32nd 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 in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we protest most strongly against the Australian Postal Commission’s decision to phase out the Travelling Post Office (TPO) in NSW.
The TPO service has given the country people of NSW a reliable and efficient service for many years. To replace this service with a road system would be a backward step which we believe would result in long delays in mail going to and from country centres.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will look favourably on our petition to retain the TPO service in NSW.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Hunt and Mr Lusher.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of citizens of the Commonwealth submits:
That off shore oil exploration within the Great Barrier Reef Region constitutes a serious threat to the richest and most varied living system on earth.
Your petitioners request that your Honourable House will:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Cass.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of the Australian Parliament assembled. The Petition of certain citizens respectfully showeth:
That allegations have been made by litigants that unjust decisions in relation to ancilliary matters are being made at the Family Court of Australia.
We call on the Government to amend Section 79 ( 1 ) of the Family Law Act, to allow all Family Courts to be open and publication of details of proceedings permitted, provided names of parties and other identifying information is prohibited from disclosure.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Connolly.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of the Australian Parliament in Canberra assembled. The petition of certain citizens respectfully showeth:
That the right to work without discrimination on any ground including, inter alia, discrimination on grounds of race, ethnic origin, pregnancy, marital status, sex and /or sexual preference, is a fundamental human right: and
That is both the duty and responsibility of society to fully support those denied work and therefore those who are unemployed as a result of society’s inability to provide full paid employment should be guaranteed an adequate income without discrimination on any ground, including inter alia discrimination on grounds of race, ethnic origin, marital status, sex and/or sexual preference, or pregnancy.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
That appropriate and adequate laws be formulated and passed to outlaw discrimination in Commonwealth employment, in employment of persons by statutory bodies and quasi-governmental organisations, in employment of individuals under federal awards, and in employment of all persons in areas over which Commonwealth and Australian Capital Territory equal opportunity legislation should have jurisdiction; and
That appropriate laws be formulated and passed to outlaw discrimination in the provision of unemployment benefits to all persons without regard to race, ethnic origin, marital status and /or sex.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Fry.
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 representative without intervention and interference by an unrepresentative ‘Advisory Council.’
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Hunt.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that:
We, the people of Flemington, request that work be found for the unemployed, especially for all unemployed school leavers in their first two years after school, and that all social security and welfare payments be adjusted to a guaranteed adequate minimum income above the poverty line.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Innes.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth its objection to the removal from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme of all goats’ milk formulae. We request that the Government restore to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme this basic natural food which is essential to many babies who are allergic to both cows milk and soy and corn substitutes. The failure to do so will place an intolerable cost burden on their parents and no alternatives for the child as the only manufacturer will cease production if the product is withdrawn.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mrs Kelly.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth, do humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government:
Note that legislation establishing plant breeders’ rights in other countries has had serious adverse effects, namely:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Uren.
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:
Whereas before Europeans settled in Australia, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia had lived on their traditional lands from time immemorial and had in Aboriginal law and customs a clear title to those lands; and whereas Europeans and other non-Aboriginal people have occupied and used most of the traditional lands of the Aboriginal peoples against their will and without negotiation, compensation or treaty, and whereas it has been the practice of nations established in territories previously occupied by indigenous inhabitants to reach a negotiated settlement with those inhabitants; and whereas that occupation has seriously damaged the traditional way of life of Aboriginal Australians and has caused poverty and hardship to be the fate of the great majority of their surviving descendants; and whereas the surviving descendants of the Aboriginal peoples have expressed a wish to have their rights to land acknowledged, to preserve their link with their Aboriginal ancestors and to maintain their distinctive identity with its own cultural heritage; and whereas the people of Australia in 1967 voted overwhelmingly that the Commonwealth Parliament should have responsibility for laws relating to Aboriginal Australians; and whereas it is accepted internationally by the United Nations organisation that each country should work to establish the rights of indigenous peoples to selfdetermination, non-discrimination and the enjoyment of their own culture; and whereas the Woodward Commission in 1974 established principles by which Aboriginal rights to land should be acknowledged and realised; and whereas the Senate of the Commonwealth Parliament in February 1975 resolved that Aboriginal Australians should be compensated for the loss of their traditional lands and for the damage to their way of life; and whereas the National Aboriginal Conference unanimously resolved in April 1 979 in Canberra to ask the Commonwealth Government to negotiate a Treaty with Aboriginal Australians.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government should invite the Aboriginal people of Australia to negotiate a Treaty with the Commonwealth of Australia, and any Treaty should contain provisions relating to the following matters: (i) The protection of Aboriginal identity, languages, law and culture, (ii) The recognition and restoration of rights to land by applying, throughout Australia, the recommendations of the Woodward Commission, (iii) The conditions governing mining and exploitation of other natural resources on Aboriginal land, (iv) Compensation to Aboriginal Australians for the loss of traditional lands and for damage to those lands and to their traditional way of life, (v) The right of Aboriginal Australians to control their own Affairs and to establish their own associations for this purpose.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Uren.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That due to the new information on whale communication, behaviour and intelligence, and to the depleted state of most of the great whale stocks and the uncertainty associated with whale population estimates, commercial whaling is no longer acceptable to the vast majority of Australians. It is urged that immediate steps be taken to end this activity.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Uren.
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 sufficient doubts have been raised concerning the use of herbicides 24D and 245T, particularly in the Beaudesert and Albert Shires, and in other parts of South Queensland, where residents have complained of an unusually high incidence of birth deformities and miscarriages as well as physical illness and other disorders on a large scale, for your petitioners therefore to humbly pray that the Australian Government ban the use and importation of these herbicides in Australia until all doubts about the harmful effects of their use are resolved by scientific investigation.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Uren.
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:
Whereas a fully-accredited degree course in chiropractic has been established at Preston Institute of Technology, and
Whereas three hundred students who pay their own fees are in all five years of the program, and
Whereas students and the profession can no longer carry the financial burden amounting to over $1,000,000 per year, and
Whereas a debt of $240,000 is being incurred in 1980, and
Whereas if funding is not approved by August the course will close and students’ careers placed in grave jeopardy, your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled should ensure that funding of the Preston institute of Technology Chiropractic Program by the Tertiary Education Commission be no longer delayed.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Young.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that they want the victims of the Hilton bomb disaster to receive a fair and just compensation. They remind the Prime Minister and his Government that they found the sum of $190,000.00 to compensate the Hilton Arcade shopkeepers for their loss of business and we the undersigned regard the loss of life and permanent injury even more important than the loss of business. The police involved were guarding the Prime Minister’s life and one of them lost his life, because the Prime Minister and the other international heads of state were inside the hotel. Three other police were seriously and permanently injured as a result of the bombing. The undersigned petitioners call upon the Prime Minister and his Government to compensate these unfortunate victims.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Young.
– I give notice that, on the next day of sitting, I shall move:
That this House is of the opinion that the maximum wholesale and retail price of petrol in the Australian Capital Territory be declared items under the Prices Regulation Ordinance 1949.
– I give notice that, on the next day of sitting, I shall move:
That this House-
expresses its concern at the loss of $21,209,000 by Qantas Airways Ltd in the 1979-80 financial year;
congratulates the new chairman of Qantas, Mr J. B. Leslie, on identifying many problems preventing the airline operating fully as a commercial concern; and
calls on the Government to direct the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure to urgently undertake an inquiry into the management and staff structure of Qantas, financial arrangements of the airline route and fare structures, aircraft type and utilisation, relationships with Federal Government departments, subsidiary companies of Qantas Airways Ltd, including real estate and property development, to determine the true value and potential of the company to its shareholders, the taxpayers of Australia.
– I give notice that, on General Business Thursday No. 5,I shall move:
That this House being of the opinion that-
the transfer of technology to Australia by foreign multinational corporations should not restrict the use of that technology with subsequent penalties for the Australian manufacturing industry;
an open door policy on foreign investment would further prevent development of Australian-owned industry, based on modern technology capable of improving Australia’s international competitiveness; and
measures should be adopted to ensure the technological transfer is regulated so that local capability is enhanced and local ownership of technology intensive industry is encouraged. therefore, it calls on the Governmentto-
review the activities of the Foreign Investment Board;
promote the Australian ownership of local industry;
review the conditions under which technical knowledge is transferred to Australia, and
ensure that technology transferred to Australia especially for natural resource development and processing is not edged with restrictions on the use of that technology.
Mr Howe proceeding to give a notice of motion -
– Order! I ask the honourable gentleman to consult with the Clerk as to the notice. He can then give the notice to the Clerk or, alternatively, give it on the next day of sitting.
– I give notice that, on the next day of sitting, I shall move:
That this House-
Notes that a recent book titled A Suitable Piece of Real Estate details the grave dangers posed to the Australian community by the presence of strategic United States Military bases on Australian territory and reveals the very small degree of control or influence which the Australian Government has on the working of United States military operations conducted within Australia, and
Condemns the Government for its failure to keep the Australian public informed of the nature and role of the United States defence operations in this country.
– I give notice that, on the next day of sitting, shall move:
This House condemns the Government for its failure to end racketeering and illegalities in the sale of international airline tickets in Australia.
– The Minister for Foreign Affairs will recall that on the very day, just four days before the election, the Government announced its decision to derecognise the Pol Pot regime in Kampuchea, the Australian delegation voted to continue to accept the credentials of that regime on the spurious grounds that it was a legal and technical issue and not a policy matter. I ask: Does the vote in the United Nations mean that the Government, in effect, will continue to give international respectability to what it admits is a loathsome regime by according it full membership status in the United Nations and full representation at all meetings of United Nations specialised agencies and regional organisations over the next vital 12 months? If so, how does the Minister accommodate this situation which will continue all through 1 98 1-
– Order! The honourable gentleman has asked his question. He is now proceeding to argue the issue. I call the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
– The question that the honourable gentleman has raised regarding the recognition of credentials is quite separate from the other question that he has raised. I have made it clear that the Government’s decision to derecognise the Pol Pot regime is a firm one. I have confirmed that to our neighbours in the Association of South East Asian Nations. The Pol Pot regime is not one for which they have any affection at all. In regard to voting on recognition in the United Nations, the Government is very conscious of the need to avoid any impression whatever of support for the Heng Samrin regime in Kampuchea. At the same time as I explained to our ASEAN neighbours our reason for derecognising Pol Pot I made it clear to them that this in no way implied any recognition of the Heng Samrin regime. We have voted for the credentials question to allow time for the ASEAN countries to see whether they are able to find a suitable solution to the problem which we face. So the two questions are separate. We voted for the acceptance of the credentials pro tern so that there would be no misapprehension in South East Asia that we supported the Heng Samrin regime in any way and to give the ASEAN countries time to work out a solution which is acceptable.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs. The Minister may not be aware that some employers have expressed to me doubt as to the adequacy of the sum of $1 , 000 to induce employers to put on young apprentices. This has been the case particularly in the building industry. How successful has the Minister’s recent scheme for apprentices been?
– The $1,000 tax-free cash bonus scheme was not intended to cover the complete costs to an employer of training an apprentice. I do not think this Parliament would expect the taxpayers’ money to be paid in a way which would totally reimburse an employer for the cost of training an apprentice. It is in the employer’s own interests that part of the costs of running his business go towards training young people who will be needed to carry on that business or to carry on an industry in Australia in the future. The $1,000 rebate was intended as a direct financial incentive to employers to increase their intake of apprentices so that it produced a net additional intake of apprentices throughout Australia. I am very pleased to inform the House that this has been the direct and positive result of that scheme which I announced in November of last year.
New indentures reached a record level of 46,1 52 in 1 979-80. We now have a record number of apprentices in training throughout Australia. I think it can be well and truly said that the Commonwealth Rebate for Apprentice Full-time Training Scheme under which the Commonwealth provides financial support to employers, together with the special $1,000 rebate, has been the cause of the record levels of new indentures and apprentices in training. Up to now claims approved for this $1,000 rebate amount to 6,378. There are an additional 2,307 claims on hand. Whilst $7.5m has already been authorised to be paid to employers, it is likely that another $2. 5m will have to be paid out by the Treasury. When the Government embarked upon this special $1,000 rebate scheme we expected that the Government might have to pay out $5m. In fact, it looks as though the scheme has been so successful that we will have to pay out twice that amount.
Mr Humphreys proceeding to address a question to the Prime Minister -
-Order! The question is out of order.
– I ask the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs whether he is aware of serious allegations of inefficiency, incompetence and corruption within the Customs branch at Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport. If so, what steps are being taken to investigate such allegations and, if necessary, to correct any disorder within the service?
– I thank the honourable member for his question. One of the first calls I received as a Minister was from the President of the Customs Officers Association of Australia seeking a meeting with me in relation to allegations made. I arranged for a meeting with the COA on 13 November. The COA proceeded to take industrial action at Sydney (KingsfordSmith) Airport and, as a consequence, I cancelled the meeting. Things have now returned to normal and as a result the meeting will take place tomorrow. I hope that the meeting will be fruitful and that any allegations made will be precise. In the meantime, a special task force has been set up to investigate the claims within the Department. I hope that it will be able to report to me quickly and to establish the areas in doubt. The Customs office is a very old and respected office in Australia. The allegations that have been made, I am certain, are not helpful to the morale of the officers or to the role that they play as major gatherers of government revenue.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for National Development and Energy noted an article in today’s Press reporting on the failure of Esso-BHP’s expensive and ambitious off-shore drilling program on the Exmouth Plateau? With only 21 off-shore exploration wells drilled last year, four wells drilled in the first half of this year and an expectation of fewer off-shore wells in 1981 than in 1980, how does the Government justify its claims that its exploration policies are working? Given that two Australian off-shore rigs, the Ocean Digger and the Ocean Endeavour, were forced to leave Australia due to lack of work and that Esso’s chartered deep water vessel, the Sedco 472, will now also be leaving, what does the Government intend to do urgently to lift the disastrous level of off-shore exploration in Australia?
– I have not seen the article in this morning’s Press to which the honourable member referred. I thought the Australian Labor Party would have learnt its lesson about bringing up questions relating to exploration and development of resources in this country in view of its disastrous record of performance during its period in office.
– Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. For the last three years your stewardship of the House has permitted under the Standing Orders a practice which allows Ministers to answer a question in a way which is not relevant to the question. This question has no barb in it. It is a straight question about an issue of policy. I expect a straight answer from the Government. Sir, you should direct the Minister to give a relevant answer.
-The honourable member for Blaxland has made a statement which is critical of me. I think he ought to understand that if he asks a question which is critical of the Minister or of the policies of the Minister it is relevant for the Minister in his reply to refer to some inadequacy of the other party. That is the basis on which I permit the answer as a matter of relevance. What I am not willing to do is to allow the answer to be long while failing to deal with the question but pursuing the matter on which the answer yet to come is based.
– Normally I do give a straight answer. But if I am provoked I am afraid my natural instincts are to react. The honourable member referred to ‘the disastrous Government exploration program’. How can the honourable member refer to a disastrous exploration program by this Government when he compares it with the performance of the Labor Government? During the last year that Labor was in office there were four development wells. In the last year, with this Government in office, there have been something like 50 development wells.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. There have been reports recently to the effect that the Minister has received a report from the Australian Federal Police on matters relating to Asia Dairy Industries (Hong Kong) Ltd. Can the Minister say whether these reports are correct? What is the current position with regard to Asia Dairy Industries? Finally, will the Minister table in the Parliament the Auditor-General’s report on Asia Dairy Industries?
– The House will recall that following receipt of the Auditor-General’s report, which pointed up certain deficiencies in the expenditure patterns of Asia Dairy Industries (Hong Kong) Ltd, and following further legal advice, I referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police. I have since received a report from the Federal Police on this matter. I regret that the report lacked information on certain aspects and I have sought further advice and referred the matter back to the Federal Police for further information. I am sorry about the delay. As soon as that further information is available I propose to make a detailed statement to the House and to table the papers relating to the matter.
– Does the Minister for Foreign Affairs acknowledge that, together, Australia, Canada and the United States of America hold some 60 per cent of the noncommunist world’s reserves of uranium? Will the Minister inform the House of the current policies of Canada and the United States in respect of the reprocessing of uranium?
– I am not in a position to speak for other governments on policy for the reprocessing of uranium, but I will be making a statement to this House on Australia’s position shortly after Question Time.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Administrative Services been drawn to a report in yesterday’s edition of the Canberra Times suggesting that the Government was considering the use of ex-Royal Australian Air Force CI 30 aircraft for the water-bombing of bushfires? The article also suggested that the aircraft were in such a condition that they could be moved only at the end of a rope. Can the Minister advise the House whether the aircraft can be disposed of by commercial means or, for that matter, adequately repaired, and whether the State governments have shown a serious interest in cooperating with the Commonwealth in using such planes for water-bombing; that is, if they are able to fly?
– It is true that the Government has a number of surplus CI 30A aircraft. We did try to sell these aircraft by tender. We received a tender of about $ 10.2m. Unfortunately the sale fell through because the tenderer could not meet the conditions of the tender. On 18 November the Prime Minister wrote to my colleague, the Minister for Science and Technology, and asked to have the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation conduct an investigation into determining suitable types of aircraft that could be used in combating forest and bush fires. I believe that that study has been agreed to by all Premiers and by the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. As part of that study the CSIRO will be looking at the types of aircraft that are available and, of course, the use of the Hercules CI 30 is one of the options that the CSIRO will be looking at. It is my understanding that the CI 30 aircraft which are presently at Laverton would require extensive servicing to bring them back into flying condition and that if they are to be used in a civil capacity a Department of Transport certification may be necessary.
– I ask the Treasurer whether he will advise the extent to which presently restrained interest rates will be allowed to rise and how soon this will occur after next Saturday.
– Before I call the Treasurer I point out that the question, strictly interpreted, does ask for an announcement of Government policy. I call the Treasurer to deal with the question as he chooses but he is under no obligation to announce Government policy.
– I thank the honourable gentleman for the question. As I indicated yesterday in answer to a question from the honourable member for Burke, it remains an objective of this Government to use monetary policy effectively as one of the major weapons in controlling the level of inflation. The effective use of monetary policy necessarily involves a flexible approach to interest rate policy and an acceptance of the basic principle that one cannot hope to control both interest rates and the money supply at the same time. One must choose to control one or the other. lt has been my constant practice since becoming Treasurer almost three years ago not to speculate about the future level of interest rates. When I have something to say about the definite level of interest rates over which the Government has the capacity to exercise an influence or control I will say it. Until such time as I have something definite to say I do not propose to depart from the practice I have followed for the past three years.
– I refer the Minister for Primary Industry to Press reports coming out of Canada which indicate that the Canadian Government is no longer participating in the partial embargo on the sale of grains to the Soviet Union. If this is so, can the Minister say what is the Canadian policy on this matter and what is the Australian Government’s policy? Also, given that Mr Reagan said during the American presidential campaign that he would drop the embargo and bearing in mind that he will take office towards the end of January, what will be the Australian Government’s position if there is a change of policy on the part of the United States?
– There have been conflicting reports out of Canada on Canada’s position in relation to the partial embargo on grain sales to the Soviet Union. It was reported in the Press that Senator Argue had said - I cannot claim that I heard him directly - that Canada was no longer following that policy. Since that time the Foreign Minister has confirmed on the floor of the House that Canada will be remaining consistent with the policy. That was confirmed to us at the meeting of grain exporting countries in Adelaide last week.
As to the American position 1 can say only that out of the meeting of the grain exporting countries in Adelaide it was put to us by the American representatives that it was proposed that the Americans would stay consistent with that policy.
Therefore, from Australia’s point of view we will, as I have said earlier, remain consistent with the policy while other grain exporting countries follow that policy. Until there is any change in that situation we will be staying where we are at the present time.
– Will the Minister for Health please advise what funds were made available to the South Australia Health Commission to conduct a study of the incidence of cancer in miners who had worked at Radium Hill? Were such funds withdrawn by the Federal Government? If so, when were they withdrawn? Why were they withdrawn? Will the Government now make available such funds as are necessary to continue this study?
– The honourable member has asked a series of detailed questions. I will regard them as being on notice and give him an answer in due course.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is a general principle of his Government that government instrumentalities should pay their own way and operate on a businesslike basis. Has he observed the result of the Australian Capital Territory bus authority known, for some reason, as ACTION–
– It’s a long time since you had a ride on a bus.
– I would not travel anywhere with the honourable member. Has the Prime Minister noticed that, although that body’s repairs and maintenance costs increased in the last year by 30 per cent, its overhead costs by 54 per cent and its running costs by 60 per cent, its revenue increased by only 17 per cent? Has he noticed that that sort of performance has resulted in losses in the last five years of $4m, $5m, $6m, $7m and last year, just to confuse us, $10m? In those circumstances, will the Prime Minister make it plain to all government instrumentalities that that sort of result is not good enough–
– The question has been asked.
– and that Australian taxpayers cannot reasonably be expected to carry any further–
-Order! The honourable member for Diamond Valley will resume his seat. For once the interjection of the honourable member for Port Adelaide is correct. The question has been asked and I call the Prime Minister.
– I was just about to conclude–
-The honourable gentleman has concluded.
– and ask whether the Australian taxpayer can reasonably be expected to bear that sort of loss any further.
-The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
-The figures that the honourable gentleman incorporated in his question would, I think, give any of us cause for concern. I will ask my colleague the Minister for the Capital Territory to pay particular attention to the bus line. I know that, as the honourable gentleman has demonstrated in his question, it has been a financial problem and concern for a number of years. Clearly, on the assumption that the honourable gentleman’s figures are correct, matters there need very close examination.
– Has the Treasurer noted the spectacular movement of funds into the short end of the official money market following the recent 0.5 per cent rise in treasury notes on tender? Does he recognise that this adds further to the grave distortion in the official money market and will apply pressure for the Commonwealth bond rate to go higher, perhaps to 13 per cent? Is he alarmed at the 2i per cent gap between Australian savings bonds and Commonwealth bonds encouraging further redemptions of Australian savings bonds, which currently are running at the rate of $74m a month? How can he possibly expect to get the money supply back on to a target of 9 per cent to 1 1 per cent with official monetary policy in such a shambles?
– It would appear that the Leader of the Opposition did not pay sufficient attention to the answer that I gave to the honourable member for Hunter. I have indicated in the past, as I indicated to the honourable member for Hunter, that I do not propose to join the joyous speculation of the Leader of the Opposition about the level of interest rates at either the short end or the long end. When I have something specific to say about the particular level of interest rates I will say it.
I would like to make one other comment to the Leader of the Opposition. It is that the purpose of introducing the tender system for the sale of treasury notes was to provide a great deal more flexibility so far as the marketing of official paper was concerned. It is inherent in the introduction of a system which is more market-sensitive, particularly in the short term, that one has more frequent and larger fluctuations. Thus, it is not surprising, consistent with the overall monetary situation, that the types of fluctuations and variations to which the honourable gentleman is referring should occur. The essence of the system is to provide much more flexibility.
-I ask whether the attention of the Prime Minister has been drawn to this statement made by the Australian Heritage Commission in its 1979-80 annual report, which was tabled in the House yesterday:
During the course of the year, the Commission visited Western Australia and was alarmed by the widespread environmental problems caused by development in the Darling Ranges. Water production, timber production and farming are all being affected by increases in salinity and the spread of dieback. Very careful management of the jarrah forests seems to be of critical importance if a grave environmental threat, not only to flora and fauna, but to the health of people in south-western Australia, is to be avoided.
Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that the Commission’s disturbing statement is further evidence of the abject failure of the Western Australian Government to consider adequately the implications for the environment, health and the National Estate of the expansion of bauxite mining in the Darling Ranges?
-Order! The question is out of order. The Prime Minister is not responsible for the environmental control exercisable by the State Government of Western Australia.
– I do not want to argue the point with you, Mr Speaker, because you are a lawyer. But, as you well know, this Parliament has control over the export of bauxite. These deposits are for export, and therefore the Australian Government has control. That is the point about which I want to ask the Prime Minister.
-I will hear the question.
– In view of the reply of the Prime Minister yesterday to the honourable member for Newcastle - that he acknowledges that there are national implications of developments in the aluminium industry in five States and will have discussions with the New South Wales Premier - will he accept the Federal Government’s national responsibilities and establish a national inquiry into the implications of the expanding aluminium industry?
– I do not believe that yesterday there was any discussion or talk about a national inquiry. I said that matters involved in the Hunter Valley are primarily the concern of the New South Wales Government. I can add to the answer I gave yesterday that, in accordance with normal practices that have been agreed between the Commonwealth and the States, environmental impact statements are either finished or being prepared in relation to the aluminium smelters in New South Wales. While clearly the Commonwealth will be looking closely at the results of those impact statements, the matters do lie primarily within the province and capacity of the New South Wales Government. If there are problems as a result of the impact statements it would be the New South Wales Government that would be expected to act in relation to them.
The Western Australian Government has a very close concern for and interest in the health, environment and well-being of all Western Australians, and it has demonstrated that on many occasions. One element that seems to come through the honourable gentleman’s question, certainly in relation to Western Australia, is that he would prefer development projects to stop. Quite plainly, this Government and the Western Australian Government - and I would believe also the New South Wales Government - are concerned that the basic wealth and well-being of Australia and their specific States should be enhanced because it is only out of that wealth that individuals will be able to have the resources they need to meet the requirements of themselves and their families. It is only out of that wealth that either State or Federal governments will have the resources they need to provide the services demanded of them in this time. That is very clearly why the Western Australian Government, this Commonwealth Government, and from time to time also the New South Wales Government, have placed a high priority on getting major developmental, resource and resource processing projects under way and moving forward. The honourable gentleman does not advance the cause of any Australian by seeking to entertain measures that would stop that development, as he succeeded so eminently in doing on an earlier occasion.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Health, covers both his portfolio and that of the Minister for Social Security. Is the Minister aware of the very high number of geriatric patients currently seeing out their days in a variety of hospitals throughout the nation? Is he aware of a considerable community demand for nursing home facilities to decrease the pressure on hospital beds? Has he developed a cost-benefit analysis or a similar economic study in order to show a saving of government revenue if such patients were moved from hospitals to nursing homes?
– It is a fact that there is a growing demand for nursing home beds within the Australian community. This is partly as a result of the demographic changes which are taking place within the Australian community and which show every evidence of continuing. In fact, this is one of the main aspects which have to be looked at very closely in future deliberations on the sorts of health care services to be provided for the Australian people. It also has to be taken into account that the cost of providing nursing home beds is a considerable one. Therefore, the ratio which has been chosen as a guide in deliberating on whether applications for increased numbers of nursing home beds should be approved is something in the vicinity of 50 nursing home beds per 1,000 aged population in any one area.
It is also a fact that the cost of caring for people in institutions such as hospitals is much higher than the cost of caring for them in nursing homes. Therefore, the Government has a policy that acute care patients be looked after in hospitals but that people who are classified as requiring nursing home care should in the main be removed from hospitals and placed in nursing homes. I do not have a cost-benefit analysis available at present. However, as the honourable member will be aware, the Jamison Committee of Inquiry into the Efficiency and Administration of Hospitals is due to report at the end of this year. That Committee has very wide terms of reference. Obviously the cost of hospital accommodation and nursing home accommodation will enter into the consideration of that report. The Government will be giving very urgent consideration to the recommendations in the report and the implications flowing from it.
– Is the Minister for Defence aware that in excess of 1,000 dependants of members of the Australian defence forces resident outside Australia were deprived of the right to vote in the recent election? Does the Minister consider it reasonable that persons who are outside Australia as a consequence of service to this country in the defence forces should be denied the right of Australian citizens to vote in national elections? As the Minister for Administrative Services prior to the election refused to take action on this matter, will the Minister for Defence raise with the Prime Minister the civil rights of Australian citizens who are engaged in the service of their country but who are denied their right as citizens to vote in elections?
– As much as a Minister may have a personal view, may I say that I find a great deal of validity and substance in my honourable friend’s question. I have never been able to understand why it is that dependants of servicemen outside Australia are not allowed to vote. As yet I have not had what I would regard as a logical argument addressed to me. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has heard the honourable gentleman’s question. I propose to take the matter further and to supply him with an answer in due course.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. By way of explanation, let me say that during the past three weeks I have been approached by concerned parents about the development of religious and other cults in this country. Some of the information conveyed to me is most disturbing and, if I may say so, nauseating. Will the Minister request the Attorney-General to call for an up to date report on these religious and other cults in this country?
– I am aware of concern within the community about the kind of thing of which the honourable member has spoken. In fact, I have had some representations from within my electorate. I will refer the matter to my colleague the Attorney-General who will provide a detailed answer to the honourable gentleman.
– I address my question to the Treasurer. I refer him to the 1980-81 Budget estimate of a $39m domestic surplus to which he ascribed considerable importance. Is it a fact that so far this financial year the Government has lost an estimated $230m in oil revenue from Bass Strait, that drought relief to farmers will cost $30m above budgeted levels, that the Queensland coal strike has reduced Budget revenue by $l5m to $16m and that the extension of the Home Savings Grant Scheme will cost an extra $18m this year, not to mention the Prime Minister’s other election promises? Will not these developments mean that the Government’s much vaunted domestic surplus will not be achieved without further tax increases? Does the Treasurer intend therefore to increase taxes in the near future so as to achieve a domestic surplus?
– Firstly, the Government does not intend to increase taxes in the near future. Secondly, some of the figures quoted by the honourable member for Gellibrand are correct. From recollection, the loss from the Queensland coal strike, not provided for in the Budget, was about $1 5m to $ 16m. lt is true that there was an initial loss of revenue as a consequence of the shut-down in Bass Strait. But, as 1 am sure the honourable gentleman appreciates, now that production is proceeding again it is possible, if production is lifted, for a great deal of that loss- just how much 1 am not in a position to know at this stage- to be wiped out.
The honourable gentleman will also know that whether in the final analysis a domestic surplus of $39m is achieved depends not only upon individual revenue decisions, such as those in the policy speech, or individual expenditure decisions additional to those provided in the Budget, but also upon whether the actual estimates of revenue turn out to be completely accurate; nothing has happened since the Budget was brought down to alter the basic economic thrust of that Budget; nothing has happened to alter the fact that it was in every respect a fiscally responsible Budget; and nothing will deter the Government from pursuing that course of action in the months and years ahead.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Transport. Has the local roads program for New South Wales yet been under consideration? Can the Minister indicate to the House when Commonwealth grants for local roads will be announced?
– I regret very much that 1 have not been in a position to approve the application by the relevant New South Wales Minister for expenditure funds for local roads, mainly because the Minister has not submitted a total program. He has submitted a rural local roads program but has subtracted from expenditure on rural local roads no less than $1 .5m for expenditure on traffic facilities in New South Wales. So he is distorting the whole point and purpose of the Commonwealth Government’s allocation of funds to assist local government with the construction and maintenance of local roads. I have asked the Minister to resubmit his program because I am not prepared to accept a proposal whereby the New South Wales Minister intends to take away from local government roads funds that were designed to assist local government in maintenance and construction in that area.
– Is the Minister for Health aware that retail pharmacists in Australia have been financially disadvantaged by 20c for every National Health Service drug purchased by them in November and sold in November as a result of the month’s lag in adjusting the price paid to pharmacists in accord with the price rise granted to manufacturers? Does he agree that this is an unnecessary and burdensome penalty on pharmacists, particularly given related and recent decisions regarding retail pharmacists? Will he consider amending the relevant sections of the National Health Act to remove this lag?
– I am aware of concern expressed by retail pharmacists in relation to this matter, as mentioned by the honourable member for Bonython, but I point out to him that the month’s lag practice has been in operation for a great number of years. The arrangement was agreed to by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia some years ago when the question of changes to prices of drugs dispensed and supplied was discussed. I see no need to change the present arrangements at this stage. I have not heard good argument which would require a change of the arrangements which have been in place and agreed to by members of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, representing pharmacists right throughout Australia, for a considerable period. I point out to the honourable member that I am in constant touch with representatives of the Pharmacy Guild and hope to see them again next week, as well as other representatives of the pharmacy profession.
– Has the Minister for the Capital Territory seen reports that the High Court has recently reached a decision which has affected the rights of de facto wives? It has been suggested that they may have suffered a significant setback following a recent decision affecting property rights in such relationships. I understand that in that High Court case the property purchased solely by a husband, but in his de facto wife’s name, was presumed to be held on trust for him whereas the law presumes that a married wife is advanced the full rights in such a transaction. That case was Napier v. the Public Trustee in and for Western Australia. Recognising that there are constitutional difficulties in remedying this matter at a national level, I ask: Is the Minister prepared to act on this matter by ordinance in the Australian Capital Territory?
– I thank the honourable member for his question and acknowledge his long-standing interest in family law matters. I have seen the reports of the judgment in the case of Napier v. the Public Trustee in and for Western Australia in which it is significant that the four High Court judges, who were Mr Justice Aickin, Mr Justice Murphy, Mr Justice Mason and Mr Justice Wilson, were unanimous in their view that a de facto wife will be treated as a stranger to the property transaction and that it was well established that no presumption of advancement arises in favour of a de facto wife. In the light of that decision and bearing in mind that the ultimate responsibility with respect to law reform in the Australian Capital Territory rests with my colleague the Attorney-General, I indicate that I will be taking the matter up with the Attorney-General as a matter of urgency. I hope to be able to give the House and the honourable member more information as soon as those discussions have taken place.
– I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a letter I wrote to the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) in answer to a question yesterday about the telecommunications and access to certain areas of Italy affected by earthquakes.
The letter read as follows - 26 November 1980
Mr C.J. Hurford, M. P., Member for Adelaide. Parliament House, Canberra, ACT 2600
Dear Mr Hurford,
In answer to your question today, I am informed by Telecom that a problem has arisen in the direct dialling facility (ISD) making contact with certain areas of Italy impossible at present.
The fault lies in the Italian end of the communications chain where actual physical damage to the network has made it virtually impossible to connect calls to phones with Italian area codes 80 to 89 inclusive and 97.
OTC has now placed a recorded message into the system which passes this information on to callers.
Those attempting to call numbers wilh these prefixes were unable to make connections and were persisting with the culls and making other ISD calls difficult.
Telecom and OTC are making every effort to overcome this problem and any others that arise in communications with the disaster area.
Telecom is also consulting fund raising authorities to establish what telecommunication services may be urgently needed to assist the appeal for the disaster victims.
Yours sincerely, IAN SINCLAIR c.c. Mr I.B. Wilson, MP Member for Sturt, (Ian Sinclair)
-The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) has indicated to me that he wishes to raise an issue of privilege. I should say to him immediately that matters of privilege ought to be raised at the first available opportunity. In fact, this was not raised at the first available opportunity, but he did indicate to me that he did not wish to interfere with the conduct of Question Time. I will give him indulgence to raise it now, as he did not do so during Question Time.
- Mr Speaker, I desire to raise a matter of privilege which arises out of an answer provided by you yesterday in respect of a question that I directed to you. I thank you for your promptness and courtesy in supplying that information. The issue, as raised, concerns a question to you in the following terms:
The answer to that is yes. The second question is:
The answer is:
The Parliamentary Librarian was not personally aware of the acquisition or of the action taken until after the newspaper report appeared.
The third question I asked you, sir, was:
Has any injunction been served on the Parliamentary Library by the Government to prevent the circulation of this book to Members and Senators?
The answer stated:
Finally, I asked you, sir:
The answer to that was:
Mr Speaker, I direct your attention to page 1 51 of Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice. The matter of privilege which I raise appears under the head ‘Acts Tending Indirectly to Obstruct Members in the Discharge of their Duty’ and states:
Conduct not amounting to a direct attempt to influence a Member in the discharge of his duties, but having a tendency to impair his independence in the future performance of his duty, will also be treated as a breach of privilege.
It is on those words ‘having a tendency to impair his independence in the future performance of his duty’ that I ask you, Mr Speaker, to consider the arguments that I now address to you on what I believe is a matter of principle and considerable importance to this Parliament. My case rests, first of all, on the assumption that the acquisition of any book or written material by the Parliamentary Library for the use of honourable members makes that material the property of the Parliament. Secondly, I argue that once a book or written material becomes the property of the Parliament, any parliamentarian has a right of access to it.
Now, like any government action, the action taken on the initiative of this Government to prevent the publication of this book may well be the subject of consideration, argument and debate in this House. Any honourable member who desires to keep himself informed of those issues, which, of course, includes the reading of the material of which the Government complains, in my view is conducting himself in terms of his parliamentary duties as he sees them. I would argue that once the book in question is the subject of legal proceedings, either at the instance of the Commonwealth or at the instance of a private citizen, that does not preclude the right of access of any honourable member to that material. Indeed, I submit that no court in Australia would entertain the action of the Commonwealth or any private citizen seeking legal redress to prevent the Parliamentary Librarian distributing that material or any book to a member of this Parliament, by virtue of the fact that, in my view, that action would clearly be in breach of the privileges of this House. Therefore, the highest at which these actions could be put is that they were some kind of courtesy that was being extended or some kind of acknowledgment of the proceedings that have taken place.
One other aspect of this I believe has to be a matter of the gravest concern to all honourable members because we are talking about the rights and privileges of all honourable members of this House. The answer provided, sir, states that the Parliamentary Librarian was given legal advice on Monday 24 November 1980. Presumably that legal advice did not come from any private solicitor. I suspect that it would have come either from the Solicitor-General or from the AttorneyGeneral’s Department. Of course, the SolicitorGeneral and the Attorney-General’s Department are carrying this case in question in the High Court of Australia. They are involved as part of the Executive in putting whatever argument the Government wants to have put to the courts. We are in an extraordinary situation. 1 ask you, Mr Speaker, to concern yourself with these aspects of the matter: The Government has initiated proceedings in the court; it is represented in the court by its own Attorney-General’s Department; members of Parliament then have their rights of access to this material threatened and withdrawn simply because the matter is the subject of legal disputation on the basis of advice that must emanate from the same branch of the Executive that is involved in the proceedings. I believe that we are putting our own rights and our own privileges in jeopardy if we allow a course of action ever to occur in this Parliament where one branch of the Government can be the prosecutor in the courts in respect of a citizen or a publisher and, at the same time, can use presumably the same legal arguments to say that members of this House will not have access to material in the Parliamentary Library.
That is the way in which I put my case. As a member of this House I am concerned - and I am certain there are many other members on both sides of the House who are as concerned as I am - to review, to argue and to debate the merits of the Government’s action in this matter. At an appropriate time that is the course which would be available to any member. In preparation for that debate I am entitled to have access to material which is not the property of the Government but the property of this Parliament. It is the property of the Parliamentary Library and, therefore, in my view it ought to be available as of right to any member of this Parliament who wants it. If any member has his rights curtailed in that way I believe, Mr Speaker, you ought to consider that as being an action which has a tendency to impair the independence and future performance of that member. I believe that my capacity as a member of this House to prepare material and have all the material available to me to judge properly the actions of the Government has been seriously impaired.
I say this in fairness because I think it ought to be said that I do not believe that any officers of the Parliament have acted with anything other than the best integrity. I believe these matters of privilege are matters of prime concern and can be guarded and maintained only if this Parliament is ever watchful. I do not concede and I ask you, Mr Speaker, not to concede to the Executive branch of the Government or to the Attorney-General’s Department the right to interfere with what has to be the free access of material between the Parliamentary Library and every member of this House. I ask you to rule on this matter as a matter of privilege.
– Mr Speaker, the whole matter of privilege is one of some complexity as you have remarked on a number of occasions. Ultimately the question of determining the extent to which some aspects of privilege apply in this instance is even more within your jurisdiction than perhaps the broader matters which you, of course, before final decision, refer to a privileges committee of the Parliament. I think all members of this House realise that the intricacies of the sub judice rule are one of the more difficult aspects within your discretion. It is quite true that in this instance there are documents of a former Australian Labor Party Government which have been passed on to the media and which are published in book form. The question of whether those documents may be published is now before the High Court of Australia and I understand that shortly there will be a judgment on the issue.
In those circumstances it obviously behoves this Parliament to consider not just whether this is an act which has emanated immediately from contact between a representative of the Government and the Head Librarian because it is not that contact which is important; for you, Mr Speaker, and your colleague, the Presiding Officer of the Senate, are the custodians of the responsibilities of this Parliament. It is you and he who determine ultimately whether a book or any other document should be available to an honourable member. Hence, quite rightly the honourable member has canvassed the matter here today. Because the matter is in the custody of you and your colleague, the President of the Senate, I believe that the same laws of sub judice apply in consideration of this matter as would apply if the matter were to be canvassed within the Parliament itself.
As the matter is now about to be concluded as a result of a judgment by a justice of the High Court I would suggest that the action taken by the principal Librarian is entirely in accord with the procedures which you would adopt were the matter to be canvassed in this House. Therefore, sir, I would suggest to you that in considering whether a matter of privilege has been raised you should consider not just privilege per se but the whole application of the sub judice rule and the extent to which it is necessary, in accordance with the rules that apply in this Parliament and in this House, to apply the sub judice rule to documents that are within the custody, for the time being, of the Parliamentary Librarian.
– The privileges of Parliament and the rights of members of parliament to have access to that information which is the property of the Parliament and is available to the Parliament are not relevant to the sub judice rule. If the contents of the book ‘Documents on Australian Defence and Foreign Policy 1968-75’ were to come before this Parliament for debate prior to a High Court judgment being given on whether it may be published, it would be for you, sir, as the Speaker, to determine whether that debate would be likely to influence the court hearing or decisions in the case concerned and to rule accordingly. You would have to take into account the accepted norms of sub judice that the Parliament cannot be prevented by action or actions in a court from debating matters which are of national importance, and of such national importance that the denial of the debate would be an infringement on the rights of the nation and the Parliament.
This is not a publication which is not generally available. It is a publication which was freely sold in bookshops in the Australian Capital Territory, where this Government has the right to control the distribution of literature. Its publication has been challenged but its contents are freely available to a significant number of persons in the Australian community. It is therefore quite improper and a denial of the rights of the members of this Parliament, who at some stage may be required - probably in the short term rather than the longer term - to debate the Government’s actions in seeking injunctions to prevent publication and its consequent actions in seeking, outside Australia, injunctions to prevent the distribution of a magazine which is also freely available to members of this House through the Parliamentary Library at this moment without restriction. Mr Speaker, I put it to you that the denial to members of parliament of information which is in the custody of the Parliament and on which this House and members of this House may be required to make a judgment within a reasonably short period while that information is readily available to other persons is a denial of the rights of members of this Parliament to acquaint and prepare themselves and to perform the duties for which they are responsible to this Parliament and the people of Australia.
The question of privilege, I believe, should be tested by the House of Representatives Privileges Committee on what access exists. This is a debate about whether the Privileges Committee will consider the matter, not whether it will be determined. I believe the best interests of the Parliament, Australia and the institution we would hope to preserve would be served by referring this matter to the Privileges Committee so that a judgment on an all party basis can be made. The book is not denied to other citizens of Australia, lt has been freely sold through bookshops in Australia. It has been freely sold to the Parliament of Australia and is presently residing within the Parliament of Australia, which should place it beyond the Executive Government. The decision to deny access can be made only if it is adjudged that the national interest or the national security would be seriously jeopardised by the release of that information to members of this Parliament. No one can seriously suggest that that is the case in this matter. All the parties who could be embarrassed by the publication of that book have copies of it. It is freely available. I suggest that it would serve the interests of this Parliament and the interests of Australia best if the matter were referred to the Privileges Committee so that an assessment and a decision could be made, upon which this Parliament could then make a judgment.
– I do not want to detain the House. The Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) was anxious to rest his case on the fact that this is a matter which is sub judice. I submit that it is not. Normally when a matter is sub judice one can correctly understand that our debating it in this place could affect the rights of other citizens in their claims before courts. In other words we prejudge issues or we lead in, in the course of the debate, matters which would be the subject of evidence, cross examination or re-examination. The honourable member who raised this matter today is talking about a publication, in relation to which the Government has taken action in the courts, and he is anxious that we as parliamentarians have a chance to assess our views on whether the Government’s action was correct.
It would be quite legitimate for us to debate in the Parliament whether the Government should discontinue the action of seeking the prohibition of the publication of the book by way of injunction. As the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) says, if we were in any way to affect the well being, the safety and the defence of the nation the Government would prevent the debate. Initiating such a debate certainly is within the rights and privileges of a member of parliament. I make that distinction. It is not a normal sub judice matter. This matter involves the Government’s action and it is a question of the Parliament’s being entitled to be informed of the matters in the book and perhaps being able to persuade the Government to discontinue the action, if that was thought to be the right course. Alternatively, the matter could be raised next week on the basis that if, for example, the decision to be brought down tomorrow is that the book infringes the law of copyright, we could amend the Copyright Act next week as a result of that decision.
I submit that we are not affecting the rights of any citizen. We are talking about the rights and responsibilities of this Parliament to debate matters of national interest. The Government has the opportunity, under the Standing Orders and other procedures, to prevent debate. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) has suggested that honourable members ought to have access to a document within the Parliament so that they can ascertain whether they want to debate it further. Accordingly, if it is of such a sensitive nature I think it is an appropriate matter for consideration by the Privileges Committee. I think the Government would be able to make its influence felt in that regard. But surely the matter under debate does not involve a question of sub judice but one of whether the Government’s action is correct in trying to prevent the release to the public of information which is already known to a considerable number of people.
– Let me first draw the attention of the House to the nature of privilege. The nature of privilege is that there should be no interference whatsoever with the capacity of a member of the Parliament to carry out his duties in the Parliament. No member of parliament should be subject to any threat, nor should he be subject to any promise of favouritism which would interfere with the conduct of his business in the House. A member of the House must be able to speak the truth and demand the truth at all times without fear or favour. Hence the origin and the maintenance of privilege.
Certain rules have grown up in relation to privilege. One is that it must be raised at the first available opportunity. I have already dealt with that aspect. I accept the matter as having been raised at the first available opportunity. The second aspect is that for the matter to take precedence over all other business the Speaker must be satisfied that a prima facie case exists. I will deal with that in a moment. Firstly, let me make the point that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding), as the basis for his claim of privilege, referred me to page 151 of Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice. In particular he quoted the paragraph which reads:
Conduct not amounting to a direct attempt to influence a Member in the discharge of his duties,–
The honourable member does not allege that there was any direct attempt - but having a tendency to impair his independence in the future performance of his duty, will also be treated as a breach of privilege.
There is no doubt here that there is no suggestion that there is any subtraction from the independence of any member, except insofar as the honourable member for Melbourne Ports bases his claim on a subtraction from the information available to the member and whether that subtraction would amount to a subtraction from the independence of the member. There, I think, lies the major issue in this case.
I have expanded the sub judice rule very materially because I feel that it is not proper for this House to deprive itself of the right to debate major issues on any historical base when people outside the Parliament are not so circumscribed. I have established rules in relation to sub judice which say that in a criminal matter once a charge is laid the matter cannot be discussed; a civil matter cannot be discussed after the matter has been set down for trial. In the relevant legal case, which has gone beyond setting down the date for trial, in fact the arguments have been heard and the judgment has been reserved by the learned judge, who has indicated that he will give a decision within two weeks of the closing of the case. I understand that the judgment is expected to be delivered any day. So the discussion would be impeded by the sub judice rule in this House if it were believed that anything said in this House might have a tendency to influence the decision of the judge. But, more importantly, the debate must not be of such a character that the public in general may perceive the debate in Parliament to have influenced the judgment. If this were a debate relating to that relevant legal case I would not permit the debate to go ahead, as offending the sub judice rule.
Although it has been referred to considerably in this debate, that is not the issue.
The issue here is whether the absence of that information, which is possessed by the Library - namely the book- will have a tendency to impair the independence of any member in the future performance of his duty. I emphasise the words independence’ and ‘future performance’. I have come to the conclusion that all considerations of propriety and courtesy that exist between this tripartition of power, namely the legislature, and another tripartition of power, namely the judiciary, would require that this House not take any action at this time which would in any way inhibit the outcome of that decision, unless I were satisfied that the absence of the information today would subtract significantly from the independence of a member in the future. I am not so satisfied. Therefore, I find that in this instance there is no prima facie issue of privilege such as would require that issue of privilege to take precedence over all other business.
I should say in conclusion, however, that it is apparent to me that after the decision is given by the learned judge there may very well be an issue of privilege as to whether the Parliament will be willing not to make the book available to members of this House. Of course if the decision goes one way, there will be no issue. If the decision goes a different way then that issue will arise and I would be willing to allow any honourable member to raise the question of privilege after the decision in order to determine whether the House would wish to have access to that book. When that question is raised - if indeed it is raised, because I would not like to anticipate the outcome - I will consider the matter again and decide whether there is a prima facie case of privilege which would be referred to the Privileges Committee. The Privileges Committee would then report back to the House. The House would make the decision on privilege. I must say that privilege ultimately must be determined by the House and only by the House. The role of the Speaker at this stage is to determine whether there is a prima facie case of breach of privilege. I do not so find a prima facie breach.
– Mr Speaker, I want to propose a motion for the suspension of Standing Orders.
– The honourable gentleman should submit his motion in writing.
The honourable member having submitted his motion in writing -
– I move:
– Before the honourable gentleman speaks to his motion and without in any way wishing to confine his remarks, I indicate to him that as this motion comes so soon after the honourable member has made his point on privilege, perhaps he will keep his speech on this question short.
- Mr Speaker-
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) agreed to:
That the honourable member for Melbourne Ports be not further heard.
– Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion. The point I want to make is that I do not know why the Government is so sensitive about this matter. The motion is to refer this matter to the Privileges Committee. The interesting point of the debate is that the Parliamentary Library is not a party to the action.I think that ought to be made very clear. The litigation does not concern this Parliament or the Library. I think that is a very important matter that we ought to be able to get dealt with by the Privileges Committee. I ask the Government to allow the motion to be agreed to.
That the motion (Mr Holding’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker- Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden)
Question so resolved in the negative.
-I understand that the honourable member for Burke intends to lodge a request for detailed information relating to the administration of the parliamentary departments.
– Yes, Mr Speaker. I seek information in relation to the operation of the Parliamentary Library.
– The honourable member should hand his request in writing to the Clerk. If it is in order it will appear in Hansard. In due course I will reply and the answer will appear in Hansard. The honourable member for Lilley had indicated an intention to request information of a detailed kind relating to parliamentary departments. In fact, upon examination, it was not of a detailed kind and I did indicate that I would give to the honourable member indulgence to raise the matter with me directly. Does the honourable member wish to do so?
– I am sorry, Mr Speaker; I was not prepared. To which question do you refer?
-I will give the honourable member an opportunity to raise it later in the day.
– Pursuant to Section 47 of the Australian Overseas Projects Corporation Act 1978, 1 present the annual report for 1980 of the Australian Overseas Projects Corporation.
– Pursuant to Section 20 of the Coal Industry Act 1946 I present the annual report for the year 1979-80 of the Joint Coal Board.
– Pursuant to Section 50 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, I present the Aboriginal Land Commissioner’s report on the Willowra Aboriginal land claim.
– For the information of honourable members I present the annual report of Applied Ecology Pty Ltd 1979-80.
– Pursuant to Section 61 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 I present the Aboriginal Land Commissioner’s interim report for the year ended 30 June 1980.
– For the information of honourable members I present the financial statements of the Australian National Railways Commission for 1979-80.
– For the information of honourable members I present the annual report for 1979-80 of the Patent, Trade Marks and Designs Office.
- Mr Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented.
– The honourable member wishes to make a personal explanation?
– He may proceed.
– Yesterday the Minister for Transport issued a statement headed ‘Holcroft Committee to report early next year’. That statement included the following sentence:
There has been concern amongst Government members and senators from Western Australia about the level of air fares between Perth and the eastern States.
At best, that sentence can be described as being incomplete. At worst it can be described as a deception. Whilst I do not want to boast in any sense–
-The honourable gentleman should point out how he has been misrepresented.
– Because of the Minister’s selective acknowledgements of the views of Western Australians, I wanted to point out the extent to which I have been concerned about this matter, which he has not referred to in his statement. I have made at least three references to this matter in the House over the last three years. I have produced a critique of the Government’s air fares policy for the–
-I am sorry; I cannot permit the honourable member to go any further. The fact that the Minister did not mention his arguments, strong though they may be, does not amount to a misrepresentation.
– The point I am trying to make is that the Minister has said that it has been only Government members and senators who have expressed concern about this matter.
-I apologise. The honourable gentleman may proceed.
– I am attempting to say that I have had a very close concern about this matter. As I have said, I produced a critique for the fair air fares campaign in Western Australia. I have made numerous statements outside the House and, in September of this year, I appeared before the Holcroft Committee and outlined the disadvantages which Western Australians suffer in relation to the Government’s existing air fares policy. The Minister’s statement seems to imply that it is only representations from his side of the House that are taken seriously. This is an ungracious, even offensive, attitude to take and it is quite uncharacteristic of this Minister.
- Mr Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented.
-Does the honourable gentleman wish to make a personal explanation?
– I do.
– He may proceed.
– During Question Time I asked a question of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) which related to a report of the Australian Heritage Commission dealing with the development in the Darling Ranges, which stated that that development had affected the environment. That was according to the Australian Heritage Commission, which is under the administration of a Minister of his Government. It said that the environment and the health of the people of the south-west of Australia were under threat. My question was based on that. In reply, the Prime Minister said that the basis for my question was that I was anti-development. I want to say clearly that that is completely false. I am not antidevelopment. The Opposition seeks rational, balanced development. I could make the charge that the Prime Minister is anti the interests of people, but I do not want to do so. I want to make it clear that, when Ministers make accusations that we are anti-development, I will deny that on every occasion because in fact we are in favour of development. However, that development should be in the interest of the Australian people, and it should be balanced.
– by leave - On 19 March the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, in his statement on the outcome of the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation, informed the House that the Government would be proceeding to advance its consideration of possible arrangements for the exercise of Australia’s prior consent rights on the reprocessing of nuclear material of Australian origin. He emphasised at that time that final decisions would be taken only if the Government’s non-proliferation objectives were fully satisfied.
Honourable members will be aware that reprocessing is a chemical operation by which plutonium and unused uranium are separated from the fission products in spent nuclear fuel. International interest in reprocessing centres on the potential energy content of the separated plutonium and unused uranium, the sensitive nonproliferation issues involved, and the relevance of reprocessing to the management of material from spent fuel. The Government has now brought its consideration of the reprocessing issue, which it has kept under review since 1977, to the point where it is now appropriate to make policy decisions. Today I would like to inform honourable members of the decisions the Government has taken. I shall indicate how the Government, in accordance with its nuclear safeguards agreements, will exercise Australia’s prior consent rights over the reprocessing of Australian origin nuclear material.
Honourable members will recall that, in announcing the Government’s nuclear safeguards policy on 24 May 1977, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said that, pending the outcome of the INFCE and other international studies, Australia would reserve its position on the reprocessing of spent fuel derived from Australian origin uranium. He said that the Government would require a provision in bilateral safeguards agreements that reprocessing of Australian origin nuclear material could take place only with its prior consent. Later in 1977, on 25 August, the Prime Minister said that in relation to reprocessing the Government would need to be satisfied that there is a need to reprocess for legitimate energy purposes; that international controls and safeguards are intensified to ensure an adequate and effective defence against diversion of plutonium to non-peaceful purposes; and that there is not excessive stockpiling of plutonium in a way that could pose future proliferation dangers.
On 24 August 1978, when the former Minister for Foreign Affairs tabled the nuclear safeguards agreements concluded with Finland and the Philippines, he noted that the Government’s attitude had never been one of rejecting out of hand the reprocessing of Australian origin nuclear material. He said that the prior consent clauses in safeguards agreements gave Australia the right to decide the conditions under which reprocessing of Australian supplied material might take place and emphasised that, if reprocessing were permitted, the conditions and arrangements would need to be fully satisfactory in terms of the Government’s non-proliferation objectives.
Since 1977, the most important international examination of the nuclear fuel cycle and nonproliferation has been the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation. The former Minister for Foreign Affairs outlined in some detail the findings of INFCE on reprocessing and plutonium in his statement to the House on 19 March. I believe it would be useful for honourable members however if I briefly went over the major statements that INFCE made in this area. Firstly, the use of plutonium obtained through the operation of nuclear power plants is not the easiest or most efficient route to acquire fissionable material for nuclear explosive purposes. Specially constructed facilities to produce highly-enriched uranium or weapons-grade plutonium have been and are likely to continue to be preferred on technical and economic grounds by any country contemplating production of an explosive device. Secondly, INFCE’s projections of the demand for nuclear energy suggest that uranium supply might not be sufficient to meet requirements after the year 2000. In these circumstances reprocessing and recycling of plutonium would be essential for some countries.
Thirdly, INFCE found that materials accountancy, supplemented by containment and surveillance measures for existing operating reprocessing plants, was generally capable of providing effective international safeguards. It was foreseen that the establishment of future large commercial reprocessing plants would require improved safeguarding techniques, but that there was sufficient time to develop these given that the commercial use of plutonium was still a decade or so away. Fourthly, INFCE found that no single judgment about the risk of diversion from the different fuel cycles could be made which was valid both now and for the future. It was found that valid assessments of risks could not be made without regard to the particular circumstances and environment of the various fuel cycle activities in each case. Fifthly, it was generally accepted that more uniform, consistent and predictable application of export and import controls by supplier and consumer countries, in accordance with more concrete criteria, would be desirable. INFCE concluded that, in the event that industrial scale reprocessing develops, it would be necessary to adopt the best technical safeguards and institutional measures to increase the protection of material against diversion to non-peaceful uses.
The Government participated actively in INFCE, and has also consulted a number of countries, including potential customer countries, on the subject of reprocessing. The discussion in INFCE and these bilateral discussions have shown that a number of important industrial countries are committed to reprocessing as part of their nuclear energy programs.
I believe that as a result of international discussions over the past three years, particularly in INFCE, differences over reprocessing have been considerably narrowed. It is generally agreed that prior consent rights over reprocessing should be applied in a predictable manner. This can contribute to greater certainty and stability in international nuclear trade and co-operation. In turn, this greater stability can strengthen the nonproliferation regime. Countries are less likely to launch prematurely into the acquisition of sensitive technologies if their concerns about energy security can be allayed. It has also become accepted internationally that decisions on the adoption of various nuclear fuel cycle options will necessarily take into account a range of factors which will vary from country to country in accordance with the specific social, political and economic circumstances involved.
Taking this emerging international consensus into account, the Government has developed an approach to reprocessing which fully satisfies the Government’s non-proliferation concerns; encompasses all existing nuclear safeguards requirements; accommodates the need of consumer countries for the predictable application of nonproliferation conditions; and addresses in detail the specific nuclear fuel cycle programs in which Australian origin nuclear material might be reprocessed and the separated plutonium used.
I shall now outline in more detail the procedures the Government will adopt in making decisions about whether or not it should give its prior consent, in particular circumstances, to the reprocessing of Australian origin nuclear material for the nuclear fuel cycle programs of countries with which Australia has nuclear safeguards agreements. The first step will be the provision by an interested customer country of detailed information. The purpose of this will be to establish the country’s need, within its overall energy strategy, for Australian origin nuclear material to be reprocessed. I should like to emphasise that this initial information gathering stage in no way seeks to intrude into the decision-making process of negotiating partners and that information received would remain confidential between the parties to respect commercial confidences. I am able to inform honourable members that this process of seeking comprehensive information about nuclear programs and the applicable controls and safeguards has been initiated with a number of interested negotiating partners.
If the need to reprocess Australian origin nuclear material is demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Government and the controls and safeguards applied to programs involving reprocessing meet all the Government’s existing requirements, the Government will be prepared to consider granting its consent to the reprocessing of Australian origin nuclear material in specifically defined nuclear fuel cycle programs on the following bases: agreement in advance to reprocessing for the purposes of energy use; agreement in advance to reprocessing for the purpose of the management of materials (plutonium, fission products and unused uranium) contained in spent nuclear fuel; case by case consideration of requests for consent to reprocessing for other peaceful nonexplosive purposes including research; storage and use of plutonium of Australian origin separated from spent fuel to be in ways that do not cause proliferation dangers; provision for consultation and review of the operation of the agreed conditions; and commitment by customer countries to support the development of more effective international control measures relevant to reprocessing, including an international plutonium storage scheme.
I should emphasise that the Government’s decisions on reprocessing will take account, in accordance with the Government’s nuclear safeguards policy, of wider foreign and non-proliferation policy considerations. The Government believes that advance consent to reprocessing of Australian origin nuclear material within specific programs designed for energy use and management of materials contained in spent nuclear fuel is a legitimate procedure which can be achieved consistently with non-proliferation objectives. Customer countries have an understandable interest in wishing to know, when they purchase Australian uranium, for what purposes they may use it. The predictability and stability introduced by advance consent for certain specified uses, combined with commitments to stringent safeguards and controls, represent a positive contribution to non-proliferation objectives and stable international trade in the nuclear field.
I will now summarise the position for honourable members. The approach the Government has adopted fully satisfies its stringent nonproliferation requirements. It takes into account the needs of an energy-deficient world. It addresses itself thoroughly to specific nuclear fuel cycle programs and the precise circumstances under which they operate. It is a step which will contribute to the development of an enhanced international consensus on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
This last point is one to which the Government attaches continuing importance. The Government’s interest in reprocessing and plutonium does not end with the announcement today of this policy decision. It is a decision which has been taken in the context of the Government’s support, expressed by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in 1977, for the widest possible consensus amongst both nuclear supplier countries and nuclear importing countries on the controls to apply to the world nuclear industry. The Government is currently supporting efforts on a broad front to develop such a consensus. Australia participated actively in the recently concluded second review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The leader of the Australian delegation was elected as chairman of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. The Government’s strong support for nuclear arms control measures such as the strategic arms limitations talks and a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty is well known to honourable members.
The Government is also supporting in a substantial way the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency. I can inform the House that the Government has recently approved a three-year program of assistance to the Agency’s safeguards development efforts. This will amount to $541,000 over the period of the program. Of particular relevance to reprocessing are two current IAEA expert studies - one an international plutonium storage scheme and another on international spent fuel management. If effectively developed, both initiatives could make an important contribution to the development of a wider international consensus. Australia is participating actively in both studies and in 1980-81 the Australian assistance program to the Agency will include a $15,000 contribution to the cost of the plutonium storage study.
Another post-INFCE initiative is the recently established IAEA Committee on Assurance of Supply. The work of this Committee could be said to hold one of the essential keys to the achievement of consensus. The announcement of the Government’s policy on reprocessing, with its combination of stringent controls and predictability, appropriately coincides with the early meetings of this Committee and will help to foster a constructive atmosphere for the Committee’s deliberations.
During Question Time the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) asked about the position on reprocessing of Canada and the United States of America. It might be useful to the House if I briefly outline the positions of those countries in that respect. Canada and the United States, like Australia, maintain prior consent rights over the reprocessing of the nuclear material they supply to consumer countries. As
Australia has already done, Canada and the United States are examining the exercise of these rights in the light of the outcome of INFCE. INFCE emphasises that non-proliferation assurances and assurance of supply were complementary and that prior consent rights should be exercised in a predictable manner for the benefit of non-proliferation objectives as well as the operation of the peaceful nuclear industry. In the development of Australian policy we consulted a number of countries including Canada and the United States. Canada and the United States have not yet adopted definite policies on the exercise of their prior consent rights over the reprocessing of the nuclear material that they supply for peaceful purposes, but like Australia they agree that reprocessing and the use of the separated plutonium should be subject to strict nonproliferation controls and safeguards.
The Government has maintained a consistent, measured and responsible approach to the question of reprocessing. The Government reserved its position for three years. It has taken into account two years of international study of the issues involved in reprocessing. It has also taken into account INFCE’s projections which suggest that uranium supply might not be sufficient to meet energy requirements after the year 2000 and that reprocessing will be essential for some countries.
The decision which I have announced today has been the result of exhaustive analysis and examination as well as detailed consultation with negotiating partners and others. It demonstrates that non-proliferation concerns will remain uppermost and that the Government is maintaining this approach. In the Government’s view its decision is a constructive contribution to the development of an international consensus on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Mr LIONEL BOWEN (KingsfordSmith)by leave - This statement would never come from a Labor government. It is a statement which again clearly indicates that this Government has abrogated its responsibilities in relation to nuclear energy. Nuclear fuel is a most dangerous one but, as honourable members can see from all of the safeguards- they amount only to words- other countries are anxious to get hold of this fuel. It is significant to note that in this Government it is not the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Street) who has any effective policy in this area; it is the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony). We are more interested in getting the buck, the dollar, than in talking about how we can help the world from the point of view of energy resource utilisation. The clangers involved are still very evident and they have not been solved.
Let me make it very clear that at present we have in this nation a Deputy Prime Minister who is urging the sale of uranium on the basis that it will be of some commercial advantage to Australia. I very much doubt that. Certainly the share market in the last week went up another 1 0 per cent or 1 1 per cent, but does that do anything for the world? If honourable members look at our uranium resources they will find that Getty Oil Development Company Ltd, the Esso and British Petroleum oil companies have substantial holdings in them. The Japanese and Germans also have substantial equities, as does Canada, as a matter of interest. All that we wind up with in this country is the inevitable hole in the ground. Uranium is a most dangerous fuel. In any case it is a priceless one. We can see from the Minister’s statement that even with the supplies that we have, the world will run out of it 20 years from now. So where is the commercial advantage of loading as much as we can now on anyone who will buy it? Countries will buy it and stockpile it. From the point of view of commercial transactions that will be to their advantage.
What of the world situation? The Labor Party’s policy is still clear; it is fundamental and is directed towards the purposes of peace. We would not mine and sell uranium until such time as the world was able to demonstrate that it could be used safely, that it would not be used for nuclear proliferation and that there would be adequate technology to dispose of the high level waste once it had gone through the first cycle use. Those matters have not been solved. I will summarise what I have just said. It is no disadvantage to wait until such time as we are able to develop that technology. Assuming that we reach that stage, would it not be in Australia’s interest also to own and control the fuel throughout the cycle if we have developed that technology, instead of leaving us as the poor relation in the world, the one who gives the advantage to somebody else? This applies to our whole mineral resources area, but the uranium issue has a world connotation as well. I remind honourable members that at present 33 states of Europe are meeting in Madrid to discuss not just human rights, which is a very important matter, but also survival on the basis of detente and the question of nuclear proliferation.
There are now at least 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Perhaps some of them were made from Australian uranium. We cannot identify our one pound of uranium once it is taken away to other countries. It is enriched and reprocessed.
We would have no clear idea of what had happened to it. As honourable members will know, the world is approaching the very serious stage of perhaps starting a third world war which could well be over who will get the energy resources. Certainly that dispute could take place over our uranium. Let me remind the House of what the conference in Madrid is about and of the proposals being put forward. The Warsaw Pact is putting a proposal for military detente and there is a French proposal for European disarmament. An article in the Canberra Times stated that that seems sensible. It went on to say:
The political prisoners in the East should never be forgotten; nor should the unemployed in the West. But they will all suffer, and so will we, if war breaks out. The Madrid conference is about survival . . .
So grave is the crisis that Dr Sigvard Eklund, the directorgeneral of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has advocated a demonstration nuclear explosion to arouse popular feeling against nuclear weapons. He was addressing the second review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in Geneva on August 1 1 .
Is that not what we are all about? It is very significant that the Minister has clearly said that the Government will rely on the integrity of the buyer. Let us look at what has happened. Already negotiations have taken place in respect of our uranium. Let us look at the countries with which we have negotiated sales and see whether we can identify legitimacy or stability in them. One of the countries is South Korea, where there has been an assassination, a revolution and all sorts of problems related to human rights. That country certainly needs energy, but does it need it at this time, on these terms and conditions and in an environment where there is internal conflict and certainly the prospect of further contact between the North and the South? Another country we were able to help with suggested safeguards was Iran at the time of the Shah. Another is the Philippines, with the problems that President Marcos is now facing.
Do honourable members seriously suggest to the Australian nation that by selling uranium to those countries they vill be adequately able to handle it, that they wi,’. be able to guarantee the safeguards and that they will indicate that none of the uranium will be diverted for military use? I submit that this will not be the case. Once the uranium goes to those countries it is out of our control. The Government is abrogating its responsibility to the Australian people. As I have said, even if we were able to indicate clearly to the Australian people that there was technology that guaranteed that our uranium would be used only for peaceful purposes it would still be in our interest to maintain and control that fuel throughout the cycle. If other nations want to use uranium let us lease it to them, but we should have complete control of and a guarantee in relation to what would happen to that fuel.
Let us bear in mind that when our fuel is made up into nuclear rods those rods probably embrace fuel from other countries as well. So when every nuclear rod is made up of uranium from everywhere in the world, can our fuel be identified? Of course it cannot. When we talk about reprocessing uranium we are talking about governments of the world having the capacity to reprocess. We certainly will never get into that area, particularly while this Government is in office. What control would we have over the reprocessing plants? In the enrichment process plutonium is extracted which, if it is diverted to be used to make the bomb, is the other factor of danger to the world. Again, having extracted the plutonium, we are left with a high level waste. Where will that be dumped and what will be our control over that?
Honourable members can see that that was the position that applied for some time, and I think still applies, in America, certainly under President Carter. He knew that if he allowed reprocessing he would escalate the danger to the world. I have no doubt - this is perhaps unfortunate - that President Reagan will abdicate from that reponsibility and say that he sees no danger there. But the great danger to the world is in the proliferation of nuclear weapons. We know that Pakistan possibly has the capacity to make the bomb and that that capacity came from sources that were illegitimate. We know that we are selling uranium for enrichment to France. Perhaps it in turn is selling it to Iraq in order to guarantee that Iraq will be able to buy the nuclear power generating plant that France is so anxious to look at. Why is it that all these countries want access to our uranium? It is not for peaceful purposes; it is for power domination from the point of view of their economy and the energy resources in the world.
If one goes to Vienna to discuss the question of the future of world energy resources one will find that it is the most important matter in the world today. This is identified in the line of the statement which says that in 20 years from now we will be virtually out of energy. Why is it that we leave our own country so bereft of policies and technology and sell uranium to people who are mostly interested in commercial gain as well as the power domination that would come from the fact that they will have the technology for enrichment? They will have the use of it for power generation, they will have the technology for the reprocessing and they will become involved with fast breeder developments for plutonium. They will, of course, be anxious to give us, if we were silly enough to accept it, the high level waste for storage. Surely these are matters to which a statement like this should be addressed.
I make the point that in 1979 the Government reversed its stated safeguards policy that a safeguards agreement would be concluded before contracts were signed. It said: ‘We will not worry about that situation, we will just sell’. In June last year the Government gave away its previous insistence that uranium had to remain under Australian control until such time that it was covered by international safeguards. That policy was in the way of sales, so it went by the board. As I have said, the whole issue is whether we should be selling at any low price at all. With a real understanding of commercial transactions we know that it will be a priceless fuel because nobody else in the world will have enough of it, certainly by the year 2000. Because the Government was anxious to sell - whether it was to the former Shah, to Marcos, to Park in South Korea or to the Europeans, the French particularly, or the Japanese - it avoided its responsibilities to the world. Mr Anthony clearly indicated that situation. The headline in the Sydney Morning Herald of 25 November reads: ‘Anthony pushes uranium expansion’. Mr Anthony said that he was delighted that Mr Reagan had been elected in the United States because it augurs well for Australia’s sale of uranium.
Let us look at this in relation to the Madrid situation. Does it do anything for the peace and prosperity of the world? I submit that it does not. The tragedy of that situation could well be that Carter’s policy will be overturned. He had a moratorium on reprocessing. It is pretty clear that May and others were most anxious to prevent people getting into the reprocessing area. France, I think, has been the vidian of the piece. In relation to the South Pacific region, France was never interested in non-proliferation. It has refused to subscribe to the treaty. It has exploded uranium devices throughout the Pacific. It is interested in the commercial aspect of owning and controlling as much uranium as it can get hold of.
In France one sees massive investment in enrichment and fast breeder reactors. One hears that the French are doing very well because they have developed the vitrification process that guarantees safe waste disposal. Yet Professor Ringwood in Canberra says that it is not a safe disposal method. To bury that waste, particularly in the saltmines in which it is suggested it would be safe, could well cause a breakdown of the glass modules in which it is encased. This would cause a leakage of the fuel into subterranean streams. Can one imagine the Deputy Prime Minister suggesting to the people of Richmond, the seat he represents, that he would be prepared to have high level waste stored in that area? I think not. Why do we adopt such an immoral attitude, that we do not care what happens because other people will have the problem? France has been determined to run its own race in this issue, for commercial power generation concepts. It wants to dominate the field in the area of energy generation. It is very interested in selling uranium plants throughout the world and it is doing so to Iraq and other nations. We had further problems in the past with the West Germans suggesting that they might be able to sell plant and equipment to the Brazilians. There is no real guarantee of what will happen. We have got away from what was alleged to be the statement of the Government’s policy as far back as 1977. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) made it very clear, because he used as one of the justifications for his Government’s decision to export uranium that it would slow down the development of plutonium as a fuel. We do not hear much about that today. He said this:
By taking the decision to export uranium, Australia can slow the movement towards the use of plutonium as a nuclear fuel and lessen the attendant increased risks of nuclear weapons proliferation. By taking the decision to export uranium, Australia’s ability to support more effective safeguards and minimise proliferation risks will be strengthened.
He was right to talk about that. We have abandoned that situation. It is clear that the world will be out of fuel in 20 years from now, so we are going into the plutonium cycle with all the difficulties of that cycle. Two issues are involved: One concerns plutonium and the other high level waste. Allegedly, the plutonium will be used for peaceful purposes. Nobody has discussed what will happen to the high level waste. The position of Carter in the past was not to get to that stage, but we are rushing to it now without any control from the point of view of Australia’s interests in the world.
Why is it that this Government is always prepared to do what somebody else suggests it ought to do for their benefit and. not for the Australian benefit or for the benefit of the world? Dr Martin Indyk of the Macquarie University is an expert on the subject. He has calculated that if reprocessing proceeds enough plutonium will be stockpiled in five years to make a further 22,000 nuclear bombs. How do we guarantee that there will be no proliferation? Where are the people in Australia who will be able to say: ‘We can guarantee it will not happen?’ None of them are involved in the issue of enrichment, reprocessing or high level waste storage. So it is quite stupid, infantile and kindergarten politics to come in here and say: ‘We are satisfied’.
We have done nothing to help our own technology. We have done nothing to develop our own effective science and research in these areas. We have abdicated the whole lot. If it is so safe to the world why are we not getting the benefit of it? If it is so valuable and if the safeguard ensures control of it, why do we not always have it under our control and lease it out if that is the way to go? We would then at least be able to answer all those objections about what would happen if uranium got into South Korea and revolutionary governments came to power. What would happen if uranium had got into Iran and revolutionary governments absorbed it there, or in the Philippines? Finland is the most priceless example of all. We do sell uranium to Finland. The enrichment process, and obviously the reprocessing, will be done by the Russians. This is the sort of situation that we have to face. The point is made very clearly on page 3 of the Ministers statement that there is a complete abdication of our responsibilities. The International Fuel Cycle Evaluation report says that ‘it was foreseen’ that future reprocessing plants would require improved safeguard techniques. This clearly shows that existing safeguards are not reliable to enable us to foresee the situation. I will quote Dr Martin Indyk again. He said:
Even if reprocessing only takes place in large commercial facilities, safeguarding the throughput will still be problematic because the input cannot easily be measured, composed as it is of irradiated fuel rods.
To put it simply, technology has not reached the stage where what goes in can be reconciled with what comes out. On page 6 of the statement the Minister mentions a new policy development which again represents a watering down of what the Prime Minister said. In 1977 the Prime Minister said that if reprocessing was ever agreed to the Government would need to be satisfied that there was a need for reprocessing for legitimate energy purposes. Apparently all one has to establish, from the statement, is ‘the country’s need within its overall energy strategy’. This means that approval for reprocessing will not be governed on needs but rather on the strategy of the foreign government. It will not be very difficult for the foreign governments that I have mentioned to make their strategy pretty flexible to adjust it to what it thinks is its need. We are very condescending. We will go all the way on the commercial issue, the Minister says, and we do not intend to intrude into the decision-making process when we are dealing with these matters. That must be heard with a great deal of pleasure in Paris and
Tokyo. But then we learn also that processing will be permitted for the purpose of the mangement of fuels contained in the spent nuclear fuel cycle. That relates not only to plutonium but also to the high level waste. Again we do not seem to have any clear understanding of what that can mean because there is fissionable material in the high level waste. It has all the major problems for the world and certainly for us if it is to be stored in areas that can cause dangers to mankind. Instead of talking about developing new technology and helping the world which we should be doing here we are just abdicating the whole responsibility. It means that reprocessing can start virtually tomorrow.
This Government has got out of its responsibility in relation to the nuclear fuel cycle. It means that large stockpiles of plutonium will be built up right across the world. The message from Vienna is that we will run out of plutonium and we will have an escalation of power domination because people will start talking about war. It means also that the Third World may never become developed. Where will they get the advantage of energy resources? I asked the Minister during Question Time today about the policies of Canada and the United States in relation to this matter. The Minister said he would ascertain these policies. In the course of his speech he clearly indicated that those countries have not made any definite commitments. They are well up in the nuclear technology area. I bet honourable members that if they make any commitment about what will happen to their uranium from the point of view of sale it will be on the basis that they will be involved in the enrichment and reprocessing processes within their own countries. I guarantee that that will be the practical way that they will safeguard the situation.
What we have done, as a government, is to take the lead in making the world an even more dangerous place. We are about the first government to abdicate consent and control over safeguards of this material. We have given that away. The commitment now is to get the sale. Therefore we have forgotten the responsibility that we have to the world. It is no good the Government issuing statements like the one that has been issued today suggesting that there will be an improvement in the situation. There is a marked deterioration. The Minister, in his statement, made reference to how the Government welcomes the comprehensive test ban treaty and how the Government strongly supports the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. Let me make this clear: United States President-elect Reagan has no strong support for SALT. He has made that very clear. He is of the view obviously that he feels the way to protect the nation is to have an escalation of nuclear weapons. Once that happens the arms race starts again, if it has not already started. What nonsense it is to be putting these words down when the Government knows that one of its main allies, from the point of view of encouraging development in a number of areas, is more likely to go into the wrong development of nuclear weapons on the false premise that by having more nuclear weapons we will have more peace in the world. That is a fallacy.
In this statement the Government contradicts again what the Prime Minister said in 1977 that the Government would need to be satisfied that the international control and safeguards are intensified to ensure an adequate and effective defence against diversion of plutonium to non-peaceful purposes. This will not happen. I have made the point of the sales that the Government has made. The Government has written a blank cheque. It is not looking at the responsibility it ought to have to this nation. I urge it to look at it closely from the point of view of world peace. It is very clear that this is a priceless fuel. Therefore, on a commercial basis I urge the Government to hold on to it; it will not lose. It means also that the world will lose if the Government flogs it off to all the ready buyers who will stockpile it, use it and give it to others for their own commercial advantage. Those others will be involved in the enrichment or reprocessing. However, in the process of power domination and the problems facing the world today and because of the ambitions of leaders and the historical hatreds, some of this material will be diverted towards nuclear weapons. If another 22,000 bombs are produced in the next five years that will double the number already in existence.
Let us make it very clear. If the Government is satisfied - I submit that it cannot be - that everything is in order, the great weakness in its case is that by 2000, 20 years from now, the world will be short of this resource. We will have given it all away. Our responsibility is to our own people and to our children as to what we could have done in the interests of peace and the development of different technologies whilst guaranteeing at the same time that as and when those technologies are developed we will also maintain ownership and control of the fuel throughout the cycle. Until that is done no satisfactory statement will be made to the Australian nation about the justification of selling any of our uranium.
Speaker has received messages from the Senate acquainting the House of Representatives of the appointment of senators to the following committees:
Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings.
Senators Hamer and Douglas McClelland.
Joint Committee of Public Accounts.
Senators Georges, Lajovic and Watson.
Standing Committee on Public Works.
Senators Kilgariff, Melzer and Young.
- Mr Speaker has received a letter from the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The failure of the Fraser Government to check the alienation of Australian ownership and control of property and resources in Queensland by the policies of the Queensland Government.
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 -
– I propose to the Chair that as it is only a couple of minutes to one o’clock we adjourn the debate on the matter of public importance until 2. 15.
-The Chair acknowledges that the honourable member for Blaxland will be better accommodated, but in agreeing to the proposal I point out that the inconvenience does incidentally result from the extended remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– I support the suggestion made by the honourable member for Blaxland.
-I regard this as an appropriate time for the proceedings to be interrupted.
Sitting suspended from 12.58 to 2.15 p.m.
– The Opposition has chosen today to propose the following as a matter of public importance, namely:
The failure of the Fraser Government to check the alienation of Australian ownership and control of property and resources in Queensland by the policies of the Queensland Government.
We propose that matter because never in Australian history has there been such a concerted alienation of Australian resources and property as there has in the alienation to foreign interests in Queensland under the policies of the Queensland Government. There has been a wholesale sell-off of Australian interests and property with no concept whatsoever of the national interest. This has occurred with the tacit approval of the Fraser Government and in many cases with the expressed approval of the Fraser Government. There has been no attempt to guarantee a fair return to the Australian public, particularly for the mining and shipment of resources and minerals from Queensland. In Canada in the last week legislation was introduced to guarantee at least 5 1 per cent ownership and control of resources. In Queensland, one of the richest parts of Australia, we see the continuing decline in the level of Australian ownership of and control over resources and property.
The Government of that State continually welcomes foreigners with open arms- not on any moderate basis of a place for foreign investment and a place for Australian ownership - but in the words of the Premier he welcomes 100 per cent foreign ownership and foreign equity in projects. So the Bjelke-Petersen Government has gone its way into selling off to foreign interests the heritage and birthright of Australians in Queensland. Let me look at the major resource of that State, in commercial terms, which is coal and just repeat, for the information of the House, the level of foreign ownership in some of the major mines there. Oaky Creek has 64 per cent foreign ownership; Gooynella, Peak Downs, Daunia and Norwich Park have 80 per cent foreign ownership; Blackwater has 89 per cent foreign ownership; Sirius Creek has 100 per cent foreign ownership; Blair Athol has 77 per cent foreign ownership; Capella has 80 per cent foreign ownership; Hail Creek has 46 per cent foreign ownership; German Creek has 85 per cent foreign ownership; and the Dalby-Millmerran area has 100 per cent foreign ownership in the hands of the Amax corporation. It does not matter where one looks one finds similar cases. As well as that the German Creek consortium has been given a completely new block of steam coal to mine and to develop. That is a consortium which is 85 per cent foreign owned. Now the Winchester lease is coming up and the chances are that that lease will go again to foreigners because in Queensland foreigners are regarded as the people who should be able to exploit the resources of Australia.
When we look at what has happened we can see that the Fraser Government has allowed the major foreign oil companies to get into the development of Australian coal, and that has happened in Queensland. The Shell company has moved in in a big way at German Creek. The American company, Atlantic Richfield Co., has moved into Blair Athol and Esso has moved into Hail Creek as well as into the Rundle shale oil deposit. The Rundle shale oil deposit has a lot of other financial and technical implications and a case could be made for that happening there. But in regard to the moving into coal, there is no reason why Australia should fall prey to the policies of the international oil companies so that they can control the world’s trade in coal in the same way as in the post-war period they were able to control the world’s trade in oil. We are one of the largest exporters of coal. We are not one of the largest producers, but we are one of the countries with the largest exportable surplus. By the turn of the century, if current projections can be relied upon, we will be the biggest trading nation in coal. It makes no sense, therefore, to see our coal trade and the sovereignty over our coal trade exercised by a clutch of multinational oil companies, indeed, by foreign steel companies or by any other collection of foreign companies seeking to dominate the world trade.
Let me look at a couple of prime examples in which the Fraser Government is culpable in allowing the Queensland Government to alienate Australian resources. German Creek, which was the first major coal development in Queensland since Utah’s decision to go ahead with the Norwich Park mine four years ago, is 85 per cent foreign owned - one of the best coking coal deposits in the world. It has hard, high vitrainite coals which are the envy of steelmakers the world over. It is 26 per cent owned by an Australian company, Austen and Butta, which is itself about 37 per cent owned by Shell. There is a 43 per cent direct interest by Shell and an 18 per cent interest by the British National Coal Board. Let me give a little of its history. We are shoe-horning the British National Coal Board into deposits of coking coal in Queensland, and when Utah gets a contract with British Steel to supply coking coal to Britain Sir Derek Ezra of the British National Coal Board beat the hell out of the contract and pressured the British Government to oblige British Steel to drop the contract for Australian coal. Yet we are letting the British National Coal Board, an instrumentality of the British Government, into this major deposit in Queensland.
The other companies with ownership are Ruhrkohle, which is a West German steel consortium, and Commercial Union Assurance. The owners have agreed to sell 1 3 per cent of the Shell interest, but even when they do it will still be 62 per cent foreign controlled. It is one of the next major coking coal mines in the world to come on stream. There is no reason why that should be the case. Shell has no special quality in mining coal, lt is a newcomer to coal mining. If the Queensland Government, particularly at the behest of the Fraser Government, had sought Australian companies to develop proposals to mine this resource at German Creek, that woud have happened. As I said earlier, as well as that, the Queensland Government has given the German Creek consortium a block of steam coal. Everyone knows what is happening with steaming coal prices. Steaming coal prices are now overtaking the price of soft coking coal. It is as good as giving the consortium another massive coking coal lease. It will have that locked up. At the best it will be 62 per cent foreign owned, that is, if it complies with its undertakings. At the moment it is 85 per cent foreign owned.
Let us look at Blair Athol. It was perhaps one of the best steaming coal deposits in the world. The Japanese made it abundantly clear that they wished to have Blair Athol developed. Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Ltd which had 62 per cent of the project, wanted to buy the 37 per cent or 38 per cent of the project which was owned by the Clutha organisation, the Ludwig organisation, and sought approval from the Federal Government to be given permission to buy it, to warehouse the equity and then bring in Japanese partners who would issue contracts for the coal mined at Blair Athol. Instead of doing that, the Treasurer (Mr Howard) and the Treasury took the view that they should not be interfering with the market place or making market place decisions. They allowed that 38 per cent to go to Atlantic Richfield, the American oil company. In heaven’s name what claims Atlantic Richfield ever had in Queensland coal I will never know. Nevertheless, the Government’s view was that it should not be making a commercial decision.
The whole purpose of the foreign investment policy is that it is an interventionist’s policy. It is to intervene to protect the Australian national interest. That is the central purpose of it. The Government went on to say: ‘We cannot make a commercial decision’. So what happened? The Government allowed Atlantic Richfield to buy the Clutha interests. Now the Japanese have stood the Government up and said: ‘If there is no place for us in the equity split you will not have contracts for the coal’. Now the Government is rapping on the door of CRA and Atlantic Richfield to get them to sell off some of their equity to the Japanese so that the project can get started. It will not get started while ever ARCO holds to the present level of its stake in the project. Who is to blame? The Fraser Government is to blame because there was a clear opportunity when the sale of the Clutha interest came up to make sure that the right equity arrangements were contained in this project conducive to its starting.
Much is the same with the Oaky Creek. At Oaky Creek, another major deposit about to start, the Queensland Government gave that lease to Houston Oil and Minerals, an American company. Mount Isa Mines Ltd bought into 40 per cent of the deposit, and 22 per cent of it was in the hands of three European iron and steel companies. When it came up before the election the Treasurer and the Government thought they would spin a tale to the public about how they were protecting the national interest and required MIM and the consortium to get the Australian equity up before the Government would give the go ahead with 51 per cent local ownership. Houston Oil and Minerals has now sold to MIM, to facilitate a higher level of local equity but still the Government has held the project up. There are some extenuating circumstances because for MIM to sell more of its equity in this project to Australians it would have to sell it to Australian competitors in the region developing other coal mines. It will take a while for the Government to sort those arrangements out in respect of Oakey Creek. What is happening is simply that if MIM, the British National Coal Board or Shell, or whoever it may be, sell their equity to Australians after these mines have contracts, they will sell them at huge premiums. The people of Australia will not get the shares in German Creek or Oakey Creek or any of the deposits for which there are contracts and financial arrangements committed without paying huge premiums. Australians do not buy in at the grassroots price.
The technique has been for the Queensland Government to award on day one large blocks of coal to foreigners and then for the Fraser Government to come in with its half-hearted approach to foreign investment management and require the later sale of a proportion of the equity to Australians. But Australians are then bled dry for the privilege of participating in these projects. So the people who are given the lease areas originally are the main beneficiaries. As well as that, the gains which these major companies make in selling a proportion of the projects to Australians is a gain which is, of course, free of tax, as it is a capital gain. We very rarely end up with 51 per cent Australian equity. Mostly a minority Australian equity situation occurs and Australians pay heavily for the privilege of going into projects which should be their birthright. It is not just in coal. We saw the same thing with the Iwasaki project at Yeppoon which was 100 per cent Japanese. We have seen the Fraser Government cowering and kowtowing to the Bjelke-Petersen Government in respect of the territorial sea of Queensland and the control of the Great Barrier Reef. Whenever there is any test of principle with the Queensland Government - whether it is on Aboriginals, on the Great Barrier Reef, on the territorial sea or on the ownership of coal - the natural interest and the Fraser Government come off second best. But the problem is at the start. The issue is simply that the Fraser Government has not protected the national interest. Ten years ago foreign investment in this country was $6.5 billion. Today it is $ 1 5 billion and increasing at the rate of $2 billion a year. In almost four years the Foreign Investment Review Board has rejected only 30 of 4,437 proposals by foreign investors to buy into Australian industries, mines and real estate. More than 3,400 of these proposals were takeovers involving a change from Australian control to foreign control. No improvement in technology and no change in the performance of the company were involved; there was just a change in ownership.
The Fraser Government has nominally a 51 per cent Australian equity policy. It does not stick to that policy. It has sold the national interest down the drain because it does not have the strength to take on the Bjelke-Petersen Government, which is presiding over one of the most despicable sell-outs of national heritage that has been seen in the Western world. Queensland has one of the richest deposits of coal in the world. The Queensland Government would sell the lot to foreign interests simply because of some view about the market or, if one was unkind enough to say it, because the Queensland Government is corrupt. I believe that in some cases the Ministers of the Queensland Government are corrupt. But when the Treasurer has been tested he has fumbled the ball on every occasion. He let it go on Blair Athol and on German Creek and we will see what he does with Oaky Creek. We on this side of the House intend to maintain our vigilance over foreign investment and ownership in this country and we will see that these State Premiers do not sell to foreign interests the major resources and the birthright and heritage of all Australians. The Department of the Treasury has insisted on the Government now trying to protect the revenue by at least owning half the projects because the Government will not implement a resource rental tax. At least the Treasury, if not the Treasurer, has decided that the only way it will get its hands on any taxable earnings is to make sure there is a 5 1 per cent Australian equity. We on this side of the House believe that this is a matter of public importance. We certainly hope that the people of Queensland will vote the present Queensland Government out of office and elect a Labor government at the end of this week.
– I suppose that as this is the Queensland election week it would be entirely surprising if the Opposition had not chosen to bring forward a matter of public importance and link it in some way with the activities and the policies of the Queensland Government. We have the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) back on his old hobby-horse, replete with all the rhetoric and emotional phrases that we have come to recognise in this field, such as ‘Concerted alienation’, ‘wholesale sell-off’, ‘clutch of multinationals’ and all of the other flowery rhetorical phrases which are designed not to fairly assess the benefits to this country of foreign investment but rather to evoke latent and at times quite prejudiced suspicion towards foreign investment in this country. I do not for a moment contest the need for the national Government of this country, whatever its political flavour, to have policies which ensure that Australians get a fair share of the action so far as our natural resources are concerned. Indeed, if there has been a feature of the administration of the foreign investment policy of this Government over the past three years, it has been the determination of the Government to ensure, in respect of the great natural resource projects, that that vital balance between foreign investment and Australian participation is achieved.
In the course of his remarks the honourable member for Blaxland spoke about a number of individual projects. I will come to those in a moment. Before I do so let me briefly remind the House that the purpose of our foreign investment policy is to ensure that in the development of our natural resources Australians are given an opportunity to participate. It is also an objective of our foreign investment policy to provide a climate of certainty and one in which people who are prepared to risk their money get some reward for the risk they have taken. After their money has been risked, after they have invested in the future of a project when it is merely at the exploration stage and when there is no real evidence that the project is going to be viable, it is all very well to say: Thank you very much, but we are not going to give you a fair return for the risk that you have taken’. I have no hesitation in saying that this country owes a great deal to foreign investment.
The industries of this country owe a great deal to foreign investment and many of the industries simply would never have been developed if people from overseas had not been prepared to risk their investments in this country. That ought to be understood. I see absolutely nothing inconsistent in defending that position and at the same time requiring in the administration of foreign investment policy that Australians get a fair share of the action.
Does anybody seriously believe that we would have ever had a motor vehicle industry in this country without overseas investment? The Australian Labor Party predecessors of those who now sit opposite me who occupied the treasury bench in the late 1940s did not believe that we could have had a motor vehicle industry in this country without the assistance of foreign investment. Does anybody seriously believe that we could have started the great mineral development of this country without assistance from overseas investors? Anybody who understands the development of this country and who understands the relative capital scarcity in Australia will know that we have needed and will continue to need considerable amounts of foreign investment to aid our development.
The policies that have been followed by the Queensland Government have led to the development of that State in such a way that it is now, in many respects, the envy of many people who live in other parts of Australia. The fact is that that State has developed and the standard of living of the people in that State has developed in a way that is seen increasingly by people in other parts of Australia not as a source of criticism but a source of some degree of envy.
But I return to the specific charges made by the honourable member for Blaxland. He seems to have a hang-up about the circumstances under which I approved the acquisition by the Atlantic Richfield Co. about two years ago of an interest in the Blair Athol project. The simple fact is that on that occasion the Government approved two applications. I approved the application of Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Ltd. I also approved the application of Atlantic Richfield. The honourable member for Blaxland says to me: ‘What business does Atlantic Richfield have in a coal mine in Queensland?’ I will tell him what interest it has. It happens to have the interest of a firm and binding contract with the Ludwig organisation which owned an interest in the Blair Athol deposit. The reason ARCO got that interest is that there was a pre-emptive clause in that contract. The effect of the two approvals was to ensure that that particular interest in that project went to that company.
There was no other proper way of administering the policy in those circumstances.
This Government is committed to the maintenance of the requirement in its foreign investment policy that there be 50 per cent Australian equity at the time the production stage commences unless the circumstances of the project are such that the project would not get off the ground if there were insistence upon that level of equity. In those circumstances the participants are required to give appropriate undertakings that they will proceed to 50 per cent Australian ownership by the time the project enters the production stage. Does the honourable member for Blaxland want us to have a situation whereby a project does not get off the ground?
– No, but you don’t mean it.
– Of course, he claims now that he does not, but the policy that we have structured, I suggest, gets the best of both worlds. On the one hand it is a policy which ensures that where Australian equity is available it gets a share of the action. I can assure the House that this Government will see to it that that policy continues to be applied. Equally, it is a policy which is not so blind, not so prejudiced and bigoted against foreign investment that it says: Well, if you cannot get Australian risk capital we will not let you go ahead with the project. Is that what the honourable member for Blaxland wants us to have?
– No, but you should give the leases to Australians in the first place.
– Oh, it is not? Well, this is the only way in which a rational foreign investment policy in this country can be followed - to maximise the benefits both from Australian participation and from overseas investment.
Our policy which has applied since 1976 has worked, and worked extremely well, because this country is now seen as a place in which people can invest with a degree of confidence and a degree of predictability and in the knowledge that if they are prepared in good old fashioned market terms to risk their money they will get some return for it. That is nothing for any country to be ashamed of. Indeed, it has done a great deal to enhance the reputation of this country around the world. We will go on applying that policy because it is seen as a fair and sensible policy which maximises the benefits of foreign investment and at the same time ensures that in its application Australians have a fair opportunity of participating in and receiving the benefits.
We have now put behind us those days when this country was seen as having a foreign investment policy that could change at the whim of the person administering it, a foreign investment policy that looked with suspicion on people from overseas who were prepared to invest their money in this country and a foreign investment policy which encouraged suspicion of foreign investment by people who wanted to invest in this country and in fact led to that foreign investment being discouraged. Does anybody seriously contest that this country could have developed in the way in which it has developed over the last 20 years without the assistance of very significant amounts of foreign investment? All of the experience of the development of this country over the past 20 years has been the experience of a country which has been able to get the benefits of foreign investment while at the same time ensuring that there are sufficient opportunities for Australians to participate in the development of our country. The honourable member for Blaxland, in the course of his remarks, made unsubstantiated allegations against the integrity of people in the Queensland Government. I say to the honourable member for Blaxland that if he has anything to say in that area why does he not have the courage to get up and give us some information? Why does he hide behind the protective cloak of the generalised smear? There is no technique more elementary, more juvenile and more lacking in courage than the technique of a generalised smear. Of course, the honourable member for Blaxland gets up and says: ‘Oh, there are members of the Queensland Government who are lacking in integrity’. He talks about corruption. Let him give us some evidence. Let him give us some details. But no, the honourable member for Blaxland cannot do that. He just fills his speechs with a long retinue of emotive, evocative and, at time, quite defamatory phrases. I say on behalf of the Government in this place that the Queensland Government has given to that State in terms of economic development a position which is regarded with envy in other parts of Australia. I believe the development policies of the Queensland Government have been to the benefit of the Queensland people.
I believe the administration of the foreign investment policy by the Fraser Government is an administration which has balanced the advantages of foreign investment and at the same time ensured that Australians have had an opportunity to participate. I do not believe the Australian community wants to go back to the days when there was no surveillance of foreign investment. I do not believe the Australian community wants to go back to the days when absolutely no questions were asked about foreign investment, when there were no rules at all so far as local equity was concerned. Equally, I do not believe the Australian community wants to go back to the days when overseas investors saw in the foreign investment policies of this country the policies of a banana republic. They do not want to go back to the days when foreign investment was scared off. They do not want to go back to the days when to invest in this country was to take an undue risk with their assets. They want the present policies - the policies which provide opportunity for the local investor and contain rules that protect the right of Australians to participate in natural resource projects and at the same time create an investment climate for those overseas who are willing to invest in the future of Australia. They want policies which mean that this country is looked upon as one of the most favoured and one of the most attractive places in which to invest.
Order! The discussion is concluded.
Bill presented by Mr Viner, and read a first time.
– I move:
Mr Deputy Speaker, this Bill was introduced into the Parliament on 21 August 1980, but unfortunately the Parliamentary timetable did not permit its passage. The Bill is re-introduced now in the expectation that it can be passed during the present sittings.
In June last year the Government of Western Samoa asked the Australian Government for help in finding a successor to the retiring Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Samoa. Our two governments subsequently agreed that Mr Justice St John, a judge of the Federal Court of Australia, would with his concurrence be made available for appointment by Western Samoa as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Samoa. Mr Justice St John was sworn into that office for a period of two years on 7 July 1 980.
The purpose of the present Bill is to give statutory approval to that appointment and to ensure that Mr Justice St John’s service as Chief Justice of Western St noa counts for the purposes of his rights and entitlements as an Australian judge.
Mr Justice St John is well qualified for this appointment. He has been a Federal judge for over five years, is a Master of Laws and, before being appointed to the Bench, was a Queen’s Counsel with an extensive practice at the New South Wales Bar. Mr Justice St John was actively associated with the Council of Civil Liberties in New South Wales, being a member of the Committee of the Council since 1 963 and President of the Council at the time of his appointment to the Bench. In addition to his appointments to the Federal Court of Australia and the Australian Industrial Court, he is a judge of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory and of the Supreme Court of Norfolk Island.
I am sure that honourable members will welcome the opportunity that Australia has been afforded, through the initiative of the Government of Western Samoa, to assist a Pacific neighbour with which Australia has a close association. This appointment follows in a sense the precedent set by the appointment some years ago of Sir John Nimmo as Chief Justice of Fiji.
The Bill before the House approves, in clause 4, the acceptance by Mr Justice St John of the appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Samoa. This provision is included to place it beyond doubt that acceptance of the appointment will not create any inconsistency with his Australian appointments. His entitlements as an Australian judge are to be preserved.
The Government of Western Samoa will pay Mr Justice St John’s salary for the period of his appointment and His Honour has agreed to waive any Australian salary which would be payable during that period. Clause 5 of the Bill provides that that waiver does not affect his entitlements under the Judges’ Pensions Act 1968 and the Judges (Long Leave Payments) Act 1979. 1 commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr John Brown) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Viner, and read a first time.
– I move:
Mr Deputy Speaker, this Bill was introduced into the Parliament on 1 1 September 1980, but unfortunately the Parliamentary timetable did not permit its passage. The Bill is re-introduced now in the expectation that it can be passed during the present sittings.
The purpose of this Bill is to give effect to the recommendations of the Remuneration Tribunal in respect of the salaries and allowances of justices of the High Court and other Federal judges, contained in the 1 980 review by the Tribunal.
The new salaries and annual allowances proposed to be payable to the judges are to be found in the new schedule to be substituted by clause 5 of the Bill. It might be noted that the Remuneration Tribunal commented that the salaries which it recommended ‘have been framed so as to ensure that judicial remuneration is set apart from the effects of national wage case decisions and to resolve the inequities now existing’.
The other provisions of the Bill are concerned with the travelling allowances payable to justices of the High Court and to other judges. These provisions give effect to the recommendations of the Remuneration Tribunal with respect to travelling allowances. For the first time, the Remuneration Tribunal made recommendations as to the overseas travel allowance payable to judges. The Tribunal did not, however, recommend a rate of overseas travel allowance for justices of the High Court. The Bill provides, in sub-section (7) of new section 13A, that a justice of the High Court is entitled to an allowance by way of reimbursement of the reasonable expenses of travel outside Australia and the external Territories in connection with the performance of his duties.
Apart from one circumstance, a justice of the High Court is not to be entitled to travelling allowance in respect of duty performed in Canberra. A justice of the High Court who now holds office and who does not have his sole or principal place of residence in Canberra is, however, to be entitled to an allowance at the rate of $7,500 per annum. Provision for this is made in proposed new section 13B. High Court justices appointed in the future will not receive this special allowance, whether or not they establish their homes in Canberra. A person so appointed will, however, be entitled to travelling allowance in respect of duty performed in Canberra at the ordinary daily rate until he establishes his home in Canberra or for three months after the date of his appointment, whichever is the lesser period. This provision is made in sub-section (5) of proposed new section 1 3A. It will be noted that residence in New South Wales adjacent to the Australian Capital Territory is treated as being equivalent to residence in Canberra.
In accordance with the recommendations of the Remuneration Tribunal, the salaries and allowances established by this Bill are retrospective to 1 July 1980. 1 commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr John Brown) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Ellicott, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill is identical with the Christmas Island Amendment Bill 1980, which was introduced on 18 September 1980 and lapsed on dissolution of the House of Representatives on 19 September 1980.
The purpose of this Bill is to introduce new citizenship provisions into the Christmas Island Act 1958. These provisions will enable persons not already Australian citizens, who were ordinarily resident in Christmas Island immediately before its transfer to Australia and who are now ordinarily resident in Australia or an external Territory, to take up Australian citizenship, if they so wish.
The Bill brings the citizenship provisions of the Christmas Island Act into line with those of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act as amended last year. Under the existing legislation persons who were over 21 years of age at the time Australia accepted responsibility for the island on 1 October 1958 had a choice of making a declaration to become Australian citizens in a period of 2 years from that date. This provision expired on 1 October 1960. Persons who were under 21 years of age at 1 October 1958 were able to make a declaration to become Australian citizens two years after attaining the age of 21 years. The value of this provision expires on 1 October 1981. Persons bom in Christmas Island on or after 1 October 1958 are automatically Australian citizens.
The report of the commission of inquiry into the viability of the Christmas Island phosphate industry recommended that the citizenship provisions of the Christmas Island Act be repealed. The Government’s decision reflected in this Bill goes against that recommendation which would take away an existing right. Because Australia has a special responsibility towards the inhabitants of the island at the time Australia assumed responsibility for the Territory, the Government has decided not only to retain the citizenship provisions in question for the benefit of residents still eligible but also to extend them.
The Bill extends the right to Australian citizenship to persons who resided on the island on 1 October 1958 and either failed to opt within the prescribed time or were ineligible on account of not being British subjects, providing these persons are now still on the island or reside in another Australian external Territory or on the Australian mainland. The new provisions will become effective on a date to be fixed by proclamation and will have no time limit. lt is estimated that in addition to the 80 or so persons still on Christmas Island, a further 200 former island residents now in Australia, mostly in Western Australia, will benefit from the effects of the Bill. This is one of several decisions taken recently by the Government for the benefit of the Christmas Island residents, as announced in June of this year.
It is proposed as a result of these decisions also to extend the Migration Act 1958 to the island whereby, among other things, island residents will be granted permanent resident status in Australia and will as a result be able to apply for Australian citizenship under the Citizenship Act 1948, which already applies in the Territory. Other legislation will deal with industrial appeals from Christmas Island. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr John Brown) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Macphee, and read a first time.
– I move:
The provisions of this Bill are designed, firstly, to restrict by law the categories of immigrants eligible to be granted permanent residence subsequent to their arrival in Australia and, secondly, to extend the application of the Migration Act to the territory of Christmas Island and confer permanent resident status on island workers and their families. On 19 June 1980 I announced or foreshadowed a number of initiatives directed towards implementing the Government’s intention to continue to increase legal migration to Australia and at the same time to curtail illegal migration by removing its principal incentive - the prospect of entering as a visitor and subsequently gaining the right of legal permanent residence here.
People unable to meet Australia’s normal immigration requirements have continued to come to Australia as visitors and subsequently seek resident status, frequently enlisting the support of members of parliament, the media, ethnic communities and other voluntary organisations. Such changes of status have been against Government policy but were legally possible. Many thousands of people who could not satisfy normal migration policy requirements deliberately overstayed and remained illegally. Often years later such persons would seek change of status arguing that they had become so integrated in the Australian community that they must be deemed to be constituent members of it.
As it is known that the Migration Act provides for ministerial discretion to be exercised in all such cases, the pressures on the Minister and the Department have become considerable and unremitting with enormous involvement of staff resources in examining requests to sanction breaches of policy. As the policy has been reaffirmed a law is now needed to enforce the policy. An unenforceable policy relieved by amnesties is a situation which produces inequities, especially regarding those persons who accept the verdict that they do not qualify for migration and do not seek to circumvent that policy. Moreover, resident status is so prized as to make people ready prey for unscrupulous persons who claim to be able to influence decisions. People are often exploited by others when they seek change of status contrary to policy.
Cases which have involved more than 20 consecutive appeals to me or my department against a refusal to approve permanent residence are not uncommon. In some instances the number of individual representations runs into the hundreds. Typically, these cases involve people who, had they applied overseas, would have been quite properly rejected as being totally unable to meet the usual immigration policies and criteria. The only way in which this abuse of the discretionary powers of the Migration Act can be overcome is to limit the types of cases for which change of status - that is, the grant of legal permanent residence - may be approved.
The Bill will limit the categories of persons eligible to be granted change of status to territorial asylees, to the spouses, unmarried children or aged parents of an Australian citizen or other permanent resident; refugees; certain persons holding temporary entry permits with permission to work here who meet migration criteria; and other persons holding temporary entry permits where there are strong compassionate or humanitarian grounds involved. The effect of this change will be to preclude, in future, the grant of permanent resident status to the great majority of those who have in the past entered and remained illegally in Australia. To reinforce these legislative changes there will be a strengthening of control measures against future illegal and prohibited migration.
There will, however, be no change in the existing discretionary powers under the Act to approve applications for migration. Those who do not fall within the deliberately restricted categories for whom change of status can in future be approved will still be able to have their cases approved provided they apply overseas and meet entry requirements. There will be no advantage and indeed a very serious disadvantage if they attempt to beat the system by coming to Australia as visitors and failing to leave because, as soon as they are detected, deportation action will be taken in accordance with the law.
In deciding to introduce this Bill the Government recognised that Australia already had many thousands of prohibited immigrants in the community. The numbers have been building up over a period of years, particularly since the ‘easy visa’ system for tourists was introduced in 1973. This system, which was widely abused, was later abandoned but the problems it accentuated remained. No one could have realistically or responsibly suggested that we should seek out, detain and deport every prohibited immigrant in Australia. Many have been here for years, some for 30 years or more. They have established themselves and for practical purposes have become part of the community. Others have close family ties which could not reasonably be ignored.
The Government therefore decided that subject to their being of reasonable health and character, these people should be granted legal permanent residence. At the same time the Government considered that people who were here legally but temporarily should not be treated less favourably than those who were here illegally, if they wished to remain here. It was for this reason that on 19 June 1980 I announced the Regularisation of Status Program which has been widely described as an amnesty. In a very real sense it is, but it is something more than an amnesty because it also applies to persons legally here.
The conditions of ROSP are simple and straightforward. Anyone who arrived in Australia before 1 January 1980 either legally or illegally and who was still here when ROSP was announced is eligible to apply for permanent residence provided that he or she applies before 1 January 1981. In addition, those who arrived here on or after 1 January 1980 and were still here when ROSP was announced are eligible provided they had applied for permanent residence prior to 19 June 1980 and they were legally in Australia on 19 June 1980 or when their previous application was lodged. Persons who are in this category must apply for permanent residence after 19 June 1980 and before 1 January 1981.
Only three groups are not eligible to apply for permanent residence in Australia under ROSP. The first group comprises persons who, as at 19 June 1980, have been ordered to be deported under sections 1 2 or 1 3 of the Migration Act or as prohibited immigrants under sections 16 and 1 8 of that Act. The second group comprises diplomats and other members of overseas missions in Australia including their household staff and families. The third group comprises those covered by the overseas student program.
I am pleased to say that both the English language and ethnic media - Press, radio and television - have given strong editorial and other support to ROSP. This support has been strongly reinforced by ethnic community leaders both individually and through the various councils and conferences. By 21 November approximately 20,000 enquiries had been received and almost 12,000 ROSP applications had been given out to people inquiring personally. Over 10,000 applications have been lodged covering at least 1 2,500 people and 7,600 have already been interviewed. Because of the time inevitably involved in making overseas character checks, the numbers approved at this stage are still relatively small, but over 1,000 have been approved and this number will grow with increasing rapidity. To date only one case has been rejected. As I have stated, only I as Minister can reject a ROSP application and I will do so only if it involves very serious health or character problems.
Some concern has also been expressed in cases where a person’s political beliefs may affect their chance of approval under ROSP. I repeat to the House an assurance which I have given publicly to ethnic community representatives. No person will be rejected under ROSP because of his or her political beliefs. If, however, a person expresses his or her political belief through acts of violence then the seriousness of these acts of violence- but not the political views which underlie them- will be a factor in deciding whether or not their case is approved. Finally, I would stress that if people are to benefit from the provisions of ROSP it is essential that they apply before 1 January 1981. If they do not, it will be too late.
I now turn to the detailed provisions of the Bill which concern the limitations on the grant of permanent residence to persons who have already entered Australia. Clause 6 inserts a new section 6a which will prohibit the grant of permanent residence to an immigrant subsequent to arrival in Australia, unless
he is the holder of a temporary entry permit, is authorised to work in Australia and is not
The new sub-sections 6A (2) and (3) provide that only the Minister may grant permanent residence to territorial asylees and that only the Minister or an officer specifically authorised by him may grant permanent residence to persons falling within the remaining categories of persons eligible for consideration for permanent residence. Subsection 6a (4) defines the terms ‘aged parent’ and child’. An aged parent will mean a person who is eligible for an age pension under the Social Services Act 1947, that is, 65 years in the case of males and 60 years in the case of females. A child will mean an unmarried child of the person who has not attained 18 years of age or an unmarried child between 18 and 21 years who the Minister determines is an integral part of the family of an
Australian citizen or permanent resident. Clause 11 is a transitional provision which will ensure that the restrictions contained in the new section 6a will not prevent the grant of permanent residence to persons who are eligible for permanent residence under the Government’s Regularisation of Status Program.
As I stated earlier, the Bill will also extend the Migration Act to the Australian Territory of Christmas Island. As honourable members will know, Christmas Island has been a territory under the authority of the Commonwealth since 1958 when it was accepted by Australia from the United Kingdom. Entry to Christmas Island has been controlled under the Territory’s immigration ordinance and has not been subject to the same rules and regulations as apply to entry to the mainland. There is no indigenous population on the island. Workers in the island’s phosphate industry have been recruited mainly from South East Asia. At present there are about 1 500 people in the island’s work force.
In December 1979 the Government established a commission of inquiry into the viability of the Christmas Island phosphate industry. The report of that commission, which also dealt with immigration and citizenship matters, was tabled by the Minister for Administrative Services on 20 February 1980. Flowing from consideration of the report, the Government took a number of decisions in relation to the Territory. These were announced by the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr Ellicott) on 26 June 1980. One of the Government’s decisions was that the Christmas Island Immigration Ordinance 1955 be repealed and that the Migration Act be extended to the island.
The Bill provides that for the purpose of the Migration Act the Territory of Christmas Island will become part of Australia and workers and their dependants on the island will acquire permanent residence in Australia. They will be free to move to Australia and live there if they so desire. The extension of the Act to the island, therefore, will give island workers and their families greater security. In future, entry to Christmas Island from abroad will be regulated in the same way as entry to Australia. People seeking entry to the island from overseas for temporary or permanent residence will be required to satisfy the same policies and procedures as people seeking to enter Australia.
The Bill provides that every person who is present on the island immediately before the extension of the Act will be deemed for the purpose of the Act to have entered Australia as an immigrant. Exceptions to the deemed entry will be made in respect of Australian citizens, persons who have ceased to be immigrants under the Migration Act and crew members of overseas vessels in port immediately before the commencing date. The deemed entry provision will enable appropriate entry permits to be issued to Christmas Island workers and their dependants on the island to evidence their right to permanent residence in Australia.
Clause 1 2 of the Bill will also ensure that persons who are present in the Territory without authority on the commencing date may be deported as prohibited immigrants. Clause 12 (4) (a) provides that entry permits will be granted to relevant residents permitting them to remain permanently in Australia, including Christmas Island. The term ‘relevant resident’ is defined by sub-clause 12 (15) to mean a person who was present in the Territory immediately before the commencing date and who
The term ‘relevant resident’ will thus include present and former Christmas Island workers and their dependants who are present on the island immediately before the commencing date.
Sub-clause 1 2 (7) makes provision for a person who would, but for his absence from the Territory on the commencing date, be entitled to permanent residence. Such a person will be entitled, upon request, to permanent residence in Australia unless he has been convicted of certain serious crimes or was deported from Australia or deported or excluded from another country. Those who do not automatically qualify for permanent residence will have to meet normal migration requirements.
Provision is made in clause 12 (4) (b) for visitors to Christmas Island, who are lawfully present on the island on the commencing date, to be granted temporary entry permits permitting them to remain in Australia for the same period for which they had been authorised under the Territory ordinance to remain on the island. Special provision is made in clause 1 3 to ensure that the normal immigration requirements applicable to vessels and crew members will apply to vessels in port on Christmas Island on the commencing date. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr John Brown) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Macphee, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to extend the application of the Immigration (Unauthorised Arrivals) Act 1980 to the Territory of Christmas Island. The principal Act is designed to discourage the operators of vessels from conveying to Australia large numbers of persons who do not possess proper documentation for travel to Australia. The offence provisions of that Act hinge on the possession of visas and return endorsements issued under the Migration Act. The Migration Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1980 will extend the Migration Act to the Territory of Christmas Island and consequently the way is now open to extend the Immigration (Unauthorised Arrivals) Act to the Island.
The principal Act, which is not yet in force, may be brought into operation on a date proclaimed by the Governor-General. While the situation remains stable, the Government does not propose to proclaim the commencement of the Act. Honourable members will appreciate, however, that unless the Act is available on Christmas Island there would be a weakness in Australia’s ability to discourage unauthorised refugee boat arrivals. This Bill will overcome that weakness.
Clause 3 of the Bill amends the definition section of the Act by redefining the term ‘officer’ to enable the Minister to appoint persons on the Island to carry out the functions and duties imposed upon officers by the Act and makes a number of other minor amendments consequential upon the extension of the Act to the Island. Clause 4 of the Bill extends the Act to the Territory of Christmas Island and provides that the Island shall be deemed to be part of Australia and not a place outside Australia. Clause 5 makes a number of machinery amendments to section 4 of the principal Act, which defines the vessels that are subject to the provisions of the Act. The effect of the amendments will be that if a vessel arrives in Christmas Island, departs, and then arrives in mainland Australia, separate offences, which attract the substantial penalties contained in the
Act, will be committed in respect of each arrival. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr John Brown) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Newman, and read a first “ time.
– I move:
This Bill was introduced to the House by my predecessor on 21 August 1980 but was not debated because of pressure of other business. As was explained to the House at the time, the Bill provides for an increase in the financial limit for the annual sum payable out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the salaries of Ministers of state, pursuant to section 66 of the Constitution. The Bill increases this limit from $350,000 to $400,000. The amendment is consequent on the Government’s decision earlier this year to accept the recommendations in the 1980 review by the Remuneration Tribunal. The increases to ministerial salaries then agreed represent nothing more than the flow-on of national wage case decisions handed down by the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr John Brown) adjourned.
Suspension of Standing Orders
(3.17)- I move:
This motion is purely procedural and no immediate introduction of sales tax legislation is contemplated. Alteration of sales tax rates usually involves the introduction of nine sales tax Bills. Over a period of many years the House has found it convenient for the Bills to be taken together. Standing Order 291 permits these Bills to be introduced without notice, but it is necessary to suspend the Standing Orders in order to enable the Bills to be presented and dealt with together. When passed, the motion will remain effective for this session. By moving the motion at this time, we will avoid the speculation which could result if u motion were introduced later in the session.
– As the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Hodgman) has suggested, this is purely a procedural matter and is in line with well-established convention. To suit the convenience of the House we offer no objective to this course of action.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 26 November, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The purpose of this Bill is to increase the amount of the personal care subsidy payable to approved organisations which provide accommodation for the frail aged. The specific proposal in the Bill is to raise the subsidy from the present $ 1 5 a week to $20 a week. Let me look briefly at the history of the personal care subsidy.
The personal care subsidy was introduced by the Liberal Government in 1969 at a rate of $12 a week. Five years later, in December 1974, the Whitlam Government raised the subsidy to $ 1 5 a week. Now six years later - after six years of unparalleled high inflation - the Government proposes to raise the personal care subsidy from $15 to $20 a week. At the beginning I want to make quite clear the Opposition’s attitude to this measure so that there can be no doubt about it. We welcome the increase in the personal care subsidy, but we believe that the increase is belated and inadequate and that the mode of introduction illustrates the totally incoherent policies of this Government towards adequate provision for the aged. Let me explain each of those points. First of all we must ask: Why was this measure introduced at this point and not at the appropriate or usual time, that is, with the annual Budget as part of the total expenditure for 1980-81? One explanation was given in the second reading speech of the Minister for Transport (Mr Hunt). He said:
The purpose of the Bill is to give speedy effect to the undertaking given by the Prime Minister … in his policy speech . . .
It is, of course, given his record, a matter of some celebration in this House that this Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) should honour an election pledge. We on this side of the House certainly acknowledge the fact that this promise has been immediately honoured. No doubt too the fact that this is the very first measure to be debated in the Thirty-second Parliament is related to the gigantic cosmetic operation now going on and revealed in the Governor-General’s Speech - that is, the presentation of Fraserism with a human face. To the slick Liberal manipulators of public opinion what better opening gambit for the new image than a little charity to the frail aged. Unfortunately, the context in which this takes place reveals the cosmetic nature of the operation.
The 1980-81 Budget was the appropriate place for the introduction of a measure of this nature, particularly as there had been no increase for six years and Ministers were well aware of the need. When quite clearly Ministers were aware of the need and when during six years of high inflation there had been no adjustment, why was this change not made in the Budget? Why are we given this piecemeal measure now or why were we given it in the election speech? Why include it in the election speech of the Prime Minister and not in the annual Budget? None of the possible answers to those questions reflect much credit on the Government.
I do not know why this measure was not included in the Budget, but was included in the Prime Minister’s policy speech. But if honourable members think of all the answers that could be given they will see that none of them reflects much credit on the Government. First of all the Government could have simply forgotten the problem of the personal care subsidy when it was planning the Budget. That is one explanation as to why we are getting it now. Secondly, it may be electoral opportunism; that is, with a rather paltry record on provision for the aged the Government wanted an electoral sweetener of some kind for old people so it put it into the election speech. Or it may be that between June-July, when the Budget was being prepared, and some time in October it caved in to opposition over the inadequacy of its provisions in the Budget. So we can decide on forgetfulness, opportunism or simply incompetence. I leave the choice to the House, but I find it difficult to think of any other explanations for the way this has been done. Whatever the answer is, it reveals the totally piecemeal and, as I will suggest later, the incoherent governmental approach to the problems of the old in this society. What we urgently need in this country and will have to have is a comprehensive and coherent policy for the old, not piecemeal cosmetic operations such as this, the product of either forgetfulness, opportunism or incompetence.
I complained first of all about the increase not being in the Budget but, of course, it is not simply four months late; it is not simply the gap between August and October that concerns us. This increase has been made several years late. Given the rate of inflation in the past six years the necessity for an adjustment to the personal care subsidy has been apparent for at least three years. Organisations which provide hostel-type accommodation for the frail aged have been facing near insurmountable problems as a result of the failure to adjust the personal care subsidy. I am full of praise for the way in which those organisations have struggled to meet the problems, particularly in the last three years, of providing adequate accommodation and services for the frail aged in the face of the Government’s failure for the whole six year period to adjust the personal care subsidy. It is true that many of them have had to begin to cut their services, and this has been particularly true over the last two years. Forms of diversionary therapy, recreation provisions and things like hairdressing and chiropody which were carried out by the organisations have had to be reduced or abandoned, particularly in the last two years.
Perhaps more important is the fact that while this provision has not been adjusted other personal accommodation benefits provided for the aged have been adjusted - for example, the nursing home benefit. By not keeping these benefits in line we have produced distortions in the development of the forms of accommodation in ways which are often socially, medically and emotionally inappropriate for old people. Unless we treat all these sets of subsidies together and relate them to each other we are going to produce in society distortions in the desirable development of forms of accommodation for the old. The failure to do that over the last six years has, in fact, led to the neglect of the provision of hostel accommodation and similar type of support for the aged in favour of others which, in some cases, may not be as medically appropriate or socially appropriate for particular groups of old people.
This, again, is concerned with the issue of coherence. The subsidy should not be seen as it is seen in this Bill and as it was seen in the election policy speech of the Prime Minister - that is, as simply an issue in isolation. It should be seen and dealt with as a part of the whole range of governmental provision for the aged. This whole range of provision should be deliberately designed to create in every community an infrastructure of services and institutions for old people so that they can choose the form of provision which is medically, socially and emotionally most appropriate for them. I believe thinking members on the Government benches will realise that they will not achieve that kind of provision, that coherent and structured range of alternatives by piecemeal legislation such as this, introduced under rather shabby auspices.
What illustrates the cosmetic nature of the measure most starkly is the level of the increase that is proposed. If one looks at the level of the increase one sees most sharply that this is essentially a cosmetic operation and not an effort really to come to grips with what is a very difficult problem. The increase in the personal care subsidy is from $ 1 5 a week to $20 a week, an increase of $5 a week or 33 per cent. I remind the House that there has been no increase in the subsidy since December 1974; there has been no increase for six years and in that period inflation has risen by approximately 80 per cent. So there has been a rise in this personal care subsidy of 33 per cent in a period in which inflation in this country has risen by approximately 80 per cent. If we were to maintain the 1974 value or even, in fact, roughly the 1969 value - that is the value when it was first introduced by the Liberal Party - the personal care subsidy should now be at $28 a week, not $20 a week; a rise of $ 1 3 a week, not $5 a week.
The Department of Social Security recommends to the various hostels that their fees should be at 85 per cent of the single pension plus supplementary allowance. To keep the fees at 85 per cent and provide adequate accommodation and conduct worthwhile service programs the hostels will need at the very minimum a rise of $ 10 a week. That is, if they are to follow the instructions of the Social Security Department and still provide adequate accommodation and conduct worthwhile service programs what is needed is an increase of at least $10 a week.
Let us look at this situation. The personal care subsidy is being raised by this Government by $5 a week. To maintain the 1 974 value it would need to be raised by $13 a week, and to provide at least adequate accommodation and services it should, on the evidence of the organisations, go up by a minimum of $10 a week. For these reasons I will move the following amendment:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: the Bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide an increase in the Personal Care subsidy commensurate with the increase in the cost of living since the subsidy was last increased in 1 974’.
I want now to move out more widely from this specific issue and look generally at the Government’s social welfare provision, particularly as it relates to the aged. There has been much rhetoric about this matter, and in the last day or so we have been presented with a Governor-General’s Speech which was devoted almost entirely to rhetoric about this Government’s unparalleled support and concern for the poor, the underprivileged, the disabled and the aged. In every debate we have in this House honourable members on the Government side get up and, without looking at the details, without doing the kinds of calculations I have just done in relation to the value of the subsidies and supports granted by the government, parrot this notion that somehow this Government has done enormous things for the poor and underprivileged in our society. I am afraid that sometimes this notion is even taken up by a rather noncritical Press. During the election campaign an article written by Laurie Oakes appeared in the Daily Mirror of 2 1 September. It stated:
There are those in the Liberal party who believe that more must be done to convince the electorate that the Government is concerned about welfare and sympathetic to those in need.
In the Governor-General’s Speech we heard this fine rhetorical flourish:
My Government sets it out to establish that it cares deeply about the quality of life lived in Australia and that it is determined to give practical expression to that care. In doing so, my Government’s objective will be not to increase long-term dependence on the Government, but, consistent with its liberal philosophy, to provide the means whereby people can become more independent and freer to choose trie lives they want to live.
In the last five years we have seen the practical evidence of that kind of rhetoric. I just want to refer to an analysis that has recently been done of the practice as against the rhetoric. We are encountering that again today; we are talking about this particular inadequate, belated subsidy. We are encountering this contrast between the rhetoric and the practice, the real doings of this Government. I will list a set of things done in the past five years so that people can measure the new efforts of the Government to live up to its rhetoric.
Supposedly the Government had done unparalleled things for the aged, poor and underprivileged in our society. In those years, we had an ill-judged attempt to cut pension indexation from twice yearly to annually- I will grant that the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Hodgman) who is at the table was one of the few members on the other side of the House who were prepared to resist that particular proposal- an ill-judged attempt to abolish the funeral benefit; an illjudged attempt to impose a newsboys means test on the family allowance; an ill-judged attempt to tax the handicapped; the means testing of pension increases for the over 70s; the watering down of the value of the family allowance by making no cost of living adjustments since August 1976 with the worst effects being felt by low wage and pensioner families; the freezing of the unemployment benefit for the under 1 8 and single unemployed of all ages; the scrapping of the maternity allowance; the cutting by half of the spending on aged persons housing, children’s services and senior citizens centres; the harassment of the unemployed, of Greek Australian pensioners and of invalid pensioner claimants; and the increasing of social security policing staff and the reducing of staff to process pensions and benefits.
That is the record of the last five years as compared with the rhetoric. I do hope that in this new Parliament the rhetoric we have been given this week may mean something. But if we are to judge by the present approach of this Bill before us we cannot hold out much hope that there will be a congruence between the rhetoric of this Government and its achievement. These piecemeal, opportunistic and inadequate items of legislation such as we see today reveal no evidence that this Government has any explicit vision of an ideal overall provision for the aged or any set of ultimate goals as to the directions in which the Government would desire this society to move in providing for the aged.
I have outlined on previous occasions what we see as the broad aims and goals of the Australian Labor Party’s policy in the field of provision for the aged. First of all, we believe that it is necessary to increase the public commitment to the provision of care for the aged. Too often in the past this has been simply left to the private segment. Many of the inequities that have now developed in the system are the result of that neglect. In many ways there has been very unplanned development. In years ahead we need much more planning and coherent development. That involves a much greater public commitment. Secondly, we need to endeavour to create in every community an infrastructure of services and institutions for the elderly so that they might choose the one most appropriate for them - socially, medically, and emotionally. I said earlier that they will not have the opportunity to make those choices unless subsidies such as this personal care subsidy are related to all the other subsidies and are related to overall planning for the old. Otherwise distortions will develop. The third major feature, not so relevant today, of our program is reducing the emphasis on institutional solutions to the problems of the elderly. That is the grand idea. How does that relate in practice to what we are talking about today?
At the moment there is a range of subsidies which are provided for care of the old. One is the domiciliary care benefit, which is one form of benefit. Another is the personal care subsidy about which we are talking today. A third is the ordinary nursing home benefit and a fourth is the extensive care benefit for nursing homes. Unless we treat these as a whole and have measures which will deal with all these and also accommodation provisions that relate to them we will not develop a coherent system. We should not be dealing with this measure in isolation today. We should be looking at it in relation to the range of personal subsidy provisions because unless each is related to the other we will produce a system which is unplanned and incoherent and which will continue and maintain the inequities that exist today. I hope that this is the last time that this Government presents in this House a piecemeal and limited measure of this nature. In the Minister’s second reading speech he did not make a single reference to the context in which the legislation must be seen.
If we are to deal with the really enormous problems that this society is beginning to face simply because of demographic factors with the growth of the numbers of old then we will need utterly different planning from that which this Government is evidencing at the moment. If this Government is to honour the kinds of rhetoric it uttered through the Governor-General’s Speech it has to begin to produce coherent plans. Let me suggest a single start to doing this. At the moment one of the administrative problems in the field is that responsibility for the aged is divided among a whole range of departments. Most obviously, of course, it is divided among the Department of Social Security and the Department of Health, but also among the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and, to a certain extent, the Department of Housing and Construction. There may be others but those are the four immediately identified. If the Government is to tackle the problem in an organised fashion then, at least, it needs to create a satisfactory administrative network which will link continually into some kind of single organisation all the groups in those departments concerned with care and provision for the aged. I am not now suggesting that we have a department for the aged nor break down the present structure of the departments. But what we do need is much more efficient administrative co-operation if we are to produce the kinds of plans that this society is certainly going to need. This Bill, I am afraid, does not in any sense reflect any overall thinking. Therefore I move:
– Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
– I oppose the amendment moved by the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) and I strongly support the Bill. The Government has a record in its care for the aged which has never been matched by any other government in this country. The honourable member for Bonython who, as usual, provided a very competent and clear analysis of the situation - which happened to be wrong - said that this Government has a paltry record of assistance to the aged. This flies totally in the face of reality. How is it possible, if this coalition Government has a paltry record of assistance to the aged, that Australia has the highest level of nursing home beds per 1,000 head of population in the world? If the honourable member for Bonython is correct, how is it possible that this outstanding record of assistance to the aged in need should have taken place? Is the honourable member for Bonython in fact talking through his hat? Is his statement simply part of the usual political ploy of the Opposition of trying to make politics out of the plight of pensioners - one of the more despicable of the Opposition’s political stunts?
Over the last few years we have seen, of course, pensions increase in keeping with the consumer price index under the automatic indexation introduced by this Government. I suggest that as a result of that the pensioner has, in relative terms, improved his position under this Government as against the ordinary wage earner who does not get full indexation. I think it is relevant to note, when looking at the funding of those aged people who need this subsidy and who are resident in hostels, that the point made by the honourable member for Bonython about funding was nonsensical in the sense that the major part of the funding of people in these hostels emerges, of course, from the pension that they are paid. Of course that is fully indexed to the CP1 whereas the wages of the people who are employed in these institutions are not fully indexed, a matter about which the Opposition bellows with great enthusiasm. Either the Australian Council of Trade Unions is wrong and people have been getting the full CPI increase or the honourable member for Bonython is wrong in saying that the cost of operating nursing homes increases at a greater rate than wages. I suggest that the Opposition cannot have it both ways.
I suggest further that while there is no doubt that a case has been made out that there should be an increase in the subsidy - there is certainly no doubt about that and I concede that, and that is why the Government is responding to it - there seems also to be no doubt that there is a real need for any government to ensure that the greatest possible efficiencies are maintained in the running of any such organisation. It is all very well for the honourable member for Bonython to say that there is great distress and that there should be a much larger rise and that it should have taken place earlier. All are reasonable debating points. The fact is that something like one-third of the hostel accommodation in Australia has been experiencing some financial problems. What about the other two-thirds? The honourable member for Bonython pretends that they do not exist and would rather they did not exist. He does not want to hear the good news. He wants to hear only the bad news.
There is no doubt that there has been a degree of problem and the Government has responded to that problem. The honourable member for Bonython says, ‘Ah, but how despicable that it should be done in that policy speech instead of in the Budget’. I advise the honourable member for Bonython that had it been in the Budget its date of introduction would have effectively been no different from what is happening now. There would have been no way in the short period between the Budget and the election date that such legislation could have been rushed through as it can be now because all that other Budget legislation is, in fact, out of the way. It seems to me to be following exactly the pattern that the Labor Party has set. Let us face it. If there is anyone who is a promiser at election campaign times it is the Labor Party. If, in fact, the present Government has borrowed some of the clothes of the Labor Party in promising something at election campaign times, all I can say is that at least we make promises which are attainable, which are not irresponsible, which will not involve massive deficits, which will not involve overwhelming inflation and which I suggest, on the record, result in a magnificent improvement in the facilities available for the aged.
In my electorate alone the consequences of the Government’s policies in respect of funding aged persons’ accommodation are overwhelming in the sense that under the previous Labor Government there was a desperate lack of this kind of funding and accommodation. In the Macarthur electorate something like $8m has been spent in the last five years on upgrading these facilities and in providing accommodation, particularly in the one vital area which I believe is something that has been and should remain at the forefront of the Government’s policy, and that is the integrated retirement village. There is not only a hostel which is subsidised under this system but also a structure of accommodation units, self-contained units, where elderly people can look after themselves in an environment which is acceptable. There is a hostel to which they can move within that same environment when they are perhaps getting too frail to look after themselves, where they can be partially looked after, where they can have their own room, their own privacy, their own independence but where they are fed in a communal situation. When they become too frail to look after themselves they are then able, within that same environment, to go into a nursing home. That is the ideal situation in which there is no trauma of movement away from a person’s place or friends and the people with whom that person has been accustomed to sharing his or her old age. When there is no trauma I believe the prospects of people living to a much happier and longer old age are certainly far greater.
It seems to me when I look at the projects in my electorate that have been funded by the present Government they are exactly such integrated projects. The one reservation, the one problem I have that concerns me, is that at the moment because of the record volume of nursing home beds per thousand in Australia and, in particular, the record volume in New South Wales, there is a degree of reluctance among the StateCommonwealth Co-ordinating Committee for Nursing Homes to agree to the volume of additional nursing home beds that is required to allow these integrated projects to proceed as fully integrated projects. I take this opportunity to ask the Minister to ensure that in the future the same sort of approach that has been made in the past of favouring these integrated projects is, in fact, continued.
At the moment I am having some difficulty with this Committee in respect of a project recommended for Culburra, which is a retirement area in my electorate, where there has been in the last five years a 50 per cent increase in the number of retired people. It seems to me that when that Coordinating Committee looks at projections of aged population and comes up with the suggestion that there is only a very small deficit of nursing home beds in that area and when I look at the basis on which those figures are established- whilst I congratulate the Committee for taking a forward look and for having a great deal of concern about what is happening in various areas - I must regret that its projections are totally wrong. It has projected something like a 16 per cent growth in aged population in that area in the period from 1 976 to 1981 when, in fact, over that period there has already been a 50 per cent growth in that population.
I am raising this matter to underline that there are still problems. No one would deny that. Clearly there are still problems in establishing what is the right number of homes. We have a record number now. Are the people in the right place? Are we doing the right thing? At least we can establish that this Government has created a situation where we do have those record numbers and where, in fact, the problem is - if there is a problem and I believe that there is in terms of making certain that these things are in the right areas - in a sense one of mobility. Many of these projects are in areas which I think are very settled - for example, suburban parts of Sydney - and which involve many pensioners having to move if they want to take advantage of these facilities. That is a serious problem. That is why I certainly ask the Minister within the framework of these humanitarian moves by this Government - which I stress have never been matched by any other government of any other political persuasion and the record in this area is overwhelming- to pay very close attention to the massive movements in aged population in some areas, particularly in my electorate. I do not want to push too much that kind of barrow.
I conclude by saying that there are many other methods by which the aged can be assisted. It is necessary to look not only at hostels, nursing homes and self-contained units as methods of assisting in the funding. For example, I point out that many aged people can be kept in their own homes by providing appropriate home care. The Home Help Service in New South Wales, which 1 mentioned very briefly last night in this House, is a very good service which is aimed at providing assistance to people in their homes so that they can stay there for as long as possible. Unfortunately, when the Federal Government provided $3. 8m in the last Budget towards that service in New South Wales on a matching dollar for dollar grant the New South Wales Government decided to approve only $3.075m. In other words it rejected almost $800,000 of the Federal Government’s offer. Last week that was corrected and the New South Wales Government was dragged screaming to a situation where it eventually decided to fund this program effectively.
It can be said, of course, and no doubt it will be said by members of the Opposition, that the Federal Government in fact had retreated some years ago from its original two for one funding to a one for one funding. I stress that despite that, in the last year of the two for one funding the Federal Government was contributing $1 .9m towards this scheme. This year it is providing $3. 8m. If the New South Wales Government finds it impossible to cope with that sort of problem how, I wonder, can the Victorian Government - a much smaller State with a much smaller population - provide $4.3m compared with the $3. 8m provided by New South Wales? Let us face it. It seems to me that most of the pensioners in Victoria go to Queensland to live.
– It is warmer.
– Not only is it warmer but also I believe there are various tax benefits which no doubt they will be thinking of when they go to the polls on Saturday. The $4.3m provided by the Victorian Government indicates a government which apparently has far more concern than has the New South Wales Government for its State Home Help Service. It might explain why there is a greater need in New South Wales for the Federal Government to provide hostel and nursing home accommodation and why the number of nursing homes in New South Wales is greater than the number in Victoria. This service is aimed at limiting the traumatic shock experienced by people leaving their homes. They should not leave their homes until they really have to. I congratulate the Government for its solid record of compassion and assistance to the aged. I congratulate the Minister for his consistent concern. I commend the Bill to the House.
– I find it rather interesting that the Government has an ex-stockbroker to follow the Minister for Transport (Mr Hunt) because it is the stockbroking fraternity which has a great interest in the Government’s funding of aged persons’ homes and hostels. It is very interesting to remember that it was a well known Western Australian stockbroker who got out of floating mining companies in the 1960s and 1970s and got into floating nursing homes in New South Wales because obviously there was a lot more profit in that than there was in the mining industry. That is one reason why the Government deserves to be condemned for the services it is providing for the aged in this country. The honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) has been quite happy to confess in the
Parliament the Government’s opportunism in this area. He said that this provision could have been put into the Budget but the Government preferred to hold it out of the Budget and put it into the election speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). It is nice that the Government has fulfilled one promise that it made. I think there are only 82 promises to be fulfilled; that is, if honourable members consider the major promises. If they consider the minor promises made by all the failed Liberal-National Country Party candidates during the last election campaign, the Government would be putting Bills through this House for the next 10 years to try to cope.
Today I address myself to the real crises that are occurring in the area of the care of the aged in this country. Based on the latest available population statistics and calculated on the basis of nursing home beds at the rate of 50 beds per thousand members of the aged population, which the Minister for Health (Mr MacKellar) announced this morning at Question Time as the ratio he reckoned the Government was working to, there would be 82,850 nursing home beds in Australia, costed at approximately $6,000 a year if one took 87 per cent of the pension as the normal payment.
This adds up to more than $860m per annum. The Government is channelling into the nursing home industry a vast sum of money. In contributing that money the Government is putting a lot of profit into the hands of people who have absolutely no interest in those they make out they are servicing. In the past nursing homes were run by charitable organistions, by annexes to hospitals and by community groups. In recent years they have been taken over by the stockbroking fraternity, by the get-rich-quick merchants and by the people who see an easy way to make an easy dollar out of those in the community who they think are less fortunate. The care of the aged is one of the most lucrative industries for the get-rich-quick merchants in Australia at present. It is epitomised by the person who decided to get out of floating mining companies and to get into floating a series of nursing homes.
– What’s his name?
– It was a dear lady from the west. It just shows that Mrs Phillips was probably smarter than some of the people who got into this business at a later date. The thing that concerns me is that these same people who have turned the nursing home industry into an area of great profit for the promoters, not for the people they should be caring for, are now casting their eyes on the hostel and day care area of assistance for the aged. The care of the aged is becoming a vertically integrated industry in this country. Promoters are moving people through day care facilities to hostels and nursing homes and they are getting $1 , $2 and $10 out of the Government all the way along the line. It has become an industry worth in excess of $ 1,000m of the Government’s money. This is covered and hidden in a number of ways by the Government - not intentionally, I am sure, because there is a split in the administration of many of these funds between the Department of Health and the Department of Social Security. The effect is that very few people are aware of the vast sums of money being channelled into this area. The losers are the ones whom the scheme is supposed to be helping.
As the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) said earlier, this amendment to the Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Act is a confidence trick. It will not do a; great deal towards helping the people that the Government has said it would like to. In fact it has not kept up with inflation at all. Like many of the other promises made by the Government these are promises that it either will not keep or will only half keep. I find it interesting that the honourable member for Macarthur has continued to harp upon the Home Help Service of New South Wales. It took this Government a long time to decide that it should get behind that service. When one considers that over $ 1,000m of the Government’s money is spent every year on services for the aged, it is rather interesting that all the honourable member for Macarthur can complain about regarding the New South Wales Government’s attitude to the aged people is a $700,000 shortfall in the amount the State Government was able to put forward to assist the Home Help Service. If the Commonwealth Government is as generous as the Minister for Transport and the honourable member for Macarthur would like to believe and if it is spending $ 1,000m a year, 1 cannot see why it cannot find another $750,000. That is just petty cash for the Minister for Social Security (Senator Chaney) or indeed the Minister for Health.
I would like to see the Commonwealth Government take a more rational approach to this matter. It should not be an area where those who can profit most set themselves up for great financial gain and fund a very lucrative lobby operation in this Parliament. One sees them going down to see this or that Minister. One would hope that some altruism would be behind the proposals they put forward, but there is very little of that and very much of the almighty dollar. The interesting thing about the proposals that the Government has brought in with this amendment is that once again they help the institutions which the proprietors and the entrepreneurs are about to move into. The person who maintains an aged relative at home receives only $21 a week for providing the same service as the institutions provide. Yet the Government is attempting to increase quite markedly the amount paid for a person in a hostel. Many charitable and community organisations provide excellent services for the aged. In my electorate there are organisations such as the Pittwood Aged Ladies’ Home and Hibernian Society at Ashfield which provides a marvellous service for residents of that area and which runs a very well organised nursing home-hostel-hospital complex. The St Vincent de Paul Society and the Knights of the Southern Cross do the same thing, but the people whom I am very concerned about are the ones who are using the system for the profit motive. If the Government gave more consideration to ensuring that more money was provided for charitable organisations rather than for those who are running hostels and nursing homes at a profit, it would probably be a lot better for all concerned and a far more worthwhile expenditure of government finance.
I know that the Government says that if someone puts up a proposal it should be treated on its merits. If someone can provide X number of nursing home beds, the same as a charitable organisation can, it should be able to proceed on the same basis. I think that is all part of the rather unfortunate stage we have reached in Australian society, where we are really saying to the Government - we as parliamentarians are probably a little responsible as well - that we do not want to care for our aged parents, aunts and uncles or relations; we would like to put them in a nursing home or hostel; do anything but not have them at home. To my mind, the problem with Australian society, particularly the Anglo-Saxon section of our society, is that the idea of the family in particular has broken down in that we see the family as comprising just a husband, a wife and children. Indeed, the Government sees it in that fashion. In the Budget Papers this year under the heading Assistance to families’ there was no mention of support for the aged. That was put somewhere else. Even the Government admits, in the Budget Papers, that the aged are not considered to be part of the family. I think that is a terrible shame and is something that we should address ourselves to. We should do that in this Parliament and do it very soon before it is too late. I think in 21 years, on present demographic trends, over 50 per cent of the population of this country will be over the age of 30. Australia is one of the quickest aging societies in the Western world. We will find that if we who are not even as old as the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier) do not do something about it now it might be too late. I know that the honourable member is a caring gentleman rather than one who is interested in the profit motive. That is why he stays here for so long.
I think it is time we looked at alternative proposals in the area of care for the aged. We should redirect the thrust of government funding in this area away from profit and towards doing something for the people. I re-emphasise that we are talking about a $ 1,000m industry - a vast amount of government expenditure with not much coordination at all. It has been put forward in a number of areas - the New South Wales Council for the Ageing has discussed this on a number of occasions - that there should be a department of state for the aged or an organisation such as that. I tender the view that if we are looking for a model we should look at the model proposed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) when he was Special Minister of State in the Whitlam Labor Government. He set up the Children’s Commission, which had the job of coordinating the activities of the Commonwealth Government in the area of services to children. The present Government has done the same job in the Department of Employment and Youth Affairs by setting up the Office of Youth Affairs to co-ordinate the affairs of people in that area. I think that a co-ordinating body should be set up by the Government to look at the whole range of directions that we could be taking for our senior citizens. We should be doing something about that now. We should be giving assistance to families to keep their family unit together. We should not be putting people in institutions unless we cannot avoid it.
I think the Victorian and New South Wales governments deserve to be commended on their approach to granny flats. The Victorian Government has a system which was partly funded by the Commonwealth in the development stages under which people can buy or rent a flat from the State Department of Housing to go into their back yard where their parents or aged relations can live adjacent to the people they know and love. The New South Wales Government has changed the zoning laws in that State to allow dual occupancy of houses in residential areas to provide for the same sort of thing. The home help service mentioned by the honourable member for Macarthur is one to which we should all be giving a lot of consideration. But we should also be looking at the home handyman service and other such organisations. We should be looking at the setting up of cooperatives for the aged. We should be providing some sort of Commonwealth assistance for that. The Commonwealth Government provides money for co-operatives and coordinators for everything under the sun but we have not looked at a proper organisation to provide co-operative services for older people particularly in the inner suburbs of cities such as Sydney and Melbourne where people feel a great deal of isolation. If that sort of co-ordination and assistance were available to all those people it would keep them out of hostels and nursing homes.
There should be dial-a-friend services and genuine telephone rental subsidies so that people could have a telephone, preferably, free of charge. There should be community alarm services which could be tied up with a telephone service so that people who are getting frail and old would not feel that they should go into a hospital or a nursing home. They would feel confident about staying at home and looking after themselves. All it would cost the Commonwealth to bring in a system like that is probably $500 a year for each person listed on the service - a lot less than the $6,000 a year subsidy that is provided for a nursing home bed. Community monitoring systems and that type of thing could do a lot to ensure that those people who were able to get around and to look after themselves had the confidence to stay at home or to bring someone in to stay with them.
Institutions are not the answer; they are really in many ways only very depersonalised places for people to go to die in. Many people in my electorate say to me that if they had those facilities available in the community they would not have their mum and dad in a nursing home. The fact that their parents are in a nursing home breaks their heart and it breaks their heart that Commonwealth subsidies are geared toward putting people in nursing homes rather than towards keeping them home or keeping them in a community where they are known and where they are able to fend for themselves.
The administrative problems, as I mentioned before, between the Department of Health and the Department of Social Security are part of that problem. We should have some co-ordinating body, some organisation charged with looking at government policies as they affect the aged to see whether it really is an intelligent thing to do to set up an organisation or to implement a subsidy system which does not subsidise the individual and which does not give the individual anything really except the right to lie on his back in a hospital but which does put millions of dollars annually into the pockets of promoters. That is a bad system. We should be looking at alternatives and the
Commonwealth should very actively be approaching people to try to find those alternatives. The unfortunate thing for the people who are in nursing homes and in places run by people for profit is that if a Commonwealth subsidy changes, if the Commonwealth decides one week that there is not much money available for instance, for people who are mentally retarded, it does not worry the entrepreneur very much; he just clears those people out of his nursing home and brings in someone else who gets a better subsidy for the bed. One of the problems that local government organisations have found when they have attempted to go into the hostel and community care area is the uncertainty of government funding. Local government organisations and charitable organisations that take a responsible attitude towards the people who have come into their care are very concerned if, all of a sudden, the guidelines change. This is not the case with the stockbroking fraternity, which says: ‘Well, you are really only a profit item that we are looking at
In conclusion, I say that this increase in this subsidy is long overdue. It is not sufficient. But the whole thrust of the Government’s aged care programs is extremely deficient. I ask the Minister for Transport (Mr Hunt), who is sitting at the table representing the new Minister for Social Security (Senator Chaney), to give great consideration to that matter. The Government has said that it wants to cut costs in the present session of Parliament, lt has said that it wants to cut the Public Service. I put it to the Government that at present it is subsidising, with great amounts of money, entrepreneurs in the nursing home area who are making unbridled profits. As I said earlier, there seems to be more to gain in nursing homes than there was in floating mining companies in the 1960s. The charitable institutions and local government should be assisted. Those who are there for profit should be purged from the industry. They should never be allowed to get their hooks into it again. I am very worried that the same people who have really ruined the nursing home area of care are about to try to do the same with hostels, and from there they will move into day care. That is something that we should resist as a Parliament and something I hope that the Government will resist administratively.
– Anybody outside of Parliament listening to this debate could by now be rather confused. It is obvious that a few members on the Opposition side are confused also. First, we had the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) moving an amendment stating that what we were providing in updating this figure was not nearly enough, that it needed to be increased to $28 a week. But the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Leo McLeay) has basically been saying that the increase in the personal care subsidy is too great because the allowance will be disproportionate to what is available to those who care for the aged at home. One could acknowledge that perhaps the level for those who care for their aged at home could be higher, but that does not nullify an argument that those receiving personal care in a hostel, or the proprietors of that nursing home, deserve that amount of money.
Secondly, the honourable member for Grayndler was referring to all of these so-called profit merchants who were in the nursing home business and who would somehow or other get their hands on this money. I refer him to the Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Act 1954. The Budget Speech 1 980-8 1 refers to the personal care subsidy being available only in respect of homes constructed under that program. This means nonprofit nursing homes. If we read further we find that the personal care subsidy is payable under the Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Act to nonprofit organisations which provide hostel accommodation for aged or disabled people. So I suggest that before Labor Party supporters make too much noise in this debate, which relates to the personal care subsidy for those in non-profit nursing homes, they should get their facts straight and stick to them. If the Opposition is confused it should not compound the problem by confusing everybody outside who is listening to the debate. I am very pleased that the Government has moved so quickly to honour its election commitments generally, not just in respect of the personal care subsidy that we are debating this afternoon but also in respect of all the other legislation that is to be presented this week and next. I acknowledge that six years have passed since the last increase occurred and that many would argue that the increase could be larger than from $15 to $20, as provided for in this legislation. However, even for what we would all concede is a small program in the overall concept of government expenditure, the total cost this financial year will be about $20m. The important point is that the Government has recognised the need to update the personal care subsidy. The Liberal-National Country Party coalition gave it priority by including it in the election policy speech and, upon being returned to office, moved immediately for its implementation.
Coalition Liberal-National Country Party governments have a proud record of innovation in relation to care for the aged. The Labor Party tries to spread the myth that somehow or other it is the only party that has a social conscience, that most of the programs for the aged were introduced by it. Contrary to this myth that Labor is putting about - we are hearing it again this afternoon - to my knowledge all of the programs for the care of the aged have been introduced by a Liberal-National Country Party government. For instance, capital grants for aged persons homes, as has been noted in the second reading speech, in the next three-year period will involve 650 projects; there is to be an increase in the personal care subsidy and so forth.
Labor’s attitude to the measure that we have before us today shows its usual hypocrisy on this sort of issue. We are told by the honourable member for Bonython that this should have been done earlier, but apparently somehow or other the election policy speech was not the correct time to do it. Labor acknowledges that it should be done and needs to be done, but apparently it should not be done by itself, only as a total package. In other words, you are damned if you do it and damned if you do not. But is Labor genuine? This is an interesting point. Would it have increased the personal care subsidy by any number of dollars, let alone the $13 that it speaks about in its amendment, if it were now in government? The answer is no. Labor does not actually give the same priority to the personal care subsidy increase, which it claims is so sorely needed, as does this Liberal-National Country party Government. Where, in either the election policy speech or in the reply given by Mr Hayden in August, to the Budget Speech, is there any mention of the personal care subsidy? Where is there in either of those documents a reference to increasing the subsidy? There is silence in the chamber. I have read both of these documents. I will be interested to see if such a reference can be pointed out.
On the one hand, Labor supporters are saying that the Government is mean, that it does not give priority to need, but we have done just that in the coalition parties’ election policy speech and are moving to implement that commitment now. We considered that it had adequate priority to justify inclusion in the policy speech. Did Labor do likewise? It did not. If Labor were in government at this moment - I suppose we must believe what is contained in the policy speech - it would not be moving to increase the personal care subsidy. What hypocrisy, in the light of the speeches that we have heard from the Opposition today and the confusion that the Opposition has been creating.
– They wanted to give $2 billion otherwise.
– Yes, but none of it for the presonal care subsidy. A holier than thou attitude is displayed whenever the Government does something, lt is characterised as not being enough, too late, or not co-ordinated. But when we examine Labor’s real priorities, as demonstrated in the reply by the Leader of the Opposition to the Budget Speech, and in the election policy of Labor, we find not a word about what it would do in this regard. It accords it no priority. I am very pleased to belong to a government that does care, that does give priority, that does stick to its election promises, as is evidenced by the legislation that is before us this afternoon.
– The increases set out in the Bill represent a belated response by the Government, as a result of electoral pressure. Sensitive to the charge that the coalition parties lacked a sense of compassion, the Government made in the policy speech a commitment to do what should have been done in the Budget. It will represent a disappointing increase for the organisations covered under the Act, which might reasonably have expected the Government to have increased the subsidy to $28, the figure to which it would have been increased if the 1974 level had been retained. In 1974 the then Australian Labor Party Government raised the subsidy from $10 to $15. Thus we have, six years later, an increase from $15 to $20. This is typical of the philosophy of this Government. How it is to sell to the public the idea that it is compassionate quite escapes me. The people are not stupid. They know from their own experience what this Government means when it talks about compassion. lt means more taxes for the lower income earners to pay for improved or marginally improved services for those who are outside of the work force. That is to say, the poor will end up paying for the poor. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, more and more resources are being placed at the disposal of the wealthy, of the corporate sector. Apparently in this area no subsidy is sufficiently generous.
The result of this tardy approach to the improvement of services is quite clear. People in nursing homes and hostels have been effectively denied basic services such as recreational programs and necessary visits to such persons as the occupational therapist or the physiotherapist. I believe, with other speakers, that this Bill must be looked at in the broader context of this Government’s approach to welfare services and particularly services for the aged. As a Parliament we must come to terms with the reality that the Australian population is an aging one. As time goes on this will become more apparent demographically, and eventually politically. This means that more and more of the population will become dependent on income security programs and on government provided services; that is, services which are provided in the name of the whole community.
Whilst it is quite clear that it has been possible for the Fraser Government to reduce the rate at which spending will increase on social security and social services, there is no doubt that no absolute reversal will be possible even for governments as conservative in their outlook as the Fraser Government. It is quite obvious to everyone in the welfare field that the Fraser Government tends to avoid encouraging discussion of fundamental questions of philosophy, notwithstanding the Governor-General’s Speech earlier this week. Nevertheless, these questions cannot be avoided by any political party which claims seriously to represent the interests of the majority of Australians. No doubt there are serious limits on what government can actually achieve through legislation administration. The area about which we are speaking is a very good illustration of that. Despite the quite high levels of spending on social security in this country, the reality is that we have not substantially reduced poverty in Australia in the last decade and, indeed, levels of poverty are known to be rising. Furthermore, if one examines the incidence of poverty in numerical terms one sees that aged people represent the largest single group of poor in this country particlarly the aged who live alone. Further, if housing costs are taken into account, the aged are suffering very serious poverty, particularly those who are unable to continue to live in their own homes or who do no own their own homes.
It is unfortunate that this Parliament does so little to analyse the underlying trends which are working to create a dangerous situation of dependency for so many older people. I believe that the piecemeal approach to change which the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) criticised creates a situation in which the Parliament constantly discusses trivia and indulges in insults, but never gets to the basic issues. The factors which need to be looked at to understand the situation of the aged include the changing employment pattern. More and more people are forced prematurely to leave the work force, thus adding to those who are dependent on social security, apart from the aged pensioners.
There is also the problem of changes in the housing market. Enormous pressures are placed on people living in so-called established areas of our cities and regional centres, such as the dramatic shifts in housing prices which have been especially important within the city of Sydney but which are also represented throughout Australia. It is all very well for Government members to talk about the so-called sanctity of market forces but the reality is that the market unregulated can be very cruel. The relatively high percentage of our population living in hostels and in nursing homes to some extent reflects the cruelty of that housing market.
Furthermore, there is the greater reliance which has been placed on a voluntaryistic philosophy with too much emphasis on organisations such as churches and commercially run hostels which have a tendency to favour those people who can afford to pay or be paid for or who are a part of established social networks.
The changes which have occurred demographically as a result of the age structure of our increasingly foreign-born population will mean that we will have more aged people who do not speak the language of this country. Many will become more and more socially isolated unless strong measures are taken. There is also a tendency to build and plan our cities on the basis that everyone is equally mobile and that we can expect people to travel greater distances for community activities. That is a quite unreal expectation with respect to many aged persons.
Our society is dominated by the philosophy that justice is in the interests of the stronger. Our culture is increasingly geared towards maximising social opportunities for those who are the most active, the most mobile, the most attractive, and who have the resources to spend and participate while increasingly we neglect those people who are aging, who can be encouraged to disappear, to live at a minimal level and make minimal demands on the overall system. Why should the combined pensions association be forced to make its annual pilgrimage to Canberra for pension rises, for assistance for basic necessities such as a telephone or simply to argue a case for recognition. It is a sad reflection on the values of our society that the aged have so little status and recognition, so little opportunity to participate in the wider community as equals and must constantly feel themselves to be the objects of charity. Why cannot we achieve a sense of people’s rights with respect to the level of pensions but also their right of access to the full range of community facilities - and indeed, access to full participation in community life?
A great deal of sentimentality is indulged in by members of parliament with respect to the aged. There is little hard analysis of the priorities which have created this vast underclass, this dependent and often apparently undeserving group of poor. The concepts of the guaranteed minimum income and national superannuation have been shelved in Australia even though they do nothing at all to challenge the conventional wisdom or basis of capitalism, and if implemented would do nothing to move this country an inch closer to socialism. We are a wealthy society but we are also amongst the most insensitive and meanest of societies. Perhaps we have had it too good and therefore too easily consign the aged poor to what Goff man has described as total institutions, designed to destroy people’s sense of dignity and self-respect, to make them hopelessly and too soon dependent and to destroy any sense of initiative and independence. It is laughable that Government members should speak so often of their commitment to the individual when they espouse policies which would destroy for the aged all claim to personal and creative identity.
In saying this I am not altogether uncritical of my own side of politics. The policies represented in this most recent election on matters of social security suggested rather subtle differences between the parties rather than any fundamental difference of opinion. We failed, as did the Government, to confront this major issue of the future of the aged in this society, lt is to be hoped that it will be addressed in the course of this Parliament. In my own electorate some important work has been done in regard to the aged in the community by a group associated with the Brotherhood of St Laurence. It is an organisation which has been involved in a great deal of experimentation, known as SPAN.
The purpose of this organisation is to work in community development with aged people to provide supporting services and to begin to make the city of Northcote, and I suppose other areas, more sensitive to the needs of the aged. I have been impressed with the work of this group and with what it is doing in Northcote. As time is short, I cannot describe that in any detail. However, it is characteristic of the Brotherhood of St Laurence that it has given some thought to the basic philosophical questions concerning our attitudes to the aged and the aging process. In a report entitled First Progress Report, September 1979’, the organisation has set out some of the basic assumptions about a development program for the aged. I seek leave of the House to incorporate in Hansard the 14 points which refer to the problem of the aged in our community.
ASSUMPTIONS UNDERLYING A DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM FOR THE AGED
– I thank the House. I cannot refer to all of the issues which this developmental program outlines. But I want to draw the attention of the House to several of the points made which I think are salutory and which one ought to recognise if one is talking about the quality of existing services or the direction in which services might go. One of the major fundamental point: to which the Brotherhood refers is that all aged people have some potential for growth. In a sense, too early in our society we consign people to situations in which we assume that their life is over, that they have nothing further to contribute and that they no longer have a capacity to grow, to learn and to do new things. It is important to emphasise that people in the aged section of our community have enormous skills. Many of the skills being totally lost to this society are possessed by people who lived in a society at a time when a craft was learnt and appreciated. If that is not recognised a lot of those skills will be lost to subsequent generations. I think very much of my own family and all the people associated with the family who teach my children things that I for example never learned and never will learn, but things which I believe our society ought to see as important and ought to preserve. These are skills that ought not to be wasted and ought not to be lost. I believe that the contribution that aged people can make ought to be recognised. We ought to be building that into the policies which are developed for aged people.
Aligned with that is the fact that aged people in this culture, as in any other culture, have a very great contribution to make in terms of transmitting the culture that has existed historically in this society. Very often one can consider that our society is becoming ruthless and that it is lacking a grounding in or an understanding of what history means. History is not a matter of kings, princes and prime ministers; it is a matter of what ordinary people have learned in their experience. People within the Labor movement have learned a great deal which they can contribute and do contribute in that movement when they are accepted. So I believe that generally in terms of policies for the aged we ought to recognise the great cultural contribution of the aged people.
The last point to which I want to refer is the great diversity of the aged population of this country. The city of Northcote in my electorate now has an aging Italian and Greek population. Most of the resources that the community is putting into the provision of services and accommodation for the aged completely ignores the great cultural diversity that exists and the need to design facilities, for example, for a Greek population which is still struggling to build basic institutions. That group has nowhere near the resources needed to build the kind of facilities that are important and basic if aged Greek people are to continue to live useful lives and have a place within their community.
This Bill refers, of course, to the upgrading of the subsidy in relation to accommodation and hostel schemes. I have tried to go beyond that because I believe we are at a point where we need to be rethinking in very basic terms. The honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) may talk about the great rates that we have per thousand of our aged population in terms of hostel accommodation. In fact there has been no increase in the rates between 1975 and 1979. But I do not believe that that is the key issue when we are thinking of where we ought to be going in relation to the aged. Certainly I think if we are to have hostels these institutions ought to be properly subsidised and they ought to be subsidised at a level at which people can get access to the range of basic services. But we need to go back in so many of the issues which confront this Parliament and talk in terms of basic principles, in terms of what is really happening in our society and not simply argue around dollars and cents as though that is the be-all and end-all of the programs.
I do not believe that the fundamental difference between the Whitlam Government and conservative governments was that one spent more money and the other spent less. I believe that the Whitlam Government was one of the great governments in our history because it did tackle problems with imagination and flair, because philosophically it was committed to change across a whole spectrum of our society where change had been sadly lacking for the previous 25 years. I believe that the challenge before this Parliament in relation to questions of the aged is not to argue for three years about how much money might be spent by one party as opposed to the other but really to try to understand what the basic issues are that face that section of the population. I believe that if we do not face up to that we will be threatened by political movements that may not be in the interests of either of the major parties in this House.
The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.
– With your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will say that in order to permit full debate on the Bills that are being rushed through the House today we will not divide.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Original 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 Hunt) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 26 November, on motion by Mr McVeigh:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– This legislation has been introduced to implement an election commitment given by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on behalf of the coalition forces. I might say that the proposition is a very illadvised political gimmick. I said this at the time of the election and I say it again now. I want to examine briefly the political gimmickry that has taken place in relation to the home savings grant proposal. On 5 December 1979 the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Groom), then Minister for Housing, who has been treated so harshly by the Prime Minister, said:
The aim of the value limit is to ensure those people in greatest need are those who will be assisted. The introduction of the value limit is the fairest practical way of directing assistance to help people achieve the goal of home ownership.
The Government introduced a means test on the homes savings grant proposal. Under that proposal people who saved $6,000 over a period of three years were eligible for a grant of $2,000 on a home which was valued at $35,000. The grant was phased out at $40,000. This arrangement was maintained until the last Budget when the amount attracting the full grant was increased to $45,000 and the amount at which the grant was phased out was increased to $55,000. Of course, it was shown in this House during the Budget debate that the proposal put forward in the Budget was not worth the paper it was written on because people could not purchase a home within 20 kilometres of the Sydney GPO for $45,000. Therefore some new arrangement had to be brought in. It was proposed that the amount that would attract the full grant would be lifted to $60,000 and the amount at which the grant was phased out would be $70,000.
I want the House to examine the economics of this proposal. We have not yet reached 5 December 1980. But on 5 December 1979 the Government decided that a house of a value of $35,000 would receive the full grant. However, for some reason or other- perhaps because an election intervened - the Government raised that figure to $60,000 within one year. For that reason I repeat it is political gimmickry of the worst type. As a resource allocation it is an unwise expenditure of money. I believe the $350m-odd that has been spent on this scheme since its inception has been a very poor resource allocation.
Next to unemployment housing is the most serious social problem in this country. Therefore on behalf of the Opposition I move:
Let me make it quite clear that the Australian Labor Party is firmly committed to supporting home ownership, because its members believe that assistance to people to get their foot on the first rung of home ownership is an important goal to achieve. The real lifetime savings of workers of this country are to be found in the homes that they reside in. That is why we believe we should assist workers to get a foot on the first rung of home ownership. We have done everything in our power to assist in that way. Because of that important issue we will assist and co-operate wherever we can to help people to own their own home. For the overwhelming majority of people - particularly workers - the major savings, the real wealth of a family in this country, is the value of the home they live in.
Let me also make it clear that to a growing number of people on low and low-middle incomes home ownership is fast becoming an impossible dream. The costs associated with buying a home are rising so high and so fast in some areas that home ownership is being placed beyond the reach of many people. Government assistance to help those in need to purchase their own home is becoming increasingly necessary. It is becoming, increasingly obvious that home ownership assistance is not a sufficient response by government to fulfil its responsibilities to ensure the security and dignity of accommodation for all Australians. Historically, a significant proportion of the Australian population has relied on access to rental accommodation. In order to provide sufficient and secure rental accommodation, which low income earners can afford, without hardship, without fear of eviction, without threat of invasion of privacy and without exploitation, governments have intervened in the housing market to provide a renewable stock of public housing for rental.
More and more people are increasingly reliant on access to public housing. If honourable members look at the figures that are available they will see that between 1971 and 1976 the proportion of tenants living in government owned dwellings fell from 5.6 per cent of all housing in Australia to 4.9 per cent. Of course the figure has fallen substantially since the 1976 census when figures were last available, lt is nothing short of a national scandal that at a time of increasing social need for public housing, this Government has reduced public housing expenditure from 3.9 per cent in the last full year of the Labor
Government - that was 1974-75 - to 1 per cent in 1980-81, with a consequent depletion of public housing stock. That stock continued to decline during that period.
This Government has continually relied on private sector housing to solve all the growing housing problems in Australia, but the problems cannot be solved in the private sector alone. An expansion of funds for public sector housing is an essential and urgent requirement. In the private sector this Government has relied on one program, and that is this Home Savings Grant Scheme, as a solution to what is now a housing crisis. No single program can solve the serious housing crisis in this country. A comprehensive range of programs is essential for attacking the housing problems on a broad front. During the recent Federal elections I gave details about this new wonder scheme, this new home savings grant proposal, which I said was an ill-conceived political gimmick, the new El Dorado, the new solution to the housing problems of this country.
I want to deal with the weaknesses of this scheme. Firstly, a national home ownership assistance scheme cannot work effectively or equitably if it is based on the price of a home because of the wide regional variations across Australia. Increasing the house price limit for the payment of a grant, while providing a handout to those who need help in areas which have moderate housing prices, does not help those who need assistance in areas where housing prices are high and well above the national average. Secondly, the amount of assistance provided and the lump sum, in the form that it takes, do not help people in need to bridge the widening deposit gap. We have to understand that the widening deposit gap which is occurring and the rising interest rates, which affect monthly repayments and which are generally geared to 25 per cent of a person’s weekly income, are the real problems. So we have to avoid the crippling second mortgage repayment burden. If we do not do that we will drive more and more people outside the economic area where they can meet their commitments to own their own home. Thirdly, the grant is provided nine months too late to be useful to most people for anything other than payment of legal costs or the purchase of furnishings for the house. It in no way assists them at the time that they get their loan.
The majority of people who receive a home savings grant buy their home without this present grant because it is nine months too late. There is a waiting list of nine months. After the Minister for
Housing and Construction (Mr McVeigh) read his second reading speech and before he sat down I asked him whether he would give me some details in regard to the nine months waiting list. He did not mention it. There was not one mention of it in his second reading speech. I tried to get details out of him, but he wanted to go on with some propaganda, some baloney, and would not deal with the facts. He can smile if he likes, but the fact is that he cannot run away from things. He is now a Minister and he cannot stand up, like he did when he was a back bencher, and make all these unusual and irresponsible remarks. Every statement that he makes now is not made as the member for Darling Downs. He is now a member of the Government and he has to make sure that he speaks on behalf of the Government. He cannot give out the hot air that he generally does when he speaks in this House. Those who really need the grant to purchase do not get it at all.
Let us consider some of these criticisms. Firstly, the Government initially imposed a house price limit on the homes savings grant in December 1979, less than a year ago, at $35,000. In the Budget the Government raised the home value limit for the full grant to $45,000. Now the Government has lifted it to $60,000. That decision made in an ad hoc way in the heat of an election campaign was designed merely to attract votes for the Government in marginal Sydney electorates. It was not a rationally determined basis for the operation of a national system of home ownership assistance and it is not now a sound basis for future operations of the Home Savings Grant Scheme. The Minister should read some of the criticisms of the scheme by his own officers in his own Department. If he does not I will have to table them one day so as to remind him what they really think of the scheme. I am aware of the comments of his officers within his own Department and of the criticisms of the misallocation of resources before the price limit of some $60,000 was created. This scheme does not meet the needs of home buyers in Sydney, where the median price of established housing is over $73,000 and where the average house price has almost doubled in the pa.t two years. To give the House some idea of this, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table snowing the changes in the average housing prices in a range of suburbs in the Sydney metropolitan area.
The table read as follows -
-I thank the House. It is still possible to find some houses in Sydney, particularly in the outer suburbs, at the bottom end of the market below $60,000. That I admit. I do not know how long that will continue. In the area of Granville, where I live, houses purchased two years ago for $25,000 are going on the market today for over $50,000. Prices in the eastern suburbs, the northern suburbs and the inner suburbs of Sydney are even worse than those in the western suburbs. This is a serious problem and the Government will have to try to deal with that aspect. The sad thing about this is that the Government is not really helping the needy people. It is only really giving a handout of $2,000. A family with one child gets $2,500 and a family with two children gets $3,000. Those people do not really need that assistance now. In less than a year, if the current rate of increase in housing prices continues, the scheme may, once again, be useless to the first home buyers in Sydney. I am not trying to be a prophet, but I think that is a threatening possibility.
At the same time the median price of a house in Brisbane is around $35,000. One can buy a quality home in Brisbane from between $60,000 and $70,000 whilst in Sydney for that price, one would get a basic bungalow in an outer suburb. One can buy a quality house in South Australia also for $60,000. A Labour Government in South Australia brought stability to land prices in South Australia. Because of co-operation from the South Australian Government between 1972 and 1975, we were able to get the land commission programs underway. As a result the land prices in
Adelaide are much cheaper and houses are also cheap.
We have this serious problem of a variation in the cost of housing as between regions. All 1 am saying to the Government is that it is bad to determine a person’s eligibility for a grant according to the price of a dwelling. It is better to have an income test, as we propose in the Labor Party. If, in fact, prices continue to spiral in the Sydney area, what does the Government intend to do in 12 months time when prices will be higher than the proposed limit of $60,000? What does it intend to do in areas such as Gladstone or Darwin and other regional areas where there are difficult problems with housing costs? Will the Government up the house price limit again in 12 months time or will we have to wait again for another three years before the Government pulls out another political gimmick to try to misguide the people again?
Let us consider the second criticism - the widening deposit gap between the declining saving capacity of the ordinary wage earners and the increasing price of housing. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing the deposit required by the people on the different levels of income assuming the different savings capacity to purchase a home at some $35,000, $45,000 and $55,000.
The table read as follows-
– I thank the House. A person on an average income of something like $245 a week can obtain a median loan of $27,000 from a building society and repay it over 25 years at an interest rate of 10* per cent. A first home seeker wanting to buy a $40,000 home needs to find a deposit of $1 3,000. The average wage earner on $245 a week would take eight years to raise that deposit if he saved one-quarter of his income each year. By that time the price of the house would have risen further beyond his reach and the interest rates would have more than likely gone up. That is the position for someone buying a house worth $40,000, but we are talking now about someone buying a house for $60,000. He needs a $33,000 deposit. How will he get that $33,000? Is the Government encouraging every potential first home buyer to go out and rob a bank, a service station or some other place to get the extra $33,000 deposit that he will have to find to build or purchase a $60,000 home? I want answers from the Governme’ . I do not want hot air. I want to know how people on average earnings can bridge the deposit gap to purchase a house for $60,000 and then meet the monthly repayments. That is the challenge I am putting to the Government. I am also asking the bureaucrats in the corner to give some information to this not-so-bright Minister.
This year home loan interest rates have already risen one per cent and they are set to rise again by up to 2 per cent because of the drain of finance away from the traditional sources of housing finance as a result of the rush on domestic capital for resource processing development and the associated physical infrastructure. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing the impact of the interest rates on the home loan payments.
The table read as follows-
-I thank the House. Before I deal with the interest rates I mention again the broad policy of this Government on housing. I have explained that from 1974-75 through to this year the Government has cut the proportion of Government expenditure going to housing from 3.9 per cent to one per cent. The net amount that the States are receiving, after interest repayments and capital repayments to the Commonwealth is only one-eighth of what it was six years ago. The Government has starved the States of funds for public housing. What is the situation now under this so-called free enterprise Government which says it is in favour of private housing? There is a squeeze on private sector housing. Why has that squeeze occurred? It has occurred because the Government is geared up to an overall policy of resource development. In pursuing that policy, particularly in its support of the aluminium industry, it has allowed the State governments to raise their funds through the electricity authorities at an interest rate of 12.3 per cent. These loans have got the backing of the State and national governments. They are raising hundreds of millions of dollars at 12.3 per cent. The maximum rate that banks can pay at this stage is 9 per cent and the maximum rate the building society can pay is 10 per cent. If investors have to make a decision about where they will invest their moneywhether to invest it in the private sector for housing at 9 per cent or 10 per cent or to support the foreign corporations to build electricity power stations to support the aluminium industry at 1 2.3 per cent - of course the Australian people will invest their money in these electricity authorities. It is this Government’s overall monetary policy to drain money away from the people and to direct it to the corporate sector.
Let me come back to the table of interest rates which I incorporated in Hansard. A rise in interest rates of one per cent from 10.5 per cent to 1 1 .5 per cent would mean an extra monthly repayment of $ 1 8 on a $25,000 loan repaid over a 25 year term and an extra $22 a month on a $30,000 loan. A 2 per cent interest rate rise would mean an additional monthly repayment of $36 on a $25,000 loan repaid over 25 years and $44 on a $30,000 loan. Such rises would act to widen even further the deposit gap and require a longer savings period. This is the sad situation that is occurring. As interest rates rise the prospect of people owning their homes will be driven further from their reach. In addition, the repayment burden for existing home buyers will be increased.
The Minister proudly boasted during his second reading speech that over 70 per cent of householders in Australia, including household heads, own their homes. According to the 1976 census, 28 per cent of household occupiers owned their homes while 41 per cent were paying off their homes. This means that under this new policywhich will occur within days, it could happen early next week after the Queensland election is held on Saturday - interest rates will go up substantially. That means that this Government will place a further tax burden on those 41 per cent of people with existing mortgage repayments. If a rise of 2 per cent is applied to a loan of $30,000, monthly repayments will increase by $44. As I said earlier, this will drive further out of the reach of a person who does not have his foot on the first rung the prospect of owning his home. It will accelerate and accentuate the housing crisis which, next to unemployment, is the most serious social problem in this country.
The sum of $2,000 is provided by the home savings grant for most first home buyers. I have said that it has been increased to $2,500 for people with one child and to $3,000 for people who have two or more children. This will cause many people to delay having children. People will still have to delay having families because they cannot afford them. In many cases, husbands and wives both go out to work to try to save the required amount of money. That is another delaying tactic of this Government particularly in relation to housing.
A third criticism of the scheme - it is my final one as I have only a few seconds remaining - is that the grant, small as it is, comes nine months too late to be useful in the contractual purchase of a house. It is made available after the event and is useful for assisting in the payment of legal costs or in purchasing furnishings. What is the point of providing an inadequate sum nine months after the event? Frankly, I think it is about time the Government started to get its priorities right. It is time the Government started to commit itself to the people and realised that the housing problem is a growing one. More and more people are living in social poverty. We know of the crisis that is occurring in the public sector and we now know of the situation in the private sector. Therefore, I ask this Government to re-assess its position. Now that the election campaign is over the Government should not be in a panic. It should be able to think things through over the next six months and to do something about housing for the people of this country. It seems to me the Government should look at the policy which the Labor Party put forward during the election campaign. We tried to look at a broader aspect of housing program. If the Government is to solve the housing problem for the people of this country, it has to attack that problem on a broad front. It has to attack it in such a way that it will make housing a high priority. We all know that the people’s problems are a very low priority of the Government. The Government is really concerned with the corporate sector. A great percentage of that corporate sector is foreign to this country. The Government does not care about our people. It has sold out more and more to overseas interests. That seems to be the commitment of the Government.
– I second the amendment.
– Before entering the debate on the Homes Savings Grant Amendment Bill, I would like to congratulate the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr McVeigh), who is sitting at the table, on his elevation to the Ministry. Despite the rather harsh comments made by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), honourable members on this side of the House are certain from the manner in which the Minister answered his maiden question and introduced this legislation that he will carry out his duties in a most capable manner.
The honourable member for Reid moved an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill. I find the amendment rather contradictory. I want to answer one or two of the points he raised. He criticised the limits imposed in respect of the homes savings grant. He said that the limits are too stringent to cover the people living in Sydney who might have to pay an exorbitant price to buy a house in the middle area of Sydney or perhaps in the more elegant areas of Sydney and who therefore would not qualify for the grant. I would have thought that that answered his question, because there is a needs basis. The existing Act does provide for a needs basis. Furthermore, I wonder whether he is suggesting that the amount of the grant should be open-ended, that there should not be any limit on the amount. If, as the honourable member said, the standard price of a house in Sydney is over $70,000, obviously the people of Sydney are not very much in need of raising a deposit for a house. The limit provided does cover those in need across the board and, more importantly, those who are prepared to work and save to own their own homes. The Government has provided this generous grant to help them do so.
Not every person needs to purchase a home for $60,000. The Government has set as the basis of its grant houses priced up to $60,000. The important words are ‘up to $60,000’. Because right across this country - in the cities, towns and country areas - there are fluctuations in the price of land, the cost of building, the costs associated with isolation which add to the cost of building, and so on, it is possible for young people or people who desire to obtain their first home to be eligible for the grant if the house costs up to $60,000. I think we should look at the amendment of the honourable member for Reid. Part ( 1 ) states: assistance according to an income means test instead of the price of the house . . .
For the honourable member, after making that his first point, then to go on to say that the price of a house in Sydney is not being taken into consideration and that it is even higher than the existing level allowed, is rather contradictory. We can weigh that against part (3), which states: equitable distribution of assistance in the context of wide regional variation in housing prices;
In part ( 1 ) the honourable member ignores housing prices as a basis and in part (3) he takes housing prices as a basis. I think that adequately explains the ineffectiveness of the honourable member for Reid when he talks about housing. I know that he means well but unfortunately, as usual, he gets his facts muddled. In part (4) he goes on to state: a more effective scheme of assistance to first home buyers which will act to reduce the widening deposit gap and so limit the requirement . . .
He is referring, quite obviously, to the proposal by the socialist party to have a family home ownership plan. Before going into that, I say that I was slightly amused by one of the honourable member’s remarks. In fact, my colleague, the Opposition Whip, the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) even smiled when the honourable member for Reid said in his opening remarks that the Australian Labor Party believed in home ownership. That brought a slight smile to the face of the former Minister for Housing on the Opposition side of the House because we know that when he was Minister he introduced the housing corporation Bill and other measures obviously aimed at nationalising the industry and providing rental accommodation for the people of this country. The honourable member for Reid has again contradicted his own party. He said to the Minister for Housing and Construction that the Minister is supposed to be representing his party and the Government. I say to the honourable member for Reid that he should be representing his party.
However, the ALP or socialists’ family home ownership plan is designed to provide a subsidy payable directly to banks, building societies and no doubt to other lending organisations, to enable borrowers to have reduced repayments and to borrow larger amounts. The subsidy was to be paid over a period of four years. Of course, firstly, people had to raise $3,000 themselves. Then the eligibility was restricted to first home buyers with incomes of less than $16,000 for single income families and less than $24,000 for two income families. I think one can see that that is a bit of an anomaly. There is no special provision for families with more than one child. The assumption that a single income family on $16,000 a year with children can better afford a home than a childless couple on $24,000 a year is typical ALP nonsense. However, we understand that the honourable member for Reid often comes into the House and makes these wildly exaggerated claims and we allow for them.
In regard to the criticisms he made of the existing home savings grant I should point out to him that suggesting that people outside Sydney, because of the limits now placed on the scheme, can now buy luxury homes, is an absurd claim. The amount of money people spend on their homes is not governed by what a government provides in a grant and what the limit is. It is governed by what they can afford to put down as a deposit, how much their income allows them to borrow and what they see as their ability to build a house. It is quite idiotic for the honourable member for Reid to make such a comment. First home buyers typically have reasonably modest incomes and buy modest dwellings. These are the people whom the scheme has always been intended to help. The Government has always been mindful of the difficulties faced by families in Sydney and in the high cost remote areas. Hence we have a high ceiling as a base limit with assistance phasing out at a higher level of $70,000.
The honourable member for Reid suggested that regional value limits should be introduced and that the grant should be provided at certain levels in some areas because of low costs and in other areas because of high costs. Apart from the administrative difficulties of trying to apply that suggestion even in one city, let alone across Australia, that would not rate with the application of other government benefits such as pensions. Is he suggesting that the pension level should be lower in some areas of Australia because living costs are perhaps a little less or that it should be higher in other areas? Obviously that is again quite an absurd comment by the honourable member for Reid.
– You have been speaking for 10 minutes and you have been stuck into me the whole time. Get on to your policy.
– The honourable member for Reid is obviously reacting because he knows I am speaking the truth. I have been speaking for not quite 10 minutes. The present increase in the limit in the new homes savings grant introduced by the Government will be welcomed by those people who are desirous of obtaining a grant to help them build or purchase their own homes. The new grant does provide a bonus and it is to show the Government’s interest in trying to help those with families. The bonus, as the Minister outlined in his speech, is $500 for families with one dependent child, and $1,000 for those with two or more children. The increased value limit, as has already been mentioned, has been raised to $60,000 and assistance will be phased out at $70,000.
I repeat that the Government has no intention - this applies to any person anywhere in this country who is considering purchasing a house - if a house is in, for example, Melbourne, Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat or even in the area of the honourable member for Reid, and if the average home that the person wants is worth $40,000, of encouraging the level of indebtedness to be increased to $60,000. The grant is providing the opportunity for people throughout Australia to receive assistance from the Federal Government. I believe that is the way in which any grant provided by a government should be applied. It cannot be selective. And it was selective when limits were placed on it. The purpose of the grant, as I have mentioned, is to encourage young people to own their own homes.
As the Minister mentioned in his speech, the home ownership rate in this country is approximately 70 per cent. If that is not an indication of the success of this Government over many years in helping people to obtain their own homes, I do not know what is. lt certainly is to be regretted that every family in this country is not able to own its own home. That is possibly a Utopian objective and it is one that I do not think any government in any country anywhere in the world could ever achieve. The point is that 70 per cent is a tremendous level of achievement. It is a figure of which we in this country should be proud. Australia is continuing to have one of the highest levels of home ownership in the industrialised world. We are firmly committed to encouraging home ownership for all Australian families.
Housing finance was given the highest of priorities in the last four Budgets. Improvements to the homes savings grant, including the widening of value limits that I have already mentioned and the extra increase provided for families, are totally unlike the policies of the socialists who tried to introduce a housing corporation in order to nationalise the industry. The main thrust of their policy was to do away with home ownership. That, of course, has not been forgotten by the people of this country. They will not overlook the fact that the ideal situation from the Opposition point of view is not to encourage home ownership but the opposite. The Minister, in his second reading speech, mentioned that the Commonwealth joined with the States through the
Commonwealth-State agreement to assist housing throughout this country. I would like to touch briefly on that matter. It is worth noting that since 1945 the Commonwealth has made total loan payments of $4.7 billion for welfare housing. I think that is quite a creditable achievement. Repayments on existing loans by the States will be approximately $200m this financial year. I understand that something like $800m of that is the total amount outstanding on home ownership loans provided through co-operative and terminating building societies.
The Government lends this money to the States at a very low interest rate of 4.5 per cent for home ownership and 5 per cent for rental accommodation. It is lent in a three-year repayment program. This money is provided through the States under the welfare or State government housing organisations to limited income families. So it does cater for the young people with very limited incomes of, I think, about $240 to $250 a week and under, who will have the opportunity of obtaining a loan provided by the Federal Government to assist them and which will be at a subsidised rate of interest repayable over some 30 years. This will give them a chance of owning their own homes.
Throughout the country people are able to buy or build a home providing they show the endeavour to do so. The majority have done it and the majority will continue to do it. I think that the Government should be applauded for its efforts to provide as much assistance as possible to the young people seeking to obtain ownership of homes. The Government rejects the amendment put forward by the honourable member for Reid. I support the Bill.
– I rise in support of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren). The Homes Savings Grant Amendment Bill provides for extensions to the Homes Savings Grant Scheme to allow from 1 October 1980 a new homes savings grant family bonus of $500 for families with one dependent child and $1 ,000 for families with two or more dependent children. The respective maximum grants will increase to $2,500 and $3,000. The increase in the value limit for which the maximum grant is payable is to $60,000 reducing to nil at $70,000. There are also certain provisions which widen the form of acceptable saving. The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr McVeigh) suggested in his second reading speech that the principal goal of the Government is to achieve the highest possible rate of home ownership. Of course this has been an important goal of all political parties throughout the post-war period in
Australia. Despite what one often hears from the other side of the House we have just heard from the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier) that the Government has a bipartisan goal. Given this fact charges of dishonesty on both sides are of little value and do nothing to contribute to an effective debate in this Parliament.
The reality is that over the past decade the levels of home ownership have been falling across Australia and if the trend continues we may soon not be able to claim that we lead the world in this statistic. Both this scheme and that put forward by the Opposition are unlikely effectively to reverse the trend away from home ownership. We are facing difficult economic times and the Government is, as it would suggest, making tough economic choices. It is deliberately increasing unemployment. Of course it is also deliberately restricting the supply of money for new housing. This is the natural product of its fiscal and monetary policies. It is also redirecting investment funds away from the household and manufacturing sectors towards the resource based industries with their vast infrastructure needs. lt is this shift of emphasis in terms of its investment priorities which is the most important single reason for the pressure being placed on the money market and in turn on the housing market. It is slowing down the rate of new construction and making life more difficult for people seeking to acquire new households. Just as in the Government’s industry policies where the young unemployed are bearing the brunt of the recession, in the housing sector it is the young families who are finding it most difficult to get their feet on the ladder to get into new housing. Gradually an overall shortage of housing is developing due to these pressures. However, there have also been problems which were not resolved in the 1970s in terms of the distribution of the available housing stock. During the past few years there have been massive surges in the property markets, particularly in the major cities which have placed enormous pressures on the distribution of housing. Increasingly the built up areas of the cities have been occupied by people on rising incomes, particularly in the areas most favoured by facilities such as parks and access to decent community amenities.
Where governments, such as the Whitlam Government, have acted to improve the levels of community facilities for lower income groups through programs such as the area improvement program, the benefits of these improvements have often been appropriated by property investors and by the property and investment conscious middle class. The failure of the Fraser Government to accept what I believe to be the most important urban initiative of the Whitlam Government, the land commissions, or to implement and follow through the recommendations of the ElseMitchell report with respect to tenure of land, has meant that in the outer and the inner areas the finest land has been appropriated by the property speculators. The poorest land, in the Victorian case, was eventually acquired by the Housing Commission, particularly as the property boom of the early 1970s passed its peak. The result is now a very serious housing shortage in which I believe the possibility of any government, State or Federal, imposing order, rationality and justice is becoming increasingly remote.
The Victorian Green Paper, which has just been released, indicates some of the massive problems the housing industry in Victoria faces. I hope that the new Minister will take the opportunity to study that quite important paper. The fact is that so much of the public housing stock in this country is now aging, is of poor standard and is inappropriate for the people who need it. Examples are the high rise flats in Sydney and Melbourne and the impossible locations such as the Cranbourne swampland bought by the famous Housing Commission speculators. Ten years ago I proposed in a statement to the Victorian Housing Commission, jointly issued with the Brotherhood of St Laurence, that the Victorian Housing Commission should purchase and rehabilitate older housing to preserve the opportunity for lower income earners to remain in the inner city location against the coming property boom. This resulted in no action and no change of policy.
The provision for the purchase of established housing has been part of the CommonwealthState Housing Agreement but the Commonwealth Government has chosen not to act or to put pressure on the States to take action. There are very big areas of Housing Commission housing in an absolute shambles in my electorate. There are areas of housing, for example, in West Heidelberg, where housing is literally falling down as a result of cheap State construction and inadequate foundations. There is a warning there in relation to the proposal to hold the Olympic Games in Melbourne because much of that housing was built for the 1956 Olympic Games. The accommodation being provided for families in Housing Commission areas is often cramped and rarely up to standard. Aged persons’ accommodation in my electorate is what I would describe as a total disgrace. As the Victorian Green Paper recognises the costs of cleaning up this mess would be enormous. It is hard to believe that priority will be given to housing in the current Ministry which will result in any major changes in what is now a parlous housing situation in the Commonwealth. For too long the Commonwealth has seen its role with respect to housing as being to provide the kinds of Mickey Mouse subsidies and vote winning schemes such as this one currently before the House. Such schemes cannot be expected to make any serious contribution to what must be described as a serious housing crisis. The housing problems I have described are multifaceted and complex.
Of course I could not claim that there is any single solution to the problem. The difficulty is to know where to start. I firmly believe that the legislation before the House is certainly not the place to start. I believe one of the things the Commonwealth ought to do is to carry out a thorough survey of housing conditions in Australia, similar to the royal commission carried out in Britain a few years ago. We at the national level simply have no feeling for the current housing situation. This society has been changing dramatically in the post-war period. It is a period in which we have tended to add to the housing stock while avoiding difficult questions, about the nature of housing that has been provided and its appropriations for the people living in the cities and in the regional areas of this country. We have tended to import solutions from overseas such as high rise flats or solutions dreamt up by smart economists who have no feeling for people and for what they might choose. Indeed one could say that the disasters of the 1960s were at least the result of the control of State housing policies by engineers.
In the 1970s the economists once again took us down the wrong track. Take for example such absurd policies as market rents and escalating interest rates for new home buyers. The introduction of market rents was designed to ensure that the wealthy were expelled from Housing Commission areas but in fact it has had the opposite effect. The poor are in fact, locked into housing commission areas through having to pay increasingly higher rents. They are unable to get out. Similarly, the implementation of policies in relation to escalating interest rates has also had this effect in that basically working-class people fail to get themselves established and do not have money available, for example to provide a decent education for their children. Indeed, much of the Housing Commission accommodation in Victoria is so bad it ought never to have been sold: It simply was not up to scratch for any sort of proper, reasonable sale.
There is then, in my view, in relation to housing policy a need for a very different approach. I will suggest very briefly some of the things which we need to do nationally in relation to housing policy. I think we need to look more at the standards and the appropriateness of the housing which exists in this country. We talk so often as though we have one of the highest standards of housing of any country. It is simply enough to say that we have the highest rate of home ownership of any country and somehow that convinces us that somehow we are well off in terms of housing. As the honourable member for Reid pointed out, a very high percentage of the population may purchase houses but only a little more than 25 per cent of the population in fact actually own their house. We need to look, I believe, at what the state of the housing that is owned is really like. It often seems to me that the people who talk about the standard of housing in this country have not moved very far from their own neighbourhood. Very often they are the people who live in areas where the best quality housing exists. We also need to look at social and economic changes that occur in our society. We should try to understand what those changes will mean in terms of housing. Earlier this afternoon we were talking about an aging population. Let me say that in my electorate there is almost no housing for the aged which I would regard as being at all suitable for people who are presently living in such accommodation. I refer in particular to public housing.
We need to look at the trend towards smaller families. What then are the implications for housing? There is the whole question of the energy crisis and its implications for the organisation of housing in major cities. This means that we have the changing patterns of mobility.
I would have liked to raise several other issues, but my time has run out. I think we need to move away from welfare housing towards public housing. We need to look at the whole question of tenure which has never been looked at seriously very largely as a result of the sloganeering that takes place in this House. We need to look again, I believe, at the lessons of the land commissions. We need to look also at what rebuilding our cities will mean in a situation in which energy will play an extremely important strategic role. The legislation before the House is, I believe, a gimmick, lt contributes nothing to housing policy. It ought to be withdrawn. The Bill should be redrafted so that at least some equity is built into schemes of that type.
– Unlike the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe), I believe that the Homes Savings Grant Amendment Bill is an important Bill. It was, of course, an election undertaking. I congratulate our new Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr McVeigh) on introducing this Bill which is the first Bill he has had the pleasure of introducing into the parliament. He has shown a long interest in housing and the housing industry and I believe it is significant that he has been appointed Minister for Housing and Construction. There has been some discussion by two members of the Opposition in regard to home ownership levels. I do not think the Government is claiming that everything is as it would like in the home industry in Australia. But it is significant that Australia does have one of the highest levels of home ownership in the industrialised world. This Government is firmly committed to encouraging further the expansion of that home ownership to all Australian families. These improvements to the Home Savings Grant Scheme mainly revolve around increased value limits and extra assistance for families. The level of home ownership in Australia as measured in November 1978 by an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey was about 73 per cent of households.
The Opposition has made a fair amount of play out of the fact that because someone has a title to a home that person does not necessarily own it. Surely it is an enormous incentive to improve housing standards in this country if a person does have the incentive and the opportunity to participate in owning his or her own home. The former Australian Labor Party Government thought so little about encouraging home ownership that it legislated to remove this Scheme. We recognise that it is against the philosophy of the Labor Party to give incentives to home ownership. Its theory is that if people can be kept in rental homes and in housing accommodation in some way or other it will assist the Labor party electorally. I simply deplore that attitude.
One of the most important increases in the level of home ownership has been among the young married people. Fifty per cent of married people under 35 years of age were home owners in 1966, but today some 65 per cent of young married people are home owners. The Government is determined to continue to encourage this home ownership as has been shown by the last four Budgets which have given a high priority to housing finance. We have also seen record levels of housing approvals, particularly in 1978-79.
As time is limited and I believe the Government wishes to get this Bill through the House as quickly as possible, I will mention some of the details of this amending legislation. It increases the value limit to $60,000, provides a family bonus and widens the form of acceptable savings. These measures, of course, will help many first home buyers particularly in higher cost areas such as Sydney and more remote areas. They will be of particular help to families with children as a majority of these families have only one income and can find it difficult to save for a home. Regulations are being amended to increase the value limit on homes including land and full grants will be payable for homes up to $60,000, reducing to zero at the $70,000 mark. This will cost the taxpayer some $ 10m in 1981-82. The family bonus will be payable in certain cases to $500 for one dependent child and $1,000 for two or more children. I feel that this will assist single-income families in saving for a home.
I will very briefly read from the Minister’s second reading speech because it mentions two changes to the Home Savings Grant Scheme which greatly improve the Scheme. I refer, of course, to the change to the form of acceptable savings and to other areas. The Minister said:
At present acceptable savings under the scheme include moneys held on deposit with a savings bank, building society or credit union, on fixed deposit with a trading bank or paid towards the purchase of land or the purchase or construction of the home. Honourable members will be aware that the Government introduced the Australian savings bond in 1976 with a view to attracting subscriptions to government securities from the small investor, especially from the household sector. It has been somewhat anomalous that these bonds have not been a form of acceptable savings under the Homes Savings Grant Act. Accordingly, we propose in the Bill to remove this anomaly and to honour our election commitment.
The main forms of acceptable savings are those held with the savings institutions which provide the bulk of private housing finance. Most first home buyers are expected to continue to accumulate their savings with these institutions in order to qualify for a home loan. However, some people may wish to hold part of their savings in the form of Australian savings bonds. Acceptance of the savings will remove the discrimination against these people who are, after all, contributing to the good of Australia.
The other major proposal that is an initiative in this Bill is, of course, the payment of a family bonus for those people who have one or more dependent children. As I have mentioned earlier, this Scheme will provide a family bonus of $500 for families with one dependent child and $1,000 for families with two or more dependent children. More importantly, however, the family bonus will not vary with the level of savings. This will make it easier for families with children to get additional assistance. They will be able to get the full family bonus even if they have only relatively small savings to qualify for a grant.
As I said earlier, there is still a very great need in the Australian community to improve the quality and the quantity of homes. Coming from a ratal electorate, I am very much aware, of the need in almost all of my communities for additional homes. In many rural areas the restrictions upon obtaining homes are creating great difficulties for the provision of further employment opportunities, and particularly for the obtaining of skilled people to perform some of the services that are so urgently required.
Last year, the shire of Mildura, the largest shire in my electorate, presented to the Victorian Housing Commission a report which indicated the need in that community for large numbers of homes, public housing in particular. It might be interesting to quote from that report which indicated that a recent council survey of caravan parks had shown that some 714 people were living permanently on 321 sites. Moreover, this number of sites represented 27.6 per cent of the total caravan park sites available in the shire. This type of situation should not be allowed to develop in our country and I congratulate the Government upon moving so rapidly with this scheme in order to ensure that further improvements are made.
I would like to comment very briefly on some of the criticisms that have been made by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren). He was very critical of the Home Savings Grant Scheme and pointed to the family home ownership proposal presented by the Australian Labor Party prior to the last election. That Scheme would have restricted eligibility to first home buyers with incomes of less than $16,000 per annum in the case of single income families, and less than $24,000 per annum in the case of two income families, with a requirement that $3,000 be saved over at least one year. These stated income levels would discriminate unfairly against single income families, many of whom have children, in favour of two income families. We have to recognise that 70 per cent of first home buyers with childen have only one income and the Scheme made no special provision for families with children. The assumption that a single income family with children which earns $16,000 a year can better afford a home than can a childless couple which earns $24,000 a year is nonsense and points to the absurdity of the plan devised by the Australian Labor Party.
I support the Bill. I believe that it will do a great deal to improve for first home buyers the quality and standard of houses in this country and I congratulate the Ministers for introducing it.
– The House is not really debating a housing policy but rather a policy of election expediency. It is significant that amendments to the Homes Savings Grant Act frequently occur immediately after an election during which it has been expedient to invoke a promise in order to pick up a handful of votes along the road. We need an homogenous housing policy and I commend to the new Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr McVeigh), whom I wish success in his work, application to such an objective.
It is traditional for Liberal-Country Party governments to engage in a policy of devolution in regard to housing. That is what has been happening over the years. The Government has virtually abdicated from Federal responsibility for housing. It believes in the policy of federalism, which amounts to turning the whole obligation and responsibility over to the States but not necessarily ensuring that the States are given the wherewithal to get on with the job.
The Government has undertaken to increase the value limit of a home in relation to which a full grant is payable to $60,000 as against $45,000, the previous level. The value of the grant is to taper off to nil in respect of homes priced at $70,000. During the 1979-80 financial year the number of applications under the scheme fell by 1 2,680 from the number received in the previous year. In addition, 4,000 applicants were not eligible. This was due in the main to valuation limits.
The legislation does not decrease the waiting period of nine months between lodgment of an application and payment of a grant. Because of the nine-month delay, 21,451 applicants for grants totalling $26. 5m are currently awaiting payment. This Bill does not increase the sum that was allocated for the scheme in the last Budget. The 1980-81 Budget allocation is $52. lm, or $ 19.5m less than was allocated in the previous year. So one wonders how sincere the Government really is. In the foreseeable future, people who are applying, despite the increases in valuation limits and the baby bonus factor that has been invoked here for the first time, will have to face this delay in payment. Thus, though the eligibility criteria have been widened and the bonus has been paid to eligible families, the total financial commitment under the scheme is to remain the same as it was in August 1980.
This will cause a great deal of inconvenience. 1 predict that there will be greater time lags in the making of payments to beneficiaries. People will be forced to seek temporary finance at high interest rates. When they have paid back those temporary loans at high interest rates they will have gained no particular benefit at all; it will just have cost them money. This is a very deleterious aspect of what is occurring.
The history of this legislation reveals that it was introduced by the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, in 1964, when the value of the grant was $750. Those of us who have been here for a time will recall that this was all part of the percentage politicking that took place around that period. It was said: ‘We need to pick up some votes. We will pick up one or two per cent as a result of grants for science schools and one or two per cent as a result of the Home Savings Grant Scheme.’ Of course, it has worked but it has been a very patchy approach. The Scheme has always been fraught with anomalies regarding eligibility criteria, which have required constant amendment and have resulted in any year in 3,000 to 5,000 being rejected.
We all remember the debates that took place in the intervening period. Applicants were said to have their savings in the wrong form. One almost needed a lawyer to take part in the scheme. Many applicants did not meet the residential criteria. New Australians were disadvantaged. Widows were not eligible, nor were single people and in so many cases the valuation limits were too restrictive. The difficulties and inequities of the scheme were apparent eight years ago when the Labor Government took office. It immediately announced its intention to introduce initiatives to rectify the situation. We have been told by the Minister in his second reading speech that Labor proposed getting rid of this scheme. It was our intention to phase it out, and we announced that fact. But the Minister did not mention that our declared intention - which we proceeded to invoke - was to permit tax deductibility for mortgage interest payments. That is one benefit which has not been continued under the Fraser Government. Housing interest payments made by low and middle income earners were tax deductible.
Under the Labor Party’s scheme 1.5 million families were eligible not just to a one-off payment, but every year to receive a recurring benefit, which varied according to one’s indebtedness and income. For example, a taxpayer who in 1975 earned $7,400 a year and who had a building society loan of $15,000 was to receive a benefit of $400 per annum. Full deductibility was offered to low income earners and a diminished benefit to persons receiving up to $14,000. Let us remember that $14,000 in 1975 was equivalent to $23,400 today. Thus people over a wide income range were receiving benefits. Nobody can hoodwink all of the people all of the time. There are lessons and facts of history which belie the contentions that the Government has made about the former Labor Government. The restrictions then applying to homes savings grants- such as age limits, house value limitations and discrimination against single people and new Australians - did not apply under Labor’s scheme, which was far more embracing in every way. So we have this patch-up situation today.
Because of time constraints, I can see I will not be able to go on to develop most of the points I was considering raising. 1 make the point that there have been misleading contentions about the policy of the Australian Labor Party in respect of home ownership. The highest level of home ownership in Australia occurred under a Labor government. That is an undeniable fact and I challenge the Minister for Housing and Construction to cite anything that can effectively contradict that assertion. Census statistics map the decline in home ownership rates. The census of 1 966 showed that 72.5 per cent was the home ownership level. The census of 1971 showed that the level was 68.7 per cent and in 1976 the census showed a level of 66.6 per cent. The steady decline in home ownership since this Government took office is determined by official statistics. It flies in the face of the Minister’s statements that more than 70 per cent of Australians have achieved home ownership. The Minister’s calculation refers to the percentage of Australians living in private dwellings who have achieved home ownership, not the percentage of the total Australian population that has achieved this goal.
As we look at the other available statistics we recognise the enormous shortcomings that exist under the present Government. The average value of private contract built houses in Sydney has risen by $5,800 in the March quarter of 1980, in Melbourne it has risen by $3,600 and in all capital cities by $4,100. The Government can feel proud of that if it likes, but we believe that such a situation brings very great hardship to a wide range of Australians. According to the Real Estate Institute of Australia, in September the median sale price of established houses in the Sydney region was $73,600, which precludes many Sydney home buyers from obtaining a grant under this scheme since the cut-out figure is $70,000.
I inform the Minister that the price of building materials has risen nationally by 16.3 per cent in the 12 months to the end of August. This inflation rate would add $3,260 to the price of a house which cost $40,000 to build 12 months ago. So it goes on. One could provide indictment after indictment of the Government’s failed policies and unless it starts to give effect to the terms of the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) the position of home seekers in Australia will go backwards, because interest rates are about to rise.
Those increases will bring Australian families down to the poverty level on a massive scale. This is a patch-up program in respect of this scheme. It will provide some benefit to a number of people. It will confer benefit on people with a capacity to save but it will do very little for those who have the greatest housing need.
– My remarks in closing the debate will be very brief. I thank all honourable members who have been generous enough to participate in this debate. I reject the charge that this legislation is a piece of gimmickry. I think the great debate was held in Australia on 18 October and I remind those who sit opposite that on that day the electors of Australia returned the Government with a majority which was, with the exception of the last two elections, among the highest on record. I thank all honourable members for their spirit of co-operation and for the kind and generous comments passed about me. I guess that spirit will disappear when we hot up and have a few more debates during this Parliament.
I want to reply very briefly to a point raised by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) in regard to widening the form of acceptable savings. I will talk to him privately about that matter later. The Government considered this matter but, taken all in all, it was thought that its acceptance would make eligibility too wide, so we came up with the proposition we have put forward.
– I want to put it on record that the reason the Opposition did not divide the House was the pressure of work we will have during this two weeks of sitting.
– I thank the honourable member for Reid. The Government appreciates his co-operation.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr McVeigh) read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 6.1 to 8 p.m.
Bill presented by Mr Howard, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill will give effect to three of the taxation measures announced in the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). The three measures are a special 20 per cent depreciation allowance for new plant used by primary producers and for new fishing vessels and related equipment, full deductions in the year of expenditure for capital outlays on soil conservation on primary production land and the removal of a specific exclusion from the investment allowance of plant for use in amusement or recreation.
Depreciation of Primary Producers’ Plant
A 20 per cent rate of depreciation, on a prime cost basis, is to be provided for new machinery and other plant used exclusively in agricultural or pastoral pursuits of forestry operations. New fishing vessels, fishing equipment and shore-based plant that is used exclusively in fishing operations are also to qualify. The new allowance will enable the cost of eligible plant to be written off for tax purposes in equal instalments over 5 years, beginning in the year in which the plant is first used or installed ready for use. The new measure will apply to plant that is ordered - or, if constructed by the taxpayer, construction of which is started - on or after 1 October 1980. Structural improvements and motor cars, motor cycles and other passenger motor vehicles will not be eligible, neither will second-hand plant. The Bill will permit taxpayers to elect for ordinary rates of depreciation to be applied to individual items of plant instead of the special 20 per cent rate.
Soil Conservation Expenditure
The second of the policy initiatives implemented by the Bill will authorise full deductions in the year of expenditure for the capital cost of a wide range of soil conservation measures on land in Australia that is used for primary production. Capital expenditures to qualify for the new deduction include outlays on the eradication or extermination of animal or vegetable pests, on the destruction of detrimental weed or plant growth and on the draining of swamp or low-lying land. Also specified are expenditures on the prevention or combating of soil erosion, on the erection of control fences to exclude livestock or vermin from areas affected by erosion or excessive salinity and on the erection of levee banks. At present, expenditures of these kinds are generally deductible by way of equal instalments over a period of 10 years or, in the case of fencing, are subject to depreciation allowances over a number of years. Eligible expenditure on soil conservation measures will qualify for the full deduction if it is incurred under a contract entered into on or after 1 October 1980 or is incurred on or after that date in an operation carried out by the taxpayer.
The Bill will amend the investment allowance provisions of the income tax law so that new plant for use in connection with amusement or recreation, or in some related activities, may qualify for the allowance. The amendment will apply in respect of capital expenditure incurred after 30 September 1980 on the acquisition of such plant under a contract entered into after that date or, if the plant is constructed by the taxpayer, construction of which began after that date.
I would like to take this opportunity to foreshadow a further amendment to the investment allowance provisions that I propose to introduce at a later date. The Government has received strong representations concerning the ineligibility for the allowance of expenditure incurred on the acquisition of new tourist buses. Buses that operate solely in carrying passengers from one place to another as part of a regular bus service currently qualify for the allowance. However, the exclusion of plant for use in connection with amusement or recreation has hitherto meant that buses used to a significant extent for sightseeing tours have failed to qualify. The amendment proposed in this Bill will, of course, change this situation as regards buses used in this way so that such buses that are acquired under contracts entered into on or after 1 October 1 980 will qualify for the allowance.
However, industry representatives have pointed to unqualified advice given to them by the office of the then Treasurer in December 1975 to the effect that tourist buses would be eligible for the allowance. This advice followed the announcement in the 1975 policy speech that an investment allowance would be introduced. Although subsequent Press statements made by the then Treasurer indicated that - along with certain other categories of plant - plant for use in connection with amusement or recreation would be outside the scope of the scheme, the Government recognises that large amounts of expenditure may have been committed in the belief that all tourist buses would be eligible for the investment allowance. The Government has decided, therefore, that the law should be further amended to allow the buses to qualify for the investment allowance as from 1 January 1976 - the date of commencement of the allowance.
A Bill to give effect to this further decision will be introduced as soon a practicable and will ensure that, for the period from 1 January 1976 to 30 September 1980, the exclusion for plant for use in amusement or recreation will be treated as not having operated in relation to tourist buses. Bus owners who have been unable to obtain deductions on the basis of the present law will be entitled to have their assessments amended to accord with this decision.
Classes of plant brought within the scope of the investment allowance by this Bill and by the further amendments I have foreshadowed will, of course, remain subject to the general requirements of the investment allowance provisions. For example, the general exclusion from the allowance of cars and other light vehicles will mean that buses designed to carry less than nine passengers will continue to be excluded from the allowance, as will buses of any size that are hired out on a ‘drive-yourself basis. In that connection I wish to acknowledge the representations of a significant number of members on the Government side of the House who have pressed the cause of the bus operators to me. Details of the Bill are contained in an explanatory memorandum that is being circulated to honourable members. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Barry Jones) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 26 November, on motion by Mr Viner:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I rise on behalf of the Opposition to oppose this Bill. I had occasion when speaking last evening to refer to the tragedy of the fact that this Government and its Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) have a natural instinct for confrontation rather than cohesion. This Bill is a classic expression of that instinct of the Prime Minister and of this Government. It is a classic demonstration of the preoccupation of this Government with sanctions as a purported means of settling industrial disputes.
In a succession of decisions which this Government has taken it has singled out its own employees as the special recipients of this mischievous, misguided and counter-productive obsession. Perhaps the Government feels that it may be able to take some advantage of a perceived feeling in the electorate that public servants are fair game. We on this side of the House reject this view. We are not here to justify every action of every public servant, or indeed every public servant; but we are here to say that they should not be discriminated against in employee-employer relationships.
– Do you believe that if they do not work they should be paid?
– If my friend has the intelligence and patience to listen he will have his questions answered.
– You have not said anything intelligent yet.
– That is a question of the honourable member’s interpretation. What we are here to say is not that public servants should have any special treatment but that they in fact should not be discriminated against and we will demonstrate that that is precisely what will happen under this piece of legislation. We believe that the Government should set a high standard - the highest possible standard - in terms of employeremployee relationships rather than what is being done in this piece of legislation which proposes the worst standard of employer-employee relationships in the whole country.
I have said that the Government over a period has set out to single out its own employees in terms of its confrontation and extra sanctions approach. Let me remind the House of some of the examples of that approach. Honourable members will remember that in 1977 the Government passed the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Act which makes it possible for the Government to stand down, to suspend or even to dismiss without notice, without time limit and without appeal, Commonwealth employees engaged in industrial action.
In 1977 the Conciliation and Arbitration Act was amended to provide new grounds for deregistration of Public Service unions taking part in industrial action. Then in 1979 in the course of a dispute regarding the Commonwealth Employees (Redeployment and Retirement) Act the Government sanctioned the unions involved by withdrawing from agreement with them to allow payroll deductions of union dues. Of course, in the light of all these actions that commenced at that time there began to be widespread criticism of the Government for this particular approach which it adopted in regard to relations with its own employees. That criticism was widespread within this country, but what should be a matter of great concern to this Government and indeed shame to all Australians is that the criticism was not confined to this country.
For the first time in our history, as a result of the actions specifically taken by this Government, the Government was severely criticised by the International Labor Organisation for the action which it had taken in regard to the CEEP legislation. I know that interjections are about the best that some people can do but perhaps we will answer them with facts, if they are digestible to the interjectors. I refer to the report of the proceedings of the International Labor Organisation in Geneva in November 1978. These are the proceedings that took place before the governing body of the ILO, where it considered the report of the Freedom of Association Committee. That Committee considered one of the pieces of legislation passed by this Government in respect of what this Government regarded as appropriate in dealing with its own employees. The report from which I will read starts off with a complaint that was lodged against the Australian Government regarding the piece of legislation concerning Commonwealth employees. This is a matter of basic importance to understand. The International Labor Organisation governing body stated the following in paragraph 303:
Australia has ratified the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention 1948 No. 87 and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention 1949.
The way in which the ILO operates in this respect is that it has a Freedom of Association Committee and that Committee, like the ILO, is of a tripartite nature including representatives of national trade union organisations, representatives of national employer organisations and representatives of government, tripartite and independent. That Freedom of Association Committee exists to hear complaints to see whether there have been infringements by governments against the freedom of association conventions to which I have referred, which have been ratified by this Government and to which this Government is therefore party. It was a result of the existence of those committees and the governing body of the ILO that this matter was considered in November 1 978.I ask the House to consider the judgment of that international tripartite independent body in regard to that particular piece of legislation which is similar to that before this House. I refer to the final part of the report of the freedom of association committee that was considered by the governing body in November 1978 and which was unanimously adopted. This is what was found in respect of that legislation. The report states in respect of the CEEP legislation:
Public employees suspended or dismissed for engaging in industrial action or stood down because they are affected by such industrial action would accordingly have no further recourse to independent and impartial machinery or to the courts, except on points of law, for the adjudication of their cases. In the view of the committee there would appear to be a serious risk that the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Act 1977 in its present form could be invoked by an employing authority without the procedures for the settlement of industrial disputes provided for under existing legislation being fully exhausted. Such action would not ensure adequate guarantees to safeguard the interest of the workers.
It went on to say:
The Committee has in addition stated that it is not convinced that legislation imposing punitive sanctions on public employees on account of their involvement in various forms of industrial action is either necessary or desirable. The Committee has previously pointed out that the imposition of sanctions on public servants on account of their participation in a strike is not conducive to the development of harmonious industrial relations.
We can have all the interjections we like on that but if there are interjections it will mean simply that the interjectors are saying that they pour scorn and contempt on that international, independent tripartite body which, over a very long period going back to 1919, has been constituted in this way by governments, employers and trade unions to guarantee that governments shall not be free to infringe these freedom of association conventions to which they are party. In respect of that international organisation constituted in that way, judgment has already been delivered against this Government in respect of this type of legislation. Indeed, honourable members will see in respect of the language that is used in that report of the Freedom of Association Committee adopted by the governing body that the very grounds of condemnation of that legislation are applicable here in that they say two things. First, they condemn the legislation because it eliminates any possibility of right of appeal or access to the traditional and established arbitral tribunals. Secondly, they say as a matter of principle - as I have read out to the House from this report - that the action of government, in imposing sanctions of this kind, is not conducive to harmonious, industrial relations. That is the report, whatever noise is made and noise is no substitute for thought. There is no way in which that noise can eliminate or eradicate that judgment of the International Labor Organisation.
Of course the judgment was clear, it was straightforward, but this Government and its Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) like the Bourbons of old have learnt nothing and have forgotten nothing. The Government has proceeded again to try to tread the same path which has been unanimously condemned by that International Labor Organisation. But not only has it not lisened to the ILO; it is very interesting to see that apparently it either has not listened to its own expert - the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Peacock) - or we have a situation in which the Minister for Industrial Relations has put a view to the Government and it has not been accepted. I want to read what the Minister for Industrial Relations said about what should be the appropriate approach of government in terms of using legislation in the area of industrial relations. We do not have to go back very far because he is reported in some detail in the Age of Friday, 21 November, Friday of last week. The Minister is reported to have said on page 6 of the Age:
Overuse . . . can worsen a situation by causing a hardening of attitude and diverting the focus of attention from the need to resolve the basic conflict.
Clearly, the judgment that has been made there by the Minister has not been applied in this case because there can be no argument, no assertion that there has been a fine act of judgment which will bring about an improvement of an industrial relations situation by the use of this legislation. Of course, one of the things that this Government has prided itself upon, and indeed which was the very essence of the speech made in this House on 18 September by the predecessor of the present Minister for Industrial Relations, is the way in which the Government consulted with the trade union movement when it contemplated bringing in legislation which would affect the trade unions and go to the issue of employer and employee relations. It prided itself in that speech, through the then Minister, on the use that was made of the National Labor Consultative Council. It is very interesting to note in respect of this piece of legislation the speech made on 18 September by the Minister, who presumably spoke on behalf of the Government. This piece of legislation has never been discussed by the NLCC. In the very midst of the discussion about this matter, on 18 September of this year - on 10 September the Government had decided to defer the proposal - it was saying: ‘Of course we discussed the matter with the NLCC. There has been no discussion. It was deferred on 10 September presumably because the Government, in the lead-up to the election, thought that there might be some adverse impact in certain electorates if it proceeded; so it pulled out at that time. With the election over the Government brings it into this place without having the consultation which it said on 18 September was so important.
In these circumstances let us see just what justification the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) has attempted to use in this House for this legislation. It is difficult to imagine a more pathetic speech in purported justification. The Minister’s speech was thoroughly misleading in respect of the justifications which he purported to advance for this legislation. In addition to being misleading, the Minister’s speech revealed an appalling ignorance of and lack of respect for Australia’s traditions in industrial relations and revealed his regressive thinking in respect of employer-employee relations. If we look at his speech, what do we find? We find that he has sought to justify the introduction of this no work as directed-no pay principle by–
– Hear, hear!
– We get this empty ‘hear, hear’. Perhaps he will have an answer to give afterwards. The Minister attempted to justify this legislation by referring to the position at common law. This boggles the mind. He apparently either ignores, or is unaware of, the fact that in this country there is almost a century old tradition of improving the basic common law terms and conditions of employment by the operation of our conciliation, arbitration and wages board system. He proceeded to suggest that there is need now for an outmoded common law principle which he assumes had some operation in the past to be revived to apply to Commonwealth employees. This is an absolutely ludicrous line of reasoning. It displays an appalling contempt for the proud tradition of almost 100 years of intervention by the legislatures of this Federal Parliament and of the parliaments of the States, interventions which have been calculated to improve the position of employees over and above this eighteenth or nineteenth century concept of what is contained in the common law.
It is an indication of the regressive nature of government thinking on industrial relations that the Minister now in this place seeks to justify the introduction of this principle by reference to these eighteenth and nineteenth century common law concepts. One can only ask whether one has to go back that far to find this Government’s inspiration for the type of industrial legislation which it seeks to foist upon the Australian community. As the Minister has gone into this question of justification for this legislation in terms of saying Look, this is what is in the common law,’ let us analyse in some detail precisely the position in respect of this so-called common law principle and its operation in this country. The Minister suggested in his second reading speech that the new legislation is necessary to remove the legal uncertainty that has arisen as a result of the Bennett case. The Minister implied that the principle has always been available and that the uncertainty about its unavailability only recently came to light this year in the Bennett case. This is simply not true.
It is further suggested that the legislation establishing this no work as directed - no pay principle is necessary to bring the government sector into line with the private sector. I will demonstrate that this is equally nonsense. Of course, the Prime Minister has used this agrument. We are not surprised that he would be mistaken in his assertions. I remind the House of what the Prime Minister said in using this argument in a letter dated 13 October this year, addressed to the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations. He said:
The Government has a firm policy that the common law principle of no work as directed - no pay should be available in Commonwealth employment as it is in the private sector. Legislation is necessary to ensure its continued availability following a recent legal decision.
He was referring to the Bennett decision. Let me show the House the true position as distinct from the confected position which has been advanced by the Minister in this House. We will look firstly at the private sector. Remember that the argument for the justification in part of this legislation is that the Commonwealth Government, as an employer, should have the same rights as those that exist for the private employers in the private sector. This is the position in the private sector. The most recent authoritative decision on the principle was given by the Full Bench of the Federal Court in Gapes v. the Commercial Bank of Australia, which was handed down on 1 3 March of this year. In that case the court held that the principle was not available to the employer. The provisions of the federal award in question, which was the bank officials federal award 1963, were held by the Full Court to operate in such a way, in relation to the action of the employer as to deny this so-called common law principle if it existed. That is the most recent and the most authoritative decision in regard to the private sector.
The Minister in this House, and the Prime Minister by correspondence to CAGEO, attempt to justify the legislation by saying that we, as a Commonwealth, have to have the same rights as the private sector has, when the most recent decision shows that the right is not there. It is not there for the same reason the court held in the Bennett case, which the Minister has attempted again to use in justification of this legislation.
What happened in Bennett’s case? There was a decision of the Supreme Court of New South
Wales where the judge, Mr Justice Rogers, held that the no work as directed-no pay principle had no operation in the Australian Government employment area. Why did he hold it that way? He held in that way because he said that a code was established by the Public Service Act and the regulations under it to deal with employment matters. As the judge said, that code created a balance of obligations on employees on the one side and on the employer on the other. In the New South Wales Law Report at page 585 he said:
It can be seen that the Act and the regulations, not only provide for obligations on the part of the officer of the Public Service, but these obligations are accompanied by certain safeguards to protect the officer.
One can see that what happened in the Bennett case was exactly the same in principle as what happened in the Gapes case in the private sector in that the courts held that a code of relationship was established on the one hand in the private sector by the award structure situation. In regard to the public sector in the Bennett case a relationship, a code of conduct, was established by the Public Service Act. In both cases, because of the fact that this historical relationship was created, the common law principle did not apply.
If one looks at the decisions of the court one sees that it has wiped out in one stroke the purported justification which is advanced in this House by the Minister for this legislation. What the Government is doing is this: Firstly, the Government, having been told by the courts that it had been acting contrary to the law in its use of the no work as directed - no pay principle, is now seeking to change the law. Secondly, in so doing, it can be seen quite clearly that the Government ignores the very sound reasoning on which the decision in the Bennett case is based. The judge based his reasoning for rejecting the operation of the so-called common law principle on the basis that an appropriate and total relationship had already been created and had operated to have a balance between employer and employee. Thirdly, the thing which becomes most objectionable, therefore, is that the Government, in acting in this way, is seeking to create a situation where the sanctions that may be used by the Government against its own employees greatly exceed those available to the private sector. One cannot imagine a greater abuse of legislative power.
There is a legitimate question to be put to the Minister for Industrial Relations - I am sorry he is not here - in view of the legal position and how the courts, in regard to the private and the public sectors, have said that the common law principle should not be applied. It is legitimate to ask the Minister for Industrial Relations in terms of his own language on Friday of last week: Does the Minister regard therefore this use of the Government’s legislative power as a very fine judgment and will it not, in his own words, worsen the situation by causing a hardening of attitude and diverting the focus of attention from the need to resolve the basic conflict? Does he regard it as a fine act of judgment by this Commonwealth Government to impose upon its own employees a harsher standard in regard to this principle than that which operates in the private sector? Does he regard it as a fine act of judgment to use the Commonwealth legislative power in this way to do something which, in respect of both the private sector and the public sector, has been found by the courts not to be sensible? I suggest honourable members only have to ask the question to know what the answer is.
Of course, one of the most objectionable features of the legislation which is proposed here by the Government and advanced by the Minister is that, of course, as a result of this legislation, if it is passed, there will be a total by-passing of the established and normal processes for the settlement of industrial disputes in this country. There are some consequences of the by-passing of those normal processes. I ask everyone in this House to understand just what is involved should the legislation be passed. Under this decision a so-called authorised direction may be given to an employee automatically, perhaps capriciously or perhaps not capriciously. But when it was given the employee in question or his union would have no appeal mechanism whatsover whereby to challenge in an impartial tribunal the actions of the employer, because the effect of the legislation is to wipe out any access to the independent arbitral tribunals. There is no avenue of appeal at all. During the Committee stage of this Bill I will deal with that in more detail. But it is a matter of basic principle involved here that a decision could arbitrarily, perhaps capriciously, be made by the employer and the employee and his union have no right of appeal. There is no access to the independent arbitral tribunal, which honourable members will recall was right at the heart of the Freedom of Associations Committee objection in 1978 to the 1977 legislation which had similar sorts of provisions.
A person employed by the Commonwealth Government may legitimately be held to have the view that something that he is asked to do infringes safety requirements or even safety legislation. I am not being hypothetical about this, because anyone who knows anything about industrial relations and industry in this country knows this sort of situation can often arise. It has happened in the past that employees and unions have taken a stand in regard to a safety issue. They have been forced to take industrial action and a strike has resulted. Subsequently, when in the ordinary private sector, they have been able to have the issue decided by an industrial arbitral tribunal, their action has been found to be justified. But what will be the result in that situation under this legislation if an employee or group of employees legitimately have a concern about a safety issue and say: ‘No, it would not be safe; it could indeed be an infringement of some legislation to go ahead and do what you ask me to do’? They will be finished. They will have no avenue of appeal. They will have no right to go to any independent tribunal to have the action of their employer tested. That imposes upon the employees of the Commonwealth a position which is not matched anywhere else in this country. It is something of which this Government should be thoroughly ashamed.
In this situation, management in charge of employees will simply not have to establish to the satisfaction of any independent industrial tribunal that there is any merit or any good reason for the orders which are being sought. I ask honourable members to imagine the situation to which that could give rise. It opens up all the avenues of capricious getting even with an employee whom one does not happen to like. That is human nature. It may not even be a case of bias, but if there is the possibility of error in a direction being made by an employer in this public area and an employee can legitimately feel that he has a right not to obey the order, that does not matter, because the situation is then beyond any action on his part or by the union on his behalf. He has no avenue of appeal or access to an independent, impartial tribunal at all.
On this point I ask honourable members to remember that in the first place when the previous Minister wrote to the unions in June he said by way of justification that this would give the Commonwealth Government, as a public employer, rights to deal with situations where there was an industrial action situation so that if there were some form of industrial action which was less than a full withdrawal of labour this sort of approach would enable it to meet a position where an employee was perhaps not withdrawing his labour totally but not doing some particular task. That justification which was advanced in June has now been withdrawn. It goes far beyond that. The legislation can apply in a situation where there is no industrial action at all. An individual employee may attract the attention of his employer because of his attitude in a situation that he does not like.
It has nothing to do with industrial action at all. That will invoke the provisions of this legislation.
I suggest that this legislation must be regarded by all reasonable people as something very strange to come from this Government. Surely it must be regarded as hypocritical when we hear pouring out of the mouths of the Prime Minister and various Ministers day after day the proposition: ‘Go to arbitration. Do not by-pass arbitration. Make sure you use arbitration’. The very essence of this legislation is that the Government, in respect of its own employees, is deliberately and totally bypassing the arbitration system and giving absolutely autonomous and capricious rights to itself as an employer to take a decision and to give the employee or the union absolutely no right or opportunity to go to the arbitration tribunal to have judged whether the action has been justified.
I conclude by saying that there is already a surfeit of sanctions available to the Government. Even if this legislation is not passed there is a surfeit of sanctions available to it. It does not need another sanction at all. Unfortunately, as against the surfeit of sanctions, there is a dearth of common sense on the Government side in dealing with industrial relations matters as this legislation proves to the hilt.
– I would like to welcome the honourable member for Wills (Mr Hawke) to this House. It is certainly a pleasure to have him here so that we can take up his arguments in the House and discuss them here. Previously we have had to do it second hand. I congratulate the honourable member on his maiden speech last night. I noted with interest that he shares the Government’s assessment of the effectiveness of the Opposition. He said:
We will, from this day, work to provide Australia with an alternative government . . .
I presume that that was a collective decision of the shadow ministry. He said that such a government would match the innate sense of fair play of the great majority of the Australian people. This Bill is about fair play. It is clear from the honourable member’s speech that he has not the slightest idea of what these terms mean.
His predecessor in the shadow portfolio, the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young), consistently argued in this House for additional privileges for an already privileged group, that is, the organised employed at the expense of the unemployed. The honourable member was an advocate for the Australian Council of Trade Unions but this is not the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. We are not impressed with legal argumentative proposals. We will be impressed only with logic. The honourable member admittedly with more skill than his colleague puts his views forward, but with our equal absence of logic or justice or, as he terms it, without an innate sense of fair play. He began by criticising not the Bill that we have before us but another piece of legislation. He talked about the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Act. He was very critical of the Government in this respect. I would like to read to the House the view of that legislation expressed by a former Minister for Industrial Relations in the Whitlam Government, the former member for Hindmarsh, in a letter to the Secretary of the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association, Mr Paul Munro. He wrote this in only May of this year. Speaking about the CEEP Bill he said:
Your union grizzles about the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Act because it permits the people’s elected government to suspend, stand-down or dismiss an employee who is guilty of go-slow strikes. Well let me make my position quite clear.
This is Mr Cameron speaking–
I believe that public servants, with the protection of permanency, have no right to expect the benefits which permanency bestows and at the same time claim all the other rights applicable to those without permanency.
That was the view of the former honourable member for Hindmarsh and the former Labor Minister for Industrial Relations about the Bill which the honourable member for Wills has condemned so roundly. Let us get on to the Bill we are discussing tonight. The simple essence of this Bill is contained in clause 32A ( 1 ) ; it is very simple indeed. It states:
No work as directed - no pay 32a. (1) Where an officer or employee refuses or fails to comply with a direction given by a person having authority to give the direction, being a direction with respect to work that he is performing or is to perform, the Board may declare that the officer or employee is not to be paid salary.
It is as simple as that. So the simple purpose of the Bill and the main provision of the Bill is that if employees in the Public Service and in certain statutory corporations do not do the work they are legitimately being asked to do, they do not get paid. How extraordinary! What an incredible thing to ask - that people actually do the work they get paid to do or otherwise they do not get paid! This has nothing to do with the right to withdraw one’s labour. This is not an attack on the much-vaunted so-called right to strike. A few years ago strikes were very straightforward: People had a dispute; tools were downed; they accepted a loss of pay in order to try to achieve an objective; the dispute was ultimately settled; they went back to work and they were paid again. That was how it used to be. But in recent years people have found ways of organising the maximum disruption and inconvenience to consumers - and it is consumers about whom this Government is concerned- with minimum or zero cost to those causing the disruption.
These people use small groups of key workers in critical industries, particularly in the oil industry. They can do it in Telecom Australia, and they have. They have rolling strikes which disrupt everybody’s management schemes and other workers but which have a minimum cost to the strikers. They organise go-slows and work bans. We are dealing in this legislation with the third of these stratagems. Really, people are seeking to have their cake and eat it. They seek to go on strike, to cause disruption and inconvenience to everybody else, yet they pretend to be working. They cause disruption and still collect their pay. This amounts surely to a government subsidy for strike action. If people are still at work and being paid but not doing what they are being asked to do, surely the Government is subsidising their strike action. But the Government has no money of its own. This means that ordinary tax paying wage earners are paying money to these people to strike but to remain paid. Wage earners are paying money through the Government to people who are causing them immediate harm. That is basically what is happening. If any member of the Opposition can deny that proposition I would like to hear how he can.
Let me illustrate the principle - we are talking about the basic principle - in a very simple way. Say a person wants somebody to put some new cupboards into his kitchen and he asks somebody to come along and do a quote. The person employed starts working in the kitchen but he does not follow the instructions given. He decides that he will put in certain cupboards and not others and that he will put red knobs on the cupboards instead of blue knobs, or otherwise upset the housewife. The result of that, of course, is that the person says: ‘Well, if you do not do that job and if you do not complete it to my satisfaction then you are not going to be paid for it’. At the ordinary level of small business and in ordinary, decent dealings of ordinary people, that is a simple principle. When we get into the high priesthood of industrial relations no simple principle is simple any more.
Why should the principle be different? If the money one pays for certain services is paid by way of taxes and the taxes are used by the Government to employ public servants to do the work why, in that case, cannot one expect the work to be done according to instruction? What is the difference in basic principle? The only reason we get into major problems with all these legalisms in these areas and through the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and this extraordinary panoply of which the honourable member for Wills is a high priest is that we get away from absolutely simple and basic principles. On behalf of the consumer the Government is insisting that work be actually performed when the consumer’s dollar is spent. The actual case that led to the successful challenge to the Government’s legal right to act on behalf of consumers - the Bennett case - arose out of a dispute in the Commonwealth Employment Service. Officers were refusing to do their jobs properly in a service designed to help the unemployed.
I know that the whole campaign was designed to show people that these people were really trying at heart to help the unemployed but the fact that they were out for a 20 per cent pay claim in that case, which if it were granted would almost certainly add to the pool of unemployed, was something that they overlooked in their publicity. For cosmetic purposes the organisers of these tactics, the organisers of go-slow campaigns, always suggest that their activities are directed not at the ordinary people, not at the unemployed, not at the customers, but at the bosses or the Ministers. This is transparent nonsense. Any management under attack in the way in which the CES was during that period could not devote its time to its real task of helping the unemployed get jobs. While those employed people were pressing for a 20 per cent pay increase the unemployed were not serviced. The term ‘Public Service’ is debased by the actions of the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association and its apologists in this Parliament.
It is said by the honourable member for Wills that the Government is being provocative in stating the obvious. If the Government says to people who are being paid with hard earned taxpayers’ money that if they do not do the work they are asked to do they will not get paid - that is what would happen in any small business around the world - the Government is being provocative. To stand up to a bully, I presume, is to be provocative. In this sense, the Czechs provoked Hitler in the Sudetenland, the Abyssinians provoked Mussolini, Sakharov provoked Brezhnev and Noel Latham provoked the Barrier Industrial Council in Broken Hill. If the Government is being provocative in standing up for ordinary people, ordinary taxpayers, in insisting that taxpayers’ money is not used to subsidise public servants to provide no service, then words have no meaning.
– Go back to your Humpty Dumpty, Bob.
– If the honourable member for Wills believes that, as my honourable friend says, he is indeed the Humpty Dumpty of Australian politics. Instead of accusing the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) he should look into the looking glass and not through it. Not only is it not provocative for a government to insist on work in return for pay with taxpayers’ money but also it would be the ultimate abdication of the responsibilities of this Parliament were the Government not to do so. I am only echoing the words of Mr Clyde Cameron when I say that. He made it absolutely clear to the members of the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association that they were public servants who were supposed to provide work for taxpayers’ money and if they did not some steps had to be taken to insist that they did. They have extraordinarily generous provisions for conciliation and arbitration in any genuine dispute situation. But what they are asking to be allowed to do is to conduct a strike at no cost to them, to slow down their work or not to do their work and to be paid. That action would be followed in the course of a dispute which in any case would be considered through the normal conciliation and arbitration channels.
If public servants, unions, businesses, public corporations or any other powerful groups in the community achieve an advantage through the exercise of some form of monolopy power or by intimidation that infringes upon the rights of the ordinary citizens it is up to this Parliament, in so far as it has constitutional authority, to redress that balance. Heavens above, the Commonwealth Parliament has powers limited enough under the Constitution within the area of industrial relations, as was pointed out so eloquently last night by my friend, the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender). The very least we can do is to legislate for sanity and justice in areas where the Government is the employer.
The honourable member for Wills has suggested also that comparisons with the private sector would show that the kinds of provisions or benefits which public servants have are already common place in the private sector. The honourable member, after all, is more learned in these matters than I as he has appeared in more industrial cases than I could ever hope to. If this is indeed so and it is true that in certain parts of the private sector it is possible to earn money without doing the work that the employee is asked to do, and if this is the result of 100 years of tradition, then that is a conservative tradition which must be questioned. If it is so that people anywhere in
Australia in the public or private sectors can do what they like, do half the job, do the job badly and wrongly, despise their employer, and not give fair value for the money they are given then it is wrong. If we are being asked to uphold 100 years of tradition in industrial relations in Australia which has led us to this stage, to a denial of elementary justice and elementary common sense, we have to question the whole jolly lot of it.
This is a simple matter and a simple Bill; it is only asking to do one simple thing which is contained in proposed new section 32a (1) which states that if people do not work as they are directed then they are not to be paid for it. That is all that the new section says. We are not talking about an underprivileged group of workers in this situation. I will once again quote from a letter from Mr Clyde Cameron to Mr Paul Munro, the Federal Secretary of the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association. The letter states:
You also know at the beginning of Federation public servants received salaries estimated at 13 per cent less than their equivalents in the private sector in return for the benefits of permanency and better leave and other conditions of employment. However, you have now widened the benefits of your working conditions, received salaries greatly in excess of the private sector, kept your permanency, and at the same time demand the right to go slow and overpay recipients of taxpayers’ funds without expecting to suffer any penalty.
That was Clyde Cameron saying that; not the honourable member for Mackellar or the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) who introduced the Bill. Clyde Cameron also said by way of advice to Mr Munro:
I shall always admire you as a person and will therefore make ample allowance for some of the outrageous proposals you will have to put on behalf of your association.
These outrageous proposals, of course, will be supported by the Labor Party in this House. It will have to support them because the Labor Party platform requires its members to support those proposals. Mr Cameron went on to say:
So, as I have already stated, I was conditioned for something pretty audacious. But never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I would find you asking for an additional 20 per cent on top of the extravagant salaries already paid to your members.
My question about which you now complain–
That was a question in the House of Representatives that the then honourable member for Hindmarsh had asked - was designed to alert the parliament to the fact that State and Commonwealth public servants are already receiving very much higher salaries than their equivalents in the private sector. And, in addition, they enjoy accumulated sick leave benefits far in excess of the norm in private industry. They receive paid maternity leave, paid compassionate leave, paid study leave, redundancy provisions, transfer allowances, rent subsidies, long service leave, et cetera, and are sometimes even paid their normal salary plus expenses to undertake postgraduate studies (sometimes overseas) to qualify for even higher salaries. These benefits either do not exist in the private sector or are very much less than is the case with the public service. 1 would not go as far as the honourable member for Hindmarsh does in criticising the conditions of the Commonwealth Public Service.
– Which one are you talking about?
– The former honourable member for Hindmarsh* I would not go as far as that but I will say that if any group of people in this community wishes to use taxpayers’ funds in a way which requires people to be paid for not performing a service then the Government has to call a halt to it. The simple purpose of this Bill is to establish that if in the course of any dispute an officer or employee refuses to do the work for which he is being paid taxpayers’ money, that is no different in principle from the situation in which one employs a carpenter to rebuild one’s kitchen and he does not do the job properly. Then he does not get paid. If public servants give no service, they do not get paid.
– I say to the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton) that one of the problems in debating matters of industrial legislation in this House is that they are continually dealt with by members like the honourable member for Mackellar in terms of their fictional view of industrial relations and their fictional view of the trade union movement. I will take the honourable members own simple analogy. If a carpenter puts on a red knob instead of a blue knob we say to him: ‘Look, mate, I wanted a red knob’. If there is an argument about that that matter can be dealt with by any one of a range of judicial tribunals. It was interesting that the one word that flowed through the arguments of the honourable member for Mackellar was the word ‘simple’. It might be true that the arguments thus far advanced by the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner), who is at the table, and the honourable member for Mackellar, are simple arguments but they are dealing with a grave and a complex matter.
I find it a matter of great interest that the man who ought to be speaking for the Government on this matter, the new Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Peacock) is not even present in the House. He does not want to be associated with this legislation. He does not want to be associated with the simpleton type of arguments of the honourable member for Mackellar. Whom did the Government send in to do the job? It sent in the man who was the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and who in that ministry betrayed the trust and the duty that he had to Aboriginals, the Minister responsible for employment who got the nickname of Minister for unemployment. When the knife is to be placed in the public servants, the employees of this Government, does the Government send for the suntanned, Gucci smelling, new Minister for Industrial Relations? No, it sends for the butcher boy from the west.
Let me just go through the basic propositions which thus far have been put by the honourable member for Wills (Mr Hawke), the principal spokesman for the Opposition on this matter. First of all, he said that this type of legislation has been condemned outright by the International Labour Organisation. Was that denied? Of course it was not. His other basic proposition was that there had been no relevant or responsible consultations with the trade union movement in respect of this kind of legislation. Has that been denied? Of course it has not. The honourable member for Wills went on to say that this legislation was destructive to our traditional process of industrial arbitration. Was that allegation refuted by the honourable member for Mackellar? The honourable member for Wills also pointed out that the sanctions which the Government sought to use against its own employees have no parallel in private industry. Was that a matter of argument by the honourable gentleman opposite? Not a bit of it. The final argument put so eloquently to the House by the honourable member for Wills was that there were enough provisions within the existing Public Service Act to deal with all these industrial problems. Was that fact even adverted to by the honourable member for Mackellar? No, not a bit of it. Let me deal now with the substance of this Bill and some of the specious arguments used by the Government.
– Get on with it.
– If the honourable member for Bendigo were fair dinkum about the principle of no work no pay, he would give back every penny he has ever earned as a parliamentarian.
– You would not work in an iron lung.
– The honourable member for Bendigo would not work in an iron lung. What was the thrust of the Minister’s second reading speech? It was to assert that the concept of no work as directed-no pay was a well-established common law principle about which uncertainty had been created by the Bennett decision, and that what this legislation was about was to restore the efficiency of this doctrine and to remove any legal doubt. I say this, as the honourable member for Mackellar said: It is a simple argument. But I also say to the Minister that it is a trite argument and it is a thoroughly dishonest argument. It is as dishonest legally as it is politically and industrially because in Australia in 1980 the industrial reality is that the relationship of employer to employee - the duties and obligations that each has to the other and the entitlements that flow from those obligations and those duties - is largely governed by awards that are subject to continual scrutiny, amendment and interpretation by our industrial courts, tribunals and wages boards. The Bennett case did not create any doubt about the common law right of the Crown to suspend its officers, and it is nonsense to say that it did. The fact is that the legal concept, if it can be described as such, of no work as directed-no pay is far from being a well established common law principle. It is doubtful as a legal concept and wherever it has been argued in any senior court it has been rejected in a variety of cases. That concept has been rejected by our High Court, by our Industrial Court, by State supreme courts and by the Privy Council. And this is the so-called legal concept that we are now asked to sanctify.
Let us run quickly through the history of this concept. As early as 1934 the High Court held that the employment relationship between the Crown and its servants - in that case in South Australia - is exclusively denned by the relevant State Public Service Act. In so doing, the High Court simply confirmed existing law. It confirmed the decision and the attitude expressed by the Privy Council in 1896 that neither in England nor in New South Wales could the Crown invoke what was a fairly doubtful common law proposition to abrogate the rights of public servants in an endeavour to redefine their employment relationship with the Crown when that relationship had already been defined by Public Service Acts. In the Bennett case His Honour Mr Justice Rogers was operating within the mainstream of judicial authority. If anybody were to read the case - and I doubt that the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs has - he would realise that Mr Justice Rogers was not creating any exception in the decision he made. He went right down the mainstream of legal interpretation.
-What is the relevance of that?
– I will explain it to the honourable gentleman who has never been anything more than a dull conveyancer all his life.
– Put it simply.
– I will put it as simply as I can for the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock). Mr Justice Rogers found that the Public Service Act constituted an exclusive code governing the employment relationship between the Commonwealth and its public servants, lt is interesting to note that the Minister, in his second reading speech, has not merely distorted the reality of that decision; he has endeavoured to establish as a legal principle the concept whose only veracity might truly be found in the squatter mentality of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). That is the only place one will find any veracity in respect of this concept.
– Oh, come on.
– I ask the Minister: Was it an accident or was it just an oversight, one of those traditional oversights for which we have come to know this Minister, that in his second reading speech he forgot to mention one of the cardinal findings in the Bennett case by an eminent judge? Let me deal with the findings of Mr Justice Rogers. He stated that he had reached the only conclusion available to him on the facts; that is, that in this case the Commonwealth desired to achieve the suspension of Bennett without complying with the provisions of its own Act. 1 say to the Minister: Think about the implications of that. It is all very well for the honourable member for Mackellar to talk in general terms, but what was the finding of the New South Wales Supreme Court? The finding was that there was an existing legislative code which governed the relationships between the Commonwealth and its public servants and that in that sense, on the facts as presented the Commonwealth had failed to comply with the law and had endeavoured to circumvent the law. That was the judicial finding on the matter. What Mr Justice Rogers said was that the attempt made to circumvent the law in the Bennett case was an attempt made by the Commonwealth.
– What a shocking thing!
– I understand that the honourable gentleman would not regard it as shocking because if he can bend or twist the law he is acting in concert with this Government. This Government is perfectly happy to defend the people who bend or twist the law so that they can get the benefit of not paying income tax. The honourable member is perfectly happy to bend or twist the law so that favours can be done for those who make contributions to his political party. He does not find anything at all wrong with a bending or a twisting of the law by his own government against an individual public servant. To him there is nothing wrong with that. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, but this Minister comes into the House and says: ‘Look, it might be perfectly true that a judge of the Supreme Court should find against the Commonwealth’. Indeed, this has been the finding on all other occasions when this point has been taken up in an industrial tribunal. The finding has been against the Commonwealth and against its statutory authorities. The whole body of case law indicates that when these issues are tried before a judicial tribunal the Commonwealth does not come out very well. It is, after all, I suppose, slightly embarrassing for a government to talk about law and order, to berate trade unionists or any other citizens and say, Well, it is your duty to maintain and keep the law’, when on this very issue, tribunal after tribunal and senior courts have found that it is the Government that has the intention of breaking the law; that it is the Government that has broken the law and the finding has gone against the Commonwealth.
I would have thought that any reasonable government in that situation would have tried to mend its ways, but not this Government. What it endeavours to do is to bring in legislation to try to do legally what the courts have said it cannot do because in the past it has been ruled illegal.
I believe it is an incredible situation that we now have the Government introducing, to use the phrase of the honourable member for Mackellar, this simple concept. All it is doing is equating the rights of the Commonwealth with those of private employers. I challenge the Minister and the honourable member for Mackellar - there is no point in challenging the honourable member for Bendigo; we do not want to make life too hard for him - indeed any honourable gentleman on the other side of the House to indicate one sector of private industry in which an employer or group of employers has been able to invoke the doctrine of no work as directed-no pay, and in which that position has been justified by an industrial tribunal. As the honourable member for Wills has pointed out, there are whole sectors of industry in which a ban on a particular aspect of work is applied almost as a continual part of the work process.
– Most managing directors would be sacked if they did not work as directed by their boards, and it ought to apply all the way through.
– Let us just deal with the facts as they exist in industrial relations in Sydney, in Melbourne or any other capital city. Let us consider the position in the building industry. Is it unknown in that industry, when there is an unsafe practice or perhaps even a breach of regulations, for the union to say: ‘That aspect of the work is subject to a ban; we will continue on other aspects of the job’, and the matter is then sorted out by the relevant industrial tribunal, if it cannot be sorted out by negotiation? Is there anything basically wrong with that?
– Of course there is. It is totally wrong. If a man is not prepared to do his job he should not have it.
– It is no wonder, after one hears a statement like that, that when the honourable member for Bendigo made an application to join the Labor Party it knocked him back. The reality is that when any group of men or women is working in a hard industrial situation - many workers do not earn their money as easily as do honourable gentlemen opposite - which involves risking life and limb there is nothing novel about their saying: ‘There is an aspect of this process which we believe is contrary to industrial regulations and safe working practices; we are going to put a ban on it’. They do not have a strike. They just say: ‘We are not going to work that machine; we are not going to be involved in that process’. Surely that is a better decision than one to go out on strike.
– Absolute rubbish.
– The problem with honourable gentlemen, and they are showing it by their interjections, is that they know absolutely nothing about working conditions or the trade union movement. All we get on occasions such as this is blind prejudice.
– Utter rubbish.
– Of course the honourable gentleman is an expert.
-(Hon. Charles Jones) - If the honourable member for Bendigo wishes to make a speech I suggest that he put his name on the speakers list. Other than that, I ask him to remain orderly.
– I have made my point. I simply leave the challenge where it is. If the Minister claims that the Government is merely endeavouring to give to the Commonwealth rights that exist in the private sector, it ought to be very simple for him to indicate to the House what major aspect of the private sector - whether engaged in manufacturing, commercial or anything else - works under that industrial principle and where that industrial principle has been supported by an industrial tribunal as part of ongoing conditions and contract under which people are employed.
The reality is that none of the basic points put by the honourable member for Wills has been answered. Equally, I suspect that none of the points I have made will be answered. This legislation is among the most serious to come before this Parliament. If anything will destroy the new public relations image which the Government is trying to create this will. I refer to the image that, really, Malcolm Fraser is a man we can love; he is just misunderstood; deep down in his cold Tory heart he loves the workers, he loves little children, he loves the unemployed, he even loves the public servants. The Government can engage professors from wherever it likes to write speeches, it can employ glib public relations exponents, but all public servants who are employed by the Commonwealth will judge this Government in terms of its attitude to their work. The Government will judge their attitude to work by their attitude to this legislation.
– No, they won’t. Most of them are prepared to work.
– Let me take up the honourable member’s interjection. As far as he is concerned, they are not prepared to work. Public servants and their spokesmen have been involved in discussions and negotiations about this legislation. Is it not proper that there be discussion and negotiation? Government members talk about uniting this community but come into this Parliament and produce legislation which is conceived to confront and which is designed to confront, which will not solve industrial problems in this nation but rather will intensify them and make them worse. The Government is now taking out the knife to its own work force. How can the Government talk about having a sensible, rational level of industrial relations in the private sector when, to the contrary, it provides such a disgraceful example by the treatment of its own work force? This legislation is a disgrace to any government which claims to have any concept of proper industrial relations. It ought to be rejected by this House.
- Mr Deputy Speaker–
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) proposed:
That the question be now put.
– On this important piece of legislation are we going to have only one speaker from the Government? Is that what we are to understand?
– I wish to raise two points of order. The first is that when it has been moved that the question be put even the loud mouth from Port Adelaide is supposed to sit down. The second is that the Government had two speakers, one being the Minister.
– This legislation was supposed to wait until 1 July next year.
– The honourable member for Port Adelaide will resume his seat, as will the honourable member for Bendigo.
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker - Hon. Charles Jones)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question put:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker - Hon. Charles Jones)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 1 5 - by leave - taken together.
– It is quite evident that the Thirty-second Parliament is going to be used by this Government in exactly the same fashion as the Thirty-first Parliament and the Thirtieth Parliament were used, irrespective of whether the majority be 23 or 48. It is a great shame to this institution that a Bill of this nature, containing some 36 pages and 65 or 66 clauses, is to be dealt with in the manner in which it is being considered tonight. In fact the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner), who is sitting at the table, is not the Minister who was responsible in the earlier negotiations with the unions concerned with this Bill. In fact neither of the Ministers in those involved negotiations - Mr MacKellar and Mr Street - is now holding portfolios that would assist in the passage of this Bill. It is a great shame that the Committee is not giving more time to the careful consideration of this Bill and the ramifications of what may be contained in it. In fact there would be very few members who would have had the time or who would place enough importance on the Bill even to go through it.
It is important for the Parliament to recognise what has been established as proper industrial relations, whether it be in the government sector or in the private sector. There is a lot to be said about the way in which employers and employees, whether they be the Government and Public Service or private employers and trade unionists, have established recognised standards by which both abide. When the Government talks about reestablishing the common law in order to clarify the relationship between government and employee it perhaps ignores the way in which the common law has been overridden by negotiations which go back over decades between the employers and employees in this country. In fact, if I had been a shearer 80 years ago and not 20 years ago the common law would have allowed the squatter to confiscate all the wages I would have earned in a day because he did not like the way I had shorn one sheep. I could have shorn 1 50 sheep but common law 80 years ago would have allowed the squatter to keep all the wages I had earned. In fact 80 or 90 years ago the common law application of masters and servants legislation meant that a young person had to pay to enter an apprenticeship. These laws have been broken down not by lawyers and courts but by the relationships which have been built up between employers and employees. lt should come as no surprise or shock for the Government to realise that those relationships have been built up within the government structure throughout a variety of different governments just as they have been built up outside. It is no longer the prerogative of the squatter to confiscate all the wages of a shearer if that shearer does not shear one sheep properly. He can confiscate the wages applicable to that one sheep. So it is in the government structure.
Let us have a look at where this legislation is devised. Anybody who saw the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on television the Monday before the elections would have seen the face of the man who stood in this place about 18 months ago ranting and raving about the technology dispute that was then present in the Australian Telecommunications Employees Association. The Prime Minister threatened the employees of the ATEA. He said that people would not be able to recover wages they had lost as a result of that dispute. For half an hour this Parliament had to listen to the Prime Minister tell us about the way in which industrial relations were to be applied outside the Parliament.
What has occurred in relation to the technology dispute? Members of the ATEA said: ‘We want some say in the introduction of new technology. We want to know how we are going to be deskilled. We want to know what is going to happen to the work force. We want to know how we are going to share in the increased productivity that is going to take place in Telecom’. The Telecom management at the behest and at the direction of the Government would not negotiate with the employees and the ATEA. So the employees put on limited bans. Some of them were doing 99 per cent of their work, some 98 per cent and some 90 per cent. But in many cases they had their pay stopped. The Prime Minister said: ‘There will be no recovery of wages’. But when industrial relations took over from the ranting and raving of the Prime Minister at the conclusion of the parliamentary sitting, when Justice Mary Gaudron called the parties together to negotiate, one of the terms of settlement was that people who had lost wages as a result of the dispute would be paid those wages. Industrial relations were used because the ATEA felt that it was entitled to have some say in the introduction of this new technology.
Let us look at another dispute. This Government set out deliberately to create unemployment in this country five years ago. It created a pool of at least 180,000 unemployed. The burden of caring for these people, of looking after them, of interviewing them, of posting out their cheques, fell on a section of the Public Service which had another rule applied to it, namely staff ceilings. The Government was reluctant to remove those staff ceilings. It wanted the same number of public servants to look after another area of the population - the unemployed- in spite of the explosion in unemployment that had taken place. Why should public servants tolerate that sort of system? Why should they not object–
– How many extra public servants did you employ under your policies?
– My ruddy-faced friend from Dundas who has absolutely no experience in these things asks why should they not do as they are told. Industrial relations are not built on the foundation of doing what one is told. If we were still doing that the people who were shearers before I was would still be getting ten bob a hundred. A person does not do as he is told. The game is changing in industrial relations in Australia and the rest of the world, including places like Poland. Employees want some say. If the Government is to double the number of people who are unemployed in this country I am right behind the public servants in saying: ‘Give us the correct number of people to look after them so that people are trained to interview them, so that people can understand the problems that are building up in this society’.
If we have more age and invalid pensioners we need more public servants to cater for the wants of society. If people in Telecom or if people in the Public Service have to carry out more duties, and they cannot get through the thick heads of the conservative Government what their needs are, they have to take action. My friend from Mackellar says: ‘Close the whole shop down, then we both know where we stand’. He does not want the ATEA to take limited action. He would prefer people to walk off the job altogether and so close Australia down. The ATEA was not that irresponsible. It wanted to take some action to draw to the attention of the Australian people what would occur as a result of the change of technology in that industry and what would happen in a range of other industries so it took the action that was necessary and it won.
This Bill should not be rushed through Parliament. At least a legislative committee should be looking at it so that people from both sides who are interested in industrial relations and the way it applies in the Government and in the private sector can have a look at it, discuss it and get opinions on it. The Government has not had the decency to allow us the time to get departmental officers here to talk about the Bill. We have had time only to talk to representatives of the trade unions representing the members who will be affected by this legislation. As I said at the outset, the Thirtysecond Parliament - the one which we have just started and which the Governor-General told us would be different - will be exactly the same as the Thirty-first and Thirtieth Parliaments. The mentality of the Prime Minister belongs to the nineteenth century when the squatters were able to do as they liked, when the employers were able to make laws and the employees had no say at all. Someone should remind the conservatives of this country that it is 1980, not 1880, and this type of legislation is rejected outright by us on this occasion basically because the Government is rushing it through. There is absolutely no need for this legislation to be rushed through in the manner in which it has been. It ought to go to a committee for three months so that everybody can have a look at it and put their views and we can get experts in to tell us about what will occur as a result of the Bennett actions in the courts so Parliament can keep in tune with proper and constructive industrial relations in this country.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Hon. J. D. M. Dobie) - Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I think it is necessary to answer a couple of short points that were made by the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young). I think those of us who have been members of this House in recent years, prior to the election, can appreciate from the first speech made by the honourable gentleman in this new Parliament that he has not changed at all. We can understand why he has been shifted from the shadow ministry of industrial relations and that has been left to someone else. Firstly, I wish to make the simple point that the peak councils of the Government unions were advised on 1 1 June and 25 July last year of the Government’s in principle decision to introduce this legislation. The type of legislation that we proposed to introduce was then foreshadowed. So both the Opposition and the staff associations have known for quite some time of the intention of the Government to legislate in this way, to see that where a public servant does not perform the duties for which he is engaged, the authority will lie on the Public Service Board to withold pay. That, as the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton) has pointed out, is a simple proposition of which the public of Australia had been well and truly advised prior to the election and we are honouring a commitment to the public that we know it wants us to honour by introducing this legislation now.
The honourable member for Port Adelaide suggested that as a government we have not provided the staff in areas of the Public Service where service has been required by the public to meet changing needs and to meet the Government’s priorities. Let me point out to the House that since the Fraser Government first came to office - at the end of 1975 - it has been able to reduce Public Service staffing by 10,000. I believe that that is in accord with the wishes of the Australian people to see to smaller government rather than bigger government. But whilst it has done that it has remained sensitive to areas of the administration where there were special needs.
– The honourable member for Port Adelaide says: ‘Rubbish!’. Let me inform him of the facts which we know from past experience he is never prepared to acknowledge, let alone inform himself about, that the Department of Social Security staff has increased during that period by 3,000 and the staff of the Commonwealth Employment Service has grown by about 1,000 in the same five-year period. The Government’s objective is to have an efficient Public Service with staffing allocated in accordance with the Government’s priorities. I think that I can show by the figures that I have referred to that the Government has given staff where the Government’s priorities have required it and where service to the public has required it.
– I must reply to two of the points that have been made by the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) at this stage of the Committee debate. First of all he attempted to answer the point that my colleague, the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young), made about the lack of consultation. Let us look at the facts rather than at the sort of gloss that the Minister has put upon the situation. A letter was written and received in the first instance by the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations on 1 1 June. That letter was written by the then Minister for Industrial Relations, Mr Street. It is quite clear that there was no possibility of consultation about the course that the Government was going to take. I will read to the Committee what was contained in the letter. The relevant part stated:
The Government has examined the judgment–
This is the judgment of the Bennett case which has been referred to throughout this debate - and has made a decision in principle to amend the Public Service Act in the forthcoming Budget Session, to provide management with a statutory right to withold pay from staff who are not performing the full range of their duties in furtherance of an industrial campaign. The Government also proposes to consult with Commonwealth authorities whose staff are employed other than under the Public Service Act on this subject.
Two points are to be made in respect of what was said in the letter which was received on 1 1 June. It is not an offer of consultation; it is an instruction, a piece of information that the decision had already been made. How in the name of anything that makes sense can anyone say that that is an invitation to consultation? In no other area of human affairs would the English language be so misused as to say, in those circumstances, that we are talking about consultation, if in fact, the decision has been made. It is an abuse of language and nothing more or less for the Minister to get up at this stage and say that in June there was an offer of consultation.
Trade unions with members employed in the Commonwealth Public Service were informed that the decision had in fact been taken. At no stage subsequently, in the meetings that took place afterwards on 9 September, were the representatives of the employees confronted with anything like a full disclosure of what was proposed. At no point, particularly in respect of the statement made in this chamber on 18 September about the importance which this Government attaches to the National Labour Consultative Council - a body which the Government says it takes these things to - was this issue discussed. That is the first point I put in answer to what the Minister has said. The second is this: In the letter which was received on 1 1 June the only indication given as to what sort of situation would be covered by the proposed legislation was one in which people were acting ‘in furtherance of an industrial campaign’. Everything that has been said here this evening relates to that sort of situation as though it is some strike, quasi strike or industrial campaign which, of course, is totally and I suggest deliberately misleading on the part of everyone who has spoken from the other side of the House.
It is quite clear that the provisions of the proposed legislation are not limited, as was suggested in the letter of June, to a situation of an industrial campaign. There does not have to be any industrial campaign at all being waged. One can have the situation, which I put earlier and to which there has not been one word addressed in reply, of a total absence of industrial campaign by any union or by any group of individuals because an overseer in a particular situation might have had a blue with a particular employee, might just not like the person and capriciously wants to act against him; then the provisions of this legislation are available. In the letter that the Minister now talks about the reference to a decision is in regard to a position of an industrial campaign. That is not what has been produced, so the situation is compounded. Firstly, there is no consultation at all and the letter makes it clear that there is no basis of consultation; and worse than that, even in respect of that position the Government has deliberately misled its employees in respect of what it intended.
The only reference at any stage in the communication which has been made to the employees and their representatives in the trade union movement and particularly the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations, the only indication in that correspondence is that it would apply to an industrial campaign. The legislation, of course, covers very much more than that and can impose very considerable difficulties upon people in other than an industrial campaign situation.
In regard to the other point that has been made by the Minister in this latest intervention where he attempted to reply to the eloquent arguments of my friend the honourable member for Port Adelaide, he had the temerity to talk about the actual staffing situation in the Commonwealth Employment Service and Department of Social Security. Two points here simply need to be made to demolish his intervention. Firstly, there is no point in talking about some increase in numbers that may have taken place. The increase which is overwhelmingly apparent in respect of the five years is an increase of 180,000 in the number of unemployed. In other words, that is an increase of 100 for every day that the Fraser Government has been in office. That is the increase which should be of concern to this Government. There is no point in the Minister’s getting up at this stage and trying to suggest that there is an adequacy of staffing in regard to the area that has to deal with this growing army of unemployed.
– His area.
– His area. The situation is quite clear. The people concerned, the people who staff the CES and the Department of Social Security, have day after day to deal with human tragedy. Ask them whether they are sufficiently, adequately, decently and comprehensively staffed to deal with the people who tragically are the victims of the incompetence of this Government. The people who, day after day, have to face that human tragedy will tell anyone who asks them that they are inadequately staffed. It is a gross impertinence to add to the human tragedy that exists now this misrepresentation that there is a sufficient number of people there to deal with that tragedy.
Clauses agreed to.
– If one looks at clause 16, which is before the Committee, in some detail one can see the horrendous implications of what is being proposed by the Government in this legislation. I invite honourable members to direct their attention to the actual wording of section 16 which is the one which brings in this provision of no work as directed-no pay. The wording is as follows:
Where an officer or employee refuses or fails to comply with a direction given by a person having authority to give the direction, being a direction with respect to work that he is performing or is to perform, the Board may declare that the officer or employee is not to be paid salary.
If we look in the proposed legislation to get some indication of what is involved we find in subsection 12:
In this section, unless the contrary intention appearsdirection’ includes an order and an instruction; . . .
That is a great help in terms of trying to get some degree of clarity and precise information as to what is meant. We are told that a ‘direction’ includes an order and an instruction. There is no specification to the limits so far as the making of a direction is concerned. It follows that there is a very wide scope for making all sorts of unreasonable demands upon Commonwealth employees and then penalising them for not complying. I have already given the example earlier this evening of a direction to perform work which is, in fact, unsafe or a direction to perform work which is outside normal duties. Further, in that no limits are placed upon what a direction may be, it is possible under the legislation as it stands that an actual duty statement of an officer or an employee may amount to a direction within section 32a. The actual legislation, as it is proposed, is broad enough in fact to encompass that situation.
One would not need any specific direction identifiably put to the person so that he would know that a specific direction had been given. It could be interpreted that the actual existence of a duty statement was enough under this proposed legislation to constitute a direction. In those circumstances, if an employee were to depart from a duty statement in any respect he could attract the sanctions which are now proposed to be included in this legislation. If one looks at the provision more closely in respect of proposed section 32a sub-section (2) (a) it is quite clear, on a reading of that provision that there could be a potentially retrospective operation of declarations. An officer or an employee could be denied salary for a period during which he was not aware even that a declaration was made. I invite the Committee to look at the provisions of sub-section (10) of proposed new section 32a where it says:
Where a declaration is made under sub-section (1) in respect of an officer or employee, or such a declaration is varied or revoked, the Board shall cause such notice as it deems appropriate to be given of the making of the declaration or of the variation or revocation of the declaration, as the case may be.
Under that provision there is absolutely no guarantee at all that there should be any sort of personal direction, indication or notification to the person who can be adversely affected. It is simply left in the situation where ‘the Board shall cause such notice as it deems appropriate’. It does not require a very fertile imagination to see in those circumstances how a capricious use of power could act against the interests of an innocent person. He may have done something without even knowing about it to upset someone in charge of him and then this sort of procedure can be undertaken in which there is no guarantee at all that he will receive any notification. He could find himself over a period retrospectively prejudiced as a result of the operation of this legislation.
In earlier discussions reference was made that one has to do something about the bully boy situation. The provisions of clause 16 attempt to bring into operation this pernicious principle. Can honourable members imagine anything which could lend itself more to persecution by this.bullytype person than is provided here?
If there is no guarantee that the notification is, in fact, to be given to the person who can be adversely affected, the person so adversely affected has no right of appeal whatsoever. I suppose, of course, that it is no accident that in the whole of the debate this evening that we have not heard one word which goes to this question of why, uniquely in regard to the employees of the Commonwealth Government, there can be sanctions imposed upon those employees of the Commonwealth without their having any right of appeal or access to an independent tribunal whatsoever which, of course, is the effect of the next section, proposed new section 32B. That is the situation.
If this is meritorious legislation why did not one of the two speakers who supported the legislation give some answer to the obvious question: Why should there be no right of appeal? Why should there be the situation, uniquely in regard to the area of Commonwealth employment and nowhere else, that there can be this capricious and perhaps vindictive exercise of power against an employee and that person is left for dead? What is right about that? If we are talking about a bully situation what is a greater bullying syndrome than that where an overseer can say: ‘I do not like that person. I do not like his politics, I do not like the football club he barracks for’? He can simply give some perverse direction to that employee. The direction may not even, in fact, be given. The employee may not be aware of any direction and may receive no notice of a declaration having been made. The Board can deem it appropriate and he can be adversely affected. He and his dependants can have money taken off them.
This Government and honourable members on the opposite side of the chamber have mentioned their conception of justice and sanity in respect of this clause. The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton) said earlier that it is just and sane that a person can be adversely affected by that and have absolutely no avenue of appeal at all. He talked about bully boys. The words ought to freeze in his mouth. If we look at the provisions of clause 16 we come to the conclusion that in the whole history of industrial relations in this country there could never have been a situation where the capacity for the terrorisation of an individual could have been more deeply enshrined in legislation without the opportunity of appeal or redress than occurs in this legislation. It was this sort of provision which the international body which I have referred to found so repugnant and which caused it to condemn this legislation. Clause 16 contains a provision which should shame honourable members on the other side of the chamber for having lent it their support.
– It is very good to look at the legislation in detail because if we look at it in detail we may as well read it and see what it says and not what it does not say. If honourable members look first of all at clause 32A ( 1 ) they will see that it states:
Where an officer or employee refuses or fails to comply with a direction given by a person having authority–
That means not just anybody at all. Somebody has authority to exercise a certain power to give a direction. The clause continues: being a direction with respect to work that he is performing or is to perform, the board may–
May’, not ‘shall’. What does that imply? It implies that the Board has a discretion. How is it to use that discretion? For God’s sake, how else but in good faith. Are we to assume that every time a board sits to make a decision on a subject arising under this legislation it will exercise its judgment in bad faith, that it will be, as the honourable gentleman put forward, perverse, that it will exercise bully boy tactics, that it will be vindictive and that it will abuse its power? If we are to talk about law- it is a very good thing that we should because we are looking at law- we may as well understand the consequences of not following what the Bill says. If a board does not follow what it is meant to follow as a board exercising those powers, anybody who finds himself oppressed has a right to say that that is not an exercise of power, it is beyond power, it is invalid, that it is null and void. Now I can see the honourable member for Wills (Mr Hawke) almost shaking his hands, as it were, in simulated agony at the very prospect of somebody saying that, but it happens time and time again. That is why the courts are there.
Let us look at one or two of the other meretricious suggestions that the honourable member put up in support of the proposition that this legislation was somehow directed to stultifying any rights that a person may have - those rights should never be stultified- to complain of the way in which powers were being exercised against him. As I recall, the honourable member referred to sub-clause 1 2. It states: direction’ includes an order and an instruction;
He asks what that means. He has asked us to look at this definition. He has asked us to look at it in terms of the law. After all, this is a chamber which deals in law. It is simple enough. If it is not something which is done by a person in authority it is not an order. If it is not an instruction it does not come within the clause. One can then say to him: Look, you have no power over me. You can just go somewhere else’. So let us put that little scare tactic to one side.
The honourable member then referred to the question of notice. He conjured up some genie that somehow would ensure that the person against whom an order or declaration is directed did not get notice. For God’s sake, what does the honourable member really think that a board will do? Will it contrive to find a way to abuse its powers? Will it contrive a way vindictively to exercise its powers? Will it contrive a way to use its powers perversely? What utter nonsense! When it says–
– Do you know what happened in the Telecom dispute?
– Patience, patience! You will have time to reply. Sub-clause 1 0 states: . . as it deems it appropriate–
– You would not know.
– The honourable member puts himself forward as being very skilled in these matters. No doubt he is, but let us look at the words. When it says ‘as it deems it appropriate’, what does it mean? It means that one has to give notice. It is as simple as that. If the notice does not get there does one really think that somebody can come along and say: ‘Well, look, I sat down and 1 decided that I would give you a notice which was utterly inappropriate, a notice that was ill-suited to get to you, a notice that I intended never should get to you’? Do honourable members think that that would come within the clause? No. Why are the courts there? The courts are there to remedy abuses. We have heard some debate this evening about courts. We have heard some debate this evening about the decision of Mr Justice Rogers. What was he doing? He was doing one very simple thing. He is a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. He is not a member of the Industrial Commission of New South Wales. He is not a member of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. He was doing one very simple thing. He was applying the existing law which is what the courts should always do. He was not inventing laws.
Opposition members interjecting -
– Patience, patience! All things come to him who waits, including a bit of wisdom from time to time. Let us look at some of the other things that have been said. The question has been asked: What does it mean? Who can give the direction? It is given by somebody who has some authority. ‘Authority’ is an appalling word to use, I know, but we all have somebody who is in authority over us at some stage or another, even if it is only the undertaker who puts us into a coffin at some stage. He has authority over us. What does it all mean? We all know in an industrial context the person who has the power to give a direction, if it is a foreman, a head of a gang <r somebody else. It is not some mythical genie who is somehow conjured up for the purposes of ridiculing the piece of legislation which is designed sensibly to deal with one problem. It is simply this: Do honourable members really think that members of parliament should go on strike and say: ‘Well, I do not think the benches are wide enough; I do not think the air conditioning is good, I do not like the people sitting up in the public gallery and I am not too sure the Hansard reporter is reporting everything I say just as I would like to have it reported; therefore I am going out on strike and I am not going to perform my duties’? Do honourable members really think that under those circumstances they should be paid? Do they think so? They should stand up if they do.
– Mr Deputy Chairman, I raise a point of order. We are not debating the question of the right to strike. We are debating whether public servants will be paid when they are supposedly not performing their duties in the way in which they have been instructed to. So the honourable member is not sticking to the point of the Bill.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Hon. J. D. M. Dobie) - I thank the honourable member for his intervention but there is, in fact, no point of order.
– One last comment was made by the learned member, and that is this: He raised this chimera.
– No; he is not learned.
– I will call him both learned and honourable if that would suit.
– The latter is accurate.
– I will assume that the former is also accurate. He said that a person could be directed to do something which was unsafe, which was outside his duties, and that if this were done, it would be a direction that he had to comply with. What utter nonsense. Does he really intend to say to this body that anyone could be directed to do something which was contrary, for example, to the provisions of the Scaffolding and Lifts Act of New South Wales or which was contrary to a provision of the Factories and Shops Act? What absolute nonsense that is.
Opposition members interjecting -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member will resume his seat for a moment. The Committee will come to order. We are trying to hear the speaker in silence. I would ask all members, particularly the new members, to be aware of this convention.
– I think the last of the red herrings that he dragged out of his gunny bag was that an employee could be directed to do something which was outside his duties. If an employee is directed to do something outside his duties, it is not a direction; it is as simple as that. So I would indeed welcome it if the learned and honourable gentleman were to examine the text of what is in the Bill and not invent problems which do not exist on the plain meaning of the words.
– I join issue with the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender), who chose to make a number of points. The first point was that in interpreting this legislation one should not presume malevolence; one should not presume any abuse of power by those who are in authority within the Public Service in their dealings with those under them. That might be a commendable principle; it m.ight be a laudatory concept. But if the honourable member for North Sydney had been a member of this Parliament just a matter of some months ago he would have been exposed to a report of the House of Representatives Privileges Committee and a decision made by this Parliament in respect of a public servant named Berthelsen who was very much the subject of malevolence, who was very much the subject of this kind of pressure in a series of situations. When that kind of pressure was put on him he had no recourse to the law at all. The only way in which his case could be brought before the Parliament was as a result of the action of one of my colleagues arguing that there had been a breach of privilege. The Privileges Committee then examined the facts. I do not want to go into a rehashing of the Berthelsen case but suffice it to say that it was made clear to this Parliament that Parliament felt it necessary to say that Berthelsen ‘s future had to be assured and that he ought to be free from oppresive direction.
Only in recent months did we have our attention directed to the case of this public servant who was doing his duty as he saw fit to do his duty and who was subjected to pressure from some of the mandarins of the Public Service. It might be all very well for an erudite lawyer to say that everybody has recourse to the courts. It might be all very well to say that in principle this treatment of employees never happens. This Parliament has had a recent example of just how it happens, how it operates and how injustice can be caused to individual public servants.
Let us look at the actual terminology that is used. There is no limit in terms of the making of directions. There is a wide scope for making all types of unreasonable demands upon Commonwealth employees and for penalising them if they do not comply. For example, a Commonwealth employee may be directed to perform work which is unsafe. It does not have to involve a breach of regulations, but it could be unsafe as part of a system of work. Every day of the week injured employees are awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages on the basis that they were compelled to work with an unsafe system of work. I ask whether it is reasonable to say that because I, as some kind of middle grade public servant, have authority over the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) I could say to him: Look, I think it is a safe system of work: You do it’. If he said: ‘Look, I am sorry; my union has said it is unsafe. That is a matter of continuing negotiation and I am not going to do it’, I would say: Well, we will see about that. I have given you a direction’. What happens then under the provisions of this Bill is that that matter becomes the subject of report and as from that time, retrospectively, the public servant is denied his wages. Does the learned and erudite lawyer opposite who chose to confuse this argument -
– Learned in what?
– I am using those sorts of polite terms which one member of the legal profession applies to the other. It sounds good and it satisfies us. That is the only justification I can give. In terms of the argument used by the honourable member opposite, does he say–
– He has gone.
– No wonder he has gone. That is the smartest thing he has done all night.
– He would not stay after that, would he?
– No. Does he say that a direction to perform work outside normal duties or even to perform the work of someone who may be off on strike action, to give an example, is not covered by this provision? It might be all right for some of the gentlemen opposite but there are many public servants who are good public servants and good unionists. Who wants to be in a situation in which, as part of a union decision, a decision is made that a commodity will not be moved or a truck will not be unloaded because of any existing industrial situation? If someone in authority says that the person is to do that and the public servant says: ‘Look, I am sorry, I cannot comply with that because I have a loyalty to my union; I have a direction about that matter’ then immediately that is not a matter of negotiation. It is not a matter of review. At that stage he is placed in an industrial situation that does not exist anywhere else in this community. It is interesting that the Minister was given an opportunity and every member on the Government side of the chamber was invited by the honourable member for Wills (Mr Hawke), challenged by the honourable member for South Adelaide and myself–
– Port Adelaide; we won the premiership.
– I was getting the honourable gentleman’s constituency confused with his football club. Every honourable gentleman opposite was given the opportunity to inform the Parliament and the people of Australia of one situation in the private sector where this kind of industrial regulation or principle applies as part of the normal on-going employer-employee relationship. Why has that challenge not been accepted? It is all very well to make a speech and leave the chamber. It is all very well for the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, who is at the table, to make some side comments. The chamber is being told, as the House was told in the Minister’s second reading speech, that really we are just catching up with the private sector. The challenge having been given to point out where this situation operates industrially in the private sector, it was pointed out that legal decisions reject the concept of no work as directed-no pay as having no foundation within our legal system.
This concept has been rejected time after time by our industrial tribunals, by our senior courts, by the High Court of Australia and by the Privy Council. Of course, when the Government talks about the decision made by a judge of the New South Wales Supreme Court, it is conceded that what it was doing was applying the existing law. That was the statement that was made. If that is the statement that is being made - 1 accept it because I agree with it - how is it that the Minister can come into this chamber and virtually endeavour to mislead the chamber by suggesting that really all we are doing in this legislation is catching up with private industry? The Minister knows it is not true and every honourable member on the other side of the chamber knows that it is not true. There is not one honourable member opposite, for all the relationship of the Government with the people in the private sector, who can point to a parallel anywhere in private industry.
Why should public servants be the object of this meretricious type of legislation? Why should they be selected for the venom and the spleen of this Government and its Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser)? I would have thought that that was something that ought to have been answered. Not only has the Government restricted this debate and virtually refused to participate in it but also it has not had the honour or the integrity to answer the arguments that show that what the Minister said in his second reading speech constituted as grave an attempt to mislead our Parliament as one is ever likely to see.
– I have listened very carefully to the debate on this piece of legislation and in particular I have listened to the spokesmen from the Opposition - the honourable member for Wills (Mr Hawke), the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) and the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding). At no stage of any of their contributions have they mentioned a fundamental principal that has been embodied in the trade union movement and the Australian Labor Party since their formation. That is the principle of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. That is what formed the trade union movement and the Australian Labor Party and that is what is embodied in this legislation. The honourable member for
Port Adelaide mentioned the period when he was on the shearing board. I imagine that he was shearing at about the same time as I was shearing. The principle of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work kept the Australian Workers Union together.
Opposition members interjecting -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Hon. J. D. M. Dobie) - Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. The last speaker was heard in silence.
– The last speaker was not provocative.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! I ask honourable members to hear the present speaker in equal silence. I ask the honourable member who just spoke to remember that he sits in this chair at times too. I ask all honourable members to extend some courtesies despite the heat of the subject.
– Clause 16 of the Bill contains precisely that principle which formed the trade union movement and the Australian Labor Party - a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. But what the Labor Party spokesmen - the honourable member for Wills and the honourable member for Port Adelaide - are doing tonight is scrapping that fundamental principle on behalf of their party. They are moving away from what has held the Australian Labor Party and the working people of this country together since Federation. The Labor Party should bear in mind what its actions tonight entail. It is moving away from what the party stands for and what the trade unions stand for.
The Labor Party is moving further and further to the left in the Australian political scene. I can only assume that it was as a result of the Adelaide conference of the Labor Party last year that the honourable member opposite realised he had lost the numbers. He was forced to move to the left of the party. If he had not he would not be in this place tonight. He is deserting the working people of Australia and pacifying these new members and the left wing of the party. The honourable member should be responsible for his actions. People with greater wisdom than I have realised what is contained in this clause of the legislation. The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton) when he made his contribution in the second reading debate referred to a letter written by Mr Clyde Cameron to the Federal Secretary of the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association, Mr Paul Munro. Let me give one other quote from that letter. Mr Cameron said:
I believe that public servants, with the protection of permanency, have no right to expect the benefits which permanency bestows and at the same lime claim all the other rights applicable to those without permanency.
At no stage has any honourable member from the Opposition mentioned the word ‘permanency’. What we are talking about- I remind all honourable members of this - is that these public servants have the right to permanency. In other words, they cannot be sacked except under extreme circumstances. They have the rights and the privileges of permanency but they are not prepared to accept the obligations of permanency. We cannot have an ordered society and we cannot have rights and privileges unless people are prepared to accept obligations. These people are not accepting their obligations because they are saying: ‘Okay, we want the rights and privileges of permanency. We want to have our salaries. We want to have all of the other benefits that have been given to public servants but we are not going to accept the obligations. We are going to take the taxpayers’ money but we are darned if we are going to give them service’. Is that common sense?
During this debate the honourable member for Wills and the honourable member for Melbourne Ports have quoted to us a whole lot of legal jargon which I doubt that any of the Labor Party’s members in the trade union movement would understand, let alone us on this side of the chamber. But none of the Opposition speakers have spoken common sense. What has happened to common sense? I must admit that I had great faith in the honourable member for Wills. I had respect for him when he was the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. I always thought that he brought some measure of common sense to that organisation. I must admit that I have been very disappointed in his performances tonight. What he has done is to show clearly to me, to members on this side of the chamber and to the Australian public that no longer is he the moderate trade union leader and no longer is he representing the average working people of Australia. He, like the rest of his party, has moved to the left. He has given away that principle of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay because he is now dominated by the left wing of his party. I can only assume that he is being beaten to death by his left wing. That is unfortunate. I feel very sorry about that. I point out only what this clause says. It embodies the principle of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay that has been fundamental to working people throughout Australia ever since our Federation - in fact, ever since our convict heritage. The trade union movement since its inception very rightly has demanded that working people be given a fair day’s pay. In that respect public servants are no different from workers in any other field. They are entitled to their fair day’s pay. They are entitled to conditions of employment. But in return the public has a right to demand a fair day’s work just as any other employer has a right to demand a fair day’s work. That is what this legislation is all about.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Hon. J. D. M. Dobie) - Order! It being 10.30 p.m., I shall report progress.
– I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I require the question to be put forthwith without debate.
Question resolved in the negative.
– I quote just one section from the second reading speech of the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) because I think it is very important to the clause we are now debating:
The Government is not prepared to tolerate a situation where its own employees dictate the terms and conditions under which they are prepared to work.
That, to me and I think surely to any other logical thinking person, is common sense. How can a person who has the right to expect to be paid a wage or salary also demand the conditions under which he will work? Where are the rights of the employer? Are we to scrap entirely the rights of the employer? That is the assumption that members of the Opposition would have us make. I do not accept that proposition and I do think any other member on this side of the chamber would accept it. I do not believe any logical and right-thinking person in the community would accept it. I believe that what we have to bear in mind is the fundamental principle that was at the very foundation of that great party, the Australian Labor Party, and was at the very foundation of the trade union movement; that is, a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
Opposition members- Ha, ha!
– Obviously, those pseudoacademics who now claim to represent the working people of Australia have totally ignored and have divorced themselves from that principle and it is left to us, the Liberal members on this side of the chamber, to represent the working people of Australia and to bring that fundamental principle into legislative form. I fully support this clause.
– I have just advised my colleagues on this side of the chamber that they should not laugh at the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr) because the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) carried on like he just has for the last three years and he got into the Ministry. Obviously someone had to take his place. It is true that 180 years ago organised labour in this country said: ‘We should have a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work’. But we found that we were the only ones playing the game. Employers were not playing the game. It is no longer a spoke in the Labor movement.
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) put:
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman- Mr G. O. H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That clause 16 be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman- Mr G. O’H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause 17 (Eligibility for appointment to the Service).
– I do not intend to delay the Committee for long, but it is important that the Committee know and the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) understand that the provisions of this Bill set aside all Commonwealth laws which would inhibit the carrying out of a direct order. It means that a Commonwealth car driver in Canberra can be ordered to take out an unroadworthy vehicle and endanger the public.
– I wish to raise a point of order. The honourable gentleman is not speaking to clause 1 7 of the Bill, which relates to eligibility for appointment to the Service.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Perhaps the Minister would allow me to judge that. It is a little early for me to make that judgment.
– I point out that a Commonwealth employee who infringes a law of the Commonwealth or a State ceases to be eligible for Commonwealth employment or engagement by the Commonwealth; yet we have already passed a provision in this Bill which requires that employee to break the law on pain of loss of his employment. This Committee has just agreed to a provision which would render a Commonwealth employee ineligible for further service in the Commonwealth under certain circumstances. If a Commonwealth employee is ordered to carry out a function which is illegal, for which he could lose his employment and become ineligible for future appointment to Commonwealth jobs, that person is in conflict with this Bill, which provides for the setting aside of all Commonwealth laws. I repeat, all Commonwealth laws. We have already voted on that clause, and that would affect the eligibility of an employee for future employment.
– I raise a point of order. Clause 17 relates to the requirement to undergo a medical examination approved by the Board before being eligible for appointment. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the matter about which the honourable member is speaking.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I acknowledge the Minister’s point of order. If an employee, in carrying out a function which is dangerous or which contravenes a Commonwealth law, which he would in civil employment–
– I raise a point of order.
– I am about to finish the sentence. Surely I can do that. I am making a point about injury, eligibility and medical examination.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. I call the Minister.
– Mr Deputy Chairman, you heard the honourable member acknowledge that my point of order was correct. Notwithstanding his own acknowledgement, he has proceeded to speak about matters that are not relevant to the clause.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- The honourable member for Corio would be advised to stick to the substance of the clause. On the other hand, I am not prepared to hurry him with regard to getting to the point. One sentence obviously is insufficient on which to judge. I call the honourable member for Corio.
– The point I make is that in carrying out the provisions as already passed the employee can be forced by this law to endanger himself in respect of injury, because safety is no excuse; in respect of illness because exposure, say, to radiation at Lucas Heights would not be an excuse for not carrying out a task; or in respect of exposing himself to an infectious disease or to any other circumstance which could confront, for instance, a Commonwealth Customs officer or some other employee of the Commonwealth. Under this Bill they have no protection or appeal against exposing themselves to a situation which could cause them injury or disease which would render them unable to pass the stringent medical requirements of the Commonwealth, and thus render them ineligible for future appointment. This Bill can be utilised against an employee in such a wide variety of ways that it can be enacted only by a government which has no consideration whatsoever for the persons in its employ or which has no consideration for the law of the land which has been passed by this Parliament because it sets it aside. It is in line with the laws that existed in the early nineteenth century when people’s health and welfare were considered to be irrelevant to the pursuit of power by employers. It is bad legislation and it should not be passed.
– The health of the people in the Public Service is of the utmost importance to this side of the chamber. As the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) has pointed out, one cannot completely isolate this clause from other clauses of the Bill with which we have been dealing. Mr Deputy Chairman, had you been in the chair a little earlier you would have heard honourable members from the other side ranging very widely in the industrial field in order to make their contributions to this Bill. In fact, the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr) kept raving about a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, or something like that. I could not see it in the Bill. Nevertheless, because of the Government’s mentality it will do everything possible to put greater pressure on its employees and will try to persuade the Australian public that all the economic ills and other social ills in this country exist because of the Public Service. For the last five years it has been the trade unions, and now the Government has lost the seat of Canberra–
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! I suggest that the honourable member for Port Adelaide, as he has requested the Committee to deal with the legislation clause by clause, get quickly back to this clause.
– Mental stress - sometimes it affects even members of the Liberal Party - is a very important part of this Bill. It is exactly what we are dealing with. In fact, the staff ceilings applied to the Public Service which led to a lot of disputation in the Public Service were brought about as a result of the Government’s actions. So, when one talks about people in the Public Service, it is important to note the way in which the Government views their health, not only seeing that they are healthy when they join the Service but also that they be healthy when they leave the Service. That would equally impress the Opposition. That will not be the case with a government that introduces legislation of this nature. I was interested to hear the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender) enter the debate on a Bill for the first time. He spoke for seven minutes. I suspect that if we had been in his chambers he would have charged us $3,500 and been wrong. He reminded me of a tall Maurie Neil.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I suggest that the honourable member stick to the substance of the clause if he wants to continue.
– So, one can understand that people on this side of the chamber are not altogether happy with the way in which the Government is starting off the Thirty-second Parliament when, in the third day of its sittings, we find ourselves going through a Bill clause by clause because the Government refuses to give sufficient time for the proper consideration of the most important Bill that has come before the Parliament.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member for Port Adelaide will resume his seat. The question is that clause 17 be agreed to. All those in favour say aye; to the contrary no.
– I wish to raise a point of order.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I think the ayes have it.
– I wish to raise a point of order.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member for Port Adelaide will not interrupt the Chair. He does not have the call. He will wait until I finish putting the question.
– I am taking a point of order before you put the question.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I think you were a little too late.
– I was not late at all. We are not putting up with this nonsense for the next three years.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- The honourable member for Port Adelaide had better watch his step and behave himself or he will not be in this chamber for much longer.
– We are not putting up with this nonsense. I am taking a point of order before you put the question.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- The honourable member for Port Adelaide will be warned. He will resume his seat.
– Don’t put the question before I make my point of order.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I have been prevailed upon to be more patient. I will hear the point of order from the honourable member for Port Adelaide.
– The point of order is that you, Mr Deputy Chairman, asked me to sit down as if you were going to make some point, but then you went on to put the question. That contravenes the right of a member in this chamber. If you think I am getting away from clause 17, you should draw my attention to that and ask me to stress the point in clause 17. Under no circumstances should you restrict the right of a member-
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- The honourable member has made his point of order, and I will reply to it. He was twice warned to get back to the substance of the clause before the Chair. He refused to, so the Chair had no option but to ask him to resume his seat. I have done that. The question is that clause 1 7 be agreed to.
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) put:
That progress be reported.
The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman- Mr G. O’H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr Viner) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– Tonight I draw the attention of the House to an item which appeared in today’s Australian relating to the movement of the border between Israel and Lebanon in the Middle East. That matter has been drawn to my attention by a number of my constituents who are of Lebanese extraction or have come to this country from Lebanon.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, as it is after 1 1 p.m., it is with regret that I move:
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.8 p.m.
The following notices were given:
condemns the Government for its failure to (a) initiate a comprehensive public investigation into allegations of a gross denial of human rights in East Timor and (b) promote active support in the United Nations General Assembly for an impartial investigation into the allegations, and
calls on the Government to (a) exert appropriate pressure on the Indonesian Government to abide by the 1978 agreement to permit 600 persons from East Timor to be reunited with their families now resident in Australia, (b) actively support in the United Nations resolutions reaffirming the inalienable rights of the people of East Timor to self-determination and independence and (c) suspend the provision of military aid to Indonesia until the human rights of the Timorese have been re-established.
Mr Moore to present a Bill for an Act to amend the National Companies and Securities Commission Act 1979.
Mr Moore to present a Bill for an Act to amend the Companies (Acquisition of Shares) Act 1980.
Mr Moore to present a Bill for an Act to amend the Securities Industry Act 1980.
Mr Moore to present a Bill for an Act to amend the Companies and Securities (Interpretation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1980.
Dr Theophanous to ask Mr Speaker:
The following answer to a question was circulated:
asked the Minister for Trade and Resources, upon notice, on 26 November 1980:
What is the Government’s position in relation to the establishment of an Australian trade support facility in Taiwan either by the Government or a private organisation.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The arrangements establishing diplomatic relations between Australia and China in December 1972 preclude any possibility of the Australian Government establishing a trade office or any official presence in the province of Taiwan. We recognise the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal Government of China, and acknowledge the position of the Chinese Government that Taiwan is a part of China.
However this does not preclude private organisations from doing business with the province of Taiwan or establishing offices to assist such activities. The Government has indicated on a number of occasions that it would be prepared to provide appropriate guidance to a private sector body wishing to establish a non-official office in the province of Taiwan to support and facilitate trade.
In this regard the Government has received advice recently from the Australian Chamber of Commerce of its intention to explore the feasibility of establishing such a non-official trade support facility in Taipei.
The Government welcomes this initiative by the Chamber. Officers of the Department of Trade and Resources have entered into discussions with the Chamber to assist it in identifying practical aspects of establishing an office in Taipei and the type of commercial services that it might set out to provide.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 November 1980, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1980/19801127_reps_32_hor120/>.