is recovered from the client or the person responsible for paying compensation or the insurer. Over recent years, however, practices have come to notice which limit the Commonwealth’s ability to reduce or recover sickness benefit in these cases.
Amendments proposed in the Bill will ensure that the Department of Social Security has power to effect recovery of sickness benefit payments once compensation has been received for the same incapacity in respect of which sickness benefits have been paid. In addition, greater responsibility will be placed upon the client, the person responsible to pay compensation and the insurer to notify the Department of events which impinge upon recovery of amounts paid out by the Department.
There are a number of machinery amendments in the Bill. These will: Firstly, authorise the appointment of a second Deputy DirectorGeneral of Social Services; secondly, authorise the appointment of directors of social services in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory; thirdly, make amendments consequent upon the new self-governing status of the Northern Territory; and, fourthly, make several drafting amendments of a correcting or consequential nature. These amendments do not involve any additional expenditure.
Expenditure from the National Welfare Fund on pensions and benefits payable under the Social Services Act is estimated to be $7390m for 1979-80 which will be an increase of $650m over expenditure in 1978-79. Mr Deputy Speaker, I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Cass) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Garland, on behalf of Mr Hunt, and read a first time.
– I move:
In introducing the Social Services Amendment Bill 1979 1 referred to the Government’s decision to extend the eligibility for pensioner health benefit cards to supporting parents. This will mean that supporting parents and their dependants other than those excluded by the income test provided in the Social Services Act, will be entitled to receive certain fringe benefits. Under the National Health Act the holders of pensioner health benefit cards are entitled to free pharmaceutical benefits and hearing aids. Clause 3 of this Bill amends the definition of ‘pensioner’ in the National Health Act to include supporting parent beneficiaries. Eligible supporting parents, along with recipients of age, invalid, widows and service pensions and of sheltered employment and tuberculosis allowances, will be entitled to be supplied with pharmaceutical benefits, without charge. This entitlement extends to the pensioners’ dependants. This initiative is evidence of the Government’s concern for pensioners on low incomes, and others, such as supporting parents, who are among the disadvantaged in our community. Mr Deputy Speaker, I commend this Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Cass) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Garland, on behalf of Mr Hunt, and read a first time.
– I move:
I have already introduced the National Health Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1979 which extends entitlement to free pharmaceutical benefits to supporting parents. This Bill contains a further measure to give effect to the Government’s decision, as announced by the Treasurer (Mr Howard) in the Budget Speech, to extend eligibility for pensioner health benefit cards to supporting parents.
By virtue of section 10 of the Health Insurance Act 1973, eligible pensioners, as defined in the Act, are entitled to Commonwealth medical benefits at the rate of 85 per cent of the schedule fee, or the amount of the schedule fee less $5, whichever is the higher. Clause 3 of the Bill before the House amends the definition of ‘eligible pensioner’ in the Act to include recipients of the supporting parents benefit. As honourable members will realise, the effect of the amendment will be to entitle supporting parents who satisfy the pensioner health benefits income test to Commonwealth medical benefits at the level applicable to eligible pensioners generally. A further effect will be to enable supporting parents, as is the position with all eligible pensioners, to assign to the practitioner rendering the service the Commonwealth medical benefits involved.
As I stated when introducing the National Health Bill (No. 3) 1979, the extension of these benefits is further evidence of the Government’s continuing concern for pensioners on low incomes and other disadvantaged persons in the community. I commend this Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Cass) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Adermann, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill provides for amendment of the Repatriation Act and the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act to give effect to the Government’s Budget decisions covering introduction of service pensions for allied veterans; twice-yearly indexation of the main repatriation pensions; increases in the contribution that service pensioners in benevolent homes must make towards meeting the cost of their care and accommodation; easing of access to pensioner health benefits by raising the maximum levels of income that a service pensioner may receive before becoming ineligible to receive such benefits; and increases in the levels of attendants allowance and orphans pension.
In respect of veterans of allied countries, this Bill honours an election promise of the Government made in 1977. It will mean recognition in a material way of the contribution which allied veterans made in war against common enemies. From 7 February 1980 eligible veterans will be able to receive a service pension on a similar basis to that applying to British Commonwealth veterans.
For the information of honourable members I would like to explain that the service pension is similar to the age pension granted under the Social Services Act. It is granted five years earlier than the age pension to a veteran who has served in a theatre of war, has reached the age of 60 years if a male, or 55 years if a female, or has become permanently unemployable.
In relation to an allied veteran the specific requirements he will have to meet are that he served as a member of a formally raised force; served in a theatre of war; resided in Australia for at least 10 years; satisfies the income test applicable to Australian and British Commonwealth veterans; and reached 60 years of age if a male or 55 years if a female or has become permanently unemployable.
For the purposes of the legislation, an allied country is one which was engaged with Australia in a war or war-like conflict against a common enemy and would include forces of governments-in-exile during the 1939-1945 War and includes members of the Free French Movement under General de Gaulle and comparable forces.
Since the announcement of the extension of service pensions to allied veterans, there has been some speculation about who will be eligible. For the benefit of those who require clarification of this aspect, I would emphasise that service pensions will not be available to persons who served in irregular forces such as partisan groups. We all admire the excellent record and results achieved by such people but, it is almost impossible to establish whether individuals who claim to have been partisans or members of other irregular forces were actually members of those forces and fought against a common enemy. The policy adopted is no different from that applicable to Australians who may have been in like circumstances.
To be considered to have served in a theatre of war, a person would need to have been exposed to danger from hostile forces by serving outside the country of his enlistment or to have actually been engaged against the enemy in his own country. A person who, at any time, served in the forces of a country that was at a particular time at war with Australia, or engaged in war-like operations against Australian forces, is precluded from receiving a service pension. For example, if an Italian fought against the allies in the early part of the 1939-1945 War and subsequently fought with the allies he would be ineligible to receive a pension. Again, a member of the French forces who fought with the allies in the early part of the War and subsequently fought with the Vichy French forces would also be excluded from receiving a service pension. To assist in the processing of claims, documentation associated with a claim will, of necessity, require translation into the English language.
There has been some lack of understanding of the Government’s intention as to what extension of the service pension to allied veterans involves. I take this opportunity to make clear that allied veterans will not, under repatriation legislation, be eligible for income tax concessions, a defence service homes loan, or repatriation medical treatment benefits. Allied veterans will be eligible to receive only an income-tested service pension and funeral benefits. The only other benefit which they may be able to receive would be a pensioner health benefits card, issued to age and service pensioners by the Department of Social Security and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs respectively and which requires the veteran to satisfy a further income test.
Any allied ex-serviceman who considers that he is entitled under the provisions of the legislation to receive a service pension should contact my Department to determine his eligibility. Each case, of course, will then be examined and decided in accordance with the legislation. I should mention that my officers have already done a great deal of research into matters related to theatre of war service and will be in a position to assist and verify claims in this respect.
Turning to other aspects in the Bill, the main repatriation pensions will, in line with proposed changes to pensions paid under the Social Services Act, be increased automatically from the first pension payday in May and November of each year to take account of changes in the consumer price index. The pensions affected by this change are the special rate- totally and permanently incapacitated- pension, intermediate rate and general rate pensions as well as the war and defence widow ‘s pensions and service pensions.
Honourable members will be aware that the Social Services Act is to be amended to bring the level of the contribution which pensioners make for their maintenance in benevolent institutions in line with the contribution which the Government has adopted in respect of nursing home type patients generally. In line with the changes proposed to the Social Services Act this Bill proposes that service pensioners receiving long-term care in benevolent homes will be required to make similar contributions to those made by age and invalid pensioners.
Service pensioners in benevolent homes currently retain up to $ 18.75 a week from their pension including allowances for their own use. The contribution to be made by a service pensioner after the new arrangements are proclaimed, will be increased to $54.95 a week and this amount will approximately accord with the contribution of pensioners in non-government nursing homes. This will leave the pensioner with $7.95 a week.
The Government is mindful of the burden placed on the wives of such pensioners and, therefore, the rate of pension payable to the wife of a service pensioner in a long-term nursing institution is to be increased to the standard rate of $57.90 a week from 1 November 1979. Any additional payment for children will be made to the wife while they are in her care, custody and control. The standard rate pension payable to a wife will continue in payment while the veteran continues to be cared for under long-term care arrangements. If a veteran is discharged from, or dies whilst in a benevolent home, the service pension will revert to the married rate, but in the majority of cases it will be to the widow’s advantage to transfer to a social security pension. Of this she will, of course, be advised. A service pensioner who is currently a long-term patient will be protected and the level of his pension will not be reduced below the amount currently payable under section 95 of the Repatriation Act, provided he remains an in-patient, but if he is discharged and re-admitted, the new provisions will apply.
The maximum levels of income which a service pensioner may earn before becoming ineligible to receive pensioner health benefits, repatriation medical treatment and other Commonwealth benefits, such as telephone rental concessions, are to be increased from 1 November1 979. In the case of a single pensioner the limit will be lifted from $1,716to $2,080 per annum and for a married pensioner from $1,495 to $1,768 per annum. A blinded veteran, or one suffering a spinal incapacity who requires an attendant, will have his attendant’s allowance increased from $14.70 to $17.50 a week. In the case of a veteran who has been blinded and is afflicted with total loss of speech or total deafness the allowance is to be increased from $24.90 to $35 a week. Similar increases in attendant’s allowance will be made for severely disabled amputees who require an attendant.
The levels of orphans pension are also to be increased. The rate applicable for a child in the care of his mother, adoptive or step-parent, will rise by $2.05 to $12.50 a week. If both parents are deceased, or the child is not being maintained by a parent, adoptive parent or stepparent the rate will rise by $4.10 to $25 a week. Increases in attendant’s allowance, orphan’s pension and the prescribed maximum level of income set in respect of service pensioners are to come into effect from the first pension payday in November1 979. An opportunity has been taken to incorporate in the Bill some very minor machinery amendments desirable to facilitate administration of the Act. These are not of such significance as to warrant the attention of the House. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Cass) adjourned.
– I present the 11th report of the Publications Committee.
Report- by leave- adopted.
Debate resumed from 22 August, on motion by Mr Fife:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Opposition is opposed to this Bill and will be moving to retain the subsidy at its present level. The Bill is being debated as a result of a decision announced in the so-called May mini-Budget. This was the measure that was intended to allow a softer main Budget in case the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) decided to call an early election. After some indecision as to the date of implementation of the new measure, the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) made it known in his second reading speech of 22 August. I do not know what confidence the farmers can have in this Government. The change is to be made in January 1 980. It was announced in May, but the final decision was made in August. This Bill was introduced on the day after the Treasurer in his Budget lopped 20 per cent in real terms off” rural sector spending.
As well as penalising non-metropolitan Australia with its atrocious fuel policy which will cause and continue rising fuel prices- that policy itself affects the price of nitrogenous fertilisersthe Government cut reconstruction funds in the Budget by 63 per cent, cut wool research funds by $9m, did not increase Primary Industry Bank of Australia funding, although some measures since then have corrected that to some degree, and did not increase the interest rate on income equalisation deposits. The farm sector suffered worst in the May mini-Budget, as a result of which $70m was lopped off the rural recovery funds and beef levies were reintroduced on an industry trying to get back on its feet after the worst trouble it has ever had. Overall spending by the Government on farmers this year will be a miserable $2 19m. This contrasts with a massive hike of 1 37 per cent in assistance for manufacturing industry which all farmers know is already well protected and is affecting them adversely as exporters. The Government has now decided to reduce the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy even further.
The Opposition is opposed to this Bill for much the same reasons as it opposed a like Bill last year cutting the subsidy from $60 a tonne to $40 a tonne. We believe that the subsidy should remain at at least $40 a tonne and not be reduced to $20 a tonne. I give notice to the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland), who is at the table, that we will oppose clause 4 of the Bill in the Committee stage. We realise, of course, that if we are successful in having this clause negated it will also mean some alteration to the wording of clause 5.
The Opposition does not accept the Industries Assistance Commission’s report of 1975 as a crutch or an alibi for the Government. The situation has changed. A lot has happened in the key industries using nitrogenous fertilisers since the IAC report. It is nonsense, illogical and contradictory for a government to keep a subsidy on one fertiliser- superphosphate, which the IAC will not even look at for five years- and, at the same time, phase out a subsidy on nitrogenous fertilisers. There is a great difference between the two in that nitrogen does not build up in the soil as does superphosphate. There is also a contradiction and inconsistency in the Governments policy. We have the phosphate fiends on the one hand and the nitrogen knockers on the other. We realise that the Prime Minister uses more superphosphate than nitrogen, but that cannot be the only reason for this inconsistency. We are spending about $40m this year on the superphosphate subsidy, but the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy will receive only a measly $7. 5m and the subsidy will be phased out rapidly.
The history of the subsidy gives us some idea of its value in the past. A comparison between the price of nitrogenous fertiliser today and its price when the Bill was first introduced in 1 966 shows how severely its value, even at $40 a tonne, has been diminished. If we take the recent history of the value of nitrogenous fertiliser we see that urea cost $97 a tonne in August 1974. In September 1 978 that figure had gone up to $ 1 59 a tonne. The price I was given today was $207.82 a tonne ex-Brisbane. So the price has gone up while the subsidy has come down. This has had a pincer effect. The Nitrogenous Fertilisers Act 1966 paid a subsidy from August 1966 on manufactured and nitrogenous substances used as fertilisers or as a supplement to stock feed. The subsidy rate was initially set at $78.74 a tonne or $80 a ton. In those days it was a very real subsidy. The present subsidy of $40 a tonne or the proposed subsidy of $20 a tonne are of little value. The subsidy was paid to producers and importers, with provision for the full benefit to be passed on to users. The subsidy was paid on both locally produced and imported nitrogenous fertilisers, but imported fertilisers were eligible for subsidy only if supplies were not available from local manufacturers or if the prices of locally manufactured fertilisers were higher than the price of non-dumped imports.
The aims of the subsidy scheme were to reduce costs in major user industries, to assist users to compete in export markets, to encourage the use of nitrogen in new applications and to encourage local production of nitrogenous fertilisers through increased demand. The main users of nitrogenous fertilisers were and are, the sugar industry, fruit and vegetable producers, the livestock industries based on improved pasture, and to a lesser degree the cereal industries. The Industries Assistance Commission recommended the phasing out of the nitrogenous fertilisers subsidy over three years; that was the report of 5 September 1975. The subsidy was to be paid at the rate of $60 a tonne in 1 976. In 1977 the rate was to be $40 a tonne, and in 1978 the rate was to be $20 a tonne.
The Government accepted in principle the lAC’s recommendation that the subsidy be phased out, but the original subsidy rate of $78.74 a tonne was continued until 3 1 December 1976. Since then the phase-down has been rapid, as per the IAC recommendations. Yet the Government, to give itself some sort of excuse or alibi, has not phased the subsidy rate down at quite the same rate as the IAC recommendation: What a good boy it has been. The Government needs to realise that the price of nitrogenous fertiliser is rising and that as a result of its fuel oil price policies it will continue to rise even further; the price is locked in. The price of suphate of ammonia in Sydney is nearly $ 1 00 per tonne, but this is not the main fertiliser used in the key industries.
This Bill particularly disadvantages and harms the major industry which uses more nitrogenous fertilisers than any other single crop, over 30 per cent of total Australian usage- the sugar industry. This industry has not experienced profitable conditions for quite some time. So, in effect, the Government is singling out this industry for particularly savage treatment. The three most common forms of nitrogenous fertiliser used in the sugar industry are aqua-ammonia, urea and ammonium nitrate. Urea, which is 40 per cent elemental nitrogen, costs $207.80 a tonne exworks after the present subsidy has been paid. Nitram, or ammonium nitrate, which is 34 per cent nitrogen, costs $171.80 a tonne ex-works after the subsidy. Aqua-ammonia, which is 20.5 per cent nitrogen, costs $84.59 a tonne ex-works, again after the subsidy. All the prices of these items are rising fast. They are locked into the oil price policies of the Government. In a year when some prices have risen by nearly $50 a tonne, the Government is going to slash another $20 a tonne from the subsidy.
To give honourable members some idea of usage, the Queensland sugar industry used 136,000 tonnes of these fertilisers in 1977-78, and that was some 74 per cent of all nitrogen used in Queensland. Queensland sugar producers used 47,000 tonnes of urea alone, nearly 14,000 tonnes of sulphate of ammonia, and the balance of over 74,000 tonnes was of other types. Queensland uses over 57 per cent of all nitrogenous fertilisers used in Australia, and these figures only highlight the fact that it is the sugar industry which is the main user of nitrogenous fertiliser and it is the industry which this Government is singling out for treatment.
This Bill particularly attacks the Queensland sugar industry. The crutch, of the excuse of the IAC report, is no longer a good enough argument. The conditions have changed. What does the Government have against the honourable member of Wide Bay (Mr Millar), the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite), the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Dean) and the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Thomson)? Last year when the Government cut the subsidy from $60 a tonne to $40 a tonne, the honourable member for Dawson came into the House and made a speech. He said it was delivered with some reluctance. Again he must be very reluctant because at that time he said he was not sure what the promises of the Opposition were. But I can assure him the Opposition promised it would not abolish the subsidy. So I do not know what the Government has against honourable members in seats where sugar is one of the main industries.
The IAC report was written in 1975 when the sugar industry was prosperous and when the usage by the cereal industry of nitrogenous fertilisers was minimal. Now it is almost a counter argument, but there have been changes in the usage of nitrogenous fertilisers; this highlights the fact that there needs to be another examination of this subsidy and an examination of the usage of nitrogen. For example, I got some figures today which demonstrated that the use of elemental nitrogen in cereal industries had gone up from approximately 32,500 tonnes to over 98,000 tonnes in the past year.
This Bill is just a bit too much. It breaks a promise which broke an earlier promise. When my Party was in government we did not accept the September 1975 IAC report recommendations. Of course this did not stop the former Minister for Primary Industry and now right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) and others from continually claiming that we were always about to abolish it. We maintained the subsidy and were criticised. The Government has been phasing the subsidy out but saying that the Opposition would have had phased it out. I do not know on what basis the Government says that the Opposition would have done that or what hypothetical case it is putting here, other than its usual arrogance. Of course the right honourable member for New England promised to maintain the subsidy if and when re-elected. In a Press release dated 8 May 1 974, the right honourable member said:
I can give an unqualified assurance on behalf of the National Country Party, that in government with the Liberal Party, we will restore the bounties on superphosphate and ensure that the nitrogenous fertiliser bounty continues.
The Government’s record since then is: In the 1977-78 Budget, the Government announced that it would reject the 1975 IAC report and maintain the subsidy of $60 a tonne. In the 1978-79 Budget, the Government further reduced the subsidy from $60 a tonne to $40 a tonne. The $40 a tonne subsidy was to be payable until 31 December 1979. In the mini Budget of 24 May, the Treasurer (Mr Howard) announced that the $40 subsidy would be halved. No information was given on the timing, but after a long period of uncertainty it now emerges that the reduction is to occur next January.
I know Government members on the back bench can justify anything, but why say what they are going to do, criticise the Government or make untrue allegations about it and look at the interjections in the speech on this measure last year- and then the moment that they come into government pick up the recommendation of the IAC that they have opposed in Opposition? What is this all for? Why are Government members singling out the sugar industry for this treatment? There are five seats involved that are predominantly sugar growing seats and all, except the seat of the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham), are held by members of the National Country Party.
– Not true.
– I apologise to the honourable member for Herbert. He has given more evidence of this Liberal-National Country Party split. The figures that I have read from the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs show that last year some $ 10,4 1 3, 1 32 was spent on the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy. This year, the estimate is $7,500,000. So, all this pain is going to be inflicted on the sugar industry in Queensland for a measly $2,913,000. 1 have announced that the Opposition will be opposing this Bill in the third reading in the Committee stage, particularly clause 4. 1 would invite those members from the Queensland country seats to cross the floor. I do not think the Government will fall if five of them cross the floor but the invitation is extended because this Bill will affect their electorates particularly.
– I must say that it was a very quaint invitation that the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Kerin) just extended to me. Let me assure him that crossing the floor to his side on this measure is certainly not attractive to me. As far as I am concerned, I am prepared to support this Bill on one account in particular, namely, that in his second reading speech the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife), when introducing the Bill, made the point that the Government had decided to review the scheme on an annual basis and to set an appropriate rate of subsidy, taking into account the outlook for the user industries and the need to maintain budgetary restraints over public expenditure. What this means, in effect, is that the Government is not using the IAC report as a crutch. That was the accusation made by the honourable member for Werriwa. In truth that is not so. That was stated by the Minister in his second reading speech.
Of course, the honourable member for Werriwa is trying to make great waves in the State of Queensland. I commend him for the attempt, although it will not work. He says that this Bill attacks the Queensland sugar industry. Let us consider the measures of assistance that have been given to the Queensland sugar industry over the last 12 months. Let us consider in particular the reference to a special IAC inquiry of the question of the domestic retail price and as a result of that the substantial domestic price increase that occurred in May 1979. Let us consider the new Commonwealth-State sugar agreement which has now been announced. The parties are the Queensland Government and the Commonwealth Government. It is an agreement which guarantees an adjustment mechanism which will provide for price increases in future years to be not less than consumer price index increases. Let us consider the fuel freight price subsidy scheme which the Labor Government abandoned in its time in office. Let us consider the phosphate bounty which the Labor Government abandoned in its time in office. All that means that we have good grounds for saying that following the 1975 report of the IAC on nitrogenous fertilisers a Labor government would also have abandoned the subsidy in that area. We have very good grounds for suspecting that it certainly would have done so, as it did in the case of phosphate. We cannot trust it.
We have not attacked the sugar industry. I have indicated the support we have given it. As I have indicated, we certainly do not use the IAC report simply as a crutch because in effect we have abandoned it. Having pointed out the shallowness of the claim of the honourable member for Werriwa that I should cross the floor when voting on this Bill, quite surprisingly, I indicate some measure of agreement with him. In fact, like him, I think that the subsidy ought not to be cut down to $20 a tonne. Like him, I think that there are good grounds for at least having a further IAC inquiry into the matter. Let us come back to that in a few minutes’ time.
Nitrogenous fertilisers are widely used in Australia ‘s primary industries. The figures that were cited by the honourable member for Werriwa were, I understand, largely true. Something like 40 per cent to 50 per cent of all nitrogenous fertilizers used in Australia is applied to the groups of various grain crops and 30 per centthe largest single percentage- is used in one industry, the sugar industry. Nitrogen is the single most important nutrient which is applied to cane and it is used in all of Australia’s cane growing districts. As I have said, I am pleased that the Government has abandoned the IAC report on nitrogenous fertilisers subsidy which was prepared in September 1975. That report recommended the phasing out of the subsidy by the end of 1978. That has not happened. There are to be annual reviews and this Bill is to continue the subsidy at a lower level at $20 a tonne during the calendar year 1 980.
Nevertheless, I should point out that the reduction in the subsidy comes at a time when primary producers, and cane growers in particular, face very rapid overhead cost increases. Rapid increases in the price of nitrogenous fertilisers are a significant part of those cost increases. For example, the ex-factory price of urea, which is the main form of nitrogen application to sugar cane, has increased by 18 per cent since May 1979, the date of the domestic price increase given to the sugar industry. In fact, in the 12 months since September 1978, the ex-factory price of urea has increased by 29 per cent. Final prices are pushed higher by transport and application costs. Similar price increases have been experienced in all the other fertiliser forms of nitrogen. The reduction in the subsidy from $40 a tonne to $20 a tonne will add some 5 per cent or 6 per cent to the price of nitrogenous fertilisers. Indeed, it has been estimated that that reduction alone will add from $900,000 to $1.2m per annum to cane growers’ production costs. As I have said, the reduction in the subsidy comes at a time of rapid overhead cost increases, increases which since the domestic retail price of sugar was increased in May, have significantly eroded the benefit of that increase. Whilst I support the continuation of the subsidy as proposed in the Bill, I make the point that considering all the matters to which I have referred, a higher subsidy might be appropriate and guarantees of longer term support might also be appropriate. At the very least, these matters indicate that a further reference to the IAC ought to be considered.
There is another reason why another reference to the IAC might well be considered. That is the difference between findings in the IAC report of October 1976 on assistance for the consumption of phosphatic fertilisers and the nitrogenous fertilisers report to which I have already referred. In the summary of its report on phosphatic fertilisers, the IAC stated:
In assessing whether the Australian Government should continue to provide assistance for the consumption of phosphatic fertilisers, the Commission has considered both the economic efficiency and welfare implications. It has concluded, on efficiency grounds, that assistance for the consumption of phosphatic fertilisers should be continued.
The IAC further stated:
The Commission favours retention of assistance at about the present level for a period of five years commencing 1 July 1977.
When inquiring into nitrogenous fertilisers the IAC looked at questions of efficiency and having done so concluded in the light of the evidence it had taken that a subsidy on the use of nitrogenous fertilisers should not be recommended. The Commission further stated that it had therefore concluded that the subsidy ought to be phased out over a period rather than be terminated immediately. It then went on to suggest the termination in the terms that I have already referred to in this debate. It is interesting to note that in the case of the phosphate bounty one commissioner did not agree with IAC report. That commissioner was one of the commissioners who had also heard the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy case. Of Mr Robinson the report stated:
In his opinion there is no case on efficiency grounds for recommending a long-term bounty on the consumption of phosphatic fertilisers.
This points to an apparent difference in opinion which is not easy to explain and which of itself suggests that the IAC ought to look again at the whole question. As the IAC recommended a review of the phosphate bounty before the end of June 1982, a review of both that and the nitrogen subsidy at an early date might well be appropriate. I support the continuation in 1 980 of the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy scheme. I welcome the abandonment of the IAC report of 1975. However, I also put the case for considering a higher level of subsidy than $20 a tonne on nitrogen content, or at least for having a further reference to the IAC.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker. The Opposition opposes the Bill and applauds the cynicism of the Government in reneging on its election promises. We on this side of the House hardly need to say anything about the Government’s miserable attitude in further reducing the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy. One of the Government parties’ own members has said it all. The honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite), in speaking to a similar Bill on 14 September last year, said:
I must say that it is with some reluctance that I rise to speak on the Nitrogenous Fertiliser Subsidy Amendment Bill.
He went on to say:
This is a measure which, in itself, I cannot in my own heart support individually.
If he said that in 1978 I wonder how he is feeling in 1979 when the subsidy has been reduced by another $20. As he is beholding to an electorate of sugar farmers, one of the biggest users of nitrogenous fertilisers, I am not surprised at his statements last year. It seems strange to me that a National Country Party representative could plead ignorance as an excuse on a subject which is so dear to the hearts of farmers in this country, but I shall refresh his memory as to what the situation is. The just retired Minister for Primary Industry, when in Opposition, said most emphatically about the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy:
I can give an unqualified assurance on behalf of the National Country Party, that in government with the Liberal Party we will restore the bounties on superphosphate and ensure that the nitrogenous fertiliser bounty continues.
Of course, the Government says one thing at election time and another afterwards, when it has the election nicely in the background and is not looking to face the people again for a good while. But there is a sinister thread running through the continuing story of the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy story.
– Tell us about the superphosphate bounty. Tell us about the nasty thread in that one.
-I will tell the honourable member about the superphosphate bounty later. Let us deal with what the Government is doing to the farmers. We are concerned about that at the moment. This sinister story started in 1975 when the coalition parties in opposition refuted the judgment handed down in September 1975 by the Industries Assistance Commission. It called for a phasing out of the bounty over a three-year period. The recommendation was to reduce the subsidy from the existing $78.74 per tonne to $60 per tonne during 1976, to $40 during 1977 and to $20 in 1978, with the subsidy to be cut off completely by 31 December 1 978. But, prior to the 1 975 election, strange to relate, when the coalition parties were making their unholy grab for office, they promised the world to the farmer. Never mind the research and the analysis that had gone into the IAC report. All they were worried about was getting the farmer’s vote. They promised to maintain the subsidy if only the farmers would vote for them. If the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Dean) is worried, I will repeat ad nauseam the words of the then Shadow Minister for Primary Industry. I want people to remember them because they give the clue to the cynicism of this Government. He said:
I can give an unqualified assurance . . . that we will ensure that the nitrogenous fertiliser bounty continues.
Let us look at what has happened to that bounty since those heady days. Shortly after coming to office- surprise, surprise- the Government honoured an election promise. It passed legislation in March 1976 to maintain the bounty at the existing rate of $78.74 per tonne. I am sure some of the people listening to this broadcast will have fallen off their chairs by now, having learned that the Government did honour a promise. But, by the time the first Lynch Budget came up in that year, the bounty and the promise were feeling the weight of impending doom. With the election safely behind him and the future his, the farmers’ friend, the squatter of Nareen, suffered a convenient lapse of memorysomething that we have come to find is quite a repetitive process with him. Notwithstanding his very recent election promise, he cut back the nitrogenous fertiliser bounty. Legislation was passed late in 1976 to reduce the subsidy to farmers who depended heavily on that assistance. So, in 1977 the subsidy was cut to $60 a tonne.
But the story does not stop there. In fact, the plot thickens. When the legislation came up for amendment in September of 1977, instead of continuing with the phasing out- which had seemed such a good idea the September beforeand instead of continuing with the IAC recommendation and lowering the subsidy to $40 a tonne, the Minister introduced a Bill to continue the existing arrangements; that is, a Bill maintaining the $60 assistance per tonne. Was it just coincidental that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) was hatching another election a month or two later, or is that too cynical a suggestion for even the honourable member for Herbert? Anyway, good luck to the farmer. His subsidy was saved by the Government’s need to be loved at election time. So, during 1977 the Government had to stick to its guns and pay $60 per tonne subsidy. But now this devious saga has arrived at the present. In September last year the Nitrogenous Fertiliser Bill again raised its head. There was no election in sight, so we know what happened and we know why. The Government was once again preparing to ignore its promises and cut back on the bounty. It is like a third rate detective novel. One gets no marks for knowing that the butler did it it is so obvious all through the story.
A pattern of deception has been set up. Promise the farmer anything he wants at election time and, when that is out of the way, sock it to him. It is a pattern of deception which is occurring in all areas of government and this is only one instance of the way in which the Government is prepared to flout its mandate.
– Have you ever been out of Sydney?
-My word I have. I made a living in the bush for 27 years. In October 1977- just prior to the 1977 elections- when the Nitrogenous Fertiliser Subsidy Bill of that year was being debated, and at a time when the Government was very keen to be loved and therefore the subsidy was being maintained in toto, the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) said:
This Bill is proof positive that we are not prepared to have rural Australia driven into subjection- the subjection of poverty through being made the one section of the Australian community being denied some assistance in alleviating a suffocating cost burden and a pressure from society which demands all and wants to give little or nothing in return.
What wonderful, loquacious, eloquent words from the honourable member for Darling Downs. It is a pity that he was not here to see what followed. That speech was made in support of the Government’s decision to continue the subsidy at the existing $60 per tonne. That was a mere two years ago. The justification then was the parlous state of the rural economy. If it has changed for the better since then, I would like to know where. It has certainly changed for the worse by all indicators. If one were to listen to the National Country Party in this House asking for subsidies on this, that, and the other, one would be entitled to believe that it is in a dreadful state. So, if the Government felt justified in going counter to the IAC then, why does it turn about face now when things are worse? Again, we get back to my point about the cynical abuse of the democratic process, of promising something to win an election and then conveniently discovering that circumstances will not allow its implementation ‘at this point of time’, to use one of the phrases the Prime Minister uses so cynically and so often.
The cost burden which the honourable member for Darling Downs lamented is still with rural Australia. The horror Budgets of recent memory have seen to that.
– Why don’t you sell meat at the right price?
-With all the other burdens inherent in the Budget, the farmer will be looking at higher prices for nitrogenous fertiliser -
– You are a ripoff.
– You have been bleeding the farmers for years.
Mr Wallis- Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to take a point of order. Would you mind doing something about the honourable members who are interjecting? I am trying to hear what the honourable member for Parramatta is saying.
– I ask honourable members on my right to contain their vigour and to allow the honourable member for Parramatta to be heard in silence.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I appreciate your intervention on my behalf. With all the other burdens inherent in the Budget, the farmer will be looking at higher prices for the nitrogenous fertiliser due to the increase in crude oil prices brought about in the Budget.
– You are a fake.
-Order! I must ask the honourable member for Bendigo to withdraw that remark.
– I certainly will. He is not a fake; he is a butcher.
-I ask you to withdraw unconditionally.
– I withdraw unconditionally.
-A self-respecting butcher would not put him in a sausage.
-I ask the honourable member not to comment, and to continue with his speech.
-It is time this Government undertook some long term planning in regard to rural subsidies about which the National Country Party is always lamenting. The rural business people need to know what is the Government’s philosophy on subsidising their industry. The chop and change attitude of the Government must be having deleterious effects on farmers who depend heavily on the subsidy.
– You have been doing the chops. What about a few sausages?
-A fair amount of nitrogenous fertiliser is issuing from the benches on the other side of the House at the moment, only it is not in a pure form. As it stands, the people in the country are at the mercy of the Government and at the whim of the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister feels like calling an election, the rural industry can count on a boost in subsidies. But, with a possible Vi years before another poll, the subsidy may just pass into oblivion.
– Is it true that your horses are going to become sausages?
-I ask the House to contain itself.
-If the honourable member for Bendigo, who probably represents a few farmers, is prepared to adopt a responsible attitude to what is a responsible attempt by the Opposition to show the cynicism of the Government in relation to this Bill, he might sit in his place in silence and refrain from cackling. The husbandry of soil is a long term process. The farmer must be able to count on certain exigencies. He or she needs certainties wherever possible, not ad hoc handouts. It is hazardous enough combating the fickle elements without having to contend with a fickle government. The former Minister for Primary Industry and the Leader of the National Country Party (Mr Anthony) are being booed off every platform around the country, and in some cases are being pelted with tomatoes. Their supporters have seen the light. The country people are sick and tired of being treated like fools. That is why they are giving the Leader of the National Country Party and the former Minister for Primary Industry a bad time. That is why they are calling for their resignation so that more integrity may be brought to bear on their behalf. Is it any wonder? I wish to read to the House from a Press release issued by the former Minister for Primary Industry about this time two years ago. He stated:
The Government is concerned at the financial position of sugar-cane growers and farmers who are major users of nitrogenous fertilisers. It recognises the advantage of the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy in stimulating consumption of fertiliser, and improving soil productivity. It is for these reasons that the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy is being maintained at $60 a tonne ibr a further twelve month period.
Now the Government is telling us that it is about to reduce it to $20. That statement does not sit well with what the Government is doing at the moment. It is further reducing the subsidy and, on top of that, it is increasing the cost of producing the nitrogenous fertiliser by increasing crude oil prices. When one looks at the rhetoric which surrounds the now-you-have-it, now-you-don’t nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy, one could not be blamed for thinking that the rural industry has hit boom times. Of course we know that this is far from true. I notice from the silence of honourable members on my left that this proposition is accepted. If it is not the case why are honourable members opposite always in here bleating for more assistance for the poor depressed farmers? If the industry was in such dire need of the subsidy last year why will it not need further assistance in the forthcoming year? The truth is that it will be hard up without the full assistance. To reduce the bounty seems such a punitive and shortsighted measure. The amount involved is only of the order of $3m. I really cannot understand how people representing the sugar growing electorates in particular have allowed the Government to introduce this Bill. I am sure that those members will pay heavily when it comes to an election, particularly the honourable member for Dawson.
It is a very good thing to enrich the soil. There can be little argument about that, and certainly there will be none from us. It is the most efficient farmer who goes to this trouble. Should we not encourage good agricultural practice? There is a return to the Government in the form of taxes when farmers are efficient and successful. There is also to be considered the fact that the fertiliser manufacturers, as well as the users of the fertiliser, are producing more and subsequently contributing to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. When the Government was patting itself on the back in 1977 when debating legislation designed to maintain the present rate of nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy, its speakers acknowledged the role of that fertiliser and the importance of exports from the land. From the Government’s turnabout on the matter of this subsidy one can only assume that it has lost faith in both these verities. By reducing the bounty from $40 per tonne to $20 per tonne the farmer is losing his subsidy to the extent of $20 per tonne, and that is no mean step down for such people as wheat farmers and sugar farmers in particular who use so much of the fertiliser.
By its crude oil policies announced in the Budget, the Government is adding further to the cost of the fertiliser. Let us just relate those prices to the wheat industry which relies most heavily on this bounty- to the extent that it uses approximately 45 per cent of all the fertiliser produced in a year. During 1975 it took 0.83 tonnes of wheat to cover the cost of one tonne of urea. In 1 977, thanks to the $20 reduction in the bounty, it took 1.65 tonnes of wheat to pay for one tonne of urea. With this further reduction that situation has been adumbrated. It could well be that this year it will take 2 tonnes of wheat to cover the cost of one tonne of urea. The wheat farmer will have to sell 2 tonnes of his product to get one tonne of fertiliser to help him produce.
Another industry which relies on the fertiliser bounty is the dried fruit industry. It is an industry which can and is entitled to use all the assistance that it can get. I refer to a document entitled Rural Industry Information Papers March 1978’. I am indebted to my colleague, the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Fitzpatrick), for this information. On page 45 of this document it is stated:
The I.A.C. in its report on fruit growing commented that in Sunraysia 30-40 per cent of present dried vine fruit producers have little prospect of viability as full-time fruitgrowers.
– What a lot of nonsense.
-Is it a lot of nonsense?
– It is a heap of nonsense.
Mr JOHN BROWN I am sure that the farmers of Sunraysia will be pleased to hear that the honourable member for Mallee says that this is a lot of nonsense. In this time of high unemployment and with no relief in sight it is vital to maintain existing employment in rural industries. Making life hard for the producer by taking away his subsidy and causing, by the oil levy the Government has introduced, an even further rise in the cost of fertilisers is not synonymous with sound marketing procedures. The Opposition is against this reduction in a most commendable rural subsidy, given the economic climate of the day, which is largely a matter of government policy.
– Before I commence my speech I welcome you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to your present position. I am sure that you will grace the position and that you will ensure that fairness is extended all round. The speech which has just been made by the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown) goes to show that sometimes a good speech is made without the speaker being worried about the realism of the case; not that I am saying that it was a good speech, but certainly there was a lack of fact in it and it was short of being realistic.
– I hope the farmers are listening to you, brother.
– I hope they are listening. I want to deal with some of the aspects that have been mentioned and to refresh the memory of the honourable member for Parramatta regarding what happened from 1972 to 1975. He mentioned the nitrogenous fertiliser bounty phase-out. I must say that at this stage we still have a nitrogenous fertiliser bounty which will continue in operation through to 1 98 1 .
But let us be realistic. There have been two reports from the Industries Assistance Commission on the phosphate bounty. One of these reports was adopted by the Labor Government. Does the honourable member for Parramatta really suggest that we are to believe that the Labor Party would not have accepted in full the IAC report which recommended a phasing out of the bounty within the time suggested? It is typical of members of the Opposition to criticise us for altering our policies from time to time when their party has no policies in connection with the same matter.
I mentioned the matter of tax indexation. Tax indexation is not yet part of the policy of the Labor Party. The Opposition has no alternative to our policy but it will criticise day in and day out any adjustment we might make to out policy. The indexation of pensions has not been adopted by the Labor Party but it suggests that it has the unqualified right to criticise any alterations we might make to our policy. The Labor Party disputed the introduction of family allowances at the time they were brought in. But now it is the most constant critic wanting change to family allowances. Yet family allowances are not part of its policy.
Those who might have listened to the broadcast of the speech by the honourable member for Parramatta who preceded me in the debate will realise that the Labor Party has no policy on these matters. It is the easiest thing for Opposition members to spout in this House because they never have to face the realities of what they are saying. They know that they are not being entirely honest in their argument in this regard. 1 admit that last year when I spoke on this matter I said that 1 supported the proposal with a lot of reluctance. This year I am saying that I am supporting it without any enthusiasm, but it means the same thing.
I speak in this debate for one reason: Whilst the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy is continuing, I urge the Government to look at the situation and to get another IAC report on the matter which bears in mind the current circumstances. Perhaps then it could continue with the bounty or increase it. The value of this grant to our export income, in terms of the worth in the industries that use it, is not of great consequence. The cost to the Commonwealth in 1978-79 was $ 10.4m and the cost in 1979-80, taking into account this reduction, is estimated at $7.5m. The previous speaker has not done his homework. He suggested that its value was a pittance of $3m. Although I am suggesting that it is a pittance, the figure is $7.5m. Perhaps the honourable member might have done his homework better.
However, it is the principle involved which concerns me. An IAC report given when the user industries were in a better financial position is now being implemented when those same industries are under considerable pressure because of costs and export world prices. The phosphate bounty which was removed under a similar recommendation was reintroduced mainly because of the depressed state of those user industries. I think that members of the Opposition must realise and take into account the fact that it was the Labor Government of 1972-75 that removed that bounty. It is necessary and possibly essential that a fresh report be called for from the IAC which examines the current position and not that which existed in 1974. In relation to the phosphate bounty, perhaps the Government should act without such a report. I suggest and certainly urge that that be done.
The IAC recommendation was to phase out the bounty as follows: It was to be reduced to $60 in 1976, $40 in 1977, $20 in 1978, and eliminated by 31 December 1978. I think it should be placed on record once again that we still have a nitrogenous fertiliser bounty. I believe that it is up to us to do everything we can to maintain it and to increase it. In actual fact the phase out has been on a greater time scale- this is probably interesting to the honourable member who interjected; it is to be phased out by 3 1 December 1 979- than was at first envisaged. No doubt the Labor Party would have adopted the first time scale. A year after the date on which the IAC recommended the elimination of the bounty, it is still $40 per tonne. For the year ending 3 1 December 1 980 it will be $20 per tonne.
Apart from the normal business cost increases since 1974, it is interesting to examine the increase in the cost of fertilisers with a nitrogenous content from February 1974 to September 1979, the period since the IAC report was released. I have asked the Opposition to agree to that particular table being incorporated in Hansard.
The table read as follows-
– This schedule shows increase in the basic cost of nitrogenous fertilisers in that period. The cost of the urea component increased by 128 per cent, the aqua ammonia component by 2 1 1 per cent and the ammonia nitrate component by 105 per cent. These increases reflect not only the decreasing subsidy but also the impact of the crude oil price increases and the effect of crude oil levies imposed under the world parity pricing arrangements. At the time some of the major industries using the fertiliser were not protected by price increases for their products on the domestic market.
The previous speaker, the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown), mentioned the sugar industry. It is one that I particularly wish to mention and it is one with which I am particularly conversant. The sugar industry in Queensland during the 1977-78 year used 136,000 tonnes of nitrogenous fertiliser compared with a total State usage of 1 83,000 tonnes.
This represents 74 per cent of total State use at a time when there was little movement in the domestic price of sugar and a substantial reduction in the world price of sugar. The comment has been made that the fertiliser is necessary for this industry. The industry is a big user and will continue to be a big user. I believe the industry users would have no complaint about this phase-out of the subsidy if, in fact, they were protected against the massive protection given to southern manufacturing industries in the more populous areas- Sydney and Melbourne. They are not, however, and much of the cost increases in farm production and plant results from that southern protection. If it is fair to one, it should also be fair to others, particularly where those others, such as our rural industries, contribute so much to our favourable overseas balances and compete with overseas products that are subsidised up to the eyebrows, particularly products from such places as the European Economic Community.
It was estimated that only a few years ago this protection meant $19,000 per man per year in the shipbuilding industry, $13,000 per man per year on the waterfront and $5,000 per man per year in the motor car industry. Who has to pay for this protection? I suggest that it is mainly the rural industries. The charge often made against rural industries is that they are highly subsidised. This misconception was added to by the honourable member for Parramatta when he said that the rural industries are always after subsidies. I think that we ought to have a look at the situation. If it were true, I think it would be only small compensation for what they have to bear in order to protect other Australian manufacturers, inefficient as they are. But it is not true. Where are these massive subsidies they talk about? In the current year the support to rural industries comprised the phosphate bounty of $40m, the nitrogenous bounty of $7. 5m, rural reconstruction of $ 19.2m- most of this in the form of returnable loans- $0.4m for the beef industry incentive, apple and pear price support of $5.05m, wool promotion research of $22. lm, wheat industry subsidy of $6. 5m, price support for dairy products of $19.5m, agricultural research of $4.78m, and beef inspection fees of $5. 3m. I may have missed a few-
– Beef levy $70m.
– But that goes back to the industry.
– Oh, get out.
– Of course it does. I may have missed a few but these roughly amount to $130m. The embargo supported by the Commonwealth for the sugar industry costs nothing. All these pale into insignificance in comparison with the estimated $4 billion protection offered to southern manufacturers by way of tariff protection. This cost is borne by the consumer, many of them in rural areas. The charges and anomalies faced by country people do not reflect any subsidy. For instance, radio telephones attract an annual rental of $500 a year as an alternative to paying a capital contribution of some thousands of dollars. Certainly, this is an improvement on having no telephone but there is no alternative within the pricing structure. Certainly it is not a subsidy by comparison with a normal business telephone rental of $120 a year. We must view this against the additional freight cost or, worse still, additional sales tax on freight reflected in the cost of these articles. Again there is certainly no subsidisation.
I urge the Government to call for a fresh Industries Assistance Commission report on the effect of the subsidy in the light of today’s situation- not the 1974 situation- taking into account the protection that is offered to other sectors of the Australian industry. On these remarks and with that recommendation I conclude my speech.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Riverina) (9.46)-The Opposition is opposed to this Nitrogenous Fertilizers Subsidy Amendment Bill because we believe that the amendments are injurious to the long-term and short-term viability of our primary industries. We wish to point out to the House the inconsistency of the Government members in supporting this Bill. I believe that it is an inconsistency that cannot be allowed to be brushed aside simply with the few words of the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) in his second reading speech. Nor can we allow it to be brushed aside by the vicious and unparliamentary attack by honourable members opposite in trying to drown out the important information that the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown) wanted to put before this House. We cannot allow that to happen if our parliamentary system is to survive. Honourable members have heard how Government supporters have tried to justify this reduction in the subsidy. I would like to remind the House of what the Minister said in his short second reading speech. The Minister said:
The reduction in the rate of subsidy during1980 is in accordance with an earlier Government decision, announced in the1 976-77 Budget Speech, that the subsidy on nitrogenous fertilisers would be phased out. This decision followed the Government’s consideration of a report by the Industries Assistance Commission on5 September1 975. In that report the Commission recommended that the subsidy should be progressively reduced and cease on 31 December1978. However, the Government decided to review the scheme on an annual basis and set an appropriate rate of subsidy taking into account the outlook for the user industries and the need to maintain budgetary restraint over public expenditure.
If the nitrogenous fertiliser problem started with the 1976-77 Budget, perhaps there would be grounds for the Minister’s remarks. But that is not the case. We cannot allow the inconsistency of the Government to be brushed aside without looking back to the start of this problem. We have to go back further than the 1976-77 Budget to see what promises were made by the Government in this matter. Both of my colleagues who have spoken in the debate have pointed out just what the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) had to say and I think it is worth repeating. He said:
I can give an unqualified assurance on behalf of the National Country Party, that in government with the Liberals, we will restore the bounty on superphosphate and ensure that the Nitrogenous Fertilizers Bounty continues.
What is the Government assuring us of today? It is assuring us of the opposite, that is, that the nitrogenous fertiliser bounty will not survive and will not continue. That is plain to everyone. I want to point out that at no time did the Labor Party deny the subsidy to those in need of it. The former member for Grayndler, Mr Daly, speaking in September 1 974, said:
No one has mentioned that it is not exactly a small amount that is involved in respect of this matter. The subsidy cost $13,573,101 in 1973-74 and is expected to cost another $13m in 1974-75. In view of the fact that the expenditure figures are no doubt of interest to honourable members I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the official returns to the Parliament of the payments during the period I July 1973 to 30 June 1974 under the Nitrogenous Fertilisers Subsidy Act 1966-1973. It shows in detail the payments which have been made. It may be of interest to honourable members.
I point out to the House some of the countries that received this subsidy. This information justified the action of the Labor Party in referring the matter of the nitrogenous fertiliser bounty to the Industries Assistance Commission. It was not intended as an attack upon the Department of Primary Industry. It was for purposes of examination. Honourable members will see the figures in this table that I have. The Austral-Pacific Fertilisers Ltd, Gibson Island, Brisbane, Queensland, received $5,954,994.24 from the subsidy in one year. If we go down the list, we see Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd, Whyalla, South Australia, received $252,896.84. The Electrolytic Zinc Co. of Australasia Ltd is also mentioned. If the Minister does not want me to read any further, I ask that I be granted leave to incorporate this document in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
-Contrary to what has been said by Government speakers in this debate, the Labor Government at that time was dealing with a subsidy of $13,533,101. At today’s value, this would be equal to $30m. As I said before, most of this appeared to be going to the companies. Now we did not say that it was, but we have said that we were justified in putting it to the Industries Assistance Commission. Our responsibility to the taxpayer was to see where this money was going and whether it was justified. At the same time it should be remembered- and we should give the necessary credit- that the Labor Government did not reduce the subsidy to anyone. It extended it for another12 months so that the primary producers would not suffer while putting their case-
– How much?
– It was left at the same rate for another12 months. The honourable member will remember that. It was our intention not only to consider the Industries Assistance Commission Report but also to consider the evidence put before the Commission by the users. At that time- the honourable member for Bendigo should remember this- the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) was the greatest supporter of the Labor Party’s action. The only complaint that he had was that the Labor Party was only maintaining it for another 12 months. The Labor Party only took it over 12-month periods. Strangely enough, tonight the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Dean) claimed that credit because the present Government was holding it for another12 months. He neglected to say that it was a paltry amount of $5m. This is the difference. This Government drops the subsidy from $30m down to $5m and it claims the credit for it. What a strange basis on which to claim credit. I point out what the right honourable member for New England said on that occasion to justify his stand. He said: . . any type of stimulus to production is a way by which inflationary pressures can be countered. The reason that the Opposition supports this Bill, although I must say that we are disappointed that its provisions will expire on 31 December 1975, is that we believe that this legislation provides a way by which production can be stimulated and, as a result, inflation itself contained. The only problem is that the Government has done so many other things to compound inflation that this step of itself will be but a drop in the ocean.
It is true that as far as production levels are concerned, there is an argument that one type of fertiliser has advantage over another.
Now, he is pointing out to honourable members opposite who keep harping about superphosphate, that one fertiliser has an advantage over another. He continued:
The full impact of the action by this Government to remove this last phase of the nitrogenous fertiliser- its value has now been whittled to a miserable $5m from the Labor Government’s payment of $ 13m- can only be gauged by balancing it against the additional burdens that the last two restrictive budgets of the Fraser Government have brought about. In the whole field of taxation, the concessions which were previously provided to give stimulus to production, and to try to offset the pendulum type variations in seasons and markets, have all been whittled away. Not only has this Government taken away half of the remaining subsidy of the nitrogenous fertiliser, but also has it imposed cruel levies on people living in the country areas, such as the cruel and crippling progressive fuel tax and the taxing of the scholarship allowance which remained static for the last two years. These are all cruel blows.
I have a letter from the President of the Isolated Children’s Parents Association, in which he complains that the grant, which was equal to 60 per cent of hostel charges in 1965, has been whittled away to only 30 per cent of the hostel charges. I have another letter from a country member from the electorate of Griffith in regard to post graduate awards. He says that the awards have remained static in spite of the talk by this Government about indexation. But there has been another added imposition. Let me read what he wrote:
Firstly, the value of my allowance has been static for two years, over those two years inflation has taken a severe toll of its purchasing power. For example, you must be aware of how rapidly rents have risen in the past two years, especially in inner-Sydney where I live while at University. My wife and myself share a small 3-bedroom house with two other people- the only way we can afford rent.
Secondly, the decision to tax my award has meant that, in absolute terms, I received an award payment of $155.43, whereas last year I received $161.10.
So it goes on. People living in the country continue to complain about this Government’s action. I ask people living in country areas to remember what Government members said when they were in Opposition in regard to this nitrogenous fertiliser. We remember what the right honourable member for New England said. Subsidies provide a way by which production can be stimulated, and as a result inflation itself is contained. I say to honourable members opposite that these words were true in1974 and they are just as true today. Unfortunately they do not seem to realise this. Stimulus is needed for production just as much today as it was needed in 1974. Inflation is just as big a problem. Additionally, what honourable members opposite do not like to admit is that we have also the cruel unemployment levels of which his Government ought to be ashamed. Mr Deputy Speaker, you have been a man of the land and you would know that plants get their food requirement from the soil. Most of our soil is deficient in the important element of nitrogen. I impress upon the House- and I am not running down the Australian pastures when I say this-that world authorities tell us that nitrogen is probably the most widespread nutrient deficiency in world agriculture. Because of the world food shortages, we have a duty not only to ensure productivity by the continuation of the nitrogenous fertiliser but also to look at other methods of improving production.
I am concerned about wheat growers in my electorate as well as other primary producers. With presently rising fuel costs and the carryover of wheat stocks the outlook for wheat is not as promising as some people try to make out. The Iranian conflict has increased the price of crude oil and this Government has compounded the problem by making duty on oil production a growth tax. The Bureau of Agricultural Economics expects the world stock level of wheat to rise in 1979 to a new record level of 86 million tonnes- 21 per cent of world production. This may give the developing countries a chance to buy badly needed food, but it must eventually affect the price that the Australian grower receives for his wheat because we export 80 per cent of our crop and our returns are susceptible to international prices. I remind the House that if the European Economic Community dumped large quantities of wheat at subsidised prices and the United States and Canada reacted to maintain their shares of the market, our wheat prices could drop substantially.
To show honourable members opposite that I am always helping this Government I say that it can be appreciated that the Cabinet accepted the BAE’s concept of a minimum delivery price of $75 a tonne for wheat. Regardless of this, the growers and the Government should consider input costs and the possible world price movements before completely committing themselves to wheat production, particularly on marginal soils that are suffering from nitrogen deficiency. I ask the Government to have another look at this subsidy to see whether a worthwhile subsidy for our primary producers can be re-introduced.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Clauses 1 to 3- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 4 (Rate of subsidy).
-As I said in my speech in the second reading debate, the Opposition is strongly opposed to this clause. It is the nub of the Bill before us. It reduces the subsidy from $40 to $20 a tonne. I will not take up the time of the Committee. My colleagues the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown) and the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Fitzpatrick) have put forward very strong arguments, as well as those I used, why the Opposition feels as it does. I think we should also pay credit to the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) who spoke most eloquently. He put all the facts before honourable members and incorporated a table in Hansard which demonstrates admirably the reasons why the Opposition feels that this subsidy should at least remain at $40 a tonne. The Opposition has concentrated on the sugar industry but of course we realise, as the honourable member for Riverina pointed out, the subsidy has particular affects on the cereal industries also. We believe that this matter should be the subject of a fresh Industries Assistance Commission inquiry because, as we pointed out, the price of nitrogenous fertilisers has been rising rapidly. When the sugar industry in particular has been receiving lower prices for its product the subsidy has been coming down. The Government is inconsistent in maintaining the current superphosphate subsidy and not maintaining or adding to the nitrogenous fertiliser subsidy.
The honourable member for Herbert (Mr Dean) said that the Government is no longer using the crutch of the IAC report of 1975 as the reason for reducing the subsidy by $20 a tonne. We do not accept this. It seems funny that the subsidy should come down by $20 a tonne year by year as recommended by the IAC. Yet the honourable member for Herbert said that the Government is looking at the situation year by year. If it is, I cannot understand what evidence is before it that would induce it to follow this policy. As we said, the sugar industry has been in trouble. Other areas in the rural sector are enjoying better conditions than they did, but there is no evidence in terms of facts, cost, usage, application or need that could recommend this measure to the Government. We are opposed to clause 4. It is the nub of this Bill. I indicate that we will not divide on the matter because we understand that the Estimates committees are still meeting.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of Bill- by leave- taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Staley)- by leaveread a third time.
Debate resumed from 22 August, on motion by MrMacKellar:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Opposition opposes this Bill, but its opposition relates not to the minor administrative changes that are made in the Bill but to the charges relating to a number of services which the Government intends to impose on would-be visitors to this country. It is not universally accepted practice that the departments of immigration of various countries charge clients- or applicants for visas to visit those countries- for the processing of the various forms and applications. For example, a stranger in Italy would not be required to pay for the cost involved in processing an application for the extension of his vistor’s visa or work permit. In fact, none of the European Economic Community countries, to my knowledge, have these sorts of charging arrangements. It is a mutual agreement amongst them that there should be no charges. In other words the decision to introduce these charges depends on internal domestic conditions in this country, not on practices elsewhere. The Liberal Government has now decided to introduce certain charges for services which in the past were free. It is a simple administrative decision to recover costs in an unfavourable economic climate.
The Government boasts of significant increases in expenditure in various areas of immigrant welfare, but the truth of the matter is that it is the immigrants themselves who will now be paying for the services the Government has appeared to offer so generously on the prompting of the Gal bally report. Not only are immigrants now asked to pay for the administrative costs they incur at a time when they are least able to pay for them, but they are the ones from whom money is to be taken to pay for the supporting programs designed as immigrant welfare- the props and supports designed to give immigrants greater equality with other Australian citizens. One assumes that these programs were originally designed on a principle analagous, say, to that of the Aboriginal aid programs. By giving extras now it is hoped that these gaps in inequality among minority groups- gaps often caused, I might say, by general community ignorance and discriminationwill be evened out or filled in. Insofar as there is now a significant component in the immigration welfare program which is really directed at and for refugees, one could claim that immigrants generally will be paying for their own postarrival welfare and for that of refugees. In other words, the proposed charges will involve robbing Peter to pay Peter and Paul.
Clause 5 of the Bill itemises the departmental charges for specific services. Processing an application for change of status, that is, from a temporary entrant to a permanent resident, and processing an application for evidence of resident status could be related. In fact, the services are part of the one process. One is no good to the applicant without the other. Two charges are being imposed for what really ought to be one service. Similarly the charge in respect of obtaining information by way of cables- a variable cost obviously and a charge that in past was accepted by the Department as internal running costs- is now to be fixed at a constant fee. The information may be directly related to entry visas, residents permanence or a number of other items for which a charge is to be levied. In other words, this is a form of multiple charging.
It is proposed to charge $50 for processing permanent resident applications. That seems to be an unnecessarily punitive charge because a passport costs only $25. The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) has pointed out that the charges will apply, for the most part, to persons who are Australian residents but not Australian citizens. This proposed charge will place them in a similar position to those Australians who acquire a passport and are required to pay for it. The Minister omitted to say that once people are accepted as Australian citizens they will have to bear the burden of paying for a passport when they intend to travel, because, as Australian citizens, they will need a passport to travel. They will not be able to manage with the documents which they may have acquired previously at some cost. In other words, the charges can hardly be seen as an equaliser. I know of someone who had obtained permanent resident status and who for business reasons wanted to travel and of another person who for family reasons had to take more than one trip overseas. Such people will now have to pay the proposed charges. Of course, before the expiry of the period for which a passport is normally issued they would become Australian residents, because they had indicated that this was their intention.
– They would become Australian citizens. I thank the Minister for correcting me. It proves he is listening. Very few do. The Australian citizen would then be required, I presume, to pay for a passport. Leaving aside the discriminatory and humiliating practice of standardising or anglicising immigrant professionals, it can be argued that it is a welcome move on the part of the Government to remove the assessment of immigrant professional or technical qualifications from the self-interested Australian professional or technical bodies. But I wonder how conclusively this departmental move will stop the need for overseas professionals to have their qualifications vetted by the local professional organisations? Will this be another example of double billing? Perhaps the Minister could make the position clear.
Another point may be made about the Government’s cry of equality in the context of a multicultural policy. It is proposed to charge fees for conducting English language tests at overseas posts. The Australian Labor Party is opposed to the criterion of a knowledge of English as a means of gaining acceptance as a prospective migrant because this shows a bias against nonEnglish speaking people. In our view it shows a lack of confidence in multiculturalism. By charging for these English tests the Department is entrenching discrimination against non-English speaking people by administrative mechanisms. This may not be the time to dwell on this inherent contradication in the Government’s rhetoric about multiculturalism which is designed to appease and pacify immigrant minorities and its continued practice of favouring Anglo-Saxon oriented assimilation. But insofar as this AngloSaxon bias is to be entrenched by a system of fees, it might be timely to ask ourselves why it is proposed to have the English language tests. Is the purpose of the tests to determine the preparedness of an immigrant to meet mainstream standards, as it were, or test their assimilation potential? Once again that is a contradiction of the Government’s espoused policy of multiculturalism and helping people to maintain their cultural heritage, their language and so on. Is the purpose of the test to assess work adjustment or, social and economic potential, of the potential immigrants? Is the test to ascertain Anglo-Saxon determined intelligence? How will language skills be assessed? Who will do the testing? Experience has shown doubtful qualifications of many selection officers in the Department of Immigration posted overseas in terms of their limited education and their limited crosscultural experience. Yet they will be in the position of testing other people. This system is easily open to abuse. In fact, one is tempted to ask whether this is an echo- and if so, one hopes it is a very faint echo- of the restricted Immigration Act by which tests in any language were used to exclude applicants for visas to Australia. Will the English language tests be manipulated by levels of difficulty to exclude ‘undesirables’? I will riot specify the sorts of persons who may be involved.
As it stands, it is obvious to me that the English language tests clearly would favour applicants from the United Kingdom and would favour many northern Europeans whose languages are more closely related to English, whose education system sponsor the acquisition of English rather more readily than southern Europeans and whose cultural framework has a greater affinity with the United Kingdom and is reflected in concepts and usages of language. In other words, I am fearful that this English language testing may tend to make it rather more difficult for nonEnglish speaking people, particularly those with a southern European background, to qualify to come to Australia as migrants.
This Bill is a very minor one and the proposals are very fiddling. To us, the Bill signifies a meanminded approach by the Government. On the one hand, the Government has done a lot of public relations promotion from which it hopes to gain support in the migrant community as a result of the proposals it has instituted at the behest of the Galbally committee. The Government makes a lot of noise about implementing all the proposals in the Galbally report to promote a multicultural society, but at the same time we should examine the financial aspects of the Bill. The Government continues to impose charges such as those being implemented by this Bill. Another measure will charge overseas students. Taken together, these charges imposed on visitors and would-be visitors to Australia and on temporary residents in the country will recoup more than the funds provided for the migrant communities via Galbally expenditure when one takes into account the disallowance as an income tax deduction of funds sent overseas to dependants of migrants in this country. For those reasons, the Opposition opposes this Bill.
-The House is debating the Migration Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1979 which introduces certain charges to recover some administrative costs currently being incurred by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. The charges are as follows: For the processing of an application for the grant of a further temporary entry permit, $20; for the processing of an application for change of status, that is, from a temporary entrant to a permanent resident, $50- and I will mention that charge in particular later; for the processing of an application for the grant of a return endorsement, $20, or $30 at overseas posts; for conducting English language tests at overseas posts, $25; for the processing of an application for evidence of resident status, $20; for obtaining information by way of cables initiated by applicants or clients, $15; and, finally, the assessment of a person’s overseas professional or technical qualifications, $20.
The honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) said that such charges were not universal practice, but he is only partly right in saying that because, in fact, a number of countries do levy a number of charges for such services. There are some differences. In many cases the services, procedures and types of documentation required by Australia are different from those applying in a number of other countries. Certainly the United Kingdom and the United States of America have adopted the practice of trying to recoup costs that it is possible to identify as being directly associated with a request from a person using the services of their immigration offices. That expresses itself in charges for the obtaining of information particularly through cables, because the cost of obtaining information by way of cables can be identified. The United States charges $20 for immigrant visas. One of the items for which a charge will be levied, namely, the processing of an application for the grant of a return endorsement, is an Australian procedure generally not duplicated overseas, although I cannot speak for all countries. So one can say that a charge is not levied for that service overseas because, in a sense, it is a peculiarly Australian procedure.
A couple of matters that cause me concern and which have been brought to my notice involve the use of departmental services. Firstly, I refer to the very common experience that we have all had of people in Australia on temporary visas seeking to have those temporary visas converted to permanent resident status. I therefore think it is very appropriate to have a charge for the processing of an application for change of status from temporary entrant to permanent resident, to some degree to act as a disincentive to those people who are merely trying on the Department, as it were. We have all had this type of experience. People come into the country knowing full well that they have only a temporary visa and that they are here only for a specified number of months for tourist purposes or shortterm employment purposes, for specific reasons for study purposes, or whatever. Then, before, or even after the expiry of that temporary visa they seek to have their status converted to that of a permanent resident. I am sure that we have all had the experience of people trying out various members of parliament after they have been unsuccessful with the Department. One person who had been unsuccessful with the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) thought that his problem was that he had gone to a member of the Opposition so he then thought that he would try out a member of the Government. He came across to the other side of Melbourne to see me but, of course, he was unsuccessful with me as well.
I think that some sort of disincentive needs to be put into the system in that respect to discourage people from doing the rounds of departmental offices, of Australian posts overseas and of members of parliament, to make it clear to them that there is something involved and that they really ought to think about it before putting in their application. I think for that reason that this legislation is a very good step. Those who do have genuine reasons for wanting to stay in Australia as permanent residents will be encouraged to think about why they are putting in their application. I think that quite apart from any revenue that is collected- and frankly I hope that not much revenue is collected from this charge- this legislation will free departmental officers from what must be an enormous burden, processing bits of paper with no result coming out the other end. So that is one matter of concern to me that I hope this new system of charges will help to correct.
Another matter that occurs to me is that in many respects there are very few incentives for people to become Australian citizens. While there may be a very small incentive contained in this Bill, the fact that the charges by and large fall on people who are not Australian citizens, may just be one extra factor- I will not make much of it- which will encourage people to think about the advantages of taking out Australian citizenship. By and large, in our system we do not have anything that people can recognise as a substantial inducement to taking out Australian citizenship. Of course the situation differs for people who do not have a country to go to. Refugees who are quite stateless are very anxious to take out Australian citizenship. But for people who are still held in good repute by their home countries overseas, are entitled to return there and have passports issued by their home countries, there are quite often few incentives to encourage them to take out citizenship in Australia unless, of course they are particularly interested in any public employment or in taking any public office in Australia that would require their taking out Australian citizenship. So for that reason I hope that the amendments contained in this Bill will act as some small additional incentive to get people to think about taking out Australian citizenship.
The Bill before us also makes some other technical amendments which I do not think anyone would disagree with. Clause 3 of the Bill adds the Department of Trade and Resources and the Department of Foreign Affairs to those departments containing officers whom the Minister may appoint as authorised officers under the Act. This will enable people in overseas posts to take on certain functions under the Act. When officers of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs are not present.
I commend the Bill to the House. Whilst some of the aspects may be of concern to some people, I believe that there are many positive aspects which the honourable member for Maribyrnong, as spokesman for the Opposition, has not emphasised.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr MacKellar) read a third time.
-It being 10.30 p.m., I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I wish to bring a matter of concern to the attention of the Parliament this evening. It is a matter of grave and alarming concern to many constituents in my electorate and many Queenslanders. I refer to the agreement that has been reached between the Australian Government and Japanese fishing companies with regard to the 200-mile fishing zone. In my two years as a member of Parliament I have never been inundated with so many phone calls and complaints as I have about the 200-mile fishing zone. The complaints mainly have concerned the Japanese long line fishermen who will fish in the Great Barrier Reef region. Mr Deputy Speaker, you have probably been inundated with calls. I know that all your colleagues have been inundated with phone calls. They started because of a radio announcement by Haydn Sergeant which brought to the notice of people the dangers to the population of black marlin in the Queensland Great Barrier Reef region.
I point out that the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) who now wears two caps- he is also the Minister for Primary Industry- stated in the House the other day that there was a lack of research with regard to the black marlin population in the fishing zones of the Great Barrier Reef. Research has been carried out by the Institute of Marine Science in the University of Miami, the United States Department of Commerce National Marine Fisheries Service in California, Mr J. W. Anderson of the International Game Fishing Association and the Cairns Game Fishing Club in its tagging report in 1977. Were these studies taken into account in negotiations with the Japanese in respect of the Australian-Japanese Agreement? The Department of Primary Industry is also carrying out research in this area. Has the Government gone ahead with the agreement with the Japanese in respect of the 200-mile fishing zone before the Department has finished its research into the black marlin fishing areas? There have been many newspaper reports on this matter. One was headed ‘Disaster if fish plan goes through’. It stated:
North Queensland’s $20 million game fishing industry could be wrecked by a proposed $ 1 ,400,000 agreement between the Australian and Japanese Governments . . .
A report in the Courier-Mail was headed ‘Fraser fears marlin ban’. It stated:
But Mr Fraser is understood to have expressed his concern about breaking faith with the Japanese Government- and the danger that renegotiation of the Australia-Japan fishing agreement could affect other trade contracts with Japan.
The Prime Minister is saying one thing and the new Minister for Primary Industry, who wears two caps, is saying another. The former Minister for Primary Industry, the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), said that he had had consultations with all the State governments, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and fishing organisations. However, the Queensland Government said that it has had no such consultation.
– Someone is misleading the people.
– It is absolutely disgraceful. Who is misleading the people of Australia and, in particular, the people of Queensland? Is it the former Minister for Primary Industry or is it the Queensland Government? I think that they are both capable of misleading the people of Australia.
Order! I ask the honourable member to desist from remarks of that nature.
-The former Minister for Primary Industry said that he had informed the State governments but members of the Queensland Government- your colleagues, Mr Deputy Speaker- have said that they know nothing about it.
-The honourable member is not allowed to impute motive that reflects on the character of any members mentioned.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I maintain that somebody is misleading the people of Queensland. I pay tribute to the Courier-Mail and to the media in general for bringing to attention the disgraceful situation which has occurred by the Federal Government’s not having had full consultations with the people of Queensland and the Government of Queensland. I refer to an editorial in the Courier-Mail. It states:
The Federal Government must act to protect the black marlin breeding grounds off the North Queensland coast between Lizard Island and Innisfail.
The editor of the Courier-Mail, all the newspapers and all the people of Queensland -
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The word ‘apartheid’ was coined in 1943. The way in which the world has looked at South Africa and South African policies since 1948 has been increasingly determined by the conception of apartheid. It has certainly influenced increasingly Australia’s foreign policy relations with South Africa and southern Africa. Having accepted that, the logic of the position is simply this: If it is judged that there are attempts to alter the very basic nature of apartheid in South
Africa or in her territories there is an obligation on those countries whose attitudes have been determined by it to acknowledge that fact. I refer, therefore, to two events which have occurred over recent years. One of them is in respect of Namibia, the former South West African territory which is significantly under the influence of South Africa. It is regarded by many as being part of South Africa. The whole territory is of very significant strategic importance to Australia.
From late 1977 to the present day significant changes have occurred in terms of apartheid and its application in Namibia. I mention four. In late 1977, the mixed marriage and immorality Acts were outlawed in Namibia. They are the very basis of the principle of separate development and distinct rights as between people. More recently, the National Assembly which was elected on a franchise late last year moved to outlaw the separate place of development, segregation in terms of housing and residential areas, and apartheid in terms of the use of public amenities. Therefore, when one has an attitude in foreign policy towards South Africa on account of apartheid, those changes deserve to be acknowledged and not put aside. Credit ought to be given where it is due. Similarly, with respect to Zimbabwe, as Mrs Thatcher said earlier, what is happening in Zimbabwe can have enormous significance for the non-white people of South Africa. The demonstration effects from outside the territory, from Namibia and Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, are enormous.
I refer to a second event- a statement by the South African Prime Minister which was reported in this country in late August. He said that the mixed marriage and immorality Acts deserved to be looked at again. He said: ‘We are living in changing times. We must adapt or die. If you are not with me you are against me.’ Forgetting the biblical exegesis, the simple fact is that that attitude is now shown to be other than a cosmetic one. The fact that last weekend there were very significant revolts against the present South African Prime Minister in four by-elections indicates that the changes he is looking at and the understanding of the changes cannot be assumed to be merely cosmetic. They are not assumed to be merely cosmetic by the electorate to which he has to appeal.
If those things are occurring- there is evidence that they are- there is an obligation upon Australia. I merely say that, insofar as foreign policy has been determined by the conception of apartheid, encouragement towards that movement both in South Africa and Namibia ought to be given. If it is not given, people cannot be blamed if they are driven back to a laager-type mentality. That would not be of assistance to anybody. It certainly would not be of assistance to Australia. We desire to remain friendly with countries without surrendering basic rights. Therefore, if a foreign policy attitude is adopted on account of a conception of basic rights and there is evidence of attempts to alter those rights there is a consequent obligation on a country to take those attempts into account. I believe that Australia ought to give tangible evidence of its encouragement towards what are two quite clear and distinct movements in Namibia and South Africa. In doing so, it may retain its friendship with a strategically important country.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I am interested in the comments made by the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns). I am not quite sure what it is he is asking us to do.
– Acknowledge the facts.
– I acknowledge the facts and I am encouraged to some degree. The history of Africa is interesting. I refer not just to South Africa but to Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, Angola and Mozambique. A significant change in Southern Africa occurred when both Mozambique and Angola ceased to be Portuguese territories. Quite clearly there was a change of heart in both Zimbabwe and South Africa. The point that I find depressing, having been to South Africa this year and having talked to so many people, and looking at the history of Rhodesia, is that it is now apparent that the Rhodesian Front of Ian Smith is prepared to accept conditions which it would have thought intolerable at the time of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Yet it was apparent to us- the honourable member for Lilley was a member in the 1970s when we debated the whole apartheid question night after night- and to any other reasonable person that Mr Smith’s Front could not possibly hold out. It was a matter of time, whether the time span was 5 years, 10 years, 15 years or 25 years; it was going to happen. It is quite clear that Ian Smith and the Rhodesian Front will have to accept a lot less than they would have got 15 years ago, and ultimately there will be black majority rule.
The thing that is frightening in South Africa- I commend Mr Botha on his initiative- and is so depressing is that South Africans, those who would support the present Government, which would be about 75 per cent to 80 per cent of
South Africans, ultimately cannot hold out against what must occur; that is, rule by the majority of the people; one man, one vote; a democratic society as much as we have. What is depressing is they are not working towards this society. In the past we have heard how this is going to change and that is going to change, and then nothing very much happens. So far Mr Botha has not introduced legislation; he says they may do these things.
– What about Namibia?
-I want to deal with South Africa at the moment because I do not think Namibia is a very serious problem.
– It is a very serious problem.
– Yes, it is, but the ultimate problem is South Africa. That is where the final battle about white supremacy will be fought. Ultimately the South Africans must aim at an objective which will be satisfactory. I have some sympathy for their problems. I know their problems and their fears. The South Africans must aim at an objective of a democratic society. The concept of Bantustans and the myriad of legislation that props up the concept of separate development of Bantustans are both totally unworkable and totally unacceptable. What we saw happen in Soweto and previously in Sharpeville will occur at different stages; it may be two years, three years or four years. There is a different sort of black at the moment to what there was 20 years ago. He is young, educated, concerned, aware and conscious of what has happened in other parts of Africa. He is conscious of what has happened in the United States. He is conscious of world opinion. These blacks are not prepared to accept what their fathers did at the time of Sharpeville. I wish that in some way or other we could communicate with the South African people; those in the Progressive Party; those in the left of the present Nationalist Party to try to work towards that long term objective. However, I fear they will follow the same stupid role that Ian Smith and his supporters did. Those people are the most guilty people in the world for what they have done in Rhodesia. Because of sheer stupidity they simply will not see what the inevitable will be. I would hope that in some way the South Africans would work step by step- even if it took 20 years- at least to bring about a just democratic society.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I have listened intently for the last couple of weeks and watched at close quarters some of the bitterness creeping, unfortunately, into the unemployment problem in Australia today. One could interpret some of the statements as being made purely for political gain or for trying to outscore the other side. I am afraid that sometimes the realisation of the problem is being forgotten. I notice, and it is very unfortunate, that a lot of bitterness is creeping into the reasons for the preparation of the document prepared by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace for the Catholic bishops of Australia. I think it should be understood quite clearly that this document is an attempt by the Commission to come up with some practical solutions to what is a grave social problem in Australia. But it should be understood also that it is not the official teaching of the Catholic Church and does not bind Catholics in conscience. Catholics, with other members of the community, have every right to agree or disagree with this document. It is very unfortunate- I am not directing any criticism at my very good friend the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton)- that he found it necessary, and rightly so, as Chairman of the Government Members Employment and Youth Affairs Committee, to outline exactly what he thought of the document. Unfortunately the headline comes out ‘Pure Marxism from the Pulpit’. It should be remembered that this document was prepared for the bishops not by them. Nowhere in the document are they quoted. Therefore, I think we have to have a very good, hard look at the people who prepared the document.
– The bishops were embarrassed, were they?
MrGOODLUCK-I do not know whether or not they were embarrassed, but I think the whole matter has got out of hand. As a practising Catholic- there are many other practising Catholics in this House- I am embarrassed by some of the sentiments now being expressed. As a practising Catholic I wish to make it perfectly clear that I do not disagree with the reason for the writing of this document. But I do disagree- I think I am entitled to disagree- with some of the philosophical approaches that have been mentioned in this document.
– Why don ‘t you analyse it?
-I have not had very much time to analyse it. I would like to analyse it and to quote some of the passages in the document to stress exactly where these passages came from. They came from a source that I believe would embarrass the Catholic Church if it were quoted.
– Because they are against every fundamental principle of the Catholic Church -
– Against you politically?
-Not against me politically. I am trying to be very fair and to outline this in a fair way. I hope that people realise this. This is not a document of the Catholic Church. It is a document prepared by people for the bishops of the Church. Therefore, it does not have the sanction of the Catholic Church. It does not have my sanction as a practising Catholic -
– Don’t moan about it, quote it.
-I do not have time to outline the document, but I thought I would make the point tonight because I note the extreme bitterness that is creeping into the reasons for the preparation of the document. The statement on unemployment was undoubtedly written with the excellent intention of increasing the awareness of unemployment and the cost which this phenomenon imposes on a significant section of the community. The motivating force is compassion for the disadvantaged, a sentiment which one could expect of bishops and, indeed, of any Christian deserving of the name. Nothing in this document is intended to detract from the excellence of the motives, but unfortunately the philosophy that comes through very strongly -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The Premier of Queensland announced today that his State would not be making any contribution to Kampuchean relief unless and until it was satisfied that the money could be properly accounted for. This follows from a gift of food and medical supplies from the Australian Government and a contribution of $100,000 and the offer of technical assistance by the New South Wales Government after a public appeal in that State. Mr Bjelke-Petersen’s extreme sensitivity to the fear that funds might be misused in some way suggests a curious lack of proportionality in the face of the starvation which threatens 2.5 million inhabitants of Kampuchea.
It is even odder when we recall that Mr BjelkePetersen’s Government does not show the same sensitivity about the flow of funds at home and has refused to allow the Queensland Parliament to establish a public accounts committee so that members can have the opportunity to examine the expenditure of public moneys, examine witnesses on oath and report to the Parliament. Other States can do it, but not Queensland. The Bjelke-Petersen Foundation is aiming at a goal of$2.5m. Oddly enough, that is the equivalent of one dollar for each starving Kampuchean. What a moral example the Queensland Premier would set us all if he were to turn his slush fund over to Kampuchean relief. He could send his Minister for Main Roads, Mr Russell Hinze, on an investigation of the Kampuchean situation and he could report back with his characteristic colour to the Queensland Parliament.
I feel nauseated by the actions of the Queensland Premier- the way in which he has corrupted the electoral system, the blackmailing tactics which he applies to his coalition partners, the blatant squeeze which is put on all those who do business with his Government or seek favours from it. There is a certain basic scepticism about what happens to moneys in trust which is absolutely understandable given the current public standing of the Queensland Government. Mr Bjelke-Petersen would know very well how easily money can stick to the wrong fingers. He has shown how it is possible to serve both God and mammon, although not necessarily in that order.
His contempt for democratic processes is very evident in the current public brawl with the Queensland Liberal Party over the issue of the next Senate elections. It is quite obvious why the National Country Party cannot run the risk of having a separate Senate ticket. There are two retiring NCP senators up for election and only one Liberal. If three tickets were offered by the major parties at the next Senate election it is clear that Labor would top the poll on primaries and elect two or possibly even three senators. The Liberals would come next and elect two senators, while the NCP would run last and elect at best only one senator.
A Senate poll is one situation in which someone cannot gerrymander the electorate. If the NCP ran last in a field of three major parties that would inevitably raise the following question: If the NCP has the smallest support of any major party, how is it possible to have a NCP Premier and an NCP majority in the Cabinet? This question might lead those spineless State Liberal Ministers to do something about the State gerrymander and try to work out why, if they beat the National Country Party on primary votes, they ought not to be entitled to have more members in the Parliament and more Ministers in the coalition, a conclusion which seems to have escaped them so far.
Whilst the Queensland Premier cannot gerrymander a Senate electorate, he is still up to his old tricks trying to gerrymander Senate tickets so that the Liberal Party, with a majority of the anti-Labor support in Queensland, would elect one senator and the National Country Party, with a minority, would elect two. ‘What is wrong with that?’ the Premier would ask. The BjelkePetersen Government will go down as the most corrupt government in Australian history. You cannot even buy a Queensland Cabinet Minister any more; you can only rent him for the afternoon. The Premier’s rejection of aid to Kampuchea is the last straw. His Government is a moral outrage. He should leave public life immediately.
Notwithstanding a voice affliction, I rise tonight to support the proposition that Prime Ministers of Australia should be able to walk freely in the streets of this country without the risk of physical violence. In 1974 I was heard publicly as an endorsed Liberal Party candidate to condemn a cowardly and vicious attack on the then Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Whitlam. In Forrest Place, Perth, he was the victim of an assault by someone throwing a drink bottle which, had it hit him, could have caused serious damage.
I now have the unhappy task of reporting to this Parliament that last week in the tranquil city of Hobart the Prime Minister of Australia (Mr Malcolm Fraser) was subject to one of the most disgraceful and cowardly physical attacks ever perpetrated against any Prime Minister of this country. I say that it is a scandal and a disgrace when a Prime Minister of this country, whether he belongs to the Liberal Party, the Labor Party, the National Country Party or any other party, cannot walk the streets of a city without being subject to what happened last week. What in fact did happen? The Prime Minister was greeted by over 100 demonstrators who were determined not just to abuse and humiliate him but also to injure him physically. As I said publicly the following day, that demonstration was politically organised and motivated to support the Australian Labor Party. In the time available to me I will show that the ALP’s involvement in that demonstration in Hobart last week against the Prime Minister is provable beyond reasonable doubt. The Hobart Mercury, in an editorial on 4 October recounted:
Hoban now shares with Sydney the unfortunate distinction of being a city where Australia’s Prime Minister can expect to be greeted with missiles, abuse, and even spittle. The tragedy of it all is that this reputation of being a city of small-minded hooligans has been earned by only a handful of politically and emotionally spaced-out fanatics.
But the organisers of the demonstration of which the throwers and the spitters were a pan- the Unemployed Workers Union-cannot simply dissociate themselves from the disgraceful incident and hope to emerge blameless. If they cannot control the lunatic fringe among them, they should not be in the demonstration business.
At the forefront of that demonstration was an endorsed Labor candidate in the recent State election, a man who has been elected to the Parliament but who has not yet taken his seat because of a court challenge. Official ALP propaganda on unemployment, nuclear disarmament and the environment was handed out at that demonstration. One of the organisers of the demonstration, a representative of the Unemployed Workers Union, Mr Paddy Garrity, who is well known throughout Australia for his pro-ALP sympathies. Mr Wayne Crawford, the political editor of the Mercury, stated in an article on 6 October:
When I asked one of the UWU demonstration organisers, Paddy Garrity, whether it had, in fact, been soup that spattered on the Prime Minister, he confirmed it was and added: What Fraser doesn ‘t know was that1 p….d in it. ‘
Mr Garrity was saying that the soup contained urine and that it was his urine. Mr Deputy Speaker, in the six days that have elapsed since the demonstration the State President of the ALP, Mr Leo Brown, has not been prepared to make one public comment about it. Mr Lowe, the Premier of the State, said that the Unemployed Workers Union dissociated itself from violence, but he did not say that the ALP did so. He has done nothing about the ALP member elect who was in the middle of the demonstration. I have a report from Mr McCann, a respected citizen of Hobart who complained bitterly to Senator Michael Tate about the ALP’s involvement in the demonstration.
The Labor Party was behind this demonstration as it was behind the one in Sydney and as it was behind the one in Canberra last week. It is using the Unemployed Workers Union as its front for violence. Here in the chamber tonight, Labor members are not only not dissociating themselves with violence, but are also demonstrating by their attitude that they support what was done in Hobart. Shame on them and shame on their party. Any Prime Minister, whether Liberal or Labor, should be able to walk the streets of this country without fear of attack from Labor Party hooligans and thugs.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! It being11 p.m. the debate is interrupted. The House stands adjourned until 2.15 p.m. on Tuesday next.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 2 May1979:
Which State Governments have not implemented packaging recommendations or restrictions agreed to by the National Health and Medical Research Council for weedicides, pesticides, over-the-counter drugs and food, and what are the recommendations or restrictions which have not been implemented.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
In the matter of drugs and poisons, including pesticides, the National Health and Medical Research Council makes recommendations to the States and Territories for inclusion in appropriate legislation. The basis of the uniformity in the scheduling and labelling of substances is the Uniform Poisons Standard of Council. In this Standard there are almost fourteen hundred entries for chemicals which are described as poisonous and hazardous. The ultimate control of the substances listed lies with the individual States and Territories. Although one can say that, by and large, the recommendations of Council are followed in principle, there are differences in the State legislation due to such factors as geography and the availability of such retail outlets as pharmacies. There is, however, a substantial degree of uniformity in poisons legislation in the States and Territories and instances of non-uniformity often concern matters of dosages and, by and large, are considered to be minor.
With respect to packaging and labelling of food, substantial uniformity already exists due to the adoption of the National Health and Medical Research Council Approved Standards by the States and Territories. In addition, the Joint Commonwealth/State/Territory Working Party on Model Food Law, established by the Conference of Australian Health Ministers, has virtually completed the formulation of the Model Food Act and associated Regulations which are intended for uniform application throughout Australia. It is anticipated that, when the Model Food Act and Regulations are enacted by the States and Territories, there will be uniformity in food legislation throughout Australia, including those aspects relating to packaging and labelling.
A detailed answer on every aspect of the fourteen hundred entries for chemicals would represent an extremely extensive exercise at State and Commonwealth levels. Such detailed information could not be obtained without a commitment of staff time and expense which I am reluctant to authorise with the present need for restraint.
Within the past year the Prime Minister has written to State Premiers expressing his concern at the current lack of uniformity in packaging and labelling laws in Australia and inviting participation in discussions between the Commonwealth and States which would cover methods of improving the uniformity in these areas. These discussions would concern wider aspects of those relevant to the recommendations of the National Health and Medical Research Council, e.g. such matters as unit pricing and deceptive packaging.
asked the Minister for Trade and Resources, upon notice, on 7 June1 979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I refer the honourable member to the reply given by the Minister for Administrative Services in answer to Question No. 4299 (Hansard, pages 972-3 of11 September1979).
Post-graduate Awards (Question No. 4395)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice, on 21 August1979:
– The Minister for Education has provided the following reply to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 22 August 1979:
Will he bring up to date his answer to question No. 122 (Hansard, 8 March 1978, page 570) concerning arrangements for the reciprocal enforcement of custody orders.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
With the exception of an approach from the authorities in the Cook Islands, the position remains as stated in my reply to question No. 122 (Hansard, 8 March 1978).
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice on 22 August 1 979:
Will he bring up to date his answers to questions Nos 124 and 993 (3 ) concerning extradition arrangements (Hansard, 8 March 1978, page 570 and 25 May 1978, page 2579).
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The position remains as described in my answer to question No. 1 24.
In respect of question No. 993 (3) the Attorney-General has approved the negotiation of an amendment to the Australia/Israel Extradition Treaty. It is expected that discussions on this will commence shortly.
The honourable member will be aware that Mr Glickman was extradited to Australia in December 1978 and is now on bail awaiting trial in the Supreme Court of Victoria.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 22 August 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Australia- Norfolk Island
France- All territories for the international relations of which France is responsible.
United Kingdom- Nil.
Whether territories to which the Convention and Protocol was applied and which have since become independent, are now parties, raises questions of state succession. Of the states concerned only Fiji has registered a declaration of succession with the depository.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 22 August, 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 22 August 1979:
When was formal diplomatic recognition accorded to (a) North Korea and (b) South Korea by each country which has accorded it (Question No. 3136, Hansard, 8 March 1979, page 856).
– The answer to the honourable member’s question, according to information currently available, is as follows:
asked the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 29 August 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (Question No. 4558)
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 30 August1979:
Which countries have become parties to the1 961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and when did they do so.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The following States became parties to the1961 Convention on the dates indicated:
Australia, 13 December 1973
Austria, 22 September1972
Canada, 17 July 1978
Costa Rica, 2 November1977
Denmark, 1 1 July 1977
Germany, Federal Republic of, 3 1 August 1 977
Ireland, 18 January 1973
Norway, 1 1 August 1971
Sweden, 19 February 1969
United Kingdom, 29 March 1966
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 1 1 September 1979:
Now that SEATO has been disbanded in what contingencies is Australia bound to render military assistance to Thailand or the Philippines collectively or individually.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The South-East Asia Collective Defence Treaty (Manila Treaty) was signed in Manila on 8 September 1954 and entered into force on19 February 1955. While the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) was disbanded on 30 June 1977, Australia remains a Party to the Manila Treaty.
I refer the honourable member to Article IV of that Treaty which indicates certain contingencies in which a response would be required by the Parties. Depending on the contingency each Party would be required to ‘act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes’ or to ‘consult immediately in order to agree on the measures which should be taken for the common defence’. The Treaty does not bind the Parties to render any particular form of action or measures.
Environmental Studies in Alligator River Region (Question No. 4633)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Science and the Environment, upon notice, on 13 September 1979:
Has the CSIRO provided any assistance to the supervising scientist in environmental studies in the Alligator River region of the Northern Territory; if so, what was the nature of this assistance, and which CSIRO Divisions were involved.
– The Minister for Science and the Environment has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
In response to a request from the Office of the Supervising Scientist, 19 CSIRO officers participated in a Workshop on Environmental Programs in the Alligator River Region which was held at Jabiru from 21-25 August 1978. The Office of the Supervising Scientist met half the cost of the air fares for these scientists who came from the following Divisions:
Fisheries and Oceanography
Land Resources Management
Land Use Research
Subsequent to the Workshop, the Division of Entomology is advising the Supervising Scientist on insect problems at the Jabiru townsite and is carrying out an exploratory study into the use of insects for environmental monitoring in the region. At the present time, other Divisions are discussing with the Supervising Scientist what further assistance CSIRO might provide and additional environmental projects are likely to be commenced when the present program of appointing technical staff to the Office has been completed.
Self-service Petrol Stations (Question No. 4661)
asked the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, upon notice, on 1 8 September 1979:
Further to his answer to my question No. 3333 (Hansard, 22 May 1979, page 2226) what action has been taken concerning the suggestion I made early in 1979 for an investigation of safety requirements and standards in self-service petrol stations in all States and Territories.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The safety of self-service petrol stations is a matter which comes within the responsibilities of State and Territory Governments.
In my answer to Question No. 3333 I informed the honourable member that I had raised the matter with State and Territory Ministers for Consumer Affairs.
The matter will again be discussed at the next meeting of the Standing Committee of Ministers for Consumer Affairs which is expected to be held in November this year.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 25 September 1979:
What was the waiting time for eligible persons seeking hearing tests at each of the appropriate National Acoustics Laboratory facilities on 14 September 1979.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Waiting times for eligible pensioners seeking hearing tests at National Acoustic Laboratories Hearing Centres are calculated at the end of each month and because the formula used is biased towards this it is not possible to provide waiting times as at 14 September 1979.
However the waiting times as 3 1 August 1 979 were-
The above waiting times are for eligible pensioners. Children seeking hearing tests are given priority and in nearly all cases are seen within 8 weeks.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 26 September 1979:
Further to the Minister’s answers to questions Nos 952 and 953 (Hansard, 8 June 1978, page 3390 and 23 May 1978, page 2369), has a site yet been chosen for a rehabilitation centre in the western region of Melbourne; if so, (a) what stage has planning of the additional services referred to reached and ( b) what is the expected date of commencement of operation of the service.
– The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
No site has yet been chosen for a rehabilitation centre in the western region of Melbourne. Prior to considering any such action, it is my department’s intention, during the next financial year, to establish alocally-based rehabilitation casework team in the western region of Melbourne, possibly as pan of an existing departmental regional office within the area.
The team, which would consist initially of a medical consultant, vocational counsellor and social worker, would have the task of identifying cases from within the area who may be suitable for rehabilitation assistance. The team would also be responsible for setting up and co-ordinating rehabilitation treatment and training programs which, wherever practicable, would be locally-based and would utilise appropriate existing services in order to lessen any inconvenience to handicapped people living in the area.
Experience gained by the Department in the operation of similar casework teams which it has located in a number of provincial areas, confirms the wisdom of having a casework team based in an area prior to taking any action towards the establishment of a permanent rehabilitation facility. The department’s new regional rehabilitation centre in Townsville was established in this manner and is already showing the advantages of such an approach.
Pine Gap: Smuggling Allegations (Question No. 4748)
asked the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, upon the notice, on 26 September 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (l)Yes.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice, 9 October 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 October 1979, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1979/19791011_reps_31_hor116/>.